Today we continue to read through John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we come to the ninth stage of Christian’s journey. You may remember that in the last stage Christian and his friend Hopeful encountered the shepherds at the Delectable Mountains. And now they journey on.
A lot happened in this week’s rather long reading–far too much to summarize in any substantial way–so I will pick just a couple of the things I found most interesting and helpful.
One of the things that struck me was that the arguments and attitude of atheists has apparently remained largely unchanged since Bunyan’s day (though I suspect that in that day the outspoken atheists were a little harder to come by). Here is a small piece of the dialog between Christian and Atheist.
Christian: We are going to Mount Zion.
Then Atheist fell into a very great laughter.
Christian: What’s the meaning of your laughter?
Atheist: I laugh to see what ignorant persons you are, to take upon you so tedious a journey, and yet are like to have nothing but your travel for your pains.
Christian: Why, man, do you think we shall not be received?
Atheist: Received! There is not such a place as you dream of in all this world.
When Christian tells Atheist that they are journeying toward the Celestial City, he breaks out into laughter. He catches himself and after he is finished mocking, he insists that he has sincerely sought that city and not been able to find it. It is his supposed sincerity that stood out to me. Though he can’t refrain from his laughter, he quickly reigns in the mockery and then shows this false and condescending sympathy. “I was like you once, but I did the work, I did the research, and I can tell you that you are misguided.” Atheists have not changed a whole lot. So many continue to act as if they have had a long and sincere spiritual journey in which they truly sought God only to find that he did not exist. Of course the Bible teaches us otherwise.
Another thing that stood out to me is the value of spiritual friendship. Bunyan portrays a deep and meaningful friendship between Christian and Hopeful. It is not a friendship revolving around nachos and football games, but a friendship based on co-laboring, on true spiritual companionship through life’s joys and trials. Time and again one man catches the other and prevents him from falling away or wandering astray; they continually exhort, encourage and rebuke one another.
As the two men approach the Enchanted Grounds and begin to grow sleepy, Christian prevents Hopeful from surrendering to his fatigue and falling asleep. Hopeful, full of gratitude, says, “I acknowledge myself in a fault; and had I been here alone, I had by sleeping run the danger of death. I see it is true that the wise man saith, ‘Two are better than one.’ Eccl. 4:9. Hitherto hath thy company been my mercy; and thou shalt have a good reward for thy labor.” Christian keeps Hopeful from sin as Hopeful has previously kept Christian from sin.
I suppose it is a good time to ask whether you have such a companion, a spiritual friend, who will stand by you as these two men stood together. Do you journey through life on your own or is your life open and transparent before a trusted friend or companion? Bunyan wants you to see the value of true, spiritual friendship, and he portrays it well in the lives of Christian and Hopeful.
To keep awake through weariness Christian proposes that he and his companion enjoy some good and significant discourse and further proposes that Hopeful share his testimony of how the Lord saved him. In this long dialog we see what Bunyan believed about conversion and we also see him teaching the gospel. It’s rather a fascinating dialog, one that is full of powerful truths, but one I could not hope to adequately summarize.
I will leave it there and look forward to some of your observations.
For next Thursday please read (or listen to) stage ten. You may want to consult the CCEL version if the version you are reading has a different chapter breakdown. Next week will bring us to the end of Christian’s journey and, thus, to the end of our reading.
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.