Ambulatories

The ambulatories of a great cathedral are the aisles on either side of the nave's floor and the galleries that are built outside those same walls. I suppose, for our purposes, we might then think of our cathedral souls as having five ambulatories, two outside, two against either wall, and the main or central aisle.

A cathedral ambulatory

We can get a very good idea of the importance of thee ambulatories for those devout pilgrims who journey over many miles, Chaucer has, of course, immortalized such religious journeyings in the early English classic Canterbury Pilgrims. In most Roman Catholic churches and in many of our Episcopal and Anglican churches the little plaques upon the walls of the side aisles depicting the 14 stations of Christ's carrying the cross shed even further light upon the spiritual dimensions of these ambulatories.

a)

Every Honest Pilgrimage Has Its Blessed Goal:
To Arrive Blessing God's Holy Name

by

Glen Davis

Thinking together about the spiritual meaning of a cathedral's ambulatories (side aisles and outside walking galleries) we should begin to appreciate what few moderns understand: the life as a pilgrimage that has meaning from its beginning to its ending. Geoffrey Chaucer's classic, The Canterbury Tales, concerns itself with the plight of medieval pilgrims on their way to Canterbury Cathedral and its holy shrine.

Everybody ought to have read the Tales before dying! Chaucer takes various pilgrims, some with holy motives and some with motives other than holy, and presents their human dramas and comedies along the way. Our own lives are, I think, not all drama, not all comedy, and certainly not all tragedy ... our lives are a mixture of all of the above and we are, whether we know it or not, on a pilgrimage. In our materialistic culture I guess most think of the end of their pilgrimage as the cemetery -- little wonder we have so many problems in our day and age. When life has no end in sight except bones and dust then life is suffered through as a cruel joke perpetrated by fate or the gods or whatever upon human creatures. I do not think our ancestors had this particular problem of meaninglessness, at least not to the terrible extent that we see today. They had beliefs and convictions, it never occurred to the sane that there wasn't a God or that all of this was some sort of self- started cosmic catastrophe. That is the present insanity and it has its advocates, I fear, in the church as well as in academia.

But I hearken back to Chaucer's beautiful introduction to the Tales rather than remain in our present gloomy self-imposed prison of things that are without meaning in lives that are little more than freakish accidents! Pilgrims, real pilgrims who walk with God know better, and so the Bard wrote:

When the sweet showers of April have pierced
The drought of March, and pierced it to the root,
And every vein is bathed in that moisture
Whose quickening force will engender the flower;
And when the west wind too with its sweet breath
Has given life in every wood and field
to tender shoots, and when the stripling sun
Has run his half-course in Aries, the Ram,
And when the small birds are making melodies,
That sleep all night long with open eyes.
(Nature so prompts them, and encourages);
Then people long to go on pilgrimages,
And palmers to take ship for foreign shores,
And distant shrines, famous in different lands;
And most especially, from the shires
Of England, to Canterbury they come,
The holy blessed martyr there to seek,
Who gave his help to them when they were sick.

It happened at this season, that one day
In Southwark at the Tabard where I stayed
Ready to set out on my pilgrimage
To Canterbury, and pay devout homage,
There came at nightfall to the hostelry
Some nine-and-twenty in a company,
Folk of all kinds, met in accidental
Companionship, for they were pilgrims all;
It was to Canterbury that they rode.
Geoffrey Geoffrey Chaucer Chaucer

(page 1, Fragment I (Group A) of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, A verse translation with an Introduction and Notes by David Wright: Oxford University Press, copyright 1985)

There is a Springtime with its Holy Lent and Holy Week when we are touched, if only so lightly, by that pilgrim's urge. We are more than the world has dared define us, we read the Bible or the lives of the saints and find the Bible and the lives of the saints reading us. Anglican Christianity has always been wonderful in this respect, we have allowed our souls to go on pilgrimage at least once a year. The parish church becomes a holy shrine and seems quite different than usual for we are quite different than usual. "Folk of all kinds" ... "to Canterbury" we ride. And whether it be the Stations of the Cross or the Seven Last Words, the stripping of the Altar or the trumpeted fanfare and roaring organ of Easter morning we begin to realize that our lives, whether they seem to us comedies of error or tragedies of misjudgment, have quite an eternal dimension to them.

Below, you see a sketch that dates back several centuries. The pilgrim soul accompanied by an angelic figure is traveling through a darksome tunnel but at its terminus there is brilliant, wonderful light and a figure waiting over there. Quite an amazing sketch: the Near Death Experience depicted long before Moody or Rawlings made their studies of the subject. And it seems only natural (or is the word to be supernatural) that there are undoubtedly nine and twenty other pilgrim souls somewhere in that tunnel with their assigned holy angels. They are like most of us, seldom are we even suspicious that we are on pilgrimage and there is an "angel unawares" lurking in our background, that there are loving, nail pierced hands and outstretched arms awaiting us at the end of the tunnel. This "tunnel" (or I suppose we should be consistent and use the Cathedral terminology, this ambulatory) is always there and we are always riding through it to our destinations, in this man's case, to our beloved Canterbury.

Darksome tunnel Through the darksome tunnel

Now what is to be at the end of this pilgrimage of life? A lot of confusion because so much confusion reigns within Christendom these days? A love for this passing Age and a fierce desire to marry up with it instead of prayerfully and as consciously as possible riding toward our Canterbury, the place Christ meant for us -- the blessedness of a vibrant, Christ-honoring orthodoxy here and then Paradise at our ends? Every honest pilgrimage has its blessed goal: to arrive blessing God's Holy Name!

There is nothing to fear in death unless that fear is born of our own callousness and want of love for the Most Blessed Trinity. For this world death is a dirty word whispered with great distaste but for the pilgrim, whatever his folly or his wisdom, death is the horse he rides and in the course of a lifetime we die many, many times to this adulterous and wicked generation that we might live the Faith of Jesus Christ. Having physically died once I suppose I am in that rather eccentric number who takes the pilgrimage very much to heart, who finds it intolerable that fools will always be fools until and unless they hear what another "traveler" heard: "Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute Me?" The tunnel was pitch black, I had hopes of arriving at the Cathedral whose splendors make Canterbury pale in comparison. As long as I live I shall remember the deep velvety darkness that descended that day and the sense that it was God's mercy that I not see the struggle of the Holy Angels to deliver this soul from the demonic-gods of this Age and safely to Him who died for love of us sinners.

There was no fear, only the desire to come back and serve God's Son with all of my heart. There were many souls in that darkness and many struggles "out there" between the angels and the demons. And still this pilgrim rides to his ending and Life's real beginning. The Nicene Creed has become my heart, soul, and mind: for it was this Faith alone that was with me in death and it is this Faith alone that shall take me through this tired old world to that blessed and kindly light awaiting Christian souls at the end of the tunnel.


b) One of the most beautiful hymns ever written tells us of the meanings of our inward cathedral's ambulatories:

O Master, let me walk with Thee
In lowly paths of service free;
Tell me Thy secret -- help me bear
The strain of toil, the fret of care.

Help me the slow of heart to move
By some clear, winning word of love;
Teach me the wayward feet to stay
And guide them in the homeward way.

Teach me Thy patience! still with Thee
In closer, dearer company,
In work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
In trust that triumphs over wrong.

In hope that sends a shining ray
Far down the future's broadening way,
In peace that only Thou canst give,
With Thee, O Master, let me live.

(words by H. Percy Smith)

Upon these paths and roads of life we begin any sojourn first of all within our hearts and souls for as the old saying has it, "a walk of a thousand miles begins with the first step." We may, on any given day, find ourselves upon the road to Calvary in whatever sorrow and sadness that same day brings. How sad for us if our souls are not attuned to know that upon their ambulatories we walk again with Jesus the Way of Sorrows and in that day's steps we may comfort and aid him willingly through a reverent frame of heart that returns good for evil, kindness for meanness. Again, we may find ourselves as on that first Easter, with the sad disciples upon the Road to Emmaus. We shall not know who walks with us unless we are hushed and reverent upon the inward ambulatories of our cathedrals: for it is Jesus, Risen and Glorified and our preoccupations with this world must not be permitted to rob us of this knowledge. Again, we may walk with angels unawares as did Tobias with Raphael, indeed we walk each day through our earthly purgatories with our Guardian Angel who is determined to see us to Paradise. It is of this "ambulatory that I'll write first":

c)
Oh Lead Me Safely Through This Purgatory called Mortal Life.

My steps are unsteady at times, Holy Redeemer. Especially do I suffer when Thou dost purge me in Thine overflowing salvation, that timeless rive of the blood of the Lamb .....

Who but Thee can lead us this long and treacherous course, who but Thee will carry me when my footing so often grows unsure? ................

Thou dost send a guardian angel on assignment to us. Thy Name be blessed, he leads us through this life called purgatory until we lay us down to sleep at last. Amen.

The following on our Guardian Angels by the Blessed John Henry Newman:

d)

Guardian Angel

My oldest friend, mine from the hour
When first I drew my breath;
My faithful friend, that shall be mind,
Unfailing, till my death.

Thou hast ever been at my side;
My Maker to thy trust
Consigned my soul, what time He framed
The infant child of dust.

Thou wast my sponsor at the font,
And thou each budding year,
Didst whisper elements of truth
Into my childish ear.

My holy Guardian ere boyhood was gone,
My rebel spirit fell,
Ah! thou didst see, and shudder too
Yet bear each deed of Hell.

And then in turn, when judgments came,
And scared me back again,
Thy quick soft breath was near to soothe,
And hallow every pain.

Oh! who of all thy toils and cares
Can tell the tale complete,
To place me under Mary's smile,
And Peter's royal feet!

And thou wilt hang about my bed,
When life is ebbing low;
Of doubt, impatience, and of gloom,
The jealous sleepless foe.

Mine, when I stand before the Judge;
And mine, if spared to stay
Within the golden furnace, till
My sin is burn'd away.

And mine, O Brother of my soul,
When my release shall come;
Thy gentle arms shall lift me then,
Thy wings shall waft me home.

Oh Lead Me Safely Through This Purgatory called Mortal Life.

My steps are unsteady at times, Holy Redeemer. Especially do I suffer when Thou dost purge me in Thine overflowing salvation, that timeless rive of the blood of the Lamb .....

Who but Thee can lead us this long and treacherous course, who but Thee will carry me when my footing so often grows unsure? ................

Thou dost send a guardian angel on assignment to us. Thy Name be blessed, he leads us through this life called purgatory until we lay us down to sleep at last. Amen.

[The following (e) through (h) are excerpted from some of my very favorite spiritual works and written by some of the holiest and wisest men of God who have ever lived. Their words give deep meanings to the ambulatories of our Cathedral souls!]

e) From Rev. George Whitefield's sermon, Walking With God:

And First, Walking with God, implies that the prevailing power of the enmity of the person's heart, be taken away by the blessed Spirit of God. Perhaps it may seem a hard saying to some, but our own experience daily proves, what the scripture in many places assert, that the carnal mind, the mind of the unconverted, natural man, nay, the mind of the regenerate, so far as any part of him remains unrenewed, is enmity, not only an enemy, but "enmity itself against God; so that it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be."

But Secondly, Walking with God not only implies, that the prevailing power of the enmity of a man's heart be taken away, but also that a person is actually reconciled to God the Father, in and through the all-sufficient righteousness and atonement of his dear Son. "Can two walk together, (says Solomon,) unless they are agreed?" Jesus is our peace, as well as our peacemaker. When we are justified by faith in Christ, then, but not till then, we have peace with Go and consequently cannot be said till then, to walk with him.

Further, Thirdly, Walking with God implies, a settled, abiding communion and fellowship with God, or what in scripture is called, "The Holy Ghost dwelling in us." this is what our Lord promised when he told his disciples, that "the Holy Spirit should be in, and with them" not to be like a wayfaring-man, to stay only for a night, but to reside and make his abode in their hearts. "And Enoch walked with God." i.e., he kept up and maintained a holy, settled, habitual, though undoubtedly not altogether uninterrupted communion and fellowship with God, in and through Christ Jesus. So that to sum up what has been said on this part of the first general head, walking with God consists especially in the fixed, habitual bent of the will for God, in an habitual dependence upon his power and promise, in an habitual voluntary dedication of our all to his glory, in an habitual eyeing of his precept in all we do, and in an habitual complacence in his pleasure in all we suffer.

Fourthly, Walking with God implies our making progress or advances in the divine life. Walking, in the very first idea of the word seems to suppose a progressive motion. A person that walks, though he move slowly, yet he goes forwards and does not continue in one place. And so it is with those that walk with God. They go on, as the Psalmist says, "from strength to strength," or, in the language of the Apostle Paul, "they pass from glory to glory, even by the Spirit of the Lord."

And, First, Believers keep up and maintain their walk with God, by reading his holy word. "Search the scriptures," says our blessed Lord, "for these are they that testify of me." And the royal Psalmist tells us "that God's word was a light unto his feet, and a lantern unto his paths;" and he makes it one property of a good man, "that his delight is in the law of the Lord, and that he exercise himself therein "day and nigh." "Give thyself to reading", says Paul to Timothy.

Secondly, Believers keep up and maintain their walk with God by secret prayer. The spirit of grace is always accompanied with the spirit of supplication. It is the very breath of the new creature, the fan of the divine life, whereby the spark of holy fire kindled in the soul by God, is not only kept in, but raised into flame. A neglect of secret prayer has been frequently an inlet to many spiritual diseases, and has been attended with fatal consequences. Origen observed, "That the day he offered incense to an idol, he went out of "his closet without making use of secret prayer." It is one of the most noble parts of the believer's spiritual armour. "Praying always , says the Apostle, with all manner of supplication." "Watch and pray, says our Lord, that ye enter not into temptation."

f) from Life Compared to a Road by Rev. John Newton:

Fain, therefore, would I persuade you to address yourselves with earnestness to run the race set before you. Flee from approaching wrath. The wrath of God is already revealed against all unrighteousness, and soon it will be poured forth upon the head of every transgressor. Though God is patient and forbearing, he is angry with the wicked every day. If he turn not, he will whet his glittering sword: he hath bent his bow, and made it ready. He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he hath ordained his arrows against those who shall finally disobey his great command, to receive the gospel of his grace. It is impossible to elude his eye, or to withstand his power. You are upon the brink of danger, if you are not already entered in this race; you stand upon a precipice, and hell from beneath has opened its mouth to receive you. But a respite is still afforded; the Lord waits to be gracious and as yet there is room. The gate of mercy is not yet shut: "turn therefore to the strong hold, as prisoners of hope;" no longer refuse his gracious invitation, or trifle with your precious souls; seek to Jesus that you may live; apply to him for faith and repentance; and in his strength and name prepare to run this important race. Meditate upon the glorious prize, which is provided for all who endure to the end: it is freely proposed to all who run. Pardon, grace, and eternal life, are promised and bestowed, without money and without price. If, after so many repeated calls, you still harden your hearts, and stop your ears, and determine that you will not come unto Jesus, that you may have life, you must assuredly perish without mercy, and without excuse.

But if you are desirous to run, remember the admonition in my test, "So run that you may obtain." Your steps must be regulated by the word of God, or you will wander wide from the good old way; you must derive your sufficiency and strength from Christ by faith, and prayer, or you will faint, and be unable to endure to the end. We read of some (Gal v.7) that run well for a season, but were afterwards hindered and turned aside. Be upon your guard; for there are many that will strive to divert you from your course. Satan, the world, and your own evil hearts, will combine, and form various attempts to slacken your pace, and to withdraw your attention from the one thing needful. Dread the thoughts of stopping short, or turning back; and the more you meet with opposition, be so much the more earnest to redouble your diligence, and especially to cry mightily to him who is able to keep you from falling, to preserve you unblamable in love while here, and at last to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.

g) from Walking By Faith And Not By Sight by Rev. John Wesley: John Wesley

12. It is where sense can be of no farther use, that faith comes in to our help: it is the grand desideratum: it does what none of the sense can; no, not with all the helps that art hath invented. All our instruments, however improved by the skill and labour of so many succeeding ages, do not enable us to make the least discovery of these unknown regions. They barely serve the occasions for which they were formed, in the present visible world.

13. How different is the case, how vast the preeminence of them that "walk by faith!" God having "opened the eyes of their understanding," pours divine light into their soul; whereby they are enabled to "see him that is invisible;" to see God, and the things of God. What their "eye had not seen nor their ear heard, neither had it entered into their heart to conceive," God from time to time reveals to them by the "unction of the Holy One, which teacheth them of all things." Having "entered into the holiest by the blood of Jesus;" by that "new and living way," and being joined unto "the general assembly and church of the firstborn, and unto God the Judge of all, and Jesus, the mediator of the covenant;" each of these can say, "I live not, but Christ liveth in me;" I now live that life, "which is hid with Christ in God:" "And when Christ, who is my life, shall appear, then I shall likewise appear with him in glory."

14. They that live by faith, walk by faith. But what is implied in this? They regulate all their judgments concerning good and evil, not with reference to visible and temporal things, but to things invisible and eternal. They think visible things to be of small value, because they pass away like a dream; but, on the contrary, they account invisible things to be of high value, because they will never pass away. Whatever is invisible is eternal: the things that are not seen, do not perish. So the apostle: "The things that are seen are temporal; but the things that are not seen are eternal." Therefore, they that "walk by faith" do not desire the "things which are seen;" neither are they the object of their pursuit. They "set their affection on things above, not on things on the earth." They seek only the things which are "where Jesus sitteth at the right hand of God." Because they know, "the things that are passing away like a shadow, therefore, they "look not at them:" they desire them not; they account them as nothing: but "they look at things which are not seen ; that are eternal;" that ever pass away. By these they form their judgments of all things. They judge them to be good or evil, as they promote or hinder their welfare, not in time, but in eternity. They weigh whatever occurs, in this balance: what influence has it on my eternal state? They regulate their tempers and passions, all their desires, joys, and fears, by this standard. They regulate all their thoughts, and designs, all their words and actions, so as to prepare them for the invisible and eternal world, to which they are shortly going. They do not dwell but only sojourn here; not looking upon earth as their home, but only

"Traveling through Immanuel's ground,
To fairer worlds on high."

15. Brethren, are you of this number, who are now here before God? Do you see him that "is invisible?" Have you faith? Living faith? The faith of a child? Can you say, "The life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me?" Do you "walk by faith?" Observe the question. I do not ask, whether you curse, or swear, or profane the sabbath, or live in any outward sin? I do not ask, whether you do good, more or less? Or attend all the ordinances of God? But, suppose you are blameless in all these respects, I ask, in the name of God, By what standard do you judge of the value of things? By the visible or the invisible world? Bring the matter to an issue in a single instance. Which do you judge best, that your son should be a pious cobbler, or a profane lord? Which appears to you most eligible, that your daughter should be a child of God, and walk on foot, or a child of the devil, and ride in a coach and six? When the question is concerning marrying your daughter, if you consider her body more than her soul? Take knowledge of yourself? You are in the way to hell and not to heaven: for you walk by sight, and not by faith. I do not ask whether you live in any outward sin or neglect, -- but do you seek, in the general tenor of your life, "the things that are above," or the things that are below? Do you "set your affection on things above," or on "things of the earth?" If on the latter, you are as surely in the way of destruction, as a thief, or a common drunkard. My dear friends, let every man, every woman among you, deal honestly with yourselves. Ask your own heart, what am I seeking day by day? What am I desiring? What am I pursuing? Earth or heaven? The things that are seen, or the things that are not seen? What is your object, God or the world? As the Lord liveth, if the world is your object, still all your religion is vain.

18. Observe well: this is religion, and this alone: this alone is true Christian religion: not this or that opinion, or system of opinions, be they ever so true, ever so scriptural. It is true, this is commonly called faith. But those who suppose it to be religion, are given up to a strong delusion, to believe a lie: and if they suppose it to be a sure passport to heaven, are in the high road to hell. Observe well: religion is not harmless; which a careful observer of mankind properly terms, hellish harmlessness; as it sends thousands to the bottomless pit. It is not morality; excellent as that is, when it is built on a right foundation, loving faith: but when otherwise, it is of no value in the sight of God. It is not formality; the most exact observance of all the ordinances of God. This too, unless it be built on the right foundation is no more pleasing to God, than "the cutting off a dog's neck."* No: religion is no less than living in eternity, and walking in eternity: and hereby walking in the love of God and man: in lowliness, meekness, resignation. This, and this alone, is that "life which is hid with Christ in God." He alone, who experiences this, "dwells in God, and God in him." This alone is setting the crown upon Christ's head and doing his "will on earth, as it is done in heaven."

* Please note: Mr. Wesley's expression concerning "the cutting off a dog's neck" is an oddity in our current English usage but was, I am convinced, meant to illustrate, in a shocking way to his audiences, how crude are man's attempts to build his religion on other than Christ's sacrifice. I wish he wouldn't have put it that way for I am an animal lover but, like the great Dr. Luther, Wesley wasn't adverse to using the street jargon to make his point strongly to the 'ladies and gentlemen' of his day. --- Glen Davis

h) from The Way of A Pilgrim:

After doing some thirty miles along the main road I thought I would take a bypath so that I might be more by myself and read more quietly. For a long while I walked through the heart of the forest, and but rarely came upon a village. At time I passed almost the whole day sitting under the trees and carefully reading The Philokalia, from which I gained a surprising amount of knowledge. My heart was kindled with desire for union with God by means of interior prayer, and I was here to learn it under the guidance and control of my book. At the same time I felt sad that I had no dwelling where I could give myself up quietly to reading all the while. During this time I read my Bible also, and I felt that I began to understand it more clearly than before, when I had failed to understand many things in it and had often been a prey to doubts. The holy Fathers were right when they said that The Philokalia is a key to the mysteries of Holy Scripture. With the help it gave me I began to some extent to understand the hidden meaning of the Word of God. I began to see the meaning of such sayings as -- "The inner secret man of the heart," "true prayer worships in the spirit," "the kingdom is within us," "the intercession of the Holy Spirit with groanings that cannot be uttered," "abide in me," "give me thy heart," "to put on Christ," "the betrothal of the Spirit to our hearts," the cry from the depths of the heart, "Abba, Father," and so on. And when with all this in mind I prayed with my heart, everything around me seemed delightful and marvelous. The trees, the grass, the birds, the earth, the air, the light seemed to be telling me that they existed for man's sake, that they witnessed to the love of God for man, that everything proved the love of God for man, that all things prayed to God and sang His praise.

(see next page painted by somebody centuries before the Near Death Experience interviews ... here we see Christian souls who've gone through the tunnel (death) and are going to the Light, to Paradise and their loved ones in Christ. Thus we travel from this world to the next in Jesus' mercy and grace. Alleluia!)

i)

THE VIA DOLOROUS

The Way of the Cross

I have adapted the traditional stations of the cross found upon the ambulatory walls of Roman Catholic cathedrals. They are a reliving, a spiritual walking with Jesus on His way to Calvary. I present those stations which are scriptural as thoughts to be meditated upon prayerfully as we think of our own day by day lives and how we may at any given moment be on the via dolorous for to each of us He has commanded: "Come, forsake yourself and take up your cross and follow Me." That is the invitation we dare not ignore for how tragic if we suppose that we are close to our Savior if we are unwilling to suffer from time to time -- He suffered all for us!



1

Jesus, judged by the unjust then and judged by the unjust now.



2

We have loaded our sins upon Him -- in His cross He bore the weight of all creation.



3

He fell having already lost much of His blood through the bloody sweat at Gethsemane, at the lashing by the soldiers, and from the crown of thorns pressed into His scalp.



4

Reverent silence



5

All of us are like Simon Cyrene, a real cross is nothing that our human nature desires -- we are compelled by this anti-Christian world.



6

Reverent Silence



7

Reverent Silence



8

With the weeping, mourning women who followed the cross, we too need weep -- as Jesus prophesied -- weep for our children and their children in this adulterous and ungodly era.



9

Reverent Silence



10

Stripped of all the dignity of clothing, the Man who had no pillow on which to rest His weary head now has not a shred of human dignity to rest His death upon. Naked, that we may be clothed in His dignity and righteousness.



11

All of His senses were mortified and pierced so that all of our sensateness taken on by Him in our common Humanity might become His holy, redeeming sacrifice.



12

What Jesus did upon that cross was to pay the price, to make us infinitely valuable.



13

Though the world shall always secretly despise Jesus -- it has done its pitiable worst to Him and now He is given back to us, His Family, the Church.



14

Even as the tomb temporarily received Him, oh how I need to receive Him moment by moment in the emptiness of all that has died within me over the years.

Go now to a quiet place for prayer and much reflection. Rehearse these lessons throughout the weeks and months ahead.

j)from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress: John Bunyan

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den (the gaol or prison) and laid me down in that place to sleep: and as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed; and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled; and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, "What shall I do?" (Acts 2:37)

Image of a pilgrim

In this plight, therefore, he went home, and refrained himself as long as he could, that his wife and children should not perceive his distress; but he could not be silent long. because that his trouble increased; wherefore at length he brake his mind to his wife and children; and thus he began to talk to them: "O my dear wife," said he, "and you the children of my bowels. I, your dear friend, am in myself undone, by reason of a burden that lieth hard upon me: moreover, I am for certain informed, that this our city will be burned with fire from heaven; in which fearful overthrow both myself, with thee, my wife, and you my sweet babies, shall miserably come to ruin; except (the which yet I see not) some way of escape can be found, whereby we may be delivered." At this his relations were sore amazed; not for that they believed that what he had said to them was true, but because they thought that some frenzy distemper had got into his head; therefore, it drawing towards night, and they hoping that sleep might settle his brains, with all haste they got him to bed: but the night was as troublesome to him as the day; wherefore, instead of sleeping, he spent it in sighs and tears. So, when the morning was come, they would know how he did: he told them, "Worse and worse."

Now I saw, upon a time when he was walking in the fields, that he was (as he was wont) reading in his book, and greatly distressed in his mind; and, as he read, he burst out, as he had done before, crying, "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30,31)

Then said Evangelist, "If this be thy condition, why standest thou still?" He answered, "Because I know not whither to go." Then he gave him a parchment roll; and there was written within, "Flee from the wrath to come!" (Matt. 3:7)

The man, therefore, read it; and looking upon Evangelist very carefully, said, "Whither must I fly?" Then said Evangelist, pointing with his finger over a very wide field, "Do you see yonder wicket-gate?" (Matt. 7:14) The man said, "No." Then said the other, "Do you see yonder shining light?" (Psalm 119: 105; II Pet 1:19.) He said, "I think I do." Then said Evangelist, "Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto; so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do."

So I saw in my dream that the man began to run. Now he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it, began to cry after him to return (Luke 14:26); but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, "Life! Life! Eternal life!" So he looked not behind him, but fled towards the middle of the plain (Gen 19:17).

The neighbours also came out to see him run; and, as he ran, some mocked (Jer 20:10), others threatened, and some cried after him to return; and among those that did so, there were two that were resolved to fetch him back by force. The name of the one was Obstinate, and the name of the other Pliable. (Psa 38:4; Isa 64:6; Luke 14:33; Heb. 2:2,3)

"This river has been a terror to many; yea, the thoughts of it also have often frightened me. But now, methinks I stand easy; my foot is fixed upon that upon which the feet of the priests that bare the ark of the covenant stood, while Israel went over this Jordan (Josh 3:17). The waters, indeed, are to the palate bitter and to the stomach cold; yet the thoughts of what I am going to, and of the conduct that waits for me on the other side, doth lie as a glowing coal at my heart.

"I see myself now at the end of my journey; my toilsome days are ended. I am going now to see that head that was crowned with thorns, and that face that was spit upon for me.

"I have formerly lived by hearsay and faith; but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with Him in whose company I delight myself.

"I have love to hear my Lord spoken of; and wherever I have seen the print of his shoe in the earth, there I have coveted to set my foot too.

"His name has been to me a civet-box, yea, sweeter than all perfumes. His voice to me has been most sweet; and his countenance I have more desired than they that have most desired the light of the sun. His Word I did use to gather for my food, and for antidotes against my fainting. He has held me, and I have kept me from mine iniquities; yea, my steps hath He strengthened in his way."

Now while he was thus in discourse, his countenance changed; his strong man bowed under him; and after he had said, "Take me, for I came unto Thee!" he ceased to be seen of them.

But glorious it was to see how the open region was filled with horses and chariots; with trumpeters and pipers; with singers and players on stringed instruments -- to welcome the pilgrims as they went up, and followed one another in at the beautiful gate of the City.

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