Posted by Gary on May 6, 2006
There are many reasons that Pilgrim’s Progress is dear to me as a Christian this particular section is perhaps one of the biggest, Christian in the Valley of the Shadow of Death:
I saw then in my dream, so far as this valley reached, there was on the right hand a very deep ditch; that ditch is it into which the blind have led the blind in all ages, and have both there miserably perished. Again; behold, on the left hand there was very dangerous quagmire, into which, if even a good man falls, he can find no bottom of his foot to stand on. Into that quag King David once did fall; and had no doubt therein been smothered, had not he that is able plucked him out (Ps 69:14).
The pathway was here also exceeding narrow, and therefore good Christian was the more put to it; for when he sought in the dark to shun the ditch on the one hand, he was ready to tip over into the mire on the other; also when he sought to escape the mire, without great carefulness, he would be ready to fall into the ditch. Thus he went on, and I heard him here sigh bitterly; for besides the dangers mentioned above, the pathway was here so dark, that oft times when he lift up his foot to set forward, he knew not where, or upon what, he should set it next…
One thing I would not let slip; I took notice that now poor Christian was so confounded, that he did not know his own voice. And thus I perceived it: just when he was come over against the mouth of the burning pit, one of the wicked ones got behind him, and stepped up softly to him; and whisperingly suggested many grievous blasphemies to him—which he verily thought had proceeded from his own mind. This put Christian more to it than anything that he met with before, even to think that he should now blaspheme him that he loved so much before! Yet could he have helped it, he would not have done it; but he had not the discretion neither to stop his ears, nor to know from whence those blasphemies came.
I purchased my first copy of Pilgrim’s Progress for $1.00 at a sale at the seminary I attended. I had never read it but had heard that I should so I brought the book home. I began to read it in the evenings and found that I could not put it down. I remember distinctly reading this section and the great joy that filled my soul as I did. A little background will be helpful:
I came to know Christ in 1987 and by His grace had a tremendous desire to know Him and please Him in every way. Christ empowered me to leave a life of great immorality, which I had given myself to fully. It was an amazing thing to find myself in church, praying and reading the Bible, I was truly a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
After weeks of joy in Bible reading, prayer and being with the people of God I began to notice that horrible thoughts were coming into my mind, in particular blasphemous thoughts against God. I would be in church singing a song and God’s name, as a cuss word would enter my mind. When someone else would speak to me and mention the name of God immediately a hateful, blasphemous thought against God would flash in my mind.
I cannot describe to you how horrible this was. Here I had finally come to know God, my heart and mind were full of desire for Him yet my mind was spewing forth blasphemy. What Bunyan wrote of Christian was so true of me at the time, "This put Christian more to it than anything that he met with before, even to think that he should now blaspheme him that he loved so much before!” For a brief time I had come to believe that God was mine and me His, now I doubted ever being saved. I all but lost hope that God would love and receive me; I was blaspheming.
As these things were going on with me, I remember talking to another relatively new Christian, a woman who was greatly distressed because she said that every time she looked at her children thoughts of stabbing them would flash in her mind. How grieved this woman was, how could she think such thoughts? What was so obvious was that nothing could have been farther from her heart’s intentions. The reason she was so grieved was that she loved her children with all her heart and would never want to harm them.
Everything culminated for me one Sunday (after a few months of this experience) when after church I waited for everyone to leave the building. When I was alone I went into the sanctuary to the front, my heart so grieved, so convinced that I was cut off from God for my blasphemy, I knelt down and in some words told God I could take no more of this and pleaded for Him to rescue me. That day marked the beginning of my rescue from these thoughts although I never understood how or why they happened.
Flash forward to 1996 when I read this portion of Pilgrim’s Progress, I remember as I did that tears came to my eyes, God helped me to understand what had happened some years before. Not only did the explanation bring me joy but the knowledge that I was not alone in my experience, obviously other saints had been attacked in this way.
Without question, our mind and our thoughts are vital to our life in God. Certainly, we are often guilty of wrong thoughts and impure use of our minds but it is true that the devil knows he can paralyze us by assailing our thoughts. I want to conclude by sharing some thoughts on this topic by Martyn Lloyd-Jones that have proved to be a great help for me in making the determination between my own thoughts and those which come from Satan:
Another way in which the devil comes and causes havoc is by attacking us with evil thoughts. The fact that you are tempted by evil thoughts must not lead you to the conclusion that you are not a Christian. This is what the devil would have you believe, of course. It is his work. I again quote the phrase, “…the fiery darts of the wicked one”. Have we not all experienced them? Even when you may be reading your Bible evil and blasphemous thoughts may come to you. You are not thinking about such things and you do not want to do so. Where have they come from? What is their origin?…The only adequate explanation is that the devil hurls them at you. Have you not often found when you wake up in the morning, after you have been fast asleep, that such thoughts immediately come? They are not yours.
This is a very comforting and consoling teaching; that is why we are dealing with it in such detail. Had you thought that all this teaching was remote and theoretical? You will find that it provides the greatest comfort. How do you know, you may ask, whether they are your thoughts or the thoughts of the devil? If you hate them and wish they were not there, then they are not yours; they are the devil’s. He attacks us by hurling evil and blasphemous thoughts at us. He insinuates them…the devil has power to lead them, and especially if you are not aware of it and fail to stop him. And thus he will take you captive, and make you intensely miserable. (Ephesians Commentary “The Christian Warfare: pp.88-89).
How grateful I am for the writings of the puritans who dealt not only with doctrine, but also the experience of the Christian life. How grateful I am that God sent John Bunyan through a trial so that many others and I would be encouraged through it. Perhaps He is doing the same with you.
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