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Bunyan Characters First Series: 25. SINCERE

By Alexander Whyte


      'In all things showing sincerity.'--Paul to Titus.

      Charles Bennett has a delightful drawing of Sincere in Charles Kingsley's beautiful edition of The Pilgrim's Progress. You feel that you could look all day into those clear eyes. Your eyes would begin to quail before you had looked long into the fourth shepherd's deep eyes; but those eyes of his have no cause to quail under yours. This man has nothing to hide from you. He never had. He loves you, and his love to you is wholly without dissimulation. He absolutely and unreservedly means and intends by you and yours all that he has ever said to you and yours, and much more than he has ever been able to say. The owner of those deep blue eyes is as true to you when he is among your enemies as he is true to the truth itself when he is among your friends. Mark also the unobtrusive strength of his mouth, all suffused over as it is with a most winning and reassuring sweetness. The fourth shepherd of the Delectable Mountains is one of the very best of Bennett's excellent portraits. But Mr. Kerr Bain's pen-and-ink portrait of Sincere in his People of the Pilgrimage is even better than Bennett's excellent drawing. 'Sincere is softer in outline and feature than Watchful. His eye is full-open and lucid, with a face of mingled expressiveness and strength--a lovable, lowly, pure-spirited man--candid, considerate, willing, cheerful--not speaking many words, and never any but true words.' Happy sheep that have such a shepherd! Happy people! if only any people in the Church of Christ could have such a pastor.

      It is surely too late, too late or too early, to begin to put tests to a minister's sincerity after he has been licensed and called and is now standing in the presence of his presbytery and surrounded with his congregation. It is a tremendous enough question to put to any man at any time: 'Are not zeal for the honour of God, love to Jesus Christ, and desire of saving souls your great motives and chief inducement to enter into the function of the holy ministry?' A man who does not understand what it is you are saying to him will just make the same bow to these awful words that he makes to all your other conventional questions. But the older he grows in his ministry, and the more he comes to discover the incurable plague of his own heart, and with that the whole meaning and full weight of your overwhelming words, the more will he shrink back from having such questions addressed to him. Fools will rush in where Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Peter and Paul feared to set their foot. Paul was to be satisfied if only he was let do the work of a minister all his days and then was not at the end made a castaway. And yet, writing to the same church, Paul says that his sincerity among them had been such that he could hold up his ministerial life like spotless linen between the eye of his conscience and the sun. But all that was written and is to be read and understood as Paul's ideal that he had honestly laboured after, rather than as an actual attainment he had arrived at. Great as Paul's attainments were in humility, in purity of intention, and in simplicity and sincerity of heart, yet the mind of Christ was not so given even to His most gifted apostle, that he could seriously say that he had attained to such utter ingenuity, simplicity, disengagement from himself, and surrender to Christ, as to be able to face the sun with a spotless ministry. All he ever says at his boldest and best on that great matter is to be read in the light of his universal law of personal and apostolic imperfection--Not that I have attained, either am already perfect; but I follow after. And blessed be God that this is all that He looks for in any of His ministers, that they follow all their days after a more and more godly sincerity. It was the apostle's love of absolute sincerity,--and, especially, it was his bitter hatred of all the remaining dregs of insincerity that he from time to time detected in his own heart,--it was this that gave him his good conscience before a God of pity and compassion, truth and grace. And with something of the same love of perfect sincerity, accompanied with something of the same hatred of insincerity and of ourselves on account of it, we, too, toward this same God of pity and compassion, will hold up a conscience that would fain be a good conscience. And till it is a good conscience we shall hold up with it a broken heart. And that genuine love of all sincerity, and that equally genuine hatred of all remaining insincerity, will make all our ministerial work, as it made all Paul's apostolic work, not only acceptable, but will also make its very defects and defeats both acceptable and fruitful in the estimation and result of God. It so happens that I am reading for my own private purposes at this moment an old book of 1641, Drexilius On a Right Intention, and I cannot do better at this point than share with you the page I am just reading. 'Not to be too much troubled or daunted at any cross event,' he says, 'is the happy state of his mind who has entered on any enterprise with a pure and pious intention. That great apostle James gained no more than eight persons in all Spain when he was called to lay down his head under Herod's sword. And was not God ready to give the same reward to James as to those who converted kings and whole kingdoms? Surely He was. For God does not give His ministers a charge as to what they shall effect, but only as to what they shall intend to effect. Wherefore, when his art faileth a servant of God, when nothing goes forward, when everything turneth to his ruin, even when his hope is utterly void, he is scarce one whit troubled; for this, saith he to himself, is not in my power, but in God's power alone. I have done what I could. I have done what was fit for me to do. Fair and foul is all of God's disposing.'

      And, then, this simplicity and purity of intention gives a minister that fine combination of candour and considerateness which we saw to exist together so harmoniously in the character of Sincere. Such a minister is not tongue-tied with sinister and selfish intentions. His sincerity toward God gives him a masterful position among his people. His words of rebuke and warning go straight to his people's consciences because they come straight out of his own conscience. His words are their own witness that he is neither fearing his people nor fawning upon his people in speaking to them. And, then, such candour prepares the way for the utmost considerateness when the proper time comes for considerateness. Such a minister is patient with the stupid, and even with the wicked and the injurious, because in all their stupidity and wickedness and injuriousness they have only injured and impoverished themselves. And if God is full of patience and pity for the ignorant and the evil and the out of the way, then His sincere-hearted minister is of all men the very man to carry the divine message of forgiveness and instruction to such sinners. Yes, Mr. Bain must have seen Sincere closely and in a clear light when he took down this fine feature of his character, that he is at once candid and considerate--with a whole face of mingled expressiveness and strength.

      Writing about sincerity and a right intention in young ministers, old Drexilius says: 'When I turn to clergymen, I would have sighs and groans to speak for me. For, alas! I am afraid that there be found some which come into the ministry, not that they may obtain a holy office in which to spend their life, but for worse ends. To enter the ministry with a naughty intention is to come straight to destruction. Let no minister think at any time of a better living, but only at all times of a holier life. Wherefore, O ministers and spiritual men, consider and take heed. There can be no safe guide to your office but a right, sincere, pure intention. Whosoever cometh to it with any other conduct or companion must either return to his former state of life, or here he shall certainly perish . . . What is more commendable in a religious man than to be always in action and to be exercised one while in teaching the ignorant, another while in comforting such as are troubled in mind, sometimes in making sermons, and sometimes in admonishing the sick? But with what secret malignity doth a wrong intention insinuate itself into these very actions that are the most religious! For ofttimes we desire nothing else but to be doing. We desire to become public, not that we may profit many, but because we have not learned how to be private. We seek for divers employments, not that we may avoid idleness, but that we may come into people's knowledge. We despise a small number of hearers, and such as are poor, simple, and rustical, and let fly our endeavours at more eminent chairs, though not in apparent pursuit; all which is the plain argument of a corrupt intention. O ye that wait upon religion, O ministers of God, this is to sell most transcendent wares at a very low rate--nay, this is to cast them, and yourselves too, into the fire.'

      There are some outstanding temptations to insincerity in some ministers that must be pointed out here. (1) Ministers with a warm rhetorical temperament are beset continually with the temptation to pile up false fire on the altar; to dilate, that is, both in their prayers and in their sermons, upon certain topics in a style that is full of insincerity. Ministers who have no real hold of divine things in themselves will yet fill their pulpit hour with the most florid and affecting pictures of sacred and even of evangelical things. This is what our shrewd and satirical people mean when they say of us that So-and-so has a great sough of the gospel in his preaching, but the sough only. (2) Another kindred temptation to even the best and truest of ministers is to make pulpit appeals about the evil of sin and the necessity of a holy life that they themselves do not feel and do not attempt to live up to. Butler has a terrible passage on the heart-hardening effects of making pictures of virtue and never trying to put those pictures into practice. And readers of Newman will remember his powerful application of this same temptation to literary men in his fine sermon on Unreal Words. (3) Another temptation is to affect an interest in our people and a sympathy with them that we do not in reality feel. All human life is full of this temptation to double-dealing and hypocrisy; but, then, it is large part of a minister's office to feel with and for his people, and to give the tenderest and the most sacred expression to that feeling. And, unless he is a man of a scrupulously sincere, true, and tender heart, his daily duties will soon develop him into a solemn hypocrite. And if he feels only for his own people, and for them only when they become and as long as they remain his own people, then his insincerity and imposture is only the more abominable in the sight of God. (4) Archbishop Whately, with that strong English common sense and that cultivated clear-headedness that almost make him a writer of genius, points out a view of sincerity that it behoves ministers especially to cultivate in themselves. He tells us not only to act always according to our convictions, but also to see that our convictions are true and unbiassed convictions. It is a very superficial sincerity even when we actually believe what we profess to believe. But that is a far deeper and a far nobler sincerity which watches with a strict and severe jealousy over the formation of our beliefs and convictions. Ministers must, first for themselves and then for their people, live far deeper down than other men. They must be at home among the roots, not of actions only, but much more of convictions. We may act honestly enough out of our present convictions and principles, while, all the time, our convictions and our principles are vitiated at bottom by the selfish ground they ultimately stand in. Let ministers, then, to begin with, live deep down among the roots of their opinions and their beliefs. Let them not only flee from being consciously insincere and hypocritical men; let them keep their eye like the eye of God continually on that deep ground of the soul where so many men unknown to themselves deceive themselves. And, thus exercised, they shall be able out of a deep and clean heart to rise far above that trimming and hedging and self-seeking and self-sheltering in disputed and unpopular questions which is such a temptation to all men, and is such a shame and scandal in a minister.

      Now, my good friends, we have kept all this time to the fourth shepherd and to his noble name, but let us look in closing at some of his sheep,--that is to say, at ourselves. For is it not said in the prophet: Ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord God. All, therefore, that has been said about the sincerity and insincerity of ministers is to be said equally of their people also in all their special and peculiar walks of life. Sincerity is as noble a virtue, and insincerity is as detestable a vice, in a doctor, or a lawyer, or a schoolmaster, or a merchant,--almost, if not altogether, as much so as in a minister. Your insincerity and hypocrisy in your daily intercourse with your friends and neighbours is a miserable enough state of mind, but at the root of all that there lies your radical insincerity toward God and your own soul. In his Christian Perfection William Law introduces his readers to a character called Julius, who goes regularly to prayers, and there confesses himself to be a miserable sinner who has no health in him; and yet that same Julius cannot bear to be informed of any imperfection or suspected to be wanting in any kind or degree of virtue. Now, Law asks, can there be a stronger proof that Julius is wanting in the sincerity of his devotions? Is it not as plain as anything can be that that man's confessions of sin are only words of course, a certain civility of sacred speech in which his heart has not a single atom of share? Julius confesses himself to be in great weakness, corruption, disorder, and infirmity, and yet he is mortally angry with you if at any time you remotely and tenderly hint that he may be just a shade wrong in his opinions, or one hair's-breadth off what is square and correct in his actions. Look to yourself, Julius, and to your insincere heart. Look to yourself at all times, but above all other times at the times and in the places of your devotions. Ten to one, my hearer of to-night, you may never have thought of that before. And what would you think if you were told that this Sincere shepherd was appointed us for this evening's discourse, and that you were led up to this house, just that you might have your attention turned to your many miserable insincerities of all kinds, but especially to your so Julius-like devotions? 'And Nathan said unto David, Thou art the man. And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord.'

      What, then, my truly miserable fellow-sinner and fellow-worshipper, what are we to do? Am I to give up preaching altogether because I am continually carried on under the impulse of the pulpit far beyond both my attainments and my intentions? Am I to cease from public prayer altogether because when engaged in it I am compelled to utter words of contrition and confession and supplication that little agree with the everyday temper and sensibility of my soul? And am I wholly to eschew pastoral work because my heart is not so absolutely clean and simple and sincere toward all my own people and toward other ministers' people as it ought to be? No! Never! Never! Let me rather keep my heart of such earth and slag in the hottest place of temptation, and then, such humiliating discoveries as are there continually being made to me of myself will surely at last empty me of all self-righteousness and self-sufficiency, and make me at the end of my ministry, if not till then, the penitent pastor of a penitent people. And when thus penitent, then surely, also somewhat more sincere in my designs and intentions, if not even then in my attainments and performances.

      'O Eternal God, Who hast made all things for man, and man for Thy glory, sanctify my body and my soul, my thoughts and my intentions, my words and my actions, that whatsoever I shall think or speak or do may be by me designed to the glory of Thy name. O God, turn my necessities into virtue, and the works of nature into the works of grace, by making them orderly, regular, temperate, subordinate, and profitable to ends beyond their own proper efficacy. And let no pride or self-seeking, no covetousness or revenge, no impure mixtures or unhandsome purposes, no little ends and low imaginations, pollute my spirit or unhallow any of my words or actions. But let my body be the servant of my spirit, and both soul and body servants of my Lord, that, doing all things for Thy glory here, I may be made a partaker of Thy glory hereafter; through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.'

      * 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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