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?"
* LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH