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Bunyan Characters Third Series: The Holy War: 15. Mr. Prywell

By Alexander Whyte


      'Search me, O God, and know my heart.'--David.

      'Let a man examine himself.'--Paul.

      'Look to yourselves.'--John.

      'Know thyself.'--Apollo.

      The year 1668 saw the publication of one of the deepest books in the whole world, Dr. John Owen's Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers. The heart-searching depth; the clear, fearless, humbling truth, the intense spirituality, and the massive and masculine strength of John Owen's book have all combined to make it one of the acknowledged masterpieces of the great Puritan school. Had John Owen's style been at all equal to his great learning, to the depth and the grasp of his mind, and to the lofty holiness of his life, John Owen would have stood in the very foremost and selectest rank of apostolical and evangelical theologians. But in all his books Owen labours under the fatal drawback of a bad style. A fine style, a style like that of Hooker, or Taylor, or Bunyan, or Howe, or Leighton, or Law, is such a winning introduction to their works and such an abiding charm and spell. The full title of Dr. Owen's great work runs thus: The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers--a title that will tell all true students what awaits them when they have courage and enterprise enough to address themselves to this supreme and all-essential subject. Fourteen years after the publication of Dr. Owen's epoch-making book, John Bunyan's Holy War first saw the light. Equal in scriptural and in experimental depth, as also in their spiritual loftiness and intensity, those two books are as different as any two books, written in the same language, and written on the same subject, could by any possibility be. John Owen's book is the book of a great scholar who has read the Fathers and the Schoolmen and the Reformers till he knows them by heart, and till he has been able to digest all that is true to Scripture and to experience in them into his rich and ripe book. A powerful reasoner, a severe, bald, muscular writer, John Owen in all these respects stands at the very opposite pole to that of John Bunyan. The author of the Holy War had no learning, but he had a mind of immense natural sagacity, combined with a habit of close and deep observation of human life, and especially of religious life, and he had now a lifetime of most fruitful experience as a Christian man and as a Christian minister behind him; and, all that, taken up into Bunyan's splendid imagination, enabled him to produce this extraordinarily able and impressive book. A model of English style as the Holy War is, at the same time it does not attain at all to the rank of the Pilgrim's Progress; but then, to be second to the Pilgrim's Progress is reward and honour enough for any book. Let all genuine students, then, who would know the best that has been written on experimental religion, and who would preach to the deepest and divinest experience of their best people, let them keep continually within their reach John Owen's Temptation, his Mortification of Sin in Believers, his Nature and Power of Indwelling Sin, and John Bunyan's Holy War made for the Regaining of the Metropolis of this World.

      Well, then, as He who dwells on high would have it, there was one whose name was Mr. Prywell, a great lover of Mansoul. And he, as his manner was, did go listening up and down in Mansoul to see and hear, if at any time he might, whether there was any design against it or no. For he was always a jealous man, and feared some mischief would befall it, either from within or from some power without. Mr. Prywell was always a lover of Mansoul, a sober and a judicious man, a man that was no tattler, nor a raiser of false reports, but one that loves to look into the very bottom of matters, and talks nothing of news but by very solid arguments. And then, after our historian has told us some of the eminent services that Mr. Prywell was able to perform both for the King and for the city, he goes on to tell us how the captains determined that public thanks should be given by the town of Mansoul to Mr. Prywell for his so diligent seeking of the welfare of the town; and, further, that, forasmuch as he was so naturally inclined to seek their good, and also to undermine their foes, they gave him the commission of Scoutmaster-general for the good of Mansoul. And Mr. Prywell managed his charge and the trust that Mansoul had put into his hands with great conscience and good fidelity; for he gave himself wholly up to his employ, and that not only within the town, but he also went outside of the town to pry, to see, and to hear. Now, that being so, it may interest and perhaps instruct you to-night to look for a little at some of the features and at some of the feats of the Scoutmaster-general of the Holy War, Mr. Prywell, of the town of Mansoul.

      1. 'Well, now, as He who dwells on high would have it, there was one whose name was Mr. Prywell, a great lover of the town of Mansoul.' In other words: self-observation, self-examination, strict, jealous, sleepless self-examination, is of God. Our God who searches our hearts and tries our reins would have it so. And if He does not have it so in us, our souls are not as our God would have them to be. 'Bunyan employs pry,' says Miss Peacock in her excellent notes, 'in a more favourable sense than it now bears. As, for instance, it is said in another part of this same book that the men of Mansoul were allowed to pry into the words of the Holy Ghost and to expound them to their best advantage. Honest anxiety for the welfare of his fellow-townsmen was Mr. Prywell's chief characteristic. Pry is another form of peer--to look narrowly, to look closely.' And God, says John Bunyan, would have it so.

      2. 'A great lover of Mansoul,' 'always a lover of Mansoul'; again and again that is testified concerning Mr. Prywell. It was not love for the work that led Mr. Prywell to give up his days and his nights as his history tells us he did. Mr. Prywell ran himself into many dangerous situations both within and without the city, and he lost himself far more friends than he made by his devotion to his thankless task. But necessity was laid upon him. And what held him up was the sure and certain knowledge that his King would have that service at his hands. That, and his love for the city, for the safety and the deliverance of the city,--all that kept Mr. Prywell's heart fixed. Am I therefore your enemy? he would say to some who would have had it otherwise than the King would have it. But it is a good thing to be zealously affected in a work like mine, he would say, in self-defence and in self-encouragement. And then, though not many, there were always some in the city who said, Let him smite me and it shall be a kindness; let him reprove me and it shall be an excellent oil which shall not break my head. It was in Mansoul with Mr. Prywell as it was in Kidderminster with Richard Baxter, when some of his people said to one another, 'We will take all things well from one that we know doth entirely love us.' 'Love them,' said Augustine, 'and then say anything you like to them.' Now, that was Mr. Prywell's way. He loved Mansoul, and then he said many things to her that a false lover and a flatterer would never have dared to say.

      3. Then, as the saying is, it goes without saying that 'Mr. Prywell was always a jealous man.' Great lovers are always jealous men, and Mr. Prywell showed himself to be a great lover by the great heat of his jealousy also. 'Vigilant,' says the excellent editress again; 'cautious against dishonour, reasonably mistrustful--low Latin zelosus, full of zeal. "And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts."' Now, it so happened that some of Mr. Prywell's most private and not at all professional papers--papers evidently, and on the face of them, connected with the state of the spy's own soul--came into my hands as good lot would have it just the other night. The moth-eaten chest was full of his old papers, but the pieces that took my heart most were, as it looked to me, actually gnashed through with his remorseful teeth, and soaked and sodden past recognition with his sweat and his tears and his agonising hands. But after some late hours over those remnants I managed to make some sense to myself out of them. There are some parts of the parchments that pass me; but, if only to show you that this arch-spy's so vigilant jealousy was not all directed against other people's bad hearts and bad habits, I shall copy some lines out of the old box. 'Have I penitence?' he begins without any preface. 'Have I grief, shame, pain, horror, weariness for my sin? Do I pray and repent, if not seven times a day as David did, yet at least three times, as Daniel? If not as Solomon, at length, yet shortly as the publican? If not like Christ, the whole night, at least for one hour? If not on the ground and in ashes, at least not in my bed? If not in sackcloth, at least not in purple and fine linen? If not altogether freed from all, at least from immoderate desires? Do I give, if not as Zaccheus did, fourfold, as the law commands, with the fifth part added? If not as the rich, yet as the widow? If not the half, yet the thirtieth part? If not above my power, yet up to my power?' And then over the page there are some illegible pencillings from old authors of his such as this from Augustine: 'A good man would rather know his own infirmity than the foundations of the earth or the heights of the heavens.' And this from Cicero: 'There are many hiding-places and recesses in the mind.' And this from Seneca: 'You must know yourself before you can amend yourself. An unknown sin grows worse and worse and is deprived of cure.' And this from Cicero again: 'Cato exacted from himself an account of every day's business at night'; and also Pythagoras,

      'Nor let sweet sleep upon thine eyes descend
      Till thou hast judged its deeds at each day's end.'

      And this from Seneca again: 'When the light is removed out of sight, and my wife, who is by this time aware of my practice, is now silent, I pass the whole of my day under examination, and I review my deeds and my words. I hide nothing from myself: I pass over nothing.' And then in Mr. Prywell's boldest and least trembling hand: 'O yes! many shall come from the east and the west and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, when many of the children of the kingdom shall be cast out. O yes.' Now, this 'O yes!' Miss Peacock tells us, is the Anglicised form of a French word for our Lord's words, Take heed how ye hear!

      4. 'A sober and a judicious man' it is said of Mr. Prywell also. To a certainty that. It could not be otherwise than that. For Mr. Prywell's office, its discoveries and its experiences, would sober any man. 'I am sprung from a country,' says Abelard, 'of which the soil is light, and the temper of the inhabitants is light.' So was it with Mr. Prywell to begin with. But even Abelard was sobered in time, and so was Mr. Prywell. Life sobered Abelard, and Mr. Prywell too; life's crooks and life's crosses, life's duties and life's disappointments, especially Mr. Prywell. 'The more narrowly a man looks into himself,' says A Kempis, 'the more he sorroweth.' Not sober-mindedness alone comes to him who looks narrowly into himself, but great sorrow of heart also. And if you are not both sobered in your mind and full of an unquenchable sorrow in your heart, O yes! attend to it, for you are not yet begun to be what God would have you to be. Dr. Newman, with all his mistakes and all his faults, was a master in two things: his own heart and the English language. And in writing home to his mother a confidential letter from college on his birthday, he confides to her that he often 'shudders at himself.' 'No,' he answered to his mother's fears and advices about food and air and exercise: 'No, I am neither nervous, nor in ill-health, nor do I study too much. I am neither melancholy, nor morose, nor austere, nor distant, nor reserved, nor sullen. I am always cheerful, ready and eager to join in any merriment. I am not clouded with sadness, nor absent in mind, nor deficient in action. No; take me when I am most foolish at home and extend mirth into childishness; yet all the time I am shuddering at myself.' There spake the future author of the immortal sermons. There spake a mind and a heart that have deepened the minds and the hearts of Christian men more than any other influence of the century; a mind and a heart, moreover, that will shine and beat in our best literature and in our deepest devotion for centuries to come. You must all know by this time another classical passage from the pen of another spiritual genius in the Church of England, that greatly gifted church. Let me repeat it to illustrate how sober-mindedness and great sorrow of heart always come to the best of men. 'Let any man consider that if the world knew all that of him which he knows of himself; if they saw what vanity and what passions govern his inside, and what secret tempers sully and corrupt his best actions; and he would have no more pretence to be honoured and admired for his goodness and wisdom than a rotten and distempered body is to be loved and admired for its beauty and comeliness. And, perhaps, there are very few people in the world who would not rather choose to die than to have all their secret follies, the errors of their judgments, the vanity of their minds, the falseness of their pretences, the frequency of their vain and disorderly passions, their uneasinesses, hatreds, envies, and vexations made known to the world. And shall pride be entertained in a heart thus conscious of its own miserable behaviour?' No wonder that Mr. Prywell was sober-minded! No wonder that Dr. Newman shuddered at himself! And no wonder that William Law chose strangling and the pond rather than that any other man should see what went on in his heart!

      5. And as if all that were not enough, and more than enough, to commend Mr. Prywell to us--to our trust, to our confidence, and to our imitation--his royal certificate continues, 'One that looks into the very bottom of matters, and talks nothing of news, but by very solid arguments.' The very bottom of matters--that is, the very bottom of his own and other men's hearts. Mr. Prywell counts nothing else worth a wise man's looking at. Let fools and children look at the painted and deceitful surface of things, but let men, men of matters, and especially men of divine matters, look only at their own and other men's hearts. The very bottom of all matters is there. All wars, all policies, all debates, all disputes, all good and all evil counsels, all the much weal and all the multitudinous woe of Mansoul--all have their bottom in the heart; in the heart of God, or in the heart of man, or in the heart of the devil. The heart is the root of absolutely every matter to Mr. Prywell. He would not waste one hour of any day, or one watch of any night, on anything else. And it was this that made him both the extraordinarily successful scout he was, and the extraordinarily sober and thoughtful and judicious man he was. O yes, my brethren, the bottom of matters, when you take to it, will work the same change in you. 'Two things,' says one who had long looked at his own matters with Mr. Prywell's eyes--'two things, O Lord, I recognise in myself: nature, which Thou hast made, and sin, which I have added.' My brethren, that recognition, that discovery in yourselves, when it comes to you, will sober you as it has sobered so many men before you: when it comes to you, that is, about yourselves. That discovery made in yourselves will make you deep-thinking men. It will make common men and unlearned men among you to be philosophers and theologians and saints. It will work in you a thoughtfulness, a seriousness, a depth, an awe, a holy fear, and a great desire that will already have made you new creatures. When, in examining yourselves and in characterising yourselves, you come on what some clear-eyed men have come on in themselves, and what one of them has described as 'the diabolical animus of the human mind'--when you make that discovery in yourselves, that will sober you, that will humble you and fill you full of remorse and compunction. And if in God's grace to you, that were to begin to be wrought in you this week, there would be one, at any rate, eating of that bread next Lord's day, and drinking of that cup as God would have it.

      6. 'A man that is no tattler, nor raiser of false reports, and that talks nothing of news, but by very solid arguments.' Mr. Prywell was more taken up with his own matters at home, far more than the greatest busybodies are with other men's matters abroad. His name, I fear, will still sound somewhat ill in your ears, but I can assure you all the ill for you lies in the sound. Mr. Prywell would not hurt a hair of your head: the truth is, he does not know whether there is a hair on your head or no. This man's name comes to him and sticks to him, not because he pries into your affairs, for he does not, and never did, but because he is so drawn down into his own. Mr. Prywell has no eye for your windows and he has no ear for your doors. If your servant is a leaky slave, Prywell, of all your neighbours, has no ear for his idle tales. This man is no eavesdropper; your evil secrets have only a sobering and a saddening and a silencing effect upon him. Your house might be full of skeletons for anything he would ever discover or remember. The beam in his own eye is so big that he cannot see past it to speak about your small mote. 'The inward Christian,' says A Kempis, 'preferreth the care of himself before all other cares. He that diligently attendeth to himself can easily keep silence concerning other men. If thou attendest unto God and unto thyself, thou wilt be but little moved with what thou seest abroad.' At the same time, Mr. Prywell was no fool, and no coward, and no hoodwinked witness. He could tell his tale, when it was demanded of him, with such truth, and with such punctuality, and on such ample grounds, that a conviction of the truth instantly fell on all who heard him. 'Sirs,' said those who heard him break silence, 'it is not irrational for us to believe it,' with such solid arguments and with such an absence of mere suspicion and of all idle tales did he speak. On one occasion, on a mere 'inkling,' he woke up the guard; only, it was so true an inkling that it saved the city. But I cannot follow Mr. Prywell any further to-night. How he went up and down Mansoul listening; how he kept his eyes and his ears both shut and open; what splendid services he performed in the progress, and specially toward the end, of the war; how the thanks of the city were voted to him; how he was made Scoutmaster-general for the good of the town of Mansoul, and the great conscience and good fidelity with which he managed that great trust--all that you will read for yourselves under this marginal index, 'The story of Mr. Prywell.'

      Now, my brethren, as the outcome of all that, we must all examine ourselves as before God all this week. We must wait on His word and on His providences while they examine us all this week. We must pry well into ourselves all this week. Come, let us compel ourselves to do it. Let us search and try our ways all this week as we shall give an account. Let us ask ourselves how many Communion tables we have sat at, and at how many more we are likely to sit. Let us ask why it is that we have got so little good out of all our Communions. Let us ask who is to blame for that, and where the blame lies. Let us go to the bottom of matters with ourselves, and compel ourselves to say just what it is that is the cause of God's controversy with us. What vow, what solemn promise, made when trouble was upon us, have we completely cast behind our back? What about secret prayer? At what times, for what things, and for what people do we in secret pray? What about secret sin? What is its name, and what does it deserve, and what fruit are we already reaping out of it? What is our besetting sin, and what steps do we take, as God knows, to crucify it? Do we love money too much? Do we love praise too much? Do we love eating and drinking too much? Does envy make our heart a very hell? Let us name the man we envy, and let us keep our Communion eye upon him. Let us mix his name with all the psalms and prayers and sermons of this Communion season. Or is it diabolical ill-will? Or is it a wicked tongue against an unsuspecting friend? Let us examine ourselves as Paul did, as Prywell did, and as God would have us do it, and we shall discover things in ourselves so bad that if I were to put words on them to-night, you would stop your ears in horror and flee out of the church. Let a man see himself at least as others see him; and then he will be led on from that to see himself as God sees him; and then he will judge himself so severely as that he shall not need to be judged at the Judgment Day, and will condemn himself so sufficiently as that he shall not be condemned with a condemned world at the last.

      * 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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