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Bunyan Characters First Series: 15. CHARITY

By Alexander Whyte


      'I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.'--David.

      There can be nobody here to-night so stark stupid as to suppose that the pilgrim had run away from home and left his wife and children to the work-house. There have been wiseacres who have found severe fault with John Bunyan because he made his Puritan pilgrim such a bad husband and such an unnatural father. But nobody possessed of a spark of common sense, not to say religion or literature, would ever commit himself to such an utter imbecility as that. John Bunyan's pilgrim, whatever he may have been before he became a pilgrim, all the time he was a pilgrim, was the most faithful, affectionate, and solicitous husband in all the country round about, and the tenderest, the most watchful, and the wisest of fathers. This pilgrim stayed all the more at home that he went so far away from home; he accomplished his whole wonderful pilgrimage beside his own forge and at his own fireside; and he entered the Celestial City amid trumpets and bells and harps and psalms, while all the time sleeping in his own humble bed. The House Beautiful, therefore, to which we have now come in his company, is not some remote and romantic mansion away up among the mountains a great many days' journey distant from this poor man's everyday home. The House Beautiful was nothing else,--what else better, what else so good could it be?--than just this Christian man's first communion Sabbath and his first communion table (first, that is, after his true conversion from sin to God and his confessed entrance into a new life), while the country from whence he had come out, and concerning which both Piety and Prudence catechised him so closely, was just his former life of open ungodliness and all his evil walk and conversation while he was as yet living without God and without hope in the world. The country on which he confessed that he now looked back with so much shame and detestation was not England or Bedfordshire, but the wicked life he had lived in that land and in that shire. And when Charity asked him as to whether he was a married man and had a family, she knew quite well that he was, only she made a pretence of asking him those domestic questions in order thereby to start the touching conversation.

      Beginning, then, at home, as she always began, Charity said to Christian, 'Have you a family? Are you a married man?' 'I have a wife and four small children,' answered Christian. 'And why did you not bring them with you?' Then Christian wept and said, 'Oh, how willingly would I have done so, but they were all of them utterly averse to my going on pilgrimage.' 'But you should have talked to them and have shown them their danger.' 'So I did,' he replied, 'but I seemed to them as one that mocked.' Now, this of talking, and, especially, of talking about religious things to children, is one of the most difficult things in the world,--that is, to do it well. Some people have the happy knack of talking to their own and to other people's children so as always to interest and impress them. But such happy people are few. Most people talk at their children whenever they begin to talk to them, and thus, without knowing it, they nauseate their children with their conversation altogether. To respect a little child, to stand in some awe of a little child, to choose your topics, your opportunities, your neighbourhood, your moods and his as well as all your words, and always to speak your sincerest, simplest, most straightforward and absolutely wisest is indispensable with a child. Take your mannerisms, your condescensions, your affectations, your moralisings, and all your insincerities to your debauched equals, but bring your truest and your best to your child. Unless you do so, you will be sure to lay yourself open to a look that will suddenly go through you, and that will swiftly convey to you that your child sees through you and despises you and your conversation too. 'You should not only have talked to your children of their danger,' said Charity, 'but you should have shown them their danger.' Yes, Charity; but a man must himself see his own and his children's danger too, before he can show it to them, as well as see it clearly at the time he is trying to show it to them. And how many fathers, do you suppose, have the eyes to see such danger, and how then can they shew such danger to their children, of all people? Once get fathers to see dangers or anything else aright, and then you will not need to tell them how they are to instruct and impress their children. Nature herself will then tell them how to talk to their children, and when Nature teaches, all our children will immediately and unweariedly listen.

      But, especially, said Charity, as your boys grew up--I think you said that you had four boys and no girls?--well, then, all the more, as they grew up, you should have taken occasion to talk to them about yourself. Did your little boy never petition you for a story about yourself; and as he grew up did you never confide to him what you have never confided to his mother? Something, as I was saying, that made you sad when you were a boy and a rising man, with a sadness your son can still see in you as you talk to him. In conversations like that a boy finds out what a friend he has in his father, and his father from that day has his best friend in his son. And then as Matthew grew up and began to out-grow his brothers and to form friendships out of doors, did you study to talk at the proper time to him, and on subjects on which you never venture to talk about to any other boy or man? You men, Charity went on to say, live in a world of your own, and though we women are well out of it, yet we cannot be wholly ignorant that it is there. And, we may well be wrong, but we cannot but think that fathers, if not mothers, might safely tell their men-children at least more than they do tell them of the sure dangers that lie straight in their way, of the sorrow that men and women bring on one another, and of what is the destruction of so many cities. We may well be wrong, for we are only women, but I have told you what we all think who keep this house and hear the reports and repentances of pilgrims, both Piety and Prudence and I myself. And I, for one, largely agree with the three women. It is easier said than done. But the simple saying of it may perhaps lead some fathers and mothers to think about it, and to ask whether or no it is desirable and advisable to do it, which of them is to attempt it, on what occasion, and to what extent. Christian by this time had the Slough of Despond with all its history and all that it contained to tell his eldest son about; he had the wicket gate also just above the slough, the hill Difficulty, the Interpreter's House, the place somewhat ascending with a cross standing upon it, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre, not to speak of her who assaulted Faithful, whose name was Wanton, and who at one time was like to have done even that trusty pilgrim a lifelong mischief. Christian rather boasted to Charity of his wariness, especially in the matter of his children's amusements, but Charity seemed to think that he had carried his wariness into other matters besides amusements, without the best possible results there either. I have sometimes thought with her that among our multitude of congresses and conferences of all kinds of people and upon all manner of subjects, room and membership might have been found for a conference of fathers and mothers. Fathers to give and take counsel about how to talk to their sons, and mothers to their daughters. I am much of Charity's mind, that, if more were done at home, and done with some frankness, for our sons and daughters, there would be fewer fathers and mothers found sitting at the Lord's table alone. 'You should have talked to them,' said Charity, with some severity in her tones, 'and, especially, you should have told them of your own sorrow.'

      And then, coming still closer up to Christian, Charity asked him whether he prayed, both before and after he so spoke to his children, that God would bless what he said to them. Charity believeth all things, hopeth all things, but when she saw this man about to sit down all alone at the supper table, it took Charity all her might to believe that he had both spoken to his children and at the same time prayed to God for them as he ought to have done. Our old ministers used to lay this vow on all fathers and mothers at the time of baptism, that they were to pray both with and for their children. Now, that is a fine formula; it is a most comprehensive, and, indeed, exhaustive formula. Both with and for. And especially with. With, at such and such times, on such and such occasions, and in such and such places. At those times, say, when your boy has told a lie, or struck his little brother, or stolen something, or destroyed something. To pray with him at such times, and to pray with him properly, and, if you feel able to do it, and are led to do it, to tell him something after the prayer about yourself, and your own not-yet-forgotten boyhood, and your father; it makes a fine time to mix talk and prayer together in that way. Charity is not easily provoked, but the longer she lives and keeps the table in the House Beautiful the more she is provoked to think that there is far too little prayer among pilgrims; far too little of all kinds of prayer, but especially prayer with and for their children. But hard as it was to tell all the truth at that moment about Christian's past walk in his house at home, yet he was able with the simple truth to say that he had indeed prayed both with and for his children, and that, as they knew and could not but remember, not seldom. Yes, he said, I did sometimes so pray with my boys, and that too, as you may believe, with much affection, for you must think that my four boys were all very dear to me. And it is my firm belief that all that good man's boys will come right yet: Matthew and Joseph and James and Samuel and all. 'With much affection.' I like that. I have unbounded faith in those prayers, both for and with, in which there is much affection. It is want of affection, and want of imagination, that shipwrecks so many of our prayers. But this man's prayers had both these elements of sure success in them, and they must come at last to harbour. At that one word 'with much affection,' this man's closet door flies open and I see the old pilgrim first alone, and then with his arms round his eldest son's neck, and both father and son weeping together till they are ashamed to appear at supper till they have washed their faces and got their most smiling and everyday looks put on again. You just wait and see if Matthew and all the four boys down to the last do not escape into the Celestial City before the gate is shut. And when it is asked, Who are these and whence came they? listen to their song and you will hear those four happy children saying that their father, when they were yet boys, both talked with them and prayed for and with them with so much affection that therefore they are before the throne.

      Why, then, with such a father and with such makable boys, why was this household brought so near everlasting shipwreck? It was the mother that did it. In one word, it was the wife and the mother that did it. It was the mistress of the house who wrought the mischief here. She was a poor woman, she was a poor man's wife, and one would have thought that she had little enough temptation to harm upon this present world. But there it was, she did hang upon it as much as if she had been the mother of the finest daughters and the most promising boys in all the town. Things like this were from time to time reported to her by her neighbours. One fine lady had been heard to say that she would never have for her tradesman any man who frequented conventicles, who was not content with the religion of his betters, and who must needs scorn the parish church and do despite to the saints' days. Another gossip asked her what she expected to make of her great family of boys when it was well known that all the gentry in the neighbourhood but two or three had sworn that they would never have a hulking Puritan to brush their boots or run their errands. And it almost made her husband burn his book and swear that he would never be seen at another prayer-meeting when his wife so often said to him that he should never have had children, that he should never have made her his wife, and that he was not like this when they were first man and wife. And in her bitterness she would name this wife or that maid, and would say, You should have married her. She would have gone to the meeting-house with you as often as you wished. Her sons are far enough from good service to please you. 'My wife,' he softly said, 'was afraid of losing the world. And then, after that, my growing sons were soon given over, all I could do, to the foolish delights of youth, so that, what by one thing and what by another, they left me to wander in this manner alone.' And I suppose there is scarcely a household among ourselves where there have not been serious and damaging misunderstandings between old-fashioned fathers and their young people about what the old people called the 'foolish delights' of their sons and daughters. And in thinking this matter over, I have often been struck with how Job did when his sons and his daughters were bent upon feasting and dancing in their eldest brother's house. The old man did not lay an interdict upon the entertainment. He did not take part in it, but neither did he absolutely forbid it. If it must be it must be, said the wise patriarch. And since I do not know whom they may meet there, or what they may be tempted to do, I will sanctify them all. I will not go up into my bed till I have prayed for all my seven sons and three daughters, each one of them by their names; and till they come home safely I will rise every morning and offer burnt-offerings according to the number of them all. And do you think that those burnt-offerings and accompanying intercessions would go for nothing when the great wind came from the wilderness and smote the four corners of the banqueting-house? If you cannot banish the love of foolish delights out the hearts of your sons and daughters, then do not quarrel with them over such things; a family quarrel in a Christian man's house is surely far worse than a feast or a dance. Only, if they must feast and dance and such like, be you all the more diligent in your exercises at home on their behalf till they are back again, where, after all, they like best to be, in their good, kind, liberal, and loving father's house.

      Have you a family? Are you a married man? Or, if not, do you hope one day to be? Then attend betimes to what Charity says to Christian in the House Beautiful, and not less to what he says back again to her.

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

Back to Alexander Whyte index.

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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