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160

XLVI

THE LAST BRIDGE

“Many of the disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”—John vi. 66.

LADY JEUNE once asked Mr. Joseph Chamberlain why, in his opinion, so many men fall short of their ambition. And Mr. Chamberlain answered: “They come to the place where they turn back. They may have killed the dragon at the first bridge, and at the second, perhaps even at the third, but the dragons are always more formidable the further we go. Many turn back disheartened, and very few will meet the monsters to the end. Almost none is willing to have a try with the demon at the last bridge; but, if he does, he has won for ever.”

That is a very vivid interpretation of human experience. But it has a much wider application than the political world which Mr. Chamberlain had in mind. It is 161supremely true of the highest relationships, even of the loftiest concerns of the soul. Many of us get through the earlier struggles, but we are daunted by the later foes. We get over the Slough of Despond, but we dare not face the castle of Beelzebub which stands just outside the wicket-gate. Or we pass the castle but we become fearful at the sight of the lions. Or if the lions are behind us, Apollyon makes us afraid. And all along the road we meet with pilgrims who are turning back because some new menace has robbed them of their courage. They were wearing the guerdons of many victories, but they fearfully assume that this last struggle will be beyond their strength, and so they turn back, and they lose all their guerdons in their retreat.

All this is a most unwise and deadly misunderstanding of our resources. For it is a law of grace that in the Christian life “every conquest won” prepared us for the next conflict, endowing us with all the needful equipment. The events in our spiritual life are not a loose mob, a gathering of unrelated fragments, no happening having any vital connection with the one that follows 162on. In God’s good grace the happenings become a series, and each becomes our servant to lead us to the next. When we have slain the lion the strength of the lion is in our loins when we march forward to meet Apollyon. So that if the dragons do become more formidable as we advance we are all the stronger to meet them. God will not allow us to be tried above that we are able.

And it sometimes, nay, it often happens, that the bridge we most feared had no defending forces when we arrived. “When they were past the first and the second wards, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city, which opened to them of its own accord, and they went out.” That iron gate is often the easiest of all. The Angel of His Presence is with us all along the way, and if we are faithful to His call He will assuredly see us through.

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