John Bunyan’s timeless book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, recounts the story of a man named Christian on his way to the Celestial City. The journey is no easy feat. Along the way, Christian faces obstacles that threaten to keep him from his destination: the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the hill Difficulty, Vanity Fair, and the Giant Despair who resides in Doubting Castle, to name a few. In fact, Christian’s path to the great city is full of hurdles until the very end. As he nears the Celestial City, he is required to cross a bridgeless river before permitted entry. His journey is wearisome, but in the end worthwhile. Upon entering the city, Christian beholds wonders words can’t adequately depict. Streets paved with gold. Men walking around with crowns on their heads. Angels declaring the holiness of God. And a matchless King who rules over all. He was finally home.
The Relevance of The Pilgrim’s Progress Today
The Pilgrim’s Progress was first published in 1678, nearly 350 years ago. Yet its message remains relevant for our lifetime. As believers read this book, they can place themselves in Christian’s shoes with ease. Although we aren’t on a literal pilgrimage traversing foreign lands, we all long to be in that place referred to by Bunyan as the Celestial City. Every believer awaits entry into their everlasting inheritance, the new heaven and earth (Rev. 21:1-7).
But as with Christian, our path to the city is not without complication. Any given day may bring turmoil, distress, and heartache. The pains of a sin-cursed world labor to extinguish the hope of the glories that await those who are in Christ. We all inevitably have experiences which leave our souls wearied. And like Christian, we need help advancing in our own pilgrimage.
Counsel from Those at the End of Their Pilgrimage
Growing up, my grandpa told me a story I’ll never forget. On Christmas Day, 1962, my grandpa sat beside his father who was dying of cancer. It was his last day on this earth; his pilgrimage would soon be over. Shortly before he took his final breath, my great grandpa looked his son in the eyes and stated, “In this world you will have much trouble, but hold fast to the Word of God.” Those were the last words my grandpa heard from his dad.
Amidst hardship in my own life, I’ve often reflected on this story. The wisdom of a longtime believer close to death is precious and invaluable. Those of us who still face a long journey need to heed their counsel prudently. Although I never met him, my great grandpa reminds me to hold fast to the Word of God when trouble arises.
We find a similar situation in 2 Timothy. Although Paul is not on his death bed, he is aware of the brevity of time he has left on the earth (2 Tim. 4:7-8). Out of a deep concern for his disciple, Paul pens this letter to exhort and encourage Timothy to remain steadfast in the faith. Other men had sadly wandered astray on their pilgrimage (2 Tim. 1:15; 4:14-15). Although Timothy is not one of those individuals, Paul has concerns. He recognizes Timothy was a wearied traveler in need of encouragement.
While there is much help for the wearied traveler to glean from this letter, Paul provides two particularly helpful reminders in 2 Timothy 2:8-13: remember who you are enduring for as well as what you are enduring for.
Remember Who You are Enduring for
Having exhorted Timothy to endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ (2 Tim. 2:3), Paul instructs his disciple to remember Jesus Christ in light of the necessity to persevere (2 Tim. 2:8). Consider with me why this simple reminder is essential.
God’s people don’t tolerate hardship for the sake of some religious system or a dead spiritual guru. Rather, believers endure the very real hardships of this life knowing that the One they follow has “risen from the dead,” as Paul states in verse 8. Our Master Himself was once a wearied traveler, enduring the trials and temptations of this world, yet without sin. That is why he can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). However, the love of the One we endure for is far more profound than simply being able to relate to our weariness. He went to the cross on our behalf, suffering the wrath of God through a death we deserve. But it was impossible for him to be held by the power of death. Jesus victoriously rose from the dead, and He now sits at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf as we navigate the often-treacherous paths of this life.
And He is a “descendant of David” (2 Tim. 2:8), a reference to Jesus being the Messiah. He is God’s anointed King, sovereign over all creation, nations, and people. At this present time the world lives in utter rebellion to his rule and reign (Ps. 2:1-3), but such conduct will not persist forever. Jesus will return to judge the world, and in the end what will truly matter is your relationship to Him.
Wearied traveler, know the One you endure for. Such knowledge is an anchor for the soul amidst the strongest winds of adversity.
Remember What You are Enduring for
In a similar manner, remember not only who you endure for, but what you endure for. The future promise of salvation was a constant source of encouragement and comfort for the apostle Paul. Near the end of his second letter to Timothy, he expresses his anticipation for the day when he will be awarded the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8). A promise, Paul reminds us in that same verse, which applies to all who follow Christ.
So marvelous is this promise that Paul claims he endures all things so that God’s elect may also experience the promise, and with it the awesome benefits of eternal glory (2 Tim. 2:10). This reality is again emphasized in the verses that follow: “For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:11-12). The knowledge of what Paul was enduring for aided him to be faithful until his dying breath.
When Christian arrives at the Celestial City, the dangers and calamities of his journey disappear in an instant. The toil of his travels cease, and his soul is no longer weary. Sorrow is replaced with joy, for he is now a permanent resident of that magnificent city.
I don’t know the details of your life, or the reasons why you may feel weary at this present time. But I do know, given the testimonies of so many faithful brothers and sisters who have gone before us, that in the end it will be worth it. So as you seek to move forward in your own travels to the Celestial City, remember who and what you endure for. And like the traveler Christian, may you utter these words amidst any adversity you face.
“The hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the way to life lies here:
Come, pluck up, heart, let’s neither faint nor fear.
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Then wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.”