The History of Little Faith
Dialogue the Seventh.
Steward. So I have found you in the tent! Clipping-time is now over, I suppose?
Shepherd. Yes; the shears are done with for this quarter.
Steward. Did you find your account in the wool? I suppose a good fleece is worth five shillings? Is it not?
Shepherd. I believe a House-Steward. is a better judge of a quarter of lamb than he is of a fleece of wool. If a farmer gets half-a-crown, or three shilling, a fleece, take one with another, he has not much cause to complain, though he shear his flock but once a-year. And, if an industrious shepherd gets food and raiment for himself and his household out of the clippings, it is enough for him; and he will be contented with it, and grateful for it.
Steward. And such shepherds are the most useful in their day, and the happiest men in all the field.
Shepherd. Through the sovereign clemency of the great Sheep-master, I know that to be true by blessed experience. Pray, how goes Little Faith on? Is he come down from the mount yet?
Steward. Yes; he staid there but a very little while: he was troubled with a swimming in his head, and at last fainted. I was informed that he could not tell how he came down: but, when he awoke the next morning, he found himself at the foot of the mount; and his old adversary told him that the whole vision was nothing but a dream, or an imaginary scene; for that Little Faith was in a frenzy, and there was nothing real in it. This threw poor Little Faith into the heart-burning again.
Shepherd. Pray, was Little Faith always subject to that disorder?
Steward. Yes: and it is no wonder; for the queen was much subject to it while she bred him, which by proverbial ladies is deemed an omen of a profuse ornament.
Shepherd. What is the proverb?
Steward. Why, if the pregnant mother be troubled with the heart-burning, "It is a sure sign," they say, "that the offspring will be born with a deal of hair upon its head."
Shepherd. And is that true?
Steward. They declare it with one voice. And they have another proverb which confirms it; and that is -" What every body says must be true." You may believe it or not, but it is best to be silent if you doubt it; for, if you begin to criticise, you will get yourself into a hobble.
Shepherd. I have read in ancient records, that hair is given for ornament, and for a covering. And it is said of Zion, that the "King espoused her when her breasts were fashioned, and her hair grown," Ezek. xvi. 7, 8.
Steward. Well; and gossiping ladies tell you, that the great heat of the pregnant mother's heart is to inform us beforehand of a plentiful crop of that sort of covering. Let it rest there; nor let us presume to be wiser than they, nor pretend to know more than what they are pleased to tell us of these matters. It is enough for us to know, that those who pass through the hottest fiery trials, come forth the brightest. When filthy rags are all consumed, the finest ornaments succeed. When the day of adversity discovers nothing but deformity and baldness, in the days of prosperity there shall be well-set hair and comeliness.
Shepherd. Pray, where is Little Faith now? Is he come to the palace-royal yet?
Steward. No; he is now at the Queen's lodge, which is at the foot of the mount. When any of the young princes or princesses are taken up the mount for the benefit of the nursery at the Queen's lodge, where there are proper nurses to cherish any of the King's children (1 Thess. ii. 7.), who are troubled with fainting fits after they descend from the mount.
Shepherd. I thought the best feast had been kept on the hill; because it is said, "In this mountain the King shall make unto all people a feast of fat things; a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations," Psa. xxv. 6, 7.
Steward. The veil, with the face of the covering, are destroyed upon that mountain; otherwise Little Faith could never have discerned any of those mysterious things presented to view And it is true, also, that a wonderfully sumptuous feast is prepared for those who surmount all difficulties, and gain the summit of the hill. But few ever come down without fainting: "If Daniel fainted, and was sick certain days. Afterward I rose up, and did the king's business," Dan. viii. 27. Another, after his decent, found himself at "Tel-abib, by the river Chebar, where he sat astonished seven days," Ezek. iii. 15. The Queen's nursery, therefore, is to receive those who faint, where they are cherished and nourished until they are able to go abroad.
Shepherd. Pray, was Little Faith's illness, after his descent, severe? or likely, in any sense of the word, to be fatal?
Steward. He was very ill; and I am credibly informed that "he was pressed out of measure, above strength; insomuch, that he despaired even of life," 2 Cor. i. 8. For the expanded canopy was suddenly closed, the ravishing scene withdrew, and the old vail overshadowed the understanding of Little Faith; so that, "as soon as his eyes were opened, and the King was known, he vanished out of his sight," Luke, xxiv. 31.
Shepherd. Poor little fellow! Surely, nothing can be more cutting, more mortifying, more aggravating, than such sudden changes as those! All aspiring hopes, earnest expectations, and desired crops, are nipped in their bud, cut down in their bloom, and withered in an hour!
Steward. So it appeared to Little Faith: for the Enemy set in with his incredulity, declaring that the vision which he supposed to be exhibited for his welfare, was nothing but a trap, and a prelude to death; which drew this dying speech from his lips - "I shall SURELY DIE, because I have seen the King," Judges, xiii. 22.
Shepherd. Those that are weak, timorous, and tender, among the King's seed, are like the young lambs that are under my care. I have, at times, seen a lady's lap-dog cast two or three hundred into a panic at once, and put them to flight, only by giving tongue which has been very little louder than the sound of a penny whistle: and, after they have run themselves out of breath, they have turned round with a sort of military wheel, and faced the monster; as if surprised, either at their own cowardice, the enormous size of the enemy that pursued, or determined, with recollected might and united force, to give him battle.
Steward. Neither sheep or lambs can do any thing with these dogs, whether small or great, without the Chief Shepherd's aid: nor can the Seed Royal do any heroic deed without reliance on the King's arm, and dependence on him for promised support; for the King himself declares - "Without Me ye can do nothing." And this appeared plain by the conclusion which Little Faith drew from the vision on the mount, namely, that he should surely "die, because he had seen the King;" whereas the King declares, that "every one which seeth him, and believeth on the King, shall have everlasting life," John, vi. 40. But, alas! his adversary soon gained an ascendancy over him! and so he doth over some who are thought to be strong in the habit and exercise of faith.
Shepherd. It is not reasonable to think that divine visions on Mount Zion can be foretastes or earnests of eternal banishment. "For if the King were pleased to kill Little Faith, he would not have received any confession, prayer, or tribute of praise, at his hands, neither would he have shewed him such things [as he saw on the mount]; nor would he, at that time, have told him such things as these," Judges, xiii. 23.
Steward. All this is true: but, when fits of infidelity, and the hour of temptation, meet upon a weakling, hastiness succeeds; which, for a time, renders the reasoning faculty useless. Besides, faith must reason, if any good be done by reasoning.
Shepherd. True, Sir; without the exercise of faith, infidelity cannot be subdued, nor the adversary routed; for this fight is emphatically called The good fight of faith. Pray, how long did Little Faith continue under his affliction?
Steward. But a little while; for the nurses cherished him, and fed him with warm milk from the cow, Isa. vii. 21, 22. Others gave him love-apples, Cant. ii 5. The young princesses brought him new wine, and bade him "drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more," Prov. xxxi. 6, 7. Others petitioned the King. In short, all the young princes and princesses that were at the lodge got round him, and lent their friendly aid to him. But the infidelity of Little Faith had like to have been an overmatch for them all. However, he is come to, and gone forth again in company with the rest of the King's children; and I suppose they will keep on feasting from house to house till every mite be spent; and then they will all come home, some half starved, others with their coats put off, and some with great rents and slits in their clothes. And then I shall have work enough - and, perhaps, this is the ease already: therefore I must be off.
Shepherd. When shall you have another leisure opportunity?
Steward. I know not, for I have generally the most work on my hands when days of festivity are over; for, at such times, I have not only their food and apparel to look to, but physic is wanted also, and more skill is required in using of it than I ever was master of. Therefore, as I cannot with certainty fix any particular day, I will, when opportunity offers, call on you at the tent: and, if you are at home, I shall be glad; and, if not, I have my walk for my pains. But I cannot tell when it will be, whether next week, or a month hence.
Shepherd. Whenever you come, let it be on a Thursday evening, if possible. But, if you cannot call on me next week, I shall not be at leisure for several weeks after; for, as the dog-days are coming on, it is likely to be very hot. And it is required of shepherds to be watchful at those seasons, for nothing can be more dangerous among a flock of sheep than a mad dog.
Steward. "Dumb dogs," Isa. lvi. 10, are bad enough; "greedy dogs," Isa. lvi. 11, are worse; but "mad dogs," 2 Pet. ii. 16, are the worst of all. Farewell: I leave both the shepherd and the flock to the Chief Shepherd's care.
Shepherd. Sir, I thank you: I heartily wish you the same fare; and hope that Wisdom will direct and support you when this working and purging time comes on.