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The Interpreter's House

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 5, 2021 12:01 am

The Interpreter's House

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 5, 2021 12:01 am

Jesus cautioned that those who follow Him must carefully count the cost of discipleship. Today, Derek Thomas considers a sobering description in The Pilgrim's Progress of those who fail to count the cost.

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In John Bunyan's 17th century, people were afraid of sin and of falling away from the faith. This is a very sobering truth, and one, I think, that makes Bunyan's pilgrims progress perhaps shocking and somewhat alarming to modern readers, particularly modern readers who have been influenced by an easy believism. As we read the pilgrims' progress, we can't help but be reminded of very real spiritual issues in our own lives. What's at stake in the decisions we make? How do we overcome pitfalls and obstacles? What must we do in this life to make it to the next? Generations of Christians have benefited from this beautiful story.

And today on Renewing Your Mind, we return to Dr. Derek Thomas's behind-the-scenes look. Well, welcome back to Lecture 3 in our study together of Bunyan's pilgrims' progress. We're at a very, very interesting stage in pilgrims' progress. Christian has just made it through the wicket gate. He's been pulled through by a man by the name of Goodwill. And you might, had you not known the story, you might have expected at this point for the burden to roll away.

And from this point onwards, there would be little by way of difficulty. But actually, that's not the case. And what happens now is alarming. For some, it is distressing. For others, it is confusing.

Because Mr. Goodwill tells him now to go to the house of Mr. Interpreter. And here in this house, he will see many things, one of which will be deeply, deeply disturbing. Alexander White says in his commentary on pilgrims' progress and on the characters of pilgrims' progress, he says, every minister of the gospel is an interpreter, and every evangelical church is an interpreter's house. So bear that in mind as commentators try to understand what Bunyan is actually doing at this point. He's saying that the church has a responsibility to teach those who are recently converted, those who have been brought in through the wicket gate, they've got a responsibility to teach them certain things about the way of salvation, about what the Christian life actually looks like. And I suppose pilgrims' progress is at the opposite end of the spectrum from views of Christianity that might suggest, come to Jesus and all your troubles will disappear. Now, I was told something of that kind when I became a Christian.

And actually, what I discovered was that I came to Jesus and I discovered problems I didn't have before. And I think that Bunyan is wanting to prepare Christians and his readers for the difficulty of the Christian life, that the Christian life is going to be a battle from beginning right up to the point of entry to the celestial city. Well, he comes to the house of interpreter, and interpreter lights a candle and gives Christian a tour of the house.

And what kind of issues now emerge, seven in particular, and I'm going to stress a couple of them more than the others, but he's basically taken to seven different rooms. He comes, first of all, he sees a picture, a portrait, and it's a very grave person with his eyes lifted up to heaven, and he has the best of books in his hands and the law of truth upon his lips and the world behind his back, and he is pleading with men and a crown of gold hangs over his head. Well, it might be special pleading on my part to say Bunyan is, of course, thinking here about a minister. He's thinking about a gospel preacher. He's thinking about an evangelist. He's thinking about the Puritan preacher of the 17th century.

And I think in Bunyan's mind, this is his own minister, John Gifford, in the Baptist church, a man who influenced Bunyan a great deal in his early pilgrimage and in his early discipleship. And he's characterized by several things. He's characterized by the fact that he has the Bible in his hands. And he's an honorable man. He's a man of truth and integrity. He's also an evangelist. He's pleading with men and women to come to the Savior, and a crown of gold hangs over his head. This is a typical depiction of a 17th century evangelical, Reformed, Puritan preacher of the gospel, concerned with proclaiming the truth of the Bible, but also concerned about bringing men and women to faith and to a knowledge of the gospel. So this man is like evangelists that we've seen. He's also like the character Help that we've seen.

He's also a bit like the man Goodwill that we've seen, who pulled him through the wicket gate. And there'll be more such characters, all of them depicting the office of one who proclaims and preaches the gospel. Then secondly, he sees a man sweeping a room, and all he's achieving is producing a lot of dust, until a girl brings water and sprinkles the room, and then the dust gathers and can be swept away properly.

What is this picture about? And it's about the law. Bunyan reflects on Romans 7, 9. When the commandment came, sin revived and I died. Of course, Bunyan is understanding that section of Romans 7 as biographical of the Apostle Paul's own experience of salvation, and that when the law came, it stirred up things like dust in the air, but actually didn't bring assurance of salvation. Only the water of the gospel could bring assurance of salvation. And again, it's a way of depicting pictorially the fact that the law has this character, this function of raising within us an even greater awareness of our sinfulness, that the law convicts, that the law brings further evidence of our transgressions.

Then thirdly, he sees two little children. One is called Reason, and the other is called Patience. And they represent people of this world who want everything now and people of the world to come who are content to wait. The difference between those of the world and those who are of the kingdom of God.

And one is anxious to have everything right now, and the other is content to wait for the world to come. Then fourthly, he's taken to a fireplace. The fire is burning, and it's burning higher and hotter, despite the fact that somebody is throwing water on this fire until he's taken around to the other side of the fire, behind the wall.

And on the other side, someone is throwing oil on the fire and causing it to blaze. What is Bunyan trying to say? He's saying this is what a young Christian needs to understand, that there's going to be opposition. There's going to be water thrown on your zeal. You come to Jesus, you come to the gospel, you come to salvation, and you have this enthusiasm. You have this zeal.

But the world will always be trying to put out this zeal, but the Holy Spirit will be pouring His oil of grace upon that heart and causing that flame to burn for the Lord and for the gospel. Then fifthly, he sees a castle, and there's a scene of a man, and he's dressed in armor, and he comes out, and he's got a sword, and he's engaging in battle against his opponents, and he slays all of his opponents, and he's victorious. But it's a picture of battle, and it's one of these. It's a typical 17th century understanding of what the Christian life looks like, that the Christian life from beginning to end is one of battle.

It's one of warfare. Ephesians 6, one thinks of William Gurnell, the Puritan of the 17th century, writing a 900-page volume of exposition of that section in Ephesians chapter 6, put on the whole armor of God so that in the day of battle, you know, you might be able to stand. One thinks of a very famous, often cited remark of John Geary in 1646. Just prior to Bunyan's own conversion, he's describing the character of an old English Puritan. His whole life is accounted a warfare wherein Christ was his captain, his arms, prayers, and tears, the cross, his banner, and his word, his motto, vincit qui patitur, which means, he who suffers conquers, vincit qui patitur, he who suffers conquers.

That was the motto of the typical English Puritan in the middle of the 17th century, and Bunyan is in many ways a typical English Puritan. He is describing that the Christian life, you come to Jesus, and then you must be prepared to fight, you must be prepared to engage in a battle that will take you all the way to glory. It was a lesson I think Paul learned from his first missionary journey when he's recounting the lessons of that first missionary journey in the home church in Antioch. He says in Acts 14 22, it is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of God. Come to Jesus and you can expect warfare. Come to Jesus, you can expect tribulation.

Come to Jesus, you can expect opposition from the world and the flesh and the devil. The seventh, I'll come back to the sixth because I want to dwell on it, but the seventh thing that he sees is a man rising out of bed, shaking and trembling because he's had this dream of the day of judgment and he was left behind. Now, this isn't anything to do with left behind as we think of it in our own time as an interpretation of a kind of secret rapture.

That isn't what Bunyan is talking about, but he is talking about two very important things here. One is the day of judgment, that there is a day of reckoning, and that would have been a typical content of the gospel. How do you do evangelism?

How do you tell men and women that their lives are in danger? You tell them about a day of reckoning. You tell them about a day of accountability, that there is a day that they will be brought before the judge, the judge of all the earth, and he who sees everything and knows everything.

And you will have to give an account for everything that you've done and everything that you've said, the day of judgment, the day of reckoning. And the fact that in this picture, this dream that this man has had, that in this judgment he was left behind. He wasn't vindicated.

He wasn't exonerated. He wasn't brought into the everlasting kingdom, into the city of God. And Bunyan is saying, I think, that evangelism means being brought to that point where you realize that there are two roads here. There is a road that leads to the eternal city, but there's also another road, a very fearful road, a road that can only lead to doom and destruction, to the judgment and the eternal judgment of God. But we've missed one. And that's the sixth thing that an interpreter shows him in this house. And it's quite alarming.

It's quite unexpected. I imagine if you were to write a similar kind of tale today describing the nature of the Christian life, I wonder if we would even dream of including what Bunyan includes here. He sees a man in an iron cage, and the man is saying that he was once a pilgrim. He was once a Christian. He was once a confessor, a professor of the Christian faith, a fair and flourishing professor, is how Bunyan puts these words into this man's lips, one who professes faith, one who claims to be a Christian, and that he has so hardened his heart that he cannot repent. You have to ask yourself, why does Bunyan depict this? Why does he show this?

What is the purpose of this? Where does he get this from? And the answer to that, of course, is Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10. Hebrews 6, the description that's given of a man who has once been enlightened, who has tasted of the heavenly gift, who has tasted of the Holy Spirit, but that if he doesn't persevere, if he commits what in the language of the King James version of the Bible in the 17th century was the unforgivable sin, the sin that cannot be forgiven, then there is no repentance. And this is the picture that's shown to Christian in Interpreter's house, a man who was once a flourishing Christian, but has left off his perseverance and now finds himself in a state where he cannot repent. Let's read a little bit of the conversation because Christian interrogates this man in the iron cage.

Christian says, what are you now? And the man says, I am now a man of despair, and I'm shut up in it. As in this iron cage, I cannot get out.

I cannot get out. But how camest thou in this man in the iron cage? But how camest thou in this condition?

I left off to watch and be sober. I laid the reins upon the neck of my lusts. I sinned against the light of the word and the goodness of God. I have grieved the spirit, and he is gone. I tempted the devil, and he has come to me. I have provoked God to anger, and he has left me. I have so hardened my heart that I cannot repent. And then Christian says, is there no hope, but you must be kept in the iron cage of despair?

No, none at all, the man says. Why, the son of the blessed is very pitiful. And the man says, I have crucified him to myself afresh.

He's quoting Hebrews 6. I have crucified him to myself afresh. I have despised his person. I have despised his righteousness.

I have counted his blood an unholy thing. I have done despite to the spirit of grace. Therefore, I have shut myself out of all the promises. And there now remains to me nothing but threatenings, dreadful threatenings, fearful threatenings of certain judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour me as an adversary. For what did you bring yourself into this condition, Christian asks. And the man says, for the lusts, pleasures, and profits of this world, in the enjoyment of which I did then promise myself much delight.

But now every one of those things also bite me and gnaw me like a burning worm. But canst thou not now repent and turn? God hath denied me repentance. His word gives me no encouragement to believe. Yea, himself hath shut me up in this iron cage, nor can all the men in the world let me out. O eternity, eternity, how shall I grapple with the misery that I must meet with in eternity? Sobering, isn't it?

It's quite alarming. It's unexpected because it's not part of evangelical preaching and teaching in our time. In the seventeenth century, that verse in Hebrews six, Hebrews six, four through six, and a similar set of verses in Hebrews ten, were taken very seriously indeed. We have to ask, I think, the question, when did we last hear a sermon on the unforgivable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit that cannot be forgiven? Now these days we tend to interpret that as the sin of unbelief. The only sin that can't be forgiven is unbelief.

You don't have faith, you can't be forgiven. So that becomes then the unforgivable sin. But in the seventeenth century, the sin against the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin, was a sin that you could actually commit. It was an act of apostasy. It was a deliberate turning away from the truth of the gospel and into a life of licentiousness from which you would not be able to repent. And that was part of preaching in the seventeenth century, and Bunyan has it here. In John Calvin's time, in the previous century, there was a famous Italian reformer who had turned from Catholicism, embraced the Protestant Reformation, and then towards the end of his life had recanted and had gone back into Romanism and into a way of works.

And this man was often cited in sermons as an example of somebody who had committed the act of apostasy from which there would be no repentance. At the very least, Bunyan is describing here the need to persevere. He that perseveres to the end shall be saved. He's stressing something that is vital, I think, to seventeenth-century understanding of the way of the gospel, that you come to Jesus and you come to Jesus by faith alone, in Christ alone, nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.

But then you must persevere. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that works in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure. And there is a holy activity about the Christian life and a fearfulness of sin and a fearfulness of the possibility of apostasy. Of course, the archetype here is Judas himself, who was a professing disciple of Jesus. In the upper room, you know, when Jesus says, one of you will betray me, they didn't all turn to Judas and say, well, you know, it's got to be him because we didn't trust him from the start. What the disciples are saying is, is it me?

Lord, are you talking about me? So here was one of the disciples who had professed the faith, but committed an act of apostasy from which there was no repentance. This is a, this is a very sobering truth. And one I think that makes Bunyan's Pilgrim's progress perhaps shocking and somewhat, somewhat alarming to modern readers, particularly modern readers who have been influenced by an easy believism. You know, come to Jesus and, and you need worry about nothing from there on until the end. And even if you live like the devil, you can be saved.

The whole lordship controversy of the 1980s and 1990s comes to mind. Lloyd Jones, Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones says, I can say definitely after some 35 years of pastoral experience, that there are no passages in the whole scripture, which have more frequently troubled people and caused them sole agony than the passages in Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10. That's an interesting statement, isn't it?

I'm not so sure that we would be seeing the time that we live. I think the emphasis has gone somewhere else in our own time. And I think Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is a reminder at the very least of the need to persevere right to the very end, that the Christian life is one of warfare. And this man in the iron cage was held up as a, as a kind of warning. Remember Lot's wife, remember Lot's wife, remember Judas, remember the man in the iron cage. And that is why the Pilgrim's Progress is such an incredible help to us as we continue our own journey through life. And I really think it causes us to ask the question, are we prepared to battle to the end?

We've heard a message from the Lord of the Rings, and it's a great question, are we prepared to battle to the end? We've heard a message from Dr. Derek Thomas' series on the Pilgrim's Progress. He taught the series in 19 parts, making his way chapter by chapter through the book. We've only scratched the surface over the past couple of days here on Renewing Your Mind, but we're making the entire series available to you on DVD when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries.

It's a three-disc set, and you can request it at, or you can call us at 800-435-4343. After you've enjoyed the messages, you may want to consider donating them to your church as a library resource or as part of a Sunday School curriculum. So again, request The Pilgrim's Progress, a teaching series by Dr. Derek Thomas.

Our number again is 800-435-4343, or if you prefer to give your gift online, our web address again is Let me remind you that the trustworthy Bible teaching that you're enjoying here is also available on the free Ligonier app. Download it today to receive immediate access to a large theological library on your mobile devices. You'll find that it's filled with discipleship resources from R.C. Sproul, the Ligonier Teaching Fellows, and other gifted teachers.

Just search for Ligonier in your favorite app store. Next week, we have the privilege of bringing you one of the most beloved series Dr. Sproul ever taught, The Holiness of God. So I hope you'll make plans to join us beginning Monday here on Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-18 12:20:39 / 2023-12-18 12:29:14 / 9

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