Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pilgrim's Progress - What is the Roll?


WHAT IS THE ROLL that the Shining ones gave to Christian at the cross?

I've been reading and listening to Pilgrim's Progress for many years and I never really felt that I grasped the allegorical meaning of Christian's sealed roll.

Let's review what we know about this roll (or scroll):

It was given by the third Shining One at the cross.

It had a seal upon it.

He was directed to look on it as he ran.

He must give it in at the celestial gate.

He described it thus to Formalist and Hypocrisy: "I will tell you, moreover, that I had then given me a roll sealed, to comfort me by reading as I go on the way; I was also bid to give it in at the celestial gate, in token of my certain going in after it:"

He was often reading it upon going before Formalist and Hypocrisy towards Hill Difficulty.

He read from it at the arbor partly up Hill Difficulty.

He lost it there at the arbor when he fell asleep and then ran on without it.
The roll can be lost.

He kept it in his bosom.

After the fright Timorous and Mistrust gave him with their running back down the Hill Difficulty he reached into his bosom in order to read from it for some comfort as Bunyan describes: "But thinking again of what he had heard from the men, he felt in his bosom for his roll, that he might read therein and be comforted; but he felt, and found it not."

The roll can be found again, which Christian did once he retraced his steps back to the arbor repenting all the way for his sinful sleeping even in the daytime even in the midst of difficulty ... even easing his flesh in a place where the Lord had only purposed a little relief of the spirits of pilgrims.

Upon arriving back at the arbor Bunyan paints the following description of both Christians sorrow and then joy he had at finding once again his precious roll:

"Now by this time he was come to the arbor again, where for a while he sat down and wept; but at last, (as Providence would have it,) looking sorrowfully down under the settle, there he espied his roll, the which he with trembling and haste catched up, and put it into his bosom. But who can tell how joyful this man was when he had gotten his roll again? For this roll was the assurance of his life, and acceptance at the desired haven. Therefore he laid it up in his bosom, gave thanks to God for directing his eye to the place where it lay, and with joy and tears betook himself again to his journey."

When Prudence quizzes Christian we learn also that this roll is useful in the vanquishing of those things that trouble him.

Prudence: Can you remember by what means you find your annoyances at times as if they were vanquished?

Christian: Yes: when I think what I saw at the cross, that will do it; and when I look upon my broidered coat, that will do it; and when I look into the roll that I carry in my bosom, that will do it; and when my thoughts wax warm about whither I am going, that will do it.

Christian later spoke of losing his roll when communing with his new friend Faithful as the told of their various experiences one with another.

Finally Christian presented this roll at the gate of the celestial city: "and then the pilgrims gave in unto them each man his certificate, which they had received in the beginning: those therefore were carried in unto the King, who, when he had read them, said, Where are the men? To whom it was answered, They are standing without the gate. The King then commanded to open the gate, “That the righteous nation (said he) that keepeth the truth may enter in.”


Knowing this is an allegory it is difficult always for me to make the connection between the figure and the real to which it points. But this roll sounds like something I could very much use and hope to have. Something to which I can read from often for comfort, encouragement, refreshment for I very often am in need of these very things. Something which I should guard over carefully since it appears that it is possible to lose it, at least for a time.

Another clue we have in Bunyan's book is the biblical reference given when the Shining one first passed this roll with a seal into Christian's hands:

EPH 1:13-14
13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise,
14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

This morning I asked my girls, "What is the Roll?" 11 yr old bubbled over with the following explanation. She talked fast, I tried to write it down word for word. I asked her to repeat it again a few times and so to the best of my ability below is what she said. Read it fast, excitedly and with a happy ring to it and you will recapture our conversation this morning.

"The roll is the call of God in your life, as you sense that and look at that then the wonders of God's word are opened up to you, and they amaze you and excite you, and make you so happy that you run faster for heaven. And each time you look into that call of God in your life his word is speaking to you, and you are being thrilled so that you should do this often for refreshment. But if you are lazy, slothful, and sinning you can lose that sense of the call of God in your life. It becomes dull to you, you look and it's not there because of sin. So you need to go back in your thoughts to the place where you lost it and through all that laziness and sloth and sin, repenting of it, sorry for it and find again God's call in your life. And once more have the wonders of God's word opened up to you and making you happy and excited so that you run fast for heaven again."

I don't think she was to far off from Bunyan's intention. Upon finding the roll we read this description from Bunyan: "For this roll was the assurance of his life, and acceptance at the desired haven. "

The scriptures tell us plainly that after we believed, we "were sealed with that Holy Spirit of Promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance. " Eph 1:13-14

The spirit of God bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. Rom 8:16

An earnest - that is a foretaste of heaven - heaven begun in our hearts now. An assurance of the inheritance to come made known in us by the Holy Spirit and to us by the Gospel and the promises of God contained in it. For therein the righteousness of God is revealed. Rom 1:17

We can lose that comfort through neglect, sleeping in the light, sin and sloth. And if we upon reaching into our own bosom for some comfort and assurance of salvation find it lacking we may very well be in a place where we need to "go back in our thoughts" to the sin that brought this upon us - to the root of the sin, and now having an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, confess our sins and he will indeed cleanse us from all unrighteousness - and once again we are refreshed, we are made glad, and know the sweetness of communion with our God and Father through Jesus Christ. 1John 2:1, 1John 1:9

Let's guard our roll of assurance carefully. And enjoy and rejoice to the uttermost that daily sweet communion with our dear Saviour. Looking unto Jesus, who bore in himself the guilt and punishment of our sins, satisfying to the fullest our debt and purchasing us to himself. We are his, we belong to him and he will in no wise cast us out. Be killing sin or it will be killing you and robbing you of the sweet and precious roll of assurance, that heavenly witness.


Below is an excerpt from Lectures on the Pilgrim's Progress by George Cheever where he discusses at length Christian's Roll.

PAGE 292-293

But the Lord does not forget to be gracious. About midway of the Hill there was a pleasant arbor, for the refreshment of weary travellers, where Christian with thankfulness sat down to rest him. And now he began to look over his evidences, and to regard with great comfort and delight the garment that the Shining Ones had given him, so that he almost forgot that he was to go any farther, or that there was any more work for him to do. He forgot the exhortation to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, and to press forward towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus; and he was so well satisfied with himself, his roll, his robe, his acceptance with God, that while he was resting, the spirit of slumber came over him, and what at first he intended should only be a moment's nap, like a man asleep during sermon time in church, became a thorough deep sleep, which endured even till the twilight; and in.this sleep, Christian's roll fell out of his hand. Ah, if the great adversary had been there, ill would it have fared then with poor Christian. He is fast asleep, and his roll has fallen, and the night is coming, and he is only half way up the hill, and still he sleeps on. He that sleeps is a loser, says Bunyan in the margin; that arbor was never designed to sleep in, but to rest in. But there is One who watches over him, who will not leave him, who helpeth our infirmities. This gracious Being whispered in his ear, Go to the ant, thou sluggard ; consider her ways and be wise ! Ay, that was a timely awakening and warning—so great is the Holy Spirit's faithfulness and mercy, even when we lose ourselves in slumber.

Christian could now say, in that very striking verse of Watts, which those who have such a passion for altering our familiar hymns to make them correspond to their self-constituted musical judgment, have dephlogisticated in the hymn-book :

The little ante, for one poor grain,

Labor, and tug, and strive;
But we, who have a heaven to obtain.

How negligent we live!

Awakened thus by the Spirit of God, Christian started up, and ran as fast as he could, not yet knowing that he had lost his roll, till he came to the top of the hill. We sometimes fall into a state through our own heedlessness, in which assurance is gone, and the way is prepared for great gloom and anguish, if circumstances of trial come on. And yet we may run well, even without our roll, so long as there is nothing special to alarm us. Poor Christian had to endure a great deal of sorrow by that indulgence in sleep. As he was running on, Timorous and Mistrust met him, running full of terror the other way. What is the matter, said Christian, you run the wrong way ? Why, said Timorous and Mistrust, the farther we go, the more danger we meet; we had but just conquered the Hill Difficulty, when just before us we discovered two lions in the way ; so we turned, and are hurrying back as fast as possible. With that they ran down the hill.

Now was Christian himself greatly afraid, for there is nothing so takes away the courage as the consciousness of guilt; and Christian, on feeling for his roll, that he might have that to comfort and sustain him amidst these dangers, found that he had lost it. And now what should he do ? What had become of it! Examining himself on this point, he remembered that he had slept in the arbor, and then at once falling on his knees, he asked of God forgiveness for that foolish sleep, and then with great heaviness and sorrow of heart went back to look for his roll. Thus, when the Holy Spirit brings to mind the sins of the Christian, as he is asking himself why he has so little heavenly evidence, there is no way for him to do but to seek forgiveness, confessing his guilt. But it is a fearful thing, when the night comes on, when danger and perhaps death are drawing near, and yon need all the comfort, consolation and support that you can possibly derive from a good hope in Christ, to find that that hope is gone from the soul, to find darkness where there ought to be light.

It is not to be doubted that Bunyan was writing this experience of Christian out of his own heart; it is almost the counterpart of his own inward trials about the time of his commitment to prison, when you will remember there was great gloom upon his soul, and the things of God were hidden from him, and neither sun nor stars appeared for many days. Then there were dreadful lions in the way, nor could he see that they were chained ; then he felt afraid to die, because he had no spiritual comfort. Bunyan resolved to die for Christ, whether comfort came or not, whether he found his roll or did not find it. But Christian could not go on without his roll. Oh how did he chide himself for being so foolish as to fall asleep in that place, which was erected only for a little refreshment of his weariness. When he came back to the arbor, the very sight of it renewed his sorrow and shame for that foolish sleep in the day-time and in the midst of difficulty; that he should have used that arbor of rest for ease to the flesh, which the Lord of the hill had erected only for the relief of the spirits of the Pilgrims. Alas, cried he, that I should have to tread those steps with sorrow, and thrice over, which I might have trodden but once, and with delight? This is what Christians are often doing, and this evil is certainly a great one, of using for indulgence and ease to the flesh what God has given us to minister to the advancement of our spirits. We are not anxious enough to be making progress towards heaven ; we are too fond of comfort, and too averse from labor.

Oh, said Christian, that I had not slept! Oh that God would have mercy on me ! And now the fifty-first Psalm came into his mind, and he cried out with David, Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee. But oh, thought Christian, without my roll I can never have the heart to speak to another person as long as I live. What shall I do, what shall I do ? He knew now that it was an evil and bitter thing to depart from the living God ; yea, this experience was as dreadful to him as that under Mount Sinai. Yea, says Doddridge, in his Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, the anguish of broken bones is not to be compared with the wretchedness of a soul that has departed from God, when it comes to be filled with its own way. Oh that God would have mercy upon me, said Christian. Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me! Oh that I knew where I might find him, said Christian. Behold, I go forward, but he is not there ; and backward, but I cannot perceive him. This must always be the case, when a child of God departs from God ; and if it be not so, then there is great reason to believe that the person so wandering, and yet not troubled on account of it, is not a child of God. If Christian had said within himself, when he found his roll was missing, Well, it is not essential, or I shall find it again by and by, and so had gone on, indifferent and easy, it had been enough to show that either he was not Christian, or that much sorer evil awaited him, and sharper discipline to bring him to repentance. But he could not go on in this manner, his conscience was too tender, and his sense of divine things too vivid; and so the sorrows of death compassed him, and the pains of hell gat hold upon him; he found trouble and sorrow; and back did he go, weeping and looking for his roll, and crying, O Lord, I beseech thee deliver my soul. Now God sees all this in his children, and permits them to endure this distress, that they may gain a lesson from it, which will last them as long as they live. But he knows what he does unto them, and just what they need. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my way. And just so, when Christian had well nigh given up in despair, and was sitting himself down to weep, disconsolate and broken-hearted, as kind Providence would have it, looking through his tears beneath the settle, there he espied the roll, and with what trembling, eager haste did he catch it up and secure it again in his bosom ! Oh, who can tell how joyful he was when he had gotten his roll again ! And now returning thanks to God for directing his eye to the place where it lay, (and ever should the Christian who has been wandering from God, and so has gotten into darkness, be thankful for the least ray of returning light, and ever will he, for no deliverance is so grateful to the soul as that,) Christian did with joy and tears betake himself again to his journey. But he had lost a great deal of time, and it was now growing dark....

--- END
If you read this far, you might be wondering, what does "dephlogisticated" mean. From Websters' 1828 Dictionary:

DEPHLOGISTICATED, pp. Deprived of phlogiston. Dephlogisticated air, is an elastic fluid capable of supporting animal life and flame much longer than common air. It is now called oxygen, oxygen gas, or vital air.

PHLOGIS'TON, n. [Gr. to burn or inflame.]

The principle of inflammability; the matter of fire in composition with other bodies. Stahl gave this name to an element which he supposed to be pure fire fixed in combustible bodies, in order to distinguish it from fire in action or in a state of liberty. But the theory has been proved to be false and is generally abandoned.


Laurie M. said...

This was a wonderfully edifying post. I appreciated the extended visit back to this place in the Pilgrim's Progress. I've lost my roll a time or two and need the reminder to keep it close to my breast.

Scott said...

Laurie M., we are still talking about the roll at our house. I saw when Christian finally meets up with the Porter, he explains to him that he would have been their sooner but he fell asleep in the arbor and then worst yet he lost his evidence.

Plus we were comparing this with Eph 4:30 which also speaks of Not grieving The Holy Spirit by which we were sealed unto the day of redemption. Thanks for your encouraging words.

James Woychuk said...

Love the effervescent definition by your daughter! Thanks for this, planning to refer to it in Sunday sermon.

Much grace to you,

Scott said...

Thanks for your encouraging comment. Would love to hear the sermon.

James Woychuk said...


Here's the link the message--it's the April 10 sermon, Hold On to the Words of Life, on 2 Tim. 1:13-18. Hope I'm not too flippant about your daughter's exuberance, but as father of a 13 year-old myself, I can imagine the zeal.