WHAT LORD BYRON SAID.
AS to the present world, how many beds are there of man’s own invention.
One man has made himself a bedstead of gold; the pillars thereof are of silver, the covering thereof is of Tyrian purple, the pillows are filled with down, such as only much fine gold could buy him; the hangings he hath embroidered with threads of gold and silver, and the curtains are drawn upon rings of ivory. Lo, this man hath ransacked creation for luxuries, and invented to himself all manner of sumptuous delights. He gets unto himself broad acres and many lands; he adds house to house, and field to field; he digs, he toils, he labors, he is in hopes that he shall get enough, a sufficiency, a satisfactory inheritance. He proceeds from enterprise to enterprise, he invests his money in one sphere of labor, and then another.
He attempts to multiply his gold, until it gets beyond all reckoning. He becomes a merchant prince, a millionaire, and he says unto himself, “Soul, take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry; thou hast much goods laid up for many years.” Do you not envy this man his bed? Are there not some of you, whose only object in life is to get such a couch for yourselves? You say, “He has well-feathered his nest; would to God that I could do the same for myself!” Ah! but do you know that this bed is shorter than that he can stretch himself upon it? If you cast yourself upon it for a moment, the bed is long enough for you, but it is not long enough for him.
I have often thought that many a man’s riches would be sufficient for me, but they are not sufficient for him. If he makes them his god, and seeks in them his happiness, you never find the man has money enough, his lands are still too narrow, and his estate too small. When he begins to stretch himself, he finds there is something wanted: if the bed could only be made a little longer, then, he thinks, he could be quiet, and have room enough.
But when the bed is lengthened, he finds he has grown longer, too; and when his fortune has grown as big as the bedstead of Og, king of Bashan, even then he finds he cannot lie upon it easily. Nay, we read of one man who stretched himself along the whole world which he had conquered; but he found there was not room, and he began to weep because there were not other worlds to conquer. One would have thought a little province would have been enough for him to rest in. Oh, no; so big is man when he stretches himself, that the whole world does not suffice him. Nay, if God should give to the avaricious all the mines of Peru, all the glittering diamonds of Golconda, all the wealth of worlds, and if he were then to transmute the stars into gold and silver, and make us emperors of an entire universe till we should talk of constellations as men talk of hundreds, yea, and talk of universes as men talk of thousands, even then the bed would not be long enough whereon we might stretch our ever-lengthening desires. The soul is wider than creation, broader than space; give it all, it would be still unsatisfied, and man would not find rest.
You say, “That is strange: if I had a little more I should be very well satisfied.” You make a mistake: if you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled. “Nay,” says one, “I should be.” You do not know yourself. If you have fixed your affection on the things of this world, that affection is like a horse-leech; it cries, “Give! give!” It will suck, suck, suck to all eternity, and still cry, “Give! give!” and though you give it all, it has not gotten enough. The bed, in fact, “is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it.”
Let us look in another direction. Other men have said,” Well, I do not care for gold and silver; thank God, I have no avarice.” But they have been ambitious. “Oh,” says one, “if I might be famous, what would I not do?
Oh, if my name might be handed down to posterity, as having done something, and having been somebody, a man of note, how satisfied would I be!” And the man has so acted, that he has at last made for himself a bed of honor. He has become famous. There is scarce a newspaper which does not record his name. His name has become a household word; nations listen to his voice; thousands of trumpets proclaim his deeds. He is a man, and the world knows it, and stamps him with the adjective “great;” he is called “a great man.” See how soft and downy is his bed! What would some of you give to rest upon it! He is fanned to sleep by the breath of fame, and the incense of applause smokes in his chamber. The world waits to refresh him with renewed flattery. Oh! would you not give your ears and eyes if you might have a bed like that to rest upon.
But did you ever read the history of famous men, or hear them tell their tale in secret? “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” even though it be the laurel coronet of honor. When the man is known, it is not enough; he asks for wider praise. There was a time when the approbation of a couple of old women was fame to him; now the approbation of ten thousand is nothing. He talks of men as if they were but flocks of wild asses, and what he looked up to once as a high pinnacle is now beneath his feet. He must go higher, and higher, and higher; though his head is reeling, though his brain is whirling, though his feet are slipping, he must go higher.
He has done a great thing: he must do more. He seems to stride across the world; he must leap further yet, for the world will never believe a man famous unless he constantly outdoes himself. He must not only do a great thing to-day, but he must do a greater thing to-morrow, the next day a greater still, and pile his mountains one upon another until he mounts the very Olympus of the demigods. But, suppose he gets there, what does he say, “Oh that I could go back to my cottage, that I might be all unknown, that I might have rest with my family and be quiet. Popularity is a care which I never endured until now, a trouble that I never guessed. Let me lose it all; let me go back!” He is sick of it; for the fact is, that man never can be satisfied with anything less than the approbation of heaven; and until conscience gets that, all the applause of senates and of listening princes would be a bed shorter than a man could stretch himself upon it.
There is another bed on which man thinks he could rest. There is a witch, a painted harlot, who wears the richest gems in her ears, and a necklace of precious things about her neck. She is an old deceiver. She was old and shriveled in the days of Bunyan; she painted herself then, she paints now, and paint she will as long as the world endureth. And she gaddeth forth, and men think her young and fair, and lovely, and desirable; her name is Madam Wanton. She keeps a house wherein she feasteth men, and maketh them drunken with the wine of pleasure , which is as honey to the taste, but is venom to the soul. This witch, when she can, entices men into her bed. “There,” she says, “there, how daintily have I spread it!” It is a bed, the pillars whereof are pleasure; above is the purple of rapture, and beneath is the soft repose of luxurious voluptuousness. Oh, what a bed is this!
Solomon once laid in it, and many since his time have sought their rest there. They have said, “Away with your gold and silver: let me spend it, that I may eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow I die. Tell me not of fame; I care not for it. I would sooner have the pleasures of life, or the joys of Bacchus, than the laurel of fame. Let me give myself up to the intoxication of this world’s delights; let me be drowned in the butt of Burgundy of this world’s joys.” Have you ever seen such men as that? I have seen many, and wept over them, and I know some now; they are stretching themselves on that bed, and trying to make themselves happy.
Byron is just a picture of such men, though he outdid others. What a bed was that he stretched himself on! Was ever libertine more free in his vices? was ever sinner more wild in his blasphemy? was ever poet more daring in his flights of thought? was ever man more injurious to his fellows than he?
And yet, what did Byron say? There is a verse which just tells you what he felt in his heart. The man had all that he wanted of sinful pleasure, but here is his confession — “I fly like a bird of the air, In search of a home and a rest; A balm for the sickness of care, A bliss for a bosom unblest. ” And yet he found it not. He had no rest in God. He tried pleasure till his eyes were red with it; he tried vice till his body was sick; and he descended into his grave a premature old man. If you had asked him, and he had spoken honestly, he would have said, the bed was shorter than that he could stretch himself upon it. No, young man, you may have all the vices and all the pleasure and mirth of this metropolis — and there is much to be found, of which I make no mention here — and when you have it all, you will find it does not equal your expectation, nor satisfy your desires. When the devil is bringing you one cup of spiced wine, you will be asking him next time to spice it higher; and he will flavor it to your fiery taste, but you will be dissatisfied still, until, at last, if he were to bring you a cup hot as damnation, it would fall tasteless on your palate. You would say, “Even this is tasteless to me, except in the gall, and bitter wormwood, and fire that it brings.” It is so with all worldly pleasure; there is no end to it; it is a perpetual thirst. It is like the opium-eater; he eats a little, and he dreams such strange wonders; and he wakes, and where are they? Such dreamers, when awake, look like dead men, with just animation enough to enable them to crawl along. The next time, to get to their elysium, they must take more opium, and the next time more and more, and all the while they are gradually going down an inclined plane into their graves. That is just the effect of human pleasure, and all worldly sensual delights; they only end in destruction; and even while they last, they are not wide enough for our desire, they are not large enough for our expectations, “for the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it.”
Now think, for a moment, of the Christian, and see the picture reversed. I will suppose the Christian at his very worst state, though there is no reason why I should do so. The Christian is not necessarily poor; he may be rich.
Suppose him poor. He has not a foot of land to call his own; he lives by the day, and he lives well, for his Master keeps a good cupboard for him, and furnishes him with all he requires. He has nothing in this world except the promise of God with regard to the future. The worldly man laughs at the promise, and says it is good for nothing. Now look at the Christian; he says,— “There ’s nothing round this spacious globe, Which suits my large desires; To nobler joys than nature gives, Thy servant, Lord, aspires. ” What, poor man, are you perfectly content? “Yes,” says he, “it is my Father’s will that I should live in poverty. I am perfectly content.” “Well, but is there nothing else you wish for?” “Nothing,” says he, “I have the presence of God; I have delight in communion with Christ; ‘I know that there is laid up for me a crown of life that fadeth not away,’ and more I cannot want. I am perfectly content; my soul is at rest.”