The previous stage took Christian and Hopeful into both the heights and depths of life, which very often do occur back-to-back as Bunyan has described. Now, as has been the pattern since the Valley of Humiliation, Bunyan follows a stage of much action with a stage of much conversation. In the ninth stage, which is bookended by their encounters with Ignorance, the two pilgrims tell the story of Little-Faith, are led into a snare by Flatterer, and enter into the Enchanted Ground. This is the largest reading that we have covered yet, and I soon realized that there was far too much to discuss over the course of one week. Thus, we will break our discussion of this stage into two parts.
Lessons from Turn-away & Little-Faith
Although our reading begins with the pilgrims’ meeting Ignorance, their fullest discussion with him takes place at the end of this stage, so we will save our comments on him until next week.
In a brief yet frightening scene, the pilgrims witness a man whom Christian believes to be named Turn-away being dragged by seven devils and bound by seven cords to the door in the side of the hill that the shepherds had shown them, the by-way to hell. Although they could not see the man’s face, he bore the titles Wanton Professor, and damnable Apostate upon his back.
As a sidenote, Bunyan uses the word professor often in this stage of the journey, but he did not use it to mean a collegiate teacher as we do today. Instead, by professor he meant a person who professes to follow Christ; thus, all disciples of Christ are professors in this sense.
This is the fate of all who turn away from the faith, of those who appeared to be pilgrims for a season yet proved otherwise by their fall into apostasy. The terrifying (and rightly so!) warning of Hebrews 6:4-6 speaks of such persons:
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
One writer is right to warn:
O beware of a light trifling spirit and a wanton behavior. It is often the forerunner of apostasy from God. It makes one tremble to hear those who profess to follow Christ in the regeneration, crying, What harm is there in this game and the other diversion? The warmth of love is gone, and they are become cold, dead, and carnal. O how many instances of these abound!
Sadly, such examples are no less common today. If anything, we might be able to argue that they have increased. As the West continues its post-Christian movement, the cultural impetus to follow Christ is decreased and the acceptance of trifling behaviors is increased. Thus, ideal circumstances are created for falling away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints and into apostasy.
Seeing this scene reminds Christian of something that happened to a man near the very dark lane where they espied Turn-away. The man’s name was Little-Faith, and he happened to sleep by a place called Dead-man’s-lane, where he was then robbed and beaten by three men named Faith-heart, Mistrust, and Guilt. Yet by the providence of God, the thieves did not find his hidden jewels. Even so, Little-Faith continued his journey in mourning and sorrow. I will let another summarize the overall meaning of Little-Faith’s story for us:
Where there is a faint heart in God’s cause, and mistrust of God’s truths, there will be guilt in the conscience, and but little faith. These rogues will prevail over, and rob such souls of the comforts of God’s love and of Christ’s salvation. By his jewels, we may understand those radical graces of the Spirit–faith, hope, and love. By his spending-money, the sealing and earnest of the Spirit in his heart. Of this Divine assurance, and the sense of the peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, he was robbed; so that, though he still went on the ways of the Lord, yet he dragged on but heavily and uncomfortably.
It seems that we are meant to grasp two large lessons from this tale of Little-Faith.
First, even though Little-Faith did indeed have little faith, it was sufficient to keep him on his pilgrimage. He may have lost all comfort and assurance of his salvation through the guilt that came because of his faith-heartedness and mistrust, yet he still held on to his jewels. He still continued onward, no matter how dejected he felt. This ought to be a comfort to us in similar times of sorrow that will not lift brought on by the burden of guilt. So long as we do not sell our birthright as Esau did or turn away from the faith, our mustard seed sized faith is sufficient so long as it is in our faithful Redeemer.
Second, we ought to take warning of Little-Faith’s condition and not fancy that we would fare any better in the time of trial. We can remember stories like that of Thomas Cranmer who buckled under the torture to recant his confession, yet then in a better mind, recanted his recantation and upon the stake plunged the hand with which he signed the renouncing of his protestant faith into the fire first. No one knows what they may say or do if brought to such a test. Indeed, Jesus told us explicitly not to worry about what we were to say. Let us never make the kind of pronouncements of our own faithfulness as Peter did to Christ, but instead pray to the God of all grace to give us enough faith to stand through whatever fires He may bring us through.
Of Flatterer & Chastisement
Christian and Hopeful now came upon another path that seemed to be just as straight as the road that they were presently on; thus, they paused to consider which way they should go. While deliberating, a man called Flatterer came in disguise and volunteered to lead them toward the Celestial City by the other road. Yet the road that seemed straight quickly led them away from the city, and soon they fell into Flatterer’s net, which he had set before them.
Spurgeon comments that “this is not a picture of temptation to turn aside altogether from the good way. The path of the destroyer appeared to run parallel to that in which they ought to have kept. Nor did they go blundering on, but consulted with one another. Therein they were mistaken, for they should have consulted their Book of instructions. Then they were misled by a gentleman of pleasing appearance, who looked like a servant of the King of kings, and who spoke softly to them, assuring them that, as he himself was bound for the Celestial City, he could lead them hither. His winning accents caused them to yield themselves to his guidance; and, by-and-by, their faces were turned directly away from the city towards which aforetime they had been pressing. You see, it is not a case of deliberate choice of sin; but rather of being deluded through neglect of the Word of God, which is the true guide of the pilgrim.”
If this is a not a portrait of much of today’s Christianity, then I do not know what is! So many do not direct their choices according to the Scriptures instead choosing to follow the promptings of the Spirit, which often consists of looking around for signs or simply following inward desires. This is mysticism, well intended mysticism perhaps, but mysticism nonetheless. Very often, we are simply making our own decisions and baptizing them as being spoken of God. Then, if they lead us down crooked paths, we rage against the LORD or, at least, quietly mistrust Him.
The reality is that God gives us much freedom to follow our own desires so long as they are in accordance with His Word. This means that you do not need a heavenly light to shine down upon the person whom you are to marry. Is he or she a growing disciple of Jesus, rooted in his Word? Do you like each other? If you can say yes to both questions, then why not pursue marriage? Likewise, when planning my sermon series, I do not look for mystical signs of what God would have me preach. I am committed to preaching the Scriptures; therefore, I choose texts that most interest or challenge me, trusting that in so doing, those who receive the Word will find much benefit.
But the key to it all is to stay firmly rooted in Scripture. No inward prompting of the Spirit will ever lead to accepting a job in an underground gambling ring or in pornography, for those behaviors are already condemned in Scripture, and the Spirit will never contradict God’s Word. We would do well to remember that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
But the true way to honor the Holy Spirit as our guide is to honor the holy Scriptures through which he guides us. The fundamental guidance which God gives to shape our lives–the instilling, that is, of the basic convictions, attitudes, ideals and value judgments, in terms of which we are to live–is not a matter of inward promptings apart from the Word but of the pressure on our consciences of the portrayal of God’s character and will in the Word, which the Spirit enlightens us to understand and apply to ourselves.
Thankfully, the pilgrims are rescued from Flatterer’s net by a Shining One, who then questioned them and chastised them. Indeed, this is truly a picture of the Holy Spirit’s work in a believer. Whether through the bringing back into mind of Scripture hidden within our hearts or through the scriptural rebuke of a fellow believer, the Spirit sets us free from Flatterer’s snare and sets us back upon the proper path. Yet we should also not pass over the chastisement that was brought upon the pilgrims. Again, this may be inwardly or outwardly applied. We may simply feel the pang in our conscience at grieving the Spirit, or we may be left to face outward consequences for our folly. Either way, the pilgrims thanked the Shining One for his kindness, for discipline is an act of love. What Proverbs 13:24 says of earthly parents is equally true of our heavenly Father: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”
Also let this correct any potential ignorance of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is rightly called our Comforter, yet that title assumes the older definition of the word, which meant to fortify or to strengthen rather than ease and encourage. We should, therefore, not think it strange to be chastised by the Spirit.
Soon the pilgrims met another man along the way, Atheist. When told of their intent to go to Zion, Atheist simply laughs in derision of their ignorance, telling them that he sought the city for twenty years but is now returning to everything that he left behind.
Hopeful rightly calls Atheist “one of the Flatterers” (157), but his flattery is certainly different than the deception of Flatterer. Instead, Atheist flatters through derision and scorn, as if his unbelief were the most obvious course of action. He also flatters by appealing to the desire to be content with worldly things. Indeed, his motto, since he denies God’s existence, is “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).
How many Christians have listened to the flattery of Atheist! How many have given way to the assertion that atheism is scientific, while Christianity is ignorant? Even though the scientific revolution of the modern world has been entirely predicated upon Christian truth, specially that since the Creator is knowable His creation must be knowable as well. And how many have succumbed to the appeal of nihilism: we only have one life to live, so let’s enjoy it as much as we can!
“But there is a world to come” (156). Our inward groanings are right; we were made for something more than this. Christ really did rise from the dead to prove His divinity. We certainly cannot view the Celestial City clearly in this life, but we can by faith and through the Scriptures glimpse its eternal glories. In this, let us like the two pilgrims: “rejoice in hope of the Glory of God” (157).
 The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 147.