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.
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!