“I, Wisdom, dwell with Prudence” – Solomon
So many wasted steps! How far I could have been by now! Three times over the same way, which, had it not been for my sleeping in the midst of Difficulty, would have been passed over but once! Now I must walk without the sun! Darkness . . . lions . . . How escape? . . . Christian mumbling to himself. Then he spied them. . . . Two lions loitering farther down the road . . . the occasion of Timorous’ and Mistrust’s flight in reverse. . . . What was that you’d said a little while ago? I must venture. Hm-mm! I said that? I said that! I said that! Christian hastened to admit it. His friendly dialog with self continued, Come pluck up, heart. Then with the Palace Beautiful in sight the weary pilgrim did so, at the same time singing,
Difficulty is behind, fear is before,
Though he’s got up the hill, the lion’s roar;
A Christian man is never long at ease;
When one fright’s gone, another doth him seize.
Watchful stood at the gate of the palace. He, when Christian made application for lodging there over night, politely requested him to identify himself. Complying, he gave his race – Japhelic, his national origin – Hittite-Amorite, his country – Sodomegyptia, his home-city – Destruction, his name at birth – Graceless, his given name – Christian, his destination – Zion. Watchful then rang a servant bell and a very beautiful but serious-looking young woman appeared. Discretion by name. She warmly took Christian in charge, calling to assist her three others of her family, Prudence, Piety and Charity. These were the keepers of the threshold (II K. 12:9; 22:4, margin). The admitting of members into the church ought to be done with Discretion. Those in the church with the most Prudence, Piety and Love must be appointed to examine candidates for church membership, for the Lord’s Table and for the ministry of the Word. Soon they had him to meet the rest of the family. Supper was being prepared, but first they gave him something to drink, while they all discussed together the most edifying and in-depth subjects. In those days, the administration of the Lord’s Supper was introduced in this very Prudent way; refreshment was provided before Supper, i.e., preparatory sermons and private preparatory devotions were a common practice. Their conversation with Christian was very revealing. Especially the interrogation of Prudence was most penetrating and stimulating.
She first of all asked him concerning the country he had exited from like a man from a burning building, whether he ever thought of it any more. Yes, he did so, frequently, recalling his bitter slavery, the biting lash of the hard-taskmasters, the fiery brick-kiln furnaces tended, the red dust from the clay-and-straw mortar which colored his skin to the roots of his hair, the iron-yoke marks still weltering his flesh. But you’d never believe with what shame and detestation I recall that country and its past like. For so degraded was I, so inebriated from the vine of Sodom, that I wallowed in Nily mire, insensible to the yoke which kept me pressed face down in it, hugged my shackles, and fanatically, even manically, refused to leave my stinking dungeon.
Turning the vein of the subject slightly, Prudence then asked whether there were yet some remnants of that old, past, destroyed life still clinging to him. Prudence was aiming to bring out Christian’s misery, which he felt was his inward sickness, especially in the form of “my inward and carnal cogitations.” It was a common thing for him in those days and for his countrymen in Sodomegyptia to turn themselves on, or to turn on their own mental TV, by delighting and titilating themselves with their own carnal dreams. Christian confessed that he still was plagued with sinful thoughts, but that they were no longer entertained and doted on, as before, intruding, as they did, against his will, and now regarded with shame and detestation. What is more, he added, evil thoughts are as a matter of fact, always with me. There is something incessantly wrong going on in my mind and heart. Hordes of filthy Diabolonians invade the town of Mansoul and must continually be hunted down and put to death like the five kings executed at the cave of Makkedah. O, yes, replied Christian, ten times a day I choke on those rotten morsels, and ten times a day I spit out sinful thoughts like poison.
Prudence sensed that there was a man, a rare man, who appreciated her type of discourse, for he understood it and responded to it with serious ardor. She admitted, too, that even we of this household must cry, Woe unto us! For we are all spoiled. O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? It is not a question of whether you have vain thoughts. Everyone has. It is a question about your vain thoughts. What do you do about them? It is a question of how long shall thy vain thoughts lodge with in thee? It is a question whether you know what Prudence and Christian were talking about. If not, perhaps you had better wonder whether you have even entered the vestibule of Christianity’s Palace Beautiful. It is good to sit down and have a talk with Prudence, especially before coming to the Lord’s Supper. Prudence is preparatory to our Passover. Could you satisfy Prudence and her questioning? Could you say, as David did, I hate vain thoughts, but Thy law do I love? Could you tell Prudence where David says that?
No one, went on Christian, knows better than my Lord, who is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, how out of my heart proceed evil thoughts, and how much blushing to the roots of my soul I suffer for them. What shame I feel over the stab of jealousy I get at the blooming prosperity of a friend! Or, I’m hungry for his delicacies, thirsty for his drink, sick at his health, cramped at his liberty, sorry for his pleasure, pleased at his sorrow. My evil heart wants everything for itself. What a misery, a grief it is to me! If I could choose my own things, I would choose never to think of those things any more, but, when I would do what’s best, then what’s worst is present with me. And so, Prudence, you do me good, with your heart-searching, flesh-withering exposure of my hell-rooted, heaven-towering pride!
Do you, replied Prudence, sometimes find those things conquered which at other times are your perplexity? Yes, but seldom; such times are golden hours to me. Many a leaden hour, but some golden! Christian sums things up in: his misery, his choice and his golden hours. The latter are fleeting but precious down-payments on the eternal joys of heaven. Hear another allegory. Brother Thomas, a monk in a Middle-Ages monastery, went out early into the forest to gather sticks. He paused, entranced at the sight and song of a beautiful woods bird. With the song ended, the bird disappeared in a flash of striking color. Gathering up his bundle, the monk returned to his cloister. At the gate he was amazed to have the doorkeeper ask who he was. Brother Thomas? The doorkeeper was now amazed. There is no Brother Thomas in this community. But, protested Thomas, I left the monastery not an hour ago to gather sticks in the woods. The doorkeeper, making closer scrutiny, replied, Many years ago one of our aged brothers died, a Brother Thomas, who had gone out into the woods and never returned. They thought he had become lost and devoured by wild beasts. . . . Thomas, entranced at the sight and song of a bird thought that only a few minutes which was a hundred years. So the music, joys and golden minutes of heaven will really be hundreds of years.
Prudence continues. By what means do you find your annoyances, at times, as if they were vanquished? My sight of the cross will do it. When I look upon my embroidered coat, that will do it. Also when I look at the scroll I carry in my bosom, that will do it; and when I wax eloquent in thought about where I am going, that will do it! Then it is that I stand to watch some bird of paradise; then it is I feel I could never again have an evil heart within me. That’s what the Cross does for me. That’s what Christ does for me. That’s what the Heavenly Dove does for me.
Blest Cross! blest sepulcher! blest rather be The Man that was there put to shame for me.
That’s how evil thoughts are banished. Also by reading the scroll of the Book; in the volume of the book it is written of Him. There, too, it is written of me, of what sometimes I can see nothing else of, my sin; but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, and golden hours have come to me. In those golden hours I have outlived Methuselah, passed through eternities. My annoyances also have been vanquished by dipping down into such refreshing wells as John Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion, John Brown’s Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord, John Gill’s Body of Divinity, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and The Holy War, Pink’s Studies in the Scriptures and Edward’s Strict Inquiry Into the Freedom of the Will. These provide golden hours along my pilgrimage.
Then, concluded Prudence, what makes you so desirous to go to Mount Zion? Why, there I hope to see Him alive who did hang on the cross. There I hope to be rid of all those things that to this day are in me an annoyance to me. There, they say, there is no death; and there I shall dwell with company as I like best. For, to tell you the truth, I love Him because I was by Him eased of my burden; and I am weary of my inward sickness. I would be where I shall die no more, and with the company that shall continually cry, “Holy, holy, holy!”
Originally Published in:
Vol. 31 No. 1 March 1971