"And when Jesus was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If
thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong
unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes."
My dear readers, here is a solemn lesson to be learned from this text. What is true of whole nations, and of the whole of the population, is very often true of single persons; of each of us.
To most people, to all real Christian people, perhaps, there comes a day of visitation, a crisis, or turning-point in our lives. A day when Christ sets before us, as he did to those Jewish, good and evil, light and darkness, right and wrong, and says, Choose! The Jewish Pharisees choice wrong and were punished for nearly two thousand years for making the wrong choice, putting power, control and greed before the glory of Christ. Choose at once, and choose for ever; for by what you choose this day, by that you must abide till death. If you make a mistake now, you will rue it to the last. If you take the downward road now, you will fall lower and lower upon it henceforth. If you shut your eyes now to the things which belong to your peace, they will be hid from your eyes for ever; and nothing but darkness, ignorance, and confusion will be before you henceforth.
What will become of the man's soul after he dies, we cannot say. Christ is his judge, and not us, although many of us have already placed judgment upon people before their passing, ignoring God’s words. He may be saved, yet so as by fire, as St. Paul says. Repentance is open to all people and forgiveness for those who repent. But from that day, if he chooses wrongly, true repentance will grow harder and harder to him, perhaps impossible at last. He has made his bed, and he must lie on it. He has chosen the evil, and refused the good; and now the evil must go on getting more and more power over him. He has sold his soul, and now he must pay the price. Again, I say, he may be saved at last. Who am I, to say that God's mercy is not boundless, when the Bible says it is? But one may well say of that man, 'God help him,' for he will not be able to help himself henceforth.
It is an awful thing, my friends, to think that we may fix our own fate in this world, perhaps in the world to come, by one act of wilful folly or sin: but so it is. Just as a man may do one tricky thing about money, which will force him to do another to hide it, and another after that, till he becomes a confirmed rogue in spite of himself. Just as a man may run into debt once, so that he never gets out of debt again; just as a man may take to drink once and the bad habit grow on him till he is a confirmed drunkard to his dying day.
Just as a man may mix in bad company once, and so become entangled as in a net, till he cannot escape his evil companions, and lowers himself to their level day by day, till he becomes as bad as they. Just as a man may be unfaithful to his wife once, and so blunt his conscience till he becomes a thorough profligate, breaking her heart, and ruining his own soul. Just as, but why should I go on, mentioning ugly examples, which we all know too well, if we will open our own eyes and see the world and mankind as they are? I will say no more, lest I should set you on judging other people and saying 'There is no hope for them. They are lost.' No; let us rather judge ourselves, as any man can, and will, who dares face fact, and look steadily at what he is, and what he might become.
Do we not know that we could, any one of us, sell our own souls, once and for all, if we choose? I know that I could. I know that there are things which I might do, which if I did from that moment forth, I should have no hope, but only a fearful looking forward to judgment and fiery indignation. And have you never felt, when you were tempted to do wrong: 'I dare not do it for my own sake; for if I did this one wickedness, I feel sure that I never should be an honest man again?' If you have felt that, thank God, indeed; for then you have seen the things which belong to your peace; you have known the day of your visitation; and you will be a better man as long as you live, for having fought against that one temptation, and chosen the good, and refused the evil, when God put them unmistakeably before you.
No; the real danger is, lest a man should be as those Pharisees, and not know the day of his visitation. Ah, that is ruinous indeed, when a man's eyes are blinded as those of the Pharisees eyes were; when a great temptation comes on him, and he thinks it no temptation at all; when hell is opening beneath him, with the devils trying to pluck him down, and heaven opening above him, with God's saints and martyrs beckoning him up, looking with eyes of unutterable pity and anxiety and love on a poor soul; and that poor soul sees neither heaven nor hell, nor anything but his own selfish interest, selfish pleasure, or selfish pride, and snaps at the devil's bait as easily as a silly fish; while the devil, instead of striking to frighten him, lets him play with the bait, and gorge it in peace, fancying that he is well off, when really he is fast hooked forever, led captive thenceforth from bad to worse by the snare of the devil.
Oh miserable blindness, which comes over men sometimes, and keeps them asleep at the very moment that they ought to be most wide awake! And what throws men into that sleep? What makes them do in one minute something which curses all their lives afterwards? Love of pleasure? Yes: that is a common curse enough, as we all know. But a worse snare than even that is pride and self-conceit. That was what ruined those old Jews. That was what blinded their eyes. They had made up their minds that they saw; therefore they were blind: that they could not go wrong; therefore they went utterly and horribly wrong thenceforth: that they alone of all people knew and kept God's law; therefore they crucified the Son of God himself for fulfilling their law. They were taken unawares, because they were asleep in vain security.
By conceit and carelessness, we may ruin ourselves in a moment, once and for all. When a man has made up his mind that he is quite world-wise; that no one can take him in; that he thoroughly understands his own interest; then is that man ripe and ready to commit some enormous folly, which may bring him to ruin. When a man has made up his mind that he knows all doctrines, and is fully instructed in religion, and can afford to look down on all who differ from him; then is that man ripe and ready for doing something plainly wrong and wicked, which will blunt his conscience from that day forth, and teach him to call evil good, and good evil more and more; till, in the midst of all his fine religious professions, he knows not plain right from plain wrong--full of the form of godliness, but denying the power of it in scandal of his every-day life.
Yes, my dear readers, our only safeguard are humility. Be not high-minded, but fear. Avoid every appearance of evil. Believe that in every temptation heaven and hell may be at stake: and that the only way to be safe is to do nothing wilfully wrong at all, for you never know how far downward one wilful sin may lead you. The devil is not simple enough to let you see the bottom of his pitfall: but it is so deep, nevertheless, that he who falls in, may never get out again.
And do not say in your hearts about this thing and that, it is wrong: but it is such a little matter.' A little draught may give a great cold; and a great cold grow to a deadly decline. A little sin may grow to a great bad habit; and a great bad habit may kill both body and soul in hell. A little bait may take a great fish; and the devil fishes with a very fine line, and is not going to let you see his hook. The only way to be safe is to avoid all appearance of evil, lest when you fancy yourself most completely your own master, you find yourself the slave of sin.
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