"The more I do," complained one of Thomas Shepard's best friends to him, "the worse I am." "The best saints are the most sensible of sin," wrote Samuel Rutherford. And, again he wrote, "Sin rages far more in the godly than ever it does in the ungodly." And you dare not deny but that Samuel Rutherford was one of the holiest men that ever lived, or that in saying all that he was speaking of himself. And Newman: "Every one who tries to do God's will"--and that also is Newman himself--"will feel himself to be full of all imperfection and sin; and the more he succeeds in regulating his heart, the more will he discern its original bitterness and guilt." As our own hymn has it:
"They who fain would serve Thee best Are conscious most of wrong within."
Without knowing it, Mrs. Timorous's runaway father was speaking the same language as the chief of the saints. Only he said, "Therefore I have turned back," whereas, first Christian, and then Christiana his widow, said, "Yet I must venture!"
And so say you. Say, I must and I will venture! Say it; clench your teeth and your hands and say it. Say that you are determined to go on towards heaven where the holy are--absolutely determined, though you are quite well aware that you are carrying up with you the blackest, the wickedest, the most corrupt, and the most abominable heart either out of hell or in it. Say that, say all that, and still venture. Say all that and all the more venture. Venture upon God of whom such reassuring things are said. Venture upon the Son of God of whom His Father is represented as saying such inviting things. Venture upon the cross. Survey the wondrous cross and then make a bold venture upon it. Think who that is who is bleeding to death upon the cross, and why? Look at Him till you never afterwards can see anything else. Look at God's Eternal, Divine, Well-pleasing Son with all the wages of sin dealt out to Him, body and soul, on that tree to the uttermost farthing. And, devil incarnate though you indeed are, yet, say, if that spectacle does not satisfy you, and encourage you, and carry your cowardice captive. Venture! I say, venture! And if you find at last that you have ventured too far--if you have sinned and corrupted yourself beyond redemption--then it will be some consolation and distinction to you in hell that you had out-sinned the infinite grace of God, and had seen the end of the unsearchable riches of Christ. Timid sinner, I but mock thee, therefore venture! Fearful sinner, venture! Cowardly sinner, venture. Venture thyself upon thy God, upon Christ thy Saviour, and upon His cross. Venture all thy guilt and all thy corruption taken together upon Christ hanging upon His cross, and make that tremendous venture now!
"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."--Our Lord.
The first time that we see Mercy she is standing one sunshine morning knocking along with another at Christiana's door. And all that we afterwards hear of Mercy might be described as, A morning call and all that came of it; or, How a godly matron led on a poor maid to fall in love with her own salvation. John Bunyan, her biographer, in all his devotion to Mercy, does not make it at all clear to us why such a sweet and good girl as Mercy was could be on such intimate terms with Mrs. Timorous and all her so questionable circle. Could it be that Mercy's mother was one of that unhappy set? And had this dear little woman-child been brought up so as to know no better than to figure in their assemblies, and go out on their morning rounds with Mrs. Light-mind and Mrs. Know-nothing? Or, was poor Mercy an orphan with no one to watch over her, and had her sweet face, her handsome figure, and her winning manners made her one of the attractions of old Madam Wanton's midnight routs? However it came about, there was Mercy out on a series of morning calls with a woman twice her age, but a woman whose many years had taught her neither womanliness nor wisdom. "If you come in God's name, come in," a voice from the inside answered the knocking of Mrs. Timorous and Mercy, her companion, at Christiana's door. In all their rounds that morning the two women had not been met with another salutation like that; and that strange salutation so disconcerted and so confounded them that they did not know whether to lift the latch and go in, or to run away and leave those to go in who could take their delight in such outlandish language. "If you come in God's name, come in." At this the women were stunned, for this kind of language they used not to hear or to perceive to drop from the lips of Christiana. Yet they came in; but, behold, they found the good woman preparing to be gone from her house. The conversation that ensued was all carried on by the two elder women. For it was often remarked about Mercy all her after-days that her voice was ever soft, and low, and, especially, seldom heard. But her ears were not idle. For all the time the debate went on-- because by this time the conversation had risen to be a debate-- Mercy was taking silent sides with Christiana and her distress and her intended enterprise, till, when Mrs. Timorous reviled Christiana and said, "Come away, Mercy, and leave her in her own hands," Mercy by that time was brought to a standstill. For, like a rose among thorns, Mercy was thoughtful and wise and womanly far beyond her years. So much so, that already she had made up her mind to offer herself as a maidservant to help the widow with her work and to see her so far on her way, and, indeed, though she kept that to herself, to go all the way with her, if the way should prove open to her. First, her heart yearned over Christiana; so she said within herself, If my neighbour will needs be gone, I will go a little way with her to help her. Secondly, her heart yearned over her own soul's salvation, for what Christiana had said had taken some hold upon Mercy's mind. Wherefore she said within herself, I will yet have more talk with this Christiana, and if I find truth and life in what she shall say, myself with all my heart shall also go with her. "Neighbour," spoke out Mercy to Mrs. Timorous, "I did indeed come with you to see Christiana this morning, and since she is, as you see, a-taking of her last farewell of her country, I think to walk this sunshine morning a little way with her to help her on the way." But she told her not of her second reason, but kept that to herself. I would fain go on with Mercy's memoirs all night. But you will take up that inviting thread for yourselves. And meantime I shall stop here and gather up under two or three heads some of the more memorable results and lessons of that sunshine-morning call.
1. Well, then, to begin with, there was something quite queen- like, something absolutely commanding, about Christiana's look and manner, as well as about all she said and did that morning. Mercy's morning companion had all the advantages that dress and equipage could give her; while Christiana stood in the middle of the floor in her housewife's clothes, covered with dust and surrounded with all her dismantled house; but, with all that, there was something about Christiana that took Mercy's heart completely captive. All that Christiana had by this time come through had blanched her cheek and whitened her hair: but all that only the more commanded Mercy's sensitive and noble soul. To be open to impressions of that kind is one of the finest endowments of a finely endowed nature; and, all through, the attentive reader of her history will be sure to remark and imitate Mercy's exquisite and tenacious sensibility to all that is true and good, upright and honourable and noble. And then, what a blessing it is to a girl of Mercy's mould to meet at opening womanhood with another woman, be it a mother, a mistress, or a neighbour, whose character then, and as life goes on, can supply the part of the supporting and sheltering oak to the springing and clinging vine. Christiana being now the new woman she was, as well as a woman of great natural wisdom, dignity, and stability of character, the safety, the salvation of poor motherless Mercy was as good as sure. Indeed, all Mercy's subsequent history is only one long and growing tribute to the worth, the constant love, and the sleepless solicitude of this true mother in Israel.
2. Now, it was so, that, wholly unknown to all her companions, young and old, in her own very remarkable words, Mercy had for a long time been hungering with all her heart to meet with some genuinely good people,--with some people, as she said herself,--"of truth and of life." These are remarkable words to hear drop from the lips of a young girl, and especially a girl of Mercy's environment. Now, had there been anything hollow, had there been one atom of insincerity or exaggeration about Christiana that morning, had she talked too much, had all her actions not far more than borne out all her words, had there not been in the broken- hearted woman a depth of mind and a warmth of heart far beyond all her words, Mercy would never have become a pilgrim. But the natural dignity of Christiana's character; her capable, commanding, resolute ways; the reality, even to agony, of her sorrow for her past life--all taken together with her iron-fast determination to enter at once on a new life--all that carried Mercy's heart completely captive. Mercy felt that there was a solemnity, an awesomeness, and a mystery about her new friend's experiences and memories that it was not for a child like herself to attempt to intrude into. But, all the more because of that, a spell of love and fear and reverence lay on Mercy's heart and mind all her after- days from that so solemn and so eventful morning when she first saw Christiana's haggard countenance and heard her remorseful cries. My so churlish carriages to him! Now, such carriages between man and wife had often pained and made ashamed Mercy's maidenly heart beyond all expression. Till she had sometimes said to herself, blushing with shame before herself as she said it, that if ever she was a wife--may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth before I say one churlish word to him who is my husband! And thus it was that nothing that Christiana said that morning in the uprush of her remorse moved Mercy more with pity and with love than just what Christiana beat her breast about as concerning her lost husband. Mercy used to say that she saw truth and life enough in one hour that morning to sober and to solemnise and to warn her to set a watch on the door of her lips for all her after-days.