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Bunyan Characters First Series: 22. KNOWLEDGE

By Alexander Whyte


      'I will give you pastors after Mine own heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.'

      The Delectable Mountains rise out of the heart of Immanuel's Land. This fine range of far-rolling hills falls away on the one side toward the plain of Destruction, and on the other side toward the land of Beulah and the Celestial City, and the way to the Celestial City runs like a bee-line over these well-watered pastures. Standing on a clear day on the highest peak of the Delectable Mountains, if you have good eyes you can see the hill Difficulty in the far-back distance with a perpetual mist clinging to its base and climbing up its sides, which mist the shepherds say to you rises all the year round off the Slough of Despond, while, beyond that again the heavy smoke of the city of Destruction and the town of Stupidity shuts in the whole horizon. And then, when you turn your back on all that, in favourable states of the weather you can see here and there the shimmer of that river over which there is no bridge; and, then again, so high above the river that it seems to be a city standing in heaven rather than upon the earth, you will see the high towers and shining palace roofs and broad battlements of the New Jerusalem itself. The two travellers should have spent the past three days among the sights of the Delectable Mountains; and they would have done so had not the elder traveller misled the younger. But now that they were set free and fairly on the right road again, the way they had spent the past three days and three nights made the gardens and the orchards and the pastures that ran round the bottom and climbed up the sides of the Delectable Mountains delectable beyond all description to them.

      Now, there were on the tops of those mountains certain shepherds feeding their flocks, and they stood by the highway side. The two travellers therefore went up to the shepherds, and leaning upon their staves (as is common with weary travellers when they stand to talk with any by the way), they asked: Whose delectable mountains are these? and whose be the sheep that feed upon them? These mountains, replied the shepherds, are Immanuel's Land, and they are within sight of the city; the sheep also are His, and He laid down His life for them. After some more talk like this by the wayside, the shepherds, being pleased with the pilgrims, looked very lovingly upon them and said: Welcome to the Delectable Mountains. The shepherds then, whose names were Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere, took them by the hand to lead them to their tents, and made them partake of what was ready at present. They said, moreover: We would that you should stay with us a while to be acquainted with us, and yet more to solace yourselves with the cheer of these Delectable Mountains. Then the travellers told them they were content to stay; and so they went to rest that night because it was now very late. The four shepherds lived all summer-time in a lodge of tents well up among their sheep, while their wives and families had their homes all the year round in the land of Beulah. The four men formed a happy fraternity, and they worked among and watched over their Master's sheep with one united mind. What one of those shepherds could not so well do in the tent or in the fold or out on the hillside, some of the others better did. And what one of them could do to any perfection all the others by one consent left that to him to do. You would have thought that they were made by a perfect miracle to fit into one another, so harmoniously did they live and work together, and such was the bond of brotherly love that held them together. At the same time, there was one of the happy quaternity who, from his years on the hills, and his services in times of trial and danger, and one thing and another, fell always, and with the finest humility too, into the foremost place, and his name, as you have already heard, was Knowledge. Old Mr. Know-all the children in the villages below ran after him and named him as they clustered round his staff and hid in the great folds of his shepherd's coat.

      Now, in all this John Bunyan speaks as a child to children; but, of such children as John Bunyan and his readers is the kingdom of heaven. My very youngest hearer here to-night knows quite well, or, at any rate, shrewdly suspects, that Knowledge was not a shepherd going about with his staff among woolly sheep; nor would the simplest-minded reader of John Bunyan's book go to seek the Delectable Mountains and Immanuel's Land in any geographer's atlas, or on any schoolroom map. Oh, no. I do not need to stop to tell the most guileless of my hearers that old Knowledge was not a shepherd whose sheep were four-footed creatures, but a minister of the gospel, whose sheep are men, women, and children. Nor are the Delectable Mountains any range of hills and valleys of grass and herbs in England or Scotland. The prophet Ezekiel calls them the mountains of Israel; but by that you all know that he had in his mind something far better than any earthly mountain. That prophet of Israel had in his mind the church of God with its synagogues and its sacraments, with all the grace and truth that all these things conveyed from God to the children of Israel. As David also sang in the twenty-third Psalm: 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.'

      Knowledge, then, is a minister; but every congregation has not such a minister set over it as Knowledge is. All our college-bred and ordained men are not ministers like Knowledge. This excellent minister takes his excellent name from his great talents and his great attainments. And while all his great talents are his Master's gift to him, his great attainments are all his own to lay out in his Master's service. To begin with, his Master had given His highly-favoured servant a good understanding and a good memory, and many good and suitable opportunities. Now, a good understanding is a grand endowment for a minister, and his ministerial office will all his days afford him opportunity for the best understanding he can bring to it. The Christian ministry, first and last, has had a noble roll of men of a strong understanding. The author of the book now open before us was a man of a strong understanding. John Bunyan had a fine imagination, with great gifts of eloquent, tender, and most heart-winning utterance, but in his case also all that was bottomed in a strong English understanding. Then, again, a good memory is indispensable to a minister of knowledge. You must be content to take a second, a third, or even a lower place still if your Master has withheld from you a good memory. Dr. Goodwin has a passage on this point that I have often turned up when I had again forgotten it. 'Thou mayest have a weak memory, perhaps, yet if it can and doth remember good things as well and better than other things, then it is a sanctified memory, and the defilement of thy memory is healed though the imperfection of it is not; and, though thou art to be humbled for it as a misery, yet thou art not to be discouraged; for God doth not hate thee for it, but pities thee; and the like holds good and may be said as to the want of other like gifts.' You cannot be a man of a commanding knowledge anywhere, and you must be content to take a very subordinate and second place, even in the ministry, unless you have both a good understanding and a good memory; but then, at the last day your Master will not call you and your congregation to an account for what He has not committed to your stewardship. And on that day that will be something. But not only must ministers of knowledge have a good mind and a good memory; they must also be the most industrious of men. Other men may squander and kill their time as they please, but a minister had as good kill himself at once out of the way of better men unless he is to hoard his hours like gold and jewels. He must read only the best books, and he must read them with the 'pain of attention.' He must read nothing that is not the best. He has not the time. And if he is poor and remote and has not many books, he will have Butler, and let him read Butler's Preface to his Sermons till he has it by heart. The best books are always few, and they must be read over and over again when other men are reading the 'great number of books and papers of amusement that come daily in their way, and which most perfectly fall in with their idle way of reading and considering things.' And, then, such a minister must store up what he reads, if not in a good memory, then in some other pigeon-hole that he has made for himself outside of himself, since his Master has not seen fit to furnish him with such a repository within himself. And, then, after all that,--for a good minister is not made yet,--understanding and memory and industry must all be sanctified by secret prayer many times every day, and then laid out every day in the instruction, impression, and comfort of his people. And, then, that privileged people will be as happy in possessing that man for their minister as the sheep of Immanuel's Land were in having Knowledge set over them for their shepherd. They will never look up without being fed. They will every Sabbath-day be led by green pastures and still waters. And when they sing of the mercies of the Lord to them and to their children, and forget not all His benefits, among the best of their benefits they will not forget to hold up and bless their minister.

      But, then, there is, nowadays, so much sound knowledge to be gained, not to speak of so many books and papers of mere pastime and amusement, that it may well be asked by a young man who is to be a minister whether he is indeed called to be like that great student who took all knowledge for his province. Yes, indeed, he is. For, if the minister and interpreter of nature is to lay all possible knowledge under contribution, what must not the minister of Jesus Christ and the interpreter of Scripture and providence and experience and the human heart be able to make the sanctified use of? Yes, all kinds and all degrees of knowledge, to be called knowledge, belong by right and obligation to his office who is the minister and interpreter of Him Who made all things, Who is the Heir of all things, and by Whom all things consist. At the same time, since the human mind has its limits, and since human life has its limits, a minister of all men must make up his mind to limit himself to the best knowledge; the knowledge, that is, that chiefly concerns him,--the knowledge of God so far as God has made Himself known, and the knowledge of Christ. He must be a student of his Bible night and day and all his days. If he has not the strength of understanding and memory to read his Bible easily in the original Hebrew and Greek, let him all the more make up for that by reading it the oftener and the deeper in English. Let him not only read his Bible deeply for his sermons and prayers, lectures and addresses, let him do that all day every day of the week, and then read it all night, and every night of the week, for his own soul. Let every minister know his Bible down to the bottom, and with his Bible his own heart. He who so knows his Bible and with it his own heart has almost books enough. All else is but ostentatious apparatus. When a minister has neither understanding nor memory wherewith to feed his flock, let him look deep enough into his Bible and into his own heart, and then begin out of them to write and speak. And, then, for the outside knowledge of the passing day he will read the newspapers, and though he gives up all the morning to the newspapers, and returns to them again in the evening, his conscience will not upbraid him if he reads as Jonathan Edwards read the newsletters of his day,--to see how the kingdom of heaven is prospering in the earth, and to pray for its prosperity. And, then, by that time, and when he has got that length, all other kinds of knowledge will have fallen into its own place, and will have taken its own proper proportion of his time and his thought. He was a man of a great understanding and a great memory and great industry who said that he had taken all knowledge for his province. But he was a far wiser man who said that knowledge is not our proper happiness. Our province, he went on to say, is virtue and religion, life and manners: the science of improving the temper and making the heart better. This is the field assigned us to cultivate: how much it has lain neglected is indeed astonishing.

      Now, my brethren, two dangers, two simply terrible dangers, arise to every one of you out of all this matter of your ministers and their knowledge. 1. The first danger is,--to be frank with you on this subject,--that you are yourselves so ignorant on all the matters that a minister has to do with, that you do not know one minister from another, a good minister from one who is really no minister at all. Now, I will put it to you, on what principle and for what reason did you choose your present minister, if, indeed, you did choose him? Was it because you were assured by people you could trust that he was a minister of knowledge and knew his own business? Or was it that when you went to worship with him for yourself you have not been able ever since to tear yourself away from him, nor has any one else been able to tear you away, though some have tried? When you first came to the city, did you give, can you remember, some real anxiety, rising sometimes into prayer, as to who your minister among so many ministers was to be? Or did you choose him and your present seat in his church because of some real or supposed worldly interest of yours you thought you could further by taking your letter of introduction to him? Had you heard while yet at home, had your father and mother talked of such things to you, that rich men, and men of place and power, political men and men high in society, sat in that church and took notice of who attended it and who did not? Do you, down to this day, know one church from another so far as spiritual and soul-saving knowledge is concerned? Do you know that two big buildings, called churches, may stand in the same street, and have men, called ministers, carrying on certain services in them from week to week, and yet, for all the purposes for which Christ came and died and rose again and gave ministers to His church, these two churches and their ministers are farther asunder than the two poles? Do you understand what I am saying? Do you understand what I have been saying all night, or are you one of those of whom the prophet speaks in blame and in pity as being destroyed for lack of knowledge? Well, that is your first danger, that you are so ignorant, and as a consequence, so careless, as not to know one minister from another.

      2. And your second danger in connection with your minister is, that you have, and may have long had, a good minister, but that you still remain yourself a bad man. My brethren, be you all sure of it, there is a special and a fearful danger in having a specially good minister. Think twice, and make up your mind well, before you call a specially good minister, or become a communicant, or even an adherent under a specially good minister. If two bad men go down together to the pit, and the one has had a good minister, as, God have mercy on us, sometimes happens, and the other has only had one who had the name of a minister, the evangelised reprobate will lie in a deeper bed in hell, and will spend a more remorseful eternity on it than will the other. No man among you, minister or no minister, good minister or bad, will be able to sin with impunity. But he who sins on and on after good preaching will be beaten with many stripes. 'Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you.' 'Thou that hast knowledge,' says a powerful old preacher, 'canst not sin so cheap as another that is ignorant. Places of much knowledge'--he was preaching in the university pulpit of Oxford--'and plentiful in the means of grace are dear places for a man to sin in. To be drunken or unclean after a powerful sermon, and after the Holy Ghost has enlightened thee, is more than to have so sinned twenty times before. Thou mightest have sinned ten times more and been damned less. For does not Jesus Christ the Judge say to thee, This is thy condemnation, that so much light has come to thee?' And, taking the then way of execution as a sufficiently awful illustration, the old Oxford Puritan goes on to say that to sin against light is the highest step of the ladder before turning off. And, again, that if there are worms in hell that die not, it is surely gospel light that breeds them.

      * 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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