Historians say that in the ancient days,
When Jesus walked on earth (to Him be praise!)
There lived a man so bad, so sunk in sin,
That even Satan was ashamed of him;
The Book contained his name so many times,
No room was left to enter all his crimes.
Perished his tree of life, and bore no fruit,
A stupid, cruel, drunken, swinish brute.
Hard by there dwelt a holy devotee,
Known far and wide for strictest piety;
Each was the marvel of the time and place,
The first of wickedness and this of grace.
Jesus (to Him be praise!) I’ve heard one day
Forth from the desert came and passed that way;
Th’ recluse, descending from his easement high,
Fell at His feet with proud humility;
The lost one gazed with wonder at the sight
Like moth bewildered by the candle’s light;
Surely one gentle touch had reached his heart,
From Him who came to take the sinner s part!
Shrinking with shame, his conscience stricken sore,
As shrinks a beggar at a rich man’s door,
Tears of repentance rolling down his face,
For days and nights polluted with disgrace,
With fear and hope. God’s mercy to invoke,
In earnest prayer, with bated breath he spoke:
‘My precious life I’ve wasted day by day,
My opportunities I’ve thrown away;
In vice and wickedness surpassed by none,
No single act of goodness have I done;
Would that like me no mortal e’er might be,
Better by far to die than live like me!
He who in childhood dies is free from blame,
Old age comes not to bow his head with shame;
Forgive my sins, Creator of the world,
Lest I to blackest depths of hell be hurled.’
On that side, lo! the aged sinner cries,
Not daring heavenward to lift his eyes,
Repentant, weeping, sunk in deep despair:
‘Help of the helpless! hear, oh! hear my prayer.’
On this, the devotee puffed up with pride,
With visage sour from far the sinner eyed:
‘What brings this ill-starred wretch towards this place,
Dares he to think himself of man’s high race?
Headlong to fire eternal he has fallen,
His life to lusfs foul whirlwind he has given,
His sin-stained soul what good can show that he
Messiah’s company should share with me!
I loathe his hateful countenance, and dread
Lest sin’s infection to my bosom spread;
In that great day, when all must present be,
O God! I pray Thee, raise him not with me.’
From the all-glorious God a message came
To Jesus (ever blessed be His name!):
‘The ignorant and learned both are saved,
Both I accept since both to me have prayed;
The lost one, humbled, with repentant tears
Has cried to me, his cry has reached my ears;
Who helpless lowly seeks, and doth not doubt
The mercy seat, shall never be cast out;
His many wicked deeds I have forgiven,
My boundless mercy bringeth him to heaven;
And should the devotee on that great day
Think it disgrace in heaven with him to stay,
Tell him, Beware? they take thee not to hell
And him to paradise with God to dwell.’
The sinner’s bleeding heart in anguish sighs,
The saint upon his piety relies,
Doth he not know that God resisteth pride,
But takes the low in spirit to His side?
Whose heart is vile, but outside fair to see,
For him hell’s gates yawn wide, he wants no key,
Humility in His sight is more meet
Than strict religious forms and self-conceit;
Thy self-esteem but proves how bad thou art,
For egotism with God can have no part;
Boast not thyself- however swift his pace,
Not every skilful rider wins the race.
Wise men have left for all this saying true,
And Sa’di in this tale remindeth you,
The sinner penitent hath less to fear
Than he whose piety is not sincere.
Translated by W. C. Mackinnon