Mr. Worldly Wiseman

1 Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT

18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. – Philippians 3:18-20 NLT

1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3:1-3 NLT

In his classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan recounts the efforts of a new believer in Christ who embarks on a journey to the Celestial City, a metaphor for heaven. On his way, Christian, the book’s main character, encounters a wide array of characters, many of whom try to distract and detour from his destination. Bunyan gave each a name that reflects their particular character. One of these individuals is a gentleman named Mr. Worldly Wiseman. Here is Bunyan’s description of their encounter.

Now as Christian was walking solitarily by himself, he spied one afar off come crossing over the field to meet him and their hap was to meet just as they were crossing the way of each other. The gentleman’s name that met him was Mr. Worldly Wiseman: he dwelt in the town of Carnal Policy ; a very great town, and also hard by from whence Christian came. This man, then, meeting with Christian, and having some inkling of him – for Christian’s setting forth from the city of Destruction was much noised abroad, not only in the town where he dwelt, but also it began to be the town talk in some other places – Master Worldly Wiseman, therefore, having some guess of him, by beholding his laborious going, by observing his sighs and groans and the like, began thus to enter into some talk with Christian. – John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

This well-dressed gentleman engages Christian in conversation and it doesn’t take long for his intentions to become evident. Seeing the burden Christian carries on his back, he offers to give his new-found friend “good counsel.”

I would advise thee, then, that thou with all speed get thyself rid of thy burden: for thou wilt never be settled in thy mind till then: nor canst thou enjoy the benefits of the blessing which God hath bestowed upon thee till then.

When Christian responds that he is on his way to the Celestial City in order to have his burden removed, Mr. Worldly Wiseman responds: “it has happened unto thee as to other weak men, who, meddling with things too high for them, do suddenly fall into thy distractions; which distractions do not only unman men (as thine I perceive has done thee), but they run them upon desperate ventures, to obtain they know not what.”

His solution is for Christian to seek aid in the nearby city of Morality where there lives a man named, 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 are from their shoulders.”

Mr. Worldly Wiseman assures Christian that his burden can be removed in the city of Morality with the help of Mr. Legality and his friend, Mr. Civility.

There, I say, thou mayest be eased of thy burden; and if thou art not minded to go back to thy former habitation, as indeed I would not wish thee, thou mayest send for thy wife and children to come to thee to this village, where there are houses now stand empty, one of which thou mayest have at reasonable rates: provision is there also cheap and good; and that which will make thy life the more happy is there to be sure, for thou shalt live by honest neighbours, in credit and good fashion.

In his own inimitable and timeless way, John Bunyan has painted a picture of the many dangers that face the believer as he makes his way through this life. As Paul told the believers in Philippi, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20 ESV). We don’t belong to this world anymore. In fact, Peter describes us as “temporary residents and foreigners” and he urges us “to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). Paul tells to “set your sights on the realities of heaven” and to “think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth” (Colossians 3:1, 2 NLT).

Yet, like Christian, we find ourselves surrounded by those who want to distract our focus from the reality of heaven and deceive us into believing that our hope and help can be found in this world. But Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and all those like him, is deadly wrong when he counsels Christian to take his eyes off of the Celestial City. Paul had some strong words for the worldly wise of his day.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. – 1 Corinthians 1:20-21 BSB

Paul pulled no punches when he stated, “If any of you thinks he is wise in this age, he should become a fool, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Corinthians 3:18-19 BSB).

Yet, the temptation to listen to the sage advice of the worldly wise is always there. If we’re not careful, we can easily find ourselves focusing our attention on the things of this earth, rather than the things of heaven. And, as a result, we end up living like the people of this world. We seek comfort and contentment from the things this world offers.

Mr. Worldly Wiseman attempted to get Christian to settle in the village of Morality “where there are houses now stand empty, one of which thou mayest have at reasonable rates: provision is there also cheap and good; and that which will make thy life the more happy.” He tempted him with comfortable accommodations, ample material goods to meet his needs, and a life of happiness. But his advice runs counter to that of Paul, who said, “set your sights on the realities of heaven” and “think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”

As the old hymn so aptly states:

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

(Songwriter: MARY REEVES DAVIS© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

As citizens of heaven, we are to constantly remind ourselves that this world is not our home. It is a temporary assignment. We are strangers in an alien land. Like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, we are to remember that our final destination is the Promised Land. The wilderness was not intended to be their home. And while God met all their needs while they were in the wilderness, He had far greater things in store for them on the other side of the Jordan River.

How easy it is to forget that what God has prepared for us is far better than what the world offers us. The things of this world are temporary and destined for the trash heap. They can’t hold a candle to the glorious future God has in mind. And the apostle John warns us to avoid a love affair with this world and all it offers. His advice stands in direct opposition to that of Mr. Worldly Wiseman.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

This world is fading away, along with all the things it offers us that are nothing more than poor counterfeits to the glories awaiting us heaven. But the worldly wisemen of our day would have us believe something quite different. They want us to believe that by focusing our sights on this world, we will get the blessings of heaven in this life. But John Bunyan, speaking through his character, Evangelist, paints quite a different picture. Evangelist warned Christian about the dangers lying behind the message of Mr. Worldly Wiseman.

The man that met thee is one Worldly Wiseman: and rightly is he so called; partly because he savours only the doctrine of this world (therefore he always goes to the town of Morality to Church) and partly because he loves that doctrine best, for it saves him from the cross; and because he is of this carnal temper, therefore he seeks to pervert my ways, though right. Now there are three things in this man’s counsel that thou must utterly abhor:

1. His turning thee out of the way.

2. His labouring to render the cross odious to thee.

3. And his setting thy feet in that way that leads unto the administration of death.

As the psalmist wrote: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12 ESV). By focusing all our attention on this world and demanding that the glories of heaven be experienced in this life, we take our eyes off the prize. We miss the point of our salvation. God didn’t save us so that we might enjoy our best life now, but so that we might experience the fully glorified, sin-free, and righteousness-filled life He has in store for us in the age to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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