By-ends: My brothers, we are, as you see, going all on pilgrimage; and, for our better diversion from things that are bad, give me leave to propound unto you this question:
Suppose a man, a minister, or a tradesman, etc., should have an advantage lie before him, to get the good blessings of this life, yet so as that he can by no means come by them except, in appearance at least, he becomes extraordinarily zealous in some points of religion that he meddled not with before, may he not use these means to attain his end, and yet be a right honest man?
Money-Love: I see the bottom of your question; and, with these gentlemen’s good leave, I will endeavor to shape you an answer. And first, to speak to your question as it concerns a minister himself: Suppose a minister, a worthy man, possessed but of a very small benefice, and has in his eye a greater, more fat, and plump by far; he has also now an opportunity of getting of it, yet so as by being more studious, by preaching more frequently and zealously, and, because the temper of the people requires it, by altering of some of his principles; for my part, I see no reason but a man may do this, (provided he has a call), aye, and more a great deal besides, and yet be an honest man. For why—
- His desire of a greater benefice is lawful, (this cannot be contradicted), since it is set before him by Providence; so then, he may get it, if he can, making no question for conscience’ sake.
- Besides, his desire after that benefice makes him more studious, a more zealous preacher, etc., and so makes him a better man; yea, makes him better improve his parts, which is according to the mind of God.
- Now, as for his complying with the temper of his people, by dissenting, to serve them, some of his principles, this argues: (1) That he is of a self-denying, temper; (2) Of a sweet and winning deportment; and so (3) more fit for the ministerial function.
- I conclude, then, that a minister that changes a small for a great, should not, for so doing, be judged as covetous; but rather, since he has improved in his parts and industry thereby, be counted as one that pursues his call, and the opportunity put into his hands to do good.
And now to the second part of the question, which concerns the tradesman you mentioned. Suppose such a one to have but a poor employ in the world, but by becoming religious, he may mend his market, perhaps get a rich wife, or more and far better customers to his shop; for my part, I see no reason but that this may be lawfully done. For why—
- To become religious is a virtue, by what means soever a man becomes so.
- Nor is it unlawful to get a rich wife, or more custom to my shop.
- Besides, the man that gets these by becoming religious, gets that which is good, of them that are good, by becoming good himself; so then here is a good wife, and good customers, and good gain, and all these by becoming religious, which is good; therefore, to become religious, to get all these, is a good and profitable design.
This answer, thus made by this Mr. Money-love to Mr. By-ends’ question, was highly applauded by them all; wherefore they concluded upon the whole, that it was most wholesome and advantageous. And because, as they thought, no man was able to contradict it, and because Christian and Hopeful were yet within call, they jointly agreed to assault them with the question as soon as they overtook them; and the rather because they had opposed Mr. By-ends before. So they called after them, and they stopped, and stood still till they came up to them; but they concluded, as they went, that not Mr. By-ends, but old Mr. Hold-the-world, should propound the question to them, because, as they supposed, their answer to him would be without the remainder of that heat that was kindled between Mr. By-ends and them, at their parting a little before.
One of the great dangers of sin and folly is their ability to appear reasonable and right. Sin is a form of insanity that twists our thinking, deceiving and distorting truth, until actions and attitudes obviously contrary to God’s Word seem perfectly sound and sensible. Selfishness, greed, pretense, deception—these can all emerge in our minds as virtuous as we craftily excuse them and justify our need to indulge in them.
Bunyan offers a penetrating look at our propensity to rationalize sin as he unfolds the hypocrisy of By-ends and his friends. As By-ends affirms, they are all convinced that they are pilgrims. They claim to be seeking Christ’s kingdom, but their true aim is personal gain. They think they can have both a zeal for Christ and the riches of this world. And they think they can legitimately employ the former to gain the later.
To make his point By-ends puts forth a question. Is it right for a minister or a tradesman to use religion in the pursuit of personal gain?
Money-love elaborates the question, beginning with the minister: Suppose a minister has an opportunity to move to a larger church that can pay him more. To gain the position he will be expected to study more, preach more, and be more animated and engaging in his preaching. However, to be successful in this new ministry, he will need to avoid certain topics and adjust his stance on particular matters so as not to offend or upset members of the congregation. Is it right for him to make such a move?
Money-love quickly says yes. He sees no problem with the minister modifying his religion in order to pursue the higher paying position. He reasons:
- It is not sinful to desire more pay and, since the opportunity has come his way, it must be in the providence of God for him to pursue it.
- More study and more opportunities to preach will certainly make him a better preacher.
- His acquiescing to the sensibilities of the congregation is not wrong—in fact, it demonstrates deference and self-denial, affirming that he has such qualities that will allow him to excel in ministry.
- Moving from a small church to a large church is evidence of success, improvement and advancement and should not in any way be judged as covetous.
Money-love then expounds the question of the tradesman: Suppose a tradesman, who is not doing well in his business, has an opportunity to expand his market, tap into a larger customer base, and perhaps even find a wealthy woman to be his wife. All he needs to do is to join a local church, thereby gaining the confidence and trust of its large congregation. Is it right for him to join the church and become an active, zealous church member?
Money-love again sees no problem and he affirms the tradesman’s scheme. He reasons:
- It is always good and beneficial to go to church and engage in religion. Being religious is a virtue regardless of the motivation.
- It is not sinful for a man to convince a rich woman to be his wife, or convince potential customers to do business at his store—in fact, it demonstrates the he is motivated and hard-working.
- Since being religious is good, and getting a wife is good, and growing your business is good—getting a wife and growing your business by being religious must certainly be good. Such an endeavor is a “good and profitable design.”
Money-love’s answers are affirmed by all. By-ends has proved his point. In the company of Christian and Hopeful, he was rebuked and offended. But now he has found companions that answer to his liking. Foolishness thrives best in the company of fools and so they fail to see their own faulty reasoning. Rather than their hypocrisy being exposed, it is applauded and admired.
By-ends and his friends now devise a plan. They are so convinced in their own minds of the soundness of their reasoning, that they believe no one can refute them. Christian and Hopeful had earlier shamed By-ends when he was alone. Now they will catch up to the pilgrims and confront them as a group, with Hold-the-world acting as spokesman. And this time it will be Christian who will falter and be silenced. In the next post we will hear Christian’s response to By-ends and his friends.
A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
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The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2017 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.