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.
2. 'Now, I beheld in my dream that they had not journeyed far when the river and the way for a time parted. At which the two pilgrims were not a little sorry.' The two pilgrims could not perhaps be expected to break forth into dancing and singing at the parting of the river and the way, even though they had recollected at that moment what the brother of the Lord says about our counting it all joy when we fall into divers temptations. But it would not have been too much to expect from such experienced pilgrims as they by this time were, that they should have suspected and checked and commanded their sorrow. They should have said something like this to one another: Well, it would have been very pleasant had it been our King's will and way with us that we should have finished the rest of our pilgrimage among the apples and the lilies and on the soft and fragrant bank of the river; but we believe that it must in some as yet hidden way be better for us that the river and our road should part from one another at least for a season. Come, brother, and let us go on till we find out our Master's deep and loving mind. But, instead of saying that, Christian and Hopeful soon became like the children of Israel as they journeyed from Mount Hor, their soul was much discouraged because of the way. And always as they went on they wished for a softer and a better way. And it was so that they very soon came to the very thing they so much wished for. For, what is that on the left hand of the hard road but a stile, and over the stile a meadow as soft to the feet as the meadow of lilies itself? ''Tis just according to my wish,' said Christian; 'here is the easiest going. Come, good Hopeful, and let us go over.' Hopeful: 'But how if the path should lead us out of the way?' 'That's not like,' said the other; 'look, doth it not go along by the wayside?' So Hopeful, being persuaded by his fellow, went after him over the stile.
Call to mind, all you who are delivered and restored pilgrims, that same stile that once seduced you. To keep that stile ever before you is at once a safe and a seemly occupation of mind for any one who has made your mistakes and come through your chastisements. Christian's eyes all his after-days filled with tears, and he turned away his face and blushed scarlet, as often as he suddenly came upon any opening in a wall at all like that opening he here persuaded Hopeful to climb through. It is too much to expect that those who are just mounting the stile, and have just caught sight of the smooth path beyond it, will let themselves be pulled back into the hard and narrow way by any persuasion of ours. Christian put down Hopeful's objection till Hopeful broke out bitterly when the thunder was roaring over his head and he was wading about among the dark waters: 'Oh that I had kept myself in my way!' Are you a little sorry to-night that the river and the way are parting in your life? Is your soul discouraged in you because of the soreness of the way? And as you go do you still wish for some better way than the strait way? And have you just espied a stile on the left hand of your narrow and flinty path, and on looking over it is there a pleasant meadow? And does your companion point out to your satisfaction, and, almost to your good conscience, that the soft road runs right along the hard road, only over the stile and outside the fence? Then, good-bye. For it is all over with you. We shall meet you again, please God; but when we meet you again, your mind and memory will be full of shame and remorse and suffering enough to keep you in songs of repentance for all the rest of your life on earth. Farewell!
The Pilgrims now, to gratify the flesh, Will seek its ease; but oh! how they afresh Do thereby plunge themselves new grieves into: Who seek to please the flesh themselves undo.
3. The two transgressors had not gone far on their own way when night came on and with the night a very great darkness. But what soon added to the horror of their condition was that they heard a man fall into a deep pit right before them, and it sounded to them as if he was dashed to pieces by his fall. So they called to know the matter, but there was none to answer, only they heard a groaning. Then said Hopeful: Where are we now? Then was his fellow silent, as mistrusting that he had led Hopeful out of the way. Now, all that also is true to the very life, and has been taken down by Bunyan from the very life. We have all heard men falling and heard them groaning just a little before us after we had left the strait road. They had just gone a little farther wrong than we had as yet gone,--just a very little farther; in some cases, indeed, not so far, when they fell and were dashed to pieces with their fall. It was well for us at that dreadful moment that we heard the same voice saying to us for our encouragement as said to the two trembling transgressors: 'Let thine heart be toward the highway, even the way that thou wentest; turn again.' Now, what is it in which you are at this moment going off the right road? What is that life of disobedience or self-indulgence that you are just entering on? Keep your ears open and you will hear hundreds of men and women falling and being dashed to pieces before you and all around you. Are you falling of late too much under the power of your bodily appetites? It is not one man, nor two, well known to you, who have fallen never to rise again out of that horrible pit. Are you well enough aware that you are being led into bad company? Or, is your companion, who is not a bad man in anything else, leading you, in this and in that, into what at any rate is bad for you? You will soon, unless you cut off your companion like a right hand, be found saying with misguided and overruled Hopeful: Oh that I had kept me to my right way! And so on in all manner of sin and trespass. Those who have ears to hear such things hear every day one man after another falling through lust or pride or malice or idleness or infidelity, till there is none to answer.
4. 'All hope abandon' was the writing that Dante read over the door of hell. And the two prisoners all but abandoned all hope when they found themselves in Giant Despair's dungeon. Only, Christian, the elder man, had the most distress because their being where they now were lay mostly at his door. All this part of the history also is written in Bunyan's very heart's blood. 'I found it hard work,' he tells us of himself, 'to pray to God because despair was swallowing me up. I thought I was as with a tempest driven away from God. About this time I did light on that dreadful story of that miserable mortal, Francis Spira, a book that was to my troubled spirit as salt when rubbed into a fresh wound; every groan of that man with all the rest of his actions in his dolours, as his tears, his prayers, his gnashing of teeth, his wringing of hands, was as knives and daggers in my soul, especially that sentence of his was frightful to me: "Man knows the beginning of sin, but who bounds the issues thereof?"' We never read anything like Spira's experience and Grace Abounding and Giant Despair's dungeon in the books of our day. And why not, do you think? Is there less sin among us modern men, or did such writers as John Bunyan overdraw and exaggerate the sinfulness of sin? Were they wrong in holding so fast as they did hold that death and hell are the sure wages of sin? Has divine justice become less fearful than it used to be to those who rush against it, or is it that we are so much better men? Is our faith stronger and more victorious over doubt and fear? Is it that our hope is better anchored? Whatever the reason is, there can be no question but that we walk in a liberty that our fathers did not always walk in. Whether or no our liberty is not recklessness and licentiousness is another matter. Whether or no it would be a better sign of us if we were better acquainted with doubt and dejection and diffidence, and even despair, is a question it would only do us good to put to ourselves. When we properly attend to these matters we shall find out that, the holier a man is, the more liable he is to the assaults of doubt and fear and even despair. We have whole psalms of despair, so deep was David's sense of sin, so high were his views of God's holiness and justice, and so full of diffidence was his wounded heart. And David's Son, when our sin was laid upon Him, felt the curse and the horror of His state so much that His sweat was in drops of blood, and His cry in the darkness was that His God had forsaken Him. And when our spirits are wounded with our sins, as the spirits of all God's great saints have always been wounded, we too shall feel ourselves more at home with David and with Asaph, with Spira even, and with Bunyan. Despair is not good, but it is infinitely better than indifference. 'It is a common saying,' says South, 'and an observation in divinity, that where despair has slain its thousands, presumption has slain its ten thousands. The agonies of the former are indeed more terrible, but the securities of the latter are far more fatal.'
5. 'I will,' says Paul to Timothy, 'that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without doubting.' And, just as Paul would have it, Christian and Hopeful began to lift up their hands even in the dungeon of Doubting Castle. 'Well,' we read, 'on Saturday night about midnight they began to pray, and continued in prayer till almost break of day. Now, before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, broke out in this passionate speech: "What a fool," quoth he, "am I thus to lie in a stinking dungeon when I may as well walk at liberty; I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in all Doubting Castle." Then said Hopeful: "That's good news, good brother; pluck it out of thy bosom and try."' Then Christian pulled the key out of his bosom and the bolt gave back, and Christian and Hopeful both came out, and you may be sure they were soon out of the giant's jurisdiction.