3. It may not be out of place at this point to look for a moment at some of the things that agitate, stir up, and make the secret atheism of our hearts to fluctuate and overflow. Butler has a fine passage in which he points out that it is only the higher class of minds that are tempted with speculative difficulties such as those were that assaulted Christian and Hopeful after they were so near the end of their journey. Coarse, common-place, and mean-minded men have their probation appointed them among coarse, mean, and commonplace things; whereas enlightened, enlarged, and elevated men are exercised after the manner of Robert Bruce, Thomas Halyburton, John Bunyan, and Butler himself. "The chief temptations of the generality of the world are the ordinary motives to injustice or unrestrained pleasure; but there are other persons without this shallowness of temper; persons of a deeper sense as to what is invisible and future. Now, these persons have their moral discipline set them in that high region." The profound bishop means that while their appetites and their tempers are the stumbling-stones of the most of men, the difficult problems of natural and revealed and experimental religion are the test and the triumph of other men. As we have just seen in the men mentioned above. Students, whose temptations lie fully as much in their intellects as in their senses, should buy (for a few pence) Halyburton's Memoirs. "With Halyburton," says Dr. John Duncan, "I feel great intellectual congruity. Halyburton was naturally a sceptic, but God gave that sceptic great faith."
Then again, what Atheist calls the "tediousness" of the journey has undoubtedly a great hand in making some half-in-earnest men sceptics, if not scoffers. Many of us here to-night who can never now take this miserable man's way out of the tedium of the Christian life, yet most bitterly feel it. Whether that tedium is inherent in that life, and inevitable to such men as we are who are attempting that life; how far that feature belongs to the very essence of the pilgrim life, and how far we import our own tedium into the pilgrimage; the fact remains as Atheist puts it. As Atheist in this book says, so the Atheist who is in our hearts often says: We are like to have nothing for all our pains but a lifetime of tedious travel. Yes, wherever the blame lies, there can be no doubt about it, that what this hilarious scoffer calls the tediousness of the way is but a too common experience among many of those who, tediousness and all, will still cleave fast to it and will never leave it.
Then, again, great trials in life, great straits, dark and too- long-continued providences, prayer unanswered, or not yet answered in the way we dictate, bad men and bad causes growing like a green bay tree, and good men and good work languishing and dying; these things, and many more things such as these, of which this world of faith and patience is full, prove quite too much for some men till they give themselves up to a state of mind that is nothing better than atheism. "My evidences and my certainty," says Halyburton, "were not answerable to the weight I was compelled to lay upon them." A figure which Goodwin in his own tender and graphic way takes up thus: "Set pins in a wall and fix them in ever so loosely, yet, if you hang nothing upon them they will seem to stand firm; but hang a heavy weight upon them, or even give them the least jog as you pass, and the whole thing will suddenly come down. The wall is God's word, the slack pin is our faith, and the weight and the jog are the heavy burdens and the sudden shocks of life, and down our hearts go, wall and pin and suspended vessel and all.
When the church and her ministers, when the Scriptures and their anomalies, and when the faults and failings of Christian men are made the subject of mockery and laughter, the reverence, the fear, the awe, the respect that all enter so largely into religion, and especially into the religion of young people, is too easily destroyed; and not seldom the first seeds of practical and sometimes of speculative atheism are thus sown. The mischief that has been done by mockery and laughter to the souls, especially of the young and the inexperienced, only the great day will fully disclose.
And then, two men of great weight and authority with us, tell us what we who are ministers would have found out without them: this, namely, that the greatest atheists are they who are ever handling holy things without feeling them.
"Is it true," said Christian to Hopeful, his fellow, "is it true what this man hath said?" "Take heed," said Hopeful, "remember what it hath cost us already for hearkening to such kind of fellows. What! No Mount Zion! Did we not see from the Delectable Mountains the gate of the City? And, besides, are we not to walk by faith? Let us go on lest the man with the whip overtakes us again." Christian: "My brother, I said that but to prove thee, and to fetch from thee a fruit of the honesty of thy heart." Many a deep and powerful passage has Butler composed on that thesis which Hopeful here supplies him with; and many a brilliant sermon has Newman preached on that same text till he has made our "predispositions to faith" a fruitful and an ever fresh commonplace to hundreds of preachers. Yes; the best bulwark of faith is a good and honest heart. To such a happy heart the truth is its own unshaken evidence. To whom can we go but to Thee?--they who have such a heart protest. The whole bent of such men's minds is toward the truth of the gospel. Their instincts keep them on the right way even when their reason and their observation are both confounded. As Newman keeps on saying, they are "easy of belief." They cannot keep away from Christ and His church. They cannot turn back. They must go on. Though He slay them they will die yearning after Him. They often fall into great error and into great guilt, but their seed remaineth in them, and they cannot continue in error or in guilt, because they are born of God. They are they in whom
"Persuasion and belief Have ripened into faith; and faith become A passionate intuition."
Up till the time when Christian and Faithful passed through Vanity Fair on their way to the Celestial City, Hopeful was one of the most light-minded men in all that light-minded town. By his birth, and both on his father's and his mother's side, Hopeful was, to begin with, a youth of an unusually shallow and silly mind. In the jargon of our day he was a man of a peculiarly optimistic temperament. No one ever blamed him for being too subjective and introspective. It took many sharp trials and many bitter disappointments to take the inborn frivolity and superficiality out of this young man's heart. He was far on in his life, he was far on even in his religious life, before you would have ever thought of calling him a serious-minded man. Hopeful had been born and brought up to early manhood in the town of Vanity, and he knew nothing better and desired nothing better than to lay out his whole life and to rest all his hopes on the things of the fair; on such things, that is, as houses, lands, places, honours, preferments, titles, pleasures, and delights of all sorts. And that vain and empty life went on with him, till, as he told his companion afterwards, it had all ended with him in revelling, and drinking, and uncleanness, and Sabbath-breaking, and all such things as destroyed his soul. But in Hopeful's happy case also the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church. Hopeful, as he was afterwards called, had suffered so many bitter disappointments and shipwrecks of expectation from the things of the fair, that is to say, from the houses, the places, the preferments, the pleasures and what not, of the fair, that even his heart was ripe for something better than any of those things, when, as God would have it, Christian and Faithful came to the town. Hopeful was still hanging about the booths of the fair; he was just fingering his last sixpence over a commodity that he knew quite well would be like gall in his belly as soon as he had bought it; when,--what is that hubbub that rolls down the street? Hopeful was always the first to see and to hear every new thing that came to the town, and thus it was that he was soon in the thick of the tumult that rose around Christian and Faithful. Had those two pilgrims come to the town at any former time, Hopeful would have been among the foremost to mock at and smite the two men; but, to-day, Hopeful's heart is so empty, and his purse also, that he is already won to their side by the loving looks and the wise and sweet words of the two ill- used men. Some of the men of the town said that the two pilgrims were outlandish and bedlamite men, but Hopeful took courage to reprove some of the foremost of the mob. Till, at last, when Faithful was at the stake, it was all that his companions could do to keep back Hopeful from leaping up on the burning pile and embracing the expiring man. And then, when He who overrules all things so brought it about that Christian escaped out of their hands, who should come forth and join him at the upward gate of the city but just Hopeful, who not only joined himself to the lonely pilgrim, but told him also that there were many more of the men of the city who would take their time and follow after. And thus, adds his biographer, when one died to make his testimony to the truth, another rose up out of his ashes to be a companion to Christian.