This last week was the annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society, held in Denver, CO. As ever, it was great to travel with my friend and fellow Aberdeen alum, Rob Price (to whom goes the photo credit, below). I had gotten invited to present on the conference theme of holiness for a session organized by Sacred Roots Ministry. They are doing excellent work in opening up classic texts of the Christian tradition to pastors and laborers in ministry beyond the normal academic reach.
I entitled my presentation: “‘I am in the king’s highway, the way of holiness’: John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim's Progress.” I majored on the way Bunyan points his readers outside themselves for assurance of the work of grace in salvation: pointing them to the Bible at all times, and expecting holiness to be the fruit of conversion that can be encouraged and discerned by fellow believers in the life of the church in spiritual pilgrimage.
The title quotation is from Christian's defiant confrontation with Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation. In turn the phrasing is borrowed by Bunyan from Isaiah 35:8:
7 And the parched ground shall become a pool,
and the thirsty land springs of water:
in the habitation of dragons, where each lay,
shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
8 And an highway shall be there, and a way,
and it shall be called The way of holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those:
the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.
9 No lion shall be there,
nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon,
it shall not be found there;
but the redeemed shall walk there:
Verse 7 helps in supporting Bunyan's description of Apollyon as a dragon, even as other elements of his description draw from Job's Leviathan (45:15), and possibly Behemoth (Job 40:16) , and the beast of Revelation 13:2 - ‘He was clothed with scales, like a fish (and they are his pride). He had wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke, and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion.’
The Way of holiness is walked by those redeemed by God - wayfarers who will ultimately be spared the assaults of lions that Christian had already faced on approaching the Palace Beautiful.