Bunyan Characters (3rd Series) by Alexander Whyte

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Page 1

The _Divine Comedy_ is beyond dispute the greatest book of personal and
experimental religion the world has ever seen. The consuming intensity
of its author's feelings about sin and holiness, the keenness and the
bitterness of his remorse, and the rigour and the severity of his
revenge, his superb intellect and his universal learning, all set ablaze
by his splendid imagination--all that combines to make the _Divine
Comedy_ the unapproachable masterpiece it is. John Bunyan, on the other
hand, had no learning to be called learning, but he had a strong and a
healthy English understanding, a conscience and a heart wholly given up
to the life of the best religion of his religious day, and then, by sheer
dint of his sanctified and soaring imagination and his exquisite style,
he stands forth the peer of the foremost men in the intellectual world.
And thus it is that the great unlettered religious world possesses in
John Bunyan all but all that the select and scholarly world possesses in
Dante. Both Dante and Bunyan devoted their splendid gifts to the noblest
of services--the service of spiritual, and especially of personal
religion; but for one appreciative reader that Dante has had Bunyan has
had a hundred. Happy in being so like his Master in so many things,
Bunyan is happy in being like his unlettered Master in this also, that
the common people hear him gladly and never weary of hearing him.

It gives by far its noblest interest to Dante's noble book that we have
Dante himself in every page of his book. Dante is taken down into Hell,
he is then led up through _Purgatory_, and after that still up and up
into the very Paradise of God. But that hell all the time is the hell
that Dante had dug and darkened and kindled for himself. In the
Purgatory, again, we see Dante working out his own salvation with fear
and trembling, God all the time working in Dante to will and to do of His
good pleasure. And then the Paradise, with all its sevenfold glory, is
just that place and that life which God hath prepared for them that love
Him and serve Him as Dante did. And so it is in the _Holy War_. John
Bunyan is in the _Pilgrim's Progress_, but there are more men and other
men than its author in that rich and populous book, and other experiences
and other attainments than his. But in the _Holy War_ we have Bunyan
himself as fully and as exclusively as we have Dante in the _Divine
Comedy_. In the first edition of the _Holy War_ there is a frontispiece
conceived and executed after the anatomical and symbolical manner which
was so common in that day, and which is to be seen at its perfection in
the English edition of Jacob Behmen. The frontispiece is a full-length
likeness of the author of the _Holy War_, with his whole soul laid open
and his hidden heart 'anatomised.' Why, asked Wordsworth, and Matthew
Arnold in our day has echoed the question--why does Homer still so live
and rule without a rival in the world of letters? And they answer that
it is because he always sang with his eye so fixed upon its object.
'Homer, to thee I turn.' And so it was with Dante. And so it was with
Bunyan. Bunyan's _Holy War_ has its great and abiding and commanding
power over us just because he composed it with his eye fixed on his own

My readers, I have somewhat else to do,
Than with vain stories thus to trouble you;
What here I say some men do know so well
They can with tears and joy the story tell . . .
Then lend thine ear to what I do relate,
Touching the town of Mansoul and her state:
For my part, I (myself) was in the town,
Both when 'twas set up and when pulling down.
Let no man then count me a fable-maker,
Nor make my name or credit a partaker
Of their derision: what is here in view
Of mine own knowledge, I dare say is true.

The characters in the _Holy War_ are not as a rule nearly so clear-cut or
so full of dramatic life and movement as their fellows are in the
_Pilgrim's Progress_, and Bunyan seems to have felt that to be the case.
He shows all an author's fondness for the children of his imagination in
the _Pilgrim's Progress_. He returns to and he lingers on their doings
and their sayings and their very names with all a foolish father's fond
delight. While, on the other hand, when we look to see him in his
confidential addresses to his readers returning upon some of the military
and municipal characters in the _Holy War_, to our disappointment he does
not so much as name a single one of them, though he dwells with all an
author's self-delectation on the outstanding scenes, situations, and
episodes of his remarkable book.

What, then, are some of the more outstanding scenes, situations, and
episodes, as well as military and municipal characters, in the book now
before us? And what are we to promise ourselves, and to expect, from the
study and the exposition of the _Holy War_ in these lectures? Well, to
begin with, we shall do our best to enter with mind, and heart, and
conscience, and imagination into Bunyan's great conception of the human
soul as a city, a fair and a delicate city and corporation, with its
situation, surroundings, privileges and fortunes. We shall then enter
under his guidance into the famous and stately palace of this
metropolitan city; a palace which for strength might be called a castle,
for pleasantness a paradise, and for largeness a place so copious as to
contain all the world. The walls and the gates of the city will then
occupy and instruct us for several Sabbath evenings, after which we shall
enter on the record of the wars and battles that rolled time after time
round those city walls, and surged up through its captured gates till
they quite overwhelmed the very palace of the king itself. Then we shall
spend, God willing, one Sabbath evening with Loth-to-stoop, and another
with old Ill-pause, the devil's orator, and another with Captain
Anything, and another with Lord Willbewill, and another with that
notorious villain Clip-promise, by whose doings so much of the king's
coin had been abused, and another with that so angry and so
ill-conditioned churl old Mr. Prejudice, with his sixty deaf men under
him. Dear Mr. Wet-eyes, with his rope upon his head, will have a fit
congregation one winter night, and Captain Self-denial another. We shall
have another painful but profitable evening before a communion season
with Mr. Prywell, and so we shall eat of that bread and drink of that
cup. Emmanuel's livery will occupy us one evening, Mansoul's Magna
Charta another, and her annual Feast-day another. Her Established Church
and her beneficed clergy will take up one evening, some Skulkers in
Mansoul another, the devil's last prank another, and then, to wind up
with, Emmanuel's last speech and charge to Mansoul from his chariot-step
till He comes again to accomplish her rapture. All that we shall see and
take part in; unless, indeed, our Captain comes in anger before the time,
and spears us to the earth when He finds us asleep at our post or in the
act of sin at it, which may His abounding mercy forbid!

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Thu 27th Jun 2019, 8:20