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Bunyan Characters Third Series: The Holy War: 3. Ear-Gate

By Alexander Whyte


      'Take heed what ye hear.'--Our Lord in Mark.

      'Take heed how you hear.'--Our Lord in Luke.

      This famous town of Mansoul had five gates, in at which to come, out at which to go, and these were made likewise answerable to the walls--to wit, impregnable, and such as could never be opened nor forced but by the will and leave of those within. 'The names of the gates were these, Ear-gate, Eye-gate,' and so on. Dr. George Wilson, who was once Professor of Technology in our University, took this suggestive passage out of the Holy War and made it the text of his famous lecture in the Philosophical Institution, and then he printed the passage on the fly-leaf of his delightful book The Five Gateways of Knowledge. That is a book to read sometime, but this evening is to be spent with the master.

      For, after all, no one can write at once so beautifully, so quaintly, so suggestively, and so evangelically as John Bunyan. 'The Lord Willbewill,' says John Bunyan, 'took special care that the gates should be secured with double guards, double bolts, and double locks and bars; and that Ear-gate especially might the better be looked to, for that was the gate in at which the King's forces sought most to enter. The Lord Willbewill therefore made old Mr. Prejudice, an angry and ill-conditioned fellow, captain of the ward at that gate, and put under his power sixty men, called Deafmen; men advantageous for that service, forasmuch as they mattered no words of the captain nor of the soldiers. And first the King's officers made their force more formidable against Ear-gate: for they knew that unless they could penetrate that no good could be done upon the town. This done, they put the rest of their men in their places; after which they gave out the word, which was, Ye must be born again! And so the battle began. Now, they in the town had planted upon the tower over Ear-gate two great guns, the one called High-mind and the other Heady. Unto these two guns they trusted much; they were cast in the castle by Diabolus's ironfounder, whose name was Mr. Puff-up, and mischievous pieces they were. They in the camp also did stoutly, for they saw that unless they could open Ear-gate it would be in vain to batter the wall.' And so on, through many allegorical, and, if sometimes somewhat laboured, yet always eloquent, pungent, and heart-exposing pages.

      With these for our text let us now take a rapid glance at what some of the more Bunyan-like passages in the prophets and the psalms say about the ear; how it is kept and how it is lost; how it is used and how it is abused.

      1. The Psalmist uses a very striking expression in the 94th Psalm when he is calling for justice, and is teaching God's providence over men. 'He that planted the ear,' the Psalmist exclaims, 'shall he not hear?' And, considering his church and his day, that is not a bad remark of Cardinal Bellarmine on that psalm,--'the Psalmist's word planted,' says that able churchman, 'implies design, in that the ear was not spontaneously evolved by an act of vital force, but was independently created by God for a certain object, just as a tree, not of indigenous growth, is of set purpose planted in some new place by the hand of man.' The same thing is said in Genesis, you remember, about the Garden of Eden,--the Lord planted it and put the man and the woman, whose ears he had just planted also, into the garden to dress it and keep it. How they dressed the garden and kept it, and how they held the gate of their ear against him who squatted down before it with his innuendoes and his lies, we all know to our as yet unrepaired, though not always irreparable, cost.

      2. One would almost think that the scornful apostle had the Garden of Eden in his eye when he speaks so bitterly to Timothy of a class of people who are cursed with 'itching ears.' Eve's ears itched unappeasably for the devil's promised secret; and we have all inherited our first mother's miserable curiosity. How eager, how restless, how importunate, we all are to hear that new thing that does not at all concern us; or only concerns us to our loss and our shame. And the more forbidden that secret is to us, and the more full of inward evil to us--insane sinners that we are--the more determined we are to get at it. Let any forbidden secret be in the keeping of some one within earshot of us and we will give him no rest till he has shared the evil thing with us. Let any specially evil page be published in a newspaper, and we will take good care that that day's paper is not thrown into the waste-basket; we will hide it away, like a dog with a stolen bone, till we are able to dig it up and chew it dry in secret. The devil has no need to blockade or besiege the gate of our ear if he has any of his good things to offer us. The gate that can only be opened from within will open at once of itself if he or any of his newsmongers but squat down for a moment before it. Shame on us, and on all of us, for our itching ears.

      3. Isaiah speaks of some men in his day whose ears were 'heavy' and whose hearts were fat, and the Psalmist speaks of some men in his day whose ears were 'stopped' up altogether. And there is not a better thing in Bunyan at his very best than that surly old churl called Prejudice, so ill-conditioned and so always on the edge of anger. By the devil's plan of battle old Prejudice was appointed to be warder of Ear-gate, and to enable him to keep that gate for his master he had sixty deaf men put under him, men most advantageous for that post, forasmuch as it mattered not to them what Emmanuel and His officers said. There could be no manner of doubt who composed that inimitable passage. There is all the truth and all the humour and all the satire in Old Prejudice that our author has accustomed us to in his best pieces. The common people always get the best literature along with the best religion in John Bunyan. 'They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear, and which will not hearken to the voice of charmers charming never so wisely,' says the Psalmist, speaking about some bad men in his day. Now, I will not stand upon David's natural history here, but his moral and religious meaning is evident enough. David is not concerned about adders and their ears, he is wholly taken up with us and our adder-like animosity against the truth. Against what teacher, then; against what preacher; against what writer; against what doctrine, reproof, correction, has your churlish prejudice adder-like shut your ear? Against what truth, human or divine, have you hitherto stopped up your ear like the Psalmist's serpent? To ask that boldly, honestly, and in the sight of God, at yourself to-night, would end in making you the lifelong friend of some preacher, some teacher, some soul-saving truth you have up till to-night been prejudiced against with the rooted prejudice and the sullen obstinacy of sixty deaf men. O God, help us to lay aside all this adder-like antipathy at men and things, both in public and in private life. Help us to give all men and all causes a fair field and no favour, but the field and the favour of an open and an honest mind, and a simple and a sincere heart. He that hath ears, let him hear!

      4. As we work our way through the various developments and vicissitudes of the Holy War we shall find Ear-gate in it and in ourselves passing through many unexpected experiences; now held by one side and now by another. And we find the same succession of vicissitudes set forth in Holy Scripture. If you pay any attention to what you read and hear, and then begin to ask yourselves fair in the face as to your own prejudices, prepossessions, animosities, and antipathies,--you will at once begin to reap your reward in having put into your possession what the Scriptures so often call an 'inclined' ear. That is to say, an ear not only unstopped, not only unloaded, but actually prepared and predisposed to all manner of truth and goodness. Around our city there are the remains, the still visible tracks, of roads that at one time took the country people into our city, but which are now stopped up and made wholly impassable. There is no longer any road into Edinburgh that way. There are other roads still open, but they are very roundabout, and at best very uphill. And then there are other roads so smooth, and level, and broad, and well kept, that they are full of all kinds of traffic; in the centre carts and carriages crowd them, on the one side horses and their riders delight to display themselves, and on the other side pedestrians and perambulators enjoy the sun. And then there are still other roads with such a sweet and gentle incline upon them that it is a positive pleasure both to man and beast to set their foot upon them. And so it is with the minds and the hearts of the men and the women who crowd these roads. Just as the various roads are, so are the ears and the understandings, the affections and the inclinations of those who walk and ride and drive upon them. Some of those men's ears are impassably stopped up by self-love, self-interest, party-spirit, anger, envy, and ill-will,--impenetrably stopped up against all the men and all the truths of earth and of heaven that would instruct, enlighten, convict or correct them. Some men's minds, again, are not so much shut up as they are crooked, and warped, and narrow, and full of obstruction and opposition. Whereas here and there, sometimes on horseback and sometimes on foot; sometimes a learned man walking out of the city to take the air, and sometimes an unlettered countryman coming into the city to make his market, will have his ear hospitably open to every good man he meets, to every good book he reads, to every good paper he buys at the street corner, and to every good speech, and report, and letter, and article he reads in it. And how happy that man is, how happy his house is at home, and how happy he makes all those he but smiles to on his afternoon walk, and in all his walk along the roads of this life. Never see an I incline' on a railway or on a driving or a walking road without saying on it before you leave it, 'I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined His ear unto me and heard my cry. Because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live. Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with them that work iniquity. Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies, and not to covetousness. I have inclined mine heart to perform Thy statutes alway, even unto the end.'

      5. Shakespeare speaks in Richard the Second of 'the open ear of youth,' and it is a beautiful truth in a beautiful passage. Young men, who are still young men, keep your ears open to all truth and to all duty and to all goodness, and shut your ears with an adder's determination against all that which ruined Richard--flattering sounds, reports of fashions, and lascivious metres. 'Our souls would only be gainers by the perfection of our bodies were they wisely dealt with,' says Professor Wilson in his Five Gateways. 'And for every human being we should aim at securing, so far as they can be attained, an eye as keen and piercing as that of the eagle; an ear as sensitive to the faintest sound as that of the hare; a nostril as far-scenting as that of the wild deer; a tongue as delicate as that of the butterfly; and a touch as acute as that of the spider. No man ever was so endowed, and no man ever will be; but all men come infinitely short of what they should achieve were they to make their senses what they might be made. The old have outlived their opportunity, and the diseased never had it; but the young, who have still an undimmed eye, an undulled ear, and a soft hand; an unblunted nostril, and a tongue which tastes with relish the plainest fare--the young can so cultivate their senses as to make the narrow ring, which for the old and the infirm encircles things sensible, widen for them into an almost limitless horizon.'

      Take heed what you hear, and take heed how you hear.

      * LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH

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See Also:
   The Holy War: 1. The Book
   The Holy War: 2. The City Of Mansoul And Its Cinque Ports
   The Holy War: 3. Ear-Gate
   The Holy War: 4. Eye-Gate
   The Holy War: 5. The King's Palace
   The Holy War: 6. My Lord Willbewill
   The Holy War: 7. Self-Love
   The Holy War: 8. Old Mr. Prejudice, The Keeper Of Ear-Gate, With His Sixty Deaf Men Under Him
   The Holy War: 9. Captain Anything
   The Holy War: 10. Clip-Promise
   The Holy War: 11. Stiff Mr. Loth-To-Stoop
   The Holy War: 12. That Varlet Ill-Pause, The Devil's Orator
   The Holy War: 13. Mr. Penny-Wise-And-Pound-Foolish, And Mr. Get-I'-The-Hundred-And-Lose-I'-The-Shire
   The Holy War: 14. The Devil's Last Card
   The Holy War: 15. Mr. Prywell
   The Holy War: 16. Young Captain Self-Denial
   The Holy War: 17. Five Pickt Men
   The Holy War: 18. Mr. Desires-Awake
   The Holy War: 19. Mr. Wet-Eyes
   The Holy War: 20. Mr. Humble The Juryman, And Miss Humble-Mind The Servant-Maid
   The Holy War: 21. Master Think-Well, The Late And Only Son Of Old Mr. Meditation
   The Holy War: 22. Mr. God's-Peace, A Goodly Person, And A Sweet-Natured Gentleman
   The Holy War: 23. The Established Church Of Mansoul, And Mr. Conscience One Of Her Parish Ministers
   The Holy War: 24. A Fast-Day In Mansoul
   The Holy War: 25. A Feast-Day In Mansoul
   The Holy War: 26. Emmanuel's Livery
   The Holy War: 27. Mansoul's Magna Charta
   The Holy War: 28. Emmanuel's Last Charge To Mansoul: Concerning The Remainders Of Sin In The Regenerate

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