Saturday, 27 April 2013

'Hobgoblin nor foul fiend'

Bunyan's staue in Bedford
Thankfully Mrs Thatcher's funeral service passed off peacefully. One of the hymns chosen for the service was John Bunyan's "Who would true valour see'. Its' a hymn that most people of my generation being brought up in Bedford, would have been familiar with. After all, Bunyan was the 'tinker of Bedford', and is perhaps Bedford's most famous son.

We often sang the hymn in school assembly, and unlike at Mrs Thatcher's funeral, where the opening words of verse 3 were changed to the rather anaemic, 'Since Lord Thous dost defend us with Thy spirit', we were not daunted by Bunyan's original opening words of verse 3
'Hobgoblin nor foul fiend can daunt his spirit'
It appears that the hymn was only introduced into English hymnals in 1906 and Dr Percy Dearmer who edited the book, was not keen on Bunyan's rather dramatic words. Hence his alteration.

So why stick with hobgoblins and foul fiends? Well Bunyan's masterpiece, The Pilgrims Progress, gave a vivid account of the Christian life. This life was marked by frequent challenges and obstacles, and in the person of Valiant-for-Truth, the pilgrim continued on right to the end. The book is a helpful corrective to any modern day account of the Christian life suggesting constant success and convenience. Yep. as Bunyan rightly points out there are plenty of experiences to daunt the spirit. But some of the Christian's obstacles are more imagined than real-hence the hobgoblin.

Even in Bunyan's day it was recognised that  hobgoblins have no reality. Mentioned only twice in Shakespeare, and then only in playful, fairy connections, they have no more reality for Bunyan than satyrs, fiends and dragons, and are part of the evil forces encountered by pilgrim in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  They are merely a figure of speech. As one commentator points out,
'Bunyan wanted a word that would suggest fears that have no foundation. Millions make themselves miserable with utterly baseless worries, fears that are every bit as absurd as fear of a hobgoblin.'
This seems to be like an early example of CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy. My good friend Dr Gaius Davies (see his Genius Grief and Grace), points out that so much of St Paul's letters function like this. Thus get your thinking straight and live in the light of that rather than melting before adverse circumstances, which in reality have changed nothing. Or as Paul would say, 'If God be for us who can be against us?'
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