The two men walked together down the pleasant shaded road.
This was going to be a nice trip – a journey one man knew of and the other wondered about.
The one carried a sack on his back. He looked determined.
“Tell me more,” the younger man asked eagerly. “What will it be like, I mean when we get there?”
The man carrying the sack explained what he had read in the book he held firmly in his hand.
It all sounded so wonderful to the young companion.
“Wow! That’s amazing,” he enthused. “Come on, let’s walk faster. I can’t wait to get there!”
This was the zeal of a new beginning. Hope always abounds at the start.
But we find soon enough that when Christian, with that load on his back, and Pliable, his spirited but untried fellow traveler, fall into the Slough of Despond, it suddenly becomes an entirely different story.
Neither saw it coming.
As the two men thrash desperately, sinking deeper into the mire that represents the trials of life and the adversity to faith, Pliable asks, “Christian, where are we now?”
Christian didn’t know.
Pliable becomes indignant and worried.
“Is this the happiness you told me about?” he cries to Christian. “If it’s like this now, at the beginning, when we’ve gone only this short way, what is there still ahead of us?”
Struggling in the murky swamp, Pliable finally gets to the bank that is closest to his home.
Crawling out, he turns to Christian, still flailing in the swamp, and announces, “You will have to take the far country without me – I’m going back!”
And back he went.
Back to his old home, his security, his friends and his comforts. John Bunyan tells us in this early episode of The Pilgrim’s Progress, that of Pliable, “Christian saw him no more.”
Christian is pulled from the Swamp of Despondence by a man named Help. Christian chooses, despite this early adversity, to continue his journey. He loses his burden of sin at the cross, encounters many a deceitful and powerful foe along the way but finally crosses the river and enters that beautiful far country that will be his eternal home.
Christian never gave up.
He also never saw Pliable again.
In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan gave the world the greatest single book of Christian faith and doctrine since the Bible. When he began writing it he was in jail because he refused to stop preaching the Gospel. He spent twelve long years in that Bedford prison.
He suffered for his faith and his conscience.
Bunyan knew adversity and understood the importance of Christian perseverance.
For the remainder of our lives on earth you and I will live in a world increasingly alien and hostile to Christianity. Our faith and our determination to live it will be tested in new and different ways in the years ahead.
In his story of the sower and the seeds, Jesus tells us that 75% of the spiritual seeds never grew to fruition. The various trials, distractions and temptations of this life deprived them of taking root in the heart and bearing a crop in the soul. The conditions and pressures were various but each of the three cases ended in the same wasted tragedy.
In each instance, there was a lack of perseverance – the failure of determination to stick with it and remain faithful despite the circumstances and opposition. Every time, the situation triumphed over the promise.
The Bible speaks extensively of the urgent need to persevere and The Perseverance of the Saints is a gloriously recurring and integrated theme throughout scripture and throughout the history of Christ’s Church. In Nave’s Topical Bible, the entry for Perseverance runs more than four pages, with biblical references from Genesis through Revelation.
And what is the entry just before Perseverance in this venerated reference work?
Persecution (six and a half pages).
Over and over again, we read that we shall prevail in our struggles of faith and life, “if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Hebrews 3:6, KJV, emphasis added).
The writer says that you and I are “partakers of Christ”, sharing in his life and glory, “if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:14, KJV, emphasis added).
If we trust God “just as firmly as when we first believed” (NLT) – when faith was fresh, the sky was blue and the prospects for our journey glorious – before our first struggle in the swamp of temptation and despair.
Hard times come. They are part and parcel of the authentic Christian experience.
“If you follow Christ” wrote Charles Spurgeon, “you shall have all the dogs of the world yelping at your heels.”
You and I will not need more perseverance than the saints of old needed, but we may need more than we have needed until now.
The Christian has always had to endure “many dangers, toils and snares”.
Let us therefore remain “steadfast, unmovable” (I Corinthians 15:58, KJV).
Let us remember and avoid the tragedy of Pliable. And know that the grace that has led us thus far will take us to that far country – and our eternal home.
May God bless you and your family.