The History of Little Faith
Dialogue the Fourth.
Steward. Good morning to you, Shepherd!
Shepherd. Good morning to you, Sir! Did you find your way pretty easy?
Steward. I should have come over the summit of the hill, I perceive; but, instead of that, I turned to the left; and, coming round the declivity, I came about: nor could I see your booth, or hut, until I came quite upon it.
Shepherd. You should have gone over the hill. Many have gone round about, and lost their way too, rather than venture up, and come over the summit. Pray, how is the family? And how does Little Faith come on? Have you seen him?
Steward. The family (blessed be God!) are well; and Little Faith seemed last night in tolerable spirits: for one of the servants, rather noted for credence; one that Little Faith has a very high opinion of, and whose happiness he hath often observed with a wishful and longing eye, has been sick lately: and in his affliction his faith was sorely tried; and he, too, staggered greatly, and said, "My heart and my flesh both fail." Little Faith heard of this, and rather wondered at it, and seemed to take a little encouragement from it. The servant is now up, but very weak and feeble. Last night Little Faith and he were together on the lobby; and, I believe, they were comparing notes together, for I thought Little Faith seemed to have the brightest countenance of the two.
Shepherd. Times of sickness, and times of trial, prove what is genuine Credence, and what is Self-confidence. He is a staunch believer who (by faith) can perform in days of adversity, all that he has spoken in the days of prosperity.
Steward. True; but this is not always the case: a servant, who is for a time exempt from trials, finds Little Faith sounds but a discordant string to his merry heart. However, the King" will not break the bruised reed." This servant has now and then given Little Faith a sharp lash with the scourge of the tongue; but, now, he can condescend to one of low degree. But none use Little Faith with so much violence as those who have either no faith at all, or a faith that never was tried. These use the word faith only to banter others with; for, if you ask them to describe the nature, workings, or preveiling feats of it, they talk nonsense.
Shepherd. Faith is better found out by what it does, than by what it is. It is given for a man to live by, not to boast of, much less to plague others with. "Hast thou faith?" said an ancient herald: "Have it to thyself before God." And if poor Little Faith's mother had been in better hands, and he properly taken care of at first, he might now, perhaps, have been as staunch a believer as any in the Household.
Steward. It is true: for, as ladies who use proverbs observe, "An after-relapse is worse than a lying-in." Or, sometimes it is worded thus: "A second lying-in is worse than the first." Which is true in this case. Faithful dealings, fervent prayers, and sound words of truth, from an unctuous heart, are what Heaven has ordained to be used at Zion's groanings. This appears in the ancient Records: "The children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth. Wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left," 2 Kings, xix. 3, 4. They sent to the evangelical prophet for a message of truth, and expected it to be delivered in faithfulness; and that his prayers should be lifted up, and that for this feeble remnant that was then come to the birth. But these means were not used at the birth of Little Faith, which was the cause of his" tarrying so long in the place of the breaking forth of children," Has. xiii. 13.
Shepherd. The more the pity! A proper use of the means is the only way to obtain the blessing. The faithful midwives in Egypt declared to the king, that the Hebrew women were much stronger than the Egyptian women; for they were lively, and were delivered before the midwives came in unto them, Exod. i. 19. If the Hebrew women were thus lively, what must Zion be, if properly attended, and due nourishment administered! It is said of her, as never was said of any Hebrew matron, "As soon as Zion travailed she brought forth her children. Yea, before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pains came on, she was delivered of a man child!" "Who hath heard such things? Shall a nation be born at once? Or, shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day?"
Steward. Neglect of the proper means, and unfaithful dealing, is the cause of the mother's lingering labour, and of Little Faith's feebleness and unsightliness; for the King's image consists of knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness: and if ignorant, unjustified, and unsanctified persons, are allowed to mingle themselves among the King's servants and children at such times, it cannot be expected that her deliverance should be quick, or clear; or that the image of the King should be express on the offspring; or that the child's language, in his childhood, should be either pure or genuine; seeing he was put into such hands to be nursed, and permitted to herd with all the bond-children in the town. However, "those feeble members are necessary," 1 Cor. xii. 22. And, though some think them "less honourable, upon such we ought to shew more abundant honour." For the King has pronounced a woe to the world because of offences; and charges all to take heed that they offend not one of those little ones that believe in him - yea; and that whosoever receives such a little one in his name, receives him. Therefore it appears, that upon these we should put the more abundant honour.
Shepherd. Pray, what sort of a man is Little Faith in person now! Is he robust, or slim? tall in stature, or a dwarf? comely, or unsightly? proportionable in his features, or irregular? well, or ill- favoured?
Steward. With respect to his stature, he is a dwarf. It is a rare thing to see his head above the clouds, above the fog, or above the smoke; much less above the moon. They must be clothed with the Sun who get the new-moon feasts, and all Jewish and Popish ceremonies, with their fulls and changes, waxings and wanings, "under their feet," Rev. xii. 1. With respect to his status he has given an account of it himself: "Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly," Psalm, cxxxviii. 6. His gait is somewhat declining; or, rather he is inclining to stoop in the shoulders: which is easily accounted for - for two reasons. First, His being so habituated to the low cloisters and cells of the Hagarene Castle; and of his habituating himself to his perpetual retreats in the sand-bank, which never exalts any man. Secondly, His accustoming himself to his old legal yoke, which has a natural tendency to bow the head: nor can any man walk upright till this be taken off; as it is written, "I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bond-men; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright," Levit. xxvi. 13. This yoke, and another equally bad, always make the wearers of them go stooping. You have a complaint of this in the following speech: "The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand; they are wreathed, and come up upon my neck," Lam. i. 14. These things make a man, whether young or old, stoop in the shoulders. Thus you see his stature is short, or low; and his gait very much declining.
Shepherd. What sort of a limbed man is Little Faith? Is he well limbed?
Steward. His hands, as was before observed, generally hang down; his loins are loose and weak; and his knees feeble; which makes him appear halting, or hobbing, in his walk. Hence his complaint, "For I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me," Psalm, xxxviii. 17. "But the King undoes all that afflict him, and sayeth him that halteth," Zeph. iii. 19.
Shepherd. Poor man! his soul must often be discouraged because of the way - for the way to the kingdom is through great tribulation; through darkness and light, rough places and plain; over hills and rallies; and through various windings, turnings, crooks and corners. So that a man had need both of strength and limbs.
Steward. The King leads the blind, as was before observed, by a way that they know not, and bears them as upon eagles' wings. He cuts the worst figure on the paths of Zion who can go alone. Woe be to Aim that is alone when he falleth! - which he is sure to do if he be alone when he walks.
Shepherd. True, Sir: to lean to one's own understanding to guide one, or to trust in one's own heart to bear one up, is acting the part of a fool. I hope the ancient petition will never be out of my heart, or out of my mouth - "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe." Excuse me breaking in upon the chain of your discourse, Sir. Go on with your description of Little Faith, for I have some suspicion that I have seen him.
Steward. There are few real shepherds, I believe, who have not seen him some time or other; for he is always to be found within, if he cannot be seen without. The countenance of Little Faith is rather inclining to be gloomy, especially in the winter; but, when the spring arrives, "when the winter is past, and the rain is over and gone; when the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land," Cant. ii. 11, 12, it sometimes brightens up a little. Besides, he used, when at Hagar's castle, to wear a veil, and the marks of it remain on his forehead to this day. All Hagar's family, as well as popish nuns, take the veil, and wear it too, 2 Cor. iii. 14. Nor can it be taken away, or the wrinkles of it defaced, otherwise than by seeing the King's face: "When it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away," 2 Cor. iii. 16. "For he is the health of our countenance," Psalm, xlii. 11. There is one thing makes very much against Little Faith; and that is, he is near-sighted, or what is vulgarly called [purblind]. "He cannot see afar-off," 2 Pet. i. 9. It requires a strong focus, an eminent standing, a long sight, and a clear day: yea, he must" dwell on high who sees the King in his beauty, and beholds the land which is very far off," Isa. xxxiii. 17.
Shepherd. But it is allowed in the general, I believe, that nearsighted people have the strongest eyes, when anything comes within the reach of their sight; and, when the light of day is withdrawn, I am informed that they can see in the dark better than a long-sighted person.
Steward. It is true, if either a matter or a person come close to Little Faith, he will see through the matter, or penetrate through the person, as soon as most; for he has been led astray by many false matters, and been imposed upon by many false persons, which has made him very watchful and observant. And it is equally true that he can see in the dark (being so accustomed to it) better than a long-sighted person. The works and workings of Satan, of the old man of sin, and the state of fools - all of whom, as well as their works, "are in the dark," or in darkness itself - and few see these things clearer than Little Faith: and we are in hope that, when the sun rises upon his horizon, that "he will discover deep things out of darkness, and bring out to light the shadow of death," Job, xii. 22. But, with respect to seeing through a glass, seeing his Witness in heaven, his record on high, his name in the book of life, and the face of Him who is invisible, Little Faith is very near-sighted.
Shepherd. Is he a constant petitioner? If he be above begging, he is not likely to be exalted; for the King" raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes," 1 Sam. ii. 8, which shews that there is no such thing as sitting among the princes till we feel our poverty in the dust, and are humbled to beg on the dunghill.
Steward. It is true; and your observation is beautiful. And it is as true that Little Faith is a constant petitioner, but too formal in his addresses: and he is a man of a singularly narrow or small mouth, which is much against him; for, though he be so often under the vine, and under the fig-tree - and the King tells him, saying, "Open thy mouth wide; and I will fill it," Psalm, lxxxi. 10, - yet, if you shake the tree over his head," the fruit doth not fall into the mouth of such an eater," Nab. iii. 12, in that he is "straitened in his bowels," 2 Cor. vi. 12, and straitened in his mouth too.
Shepherd. Are his teeth good? However, that is but of little account: for, if the appetite be small, and the constitution weakly and delicate, it matters not much whether the grinders be many or few; for they fail in Little Faith because they grind little, Eccl. xii. 3.
Steward. His teeth are as good as can be expected. "Stolen waters used to be sweet to him," Prov. ix. 17, and nothing is worse for teeth than such sweet things. Nevertheless, he can eat grapes, Deut. xxiii. 24, and apples, Cant. ii. 5. And, when he has gone" down into the garden of nuts," Cant. vi. 11, I have seen him crack them, and give them to others; but it is a rare thing to see him eat one himself. "This," saith he, "belongs to you, and that belongs to such an one; but, far be it from me to presume to take the best fruits in the land. 'Balm and honey, spices and myrrh, nuts and almonds,' Gen. xliii. 11, are for Joseph, not for me; and I would dish them up for the king of Egypt rather than presume to take them myself."
Shepherd. Don't you think the gloom of his countenance is contracted by looking perpetually at the mount and the sand-bank? I think it is; else, why are we commanded to look to the hills, from whence cometh our help? and even to look to the King from the ends of the earth? Yea; and the King himself says, "Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely," Cant. ii. 14. And one of his Majesty's ancient Steward.s declares, that while we "look as through a glass darkly, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory," 2 Cor. iii. 18.
Steward. This is true; but Little Faith has too much confidence in doing, and too little in looking. Though he knows that he cannot work himself into the King's favour, yet there is an habitual bent that way; and so there is in others as well as in Little Faith.
Shepherd. Then it is both his folly and his loss, for he bereaves his soul of good.
Steward. He does: nevertheless, the King will not let Little Faith be disappointed of his hope, nor let his expectation be cut off, concerning seeing the King's face. Yet he will leave him to struggle in his own strength, till he is made sensible what this working hand of his can do for him; and, when he sees that his power is all gone, and there is none shut up or left, and he fails and faints, it will be otherwise - for "he giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might left; and then his power is to be given, and strength is to be increased. Isa. xl. 29. According to which account, his strength must be quite exhausted; he must faint under his vain help, and have no might left; and then power is to be given, and strength is to be increased. This is the King's most gracious speech, and shall surely be fulfilled.
Shepherd. Is the hearing of Little Faith pretty good?
Steward. Better than could be expected, considering how long he staid at the mount; where he saw nothing but fire, blackness and darkness; and heard nothing but" the thunder in the tempest, the sound of the trumpet, and the voice of words," Heb. xii. 18, 19. The drum of his ear had been so strained and shaken with perpetual peals of thunder, that it was a long time before he could either hear or brook "the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely," Psalm, lviii. 5. The sound of the silver trumpet, the jubilee trump, and the melody of Zion's harp, hardly gained his attention at first; but now his ear tries the word as the mouth tastes the meat. But he cannot make much melody in his heart, though he hears and "knows the joyful sound," Psalm, lxxxix. 15, and is charmed with the "good news from a far country," Prov. xxv. 25; for his mind is frequently tossed with the old tempest, even to this day. Thus, Shepherd, I have given you a little description of Little Faith's person. His stature is snort, his gait is stooping, his limbs are lank, his loins are loose, his knees are weak, and he has a hobbling or halting step in his walk. His countenance is such as bespeaks him sincere and devout, but rather gloomy; his eyes are full; he is near-sighted, and squints a little; his mouth is very small, and his teeth are but indifferent His nose is far from flat: this appears by his being suffered to wait at the altar, which a person with "a flat nose must not do," Lev. xxi. 18. His nose is well set," and life has been breathed into his nostrils" - which makes the "smell of his nose like apples," Cant. vii. 8. The skin of his face is fair, but rather too pale; and it is but very seldom that" his face shines," Exod. xxxiv. 29. His cheeks are very thin; as he him- self complains," Thou hast filled me with wrinkles, which are a witness against me; and my leanness, rising up in me, beareth witness to my face," Job, xvi. 8.
Shepherd. Excuse my breaking in so abruptly. What I was going to remark was, that the poor man must be sadly put to his shifts to get a witness against the blessed state of his soul, if he was obliged to fly to his leanness, and to the wrinkles of his face, for witnesses.
Steward. What could he do? God had borne his testimony that Job "was a perfect and an upright man;" and the Spirit, in Job, had borne witness in his conscience that "his witness was in heaven, and his record on high." So that Infidelity was driver to her wit's end to find a witness: and, at last, two are produced, the one is Job's leanness rising up, the other the wrinkles of his face - dumb witnesses both. But so it is, when once unbelief prevails, she will have some plea against God. Job, to measure the shortness of his days, flies to the" swift pace of a post," and to the throw of a "weaver's shuttle:" and so here, rather than appear without a witness, he flies to the wrinkles of his face; and I should not have wondered if he had fled to the colour of his eye-brows.
Shepherd. Go on with your description of his face, for I really believe that I know him.
Steward. I don't believe there is a man in the world that knows himself, but what knows him. As to his face, there are some "bright spots" on it, which have been mistaken for relics of the leprosy; but they are called "freckled spots which grow in the skin of persons that are clean," Levit. xiii. 39. And certain it is that Little Faith" is clean through the word that the King hath spoken unto him," John, xv. 3, though he seldom enjoys it.
Shepherd. You have given me a very particular and satisfactory account of his person; and I think I have often seen him, and felt him too. Pray, is he not fond of retirement and loneliness
Steward. Very; for he seldom goes into any company, pious or Impious, but what he gets a wound, or private damage, some way or other; some rent is made in his peace; or some of his thoughts are scattered, his doubts encouraged, his terrors awakened, or his knees relaxed. There is always something dislodged, or out of joint, with poor Little Faith: for, if souls are talking cheerfully about the King's love-tokens, his favours, or the felicity enjoyed in his presence, it often provokes him to jealousy, or he views it as lightness and levity. He gets but little comfort in company who can "eat and be merry," Luke xv. 23; because he is so seldom favoured with a kid. Yea, if he does but forget himself, and even smile at lively and cheerful conversation, his old adversary checks him for it, and accuses him of sinning against light and knowledge; telling him, that he should be "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, all his days," as the King himself formerly was: and that for persons to be "joyful in a house of prayer; to put off sackcloth, and be girded with gladness; to have their captivity turned, their mouth filled with laughter, and their tongue with singing; to drink so as to forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more;" is little better than wantoning with royal things: it is appearing cheerful; or else trifling, where the countenance ought to he veiled with gloom, and the heart ballasted with solidity, comparable to a "talent of lead," Zech. v. 7.
Shepherd. Then Little Faith has no notion of "eating before the King, in the place that he shall chuse, with his sons, his daughters, his men-servants and maid-servants, and the Levites; and of rejoicing before the King in all that he puts his hands unto?" Deut. xiii. 18. And again, "Because the King shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the works of thine hands, therefore thou shalt surely rejoice," Deut. xvi. 15. The King loves a "bird of song," as well as a "mourning dove:" the "singing of birds," and the "voice of the turtle," Cant. ii. 12, should both be heard in their turn.
Steward. Little Faith must go on his own way. As he is "afflicted, let him pray: when he is merry, he will sing psalms. A merry heart is a continual feast; and, on the other hand, by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. Days of adversity, and days of prosperity, are set one against the other: let him consider in the former, and be joyful in the latter." I believe he has had more nursing than a thousand that are now in the realms of bliss: but, notwithstanding that he still thinks, and often says, that he is the last that shall ever behold the brilliant mansions of the celestial palace, yet we know that "there are last that shall be first, and the first last;" "for many be called, but few chosen."
Shepherd. He is one of our spiritual Jacob's tender ones, and must not be over-driven, but be followed gently, as he be able to endure. We were saying, on a former visit, that proverbial ladies avouched that a "second lying-in," or an after-relapse, "is worse than the first." I know there are no voices without signification; and I take it for granted that the above proverb hath its meaning, if I were acquainted with any of those honourable matrons who could give me the sense thereof But, whatever interpretation it may bear in the dialect and judgment of women, or however true in the travail of nature, is it any way applicable to the labours of Zion?
Steward. Doubtless; for the proverbs of women are so pregnant with truth, sense, and meaning, "that it is but to ask counsel at Abel, and the matter is ended," 2 Sam. xx. 18. As to labours, they are various. Some are very quick: "As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth children: yea, before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child." Isa. lxvi. 7. Others, again, are long and lingering, intermingled with respites of carnal ease; at which times prayer is without fervour, and the afflicted appear as if they were without the sense of an opposite principle to oppose the motions of corruption, till fresh trouble send them with another importunity to the King: "Lord, in trouble have they visited thee; they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them. Like as a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and crieth out in her pangs; so have we been in thy sight, O Lord. We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind, we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth. THY DEAD MEN SHALL Live." Isa. xxvi. 16, &C. Others, again, are entangled in the birth, like Little Faith: "The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is hid. The sorrows of a travailing woman shall come upon him. He is an unwise son, for he should not STAY LONG in the place of the BREAKING FORTH of children. I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death." Hos. xiii. 12, 13, 14. If you take notice here, both the lingering travail of Zion, and the entangling birth of Ephraim, are backed with an absolute and unconditional promise. To lingering Zion it is said, "Thy dead men shall live;" and to Ephraim, who was entangled in the birth, "I will redeem them from death, and ransom them from the power of the grave." The promise, therefore, being set so close to the labour, is to show that the travail and toil of the mind is to secure the gift of life, the redemption of the soul, and the ransom of the body from the grave; which being secured, the sonship appears clear; and, having obtained the promised blessings, they are expressly styled the "heirs of promise." Zion is never without her promise. It is allowed by all that have severely felt it, and by most who have been eye and ear witnesses of it, that spiritual labour is the most perilous of all labour. "Notwithstanding, Zion shall be saved in child-bearing; because she is sure to continue in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety," 1 Tim. ii. 15.
Shepherd. These things appear clear to me. Your account of the quick,, and of the lingering, labour of Zion, and of the entanglement of Ephraim, have, doubtless, a footing on Divine veracity. But neither of these things are an interpretation sufficient to prove the authenticity, or settle the validity, of the gossiping ladies proverb; namely, that "a second lying-in is worse than the first." All come into the world by the throes of Nature's sorrow, and into the spiritual world by a birth that is purely spiritual; but, is there such a thing as re-labour, or a re-birth in the latter? Not that I doubt the veracity of these honourable ladies, in the sense that they mean it; for I am informed that their proverbs at groaning assemblies are generally delivered with an emphasis peculiar to themselves; and mostly dropped with a singular weight, and enforced with an eye and an air of consequence, when they intend to besiege the ears of a quiet, harmless, inoffensive husband.
Steward. Something of this hath been observed in the birth of some of the sons of Zion. Zion herself hath often re-laboured with one and the same child. Individuals have a second time fallen into spiritual travail; and even Zion's watchmen have felt the pangs, and borne their part of the throes: "My little children, of whom I travail in birth AGAIN, until Christ be formed in you," Gal. iv. 19. That great man in the land of Uz was early begotten by the word of truth, and quickened in his early days by the Spirit Divine impressions were felt, and labour succeeded; and he came so far forth at times, as for the features of the new creature to be perceptible: yea, he came far enough into the new world to have a glimpse of Him who is invisible; but it was a view of terrible majesty; at which he drew back, saying, "Destruction from God was a terror to me; and, by reason of his highness, I could not endure," Job, xxxi. 23. The most perilous part of the labour he hoped to have escaped, but it overtook him a second time: "The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet, yet trouble came," Job, iii. 25, 26. Hence it appears, that his early begetting, quickening, and labour, were sufficient to leave visible traces and features of Divinity upon his mind - which is confirmed by the testimony of Heaven that he was perfect in the EVERLASTING FATHER, and upright by virtue of union with him, and divine aid from him; and one that feared his Sovereign, and hated evil. Nevertheless, it pleased the Most High, who is a free agent, to bring him the second time to put "his hands on his loins;" and his friends, for seven days at least, bore a part of the labour. But, after that, they acted as some did at the birth of Little Faith: some cried one thing, and some another, and the greater part used violent means, and some despaired of deliverance: but, at the appointed time, the new creature came forth with all its beauty and comeliness; "God turned the captivity of Job;" perfect love cast out fear, and set him free; and "he that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God." Now, he compared the produce of the first labour to only "the hearing of the ear;" but the latter as productive of the seeing eye - "But now mine eye seeth thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes," Job, xlii. 5, 6. Now "his eyes saw, his ears heard, and his hands handled, the word of life." Thus some, who have felt a little spiritual labour, greatly fear the bearing pains; which, as Job acknowledged, came upon him; while others go lingering on in expectation of terrible things, and at last come forth before they know where they are; their "deliverance seems like a dream;" and their long imaginary terrors, under the buffeting of Satan, are ten times worse than the real.
Shepherd. This brings to my mind what is recorded of a pious king of the Hebrews - "That he wrought that which was good and right, and truth, before the Lord his God; and in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered," 2 Chron. xxxi. 20, 21. And the Lord was with him as he acknowledged even to the Hebrews - "Be strong and courageous; be not dismayed nor afraid for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him; for there be more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us," 2 Chron. xxxii. 7, 8. Nevertheless, in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, "God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart," 2 Chron. xxxii. 31.
Steward. And if God leaves a man, to try him, and to make him know all that is in his heart, he will have soul travail enough; for it is a sight of internal corruption, and a sense of the plague of the heart - when enlightened to see it, and quickened to feel it - that brings the labour on. And this was the case with Hezekiah for, whatever legal labour he might have had before, I am bold to affirm, that the "second lying-in was worse than the first;" especially when the evangelical Prophet, who was his bosom friend, came with a - "Thus saith Jehovah, Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live," Isa. xxxviii, l. He owned, when brought forth into liberty, that for peace he had great bitterness; but this last labour produced pardon, and brought life and immortality to light: "Thou hast, in love to my soul, DELIVERED it from the pit of corruption; for thou hast cast all my SINS behind thy back. By these things men LIVE, and in all these things is the LIFE of my spirit: so wilt thou recover me, and make me to LIVE," Isa. xxxviii. 16, 17.
Shepherd. Pray, what may be the cause of so many sticking in the birth, and of others going through second soul travail before the birth be made clear to them?
Steward. The first causes must be resolved into the will of the King, as it is. according as he is pleased to bestow a greater or a lesser measure of the Spirit. All do not gather this hidden manna alike: "Some gather more, some less; but they that gather much have nothing over, and they that gather little have no lack." Divine impressions, on some, are shallow; on others, deep: in the heart of one, "the Day-dawn and Day-star arises;" on others, "the light shines round about them," and quite through them. Where the ray is faint, and the impression shallow, fear and trembling are produced; consciousness succeeds; and a power is felt, under which sin is shunned, and the Lord is sought with diligence. Thus a visible reformation takes place; while a lingering labour exercises the mind, till unbelief be discovered, doubts and slavish fears are brought on, and bondage holds them fast. Such believe the truth of the word; the justice, holiness, and immutability, of their Maker, and the record that he has given of his Son; but are overpowered with misgivings of heart, so that they cannot lay a comfortable hold of the Saviour: yet they are kept out of the world, and in a waiting posture; are very inquisitive; and are willing to learn, and perpetually seeking knowledge. And oftentimes such souls fall into the hands of ten "blind guides," before they find out one that is "a burning and a shining light:" and, as they have not grace sufficient to counterbalance the legal mind, a mere impostor, or a legal tutor, under the influence of Lucifer, and by the sufferance of Jehovah, generally gets hold of them; with whom they are mightily taken, being zealously affected by him. The empty and noisy harangue of such a Boanerges suiting the legal mind, it entangles them in the birth, in the ties or navel-string of nature, or natural affections; for this navel, in the worst sense, "is a round goblet which wanteth not liquor," Cant vii. 2; consequently, a legal spirit, and a confused mind, are sure of nutriment from that quarter. Thus such an one goes on till a deeper impression be felt under divine operation, and a brighter ray be communicated to the dark recesses and various haunts of the legal spirit. In this light, and under such sensations, the seducer, deceiver, and impostor, is generally discovered; every word of his mouth is traced to his heart, from whence it proceeds; while the state of his mind, and the basis on which he stands, are exhibited to view; and his fair and false pretences laid open, with all his base motives, destructive aims, and cruel ends. From that time the weakling is undeceived; the King has made manifest the hypocrite, and enabled his offspring to "judge all things; yet he himself is judged of no man," I Cor. ii. 15.
Shepherd. It is surprising that men should be so stiffened with pride, so daring in rebellion, so bent on "deceiving and being deceived," as to persist, in open defiance of majesty, verity, and conscience: and expose themselves to every "arrow of Jehovah's quiver," Acts, xiii. 10; Deut. xxxii. 23. All this must undoubtedly spring from a horrible war between the rebel's mind and his Maker; which, without the interposition of never-failing mediation, must end in infinite ruin. Little Faith can never be finally deceived, for he exists in the compassionate bowels of immortal love: nor will the "Father of mercies," and Fountain of comfort, leave his feeble fraternity as orphans; or permit his chosen race to be seduced, spoiled, and left as a Prey to the objects of his just hatred. He has pronounced "a woe to the world because of offences," Matt xviii. 7; and has given a charge to every governor, ruler, and servitor, in his realm," to take heed that they do not despise one of those little ones," Matt. xviii. 10; who by divine credence rely on his arm: and has declared, "that in the celestial regions their angels do always behold the face of his Father," Matt. xviii. 10. It stands upon record, that the adjacent mountains that encompassed the "city of Dothan," were covered with the "flaming equipages of immortal Majesty," in order to protect a single "ambassador," 2 Kings, vi. 17; and he, for his stability in faith, is styled "The chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof," 2 Kings, xiii. 14. If a champion, comparable to a war-chariot and a troop-horse, be thus attended and protected, what attendance and protection must Little Faith have, who is always in danger; and, when his fits of infidelity are upon him, can neither fight nor fly? "Amalek had his name blotted out from under heaven," Deut. xxv. 19; "and perished for ever," Numb. xxiv. 20; "for casting off all fear, and for cutting off the faint and feeble of the Israelitish tribes," Deut. xxv. 18; who were the King's children by national adoption; then what displeasure must they incur, who labour to seduce, beguile, and deceive, those who are his offspring by regeneration! And, if they cannot deceive them, they despise, hate, ridicule, and even curse them! as it is written, "Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife, and a man of contention to the whole earth! for every one of them doth curse me!" Jer. xv. 10. If the guardian "angels of these little ones behold Jehovah's face," they certainly know how his countenance stands toward them: and sure I am that those "birds of the air shall carry the sinner's curse, and those [messengers] that have wings shall tell the matter," Eccles. x. 20. And if those birds of Paradise do not, Little Faith will; for he is a "bird," he is a "dove," Cant. ii. 14; though not a "singing-bird," Cant. ii. 12; and by and by he will get his wings: for "although he has lain among the pots, yet shall he be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold," Psalm, lxviii. 13. These shall tell the matter; for if they curse Little Faith, they curse the King himself.
Steward. Undoubtedly they will. And the means that they use in order to ensnare the weaklings are despicable also. They know that children are generally pleased with music and melody; therefore they endeavour to charm and allure, or (if restless) to quiet their minds by instrumental and vocal sounds. Organs, bagpipes, humstrums, and violins, are introduced, under a specious pretext of adoring, honouring, and charming the ears of his Majesty; whereas it is intended to answer the same end for which the "king's band" was employed in the "plains of Dura," just to amuse and ravish the mind till devotions were paid to Satan, to the king's honour, and to "the golden image that he had set up." Mimics are employed to chant, and pipers to charm, in order to "allure them from the Guide of their youth, and drive from their thoughts the covenant of their Sovereign." His Majesty takes no pleasure in them "that CHANT to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music," Amos, vi. 5; but, on the contrary, says, "Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs, for I WILL not HEAR the melody of thy viols [or fiddles]," Amos, v. 22. Yea, and even strolling vagrants and monkish mimics from the stage, are often invited, or hired, to sing feigned anthems to his Majesty's dis-praise; for it is more detestable to him than either the bellowing of a bull, or the howling of a dog. The King approves of no music like mental melody. "Singing with grace, and making melody in the heart," meet with divine applause and proclaimed approbation: "Let me see thy face, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely," Cant. ii. 14. Poor Little Faith has felt the effects of fatherly displeasure for giving way to the above allurements; and others have exchanged their songs for" weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth," Matt. xiii. 42. The "musicians," and the "minstrels" must" give place," and be "turned out," too," before the King raise the dead," Matt. ix. 24, 25.
Shepherd. Doth his Majesty use severity with his children? and is he particularly observant of their conduct?
Steward. He uses fatherly severity to those who are naughty, and is very observant of their conduct; and nothing displeases him more than to see them wander out of his way: "He has cast up, and prepared a road for them, and has had all the stumbling-blocks removed out of it," Isa. lvii. 14; that they might amuse themselves therein, and walk safely; and the way is so plain, and so belined with heaps of witnesses, hand-posts, and landmarks, that even an idiot shall not err, if he walks therein. But, as sure as ever Little Faith gets out of that way, which has been often the case, the King observes him, follows after him, "marks his paths" - and "sets a print upon his heels," Job xiii. 27; and, before Little Faith is aware, he is" laid by the feet in the stocks," Job, xxxiii. 11.
Shepherd. Poor little fellow! that must be a terrible punishment to him; enough, one would think, to break his heart!
Steward. It is done for that purpose; for "a broken and a contrite heart is a thing that the King will never despise," Psalm, li. 17. But, what mortifies Little Faith most is, that the young princes and princesses are ordered to go and look at him, for the stocks are placed close by the way-side for that end.
Shepherd. I suppose they are ordered to go and see the terrible punishment inflicted, in order to deter them, by bringing "great fear upon as many as see and hear these things." And it must greatly mortify Little Faith, and provoke him to jealousy, to see the rest of the Seed Royal walking at large, while he is exposed as a spectacle laid by the heels. Pray, how does he look and behave while in confinement? Does he speak to his brethren and sisters?<P.
Steward. "He looks as a thief generally does when he is found," Jer. ii. 26, for "the shew of his countenance witnesseth against him," Isa. iii. 9. But he says but little - only, "that they see his casting down, and are afraid," Job, vi. 21.
Shepherd. I suppose Little Faith has been often in the stocks in former days?
Steward. Not very often. The King has various methods of punishment; and the chief punishment that has been inflicted on Little Faith is what is called" pressing at the gate."
Shepherd. "Pressing at the gate!" Pray, what is that?
Steward. There is at the front of the palace what is called the "strait [or narrow] gate," Matt. vii. 13. On the left-hand side is "a dark hole," or "tabernacle," Job, xviii. 6, and on the right-hand is a "large room," Psalm, xxxi. 8, which is the presence-chamber, the place of audience, where persons and petitions are received, and where the King shews his face. At this gate Little Faith has been punished for months together, looking with a longing eye toward the presence-chamber, and with fear and trembling at the "dark hole." Unbelief and slavish fear press on him on the one side, and "hope deferred maketh his heart sick" of holy longing, on the other; so that he is "in a strait betwixt two;" and yet he dares not complain nor murmur, for fear of the black hole. But that which wounds him the deepest is, that he has open heard this lamentable cry from the left-hand, "I am shut up, and I cannot come forth," Psa. lxxxviii. 8. And, on the other hand, he sees many go smiling in and out of the presence-chamber; which greatly aggravates his sensations.
Shepherd. And, pray, what may his Majesty be displeased with, that he has kept him so long at the strait gate?
Steward. The King will have all his children dependent on him for every thing: and likewise humble before him; for that child who is the most humble "is the greatest [in declarative favour] in all his realm," Matt. xviii. 4. But Little Faith, by playing formerly with Hagar's boys, drank deeply into the spirit, and strongly imbibed the corrupt principles, of what is falsely called free-agent; which in very deed was the crime and utter overthrow of Absalom, the son of David - for it is an unwarrantable contention for sovereignty; which, in the highest sense of the word, is granted to none but One; and, in the lowest sense, to none - but by delegated right and might; which must ever be held by the King's grant, under his inspection, by his authority, executed in his name, with a dependence on his sceptre, wisdom and arm, and to the honour, of his person; as those who are accountable to him for all that is amiss in celestial affairs. And it was this crime that had like to have been the ruin of him that is called "the prodigal son;" who demanded "the portion that fell to him, and went into a far country;" that is, far from the King, that he might, as an independent, trade for himself; which in the end debased him to a level with the swine, exposed him to the arrows of famine, and ministered a foretaste of perishing by everlasting destruction.
Shepherd. Your observation is truly just, that "the principles of free-agency are falsely so called;" for it is nothing but stubbornness: they are headstrong rebels, not free agents. It is a brutal resistance of their Maker's will, and may be seen in beasts. I have brought up lambs by hand, that have, when they were come to he sheep, used their horns against me, and presumed even to butt me; and have resisted to the uttermost if I attempted to catch and hold them by the crook - which has been a display to me of every man's being brutish who dares to resist the good Shepherd as these did me. But I have soon after seen that the dog Smut has been, by the King's order, sent among them; which has laid hold of them by the ears, and led them round every field, meadow, close, coppice, and yard; and over every hedge, ditch, slough, and lane, in all the farm.
Steward. True; and nothing looks more detestable, nor is more damnable, than for creatures to "resist the will" of their Maker and Owner, Rom. ix. 19; while they. "are taken captive by the devil at his will," 2 Tim. ii. 26. But so it is; they wage war with the former, but are obliged to submit to the latter.
Shepherd. But pray, sir, is not the punishment of" pressing at the gate," something very severe?
Steward. Very. The feelings under it are somewhat like those produced by a strait waistcoat: he struggles hard; and, the more he struggles, the more he is "straitened." He is like one of old who could not get at the "King for the press."
Shepherd. And to see the other children pay their court-visits, and smiling in and out, must be a terrible mortification. Besides, say that there is good cheer in the large room; and to be and hunger-bitten too, must undoubtedly add to the affliction.
Steward. There is good cheer there, and that Little Faith knows; he must be mentally poor that goes in there, as Little Faith been told, and that by the King himself: "He delivereth the poor in his affliction, and openeth their ears in oppression. Even so would he have removed thee out of the strait into a broad where there is no straightness, and that which should be set on table should be full of fatness," Job, xxxvi. 15, 16. This is absolute and unalterable declaration.
Shepherd. I must run. I have many overlookers, who take more pains in minding me than they do in minding their own business; and if they should see me absent at the stated hours of attendance, would say to me, as Pharaoh did to the Hebrews, "Ye are idle, ye are idle; and therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice.
Steward. Where shall you be to-morrow evening, after you have feeding and folding?
Shepherd. After feeding and folding, you may be sure to find me, two or three hours, at the sign of the "Harp, by the brooks of willows," Isa. xv. 7; Psa. cxxxi. 2.
Steward. I understand you. Weariness and emptiness must succeed that sort of labour - but the King gives food to the feeder; declares, that they who water shall be watered themselves. The well of life will spring again. I will call upon you there. The best of blessings attend both the Shepherd and the flock!
Shepherd. And may the same eternally rest on the Steward. and the Household! Tender my love to Little Faith.