Tread softly (and the example of Pilgrim’s Progress)

‘I being poor have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams’ wrote W.B. Yates.

During the past season of being more aware of my weaknesses, it had made me think upon the struggles of others. In the past I think I have probably expected everyone simply to conform to my way of doing things or expectations. Whereas the truth is, that we all have different constitutions given to us by the Lord and we can never know the crosses that others carry, as they do. There may be a good reason why someone is the way that they are. Not that we are to excuse sin in one another and brush it off. But we are to tread carefully.

One person who understood the various constitutions of Christians so well was John Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress. Perhaps one of the reasons it flew off the shelves (if they had book stores then) was because people identified with the portraits of the individuals and not simply the allegory of the gospel, although that is probably unsurpassed.

The puritans understood the soul well– they were doctors of the soul– with remedies to dispense from the riches of God.

Take the nuanced personality of the man, Mr Fearing.

‘But when he was come to the entrance of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I thought I should have lost my man: not for that he had any inclination to go back; that he always abhorred, but he was ready to die for fear. Oh, the hobgoblins will have me! The hobgoblins will have me! cried he…But this I took very great notice of, that this valley was as quiet when he went through it, as ever I knew it before or since. I suppose those enemies here had now a special check from our Lord, and a command not to meddle until Mr Fearing passed over it…When he was come to Vanity Fair, I thought he would have fought will all the men at the fair. I feared there we should have been knocked on the head, so hot was he against their fooleries. Upon the Enchanted Ground he also was very wakeful. But when he was come at the river where there is no bridge, there again he was in a heavy case. Now, now, he said, he should be drowned forever, and so never see that face with comfort, that he had come so many miles to behold. And here also I took notice of what was very remarkable- the water at this time was lower than ever I saw it in all my life; so he went over at last not much above wetshod. When he was going up to the gate, Mr Great-heart began to take his leave of him, and to wish him a good reception above. So he said, I shall, I shall. Then parted we asunder and I saw him no more.

Hon: Then it seems he was well at last?

Great: Yes, yes, I never had any doubt about him. He was a man of choice spirit only he was always kept very low, and that made his life so burdensome to himself, and so troublesome to others. He was, above many, tender of sin…

Hon: But what should be the reason that such a good man should be all his days so much in the dark?

Great: There are two sorts of reasons for it. One is, the wise God will have it so: some must pipe, some must weep. Now Mr Fearing was one that played upon this bass. He and his fellows sound the sackbut, whose notes are more doleful than the notes of other music are: though indeed some say the bass is the ground of music. And for my part, I care not at all for that profession which begins not with heaviness of mind. The first string the musician usually touches, is the bass, when he intends to put all in tune. God also plays upon this string first, when he sets the soul in tune for himself. Only here was the imperfection of Mr Fearing; he could play upon no other music but this, till towards his latter end….

Hon: He was a very zealous man, as one may see by the relation you have given of him. Difficulties, lions, or Vanity Fair, he feared not at all; ’twas only sin, death and hell, that were to him a terror, because he had some doubts about his interest in that celestial country.

Great: You say right, those were the things that were his troublers: and they as you have well observed, arose from the weakness of his mind thereabout, not from the weakness of his spirit as to the practical part of a pilgrims life. I dare believe that, as the proverb is, he could have bit a firebrand, had it stood in his way; but the things with which he was oppressed, no man ever yet could shake off with ease.

Matthew: Then said Matthew, Fear was one thing that made me think that I was far from having that within me that accompanies salvation. But if it was so with such a good man as he, why may it not also go well with me? (pg 245-257)

Notice firstly how gentle the Lord God is with the weaknesses of Mr Fearing.

Then see the nature of his struggle. He had a weak mind and this did not exclude him from faith.

This portrait is one example of Bunyan’s grip on the gospel and the contours of the souls of sinners like us. Pray that we would get the same wisdom.






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