"But the fearful [literally, the timid and the cowardly] shall have their part in the second death."--Revelation xxi.
No sooner had Secret bidden Christiana farewell than she began with all her might to make ready for her great journey. "Come, my children, let us pack up and begone to the gate that leads to the Celestial City, that we may see your father and be with him, and with his companions, in peace, according to the laws of that land." And then: "Come in, if you come in God's name!" Christiana called out, as two of her neighbours knocked at her door. "Having little to do at home this morning," said the elder of the two women, "I have come across to kill a little time with you. I spent last night with Mrs. Light-mind, and I have some good news for you this morning." "I am just preparing for a journey this morning," said Christiana, packing up all the time, "and I have not so much as one moment to spare." You know yourselves what Christiana's nervousness and almost impatience were. You know how it upsets your good temper and all your civility when you are packing up for a long absence from home, and some one comes in, and will talk, and will not see how behindhand and how busy you are. "For what journey, I pray you?" asked Mrs. Timorous, for that was her visitor's name. "Even to go after my good husband," the busy woman said, and with that she fell a-weeping. But you must read the whole account of that eventful morning in Christiana's memoirs for yourselves till you have it, as Secret said, by root-of-heart. On the understanding that you are not total strangers to that so excellently-written passage I shall now venture a few observations upon it.
1. Well, to begin with, Mrs. Timorous was not a bad woman, as women went in that town and in that day. Her companions,--her gossips, as she would have called them,--were far worse women than she was; and, had it not been for her family infirmity, had it not been for that timid, hesitating, lukewarm, and half-and-half habit of mind which she had inherited from her father, there is no saying what part she might have played in the famous expedition of Christiana and Mercy and the boys. Her father had been a pilgrim himself at one time; but he had now for a long time been known in the town as a turncoat and a temporary, and all his children had unhappily taken after their father in that. Had her father held on as he at one time had begun--had he held on in the face of all fear and all danger as Christiana's noble husband had done--to a certainty his daughter would have started that morning with Christiana and her company, and would have been, if a timid, easily scared, and troublesome pilgrim, yet as true a pilgrim, and made as welcome at last, as, say, Miss Much-afraid, Mr. Fearing, and Mr. Ready-to-halt were made. But her father's superficiality and shakiness, and at bottom his warm love of this world and his lukewarm love of the world to come, had unfortunately all descended to his daughter, till we find her actually reviling Christiana on that decisive morning, and returning to her dish of tea and tittle-tattle with Mrs. Bats-eyes, Mrs. Inconsiderate, Mrs. Light-mind, and Mrs. Know-nothing.
2. The thing that positively terrified Mrs. Timorous at the very thought of setting out with Christiana that morning was that intolerable way in which Christiana had begun to go back upon her past life as a wife and a mother. Christiana could not hide her deep distress, and, indeed, she did not much try. Such were the swarms of painful memories that her husband's late death, the visit of Secret, and one thing and another had let loose upon Christiana's mind, that she could take pleasure in nothing but in how she was to escape away from her past life, and how she could in any way mend it and make up for it where she could not escape from it. "You may judge yourself," said Mrs. Timorous to Mrs. Light-mind, "whether I was likely to find much entertainment with a woman like that!" For, Mrs. Timorous too, you must know, had a past life of her own; and it was that past life of hers all brought back by Christiana's words that morning that made Mrs. Timorous so revile her old friend and return to the society we so soon see her with. Now, is not this the case, that we all have swarms of evil memories that we dare not face? There is no single relationship in life that we can boldly look back upon and fully face. As son or as daughter, as brother or as sister, as friend or as lover, as husband or as wife, as minister or as member, as master or as servant--what swarms of hornet-memories darken our hearts as we so look back! Let any grown-up man, with some imagination, tenderness of heart, and integrity of conscience, go back step by step, taking some time to it,--at a new year, say, or a birthday, or on some such suitable occasion: let him go over his past life back to his youth and childhood--and what an intolerable burden will be laid on his heart before he is done! What a panorama of scarlet pictures will pass before his inward eye! What a forest of accusing fingers will be pointed at him! What hissing curses will be spat at him both by the lips of the living and the dead! What untold pains he will see that he has caused to the innocent and the helpless! What desolating disappointments, what shipwrecks of hope to this man and to that woman! What a stone of stumbling he has been to many who on that stone have been for ever broken and lost! What a rock of offence even his mere innocent existence, all unknown to himself till afterwards, has been! Swarms, said Christiana. Swarms of hornets armed, said Samson. And many of us understand what that bitter word means better than any commentator on Bunyan or on Milton can tell us. One of the holiest men the Church of England ever produced, and one of her best devotional writers, used to shut his door on the night of every first day of the week, and on his knees spread out a prayer which always contained this passage: "I worship Thee, O God, on my face. I smite my breast and say with the publican, God be merciful to me a sinner; the chief of sinners; a sinner far above the publican. Despise me not--an unclean worm, a dead dog, a putrid corpse. Despise me not, despise me not, O Lord. But look upon me with those eyes with which Thou didst look upon Magdalene at the feast, Peter in the hall, and the thief on the cross. O that mine eyes were a fountain of tears that I might weep night and day before Thee! I despise and bruise myself that my penitence is not deeper, is not fuller. Help Thou mine impenitence, and more and more pierce, rend, and crush my heart. My sins are more in number than the sand. My iniquities are multiplied, and I have no relief." Perish your Puritanism, and your prayer-books too! I hear some high-minded and indignant man saying. Perish your Celestial City and all my desire after it, before I say the like of that about myself! Brave words, my brother; brave words! But there have been men as blameless as you are, and as brave-hearted over it, who, when the scales fell off their eyes, were heard crying out ever after: O wretched man that I am! And: Have mercy on me, the chief of sinners! And so, if it so please God, will it yet be with you.
3. "Having had little to do this morning," said Mrs. Timorous to Mrs. Light-mind, "I went to give Christiana a visit." "Law," I read in his most impressive Life, "by this time was well turned fifty, but he rose as early and was as soon at his desk as when he was still a new, enthusiastic, and scrupulously methodical student at Cambridge." Summer and winter Law rose to his devotions and his studies at five o'clock, not because he had imperative sermons to prepare, but because, in his own words, it is more reasonable to suppose a person up early because he is a Christian than because he is a labourer or a tradesman or a servant. I have a great deal of business to do, he would say. I have a hardened heart to change; I have still the whole spirit of religion to get. When Law at any time felt a temptation to relax his rule of early devotion, he again reminded himself how fast he was becoming an old man, and how far back his sanctification still was, till he flung himself out of bed and began to make himself a new heart before the servants had lighted their fires or the farmers had yoked their horses. Shame on you, he said to himself, to lie folded up in a bed when you might be pouring out your heart in prayer and in praise, and thus be preparing yourself for a place among those blessed beings who rest not day and night saying, Holy, Holy, Holy. "I have little to do this morning," said Mrs. Timorous. "But I am preparing for a journey," said Christiana. "I have now a price put into my hand to get gain, and I should be a fool of the greatest size if I should have no heart to strike in with the opportunity."
4. Another thing that completely threw out Christiana's idle visitor and made her downright angry was the way she would finger and kiss and read pieces out of the fragrant letter she held in her hand. You will remember how Christiana came by that letter she was now so fond of. "Here," said Secret, "is a letter I have brought thee from thy husband's King." So she took it and opened it, and it smelt after the manner of the best perfume; also it was written in letters of gold. "I advise thee," said Secret, "that thou put this letter in thy bosom, that thou read therein to thy children until you have all got it by root-of-heart." "His messenger was here," said Christiana to Mrs. Timorous, "and has brought me a letter which invites me to come." And with that she plucked out the letter and read to her out of it, and said: "What now do you say to all that?" That, again, is so true to our own life. For there is nothing that more distastes and disrelishes many people among us than just that we should name to them our favourite books, and read a passage out of them, and ask them to say what they think of such wonderful words. Samuel Rutherford's Letters, for instance; a book that smells to some nostrils with the same heavenly perfume as Secret's own letter did. A book, moreover, that is written in the same ink of gold. Ask at afternoon tea to-morrow, even in so-called Christian homes, when any of the ladies round the table last read, and how often they have read, Grace Abounding, The Saint's Rest, The Religious Affections, Jeremy Taylor, Law, a Kempis, Fenelon, or such like, and they will smile to one another and remark after you are gone on your strange taste for old-fashioned and long-winded and introspective books. "Julia has buried her husband and married her daughters, and since that she spends her time in reading. She is always reading foolish and unedifying books. She tells you every time she sees you that she is almost at the end of the silliest book that ever she read in her life. But the best of it is that it serves to dispose of a good deal of her spare time. She tells you all romances are sad stuff, yet she is very impatient till she can get all she can hear of. Histories of intrigue and scandal are the books that Julia thinks are always too short. The truth is, she lives upon folly and scandal and impertinence. These things are the support of her dull hours. And yet she does not see that in all this she is plainly telling you that she is in a miserable, disordered, reprobate state of mind. Now, whether you read her books or no, you perhaps think with her that it is a dull task to read only religious and especially spiritual books. But when you have the spirit of true religion, when you can think of God as your only happiness, when you are not afraid of the joys of eternity, you will think it a dull task to read any other books. When it is the care of your soul to be humble, holy, pure, and heavenly-minded; when you know anything of the guilt and misery of sin, or feel a real need of salvation, then you will find religious and truly spiritual books to be the greatest feast and joy of your mind and heart." Yes. And then we shall thank God every day we live that He raised us up such helpers in our salvation as the gifted and gracious authors we have been speaking of.
5. "The further I go the more danger I meet with," said old Timorous, the father, to Christian, when Christian asked him on the Hill Difficulty why he was running the wrong way. "I, too, was going to the City of Zion," he said; "but the further on I go the more danger I meet with." And, in saying that, the old runaway gave our persevering pilgrim something to think about for all his days. For, again and again, and times without number, Christian would have gone back too if only he had known where to go. Go on, therefore, he must. To go back to him was simply impossible. Every day he lived he felt the bitter truth of what that old apostate had so unwittingly said. But, with all that he kept himself in his onward way till, dangers and difficulties, death and hell and all, he came to the blessed end of it. And that same has been the universal experience of all the true and out-and-out saints of God in all time. If poor old Timorous had only known it, if he had only had some one beside him to remind him of it, the very thing that so fatally turned him back was the best proof possible that he was on the right and the only right way; ay, and fast coming, poor old castaway, to the very city he had at one time set out to seek. Now, it is only too likely that there are some of my hearers at this with it to-night, that they are on the point of giving up the life of faith, and hope, and love, and holy living; because the deeper they carry that life into their own hearts the more impossible they find it to live that life there. The more they aim their hearts at God's law the more they despair of ever coming within sight of it. My supremely miserable brother! if this is any consolation to you, if you can take any crumb of consolation out of it, let this be told you, that, as a matter of fact, all truly holy men have in their heart of hearts had your very experience. That is no strange and unheard-of thing which is passing within you. And, indeed, if you could but believe it, that is one of the surest signs and seals of a true and genuine child of God. Dante, one of the bravest, but hardest bestead of God's saints, was, just like you, well-nigh giving up the mountain altogether when his Greatheart, who was always at his side, divining what was going on within him, said to him--
"Those scars That when they pain thee most then kindliest heal."
"The more I do," complained one of Thomas Shepard's best friends to him, "the worse I am." "The best saints are the most sensible of sin," wrote Samuel Rutherford. And, again he wrote, "Sin rages far more in the godly than ever it does in the ungodly." And you dare not deny but that Samuel Rutherford was one of the holiest men that ever lived, or that in saying all that he was speaking of himself. And Newman: "Every one who tries to do God's will"--and that also is Newman himself--"will feel himself to be full of all imperfection and sin; and the more he succeeds in regulating his heart, the more will he discern its original bitterness and guilt." As our own hymn has it:
"They who fain would serve Thee best Are conscious most of wrong within."
Without knowing it, Mrs. Timorous's runaway father was speaking the same language as the chief of the saints. Only he said, "Therefore I have turned back," whereas, first Christian, and then Christiana his widow, said, "Yet I must venture!"
And so say you. Say, I must and I will venture! Say it; clench your teeth and your hands and say it. Say that you are determined to go on towards heaven where the holy are--absolutely determined, though you are quite well aware that you are carrying up with you the blackest, the wickedest, the most corrupt, and the most abominable heart either out of hell or in it. Say that, say all that, and still venture. Say all that and all the more venture. Venture upon God of whom such reassuring things are said. Venture upon the Son of God of whom His Father is represented as saying such inviting things. Venture upon the cross. Survey the wondrous cross and then make a bold venture upon it. Think who that is who is bleeding to death upon the cross, and why? Look at Him till you never afterwards can see anything else. Look at God's Eternal, Divine, Well-pleasing Son with all the wages of sin dealt out to Him, body and soul, on that tree to the uttermost farthing. And, devil incarnate though you indeed are, yet, say, if that spectacle does not satisfy you, and encourage you, and carry your cowardice captive. Venture! I say, venture! And if you find at last that you have ventured too far--if you have sinned and corrupted yourself beyond redemption--then it will be some consolation and distinction to you in hell that you had out-sinned the infinite grace of God, and had seen the end of the unsearchable riches of Christ. Timid sinner, I but mock thee, therefore venture! Fearful sinner, venture! Cowardly sinner, venture. Venture thyself upon thy God, upon Christ thy Saviour, and upon His cross. Venture all thy guilt and all thy corruption taken together upon Christ hanging upon His cross, and make that tremendous venture now!
* LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH