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Bunyan Characters Second Series: 13. OLD HONEST

By Alexander Whyte


      "An honest heart."--Our Lord.

      Next tell them of Old Honest, who you found
      With his white hairs treading the pilgrim's ground;
      Yea, tell them how plain-hearted this man was,
      How after his good Lord he bare his cross:
      Perhaps with some grey head this may prevail,
      With Christ to fall in love, and sin bewail.

      You would have said that no pilgrim to the Celestial City could possibly have come from a worse place, or a more unlikely place, than was that place from which Christian and Christiana and Matthew and Mercy had come. And yet so it was. For Old Honest, this most excellent and every way most delightful old saint, hailed from a far less likely place than even the City of Destruction. For he came, this rare old soul, of all places in the world, from the Town of Stupidity. So he tells us himself. And, partly to explain to us the humiliating name of his native town, and partly to exhibit himself as a wonder to many, the frank old gentleman goes on to tell us that his birthplace actually lies four degrees further away from the sun than does the far-enough away City of Destruction itself. So that you see this grey-haired saint is all that he always said he was--a living witness to the fact that his Lord is able to save to the uttermost, and to gather in His Father's elect from the utmost corner of the land. Men are mountains of ice in my country, said Old Honest. I was one of the biggest of those icebergs myself, he said. No man was ever more cold and senseless to divine things than I was, and still sometimes am. It takes the Sun of Righteousness all His might to melt the men of my country. But that He can do it when He rises to do it, and when He puts out His full strength to do it--Look at me! said the genial old soul.

      We have to construct this pilgrim's birth and boyhood and youth from his after-character and conversation; and we have no difficulty at all in doing that. For, if the child is the father of the man, then the man must be the outcome of the child, and we can have no hesitation in picturing to ourselves what kind of child and boy and young man dear Old Honest must always have been. He never was a bright child, bright and beaming old man as he is. He was always slow and heavy at his lessons; indeed, I would not like to repeat to you all the bad names that his schoolmasters sometimes in their impatience called the stupid child. Only, this was to be said of him, that dulness of uptake and disappointment of his teachers were the worst things about this poor boy; he was not so ill-behaved as many were who were made more of. When his wits began to waken up after he had come some length he had no little leeway to make up in his learning; but that was the chief drawback to Old Honest's pilgrimage. For one thing, no young man had a cleaner record behind him than our Honest had; his youthful garments were as unspotted as ever any pilgrim's garments were. Even as a young man he had had the good sense to keep company with one Good-conscience; and that friend of his youth kept true to Old Honest all his days, and even lent him his hand and helped him over the river at last. In his own manly, hearty, blunt, breezy, cheery, and genial way Old Honest is a pilgrim we could ill have spared. Old Honest has a warm place all for himself in every good and honest heart.

      "Now, a little before the pilgrims stood an oak, and under it when they came up to it they found an old pilgrim fast asleep; they knew that he was a pilgrim by his clothes and his staff and his girdle. So the guide, Mr. Greatheart, awaked him, and the old gentleman, as he lifted up his eyes, cried out: What's the matter? Who are you? And what is your business here? Come, man, said the guide, be not so hot; here is none but friends! Yet the old man gets up and stands upon his guard, and will know of them what they are." That weather-beaten oak-tree under which we first meet with Old Honest is an excellent emblem of the man. When he sat down to rest his old bones that day he did not look out for a bank of soft moss or for a bed of fragrant roses; that knotted oak-tree alone had power to draw down under its sturdy trunk this heart of human oak. It was a sight to see those thin grey haffets making a soft pillow of that jutting knee of gnarled and knotty oak, and with his well-worn quarterstaff held close in a hand all wrinkled skin and scraggy bone. And from that day till he waved his quarterstaff when half over the river and shouted, Grace reigns! there is no pilgrim of them all that affords us half the good humour, sagacity, continual entertainment, and brave encouragement we enjoy through this same old Christian gentleman.

      1. Now, let us try to learn two or three lessons to-night from Old Honest, his history, his character, and his conversation. And, to begin with, let all those attend to Old Honest who are slow in the uptake in the things of religion. O fools and slow of heart! exclaimed our Lord at the two travellers to Emmaus. And this was Old Honest to the letter when he first entered on the pilgrimage life; he was slow as sloth itself in the things of the soul. I have often wondered, said Greatheart, that any should come from your place; for your town is worse than is the City of Destruction itself. Yes, answered Honest, we lie more off from the sun, and so are more cold and senseless. And his biographer here annotates on the margin this reflection: "Stupefied ones are worse than merely carnal." So they are; though it takes some insight to see that, and some courage to carry that through. Now, to be downright stupid in a man's natural intellects is sad enough, but to be stupid in the intellects of the soul and of the spirit is far more sad. You will often see this if you have any eyes in your head, and are not one of the stupid people yourself. You will see very clever people in the intellects of the head who are yet as stupid as the beasts in the stall in the far nobler intellects of the heart. You will meet every day with men and women who have received the best college education this city can give them, who are yet stark stupid in everything that belongs to true religion. They are quick to find out the inefficiency of a university chair, or a schoolmaster's desk, but they know no more of what a New Testament pulpit has been set up for than the stupidest sot in the city. The Divine Nature, human nature, sin, grace, redemption, salvation, holiness, heart-corruption, spiritual life, prayer, communion with God, a conversation and a treasure in heaven,--to all these noblest of studies and divinest of exercises they are as a beast before God. When you come upon a man who is a sot in his senses and in his understanding, you expect him to be the same in his spiritual life. But to meet with an expert in science, a classical scholar, an author or a critic in letters, a leader in political or ecclesiastical or municipal life, and yet to discover that he is as stupid as any sot in the things of his own soul, is one of the saddest and most disheartening sights you can see. Much sadder and much more disheartening than to see stairs and streets of people who can neither read nor write. And yet our city is full of such stupid people. You will find as utter spiritual stupidity among the rich and the lettered and the refined of this city as you will find among the ignorant and the vicious and the criminal classes. Is stupidity a sin? asks Thomas in his Forty-Sixth Question. And the great schoolman answers himself, "Stupidity may come of natural incapacity, in which case it is not a sin. But it may come, on the other hand, of a man immersing his soul in the things of this world so as to shut out all the things of God and of the world to come, in which case stupidity is a deadly sin." Now, from all that, you must already see what you are to do in order to escape from your inborn and superinduced stupidity. You are, like Old Honest, to open your gross, cold, senseless heart to the Sun of Righteousness, and you are to take care every day to walk abroad under His beams. You are to emigrate south for your life, as our well-to-do invalids do, to where the sun shines in his strength all the day. You are to choose such a minister, buy and read such a literature, cultivate such an acquaintanceship, and follow out such a new life of habits and practices as shall bring you into the full sunshine, till your heart of ice is melted, and your stupefied soul is filled with spiritual sensibility. For, "were a man a mountain of ice," said Old Honest, "yet if the Sun of Righteousness will arise upon him his frozen heart shall feel a thaw; and thus hath it been with me." Your poets and your philosophers have no resource against the stupidity that opposes them. "Even the gods," they complain, "fight unvictorious against stupidity." But your divines and your preachers have hope beside the dullest and the stupidest and even the most imbruted. They point themselves and their slowest and dullest-witted hearers to Old Honest, this rare old saint; and they set up their pulpit with hope and boldness on the very causeway of the town of Stupidity itself.

      2. In the second place,--on this fine old pilgrim's birth and boyhood and youth. The apostle says that there is no real difference between one of us and another; and what he says on that subject must be true. No; there is really no difference compared with the Celestial City whether a pilgrim is born in Stupidity, in Destruction, in Vanity, or in Darkland. At the same time, nature, as well as grace, is of God, and He maketh, when it pleaseth Him, one man to differ in some most important respects from another. You see such differences every day. Some children are naturally, and from their very infancy, false and cruel, mean and greedy; while their brothers and sisters are open and frank and generous. One son in a house is born a vulgar snob, and one daughter a shallow-hearted and shameless little flirt; while another brother is a born gentleman, and another sister a born saint. Some children are tender-hearted, easily melted, and easily moulded; while others in the same family are hard as stone and cold as ice. Sometimes a noble and a truly Christian father will have all his days to weep and pray over a son who is his shame; and then, in the next generation, a grandson will be born to him who will more than recover the lost image of his father's father. And so is it sometimes with father Adam's family. Here and there, in Darkland, in Destruction, and in Stupidity, a child will be born with a surprising likeness to the first Adam in his first estate. That happy child at his best is but the relics and ruins of his first father; at the same time, in him the relics are more abundant and the ruins more easy to trace out. And little Honest was such a well-born child. For, Stupidity and all, there was a real inborn and inbred integrity, uprightness, straightforwardness, and nobleness about this little and not over-clever man-child. And, on the principle of "to him that hath shall be given," there was something like a special providence that hedged this boy about from the beginning. "I girded thee though thou hast not known Me" was never out of Old Honest's mouth as often as he remembered the days of his own youth and heard other pilgrims mourning over theirs. "I have surnamed thee though thou hast not known Me," he would say to himself in his sleep. Slow-witted as he was, no one had been able to cheat young Honest out of his youthful integrity. He had not been led, and he had led no one else, into the paths of the destroyer. He could say about himself all that John Bunyan so boldly and so bluntly said about himself when his enemies charged him with youthful immorality. He left the town in nobody's debt. He left the print of his heels on no man or woman or child when he took his staff in his hand to be a pilgrim. The upward walk of too many pilgrims is less a walk than an escape and a flight. The avenger of men's blood and women's honour has hunted many men deep into heaven's innermost gate. But Old Honest took his time. He walked, if ever pilgrim walked, all the way with an easy mind. He lay down to sleep under the oaks on the wayside, and smiled like a child in his sleep. And, when he was suddenly awaked, instead of crying out for mercy and starting to his heels, he grasped his staff and demanded even of an armed man what business he had to break in on an honest pilgrim's midday repose! The King of the Celestial City had a few names even in Stupidity which had not defiled their garments, and Old Honest was one of them. And all his days his strength was as the strength of ten, because his heart was pure.

      3. At the same time, honesty is not holiness; and no one knew that better than did this honest old saint. When any one spoke to Old Honest about his blameless youth, the look in his eye made them keep at arm's-length as he growled out that without holiness no man shall see God! Writing from Aberdeen to John Bell of Hentoun, Samuel Rutherford says: "I beseech you, in the Lord Jesus, to mind your country above; and now, when old age is come upon you, advise with Christ before you put your foot into the last ship and turn your back on this life. Many are beguiled with this that they are free of scandalous sins. But common honesty will not take men to heaven. Alas! that men should think that ever they met with Christ who had never a sick night or a sore heart for sin. I have known a man turn a key in a door and lock it by." "I can," says John Owen, "and I do, commend moral virtues and honesty as much as any man ought to do, and I am sure there is no grace where they are not. Yet to make anything to be our holiness that is not derived from Jesus Christ,--I know not what I do more abhor." "Are morally honest and sober men qualified for the Lord's Supper?" asks John Flavel. "No; civility and morality do not make a man a worthy communicant. They are not the wedding garment; but regenerating grace and faith in the smallest measure are." "My outside may be honest," said this honest old pilgrim, "while all the time my heart is most unholy. My life is open to all men, but I must hide my heart with Christ in God."

      4. And then this racy-hearted old bachelor was as full of delight in children, and in children's parties, with all their sweetmeats and nuts and games and riddles,--quite as much so--as if he had been their very grandfather himself. Nay, this rosy-hearted old rogue was as inveterate a matchmaker as if he had been a mother of the world with a houseful of daughters on her hands and with the sons of the nobility dangling around. It would make you wish you could kiss the two dear old souls, Gaius the innkeeper and Old Honest his guest, if you would only read how they laid their grey heads together to help forward the love-making of Matthew and Mercy. Yes, it would be a great pity, said Old Honest,--thinking with a sigh of his own childless old age,--it would be a great pity if this excellent family of our sainted brother should fail for want of children, and die out like mine. And the two old plotters went together to the mother of the bridegroom, and told her with an aspect of authority that she must put no obstacle in her son's way, but take Mercy as soon as convenient into a closer relation to herself. And Gaius said that he for his part would give the marriage supper. And I shall make no will, said Honest, but hand all I have over to Matthew my son. This is the way, said Old Honest; and he skipped and smiled and kissed the cheek of the aged mother and said, Then thy two children shall preserve thee and thy husband a posterity in the earth! Then he turned to the boys and he said, Matthew, be thou like Matthew the publican, not in vice, but in virtue. Samuel, he said, be thou like Samuel the prophet, a man of faith and of prayer. Joseph, said he, be thou like Joseph in Potiphar's house, chaste, and one that flees from temptation. And James, be thou like James the Just, and like James the brother of our Lord. Mercy, he said, is thy name, and by mercy shalt thou be sustained and carried through all thy difficulties that shall assault thee in the way, till thou shalt come thither where thou shalt look the Fountain of Mercy in the face with comfort. And all this while the guide, Mr. Greatheart, was very much pleased, and smiled upon the nimble old gentleman.

      5. "Then it came to pass a while after that there was a post in the town that inquired for Mr. Honest. So he came to his house where he was, and delivered to his hands these lines, Thou art commanded to be ready against this day seven night, to present thyself before thy Lord at His Father's house. And for a token that my message is true, all thy daughters of music shall be brought low. Then Mr. Honest called for his friends and said unto them, I die, but shall make no will. As for my honesty, it shall go with me: let him that comes after me be told of this. When the day that he was to be gone was come he addressed himself to go over the river. Now, the river at that time overflowed the banks at some places. But Mr. Honest in his lifetime had spoken to one Good-conscience to meet him there, the which he also did, and lent him his hand, and so helped him over. The last words of Mr. Honest were, Grace reigns! So he left the world." Look at that picture and now look at this: "They then addressed themselves to the water, and, entering, Christian began to sink, and crying out to his good friend Hopeful, he said, I sink in deep waves, the billows go over my head, all His waters go over me. Then said the other, Be of good cheer, my brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good. Then said Christian, Ah, my friend, the sorrows of death have compassed me about; I shall not see the land that flows with milk and honey. And with that a great horror and darkness fell upon Christian, so that he could not see before him; and all the words that he spoke still tended to discover that he had horror of mind lest he should die in that river and never obtain entrance in at the gate. Here also, as they that stood by perceived, he was much in the troublesome thoughts of the sins that he had committed, both since and before he began to be a pilgrim. 'Twas also observed that he was troubled with apparitions of hobgoblins and evil spirits. Hopeful, therefore, had much ado to keep his brother's head above water. Yea, sometimes he would be quite gone down, and then ere a while he would rise up again half dead." My brethren, all my brethren, be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. Thou, O God, wast a God that forgavest them, but Thou tookest vengeance on their inventions.

      * 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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