Who would guess that a book published in 1678 would be relevant today? It has never gone out of print, has been translated into more than two hundred languages, and is regarded as one of the most significant works of religion literature. I’m referring, of course, to John Bunyan’s Christian allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress.
The story follows Christian on his treacherous journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Along the way, Christian and a companion approach “a very miry slough.” They fall into the bog, and “the name of the slough was Despond. Here, therefore, they wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with dirt.”
Christian’s traveling companion somehow gets out, but rather than giving a hand up, he abandons the path and flees home. Christian, then, is left struggling alone in the boggy, muddy hole until a man named Help—the Holy Spirit—pulls him free from despondency’s pit and sets him on solid ground.
Christian asks Help why this dangerous plot of land has not been “mended that poor travellers might go” on heaven’s journey “with more security!” And Help tellingly replies, “This miry slough is such a place as cannot be mended.”
How true this is to real life! No matter how hard we try or how spiritually mature we are, miry sloughs are inevitable—not because we have failed, but because no one is immune to depression. It is “such a place as cannot be mended,” only traveled through.
What John Bunyan related in fiction form, the preacher Charles Spurgeon described about two hundred years later in Lectures to My Students. Spurgeon wrote of how depression often came over him before a great success, sometimes after a great success, and usually because of something he couldn’t explain. Pay attention to his candid remarks on “The Minister’s Fainting Fits”:
Fits of depression come over most of us. Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous; the wise, not always ready; the brave, not always courageous; and the joyous, not always happy. There may be here and there men of iron … but surely the rust frets even these.
These great writers follow in a long tradition that we can trace all the way back to the Psalms. Though most expressions in the ancient Hebrew hymnal end with statements of hope, one psalm—Psalm 88— does not. There the psalmist calls out with, “I cry to you for help, O LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” (vv. 13–14).
I actually find that comforting. Don’t you? Apparently feelings of abandonment are such a common part of spiritual wrestlings that God included them to prompt all of us to pray. And in doing so He provided for believers anywhere and anytime to have the very words we need to express the agony we feel when “bedaubed with dirt.”
In desolate times of depression—when we stumble into the pit, when rust covers our iron—we may not always feel His presence, but we have the sure promise of our faithful God that we are not alone. Our loyal friend, Help, is ever near.