…looking very narrowly before him as he went, he espied two Lions in the way. Now, thought he, I see the dangers that Mistrust and Timorous were driven back by. (The Lions were chained, but he saw not the chains.)
Then he was afraid, and thought also himself to go back after them, for he thought nothing but death was before him: But the Porter at the lodge whose name is 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 placed there for trial of faith where it is, and for discovery of those that have none. Keep in the midst of the Path, and no hurt shall come unto thee”
…Then I saw he went on, trembling for fear of the Lions, but taking good heed to the directions of the Porter; he heard them roar, but they did him no harm.
(John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, London : Dent, 1954 (1678) page 47)
In John Bunyan’s inspired allegorical tale, the Christian life is represented as a journey towards the Celestial City. A journey full of dangers, temptations, snares. In order to arrive finally at his destination the pilgrim, “Christian”, must face up to all of these and conquer them. He is not without aid, but his struggle is real.
In the above quote he has to pass through a narrow ravine and it is getting dark. He sees two lions at either side of his path and they start to roar at him.
He is terrified and stops in his tracks.
But them a voice shouts out to him that he should not fear, keep to the centre of the path and no harm will come to him – the lions are chained.
This is an important spiritual lesson for all Christians. Our lions are chained.
Whatever danger, threat, worry assails us –all these are held in check and limited in action by God.
He allows them for the testing and strengthening of our faith, not to do us harm.
It is a great image – our lions are chained!
It is also a stark reminder that difficulty, fear and struggle are an integral part of the Christian life. As Bunyan concludes in a poetic couplet,
Difficulty is behind, Fear is before,
Though he’s got on the Hill, the Lions roar;
A Christian man is never long at ease,
When one fright’s gone, another doth him seize.
As such, any halcyon days we do experience are to be treasured and enjoyed. They are momentary gracelets of respite, but they are not to be considered our normal fare; they will not last.
(Painting by Florence Liley Young. Published in 1915)