THE LIFE AND LITERATURE OF JOHN BUNYAN
The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to that Which is to Come;
The Hill of the Cross
Leaving the House of the Interpreter, Christian reaches the Hill of the Cross. In the experience of John Bunyan represents the place of assurance as opposed to the moment of conversion. For many Christians the narrow gate and the cross are one and the same place, assurance occurring simultaneously with salvation but this has not been so for everyone. In my own personal experience assurance was received when I was 13 years of age, whereas I first entered the gate by seeking the Lord as a young child of 6. It is important to the remember that the Hill of the Cross came only after the Interpreter revealed spiritual truth clearly to the pilgrim. Assurance can only be found at the cross and is based entirely upon the Word of God. Assurance may manifest itself as a feeling of peace but is more than mere feeling, it is faith in the revealed truth of God.
1: The Path to the Cross
The path to the Hill of the Cross was fenced with a wall on either side, the wall being call salvation. John Bunyan refers, at this place to Isaiah 26:1:
“In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.”
The picture is of the believer being guided to the cross through one path by God’s salvation. The lesson is one of grace. While Christian is responsible in coming, the guiding oversight of God is paramount. Isaiah 26 is such a beautiful and appropriate meditate upon referring to the “perfect peace” that is found when resting on God and the “everlasting strength” that is found in the Lord Jehovah.
2: The Presentation at the Cross
This cross which Bunyan depicts is bloodless. There is no crucifix, there is no dying Saviour thereon, it has been vacated yet it represents the price that has been paid. The Roman model of a cross still holding the Saviour is indicative of their mass and of the desire to offer Christ constantly. Our faith rests on a Saviour who died once, and it is on the merits of this one sacrifice that we stand:
“So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” (Hebrews 9:28)
As Christian began to climb the hill towards the cross, the burden which he had carried for so long, was loosed, and it tumbled downwards into a sepulchre where “it fell in , and was seen no more.” Where the cross represents the death of Christ, the open sepulchre is the symbol of His resurrection:
“Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” (Romans 4:25)
Christian sang with a happy heart; “He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death”. As he looked however, “the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks”, as John Newton wrote:
“In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object met my sight,
And stopped my wild career.
I can it be upon a tree
The Saviour died for me?
My soul is thrilled, my heart is filled
To think he died for me.”
Christ was also met by three angels who, each in turn brought blessings, which are indicative of the blessings that are ours in Christ. The first had a word of assurance “Thy sins be forgiven thee”. The second removed his rags and gave him a change of raiment. This is taken from Zecharaih 3 where Joshua the High Priest is given new garments by the Lord. We all wear filthy garments by nature, how great is our need of the garments of salvation, the robe of Christ’s righteousness? The third angel marked his forehead and gave him a roll which was sealed. This roll would be his passage through the “Celestial Gate”. The mark on the forehead and the roll amount to the same picture, of the Holy Ghost’s imprint etched out upon the soul. We may lose the consciousness of this mark, as Christian would lose the scroll for a time, but it will never be lost to us forever:
“Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” (2nd Corinthians 3:2-3)
3: The Preaching After the Cross
As the pilgrim continues his journey he encounters certain people, who have not come by the way of the cross. His words for these men teach us that the Christian must bear witness to others following the pattern set by the early Church:
“Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word”
His first encounter was with Simple, Sloth and Presumption who were fast asleep, their ankles being in chains. Christian earnestly warned them of the devil would come upon them like a roaring lion, if they were not careful. We have encountered unconverted souls like Simple who are so foolish they see no problem. Likewise, there are many like Sloth who are content to be as they are in their sins. Presumption abounds among the more religious sinners who presume that they will be safe and secure thinking that God will never turn them away.
Christian then noticed two called Formalist and Hypocrisy who entered the narrow way by jumping over the boundary wall. When the pilgrims enquired after them they announced that they were from “the land of Vain-Glory, and we are going to Mount Sion.” Christian realising that something was clearly wrong with their approach challenged them:
“Why came you not in at the gate, which standeth at the beginning of the way? Know you not that it is written, that he that cometh not in by door, ‘but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber’?”
They claimed that they were nearby this part of the path and that it would be too long a way round, to reach the gate. They drew to the one-thousand-year custom practiced by those from Vain-Glory to enter the path by tumbling over the wall. How many there are who refuse the new birth, who resist the free offer of the Gospel and expect to enter heaven through their religious endeavours? Formalist is the devout Roman Catholic and the Protestant who practices religion without faith in Christ alone. Hypocrisy is one who belongs to an evangelical Church, who professes Christ, but has never truly embraced Jesus Christ as his one and only Saviour. These people abound in every age.
Christ last sees these men at the foot of the Hill Difficulty. The true pilgrim is resolved to keep to the path and scale the path but without true faith such a way too laborious, deciding to go around. Leaving the path led one of these men to the Country of Danger and the Land of Destruction where they “stumbled and fell and rose no more.”