Posted by Gary on October 24, 2005
I suppose the most natural place to start in looking at characters from Pilgrim’s Progress would be with the main character Christian but I want to begin by considering a character who actually shows up in the second section of Pilgrim’s Progress, Mr. Great-heart. Mr. Great-heart is sent by the Interpreter as a guide and protector for Christiana (Christian’s wife), a young woman named Mercy and Christiana’s four sons. As with all the characters in this allegory Mr. Great-heart’s nature is learned through his name, he is a man of strong faith, courage and faithfulness.
Mr. Great-heart knows the way to the celestial city, he is aware of the dangers on the way and courageously fights any who would attempt to harm pilgrims as they travel to the Celestial City. I wanted to highlight Mr. Great-heart because in my most recent reading of Pilgrim’s Progress a certain scene concerning Mr. Great-heart really caught my attention. To fully understand the setting you would need to have read the first section which details Christian’s journey to the Celestial City. I will summarize: On his way Christian and his companion Hopeful stray off the narrow path (seeking easier travel) and fall into the hands of one Giant Despair who lives in Doubting Castle. The lesson should be clear, when Christians fall into doubts they will end up under the cruel hand of despair. By God’s grace Christian and Hopeful escape after realizing that they have a key which is named "Promise" that opens the lock to the dungeon Giant Despair is holding them in and they flee back to the narrow path.
Later as Mr. Great-heart leads Christiana and the others (more pilgrims have joined them as they have travelled) they come into the region of Giant Despair and the question is raised as to whether they should attack Giant Despair and end his life and tyranny the account follows with thoughts from Mr. Great-heart underlined:
Now they went on; and when they were come to By-path Meadow, to the stile over which Christian went with his fellow Hopeful, when they were taken by Giant Despair, and put into Doubting Castle; they sat down and consulted what was best to be done; to wit, now they were so strong, and had got such a man as Mr. Great-heart for their conductor, whether they had not best to make an attempt upon the Giant, demolish his castle, and, if there were any pilgrims in it, to set them at liberty, before they went any further.
So one said one thing, and another said the contrary. One questioned if it were lawful to go upon unconsecrated ground; another said they might, provided their end was good; but Mr. Great-heart said, Though that assertion offered last cannot be universally true, yet I have a commandment to resist sin, to overcome evil, to fight the good fight of faith; and, I pray, with whom should I fight this good fight, if not with Giant Despair? I will, therefore, attempt the taking away of his life, and the demolishing of Doubting Castle. Then said he, Who will go with me? Then said old Honest, I will. And so will we too, said Christiana’s four sons, Matthew, Samuel, James, and Joseph; for they were young men and strong (1 John 3:13, 14). So they left the women in the road, and with them Mr. Feeble-mind and Mr. Ready-to-halt with his crutches, to be their guard, until they came back; for in that place though Giant Despair dwelt so near, they keeping in the road, a little child might lead them (Isa. 11:6).
So Mr. Great-heart, old Honest, and the four young men, went to go up to Doubting Castle, to look for Giant Despair. When they came at the Castle-gate, they knocked for entrance with an unusual noise. At that the old Giant comes to the gate, and Diffidence, his wife, follows. Then said he, Who, and what is he that is so hardy, as after this manner to molest the Giant Despair? Mr. Great-heart replied, It is I, Great-heart, one of the King of the Celestial Country’s conductors of pilgrims to their place; and I demand of thee that thou open thy gates for my entrance. Prepare thyself also to fight, for I am come to take away thy head, and to demolish Doubting Castle.
Now Giant Despair, because he was a giant, thought no man could overcome him; and, again, thought he, since heretofore I have made a conquest of angels, shall Great-heart make me afraid! So he harnessed himself, and went out. He had a cap of steel upon his head, a breast-plate of fire girded to him, and he came out in iron shoes with a great club in his hand. Then these six men made up to him, and beset him behind and before. Also when Diffidence, the giantess, came up to help him, old Mr. Honest cut her down at one blow. Then they fought for their lives, and Giant Despair was brought down to the ground, but was very loath to die. He struggled hard, and had, as they say, as many lives as a cat; but Great-heart was his death, for he left him not till he had severed his head from his shoulders.
This scene and Mr. Great-heart’s words and actions inspired and challenged me greatly. This to my mind is vital, living Christianity. How many of us in this situation would have said, "This giant is not bothering us, why risk danger, let’s just be glad we are getting through this area safely". I am challenged first that Mr. Great-heart understands his commission from God, his call is not to keep himself safe but to "resist sin, overcome evil and fight the good fight of faith…" Mr. Great-heart understands that the Christian life is warfare and that there is a battle to be fought and the fighting is not to be left to others, he knows he must wage warfare himself.
I am especially challenged that Mr. Great-heart believes that warfare is not primarily defensive but offensive. He does not view the Christian life as hunkering down and just trying to protect yourself so that you can get to heaven, he knows that God has given him a sword and that he is to use it. God help us to be like this. How many battles are we as Christians avoiding out of fear and lack of faith? How guilty we have been of thinking only of our safety and not our Master’s honor and truth.
It also challenges me that Mr. Great-heart is concerned for the welfare of others. Mr. Great-heart knows the harm this giant has done to many pilgrims already and he knows that certainly he will capture and harm more in the future. The solution to Mr. Great-heart’s mind is to do this giant in, kill him; he is the enemy of God and pilgrim’s, he should not be trifled with or allowed to continue to molest God’s people, he must be killed.
I am challenged also by Mr. Great-heart’s courage; I love his response when Giant Despair asks who is pounding on his door: "It is I, Great-heart, one of the King of the Celestial Country’s conductors of pilgrims to their place; and I demand of thee that thou open thy gates for my entrance. Prepare thyself also to fight, for I am come to take away thy head, and to demolish Doubting Castle". Prepare thyself for a fight! I am come to take away thy head! Rise up O Men of God! This is what we are to be. Of course of ourselves we have no reason to be brave or courageous but because we belong to God we have every reason to be brave and courageous.
1 Samuel 17:26; 45-47 "For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?" …Then David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands."
What battlefields has God placed you in the vicinity of? What truth of God is being assaulted under you watch? There are people who are lost, idolatries that are robbing the true God of glory, the innocent are being slaughtered what are we going to do? God, give us great hearts of faith, God, make us like Mr. Great-heart.
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