Classic literary works never date. Among such works is John Bunyan’s 17th century classic Pilgrim’s Progress. It has endured the test of time because it powerfully captures the believer’s imagination, allegorically portraying the Christian’s life endeavour and representing it as a pilgrim’s journey to a heavenly promised land. In the story, the pilgrim, one named Christian, encounters numerous trials, temptations, and distractions in his quest toward the heavenly destination. Yet, despite all, with God’s gracious help, his glorious eternal quest succeeds. The book’s message is clear and simple: The Christian life is hard and fraught with many dangers, but in the strength of divinely empowered perseverance, the Christian’s glorious eternal reward will be gained.
In reading, my heart was stirred again to a fresh zeal for God and desire to embrace his kingdom. But, why would such an outdated view of the Christian life awaken such emotions?
Simply this, the book is incredibly realistic and truthful. Based on sound scriptural truths, it brings to the forefront of the readers mind, the stark realities of the ‘real’ Christian life and ‘real’ Christian hope. Pilgrim’s Progress doesn’t water down or sugar-coat Christianity, rather it brings into sharp focus two perennial truths: Firstly, that following Jesus is hard, with many enemies (external and internal) railing against one’s devotion to him, and secondly, that the eternal reward is so great that any hardship is worth enduring.
Of course, a cynic might dismiss such a work as Puritan fanaticism, suggesting that such a rigorous view of life was characteristic of this form of 17th century Pietism. But, if the Puritan’s were anything, they were determined to accurately represent biblical truth. That is to say, they knew their bibles well, and they understood in great detail the theological and practical implications for every verse of Holy Scripture; and this not in some Pharisaic legal manner, but their exposition of scripture (at least those like Bunyan) is filtered through a warm-hearted spiritual devotion.
Consequently, Bunyan’s work is no mere fictitious representation based on 17th century Puritan ideals, but an well-told allegorical representation of the Christian life, accurately portrayed on the grounds of a faithful interpretation of Holy Scripture (albeit with a 17th century flavor).
If you don’t believe me, just read Hebrews 11 and 12, and you will simply witness the scriptural rendition of this pilgrims life. For example: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country– a heavenly one.” Hebrews 11:13-16
Yet, of all the metaphorical challenges Bunyan’s pilgrim faced, it was the enchanted ground that struck me most.
The enchanted ground is a place located near the end of the pilgrim’s journey, a place that lies within plain sight of the celestial city; a place that tends to give one a sense of having arrived–a place that endears the pilgrim with a deceptively false sense of security. A place where pilgrims fall asleep, never to wake! Indeed, Bunyan represents it as a very dangerous place, perhaps even more dangerous than seemingly more perilous locations along the way. Why is this so?
The danger of the enchanted ground lies in its subtle deceptiveness. Because no deception is more powerful, than when it engages the fragile believer at the point they think they are safe!
Having overcome many great perils, perhaps being weary from the journey, and becoming hardened from the battle, and then coming to a place of ease, in such close proximity to the goal, the Christian pilgrim is most vulnerable to this deceptive peril. Now, I am sure you are familiar with the known fact, that many motor vehicle accidents occur within just a few miles from home, just when the driver begins to relax, as they enter familiar territory. So it is with the enchanted ground.
According to Bunyan, the enchanted ground hides three dangers, dangers represented by the individuals: Simple, Sloth, and Presumption.
Simple, I understand as representing spiritual complacency. There comes a time in the lives of Christians where they think they have it all figured out. They have a reasonable understanding of the truths of salvation, foundational moral values, a sound formulation of doctrine, and a consistent understanding of church life and practice. For them everything spiritual is now routine, the Christian life is simple–nothing more to learn, nothing more to do. Yet, they have become complacent in their simple appreciation of Christianity; no longer willing to delve deeper into scripture and sound out more ‘meaty’ understanding of truth, no longer willing to attain an understanding that might lead them into a greater depth of maturity, and equip them to defend truths under the attack of worldly compromise. Simplicity subtly erodes their devotion to Jesus.
Sloth, quite simply represents the vice of sloth. Those who have been on the Christian pilgrimage for some time, and who have collected many battle scars, can grow weary from the hardness of the journey; they can feel they have done their bit, fought their fight, run their race—perhaps from here they can ‘coast’ on home to the celestial city. Unfortunately, such a disposition easily lends itself to moral complacency and material laziness. Such as these fall prey to the allurements of material comfort. Accompanied with the aforementioned traits of the ‘simple’, they can become captive to subtle prosperity theology, which takes the focus away from future glory and places it in the comforts of the ‘here and now’. They now feel they have arrived, but their misplaced hope deceives them such that they will never arrive.
Finally, we must consider the idea behind the character Presumption. Having been grounded on the two former vices, Presumption (presuming on God’s favor) represents the final nail in the beleaguered pilgrim’s coffin. Complacency invariably leads to a presumption on the grace of God. The presumptuous tend to embrace the subtly false doctrine of ‘once saved always saved’, they start to believe that God simply ignores their pet sins, their worldly adulteries, and their carnal ambitions. They believe they cannot fall, because God’s grace won’t allow them. But, they are deceived. God’s grace does not lead to unfettered liberty, but on the contrary, to an ever increasing obedience. Many are those who thought their faith was secure, only to discover their false presumptions had led them far from God. Indeed the testimony of Scripture is replete with such examples, prompting Paul’s warning: ” So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!: I Cor10:12 (NIV)
Friends, I am hesitant in suggesting this, but I am afraid it is true: The contemporary first world church has fallen asleep on the enchanted ground. They have lost sight of the glorious celestial city, just across the valley, and the great value of attaining all it has to offer. In its place, they have fixed their hope on material comforts, worldly ambitions, and emotional quick-fixes . But its time to wake up, before it is too late. Again, the Apostle Pauls’ ‘inspired’ words offer a sober warning….
” The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light…. clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.: Romans 13:11-14 (NIV)
And again, another challenge….
” So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.: 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 NIV
No matter how far you are along in the Christian journey; whether at the beginning of the journey, or wearily nearing the end, I implore you, beware the enchanted ground!