Take education. Many young people fail to realize what golden opportunities come to them in their school-days. Too often they make little of the privileges they then enjoy. They sometimes waste in idleness the hours they ought to spend in diligent study and helpful reading. They might, if they would, fit themselves for high and honorable places in after years; but they let the days pass with their opportunities. By and by they hear the school door shut. Then, all through their years they move with halting step, with dwarfed life, with powers undeveloped, unable to accept the higher places that might have been theirs if they had been prepared for them, failing often in duties and responsibilities—all because in youth they wasted their school-days and did not seize the opportunities that then came to them for preparation. Napoleon, when visiting his old school, said to the pupils, "Boys, remember that every hour wasted at school means a chance of misfortune in future life." Thousands of failures along the years of manhood and womanhood attest the truth of this monition.
Friendship is another opportunity that offers great blessing. Before every young person stand two kinds of friends, ever reaching out a beckoning hand. The one class whisper of pleasures that lead to sin and debasement. They offer the young man the wine-glass, the gambling-table, the gratification of lust and passion. They offer the young woman flattery, gay dress, the dance, pleasures that will tarnish her womanly purity. We all know the end of such friendship.
But there is another class of friends who stand before young people, wooing them to noble things. They may be plain, perhaps homely, almost stern in their earnestness of purpose and in the seriousness with which they talk of life. They call to toil, to diligence, to self-denial, to heroic qualities of character, to purity, to usefulness, to "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are lovely." It is impossible to overstate the value of the blessings that true, wise, and worthy friendship offers to the young. It seeks to incite and stimulate them to their best in character and achievement. It would lift them up to lofty attainment, to splendid victoriousness. The young people to whom comes the offer of such friendship are most highly favored.
But how often do we see the blessing rejected for the solicitation of mere idle pleasures that bring no true good, that entangle the life in all manner of complications, that lead into the ways of temptation, and that too often end in disaster and sorrow.
There is a time for the choosing of friends, and when that time is passed and the choice has been made, the door is shut. Then it is too late to go back. There are many people in mid-life, bound now in the chains of evil companionships, who would give all they have for the sweet delights and pure pleasures of friendship which once might have been theirs, which in youth reached out to them in vain white hands of importunity and blessing. But it is too late; the door is shut.
So it is with the opportunities of doing good to others, comforting, helping, cheering, lightening burdens, giving gladness and joy. We stand continually before open doors which we do not enter. Ofttimes we shrink with timid feeling from the sweet ministry, holding back the sympathetic word or restraining ourselves from the doing of the gentle kindness, thinking our proffer of love might be unwelcome. Or we do not perceive the opportunity to give a blessing. This is true very often, especially in the closer and more tender intimacies of life. We do not recognize the heart-hunger in our loved ones, and we walk with them day by day, failing to help them in the thousand ways in which we might help them, until they are gone from us and the door is shut. Then all we can do is to bear the pain of regret, having only the hope that in some way in the life beyond, we may be able to pay—though so late—love's debt.
"How will it be When you at last in heaven we see— Dear souls, whose footsteps in lost days Made musical earth's toil-worn ways, While we not half the loneliness That bound you to our side could guess? Where angels know your footfall we Are fain to be.
"We never knew— So heedlessly we walked with you— The drops we jostled from your cup, That spilt, could not be gathered up; We might have given you foam and glow From our own beaker's overflow; Ah! what we might have been to you We never knew.
"We might have lent Such strength, such comfort and content To you, out of our ample store; We might have hastened on before To lift the shadows from your way, Darkened, ere noon, to twilight's gray; With earth's chilled air love's warm heart-scent We might have blent.
"Dear, wistful eyes, Ye haunt us with your kind surprise, Your tender wonder that a heart Should thus be left alone, apart, So loving, so misunderstood By us, in our self-centred mood: Alas! in vain to you arise Our longing cries.
"Oh, will you wait For us beyond the shining gate? Though lovely gifts behind you left, We want yourselves; we are bereft. From your new mansion glorious Will you lean out to look for us? Shut is the far-off, shining gate— Are we too late?"
These are but illustrations. The same is true in all phases of life. Every day doors are opened for us which we do not enter. For a little time they stand open with bidding and welcome, and then they are closed, to be opened no more forever. To every one of us along our years there come opportunities, which, if accepted and improved, would fit us for worthy character, and for noble, useful living, and lead us in due time to places of honor and blessing. But how many of us there are who reject these opportunities and lose the good they brought for us from God! Then one by one the doors are shut, cutting off the proffered favors while we go on unblessed.
There is another closing of doors which is even sadder than any of those which have been suggested. There is a shutting of our own heart's door upon God himself. He stands at our gate and knocks and there are many who never open to him at all, and many more who open the door but slightly. The latter, while they may receive blessing, yet miss the fulness of divine revealing which would flood their souls with love; the former miss altogether the sweetest benediction of life.
"He that shuts Love out in turn shall be Shut out from Love, and on his threshhold lie Howling in outer darkness. Nor for this Was common clay made from the common earth, Moulded by God and tempered with the tears Of angels to the perfect shape of man."
This sad sound of closing doors, as it falls day after day upon our soul's ears, proclaims to us continually that something which was ours, which was sent to us from God, and for which we shall have to answer in judgment, is ours no longer, is shut away forever from our grasp. It is a sad picture—the five virgins standing at midnight before a closed door through which they might have entered to great joy and honor, but which to all their wild importunity will open no more. It is sad, yet many of us are likewise standing before closed doors, doors that once stood open to us, but into which we entered not, languidly loitering outside until the sound of the shutting fell upon our ear as the knell of hopeless exclusion:—
"Too late! Too late! Ye cannot enter now!"
Of course the past is irreparable and irrevocable, and it may seem idle to vex ourselves in thinking about doors now closed, that no tears, no prayers, no loud knockings, can ever open again. Yes; yet the future remains. The years that are gone we cannot get back again, but new years are yet before us. They too will have their open doors. Shall we not learn wisdom as we look back upon the irrevocable past and make sure that in the future we shall not permit God's doors of opportunity to shut in our faces?