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Bunyan Characters Second Series: 23. CHRISTIANA

By Alexander Whyte


      "Honour widows that are widows indeed."--Paul.

      We know next to nothing of Christiana till after she is a widow indeed. The names of her parents, and what kind of parents they were, the schools and the boarding-schools to which they sent their daughter, her school companions, the books she read, if she ever read any books at all, the amusements she was indulged in and indulged herself in--on all that her otherwise full and minute biographer is wholly silent. He does not go back beyond her married life; he does not even go back to the beginning of that. The only thing we are sure of about Christiana's early days is that she was an utterly ungodly woman and that she married an utterly ungodly man. "Have you a family? Are you a married man?" asked Charity of Christian in the House Beautiful. "I have a wife and four small children," he replied. "And why did you not bring them along with you?" Then Christian wept, and said: "Oh, how willingly would I have done it; but they were all utterly averse to my going on pilgrimage." "But you should have talked to them," said Charity, "and have endeavoured to have shown them the danger of being behind." "So I did," answered Christian. "And did you pray to God that He would bless your counsel to them?" "Yes, and with much affection; for you must think that my wife and poor children were very dear unto me." "But what could they say for themselves why they came not?" "Why, my wife was afraid of losing the world, and my children were given over to the foolish delights of youth; so what with one thing and what with another, they left me to wander in this manner alone."

      But what her husband's conversion, good example, and most earnest entreaties could not all do for his worldly wife, that his sudden death speedily did. And thus it is that both Christiana's best life, all our interest in her, and all our information about her, dates, sad to say, not from her espousal, nor from her marriage day, nor from any part of her married life, but from her husband's death. Her maidenhood has no interest for us; all our interest is fixed on her widowhood. This work of fiction now in our hands begins where all other works of fiction end; for in the life of religion, you must know, our best is always before us. Well, scarcely was her husband dead when Christiana began to accuse herself of having killed him. To take her own bitter words for it, the most agonising and remorseful thoughts about her conduct to her husband stung her heart like so many wasps. Ah yes! A wasp's sting is but a blade of innocent grass compared with the thoughts that have stung us all as we recalled what we said and did to those who are now no more. There are graves in the churchyard we dare not go near. "I have sinned away your father!" she cried, as she threw herself on the earth at the feet of her astounded children. "I have sinned away your father and he is gone!" And yet there was no mark of a bullet and no gash of a knife on his dead body, and no chemistry could have extracted one grain of arsenic or of strychnine out of his blood. But there are many ways of taking a man's life besides those of poison or a knife or a gunshot. Constant fault-finding, constant correction and studied contempt before strangers, total want of sympathy and encouragement, gloomy looks, rough remarks, all blame and never a word of praise, things like these between man and wife will kill as silently and as surely as poison or suffocation. Look at home, my brethren, and ask yourselves what you will think of much of your present conduct when it has borne its proper fruit. "Upon this came into her mind by swarms all her unkind, unnatural, and ungodly carriages to her dear friend, which also clogged her conscience and did load her with guilt. It all returned upon her like a flash of lightning, and rent the caul of her heart asunder." "That which troubleth me most," she would cry out, "is my churlish carriages to him when he was under distress. I am that woman," she would cry out and would not be appeased--"I am that woman that was so hardhearted as to slight my husband's troubles, and that left him to go on his journey alone. How like a churl I carried myself to him in all that! And so guilt took hold of my mind," she said to the Interpreter, "and would have drawn me to the pond!"

      A minister's widow once told me that she had gone home after hearing a sermon of mine on the text, "What profit is there in my blood?" and had destroyed a paper of poison she had purchased in her despair on the previous Saturday night. It was not a sermon from her unconscious minister, but it was far better; it was a conversation that Christiana held with her four boys that fairly and for ever put all thought of the pond out of their mother's remorseful mind. "So Christiana," as we read in the opening of her history--"so Christiana called her sons together and began thus to address herself unto them: My sons, I have, as you may perceive, been of late under much exercise in my soul about the death of your father. My carriages to your father in his distress are a great load on my conscience. Come, my children, let us pack up and be gone to the gate, that we may see your father and be with him, according to the laws of that land." I like that passage, I think, the best in all Christiana's delightful history--that passage which begins with these words: "So she called her children together." For when she called her children together she opened to them both her heart and her conscience; and from that day there was but one heart and one conscience in all that happy house. I was walking alone on a country road the other day, and as I was walking I was thinking about my pastoral work and about my people and their children, when all at once I met one of my people. My second sentence to him was: "This very moment I was thinking about your sons. How are they getting on?" He quite well understood me. He knew that I was not indifferent as to how they were getting on in business, but he knew that I was alluding more to the life of godliness and virtue in their hearts and in their characters. "O sir," he said, "you may give your sons the skin off your back, but they will not give you their confidence!" So had it been with Christian and his sons. He had never managed, even in his religion, to get into the confidence of his sons; but when their mother took them into her agonised confidence, from that day she was in all their confidences, good and bad. You who are in your children's confidences will pray in secret for my lonely friend with the skin off his back, will you not? that he may soon be able to call his sons together so as to start together on a new life of family love, and family trust, and family religion. That was a fine sight. Who will make a picture of it? This widow indeed at the head of her family council-table, and Matthew at the foot, and James and Joseph and Samuel all in their places. "Come, my children, let us pack up that we may see your father!" Then did her children burst into tears for joy that the heart of their mother was so inclined.

      From that first family council let us pass on to Christiana's last interview with her family and her other friends. Her biographer introduces her triumphant translation with this happy comment on the margin: "How welcome is death to them that have nothing to do but die!" Well, that was exactly Christiana's case. She had so packed up at the beginning of her journey; she had so got and had so kept the confidences of all her sons; she had seen them all so married in the Lord, and thus so settled in a life of godliness and virtue; she had, in short, lived the life of a widow indeed, till, when the post came for her, she had nothing left to do but just to rise up and follow him. His token to her was an arrow with a point sharpened with love, let easily into her heart, which by degrees wrought so effectually with her that at the time appointed she must be gone. We have read of arrows of death sharpened sometimes with steel and sometimes with poison; but this arrow, shot from heaven, was sharpened to a point with love. Indeed, that arrow, or the very fellow of it, had been shot into Christiana's heart long ago when she stood at that spot somewhat ascending where was a cross and a sepulchre; and, especially, ever since the close of Greatheart's great discourse on pardon by deed. For the hearing of that famous discourse had made her exclaim: "Oh! Thou loving One, it makes my heart bleed to think that Thou shouldest bleed for me! Oh! Thou blessed One, Thou deservest to have me, for Thou hast bought me! Thou deservest to have me all, for Thou hast paid for me ten thousand times more than I am worth!" Now it was with all that love working effectually in her heart that Christiana called for her children to give them her blessing. And what a comfort it was to her to see them all around her with the mark of the kingdom on their foreheads, and with their garments white. "My sons and my daughters," she said, "be you all ready against the time His post calls for you." Then she called for Mr. Valiant-for-truth, and entreated him to have an eye on her children, and to speak comfortably to them if at any time he saw them faint. And then she gave Mr. Standfast her ring. "Behold," she said, as Mr. Honest came in--"Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" Then Mr. Ready-to-halt came in, and then Mr. Despondency and his daughter Much-afraid, and then Mr. Feeble-mind. Now the day drew on that Christiana must be gone. So the road was full of people to see her take her journey. But, behold! all the banks beyond the river were full of horses and chariots which were come down from above to accompany her to the City gates, so she came forth and entered the river with a beckon of farewell to those that followed her to the river-side. The last word she was heard to say here was, "I come, Lord, to be with Thee, and to bless Thee."

      But with all this, you must not suppose that this good woman, this mother in Israel, had forgotten her grandchildren. She would sooner have forgotten her own children. But she was too good a woman to forget either. For long ago, away back at the river on this side the Delectable Mountains, she had said to her four daughters--I must tell you exactly what she has said: "Here," she said, "in this meadow there are cotes and folds for sheep, and an house is built here also for the nourishing and bringing up of those lambs, even the babes of those women that go on pilgrimage. Also there is One here who can have compassion and that can gather these lambs with His arm and carry them in His bosom. This Man, she said, will house and harbour and succour the little ones, so that none of them shall be lacking in time to come. This Man, if any of them go astray or be lost, He will bring them again, He will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen them that are sick. So they were content to commit their little ones to that Man, and all this was to be at the charge of the King, and so it was as a hospital to young children and orphans."

      And now I shall sum up my chief impressions of Christiana under the three heads of her mind, her heart, and her widowhood indeed.

      1. The mother of Christian's four sons was a woman of real mind, as so many of the maidens, and wives, and widows of Puritan England and Covenanting Scotland were. You gradually gather that impression just from being beside her as the journey goes on. She does not speak much; but, then, there is always something individual, remarkable, and memorable in what she says. I have a notion of my own that Christiana must have been a reader of that princely Puritan, John Milton. And if that was so, that of itself would be certificate enough as to her possession of mind. There is always a dignity and a strength about her utterances that make us feel sure that she had always had a mind far above her neighbours, Mrs. Bat's-eyes, Mrs. Light-mind, and Mrs. Know-nothing. The first time she opens her mouth in our hearing she lets fall an expression that Milton had just made famous in his Samson--

      "Ease to the body some, none to the mind
      From restless thoughts, that like a deadly swarm
      Of hornets armed no sooner found alone,
      But rush upon me thronging, and present
      Times past, what once I was, and what am now."

      Nor can I leave this point without asserting it to you that no church and no school of theology has ever developed the mind as well as sanctified the heart of the common people like the preaching of the Puritan pulpit. Matthew Arnold was not likely to over-estimate the good that Puritanism had done to England. Indeed, in his earlier writings he sometimes went out of his way to lament the hurt that the Puritan spirit had done to liberality of life and mind in his native land. But in his riper years we find him saying: "Certainly," he says, "I am not blind to the faults of the Puritan discipline, but it has been an invaluable discipline for that poor, inattentive, and immoral creature, man. And the more I read history and the more I see of mankind, the more I recognise the value of the Puritan discipline." And in that same Address he "founded his best hopes for that so enviable and unbounded country in which he was speaking, America, on the fact that so many of its millions had passed through the Puritan discipline." John Milton was a product of that discipline on the one hand, as John Bunyan was on the other. Christiana was another of its products in the sphere of the family, just as Matthew Arnold himself had some of his best qualities out of the same fruitful school.

      2. Her heart, her deep, strong, tender heart, is present on every page of Christiana's noble history. Her heart keeps her often silent when the water in her eyes becomes all the more eloquent. When she does let her heart utter itself in words, her words are fine and memorable. As, for one instance, after Greatheart's discourse on redemption. "O Mercy, that thy father and mother were here; yea, and Mrs. Timorous also. Nay, I wish with all my heart now that here was Madam Wanton, too. Surely, surely, their hearts would be affected, nor could the fear of the one, nor the powerful lusts of the other, prevail with them to go home again, and to refuse to become good pilgrims." But it was not so much what she said herself that brought out the depth and tenderness of Christiana's heart, it was rather the way her heart loosened other people's tongues. You must all have felt how some people's presence straitens your heart and sews up your mouth. While there are other people, again, whose simple presence unseals your heart and makes you eloquent. We ministers keenly feel that both in our public and in our private ministrations. There are people in whose hard and chilling presence we cannot even say grace as we should say it. Whereas, we all know other people, people of a heart, that is, whose presence somehow so touches our lips that we always when near them rise far above ourselves. Christiana did not speak much to her guides and instructors and companions, but they always spoke their best to her, and it was her heart that did it.

      3. And then a widow indeed is just a true and genuine widow; a widow not in her name and in her weeds only, but still more in her deep heart, in her whole life, and in her garnered experience. "Honour widows that are widows indeed. Now, she that is a widow indeed and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and in prayers night and day. Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work." These are the true marks and seals and occupations of a widow indeed. And if she has had unparalleled trials and irreparable losses, she has her corresponding consolations and compensations. For she has a freedom to go about and do good, a liberty and an experience that neither the unmarried maiden nor the married wife can possibly have. She can do multitudes of things that in the nature of things neither of them can attempt to do. Things that would be both unseemly and impossible for other women to say or to do are both perfectly seemly and wholly open for her to say and to do. Her widowhood is a sacred shield to her. Her sorrow is a crown of honour and a sceptre of authority to her. She is consulted by the young and the inexperienced, by the forsaken and by the forlorn, as no other human being ever is. She has come through this life, and by a long experience she knows this world and the hearts that fill it and make it what it is. A widow indeed can show a sympathy, and give a counsel, and speak with a weight of wisdom that one's own mother cannot always do. All you who by God's sad dispensation are now clothed in the "white and wimpled folds" of widowhood, let your prayer and your endeavour day and night be that God would guide and enable you to be widows indeed. And, if you do, you shall want neither your occupation nor your honour.

      * 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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