Informer Home

A Fence Or An Ambulance

A Fence Or An Ambulance
By Richard Nichols

Published in
The Christian Informer
May  2006

What's New?
Daily Reading
Send Mail


Subscription to this publication



‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
 Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally;
Some said, “Put a fence ‘round the edge of the cliff,”
Some said, “An ambulance down in the valley.”

But the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
For it spread through the neighboring city;
A fence may be useful or not, it is true,
But each heart became full of pity
For those who slipped over the dangerous cliff;
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave pounds and pence, not to put up a fence,
But an ambulance down in the valley.

“For the cliff is all right, if you’re careful,” they said,
“And, if folks even slip and are dropping,
It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much
As the shock down below when they’re stopping.”
So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,
Quick forth would those rescuers sally
To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,
With their ambulance down in the valley.

Then an old sage remarked: “It’s a marvel to me
That people give far more attention
To repairing results than to stopping the cause,
When they’d much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” cried he,
“Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally;
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley.”

“Oh, he’s a fanatic,” the others rejoined,
“Dispense with the ambulance?  Never!
He’d dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
No!  No!  We’ll support them forever.
Aren’t we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us?  Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,
While the ambulance works in the valley?”

But the sensible few, who are practical too,
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;
They believe that prevention is better than cure,
And their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,
And while other philanthropists dally,
They will scorn all pretense, and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.

Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling.
“To rescue the fallen is good, but ‘tis best
To prevent other people from falling.”
Better close up the source of temptation and crime
Than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence ‘round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley.

Think about the arguments offered by both factions of people in this poem.  Which points are logical?  Which are extreme?  Some forty years ago sister Amy Higham, of the congregation at Mozier, Illinois recited this poem to me.  First, I was very impressed with sister Higham’s memory because this was just one of a number of poem she had committed to memory.  Then, as I thought about this one, I was impressed with the story it told and found myself thinking about it over and over through the years.  When I researched it on the internet I found that it was written by Joseph Malins back in 1895.  As I read it over and over a question came to mind, “Is the wisdom of the unjust greater than that of the saved?”
In the last stanza of the poem, Mr. Malins gives his point of concern on how to properly rear children, a point which needs to be seriously addressed in today’s world.  Although this was the question under consideration, we find there are a number of other situations which can be illustrated by the two parties in the poem and their separate reasoning.  For example, at times we all find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma and a choice must be made.  Often that choice is not one between “right or wrong” but rather which would be the wiser and better course to take.
Then, sometimes when the brethren of a congregation meet to discuss the business of the church, they will be faced with a choice, which is not just a decision or either “right or wrong”, but which one is the wiser course to take.  When I was growing up my dad, Carl Nichols, musingly would say, “Influence is that thing you think you have until you try to ‘use it’.”  May I add that sometimes our own “wisdom” is like that.  Some self-deluded souls may think they are wise, but the Scripture charges, “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18).
James wrote, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).  It takes true humility to realize that you fall short in wisdom, and then sincerely ask God to grant it to you.  It, of course, will not be miraculously showered down on you, but your choices must be guided by all the principles which properly lead a child of God.  How do you know these principles and put them to use?  By study and meditation in the Word, of course.  You don’t want to make errors, you don’t want to sin, you don’t want to cause others to do wrong, by your poor choices in what you might say and do.  So David wrote, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalms 119:11).
One application of this principle is found in Paul’s dealing with meat offered to idles and then offered for sale in the marketplace.  (Please read 1 Corinthians 8:4–13).  His conclusion was, “I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”  Paul knew that since the idol to which the meat had been offered “was nothing”, it was alright to eat that meat.  He would offer thanks to God, eat it and ask no questions.  However, if a sincere brother who did not understand the principles upon which Paul could eat that meat, and seeing it was emboldened by Paul’s action would eat it in violation of his own conscience, Paul said, in that case he would not eat.  You see, Paul would forfeit the exercise of his own liberty to save another man’s soul.
Selfishness, a personal agenda, a desire for preeminence or the promotion of friends or family will never allow such sacrifice.  Someone may ignorantly call such decisions like these “wise” but they involve partiality and do not involve the wisdom of God.
James says, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.  For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.  Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.   Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.  Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.  For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:  But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.  Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.  Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.  Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?  Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.  Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.  But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.  This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.  And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace  (James 3:1–18).
Paul didn’t tell the Corinthians, “I’m right in this thing and the weak person simply must learn that they’re wrong.”  Neither did he say, “Until that other man can prove I’m wrong I’m going to eat my meat!”  NOR, “I just won’t eat it as the main course, I’ll just eat a little of it in a casserole.”  How many times do you find yourself making excuses for not giving up the thing that you just really want to do?  Contrast that with  Paul’s genuine Christian, self-sacrificing conclusion– “I will eat no flesh while the would standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”  He didn’t say, “some flesh” or “most meat” but he said, “no flesh.”  For how long, Paul?  “As long as the world stands.”
Solomon frequently contrasted humility with pride.  By exercising humility, the wise man develops a balanced self-image, neither degrading nor exalting himself.  He learns that true honor comes from others and is earned through humble service.  True humility retains such honor by not disappointing those from whom it comes.  The foolish have no such wisdom but seek their own honor in pride.  Such pride is sin and is hated by God.  It stirs up such destructive forces as arrogance, shame, contention, contempt, and strife, all of which deliver dishonor to that ignorant soul.  Only the wise recognize the sensibility of humility.