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Bunyan Characters Third Series: The Holy War: 7. Self-Love

By Alexander Whyte


      'This know, that men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, unthankful, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, traitors, heady, high-minded: from all such turn away.'--Paul.

      'Pray, sir, said Academicus, tell me more plainly just what this self of ours actually is. Self, replied Theophilus, is hell, it is the devil, it is darkness, pain, and disquiet. It is the one and only enemy of Christ. It is the great antichrist. It is the scarlet whore, it is the fiery dragon, it is the old serpent that is mentioned in the Revelation of St John. You rather terrify me than instruct me by this description, said Academicus. It is indeed a very frightful matter, returned Theophilus; for it contains everything that man has to dread and to hate, to resist and to avoid. Yet be assured, my friend, that, careless and merry as this world is, every man that is born into this world has all those enemies to overcome within himself; and every man, till he is in the way of regeneration, is more or less governed by those enemies. No hell in any remote place, no devil that is separate from you, no darkness or pain that is not within you, no antichrist either at Rome or in England, no furious beast, no fiery dragon, without you or apart from you, can do you any real hurt. It is your own hell, your own devil, your own beast, your own antichrist, your own dragon that lives in your own heart's blood that alone can hurt you. Die to this self, to this inward nature, and then all outward enemies are overcome. Live to this self, and then, when this life is out, all that is within you, and all that is without you, will be nothing else but a mere seeing and feeling this hell, serpent, beast, and fiery dragon. But, said Theogenes, a third party who stood by, I would, if I could, more perfectly understand the precise nature of self, or what it is that makes it to be so full of evil and misery. To whom Theophilus turned and replied: Covetousness, envy, pride, and wrath are the four elements of self. And hence it is that the whole life of self can be nothing else but a plague and torment of covetousness, envy, pride, and wrath, all of which is precisely sinful nature, self, or hell. Whilst man lives, indeed, among the vanities of time, his covetousness, his envy, his pride, and his wrath, may be in a tolerable state, and may help him to a mixture of peace and trouble; they may have their gratifications as well as their torments. But when death has put an end to the vanity of all earthly cheats, the soul that is not born again of the supernatural Word and Spirit of God must find itself unavoidably devoured by itself, shut up in its own insatiable, unchangeable, self-tormenting covetousness, envy, pride, and wrath. O Theogenes! that I had power from God to take those dreadful scales off men's eyes that hinder them from seeing and feeling the infinite importance of this most certain truth! God give a blessing, Theophilus, to your good prayer. And then let me tell you that you have quite satisfied my question about the nature of self. I shall never forget it, nor can I ever possibly after this have any doubt about the truth of it.'

      1. 'All my theology,' said an old friend of mine to me not long ago--'all my theology is out of Thomas Goodwin to the Ephesians.' Well, I find Thomas Goodwin saying in that great book that self is the very quintessence of original sin; and, again, he says, study self-love for a thousand years and it is the top and the bottom of original sin; self is the sin that dwelleth in us and that doth most easily beset us. Now, that is just what Academicus and Theophilus and Theogenes have been saying to us in their own powerful way in their incomparable dialogue. All sin and all misery; all covetousness, envy, pride, and wrath,--trace it all back to its roots, travel it all up to its source, and, as sure as you do that, self and self-love are that source, that root, and that black bottom. I do not forget that Butler has said in some stately pages of his that self-love is morally good; that self-love is coincident with the principle of virtue and part of the idea; and that it is a proper motive for man. But the deep bishop, in saying all that, is away back at the creation-scheme and Eden-state of human nature. He has not as yet come down to human nature in its present state of overthrow, dismemberment, and self-destruction. But when he does condescend and comes close to the mind and the heart of man as they now are in all men, even Butler becomes as outspoken, and as eloquent, and as full of passion and pathos as if he were an evangelical Puritan. Self-love, Butler startles his sober-minded reader as he bursts out--self-love rends and distorts the mind of man! Now, you are a man. Well, then, do you feel and confess that rending and distorting to have taken place in you? Butler is a philosopher, and Goodwin is a preacher, but you are more: you are a man. You are the owner of a human heart, and you can say whether or no it is a rent and a distorted heart. Is your mind warped and wrenched by self-love, and is your heart rent and torn by the same wicked hands? Do you really feel that it needs nothing more to take you back again to paradise but that your heart be delivered from self-love? Do you now understand that the foundations of heaven itself must be laid in a heart healed and cleansed and delivered from self-love? If you do, then your knowledge of your own heart has set you abreast of the greatest of philosophers and theologians and preachers. Nay, before multitudes of men who are called such. It is my meditation all the day, you say. I have more understanding now than all my teachers; for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients; because now I keep Thy precepts.

      2. 'Self-love has made us all malicious,' says John Calvin. We are Calvinists, were we to call any man master. But we are to call no man master, and least of all in the matters of the heart. Every man must be his own philosopher, his own moralist, and his own theologian in the matters of the heart. He who has a heart in his bosom and an eye in his head can need no Calvin, no Butler, no Goodwin, and no Law to tell him what goes on in his own heart. And, on the other hand, his own heart will soon tell him whether or no Calvin, and Butler, and Goodwin, and Law know anything about those matters on which some men would set them up as our masters. Well, come away all of you who own a human heart. Come and say whether or no your heart, and the self-love of which it is full, have made you a malicious man. I do not ask if you are always and to everybody full of maliciousness. No; I know quite well that you are sometimes as sweet as honey and as soft as butter. For, has not even Theophilus said that whilst a man still lives among the vanities of time, his covetousness, his envy, his pride, and his wrath may be in a tolerable state, and may help him to a mixture of peace and trouble; these vices may have their gratifications as well as their torments. No; I do not trifle with you and with this serious matter so as to ask if you are full of malice at all times and to all men. No. For, let a man be fortunate enough to be on your side; let him pass over to your party; let him become profitable to you; let him be clever enough and mean enough to praise and to flatter you up to the top of your appetite for praise and flattery, and, no doubt, you will love that man. Or, if that is not exactly love, at least it is no longer hate. But let that man unfortunately be led to leave your party; let him cease being profitable to you; let him weary of flattering you with his praise; let him forget you, neglect you, despise you, and go against you, and then look at your own heart. Do you care now to know what malice is? Well, that is malice that distorts and rends your heart as often as you meet that man on the street or even pass by his door. That is malice that dances in your eyes when you see his name in print. That is malice with which you always break out when his name is mentioned in conversation. That is malice that heats your heart when you suddenly recollect him in the multitude of your thoughts within you. And you are in good company all the time. 'We, ourselves,' says Paul to Titus, 'we also at one time lived in malice and in envy. We were hateful and we hated one another.' 'Hateful,' Goodwin goes on in his great book, 'every man is to another man more or less; he is hated of another and he hateth another more or less; and if his nature were let out to the full, there is that in him, "every man is against every man," as is said of Ishmael. Homo homini lupus,' adds our brave preacher. And Abbe Grou speaks out with the same challenge from the opposite church pole, and says: 'Yes; self-love makes us touchy, ready to take offence, ill-tempered, suspicious, severe, exacting, easily offended; it keeps alive in our hearts a certain malignity, a secret joy at the mortifications which befall our neighbour; it nourishes our readiness to criticise, our dislike at certain persons, our ill-feeling, our bitterness, and a thousand other things prejudicial to charity.'

      3. 'Myself is my own worst enemy,' says Abbe Grou. That is to say, we may have enemies who hate us more than we hate ourselves, and enemies who would hurt us, if they could, as much as we hurt ourselves; but the Abbe's point is that they cannot. And he is right. No man has ever hurt me as I have hurt myself. There are men who hate me so much that they would poison my life of all its peace and happiness if they could. But they cannot. They cannot; but let them not be cast down on that account, for there is one who can do, and who will do as long as he lives, what they cannot do. A man's foes, to be called foes, are in his own house: they are in his own heart. Let our enemies attend to their own peace and happiness, and our self-love will do all, and more than all, that they would fain do. At the most, they and their ill-will can only give occasion to our self-love; but it is our self-love that seizes upon the occasion, and through it rends and distorts our own hearts. And were our hearts only pure of self-love, were our hearts only clothed with meekness and humility, we could laugh at all the ill-will of our enemies as leviathan laughs at the shaking of a spear. 'Know thou,' says A Kempis to his son, 'that the love of thyself doth do thee more hurt than anything in the whole world.' Yes; but we shall never know that by merely reading The Imitation. We must read ourselves. We must study, as we study nothing else, our own rent and distorted hearts. Our own hearts must be our daily discovery. We must watch the wounds our hearts take every day; and we must give all our powers of mind to tracing all our wounds back to their true causes. We must say: 'that sore blow came on my mind and on my heart from such and such a quarter, from such and such a hand, from such and such a weapon; but this pain, this rankling, poisoned, and ever-festering wound, this sleepless, gnawing, cancerous sore, comes from the covetousness, the pride, the envy, and the wrath of my own heart.' When we begin to say that, we shall then begin to understand and to love Thomas; we shall sit daily at his feet and shall be numbered among his sons.

      4. And this suffering at our own hands goes on till at last the tables are completely turned against self-love, and till what was once to us the dearest thing in the whole world becomes, as Pascal says, the most hateful. We begin life by hating the men, and the things, who hurt us. We hate the men who oppose us and hinder us; the men who speak, and write, and act, and go in any way against us. We bitterly hate all who humble us, despise us, trample upon us, and in any way ill-use us. But afterwards, when we have become men, men in experience of this life, and, especially, of ourselves in this life; after we gain some real insight and attain to some real skill in the life of the heart, we come round to forgive those we once hated. We have come now to see why they did it. We see now exactly how much they hurt us after all, and how little. And, especially, we have come to see,--what at one time we could not have believed,--that all our hurt, to be called hurt, has come to us from ourselves. And thus that great revolution of mind and that great revulsion of feeling and of passion has taken place, after which we are left with no one henceforth to hate, to be called hating, but ourselves. We may still continue to avoid our enemies, and we may do that too long and too much; we may continue to fear them and be on the watch against them far too much; but to deliberately hate them is henceforth impossible. All our hatred,--all our deliberate, steady, rooted, active hatred,--is now at ourselves; at ourselves, that is, so far and so long as we remain under the malignant and hateful dominion of self-love. When Butler gets our self-love restored to reasonableness, and made coincident with virtue and part of the idea; when our self-love becomes uniformly coincident with the principle of obedience to God's commands, then we shall love ourselves as our neighbour, and our neighbour as ourselves, and both in God. But, till then, there is nothing and no one on earth or in hell so hateful to us as ourselves and our own hateful hearts. And if in that we are treading the winepress alone as far as our fellow-men are concerned, all the more we have Him with us in all our agony who wept over the heart of man because He knew what was in it, and what must always come out of it. Evil thoughts, He said, and fornications, and murders, and thefts, and covetousness, and wickedness, and deceit, and an evil eye, and pride, and folly, and what not. And Paul has the mind of Christ with him in the text. I do not need to repeat again the hateful words. Now, what do you say? was Pascal beyond the truth, was he deeper than the truth or more deadly than the truth when he said with a stab that self is hateful? I think not.

      5. 'Oh that I were free, then, of myself,' wrote Samuel Rutherford from Aberdeen in 1637 to John Ferguson of Ochiltree. 'What need we all have to be ransomed and redeemed from that master-tyrant, that cruel and lawless lord, ourself! Even when I am most out of myself, and am best serving Christ, I have a squint eye on myself.' And to the Laird of Cally in the same year and from the same place: 'Myself is the master idol we all bow down to. Every man blameth the devil for his sins, but the house devil of every man that eateth with him and lieth in his bosom is himself. Oh blessed are they who can deny themselves!' And to the Irish ministers the year after: 'Except men martyr and slay the body of sin in sanctified self-denial, they shall never be Christ's. Oh, if I could but be master of myself, my own mind, my own will, my own credit, my own love, how blessed were I! But alas! I shall die only minting and aiming at being a Christian.'

      * 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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