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Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
making the most of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15-16, ESV)

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Notes Regarding the Characters in

Pilgrim's Progress

Lesson #18

By-Path Meadow - Believers, even when in the path of duty, walking by faith, and supported by the sanctifying influences of the Spirit, may be abridged of those holy consolations which they have experienced: and if this trial be accompanied with temporal losses, poverty, sickness, the unkindness of friends or ill usage from the world, they may be greatly discouraged; and Satan may have a special advantage in tempting them to discontent, distrust, envy or coveting.  Thus, being more disposed to “wish for a better way”, than to pray earnestly for an increase of faith and patience, they are tempted to look out for some method of declining the cross, or shifting the difficulty which wearies them: nor will it be long before some expedient for a temporary relief will be suggested.  The path of duty being rough, a by-path is discovered which seems to lead the same way: but, if they will thus turn aside, though they need not break through a hedge, they must go over a stile.  The commandments of God mark out the path of holiness and safety; but a deviation from the exact strictness of them may sometimes be plausible, and circumstances may seem to invite to it.  Men imagine some providential interposition, given ease to the weary; and they think that the precept may be interpreted with some latitude, that prudence should be exercised, and that scrupulousness about little things is a mark of legality or superstition.  Thus by “leaning to their own understandings”, and “trusting in their own hearts”, instead of asking counsel of the Lord, they hearken to the tempter.  Nor is it uncommon for Christians of deeper experience, and more established reputation to mislead their juniors, by turning aside from the direct line of obedience.  For the Lord leaves them to themselves, to repress their self-confidence, and keep them entirely dependent on him; and thus teaches young converts to follow no man further than he follows Christ. (Scott, p. 249)


Vain-Confidence - It would not be politic in Satan to tempt believers at first to flagrant crimes at which their hearts revolt: and therefore he endeavours to draw them aside, under various pretences, into such plausible deviations as seem to be of no bad repute or material consequence.  But every wrong step makes way for further temptations, and serves to render other sins apparently necessary: and if it be a deliberate violation of the least precept in the smallest instance, from carnal motives, it involves such self-will, unbelief, ingratitude, and worldly idolatry, as will most certainly expose the believer to sharp rebukes and painful corrections.  The example also of vain pretenders to religion, of whom perhaps, at the first interview, too favourable an opinion has been formed, helps to increase the confidence of him who has departed from the path of obedience: for these men often express the strongest assurance, and venture to violate the precepts of Christ, under pretence of honoring his free grace, and knowing their liberty and privilege!  But darkness must soon envelope all who follow such guies and the most extreme distress and danger are directly in the way they take. (Scott, p. 251)

            This dialogue [between Christian and Hopeful] is very natural and instructive, and exhibits that spirit of mutual tenderness, forbearance, and sympathy, which becomes Christians in such perplexing circumstances.  They, who have misled others into sin, should not only ask forgiveness of God, but of them also; and they who have been drawn aside by the example and persuasion of their brethren, should be careful not to upbraid or discourage them, when they became sensible of their fault. (Scott, p. 252)

            It might be thought, indeed, that an experienced believer, when convinced of any sin, would find little difficulty in returning to his duty and recovering his peace.  But a deliberate transgression, however trivial it might seem at the moment, appears upon the retrospect to be an act of most ungrateful and aggravated rebellion; so that it brings such darkness upon the soul, and guilt on the conscience, as frequently causes a man to suspect that all his religion has been a delusion. (Scott, p. 253)


Giant Despair - When David had fallen into the depths of sin and distress, he cried most earnestly to the Lord; and Jonah did the same in the fish's belly.  Extraordinary cases require singular diligence, even as greater exertion is necessary to get out of a pit than to walk upon level ground.  When believers, therefore, have brought themselves, by transgressions, into great terror and anguish of conscience, it is foolish to expect that God will “restore to them the joy of his salvation”, till they have made the most unreserved confessions of their guilt: humbly deprecated his deserved wrath in persevering prayer, and used peculiar diligence in everything that accompanies repentance and faith in Christ; and tends to greater watchfulness, circumspection, and self-denial. ... Such repeated sins and mistakes bring believers into deep distress.  Growing more and more heartless in religion, and insensible in a most perilous situation, they are led habitually to infer that they are hypocrites; that the encouragements of Scripture belong not to them; that prayer itself will be of no use to them: and, when they are at length brought to reflection, they are taken prisoners by Despair, and shut up in Doubting Castle. ... Despair, like a tremendous giant, will at last seize on the souls of all unbelievers: and when Christians conclude, from some aggravated and pertinacious misconduct, that they belong to that company, even their acquaintance with the Scripture will expose them to be taken captive by him.  They do not indeed fall and perish with Vain-confidence: but for a season they find it impossible to rise superior to prevailing gloomy doubts bordering on despair, or to obtain the least comfortable hope of deliverance, or encouragement to use the proper means of seeking it.  Whenever we deliberately quit the plain path of duty, to avoid hardship and self-denial, we trespass on Giant Despair's grounds; and are never out of his reach till renewed exercises of deep repentance and faith in Christ, producing unreserved obedience, especially in that instance where before we refused it, have set our feet in the highway we had forsaken. (Scott, pp. 254-5)

            Despair seldom fully seizes any man in this world; and the strongest hold it can get of a true believer amounts only to a prevailing distrust of God's promises, with respect to his own case: for this is accompanied by some small degree of latent hope, discoverable in its effects, though unperceived amidst the distressing feelings of the heart. ... Desponding fears, when they so prevail as to keep men from prayer, make way for temptations to suicide, as the only relief from misery: but when there is any true faith, however it may seem wholly out of exercise, the temptation will be eventually overcome, provided actual insanity do not intervene; and this is a very uncommon case among religious people, whatever slanders their enemies may circulate, in order to prejudice men's minds against the truth. (Scott, p. 258)

            When we properly attend to these matters we shall find out that, the holier a man is, the more liable he is to the assaults of doubt and fear and even despair.  We have whole psalms of despair, so deep was David’s sense of sin, so high were his views of God’s holiness and justice, and so full of diffidence was his wounded heart.  And David’s Son, when our sin was laid upon Him, felt the curse and the horror of His state so much that His sweat was in drops of blood, and His cry in the darkness was that His God had forsaken Him.  And when our spirits are wounded with our sins, as the spirits of all God’s great saints have always been wounded, we too shall feel ourselves more at home with David and with Asaph, with Spira even, and with Bunyan.  Despair is not good, but it is infinitely better than indifference.  “It is a common saying,” says South, “and an observation in divinity, that where despair has slain its thousands, presumption has slain its ten thousands.  The agonies of the former are indeed more terrible, but the securities of the latter are far more fatal.” (Whyte, p. 232)

            Serious recollection of past conflicts, dangers, and deliverances, is peculiarly useful to encourage confidence in the power and mercy of God, and patient waiting for him in the most difficult and perilous situations: and conference with our brethren, even if they too are under similar trials, is a very important means of resisting the devil, when he would tempt us to renounce our hope, and have recourse to desperate measures. (Scott, p. 261)


notes taken from:

Bunyan Characters in the Pilgrim's Progress by Alexander Whyte, London:Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, 1902.

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan with Explanatory Notes by Thomas Scott, Swengel, PA:Reiner Pub., 1976.


David G. Barker