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Friday, February 23, 2018

Scenes and characters from Pilgrim’s Progress-Mr. Shame

Posted by Gary on May 21, 2012

“Therefore, thought I, what God says is best, is indeed best, though all the men in the world are against it.”

On Christian’s journey to the Celestial City he finally finds a companion to travel with by the name of “Faithful”. As they first meet, they recount their individual journeys, the events and people they have met with.

Faithful mentions that while in the Valley of Humility (this being the process of God humbling a person so that they may be saved) he met a Mr. Shame. One might think in the Valley of Humility this Mr. Shame was a person who had come to know shame for his own life and actions but Faithful points out quickly that his shame is not in regard to himself but that he seeks to make Christians feel ashamed of their religion.

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Restoring Courage-following Glenn Beck to the Town of Morality

Posted by Gary on July 27, 2011

imageI have posted previously on my concerns about Christianity’s flirtation with heresy via Glenn Beck and my concern only deepens. Beck has announced a new event to take place in Israel on August 24 calling it, “Restoring Courage”.

Beck states that it is his desire to stand with Israel through this event. Well, that is fine and good for him to do personally but through this event Beck intends to make a much greater declaration. Beck has called for people of all faiths to come to this event not only to stand with Israel but to emphasize the importance of faith.

It is not the truth that matters here because whether Christian, Jew or Muslim (and I suppose any other faith) we are doing something higher, standing with Israel. This is the danger with Glenn Beck, he emphasizes an earthly, moral cause above the truth of who God is and how He can be known. This is an echo of his “Restoring Honor” event in which he gathered religious leaders from various faiths in calling America to turn back to God.

As moral and good as all these things seem, they are idolatry plain and simple. This is the false teaching of many even within the Christian world, that supporting Israel is more important than testifying to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and the whole world.

Will God hear the prayers of people at this rally who pray yet reject Jesus as His Son and their Savior? Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6). That is of course unless you are at the Restoring Courage rally standing with Israel. In this case Beck would have us believe that God is going to morph into a generic god because something more important than His person is being emphasized (more important to Beck that is). Saving the world or Israel or America is not more important than the truth of who God is.

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Scenes and Characters from Pilgrim’s Progress-Mercy’s Sleep

Posted by Gary on March 23, 2007

A few weeks ago in Sunday School our lesson was on Peter’s deliverance from prison in Acts 12. Our teacher John emphasized the fact that the angel had to strike Peter in the side to awaken him. John’s point was that Peter must have had great faith to be in such a deep sleep on the night before it appeared he would be put to death. Have you ever heard of the term, “The Sleep of the Righteous”? I don’t think we hear it much in our day but it has to do with the way one who is right with God can sleep: peacefully, restfully and joyfully.

Our lesson that morning reminded me of a character from Pilgrim’s Progress named Mercy, in one scene we are told that Mercy laughed in her sleep:

So in the morning when they were awake, Christiana said to Mercy, What was the matter that you did laugh in your sleep to-night? I suppose you were in a dream.

MERCY: So I was, and a sweet dream it was; but are you sure I laughed?

CHRISTIANA: Yes, you laughed heartily; but prithee, Mercy, tell me thy dream.

MERCY: I was a dreaming that I sat all alone in a solitary place, and was bemoaning of the hardness of my heart. Now I had not sat there long but methought many were gathered about me to see me, and to hear what it was that I said. So they hearkened, and I went on bemoaning the hardness of my heart. At this, some of them laughed at me, some called me fool, and some began to thrust me about. With that, methought I looked up and saw one coming with wings towards me. So he came directly to me, and said, Mercy, what aileth thee? Now when he had heard me make my complaint, he said, Peace be to thee; he also wiped my eyes with his handkerchief, and clad me in silver and gold (Ezek. 16:8-11). He put a chain about my neck, and ear-rings in mine ears, and a beautiful crown upon my head. Then he took me by the hand, and said, Mercy, come after me. So he went up, and I followed till we came at a golden gate. Then he knocked; and when they within had opened, the man went in, and I followed him up to a throne, upon which one sat; and he said to me, Welcome, daughter. The place looked bright and twinkling, like the stars, or rather like the sun, and I thought that I saw your husband there; so I awoke from my dream. But did I laugh?

CHRISTIANA: Laugh! aye, and well you might to see yourself so well. For you must give me leave to tell you that it was a good dream; and that, as you have begun to find the first part true, so you shall find the second at last. “God speaks once, yea, twice, yet man perceiveth it not; in a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed.” (Job 33:14,15). We need not, when abed, to lie awake to talk with God; he can visit us while we sleep, and cause us then to hear his voice. Our heart oftentimes wakes when we sleep, and God can speak to that, either by words, by proverbs, by signs and similitudes, as well as if one was awake.

MERCY: Well, I am glad of my dream; for I hope ere long to see it fulfilled, to the making me laugh again.

Mercy explains her dream. In short, she is in a state of sadness for the condition of her heart. She is saddened that her heart is hard. Scripture holds forth a promise from God to those who are sorry for the sinful condition of their heart:

Isaiah 66:2
“But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.

In her dream Mercy experiences persecution because of her concern to be right with God, we are told that a crowd gathered around her and laughed at her and called her a fool. Be certain that if you focus on the sinfulness of your heart and your focus becomes known to others, they will laugh at you and call you a fool. To the minds of the lost only a fool would sit around grieving over the fact that they are sinful, “God doesn’t want us to do that,” the world says, that is, if it is willing to acknowledge the existence of God at all. The world offers Mercy ridicule; God’s Word offers her a great promise:

Matthew 5:4
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

I must admit that I find myself envious of Mercy and her experience. I don’t believe I have ever laughed in my sleep. Are we to concern ourselves about such things? Are we to seek such experiences? I understand fully that experiences are not what we are to base our faith upon and that there is a real danger in seeking them. Yet, what child of God could deny that they would love to experience a night of Mercy’s sleep? I do not believe Bunyan is teaching us that this is the Christian’s sleep each night, very likely this is a once in a lifetime experience. Do we know anything about it today? I fear we don’t.

Mercy’s sleep was effected by her standing with God. Read further in Pilgrim’s Progress and you’ll see that Mercy is a Godly woman, God fills her thoughts and effects her actions during the day, it is no surprise that He blesses her sleep at night:

Psalm 127:2
“It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”

Psalm 4:7-8
“You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.”

I know that in some circles there is too much emphasis on experience but not in the Reformed circle that I dwell in. We are so determined to say such things are not important, are so cerebral in our approach to God that we are passed over when it comes to blessings like this.

Sleep on Mercy, you are blessed.

Scenes and characters from Pilgrim's Progress-Christian in the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Posted by Gary on May 6, 2006

There are many reasons that Pilgrim’s Progress is dear to me as a Christian this particular section is perhaps one of the biggest, Christian in the Valley of the Shadow of Death:

I saw then in my dream, so far as this valley reached, there was on the right hand a very deep ditch; that ditch is it into which the blind have led the blind in all ages, and have both there miserably perished. Again; behold, on the left hand there was very dangerous quagmire, into which, if even a good man falls, he can find no bottom of his foot to stand on. Into that quag King David once did fall; and had no doubt therein been smothered, had not he that is able plucked him out (Ps 69:14).

The pathway was here also exceeding narrow, and therefore good Christian was the more put to it; for when he sought in the dark to shun the ditch on the one hand, he was ready to tip over into the mire on the other; also when he sought to escape the mire, without great carefulness, he would be ready to fall into the ditch. Thus he went on, and I heard him here sigh bitterly; for besides the dangers mentioned above, the pathway was here so dark, that oft times when he lift up his foot to set forward, he knew not where, or upon what, he should set it next…

One thing I would not let slip; I took notice that now poor Christian was so confounded, that he did not know his own voice. And thus I perceived it: just when he was come over against the mouth of the burning pit, one of the wicked ones got behind him, and stepped up softly to him; and whisperingly suggested many grievous blasphemies to him—which he verily thought had proceeded from his own mind. This put Christian more to it than anything that he met with before, even to think that he should now blaspheme him that he loved so much before! Yet could he have helped it, he would not have done it; but he had not the discretion neither to stop his ears, nor to know from whence those blasphemies came.

I purchased my first copy of Pilgrim’s Progress for $1.00 at a sale at the seminary I attended. I had never read it but had heard that I should so I brought the book home. I began to read it in the evenings and found that I could not put it down. I remember distinctly reading this section and the great joy that filled my soul as I did. A little background will be helpful:

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Scenes and characters from Pilgrim's Progress-Christian's flight

Posted by Gary on December 1, 2005

The opening scene of Pilgrim’s Progress paints clearly the process that must take place for a person to become a Christian and a recipient of eternal life:

I dreamed, and behold I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled; and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying What shall I do?

In this plight therefore he went home, and refrained himself as long as he could, that his wife and children should not perceive his distress, but he could not be silent long, because that his trouble increased: Wherefore at length he brake his mind to his wife and children; and thus he began to talk to them: O my dear wife, said he, and you the children of my bowels, I your dear friend, am in myself undone by reason of a burden that lieth hard upon me; moreover, I am for certain informed that this our city will be burned with fire from heaven; in which fearful overthrow, both myself, with thee my wife, and you my sweet babes, shall miserably come to ruin, except (the which yet I see not) some way of escape can be found, whereby we may be delivered.

At this his relations were sore amazed; not for that they believed that what he had said to them was true, but because they thought that some frenzy distemper had got into his head; therefore, it drawing towards night, and they hoping that sleep might settle his brains, with all haste they got him to bed: But the night was as troublesome to him as the day; wherefore, instead of sleeping, he spent it in sighs and tears.

We would refer to what Christian was experiencing as conviction for sin. How badly the Church in our day needs to embrace the scene that Bunyan so vividly paints for us of Christian. Tragically, many people claim to be and have been told they are Christians who have never experienced conviction of sin and repentance. Many churches are intentionally avoiding speaking to men about their sin fearing that it will offend them and drive them away from the church. People are called to come to Jesus for help with their marriages, finances, health, and mental stability but are never warned about the danger they are in with God because of their sin.

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Scenes and characters from Pilgrim's Progress-Mr. Great-heart

Posted by Gary on October 24, 2005

I suppose the most natural place to start in looking at characters from Pilgrim’s Progress would be with the main character Christian but I want to begin by considering a character who actually shows up in the second section of Pilgrim’s Progress, Mr. Great-heart. Mr. Great-heart is sent by the Interpreter as a guide and protector for Christiana (Christian’s wife), a young woman named Mercy and Christiana’s four sons. As with all the characters in this allegory Mr. Great-heart’s nature is learned through his name, he is a man of strong faith, courage and faithfulness.

Mr. Great-heart knows the way to the celestial city, he is aware of the dangers on the way and courageously fights any who would attempt to harm pilgrims as they travel to the Celestial City. I wanted to highlight Mr. Great-heart because in my most recent reading of Pilgrim’s Progress a certain scene concerning Mr. Great-heart really caught my attention. To fully understand the setting you would need to have read the first section which details Christian’s journey to the Celestial City. I will summarize: On his way Christian and his companion Hopeful stray off the narrow path (seeking easier travel) and fall into the hands of one Giant Despair who lives in Doubting Castle. The lesson should be clear, when Christians fall into doubts they will end up under the cruel hand of despair. By God’s grace Christian and Hopeful escape after realizing that they have a key which is named "Promise" that opens the lock to the dungeon Giant Despair is holding them in and they flee back to the narrow path.

Later as Mr. Great-heart leads Christiana and the others (more pilgrims have joined them as they have travelled) they come into the region of Giant Despair and the question is raised as to whether they should attack Giant Despair and end his life and tyranny the account follows with thoughts from Mr. Great-heart underlined:

Now they went on; and when they were come to By-path Meadow, to the stile over which Christian went with his fellow Hopeful, when they were taken by Giant Despair, and put into Doubting Castle; they sat down and consulted what was best to be done; to wit, now they were so strong, and had got such a man as Mr. Great-heart for their conductor, whether they had not best to make an attempt upon the Giant, demolish his castle, and, if there were any pilgrims in it, to set them at liberty, before they went any further.

So one said one thing, and another said the contrary. One questioned if it were lawful to go upon unconsecrated ground; another said they might, provided their end was good; but Mr. Great-heart said, Though that assertion offered last cannot be universally true, yet I have a commandment to resist sin, to overcome evil, to fight the good fight of faith; and, I pray, with whom should I fight this good fight, if not with Giant Despair? I will, therefore, attempt the taking away of his life, and the demolishing of Doubting Castle. Then said he, Who will go with me? Then said old Honest, I will. And so will we too, said Christiana’s four sons, Matthew, Samuel, James, and Joseph; for they were young men and strong (1 John 3:13, 14). So they left the women in the road, and with them Mr. Feeble-mind and Mr. Ready-to-halt with his crutches, to be their guard, until they came back; for in that place though Giant Despair dwelt so near, they keeping in the road, a little child might lead them (Isa. 11:6).

So Mr. Great-heart, old Honest, and the four young men, went to go up to Doubting Castle, to look for Giant Despair. When they came at the Castle-gate, they knocked for entrance with an unusual noise. At that the old Giant comes to the gate, and Diffidence, his wife, follows. Then said he, Who, and what is he that is so hardy, as after this manner to molest the Giant Despair? Mr. Great-heart replied, It is I, Great-heart, one of the King of the Celestial Country’s conductors of pilgrims to their place; and I demand of thee that thou open thy gates for my entrance. Prepare thyself also to fight, for I am come to take away thy head, and to demolish Doubting Castle.

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Scenes and characters from Pilgrim's Progress

Posted by Gary on

It is my intention as time allows to periodically post thoughts concerning scenes and characters from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. If you have never read Pilgrim’s Progress I can only say, "What are you waiting for?" This book has dramatically effected my life in many ways. God has used it to show me what the Christian life is. In particular He has shown me things I have experienced in the past and did not understand at the time. He has also shown me what I should expect in the future as I head toward the Celestial City.

A group from my church read and discussed Pilgrim’s Progress throughout the summer, the discussion times were so rich and helpful. It was a joy to see some of my congregants exposed to the deep truths contained in this book for the first time. Spurgeon said that he read Pilgrim’s Progress 100 times, I don’t doubt it; allusions to it show up in his sermons all the time.

I cannot urge you enough to read Pilgrim’s Progress. If you struggle with old style English than find an updated version although I must tell you you will loose much as many of them leave out sections in an attempt to be more brief than the original. If you’re game read the original and keep a dictionary handy, the gain is worth the effort.

If you have a favorite character or special lesson you’ve learned from reading Pilgrim’s Progress I’d love to hear from you.