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Bunyan Characters Second Series: 2. LITTLE-FAITH

By Alexander Whyte


      "O thou of little faith."--Our Lord.

      Little-Faith, let it never be forgotten, was, all the time, a good man. With all his mistakes about himself, with his sad misadventure, with all his loss of blood and of money, and with his whole after-lifetime of doleful and bitter complaints,--all the time, Little-Faith was all through, in a way, a good man. To keep us right on this all-important point, and to prevent our being prematurely prejudiced against this pilgrim because of his somewhat prejudicial name--because give a dog a bad name, you know, and you had better hang him out of hand at once--because, I say, of this pilgrim's somewhat suspicious name, his scrupulously just, and, indeed, kindly affected biographer says of him, and says it of him not once nor twice, but over and over and over again, that this Little-Faith was really all the time a truly good man. And, more than that, this good man's goodness was not a new thing with him it was not a thing of yesterday. This man had, happily to begin with, a good father and a good mother. And if there was a good town in all those parts for a boy to be born and brought up in it was surely the town of Sincere. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Well, Little-Faith had been so trained up both by his father and his mother and his schoolmaster and his minister, and he never cost either of them a sore heart or even an hour's sleep. One who knew him well, as well, indeed, as only one young man knows another, has been fain to testify, when suspicions have been cast on the purity and integrity of his youth, that nothing will describe this pilgrim so well in the days of his youth as just those beautiful words out of the New Testament--"an example to all young men in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith even, and in purity"--and that, if there was one young man in all that town of Sincere who kept his garments unspotted it was just our pilgrim of to-night. Yes, said one who had known him all his days, if the child is the father of the man, then Little-Faith, as you so unaccountably to me call him, must have been all along a good man.

      It was said long ago in Vanity Fair about our present Premier that if he were a worse man he would be a better statesman. Now, I do not repeat that in this place because I agree with it, but because it helps to illustrate, as sometimes a violent paradox will help to illustrate, a truth that does not lie all at once on the surface. But it is no paradox or extravagance or anything but the simple truth to say that if Little-Faith had had more and earlier discoveries made to him of the innate evil of his own heart, even if it had been by that innate evil bursting out of his heart and laying waste his good life, he would either have been driven out of his little faith altogether or driven into a far deeper faith. Had the commandment come to him in the manner it came to Paul; had it come so as that the sinfulness of his inward nature had revived, as Paul says, under its entrance; then, either his great goodness or his little faith must have there and then died. God's truth and man's goodness cannot dwell together in the same heart. Either the truth will kill the goodness, or the goodness will kill the truth. Little-Faith, in short, was such a good man, and had always been such a good man, and had led such an easy life in consequence, that his faith had not been much exercised, and therefore had not grown, as it must have been exercised and must have grown, had he not been such a good man. In short, and to put it bluntly, had Little-Faith been a worse sinner, he would have been a better saint. "O felix culpa!" exclaimed a church father; "O happy fault, which found for us sinners such a Redeemer." An apostrophe which Bishop Ken has put into these four bold lines--

      "What Adam did amiss,
      Turned to our endless bliss;
      O happy sin, which to atone,
      Drew Filial God to leave His throne."

      And John Calvin, the soberest of men, supports Augustine, the most impulsive of men, in saying the same thing. All things which happen to the saints are so overruled by God that what the world regards as evil the issue shows to be good. For what Augustine says is true, that even the sins of saints are, through the guiding providence of God, so far from doing harm to them, that, on the contrary, they serve to advance their salvation. And Richard Hooker, a theologian, if possible, still more judicious than even John Calvin, says on this same subject and in support of the same great father, "I am not afraid to affirm it boldly with St. Augustine that men puffed up through a proud opinion of their own sanctity and holiness receive a benefit at the hands of God, and are assisted with His grace, when with His grace they are not assisted, but permitted, and that grievously, to transgress. Ask the very soul of Peter, and it shall undoubtedly make you itself this answer: My eager protestations, made in the glory of my ghostly strength, I am ashamed of; but those crystal tears, wherewith my sin and weakness were bewailed, have procured my endless joy: my strength hath been my ruin, and my fall my stay." And our own Samuel Rutherford is not likely to be left far behind by the best of them when the grace of God is to be magnified. "Had sin never been we should have wanted the mysterious Emmanuel, the Beloved, the Chief among ten thousand, Christ, God-man, the Saviour of sinners. For, no sick sinners, no soul-physician of sinners; no captive, no Redeemer; no slave of hell, no lovely ransom-payer of heaven. Mary Magdalene with her seven devils, Paul with his hands smoking with the blood of the saints, and with his heart sick with malice and blasphemy against Christ and His Church, and all the rest of the washen ones whose robes are made fair in the blood of the Lamb, and all the multitude that no man can number in that best of lands, are all but bits of free grace. O what a depth of unsearchable wisdom to contrive that lovely plot of free grace. Come, all intellectual capacities, and warm your hearts at this fire. Come, all ye created faculties, and smell the precious ointment of Christ. Oh come, sit down under His shadow and eat the apples of life. Oh that angels would come, and generations of men, and wonder, and admire, and fall down before the unsearchable wisdom of this gospel-art of the unsearchable riches of Christ!" And always pungent Thomas Shepard of New England: "You shall find this, that there is not any carriage or passage of the Lord's providence toward thee but He will get a name to Himself, first and last, by it. Hence you shall find that those very sins that dishonour His name He will even by them get Himself a better name; for so far will they be from casting you out of His love that He will actually do thee good by them. Look and see if it is not so with thee? Doth not thy weakness strengthen thee like Paul? Doth not thy blindness make thee cry for light? And hath not God out of darkness oftentimes brought light? Thou hast felt venom against Christ and thy brother, and thou hast on that account loathed thyself the more. Thy falls into sin make thee weary of it, watchful against it, long to be rid of it. And thus He makes thy poison thy food, thy death thy life, thy damnation thy salvation, and thy very greatest enemies thy very best friends. And hence Mr. Fox said that he thanked God more for his sins than for his good works. And the reason is, God will have His name." And, last, but not least, listen to our old acquaintance, James Fraser of Brea: "I find advantages by my sins: 'Peccare nocet, peccavisse vero juvat.' I may say, as Mr. Fox said, my sins have, in a manner, done me more good than my graces. Grace and mercy have more abounded where sin had much abounded. I am by my sins made much more humble, watchful, revengeful against myself. I am made to see a greater need to depend more upon Him and to love Him the more. I find that true which Shepard says, 'sin loses strength by every new fall.'" Have you followed all that, my brethren? Or have you stumbled at it? Do you not understand it? Does your superficial gin-horse mind incline to shake its empty head over all this? I know that great names, and especially the great names of your own party, go much farther with you than the truth goes, and therefore I have sheltered this deep truth under a shield of great names. For their sakes let this sure truth of God's best saints lie in peace and undisputed beside you till you arrive to understand it.

      But, to proceed,--the thing was this. At this passage there comes down from Broadway-gate a lane called Dead-Man's-lane, so called because of the murders that are commonly done there. And this Little-Faith going on pilgrimage, as we now do, chanced to sit down there and fell fast asleep. Yes; the thing was this: This good man had never been what one would call really awake. He was not a bad man, as men went in the town of Sincere, but he always had a half-slept half-awakened look about his eyes, till now, at this most unfortunate spot, he fell stone-dead asleep. You all know, I shall suppose, what the apostle Paul and John Bunyan mean by sleep, do you not? You all know, at any rate, to begin with, what sleep means in the accident column of the morning papers. You all know what sleep meant and what it involved and cost in the Thirsk signal-box the other night. (Delivered November 27th, 1892.) When a man is asleep, he is as good as dead, and other people are as good as dead to him. He is dead to duty, to danger, to other people's lives, as well as to his own. He may be having pleasant dreams, and may even be laughing aloud in his sleep, but that may only make his awaking all the more hideous. He may awake just in time, or he may awake just too late. Only, he is asleep and he neither knows nor cares. Now, there is a sleep of the soul as well as of the body. And as the soul is in worth, as the soul is in its life and in its death to the body, so is its sleep. Many of you sitting there are quite as dead to heaven and hell, to death and judgment, and to what a stake other people as well as yourselves have in your sleep as that poor sleeper in the signal-box was dead to what was coming rushing on him through the black night. And as all his gnashing of teeth at himself, and all his sobs before his judge and before the laid-out dead, and before distracted widows and half-mad husbands did not bring back that fatal moment when he fell asleep so sweetly, so will it be with you. Lazarus! come forth! Wise and foolish virgins both: Behold the Bridegroom cometh! Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light!

      And, with that, Guilt with a great club that was in his hand struck Little-Faith on the head, and with that blow felled him to the earth, where he lay bleeding as one that would soon bleed to death. Yes, yes, all true to the very life. A man may be the boast and the example of all the town, and yet, unknown to them all, and all but unknown to himself till he is struck down, he may have had guilt enough on his track all the time to lay him half dead at the mouth of Dead-Man's-lane. Good as was the certificate that all men in their honesty gave to Little-Faith, yet even he had some bad enough memories behind him and within him had he only kept them ever present with him. But, then, it was just this that all along was the matter with Little-Faith. Till, somehow, after that sad and yet not wholly evil sleep, all his past sins leapt out into the light and suddenly became and remained all the rest of his life like scarlet. So loaded, indeed, was the club of Guilt with the nails and studs and clamps of secret aggravation, that every nail and stud left its own bleeding bruise in the prostrate man's head. I have myself, says the narrator of Little-Faith's story, I have myself been engaged as he was, and I found it to be a terrible thing. I would, as the saying is, have sold my life at that moment for a penny; but that, as God would have it, I was clothed with armour of proof: ay, and yet though I was thus harnessed, I found it hard work to quit myself like a man. No man can tell what in that combat attends us but he that hath been in the battle himself. Great-Grace himself,--whoso looks well upon his face shall see those cuts and scars that shall easily give demonstration of what I say.

      Most unfortunately there was no good Samaritan with his beast on the road that day to take the half-dead man to an inn. And thus it was that Little-Faith was left to lie in his blood till there was almost no more blood left in him. Till at last, coming a little to himself, he made a shift to scrabble on his way. When he was able to look a little to himself, besides all his wounds and loss of blood, he found that all his spending money was gone, and what was he to do, a stranger in such a plight on a strange road? There was nothing for it but he must just beg his way with many a hungry belly for the remainder of his way. You all understand the parable at this point? Our knowledge of gospel truth; our personal experience of the life of God in our own soul; our sensible attainments in this grace of the Spirit and in that; in secret prayer, in love to God, in forgiveness of injuries, in goodwill to all men, and in self-denial that no one knows of,--in things like these we possess what may be called the pocket-money of the spiritual life. All these things, at their best, are not the true jewel that no thief can break through nor steal; but though they are not our best and truest riches, yet they have their place and play their part in sending us up the pilgrim way. By our long and close study of the word of God, if that is indeed our case; by divine truth dwelling richly and experimentally in our hearts; and by a hidden life that is its own witness, and which always has the Holy Spirit's seal set upon it that we are the children of God,--all that keeps, and is designed by God to keep our hearts up amid the labours and the faintings, the hopes and the fears of the spiritual life. All that keeps us at the least and the worst above famine and beggary. Now, the whole pity with Little-Faith was, that though he was not a bad man, yet he never, even at his best days, had much of those things that make a good and well-furnished pilgrim; and what little he had he had now clean lost. He had never been much a reader of his Bible; he had never sat over it as other men sat over their news-letters and their romances. He had never had much taste or talent for spiritual books of any kind. He was a good sort of man, but he was not exactly the manner of man on whose broken heart the Holy Ghost sets the broad seal of heaven. But for his dreadful misadventure, he might have plodded on, a decent, humdrum, commonplace, everyday kind of pilgrim; but when that catastrophe fell on him he had nothing to fall back upon. The secret ways of faith and love and hope were wholly unknown to him. He had no practice in importunate prayer. He had never prayed a whole night all his life. He had never needed to do so. For were we not told when we first met him what a blameless and pure and true and good man he had always been? He did not know how to find his way about in his Bible; and as for the maps and guide-books that some pilgrims never let out of their hand, even when he had some spending money about him, he never laid it out that way. And a more helpless pilgrim than Little-Faith was all the rest of the way you never saw. He was forced to beg as he went, says his historian. That is to say, he had to lean upon and look to wiser and better-furnished men than himself. He had to share their meals, look to them to pay his bills, keep close to their company, walk in their foot-prints, and at night borrow their oil, and it was only in this poor dependent way that Little-Faith managed to struggle on to the end of his dim and joyless journey.

      It would have been far more becoming and far more profitable if Christian and Hopeful, instead of falling out of temper and calling one another bad names over the sad case of Little-Faith, had tried to tell one another why that unhappy pilgrim's faith was so small, and how both their own faith and his might from that day have been made more. Hopeful, for some reason or other, was in a rude and boastful mood of mind that day, and Christian was more tart and snappish than we have ever before seen him; and, altogether, the opportunity of learning something useful out of Little-Faith's story has been all but lost to us. But, now, since there are so many of Little-Faith's kindred among ourselves--so many good men who are either half asleep in their religious life or are begging their way from door to door--let them be told, in closing, one or two out of many other ways in which their too little faith may possibly be made stronger and more fruitful.

      Well, then, faith, like everything else, once we have it, grows greater by our continual exercise of it. Exercise, then, intentionally and seriously and on system your faith every day. And exercise it habitually and increasingly on your Bible, on heaven, and on Jesus Christ. And let your faith on all these things, and places, and persons, work by love,--by love and by imagination. Our love is cold and our faith is small and weak for lack of imagination. Read your Psalm, your Gospel, your Epistle every morning and every night with your eye upon the object. Think you see the Psalmist amid all his deep and divine experiences. Think you see Jesus Christ speaking His parables, saying His prayers, and doing His good works. Walk up and down with Him, observing His manner, His look, His gait, His divinity in your humanity, till Galilee and Jerusalem become Scotland and Edinburgh; that is, till He is as much with you, and more, than He was with Peter and James and John. Never close your eye a single night till you have again laid your hand on the very head of the Lamb of God, and till you feel that your sin and guilt have all passed off your hand and on upon His head. And never rise without, like William Law, saluting the rising sun in the name of God, as if he had just been created and sent up into your sky to let you see to serve God and your neighbour for another day. And be often out of this world and up in heaven. Beat all about you at building castles in the air; you have more material and more reason. For is not faith the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen? Walk often in heaven's friendly streets. Pass often into heaven's many mansions filled with happy families. Imagine this unhappy life at an end, and imagine yourself sent back to this probationary world to play the man for a few short years before heaven finally calls you home. Little-Faith was a good man, but there was no speculation in his eyes and no secrets of love in his heart. And if your faith also is little, and your spending money also is run low, try this way of love and imagination. If you have a better way, then go on with it and be happy yourself and helpful to others; but if your faith is at a standstill and is stricken with barrenness, try my counsel of putting more heart and more inward eye, more holy love and more heavenly joy, into your frigid and sterile religion.

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

Back to Alexander Whyte index.

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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