"Thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah."--Isaiah.
The first thing that John Bunyan tells us about the land of Beulah is this--that the shortest and the best way to the Celestial City lies directly through that land. The land of Beulah has its own indigenous inhabitants indeed. Old men dwell in the streets of Beulah, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. The streets of the city also are full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof. The land of Beulah has its frequent visitors also, and its welcome guests from the regions above. Some of the shining ones come down from time to time and make a short sojourn in Beulah. The angels in heaven have such a desire to see the lands from which God's saints come up that at certain seasons all the suburbs of the Celestial City are full of those shining servants of God and of the Lamb.
But what made the dreamer to smile and to talk so in his sleep was when he saw that all the upward ways to the Celestial City ran through the land of Beulah. He saw also in his dream how all the pilgrims blamed themselves so bitterly now because they had misspent so much of their time and strength in the ways below, and so had not come sooner to see and to taste this blessed land. But, at the same time, as it was, they all rejoiced with a great joy because that, after all their delays and all their wanderings, their way still led them through the borders of Beulah. Now, my dear fellow-communicants, how shall we find our way at once, and without any more wanderings, into that so desirable land? How shall we attain to walk its streets all the rest of our days with our staff in our hand? How shall we hope to see our boys and our girls playing in the streets of Beulah, and eating all their days of its sweet and its healing fruits? How shall we and our children with us henceforth escape the Slough of Despond, and Giant Despair's dungeon, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death? The word, my brethren, the answer to all that, is nigh unto us, even in our mouth and in our heart. For faith, simple faith, will do all that both for us and for our children beside us. A heart-feeding faith in God, in the word of God, and in the Son of God, will do it. Faith, and then obedience. For obedience, my brethren, is Beulah. All obedience is already Beulah. Holy obedience will bring the whole of Beulah into your heart and into mine at any moment. It is disobedience that makes so many of those who otherwise are true pilgrims to miss so much of the land of Beulah. Ask any affable old man with his staff in his hand for very age, and he will tell you that it was his disobedience that kept him so long out of the land of Beulah. While, let any man, and above all, let any young man, begin early to live a life of believing obedience, and he will grow up and grow old and see his children's children playing around his staff in the streets of Beulah. Let any young man make the experiment for himself upon obedience and upon Beulah. Let him not too easily believe any dreamer or even any seer about obedience and about the land of Beulah. It is his own matter and not theirs; and let him make experiment upon it all for his own satisfaction and assurance. Let any young man, then, try prayer as his first step into obedience, and especially secret prayer. Let him shut his door to-night, and let him see if he is not already inside one of the gates of Beulah. Let him deny himself every day also, if it is only in a very little thing. Let him say sternly to his own heart every hour of temptation, No! never! and on the spot a sweet waft of Beulah's finest spices will fall upon his face. "The ineffable joy of renouncing joy" will every day make the lonely wilderness of this world a constant Beulah to such a man. For, to live at all times, in all places, and in all things for other men, and never and in nothing for yourself--that is the deepest secret of Beulah. To say it, if need be, three times to-night on your face and in a sweat of blood, "Not my will, but Thine be done!"--that will to-night turn the garden of Gethsemane itself into the very garden of Glory. Do you doubt it? Are you not yet able to believe it? Then hear about it from One who has Himself come through it. Hear His word upon the whole matter who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. "Come unto Me," says the King of Beulah, "all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." So after He had washed their feet, and had taken His garments and was set down again, He said unto them, "Know ye what I have done to you? For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. If ye love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever. If a man love Me, he will keep My words; and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and will make Our abode with him. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. These things have I spoken unto you that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. Hitherto ye have asked nothing in My name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am." And thus I saw in my dream that their way lay right through the land of Beulah, in which land they solaced themselves for a season.
2. "They solaced themselves." Now, solace is just the Latin solatium, which, again, is just a soothing, an assuaging, a compensation, an indemnification. Well, that land into which the pilgrims had now come was very soothing to their ruffled spirits and to their weary hearts. It assuaged their many and sore griefs also. It more than compensated them for all their labours and all their afflictions. And it was a full indemnification to them for all that they had forsaken and lost both in beginning to be pilgrims and in enduring to the end. The children of Israel had their first solace in their pilgrimage at Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and threescore and ten palm-trees; and they encamped there by the waters. And then they had their last and crowning solace when the spies came back from Eshcol with a cluster of grapes that they bare between two upon a staff, with pomegranates and figs. And Moses kept solacing his charge all the way through the weary wilderness with such strong consolations as these: "For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig-trees; a land of oil-olive and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack anything in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass." Our Lord spake solace to His doubting and fainting disciples also in many such words as these: "Verily, I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting." The Mount of Transfiguration also was His own Beulah-solace; and the Last Supper and the prayer with which it wound up were given to our Lord and to His disciples as a very Eshcol-cluster from the Paradise above. Now, I saw in my dream that they solaced themselves in the land of Beulah for a season. Yea, here they heard continually the singing of birds. (The Latin poets called the birds solatia ruris, because they refreshed and cheered the rustic labourers with their sweet singing.) And every day the flowers appeared in the earth, and the voice of the turtle was heard in the land. In this country the sun shineth night and day, for there is no night there.
3. "In this country the sun shineth night and day." How much Standfast must have enjoyed that land of light you may guess when you recollect that he came from Darkland, which lies in the hemisphere right opposite to the land of Beulah. In Darkland the sun never shines to be called sunshine at all. All the days of his youth, Standfast told his companions, he had sat beside his father and his mother in that obscure land where to his sorrow his father and his mother still sat. But in Beulah "the rose of evening becomes silently and suddenly the rose of dawn." This land lies beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death, neither could they from this place so much as see Doubting Castle. Now, Doubting Castle is a dismal place for any soul of man to be shut up into. And in that dark hold there are dungeons dug for all kinds of doubting souls. There are dungeons dug for the souls of men whose doubts are in their intellects, as well as for those also whose doubts arise out of their hearts. Some men read themselves into Doubting Castle, and some men sin and sell themselves to its giant. God casts some of His own children all their days into those dungeons as a punishment for their life of disobedience; He casts others down into chains of darkness because of their idleness and unfruitfulness. But Beulah is far away from Doubting Castle. Beulah is a splendid spot for a studious man to lodge in. For what a clear light shines night and day in Beulah! To what far horizons a man's eye will carry him in Beulah! What large speculations rise before him who walks abroad in Beulah! How clear the air is in Beulah, how clean the heart and how unclouded the eye of its inhabitants! The King's walks are in Beulah, and the arbours where He delighteth to be. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall be admitted to see God in the land of Beulah. In the land of Beulah the sun shall no more be thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and thy God thy glory!
4. "In this land also the contract between the bride and the bridegroom is renewed." Now, there is no other day so bitter in any man's life as that day is on which his bridal contract is broken off. And it is the very perfection and last extremity of bitterness when his contract is broken off because of his own past life. Let all those, then, who would fain enter into that sweet contract think well about it beforehand. Let them look back into all their past life. For all their past life will be sure to find them out on the day of their espousals. If they have their enemies--as all espoused men have--this is the hour and the power of their enemies. The day on which any man's espousals are published is a small and local judgment-day to him. For all the men, and, especially, all the women, who have ever been injured by him, or who have injured themselves upon him; all the men and all the women who for any reason, and for no reason, hate both him and his happiness,--their tongues and their pens will take no sleep till they have got his contract if they can, broken off. And even when the bridegroom is too innocent, or the bride too true, or God too good to let the contract continue long to be broken off, that great goodness of God and that great trust of his contracted bride will only make the bridegroom walk henceforth more softly and rejoice with more trembling. And that is a most excellent mind. I know no better mind in which any man, guilty or innocent, can enter on a married life. I sometimes tell the bridegrooms that I can take a liberty with to keep saying to themselves all the way up to the marriage altar the tenth verse of the 103rd psalm; as well as when they come up afterwards to the baptismal font: "He hath not dealt with us after our sins nor rewarded us after our iniquities." And it is surely Beulah itself, at its very best, it is surely Beulah above itself, when a happy bridegroom is full of that humble and happy mind, and when he is in one and the same moment reconciled both to his bride on earth and to his God and Father in heaven. In this land, therefore, in the land of Beulah, the contract between the bride and the bridegroom is renewed; yea, as the bridegroom rejoiceth over his bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.
5. The salaams and salutations also that they were met with as often as they went out to walk in the streets thereof were a constant surprise, satisfaction, and sweetness to the fearful pilgrims. No passer-by ever once frowned or scowled upon them because their faces were Zionward, as they do in our cities. No one ever treated them with scorn or contempt because they were poor or unlettered. No man's face either turned dark at them or was turned away from them as they passed up the street. They never, all the time they abode in Beulah, took to the lanes of the city to escape the unkind looks of any of its citizens. Greatheart's hand was never away from his helmet. His helmet was never well on his head. His always bare and unhelmeted head said to all the men of Beulah, I love and honour and trust you. You would not hurt a hair of my head. And so on, till all the streets of Beulah were one buzz of salutation, congratulation, and benediction. Here they heard voices from out of the city, loud voices, saying, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him. Here all the inhabitants of the country called them the holy people, the redeemed of the Lord, sought out, a city not forsaken.
6. Now, as they walked in this land they had more rejoicing than in parts more remote from the kingdom to which they were bound. And still drawing nigh to that city they had yet a more perfect view thereof. It was builded of pearls and precious stones, also the street thereof was paved with gold, so that by reason of the natural glory of the city and the reflection of the sunbeams upon it, Christian with desire fell sick. Hopeful also had a fit or two of the same disease. Wherefore here they lay by it awhile, crying out because of their pangs, If you see my beloved, tell him that I am sick of love. There are in all good cases of recovery three successive stages of soul-sickness. True, soul-sickness always runs its own course, and it always runs its own course in its own order. This special sickness first shows itself when the soul becomes sick with sin. We have that sickness set forth in many a psalm, notably in the thirty-eighth psalm; and in a multitude of other scriptures, both old and new, this evil disease is dealt with if we had only the eyes and the heart to read such scriptures. The second stage of this sickness is when a sinner is not so much sick with the sin that dwelleth in him as sick of himself. Sinfulness in its second stage becomes so incorporate with the sinner's whole life--sin so becomes the sinner's very nature, and, indeed, himself,--that all his former loathing of sin passes over henceforth into loathing of himself. This is the most desperate stage in any man's sickness; but, bad as it is, incurable as it is, it must be passed into before the third stage of the healing process can either be experienced or understood. In the case in hand, by the time the pilgrims had come to Beulah they had all had their full share of sin and of themselves till they here entered on an altogether new experience. "Christian with desire fell sick," we read, "and Hopeful also had a fit or two of the same disease. Wherefore here they lay by it a while, crying out because of their pangs, If you see my beloved, tell him that I am sick of love." David, Paul, Bernard, Bunyan himself, Rutherford, Brainerd, M'Cheyne, and many others crowd in upon the mind. I shall but instance John Flavel and Mrs. Jonathan Edwards, and so close. John Flavel being once on a journey set himself to improve the time by meditation, when his mind grew intent, till at length he had such ravishing tastes of heavenly joys, and such a full assurance of his interest therein, that he utterly lost the sight and sense of this world and all its concerns, so that for hours he knew not where he was. At last, perceiving himself to be faint, he sat down at a spring, where he refreshed himself, earnestly desiring, if it were the will of God, that he might there leave the world. His spirit reviving, he finished his journey in the same delightful frame, and all that night the joy of the Lord still overflowed him so that he seemed an inhabitant of the other world. The only other case of love-sickness I shall touch on to-night I take from under the pen of a sin-sick and love-sick author, who has been truthfully described as "one of the first, if not the very first, of the masters of human reason," and, again, as "one of the greatest of the sons of men." "There is a young lady in New-haven," says Edwards, "who is so loved of that Great Being who made and rules the world, that there are certain seasons in which this Great Being in some way or other invisible comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, so that she hardly cares for anything but to meditate upon Him. She looks soon to dwell wholly with Him, and to be ravished with His love and delight for ever. Therefore, if you present all this world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and a singular piety in her affections; is most just and conscientious in all her conduct; and you could not persuade her to do anything wrong or sinful, if you would give her the whole world. She loves to be alone, walking in the fields and groves, and seems to have some one invisible always communing with her." And so on, all through her seraphic history. "Now, if such things are too enthusiastic," says the author of A Careful and a Strict Enquiry into the Freedom of the Will, "if such things are the offspring of a distempered brain, let my brain be possessed evermore of that blessed distemper! If this be distraction, I pray God that the whole world of mankind may all be seized with this benign, meek, beneficent, beatific, glorious distraction! The peace of God that passeth all understanding; rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory; God shining in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ; with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of God, and being changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord; being called out of darkness into marvellous light, and having the day-star arise in our hearts! What a sweet distraction is that! And out of what a heavenly distemper and out of what a sane enthusiasm has all that come to us!"
"More I would speak: but all my words are faint; Celestial Love, what eloquence can paint? No more, by mortal words, can be expressed, But all Eternity shall tell the rest."
* LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH