Tuesday, May 16, 2006

POST1920: The Trouble with Mr. Talkative

~Gleaning Light from the Luminaries of the Past~

Proverbs 19:20: Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (ESV).


At Pilgrim Bible Church we have been studying through Bunyan's work, The Pilgrim's Progress - and it has been very profitable study indeed. We have used this work as a helpful road-map to many important theological and practical discussions. To be sure, it is a fallible work of man, but it has endured through the years as being a great help to many weary Christians seeking comfort and aid in their journey to their Heavenly home. Spurgeon loved this work so much that he read through every year, and his preaching clearly evidences his regular meditation on its themes. For our fellowship, it has been a vehicle for biblical study that has supplied our whole flock, both young and old, with a rich treasury of wisdom. It is interesting how an allegory can draw in so much in the way of Scriptural truth, even within very brief paragraphs. You will find that as you read the book, biblical passages (often un-referenced) will pop out everywhere; so much so, that it is a challenge to discover them all in a single reading. Consider Spurgeon's own affection and admiration of Bunyan:


"Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim's Progress, that sweetest of all prose poems, without continually making us feel and say, 'Why, this man is a living Bible!' Prick him anywhere, his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text."

This said, let us take care here: Bunyan was just a man and Pilgrim's Progress is a fallible work. It is an exceptional work indeed, but it clearly stands beneath the authority of God's infallible Word. But because of its close adherance to Scripture, it has been a wonderful tool for our brethren; even giving our parents a useful resource for their family devotions at home. I should also say that, in many ways, Pilgrim's Progress supplies us with a much needed mirror in life. The characters in this work are so richly developed that the reader will often find many things in commen with them - especially when one considers a character's proclivity towards foolishness, pride and sin. On the other hand, I must say that most of the characters are unbelievers. Their worldly ways, appetites and philosophies supply us with helpful warnings that remind us that we are no longer darkness, but we are light in the Lord. A classic example of this is the character, Mr. Talkative. Now Talkative is an unbeliever, and this is laid out in the narrative very quickly; thus, he does not stand as an example of Christian conduct and practice. However, his negative example still provides us with an important warning against the dangers of superficiality, indifference, arrogance and doctrinal pride. You see, for Talkative, Christianity was all about head knowledge rather than a heart transformation. For him, it was enough to know about Christ, rather than to know the Savior personally through faith in Him. Consider the following description that Christian gave to his companion (Faithful) regarding Mr. Talkative:


Chr. At this Christian said, "This man [Talkative], with whom you are so taken, will beguile with this tongue of his, twenty of them that know him not. His name is Talkative: he dwelleth in our town. I wonder that you should be a stranger to him, only I consider that our town is large. He is the son of one Say-well. He dwelt in Prating-Row; and he is known to all that are acquainted with him by the name of Talkative of Prating-Row; and, notwithstanding his fine tongue, he is but a sorry fellow. This man is for any company, and for any talk; as he talketh now with you, so will he talk when he is on the ale-bench; and the more drink he hath in his crown, the more of these things he hath in his mouth. Religion hath no place in his heart, or house, or conversation; all he hath lieth in his tongue, and his religion is to make a noise therewith. He talketh of prayer, of repentance, of faith, and of the new birth; but he knows but only to talk of them. I have been in his family, and have observed him both at home and abroad; and I know what I say of him is the truth. His house is as empty of religion as the white of an egg is of savor. There is there neither prayer, nor sign of repentance for sin; yea, the brute, in his kind, serves God far better than he. He is the very stain, reproach, and shame of religion to all that know him, Rom. 2:24,25 ; it can hardly have a good word in all that end of the town where he dwells, through him. Thus say the common people that know him, "A saint abroad, and a devil at home." His poor family finds it so; he is such a churl, such a railer at, and so unreasonable with his servants, that they neither know how to do for or speak to him. Men that have any dealings with him say, It is better to deal with a brute than with him, for fairer dealings they shall have at their hands..I am of opinion that he has, by his wicked life, caused many to stumble and fall; and will be, if God prevents not, the ruin of many more. .. good men are ashamed of him; they can neither call him brother nor friend; the very naming of him among them makes them blush, if they know him...t he soul of religion is the practical part. "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." James 1:27 ; see also verses 22-26 . This, Talkative is not aware of; he thinks that hearing and saying will make a good Christian; and thus he deceiveth his own soul. Hearing is but as the sowing of the seed; talking is not sufficient to prove that fruit is indeed in the heart and life. And let us assure ourselves, that at the day of doom men shall be judged according to their fruits. Matt. 13:23 . It will not be said then, Did you believe? but, Were you doers, or talkers only? and accordingly shall they be judged. The end of the world is compared to our harvest, Matt. 13:30 , and you know men at harvest regard nothing but fruit. Not that any thing can be accepted that is not of faith; but I speak this to show you how insignificant the profession of Talkative will be at that day." Bunyan, J. (1995). The pilgrim's progress : From this world to that which is to come. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

The value of this narrative is manifold. It helps believers to remember that we will meet people in our lives who have a very appealing form of religion and doctrine. They will know the words that pertain to the Christian life, but they will know nothing of the power nor the person of Jesus Christ. They will look good at a glance, but will prove themselves to be much less when face to face. The cloak of their religion goes no farther than the surface of their skin, and therefore, the dilligent Christian must engage such people with conversation that goes deep enough in order to better understand their core attitudes and intentions, rather than being pleased with their superficial profession of faith. This is a crucial lessen indeed!


But there is another important lesson that we ought to glean from the dark example of Mr. Talkative: His natural weakness is our natural weakness too. Sadly, we are cut out of the same fabric of men like Talkative; and even though we are redeemed (if we have trusted Christ), we still strive in a battle of the Spirit and the flesh. That is, we all have this great tendency and weakness of heart to be puffed up by knowledge; to herald book learning over our devotional walk with the Lord; to think too much of our understanding of things, without humbly recognizing that for all that we may know in this life - we have a great deal more to learn and apply as the disciples of Christ. All this to say - what a tragedy it would be to examine the life of a Mr. Talkative and then fail to look in the mirror and ask the Lord: "in what way am I like this foolish man, Lord?" Until glory, we will all need to guard against the same forms of pride, indifference and arrogance that is in the heart of Mr. Talkative. The good news is that He who began a good work in you (and me), will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).