An Eternity to Repent in!
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by , translated by Lee Milton Hollander
|As translated in 1923; while later revisions had their copyrights renewed, this version was allowed to expire.|
Let me relate a story. I did not read it in a book of devotion but in what is generally called light reading. Yet I do not hesitate to make use of it, and indicate its source only lest any one be disturbed if he should happen to be acquainted with it, or find out at some later time where it is from lest he be disturbed that I had been silent about this.
Once upon a time there lived somewhere in the East a poor old couple. Utterly poor they were, and anxiety about the future naturally grew when they thought of old age approaching. They did not, indeed, constantly assail heaven with their prayers, they were too God‑fearing to do that; but still they were ever praying to God for help.
Then one morning it happened that the old woman found an exceeding large jewel on the hearth‑stone, which she forthwith showed to her husband, who recognized its value and easily perceived that now their poverty was at an end.
What a bright future for these old people, and what gladness! But frugal and pious as they were they decided not to sell the jewel just yet, since they had enough wherewithal to live still one more day. But on the morrow they would sell it, and then a new life was to begin for them.
In the following night the woman dreamed that she was transported to Paradise. An angel showed her about the splendors which only an Oriental imagination can devise. He showed her a hall in which there stood long rows of arm‑chairs gemmed all over with precious stones and pearls. These, so the angel explained, were the seats of the pious. And last of all he pointed out to her the one destined for herself. When regarding it more closely she discovered that a very large jewel was lacking in the back of the chair, and she asked the angel how that might be. He ah, watch now, for here is the point! The angel answered: "That was the jewel which you found on your hearth‑stone. It was given you ahead of time, and it cannot be put in again."
In the morning the woman told her husband this dream. And she was of the opinion that it was better, perhaps, to endure in poverty the few years still left to them to live, rather than to be without that jewel in all eternity. And her pious husband was of the same opinion.
So in the evening they laid the jewel on the hearth‑stone and prayed to God to take it away again. And next morning it had disappeared, for certain; and what had become of it the old folks well knew: it was in its right place again.
This man was in truth happily married, and his wife a sensible woman. But even if it were true, as is maintained so often, that it is men's wives who cause them to lose sight of eternal values: even if all men remained unmarried, there would still be in every one of us an impulse, more ingenious and more pressing and more unremitting than a woman, which will cause him to use a wrong measure and to think a couple of years, or ten years, or forty years, so enormous a length of time that even eternity were quite brief in comparison; instead of these years being as nothing when compared with the infinite duration of eternity.
Therefore, heed this well! You may by worldly wisdom escape perhaps what it has pleased God to unite with the condition of one's being a Christian, that is, sufferings and tribulations; you may, and to your own destruction, by cleverly avoiding the difficulties, perhaps, gain what God has forever made incompatible with being a Christian, that is, the enjoyment of pleasures and all earthly goods; you may, fooled by your own worldly wisdom, perhaps, finally perish altogether, in the illusion that you are on the right way because you have gained happiness in this world: and then you will have an eternity to repent in! An eternity to repent in; to repent that you did not employ your time in doing what might be remembered in all eternity; that is, in truth to love God, with the consequence that you suffer the persecution of men in this life.
Therefore, do not deceive yourself, and of all deceivers fear most yourself! Even if it were possible for one, with regard to eternity, to take something ahead of time, you would still deceive yourself just by having something ahead of time and then an eternity to repent in!