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The City of Destruction

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 3, 2021 12:01 am

The City of Destruction

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 3, 2021 12:01 am

When Jesus Christ liberates a soul from the power of sin, He also extends an invitation to a lifetime of discipleship. Today, Derek Thomas introduces us to John Bunyan's literary masterpiece, The Pilgrim's Progress.

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Before John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim's Progress, he was deeply convicted of his own sin for more than a year. He's on his way to salvation.

He's on his way to the cross, but he will be under this burden, this conviction of sin for 18 months. It's very important to understand Pilgrim's Progress, because one of the questions that has often been asked of Pilgrim's Progress is why does Bunyan take so long for Christian to get saved? And the answer is because Pilgrim's Journey traces the very real journey that John Bunyan himself followed.

And because of that personal imprint, this literary masterpiece has been the traveling companion of believers for more than 300 years. Today on Renewing Your Mind, Ligonier Teaching Fellow, Dr. Derek Thomas, is going to introduce us to The Pilgrim's Progress. Well, welcome to a series of studies together on Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Next to the Bible, Pilgrim's Progress has been the most published book in the English language. I teach at a seminary, have done for 17 years, and I frequently ask students, how many of you have read Pilgrim's Progress? And I'm amazed, staggered even these days, to find that maybe less than 20%, sometimes as few as 10% of the class have ever read Pilgrim's Progress. And I tell them with considerable gravitas that they will not get into heaven having not read Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.

I was in the company of someone just recently, a man who'd spent his lifetime as a preacher, and asked him what his favorite book was, other than the Bible. And immediately he said Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. And I think if you're of a certain generation, as a couple of you are, then I imagine Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress was something that you read.

If you're raised in a Christian home, read in your home, and read by maybe your parents, or maybe studied in Sunday school. But I have this fear that this may be the generation where Pilgrim's Progress sort of disappears, and that would be a tragedy. The first part of Pilgrim's Progress, there are two parts. The first part was published in 1678, and then six years later, the second part in 1684, and we're going to study together both parts.

Now, if I were to ask the question how many have read part two of Pilgrim's Progress, the story of Christiana and the four boys, then we're considerably down into single figures in terms of percentage-wise. And probably for every hundred that have read Pilgrim's Progress part one, maybe two or three have read part two. But in many ways, part two of the story is an even better story in some ways than part one. And theologically, there are some fascinating things that take place in part two that don't take place in part one.

Not least, of course, you have a woman's angle in part two. It's the story of Mrs. Christian, Christiana, and you have a family story, and it's a much more of a corporate story than the more individualistic story of part one. I'll be telling the story of Bunyan himself a little bit as we go along. I won't belabor you with all of the details of Bunyan's life in the first lecture.

That would be one way of doing it. But I thought I would weave into the narrative of Pilgrim's Progress certain factors from Bunyan's own life, because Pilgrim's Progress part one for sure is autobiographical. And many of the problems that arise, and there are a couple of theological problems that arise in the course of Pilgrim's Progress that can only be understood as Bunyan relating something that is deeply biographical in his own experience of salvation. Now everyone is familiar with certain characters from Pilgrim's Progress. Worldly Wiseman, Lord Hategood, Mr. Legality, Mr. Liveloose, Giant Despair, or place names like the House of Interpreter, Doubting Castle, the Valley of Humiliation, the Delectable Mountains, Bypath Meadow. Some of these have weaved their way into English literature generally, and some of them are still used as phrases in common speech to this day.

And perhaps even in the secular world they will use the term Bypath Meadow without realizing that this is from Pilgrim's Progress. Well, let's begin as they say. I used to listen to a BBC children's program when I was very little on the radio before pictures of that sort of generation.

And I can remember this very pronounced Oxford accent saying, are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin. And it begins with these very familiar words. As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den.

And I laid me down in that place to sleep, and I slept, and I dreamed a dream. And those are very familiar words, aren't they? I'm actually reading from a fairly recent publication of Pilgrim's Progress published in 2008 by Penguin Classics. And this is one in which the notes are given by a Bunyan scholar by the name of Rajapuli, and he is perhaps today the Bunyan scholar in the world. The name of Raja Sharak is a well-known name in academic circles, and again an Oxford scholar, a scholar in all things Bunyan, wrote a massive treatment of Bunyan and his theology. And there are various editions.

There are probably a hundred editions of Pilgrim's Progress, but this will be the one that I'll be alluding to as we go along the 2008 Penguin edition edited by Rajapuli. Well, let's begin at the very beginning, and it's the very first thing that Bunyan notes for us, and that is that here is a man who has in his hands a book. You discover this man. He's under a great deal of stress. He's carrying this burden upon his back, and he's outside the city of destruction, and he's carrying a book, and something that you don't actually learn until later on in the narrative that the city is called the city of destruction.

It's where his wife is and his children are. Bunyan is telling us the way of salvation, and for Bunyan in the 17th century, the way of salvation begins with conviction of sin. Unless you understand sin, unless you understand the weightiness of sin, the gravitas of sin, unless you have a conviction of sin and sinfulness, then the doctrine of salvation makes no sense. So the first, actually the first 20 pages or so is an extended consideration of this issue of sin. Perhaps in Bunyan's mind is not only his own experience of salvation, but perhaps the template for salvation for Bunyan is the Philippian jailer in Acts chapter 16 who cries out, having come under a conviction of sin with Paul and Silas in prison in Philippi, what must I do to be saved? And Bunyan gives us a little description of what has happened to bring this man into this melancholy state of mind. I'm quoting now from Pilgrim's Progress, I looked and saw him open the book and read therein, and as he read he wept and trembled, and not being able longer to contain, he break out with a lamentable cry saying, what shall I do? And the background, you can hear the background of Acts 16 in the Philippian jailer, what must I do to be saved? Well this is Bunyan telling you the way of salvation. This is Bunyan giving you evangelism in the 17th century, and it begins with the book, begins with the Bible, begins with the Word of God, and it comes to this man as he reads the Bible, perhaps for the first time in his life, and it brings him under this conviction of sin.

The Bible then has convicted him of the danger of his position. Now Bunyan was born in 1628 to Thomas and Margaret Bunyan in a little village called Elstow in Bedfordshire, and about a mile or so outside of Bedford itself in Bedfordshire. And John Bunyan was raised in very humble circumstances. His father was a tinker or brassiere, that is a man who would go from house to house, perhaps from farm to farm, to mend pots and pans, anything really made of metal.

These days if your saucepan doesn't have that Teflon non-stick surface on it and it's not working as it did, you toss it and you go to Wal-Mart or somewhere and you buy a new one. Well in Bunyan's day you called Bunyan's father, and he would come and he would fix it, and he would go from home to home. He lives in this location for 16 years, until he's 16, and he's, you know, we need to remember that this is the 1640s, and England is in civil war. Parliament against the king, it's the only period of civil war in English history that would result in England becoming a republic for a decade, during the 1650s and under the rule or tyranny, depending on how you look at it, of Oliver Cromwell, and then in 1660 the restoration of Charles II. But in 1649, Charles I, the king, would be taken out into the streets of London and his head would be severed from his body to a great crowd and a roar, and one of the Puritans, Thomas Goodwin I think it was, who was there, maybe it was Richard Sibbes, and he fainted when he saw Charles I's head being severed from his body. Well, some events occur in Bunyan's home, his mother dies, and then within months his sister dies, and within three months of the death of his mother, his father remarries.

Very quickly, on whatever consideration you look at that, that was very quick. And Bunyan left home, and didn't have a great relationship I think with the new stepmother, and he lies, I think about his age, and he joins the parliamentary forces and becomes a soldier. He's just 16, and I don't think Bunyan ever saw battle, he might have witnessed the results of battle, he certainly didn't fight in any of the great battles of the Civil War. And he's disbanded in 1646, he's been maybe as much as two years, probably more like 18 months involved then in this Civil War, he would have been 17 or 18 when he was disbanded. Now he tells us that until he got married, which would be in about three years from now, he describes his life as stained with crimson sins. He insists with great passion later that he wasn't a drunkard, and he wasn't sexually promiscuous in any way, but like Newton, Bunyan would say, I had few equals for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God.

Heaven and hell were both out of sight and out of mind, and as far as saving and damning, they were least in my thoughts. In 1649, he's 21 years of age, he marries. This lady would bear four children. We do not know her name.

It's one of the astonishing things. It was a wonderful marriage, Bunyan loved her dearly, she bore him four children, but we do not know her name. She brought into the marriage two religious books, Arthur Dent's Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven, and then Bishop Bailey's The Practice of Piety. Well, a few years into this marriage, Bunyan, whose life was far from Christian, and he is caught one day playing a game of tip cat on the Sabbath day.

This is the 17th century. Part of the Civil War in the 1640s was over something called the Book of Sports that was to the forefront of religious debate in the 1640s, and he is chastised, chastised fairly severely for being caught playing tip cat on the Sabbath day. Somebody says to him, Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or wilt thou have thy sins and go to hell? And Bunyan says, My state is surely miserable, miserable if I leave my sins, but miserable if I follow them. I cannot but be damned, and if I must be so, I had as good be damned for many sins as to be damned for few. But he couldn't get rid of conscience that easily, and a month later he's standing outside a shop window swearing and cursing.

And a woman of ill repute, who happens to be there, chastises him for his language, and he falls silent and he hangs his head in shame. And he will be under this conviction of sin for 18 months. He's on his way to salvation.

He's on his way to the cross, but he will be under this burden, this conviction of sin for 18 months. It's very important to understand Pilgrim's Progress, because one of the questions that has often been asked of Pilgrim's Progress is why does Bunyan take so long for Christian to get saved? Why is he sent by evangelists to the wicket gate, the straight gate? Evangelists, this stereotypical evangelist, who's probably depicted after the manner of the Baptist minister in Bedford who was Bunyan's mentor and discipler, and John Gifford. And that's probably the template for evangelists. An evangelist says to him, do you see the sepulchre? Do you see the cross? And Christian says, no, he doesn't see it. But then instead evangelists says, well, do you see yon wicket gate, the straight gate? Straight is the gate that enters into everlasting life, and broad is the gate that leads to hell.

Do you see that straight gate? And that's been a question that's been asked, why did Bunyan have Christian go to the straight gate rather than go to the cross, rather than go to Calvary, rather than go straight to Jesus? And I think the answer to that is Bunyan's own experience, his autobiographical experience of salvation, that he was under conviction of sin where he couldn't see the solution, he couldn't see the answer to his need. And Christian then, he's not yet a Christian of course, he's actually called Graceless, we learn this later, his name is changed to Christian, and he says, sir, I perceive by my book in my hand, he's talking to evangelists, that I am condemned to die and after that to come to judgment.

And I find I'm unwilling to do the first, nor able to do the latter. He doesn't want to die, and he cannot think of coming before God in judgment. And evangelists tells him where he needs to go, he needs to go to the wicket gate.

Well, this is the gate of entry that Jesus speaks of in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 7. And then let me pick up part of what evangelists then says to Christian. He gives him a parchment roll, and there was written on this parchment roll, fly from the wrath to come. And we read, the man therefore read it and looking up upon evangelist very carefully said, wither must I fly? Then said evangelist, pointing with his finger over a very wide field, do you see yonder wicket gate? The man said, no. Then said the other, do you see yonder shining light?

He said, I think I do. Then said evangelist, keep that light in your eye and go up directly there too. So shalt thou see the gate at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what to do. So I saw in my dream that the man began to run. Now he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children. Perceiving it, began to cry after him to return. But the man put his fingers in his ears and ran on crying, life, life, eternal life. So he looked not behind him, but fled towards the middle of the plain. Well, that's how Bunyan sets the scene in the opening two or three pages of Pilgrim's Progress.

It's a scene of this man, Christian, actually called Graceless. And he is running with his fingers in his ears away from his wife and children and the city of destruction. And he's running, he doesn't quite know where, towards a light that is shining.

But he's carrying this enormous burden upon his back. Well, this is a road trip. This is a great journey. It's a tale told in a style that is very familiar to us and especially when we are living in an age in which fantasy literature is again very popular.

And Lord of the Rings Tolkien is another road trip, beginning in one place and ending in another. And so for the next number of sessions, we're going to look at Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and see the journey that this man, Christian, makes to find salvation. Well, as so many believers have discovered through the centuries, this is a beautiful picture of our own desperate need for a Savior.

Isn't that a poignant moment? When the solution was pointed out to Christian, he ran to find it. The Pilgrim's Progress is full of images like this one to encourage us on our way to the celestial city. Dr. Derek Thomas has been our teacher today on Renewing Your Mind. He's a pastor, a seminary professor, and an expert on John Bunyan. He told me once that he reads the Pilgrim's Progress every year and gains new insights every time he reads it. We'd like to send you his entire series.

There are 19 sessions. Dr. Thomas walks you through every chapter of the book and provides helpful background information. Requested today with your donation of any amount, you can give your gift online at, or you can call us here at Ligonier. One of my colleagues will be happy to take your call. Our number is 800-435-4343. We are grateful for your financial gifts. As we enter our 50th year of ministry, we see the global need for the kind of teaching Ligonier provides. Your gifts make that possible. And to say thank you today, we'll send you Dr. Derek Thomas' series, The Pilgrim's Progress.

Our number again is 800-435-4343, and our web address is Before we go, let me tell you about a new podcast that we have produced that I think you will enjoy. It's called Ultimately with R.C.

Sproul. It's drawn from a lifetime of R.C. 's study and reflections on the nature of truth.

Here's just a brief portion of a recent episode. What would it mean to you to look visibly into the face of Christ? I've seen the Messiah, the light of the nations, the glory of Israel.

Simeon had dedicated his life to obedience and fidelity to God day after day, and finally he comes into the temple, and there's the baby. There's the Messiah. That's all I need. I don't have to hang around. I don't need to see the miracle of changing the water into wine at Canaan. I don't have to see the cross. I don't have to see the resurrection. Just viewing the presence of Christ is all I need. These are bite-sized lessons which include some content that has never been released, all designed to help you understand what you believe and why you believe it. Again, it's called Ultimately with R.C. Sproul, and you can subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher. Well, tomorrow Dr. Thomas will take us to a stop along the way in the pilgrims' progress called The Wicked Gate. What is The Wicked Gate, and what does Christian find there? We'll find out Thursday on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-19 10:02:50 / 2023-12-19 10:11:18 / 8

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