Hidden Resources of the Heart

With a devotional commentary by John Woodward


This Grace Note is based on an allegory by John Bunyan. His Pilgrim’s Progress (first published in 1678), is one of the most important and influential books ever written. The classic allegory of the Christian life contains a highly respected summary of biblical doctrine with timeless insights about the challenges and lessons of Christian discipleship.

The excerpt

We will recall a scene wherein Christian is instructed in the House of the Interpreter. Christian arrived and persistently knocked at the door until he was introduced to the master of the house. The pilgrim introduced himself as follows.

“Sir,” said Christian, “I am a man that am come from the city of Destruction, and am going to the Mount Zion; and I was told by the man that stands at the gate at the head of this way, that if I called here you would show me excellent things, such as would be helpful to me on my journey.”

Then said Interpreter, “Come in; I will show thee that which will be profitable to thee.” So he commanded his man to light the candle, and bid Christian follow him…

[The fourth of seven scenes in this house describes a unique fireplace.]

Then I saw in my dream, that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and led him into a place where was a fire burning against a wall, and one standing by it, always casting much water upon it, to quench it; yet did the fire burn higher and hotter.

Then said Christian, “What means this”?

The Interpreter answered, “This fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart; he that casts water upon it, to extinguish and put it out, is the devil: but in that thou seest the fire, notwithstanding, burn higher and hotter, thou shalt also see the reason of that. So he had him about to the back side of the wall, where he saw a man with a vessel of oil in his hand, of the which he did also continually cast (but secretly) into the fire.”

Then said Christian, “What means this”?

The Interpreter answered, “This is Christ, who continually, with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the devil can do, the souls of his people prove gracious still (2 Cor. 12:9). And in that thou sawest that the man stood behind the wall to maintain the fire; this is to teach thee, that it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of grace is maintained in the soul.”[1]

The meaning

Interpreter represents the Holy Spirit.

Christ promised, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13,14).

George Cheever commented,

“This good man of the house, the Interpreter, we are without doubt to take as the representative of the Holy Spirit with his enlightening and sanctifying influences on the heart. He is our Comforter, Guardian, and Guide through all our pilgrimage; our instructor to take of the things which are Christ’s and show them to our souls; our Sanctifier to lead us into all truth and to make it the nourishing food of our souls, and with it and in it bringing Christ before us continually, to fasten our affections upon him, and make him, of God, unto us our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.”[2]

We need to pray for, depend on, and follow the illumination of the Holy Spirit. His ministry will protect us from influences that twist and misuse biblical revelation (2 Peter 3:16)

The fire represents the Christian’s spiritual life.

When people repent and receive Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, they become pilgrims en route to the celestial city. As the Holy Spirit is portrayed as burning lamps in the Apocalypse (Rev. 4:5), even so He has entered the believer’s heart, kindling a fire of light and warmth (truth and love).

The one trying to douse the fire symbolizes the Devil.

As the Devil tried to sift Peter as wheat (Luke 22:31), even so, his forces still oppose the people of God. The enemy seeks to snatch away truth, tempt to sin, and douse the disciple’s devotion to God (Eph. 6:10,11).

We are warned for good reason: “Be sober, be vigilant; your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:8,9).

This warning about spiritual warfare reminds scholars of a reference in John Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography:

“Then hath the tempter come upon me, also, with such discouragements as these – ‘You are very hot for mercy, but I will cool you; ..’though I be seven years in chilling your heart if I can do it at last? Though you be burning hot at present, yet, if I can pull you from this fire, I shall have you cold before it be long.”[Depressed at this, he then describes what happened a short while later.] “One day as I was sitting in a neighbor’s house, and there very sad at the consideration of my many blasphemies, and as I was saying in my mind, What ground have I to think that I, who have been so vile and abominable, should ever inherit eternal life? that word came suddenly upon me, ‘What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?’ (Rom. 8:31). That, also, was an help unto me, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’ (John 14:19). [3]

If the apostles and leaders from yesteryear need to be on guard for spiritual warfare, so must we!

The hidden man supplying the oil represents the indwelling Christ.

Although the Lord Jesus Christ is literally in heaven at the Father’s right hand today, He also indwells the child of God through the Holy Spirit. Paul prayed, that God “would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:16,17).

Bunyan included a reference to 2 Corinthians 12:9 where Christ assured His apostle, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

The “oil” of grace and enablement is continually supplied. This symbolism was also used in the Lord’s reassurance to Israel’s leaders after their return from exile:

“‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’
Says the Lord of hosts” (Zech 4.6, see 4:11,12).

After warning Peter of the Devil’s devious agenda, Jesus affirmed, “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32). We have this assurance also: “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Although the flame retardants of the world, flesh, and Devil assail us, we are to persevere by the power of God’s presence and the adequacy of His grace. This resource is appropriated by faith, not by sight. Believe in this promise: “You are of God … and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

This allegory of the fireplace was written over 300 years ago, but the lessons are of vital importance for our generation. As the last days unfold with the world’s misuse of technology, the flesh’s propensity to addictions, and the Devil’s preparation for the Antichrist, the church needs to return to fidelity in biblical doctrine and victory in the spiritual life! Hostile forces, like buckets of water, may come your way, but the Unseen One is faithful to supply grace to continually kindle holy flames of faith, hope and love.


[1] From Part 1, the Second Stage. The Pigrim’s Progress is available for feee online here: www.ccel.org/ccel/bunyan/pilgrim

[2] George Cheever, Lectures on Bunyan, p. 164.

[3] Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Quoted by Barry Homer in Pilgrim’s Progress: The Outline Study Manual and Commentary, 125.

The title of this article and devotional commentary – John Woodward. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (Copyright by Thomas Nelson).

Honorable Mention

“The Jesus Story is a powerful, captivating message of love, told in simple language that young children can understand. To provide a child with an opportunity to receive the awesome, redeeming love of the Lord Jesus Christ is a gift that will last forever. Children want to know that Jesus loves them and cares about them. This story will give children hope and inspire them to invite Jesus into their lives.”http://www.thejesusstory.com/videos

Posted in