As the guests came together in the brilliantly lighted parlors at the home of Mable Ashton, that crisp winter evening, there was nothing unusual in the appearance of the rooms to indicate that the party to which they had been invited was to be in any respect, different from the round of gaiety to which they had been devoting themselves for the greater part of the winter.
Some of the guests, as they greeted their young hostess, noticed an unusual degree of nervousness in her manner, but attributing it to the excitement of preparation and anticipation, thought no more of it and all were soon engaged in conversation and in making out their cards for the various dances of the evening. The musicians were in their places, and the young people beginning to wonder why the signal was not given for the orchestra to strike up, when Mable Ashton, her sweet face flushed and pale by turns, took her stand near the musicians, and after closing her eyes for a moment, during which the room became perfectly still, in a voice at first trembling, but soon clear and steady, said, “Friends, I know you will think me very strange, but before we do anything else I must tell you a little story.
“I had a dream last night, which has made such an impression on my mind and heart that I must tell it to you. I dreamed that tonight had arrived, and you had all assembled in these rooms, when there came to the door and was ushered in, a guest who seemed strangely familiar and yet whom I could not recognize. “He had a rare face, peaceful, yet a little sad in its expression, and his eyes were more penetrating than any that I had ever before seen. He was dressed in neat, yet very plain clothing, but there was something in his appearance which marked him as no ordinary man.
“While I was trying to think where I had seen him, he advanced to me, took my hand, and said gently, ‘You do not recognize me, Mable,’ Surprised at such a salutation from a stranger, I could only say, ‘Your face, Sir, seems familiar, yet I cannot recall your name.’
” ‘Yet I am one whom you invited here this evening, or I should rather say, one to whom both you and your parents have extended many invitations to be present here whenever I am able to come. You have even invited me to make my home here. I have come tonight to join your little company.’
” ‘I beg a thousand pardons,’ I replied, ‘but you mystify me all the more, and I beg that you will relieve me by telling me whom I have the pleasure of greeting.’ Then he offered to my view the palms of His hands in which were scars as of nails’ wounds, and looked me through and through with those piercing yet tender eyes, and I did not need that He should say to me, ‘I am Jesus Christ your Lord.’
“To say that I was startled would be to express only a very small part of my feelings. For a moment I stood still, not knowing what to do or say. Why could I not fall at His feet and say with all my heart, ‘I am filled with joy at seeing you here, Lord Jesus?’
“With those eyes looking into mine I could not say it, for it was not true. For some reason, on the instant only half comprehended by myself, I was sorry He had come. It was an awful thought to be glad to have all the rest of you here, yet sorry to see my Saviour and Lord!
“Could it be that I was ashamed of Him, or was I ashamed of something in myself?
“At length I recovered myself to a degree and said, ‘You wish to speak to my parents, I am sure.’
” ‘Yes, Mable,’ He replied as He accompanied me to where my mother and father sat gazing in surprise at my evident confusion in greeting an unexpected guest; ‘but I came this evening chiefly to be with you and your young friends, for I have often heard you speak enthusiastically in Christian Endeavor meetings about how delightful it would be if you could only have me visibly with you.’
“Again a blush came to my cheeks as the thought flashed through my mind, ‘Tomorrow night is prayer meeting night. I should be delighted to see Him then. But why not tonight on this pleasant occasion? I led Him to my parents, and in a somewhat shameful fashion introduced Him.
“They both gave a start of amazed surprise, but convinced by His appearance that there could be no mistake, my father recovered a degree of self-possession, bade Him welcome, offered Him a seat, remarked that this was an unexpected pleasure, and then after a somewhat lengthy pause, explained to Jesus that his daughter, Mable, being very closely occupied with her studies, and having little variety in life, had been allowed to invite a few of her friends in for a social evening, with a little quiet dancing by way of healthful exercise. Her friends were all of the very choicest. And he felt that this was a very harmless amusement, which the Church had come to look upon in a somewhat different light from that in which it was viewed 40 years ago. By removing the objectionable feature of bad company it had now made this pleasant pastime, a safe indulgence for its young people.
“As my father stammered out in the presence of Jesus these words of apology, which had fallen from my own lips, I felt myself flush crimson with shame, both for my dear father and myself. Why should he apologize at all for what he considered unquestionably right? And how hollow it all sounded there in the presence of the Lord! Did Jesus know that my studies were not so pressing but that I could keep late hours, sometimes several nights in the week at parties?
“Then father, anxious to relieve my evident embarrassment, said, ‘I am sure we can leave these young people safely to themselves, and nothing would please me as well as to take you, my Lord Jesus, off to my study for a talk.’
” ‘No,’ said Jesus, ‘Mable has often invited me and I came tonight especially to be with her. Will you introduce me to your friends, Mable? Some of them I know, but some I do not know.’
“Again that miserable feeling came over me. Why could I not reply, ‘It will afford them and me the greatest pleasure?’ Because, for some reason, I could not feel pleased, and dared not in that Presence use the polite, but untrue, phrase. I simply said, ‘Certainly, if you wish.’
“Of course, all this time, you friends were looking in our direction, wondering at our embarrassment, and perhaps guessing that we had been made uncomfortable by the arrival of a not altogether welcome guest. I led Him first to some of the church members among you, and there was not one of you who looked as comfortable after the introduction as before.
“As it became known whom the guest was, faces changed color, and some of you looked very much as if you would like to leave the room. It really seemed as if the church members were as quite unwilling to meet Jesus as those who were not Christians.
“One of you came up quietly and whispered to me, ‘Shall I tell the musicians not to play the dance music, but to look up some sacred piece?’ Jesus caught the question, and looking us both squarely in the face, He simply asked, ‘Why should you?’ and we could not answer. Someone else suggested that we could have a very pleasant and profitable evening if we should change our original plans and invite Jesus to talk to us. Again He met us with that searching look and that searching question: ‘Why should my presence change your plans?’
“After I had introduced the Lord Jesus to you all, and no one knew what to do next, Jesus turned to me and said, ‘You were planning for dancing, were you not? It is high time you begin or you cannot complete your program before daylight. Will you not give the word to the musicians, Mable?”
“I was at my wit’s end. If my original plan was all right, His presence ought only to add to the occasion, yet here were all my guests, as well as myself, made wretchedly uncomfortable by the presence of Him whom most of us called our best Friend. Determined to throw off this feeling and be myself, at His word I ordered the musicians to play for the first dance.
“The young man with whom I was engaged for that dance did not come to claim me, and no one went on the floor. This was still worse embarrassment. The orchestra played once more, and two or three couples, more to relieve me than for any other reason, began to dance in a rather formal fashion. I was almost beside myself with shame and confusion, when the Lord Jesus turned to me and said, ‘Mable, your guests do not seem at ease. Why do you not, as their hostess, relieve their embarrassment by dancing yourself? Would it help you any if I should offer to dance with you?’
“My confusion gave way to an expression almost of horror, as I looked into those tenderly sad eyes and cried, ‘YOU dance! YOU cannot mean it!’
” ‘Why not, Mable? If my disciples may dance, may not I? Did you think all this winter, when you and others of my disciples have gathered for the dance or card party, that you left me at home or in the church? You prayed for my presence in prayer meeting; you did not quite want it here; but why not my dear child? Why have you not welcomed me tonight, Mable? Why has my simple presence spoiled your pleasure? Though I am “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” yet I delight to share and increase all the pure joys of my disciples. Is it possible that you leave me out of any of your pleasures, Mable? If so, is it not because you felt that they do not help you to become like me and to honor me; that they take your time and strength and thought to such an extent that you have less delight in my Word and in communion with me? You have been asking “What’s the harm?” Have you asked, “What is the gain?” Have you done these things for the GLORY OF GOD?’
“It was all plain to me then. Overcome with self-reproach and profound sorrow I threw myself on the floor at His feet and sobbed out my repentance.
“With a ‘Daughter, go in peace, thy sins be forgiven thee,’ He was gone. I awoke and found that it was all a dream. And now I want to ask you, my friends, shall we go on with the program tonight, or shall we take these lists which we have prepared and discuss for a time with our partners the question: What can young people do to make the world better for their having lived in it?”