RPM, Volume 13, Number 22, May 29 to June 4, 2011

The Interpreter's House and the Man with the Broom

By John G. Reisinger

Then he took him by the hand, and led him into a very large parlor, that was full of dust, because never swept; the which after he had reviewed it a little while the Interpreter called for a man to sweep. Now, when he began to sweep, the dust began so abundantly to fly about that Christian had almost therewith been choked. Then said the Interpreter to a damsel that stood by, "Bring hither water, and sprinkle the room;" the which when she had done, it was swept and cleansed with pleasure.

CHRIS: Then said Christian, "What means this?"

INTER: The Interpreter answered, "This parlor is the heart of a man that was never sanctified by the sweet grace of the Gospel. The dust is his original sin, and inward corruptions that have defiled the whole man. He that began to sweep at first is the law; but she that brought water, and did sprinkle it, is the Gospel. Now, whereas thou sawest that, as soon as the first began to sweep, the dust did so fly about that the room could not by him be cleansed, but that thou wast almost choked therewith; this is to show thee, that the law, instead of cleansing the heart (by its working) from sin, doth revive, put strength into, and increase it in the soul, even as it doth discover and forbid it, for it doth not give power to subdue. Again, as thou sawest the damsel sprinkle the room with water, upon which it was cleansed with pleasure; this is to show thee, that when the Gospel comes, in the sweet and gracious influences thereof, to the heart, then, I say, even as thou sawest the damsel lay the dust by sprinkling the floor with water, so is sin vanquished and subdued, and the soul made clean through the faith of it, and, consequently, fit for the King of Glory to inhabit." From The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

It is amazing how many people use, or rather misuse, this section of Bunyan's great work. They clearly see that Bunyan is showing the inability of the law to justify or clean the heart of man. They acknowledge that only grace and the gospel can subdue sin. However, once the heart is cleaned, they want to then give the job of keeping the heart clean back to the man with the broom (Moses). Who has not heard the mantra of Covenant Theology, "The law will drive you to Christ to be justified and Christ will send you back to Moses to be sanctified?" That is not what Bunyan is saying. His message is this: "The law cannot deal with sin—period. It is as powerless to keep a saint pure as it is to justify a sinner.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones says the same thing: In winding up his first argument in chapter six he [Paul] has said, 'For sin shall not have dominion over you,' and his reason for saying that is, 'for (because) you are not under the law, but under grace.' He seems to glory in this fact. He seems to be striking another blow at the Law. He has already knocked it down, as it were, in chapter 5, verse 20; he is now trampling on it. At once his opponents take up the cudgels and say, 'Surely these are very wrong and very dangerous statements to make; surely if you are going to abrogate the Law and do away with it altogether, you are doing away with every guarantee of righteous and holy conduct and behavior. Sanctification is impossible without the Law. If you treat the Law in this way and dismiss it, and rejoice in doing so, are you not encouraging lawlessness, and are you not almost inciting people to live a sinful life?' Law, they believed, was the great guarantee of holy living and sanctification. The Apostle clearly has to safeguard himself, and the truth of the gospel, against that particular misunderstanding and charge. Now that is exactly the purpose of this 7th chapter. It is to explain what he means when he says that the Law 'came in by the side', and that we should rejoice in the fact that we are not 'under the law but under grace'. This 7th chapter is an expanded exposition or explication of both those statements, or, to put it more positively, its purpose is to show us the function and the purpose of the Law as given by God through Moses to the children of Israel.

But the Apostle has another particular object in view also, namely, to show that sanctification by the Law is as impossible as was justification by the law…As it is impossible to be justified by the law, it is equally impossible to be sanctified by the Law. As we shall see later, he even puts it as strongly as this, that not only can a man not be sanctified by the Law, but it is actually true to say that the Law is a hindrance to sanctification, and that it aggravates the problems of sanctification. That is the thesis of this seventh chapter; not only can a man not sanctify himself by observance of the Law; the Law is even a hindrance and an obstacle to sanctification." From: The Law: Its Function and Limits, by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Zondervan, pp. 4, 5.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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