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The Celestial City

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
July 14, 2023 12:01 am

The Celestial City

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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July 14, 2023 12:01 am

Every Christian's pilgrimage in this world will one day come to an end. Today, Derek Thomas describes Christian's arrival at the Celestial City in The Pilgrim's Progress and presents the lessons we can draw from this happy ending.

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Pilgrim's Progress is a tract to help Christians understand the reality of death and to be able to face it with assurance and with expectation, with hope, with confidence, that although we may fear the process of dying, we have no need to be afraid of death itself because Christ has conquered death by His resurrection from the dead. It's estimated that over 150,000 people die every single day. That number seems staggering, especially because we live in a time in which our culture seeks to hide the reality of death. It often doesn't feel real until it impacts our friends or our family directly. But that wasn't true in John Bunyan's time.

They were far more aware that our days are numbered. Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thanks for joining us on Renewing Your Mind as we come to the final chapter of John Bunyan's classic allegory, The Pilgrim's Progress. Christian, the main character in The Pilgrim's Progress, is coming to the end of his pilgrimage to the Celestial City.

But to enter, he must first die, or in the allegory, pass through the river. This is such a beautiful and comforting portion of the story. I remember recently simply reading this section to my family over dinner, and it has been used by God for centuries to help prepare Christians for their own death.

Here's Derek Thomas to guide us through the last leg of Christian's journey. Welcome back to the final one in our study of part one of Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, and we come to what is one of the most wonderful descriptions of death and passing through the river and into the gates of the Celestial City. We were in the Delectable Mountains in our previous study, and you remember, among other things, Christian and Hopeful were taken to a mountain ridge called Clear, and then with the aid of perspective glass, a telescope, if you will, they could see Beulah Land, and beyond it, they could see something like the gates of the city and some of the glory of the place. So, they've been given a little anticipation of heaven. Actually, in the allegory, that, I think, was something that Christians see on the Lord's Day and in the ministry of the Word.

I think that's what Bunyan was trying to say. Now, before they get to the glory of the Celestial City, Hopeful and Christian pass through a place called Enchanted Ground. This is a place where they are not allowed to fall asleep. If they fall asleep, terrible things are going to happen to them, so they must stay awake, and there's a description of just how close they get to falling asleep. Once again, it's perseverance.

Once again, it's the lesson that right up to the end, you can expect opposition and trial and difficulty. They pass through Enchanted Ground and they come to Beulah Land, where the air is very pleasant in contrast to Enchanted Ground, and birds sing and flowers bloom, and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in the land, and the sun is always shining, and the land is full of wonderful things, and most significantly, Beulah Land is beyond the reach of villains like Giant Despair or the monsters that lurk in the valley of the Shadow of Death. They're also within sight now of the city where they are going, and they greet others there, the inhabitants of the country, and shining ones who walk here because it's right next to the border of heaven, and these are shining ones who will actually, angels who will escort them now to the gates of the Celestial City.

They meet a gardener who tells them that the beautiful vineyards and the gardens are the kings and are planted there for the enjoyment and for the comfort of the pilgrims. They refresh themselves with delicacies, food once again, Bunyan loved food, and his description of it is wonderful in the course of the tale of pilgrims' progress, and they are allowed finally to get some sleep, and when they awake, they go straightway to the city, and on their way they meet these two shining ones who accompany them. Christian and Hopeful ask these men to travel with them, and they're willing to go, and they state that their goal must be obtained by their own faith. They escort them, but it's their own faith that will get them to the Celestial City.

Bunyan is again emphasizing justification by faith alone in Christ alone, and not through the help of any other intermediary. They go on until they're within sight of the gate, and before them is a river, and there's no bridge over it, and the river appears to be deep, and the pilgrims are astounded, and they're told, you must go through or you can't arrive at the gate. Pilgrims ask if there's another way, but they're told that only two men have entered the city without going through the river, nor shall there be until the last trumpet shall sound.

Those two men, of course, are Enoch and Elijah, who didn't experience death. The river, of course, is an allegory here, is allegorically a representation of death. And then these pilgrims, especially Christian, begin to despair, and they ask if the river is always the same depth, and they're told, no, it isn't, but they're denied any further help in the matter. Christian begins to enter into the water, and he begins to sink, and he cries out to Hopeful. I'm sinking, he says, in deep waters.

The breakers go over my head. All the waves go over me, quoting from a psalm. And Hopeful responds, be of good cheer, my brother.

I feel the bottom, and it is good. Now, Hopeful's encouragement doesn't help Christian too much, as he's overcome now with a great sense of darkness and horror. He's afraid he's going to die in the river and never enter the gate.

He doesn't seem to remember the events of his pilgrimage and has troublesome thoughts of the sins that he has committed. And Hopeful holds Christian's head now above the water, and with much difficulty tries to comfort him, telling him he sees the gate, and there are people there to welcome us. Eventually, Christian cries out with a loud voice, oh, I see him again, and he tells me, when you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. Both of them take courage, and soon they find solid ground to stand on.

The rest of the river is shallow. On the other side, the two shining ones are already waiting for the pilgrims. They admit their role in waiting, and we're ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation. And these are angels and a reference there to some of the work of angels in helping us.

The city stands upon a mighty hill. They climb with no difficulty due to the assistance of these two shining ones. Their mortal garments are left behind in the river, and they emerge without them. They all talk about the glory of the place that they're going to. You are now going to the paradise of God in which you'll see the tree of life and eat of the never-fading fruits of it, and when you arrive there, white robes shall be given you, and every day your walk and talk shall be with the king even all the days of eternity.

You'll not see there again such things as you saw when you were in the lower region upon the earth. That is sorrow and sickness and affliction and death, for the old order of things has passed away. As they draw near the gate, a company of the heavenly host come out to greet them. The pilgrims are introduced by the two shining ones, and the heavenly host cry out, blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. And then the king's trumpeters come out and meet them. Everyone travels together with much shouting and rejoicing, and the sound of trumpets.

They reach the gate. Above the gates are written, blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Shining ones now look down from above. Enoch and Moses and Elijah and others are there. And the pilgrims present their certificates.

Yes, Hopeful has one too. And the certificates are taken to the king, who orders that the gates be opened, that the righteous may enter. In they go, and as they enter, they are transfigured and given new robes to wear. They break out into praise, singing with a loud voice, to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever.

It's a wonderful description. It would take a heart of stone, I think, not to be moved by Bunyan's powerful imagination and his powerful description of death passing through the river and eventually entering into the gates of the city. And all of it circumscribed by Bunyan's understanding of justification and double imputation, that the old garments are taken away and white garments, now the garments of Christ, are given. Now, ours is an age that doesn't think about death the way the 17th century thought about death. The 17th century was surrounded by death. Children, for example, the death of children in the 17th century. The majority of children died in childbirth. John Owen, for example, had 11 children. Ten of them died in infancy.

And the one that survived died in her mid-twenties or so. So, Pilgrim's Progress is a tract to help Christians understand the reality of death and to be able to face it with assurance, with expectation, with hope, with confidence that although we may fear the process of dying, we have no need to be afraid of death itself because Christ has conquered death by his resurrection from the dead. We are in union with one who is alive. We are in union with the resurrected Christ. So, in one sense, we have died in Christ and we are alive in Christ already. So, the whole point of Pilgrim's Progress and much of the literature of the 17th century, the sermons of Puritans like John Bunyan, was designed to bring confidence and assurance for those who believe and trust in the gospel, for those who trust in Christ alone for salvation, that death holds no fear.

Christ has conquered the grave and death and hell and Satan himself. But, there is a struggle in death, and it's fascinating here that Christian experienced the process of death in the allegory of crossing the river. He experienced it with a far greater sense of struggle than Hopeful did. The question that was asked, is the river as deep in every place?

And the answer was no. And actually, the river was as deep as was your faith. And Bunyan is saying for those who had weak faith, the river is very deep. And for those who have strong faith, like Hopeful, he says he could touch the bottom as he waded through the river, his feet could touch the bottom. And Bunyan is saying here, he's being a pastor of course, he's saying that not everyone experiences the Christian life in the same way, not everyone experiences trials and tribulations in the same way, and not everyone experiences the process of dying in the same way. And for some, even strong believers like Christian, there are trials and temptations and assaults perhaps of the evil one, and experiences of the weakness of faith that come and assault you at the time of death.

Some of us have known, perhaps a loved one. I think of a fellow minister who I loved and respected, adored indeed. He was just a godly, godly man, but in the hour of his death, faith seemed to have escaped him.

And there was a moment, an hour or two, when he seemed to have completely lost his assurance. And then just before the end, it all came back again, and that smile of reassurance. I remember as I read to him the 23rd Psalm, and he began to repeat it with me, and all that trial seemed to disappear. And I think it was an assault of Satan in the weakness of his body and the weakness of his mind at that time, that Satan had one last attempt at him. But faith did triumph in the end.

So, a struggle. And I think Bunyan is saying here as we read this passage, we need to prepare ourselves. We need to think about death, and we need to prepare ourselves for dying. You know, not every Christian dies like Mr. Valiant for truth. We haven't met Mr. Valiant for truth. We are about to meet him as we study together part two of Pilgrim's Progress. We've had faithful and hopeful in part one, and in part two, you have this wonderful character, Mr. Valiant for truth.

This is the description we're given of his passing. After this, it was noised abroad that Mr. Valiant for truth was taken with a summons by the same post as the other, and had this for a token that the summons was true, that his pitcher was broken at the fountain. When he understood it, he called for his friends and told them of it. Then said he, I am going to my father's, and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, my courage and skill to him that can get it, my marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought the battles who now will be my rewarder. When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the riverside, into which as he went, he said, Death, where is thy sting? And as he went down deeper, he said, Grave, where is thy victory? So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side. Now that's a very different description of death. Mr. Valiant for truth, citing those words from 1 Corinthians 15, Death, where is thy sting?

Grave, where is thy victory? Seems full of assurance and confidence. Christian, on the other hand, was not. Now, it makes us ask the question, why did Bunyan have his principal character, Christian, who for all intents and purposes is Bunyan himself, I think.

It's an almost autobiographical part one. Why did he have Christian sort of falter at the end? What a wonderful thing to put in the book. Imagine if Christian had been Mr. Valiant for truth, and imagine that he hadn't written part two, and all you had was part one of Pilgrim's Progress, and therefore Bunyan is saying, this is the stereotypical Christian death. It's one of absolute triumph and confidence, and there's no trial, and there's no difficulty. And Bunyan realized that's not how some Christians die. Even the best of Christians have moments of struggle. And I think it's beautiful that Bunyan would have his own principal character, Christian, falter a little at the end. What confidence that gives us, what hope that gives us, what encouragement that gives us that God brings home even those who falter at the end. And it's all of grace from beginning to end. It's not great faith that saves. It is faith in Christ that saves, and that faith may be weak faith, and it may be faltering faith. And I find that incredibly pastoral, I think, as I read through Pilgrim's Progress. But there's something else. There's a preparation for death. Yes, Bunyan intends you to think about it, not to put it away, not to put it aside, not never to think about it, but to bring it to the forefront of your mind.

Am I ready to die? There's a wonderful illustration in the 17th century. Thomas Goodwin, the Puritan, who was the president of Magdalen College in Oxford.

And he has a study. It's very dark, tiny little window. It's a dark day. It's England after all.

It's cloudy and probably raining. And a student, a prospective student, and you have to remember that in the 17th century prospective students to Oxford would probably have been 12 or 13 years old. So, this young boy has traveled to Oxford. He's being interviewed by the great Thomas Goodwin, the president of Magdalen College. He enters into this dark room, and from behind a desk he hears these words, are you ready to die? And he flees in terror, thinking that his life is about to be ended.

And of course, Thomas Goodwin was doing what Puritan pastors often did. Are you ready to meet Jesus? Are you converted? Are you saved? Are you in a right relationship with Christ? Are you regenerate? Have you tasted of the good things of the world to come?

But that was the kind of question that Puritan pastors often asked. Bunyan, in another one of his writings, puts it like this. Consider thou must die but once. I mean as to this world. For if thou, when thou goest hence, dost not die well, thou canst not come back and die better. Isn't that an interesting thing? Bunyan is saying we only have one attempt at death, and we need to die well because we can't come back and do it all over again.

We can't press the re-record button and have another go at it. Which for Bunyan meant, you know, age expectancy in the 17th century. Very few people made it past 25 or 30 years of age. Most of the Puritan preachers died in their 50s or early 60s.

Very few of them made it into what we now regard as pensionable age. So, they're exhorting one another as Christians to die well. I remember reading in the biography of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, for example, how as a doctor facing cancer, how that was one of his great concerns.

He talks about it with great sincerity and earnestness, that he wanted to die well. But then something quite unexpected happens right at the end of book one of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. They're gazing upon these things and I turned my head to look back. This is Christian and hopeful now from within the city. And they look back and they saw ignorance coming up to the riverside. But as soon as he got over, and that without half the difficulty the other two men met with, for it happened that there was then in that place one vain hope, a ferryman, that with his boat helped him over. So he, as the other I saw, did ascend the hill to come up to the gate, only he came alone.

Neither did any man meet him with the least encouragement. When he was come up to the gate, he looked up to the writing that was above and then began to knock, supposing that entrance should have been given to him. But he was asked by the men that looked over the top of the gate, Whence come thou?

and what would you have? He answered, I have ate and drank in the presence of the king, and he has taught in our streets. Then they asked him for his certificate, that they might go in and show it to the king. So he fumbled in his bosom for one and found none. Then said they, Have you none?

But the man answered never a word. So they told the king, but he would not come down and see him, but commanded the two shining ones that conducted Christian and hopeful to the city, to go out and take ignorance and bind him hand and foot and have him away. Then they took him up and carried him through the air to the door that I saw in the side of the hill and put him in there. Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven as well as from the city of destruction.

So I awoke, and behold, it was a dream. I doubt you are expecting that right at the end of Pilgrims progress. There it is again, that warning.

If you come all the way up to the gates without your certificate, you will not enter in. I love the line Derek Thomas read earlier in today's message. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.

When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. That line was from John Bunyan's The Pilgrims Progress. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind. Following Christian's journey to the celestial city, his highs, his lows, the ups and downs, has brought God's people, especially families, great comfort while also warning us to follow the narrow way. There is so much more to Christian's pilgrimage, and Dr. Thomas will guide you through it all in his 19-part series, The Pilgrims Progress, a guided tour. We'll send you this complete series on three DVDs for your donation of any amount. You can give your gift by visiting or by calling us at 800-435-4343. Today is the final day that we're making this series available, so I encourage you to visit today.

And when you give your gift of any amount in support of the outreach here at Ligonier Ministries, in addition to the DVD set, you'll also receive digital access to all 19 messages and the digital study guide. So visit today. Since the Garden of Eden, the devil has been casting doubt on the authority of God's Word. So how do you know that it's trustworthy? Next week, RC Sprawl will help us know why we can trust it. That's beginning Monday, here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-14 03:56:42 / 2023-07-14 04:05:43 / 9

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