Well, then, in the first place, the only way to the Celestial City ran through Vanity Fair; by no possibility could the advancing pilgrims escape the temptations and the dangers of the fatal fair. He that will go to the Celestial City and yet not go through Vanity Fair must needs go out of the world. And so it is with the temptations and trials of the next ten days. We cannot get past them. They are laid down right across our way. And to many men now in this house the next ten days will be a time of simply terrible temptation. If I had been quite sure that all my people saw that and felt that, I would not have introduced here to-night what some of them, judging too hastily, will certainly call this so secular and unseemly subject. But I am so afraid that many not untrue, and in other things most earnest men amongst us, do not yet know sufficiently the weakness and the evil of their own hearts, that I wish much, if they will allow me, to put them on their guard. ''Tis hard,' said Contrite, who was a householder and had a vote in the town of Vanity, ''tis hard keeping our hearts and our spirits in any good order when we are in a cumbered condition. And you may be sure that we are full of hurry at fair-time. He that lives in such a place as this is, and that has to do with such as we have to do with, has need of an item to caution him to take heed every hour of the day.' Now, if all my people, and all this day's communicants, were only contrite enough, I would leave them to the hurry of the approaching election with much more comfort. But as it is, I wish to give them such an item as I am able to caution them for the next ten days. Let them know, then, that their way for the next fortnight lies, I will not say through a fair of jugglings and cheatings, carried on by apes and knaves, but, to speak without figure, their way certainly lies through what will be to many of them a season of the greatest temptation to the very worst of all possible sins--to anger and bitterness and ill-will; to no end of evil-thinking and evil-speaking; to the breaking up of life-long friendships; and to widespread and lasting damage to the cause of Christ, which is the cause of truth and love, meekness and a heavenly mind. Now, amid all that, as Evangelist said to the two pilgrims, look well to your own hearts. Let none of all these evil things enter your heart from the outside, and let none of all these evil things come out of your hearts from the inside. Set your faces like a flint from the beginning against all evil-speaking and evil-thinking. Let your own election to the kingdom of heaven be always before you, and walk worthy of it; and amid all the hurry of things seen and temporal, believe steadfastly concerning the things that are eternal, and walk worthy of them.
'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.