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Foes & Friends: The Road to Interpreter’s House

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
January 18, 2022 12:01 am

Foes & Friends: The Road to Interpreter’s House

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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January 18, 2022 12:01 am

There is room in the kingdom of God even for those who are weak in faith. Today, Derek Thomas considers how the character named Mercy in The Pilgrim's Progress shows the Lord's care for His people amid their many doubts, fears, and struggles.

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I love this thing about the second part of Pilgrim's Progress, that it tells a tale that perhaps some of us can identify with. We're not hopeful, we're not faithful, we're not martyrs.

We're more like mercy, shy, retiring, not especially talented or gifted. And yet there is room in the kingdom of God for those of little faith. John Bunyan's classic, The Pilgrim's Progress, has been read and loved by millions for more than 300 years.

It's thought that only the Bible has had more copies printed. Welcome to Renewing Your Mind on this Tuesday. I'm Lee Webb.

Glad to have you with us today. Six years after publishing Part 1, Bunyan released the story of Christian's wife and their children and the journey they made. Today, Dr. Derek Thomas continues his guided tour of Part 2 as the pilgrims make their way to Interpreter's house. Welcome back to the second part of Part 2 of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the story of Christiana and the four boys.

The four boys were called Matthew, Samuel, Joseph, and James. We left the story, and we're going to go back just a little bit to the wicked gate. We left the story with Christiana and Mercy and the four boys at the wicked gate. Christiana is knocking so hard at this gate that she awakens a huge dog. And Christiana has entered, leaving Mercy behind, and then she intercedes on her behalf.

So, Mercy is still outside of the gate. She's begun to knock repeatedly, and then she faints, thinking that the gate will not be opened. And eventually, the door of the gate opens, and she says to the gatekeeper, If there be any grace or forgiveness of sins to spare, I beseech that I, thy poor handmaid, may be partaker thereof. So, here's a woman. She's very, very conscious of her unworthiness.

She's not worthy. And then with a sublime gentleness, the gatekeeper takes her by the hand and brings her inside. And I think Bunyan is demonstrating that there's salvation for those who are weak in faith and who experience doubts of faith.

Mercy is not a heroic figure. And I think that's Bunyan's way of being a pastor here. And we'll see a lot of this in part two, that Bunyan, perhaps because of the heroism of the first volume, now wants to make a volume, write a volume that appeals especially to the weak in faith. The Lord of the way receives them all, grants them pardon by word and deed, by word in the promise of forgiveness, by deed in the way I obtained it. The Lord of the way, of course, is Jesus in the allegory, but He has both invited and given a promise.

Whoever knocks, the door will be opened. But He is also in His deed, He has accomplished, He has obtained salvation on their behalf. Bunyan, I think, is trying to clear up here the sins of forgiven, the burden that they have.

And it's not a great burden, but that burden has now disappeared. Unlike the first story where Christian carried his burden all the way to the cross. And I think Bunyan is signaling two things here. One, there was doubt expressed after the first volume as to at what point did Christian get saved. At what point were his sins forgiven?

Was it at the wicked gate or was it at the cross? And I said in my earlier lectures on part one that it was at the wicked gate that Christian was saved, and that the issue at the cross was one of assurance. He didn't receive assurance that his sins were forgiven until the cross. But it raises an issue sometimes known as preparationism, and it's a criticism often made against the Puritans, that they introduced certain issues that need to be demonstrated before you could entertain an assurance of salvation. It wasn't enough to have repentance, it had to be a certain quality of repentance. It wasn't enough simply to have faith, it had to be a certain type and a certain caliber of faith.

And that perhaps a sequence of steps, an order, had to be passed through before you could entertain an assurance that you actually were one of the elect. And some of that certainly affected Puritanism in New England in the 1630s, Thomas Shepard and others. And some of that criticism was brought in as a result of part one of Pilgrim's Progress.

Actually, I think it's a misunderstanding of Pilgrim's Progress, and I do think that here Bunyan clears up whatever doubt there was. Now, the Lord of the Way leaves them for a while, and the two women are talking about what has happened to them. And when he returns, they ask him why he keeps such a ferocious dog. You remember when Christiana knocked on the door, this dog was awakened. And she learns that it belongs to another owner at a nearby castle, Beelzebub's castle that we met in part one that's near the gate. And the dog often comes up and worries some of the Lord's people, but the Lord of the Way always ensures that he doesn't take them. And I think that brings us to our first lesson that the devil will do his utmost to harm those who are intent on coming to Christ.

As they move away, they begin to sing, the lyrics are not terribly good poetry, when all of a sudden from behind the wall where the dog is barking, jump to ill-favored ones. Now, this is startling. You're not expecting this. These two men attempt to have their way with these two women, Christiana and Mercy.

You're not expecting that. This is a family story. This is a family book. This is a Christian book.

It's quite startling, but perhaps something that was more than apparent in Bedfordshire in the 17th century, and Bunyan had seen it, it was part of life, that you're a Christian, you've been saved, you've been drawn into union with Christ, and there's this attempt by these two ill-favored ones to have their way with Christiana and Mercy. The women cry out in distress, and it seems a long time before the reliever comes to help them, and he tells them they should have known that the way was not fit for women to travel alone, and that they should have asked for a conductor to help them on their way. Now, two lessons emerge here. One, Christiana asks the reliever why, knowing that there was danger on this road, had a conductor not been given to them at the point of entry at the gate, at the wicket gate?

And the answer, we lose for want of asking. It is not always necessary to grant things not asked for, lest by doing so they become of little esteem. What an interesting lesson, that we value things more when we have to ask for them and then receive them, and even more so when we've been made to wait a little. A lesson on the value of prayer and of asking. Why does God make us ask for things since He knows what we need so that we might esteem them better is Bunyan's little lesson. But it's a lesson told in a very difficult set of circumstances. And Christiana says, secondly, that they were so taken with their present blessings that they forgot about the dangers. And a lesson again then about needing to be prepared. Just when you think everything is going well, just be prepared that around the corner there may well be trouble. And that just because we're Christians and just because we live under the covenant umbrella of Almighty God in the gospel, doesn't mean to say that we might not find ourselves all of a sudden and unexpectedly in trouble. Well, that's a fascinating issue.

I would love to spend a little more time on it, but we don't have that time now. But how interesting that Bunyan would introduce that particular issue so quickly into the story of a woman, two women and children. And perhaps that's the reason, as we shall see in a minute, because these two women are in need of the help of a conductor. They arrive at the house of interpreter and news of their conversion has already reached the occupants of the house. And just as in part one where Christian was shown seven things that he needed to see and learn as he makes his pilgrimage toward the celestial city.

So, Christiana and Mercy are now shown seven things. The first is perhaps the best and the cleverest thing that Bunyan gives us, perhaps equaling and even bettering anything that was found in part one of the story. It's a man with a muck rake. He's raking leaves and twigs, oblivious to the fact that above him there is someone holding a crown of gold. This man is always looking down and he's raking and all he can see is the muck. All he can see is the mire below.

But if only he stopped and looked up, he would see a crown of gold above his head. And that's a wonderful, wonderful illustration. It's so very Paul. You know, we're to remind ourselves all the time of who we are. We are in union with Christ. We are forgiven. We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We are adopted. We are sons, heirs, joint heirs with Jesus Christ. We've been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are constantly to remind ourselves of who we are.

Look up, see the crown above your head. Secondly, a tidy and neat room with a spider in it. Well, yes, this is a woman's story, of course. So, spiders in the 17th century brought as much fear and alarm as they probably do today. The best of Christians have little sins in them to trouble them. And sometimes we might consider them to be small, but actually they can be quite terrifying. The third thing is a chicken and her brood, which looks up after every drink from the trough. And what Bunyan sees, you know, this is rural England, 17th century chickens everywhere. And he watches how the chickens will drink. And in order to swallow, I think for a chicken, it has to raise its head so that it can swallow. But it looks as though it is giving thanks to Almighty God. A chicken, after every little drink, lifts its head and gives thanks. A lesson about thankfulness. A butcher and the sheep, and that sheep can face trouble without a murmur.

I grew up on a farm. I've seen this firsthand how as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. You turn a sheep on its back and it just sort of lies there. It doesn't struggle. It's an uncanny thing. And I've seen shearers actually unintentionally cut into the flesh of a sheep and, you know, see blood. But they don't seem to struggle at all. They just lie there. And what a lesson that a sheep taken to face trouble, but it can do so without fear.

Don't be afraid is the lesson. And then a garden with different flowers, different sizes, different smells, different colors, yet they don't quarrel with each other. They get on. This is an English country garden now. And if you travel in the Cotswolds, for example, you'll see these wonderful gardens. But there seems no rhyme, no reason to them.

They haven't been planned terribly well. And the multiplicity of flowers growing next to each other. And the church is made up of all kinds of Christians, and they should get on with each other.

There shouldn't be any quarreling. Then a field sowed with wheat and corn. But when the tops are cut off, only the straw remains. And what do you do with that?

You burn it or you make muck of it as a kind of bedding for animals. The fruit is what you want. And when you don't see it, you condemn the rest to fire and tread it underfoot.

So it's a lesson about fruit, looking for the fruit in a Christian life. And then, seventhly and lastly, a robin and a worm. This is an English robin now, not an American robin. That's three times the size of an English robin. The English still have a great deal of affection for a robin. Actually, they're very territorial and they fight a great deal.

But they're one of those birds that's quintessentially England and rural England, and brings a sense of nostalgia when a red-breasted little robin comes and lands outside the window. But look at what it's eating. It's eating this worm.

Such a pretty thing. And Christiana says, I like him worse than I did when she sees him eating this worm. And Bunyan sees it as depicting some Christians who look wonderful and pretty and sweet and tender and sociable in public, but drink down iniquity and swallow sin like water. So, little lessons from English country life. And then, while waiting for supper, a number of proverbs are given to them. This is Bunyan teaching family religion. In the home, there would be lessons, the Bible would be read, and lessons would be given to the children.

And I think Bunyan is emphasizing here the importance of family religion. There are lots of these proverbs. One leak will destroy a ship and one sin will destroy a sinner. If a man would live well, let him fetch his last day to him and make it always his company keeper. A lesson about, remember that you will die.

Remember that you will meet the judge. Live as though this is the last day of your life. John Wesley was asked in the next century, you know, what would he do if he knew that he would die that day? And he looked at his diary for the day and he said, I would do precisely as I had planned.

To live like that. And then they eat after some of these proverbs. There's a great many of them, little lessons for the children and for the two women.

They eat and there's music and there's wonderful conversation. And again, there are testimonies. Just as we saw as a kind of literary device in part one, Bunyan has the character sort of repeat the story, just in case you had put the book down and picked it up and forgotten where you were, perhaps as a kind of literary device. But much more than that, Bunyan is teaching the importance of telling our Christian story, encouraging one another with the story of the grace of God in the gospel in our own lives. And mercy is testimony.

Interpreter calls her sweetheart. Mercy blushes and wants to be silent. Conversation isn't as dramatic like Christiana's. We should note about Mercy how she lies in bed praising God.

And supper is now ended. Quiet conversations of personalities and individuals have taken place. And Mercy is one of these, well, she's one of these endearing characters. She gives her testimony. She's diffident. She's a little shy. It's not a terribly dramatic story.

It's not a Road of Damascus kind of story. She'd only come because she was a friend of Christiana and she had bid her come. And even remember outside the gate, the wicket gate, she was unsure of whether she should enter or not. And she just pleads, if there's any mercy left, will you give it to me? And that wonderful way in which the gatekeeper pulled her in. And here she is quiet and introverted.

And then you see a little private picture of her and she's gone to bed and she's lying in a bed. And she's quietly giving thanks to God in a very undramatic sort of way. Henry Tallon, who is one of the commentators over the years on Bunyan, says, mercy seems more fragile than Christiana, more charming, too, with her youth and her pretty face, often blushing with humility. Mercy has no dreams, nor visions, nor sense of crushing guilt. Her conversion is a movement of the whole soul, like water from a spring, tranquilly following its slope. She's worried for others rather than for herself. Her fear of not being received by the Lord makes her faint at one moment, but her favor enables her to recover and knock so hard at the door that the Lord has a wonderful, innocent smile.

It's a wonderful description of mercy, and it causes us, I think, to ask once again the question, what is Bunyan doing? You know when you write a sequel? It's one thing to write a best-selling novel. The second one is much harder to write.

How do you do it in order to achieve the same kind of success as the first? I don't think Bunyan is governed here by success. Yes, I think he'd made some money from part one of Pilgrim's Progress. I do think that you see here Bunyan the pastor, Bunyan who's now ministering to all kinds of Christians in his church, ministering to widows, ministering to children, to teenagers, to young boys, and ministering especially to the likes of Mercy, whose faith is fragile and weak. She's not a hero.

She's not even like Christiana. She'll emerge in this book as a wonderfully godly woman, and I think that is something to see, I think, in Bunyan, that he's not setting up Christian as a heroic figure. Christians are in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes behind the diffident outward appearance, there lies this heart of faith, a simple faith, and non-heroic faith even, but heroic in our own way.

I love this thing about the second part of Pilgrim's Progress, that it tells a tale that perhaps some of us can identify with. You know, we're not hopeful. We're not faithful. We're not martyrs. We're not even like Christian. We're more like Mercy, diffident, shy, retiring, not especially talented or gifted, and yet there is room in the kingdom of God for those of little faith. Well, this is the family story of part two of Pilgrim's Progress, and we've got to make the journey all the way to the celestial city, and we'll come back to it again in our next lecture.

And we will do that tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. John Bunyan's classic, The Pilgrim's Progress, is our focus this week here on Renewing Your Mind, and Ligonier teaching fellow, Dr. Derek Thomas, is our teacher. This allegorical tale has been loved by generations of Christians, but that seems to be waning, unfortunately. Dr. Thomas always asks his seminary students each semester how many have read The Pilgrim's Progress, and to his dismay, he says it's usually only about 20 percent. I have to admit that I read it for the first time just a few years ago.

I remember it was on a summer reading list when I was in junior high school many, many years ago, and I started reading it, and I got to about the second page, and I realized this is too difficult to read. It is challenging to read, but I promise you that Dr. Thomas' series will help you understand each part of the journey. We will send you the complete series, 19 lessons on three DVDs, for your donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. There are a couple of ways you can reach us.

One is online at, or if you prefer, you can call us at 800-435-4343. We have the privilege here at Ligonier Ministries of reaching people around the world with biblical truth, with teaching series like the one you've heard today. Our founder, Dr. R.C. Sproul, always maintained that we exist to bridge the gap between Sunday School and Seminary by helping growing Christians understand theology, the Bible, church history, and a Christian worldview. One way to connect with this rich teaching is through RefNet. That's our 24-hour internet radio station. When you tune in, you'll hear sound biblical teaching from a Reformed perspective from men like Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Alistair Begg, Dr. John MacArthur, and of course, R.C.

Sproul. Listen for free at any time when you go to or when you download the free RefNet app. Renewing Your Mind is the listener-supported outreach of Ligonier Ministries. Thank you for joining us today, and we hope to see you again tomorrow. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-22 22:34:31 / 2023-06-22 22:43:12 / 9

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