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Bunyan Characters Second Series: 24. THE ENCHANTED GROUND

By Alexander Whyte


      "Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel."--Balaam.

      "I saw then in my dream that they went till they came into a certain country whose air naturally tended to make one drowsy if he came a stranger to it. And here Hopeful began to be very dull and heavy of sleep, wherefore he said unto Christian, I do now begin to grow so drowsy that I can scarcely hold up mine eyes; let us lie down here and take one nap." And then when we turn to the same place in the Second Part we read thus: "By this time they were got to the Enchanted Ground, where the air naturally tended to make one drowsy. And that place was all grown over with briars and thorns, excepting here and there, where was an enchanted arbour, upon which, if a man sits, or in which if a man sleeps, 'tis a question, say some, whether they shall ever rise or wake again in this world. Now, they had not gone far, but a great mist and darkness fell upon them all, so that they could scarce, for a great while, see the one the other. Wherefore they were forced for some time to feel for one another by words, for they walked not by sight. Nor was there on all this ground so much as one inn or victualling-house wherein to refresh the feebler sort. Then they came to an arbour, warm, and promising much refreshing to the pilgrims, for it was finely wrought above head, beautified with greens, and furnished with couches and settles. It also had a soft couch on which the weary might lean. This arbour was called The Slothful Man's Friend, on purpose to allure, if it might be, some of the pilgrims there to take up their rest when weary. This, you must think, all things considered, was tempting. I saw in my dream also that they went on in this their solitary way till they came to a place at which a man is very apt to lose his way. Now, though when it was light, their guide could well enough tell how to miss those ways that led wrong, yet in the dark he was put to a stand. But he had in his pocket a map of all ways leading to or from the Celestial City, wherefore he struck a light (for he never goes also without his tinder-box), and takes a view of his book or map, which bids him be careful in that place to turn to the right-hand way. Then I thought with myself, who that goeth on pilgrimage but would have one of those maps about him, that he may look when he is at a stand, which is the way to take?"

      1. "But what is the meaning of all this?" asked Christiana of the guide. "This Enchanted Ground,"--her able and experienced friend answered her, "this is one of the last refuges that the enemy to pilgrims has; wherefore it is, as you see, placed almost at the end of the way, and so it standeth against us with the more advantage. For when, thinks the enemy, will these fools be so desirous to sit down as when they are weary, and when so like to be weary as when almost at their journey's end? Therefore it is, I say, that the Enchanted Ground is placed so nigh to the land Beulah and so near the end of their race; wherefore let pilgrims look to themselves lest they fall asleep till none can waken them." "That masterpiece of Bunyan's insight into life, the Enchanted Ground," says Mr. Louis Stevenson, "where his allegory cuts so deep to people looking seriously on life." Yes, indeed, Bunyan's insight into life! And his allegory that cuts so deep! For a neophyte, and one with little insight into life, or into himself, would go to look for this land of darkness and thorns and pitfalls, alternated with arbours and settles and soft couches--one new to life and to himself, I say, would naturally expect to see all that confined to the region between the City of Destruction and the Slough of Despond; or, at the worst, long before, and never after, the House Beautiful. But Bunyan looked too straight at life and too unflinchingly into his own heart to lay down his sub-Celestial lands in that way; and when we begin to look with a like seriousness on the religious life, and especially when we begin to look bold enough and deep enough into our own heart, then we too shall freely acknowledge the splendid master-stroke of Bunyan in the Enchanted Ground. That this so terrible experience is laid down almost at the end of the Celestial way--the blaze of light that pours upon our heads fairly startles us, while at the same time it comforts us and assures us. That this Enchanted Ground, which has proved so fatal to so many false pilgrims, and so all but fatal to so many true pilgrims, should lie around the very borders of Beulah, and should be within all but eye-shot of the Celestial City itself,--that is something to be thankful for, and something to lay up in the deepest and the most secret place in our heart. That these pilgrims, after all their feastings and entertainments--after the Delectable Mountains and the House Beautiful--should all be plunged upon a land where there was not so much as a roadside inn, where the ways were so dark and so long that the pilgrims had to shout aloud in order to keep together, where, instead of moon or stars, they had to walk in the spark of a small tinder-box--what an encouragement and assurance to us is all that! That is no strange thing, then, that is now happening to us, when, after our fine communion season, we have suddenly fallen back into this deep darkness, and are cast into these terrible temptations, and feel as if all our past experiences and attainments and enjoyments had been but a self-delusion and a snare. That we should all but have fallen fast asleep, and all but have ceased both from watching against sin and from waiting upon God--well, that is nothing more than Hopeful himself would have done had he not had a wary old companion to watch over him, and to hold his eyes open. Let all God's people present who feel that they are nothing better of all they have enjoyed of Scriptures and sacraments, but rather worse; let all those who feel sure that they have wandered into a castaway land, so dark, so thorny, so miry, and so lonely is their life--let them read this masterpiece of John Bunyan again and again and take heart of hope.

      "When Saints do sleepy grow, let them come hither
      And hear how these two pilgrims talk together;
      Yea, let them hear of them, in any wise,
      Thus to keep ope their drowsy slumb'ring eyes;
      Saints' fellowship, if it be managed well,
      Keeps them awake, and that in spite of hell."

      2. But far worse than all its briars and thorns, far more fatal than all its ditches and pitfalls, were the enchanted arbours they came on here and there planted up and down that evil land. For those arbours are all of this fatal nature, that if a man falls asleep in any of them it arises a question whether he shall ever come to himself again in this world. Now, where there are no inns nor victualling-houses, no Gaius and no Mr. Mnason, what a danger all those ill-intended arbours scattered all up and down that country become! Well, then, the first enchanted arbour that the pilgrims came to was built just inside the borders of the land, and it was called The Stranger's Arbour--so many new-comers had lain down in it never to rise again. The young and the inexperienced, with those who were naturally of a believing, buoyant, easy mind, lay down in hundreds here. Hopeful's mind was naturally a mind of a soft and easy and self-indulgent cast; and had he been alone that day, or had he had for a companion a man of a less wary, less anxious, and less urgent mind than Christian was, Hopeful had taken a nap, as he so confidingly called it--a fatal nap in that arbour built by the enemy of pilgrims, just on purpose for the young and the ignorant, the inexperienced and the self-indulgent.

      3. The Slothful Man's Arbour has been already described. It was a warm arbour, and it promised much refreshing to the pilgrims. It also had in it a soft couch on which the weary might lean. "Let us lie down here and take just one nap; we shall be refreshed if we take a nap!" "Do you not remember," said the other, "that one of the shepherds bid us beware of the Enchanted Ground? And he meant by that that we should beware of sleeping; wherefore let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober." Now, what is a nap? And what is it to take a nap in our religion? The New Testament is full of warnings to those who read it and go by it--most solemn and most fearful warnings--against sleep. Now, have you any clear idea in your minds as to what this divinely denounced sleep is? Sleep is good and necessary in our bodily life. We would not live long if we did not sleep; we would soon go out of our mind; we would soon lose our senses if we did not sleep. Insomnia is one of the worst symptoms of our eager, restless, over-worked age. "He giveth His beloved sleep"; and while they sleep their corn grows they know not how. But sleep in the great exhortation-passages of the Holy Scriptures does not mean rest and restoration; it means in all those passages insensibility, stupidity, danger, and death. In our nightly sleep, and in the measure of its soundness, we are utterly dead to the world around us. Men may come into our house and rob us of our most precious possessions; they may even come up to our bed and murder us; our whole house may be in a blaze about us; we may only awaken to leap out of sleep into eternity. Now, we are all in a sleep like that in our souls. There is above us, and around us, and beneath us, and within us the eternal world, and we are all sound asleep; we are all stone-dead in the midst of it. Devils and wicked men are stealing our treasures for eternity, and we are sound asleep; hell is already kindling our bed beneath us, but we smell not its flames, or we only catch the first gasp of them before we make our everlasting bed among them. Therefore let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober. What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise and call upon thy God! When the guide shook Heedless and Too-bold off their settles in that slothful arbour, the one of them said with his eyes still shut, "I will pay you when I take my money," and the other said, "I will fight so long as I can hold my sword in my hand." At that one of the children laughed. "What is the meaning of that?" asked Christiana. The guide said: "They talk in their sleep." So they did, and so do all men. For this whole world is full of settles on which men sleep and talk in their sleep. The newspapers to-morrow morning will all be full to overflowing of what men have said and written to-day and yesterday in their sleep. The shops and the banks and the exchanges will all be full of men making promises and settling accounts in their sleep. They will finger their purses, and grasp their swords, and all in their sleep. And not children but devils will laugh as they hear the folly that falls from men's lips who are besotted with spiritual sleep and drugged with spiritual and fleshly sin. A dream cometh through the multitude of business. I had just got this length in this lecture the other night when I went to sleep. And in my sleep one of my people came to me and asked me if I could make it quite clear and plain to him what it would be for a man like him after a communion-time to begin to walk with God. And I just wish I could make the things of the Enchanted Ground as plain to myself and to you to-night as I was able to make a walk with God plain to myself and to my visitor that night in my ministerial dream. I often wish that my business mind worked as well in my study chair and in my pulpit as it sometimes does in my bed and in my sleep. "Now, I beheld in my dream that they talked more in their sleep at this time than ever they did in all their journey. And being in a muse thereabout, the gardener said even to me: Wherefore musest thou at the matter? It is the nature of the fruit of the grapes of those vineyards to go down so sweetly as to cause the lips of them that are asleep to speak." The reason my poor lips spake so sweetly about a walk with God that night most have been because I spent all the summer evening before walking with God and with you in the vineyards of Beulah.

      4. Listen to Samson, shorn of his locks, as he shakes himself off a soft and sweetly-worked couch in The Sensual Man's Arbour:

      "No, no;
      It fits not; thou and I long since are twain;
      Nor think me so unwary or accurst
      To bring my feet again into the snare
      Where once I have been caught; I know thy trains,
      Though dearly to my cost, thy gins, and toils;
      Thy fair enchanted cup and warbling charms
      No more on me have power, their force is null'd;
      So much of adder's wisdom have I learnt
      To fence my ear against thy sorceries.
      If in my flower of youth and strength, when all men
      Loved, honour'd, fear'd me, thou alone couldst hate me,
      Thy husband, slight me, sell me, and forego me;
      How wouldst thou use me now, blind, and thereby
      Deceivable, in most things as a child,
      Helpless, thence easily contemn'd, and scorn'd,
      And last neglected? How wouldst thou insult,
      When I must live uxorious to thy will
      In perfect thraldom! How again betray me,
      Bearing my words and doings to the lords
      To gloss upon, and censuring, frown or smile!
      This jail I count the house of liberty
      To thine, whose doors my feet shall never enter."

      5. The love of money to some men is the root of all evil. There came once a youth to St. Philip Neri and, flushed with joy, told him that his parents after much entreaty had at length allowed him to study law. St. Philip was not a man of many words. "What then?" the saint simply asked the shining youth. "Then I shall become a lawyer!" "And then?" pursued Philip. "Then," said the young man, "I shall earn a nice sum of money, and I shall purchase a fine country house, procure a carriage and horses, marry a handsome and rich wife, and lead a delightful life!" "And then?" "Then,"--the youth reflected as death and eternity arose before his eyes, and from that day he began to take care of his immortal soul. Philip with one word snatched that young man's soul off The Rich Man's Settle.

      6. The Vain Man's Settle draws down many men to shame and everlasting contempt. Praise a vain man or a vain woman aright and enough and you will get them to do anything you like. Give a vain man sufficient publicity in your paper or on your platform and he will become a spy, a traitor, and cut-throat in your service. The sorcerer's cup of praise--keep it full enough in a vain man's hand, and he will sleep in the arbour of vanity till he wakens in hell. Madam Bubble, the arch-enchantress, knows her own, and she has, with her purse, her promotion, and her praise, bought off many a promising pilgrim.

      7. And then she, by virtue of whose sorceries this whole land is drugged and enchanted, is such a bold slut that she will build a Sacred Arbour even, and will fill it full of religious enchantment for you rather than lose hold of you. She will consecrate places and persons and periods for you if your taste lies that way; she will build costly and stately churches for you; she will weave rich vestments and carve rich vessels; she will employ all the arts; she will even sanctify and set apart and seat aloft her holy men--what will she not do to please you, to take you, to intoxicate and enchant you? She will juggle for your soul equally well whether you are a country clown in a feeing-market or a fine lady of aesthetic tastes and religious sensibilities in the capital and the court. But I shall let Father Faber speak, who can speak on this subject both with authority and with attraction. "She can open churches, and light candles on the altar, and intone Te Deums to the Majesty on high. She can pass into the beauty of art, into the splendour of dress, and into the magnificence of furniture. She can sit with high principles on her lips discussing a religious vocation and praising God and sanctity. On the benches of bishops and in the pages of good books you will find her, and yet she is all the while the same huge evil creature." Yes; she is all the time the same Madam Bubble who offered to Standfast her body, her purse, and her bed.

      Now, would you know for yourself, like the communicant who came to me in my sleep, how you are ever to get past all those arbours, and settles, and seats, and couches, with all their sweet sorceries and intoxicating enchantments--would you in earnest know that? Then study well the case of one Standfast. Especially the time when she who enchants this whole ground hereabouts set so upon that pilgrim. In one word, it was this: he remembered his Lord; and, like his Lord, he fell on his face; and as his Lord would have it, His servant's lips as they touched the ground touched also the healing plant harmony and he was saved.

      "A small unsightly root,
      But of divine effect.
      Unknown, and like esteem'd, and the dull swain
      Treads on it daily with his clouted shoon;
      And yet more med'cinal is it than that moly
      That Hermes once to wise Ulysses gave;
      He call'd it haemony, and gave it me,
      And bade me keep it as of sovran use
      'Gainst all enchantments, mildew, blast, or damp,
      Or ghastly furies' apparition.
      And now I find it true; for by this means
      I knew the foul enchantress, though disguised,
      Enter'd the very lime-twigs of her spells,
      And yet came off. If you have this about you
      (As I will give you when you go) you may
      Boldly assault the necromancer's hall:
      Where if she be, with dauntless hardihood,
      And brandished blade, rush on her, break her glass,
      And shed her luscious liquor on the ground,
      And seize her wand."

      Prayer, my sin-beset brethren, standfast prayer, is the otherwise unidentified haemony whose best habitat was the Garden of Gethsemane; and with that holy root in your heart and in your mouth, there is "no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel."

      * 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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