WE are now to consider John Bunyan’s own description of Christian joining the church. He pictures one true pilgrim, namely, Faithful, who never did join the church, but went on his way alone until Christian overtook him. He was a great loser by doing so, as Christian said to him, when speaking of the Palace Beautiful, “I wish you had called at the house, for they would have showed you so many rarities, that you would scarce have forgot them to the day of your death.” Still, Faithful, being an eminent saint, with great depth of knowledge, and experience, and with much firmness of conviction, served his Master well without joining the church; and you remember that Bunyan depicts him as being carried up, from the blazing fagots of martyrdom in Vanity Fair, in a chariot with a couple of horses, “through the clouds, with sound of trumpet, the nearest way to the Celestial Gate.”
But Christian, and Christiana, and Mercy, and almost if not all the other pilgrims, stopped at the Palace Beautiful, by which Bunyan means the place of special Christian fellowship, — the Church of God on earth. This Palace Beautiful was a little beyond the top of the Hill Difficulty. Christian wasted some valuable time through sleeping in the arbor, losing his roll, and having to go back to find it; but, at last, says Bunyan, — “while he was bewailing his unhappy miscarriage, he lift up his eyes, and, behold, there was a very stately palace before him, the name of which was Beautiful; and it stood just by the highway side. “So, I saw in my dream, that he made haste and went forward, that if possible he might get lodging there. Now before he had gone far, he entered into a very narrow passage, which was about a furlong off of the porter’s lodge; and, looking very narrowly before him as he went, he espied two lions in the way.”
When a person is about to be united with a Christian church, it often happens that he sees difficulties ahead, like these “two lions in the way.”
He begins to say to himself, “I cannot pass through such an ordeal.” It seems to him such a trial to have to talk with a Christian brother about his experience, and a truly awful thing to have to come before the church, and a still more dreadful thing to be baptized; and, so, poor Mr. Timidity begins to quiver and quake. Sometimes, even worse fears than these come up, and the perplexed soul cries, “Shall I be able to hold on if I profess to be a follower of Christ? Shall I continue to bear a good testimony for Him in after years as well as now? What will my husband say about the matter?
What will my father say? What will those I work with say when they hear that I have avowed myself to be a disciple of Christ? That was poor Christian’s trouble “he espied two lions in the way.” “‘Now,’ thought he, ‘I see the dangers that Mistrust and Timorous were driven back by.’ (The lions were chained but he saw not the chains.)” Unbelief generally has a good eye for the lions, but a blind eye for the chains that hold them back. It is quite true that there are difficulties in the way of those who profess to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not desire to conceal this fact, and we do not wish you to come amongst us without counting the cost. But it is also true that these difficulties have a limit which they cannot pass. Like the lions in the pilgrim’s pathway, they are chained, and restrained, and absolutely under the control of the Lord God Almighty. “Then he was afraid, and thought nothing but death was before him. But the porter at the lodge, whose name is Watchful, perceiving that Christian made a halt as if he would go back, cried unto him, saying, ‘Is thy strength so small? (Mark 8:34-37.) Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith where it is, and for discovery of those that have none. Keep in the midst of the path, and no hurt shall come unto thee.”
Watchful means the good minister, who ought to be ever watchful for souls. He told the pilgrim to “keep in the midst of the path;” and we give you the same advice. Live consistently, walk carefully; — not right at the edge of the way, as though you were half inclined to wander from it; but on the crown of the causeway, right in the middle of the King’s highway.
Walk in integrity and uprightness, whatever may be the consequence of doing so. For a while, difficulties may dismay you, but they really cannot hurt you. The lions are chained.
What is the difficulty in the way of any of you who desire to make a profession of your faith in Christ? I ask you earnestly to look it in the face; for, I believe, if you do so, it will soon vanish. Consider the difficulty carefully, and then consider the far greater difficulty in your way if you do not profess the faith which you say that you do truly hold. Remember these words of the Lord Jesus, which you can never explain away, “He that denieth Me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.” “Oh!” you say, “I do not deny Christ: I merely do not confess Him.” Yes, but that is just what our Savior meant by denial of Him, for He had just before said, “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God;’ so that the expression, “He that denieth Me before men” is evidently intended to apply to him who does not confess Christ. Therefore, see to it that you do come forward, and testify that you belong to Christ, if you really are His. When Israel turned aside to worship the golden calf, “Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.” May there be many such who will now come, and avow their faith, because the Lord has by His grace, called them unto Himself! “Then I saw that he went on, trembling for fear of the lions; but taking good heed to the directions of the porter; he heard them roar, but they did him no harm. Then he clapped his hands, and went on till he came and stood before the gate where the porter was. Then said Christian, to the porter, ‘Sir, what house is this?
And may I lodge here to-night?’ The porter answered, ‘This house was built by the Lord of the hill, and He built it for the relief and security of pilgrims.’“ The purpose for which the Palace Beautiful — the Church of the living God — was established, is that “pilgrims to Zion’s city bound” may there find rest, refreshment, shelter, and protection. I wonder what some of us would have done if it had not been for the Sabbath services of the sanctuary, the gathering of ourselves together for worship in its varied forms of preaching, prayer, and praise. When I am away from England, traveling on the Continent, — in places where there is no public assembly for worship, — as the Sabbaths come round, I always try to meet with two or three Christian friends, that we may read the Word of God together, and pray, and sing, and, if possible, remember our Lord in the breaking of bread; and we have found Christ very precious at such times. Yet, for all that, I always miss this Tabernacle, and its hallowed services; nothing can fill their place in my heart. I have often felt just as the psalmist did when he was away from Jerusalem; it seemed almost more than he could bear, and he longed to enjoy even the meanest place within the Courts of the Lord’s house. I feel sure that it must be so with all of you who love the Lord; if you were banished from the place where God’s name is specially recorded, and where you have so often been fed with the finest of the wheat, what would you do? Perhaps it is night with some of you, as it was with Christian when he came to the Palace Beautiful; and, therefore, you want shelter, and much beside. Well, the Church of Christ is ordained for this very purpose, — that, by the use of the means of grace, and by mutual fellowship, Christians may be comforted and relieved. “The porter also asked whence he was, and whither he was going. “ CHR. I am come from the City of Destruction, and am going to Mount Zion; but because the sun is now set, I desire, if I may, to lodge here to-night. “ POR. What is your name? “ CHR. My name is now Christian, but my name at the first was Graceless; I came of the race of Japheth, whom God will persuade to dwell in the tents of Shem. (Genesis 9:27.) “ POR. But how doth it happen you come so late? The sun is set.”
Ah! that is a question I often have to ask pilgrims, — ”Why have you come so late to join the church? Why did you not confess Christ sooner?” So many put off this very important matter for a long while, as though it were of no account. I notice that, if they postpone it for a month or two, they are very apt to put it off for a year or two; and if they do that, they are most likely to put it off for a still longer period. They have been truly converted, they are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet, because they do not join the church at the first, they have continued postponing and postponing until some of them have actually died out of membership with the church. I do not say, of course that they have been lost through this neglect; but I do say that they have lost many blessings, and many opportunities of glorifying God by the way, through their disobedience to His plain command.
Christian had to make a very sorrowful confession: — “I had been here sooner, but that, “wretched man that I am!” I slept in the arbor that stands on the hill-side; nay, I had, notwithstanding that, been here much sooner, but that, in my sleep, I lost my evidence, and came without it to the brow of the hill, and then, feeling for it, and finding it not, I was forced, with sorrow of heart, to go back to the place where I slept my sleep, where I found it; and now I am come.’“ He gave the true reason for arriving so late at the Palace Beautiful, but it was a great pity that he had to admit that he had been slumbering, and so had lost his evidence, and was obliged to go back for it. When you and I fall into a sleepy state, we are very liable to lose our evidences, and to think that we are not children of God at all. In this way, we lose our first love, our highest joys, and the unwavering confidence in God that we once possessed; and we rightly feel, that we cannot join the church till we get these blessings back; so, like poor Christian, we have to go down Hill Difficulty, and to toil up the steep ascent again, — treading the same road three times instead of only once, because we went to sleep in the arbor when we ought to have been pressing on towards the Palace Beautiful.
Thrice happy shall we be if, like the pilgrim, though late, we safely reach the gate of that holy house “built by the Lord of the hill for the relief and security of pilgrims.”