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  • CHARLES SPURGEON'S WRITINGS -
    CHAPTER - CHRISTIANA AT THE GATE AND THE RIVER.


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    WHEN Christiana, the wife of Christian, went on pilgrimage, she, of course, went through the same gate as her husband. Thus the story runs: — “Wherefore, methought I saw Christiana and Mercy, and the boys, go all of them up to the gate; to which, when they were come, they betook themselves to a short debate about how they must manage their calling at the gate, and what should be said to Him that did open to them. So it was concluded, since Christiana was the eldest, that she should knock for entrance, and that she should speak to Him that did open, for the rest. So Christiana began to knock; and, as her poor husband did, she knocked, and knocked again. But, instead of any that answered, they all thought that they heard as if a dog came barking upon them; a dog, and a great one too, and this made the women and children afraid; nor durst they, for a while, to knock any more, for fear the mastiff should fly upon them. Now, therefore, they were greatly tumbled up and down in their minds, and knew not what to do: knock they durst not, for fear of the dog; go back they durst not, for fear the Keeper of that gate should espy them as they so went, and should be offended with them. At last, they thought of knocking again, and knocked more vehemently than they did at the first. Then said the Keeper of the gate, ‘Who is there?’ So the dog left off to bark, and He opened unto them.”

    When Bunyan is talking of a strong man’s experiences, he represents arrows as being shot at him. When he speaks of women and children, he represents them as being barked at by a dog. Some timid souls are as alarmed at the baying of a dog as stouter hearts at the flight of flaming darts.

    God does not allow the feeble to be tempted to the same extent as the strong. They are not shot at with fiery arrows; a savage dog barks at them instead. When I am describing the sore temptations of certain Christians, some of you say within yourselves, “But we have never felt anything like that.” Now, do not be vexed with yourselves because you have not had so trying an experience, but be thankful for it. Rejoice that you got in, like Christiana and Mercy, with only a dog to bark at you. The arrows are not to be desired. If, when you came to the Lord Jesus Christ, all the opposition that you met with was nothing more than the mere barking of a dog that could not even bite you, be grateful that you came so easily, and that Satan was held in check so that he was unable to molest you.

    Everything, in all the world, that would keep a sinner from coming to Christ, is nothing better than a dog’s bark. There is not much cause for alarm in the barking of a dog at a distance. If, when I was coming to this Tabernacle, I heard a dog barking, I do not know that I should take much notice of it. If I were in my house at night, and heard a barking dog, it might disturb my sleep, but it would not alarm me very much. If a man were going upon some important mission, and some little whipper-snapper of a cur came yelping at his heels, he would not trouble to notice it. All that devils, or men, can ever say against a soul that comes to Christ, and trusts in Him, is not a whit more to be feared than a dog’s bark. Therefore, I pray you, vex not your heart because of it. Say in your soul, “Christ bids me come, and I will not be kept back by a dog’s bark. Christ calls me; I hear God’s voice; I accept Heaven’s invitation; let the dogs bark till they are weary, if they will; such sweet music is sounding in my ear as drowns their howlings. “‘I’ll go to Jesus, though my sin Hath like a mountain rose; I know His courts, I’ll enter in, Whatever may oppose.’“ I ask you now to listen to what happened when the pilgrims got inside.

    They all entered save Mercy, and she was left without, trembling and crying, as some do after their companions have found peace. However, Mercy knocked again; and, after a while the Keeper of the gate opened it, and she was admitted, and all were welcome and forgiven by the Lord of the way. “So He left them a while, in a summer parlor below, where they entered into talk by themselves; and thus Christiana began: “O Lord, how glad am I that we are got in hither!’ “MERCY. So you well may; but I of all have cause to leap for joy. “ CHRIS. I thought one time, as I stood at the gate (because I had knocked, and none did answer), that all our labor had been lost, especially when that ugly cur made such a heavy barking against us. “ MERCY. But my worst fear was after I saw that you were taken into His favor, and that I was left behind. Now, though I, it is fulfilled which is written, ‘Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.’ (Matthew 14:41.) I had much ado to forbear crying out, ‘Undone! Undone!’ And afraid I was to knock any more; but when I looked up to what was written over the gate, I took courage. I also thought that I must either knock again, or die; so I knocked, but I cannot tell how, for my spirit now struggled betwixt life and death. “ CHRIS. Can you not tell how you knocked? I am sure your knocks were so earnest, that the very sound of them made me start; I thought I never heard such knocking in all my life; I thought you would have come in by violent hands, or have taken the Kingdom by storm. (Matthew 11:12.) “ MERCY. Alas! to be in my case, who that so was could but have done so? You saw that the door was shut upon me, and that there was a most cruel dog thereabout. Who, I say, that was so faint-hearted as I, that would not have knocked with all their might? But, pray, what said my Lord to my rudeness? Was He not angry with me? “ CHRIS. When He heard your lumbering noise, He gave a wonderful innocent smile; I believe what you did pleased Him well enough, for He showed no sign to the contrary. But I marvel in my heart why He keeps such a dog; had I known that before, I fear I should not have had heart enough to have ventured myself in this manner. But now we are in, we are in; and I am glad with all my heart. “ MERCY. I will ask, if you please, next time He comes down, why He keeps such a filthy cur in His yard. I hope He will not take it amiss. “Ay, do,’ said the children, ‘and persuade Him to hang him; for we are afraid he will bite us when we go hence.’“ You see the children wanted the dog hanged, like the negro who said, “If God is so much stronger than de debil, why doesn’t he kill de debil?” I have often wished the same, but it does not so please the Master. “So at last He came down to them again, and Mercy fell to the ground on her face before Him, and worshipped, and said, ‘Let my Lord accept of the sacrifice of praise which I now offer unto Him with the calves of my lips.’ “So He said unto her, ‘Peace be to thee: stand up.’ But she continued upon her face, and said, ‘Righteous art Thou, O Lord, when I plead with Thee; yet let me talk with Thee of Thy judgments.’ (Jeremiah 12:1.) ‘Wherefore dost Thou keep so cruel a dog in Thy yard, at the sight of which, such women and children as we, are ready to fly from Thy gate for fear?’ “He answered and said, ‘That dog has another owner, he also is kept close in another man’s ground, only My pilgrims hear his barking; he belongs to the castle which you see there at a distance, but can come up to the walls of this place. He has frighted many an honest pilgrim from worse to better, by the great voice of his roaring. Indeed, he that owneth him doth not keep him out of any goodwill to Me or Mine, but with intent to keep the pilgrims from coming to Me, and that they may be afraid to knock at this gate for entrance. Sometimes also he has broken out, and has worried some that I loved; but I take all at present patiently. I also give My pilgrims timely help, so they are not delivered to his power, to do to them what his doggish nature would prompt him to. But what! my purchased one, I trow, hadst thou known never so much beforehand, thou wouldst not have been afraid of a dog. The beggars that go from door to door will, rather than they will lose a supposed alms, run the hazard of the bawling, barking, and biting, too, of a dog; and shall a dog — a dog in another man’s yard, a dog whose barking I turn to the profit of pilgrims, — keep any from coming to Me? I deliver them from the lions, my darling from the power of the dog.’“ So, the temptations of poor seeking souls do not come from the Holy Spirit. They come from the devil. Note that the Lord said, “I take all at present patiently.” God shows His great longsuffering, I think, in bearing even with the devil himself. Moreover, He added that He turned the barking of the dog to the profit of the pilgrims. Some of them would come up to the gate half asleep; but when the dog barked, it caused them to be in earnest. It has been well said that a roaring devil is to be preferred to a sleeping devil. It is better to be full of fear and trembling than it is to be asleep. So the Lord overrules the temptations of Satan for the good of poor coming sinners. Well then, do not hang the dog, but let him be turned to good account. Only, poor sinner, fear him not. Come to Jesus, trembler.

    May the Holy Spirit enable thee to come and take him to be thine for ever and ever, and then let the dogs bark as loudly as they please.

    Now let us pass to the end of the wonderful dream, and see Christiana and her friends at the river’s brink.

    How, think you, did the pilgrims, who dwelt in the Land of Beulah, regard death? It was by no means a subject for sorrow. Here is the charming description of the joys of Heaven’s borderland: — “After this, I beheld until they were come unto the Land of Beulah, where the sun shineth night and day. Here, because they are weary, they betook themselves a while to rest; and, because this country was common for pilgrims, and because the orchard and vineyards that were here belonged to the King of the Celestial country, therefore they were licensed to make bold with any of His things. But a little while soon refreshed them here; for the bells did so ring, and the trumpets continually sound so melodiously, that they could not sleep; and yet they received as much refreshing as if they had slept their sleep ever so soundly. Here also the noise of them that walked in the streets, was, ‘More pilgrims are come to town.’ And another would answer, saying, ‘And so many went over the water, and were let in at the golden gates to-day.’ They would cry again, ‘There is now a legion of Shining Ones just come to town, by which we know that there are more pilgrims upon the road; for here they come to wait for them, and to comfort them after all their sorrow.’ Then the Pilgrims go up and walked to and fro; but how were their ears now filled with heavenly noises, and their eyes delighted with celestial visions! In this land they heard nothing, saw nothing, felt nothing, smelt nothing, tasted nothing, that was offensive to their stomach or mind; only when they tasted of the water of the river over which they were to go, they thought that tasted a little bitterish to the palate, but it proved sweet when it was down.”

    Their great joy was that other pilgrims were arriving where they were, and that some were crossing the river every day. The saints who have reached Beulah Land ought to be rejoicing as they hear of pilgrims crossing the river. If we have full faith, we shall think with great joy of the dear ones who have gone in to see the King in His beauty; and instead of saying mournfully, “They are dead,” we shall exclaim triumphantly, “They are now beyond the reach of death!” Instead of supposing that we have lost them, we shall realize that they have only preceded us a little while; we are on the road, and shall soon reach home, and blessed shall be the day when we rejoin them in glory. “Now while they lay here, and waited for the good hour, there was a noise in the town, that there was a post come from the Celestial City, with matter of great importance to one Christiana, the wife of Christian the Pilgrim. So inquiry was made for her, and the house was found where she was; so the post presented her with a letter; the contents whereof were, ‘Hail, good woman! I bring thee tidings that the Master calleth for thee, and expecteth that thou shouldst stand in His presence, in clothes of immortality, within these ten days.’ “When he had read the letter to her, he gave her therewith a sure token that he was a true messenger, and was come to bid her make haste to be gone. The token was, an arrow with a point sharpened with love, let easily into her heart, which by degrees wrought so effectually with her, that at the time appointed she must be gone.”

    Well, so it is with pilgrims still; they have their arrows sharpened with love, a month, or a year, or more before the time appointed for them to be gone.

    They receive notice that the Master expects them soon; and they ripen, and mellow in spirit. “When Christiana saw that her time was come, and that she was the first of this company that was to go over, she called for Mr. Great-heart, her guide, and told him how matters were. So he told he was heartily glad of the news, and could have been glad had the post come for him. Then she bid that he should give advice how all things should be prepared for her journey. So he told her, saying, ‘Thus and thus it must be; and we that survive will accompany you to the river side.’ “Then she called for her children, and gave them her blessing and told them, that she yet read with comfort the mark that was set in their foreheads, and was glad to see them with her there, and that they had kept their garments so white. Lastly, she bequeathed to the poor that little she had, and commanded her sons and her daughters to be ready against the messenger should come for them.”

    As soon as Christiana received her token, she did what most Christian people do, she sent for her minister, whose name was Mr. Great-heart, for he had helped her and her family on pilgrimage till they had come to the river; and what, think you, did Mr. Great-heart say, when she told him that an arrow had entered into her heart? Did he sit down and cry with her? No, “he told her he was heartily glad of the news, and could have been glad had the post come for him.” And, though I am not Mr. Great-heart, I can truly say the same. You and I should not dread the message, but may even long for it, envying those who precede us into the presence of the Well-beloved, and get the first chance of leaning their heads upon that bosom whence they shall never wish to lift them again, for therein they find joy and bliss for ever.

    Christiana did not look upon her departure with any regret; she took loving adieux of her children and all her friends and fellow-pilgrims. Neither do our dear friends, who are summoned from our side, look forward to death with any kind of apprehension. When we sit and talk with them about the world to come, our conversation is that of those who would rejoice when any one of us entered into rest, and would be confident of meeting again on the other side of the river. “Now the day drew on, that Christiana must be gone. So the road was full of people to see her take her journey. But, behold, all the banks beyond the river were full of horses and chariots, which were come down from above to accompany her to the city gate. So she came forth, and entered the river, with a beckon of farewell to those that followed her to the river side. The last words that she was heard to say here, were, ‘I come, Lord, to be with Thee, and bless Thee.’ “So her children and friends returned to their place, for those that waited for Christiana had carried her out of their sight. So she went and called, and entered in at the gate with all the ceremonies of joy that her husband Christian had done before her. At her departure her children wept. But Mr. Great-heart and Mr. Valiant played upon the well-tuned cymbal and harp for joy.”

    What do you think they say in Heaven about our dear ones who fall asleep in Jesus? Why, the angels shall come to meet them! Lazarus died, and was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom, and that is what happens to all the saints. Yes, the angels come to meet the saints, and to escort them to their eternal seats. They do not mourn when the sons of God come to glory. They stretch out their glittering hands, and say, “Welcome, brother; welcome, sister! You have long been pilgrims; now you shall rest for ever.

    Welcome to your eternal home!”

    And how do you suppose the saints in light regard the arrival of those who come a little later? Doubtless, they welcome them with gladsome acclamations; and all through the golden streets they run crying, “More pilgrims are come to town! More pilgrims are come to town! More redeemed ones have come home!” And the Lord Jesus Christ smiles, and says, “Father, I thank Thee because those whom Thou hast given Me are with Me where I am.” He welcomes them. And God the Father, too, is glad to greet them in glory. Are you not all glad when your children come home? Lives there a man among you who does not rejoice to see his boys and girls come back to him even for the brief holidays? We like to hear their sweet voices, though they do trouble us sometimes; but then they are our own children, our own offspring, and somehow, to our ears, there is no voice so sweet as theirs; and to God there is no music like the voices of His children. He is glad to get them home to Himself, to go no more out for ever. And the blessed Spirit, too, let us not forget Him — He delights to see the holy souls He formed anew, those with whom He strove, with whom He wrought so many years. As a workman rejoices over his perfected workmanship, so does the Spirit of God rejoice over those whom He has made to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.

    Bunyan puts it beautifully, — “But glorious it was to see how the upper region was filled with horses and chariots, with trumpeters and pipers, with singers and players on stringed instruments, to welcome the Pilgrims as they went up, and followed one another in at the beautiful gate of the city.”

    Brothers and sisters, if you are in Christ, do not be afraid to die, for dying grace shall be given to you for your dying moments.

    Remember how these pilgrims crossed the river. Mr. Stand-fast said, “The waters, indeed, are to the palate bitter, and to the stomach cold; yet the thoughts of what I am going to, and of the convoy that waits for me on the other side, lie as a glowing coal at my heart.” He also said, “This river has been a terror to many; yea, the thoughts of it have also often frightened me. Now, methinks, I stand easy, my foot is fixed upon that on which the feet of the priests that bare the ark of the covenant stood, while Israel went over this Jordan.”

    Remember how poor Mr. Ready-to-halt left his crutches behind him. Are you not glad of that, dear friend, you who have been ready-to-halt for years? There was dear old Mr. Feeble-mind, who said to Valiant-for-truth, “As for my feeble mind, that I will leave behind me, for that I have no need of it in the place whither I go. Nor is it worth bestowing upon the poorest pilgrim; wherefore, when I am gone, I desire that you, Mr. Valiant, would bury it in a dung-hill.” And then there was poor Mr. Despondency, with his daughter Much-afraid, who crossed the stream together. “The last words of Mr. Despondency were, ‘Farewell night, welcome day.’“ As for Miss Much-afraid, she went through the river singing, but nobody could make out quite what the words were, she seemed to be beyond the power of expressing her delight.

    Oh, it is wonderful how these pilgrims do when they come to die! They may tremble while they live; but they do not tremble when they die. The weakest of them become the strongest then. I have helped many pilgrims on the way, and among them some Mr. Feeble-minds and Mr. Fearings, and a very great worry have they been to me while on the road; but, at the last, either the river has bee empty, or they have gone over dry-shod, or else, when they have come to the very depths of it, they have played the man so well, that I have been astounded. I never imagined that they could have been so brave. They have stumbled at a straw before; but in death they have climbed mountains. They have been the most weak, timid, sparrow-like people that you could meet with; and now they take to themselves eagle’s wings wherewith to fly away.

    Wherefore I counsel you, go to the graves of your loved ones with songs of gladness. Stand there, and if you drop a tear let the smile of your gratitude to God light it up, and transform it into a gem; and then go home, each one of you, and wait trustfully until your own change comes. As for myself, as I have often reminded you at the close of our joyous Sabbath services in the great congregation at the Tabernacle, so would I say again, — “All that remains for me Is but to love and sing, And wait until the angels come To bear me to their King.”

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