'Thy neck is an iron sinew.'--Jehovah to the house of Jacob.
'King Zedekiah humbled not himself, but stiffened his neck.'--The Chronicles.
'He humbled himself.'--Paul on our Lord.
All John Bunyan's Characters, Situations, and Episodes are collected into this house to-night. Obstinate and Pliable are here; Passion and Patience; Simple, Sloth, and Presumption; Madame Bubble and Mr. Worldly-wiseman; Talkative and By-ends; Deaf Mr. Prejudice is here also, and, sitting close beside him, stiff Mr. Loth-to-stoop; while good old Mr. Wet-eyes and young Captain Self-denial are not wholly wanting. It gives this house an immense and an ever-green interest to me to see character after character coming trooping in, Sabbath evening after Sabbath evening, each man to see himself and his neighbour in John Bunyan's so truthful and so fearless glass. But it stabs me to the heart with a mortal stab to see how few of us out of this weekly congregation are any better men after all we come to see and to hear. At the same time, such a constant dropping will surely in time wear away the hardest rock. Let that so stiff old man, then, stiff old Mr. Loth-to-stoop, came forward and behold his natural face in John Bunyan's glass again to-night. 'Lord, is it I?' was a very good question, though put by a very bad man. Let us, one and all, then, put the traitor's question to ourselves to-night. Am I stiff old Loth-to-stoop?--let every man in this house say to himself all through this service, and then at home when reviewing the day, and then all to-morrow when to stoop will be so loathsome and so impossible to us all.
1. To begin, then, at the very bottom of this whole matter, take stiff old Loth-to-stoop as a guilty sinner in the sight of God. Let us take this stiff old man in this dreadful character to begin with, because it is in this deepest and most dreadful aspect of his nature and his character that he is introduced to us in the Holy War. And I shall stand aside and let John Bunyan himself describe Loth-to-stoop in the matter of his justification before God. 'That is a great stoop for a sinner to have to take,' says our apostolic author in another classical place, 'a too great stoop to have to suffer the total loss of all his own righteousness, and, actually, to have to look to another for absolutely everything of that kind. That is no easy matter for any man to do. I assure you it stretches every vein in his heart before he will be brought to yield to that. What! for a man to deny, reject, abhor, and throw away all his prayers, tears, alms, keeping of Sabbaths, hearing, reading, and all the rest, and to admit both himself and them to be abominable and accursed, and to be willing in the very midst of his sins to throw himself wholly upon the righteousness and obedience of another man! I say to do that in deed and in truth is the biggest piece of the cross, and therefore it is that Paul calls it a suffering. "I have suffered the loss of all things that I might win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness."' That is John Bunyan's characteristic comment on stiff old Loth-to-stoop as a guilty sinner, with the offer of a full forgiveness set before him.
2. And then our so truthful and so fertile author goes on to give us Loth-to-stoop as a half-saved sinner; a sinner, that is, trying to make his own terms with God about his full salvation. Through three most powerful pages we see stiff old Loth-to-stoop engaged in beating down God's unalterable terms of salvation, and in bidding for his full salvation upon his own reduced and easy terms. It was the tremendous stoop of the Son of God from the throne of God to the cradle and the carpenter's shop; and then, as if that were not enough, it was that other tremendous stoop of His down to the Garden and the Cross,--it was these two so tremendous stoops of Jesus Christ that made stiff old Loth-to-stoop's salvation even possible. But, with all that, his true salvation was not possible without stoop after stoop of his own; stoop after stoop which, if not so tremendous as those of Christ, were yet tremendous enough, and too tremendous, for him. Old Loth-to-stoop carries on a long and a bold debate with Emmanuel in order to lessen the stoop that Emmanuel demands of him; and your own life and mine, my brethren, at their deepest and at their closest to our own heart, are really at bottom, like Loth-to-stoop's life, one long roup of salvation, in which God tries to get us up to His terms and in which we try to get Him down to our terms. His terms are, that we shall sell absolutely all that we have for the salvation of our souls; and our terms are, salvation or no salvation, to keep all that we have and to seek every day for more. God absolutely demands that we shall stoop to the very dust every day, till we become the poorest, the meanest, the most despicable, and the most hopeless of men; whereas we meet that divine demand with the proud reply--Is Thy servant a dog? It was with this offended mind that stiff old Loth-to-stoop at last left off from Emmanuel's presence; he would die rather than come down to such degrading terms. And as Loth-to-stoop went away, Emmanuel looked after him, well remembering the terrible night when He Himself was, not indeed like Loth-to-stoop, nor near like him, but when His own last stoop was so deep that it made Him cry out, Father, save Me from this hour! and again, If it be possible let this so tremendous stoop pass from Me. For a moment Emmanuel Himself was loth to stoop, but only for a moment. For He soon rose from off His face in a bath of blood, saying, Not My will, but Thine be done! When Thomas A Kempis is negotiating with the Loth-to-stoops of his unevangelical day, we hear him saying to them things like this: 'Jesus Christ was despised of men, forsaken of His friends and lovers, and in the midst of slanders. He was willing, under His Father's will, to suffer and to be despised, and darest thou to complain of any man's usage of thee? Christ, thy Master, had enemies and back-biters, and dost thou expect to have all men to be thy friends and benefactors? Whence shall thy patience attain her promised crown if no adversity befall thee? Suffer thou with Jesus Christ, and for His sake, if thou wouldst reign with Him. Set thyself, therefore, to bear manfully the cross of thy Lord, who, out of love, was crucified for thee. Know for certain that thou must lead a daily dying life. And the more that thou diest to thyself all that the more shalt thou live unto God.' With many such words as these did Thomas teach the saints of his day to stoop to their daily cross; a daily cross then, which has now been for long to him and to them an everlasting crown.
3. And speaking of A Kempis, and having lately read some of his most apposite chapters, such as that on the Holy Fathers and that on Obedience and Subjection, leads me on to look at Loth-to-stoop when he enters the sacred ministry, as he sometimes does. When a half-converted, half-subdued, half-saved sinner gets himself called to the sacred ministry his office will either greatly hasten on his salvation, or else it will greatly hinder and endanger it. He will either stoop down every day to deeper and ever deeper depths of humility, or he will tower up in pride of office and in pride of heart past all hope of humility, and thus of salvation. The holy ministry is a great nursing-house of pride as we see in a long line of popes, and prelates, and priests, and other lords over God's heritage. And our own Presbyterian polity, while it hands down to us the simplicity, the unity, the brotherhood, and the humility of the apostolic age, at the same time leaves plenty of temptation and plenty of opportunity for the pride of the human heart. Our preaching and pastoral office, when it is aright laid to our hearts, will always make us the meekest and the humblest of men, even when we carry the most magnificent of messages. But when our own hearts are not right the very magnificence of our message, and the very authority of our Master, become all so many subtle temptations to pride, pique, self-importance, and lothness-to-stoop. With so much still to learn, how slow we ministers are to stoop to learn! How still we stand, and even go back, when all other men are going forward! How few of us have made the noble resolution of Jonathan Edwards: 'Resolved,' he wrote, 'that, as old men have seldom any advantage of new discoveries because these are beside a way of thinking they have been long used to: resolved, therefore, if ever I live to years, that I shall be impartial to hear the reasons of all pretended discoveries, and to receive them, if rational how long soever I have been used to another way of thinking.' Let all ministers, then, young and old, resolve to stoop with Jonathan Edwards, who shines, in his life and in his works, like the cherubim with knowledge, and burns like the seraphim with love.
And then, when, not having so resolved, our thin vein of youthful knowledge and experience has been worked to the rock; when grey hairs are here and there upon us, how slow we are to stoop to that! How unwilling we are to let it light on our hearts that our time is past; that we are no longer able to understand, or interest, or attract the young; and, besides, that that is not all their blame, no, nor ours either, but simply the order and method of Divine Providence. How slow we are to see that Divine Providence has other men standing ready to take up our work if we would only humbly lay it down;--how loth we are to stoop to see all that! How unwilling we are to make up our minds, we old and ageing ministers, and to humble our hearts to accept an assistant or to submit to a colleague to stand alongside of us in our unaccomplished work!
4. In public life also, as we call it, what disasters to the state, to the services, and to society, are constantly caused by this same Loth-to-stoop! When he holds any public office; when he becomes the leader of a party; when he is promoted to be an adviser of the Crown; when he is put at the head of a fleet of ships, or of an army of men, what untold evils does Loth-to-stoop bring both on himself and on the nation! An old statesman will have committed himself to some line of legislation or of administration; a great captain will have committed himself to some manoeuvre of a squadron or of a division, or to some plan of battle, and some subordinate will have discovered the error his leader has made, and will be bold to point it out to him. But stiff old Loth-to-stoop has taken his line and has passed his word. His honour, as he holds it, is committed to this announced line of action; and, if the Crown itself should perish before his policy, he will not stoop to change it. How often you see that in great affairs as well as in small. How seldom you see a public man openly confessing that he has hitherto all along been wrong, and that he has at last and by others been set right. Not once in a generation. But even that once redeems public life; it ennobles public life; and it saves the nation and the sovereign who possess such a true patriot. Consistency and courage, independence and dignity, are high-sounding words; but openness of mind, teachableness, diffidence, and humility always go with true nobility as well as with ultimate success and lasting honour.
* LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH