Despair & the Shepherds

In our previous reading, Christiana and her ever-increasing company of pilgrims added Feeble-mind and Ready-to-Halt as well as Gaius’ daughter, Phoebe, as James’ wife. They then came to the town of Vanity and stayed in the house of Mnason, finding the town much less hostile to pilgrims that it was during Christian’s time. While staying there, Great-heart and several other worthy men fought back a great monster that had periodically plagued the town. In our present reading, the pilgrims continue on their journey, where they fight against Giant Despair and come after to the Shepherds upon the Delectable Mountains.

Now with the daughters of Mnason as wives for Joseph and Samuel, the company set forth once again, and they quickly came to the place where Faithful was martyred. There they paused and thanked God for such a testimony. We ought to do likewise whenever we come upon reminders of our brothers and sisters in Christ who were faithful even unto death. We are not historical orphans; rather, we do indeed stand upon the shoulders of those who went on before us. Their faithfulness ought to make us thankful that the same God who upheld them is still our God.

After passing by the hill Lucre and its Silver-Mine, the pilgrims came to the Delectable Mountains. Here Christiana encouraged her four daughters-in-law to commit their little ones to the Shepherd of those mountains, for:

This man, if any of them go astray, or be lost, he will bring them again; he will also bind up that which is broken, and will strengthen them that are sick. Here they will never want meat and drink and cloathing; here they will be kept from thieves and robbers; for this man will die before one of those committed to his Trust shall be lost. Besides, here they shall be sure to have good nurture and admonition, and shall be taught to walk in right Paths, and that as you know is a Favour of no small account.


Here Bunyan is not describing infant baptism (for he was a Baptist) nor baby dedications; rather, he means the steady and intentional effort of a parents to bring their children before the Lord in prayer, to cast their salvation and well-being solely upon Him. We certainly have the commands of Scripture to diligently raise our children in God’s Word; however, no parent is mighty enough to secure the soul of their child. We must ultimately rely upon the Lord and trust that He will keep His own and that His love for them far exceeds our own. If you are a parent, are you heeding Christiana’s counsel? How often do you pray for your children? How regularly do you bring them to God’s throne of grace?

Upon viewing By-Path-Meadow, where Christian and Hopeful were taken captive by Giant Despair, the pilgrims decided to attack Despair and demolish his castle. So Great-heart, Honest, and Christiana’ four sons went forth to slay the giant and rescue any pilgrims that he might have had bound in his dungeon. One writer notes that

This is the work and aim of every faithful minister of Christ, to destroy Giant Despair, and demolish Doubting Castle, in the hearts of God’s children. A more awful character is not in the world, than the man who assumes the ministerial name and character, without understanding the nature of that ministry of reconciliation which is committed to every one who is really called and sent of God.[1]

Indeed, here again Great-heart proves to be a model minister, bold to wield the sword of the Spirit and not reliant upon his own strength. In the battle, Despair’s wife is quickly slain, but Despair himself was slow to die. Yet eventually, the pilgrims were triumphant and managed to rescue two captive pilgrims, Mr. Despondency and his daughter, Much-afraid. After securing them, they began to demolish Doubting-Castle, which took seven days. There was then much music and dancing from all the pilgrims at the giant’s death. Indeed, when despair and doubt die, how can God’s people not rejoice? David, who certainly had his own battles with this giant, wrote to the LORD:

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Psalm 30:11-12

George Offer summarizes this battle and gives a brief warning:

The struggle with Despair may be dangerous, and painful, and long-continued, but it shall be finally successful. ‘I am persuaded,’ saith the apostle, ‘that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor heighth, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Paul demolished the castle, and slew the giant, but ‘Sin can rebuild the castle, make’t remain, and make Despair the giant live again.’[2]

After slaying the Giant Despair, demolishing his castle, and rescuing his captive pilgrims, the company then met the Shepherds who dwelt within the Delectable Mountains. Great-heart quickly affirms them as true and godly shepherds because they did not despise the weak and frail pilgrims within the company. Indeed, they called Feeble-mind, Ready-to-halt, Despondency, and Much-afraid all by name to welcome them, knowing that they had greater need of such security of acceptance than the others. Furthermore, the Shepherds prepared a feast full of food that was easily digested. By all this Bunyan is keeping before our eyes the duty of the strong in God’s kingdom to care for the weak. After all, whenever we do so, we are imitating Christ who descended from His eternal and heavenly throne to serve and give Himself up for us.

In the morning, the Shepherds then took the pilgrims to see the sights that they displayed to Christian as well as some new ones. Here Bunyan gives four new rarities.

First, they looked upon Mount-Marvel to find a man “that tumbled the hills about with words” (343). The Shepherds reveal that the man is the son of Great-Grace, who was a campion of the King much like Great-heart. This picture is to teach pilgrims how mountains and other such difficulties may be tumbled aside by faith.

Second, they looked upon Mount Innocent, where they saw a man clothed in white named Godly-man being covered with dirt by two men named Prejudice and Ill-will. Yet however much dirt they cast upon him, it would not stick to his garments. So it is that the smears and slanders of the wicked against the godly cannot soil his innocence before God.

Third, they went to Mount Charity, where they found a man with a bundle of cloth that he cut pieces from to give to the poor, yet the cloth never diminished. Of course, this is a picture of how God provides abundantly to those who give freely.

Finally, they found two men, Fool and Want-wit, trying to wash away the blackness out of an Ethiopian’s skin. While this particular picture may make modern readers a bit squeamish, we ought to quickly point out that Bunyan was simply a similar point as the prophet Jeremiah when he wrote in verse 23 of chapter 13: “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” Here Bunyan specifically targets the hypocrite who tries to get a good name, such a task is as foolish as trying to wash the darkness out of an Ethiopian’s skin.

Finally, Mercy finds herself fascinated and longing for a mirror within the palace of the Shepherds. This mirror, as the margin notes, is the Word of God, which Bunyan has taken from James 1:23-25,

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Indeed, Mercy delights in the mirror because it would show one’s own features exactly but also turned another way would show the Prince of Pilgrims. That is, of course, the twofold nature of God’s Word. On one hand, it reveals to us the depths of our own hearts, while on the other hand, it reveals Christ to us. Such a wonder ought to stir up in us as much longing as it did from Mercy. Indeed, because it shows us ourselves rightly and shows us by faith the face of our Savior, all of God’s people should be able to say with psalmist: “O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97)!

[1] The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 229.

[2] The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 229.

The edition cited is the Banner of Truth hardcover, which can be found here.


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