The distractions of the world and the temptations of the Devil would be enough to derail almost any pilgrim on their journey to heaven. But add to these the manifold frailties of our sinful flesh, and this triumvirate of Christian foes would seem to rule out any hope of reaching the Celestial City. Devotion and zeal can fade with every bend in the road until we are lost and alone. Despair and anxiety set in.
Such have been the struggles of all pilgrims. Because of the One who sets us on our pilgrimage, we leave the delusional comforts of our sin-loving-selves. It was by faith that we obeyed when we were called to go out to a new home, desiring a better country, willing to be strangers and exiles (Heb. 11:8, 13–16). We are sidetracked saints though. Our path to heaven is not straight, as we still cling too tightly to the things that are passing away. Unholy passions tear us in ways that wound us and others. Yet God, in His sustaining grace, provides for the weary pilgrim.
The journey up the difficult hills in our life is made bearable by the respite provided in that beautiful house, the church. This is no ordinary building built with brick and mortar. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), a stable and safe shelter for the burdened and broken sinner. It is a building made of living stones on top of the foundation laid by the prophets and apostles, with Jesus Himself as the cornerstone (1 Cor. 3:9–11; 1 Pet. 2:5; Eph. 2:20). And unlike the earthly temple, which was destroyed, the church is being built into an everlasting holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 2:21).
But it is a tired attack by the enemies of our Lord to point out the failures of the church and her leaders. Of course the church falls short, composed as it is of sinners like you and me. Herein the wonders of our sovereign Father are displayed. He is the God of great reversals, and He uses sinful people like us to accomplish His saving purposes. The church proclaims and makes manifest the reign of her Lord; the church prays for His kingdom to come and creation quivers in anticipation.
To the church are given the very words of life proclaimed by faithful shepherds (1 Pet. 4:11; Rom. 10:14). Beauty from this new life blossoms in a diversity of gifts in the church (1 Cor. 12:4–7; Rom. 12:4–8), all with the aim of causing us to grow in Christlikeness (Eph. 1:23; Phil. 2:5).
The diversity of gifts within the church are on display in organizations like Ligonier Ministries. Christian education-oriented schools, publishers, and broadcasters can all be effective outreach efforts that naturally flow from the teaching of the Word of God by approved ministers and teachers within the church. The message of God’s holiness, our sinfulness, and the provision of a Savior is never dated.
Our voice joins with the historical band of brothers who have been called out of darkness into light. It is the light of God’s Word that we shine on unbelief wherever it is found, be it in the culture or in the church itself. We want to see hearts and wills conquered so that Christians are equipped to effect change in every sphere because God puts the Christian pilgrim into a unique family, vocation, and nation, and He expects him to grow in holiness, even as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:13–16).
When they work rightly, ministries such as ours propagate biblical Christianity to the church throughout the world. When they miss their mark, they distract God’s people into unfruitful endeavors. And when they utterly fail, they show themselves never to have been a true part of the church. Like the false teachers, they were not of us in the first place (1 John 2:19).
In Bunyan’s allegory, the Christian pilgrim meets with many who spur him toward righteousness in his journey. Each one has a variety of gifts that encourage and equip the pilgrim to progress, and each one is named for his characteristic virtue: Good-Will, Help, Charity, Discretion, Piety, Prudence, Faithful, Hopeful.
This is exactly what we’ve seen in church history, isn’t it? The Lord has raised up many within his church throughout the millennia to encourage the body of saints to become more like their head, Jesus Christ, “from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15–16). They go by different names: Stephen, Paul, Peter, Polycarp, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Hus, Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Edwards, Hodge, Spurgeon, Machen, your pastor and mine. In each generation, leaders in the church brought the Bible to God’s people.
Pray for your pastor and pray for organizations such as Ligonier that we would be found faithful in our generation to serve the weary pilgrim on his journey home.