'We buy the truth and we sell it not again for anything,' was the reply of the two pilgrims to every stall-keeper as they passed up the fair, and this it was that made them to be so hated and hunted down by the men of the fair. And, in like manner, there is nothing more difficult to get hold of at an election time than just the very truth. All the truth on any question is not very likely to be found put forward in the programme of any man or any party, and, even if it were, a general election is not the best time for you to find it out. 'I design the search after truth to be the one business of my life,' wrote the future Bishop Butler at the age of twenty-one. And whether you are to be a member of Parliament or a silent voter for a member of Parliament, you, too, must love truth and search for her as for hid treasure from your youth up. You must search for all kinds of truth,--historical, political, scientific, and religious,--with much reading, much observation, and much reflection. And those who have searched longest and dug deepest will always be found to be the most temperate, patient, and forbearing with those who have not yet found the truth. I do not know who first said it, but he was a true disciple of Socrates and Plato who first said it. 'Plato,' he said, 'is my friend, and Socrates is my friend, but the truth is much more my friend.' There is a thrill of enthusiasm, admiration and hope that goes through the whole country and comes down out of history as often as we hear or read of some public man parting with all his own past, as well as with all his leaders and patrons and allies and colleagues in the present, and taking his solitary way out after the truth. Many may call that man Quixotic, visionary, unpractical, imprudent, and he may be all that and more, but to follow conscience and the love of truth even when they are for the time leading him wrong is noble, and is every way far better both for himself and for the cause he serves, than if he were always found following his leaders loyally and even walking in the way of righteousness with the love of self and the love of party at bottom ruling his heart. How healthful and how refreshing at an election time it is to hear a speech replete with the love of the truth, full knowledge of the subject, and with the dignity, the good temper, the respect for opponents, and the love of fair play that full knowledge of the whole subject is so well fitted to bring with it! And next to hearing such a speaker is the pleasure of meeting such a hearer or such a reader at such a time. Now, I want such readers and such hearers, if not such speakers, to be found all the next fortnight among my office-bearers and my people. Be sure you say to some of your political opponents something like this:- 'I do not profess to read all the speeches that fill the papers at present. I do not read all the utterances made even on my own side, and much less all the utterances made on your side. But there is one of your speakers I always read, and I almost always find him instructive and impressive, a gentleman, if not a Christian. He is fair, temperate, frank, bold, and independent; and, to my mind at least, he always throws light on these so perplexing questions.' Now, if you have the intelligence and the integrity and the fair-mindedness to say something like that to a member of the opposite party you have poured oil on the waters of party; nay, you are in that a wily politician, for you have almost, just in saying that, won over your friend to your own side. So noble is the love of truth, and so potent is the high-principled pursuit and the fearless proclamation of the truth.
A general election is a trying time to all kinds of public men, but it is perhaps most trying of all to Christian ministers. Unless they are to disfranchise themselves and are to detach and shut themselves in from all interest in public affairs altogether, an election time is to our ministers, beyond any other class of citizens perhaps, a peculiarly trying time. How they are to escape the Scylla of cowardice and the contempt of all free and true men on the one hand, and the Charybdis of pride and self-will and scorn of other men's opinions and wishes on the other, is no easy dilemma to our ministers. Some happily constituted and happily circumstanced ministers manage to get through life, and even through political life, without taking or giving a wound in all their way. They are so wise and so watchful; they are so inoffensive, unprovoking, and conciliatory; and even where they are not always all that, they have around them sometimes a people who are so patient and tolerant and full of the old-fashioned respect for their minister that they do not attempt to interfere with him. Then, again, some ministers preach so well, and perform all their pastoral work so well, that they make it unsafe and impossible for the most censorious and intolerant of their people to find fault with them. But all our ministers are not like that. And all our congregations are not like that. And those of our ministers who are not like that must just be left to bear that which their past unwisdom or misfortune has brought upon them. Only, if they have profited by their past mistakes or misfortunes, a means of grace, and an opportunity of better playing the man is again at their doors. I am sure you will all join with me in the prayer that all our ministers, as well as all their people, may come well out of the approaching election.
There is yet one other class of public men, if I may call them so, many of whom come almost worse out of an election time than even our ministers, and that class is composed of those, who, to continue the language of Vanity Fair, keep the cages of the fair. I wish I had to-night, what I have not, the ear of the conductors of our public journals. For, what an omnipotence in God's providence to this generation for good or evil is theirs! If they would only all consider well at election times, and at all times, who they put into their cages and for what reason; if they would only all ask what can that man's motives be for throwing such dirt at his neighbour; if they would only all set aside all the letters they will get during the next fortnight that are avowedly composed on the old principle of calumniating boldly in the certainty that some of it will stick, what a service they would do to the cause of love and truth and justice, which is, surely, after all, their own cause also! The very best papers sin sadly in this respect when their conductors are full for the time of party passion. And it is inexpressibly sad when a reader sees great journals to which he owes a lifelong debt of gratitude absolutely poisoned under his very eyes with the malignant spirit of untruthful partisanship. But so long as our public cages are so kept, let those who are exposed in them resolve to imitate Christian and Faithful, who behaved themselves amid all their ill-usage yet more wisely, and received all the ignominy and shame that was cast upon them with so much meekness and patience that it actually won to their side several of the men of the fair.
My brethren, this is the last time this season that I shall be able to speak to you from this pulpit; and, perhaps, the last time altogether. But, if it so turns out, I shall not repent that the last time I spoke to you, and that, too, immediately after the communion table, the burden of my message was the burden of my Master's message after the first communion table. 'If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another. Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, so shall ye be My disciples. These things have I spoken unto you that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. Know ye what I have done unto you? Ye call Me Master and Lord, and ye say well, for so I am.'
'Ye seek Me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves.'--Our Lord.
In no part of John Bunyan's ingenious book is his strong sense and his sarcastic and humorous vein better displayed than just in his description of By-ends, and in the full and particular account he gives of the kinsfolk and affinity of By-ends. Is there another single stroke in all sacred literature better fitted at once to teach the gayest and to make the gravest smile than just John Bunyan's sketch of By-ends' great-grandfather, the founder of the egoistical family of Fairspeech, who was, to begin with, but a waterman who always looked one way and rowed another? By-ends' wife also is a true helpmate to her husband. She was my Lady Feigning's favourite daughter, under whose nurture and example the young lady had early come to a quite extraordinary pitch of good breeding; and now that she was a married woman, she and her husband had, so their biographer tells us, two firm points of family religion in which they were always agreed and according to which they brought up all their children, namely, never to strive too much against wind and tide, and always to watch when Religion was walking on the sunny side of the street in his silver slippers, and then at once to cross over and take his arm. But abundantly amusing and entertaining as John Bunyan is at the expense of By- ends and his family and friends, he has far other aims in view than the amusement and entertainment of his readers. Bunyan uses all his great gifts of insight and sense and humour and scorn so as to mark unmistakably the road and to guide the progress of his reader's soul to God, his chiefest end and his everlasting portion.
It was no small part of our Lord's life of humiliation on the earth,--much more so than His being born in a low condition and being made under the law,--to have to go about all His days among men, knowing in every case and on every occasion what was in man. It was a real humiliation to our Lord to see those watermen of the sea of Tiberias sweating at their oars as they rowed round and round the lake after Him; and His humiliation came still more home to Him as often as He saw His own disciples disputing and pressing who should get closest to Him while for a short season He walked in the sunshine; just as it was His estate of exaltation already begun, when He could enter into Himself and see to the bottom of His own heart, till He was able to say that it was His very meat and drink to do His father's will, and to finish the work His Father had given Him to do. The men of Capernaum went out after our Lord in their boats because they had eaten of the multiplied loaves and hoped to do so again. Zebedee's children had forsaken all and followed our Lord, because they counted to sit the one on His right hand and the other on His left hand in His soon-coming kingdom. The pain and the shame all that cost our Lord, we can only remotely imagine. But as for Himself, our Lord never once had to blush in secret at His own motives. He never once had to hang down His head at the discovery of His own selfish aims and by-ends. Happy man! The thought of what He should eat or what He should drink or wherewithal He should be clothed never troubled His head. The thought of success, as His poor-spirited disciples counted success, the thought of honour and power and praise, never once rose in His heart. All these things, and all things like them, had no attraction for Him; they awoke nothing but indifference and contempt in him. But to please His Father and to hear from time to time His Father's voice saying that He was well pleased with His beloved Son,--that was better than life to our Lord. To find out and follow every new day His Father's mind and will, and to finish every night another part of His Father's appointed work,--that was more than His necessary food to our Lord. The great schoolmen, as they meditated on these deep matters, had a saying to the effect that all created things take their true goodness or their true evil from the end they aim at. And thus it was that our Lord, aiming only at His Father's ends and never at His own, both manifested and attained to a Divine goodness, just as the greedy crowds of Galilee and the disputatious disciples, as long and as far as they made their belly or their honour their end and aim, to that extent fell short of all true goodness, all true satisfaction, and all true acceptance.
By-ends was so called because he was full of low, mean, selfish motives, and of nothing else. All that this wretched creature did, he did with a single eye to himself. The best things that he did became bad things in his self-seeking hands. His very religion stank in those men's nostrils who knew what was in his heart. By- ends was one of our Lord's whited sepulchres. And so deep, so pervading, and so abiding is this corrupt taint in human nature, that long after a man has had his attention called to it, and is far on to a clean escape from it, he still--nay, he all the more-- languishes and faints and is ready to die under it. Just hear what two great servants of God have said on this humiliating and degrading matter. Writing on this subject with all his wonted depth and solemnity, Hooker says, 'Even in the good things that we do, how many defects are there intermingled! For God in that which is done, respecteth especially the mind and intention of the doer. Cut off, then, all those things wherein we have regarded our own glory, those things which we do to please men, or to satisfy our own liking, those things which we do with any by-respect, and not sincerely and purely for the love of God, and a small score will serve for the number of our righteous deeds. Let the holiest and best things we do be considered. We are never better affected to God than when we pray; yet, when we pray, how are our affections many times distracted! How little reverence do we show to that God unto whom we speak! How little remorse of our own miseries! How little taste of the sweet influence of His tender mercy do we feel! The little fruit we have in holiness, it is, God knoweth, corrupt and unsound; we put no confidence at all in it, we challenge nothing in the world for it, we dare not call God to a reckoning as if we had Him in our debt-books; our continued suit to Him is, and must be, to bear with our infirmities, and to pardon our offences.' And Thomas Shepard, a divine of a very different school, as we say, but a saint and a scholar equal to the best, and indeed with few to equal him, thus writes in his Spiritual Experiences:- 'On Sabbath morning I saw that I had a secret eye to my own name in all that I did, for which I judged myself worthy of death. On another Sabbath, when I came home, I saw the deep hypocrisy of my heart, that in my ministry I sought to comfort and quicken others, that the glory might reflect on me as well as on God. On the evening before the sacrament I saw that mine own ends were to procure honour, pleasure, gain to myself, and not to the Lord, and I saw how impossible it was for me to seek the Lord for Himself, and to lay up all my honour and all my pleasures in Him. On Sabbath-day, when the Lord had given me some comfortable enlargements, I searched my heart and found my sin. I saw that though I did to some extent seek Christ's glory, yet I sought it not alone, but my own glory too. After my Wednesday sermon I saw the pride of my heart acting thus, that presently my heart would look out and ask whether I had done well or ill. Hereupon I saw my vileness to make men's opinions my rule. The Lord thus gave me some glimpse of myself and a good day that was to me.' One would think that this was By-ends himself climbed up into the ministry. And so it was. And yet David Brainerd could write on his deathbed about Thomas Shepard in this way. 'He valued nothing in religion that was not done to the glory of God, and, oh! that others would lay the stress of religion here also. His method of examining his ends and aims and the temper of his mind both before and after preaching, is an excellent example for all who bear the sacred character. By this means they are like to gain a large acquaintance with their own hearts, as it is evident he had with his.'