SOME of you know Mr. Fearing very well, for he has lived in your house, and perhaps he is even a very near relative of yours. When Mr. Greatheart, who represents the minister of Christ who is well taught, and strong in grace, was walking along with Father Honest, who stands for an aged, experienced, sober-minded Christian, John Bunyan tells us: — “The guide asked the old gentleman, if he did not know one Mr. Fearing, that came on pilgrimage out of his parts. “ HON. Yes, very well, said he. He was a man that had the root of the matter in him; but he was one of the most troublesome pilgrims that ever I met with in all my days.”
This is an exact description of many who are on the road to Heaven. They are thoroughly sincere, nobody can doubt that; but they are “so nervous.” I think that is how they describe themselves. “So doubtful, so mistrustful, so suspicious, so over-loaded with doubts and fears,” would, perhaps, be a truer verdict. What wonder, then, that they are amongst “the most troublesome pilgrims” that you can meet with? Bunyan gives us a further dialogue concerning Mr. Fearing: — “ GREAT-HEART. I perceive you knew him; for you have given a very right character of him. “ HON. Knew him! I was a great companion of his; I was with him most an end; when he first began to think of what would come upon us hereafter, I was with him. “ GREAT-HEART. I was his guide from my Master’s house to the gates of the Celestial City. “ HON. Then you knew him to be a troublesome one. “ GREAT-HEART. I did so, but I could very well bear it; for men of my calling are oftentimes entrusted with the conduct of such as he was.”
The minister of Christ is not to think the most fearful to be the most troublesome; but as it is his employment to help the timid, and instrumentally, deliver them from their distress, he should be glad to find out those feeble minds, and seek to do them a good turn for the Master’s sake. “ HON. Well then, pray let us hear a little of him, and how he managed himself under your conduct. “ GREAT-HEART. Why, he was always afraid that he should come short of whither he had a desire to go.”
This is a great fear which haunts many, — the fear lest, after all, they should be castaways, lest they should prove hypocrites, lest they should fall from grace, lest they should be tempted above what they are able to bear; lest, in some evil hour, they should be given up by God the Holy Spirit, or be deserted by the Lord Jesus, and so should fall into great sin, and ultimately perish. This is a fear which haunts tens of thousands. “Everything frightened him that he heard anybody speak of, that had but the least appearance of opposition in it.”
We meet with some such still. You cannot speak to them about the sorrows of the Christian’s life but they say, “We shall never be able to bear these.” If you refer to conflicts, they reply, We are sure we shall never succeed in fighting our way to Heaven.” If they hear of anybody who has backslidden, they exclaim, “That is just what we shall do; we are certain that is what will happen to us.” If you have ever talked with these people, you know how difficult it is to describe them, for they are so gloomy that they seem to darken the sun even at noon-day. “I hear that he lay roaring at the Slough of Despond for about a month together; nor durst he, for all he saw several go over before him, venture, though they, many of them, offered to lend him their hand.”
Poor soul! There he lay “roaring”, as Bunyan says; that is, sighing, crying, bemoaning himself. He could not pluck up courage to go across, but there he lay by the month together. Others came up, and went across safely, and offered to lend him their hand, but it was no use. You may try to help these desponding ones, but you will need a wisdom superior to your own to deal with them effectually, for it must be admitted that they are wonderfully willful although they are very weak. While they are as incapable as little children, they are also often as willful as strong men, and they will stick to their fears, do what you will to drive them out of them. I have sometimes gone a-hunting after these people; and when I have dug them out of one hole, they have crept into another. I have thought, “Now, I shall have you; I shall make an end of your doubts this time;” but they have sprung up in quite another quarter. They seem to be most ingenious at inventing reasons for suspicion concerning themselves. When everybody else can see something that is good in them, they say, “Pray don’t flatter us; don’t try to deceive us!” “He would not go back again neither.”
Ah, that is the best of it! Mr. Fearing will not go back. There are some boastful ones, who set out boldly enough, but they turn their backs in the day of battle. Mr. Fearing goes very slowly, but he is very sure. He will not go back; he knows there is no hope for him there, so he will even go on a little further, though he is half-afraid to venture. “‘The Celestial City,’ he said, ‘he should die if he came not to it’; and yet was dejected at every difficulty, and stumbled at every straw that anybody cast in his way. Well, after he had lain at the Slough of Despond a great while, as I have told you, one sunshine morning, I do not know how, he ventured, and so got over; but when he was over, he would scarce believe it.”
Just like him! It may be a very bright “sunshine morning” when some sweet promise enlightens his soul, when the Spirit of God comes to him like a dove, bearing comfort on His wings. Then the good man begins to feel unusually and extraordinarily strong for him, so he makes a dash, and gets through his trouble; but he can hardly believe that he has really got over it.
He is quite sure that he shall sink now. When Mr. Fearing got out of the Slough, he could not understand how it was that he had done it. It must be amazing grace that had brought such a poor sinner as he was out of it, but he felt so unworthy that he was persuaded he would be cast away even then. He could scarcely believe in his heart that it was true. It was said of Peter, when the iron gate of the prison opened of its own accord, and he found himself in the street, “He wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.” Just so, when Mr. Fearing does get a gleam of comfort, he thinks that it is too good to be true. “He had, I think, a Slough of Despond in his mind; a slough that he carried everywhere with him, or else he could never have been as he was. So he came up to the gate, you know what I mean, that stands at the head of the way; and there also he stood a good while before he would adventure to knock.”
He would not venture to pray. He was overcome with fear at the very first stage of spiritual life. He had it in his heart to knock at mercy’s gate, to use the means of grace, to inquire after Christ, but apprehension stayed his hand, and sealed his lips. “When the gate was opened, he would give back, and give place to others and say that he was not worthy.”
Others might go in, others might succeed, but he was quite unworthy. The poor soul was perfectly right. He was by no means worthy; but, then, no one is. We do not knock at the gate because we are worthy. When we give away alms, we like to bestow them on worthy persons; but our Lord Jesus Christ never found one yet who was worthy of His mercy, and therefore He takes care to give it to those unworthy ones who are ready to confess their need. “For, for all he got before some to the gate, yet many of them went in before him. There the poor man would stand, shaking and shrinking. I dare say, it would have pitied one’s heart to have seen him; nor would he go back again.”
He was still afraid to pray, and could not think that God would hear him; but he would groan and cry, if he could not pray. Moreover, he would not go back again. He could not refrain from using the means of grace, though he could not think there was any comfort in them for him. Still, he would not neglect them. No matter though the prayer-meeting did not cheer him, he would be present; and though the sermon, he thought, could not be meant for such as he was, yet still he would hear it. Oh! these are strange drawings which the Lord puts into the heart of poor, melancholy, feebleminded ones, so that He draws them even against their own wills, and draws them with a kind of despairing hope — or hopeful despair — right away from themselves to Christ. “At last, he took the hammer that hanged on the gate in his hand, and gave a small rap or two.”
He dared not do more. It was only “a small rap or two,” — something like this, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” or, “Lord, save me!” “Then one opened to him.”
You see, the Lord does not make us all knock alike. The strong ones may have to knock long before the door is opened; but to the weak ones the door springs open at the first tap. Master Bunyan tells us, in his “Solomon’s Temple Spiritualized,” that the posts on which the doors of the temple hung “were of the olive-tree, that fat and oil tree,” so that the hinges would be kept well oiled; and when any poor soul came to enter the doors, they would swing open at once. “Then one opened to him, but he shrank back as before. He that opened stepped out after him, and said, ‘Thou trembling one, what wantest thou?’
With that he fell down to the ground. He that spoke to him wondered to see him so faint. So he said to him, ‘Peace be to thee; up, for I have set open the door to thee. Come in, for thou art blessed.’ With that he got up, and went in trembling; and when he was in, he was ashamed to show his face.”
Just such are these trembling ones. When they do get some kind of comfort and enjoyment, they are ashamed to show their faces. They are glad to get into the dark, and to sit in any quiet corner where nobody can observe them.