“Labour to know thine own frame and temper; what spirit thou art of; what associates in thy heart Satan hath; where corruption is strong, where grace is weak; what stronghold lust hath in thy natural constitution, and the like. . .Be acquainted, then, with thine own heart: though it be deep, search it; though it be dark, inquire into it; though it give all its distempers other names than what are their due, believe it not.” – John Owen
John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Such a classic. If you haven’t I would encourage you to put this at the top of your reading list. It is said to be the best book after the Bible.
For some reason this particular passage has been going through my mind often given the events in my life and other’s lives the past few months. I never really paid this part of the story much mind because I was always about the “big” moments of the book (i.e. Giant Despair and Doubting Castle, Vanity Fair, the epic battle between Christian (equipped with the armor of God) and Beelzebub, the Cross, etc). Lately it has really hit home with me and I wanted to share it with you all.
Wherefore Christian was left to tumble in the Slough of Despond alone; but still he endeavored to struggle to that side of the slough that was farthest from his own house, and next to the wicket-gate; the which he did, but could not get out because of the burden that was upon his back: but I beheld in my dream, that a man came to him, whose name was Help, and asked him what he did there.
Christian: Sir, I was bid to go this way by a man called Evangelist, who directed me also to yonder gate, that I might escape the wrath to come. And as I was going thither, I fell in here.
Help: But why did not you look for the steps?
Christian: Fear followed me so hard that I fled the next way, and fell in.
Help: Then, give me thine hand: so he gave him his hand, and he drew him out, [Psalm 40:2], and he set him upon sound ground, and bid him go on his way.
Then I stepped to him that plucked him out, and said, “Sir, wherefore, since over this place is the way from the city of Destruction to yonder gate, is it, that this plat is not mended, that poor travellers might go thither with more security?” And he said unto me, “This miry slough is such a place as cannot be mended: it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore it is called the Slough of Despond; for still, as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there arise in his soul many fears and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place: and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.
“It is not the pleasure of the King that this place should remain so bad. [Isa. 35:3,4.] His laborers also have, by the direction of his Majesty’ surveyors, been for above this sixteen hundred years employed about this patch of ground, if perhaps it might have been mended: yea, and to my knowledge,” said he, “there have been swallowed up at least twenty thousand cart loads, yea, millions of wholesome instructions, that have at all seasons been brought from all places of the King’ dominions, (and they that can tell, say, they are the best materials to make good ground of the place,) if so be it might have been mended; but it is the Slough of Despond still, and so will be when they have done what they can.
“True, there are, by the direction of the Lawgiver, certain good and substantial steps, placed even through the very midst of this slough; but at such time as this place doth much spew out its filth, as it doth against change of weather, these steps are hardly seen; or if they be, men, through the dizziness of their heads, step beside, and then they are bemired to purpose, notwithstanding the steps be there: but the ground is good when they are once got in at the gate.” [1 Sam. 12:23.]
Like Christian, we oftentimes miss the “steps” because we don’t keep the eyes of our hearts on God’s promises and His grace. When we rely on our own strength we end up miring in despondency and weighed down with the burden of our sin and helplessness. That’s when we have a choice to make:
Call upon Him for “Help” for as the Lord told the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9a). “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).
Continue to mire in our despondency over sin and try of our own means to fix ourselves and get out of the mire. Yeah, we already know the ending to that option. It sours our hearts, our attitudes and His light in us is almost hidden to those around us. How does that profit us…or more rightly put, how does that glorify God? We don’t get anywhere by mucking around and dwelling on our sin. We’re not fleeing to Christ, or clinging to his grace; instead we are arrogantly putting ourselves above the power of the cross and in effect saying we are past hope, help and saving because we’re too filthy for Him to love us and there’s no way He can cover all our sins. Rubbish! (pun intended).
Side note: I know GRACE is one of those things that Christians can either “use or abuse.” We have Paul in Romans 6 saying, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida wrote a recent blog post titled, “Grace Without Buts and Brakes.” I’d encourage you to be encouraged by it.
Rachel B. Duke