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Bunyan Characters Third Series: The Holy War: 17. Five Pickt Men

By Alexander Whyte


      'I took wise men and known and made them captains.'--Moses.

      John Bunyan never lost his early love for a soldier's life any more than he ever forgot the rare delights of his bell-ringing days. John Bunyan, all his days, never saw a bell-rope that his fingers did not tingle, and he never saw a soldier in uniform without instinctively shouldering his youthful musket. Bunyan was one of those rare men who are of imagination all compact; and consequently it is that all his books are full of the scenes, the occupations, and the experiences of his early days. Not that he says very much, in as many words, about what happened to him in the days when he was a soldier; it is only once in all his many books that he says that when he was a soldier such and such a thing happened to him. At the same time, all his books bear the impress of his early days upon them; and as for this special book of Bunyan's now open before us, it is full from board to board of the strife and the din of his early battles. The Holy War is just John Bunyan's soldierly life spiritualised--spiritualised and so worked up into this fine English Classic.

      Well, then, after Mansoul was taken and reduced, the victorious Prince determined so to occupy the town with His soldiers that it should never again either be taken by force from without, or ever again revolt by weakness or by fear from within. And with this view He chose out five of His best captains--My five pickt men, He always called them--and placed those five captains and their thousands under them in the strongholds of the town. On the margin of this page our versatile author speaks of that step of Emmanuel's in the language of a philosopher, a moralist, and a divine. 'Five graces,' he says, 'pickt out of an abundance of common virtues.' This summing-up sentence stands on his stiff and dry margin. But in the rich and living flow of the text itself our author goes on writing like the man of genius he is. With all the warmth and colour and dramatic movement of which this whole book is full, this great writer goes on to set those five choice captains of our salvation before us in a way that we shall never forget.

      1. 'The first was that famous captain, the noble Captain Credence. His were the red colours, and Mr. Promise bare them. And for a scutcheon he had the Holy Lamb and the golden shield; and he had ten thousand men at his feet.' Now, this same Captain Credence from first to last of the war always led the van both within and around Mansoul. In ordinary and peaceful days; in days of truce and parley; when the opposite armies were laid up in their winter quarters, or were, for any cause, drawn off from one another, some of the other captains might be more in evidence. But in every exploit to be called an exploit; in every single enterprise of danger; when any new position was to be taken up, or any forlorn hope was to be led, there, in the very van of labour and of danger, was sure to be seen Captain Credence with his blood-red colours in his own hand. You understand your Bunyan by this time, my brethren? Captain Credence, your little boy at school will tell you, is just the soldier-like faith of your sanctification. Credo, he will tell you, is 'I believe'; it is to have faith in God and in the word of God. You will borrow your Latin from your little boy, and then you will pay him back by telling him how Captain Credence has always led the van in your soul. You will tell him and show him what a wonderful writer on the things of the soul John Bunyan is, till you make John Bunyan one of your son's choicest authors for all his days. You will do this if you will tell him how and when this same Captain Credence with his crimson colours first led the van in your salvation. You will tell him this with more and more depth and more and more plainness as year after year he reads his Holy War, and better and better understands it, till he has had it all fulfilled in himself as a pickt captain and good soldier of Jesus Christ. You will tell him about yourself, till, at this forlorn hope in his own life, and at that sounded advance, in some new providence and in some new duty; in this commanded attack on an inwardly entrenched enemy, and in that resolute assault on some battlement of evil habit, he recollects his noble, confiding, and loving father and plays the man again, and that all the more if only for his father's sake. Ask your son what he knows and what you do not know, and then as long as his heart and his ear are open tell him what you know and what you have by faith come through, and that will be a priceless possession to him, especially when he is put in possession of it by you.

      Well on toward the end of the war, the Captain Credence had so acquitted himself that he was summoned one day to the Prince's quarters, when the following colloquy ensued: 'What hath my Lord to say to His servant?' And then, after a sign or two of favour, it was said to him: 'I have made thee lieutenant over all the forces in Mansoul; so that, from this day forward, all men in Mansoul shall be at thy word; and thou shalt be he that shall lead in and that shall lead out Mansoul. And at thy command shall all the rest of the captains be.' My brethren, you will have the whole key to all that in yourselves if this same war has gone this length in you. Faith, your faith in God, and in the word of God, will, as this inward war goes on, not only lead the van in your heart and in your life, but just because your faith so leads in all things, and is so fitted to lead in all things, it will at last be lifted up and set over your soul, and all the things of your soul, till nothing shall be done in any of the streets, or gates, or walls thereof that faith in God and in His word does not first allow and admit. And then, when it has come to that within you, that is the best mind, that is the safest, the happiest, and the most heavenly mind that you can attain to in this present life; and when faith shall thus lead and rule over all things in thy soul, be thou always ready, for thy speedy translation to a still better life is just at the door.

      2. 'The second was that famous captain, Good-hope. His were the blue colours. His standard-bearer was Mr. Expectation, and for a scutcheon he had three golden anchors; and he had ten thousand men at his feet.' The time was, my brethren, when all your hopes and mine were as yet anchored without the veil. But all that is now changed. We still hope, in a mild kind of way, for this thing and for that in this present life; but only in a mild kind of way. It would not be right in us not to look forward, say, from spring-time to summer, and from summer to harvest. If the husbandman had not hope in the former and in the latter rain he would not sow; and as it is with the husbandman so it is with us all: so ought it to be, and so it must be. But we say God willing! all the time that we plot and plan and hope. And we say God willing! no longer with a sigh, but, now, always with a smile. In His will is our tranquillity, we say, and we know that if it is not His will that this and that slightly anchored hope should be fulfilled, then that only means that all our hopes, to be called hopes, are soon to be realised. Our green and salad days in the matter of hope are for ever past. If we had it all absolutely secured to us that this world is still promising to its salad dupes, it would not come within a thousand miles of satisfying our hearts. Whether the hopes of our hearts are to be fulfilled within the veil or no, that remains to be seen; but all the things without the veil taken together do not any longer even pretend to promise a hope to hearts like ours. Our Forerunner has carried away our hearts with Him. We have no heart left for any one but Him, or for anything without or within the veil that He is not and is not in. And till that hope also has made us ashamed,--till He and His promises have failed us like all the rest,--we are going to anchor our hearts on that, and on that only, which we believe is with Him within the veil. If our Forerunner also disappoints us; if we enter where He is, only to find that He is not there; or that, though there, He is not able to satisfy our hope in Him, and make us like Himself, then we shall be of all men the most miserable. But not till then. No; not till then. And thus it is that Captain Good-hope has his billet in our heart; thus it is that his blue colours float over our house; and thus it is that his three golden anchors are blazing out in all their beauty on the best wall of our earthly house.

      3. 'The third was that valiant captain, the Captain Charity. His standard-bearer was Mr. Pitiful, and for his scutcheon he had three naked orphans embraced in his bosom; and he also had ten thousand men at his feet.' O Charity! O valiant and pitiful Charity! Divine-natured and heavenly-minded Charity! When wilt thou come and dwell in my heart? When, by thine indwelling, shall I be able to love my neighbour, and all my neighbours, as myself? When, in thy strength, shall I cease from repining at my neighbour's good; and when shall I cease secretly rejoicing over his evil? When shall I by thee renewing me, be made able to cease in everything from seeking first my own will and my own way; my own praise and my own glory? When shall it be as much my new nature to love my neighbour as it is now my old nature to hate him? When shall I cease to be so soon angry, and hard, and bitter, and scornful, and unrelenting, and unforgiving? When shall my neighbour's presence, his image, and his name always call up only love and honour, good-will and affectionate delight? When and where shall I, under thee, feel for the last time any evil of any kind in my heart against my brother? Oh! to see the day when I shall suffer long and be kind! When I shall never again vaunt myself or be puffed up! When I shall bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things! O blessed, blessed Charity! with thy divine heart, with thy dove-like eyes, and with thy bosom full of pity, when wilt thou come into my sinful heart and bring all heaven in with thee! O Charity! till thou so comest I shall wait for thee. And, till thou comest, thy standard-bearer shall be my door porter, and thy scutcheon shall hang night and day at my door-post!

      4. 'The fourth captain was that gallant commander, the Captain Innocent. His standard-bearer was Mr. Harmless; his were the white colours, and for his scutcheon he had three golden doves.' My brethren, how well it would have been with us to-day if we had always lived innocently! Had we only been innocent of that man's, and that man's, and that man's, and that man's hurt! (Let us name all the men to ourselves.) How many men have we, first and last, hurt! Some intentionally, and some unintentionally; some deliberately, and some only by accident; some of malice, and some only of misfortune; some innocently and unknowingly, and whom we never properly hurt. Some, also, by our mere existence; some by our best actions; some because we have helped and not hurt others; and some out of nothing else but the pure original devilry of their own evil hearts. And then, when we take all these men home to our hearts, what hearts all these men give us! Who, then, is the man here who has done to other men the most hurt? Who has caused or been the occasion of most hurt? Let that so unhappy man just think that the gallant commander, the Captain Innocent himself, with his white colours and with his golden doves, is standing and knocking at your evil door. O unhappy man! By all the hurt and harm you have ever done--by all that you can never now undo--by those spotless colours that are still snow and not yet scarlet as they wave over you--by those three golden doves that are an emblem of the life that still lies open before you, as well as an invitation to you to enter on that life--why will you die of remorse and despair? Open the door of your heart and admit Captain Innocent. He knows that of all hurtful men on the face of the earth you are the most hurtful, but he is not on that account afraid at you; indeed, it is on that account that he has come so near to you. By admitting him, by enlisting under him, by serving under him, some of the most hurtful and injurious men that ever lived have lived after to be the most innocent and the most harmless of men, with their hands washed every day in innocency, and with three golden doves as the scutcheon of their new nature and their Christian character. Oh come into my heart, Captain Innocent; there is room in my heart for thee!

      5. 'And then the fifth was that truly royal and well-beloved captain, the Captain Patience. His standard-bearer was Mr. Suffer-long, and for a scutcheon he had three arrows through a golden heart.' Three arrows through a golden heart! Most eloquent, most impressive, and most instructive of emblems! First, a heart of gold, and then that heart of gold pierced, and pierced, and then pierced again with arrow after arrow. Patience was the last of Emmanuel's pickt graces. Captain Patience with his pierced heart always brought up the rear when the army marched. But when Captain Patience and Mr. Suffer-long did enter and take up their quarters in any house in Mansoul,--then was there no house more safe, more protected, more peaceful, more quietly, sweetly, divinely happy than just that house where this loyal and well-beloved captain bore in his heart. Entertain patience, my brethren. Practise patience, my brethren. Make your house at home a daily school to you in which to learn patience. Be sure that you well understand the times, the occasions, the opportunities, and the invitations of patience, and take profit out of them; and thus both your profit and that of others also will be great. Tribulation worketh patience. Endure tribulation, then, for the sake of its so excellent work. Nothing worketh patience like tribulation, and therefore it is that tribulation so abounds in the lives of God's people. So much does tribulation abound in the lives of God's people that they are actually known in heaven and described there by their experience of tribulation. 'These are they which came out of great tribulation, and therefore are they before the throne.' These are they with the three sharp arrows shot through and through their hearts of gold.

      * 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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