5. But perhaps the best and most infallible evidence we can have of the truth of our religion in this life is in the steady increase of our secret sinfulness. Christiana had no trouble with her own wicked heart so long as she was a woman of a wicked life. But directly she became a new creature, her heart began to swarm, such is her own expression, with sinful memories, sinful thoughts, and sinful feelings; till she had need of some one ever near her, like Greatheart, constantly to assure her that those cruel and deadly swarms, instead of being a bad sign of her salvation, were the very best signs possible of her good estate. Humility is the foundation of all our graces, and there is no humility so deep and so ever- deepening as that evangelical humility which in its turn rises out of and rests upon secret sinfulness. Not upon acts of secret sin. Do not mistake me. Acts of secret sin harden the heart and debauch the conscience. But I speak of that secret, original, unexplored, and inexpugnable sinfulness out of which all a sinner's actual sins, both open sins and secret, spring; and out of which a like life of open and actual sins would spring in God's very best saints, if only both He and they did not watch night and day against them. Sensibility to sin, or rather to sinfulness, is far and away the best evidence of sanctification that is possible to us in this life. It is this keen and bitter sensibility that secures, amid all oppositions and obstructions, the true saint's onward and upward progress. Were it not for the misery of their own hearts, God's best saints would fall asleep and go back like other men. A sinful heart is the misery of all miseries. It is the deepest and darkest of all dungeons. It is the most painful and the most loathsome of all diseases. And the secrecy of it all adds to the bitterness and the gall of it all. We may know that other men's hearts are as sinful as our own, but we do not feel their sinfulness. We cannot sensibly feel humiliation, bondage, sickness, and self-loathing on account of another man's envy, or ill-will, or resentment, or cruelty, or falsehood, or impurity. All these things must be our own before we can enter into the pain and the shame of them; but, when we do, then we taste what death and hell are indeed. As I write these feeble words about it, a devil's shaft of envy that was shot all against my will into my heart this morning, still, after a whole day, rankles and festers there. I have been on my knees with it again and again; I have stood and looked into an open grave to-day; but there it is sucking at my heart's blood still, like a leech of hell. Who can understand his errors? Cleanse Thou me from secret faults. Create in me a clean heart, O God, O wretched man that I am! "Let a man," says William Law when he is enforcing humility, "but consider that if the world knew all that of him which he knows of himself: if they saw what vanity and what passions govern his inside, and what secret tempers sully and corrupt his best actions, he would have no more pretence to be honoured and admired for his goodness and wisdom than a rotten and distempered body to be loved and admired for its beauty and comeliness. This is so true, and so known to the hearts of almost all people, that nothing would appear more dreadful to them than to have their hearts fully discovered to the eyes of all beholders. And, perhaps, there are very few people in the world who would not rather choose to die than to have all their secret follies, the errors of their judgments, the vanity of their minds, the falseness of their pretences, the frequency of their vain and disorderly passions, their uneasinesses, hatreds, envies, and vexations made known to all the world." Where did William Law get that terrible passage? Where could he get it but in the secret heart of the miserable author of the Serious Call?
6. The half cannot be told of the guilt and the corruption, the pain and the shame and the manifold misery of secret sin; but all that will be told, believed, and understood by all men long before the full magnificence of their sanctification, and the superb transcendence of their blessedness, will even begin to be described to God's secret saints. For, all that sleepless, cruel, and soul- killing pain, and all that shameful and humbling corruption,--all that means, all that is, so much holiness, so much heaven, working itself out in the soul. All that is so much immortal life, spotless beauty, and incorruptible joy already begun in the soul. Every such pang in a holy heart is a death-pang of another sin and a birth-pang of another grace. Brotherly love is at last being born never to die in that heart where envy and malice and resentment and revenge are causing inward agony. And humility and meekness and the whole mind of Christ are there where pride and anger and ill-will are felt to be very hell itself. And holiness, even as God is holy, will soon be there for ever where the sinfulness of sin is a sinner's acutest sorrow. "As for me," said one whose sin was ever before him, "I will behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I wake with Thy likeness."
"But the fearful [literally, the timid and the cowardly] shall have their part in the second death."--Revelation xxi.
No sooner had Secret bidden Christiana farewell than she began with all her might to make ready for her great journey. "Come, my children, let us pack up and begone to the gate that leads to the Celestial City, that we may see your father and be with him, and with his companions, in peace, according to the laws of that land." And then: "Come in, if you come in God's name!" Christiana called out, as two of her neighbours knocked at her door. "Having little to do at home this morning," said the elder of the two women, "I have come across to kill a little time with you. I spent last night with Mrs. Light-mind, and I have some good news for you this morning." "I am just preparing for a journey this morning," said Christiana, packing up all the time, "and I have not so much as one moment to spare." You know yourselves what Christiana's nervousness and almost impatience were. You know how it upsets your good temper and all your civility when you are packing up for a long absence from home, and some one comes in, and will talk, and will not see how behindhand and how busy you are. "For what journey, I pray you?" asked Mrs. Timorous, for that was her visitor's name. "Even to go after my good husband," the busy woman said, and with that she fell a-weeping. But you must read the whole account of that eventful morning in Christiana's memoirs for yourselves till you have it, as Secret said, by root-of-heart. On the understanding that you are not total strangers to that so excellently-written passage I shall now venture a few observations upon it.
1. Well, to begin with, Mrs. Timorous was not a bad woman, as women went in that town and in that day. Her companions,--her gossips, as she would have called them,--were far worse women than she was; and, had it not been for her family infirmity, had it not been for that timid, hesitating, lukewarm, and half-and-half habit of mind which she had inherited from her father, there is no saying what part she might have played in the famous expedition of Christiana and Mercy and the boys. Her father had been a pilgrim himself at one time; but he had now for a long time been known in the town as a turncoat and a temporary, and all his children had unhappily taken after their father in that. Had her father held on as he at one time had begun--had he held on in the face of all fear and all danger as Christiana's noble husband had done--to a certainty his daughter would have started that morning with Christiana and her company, and would have been, if a timid, easily scared, and troublesome pilgrim, yet as true a pilgrim, and made as welcome at last, as, say, Miss Much-afraid, Mr. Fearing, and Mr. Ready-to-halt were made. But her father's superficiality and shakiness, and at bottom his warm love of this world and his lukewarm love of the world to come, had unfortunately all descended to his daughter, till we find her actually reviling Christiana on that decisive morning, and returning to her dish of tea and tittle- tattle with Mrs. Bats-eyes, Mrs. Inconsiderate, Mrs. Light-mind, and Mrs. Know-nothing.
2. The thing that positively terrified Mrs. Timorous at the very thought of setting out with Christiana that morning was that intolerable way in which Christiana had begun to go back upon her past life as a wife and a mother. Christiana could not hide her deep distress, and, indeed, she did not much try. Such were the swarms of painful memories that her husband's late death, the visit of Secret, and one thing and another had let loose upon Christiana's mind, that she could take pleasure in nothing but in how she was to escape away from her past life, and how she could in any way mend it and make up for it where she could not escape from it. "You may judge yourself," said Mrs. Timorous to Mrs. Light- mind, "whether I was likely to find much entertainment with a woman like that!" For, Mrs. Timorous too, you must know, had a past life of her own; and it was that past life of hers all brought back by Christiana's words that morning that made Mrs. Timorous so revile her old friend and return to the society we so soon see her with. Now, is not this the case, that we all have swarms of evil memories that we dare not face? There is no single relationship in life that we can boldly look back upon and fully face. As son or as daughter, as brother or as sister, as friend or as lover, as husband or as wife, as minister or as member, as master or as servant--what swarms of hornet-memories darken our hearts as we so look back! Let any grown-up man, with some imagination, tenderness of heart, and integrity of conscience, go back step by step, taking some time to it,--at a new year, say, or a birthday, or on some such suitable occasion: let him go over his past life back to his youth and childhood--and what an intolerable burden will be laid on his heart before he is done! What a panorama of scarlet pictures will pass before his inward eye! What a forest of accusing fingers will be pointed at him! What hissing curses will be spat at him both by the lips of the living and the dead! What untold pains he will see that he has caused to the innocent and the helpless! What desolating disappointments, what shipwrecks of hope to this man and to that woman! What a stone of stumbling he has been to many who on that stone have been for ever broken and lost! What a rock of offence even his mere innocent existence, all unknown to himself till afterwards, has been! Swarms, said Christiana. Swarms of hornets armed, said Samson. And many of us understand what that bitter word means better than any commentator on Bunyan or on Milton can tell us. One of the holiest men the Church of England ever produced, and one of her best devotional writers, used to shut his door on the night of every first day of the week, and on his knees spread out a prayer which always contained this passage: "I worship Thee, O God, on my face. I smite my breast and say with the publican, God be merciful to me a sinner; the chief of sinners; a sinner far above the publican. Despise me not--an unclean worm, a dead dog, a putrid corpse. Despise me not, despise me not, O Lord. But look upon me with those eyes with which Thou didst look upon Magdalene at the feast, Peter in the hall, and the thief on the cross. O that mine eyes were a fountain of tears that I might weep night and day before Thee! I despise and bruise myself that my penitence is not deeper, is not fuller. Help Thou mine impenitence, and more and more pierce, rend, and crush my heart. My sins are more in number than the sand. My iniquities are multiplied, and I have no relief." Perish your Puritanism, and your prayer-books too! I hear some high-minded and indignant man saying. Perish your Celestial City and all my desire after it, before I say the like of that about myself! Brave words, my brother; brave words! But there have been men as blameless as you are, and as brave-hearted over it, who, when the scales fell off their eyes, were heard crying out ever after: O wretched man that I am! And: Have mercy on me, the chief of sinners! And so, if it so please God, will it yet be with you.
3. "Having had little to do this morning," said Mrs. Timorous to Mrs. Light-mind, "I went to give Christiana a visit." "Law," I read in his most impressive Life, "by this time was well turned fifty, but he rose as early and was as soon at his desk as when he was still a new, enthusiastic, and scrupulously methodical student at Cambridge." Summer and winter Law rose to his devotions and his studies at five o'clock, not because he had imperative sermons to prepare, but because, in his own words, it is more reasonable to suppose a person up early because he is a Christian than because he is a labourer or a tradesman or a servant. I have a great deal of business to do, he would say. I have a hardened heart to change; I have still the whole spirit of religion to get. When Law at any time felt a temptation to relax his rule of early devotion, he again reminded himself how fast he was becoming an old man, and how far back his sanctification still was, till he flung himself out of bed and began to make himself a new heart before the servants had lighted their fires or the farmers had yoked their horses. Shame on you, he said to himself, to lie folded up in a bed when you might be pouring out your heart in prayer and in praise, and thus be preparing yourself for a place among those blessed beings who rest not day and night saying, Holy, Holy, Holy. "I have little to do this morning," said Mrs. Timorous. "But I am preparing for a journey," said Christiana. "I have now a price put into my hand to get gain, and I should be a fool of the greatest size if I should have no heart to strike in with the opportunity."
4. Another thing that completely threw out Christiana's idle visitor and made her downright angry was the way she would finger and kiss and read pieces out of the fragrant letter she held in her hand. You will remember how Christiana came by that letter she was now so fond of. "Here," said Secret, "is a letter I have brought thee from thy husband's King." So she took it and opened it, and it smelt after the manner of the best perfume; also it was written in letters of gold. " I advise thee," said Secret, "that thou put this letter in thy bosom, that thou read therein to thy children until you have all got it by root-of-heart." "His messenger was here," said Christiana to Mrs. Timorous, "and has brought me a letter which invites me to come." And with that she plucked out the letter and read to her out of it, and said: "What now do you say to all that?" That, again, is so true to our own life. For there is nothing that more distastes and disrelishes many people among us than just that we should name to them our favourite books, and read a passage out of them, and ask them to say what they think of such wonderful words. Samuel Rutherford's Letters, for instance; a book that smells to some nostrils with the same heavenly perfume as Secret's own letter did. A book, moreover, that is written in the same ink of gold. Ask at afternoon tea to- morrow, even in so-called Christian homes, when any of the ladies round the table last read, and how often they have read, Grace Abounding, The Saint's Rest, The Religious Affections, Jeremy Taylor, Law, a Kempis, Fenelon, or such like, and they will smile to one another and remark after you are gone on your strange taste for old-fashioned and long-winded and introspective books. "Julia has buried her husband and married her daughters, and since that she spends her time in reading. She is always reading foolish and unedifying books. She tells you every time she sees you that she is almost at the end of the silliest book that ever she read in her life. But the best of it is that it serves to dispose of a good deal of her spare time. She tells you all romances are sad stuff, yet she is very impatient till she can get all she can hear of. Histories of intrigue and scandal are the books that Julia thinks are always too short. The truth is, she lives upon folly and scandal and impertinence. These things are the support of her dull hours. And yet she does not see that in all this she is plainly telling you that she is in a miserable, disordered, reprobate state of mind. Now, whether you read her books or no, you perhaps think with her that it is a dull task to read only religious and especially spiritual books. But when you have the spirit of true religion, when you can think of God as your only happiness, when you are not afraid of the joys of eternity, you will think it a dull task to read any other books. When it is the care of your soul to be humble, holy, pure, and heavenly-minded; when you know anything of the guilt and misery of sin, or feel a real need of salvation, then you will find religious and truly spiritual books to be the greatest feast and joy of your mind and heart." Yes. And then we shall thank God every day we live that He raised us up such helpers in our salvation as the gifted and gracious authors we have been speaking of.