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Bunyan Characters Second Series: 9. MERCY

By Alexander Whyte


      "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."--Our Lord.

      The first time that we see Mercy she is standing one sunshine morning knocking along with another at Christiana's door. And all that we afterwards hear of Mercy might be described as, A morning call and all that came of it; or, How a godly matron led on a poor maid to fall in love with her own salvation. John Bunyan, her biographer, in all his devotion to Mercy, does not make it at all clear to us why such a sweet and good girl as Mercy was could be on such intimate terms with Mrs. Timorous and all her so questionable circle. Could it be that Mercy's mother was one of that unhappy set? And had this dear little woman-child been brought up so as to know no better than to figure in their assemblies, and go out on their morning rounds with Mrs. Light-mind and Mrs. Know-nothing? Or, was poor Mercy an orphan with no one to watch over her, and had her sweet face, her handsome figure, and her winning manners made her one of the attractions of old Madam Wanton's midnight routs? However it came about, there was Mercy out on a series of morning calls with a woman twice her age, but a woman whose many years had taught her neither womanliness nor wisdom. "If you come in God's name, come in," a voice from the inside answered the knocking of Mrs. Timorous and Mercy, her companion, at Christiana's door. In all their rounds that morning the two women had not been met with another salutation like that; and that strange salutation so disconcerted and so confounded them that they did not know whether to lift the latch and go in, or to run away and leave those to go in who could take their delight in such outlandish language. "If you come in God's name, come in." At this the women were stunned, for this kind of language they used not to hear or to perceive to drop from the lips of Christiana. Yet they came in; but, behold, they found the good woman preparing to be gone from her house. The conversation that ensued was all carried on by the two elder women. For it was often remarked about Mercy all her after-days that her voice was ever soft, and low, and, especially, seldom heard. But her ears were not idle. For all the time the debate went on--because by this time the conversation had risen to be a debate--Mercy was taking silent sides with Christiana and her distress and her intended enterprise, till, when Mrs. Timorous reviled Christiana and said, "Come away, Mercy, and leave her in her own hands," Mercy by that time was brought to a standstill. For, like a rose among thorns, Mercy was thoughtful and wise and womanly far beyond her years. So much so, that already she had made up her mind to offer herself as a maidservant to help the widow with her work and to see her so far on her way, and, indeed, though she kept that to herself, to go all the way with her, if the way should prove open to her. First, her heart yearned over Christiana; so she said within herself, If my neighbour will needs be gone, I will go a little way with her to help her. Secondly, her heart yearned over her own soul's salvation, for what Christiana had said had taken some hold upon Mercy's mind. Wherefore she said within herself, I will yet have more talk with this Christiana, and if I find truth and life in what she shall say, myself with all my heart shall also go with her. "Neighbour," spoke out Mercy to Mrs. Timorous, "I did indeed come with you to see Christiana this morning, and since she is, as you see, a-taking of her last farewell of her country, I think to walk this sunshine morning a little way with her to help her on the way." But she told her not of her second reason, but kept that to herself. I would fain go on with Mercy's memoirs all night. But you will take up that inviting thread for yourselves. And meantime I shall stop here and gather up under two or three heads some of the more memorable results and lessons of that sunshine-morning call.

      1. Well, then, to begin with, there was something quite queen-like, something absolutely commanding, about Christiana's look and manner, as well as about all she said and did that morning. Mercy's morning companion had all the advantages that dress and equipage could give her; while Christiana stood in the middle of the floor in her housewife's clothes, covered with dust and surrounded with all her dismantled house; but, with all that, there was something about Christiana that took Mercy's heart completely captive. All that Christiana had by this time come through had blanched her cheek and whitened her hair: but all that only the more commanded Mercy's sensitive and noble soul. To be open to impressions of that kind is one of the finest endowments of a finely endowed nature; and, all through, the attentive reader of her history will be sure to remark and imitate Mercy's exquisite and tenacious sensibility to all that is true and good, upright and honourable and noble. And then, what a blessing it is to a girl of Mercy's mould to meet at opening womanhood with another woman, be it a mother, a mistress, or a neighbour, whose character then, and as life goes on, can supply the part of the supporting and sheltering oak to the springing and clinging vine. Christiana being now the new woman she was, as well as a woman of great natural wisdom, dignity, and stability of character, the safety, the salvation of poor motherless Mercy was as good as sure. Indeed, all Mercy's subsequent history is only one long and growing tribute to the worth, the constant love, and the sleepless solicitude of this true mother in Israel.

      2. Now, it was so, that, wholly unknown to all her companions, young and old, in her own very remarkable words, Mercy had for a long time been hungering with all her heart to meet with some genuinely good people,--with some people, as she said herself,--"of truth and of life." These are remarkable words to hear drop from the lips of a young girl, and especially a girl of Mercy's environment. Now, had there been anything hollow, had there been one atom of insincerity or exaggeration about Christiana that morning, had she talked too much, had all her actions not far more than borne out all her words, had there not been in the broken-hearted woman a depth of mind and a warmth of heart far beyond all her words, Mercy would never have become a pilgrim. But the natural dignity of Christiana's character; her capable, commanding, resolute ways; the reality, even to agony, of her sorrow for her past life--all taken together with her iron-fast determination to enter at once on a new life--all that carried Mercy's heart completely captive. Mercy felt that there was a solemnity, an awesomeness, and a mystery about her new friend's experiences and memories that it was not for a child like herself to attempt to intrude into. But, all the more because of that, a spell of love and fear and reverence lay on Mercy's heart and mind all her after-days from that so solemn and so eventful morning when she first saw Christiana's haggard countenance and heard her remorseful cries. My so churlish carriages to him! Now, such carriages between man and wife had often pained and made ashamed Mercy's maidenly heart beyond all expression. Till she had sometimes said to herself, blushing with shame before herself as she said it, that if ever she was a wife--may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth before I say one churlish word to him who is my husband! And thus it was that nothing that Christiana said that morning in the uprush of her remorse moved Mercy more with pity and with love than just what Christiana beat her breast about as concerning her lost husband. Mercy used to say that she saw truth and life enough in one hour that morning to sober and to solemnise and to warn her to set a watch on the door of her lips for all her after-days.

      3. Before Mrs. Timorous was well out of the door, Mercy had already plucked off her gloves, and hung up her morning bonnet on a nail in the wall, so much did her heart heave to help the cumbered widow and her fatherless children. "If thou wilt, I will hire thee," said Christiana, "and thou shalt go with me as my servant. Yet we will have all things common betwixt thee and me; only, now thou art here, go along with me." At this Mercy fell on Christiana's neck and kissed her mother; for after that morning Christiana had always a daughter of her own, and Mercy a mother. And you may be sure, with two such women working with all their might, all things were soon ready for their happy departure.

      Mr. Kerr Bain invites his readers to compare John Bunyan's Mercy at this point with William Law's Miranda. I shall not tarry to draw out the full comparison here, but shall content myself with simply repeating Mr. Bain's happy reference. Only, I shall not content myself till all to whom my voice can reach, and who are able to enjoy only a first-rate book, have Mr. Bain's book beside their Pilgrim's Progress. That morning, then, on which Mrs. Timorous, having nothing to do at home, set out with Mercy on a round of calls--that was Mercy's last idle morning for all her days. For her mind was, ever after that, to be always busying of herself in doing, for when she had nothing to do for herself she would be making of hosen and garments for others, and would bestow them upon those that had need. I will warrant her a good housewife, quoth Mr. Brisk to himself. So much so that at any place they stopped on the way, even for a day and a night to rest and refresh themselves, Mercy would seek out all the poor and all the old people, and ere ever she was aware what she was doing, already a good report had spread abroad concerning the pilgrims and their pilgrimage. At the same time, it must be told that poor Mercy's heart was more heavy for the souls of the poor people than for their naked bodies and hungry bellies. So much was this so that when the shepherds, Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere, took her to a place where she saw one Fool and one Want-wit washing of an Ethiopian with intention to make him white, but the more they washed him the blacker he was, Mercy blushed and felt guilty before the shepherds,--she so took home to her charitable heart the bootless work of Fool and Want-wit. Mercy put on the Salvationist bonnet at her first outset to the Celestial City, and she never put it off till she came to that land where there are no more poor to make hosen and hats for, and no more Ethiopians to take to the fountain.

      4. There are not a few young communicants here to-night, as well as not a few who are afraid as yet to offer themselves for the Lord's table; and, as it so falls out to-night, Mercy's case contains both an encouragement and an example to all such. For never surely had a young communicant less to go upon than Mercy had that best morning of all her life. For she had nothing to go upon but a great desire to help Christiana with her work; some desire for truth and for life; and some first and feeble yearnings over her own soul,--yearnings, however, that she kept entirely to herself. That was all. She had no remorses like those which had ploughed up Christiana's cheeks into such channels of tears. She had no dark past out of which swarms of hornets stung her guilty conscience. Nor on the other hand, had she any such sweet dreams and inviting visions as those that were sent to cheer and encourage the disconsolate widow. She will have her own sweet dreams yet, that will make her laugh loud out in her sleep. But that will be long after this, when she has discovered how hard her heart is and how great God's grace is. "How shall I be ascertained," she put it to Christiana, "that I also shall be entertained? Had I but this hope, from one that can tell, I would make no stick at all, but would go, being helped by Him that can help, though the way was never so tedious. Had I as good hope for a loving reception as you have, I think no Slough of Despond would discourage me." "Well," said the other, "you know your sore, and I know mine; and, good friend, we shall all have enough evil before we come to our journey's end." And soon after that, of all places on the upward way, Mercy's evil began at the Wicket Gate. "I have a companion," said Christiana, "that stands without. One that is much dejected in her mind, for that she comes, as she thinks, without sending for; whereas I was sent to by my husband's King." So the porter opened the gate and looked out; but Mercy was fallen down in a swoon, for she fainted and was afraid that the gate would not be opened to her. "O sir," she said, "I am faint; there is scarce life left in me." But he answered her that one once said, "When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came in into Thee, into Thy holy temple. Fear not, but stand up upon thy feet, and tell me wherefore thou art come." "I am come, sir, into that for which I never was invited, as my friend Christiana was. Her invitation was from the Lord, and mine was but from her. Wherefore, I fear that I presume." Then said he to those that stood by, "Fetch something and give it to Mercy to smell on, thereby to stay her fainting." So they fetched her a bundle of myrrh, and a while after she revived.--Let young communicants be content with Mercy's invitation. She started for the City just because she liked to be beside a good woman who was starting thither. She wished to help a good woman who was going thither; and just a little desire began at first to awaken in her heart to go to the city too. Till, having once set her face to go up, one thing after another worked together to lead her up till she, too, had her life full of those invitations and experiences and interests and occupations and enjoyments that make Mercy's name so memorable, and her happy case such an example and such an inspiration, to all God-fearing young women especially.

      5. John Bunyan must be held responsible for the strong dash of romance that he so boldly throws into Mercy's memoirs. But I shall postpone Mr. Brisk and his love-making and his answer to another lecture. I shall not enter on Mercy's love matters here at all, but shall leave them to be read at home by those who like to read romances. Only, since we have seen so much of Mercy as a maiden, one longs to see how she turned out as a wife. I can only imagine how Mercy turned out as a wife; but there is a picture of a Scottish Covenanting girl as a married wife which always rises up before my mind when I think of Mercy's matronly days. That picture might hang in Bunyan's own peculiar gallery, so beautiful is the drawing, and so warm and so eloquent the colouring. Take, then, this portrait of one of the daughters of the Scottish Covenant. "She was a woman of great worth, whom I therefore passionately loved and inwardly honoured. A stately, beautiful, and comely personage; truly pious and fearing the Lord. Of an evenly temper, patient in our common tribulations and under her personal distresses. A woman of bright natural parts, and of an uncommon stock of prudence; of a quick and lively apprehension in things she applied herself to, and of great presence of mind in surprising incidents. Sagacious and acute in discerning the qualities of persons, and therefore not easily imposed upon. [See Mr. Brisk's interviews with Mercy.] Modest and grave in her deportment, but naturally cheerful; wise and affable in conversation, also having a good faculty at speaking and expressing herself with assurance. Being a pattern of frugality and wise management in household affairs, all such were therefore entirely committed to her; well fitted for and careful of the virtuous education of her children; remarkably useful in the countryside, both in the Merse and in the Forest, through her skill in physic and surgery, which in many instances a peculiar blessing appeared to be commanded upon from heaven. And, finally, a crown to me in my public station and pulpit appearances. During the time we have lived together we have passed through a sea of trouble, as yet not seeing the shore but afar off."

      "The words of King Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him. What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows? Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. Her children arise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised."

      * 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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