From Pilgrim’s Progress IV.9 (1678)
Hopeful: I thought I must endeavor to mend my life; for else, thought I, I am sure to be damned.
Christian: And did you endeavor to mend?
Hopeful: Yes, and fled from not only my sins, but sinful company too, and betook me to religious duties, as praying, reading, weeping for sin, speaking truth to my neighbors, etc. These things did I, with many others, too much here to relate.
Christian: And did you think yourself well then?
Hopeful: Yes, for a while; but at the last my trouble came tumbling upon me again, and that over the neck of all my reformations.
Christian: How came that about, since you were now reformed?
Hopeful: There were several things brought it upon me, especially such sayings as these: “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isa. 64:6). “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Gal. 2:16). “When you have done all these things, say, We are unprofitable,” Luke 17:10, and many more such like. From these I began to reason with myself thus: If all my righteousnesses are as filthy rags; if by the deeds of the law no man can be justified; and if, when we have done all, we are yet unprofitable, then is it but a folly to think of heaven by the law. I farther thought thus: If a man runs a hundred pounds into the shopkeeper’s debt, and after that shall pay for all that he shall fetch; yet if his old debt stands still in the book uncrossed, the shopkeeper may sue him for it, and cast him into prison, until he shall pay the debt.
Christian: Well, and how did you apply this to yourself?
Hopeful: Why, I thought thus with myself: I have by my sins run a great way into God’s book, and my now reforming will not pay off that score. Therefore, I should think still, under all my present amendments, but how shall I be freed from that damnation that I brought myself in danger of by my former transgressions?
Christian: A very good application, but please go on.
Hopeful: Another thing that has troubled me ever since my late amendments, is, that if I look narrowly into the best of what I do now, I still see sin, new sin, mixing itself with the best of that I do; so that now I am forced to conclude, that notwithstanding my former fond conceits of myself and duties, I have committed sin enough in one day to send me to hell, though my former life had been faultless.
Christian: And what did you do then?
Hopeful: Do! I could not tell what to do, until I broke my mind to Faithful; for he and I were well acquainted. And he told me, that unless I could obtain the righteousness of a man that never had sinned, neither mine own, nor all the righteousness of the world, could save me.
Christian: And did you think he spoke truthfully?
Hopeful: Had he told me so when I was pleased and satisfied with my own amendments, I would have called him fool for his pains. But now, since I see my own infirmity, and the sin which clings to my best performance, I have been forced to be of his opinion.
Christian: But did you think, when at first he suggested it to you, that there was such a man to be found of whom it might justly be said, that he never committed sin?
Hopeful: I must confess the words at first sounded strangely. But after a little more talk and company with Faithful, I had full conviction about it.
Christian: And did you ask him who man this was and how you must be justified by him?
Hopeful: Yes, and he told me it was the Lord Jesus who dwells at the right hand of the Most High (Heb. 10:12-21). And thus, said he, you must be justified by him by trusting to what he has done by himself… and suffered when he did hang on the tree (Rom. 4:5; Col. 1:14; 1 Pet. 1:19). I asked him further, how that man’s righteousness could be of that efficacy, to justify another before God. And he told me he was the mighty God, and did what he did, and died the death also, not for himself, but for me to whom his doings and the worthiness of them should be imputed if I believed on him.
Christian: And what did you do then?
Hopeful: I made my objections against my believing, for that I thought he was not willing to save me.
Christian: And what said Faithful to you then?
Hopeful: He bid me go to him and see. Then I said it was presumption. He said, no, for I was invited to come (Matt. 11:28). Then he gave me a book of Jesus’ inditing, to encourage me the more freely to come; and he said concerning that book, that every jot and tittle thereof stood firmer than heaven and earth (Matt. 24:35). Then I asked him what I must do when I came; and he told me I must entreat upon my knees (Psalm 95:6; Dan. 6:10), with all my heart and soul (Jer. 29:12-13), the Father to reveal him to me. Then I asked him further, how I must make my supplications to him. And he said, “Go, and you shall find him upon a mercy-seat, where he sits all the year long to give pardon and forgiveness to those who come (Ex. 25:22; Lev. 16:2; Num. 7:89; Heb. 4:16).” I told him that I knew not what to say when I come; and he bid say to this effect: “God be merciful to me a sinner and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away. Lord, I have heard that you are a merciful God, and you have ordained that your son Jesus Christ should be the savior of the world; and moreover, that you are willing to bestow him upon such a poor sinner as I am – and I am a sinner indeed. Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify your grace in the salvation of my soul, through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Christian: And did you do as you were bidden?
Hopeful: Yes, over, and over, and over.
Christian: And did the Father reveal the Son to you?
Hopeful: Not at the first, nor second, nor third, nor fourth, nor fifth, no, nor at the sixth time neither.
Christian: What did you do then?
Hopeful: What? Why I could not tell what to do.
Christian: Had you not thoughts of leaving off praying?
Hopeful: Yes; a hundred times twice told.
Christian: And what was the reason you did not?
Hopeful: I believed that it was true which had been told to me, namely, that without the righteousness of this Christ, all the world could not save me. And, therefore, even if I die, and I can but die at the throne of grace. And with all this came into my mind, “If it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, and will not tarry” (Hab. 2:3). So I continued praying until the Father showed me his son.
Christian: And how was he revealed unto you?
Hopeful: I did not see him with my bodily eyes, but with the eyes of my understanding, (Eph. 1:18-19). And thus it was. One day I was very sad, I think sadder than at any one time in my life. And this sadness was through a fresh sight of the greatness and vileness of my sins. And as I was then looking for nothing but hell and the everlasting damnation of my soul, suddenly, as I thought, I saw the Lord Jesus looking down from heaven upon me, and saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). But I replied, Lord, I am a great, a very great sinner. And he answered, “my grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9).
John Bunyan (1628-1688) was an English Baptist preacher and writer, remembered for several devotional works that became widely influential, especially the allegorical narrative, The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). He wrote most of his works while imprisoned for his refusal to give up unlicensed preaching. Pilgrim’s Progress is his most famous work, an allegorical account of the Christian life, one of the most famous of all Protestant devotional texts. He is commemorated on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican churches on dates near his day of death, August 30.