Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
~ 2 Timothy 1:13
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
~ 2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.
~ Psalm 26:2
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
~ Hebrews 12:15
For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.
~ 2 Timothy 1:12
Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress:A Commentary on Portions of John Bunyan’s Immortal Allegory, by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The following contains an excerpt from his work.
How Mr Fearing Fared
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. Great-heart, 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 wilful although they are very weak. While they are as incapable as little children, they are also often as wilful 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 this 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 enquire 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 hearts of poor, melancholy, feeble-minded 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 oily 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.
XVIII: HOW MR. FEARING FARED
“Well, after he had been entertained there a while, as you know how the manner is, he was bid go on his way, and also told the way he should take. So he came till he came to our house. But as he behaved himself at the gate, so he did at my Master the Interpreter’s door. He lay thereabout in the cold a good while, before he would adventure to call; yet he would not go back; and the nights were long and cold then.”
THIS is a still further advance. He was still seeking Christ, but now he had had some of the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and was beginning to understand something of the Gospel. Notice how that good word always comes in, “He would not go back.” He was afraid even to receive the truths of God’s Word as his own, and to take one gleam of comfort from them; yet he would not go back. He would linger at the door even if not admitted. Oh, the tenacity of grip which there is in the poor seeking sinner when he once gets some hold of the precious promises of Christ!
“Nay, he had a note of necessity in his bosom to my Master, to receive him, and grant him the comfort of His house, and also to allow him a stout and valiant conductor, because he was himself so chicken-hearted a man; and yet, for all that, he was afraid to call at the door.”
Bunyan here means that this poor man had a special and particular claim upon the Spirit of God for some full-grown Christian to help him on the road to Heaven. But for all that, he dared not speak to the minister. He was afraid of him. He felt himself quite unworthy to look at the good man.
“So he lay up and down thereabouts, till, poor man! he was almost starved. Yea, so great was his dejection, that though he saw several others, for knocking, get in, yet he was afraid to venture. At last, I think, I looked out of the window, and perceiving a man to be up and down about the door, I went out to him, and asked what he was; but, poor man! the water stood in his eyes; so I perceived what he wanted.”
So you, who love Christ, and have some ability in instructing converts, should look after those that are too timid to look after you. You will often see these people going up and down. You will see them here, on Sunday, at the classes and the services. They sometimes want to be spoken to; and if the Holy Spirit has enlightened you, you should look out for them, “I went, therefore, in, and told it in the house, and we shewed the thing to our Lord.”
That is the way. If you cannot help them yourselves, go and tell the Lord about them. Go and pray to Him about these desponding ones, who will not avail themselves of the comforts which He has provided for them.
“So He sent me out again, to entreat him to come in; but, I dare say, I had hard work to do it. At last he came in; and I will say that for my Lord, He carried it wonderfully lovingly to him. There were but a few good bits at the table, but some of it was laid upon his trencher. Then he presented the note, and my Lord looked thereon, and said his desire should be granted.”
Ah! when the poor soul does get to see what real comfort there is for it, it seems then as if the best things in the Word of God were meant for the feeblest saints, and as if the Lord had laid Himself out in a way of mercy to write the most precious conceivable words for those who are of a tender spirit, and go with broken bones. “So when he had been there a good while, he seemed to get some heart, and to be a little more comfortable; for my Master, you must know, is one of very tender bowels, especially to them that are afraid; wherefore He carried it so towards him as might tend most to his encouragement. Well, when he had had a sight of the things of the place, and was ready to take his journey to go to the city, my Lord, as He did to Christian before, gave him a bottle of spirits, and some comfortable things to eat. Thus we set forward, and I went before him; but the man was but of few words, only he would sigh aloud.”
This was a delicate task for Mr. Great-heart, but it is the task of many an advanced Christian. He must not shrink from it; and if he gets no instruction from the poor man, he must recollect that we are not always to be getting, but that sometimes we are to be giving as well.
“When we were come to where the three fellows were hanged, he said that he doubted that that would be his end also.”
Of course, he could not look upon such a sight as that without fearing that, one day, he would be in a similar position. There never is a case of church examination or church censure but poor Mr. Fearing says, “Ah! I shall come to that some day;” and when he reads of Judas and Demas, he says, “Ah! that will surely be my fate.”
“Only he seemed glad when he saw the Cross and the Sepulchre. There, I confess, he desired to stay a little to look, and he seemed, for a while after, to be a little cheery.”
Well, if he was not happy there, where would he be? If the good man could not pluck up his courage sitting at the foot of the cross, where would he be of good cheer? It is delightful to notice how Bunyan picks out the comforting influence of the cross of Christ upon the most desponding spirit.
“Sweet the moments, rich in blessing, Which before the cross I spend.”
“When we came at the Hill Difficulty, he made no stick at that, nor did he much fear the lions; for you must know that his trouble was not about such things as those; his fear was about his acceptance at last.”
It is wonderful that these timid ones are often not afraid of the things which frighten others. Hardships do not trouble them. They could almost bear to be burned in the flames. They are not afraid of martyrdom, but they are afraid of sin and self,—a very healthy fear, but it must be coupled with a healthy faith in Christ, or else it becomes a very wretched thing.
“I got him in at the House Beautiful, I think, before he was willing.”
That is, into the Christian church. Mr. Great-heart cheered him on, and got him to see the church-officers, and to unite with the church almost before he knew what he was at.
“Also, when he was in, I brought him acquainted with the damsels that were of the place; but he was ashamed to make himself much for company. He desired much to be alone, yet he always loved good talk, and often would, get behind the screen to hear it.”
This is just the state of mind in which many believers are after they have joined the church. They are bashful; they would not like to push themselves forward. They would rather lose many things than be thought to be at all impertinent or pushing.
“He also loved much to see ancient things, and to be pondering them in his mind.” I know he loved the precious doctrine of eternal love.
“He told me afterwards that he loved to be in those two houses from which he came last, to wit, at the gate, and that of the Interpreter, but that he durst not be so bold to ask.
“When we went also from the House Beautiful, down the Hill, into the Valley of Humiliation, he went down as well as ever I saw a man in my life; for he cared not how mean he was, so he might be happy at last. Yea, I think, there was a kind of sympathy betwixt that valley and him, for I never saw him better in all his pilgrimage than when he was in that valley. Here he would lie down, embrace the ground, and kiss the very flowers that grew in this valley. (Lam. 3:27–29.) He would now be up every morning by break of day, tracing and walking to and fro in this valley.”
Humility just suited him. He was a plant that could grow in the shade. You could not humble him too much, for that was just his element. He loved to feel his nothingness, and to be brought low, for then he felt himself safe. You see, Mr. Fearing has his quiet, peaceful, happy times. He can sing, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.”
That is a very happy state to be in, naturally fearful, but yet brought so low that you do not fear at all; so sensible of your own weakness that you look wholly to superior strength, and therefore have no cause for fear.
“But when he was come to the entrance of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I thought I should have lost my man; not for that he had any inclination to go back; that he always abhorred; but he was ready to die for fear. ‘Oh! the hobgoblins will have me! the hobgoblins will have me!’ cried he; and I could not beat him out on it. He made such a noise, and such an outcry here, that, had they but heard him, it was enough to encourage them to come and fall upon us.
“But this I took very great notice of, that this valley was as quiet while he went through it, as ever I knew it before or since. I suppose these enemies here had now a special check from our Lord, and a command not to meddle until Mr. Fearing was passed over it.”
Bunyan here very wittily and pithily depicts the absurd fears of Mr. Fearing when there was no ground for fear. He makes “the hobgoblins” in his own imagination, and then cries out, “They will have me!” He thinks he will fall in this, or be cast away for that, or that God will forsake him. Oh! it is foolish to indulge such fears; yet many men are so weak that, all their lives long, they cannot escape from them.
“It would be too tedious to tell you of all. We will, therefore, only mention a passage or two more. When he was come at Vanity Fair, I thought he would have fought with all the men at the fair. I feared there we should both have been knocked on the head, so hot was he against their fooleries.”
Mr. Fearing was only afraid that he should not be safe at the last, but he was a bold fellow when he came to deal with the enemies of the cross of Christ. It is singular, this combination of bravery and trembling. He trembles lest he should not be saved at last, but he strikes out at his enemies right and left. You know what the “fooleries” were. There was the foolery of old Rome, and Mr. Fearing could not stand that, but would like to smash it all up.
“Upon the Enchanted Ground, he was also very wakeful.”
Strong faith sometimes goes almost to sleep there. We are apt to get presumptuous. We, who have many comforts, get to think that it is all right with us. May we, however, be kept awake! I would rather you should go to Heaven doubting your interest in Christ than that you should go to hell presuming that you are safe when really you are not. It is a sad and sinful thing to be always doubting; but, still, it is infinitely better than to have a name to live while you are dead.
“But when he was come at the river where was no bridge, there again he was in a heavy case. Now, now, he said. he should be drowned for ever, and so never see that face with comfort that he had come so many miles to behold.
“And here, also, I took notice of what was very remarkable; the water of that river was lower at this time than ever I saw it in all my life. So he went over at last, not much above wet-shod. When he was going up to the gate, I began to take my leave of him, and to wish him a good reception above. So he said, ‘I shall, I shall.’ Then parted we asunder, and I saw him no more.”
He was afraid to die, poor man, not because he was afraid of death, but lest he should not see the face of Him whom he loved so much, but who, he almost feared, would reject him. Here, again, we see the abundant mercy of God, for Mr. Fearing did not sink in the deep waters, but he died easily and went over the river “not much above wet-shod,” and his last words were, “I shall, I shall.” Yes, and so you will, poor Mr. Fearing. You sometimes say that you shall not, but that is your unbelief. You shall; you shall; for the Master has said, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.”