So I saw in my dream that he made haste and went forward, that if possible he might get lodging in the house called Beautiful that stood by the highway side. Now, before he had gone far he entered into a very narrow passage which was about a furlong off from the porter's lodge, and looking very narrowly before him as he went, he espied two lions in the way. Then was he afraid, and thought also to go back, for he thought that nothing but death was before him. But the porter at the lodge, whose name was Watchful, perceiving that Christian made a halt, as if he would go back, cried unto him, saying, 'Is thy strength so small? Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are only placed there for the trial of faith where it is, and for the discovery of those who have none. Keep the midst of the path and no hurt shall come to thee.' Yes, that is all we have to do. Whatever our past life may have been, whatever our past sins, past errors of judgment, past mistakes and mishaps, whatever of punishment or chastisement or correction or instruction or sanctification and growth in grace may be under those lions' skins and between their teeth for us, all we have got to do at present is to leave the lions to Him who set them there, and to go on, up to them and past them, keeping always to the midst of the path. The lions may roar at us till they have roared us deaf and blind, but we are far safer in the midst of that path than we would be in our own bed. Only let us keep in the midst of the path. When their breath is hot and full of blood on our cheek; when they paw up the blinding earth; when we feel as if their teeth had closed round our heart,--still, all the more, let us keep in the midst of the path. We must sometimes walk on a razor-edge of fear and straightforwardness; that is the only way left for us now. But, then, we have the Divine assurance that on that perilous edge no hurt shall come to us. 'Temptations,' says our author in another place, 'when we meet them at first, are as the lion that roared upon Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them we shall find a nest of honey in them.' O God, for grace and sense and imagination to see and understand and apply all that to our own daily life! O to be able to take all that home to-night and see it all there; lions and runaways, venturesome souls, narrow paths, palaces of beauty, everlasting life and all! Open Thou our eyes that we may see the wonderful things that await us in our own house at home!
'Things out of hope are compassed oft with venturing.'
So they are; and so they were that day with our terrified pilgrim. He made a venture at the supreme moment of his danger, and things that were quite out of all hope but an hour before were then compassed and ever after possessed by him. Make the same venture, then, yourselves to-night. Naught venture, naught have. Your lost soul is not much to venture, but it is all that Christ at this moment asks of you--that you leave your lost soul in His hand, and then go straight on from this moment in the middle of the path: the path, that is, as your case may be, of purity, humility, submission, resignation, and self-denial. Keep your mind and your heart, your eyes and your feet, in the very middle of that path, and you shall have compassed the House Beautiful before you know. The lions shall soon be behind you, and the grave and graceful damsels of the House--Discretion and Prudence and Piety and Charity--shall all be waiting upon you.
'Let a man examine himself.'--Paul.
Let a man examine himself, says the apostle to the Corinthians, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. And thus it was, that before the pilgrim was invited to sit down at the supper table in the House Beautiful, quite a number of most pointed and penetrating questions were put to him by those who had charge of that house and its supper table. And thus the time was excellently improved till the table was spread, while the short delay and the successive exercises whetted to an extraordinary sharpness the pilgrim's hunger for the supper. Piety and Charity, who had joint charge of the house from the Master of the house, held each a characteristic conversation with Christian, but it was left to Prudence to hold the most particular discourse with him until supper was ready, and it is to that so particular discourse that I much wish to turn your attention to-night.
With great tenderness, but at the same time with the greatest possible gravity, Prudence asked the pilgrim whether he did not still think sometimes of the country from whence he had come out. Yes, he replied; how could I help thinking continually of that unhappy country and of my sad and miserable life in it; but, believe me,--or, rather, you cannot believe me,--with what shame and detestation I always think of my past life. My face burns as I now speak of my past life to you, and as I think what my old companions know and must often say about me. I detest, as you cannot possibly understand, every remembrance of my past life, and I hate and never can forgive myself, who, with mine own hands, so filled all my past life with shame and self-contempt. Gently stopping the remorseful pilgrim's self-accusations about his past life, Prudence asked him if he had not still with him, and, indeed, within him, some of the very things that had so destroyed both him and all his past life. 'Yes,' he honestly and humbly said. 'Yes, but greatly against my will: especially my inward and sinful cogitations.' At this Prudence looked on him with all her deep and soft eyes, for it was to this that she had been leading the conversation up all the time. Prudence had a great look of satisfaction, mingled with love and pity, at the way the pilgrim said 'especially my inward and sinful cogitations.' Those who stood by and observed Prudence wondered at her delight in the sad discourse on which the pilgrim now entered. But she had her own reasons for her delight in this particular kind of discourse, and it was seldom that she lighted on a pilgrim who both understood her questions and responded to them as did this man now sitting beside her. Now, my brethren, all parable apart, is that your religious experience? Are you full of shame and detestation at your inward cogitations? Are you tormented, enslaved, and downright cursed with your own evil thoughts? I do not ask whether or no you have such thoughts always within you. I do not ask, because I know. But I ask, because I would like to make sure that you know what, and the true nature of what, goes on incessantly in your mind and in your heart. Do you, or do you not, spit out your most inward thoughts ten times a day like poison? If you do, you are a truly religious man, and if you do not, you do not yet know the very ABC of true religion, and your dog has a better errand at the Lord's table than you have. And if your minister lets you sit down at the Lord's table without holding from time to time some particular discourse with you about your sinful thoughts, he is deceiving and misleading you, besides laying up for himself an awakening at last to shame and everlasting contempt. What a mill-stone his communion roll will be round such a minister's neck! And how his congregation will gnash their teeth at him when they see to what his miserable ministry has brought them!
Let a man examine himself, said Paul. What about your inward and sinful cogitations? asked Prudence. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? demanded the bold prophet. Now, my brethren, what have you to say to that particular accusation? Do you know what vain thoughts are? Are you at all aware what multitudes of such thoughts lodge within you? Do they drive you every day to your knees, and do you blush with shame when you are alone before God at the fountain of folly that fills your mind and your heart continually? The Apostle speaks of vain hopes that make us ashamed that we ever entertained them. You have been often so ashamed, and yet do not such hopes still too easily arise in your heart? What castles of idiotic folly you still build! Were a sane man or a modest woman even to dream such dreams of folly overnight, they would blush and hide their heads all day at the thought. Out of a word, out of a look, out of what was neither a word nor a look intended for you, what a world of vanity will you build out of it! The question of Prudence is not whether or no you are still a born fool at heart, she does not put unnecessary questions: hers to you is the more pertinent and particular question, whether, since you left your former life and became a Christian, you feel every day increasing shame and detestation at yourself, on account of the vanity of your inward cogitations. My brethren, can you satisfy her who is set by her Master to hold particular discourse with all true Christians before supper? Can you say with the Psalmist,-- could you tell Prudence where the Psalmist says,--I hate vain thoughts, but Thy law do I love? And can you silence her by telling her that her Master alone knows with what shame you think that He has such a fool as you are among His people?
Anger, also, sudden and even long-entertained anger, was one of the 'many failings' of which Christian was so conscious to himself. His outbursts of anger at home, he bitterly felt, might well be one of the causes why his wife and children did not accompany him on his pilgrimage. And though he knew his failing in this respect, and was very wary of it, yet he often failed even when he was most wary. Now, while anger is largely a result of our blood and temperament, yet few of us are so well-balanced and equable in our temperament and so pure and cool in our blood, as altogether to escape frequent outbursts of anger. The most happily constituted and the best governed of us have too much cause to be ashamed and penitent both before God and our neighbours for our outbursts of angry passion. But Prudence is so particular in her discourse before supper, that she goes far deeper into our anger than our wives and our children, our servants and our neighbours, can go. She not only asks if we stamp out the rising anger of our heart as we would stamp out sparks of fire in a house full of gunpowder; but she insists on being told what we think of ourselves when the house of our heart is still so full of such fire and such gunpowder. Any man, to call a man, would be humbled in his own eyes and in his walk before his house at home after an explosion of anger among them; but he who would satisfy Prudence and sit beside her at supper, must not only never let his anger kindle, but the simple secret heat of it, that fire of hell that is hid from all men but himself in the flint of his own hard and proud heart,--what, asks Prudence, do you think of that, and of yourself on account of that? Does that keep you not only watchful and prayerful, but, what is the best ground in you of all true watchfulness and prayerfulness, full of secret shame, self-fear, and self-detestation? One forenoon table would easily hold all our communicants if Prudence had the distribution of the tokens.