(The text to our lesson coming up Sunday is posted on the class calendar, just to the right in the margin, on today’s date.)
This trio of scenes show us another accurate picture and often painful truth of the life of the child of God as a “Pilgrim” passing through this world on his way to heaven. How often have you experienced sin and misery fresh on the heels of a time of spiritual refreshing, and all of that followed by guilt, shame, and despair of ever being done with your besetting sins?
Respite: Times of refreshing are wonderful. They often times give us a foretaste of heaven. Christian and Hopeful have just recently left the company of Mr. By-Ends and his companions, and have successfully crossed over the narrow plain called Lucre without incident. They have been on the road some time and need a rest and some refreshment. Their way comes up to and follows along the bank of a river. The picture painted here is one of bathing in a flowing river, and eating and drinking by its banks, and being refreshed. What every pilgrim on a long, dusty road longs to find is clean, cold, running water to cool his sweaty brow and sore feet; to quench his dry, parched throat, and to hear the soothing sound of gently running water. In the Old Testament the river is quite often used to symbolize blessing, peace, plenty and prosperity (Psalm 1, Psalm 65, and Ezekiel 47, Revelation 22:1,2)
We must always be careful during these times. The tendency is to be not so careful, to let our guard down. We get use to ease, and then expect it. That is when, if we are not careful, it is so easy to seek alternatives to the proper path when, all of a sudden it becomes difficult again.
By-Path Meadow: The detour seems so slight, the harm seems not at all; so we ease a little out of the path. At first it looks as good as the other, but as we find in this episode, the farther our pilgrims go on this side path, the farther it diverges from the true path. What seems better at first turns out to be much worse in the end, so much so that they wind up having to turn back. The return trip proves to be more difficult that when the path was first taken. Oh how this is so like the sin we entangle ourselves in: getting in is much easier than getting out.
Giant Despair: The largest part of our lesson will deal with this character, Giant Despair and his Doubting Castle. The believer, after falling into sin, often beats himself up, despairs of forgiveness, doubts his salvation, wishes himself dead. What a vivid picture this chapter paints of the torment we inflict upon ourselves. Notice also that the key called Promise was present all the time; Christian simply forgot he had it. What is that key? It is the word of God assuring us of our salvation. Remember, these words are not just anyone’s words, but God Himself assuring us. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:28,29), and So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16), and Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) and many, many others besides. We should never forget that salvation from first to last is of God: And I am sure of this, that he who began ha good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)