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From Vanity to Doubting Castle

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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January 21, 2022 12:01 am

From Vanity to Doubting Castle

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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January 21, 2022 12:01 am

There may be danger on the road to the Celestial City, but God arms His people for the battles ahead. Today, Derek Thomas evaluates how the reality of spiritual warfare in the Christian life is portrayed in The Pilgrim's Progress.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul
Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul
Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul
Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul
Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul
Truth for Life
Alistair Begg

Coming up today on Renewing Your Mind, The Pilgrim's Progress and the Defeat of Giant Despair and Other Foes. Stay with us.

Welcome back. This is lecture number 17 in our studies in Pilgrim's Progress, and number five in part two, the story of Christiana and the four boys. We left them last time at the house or inn of Gaius.

They were there about two months or so. It's on the outskirts of the city of Vanity where Vanity Fair and where Faithful was martyred in part one of the story. And two weddings have taken place. Matthew, the oldest boy, has married Mercy, and James, the second oldest, has married Phoebe, Gaius' daughter.

So now they set out. Gaius' inn is on the outskirts of the city of Vanity, so they head now in the direction of the city of Vanity, and Great Heart recounts the tale of Christian. It's one of these moments in the book, in the tale, where you have a recap of the story, not so much of part two, but of part one of the story. Just in case you've forgotten what had happened along this part of the journey, we're told once again of Faithful's martyrdom. So, Christiana and Mercy and Matthew, James and Phoebe, Mr. Honest and two other characters, Mr. Ready to Halt, who has crutches, and Mr. Feeblemind, who seems to be afraid that he'll be a burden to the others. These are the characters now that enter Vanity. They lodge at the house of a man by the name of Mr. Nason, M-N-A-S-O-N, Nason.

He's a Cyprian, or from Cyprus, an old disciple, and this is being taken directly from Acts 21 and verse 6, somebody who showed kindness in the ministry of the apostle Paul. And there are some saints then, even in the most wicked of places. Vanity is a wicked city. It was a city full of allurement.

I'm tempted to name a couple of cities, but I probably should refrain. But even in these godless places, there are the Lord's people, and Mr. Nason, the Cyprian, is one of them. He sends for his daughters, in particular one by the name of Grace, to fetch Mr. Contrite, Mr. Holy Man, Mr. Love Saint, Mr. Dare Not Die, and Mr. Penitent. The people of Vanity now appear to be much more moderate than when Christian visited there. This is the place where Faithful was martyred. This is part two of Pilgrim's Progress, published in 1684. There were in fact killing times in Scotland in the 1680s, and there were some martyrs, some covenanters were persecuted in Scotland in the 1680s, but not in England. And I think Bunyan is reflecting here perhaps an Englishness to his understanding of the times.

And persecution, at least violent persecution, seems to be a thing of the past. And so when Christiana and her troop come through Vanity, actually they discover it a much more moderate place than when Christian visited there. They stay at the house of Nason for a while, and there are two more weddings. Samuel, the third eldest boy, to Grace, the daughter of Nason, and Martha to Joseph, the fourth remaining son. So all four of the boys have now married, and all within the space of actually a few pages in the narrative. And you were expected, of course, to marry and to marry early, and in Christian homes in the 17th century marriage was regarded with a great deal of honor, and they would be expected to have a family and raise children and instruct them in the way of godliness.

So four weddings then in the space of a few pages. Now a monster, a seven-headed, seven-horned monster comes out of the woods and murders a number of people. Those who love their lives more than their souls succumb to his demands and are spared. But Great Heart determines to go and do battle with this monster.

They wound him seriously. Bunyan seems to be making the point that preaching and Christian action can seriously hinder the progress of evil in society. Vanity itself isn't as evil as it was in the time of Christian and faithful, but there are evil things, and this monster appears.

And here is Great Heart going out and seriously injuring this seven-headed, seven-horned monster. They stand a while now at the place where Faithful was killed, and they give thanks to him that enabled him to bear his cross so well. And then they approach a river that is on this side of the delectable mountains. They see a meadow and a place for the nourishing and bringing up of lambs, the babes of whose women that go on pilgrimage.

And Christiana urges her four daughters-in-law, Mercy, Phoebe, Grace, and Martha, to the care of one who can have compassion and that can go and gather these lambs with his arms and carry them in his bosom and that can gently lead those who are with young, suggesting perhaps that these women are by now expecting children of their own in the allegory. They come to By-Path Meadow. This is where Christian and Hopeful, his new companion, had crossed over the stile, had taken this By-Path Meadow. There had been a storm, you remember.

They were fearful of being drowned, and then having survived the storm, they take shelter. It's nighttime, they sleep, and then they're caught by giant despair, taken back to the dungeon of the castle of giant despair and his wife, Difidence. And they come to that spot in the road where they spy By-Path Meadow, the stile that leads to By-Path Meadow. And they determined to do something. Mr. Greatheart and Mr. Honest and four of their sons now set out on a journey along By-Path Meadow. They are going to ransack this castle. They're going to destroy this castle. And they leave the women behind, the wives and Christiana, in charge of Mr. Feeblemind and Mr. Ready-to-Halt. You remember who is on crutches. Now, modern commentators on Bunyan charge him with being something of a, well, what word can I use?

A misogynist at this point. Because this is 17th century, and the women should not have been in a place of battle in the 17th century, so they are obviously left behind under the care of these two men, even though one of them is feeble-minded and the other one is on crutches. Now, Bunyan affixes a text here, Isaiah 11.6, a little child might lead them. The point, I think, is that as they travel on God's highway, there may be danger, but there's always protection.

No god is necessary, and the least qualified can serve in what is this symbolic role that's being played out here. Now, back to the giant and the castle, and diffidence, giant despair, and his wife, diffidence, are killed. And then for the next seven days, they destroy the castle. They plunder it.

They raze it to the ground. They find dead bodies everywhere, and there are bones lying around. And they discover two people, Mr. Despondency and his daughter, much afraid, and these two are very much alive. And they're brought back, Mr. Despondency and his daughter, much afraid. Now, when they hear of this conquest, when they come back and they hear of the conquest, everyone breaks into singing.

And let me read part of the narrative here. When Mr. Great Heart and his companions had performed this exploit, they took Mr. Despondency and his daughter, much afraid, into their protection. For they were honest people, though they were prisoners in doubting castle to that tyrant, giant despair. They, therefore, I say, took with them the head of the giant for his body they had buried under a heap of stones. And down to the road and to their companions they came and showed them what they had done.

Now, when feeble mind and ready to halt saw that it was the head of giant despair, indeed, they were very jocund and merry. Now, Christiana, if need was, could play upon the vial, and her daughter Mercy upon the lute. So, since they were so merry disposed, she played them a lesson, and ready to halt would dance. So, we have this picture now of this man with the crutches, and he's about to dance. So, he took Despondency's daughter, named much afraid, by the hand, and to dancing they went in the road. True, he could not dance without one crutch in his hand, but I promise you, he footed it well. Also, the girl was to be commended, for she answered the music handsomely. Well, you might think that's somewhat surprising if you know anything about seventeenth-century Puritanism, or at least how often seventeenth-century Puritanism is portrayed, namely as being opposed to music and dancing and entertainment and enjoyment and fun.

H.L. Mencken's famous definition of a Puritan, the nagging fear that someone somewhere may be happy. Well, Bunyan knew all about happiness and joy and food and even dancing, and he obviously knew a thing about dancing, and describes here how, especially this rather amusing picture of Mr. Ready to Halt, with one crutch in one hand and his partner in the other, and their dancing. Dancing to what, we ask?

Dancing to the death and the severed head of giant despair. This is a great story, but it raises to the surface a very important issue, the importance of spiritual warfare, because this is what the allegory is talking about. It's talking about spiritual warfare. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, Paul says. There's a battle against sin, against indwelling sin, remaining sin, remaining corruption. We are forgiven. That would be Bunyan's understanding of the gospel, that when we come to Christ, we are forgiven. We are justified. All our sins, past, present, and future, are forgiven, and yet we continue to sin. Our sins are forgiven, but we continue to sin, and therefore we need, as the Lord's Prayer reminds us, to confess our ongoing sins on a daily basis. We wrestle against indwelling sin.

Bunyan would have had a typical seventeenth-century understanding of the second half of Romans, chapter 7. The good that I would, I do not. The evil that I would not, that I find that I do. O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death. And he would have understood that as Paul describing how a Christian sees and engages and experiences his ongoing Christian life as an ongoing battle against indwelling sin.

There would be a battle against the world. That's what vanity stands for, the city of vanity. And even though vanity this time is less evil than it was in the time of Christian, it is still part of the world.

It still has its allurements and its temptations. It's a city. And for Bunyan, this would remind him of how the Bible itself divides the whole history of the world into two cities, the city of Babylon and the city of Jerusalem. And how in the closing chapters of Revelation, Revelation 17, fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great.

From the rise of the Tower of Babel in the book of Genesis as a symbol of worldliness, of human aggrandizement, usurping God's role and position right through to the closing chapters of Revelation. There is a battle against worldliness, against the philosophies and ideas of the world that would seek to drag you away from your commitment to be the Lord's and to live out and out for Jesus Christ. A battle against indwelling sin, a battle against the world, but also, of course, a battle against Satan. A battle against evil, a battle against the hordes and dominion of Satan, fighting an enemy. Christian against Apollyon, now great heart against giants, giant maul, giant slagood, and grim and others. Bunyan is a master at portraying this particular aspect of the Christian life as one of battle.

There's also an issue here that perhaps we can touch on for a few minutes. And that is the whole business of the castle, the castle of giant despair. This is a threat that comes into the lives of Christians, the threat of despair, to lose hope, to lose assurance, to grow melancholy. You remember in part one that one of the things that giant despair tried to do was to get Christian and hopeful to take their own lives. The darkness of suicide, even, in part one of Pilgrim's Progress. But spiritual despair, think of the great passages of the Bible, Elijah under the juniper tree in 1 Kings 19, asking God to take away his life, realizing that perhaps his end was near and that he didn't want Jezebel, Ahab's wife, to have all the glory. He didn't want them to read in a newspaper that Queen Jezebel had taken the life of Elijah, that if he was going to die, that God should do it. Or Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 19 and 20, remember when he had spent a night in the stocks, the chief temple policeman, a man by the name of Pasha, had got enough of Jeremiah's preaching of doom and gloom and judgment, and had put him in the stocks, and then released him the next morning, and Jeremiah preaches the same sermon again to him in the morning. And then suddenly, I mean very suddenly, it changes, and Jeremiah begins to utter words like, Cursed be the day that I was born, wishing that he had died in a still birth inside his mother's womb, so that his grave would forever be with his mother, wishing that the midwife who had said, It's a boy, you know, had never been born. Actually, Jeremiah's quoting almost verbatim the third chapter of Job, a similar experience that Job went through after his trial. Even the Psalms, Why art thou cast down, O my soul?

Why art thou disquieted within me? Or perhaps the two on the Emmaus road after the death of Jesus and their walking, and remember how Luke describes them, Cleopas and probably his wife. And probably Cleopas and his wife are relatives of Jesus, relatives of Mary.

There is that tradition, and that's probably the identification. But remember how Luke describes it, their faces to the ground. You know, they're looking down.

They've got that hand dog expression. And Bunyan is dealing with that here in Pilgrim's Progress. And one of the reasons why, you know, Great Heart and the four boys go and destroy the castle of giant despair is because he sees this as a great threat. It's an enormous threat to the people of God, the temptation to despair, the temptation to darkness, the temptation to melancholy. And this is Bunyan dealing with counseling issues, but dealing with them from the Scriptures, dealing with them from spiritual principles, dealing with them from the principles of the gospel, and going in there and destroying the giant and his wife and raising the castle to the ground.

But in that passage that I just read, there is, and my version has a picture of, well, it has a picture of the giant's head on a pole by the side of the road, and they're dancing around it and playing the lute and so on. And then there's a little inscription, and it says, The doubting castle he demolished, and the giant despair hath left his head. But, he says, sin can rebuild the castle. Sin can rebuild the castle and make despair the giant live again.

Even though he's been killed, sin can rebuild that castle. The removal of this temptation to despondency was only a temporary thing, but sin can make it reappear again. A very interesting comment by Bunyan about the whole issue of the temptation and the fight that we're engaged in against the world and the flesh and the devil. John Bunyan's portrayal of the Christian life is a masterpiece. We really are in a battle, a spiritual battle, and we need to be trained and equipped to fight with the weapons and armor that God has given us, the ones the apostle Paul describes in Ephesians chapter 6.

You're listening to Renewing Your Mind. I'm Lee Webb. Thank you for being with us today. Dr. Derek Thomas has been our guide through part two of the pilgrims' progress this week following Christiana's story.

The entire series that he taught is available in a three-DVD set. Contact us today with a gift of any amount to Ligonier Ministries, and we'll be glad to send it your way. To donate online, you can go to, or you can call us. Our number is 800-435-4343. Our desire here at Ligonier Ministries, indeed our prayer, is to see a worldwide awakening to the truth of God's Word.

Our president and CEO, Chris Larson, joins me here in the studio. Chris, we hear from so many people who've been exposed to Reformed theology for the first time. They tell us how it's provided them with a much bigger view of who God is, and our desire is to reach even more people this year. Absolutely, and to be able to reach more people. It was Dr. Sproul, in fact, who believed in an innovative use of technology. He would connect that even to Paul circulating his letters on the Roman roads and how that was able to travel around the Mediterranean.

Of course, with Gutenberg and his invention, and how Martin Luther appropriated that for the dissemination of gospel truth. Well, we're continuing to make significant investments in technology with our new website. We're working on a new edition of our app, but our app alone has received more than a million downloads. That's significant outreach that's happening.

Listen to this testimony. He's using the Ligonier app on a regular basis. It was like going to seminary, but on your phone for free. To get such a breadth and depth of knowledge of the beauty and glory of the gospel and the entire world of theology at your fingertips is revolutionary, and to have solid doctrinal, biblical, orthodox, historic Reformed teaching through that means, without a doubt, God has blessed it in my life. Well, we appreciate Andrew sharing that with us, and you too can have a seminary at your fingertips when you begin using the Ligonier app, as Andrew did. It's free and can be used on Apple and Android devices.

Just look for it in your app store when you search for Ligonier. Many people believe that the Reformation was a trivial debate over words. Next week, Dr. Michael Reeves joins us to explain why the Reformation was critical, and it still is. That's because theological precision has eternal significance. Join us for Reformation Truths, beginning Monday, here on Renewing Your Mind. Reformation Truths
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-21 07:16:38 / 2023-06-21 07:24:49 / 8

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