You're here: oChristian.com » Articles Home » Alexander Whyte » Bunyan Characters Second Series » 16. GREAT-HEART

Bunyan Characters Second Series: 16. GREAT-HEART

By Alexander Whyte


      "--when thou shalt enlarge my heart."--David.

      On Sabbath, the 12th December 1886, I heard the late Canon Liddon preach a sermon in St. Paul's Cathedral, in which he classed Oliver Cromwell with Alexander the Sixth and with Richard the Third. I had taken my estimate of the great Protector's character largely from Carlyle's famous book, and you can judge with what feelings I heard the canon's comparison. And, besides, I had been wont to think of the Protector as having entered largely into John Bunyan's portrait of Greatheart, the pilgrim guide. And the researches and the judgments of Dr. Gardiner have only gone to convince me, the eloquent canon notwithstanding, that Bunyan could not have chosen a better contemporary groundwork for his Greatheart than just the great Puritan soldier. Cromwell's "mental struggles before his conversion," his life-long "searchings of heart," his "utter absence of vindictiveness," his unequalled capacity for "seeing into the heart of a situation," and his own "all-embracing hospitality of heart"--all have gone to reassure me that my first guess as to Bunyan's employment of the Protector's matchless personality and services had not been so far astray. And the oftener I read the noble history of Greatheart, the better I seem to hear, beating behind his fine figure, by far the greatest heart that ever ruled over the realm of England.

      1. The first time that we catch a glimpse of Greatheart's weather-beaten and sword-seamed face is when he is taking a stolen look out of the window at Mr. Fearing, who is conducting himself more like a chicken than a man around the Interpreter's door. And from that moment till Mr. Fearing shouted "Grace reigns!" as he cleared the last river, never sportsman surely stalked a startled deer so patiently and so skilfully and so successfully as Greatheart circumvented that chicken-hearted pilgrim. "At last I looked out of the window, and perceiving a man to be up and down about the door, I went out to him and asked him what he was; but, poor man, the water stood ill his eyes. So I perceived what he wanted. I went in, therefore, and told it in the house, and we showed the thing to our Lord. So He sent me out again to entreat him to come in; but I dare say I had hard work to do it." Greatheart's whole account of Mr. Fearing always brings the water to my eyes also. It is indeed a delicious piece of English prose. If I were a professor of belles lettres instead of what I am, I would compel all my students, under pain of rustication, to get those three or four classical pages by heart till they could neither perpetrate nor tolerate bad English any more. This camp-fire tale, told by an old soldier, about a troublesome young recruit and all his adventures, touches, surely, the high-water mark of sweet and undefiled English. Greatheart was not the first soldier who could handle both the sword and the pen, and he has not been the last. But not Caesar and not Napier themselves ever handled those two instruments better.

      2. Greatheart had just returned to his Master's house from having seen Mr. Fearing safely through all his troubles and well over the river, when, behold, another caravan of pilgrims is ready for his convoy. For Greatheart, you must know, was the Interpreter's armed servant. When at any time Greatheart was off duty, which in those days was but seldom, he took up his quarters again in the Interpreter's house. As he says himself, he came back from the river-side only to look out of the Interpreter's window to see if there was any more work on the way for him to do. And, as good luck would have it, as has been said, the guide was just come back from his adventures with Mr. Fearing when a pilgrim party, than which he had never seen one more to his mind, was introduced to him by his Master, the Interpreter. "The Interpreter," so we read at this point, "then called for a man-servant of his, one Greatheart, and bid him take sword, and helmet, and shield, and take these, my daughters," said he, "and conduct them to the house called Beautiful, at which place they will rest next. So he took his weapons and went before them, and the Interpreter said, God-speed."

      3. Now I saw in my dream that they went on, and Greatheart went before them, so they came to the place where Christian's burden fell off his back and tumbled into a sepulchre. Here, then, they made a pause, and here also they blessed God. "Now," said Christiana, "it comes to my mind what was said to us at the gate; to wit, that we should have pardon by word and by deed. What it is to have pardon by deed, Mr. Greatheart, I suppose you know; wherefore, if you please, let us hear your discourse thereof." "So then, to speak to the question," said Greatheart. You have all heard about the "question-day" at Highland communions. That day is so called because questions that have arisen in the minds of "the men" in connection with doctrine and with experience are on that day set forth, debated out, and solved by much meditation and prayer; age, saintliness, doctrinal and experimental reading, and personal experience all making their contribution to the solution of the question in hand. Just such a question, then, and handled in such a manner, was that question which whiled the way and cheated the toil till the pilgrims came to the House Beautiful. The great doctrinal and experimental Puritans, with Hooker at their head, put forth their full strength and laid out their finest work just on this same question that Christiana gave out at the place, somewhat ascending, upon which stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. But not the great Comment on The Galatians itself, next to the Holy Bible as it is, as most fit for a wounded conscience; no, nor that perfect mass of purest gold, The Learned Discourse of Justification, nor anything else of that kind known to me, is for one moment, to compare in beauty, in tenderness, in eloquence, in scriptural depth, and in scriptural simplicity with Greatheart's noble resolution of Christiana's question which he made on the way from the Interpreter's house to the House Beautiful. "This is brave!" exclaimed that mother in Israel, when the guide had come to an end. "Methinks it makes my heart to bleed to think that He should bleed for me. O Thou loving One! O Thou blessed One! Thou deservest to have me, for Thou hast bought me. No marvel that this made the water to stand in my husband's eyes, and that it made him trudge so nimbly on. O Mercy, that thy father and thy mother were here; yea, and Mrs. Timorous too! Nay, I wish now with all my heart that here was Madam Wanton too. Surely, surely their hearts would be affected here!" Promise me to read at home Greatheart's discourse on the Righteousness of Christ, and you will thank me for having exacted the promise.

      The incongruity of a soldier handling such questions, and especially in such a style, has stumbled some of John Bunyan's fault-finding readers. The same incongruity stumbled "the Honourable Colonel Hacker, at Peebles or elsewhere," to whom Cromwell sent these from Edinburgh on the 25th December 1650--"But indeed I was not satisfied with your last speech to me about Empson, that he was a better preacher than fighter or soldier--or words to that effect. Truly, I think that he that prays and preaches best will fight best. I know nothing that will give like courage and confidence as the knowledge of God in Christ will; and I bless God to see any in this army able and willing to impart the knowledge they have for the good of others. I pray you receive Captain Empson lovingly: I dare assure you he is a good man and a good officer; I would we had no worse."

      4. "Will you not go in and stay till morning?" said the porter to Greatheart, at the gate of the House Beautiful. "No," said the guide; "I will return to my lord to-night." "O sir!" cried Christiana and Mercy, "we know not how to be willing you should leave us in our pilgrimage. Oh that we might have your company till our journey's end." Then said James, the youngest of the boys, "Pray be persuaded to go with us and help us, because we are so weak and the way so dangerous as it is." "I am at my lord's commandment," said Greatheart. "If he shall allow me to be your guide quite through, I shall willingly wait upon you. But here you failed at first; for when he bid me come thus far with you, then you should have begged me of him to have gone quite through with you, and he would have granted your request. However, at present, I must withdraw, and so, good Christiana, Mercy, and my brave children, adieu!" "Help lost for want of asking for," is our author's condemnatory comment on the margin at this point in the history. And there is not a single page in my history, or in yours, my brethren, on which the same marginal lament is not written. What help we would have had on our Lord's promise if we had but taken the trouble to ask for it! And what help we once had, and have now lost, just because when we had it we did not ask for a continuance of it! "No," said Greatheart to the porter, and to the two women, and to James--"No. I will return to my lord to-night. I am at my lord's commandment; only, if he shall still allot me I shall willingly wait upon you."

      Now, what with the House Beautiful, so full of the most delightful company; what with music in the house and music in the heart; what with Mr. Brisk's courtship of Mercy, Matthew's illness, Mr. Skill's cure of the sick man, and what not--a whole month passed by like a day in that so happy house. But at last Christiana and Mercy signified it to those of the house that it was time for them to be up and going. Then said Joseph to his mother, "It is convenient that you send back to the house of Mr. Interpreter to pray him to grant that Mr. Greatheart should be sent to us that he may be our conductor the rest of our way." "Good boy," said she, "I had almost forgot." So she drew up a petition and prayed Mr. Watchful the porter to send it by some fit man to her good friend, Mr. Interpreter; who, when it was come and he had seen the contents of the petition, said to the messenger, "Go, tell them that I will send him." . . . Now, about this time one knocked at the door. So the porter opened, and, behold, Mr. Greatheart was there! But when he came in, what joy was there! Then said Mr. Greatheart to the two women, "My lord has sent each of you a bottle of wine, and also some parched corn, together with a couple of pomegranates. He has also sent the boys some figs and raisins to refresh you on your way." "The weak may sometimes call the strong to prayers," I read again in the margin opposite the mention of Joseph's name. Not that I am strong, and not that she is weak, but one of my people I spent an hour with last afternoon whom you would to a certainty have called weak had you seen her and her surrounding,--she so called me to prayer that I had to hurry home and go straight to it. And all last night and all this morning I have had as many pomegranates as I could eat and as much wine as I could drink. Yes; you attend to what the weakest will sometimes say to you, and they will often put you on the way to get Greatheart back again with a load of wines and fruits and corn on his shoulder to refresh you on your journey. "Good boy!" said Christiana to Joseph her youngest son, "Good boy! I had almost forgot!"

      5. When old Mr. Honest began to nod after the good supper that Gaius mine host gave to the pilgrims, "What, sir," cried Greatheart, "you begin to be drowsy; come, rub up; now here's a riddle for you." Then said Mr. Honest, "Let's hear it." Then said Mr. Greatheart,

      "He that will kill, must first be overcome;
      Who live abroad would, first must die at home."

      "Hah!" said Mr. Honest, "it is a hard one; hard to expound, and harder still to practise." Yes; this after-supper riddle of Mr. Greatheart is a hard one in both respects; and for this reason, because the learned and much experienced guide--learned with all that his life-long quarters in the Interpreter's House could teach him, and experienced with a lifetime's accumulated experience of the pilgrim life--has put all his learning and all his life into these two mysterious lines. But old Honest, once he had sufficiently rubbed up his eyes and his intellects, gave the answer:

      "He first by grace must conquered be
      That sin would mortify.
      And who, that lives, would convince me,
      Unto himself must die."

      Exactly; shrewd old Honest; you have hit off both Greatheart and his riddle too. You have dived into the deepest heart of the Interpreter's man-servant. "The magnanimous man" was Aristotle's masterpiece. That great teacher of mind and morals created for the Greek world their Greatheart. But, "thou must understand," says Bunyan to his readers, "that I never went to school to Aristotle or Plato. No; but to Paul, who taught Bunyan that what Aristotle calls magnanimity is really pride--taught him that, till there is far more of the Christian religion in those two doggerel lines at Gaius's supper-table than there is in all The Ethics taken together. And it is only from a personal experience of the same life as that which the guide puts here into his riddle that any man's proud heart will become really humble and thus really great, really enlarged, and of an all-embracing hospitality like Cromwell's and Greatheart's and John Bunyan's own. Would you, then, become a Greatheart too? And would you be employed in your day as they were employed in their day? Then expound to yourself, and practise, and follow out that deep riddle with which Greatheart so woke up old Honest:

      "He that will kill, must first be overcome;
      Who live abroad would, first must die at home.

      6. Greatheart again and again at the river-side, Greatheart sending pilgrim after pilgrim over the river with rapture, and he himself still summoned to turn his back on the Celestial City, and to retrace his steps through the land of Beulah, through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and through the Valley of Humiliation, and back to the Interpreter's house to take on another and another and another convoy of fresh pilgrims, and his own abundant entrance still put off and never to come,--our hearts bleed for poor Greatheart. Back and forward, back and forward, year after year, this noble soul uncomplainingly goes. And, ever as he waves his hand to another pilgrim entering with trumpets within the gates, he salutes his next pilgrim charge with the brave words: "Yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two: having a desire to depart and to be with Christ. Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you, for your furtherance and joy of faith by my coming to you again." If Greatheart could not "usher himself out of this life" along with Christiana, and Mercy, and Mr. Honest, and Standfast, and Valiant-for-truth--if he had still to toil back and bleed his way up again at the head of another happy band of pilgrims--well, after all is said, what had the Celestial City itself to give to Greatheart better than such blessed work? With every such returning journey he got a more and more enlarged, detached, hospitable, and Christ-like heart, and the King's palace in very glory itself had nothing better in store for this soldier-guide than that. A nobler heaven Greatheart could not taste than he had already in himself, as he championed another and another pilgrim company from his Master's earthly gate to his Master's heavenly gate. Like Paul, his apostolic prototype, Greatheart sometimes vacillated just for a moment when he came a little too near heaven, and felt its magnificent and almost dissolving attractions full in his soul. You will see Greatheart's mind staggering for a moment between rest and labour, between war and peace, between "Christ" on earth and "Christ" in heaven--you will see all that set forth with great sympathy and great ability in Principal Rainy's new book on Paul's Epistle to the Philippians, and in the chapter entitled, The Apostle's Choice between Living and Dying.

      Then there came a summons for Mr. Standfast. At which he called to him Mr. Greatheart, and said unto him, "Sir, although it was not my hap to be much in your good company in the days of my pilgrimage, yet, since the time I knew you, you have been profitable to me. When I came from home I left behind me a wife and five small children. Let me entreat you, at your return (for I know that you will go and return to your master's house in hopes that you may be a conductor to more of the holy pilgrims), that you send to my family and let them be acquainted with all that hath and shall happen to me. Tell them, moreover, of my happy arrival to this place, and of the present late blessed condition I am in, and so on for many other messages and charges." Yes, Mr. Standfast; very good. But I would have liked you on your deathbed much better if you had had a word to spare from yourself and your wife and your children for poor Greatheart himself, who had neither wife nor children, nor near hope of heaven, but only your trust and charge and many suchlike trusts and charges to carry out when you are at home and free of all trust and all charge and all care. But yours is the way of all the pilgrims--so long, at least, as they are in this selfish life. Let them and their children only be well looked after, and they have not many thoughts or many words left for those who sweat and bleed to death for them and theirs. They lean on this and that Greatheart all their own way up, and then they leave their widows and children to lean on whatever Greatheart is sent to meet them; but it is not one pilgrim in ten who takes the thought or has the heart to send a message to Mr. Greatheart himself for his own consolation and support. I read that Mr. Ready-to-halt alone, good soul, had the good feeling to do it. He thanked Mr. Greatheart for his conduct and for his kindness, and so addressed himself to his journey. All the same, noble Greatheart! go on in thy magnanimous work. Take back all their errands. Seek out at any trouble all their wives and children. Embark again and again on all thy former battles and hardships for the good of other men. But be assured that all this thy labour is not in vain in thy Lord. Be well assured that not one drop of thy blood or thy sweat or thy tears shall fall to the ground on that day when they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. Go back, then, from thy well-earned rest, O brave Greatheart! go back to thy waiting task. Put on again thy whole armour. Receive again, and again fulfil, thy Master's commission, till He has no more commissions left for thy brave heart and thy bold hand to execute. And, one glorious day, while thou art still returning to thy task, it shall suddenly sound in thy dutiful ears:--"Well done! good and faithful servant!" And then thou too

      "Shalt hang thy trumpet in the hall
      And study war no more."

      * 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

Loading

Like This Page?


© 1999-2016, oChristian.com. All rights reserved.