I have sweet memories of my father reading a modernized version of John Bunyan’s classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress to my little brother and me when we were children. Decades later, the story of Christian leaving the City of Destruction and embarking on a journey through the narrow wicket gate, to the foot of the cross, and onward to the Celestial City was instrumental in my older son’s decision to follow Christ. For those reasons, Pilgrim’s Progress holds a special place in my heart, but what I love best is that many of the scriptural truths taught in the book have remained with me and often come to mind at various times to encourage me.
I recently found myself struggling to throw off a pervasive sense of discouragement about several areas of my life and remembered one of my favorite chapters in Pilgrim’s Progress. I decided to pull out my copy and let John Bunyan hearten me again. I was not disappointed.
At this juncture in the story, Christian and his fellow pilgrim Hopeful have foolishly left the King’s highway and fallen into the clutches of the Giant Despair, who has beaten and imprisoned them deep inside Doubting Castle. The giant urges them to stop praying, give up hope for deliverance, and drink poison before he decides to kill them at last. Christian, in his suffering, is tempted to comply.
Hopeful, however, wisely encourages Christian to instead remember the grace he has experienced in the past—how far he has come on his journey from the City of Destruction toward the Celestial City and the many times the King has provided rescue from danger and victory over his foes. Hopeful implores Christian to wait a little longer and trust in the King. Though they are brutally beaten again the next day, and the Giant Despair again advises them to put themselves out of their misery, Hopeful and Christian instead spend that night in earnest prayer.
As the sun rises, Christian suddenly remembers that he had been given a key earlier in his journey! The name of the key is Promise, and with it, Christian is able to unlock every door and every gate within Doubting Castle. Christian and Hopeful escape to freedom and return to the King’s road, wiser and more thankful than ever for the grace of the King.
Sometimes we, too, find ourselves trapped in Doubting Castle with our own Giant Despair oppressing us night and day with fear, shame, pain, deceit, and discouragement. But, like Hopeful, we can persevere in our trials if we choose to recall God’s grace toward us in the past and trust him for the grace we need in the present and the future. Like Christian, we can remember—and put to use—God’s many great and precious promises to us.
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. 2 Peter 1:3-4, NLT
It is all too easy to forget everything God has done for us when we are feeling down or under attack. We can forget the promises God has made to us and all the ways he has been faithful to keep them in the past, and we can be tempted to accept the poisonous despair our Enemy offers at every turn. But the good news is, we can leave doubt and despair behind today by trusting, praising, and praying while we wait on the Lord, and by taking God at his word, walking boldly forward as he shows us the way. In his tender, saving grace, Jesus has given us everything we need. Let’s take hold of it, friends, and be free.