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We must be careful how we press the analogy between physiological and spiritual degeneration, for serious physical degeneration never takes place in the lifetime of an individual, but only in a considerable series of generations; yet it is alarming to contemplate the swift degeneration of a soul, to mark how soon it loses vision, strength, sensibility, aspiration, and hope. The injury that the moral nature sustains through a lapse is to its immense prejudice; to climb steep and slippery slopes is ever sufficiently arduous, but to attempt those slopes with injured sight and shattered limbs is an exaggerated and disheartening task. The process of physical recovery is usually trying, and frequently peculiarly painful. Ordinary convalescence is full of uneasiness, the sense of weakness and suffering being most acute as the returning forces of life slowly seize successive points of the citadel so nearly lost. The restoration of those who narrowly escape drowning is accompanied by intense agony. Physical weariness and torture are repeated yet more vividly in the sorrow of fallen souls fighting towards life. "And having cried out, and torn him much, he came out : and the child became as one dead; insomuch that the more part said, he is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and raised him up; and he arose." Thus bitter is the ejection of demons. The most pathetic and tremendous tragedies are witnessed in secret places where penitent souls wrestle in tears and blood with the evil passions and habits which have fastened upon them.
Difficulties are created without, as well as within, by backsliding. Society makes it easy for a man to sink and very painful for him to return. And if
society puts no stumbling-block in the way of the repentant sinner, his own conduct has created for himself miserable entanglements which require the utmost resolution to shake off. In the biography of Louis Agassiz occurs a striking account of his descent into the heart of a glacier. He was lowered by his assistants to a great depth in the ice, each foot of the descent being attended by peril; if, however, the descent was dangerous, the ascent was even more so, for the well was filled with large icicles, which pointing downward presented no obstacle in his descent, but now as the adventurer looked up the one hundred and twenty-five feet of blue ice, the sharp and dangerous points of hundreds of these javelins threatened to cut the rope or fall upon him. The ascent of the soul to the coign of vantage lost is usually similarly discouragaging. The difficulty of the position is only understood when return is contemplated. Yes, it is ever a serious thing to fall away from faith and righteousness.
Yet let the great truth be laid to heart by the unhappy backslider that such recovery is possible.
There is in nature what physicists call a power of repair, an inherent power in an injured part to restore itself. Sir James Paget writes: "The power of repair is not confined to living things. Broken crystals can repair themselves as well as, e.g., broken bones. Wherever we find evidence of an end or design to be fulfilled in the attainment or maintenance of a definite form, there also we may find evidence of some power to repair the injuries which that form may sustain from forces external to itself." Does not the text seem
to point to this law of recovery active in the very constitution of things? "Shall they fall, and not arise? shall he turn away, and not return?" It is natural to seek to repair any injury that we suffer; it is unnatural to surrender ourselves to the forces of disintegration and destruction.
There is also within the soul itself an instinct of hope which the greatest disaster can hardly extinguish. The doctrines of metempsychosis and of purgatory, in the opinion of some, show the natural unwillingness of men to believe in final defeat and failure. Hope springs eternal in the human breast. Picturing the conduct of men during an awful storm at sea, Victor Hugo observes: "By degrees, however, they began to hope again. Such are the unsubmergible mirages of the soul! There is no distress so complete but that even in the most critical moments the inexplicable sunrise of hope is seen in its depths." The text is an appeal to this very instinct. "Shall they fall, and not arise? shall he turn away, and not return?" Is it not a natural instinct that, if one stumbles, he attempts to rise again? if one wanders, he seeks to return to the point whence he departed? God appeals to that instinct of recovery, that temper of hope, which He has established deep in the heart. However abjectly we sink, that bit of blue, that gilt of a star, that fainting halo of the sunset which yet lingers in the guiltiest soul, assures us that God has not forgotten to be gracious, and prompts us to penitence and faith, to hope and effort.
But, above all, how clear and full is the testimony of revelation to the possibility of the soul's recovery!
The Old Testament abounds with tender appeals to God's backsliding people. "Who gathereth the outcasts of Israel." Our Lord's treatment of Peter settled for all time the attitude of the New Testament to the prodigal son.
THE CITY: ITS SIN AND SAVIOUR
The great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.—REV. xi. 8.
1. The sinfulness of the city. "Which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt."
HE fact that our Lord was crucified nigh unto the sacred city is a suggestive fact we shall do well to ponder.
Not that the obscenity and visible horror of Sodom were features of Jerusalem, but the sacred city resembled Sodom in its internal and vicious condition. Isaiah brought this accusation against his nation: "Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah." And again: "They declare their sin as Sodom; they hide it not." Centuries later the impeachment is repeated in our text. "The great city which spiritually is called Sodom." The special sins of Sodom are noted by Ezekiel (xvi. 49). Pride, lust of the flesh, luxuriousness, "neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy." Our Lord showed clearly the moral rottenness of the sacred city of His day.
"Which spiritually is called Egypt." Egypt was the land of slavery and persecution, and Israel had spir