And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,…
The system of the natural world — with all its laws, facts, processes, and events; the system of social life, including the family and civil society; the system of business life, including all proper industries and right occupations, all rightful forms of development, all cares and labours — all these are included in the system of visitations which God employs in His daily education of men, and their treatment and control. In other words, God employs all the apparatus of the natural world, in its results both upon the body and the mind; all the social influences that surround and educate men; all the organizations by which man is drawn out in various industries, and becomes an operative and a creator; all the various events that transpire outside of the mind or its volition, which come up in what we call providences of God; and above all these, the direct gospel system, supervised by God's personal Spirit. Through all these various influences, God acts upon the human soul; and all these are but parts of God's one system, for the development, the education, and the elevation of men. The time of God's visitations has included every period of our lives. They have not been special to youth, to middle life, or to old age. Not only has the Divine economy had respect to the faculties of the soul, but to man as a creature. For example, there are times — and the element of time has entered largely into the system of Divine culture — when they have met us in childhood, with influences appropriate to that period, acting through the easier affections and susceptibilities of early life. I do not believe that there is a man in this house, who, if he were to speak his experience, would not say, "I was subject in my boyhood to times of religious depression." They say "depression," though they should rather say religious inspiration and elevation. These were awakenings by which they were lifted up from the dull and the obscure of life, and made to feel something of the invisible, and of the power of the world to come. And as childhood goes into boyhood or early manhood, the Divine strivings do not cease. They may change their form; they may cease to act through the same susceptibilities; they may take hold through the developments of the understanding, the speculations of a man's reason, or a different and larger reach of the imagination; but, nevertheless, they take hold still in early manhood and middle life. God's visitations of mercy not only include every one of the faculties of the human soul, and all the periods of time in which a man lives, but are made to act upon men through every gradation and variation of their condition and history. In other words, we are tried in every possible development of our physical state. We are tried by our disappointments; we are tried by our successes! God heaps mercies upon men, and then takes them all away! He blesses, enriches, and establishes men, and then shuts them up, impoverishes, and subverts them! It is remarkable, in respect to these visitations of God, that they do not follow the telescope; they are rather like comets, that come when they please; for when you search for God, "by searching you cannot find Him out." Such thoughts have come to you unbidden, sometimes in your counting-room, or when you were on a journey, or on the sea; sometimes when you have been in your house all alone, your family in the country; sometimes in trouble and adversity; in various ways — often coming, though never twice alike, as if the Divine phases had sought to present, at different times, different aspects to you. And if, all the way along, you had treasured up these times — precious times of great treasure! — if you had treasured them as you have when you have made a good bargain, or gained a new honour; if you had treasured all these interior peculiarities as you have the exterior — you would find them, I think, almost within speaking distance all the way from childhood to manhood; and although you had never such a consecutive view of the whole, yet really all along you have been subject to such impressions! Under such visitations there is brought very near to men such a thought of the other life, of God's eternal kingdom and their immortality in it, as may produce very serious practical fruits in them. In view of these facts and illustrations of facts, I remark in closing, first, upon the immensity of the influences which men receive for good — the disproportion in this world between the educating influences for good, and those which sometimes we suspect are for evil. For we are apt to think that this great world is all against goodness, and that men are surrounded by such inducements to evil, such temptations of their passions, that there is an impression that man is so neglected and so set upon at disadvantage, that there is scarcely the evidence of his ever being an object of mercy. Contrariwise, it is a truth that man stands in the midst of a world which is one peculiar and complex educating institution, and what is more, educating in the right direction. The gradual growing effect of the course that I have been speaking of, is worthy of a moment's attention — the habit of thus resisting the visitation of God's Spirit upon us. What is the result of having a visitation, and of neglecting it? The general apprehension is, that it offends God, and that man is destroyed vindictively, or penally; but we must look at it more narrowly than that. In the first place, then, I think that it is in respect to our moral susceptibilities as it is in regard to all our senses; they become blunted by repeated perversion. A man can treat his eye in such a way that he shall become blind. He can blunt his hearing so that he shall become deaf. He can injure his tongue so as to have no appreciation of flavours. He can conduct himself so that his whole body may be broken down and destroyed before he is fifty years old. So in respect to a man's moral nature. A man's moral susceptibilities may be so dull, that by the time he is fifty years old, these approaches no longer affect him in this world. Anal the effect is, the gradual diminution of moral susceptibility; so that the conjunctions of circumstances, by which the man shall appear to himself to be surrounded, are less and less frequent, because their effect is less and less apparent. What is the state of such a man? What a terrible condition it is for a man to stand in! Ah! when the day of visitation is passed, what has happened? — not alone in those extreme cases, of men who are hardened past all shame and feeling; but what has happened in other cases, where men are not so incorrigible, and not so hard? Is God so angry at them that He ceases to offer them any more mercy? Does He pass them altogether by? Not at all! Oh, the goodness of God! There is just as much summer in the deserts of Arabia as in our American prairies! The sun and the showers of summer are in both places: but it is a desert in one, and it is a growing, luxuriant prairie in the other. There is just as much summer for a sepulchre as there is for a mansion; but the summer sun brings joy and cheer to those in the populous house, where the father and the mother are happy, and all the children are full of glee and joy; while, as it shines upon the sepulchre's roof, everything is solitary, sad, and still, because there are dead men's bones within, which the sunlight can never waken! It is just the same in the moral government of God. There is the same provision of light, of air, of warmth, of raiment, in immense abundance; but all these are conjoined with this one invariable, universal necessity — our own appropriation of them. There is unlimited store of good, yet men will starve if they do not appropriate it to themselves. There is an ocean of air, yet men will suffocate if they refuse to breathe. He is resolute for evil. He has been surrounded by Divine influences, but he has continually resisted them, until he has been hardened by the process — until moral susceptibility has died out of him — until he has disorganized his nature — until he has destroyed himself! And when he passes through the brief period of his life — through its rapid rolling months and years — and rises into the presence of God, he stands in condemnation! Then he will not be able to say one word! The long procession of God's teachings, which were given to draw him away from his immorality; all the Divine influences that have been visited upon him; all these things will then stand out unmistakably and indisputably; and the man will have nothing to say, except this — "I destroyed myself!"
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,