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XIII

SPECIOUS SIN

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.-PROV. xiv. 12.

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WAY seemingly straight, but really fatal"; "the beginning of the way is straight, the end of it is death." The figure is that of a journey, in which the traveller imagines that he is pursuing a straight path that will lead him to his desired goal of success and happiness, but finds, too late, that it leads to ruin. The thought of the proverb is the illusive character of the godless and immoral life.

When impiety and wickedness are disguised by decorum and taste, it is easy to mistake the false path for the true. Guilty lives are worked out on very different lines. The wickedness of some is vulgar and ghastly in the extreme: no effort is made to disguise or soften it; it is bad in form as in essence; it immediately disgusts all right-thinking people. There is the less danger that such a course should be mistaken for the right one. But it is altogether different with. others whose life is equally in the wrong. Whatever these may do is marked by decency, everything is in good taste, they are even dainty and elegant, their haunts and habits are invariably refined; they may

forget God and His law, but they never forget that they are gentlemen. Yet the result is identical; the two courses, so superficially unlike, are inevitably and similarly disastrous. Whether worked out with refinement, or flaunted in ways impudent and offensiveselfishness, licentiousness, or worldliness equally destroys the soul. In tropical forests trees grow whose branches are infested with parasitic growths, some of which blossom into gorgeous flowers, whilst others develop loathsome fungi and cankers; yet, flowers or cankers, both live upon the vitality of the tree and equally destroy it.

So there are transgressors whose mode of life is exempt from all grossness-sometimes, indeed, their manners are even brilliant and fascinating; whilst the excesses of others are wholly coarse and brutal: but, æsthetic or revolting, unrighteousness is equally fatal to character and destiny. Society is little ruffled by the polite or brilliant wickedness which matches the mistletoe or orchid, whilst it indignantly resents conduct suggestive of the sickly fungi; but He who knows all the secret working of disobedience on the mind and character of the transgressor realizes full well that sin, whether decorous or vulgar, is in essence one, and that the common issue is death. The couch of impurity is not less leprous because of its spices; the virus of malice is not attenuated when it distils from the lips like honey; a lie loses nothing of its malign quality when uttered in dainty speech or written on scented paper; selfishness mindful of ceremony blights as when brutally frank; the grace of the thief does not redeem the infamy of his dishonesty; and intemperance veiled

with discretions kills as certainly as the excess of the gutter. Sin loses nothing of its virulence by losing its grossness.

When truth and righteousness are cunningly blended with error and vice we may easily be deceived. In a goldsmith's window in one of our cities may be read this notice, "Artificial gems set in real gold." This advertisement expresses one of the most serious perils of human life-the close and confusing association of truth and error, good and evil, godliness and hypocrisy. To deal with what is wholly erroneous and evil requires little discernment, and involves less peril; but false gems set in pure gold are the masterpieces of temptation. Bad doctrine vindicated in real eloquence; immoral principles disguised in splendid poetry; licentious life glorified in masterly fiction; selfishness enforced by philosophical maxims; equivocal courses sanctioned by brilliant names; sensual pleasures gilded by æsthetic refinements; ungodliness linked with love and friendship; and base policy justified by Scripture-these, with similar admixtures and associations, are among the subtlest perils of life, and they especially abound in modern life. It is exactly here, where evil is mixed with good, and where it is thus made to wear innocent and seductive aspects, that the soul stands in special jeopardy. During the past year or two there has been an extraordinary crop of Alpine accidents, and in several instances these arose from a disregard of the dangers of a grass slope. The inexperienced mountaineer thinks that a grass slope must be safe, and, setting his foot on the inviting green, discovers that it

is every bit as dangerous as the ice, if it be steep and terminate in a precipice. The short Alpine grass is remarkably slippery, and many a tourist who has safely negotiated rock and glacier has fallen a victim to the treacherous slope where the verdant patch and mountain flower tempt the climber. We are comparatively safe when a thing is nakedly evil and a situation confessedly dangerous; but the pure gold reconciles us to the spurious gem, and the green slope, with an edelweiss at the top and a precipice at the bottom, lures us to our doom.

We may easily be deceived by the glamour with which evil is frequently invested. Imagination, passion, fashion, often wonderfully transform and glorify forbidden things. In South America and elsewhere are mountain ranges distinguished by extraordinary colouring. If an immense quantity of scarlet, vermilion, and yellow ochre paint were made to gush over the rocks, it could not produce a more brilliant depth of colouring than nature has spontaneously created. They are known as "The Painted Rocks," because they are decorated by reds, purples, greens, and yellows in marvellous mixtures. But these mountains have nothing except their brilliant colouration. Scarcely a lichen or moss grows on their surface, and the precious metals are never found in them. This curious aspect of nature is exactly representative of many of the evil things, places, and practices which abound in human society and life; they are seductive to the imagination, whilst utterly worthless and disappointing. Carmel with its flowers, Lebanon with its cedars, or Hermon with its snows, is gloomy and

disappointing compared with the gaudy hues of the glowing slopes up which the devil lures his victims. "The dark mountains" of obvious and cruel evil are less dangerous than these mounts of satanic transfiguration.

We shall be led into the right path if we are perfectly sincere and serious, vigilant and willing to make every sacrifice that truth may require at our hands. The Spirit of God waits to teach, guide, and save us—to give us real gems set in pure gold, to bring us into green pastures which have no precipices. Are we willing to follow the royal path?

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