The great English Baptist, Charles Spurgeon, loved to allude to his second favourite book in his writing and preaching. One such allusion is found in Spurgeon’s statement below:
“There are dungeons underneath the Castle of Despair as dreary as the abodes of the lost, and some of us have been in them.”
Some of you know these dungeons well. The darkened corridors and stone cold floors are easily recognised. Within these dungeons, you move with a familiarity that could be mistaken for comfort by those less informed.
But others have made only brief visits to the upper rooms of the castle, often mistaking these for the dungeons below, and finding it tolerable to stay for a few short weeks at most. These know much less of the lower dungeons and for lack of knowing, offer little help to those who have dwelt there.
Come with me, then. I will show you these places…
The Castle of Despair
As we enter the Castle of Despair,1 we find the light quickly recedes behind us and the darkening halls narrow and twist until it is hard to keep perspective for the odd turning of them. The rooms are dark with hardly a window or light and it is easy, in these rooms, to begin to forget the world outside the castle.
The upper castle contains many rooms. There are large halls for collective introspection and small halls for mourning one’s state. There are cells—many cells—where one may stay for short periods of time. Though there are doors in all the rooms, the locks are all on the insides of the rooms. In the upper castle, people may come and go as they please.
The dungeons below
Our tour of the upper castle complete, we determine to visit the dungeons below. In order to do this, we find that we must leave the castle by the way we entered it for we learn that there are no entrances to the dungeons from the upper castle. We also learn that there are many entrances to the lower dungeons in far and disparate locations, and only those who have a place in the dungeons ever find them, or we could say are found by them, for the entrances seem to swallow them up with no choice and little warning.
As we enter the dungeon halls, we find them so dark and so chill as to make us long for the shadowed corridors of the castle above. All about the stench of death permeates the darkness and memory of the world above quickly evaporates. The halls and rooms wander and coalesce in such a twisted tangle of darkness as to render all perspective lost. In these corridors, we struggle to faintly remember the sensations of warmth and sunlight.
As we enter the dungeons themselves, we find them dank, cold voids with heavy chains and impenetrable doors. Amongst the dungeons are larger halls where tortured souls are prodded as demons scream and taunt, not content until they have driven every last vestige of hope from the souls of men.
Emerging from the darkness
As we emerge back into the light of day, our minds can only choose to believe that we have awakened from some nightmare, and so, convincing ourselves of our own well-being, we continue on our way.
We shudder to recall the blackness of that place and so we do not talk of it much. But in our hearts hides a quiet dread, for we know that at any moment we may stumble upon another entrance to that place.
1 As the avid reader of Bunyan may note, I have not restricted the allegory to the meanings in Bunyan’s original context. This, I believe, follows the precedent set by Spurgeon in the quote itself.