and hell are indeed. As I write these feeble words about it, a devil’s shaft of envy that was shot all against my will into my heart this morning, still, after a whole day, rankles and festers there. I have been on my knees with it again and again; I have stood and looked into an open grave to-day; but there it is sucking at my heart’s blood still, like a leech of hell. Who can understand his errors? Cleanse Thou me from secret faults. Create in me a clean heart, O God, O wretched man that I am! “Let a man,” says William Law when he is enforcing humility, “but consider that if the world knew all that of him which he knows of himself: if they saw what vanity and what passions govern his inside, and what secret tempers sully and corrupt his best actions, he would have no more pretence to be honoured and admired for his goodness and wisdom than a rotten and distempered body to be loved and admired for its beauty and comeliness. This is so true, and so known to the hearts of almost all people, that nothing would appear more dreadful to them than to have their hearts fully discovered to the eyes of all beholders. And, perhaps, there are very few people in the world who would not rather choose to die than to have all their secret follies, the errors of their judgments, the vanity of their minds, the falseness of their pretences, the frequency of their vain and disorderly passions, their uneasinesses, hatreds, envies, and vexations made known to all the world.” Where did William Law get that terrible passage? Where could he get it but in the secret heart of the miserable author of the Serious Call?
6. The half cannot be told of the guilt and the corruption, the pain and the shame and the manifold misery of secret sin; but all that will be told, believed, and understood by all men long before the full magnificence of their sanctification, and the superb transcendence of their blessedness, will even begin to be described to God’s secret saints. For, all that sleepless, cruel, and soul- killing pain, and all that shameful and humbling corruption,–all that means, all that is, so much holiness, so much heaven, working itself out in the soul. All that is so much immortal life, spotless beauty, and incorruptible joy already begun in the soul. Every such pang in a holy heart is a death-pang of another sin and a birth-pang of another grace. Brotherly love is at last being born never to die in that heart where envy and malice and resentment and revenge are causing inward agony. And humility and meekness and the whole mind of Christ are there where pride and anger and ill-will are felt to be very hell itself. And holiness, even as God is holy, will soon be there for ever where the sinfulness of sin is a sinner’s acutest sorrow. “As for me,” said one whose sin was ever before him, “I will behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I wake with Thy likeness.”
“But the fearful [literally, the timid and the cowardly] shall have their part in the second death.”–Revelation xxi.
No sooner had Secret bidden Christiana farewell than she began with all her might to make ready for her great journey. “Come, my children, let us pack up and begone to the gate that leads to the Celestial City, that we may see your father and be with him, and with his companions, in peace, according to the laws of that land.” And then: “Come in, if you come in God’s name!” Christiana called out, as two of her neighbours knocked at her door. “Having little to do at home this morning,” said the elder of the two women, “I have come across to kill a little time with you. I spent last night with Mrs. Light-mind, and I have some good news for you this morning.” “I am just preparing for a journey this morning,” said Christiana, packing up all the time, “and I have not so much as one moment to spare.” You know yourselves what Christiana’s nervousness and almost impatience were. You know how it upsets your good temper and all your civility when you are packing up for a long absence from home, and some one comes in, and will talk, and will not see how behindhand and how busy you are. “For what journey, I pray you?” asked Mrs. Timorous, for that was her visitor’s name. “Even to go after my good husband,” the busy woman said, and with that she fell a-weeping. But you must read the whole account of that eventful morning in Christiana’s memoirs for yourselves till you have it, as Secret said, by root-of-heart. On the understanding that you are not total strangers to that so excellently-written passage I shall now venture a few observations upon it.
1. Well, to begin with, Mrs. Timorous was not a bad woman, as women went in that town and in that day. Her companions,–her gossips, as she would have called them,–were far worse women than she was; and, had it not been for her family infirmity, had it not been for that timid, hesitating, lukewarm, and half-and-half habit of mind which she had inherited from her father, there is no saying what part she might have played in the famous expedition of Christiana and Mercy and the boys. Her father had been a pilgrim himself at one time; but he had now for a long time been known in the town as a turncoat and a temporary, and all his children had unhappily taken after their father in that. Had her father held on as he at one time had begun–had he held on in the face of all fear and all danger as Christiana’s noble husband had done–to a certainty his daughter would have started that morning with Christiana and her company, and would have been, if a timid, easily scared, and troublesome pilgrim, yet as true a pilgrim, and made as welcome at last, as, say, Miss Much-afraid, Mr. Fearing, and Mr. Ready-to-halt were made. But her father’s superficiality and shakiness, and at bottom his warm love of this world and his lukewarm love of the world to come, had unfortunately all descended to his daughter, till we find her actually reviling Christiana on that decisive morning, and returning to her dish of tea and tittle- tattle with Mrs. Bats-eyes, Mrs. Inconsiderate, Mrs. Light-mind, and Mrs. Know-nothing.
2. The thing that positively terrified Mrs. Timorous at the very thought of setting out with Christiana that morning was that intolerable way in which Christiana had begun to go back upon her past life as a wife and a mother. Christiana could not hide her deep distress, and, indeed, she did not much try. Such were the swarms of painful memories that her husband’s late death, the visit of Secret, and one thing and another had let loose upon Christiana’s mind, that she could take pleasure in nothing but in how she was to escape away from her past life, and how she could in any way mend it and make up for it where she could not escape from it. “You may judge yourself,” said Mrs. Timorous to Mrs. Light- mind, “whether I was likely to find much entertainment with a woman like that!” For, Mrs. Timorous too, you must know, had a past life of her own; and it was that past life of hers all brought back by Christiana’s words that morning that made Mrs. Timorous so revile her old friend and return to the society we so soon see her with. Now, is not this the case, that we all have swarms of evil memories that we dare not face? There is no single relationship in life that we can boldly look back upon and fully face. As son or as daughter, as brother or as sister, as friend or as lover, as husband or as wife, as minister or as member, as master or as servant–what swarms of hornet-memories darken our hearts as we so look back! Let any grown-up man, with some imagination, tenderness of heart, and integrity of conscience, go back step by step, taking some time to it,–at a new year, say, or a birthday, or on some such suitable occasion: let him go over his past life back to his youth and childhood–and what an intolerable burden will be laid on his heart before he is done! What a panorama of scarlet pictures will pass before his inward eye! What a forest of accusing fingers will be pointed at him! What hissing curses will be spat at him both by the lips of the living and the dead! What untold pains he will see that he has caused to the innocent and the helpless! What desolating disappointments, what shipwrecks of hope to this man and to that woman! What a stone of stumbling he has been to many who on that stone have been for ever broken and lost! What a rock of offence even his mere innocent existence, all unknown to himself till afterwards, has been! Swarms, said Christiana. Swarms of hornets armed, said Samson. And many of us understand what that bitter word means better than any commentator on Bunyan or on Milton can tell us. One of the holiest men the Church of England ever produced, and one of her best devotional writers, used to shut his door on the night of every first day of the week, and on his knees spread out a prayer which always contained this passage: “I worship Thee, O God, on my face. I smite my breast and say with the publican, God be merciful to me a sinner; the chief of sinners; a sinner far above the publican. Despise me not–an unclean worm, a dead dog, a putrid corpse. Despise me not, despise me not, O Lord. But look upon me with those eyes with which Thou didst look upon Magdalene at the feast, Peter in the hall, and the thief on the cross. O that mine eyes were a fountain of tears that I might weep night and day before Thee! I despise and bruise myself that my penitence is not deeper, is not fuller. Help Thou mine impenitence, and more and more pierce, rend, and crush my heart. My sins are more in number than the sand. My iniquities are multiplied, and I have no relief.” Perish your Puritanism, and your prayer-books too! I hear some high-minded and indignant man saying. Perish your Celestial City and all my desire after it, before I say the like of that about myself! Brave words, my brother; brave words! But there have been men as blameless as you are, and as brave-hearted over it, who, when the scales fell off their eyes, were heard crying out ever after: O wretched man that I am! And: Have mercy on me, the chief of sinners! And so, if it so please God, will it yet be with you.
3. “Having had little to do this morning,” said Mrs. Timorous to Mrs. Light-mind, “I went to give Christiana a visit.” “Law,” I read in his most impressive Life, “by this time was well turned fifty, but he rose as early and was as soon at his desk as when he was still a new, enthusiastic, and scrupulously methodical student at Cambridge.” Summer and winter Law rose to his devotions and his studies at five o’clock, not because he had imperative sermons to prepare, but because, in his own words, it is more reasonable to suppose a person up early because he is a Christian than because he is a labourer or a tradesman or a servant. I have a great deal of business to do, he would say. I have a hardened heart to change; I have still the whole spirit of religion to get. When Law at any time felt a temptation to relax his rule of early devotion, he again reminded himself how fast he was becoming an old man, and how far back his sanctification still was, till he flung himself out of bed and began to make himself a new heart before the servants had lighted their fires or the farmers had yoked their horses. Shame on you, he said to himself, to lie folded up in a bed when you might be pouring out your heart in prayer and in praise, and thus be preparing yourself for a place among those blessed beings who rest not day and night saying, Holy, Holy, Holy. “I have little to do this morning,” said Mrs. Timorous. “But I am preparing for a journey,” said Christiana. “I have now a price put into my hand to get gain, and I should be a fool of the greatest size if I should have no heart to strike in with the opportunity.”
4. Another thing that completely threw out Christiana’s idle visitor and made her downright angry was the way she would finger and kiss and read pieces out of the fragrant letter she held in her hand. You will remember how Christiana came by that letter she was now so fond of. “Here,” said Secret, “is a letter I have brought thee from thy husband’s King.” So she took it and opened it, and it smelt after the manner of the best perfume; also it was written in letters of gold. ” I advise thee,” said Secret, “that thou put this letter in thy bosom, that thou read therein to thy children until you have all got it by root-of-heart.” “His messenger was here,” said Christiana to Mrs. Timorous, “and has brought me a letter which invites me to come.” And with that she plucked out the letter and read to her out of it, and said: “What now do you say to all that?” That, again, is so true to our own life. For there is nothing that more distastes and disrelishes many people among us than just that we should name to them our favourite books, and read a passage out of them, and ask them to say what they think of such wonderful words. Samuel Rutherford’s Letters, for instance; a book that smells to some nostrils with the same heavenly perfume as Secret’s own letter did. A book, moreover, that is written in the same ink of gold. Ask at afternoon tea to- morrow, even in so-called Christian homes, when any of the ladies round the table last read, and how often they have read, Grace Abounding, The Saint’s Rest, The Religious Affections, Jeremy Taylor, Law, a Kempis, Fenelon, or such like, and they will smile to one another and remark after you are gone on your strange taste for old-fashioned and long-winded and introspective books. “Julia has buried her husband and married her daughters, and since that she spends her time in reading. She is always reading foolish and unedifying books. She tells you every time she sees you that she is almost at the end of the silliest book that ever she read in her life. But the best of it is that it serves to dispose of a good deal of her spare time. She tells you all romances are sad stuff, yet she is very impatient till she can get all she can hear of. Histories of intrigue and scandal are the books that Julia thinks are always too short. The truth is, she lives upon folly and scandal and impertinence. These things are the support of her dull hours. And yet she does not see that in all this she is plainly telling you that she is in a miserable, disordered, reprobate state of mind. Now, whether you read her books or no, you perhaps think with her that it is a dull task to read only religious and especially spiritual books. But when you have the spirit of true religion, when you can think of God as your only happiness, when you are not afraid of the joys of eternity, you will think it a dull task to read any other books. When it is the care of your soul to be humble, holy, pure, and heavenly-minded; when you know anything of the guilt and misery of sin, or feel a real need of salvation, then you will find religious and truly spiritual books to be the greatest feast and joy of your mind and heart.” Yes. And then we shall thank God every day we live that He raised us up such helpers in our salvation as the gifted and gracious authors we have been speaking of.
5. “The further I go the more danger I meet with,” said old Timorous, the father, to Christian, when Christian asked him on the Hill Difficulty why he was running the wrong way. “I, too, was going to the City of Zion,” he said; “but the further on I go the more danger I meet with.” And, in saying that, the old runaway gave our persevering pilgrim something to think about for all his days. For, again and again, and times without number, Christian would have gone back too if only he had known where to go. Go on, therefore, he must. To go back to him was simply impossible. Every day he lived he felt the bitter truth of what that old apostate had so unwittingly said. But, with all that he kept himself in his onward way till, dangers and difficulties, death and hell and all, he came to the blessed end of it. And that same has been the universal experience of all the true and out-and-out saints of God in all time. If poor old Timorous had only known it, if he had only had some one beside him to remind him of it, the very thing that so fatally turned him back was the best proof possible that he was on the right and the only right way; ay, and fast coming, poor old castaway, to the very city he had at one time set out to seek. Now, it is only too likely that there are some of my hearers at this with it tonight, that they are on the point of giving up the life of faith, and hope, and love, and holy living; because the deeper they carry that life into their own hearts the more impossible they find it to live that life there. The more they aim their hearts at God’s law the more they despair of ever coming within sight of it. My supremely miserable brother! if this is any consolation to you, if you can take any crumb of consolation out of it, let this be told you, that, as a matter of fact, all truly holy men have in their heart of hearts had your very experience. That is no strange and unheard-of thing which is passing within you. And, indeed, if you could but believe it, that is one of the surest signs and seals of a true and genuine child of God. Dante, one of the bravest, but hardest bestead of God’s saints, was, just like you, well-nigh giving up the mountain altogether when his Greatheart, who was always at his side, divining what was going on within him, said to him –
That when they pain thee most then kindliest heal.”
“The more I do,” complained one of Thomas Shepard’s best friends to him, “the worse I am.” “The best saints are the most sensible of sin,” wrote Samuel Rutherford. And, again he wrote, “Sin rages far more in the godly than ever it does in the ungodly.” And you dare not deny but that Samuel Rutherford was one of the holiest men that ever lived, or that in saying all that he was speaking of himself. And Newman: “Every one who tries to do God’s will”–and that also is Newman himself–“will feel himself to be full of all imperfection and sin; and the more he succeeds in regulating his heart, the more will he discern its original bitterness and guilt.” As our own hymn has it:
“They who fain would serve Thee best
Are conscious most of wrong within.”
Without knowing it, Mrs. Timorous’s runaway father was speaking the same language as the chief of the saints. Only he said, “Therefore I have turned back,” whereas, first Christian, and then Christiana his widow, said, “Yet I must venture!”
And so say you. Say, I must and I will venture! Say it; clench your teeth and your hands and say it. Say that you are determined to go on towards heaven where the holy are–absolutely determined, though you are quite well aware that you are carrying up with you the blackest, the wickedest, the most corrupt, and the most abominable heart either out of hell or in it. Say that, say all that, and still venture. Say all that and all the more venture. Venture upon God of whom such reassuring things are said. Venture upon the Son of God of whom His Father is represented as saying such inviting things. Venture upon the cross. Survey the wondrous cross and then make a bold venture upon it. Think who that is who is bleeding to death upon the cross, and why? Look at Him till you never afterwards can see anything else. Look at God’s Eternal, Divine, Well-pleasing Son with all the wages of sin dealt out to Him, body and soul, on that tree to the uttermost farthing. And, devil incarnate though you indeed are, yet, say, if that spectacle does not satisfy you, and encourage you, and carry your cowardice captive. Venture! I say, venture! And if you find at last that you have ventured too far–if you have sinned and corrupted yourself beyond redemption–then it will be some consolation and distinction to you in hell that you had out-sinned the infinite grace of God, and had seen the end of the unsearchable riches of Christ. Timid sinner, I but mock thee, therefore venture! Fearful sinner, venture! Cowardly sinner, venture. Venture thyself upon thy God, upon Christ thy Saviour, and upon His cross. Venture all thy guilt and all thy corruption taken together upon Christ hanging upon His cross, and make that tremendous venture now!
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”–Our Lord.
The first time that we see Mercy she is standing one sunshine morning knocking along with another at Christiana’s door. And all that we afterwards hear of Mercy might be described as, A morning call and all that came of it; or, How a godly matron led on a poor maid to fall in love with her own salvation. John Bunyan, her biographer, in all his devotion to Mercy, does not make it at all clear to us why such a sweet and good girl as Mercy was could be on such intimate terms with Mrs. Timorous and all her so questionable circle. Could it be that Mercy’s mother was one of that unhappy set? And had this dear little woman-child been brought up so as to know no better than to figure in their assemblies, and go out on their morning rounds with Mrs. Light-mind and Mrs. Know-nothing? Or, was poor Mercy an orphan with no one to watch over her, and had her sweet face, her handsome figure, and her winning manners made her one of the attractions of old Madam Wanton’s midnight routs? However it came about, there was Mercy out on a series of morning calls with a woman twice her age, but a woman whose many years had taught her neither womanliness nor wisdom. “If you come in God’s name, come in,” a voice from the inside answered the knocking of Mrs. Timorous and Mercy, her companion, at Christiana’s door. In all their rounds that morning the two women had not been met with another salutation like that; and that strange salutation so disconcerted and so confounded them that they did not know whether to lift the latch and go in, or to run away and leave those to go in who could take their delight in such outlandish language. “If you come in God’s name, come in.” At this the women were stunned, for this kind of language they used not to hear or to perceive to drop from the lips of Christiana. Yet they came in; but, behold, they found the good woman preparing to be gone from her house. The conversation that ensued was all carried on by the two elder women. For it was often remarked about Mercy all her after-days that her voice was ever soft, and low, and, especially, seldom heard. But her ears were not idle. For all the time the debate went on– because by this time the conversation had risen to be a debate– Mercy was taking silent sides with Christiana and her distress and her intended enterprise, till, when Mrs. Timorous reviled Christiana and said, “Come away, Mercy, and leave her in her own hands,” Mercy by that time was brought to a standstill. For, like a rose among thorns, Mercy was thoughtful and wise and womanly far beyond her years. So much so, that already she had made up her mind to offer herself as a maidservant to help the widow with her work and to see her so far on her way, and, indeed, though she kept that to herself, to go all the way with her, if the way should prove open to her. First, her heart yearned over Christiana; so she said within herself, If my neighbour will needs be gone, I will go a little way with her to help her. Secondly, her heart yearned over her own soul’s salvation, for what Christiana had said had taken some hold upon Mercy’s mind. Wherefore she said within herself, I will yet have more talk with this Christiana, and if I find truth and life in what she shall say, myself with all my heart shall also go with her. “Neighbour,” spoke out Mercy to Mrs. Timorous, “I did indeed come with you to see Christiana this morning, and since she is, as you see, a-taking of her last farewell of her country, I think to walk this sunshine morning a little way with her to help her on the way.” But she told her not of her second reason, but kept that to herself. I would fain go on with Mercy’s memoirs all night. But you will take up that inviting thread for yourselves. And meantime I shall stop here and gather up under two or three heads some of the more memorable results and lessons of that sunshine-morning call.
1. Well, then, to begin with, there was something quite queen- like, something absolutely commanding, about Christiana’s look and manner, as well as about all she said and did that morning. Mercy’s morning companion had all the advantages that dress and equipage could give her; while Christiana stood in the middle of the floor in her housewife’s clothes, covered with dust and surrounded with all her dismantled house; but, with all that, there was something about Christiana that took Mercy’s heart completely captive. All that Christiana had by this time come through had blanched her cheek and whitened her hair: but all that only the more commanded Mercy’s sensitive and noble soul. To be open to impressions of that kind is one of the finest endowments of a finely endowed nature; and, all through, the attentive reader of her history will be sure to remark and imitate Mercy’s exquisite and tenacious sensibility to all that is true and good, upright and honourable and noble. And then, what a blessing it is to a girl of Mercy’s mould to meet at opening womanhood with another woman, be it a mother, a mistress, or a neighbour, whose character then, and as life goes on, can supply the part of the supporting and sheltering oak to the springing and clinging vine. Christiana being now the new woman she was, as well as a woman of great natural wisdom, dignity, and stability of character, the safety, the salvation of poor motherless Mercy was as good as sure. Indeed, all Mercy’s subsequent history is only one long and growing tribute to the worth, the constant love, and the sleepless solicitude of this true mother in Israel.
2. Now, it was so, that, wholly unknown to all her companions, young and old, in her own very remarkable words, Mercy had for a long time been hungering with all her heart to meet with some genuinely good people,–with some people, as she said herself,–“of truth and of life.” These are remarkable words to hear drop from the lips of a young girl, and especially a girl of Mercy’s environment. Now, had there been anything hollow, had there been one atom of insincerity or exaggeration about Christiana that morning, had she talked too much, had all her actions not far more than borne out all her words, had there not been in the broken- hearted woman a depth of mind and a warmth of heart far beyond all her words, Mercy would never have become a pilgrim. But the natural dignity of Christiana’s character; her capable, commanding, resolute ways; the reality, even to agony, of her sorrow for her past life–all taken together with her iron-fast determination to enter at once on a new life–all that carried Mercy’s heart completely captive. Mercy felt that there was a solemnity, an awesomeness, and a mystery about her new friend’s experiences and memories that it was not for a child like herself to attempt to intrude into. But, all the more because of that, a spell of love and fear and reverence lay on Mercy’s heart and mind all her after- days from that so solemn and so eventful morning when she first saw Christiana’s haggard countenance and heard her remorseful cries. My so churlish carriages to him! Now, such carriages between man and wife had often pained and made ashamed Mercy’s maidenly heart beyond all expression. Till she had sometimes said to herself, blushing with shame before herself as she said it, that if ever she was a wife–may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth before I say one churlish word to him who is my husband! And thus it was that nothing that Christiana said that morning in the uprush of her remorse moved Mercy more with pity and with love than just what Christiana beat her breast about as concerning her lost husband. Mercy used to say that she saw truth and life enough in one hour that morning to sober and to solemnise and to warn her to set a watch on the door of her lips for all her after-days.
3. Before Mrs. Timorous was well out of the door, Mercy had already plucked off her gloves, and hung up her morning bonnet on a nail in the wall, so much did her heart heave to help the cumbered widow and her fatherless children. “If thou wilt, I will hire thee,” said Christiana, “and thou shalt go with me as my servant. Yet we will have all things common betwixt thee and me; only, now thou art here, go along with me.” At this Mercy fell on Christiana’s neck and kissed her mother; for after that morning Christiana had always a daughter of her own, and Mercy a mother. And you may be sure, with two such women working with all their might, all things were soon ready for their happy departure.
Mr. Kerr Bain invites his readers to compare John Bunyan’s Mercy at this point with William Law’s Miranda. I shall not tarry to draw out the full comparison here, but shall content myself with simply repeating Mr. Bain’s happy reference. Only, I shall not content myself till all to whom my voice can reach, and who are able to enjoy only a first-rate book, have Mr. Bain’s book beside their Pilgrim’s Progress. That morning, then, on which Mrs. Timorous, having nothing to do at home, set out with Mercy on a round of calls–that was Mercy’s last idle morning for all her days. For her mind was, ever after that, to be always busying of herself in doing, for when she had nothing to do for herself she would be making of hosen and garments for others, and would bestow them upon those that had need. I will warrant her a good housewife, quoth Mr. Brisk to himself. So much so that at any place they stopped on the way, even for a day and a night to rest and refresh themselves, Mercy would seek out all the poor and all the old people, and ere ever she was aware what she was doing, already a good report had spread abroad concerning the pilgrims and their pilgrimage. At the same time, it must be told that poor Mercy’s heart was more heavy for the souls of the poor people than for their naked bodies and hungry bellies. So much was this so that when the shepherds, Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere, took her to a place where she saw one Fool and one Want-wit washing of an Ethiopian with intention to make him white, but the more they washed him the blacker he was, Mercy blushed and felt guilty before the shepherds,–she so took home to her charitable heart the bootless work of Fool and Want-wit. Mercy put on the Salvationist bonnet at her first outset to the Celestial City, and she never put it off till she came to that land where there are no more poor to make hosen and hats for, and no more Ethiopians to take to the fountain.
4. There are not a few young communicants here to-night, as well as not a few who are afraid as yet to offer themselves for the Lord’s table; and, as it so falls out to-night, Mercy’s case contains both an encouragement and an example to all such. For never surely had a young communicant less to go upon than Mercy had that best morning of all her life. For she had nothing to go upon but a great desire to help Christiana with her work; some desire for truth and for life; and some first and feeble yearnings over her own soul,–yearnings, however, that she kept entirely to herself. That was all. She had no remorses like those which had ploughed up Christiana’s cheeks into such channels of tears. She had no dark past out of which swarms of hornets stung her guilty conscience. Nor on the other hand, had she any such sweet dreams and inviting visions as those that were sent to cheer and encourage the disconsolate widow. She will have her own sweet dreams yet, that will make her laugh loud out in her sleep. But that will be long after this, when she has discovered how hard her heart is and how great God’s grace is. “How shall I be ascertained,” she put it to Christiana, “that I also shall be entertained? Had I but this hope, from one that can tell, I would make no stick at all, but would go, being helped by Him that can help, though the way was never so tedious. Had I as good hope for a loving reception as you have, I think no Slough of Despond would discourage me.” “Well,” said the other, “you know your sore, and I know mine; and, good friend, we shall all have enough evil before we come to our journey’s end.” And soon after that, of all places on the upward way, Mercy’s evil began at the Wicket Gate. “I have a companion,” said Christiana, “that stands without. One that is much dejected in her mind, for that she comes, as she thinks, without sending for; whereas I was sent to by my husband’s King.” So the porter opened the gate and looked out; but Mercy was fallen down in a swoon, for she fainted and was afraid that the gate would not be opened to her. “O sir,” she said, “I am faint; there is scarce life left in me.” But he answered her that one once said, “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came in into Thee, into Thy holy temple. Fear not, but stand up upon thy feet, and tell me wherefore thou art come.” “I am come, sir, into that for which I never was invited, as my friend Christiana was. Her invitation was from the Lord, and mine was but from her. Wherefore, I fear that I presume.” Then said he to those that stood by, “Fetch something and give it to Mercy to smell on, thereby to stay her fainting.” So they fetched her a bundle of myrrh, and a while after she revived.–Let young communicants be content with Mercy’s invitation. She started for the City just because she liked to be beside a good woman who was starting thither. She wished to help a good woman who was going thither; and just a little desire began at first to awaken in her heart to go to the city too. Till, having once set her face to go up, one thing after another worked together to lead her up till she, too, had her life full of those invitations and experiences and interests and occupations and enjoyments that make Mercy’s name so memorable, and her happy case such an example and such an inspiration, to all God-fearing young women especially.
5. John Bunyan must be held responsible for the strong dash of romance that he so boldly throws into Mercy’s memoirs. But I shall postpone Mr. Brisk and his love-making and his answer to another lecture. I shall not enter on Mercy’s love matters here at all, but shall leave them to be read at home by those who like to read romances. Only, since we have seen so much of Mercy as a maiden, one longs to see how she turned out as a wife. I can only imagine how Mercy turned out as a wife; but there is a picture of a Scottish Covenanting girl as a married wife which always rises up before my mind when I think of Mercy’s matronly days. That picture might hang in Bunyan’s own peculiar gallery, so beautiful is the drawing, and so warm and so eloquent the colouring. Take, then, this portrait of one of the daughters of the Scottish Covenant. “She was a woman of great worth, whom I therefore passionately loved and inwardly honoured. A stately, beautiful, and comely personage; truly pious and fearing the Lord. Of an evenly temper, patient in our common tribulations and under her personal distresses. A woman of bright natural parts, and of an uncommon stock of prudence; of a quick and lively apprehension in things she applied herself to, and of great presence of mind in surprising incidents. Sagacious and acute in discerning the qualities of persons, and therefore not easily imposed upon. [See Mr. Brisk’s interviews with Mercy.] Modest and grave in her deportment, but naturally cheerful; wise and affable in conversation, also having a good faculty at speaking and expressing herself with assurance. Being a pattern of frugality and wise management in household affairs, all such were therefore entirely committed to her; well fitted for and careful of the virtuous education of her children; remarkably useful in the countryside, both in the Merse and in the Forest, through her skill in physic and surgery, which in many instances a peculiar blessing appeared to be commanded upon from heaven. And, finally, a crown to me in my public station and pulpit appearances. During the time we have lived together we have passed through a sea of trouble, as yet not seeing the shore but afar off.”
“The words of King Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him. What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows? Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. Her children arise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.”
“Be ye not unequally yoked.”–Paul.
There were some severe precisians in John Bunyan’s day who took the objection to the author of the Pilgrim’s Progress that he sometimes laughed too loud.
“One may (I think) say, both he laughs and cries, May well be guessed at by his watery eyes. Some things are of that nature as to make One’s fancy chuckle while his heart doth ake. When Jacob saw his Rachel with the sheep, At the same time he did both laugh and weep.”
And even Dr. Cheever, in his excellent lectures on the Pilgrim’s Progress, confesses that though the Second Part never ceases for a moment to tell the serious story of the Pilgrimage, at the same time, it sometimes becomes so merry as almost to pass over into absolute comedy. “There is one passage,” says Cheever, “which for exquisite humour, quiet satire, and naturalness in the development of character is scarcely surpassed in the language. It is the account of the courtship between Mr. Brisk and Mercy which took place at the House Beautiful.”
Now, the insertion of such an episode as that of Mr. Brisk into such a book as the Pilgrim’s Progress is only yet another proof of the health, the strength, and the truth to nature of John Bunyan’s mind. His was eminently an honest, straightforward, manly, English understanding. A smaller man would not have ventured on Mr. Brisk in such a book as the Pilgrim’s Progress. But there is no affectation, there is no prudery, there is no superiority to nature in John Bunyan. He knew quite well that of the thousands of men and women who were reading his Pilgrim there was no subject, not even religion itself, that was taking up half so much of their thoughts as just love-making and marriage. And, like the wise man and the true teacher he was, he here points out to all his readers how well true religion and the fullest satisfaction of the warmest and the most universal of human affections can be both harmonised and made mutually helpful. In Bunyan’s day love was too much left to the playwrights, just as in our day it is too much left to the poets and the novelists. And thus it is that in too many instances affection and passion have taken full possession of the hearts and the lives of our young people before any moral or religious lesson on these all-important subjects has been given to them: any lesson such as John Bunyan so winningly and so beautifully gives here. “This incident,” says Thomas Scott, “is very properly introduced, and it is replete with instruction.”
Now, Mr. Brisk, to begin with, was, so we are told, a young man of some breeding,–that is to say, he was a young man of some social position, some education, and of a certain good manner, at least on the surface. In David Scott’s Illustrations Mr. Brisk stands before us a handsome and well-dressed young man of the period, with his well-belted doublet, his voluminous ruffles, his heavily- studded cuffs, his small cane, his divided hair, and his delicate hand,–altogether answering excellently to his name, were it not for the dashed look of surprise with which he gets his answer, and, with what jauntiness he can at the moment command, takes his departure. “Mr. Brisk was a man of some breeding,” says Bunyan, “and that pretended to religion; but a man that stuck very close to the world.” That Mr. Brisk made any pretence to religion at any other time and in any other place is not said; only that he put on that pretence with his best clothes when he came once or twice or more to Mercy and offered love to her at the House Beautiful. The man with the least religion at other times, even the man with no pretence to religion at other times at all, will pretend to some religion when he is in love with a young woman of Mercy’s mind. And yet it would not be fair to say that it is all pretence even in such a man at such a time. Grant that a man is really in love; then, since all love is of the nature of religion, for the time, the true lover is really on the borders of a truly religious life. It may with perfect truth be said of all men when they first fall in love that they are, for the time, not very far away from the kingdom of heaven. For all love is good, so far as it goes. God is Love; and all love, in the long-run, has a touch of the divine nature in it. And for once, if never again, every man who is deeply in love has a far-off glimpse of the beauty of holiness, and a far-off taste of that ineffable sweetness of which the satisfied saints of God sing so ecstatically. But, in too many instances, a young man’s love having been kindled only by the creature, and, never rising from her to his and her Creator, as a rule, it sooner or later burns low and at last burns out, and leaves nothing but embers and ashes in his once so ardent heart. Mr. Brisk’s love- making might have ended in his becoming a pilgrim but for this fatal flaw in his heart, that even in his love-making he stuck so fast to the world. It is almost incredible: you may well refuse to believe it–that any young man in love, and especially a young gentleman of Mr. Brisk’s breeding, would approach his mistress with the question how much she could earn a day. As Mr. Brisk looks at Mercy’s lap so full of hats and hosen and says it, I can see his natty cane beginning to lengthen itself out in his soft-skinned hand and to send out teeth like a muck-rake. Give Mr. Brisk another thirty years or so and he will be an ancient churl, raking to himself the sticks and the straws and the dust of the earth, neither looking up to nor regarding the celestial crown that is still offered to him in exchange for his instrument.
“Now, Mercy was of a fair countenance, and, therefore, all the more alluring.” But her fair countenance was really no temptation to her. “Sit still, my daughter,” said Naomi to Ruth in the Old Testament. And it was entirely Mercy’s maidenly nature to sit still. Even before she had come to her full womanhood under Christiana’s motherly care she would have been an example to Ruth. Long ago, while Mercy was still a mere girl, when Mrs. Light-mind said something to her one day that made her blush, Mercy at last looked up in real anger and said, We women should be wooed; we were not made to woo. And thus it was that all their time at the House Beautiful Mercy stayed close at home and worked with her needle and thread just as if she had been the plainest girl in all the town. “I might have had husbands afore now,” she said, with a cast of her head over the coat that lay on her lap, “though I spake not of it to any. But they were such as did not like my conditions, though never did any of them find fault with my person. So they and I could not agree.” Once Mercy’s mouth was opened on the subject of possible husbands it is a miracle that she did not go on in confidence to name some of the husbands she might have had. Mercy was too truthful and too honourable a maiden to have said even on that subject what she did say if it had not been true. No doubt she believed it true. And the belief so long as she mentioned no names, did not break any man’s bones and did not spoil any man’s market. Don’t set up too prudishly and say that it is a pity that Mercy so far forgot herself as to make her little confidential boast. We would not have had her without that little boast. Keep- at-home, sit-still, hats and hosen and all–her little boast only proves Mercy to have been at heart a true daughter of Eve after all.
There is an old-fashioned word that comes up again and again in the account of Mr. Brisk’s courtship,–a word that contains far more interest and instruction for us than might on the surface appear. When Mr. Brisk was rallied upon his ill-success with Mercy, he was wont to say that undoubtedly Mistress Mercy was a very pretty lass, only she was troubled with ill conditions. And then, when Mercy was confiding to Prudence all about her possible husbands, she said that they were all such as did not like her conditions. To which Prudence, keeping her countenance, replied, that the men were but few in their day that could abide the practice that was set forth by such conditions as those of Mercy. Well, tossed out Mercy, if nobody will have me I will die a maid, or my conditions shall be to me as a husband! As I came again and again across that old seventeenth-century word “conditions,” I said to myself, I feel sure that Dr. Murray of the Oxford Scriptorium will have noted this striking passage. And on turning up the Sixth Part of the New English Dictionary, there, to be sure, was the old word standing in this present setting. Five long, rich, closely packed columns stood under the head of “Condition”; and amid a thousand illustrations of its use, the text: “1684, Bunyan, Pilgr., ii. 84. He said that Mercy was a pretty lass, but troubled with ill conditions.” Poor illiterate John Bunyan stood in the centre of a group of learned and famous men, composed of Chaucer, Wyclif, Skelton, Palsgrave, Raleigh, Featly, Richard Steel, and Walter Scott–all agreeing in their use of our word, and all supplying examples of its use in the best English books. By Mercy’s conditions, then, is just meant her cast of mind, her moral nature, her temper and her temperament, her dispositions and her inclinations, her habits of thought, habits of heart, habits of life, and so on.
“Well,” said Mercy proudly, “if nobody will have me, I will die a maid, or my conditions shall be to me as a husband. For I cannot change my nature, and to have one that lies cross to me in this,– that I purpose never to admit of as long as I live.” By this time, though she is still little more than a girl, Mercy had her habits formed, her character cast, and, more than all, her whole heart irrevocably set on her soul’s salvation. And everything–husband and children and all–must condition themselves to that, else she will have none of them. She had sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and she will seek nothing, she will accept nothing–no, not even a husband–who crosses her choice in that. She has chosen her life, and her husband with it. Not the man as yet, but the whole manner of the man. The conditions of the man, as she said about herself; else she will boldly and bravely die a maid. And there are multitudes of married women who, when they read this page about Mercy, will gnash their teeth at the madness of their youth, and will wildly wish that they only were maids again; and, then, like Mercy, they would take good care to make for themselves husbands of their own conditions too–of their own means, their own dispositions, inclinations, tastes, and pursuits. For, according as our conditions to one another are or are not in our marriages,
“They locally contain or heaven or hell; There is no third place in them.”
What untold good, then, may all our young women not get out of the loving study of Mercy’s sweet, steadfast, noble character! And what untold misery may they not escape! From first to last–and we are not yet come to her last–I most affectionately recommend Mercy to the hearts and minds of all young women here. Single and married; setting out on pilgrimage and steadfastly persevering in it; sitting still till the husband with the right conditions comes, and then rising up with her warm, well-kept heart to meet him–if any maiden here has no mother, or no elder sister, or no wise and prudent friend like Prudence or Christiana to take counsel of–and even if she has–let Mercy be her meditation and her model through all her maidenly days.
“Nay, then,” said Mercy, “I will look no more on him, for I purpose never to have a clog to my soul.” A pungent resolve for every husband to read and to think to himself about, who has married a wife with a soul. Let all husbands who have such wives halt here and ask themselves with some imagination as to what may sometimes go on, at communion times, say, in the souls of their wives. It is not every wife, it is true, who has a soul to clog; but some of our wives have. Well, now, let us ask ourselves: How do we stand related to their souls? Do our wives, when examining the state of their souls since they married us, have to say that at one time they had hoped to be further on in the life of the soul than they yet are? And are they compelled before God to admit that the marriage they have made, and would make, has terribly hindered them? Would they have been better women, would they have been living a better life, and doing far more good in the world, if they had taken their maidenly ideals, like Mercy, for a husband? Let us sometimes imagine ourselves into the secrets of our wives’ souls, and ask if they ever feel that they are unequally and injuriously yoked in their deepest and best life. Do we ever see a tear falling in secret, or hear a stolen sigh heaved, or stumble on them at a stealthy prayer? A Roman lady on being asked why she sometimes let a sob escape her and a tear fall, when she had such a gentleman of breeding and rank and riches to her husband, touched her slipper with her finger and said: “Is not that a well-made, a neat, and a costly shoe? And yet you would not believe how it pinches and pains me sometimes.”
But some every whit as good women as Mercy was have purposed as nobly and as firmly as Mercy did, and yet have wakened up, when it was too late, to find that, with all their high ideals, and with all their prudence, their husband is not in himself, and is not to them, what they at one time felt sure he would be. Mercy had a sister named Bountiful, who made that mistake and that dreadful discovery; and what Mercy had seen of married life in her sister’s house almost absolutely turned her against marriage altogether. “The one thing certain,” says Thomas Mozley in his chapter on Ideal Wife and Husband, “is that both wife and husband are different in the result from the expectation. Age, illness, an increasing family, no family at all, household cares, want of means, isolation, incompatible prejudices, quarrels, social difficulties, and such like, all tell on married people, and make them far other than they once promised to be.” When that awakening comes there is only one solace, and women take to that supreme solace much more often than men. And that solace, as you all know, is true, if too late, religion. And even where true religion has already been, there is still a deeper and a more inward religion suited to the new experiences and the new needs of life. And if both husband and wife in such a crisis truly betake themselves to Him who gathereth the solitary into families, the result will be such a remarriage of depth and tenderness, loyalty and mutual help, as their early dreams never came within sight of. Not early love, not children, not plenty of means, not all the best amenities of married life taken together, will repair a marriage and keep a marriage in repair for one moment like a living and an intense faith in God; a living and an intense love to God; and then that faith in and love for one another that spring out of God and out of His love alone.
Sucks kindlier nurture from a soil enriched By its own fallen leaves; and man is made, In heart and spirit, from deciduous hopes And things that seem to perish.”
“The vine of Sodom.”–Moses.
With infinite delicacy John Bunyan here tells us the sad story of Matthew’s sore sickness at the House Beautiful. The cause of the sore sickness, its symptoms, its serious nature, and its complete cures are all told with the utmost plainness; but, at the same time, with the most exquisite delicacy. Bunyan calls the ancient physician who is summoned in and who effects the cure, Mr. Skill, but you must believe that Bunyan himself is Mr. Skill; and I question if this skilful writer ever wrote a more skilful page than just this page that now lies open before him who has the eyes to read it.
Matthew, it must always be remembered, was by this time a young man. He was the eldest son of Christiana his mother, and for some time now she had been a sorely burdened widow. Matthew’s father was no longer near his son to watch over him and to warn him against the temptations and the dangers that wait on opening manhood. And thus his mother, with all her other cares, had to be both father and mother to her eldest son; and, with all her good sense and all her long and close acquaintance with the world, she was too fond a mother to suspect any evil of her eldest son. And thus it was that Christiana had nearly lost her eldest son before her eyes were open to the terrible dangers he had for a long time been running. For it was so, that the upward way that this household without a head had to travel lay through a land full of all kinds of dangers both to the bodies and to the souls of such travellers as they were. And what well-nigh proved a fatal danger to Matthew lay right in his way. It was Beelzebub’s orchard. Not that this young man’s way lay through that orchard exactly; yet, walled up as was that orchard with all its forbidden fruit, that evil fruit would hang over the wall so that if any lusty youth wished to taste it, he had only to reach up to the over-hanging branches and plash down on himself some of the forbidden bunches. Now, that was just what Matthew had done. Till we have him lying at the House Beautiful, not only not able to enjoy the delights of the House and of the season, but so pained in his bowels and so pulled together with inward pains, that he sometimes cried out as if he were being torn to pieces. At that moment Mr. Skill, the ancient physician, entered the sick-room, when, having a little observed Matthew’s intense agony, with a certain mixture of goodness and severity he recited these professional verses over the trembling bed:
“O conscience, who can stand against thy power? Endure thy gripes and agonies one hour?
Stone, gout, strappado, racks, whatever is Dreadful to sense, are only toys to this – No pleasures, riches, honours, friends can tell How to give ease to this, ’tis like to hell.”
And then, turning to the sick man’s mother, who stood at the bed’s head wringing her hands, the ancient leech said to her: “This boy of yours has been tampering with the forbidden fruit!” At which the angry mother turned on the well-approved physician as if he had caused all the trouble that he had come to cure. But the ancient man knew both the son and the mother too, and therefore he addressed her with some asperity: “I tell you both that strong measures must be taken instantly, else he will die.” When Mr. Skill had seen that the first purge was too weak, he made him one to the purpose; and it was made, as he so learnedly said, ex carne et sanguine Christi. The pills were to be taken three at a time, fasting, in half a quarter of a pint of the tears of repentance. After some coaxing, such as mothers know best how to use, Matthew took the medicine and was soon walking about again with a staff, and was able to go from room to room of the hospitable and happy house. Understandest thou what thou readest? said Philip the deacon to Queen Candace’s treasurer as he sat down beside him in the chariot and opened up to him the fifty-third of the prophet Isaiah. And, understandest thou what thou here readest in Matthew and Mr. Skill?
1. Now, on this almost too closely veiled case I shall venture to remark, in the first place, that multitudes of boys grow up into young men, and go out of our most godly homes and into a whole world of temptation without due warning being given them as to where they are going. “I do marvel that none did warn him of it,” said Mr. Skill, with some anger. What Matthew’s father might have done in this matter had he been still in this world when his son became a man in it we can only guess. As it was, it never entered his mother’s too fond mind to take her fatherless boy by himself when she saw Beelzebub’s orchard before him, and tell him what Solomon told his son, and to point out to him the prophecy that King Lemuel’s mother prophesied to her son. Poor Matthew was a young man before his mother was aware of it. And, poor woman, she only found that out when Mr. Skill was in the sick-room and was looking at her with eyes that seemed to say to her that she had murdered her child. She had loved too long to look on her first- born as still a child. When he went at any time for a season out of her sight, she had never followed him with her knowledge of the world; she had never prevented him with an awakened and an anxious imagination; till now she had got him home with no rest in his bones because of his sin. And then she began to cry too late, O naughty boy, and, O careless mother, what shall I do for my son!
2. “That food, to wit, that fruit,” said Mr. Skill, “is even the most hurtful of all. It is the fruit of Beelzebub’s orchard.” So it is. There is no fruit that hurts at all like that fruit. How it hurts at the time, we see in Matthew’s sick-room; and how it hurts all a man’s after days we see in Jacob, and in Job, and in David, and in a thousand sin-sick souls of whose psalms of remorse and repentance the world cannot contain all the books that should be written. “And yet I marvel,” said the indignant physician, “that none did warn him of it; many have died thereof.” Oh if I could but get the ears of all the sons of godly fathers and mothers who are beginning to tamper with Beelzebub’s orchard-trees, I feel as if I could warn them to-night, and out of this text, of what they are doing! I have known so many who have died thereof. Oh if I could but save them in time from those gripes of conscience that will pull them to pieces on the softest and the most fragrant bed that shall ever be made for them on earth! It will be well with them if they do not lie down torn to pieces on their bed in hell, and curse the day they first plashed down into their youthful hands the vine of Sodom. Both the way to hell and the way to heaven are full of many kinds of hurtful fruits; but that species of fruit that poor misguided Matthew plucked and ate after he had well passed the gate that is at the head of the way is, by all men’s testimony, by far the most hurtful of all forbidden fruits.
3. The whole scene in Matthew’s sick-room reads, after all, less like a skilful invention than a real occurrence. Inventive and realistic as John Bunyan is, there is surely something here that goes beyond even his genius. After making all allowance for Bunyan’s unparalleled powers of creation and narration, I am inclined to think, the oftener I read it, that, after all, we have not so much John Bunyan here as very Nature herself. Yes; John Gifford surely was Mr. Skill. Sister Bosworth surely was Matthew’s mother. And Matthew himself was Sister Bosworth’s eldest son, while one John Bunyan, a travelling tinker, was busy with his furnaces and his soldering-irons in Dame Bosworth’s kitchen. Young Bunyan, with all his blackguardism, had never plashed down Beelzebub’s orchard. He swears he never did, and we are bound to believe him. But young Bosworth had been tampering with the forbidden fruit, and Gifford saw at a glance what was wrong. John Gifford was first an officer in the Royalist army, then a doctor in Bedford, and now a Baptist Puritan pastor; and the young tinker looked up to Gifford as the most wonderful man for learning in books and in bodies and souls of men in all the world. And when Gifford talked over young Bosworth’s bed half to himself and half to them about a medicine made ex carne et sanguine Christi, the future author of the Pilgrim’s Progress never forgot the phrase. At a glance Gifford saw what was the whole matter with the sick man. And painful as the truth was to the sick man’s mother, and humiliating with a life-long humiliation to the sick man himself, Gifford was not the man or the minister to beat about the bush at such a solemn moment. “This boy has been tampering with that which will kill him unless he gets it taken off his conscience and out of his heart immediately.” Now, this same divination into our pastoral cases is by far and away the most difficult part of a minister’s work. It is easy and pleasant with a fluent tongue to get through our pulpit work; but to descend the pulpit stairs and deal with life, and with this and that sin in the lives of our people,–that is another matter. “We must labour,” says Richard Baxter in his Reformed Pastor, “to be acquainted with the state of all our people as fully as we can; both to know the persons and their inclinations and conversation; to know what sins they are most in danger of, what duties they neglect, and what temptations they are most liable to. For, if we know not their temperament or their disease, we are likely to prove but unsuccessful physicians.” But when we begin to reform our pastorate to that pattern, we are soon compelled to set down such entries in our secret diary as that of Thomas Shepard of Harvard University: “Sabbath, 5th April 1641. Nothing I do, nay, none under my shadow prosper. I so want wisdom for my place, and to guide others.” Yes; for what wisdom is needed for the place of a minister like John Gifford, John Bunyan, Richard Baxter, and Thomas Shepard! What wisdom, what divine genius, to dive into and divine the secret history of a soul from a twinge of conscience, even from a drop of the eye, a tone of the voice, or a gesture of the hand or of the head! And yet, with some natural taste for the holy work, with study, with experience, and with life-long expert reading, even a plain minister with no genius, but with some grace and truth, may come to great eminence in the matters of the soul. And then, with what an interest, solemn and awful, with what a sleepless interest such a pastor goes about among his diseased, sin-torn, and scattered flock! All their souls are naked and open under his divining eye. They need not to tell him where they ail, and of what sickness they are nigh unto death. That food, he says, with some sternness over their sick-bed, I warned you of it; I told you with all plainness that many have died of eating that fruit! “We must be ready,” Baxter continues, “to give advice to those that come to us with cases of conscience. A minister is not only for public preaching, but to be a known counsellor for his people’s souls as the lawyer is for their estates, and the physician is for their bodies. And because the people are grown unacquainted with this office of the ministry, and their own necessity and duty herein, it belongeth to us to acquaint them herewith, and to press them publicly to come to us for advice concerning their souls. We must not only be willing of the trouble, but draw it upon ourselves by inviting them hereto. To this end it is very necessary to be acquainted with practical cases and able to assist them in trying their states. One word of seasonable and prudent advice hath done that good that many sermons would not have done.”
4. As he went on pounding and preparing his well-approved pill, the (at the bottom of his heart) kind old leech talked encouragingly to the mother and to her sick son, and said: “Come, come; after all, do not he too much cast down. Had we lived in the days of the old medicine, I would have been compounding a purge out of the blood of a goat, and the ashes of an heifer, and the juice of hyssop. But I have a far better medicine under my hands here. This moment I will make you a purge to the purpose.” And then the learned man, half-doctor, half-divine, chanted again the sacred incantation as he bent over his pestle and mortar, saying: Ex carne et sanguine Christi! Those shrewd old eyes soon saw that, in spite of all their defences and all their denials, damage had been done to the conscience and the heart that nothing would set right but a frank admission of the evil that had been done, and a prompt submission to the regimen appointed and the medicine prepared. And how often we ministers puddle and peddle with goat’s blood and heifer’s ashes and hyssop juice when we should instantly prescribe stern fasting and secret prayer and long spaces of repentance, and then the body and the blood of Christ. How often our people cheat us into healing their hurt slightly! How often they succeed in putting us off, after we are called in, with their own account of their cases, and set us out on a wild-goose chase! I myself have more than once presented young men in their trouble with apologetic books, University sermons, and watered-down explanations of the Confession and the Catechism, when, had I known all I came afterwards to know, I would have sent them Bunyan’s Sighs from Hell. I have sent soul-sick women also The Bruised Reed, and The Mission of the Comforter with sympathising inscriptions, and sweet scriptures written inside, when, had I had Mr. Skill’s keen eyes in my stupid head, I would have gone to them with the total abstinence pledge in my one hand, and Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living and Dying in my other. “No diet but that which is wholesome!” almost in anger answered the sick man’s mother. “I tell you,” the honest leech replied, in more anger, “this boy has been tampering with Beelzebub’s orchard. And many have died of it!”
5. It was while all the rest of the House Beautiful were supping on lamb and wine, and while there was such music in the House that made Mercy exclaim over it with wonder–it was at the smell of the supper and at the sound of the psalmody that Matthew’s gripes seized upon him worse than ever. All the time the others sat late into the night Matthew lay on the rack pulled to pieces. After William Law’s death at King’s Cliffe, his executors found among his most secret papers a prayer he had composed for his own alone use on a certain communion day when he was self-debarred from the Lord’s table. I do not know for certain just what fruit the young non-juror had stolen out of Beelzebub’s orchard before that communion season; but I can see that he was in poor Matthew’s exact experience that communion night,–literally torn to pieces with agonies of conscience while all his fellow-worshippers were at the table of the Lord. While the psalms and hymns are being sung at the supper-table, lay your ear to Law’s closet door. “Whilst all Thy faithful servants are on this day offering to Thee the comfortable sacrifice of the body and the blood of Christ, and feasting at that holy table which Thou hast ordained for the refreshment, joy, and comfort of their souls, I, unhappy wretch, full of guilt, am justly denied any share of these comforts that are common to the Christian world. O my God, I am an unclean worm, a dead dog, a stinking carcass, justly removed from that society of saints who this day kneel about Thine altar. But, oh! suffer me to look toward Thy holy Sanctuary; suffer my soul again to be in the place where Thine honour dwelleth. Reject not the sacrifice of a broken heart, and do Thou be with me in secret, though I am not fit to appear in Thy public worship. Lord, if Thou wilt Thou canst make me clean. Lord, speak but the word, and Thy servant shall be healed.” It is the fruit of Beelzebub’s orchard. Many have died thereof.
6. “Pray, sir, make me up twelve boxes of them; for if I can get these, I will never take other physic.” “These same pills,” he replied, “are good also to prevent diseases as well as to cure when one is sick. But, good woman, thou must take these pills no other way but as I have prescribed; for if you do, they will do no good.” I have taken one illustration from William Law’s life; I shall take another from that world of such illustrations and so close. “O God, let me never see such another day as this. Let the dreadful punishment of this day never be out of my mind.” And it never was. For, after that day in hell, Law never laid down his head on his pillow that he did not seem to remember that dreadful day. William Law would have satisfied Dr. Skill for a convalescent. For he never felt that he had any right to touch the body and blood of Christ, either at communion times, or a thousand times every day, till he had again got ready his heart of true repentance. My brethren, self-destroyed out of Beelzebub’s orchard, and all my brethren, live a life henceforth of true repentance. Not out of the sins of your youth only, but out of the best, the most watchful, and the most blameless day you ever live, distil your half-pint of repentance every night before you sleep. For, as dear old Skill said, unless you do, neither flesh nor blood of Christ, nor anything else, will do you any genuine good.
THE SHEPHERD BOY
“He humbled Himself.”–Paul.
Now as they were going along and talking, they espied a boy feeding his father’s sheep. The boy was in very mean clothes, but of a very fresh and well-favoured countenance, and as he sat by himself he sang. Hark, said Mr. Greatheart, to what the shepherd boy saith. So they hearkened and he said:
He that is down, needs fear no fall;
He that is low no pride:
He that is humble, ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have,
Little be it or much:
And, Lord, contentment still I crave, Because thou savest such.
Fulness to such a burden is
That go on pilgrimage:
Here little, and hereafter bliss,
Is best from age to age.
Then said their guide, Do you hear him? I will dare say that this boy lives a merrier life and wears more of that herb called Heart’s-ease in his bosom than he that is clad in silk and velvet.”
Now, notwithstanding all that, nobody knew better than John Bunyan knew, that no shepherd boy that ever lived on the face of the earth ever sang that song; only one Boy ever sang that song, and He was not the son of a shepherd at all, but the son of a carpenter. And, saying that leads me on to say this before I begin, that I look for a man of John Bunyan’s inventive and sanctified genius to arise some day, and armed also to boot with all our latest and best New Testament studies. When that sorely-needed man so arises he will take us back to Nazareth where that carpenter’s Boy was brought up, and he will let us see Him with our own eyes being brought up. He will lead us into Mary’s house on Sabbath days, and into Joseph’s workshop on week days, and he will show us the child Jesus, not so much learning His letters and then putting on His carpenter’s clothes, as learning obedience by the things that He every day suffered. That choice author will show us our Lord, both before He had discovered Himself to be our Lord, as well as after He had made that great discovery, always clothing Himself with humility as with a garment; taking up His yoke of meekness and lowly-mindedness every day, and never for one moment laying it down. When some writer with as holy an imagination as that of John Bunyan, and with as sweet an English style, and with a New Testament scholarship of the first order so arises, and so addresses himself to the inward life of our Lord, what a blessing to our children that writer will be! For he will make them see and feel just what all that was in which our Lord’s perfect humility consisted, and how His perfect humility fulfilled itself in Him from day to day; up through all His childhood days, school and synagogue days, workshop and holy days, early manhood and mature manhood days; till He was so meek in all His heart and so humble in all His mind that all men were sent to Him to learn their meekness and their humility of Him. I envy that gifted man the deep delight he will have in his work, and the splendid reward he will have in the love and the debt of all coming generations. Only, may he be really sent to us, and that soon! Theodor Keim comes nearest a far-off glimpse of that eminent service of any New Testament scholar I know. Jeremy Taylor and Thomas Goodwin also, in their own time and in their own way, had occasional inspirations toward this still-waiting treatment of the master-subject of all learning and all genius–the inward sanctification, the growth in grace, and then the self-discovery of the incarnate Son of God. But, so let it please God, some contemporary scholar will arise some day soon, combining in himself Goodwin’s incomparable Christology, and Taylor’s incomparable eloquence, and Keim’s incomparably digested learning, with John Bunyan’s incomparable imagination and incomparable English style, and the waiting work will be done, and theology for this life will take on its copestone. In his absence, and till he comes, let us attempt a few annotations to-night on this so-called shepherd boy’s song in the Valley of Humiliation.
He that is down, needs fear no fall.
The whole scenery of the surrounding valley is set before us in that single eloquent stanza. The sweet-voiced boy sits well off the wayside as he sings his song to himself. He looks up to the hill-tops that hang over his valley, and every shining tooth of those many hill-tops has for him its own evil legend. “He thinks he sees a little heap of bleaching bones just under where that eagle hangs and wheels and screams. Not one traveller through these perilous parts in a thousand gets down those cruel rocks unhurt; and many travellers have been irrecoverably lost among those deadly rocks, and have never received Christian burial. All the shepherds’ cottages and all the hostel supper-tables for many miles round are full of terrible stories of the Hill Difficulty and the Descent Dangerous. And thus it is that this shepherd boy looks up with such fear at those sharp peaks and shining precipices, and lifts his fresh and well-favoured countenance to heaven and sings again: “He that is down, needs fear no fall.” Down in his own esteem, that is. For this is a song of the heart rather than of the highway. Down–safe, that is, from the steep and slippery places of self-estimation, self-exaltation, self-satisfaction. Down–so as to be delivered from all ambition and emulation and envy. Down, and safe, thank God, from all pride, all high- mindedness, and all stout-heartedness. Down from the hard and cruel hills, and buried deep out of sight among those meadows where that herb grows which is called Heart’s-ease. Down, where the green pastures grow and the quiet waters flow. No, indeed; he that is down into this sweet bottom needs fear no fall. For there is nowhere here for a man to fall from. And, even if he did fall, he would only fall upon a fragrance-breathing bed of lilies. The very herbs and flowers here would conspire to hold him up. Many a day, as He grew up, the carpenter’s son sat in that same valley and sang that same song to His own humble and happy heart. He loved much to be here. He loved also to walk these meadows, for He found the air was pleasant. Methinks, He often said with Mercy, I am as well in this valley as I have been anywhere else in My journey. The place, methinks, suits with My spirit. I love to be in such places where there is no rattling with coaches nor rumbling with wheels. Methinks, also, here one may without much molestation be thinking what he is, whence he came, and to what his King has called him.
He that is low, no pride.
Low in his own eyes, that is. For pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Yes; but he who is low enough already–none of the sure destructions that pride always works shall ever come near to him. “The proud man,” says Sir Henry Taylor, “is of all men the most vulnerable. “Who calls?” asks the old shepherd in As You Like It. “Your betters,” is the insolent answer. And what is the shepherd’s rejoinder? “Else are they very wretched.” By what retort, reprisal, or repartee could it have been made half so manifest that the insult had lighted upon armour of proof? Such is the invincible independence and invulnerability of humility.”
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
For thus saith the high and holy One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the heart of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones . . . All those things hath Mine hand made, but to this man will I look, saith the Lord, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembleth at My word . . . Though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly; but the proud He knoweth afar off . . . Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility; for God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble . . . Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty, neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child . . . Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
I am content with what I have,
Little be it, or much:
And, Lord, contentment still I crave, Because thou savest such.
The only thing this sweet singer is discontented with is his own contentment. He will not be content as long as he has a shadow of discontent left in his heart. And how blessed is such holy discontent! For, would you know, asks Law, who is the greatest saint in all the world? Well, it is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice. But it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God willeth, who receives everything as an instance of God’s goodness, and has a heart always ready to praise God for it. “Perhaps the shepherd’s boy,” says Thomas Scott, “may refer to the obscure and quiet stations of some pastors over small congregations, who live almost unknown to their brethren, but are in a measure useful and very comfortable.” Perhaps he does. And, whether he does or no, at any rate such a song will suit some of our brethren very well as they go about among their few and far-off flocks. They are not church leaders or popular preachers. There is not much rattling with coaches or rumbling with wheels at their church door. But, then, methinks, they have their compensation. They are without much molestation. They can be all the more thinking what they are, whence they came, and to what their King has called them. Let them be happy in their shut-in valleys. For I will dare to say that they wear more of that herb called Heart’s-ease in their bosom than those ministers do they are sometimes tempted to emulate. I will add in this place that to the men who live and trace these grounds the Lord hath left a yearly revenue to be faithfully paid them at certain seasons for their maintenance by the way, and for their further encouragement to go on in their pilgrimage.
Here little, and hereafter bliss,
Is best from age to age.
But, now, from the shepherd boy and from his valley and his song, let us go on without any more poetry or parable to look our own selves full in the face and to ask our own hearts whether they are the hearts of really humble-minded and New Testament men or no. Dr. Newman, “that subtle, devout man,” as Dr. Duncan calls him, says that “humility is one of the most difficult of virtues both to attain and to ascertain. It lies,” he says, “close upon the heart itself, and its tests are exceedingly delicate and subtle. Its counterfeits abound.” Most true. And yet humility is not intended for experts in morals only, or for men of a rare religious genius only. The plainest of men, the least skilled and the most unlettered of men, may not only excel in humility, but may also be permitted to know that they are indeed planted, and are growing slowly but surely in that grace of all graces. No doubt our Lord had, so to describe it, the most delicate and the most subtle of human minds; and, no doubt whatever, He had the most practised skill in reading off what lay closest to His own heart. And, then, it was just His attainment of the most perfect humility, and then His absolute ascertainment of the same, that enabled Him to say: Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me. At the same time, divine as the grace is, and divine as the insight is that is able to trace it out in all its exquisite refinements of thought and feeling in the sanctified soul, yet humility is a human virtue after all, and it is open to all men to attain to it and intelligently and lovingly to exercise it. The simplest and the least philosophical soul now in this house may apply to himself some of the subtlest and most sensitive tests of humility, as much as if he were Dr. Duncan or Dr. Newman themselves; and may thus with all assurance of hope know whether he is a counterfeit and a castaway or no.
Take this test for one, then. Explain this text to me: Phil. ii. 3–“In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than himself.” Explain and illustrate that. Not from a commentary, but straight out from your own heart. What does your heart make of that scripture? Does your heart turn away from that scripture almost in anger at it? Do you say you are certain that there must be some other explanation of it than that? Do you hold that this is just another of Paul’s perpetual hyperboles, and that the New Testament is the last book in the world to be taken as it reads? Yes; both bold and subtle father that he is: counterfeits abound!
Another much blunter test, but, perhaps, a sufficiently sharp test, is this: How do you receive correction and instruction? Does your heart meekly and spontaneously and naturally take to correction and instruction as the most natural and proper thing possible to you? And do you immediately, and before all men, show forth and exhibit the correction and the instruction? Or, does this rather take place? Does your heart beat, and swell, and boil, and boil over at him who dares to correct or counsel you? If this is a fair test to put our humility to, how little humility there is among us! How few men any of us could name among our friends to whom we would risk telling all the things that behind their backs we point out continually to others? We are terrified to face their pride. We once did it, and we are not to do it again, if we can help it! Let a man not have too many irons in the fire; let him examine himself just by these two tests for the time–what he thinks of himself, and what he thinks of those who attempt, and especially before other people, to set him right. And after these two tests have been satisfied, others will no doubt be supplied till that so humble man is made very humility itself.
And now, in the hope that there may be one or two men here who are really and not counterfeitly in earnest to clothe themselves with humility before God and man, let them take these two looms to themselves out of which whole webs of such garments will be delivered to them every day–their past life, and their present heart. With a past life like ours, my brethren–and everyman knows his own–pride is surely the maddest state of mind that any of us can allow ourselves in. The first king of Bohemia kept his clouted old shoes ever in his sight, that he might never forget that he had once been a ploughman. And another wise king used to drink out of a coarse cup at table, and excused himself to his guests that he had made the rude thing in his rude potter days. Look with Primislaus and Agathocles at the hole of the pit out of which you also have been dug; look often enough, deep enough, and long enough, and you will be found passing up through the Valley of Humiliation singing:
“With us He dealt not as we sinn’d,
Nor did requite our ill!”
Another excellent use of the past is, if you are equal to it, to call yourself aloud sometimes, or in writing, some of the names that other people who know your past are certainly calling you. It is a terrible discipline, but it is the terror of the Lord, and He will not let it hurt you too much. I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious, says Paul. And, to show Titus, his gospel-son, the way, he said to him: We ourselves were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. And John Bunyan calls himself a blackguard, and many other worse names; only he swears that neither with his soldiering nor with his tinkering hands did he ever plash down Beelzebub’s orchard. But if you have done that, or anything like that, call yourself aloud by your true name on your knees to-night. William Law testifies, after five-and-twenty years’ experience of it, that he never heard of any harm that he had done to any in his house by his habit of singing his secret psalms aloud, and sometimes, ere ever he was aware, bursting out in his penitential prayers.
And, then, how any man with a man’s heart in his bosom for a single day can escape being the chief of sinners, and consequently the humblest of men for all the rest of his life on earth, passes my comprehension! How a spark of pride can live in such a hell as every human heart is would be past belief, did we not know that God avenges sin by more sin; avenges Himself on a wicked and a false heart by more wickedness and more falsehood, all ending in Satanic pride.
Too long as I have kept you in this valley to-night, I dare not let you out of it till I have shared with you a few sentences on evangelical humiliation out of that other so subtle and devout man, Jonathan Edwards. But what special kind of humiliation is evangelical humiliation? you will ask. Hear, then, what this master in Israel says. “Evangelical humiliation is the sense that a Christian man has of his own utter insufficiency, utter despicableness, and utter odiousness; with an always answerable frame of heart. This humiliation is peculiar to the true saints. It arises from the special influence of the Spirit of God implanting and exercising supernatural and divine principles; and it is accompanied with a sense of the transcendent beauty of divine things. And, thus, God’s true saints all more or less see their own odiousness on account of sin, and the exceedingly hateful nature of all sin. The very essence of evangelical humiliation consists in such humility as becomes a man in himself exceeding sinful but now under a dispensation of grace. It consists in a mean esteem of himself, as in himself nothing, and altogether contemptible and odious. This, indeed, is the greatest and the most essential thing in true religion.” And so on through a whole chapter of beaten gold. To which noble chapter I shall only add that such teaching is as sweet, as strengthening, and as reassuring to the truly Christian heart as it is bitter and hateful to the counterfeit heart.
“An honest heart.”–Our Lord.
Next tell them of Old Honest, who you found With his white hairs treading the pilgrim’s ground; Yea, tell them how plain-hearted this man was, How after his good Lord he bare his cross: Perhaps with some grey head this may prevail, With Christ to fall in love, and sin bewail.
You would have said that no pilgrim to the Celestial City could possibly have come from a worse place, or a more unlikely place, than was that place from which Christian and Christiana and Matthew and Mercy had come. And yet so it was. For Old Honest, this most excellent and every way most delightful old saint, hailed from a far less likely place than even the City of Destruction. For he came, this rare old soul, of all places in the world, from the Town of Stupidity. So he tells us himself. And, partly to explain to us the humiliating name of his native town, and partly to exhibit himself as a wonder to many, the frank old gentleman goes on to tell us that his birthplace actually lies four degrees further away from the sun than does the far-enough away City of Destruction itself. So that you see this grey-haired saint is all that he always said he was–a living witness to the fact that his Lord is able to save to the uttermost, and to gather in His Father’s elect from the utmost corner of the land. Men are mountains of ice in my country, said Old Honest. I was one of the biggest of those icebergs myself, he said. No man was ever more cold and senseless to divine things than I was, and still sometimes am. It takes the Sun of Righteousness all His might to melt the men of my country. But that He can do it when He rises to do it, and when He puts out His full strength to do it–Look at me! said the genial old soul.
We have to construct this pilgrim’s birth and boyhood and youth from his after-character and conversation; and we have no difficulty at all in doing that. For, if the child is the father of the man, then the man must be the outcome of the child, and we can have no hesitation in picturing to ourselves what kind of child and boy and young man dear Old Honest must always have been. He never was a bright child, bright and beaming old man as he is. He was always slow and heavy at his lessons; indeed, I would not like to repeat to you all the bad names that his schoolmasters sometimes in their impatience called the stupid child. Only, this was to be said of him, that dulness of uptake and disappointment of his teachers were the worst things about this poor boy; he was not so ill-behaved as many were who were made more of. When his wits began to waken up after he had come some length he had no little leeway to make up in his learning; but that was the chief drawback to Old Honest’s pilgrimage. For one thing, no young man had a cleaner record behind him than our Honest had; his youthful garments were as unspotted as ever any pilgrim’s garments were. Even as a young man he had had the good sense to keep company with one Good-conscience; and that friend of his youth kept true to Old Honest all his days, and even lent him his hand and helped him over the river at last. In his own manly, hearty, blunt, breezy, cheery, and genial way Old Honest is a pilgrim we could ill have spared. Old Honest has a warm place all for himself in every good and honest heart.
“Now, a little before the pilgrims stood an oak, and under it when they came up to it they found an old pilgrim fast asleep; they knew that he was a pilgrim by his clothes and his staff and his girdle. So the guide, Mr. Greatheart, awaked him, and the old gentleman, as he lifted up his eyes, cried out: What’s the matter? Who are you? And what is your business here? Come, man, said the guide, be not so hot; here is none but friends! Yet the old man gets up and stands upon his guard, and will know of them what they are.” That weather-beaten oak-tree under which we first meet with Old Honest is an excellent emblem of the man. When he sat down to rest his old bones that day he did not look out for a bank of soft moss or for a bed of fragrant roses; that knotted oak-tree alone had power to draw down under its sturdy trunk this heart of human oak. It was a sight to see those thin grey haffets making a soft pillow of that jutting knee of gnarled and knotty oak, and with his well-worn quarterstaff held close in a hand all wrinkled skin and scraggy bone. And from that day till he waved his quarterstaff when half over the river and shouted, Grace reigns! there is no pilgrim of them all that affords us half the good humour, sagacity, continual entertainment, and brave encouragement we enjoy through this same old Christian gentleman.
1. Now, let us try to learn two or three lessons to-night from Old Honest, his history, his character, and his conversation. And, to begin with, let all those attend to Old Honest who are slow in the uptake in the things of religion. O fools and slow of heart! exclaimed our Lord at the two travellers to Emmaus. And this was Old Honest to the letter when he first entered on the pilgrimage life; he was slow as sloth itself in the things of the soul. I have often wondered, said Greatheart, that any should come from your place; for your town is worse than is the City of Destruction itself. Yes, answered Honest, we lie more off from the sun, and so are more cold and senseless. And his biographer here annotates on the margin this reflection: “Stupefied ones are worse than merely carnal.” So they are; though it takes some insight to see that, and some courage to carry that through. Now, to be downright stupid in a man’s natural intellects is sad enough, but to be stupid in the intellects of the soul and of the spirit is far more sad. You will often see this if you have any eyes in your head, and are not one of the stupid people yourself. You will see very clever people in the intellects of the head who are yet as stupid as the beasts in the stall in the far nobler intellects of the heart. You will meet every day with men and women who have received the best college education this city can give them, who are yet stark stupid in everything that belongs to true religion. They are quick to find out the inefficiency of a university chair, or a schoolmaster’s desk, but they know no more of what a New Testament pulpit has been set up for than the stupidest sot in the city. The Divine Nature, human nature, sin, grace, redemption, salvation, holiness, heart-corruption, spiritual life, prayer, communion with God, a conversation and a treasure in heaven,–to all these noblest of studies and divinest of exercises they are as a beast before God. When you come upon a man who is a sot in his senses and in his understanding, you expect him to be the same in his spiritual life. But to meet with an expert in science, a classical scholar, an author or a critic in letters, a leader in political or ecclesiastical or municipal life, and yet to discover that he is as stupid as any sot in the things of his own soul, is one of the saddest and most disheartening sights you can see. Much sadder and much more disheartening than to see stairs and streets of people who can neither read nor write. And yet our city is full of such stupid people. You will find as utter spiritual stupidity among the rich and the lettered and the refined of this city as you will find among the ignorant and the vicious and the criminal classes. Is stupidity a sin? asks Thomas in his Forty-Sixth Question. And the great schoolman answers himself, “Stupidity may come of natural incapacity, in which case it is not a sin. But it may come, on the other hand, of a man immersing his soul in the things of this world so as to shut out all the things of God and of the world to come, in which case stupidity is a deadly sin.” Now, from all that, you must already see what you are to do in order to escape from your inborn and superinduced stupidity. You are, like Old Honest, to open your gross, cold, senseless heart to the Sun of Righteousness, and you are to take care every day to walk abroad under His beams. You are to emigrate south for your life, as our well-to-do invalids do, to where the sun shines in his strength all the day. You are to choose such a minister, buy and read such a literature, cultivate such an acquaintanceship, and follow out such a new life of habits and practices as shall bring you into the full sunshine, till your heart of ice is melted, and your stupefied soul is filled with spiritual sensibility. For, were a man a mountain of ice,” said Old Honest, “yet if the Sun of Righteousness will arise upon him his frozen heart shall feel a thaw; and thus hath it been with me.” Your poets and your philosophers have no resource against the stupidity that opposes them. “Even the gods,” they complain, “fight unvictorious against stupidity.” But your divines and your preachers have hope beside the dullest and the stupidest and even the most imbruted. They point themselves and their slowest and dullest-witted hearers to Old Honest, this rare old saint; and they set up their pulpit with hope and boldness on the very causeway of the town of Stupidity itself.
2. In the second place,–on this fine old pilgrim’s birth and boyhood and youth. The apostle says that there is no real difference between one of us and another; and what he says on that subject must be true. No; there is really no difference compared with the Celestial City whether a pilgrim is born in Stupidity, in Destruction, in Vanity, or in Darkland. At the same time, nature, as well as grace, is of God, and He maketh, when it pleaseth Him, one man to differ in some most important respects from another. You see such differences every day. Some children are naturally, and from their very infancy, false and cruel, mean and greedy; while their brothers and sisters are open and frank and generous. One son in a house is born a vulgar snob, and one daughter a shallow-hearted and shameless little flirt; while another brother is a born gentleman, and another sister a born saint. Some children are tender-hearted, easily melted, and easily moulded; while others in the same family are hard as stone and cold as ice. Sometimes a noble and a truly Christian father will have all his days to weep and pray over a son who is his shame; and then, in the next generation, a grandson will be born to him who will more than recover the lost image of his father’s father. And so is it sometimes with father Adam’s family. Here and there, in Darkland, in Destruction, and in Stupidity, a child will be born with a surprising likeness to the first Adam in his first estate. That happy child at his best is but the relics and ruins of his first father; at the same time, in him the relics are more abundant and the ruins more easy to trace out. And little Honest was such a well-born child. For, Stupidity and all, there was a real inborn and inbred integrity, uprightness, straightforwardness, and nobleness about this little and not over-clever man-child. And, on the principle of “to him that hath shall be given,” there was something like a special providence that hedged this boy about from the beginning. “I girded thee though thou hast not known Me” was never out of Old Honest’s mouth as often as he remembered the days of his own youth and heard other pilgrims mourning over theirs. “I have surnamed thee though thou hast not known Me,” he would say to himself in his sleep. Slow-witted as he was, no one had been able to cheat young Honest out of his youthful integrity. He had not been led, and he had led no one else, into the paths of the destroyer. He could say about himself all that John Bunyan so boldly and so bluntly said about himself when his enemies charged him with youthful immorality. He left the town in nobody’s debt. He left the print of his heels on no man or woman or child when he took his staff in his hand to be a pilgrim. The upward walk of too many pilgrims is less a walk than an escape and a flight. The avenger of men’s blood and women’s honour has hunted many men deep into heaven’s innermost gate. But Old Honest took his time. He walked, if ever pilgrim walked, all the way with an easy mind. He lay down to sleep under the oaks on the wayside, and smiled like a child in his sleep. And, when he was suddenly awaked, instead of crying out for mercy and starting to his heels, he grasped his staff and demanded even of an armed man what business he had to break in on an honest pilgrim’s mid-day repose! The King of the Celestial City had a few names even in Stupidity which had not defiled their garments, and Old Honest was one of them. And all his days his strength was as the strength of ten, because his heart was pure.
3. At the same time, honesty is not holiness; and no one knew that better than did this honest old saint. When any one spoke to Old Honest about his blameless youth, the look in his eye made them keep at arm’s-length as he growled out that without holiness no man shall see God! Writing from Aberdeen to John Bell of Hentoun, Samuel Rutherford says: “I beseech you, in the Lord Jesus, to mind your country above; and now, when old age is come upon you, advise with Christ before you put your foot into the last ship and turn your back on this life. Many are beguiled with this that they are free of scandalous sins. But common honesty will not take men to heaven. Alas! that men should think that ever they met with Christ who had never a sick night or a sore heart for sin. I have known a man turn a key in a door and lock it by.” “I can,” says John Owen, “and I do, commend moral virtues and honesty as much as any man ought to do, and I am sure there is no grace where they are not. Yet to make anything to be our holiness that is not derived from Jesus Christ,–I know not what I do more abhor.” “Are morally honest and sober men qualified for the Lord’s Supper?” asks John Flavel. “No; civility and morality do not make a man a worthy communicant. They are not the wedding garment; but regenerating grace and faith in the smallest measure are.” “My outside may be honest,” said this honest old pilgrim, “while all the time my heart is most unholy. My life is open to all men, but I must hide my heart with Christ in God.”
4. And then this racy-hearted old bachelor was as full of delight in children, and in children’s parties, with all their sweetmeats and nuts and games and riddles,–quite as much so–as if he had been their very grandfather himself. Nay, this rosy-hearted old rogue was as inveterate a matchmaker as if he had been a mother of the world with a houseful of daughters on her hands and with the sons of the nobility dangling around. It would make you wish you could kiss the two dear old souls, Gaius the innkeeper and Old Honest his guest, if you would only read how they laid their grey heads together to help forward the love-making of Matthew and Mercy. Yes, it would be a great pity, said Old Honest,–thinking with a sigh of his own childless old age,–it would be a great pity if this excellent family of our sainted brother should fail for want of children, and die out like mine. And the two old plotters went together to the mother of the bridegroom, and told her with an aspect of authority that she must put no obstacle in her son’s way, but take Mercy as soon as convenient into a closer relation to herself. And Gaius said that he for his part would give the marriage supper. And I shall make no will, said Honest, but hand all I have over to Matthew my son. This is the way, said Old Honest; and he skipped and smiled and kissed the cheek of the aged mother and said, Then thy two children shall preserve thee and thy husband a posterity in the earth! Then he turned to the boys and he said, Matthew, be thou like Matthew the publican, not in vice, but in virtue. Samuel, he said, be thou like Samuel the prophet, a man of faith and of prayer. Joseph, said he, be thou like Joseph in Potiphar’s house, chaste, and one that flees from temptation. And James, be thou like James the Just, and like James the brother of our Lord. Mercy, he said, is thy name, and by mercy shalt thou be sustained and carried through all thy difficulties that shall assault thee in the way, till thou shalt come thither where thou shalt look the Fountain of Mercy in the face with comfort. And all this while the guide, Mr. Greatheart, was very much pleased, and smiled upon the nimble old gentleman.
5. “Then it came to pass a while after that there was a post in the town that inquired for Mr. Honest. So he came to his house where he was, and delivered to his hands these lines, Thou art commanded to be ready against this day seven night, to present thyself before thy Lord at His Father’s house. And for a token that my message is true, all thy daughters of music shall be brought low. Then Mr. Honest called for his friends and said unto them, I die, but shall make no will. As for my honesty, it shall go with me: let him that comes after me be told of this. When the day that he was to be gone was come he addressed himself to go over the river. Now, the river at that time overflowed the banks at some places. But Mr. Honest in his lifetime had spoken to one Good-conscience to meet him there, the which he also did, and lent him his hand, and so helped him over. The last words of Mr. Honest were, Grace reigns! So he left the world.” Look at that picture and now look at this: “They then addressed themselves to the water, and, entering, Christian began to sink, and crying out to his good friend Hopeful, he said, I sink in deep waves, the billows go over my head, all His waters go over me. Then said the other, Be of good cheer, my brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good. Then said Christian, Ah, my friend, the sorrows of death have compassed me about; I shall not see the land that flows with milk and honey. And with that a great horror and darkness fell upon Christian, so that he could not see before him; and all the words that he spoke still tended to discover that he had horror of mind lest he should die in that river and never obtain entrance in at the gate. Here also, as they that stood by perceived, he was much in the troublesome thoughts of the sins that he had committed, both since and before he began to be a pilgrim. ‘Twas also observed that he was troubled with apparitions of hobgoblins and evil spirits. Hopeful, therefore, had much ado to keep his brother’s head above water. Yea, sometimes he would be quite gone down, and then ere a while he would rise up again half dead.” My brethren, all my brethren, be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. Thou, O God, wast a God that forgavest them, but Thou tookest vengeance on their inventions.
“Happy is the man that feareth alway.”–Solomon
For humour, for pathos, for tenderness, for acute and sympathetic insight at once into nature and grace, for absolutely artless literary skill, and for the sweetest, most musical, and most exquisite English, show me another passage in our whole literature to compare with John Bunyan’s portrait of Mr. Fearing. You cannot do it. I defy you to do it. Spenser, who, like John Bunyan, wrote an elaborate allegory, says: It is not in me. Take all Mr. Fearing’s features together, and even Shakespeare himself has no such heart-touching and heart-comforting character. Addison may have some of the humour and Lamb some of the tenderness; but, then, they have not the religion. Scott has the insight into nature, but he has no eye at all for grace; while Thackeray, who, in some respects, comes nearest to John Bunyan of them all, would be the foremost to confess that he is not worthy to touch the shoe-latchet of the Bedford tinker. As Dr. Duncan said in his class one day when telling us to read Augustine’s Autobiography and Halyburton’s:- “But,” he said, “be prepared for this, that the tinker beats them all!” “Methinks,” says Browning, “in this God speaks, no tinker hath such powers.”
Now, as they walked along together, the guide asked the old gentleman if he knew one Mr. Fearing that came on pilgrimage out of his parts. “Yes,” said Mr. Honest, “very well. He was a man that had the root of the matter in him; but he was one of the most troublesome pilgrims that ever I met with in all my days.” “I perceive you knew him,” said the guide, “for you have given a very right character of him.” “Knew him!” exclaimed Honest, “I was a great companion of his; I was with him most an end. When he first began to think of what would come upon us hereafter, I was with him.” “And I was his guide,” said Greatheart, “from my Master’s house to the gates of the Celestial City.” “Then,” said Mr. Honest, “it seems he was well at last.” “Yes, yes,” answered the guide, “I never had any doubt about him; he was a man of a choice spirit, only he was always kept very low, and that made his life so burdensome to himself and so troublesome to others. He was, above many, tender of sin; he was so afraid of doing injuries to others that he would often deny himself of that which was lawful because he would not offend.” “But what,” asked Honest, “should be the reason that such a good man should be all his days so much in the dark?” “There are two sorts of reasons for it,” said the guide; “one is, the wise God will have it so: some must pipe and some must weep. Now, Mr. Fearing was one that played upon this base. He and his fellows sound the sackbut, whose notes are more doleful than the notes of other music are. Though, indeed, some say that the base is the ground of music. And, for my part, I care not at all for that profession that begins not with heaviness of mind. The first string that the musician usually touches is the base when he intends to put all in tune. God also plays upon this string first when He sets the soul in tune for Himself. Only, here was the imperfection of Mr. Fearing, that he could play upon no other music but this till toward his latter end.”
1. Take Mr. Fearing, then, to begin with, at the Slough of Despond. Christian and Pliable, they being heedless, did both fall into that bog. But Mr. Fearing, whatever faults you may think he had–and faults, too, that you think you could mend in him–at any rate, he was never heedless. Everybody has his fault to find with poor Mr. Fearing. Everybody blames poor Mr. Fearing. Everybody can improve upon poor Mr. Fearing. But I will say again for Mr. Fearing that he was never heedless. Had Peter been on the road at that period he would have stood up for Mr. Fearing, and would have taken his judges and would have said to them, with some scorn–Go to, and pass the time of your sojourning here with something of the same silence and the same fear! Christian’s excuse for falling into the Slough was that fear so followed him that he fled the next way, and so fell in. But Mr. Fearing had no such fear behind him in his city as Christian had in his. All Mr. Fearing’s fears were within himself. If you can take up the distinction between actual and indwelling sin, between guilt and corruption, you have already in that the whole key to Mr. Fearing. He was blamed and counselled and corrected and pitied and patronised by every morning-cloud and early-dew neophyte, while all the time he lived far down from the strife of tongues where the root of the matter strikes its deep roots still deeper every day. “It took him a whole month,” tells Greatheart, “to face the Slough. But he would not go back neither. Till, one sunshiny morning, nobody ever knew how, he ventured, and so got over. But the fact of the matter is,” said the shrewd- headed guide, “Mr. Fearing had, I think, a slough of despond in his own mind; and a slough that he carried everywhere with him.” Yes, that was it. Greatheart in that has hit the nail on the head. With one happy stroke he has given us the whole secret of poor Mr. Fearing’s life-long trouble. Just so; it was the slough in himself that so kept poor Mr. Fearing back. This poor pilgrim, who had so little to fear in his past life, had yet so much scum and filth, spume and mire in his present heart, that how to get on the other side of that cost him not a month’s roaring only, but all the months and all the years till he went over the River not much above wet-shod. And, till then, not twenty million cart-loads of wholesome instructions, nor any number of good and substantial steps, would lift poor Mr. Fearing over the ditch that ran so deep and so foul continually within himself. “Yes, he had, I think, a slough of despond in his mind, a slough that he carried everywhere with him, or else he never could have been the man he was.” I, for one, thank the great-hearted guide for that fine sentence.
2. It was a sight to see poor Mr. Fearing at the wicket gate. “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” He read the inscription over the gate a thousand times, but every time he read it his slough-filled heart said to him, Yes, but that is not for such as you. Pilgrim after pilgrim came up the way, read the writing, knocked, and was taken in; but still Mr. Fearing stood back, shaking and shrinking. At last he ventured to take hold of the hammer that hung on the gate and gave with it a small rap such as a mouse might make. But small as the sound was, the Gatekeeper had had his eye on his man all the time out of his watch-window; and before Mr. Fearing had time to turn and run, Goodwill had him by the collar. But that sudden assault only made Mr. Fearing sink to the earth, faint and half-dead. “Peace be to thee, O trembling man!” said Goodwill. “Come in, and welcome!” When he did venture in, Mr. Fearing’s face was as white as a sheet. You would have said that an officer had caught a thief if you had seen poor Mr. Fearing hiding his face, and the Gatekeeper hauling him in. And not all the entertainment for which the Gate was famous, nor all the encouragement that Goodwill was able to speak, could make terrified Mr. Fearing for once to smile. A more hard-to-entertain pilgrim, all the Gate declared when he had gone, they had never had in their hospitable house.
3. “So he came,” said the guide, “till he came to our House; but as he behaved himself at the Gate, so he did at my Master the Interpreter’s door. He lay about in the cold a good while before he would adventure to call. Yet he would not go back neither. And the nights were cold and long then. At last I think I looked out of the window, and perceiving a man to be up and down about the door, I went out to him, and asked what he was; but, poor man, the water stood in his eyes. So I perceived what he wanted. I went in, therefore, and told it in the house, and we showed the thing to our Lord. So He sent me out again to entreat him to come in, but I dare say I had hard work to do it. At last he came in, and I will say that for my Lord, He carried it wonderful lovingly to Mr. Fearing. There were but a few good bits at the table, but some of it was laid upon his trencher.” In this way the guide tells us his first introduction to Mr. Fearing, and how Mr. Fearing behaved himself in the Interpreter’s House. For instance, in the parlour full of dust, when the Interpreter said that the dust is original sin and inward corruption, you would have thought that the Interpreter had stabbed poor Mr. Fearing to the heart, so did he break out and weep. Before the damsel could come with the pitcher, Mr. Fearing’s eyes alone would have laid the dust, they were such a fountain of tears. When he saw Passion and Patience, each one in his chair–“I am that child in rags,” said Mr. Fearing; “I have already received all my good things!” Also, at the wall where the fire burned because oil was poured into it from the other side, he perversely turned that fire also against himself. And when they came to the man in the iron cage, you could not have told whether the miserable man inside the cage or the miserable man outside of it sighed the loudest. And so on, through all the significant rooms. The spider-room overwhelmed him altogether, till his sobs and the beating of his breast were heard all over the house. The robin also when gobbling up spiders he made an emblem of himself, and the tree that was rotten at the heart,–till the Interpreter’s patience with this so perverse pilgrim was fairly worn out. So the Interpreter shut up his significant rooms, and had this so troublesome pilgrim into his own chamber, and there carried it so tenderly to Mr. Fearing that at last he did seem to have taken some little heart of grace. “And then we,” said Greatheart, “set forward, and I went before him; but the man was of few words, only he would often sigh aloud.”
4. “Dumpish at the House Beautiful” is his biographer’s not very respectful comment on the margin of the history. There were too