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 8]

[chapter 1,2,3,4,5,6,7]

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Now I saw in my dream that Pilgrim was conducted by Faithful into an ante-chamber. "This," said his guide, "is a room appropriated for aged and infirm travelers, who, on account of their years, are able to prosecute their journey no further."

On entering the apartment, he beheld an individual whose locks were whitened with age. The armor, too, which the veteran warrior had still girded on, though bearing the marks of many hard encounters, had lost none of its brightness. His sword, though exhibiting a blunted edge, yet gleamed with a brilliancy as dazzling as on the day when it was unsheathed in the armory at the Narrow Gate

Pilgrim just approached as the last tear he had to shed was standing in his eye. "It is enough!" said he. "Now, Lord, let you your servant depart in peace." A placid smile suffused his countenance--his eye was fixed on the gates of the Celestial City. 

While other objects around him were growing dim, this glorious vision seemed to be brightening. "Go on," said he addressing the stranger, "go on this Narrow way that leads unto life, and take the assurance of one who has trod it long, that it is a way of pleasantness, and a path of peace.

 'I have fought a good fight,'" continued the departing saint, raising himself once more, and the last glow of life beaming on his face, '"I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me at that day.' 

We shall meet no more until we meet within the gates of yonder Celestial City. Farewell! farewell!" He muttered one parting groan, and next moment was sleeping sweetly in Jesus.

Now I saw that angels were waiting with a chariot ready to carry him to the gates of Mount Zion. Pilgrim followed the bright retinue until the last of the train was lost in the glories which encompassed the New Jerusalem.

Returning again to the chamber they had just left, Pilgrim and his conductor approached a patient whose name was Sorrow. She was arrayed in a sable mantle, with a tear on her cheek. 

At her side sat Resignation, the same benevolent and pious female whom Pilgrim met in passing through the Fiery Furnace. She had a book in her hand, from whose pages she was endeavoring to soothe her companion, who sat brooding, in silent dejection, over the wreck of some treasured joys.

"This is one," said Faithful, "who dwelt, not long since, in an arbor near the City of Carnality. It was once trellised and adorned with some of the loveliest plants which the Valley could supply. 

Shady gourds combined with flowers of various tints and fragrance to spread a covering over her head, and to form a defense from the noonday sun. But, in an unexpected moment, a canker worm preyed on the roots. 

One bud alone survived when the rest had perished; but this, too, has just been plucked by the hand of Death, and now, as you see, lies blighted and withered at her feet. 

Her earthly flowers having perished, she has come here seeking the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley, and to have her bosom soothed with the Balm of Gilead, which, she has heard, the Great Physician applies to bleeding hearts."

Now I saw that when Pilgrim approached, he heard Resignation singing, in plaintive strains, the following lines to her companion-- 

"Why weep for the beautiful flower,
As if premature plucked away?
Survived had its blossoms that hour,
Would have lived, but have lived to decay!

"But now it has left this cold scene
To blossom in regions above,
Where no storm, where no clouds intervene
To darken the sunshine of love!

"O happy, thrice happy, the time,
When again you shall meet, never to sever,
With that flower, in that happier clime,
To bask in bright sunshine forever!"

"Yes," said Resignation, dwelling on the last words she had uttered; "wait until that day of cloudless sunshine, and in 'God's light you will see light.' Then will you be brought to confess that he was 'righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.'"

"'His way,' indeed, seems to be 'in the sea,'" replied the other, "'and his path in the deep waters, and his judgments unsearchable.' But I know 'the Lord of the Way does all things well.'"

"Yes," said Resignation; "he will himself be a richer portion than any earthly one. The Living Fountain will supply the broken cistern."

"I have found it! I have found it!" said the weeping mourner, rejoicing through her tears. "The Great Physician has cheered my solitary hours with his own blessed presence, and lighted up this heart with untold joy. I never knew the tenderness of his dealings until now. He seems to be 'touched with a feeling of all my infirmities.'"

"And methinks you can bear testimony," said Pilgrim, "that you did obtain no cordial to heal your aching breast until you received it from Him."

"None! none!" said the other: "every other earthly joy seemed but a mockery. Earthly refuges were refuges of lies. Earthly comforters in vain sought to soothe my woes. But when I came seeking the balm in Gilead, and the Physician there, he said to me, 'I will not leave you comfortless. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives.'"

"What else said he unto you?" continued Pilgrim.

"He told me," replied the other, "what his own precious name once was: THE MAN OF SORROWS'; that there was not a pang I could feel but his own holy bosom had been rent with the same; that 'in all my afflictions he had been afflicted.' And when I spoke to him of my crosses and losses, he answered me in tones of tender rebuke, 'Was there any sorrow like unto my sorrow?'"

I see you feel," said Pilgrim, "as all his suffering people have felt, that the Lord of the Way makes up for the loss of earthly blessings."

"I do." said the other. "'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.' Many have been my trials; this Valley of Tears seems every day truer to its own name; but, God be thanked, amid the wreck of earthly blessings, I have still left the better Friend--Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever."

"'Who the Lord loves,'" continued Resignation, reading still from the volume she held in her hands, "'he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.' 'He afflicts not willingly, nor grieves the children of men.' 

'We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.' 'What I do you know not now, but you shall know hereafter.'"

"Even so!" replied the submissive sufferer, clasping her hands--"'even so, Father; for so it seems good in your sight.' 'I will be dumb; I will open not my mouth, because you did it.' 'Not as I will, but as you will.' 'The Lord gave, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.'"

Having been refreshed and strengthened, before departing, by the Lord of the Way, and again warned of the dangers he would have to encounter in the city which had been pointed out to him from the Mount of Communion, Pilgrim commenced, with renewed ardor, the journey which yet remained, cheered with the prospect of the glorious crown which the Lord of the Way held out as the covenanted reward of the "faithful unto death."

Now I saw in my dream that, before he had advanced far, he was overtaken by a fellow-traveler, girded from head to foot with the Christian armor, whose eye was steadily directed to the gate of the Celestial City. 

So eagerly, indeed, did he pursue his way, that he would have passed Pilgrim unobserved, had not his attention been arrested by one of the Songs of Zion, with which the latter was cheering himself in a solitary part of the road.

"Where are you bound, my good traveler?" inquired the stranger, addressing Pilgrim. "Methinks, from your attire, as well as your song, you are a brother journeying to Immanuel's land."

"You have conjectured right," said Pilgrim; "and I was even now comforting myself with the thought, that so much of the wilderness is over, and that the time is so near at hand when these weapons of warfare will be needed no more. 

I am enfeebled with many wounds; but one hour within yonder gates will make me forget them all; therefore, 'though faint, I am still pursuing', and have the assurance of my heavenly Lord and Master that final victory will at length be mine."

"You speak well," replied the other, "and as if love to the Lord of the Way really burned in your bosom. So crowded is this Narrow waynow-a-days with false professors, (ever since a powerful potentate, called Fashion, took down the wall of separation which formerly divided it from the Broad way,) that I cannot but regard with suspicion its reputed travelers, lest they should be Broad-way-men in disguise. 

But," continued he, "I am persuaded better things of you, and things which accompany salvation, though I thus speak. Perhaps, if we pursue our journey together, we may prove, by the blessing of our common King, comforters in each other's sorrows, and helpers of each other's joys."

"Gladly," replied Pilgrim, "will I accept of your proffered friendship; for truly my spirit quails for fear as I behold the smoke of yonder City of Carnality darkening the plain, and when I think of the evils that may likely befall me there."

"Never fear," replied the stranger, "you have a stronger arm than that of a fellow-traveler to lean upon, and to conduct you safe through its dangers. 

But come, meanwhile, and as we pursue our journey let us recount our experiences of the Lord's kindness, that so we may be the better prepared for the trials which may there await us. 

Tell me, I pray you," continued he, "your history and fortunes--when it was the Lord of the Way in mercy first snatched you from destruction, and arrayed you in your present attire?"

Here Pilgrim minutely related the marvelous interposition of the Lord Immanuel, as well as the other manifestations of grace he had subsequently experienced. 

The stranger, at intervals, could not repress his feelings. Pilgrim felt his own gratitude heightened and increased in calling afresh to his recollection the wondrous things the King of the Way had done for him.

"Be pleased, kind friend," said Pilgrim, after he had concluded his own narration, "to recount to me, in turn, the adventures which have befallen you in your journey. What is your name? and what first induced you to turn your face Zionward?"

"My name," answered the other, "was once Neglecter; but it has been changed by the King of the Way into Theophilus, which, by interpretation, is Lover of God. The place of my birth was adjoining your own, in a village hard by the Broad road. 

I was the familiar friend and companion of those very men you met with on the way, Formality, Church-goer, and Almost-persuaded, and induced, like yourself, to adopt their creed. 

I thought my own religion, on an average, far above my neighbors'; for I was not a despiser, as most of them were, but only a Forgetter. I was not an Enemy to salvation, but only neglected it; and hence my name."

"But were there none of your own household," said Pilgrim, "to remind you of your danger, and the consequences of such neglect?"

"Alas!" said Theophilus, "it was in my case too true that a man's foes are those of his own household. My awakened convictions would often have roused me from my sloth had they not been overborne by those who professed most to love me. 

They told me that I was as good as others; that I had apologies which other men had not, from press of business, for postponing the question; and that, if I would only have patience, the time was coming when they would all join me, and seek it in good earnest."

"And how, then," inquired Pilgrim, "were you at last roused to a sense of your dreadful danger?"

"Ah!" replied the other, "the Lord Immanuel would not suffer me to get rest by day, nor sleep by night, by reason of his loud and earnest remonstrances. 

The mingled severity and sweetness of his entreaties is still sounding in my ears."

"How did he speak with you?" said Pilgrim.

"So great was his love," answered the other, "and so resolved was he to effect my rescue, that he sent messenger after messenger to my door to plead for admission.

He  knocked by Providence, by Affliction, by Bereavement, by Prosperity, by Adversity; and each one of these, in a voice louder than the rest, sounded the question in my ears: 'How shall you escape if you neglect such great salvation?' 

That question allowed me no peace. It followed me in my solitary walks; it crowded my waking hours by day, and disturbed my dreams by night. 

I tried to drown it in the cup of intemperance, and chase it away amid scenes of mirth; but if I succeeded in hushing it at night, it was sure to return upon me louder than ever in the morning!"

"And what said your family all this while?" said Pilgrim. "Did they observe your anxiety of mind, and make no effort to minister alleviation?"

"Miserable comforters they were", replied the other; "they called me madman and fool, laughed at my childish anxieties, and only invited new guests to banish what they called the fit of frenzy away."

"But I have only interrupted you. I long to hear the result."

"Well," continued Theophilus, "as I lay one night stretched on my couch, a messenger was once more sent by the Lord Immanuel to renew his accustomed knockings. 

Never before were they so long nor so loud: so much so, indeed, that even some of my own family were startled from their slumbers. 

Now, it so happened that I had two servants in the house; the name of the one was Conscience, and the name of the other was Will; both of whom were roused by the knockings, and ran to the door to inquire the errand of the stranger. 

Conscience no sooner listened to his words of tenderness and kind admonition, than she was desirous to grant him admittance; but Will, who was naturally of a depraved and obstinate disposition, stoutly remonstrated, and, being the stronger of the two, she put her back to the door, secured the lock, and refused to open."

"Well do I understand the struggle you describe," said Pilgrim. "But say on."

"You are acquainted, I presume," continued the other, "with one of the Lord Immanuel's servants in the Narrow way Hospital called Faithful."

"I am," was the reply; "and, methinks, you would find him as faithful by nature as he is by name."

"Faithful indeed," proceeded Theophilus; "for no sooner was he acquainted with my case, and the strange conflict in my bosom, than he came to assist Affliction in her knockings. 

With a large hammer, called the hammer of the word, which he wielded in his hand, he broke open the door, stood by my couch with his hands and his lips full of messages of mercy from the Master he served, and never left me until he had brought me to the Narrow-way Gate."

"But," said Pilgrim, "were you suffered to leave without an effort being made for, your rescue?"

"Not so," replied Theophilus; "my companions, and neighbors, and friends, came running after me with imploring voice: some entreating me to return, some using threatening, others ridicule, others bribes. 

My wife and children, with tears in their eyes, upbraided me for my cruel desertion, and employed every persuasive to induce me to return. 

But the Lord of the Way sent his messenger to whisper in my ear: 'Whoever leaves father, and mother, and wife, and children, and houses, and lands, for my name's sake, and the gospel's, shall receive in this life a hundred-fold, and in the world to come, life everlasting.' 

'But whoever loves father and mother, or wife and children, more than me, is not worthy of me.'"

"And had you long to wait at the entrance-gate?" inquired Pilgrim.

"No," replied the other; "Free Grace, the keeper, was in readiness for my reception. 

Only one other traveler was at the moment soliciting admission; for the crowd were all flocking down the opposite way to Destruction. 

The traveler's name was Waverer; he was a native of the border-country, lying between King Immanuel's territories and those of the Prince of Darkness. 

He had a bundle on his back, containing heart-lusts, heart-sins, and heart-idols, which he too much valued to be induced to part with, and yet he seemed equally reluctant to abandon the way of life. 

He would willingly have entered, provided he could have retained his bundle; but it was too large, the gate was too strait and narrow to admit it. So he turned down the Broad road, and I saw his face no more."

"Wretched man!" said Pilgrim; "I remember him well; and I verily think him more to be pitied than any of his fellow-Broad-way-men; for he knows just enough of the Narrow way to make him miserable, but not enough to give him peace. Let us learn from his sad fate the danger of trifling with besetting sins."

"And you can, doubtless, add your experience to mine," said Pilgrim, "concerning the Lord of the Way, since the first hour you were enrolled in his service, that, however faithless you may have been to him, he has never been unfaithful to you."

"It is true, it is true," answered the other, the tear again starting to his eye; "often, often have I wounded His loving heart. Often have I fainted and been weary of him; but never has he fainted or been weary of me. 

It is my consolation, when called to mourn the fickleness of my own heart, that his heart changes never!"

Now I saw in my dream that, as the two fellow-travelers thus continued to encourage one another with mutual experiences of the Lord's past kindness to them, they gradually approached the walls of the Great Metropolis, whose smoke had been pointed out to Pilgrim from the Mount of Ordinances. 

It seemed to cast a temporary gloom over their spirits, as they thought how speedily their converse was to be interrupted by the din and bustle of a city of abounding iniquity. 

But with their eyes uplifted to the Everlasting Hills, whose summits were crowned with the glittering battlements of Zion, and with a confidence in the Lord of the Way, they boldly approached its walls.

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