Men Who Are Down
NO man's lot is fully known till he is dead: change of fortune is the lot of life. He who rides in the carriage may yet have to clean it. Sawyers change places, and he who is up aloft may take to take his turn in the pit. In less than a thousand years, we shall all be bald and poor too, and who knows at he may come to before that? The thought that we may ourselves be one day under the window should make us careful when we are throwing out our dirty water. With what measure we mete, it shall be measured to us again, and therefore let us look well to dealings with the unfortunate.
Nothing makes me more sick of human nature than to see the way in which men treat others when they fall down the ladder of fortune. "Down with him," they cry, "He always was good for nothing."
"Down among the dead men, Down, down, down, Down among the dead men There let him lie."
Dog won't eat dog, but men will eat each other up like cannibals and boast of it, too. There are thousands in this world who fly like vultures to feed on a tradesman or a merchant as soon as ever he gets into trouble. Where the carcass is, thither will the eagles be gathered together. Instead of a little help, they give the sinking man a great deal of cruelty and cry, Serves him rights All the world will beat the man whom fortune buffets. If providence smites him, all men's whips begin to crack. The dog is drowning, and therefore all his friends empty their buckets over him. The tree has fallen, and everybody runs for his hatchet. The house is on fire, and all the neighbors warm themselves. The man has ill luck, therefore his friends give him ill usage: he has tumbled into the road, and they drive their carts over him; he is down and selfishness cries, "Let him be kept down, then there will be more room for those who are up."
How aggravating it is when those who knocked you down kick you for not standing up. It is not very pleasant to hear that you have been a great fool, and there were fifty ways at least of keeping out of your difficulty, only you had not the sense to see them. You ought not to have lost the game: even Tom Fool can see where you made a bad move. "He ought to have locked the stable doors! - everybody can see that, but nobody offers to buy the loser a new nag. "What a pity he went so far on the ice! - that's very true, but that won't save the poor fellow from drowning. When a man's coat is threadbare, it is an easy thing to pick a hole in it. Good advice is poor food for a hungry family.
"A man of words and not of deeds - Is like a garden full of weeds."
Lend me a bit of string to tie up the traces, and find fault with my old harness when I get home. Help my old horse to a few oats, and then tell him to mend his pace. Feel for me, and I shall feel much obliged to you, but mind you feel in your pocket or else a fig for your feelings.
Most men who go downhill meet with Judas before they get to the bottom. Those whom they helped in their better days generally forget the debt or repay it with unkindness. The young sucker runs away with sap from the old tree. The foal drains his mother and then kicks her. The old saying is, "I taught you to swim, and now you would drown me," and many a time it comes true. The dog wags his tail till he gets the bone, and then he snaps and bites at the man who fed him. Eaten bread is forgotten, and the hand that gave it is despised. The candle lights others and is burnt away itself. For the most part, nothing is more easily blotted out than a good turn. Everyone for himself is the world's golden rule, and we all know who takes the hindmost. The fox looks after his own skin and has no idea of losing his brush out of gratitude to a friend.
A noble spirit always takes the side of the weak, but noble spirits do not often ride along our roads. They as scarce as eagles; you can get magpies, hawks, and kites by the score, but the nobler breed you don't see once in a lifetime. Did you ever hear the crows read the burial service over a dead sheep before they eat it? Well, that's wonderfully like the neighbors crying, "What a pity! How did it happen? Oh dear! Oh dear!" and then hurrying to work to get each of them a share of the plunder. Most people will help those who do not need it; every traveler throws a stone where there is a heap already; all the cooks baste a fat pig, but the lean one gets burned.
"In times of prosperity friends will be plenty: In times of adversity not one in twenty."
When the wind serves, all aid. While the pot boils, friendship blooms. But flatterers haunt not cottages, and the faded rose no suitor knows. All the neighbors are cousins to the rich man, but the poor man's brother does not know him. When we have a ewe and a lamb, everyone cries, "Welcome, Peter!" The squire can be heard for half a mile, if he only whispers, but Widow Needy is not heard across the park railings, let her call as she may. Men willingly pour water into a full tub and give feasts to those who are not hungry, because they look to have as good or better in return. Have a goose, and get a goose. Have a horse of your own; then you can borrow one. It is safe to lend barley where the barn is full of wheat, but who lends or gives where there's none? Who, indeed, unless it be some antiquated old soul who believes in his Bible, loves his Lord, and therefore gives, hoping for nothing again"?
I have noticed certain gentry who pretend to be great friends to a falling man because there are some few pickings yet to be got off his bones. The lawyer and the money lender will cover the poor fellow with their wings and then peck at him with their bills till there's nothing left. When these folks are very polite and considerate, poor men need to beware. It was not a good sign when the fox walked into the hen house and said, "Good morning to you all, my very dear friends."
Down men, however, must not despair, for God is yet alive, and He is the friend of the friendless. If there be no one else found to hold out a hand to him who has fallen, the Lord's hand shall not fail to bring deliverance to those who trust Him. A good man may be put in the fire, but he cannot be burned. His hope may be drenched but not drowned. He plucks up courage, sets a stout heart to a stiff hill, and gets over rough ground where others lie down and die. While there's life, there's hope. Therefore, my friend, if you've tumbled off the back of prosperity, John Ploughman bids you not to lie in the ditch, but up with you and try again. Jonah went to the bottom of the sea, but he got to shore again all the better for his watery journey.
"Though the bird's in the net, It may get away yet; Though I'm down in the dust, In my God I well trust, I will hope in Him still, And leave all to His will; For He'll surely appear, And will banish my fear."
Let it never be forgotten that when a man is down, he has a grand opportunity for trusting in God. A false faith can only float in smooth water; but true faith, like a lifeboat, is at home in storms. If our religion does not bare us up in time of trial, what is the use of it? If we cannot believe God when our circumstances appear to be against us, we do not believe Him at all. We trust a thief as far as we can see him; shall we dare to treat our God in that fashion? No, no. The Lord is good, and He will yet appear for His servants, and we shall praise His name.
"Down among the dead men"! No, sir, not I. "Down among the dead men"! I will not lie. Up among the hopeful, I will ascend, Up among the joyful, sing without end.