The History of Little Faith
Dialogue the Ninth.
Steward. "Knock, and it shall be opened unto you." This is now fulfilled in the literal sense, for I saw you coming, and was at the door when you knocked; and I hope the King will find both thee and me ready when he shall make the last visit to the Lowland Palace; "that, when he cometh and knocketh, we may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when he cometh, shall find watching," Luke, xii. 36.
Shepherd. True, Sir; and there is a daily blessedness in being ready, and in being prepared for his coming, as well as an everlasting blessing of immortal glory to he revealed, and received at the last time of his appearance.
Steward. True: that is a daily blessing, indeed! but it is understood and enjoyed but by few.
Shepherd. It is not; but we are living witnesses of the truth of the prophecy, namely, that servants, yea, base men and fools, are in the secret. Pray where is Little Faith now?
Steward. Poor Little Faith has had a terrible time of it, indeed! worse than he ever knew before. Having been, for many years, a child of a sorrowful spirit, he was habituated to distress and heaviness of heart; but having been favoured with a comfortable view of the King's face, and with an open declaration of his being his dear son, and a pleasant child-to be left in a nest of hornets, and without even daring (as he thought) to lay any claim upon the King, or even so much as to call him Father, seems to go very hard with him. The poor little fellow was so cut up, that there was scarcely a prince, princess, or servant in the palace-royal, but was in travail for him.
Shepherd. And, pray, where is the poor soul now?
Steward. He is out again, and is gone abroad among the rest of the young princes.
Shepherd. Pray, how was he brought out? Was it by the proclamation of one of the King's speeches, in answer to any of his own petitions? Or, was it by the intercession of any of the Seed-royal?
Steward. I believe all these means were used and attended to; and, no doubt, the King approved of the use of these, as they are the means of his own appointment. But he was brought out of the hornets' nest by a dream. He one night dreamt that he saw a man in a shining garment, the most brilliant he had ever seen; and he saw the form of a hand let down, that took that shining man, and carried him up to the ethereal regions, which opened as he passed, and left a visible cavity behind. The eyes of Little Faith pursued the man, and the hand that held him; and he soon perceived the starry heavens divide, through which he passed also. After this a most radiant canopy appeared, which unfolding itself both eastward and westward, he went through that; and, in short, "into the third heaven: but, whether the man was in the body or out of the body, he could not tell," 2 Cor. xii. 3. But, while he stood gazing up into heaven with a longing eye, he saw the same man let down again, just by a large cavern in the earth, very much like the mouth of a sand-bank to which Little Faith used to resort, and from which he was lately driven by the hornets.
Shepherd. This is a singular dream, and must inspire the soul of Little Faith with the most intense holy longings; I mean, after the shining man, to see what became of him; especially, as he had once been on the mount himself, and seen something of these realities. Excuse my breaking in upon your relation, Mr. Steward. Pray, go on.
Steward. Little Faith, in his dream, saw the shining man let down again, and placed at the mouth of a great cavern in the earth, as before related; and, no sooner was he seated there, in silent solitude, according to Little Faith's view of him, but he presently saw the jaws of the earth open; a cloud of smoke belched out, and several despicably deformed, but intelligent beings, with wings, appeared all in wonderful motion, 1 Sam. xxviii. 13. But one of this mysterious company appeared taller in stature, bigger in size, superior in rank, more terrible in aspect, more stately in gait, more forbidding in his looks, and more forward to command than all the rest. To him the others all seemed to look, before him they all kept their distance, and to obey his commands each stood ready. When, lo! this commander in chief stretched forth his hand, and took a rod: it seemed to be a branch of the tree called the cockspur thorn; out of the side of which rod grew a remarkable long thorn. He went to the shining man, struck him violently on the breast, and left the thorn in the man, which, to appearance, went through his clothes, skin, and flesh, 2 Cor. xii. 7: at the reception of which, the man swooned, and dropped. After this, the chief commander called one by the name of Messenger; gave him a strap, somewhat resembling a military belt made of buff; and sent him to the shining man, who fell to smiting him, first on the one side of his head, and then on the other, 2 Cor. xii. 7; as if determined to deprive him of his senses. The poor man then put up the three following petitions-"Deliver me from the hand of him that is stronger than I-Let the prey be taken from the mighty.-Let the lawful captive be delivered." Little Faith was wholly intent upon the vision; and, as soon as the man had put up his three petitions, he heard a voice from the third heaven, saying, "My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness," 2 Cor. xii. 9. At which the man leaped up, and cried out-"Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in mine infirmities, that the power of the King might rest upon me," 2 Cor. xii. 9. Upon this Little Faith awoke, and felt for the hornets, but there was not one to be found.
Steward. Wonderful is the condescension of his Majesty, in teaching his poor children, even in their sleep: "Sons and daughters shall prophesy. Old men shall dream dreams, and young men shall see visions," Joel, ii 28. "Who teacheth like him? The King speaks once, yea, twice," saith Elihu," but man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep faileth upon men, in slumbering upon the bed; then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, that he may draw man from his purpose; and hide pride from man," Job, xxxiii. 14, And, surely, Little Faith had a glorious night of it, blessed with beloved sleep, and wonderful instruction was sealed in him.
Steward. Wonderfully applicable to his case, and that Little Faith knows right well; for he came into the Steward's room in the morning, with such a heavenly countenance, that it did my heart good to see him. "The hornets are all gone, Mr. Steward.," said he: "they are fled, like the locusts, into the Red Sea, and there is not one left; and, I hope, they will never come back again." Then he told me his dream.
Shepherd. Little Faith will find himself deceived. The hornets will beset him again: it is the light of the King's countenance, and his presence, that puts them to flight; and, while HE is enjoyed, the hornets will be hid; but when the King departs, they will return, though, perhaps, not in so violent a manner.
Steward. I leave Little Faith to find that out. To talk at that rate before him, while in his first love, would break his heart. Besides, while his joys are strong, he would not believe you, if you were to tell him so. These young ones expect to spend all their days in open vision, and to enjoy the burning of divine love in their hearts all the way to Paradise; that their mountain shall never be moved, nor their comforts ever abate; so they speak, and so they believe. And, for my own part, I don't love to contradict them; for I believe that all the King's children would enjoy much more of his Majesty's presence than they do, were they more constant in their court-visits, more dependant on the King's clemency, better read in the ancient records, and more frequent and fervent at the ivory throne.
Shepherd. It is true: sheep are never safe but under the Chief Shepherd's care; nor can the Seed-royal be safe but under the protection of his Majesty.
Steward. The above is the counsel that I gave Little Faith. I advised him to study his Father's records, to be constantly at the chapel-royal, to attend closely on his Majesty's person, to prize his countenance, and always to acknowledge his favours with thankfulness. And he seems to adhere to my counsel: he meditates on his present felicity; is very studious; and bids fair to cut a figure, should he be appointed in future to govern any part of his Majesty's dominions. Nevertheless, all the King's children do experience, not only a spiritual birth, and their jubilee days, but a weaning time also.
Shepherd. Weaning times must come. We have our times for weaning the lambs: and it is common to see of them, when they are first taken from the ewes, fall away, and get thin and lean; but, after they become accustomed to the rich pastures, they thrive better than when they lived and depended so much upon the ewes.
Steward. It stands to reason that it should be so, and that the children of the King want weaning as well as lambs. "The new-born babe desires the sincere milk of the word, that he may grow thereby." But, while this is the case, nothing but their comforts are attended to. This is spending the royal bounty, but not engaging the King's enemies. Here are the joys and comforts of grace, but little growth in knowledge. Praise is going forth, but prayer is almost out of season; for, while the cup overflows, that which is wanting is easily numbered.
Shepherd. Pray, do you send them out to be weaned? or, do you wean them at home?
Steward. Some are sent out to be weaned; as Joseph was sent into Egypt, Lot into Sodom, David into Gath, and the disciples were scattered from Jerusalem into all the four winds, Acts, viii. 4. They were weaned, and then scattered abroad, that they might become nurses to nourish and cherish others. Those who have been used to milk themselves, know how to draw out the breasts to those that are babes, Heb. v. 12, 13. And, when such are weaned, and brought to live upon strong meat, having their own senses exercised to discern both good and evil, Heb. v. 14; then they strengthen others with the same food. When the breast is put up, the records are searched, and knowledge is sought. Hence the question, and the answer to it-"Whom shall the King teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine?" "Them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts," Isa. xxviii. 9.
Shepherd. Children that suck the breast are never out of harm's way. They are timorous also, terrified, and frightened, at every thing, if their comforts are gone: and this appears plain in Little Faith, for the sound of the hornets' wings drove him into the very mouth of the dog.
Steward. What you say is true: they are timorous; and weakly too, for he that useth milk is a babe. The sucking child is happiest while at the breast, but the weaned child walks best when forced to his feet. The former, when the breast is withdrawn, trembles at a hornet; the latter is not daunted at a viper. "The weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den, They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain." But why? "Because the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea," Isa. v. 8, 9. When weaned from the milk, they grow in experimental knowledge; and the King calls those ministers "pastors according to his own heart, that feed his family with knowledge and understanding," Jer. iii. 15.
Shepherd. Little Faith would make a wry face, if he were to hear this conversation of ours: he would differ widely from us in these things.
Steward. Indeed he would. He has got the highly-favoured bottle in his mouth, and I will be bound for him that he make the most of it; nor will he part with it easily. "He sucks, and is satisfied with the breast of consolations: he milks out, and is delighted with the abundance of Zion's glory," Isa. lxvi. 11.
Shepherd. "Truly the light is sweet," saith Wisdom, "and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun. But, if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many," Eccles. xi. 7, 8. Pray, is Little Faith to be weaned in the palace? or is he to be sent out?
Steward. I do not know yet: at home, however, I am inclined to think: and then I shall have work enough, and need often times more patience than I was ever possessed of; for these children are most intolerably cross at weaning times; and so peevish, pettish, and fretful, that they are a burden to themselves, and to all about them; and, the more they strive against it, the worse they get. And they don't know from whence their fretful spirit comes: they know by woeful experience, that their comforts are fled; but from what quarter their peevishness comes they know not, nor do they believe you if you tell them. So it is best to let them find it out themselves: some few do; but many do not, even to the last.
Shepherd. I suppose the Law has a hand in weaning: has it not?
Steward. It has: but they cannot conceive how a good law can stir up their evil nature; a holy law discover unholy corruptions; and a law that commands love, works wrath in man's heart. But so it is; and so the wisest men have seen it; and so the simplest babes have felt it; whether they believe it or not.
Shepherd. It is said in ancient records-"And the child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned," Gen. xxi. 8. The company had a feast, but poor little Isaac had a fast: they banqueted, but he was weaned.
Steward. It was the custom, in these eastern countries, to make a feast at such times; and it is observed in the Palace-royal to this day. But I do not suppose that Isaac fasted; nor do the heirs of promise fast on the day of the weaning feast. Isaac had other food prepared, and so have the King's seed. The milk is taken away on the feast-day; but other provisions are provided-"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," Isa. xxv. 6. And, at the same time, is the veil, the face of the covering, destroyed, ver. 7. Great things are then seen; and strong meat, fit for men of full age, is dished up; and a glorious feast they have; and they find this food more substantial than milk, which sometimes abides with them but a few hours; but a good meal of marrow and fatness is like the cake baked by the angel, "in the strength of which Elijah went forty days and forty nights," 1 Kings, xix. 6, 8. They find their minds braced up, their feet seem to stand on even ground, the stability of the covenant of grace is considered and admired, their calling and election is made sure unto them, and they continue in an even frame for some time, and expect to continue so to the end. But, by and by? these comforts abate; and then it is ten to one but ease and insensibility beset them; which they never suspect; under which they meet with the King's frowns and resentments; and out of which lethargy they are generally awakened by spiritual jealousy, to which they are provoked by young converts.
Shepherd. Then, I suppose, they pine after the breast again; for it is the young princes and princesses, who are satisfied and delighted with the breast, that provoke them to jealousy.
Steward. True; but it is the ease and insensibility into which they fall that exposes them to the rage of jealousy. The heir of promise at full age, whose house is established, looks often with an eye of pity on a joyful babe, because he knows what weaning times mean.
Shepherd. But, I suppose, after being sorely tried, they meet with some little indulgence again with the breast: do they not? I have often seen a tender mother, after she has weaned her offspring, if it pines intensely for the breast, take it up, and suckle it again. "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?"-"She may; [saith the King] yet will I never forget Zion, nor her offspring."
Steward. And when a child thus pines, the mother often rubs some bitter aloes upon the breast; till, in process of time, the child refuses to touch it. And, indeed, the Seed-royal are often served so: their comforts are succeeded by bitterness. "The heart knoweth its own bitterness, and a stranger intermeddleth not with his joy." "I forgat prosperity," said one, because of the bitterness that succeeded, "remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall; my soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled within me," Lam. iii. 17, 19, 20.
Shepherd. The soul that is born of the Spirit is filled with joy unspeakable, and full of glory. Under the prolific operations of the Holy Comforter, every grace is implanted; the new creature, which is the principle of grace, is formed; and in the saint's first love every lineament and feature of the second Adam's image is as express as the image of the Divine Fabricator was on the first Adam when he was formed. The clay was passive in the Divine Potter's hand while Adam's frame was on the wheel; and the strong man armed is cast out of the sinner's heart, and every corruption lies motionless in it, when Jehovah moulds the vessel of wrath into a "vessel of mercy," Rom. ix. 23: and" FORMS him for himself, to show forth his praise," Isa. xliii. 21. A wonderful calm in the soul is felt, and nothing but true holiness perceived (at certain seasons) while this regenerating, renewing, fresh-forming or transforming work is secretly carrying on. Yea, every divine touch given to this new work lays the believer under such glorious sensations as he can neither describe or relate. But, though a divine nature be received, 2 Pet. i. 4; a carnal nature remains; a new creature is formed, but the old creature is not extinct; Israel is in the land, "but the Canaanites will dwell among them: these were left to prove Israel." Astonishing mystery! "partakers of Jehovah's holiness," Heb. xii. 10; and yet burdened with fallen Adam's corrupt nature! Rom. vii. 24. This old inhabitant will prove every real Israelite; and grace must be tried.
Steward. What you have said is true; and the safety of the saint's state is made out to him by the powerful sensations that he feels, and by the change that is wrought. It is a Divine power: this is evident to the weakest believer, by its being superior to the stubbornness of the human will, the workings of Satan, and the motions of sin; and is no less than the empire, dominion, or reign of grace, or the kingdom of God, which stands not in word, nor in external pomp, but in a power which, without controversy, is all divine. But, as you have justly observed, grace must be tried, yea, every grace; and nothing tries the grace of a newborn heir more than weaning him from the breast. Unbelief within, oppositions without, and the withdrawings of the King's presence, try faith. Deep poverty tries patience, and abounding plenty tries temperance. Cruel mockings, reproaches, and insults, try meekness: abounding errors and damnable heresies will try the root of the matter; wealth will try charity; pleasure, beautiful snares, and creature comforts, will try the sincerity of love; feigned hypocrites, half-hearted professors, human applause, and clouds of self-seeking and men-pleasing preachers, will try faithfulness; while every besetting sin that strives for mastery. will try the loyalty of the heart, though at the same time they often help the saint to discover the predominant principle of grace. The word of the Lord tried Joseph, and the same INCARNATE WORD will try every heir of promise. But, when the King tries them in the fire, he sits as a refiner by it; and, if he brings them in, he will also bring them through.
Shepherd. I must withdraw. How time slides away in good conversation! It is high time to feed the sheep.
Steward. When shall you be at leisure again?
Shepherd. Almost any day from twelve o'clock to four: but not of an evening for some time; for the days are drawing in, and the "shadows of the evening are stretching out," Jer. vi. 4; and at those times we are very much pestered with wild beasts; "evening wolves," Zeph. iii. 3, and subtle foxes, Ezek. xii. 4, are perpetually creeping forth. Lambs in the midst of wolves are always in danger; and great care and watchfulness are required in shepherds at all times, but more especially at such times as these.
Steward. I believe there is not a creature living that has more enemies than a sheep; nor is there a wild savage, or voracious beast, that ranges the forest, but what is fond of preying upon it.
Shepherd. It is true; yet there is not any species of dumb creatures upon earth that are so useful as they, nor any that have so much attention paid to them. Herds of no kind are attended like flocks of sheep. Were all his Majesty's dominions to be surveyed where agriculture is known, we should find ten shepherds, false or true, to one park-keeper; and twenty shepherds to one ranger of the forest. Most men who have read the Celestial Records form some idea of the King's attachment to the sheep. They see that the name has been assumed in heaven, even by the great King. Cherubs and seraphs also have visited and attended the King's flocks; and the greatest characters that ever appeared in the Lowlands have been of the same occupation. Hence thousands have assumed the name and office of a Shepherd, who never saw a sheep till, like the rich man in hell, they saw it in Abraham's bosom; and thousands more, who have seen both sheep and goats, but were never able to distinguish the one from the other.
Steward. I believe it. However, the King will separate the false shepherds from the true, and the sheep from the goats, when he comes to make it manifest that there is one fold and one shepherd. But how comes it to pass that you are more troubled with these wild beasts in the winter than in the summer season?
Shepherd. They are called evening wolves, because they are fond of the twilight. A brutal night-ranger hates the sun as bad as a bat or an owl. All the while the sun is in the equator, these creatures can do but little mischief, either by day or night, they have such an intolerable aversion to the light; but, as soon as the sun withdraws from our horizon, the winter season approaches, and the evening grow long, then all the beasts of the forest begin to move, they only lie in their dens till evening. If opportunity should offer, I should be glad to see you in the plain of Shechem, as I never care to be far from Jacob's Well when the beasts of the forest creep forth.
Steward. If time permit, and Providence direct, I will wait upon you there. Till then, may the Shield of Help, and the Sword of Excellency, be with you! and then you will never know the want of an offensive or defensive weapon.
Shepherd. I thank you for your blessing; and, by the assistance of Him that guides us into all truth, and brings all divine things to our remembrance, my petitions shall be in your calamity.