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Bunyan Characters First Series: 5. MR. WORLDLY-WISEMAN

By Alexander Whyte

      'Wise in this world.'--Paul.

      Mr. Worldly-Wiseman has a long history behind him on which we cannot now enter at any length. As a child, the little worldling, it was observed, took much after his secular father, but much more after his scheming mother. He was already a self-seeking, self-satisfied youth; and when he became a man and began business for himself, no man's business flourished like his. 'Nothing of news,' says his biographer in another place, 'nothing of doctrine, nothing of alteration or talk of alteration could at any time be set on foot in the town but be sure Mr. Worldly-Wiseman would be at the head or tail of it. But, to be sure, he would always decline those he deemed to be the weakest, and stood always with those, in his way of thinking, that he supposed were the strongest side.' He was a man, it was often remarked, of but one book also. Sunday and Saturday he was to be found deep in The Architect of Fortune; or, Advancement in Life, a book written by its author so as to 'come home to all men's business and bosoms.' He drove over scrupulously once a Sunday to the State church, of which he was one of the most determined pillars. He had set his mind on being Lord Mayor of the town before long, and he was determined that his eldest son should be called Sir Worldly-Wiseman after him, and he chose his church accordingly. Another of his biographers in this connection wrote of him thus: 'Our Lord Mayor parted his religion betwixt his conscience and his purse, and he went to church not to serve God, but to please the king. The face of the law made him wear the mask of the Gospel, which he used not as a means to save his soul, but his charges.' Such, in a short word, was this 'sottish man' who crossed over the field to meet with our pilgrim when he was walking solitary by himself after his escape from the slough.

      'How now, good fellow? Whither away after this burdened manner?' What a contrast those two men were to one another in the midst of that plain that day! Our pilgrim was full of the most laborious going; sighs and groans rose out of his heart at every step; and then his burden on his back, and his filthy, slimy rags all made him a picture such that it was to any man's credit and praise that he should stop to speak to him. And then, when our pilgrim looked up, he saw a gentleman standing beside him to whom he was ashamed to speak. For the gentleman had no burden on his back, and he did not go over the plain laboriously. There was not a spot or a speck, a rent or a wrinkle on all his fine raiment. He could not have been better appointed if he had just stepped out of the gate at the head of the way; they can wear no cleaner garments than his in the Celestial City itself. 'How now, good fellow? Whither away after this burdened manner?' 'A burdened manner, indeed, as ever I think poor creature had. And whereas you ask me whither away, I tell you, sir, I am going to yonder wicket gate before me; for there, as I am informed, I shall be put into a way to be rid of my heavy burden.' 'Hast thou a wife and children?' Yes; he is ashamed to say that he has. But he confesses that he cannot to-day take the pleasure in them that he used to do. Since his sin so came upon him, he is sometimes as if he had neither wife nor child nor a house over his head. John Bunyan was of Samuel Rutherford's terrible experience,--that our sins and our sinfulness poison all our best enjoyments. We do not hear much of Rutherford's wife and children, and that, no doubt, for the sufficient reason that he gives us in his so open-minded letter. But Bunyan laments over his blind child with a lament worthy to stand beside the lament of David over Absalom, and again over Saul and Jonathan at Mount Gilboa. At the same time, John Bunyan often felt sore and sad at heart that he could not love and give all his heart to his wife and children as they deserved to be loved and to have all his heart. He often felt guilty as he looked on them and knew in himself that they did not have in him such a father as, God knew, he wished he was, or ever in this world could hope to be. 'Yes,' he said, 'but I cannot take the pleasure in them that I would. I am sometimes as if I had none. My sin sometimes drives me like a man bereft of his reason and clean demented.' 'Who bid thee go this way to be rid of thy burden? I beshrew him for his counsel. There is not a more troublesome and dangerous way in the world than this is to which he hath directed thee. And besides, though I used to have some of the same burden when I was young, not since I settled in that town,' pointing to the town of Carnal-Policy over the plain, 'have I been at any time troubled in that way.' And then he went on to describe and denounce the way to the Celestial City, and he did it like a man who had been all over it, and had come back again. His alarming description of the upward way reads to us like a page out of Job, or Jeremiah, or David, or Paul. 'Hear me,' he says, 'for I am older than thou. Thou art like to meet with in the way which thou goest wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils, nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, and in a word, death, and what not.' You would think that you were reading the eighth of the Romans at the thirty-fifth verse; only Mr. Worldly-Wiseman does not go on to finish the chapter. He does not go on to add, 'I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.' No; Worldly-Wiseman never reads the Romans, and he never hears a sermon on that chapter when he goes to church.

      Mr. Worldly-Wiseman became positively eloquent and impressive and all but convincing as he went so graphically and cumulatively over all the sorrows that attended on the way to which this pilgrim was now setting his face. But, staggering as it all was, the man in rags and slime only smiled a sad and sobbing smile in answer, and said: 'Why, sir, this burden upon my back is far more terrible to me than all the things which you have mentioned; nay, methinks I care not what I meet with in the way, so be I can also meet with deliverance from my burden.' This is what our Lord calls a pilgrim having the root of the matter in himself. This poor soul had by this time so much wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils, nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, death, and what not in himself, that all these threatened things outside of himself were but so many bugbears and hobgoblins wherewith to terrify children; they were but things to be laughed at by every man who is in ernest in the way. 'I care not what else I meet with if only I also meet with deliverance.' There speaks the true pilgrim. There speaks the man who drew down the Son of God to the cross for that man's deliverance. There speaks the man, who, mire, and rags, and burdens and all, will yet be found in the heaven of heavens where the chief of sinners shall see their Deliverer face to face, and shall at last and for ever be like Him. Peter examined Dante in heaven on faith, James examined him on hope, and John took him through his catechism on love, and the seer came out of the tent with a laurel crown on his brow. I do not know who the examiner on sin will be, but, speaking for myself on this matter, I would rather take my degree in that subject than in all the other subjects set for a sinner's examination on earth or in heaven. For to know myself, and especially, as the wise man says, to know the plague of my own heart, is the true and the only key to all other true knowledge: God and man; the Redeemer and the devil; heaven and hell; faith, hope, and charity; unbelief, despair, and malignity, and all things of that kind else, all knowledge will come to that man who knows himself, and to that man alone, and to that man in the exact measure in which he does really know himself. Listen again to this slough-stained, sin-burdened, sighing and sobbing pilgrim, who, in spite of all these things--nay, in virtue of all these things--is as sure of heaven and of the far end of heaven as if he were already enthroned there. 'Wearisomeness,' he protests, 'painfulness, hunger, perils, nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, death, and what not--why, sir, this burden on my back is far more terrible to me than all these things which you have mentioned; nay, methinks I care not what I meet with in the way, so be I can also meet with deliverance from my burden.' O God! let this same mind be found in me and in all the men and women for whose souls I shall have to answer at the day of judgment, and I shall be content and safe before Thee.

      That strong outburst from this so forfoughten man for a moment quite overawed Worldly-Wiseman. He could not reply to an earnestness like this. He did not understand it, and could not account for it. The only thing he ever was in such earnestness as that about was his success in business and his title that he and his wife were scheming for. But still, though silenced by this unaccountable outburst of our pilgrim, Worldly-Wiseman's enmity against the upward way, and especially against all the men and all the books that made pilgrims take to that way, was not silenced. 'How camest thou by thy burden at first?' By reading this Book in my hand.' Worldly-Wiseman did not fall foul of the Book indeed, but he fell all the more foul of those who meddled with matters they had not a head for. 'Leave these high and deep things for the ministers who are paid to understand and explain them, and attend to matters more within thy scope.' And then he went on to tell of a far better way to get rid of the burden that meddlesome men brought on themselves by reading that book too much--a far better and swifter way than attempting the wicket-gate. 'Thou wilt never be settled in thy mind till thou art rid of that burden, nor canst thou enjoy the blessings of wife and child as long as that burden lies so heavy upon thee.' That was so true that it made the pilgrim look up. A gentleman who can speak in that true style must know more than he says about such burdens as this of mine; and, after all, he may be able, who knows, to give me some good advice in my great straits. 'Pray, sir, open this secret to me, for I sorely stand in need of good counsel.' Let him here who has no such burden as this poor pilgrim had cast the first stone at Christian; I cannot. If one who looked like a gentleman came to me to-night and told me how I would on the spot get to a peace of conscience never to be lost again, and how I would get a heart to-night that would never any more plague and pollute me, I would be mightily tempted to forget what all my former teachers had told me and try this new Gospel. And especially if the gentleman said that the remedy was just at hand. 'Pray, sir,' said the breathless and spiritless man, 'wilt thou, then, open this secret to me?'

      The wit and the humour and the satire of the rest of the scene must be fully enjoyed over the great book itself. The village named Morality, hard by the hill; that judicious man Legality, who dwells in the first house you come at after you have turned the hill; Civility, the pretty young man that Legality hath to his son; the hospitality of the village; the low rents and the cheap provisions, and all the charities and amenities of the place,--all together make up such a picture as you cannot get anywhere out of John Bunyan. And then the pilgrim's stark folly in entering into Worldly-Wiseman's secret; his horror as the hill began to thunder and lighten and threaten to fall upon him; the sudden descent of Evangelist; and then the plain-spoken words that passed between the preacher and the pilgrim,--don't say again that the poorest of the Puritans were without letters, or that they had not their own esoteric writings full of fun and frolic; don't say that again till you are a pilgrim yourself, and have our John Bunyan for one of your classics by heart.

      We are near an end, but before you depart, stand still a little, as Evangelist said to Christian, that I may show you the words of God. And first, watch yourselves well, for you all have a large piece of this worldly-wise man in yourselves. You all take something of some ancestor, remote or immediate, who was wise only for this world. Yes, to be sure, for you still decline as they did, and desert as they did, those you deem to be the weakest, and stand with those that you suppose to be the strongest side. The Architect of Fortune is perhaps too strong meat for your stomach; but still, if you ever light upon its powerful pages, you will surely blush in secret to see yourself turned so completely inside out. You may not have chosen your church wholly with an eye to your shop; but you must admit that you see as good and better men than you are doing that every day. And it is a sure sign to you that you do not yet know the plague of your own heart, unless you know yourself to be a man more set upon the position and the praise that this world gives than you yet are on the position and the praise that come from God only. Set a watch on your own worldly heart. Watch and pray, lest you also enter into all Worldly-Wiseman's temptation. This is one of the words of God to you.

      Another word of God is this. The way of the cross, said severe Evangelist, is odious to every worldly-wise man; while, all the time, it is the only way there is, and there never will be any other way to eternal life. The only way to life is the way of the cross. There are two crosses, indeed, on the way to the Celestial City; there is, first, the Cross of Christ, once for you, and then there is your cross daily for Christ, and it takes both crosses to secure and to assure any man that he is on the right road, and that he will come at last to the right end. 'The Christian's great conquest over the world,' says William Law, 'is all contained in the mystery of Christ upon the cross. And true Christianity is nothing else but an entire and absolute conformity to that spirit which Christ showed in the mysterious sacrifice of Himself upon the cross. Every man is only so far a Christian as he partakes of this same spirit of Christ--the same suffering spirit, the same sacrifice of himself, the same renunciation of the world, the same humility and meekness, the same patient bearing of injuries, reproaches, and contempts, the same dying to all the greatness, honours, and happiness of this world that Christ showed on the cross. We also are to suffer, to be crucified, to die, to rise with Christ, or else His crucifixion, His death, and His resurrection will profit us nothing. 'This is the second word of God unto thee. And the third thing to-night is this, that though thy sin be very great, though thou hast a past life round thy neck enough to sink thee for ever out of the sight of God and all good men; a youth of sensuality now long and closely cloaked over with an after life of worldly prosperity, worldly decency, and worldly religion, all which only makes thee that whited sepulchre that Christ has in His eye when He speaks of thee with such a severe and dreadful countenance; yet if thou confess thyself to be all the whited sepulchre He sees thee to be, and yet knock at His gate in all thy rags and slime, He will immediately lay aside that severe countenance and will show thee all His goodwill. Notwithstanding all that thou hast done, and all thou still art, He will not deny His own words, or do otherwise than at once fulfil them all to thee. Ask, then, and it shall be given thee; seek, and thou shalt find; knock, and it shall be opened unto thee. And with a great goodwill, He will say to those that stand by Him, Take away the filthy garments from him. And to thee He will say, Behold, I have caused all thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.


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See Also:
   4. HELP
   15. CHARITY
   16. SHAME
   20. BY-ENDS
   25. SINCERE


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