Several things are suggested by the figure of a prison in this relation. There is first the sense of wrongness or guilt. I should think that to a prisoner not yet wholly hardened, or in whom the hardening due to a course of transgression is beginning to break up, one of the hardest things in a prison cell must be the consciousness of deserving it. A person wrongously imprisoned has always the companionship of a good conscience, and where that is God is also present to hold fellowship with the soul. But when a soul knows that its own misdoing has brought this penalty, when from within there comes reproaches instead of whisperings of peace, the prison must be very dreary, and days and nights drag wearily.
Now, a soul may be said to be in prison or out of prison, according as it is or has not the consciousness of unforgiven sin. Doubtless there is a deepest dungeon of spiritual darkness and bonds which, for the time, the conscience has been stifled, so that there is no longer any consciousness of wrongness, and compunction: of this I shall speak later. Meanwhile I am dealing with the case of a soul in which the conscience of sin is awake. So long as there lies on it the sense of guilt it cannot sing; it can only sigh or groan. It is a painful experience; yet it is infinitely better to have it than to have the false peace which, deceiving itself, says, " I have no sin. "
Who can rid a soul of this element of a prison? Who can put a song of praise into such a one's mouth? It is not in man. "I looked up on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge."(Psalm 142:4) That prison key is with God only. He can only hear the cry of the sinner and grant pardon and order release. He delegates the declaration of such release to those who are one with Him in Christ, and have the anointing of His Spirit; but it is a truth unchangeable and unquestionable that no one can forgive sins but God only, and no soul can sing the new song of praise till it has consciously been pardoned. But whenever it has been so pardoned, and the message has been brought to it somehow, it leaps as out of chains into freedom-out of despair into hope-out of darkness into light-out of the depths up to the first stage of those heights of snowy glory that pierce the clouds. But declaration of pardon only confers the right to go out of prison. The prisoner has still to go out or be brought out; and, first of all, he must really wish to go out. One has heard of prisoners having been so long confined that they had lost their desire to be free. Their habits had become adapted to their circumstances. Close to the base of a pillar in the Castle of Chillon they point out a track worn by the feet of a noble prisoner. He could not for his chain go beyond that track. Even if released he would feel inclined to walk as in the old days of the chain, till a new habit formed. It is certainly so in our souls' experience. After our sin has been pardoned, we have to be brought out of prison in which we have learned to like the fare and the ways of the world. We thus make prisons and chains for ourselves. Indulgence in self-pleasing in any form tends to habit, which is as hard to be rid of as a metal chain. As I have seen water flowing hot out of the ground, which, as it cooled, left a mineral deposit about and in the orifice of the spring, so that gradually the spring ceased to flow, being self-imprisoned, and had to find another outlet; so our own wrong living tends to shut up our souls' life as within walls of rock, from which the Lord only can bring it out again.