A new year's address to the Young Men's Christian
Association, by John Angell James, 1850
"This one thing I do. Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14)
We meet you today, young men, with our sincere and friendly congratulations, and in no merely formal or simulated manner, offer you the compliments of the season, and "Wish you a happy new year," more than this, a happy life, and still beyond this, a happy eternity. Time, with ceaseless flow rolls onward, and is ever bearing you on its resistless stream to the boundless ocean of eternity. Yes, to eternity! Yet not to eternal annihilation, but to everlasting conscious existence. As you stand upon the threshold of another year pause and ponder—the past is forever gone. Survey the scene before you, and learn your destiny, your dignity, your duty. An interminable prospect of perpetual existence, a vista of endless ages, yes, and of bliss too, opens before you if you adopt, in the meaning he attached to it, the motto of the Apostle which heads this address, and say, in reference to that object—'this one thing I do'. He intended by it, not his office as an ambassador of Christ, but his final salvation as an immortal being.
There is something striking in seeing a rational creature select one object from the many which surround him, holding it up to public notice, with the declaration, "for this I live," and from that moment pursuing it with the ardor of a lover, the fidelity of a servant, the courage of a hero, and the constancy of a martyr. Such a power of abstraction and concentration is a fine spectacle. But then the object selected should be worthy of it—and should repay the great effort. Man has but one life to spend, and he should be careful, anxiously, yes almost painfully careful, not to throw it away upon an undeserving object. Think of his coming to the close of his brief and troubled sojourn in this world with the melancholy confession, "Life with me has been a lost adventure."
We would help you to guard against this catastrophe, and assist you so to select your object, and lay your plan, that after a prosperous, happy, and useful life, even death itself, instead of being the wreck of your hopes, shall prove the consummation of your hopes, and be your eternal gain.
This address comes to you from a body of young men, entitled "The Young Men's Christian Association," who are banded together by the ties of a holy brotherhood to encourage and assist one another in pursuing and securing the highest and noblest end of human existence. We have made our choice; our judgment and conscience approve the selection; it stands continually before us in the wilderness of life, visible, grand, and distinct, like the Pyramids of Egypt to the traveler in the desert; and in the exercise of a benevolence which the object itself inspires, we are anxious to engage others of our age, gender, and circumstances in the same pursuit.
Our one thing, our chief end of life, is the same as the Apostle's, the pursuit of glory, honor, immortality; our hope is the possession of eternal life; and our way of seeking it "a patient continuance in well-doing." There it is before you in all its simplicity, and, we may add, in all its sublimity. Can language furnish such a more striking arrangement of words; or thought, such another association of things? "Glory," that after which millions have panted, and to which the strongest aspirations of the human soul have been directed. "Honor," or renown, which has inflamed the ambition of many of the loftiest spirits of our race, and made them willing to sacrifice ease, time, wealth, and too often, principle and conscience. "Immortality," after which "the whole creation travails in pain together until now." And all these merging in that one immense and infinite possession, "Eternal Life". Such is our one thing. Have we any reason to be ashamed of our choice? If this be little, where in all the universe is anything great? If this be degrading, where can anything be found to elevate?
There are many secondary and subordinate ends of life, but there can be only one that is supreme. We know that we are rational creatures, and that we ought to improve our minds by reading and study; that we are to be tradesmen, and are striving to excel in the knowledge of our business; that we are, in all probability, to be at the head of families, and are preparing to "provide things honest in the sight of all men;" that we are members of society, and are endeavoring to form in ourselves the character of the good citizen, and seeking to act well our part in the great drama of human life. We hope we neglect none of these things; but then we are entirely convinced and duly impressed with the thought that there is something besides and above all these things—that we are God's creatures, continually dependent upon Him, and ought to seek first of all to please our Creator—that we are sinners, and feel it our most pressing business to obtain salvation—and that we are immortal creatures, and must, therefore, surely consider it to be our most momentous interest to possess eternal life. This great object then we have adopted for ourselves, and now propose to you as the chief end of life.
Such a decision rests of course upon our conviction of the truth of God's revealed will in the Holy Scriptures. If these are human inventions, we are deluded and are the dupes of imposture; but if they are a Divine revelation, we are right, and are following the dictates of reason in yielding to those of religion. Aware of the abounding of infidelity and false philosophy, we have examined this subject for ourselves, and have arrived at the conclusion that a volume, accredited by proofs so numerous, various, and harmonious, must be what it claims to be—the word of God. In the miracles of our Lord and his apostles, so diversified and so multiplied, and wrought not in private but in public, not merely before the eyes of friends but of foes; in the fulfillment of ancient predictions too extraordinary in their nature, delivered too long beforehand, to be the contrivances of foresight, and too many to be resolved into curious coincidences; in the success of Christianity by the labors of fishermen, and against the secular powers of the world; in the contents of the Bible itself, so extraordinary, so sublime, and so pure; in the changes which Christianity has wrought; in its continuance to the present day, notwithstanding all the enemies with which it has had to contend; and in its present attitude as now preparing, under the auspices of the most learned, scientific, wealthy, and powerful nations of the earth, for universal conquest. In all these views of it we see proofs, each strong in itself and possessing unitedly a cumulative force, which satisfy us, whatever difficulties in other respects may be presented from the nature of the subjects, that this is surely the word of God. And if anything else were needed to complete the chain of evidence, we find this in the change it has wrought in us, and which that precious volume calls, "The witness in ourselves."
Guided then by this volume, we have been led to see that the salvation of the immortal soul, and a preparation for heaven, form the great end of man's life upon earth. In other words, that true religion is our great business in this world.
By religion we do not mean merely the adoption of a creed, the performance of a round of ceremonies, or the observance of certain ordinances; but in addition to all this, and as the animating principle of all, "Repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ;" a mind, heart, conscience, and practice regulated by the word of God; in short, the new birth, justification by faith, and a holy life.
This, we again say, is with us the chief end of our existence, and we now hold it forth for your adoption in reference to yourselves, and on examination it will be found to contain all that such an object should include, and we entreat you to give to the following statement your most serious and devout consideration.
That which is intended to be the chief end of life must be in itself a legitimate object of pursuit, and must be lawful both in the sight of God and man, such as the law of God and our own consciences shall approve. To choose any other would involve us in perpetual rebellion against God, and in conflict with ourselves. To set up a forbidden object of pursuit would make our own bosom the seat of perpetual internal warfare. Now that true religion is legitimate need not be proved. It is, in fact, the only thing which, as a supreme end, is lawful. Many others are lawful as subordinate ends, but as primary, chief, and ultimate, they are forbidden and made contraband. For what says our Lord, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."
That which is the chief end of life should be appropriate to our own situation and circumstances, a something that appertains to us as individuals, and in which we have a personal interest. No one can be expected to set up as the object of existence that in which he has no interest, and in the results of which he has no share. It is very affecting to see a man wearing out life, and exhausting his energies, upon something which has no just claim upon his attention, and does not connect itself at all, or but very slightly and remotely, with his best and eternal interests. This cannot be said of religion in reference to you, for it is your business; it appertains to you; to none more than to you. You each have an immortal soul which must be saved or lost; and only by true religion can it be saved. To you the admonition is addressed, "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth." There is not in our world an individual to whom this subject more belongs than you, or on whom it has stronger claims.
The chief object of life must be something IMPORTANT. As a rational creature a man could not be justified in setting up a mere trifle as the end and purpose of existence. It marks a low and abject state of mind, or at any rate, great childishness of taste, to allow the thoughts feelings and aspirations, to be attracted, as to their center, to a mere triviality. God has given to man noble faculties, and to see them all devoted to some mere petty trifle, as their supreme aim—is a sad and a humiliating spectacle! We are anxious that both you and ourselves should be living for something worthy of our nature, something congruous to our powers of intellect, will, heart, memory, and conscience; something that shall make us conscious we are not living below ourselves. And where can we find anything that answers to this so well as piety, salvation, eternal life? This is not only really to live for immortality, but is the only way to do so in the fullest sense of the term. Literature, science, philosophy, and the arts, in this relation, must all yield to religion. This is to have fellowship with "the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the glorious company of the apostles, and the noble army of martyrs;" this is to enter into bonds with the holy of every age, country, and church; yes, it is to rise into "the fellowship of the Father, and of his Son Jesus Christ."
The chief object of life must be something which is in harmony with God's chief end in placing us in this world. God has placed us here; he has an end in doing so; and nothing ought to be our chief end but what is consonant with his. To neglect this is to wage perpetual war with the Divine will; and we know who has said, "Woe be to him who contends with his Maker." Would you engage in such a conflict? Would you run contrary to his will, and let your schemes be ever in opposition to his? What a fearful reflection for any one to make, "I am opposing God by my mode of life!" On the contrary, how ennobling and comforting the thought, "I am of one mind with my Maker!" No man can say this who is not making true religion his great business, and living for the salvation of his soul; for this is God's chief end in sending us into this world.
That which we select as the chief object of life must be something ATTAINABLE. In setting out upon the pursuit of any object, much more our supreme one, we should ascertain that it is within our reach, and one which we may hope, by taking proper steps, and using proper diligence, to obtain. It is a grievous sight to behold a person following some mere vision of imagination, bestowing immense labor and wealth, and absorbing nearly all his time, in the pursuit of an object, which everybody besides himself clearly sees is beyond his attainment. "Poor man," we exclaim, "he is beating the air, running after shadows, aiming at impossibilities." But this cannot be affirmed of true religion and salvation; all the duties and privileges of the one, all the glories and the felicities of the other, are within your reach. It is the transcendent excellence of true religion to be of all things the most valuable in its nature, and at the same time the most certain of attainment by all who seek it earnestly, perseveringly, and scripturally. The uncertainties and disappointments incident to other matters, are not experienced in regard to this. The language of Christ is, "Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Luther said he loved the Bible on account of those pronouns, "mine" and "yours." He might have added, and because of those verbs "will" and "shall." In other matters there is only possibility or probability; but here there is certainty. You may succeed in business, you will succeed in religion.
The one great object of life should preserve an undying and unchanging importance and value, through every change of existence and every vicissitude of circumstances. It would be unwise for anyone to embark all his energies, time, wealth, and interest, in the pursuit of an object which, however important it may be to him at one time, and in one situation, would be of no importance to him in very many others in which he might, and, in all probability, would be placed. Not a few have engaged in such folly; and after immense pains, at some future period have had to say, "After all I have done, I have outlived the value of my object; whatever service it may have been to me at one time, it is of no service to me now."
The one thing then must, as to its importance, be commensurate with our whole existence. How strictly does this apply to true piety. It will be the guide of our youth, the comfort of our manhood, and the staff of our old age. If we succeed in life, it will preserve us from the snares of prosperity; and if we fail, it will be our solace in adversity. Should we be exposed to the temptations of bad company, it will be our shield; or, if we should dwell much alone, it will be the comforter of our solitude. It will guide us in the choice of a companion for life, sweeten the cup of marital happiness, and survive the severance of every earthly tie. It will refresh us with its cooling shade amidst the heat and burden of life's busy day, be the evening star of our declining years, and our lamp in the dark valley of the shadow of death, and then rise with us as our eternal portion in the realms of immortality. Like its Divine author, "It is the same yesterday, today, and forever."
Whatever is the supreme end of life, it must be in harmony with, and not in opposition to the secondary and subordinate ends of life. Duties cannot clash, obligations cannot be in antagonism. It can be no man's duty to do two things which are at that time directly and necessarily opposed to each other. There are situations and circumstances in which, what in other circumstances would be a duty, ceases to be any longer such, because of the presence of an object of superior claims. Now that cannot be the great object of life, which prevents us from seeking even lesser ones in themselves legitimate and proper. It is somewhat repulsive to see a person absorbed in an object, by the nature of which, as well as by the time devoted to it, he is unfitted for, and disinclined to, the pursuit of anything else. The claims of his own personal interests, of his family, of his country, of his race, are all superseded and forgotten in the paramount demands of that one all engrossing pursuit. By that one pursuit he has unfitted himself for, and detached himself from, everything else. This cannot be right.
If true religion were indeed what too many of the votaries of superstition represent it—a gloomy seclusion in monasteries, convents, and hermitages, where every tie that binds us to this world is severed—it could not be of God, nor would it be the supreme end of life. But this is not Christianity. There is not a single legitimate end of life which is in the smallest degree interfered with by this high and sacred business. No man is made the worse citizen, master, servant, husband, father, son, or brother—by attending to this momentous subject. True religion assists, instead of hindering, every lawful interest that man has on earth. It sheds a benignant smile upon all his proper pursuits, and stretches out a helping hand to assist him in carrying them forward. "Godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come." The beautiful allegory of Solomon will be found true. "Wisdom [true religion] is more precious than rubies; and all the things you can desire are not to be compared with her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand, riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold upon her; and happy is everyone who retains her."
That which is selected as the chief end of life, should amply reward the labor of pursuit. It should not when realized, lead the possessor in a tone, and with feelings of bitter disappointment, to exclaim, "And is this all?" To spend life with no reward at all, or with no adequate reward, is exceedingly to be dreaded and deprecated. It is a loss and a sacrifice for which there can be no compensation. Now, whatever may be said of the inadequacy of any other object of human pursuit to remunerate the anxiety and labor of acquiring it, no such imputation belongs to this. It is the supreme good. True religion is its own reward. We ourselves, from whom this address goes forth, can testify this. If we were ever under the delusion that piety is inimical to happiness, we have long since found by experience that piety is true happiness. This has been alleged only by those who have never tried it by personal experience; we have tried both sides, the pleasures of the world, and the pleasures of piety; and have found that between them there is all the difference that lies between mere passing amusement and true happiness.
In the days of our mirth and folly we were diverted, now we are satisfied; then we said, in ignorant anxiety, "Who will show us any good?" knowing neither what happiness was, nor how it was to be obtained, but still supposing it must be something to be seen, handled, or tasted, a mere gratification of the senses and appetites. Now we are enabled, intelligently and contentedly to say, "Lord, lift up the light of your countenance upon us! You are the fountain of life, and in your light we shall see light." We once had joys, aptly described as "the crackling of thorns beneath a pot," a mere blaze, noisy, smoky, and transient. We now have bliss like "the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day." And all this is only the pledge of that perfect and eternal felicity which we look for when we shall arrive in "the presence of God, where there is fullness of joy, and at his right hand where there are pleasures for evermore." Such are our views of the great object of existence; and such we now commend to your most serious attention.
Young men, we implore you to give this subject your serious consideration. You, like ourselves, are just setting out on life's eventful journey. O say, should there be no plan laid down, no purpose formed for such a course? Shall life be aimless, objectless, meaningless? What life? Shall we trust to incidents and casualties as they spring up—for our plan of action? Shall we float down the stream of existence like twigs on the river, and lie at the mercy of whatever can lay hold upon us? Shall mere chance form our character, select our objects, guide our conduct? Remember, we can have but one life. All, all, for time and for eternity too, is staked upon that one throw of the dice, and embarked in that one adventure. Character and destiny for this world and the next are involved in this one life. "The wheels of time are not made to roll backwards;" nor is the experiment for eternity ever to be repeated. A misspent life can never be spent over again! A fault committed in reference to the chief end of existence can never be rectified. It is a mistake on which death sets the seal of eternity, a mistake which will require everlasting ages to understand and deplore it.
If you hesitate about our choice of the end of existence, will you allow us respectfully and affectionately to inquire what you would propose instead of it? What have you found so immensely valuable, that it is more worthy of your pursuit than that which we have set before you? If it is indeed better than ours, more deserving the regard of a rational, moral, and immortal being than religion and eternal salvation, tell it to us, that we may rise to a higher dignity and bliss than we have yet reached.
Do you say that your object is "To succeed in business, and to obtain WEALTH?" We are not indifferent to this as a subordinate object, and we believe, as we have already said, that our religion will rather help than hinder us in the attainment of it. But as a supreme object of existence—it is too uncertain as to its attainment, too unsatisfying as regards its nature, and too precarious as to its tenure, and too short-lived as to its continuance, to be our supreme end. We have not seen much of life, but we have seen enough to learn that many fail in business, where one succeeds; and that the few who succeed seem by no means the happiest. And we have also been often sadly impressed and affected by the spectacle of the successful competitor for business and wealth, cut off by death—just when the time had arrived for enjoying his gains and luxuriating in ease upon the profits of his industry. The announcement made to the successful man, congratulating himself upon his acquisitions and his prospects, "You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?" has often rung in our ears.
Is it PLEASURE you propose as the end of life? No man is less likely to enjoy pleasure than he who lives for it, who makes it a business and profession. We have not only heard and read, but have seen, that a taste for pleasure in youth is the way to poverty in manhood, and misery in old age.
We would here present you with one of the most affecting scenes ever exhibited even in the martyrology of pleasure's victims. It is taken from the death-bed of that accomplished poet, and as accomplished libertine, Lord Byron; a man in whom the darkest passions of the soul, the loftiest powers of imagination, and the grossest propensities of man's animal nature, struggled for pre-eminence. One who was a spectator of the seen thus writes:
"He felt assured that his bodily constitution had been irretrievably ruined by intemperance; that he was a worn-out man; and that his muscular power was gone. Flashes before his eyes, palpitations and anxieties, hourly afflicted him. 'Do you suppose,' he said, with impatience, 'that I wish for life? I have grown heartily sick of it, and shall welcome the hour I depart from it. Why should I regret it? Can it afford me any pleasure? Have I not enjoyed it to the fullest? Few men can more pleasure-loving than I have done. I am, literally speaking, a young old man. Hardly arrived at manhood, I had attained the zenith of fame. Pleasure I have known under every form in which it can present itself to mortals. I had traveled, satisfied my curiosity, and lost every illusion. I have exhausted all the nectar in the cup of life: it is time to throw away the dregs. But the apprehension of two things now haunts my mind: I picture myself slowly expiring on a bed of torture, or terminating my days as a sad idiot! Would to heaven the day were come in which I should meet immediate, painless death—the object of my wishes.'
"It is with infinite regret," continues the writer, "I must state, that, although I seldom left Lord Byron's pillow during the latter part of his illness, I did not hear him make any, even the smallest, mention of true religion. At one moment I heard him say, 'Shall I sue for mercy?' After a long pause, he added, 'Come, come, no weakness. Let's be a man to the last.'"
Thus terminated, in a gloomy, sullen fit of infidelity and despair. All of his rank, wealth, genius had been sacrificed to skepticism—and its natural fruits, vice and misery. He had made pleasure his deity, and now see in what a miserable condition his God leaves him. What an antidote does his death furnish to the poison of his life! Is there anything here to tempt us to infidelity and wicked pleasure?
Perhaps you propose mental cultivation and the acquisition of KNOWLEDGE as the great end of life. We say nothing against learning, science, and the arts. We profess to admire them, and to have some taste for them. We have drunk at their springs, and often bitterly regret that our circumstances forbid us to partake more largely of their delicious waters. But then what will these do for us, in supplying the deeper needs of our moral nature, healing its diseases, or in satisfying its higher aspirations? Can they obtain for us the renovation of our corrupt hearts, the pardon of our numerous sins, the forfeited favor of God, assistance in our struggles after holiness, consolation in the dark and dreary hour of human woe, guidance amidst the perplexities of life, and protection from its dangers?
Or, as may be the case, should we be cut off in life's sweet prime, will they stand by our dying bed, smooth its pillows, and comfort us in the prospect of the grave? Will they qualify us to go in and dwell with God in heaven, and partake of the glories of immortality? Shall we in looking back upon life so early brought to a close, and in looking on to eternity so near at hand, feel that in studying science and neglecting true religion, we have answered the end of life?
But perhaps your ambition takes a lower aim, a narrower range, and you have set your highest mark in DOMESTIC HAPPINESS, and feel that in obtaining a comfortable home, and sharing it with the woman of your choice and of your love, you would reach the summit of your ambition, and neither look nor wish for anything beyond. This, in subordination to true religion is a wise moderation, a modest ambition. But, put in lieu of piety, it is a groveling and earthly one. How soon, if acquired, may that little earthly paradise be broken up by the intrusion of poverty or death! Besides, what is so likely to secure this object as the one we recommend? It is only over the lovely scene of a pious household that the beautiful strain of ancient poetry may still be poured, "How goodly are your tents, Jacob, and your tents, Israel! As valleys they are spread forth, as gardens by the riverside, as aloes which Yahweh has planted, as cedar trees beside the waters."
Tested then by itself and an examination of its own characteristics, and also by contrast with everything that may be put in competition with it, true religion proves itself to be what it really is, and we ourselves have found it to be—the chief end, the chief good, and therefore the chief business of life.
To assist each other in the pursuit of this object we, who send forth this address, are associated in brotherhood and in fellowship. The purpose of our association is not scientific—that may be sought, and should be sought, in other associations. Neither is it political, on this subject we have our opinions, and as they may in some measure differ, we do not discuss that thorny topic. Nor is it commercial, we gain our knowledge of everything connected with trade by solitary reading and attending to our business, whatever it may be, in the scene of our daily occupation. Nor, we can truly aver, is it sectarian, for we are members of different communities of Christians, who, without sacrificing or compromising our conscientious convictions and usual practices, have agreed to unite for a common object, upon the basis of great principles avowed by us all, and are held to each other by the bond of brotherly kindness and charity. We had already learned, from many proofs around us, the possibility of union without compromise, and now have experienced, "how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." It is our conviction that no sentiments ought to keep professing Christians from uniting with each other in some way, which do not keep them from union with Christ.
We say, then, to you, as Moses did to his father-in-law, "We are journeying to the place of which the Lord has said, I will give it to you. Come you with us, and we will do you good; for the Lord has spoken good concerning Israel." And we think that it would be happy for you, if you would reply in the language of Ruth to Naomi, "Where you go I will go—your people shall be my people, and your God my God."
It is not our chief aim, however, to draw you within the circle "of our hallowed association," as we deem it, for this would do you no good, nor would it promote the end of our union, or be in accordance with its laws, unless you were first drawn to God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is this latter end which is our main object. Having found out the blessed secret that genuine religion is the young man's safest guide, as well as surest bliss, we long to impart the secret to you, and to lead you to the well-spring of pure felicity. As we have already said—once we were ignorant of this, but the eyes of our understanding are now opened, and in the fullness of our adoring wonder, gratitude, and love, we feel that we cannot more worthily magnify God, for his grace to us, or more acceptably serve him—than by an endeavor to make you the sharers of our bliss.
When Sir Walter Scott was in his last illness, he said to his son-in-law, "be a pious man—read to me." "What book, sir?" With a look of surprise, almost of rebuke, the dying novelist and poet said, "There is only one book which will suit me now." What a sad proof, and what a melancholy instance of the instability and unsatisfying nature of all earthly greatness, do the closing scenes of this great man's life, and the posthumous history of his family afford! When in the zenith of his fame, kings might have envied him; and when in the decay of his fortune and his life, embarrassed in circumstances, and broken in spirits, his enemies, if he had any, might have pitied him. Go in imagination to the picturesque ruins of Dryburgh Abbey, and, as you hear, among the broken arches the rustling of the ivy, the moans of the breeze, and the plaintive notes of the robin which chant his requiem, listen to another sound which comes over that solemn spot, the awakened echoes of Solomon's impressive words, "Vanity of vanity, all is vanity!" All but one thing, true religion. There take the advice of that extraordinary man, "Be a pious man." And O could he speak to you from that world to which his lofty spirit has passed, with how much deeper an emphasis would he say, "Be a pious man." In that one short sentence is comprehended more true wisdom, more real dignity, more genuine philosophy, more pure happiness, more unfading honor—than can be learned from the hundred volumes of his bewitching pen.
Dwell upon the ADVANTAGES you possess for pursuing, acquiring, and enjoying this chief end of life. We are in the morning and therefore the freshness of existence. The dew of our youth lies upon us, which, as it sparkles in the morning sun, softens the soil of our mind, and makes our faculties at once more receptive and more active. We have all the susceptibilities and sensibilities of our nature, in their most impressible and excitable condition. Our heart, imagination, conscience, memory, are all vigorous yet tender. What an advantage for knowing, searching after truth, practicing godliness, and enjoying the peace that passes understanding. True religion, as regards its evidences, appeals by a mighty logic to the intellect; but, as regards its nature, it fills the imagination with a Divine poetry, and the heart with a holy and well-moderated enthusiasm.
Nor is this all. Our age and circumstances free us from that urgency of care and pressure of anxiety, which are the lot of the man of business at all times, especially in these, which we see experienced by those in whose service we are engaged, and which, it is evident, are among the greatest obstacles and enemies to piety. True we have our daily tasks and labors to perform, and can find little leisure, among the hurry of business, for pious reflection. But we leave our cares in the shop, and the evening is our own—relieving us, in part, of that extreme pressure and exhausting effect of labor under which we had been accustomed to suffer, and by which we were all but utterly unfitted for general mental improvement or pious exercises. But look at our employers. They are never free from care; it follows them from the shop to the parlor, and from the parlor to the chamber; it often forbids their sleep, because it makes powerless this injunction, "Far from my thoughts, vain world, begone; let my pious hours alone."
Is this the time, and are these the circumstances to which you would refer the consideration of the soul's momentous affairs? "Remember now, then, your Creator in the days of your youth." Yours is a halcyon season if you did but know it. True piety will guard you from the snares to which youth are ever and everywhere exposed: it will comfort you in sorrow, cheer you in solitude, guide you in perplexity. We speak from experience, for it has done all this for us.
And there is another thing it will do for you—it will save you from doing harm, and enable you to do good. None will be poisoned by your principles, nor seduced by your temptation, nor corrupted by your example. "My unkindness has murdered my wife, my principles have corrupted my friend, and my extravagance has beggared my boy," was the agonizing and remorseful confession of a dying infidel and libertine. What mischief you may do, what ruin you may inflict, if you are not pious—you cannot conceive and would shudder to know. But, on the other hand, true piety will necessarily make you philanthropists. You will imitate Him of whom it is so simply, but so sublimely said, "he went about doing good."
Now this will be your employment if you fear God. You will, in some way or other, seek to make bad men good, and good men better. We all should minister in some way—some as Sunday-school teachers, others as religious tract distributors, others on committees of various religious institutions. We feel it at once our duty, honor, and bliss to be thus occupied. Come and join us in these works of mercy and labors of love. Everything in this wonderful age calls to benevolent action. The voice of God and the times say, "Do something, do it." Catch the inspiration of the command, and determine to leave the world better than you found it.
We now bring this address to a close, by reminding you that there may be no time to lose for some of you in making up your mind on this momentous theme. There is nothing more certain than death; there is nothing more uncertain than life. "Youth is as mortal as the elderly." Presume not on long life. We have all followed young companions to the grave; and soon others will follow us to our graves. This year will doubtless be the last to some who shall peruse these pages. Many died the last year, not only by the sword of the destroying angel in the form of pestilence which has passed over our land, but by the ordinary shafts of death. There they lie in "the congregation of the dead." And where are they? Thousands more will this year follow other thousands that have preceded them to the grave. Let us not feel secure because the mysterious and awful epidemic which has so crowded our burial-places has been withdrawn. Cholera is not the only weapon which death employs in the work of destruction. Half as many British youth are every year swept off by death, as the whole number of persons of all ages who have been carried away by the pestilence. O, to those who are prepared, it is a sublime thing to die; they shall begin the year on earth and end it in heaven! But how indescribably awful the reverse!
It is a consolatory and encouraging thought that it not require seventy years to secure the great object of life. We have sometimes seen a young man of good prospects in life, possessing good talents improved by education, and in every respect promising to his friends and society, cut off by death just at the commencement of his career, and were ready to exclaim, "Alas, what a disappointment! He has lived in vain, and by his early removal has lost the end of life. Cut down like a flower in spring before its leaves were fully unfolded—of what advantage either to himself or others was his brief sojourn in our world?" We may spare our lamentations, so far as the subject of them himself was concerned. That young man was a partaker of God's grace; he had remembered his Creator in the days of his youth, and had thus accomplished the chief end of existence, as truly as if he had lived to threescore years and ten. He had secured "the one thing needful." He had obtained the salvation of his soul. What greater or better portion could he have obtained had he lived to the age of Methuselah? In his case, it was only so much cut off from time to be added to eternity, and only a shorter sojourn on earth for a longer dwelling in heaven.
But now turn to another spectacle, we mean that of an individual who has lived out his fourscore years, and died at last without true religion. He may have acquired wealth and left his family in affluence; he may have got for himself a name, and obtained a niche for his statue in the temple of fame; he may have gained respect for his talents while he lived, and for his memory when dead; and he may have even left a rich legacy to posterity, in works of public usefulness. But inasmuch as he neglected to glorify God by a life of religion, he lived in vain as regards the eternal world. The sublime end of existence was lost; and in the first moment of his waking up in another world, he would exclaim, "I have lost my life, for I have lost my soul!" He has committed a fatal mistake which require an eternity to understand—and an eternity to deplore! From that mistake may God in his great mercy preserve us, by bringing us with clear intelligence, deliberate resolution, inflexible purpose, and prayerful dependence—to adopt and ever to maintain the apostle's choice of an object of existence, and say, in reference to the salvation of our immortal soul—this one thing I do!