Worldly Wiseman—Christian’s Trojan Horse
Updated: Apr 13
Editor's Note: This is the sixth post in a series on John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, "Before There Was George Lucas or J.R.R. Tolkien - There was John Bunyan." Read the fifth post here. Series images by JT Wynn.
There are many phrases, embedded within the American collective psyche, received by most as tidbits of wisdom. We hear them all the time: “Pull yourself up by your own boot-straps,” “He is a self-made man,” “It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there,” and “You have to take care of number one.” Some even have a ring of religion about them: “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” “God helps those who help themselves,” “Saved by the skin of my teeth,” and “Wolves in sheep’s clothing.” At first blush these seem to contain a nugget of truth. But, “Everything that glitters is not gold!”
THE TROJAN HORSE
There is a similar, but visual lesson of wisdom in the account of the Trojan Horse. “But how much truth is in this tale? The main source[s] . . . [are] from the Aeneid of Virgil, a Latin epic poem, and Homer’s Odyssey.” But the historicity of the myth is not our focus—but the wisdom the story conveys. Like the quoted sayings, there is more than meets the eye that an initial look might reveal. Maybe on the surface there is a glimmer of truth? But beware! Wisdom and truth are deeper than a first glance might uncover.
Madison Avenue would have us believe, “Perception is not the main thing—perception is the ONLY THING!” Impressions and concepts generated by our society and culture that come through the eye-gate or the ear-gate must be thoughtfully considered before adopted as truth. When the Horse was taken in without a closer inspection—complete and sudden destruction came on the city.
Christian, our series hero, was similarly duped like those of Troy. He was led astray from the straight-and-narrow road to the Celestial City. For he heeded the advice of Mr. Worldly Wiseman from the Town of Carnal Policy. Worldly asked him where he was bound with such a burden on his back? (Hazelbaker, 17). Christian replied, for the Narrow Gate. Evangelist told him it was the only place “to get rid of my heavy burden” (Ibid). Christian complains to Worldly, his weight was so great, he could no longer find joy even in his wife and children. Worldly warns him, “quickly get rid of your burden, for you’ll never be settled in your mind till you do” (Ibid, 18). He told Christian something he knew experientially.
Then Worldly questions: Who directed you along this path? Christian responds, “As I remember, Evangelist was his name.” Smugly; Worldly warns, “There’s not a more dangerous and troublesome way in the world than the one to which he’s directed you” (Ibid). Then he notices Pilgrim’s filth and slime from the Swamp of Despondence. He cautions Christian, this is just the beginning of your troubles if you follow Evangelist’s directions. He shall experience wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils, nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, and—in a word—death;” (Ibid) if he continues on this route.
Pilgrim is desperate. This seems to be a turning point for him. He confesses, “[T]his burden . . . is more terrible to me than all these things you’ve mentioned. . .. I don’t think I care what I meet in the way as long as I can also find deliverance from my burden” (Ibid, 19). For it almost cost him his life in the Swamp of Despondence. Worldly further inquires, why do you seek relief this way, when there are so many dangers, toils, and snares ahead of you?
Why, I can point you to a place where you can get immediate relief, Worldly declares. And there “you would also . . . meet with much safety, friendship, and contentment” (Ibid). “‘Please reveal this secret to me,’ said Christian” (Ibid).
He then points Christian toward the town called Morality. And when he arrives, he is to consult with the wise and judicious man named Legality. He has skill and knowledge to help people remove their burdens from their backs. He has done much good for other pilgrims. “He also has the skill to cure those who are driven a little insane by their burdens” (Ibid). And if he is not at home, his son Civility can do just as much good as the older gentleman. Worldly, “You must come to that high hill, and the first house you come to is his” (Ibid).
Christian was in a dire predicament! He is caught “betwixt and between.” If he concluded that Worldly Wiseman said was true— “his wisest course would be to take his advice” (Ibid). It promised immediate relief. But if he stays on the “straight-and-narrow” it is uncertain what lies ahead. So, he turned out-of-the-way towards Mr. Morality’s house seeking deliverance he so longed to have.
The path to the house took him beside a high hill. It had such an overhang—he thought it might even fall on his head. In the middle of all of this it seemed that his burden became even heavier. Flashes of fire came out from the mountain. Altogether, these seized him with terror, and he knew not what to do. He might be compared to the proverbial “deer in the headlights”—not knowing what to do! “[T]herefore, he sweat and shook . . . and now he began to be sorry that he had taken Mr. Worldly Wiseman’s advice” (Ibid, 20).
TO SAVE THE DAY
Like a modern-day superhero or old-west cowboy hero wearing a white hat; Evangelist shows up in the nick of time to save the day. Very unhappy with Christian he scolds, “What are you doing here”? (Ibid, 20). Christian, almost in tears, was ashamed and began to blush. Evangelist questions him: Are you not the one I found outside of the City of Destruction crying for relief? Did I not direct you in the way which you should go? Why then have you left the path to the Narrow Gate and come to the Town of Carnal Policy?
Christian responded, when I came through the Swamp of Despondence, I met with Mr. Worldly Wiseman. He convinced me of a better way. A way that was a “shorter way, not so frequented with difficulties as the Way you set me in.” (Ibid, 22). He further confesses:
So I believed him and turned out of the path I was in to go into this one hoping I could soon be eased of my burden. But when I came to this place and saw things as they really are, I stopped for fear of danger. Now I know what to do. (Ibid, 22)
Christian, like those of Troy, was duped because he did not give a wise and considered look at the choices before him. This, in turn, no doubt, affects the decisions we make. What lessons can we learn from Christian’s bad choice?
First as mentioned at the outset, “Everything that glitters is not gold!” Things are not always what they appear on the surface. The wise person; slows down, considers wisely, any decision to be made.
Secondly, choices have consequences. In both cases, Troy and Christian; a wrong choice would lead to perdition. For Christian to leave the “straight and narrow” would bring him to another end, just as bad as the City of Destruction. Let us beware, choices have consequences. All choices have consequences—some seen some unseen. There is a “Law of Unintended Consequences.” That is, when a decision is made, we have no idea what the ultimate end(s) of it might be.
Third is the quick fix versus the long haul. Christian was in pain. He wanted immediate relief—much like American society today. He might have attained some temporary ease. But it would have done him no good eternally. Our culture can be seen making these choices all about us. Here, the reader is left to make his/her own observations and ponder the truth personally!
Fourth, some choices cannot be redone. Once done—they are done! This is profoundly true. These two paths portrayed in the PP means life or death for Christian. Going to the Narrow Gate means eternal life. Going out of the way to the Town of Carnal Policy means eternal death. Which shall we choose dear reader?
This article is copyrighted by Roger D. Duke and Duke Consulting Group. They have granted Stage & Story the right to publish it. The article can also be found at Dr. Duke's personal site.
Hazelbaker, Edward. The Pilgrim’s Progress: in Modern English. Bridge-Logos Publishers, 2008.
Puls, Ken. Music Blog Online. “A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.” Accessed 29 November. 2018.
Thomas, Derek. “The Pilgrim’s Progress: a Guided Tour.” Ligonier Ministries. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/pilgrims-progress-guided-tour/. Accessed 29 November. 2018.
Whyte, Alexander. Bunyan Characters: First Series Being Lectures Delivered in St. George’s Free Church, Edinburgh. Bibliobazaar, 2015.
Dr. Roger D. Duke is an advisory board member and the scholar-in-residence at Stage & Story. Dr. Duke is an ordained Baptist minister and has taught at the college and graduate school levels for over 20 years. Dr. Duke holds graduate degrees from The University of the South’s School of Theology at Sewanee, TN; The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Harding University’s Graduate School of Religion. He has written or contributed to more than ten volumes (including works on John Bunyan) with the latest volume scheduled to be released in 2018. Visit his website at www.drrogerdduke.com. His published work can be found on his website and his Amazon Author's Page. He has been happily married to Linda Young Duke for nearly 44 years. They have three adult children and four robust grandsons.
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