GIANT DESPAIR & DOUBTING CASTLE; John Bunyan’s Life and Literature (8)


 Part 8

The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to that Which is to Come;

Giant Despair and Doubting Castle


The Encounter with Mr By Ends

Leaving the suffering and sorrow of Vanity Fair behind, Christian is encouraged by the fellowship and company of Hopeful, converted through the dying example and testimony of Faithful.

As they journey the two travellers meet Mr By Ends.  It is evident from his own words that this name is not his own, but one that he considers to be a term of abuse:

“This is not my name, but indeed it is a nickname, given me by some that cannot abide me…”.

The term “by ends”, according to usage of the mid-17th Century, refers to a person who will employ every means, legitimate or illegitimate, to achieve his ambition.  Such a person is devoid of morals and principles and fuelled only by his own greed.  Therefore, Mr By Ends’ town of Fair Speech, together with his compatriots, Mr Smooth-man, Mr Facing-both-ways, Mr Anything together with his parson Mr Two-tongues, is wholly descriptive of his own deceitful nature.  These were only too happy to swim with the current by accepting without a struggle the prevailing opinions of the time.

Christian and Hopeful “kept their distance” as we must do with those who have no convictions or principles.  They noticed that he was joined by men of like passions as himself; Mr Hold-the-world, Mr Money-love and Mr Save-all.  Eventually the path led them past a little hill called “Lucre” where Demas was enticing pilgrims to come and see his silver mine:

“For Demas hath forsaken me, loved this present world…”                                                         (2nd Timothy 4:10)

While the two pilgrims resisted the lure of Lucre, Mr By Ends and his companions were taken in, to their own destruction:

“Now, whether they fell into the pit by looking over the brink thereof or whether they went down to dig, or whether they were smothered in the bottom by the damps that commonly arise, of these things I am not certain; but this I observed, that they were never seen again in the way”.


“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows”          (1st Timothy 6:10).


Remember Lot’s Wife

Seeing a pillar shaped like a woman, Christian and Hopeful are solemnised by what happened to Lot’s wife, escaping one judgement, to be swallowed up by another:  Hopefully was especially alarmed when investigating his own heart at Lucre:

“She only looked back; and I had a desire to go and see.  Let grace be adored, and let me be ashamed, that ever such a think should be in mine heart.”


How tragic that after learning this lesson the pilgrims would so soon, leave the path!


The River of God 

The pilgrims now entered a place of refreshing where they drank of the river, ate the fruit of the trees that grew along the banks and enjoyed rest in perfect safety.  This represents seasons of withdrawal from the pressures of life, when God speaks through his word and we are brought near to him.  The imagery is certainly taken from Psalm 1 where the blessed man is compared to a tree beside the rivers of waters, one who meditates upon God’s Word day and night and the Psalm 36:8:

“They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.”

As with every season of special blessings, new challenges await with potential moments of failure.


By Path Meadow 

Often in our own spiritual pilgrimage we have felt like the pilgrims in the next stage of the journey:

“Now the way from` the river was rough, and their feet tender, by reason of their travels; so the souls of the pilgrims were much discouraged because of the way.”

Discovering a stile into a field known as By Path Meadow with a path running adjacent to the way, Christian thought there would be no harm in using it as an alternative.  They were encouraged by the sight of another pilgrim known as Vain Confidence, who was a little ahead but following this same path.  As night fell, however, Vain Confidence fell into a pit, they could hear him moaning.  A fearful thunder storm erupted inflicting torrential rain upon the pilgrims.   With alarm the pilgrims discovered they were lost:

“Who could have thought that this path should have led us out of the way.”

Deviating from the Scriptures, doing what seems right or feels good, will never satisfy the Christian spirit.  Such actions will only serve to led into the wilderness as Bunyan observed:

“Then I thought that it is easier going out of the way when we are in, than going in when we are out”.


Giant Despair 

Mysterious medieval castleBunyan now presents one of his most memorable characters in his tale as George Cheever observes:

“The personification of Despair is one of the most instructive and beautiful parts of Bunyan’s allegory.  It appeals either to every man’s experience, or to every man’s sense of what may come upon him, on account of sin.  It is at once in some respects, the very gloomiest, and very brightest part of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’; for it shows at once to what a depth the mercy of God in Christ can reach.”

Giant Despair, owned the grounds, where Christian and Hopeful now found themselves.   Seizing them he hauled the pilgrims back to Doubting Castle.  Giant Despair is a cruel man, who starves his victims, giving them regular beatings. The darkness of his character is personified by his aversion to strong sunlight which induced fits.

Christian’s question posed in the cells of Doubting Castle is one that every Christian who is overtaken by despair must ask:

“Shall we be ruled by the Giant?”

key of promiseOn Saturday night Christian and Hopeful’s escape commences.  They continued all night in prayer until the break of day.  Christian now made an astonishing discovery:

“What a fool am I to lie in a stinking dungeon…I have a key in my pocket, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded open any lock in Doubting Castle.”

The two travellers then managed to unlock every door in the Castle and the Giant was rendered powerless in all his efforts to pursue them.  Faithful and Hopeful, when returning to the stile, erected a sign to warn future travellers of By Path Meadow and its terrible lurking perils.

The day of their deliverance was Sunday.  Assembling with God’s people listening out for the Word of God, is one of the best cures for the soul.  Christian had the key of promise with him all the time, even though he did not realise it.  When in despair and despondency we must remember the Word, that God has given containing the promises, which when employed will dispel the difficulties that beset us.

Leaving the path will always led us into despair and doubting.  One simple step of disobedience can have catastrophic consequences.  Let us heed the warning that has been set up by Christian and Hopeful.

“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall”                           (1st Corinthians 10:12)

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