’A wounded spirit who can bear?’—Solomon.
Every schoolboy has Giant Despair by heart. The rough road after the meadow of lilies, the stile into By-Path-Meadow, the night coming on, the thunder and the lightning and the waters rising amain, Giant Despair’s apprehension of Christian and Hopeful, their dreadful bed in his dungeon from Wednesday morning till Saturday night, how they were famished with hunger and beaten with a grievous crab-tree cudgel till they were not able to turn, with many other sufferings too many and too terrible to be told which they endured till Saturday about midnight, when they began to pray, and continued in prayer till almost break of day;—John Bunyan is surely the best story-teller in all the world. And, then, over and above that, as often as a boy reads Giant Despair and his dungeon to his father and mother, the two hearers are like Christian and Hopeful when the Delectable shepherds showed them what had happened to some who once went in at By-Path stile: the two pilgrims looked one upon another with tears gushing out, but yet said nothing to the shepherds.
John Bunyan’s own experience enters deeply into these terrible pages. In composing these terrible pages, Bunyan writes straight and bold out of his own heart and conscience. The black and bitter essence of a whole black and bitter volume is crushed into these four or five bitter pages. Last week I went over Grace Abounding again, and marked the passages in which its author describes his own experiences of doubt, diffidence, and despair, till I gave over counting the passages, they are so many. I had intended to illustrate the passage before us to-night out of the kindred materials that I knew were so abundant in Bunyan’s terrible autobiography, but I had to give up that idea. It would have taken two or three lectures to itself to tell all that Bunyan suffered all his life long from an easily-wounded spirit. The whole book is just Giant Despair and his dungeon, with a gleam here and there of that sunshiny weather that threw the giant into one of his fits, in which he always lost for the time the use of his limbs. Return often, my brethren, to that masterpiece, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. I have read it a hundred times, but last week it was as fresh and powerful and consoling as ever to my sin-wounded spirit.
Let me select some of the incidents that offer occasion for a comment or two.
1. And, in the first place, take notice, and lay well to heart, how sudden, and almost instantaneous, is the fall of Christian and Hopeful from the very gate of heaven to the very gate of hell. All the Sabbath and the Monday and the Tuesday before that fatal Wednesday, the two pilgrims had walked with great delight on the banks of a very pleasant river; that river, in fact, which David the King called the river of God, and John, the river of the water