John Bunyan informs us that the “narrow way” in which Christian was to go to reach the Celestial City was “fenced on either side by a wall that was called Salvation”. In other words, there is only one way to reach heaven and rest for your soul at last, and that is by remaining within the confines of God’s one and only way of Redemption.
As Christian walked that “narrow way”, however, he was soon joined by two other travelers who confessed to him that they hadn’t come on to the path via the way of the Wicket Gate and the Cross, but had climbed in over the wall. The names of these two travelers, according to Bunyan, were Formalist and Hypocrisy; and the lesson that Bunyan places before us is this, that along the road of our Christian pilgrimage we will often meet with those who have “a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof”. Two such were Formalist and Hypocrisy.
Formalist and Hypocrisy, we are told, “were born in the Land of Vain Glory”; i.e. they were religious because it placed them high in the esteem of others. The Formalist is the man who religiously goes to church, reads his Bible, gives thanks at meals, and does a dozen and one other things even thought none of these things works any change in his life. The Hypocrite is a “journeyman” Formalist – one who has “served his time” at the trade. He is the “Hypocrites” – the “play-actor”; and even though he is a spiritual pauper, he can play the part of a spiritual king to the deceit of himself and others.
Let us look at these three as Bunyan pictures them coming to the bottom of The Hill called Difficulty. “There were also in the same place”, we read, “two other ways besides that which came straight from the Wicket Gate: one turned to the left hand and the other to the right at the bottom of the hill; but the narrow way led right up the hill …” This is what distinguishes the true Christian way of salvation from all other ways. The Christian way – the “narrow way” – leads only up and over the Hill Difficulty. And here too is what distinguishes the true Christian Pilgrim from all other travelers – from the Formalist and the Hypocrite. Formalist and Hypocrisy, Bunyan tells us, set out on the two paths that led “round” the hill; the name of one was “danger” and the name of the other “destruction”; but the Christian Pilgrim surveyed the peak, and then resolutely set off to reach the summit and the other side.
“The hill, though high, I covet to ascend”, he sang;
“The difficulty will not me offend.
For I perceive,” he says, “the way of life lies here”.
Let us look now at how the Christian Pilgrim approached, scaled, and overcame the Hill Difficulty. “At the bottom of the hill”, we are told, “there was a spring”. And before Christian even dares to set a foot towards the summit of Hill Difficulty, he must, first of all, refresh and fortify himself for the climb by drinking “at the springs of water” that the Lord has provided for the traveling pilgrim; Isaiah 49 verse 10. “About the midway to the top of the hill”, we are next told, “was a pleasant arbor, made by the Lord of the hill for the refreshment of weary travelers”. And in this “arbor of ease” Pilgrim sets himself down to rest.
Let us learn three main lessons from this climb of Christian’s, for there are three words for us here. There is a word of Comfort, a word of Encouragement, and a word of Warning for those believers who now find themselves confronted with a Hill Difficulty.
A word of Comfort in the fact that we are told that the hill was the property of the Lord; even our difficulties are under the control of Him who worketh all things for the good of His people.
A word of Encouragement, too, for in the midst of that difficulty the Lord of the hill has provided an “arbor of ease” – a time of respite, surely, for those who are burdened.
A word of Warning, a real word of Warning in the fact that this “arbor” – this shelter – this time of relief is given so that we might strengthen ourselves in order to complete the climb, and it must not be used as a place where we lay off to “watch and be sober”.
Those who are familiar with the Pilgrim’s Progress will know that this is what happened to the Pilgrim Christian. He sat down and he began to examine the “Roll” that had been given him at the Cross, i.e. the assurance of salvation; and perhaps he became over-confident, for he fell into a deep sleep. And when he awoke and started on his journey again he soon discovered that he had, in fact, lost his “Roll” – he had lost his Assurance of Salvation and was unable to continue his journey until he had retraced his steps and searched for his “Roll” again. How many Pilgrims has this happened to? And where is that blessed assurance that they once enjoyed? So often, back in the arbor that was abused and where they slumbered in the things of their salvation. “But who can tell”, asks Bunyan, “How joyful this man was when he had gotten his Roll again?”