When you build a new house, then you shall make a battlement for your roof, that you bring not blood on your house…
There is a most lamentable waste of power in the Christian Church; in fact, among the best elements of society. This waste arises from misdirection. The power is applied at the wrong time and in the wrong quarter. Instead of being applied in the way of prevention, which would commonly be certain, it is applied in the effort to reform and restore, which is always difficult, and often impossible. An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. This principle is happily illustrated in an ancient regulation among the Jews. The regulation was this: "When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement [or 'parapet'] for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thy house if any man fall from thence." No intelligent reader need be told that the roofs of Oriental houses are perfectly fiat, and that they are constantly used for promenading, for rest, for drying fruits, for sleeping, and often (as in Peter's case) for religious devotions. It required but small expenditure of time and money to build the parapet. When that measure of precaution has been taken, the little children may romp there with impunity; good old grandfather may walk there, without danger of stumbling over, through dimness of vision. But if the inviting roof was left unprotected, and even a single child was pitched into the street below, what skill could restore the mangled form? This Oriental law of the parapets teaches that prevention is well-nigh certain, but cure is exceedingly difficult. Often all attempts in that direction are well nigh hopeless. The percentage of inebriates who are reformed by any method is pitiably and painfully small. "Inebriate asylums" do not cure one half of those who are sent there. Of the converted drunkards who are received into our churches, nearly all have had one or more temporary lapses into drinking, and every man of them is in constant danger to their dying day. Such men as Gough, and Sawyer, and McAuley are only upheld by the omnipotent grace of God. Yet all the multitudes of victims of the bottle who have gone down to darkness and their doom might have been saved by the very simple process of prevention. If one-twentieth part of the effort which is put forth in attempted reformation of the dissipated had been spent in persuading them never to drink at all, how different would have been the result! The right time to put up the parapet of total abstinence is in childhood or early youth. The right place to plant the parapet is at home and in the Sabbath school.
1. But there are other lessons taught by the Jewish battlements besides those which apply to the bottle. One lesson is that wilful neglect is as fatal as wilful crime. Not-doing is twin brother to wrong-doing. Many a father and mother have had their hearts broken by the disgraceful sins of a son; and yet the blame of the boy's ruin rested on themselves. They had either set him a most pernicious example, or else they had left him to drift into bad practices unrestrained. Building battlements after our children have broken their own necks and our hearts is a sort of posthumous precaution that comes to nothing.
2. It is from the neglect of the cultured, influential classes in our towns that the terrible harvests of the streets (in the shape of thieves, rioters, and criminals) are constantly reaped. If tenement houses reek with filth and debauchery, if the young are unreached by any mission school or church, or any kind of purifying agency, what else can we expect than wholesale demoralisation among "the masses"? Prisons, pauperism, and gibbets are God's assessments upon society for neglecting the children. If society fails to put up parapets, society must "foot the bill." These are the very times for parapet building. The Bible furnishes plenty of good precepts with which to build parapets. The Fifth Commandment and the Eighth are peculiarly good timber. Happy is the man whose daily life is walled around with a Bible conscience. His religion is a prevention. Half of his life is not lost in attempting to cure the effects of the other half.
(T. L. Cuyler.)
Parallel VersesKJV: When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.