To revisit Pilgrim’sProgress over the last couple of weeks has been a wonderful experience. In one of the previous posts, I mentioned that I had originally been introduced to this fine book by Pastor John Harrell in Bridge City, Texas. For years in Bridge City, the church has been shepherded by Brother Harrell’s preaching and praying and woven all through those years were numerous illustrations that he would pull from this book and masterfully use them in his sermons. If you have never read Pilgrim’s Progress, my question is this: What doth hinder thee? Perhaps that is a humorous way to express it but in all seriousness, the book opens up the mind an awareness that human behavior is no different in the 1600’s than it is in 2017.
Our next character is another man that appears in second half of the book as Christiana and her children make the pilgrimage with Great Heart, their pastor. His name is Mr. Fearing and his companions along the way are Honest and Self-will. Mr. Fearing is a man from the Town of Stupidity which Bunyan describes as being about four degrees north of the City of Destruction. It is a very cold place where the hearts of men are cold as ice and the only thing that can melt them is the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2). Great Heart was the pastor of Mr. Fearing and he was the one who shepherded him along the way to the river of death that led to the gates of the Celestial City. Even though there was a constant need of encouragement from Great Heart in the pastoral sense, he spoke very highly of Mr. Fearing. His spiritual investment in Mr. Fearing paid off in the long run even though he may have wearied at times being a Barnabas to him. Mr. Fearing was never one to give Great Heart any troubles except for his mental waffling and his battle with fear that he wasn’t living up to a life that was pleasing to the Lord.
Mr. Fearing has some of the greatest qualities in the world. His conscience was very sharp because of the Word had been invested in his heart. Because of that there was a sharpness of his conscience and accordingly he was very tender toward sin. This meant that he was incredibly careful about every step he took in the direction toward the Celestial City. He was a man who went overboard to make sure that he did not offend anyone. He would never have wanted to have been one to cast doubts in the minds of those he traveled with. It would have horrified him if any of his actions would have caused others to stray. He was a man that the Apostle Peter would have greatly approved of. For it is in Peter’s 1st epistle that there is a command that we are to be holy (1:16) and that command is followed by another which entails we are to travel in fear of the Lord (1:17). The connection that can be made is this: If one is to live a life of holiness, one of the motivators of that will be the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is a thread that runs all through Scripture and we should take heed to it. In fact, there are between 150-175 references to the fear of the Lord in both Testaments and while some would like to put off the fear of the Lord as an Old Testament principle, New Testament believers benefit greatly in devotion and godliness when they choose to implement this in their walk with the Lord. Mr. Fearing is a man who epitomizes a saint with whom the fear of the Lord is paramount but it almost gets the better of him.
When he encounters the Slough of Despond, it takes him a month before he is released from its clutches but when he finally does come through it and washes all the mud off, the Slough of Despond has gotten into his mind. Throughout the rest of his journey, Mr. Fearing will clash with dark thoughts and deep depressions because his mind has become a swamp of despair. He never really overcomes it but there are some very positive things that takes place in this man and the other pilgrims along the way can see that this man is a fine example of a saint. Because the swamp of despair got into his soul, it was difficult for him to imagine that the love and grace of God would be sufficient to help him through. There are very easy obstacles that he hesitates and we almost think they will get the better of him. But there are other giant victories that he literally blows by to the surprise of all observers. His conscience was very sharp but there was no reverse in this man’s mind, he only could move forward toward the Celestial City. Never was there a concern by Great Heart about him backsliding or falling into apostasy but because Mr. Fearing had a deep fear of the Lord, it very much like a huge weight that added drag to his progress.
One of the very positive traits that Mr. Fearing possessed was his love to hear of the Celestial City and the King who lived within. The most joyful times that other travelers would see in Mr. Fearing was when he was in the presence of a minister who was speaking of it or when travelers would express their devotion to the King. He also experienced great joy when he would go into the rooms that displayed the trophies of past battles being won or the great weapons of the Christian battle that were exhibited on the walls. Mr. Fearing was so caught up with these that would stay up all night keeping candles burning in the rooms so he could see. He was a blazing soldier, prominent hero in the night visions but as the sun rose, he became a weak vessel of clay again. But prevailing through all his fear was the unrelenting desire and noble goal of his entrance into the Celestial City.
One scene that is described by some of the observers of Mr. Fearing is outstanding when they tell of Mr. Fearing and his entire family who sit back and do not partake in communion. This kind of devotion is to be admired because the gospel is not a light matter for them. It has great seriousness that required their deep self-examination and spiritual scrutiny that Paul encouraged of the Corinthian believers (1 Cor. 11). You travel those zones of introspection when your relationship with God has the greatest priority of your life. For too many in our day, it has become God and, the Kingdom of God and, the work of God and, because following that and is a fill in the blank which makes for double-mindedness and idolatry. It is the and that pulls us away from that one thing that we should give ourselves to. The devil, the world, and the flesh is thrilled with the choices of God and whatever else can be pushed in.
Mr. Fearing and his family did what was right with their self-examination. But we live in generation that has almost removed this from their mind and it is a rarity to find souls who do such deep spiritual work. The importance and thoughtful work of self-examination is at an all-time low. This gives carnality a great foot-hold in our lives and the spiritual opponents take advantage of it. Very few of the Lord’s saints and soldiers are that deeply introspective with the necessary self-examination that Mr. Fearing and his family were dedicated to. We are fraught with peril when we do fail to take seriously the matter of walking with God and the accompanying fear of the Lord. To forget the awful price the Savior paid for our redemption places us in a situation of great compromise and we do not value our salvation with the necessary significance that it deserves.
But one might argue that this is not a good place to live and that would be a correct assumption but only if you did not know the rest of Mr. Fearing’s story. He has great fear of the Lord but there is a deep powerful anointing that exists in him that is often missed because he focuses in on his fears so much. You can see his power when he comes to the Hill of Difficulty and it is of such magnitude that it catches us off guard. He strides up that hill without even as much as a walking staff, he doesn’t even break a sweat, and his focus is unwavering to the summit. All the travelers that are with him are left in the dust of his passage, they cannot keep up with him. They are in awe of his progress. How could such a man who appears so weak demonstrate so much strength? When he came to the place in the way where the roaring lions were on each side of the trail, Mr. Fearing walks tall through their roaring, their pawing, and their gnashing of teeth and reaches over and snatches the whiskers out of the dumbfounded beasts. So many others were wilted over by fear of the lions that much hesitation was in their mind as they passed them by. Again, his strength is also evident in the Valley of Humiliation, he is not climbing but instead descending and yet same power that helped him ascend the Hill of Difficulty is present in his descent. He was not even fazed by it because he has already discovered what it is like to live in the throes of depressive darkness so when Apollyon and his imps would attempt to take him down in a fight, he can deal with them. Some might consider how he made it through Vanity Fair a great surprise as well. When he came to this wicked town that all travelers must pass through because the devil has built this city on both sides of the road to the Celestial City as a hindrance but Mr. Fearing’s passage is astounding. One would think that he would be cowered down by the activities there but it was not to be. When he starts going through the bevy of jugglers, company of cheats, conniving knaves, hideous apes, and the faltering fools, a righteous disdain overtakes him. He is empowered by an authority that rises in him to oppose evil. Even his pastor, Great Heart, is taken aback by his response and it greatly encourages him. The man who was so tender of sin and sharp of conscience wanted to destroy the whole of Vanity Fair and those who were hounding him with their wares. That is the power that is hidden from many because all they can see at times is Mr. Fearing in the clutches of despair.
Mr. Fearing has learned the secret to forward progress in the Christian life. Study to be quiet and live a peaceful life. He is a man who can live in obscurity and be clothed in sackcloth. He is a man who does not live trying to get back at every offender, everyone who has done him wrong, or those who have been less than courteous to him. He has watched others spend their energy trying to repay, to get revenge, and to get their pound of flesh but he moves into private places of prayer and venues of secret devotion because he knows that the Lord is the avenger. Those who are willing to be buried in obscurity have incredible spiritual power. It has always been that way and it will remain until the end of the journey for us and for the whole of mankind.
Was all the reverence, the awe, the fear really traits worth Mr. Fearing having in his soul? We only can answer that by saying that he made it to the Celestial City! That is the ultimate goal for all who start out on this journey. At the end, Mr. Fearing grapples with his fear as he crosses over the river of death but the Lord ushers him to a safe passage. Frankly, I need to cultivate some of this godly, reverent fear in my life. . . may you do so as well.
My apologies for being so lengthy. . .
Thanks for reading. . .
To be continued. . .