And, then, when through rain or frost or fire, when out of any terror by night or arrow that flieth by day, any calamity comes on the man who is thus pointed and practised in his patience, he is able with Job to say, 'This is the Lord. What, shall we receive good at the hand of God and not also receive evil?' By far the best thing I have ever read on this subject, and I have read it a thousand times since I first read it as a student, is Dr. Thomas Goodwin's Patience and its Perfect Work. That noble treatise had its origin in the great fire of London in 1666. The learned President of Magdalen College lost the half of his library, five hundred pounds worth of the best books, in that terrible fire. And his son tells us he had often heard his father say that in the loss of his not-to-be-replaced books, God had struck him in a very sensible place. To lose his Augustine, and his Calvin, and his Musculus, and his Zanchius, and his Amesius, and his Suarez, and his Estius was a sore stroke to such a man. I loved my books too well, said the great preacher, and God rebuked me by this affliction. Let the students here read Goodwin's costly treatise, and they will be the better prepared to meet such calamities as the burning of their manse and their library, as also to counsel and comfort their people when they shall lose their shops or their stockyards by fire.
'Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.'
And, then, in a multitude of New Testament scriptures, we are summoned to great exercise of patience with the God of our salvation, because it is His purpose and plan that we shall have to wait long for our salvation. God has not seen it good to carry us to heaven on the day of our conversion. He does not glorify us on the same day that He justifies us. We are appointed to salvation indeed, but it is also appointed us to wait long for it. This is not our rest. We are called to be pilgrims and strangers for a season with God upon the earth. We are told to endure to the end. It is to be through faith and patience that we, with our fathers, shall at last inherit the promises. Holiness is not a Jonah's gourd. It does not come up in a night, and it does not perish in a night. Holiness is the Divine nature, and it takes a lifetime to make us partakers of it. But, then, if the time is long the thing is sure. Let us, then, with a holy and a submissive patience wait for it.
'I saw moreover in my dream that Passion seemed to be much discontent, but Patience was very quiet. Then Christian asked, What is the reason of the discontent of Passion? The Interpreter answered, The governor of them would have him stay for his best things till the beginning of the next year; but he will have them all now. But Patience is willing to wait.'
'Ye did run well, who did hinder you?'--Paul.
It startles us not a little to come suddenly upon three pilgrims fast asleep with fetters on their heels on the upward side of the Interpreter's House, and even on the upward side of the cross and the sepulchre. We would have looked for those three miserable men somewhere in the City of Destruction or in the Town of Stupidity, or, at best, somewhere still outside of the wicket-gate. But John Bunyan did not lay down his Pilgrim's Progress on any abstract theory, or on any easy and pleasant presupposition, of the Christian life. He constructed his so lifelike book out of his own experiences as a Christian man, as well as out of all he had learned as a Christian minister. And in nothing is Bunyan's power of observation, deep insight, and firm hold of fact better seen than just in the way he names and places the various people of the pilgrimage. Long after he had been at the Cross of Christ himself, and had seen with his own eyes all the significant rooms in the Interpreter's House, Bunyan had often to confess that the fetters of evil habit, unholy affection, and a hard heart were still firmly riveted on his own heels. And his pastoral work had led him to see only too well that he was not alone in the temptations and the dangers and the still-abiding bondage to sin that had so surprised himself after he was so far on in the Christian life. It was the greatest sorrow of his heart, he tells us in a powerful passage in his Grace Abounding, that so many of his spiritual children broke down and came short in the arduous and perilous way in which he had so hopefully started them. 'If any of those who were awakened by my ministry did after that fall back, as sometimes too many did, I can truly say that their loss hath been more to me than if one of my own children, begotten of my body, had been going to its grave. I think, verily, I may speak it without an offence to the Lord, nothing hath gone so near me as that, unless it was the fear of the salvation of my own soul. I have counted as if I had goodly buildings and lordships in those places where my children were born; my heart has been so wrapped up in this excellent work that I counted myself more blessed and honoured of God by this than if He had made me the emperor of the Christian world, or the lord of all the glory of the earth without it.' And I have no doubt that we have here the three things that above everything else bereft Bunyan of so many of his spiritual children personified and then laid down by the heels in Simple, Sloth, and Presumption.
Let us shake up Simple first and ask him what it was that laid him so soon and in such a plight and in such company in this bottom. It was not that which from his name we might at first think it was. It was not the weakness of his intellects, nor his youth, nor his inexperience. There is danger enough, no doubt, in all these things if they are not carefully attended to, but none of all these things in themselves, nor all of them taken together, will lay any pilgrim by the heels. There must be more than mere and pure simplicity. No blame attaches to a simple mind, much less to an artless and an open heart. We do not blame such a man even when we pity him. We take him, if he will let us, under our care, or we put him under better care, but we do not anticipate any immediate ill to him so long as he remains simple in mind, untainted in heart, and willing to learn. But, then, unless he is better watched over than any young man or young woman can well be in this world, that simplicity and child-likeness and inexperience of his may soon become a fatal snare to him. There is so much that is not simple and sincere in this world; there is so much falsehood and duplicity; there are so many men abroad whose endeavour is to waylay, mislead, entrap, and corrupt the simple-minded and the inexperienced, that it is next to impossible that any youth or maiden shall long remain in this world both simple and safe also. My son, says the Wise Man, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee. For at the window of my house I looked through my casement, and beheld among the simple ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding;--and so on,-- till a dart strike through his liver, and he goeth as an ox to the slaughter. And so, too often in our own land, the maiden in her simplicity also opens her ear to the promises and vows and oaths of the flatterer, till she loses both her simplicity and her soul, and lies buried in that same bottom beside Sloth and Presumption.
It is not so much his small mind and his weak understanding that is the fatal danger of their possessor, it is his imbecile way of treating his small mind. In our experience of him we cannot get him, all we can do, to read an instructive book. We cannot get him to attend our young men's class with all the baits and traps we can set for him. Where does he spend his Sabbath-day and week-day evenings? We cannot find out until we hear some distressing thing about him, that, ten to one, he would have escaped had he been a reader of good books, or a student with us, say, of Dante and Bunyan and Rutherford, and a companion of those young men and young women who talk about and follow such intellectual tastes and pursuits. Now, if you are such a young man or young woman as that, or such an old man or old woman, you will not be able to understand what in the world Bunyan can mean by saying that he saw you in his dream fast asleep in a bottom with irons on your heels. No; for to understand the Pilgrim's Progress, beyond a nursery and five-year- old understanding of it, you must have worked and studied and suffered your way out of your mental and spiritual imbecility. You must have for years attended to what is taught from the pulpit and the desk, and, alongside of that, you must have made a sobering and solemnising application of it all to your own heart. And then you would have seen and felt that the heels of your mind and of your heart are only too firmly fettered with the irons of ignorance and inexperience and self-complacency. But as it is, if you would tell the truth, you would say to us what Simple said to Christian, I see no danger. The next time that John Bunyan passed that bottom, the chains had been taken off the heels of this sleeping fool and had been put round his neck.