Tag Archives: Suicide

Hopeful’s Reassurance

Hopeful: Indeed, our present condition is dreadful, and death would be far more welcome to me than thus for ever to abide; but yet, let us consider, the Lord of the country to which we are going has said, You shall do no murder: no, not to another man’s person; much more, then, are we forbidden to take his counsel to kill ourselves. Besides, he that kills another, can but commit murder upon his body; but for one to kill himself is to kill body and soul at once. And, moreover, my brother, you talk of ease in the grave; but have you forgotten the hell, for certain the murderers go? “For no murderer has eternal life,” &c. And let us consider, again, that all the law is not in the hand of Giant Despair. Others, so far as I can understand, have been taken by him, as well as we; and yet have escaped out of his hand. Who knows, but the God that made the world may cause that Giant Despair may die? or that, at some time or other, he may forget to lock us in? or that he may, in a short time, have another of his fits before us, and may lose the use of his limbs? and if ever that should come to pass again, for my part, I am resolved to pluck up the heart of a man, and to try my utmost to get from under his hand. I was a fool that I did not try to do it before; but, however, my brother, let us be patient, and endure a while. The time may come that may give us a happy release; but let us not be our own murderers. With these words Hopeful at present did moderate the mind of his brother; so they continued together (in the dark) that day, in their sad and doleful condition.

Well, towards evening, the Giant goes down into the dungeon again, to see if his prisoners had taken his counsel; but when he came there he found them alive; and truly, alive was all; for now, what for want of bread and water, and by reason of the wounds they received when he beat them, they could do little but breathe. But, I say, he found them alive; at which he fell into a grievous rage, and told them that, seeing they had disobeyed his counsel, it should be worse with them than if they had never been born.

At this they trembled greatly, and I think that Christian fell into a swoon; but, coming a little to himself again, they renewed their discourse about the Giant’s counsel; and whether yet they had best to take it or no. Now Christian again seemed to be for doing it, but Hopeful made his second reply as follows:

Hopeful: My brother, said he, do you not remember how valiant you have been heretofore? Apollyon could not crush you, nor could all that you did hear, or see, or feel, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. What hardship, terror, and amazement have you already gone through! And are you now nothing but fear! You see that I am in the dungeon with you, a far weaker man by nature than you are; also, this Giant has wounded me as well as you, and has also cut off the bread and water from my mouth; and with you I mourn without the light. But let us exercise a little more patience; remember how you played the man at Vanity Fair, and was neither afraid of the chain, nor cage, nor yet of bloody death. Wherefore let us (at least to avoid the shame, that becomes not a Christian to be found in) bear up with patience as well as we can.

Locked in Doubting CastleIn the depths of Doubting Castle, cruelly abused by the schemes of Giant Despair and his wife Diffidence, Christian has reached the point of despairing even of life itself. But in his misery, he has a tremendous advantage. He is not on the journey alone. He has Hopeful as a companion. And Hopeful comes to his aid with counsel and encouragement.

Hopeful begins by pointing Christian to God and His Word. Our hope, if it is to hold, must be anchored in the commands and promises of Scripture.

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Romans 15:4).

1) Hopeful reminds Christian of who God is. He is Creator of heaven and earth. He is in control, not the giants who have them pinned down.

2) Hopeful reminds Christian of what God has said. God commands: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Murder, including suicide, the taking of one’s own life, is contrary to God and truth. It plays into Satan’s design, who from the beginning has sought to mar and destroy God’s creation.

You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it (John 8:44).

Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:15).

3) And Hopeful reminds Christian that they must resist Despair. Giant Despair trembles at the light. He is vulnerable and can lose his strength and leave off his vigilance. God may yet provide His pilgrims an opportunity for escape. They must be patient and endure.

It is worth noting in Bunyan’s story that the pilgrims do not find immediate relief. The darkness remains. Resolve and good counsel do not free them. For a time, their endurance and will to press on only brings about increased suffering. When the giant rages, Bunyan describes Christian as falling to a swoon.

Bunyan himself experienced bouts of depression where he “swooned” as Christian did. He describes such a time in Grace Abounding:

At another time, though just before I was pretty well and savory in my spirit, yet suddenly there fell upon me a great cloud of darkness, which did so hide from me the things of God and Christ, that I was as if I had never seen or known them in my life; I was also so overrun in my soul, with a senseless, heartless frame of spirit, that I could not feel my soul to move or stir after grace and life by Christ; I was as if my loins were broken, or as if my hands and feet had been tied or bound with chains. At this time also I felt some weakness to seize ‘upon’ my outward man, which made still the other affliction the more heavy and uncomfortable ‘to me.’ [Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 261]

But Hopeful again reassures Christian with truth. He reminds his brother of the difficulties and dangers that he has already endured by God’s grace.  He reminds him of his valiant stand for the gospel at Vanity Fair, a testimony that served in part to lead Hopeful to Christ. And he exhorts him not to bring shame upon himself, but to “bear up with patience.”

How great is our need for a companion such as Hopeful—a brother or sister who will stay near us in times of distress, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer” (Romans 12:12). And there are many opportunities for us to be Hopeful and help others around us cling to truth. Mason says in his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress:

Here is the blessing of a hopeful companion; here is excellent counsel. Let vain professors say what they may against looking back to past experiences, it is most certainly good and right so to do; not to encourage present sloth and presumption, but to excite fresh confidence of hope in the Lord. We have David’s example, and Paul’s word to encourage us to this, “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37); and says Paul, “We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9)—(Mason).

Christian endures the dungeon because he has Hopeful as a companion. Bunyan’s message in this portion of The Pilgrim’s Progress is clear. It is to our great advantage, even to the preserving of our lives, that we walk together in this journey, and that we make an effort to comfort and encourage one another along the way. (This is a theme that Bunyan explores in much greater depth in Part 2 of The Pilgrim’s Progress with the account of Christian’s family, Christiana and her children, and their companions as they travel to the Celestial City.)

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.