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Bunyan Characters Second Series: 15. FEEBLE-MIND

By Alexander Whyte


      "Comfort the feeble-minded."--Paul.

      Feeble-mind shall first tell you his own story in his own words, and then I shall perhaps venture a few observations upon his history and his character.

      "I am but a sickly man, as you see," said Feeble-mind to Greatheart, "and because Death did usually knock once a day at my door, I thought I should never be well at home. So I betook myself to a pilgrim's life, and have travelled hither from the town of Uncertain, where I and my father were born. I am a man of no strength at all of body, nor yet of mind; but would, if I could, though I can but crawl, spend my life in the pilgrim's way. When I came at the gate that is at the head of the way, the Lord of that place did entertain me freely. Neither objected he against my weakly looks, nor against my feeble mind; but gave me such things as were necessary for my journey, and bade me hope to the end. When I came to the house of the Interpreter I received much kindness there; and, because the Hill Difficulty was judged too hard for me, I was carried up that hill by one of his servants. Indeed I have found much relief from pilgrims, though none were willing to go so softly as I am forced to do. Yet, still, as they came on, they bid me be of good cheer, and said that it was the will of their Lord that comfort should be given to the feeble-minded, and so went on their own pace. I look for brunts by the way; but this I have resolved on, to wit, to run when I can, to go when I cannot run, and to creep when I cannot go. As to the main, I thank Him that loves me, I am fixed. My way is before me, my mind is beyond the river that has no bridge, though I am, as you see, but of a feeble mind."

      Then said old Mr. Honest, "Have you not some time ago been acquainted with one Mr. Fearing, a pilgrim?" "Acquainted with him! yes. He came from the town of Stupidity, which lies four degrees to the northward of the City of Destruction, and as many off where I was born. Yet we were well acquainted; for, indeed, he was mine uncle, my father's brother. He and I have been much of a temper; he was a little shorter than I, but yet we were much of a complexion." "I perceive that you know him," said Mr. Honest, "and I am apt to believe also that you were related one to another; for you have his whitely look, a cast like his with your eye, and your speech is much alike."

      "Alas!" Feeble-mind went on, "I want a suitable companion. You are all lusty and strong, but I, as you see, am weak. I choose therefore rather to come behind, lest, by reason of my many infirmities, I should be both a burden to myself and to you. I am, as I said, a man of a weak and feeble mind, and shall be offended and made weak at that which others can bear. I shall like no laughing; I shall like no gay attire; I shall like no unprofitable questions. Nay, I am so weak a man as to be offended with what others have a liberty to do. I do not yet know all the truth. I am a very ignorant Christian man. Sometimes, if I hear some rejoice in the Lord, it troubles me because I cannot do so too. It is with me as with a weak man among the strong, or as with a sickly man among the healthy, or as a lamp despised." "But, brother," said Greatheart, "I have it in commission to comfort the feeble-minded and to support the weak." Thus therefore, they went on--Mr. Greatheart and Mr. Honest went before; Christiana and her children went next; and Mr. Feeble-mind and Mr. Ready-to-halt came behind with his crutches.

      1. In the first place, a single word as to Feeble-mind's family tree.

      Thackeray says that The Peerage is the Family Bible of every true-born Englishman. Every genuine Englishman, he tells us, teaches that sacred book diligently to his children. He talks out of it to them when he sits in the house and when he walks by the way. He binds it upon his children's hands, and it is as a frontlet between their eyes. He writes its names upon the doorposts of his house, and makes pictures out of it upon his gates. Now, John Bunyan was a born Englishman in his liking for a family tree. He had no such tree himself--scarcely so much as a bramble bush; but, all the same, let the tinker take his pen in hand, and the pedigrees and genealogies of all his pilgrims are sure to be set forth as much as if they were to form the certificates that those pilgrims were to hand in at the gate.

      Feeble-mind, then, was of an old, a well-rooted and a wide-spread race. The county of Indecision was full of that ancient stock. They had intermarried in-and-in also till their small stature, their whitely look, the droop of their eye, and their weak leaky speech all made them to be easily recognised wherever they went. It was Feeble-mind's salvation that Death had knocked at his door every day from his youth up. He was feeble in body as well as in mind; only the feebleness of his body had put a certain strength into his mind; the only strength he ever showed, indeed, was the strength that had its roots in a weak constitution at which sickness and death struck their dissolving blows every day. To escape death, both the first and the second death, any man with a particle of strength left would run with all his might; and Feeble-mind had strength enough somewhere among his weak joints to make him say, "But this I have resolved on, to wit, to run when I can, to go when I cannot run, and to creep when I cannot go. As to the main, I am fixed!"

      2. At the Wicket Gate pilgrim Feeble-mind met with nothing but the kindest and the most condescending entertainment. It was the gatekeepers way to become all things to all men. The gatekeeper's nature was all in his name; for he was all Goodwill together. No kind of pilgrim ever came wrong to Goodwill. He never found fault with any. Only let them knock and come in and he will see to all the rest. The way is full of all the gatekeeper's kind words and still kinder actions. Every several pilgrim has his wager with all the rest that no one ever got such kindness at the gate as he got. And even Feeble-mind gave the gatekeeper this praise--"The Lord of the place," he said, "did entertain me freely. Neither objected he against my weakly looks nor against my feeble mind. But he gave me such things as were necessary for my journey, and bade me hope to the end." All things considered, that is perhaps the best praise that Goodwill and his house ever earned. For, to receive and to secure Feeble-mind as a pilgrim--to make it impossible for Feeble-mind to entertain a scruple or a suspicion that was not removed beforehand--to make it impossible for Feeble-mind to find in all the house and in all its grounds so much as a straw over which he could stumble--that was extraordinary attention, kindness, and condescension in Goodwill and all his good-willed house. "Go on, go on, dear Mr. Feeble mind," said Goodwill giving his hand to Mr. Fearing's nephew, "go on: keep your feeble mind open to the truth, and still hope to the end!"

      3. "As to the Interpreter's House, I received much kindness there." That is all. But in that short speech I think there must he hid no little shame and remorse. No words could possibly be a severer condemnation of Feeble-mind than his own two or three so irrelevant words about the Interpreter's house. No doubt at all, Feeble-mind received kindness there; but that is not the point. That noble house was not built at such cost, and fitted up, and kept open all the year round, and filled with fresh furniture from year to year, merely that those who passed through its significant rooms might report that they had received no rudeness at the hands of the Interpreter. "'Come,' said the Interpreter to Feeble-mind, 'and I will show thee what will be profitable to thee.' So he commanded his man to light the candle and bid Feeble-mind follow him. But it was all to no use. Feeble-mind had neither the taste nor the capacity for the significant rooms. Nay, as one after another of those rich rooms was opened to him, Feeble-mind took a positive dislike to them. Nothing interested him; nothing instructed him. But many things stumbled and angered him. The parlour full of dust, and how the dust was raised and laid; Passion and Patience; the man in the iron cage; the spider-room; the muck-rake room; the robin with its red breast and its pretty note, and yet with its coarse food; the tree, green outside but rotten at the heart,--all the thanks the Interpreter took that day for all that from Feeble-mind was in such speeches as these: You make me lose my head. I do not know where I am. I did not leave the town of Uncertain to be confused and perplexed in my mind with sights and sounds like these. Let me out at the door I came in at, and I shall go back to the gate. Goodwill had none of these unhappy rooms in his sweet house!" Nothing could exceed the kindness of the Interpreter himself; but his house was full of annoyances and offences and obstructions to Mr. Feeble-mind. He did not like the Interpreter's house, and he got out of it as fast as he could, with his mind as feeble as when he entered it; and, what was worse, with his temper not a little ruffled.

      And we see this very same intellectual laziness, this very same downright dislike at divine truth, in our own people every day. There are in every congregation people who take up their lodgings at the gate and refuse to go one step farther on the way. A visit to the Interpreter's House always upsets them. It turns their empty head. They do not know where they are. They will not give what mind they have to divine truth, all you can do to draw them on to it, till they die as feeble-minded, as ignorant, and as inexperienced as they were born. They never read a religious book that has any brain or heart in it. The feeble Lives of feeble-minded Christians, written by feeble-minded authors, and published by feeble-minded publishers,--we all know the spoon-meat that multitudes of our people go down to their second childhood upon. Jonathan Edwards--a name they never hear at home, but one of the most masculine and seraphic of interpreters--has a noble discourse on The Importance and Advantage of a thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth. "Consider yourselves," he says, "as scholars or disciples put into the school of Christ, and therefore be diligent to make proficiency in Christian knowledge. Content not yourselves with this, that you have been taught your Catechism in your childhood, and that you know as much of the principles of religion as is necessary to salvation. Let not your teachers have cause to complain that while they spend and are spent to impart knowledge to you, you take little pains to learn. Be assiduous in reading the Holy Scriptures. And when you read, observe what you read. Observe how things come in. Compare one scripture with another. Procure and diligently use other books which may help you to grow in this knowledge. There are many excellent books extant which might greatly forward you in this knowledge. There is a great defect in many, that through a lothness to be at a little expense, they provide themselves with no more helps of this nature." Weighty, wise, and lamentably true words.

      "Mundanus," says William Law, "is a man of excellent parts, and clear apprehension. He is well advanced in age, and has made a great figure in business. He has aimed at the greatest perfection in everything. The only thing which has not fallen under his improvement, nor received any benefit from his judicious mind, is his devotion; this is just in the same poor state it was when he was six years of age, and the old man prays now in that little form of words which his mother used to hear him repeat night and morning. This Mundanus that hardly ever saw the poorest utensil without considering how it might be made or used to better advantage, has gone on all his life long praying in the same manner as when he was a child; without ever considering how much better or oftener he might pray; without considering how improvable the spirit of devotion is, how many helps a wise and reasonable man may call to his assistance, and how necessary it is that our prayers should be enlarged, varied, and suited to the particular state and condition of our lives. How poor and pitiable is the conduct of this man of sense, who has so much judgment and understanding in everything but that which is the whole wisdom of man!" How true to every syllable is that! How simple-looking, and yet how manly, and able, and noble! We close our young men's session with Law and Butler to-night, and I cannot believe that our session with those two giants has left one feeble mind in the two classes; they were all weeded out after the first fortnight of the session; though, after all is done, there are still plenty left both among old and young in the congregation. Even Homer sometimes nods; and I cannot but think that John Bunyan has made a slip in saying that Feeble-mind enjoyed the Interpreter's House. At any rate, I wish I could say as much about all the feeble minds known to me.

      4. The Hill Difficulty, which might have helped to make a man of Feeble-mind, saw a laughable, if it had not been such a lamentable, spectacle. For it saw this poor creature hanging as limp as wet linen on the back of one of the Interpreter's sweating servants. Your little boy will explain the parable to you. Shall I do this? or, shall I rather do that? asks Feeble-mind at every stop. Would it be right? or, would it be wrong? Shall I read that book? Shall I go to that ball? Shall I marry that man? Tell me what to do. Give me your hand. Take me up upon your back, and carry me over this difficult hill. "I was carried up that," says poor Feeble-mind, "by one of his servants."

      5. "The one calamity of Mr. Feeble-mind's history," says our ablest commentator on Bunyan, "was the finest mercy of his history." That one calamity was his falling into Giant Slay-good's hands, and his finest mercy was his rescue by Greatheart, and his consequent companionship with his deliverer, with Mr. Honest, and with Christiana and her party till they came to the river. You constantly see the same thing in the life of the Church and of the Christian Family. Some calamity throws a weak, ignorant, and immoral creature into close contact with a minister or an elder or a Christian visitor, who not only relieves him from his present distress, but continues to keep his eye upon his new acquaintance, introduces him to wise and good friends, invites him to his house, gives him books to read, and keeps him under good influences, till, of a weak, feeble, and sometimes vicious character, he is made a Christian man, till he is able for himself to say, It was good for me to be afflicted; the one calamity of my history has been my best mercy!

      6. Feeble-mind, I am ashamed to have to admit, behaved himself in a perfectly scandalous manner at the house of Gaius mine host. He went beyond all bounds during those eventful weeks. Those weeks were one long temptation to Feeble-mind--and he went down in a pitiful way before his temptation. Two marriages and two honeymoons, with suppers and dances every night, made the old hostelry like very Pandemonium itself to poor Feeble-mind. He would have had Matthew's and James's marriages conducted next door to a funeral. Because he would not eat flesh himself, he protested against Gaius killing a sheep. "Man," said old Honest, almost laying his quarterstaff over Feeble-mind's shoulders--"Man, dost thou think because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" "I shall like no laughing," said Feeble-mind; "I shall like no gay attire; I shall like no unprofitable questions." I think it took some self-conceit to refuse to sit at table beside Christiana because of her gay attire. And I hope Mercy did not give up dressing well, even after she was married, to please that weak-minded old churl. And as to unprofitable questions--we are all tempted to think that question unprofitable which our incapacity or our ignorance keeps us silent upon at table. We think that topic both ill-timed and impertinent and unsafe to which we are not invited to contribute anything. "I am a very ignorant man," he went on to say; and, if that was said in any humility, Feeble-mind never said a truer word. "It is with me as it is with a weak man among the strong, or as with a sick man among the healthy, or as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease." All which only brought Greatheart out in his very best colours. "But, brother," said the guide, "I have it in commission to comfort the feeble-minded, and to support the weak. You must needs go along with us; we will wait for you, we will lend you our help, we will deny ourselves of some things, both opinionative and practical, for your sake; we will not enter into doubtful disputations before you; we will be made all things to you rather than that you shall be left behind."

      7. The first thing that did Mr. Feeble-mind any real good was his being made military guard over the women and the children while the men went out to demolish Doubting Castle. Quis custodiet? you will smile and say when you hear that. Who shall protect the protector? you will say. But wait a little. Greatheart knew his business. For not only did Feeble-mind rise to the occasion, when he was put to it; but, more than that, he was the soul of good company at supper-time that night. "Jocund and merry" are the very words. Yes; give your feeble and fault-finding folk something to do. Send them to teach a class. Send them down into a mission district. Lay a sense of responsibility upon them. Leave them to deal with this and that emergency themselves. Cease carrying them on your back, and lay weak and evil and self-willed people on their back. Let them feel that they are of some real use. As Matthew Arnold says, Let the critic but try practice, and you will make a new man of him. As Greatheart made of Feeble-mind by making him mount guard over the Celestial caravan while the fighting men were all up at Doubting Castle.

      8. "Mark this," says Mr. Feeble-mind's biographer on the early margin of his history, lest we should be tempted to forget the good parts of this troublesome and provoking pilgrim--"Mark this." This, namely, which Feeble-mind says to his guide. "As to the main, I thank Him that loves me, I am fixed. My way is before me, my mind is beyond the river that has no bridge, though I am, as you see, but of a feeble mind." And that leads us with returning regard and love to turn to the end of his history, where we read: "After this Mr. Feeble-mind had tidings brought him that the post sounded his horn at his chamber door. Then he came in and told him, saying, I am come to tell thee that thy Master hath need of thee, and that in very little time thou must behold His face in brightness. Then Mr. Feeble-mind called for his friends, and told them what errand had been brought to him, and what token he had received of the truth of the message. As for my feeble mind he said, that I shall leave behind me, for I shall have no need of that in the place whither I go. Nor is it worth bestowing upon the poorest pilgrim. Wherefore, when I am gone, I desire that you would bury it in a dung-hill. This done, and the day being come in which he was about to depart, he entered the river as the rest. His last words were, Hold out, faith and patience! So he went over to the other side."

      * 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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