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slough-of-despond-003-smaller for blogChristian’s eyes have been opened not only to his own sin, but to an impending sense of judgement; he, and all those he loves stand under judgement and all could be lost.  Disturbed by this, his neighbours do what we would all do – they think him a bit daft in the head, and try to jolly him out of it. But Christian is gripped by his epiphany and he asks, as the Apostle Paul did: ‘“What shall I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30

His question is answered by the first of a series of characters who represent the options open to us: Evangelist. He confesses his fear of hell, and asks:

“Whither must I fly?” Then said Evangelist, (pointing with his finger over a very wide field,) “Do you see yonder wicket-gate?” Matt. 7:13,14. The man said, “No.” Then said the other, “Do you see yonder shining light?” Psalm 119:105; 2 Pet. 1:19. He said, “I think I do.” Then said Evangelist, “Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto, so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do.”

So begins the Pilgrim’s Progress, as he follows the injunction to leave all and follow Christ.

Two neighbours pursue him, intent on stopping him. Obstinate cannot understand what it is which impels him to leave his ‘friends and his comforts’, whilst Pliable goes along with him until the reach the Slough of Despond – at which point, discouraged, he departs. Christian only gets through because another character, Help, assists. He tells Christian:

“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.”

Bunyan’s message is clear and it is the product not simply of his own consciousness, but that of many of us, my friends. And here is the danger of the ‘born again’ movement.

It is good and right to be stirred up to a sense of our sinfulness and to seek to do something about it. For sure, the worldlings will get in the way; but so too will the worldling in us.  What, are we the sinner we were when we first woke to Christ? Surely we should be a ‘new creation’, and yet we are mired in filth  and like the dog return to our vomit. Surely then we cannot be born anew? Bunyan, like so many Baptists, knew better. God quickens the heart, conscience-stricken we turn to Him – but we are not free of the cares of the world, neither are we clean. We are awake, we are aware of the Lord God of Hosts. Are we, in that state, aware of His love for us? As we, like Christian, suffer and groan, are we remembering Him who suffered on that Cross for us?

At that point, like Christian, we are ready for the advice of Mr Worldly Wiseman. It his to his counsel we shall go next.