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Bunyan Characters First Series: 8. PASSION

By Alexander Whyte


      'A man subject to like passions as we are.'--James 5. 17.

      That was a very significant room in the Interpreter's House where our pilgrim saw Passion and Patience sitting each one in his chair. Passion was a young lad who seemed to our pilgrim to be much discontented. He was never satisfied. He would have all his good things now. His governor would have him wait for his best things till the beginning of next year; but no, he will have them all now. And then, when he had got all his good things, he soon lavished and wasted them all till he had nothing left but rags. Then said Christian to the Interpreter, 'Expound this matter more fully to me.' So he said, 'Those two lads are figures; Passion, of the men of this world; and Patience of the men of that which is to come.' 'Then I perceive,' said Christian, ''tis not best to covet things that are now, but to wait for things to come.' 'You say truth,' replied the Interpreter, 'for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal.'

      Now from the texts that I have taken out of James and out of this so significant room in the Interpreter's House, let me try to tell you something profitable, if so it may be, about passion; the nature of it, the place it holds, and the part it performs both in human nature and in the life and the character of a Christian man.

      The name of Passion has already told us his nature, his past life, and his present character. The whole nomenclature of The Pilgrim's Progress and of The Holy War is composed on the divine, original, and natural principle of embodying the nature of a man in his name. God takes His own names to Himself on that principle. The Creator gave Adam his name also on that same principle; and then Adam gave their names to all cattle, to the fowls of the air, and to every beast of the field on the same principle on which he had got his own name. And so it was at first with all the Bible names of men and of nations of men. Their name contained their nature. And John Bunyan was such a student of the Bible, and of no other book but the Bible, that all his best books are all full, like the Bible, of the most descriptive and suggestive names. As soon as Bunyan tells us the name of some new acquaintance or fellow-traveller, we already know him, so exactly is his nature put into his name. And thus it is that when we stop for a moment at the door of this little significant room in the Interpreter's House and ask ourselves the meaning of the name Passion, we see at once where we are and what we have here before us. For a 'passion' is just some excitement or agitation of the mind caused by some outward thing acting on the mind. The inward world of the mind and heart of man, and this outward world down into which God has placed man, instantly and continually respond to one another. And what are called, with so much correctness and propriety, our passions, are just those inward responses, excitements, and agitations that the outward world causes in the inward world when those two worlds meet together. 'Passion' and 'perturbation' are the old classical names that the ancient philosophers and moralists gave to what they felt in themselves as their minds and their hearts were affected by the world of men and things around them. And they used to illustrate their teaching on the subject of the passions by the figure of a storm at sea. They said that it was because God had made the sea sensitive and responsive to the winds that blew over it that a storm at sea ever arose. The storm did not arise and the ships were not wrecked by anything from within the sea itself; it was the outward world of the winds striking against the quiet and inward world of the waters that roused the storms and sank the ships. And with that illustration well printed in the minds and imaginations of their scholars the old moralists felt their work among their scholars was already all but done. For, so full of adaptation and appeal is the whole outward world to the mind and heart of man, and so sensitive and instantly responsive is the mind and heart of man to all the approaches of the outward world, that the mind and heart of man are constantly full of all kinds of passions, both bad and good. And, then, this is our present life of probation and opportunity, that all our passions are placed within us and are committed and entrusted to us as so many first elements and so much unformed material out of which we are summoned to build up our life and to shape and complete our character. The springs of all our actions are in our passions. All our activities in life, trace them all up to their source, and they will all be found to run up into the wellhead of our passions. All our virtues are cut as with a chisel out of our passions, and all our vices are just the disorders and rebellions of our passions. Our several passions, as they lie still asleep in our hearts, have as yet no moral character; they are only the raw material so to speak, of moral character. Our passions are the life and the riches and the ornaments of human nature, and it is only because human nature in its present estate is so corrupt and disordered and degraded, that the otherwise so honourable name of passion has such a sinister sound to us. And the full regeneration and restitution of human nature will be accomplished when every several passion is in its right place, and when reason and conscience and the Spirit of God shall inspire and rule and regulate all that is within us.

      'On life's vast ocean diversely we sail,
      Reason the card, but passion is the gale.'

      And not Elijah only, as James says, and not Paul and Barnabas only, as they themselves said, were men of like passions with ourselves, but our Lord Himself was a man of like passions with us also. He took to Himself a true body, full of all the appetites of the body, and a reasonable soul, full of all the affections, passions, and emotions of the soul. Only, in Him reason and conscience and the law and the Spirit of God were the card and the compass according to which He steered His life. We have all our ruling passion, and our Lord also had His. As His disciples saw His ruling passion kindled in His heart and coming out in His life, they remembered that it was written of Him in an old Messianic psalm: 'The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up.' They were all eaten up of their ruling passions also. One of ambition, one of emulation, one of avarice, and so on,--each several disciple was eaten up of his own besetting sin. But they all saw that it was not so with their Master. He was eaten up always and wholly of the zeal of His Father's house, and of absolute surrender and devotion to His Father's service, till His ruling passion was seen to be as strong in His death as it had been in His life. The Laird of Brodie's Diary has repeatedly been of great use to us in these inward matters, and his words on this subject are well worth repeating. 'We poor creatures,' he says, 'are commanded by our affections and passions. They are not at our command. But the Holy One doth exercise all His attributes at His own will; they are at His command; they are not passions nor perturbations in His mind, though they transport us. When I would hate, I cannot. When I would love, I cannot. When I would grieve, I cannot. When I would desire, I cannot. But it is the better for us that all is as He wills it to be.'

      And now, to come still closer home, let us look for a moment or two at some of our own ruling and tyrannising passions. And let us look first at self-love--that master-passion in every human heart. Let us give self-love the first place in the inventory and catalogue of our passions, because it has the largest place in all our hearts and lives. Nay, not only has self-love the largest place of any of the passions of our hearts, but it is out of self-love that all our other evil passions spring. It is out of this parent passion that all the poisonous brood of our other evil passions are born. The whole fall and ruin and misery of our present human nature lies in this, that in every human being self-love has taken, in addition to its own place, the place of the love of God and of the love of man also. We naturally now love nothing and no one but ourselves. And as long as self-love is in the ascendant in our hearts, all the passions that are awakened in us by our self-love will be selfish with its selfishness, inhumane with its inhumanity, and ungodly with its ungodliness. And it is to kill and extirpate our so passionate self-love that is the end and aim of all God's dealings with us in this world. All that God is doing with us and for us in providence and in grace, in the world and in the church,--it is all to cure us of this deadly disease of self-love. We may never have had that told us before, and we may not like it, and we may not believe it; but there can be no better proof of the truth of what is now said than just this, that we do not like it and will not have it. Self-love will not let us listen to the truth about ourselves; it puts us in a passion both against the truth and against him who tells the truth, as the history of the truth abundantly testifies. Yes, your indignant protest is quite true. Self-love has her divine rights,--no doubt she has. But you are not commanded to attend to them. Your self-love will look after herself. She will manage to have her full share of what is right and proper for any passion to possess even after she cries out that she is trampled upon and despoiled. My brethren, till you begin to crucify yourselves and to pluck up your self-love by the roots, you will never know what a cruel and hopeless task the Christian life is--I do not say the Christian profession. Nor, on the other hand, will you ever discover what a noble task it is--what a divine task and how divinely assisted and divinely recompensed. You will not know what a kennel of hell-hounds your own heart is till you have long sought to enter it and cleanse it out. And after you have done your utmost, and your best, death will hurry you away from your but half-accomplished task. Only, in that case you will be able to die in the hope that what is impossible with man is possible with God, as promised by Him, and that He will not leave your soul in hell, but will perfect that good thing which alone concerneth you, even your everlasting deliverance from all sinful self-love.

      And if self-love is the fruitful mother of all our passions, then sensuality is surely her eldest son. Indeed, so shallow are we, and so shallow are our words, that when we speak of sinful passion most men instantly think of sensuality. There are so many seductive things that appeal to our appetites, and our appetites are so easily awakened, and are so imperious when they are awakened, that when passion is spoken about, few men think of the soul, all men think instantly of the body. And no wonder. For, stupid and besotted as we are, we must all at some time of our life have felt the bondage and degradation of the senses. Passion in the Interpreter's House had soon nothing left but rags. And in this house to-night there are many men whose consciences and hearts and characters are all in such rags from sensual sin, that when the Scriptures speak of uncleanness, or rags, or corruption, their thoughts flee at once to sensual sin and its conscience-rending results. Cease from sensuality, said Cicero, for if once you give your minds up to sensuality, you will never be able to think of anything else.

      Ambition, emulation, and envy are the leading members of a whole prolific family of satanic passions in the human heart. Indeed, these passions, taken along with their kindred passions of hatred and ill-will, are, in our Lord's words, the very lusts of the devil himself. The Jews hated our Lord the more for what He said about these detestable passions, but His own disciples love Him only the more that He so well knows the evil affections of their hearts, and so well describes and denounces them. Anybody can denounce sensual sin, and everybody will understand and approve. But spiritual sin,--ambition and emulation and envy and ill-will--these things are more easy to denounce than they are to detect and describe, and more easy to detect and describe than they are to cast out. These sins seem rather to multiply and to strike a deeper root when you begin to cast them out. What an utterly and abominably evil passion is envy which is awakened not by bad things but by the best things! That another man's talents, attainments, praises, rewards should kindle it, and that the blame, the depreciation, the hurt that another man suffers should satisfy it,--what a piece of very hell must that be in the human heart! What more do we need than just a little envy in our hearts to make us prostrate penitents before God and man all our days? What more doctrine, argument, proof, authority, persuasion should a sane man need beyond a little envy in his heart at his best friend to make him an evangelical believer and an evangelical preacher? How, in the name of wonder, is it that men can be so ignorant of the plague of their own hearts as to remain indifferent, and, much more, hostile, to the gospel of love and holiness? Pride, also,--what a hateful and intolerable passion is that! How stone-blind to his own state must that sinner be whose heart is filled with pride, and how impossible it is for that man to make any real progress in any kind of truth or goodness! And resentment,--what a deep-seated, long-lived, and suicidal passion is that! How it hunts down him it hates, and how surely it shuts the door of salvation against him who harbours it! Forgive us our debts, the resentful man says in his prayer, as we forgive our debtors. And detraction,--how some men's ink-horns are filled with detraction for ink, and how it drops from their tongue like poison! At their every word a reputation dies. Life and all its opportunities of doing good and having good done to us is laid like a bag of treasure at our feet, but, like the prodigal son in the Interpreter's House, with all those passions raging in our own hearts at other men, and in other men's hearts at us, we have soon nothing left us but rags. God be thanked for every man here who sees and feels that he has nothing left him but rags; and, still more, thanks for all those who see and feel how, by their bad passions, sensual and spiritual, they have left on other people nothing but rags.

      Now, from all this let us lay it to heart that our sanctification and salvation lie in our mastery over all these and over many other passions that have not even been named. He is an accepted saint of God, who, taking his and other people's rags to God's mercy every day, every day also in God's strength grapples with, bridles, and tames his own wild and ungodly passions. Be not deceived, my friends; he alone is a saint of God who is a sanctified man; and his passions,--as they are the spring of his actions, so they are the sphere and seat of his sanctification. Be not deceived; that man, and no other manner of man, is, or ever will be, a partaker of God's salvation. You often hear me recommending those students who have first to subdue their own passions and then the passions of those who hear them to study Jonathan Edwards' ethical and spiritual writings. Well, just at this present point, to show you how well that great man practised what he preached, let me read to you a few lines from his biographer: 'Few men,' says Henry Rogers, 'ever attained a more complete mastery over their passions than Jonathan Edwards did. This was partly owing to the ascendency of his intellect; partly, and in a still greater degree, to the elevation of his piety. For the subjugation of his passions he was no doubt very greatly indebted to the prodigious superiority of his reason. Such was the commanding attitude his reason assumed, and such the tremendous power with which it controlled the whole man, that any insurrection among his senses was hopeless; they had their tenure only by doing fealty and homage to his intellect. Those other and more dangerous enemies, because more subtle and more spiritual, such as pride, vanity, wrath, and envy, which lurk in the inmost recesses of our nature, and some of which have such affinities for a genius like that of Edwards, yield not to such exorcism. Such more powerful kind of demons go not forth but by prayer and fasting; to their complete mortification, therefore, Edwards brought incessant watchfulness and devotion; and seldom, assuredly, have they been more nearly expelled from the bosom of a depraved intelligence.' We shall be in the best company, both intellectually and spiritually, if we work out our own salvation among the sinful passions of our depraved hearts. And then, as life goes on, and we continue in well-doing, we shall be able to measure and register our growth in grace best by watching the effect of outward temptations upon our still sinful and but half-sanctified hearts. And among much to be humbled for, and much to make us fear and tremble for the issue, we shall, from time to time, have a good conscience and a holy and humble joy that this passion and that is at last showing some signs of crucifixion and mortification. And thus that death to sin shall gradually set in which shall issue at last in an everlasting life unto holiness.

      'Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you . . . Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness . . . Bring forth the best robe and put it upon him, for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found . . . What are these that are arrayed in white robes, and whence came they? These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'

      * LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH

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See Also:
   INTRODUCTORY
   1. EVANGELIST
   2. OBSTINATE
   3. PLIABLE
   4. HELP
   5. MR. WORLDLY-WISEMAN
   6. GOODWILL, THE GATEKEEPER
   7. THE INTERPRETER
   8. PASSION
   9. PATIENCE
   10. SIMPLE, SLOTH, AND PRESUMPTION
   11. THE THREE SHINING ONES AT THE CROSS
   12. FORMALIST AND HYPOCRISY
   13. TIMOROUS AND MISTRUST
   14. PRUDENCE
   15. CHARITY
   16. SHAME
   17. TALKATIVE
   18. JUDGE HATE-GOOD
   19. FAITHFUL IN VANITY FAIR
   20. BY-ENDS
   21. GIANT DESPAIR
   22. KNOWLEDGE
   23. EXPERIENCE
   24. WATCHFUL
   25. SINCERE

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