John Angell James (1785—1859)
"Lazy hands make a man poor—but diligent hands bring wealth." Proverbs 10:4
"When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider—God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future." Ecclesiastes 7:14
Do not think, Young Men, that in selecting subjects for the last two chapters and a previous one, from the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, I am drawing your attention away from the New Testament to the Old, and investing the latter with an importance superior to that of the former. By no means. Both the portions of the sacred volume belong to the one divine system of revealed truth, and they stand related to each other as the two great lights of the moral world, the sun to rule the day, and the moon to rule the night. The Old Testament, with lunar effulgence borrowed from the yet invisible orb of spiritual day, shone forth upon the Jewish Church during the night season of its existence; while the New Testament, with its own brightness, constitutes the day of our Christian dispensation. But though the sun of righteousness has arisen, the moon is still a valuable member of our spiritual system. Let us then hold fast both parts of the Bible, not neglecting the Books of Moses, David, Solomon, and the Prophets—but, delighting most to study the gospels and epistles, because of their clearer revelation of everything that stands connected with the moral character of God, the person and work of Christ, the way of salvation, and the glories of immortality.
The book of Ecclesiastes, when properly understood, is an important portion of Sacred Scripture. It is on good grounds ascribed to Solomon, and is supposed, as I stated in the last chapter, to have been composed after his recovery from his deplorable apostasy, and to have been intended by him to be a record of his own experience, and a warning, or at any rate a lesson, to mankind. Its chief design seems to be to answer that momentous inquiry, prompted at once by the misery and the ignorance of fallen humanity, "Who will show us any good?" Man is made for happiness, and is capable of it—but what is happiness, and how is it to be obtained? To possess and enjoy it, he must be furnished with some good, suited to his nature, adapted to his condition, and adequate to his capacity and desires.
The nature of the chief good has been, in every age, the interesting subject of most earnest philosophic inquiry. But how various and opposed have been the conclusions at which the inquirers have arrived on this important subject. Varro, a learned Latin writer, who died about thirty years before Christ, reckoned up more than two hundred different opinions on this subject; thus plainly evincing man's ignorance of his own nature, circumstances, and needs.
Not perceiving what it is that has made him miserable, he cannot know what will make him happy. Unacquainted with, or rather overlooking, the disease, he cannot know the remedy. He feels an aching void within, an unsatisfied craving after something—but knows neither the nature nor the source of the food adapted to meet and satisfy his hungry appetite. What human reason is thus proved to be too ignorant and too weak to decide, the Bible undertakes to settle; that which no human authority can adjudicate upon, the oracle of God explicitly, imperatively, and infallibly, determines for all and forever. Precious Bible, if only for this! The vagrant spirit of man is seen wandering from God, the fountain of bliss, roaming through this "dry and thirsty land, where there is no water;" anxiously looking for happiness—but never finding it; coming often to springs that are dry, and to cisterns that are broken, until weary of the pursuit and disappointed in its hopes, it is ready to give up all in despair, and reconcile itself to misery, under the notion that happiness is but a fiction.
In this sad and hopeless mood, the victim of grief and despondency is met by the Bible, which takes him by the hand, and leads him to the fountain of living waters. Such is the design of this extraordinary book, to show first of all what will not make man happy, and then what will. Upon all the most coveted possessions of this world, it pronounces the solemn and impressive sentence, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!" It interrogates singly every coveted object of human desire, and asks, "What are you?" only to receive the melancholy answer, "Vanity." Or if, deceptively, they return another answer, it turns to the man who has possessed and proved them all, and he contradicts their testimony, and mournfully cries, "They are vanity."
In the beginning of the book, Solomon gives this out as the first part of his subject, and then twenty times repeats it, and oftener still alludes to it in the course of his details; and when he has finished his proofs and illustrations, he formally re-announces it in his conclusion. He does not by this sentence intend to pass any censure on the works of nature, the dispensations of Providence, or the arrangement of man's social existence. All things are good in their nature, relations, and designs as God originally made them. But man's sinfulness renders all corrupt to him; he makes those things to be 'ends' which were only intended to be 'means'; rests in what is 'inferior' instead of going on to that which is 'supreme'; and abuses that which is granted him only to use.
Solomon shows in this book, that nothing on earth can satisfy the soul of man, as its supreme good. Three thousand years nearly have passed away since he wrote. Science has multiplied its discoveries, art its inventions, and literature its productions; civilization has opened new sources of luxury, and ingenuity has added innumerable gratifications of appetite and of taste, unknown even to Solomon; every domain of nature has been explored, and every conceivable experiment been made, to extort from her new means of enjoyment, and new secrets of happiness; but still the heart of man confirms the testimony of the king of Israel, and the experience of the human race prolongs the echo of his words, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!"
This, however, is only the negative view of the subject, if all these are vanity and not good, what is good, and is there anything which really deserves the name? There is, and it is the design of this portion of Scripture to reveal and to declare it. What is it? What is the nature and the source of happiness? What is to terminate the weary pursuits, to revive the languid hopes, and to gratify the anxious desires, of destitute and sorrowing people, hungering and thirsting after bliss? What? Wisdom. That wisdom of which I spoke in the last chapter, as constituting the subject of the book of Proverbs—between which portion of Scripture and this Book of Ecclesiastes there is so close a resemblance of design and construction. But what is wisdom? He himself declares in the last chapter, where he sums up the whole of what he had said, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter—Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."
The first six chapters of the book give 'negative views of happiness', and are intended as illustrations of the declaration, "All is vanity:" the remainder is devoted to the illustration of the nature, excellence, and beneficial effects of true wisdom—or true religion. This then, after all the inquiries of philosophers, is the chief good—true religion. This suits the nature, meets the needs, alleviates the sorrows, satisfies the desires, of the human soul, and is its portion forever. This finds man depraved, and makes him holy; finds him little, and makes him great; finds him earthly, and raises him to heaven. This leads the human spirit through the mediation of Christ, into the presence of the infinite, eternal, omnipotent, and all-sufficient Author of its existence, and by the teaching and aid of the Holy Spirit, impels and helps him to say, "You are my portion, O my God. Your favor is life, and your love is better than life. You are the center, the rest, the home of my heart."
Perhaps we shall better understand this book "if we suppose that the author at every step is meeting the arguments of an objector, who contends that the state of things, in the present world, is such as to exclude the idea of a superintending Providence. This objector confounds together, without discrimination as to their fate or fortunes, their merit or desert—the wise and the foolish, goodness and sin. He thus destroys all rational hope for the future, and leaves nothing better to man than that he should eat and drink, and enjoy himself here as well as he can. The author meets, examines, and answers these objections, by exposing the unsatisfactoriness of mere pleasure, and insists on the regality and supremacy of duty." This view of the design and the construction of the book will remove that appearance of an atheistic spirit which seems, in the view of some, to characterize some passages.
Having considered the design of the book, and thrown, I hope, some light upon what appears a little enigmatical, I will proceed to take up the subject of this chapter, and consider success or failure in business.
I will suppose the case of two young men setting out in life with equal advantages as to funds, connections, and prospects. They have gone through their term of apprenticeship, and the intermediate stage of the shopman or the clerk, and have commenced business for themselves. One of them succeeds—from the very beginning of sailing, a propitious gale seems to fill his sails, and a favorable tide to flow in, to help him onward in his course. He makes a prosperous voyage, and enters safely into harbor with a rich cargo. His business flourishes, his money increases, he rises to competency, to respectability, perhaps to wealth. His influence and his rank in society keep pace, of course, with the increase of his opulence.
Such cases often occur in this trading and commercial country. It is only a few days since I was visiting a friend in a town not very far from here, who has recently taken a large house and beautiful grounds, having come to the town with only a few shillings in his pocket. While in this humble condition, one day on gazing at a mansion and its surrounding lawn through the opened gates, he felt the kindlings of desire and ambition in his soul, and said to himself, "I will one day possess such a place as that—if I can." He was an industrious young man, got on in life; became a true Christian, a prosperous tradesman, and now is dwelling in elegance in the house and enjoying the grounds which excited his desires; and what is still better, is giving God the glory of all, and sanctifying his prosperity by Christian liberality. He is also the deacon of a Christian church. I might mention another pious individual, of large fortune, and a member of parliament, who was once a poor boy in a Sunday-school. And indeed, such instances of success are numerous.
There is, however, a dark reverse to all this, which sometimes occurs, I mean an early failure. In this case the ship has no sooner left port than it encounters unfavorable winds, is tossed upon the billows by tempests, and dashed upon the rock, or stranded upon the shore—becomes a wreck. The business commenced with hope terminates in disappointment, and the young tradesman is soon converted into a young bankrupt. This, in such a country as ours, is no uncommon case. May it, Young Men, never be yours.
It is important to inquire into the CAUSES for this difference of result. I put aside the idea of luck. There is no such thing in our world, none in nature, none in human affairs. We must not explain the matter by saying, "It just happened! One was a lucky man—and the other an unlucky one." Luck, if it means nothing more than an event of which the cause is not apparent, is a term that may be employed without error; but if it means, as it generally does, an event which has no cause at all, a mere chance—it is a bad word, a heathen term. Drop it from your vocabulary. Trust nothing to luck, and expect nothing from it. Avoid all practical dependence upon it or its kindred words—fate, chance, fortune.
True it is, that success or failure in business, as in other things, depends often upon a concurrence of circumstances, which no human foresight could foresee, and no human sagacity could arrange; but this is not chance, luck, fate, or fortune—but Providence. There is much of Providence in every man's history, and more of a favorable Providence in some men's history than in others. "The lot is cast into the lap (or urn, the usual way of drawing lots,) but the disposal thereof is of the Lord." Providence no doubt gives advantages to some which it does not bestow upon others. Scripture is full of instances of this kind. How conspicuous was Providence in the history of Joseph! How manifest in the life of Moses! How remarkable in the advancement of David and Mordecai!
In ordinary life we see the same kind and unexpected interpositions on behalf of some favored individuals. Throughout the whole range of Scripture, prosperity is spoken of as the gift of God, as matter of prayer where it is desired, and of grateful acknowledgment where it is possessed. "The rich and the poor have this in common—the Lord made them both"—not merely as men—but as rich or poor men. Therefore believe in Providence. "In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich." Look up for that blessing by constant, earnest, believing prayer. Enter upon life devoutly believing in God, as the God of Providence. Do nothing upon which you cannot ask his blessing, and then seek his blessing upon everything you do. Never forget your dependence upon Him. He can exalt you to prosperity—or sink you into the lowest depth of adversity. He can make everything to which you set your hand to prosper—or to fail. Devoutly acknowledge this. Abhor the infidelity that shuts God out of his own world.
There is a passage, however, which, as it seems to favor an opposite view to this, I will explain. "I have observed something else in this world of ours. The fastest runner doesn't always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn't always win the battle. The wise are often poor, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don't always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being at the right place at the right time." The obvious meaning of this verse is, that while there are some so timid and desponding as to expect nothing from their exertions; there are others so optimistic, bold and self-confident, as to feel almost sure to succeed in everything—and while the preceding verse is intended to stimulate the energies of the former, by showing the benefit of exertion, this verse is designed to check the proud confidence of the latter, by reminding them, that the success of human efforts, is not always in proportion to their ability. "Time and chance happen to all." There are favorable times—and unfavorable times, in the history of all, for the accomplishment of our purposes, over which we can have no command or control—and an endless variety of circumstances, which, as they could not be foreseen and cannot be controlled, may 'appear like chance', and which may frustrate the wisest plans, and render empty the most industrious exertions. All is Providence in determining results.
So that from this well-known and frequently quoted passage, we are not to conclude there is no adaptation of means to ends; no correspondence between the qualities and actions of men and their results; that there is no superior probability of success for the swift more than for the slow; for the strong more than for the weak; for the intelligent more than for the ignorant; for the skillful more than for the foolish. Far from it. For if this were the case—forethought, intelligence, industry, would all be useless—a large portion of Scripture would be contradicted by itself—and the passage proved false by a reference to examples constantly occurring before us. The meaning evidently is, that though these qualities tend to success—they cannot actually ensure it. Such a passage is not intended to discourage industry—but only to check a spirit of proud self-reliance; not to repress the energies and the chastened confidence of the rational man—but to call into exercise the caution and the piety of the dependent one.
It is ever to be remembered, that Providence works by means, and the means employed are those which possess an adaptation to produce the end intended. And since God has appointed means to be employed, we do as much homage to him in using them, as we do in depending upon him for their success; in the one we honor his wisdom, and in the other his power. Hence, therefore, we must, in ordinary cases, look for the means of success, and the causes of failure—in men's own conduct. This is true both in spiritual and temporal things; and is as true in one as the other, for the God of nature and providence, is the God of grace—and there is an analogy between the methods of his procedure in these two departments of his action. In each, second causes are employed; and in each the means are adapted to the end. Let us then examine into the causes of the two different results of success and failure.
I. The possession or lack of ABILITY, cleverness, good judgment, and tact, in business—will often account for success or failure.Success in any department of human action, without a competent knowledge of the means of obtaining it, cannot be expected, and ordinarily never is obtained. It is true an unusual occurrence of what are called fortunate circumstances, may, in some cases, contribute to results not otherwise to be looked for—but they form the exceptions, not the rule. It is undesirable for some young people to be acquainted with such cases, as they may receive from them an unfavorable influence, leading them to trust to what they call luck, rather than ability. It is in the order of nature for intelligence combined with industry to succeed, and you should not let an occasional instance of 'prosperous ignorance', happening now and then—shake your conviction of the necessity of skill and labor. Though in these cases the element of knowledge was in small proportion, the other elements of success in some measure compensated for that deficiency by their abundance—a combination not to be expected in your case.
A man must at all times, especially in this age of competition, thoroughly know not only his own trade—but the principles of trade in general. Business is an art and a science too, and to succeed he must be acquainted with both. He must know how to buy and how to sell. He must be a judge of articles and prices. He must know the markets and the times. In order to this, young men, you must be thoughtful, observant, and diligent—as an apprentice and shopman. You must be neither lovers of pleasure, nor companions of those who are.
Next to true piety, it should be your aim to gain a complete mastery of your trade. Who are the men that usually succeed? Not the dolts, the ill-informed, or the half-informed, but the well-informed. Who are the men that fail? Usually you will find them not the well-informed—but the half-informed, or the ill-informed. Even true religion itself, however eminent, cannot supply the lack of the knowledge and the habits of a good tradesman. Godliness, it is true, is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. But then it is not godliness without other things—but with them. A good and holy young man is not to expect to succeed by the favor of God—without either industry or ability. God's blessing is not to be looked for as a substitute for these. He does not bless 'pious dolts', in whom the lack of ability is the result of neglect. God will not set aside the general laws by which he governs the social world in favor of true religion, any more than he will those of the natural world. Even a seraph, were he incarnate upon earth, would, if he had no acquaintance with earthly affairs, make a bad farmer or a bad manufacturer. Nor will the countenance and support of friends lead to success, without the tradesman's own skill. Who can help an incompetent man? What foreign aid can be a substitute for personal ability? There are some cripples too feeble to walk, even by the help of others. So there are some people too ignorant ever to be helped to succeed. Money will not do without knowledge. The largest amount of this will be soon dissipated, where there is no skill to direct its employment.
Beware of overstocking and trading beyond your capital. A very frequent source of ruin to young tradesmen is their allowing travelers to force upon them too large purchases.
II. Success or failure depend a great deal upon a favorable COMMENCEMENT—a good start.This is true, as a general principle, in application to all things. Bad beginnings may be repaired—but they are not usually. A first wrong step is often, if not always, the beginning of a series of steps all wrong. Great care, caution, circumspection, and forethought, therefore, are necessary here. Many begin too soon—before they have sufficient capital or competent knowledge. They are impatient to be masters, before they are prepared for it. They are unwilling to "bide their time," and they also miscalculate their ability. They are better fitted to obey—than to rule. It is not every good servant that will make an able master, though unquestionably the best preparation for the latter is the former. He who begins with little capital and less experience, commences with fearful disadvantages, and failure has often been the result. Our most successful tradesmen have been cautious, as well as able, men. They have begun perhaps with limited capital—but they did not over-trade with it. They were willing to creep before they walked; to walk before they ran; and to run before they fled. There is an old Latin proverb, which being interpreted, is, "We advance by being slow." Beginning well is a great thing, next to ending well; and the one leads on to the other.
Let there, then, be much reflection, much counsel, much prayer in such an important step as commencing business for yourself. As this, like marriage, is a step for life, let it be taken with care, and think no time lost, or too long, which is necessary to enable you to tread firmly and steadily at the outset. For every 'one' that has repented of beginning too late, 'ten' have repented that they began too soon. Next to seeking counsel from God, by earnest and believing prayer, seek the advice of wise and experienced men.
A young man came to me some years ago, to get a referral to one whom I might know in the neighborhood, who would be willing to give him counsel on the probable success of a business which he had some thoughts of starting. I gave him a letter to one of the most capable men in the country, who very kindly received him, and very wisely and earnestly advised him to abandon the project. But he had set his heart upon it, and, in opposition to the counsel which had been given him, entered upon the business, from which he was very soon glad to escape without being utterly ruined. Do not first make up your mind—and then ask advice afterwards. Reverse this order, and go to the wise and experienced man first, and defer to his responses.
III. Success and failure are dependent upon DILIGENCE on the one hand—or neglect and indolence on the other.For proofs of this, I refer you to that invaluable book which was the subject of my last chapter, and to your own reason and observation. I have already quoted one passage from the Proverbs, which says, "The blessing of the Lord makes rich." I now add to it another, "The hand of the diligent makes rich." Both are true, and they stand related to each other, as the instrumental and the efficient cause. Man's industry cannot be successful without God's blessing, and God's blessing is not bestowed without man's industry. The Lord's providential visits are never granted to loiterers. Moses, David, and the shepherds at Bethlehem, were all keeping their flocks, and Gideon was at his threshing floor—when God's revelations were made to them.
How is slothfulness exposed, condemned, branded, in God's book! Let a man have ever so good a knowledge of his business; let him begin with all the advantage of capital, connections, and situation; yet if he is of an indolent or self-indulgent habit; a late riser; a lover of pleasure; a gossiping neighbor; a zealous political partizan, more busy in improving the State than in minding his own concerns; he will soon furnish another evidence of the truth of Solomon's words, "He becomes poor, who works with a slack hand." Weigh well, then, young men, the import of that momentous word, diligence! You remember the anecdote of Demosthenes, who, on being asked the first grace of public speaking, replied, "Delivery." The second? "Delivery." The third? "Delivery." So if asked what is the first qualification of a successful tradesman? I answer, "Diligence." The second? "Diligence." The third? "Diligence." Write it upon your hearts. Keep it ever before your eyes. Let it be ever sounding in your ears. Let it be said of you, as was affirmed of that admirable and holy missionary, Henry Martyn, when he was at college, "That he was known as the man who never lost an hour."
IV. Method, EFFICIENCY and system, have much to do with failure or success.In this I include promptness, as opposed to procrastination. No habit can be more fatal to success than the wretched disposition of postponing until another time that which ought to be done, and can be done, at once. PROCRASTINATION has ruined millions for both worlds! There is a class of adverbs which some men appear never to have studied—but which are of immense importance in all the affairs both of time and eternity. I mean the words, "instantly;" "immediately;" "at once;" "now;" for which they have unhappily substituted, "shortly;" "by and bye;" "tomorrow;" "at some future time." Young men, catch the inspiration of that weighty monosyllable "now!" Yield to the potency of that word "instantly!" But to use a still more business-like term, acquire a habit of "promptness." And in order to this, do not only something immediately—but do immediately the thing that ought to be done first. Punctuality is of immense consequence.
It has been humourously said, "Some people seem to have been born half an hour after their time, and they never catch up all their lives." In the present busy age, when business is so extended and complicated, and when, of course, one man is so dependent upon another, and oftentimes many upon one—a lack of punctuality is not only a fault—but a vice, and a vice which inflicts an injury not only upon the transgressor himself—but upon others who have been waiting for him. "You have caused us to lose an hour," said a gentlemen to another, for whose appearance twelve people had been waiting. "Oh, that is impossible," replied the laggard, "for it is only five minutes after the time." "Very true," was the rejoinder, "but here are twelve of us, each of whom has lost five minutes."
He who keeps servants, customers, or creditors waiting, through his lack of punctuality, can never prosper. This is as irreligious as it is injurious, inasmuch as the apostle has commanded us to "redeem the time."
ORDER is no less essential to system and success than promptness and punctuality. Order, it is said, is heaven's first law, an aphorism as true of earth as it is of heaven, and as applicable to the movements of trade as of the stars. A place and a time for everything, and everything in its place and time—is the rule of every successful tradesman. A disorderly and irregular man may be diligent, that is may be ever in a bustle, a very different thing from a well-regulated activity—but his lack of order defeats everything. The machinery of his habits may have velocity and power—but its movements are irregular and eccentric, and therefore unproductive—or productive only of uncertain, incomplete, and sometimes mischievous results. A disorderly man wastes not only his own time—but that of others who are dependent upon, and waiting for him; nor does the waste stop here, for what a useless expenditure of energy and a painful sacrifice of comfort are ever going on with him.
V. ECONOMY has a most powerful influence in determining the failure or success of a young tradesman.This applies to personal trade and domestic expenses—and the man who would succeed in life must reduce them all to the lowest prudent level. In order to keep down the expenses of trade, he must do with as little hired help as he can; and to accomplish this, he must be a hard worker himself, until he has attained to that level of prosperity, when he can do more with his eyes and his ears—than with his hands and feet.
As to personal expenses, let him avoid all unnecessary consumption of money in dress and ornaments. Let it be no part of your ambition, young men, to be noticed and admired for fine dress and ornamentation. It is a very groveling ambition to be complimented for that with which the draper, the merchant, and the jeweler, may bedeck the greatest fool in existence! How base and petty is foppery, compared with an enlightened mind, a dignified character, and the beauties of holiness.
I am not an advocate for either inferior dressing, or slovenliness. Cleanliness and neatness border upon virtue, as excessive foppery and extravagance do upon vice. It is unworthy of a female to be inordinately fond of dress; but for a man to love finery is despicable indeed!
Avoid also the love of pleasure, for "he who loves pleasure shall be a poor man." Never were truer words uttered. The man who is bent upon what is called "enjoying himself," who will have his mirthful companions, his amusements, and his frequent seasons of recreation. The man who is fond of parties, entertainments, the gaming table, the ball room, the concert, and the theater—is on the high road to poverty in this world, and to hell in the next! Let the lover of pleasure read the history of Sampson in the Old Testament, and of the Prodigal in the New; and also let him turn back to the illustrations contained in the last chapter.
If you would have economical habits as a master, cultivate them as a servant. Begin now and persevere. But you must carry out the principle of economy into your home. Frugality in the home is a virtue—and extravagance a vice! If you would have elegance and luxuries at the close of life—be content with necessaries at the beginning of it. He who must have excessiveness at the beginning—will in all probability have scarcity at the end. Let your furniture, your style of living, your whole domestic establishment, be all arranged upon the principle of a rigid, though not miserly, economy. Never aim to cover over poverty by extravagance, nor adopt the false principle that image is necessary to success. Such conduct often defeats its own end, by exciting suspicion and undermining credit.
Wise creditors have keen and vigilant eyes, that look not only at the shop—but penetrate into the dining and drawing room, and thus watch the mode of living as well as of doing business. They deal more readily and upon better terms with the frugal man, than with the extravagant one. The basis of credit is laid in economical simplicity and plain living, not in extravagant splendor; just as the foundation of a house consists of unadorned bricks and unsculptured stone, and not of carved and gilded wood. It is the diligent and frugal man who is considered the trustworthy one. But while I recommend economy, I would with equal force condemn the penny-pinching; and reprobate, with stronger language still, a lack of honesty. There have been men of fine talents, and otherwise excellent character, who have well near ruined themselves by a spirit of penny-pinching and starveling economy, which grudged the very means of success. There have been even professing Christians, and some of great benevolence too, who, from education or habit, have been so penny-pinching in some of their financial transactions, as to throw a dark shade over their character.
Economy, when rigid, has not infrequently degenerated into sordid avarice. Hence the necessity of your being on your guard against the basest of all vices, the most despicable of all passions, and the most insatiable of all appetites—an excessive love of money. It is very striking to observe how seemingly opposite dispositions are balanced in the word of God. How is industry commended and slothfulness condemned in that precious volume; and yet in that same Book it is said, "Labor not to be rich." "Labor not for that bread which perishes." "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth." "But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows."
Does not this look like contradiction? If it does, it is not so in reality. These seemingly opposing passages are intended to teach us that we are neither to despise money—nor to be fond of it. I know it is difficult to define covetousness; to draw the line with precision between the idolatry and contempt of wealth; and to state that exact regard to money which industry requires to stimulate and reward its energies, and which both reason and revelation justify. When, however, wealth is considered as the chief end of life, and is sought exclusively, to the entire neglect of true religion; when it is pursued at the expense of principle and honor; when it is the first thing coveted, and the last thing relinquished; when it is loved for its own sake, instead of its uses; when it is hoarded for the sake of mere accumulation, instead of being diffused for God's glory and man's benefit; when it is regarded as the standard of individual importance both for ourselves and others; it has then become the tyrant of the soul, which it has enslaved, it may be with fetters of silver and gold—but which is not the less a miserable slave, because of the splendor and value of its manacles.
VI. PERSEVERANCE is also necessary to success.Without this nothing good or great can be achieved in our world. Success is not so much a creation, as a gradual formation; a slow accumulation. In business it usually proceeds on the principle of arithmetical progression, until at a certain stage, and in some few instances, it changes its ratio of increase to that of geometrical progression. The ascent in life is usually the reverse of that of a mountain. In the latter case the steepest part is near the summit; in the former, at the base. Both, however, require perseverance. He who would succeed, must not expect to reach his object by a light, easy, and elastic bound—but by many a successive and weary step, and occasionally, perhaps, by a step backwards. He must go on sometimes amid discouragement, and always with labor. There are some who cannot succeed, because they will not wait for it. If success does not come immediately, they will not follow after it. They are as impatient as the foolish child that sowed his seed in the morning, and went to bed hopeless and crying because he did not see it springing up before sunset. Be ever hopeful, prayerful, and persevering. "In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening withhold not your hand, for you know not whether shall prosper either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good." "Behold the husbandman waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and has long patience for it. You also be patient."
VII. The possession or the lack of TRUE PIETY will have considerable influence in producing success or failure.Not that I mean to say all religious people will be prosperous, and that all irreligious ones will sink to adversity. But as genuine piety contains most of those qualities which tend to success; while sin, where it leads on, as it frequently does, to vice, tends to ruin. God has better promises than of wealth and honor for his people—even of glory everlasting. But then, godliness, as I have often said, has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come. Wisdom, as we saw in the last chapter, has riches and honor in her right hand for many who submit to her sway. It is quite certain that many of those who have come to poverty and ruin have been dragged down by iniquity—while many have succeeded who owed their prosperity to their piety. We have examples of this in holy Scripture. True religion made Joseph prosper in the house of Potiphar, and raised him to the eminence he obtained in Egypt. True religion elevated David to the throne of Israel. True religion made Daniel prime minister of Babylon. True religion made Nehemiah governor of Judea. And although we should not expect such great rewards, piety may still bring prosperity. Piety is the parent of virtue, the protector of health, the nurse of economy, the patron of industry, the guardian of integrity, the prompter of knowledge, and thus the guide to success and the helper of prosperity.
And now let me set before you the two young men whom I have supposed to set out in life together, the one actually failing, and the other succeeding, in business. Failure is a word, in such an application of it, pregnant with terrors. What a variety, complication, and depth of sorrows, are there in that very simple, and not uncommon expression, "He has failed in business." If you are happily unable by reflection—may you never be able by experience—to grasp that comprehension of wretchedness. Now, young men, I present the fearful subject, the dreadful possibility to you, first of all, to excite a desire, a deep concern, an earnest solicitude, that in your case it may never be realized. Prevention is better than cure. It is easier to avert ruin by industry and economy, than to bring back prosperity when it has once departed. Be this easier task, then, your first care and endeavor. For you, ruin is yet, happily, only pictured; a scene for the imagination to contemplate—except, indeed, as the reality is seen in the history of some acquaintance. Though it is not well to fill your mind with dark imaginings and gloomy forebodings, lest such thoughts become predictions, and the predictions verify, by fulfilling, themselves—yet is it well to look at the dreadful picture, not in order to quail before it—but to bring up your mind to this determination—"By God's grace upon my own intelligence, industry, economy, and perseverance, this shall never be my lot; but if, in the mysteries of Providence, it should befall me, it shall not be made more dreadful by the venom of self-reproach—it shall come from the ordination of God, and not from my own misconduct."
Still I will suppose that you may, and that some of you will,FAIL. What then? The answer to this depends upon the causes of the disaster. I will not deny that this, in some cases, is to be traced entirely to the dispensations of Providence, without any blame to the individual himself. I would not break the bruised reed, by heaping censure upon one who is an object of pity and sympathy. I would not pour vinegar into the wounds of his lacerated heart, and quite crush his broken spirits, by telling him that his misfortunes are his faults. If, after exercising the abilities and virtues of a good tradesman, after struggling hard and long, it should be your lot to be compelled to yield to difficulties utterly insuperable by skill and labor, in that case, first of all, bow with submission to the will of God. Indulge no hard thoughts of God. Suppress a gloomy hopelessness, a sullen despondence, a comfortless grief. Call in true religion to your aid. Open your Bible. Pour out your heart in prayer. Believe in God, in Providence, in Christ. Take it as a matter to be relied upon—that there is some wise and merciful end to be answered by these painful events.
Perhaps you were setting out in life forgetful of God. You were striving to make yourself happy without Him. You were entering upon your career in a state of 'practical atheism'. Success in business would have been your spiritual ruin. The gain of the world would have been the loss of your soul. God spoke unto you in what you thought was your prosperity, and you would not hear; and now he calls to you in harsher tones, and says to you in the language of the text—Consider! Consider the Author of your troubles, that they come from God—their cause, that sin is the bitter fountain of every bitter stream—their design, to do you good—and their impressive lesson, to teach the vanity of all things earthly, and the necessity of a better portion for man's heart.
Ah! young man, you have indeed sorrowfully proved the uncertainty of all earthly things. How soon and suddenly has the beautiful prospect, which expanded before your admiring eyes, been covered with mist and gloom! How have all the ardent hopes which such a scene inspired, withered in your soul and left it bleak and desolate! Well, amid the fragments of your broken cisterns, now look up to the great fountain of happiness, pouring out its never-failing streams before you. Earth has failed—now turn to heaven. The world has disappointed you—now turn to true religion. The creature has forsaken you—now turn to the Creator. All is not lost. Besides, you may yet recover. You have failed—but it is in early life, not in its decline. You have the main portion of existence yet before you, and have health and vigor on your side and in your favor; and, in the case I am supposing, with your character unimpaired and your principles unsuspected. It may be only a step back—to spring forward with greater vigor. It may be prosperity postponed—not put off forever. This painful experience might be necessary for you. It may be to prevent a sudden overabundance which would have been fatal to you. Do not abandon hope. Do not let the main-spring be broken. Do not give yourself to despair. The sun has not gone down—but is only veiled with a cloud. Begin afresh, make good use of your experience. Look up for God's blessing—and you will have it.
But where the failure is the result of blameworthy conduct—what shall be said? Even here I would not be harsh, severe, and reproachful—but would blend tenderness with fidelity. Be humble before God. Your lack of attention, industry, and economy—is a sin to be confessed to Him—as well as a matter to be bewailed on your own account. You have neglected God's commands—as well as your own interests. You have abused the gifts of Providence—as well as trifled with your own happiness. And you cannot be in a right state of mind without penitence, humiliation, and confession. God is displeased with you—and you must seek his forgiveness through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
You must take care to blame yourself, not God, for your present situation. Especially must you be careful not to apply to wrong sources of relief. Misfortune and misconduct have led, in thousands of instances, to drinking. Broken in fortune, and equally broken in spirit, men have endeavored to gain a momentary oblivion of their sorrows in the exhilaration or stupefaction of intoxicating liquor. Dreadful resort! What is this but to add crime to misery; and when the effect of the poisonous draught is over, to overwhelm the miserable dupe of intoxication with sorrows envenomed by the stings of remorse? It is, indeed a horrible idea—but one that is often realized, that drunkenness should select some of its many victims from the ranks of misfortune, and thus complete the ruin which incompetency or indolence had begun, by depriving the subject of it of all power and all disposition to retrieve his position.
But I now, in contrast, take up the case of those whoSUCCEED; a happy, and I rejoice to think, not a very small class. It is a delightful, and to you, my young friends, an encouraging thought, that success, varied of course in degrees, is the rule—and failure the exception. Conceive then of the man who, by the blessing of God upon his ability, industry, and economy, makes good his ground, and advances in life to respectable competency; perhaps to affluence. The Scriptures calls upon him to be joyful, a state of mind, in which, without such call, he is likely to be found. A Christian is to be joyful not only in—but for, his prosperity. His joy, however, should be a religious, not a sensual, joy. He is not to express his delight by conviviality, extravagance, splendor, and all the other delights of sense and taste. He is piously to trace up all his prosperity to God. He is not boastfully to look round upon his possessions, and say, "My own hand has gotten this for me!" and thus, to use the language of the prophet, "Then they will worship their nets and burn incense in front of them. 'These nets are the gods who have made us rich!' they will claim."
Let your joy be subordinate to a higher and nobler felicity, I mean the felicity derived from true religion. Prosperity, if it has its joys—has also its snares. It is, as regards the moral character, the interests of the soul, and man's eternal destiny, a most perilous condition. "How hard it is for those who have riches enter into the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." "The prosperity of fools shall slay them." Multitudes have lost their souls in gaining a fortune. Their wealth has been their curse—their gold, the weight that dragged them down to the bottomless pit. And after all, "What shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" The whole world is no more compensation for the loss of the soul, than a feather or a grain of sand. "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." Be made happy by true religion. "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say rejoice."
But the best way to use, to enjoy, and even to preserve prosperity, is to sanctify it by true religion, and to employ it for Christian liberality. Set out in life with the intelligent, deliberate, and fixed determination, that if you should succeed in business, your prosperity shall in due measure be consecrated to the cause of God and man. Already make up your mind to this opinion—that the chief design and highest enjoyment of wealth, is diffusion rather than accumulation. Instead of admiring the men whom you see living in splendid houses, rolling about in gay equipages, and faring sumptuously every day; but who all this while are known by their grandeur—but not by their generous spirit, liberality, and good works; fix your delighted gaze upon those nobler spirits, who while sustaining with propriety, yet simplicity, the rank which Providence has assigned to them in society, are economical, so that they may be liberal—and are redeeming time from business, ease, and elegant retirement, to glorify God and bless the needy. Look at the Howards, the Wilberforces, the Thorntons, the Wilsons, the Reynoldses; men who gave their talents, their influence, and their lives, for the benefit of the slave, the prisoner, and the debtor; who renounced in some cases, the gains of business, for the pursuits of benevolence; and in others, carried it on to have larger means to assist the cause of humanity and true religion; who lived for others rather than for themselves; and who had far more enjoyment while they lived, and will ever have far more honor after their death, than the sordid and selfish, whose wealth, while it did little to make them happy or respected upon earth, will neither preserve their names from oblivion, nor yield them a fragment of reward in heaven.
But wait not until you are rich before you begin to be benevolent. Let the beginnings of your success be consecrated by the beginnings of your devotedness. I knew a Christian philanthropist, Mr. Broadley Wilson, who set out in life by consecrating a tenth of his income to God. He did this when he had but a hundred a year. He became at length possessed of eight thousand a year, and having no children, he did not then satisfy himself with the tithe, as he had commenced—but spent less than two thousand a year on his own simple and graceful home, and gave all the rest away. How much happier, as well as holier, was that Christian man, than those who hoard for they know not who; or than those who lavish their wealth on splendor, luxury, extravagance, and pleasure—and, oh! the different reception he will meet with at the judgement of God where wealth must be accounted for; and in eternity, where the successful—but irreligious worldling will remember, and be punished for, his unsanctified prosperity!
And now let me remind you that this alternative of failure or success exists also, as to the great trial ever going on in this world, and which must issue in the ruin or the salvation of your immortal soul. You are here upon a probation for eternity. Your chief business is true religion—your supreme object should be immortality. He who is enabled to repent, to believe, and to lead a holy life, notwithstanding the temptations by which he is surrounded; who thus obtains the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory; though he should fail in everything else, may look round upon the wreck of all his hopes, prospects, and fortunes, exulting even now in the greatness and the grandeur of his success, and shall stand at the last day, upon the ashes of the globe, after the general conflagration, exclaiming, "I have lost nothing!"
While he who so far succeeds as to gain everything else that is dear to ambition, to avarice, and to sensuality—but fails to obtain the one thing needful, the salvation of his soul, stands now, amid all his prosperity, a miserable instance of failure in all the great objects of man's immortal being—shall be seen in the day of judgment, a ruined and lost immortal, and shall wander forever through the universe, with this awful exclamation, "I have voluntarily, deliberately, and irrecoverably incurred a failure, which it will require an eternity to understand, and an eternity to deplore!"