Mr. By-Ends and the American "Christian"

Monday, June 25, 2012

It's comforting to know that weaknesses currently plaguing American "Christianity" are not unique to our age. Over 300 years ago, in his classic tale The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan described a character eerily similar to many modern evangelicals. Note carefully the words of Mr. By-Ends, his interaction with the faithful men Christian and Hopeful, and the twisted reasoning of his friends Mr. Hold-the-World, Mr. Money-Love, and Mr. Save-All. I've italicized portions which seem to me most typical of American "Christianity."


So I saw that, quickly after they were got out of the fair, they overtook one that was going before them, whose name was BY-ENDS; So they said to him, "What countryman, sir? and how far go you this way?" He told them that he came from the town of Fairspeech; and he was going to the Celestial City (but told them not his name).

Chr. "From Fairspeech!" said CHRISTIAN; "is there any that be good live there?"

By-ends. "Yes," said BY-ENDS, "I hope."

Chr. "Pray, sir, what may I call you?" said CHRISTIAN.

By-ends. I am a stranger to you, and you to me: if you be going this way, I shall be glad of your company: if not, I must be content.

Chr. "This town of Fairspeech," said CHRISTIAN, "I have heard of; and, as I remember, they say it is a wealthy place."

By-ends. Yes, I will assure you that it is; and I have very many rich kindred there.

Chr. Pray who are your kindred there, if a man may be so bold?

By-ends. Almost the whole town: and in particular, my Lord TURN-ABOUT; my Lord TIME-SERVER; my Lord FAIRSPEECH (from whose ancestors that town first took its name); also Mr. SMOOTH-MAN; Mr. FACING-BOTH-WAYS; Mr. ANY-THING; and the parson of our parish, Mr. TWO-TONGUES, was my mother's own brother by father's side. And to tell you the truth, I am become a gentleman of good quality; yet my great-grandfather was but a waterman, looking one way and rowing another-- and I got most of my estate by the same occupation.

Chr. Are you a married man?

By-ends. Yes; and my wife is a very virtuous woman--the daughter of a virtuous woman. She is my Lady FEIGNING'S daughter; therefore she came of a very honourable family, and is arrived to such a pitch of breeding, that she knows how to carry it to all, even to prince and peasant. 'Tis true, we somewhat differ in religion from those of the stricter sort; yet but in two small points: First, we never strive against wind and tide; secondly, we are always most zealous when religion goes in his silver slippers--we love much to walk with him in the street if the sun shines, and the people applaud it.

Then CHRISTIAN stepped a little aside to his fellow HOPEFUL, saying, "It runs in my mind that this is one BY-ENDS, of Fairspeech and if it be he, we have as very a knave in our company as dwells in all these parts." Then said HOPEFUL, "Ask him; methinks he should not be ashamed of his name." So CHRISTIAN came up with him again, and said, "Sir, you talk as if you knew something more than all the world doth; and if I take not my mark amiss, I deem I have half a guess of you: Is not your name Mr. BY-ENDS, of Fairspeech?"

By-ends. That is not my name: but indeed it is a nickname that is given me by some that cannot abide me: and I must be content to bear it as a reproach, as other good men have borne theirs before me.

Chr. But did you never give an occasion to men to call you by this name?

By-ends. Never, never! the worst that ever I did to give them an occasion to give me this name was, that I had always the luck to jump in my judgment with the present way of the times, whatever it was, and my chance was to gain thereby; but if things are thus cast upon me, let me count them a blessing, but let not the malicious load me therefore with reproach.

Chr. I thought indeed that you were the man that I had heard of; and to tell you what I think, I fear this name belongs to you more properly than you are willing we should think it doth.

By-ends. Well, if you will thus imagine, I cannot help it. You shall find me a fair company-keeper, if you will still admit me your associate.

Chr. If you will go with us, you must go against wind and tide, the which, I perceive, is against your opinion; you must also own religion in his rags as well as when in his silver slippers; and stand by him too when bound in irons, as well as when he walks the streets with applause.

By-ends. You must not impose nor lord it over my faith; leave me to my liberty, and let me go with you.

Chr. Not a step farther, unless you will do, in what I propound, as we.

By-ends. Then said BY-ENDS, "I shall never desert my old principles, since they are harmless and profitable. If I may not go with you, I must do as I did before you overtook me: even go by myself, until some overtake me that will be glad of my company."

Now I saw in my dream that CHRISTIAN and HOPEFUL forsook him, and kept their distance before him; but one of them looking back, saw three men following Mr. BY-ENDS; and behold, as they came up with him, he made them a very low bow, and they also gave him a compliment. The men's names were, Mr. HOLD-THE-WORLD, Mr. MONEY-LOVE, and Mr. SAVE-ALL--men that Mr. BY-ENDS had formerly been acquainted with; for in their minority they were schoolfellows, and were taught by one Mr. GRIPEMAN, a schoolmaster in Love-gain, which is a market town in the county of Coveting, in the north. This schoolmaster taught them the art of getting, either by violence, fraud, flattery, lying, or by putting on a guise of religion; and these four gentlemen had attained much of the art of their master, so that they could each of them have kept such a school themselves.

Well, when they had, as I said, thus saluted each other, Mr. MONEY-LOVE said to Mr. BY-ENDS, "Who are they upon the road before us?" For CHRISTIAN and HOPEFUL were yet within view.

By-ends. They are a couple of far countrymen, that, their mode, are going on pilgrimage.

Money-love. Alas! why did they not stay, that we might have had their good company; for they, and we, and you, sir, I hope, are all going on a pilgrimage?

By-ends. We are so, indeed; but the men before us are so rigid, and love so much their own notions, and do also so lightly esteem the opinions of others, that even if a man be never so godly, yet, if he jumps not with them in all things, they thrust him quite out of their company.

Mr. Save-all. That's bad; but we read of some that are righteous overmuch, and such men's rigidness prevails with them to judge and condemn all but themselves. But, I pray, what and how many were the things wherein you differed?

By-ends. Why, they, after their headstrong manner, conclude that it is their duty to rush on their journey all weathers; and I am for waiting for wind and tide. They are for hazarding all for God at a clap; and I am for taking all advantages to secure my life and estate. They are for holding their notions, though all other men be against them; but I am for religion in and so far as the times and my safety will bear it. They are for religion when in rags and contempt; but I am for him when he walks in his golden slippers in the sunshine, and with applause.

Mr. Hold-the-World. Aye, and hold you there still, good Mr. BY-ENDS; for, for my part, I can count him but a fool, that, having the liberty to keep what he has, shall be so unwise as to lose it. Let us be wise as serpents; 'tis best to make hay when the sun shines: you see how the bee lies still all winter, and bestirs her only when she can have profit with pleasure. God sends sometimes rain, and sometimes sunshine; if they be such fools to go through the first, yet let us be content to take fair weather along with us. For my part, I like that religion best that will stand with the security of God's good blessings unto us; for who can imagine, that is ruled by his reason, since God has bestowed upon us the good things of this life, but that he would have us keep them for his sake? Abraham and Solomon grew rich in religion. And Job says, "That a good man shall lay up gold as dust." But he must not be such as the men before us, if they be as you have described them.

Mr. Save-all. I think that we are all agreed in this matter; and therefore there need be no more words about it.

Mr. Money-love. No, there need be no more words about this matter indeed; for he that believes neither Scripture nor reason (and you see we have both on our side), neither knows his own liberty nor seeks his own safety.

Friends, don't be surprised or shaken by modern compromises; truly there is nothing new under the sun. Let us guard our hearts against anything that would steal our love for Christ. And let us hope anew in the gospel, which was the answer for 1678 England and is still the answer for 2012 America.


Life is Long, Life is Short

Friday, June 1, 2012

So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

Encouragement for disciplers in God's church:

Life is long - so be patient as you minister to people. Don't put yourself under pressure to teach everything there is to know in a single sermon, or fix all of someone's problems overnight. You are likely just one factor among many in an individual's spiritual life and growth. In most cases God began His work in someone before bringing them your way, and in most cases God will continue His work in someone after moving them on from your influence. One plants, another waters, but God causes the growth. 

At the same time...

Life is short - so maintain a sense of urgency as you prepare people for eternity. You never know how long someone will be in your life. God in His grace can use your momentary influence to change an individual for eternity! Life is a vapor. Your speaking God's truth to someone today may be vital.

May the Lord give us wisdom and grace as we minister in light of these two realities.


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