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 1]

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John Ross MacDuff was born May 23, 1818 in Bonhard, Scotland. He died at his home in Chislehurst, Kent, England on April 30, 1895. John Ross MacDuff was a Presbyterian minister and a prolific writer of excellent Christian books and materials. He was especially known for the practical, poetic, and devotional qualities of his work. He was also a published poet and hymn writer. John Ross MacDuff had Doctor of Divinity Degrees from the University of Glasgow and the University of New York. He served as a pastor for many years in several churches, including the Church of Scotland.


A Pilgrimage through the Valley 

of Tears to Mount Zion, the city 
of the living God

by John R. MacDuff, 1855


As I was walking along the Highway of Time, I came to a new milestone; and being wearied with my journey, "I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream."--Pilgrim's Progress.

Methought I saw a dwelling, situated by itself in one of the world's secluded valleys. In front of its simple, rustic lintels stood an aged man, pale and agitated. 

His eyes were pensively fixed on the ground; or if they were occasionally lifted to take a hurried glance at some distant object, it seemed a relief when he could replace them on the green grass at his feet, and resume his deep and expressive thoughtfulness. 

The tear which now and then involuntarily fell from his eye, read some unwonted tale of sadness, while the other inhabitants of the household, who were gathered around him, manifested, by word and look, how amply they shared his embittered feelings.

The appearance of their home itself, as well as what was around it, indicated nothing but happiness and enjoyment. The sunbeams, at the moment, were dancing and sparkling in a rivulet which murmured by. 

A cluster of rugged trees behind were casting fantastic shadows on the sward; while birds of varied plumage were responding to one another from bough to bough in joyous music.

When pondering the possible cause of these strange emotions, I observed some one fast disappearing in the distance, whose footsteps the group surrounding the cottage door were wistfully following. Their broken accents soon revealed his history. 

It was a member of their family, who had just bidden farewell to the home of his youth, and commenced, all alone, the world's great pilgrimage! His father had followed him, a few minutes before, to the threshold, with many benedictions. 

Warning him to "flee from the wrath to come", he had directed his footsteps to the Celestial City, whose shining gates terminated the Valley of Tears.

"My son," were his parting words, "if sinners entice you, consent you not. Walk not you in the way with them; refrain your foot from their path". Full of filial love, Pilgrim (for that was the name of the traveler) had promised a dutiful obedience, and set out, staff in hand, on his journey.

Before proceeding far, he arrived at the outskirts of a forest, through which his path had led. There he found himself in an open space, in sight of two diverse roads, at the entrances to which were gathered crowds of wayfarers, varying in outward appearance, but whom he at once concluded to be fellow-travelers.

As the footpath he had hitherto been following terminated here, and it was necessary to select one or other of the ways, methought I saw him seated on a stone, close by, hesitating between the two. 

There was no difficulty in discovering which was the favorite. It was a Broadway, without any gate on it. It seemed, also, from its appearance, pleasanter than the other. Shady trees were planted on either side; and the multitudes which were crowding into it seemed light-hearted and happy, with little care on their countenances, and little sorrow in their hearts.

The adjoining way was very Narrow, and had a Strait Gate at its entrance; moreover, it was frequented only by a small number--a few straggling travelers--and many of these with tears in their eyes, and burdens on their backs.

"I never can think of joining these unhappy wayfarers," said Pilgrim to himself, as he rose and advanced in the direction of the Broad road. And yet, as he approached nearer the latter, he listened to sounds to which his ear had been hitherto unaccustomed, and which made him tremble. 

Travelers, whose several names were Drunkard, Liar, Swearer, Profligate, Infidel, Scoffer, he found were to be his companions. He called to mind words which had been impressed upon him by a father's prayers: "There is a way which seems right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death!"

Now I saw that, as he was preparing to retrace his steps, an individual from the crowd came up and accosted him. His name was Deceiver, a well-known character to all the Broad-way-men, and one of the most powerful vassals of the Prince of Darkness.

"How now, good traveler!" exclaimed he, with assumed gentleness. "I see you are faint-hearted, as many before you have been, in entering this Broad way. Tell me the cause of your fear."

"The way of the ungodly shall perish", replied Pilgrim, firmly. "I had almost resolved to select it; but I see abundant reason now for preferring the other, narrow and deserted though it be. I shall, at all events, make trial of that narrow entrance. If it disappoint my expectations, it will be no difficult matter to retrace my steps."

"You mistake it, ignorant youth," replied the other; "once enter that gate, and there is no possibility of turning back. The determination once taken can never be recalled. If you will only be persuaded to make trial of the Broad way, there is no necessity to pursue it further than inclination leads you."

"But how can I possibly enter with such company?" said Pilgrim.

"Good friend," said Deceiver, still assuming a tone of kindness, "you see the worst of the way at its commencement--your companions will improve upon you as you advance. It is only because you are not accustomed to such company that you are averse to it. 

Moreover," continued he, "though there be one entrance to the Broad way, there are many footpaths in it. If you have a dislike to the openly profane and vicious, there is no necessity to walk in fellowship with them. I shall introduce you to others more adapted to your taste."

In an unguarded moment, Pilgrim forgot his resolutions; and, under the guidance of Deceiver, was conducted until he arrived at a wicket-gate, close under the wall which separated the two ways.

He thought he could not be wrong in attempting this pathway; and yet he could not forget, among the other warnings he had received, that "many Deceivers were gone out into the world". 

But there was no room left for hesitation. Before long he discovered that he and his guide had been insensibly advancing, leaving the entrance at a considerable distance behind. 

Deceiver, having thus accomplished his object, returned back to exercise upon others the same unscrupulous dissimulation. He felt he could with confidence leave the new traveler in the hands of those who, similarly duped as himself, had now become confirmed Broad-way-men. In one thing his conductor had not misled him. 

The further Pilgrim proceeded, the less did he feel the aversion, which he experienced so strongly at first, to mingle with his fellow-travelers. Their language, their manners, their tastes, became every day more in accordance with his own. He even began to wonder he could have made the selection of this road matter of hesitation. 

There were, indeed, some moments when a father's warnings were vividly recalled; particularly when he happened to be in the company of two noted individuals in the Broad way, with bloated faces and haggard looks, called Profligacy and Intemperance

Often then would living words, with which he had been familiar from his boyhood, sound in his ears: "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup". Or, again: "Come out from among them, and be you separate, and touch not the unclean thing". 

He would also, at such times, call to remembrance how his father used to speak of a day when the Lord Immanuel was to be seated on a Great White Throne; when before him were to be gathered all the way farers who had ever traversed the Valley of Tears, and when he was to say to every worker of iniquity: "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire". 

He would remember how he was used to tell of the end of those who obeyed not the King of the Way; and particularly of a bottomless pit, at the termination of a dark and deceitful road, where thousands were continually perishing without any hope of mercy. 

The thought at times would flash across him: Could it be that he was treading this dreadful highway?--that, forgetful of a parent's counsels,he was hurrying on to such certain and irretrievable ruin? 

The fearful possibility occasionally seemed utterly to overwhelm him--he would pause, and tremble, and weep; or, stealing away from the boisterous merriment of his fellows, watch some favorable opportunity, unseen to them, of retracing his steps. This, however, was not so easy a matter. 

He had already, as I have said, advanced far on the way. The road which had been so broad and spacious at first, was now, in many places, narrow and confined. Fresh travelers were coming in; he was unavoidably carried along with the press; and the attempt to return would only expose him to ridicule. His companions, moreover, found it was no difficult matter to laugh what they called his fits of moping melancholy away. 

And if, on some occasions, these proved more obstinate than at others, they had ever an easy remedy at hand, by enticing him into one of the many Arbors of Pleasure erected by the Prince of Darkness along the road. There, amid new fascinations, and carnal delights, they succeeded in dispelling his passing convictions and fears. 

Thus, day by day, was Pilgrim found hurrying along with the crowd--his heart growing less susceptible of impression with every resisted warning. The unhappy victim of a thousand base passions soon had no leisure to inquire where his footsteps were hurrying him. But, although he knew it not, the Pit of Destruction was at hand, and he was about to be summoned to take his stand on its confines.

I saw in my dream, that one night the shadows of evening were closing around, as, weak and exhausted, he found himself at the mouth of a valley. Precipitous rocks, on either side, frowned above his head, and cast an ominous gloom on the path below; while a foaming river, dark and troubled, was hemmed in between their narrow ledges. It was the Valley of Death!

As the traveler entered, a horror of great darkness came upon him. He recollected of being told of a star--the Star of Bethlehem--which gave light and peace to those passing through. He looked for it now in vain; and the further he advanced the more intense was the gloom. The ground began to heave under his feet. Peals of thunder echoed on every side. 

The lightning's momentary glare only served to disclose to him that he was on his way to Outer Darkness! On reaching the end of the valley, he witnessed, straight before him, columns of smoke and flame issuing from the mouth of a bottomless pit. Groans, too, resembling the cries of dying men, were carried to his ear. "Verily, there was but a step between him and death!"

"What shall I do to be saved? What shall I do to be saved?" exclaimed the agonized man, making a hopeless effort to retrace his footsteps; but, from his weakness, he sunk powerless to the ground. Dreadful was the spectacle which then presented itself. 

Hundreds around him were tumbling over the precipice, uttering wild imprecations; others, already in the gulf, sending up the vain entreaty for a single drop of water to cool their tongues. "O God, have mercy!" they cried; "save us from this place of torment! Our punishment is greater than we can bear." 

Pilgrim had no time to gaze on the scene. The crowds from behind were pressing him, every moment, nearer the brink; and he, also, would have been precipitated headlong into the flames, had there not been within his reach a ledge of projecting rock, which he grasped in the agonies of death. As he continued thus trembling by the side of the abyss, an individual approached, with a dark and gloomy countenance. His name was Despair, and a smile of fiendish triumph was seated on his lips.

"Well, good traveler," said he, addressing Pilgrim; "you have well-near reached the end of your journey. There is now but one step between you and perdition, and the quicker that step is made, the better for yourself!"
"O wretched man that I am!" said Pilgrim, uttering a shriek of agony; "is there no one who can deliver me from this abyss of death? Tell me, if you have any compassion on a miserable soul, is there no possible way of deliverance from such torments?"

"None! none!" replied Despair; "there never was a traveler before you who ventured to ask such a question; the moment you entered that valley your Eternity was lost!"

"No; but methinks," said Pilgrim, who was so stupefied with terror as to be scarce able to collect his thoughts to reply, "I once heard of one as undone as myself, called Malefactor, who stood where I now am, on this dread precipice; and just as he was about to plunge in, he cried out, in imploring accents, 'Lord, remember me!' Immediately a golden chain of grace was let down from heaven, and that day he was with Jesus in paradise."

"That is but some dream of your own, unhappy traveler," said Despair. "Had you thought of returning as you journeyed through the wilderness, or before you came in sight of the Valley of Death, some hope might have remained; but now all possibility of escape is at an end. 

Besides, had the King of the Narrow way desired your rescue, he would have stopped you long before now. But since he has suffered you to proceed so far, it shows that he has no wish for you to turn, but desires your death."

"Hold! hold!" exclaimed a stranger, arresting the arm of Despair, which had just grasped Pilgrim, to hurl him into the depths below; "I am sent by King Immanuel," said he; "his minister and messenger to perishing sinners like yourself. Hear, and your soul shall live!"

"The chief of sinners! the chief of sinners!" cried the agonized man, first smiting on his bosom, and then pointing to the gulf beneath; "there can be nothing for me but this same fearful looking for of vengeance and fiery indignation, which I see devouring the adversaries of God. What else can I expect, who have been treasuring up for myself wrath against the day of wrath?"

"There is yet hope," said the other; "I am an ambassador from the court of Immanuel. I carry with me a treaty of peace. Here are the articles of treaty," he continued, unfolding the gospel roll, which he carried under his arm. 

"And now, as an ambassador for Christ, I pray then, in his stead, be reconciled unto God."

"Alas! alas!" responded Pilgrim, in plaintive accents, "your scroll can contain nothing for me but 'lamentation, and mourning, and woe.' I am a sinner to the very uttermost; and my wages are eternal death."

"Listen," said the other, "to what the Lord Immanuel has to say to you." Now I saw upon this, that the messenger opened the roll of parchment, and read to Pilgrim as follows: "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies; but rather that he would turn from his wickedness, and live. Turn you, turn you, why will you die?" "Therefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost."

"Salvation to the uttermost!" cried the desponding man--the amazing accents sounding like music in his ear: "can it be that there is still 'forgiveness with God, that he may be feared?'"

"With the Lord," replied the other, "there is mercy, and plenteous redemption. It is, indeed of his mercies you are not consumed; for he might justly have sworn in his wrath, that you should never enter into his rest. But he sends me to bring you back from the gates of death, and to proclaim that it is still a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that the Lord Immanuel came into the world to save sinners, of whom you are the chief.'"

"The chief! the chief indeed!" again cried Pilgrim; "for mine iniquities have gone over my head'; they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart fails me. Am I not a brand plucked from the burning?"

Despair made one remaining effort to push Pilgrim off the rock, and plunge him into the gulf beneath. But the servant of the Lord Immanuel caught him; and led him to the only way of escape, called the Path of Life.

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