by Timothy Shay Arthur
A traveler was once passing through a great wilderness, in which he supposed no human being dwelt. But, while riding along in its gloomiest part, he was surprised to see a hermit, his face covered with a long beard, which hung down upon his bosom, sitting on a stone at the entrance of what seemed a cave.
The hermit arose as the traveler drew up his horse, and speaking kindly to him, invited him to accept such refreshment as it was in his power to offer. The traveler did not refuse, and, dismounting, tied his horse to a tree, and, following the pious man, entered the narrow door of a little cave which nature had formed in the side of a mountain. All the hermit had to set before the traveler, was water from a pure stream that came merrily leaping down the hill side, and some wild fruit and nuts.
"Tell me," said the traveler, after he had eaten, "why a man with a sound body, such as you possess, and a sound mind — should hide away from his fellow-men, in a dreary wilderness like this?"
"For pious meditation and repentance," replied the hermit. "All is vanity in the world. Its beauties charm — but to allure from Heaven. And worse than this, it is full of evil. Turn where you will — pain, sorrow, and crime meet your eyes. But here, in the silence of nature, there is nothing to draw the mind from holy thoughts; there is no danger of falling into temptation. By pious meditation and prayer, we are purified and made fit for Heaven."
"Not so," answered the traveler; "pious meditation and prayer are of no avail — without good be done to our fellow-men. Piety is nothing, without charity; and charity consists in doing good to our neighbors. 'And now abides faith, hope, and charity,' says the Apostle, 'but the greatest of these is charity,' Hermit, you are not wise thus to retire from the midst of the busy world. Your service cannot be acceptable to God. Go back again among your fellow-men, and faithfully perform your real duties in life. Help the sick, comfort the mourner, bind up the broken heart, and in the various walks of life — do good to friend and enemy. Without this, how can you hope in the judgment to hear the Lord say, 'As much as you have done it unto the least of these — you have done it unto me?'"
The hermit, at such unexpected words, bowed his head, and was silent. The traveler went on, and said —
"You have committed a common error, in supposing that in holy meditation, as it is called, there was anything particularly pleasing to God. But reason will tell you why the widow's mite is more acceptable in Heaven, than the most pious thoughts of idle self-righteousness. Hermit! go back again into the world, and there act your part as a man in the great social body. Only by this means, will you be prepared to live and act in the great body of angels in Heaven."
The hermit could not reply, but still sat with his head bowed to his bosom, and his eyes upon the ground. The words of the stranger fell with strokes of reproof upon his heart.
When the traveler returned that way on his next trip, he sought for the hermit, but found him not at the door of his cave. He entered, but the place had been a long time deserted. The erring man had gone back into the world, and taken his place among his fellows. And he had done right. No man is wise who retires from society, and shuts himself up in the hope of becoming better through prayer and pious thoughts. Only by doing our duty to our fellow-men, in some particular pursuit in life, can we hope to grow better and wiser!