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The Candle and the Comforter: How Christ Governs His Church

Jesus Christ is our eternal king who governs us by his Word and Spirit (Heidelberg Catechism LD 12). In the Reformation, this twofold formula guarded against, on the one hand, the objectivism of Roman Catholic sacramentalism and, on the other hand, the subjectivism of Anabaptist mysticism. With this in mind, I was struck afresh when re-reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by the biblical imagery Bunyan uses for these two things—the Candle and the Comforter.

When Christian comes to the Interpreter’s House, which in many ways symbolizes the church, the Interpreter “commands his man to light the candle” before showing him seven rooms that contain many “excellent things” (Ps. 119:18). In proving Spurgeon’s quip about Bunyan, if we prick him at this point in the story, his “Bibline” blood begins to flow. The psalmist, for one, exclaims, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (119:105). And Peter exhorts us to pay attention to the guiding words of the prophets that have been confirmed by the apostles as to “a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19). The candle signifies that the “excellent things” Christian is about to see are things revealed in God’s Word. The path leading to the City is illumined by the light of the Word, the candle of Christ.

As Christian prepares to leave the Interpreter’s House to continue on his journey, the Interpreter speaks to him of the Comforter: “The Comforter be always with thee, good Christian, to guide thee in the way that leads to the City.” Again, Bunyan’s “Bibline” blood flows, for Jesus said, “The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn. 14:26; see 14:16; 15:26; 16:7, 13). The Comforter has an essential role in the teaching of Christ’s people, illuminating their minds and hearts to the truth of God’s revelation.

As our eternal king, Christ governs us by his Word and Spirit, by his Candle and Comforter.

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