Tag Archives: diffidence

The Misery of Doubting Castle

Now, night being come again, and the Giant and his wife being in bed, she asked him concerning the prisoners, and if they had taken his counsel. To which he replied, They are sturdy rogues, they choose rather to bear all hardship, than to make away themselves. Then said she, Take them into the castle-yard tomorrow, and show them the bones and skulls of those that you have already dispatched, and make them believe, ere a week comes to an end, you also will tear them in pieces, as you have done to their fellows before them.

So when the morning was come, the Giant goes to them again, and takes them into the castle-yard, and shows them, as his wife had bidden him. These, said he, were pilgrims as you are, once, and they trespassed in my grounds, as you have done; and when I thought fit, I tore them in pieces, and so, within ten days, I will do you. Go, get you down to your den again; and with that he beat them all the way thither. They lay, therefore, all day on Saturday in a lamentable case, as before. Now, when night was come, and when Mrs. Diffidence and her husband, the Giant, were got to bed, they began to renew their discourse of their prisoners; and withal the old Giant wondered, that he could neither by his blows nor his counsel bring them to an end. And with that his wife replied, I fear, said she, that they live in hope that some will come to relieve them, or that they have picklocks about them, by the means of which they hope to escape. And do you say so, my dear? said the Giant; I will, therefore, search them in the morning.

Doubting CastleDespite Hopeful’s reassurance, the darkness returns. Night comes again and Christian and Hopeful still remain in the oppressive bonds of Doubting Castle. It seems that there is no end to their captivity.

The ongoing misery of Doubting Castle reveals the weight of depression that can linger and lie even upon true believers. Doubts can be persistent. Discouragements can increase. Misgivings can reemerge and reinforce, like iron bars holding us down. Even more mature believers are not immune. Christian was more seasoned in his pilgrimage than Hopeful. Yet Christian’s suffering was more severe. It was Hopeful who served his older brother by speaking words of encouragement. Bunyan himself often experienced times of severe depression. He confessed in the conclusion of his autobiography:

I have wondered much at this one thing, that though God doth visit my soul with never so blessed a discovery of himself, yet I have found again, that such hours have attended me afterwards, that I have been in my spirits so filled with darkness, that I could not so much as once conceive what that God and that comfort was with which I have been refreshed. [Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 3 in the Conclusion]

Giant Despair and his wife, Diffidence devise their plans in the dark, at night, when there is no light. Diffidence (lack of trust or unbelief) will always send us Despair to bludgeon and abuse us. Diffidence plots and directs; Despair carries out her cruel designs. He does her bidding. Diffidence tells her husband: “Take them into the castle-yard tomorrow, and show them the bones and skulls of those that you have already dispatched, and make them believe, ere a week comes to an end, you also will tear them in pieces, as you have done to their fellows before them.” The castle-yard represents the lives of those shattered by sin and devastated by despair. It is the hopelessness of a fallen world that has been blinded to the truth of God’s Word and the ruin of those who have strayed from the Way and denied the faith. Diffidence is sure that the sight of such brokenness and failure will extinguish whatever resolve the pilgrims may yet possess.

Despair would tear our lives apart and leave us in ruins. It would beat us down with troubles, trials, and tribulations. Its rage seems relentless with no way of escape. In the end, it would destroy us and leave us for dead. But God has different designs. He allows hardship to persist that we might endure:

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3).

He would have us glory in tribulation that it might bring us to hope.

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:3–5).

He would have us cry out to Him in faith that we might be delivered from oppression.

O Lord my God, in You I put my trust;
Save me from all those who persecute me;
And deliver me,
Lest they tear me like a lion,
Rending me in pieces, while there is none to deliver.
(Psalm 7:1–2)

Giant Despair is confounded at the perseverance of the pilgrims. Diffidence fears that they may yet hope of escape. She suggests that they may, in fact, possess the means to escape. Giant Despair intents to search them in the morning.  In the next post, we will see how the pilgrims indeed are able to escape the misery of Doubting Castle.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Doomed by Diffidence

Now, Giant Despair had a wife, and her name was Diffidence. So when he was gone to bed, he told his wife what he had done; to wit, that he had taken a couple of prisoners and cast them into his dungeon, for trespassing on his grounds. Then he asked her also what he had best to do further to them. So she asked him what they were, whence they came, and whither they were bound; and he told her. Then she counselled him that when he arose in the morning he should beat them without any mercy. So, when he arose, he getteth him a grievous crab-tree cudgel, and goes down into the dungeon to them, and there first falls to rating of them as if they were dogs, although they never gave him a word of distaste. Then he falls upon them, and beats them fearfully, in such sort that they were not able to help themselves, or to turn them upon the floor. This done, he withdraws and leaves them there to condole their misery and to mourn under their distress. So all that day they spent the time in nothing but sighs and bitter lamentations. The next night, she, talking with her husband about them further, and understanding they were yet alive, did advise him to counsel them to make away themselves. So when morning was come, he goes to them in a surly manner as before, and perceiving them to be very sore with the stripes that he had given them the day before, he told them, that since they were never like to come out of that place, their only way would be forthwith to make an end of themselves, either with knife, halter, or poison, for why, said he, should you choose life, seeing it is attended with so much bitterness? But they desired him to let them go. With that he looked ugly upon them, and, rushing to them, had doubtless made an end of them himself, but that he fell into one of his fits, (for he sometimes, in sunshiny weather, fell into fits), and lost for a time the use of his hand; wherefore he withdrew, and left them as before, to consider what to do.

Then did the prisoners consult between themselves whether it was best to take his counsel or no; and thus they began to discourse—

Christian: Brother, said Christian, what shall we do? The life that we now live is miserable. For my part I know not whether is best, to live thus, or to die out of hand. “My soul chooses strangling rather than life” and the grave is more easy for me than this dungeon. Shall we be ruled by the Giant?

Doubting Castle

Christian and Hopeful lie imprisoned in Doubting Castle. They were overpowered by Giant Despair and forced into his dark dungeon. But despair is not the only struggle the pilgrims must face. Giant Despair has a wife and her name is Diffidence.

According to Mirriam-Webster, the term “diffidence” comes from a combination of the Latin verb fidere (to trust), and the prefix dis (the absence of). It is the opposite of “confidence” — con (with) and fidere (to trust). In modern usage “diffidence” means timidity or lack of confidence. It describes those who are hesitant and unsure of themselves. But in Bunyan’s day, the term had the broader meaning of distrust or lack of faith.

Scripture exhorts us to: “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). As a mature believer, Christian should be “sound in faith” (Titus 2:2) and an example to younger believers like Hopeful. Yet Christian strayed and caused Hopeful to stray with him. Christian’s failure to walk and lead faithfully caused him to trespass on the grounds of Doubting Castle. Now locked away in its prison, he battles not only despair, but also distrust. His faith wanes; he falls into unbelief.

Despair is a cruel taskmaster. It beats us without mercy. It leaves us helpless, with nowhere to turn and no way out. Distrust is its crueler companion. It causes us to waver and question what we know to be true. It isolates us and casts suspicion over hopes for joy and salvation. It compounds our misery and can deceive us even to the point of thinking that life is no longer worth living. Christian loses sight of truth and despairs of life itself; he quotes from the book of Job:

So that my soul chooses strangling
And death rather than my body (Job 7:15).

Christian’s faith is shaken. He is on the verge of giving up. He asks Hopeful: “Shall we be ruled by the Giant?”

But this is a giant that cannot tolerate the light. He falls into a fit in “sunshiny weather.” Despair loses its strength in the light of God’s Word. Despair loses its grip when truth is brought to bear. Christian can be thankful that he is not facing this oppression alone. He has Hopeful for a companion. In the next post we will hear Hopeful’s answer and reassurance.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2017 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.