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