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Bunyan on Romans 7

Reprinted from John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress, pp. 55-57.

Editorial Note: The Puritans seemed to be united in following the Reformers' interpretation of Romans 7. And if anyone thinks that this interpretation encourages laxity in sanctification, let it be remembered that the Puritans made a name for themselves in being some of the most rigorous and thorough exponents of sanctification which the world has ever seen.

In his famous allegory, The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan includes a character named Faithful. This Christian pilgrim gives a beautiful insight into Romans 7:14-25. Faithful obeys his conscience and the law of God. His victory over the "old man" is commendable—typical of a Christian successfully overcoming temptation. Yet Bunyan illustrates how such obedience cannot of itself satisfy the law.

Christian. Well, neighbour Faithful, said Christian. . . Tell me now, what you have met with in the way as you came; for I know you have met with some things, or else it may be writ for a wonder.

I escaped the Slough that I perceived you fell into, and got up to the gate without that danger.

Did you meet with no assault as you came?

Faithful. When I came to the foot of the hill called Difficulty, I met with a very aged man, who asked me what I was, and whither bound. I told him that I am a pilgrim, going to the Celestial City. Then said the old man, Thou lookest like an honest fellow; wilt thou be content to dwell with me for the wages that I shall give thee? Then I asked him his name, and where he dwelt. He said his name was Adam the First, and that he dwelt in the town of Deceit. I asked him then, what was his work, and what the wages that he would give. He told me, that his work was many delights; and his wages, that I should be his heir at last. I further asked him, what house he kept, and what other servants he had. So he told me, that his house was maintained with all the dainties in the world; and that his servants were those of his own begetting. Then I asked how many children he had. He said that he had but three daughters; the Lust of Flesh, the Lust of the Eyes, and the Pride of Life, and that I should marry them all if I would. Then I asked how long time he would have me live with him? And he told me, As long as he lived himself.

Christian. Well, and what conclusion came the old man and you to, at last?

Faithful. Why, at first, I found myself somewhat inclinable to go with the man, for I thought he spake very fair; but looking in his forehead, as I talked with him, I saw there written, "Put off the old man with his deeds."

And how then?

Faithful. Then it came burning hot in my mind, whatever he said, and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house, he would sell me for a slave. So I bid him forbear to talk, for I would not come near the door of the house. Then he reviled me, and told me, that he would send such a one after me, that should make my way bitter to my soul. So I turned to go away from him; but just as I turned myself to go thence, I felt him take hold of my flesh and give me such a deadly twitch back that I thought he had pulled part of me after himself. This made me cry, "O wretched man!" So I went on my way up the hill.

Now when I had got about half way up, I looked behind, and saw one coming after me, swift as the wind; so he overtook me just about the place where the settle stands.

Christian. Just there, said Christian, did I sit down to rest me; but being overcome with sleep, I there lost this roll out of my bosom.

Faithful. But, good brother, hear me out. So soon as the man overtook me, he was but a word and a blow, for down he knocked me, and laid me for dead. But when I was a little come to myself again, I asked him wherefore he served me so. He said, because of my secret inclining to Adam the First: and with that he struck me another deadly blow on the breast, and beat me down backward; so I lay at his foot as dead as before. So, when I came to myself again, I cried him mercy; but he said, I know not how to show mercy; and with that knocked me down again. He had doubtless made an end of me, but that one came by, and bid him forbear.

Christian. Who was that that bid him forbear?

I did not know him at first, but as he went by, I perceived the holes in his hands, and in his side then I concluded that he was our Lord. So I went up the hill.

That man that overtook you was Moses. He spareth none, neither knoweth he how to show mercy to those that transgress his law.