THE LIFE AND LITERAURE OF JOHN BUNYAN
The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to that Which is to Come;
Encounters along the Way
The two pilgrims, Christian and Hopeful, leave the Delectable Mountains behind with the sobering lessons of the Shepherds ringing in their ears. Nevertheless, having got a glimpse of the Celestial City from the Hill Clear they strike out with renewed vigour and determination.
At this point John Bunyan, as the narrator, awakes from his sleep, introducing a break in the narrative. He now returns to his slumber where his dream continues, now depicting, in the opinion of some, his own spiritual pilgrimage after he was commissioned to preach the Gospel. The next phase of Christian and Hopeful’s travels are characterised by encounters along the way.
The journey now took the pilgrims past the country of conceit, which was connected to the path by a crooked lane. At this point they met a citizen of Conceit, a young lad, called Ignorance. Christian asked him what he would have to show at the gate of the Celestial City when he reached his destination to which the lad replied:
“I know my Lord’s will, and I have been a good liver; I pay every man his own; I pray, fast, pay tithes, and give alms, and have left my country for whither I am going…be content to follow the religion of your country, and I will follow the religion of mine. I hope all will be well”
How often have we not witnessed this kind of spiritual tragedy being worked out in the lives of those deceived by their own conceits? Ignorance would follow the pilgrims for the remainder of the journey but his end would not be as happy as theirs.
In a very dark lane the pilgrims witnessed Turn Away, who came from the town of Apostasy, being bound in seven strong cords, in preparation for being cast into Hell. The inscription on his back read:
“Wanton professor, and damnable apostate.”
John Bunyan, in presenting the warning points the reader to Proverbs 5: 21-23:
“For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings. His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins. He shall without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.”
With the path now passing Dead Man’s Lane which connected the way to Broad Way Gate, Christian proceeded to relate the story of Little-Faith. Making the mistake of sleeping in this dangerous lane he was attacked by three brothers who came down from Broad Way Gate. These three vagabonds called Faint-Heart, Mistrust and Guilt clubbed Little-Faith stealing his money. They did not kill the pilgrim, however, because they were afraid of Great-Grace from the town of Good Confidence.
The thieves robbed Little-Faith of his money yet they could not take either his jewels or his certificate. Their names clearly demonstrate what the devil can steal from us – our convictions, our confidence and our assurance. While this will have a detrimental effect upon us for our journey our jewels and certificate remain intact. Ultimately our defender is Great-Grace whom Bunyan describes as having “scars and cuts” on his face, indicative of Christ who ever giveth more grace. In hailing from the town of Good Confidence, we are taught that our confidence must always be in Christ, not in self or we will fail.
Before leaving the Shepherds on the Delectable Mountains Christian and Hopeful were given a note with instructions for the journey and they were expressly warned to beware of The Flatterer. Sadly, the travellers forgot this admonition, so exposing themselves to very real difficulty:
“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Hebrews 2:1).
Christian and Hopeful were somewhat bemused when they reached a fork in the path, not knowing which way to go. They were approached by a man with black flesh, who wore a white robe. He offered to be their guide. Following him without questions he led them into a net, from which they could not disentangle themselves. Now they realised, too late, that the Shepherds had warned them against this very man, The Flatterer:
“A man that flattereth his neighbour, spreadeth a net for his feet” (Proverbs 29:5)
Flattery feeds our pride and our vanity. It causes us to depend upon self, not upon the Lord, and will cause us to be entangled in a net of our own making. As this stage of the journey was descriptive of Bunyan’s ministry, he was indicating that those engaged in public service must be especially on their guard against the consequences of flattery and where it can lead. Representing the Flatterer with black flesh covered with a white robe reflects Pauls’ description of Satan and his artful devices:
“…for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness” (2nd Corinthians 11:14-15)
Christian and Hopeful were released by a “shining one”, who led them back into the path. They did not escape, however, without consequences because they were commanded to lie down to be whipped:
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous the and repent” (Revelation 3:19)
The final encounter, on this phase of the journey, was with Atheist, whom they met coming in the opposite direction. He scoffed at Christian and Hopeful when hearing of their quest declaring that he had spent the last twenty years searching for the Celestial City and can now affirm that no such place exists. The words of Hopeful with Bunyan’s narrative, as they took their leave from man are useful and instructive:
“Now I rejoice in hope of the glory of God. So they turned away from the man; and he, laughing at them, went his way.”