“When Christian was stepping in at the Wicket Gate, Good-will gave him a pull. Then said Christian, ‘What means that?’ Good-will said to him, ‘A little distance from this gate there is erected a strong castle, of which Beelzebub is the captain; from thence both he and them that are with him shoot arrows at those that come up to this gate, if haply they may die before they enter in.’ “Then said Christian, ‘I rejoice and tremble.’“\parIN this passage, Bunyan alludes to the fact that, when souls are just upon the verge of salvation, they are usually assailed by the most violent temptations. I may be addressing some who are just now in that condition.
They are seeking the Savior; they have begun to pray; they are anxious to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; yet they are meeting with difficulties such as they never knew before, and they are almost at their wits’ end. It may help them if we describe some of the arrows which were shot at us when we came to the gate, for it may be that the darts which are being shot at them are of a similar sort.
The most common one is this, the fiery arrow of the remembrance of our sins . “Ah!” saith the arch-enemy, “it is not possible that such sins as yours can be blotted out. Think of the number of your transgressions; how you have gone astray from your birth; how you have persevered in sin; how you have sinned against light and knowledge, against the most gracious invitations and the most terrible threatenings. You have done despite to the Spirit of Grace; you have trampled upon the blood of Christ; how can there be forgiveness for you?”
The stricken soul, crushed under a sense of sin, naturally endorses these insinuations. “It is true,” says he, “though it is Satan who says it; I am just such a sinner as he describes.” Then the poor soul fears whether pardon can be possible for such an offender; and, probably, he thinks of some gross sin that he has committed, — the blasphemer recollects his profanity, the unchaste man remembers his lasciviousness, and Satan whispers in his ear, “If thou hadst not committed that particular sin, there might have been hope for thee, but that transgression has carried thee over the verge of hope. Thou art now like the man in the iron cage; despair has laid hold of thee, and for thee there is now no deliverance.” Poor heart! There are many passages of Scripture that ought to be sufficient to break or blunt all these fiery darts of the wicked one. These, for instance: “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin;” “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men;” “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” God grant that they may be effective in your case!
Sometimes, another Satanic temptation strikes the sinner, like a bolt shot from an ancient cross-bow. It is this, “It is too late for you to be saved.
You had many Gospel invitations when you were young; you were ‘almost persuaded’ while you were but a youth; but you halted so long between two opinions that, at last, the Lord lifted His hand, and swear in His wrath that you should not enter into His rest. You are, therefore, now past all hope.” There are many who have been for years burdened with this terrible fear; and there are some, who seem to be like the prisoners in the condemned cell at Newgate, who could hear the big bell of St. Sepulcher’s tolling their death-knell. Yet there is not a word of truth in these insinuations of Satan; for, as long as a man is in this world, if he doth but repent of sin, and believe in Jesus Christ, he shall be forgiven. There have been many sinners saved at the very end of their lives, as the penitent thief was. Many have been brought to Christ, and have been permitted to work in His vineyard even at the eleventh hour of the day. It is nowhere said, in Scripture, that God will say to any man, who truly repents, that He will not receive him. There is no limitation of age in that text I quoted just now. “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” If a man be ninety years of age, and he “cometh” to Christ, he shall not be cast out. Ay, and if he were as old as Methusaleh, and he were to come to Christ, the promise would still hold good.
Where this fear vanishes, it is often followed by another. Satan says, “Yes, it may not be too late on account of your age, but you have resisted the Holy Spirit; you have stifled conscience; you have frequently, when you were ‘almost persuaded,’ said, ‘Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will send for thee.’“ “Besides,” the enemy may say, “you were once outwardly so religious that everybody thought you were a Christian, and you even thought so yourself. You used to teach in the Sunday-school, and you sometimes preached; but you know where you have been, and how you have acted, since then. You have returned, like the dog to his vomit, and like the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire; so, now, there can be no hope for you. You may knock at Mercy’s gate, but it will not open to you.” Now, dear friends, sharp as that arrow is, and well aimed as it frequently is, there is no real force in it. If Christ never received those who have once rejected Him, He would never have received any of us, for some of us refused His invitations, and stifled the admonitions of conscience a thousand times, yet, when we came to Jesus, He received us graciously, and loved us freely. Yes, beloved, and if you come to Him after you have rejected ten thousand invitations, if you trust in Him after all your thwartings of the Spirit of God, you shall in no wise be cast out.
Many burdened souls have been greatly troubled concerning the doctrine of election. It is part of the craft of Satan to take a truth which is more precious than fine gold, and to turn it into a stumbling-block in the way of a sinner who is coming to Christ. The doctrine of election is like a diamond for brilliance; but the devil knows how to use its sharp edge to the grievous wounding of many a poor sinner. “You are not elect,” says Satan; “you were never chosen by God: your name is not in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”
How easily the sinner might answer the accuser if he were but in his wits!
He might say, “How do you know that I am not elect, and that my name is not in the Book of Life? God has never authorized you to convey to me this doleful news, therefore I shall not distress myself about it.” Why should we let such a fear as this keep us from Christ, when we do not let it keep us from other actions? A man is very ill, and his wife says that she will fetch a physician. “No, my dear wife,” says he, “it is no use fetching a physician, for I am afraid I am predestined to die.” Here is a man who is traveling, and suddenly he meets with an accident. Of course, he endeavors to extricate himself; but if he were to talk, as some do in spiritual matters, he would say, “I do not know whether I am ordained to escape, and therefore I shall not try.” Does a shipwrecked sailor give up swimming because he does not know whether he will ever reach the land? Do you give up working because you do not know whether you will get your wages? Do you cease eating because you do not know whether you are ordained to live another day? Do you refuse to go to sleep because you do not know whether it is decreed that you are to wake any more? Nay, but you do go about the affairs of life independently of any thoughts about the Divine decree, and in that way the Divine decree is realized in you. You are bidden in God’s Word, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; and I will tell you one thing, that is, if you do believe in Christ, that is proof positive that you are one of the elect, and that your name is in the Book of Life. I have never seen that Book, but I know that no soul ever did believe in Jesus whose name was not already recorded there. If thou comest to Christ, repenting of thy sin, I know that God has chosen thee unto eternal life, for repentance in God’s gift, and it is a token of His everlasting love. He says, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee.” God draws us to repentance and faith by the bands of His love because He has loved us from eternity. So, let not that blessed word “election” ever trouble you. The day will come when you will dance at the very sound of it; and, then, nothing will fill your heart with such music as the thought that the Lord has chosen you from before the foundation of the world to be the object of His special grace.
Another of the devil’s fiery darts is this, “You have committed the unpardonable sin.” Ah! this arrow has rankled in many a heart, and it is very difficult to deal with such cases. The only way in which I argue with a person thus assailed is to say, “I am quite certain that, if you desire salvation, you have not committed the unpardonable sin, and I am absolutely sure that, if you will not come and trust Christ, you have not committed that sin, for every soul that trusts in Christ is forgiven, according to God’s Word, and therefore you cannot have committed that sin.” Nobody knows what that sin is. I believe that even God’s Word does not tell us, and it is very proper that it does not. As I have often said, it is like the notice we sometimes see put up, “Man-traps and spring gun set here.” We do not know whereabouts the traps and guns are, but we have no business over the hedge at all. So, “there is a sin unto death;” we are not told what that sin is, but we have no business to go over the hedge into any transgression at all. That “sin unto death” may be different in different people; but, whoever commits it, from that very moment, loses all spiritual desires. He has no wish to be saved, no care to repent, no longing after Christ; so dreadful is the spiritual death that comes over the man who has committed it that he never craves eternal life. We need not pray for such a case as that; the apostle John says, “I do not say that he shall pray for it.” I have met with some few cases, in which there has been such stolid indifference to all Divine things, or such jeering, mocking scorn at everything spiritual that, though I would pray for the very worst of sinners, I have felt, “I cannot pray for that man.” But none of you are in that condition if you long for mercy; if you hate sin; and seek to escape from it, that sin unto death has not been committed by you.
There are others who are troubled with this temptation, that it would be presumption for them to trust Christ. That is another of Satan’s lies, for it can never be presumption for a man to do what the Word of God tells him to do. If the Lord Jesus Christ bids a man trust Him, it must be the man’s duty to do so; and, consequently, it cannot be presumption. It is presumption to say, “O Lord, Thou hast bidden me trust Thee, but I am afraid that I may not.” That is presumption of the worst possible kind. “I cannot repent as I would,” says one. Who made you a judge of your own repentance? You are told to trust in what Christ has done. “But I cannot pray as I should like to do.” Who told you that you were to trust in your prayers? You are to rely on what Christ has done for you, and not on what you can do for yourself. “But if I could get into a better state of mind, I should have hope.” Who told you that you were to get into a better state of mind, and then come to Christ? The Gospel message is: “Come just as your are, poor sinner, and cast yourself upon Christ, resting entirely upon the person, the blood, the righteousness of the once-crucified but now exalted Redeemer.” It is no presumption for thee to do this. Nobody ever did get to Heaven by presumption, but unnumbered millions have entered there by trusting Christ, and you will be one of them if you will but trust in Him, and in Him alone.
Besides all these fiery darts that I have mentioned, there are many indefinable insinuations which Satan casts into the hearts of men when they are coming to Christ. I should hardly like to tell you what they are; for I might, by so doing, really do the devil’s work; but this one may serve as a specimen. Men, and women, too, have sometimes been in such trouble of soul that they have been tempted to self-destruction. There have been instances in which they have almost committed that awful crime; but, just at the last, there has been some Good-will to stretch out his hand, and pull them inside the door of mercy. “Ah!” thinks Satan, “if I could only get one of God’s elect people to destroy himself before he believed in Jesus, I should be able to boast of it forever.” Ay, but he never has done that, and he never will. If thou, my friend, shouldst ever be tempted to commit that sin, thou mayest well say, “What good could I get by destroying myself?
What! ‘Leap out of the frying-pan into the fire,’ as the old proverb says.
To escape from my sins, I shall rush, red-handed, before my Maker’s bar?”
There is no insanity like that. Art thou in such dreadful haste to die, and in such a hurry to surround thyself with quenchless flames? Oh, think not of it; but turn to Jesus, for there is hope yet, even for thee, and if thou wilt but cast thyself upon Him, thou shalt have joy and peace in believing.