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Bunyan Characters First Series: 20. BY-ENDS

By Alexander Whyte


      'Ye seek Me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves.'--Our Lord.

      In no part of John Bunyan's ingenious book is his strong sense and his sarcastic and humorous vein better displayed than just in his description of By-ends, and in the full and particular account he gives of the kinsfolk and affinity of By-ends. Is there another single stroke in all sacred literature better fitted at once to teach the gayest and to make the gravest smile than just John Bunyan's sketch of By-ends' great-grandfather, the founder of the egoistical family of Fairspeech, who was, to begin with, but a waterman who always looked one way and rowed another? By-ends' wife also is a true helpmate to her husband. She was my Lady Feigning's favourite daughter, under whose nurture and example the young lady had early come to a quite extraordinary pitch of good breeding; and now that she was a married woman, she and her husband had, so their biographer tells us, two firm points of family religion in which they were always agreed and according to which they brought up all their children, namely, never to strive too much against wind and tide, and always to watch when Religion was walking on the sunny side of the street in his silver slippers, and then at once to cross over and take his arm. But abundantly amusing and entertaining as John Bunyan is at the expense of By-ends and his family and friends, he has far other aims in view than the amusement and entertainment of his readers. Bunyan uses all his great gifts of insight and sense and humour and scorn so as to mark unmistakably the road and to guide the progress of his reader's soul to God, his chiefest end and his everlasting portion.

      It was no small part of our Lord's life of humiliation on the earth,--much more so than His being born in a low condition and being made under the law,--to have to go about all His days among men, knowing in every case and on every occasion what was in man. It was a real humiliation to our Lord to see those watermen of the sea of Tiberias sweating at their oars as they rowed round and round the lake after Him; and His humiliation came still more home to Him as often as He saw His own disciples disputing and pressing who should get closest to Him while for a short season He walked in the sunshine; just as it was His estate of exaltation already begun, when He could enter into Himself and see to the bottom of His own heart, till He was able to say that it was His very meat and drink to do His father's will, and to finish the work His Father had given Him to do. The men of Capernaum went out after our Lord in their boats because they had eaten of the multiplied loaves and hoped to do so again. Zebedee's children had forsaken all and followed our Lord, because they counted to sit the one on His right hand and the other on His left hand in His soon-coming kingdom. The pain and the shame all that cost our Lord, we can only remotely imagine. But as for Himself, our Lord never once had to blush in secret at His own motives. He never once had to hang down His head at the discovery of His own selfish aims and by-ends. Happy man! The thought of what He should eat or what He should drink or wherewithal He should be clothed never troubled His head. The thought of success, as His poor-spirited disciples counted success, the thought of honour and power and praise, never once rose in His heart. All these things, and all things like them, had no attraction for Him; they awoke nothing but indifference and contempt in him. But to please His Father and to hear from time to time His Father's voice saying that He was well pleased with His beloved Son,--that was better than life to our Lord. To find out and follow every new day His Father's mind and will, and to finish every night another part of His Father's appointed work,--that was more than His necessary food to our Lord. The great schoolmen, as they meditated on these deep matters, had a saying to the effect that all created things take their true goodness or their true evil from the end they aim at. And thus it was that our Lord, aiming only at His Father's ends and never at His own, both manifested and attained to a Divine goodness, just as the greedy crowds of Galilee and the disputatious disciples, as long and as far as they made their belly or their honour their end and aim, to that extent fell short of all true goodness, all true satisfaction, and all true acceptance.

      By-ends was so called because he was full of low, mean, selfish motives, and of nothing else. All that this wretched creature did, he did with a single eye to himself. The best things that he did became bad things in his self-seeking hands. His very religion stank in those men's nostrils who knew what was in his heart. By-ends was one of our Lord's whited sepulchres. And so deep, so pervading, and so abiding is this corrupt taint in human nature, that long after a man has had his attention called to it, and is far on to a clean escape from it, he still--nay, he all the more--languishes and faints and is ready to die under it. Just hear what two great servants of God have said on this humiliating and degrading matter. Writing on this subject with all his wonted depth and solemnity, Hooker says, 'Even in the good things that we do, how many defects are there intermingled! For God in that which is done, respecteth especially the mind and intention of the doer. Cut off, then, all those things wherein we have regarded our own glory, those things which we do to please men, or to satisfy our own liking, those things which we do with any by-respect, and not sincerely and purely for the love of God, and a small score will serve for the number of our righteous deeds. Let the holiest and best things we do be considered. We are never better affected to God than when we pray; yet, when we pray, how are our affections many times distracted! How little reverence do we show to that God unto whom we speak! How little remorse of our own miseries! How little taste of the sweet influence of His tender mercy do we feel! The little fruit we have in holiness, it is, God knoweth, corrupt and unsound; we put no confidence at all in it, we challenge nothing in the world for it, we dare not call God to a reckoning as if we had Him in our debt-books; our continued suit to Him is, and must be, to bear with our infirmities, and to pardon our offences.' And Thomas Shepard, a divine of a very different school, as we say, but a saint and a scholar equal to the best, and indeed with few to equal him, thus writes in his Spiritual Experiences:--'On Sabbath morning I saw that I had a secret eye to my own name in all that I did, for which I judged myself worthy of death. On another Sabbath, when I came home, I saw the deep hypocrisy of my heart, that in my ministry I sought to comfort and quicken others, that the glory might reflect on me as well as on God. On the evening before the sacrament I saw that mine own ends were to procure honour, pleasure, gain to myself, and not to the Lord, and I saw how impossible it was for me to seek the Lord for Himself, and to lay up all my honour and all my pleasures in Him. On Sabbath-day, when the Lord had given me some comfortable enlargements, I searched my heart and found my sin. I saw that though I did to some extent seek Christ's glory, yet I sought it not alone, but my own glory too. After my Wednesday sermon I saw the pride of my heart acting thus, that presently my heart would look out and ask whether I had done well or ill. Hereupon I saw my vileness to make men's opinions my rule. The Lord thus gave me some glimpse of myself and a good day that was to me.' One would think that this was By-ends himself climbed up into the ministry. And so it was. And yet David Brainerd could write on his deathbed about Thomas Shepard in this way. 'He valued nothing in religion that was not done to the glory of God, and, oh! that others would lay the stress of religion here also. His method of examining his ends and aims and the temper of his mind both before and after preaching, is an excellent example for all who bear the sacred character. By this means they are like to gain a large acquaintance with their own hearts, as it is evident he had with his.'

      But it is not those who bear the sacred character of the ministry alone who are full of by-ends. We all are. You all are. And there is not one all-reaching, all-exposing, and all-humbling way of salvation appointed for ministers, and another, a more external, superficial, easy, and self-satisfied way for their people. No. Not only must the ambitious and disputing disciples enter into themselves and become witnesses and judges and executioners within themselves before they can be saved or be of any use in the salvation of others--not only they, but the fishermen of the Lake of Tiberias, they also must open their hearts to these stabbing words of Christ, and see how true it is that they had followed Him for loaves and fishes, and not for His grace and His truth. And only when they had seen and submitted to that humiliating self-discovery would their true acquaintance with Christ and their true search after Him begin. Come, then, all my brethren, and not ministers only, waken up to the tremendous importance of that which you have utterly neglected, it may be ostentatiously neglected, up to this hour,--the true nature, the true character, of your motives and your ends. Enter into yourselves. Be not strangers and foreigners to yourselves. Let not the day of judgment be any surprise to you. Witness against, judge, and execute yourselves, and that especially because of your by-aims and by-ends. Take up the touchstone of truth and lay it upon your most secret heart. Do not be afraid to discover how double-minded and deceitful your heart is. Hunt your heart down. Track it to its most secret lair. Put its true name, and continue to put its true name, upon the main motive of your life. Extort an answer by boot and by wheel, only extort an answer from the inner man of the heart, to the torturing question as to what is his treasure, his hope, his deepest wish, his daily dream. Watch not against any outward enemy, keep all your eyes and all your ears to your own thoughts. God keeps His awful eye on your thoughts. His eye goes at every glance to that great depth in you. Even His all-seeing eye can go no deeper into you than to your secret thoughts. Go you as deep as God goes, and you will be a wise man; go as deep and as often as He does, and then you will soon come to see eye to eye with God, not only about your own thoughts, but about His thoughts too, and about everything else. Till you begin to watch your own thoughts, and to watch them especially in their aims and their ends, you will have no idea what that moral and spiritual life is that all God's saints live; that life that Christ lived, and which He this night summons you all to enter henceforth upon.

      It is such a happy fact that it cannot be too often told, that in the things of the soul really and truly to know and feel the disease is to have already entered on the remedy. You will not feel, indeed, that you have entered on the remedy; but that does not much matter so long as you really have. And there is nothing more certain among all the certainties of divine things than that he who feels himself to be in death and hell with his heart so full of by-ends is all the time as far from death and hell as any one can be who is still on this side of heaven. When a man's whole will and desire is set on God, as is now and then the case, that man is perilously near a sudden and an abundant entrance into that life and that presence where his heart has for so long been. When a man is half mad with his own heart, as Thomas Shepard for one was, that stranger on the earth is at last within a step of that happy coast where all wishes end. Watch that man. Take a last look at that man. He will soon be taken out of your sight. Ere ever he is himself aware, he will be rapt up into that life where saints and angels seek not their own will, labour not for their own profit or promotion, listen not for their own praises, but find their blessedness, the half of which had not here been told them, in glorifying God and in enjoying Him for ever.

      You must all have heard the name of a book that has helped many a saint now in glory to the examination and the keeping of his own heart. I refer to Jeremy Taylor's Holy Living and Dying. Take two or three of Taylor's excellent rules with you as you go down from God's house to-night. 'If you would really live a holy life and die a holy death,' says Taylor, 'learn to reflect in your every action on your secret end in it; consider with yourself why you do it, and what you propound to yourself for your reward. Pray importunately that all your purposes and all your motives may be sanctified. Renew and rekindle your purest purposes by such ejaculations as these: "Not unto us, O God, not unto us, but to Thy name be all the praise. I am in this Thy servant; let all the gain be Thine." In great and eminent actions let there be a special and peculiar act of resignation or oblation made to God; and in smaller and more frequent actions fail not to secure a pious habitual intention.' And so on. And above all, I will add, labour and pray till you feel in your heart that you love God with a supreme and an ever-growing love. And, far as that may be above you as yet, impress your heart with the assurance that such a love is possible to you also, and that you can never be safe or happy till you attain to that love. Other men once as far from the supreme love of God as you are have afterwards attained to it; and so will you if you continue to set it before yourself. Think often on God; read the best books about God; call continually upon God; hold an intimate communion with God, till you feel that you also actually and certainly love God. And though you begin with loving God because He first loved you, you will, beginning with that, rise far above that till you come to love Him for what He is in Himself as well as for what He has done for you. 'I have done this in order to have a seat in the Academy,' said a young man, handing the solution of a problem to an old philosopher. 'Sir,' was the reply, 'with such dispositions you will never earn a seat there. Science must be loved for its own sake, and not for any advantage to be derived from it.' And much more is that true of the highest of all the sciences, the knowledge and the love of God. Love Him, then, till you arrive at loving Him for Himself, and then you shall be for ever delivered from all self-love and by-ends, and shall both glorify and enjoy God for ever. As all they now do who engaged their hearts on earth to the service and the love and the enjoyment of God is such psalms and prayers as these: 'Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is no one on earth that I desire beside Thee. How excellent is Thy loving-kindness, O God! The children of men shall put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings. For with Thee is the fountain of life, and in Thy light shall we see light. As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness. Thou wilt show me the path of life; in Thy presence is fullness of joy, and at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.'

      * 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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