Christian and Hopeful descend the Delectable Mountains. On the left lies the country Conceit. From there issues a crooked lane that joins the way. A young man named Ignorance joins them by means of this lane. When Christian asks how he will gain admittance to the Celestial City, Ignorance says he has lived a good life and performed religious duties.
Christian points out he did not enter at the Wicket Gate but rather by the crooked lane. Ignorance objects that the gate is too far away. Nobody from his country knows the way to it. Besides, why enter at the Gate when the lane is right here? Seeing his foolishness, the pilgrims leave him behind in hopes of speaking to him again later.
They enter a dark lane where a man bound with seven ropes is being carried by seven demons. They are taking him back to the door on the side of the hill. A label on his back says: “Wanton professor and damnable apostate.” This reminds Christian of a story about a man from this region named Little Faith.
Little Faith was a good man from the town Sincere. While on pilgrimage, he was beaten and robbed by three scoundrels named Faint Heart, Mistrust and Guilt. They took his spending money and left him for dead. However, they didn’t find his jewels or certificate of admittance to the Celestial City. Little Faith revived but never fully recovered. He complained, begged and scraped to finish his journey.
Hopeful expresses surprise that Little Faith never sold his jewels. After all, Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. Christian explains the fundamental difference between the two. Esau didn’t have faith and was ruled by his flesh. But Little Faith “was by his little faith kept from such extravagances. And by faith…he recognized his jewels were precious.”
Hopeful also expresses surprise that Little Faith didn’t resist the scoundrels. After all, they must be cowards for they fled when they heard someone approach. Perhaps they feared it was Great Grace, the King’s champion. Couldn’t he resist them just for one skirmish before yielding?
Christian warns him not to overestimate himself. It’s easy to judge Little Faith when the scoundrels are far off, but did Hopeful honestly think he would do any better? Besides, Little Faith had no courageous heart. And these scoundrels serve the king of the bottomless pit who comes to help when they call.
Another path joins the way which appears to be just as straight. The pilgrims ponder which way to go. A dark man in a white robe tells them to follow him, for he too is going to the Celestial City. They take the other path, not realizing that it gradually turns away from the City until they face the opposite direction. The man leads them into a net.
The pilgrims realize they were tricked by Flatterer. A Shining One with a whip of cords sets them free. They confess they forgot to consult the written instructions given them by the shepherds, as well as their advice to beware Flatter. The Shining One makes them lie down and whips them for leaving the way.
Now a man comes toward them whose name is Atheist. They tell him where they are going. He laughs at them, saying the Celestial City doesn’t exist. Although he set out on pilgrimage twenty years ago, he never found it. Now he is going back home to enjoy the comforts he left behind. Christian and Hopeful take caution not to listen to him, for he too is a Flatterer.
The pilgrims’ journey is almost at an end. Bunyan now teaches that the hardest part of going on pilgrimage is finishing. Christian and Hopeful see several characters who start out for the Celestial City but fail to reach it (i.e. Ignorance, Apostate, Atheist). It is as the shepherds say when Christian asks how much farther: “It is too far for any except those who shall certainly arrive there.”
Little Faith alone finishes his pilgrimage. This is both surprising and encouraging! The jewels represent his salvation, his heavenly birthright. The robbers took neither these nor his certificate of admittance. Indeed, they could not, for “good providence” prevented them from doing so. This reassures us that God sustains true pilgrims to the end of their journey. They might be a little worse for wear, but He’ll get them there!
However, we must not think ourselves invincible or immune to hardship. Hopeful immediately judges Little Faith for not resisting the robbers. We also tend to judge others who falter under difficult circumstances. Their situation might prove too much for them, but it would never break our faith or our marriage or our ministry. Right?
Christian’s humble advice is apt: “Let us never desire to meet with an enemy or promote ourselves as if we could do better when we hear of others who have suffered defeat. Nor should we entertain thoughts of our spiritual manhood as better than it is, for those who think this way often suffer the worst when tested.”
Maybe finishing our pilgrimage is so difficult because we can’t do it by our own strength. Paul reminds us, “It is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He…put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). Nobody can finish their pilgrimage unless God strengthens them to do so by His Spirit.
Let us not Flatter ourselves into thinking we can finish by our own strength!
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