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By Charles Spurgeon
IT WAS AS MUCH AS WE COULD DO to keep our feet upon the splendid mosaic floor of the Palace Giovanelli, at Venice: we found no such difficulty in the cottage of the poor glassblower in the rear. Is it one of the advantages of wealth to have one's abode polished till all comfort vanishes, and the very floor is as smooth and dangerous as a sheet of ice, or is this merely an accidental circumstance typical of the dangers of abundance?
Observation shows us that there is a fascination in wealth which renders it extremely difficult for the possessors of it to maintain their equilibrium; and this is more especially the case where money is suddenly acquired; then, unless grace prevent, pride, affectation, and other mean vices stupefy the brain with their sickening fumes, and he who was respectable in poverty, becomes despicable in prosperity.
Pride may lurk under a threadbare cloak, but it prefers the comely broadcloth of the merchant's coat: moths will eat any of our garments but they seem to fly first to the costly furs. It is so much the easier for men to fall when walking on wealth's sea of glass, because all men aid them to do so.
Flatterers haunt not cottages: the poor may hear an honest word from his neighbor, but etiquette forbids that the rich man should enjoy the like privilege; for is it not a maxim in Babylon, that rich men have no faults, or only such as their money like charity covereth with a mantle? What man can help slipping when everybody is intent upon greasing his ways, so that the smallest chance of standing may be denied him? The world's proverb is, "God help the poor, for the rich can help themselves;" but to our mind, it is just the rich who have most need of heaven's help. Dives in scarlet is worse off than Lazarus in rags, unless divine love shall uphold him.
Nor is wealth the only slippery pathway-the road to honor is quite as dangerous, if not more so. Ambition, a good enough thing within reasonable bounds, is a very Apollyon among men, when it gets the mastery over them. Have you ever seen boys climbing a greasy pole to reach a hat or a handkerchief? If so, you will have noticed that the aspiring youths for the most part adopt plans and tricks quite as slimy as the pole: one covers his hands with sand, another twists a knotted cord, and scarcely one climbs fairly, and he is the one boy whose chance is smallest.
How plainly see we the politician's course in these young rascals; the Right Honourable Member for the town of Corruption vies with the equally Right Honourable representative for the county of Bribery; the most noble Conservative place-hunter will not be outdone by the Liberal office-lover; a man must have done a world of planing and shaving, chopping and chiselling, before he can reach the Treasury Bench. Nor less so is it in the path of trade. Small dealers and great contractors eager to rise, are each in their measure to Satan what a covey of partridges are to a sportsman, fair game if he can but reach them. The hasty desire to rise is the cause of many a fall.
Those who see the glittering heaps of gold before them are frequently in so much haste to thrust their arms in up to the elbow among the treasure that they take short cuts, leave the beaten road of honest labor, break through hedges, and find themselves ere long in a ditch. It is hard to keep great riches without sin, and we have heard that it is harder still to get them. Walk warily, successful friend! Growing wealth will prove no blessing to thee unless thou gettest growing grace. Prosperity destroys a fool and endangers a wise man; be on thy guard, good friend, for whether thou be the one or the other, thy testing hour is come.
After crossing the Grimsel, on the way down towards Handeck, the traveler traverses a road cut in red marble, so smoothly polished that, even when it is divested of its usual thin coating of snow, it is dangerous in the extreme. Notwithstanding that steps are hewn, and rough marks made across the granite, he would be foolhardy who should try to ride along the slippery way, which is called Hello Platte, or Hell Place, for reasons which glisten on its surface.
"Dismount," is the word, and none are slow to obey it. There are many such Hell Places on the road to the celestial city-smooth places of pleasure, ease, flattery, self-content, and the like; and it will be the wisest course if any pilgrim has been fond of riding the high horse, for him to dismount at once and walk humbly with his God. That enchanted ground of which Bunyan tells us that the air naturally tended to make one drowsy, is just the spot to which we refer; men had need be watchful whose path lies through that deceitful country.
It has been said that in a calm sea every man is a pilot, but we take leave to doubt it; calms have dangers quite unknown to storms, and rocks and quick-sands are none the less perilous because the deceitful sea which covers them smiles softly on the mariner. Not to be tempted is a great temptation. Safety breeds carelessness, and carelessness is the mother of ruin. When Mansoul was at peace, Mr. Carnal-security invited her citizens to his fatal feasts, and the Prince Immanuel withdrew himself; let the result warn us against a repetition of the evil.
When cast by providence among sinful persons who respect us, we ought to be peculiarly watchful. The hatred of the ungodly when poured upon Christians in the form of persecution, is seldom harmful to their spiritual nature, but the friendship of the world is always to be suspected. When the servants of the high priest allowed Peter to warm his hands at the fire, had Peter been a wise man, he would have been afraid that evil would come of it. We are disarmed by kindness, but it is never safe to be disarmed in an enemy's country. "Who," saith the old proverb, "could live in Rome and yet be at war with the Pope?"
Who can have much to do with sinners and not have something to do with their sins? The smiling daughters of Moab did more mischief to Israel than all Balak's frowning warriors. All Philistia could not have blinded Samson if Delilah's charms had not deluded him. Our worst foes will be found among our ungodly friends, for they who are false to God, are not likely to be true to us. Walk carefully, believer, if thy way lie by the sinner's door, and especially if that sinner hath acted a friendly part to thee.
Yet should such smooth places lie directly in the road to our eternal mansions, we have no cause to be timid at the prospect of passing over them-caution we must cultivate, but courage we must cherish. We have a guide who is well able to secure us from fatal slips: with him for our companion the way grows safe; should he conduct us over mountains of ice, he will cut steps for our feet, and give us his stout arm to lean upon; and he who leans on that never falls.
We have the alpenstock of faith shod with never-failing promises, which will often give us a hold and a stay in the most slippery places. He who knows how to use this staff aright, shall walk uprightly where others fall. Looking to the road immediately beneath us, satisfied with the sufficient evil of the present day, we need not make our heads to swim by gazing down terrific precipices, or enormous crevasses, but may advance step by step, until we reach our journey's end. Hundreds have trodden the way before us-from the celestial hills we may hear them singing; let us press forward till we gain their blissful seats. "Search the Scriptures."