Having read Challies blog entry on leading kids through devotionals I decided to revamp some things we had been doing with the kids give his idea a try. I created a series of daily journal pages for my daughter Lauren and together we are working through Pilgrim’s Progress. This is my first time reading this classic by John Bunyan. For those who are wondering Lauren what my daughter did to deserve such a fate as to wrestle with the Old English text, she is using a simplified version from Abeka.
In this post I wanted to share some things that struck me from our devotional a few days back as we got to the point in the story where Christian has reached the gate.
For those who have not read the book it is an allegory of the Christan life. The story focuses on a man named Christian who has the goal of removing his burden – a large pack upon his back – that weighs him down. In the first part of the story he is traveling to the wicket-gate that Evangelist has told him about. After a bit of journey he is able to reach the gate that bears the inscription “Knock and it shall be opened to you” (Matt 7:7;13-14). Christian heeds the advice and knocks on the door. After knocking he is greeted at the door by Goodwill who asks him what he wants.
Let’s drop into the conversation:
Christian: Here is a poor, burdened Sinner. I come from the City of Destruction, but am going to Mt. Zion that I may be delivered from the wrath to come. I would therefore, Sir, since I am informed that by this gate is the way thither, know if you are willing to let me in.
Goodwill: I am willing with all my heart, said he; and with that he opened the gate.
As Christian enters through the gate the conversation continues. Goodwill asks if anyone has persuaded him not to travel to the gate:
Christian: Yes, both Obstinate and Pliable; but when they saw that they could not prevail, Obstinate went railing back; but Pliable came with me a little way.
Goodwill: But why did he not come through?
Christian: We indeed came both together until we came to the Slough of Despond, into the which we also suddenly fell. And then was my neighbour Pliable discouraged, and would not adventure farther. Wherefore, getting out again on that side next to his own house, he told me I should possess the brave country alone for him: so he went his way, and I came mine; he after Obstinate, and I to this gate.
Why did Pliable fail to reach the gate?
Looking back at his initial encounter with Christian we find him open to what he learns as it all seems reasonable. Pliable is even eager to reach the gate and heaven.
Christian:There is an endless kingdom to be inhabited; and everlasting life to be given us, that we may inhabit that kingdom for ever.
Pliable: the hearing of this is enough to ravish one’s heart. But are these things to be enjoyed? How shall we get to be sharers thereof?
Christian: The Lord, the governor of the country hath recorded that in this book, the substance of which is, if we truly be willing to have it, he will bestow it upon us freely.
Pliable: Well my good companion, glad I am to hear of these things; come on let us mend our pace.
Christian: I cannot go as fast as I would by reason of this burden that is on my back.
Why did Pliable fail to reach the gate?
It was not because Christian was a better person or a more courageous man. The difference was that Pliable had no burden. Notice what Christian tells Goodwill:
Goodwill: But how is it that you came alone?
Christian: Because none of my neighbors saw their danger as I saw mine.
What is the burden? What is the danger?
Christian, unlike Pliable saw himself as a burdened Sinner destined for the wrath to come. He recognized that we are not some bio-chemical goo evolved from primal sludge that will vanish upon our death. He understood that there is a Creator God, Who is Almighty and Holy (Challies gives a good description in this blog post comparing holiness to gold). He knew that we are accountable to this righteous Judge to whom we owe a debt that is not repayable.
Pliable did not understand the danger he was in. Pliable is like the Pharisee that prays trusting that he is already ok with God (Luke 18:9-14) or the third example in the parable of the soils told by Jesus (Luke 8:4-15). The one where the seed (good news) falls on the rocky soil.
And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.
Christian on the other hand is like the tax collector who recognizes his burden and prays:
God, be merciful to me, a sinner
Why did Christian reach the gate?
Without the burden, one is unlikely to seek the narrow gate and persevere as Christian.
Goodwill: Then said Goodwill, Alas poor man; is the celestial glory of so little esteem with him [Pliable], that he counteth it not worth running the hazard of a few difficulties to obtain it?
Christian: Truly said Christian, I have said the truth of Pliable, and if I should also say all the truth of myself, it will appear there is no betterment betwixt him and myself. It is true that he went back to his own house, but I also turned aside to go in the way of death, being persuaded thereto by the carnal arguments of one Mr. Worldly Wiseman.
Notice the humility in the answer he give (Luke 18:14). Christian recognizes that it is not because he was more courageous or less of a sinner because he too has been led astray by the wisdom of the world and does not deserve to enter the gate anymore than Pliable. He just understood the big picture better and the burden he carried.
As I read and thought through this chapter three dangers for the Christian came to mind. The first is forgetting our burden that was taken from us, the second is thinking that we deserve heaven and others don’t, and the third is following worldly wisdom that contradicts God’s principles and promises.