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Bunyan Characters First Series: 6. GOODWILL, THE GATEKEEPER

By Alexander Whyte

      'Goodwill.'--Luke 2. 14.

      'So in process of time Christian got up to the gate. Now there was written over the gate, Knock, and it shall be opened unto you. He knocked, therefore, more than once or twice, saying, May I now enter here? when at last there came a grave person to the gate, named Goodwill, who asked him who was there?' The gravity of the gatekeeper was the first thing that struck the pilgrim. And it was the same thing that so struck some of the men who saw most of our Lord that they handed down to their children the true tradition that He was often seen in tears, but that no one had ever seen or heard Him laugh. The prophecy in the prophet concerning our Lord was fulfilled to the letter. He was indeed a man of sorrows, and He early and all His life long had a close acquaintance with grief. Our Lord had come into this world on a very sad errand. We are so stupefied and besotted with sin, that we have no conception how sad an errand our Lord had been sent on, and how sad a task He soon discovered it to be. To be a man without sin, a man hating sin, and hating nothing else but sin, and yet to have to spend all His days in a world lying in sin, and in the end to have all that world of sin laid upon Him till He was Himself made sin,--how sad a task was that! Great, no doubt, as was the joy that was set before our Lord, and sure as He was of one day entering on that joy, yet the daily sight of so much sin in all men around Him, and the cross and the shame that lay right before Him, made Him, in spite of the future joy, all the Man of Sorrow Isaiah had said He would be, and made light-mindedness and laughter impossible to our Lord,--as it is, indeed, to all men among ourselves who have anything of His mind about this present world and the sin of this world, they also are men of sorrow, and of His sorrow. They, too, are acquainted with grief. Their tears, like His, will never be wiped off in this world. They will not laugh with all their heart till they laugh where He now laughs. Then it will be said of them, too, that they began to be merry. 'What was the matter with you that you did laugh in your sleep last night? asked Christiana of Mercy in the morning. I suppose you were in a dream. So I was, said Mercy, but are you sure that I laughed? Yes, you laughed heartily; but, prithee, Mercy, tell me thy dream. Well, I dreamed that I was in a solitary place and all alone, and was there bemoaning the hardness of my heart, when methought I saw one coming with wings towards me. So he came directly to me, and said, Mercy, what aileth thee? Now, when he heard my complaint, he said, Peace be to thee. He also wiped mine eyes with his handkerchief, and clad me in silver and gold; he put a chain about my neck also, and earrings in mine ears, and a beautiful crown upon my head. So he went up. I followed him till we came to a golden gate; and I thought I saw your husband there. But did I laugh? Laugh! ay, and well you might, to see yourself so well.'

      But to return and begin again. Goodwill, who opened the gate, was, as we saw, a person of a very grave and commanding aspect; so much so, that in his sudden joy our pilgrim was a good deal overawed as he looked on the countenance of the man who stood in the gate, and it was some time afterwards before he understood why he wore such a grave and almost sad aspect. But afterwards, as he went up the way, and sometimes returned in thought to the wicket-gate, he came to see very good reason why the keeper of that gate looked as he did look. The site and situation of the gate, for one thing, was of itself enough to banish all light-mindedness from the man who was stationed there. For the gatehouse stood just above the Slough of Despond, and that itself filled the air of the place with a dampness and a depression that could be felt. And then out of the downward windows of the gate, the watcher's eye always fell on the City of Destruction in the distance, and on her sister cities sitting like her daughters round about her. And that also made mirth and hilarity impossible at that gate. And then the kind of characters who came knocking all hours of the day and the night at that gate. Goodwill never saw a happy face or heard a cheerful voice from one year's end to the other. And when any one so far forgot himself as to put on an untimely confidence and self-satisfaction, the gatekeeper would soon put him through such questions as quickly sobered him if he had anything at all of the root of the matter in him. Terror, horror, despair, remorse, chased men and women up to that gate. They would often fall before his threshold more dead than alive. And then, after the gate was opened and the pilgrims pulled in, the gate had only opened on a path of such painfulness, toil, and terrible risk, that at whatever window Goodwill looked out, he always saw enough to make him and keep him a grave, if not a sad, man. It was, as he sometimes said, his meat and his drink to keep the gate open for pilgrims; but the class of men who came calling themselves pilgrims; the condition they came in; the past, that in spite of all both he and they could do, still came in through his gate after them, and went up all the way with them; their ignorance of the way, on which he could only start them; the multitudes who started, and the handfuls who held on; the many who for a time ran well, but afterwards left their bones to bleach by the wayside; and all the impossible-to-be-told troubles, dangers, sorrows, shipwrecks that certainly lay before the most steadfast and single-hearted pilgrim--all that was more than enough to give the man at the gate his grave and anxious aspect.

      Not that his great gravity, with all the causes of it, ever made him a melancholy, a morose, a despairing, or even a desponding man. Far from that. The man of sorrows Himself sometimes rejoiced in spirit. Not sometimes only, but often He lifted up His heart and thanked His Father for the work His Father had given Him to do, and for the success that had been granted to Him in the doing of it. And as often as He looked forward to the time when he should finish His work and receive His discharge, and return to His Father's house, at the thought of that He straightway forgot all His present sorrows. And somewhat so was it with Goodwill at his gate. No man could be but at bottom happy, and even joyful, who had a post like his to occupy, a gate like his to keep, and, altogether, a work like his to do. No man with his name and his nature can ever in any circumstances be really unhappy. 'Happiness is the bloom that always lies on a life of true goodness,' and this gatehouse was full of the happiness that follows on and always dwells with true goodness. Goodwill cannot have more happiness till he shuts in his last pilgrim into the Celestial City, and then himself enters in after him as a shepherd after a lost sheep.

      The happy, heavenly, divine disposition of the gatekeeper was such, that it overflowed from the pilgrim who stood beside him and descended upon his wife and children who remained behind him in the doomed city. So full of love was the gatekeeper's heart, that it ran out upon Obstinate and Pliable also. His heart was so large and so hospitable, that he was not satisfied with one pilgrim received and assisted that day. How is it, he asked, that you have come here alone? Did any of your neighbours know of your coming? And why did he who came so far not come through? Alas, poor man, said Goodwill, is the celestial glory of so little esteem with him that he counteth it not worth running the hazards of a few difficulties to obtain it? Our pilgrim got a lifelong lesson in goodwill to all men at that gate that day. The gatekeeper showed such deep and patient and genuine interest in all the pilgrim's past history, and in all his family and personal affairs, that Christian all his days could never show impatience, or haste, or lack of interest in the most long-winded and egotistical pilgrim he ever met. He always remembered, when he was becoming impatient, how much of his precious time and of his loving attention his old friend Goodwill had given to him. Our pilgrim got tired of talking about himself long before Goodwill had ceased to ask questions and to listen to the answers. So much was Christian taken with the courtesy and the kindness of Goodwill, that had it not been for his crushing burden, he would have offered to remain in Goodwill's house to run his errands, to light his fires, and to sweep his floors. So much was he taken captive with Goodwill's extraordinary kindness and unwearied attention. And since he could not remain at the gate, but must go on to the city of all goodwill itself, our pilgrim set himself all his days to copy this gatekeeper when he met with any fellow-pilgrim who had any story that he wished to tell. And many were the lonely and forgotten souls that Christian cheered and helped on, not by his gold or his silver, nor by anything else, but just by his open ear. To listen with patience and with attention to a fellow-pilgrim's wrongs and sorrows, and even his smallest interests, said this Christian to himself, is just what Goodwill so winningly did to me.

      With all his goodwill the grave gatekeeper could not say that the way to the Celestial City was other than a narrow, a stringent, and a heart-searching way. 'Come,' he said, 'and I will tell thee the way thou must go.' There are many wide ways to hell, and many there be who crowd them, but there is only one way to heaven, and you will sometimes think you must have gone off it, there are so few companions; sometimes there will be only one footprint, with here and there a stream of blood, and always as you proceed, it becomes more and more narrow, till it strips a man bare, and sometimes threatens to close upon him and crush him to the earth altogether. Our Lord in as many words tells us all that. Strive, He says, strive every day. For many shall seek to enter into the way of salvation, but because they do not early enough, and long enough, and painfully enough strive, they come short, and are shut out. Have you, then, anything in your religious life that Christ will at last accept as the striving He intended and demanded? Does your religion cause you any real effort--Christ calls it agony? Have you ever had, do you ever have, anything that He would so describe? What cross do you every day take up? In what thing do you every day deny yourself? Name it. Put your finger on it. Write it in cipher on the margin of your Bible. Would the most liberal judgment be able to say of you that you have any fear and trembling in the work of your salvation? If not, I am afraid there must be some mistake somewhere. There must be great guilt somewhere. At your parents' door, or at your minister's, or, if their hands are clean, then at your own. Christ has made it plain to a proverb, and John Bunyan has made it a nursery and a schoolboy story, that the way to heaven is steep and narrow and lonely and perilous. And that, remember, not a few of the first miles of the way, but all the way, and even through the dark valley itself. 'Almost all that is said in the New Testament of men's watching, giving earnest heed to themselves, running the race that is set before them, striving and agonising, fighting, putting on the whole armour of God, pressing forward, reaching forth, crying to God day and night; I say, almost all that we have in the New Testament on these subjects is spoken and directed to the saints. Where those things are applied to sinners seeking salvation once, they are spoken of the saints' prosecution of their salvation ten times' (Jonathan Edwards). If you have a life at all like that, you will be sorely tempted to think that such suffering and struggle, increasing rather than diminishing as life goes on, is a sign that you are so bad as not to be a true Christian at all. You will be tempted to think and say so. But all the time the truth is, that he who has not that labouring, striving, agonising, fearing, and trembling in himself, knows nothing at all about the religion of Christ and the way to heaven; and if he thinks he does, then that but proves him a hypocrite, a self-deceived, self-satisfied hypocrite; there is not an ounce of a true Christian in him. Says Samuel Rutherford on this matter: 'Christ commandeth His hearers to a strict and narrow way, in mortifying heart-lusts, in loving our enemy, in feeding him when he is hungry, in suffering for Christ's sake and the gospel's, in bearing His cross, in denying ourselves, in becoming humble as children, in being to all men and at all times meek and lowly in heart.' Let any man lay all that intelligently and imaginatively alongside of his own daily life. Let him name some such heart-lust. Let him name also some enemy, and ask himself what it is to love that man, and to feed him in his hunger; what it is in which he is called to suffer for Christ's sake and the gospel's, in his reputation, in his property, in his business, in his feelings. Let him put his finger on something in which he is every day to deny himself, and to be humble and teachable, and to keep himself out of sight like a little child; and if that man does not find out how narrow and heart-searching the way to heaven is, he will be the first who has so found his way thither. No, no; be not deceived. Deceive not yourself, and let no man deceive you. God is not mocked, neither are His true saints. 'Would to God I were back in my pulpit but for one Sabbath,' said a dying minister in Aberdeen. 'What would you do?' asked a brother minister at his bedside. 'I would preach to the people the difficulty of salvation,' he said. All which things are told, not for purposes of debate or defiance, but to comfort and instruct God's true people who are finding salvation far more difficult than anybody had ever told them it would be. Comfort My people, saith your God. Speak comfortably to My people. Come, said Goodwill, and I will teach thee about the way thou must go. Look before thee, dost thou see that narrow way? That is the way thou must go. And then thou mayest always distinguish the right way from the wrong. The wrong is crooked and wide, and the right is straight as a rule can make it,--straight and narrow.

      Goodwill said all that in order to direct and to comfort the pilgrim; but that was not all that this good man said with that end. For, when Christian asked him if he could not help him off with his burden that was upon his back, he told him: 'As to thy burden, be content to bear it until thou comest to the place of deliverance, for there it will fall from thy back of itself.' Get you into the straight and narrow way, says Goodwill, with his much experience of the ways and fortunes of true pilgrims; get you sure into the right way, and leave your burden to God. He appoints the place of deliverance, and it lies before thee. The place of thy deliverance cannot be behind thee, and it is not in my house, else thy burden would have been already off. But it is before thee. Be earnest, therefore, in the way. Look not behind thee. Go not into any crooked way; and one day, before you know, and when you are not pulling at it, your burden will fall off of itself. Be content to bear it till then, says bold and honest Goodwill, speaking so true to pilgrim experience. Yes; be content, O ye people of God, crying with this pilgrim for release from your burden of guilt, and no less those of you who are calling with Paul for release from the still more bitter and crushing burden made up of combined guilt and corruption. Be content till the place and the time of deliverance; nay, even under your burden and your bonds be glad, as Paul was, and go up the narrow way, still chanting to yourself, I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is only becoming that a great sinner should tarry the Lord's leisure; all the more that the greatest sinner may be sure the Lord will come, and will not tarry. The time is long, but the thing is sure.

      And now two lessons from Goodwill's gate:--

      1. The gate was shut when Christian came up to it, and no one was visible anywhere about it. The only thing visible was the writing over the gate which told all pilgrims to knock. Now, when we come up to the same gate we are disappointed and discouraged that the gatekeeper is not standing already upon his doorstep and his arms round our neck. We knelt to-day in secret prayer, and there was only our bed or our chair visible before us. There was no human being, much less to all appearance any Divine Presence, in the place. And we prayed a short, indeed, but a not unearnest prayer, and then we rose up and came away disappointed because no one appeared. But look at him who is now inheriting the promises. He knocked, says his history, more than once or twice. That is to say, he did not content himself with praying one or two seconds and then giving over, but he continued in prayer till the gatekeeper came. And as he knocked, he said, so loud and so impatient that all those in the gatehouse could hear him,

      'May I now enter here? Will he within
      Open to sorry me, though I have been
      A wandering rebel? Then shall I
      Not fail to sing his lasting praise on high.'

      2. 'We make no objections against any,' said Goodwill; 'notwithstanding all that they have done before they come hither, they are in no wise cast out.' He told me all things that ever I did, said the woman of Samaria, telling her neighbours about our Lord's conversation with her. And, somehow, there was something in the gatekeeper's words that called back to Christian, if not all the things he had ever done, yet from among them the worst things he had ever done. They all rose up black as hell before his eyes as the gatekeeper did not name them at all, but only said 'notwithstanding all that thou hast done.' Christian never felt his past life so black, or his burden so heavy, or his heart so broken, as when Goodwill just said that one word 'notwithstanding.' 'We make no objections against any; notwithstanding all that they have done before they come hither, they are in no wise cast out.'


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See Also:
   4. HELP
   15. CHARITY
   16. SHAME
   20. BY-ENDS
   25. SINCERE


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