“Christian espied two men come tumbling over the wall, on the left hand of the narrow way; and they made up space to him. The name of the one was Formalist, and the name of the other Hypocrisy. So, as I said, they drew up unto him, who thus entered with them into discourse:- “ CHR. Gentlemen, whence came you and whither do you go? “FORM. and HYP. We were born in the land of Vainglory, and are going for praise to Mount Sion. “ CHR. Why came you not in at the gate which standeth at the beginning of the way? Know you not that it is written, that he that cometh not in by the door, ‘but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber’? (John 10:1.) “They said that, to go to the gate for entrance was, by all their countrymen, counted too far about; and that, therefore, their usual way was to make a short cut of it, and to climb over the wall, as they had done. “ CHR. But will it not be counted a trespass against the Lord of the city whither we are bound, thus to violate His revealed will? “They told him that, as for that, he needed not to trouble his head thereabout; for what they did, they had custom for; and could produce, if need were, testimony that would witness it for more than a thousand years.”
After Christian had been at the foot of the cross, and had been stripped of his rags, and had received a change of raiment, and a mark in his forehead, and a roll with a seal upon it, he went on his way rejoicing. He had not gone far before he came to three men fast asleep, with fetters upon their heels. These were Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. Christian woke them, and offered to help them off with their irons; but they soon lay down again, and he had to go on alone. While he was troubled in his mind by their indifference, “he espied two men come tumbling over the wall, on the left hand of the narrow way.” Possibly, there had been some revival services, and at an exciting meeting these two men had, all of a sudden, determined to be Christians. They did not take the trouble to obtain true repentance and a living faith in the crucified Savior. They did not care about real heart work, nor about the operations of the Holy Spirit within them; but they resolved to make a profession of being Christians, and to join the church.
They thought that, as Christians wore a certain style of coat, they would wear the same, but they were not concerned as to whether their hearts were right with God or not. They came tumbling over the wall.
Bunyan says, “they made up apace” to Christian. It had taken him a long time to get where he was, but they caught up with him in a minute or two.
None seemed to grow so rapidly as those who have not roots, and who therefore are not really growing at all. A child, with a farthing’s worth of soap and a pipe, soon blows some big bubbles, painted with many colors and sparkling with beauty; but they are only bubbles. They are very quickly produced, and they as speedily vanish. Beware of getting up a sham religion. You can easily paint and grain a piece of common wood so that it will be taken for oak or sandal-wood; but it would take many years to grow the genuine oak, and many months to bring the sandal-wood from the far-off land. To imitate a good thing may be rapid work, but it will not last.
You who catch up so soon with older Christians, mind that yours is personal experience, and not such as is learned from books, or picked up at an experience meeting. When a man has nothing to carry, he can run quickly. Empty drums make a great sound, and brooks that are shallow flow at a great rate. So the Formalist and Hypocrisy make up apace to Christian.
I do not know to what sect Formalist belonged. I know his father very well, and he had several children. One of them used to go to the Church of England; in fact, two or three of that branch of the family, who were very happy and comfortable, always attended there. One or two of them took to going a little further than the Church of England, and made towards Rome, multiplying ceremonies, and gaudy dresses, and I know not what besides.
But, if I recollect right, there was one of the sons who was a Presbyterian; — he could not bear anything like Romanism, but he was a great stickler for all the forms of the kirk nevertheless. Another of the sons joined the Baptists, and a mighty fine fellow he was, — as orthodox as possible. He knew what was what in doctrine, and demanded sixteen ounces to the pound, and a little over. He would fight tooth and nail for the defense of believers’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I am not quite certain, but I sometimes fear that at least one of the Formalist family is a member at the Tabernacle. If it is not one of the sons, perhaps it is a grandson who comes here. There are many of these people about, and we must not be surprised if some of them come to us. “Oh!” say they, “we will try to be Christians; and, in order to be Christians, there are such-and-such outward actions to be performed. We will attend the prayer-meeting; we will go to the Bible-classes; we will see the elders; we will be baptized; we will join the church; and when we have done all this, we shall have got into the right road, certainly. Have we not received, as it were, the certificate of God’s own Church that we are all right? It is true that we have tumbled over the wall; we have not been humbled on account of sin; we have not put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ; still, we are in the right way; does not everybody say that we are? Therefore, all must be well with us.” Such was Formalist.
Hypocrisy, however, was the bigger rogue of the two, for he had not any belief in the matter at all. Formalist had, perhaps, some measure of faith of a certain sort; he thought there might be something forms and ceremonies.
But Hypocrisy said in his heart, “Ah! it is all a pretty story, but then it is a very respectable story; and if I pretend to believe it, people will think the better of me.” I recollect one member of this family saying, “If I join the church, possibly I may get an almshouse;” and another reflected, “Very likely I might secure a pension of so much a week.” Another thought, “It would be a capital thing to get into the ministry, and pick up a good living that way.” And another said within himself, “This would increase my trade; people would say, ‘He goes to such-and-such a chapel, we must deal with him, you know.’“ There is a very numerous family of this class; and there are some others who do not expect, perhaps, to get any pecuniary gain by professing to be Christians, but who feel, “Well, you see, it makes you seem to be a good sort of person, you get the respect and esteem of your friends; your mother will be pleased; your husband will be glad; all your friends will feel so satisfied, and they will make quite a fuss over you.” So the man goes in for it, though, in his heart, he says, “There is nothing in it; it is all rubbish.” He tumbles over the wall; he does not care about the secret power of vital godliness. It is enough for him that he has got into the Christian Church, and there he means to stick. He sometimes says that he is as good as the most of us; and though he knows he is as rotten as he can be, yet he boasts himself above those trembling but earnest souls who cannot talk so glibly, nor fly so many colors at their masthead.
Well, these two men drew up apace to Christian, and he saluted them, for it is not the Christian’s duty to suspect anybody; and when he finds people in the right road, he must treat them as if they were sincere until he has proof to the contrary. If it is the law of England that every man is to be accounted honest, till he is proved to be a rogue, it should certainly be the law of the Christian Church. So, seeing them in the narrow road, in which there are so few travelers, Christian began to speak with them. He asked them whence they came, and they answered, “We were born in the land of Vain-glory.” That is where all formalists and hypocrites come from. They glory in themselves. They think their own hearts are right. They conclude that their natural goodness suffices, and therefore a few forms and a bare profession will serve them in the day of judgment. Christian also asked them, “Whither go you?” “We are going,” they said, “for praise to Mount Sion.” Alas, for love of praise! It is a most damnable snare. We all love praise; it is useless to deny it. It has been said that — “The proud, to gain it, toils on toils endure; The modest shun it but to make it sure.” We all have an eye to it at times, and no man can say that he does not more or less desire it. Of course, we do not like flattery when it is laid on with a trowel. We do not want great lumps of butter on our bread, for then we begin to suspect that it is not genuine. All of us are capable of receiving a goodly amount of praise, but it is difficult to remain in a healthy state under such circumstances.
These two men were seeking after pride. They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Brethren, do not we sometimes do good actions out of a desire for praise? I was thinking about this very matter today.
I have undertaken a certain duty which I do not particularly like. I would get out of it if I dared, for I do not think I shall succeed in it, and it will occupy much of my time, and give me a deal of trouble. But, while I was murmuring to myself about what a stupid I was to venture on so ungrateful a task, I thought, “I shall receive no honor and no credit for it; but, still, if I do it with a view to God’s glory throughout, and with no consideration for myself, that is enough.” If I take up a difficult work that I like, and succeed in it, everybody will say, “He has done it thoroughly well,” and so I get praise here, though I may not hear the “Well done!” when I get to my Master at the last. But if I undertake anything from which the flesh shrinks, with a single eye to God’s glory, I shall have the sweet satisfaction that my Lord approves of my action whatever comes of it.
Take care, I pray you, of “going for praise to Mount Sion.”
Christian next asked these two men this very important question, “Why came you not in at the gate which standeth at the beginning of the way?”
Now, if there should be anybody here who is saying to himself, “I am all right; I have always attended my parish church, or I have always gone to the meeting-house;” if there is one here who says, “I am all right, for I was christened,” or “I am all right, for I was baptized,” I ask you, “Why came you not in at the gate which standeth at the beginning of the way?” How is it that you did not come as God has bidden you come, by a living faith in the living Savior; by repentance; by reliance upon Him who alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? If you have been a church-member no matter how many years, better give up that position than let a religious profession be a winding-sheet in which to envelop a corpse. Have the life Divine within you, or else, in the Name of God, I beseech you not to make a profession which you cannot by any possibility adorn, but which will be the ruin of your soul at the last!
In answer to Christian’s question, “Why came you not in at the gate?”
Formalist and Hypocrisy gave a reason which seemed to them sufficient. “They said that, to go to the gate for entrance was, by all their countrymen, counted too far about; and that, therefore, their usual way was to make a short cut of it, and to climb over the wall, as they had done.” Formalists think, “We do not mind being christened, confirmed, taking the sacrament, and going to church or chapel; but this repenting of sin, this believing, this clinging to Christ, this seeking after holiness, — Ah! ‘it is too far about.’“ They would rather tumble over the wall. They cry, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” I hope you, dear friends, are not so foolish as that.
Better go never so far roundabout, and be right, than jump hastily at a false conclusion, and find yourself mistaken. Besides, it is not “far about,” after all. The safe way is really a short way, and to trust in Christ is the direct road to eternal life.
Christian further very properly asked these men how, if it was a trespass against God to get into the road without coming in at the gate, they hoped to be accepted. If, without faith, it is impossible to please God, how can you expect to please Him by trusting to forms and ceremonies? Even your prayers are an abomination unto God unless you have come to Him, through Christ, for mercy and forgiveness. If you rest in your Biblereading, or your chapel-going, or your Sunday-school teaching, — if you depend upon anything that you are, or do, or feel, you are leaning upon that which will fail you at the last. You are really making and-Christ of these things, and putting them into the place of Jesus. How can you be right at the end if you are wrong at the start? If you come not in at the door, rest assured that you will never reach the gates of Paradise.
These men told Christian that “he needed not to trouble his head thereabout;” and that is the answer of many formalists and hypocrites.
They are harder to deal with than are the professedly unconverted. Those who have no sense of religion at all will often listen to what you have to say; while those other people, who know so much, and practice so little, tell you to mind your own business, for they are as good as you are. If you ever talk to a genuine Christian in that way, he is very thankful to you for the exhortation to examine himself. The true child of God, when he is under a searching ministry, will bear the wound, and will ask God to help the minister to probe it. It is a sign of a good state of heart when you are willing to be probed; but it is a terrible proof of hypocrisy and formalism when you say to others, “Let each man keep to his own religion; you go your way, and leave me to mine; I daresay I am as right as you are.”
These men further assured Christian that it had been the custom for more than a thousand years. In that, they spoke truly. Men have relied on outward forms, and thought themselves something when they were nothing, from time immortal. One who walked with Christ, and who even ate the sop out of the same dish with Him, betrayed Him. There have always been some having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Such were “spots” in the solemn feasts of apostolic days. They were “clouds without water, trees without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots.” It is so still. There are, indeed, most venerable precedents for formalism and hypocrisy. Go to Rome, and you will see plenty of them. Go into a large number of our parish churches in England, and you will see formality run mad. Step into our own Dissenting places of worship, and even in our decent sobriety how much there may be of dead formalism!
Alas! this is the religion of many professing Christians all through the land, “You need not trouble about faith, or those other weighty matters which concern the soul and God; but if you go to your place of worship, and take your seat there regularly, all will be well with you.” This is false religion; may God save us from it! May we be sincere, in our love to Christ, and in our faith in His atoning sacrifice!