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Bunyan Characters Second Series: 1. IGNORANCE

By Alexander Whyte


      "I was alive without the law once."--Paul.

      "I was now a brisk talker also myself in the matter of religion."--Bunyan.

      This is a new kind of pilgrim. There are not many pilgrims like this bright brisk youth. A few more young gentlemen like this, and the pilgrimage way would positively soon become fashionable and popular, and be the thing to do. Had you met with this young gentleman in society, had you noticed him beginning to come about your church, you would have lost no time in finding out who he was. I can well believe it, you would have replied. Indeed, I felt sure of it. I must ask him to the house. I was quite struck with his appearance and his manners. Yes; ask him at once to your house; show him some pointed attentions and you will never regret it. For if he goes to the bar and works even decently at his cases, he will be first a sheriff and then a judge in no time. If he should take to politics, he will be an under-secretary before his first parliament is out. And if he takes to the church, which is not at all unlikely, our West-end congregations will all be competing for him as their junior colleague; and, if he elects either of our Established churches to exercise his profession in it, he will have dined with Her Majesty while half of his class-fellows are still half-starved probationers. Society fathers will point him out with anger to their unsuccessful sons, and society mothers will smile under their eyelids as they see him hanging over their daughters.

      Well, as this handsome and well-appointed youth stepped out of his own neat little lane into the rough road on which our two pilgrims were staggering upward, he felt somewhat ashamed to be seen in their company. And I do not wonder. For a greater contrast you would not have seen on any road in all that country that day. He was at your very first sight of him a gentleman and the son of a gentleman. A little over-dressed perhaps; as, also, a little lofty to the two rather battered but otherwise decent enough men who, being so much older than he, took the liberty of first accosting him. "Brisk" is his biographer's description of him. Feather-headed, flippant, and almost impudent, you might have been tempted to say of him had you joined the little party at that moment. But those two tumbled, broken-winded, and, indeed, broken-hearted old men had been, as an old author says, so emptied from vessel to vessel--they had had a life of such sloughs and stiff climbs--they had been in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness so often--that it was no wonder that their dandiacal companion walked on a little ahead of them. 'Gentlemen,' his fine clothes and his cane and his head in the air all said to his two somewhat disreputable-looking fellow-travellers,--"Gentlemen, you be utter strangers to me: I know you not. And, besides, I take my pleasure in walking alone, even more a great deal than in company, unless I like it better." But all his society manners, and all his costly and well-kept clothes, and all his easy and self-confident airs did not impose upon the two wary old pilgrims. They had seen too much of the world, and had been too long mixing among all kinds of pilgrims, young and old, true and false, to be easily imposed upon. Besides, as one could see from their weather-beaten faces, and their threadbare garments, they had found the upward way so dreadfully difficult that they both felt a real apprehension as to the future of this light-hearted and light-headed youth. "You may find some difficulty at the gate," somewhat bluntly broke in the oldest of the two pilgrims on their young comrade. "I shall, no doubt, do at the gate as other good people do," replied the young gentleman briskly. "But what have you to show at the gate that may cause that the gate be opened to you?" "Why, I know my Lord's will, and I have been a good liver all my days, and I pay every man his own. I pray, moreover, and I fast. I pay tithes, and give alms, and have left my country for whither I am going." Now, before we go further: Do all you young gentlemen do as much as that? Have you always been good livers? Have you paid every man and woman their due? Do you pray to be called prayer? And, if so, when, and where, and what for, and how long at a time? I do not ask if your private prayer-book is like Bishop Andrewes' Devotions, which was so reduced to pulp with tears and sweat and the clenching of his agonising hands that his literary executors were with difficulty able to decipher it. Clito in the Christian Perfection was so expeditious with his prayers that he used to boast that he could both dress and do his devotions in a quarter of an hour. What was the longest time you ever took to dress or undress and say your prayers? Then, again, there is another Anglican young gentleman in the same High Church book who always fasts on Good Friday and the Thirtieth of January. Did you ever deny yourself a glass of wine or a cigar or an opera ticket for the church or the poor? Could you honestly say that you know what tithes are? And is there a poor man or woman or child in this whole city who will by any chance put your name into their prayers and praises at bedtime to-night? I am afraid there are not many young gentlemen in this house to-night who could cast a stone at that brisk lad Ignorance, Vain-Hope, door in the side of the hill, and all. He was not far from the kingdom of heaven; indeed, he got up to the very gate of it. How many of you will get half as far?

      Now (what think you?), was it not a very bold thing in John Bunyan, whose own descent was of such a low and inconsiderable generation, his father's house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families in the land--was it not almost too bold in such a clown to take such a gentleman-scholar as Saul of Tarsus, the future Apostle of the Lord, and put him into the Pilgrim's Progress, and there go on to describe him as a very brisk lad and nickname him with the nickname of Ignorance? For, in knowledge of all kinds to be called knowledge, Gamaliel's gold medallist could have bought the unlettered tinker of Elstow in one end of the market and sold him in the other. And nobody knew that better than Bunyan did. And yet such a lion was he for the truth, such a disciple of Luther was he, and such a defender and preacher of the one doctrine of a standing or falling church, that he fills page after page with the crass ignorance of the otherwise most learned of all the New Testament men. Bunyan does not accuse the rising hope of the Pharisees of school or of synagogue ignorance. That young Hebrew Rabbi knew every jot and tittle of the law of Moses, and all the accumulated traditions of the fathers to boot. But Bunyan has Paul himself with him when he accuses and convicts Saul of an absolutely brutish ignorance of his own heart and hidden nature. That so very brisk lad was always boasting in himself of the day on which he was circumcised, and of the old stock of which he had come; of his tribe, of his zeal, of his blamelessness, and of the profit he had made of his educational and ecclesiastical opportunities. Whereas Bunyan is fain to say of himself in his Grace Abounding that he is "not able to boast of noble blood or of a high-born state according to the flesh. Though, all things considered, I magnify the Heavenly Majesty for that by this door He brought me into this world to partake of the grace and life that is in Christ by the Gospel."

      As we listen to the conversation that goes on between the two old pilgrims and this smartly appointed youth, we find them striving hard, but without any sign of success, to convince him of some of the things from which he gets his somewhat severe name. For one thing, they at last bluntly told him that he evidently did not know the very A B C about himself. Till, when too hard pressed by the more ruthless of the two old men, the exasperated youth at last frankly burst out: "I will never believe that my heart is thus bad!" There is a warm touch of Bunyan's own experience here, mixed up with his so dramatic development of Paul's morsels of autobiography that he lets drop in his Epistles to the Philippians and to the Galatians. "Now was I become godly; now I was become a right honest man. Though as yet I was nothing but a poor painted hypocrite, yet I was proud of my godliness. I read my Bible, but as for Paul's Epistles, and such like Scriptures, I could not away with them; being, as yet, but ignorant both of the corruptions of my nature and of the want and worth of Jesus Christ to save me. The new birth did never enter my mind, neither knew I the deceitfulness and treachery of my own wicked heart. And as for secret thoughts, I took no notice of them." My brethren, old and young, what do you think of all that? What have you to say to all that? Does all that not open a window and let a flood of daylight into your own breast? I am sure it does. That is the best portrait of you that ever was painted. Do you not see yourself there as in a glass? And do you not turn with disgust and loathing from the stupid and foolish face? You complain and tell stories about how impostors and cheats and liars have come to your door and have impudently thrust themselves into your innermost rooms; but your own heart, if you only knew it, is deceitful far above them all. Not the human heart as it stands in confessions, and in catechisms, and in deep religious books, but your own heart that beats out its blood-poison of self-deceit, and darkness, and death day and night continually. "My heart is a good heart," said that poor ill-brought-up boy, who was already destroyed by his father and his mother for lack of self-knowledge. I entirely grant you that those two old sinners by this time were taking very pessimistic and very melancholy views of human nature, and, therefore, of every human being, young and old. They knew that no language had ever been coined in any scripture, or creed, or catechism, or secret diary of the deepest penitent, that even half uttered their own evil hearts; and they had lived long enough to see that we are all cut out of one web, are all dyed in one vat, and are all corrupted beyond all accusation or confession in Adam's corruption. But how was that poor, mishandled lad to know or believe all that? He could not. It was impossible. "You go so fast, gentlemen, that I cannot keep pace with you. Go you on before and I will stay a while behind." Then said Christian to his companion: "It pities me much for this poor lad, for it will certainly go ill with him at last." "Alas!" said Hopeful, "there are abundance in our town in his condition: whole families, yea, whole streets, and that of pilgrims too." Is your family such a family as this? And are you yourself just such a pilgrim as Ignorance was, and are you hastening on to just such an end?

      And then, as a consequence, being wholly ignorant of his own corruption and condemnation in the sight of God, this miserable man must remain ignorant and outside of all that God has done in Christ for corrupt and condemned men. "I believe that Christ died for sinners and that I shall be justified before God from the curse through His gracious acceptance of my obedience to His law. Or, then, to take it this way, Christ makes my duties that are religious acceptable to His Father by virtue of His merits, and so shall I be justified." Now, I verify believe that nine out of ten of the young men who are here to-night would subscribe that statement and never suspect there was anything wrong with it or with themselves. And yet, what does Christian, who, in this matter, is just John Bunyan, who again is just the word of God--what does the old pilgrim say to this confession of this young pilgrim's faith? "Ignorance is thy name," he says, "and as thy name is, so art thou: even this thy answer demonstrateth what I say. Ignorant thou art of what justifying righteousness is, and as ignorant how to secure thy soul through the faith of it from the heavy wrath of God. Yea, thou also art ignorant of the true effect of saving faith in this righteousness of Christ's, which is to bow and win over the heart to God in Christ, to love His name, His word, His ways, and His people." Paul sums up all his own early life in this one word, "ignorant of God's righteousness." "Going about," he says also, "to establish our own righteousness, not submitting ourselves to be justified by the righteousness that God has provided with such wisdom and grace, and at such a cost in His Son Jesus Christ." Now, young men, I defy you to be better born, better brought up, or to have better prospects than Saul of Tarsus had. I defy you to have profited more by all your opportunities and advantages than he had done. I defy you to be more blameless in your opening manhood than he was. And yet it all went like smoke when he got a true sight of himself, and, with that, a true sight of Christ and His justifying righteousness. Read at home to-night, and read when alone, what that great man of God says about all that in his classical epistle to the Philippians, and refuse to sleep till you have made the same submission. And, to-night, and all your days, let submission, Paul's splendid submission, be the soul and spirit of all your religious life. Submission to be searched by God's holy law as by a lighted candle: submission to be justified from all that that candle discovers: submission to take Christ as your life and righteousness, sanctification and redemption: and submission of your mind and your will and your heart to Him at all times and in all things. Nay, stay still, and say where you sit, Lord, I submit. I submit on the spot to be pardoned. I submit now to be saved. I submit in all things from this very hour and house of God not any longer to be mine own, but to be Thine, O God, Thine, Thine, for ever, in Jesus Christ Thy Son and my Saviour!

      "But, one day, as I was passing in the field, and that, too, with some dashes in my conscience, fearing lest all was not right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, Thy Righteousness is in heaven! And, methought, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God's right hand. There, I saw, was my Righteousness. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my Righteousness better, nor my bad frame of heart that made my Righteousness worse: for my Righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. 'Twas glorious to me to see His exaltation, and the worth and prevalency of His benefits. And that because I could now look from myself to Him and should reckon that all those graces of God that were now green in me were yet but like those crack-groats and four-pence halfpennies that rich men carry in their purses when their gold is in their trunks at home! Oh, I saw that day that my gold was all in my trunk at home! Even in Christ, my Lord and Saviour! Now, Christ was all to me: all my wisdom, all my righteousness, all my sanctification and all my redemption."

      "Methinks in this God speaks,
      No tinker hath such power."

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

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See Also:
   1. IGNORANCE
   2. LITTLE-FAITH
   3. THE FLATTERER
   4. ATHEIST
   5. HOPEFUL
   6. TEMPORARY
   7. SECRET
   8. MRS. TIMOROUS
   9. MERCY
   10. MR. BRISK
   11. MR. SKILL
   12. THE SHEPHERD BOY
   13. OLD HONEST
   14. MR. FEARING
   15. FEEBLE-MIND
   16. GREAT-HEART
   17. MR. READY-TO-HALT
   18. VALIANT-FOR-TRUTH
   19. STANDFAST
   20. MADAM BUBBLE
   21. GAIUS
   22. CHRISTIAN
   23. CHRISTIANA
   24. THE ENCHANTED GROUND
   25. THE LAND OF BEULAH
   26. THE SWELLING OF JORDAN

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