Wednesday, May 18, 2005

the clamour for an easy Bible

In an age of easy-believism and of relaxing the Biblical standards of holiness, men also want an easy Bible. So, it is not surprising to find easy read versions in high demand. Many modern versions of the Bible bring the Bible down to the lowest common denominator in spoken English so that the reader needs no real effort to understand what is read. The translators interpret and present the reader with what they believe to be the meaning of Scripture. One of the most recent translations is the Contemporary English Version, published by the National Bible Society of Scotland. The CEV has, we are told, the unique distinction that it “can be understood by five-year olds”, because the translators have valiantly purged from its English every last faint echo of the original languages. What is most disturbing about this claim is not so much whether or not it is accurate but the mentality that assumes the Bible may be reduced to this level without any significant loss or problem. Undoubtedly our faith may be childlike but to be childish is not quite the same thing.

Familiar unfamiliarity

This is educational theory gone mad. Doesn’t the Bible require effort from its readers? It does not speak in impenetrable mysteries, but neither does it speak in microwaved sound-bites. It speaks in a familiar unfamiliarity. We may hear it and partially understand, then subsequently grow in understanding as we apply the effort of thought. This is particularly true of the Wisdom books of the Bible such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes: “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” (Prov.2:1-5).

We can think also of the Lord’s parables. These stories with familiar details comprise elements of surprise in order to engage thought. “But without a parable spake he not unto them” (Mk.4:34). Although it is not arcane or deliberately obscure, and although certain statements may be immediately clear, the Bible requires the effort of thought. It is only after serious thought that it becomes clearer. Peter in referring to Paul’s epistles recognises that even he had to grapple with them in order to understand them since in them there are “some things hard to be understood” (2Pet.3:16). The work of the Holy Spirit is to make the Word plain to the believer.

The Reformers spoke of the perspicuity or clarity of Scripture; but, as Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, put it, “if there is obscurity, it is in the hearer and not the Bible itself”. Scripture never completely conceals its message except to him “who comes to the Scriptures with his own speech and interpretation” as opposed to him “who has a mind to learn from the Word of God”. Today’s Christian is woefully short of diligence. Yet to profit from the Word, humble diligence is required. The Puritan, Richard Greenham, said that we ought to read our Bibles with more diligence than men dig for buried treasure. Diligence makes the rough places plain, the difficult easy, and the unsavoury tasty.


The Bible stresses the humble reception of its truth Prov.1:30). The Lord Jesus Christ had to give solemn rebukes to those who had no room for either Him or His teachings in their lives (Jn.1:11 and 5:38,43). Is this not what the parable of the sower is all about? Paul’s command “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom” is a very important reminder.
The word translated “richly” has the sense of both fullness and of wealth. We must admit the Word freely into all areas. It must have the run of the house and no costs must be spared to fulfil its requests and requirements. We should approach God’s Word not merely as readers (the way that we approach other books), but more as listeners – intent to listen and intent to receive, doing the courtesy of exiting our own thoughts and entering those of the speaker. “Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas.1:21).

The whole theme of that part of James’s first chapter is of course about receiving the Word, culminating with: “whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (v25). This Greek phrase translated “looketh into” means bowing down to look intently into something. John used it in the account of the empty tomb, “stooping down, and looking in” (Jn.20:5). For a book to be understandable does not mean the same thing as being simply readable: understanding is more dependent upon attitude and motivation. Speedy reading certainly does not guarantee value from reading.

Our attitude

A W Tozer, in an illuminating essay entitled “Confessions of a New Version Addict”, states: “Since shortly after my conversion to Christ as a teenager I have been addicted to the habit of acquiring and being disappointed with new versions of the Scriptures, both revisions and new translations”, in the quest for a “new version that will make any other new versions unnecessary by bringing out the meanings of the Holy Scriptures as sharply as the developer brings out the
details of the picture on a photographic plate. But it never works out that way. After poring over the new book for a few days or weeks and finding that it is just one more version, I put it aside and return to my first love, the familiar King James Version”. Tozer proceeds to examine his assumptions and attitude: “I believe my error has been that I have nursed the hope, perhaps subconsciously, that my dullness of spirit and coldness of heart are the result of not hearing the truth expressed clearly enough in the common language of the street; that if I could hear a promise or a commandment couched in different words it would be easier to believe and obey”.

Our attitude to God’s Word is important as it reflects our attitude to God Himself. Do we see ourselves in a position of humility and submission before Him? Are we careful to represent Him accurately? The answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q54 “What is required in the third commandment?” is: “The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works”. The following catechism A55 states that the third commandment: “forbiddeth all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God maketh himself known”. As Cornelius Van Til has said, the Bible declares to us the self-contained God who is the final point of reference and we must not infringe the authority and Word of God in favour of man’s self - important pride. To set aside God’s commandment concerning the attitude that He requires from us towards His Word, is to attempt to drown out the very voice of God. Are we willing to learn from God’s Word, or do we want to change it in order to suit us?

Accuracy or Readability?

Is it not self-evident that the Scriptures are different from anything else? They have an “otherness” through their historical character but much more so by virtue of Divine verbal inspiration. Translators must seek to get as close to the original languages as they possibly can, rather than interpret and modify the Word to suit the experience of a 21st century Western reader. Accuracy of translation is much more important than style or easy readability. We must accept that the Lord did not give the Word in “today’s street English”. A translation such as the Authorised Version may have some unfamiliar aspects to it but the benefit of that unfamiliarity is that it forces readers to grow accustomed to it and to make themselves at home in it. Many modern translators take the approach of swapping the true language of the Bible for an easy colloquial paraphrase. Most modern English versions are therefore denying and destroying the “otherness” and the authority, of the Scriptures, in a highly alarming way. An accurate translation such as the Authorised Version, on the other hand, has the kind of transparency which allows the original language to speak clearly to the serious reader. It is not the function of the translator to explain the meaning of the text. He must present what was written, rather than interpret or paraphrase it.

Why are there difficulties?

The parts of Scripture that we find difficult to interpret, and that many modern translations seek to explain or paraphrase away, are there for a reason. Elnathan Parr (d.1630), a highly respected minister in Suffolk, who lived during the time of King James I, (when the AV was produced), asked why there were difficulties in the Bible in his book Short and Plain Exhortation to the Study of the Word. He remarked that the Scriptures will not always be difficult as they are now because they become increasingly clearer under the ministry of the Holy Spirit as time goes on. They are not difficult in every area: in the basics or foundations of the doctrine of salvation and of faith and practice they are clear and uncomplicated. Some passages are astonishingly hard. But this is all in the wisdom of our God, who has provided milk for babes and meat for strong men. The simple things are for our nourishment, the hard things for our exercise. The former allay our hunger, the latter our pride. The Church Fathers spoke of the Scriptures as a mighty river in which a lamb may walk safely yet an elephant might also be drowned in it. None should despair of understanding them but neither should any presume that they have known them to exhaustion. There is variation on a journey through the open landscape between high hills and gentle valleys and there is also change in the seasons: a pleasant summer is more welcome after a particularly harsh and stormy winter. The same type of variation in God’s Word between portions that are either difficult or obvious makes both more pleasant to us and sharpens our desire to study it, which would otherwise be easily dulled. Parr then gives some more specific reasons as to “why the Lord would have some things in His Word be enclosed in clouds of obscurity, making as it were, darkness their pavilion”.
Firstly, that we might know and acknowledge the understanding of the Word to be the gift of God.
Secondly, to tame the pride and arrogancy of our nature which would soon appear if all things were obvious and easy at first sight.
Thirdly, that we should not reject and make of light account the Word, for this is our corruption which does not esteem or appreciate offered kindness or grace.
Fourthly, that impure dogs and swine be kept from holy things.
Fifthly, that we should make of high account the ministry of the Word, ordained for the opening and interpreting of the same.

Sixthly, to stir us up to prayer, and to continue with diligence and care in the hearing and reading of it, as matters of great difficulty are not surmounted with ordinary effort.

“Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge: for it is a pleasant thing if thou keep them within thee; they shall withal be fitted in thy lips. That thy trust may be in the Lord, I have made known to thee this day, even to thee. Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge; that I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth?” (Prov.22:17-21).

Monday, May 16, 2005

the holdfast - a poem by George Herbert

This is a poem which emphasises the nature of the sovereign free grace of God:

The Holdfast.

I threatened to observe the strict decree
Of my deare God with all my power & might.
But I was told by one, it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.

Then will I trust, said I, in him alone.
Nay, ev’n to trust in him, was also his:
We must confesse that nothing is our own.

Then I confesse that he my succour is:
But to have nought is ours, not to confesse
That we have nought. I stood amaz’d at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend expresse,
That all things were more ours by being his.
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

the Fear of God

Catechism on the Fear of God

"Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in His commandments" (Ps 112:1; Ps 147:11).

What is the importance of the fear of God?
Life lived without the fear of God or seeking his glory is empty of meaning: "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity". But the fear of God is the whole duty of man (Eccl. 12:13f). Our highest reason for living is to glorify God and our greatest good flows from it. This is bound up with the fear of God. (Deut 10:12ff; Ps. 112:1). If we would avoid the eternal ruin of our souls we must be brought to the true fear of God (Prov. 14: 27).

Who should fear God?
All people everywhere in all ages should fear God for ever and ever. At all times his "name is to be feared for ever and ever". This is the command of the everlasting gospel (Rev. 14:7). But especially his people are greatly to fear Him (Ps 34:9; Ps. 89:7; 1 Pet. 1:17; Ps. 86:11).

Are we to expect a time when the nations shall fear God as they should?
It is prophesied that the fear of God will be prevail across the face of the earth in the latter days. (Psa 102:15; Is. 59:19; Mal 2:5).

What is meant by the fear of God?
The fear of God encompasses all of the service that we ought to render to God: divine worship and duty in a spirit of sincerely seeking God's honour and fearing to displease Him. "Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear." (Psa 5:7; Mic 1:6).

How are we taught the fear of God?
By the word of God only and not by the commandment of man (Is 29:13; Ps119:38; 1Jn 1:3-4).
In what way do God's people fear to displease Him?
Knowing the Lord as the Holy One of Israel, of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, they desire not to sin and offend God; like Job, they eschew evil, they hate it and depart from it avoiding it like a plague (Prov 16:6; Prov 8:13). The greatest evidence of the absence of this fear is the increase of sin especially when it is open, indulgent and unashamed (Ps 36:1). The fear of God is the treasure of the saints (Is 33:6). Either we depart from sin out of the fear of God or we forsake God because the fear of Him is not in us (Jer 2:19).

What does the fear of God especially focus upon?
The fear of God is focussed on the majesty of God in all that He is and all that He does. "That thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD" (Deut 28:58). "Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread." (Isa 8:13). His sovereignty Who would not fear thee thou king of nations? His Goodness (Hosea 3:5; Jer 33:8,9; Jer 5:24) Forgiveness (Ps 130:3-4), His Holiness (Rev 15:24) Omnipotence (Jer 5:22). His Wrath (Ps 90:11; Ps76:7; Mt 10:28).

What is the difference between slavish and filial fear?
Slavish fear is forced (Matt 25:24-25; Luke 19:20), guilty (Gen 3:10, unbelieving (Rev. 21:8), hypocritical (2 Kings 17:32, 33 & 41) and afraid to offend God as Judge. It is only an occasional concern (Acts 24:25).
Filial fear is voluntary (Neh 1:11), truly reverent, joyful (Ps 64:9-10; Is 33:6), believing (Heb 11:7), sincere (Ps 119:33) and afraid to offend God as Father. It is a settled habit (Acts 9:13; Phil 2:12; Deut 14:23), fearing always lest the heart be hardened (Prov 28:14).

But is it not written that "perfect love casteth out fear"?
This fear is not the fear of God but slavish. There is no torment in the filial fear of God, rather it is loving and perfected in love.

What does the fear of God work in us?
The fear of God instils purity in us (Ps 19:9) and works godly sorrow (2 Cor 7:11). It makes us teachable (Ps 86:11; Job 34:22). It establishes our hearts (Ps 86:11; Jer 32:39-40) and enlarges them (Is 60:5). It gives contentment (Prov 19:23; Ps 25:12-13). It creates a prayerful spirit (Ps 145:19-20; 1 Kings 8:37-40); reverential thinking and speaking of God and any means whereby He makes His name and glory known (Mal 1:11&14; Mal 3:16; Lev19:30&26:2). Carefulness (Rom 11:20; Phil 2:11).

How does the fear of God relate to wisdom?
The fear of the Lord is wisdom and the root and beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7). This is heavenly wisdom. The fear of God makes a man truly wise by teaching him how best to live his life to the highest end. Those who reject God profess themselves to be wise but are fools.

How should the fear of God affect our daily life?
We should have the fear of God always before our eyes in everything (Rom 3:18). We should be afraid of sin and temptations to sin in anything and everything. Every moment is lived before God and unto God and therefore the fear of God should always be before us. It will affect even smallest things. Charity and submission to God's people (1 Kings 18:3-4; Acts 10:1-2; Eph 5:21). Nehemiah's self-denial and compassion for the people of God in their poverty as it impacted upon his status and calling as Governor of Judah is a mark of the fear of God. (Neh 5:15).

Who is our supreme example in the fear of God?
Christ alone manifested the fear of God in perfection. "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him . . . and shall make Him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord" (Is 11:2ff.). The fear of God is a mark of being conformed in some degree to the image of Christ.

Which saints excelled in the fear of God?
Many of the patriarchs excelled in the fear of God,Job and Isaac (Gen 31:42,53). Abraham's fear of God was tested in an ultimate way (Gen 22:12). Joseph particularly shows the holy fear of God in regarding the great wickedness of sin to be its offence against God. (Gen 39:9).

What are the blessings of the fear of God?
The blessings of God follow us domestically, ecclesiastically and nationally (Ps 128). We are guided by God (Ps 25:12). We are preserved and provided for by God (Ps 33:18-19; Ps 34:9-10). We are delivered in trouble (Ps 34:7; Ps 85:9). There is everlasting mercy and pity upon us (Ps 103:13&17). Our prayers are heard and answered (Ps 145:19-20).

The Freeness of the Gospel Invitation

Rev. John Marshall, Stirling (1795-1833)
This is a sermon which I would like to see reprinted, because it displays an admirable presentation of the gospel.

Isaiah 65:1 (Latter clause) ‘I said, behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name’

In perusing the Holy Scriptures, it is impossible to proceed far without being presented with astonishing illustrations of the condescension of God. These would appear wonderful even if this world had still been in an unfallen state. What Solomon said at the consecration of the temple would have been applicable even although that temple had been reared in paradise, and though the words had been uttered by man in a state of innocence, ‘But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? Behold, heaven, and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have built!’ But when we look at man as a wretched, sinful exile from God, and at this world, nay, even the whole creation, as groaning and travailing in pain, by reason of the rebellion against God by which it is loaded; and when we contemplate the multiplied modes and forms of sin by which the divine government is daily dishonoured; what should we expect from God, if he spoke to sinners at all but demonstrations of unmingled wrath? These, however, are a present only given in measure. The full weight of them is behind, but it is reserved for the day of eternal judgement. Now, however, amidst palpable tokens of the divine displeasure against sin, there are mixed the most encouraging proofs of the divine condescension in warning use from the coming wrath, and offering to us a present deliverance from it. Every promise of God, is a proof of his wondrous condescension. And every promise of God ought to be food to strengthen our readiness to go to him as our deliverer and our life. But such is the waywardness of sinful man, that he staggers at the promise through unbelief, and stays himself not upon it. God condescends to use other methods. Invitation is one of these; and to render the unbelief of man without excuse, he graciously makes the invitation wide, as wide as the habitable globe. ‘Look unto me’, is his language, ‘and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.’ And lest the peculiarity which attended the nation of Israel of old should be a stumbling-block to any one of the race of Adam who should read the Old Testament, he says in the words of the text, ‘I said behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name’. Let us consider,

I. The gospel invitation which is here offered.
II. The urgency of it, implied in the repetition of the expression, ‘Behold me, behold me.’
III. To whom it is addressed, ‘To a nation’, saith the Lord, ‘ that was not called by my name.’

I. The gospel invitation. ‘Behold me.’ Brief is this command, but it is awfully important. It enjoins on sinners to turn away their eyes from viewing vanity, and their affections from a world lying in wickedness, and it presents to them in its stead the great God himself. ‘Behold me.’ How strange would this command seem in the view of some angel of light who might be ignorant of a world of sin. ‘What!’ might he exclaim, ‘is it necessary for any creature capable of knowing thee, O God, to be commanded to look at thee? what can this mean? Wherever my eye roams, I see thee, O thou Most high, and cannot but see and adore thy great and glorious name. If I were commanded to look away from thee, I should try in vain, for thou art everywhere. in every object of thy creating power and care, thy presence and glory are beheld.’ How different is it with sinful, inexcusable man! He, too, cannot open his eyes on the fair creation around him without having the divine power and glory spread before him. But he sees them not. Although ‘the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made - even his eternal power and Godhead - so that men are without excuse’, yet they shut their eyes, ‘they glorify him not as God’, - ‘their foolish hearts are darkened;’ and let us never forget, that it is folly and depravity of heart that produce utter darkness in the understanding. Their hearts are alienated from the true God, and they ‘worship and serve the creature more than the Creator, who is over all blessed for ever.’ Brethren, such is man when the blessed announcement first reaches him, ‘Behold me,’ saith the Lord. I formed you for myself. why have ye sold yourselves to another? ‘Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die!’ but who speaks? It is the Author of every good and perfect gift. this constitutes the grand encouragement, though men are slow to receive it. He who commands us to look to Him by faith, is the only being who can, out of his fullness, give us faith. This should remove many a difficulty that Satan is eager to throw in our path. Do we hesitate still? Let us be aware then: it is not because we have not a sufficient warrant for trusting ourselves in the Lord's hands. He commands us to come to him. ‘This is the command of God, that ye believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.’ ‘Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.’ The command is from the Lord, and the Lord is the object to which our faith is commanded to be directed. But what is there in this object to wean us from the world and sin, and to attract us for ever away from them? There is light in God. ‘Light is sweet, and it is a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold the sun;’ but spiritual light is sweeter far than the light of the loveliest landscape that ever struck our view, - than the fairest morning or evening sky that ever shone on our earth. The light which faith beholds in God, and which it receives from him, is, indeed, while on earth, still ‘a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise on the soul.’ But it is a glorious and peaceful light even here. And what it this light? It is simple ’truth’. ‘I am,’ said Jesus, ‘the light of the world.’ ‘ He that abideth in me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life’, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’. In other words, when man comes to himself and looks to God by faith, he begins to see objects in their real value. he was before ‘walking in a vain show,’ deeming the merest trifles of great value, and reckoning eternally valuable objects as unworthy of pursuit. he was formerly blind to the evil of sin, - to his alienation from God, and to the misery in which it involved him. He now sees all this, because he looks to the Lord, the sun of righteousness, - and in his light he sees light.

There is pardon with God. This is another attraction. Misgivings dark and heavy will arise in the most careless souls, and not till after the conscience has become by long resistance seared will they go utterly away. Mercy is sweet, therefore, to think of, but that vague hope of mercy which multitudes lean on is a frail support. Their trust is as a spider’s web. It is not a vague idea of divine mercy, it is pardon procured and sealed by blood, that can alone speak peace. This pardon is with the Lord, who says , ‘Behold me.’ We require not when we hear this and go to God - we require not to look around for a way of reconciliation. God meets us with an atonement completed - with a law honoured- with divine justice vindicated- with divine holiness not only unblemished by this offered forgiveness, but most awfully shewn forth by it. All things are ready then. The command is, Come and accept. Put out the hand, ‘Be not faithless but believing.’ ‘Behold me;’ pardon is with me. ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool. Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as snow’.

There is love in God - love glorious, eternal, sovereign, unchangeable. He not only forgives past offences, but adopts into his family, nurtures and defends, comforts, instructs, enriches, and eternally blesses all who have come to take refuge under his wings. ‘Behold what manner of love is this,’ say they, ‘that we should be called the sons of God’. ‘herein, indeed, is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us.’ Love is an attractive principle. Divine love surpasseth all the love of creatures in this property. When that love is contemplated in redemption, and shed abroad over the heart, the chains of Satan and the world and of reigning sin are shattered. The loveliness of the divine character rallies the wandering affections, and gives them a sure and glorious resting-place. Both on account of what God is, and of what he ahs done for the soul, it is lifted up in admiration, it is melted into love. Hence it is said, that ‘faith worketh by love.’ From all this we may learn, that faith in a reconciled god through Christ, is drawn forth by right apprehensions of God. The soul weighed down by sin perceives in Him, as revealed in the face of his Son, the most attractive qualities; and such as are exactly suited to its wants and varied circumstances. ‘This is eternal life, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent’. Therefore, the invitation of God is, ‘Behold me’. In me is light, pardon, love.

There is, however, a peculiar urgency employed, which is indicated by the repetition of the expression, ‘Behold me, behold me’. This was the II. Particular referred to, the urgency of the invitation. In judging abstractly of the dignity of God, we might, with our weak conceptions, be tempted to think it enough if he simply made the offer once, and withdrew it if it were not accepted. Can it be that the Most High will suffer a worm of the dust, a sinner deserving hell, to refuse him more than once? Shall not his wrath burn as an oven and his fury as flames of fire? Such suggestion, it is not wonderful, should arise. but when we open the Scriptures they are dissipated. The name of God is ‘the Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious’.

What greater proof of this can be afforded than in the fact, that a sinner refused an offer of mercy , and yet was allowed to remain on earth, --- that multitudes have done so, and yet been spared for many years afterwards in the land of hope? What stronger proof of it than such a repetition of invitation as occurs in the text, -- ‘Behold me, behold me,’ saith the Lord.
This is the urgency of pity, of power, of holiness. It is the urgency of ’pity’. It reveals God not merely as a stern lawgiver, but as a compassionate Creator. It reveals God not as careless of the creature, and only careful of his own government, but as deeply concerned for the misery which the creature has brought on himself by sin. The command is not coldly uttered. It is not, take mercy if you will, and if you will not, refrain. But it is affectionately given, -- ‘Behold me, behold me’. you turn away from me daily, and deem it a gloomy restraint to think of me; but you wrong me. And you awfully wrong yourselves. You wrong me; for what can you allege with truth against my government, or laws, or providential dealings? The gloom you speak of is in your own unsanctified, unhumbled souls. there is no darkness with me; and none who seek me will abide in darkness. ‘Though weeping may endure for a night, joy cometh in the morning’. ‘Come, then, and let us reason together. What have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against us.’ ‘Behold me’, I say once, and again I say, ‘Behold me’. ‘Turn ye, turn ye, for wherefore will ye die?’ How awful is his condescending urgency --- how awful if despised! If yielded to, how gracious does it appear to the returning contrite soul! It is the urgency of tender compassion.

But this language presents also the urgency of ’power.’ It is not the cry of unavailing compassion which is heard by a sinner when Jesus speaks in the gospel. It is the gracious invitation of a mighty saviour, who is able to save to the very uttermost all who come unto the Father through him. It is the command, and the offer, and the invitation of Him who ‘giveth power to the faint, and who increaseth strength to him who has no might.’ A man standing on the shores of the sea, and beholding the horrors of a shipwreck in a storm, may have all his compassion aroused for the sufferers; but he may be totally unable to yield nay effectual relief. His cry is one of pity, not of power. he dare not rush in to the billows; or if he did it would be unavailing. but the Lord, who beholds human souls perishing in their sins, rushes in among them, and stretches out the arms of deliverance. He walks not along the shore of this world's troubled ocean, viewing with indifference the shipwrecks which everywhere present themselves; but he leaves the shore – he walks amid the storm. He holds out salvation. He urges acceptance. he comes as the mighty god, and yet as the Prince of Peace. He says to the sea, be still. He says to the dead soul, live. But such is the wondrous beauty and wisdom of his arrangement in redemption, that while his power is changed without any violence being done to it. The sinner is led to choose the deliverance presented to him. He ventures in to the arms of the Saviour. He flies by faith to lay hold on the refuge thus set before him. He becomes willing in a day of divine power.
Let us never forget then that the urgency which the Lord uses in the passage before us, when he says, ‘ Behold me, behold me’, is not merely the cry of pity but of power. It issues from him who is ‘mighty in working’ as well as ‘wonderful in counsel’. And to all who listen and believe, it will become matter of joyful experience, that Christ is ‘ the power of God’ as well as ‘the wisdom of God’.

It is not only , however, the urgency of power that is here manifested, but also that of ’holiness’. It is the cry of a Being who will not be mocked with impunity. It is the offer of mercy by Him to whom the sin he offers pardon for is most abominable and atrocious, - of Him whose government throughout this wide dominions is upheld by holy laws - whose perfections are most holy -- who, though proffering pardon now, will, ere long, be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of his Son’. ‘ Consider this, ye that forget God,’ and neglect his invitation. It is not because God thinks lightly of sin that he provided for its pardon. he is not the unconcerned or indisciminating spectator of you actions and principles that you fondly imagine. he has not taken pity on you, because he only saw in you slight failings or excusable follies. These terms he recognises not. Al sin he hates; and the very first workings of it in the heart he has denounced as condemning. Think not the n it is your wretchedness merely that he looks at, and that, amidst his sympathies for that, he has lost his hatred of your sin. Ah no! This cannot be. He regards your greatest calamity as ’sin’. And ’because’ he hates your sin, he has provided for your deliverance from it. But he has so arranged the mode of deliverance, that his holiness is stamped on every step of it. He made a holy Saviour to suffer on the cross. A holy sacrifice has been offered. a holy obedience has been rendered. The Holy Ghost has come into our world to apply it. and provision is made for the fruits of holiness being produced in all who obey the gospel invitation. It is then not only the urgency of pity and of power, but of holiness also, thatis presented to us when we hear the Lord's voice saying, ‘Behold me, behold me’.
And to whom III. is this invitation given? It is declared to be ‘ to a nation that was not called by my name.’ This the apostle Paul refers to the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles. The Jews were for a season the peculiar people of God, set apart as a visible emblem of the true church. ‘They shall put my name on the children of Israel’. But they were ‘not all Israel that were of Israel;’ and their repeated and continued provocations were visited by a removal of their privileges, The Gentiles had no external designation to the Lord. His name was not written on them. Yet to them the gospel offer is made as freely as to the Jews. But why should we think merely of the Gentiles, in opposition to Israel being addressed by the Gospel? By those who have not the name of God on them, may be also meant such as make no profession of religion, such as have no reverence for divine ordinances, and therefore do not even give them the customary deference of others around them. Notwithstanding all their perverseness, and folly, and stout heartedness, still to them the kind invitation of the text reaches. ‘Now’, even to them ‘ is the accepted time, and now is the day of salvation’. And when, in this thoughtless career, any word of scriptural truth by any means whatever reaches them, and when any gracious offer of mercy at any time falls on their ear, the offer is as free, and the blessings offered as abundant, as to others. Nay even to the very outcasts of society the invitation extends. ‘Ho! every one that thirsteth, and he that hath no money, come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price.’

But why should we confine our view to any section of our fallen world? Has not the whole race lost the name of God? Originally they bore it; for man was formed in the very image of God. The name of his heavenly Father was written on his soul. But ‘man living in honour did not abide’. He lost his name; he lost the love of the true God, and ‘he did not like to retain the knowledge of him’. He no longer belongs to the heavenly family. He knows not his Father’s voice. He is a vagabond from his Father’s home. He acknowledges him not. ‘The ox knoweth his owner, the ass his master’s crib, but this people do not know, neither do they consider’. Even multitudes of the Israelites who bore externally the name of God, as well as multitudes of persons professing Christianity in every age, have merely ‘a name to live, but are spiritually dead’. They have not sought after or recovered the divine image. Whose name, then, do we by nature bear? The name of Satan. Unbelieving persons are described in Scripture as belonging to the synagogue of Satan. To unbelievers in the days of his flesh the Lord said, ‘Ye are of your father the devil, and the works of your father ye will do’. ‘They are led captive by Satan at his will’. ‘They walk according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience’. Satan is the leader of a rebellious world; and as with other leaders, his followers bear his name. Yet behold the loving kindness of God. He will not upbraid with their great unworthiness any who come from Satan to himself. He will not say, ’Ye belong to the ranks of my greatest enemy, and therefore to whomsoever I give mercy, it will not be to you’. No; he saith, ‘Behold me! Behold me’ even to you who are not called by the name of God, but by the name of the great adversary. That adversary he has condemned eternally. For your leader, ye unbelievers, there is no mercy; yet God does not involve you in the same hopeless doom. You are condemned, but not irrevocably. The sentence will be wiped away, and will no longer stand against you the moment you betake yourselves to the Lord by a living faith. Satan, indeed, your present leader, will tell you a different matter. He will bias you, if he can, against God. He will make the world, self, and sin seem desirable, and God’s ways and truth repulsive. Which, then, will ye believe? Will you listen to the devil rather than God? You do so if you close not with the invitation of God, ‘Behold me! Behold me!’ You declare yourselves not only to have been of the ‘nation that are not called by the name of God’; but to be of those who prefer the name and the slavery of Satan. Ye are they who ‘love darkness rather than light, your deeds being evil’.

Such then, is the gospel invitation, ‘Behold me, saith the Lord’, - its urgency, ‘Behold me, behold me’; - the persons addressed – those who bear not the name of God, including the whole family of fallen man. Let God’s people learn from this what God expects from them – that they shew forth the name of the Lord upon their character. ‘The Lord’, it is true, ‘knoweth them that are his’, but he would have the world to know it too, and therefore he says, ‘Let every one that nameth the name of Christ, depart from all iniquity.’ ‘They are one’, one in aim and trust, and holy obedience, ‘that they may know’, saith Christ, ‘that thou, Father, hast sent me’. ‘Be ye then followers of God as dear children’. Be ye ’living epistles of Christ, known and read of all men’.

Let those who seek Christ learn from this, to beware of keeping themselves back, by vain efforts to bring something meritorious with them in their hands. Mark the invitation, ‘Behold me, to a people who are not called by my name’. Come, then, without delay. If you wait till you make yourself more acceptable, you dishonour Christ; you shew that you are ignorant of his righteousness. Take him, then, as a free gift, and be healed, pardoned, and saved. Amen.

worldly christians?

A new type of professing Christian has emerged over recent decades; one whose lifestyle is in no way different from that of an unbeliever except that they make a profession. In many evangelical churches the worldly Christian is now the norm. "Try to fit it in with the world" says the worldly Christian, "it’s wrong to put up barriers and not be accepted". They have been told that godly living is really a kind of legalism that makes God into a killjoy. They have been misled to believe that what the gospel does is to make lives that are only already partially fulfilled by the world to be completely fulfilled by Jesus, who is a type of missing add-on extra. Worldly Christians are assured by the equally materialistic lifestyle of other professing Christians: they take their standard from each other primarily rather than the Word of God. What does the New Testament say, however? Can we simply live as pagans: going to the same places and enjoying the same pleasures?

These are days in which we need to hear the clear, uncompromising teaching of the apostles. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 13: 13-14: "Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof". That whole passage in Romans 13 is indeed powerful, especially beginning at verse 11. Paul is picking up a previous theme stated at the beginning of Romans 12 (one of the major turning points of the epistle to the Romans). In Romans 12:2 there is a clear command: "Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind".

No time for it

In the latter part of Romans 13 this command is given added urgency by the consideration that time is so short. We must have an eye on the clock, as it were, "knowing the time". There is significance in each moment, any life is so short that each moment is vitally important (Psalm 90:9-11). Eternity is always at hand. "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light". The apostle Paul is making it clear that time is shorter than we think. The present age is temporary like one single night (Psalm 90:4). The day of the appearing of our Lord and Saviour will soon come. We must live our lives in recognition of this fact rather than quibble or speculate about whether the second coming will take place before we die (John 21:22). We can be aware of the light of that "day" afar off just as Abraham saw Christ's day centuries before, and was glad (John 8:54).

Living honestly

It is a question of attitude and response to these facts - if we think it will always and forever be only dark and night then we will do the works of darkness. But if we know that a new era, a new world, a new heavens and new earth must come about as sure as day follows night, if there is a horizon as certain as every days dawn - we will prepare for that morning by dressing and acting appropriately. "Live as though the day has already dawned" he is saying, "let us walk honestly as in the day". The word "honestly" has the sense of properly or becomingly and therefore the type of behaviour that is suitable and respectable for the daytime. Behind the apostle's imagery is the assumption that even pagans have a limited sense of decency and conscience. They would never engage in some of their shameful deeds except at night when they can have the cloak of darkness rather than do what they do in full view. Paul is implying that we ought to and must live open lives and do nothing, of which we might be ashamed, especially if the Second Coming of Christ interrupted it.

Giving an account of our stewardship

Perhaps the apostle Paul has in mind the picture of a large household, the management of which has been left to various servants by the rich homeowner. Some of the servants take advantage of his goods and wine cellar and leave aside their duties and responsibility for a wild time. One servant, however, has kept his affairs in order, and rises early to go about his business, knowing that some day perhaps in the early morning (who knows?) his master will arrive. "Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall being to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of. And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 24:44-51).

"And that servant, which knew his lords will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:47-48). What if having been given gifts, talents, and resources and having been instructed to trade with them to make them useful and profitable in extending our Masters estate ("occupy till I come" Luke 19:13) we should be asked suddenly to "give an account of stewardship"? (Luke 16:2) The call is to wake up and to get our house in order. It is "high time" - the crisis time of the crucial moments before the deadline of the judgement. The candle of night is burning very low, it is far-gone like a burning match that is very nearly spent, hardly anything is left. Paul is the watchman, calling out the last watch of the night. It is now the hour to be roused out of sleep. The apostle Peter makes the same point about remaining time in one of this letters. "He that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead". I Peter 4:1-5 The reasons and arguments that Peter uses are exactly the same as Paul's: the (sinful) past and the future (God's judgement day) must dominate our view of the present. Our past is a goad behind us; the shame and pain of it prodding us forward, the future is bright but with a holy brightness that shines on all of our life, exposing every area however private and undisclosed. Our consciences are quickened as we realise that we have already filled up our lives with so much that will shame us profoundly on that Day. As the parables indicate, the day of judgement will be a time of reward, (Rev. 22:12) what can we expect?

Casting off the works of darkness

Wake up to these facts, says Paul, wake up to these towering shadows of past and future that influence the present so totally. Compare the present with the past and the future, see how short the present is, you don't in fact know how long it will be and that is why each moment of it is precious. Too much time has been lost already. "All the time we spend in a sinful state is all lost time. O look to this you young ones. All the time you spend in the vanity of your youth is lost time, and you who have lived until you are old and have been a long time in a sinful state, you have lost all your time. O the time upon which eternity depends is all lost for you have spent it in the ways of sin which has no good in it at all". (Jeremiah Burroughs)

"Are you living like a pagan?" asks Paul, "Are you doing the works of darkness, hoping to get away with it unnoticed because none has found out?" "Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame" (I Corinthians 15:34). Are you flirting with the gross sins that Peter lists? Surely you know that God sees and won't ignore it? (Psalm 90:8). Have you lost your spiritual and moral alertness, drowsing away in apathy? You need a sudden recollection of forgotten duty. The ultimate mark of our generation is of course apathy: the tuned out, dropped out careless sloth of many a young person: the sleep of unconcern about their destiny, their existence and their lifestyle. There is a deadly apathy that is ignorant of coming judgement and will not listen to any warnings. "Seek him that...turneth the shadow of death into the morning...The LORD is his name" (Amos 5:8).

"Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the masters use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart". (I Timothy 2:19-22).

Sinful practice and the works of darkness must be cast off and thrown away, these three vile pairs that Paul mentions in particular: rioting and drunkenness, chambering and wantonness, strife and envying.

The word translated "rioting" is rendered "revellings" in I Pet. 4:3 and Gal. 5:21. It means boisterous merrymaking, we might call it partying or clubbing in our day. In some evangelical churches up and down the land the youth fellowship after church consists of heading to the pub. Many university Christian unions find that their meetings must not be organised at a time that would prevent members from going to pubs and clubs. Is it right for a Christian to do these things? Are we free to if we want to? Our age and many Christians sadly say, "Yes, it's not forbidden really" or "its up to you to decide". As though the Scriptures had not said 'be not among winebibbers'.

Neither Paul nor Peter, however, is not afraid to draw the line and be seen to dictate how Christians ought to live, they are not vague and noncommittal at all. The word connected with "rioting" "drunkenness" means excess or "drinking bouts" (having alcoholic drink after alcoholic drink) and is generally translated as 'drunkenness'. "Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares" (Luke 21:34).

"Chambering" might be translated as cohabitation, but probably has more a meaning of promiscuous sex (the word is related to conception in Rom. 9:10). "Wantonness" is a word sometimes translated "lasciviousness" (Mark 7:22, 2 Cor 12:21, Gal. 5:19, Eph 4:19) or lustfulness (I Peter 4:3). Paul would have used the Greek word for fornication if he meant that alone, but this would repeat the sense of "chambering". Paul is surely covering all relevant actions, attitudes, words, and motives.

We would do well to return to the Westminster catechisms. The Larger Catechism teaches us that the duties required in the seventh commandment: "chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behaviour; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance; keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel...diligent labour in our callings, shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto". The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment "besides the neglect of the duties required, are "all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behaviour, immodest apparel...idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others". There are Scripture proofs for all these statements too. All in all, it deals with lustfulness as the fuel and force of a wide range of sins, an excess of lust that totally dominates, possesses and controls. The way of guarding against this sin is to be strict in controlling what our eyes and ears take in.

Each pair of sins in Paul's list appears to deal firstly with shared sins and secondly with personal sins, he deals with the root as well as the outward manifestation. When he goes on to speak of strife and dissension, or fighting, he is dealing with the root of envy. Verbal strife comes from built up envy and frustrated selfishness (which is what envy is). The apostle James describes this sullen, selfish covetousness accurately. It is a spirit that seems to characterise the youth and youth culture of our day.

"From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" James 4:1-3.

However, fashionable all these pairs of sinful practices are (and they are supremely fashionable since selfishness and serving ones own lusts are the only thing that apathy does not touch) they are clothes that we cannot wear. Instead we should prove our identity as children of God by putting on the armour or weapons of light. We cannot put on night-clothes in preparation for a battle and self-defence. The flimsiness of night-clothes could not be more different from battle-wear: wearing night-clothes on military duty or in battle is about as absurd as wearing armour in bed. We must be prepared at all times therefore, ready for action, ready either to be on the defensive or the offensive.

Put on Christ

In the Bible the metaphor of clothing generally represents character, ability, and commitment. To put on Christ - is to put on the armour of light, to draw upon our resources in union with him, to live out the new man in Christ Jesus. Union with Christ is the crucial fact of the Christian life: think of how much the New Testament uses the words "in Christ". Paul urges us to be what we really are; to live properly dressed wearing the new garments of holiness that speak of our new status as sons of God. We are to enjoy and to display what is ours. "Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breast plate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation." (I Thess. 5:5-8).

We are given the practical help of this last phrase "make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof". Paul is telling us how to avoid these sins of excess, these works of darkness. The crucial point concerns the mind, the command "make not provision" means "don't plan or think about such things beforehand", don't think about anything that would put you in a dangerous situation, and don't plan to put yourself there. Before you do things and enter into situations think about consequences and where it will lead. A thought sows an action. The answer is to make the things of God a conscious priority, to set your mind on things above and then there will not be room for sinfulness and even dubious things, we can only die more and more to sin as we live more and more to righteousness. This passage tells us that as Christians we can have no other lifestyle.

"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and will some forth and serve them. And if he come in the second watch, or come in the third watch and find them so, blessed are those servants." (Luke 12:35-37, read also Matt 25:1-13).

knowing where you are going: The Pilgrim's Progress

We rarely travel for the sake of travelling but actually to get somewhere. If life is a journey then it too must have a goal, yet if many rarely travel for the sake of travelling, many live for the sake of living. Travellers are, however, people of destiny - they have a destination whether they like it or not. John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress reminds us that we need to know where we are going in terms of our ultimate destination. Our life ought to be a journey 'from this world to that which is to come'.


Pilgrim's Progress opens, as you might expect, with the question of knowing where to go. We see a man helpless without any such knowledge, and are gripped by the stark vision of a ragged, burdened man in a 'certain place'. All our attention is focussed not upon the location but upon the man and his pitiful, angst-ridden cry, "What must I do?" It is a vivid description of the desperate emptiness of any man in a state of nature. The puritan John Rogers felt this emptiness very deeply in reflecting upon his own experience: "for what I was before I know not what, a mere - I know not what".

The ragged man has only enough knowledge to ask the most basic, helpless question in a bare statement of ignorance. This shows us man in his lostness, he has no answers in himself, they must come from outside of himself. God must speak. With a little more knowledge from the Scriptures he is able to increase his question to "What shall I do to be saved?" Evangelist must present to him plain exhortations on where to go and how to get there. Having recognised the great gulf between mere existence and eternal life, the man will run from Destruction crying "Life! Life! Eternal life!"

It was a firm principle with the puritans that knowledge, or 'a right understanding' (as Richard Baxter put it), was vital to any sound conversion. This didn't mean that conversion was simply absorbing new information, on the contrary the puritans spoke of it as a supernatural act of God's redeeming grace alone. The mind, however, had to be informed by the Holy Spirit and the Word to start with, for the will to respond consequently with the Holy Spirit's gift of faith. The Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us very helpfully that we are inwardly and effectually called by "God's Spirit...convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills"


As Bunyan's pilgrim progresses therefore, he continues to be dependent upon knowledge. Failing to discern ignorance in Mr Worldly-Wiseman he acts upon false knowledge until 'he stood still, and wotted not what to do'. Again he is helpless and dependent upon knowledge from Evangelist.

The Christian remains dependent upon the Spirit after conversion, in order to 'grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ' (2 Peter 3:18). The Holy Spirit's instruction in knowledge by means of the Word of God continues to be fundamental to the living of the Christian life. The believer must still know how to progress, how to continue to journey to the destination that he has begun earnestly to pursue. Christian is instructed in Interpreter's house and helped with some necessary knowledge so that he is able to say upon leaving: 'Here have I seen...things to make me stable in what I have begun to take in hand'.

Later Christian cannot go forward having lost his roll which signifies the knowledge of election; Bunyan repeats twice that Christian 'knew not what to do', he cannot keep going forward in this situation but must retrace his steps. The knowledge that Christian requires is not barely intellectual therefore but vitally united to experience and faith. Knowledge may sustain faith, but faith (through grace) sustains Christian. The Christian does not say "I think therefore I am" but "I believe (through the grace of God) therefore I am". John Calvin expressed this point powerfully, 'Each moment of faith becomes the foundation of all existence: I see my self continually flowing away, no moment passes without my seeing myself at the point of being engulfed. But since God sustains his elect in such a way that they never sink and drown, I firmly believe that I shall live despite innumerable storms'.

Christian too faces many troubles, toils, and snares, but he is led safely on. The shepherds that Christian meets at one point both encourage and unsettle with their enigmatic replies based upon the principle of 'no fears, no grace'. It is a difficult journey but not impossible. When Christian asks 'How far is it thither?', the Shepherds wisely respond, 'Too far for any, but those that shall get thither indeed'. Christian's enquiry ' Is the way safe, or dangerous?', meets with the truth 'Safe for whom it is to be safe'. These are answers that are intended to stir up resolute faith and committed progress.


Through the character of Talkative, Bunyan makes the very important point that despite an emphasis upon knowledge, those who 'say and do not' are in fact outside the truth no matter how orthodox their speech. Talkative is tight-lipped on 'Experience', but 'The Kingdom of God is not in word but in power'. A Christian must be of the truth and thereby know the truth and its power (John 8:32). Bunyan had been instructed by his pastor John Gifford to seek the truth in its power and not to take 'any truth upon trust, as from this or that or another man or men, but to cry mightily to God, that he would convince us of the reality thereof, and set us down therein by his own Spirit in the holy Word'.

The pilgrims relate their experiences of the Word in order to encourage each other in the journey. The spiritual wisdom that Puritan ministers offered accorded vital importance to experience, as John Rogers put it, 'Now to a poor soul all such things as are in the soul, are made known by experiences; experience we say, proves principles'. When Bunyan was in prison for preaching the gospel, he wrote a letter to his congregation in order to strengthen them, in it he encouraged them to call back to mind the times of confrontation with the truth in their past experience. 'Have you never a hill Mizar to remember? Have you forgot the close, the milk-house, the stable, the barn, and the like, where God did visit your soul? Remember also the Word, the Word I say upon which the Lord hath caused you to hope'.


When the Lord Jesus Christ said to Pilate, 'Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice' (John 18:38), His 'judge' immediately proved the point by responding with blind wilful ignorance, 'What is truth?' Again and again those that Christian meets that are not true pilgrims betray the fact that they are not of the truth out of their own mouths. Atheist for instance betrays his blindness when he says, "There is no place as you dream of, in all this world". Ignorance too is ignorant of all that will save him, his lack of true knowledge leads him to an all too modern and familiar position that we call relativism: the idea that everyone has their own truth. He says 'That is your faith, but not mine; yet mine I doubt not is as good as yours'.

Formalist and Hypocrisy have the same relativism; all the ignorant reject God's truth and therefore condemn themselves. The ignorance of the ignorant in Pilgrim's Progress is not an innocent lack of knowledge, rather it is a wilful rejection of the truth. They ought to know where they are to go and how they are to get there, but they have refused that knowledge.

Against the vision of those crossing to the Celestial City we see one wretched soul entering into damnation, it is significant that this is Ignorant himself. The point that Bunyan seeks to make is stated very powerfully by one the books that made a strong impression upon him as an early Christian. In The Plain Man's Path-way to Heaven, Arthur Dent writes, 'Our Lord foreseeing the great danger of ignorance (how thereby thousands are carried headlong into Hell) doth admonish all men to search the Scriptures which do testify of him...Oh therefore that men would earnestly seek after the knowledge of God in time'.

A popular modern approach to Bunyan's classic has been to enjoy the narrative like a novel, ignoring its themes and concern for truth and knowledge. It had occurred to Bunyan that some readers might attempt this and so he cautions us in his Conclusion not to play with the 'outside' of his dream but to 'put by the Curtains and look within' the 'Vail'. We must make sure not to be blind to the truth as the ignorant travellers but to seek the reality and power of the truth. As the author himself says, 'O then come hither, and lay my Book, thy Head and Heart together'.