Almost a better test of true and false religion than even secret prayer, but a test that is far more difficult to handle, is our opinion of ourselves. In His last analysis of the truly justified man and the truly reprobate, our Lord made the deepest test to be their opinion of themselves. 'God, I thank Thee that I am not as this publican,' said the hypocrite. 'God be merciful to me a sinner,' said the true penitent. And then this fine principle comes in here--not only to speed the sure sanctification of a true Christian, but also, if he has skill and courage to use it, for his assurance and comfort,--that the saintlier he becomes and the riper for glory, the more he will beat his breast over what yet abides within his breast. Yes; a man's secret opinion of himself is almost a better test of his true spiritual state than even secret prayer. But, then, these two are not competing and exclusive tests; they always go together and are never found apart. And at the mouth of these two witnesses every true hypocrite shall be condemned and every true Christian justified.
Dr. Pusey says somewhere that the perfect hypocrite is the man who has the truth of God in his mind, but is without the love of God in his heart. 'Truth without love,' says that saintly scholar, 'makes a finished Pharisee.' Now we Scottish and Free Church people believe we have the truth, if any people on the face of the earth have it; and if we have not love mixed with it, you see where and what we are. We are called to display a banner because of the truth, but let love always be our flag-staff. Let us be jealous for the truth, but let it be a godly, that is to say, a loving jealousy. When we contend for purity of doctrine and for purity of worship, when we protest against popery and priestcraft, when we resist rationalism and infidelity, when we do battle now for national religion, as we call it, and now for the freedom of the church, let us do it all in love to all men, else we had better not do it at all. If we cannot do it with clean and all-men-loving hearts, let us leave all debate and contention to stronger and better men than we are. The truth will never be advanced or guarded by us, nor will the Lord of truth and love accept our service or bless our souls, till we put on the divine nature, and have our hearts and our mouths still more full of love than our minds and our mouths are full of truth. Let us watch ourselves, lest with all our so-called love of truth we be found reprobates at last because we loved the truth for some selfish or party end, and hated and despised our brother, and believed all evil and disbelieved all good concerning our brother. Truth without love makes a hypocrite, says Dr. Pusey; and evangelical truth without evangelical love makes an evangelical hypocrite, says Thomas Shepard. Only where the whole truth is united to a heart full of love have we the perfect New Testament Christian.
'There is a lion in the way.'--The Slothful Man. 'I must venture.'--Christian.
'I at any rate must venture,' said Christian to Timorous and Mistrust. 'Whatever you may do I must venture, even if the lions you speak of should pull me to pieces. I, for one, shall never go back. To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death and everlasting life beyond it. I will yet go forward.' So Mistrust and Timorous ran down the hill, and Christian went on his way. George Offor says, in his notes on this passage, that civil despotism and ecclesiastical tyranny so terrified many young converts in John Bunyan's day, that multitudes turned back like Mistrust and Timorous; while at the same time, many like Bunyan himself went forward and for a time fell into the lion's mouth. Civil despotism and ecclesiastical tyranny do not stand in our way as they stood in Bunyan's way--at least, not in the same shape: but every age has its own lions, and every Christian man has his own lions that neither civil despots nor ecclesiastical tyrants know anything about.
Now, who or what is the lion in your way? Who or what is it that fills you with such timorousness and mistrust, that you are almost turning back from the way to life altogether? The fiercest of all our lions is our own sin. When a man's own sin not only finds him out and comes roaring after him, but when it dashes past him and gets into the woods and thickets before him, and stands pawing and foaming on the side of his way, that is a trial of faith and love and trust indeed. Sometimes a man's past sins will fill all his future life with sleepless apprehensions. He is never sure at what turn in his upward way he may not suddenly run against some of them standing ready to rush out upon him. And it needs no little quiet trust and humble-minded resignation to carry a man through this slough and that bottom, up this hill and down that valley, all the time with his life in his hand; and yet at every turn, at every rumour that there are lions in the way, to say, Come lion, come lamb, come death, come life, I must venture, I will yet go forward. As Job also, that wonderful saint of God, said, 'Hold your peace, let me alone that I may speak, and let come on me what will. Wherefore do I take my flesh in my teeth and put my life in my hand? Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him. He also shall be my salvation; for an hypocrite shall not come before Him.'
One false step, one stumble in life, one error in judgment, one outbreak of an unbridled temperament, one small sin, if it is even so much as a sin, of ignorance or of infirmity, will sometimes not only greatly injure us at the time, but, in some cases, will fill all our future life with trials and difficulties and dangers. Many of us shall have all our days to face a future of defeat, humiliation, impoverishment, and many hardships, that has not come on us on account of any presumptuous transgression of God's law so much as simply out of some combination of unfortunate circumstances in which we may have only done our duty, but have not done it in the most serpent-like way. And when we are made to suffer unjustly or disproportionately all our days for our error of judgment or our want of the wisdom of this world, or what not, we are sorely tempted to be bitter and proud and resentful and unforgiving, and to go back from duty and endurance and danger altogether. But we must not. We must rather say to ourselves, Now and here, if not in the past, I must play the man, and, by God's help, the wise man. I must pluck safety henceforth out of the heart of the nettle danger. Yes, I made a mistake. I did what I would not do now, and I must not be too proud to say so. I acted, I see now, precipitately, inconsiderately, imprudently. And I must not gloom and rebel and run away from the cross and the lion. I must not insist or expect that the always wise and prudent man's reward is to come to me. The lion in my way is a lion of my own rearing; and I must not turn my back on him, even if he should be let loose to leap on me and rend me. I must pass under his paw and through his teeth, if need be, to a life with him and beyond him of humility and duty and quiet-hearted submission to his God and mine.
Then, again, our salvation itself sometimes, our true sanctification, puts on a lion's skin and not unsuccessfully imitates an angry lion's roar. Some saving grace that up till now we have been fatally lacking in lies under the very lip of that lion we see standing straight in our way. God in His wisdom so orders our salvation, that we must work out the best part of it with fear and trembling. Right before us, just beside us, standing over us with his heavy paw upon us, is a lion, from under whose paw and from between whose teeth we must pluck and put on that grace in which our salvation lies. Repentance and reformation lie in the way of that lion; resignation also and humility; the crucifixion of our own will; the sacrifice of our own heart; in short, everything that is still lacking but is indispensable to our salvation lies through that den of lions. One man here is homeless and loveless; another is childless; another has a home and children, and much envies the man who has neither; one has talents there is no scope for; another has the scope, but not the sufficient talent; another must now spend all his remaining life in a place where he sees that anger and envy and jealousy and malevolence will be his roaring lions daily seeking to devour his soul. There is not a Christian man or woman in this house whose salvation, worth being called a salvation, does not lie through such a lion's thicket as that. Our Lord Himself was a roaring lion to John the Baptist. For the Baptist's salvation lay not in his powerful preaching, but in his being laid aside from all preaching; not in his crowds increasing, but in his Successor's crowds increasing and his decreasing. The Baptist was the greatest born of woman in that day, not because he was a thundering preacher--any ordinary mother in Israel might have been his mother in that: but to decrease sweetly and to steal down quietly to perfect humility and self-oblivion,--that salvation was reserved for the son of Elisabeth alone. I would not like to say Who that is champing and pawing for your blood right in your present way. Reverence will not let me say Who it is. Only, you venture on Him.
'Yes, I shall venture!' said Christian to the two terrified and retreating men. Now, every true venture is made against risk and uncertainty, against anxiety and danger and fear. And it is just this that constitutes the nobleness and blessedness of faith. Faith sells all for Christ. Faith risks all for eternal life. Faith faces all for salvation. When it is at the worst, faith still says, Very well; even if there is no Celestial City anywhere in the world, it is better to die still seeking it than to live on in the City of Destruction. Even if there is no Jesus Christ,--I have read about Him and heard about Him and pictured Him to myself, till, say what you will, I shall die kissing and embracing that Divine Image I have in my heart. Even if there is neither mercy- seat nor intercession in heaven, I shall henceforth pray without ceasing. Far far better for me all the rest of my sinful life to be clothed with sackcloth and ashes, even if there is no fountain opened in Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness, and no change of raiment. Christian protested that, as for him, lions and all, he had no choice left. And no more have we. He must away somewhere, anywhere, from his past life. And so must we. If all the lions that ever drank blood are to collect upon his way, let them do so; they shall not all make him turn back. Why should they? What is a whole forest full of lions to a heart and a life full of sin? Lions are like lambs compared with sin. 'Good morning! I for one must venture. I shall yet go forward.' So Mistrust and Timorous ran down the hill, and Christian went on his way.