Then Christian said to Hopeful, “If these men cannot stand before the sentence of men, what will they do before the sentence of God? And if they are mute when dealt with by vessels of clay, what will they do when they shall be rebuked by the flames of a devouring fire?”[1. The Pilgrim’s Progress, Kindle location 1761]
I remember a conversation with my first pastor about money. At the time, Emily and I had a lot of debt and we were trying to figure out how to pay it off (a little faster than paying a bit at a time). We were brand new Christians, and said, “If we took the money we give and applied it to the debt instead, we could have it cleared in about a year. Would that be okay?”
“No, it wouldn’t be an issue,” he replied. “The problem is you won’t do it.”
“Why?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.
I’ll never forget his answer: “You said ‘if.'”
The “if” statements we make when it comes to money reveal a lot about us. If I make more money, then I’ll start giving. If I get the bonus, I’ll make this donation. If this happens, then…
If, if, if.
The problem with the ifs is we use them as an escape from doing what the Lord has already called us to. We know we’re to be generous, but really, we like our stuff better. And it’s a sore spot for us. So when we hear a sermon that talks about money, or when we read a book that describes the radical self-sacrificial nature of the Christian faith, we get our backs up, pull the legalist card and bail.
But the words that confront us—these are the words of men. And we cannot stand before them. How then will we stand “before the sentence of God”? Without a broken and contrite heart, we cannot.
Reading with Ryken
The interaction between the travelers and the worshipers of wealth is a temptation scene par excellence. Here the danger is not external hostility but the allurement of worldly success. The allegorical antagonists are not bullies but qualities (such as Money-love and Save-all) that make life easy in the name of religion. Accordingly, what the conflict requires from Christian is the ability to provide convincing intellectual reasons against the claims that religious people can pursue wealth and success as their highest goals.[2. Christian Guides to the Classics: Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress by Leland Ryken, 39]
The next discussion of The Pilgrim’s Progress will be centered around chapters 10 and 11 (I should note: chapter breaks are based on the 2009 Crossway edition).
This reading project only works if we’re reading together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Here are a few questions to help guide our discussion:
- How does the temptation to live an easy life in the name of religion?
- Consider 1 John 2:15-17. How do you see John’s warnings exhibited in the worshippers of wealth? Why is this form of worldliness so dangerous?
- How can you protect yourself from it?
Post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.