Afterward, in my dream, methought I saw Pilgrim standing before the gate of the Narrow way soliciting admission. Above its portals were inscribed, in large characters, the words, "KNOCK, AND IT SHALL BE OPENED."
As he stood knocking, he observed near him two men, who evidently purposed to be the companions of his journey. There was, however, something about their manner and appearance very unlike what he would have expected from those who were waiting for the opening of the gate.
The one, whose name was Procrastination, was lying on the grass, half asleep, with his bundle and all its contents carelessly scattered around him. The other, called Presumption, was seated at the foot of a tree, humming the words of a song. At first Pilgrim hesitated whether he would address them; but seeing no others with whom he could enter into converse, he accosted them thus--
"You are intending travelers to Zion, good friends, I presume?"
"We are," replied the strangers.
"Then it is probable we shall journey together," continued Pilgrim; "provided, that is, you have no objections I share your company."
"That depends very much," said Procrastination, elevating himself, "if your taste corresponds with ours. From our past experience, there are few of the Narrow way travelers who feel disposed to make our acquaintance; and, if I may judge from the way in which you were just now knocking at the gate, there is no great likelihood you will prove an exception."
"I suppose we are at one," replied Pilgrim, "in our desire to escape as fast as possible from this place of danger, and get inside the gate."
"True," said Procrastination; "it is my firm purpose to be a Narrow way traveler, and at last to reach the New Jerusalem; but I am not inclined to commence the journey too abruptly. I have not recovered my former fatigues. Before leaving my present resting-place, I must have 'a little more sleep, a little more slumber, a little more folding of the hands to sleep.'"
"I would have you consider well, fellow-traveler," answered Pilgrim, assuming an earnest tone, "if it be safe to trifle any more of that time away which is soon to come to an end. 'The night is far spent, the day is at hand.' 'He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.' If you resign yourself to slumber now, you may sleep the sleep of death. It is surely time, no, 'it is high time to awake out of sleep!'"
Procrastination made no reply--merely waving his hand and muttering, "Go your way for this time; at a more convenient season I will think on these things." He gradually sunk down, resumed the position from which he had raised himself, folded his arms, and once more was steeped in slumber.
"You need be under no apprehension of our safety," said his companion Presumption, addressing Pilgrim; "we have placed ourselves, as you see, close beside the gate. We are so near it that we can enter at any time. I shall take care to keep watch for the coming of the Herald of judgment; and there are but just a few paces between us and safety."
"Take care," said Pilgrim, "that you be not deceiving yourself. You seem to have little idea of your dreadful and imminent peril. If you wait until the Avenger of Blood be in sight, before the key be turned in the lock he may cut you down! Besides, by presuming on the patience of the King of the Way, he may leave you to your fate, and 'mock when your fear comes.'"
"Ah! but I know," replied Presumption, "that Free Grace keeps the keys of the gate; and he never yet was known to reject a traveler that applied for admission."
"Not, indeed," said Pilgrim, "a traveler who seeks entrance there from love to the Lord Immanuel; but to one like yourself, who desires merely to elude the Avenger's sword, and escape coming wrath, I question if he would attend to your knockings."
"Hark!" continued he, as he heard the sound of footsteps from within, approaching the gate. They were accompanied by a voice, exclaiming, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation!"
The bolts were drawn aside, and the bars unloosed. Pilgrim, with a heart throbbing with joy, as he saw the door about to be opened, once more urged the two indifferent travelers to cast in their lot with his; but they only repeated their former reply.
Seeing remonstrance was in vain, he eagerly ran up to the gate, exclaiming, "Whatever others do, as for me, I will serve the Lord!"
"Who stands without, knocking?" demanded a voice from within.
"A poor traveler," replied Pilgrim, "who received a warrant from the Lord Immanuel to apply at this gate for admission."
"What is your name?" asked Free Grace, the keeper of the gate.
"My hereditary name is Sinner," said the other; "my surname, Pilgrim."
"What righteousness have you?"
"My righteousness," was the reply, "is as filthy rags."
"What plea, then," inquired the Keeper, "have you to offer?"
"None," said Pilgrim, "but this, that I am 'wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:' but I have come here 'to buy of you gold tried in the fire, that I may be rich; and white clothing, that I may be clothed; and have my eyes, which are still scorched with the glare of the pit, anointed with eye-salve, that I may see.' Be pleased to 'open unto me this gate of righteousness', that I may enter into it and be safe."
"This way was made," replied the Keeper, "and this gate opened, just for such sinners as you. 'Come in, you weary, heavy-laden one, and the Lord Immanuel will give you rest.'"
So saying, the gateway turned on its hinges, and disclosed to Pilgrim an aged man, with a benignant and heavenly expression.
"For six thousand years," said he, "have I stood at this gate, and been authorized by the Lord of the Way to fling it open to weary travelers; and he is as willing now to welcome them in as when first it was opened. His love for sinners the lapse of ages cannot diminish. 'Come in, you blessed of the Lord, wherefore stands you without?'"
Now I saw that he conducted Pilgrim within the portico of the entrance. Immediately opposite the door of the lodge in which Free Grace dwelt, was a lake or fountain of water, surrounded with trees and shrubs crowned with verdure of surpassing beauty, and which were reflected in many hues of loveliness on the calm surface.
Immediately behind rose a temple, on the pinnacle of which was a winged cherub, called Gospel, with a trumpet in his hand; with which, at intervals, he sounded the proclamation,
"Ho! every one that thirsts, come you to the waters"; while a choir of youthful voices from below responded: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whoever will, let him take of the water of life freely."
"Can this," inquired Pilgrim of Free Grace, "be the fountain which, a little while ago, I heard celebrated in song by some travelers to Zion?"
"It is," said the Keeper; "and before you advance further on your journey, it will be needful for you to receive a suit of white clothing, washed in its waters."
So saying, he assisted Pilgrim in tearing off the remains of his ragged covering of self-righteousness. A robe of white linen, which was steeping in the pool, he dried in the rays of the sun, and clothed him in it.
Pilgrim stooped over the fountain, and seeing his image reflected in it, he exclaimed, in a transport of holy joy, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness!"