Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Great Journey: A Pilgrimage through the Valley of Tears to Mount Zion, the city of the living God by John MacDuff [Chapter 6]

[chapter 1,2,3,4,5]

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Now I saw in my dream that Pilgrim continued to pursue, for many days, his path unobstructed; his heart filled with "all peace and joy in believing." His way led through a rich undulating country, where quiet rivers wound their way through wooded knolls and verdant meads. 

Shepherds and their flocks were every here and there reposing on the meadows, or seeking shelter from the sultry heat amid the thickets which fringed the margin of the streams. 

Pilgrim delighted at times to enter into conversation with them; and often did they sing together words with which he had become familiar in the palace of the sweet Psalmist of Israel: 

"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake."

But though now enjoying these periods of spiritual refreshment, he was soon to be reminded of the great truth of which he had been forewarned by the Keeper of the Gate, that the pathway to the Celestial City is one of "much tribulation."

After advancing some days on his journey, he beheld in the distance, in the very center of the narrow way, a large fire, resembling a blazing furnace. It was called "The Furnace of Affliction." 

On reaching it he trembled with fear, his knees smote one against the other, the Shield of Faith fell with its face to the earth, and he wrung his hands in despair. Standing with his eyes fastened on the ground, they happened to glance on the inside of his shield, on which he read the inscription: 

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. When you pass through the fire, you shall not be burned." 

With this promise of the Lord of the Way, he tried to resume his courage, and made an effort to lift up the weapon, which, from its fall, was covered with the mire of the road. But his hand again fell powerless, and he himself sunk to the earth! Now I saw, as he thus lay, fainting under the heat of the fire, and terrified at the thought of being obliged to pass through its flames, a stranger was seen approaching. 

It was a female figure clothed in a sable robe, with a meek expression on her countenance. Her name was Resignation. She came up with slow and silent step, and addressed Pilgrim thus--

"Think it not strange, afflicted traveler, concerning this fiery trial that is to try you, as if some strange thing happened unto you; but rather rejoice."
"How can I rejoice," said Pilgrim, his voice quivering as he spoke, "to plunge into tormenting flames?"

"No, no," replied Resignation; "you might have known that the Lord Immanuel, whose nature and whose name is love, would never have placed that on the way which would destroy those he has bought with his own blood."
"Is it not the property of fire," replied Pilgrim, "to destroy?"

"Yes," said the other, "there are fires for destruction, but there are fires for purification also. 

The flames in the bottomless pit, which once you saw, are flames to consume; but these," continued she, pointing to the furnace before her, "are flames to refine. And the light sufferings they inflict, which are 'but for a moment will work out for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.'"
"But," said Pilgrim, "I have no strength of my own for passing through this dreadful furnace!"

"Fear not!" replied Resignation; "the Lord of the Way has promised to 'perfect his strength in weakness.' 

No," said she, pointing to the center of the flames, "see you not in the midst of that burning fiery furnace 'one like unto the Son of God?' Immanuel himself who was made perfect through a furnace of suffering, more scorching far than this, waits to conduct you through. 

Only be strong, and of a good courage; gird on your armor, walk boldly forward, and a hair of your head shall not be singed."

"But," continued Pilgrim, his faith still wavering, "is there no by-road which the King has provided, by which travelers may avoid this great and unnecessary evil?"

"Call it not unnecessary, faithless one," said the other; "had you not, in your trepidation, thrown away your shield among the mud of the way, you would have read, as one of the most comforting of all the promises, inscribed there: 

'I afflict not willingly, nor grieve the children of men.' That fiery furnace would never have been there could it have been spared."

So saying, Resignation lifted up the shield from the mud. She applied to Pilgrim for the Prayer-polish to restore its brightness, and recover to view the many obliterated promises which covered its face. 

He sprung up from his posture of weakness, and once more assayed his armor. "It is deep ingratitude in me," said he, addressing the stranger, thus to distrust the Lord of the Way, when I remember what great things he has done for me in times past: and therefore, now I shall resolutely 'go in the strength of the Lord God.' 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.'"

Now I saw that Pilgrim immediately rushed into the midst of the flames, Resignation following him. He uttered a few cries from their smartings; 

but He whose form he had seen in the midst of the fires, supported him with his arm, divided the flames before him, and whispered words of peace in his ear. He gave him some ointment, called "Grace," to enable him to bear the pain, and put a bracelet on his arm, as another pledge of adoption; on which Pilgrim afterward found the inscription: "Whom the Lord loves he chastens."

Moreover, with a censer full of much incense which he held in his hand, he perfumed his person, and gave a perpetual efficacy to the Prayer-polish. 

And after pointing him upward to the top of the Mount of Ordinances, saying, "There I will meet with you and commune with you from off the Mercy-seat," he vanished out of his sight. 

No sooner had Pilgrim come forth from the furnace, than he broke out into a song of triumphant joy: "It was good for me that I was afflicted." "God has been my refuge and strength, a very present help in the time of trouble." 

"You have upheld me by your right hand." When I said, "My foot slips, your mercy, O Lord, held me up." "Heart and flesh fails; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever."

Looking to his armor, it shone with a greater luster; the plumes of his helmet, which had lost their original hues by being covered with the dust of the way, were purified; his sword, bedimmed by long exposure, gleamed with fresh brilliancy; the rust, contracted in the plates of his armor, was removed by the flames. 

He himself had acquired fresh ardor for his journey; and memory long continued to cherish the furnace as a place of "reviving and refreshing from the presence of the Lord."

It was now evening, and he was approaching the base of Mount Pisgah; the full moon had again risen on its rocky steeps, and vied with the fires he had just left behind him in lighting up his path. 

Resignation, before parting, directed him on the way; and though the mountain was lofty, and almost precipitous, he felt such enlargement of heart that, before long, he found himself in safety on the summit. 

The pale moon-beams just shed sufficient light to conduct him to a grotto hollowed out in the rock, where a natural couch was formed. 

On this, after covering himself carefully with his shield, he flung himself down to rest; and in a few minutes his eyes were closed in slumber, not without a longing expectation of the prospect awaiting him on the approaching morning.

Now I saw in my dream, that when the morning began to break, Pilgrim started from his couch; and having carefully polished his armor, and buckled it on, he came out of the grotto which had formed his nightly resting-place. 

The sun was pouring a flood of light on the valley at his feet, and which, in the far distance, was terminated by the glittering palaces of Mount Zion.

Behind him lay the long road he had lately traversed, with its varied landscape of forest and mountain. 

When he thought of the way by which the Lord had led him--of the difficulties he had overcome, the enemies he had vanquished, the seasons of refreshment he had enjoyed--he could not refrain from following the example of other travelers, by setting up a stone of remembrance at the mouth of his grotto, with this inscription: "Hitherto has the Lord helped me."

Never, as yet, during the course of his journey, did Pilgrim feel such enlargement as here. The previous night of weeping and affliction was well worth enduring, on account of the joy that now came in the morning. 

The pure atmosphere he breathed, far above the vapors which overhung the path below, gave him a buoyancy of spirit to which before he had been a stranger; nor could he forget that much of this holy joy he owed to the refining furnace, through which he had so lately passed, and which, at the time, had appeared so terrible.

Now I saw that he repaired to an eminence, which, being immediately adjoining, often gave its name to the entire mountain. It was called the Mount of Ordinances. 

Here he found an arbor erected for the refreshment of travelers, hollowed out of the living rock, blooming with flowers of varied loveliness, which had been transplanted by the King of the Way from the gardens of the Celestial City. 

On a little table in the center was placed some bread and wine, of which travelers were invited to partake, as memorials of His dying love, as well as for the nourishment of their own souls.

The words were chiseled on the rock, above the entrance: "Do this in remembrance of me."

On entering, he found himself welcomed by a servant of the Lord Immanuel, with the Gospel Roll in his hand.

"Welcome," said the latter, "to this gracious feast the Lord of the Way has provided for you: 'Eat, drink! yes drink abundantly, Beloved!'"

Pilgrim gladly partook of the gracious provision. "Surely," exclaimed he, as he broke in his hands the heavenly manna, "surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not; this is none other than the house of God; this is the very gate of heaven!"

"The great Captain of your salvation," said the other, "delights to meet you on this holy ground of Communion; and in these emblems gives you tokens of his love, and pledges that that love shall never be withdrawn. Here thirsty travelers are refreshed, troubled ones comforted, the downcast revived, and the weary and heavy-laden obtain rest."

"'Lord, evermore,'" exclaimed Pilgrim, as he continued to partake of the feast spread before him--"'Lord, evermore give me this bread!' 

I have more joy than the men of the world have, even when their corn, and their wine, and their oil, do most abound; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him!"

"The Lord Immanuel," continued the other, "desires to make this not only a place of Commemoration, but a place of Covenant. While he seeks that these memorials should remind you of his dying love, he desires you also to renew here your engagements to be his only, and his wholly, and his forever!"

Then did Pilgrim, rising from the table, and lifting up his hands, swear by Him who lives forever and ever, that "whatever others do, as for him he would serve the Lord!"

"I have sworn," said he, "and will perform. 'Who shall separate me from the love of Christ?' I will follow you, O great Captain of my salvation, wherever you see meet to lead me.

 'Where you go I will go, and where you dwell I will dwell; your people shall be my people.' Yes, death itself shall not separate between you and you!"

"The Lord Immanuel," replied the other, "accepts the vows your lips have uttered, and by these outward tokens ratifies, on his part, all the blessings of the Covenant." 

So saying, methought I saw the embassador of the King taking the charter which Pilgrim had received from Free Grace, and sealed it afresh with a golden seal, or signet; the motto on which was: "Be you faithful unto death, and I will give you the Crown of Life!"

Precious to Pilgrim were these moments of communion on the Mount of Ordinances. Often would he interrupt the conversation, and exclaim: "Lord, it is good for me to be here!" 

At last they began to descend the mountain path--the Lord's ambassador embracing him, and exhorting him to run with patience the race still set before him. 

"What time soever," said he, your heart is overwhelmed, and in perplexity, look back to this Mount of Ordinances, and remember the glorious things which you did there see and hear."

"What!" said Pilgrim, in astonishment, "do you speak of sorrow, and perplexity, and darkness, as yet awaiting me? Methinks this holy joy which now I feel can never be clouded. No man will ever be able to take it from me."

"Alas!" replied the other, "you know little of the pilgrimage in which then are engaged, if you do suppose your struggles and conflicts at an end. 

See you," continued he, pointing to the golden towers of the New Jerusalem, "see you yonder shining battlements? Never shall your spiritual joys be complete, never shall your conflicts cease, until you are safe within those gates!" 

This season you have now enjoyed is only a transient foretaste, to refresh your spirit. It would not be well were it otherwise. Were no cloud to disturb your present joys, it would lead you to forget your dependence on an arm stronger than your own, and to think you had strength when you have none. 

No, no; you must not yet speak of rest; that is not a word for earth. It is known only in heaven. Often still in this Valley of Tears will you be covered with the scars of battle. 

Can you not, even now," continued he, pointing to a remote part of the landscape, "discern that dense smoke? 

There lies the City of Carnality, the chief stronghold of the Prince of Darkness, wherein many a hapless traveler has perished. 

The Narrow way passes right through its streets; and its inhabitants, who are known by the name of 'Worldlings,' will lay wait for you, and try to sift you as wheat. But fear not! The Lord of the Way will be with you. 

He has prayed for you, that your faith fail not. His grace will be made sufficient for you; only be strong, and of a good courage, and the rest that remains for you within the gates of Zion will be all the sweeter and more refreshing, by reason of the conflicts which have preceded it."

So saying, he pronounced his benediction of peace; and Pilgrim, with tears of mingled joy and sorrow, parted from him to prosecute his journey. He felt this season of communion an earnest of what was awaiting him within the gates of the Celestial City, when he would be "forever with the Lord." 

Full of thankfulness, he went on his way praising and blessing God for all the things which he had heard and seen, singing, as he went along, one of the loveliest of those songs which had been taught him by the sweet Psalmist of Israel--

O send out your light and your truth. Let them lead me--let them bring me unto your holy hill, and to your tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy. 

Yes, upon the harp will I praise you, O God, my God. Why are then cast down, O my soul? and why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God--for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

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