You must all have heard the name of a book that has helped many a saint now in glory to the examination and the keeping of his own heart. I refer to Jeremy Taylor's Holy Living and Dying. Take two or three of Taylor's excellent rules with you as you go down from God's house to-night. 'If you would really live a holy life and die a holy death,' says Taylor, 'learn to reflect in your every action on your secret end in it; consider with yourself why you do it, and what you propound to yourself for your reward. Pray importunately that all your purposes and all your motives may be sanctified. Renew and rekindle your purest purposes by such ejaculations as these: "Not unto us, O God, not unto us, but to Thy name be all the praise. I am in this Thy servant; let all the gain be Thine." In great and eminent actions let there be a special and peculiar act of resignation or oblation made to God; and in smaller and more frequent actions fail not to secure a pious habitual intention.' And so on. And above all, I will add, labour and pray till you feel in your heart that you love God with a supreme and an ever-growing love. And, far as that may be above you as yet, impress your heart with the assurance that such a love is possible to you also, and that you can never be safe or happy till you attain to that love. Other men once as far from the supreme love of God as you are have afterwards attained to it; and so will you if you continue to set it before yourself. Think often on God; read the best books about God; call continually upon God; hold an intimate communion with God, till you feel that you also actually and certainly love God. And though you begin with loving God because He first loved you, you will, beginning with that, rise far above that till you come to love Him for what He is in Himself as well as for what He has done for you. 'I have done this in order to have a seat in the Academy,' said a young man, handing the solution of a problem to an old philosopher. 'Sir,' was the reply, 'with such dispositions you will never earn a seat there. Science must be loved for its own sake, and not for any advantage to be derived from it.' And much more is that true of the highest of all the sciences, the knowledge and the love of God. Love Him, then, till you arrive at loving Him for Himself, and then you shall be for ever delivered from all self-love and by-ends, and shall both glorify and enjoy God for ever. As all they now do who engaged their hearts on earth to the service and the love and the enjoyment of God is such psalms and prayers as these: 'Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is no one on earth that I desire beside Thee. How excellent is Thy loving-kindness, O God! The children of men shall put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings. For with Thee is the fountain of life, and in Thy light shall we see light. As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness. Thou wilt show me the path of life; in Thy presence is fullness of joy, and at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.'
'A wounded spirit who can bear?'--Solomon.
Every schoolboy has Giant Despair by heart. The rough road after the meadow of lilies, the stile into By-Path-Meadow, the night coming on, the thunder and the lightning and the waters rising amain, Giant Despair's apprehension of Christian and Hopeful, their dreadful bed in his dungeon from Wednesday morning till Saturday night, how they were famished with hunger and beaten with a grievous crab-tree cudgel till they were not able to turn, with many other sufferings too many and too terrible to be told which they endured till Saturday about midnight, when they began to pray, and continued in prayer till almost break of day;--John Bunyan is surely the best story-teller in all the world. And, then, over and above that, as often as a boy reads Giant Despair and his dungeon to his father and mother, the two hearers are like Christian and Hopeful when the Delectable shepherds showed them what had happened to some who once went in at By-Path stile: the two pilgrims looked one upon another with tears gushing out, but yet said nothing to the shepherds.
John Bunyan's own experience enters deeply into these terrible pages. In composing these terrible pages, Bunyan writes straight and bold out of his own heart and conscience. The black and bitter essence of a whole black and bitter volume is crushed into these four or five bitter pages. Last week I went over Grace Abounding again, and marked the passages in which its author describes his own experiences of doubt, diffidence, and despair, till I gave over counting the passages, they are so many. I had intended to illustrate the passage before us to-night out of the kindred materials that I knew were so abundant in Bunyan's terrible autobiography, but I had to give up that idea. It would have taken two or three lectures to itself to tell all that Bunyan suffered all his life long from an easily-wounded spirit. The whole book is just Giant Despair and his dungeon, with a gleam here and there of that sunshiny weather that threw the giant into one of his fits, in which he always lost for the time the use of his limbs. Return often, my brethren, to that masterpiece, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. I have read it a hundred times, but last week it was as fresh and powerful and consoling as ever to my sin-wounded spirit.
Let me select some of the incidents that offer occasion for a comment or two.
1. And, in the first place, take notice, and lay well to heart, how sudden, and almost instantaneous, is the fall of Christian and Hopeful from the very gate of heaven to the very gate of hell. All the Sabbath and the Monday and the Tuesday before that fatal Wednesday, the two pilgrims had walked with great delight on the banks of a very pleasant river; that river, in fact, which David the King called the river of God, and John, the river of the water of life. They drank also of the water of the river, which was pleasant and enlivening to their weary spirits. On either side of the river was there a meadow curiously beautified with lilies, and it was green all the year long. In this meadow they lay down and slept, for here they might lie down and sleep safely. When they awoke they gathered again of the fruits of the trees, and drank again of the water of the river, and then lay down again to sleep. Thus they did several days and nights. Now, could you have believed it that two such men as our pilgrims were could be in the enjoyment of all that the first half of the week, and then by their own doing should be in Giant Despair's deepest dungeon before the end of the same week? And yet so it was. And all that is written for the solemn warning of those who are at any time in great enlargement and refreshment and joy in their spiritual life. It is intended for all those who are at any time revelling in a season of revival: those, for example, who are just come home from Keswick or Dunblane, as well as for all those who at home have just made the discovery of some great master of the spiritual life, and who are almost beside themselves with their delight in their divine author. If they are new beginners they will not take this warning well, nor will even all old pilgrims lay it aright to heart; but there it is as plain as the plainest, simplest, and most practical writer in our language could put it.
Behold ye how these crystal streams do glide To comfort pilgrims by the highway side; The meadows green, besides their fragrant smell, Yield dainties for them: And he that can tell What pleasant fruits, yea leaves, these trees do yield, Will soon sell all that he may buy this field.
Thus the two pilgrims sang: only, adds our author in a parenthesis, they were not, as yet, at their journey's end.