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resist the extension of slavery, and say, "Hitherto thou shalt come, and no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” Had it done so, we might have been spared the long and bitter antislavery struggle, the woes and wrongs and losses of the Civil War, and a thousand other miseries and sins. It was a lost opportunity.
So, too, when the German armies had defeated the French Emperor at Sedan, it would have been a great gain for humanity had the king of Prussia made peace and withdrawn his armies, and said, “The dynasty has fallen with which I made war. My quarrel was with the Emperor; I have no quarrel with France.” If he had done that, there would be no necessity to-day for France and Germany to spend their life-blood in maintaining great standing armies. The French are a people of sentiment, capable of recognizing generous treatment, and France and Germany would now be friends, instead of watching each other with mutual suspicion and hatred. That was another lost national opportunity.
Providence sometimes allows a vast deal to depend on the course taken by a single man. How much the first Napoleon might have done, after he had defended France against Europe and made her safe and strong, if he had then ceased from war and devoted his grand intelligence and power to advancing peaceful industry and national progress! That was a lost opportunity.
When our friends leave us for another world, how often we say, “Why did I not do differently during all those years when I had them? Why was I not more considerate of their feelings, more attentive to their needs, more thoughtful of ways in which I could have made them happy? Why was I so cold and selfish, so hard and overbearing, so irritable, so determined to have my own way? Why was I not kinder? Why did I not appreciate more their goodness ? Alas! I see it all now when it is too late! How often I wounded the feelings of that dear friend, who was to me so true and faithful, so loving and tender, so conscientious and pure! Too late! too late! If it were all to do again, how different my conduct would be !”
When we ourselves pass away, leaving our work undone, or badly done, will there be needed any greater punishment than to see what good we might have done and did not, or what lasting evil we have caused which we might have avoided ?
Mrs. Oliphant, in one of her stories, has described how an old lady, whose only fault was a modest self-indulgence, saw after she had entered the other world what a wrong she had done in not remembering in her will one for whom she ought to have provided. The writer tells how the old lady tried to come back and rectify her error, but only succeeded in frightening persons by her helpless apparition. The story illustrates what a terrible punishment we may find it, to be enlightened
hereafter in regard to our sins of omission and commission.
I am afraid that if persons are to suffer hereafter for not making a just and good disposition of their property by will, there will be a great deal of misery in the other world. Too often a man's testament is just what the name implies, - it is his will ; not his conscience, not his reason, not his heart, only his will. He says, “Shall I not do what I will with my own ?" He forgets that he must answer for the use of this power, as of all others. He seeks to find some way by which he can still hold his property after death. This feeling produced primogeniture and entails in England, and those abuses which the law calls by the expressive word mortmain,
“the dead hand.” The statutes of mortmain were intended to prevent the very abuse which Jesus denounced as practised by the Pharisees, who allowed persons to alienate their property from their relations by dedicating it to the Temple, and calling it “corban,” – that is, a gift to God. Dying persons were persuaded by priests that their sins would be forgiven if they gave their property to the Church and disinherited their heirs. There was at one time danger that a large part of the land in England would go into the possession of the Church, and the English law of mortmain declares that land must not be given for such purposes by a deed or will executed by a dying man. He must give his land for charitable objects in his lifetime, or not at all.
But every day brings to each of us opportunities which we may neglect or never notice. We have an opportunity of speaking in behalf of truth and justice, and we are silent. We decline to take our stand against public prejudice or popular opinion. We are afraid of being opposed or ridiculed, or of being out of the fashion, and so we do nothing when we ought to act, and the opportunity goes by. We are like the man who hid his pound in a napkin and buried it in the earth, and said, “ Lord, I was afraid !”
Let us do what we can, and we shall not be followed into the other world by our lost opportunities bearing witness against us in the great day of account and retribution. Every day brings some opportunity. Every outward call may be an opportunity. Every movement of conscience is an opportunity. And remember that we are never called to do more than is in our own power. If we can say, “I have done what I could,” that is enough.
But how shall we remember to do what we can? Who ever does all he can? We are not always in the right mood, not always in the best temper; the power may be there, but the spirit be wanting. How, then, shall we learn to use opportunities, and not neglect them, not pass them by ?
Here, as ever, comes in the need and the help of Christian faith. Faith not only leads to work, but the effort to work leads to faith. The deepest religious experience is born of the strongest
Whenever men seriously try to do right, they feel the need of help from on high. If a man should say to me,
“I do not believe in religion, I believe in morality; if I do right, that I think is enough,” I should answer: “I think so too. Now, go to work in good earnest to do right, and to be good. Begin every day with a determination not to omit any opportunity. Watch and see if you fail. Do not drift, but steer. Be thoroughly moral, and I think you will find religion a necessary help to enable you to meet your own standard. You will find that the sense of God's presence, his influence, his readiness to give you good thoughts and good inspirations will lead directly to the best morality.”
One purpose of Jesus was to show us that we can have this help, have it now, have it always. His gospel is the revelation to the soul of an everpresent love, waiting to be gracious. “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth ; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocks, it shall be opened.” Every one! then it is a law that prayer is answered. It is not a divine caprice, but a divine method, sure and certain as any law of Nature. The law of gravitation is not more unerring and constant than the law which ordains that whenever one cries to the Father, asking spiritual help, the spiritual help is given.