Pilgrim's Warnings: Part One

I love recommending books for two reasons. First, the practice is hopefully helpful to the one searching for goodness and wisdom in printed form, and it is a joy to place a good resource in their hand. Second, though, recommending books is also good for helping my own mind categorize and prioritize books as I regard them as useful to others (different books for different issues and situations). As I consider which book might be best appropriate for a given person and their situation, there is a short list of works that I am eager to recommend to any Christian in every situation. Somewhere on that short list is John Bunyan's incomparable work, The Pilgrim's Progress. 
I am not going to attempt to review this book. The literate world has already spoken, and there is good reason that, until the mid-20th Century, Pilgrim's Progress was the second-most sold book in history (after the Bible). It was published in 1678 and still is completely relatable and helpful to the Christian on their journey to glory. Again, this is not a review of the book, but I cannot stress enough – every Christian must own and read this book.  
My purpose here is to highlight some figures Christian meets while on his journey (I’ll start with just one for now). They are in the book for good reason, as they represent very real paths to destruction. If you’ve read the book, you know that people are given names of virtues or vices, such as Pliable and Faithful, while places follow the same naming pattern, such as The City of Destruction, Vanity Fair, and Doubting Castle. We have something to learn from each of these figures. While I’m going to write about several of them, there are many other characters in the story worth considering. If you want to meet them, I suppose you’ll have to buy the book!  
Mr. Worldly Wiseman
Early on in his journey, Christian meets a man along the way called Mr. Worldly Wiseman. As his name indicates, he presents himself as very confident and sure of himself and his choices. He comes from a town called Carnal Policy. Upon meeting Christian, Mr. Wiseman asks about the burden Christian carries on his back (this is the burden of sin and condemnation Christian is wanting to be rid of). Agreeing with Christian that he ought to be rid of his burden, Mr. Wiseman offers him counsel. He tells Christian that there is no need for him to continue on the path to the Wicket Gate. That path is, after all, full of danger and peril. After chastising Christian for reading the book (the Bible) in the first place, he directs him toward a much more easy means of being rid of his burden. He sends Christian to a nearby town called Morality where there lives a man named Legality. This man, Legality, is guaranteed to be able to remove burdens such as Christian carries.  

The promise, however, is too good to be true. Christian, on his way to meet Legality, must climb a tall hill. The hill, which looks easy from a distance, turns out to be terribly steep, with blazes of scorching fire flaming out of it in various places. Christian, attempting to climb the mountain, becomes fearful that the mountain itself will be his end and will fall on him, crushing him to death.
Christian is met by Evangelist (the man who originally set him on the straight path), who corrects Christian and tells him the true name of the mountain he sought to climb: Mount Sinai. Fortunately, Christian repents of his error and returns to the straight path.  
What is the danger that Mr. Worldly Wiseman brought to Christian? Bunyan’s book is an allegory, after all, and takes a bit of consideration to understand the author’s meaning. Christian felt the burden of condemnation on his back; a burden that all mankind bears because of our sin against a holy God (Romans 3). This burden became known to him as he read the Bible and came under conviction. Evangelist set Christian on the right path, but Christian was led astray by what was promised to be an easier path, a quick fix for his problem. Christian came to Mount Sinai, the place where, in the biblical narrative, God gave the law, which is his perfect standard of morality. Christian quickly realized that there was no way he could climb the mountain before him, and even thought the mountain would be the death of him.
Wiseman represents the wisdom of the world. He spread the lie that people can, of their own efforts, rid themselves of the curse of sin and sin’s effects. Isn’t this the case with so many unbelieving people you know? They rely on their own efforts of morality, trying to be a “good person,” and hoping that their efforts are enough. The problem is, when people come to Mount Sinai (when they are faced with God’s righteous standards), it becomes clear that they are not good enough. The righteousness they are trying to embody will be the death of them, since no one keeps God’s commands consistently or totally. They never could muster enough righteousness in themselves to climb that mountain.  
Friends, this is not simply a problem people faced in the late 1600s. If you’ve read your Bible, you know it is a tale as old as sin (literally), and a tendency all people face. We all would love to be able to clean ourselves up and live in a self-conjured state of impeccable righteousness. If you have lived more than a few minutes, you know this is an impossible task, and anyone who believes themselves to be righteous before God of his or her own efforts is living a delusional life.  
One of the hardest pills for our prideful hearts to swallow is that we are incapable of righteousness since the fall of mankind in the Garden. Consider a couple passages: 
Romans 3:9–12 
 [9] What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, [10] as it is written: 
“None is righteous, no, not one; 
[11] no one understands; 
no one seeks for God. 
[12] All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; 
no one does good, 
not even one.” (ESV) 
Romans 8:5–8 
[5] For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [6] For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. [7] For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. [8] Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (ESV) 
If you need further proof that all people are incapable of achieving righteousness, just crack your Bible and read up on any figure other than Jesus. Or, if you don’t have a Bible handy, just evaluate the past week in your own life. There should be plenty of material there.  
 Christian was certainly grateful for the man called Evangelist. He set Christian back on the right path. To where did that path lead? Christian eventually came to Calvary, where one of the most beautiful scenes ever written takes place. Christian kneels at the cross, and realizes that his burden has, without his prompting, fallen from his back, where it tumbled downhill and plummeted into an open grave, never to be recalled again. 
How do we avoid the folly of Mr. Worldly Wiseman? Bunyan was a sharp guy, and the solution for Christian is the same solution for us. Stay on the path that leads to the cross. Only Christ has accomplished true righteousness on behalf of sinners. Only Christ has kept every command required by God. He has taken our sins onto himself (Isaiah 53) and given us his righteousness.  
We are seen as righteous in God’s sight because of Jesus’ righteousness, not ours.  
2 Corinthians 5:21 
[21] For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (ESV) 
Folks, the Law of God has its good and rightful place, but that is a blog entry for another time. When it comes to our righteous standing before God, we join Christian on the road to the cross. Only there is our burden removed, because there we find our glorious Savior.
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