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“ His countenance fell at the saying, and he went away sorrowful, for he was one that had great possessions."
ANTE, in his vision of hell, sees there one
whom he does not name, but who, he says, “made the great refusal.” It has been supposed that Dante refers to the young man who had this invitation from Jesus and sorrowfully declined it.
It was the great refusal ; it was a lost opportunity, and such an opportunity as few men have had in this world. There must have been some great capacity for good in this youth. It appeared in the ardor with which he came running to Jesus; in the reverence he showed for the goodness of the Teacher. He was a ruler, a man of position; but he did not hesitate to come to this village Rabbi to seek the way to the spiritual life. He could also honestly say he had kept the commandments from his youth. But he had no pride on that account; he longed for something more than this negative goodness. All these were marks of a disposition which united aspiration, modesty, reverence for goodness, and fidelity in conduct. And we are told that Jesus, who had the power of reading character, loved him, and gave him the opportunity of going up higher. He told him to sell what he had and give to the poor, and follow him, and he should have treasure in heaven. It was not because it was a rule, in joining the society of Jesus, to renounce one's possessions, as it is in the monastic orders; for we find that many of the disciples of Jesus continued to keep their property. But no doubt it was because Jesus saw, in this particular instance, that such a renunciation was necessary; that in this case the young man's mind must not be distracted by the care of his property; he must be able to devote himself wholly to his new work. The love which Jesus felt for this youth, and which beamed from his eyes so that the disciples noticed it and recorded it, suggests to us that if he had accepted the offer and obeyed Jesus, he might have become another apostle like John; he might have left us a fifth gospel, with some precious additional insights into the Master's mind; have recorded for us some of the many sayings now forever gone. Thus when he turned away it was “the great refusal,” those lost opportunities which never return, and are lamented always.
Dante has put the young man into his “Inferno;" but God is more merciful than Dante; so let us hope that this good youth, who made one great
mistake, has long since been welcomed by Jesus in the other world, and allowed to atone for this unfortunate decision, or indecision. For I suppose he did not so much decide against following Jesus; he was only unable to make up his mind to follow him. Certainly his punishment was sufficient without his being sent to hell. Never can he wholly forget, even in heaven, that lost opportunity; never cease to sorrow for that irrevocable hour.
Other examples of a similar kind are to be found in the New Testament. There is the instance of Nicodemus, who could come by night to Jesus, but could not make up his mind to avow his discipleship by day. There was the case of Felix, who said to Paul that when he had a convenient season he would call for him. Two years passed, and the convenient season did not come; and then Felix lost his place and returned to Rome. Think of it! What would we not give to have an opportunity to talk with Paul at any time during two whole years ! That was another lost opportunity.
In fact, every new step forward in life offers an opportunity which may be accepted or refused. Lowell truly says:
“Şome great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the
bloom or blight, Parts the goats upon the left hand, parts the sheep upon
the right; And the choice goes by forever 'twixt that darkness and
Every cause, every work, every day that comes, offers opportunities, but always on conditions. We must give up something to obtain something else. We must be prepared to make renunciations if we would gain advantages. We may either leave all to follow the new Messiah, or we may say, “Go thy way; at a more convenient season I will attend to thee.”
These opportunities come, not only to individuals, but to nations, to churches, to communities.
I recollect hearing Dr. Solger, a man of much insight, say, in a historical lecture, that the Lutheran Reformation, if it had been accepted by the Catholic Church, would have saved Europe five hundred years of relapse and loss. Many of the best Catholics wished to come to some terms with the Reformation ; to reform the abuses of the Church and remain united with the reformers. But the opportunity passed by, and the results of that lost opportunity were the desolating religious wars in Germany and France, the Inquisition in Spain, Bartholomew massacres, the cruelties of the Duke of Alva in the Netherlands, extremes of thought on either side, Protestants missing the good there is in the Roman Church, Roman Catholics losing the good in the Protestant Church. That one opportunity accepted would, as Dr. Solger said, have put Europe five hundred years further forward than it is to-day.
So in this country, in 1820, at the time of the Missouri Compromise, this nation had the power to