Bunyan Characters (2nd Series) by Alexander Whyte


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Page 1

Now (what think you?), was it not a very bold thing in John Bunyan, whose
own descent was of such a low and inconsiderable generation, his father's
house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the
families in the land--was it not almost too bold in such a clown to take
such a gentleman-scholar as Saul of Tarsus, the future Apostle of the
Lord, and put him into the _Pilgrim's Progress_, and there go on to
describe him as a very brisk lad and nickname him with the nickname of
Ignorance? For, in knowledge of all kinds to be called knowledge,
Gamaliel's gold medallist could have bought the unlettered tinker of
Elstow in one end of the market and sold him in the other. And nobody
knew that better than Bunyan did. And yet such a lion was he for the
truth, such a disciple of Luther was he, and such a defender and preacher
of the one doctrine of a standing or falling church, that he fills page
after page with the crass ignorance of the otherwise most learned of all
the New Testament men. Bunyan does not accuse the rising hope of the
Pharisees of school or of synagogue ignorance. That young Hebrew Rabbi
knew every jot and tittle of the law of Moses, and all the accumulated
traditions of the fathers to boot. But Bunyan has Paul himself with him
when he accuses and convicts Saul of an absolutely brutish ignorance of
his own heart and hidden nature. That so very brisk lad was always
boasting in himself of the day on which he was circumcised, and of the
old stock of which he had come; of his tribe, of his zeal, of his
blamelessness, and of the profit he had made of his educational and
ecclesiastical opportunities. Whereas Bunyan is fain to say of himself
in his _Grace Abounding_ that he is "not able to boast of noble blood or
of a high-born state according to the flesh. Though, all things
considered, I magnify the Heavenly Majesty for that by this door He
brought me into this world to partake of the grace and life that is in
Christ by the Gospel."

As we listen to the conversation that goes on between the two old
pilgrims and this smartly appointed youth, we find them striving hard,
but without any sign of success, to convince him of some of the things
from which he gets his somewhat severe name. For one thing, they at last
bluntly told him that he evidently did not know the very A B C about
himself. Till, when too hard pressed by the more ruthless of the two old
men, the exasperated youth at last frankly burst out: "I will never
believe that my heart is thus bad!" There is a warm touch of Bunyan's
own experience here, mixed up with his so dramatic development of Paul's
morsels of autobiography that he lets drop in his Epistles to the
Philippians and to the Galatians. "Now was I become godly; now I was
become a right honest man. Though as yet I was nothing but a poor
painted hypocrite, yet I was proud of my godliness. I read my Bible, but
as for Paul's Epistles, and such like Scriptures, I could not away with
them; being, as yet, but ignorant both of the corruptions of my nature
and of the want and worth of Jesus Christ to save me. The new birth did
never enter my mind, neither knew I the deceitfulness and treachery of my
own wicked heart. And as for secret thoughts, I took no notice of them."
My brethren, old and young, what do you think of all that? What have you
to say to all that? Does all that not open a window and let a flood of
daylight into your own breast? I am sure it does. That is the best
portrait of you that ever was painted. Do you not see yourself there as
in a glass? And do you not turn with disgust and loathing from the
stupid and foolish face? You complain and tell stories about how
impostors and cheats and liars have come to your door and have impudently
thrust themselves into your innermost rooms; but your own heart, if you
only knew it, is deceitful far above them all. Not the human heart as it
stands in confessions, and in catechisms, and in deep religious books,
but your own heart that beats out its blood-poison of self-deceit, and
darkness, and death day and night continually. "My heart is a good
heart," said that poor ill-brought-up boy, who was already destroyed by
his father and his mother for lack of self-knowledge. I entirely grant
you that those two old sinners by this time were taking very pessimistic
and very melancholy views of human nature, and, therefore, of every human
being, young and old. They knew that no language had ever been coined in
any scripture, or creed, or catechism, or secret diary of the deepest
penitent, that even half uttered their own evil hearts; and they had
lived long enough to see that we are all cut out of one web, are all dyed
in one vat, and are all corrupted beyond all accusation or confession in
Adam's corruption. But how was that poor, mishandled lad to know or
believe all that? He could not. It was impossible. "You go so fast,
gentlemen, that I cannot keep pace with you. Go you on before and I will
stay a while behind." Then said Christian to his companion: "It pities
me much for this poor lad, for it will certainly go ill with him at
last." "Alas!" said Hopeful, "there are abundance in our town in his
condition: whole families, yea, whole streets, and that of pilgrims too."
Is your family such a family as this? And are you yourself just such a
pilgrim as Ignorance was, and are you hastening on to just such an end?

And then, as a consequence, being wholly ignorant of his own corruption
and condemnation in the sight of God, this miserable man must remain
ignorant and outside of all that God has done in Christ for corrupt and
condemned men. "I believe that Christ died for sinners and that I shall
be justified before God from the curse through His gracious acceptance of
my obedience to His law. Or, then, to take it this way, Christ makes my
duties that are religious acceptable to His Father by virtue of His
merits, and so shall I be justified." Now, I verify believe that nine
out of ten of the young men who are here to-night would subscribe that
statement and never suspect there was anything wrong with it or with
themselves. And yet, what does Christian, who, in this matter, is just
John Bunyan, who again is just the word of God--what does the old pilgrim
say to this confession of this young pilgrim's faith? "Ignorance is thy
name," he says, "and as thy name is, so art thou: even this thy answer
demonstrateth what I say. Ignorant thou art of what justifying
righteousness is, and as ignorant how to secure thy soul through the
faith of it from the heavy wrath of God. Yea, thou also art ignorant of
the true effect of saving faith in this righteousness of Christ's, which
is to bow and win over the heart to God in Christ, to love His name, His
word, His ways, and His people." Paul sums up all his own early life in
this one word, "ignorant of God's righteousness." "Going about," he says
also, "to establish our own righteousness, not submitting ourselves to be
justified by the righteousness that God has provided with such wisdom and
grace, and at such a cost in His Son Jesus Christ." Now, young men, I
defy you to be better born, better brought up, or to have better
prospects than Saul of Tarsus had. I defy you to have profited more by
all your opportunities and advantages than he had done. I defy you to be
more blameless in your opening manhood than he was. And yet it all went
like smoke when he got a true sight of himself, and, with that, a true
sight of Christ and His justifying righteousness. Read at home to-night,
and read when alone, what that great man of God says about all that in
his classical epistle to the Philippians, and refuse to sleep till you
have made the same submission. And, to-night, and all your days, let
_submission_, Paul's splendid submission, be the soul and spirit of all
your religious life. Submission to be searched by God's holy law as by a
lighted candle: submission to be justified from all that that candle
discovers: submission to take Christ as your life and righteousness,
sanctification and redemption: and submission of your mind and your will
and your heart to Him at all times and in all things. Nay, stay still,
and say where you sit, Lord, I submit. I submit on the spot to be
pardoned. I submit now to be saved. I submit in all things from this
very hour and house of God not any longer to be mine own, but to be
Thine, O God, Thine, Thine, for ever, in Jesus Christ Thy Son and my
Saviour!

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Thu 13th Jun 2024, 12:35