You can take the Fearing out of Stupidity, but you can’t take the Stupidity out of Fearing

Mr Fearing comes from the town of Stupidity, according to Mr Great-heart‘s question about him to Mr Honest (p 314). Mr Fearing was a true pilgrim, and reached the Celestial City at last, but spent his pilgrimage afraid that he would not. This was, Great-heart says, ‘from the weakness of his mind… not from weakness of spirit’. All pilgrims should exercise their minds as they travel—especially those who find themselves doubting Scripture’s assurance on their destiny. Young James points out the first step in this task: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom, and Great-heart makes the application: fear of hell and fear of the Lord are not the same thing.


Prudence’s Catechism

While Christiana and her four sons are resting at the House Beautiful, Prudence, one of the damsels who live there, asks Christiana if she can catechise her sons. I don’t remember seeing any clues as to how old the boys are, but Prudence questions them in order from youngest to oldest, and it is interesting to see how the questions grow accordingly deeper in significance. She asks James, the youngest, who made him, who saves him, and by what means. To Joseph, a bit older, she puts questions about the nature of man, his need for salvation, the great power of sin, God’s purpose in salvation, and who must be saved. Samuel, oldest but one, is asked about heaven and hell; and Matthew, the oldest, is asked about eternity and God’s Word Written. One might have expected heaven and the role of the Bible to be understood at an early age, but perhaps one lesson is that heaven and hell need to be understood in relationship to each other. I shall have to think more about the Bible question, though.

Prudence is pleased with all the answers, and commends Christiana for teaching her children so well, although wisely reminding the boys, ‘you must still hearken to your mother’! Joseph’s answer to the question, ‘What is man?’ is worth noticing: ‘a reasonable creature, so made by God.’ Another reminder that reason plays a significant role in the world of pilgrims.

Mr Sagacity

Mr Sagacity is a character of great interest. He is dismissed in Sharrock’s note as a ‘device’, and a poor one of which Bunyan soon tired, but I think there’s more to him than that. On this blog we are more likely to regard Bunyan as the device, and Sagacity as a person to whom attention is worth paying.

Mr Sagacity is the one who gets Part II going. When the dreamer finds himself once again in the world of the pilgrims, and hoping to satisfy his long-standing concern for the family who would not accompany Christian in Part I, it is Sagacity who gets him oriented, confirming that it is the City of Destruction that lies to the left. He tells the dreamer many interesting things about what is being said about Christian there, but most importantly that Christian’s wife and four sons have also set out on Christian’s journey. Sagacity knows a great deal about Christiana‘s setting out, having been ‘upon the spot’ and ‘thoroughly acquainted with the whole affair’. He is even able to describe her emotional state. He is also visibly and ‘greatly affected’ by the anguish of soul that drives Christiana to set out, and describes for the dreamer all that happened to her up to her arrival at the Slough of Despond. He leaves, however, just before she gets to the Wicket Gate, and we hear no more of him.

He speaks as an inhabitant of the City of Destruction (it is ‘our country’, p 232), who knows what life there will mean for those who do not leave, and admires Christiana for her determination to leave, yet there is no clue that he no longer resides there, or that he is one of those servants travelling on the King’s business who help pilgrims from time to time. He remains a mysterious figure.

The word ‘sagacity’ does not appear in the 1611 Bible, nor in the Geneva Bible, at least in that spelling or in the other contemporary form, ‘sagacitie’. The OED definition is interesting; it is not, as I expected, a synonym for ‘wisdom’, but more like ‘cleverness’: ‘acuteness of mental discernment; aptitude for investigation or discovery; keenness and soundness of judgement in the estimation of persons and conditions, and in the adaptation of means to ends; penetration, shrewdness.’ It was often used to refer to the intelligence of animals.

It may be that Mr Sagacity had the wit to see the destruction that awaited him, and to discern the way of avoiding it, and knew that those who took that way were choosing the better part, yet could not bring himself to the point of pilgrimage. He certainly makes an abrupt departure, and almost at the Wicket Gate. One of those professing themselves to be wise, who became fools? At this point, we can only hope not.

Cities of Destruction: Fair-speech

When I first thought about the town of Fair-speech being one of the cities of destruction, I felt a bit of unease. Doesn’t Colossians 4.6 say ‘Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one’? But its inhabitants give no grounds for reassurance: Lord Turn-about, Lord Time-server, Mr Smooth-man, Mr Facing-both-ways, Mr Any-thing, the Parson Mr Two-tongues, Lady Faining, and of course Mr By-ends. Between them, though, we can discern what is destructive; not so much fair speech as speech that is fair but not honest (feigning), speech whose content is not what is true but what is expedient (turn about, facing both ways, two tongues), and which serves some other purpose (a by-end) than appears on the surface. ‘By-ends’ is 17th Century for ‘hidden agenda’. It is fair speech in the sense of ‘talking the talk’, fair speech but no fair deeds in support. I think it must be one of those towns whose name has become shortened over the years, or whose full name is not often referred to, like the cities called Santa Fe. The full name of the one in New Mexico is La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís, and that of the one in Argentina Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz, but both are better known simply as Santa Fe.

All of which helps explain Paul’s image: the salt with which our gracious speech must be seasoned is truth and transparency.

Cities of Destruction: Conceit

Conceit is not a city, but a country, but is nevertheless to be understood as one of the Cities of Destruction because unless its inhabitants leave, destruction is their fate. This must be difficult for its inhabitants to grasp, because the country is so well situated, being between the Delectable Mountains and the Enchanted Ground. A short walk up into the foothills of the Delectable Mountains is even a spot from which the Celestial City can be seen through a perspective glass. How blessed a place it must seem to those who live there!

‘Conceit’ can be a slightly misleading term for modern readers, since it is now only used to refer to an undue pride. In Bunyan’s time it was equivalent to the modern word ‘concept’, and comes from the same Latin root. The OED defines it as ‘that which is conceived in the mind, a conception, notion, idea, thought’. Its use in this sense can be found on p 200, where Ignorance objects to the idea that we contribute nothing to our own salvation in the words ‘this conceit would loosen the reins of our lust, and tolerate us to live as we list.’ It is as an idea conceived in the mind of man that the Country of Conceit must be understood: it represents the assumption that our own thoughts, our own reason, can guide us even on the journey to the Celestial City. With its fine, pleasant and green lane leading to the Pilgrims’ way, it is no surprise to read that none of its inhabitants so much as knows the way to the Wicket Gate. From Conceit to the Wicket Gate is a long and forbidding journey, and few take it.

Cities of Destruction

The point of departure for Christian and his family is the City of Destruction, but that is not the only place from which people need to be saved. Of course, the Wicket Gate is the entrance to a pilgrim way, not a country, and all towns are cities of destruction for those who do not make the journey. But all the towns from which we know Pilgrims set out, towns like Apostasy, Carnal Policy, Uncertain and Stupidity, repay thinking about. The first posts on this blog will explore the significance of some of these places.

I find the town of Stupidity very interesting, because it is said to be even further from God than the City of Destruction—‘four degrees to the northward’. (When Christian is in the House Beautiful, he is told to look south to see the Delectable Mountains, beyond which is the Celestial City.) Mr Fearing set out from the town of Stupidity, but we know more about his nephew Feeble-mind. Feeble-mind is treated with great tenderness by his fellow pilgrims because of his unfortunate condition, and Great-heart says he has a special commission to comfort those suffering as Feeble-mind does. These seem to me to tributes to reason and rationality, brief, perhaps, but distinct, and worth thinking about.

Obstinate, who decides that Christian is one of the ‘Company of these Craz’d-headed Coxcombs, that when they take a fancy by the end, are wiser in their own eyes then seven men that can render a Reason’, was not the first to conclude that the Godly had no use for reason, but a case can be made that the chief distinctive of evangelical Christianity is its cerebral approach, even if this sometimes arouses a strong emotional reaction in the Godly Christian (not to mention their opponents).