He that is down, needs fear no fall.
The whole scenery of the surrounding valley is set before us in that single eloquent stanza. The sweet-voiced boy sits well off the wayside as he sings his song to himself. He looks up to the hill-tops that hang over his valley, and every shining tooth of those many hill-tops has for him its own evil legend. "He thinks he sees a little heap of bleaching bones just under where that eagle hangs and wheels and screams. Not one traveller through these perilous parts in a thousand gets down those cruel rocks unhurt; and many travellers have been irrecoverably lost among those deadly rocks, and have never received Christian burial. All the shepherds' cottages and all the hostel supper-tables for many miles round are full of terrible stories of the Hill Difficulty and the Descent Dangerous. And thus it is that this shepherd boy looks up with such fear at those sharp peaks and shining precipices, and lifts his fresh and well-favoured countenance to heaven and sings again: "He that is down, needs fear no fall." Down in his own esteem, that is. For this is a song of the heart rather than of the highway. Down--safe, that is, from the steep and slippery places of self-estimation, self-exaltation, self-satisfaction. Down--so as to be delivered from all ambition and emulation and envy. Down, and safe, thank God, from all pride, all high- mindedness, and all stout-heartedness. Down from the hard and cruel hills, and buried deep out of sight among those meadows where that herb grows which is called Heart's-ease. Down, where the green pastures grow and the quiet waters flow. No, indeed; he that is down into this sweet bottom needs fear no fall. For there is nowhere here for a man to fall from. And, even if he did fall, he would only fall upon a fragrance-breathing bed of lilies. The very herbs and flowers here would conspire to hold him up. Many a day, as He grew up, the carpenter's son sat in that same valley and sang that same song to His own humble and happy heart. He loved much to be here. He loved also to walk these meadows, for He found the air was pleasant. Methinks, He often said with Mercy, I am as well in this valley as I have been anywhere else in My journey. The place, methinks, suits with My spirit. I love to be in such places where there is no rattling with coaches nor rumbling with wheels. Methinks, also, here one may without much molestation be thinking what he is, whence he came, and to what his King has called him.
Low in his own eyes, that is. For pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Yes; but he who is low enough already--none of the sure destructions that pride always works shall ever come near to him. "The proud man," says Sir Henry Taylor, "is of all men the most vulnerable. "Who calls?" asks the old shepherd in As You Like It. "Your betters," is the insolent answer. And what is the shepherd's rejoinder? "Else are they very wretched." By what retort, reprisal, or repartee could it have been made half so manifest that the insult had lighted upon armour of proof? Such is the invincible independence and invulnerability of humility."
He that is humble ever shall Have God to be his guide.
For thus saith the high and holy One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the heart of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones . . . All those things hath Mine hand made, but to this man will I look, saith the Lord, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembleth at My word . . . Though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly; but the proud He knoweth afar off . . . Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility; for God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble . . . Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty, neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child . . . Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
I am content with what I have, Little be it, or much: And, Lord, contentment still I crave, Because thou savest such.
The only thing this sweet singer is discontented with is his own contentment. He will not be content as long as he has a shadow of discontent left in his heart. And how blessed is such holy discontent! For, would you know, asks Law, who is the greatest saint in all the world? Well, it is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice. But it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God willeth, who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness, and has a heart always ready to praise God for it. "Perhaps the shepherd's boy," says Thomas Scott, "may refer to the obscure and quiet stations of some pastors over small congregations, who live almost unknown to their brethren, but are in a measure useful and very comfortable." Perhaps he does. And, whether he does or no, at any rate such a song will suit some of our brethren very well as they go about among their few and far-off flocks. They are not church leaders or popular preachers. There is not much rattling with coaches or rumbling with wheels at their church door. But, then, methinks, they have their compensation. They are without much molestation. They can be all the more thinking what they are, whence they came, and to what their King has called them. Let them be happy in their shut-in valleys. For I will dare to say that they wear more of that herb called Heart's-ease in their bosom than those ministers do they are sometimes tempted to emulate. I will add in this place that to the men who live and trace these grounds the Lord hath left a yearly revenue to be faithfully paid them at certain seasons for their maintenance by the way, and for their further encouragement to go on in their pilgrimage.
Here little, and hereafter bliss, Is best from age to age.