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 3]

[chapter 1,2]

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Now I saw that the Keeper, followed by Pilgrim, entered his dwelling by the side of the gate. They ascended together, by a winding stair, to a turret overlooking the rest of the buildings, and whose window commanded an extensive prospect of the whole Narrow way. 

The walls of this chamber were hung with pieces of armor and coats of mail, which, from their high polish, shone brilliantly in the morning sun. In the center of the apartment stood a table, with some rolls of parchment lying upon it, and writing materials.

"Here it is," said the Conductor, "that travelers receive the whole armor of God, that they may be able to stand in the evil day. See," continued he, pointing to the walls around him, "how amply the Lord of the Way has provided for the equipment of wayfarers; and, truly, this is not too much, considering what is before them."

"What!" said the other in astonishment, "methought, when once within this gate those enemies which infest the Broad way would annoy its travelers no more."

"Ah!" said Free Grace, "you will before long discover your mistake. Even he who has been allowed to be the boldest champion that ever trod this way, when he reached the gate of heaven, having fought the good fight of faith, was covered with the blood and dust of battle. 

Ofttimes was he heard, in the course of his journey, to exclaim: 'Let us labor, therefore, to enter into rest.' 'I fight not as one that beats the air, but I keep my body under, lest that by any means I myself should be a castaway.'"

Encouraging his fellow-soldiers, he used to say, "Let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation." "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life."

"But who are my enemies?" said Pilgrim; "so that when they come upon me I may be prepared to meet them."

"That I cannot tell," said the Keeper; "their name is Legion, for they are many. You will have to 'wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.' 

Their wiles and stratagems will be numerous; sometimes they will contend with you in open warfare; sometimes they will try to decoy you from your path; sometimes they will use flattery; sometimes deceit; sometimes threatening. The great adversary, the devil, you may encounter, at one time, in the form of an angel of light, at another, as a roaring lion."

"Alas!" exclaimed Pilgrim, greatly alarmed at what he had just heard, "if our foes be thus numerous, which of us can stand? "I much fear," said he, with tremulous voice, "that I must resign the conflict."

"Yes, truly," said the Keeper, "if you went the warfare on your own charges; but I should have told you, that the great Captain of salvation, who has been made perfect through suffering, has himself trodden all the way. 

He has stopped the mouths of many ravenous lions; quenched with his own blood the violence of many fires; turned to flight the armies of many aliens; through death, he has destroyed him that had the power of death, and dragged him in triumph, covered with wounds, at the wheels of his chariot. 

And now, having thus paved the way, he assures every desponding traveler, that if he only 'put on the whole armor of God, he will be able to stand in the evil day.'"

So saying, Free Grace took down, one by one, the pieces of armor which hung round the walls of the Prospect Chamber, and assisted Pilgrim in girding them on. 

The first he presented to him was a large oval shield of burnished steel. On the front of it was inscribed a selection of the divine promises; and, in the inside, carved in larger characters, "FEAR NOT, FOR I AM WITH YOU; BE NOT DISMAYED, FOR I AM YOUR GOD."

"This," said he, "is the Shield of Faith, burnished with the imputed righteousness of the Lord Immanuel. So hard is its metal, that the missiles of the adversary will rebound as they touch it, and be able to do you no harm. 

Here, again," continued he, "is another part of your panoply;" and he put a massive bronze helmet on his head, whose plumes nodded over his brow. "This is called the Helmet of Salvation, with which to cover your head in the day of battle. And this," continued he, "is the Breastplate of Righteousness. 

With it you will protect your heart, against which (being most vulnerable) the fiery darts of the wicked will frequently be directed."

"And here, again," said he, reaching his hand to a higher part of the wall, "here is a weapon of-fensive as well as de-fensive. It is the Sword of the Spirit, without which the rest of the armor would prove ineffectual." 

The Keeper drew out the naked weapon from its sheath. It gleamed flashes of light on the other pieces of armor. "Take this," said he, "in your hand, and never let it go until you be safe within the walls of the New Jerusalem."

"Will you be pleased," said Pilgrim, "to fasten the sheath by the belt which surrounds my waist?"

"Not so," replied the other; "the sheath must remain with me; never can there be a moment in your journey when that sword can, with safety, be returned to its scabbard, and forsake the hand which grasps it."

"But how then," inquired Pilgrim, "can I retain its polish, and keep in their present brightness the rest of my armor? If they have no covering or preservative, a few hours will corrode them, and render them unfit for use."

"You are right," said Free Grace; "and I was about to supply you with what you desire." So I saw that he opened with a key, suspended by his side, an ancient oaken cupboard, from one of the shelves of which he brought down a box, carefully sealed. 

"Here," said he, "is a box of polish, which you must never omit morning and evening to use. It is called Prayer; and with it you will be able to keep bright and shining 'the whole armor of God.' 

Be careful, especially in seasons of peculiar danger and temptation, when the enemy is at hand, to keep rubbing your shield, so as to preserve its brilliancy, and not allow the rust to dim its luster, or obliterate the promises inscribed on it. These," he continued, "form the principal part of your attire. 

Here, too, is the golden Belt of Truth, to fasten round your waist; to which I shall presently attach a drinking-cup, by which you may refresh yourself at the fountains in the way. Also, the Sandals of Gospel peace, which will preserve your feet from the rough and rugged stones scattered in your path. 

And this, last of all, is the Ring of Adoption," taking a richly-chased gem from his jewel-box, and putting it on the same hand with which Pilgrim held the shield; "this is the pledge of your sonship, the earnest of your admission into the royal family of heaven, and the glorious liberty of the sons of God."

"Behold," said Pilgrim, in a transport of adoring wonder, as he listened to the last words which fell from the lips of Free Grace; "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon me, that should be called the son of God!"

"Yes," replied the other, "it is a glorious privilege; the highest seraph in the Celestial City knows no higher. 

But remember, that though an adopted son, you are yet a far way off from your heavenly Father's house, and it becomes you now to prepare well for the journey before you. 

But come with me," said his Conductor, "and before you proceed, I shall point out, by means of this large telescope, the country through which your road lies, and the different landmarks which may serve to guide you in safety to Mount Zion." 

So saying, he opened the window of the turret, which led out to a little balcony. It commanded an extensive prospect. Lofty mountains in the far distance, on the right and on the left, sparkled in the rays of the midday sun; their undulating slopes were studded here and there with towns, villages, and hamlets; the whole forming one great valley, terminated by the blaze of glory which hid from mortal vision the palaces of Zion. 

In the midst of this scene a mountain soared majestically above the rest of the landscape; and Pilgrim observed with the naked eye, and more distinctly with the telescope, that the Narrow way led directly up its steeps.

"This valley," said Free Grace, "through which your path lies, is still the Valley of Tears--a continuation of the same which was the place of your birth, bounded by those bright portals which no human eye has ever penetrated."

Pilgrim endeavored to direct the telescope to the Gate of Heaven. His eyes, however, could not endure the brightness; but, from the momentary glance, he caught a view of countless myriads of blessed spirits, arrayed in vestures of white, with harps in their hands, and crowns on their heads.

"Who are these," said he, "arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?"

"These are they," answered the other, "who have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the waters of this same fountain; therefore are they now before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple. 

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them to living fountains of water; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."

"And methinks," said Pilgrim, still looking through the telescope, "that I see, ranged on the turrets of its golden palaces, crowds of spectators, their eyes directed on this Valley of Tears, watching the travelers as they journey to Zion."

"These," replied the other, "are the redeemed from the earth--the patriarchs, and saints, and prophets of former generations, who, 'through faith and patience, are now inheriting the promises.' 

Their warfare is accomplished; but they still delight to follow the travelers they have left behind. 'Wherefore, seeing you also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin that does so easily beset you, and run with patience the race that is set before you.'"

"After leaving this gate," said Free Grace, "continue to follow the strait and narrow path, without deviating to the right hand or to the left. Do not forsake it because of its becoming too narrow, or of its assuming a dreary and wilderness aspect. Was it not this which tempted you at first to stray down the Broad road, that there was no seeming beauty nor loveliness in the Narrow one to make it desirable?"

"True," replied Pilgrim; "I shall faithfully follow your directions."

"Well," continued the other, "prosecute this narrow path until it brings you to the Mount of Ordinances. There you will find a lodging-place, prepared by the Lord of the Way for the rest and refreshment of travelers, where you will receive further directions for prosecuting the journey."

On returning to the chamber, the Keeper took one of the rolls of parchment which lay on the table, and folding it carefully up, requested Pilgrim to deposit it in his bosom, underneath his breastplate. 

"This," said he, "is your Passport and Charter, written with blood, shed by Immanuel, the Son of the Highest, which will be demanded of you at the Gate of Heaven, and without which entrance cannot be obtained. 

Beware lest you lose it and perish by the way. Many who, like yourself, wish to arrive at the Celestial City by a short way from the Broad road, try to avoid the Narrow gate by climbing over the wall; but having no passport when they arrive at the portals of Mount Zion, their plea is rejected, and they are shut out at last."

Pilgrim, on unfolding this charter of his spiritual privileges, found it to contain these amazing words--"SON, BE OF GOOD CHEER; YOUR SINS BE FORGIVEN YOU." "BE FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH, AND I WILL GIVE YOU A CROWN OF LIFE."

Being now fully equipped, and ready for his journey, he descended, in company with his Conductor, the stair which led from the armory. He was just about bidding Free Grace farewell, when the latter said: "Hark! hear you that distant music?"

Pilgrim listened, and a melodious sound came floating to his ear; but wafted from such a distance as to be scarcely audible.

"What anthem of triumph is that?" inquired Pilgrim.

"It is," replied the other, "the joy in heaven over another returning sinner. The first glimpse the heavenly watchmen, who crowd the battlements of Zion, caught of your burnished armor, was the signal for that burst of jubilee. Your entrance within the Narrow Gate will not suffer a harp, this day, there to be silent."

Pilgrim felt greatly strengthened by such a thought; and his Conductor, once more pressing his hand, committed him to the keeping of the King of the Way.

"The Lord be with you," said he, still keeping his arms extended as he pronounced his benediction on the departing traveler; "the Lord be with you, and keep you; the Lord cause his face to shine upon you; the Lord give you peace. The Lord be your stay on your right hand; the Lord suffer not the sun to smite you by day, nor the moon by night."

Then went Pilgrim on his way rejoicing, and saying: "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear what man shall do unto me. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? 

The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things I shall be more than conqueror. Thanks be to God, who gives me the victory!"

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