After the second stage of his journey, Christian leaves Interpreter’s house. He travels on a highway fenced in by a wall called Salvation. His burden makes walking difficult, but he comes to a small hill. A cross stands on top of the hill and a stone tomb sits at its base. As Christian approaches the cross, his burden falls from his back and rolls down the hill into the tomb.
Three Shining Ones appear to him. The first says, “Your sins are forgiven.” The second strips off his rags and replaces them with new clothes. The third places a mark on his forehead and gives him a sealed scroll, which was “the assurance of his life and acceptance at the desired sanctuary of the Celestial City.”
At the bottom of the hill, Christian finds three men named Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. They are sleeping with chains on their feet. He awakens them and offers to help get their chains off. They reject his offer and go back to sleep. Their dangerous situation and lack of appreciation bother him, but he continues on.
Two men climb over the wall on the left-hand side of the way. They catch up to Christian, introducing themselves as Formalist and Hypocrisy. He asks why they climbed over instead of entering at the Gate. They respond, “This gate you mentioned is too far away…What difference does it make how we get on this way as long as we get onto it? If we are in, we are in.”
They ask, “You’re in by way of the wicket gate and we by tumbling over the wall. So what makes your present condition any better than ours?” Christians points out his new clothing, as well as the mark on his forehead and the sealed scroll. Then he walks ahead, traveling alone and drawing comfort from reading the scroll.
The pilgrims reach the foot of a hill called Difficulty. There is a spring at the bottom, as well as other roads branching to the right and left. One road is named Danger, the other Destruction. Formalist and Hypocrisy take the easier roads to their deaths, but Christian drinks and runs up the hill. Its steepness forces him to climb on hands and knees. Halfway up, he falls asleep in a shady resting place. The scroll falls from his hand as he sleeps.
The sun is almost set when he wakes up, so he races to the top. Two men named Timorous and Mistrust meet him from the opposite direction. Timorous says they’re returning home because the way is too dangerous. Mistrust agrees, warning Christian of lions ahead. Christian moves forward in spite of the danger. He tries to read the scroll for comfort but discovers it’s gone!
Christian retraces his steps over the hill. He regrets his sinful sleep and resents the time wasted going back. When he finally gets to the shady resting place, he sits and weeps. But at last he sees the scroll! Putting it in his pocket near his heart, he thanks God and moves forward again.
Considering Assurance of Salvation
Bunyan completes Christian’s conversion at last. The Shining Ones (angels) represent the members of the Trinity bestowing the benefits of his salvation. We too receive these benefits. First, God the Father declares our sins forgiven. Second, Jesus exchanges our unrighteousness for His righteousness. Third, the Holy Spirit marks and seals us as His own.
The third benefit brings with it the assurance of salvation. In other words, the Holy Spirit reassures us we are truly saved. Paul says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). This fact comforts and strengthens us on our pilgrimage. Christian’s scroll represents his assurance of salvation.
That’s why it devastates him to lose it. He no longer has the assurance he will be admitted to the Celestial City. We too can lose our sense of assurance. Not that God takes His Spirit away from us, but other factors block out the Spirit’s reassuring voice.
Christian encounters many false pilgrims on his journey. They all attempt to turn him out of the way somehow. At this stage, he is most affected by the three sleeping men. Although he urges them to wake up, he too falls asleep halfway up the hill. Bunyan doesn’t explain this sleep, but it seems to represent some sort of sinfulness or neglect on Christian’s part.
Many new converts experience this. When Jesus first saves them, they show high levels of zeal and commitment. They attend church and progress quickly in their new faith. But after a time, they stop making progress. Maybe they fall prey to old temptations or bad company, or maybe they hit a spiritual plateau. In Bunyan’s words, they fall asleep.
This sleep robs us of our assurance. When it takes too long to reach spiritual maturity, we can doubt whether we’re saved at all! The good news is our assurance can be regained. Although he bemoans the time wasted, Christian recovers the scroll and resumes his journey.
We all struggle with assurance at some point in our pilgrimage. Whether it’s due to sinful desire or spiritual neglect, each of us is prone to fall asleep. Let us heed Jesus’ words to a slumbering church: “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God” (Revelation 3:2).
Let us wipe the sleep from our eyes and turn them again toward the Celestial City!
What causes you to doubt your assurance? How do you overcome spiritual sleep?
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One thought on “Third Stage (Part 1): From Interpreter’s House to the Hill Difficulty”
It would be nice if the people in our lives just announced their bad influence on us with their names! It would make deciding who to spend time with much easier.
I’ve not really experienced the doubt of the assurance of Christ, but the thing that makes me spiritually lazy is usually just allowing life to wear me down to a point that I make poor decisions with my time. When things go right in these periods, my good habits carry me through them. When they go wrong, I don’t do the things I normally would and instead fall back on habits that, when not outright sinful are at least counter-productive in the long term but give short term relief to whatever stressors are present.