THEOLOGICAL STUDIES

Pilgrim's Progress
(Part Two: From the Wicket Gate Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death)

INTRODUCTION

Two things: first, Charles Spurgeon widely known as the greatest preacher since the time of the apostle Paul claimed that he read Pilgrim's Progress at least 100x by the time of his death. Second, C. S. Lewis, known at least as the greatest Christian thinker of the 20th century, claimed that John Bunyan was proof that in order to be a great Christian influence, you don't have to be schooled at the secular universities; rather being schooled in the Bible itself was all that was necessary.

The truth is that the one common denominator in all the great Christians is their commitment to God's Word. Other factors might have affected them; however, the one common factor was their commitment to God's Word.

I've seen that in my own life. Two women who have influenced me greatly were my mom and Grandma Roselle. At night you would walk into my mom's bedroom, and what was she doing? Reading God's Word. Grandma Roselle, a Swedish missionary to the Belgian Congo during the 20's and 30's, and who was later my landlady in Austin, would burn the midnight oil doing the same thing--pouring over God's Word. We get so caught up in the latest thing, but when it is all said and done, if Jesus waits for another 1,000 years to return, the things we are reading now probably won't even be in print. However, one book will be in print, God's Word. Why are we investing our lives in the transitory, whenever we have at our finger tips something eternal: God's Word.

"Heaven and earth will pass away,
but My words will not pass away" (Matt. 24:35).

"For all flesh is like grass
and its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers and the flower falls off,
But the Word of the Lord abides forever" (1 Pet. 1:24, 25).

Next, as you study Pilgrim's Progress, you need to keep in mind that John Bunyan is describing what is going on INSIDE Christian. Many people are disconcerted whenever they see Christian leaving his family, even though his wife and children plead with him to stay with them. This leaving though is not a physical leaving but rather a spiritual, emotional leaving. I see many men and in more cases women who leave their spouses spiritually because their spouses refuse to follow Jesus with them.

We must keep 3 things in mind though. First, Christ calls us to abandon all that hinders us from following Him. He and He alone are to paramount in our lives. Second, the best hope for Christian's wife (Christiana) and his children is for him to follow Christ even if it means abandoning them spiritually. Too many husbands and wives don't want to offend their spouses by going to church or some other spiritual activity. The result is not only is the Christian pulled down spiritually but that the spouse never gets spiritually right with Jesus. On the other hand, even though that Christian spouse may suffer because of his or her commitment to Jesus, their spouse now has a chance to respond positively to Jesus. Third, remember that Bunyan is speaking about what is going on spiritually in Christian.


VARIOUS THEMES IN THIS SECTION

The Interpreter's House

The Scenes Events in the Scene Interpretation
The Man Sweeping the Dusty Floor A man is seen sweeping up the dust on the floor. At first he is only scattering the dust into the air. Only after the woman sprinkles water onto the dust is he able to sweep it up. The dust represents sin in our lives. We on our own strength and efforts can try and get rid of that sin; however, when we do, we are only making a bigger mess. It is only when the water of God's grace is pour upon the sin in our lives that we are able to get rid of that sin. We in our own strength cannot take care of the sin problem in our lives; only God's grace can.
The woman crying at her bedside. (This is not quite true to the book.) The woman tells us about so many people being raptured except for herself. The finality of judgment. The decisions we make here on earth will determine with a severe finality our ultimate destiny.
The man (Courage) who fights the 4 adversaries. The man has his name written down in a book and then engages in sword fight with 4 adversaries. He then enters the celestial city after he vanquishes his foes. The idea that entry into heaven requires great struggle.
The scene of Christian being given weapons. Christian receives a helmet, sword, shield, and breastplate. There are events in our lives which require spiritual weaponry.

In the first scene of the man sweeping the dust, we see that John Bunyan takes seriously the biblical claim that many times our major problem in life is US. It is easy to blame our problems on this or that person, or even on Satan himself. Whereas some of our problems do come from these sources, most of the time the main problem in our lives is US. WE make wrong decisions. WE fly off the handle. WE spend our money unwisely, etc., etc., etc. Before we start looking at others as being the source of our problems, we need to look at us first. Paul categorically claims that the sin nature is a huge problem for us: "

"For I know that nothing good dwells in me,
that is, in my flesh;
for the wishing is present in me,
but the doing of the good is not" (Rom. 7:18).

We have to come to grips with the sin in our lives before we can ever have the victory Christ wants to give us. In order to achieve that victory, we need God's grace, His strength which He gives to those who trust in Jesus.

Next, with the weapons given to Christian, Bunyan is stressing the truth that we are in spiritual warfare. Whereas it is true that many times WE are the enemy, it is likewise true that many times WE are NOT the problem. Many times Satan and his minions are the primary source of our troubles. The kicker is that many times even when Satan is our enemy, we think we are the ones with the problems.

For example, in his space triology, C. S. Lewis (David Taylor's and James Price's favorite author) depicts a man who is going crazy. He keeps hearing all these strange voices inside his head. He think he is the problem because the voices speaking inside him sound just like him, even use the same gramar he uses. Actually there is a demonic lizard on his shoulder who is whispering insane things into his ear. The wild thing is that the demonic lizard has learned to mimic perfectly the way the man speaks; therefore, when the demonic lizard speaks, the man thinks he is actually speaking to himself.

I have especially felt this at times whenever I feel like the Lord wanted to use me. Once I was asked to address a funeral in which the person had committed suicide. I felt like the Lord wanted me to speak some words which some might think either bold or outrageous; however, I felt they were words from the Lord. Twice before it was my time to speak, I felt that I couldn't deliver the message. Yet I knew that not only had the Lord given me the words to speak but that others were praying for me. The moment I got up, my fears dissipated. If the fears came from within me, then surely I would have been afraid even as I spoke; yet the moment I followed through by obeying the Lord, the fears dissipated. I believe the source of those fears and doubts came from Satan.

Well, God has given you weapons to defeat Satan in your life:

SCRIPTURE PASSAGE WEAPON INTERPRETATION
Eph. 6:14 Belt of truth As the belt holds the entire uniform together, so the truth about Jesus holds all our spiritual weapons together.
Eph. 6:14 Breastplate of righteousness As the breastplate protects our vital organs, so the righteousness of Jesus protects our vital spiritual organs.
Eph. 6:15 Shoes of peace As the soldier's shoes planted him firmly on the ground, so Christ's peace with God gives us peace to be able to wage war against Satan.
Eph. 6:16 Shield of faith As the shield deflects the darts and arrows of our enemies, so our DAILY faith in Christ protects us from the onslaught of the enemy.
Eph. 6:17 Helmet of salvation Just as the helmet protected the soldier's head from being crushed, so the salvation we get from Christ protects our spiritual head.
Eph. 6:17 The Sword of God's Word Just as we need a sword to defeat our enemies in battle, so we need to know and use God's Word to defeat Satan in our struggle with him (just like Jesus did during His temptation in the wilderness).

If we take seriously the truth that we are in a spiritual warfare, then we need to use these weapons. (A word of warning: whether or not you believe you are in spiritual warfare is immaterial. You may be in warfare whether you realize it or not. If so, then you need to do something to win that battle.)

One weapon in the Christian's arsenal I find critically important is prayer. I try to spend a certain amount of time studying my Bible each. Most days I reach that goal; however, one goal I never fail to meet is praying diligently each day for myself, my family, my country, and my pastor. Each morning I pray for spiritual protection for my family. Each evening I pray specifically for my wife and me, and then specifically for my son and daughter. I moreover go into detail about certain things I am praying for their lives. I know that even when we pray, people we are praying for mess up; however, I also know that so many victories in the lives of Christians are due to the prayers of their moms. Well, God has not made the moms and wives primarily responsible for the family. God has made dads ultimately responsible for their families. God is waiting to hear from many dads before He decides to move decisively in the lives of their families. I fear that just as so many have been blessed because their dads prayed for them, that even more have not received God's blessing because their fathers failed to pray for them.

Sometimes we fear it may be too late to start praying for our families. It is NEVER too late to pray. In fact in most cases, whenever it seems really dark, the only chance for there to be light is for the dads to pray.


The Valley of the Shadow of Death

At the end of this section Christian enters the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Since there is still a long time before Christian himself actually dies, this episode is not referring to his ultimate death. It may be referring to one of 2 things:

  1. Someone close to him dying
  2. A near death experience for him
Regardless of the situation Christian is naturally oppressed during this episode.

Unless you've never witnessed the death of a loved one, you won't understand how harrowing death can be. It was so hard to see my dad die; however, the death of the first grandchild in our family by suicide was the worst. I will never forget looking at the clock when the phone rang Monday, Feb. 1, 1988. It was 6:13. So much that day is vividly etched on my mind because that day was that intense. The waves of sadness which poured over me cannot be described. It was like I in the twilight zone all that day, in an unreal world. Yet that world was only way too real.

So many people can either turn against God or turn cold in their relationship with God because of the death of a loved one. The truth though is that Jesus is the only true comfort during such times. So then why would I turn against the only One who gives me hope? Yet that is what happens to so many people.