I am older than thou: thou art like to meet with, in the way which thou goest, wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils, nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, and, in a word, death, and what not.
Some critics seem to think that Wiseman is trying to deceive Christian, but he is not, he is doing something which oft discourages – telling the unvarnished truth. Our Lord Himself suffered and asked if others were ready to drink of that cup? The narrow way is hard; it is not attended by flights of angels. It is what Worldly Wiseman tells Christian it is.
Wiseman says that it is Christian’s untutored reading of the Bible which has driven him to such straits and recommends that in order to remove his burden he should do to the village of Morality to see:
Legality, a very judicious man, and a man of a very good name, that has skill to help men off with such burdens as thine is from their shoulders; yea to my knowledge, he hath done a great deal of good this way; aye, and besides, he hath skill to cure those that are somewhat crazed in their wits with their burdens.
Christian is persuaded and turns aside to find the village, only to be daunted by the terrain. In his perplexity he meets Evangelist who chides him for departing from the true way so soon.
Then Christian fell down at his feet as dead, crying, Woe is me, for I am undone! At the sight of which Evangelist caught him by the right hand, saying, “All manner of sin and blasphemies shall be forgiven unto men.” Matt. 12:31. “Be not faithless, but believing.” John 20:27
That’s a moment many a Believer can relate to, surely? Even as a lad, I found in it comfort.
What follows though is something which is hard to ears attuned to the bad type of ecumenicism now so common, for Evangelist makes it plain that Wiseman is the Church by law Established, and that it is the modern equivalent of those Pharisees whom Jesus had condemned. We are not, he sternly says, saved by works or by the law. Well, on another occasion, I may say more fully what I say now friends, which is that no one believes we are saved by these things, though there are many who think some do so hold. Aye, it is a conflict going back to James and Paul, and I’m never sure those two understood each other.
James, we know, was a man called ‘the Just’ and he was steeped in the ways of the Hebrews and distrusted what he heard of Paul; Paul, with the zeal of the recent convert, chided James’ men as Judaisers. The story is well enough known, and Bunyan, as you’d expect, is Pauline here.
Reassured by Evangelist that not all is lost, Christian makes for the narrow gate.