John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is my favorite book of all time. Bunyan movingly describes the journey that all must take when they place their faith in Christ. The allegory begins with a man named Christian, carrying “[a] great burden on is back,” trying to escape the City of Destruction. He “opens [and reads] a Book…, [weeps] and tremble[s]…” for the Book reveals his sins. Christian meets a man named Evangelist, who upon seeing that Christian is in despair and lamenting his condition, points him to the Wicket Gate, which will ultimately lead to the Celestial City (Heaven itself!). Evangelist directs Christian to keep the Shinning Light in his eye and go directly toward it; as the Wicket Gate is there. As Christian plunges into this course; his wife, children and neighbors, Obstinate and Pliable, attempt to persuade him to return. To which Christian “put[s] his fingers in his ears, and [runs] on crying, Life! Life! Eternal Life!” And so the journey begins.
Eventually, Pliable tags along with Christian on the way to the Wicket Gate and is content, even curious with the pilgrim life, until they reach what is the Slough of Despond, an area/time of deep depression. Once there they find themselves drowning in quicksand, with Christian drowning far more rapidly than Pliable since he has the great burden on his back. Disillusioned that the road to the Celestial City is met with difficulty, Pliable vows to return to his hometown if he’s able to escape the Slough. He is successful in freeing himself and, as promised, hastily returns back to the City of Destruction; leaving Christian alone to drown in the miry Slough. That is, until a man named Help pulls Christian out and redirects him on the path to the Wicket Gate.
As Christian is making his way, he encounters a man named Mr. Worldly Wiseman and the two soon become acquainted. During their discourse, Mr. Worldly Wiseman mocks Evangelist’s counsel to Christian and persuades him to pay Mr. Legality a visit so that Mr. Legality can help Christian get rid of his burden. Christian listens and soon finds himself out of the narrow way that leads to the Wicket Gate, still carrying the great burden on his back, and afraid to venture further. And so we read:
Here therefore he sweat and did quake for fear. And now he began to be sorry that he had taken Mr. Worldly Wiseman’s counsel; and with that he saw Evangelist coming to meet him; at the sight also of whom he began to blush for shame. So Evangelist drew nearer and nearer; and coming up to him, he looked upon him with a severe and dreadful countenance, and thus began to reason with Christian.
Evan. What doest thou here, Christian? said he: At which words, Christian knew not what to answer; wherefore at present he stood speechless before him….
Evan. Did not I direct thee the Way to the little Wicket Gate?
Chr. Yes, dear Sir, said Christian.
Evan. How is it then that thou art so quickly turned aside? For thou art now out of the way.
Chr. I met with a gentleman so soon as I had got over the Slough of Despond, who persuaded me, that I might, in the village before me, find a man that could take off my Burden.
And so Evangelist and Christian continue their exchange. Christian recounts Mr. Worldly Wiseman’s deceptive tale; to which Evangelist rebukes Christian and admonishes him to stay on the narrow path, shows Christian his sin, and compares it to what the word of God says.
Then (said Evangelist) stand still a little, that I may shew thee the words of God. So he [Christian] stood trembling….
Then Christian fell down at his foot as dead, crying. Wo is me, for I am undone! At the sight of which, Evangelist caught him by the right hand, saying, All manner of sin and blasphemies shall be forgiven unto men; be not faithless, but believing: Then did Christian again a little revive, and stood up trembling, as at first, before Evangelist….
Chr. Sir, what think you? Is there hopes? May I now go back, and go up to the Wicket Gate? Shall I not be abandoned for this, and sent back from thence ashamed? I am very sorry I have harkened to this man’s counsel; but may my sin be forgiven?
Evan. Then said Evangelist to him, thy sin is very great, for by it thou hast committed two evils; thou hast forsaken the Way that is good, to tread in forbidden paths; yet will the man at the Gate receive thee, for he has good will for men; only, said he, take heed that thou turn not aside again, lest thou perish from the Way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.
Then did Christian address himself to go back; and Evangelist, after he had kissed him, gave him one smile, and bid him God speed; so he [Christian] went on with haste, neither spake he to any man by the way; nor if any asked him, would he vouchsafe them an answer….So in process of time Christian got up to the Gate.
Ladies, we see in this excerpt that early in his walk Christian encounters Obstinate, which the Bible describes people like him as scoffers (Proverbs 21:24). Along with Obstinate came Pliable, who the Bible paints as a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). Next Christian unfortunately meets with and heeds to the counsel of Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who in Romans 1:22 is found to be someone who professes to be wise, but is indeed a fool (1 Corinthians 1:18-22). And finally he was directed to Mr. Legality’s house, who is a Pharisee as he holds to a form of Godliness and seeks to keep people bound to the law (Matthew 23:1-7).
In contrast, notice the way Evangelist sternly rebukes his brother for his sins, speaks the truth in love, gently encourages him to repent, and urges him to entrust himself to the Lord. Dare we remember God’s warning in Galatians 6: 1-3:
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
In a world full of people like Obstinate, Pliable, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and Mr. Legality, may we be like Evangelist; restoring our brethren in a spirit of gentleness.
5 Better is open rebuke
Than love that is concealed.
6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.
7 A sated man loathes honey,
But to a famished man any bitter thing is sweet. ~ Proverbs 27:5-7