Now I saw in my dream that, as evening drew on, Pilgrim was desirous of pausing at the nearest resting-place to obtain lodging for the night.
Wreaths of smoke ascending in the calm sky, directed him to a village in the distance, embosomed in wood.
The last beams of the sun were falling on its humble abodes as he approached. Here and there the lights in the little oriel windows, blending with the lingering sunbeams, proclaimed the return of the peasant from his toil; while, at times, the simple notes of the evening hymn of praise were wafted to his ear.
Approaching the first cottage of the hamlet by a wicket-gate, he knocked and solicited admission.
"Who stands without?" demanded a gentle voice from within.
"A traveler to Mount Zion," replied the other, "who is fleeing from the 'wrath to come,' and claims from a stranger that hospitality which was never denied by one humble follower of the Lord Immanuel to another."
"Neither shall it be so now," said the speaker, unbarring the door, and disclosing the figure of an aged female, simply attired. Her name was Poverty; and a little handmaid, called Contentment, shared with her the frugal comforts of her lot. On the entrance, above the doorway, he observed these words inscribed--
"A little that a just man has is better
Than the riches of many wicked."
Now I saw that, after assisting Pilgrim to wash his feet, and providing him with necessary refreshment, they entered into mutual converse about their respective history and condition.
"You seem," said Pilgrim, addressing the elder of the two, "to be strangers to many outward comforts; and yet, methinks, happier disciples of the Lord Immanuel I have not seen in the course of my journey."
"We are poor in this world," replied Poverty; "but God has made us to be rich in faith, and heirs together of the kingdom of heaven. I feel, that in this village of Godliness, with my handmaid Contentment, I have 'great gain.'"
"But methinks," said Pilgrim, "I remember one of your name, perhaps a kinsman of your own, a Broad way traveler, who seemed of all men the most miserable. He was accompanied by two associates, called Improvidence and Vice, and was an object of abhorrence even to the worst of the Broadway men.
"Alas!" replied the other, "if bereft of God, I would be bereft indeed; no condition is there more pitiable than godless poverty, none more blessed than poverty when sanctified. 'The Lord is my portion,' and I feel I need no other."
"Enviable lot!" said Pilgrim. "You also seem to be blest with devout neighbors; but, if poor as yourself, I see not how, in the midst of their daily toil, they can find time for the service of the Lord Immanuel."
"Where there is a will there is a way," replied the other. "You will generally find the man who is most diligent in business to be most fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. Besides, in our lowly estate, as there are fewer prizes which worldly ambition holds out to us, we have greater inducement to seek our treasure in heaven--we have fewer of the 'many things' about which to be 'careful and troubled;' and have more leisure to think of the 'one thing needful.'"
"Methinks, also, in that precious volume," continued Pilgrim, pointing to the sole occupant of the table--"methinks, in that great Guide-Book to Immanuel's land you will find much to make you rejoice that this lowly condition has been your."
"Yes, indeed," replied she, "our lot is a blessed one, inasmuch as in its very lowliness we are like our Divine Master. The Lord Immanuel was himself a Poor Man. For our sakes he became poor; so poor, that 'while the foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, the Son of man had not where to lay his head.'"
"Most true," said Pilgrim. "Besides, I have always thought it one of the wonders of that sacred Volume," pointing to the book at their side, "that it is emphatically the poor man's."
"Yes, verily," replied Poverty; "while it contains truths the noblest and most sublime, it contains truths so plain and simple that the humblest can understand them. I feel, when reading of prophets and apostles, and of the Lord of apostles, that I am following the footsteps of the poor.
Thus I see that poverty can have no disgrace, for it was honored and sanctified by the Lord Immanuel himself, who chose it as his only birthright."
Thus Pilgrim continued his conversation with these humble strangers, until the fatigues of the day induced him to retire to rest.
As morning dawned, he once more resumed his journey, leaving behind a memorial of gratitude for the kindness bestowed on him; and receiving, in recompense, the parting benediction of grateful hearts: "Blessed is he that considers the poor."
Now I saw in my dream that he pursued his journey without interruption until nightfall. His path led through a succession of wooded glades, intersected occasionally with marshy ground.
As he proceeded, the country began to have few traces of human habitations, until even a shepherd and his flock were rarely seen to relieve the solitude; and the only refreshment he himself could obtain was at the streams of water which, now and then, crossed the way.
As the shadows of evening began to fall, he arrived at a secluded place, in the center of a forest, where was a large building, called "The King's Hospital." There travelers who had grown weak or faint, or had been wounded by enemies, resorted for cure to the "Great Physician,"--by which name the Lord Immanuel was here known.
Nor was it confined to Narrow-way-men only: occasionally some Broad way travelers, wounded by the arrows of conviction, or fainting under trial, sought shelter in it.
But in their case the residence was brief; for, not submitting to the Physician's cure, and preferring false ones of their own, they soon returned to the way of destruction.
Now I saw that one of the servants of the Great Physician conducted Pilgrim to a large hall in the Hospital, filled with beds and couches, on which the sick and wounded were laid.
Some of these were groaning heavily; others were lying with pallid lips and sunken eyes, scarce able to endure the feeble light admitted from above; others cast an imploring look of mercy toward the door as they saw the stranger enter.
"We shall go," said the conductor, "first to the ward where the more hopeless patients are laid. They are Broad-way-men, driven here by fear, or often by the stunning blow of trial, to take temporary refuge;
but 'they endure only for a while.' Their hearts get hardened, and the latter end is worse with them than the beginning! But follow me," continued he, "perhaps the admonition of a Narrow way traveler, like yourself, may induce them to think of their dreadful peril and danger."
The first bedside at which they stood was that of a patient called Self-Righteousness. "This," said Pilgrim's guide, "is a man who now fancies himself 'rich, and having need of nothing;' whereas, you see he is wretched, and miserable, and naked.'"
On approaching his couch, the attendant offered him some white linen, which had been prescribed by the Great Physician, to stanch the blood flowing from a wound in his side; but the other tore it away, and persisted, instead, to bind it with some squalid rags scattered on his pillow.
In the same recess was a patient of the same name. He was not, like the other, laid on a couch, but was pacing, with haughty air, the floor of the hall in which he was confined.
A hectic flush suffused his face--such as deceives the consumptive patient when he mistakes, for a sign of returning health, the token of death. His miserable dress was here and there relieved by a bright patch, or gaudy tinsel, which only made the rest appear more wretched.
"There," said the conductor, "is a deluded maniac, who fancies himself the heir of a kingdom, while he is the most miserable of beggars."
Now I saw that Faithful, (for that was the name of the attendant.) approaching, invited Self-Righteousness to come to the opposite side of the apartment, where was a large mirror, called the "Mirror of the Law," into which he urged him, in vain, to look.
"This," continued he, addressing Pilgrim, "is the grand means of disclosing to such patients their real condition. So long as they continue 'measuring themselves by themselves,' and comparing themselves among themselves', there is little hope of recovery.
But by this Law Mirror they obtain a 'knowledge of sin', and become convinced, that unless they have another clothing of righteousness than their own, 'they will in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Passing on from these, Pilgrim and his conductor stood by an adjoining couch, where was a patient, whose name was Indifference. His countenance bore a still more ghastly appearance than those they had already witnessed. His pale cheek and languid eye revealed death to be at hand.
"You are madly trifling with your eternal all!" said Faithful, unwilling to pass the couch of the deluded man without a word of admonition. "You are hovering on the confines of two worlds! Do you not consider that the breath of your nostrils is all that is between you and the bar of God?"
But, reckless of his situation, he smiled at the fears of his attendants, received with cold and heartless concern the warnings sent him by the Great Physician, and, turning himself on his pillow, pursued his idle song.
At his side lay a miserable man, named Despair; a painful contrast to the other. He was not, like him, insensible to his condition.
On the contrary, his groans and cries wrung piteously through the hall. Pilgrim's attendant attempted, once and again, to mix a soothing draught, and present it to his lips, which would have ministered to him immediate relief; but he dashed it to the ground, wringing his hands, and exclaiming,
"Undone! undone!" Faithful sought to remonstrate. He assured him that still there was hope: for in representing his case to theGreat Physician, he had received the reply: "I have no pleasure in his death; but far rather that he would turn and live."
"No," replied the agonized sufferer, "the medicine which might heal others can be of no avail for me. Let the footsteps of Death approach when they may, my doom is sealed; to dream of recovery is vain."
"Neither your name nor your language, unhappy man," said Pilgrim, "should be heard here. Despair is not a word for earth. It is known only in the bottomless pit. Giant Despair is the gloomy warder of that place where hope never enters;
and it is only when he turns his key, and leaves you in the blackness of eternal darkness, that you can disbelieve the efficacy of the Great Physician. He is now able to save 'even to the uttermost.' Where is the patient he has either failed or refused to cure?"
But the man would not listen to admonition. He wrapped himself in his bed-clothes, again wrung his hands, and cried louder than ever: "Lost! lost! lost!"
Now I saw that they next stood at the couch of a patient called Procrastination, a kinsman of the traveler Pilgrim met outside the Narrow way gate.
He was laid on his back, breathing heavily, and the symptoms of death were fast gathering round his pillow. "This," said the conductor, "is an example of the folly of delaying to adopt the prescribed remedy.
Here is a man who received a wound in his hand, which he considered too trifling to demand attention. He urged one night's delay. But delay has only aggravated the suffering. The fatal symptoms increase, and now the venom has spread through the whole arm."
"Poor patient!" continued Faithful, addressing the sufferer, "will it not be better far for you, if your right hand offend you, to cut it off, and cast it from you, and to enter into life maimed, than that your whole body be cast into hell fire?"
"Yet one other night," feebly whispered the other, "and tomorrow I promise to submit."
"To-morrow," said the conductor, "may come; but come too late. Today if you will hear the voice of the Great Physician, harden not your heart. Behold! now is the accepted time; for, be assured, by another night your pulse will be still, and you will be beyond the reach alike of physician and cure."
"Well, perhaps," replied the other, unwilling to offend, and yet reluctant to submit, ''perhaps, before evening comes, I may consent; but 'go your way at least for this time; at a more convenient season I will call for you.'"
So saying he once more closed his eyes, and left Pilgrim and his guide to pursue their way.