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Bunyan Characters Second Series: 20. MADAM BUBBLE

By Alexander Whyte

      "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."--Solomon.

      "I have overcome the world."--Our Lord.

      "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof."--John.

      "This bubble world."--Quarles.

      Madam Bubble's portrait was first painted by the Preacher. And he painted her portrait with extraordinary insight, boldness, and truthfulness. There is that in the Preacher's portrait of Madam Bubble which only comes of the artist having mixed his colours, as Milman says that Tacitus mixed his ink, with resentment and with remorse. Out of His reading of Solomon and Moses and the Prophets on this same subject, as well as out of His own observation and experience, conflict and conquest, our Lord added some strong and deep and inward touches of His own to that well-known picture, and then named it by the New Testament name of the World. And then, after Him, His longest-lived disciple set forth the same mother and her three daughters under the three names that still stick to them to this day,--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. But it was reserved for John Bunyan to fill up and to finish those outlines of Scripture and to pour over the whole work his own depth and strength of colour, till, altogether, Madam Bubble stands out as yet another masterpiece of our dreamer's astonishing genius. Let us take our stand before this heaving canvas, then, till we have taken attentive note of some of John Bunyan's inimitable touches and strokes and triumphs of truth and art. "One in very pleasant attire, but old . . . This woman is a witch . . . I am the mistress of the world, she said, and men are made happy by me . . . A tall, comely dame, something of a swarthy complexion." In the newly discovered portrait of a woman, by Albert Duerer, one of the marks of its genuineness is the way that the great artist's initials A. D. are pencilled in on the embroidery of the lady's bodice. And you will note in this gentlewoman's open dress also how J. B. is inextricably woven in. "She wears a great purse by her side also, and her hand is often in her purse fingering her money. Yea, this is she that has bought off many a man from a pilgrim's life after he had fairly begun it. She is a bold and an impudent slut also, for she will talk with any man. If there be one cunning to make money in any place, she will speak well of him from house to house . . . She has given it out in some places also that she is a goddess, and therefore some do actually worship her . . . She has her times and open places of cheating, and she will say and avow it that none can show a good comparable to hers. And thus she has brought many to the halter, and ten thousand times more to hell. None can tell of the mischief that she does. She makes variance betwixt rulers and subjects, betwixt parents and children, 'twixt neighbour and neighbour, 'twixt a man and his wife, 'twixt a man and himself, 'twixt the flesh and the heart." And so on in the great original. "Had she stood by all this while," said Standfast, whose eyes were still full of her, "you could not have set Madam Bubble more amply before me, nor have better described her features." "He that drew her picture was a good limner," said Mr. Honest, "and he that so wrote of her said true".

      1. "I am the mistress of this world," says Madam Bubble. And though all the time she is a bold and impudent slut, yet it is the simple truth that she does sit as a queen over this world and over the men of this world. For Madam Bubble has a royal family like all other sovereigns. She has a court of her own, too, with its ball-room presentations and its birthday honours. She has a cabinet council also, and a bar and a bench with their pleadings and their decisions. Far more than all that, she has a church which she has established and of which she is the head; and a faith also of which she is the defender. She has a standing army also for the extension and the protection of her dominions. She levies taxes, too, and sends out ambassadors, and makes treaties, and forms offensive and defensive alliances. But what a bubble all this World is to him whose eyes have at last been opened to see the hollowness and the heartlessness of it all! For all its pursuits and all its possessions, from a child's rattle to a king's sceptre, all is one great bubble. Wealth, fame, place, power; art, science, letters; politics, churches, sacraments, and scriptures--all are so many bubbles in Madam Bubble's World. This wicked enchantress, if she does not find all these things bubbles already, by one touch of her evil wand she makes them so. She turns gold into dross, God into an idle name, and His Word into words only; unless when in her malice she turns it into a fruitful ground of debate and contention; a ground of malice and hatred and ill-will. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Still, she sits a queen and a goddess to a great multitude: to all men, to begin with. And, like a goddess, she sheds abroad her spirit in her people's hearts and lifts up upon them for a time the light of her countenance.

      2. "I am the mistress of the world," she says, "and men are made happy by me."--I would like to see one of them. I have seen many men to whom Madam Bubble had said that if they would be ruled by her she would make them great and happy. But though I have seen not a few who have believed her and let themselves be ruled by her, I have never yet seen one happy man among them.--The truth is, Madam Bubble is not able to make men happy even if she wished to do it. She is not happy herself, and she cannot dispense to others what she does not possess. And, yet, such are her sorceries that, while her old dupes die in thousands every day, new dupes are born to her every day in still greater numbers. New dupes who run to the same excess of folly with her that their fathers ran; new dupes led in the same mad dance after Madam Bubble and her three daughters. But, always, and to all men, what a bubble both the mother and all her daughters are! How they all make promises like their lying mother, and how, like her, they all lead men, if not to the halter and to hell, as Greatheart said, yet to a life of vanity and to a death of disappointment and despair! What bubbles of empty hopes both she and her three children blow up in the brains of men! What pictures of untold happiness they paint in the imaginations of men! What pleasures, what successes in life, what honours and what rewards she pledges herself to see bestowed! "She has her times and open places of cheating," said one who knew her and all her ways well. And when men and women are still young and inexperienced, that is one of her great cheating times. At some seasons of the year, and in some waters, to the fisherman's surprise and confusion, the fish will sometimes take his bare hook; a bit of a red rag is a deadly bait. And Madam Bubble's poorest and most perfunctory busking is quite enough for the foolish fish she angles for. And not in our salad days only, when we are still green in judgment, but even to grey hairs, this wicked witch continues to entrap us to our ruin. Love, in all its phases and in all its mixtures, first deludes the very young; and then place, and power, and fame, and money are the bait she busks for the middle-aged and the old; and always with the same bubble end. The whole truth is that without God, the living and ever-present God, in all ages of it and in all parts and experiences of it, our human life is one huge bubble. A far-shining, high-soaring bubble; but sooner or later seen and tasted to be a bubble--a deceit-filled, poison-filled bubble.--Happy by her! All men happy by her! The impudent slut!

      3. Another thing about this slut is this, that "she will talk with any man." She makes up to us and makes eyes at us just as if we were free to accept and return her three offers. And still she talks to us and offers us the same things she offered to Standfast till, to escape her and her offers, he betook himself to his knees. Nay, truth to tell, after she had deceived us and ensnared us till we lay in her net cursing both her and ourselves, so bold and so impudent and so persistent is this temptress slut, and such fools and idiots are we, that we soon lay our eyes on her painted beauty again and our heads in her loathsome lap; our heads on that block over which the axe hangs by an angry hair. "She will talk with any man." No doubt; but, then, it takes two to make a talk, and the sad thing is that there are few men among us so wise, so steadfast, and so experienced in her ways that they will not on occasion let Madam Bubble talk her talk to them, and talk back again to her. The oldest saint, the oftenest sold and most dearly redeemed sinner, needs to suspect himself to the end, till he is clear out of Madam Bubble's enchanted ground and for ever over that river of deliverance which shall sweep Madam Bubble and all her daughters into the dead sea for ever.

      "The grey-haired saint may fail at last,
      The surest guide a wanderer prove;
      Death only binds us fast
      To the bright shore of love."

      4. "She highly commends the rich," the guide goes on about Madam Bubble, "and if there be one cunning to get money in any place she will speak well of him from house to house." "The world," says Faber, "is not altogether matter, nor yet altogether spirit. It is not man only, nor Satan only, nor is it exactly sin. It is an infection, an inspiration, an atmosphere, a life, a colouring matter, a pageantry, a fashion, a taste, a witchery. None of all these names suit it, and all of them suit it. Meanwhile its power over the human creation is terrific, its presence ubiquitous, its deceitfulness incredible. It can find a home under every heart beneath the poles. It is wider than the catholic church, and it is masterful, lawless, and intrusive within it. We are all living in it, breathing it, acting under its influence, being cheated by its appearances, and unwarily admitting its principles." Let young ministers who wish to preach to their people on the World--after studying what the Preacher, and the Saviour, and John, and John Bunyan say about the World,--still read Faber's powerful chapter in his Creator and Creature. Yes; Madam Bubble finds a home for herself in every heart beneath the poles. The truth is Madam Bubble has no home, as she has no existence, but in human hearts. And all that Solomon, and our Saviour, and John, and John Bunyan, and Frederick Faber say about the world and about Madam Bubble they really say about the heart of man. It is we, you and I, my brethren, who so highly commend the rich. It is we ourselves here who speak well from house to house of him whose father or whose self has been cunning to get money. We either speak well or ill of them. We either are sick with envy at them, or we fawn upon them and fall down before them. How men rise in our esteem in the degree that their money increases! With what reverence and holy awe we look up at them as if they were gods and the sons of gods! They become more than mortal men to our reverent imaginations. How happy, how all but blessed they must be! we say to ourselves. Within those park gates, under those high towers, in that silver-mounted carriage, surrounded with all those liveried servants, and loved and honoured by all those arriving and leaving guests--what happiness that rich man must have! We are either eaten up of lean-eyed envy of this and that rich man, or we positively worship them as other men worship God and His saints. Yes; Madam Bubble is our very mother. She conceived us and she suckled us. We were brought up in her nurture and admonition. We learned her Catechism, and her shrine is in our heart to-night. Like her, if only a pilgrim is poor, we scorn him. We will not know him. But if there be any one, pilgrim or no, cunning to get money, we honour him, and we claim him as our kindred and relation, our acquaintance and our friend. We will speak often of him as such from house to house. Just see if we will not. There is room in our hearts, Madam Bubble, there is room in our hearts for thee!

      5. "She loves them most that think best of her." But, surely, surely, the guide goes quite too far in blaming and being hard upon poor Madam Bubble for that? For, to give her fair play, she is not at all alone in that. Is the guide himself wholly above that? Do we not all do that? Is there one in ten, is there one in a thousand, who hates and humiliates himself because his love of men and women goes up or down just as they think of him? Yes; Greatheart is true to his great name in his whole portrait of Madam Bubble also, and nowhere more true than in this present feature. For when any man comes to have any true greatness in his heart--how he despises and detests himself as he finds himself out in not only claiming kindred and acquaintance with the rich and despising and denying the poor; but, still more, in loving or hating other men just as they love or hate him! The world loves her own. Yes; but he who has been taken out of the world, and who has had the world taken out of him, he loves--he strives to love, he goes to his knees every day he lives to love--those who not only do not think well of him, but who both think ill of him and speak ill of him. "Humility," says William Law, "does not consist in having a worse opinion of ourselves than we deserve, or in abasing ourselves lower than we really are. But as all virtue is founded in truth, so humility is founded in a true and just sense of our weakness, misery, and sin. He who rightly feels and lives in this sense of his condition lives in humility. And, it may be added, when our hearts are wholly clothed with humility we shall be prompt to approve the judgment and to endorse the sentence of those who think and speak the least good of us and the most evil."

      6. "'Twas she," so the guide at last wound up, "that set Absalom against his father, and Jeroboam against his master. 'Twas she that persuaded Judas to sell his Lord, and that prevailed with Demas to forsake the godly pilgrim's life. None can tell all the mischief that Madam Bubble does. She makes variance between rulers and subjects, between parents and children, 'twixt neighbour and neighbour, 'twixt a man and his wife, 'twixt a man and himself, 'twixt the flesh and the heart." Now, I shall leave that last indictment and its lessons and its applications to yourselves, my brethren. You will get far more good out of this accumulated count against Madam Bubble if you explain it, and open it up, and prove it, and illustrate it to yourselves. Explain, then, in what way this sorceress set Absalom against his father and Jeroboam against his master. Point out in what way she makes variance between a ruler and his subjects, and give illustrations. Put your finger on a parent and on a child between whom there is variance at this moment on her account. And, if you are that parent or that child, what have you done to remove that variance? Name two neighbours that to your knowledge Madam Bubble has come between; and say what you have done to be a peacemaker there. Set down what you would say to a man and his wife so as to put them on their guard against Madam Bubble ever coming in between them. And, last and best of all, point out to yourself at what times and in what ways this wicked witch tries to make variance between God's Holy Spirit striving within you and your own evil heart still strong within you. When you are weary and sleepy and hungry as a howlet, and, Madam Bubble and her three daughters make a ring round you, what do you do? Do you ever take to your knees? Really and honestly, do you? When you find yourself out looking with holy fear on a rich and lofty relation, and with insufferable contempt on a poor and intrusive relation, by what name do you call yourself? Write it down. And when she would fain put variance between you and those who do not think well of you, what steps do you take to foil her? Where and how do you get strength at that supreme moment to think of others as you would have them think of you? "Oh," said Standfast, "what a mercy it is that I did resist her! for to what might she not have drawn me?"


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See Also:
   7. SECRET
   9. MERCY
   10. MR. BRISK
   11. MR. SKILL
   14. MR. FEARING
   21. GAIUS


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