Faithfulness, Shame, and Where the Wind Blows
I don't pretend to be an expert in Bunyan's classic Pilgrim's Progress. I doubt I've ever mentioned it in a sermon. But quotes like the one below (passed along to me by one who recalled it from memory) make me want to reread it with a fine-toothed comb.
To set the context, Christian has just reunited with his fellow townsman, Faithful, who reports on his earlier encounter with a certain Shame (who attributes to the truly churched what he should feel about himself). It was Shame, Faithful recalled, who
"objected against religion itself. He said it was a pitiful, low, sneaking business for a man to mind religion. He said that a tender conscience was an unmanly thing; and that for a man to watch over his words and ways, so as to tie up himself from that hectoring liberty that the brave spirits of the times accustomed themselves unto, would make him the ridicule of the times. He objected also, that but a few of the mighty, rich, or wise, were ever of my opinion; nor any of them neither, before they were persuaded to be fools, and to be of a voluntary fondess to venture the loss of all for nobody knows what. 1 Cor. 1:26; 3:18; Phil. 3:7-9; John 7:48. He, moreover, objected the base and low estate and condition of those that were chiefly the pilgrims of the times in which they lived; also their ignorance and want of understanding in all natural science. Yea, he did hold me to it at that rate also, about a great many more things here than I relate; as, that it was a shame to sit whining and mourning under a sermon, and a shame to come home sighing and groaning home; that it was a shame to ask my neighbor forgiveness for petty faults, or to make restitution where I have taken from any. He said also, that religion made a man grow strange to the great, because of a few vices, which he called by finer names, and made him own and respect the base, because of the same religious fraternity: And is not this, said he, a shame?"
From an emphasis on science to sermon apathy, from an affinity for social acceptance to an adjustment of sin, this pretty well captures the prevailing currents of our age, even within many quarters of the church.
I am both comforted and stunned that Bunyan wrote these words in 1638. Comforted because it is more evidence that there is nothing new under ther sun and that 1 Cor 10:13 spans ages, not just continents. Stunned because of how so many--including me--fail to "imbibe" (to borrow from Dr. Oliphint's article on this site) what Bunyan is delivering.
All of which brings me to some wisdom I once heard from a real Faithful that may fortify those confronted, or perhaps tempted, by the "hectoring liberty" of the "brave spirits of the times": though all be with you, you may still be wrong; though all be against you, you may still be right.
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- Ressourcement: Irenaeus of Lyons and His Answer to the Hyper-Spirituality of Gnosticism