CONCLUDED. “‘But,’ said Christian, ‘will your practice stand a trial at law?’” I like Christian’s way of bringing the matter in dispute to a test; and I desire to pass on, to each one of you, the question that he put to Formalist and Hypocrisy, “Will your practice stand a trial at law?” Blessed be God, if we are relying on the Lord Jesus Christ, we need not fear the result of any trial at law. It is according to the law, surely, that a man should keep his promise, and that an oath should be binding upon him who takes it; and we have these “two immutable things in which it was impossible for God to lie,” — namely, His promise and His oath, — ”that we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” “God has promised to forgive All who on His Son believe;” — and that is a matter which will stand a trial at law. If we believe on Him, He must and will forgive us.
The two men could not answer that straight question, so they said to Christian, “If we get into the way, what matter which way we get in? If we are in, we are in; thou art but in the way, who, as we perceive, came in at the gate; and we are also in the way, that came tumbling over the wall.”
So, many say, nowadays, “You are professors, and we are professors; you come to the Lord’s Supper, and we come to the Lord’s Supper; you are a Christian, and we are Christians; one is as good as another, you know; and every tub stands on its own bottom.” These people declare that they are just as good as you Christians are, and I have sometimes known Formalist to say, “I am a great deal better than you are, for you often have to complain that your life is not up to the mark that you know you ought to reach. I have heard you confess, in your prayers, that you are far from perfect. Now, I am perfect.” Have you never heard Formalist talk like that?
I have, many a time. I have known persons come to join the church, who, in answer to my questions, have told me that they were perfect. One man assured me that he had lived for six months without sin in thought, and word, and deed. I asked him if he was sure of that, and he replied, “Yes.” “Well, then,” I answered, “I cannot propose you for membership in this church, because there is nobody else of that sort amongst us, and I am afraid that you would be unhappy amongst such poor imperfect creatures as we are.” So I sent him on his way.
There are others, who are not such fools as to claim absolute perfection, but they think that they are marvelously near it. I was amused, to-day, when I read an advertisement of “an ivory church-service, with gilt edges, and lined with satin.” That is for the use of “miserable sinners” on Sundays!
It seemed odd to me; yet how much of our religion is just like it! It is very fine work for those who dwell in dust and ashes. There is much of pride even in our humility.
When Formalist and Hypocrisy said to Christian, “We see not wherein thou differest from us, but by the coat that is on thy back, which was, as we trow, given thee by some of thy neighbors, to hide the shame of thy nakedness,” the true pilgrim made a most suitable reply. He said: — “It was given me by the Lord of the place whither I go; and that, as you say, to cover my nakedness with. And I take it as a token of His kindness to me; for I had nothing but rags before. And, besides, thus I comfort myself as I go: Surely, think I, when I come to the gate of the city, the Lord thereof will know me for good, since I have His coat on my back, — a coat that He gave me freely in the day that He stripped me of my rags.’” This is one of the things that the formalist cannot imitate, — the robe of Christ’s righteousness, accompanied by a humble sense of one’s own unrighteousness and raggedness. The hypocrite will not own that he is unrighteous, and the formalist will not confess that all his righteousnesses are as filthy rags. He thinks that his own righteousness is all that God requires of him, and that it will answer his purpose to the full. But the man with a broken heart and a contrite spirit will never be ashamed to say, in the presence of men, “Yes, I was ragged, and lost, and ruined, and you have spoken a true word, though you meant it in ridicule; for I am nothing but a beggar wearing somebody else’s garments.” I like that trait in Christian’s character, that the very thing with which these men twitted him, was that for which he felt that he had good reason to be grateful to God.
I am inclined to think, however, that Christian was not so wise in saying to these two men what he next told them. After speaking of his coat, he added: — “‘I have, moreover, a mark in my forehead, of which perhaps, you have taken no notice, which one of my Lord’s most intimate associates fixed there in the day that my burden fell off my shoulders. I will tell you, moreover, that I had then given me a roll, sealed, to comfort me by reading, as I go on the way; I was also bid to give it in at the Celestial Gate, in token of my certain going in after it: all which things, I doubt, you want, and want them because you came not in at the gate.’ “To these things they gave him no answer; only they looked upon each other, and laughed.”
Of course they did; what did they know about the mark in the forehead and the roll in the hand? They had joined the church, they had “taken the sacrament,” they had attended to the usual ceremonies; so they must all be right. “A mark in your forehead,” said one, “what is the good of that?” “And the roll,” said the other, “what is that?” Be not too fast, dear friends, in telling everybody about the secret of the Lord, or about your inward experience. When you meet with anyone who can appreciate these things, then make a point of glorifying God by your testimony; but when you are talking with a mere formalist, or a cunning hypocrite, it is better, as soon as you perceive that he is trusting to what he finds in himself, to show him the falsehood of his own supposed righteousness, than to say much concerning what the Lord has done for you. Beware of disobeying the command of our Lord concerning casting pearls before swine, lest they turn again, and rend you. When you talk of walking humbly before God, they will at once begin to laugh at you.
Bunyan’s next description of the pilgrim always interests me; he says: — “Then I saw that they went on all, save that Christian kept before, who had no more talk but with himself, and that sometimes sighingly and sometimes comfortably.”
I know that John Bunyan never saw me, but he has sketched my portrait most accurately, for that is just the style in which I talk to myself, “sometimes sighingly and sometimes comfortably.” I look within, and then I talk sighingly; then I look away to Christ, and that enables me to talk comfortably. I look around, and see all sorts of trials and troubles, and then I talk sighingly; then I look up to my Father’s love, and I talk comfortably.
I look sometimes to some of the Lord’s people who are not walking as they should, and then I talk sighingly; then I think of the Lord’s eternal purpose to present them faultless before the presence of His glory, and then I talk comfortably. A man passed me in the street, the other day, talking to himself so loudly that I thought he was speaking to me. It is not always wise to do that; but still, as we go through the world, we might talk to worse people than ourselves. May I make a suggestion, as I know some friends who are very fond of talking? If they would not mind talking more to themselves, the bad reputations of their neighbors would not be known quite so fast, and it would be quite as pleasant for themselves, I should think. Some people do love gossip and scandal; but it would be better if they would do as David did, and pour out their soul in talking to themselves. To talk about Divine things to your own soul, and to hold communion with your own heart upon your bed, is a wise and blessed exercise.
After that Bunyan goes on to say: — “I beheld, then, that they all went on till they came to the foot of the Hill Difficulty; at the bottom of which was a spring. There were also in the same place two others way besides that which came straight from the gate; one turned to the left hand, and the other to the right, at the bottom of the hill; but the narrow way lay right up the hill, and the name of the going up the side of the hill is called Difficulty.”
Now comes the pinch. Christian has been through the Slough of Despond, so he is not afraid of climbing Hill Difficulty. He has been to the foot of the Cross, and there lost his burden, so he stoops down, and drinks at the spring, and says, “By God’s help, I will climb the Hill Difficulty, too.”
Perhaps it was a little persecution, or maybe it was some discord in the church; perchance it was a loss in business, or it might have been some outward trial; but, whatever it was, he braced himself for the trial. The true Christian ever says within himself, — “Through floods and flames, if Jesus lead, I’ll follow where He goes.” But our friend Formalist saw that there was another course open to him.
He reasoned within himself that it really was preposterous that people should be put to any inconvenience for the sake of religion. We often hear young people talk about what an ordeal they have to go through, without knowing what an ordeal really means; for, to go through an ordeal, was to walk bare-footed over red-hot ploughshares. So Formalist said that he did not mind being religious when it was respectable, and if it involved no giving up of fashionable parties, or of marriage with an ungodly person; but when it brought down the anger of a father, or the opposition of one’s old companions, he said he could not endure that. So he would take the path that led to the left, and wound round the bottom of the Hill Difficulty; then he would come out on the other side, where he should find Christian coming down with as much difficulty as he went up, and then he would say to him, “I have missed all this trouble, and yet have come where you are, safe and sound.” It was not so, however, for Formalist went along the road called Danger, which led him into a great wood, where he was completely lost.
As for Hypocrisy, he took the road called Destruction, “which led him into a wide field, full of dark mountains, where he stumbled and fell, and rose no more.” I suppose this means that he went off into the wilds of sin. He said to himself, “I have had enough of this kind of thing. If I am going to be abused for the sake of religion, or to lose my customers, I shall give it all up, and do as others do; I shall take my ease, and enjoy myself; I do not see why I should go on denying myself.” SO, beginning with one worldly pleasure, he went on to another and another, and soon, he “fell, and rose no more.” The devil did not grow to be a devil in a day, and the worst of sinners do not become so all at once. A man may be a very decent-looking hypocrite for a long time. The horns and the hoofs may not peep out just yet; they grow by degrees, and show themselves in due time. The course of rebellion against God may e very gradual, but it increases in rapidity as you progress in it; and if you begin to run down the hill, the ever-increasing impetus will send you down faster and faster to destruction. You Christians ought to watch against the beginning of worldly conformity. I do believe that the growth of worldliness is like strife, which is as the letting out of water. Once you begin, there is no knowing where you will stop. I sometimes get this question put to me, concerning certain worldly amusements, “May I do so-and-so?” I am very sorry whenever anyone asks me that question, because it shows that there is something wrong, or it would not be raised at all. If a person’s conscience lets him say, “Well, I can go to A,” he will very soon go on to B, C, D, E, and through all the letters of the alphabet. When thieves would rob our houses, and find they cannot get in at the front door, they search for a little window at the back, and they put a small boy in there. As soon as he is in, he opens the door to the thieves, and the house is easily rifled. In so-called little sins there is great mischief. When Satan cannot catch us with a big sin, he will try a little one. It does not matter to him, as long as he catches his fish, what bait he uses. Beware of the beginning of evil, for many, who bade fair to go right, have turned aside, and perished amongst the dark mountains in the wide field of sin.
It is sad to have to speak thus concerning Formalist and Hypocrisy, who were once as good people to look upon as you and I now are, but who perished so miserably. God grant that we may be neither formalists nor hypocrites, but true pilgrims, to Zion’s city bound, and He shall have the praise and the glory!