How A Soul Is Changed Forever
What you are about to read below is a crown jewel from what is already considered a treasure of literature. It is a short fictional discussion that reaches to the heart of true change. While individual experiences will vary, the truths that shape those experiences are told here in one of the most compelling, hope-giving, soul-freeing ways ever penned.
What, then, are you about to read?
The most enduring and influential book in the English language, right after the Bible, is a work published in 1678 called Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. It has never been out of print and has been published in over 200 languages.
John Bunyan was a wild man who was radically changed by God. He soon realized God was calling him to preach, but only those allowed by the state-sanctioned Anglican Church could do so. Bunyan preached anyway, and his powerful preaching soon landed him in prison. It was in prison that he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. It is a story of analogy that pictured the Christian life as a man on a journey to heaven. The man was named Christian and the story begins with Christian weighed down by the burden he carried on his back called sin. After being released from this burden at the cross he encounters many fearful hardships, such as the Hill Difficulty, Vanity Fair, and Doubting Castle. He also meets many people such as Mr. Worldly Wise, Talkative, and Giant Despair.
On his journey he eventually travels with one named Faithful and another named Hopeful. At one place in their travels Christian asks Hopeful how he came to care about his soul, and how he began to follow Jesus Christ on the narrow path.
This conversation is pure gold. Few discourses have ever captured the amount of biblical truth in such an economy of words, while at the same time explaining the struggles of the fallen human heart and the ways God powerfully draws and transforms it. The contrast to this is the drivel of so many unfaithful churches that espouse a powerless “check-the-box” understanding of conversion. To combat such a man-centered view of God’s work in a heart, and to regain a vision of the transforming power of the gospel, we present to you a biblically-faithful story of God’s work in man as told through the account of John Bunyan’s character named Hopeful.
Hopeful Tells His Story
Then Christian decided to start their discussion with a question. “How did you first come to think of doing what you do now?” “Do you mean how I first became concerned about the condition of my soul?” “Yes,” Christian said. “That’s exactly what I mean.” “For a long time, I continued to delight in those things which were on display and marketed at our fair,” Hopeful began. “Things which I believe now would have drowned me in damnation and destruction, if I had continued in them still.”
“What types of things were they?” Hopeful gestured with his palms toward the sky and shrugged. “All the treasures and riches of the world.” He let his arms drop as he shook his head. “I also delighted in much rebelling, partying, drinking, swearing, lying, lewdness, and much more. All of which tended to destroy my soul. But at last I discovered by listening to and considering spiritual truth, that this ungodly lifestyle would eventually lead to my death. (What benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Rom. 6:21-23) “I further understood that for such things as these the wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience. (Let no one deceive you with vain words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. – Eph. 5:6) Such truths I heard from you and also from beloved Faithful, who was put to death for his faith and good living in Vanity Fair.”
“And with this new understanding, did you fall under the power of this conviction?” “No,” Hopeful admitted. “At that time, I wasn’t willing to know about the evil of sin or the damnation that results from obeying it. Instead, when troubled by the Word of truth I endeavored to shut my eyes to its revealing light.” “But what was the cause of your stubborn resistance to these first workings of God’s blessed Spirit upon you?” “It was more than one cause,” Hopeful said. “First of all, I was ignorant that this was the work of God upon me. I never understood that God begins the conversion of a sinner by using awakenings toward sin. Second, sin was still very sweet to my flesh, and I was very reluctant to let go of it. Thirdly, I didn’t know how to part with my old friends, because their friendship and lifestyle were still desirable to me. And lastly, the times in which convictions grasped me were so troublesome and fearful to my heart that I could not endure them, or even the mere remembrance of them.”
“So are you saying that sometimes you were able to get rid of your troubling thoughts?” Hopeful nodded. “Yes, but then they would come into my mind again and I would be just as bad … no worse … than I was before.” “Why, what was it that brought your sins to mind again?” “Many things such as: If I merely met a good man in the streets; or, If I heard anyone read from the Bible; or, If my head began to ache; or, If I was told that some of my neighbors were sick; or, If I heard the bell toll for someone who had died; or, If I thought of myself dying; or, If I heard that others happened to die suddenly. “But especially when I considered my own pending appointment with judgment to come.”
“And at any time could you easily be relieved of the guilt of sin, when it confronted you by any of these ways?” Christian wanted to know. “No, not recently anyway. For they grabbed hold of my conscience and if I even thought of going back to sin, though my mind was in opposition to it, it resulted in double torment to me.” “And what did you think of doing then?” Hopeful said, “I decided I must make every effort to fix and improve my life or else I thought I was sure to be damned.”
“And did you actually follow through on this resolve and try to improve your ways?” “Yes,” Hopeful said quite enthusiastically. “And I fled from, not only my sins, but sinful company, too. Plus I devoted myself to religious duties such as praying, reading the Bible, weeping for my sin, speaking the truth to my neighbors, and more. I was involved with so many of these types of activities that they are too numerous to mention.” “And did you think all was well then and that you were better off because of this religious involvement?” Hopeful shrugged. “Yes, for a while. But eventually greater trouble overwhelmed me again. It reached a whole new level that rose above that of all my reformations.”
“How could that possibly come about, since you had reformed your ways and improved your life?” “Actually, several things brought this upon me,” Hopeful said, “especially such sayings as these: ‘All our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.’ (But we were all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses as filthy rags; and we all fell as the leaves of a tree; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. – Isa. 64:6) ‘By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.’ (Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. – Gal. 2:16) ‘When you have done all these things, say, We are unprofitable.’ (So likewise you, when you shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable slaves: we have done that which was our duty to do. – Luke 17:10) With these sayings and many more like them I began to reason with myself like this: If all my righteous deeds are like filthy rags; if no one can be justified by the deeds of the law; and if when we have done all, we are still unprofitable, then it is but foolishness to think of heaven by means of the law.
“I also thought about things this way: If a man runs up a hundred-pound debt at a local shop and after that pays cash for everything else he buys, his old debt still stands in the book unsettled. The shopkeeper may sue him for it, and throw him into prison till he pays the debt.” “Well, I understand what you’re saying, but how did this apply to you?” Christian asked. “Let me take you through my reasoning on this and you will understand,” Hopeful said. “As I pondered this, I realized my sins caused me to be greatly indebted in God’s book, and all of my current reforming will not pay off what I owe. Therefore, I wondered what the use is of all my present current efforts to improve. For how shall I escape from the damnation that I brought on myself because of my former transgressions?” Christian nodded thoughtfully. “That is a very good application. Please go on.”
“Well, another thing that troubled me was that even in my latest efforts to change …” Hopeful paused, searching for the right words. “… when I took a closer look at the best of what I do now, I still see sin, new sin which mixes itself with the best of what I do now. So now I am forced to conclude, that in my former fond conceits regarding myself and the debt I owe, I had committed enough sin in one day to send me to hell, even if all the rest of my former life had been faultless.” “And what did you do then?” “What did I do!” Hopeful’s voice raised. “I was at a loss as to what to do. I had no idea which way to turn, until I shared my troubled thoughts with Faithful; for he and I were well acquainted. He told me that unless I could obtain the righteousness of a man that had never sinned, then neither my own righteousness nor that of all the world could save me.”
“And were you convinced that what he spoke was true?” Hopeful ran his fingers through his hair and let his arm drop to his side. “Truthfully, if he had told me this when I was pleased and satisfied with my own efforts to improve, I would have called him a fool for his trouble. But now, having seen my own corruption and the sin which is attached to even my best performances, I have been forced to agree with his opinion.” “But when he first suggested this to you did you think that such a man could be found?” Christian asked. “One who could be rightly described as sinless?” Hopeful shook his head in short side-to-side movements. “I must confess that at first his words sounded strange; but after a little more talk and time spent with Faithful in fellowship, I became fully convicted that he was right.” Christian asked, “And did you ask him who this man was and to explain how you must be justified by him?” “Yes, and he told me it was the Lord Jesus, who dwells on the right hand of the Most High. (And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. – Acts 4:12)
“And so he explained that you must be justified by Him, by trusting in what He accomplished when He suffered by hanging on the tree. (But to him that does not work, but believes in him that justifies the ungodly, the faith is counted as righteousness. – Rom. 4:5) So I asked how that man’s righteousness could be effective in justifying another such as myself before God. And he told me He was the mighty God and that He died that death not for Himself but for me; to whom His obedient atoning work and its worthiness would be credited if I believed on Him.”
“And what did you do then?” “I offered my objections as to why I should not believe, because I thought this Christ was not willing to save me.” “And what did Faithful say to you then?” A smile tugged at the corner of Hopeful’s mouth. “He urged me to go to Him and find out for myself. But I said it was presumptuous to do so. Faithful said it wasn’t because I was invited to come. (Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. – Matt. 11:28) “Then he gave me a book of Jesus in which were His very words. He gave me this book to encourage me to freely come to Him. He said that every jot and tittle in this book were more firmly established than heaven and earth. (The heaven and the earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. – Matt. 24:35) Then I asked him what I must do when I came to Christ, and he told me I must fall to my knees (O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our maker. – Psalm 95:6), and plead with all my heart and soul (Then you shall call upon me, and you shall walk in my ways and pray to me, and I will listen to you. And you shall seek me, and find me, for you shall seek me with all your heart. – Jer. 29:12, 13), that the Father would reveal Him to me.
“Then I asked him how I must make my petition to this Jesus, and Faithful said, ‘Go, and you shall find him sitting on a mercy seat, where he sits all the year long to give pardon and forgiveness to those who come.’ (And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment unto the sons of Israel. – Exod. 25:22) “I told him I didn’t know what to say when I did come, and Faithful told me to say something to this effect: ‘God be merciful to me a sinner and enable me to know and believe in Jesus Christ. For I understand that if His righteousness was not available, or if I didn’t have faith in that righteousness, then I would be utterly cast away. Lord, I have heard that you are a merciful God, and have ordained that your Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world. And additionally, you are willing to grant Him and His salvation upon such a poor sinner as myself – and I am indeed a poor sinner. Therefore, Lord, take this opportunity to magnify your grace in the salvation of my soul, through thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen.’”
“And did you do exactly as you were told?” Hopeful’s head bobbed earnestly. “Oh yes, over, and over, and over.” “And did the Father reveal the Son to you?” Christian asked. Hopeful’s face grew thoughtful. “Not the first, nor second, nor third, nor fourth, nor fifth, no, nor even the sixth occasion either.” “What did you do then?” “What did I do?” Hopeful’s brows knit together. “Well, I didn’t know what to do.” Christian asked. “Did you ever have thoughts of giving up on praying?” “Yes, at least a hundred times and then another hundred.” “And what was the reason you did not give up?” Christian prodded. Hopeful shrugged. “I believed what he had told me was true, that is, that without the righteousness of this Christ, all the world could not save me. Therefore, I thought to myself, if I stop praying, then I die, and I can only die at the throne of grace. And in addition to this came the thought that ‘if it delays, then wait for it; because it will certainly come and will not delay.’ (For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it because it will surely come; wait for it. – Hab. 2:3)
So I continued praying until the Father showed me his Son.” “And how was He revealed unto you?” “I did not see him with my physical eyes, but rather with the eyes of my understanding. (Illuminating the eyes of your understanding, that you may know what is the hope of his calling and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints and what is the exceeding greatness of his power in us who believe, by the operation of the power of his strength. – Eph. 1:18, 19) “Now this is how it happened. One day I was very sad. I think I was sadder than at any other time in my life, and this bout of sadness was the result of a fresh insight of the greatness and vileness of my sins. And as I was anticipating nothing but hell and the everlasting damnation of my soul, suddenly, I thought I saw the Lord Jesus looking down from heaven upon me. And he called to me saying, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.’ (And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your house. – Acts 16:31) “But I replied, ‘Lord, I am a great, a very great sinner.’ And he answered, ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’ (And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather glory in my weaknesses that the power of Christ may dwell in me. – 2 Cor. 12:9)
“Then I said, ‘But, Lord, what exactly is believing?’ Then suddenly I understood that saying, ‘He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes on me shall never thirst.’ (And Jesus said unto them, I AM the bread of life; he that comes to me shall never hunger, and he that believes in me shall never thirst. – John 6: 35) I understood that believing and coming were the same thing. Therefore the one who comes to Christ, that is, the one who runs to him in his heart and earnestly longs after salvation by Christ, he is one who truly believes in Christ. Then tears brimmed in my eyes and I asked, ‘But, Lord, may such a great sinner as I am truly be accepted by you and be saved by you?’ “And I heard him say, ‘And him who comes to me, I will in no way cast out.’ (All that the Father gives me shall come to me, and he that comes to me I will in no wise cast out. – John 6: 37)
“Then I said, ‘But Lord, how must I properly think about you in my coming to you, in order that my faith may be placed properly upon you?’ “Then he said, ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ (This is a faithful saying and worthy of acceptation by all, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. – 1 Tim. 1:15) He is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (For Christ is the end of the law, to give righteousness to everyone that believes. – Rom. 10:4) He died for our sins and rose again for our justification. (Who was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification. – Rom. 4:25) He loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood. (And from Jesus, the Christ, who is the faithful witness and the first begotten of the dead and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins with his own blood. – Rev. 1:5) He is the Mediator between God and us. (For there is only one God and likewise only one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. – 1 Tim. 2:5) He lives forever to make intercession for us. (Therefore he is able also to save to the uttermost those that come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them. – Heb. 7:25)
“From all of this I understood that I must look for righteousness in His person and for satisfaction for my sins by His blood. What He did in obedience to his Father’s law by submitting to its resulting penalty was not for Himself but was for those of us who accept it for our salvation with thankfulness. As a result my heart became full of joy. Tears streamed down my face and my affections overflowed with love for the name, people, and ways of Jesus Christ.”
“This was truly a revelation of Christ to your soul,” Christian said. “But tell me more. Particularly the details of what effect this encounter had upon your spirit.” Hopeful pulled in a deep breath and let it out thoughtfully. “It made me see that all the world, despite all its righteousness, is in a state of condemnation. It made me see that God the Father, while being just, can justify the believing sinner. It made me greatly ashamed of the vileness of my former lifestyle and amazed me with the sense of my own ignorance. For until this time, my heart never contemplated the beauty of Jesus Christ. It made me love a holy life and long to do something for the honor and glory of the name of the Lord Jesus. Yes, I now considered that if I had a thousand gallons of blood in my body, I would willingly spill it all for the sake of the Lord Jesus.”
Bunyan, John. Pilgrim’s Progress (Illustrated): Updated, Modern English. More than 100 Illustrations. (Bunyan Updated Classics). Aneko Press. Kindle Edition.