many merry-hearted damsels running up and down that house for Mr. Fearing. He could not lift his eyes but one of those too-tripping maidens was looking at him. He could not stir a foot but he suddenly ran against a talking and laughing bevy of them. There was one thing he loved above everything, and that was to overhear the talk that went on at that season in that house about the City above, and about the King of that City, and about His wonderful ways with pilgrims, and the entertainment they all got who entered that City. But to get a word out of Mr. Fearing upon any of these subjects,–all the king’s horses could not have dragged it out of him. Only, the screen was always seen to move during such conversations, till it soon came to be known to all the house who was behind the screen. And the talkers only talked a little louder as the screen moved, and took up, with a smile to one another, another and a yet more comforting topic.
The Rarity Rooms also were more to Mr. Fearing than his necessary food. He would be up in the morning and waiting at the doors of those rooms before the keepers had come with their keys. And they had to tell him that the candles were to be put out at night before he would go away. He was always reading, as if he had never read it before, the pedigree of the Lord of the Hill. Moses’ rod, Shamgar’s goad, David’s sling and stone, and what not–he laughed and danced and sang like a child around these ancient tables. The armoury-room also held him, where were the swords, and shields, and helmets, and breast-plates, and shoes that would not wear out. You would have thought you had your man all right as long as you had him alone among these old relics; but, let supper be ready, and the house gathered, and Mr. Fearing was as dumpish as ever. Eat he would not, drink he would not, nor would he sit at the same table with those who ate and drank with such gladness. I remembered Mr. Fearing at the House Beautiful when I was present at a communion season some time back in Ross-shire. The church was half full of Mr. Fearing’s close kindred that communion morning. For, all that the minister himself could do, and all that the assisting minister could do–no! to the table those self-examined, self-condemned, fear-filled souls would not come. The two ministers, like Mr. Greatheart’s Master, carried it wonderful lovingly with those poor saints that day; but those who are in deed, and not in name only, passing the time of their sojourning here in fear–they cannot all at once be lifted above all their fears, even by the ablest action sermons, or by the most wise and tender table-addresses. And, truth to tell, though you will rebuke me all the way home to-night for saying it, my heart sat somewhat nearer to those old people who were perhaps a little too dumpish in their repentance and their faith and their hope that morning, than it did to those who took to the table with a light heart. I know all your flippant cant about gospel liberty and against Highland introspection, as you call it– as well as all your habitual neglect of a close and deep self- examination, as Paul called it; but I tell you all to-night that it would be the salvation of your soul if you too worked your way up to every returning Lord’s table with much more fear and much more trembling. Let a man examine himself, Saxon as well as Celt, in Edinburgh as well as in Ross-shire, and so let him eat of that flesh and drink of that blood. “These pills,” said Mr. Skill, “are to be taken three at a time fasting in half a quarter of a pint of the tears of repentance; these pills are good to prevent diseases, as well as to cure when one is sick. Yea, I dare say it, and stand to it, that if a man will but use this physic as he should, it will make him live for ever. But thou must give these pills no other way but as I have prescribed; for, if you do, they will do no good.” “Then he and I set forward,” said the guide, “and I went before; but my man was of but few words, only he would often sigh aloud.”
5. As to the Hill Difficulty, that was no stick at all to Mr. Fearing; and as for the lions, he pulled their whiskers and snapped his fingers in their dumfoundered faces. For you must know that Mr. Fearing’s trouble was not about such things as these at all; his only fear was about his acceptance at last. He beat Mr. Greatheart himself at getting down into the Valley of Humiliation, till the guide was fain to confess that he went down as well as he ever saw man go down in all his life. This pilgrim cared not how mean he was, so he might be but happy at last. That is the reason why so many of God’s best saints take so kindly and so quietly to things that drive other men mad. You wonder sometimes when you see an innocent man sit down quietly under accusations and insults and injuries that you spend all the rest of your life resenting and repaying. And that is the reason also that so many of God’s best saints in other ages and other communions used to pursue evangelical humility and ascetic poverty and seclusion till they obliterated themselves out of all human remembrance, and buried themselves in retreats of silence and of prayer. Yes, you are quite right. A garment of sackcloth may cover an unsanctified heart; and the fathers of the desert did not all escape the depths of Satan and the plague of their own heart. Quite true. A contrite heart may be carried about an applauding city in a coach and six; and a crucified heart may be clothed in purple and fine linen, and may fare sumptuously every day. A saint of God will sometimes sit on a throne with a more weaned mind than that with which Elijah or the Baptist will macerate themselves in the wilderness. Every man who is really set on heaven must find his own way thither; and he who is really intent on his own way thither will neither have the time nor the heart to throw stones at his brother who thinks he has discovered his own best way. All the pilgrims who got to the City at last did not get down Difficulty and through Humiliation so well as Mr. Fearing did; nor was it absolutely necessary that they should. It was not to lay down an iron-fast rule for others, but it was only to amuse the way with his account of Mr. Fearing, that the guide went on to say: “Yes, I think there was a kind of sympathy betwixt that valley and my man. For I never saw him better in all his pilgrimage than when he was in that valley. For here he would lie down, embrace the ground, and kiss the very flowers that grew in this valley. He would now be up every morning by break of day, tracing and walking to and fro in that valley.”
6. Now, do you think you could guess how Mr. Fearing conducted himself in Vanity Fair? Your guess is important to us and to you to-night; for it will show whether or no John Bunyan and Mr. Greatheart have spent their strength for nought and in vain on you. It will show whether or no you have got inside of Mr. Fearing with all that has been said; and thus, inside of yourself. Guess, then. How did Mr. Fearing do in Vanity Fair, do you think? To give you a clue, recollect that he was the timidest of souls. And remember how you have often been afraid to look at things in a shop window lest the shopkeeper should come out and hold you to the thing you were looking at. Remember also that you are the lifelong owners of some things just because they were thrown at your head. Remember how you sauntered into a sale on one occasion, and, out of sheer idleness and pure fun, made a bid, and to your consternation the encumbrance was knocked down to your name; and it fills up your house to-day till you would give ten times its value to some one to take it away for ever out of your sight. Well, what was it that those who were so shamelessly and so pesteringly cadging about places, and titles, and preferments, and wives, and gold, and silver, and such like–what was it they prevailed on this poor stupid countryman to cheapen and buy? Do you guess, or do you give it up? Well, Greatheart himself was again and again almost taken in; and would have been had not Mr. Fearing been beside him. But Mr. Fearing looked at all the jugglers, and cheats, and knaves, and apes, and fools as if he would have bitten a firebrand. “I thought he would have fought with all the men of the fair; I feared there we should have both been knock’d o’ th’ head, so hot was he against their fooleries.” And then–for Greatheart was a bit of a philosopher, and liked to entertain and while the away with tracing things up to their causes–“it was all,” he said, “because Mr. Fearing was so tender of sin. He was above many tender of sin. He was so afraid, not for himself only, but of doing injury to others, that he would deny himself the purchase and possession and enjoyment even of that which was lawful, because he would not offend.” “All this while,” says Bunyan himself, in the eighty- second paragraph of Grace Abounding, “as to the act of sinning I was never more tender than now. I durst not take a pin or a stick, though but so big as a straw, for my conscience now was sore and would smart at every touch. I could not now tell how to speak my words for fear I should misplace them.” “The highest flames,” says Jeremy Taylor in his Life of Christ, “are the most tremulous.”
7. “But when he was come at the river where was no bridge, there, again, Mr. Fearing was in a heavy case. Now, he said, he should be drowned for ever, and so never see that Face with comfort that he had come so many miles to behold. And here also I took notice of what was very remarkable; the water of that river was lower at this time than ever I saw it in all my life, so he went over at last not much above wet-shod.” Then said Christiana, “This relation of Mr. Fearing has done me good. I thought nobody had been like me, but I see there was some semblance betwixt this good man and I, only we differed in two things. His troubles were so great that they broke out, but mine I kept within. His also lay so hard upon him that he could not knock at the houses provided for entertainment, but my trouble was always such that it made me knock the louder.” “If I might also speak my heart,” said Mercy, “I must say that something of him has also dwelt in me. For I have ever been more afraid of the lake, and the loss of a place in Paradise, than I have been of the loss of other things. Oh! thought I, may I have the happiness to have a habitation there: ’tis enough though I part with all the world to win it.” Then said Matthew, “Fear was one thing that made me think that I was far from having that within me that accompanies salvation; but if it was so with such a good man as he, why may it not also go well with me?” “No fears, no grace,” said James. “Though there is not always grace where there is fear of hell; yet, to be sure, there is no grace where there is no fear of God.” “Well said, James,” said Greatheart; “thou hast hit the mark, for the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; and, to be sure, they that want the beginning have neither middle nor end.” But we shall here conclude our discourse of Mr. Fearing after we have sent after him this farewell:-
“It is because
Then thou didst fear, that now thou dost not fear. Thou hast forestalled the agony, and so
For thee the bitterness of death is past. Also, because already in thy soul
The judgment is begun. That day of doom, One and the same for this collected world – That solemn consummation for all flesh,
Is, in the case of each, anticipate Upon his death; and, as the last great day In the particular judgment is rehearsed, So now, too, ere thou comest to the Throne, A presage falls upon thee, as a ray
Straight from the Judge, expressive of thy lot. That calm and joy uprising in thy soul
Is first-fruit to thy recompense,
And heaven begun.”
“Comfort the feeble-minded.”–Paul.
Feeble-mind shall first tell you his own story in his own words, and then I shall perhaps venture a few observations upon his history and his character.
“I am but a sickly man, as you see,” said Feeble-mind to Greatheart, “and because Death did usually knock once a day at my door, I thought I should never be well at home. So I betook myself to a pilgrim’s life, and have travelled hither from the town of Uncertain, where I and my father were born. I am a man of no strength at all of body, nor yet of mind; but would, if I could, though I can but crawl, spend my life in the pilgrim’s way. When I came at the gate that is at the head of the way, the Lord of that place did entertain me freely. Neither objected he against my weakly looks, nor against my feeble mind; but gave me such things as were necessary for my journey, and bade me hope to the end. When I came to the house of the Interpreter I received much kindness there; and, because the Hill Difficulty was judged too hard for me, I was carried up that hill by one of his servants. Indeed I have found much relief from pilgrims, though none were willing to go so softly as I am forced to do. Yet, still, as they came on, they bid me be of good cheer, and said that it was the will of their Lord that comfort should be given to the feeble- minded, and so went on their own pace. I look for brunts by the way; but this I have resolved on, to wit, to run when I can, to go when I cannot run, and to creep when I cannot go. As to the main, I thank Him that loves me, I am fixed. My way is before me, my mind is beyond the river that has no bridge, though I am, as you see, but of a feeble mind.”
Then said old Mr. Honest, “Have you not some time ago been acquainted with one Mr. Fearing, a pilgrim?” “Acquainted with him! yes. He came from the town of Stupidity, which lies four degrees to the northward of the City of Destruction, and as many off where I was born. Yet we were well acquainted; for, indeed, he was mine uncle, my father’s brother. He and I have been much of a temper; he was a little shorter than I, but yet we were much of a complexion.” “I perceive that you know him,” said Mr. Honest, “and I am apt to believe also that you were related one to another; for you have his whitely look, a cast like his with your eye, and your speech is much alike.”
“Alas!” Feeble-mind went on, “I want a suitable companion. You are all lusty and strong, but I, as you see, am weak. I choose therefore rather to come behind, lest, by reason of my many infirmities, I should be both a burden to myself and to you. I am, as I said, a man of a weak and feeble mind, and shall be offended and made weak at that which others can bear. I shall like no laughing; I shall like no gay attire; I shall like no unprofitable questions. Nay, I am so weak a man as to be offended with what others have a liberty to do. I do not yet know all the truth. I am a very ignorant Christian man. Sometimes, if I hear some rejoice in the Lord, it troubles me because I cannot do so too. It is with me as with a weak man among the strong, or as with a sickly man among the healthy, or as a lamp despised.” “But, brother,” said Greatheart, “I have it in commission to comfort the feeble- minded and to support the weak.” Thus therefore, they went on–Mr. Greatheart and Mr. Honest went before; Christiana and her children went next; and Mr. Feeble-mind and Mr. Ready-to-halt came behind with his crutches.
1. In the first place, a single word as to Feeble-mind’s family tree.
Thackeray says that The Peerage is the Family Bible of every true- born Englishman. Every genuine Englishman, he tells us, teaches that sacred book diligently to his children. He talks out of it to them when he sits in the house and when he walks by the way. He binds it upon his children’s hands, and it is as a frontlet between their eyes. He writes its names upon the door-posts of his house, and makes pictures out of it upon his gates. Now, John Bunyan was a born Englishman in his liking for a family tree. He had no such tree himself–scarcely so much as a bramble bush; but, all the same, let the tinker take his pen in hand, and the pedigrees and genealogies of all his pilgrims are sure to be set forth as much as if they were to form the certificates that those pilgrims were to hand in at the gate.
Feeble-mind, then, was of an old, a well-rooted and a wide-spread race. The county of Indecision was full of that ancient stock. They had intermarried in-and-in also till their small stature, their whitely look, the droop of their eye, and their weak leaky speech all made them to be easily recognised wherever they went. It was Feeble-mind’s salvation that Death had knocked at his door every day from his youth up. He was feeble in body as well as in mind; only the feebleness of his body had put a certain strength into his mind; the only strength he ever showed, indeed, was the strength that had its roots in a weak constitution at which sickness and death struck their dissolving blows every day. To escape death, both the first and the second death, any man with a particle of strength left would run with all his might; and Feeble- mind had strength enough somewhere among his weak joints to make him say, “But this I have resolved on, to wit, to run when I can, to go when I cannot run, and to creep when I cannot go. As to the main, I am fixed!”
2. At the Wicket Gate pilgrim Feeble-mind met with nothing but the kindest and the most condescending entertainment. It was the gatekeepers way to become all things to all men. The gatekeeper’s nature was all in his name; for he was all Goodwill together. No kind of pilgrim ever came wrong to Goodwill. He never found fault with any. Only let them knock and come in and he will see to all the rest. The way is full of all the gatekeeper’s kind words and still kinder actions. Every several pilgrim has his wager with all the rest that no one ever got such kindness at the gate as he got. And even Feeble-mind gave the gatekeeper this praise–“The Lord of the place,” he said, “did entertain me freely. Neither objected he against my weakly looks nor against my feeble mind. But he gave me such things as were necessary for my journey, and bade me hope to the end.” All things considered, that is perhaps the best praise that Goodwill and his house ever earned. For, to receive and to secure Feeble-mind as a pilgrim–to make it impossible for Feeble- mind to entertain a scruple or a suspicion that was not removed beforehand–to make it impossible for Feeble-mind to find in all the house and in all its grounds so much as a straw over which he could stumble–that was extraordinary attention, kindness, and condescension in Goodwill and all his good-willed house. “Go on, go on, dear Mr. Feeble mind,” said Goodwill giving his hand to Mr. Fearing’s nephew, “go on: keep your feeble mind open to the truth, and still hope to the end!”
3. “As to the Interpreter’s House, I received much kindness there.” That is all. But in that short speech I think there must he hid no little shame and remorse. No words could possibly be a severer condemnation of Feeble-mind than his own two or three so irrelevant words about the Interpreter’s house. No doubt at all, Feeble-mind received kindness there; but that is not the point. That noble house was not built at such cost, and fitted up, and kept open all the year round, and filled with fresh furniture from year to year, merely that those who passed through its significant rooms might report that they had received no rudeness at the hands of the Interpreter. “Come,” said the Interpreter to Feeble-mind, “and I will show thee what will be profitable to thee.” So he commanded his man to light the candle and bid Feeble-mind follow him. But it was all to no use. Feeble-mind had neither the taste nor the capacity for the significant rooms. Nay, as one after another of those rich rooms was opened to him, Feeble-mind took a positive dislike to them. Nothing interested him; nothing instructed him. But many things stumbled and angered him. The parlour full of dust, and how the dust was raised and laid; Passion and Patience; the man in the iron cage; the spider-room; the muck- rake room; the robin with its red breast and its pretty note, and yet with its coarse food; the tree, green outside but rotten at the heart,–all the thanks the Interpreter took that day for all that from Feeble-mind was in such speeches as these: You make me lose my head. I do not know where I am. I did not leave the town of Uncertain to be confused and perplexed in my mind with sights and sounds like these. Let me out at the door I came in at, and I shall go back to the gate. Goodwill had none of these unhappy rooms in his sweet house!” Nothing could exceed the kindness of the Interpreter himself; but his house was full of annoyances and offences and obstructions to Mr. Feeble-mind. He did not like the Interpreter’s house, and he got out of it as fast as he could, with his mind as feeble as when he entered it; and, what was worse, with his temper not a little ruffled.
And we see this very same intellectual laziness, this very same downright dislike at divine truth, in our own people every day. There are in every congregation people who take up their lodgings at the gate and refuse to go one step farther on the way. A visit to the Interpreter’s House always upsets them. It turns their empty head. They do not know where they are. They will not give what mind they have to divine truth, all you can do to draw them on to it, till they die as feeble-minded, as ignorant, and as inexperienced as they were born. They never read a religious book that has any brain or heart in it. The feeble Lives of feeble- minded Christians, written by feeble-minded authors, and published by feeble-minded publishers,–we all know the spoon-meat that multitudes of our people go down to their second childhood upon. Jonathan Edwards–a name they never hear at home, but one of the most masculine and seraphic of interpreters–has a noble discourse on The Importance and Advantage of a thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth. “Consider yourselves,” he says, “as scholars or disciples put into the school of Christ, and therefore be diligent to make proficiency in Christian knowledge. Content not yourselves with this, that you have been taught your Catechism in your childhood, and that you know as much of the principles of religion as is necessary to salvation. Let not your teachers have cause to complain that while they spend and are spent to impart knowledge to you, you take little pains to learn. Be assiduous in reading the Holy Scriptures. And when you read, observe what you read. Observe how things come in. Compare one scripture with another. Procure and diligently use other books which may help you to grow in this knowledge. There are many excellent books extant which might greatly forward you in this knowledge. There is a great defect in many, that through a lothness to be at a little expense, they provide themselves with no more helps of this nature.” Weighty, wise, and lamentably true words.
“Mundanus,” says William Law, “is a man of excellent parts, and clear apprehension. He is well advanced in age, and has made a great figure in business. He has aimed at the greatest perfection in everything. The only thing which has not fallen under his improvement, nor received any benefit from his judicious mind, is his devotion; this is just in the same poor state it was when he was six years of age, and the old man prays now in that little form of words which his mother used to hear him repeat night and morning. This Mundanus that hardly ever saw the poorest utensil without considering how it might be made or used to better advantage, has gone on all his life long praying in the same manner as when he was a child; without ever considering how much better or oftener he might pray; without considering how improvable the spirit of devotion is, how many helps a wise and reasonable man may call to his assistance, and how necessary it is that our prayers should be enlarged, varied, and suited to the particular state and condition of our lives. How poor and pitiable is the conduct of this man of sense, who has so much judgment and understanding in everything but that which is the whole wisdom of man!” How true to every syllable is that! How simple-looking, and yet how manly, and able, and noble! We close our young men’s session with Law and Butler to-night, and I cannot believe that our session with those two giants has left one feeble mind in the two classes; they were all weeded out after the first fortnight of the session; though, after all is done, there are still plenty left both among old and young in the congregation. Even Homer sometimes nods; and I cannot but think that John Bunyan has made a slip in saying that Feeble- mind enjoyed the Interpreter’s House. At any rate, I wish I could say as much about all the feeble minds known to me.
4. The Hill Difficulty, which might have helped to make a man of Feeble-mind, saw a laughable, if it had not been such a lamentable, spectacle. For it saw this poor creature hanging as limp as wet linen on the back of one of the Interpreter’s sweating servants. Your little boy will explain the parable to you. Shall I do this? or, shall I rather do that? asks Feeble-mind at every stop. Would it be right? or, would it be wrong? Shall I read that book? Shall I go to that ball? Shall I marry that man? Tell me what to do. Give me your hand. Take me up upon your back, and carry me over this difficult hill. “I was carried up that,” says poor Feeble- mind, “by one of his servants.”
5. “The one calamity of Mr. Feeble-mind’s history,” says our ablest commentator on Bunyan, “was the finest mercy of his history.” That one calamity was his falling into Giant Slay-good’s hands, and his finest mercy was his rescue by Greatheart, and his consequent companionship with his deliverer, with Mr. Honest, and with Christiana and her party till they came to the river. You constantly see the same thing in the life of the Church and of the Christian Family. Some calamity throws a weak, ignorant, and immoral creature into close contact with a minister or an elder or a Christian visitor, who not only relieves him from his present distress, but continues to keep his eye upon his new acquaintance, introduces him to wise and good friends, invites him to his house, gives him books to read, and keeps him under good influences, till, of a weak, feeble, and sometimes vicious character, he is made a Christian man, till he is able for himself to say, It was good for me to be afflicted; the one calamity of my history has been my best mercy!
6. Feeble-mind, I am ashamed to have to admit, behaved himself in a perfectly scandalous manner at the house of Gaius mine host. He went beyond all bounds during those eventful weeks. Those weeks were one long temptation to Feeble-mind–and he went down in a pitiful way before his temptation. Two marriages and two honeymoons, with suppers and dances every night, made the old hostelry like very Pandemonium itself to poor Feeble-mind. He would have had Matthew’s and James’s marriages conducted next door to a funeral. Because he would not eat flesh himself, he protested against Gaius killing a sheep. “Man,” said old Honest, almost laying his quarterstaff over Feeble-mind’s shoulders–“Man, dost thou think because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” “I shall like no laughing,” said Feeble-mind; “I shall like no gay attire; I shall like no unprofitable questions.” I think it took some self-conceit to refuse to sit at table beside Christiana because of her gay attire. And I hope Mercy did not give up dressing well, even after she was married, to please that weak-minded old churl. And as to unprofitable questions–we are all tempted to think that question unprofitable which our incapacity or our ignorance keeps us silent upon at table. We think that topic both ill-timed and impertinent and unsafe to which we are not invited to contribute anything. “I am a very ignorant man,” he went on to say; and, if that was said in any humility, Feeble-mind never said a truer word. “It is with me as it is with a weak man among the strong, or as with a sick man among the healthy, or as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease.” All which only brought Greatheart out in his very best colours. “But, brother,” said the guide, “I have it in commission to comfort the feeble-minded, and to support the weak. You must needs go along with us; we will wait for you, we will lend you our help, we will deny ourselves of some things, both opinionative and practical, for your sake; we will not enter into doubtful disputations before you; we will be made all things to you rather than that you shall be left behind.”
7. The first thing that did Mr. Feeble-mind any real good was his being made military guard over the women and the children while the men went out to demolish Doubting Castle. Quis custodiet? you will smile and say when you hear that. Who shall protect the protector? you will say. But wait a little. Greatheart knew his business. For not only did Feeble-mind rise to the occasion, when he was put to it; but, more than that, he was the soul of good company at supper-time that night. “Jocund and merry” are the very words. Yes; give your feeble and fault-finding folk something to do. Send them to teach a class. Send them down into a mission district. Lay a sense of responsibility upon them. Leave them to deal with this and that emergency themselves. Cease carrying them on your back, and lay weak and evil and self-willed people on their back. Let them feel that they are of some real use. As Matthew Arnold says, Let the critic but try practice, and you will make a new man of him. As Greatheart made of Feeble-mind by making him mount guard over the Celestial caravan while the fighting men were all up at Doubting Castle.
8. “Mark this,” says Mr. Feeble-mind’s biographer on the early margin of his history, lest we should be tempted to forget the good parts of this troublesome and provoking pilgrim–“Mark this.” This, namely, which Feeble-mind says to his guide. “As to the main, I thank Him that loves me, I am fixed. My way is before me, my mind is beyond the river that has no bridge, though I am, as you see, but of a feeble mind.” And that leads us with returning regard and love to turn to the end of his history, where we read: “After this Mr. Feeble-mind had tidings brought him that the post sounded his horn at his chamber door. Then he came in and told him, saying, I am come to tell thee that thy Master hath need of thee, and that in very little time thou must behold His face in brightness. Then Mr. Feeble-mind called for his friends, and told them what errand had been brought to him, and what token he had received of the truth of the message. As for my feeble mind he said, that I shall leave behind me, for I shall have no need of that in the place whither I go. Nor is it worth bestowing upon the poorest pilgrim. Wherefore, when I am gone, I desire that you would bury it in a dung-hill. This done, and the day being come in which he was about to depart, he entered the river as the rest. His last words were, Hold out, faith and patience! So he went over to the other side.
“–when thou shalt enlarge my heart.”–David.
On Sabbath, the 12th December 1886, I heard the late Canon Liddon preach a sermon in St. Paul’s Cathedral, in which he classed Oliver Cromwell with Alexander the Sixth and with Richard the Third. I had taken my estimate of the great Protector’s character largely from Carlyle’s famous book, and you can judge with what feelings I heard the canon’s comparison. And, besides, I had been wont to think of the Protector as having entered largely into John Bunyan’s portrait of Greatheart, the pilgrim guide. And the researches and the judgments of Dr. Gardiner have only gone to convince me, the eloquent canon notwithstanding, that Bunyan could not have chosen a better contemporary groundwork for his Greatheart than just the great Puritan soldier. Cromwell’s “mental struggles before his conversion,” his life-long “searchings of heart,” his “utter absence of vindictiveness,” his unequalled capacity for “seeing into the heart of a situation,” and his own “all-embracing hospitality of heart”–all have gone to reassure me that my first guess as to Bunyan’s employment of the Protector’s matchless personality and services had not been so far astray. And the oftener I read the noble history of Greatheart, the better I seem to hear, beating behind his fine figure, by far the greatest heart that ever ruled over the realm of England.
1. The first time that we catch a glimpse of Greatheart’s weather- beaten and sword-seamed face is when he is taking a stolen look out of the window at Mr. Fearing, who is conducting himself more like a chicken than a man around the Interpreter’s door. And from that moment till Mr. Fearing shouted “Grace reigns!” as he cleared the last river, never sportsman surely stalked a startled deer so patiently and so skilfully and so successfully as Greatheart circumvented that chicken-hearted pilgrim. “At last 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 him what he was; but, poor man, the water stood ill 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.” Greatheart’s whole account of Mr. Fearing always brings the water to my eyes also. It is indeed a delicious piece of English prose. If I were a professor of belles lettres instead of what I am, I would compel all my students, under pain of rustication, to get those three or four classical pages by heart till they could neither perpetrate nor tolerate bad English any more. This camp-fire tale, told by an old soldier, about a troublesome young recruit and all his adventures, touches, surely, the high-water mark of sweet and undefiled English. Greatheart was not the first soldier who could handle both the sword and the pen, and he has not been the last. But not Caesar and not Napier themselves ever handled those two instruments better.
2. Greatheart had just returned to his Master’s house from having seen Mr. Fearing safely through all his troubles and well over the river, when, behold, another caravan of pilgrims is ready for his convoy. For Greatheart, you must know, was the Interpreter’s armed servant. When at any time Greatheart was off duty, which in those days was but seldom, he took up his quarters again in the Interpreter’s house. As he says himself, he came back from the river-side only to look out of the Interpreter’s window to see if there was any more work on the way for him to do. And, as good luck would have it, as has been said, the guide was just come back from his adventures with Mr. Fearing when a pilgrim party, than which he had never seen one more to his mind, was introduced to him by his Master, the Interpreter. “The Interpreter,” so we read at this point, “then called for a man-servant of his, one Greatheart, and bid him take sword, and helmet, and shield, and take these, my daughters,” said he, “and conduct them to the house called Beautiful, at which place they will rest next. So he took his weapons and went before them, and the Interpreter said, God-speed.”
3. Now I saw in my dream that they went on, and Greatheart went before them, so they came to the place where Christian’s burden fell off his back and tumbled into a sepulchre. Here, then, they made a pause, and here also they blessed God. “Now,” said Christiana, “it comes to my mind what was said to us at the gate; to wit, that we should have pardon by word and by deed. What it is to have pardon by deed, Mr. Greatheart, I suppose you know; wherefore, if you please, let us hear your discourse thereof.” “So then, to speak to the question,” said Greatheart. You have all heard about the “question-day” at Highland communions. That day is so called because questions that have arisen in the minds of “the men” in connection with doctrine and with experience are on that day set forth, debated out, and solved by much meditation and prayer; age, saintliness, doctrinal and experimental reading, and personal experience all making their contribution to the solution of the question in hand. Just such a question, then, and handled in such a manner, was that question which whiled the way and cheated the toil till the pilgrims came to the House Beautiful. The great doctrinal and experimental Puritans, with Hooker at their head, put forth their full strength and laid out their finest work just on this same question that Christiana gave out at the place, somewhat ascending, upon which stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. But not the great Comment on The Galatians itself, next to the Holy Bible as it is, as most fit for a wounded conscience; no, nor that perfect mass of purest gold, The Learned Discourse of Justification, nor anything else of that kind known to me, is for one moment, to compare in beauty, in tenderness, in eloquence, in scriptural depth, and in scriptural simplicity with Greatheart’s noble resolution of Christiana’s question which he made on the way from the Interpreter’s house to the House Beautiful. “This is brave!” exclaimed that mother in Israel, when the guide had come to an end. “Methinks it makes my heart to bleed to think that He should bleed for me. O Thou loving One! O Thou blessed One! Thou deservest to have me, for Thou hast bought me. No marvel that this made the water to stand in my husband’s eyes, and that it made him trudge so nimbly on. O Mercy, that thy father and thy mother were here; yea, and Mrs. Timorous too! Nay, I wish now with all my heart that here was Madam Wanton too. Surely, surely their hearts would be affected here!” Promise me to read at home Greatheart’s discourse on the Righteousness of Christ, and you will thank me for having exacted the promise.
The incongruity of a soldier handling such questions, and especially in such a style, has stumbled some of John Bunyan’s fault-finding readers. The same incongruity stumbled “the Honourable Colonel Hacker, at Peebles or elsewhere,” to whom Cromwell sent these from Edinburgh on the 25th December 1650–“But indeed I was not satisfied with your last speech to me about Empson, that he was a better preacher than fighter or soldier–or words to that effect. Truly, I think that he that prays and preaches best will fight best. I know nothing that will give like courage and confidence as the knowledge of God in Christ will; and I bless God to see any in this army able and willing to impart the knowledge they have for the good of others. I pray you receive Captain Empson lovingly: I dare assure you he is a good man and a good officer; I would we had no worse.”
4. “Will you not go in and stay till morning?” said the porter to Greatheart, at the gate of the House Beautiful. “No,” said the guide; “I will return to my lord to-night.” “O sir!” cried Christiana and Mercy, “we know not how to be willing you should leave us in our pilgrimage. Oh that we might have your company till our journey’s end.” Then said James, the youngest of the boys, “Pray be persuaded to go with us and help us, because we are so weak and the way so dangerous as it is.” “I am at my lord’s commandment,” said Greatheart. “If he shall allow me to be your guide quite through, I shall willingly wait upon you. But here you failed at first; for when he bid me come thus far with you, then you should have begged me of him to have gone quite through with you, and he would have granted your request. However, at present, I must withdraw, and so, good Christiana, Mercy, and my brave children, adieu!” “Help lost for want of asking for,” is our author’s condemnatory comment on the margin at this point in the history. And there is not a single page in my history, or in yours, my brethren, on which the same marginal lament is not written. What help we would have had on our Lord’s promise if we had but taken the trouble to ask for it! And what help we once had, and have now lost, just because when we had it we did not ask for a continuance of it! “No,” said Greatheart to the porter, and to the two women, and to James–“No. I will return to my lord to- night. I am at my lord’s commandment; only, if he shall still allot me I shall willingly wait upon you.”
Now, what with the House Beautiful, so full of the most delightful company; what with music in the house and music in the heart; what with Mr. Brisk’s courtship of Mercy, Matthew’s illness, Mr. Skill’s cure of the sick man, and what not–a whole month passed by like a day in that so happy house.
But at last Christiana and Mercy signified it to those of the house that it was time for them to be up and going. Then said Joseph to his mother, “It is convenient that you send back to the house of Mr. Interpreter to pray him to grant that Mr. Greatheart should be sent to us that he may be our conductor the rest of our way.” “Good boy,’ said she, “I had almost forgot.” So she drew up a petition and prayed Mr. Watchful the porter to send it by some fit man to her good friend, Mr. Interpreter; who, when it was come and he had seen the contents of the petition, said to the messenger, “Go, tell them that I will send him.” . . . Now, about this time one knocked at the door. So the porter opened, and, behold, Mr. Greatheart was there! But when he came in, what joy was there! Then said Mr. Greatheart to the two women, “My lord has sent each of you a bottle of wine, and also some parched corn, together with a couple of pomegranates. He has also sent the boys some figs and raisins to refresh you on your way.” “The weak may sometimes call the strong to prayers,” I read again in the margin opposite the mention of Joseph’s name. Not that I am strong, and not that she is weak, but one of my people I spent an hour with last afternoon whom you would to a certainty have called weak had you seen her and her surrounding,–she so called me to prayer that I had to hurry home and go straight to it. And all last night and all this morning I have had as many pomegranates as I could eat and as much wine as I could drink. Yes; you attend to what the weakest will sometimes say to you, and they will often put you on the way to get Greatheart back again with a load of wines and fruits and corn on his shoulder to refresh you on your journey. “Good boy!” said Christiana to Joseph her youngest son, “Good boy! I had almost forgot!”
5. When old Mr. Honest began to nod after the good supper that Gaius mine host gave to the pilgrims, “What, sir,” cried Greatheart, “you begin to be drowsy; come, rub up; now here’s a riddle for you.” Then said Mr. Honest, “Let’s hear it.” Then said Mr. Greatheart,
“He that will kill, must first be overcome; Who live abroad would, first must die at home.”
“Hah!” said Mr. Honest, “it is a hard one; hard to expound, and harder still to practise.” Yes; this after-supper riddle of Mr. Greatheart is a hard one in both respects; and for this reason, because the learned and much experienced guide–learned with all that his lifelong quarters in the Interpreter’s House could teach him, and experienced with a lifetime’s accumulated experience of the pilgrim life–has put all his learning and all his life into these two mysterious lines. But old Honest, once he had sufficiently rubbed up his eyes and his intellects, gave the answer:
“He first by grace must conquered be
That sin would mortify.
And who, that lives, would convince me, Unto himself must die.”
Exactly; shrewd old Honest; you have hit off both Greatheart and his riddle too. You have dived into the deepest heart of the Interpreter’s man-servant. “The magnanimous man” was Aristotle’s masterpiece. That great teacher of mind and morals created for the Greek world their Greatheart. But, “thou must understand,” says Bunyan to his readers, “that I never went to school to Aristotle or Plato. No; but to Paul, who taught Bunyan that what Aristotle calls magnanimity is really pride–taught him that, till there is far more of the Christian religion in those two doggerel lines at Gaius’s supper-table than there is in all The Ethics taken together. And it is only from a personal experience of the same life as that which the guide puts here into his riddle that any man’s proud heart will become really humble and thus really great, really enlarged, and of an all-embracing hospitality like Cromwell’s and Greatheart’s and John Bunyan’s own. Would you, then, become a Greatheart too? And would you be employed in your day as they were employed in their day? Then expound to yourself, and practise, and follow out that deep riddle with which Greatheart so woke up old Honest:
“He that will kill, must first be overcome; Who live abroad would, first must die at home.
6. Greatheart again and again at the riverside, Greatheart sending pilgrim after pilgrim over the river with rapture, and he himself still summoned to turn his back on the Celestial City, and to retrace his steps through the land of Beulah, through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and through the Valley of Humiliation, and back to the Interpreter’s house to take on another and another and another convoy of fresh pilgrims, and his own abundant entrance still put off and never to come,–our hearts bleed for poor Greatheart. Back and forward, back and forward, year after year, this noble soul uncomplainingly goes. And, ever as he waves his hand to another pilgrim entering with trumpets within the gates, he salutes his next pilgrim charge with the brave words: “Yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two: having a desire to depart and to be with Christ. Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you, for your furtherance and joy of faith by my coming to you again.” If Greatheart could not “usher himself out of this life” along with Christiana, and Mercy, and Mr. Honest, and Standfast, and Valiant-for-truth–if he had still to toil back and bleed his way up again at the head of another happy band of pilgrims–well, after all is said, what had the Celestial City itself to give to Greatheart better than such blessed work? “With every such returning journey he got a more and more enlarged, detached, hospitable, and Christ-like heart, and the King’s palace in very glory itself had nothing better in store for this soldier- guide than that. A nobler heaven Greatheart could not taste than he had already in himself, as he championed another and another pilgrim company from his Master’s earthly gate to his Master’s heavenly gate. Like Paul, his apostolic prototype, Greatheart sometimes vacillated just for a moment when he came a little too near heaven, and felt its magnificent and almost dissolving attractions full in his soul. You will see Greatheart’s mind staggering for a moment between rest and labour, between war and peace, between “Christ” on earth and “Christ” in heaven–you will see all that set forth with great sympathy and great ability in Principal Rainy’s new book on Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, and in the chapter entitled, The Apostle’s Choice between Living and Dying.
Then there came a summons for Mr. Standfast. At which he called to him Mr. Greatheart, and said unto him, “Sir, although it was not my hap to be much in your good company in the days of my pilgrimage, yet, since the time I knew you, you have been profitable to me. When I came from home I left behind me a wife and five small children. Let me entreat you, at your return (for I know that you will go and return to your master’s house in hopes that you may be a conductor to more of the holy pilgrims), that you send to my family and let them be acquainted with all that hath and shall happen to me. Tell them, moreover, of my happy arrival to this place, and of the present late blessed condition I am in, and so on for many other messages and charges.” Yes, Mr. Standfast; very good. But I would have liked you on your deathbed much better if you had had a word to spare from yourself and your wife and your children for poor Greatheart himself, who had neither wife nor children, nor near hope of heaven, but only your trust and charge and many suchlike trusts and charges to carry out when you are at home and free of all trust and all charge and all care. But yours is the way of all the pilgrims–so long, at least, as they are in this selfish life. Let them and their children only be well looked after, and they have not many thoughts or many words left for those who sweat and bleed to death for them and theirs. They lean on this and that Greatheart all their own way up, and then they leave their widows and children to lean on whatever Greatheart is sent to meet them; but it is not one pilgrim in ten who takes the thought or has the heart to send a message to Mr. Greatheart himself for his own consolation and support. I read that Mr. Ready-to-halt alone, good soul, had the good feeling to do it. He thanked Mr. Greatheart for his conduct and for his kindness, and so addressed himself to his journey. All the same, noble Greatheart! go on in thy magnanimous work. Take back all their errands. Seek out at any trouble all their wives and children. Embark again and again on all thy former battles and hardships for the good of other men. But be assured that all this thy labour is not in vain in thy Lord. Be well assured that not one drop of thy blood or thy sweat or thy tears shall fall to the ground on that day when they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. Go back, then, from thy well-earned rest, O brave Greatheart! go back to thy waiting task. Put on again thy whole armour. Receive again, and again fulfil, thy Master’s commission, till He has no more commissions left for thy brave heart and thy bold hand to execute. And, one glorious day, while thou art still returning to thy task, it shall suddenly sound in thy dutiful ears:- “Well done! good and faithful servant!” And then thou too
“Shalt hang thy trumpet in the hall
And study war no more.”
“For I am ready to halt.”–David.
Mr. Ready-to-halt is the Mephibosheth of the pilgrimage. While Mephibosheth was still a child in arms, his nurse let the young prince fall, and from that day to the day of his death he was lame in both his feet. Mephibosheth’s life-long lameness, and then David’s extraordinary grace to the disinherited cripple in commanding him to eat continually at the king’s table; in those two points we have all that we know about Mr. Ready-to-halt also. We have no proper portrait, as we say, of Mr. Ready-to-halt. Mr. Ready-to-halt is but a name on John Bunyan’s pages–a name set upon two crutches; but, then, his simple name is so suggestive and his two crutches are so eloquent, that I feel as if we might venture to take this life-long lameter and his so serviceable crutches for our character-lecture to-night.
John Bunyan, who could so easily and so delightfully have done it, has given us no information at all about Mr. Ready-to-halt’s early days. For once his English passion for a pedigree has not compelled our author’s pen. We would have liked immensely to have been told the name, and to have seen displayed the whole family tree of young Ready-to-halt’s father; and, especially, of his mother. Who was his nurse also? And did she ever forgive herself for the terrible injury she had done her young master? What were his occupations and amusements as a little cripple boy? Who made him his first crutch? Of what wood was it made? And at what age, and under whose kind and tender directions did he begin to use it? And, then, with such an infirmity, what ever put it into Mr. Ready- to-halt’s head to attempt the pilgrimage? For the pilgrimage was a task and a toil that took all the limbs and all the lungs and all the labours and all the endurances that the strongest and the bravest of men could bring to bear upon it. How did this complete cripple ever get through the Slough, and first up and then down the Hill Difficulty, and past all the lions, and over a thousand other obstacles and stumbling-blocks, till he arrived at mine host’s so hospitable door? The first surprised sight we get of this so handicapped pilgrim is when Greatheart and Feeble-mind are in the heat of their discourse at the hostelry door. At that moment Mr. Ready-to-halt came by with his crutches in his hand, and he also was going on pilgrimage. Thus, therefore, they went on. Mr. Greatheart and Mr. Honest went on before, Christiana and her children went next, and Mr. Feeble-mind and Mr. Ready-to-halt came behind with his crutches.
“Put by the curtains, look within my veil, Turn up my metaphors, and do not fail,
There, if thou seekest them, such things to find, As will be helpful to an honest mind.”
1. Well, then, when we put by the curtains and turn up the metaphors, what do we find? What, but just this, that poor Mr. Ready-to-halt was, after all, the greatest and the best believer, as the New Testament would have called him, in all the pilgrimage. We have not found so great faith as that of Mr. Ready-to-halt, no, not in the very best of the pilgrim bands. Each several pilgrim had, no doubt, his own good qualities; but, at pure and downright believing–at taking God at His bare and simple word–Mr. Ready-to- halt beat them all. All that flashes in upon us from one shining word that stands on the margin of our so metaphorical author. This single word, the “promises,” hangs like a key of gold beside the first mention of Mr. Ready-to-halt’s crutches–a key such that in a moment it throws open the whole of Mr. Ready-to-halt’s otherwise lockfast and secret and inexplicable life. There it all is, as plain as a pike-staff now! Yes; Mr. Ready-to-halt’s crutches are just the divine promises. I wonder I did not see that all the time. Why, I could compose all his past life myself now. I have his father and his mother and his nurse at my finger-ends now. This poor pilgrim–unless it would be impertinence to call him poor any more–had no limbs to be called limbs. Such limbs as he had were only an encumbrance to this unique pedestrian. All the limbs he had were in his crutches. He had not one atom of strength to lean upon apart from his crutches. A bone, a muscle, a tendon, a sinew, may be ill-nourished, undeveloped, green, and unknit, but, at the worst, they are inside of a man and they are his own. But a crutch, of however good wood it may be made, and however good a lame man may be at using it–still, a crutch at its best is but an outside additament; it is not really and originally a part of a man’s very self at all. And yet a lame man is not himself without his crutch. Other men do not need to give a moment’s forethought when they wish to rise up to walk, or to run, or to leap, or to dance. But the lame man has to wait till his crutches are brought to him; and then, after slowly and painfully hoisting himself up upon his crutches, with great labour, he at last takes the road. Mr. Ready-to-halt, then, is a man of God; but he is one of those men of God who have no godliness within themselves. He has no inward graces. He has no past experiences. He has no attainments that he can for one safe moment take his stand upon, or even partly lean upon. Mr. Ready-to-halt is absolutely and always dependent upon the promises. The promises of God in Holy Scripture are this man’s very life. All his religion stands in the promises. Take away the promises, and Mr. Ready-to-halt is a heap of heaving rags on the roadside. He cannot take a single step unless upon a promise. But, at the same time, give Mr. Ready-to-halt a promise in his hand and he will wade the Slough upon it, and scale up and slide down the Hill Difficulty upon it, and fight a lion, and even brain Beelzebub with it, till he will with a grudge and a doubt exchange it even for the chariots and the horses that wait him at the river. What a delight our Lord would have taken in Mr. Ready- to-halt had He come across him on His way to the passover! How He would have given Mr. Ready-to-halt His arm; how He would have made Himself late by walking with him, and would still have waited for him! Nay, had that been a day of chap-books in carpenters’ shops and on the village stalls, how He would have had Mr. Ready-to- halt’s story by heart had any brass-worker in Galilee told the history! Our Lord was within an inch of telling that story Himself, when He showed Thomas His hands and His side. And at another time and in another place we might well have had Mr. Ready- to-halt as one more of our Lord’s parables for the common people. Only, He left the delight and the reward of drawing out this parable to one He already saw and dearly loved in a far-off island of the sea, the Puritan tinker of Evangelical England.
2. And now, after all that, would you think it going too far if I were to say that in making Himself like unto all His brethren, our Lord made Himself like Mr. Ready-to-halt too? Indeed He did. And it was because his Lord did this, that Mr. Ready-to-halt so loved his Lord as to follow Him upon crutches. It would not be thought seemly, perhaps, to carry the figure too close to our Lord. But, figure apart, it is only orthodox and scriptural to say that our Lord accomplished His pilgrimage and finished His work leaning all along upon His Father’s promises. Esaias is very bold about this also, for he tells his readers again and again that their Messiah, when He comes, will have to be held up. He will have to be encouraged, comforted, and carried through by Jehovah. And in one remarkable passage he lets us see Jehovah hooping Messiah’s staff first with brass, and then with silver, and then with gold. Let Thomas Goodwin’s genius set the heavenly scene full before us. “You have it dialoguewise set forth,” says that great preacher. “First Christ shows His commission, telling God how He had called Him and fitted Him for the work of redemption, and He would know what reward He should receive of Him for so great an undertaking. God at first offers low; only the elect of Israel. Christ thinks these too few, and not worth so great a labour and work, because few of the Jews would come in; and therefore He says that He would labour in vain if this were all His recompense; and yet withal He tells God that seeing His heart is so much set on saving sinners, to satisfy Him, He will do it even for those few. Upon this God comes off more freely, and openeth His heart more largely to Him, as meaning more amply to content Him for His pains in dying. “It is a light thing,” says God to Him, “that Thou shouldest be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob–that is not worth Thy dying for. I value Thy sufferings more than so. I will give Thee for a salvation to the ends of the earth.” Upon this He made a promise to Christ, a promise which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began. God cannot lie, and, most of all, not to His Son.”
And, then, more even than that. This same deep divine tells us that it is a certain rule in divinity that, whatsoever we receive from Christ, that He Himself first receives in Himself for us. All the promises of God’s word are made and fulfilled to Christ first, and so to us in and after Him. In other words, our Lord’s life was so planned for Him in heaven and was so followed out and fulfilled by Him on earth, that, to take up the metaphor again, He actually tried every crutch and every staff with His own hands and with His own armpits; He actually leaned again and again His own whole weight upon every several one of them. Every single promise, the most unlikely for Him to lean upon and to plead, yet, be sure of it, He somehow made experiment upon them all, and made sure that there was sufficient and serviceable grace within and under every one of them. So that, Mr. Ready-to-halt, there is no possible staff you can take into your hand that has not already been in the hand of your Lord. Think of that, O Mr. Ready-to-halt! Reverence, then, and almost worship thy staff! Throw all thy weight upon thy staff. Confide all thy weakness to it. Talk to it as thou walkest with it. Make it talk to thee. Worm out of it all its secrets about its first Owner. And let it instruct thee about how He walked with it and how He handled it. The Bible is very bold with its Master. It calls Him by the most startling names sometimes. There is no name that a penitent and a returning sinner goes by that the Bible does not put somewhere upon the sinner’s Saviour. And in one place it as good as calls Him Ready-to-halt in as many words. Nay, it lets us see Him halting altogether for a time; ay, oftener than once; and only taking the road again, when a still stronger staff was put into his trembling hand. And if John had but had room in his crowded gospel he would have given us the very identical psalm with which our Lord took to the upward way again, strong in His new staff. “For I am ready to halt,” was His psalm in the house of His pilgrimage, “and My sorrow is continually before Me. Mine enemies are lively, and they are strong; and they that hate Me wrongfully are multiplied. They also that render evil for good are Mine adversaries; because I follow the thing that good is. Forsake Me not, O Lord; O My God, be not far from Me. Make haste to help Me, O Lord My salvation.”
3. Among all the devout and beautiful fables of the “dispensation of paganism,” there is nothing finer than the fable of blind Tiresias and his staff. By some sad calamity this old prophet had lost the sight of his eyes, and to compensate their servant for that great loss the gods endowed him with a staff with eyes. As Aaron’s rod budded before the testimony and bloomed blossoms and yielded almonds, so Tiresias’ staff budded eyes, and divine eyes too, for the blind prophet’s guidance and direction. Tiresias had but to take his heaven-given staff in his hand, when, straightway, such a divinity entered into the staff that it both saw for him with divine eyes, and heard for him with divine ears, and then led him and directed him, and never once in all his after journeys let him go off the right way. All other men about him, prophets and priests both, often lost their way, but Tiresias after his blindness, never, till Tiresias and his staff became a proverb and a parable in the land. And just such a staff, just such a crutch, just such a pair of crutches, were the crutches of our own so homely Mr. Ready-to-halt. With all their lusty limbs, all the other pilgrims often stumbled and went out of their way till they had to be helped up, led back, and their faces set right again. But, last as Mr. Ready-to-halt always came in the procession– behind even the women and the children as his crutches always kept him–you will seek in vain for the dot of those crutches on any by- path or on any wrong road. No; the fact is, if you wish to go to the same city, and are afraid you lose the way; as Evangelist said, “Do you see yon shining light?” so I would say to you to-night, “Do you see these crutch-marks on the road?” Well, keep your feet in the prints of these crutches, and as sure as you do that they will lead you straight to a chariot and horses, which, again, will carry you inside the city gates. For Mr. Ready-to-halt’s crutches have not only eyes like Tiresias’ staff, they have ears also, and hands and feet. A lamp also burns on those crutches; and wine and oil distil from their wonderful wood. Happy blindness that brings such a staff! Happy exchange! eyes full of earth and sin for eyes full of heaven and holiness!
4. “They began to be merry,” says our Lord, telling the story of the heart-broken father who had got back his younger son from a far country. And even Feeble-mind and Ready-to-halt begin to be merry on the green that day after Doubting Castle has fallen to Greatheart’s arms. Now, Christiana, if need was, could play upon the viol, and her daughter Mercy upon the lute; and, since they were so merry disposed, she played them a lesson, and Mr. Ready-to- halt would dance. So he paid a boy a penny to hold one of his crutches, and, taking Miss Much-afraid by the hand, to dancing they went. And, I promise you he footed it well; the lame man leaped as an hart; also the girl was to be commended, for she answered the music handsomely. In spite of his life-long infirmity, there was deep down in Mr. Ready-to-halt an unsuspected fund of good-humour. There was no heartier merriment on the green that day than was the merriment that Mr. Ready-to-halt knocked out of his nimble crutch. “True, he could not dance without one crutch in his hand.” True, dear and noble Bunyan, thou canst not write a single page at any time or on any subject without thy genius and thy tenderness and thy divine grace marking the page as thine own alone!
5. The next time we see Mr. Ready-to-halt he is coming in on his crutches to see Christiana, for she has sent for him to see him. So she said to him, “Thy travel hither hath been with difficulty, but that will make thy rest the sweeter.” And then in process of time there came a post to the town and his business this time was with Mr. Ready-to-halt. “I am come to thee in the name of Him whom thou hast loved and followed, though upon crutches. And my message is to tell thee that He expects thee at His table to sup with Him in His kingdom the next day after Easter.” “I am sent for,” said Mr. Ready-to-halt to his fellow-pilgrims, “and God shall surely visit you also. These crutches,” he said, “I bequeath to my son that shall tread in my steps, with an hundred warm wishes that he may prove better than I have done.” Isaac was a child of promise, and Mr. Ready-to-halt had an Isaac also on whom his last thoughts turned. Isaac had been born to Abraham by a special and extraordinary and supernatural interposition of the grace and the power of God; and Mr. Ready-to-halt had always looked on himself as a second Abraham in that respect. A second Abraham, and more. True, his son was not yet a pilgrim; perhaps he was too young to be so called; but Greatheart will take back the old man’s crutches– Greatheart was both man-of-war and beast-of-burden to the pilgrims and their wives and children–and will in spare hours teach young Ready-to-halt the use of the crutch, till the son can use with the same effect as his father his father’s instrument. Is your child a child of promise? Is he to you a product of nature, or of grace? Did you receive him and his brothers and sisters from God after you were as good as dead? Did you ever steal in when his nurse was at supper and say over his young cradle, He hath not dealt with me after my sins, nor rewarded me according to my iniquities? Is it in your will laid up with Christ in God about your crutches and your son what Mr. Ready-to-halt dictated on his deathbed? And does God know that there is no wish in your old heart a hundred times so warm for your son as is this wish,–that he may prove better at handling God’s promises than you have been? Then, happy son, who has old Mr. Ready-to-halt for his father!
6. “He whom thou hast loved and followed, though upon crutches, expects thee at His table the next day after Easter.” Take comfort, cripples! Had it been said that the King so expects Greatheart, or Standfast, or Valiant-for-truth, that would have been after the manner of the kings of this world. But to insist on having Mr. Ready-to-halt beside Him by such and such a day; to send such a post to a pilgrim who has not a single sound bone in all his body; to a sinner without a single trustworthy grace in all his heart; to a poor and simple believer who has nothing in his hand but one of God’s own promises–Who is a king like unto our King? Surely King David was never a better type of Christ than when he said to Mephibosheth, lame in both his feet from his nurse’s arms: “Fear not, Mephibosheth, for I will surely show thee kindness, and thou shalt eat bread at my table continually.” And Mephibosheth shall always be our spokesman when he bows himself and says in return: “What is thy servant, that thou shouldst look upon such a dead dog as I am?”
“–They are not valiant for the truth.”–Jeremiah
“–Ye should contend earnestly for the faith.”–Jude. “Forget not Master Valiant-for-the-Truth, That man of courage, tho’ a very youth.
Tell every one his spirit was so stout, No man could ever make him face about.”
“I am of Dark-land, for there was I born, and there my father and mother are still.” “Dark-land,” said the guide; “doth not that lie upon the same coast as the City of Destruction?” “Yes, it doth,” replied Valiant-for-truth. “And had I not found incommodity there, I had not forsaken it at all; but finding it altogether unsuitable to me, and very unprofitable for me, I forsook it for this way. Now, that which caused me to come on pilgrimage was this. We had one Mr. Tell-true came into our parts, and he told it about what Christian had done, that went from the City of Destruction. That man so told the story of Christian and his travels that my heart fell into a burning haste to be gone after him, nor could my father and mother stay me, so I got from them, and am come thus far on my way.”
1. A very plain and practical lesson is already read to us all in Valiant-for-truth’s explanation of his own pilgrimage. He tells the guide that he was made a pilgrim just by having the story of The Pilgrim told to him. All that Tell-true did was just to recite the story of the pilgrim, when young Valiant’s heart fell into a burning haste to be a pilgrim too. My brethren, could any lesson be plainer? Read the Pilgrim’s Progress with your children. And, after a time, read it again till they call it beautiful, and till you see the same burning haste in their hearts that young Valiant felt in his heart. Circulate the Pilgrim’s Progress. Make opportunities to give the Pilgrim’s Progress to the telegraph boys and errand boys at your door. Never go on a holiday without taking a dozen cheap and tasteful copies of The Pilgrim to give to boys and girls in the country. Make sure that no one, old or young, of your acquaintance, in town or country, is without a good copy of The Pilgrim. And the darker their house is, make all the more sure that John Bunyan is in it.
“Now may this little book a blessing be, To those that love this little book and me And may its buyer have no cause to say
His money is but lost or thrown away.”
2. But the great lesson of Valiant’s so impressive life lies in the tremendous fight he had with three ruffians who all set upon him at once and well-nigh made an end of him. For, when we put by the curtains here again, and turn up the metaphors, what do we find? What, but a lesson of first-rate importance for many men among ourselves; for many public men, many ministers, and many other much-in-earnest men. For Valiant, as his name tells us, was set to contend for the truth. He had the truth. The truth was put into his keeping, and he was bound to defend it. He was thrown into a life of controversy, and thus into all the terrible temptations–worse than the temptations to whoredom or wine–that accompany a life of controversy. The three scoundrels that fell upon Valiant at the mouth of the lane were Wildhead, Inconsiderate, and Pragmatic. In other words, the besetting temptations of many men who are set as defenders of the truth in religion, as well as in other matters, is to be wild-headed, inconsiderate, self- conceited, and intolerably arrogant. The bloody battle that Valiant fought, you must know, was not fought at the mouth of any dark lane in the midnight city, nor on the side of any lonely road in the moonless country. This terrible fight was fought in Valiant’s own heart. For Valiant was none of your calculating and cold-blooded friends of the truth. He did not wait till he saw the truth walking in silver slippers. Let any man lay a finger on the truth, or wag a tongue against the truth, and he will have to settle it with Valiant. His love for the truth was a passion. There was a fierceness in his love for the truth that frightened ordinary men even when they were on his own side. Valiant would have died for the truth without a murmur. But, with all that, Valiant had to learn a hard and a cruel lesson. He had to learn that he, the best friend of truth as he thought he was, was at the same time, as a matter of fact, the greatest enemy that the truth had. He had to take home the terrible discovery that no man had hurt the truth so much as he had done. Save me from my friend! the truth was heard to say, as often as she saw him taking up his weapons in her behalf. We see all that every day. We see Wildhead at his disservice of the truth every day. Sometimes above his own name, and sometimes with grace enough to be ashamed to give his name, in the newspapers. Sometimes on the platform; sometimes in the pulpit; and sometimes at the dinner-table. But always to the detriment of the truth. In blind fury he rushes at the character and the good name of men who were servants of the truth before he was born, and whose shield he is not worthy to bear. How shall Wildhead be got to see that he and the like of him are really the worst friends the truth can possibly have? Will he never learn that in his wild-bull gorings at men and at movements, he is both hurting himself and hurting the truth as no sworn enemy of his and of the truth can do? Will he never see what an insolent fool he is to go on imputing bad motives to other men, when he ought to be prostrate before God on account of his own? More than one wild- headed student of William Law has told me what a blessing they have got from that great man’s teaching on the subject of controversy. Will the Wildheads here to-night take a line or two out of that peace-making author and lay them to heart? “My dear L-, take notice of this, that no truths, however solid and well-grounded, will help you to any divine life, but only so far as they are taught, nourished, and strengthened by an unction from above; and that nothing more dries and extinguishes this heavenly unction than a talkative reasoning temper that is always catching at every opportunity of hearing or telling some religious matters. Stop your ears and shut your eyes to all religious tales . . . I would no more bring a false charge against a deist than I would bear false witness against an apostle. And if I knew how to do the deists more justice in debate I would gladly do it . . . And as the gospel requires me to be as glad to see piety, equity, strict sobriety, and extensive charity in a Jew or a Gentile as in a Christian; as it obliges me to look with pleasure upon their virtues, and to be thankful to God that such persons have so much of true and sound Christianity in them; so it cannot be an unchristian spirit to be as glad to see truths in one party of Christians as in another, and to look with pleasure upon any good doctrines that are held by any sect of Christian people, and to be thankful to God that they have so much of the genuine saving truths of the gospel among them . . . Selfishness and partiality are very inhuman and base qualities even in the things of this world, but in the doctrines of religion they are of a far baser nature. In the present divided state of the Church, truth itself is torn and divided asunder; and, therefore, he is the only true Catholic who has more of truth and less of error than is hedged in by any divided part. To see this will enable us to live in a divided part unhurt by its division, and keep us in a true liberty and fitness to be edified and assisted by all the good that we hear or see in any other part of the Church. And thus, uniting in heart and spirit with all that is holy and good in all Churches, we enter into the true communion of saints, and become real members of the Holy Catholic Church, though we are confined to the outward worship of only one particular part of it. And thus we will like no truth the less because Ignatius Loyola or John Bunyan were very jealous for it, nor have the less aversion to any error because Dr. Trapp or George Fox had brought it forth.” If Wildhead would take a winter of William Law, it would sweeten his temper, and civilise his manners, and renew his heart.
3. Inconsiderate, again, is the shallow creature he is, and does the endless mischief that he does, largely for lack of imagination. He never thinks–neither before he speaks nor after he has spoken. He never put himself in another man’s place all his days. He is incapable of doing that. He has neither the head nor the heart to do that. He never once said, How would I like that said about me? or, How would I like that done to me? or, How would that look and taste and feel to me if I were in So-and-so’s place? It needs genius to change places with other men; it needs a grace beyond all genius; and this poor headless and heartless creature does not know what genius is. It needs imagination, the noblest gift of the mind, and it needs love, the noblest grace of the heart, to consider the case of other people, and to see, as Butler says, that we differ as much from other people as they differ from us. And it is by far the noblest use of the imagination, far nobler than carving a Laocoon, or painting a Last Judgment, or writing a “Paradiso” or a “Paradise Lost,” to put ourselves into the places of other men so as to see with their eyes, and feel with their hearts, and sympathise with their principles, and even with their prejudices. Now, the inconsiderate man has so little imagination and so little love that he is sitting here and does not know what I am saying; and what suspicion he has of what I am saying is just enough to make him dislike both me and what I am saying too. But his dull suspicion and his blind dislike are more than made up for by the love and appreciation of those lovers and defenders of the truth who painfully feel how wild and inconsiderate, how hot- headed, how thoughtless, and how reckless their past service even of God’s truth has been.
“The King is full of grace and fair regard. Consideration, like an angel, came
And whipp’d the offending Adam out of him.”
4. And as to Pragmatic, I would not call you a stupid person even though you confided to me that you had never heard this footpad’s name till to-night. John Bunyan has been borrowing Latin again, and not to the improvement of his style, or to the advantage of his readers. It would be insufferably pragmatic in me to begin to set John Bunyan right in his English; but I had rather offend the shades of a hundred John Bunyans than leave my most unlettered hearer without his full and proper Sabbath-night lesson. The third armed thief, then, that fell upon Valiant was, under other names, Impertinence, Meddlesomeness, Officiousness, Over-Interference. Pragmatic,–by whatever name he calls himself, there is no mistaking him. He is never satisfied. He is never pleased. He is never thankful. He is always setting his superiors right. He is like the Psalmist in one thing, he has more understanding than all his teachers. And he enjoys nothing more than in letting them know that. There is nothing he will not correct you in–from cutting for the stone to commanding the Channel Fleet. Now, if all that has put any visual image of Pragmatic into your mind, you will see at once what an enemy he too is fitted to be to the truth. For the truth does not stand in points, but in principles. The truth does not dwell in the letter but in the spirit. The truth is not served by setting other people right, but by seeing every day and in every thing how far wrong we are ourselves. The truth is like charity in this, that it begins at home. It is like charity in this also, that it never behaves itself unseemly. A pragmatical man, taken along with an inconsiderate man, and then a wild-headed man added on to them, are three about as fatal hands as any truth could fall into. The worst enemy of the truth must pity the truth, and feel his hatred at the truth relenting, when he sees her under the championship of Wildhead, Inconsiderate, and Pragmatic.
5. The first time we see Valiant-for-truth he is standing at the mouth of Dead-man’s-lane with his sword in his hand and with his face all bloody. “They have left upon me, as you see,” said the bleeding man, “some of the marks of their valour, and have also carried away with them some of mine.” And, in like manner, we see Paul with the blood of Barnabas still upon him when he is writing the thirteenth of First Corinthians; and John with the blood of the Samaritans still upon him down to his old age when he is writing his First Epistle; and John Bunyan with the blood of the Quakers upon him when he is covertly writing this page of his autobiography under the veil of Valiant-for-truth; and William Law with the blood of Bishop Hoadly and John Wesley dropping on the paper as he pens that golden passage which ends with Dr. Trapp and George Fox. Where did you think Paul got that splendid passage about charity? Where did you think William Law got that companion passage about Church divisions, and about the Church Catholic? Where are such passages ever got by inspired apostles, or by any other men, but out of their own bloody battles with their own wild-headedness, intolerance, dislike, and resentment? Where do you suppose I got the true key to the veiled metaphor of Valiant-for-truth? It does not exactly hang on the door-post of his history. Where, then, could I get it but off the inside wall of my own place of repentance? Just as you understand what I am now labouring to say, not from my success in saying it, but from your own trespasses against humility and love, your unadvised speeches, and your wild and whirling words. Without shame and remorse, without self- condemnation and self-contempt, none of those great passages of Paul, or John, or Bunyan, or Law were ever written; and without a like shame, remorse, self-condemnation, and self-contempt they are not rightly read.
“Oh! who shall dare in this frail scene On holiest, happiest thoughts to lean,
On Friendship, Kindred, or on Love? Since not Apostles’ hands can clasp
Each other in so firm a grasp,
But they shall change and variance prove.
“But sometimes even beneath the moon
The Saviour gives a gracious boon,
When reconciled Christians meet,
And face to face, and heart to heart, High thoughts of Holy love impart
In silence meek, or converse sweet.
“Oh then the glory and the bliss
When all that pained or seemed amiss Shall melt with earth and sin away!
When saints beneath their Saviour’s eye, Filled with each other’s company,
Shall spend in love the eternal day!”
6. Then said Greatheart to Mr. Valiant-for-truth, “Thou hast worthily behaved thyself; let me see thy sword.” So he showed it him. When he had taken it in his hand and had looked thereon a while, the guide said: “Ha! it is a right Jerusalem blade!” “It is so,” replied its owner. “Let a man have one of these blades with a hand to wield it, and skill to use it, and he may venture upon an angel with it. Its edges will never blunt. It will cut flesh, and bones, and soul, and spirit, and all.” Both Damascus and Toledo blades were famous in former days for their tenacity and flexibility, and for the beauty and the edge of their steel. But even a Damascus blade would be worthless in a weak, cowardly, or unskilled hand; while even a poor sword in the hand of a good swordsman will do excellent execution. And much more so when you have both a first-rate sword and a first-rate swordsman, such as both Valiant and his Jerusalem blade were. Ha! yes. This is a right wonderful blade we have now in our hand. For this sword was forged in no earthly fire; and it was whetted to its unapproachable sharpness on no earthly whetstone. But, best of all for us, when a good soldier of Jesus Christ has this sword girt on his thigh he is able then to go forth against himself with it; against his own only and worst enemy–that is, against himself. As here, against his own wildness of head and pride of heart. Against his own want of consideration also. “My people do not consider.” As also against himself as a lawless invader of other men’s freedom of judgment, following of truth, public honour, and good name. As the Arabian warriors see themselves and dress themselves in their swords as in a glass, so did Valiant-for-truth see the thoughts and intents, the joints and the marrow of his own disordered soul in his Jerusalem blade. In the sheen of it he could see himself even when the darkness covered him; and with its two edges all his after-life he slew both all real error in other men and all real evil in himself. “Thou hast done well,” said Greatheart the guide. “Thou hast resisted unto blood, striving against sin. Thou shalt abide by us, come in and go out with us, for we are thy companions.”
7. “Sir,” said the widow indeed to Valiant-for-truth, “sir, you have in all places shown yourself true-hearted.” The first time she ever saw this man that she is now seeing for the last time on this side the river, his own mother would not have known him, he was so hacked to pieces with the swords of his three assailants. But as she washed the blood off the mangled man’s head and face and hands, she soon saw beneath all his bloody wounds a true, a brave, and a generous-hearted soldier of the Cross. The heart is always the man. And this woman had lived long enough with men to have discovered that. And with all his sears she saw that it was at bottom the truth of his heart that had cast him into so many bloody encounters. There were men in that company, and men near the river too, with far fewer marks of battle, and even of defeat, upon them, who did not get this noble certificate and its accompanying charge and trust from this clear-eyed widow. And, then, she had never forgot–how could she?–his exclamation, and almost embrace of her as of his own mother, when he burst out with his eyes full of blood, “Why, is this Christian’s wife? What! and going on pilgrimage too? It glads my heart! Good man! How joyful will he be when he shall see her and her children enter after him in at the gates into the city!” He would have been hacked a hundred times worse than he was before the widow of Christian, and the mother of his children, would have seen anything but the manliest beauty in a young soldier who could salute an old woman in that way. It gladdened her heart to hear him, you may be sure, as much as it gladdened his heart to see her. And that was the reason that she actually set Greatheart himself aside, and left her children under this young man’s sword and shield. “I would also entreat you to have an eye to my children,” she said. Young men, has any dying mother committed her children, if you at any time see them faint, to you? Have you ever spoken so comfortably to any poor widow about her sainted husband that she has passed by some of our foremost citizens, and has astonished and offended her lawyers by putting a stripling like you into the trusteeship? Did ever any dying mother say to you that she had seen you to be so true-hearted at all times that she entreated you to have an eye to her children? Speaking at this point for myself, I would rather see my son so trusted at such an hour by such a woman than I would see him the Chancellor of Her Majesty’s Exchequer, or the Governor of the Bank of England. And so to-night would you.
“So stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.”–Paul.
In his supplementary picture of Standfast John Bunyan is seen at his very best, both as a religious teacher and as an English author. On the Enchanted Ground Standfast is set before us with extraordinary insight, sagacity, and wisdom; and then in the terrible river he is set before us with an equally extraordinary rapture and transport; while, in all that, Bunyan composes in English of a strength and a beauty and a music in which he positively surpasses himself. Just before he closes his great book John Bunyan rises up and once more puts forth his very fullest strength, both as a minister of religion and as a classical writer, when he takes Standfast down into that river which that pilgrim tells us has been such a terror to so many, and the thought of which has so often affrighted himself.
When Greatheart and his charge were almost at the end of the Enchanted Ground, so we read, they perceived that a little before them was a solemn noise as of one that was much concerned. So they went on and looked before them. And behold, they saw, as they thought, a man upon his knees, with hands and eyes lift up, and speaking, as they thought, earnestly to one that was above. They drew nigh, but could not tell what he said; so they went softly till he had done. When he had done, he got up and began to run towards the Celestial City. “So-ho, friend, let us have your company,” called out the guide. At that the man stopped, and they came up to him. “I know this man,” said Mr. Honest; “his name, I know, is Standfast, and he is certainly a right good pilgrim.” Then follows a conversation between Mr. Honest and Mr. Standfast, in which some compliments and courtesies are exchanged, such as are worthy of such men, met at such a time and in such a place. “Well, but, brother,” said Valiant-for-truth, “tell us, I pray thee, what was it that was the cause of thy being upon thy knees even now? Was it for that some special mercy laid obligations upon thee, or how?” And then Standfast tells how as he was coming along musing with himself, Madam Bubble presented herself to him and offered him three things. “I was both aweary and sleepy and also as poor as a howlet, and all that the wicked witch knew. And still she followed me with her enticements. Then I betook me, as you saw, to my knees, and with hands lift up and cries, I prayed to Him who had said that He would help. So just as you came up the gentlewoman went her way. Then I continued to give thanks for my great deliverance; for I verify believe she intended me no good, but rather sought to make stop of me in my journey. What a mercy is it that I did resist her, for whither might she not have drawn me?” And then, after all this discourse, there was a mixture of joy and trembling among the pilgrims, but at last they broke out and sang:
“What danger is the pilgrim in,
How many are his foes,
How many ways there are to sin,
No living mortal knows!”
1. “Well, as I was coming along I was musing with myself,” said Standfast. You understand what it is to come along musing with yourself, do you not, my brethren? “I will muse on the work of Thy hands,” says the Psalmist. And again, “While I was musing the fire burned.” Well, Standfast was much given to musing, just as David was. Each several pilgrim has his own way of occupying himself on the road; but Standfast could never get his fill just of musing. Standfast loved solitude. Standfast liked nothing better than to walk long stretches at a time all by himself alone. Standfast was like the apostle when he preferred to take the twenty miles from Troas to Assos on foot and alone, rather than to round the cape on shipboard in a crowd. “Minding himself to go afoot,” says the apostle’s companion. It would have made a precious chapter in the Acts of the Apostles had the author of that book been able to give his readers some of Paul’s musings as he crossed the Troad on foot that day. But in the absence of Paul’s musings we have here the musings of a man whom Paul would not have shaken off had he foregathered with him on that lonely road. For Standfast was in a deep and serious muse mile after mile, when, who should step into the middle of his path right before him but Madam Bubble with her body and her purse and her bed? Now, had this hungry howlet of a pilgrim been at that moment in any other but a musing mood of mind, he had to a certainty sold himself, soul and body, Celestial City and all, to that impudent slut. But, as He would have it who overrules Madam Bubble’s descents, and all things, Standfast was at that moment in one of his most musing moods, and all her smiles and all her offers fell flat and poor upon him. Cultivate Standfast’s mood of mind, my brethren. Walk a good deal alone. Strike across country from time to time alone and have good long walks and talks with yourself. And when you know that you are passing places of temptation see that your thoughts, and even your imaginations, are well occupied with solemn considerations about the certain issue of such and such temptations; and then, to you, as to Standfast,
“The arrow seen beforehand slacks its flight.”
2. But, musing alone, the arrow seen beforehand, and all, Standfast would have been a lost man on that lonely road that day had he not instantly betaken himself to his knees. And it was while Standfast was still on his knees that the ascending pilgrims heard that concerned and solemn noise a little ahead of them. Did you ever suddenly come across a man on his knees? Did you ever surprise a man at prayer as Greatheart and his companions surprised Standfast? I do not ask, Did you ever enter a room and find a family around their morning or evening altar? We have all done that. And it left its own impression upon us. But did you ever spring a surprise upon a man on his knees alone and in broad daylight? I did the other day. It was between eleven and twelve o’clock in the forenoon when I asked a clerk if his master was in. Yes, he said, and opened his master’s door. When, before I was aware, I had almost fallen over a man on his knees and with his face in his hands. “I pray thee,” said Valiant-for-truth, “tell us what it was that drew thee to thy knees even now. Was it that some special mercy laid its obligations on thee, or how?” I did not say that exactly to my kneeling friend, though it was on the point of my tongue to say it. My dear friend, I knew, had his own difficulties, though he was not exactly as poor as a howlet. And it might have been about some of his investments that had gone out of joint that he went that forenoon to Him who had said that He would help. Or, like the author of the Christian Perfection and The Spirit of Prayer, it was the sixth hour of the day, and he may have gone to his knees for his clerks, or for his boys at school, or for himself and for the man in the same business with himself right across the street. I knew that my friend had the charming book at home in which such counsels as these occur: “If masters were thus to remember their servants, beseeching God to bless them, letting no day pass without a full performance of this devotion, the benefit would be as great to themselves as to their servants.” And perhaps my friend, after setting his clerks their several tasks for the day, was now asking grace of God for each one of them that they might not be eye-servants and men-pleasers, but the servants of Christ doing the will of God from the heart. Or, again, he may have read in that noble book this passage: “If a father were daily to make some particular prayer to God that He would please to inspire his children with true piety, great humility, and strict temperance, what could be more likely to make the father himself become exemplary in these virtues?” Now, my friend (who can tell?) may just that morning have lost his temper with his son; or he may last night have indulged himself too much in eating, or in drinking, or in debate, or in detraction; and that may have made it impossible for him to fix his whole mind on his office work that morning. Or, just to make another guess, when he opened the book I had asked him to buy and read, he may have lighted on this heavenly passage: “Lastly, if all people when they feel the first approaches of resentment or envy or contempt towards others; or if in all little disagreements and misunderstandings whatever they should have recourse at such times to a more particular and extraordinary intercession with God for such persons as had roused their envy, resentment, or discontent–this would be a certain way to prevent the growth of all uncharitable tempers.” You may think that I am taking a roundabout way of accounting for my friend’s so concerned attitude at twelve o’clock that business day; but the whole thing seemed to me so unusual at such a time and in such a place that I was led to such guesses as these to account for it. In so guessing I see now that I was intruding myself into matters I had no business with; but all that day I could not keep my mind off my blushing friend. For, like Mr. Standfast, my dear friend blushed as he stood up and offered me the chair he had been kneeling at. “But, why, did you see me?” said Mr. Standfast. “Yes, I did,” quoth the other, “and with all my heart I was glad at the sight.” “And what did you think?” said Mr. Standfast.
3. “Was it,” asked Valiant-for-truth, in a holy curiosity, “was it some special mercy that brought thee to thy knees even now?” Yes; Valiant-for-truth had exactly hit it. Gracious wits, like great wits, jump together. “Yes,” confessed Standfast, “I continue to give thanks for my great deliverance.” My brethren, you all pray importunately in your time of sore trouble. Everybody does that. But do you feel an obligation, like Standfast, to abide still on your knees long after your trouble is past? Nature herself will teach us to pray; but it needs grace, and great grace continually renewed, to teach us to praise, and to continue all our days to praise. How we once prayed, ay, as earnestly, and as concernedly, and as careless as to who should see or hear us as Standfast himself! How some of us here to-night used to walk across a whole country all the time praying! How we hoodwinked people in order to get away from them to pray for twenty miles at a time all by ourselves! Under that bush–it still stands to mark the spot; in that wood, long since cut down into ploughed land–we could show our children the spot to this day where we prayed, till a miracle was wrought in our behalf. Yes, till God sent from above and took us as He never took a psalmist, and set our feet upon a still more wonderful rock. How He, yes, HE, with His own hand cut the cords, broke the net, and set us free! Come, all ye that fear God! we then said, and said it with all sincerity too. And yet, how have we forgotten what He did for our soul? We start like a guilty thing surprised when we think how long it is since we had a spell of thanksgiving. Shame on us! What treacherous hearts we have! What short memories we have! How soon we forgive ourselves, and so forget the forgiveness of our God! Brethren, let us still lay plans for praise as we used to do for prayer. If our friends will go out with us, let us at least insist on walking home alone. Let us say with Paul that we get sick at sea; and, besides, that we have some calls to make and some small accounts to settle before we leave the country. Tell them not to wait dinner for us. And then let us take plenty of time. Let us stop at all our old stations and call back all our old terrors; let us repeat aloud our old psalms–the twenty-fifth, the fifty-first, the hundred and third, and the hundred and thirtieth. We used to terrify people with our prayers as Standfast terrified the young pilgrims that day; let us surprise and delight them now with our psalms of thanksgiving. For, with all our disgraceful ingratitude in the past, if William Law is right, we are even yet not far from being great saints, if he is not wrong when he asks: “Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? 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 most thankful to God, and who has a heart always ready to praise God. This is the perfection of all virtues. Joy in God and thankfulness to God is the highest perfection of a divine and holy life.” Well, then, what an endless cause of joy and thankfulness have we! Let us acknowledge it, and henceforth employ it; and we shall, please God, even yet be counted as not low down but high up among the saints and the servants of God.
4. Christiana said many kind and wise and beautiful things to all the other pilgrims before she entered the river, but it was observed that though she sent for Mr. Standfast, she said not one word to him when he came; she just gave him her ring. “The touch is human and affecting,” says Mr. Louis Stevenson, in his delightful paper on Bagster’s “Bunyan,” in the Magazine of Art. By the way, do you who are lovers of Bunyan literature know that remarkable and delicious paper? The Messrs. Bagster should secure that paper and should issue an edition de luxe of their neglected “Bunyan,” with Mr. Stevenson’s paper for a preface and introduction. Bagster’s “Illustrated Bunyan,” with an introduction on the illustrations by Mr. Louis Stevenson, if I am not much mistaken, would sell by the thousand.
5. Lord Rosebery knows books and loves books, and he has called attention to the surpassing beauty of the English in the deathbed scenes of the Pilgrim’s Progress. And every lover of pure, tender, and noble English must, like the Foreign Secretary, have all those precious pages by heart. Were it not that we all have a cowardly fear at death ourselves, and think it wicked and cruel even to hint at his approaching death even to a fast-dying man, we would never let any of our friends lie down on his sick-bed without having a reassuring and victorious page of the Pilgrim read to him every day. If the doctors would allow me, I would have these heavenly pages reprinted in sick-bed type for all my people. But I am afraid at the doctors. And thus one after another of my people passes away without the fortification and the foretaste that the deathbeds of Christian, and Christiana, and Hopeful, and Mr. Fearing, and Mr. Feeble-mind, and Mr. Honest, and Mr. Standfast would most surely have given to them. Especially the deathbed, if I must so call it, of Mr. Standfast. But as Christiana said nothing that could be heard to Mr. Standfast about his or her latter end, but just looked into his eyes and gave him her ring, so I may not be able to say all that is in my heart when your doctor is standing close by. But you will understand what I would fain say, will you not? You will remember, and will have this heavenly book read to you alternately with your Bible, will you not? Even the most godless doctor will give way to you when you tell him that you know as well as he does just how it is with you, and that you are to have your own way for the last time. I know a doctor who first forbade her minister and her family to tell his patient that she was dying, and at the same time told them to take away from her bedside all such alarming books as the Pilgrim’s Progress and the Saint’s Rest, and to read to her a reassuring chapter out of Old Mortality and Pickwick.
It will, no doubt, put the best-prepared of us into a deep muse, as it put Standfast, when we are first told that we must at once prepare ourselves for a change of life. But I for one would not for worlds miss that solemn warning, and that last musing-time. It will all be just as my Master pleases; but if it is within His will I shall till then continue to petition Him that I may have a passage over the river like the passage of Standfast. Or, if that may not now be, then, at least, a musing-time like his. The post from the Celestial City brought Mr. Standfast’s summons “open” in his hand. And thus it was that Standfast’s translation did not take him by surprise. Standfast was not plunged suddenly and without warning into the terrible river. He took the open summons into big own hand and read it out like a man. After which he went, as his manner was, for a good while into a deep and undisturbed muse. As soon as he came out of his muse he would have Greatheart to be sent for. And then their last conversation together proceeded. And no one interfered with the two brave-hearted men. No one interposed, or said that Greatheart would exhaust or alarm Standfast, or would injuriously hasten his end. Not only so, but all the way till he was half over the river, Standfast kept up his own side of the noble conversation. And it is his side of that half-earthly, whole-heavenly conversation that I would like to have put into suitable type and scattered broadcast over all our sick- beds.
6. “Tell me,” says Valdes to Julia in his Christian Alphabet, “have you ever crossed a deep river by a ford?” “Yes,” says Julia, “I have, many times.” “And have you remarked how that by looking upon the water it seemed as though your head swam, so that, if you had not assisted yourself, either by closing your eyes, or by fixing them on the opposite shore, you would have fallen into the water in great danger of drowning?” “Yes, I have noticed that.” “And have you seen how by keeping always for your object the view of the land that lies on the other side, you have not felt that swimming of the head, and so have suffered no danger of drowning?” “I have noticed that too,” replied Julia. Now, it was exactly this same way of looking, not at the black and swirling river, but at the angelic conduct waiting for him at the further bank, and then at the open gate of the Celestial City,–it was this that kept Standfast’s head so steady and his heart like a glowing coal while he stood and talked in the middle of the giddy stream. You would have thought it was Paul himself talking to himself on the road to Assos. For I defy even the apostle himself to have talked better or more boldly to himself even on the solid midday road than Standfast talked to himself in the bridgeless river. “I see myself,” he said, “at the end of my journey now. My toilsome days are all ended. I am going now to see that head that was crowned with thorns, and that face that was spat upon for me. I loved to hear my Lord spoken of, and wherever I have seen the print of His shoe in the earth I have coveted to set my foot also. His name has been to me as a civet-box; yea, sweeter than all perfumes. His word I did use to gather for my food, and for antidotes against my faintings. He has held me, and I have kept me from my iniquities. Yea, my steps He has strengthened in my way.” Now, while Standfast was thus in discourse his countenance changed, his strong man bowed down under him, and after he had said “Take me!” he ceased to be seen of them. But how glorious it was to see how the open region was now filled with horses and chariots, with trumpeters and pipers, and with singers and players on stringed instruments, all to welcome the pilgrims as they went up and followed one another in at the beautiful gate of the city!
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”–Solomon.
“I have overcome the world.”–Our Lord.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof.”–John.
“This bubble world.”–Quarles.
Madam Bubble’s portrait was first painted by the Preacher. And he painted her portrait with extraordinary insight, boldness, and truthfulness. There is that in the Preacher’s portrait of Madam Bubble which only comes of the artist having mixed his colours, as Milman says that Tacitus mixed his ink, with resentment and with remorse. Out of His reading of Solomon and Moses and the Prophets on this same subject, as well as out of His own observation and experience, conflict and conquest, our Lord added some strong and deep and inward touches of His own to that well-known picture, and then named it by the New Testament name of the World. And then, after Him, His longest-lived disciple set forth the same mother and her three daughters under the three names that still stick to them to this day,–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. But it was reserved for John Bunyan to fill up and to finish those outlines of Scripture and to pour over the whole work his own depth and strength of colour, till, altogether, Madam Bubble stands out as yet another masterpiece of our dreamer’s astonishing genius. Let us take our stand before this heaving canvas, then, till we have taken attentive note of some of John Bunyan’s inimitable touches and strokes and triumphs of truth and art. “One in very pleasant attire, but old . . . This woman is a witch . . . I am the mistress of the world, she said, and men are made happy by me . . . A tall, comely dame, something of a swarthy complexion.” In the newly discovered portrait of a woman, by Albert Durer, one of the marks of its genuineness is the way that the great artist’s initials A. D. are pencilled in on the embroidery of the lady’s bodice. And you will note in this gentlewoman’s open dress also how J. B. is inextricably woven in. “She wears a great purse by her side also, and her hand is often in her purse fingering her money. Yea, this is she that has bought off many a man from a pilgrim’s life after he had fairly begun it. She is a bold and an impudent slut also, for she will talk with any man. If there be one cunning to make money in any place, she will speak well of him from house to house . . . She has given it out in some places also that she is a goddess, and therefore some do actually worship her . . . She has her times and open places of cheating, and she will say and avow it that none can show a good comparable to hers. And thus she has brought many to the halter, and ten thousand times more to hell. None can tell of the mischief that she does. She makes variance betwixt rulers and subjects, betwixt parents and children, ‘twixt neighbour and neighbour, ‘twixt a man and his wife, ‘twixt a man and himself, ‘twixt the flesh and the heart.” And so on in the great original. “Had she stood by all this while,” said Standfast, whose eyes were still full of her, “you could not have set Madam Bubble more amply before me, nor have better described her features.” “He that drew her picture was a good limner,” said Mr. Honest, “and he that so wrote of her said true”.
1. “I am the mistress of this world,” says Madam Bubble. And though all the time she is a bold and impudent slut, yet it is the simple truth that she does sit as a queen over this world and over the men of this world. For Madam Bubble has a royal family like all other sovereigns. She has a court of her own, too, with its ball-room presentations and its birthday honours. She has a cabinet council also, and a bar and a bench with their pleadings and their decisions. Far more than all that, she has a church which she has established and of which she is the head; and a faith also of which she is the defender. She has a standing army also for the extension and the protection of her dominions. She levies taxes, too, and sends out ambassadors, and makes treaties, and forms offensive and defensive alliances. But what a bubble all this World is to him whose eyes have at last been opened to see the hollowness and the heartlessness of it all! For all its pursuits and all its possessions, from a child’s rattle to a king’s sceptre, all is one great bubble. Wealth, fame, place, power; art, science, letters; politics, churches, sacraments, and scriptures–all are so many bubbles in Madam Bubble’s World. This wicked enchantress, if she does not find all these things bubbles already, by one touch of her evil wand she makes them so. She turns gold into dross, God into an idle name, and His Word into words only; unless when in her malice she turns it into a fruitful ground of debate and contention; a ground of malice and hatred and ill-will. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Still, she sits a queen and a goddess to a great multitude: to all men, to begin with. And, like a goddess, she sheds abroad her spirit in her people’s hearts and lifts up upon them for a time the light of her countenance.
2. “I am the mistress of the world,” she says, “and men are made happy by me.”–I would like to see one of them. I have seen many men to whom Madam Bubble had said that if they would be ruled by her she would make them great and happy. But though I have seen not a few who have believed her and let themselves be ruled by her, I have never yet seen one happy man among them.–The truth is, Madam Bubble is not able to make men happy even if she wished to do it. She is not happy herself, and she cannot dispense to others what she does not possess. And, yet, such are her sorceries that, while her old dupes die in thousands every day, new dupes are born to her every day in still greater numbers. New dupes who run to the same excess of folly with her that their fathers ran; new dupes led in the same mad dance after Madam Bubble and her three daughters. But, always, and to all men, what a bubble both the mother and all her daughters are! How they all make promises like their lying mother, and how, like her, they all lead men, if not to the halter and to hell, as Greatheart said, yet to a life of vanity and to a death of disappointment and despair! What bubbles of empty hopes both she and her three children blow up in the brains of men! What pictures of untold happiness they paint in the imaginations of men! What pleasures, what successes in life, what honours and what rewards she pledges herself to see bestowed! “She has her times and open places of cheating,” said one who knew her and all her ways well. And when men and women are still young and inexperienced, that is one of her great cheating times. At some seasons of the year, and in some waters, to the fisherman’s surprise and confusion, the fish will sometimes take his bare hook; a bit of a red rag is a deadly bait. And Madam Bubble’s poorest and most perfunctory busking is quite enough for the foolish fish she angles for. And not in our salad days only, when we are still green in judgment, but even to grey hairs, this wicked witch continues to entrap us to our ruin. Love, in all its phases and in all its mixtures, first deludes the very young; and then place, and power, and fame, and money are the bait she busks for the middle- aged and the old; and always with the same bubble end. The whole truth is that without God, the living and ever-present God, in all ages of it and in all parts and experiences of it, our human life is one huge bubble. A far-shining, high-soaring bubble; but sooner or later seen and tasted to be a bubble–a deceit-filled, poison- filled bubble.–Happy by her! All men happy by her! The impudent slut!
3. Another thing about this slut is this, that “she will talk with any man.” She makes up to us and makes eyes at us just as if we were free to accept and return her three offers. And still she talks to us and offers us the same things she offered to Standfast till, to escape her and her offers, he betook himself to his knees. Nay, truth to tell, after she had deceived us and ensnared us till we lay in her net cursing both her and ourselves, so bold and so impudent and so persistent is this temptress slut, and such fools and idiots are we, that we soon lay our eyes on her painted beauty again and our heads in her loathsome lap; our heads on that block over which the axe hangs by an angry hair. “She will talk with any man.” No doubt; but, then, it takes two to make a talk, and the sad thing is that there are few men among us so wise, so steadfast, and so experienced in her ways that they will not on occasion let Madam Bubble talk her talk to them, and talk back again to her. The oldest saint, the oftenest sold and most dearly redeemed sinner, needs to suspect himself to the end, till he is clear out of Madam Bubble’s enchanted ground and for ever over that river of deliverance which shall sweep Madam Bubble and all her daughters into the dead sea for ever.
“The grey-haired saint may fail at last,