When people once are in the wrong,
Each line they add is much too long;
Who fastest walks, but walks astray,
Is only furthest from his way.
At the age of nineteen Edwin was still untaught by man regarding the hereafter and God. The little that he had gleaned from the words and actions of the sinful people with whom he was forced to associate had opened his understanding sufficiently for him to know that there is a spirit life and some sort of reward for the evil and the good, but that was about all.
His life in the home of Mr. Fitch had been hard indeed, but through all his hardships the desire to do right had never left him, and the little prayer learned in the poorhouse was still a comfort when he was lonely and sad. Many times in the silent hours of the night as he repeated the words softly to himself and realized the waves of strength and courage sweeping over him, he was made to wonder, but he never thought of connecting the prayer with God. To Edwin the words were simply a pleasant and sacred memory that was treasured and appreciated, but his divine Teacher was using them as a foundation for his spiritual education.
Although Elmer knew little more concerning the hereafter, he was far better informed in the ways of the world, for his life had been paved with opportunities, and he had made use of them. However, without a standard in his heart such as Edwin had erected and with no home government to protect and guide him, as a petted and humored and spoiled child he had indulged in many sins until some of the crimes traced to his door were of the blackest hue. He had already been tried for various crimes, but the latest trial was for his having promised to marry a young girl, when he had already a living wife and child in another part of the city.
“Why,” do you ask? “could this difference be?” Take a look into the heart and life of each, and you will discover the answer. Every thought and purpose of the one, regardless of consequences, had been to do the right for principle’s sake and because it was right, and God, noting his good intentions, had guided him onward. The other, from the time that he had stolen the pebbles in the silent hours of the night, had sought for opportunities to do similar underhand deeds.
Was it the fault of Elmer that such things should be? Not altogether. The greater blame must be laid at the door of those whose duty it was to warn and advise him of his danger and to see to it that he obeyed them while he was young; for it is very plainly stated in the Bible that the child should be trained in its youth (Proverbs 22:6). Nevertheless, the evil-doer must have his just deserts; for “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)
Elmer had continued his stealing until among the stolen articles were suits of men’s clothing, sums of money, and other things too numerous to mention. He had also been guilty of forging notes. But the crime of deceiving the young girl seemed to his friends the most humiliating.
Although Edwin no longer lived in the community of his mother or Mr. Fitch, for he was supporting himself, he had learned what a mother’s place in his life should be and the attitude that a son should hold toward her. He therefore, regardless of her former shortcomings, went occasionally to see her. In answer to those who questioned how he could respect or visit his mother after all that she had caused him to suffer, he would say: “She is still my mother, just as though she had always been good to me, and I shall always regard her as a mother. During my childhood I held nothing against her for all the things I suffered, and why should I now?” Hearing of Elmer’s trouble, Edwin hastened to his mother’s home, and while listening to her tale of woe he heard her say:
“I just can’t understand what Elmer means by doing such outlandish things now that he is grown up. If he were a boy, I wouldn’t think so much about it, but here he is a man and bringing home to us nothing but sorrow and disgrace. He can scarcely get out of one trouble until he is in another, and he even sets the other children up to do things that are bad. Now, how is it that you, whom I never gave credit for knowing anything, have never caused me any anxiety or trouble in any way? No matter where you are or how hard you have to work, I can never find any one that has anything bad to say about you. I can’t see why there should be such a difference.”
“Why, Mother,” Edwin answered, “it is very plain. I can tell you all about it. Do you remember the time when Elmer took the pebbles from my pocket in the night time? That was his start. After that he often took things from your dress-pockets and money-drawer, and it was easy for him to slip in behind the counters at the stores to help himself, for you always took his part and shielded him; and you never taught him that he must be true to his wife. You told me I must never speak to you of these things, and I did not before, for I knew that it would do no good; but the little seed that was planted in his heart that night when he was allowed to keep the pebbles has grown until it is what you see it now. Elmer is a thief and will have to receive from the law the punishment that you ought to have given him long ago.”
“I don’t see how taking a few little stones out of your pocket could make him a thief or amount to this,” his mother said as the truth began to dawn upon her.
“Why, Mother,” Edwin answered, “it is just as natural for that little deed to grow and multiply as for a thistle-seed to grow and increase when it is dropped in the ground. One healthy stalk will bear a great many blossoms, and every blossom will have an abundant crop of seeds. The little thistle-seed is very small and perfectly harmless if watched and destroyed before it has time to grow, but let it take root in fertile soil and get a start, and it will surely yield many more thistles and continue to increase long after the plant itself is forgotten.”
While Edwin was speaking, his mother seemed to realize something of the meaning of his words. The time to undo many of the wrongs that she had done the growing boys when they were under her care had gone; but had she known it, there was still a chance to help poor Edwin, who, through observation, had discovered some deep and mysterious truths.
He had found that there is nothing certain upon the earth except that everything must have a beginning and an ending, and that old age and death are unavoidable. The stories of ghosts and superstitious sayings had opened up avenues for thought, and he reasoned that if everything must die, and if there is a heaven and a hell, and if God knows all we do and say, there must be some way for a person to know in which of these places he will live after he is dead.
For a long time the thought had troubled him, but although he had asked many people regarding the matter, no one had explained it to his satisfaction. Taking note of his mother’s friendly attitude toward him, he ventured to ask if she could give him any information on the subject, but her answer was: “We can not know these things until after we are dead. We must wait and see.”
As Edwin left his mother’s home to return to the place where he had been working, he was more perplexed than ever; but he had decided that since the good place and the bad had been made for a purpose, and since the good and the bad must inhabit their own proper places, he would not cease trying to solve the problem until he proved that it was an impossibility to do so.
Poor Edwin! Could someone have read to him from the Bible—but no! Had he listened, he could not have understood; he had no way of knowing that it was God’s word to man.
“Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:14)