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Good Friday at the Place of Deliverance (Part 1 of 2)

Christian is amazed that the mere sight of the cross is sufficient to release him of his burden. This burden, the marker of his conviction of his own sin, guilt and shame, falls from his back and rolls downhill into the open grave without any action on Christian's part.

Christian's role is, then, to respond.

He reacts emotionally or in his affections. Having been burdened throughout the whole of the journey thus far, he is 'glad and lightsome' - what a wonderful contrast to the heaviness he has borne. He speaks 'with a merry heart.'

He exclaims in speech: "He hath given me rest by his sorrow and life by his death."

This is what Warren Wiersbe names and reiterates as ‘[t]he paradox of the Christian faith: Christ dies that we might have life; Christ sorrows that we might have joy and rest.’ The exchange logic of Christian's exclamation supports the biblical teaching of Jesus' death as a substitutionary atonement. Christian's song at the end of the episode suggests the same in the final line about the Jesus on the cross "Bless’d rather be/ The man that there was put to shame for me." John Wesley's abridgment cuts the closing poem of the episode, but makes up for this by subtly changing Christian's exclamation: "The Life that I now live, I live by Faith in the Son of God; who loved me, and gave himself for me." This has the effect of bringing more attention on his own intellectual assent, his belief, his contribution to the episode. Because the cross is central to the whole Scriptural witness to God's work of redemption, commentators on this passage take the cross as not just the bare textual object but as prompt to enlarge on a whole panoply of biblical metaphors: salvation, deliverance, redemption, reconciliation, justification, atonement, propitiation, passover sacrifice, mediation, etc.

Christian cannot help but weep: Some commentators see these tears as tears of joy! The relief of the unburdening and the amazement at the gracious provision in the cross evokes this strong emotional reaction. Bunyan himself gives a different interpretation in the marginal biblical reference to Zechariah 12:10. It reads as follows, in the King James Version:

'And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.'

Bunyan suggests with this reference that Christian's tears are those of mourning. The biblical passage prophetically anticipates Jesus' pierced side on the cross. Bunyan's use of it draws Christian and his Christian readers into complicity with those who would pierce God's annointed, but also, at the same time, as those who participate in the spirit of grace that makes that mourning a sign of repentance brought about by a heavenly outpouring of favor.

And, he goes on his way singing: Another future post will explore some elements of how song is part of commentary and response to this passage, including the poem you see below the woodcut illustration from that early edition of TPP from within Bunyan's lifetime...

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