A Lesson From Bunyan
On Truth's Friends and Foes
Some of the material in this article, including exact phrases and sentences, has been taken without attribution from Alexander Whyte's Bunyan's Characters.
All true Christians are lovers of the truth. They desire to fellowship in the truth; they desire to be taught the truth and they want to be dispensers of the truth. The Bible tells us that men perish "because they receive not the love of the truth that they might be saved" (2 Thess. 2:10). Christians follow in a line of many men and women who sealed their testimony for truth with their blood.
It is my heart's desire to encourage everyone to seek diligently after truth and to defend it--to be valiant for truth and to seek to dispense it by life, lip and good sound literature. However, some dangers accompany all those who would be valiant for the truth.
The prophet Jeremiah faithfully reproved sin and threatened God's judgment for sin (Jer. 8-9). As he rejoiced neither at iniquity nor calamity, he bitterly lamented the people's sin and God's judgment, expressing great grief for the miseries of Judah and Jerusalem. He justified God in the greatness of the destruction brought upon them, and called on others to bewail the woeful cause of Judah and Jerusalem.
The great prophet showed the people the vanity and folly of trusting in their own strength, wisdom, privileges of their circumstances or anything but God alone. But the people were not "valiant for the truth" (Jer. 9:3). They were filthy adulterers; they were false, unfaithful to God and one another. They bent their tongues like their bows for lies, and their tongues were fitted for lying as a bow is bent for shooting arrows, turning as naturally to lying as a bow to the bowstring.
They did not defend God's truth, which was delivered to them by the prophets. They had no courage to stand by an honest cause which has truth on its side--if greatness and power be on the other side. Those who will be faithful to the truth must be valiant for it, undaunted by opposition. But the truth had fallen in the land, and the people could not lend a hand to help it up.
"And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment" (Isa. 59:1-15). Men will answer not only for their enmity in opposing truth but also for cowardice in defending it.
To point out the dangers that accompany the defense of truth, I refer to Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, a character from The Pilgrim's Progress, my favorite book next to the Bible. In John Bunyan's metaphor can be found some heart lessons.
Mr. Valiant-for-Truth was "born in Dark-land" and his mother and father are still there. Dark-land was on the same coast as the City of Destruction. Valiant found Dark-land unsuitable and unprofitable and thus he forsook it. He gave these reasons for leaving:
"We had one Mr. Tell-Truth come into our parts, and he told about what Christian had done. How he had left the City of Destruction to head for the Celestial City. That man so told the story of Christian and his travels that my heart fell into a burning haste to be gone after him, nor could my father and mother keep me, so, I got from them, and am come thus far on my way."
The great lesson which Bunyan would have us learn from his impressive character, Valiant-for-Truth, comes from the terrible fight Valiant had with three ruffians who attacked him all at once and almost put an end to him.
Valiant--his name tells us he was a contender for the truth. He had the truth. The truth was put into his keeping. He was a custodian of the truth. He was bound to defend the truth. He was thrown into a life of controversy and knew all the terrible temptations which accompany such a life. One old saint said, "Temptations in a life of controversy are worse than the temptations of whoredom and sin."
Bunyan called the three enemies who attacked Valiant by these names: Wild-Head, Inconsiderate and Pragmatic. In his wisdom, John Bunyan is warning every defender of the truth, in religion or in other matters, of the besetting temptations to be wild-headed, inconsiderate, and officious, opinionated, dictatorial and intolerably arrogant.
Now, this bloody battle--and a bloody battle it was indeed--was not fought at the mouth of any dark lane in the midnight city. This terrible, bloody battle was fought in Valiant's own heart.
Bunyan's Valiant was not one of these smooth, double-tongued, calculating, supposed friends of the truth. He did not wait until he saw truth walking in silver slippers before he identified with it. He was not a church politician. No, no.
Let a man lay a finger on the truth or wag a tongue against the truth, and he would surely have to settle it with Valiant. His love for truth was a passion. The fierceness of his love for the truth frightened ordinary men, even when they were on his side. Valiant could have died for truth without a murmur.
But Valiant had to learn a hard and cruel lesson: Although he thought he was the best friend of truth, in reality at the same time he was a great enemy of the truth. He had to learn that although he meant to defend the truth he had indeed done it harm. The truth is often heard to say, "Save me from my friends." We have all seen examples of this and most of us have experienced it.
We have seen Wild-Head in operation many times. Sometimes with his pen in hand. Sometimes behind the pulpit. Sometimes in private conversations or debate. We have seen him rush at the character of some saint who was just not enlightened, whose understanding was not as good as his Christian experience. Will Wild-Head never learn that truth apart from the Spirit will not develop Christian character? Grace and truth must be together. Mercy and truth must be together as they are in Jesus.
In this awful, confused and divided Church today we need great care, wisdom and charity in applying the truth as we have come to see and love it. I mean applying it as to time, manner and method.
What is one safeguard at this point? Not putting asunder what God has joined together. Mercy and truth, Psalm 85:10, 86:15, 89:14; Proverbs 14:22, 16:6, 20:28. Kindness and truth, and truth and love, Ephesians 4:15--"speak the truth in love." Grace and truth, John 1:14, 17--"Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. Yes, He was full of "grace and truth." One great safeguard, therefore, is not putting asunder what God has joined together.
The second ruffian or rogue who attacked Valiant was Inconsiderate. Now remember, these enemies were in his own heart. Inconsiderate never thinks and certainly doesn't pray before he speaks--nor after he has spoken. He never puts himself in another man's place. He has neither the head nor the heart to put himself in another man's place.
Matthew Henry commented on this from a passage in Job 19:2, 5: "Those who speak too much seldom think they have said enough; and when the mouth is open in passion, the ear is shut to reason." Inconsiderate seems to forget that all truth must be revealed." For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why doest thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" (1 Cor. 4:7).
Truth must be revealed to the heart by the Spirit in Christian growth, even as it was at conversion. We must remember that in the eyes of other Christians we differ from them as they differ from us.
May the Spirit help us to see with their eyes and feel with their hearts and sympathize with their principles--yes, and with their prejudices. I did not say compromise but sympathize, and agonize a little more in prayer for the Spirit to teach their hearts. Every Valiant must beware of that ruffian in his heart called Inconsiderate. Bunyan was a champion for God's truth, and he suffered for the truth.
The third ruffian who attacked Valiant was Pragmatic. This word had a different meaning then from what it has today. In 1616 pragmatic meant "officiously busy in other people's affairs; interfering, meddling," and in 1638 it meant "opinionated, dictatorial, dogmatic" (Oxford Dictionary).
It is the picture of someone always setting everyone right on every little point. There is nothing he will not correct in you. He forgets that truth does not stand on points but principles. The truth does not dwell in the letter but in the Spirit. Truth is not only given to set others straight; truth, like charity, begins at home.
Truth suffers in the hands of a wild-headed, inconsiderate and pragmatic man who is never satisfied, never pleased, never thankful, always setting his superiors right. This kind of man, intending to be a friend of the truth, is an enemy of the truth.
Bunyan, by warning us of these enemies within, does not mean to discourage us from being Valiant-for-Truth. It is only to point out the enemy. We know he wishes to encourage us rather than discourage us from the rest of the metaphor.
Let me emphasize that Bunyan points out these enemies, whom we face in our battles for truth, not to discourage us but to encourage us in our warfare. To make us good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
The first time we see Valiant he is standing at the mouth of a place Bunyan calls "dead man's lane." He is standing there with his sword in his hand and his face all covered with blood. His words are, "`They have left upon me, as you see,' said the bleeding man, `some of the marks of their valor and have also carried away with them some of mine.'"
I believe, in like manner, we see Paul with the blood of Barnabas still upon him as he wrote 1 Corinthians 13. Or can you not see John, with the blood of the Samaritans still on him, in old age, when he wrote his first epistle, especially 3:10-19, 4:7-12? Where do you suppose I got the key to this veiled metaphor of Bunyan's Valiant-for-Truth? The key does not hang on the outside doorpost of my experience but rather on the wall of my own place of repentance.
How many times have you trespassed against humility, love, with unadvised sermons and conversations? While whirling words, yes, and without shame and remorse or self-condemnation? None of these passages of Paul or John or Bunyan were ever written without remorse and self-contempt. And may I add they are not rightly read without a little of the same feeling.
Now, let me take you further with Bunyan for encouragement in being Valiant-for-Truth. "Then said Mr. Great-Heart to Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, `Thou has worthily behaved thyself; let me see thy sword.'" Valiant shows him his sword. "When he had taken it in his hand and looked thereon awhile the guide said, `Ha, it is a right Jerusalem blade!'"
"It is so," said Valiant. "Let a man have one of these blades with a hand to wield it, and skill to use it and he may venture upon angels with it. Its edges will never blunt--it will cut flesh, bones, soul, spirit and all" (Heb. 4:12).
This is the wonderful blade we have in our hands. This sword--and a sword it is (Eph. 6:17)--was not forged in an earthly fire nor whetted to its unapproachable sharpness on an earthly whetstone. And best of all, when a good soldier of Jesus Christ has this sword girt on his thigh he is able to go against himself with it, against his own worst enemy as in Bunyan's metaphor: his own wild-headedness and pride of heart, against his own lack of consideration. Great-Heart the guide, "Thou has done well . . . . Thou has resisted unto blood, striving against sin. Thou shalt abide with us, come in and go out with us, for we are thy companions."
This Jerusalem blade is a two-edged sword. Like the Arabian warriors who used their swords as a mirror to dress themselves for battle, every Valiant-for-Truth must look in his sword to see thoughts and intents, the joints and marrow of his own disordered soul. Yes, it has two edges, one to slay error in others but also one to slay evil in himself.
The last lesson from Bunyan's Mr. Valiant-for Truth is one of great encouragement, and I pray that it will encourage all of us to be not only lovers of truth but also to be Valiant-for-Truth.
It is a picture drawn from Christiana, the widow of Christian. It is a vivid picture indeed, because it is the last time she sees Valiant-for-Truth on this side of that river that has no bridges. Just let me review the first time she saw him. His own mother would not have known him! He was hacked to pieces with the swords of his three enemies, Wild-Head, Inconsiderate and Pragmatic. But as the blood was washed off the mangled man's head, face and hands, she saw beneath the bloody wounds a true, brave and generous-hearted soldier of the cross.
The heart is always the man. She had lived long enough to know that. And in spite of all the scars, behind the scars was his love for the truth that had put him in all those bloody battles. She could never forget how, when she was introduced to Valiant, he exclaimed. He almost embraced her as his own mother when he burst out with his eyes full of blood. "Why, is this Christian's wife? . . . What, and going on pilgrimages too? It gladdens my heart!"
"Good man (speaking of Christian). How joyful will he be when he shall see Christiana and his children enter after him at the gates into the Celestial City." Valiant was not too busy to salute an old woman in the way. And she could see in him all the manly beauty of a young soldier. It gladdened her heart to hear him as it did his heart to hear her.
Their parting shows the place of all the Valiants-for-Truth in Bunyan's characters. At the river, when the post had come for her, we see the widow. She sets aside all her companions, even Mr. Great-Heart the guide, to leave her children under Valiant's sword and shield. Her words to Valiant are, "I would also entreat you to have an eye to my children."
How do we get along with those who are Christians yet hold some different views about the atonement or the application of the atonement? J. C. Ryle, John Brown, Richard Baxter and John Owen had different views. Many Christians are Arminians. How do we get along with them?
Bringing together Valiant-for-Truth, Christian charity, Christian unity and having a proper catholic spirit is the difficult part. How? How is always before us.
We cannot lend support nor sympathy to any error. We cannot countenance it or we will be betraying our Lord. There are always those easy-minded people who are ready to blink at error as long as it is committed by some clever or good-natured brother, one of those mush-mouthed men who have so many fine points about them.
At times we must put a fresh bolt on the door of truth. And at all times we must beware of sailing under the flag of peace and friendship in cooperation with God's servants when in reality we are robbing the God of truth.
The best way to promote unity is to promote truth. We will not be a friend of truth by yielding to each other's mistakes and errors. We are to love each other in Christ, but we are not to be so united that we are unable to see each other's faults and errors. And especially so united that we do not see our own faults.
We must keep our priorities in proper order. For example, on some truths no true Christians disagree: the deity of Christ, the trinity, the necessity of conversion, and so on.
Our attitude, actions and words about those Christians who differ with us should be Christian--Paul's attitude. "Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice" (Phil 1:15-18).
Paul did not intimate that he could join them. The Lord will accomplish His purpose. We must not deny the sovereignty of God in our attitude, actions or words about those who differ with us.
This is not to suggest that God blesses error; He is the God of Truth. He blesses the truth though it sometimes is mingled with the error.
We find ourselves in a perplexing situation at this present time. All true Christians desire to be catholic in their sympathies, gracious and generous in their relationship with other Christians. But there are some things we cannot accept. Because we have good feeling towards them and even thank God for what He is doing through them does not mean that we can join them in all that they do or teach. God forbid. This would be love at the expense of truth. This is not true love but false unity.
We must carefully, humbly and with great love and understanding point out why we cannot join them or cooperate with them. We often find ourselves with those of different backgrounds different Churches, different stages of doctrinal understanding. The question we should keep in our minds is this: "Who maketh me to differ from another and what have I gotten that I have not received?" (1 Cor. 4:7).
Be seekers after truth. Be lovers of the truth. Defenders of the truth--Valiant-for-Truth. Dispensers of the truth by life, lip and literature. Be mindful of the enemies from within as well as the enemies from without, especially Wild-Head, Inconsiderate and Pragmatic.
I would like to add another to Bunyan's list, spiritual pride. Jonathan Edwards, speaking on revival along with other things, mentions the danger of spiritual pride: "This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of truth. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit to darken the mind and mislead the judgment."