A Very Grave Person

by Mike Ratliff

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. (1 Corinthians 4:14-16 ESV)

The visible church is flesh driven. Evangelicalism is corrupt because of the very same thing. I visit both large and small churches. It seems that in many cases, the larger the church, the more geared the leadership is there to appealing to the flesh to attract and keep the crowds large and entertained. When I enter the physical buildings of these large churches I look around and take a visible inventory of the clues given of how focused the leadership there is to being “in tune” with culture in how church is done, how the music is done, how convicting the message from the Word of God is in all of this and how central that is to the life of that local body of believers. Forget those that have their own television networks or shows or whatever. They have sold out a long time ago to contextualization of the truth in order to keep the money coming in. 

In John Bunyan’s book The Pilgrim’s Progress, after Christian has made it through the Wicket Gate and been set on the narrow path, he is told that his next destination is the house of The Interpreter and from there he will be sent to the place of deliverance where his burden (his guilt of sin) will be taken away. However, he must first learn some important things from The Interpreter. After arriving and being let in at the house of The Interpreter the tour begins:

Then said the Interpreter, Come in; I will shew thee that which will be profitable to thee. So he commanded his man to light the Candle, and bid Christian follow him: so he had him into a private room, an bid his man open a door; the which when he had one, Christian saw the picture of a very grave Person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it, It had eyes lifted up to Heaven, the best of Books in his hand, the Law of Truth was written upon his lips, the World was behind his back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a Crown of Gold did hang over its head.

Then said Christian, What means this?

The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand; he can beget children, travail in birth with children, and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas thou seest him with eyes lift up to Heaven, the best of Books in his hand, and the Law of Truth writ on his lips; it is to shew thee, that his work is to know and unfold dark things to Sinners; even as also thou seest him stand as if he pleaded with men; and whereas thou seest the World as cast behind him, and that a Crown hangs over his head; that is to shew thee, that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that the hath to his Master’s service, he is sure in the World that comes next to have Glory for his reward. Now, said the Interpreter, I have shewed thee this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going, hath authorized to be thy Guide in all difficult places thou may’st meet with in the Way: Wherefore take good heed to what I have shewed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou hast seen; lest in thy Journey thou meet with some that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death.

This simple exchange opens up Christian’s time in the house of The Interpreter which Bunyan uses to show us how God teaches those He saves the truth and prepares them to walk the narrow path before actually sending them to do so. The first time I read The Pilgrim’s Progress, I was amazed how well Bunyan addressed this issue and how succinctly it explains many of the issues we are witnessing in our own time. Why is there such corruption and apostasy in the visible church in our time? There are multitudes of those “that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death,” but there are few calling them out and showing the Body of Christ that this is so. To do this is to call down the wrath of nearly everyone. It is to be called mean-spirited or whatever to tell the truth that a wolf in sheep’s clothing is leading people astray. The charge is that there are multiple ways or multiple streams, who is to say that one way is more right or more wrong than another? Ah, but you see Bunyan knew and His Very Grave Person knew the absolute truth and preached and taught only it. How did he know?

He cared nothing for the ways and or things of this World or this present age. That is imperative. The Gospel was everything to him. Next, his focus was not here, but on heaven where Christ is. His treasure is where Christ is. His reward is in the age to come, not here and now. He is willing to spend himself totally for this, but not as men call it, not for a man’s opinion of what the mission of the Church should be, but what the true mission of the Church is and that is:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 ESV)

This is not a command to go and redeem the world or culture. It is a command to go and make disciples from every part of the world teaching them to observe all the things that Christ taught. Christ is the author of all doctrine, not men. He is our teacher, not men. He is our all. Without Him we can do nothing, but as we obey Him, we can do this as His very grave disciples.

Soli Deo Gloria!

19 thoughts on “A Very Grave Person

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention A Very Grave Person « Possessing the Treasure -- Topsy.com

  2. Amen is all that can be uttered after that. May God continue to bless you and your ministry with every spiritual blessing from on high. To God be the Glory!
    In Christ alone, Charisse


  3. Thanks Mike,

    So true. Bunyan’s insight has amazed me many times. It is a very grave time in which we live, and popularity will be missing to those who follow the Lord; and popularity is a sign of those who follow the world. Popularity and marketing are the currency of the 21 century church, and Christians are flocking to these venues.

    Keep up the good work brother.

    Steve Blackwell


  4. Welcome back, Mike.

    Had to comment because The Pilgrim’s Progress is my favorite book outside the scriptures.

    Just wanted to drop by and say, Hi. I’m giving a lecture on the Emergent Church today in Birmingham. Tough topic to try to convey in only an hour, w/another hour to field questions.

    Blessings to you, my brother.


  5. Thanks Heather, that’s right. There is another encounter that Christian has right after he enters the Wicket Gate that I have often wanted to write about. The gate keeper is named Goodwill. Christian asks him how he will know which way to go on the path. What about turns and crossroads and forks in the road, et cetera. Goodwill replies, (paraphrase) “yes, there are many ways off the path, but you will always know the right way from the wrong way because the right way will always be straight and narrow.” Very simple instructions. I watched a video yesterday of John Piper talking Missional. It was from 2009. It was very troubling to my spirit. It had little to nothing to do with these simple instructions as the primary mission of the church. It was quite complicated and all wrapped up in emotion and laying guilt on people who didn’t share the same passion. Very disturbing indeed. More to come…


  6. In Matthew 13 and in Luke 8, Jesus talked about how the “secrets” of the Kingdom are revealed to His disciples but are obscured to those without, thus He spoke in parables.

    I’ve been pondering of late how it is only when the believer takes unto him/herself a FULL gospel, thereby growing in grace and in the knowledge of Him is he/she enabled to walk in this world as though passing through Vanity Fair. You’re right, Mike, Christian “cared nothing for the ways and or things of this World or this present age.”

    …a full gospel will do that to a person.

    Grace and peace,


  7. Amen Elizabeth, those who walk this way have their eyes fixed heavenward where Christ is and this stuff in this place is merely secondary, if that. John Bunyan spent 12 years in prison because he refused to stop preaching the Gospel, the full gospel that is. He could have left prison at any time if he would only agree to compromise, but he would not. What an inspiration for us! I don’t see many in our time with that sort of commitment. If we become too stringent in our adherence to the gospel then we lose readers and support, et cetera. Sigh… Well, I think it’s time for some of us to make that stand again. I don’t like being unpopular anymore than anyone else, but that is the cost of walking the narrow path uncompromisingly and that must be my commitment. Am i willing to pay it? We will see…


  8. Hi Mike,
    I liked your very last paragraph. If we would understand that it is God who saves, not man and his plans, then we would be content to make disciples locally instead of each church “trying to save the world.” I was listening to a sermon yesterday from my old church and it was all about their plans for growth, how much money they have collected so far from the pledges sent in, how they are breaking ground on their new addition and how now they are joing with other churches across the city and even in other cities in order to “change cities for God.”
    It seems to be all about us, the church, our plans. We sure look good doing all this stuff. 🙂
    God bless you today and thanks for reminding us to trust God and live His simple plan for our lives. He will take care of His church, for whom He died.


  9. Oh, and one more thing….
    Jesus will keep us on the narrow path, won’t He Mike!
    When we start to get discouraged at what we see and start to feel the temptations to come and join, just a little, the others on the broad way, He redirects us. If the object of our love is Christ, as it was for Bunyon, the narrow path, (or even prison) is what we want because there is where we find Him.


  10. Very good point Diane. That prison could be an illness that keeps us from being able to drive for over a year or forcing us to work from home… Anything that humbles us and puts us on the ash heap with Job. Yes, we will find our Lord there with us. Yes, reality is very different from what our normal perception is without the glaring light of His Truth shining into the darkness all around us. We cannot see it clearly when we walk in our own strength according to our own will and desire. However, when He humbles us and we come to Him in repentance, He does indeed show us things, what we need to know in order to serve Him where we are and how to help others in the same darkness we just struggled through. It is amazing how good He is to those who Love and serve Him.


  11. That’s right, Mike. If you could have perfect health forever in this life… if you would just stop preaching the truth….you would not because you could not. We are in Him and He loses not one of His sheep! Christ is your first love.
    If not illnesses, then physical or emotional pain, or material needs or whatever it may be, it is ours along with His. Paul was able to rejoice in whatever circumstance he was in as Christ showed Himself strong in his weakness.


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