“Forbidden Ground” on Proverbs 1:10, is written by Charlotte Maria Tucker (A.L.O.E.) is from “Precepts in Practice,” and is about temptation.
“My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.”-Proverbs 1:10.
Little Joseph Ashton was idling about the streets of London on a Sunday afternoon. He had been to church in the morning, and had behaved there like a quiet, attentive child: he had brought home the text to his grandmother, and had also learned two other verses from the Bible. Joseph was not without some feeling of religion: in church he often appeared very devout, especially when he heard the sweet music of the hymn. His grandmother found him obedient and loving, and fondly hoped that her dear son might grow up a true servant of the Lord. But, alas! poor Joseph’s goodness was often as the morning dew, it could not stand the hot sun of temptation. Like that strange creature called the chameleon, which is said to change its color according to the objects that are near it, Joseph changed his conduct according to his companions: he had learned many good things both at home and at school, but he had not yet learned to say No!
Little Joseph now stood at the side of the New Road, looking carelessly at the crowds passing before him, watching the tired omnibus horses dragging their heavy loads,—alas! that mercy, if not religion, should not give them their one day’s rest! There were hawkers, and sellers of sweetmeats behind their tempting stalls, little thinking, poor and often ignorant as they are, that they are doing the work of the Evil One, by leading others to sin! What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? What will these poor sinners think of their miserable profits, the heaps of pence collected on the Sabbath, when they stand before the Judge of quick and dead! Oh! for a voice to warn them in time, to persuade them that He in whose hands are all things would abundantly make up to them, here and hereafter, for all that they might give up for His sake; that better, far better, is poverty than sin; that it is a happy thing to trust in the mercy of God, who knows and pities their wants; and that the blessing of the Lord it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow thereto.
I fear that these were not the thoughts of little Joseph, whose mind was just in that vacant state which tempts evil to enter. As he stood with both his hands in his pockets, leaning against an iron lamp-post, two school fellows of his, Jack and Thomas Higgins, came up to him from behind.
“I say, Joseph,” cried Jack, slapping him on the shoulder, “have you any coppers about you?”
“Why, yes; what makes you ask me?”
“I’ve a mind to some of that pink rock on yon stall,—it’s the nicest thing in the world. I shared my gingerbread with you yesterday, so it’s only fair that you stand treat today.”
“I’ll get some tomorrow,” said Joseph, who had a lively remembrance of the impressive manner of the clergyman that morning when he repeated the commandment of the Most High, Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy.
“Tomorrow! Oh, nonsense! we want it now.”
“You don’t mean to say that your old granny has been putting silly fancies into your head about its being wrong to buy a little barley-sugar on Sunday?” cried Tom, in a mocking tone.
“She’ll next say that it’s a sin to eat it!” laughed Jack.
Joseph colored, as though there were anything to be ashamed of in listening to his grandmother, or in obeying his God. He stood fumbling his pence in his pocket, in an uncomfortable, irresolute manner.
“Come, out with it!” cried Jack, “like a good fellow as you are; I’ll be bound no one will peach you to your granny.”
“I’d not be tied to her apron-strings like a baby!” said Tom. “There! just look at the stall; isn’t it tempting?”
Very tempting it certainly was, and poor Joseph was one who had little courage to resist temptation. So he exchanged his pence for the piece of pink rock, which he divided between himself and his companions; who, having obtained all that they wanted from their school-fellow, sauntered carelessly away.
Joseph was in the act of eating his portion of the sweetmeat, feeling uneasy from a consciousness of doing wrong,—for he had not attained that terrible hardness of heart which comes by long practice of sin,—when a lady, who took an interest in the school which he attended, approached him on her way towards church. At one glance she recognized the boy, who had been rather a favorite of hers; and his look of shame, yet more than the employment in which he was engaged, and the nearness of the stall at which he had been buying, showed Mrs. Graham that he had been profaning the Sabbath.
“Is any pleasure worth a sin?” she said softly as she passed; and, gently as those words were spoken, they seemed to leave a sting behind. The short enjoyment of the sweetmeat was speedily over; indeed, so unpleasant were the feelings of its purchaser, that it could hardly be said to have been enjoyed at all. Joseph returned home discontented and ashamed: he knew that he had acted both sinfully and weakly, and had neglected the warning in the Bible, My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.
A few weeks after this occurrence, Mrs. Graham announced her intention of giving a treat to all the boys of the school. She had a pretty country villa but a few miles from town, and invited the scholars to take tea and cake, and spend a half-holiday in her grounds. A large van was hired to convey the whole party; and the expedition to Maythorn Lodge was looked forward to with extreme delight.
A fear certainly crossed the mind of Joseph, that, his late fault having been noticed by the lady, he might be excluded from the treat given to the rest. But it was not so; and when the crowded van drove off, while the merry throng with laughter and shouts clustered within, like bees in a swarm, there was none among them gayer or happier than Joseph.
It seemed as if everything combined to heighten the pleasure provided for the children. The weather was neither too hot nor too cold; the delightful sun of May shone to brighten but not to burn; the hedges were gay with the blossoms of spring, and the meadows were spangled with daisies.
Mrs. Graham with cheerful kindness received her young guests. A long deal table had been spread on the lawn; huge piles of sliced cake appeared down the middle; and as the merry, eager boys took their places on each side, hot tea was handed round in large kettles. The benevolent lady looked smilingly on, as if sharing the enjoyment which she gave.
“And now,” said she, when the repast was ended, “I shall leave you to amuse yourselves here. I know that you will enjoy a good merry game, and the lawn will make a capital play-ground. I have but to desire you all to respect my flowers, and, above all, not to run over my strawberry beds; that gravel path shall mark out your bounds,—all beyond it is forbidden ground.”
A ready promise was instantly made, which, probably, every one intended to keep. The lady thought that there would be little temptation to break it, for the fruit of the strawberry had not yet appeared, though plenty of blossoms on the low green plants gave promise of an abundant supply before long.
For a while no difficulty was felt in obeying the kind lady’s command. The flowers were quite safe on their stalks, not a foot touched a strawberry blossom. But, unfortunately, Jack Higgins had brought his bat, and nothing would please either his brother or him but the idea of a game of cricket.
“If we had a field to play in,” said Edmund Butler, “there is nothing that I should like better; but there is hardly room for such a game here, for it is very likely indeed that the ball would be sent into the forbidden ground. The strawberry bed would be in danger.”
“It certainly would,” added Joseph.
“I wish that it stood anywhere but where it does!” exclaimed Tom, preparing two stumps for the wicket; “but I don’t believe that we’ll do any harm, and I’m quite resolved to have a game!”
There was instantly a division amongst the boys, some deciding to obey the wishes of their kind friend, some to follow their own amusement. I am happy to say that the greater number decided to run no risk of offending her, so that Jack began to fear that he could hardly collect enough of companions to enable him to play at cricket.
“I wonder at you all!” he cried. “It’s the manliest game going, and the only one fit for Englishmen! You’ll join us, Joe Ashton, I know that you will,—there’s nobody bowls like you!”
Again the weak boy doubted and hesitated, afraid to do wrong, but without courage to do right. Much rather would he have joined his companions now playing at “hunt the ring;” but the hand of Jack was upon his shoulder; Tom was laughing at his scruples; both urging him to join them; and the struggle ended with him as it usually ended,—he could not with stand the persuasion of others.
Joseph was very successful in his bowling; and in the pleasure and excitement of the game thought little of the strawberry bed. As the game proceeded his position in it was changed; he was now one of those who stood to catch the ball, and was eagerly watching the success of his side, ready, like a grey hound, to bound forward if required, when a strong blow from Jack Higgins, who then happened to be batsman, sent the ball right into the midst of the strawberries! Instantly the young player rushed after it: on his quickness the whole game might hang, for the bowler was taking his run. As he reached the ball Joseph’s foot tripped, and down he fell, at the very moment when Mrs. Graham and a party of ladies, having come from the house to witness the sports, stood by the edge of the parterre!
“I hope that you have not hurt yourself?” said one of the ladies, as Joseph flushed and panting scrambled to his feet.
“He has hurt himself,” replied Mrs. Graham’s displeased voice. Joseph did not venture to lift up his eyes to her face. “He who has disregarded my wishes, and, at the very time when he was experiencing my kindness, wilfully disobeyed my command, has little right to expect more indulgence at my hand. I came prepared with another invitation to the young friends who have visited me today. I intended to ask them all to return here again when the summer sun shall have ripened those strawberries, when they shall be welcome to gather them for themselves; but as for Joseph, he has already had more than his share in the blossoms which he has destroyed, which never can bear any fruit,—there is no use in his coming to look on while others enjoy what might have been his, if he could have learned the duty of obedience!”
Then was the time for Jack and Tom to have stepped forward and honestly owned their share in the fault. But I appeal to those who, like Joseph, have weakly yielded to the persuasions of those who tempted them to do wrong, whether the companions who have led them into trouble are the ones to try to help them out of it. The Higgins’ both were silent, and for this time escaped the punishment which is certain, sooner or later, to overtake those who persevere in a course of rebellion. Joseph’s heart swelled, a choking feeling was in his throat: to be thus disgraced before all, and debarred from a treat which he would so greatly have enjoyed, and to know that the punishment was just, turned all the pleasure of the day into bitterness.
Mrs. Graham saw his look of distress, and her gentle heart pitied the boy, though she felt too strongly how important the lesson might be to him through the whole course of his future life, to relax in her firm resolve. She followed him, however, as he sadly walked away to a more retired part of the garden. She laid her hand on his arm: he started, for he had not heard her noiseless step as she approached.
“You are very sorry for what has happened, Joseph,—I see that you are; you are very sorry to have displeased a friend and forfeited a pleasure.”
Joseph looked fixedly on the ground, while his eyes gradually filled with tears. “They made me do it!” at last he muttered, in a low tone. Without appearing to notice the interruption the lady proceeded: “I should have willingly overlooked your fault, had it been the first brought under my observation; but it is not long since I had reason to believe you guilty of a much more serious offence. You have now only disobeyed an earthly friend,—you had then broken the solemn law of your God. You have deprived yourself now of a little pleasure; but who can say how great will be the loss, both in this world and in the next, of him who wilfully profanes the holy Sabbath of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth?”
“They made me do it!” again murmured the boy.
“Heaven forgive them for tempting a weak brother; but their fault does not justify you. What would you say of the soldier who could be persuaded to go over to the side of the enemy? or the subject who, from fear of a laugh or a jest, could desert the cause of his king? Ask strength from the Lord to stand firm in the right, though you alone should defend it: fear nothing but the displeasure of a holy God. Keep his Sabbaths unbroken, and rest assured that you shall find them yield rich fruits of peace and of joy. Oh! follow not the multitude to do evil. When sinners entice thee, consent thou not. They may laugh down your doubts and your scruples now, but they cannot excuse your sin, nor save you from its punishment in the terrible day of judgment.”
When sinners entice,
And from thee would wrest
That gem beyond price,
The day God hath blest,
The day that was given
Our souls to prepare
For the sabbath of heaven,—
Oh I shun thou the snare!
When tools treat with scorn
What God hath approved.
Their laugh must be borne,
Thy faith be unmoved.
As arrows fall lightly
On mail-covered breast,
The soul that acts rightly
Need ne’er fear the jest.
Oh! follow not thou
The crowd to do ill;
What many allow
May be perilous still.
The sins of another
Excuse not thine own;
The fall of a brother
Is warning alone.
Though hand joined in hand,
The Scriptures will tell,
How on a whole land
Dread punishment fell;—
The flames of Gomorrah,
The waves of the Flood,
Bereaved Egypt’s sorrow,
And Palestine’s blood!
“When sinners entice,
Consent not, my son;”
Paths many has vice,—
Salvation but one:
The Christian’s allegiance
By faith he must prove,—
Faith working obedience,—
Th’ obedience of love!