by Gorham D. Abbott, 1833
My father had a brother, who was a painter by trade. He was reckoned a hard-working man; but, I suppose, there must have been some extravagance or bad management in his family, for they were always poor. My father used to ascribe it to two particulars; and, I believe, he was pretty near the truth. One of my uncle's habits, which my father disapproved, was that of paying and receiving money at a tavern. This drew him into much needless expense, and also led him into very unprofitable society. Another failing was this: he was much fonder of financial speculation than of steady perseverance; and, though he was both a clever and quick workman, and would sometimes get through a job of work to the amazement of all who witnessed it, he would often lose as much time in vain projects as would have wrought two or three such wonders. My father used to say to him, "Brother Tom, you build too many castles in the air, and some day or other you will tumble down and break your neck; small and steady gains would do far better in the long run." But uncle was not the sort to take advice; and true enough is the saying, "Those that will not be counseled—cannot be helped." He was continually starting some new scheme in business, or losing time in trying to get the notice of some great man, and always certain that the last new project would be the making of himself and his family. Meanwhile, he was always in financial distress; sometimes quite destitute; sometimes borrowing a few shillings to carry him on, and then grudgingly working it off; and sometimes reduced so low as even to sell or pawn his ladders and brushes.
One time he came to my father in great haste, and begged him just to sign a note for a payment of twenty-five dollars. My father declined to do it, saying he had not twenty-five dollars to spare. "Spare!" replied my uncle, "nobody wants you to spare it, or a farthing of it. I shall have the money over and over again before the day comes. It is only just for you to sign your name to this bit of paper!" After much pleading, he prevailed on my father to do it. I recollect mother was out at the time; and when she came in, and father told her what he had done, she replied, "Well, then, we must wait a few years longer for our clock, and, perhaps, never get it; for, depend upon it, you will have to pay every farthing of the money." At that time there was about twenty-five dollars in the house, which had been long collecting, in order to purchase a handsome clock, which my parents, and, indeed, the whole family, greatly desired to possess. However, sure enough, according to mother's words, my father was called on to pay the money which he had promised in the note. It was in vain for him to assure the creditor that he never received one farthing value for it, and that his brother desired him only just to sign his name to a bit of paper. "And, for doing so," replied the creditor, "you have only just to pay the money! This is what comes of giving people credit that they do not deserve. I would never have thought of trusting your brother for that sum; but I knew you to be an honest, careful man, and, as the story goes among the neighbors, a man of some little substance. So when I saw your name, I was satisfied. One or other of us must be the loser; and since you have been fool enough to put your name to your brother's debt—it is fitter you should lose it than I."
This was a rough lesson; but, I believe, on the whole, it was profitable. I do not think my uncle's intentions were dishonest; he thought he would be able to meet the bill; and although "he received the money over and over again," he had been hesitant to part with it, and so at last, when the time came, he had not a shilling left to pay back his debt to my father.
Having paid the debt for his brother, my father and mother wisely resolved never to speak about it, lest it should lead to useless vexations and reproaches; but they set about to earn and save again as fast as they could. If my uncle had done the same, he might, perhaps, in time, have got over his difficulties, and gained a solid house, which, as my father often told him, would be worth twenty air castles. But, as I said before, he was not a man to learn wisdom, even by experience. Sometimes, when my father knew of his having extra money, he would ask him for repayment, and perhaps get a dollar or two of him at a time; but he never in the whole got one quarter of the money. In course of time, we bought a clock, but it was not the handsome one, on which we had at first set our minds.
Some years afterwards, my uncle came again to ask my father for a similar favor, but to a much larger amount.
"No," replied my father firmly, "a burnt child dreads the fire. You won't catch me again putting my hand to a bit of paper that doesn't belong to me. The wise man says, 'He who puts up security for another will surely suffer, but whoever refuses to strike hands in pledge is safe!'"
"But," replied my uncle, "this is quite a different sort of a story. I want to get the sum of two hundred dollars, which was left in the hands of trustees, to be lent for seven years without interest to a poor tradesman, only he must get two friends just to put their names to it. My cousin Jones is willing to be one, and you surely can't be so unkind as to refuse to be the other. It won't cost you a farthing, and will make of me and my family financially secure through life. Think what a stock of goods I shall be able to lay up, and buy everything at the best hand. Why, I shall save the money ten times over in the course of seven years, and live like a gentleman besides."
"Ah, brother!" said my father, "that's the very mischief of it. Such a loan might help one who is content to live and labor like a poor man; but the living like a gentleman will turn it into more harm than good."
"Well, then, I will promise you not to live like a gentleman. I will do anything you desire—if you will only just pledge your name."
"Brother, I would gladly help you, if it were in my power; but, as an honest man, I cannot and will not do what you desire. I fear you would be just as unable seven years hence to pay the money, as you are at present; and I am sure I shall not have it then to spare. Perhaps I may not live to see the time; and would I not have been unjust, to leave my poor wife and children chargeable with such a debt, or to wrong the trustees of the pledge, if they were not able to pay it? As the wise man says, 'Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you!"
When my uncle had said all he could by way of persuasion, and found my father resolute, he fell into a violent passion, calling him cruel, unnatural, and many other hard words that I need not repeat, and declaring that he would never again enter the house, or own him as a brother. Away he went, and represented to a neighbor the cruelty and unkindness of his own brother, and so wrought on his feelings, that, with more good nature than prudence, he engaged to do for him what his own flesh and blood had refused.
Thus he obtained the money, and behaved himself with a high head towards my father whenever he met him, as well as said many unkind things to his hurt behind his back. My father felt it keenly, but was supported by the consciousness of having done his duty.
The money just served to stop the mouths of a few creditors, and to give a boost for a little while, both to business and housekeeping; but it was soon gone, and he nothing to show for it. The bondsmen often reminded my uncle that pay-day was drawing on. Almost to the last, he assured them that he would be able to meet it; but when the time came, not a shilling was paid by my uncle—and the two bondsmen had to pay the money between them! So far from the loan proving any real advantage to my uncle and his family, my father often said he thought it proved a great calamity, as it only fostered them in habits of extravagance and delusions of grandeur.
But though my father refused, in this instance, to grant my uncle's request, he was always ready to act a brother's part by him and his family. Many a portion has been sent them from our own table; and in times of sickness and affliction, money that had been laid up has often been brought out for them; and through life my father was enabled to do kindnesses for them, which would never have been in his power, if (to use his own expression) he had consented to be pulled under water to please a drowning brother.
At last my uncle and his family went to America, which, they say, is a fine land for repairing shattered fortunes, though some have found it otherwise; but what became of them afterwards, I never knew.
A lady once took a poor motherless girl into her family as housemaid, and was determined to take pains in instructing her, in order to make her a good servant. Molly was a good-tempered, active, lively girl; but she had one great fault, which defeated all the good intentions of her friends—she was terribly self-conceited. By her own account, you would have supposed her a very clever person, and experienced in work of all kinds; but when it came to the trial, there was not a thing she knew how to do properly; and the worst of it was, she would spoil twenty things in trying her own way upon them, rather than humble herself to ask how it ought to be done. The lady who engaged her was a truly good mistress; she knew how things ought to be done, and she never grudged the trouble of teaching a servant; but she insisted on having things done properly. Many a time I have heard her say, "Molly, I wish such a thing done—do you know how to do it?" Molly was sure to answer, "I yes, ma'am, I know very well how to do it; I have seen it done many a time." In an hour or two's time the thing would be found done in any way but the right way; perhaps some valuable piece of furniture ruined through her conceit and ignorance. When told of her fault, instead of owning her mistake, and desiring to be better taught for the future, she would pertly reply, "that was the way she had always been used to see it done!" though the truth was, she had never seen it done at all.
I remember once the old cook played a joke upon her, which she did not soon hear the last of. It is a common saying among cooks, that, "If you beat a batter-pudding too much, it is rank poison;" the plain meaning of which is, that the more it is beaten, the better; it is impossible to beat it too much. One day, cook was busy making wine, and asked Molly to make her a batter-pudding. Molly readily agreed, for she was always willing to help any one, and pleased to be employed; and, had it not been for her foolish conceit of her own abilities, she would have been a general favorite. "But," said cook, "are you sure you know how to do it? for mistress is very particular: don't go and beat it too much, lest it should turn to poison." "O no; I know very well how to do it," replied Molly. "Mrs. Bell, with whom I lived before I came here, was quite as particular as our mistress. I know how it must be beaten." To work she went, pleased at having, as she thought, got a bit of knowledge slyly; and, determined not to spoil the pudding by over-beating it, she scarcely ventured to turn the spoon at all. When the pudding came to be served up, it was lumps of flour in some parts, and hard-boiled egg in others.
On this occasion, the lady spoke to her very kindly, pointing out the folly and mischief of self-conceit. "Conceit of knowledge," said she, "is the greatest enemy to knowledge, and the greatest proof of ignorance. 'Do you see a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope for a fool than of him.' The most ignorant person may be taught, if he has humility enough to learn; but the self-conceited is likely to spend his life in ignorance. He shuts up the very door by which knowledge enters to the soul. If we could once see you, Molly, convinced of your own need of instruction, we might hope that instruction would be bestowed upon you to good purpose; and the spoiling of this pudding will be the best bit of cookery you ever performed, if it should lead you to be less confident of your own knowledge and abilities."
The spoiled pudding was a standing joke in the kitchen against Molly; but I could never see that either the kind and serious instructions of her master and mistress, or the sharp rubs of her fellow-servants, succeeded in curing her of her unhappy propensity.
A very favorite saying of Molly, when remonstrated with on any course she was pursuing, was, "It won't hurt—I am certain there is no danger." In this way she often met with accidents; some of a serious nature. There was an old ladder about the premises, unfit for use, which was to be cut up for fire-wood. The gardener had laid it aside for that purpose; but seeing Molly set it up against the loft door, he begged her to wait a moment, while he ran round and fetched the new ladder, assuring her that the old one was not fit to venture on. But Molly persisted, saying, "I'm certain it will bear me." Just as she got on the top round, the rotten rung gave way, and she fell to the ground, dreadfully bruised, and with two broken ribs.
It is a saying of the wisest of men—and, of all kinds of folly, self-conceit is, perhaps, that to which it most universally applies—"Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him." Proverbs 27:22. So it was with poor Molly: all her experience of the mischiefs resulting from self-conceit, could not prevail to cure her of it.
This disposition was no less injurious to her in matters of the greatest consequence, than in trifles. On leaving this lady's, in spite of all remonstrance, she engaged in a situation, to the duties of which she was quite incompetent, and which exposed her to temptations that she was not likely to resist. She was certain that she could do it very well, and certain that she would be in no danger of having her morals corrupted. In vain was she admonished of the weighty sayings of holy writ: "He who trusts his own heart is a fool," and "Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall." So Molly went to her ill-chosen place, and, as her friends forewarned her, soon fell into sin and disgrace, misery and poverty. Those whose kindness she had rejected did not cast her off in the time of her distress. They kindly visited her, and endeavored to impress on her mind the humbling, yet beneficial truths of the gospel; but, alas! self-conceit was still the bar to their admission. She fancied herself too well informed to need instruction, and disdained to be catechized, as she called it.
Notwithstanding her gross misconduct, she could not believe herself to be a great sinner, and in absolute need of mercy—but still flattered herself, that she possessed something by which to recommend herself to the favor of God. She said she had not been so bad as many others, and she repented of what was past, and resolved to do better in future; and on this miserable foundation, to this refuge of lies, she ventured to trust her immortal hopes. Poor girl! she died in early life, and, as far as appeared to those who visited her, satisfied with herself to the last, depending on her own righteousness, and in a spirit as far as possible from his who exclaimed, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"
O, my children, if you wish to excel in what you attempt of worldly business, and especially if you wish to tread a safe and happy path as it respects futurity, shun pride and self-conceit, and cultivate a spirit of humility and self-distrust. "Before honor is humility." "He who exalts himself shall be abased; but he who humbles himself shall be exalted." "With the lowly is wisdom." "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
I was once employed in a family which was remarkable for punctuality. Everything went on as regular as clock-work. Every person in the house had his or her regularly-appointed duties, and allotted times for performing them. Things were not left to be done by somebody or other, just as it might happen, and just when it might happen, if indeed it happened at all; but time and business were regularly portioned out. It often put me in mind of a dissected puzzle: instead of lying in a heap, a parcel of odd-shaped bits of wood, every little bit was just fitted into its own place, and so the whole was complete and beautiful. And, in a higher degree than almost any other family I ever visited, in that family the work of every day was done in its day, according as the duty of the day required. Whenever a new person was in any way employed in the house, one of the first things was, to teach them habits of punctuality. From among the instructions given in this particular, addressed to myself or to others in my hearing, I have preserved the following observations and anecdotes, some of them copied from books lent me.
"Method is the very hinge of business; and there is no method without punctuality. Punctuality is very important, because it subserves the peace and good temper of a family. The lack of it not only infringes on necessary duty, but sometimes excludes necessary duty. Punctuality is important, as it gains time. It is like packing things in a box: a good packer will get in twice as much as a bad one. The calmness of mind which it produces is another advantage of punctuality. A disorderly man is always in a hurry—he has no time to speak with you, because he is going elsewhere; and when he gets there, he is too late for his business, or he must hurry away to another before he can finish it. It was a wise maxim of the duke of Newcastle—'I do one thing at a time.'"
Punctuality gives weight to character. "If such a man has made an appointment—then I know he will keep it!" Punctuality, like other virtues, propagates itself in those it has contact with. Servants and children must be punctual, when they know that the head of the family is so. Appointments, indeed, become debts. "I owe you punctuality, if I have made an appointment with you. I have no right to throw away your time, if I do my own."
The Rev. S. Brewer was distinguished for punctuality. When a youth in college, he was never known to be a minute behind time in attending the lectures of the tutors, or the family prayers, at which the young men who boarded in private families were expected to assemble. One morning, the students were collected; the clock struck seven, and all rose up for prayer; but the tutor, observing that Mr. Brewer was not present, paused awhile. Seeing him enter the room, he thus addressed him: "Sir, the clock has struck, and we were ready to begin; but as you were absent, we supposed the clock was too fast, and therefore waited." The clock was actually too fast by several minutes.
The celebrated reformer, Melancthon, when he made an appointment, expected that the minute as well as the hour should be fixed—that the day might not be run out in idle suspense. An idling, dawdling sort of habit, which some people have, and which makes them a little too late for every appointment, however trifling it may appear—is often the cause of their ruin; for the habit goes along with them into everything they do; and, moreover, the loss of time, and the plague which it causes to others, makes the habit injurious to our friends, neighbors, and dependants, as well as to ourselves. When a man is in a hurry at the last moment, everything is confused and wrong. He tears his stockings, breaks his bootstrap or his shoe-strings, or he gets some string or other in a knot—and all from being in a hurry! These trifles take up time, just as much as weighty matters. And also—his letter is too late for the post, and his absent friend is kept in anxiety and suspense; or the coach has gone without him; or a dinner to which he was invited is spoiled with waiting, or the company is disturbed by his entrance after the others are seated.
A punctual man generally has a quiet, leisurely way of going about things. There is no hurry and bustle, but the work is done in time; so making good the old saying, "Make haste slowly," or "Take time to be quick."
It is a good maxim, "That you may be always in time—take care always to be ready a little before the time."
King George the Third is said never to have been a minute behind any of his appointments. Another of our kings, by his dilatory habits, fixed on his name the disgraceful stigma, "Ethelred the Unready."
The celebrated Lord Nelson said, he owed all his success in life to being ready for every appointment a quarter of an hour beforehand.
A committee, consisting of eight ladies, was appointed to meet at twelve o'clock. Seven of them were punctual, but the eighth came bustling in with many apologies for being a quarter of an hour behind time. "The time had passed away without her being aware of it; she had no idea of its being so late," etc. A Quaker lady present said, "Friend, I am not so clear that we should admit your apology. It were matter of regret that you should have wasted your own quarter of an hour; but here are seven besides yourself, whose time you have also consumed, amounting in the whole to two hours, and seven eighths of it was not your own property."
The following judicious remarks I have copied from William Jay:
"Hear the apostle: 'Let everything be done decently and in order.' The welfare of your household requires that you should observe method and punctuality. Everything should have its method; your businesses, your meals, your devotional exercises, your rising, and your rest. The times for these will vary with the condition of families; but labor to be as punctual as circumstances will allow. Punctuality is of importance to peace, and temper, and diligence, and economy. Confusion is included to every evil work. Disorder also multiplies disorder; for no one thinks of being exact with those who set aside all punctuality."
Lack of punctuality has a great and grievous influence on pious matters. By indulging a few minutes too late in bed, secret devotion is hurried, and family prayer is interrupted, or perhaps some member of the family is obliged to leave before it can be attended to. Also, the first supplications of the sanctuary are lost; the congregation and minister are disturbed; often the mind is agitated and kept in an uncomfortable and unprofitable frame during the whole service, and all for lack of being in time. Who, then, will venture to say that it is but a trifle—there is no sin in being a little too late?
There are more people in the world who fail to perform their duty through procrastination, than through willful, direct neglect. Many people, who dare not say, "I will not do it," satisfy themselves with admitting that the thing ought to be done, and resolving to do it tomorrow. The mischievous consequences of such conduct are perpetually seen in the most trifling and the most important matters. A hook or fastening to a window is observed to be loose; a youth is asked to go directly and get a hammer to fasten it; he thinks an hour or two hence will do just as well; perhaps it has been in that state for months, and no harm has come of it; it cannot matter to leave it for an hour or two longer. A high wind rises, and the whole window, for lack of that little fastening, is carried away, dashed in pieces, and injures some person in its fall.
A poor man had received some money, with which he intended to pay his rent. He had been exceedingly anxious to receive it for that purpose; but having got it, he was satisfied; and, though his wife urged him to take it that evening, observing, that it would look well to the landlord to be able to say that they brought it the same day it was received, he thought the next day would do just as well. In the night the cottage was broken into, and all the money stolen, by some villains who happened to know of his receiving it.
"That kitchen chimney ought to be swept."—The remark had been made day after day, and still the execution of it put off until tomorrow; when at length the soot caught fire, and igniting a beam in the chimney—the whole house was burned down. Happily no lives were lost; but one of the family broke his leg in jumping from a window; and the loss of property was considerable.
A very worthy and estimable person, having been unkindly treated by her nearest relatives, (an uncle and cousins,) in her distress, sought the assistance of a family of relatives much farther removed. They exerted themselves in her behalf, assisted in setting her up in a little way of business, and showed her every kindness in their power. Providence smiled on her endeavors; her shop succeeded; she not only supported herself in comfort, but laid aside a little money and purchased her house. She was not deficient in gratitude to her benefactors. Her distant cousins and their children received many kindnesses from her, in return for the kindness they had shown her in time of need; and she pleased herself with the idea of leaving the business to their son, and dividing her little savings between the daughters; but she neglected from day to day to make her will. She was seized with a sudden and alarming illness; no interval of consciousness occurred in which she could execute her often-expressed purposes. She died without a will; and the nearer cousin, from whom she had received nothing but unkindness, came forward as her lawful next of kin, and laid claim to the whole of her property!
A child was observed to be very languid and feverish. The parents agreed that he ought to have a dose of medicine; but the child was averse to take it. Just then a neighbor came to visit, and the mother was diverted at the moment, when she ought to have given him his medicine. She consoled herself with thinking that she would give it him the first thing in the morning, and that would make very little difference. It was given to him, but it produced no effect; another morning came, and the child was much worse. Then it was agreed to send for the doctor, and the servant was told to go directly, as the doctor was in the habit of leaving home at ten o'clock, and not returning for several hours. She received the order; but, thinking a few minutes could not make much difference, she delayed until the time was past: it was only a few minutes: but the doctor was as remarkable for punctuality as the family to which he was summoned was for procrastination; he had left home, and was gone several miles to visit his patients. Some hours elapsed before his return; he then hastened to the bedside of the sick child; but his efforts were too late: a fatal disease had laid hold on the frame, which, in all probability, might have been checked by timely medical treatment.
Julius Caesar, one of the Roman emperors, was assassinated in the senate-house. On the morning of his death, he received a letter, intended to warn him of the conspiracy formed against him, and to suggest the means of escaping it. Being much engaged, he gave the letter unread to his secretary, saying, "Tomorrow I will read it!" Alas! his tomorrow, like that of thousands, was in eternity!
And oh, how often is this fatal habit allowed to act upon the concerns of the soul and of eternity, and how awful are its consequences! The youth, when urged to attend to the salvation of his soul, says, "It is too soon to become pious; there is time enough yet." Perhaps he lives to old age, and, when the matter is again urged upon him, he says, "Now it is too late."
The following affecting facts, as related by a minister of the gospel, will serve to illustrate this melancholy subject. Calling at the house of one of his friends, the minister found them in the deepest distress, having suddenly lost their only child. He attempted to console the distracted parents; but the mother replied, "Ah, sir, these consolations might assuage my grief for the loss of my child, but they cannot blunt the stings of my conscience, which are as daggers in my heart. It was but last week I was thinking, 'My child is now twelve years of age; his mind is rapidly expanding; I know he thinks and feels beyond the measure of his years, and a foolish procrastination has hitherto kept me from entering so closely into conversation with him as to discover the real state of his mind, and to make a vigorous effort to lead his heart to God.' I then resolved to seize the first opportunity to discharge a duty so weighty on the conscience of a Christian parent; but day after day my foolish, deceitful heart said, 'I will do it tomorrow.' On the very day that he was taken ill, I had resolved to talk to him that evening; and when he at first complained of his head, I was half-pleased with the thought that this might incline him to listen more seriously to what I should say. But oh, sir, his pain and fever increased so rapidly that I was obliged to put him immediately to bed; and, as he seemed inclined to doze, I was glad to leave him to rest. From that time, he was never sufficiently awake for conversation; and now he is gone into eternity, and has left me distracted with anxiety concerning the salvation of his precious soul! Dilatory wretch! had it not been for my own sin, I might now have been consoling myself with the satisfactory conviction of having discharged the duty of a Christian parent, and enjoying the delightful assurance of meeting my child before the throne of God and the Lamb. Oh, the cursed sin of procrastination! Oh, the ruinous delusion which lurks in the word tomorrow!"
Every word of the distracted mother was like a dagger in the minister's heart; for he, too, was agitated by feelings similar to her own. "I have just returned," said he, "from a house which to me, as well as to the family, was the house of mourning. I was sent for yesterday to visit a sick man, and, as I thought that I was then engaged, I promised to call and see him tomorrow. But when I went there today, I was shocked to find that he was dead, especially as I had reason to fear for his eternal state, and his wife said he was very anxious to see me!" The minister returned home, bitterly reproaching himself for allowing any inferior engagement to stand in competition with a sinner's eternal interests, and praying, "Lord, lay not this sin to my charge, nor let the blood of my friend's soul rest upon my mind, and blast the future success of those employments for which I left him to perish in his sins! Grant me to learn hence, to abhor, through all my future life, the thought of deferring the concerns of souls until tomorrow! Christians, parents, ministers, learn wisdom from my folly; obey the voice that says, 'Son, go work today in my vineyard; tomorrow is not yours. Sinners, today, if you will hear the voice of Christ, harden not your hearts, lest he swear in his wrath that you shall not enter into his rest.'"
It is an dreadful saying, yet true, "The way to hell is paved with good intentions." The very intention of doing good lulls the conscience to sleep, in the neglect of doing it—and thus leads on to condemnation for leaving it undone. In the matter of individual salvation, this should be the motto, "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation!" In no part of the Bible is this written of tomorrow.
In our endeavors to do good to others, especially spiritual good, in which we are most apt to be neglectful, this should be ever before our eyes—"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor counsel, nor wisdom, nor device, in the grave, where you go."
If we defer until tomorrow what ought to be done today, without one shadow of reason to expect a more advantageous opportunity, or greater ability than at present—we add seriously to the difficulty, and awfully to the uncertainty of its being ever done at all.
"When once life is past, it will be vain to think of repenting; you will then have no more sermons, no more offers of Christ and grace. Heb. 9:27. God will be patient no more. And if God should take away your life tomorrow, you would perish inexcusably for refusing his grace today! One offer of grace refused, renders a sinner inexcusable, though God should never more offer his mercy. Then trifle not away this moment, upon which depends eternity!"
"Between the more stated employments, and more important occurrences of human life, there usually happens to be interposed certain intervals of time, which though they are accustomed to be neglected as being singly, or within the compass of one day, inconsiderable, yet, in a man's whole life, they amount to a considerable portion of it. Now, these uncertain parentheses, if I may so call them, or interludes, which happen to come between the more solemn passages (whether business or recreations) of human life, are lost by most men, for lack of valuing them aright; and even by good men, for lack of skill to preserve them. But as, though grains of sand and ashes be but of a despicable smallness, and very easy and liable to be scattered and blown away, yet the skillful artificer, by a vehement fire, brings numbers of these to afford him that noble substance, glass; by whose help we may both see ourselves and our blemishes lively represented, as in looking-glasses; and discern celestial objects, as with telescopes; and with the sunbeams kindle disposed materials, as with burning-glasses.
Just so, when these little fragments or parcels of time, which, if not carefully looked to, would be dissipated and lost, come to be managed by a skillful Christian, and to be improved by the celestial fire of devotion, they may be so ordered as to afford us both looking-glasses to dress our souls by, and perspectives to discover heavenly wonders, and incentives to inflame our hearts with charity and zeal. And since goldsmiths and jewelers are accustomed, all the year long, carefully to save the very sweepings of their shops—I see not why a Christian may not be as careful not to lose the fragments and lesser intervals of a thing incomparably more precious than any metal, time; especially when the improvement of them may not only redeem so many portions of our life, but turn them to pious uses, and particularly to the great advantage of devotion."
DECISION OF CHARACTER
"I hardly know what to do." "I have a mind to go." "I would never have done it, if I had not been over-persuaded." All these, and many such like sayings, are the expressions of weak minds; people who, without intending ill, are almost sure to act ill, for lack of decision of character. To avoid such folly and weakness, make up your mind as to what is right, and let no persuasion induce you to swerve from it, against your better judgment.
To be infirm of purpose, is to be at the mercy of the deceitful, or at the disposal of accident. Look around, and count the numbers who have, within your own knowledge, failed from lack of firmness. An excellent and wise mother gave the following excellent advice to her son, with her dying breath—"My son, early learn how to say No!"
A failure in this particular is one of the most common faults of mankind, from the highest to the lowest classes of society, and is alike productive of mischief and misery in all. The following sketch is from humble life; recorded by a worthy clergyman.
"How many of our misfortunes might be prevented if we could each of us learn to say the little word No! I remember, when I was a boy, an incident took place, which serves to show the importance of the above little word. In our village there lived a very fine young fellow, named Jones: he was one of those who could never say No. It happened that a recruiting sergeant came there, to enlist soldiers, and, being pleased with the appearance of Jones, he invited him into the public-house, where he was drinking. Since Jones did not like to say No, he went in. Though a sober lad, not being able to say No, he soon got tipsy. He then enlisted, and went abroad. Not being able to say No, he fell into bad company, and got connected with them in their crimes. The last I heard of him was, that he was in jail, under sentence of death, for sheep-stealing; but, through the influence of his friends, his sentence was mitigated to imprisonment. He spoke to some friends who visited him, to the following effect: 'My ruin has been that I never had resolution enough to say No. All my crimes might have been avoided, could I have answered No to the first invitation to do wrong; but, not being able to say No to a merry companion, even when he invited me to commit a crime, I thus became his accomplice."
Reader, doubt not the truth of this story, but learn from it to take courage to say No.
"In vain the world accosts my ear,
Among the duties which a godly man ought to discharge, few are more important than those of the peace-maker. The peace-maker will be applied to in many of the quarrels and misunderstandings, which occur among families and neighbors. On these occasions, he will be not so much concerned to hear the particulars of the quarrel, as to impress on both parties the duty of mutual forbearance. There is little done towards settling a difference, to prove who was most in the wrong in beginning it, or to hear all the angry things that may be said by both parties. The great means of harmony is the promotion of a spirit to bear and forbear; forget and forgive; and that upon the principles of the gospel, which enjoin us to be gentle towards all men, pitiful and courteous, kind and tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven us.
There is a difference in the natural tastes and dispositions of mankind. Besides this, early habits, education and connections, make a great difference in individuals, in things which are in themselves innocent or indifferent. Circumstances sometimes throw together, in after life, people whose previous modes of thinking and acting have been widely different. This is a call for the exercise of mutual forbearance. If both parties are determined to censure, despise, or be disgusted with everything to which they have not been accustomed—their differences will be a source of perpetual altercation and discord. But if both parties resolve to be pleased with each other; to bear with the imperfections of others, and to correct their own; occasionally, also, giving a gentle and friendly hint which may benefit those with whom they associate; then, notwithstanding little differences, people may happily unite and harmoniously cooperate in the family, the neighborhood, and in pious society; and, indeed, their very differences may prove useful, as peculiarly fitting them for different departments in the general cause.
I once heard a gentleman relate, that the collectors for some benevolent society in London, calling on a wealthy gentleman to solicit contribution, overheard him reproving his maid-servant for throwing away a match of which only one end was burnt. One of the collectors proposed immediately to leave the house, observing that it was quite in vain to hope for assistance from such an old miser; but the other was disposed to wait. The gentleman soon made his appearance, and, having examined the case, went to his bureau, and, taking out a fifty pound note, presented it to the astonished collectors. "Gentlemen," said he, "you appear surprised at this donation; and probably consider it inconsistent with what you have just now heard; but, I assure you, it has been by scrupulous attention to economy in little things, that I have been enabled to exercise liberality in great ones."
This story brings to my mind that famous saying of poor Richard, "Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves." Like most of his sayings, it contains a great deal of good sense, shrewdness, and knowledge of human affairs. I wish a regard to the disposals of Providence was more constantly kept up; but while every pious person will humbly and gratefully acknowledge that "the blessing of the Lord makes rich, and adds no sorrow," we cannot but observe that the blessing of God is generally seen to rest on those who are diligent, thrifty, and frugal; we are quite sure it never rests on indolence and extravagance. Every day shows the general truth of the following maxims—
"Waste not—want not."
"Willful waste makes woeful want."
"Waste a crumb and you are likely to want a loaf. Squander a penny, and you are likely to lack a pound."
"Beware of small expenses and small wastes! A small leak may sink a great ship."
"The rich should not allow the waste of their property, while there are poor in need of it, and while they know not but they or their families may one day need it themselves."
The following beautiful remarks I copied from a sermon on frugality—
"The Creator of the world is infinitely rich and infinitely bountiful; and yet in all his provisions he allows no waste. He weighed the dust, and measured the waters when he made the world; and calculated to the precise amount—so much earth, so much air, so much fire, so much water, went to make up such a world as this. The original quantity of matter is still here; and though man can gather and scatter, move, mix, and unmix, yet he can destroy nothing. The putrefaction of one thing is a preparation for the being and bloom of another. Thus a tree gathers nourishment from its own fallen leaves when they are decayed, and something gathers up the fragments, that nothing is lost.
"And when the Son of God was on earth, and went about scattering blessings; when with a word he multiplied five barley loaves and two small fishes to feed many thousand people, he could in the same manner have provided another meal whenever the need of his followers required it; but, instead of that, he commanded them to gather up the fragments, that nothing might be lost; thus teaching us to regard frugality as a Christian virtue."
The following are useful rules for those who wish to leave something good to children's children.
1. Buy nothing but what you really need. Those who accustom themselves to buy things merely because they are pretty, or curious, or are offered a great bargain, are likely to fill their house with NEED-NOTS, and to deprive themselves of the means of obtaining what they need.
2. In purchasing, choose such things as are durable, rather than such as are showy; and what is in itself neat and befitting, rather than what is just the top of the fashion. Fashions soon change, and that which is glaringly fashionable now, will be notoriously unfashionable a little time hence.
3. Though it may sometimes call for the exercise of self-denial, whatever you purchase, or whatever you think you need, be resolute in retaining some cash to meet an unforeseen, an indispensable need. For lack of this precaution, many have been compelled to part with what they wished to preserve, in order to buy something that they could not do without.
4. Endeavor to have different things for different purposes, and to keep each to its proper use. Nothing is more destructive than to make one thing do the work of two or three.
5. Never use a better thing of its kind without being satisfied that a worse would not answer the purpose. Many people, whenever they obtain a new thing, directly lay aside the old one, and forget to use it, or perhaps allow it to be thrown about and destroyed. Such are not likely to leave behind them much that is worth having.
6. If entrusted with the property of others, be as careful of it as if it were your own. This is the likeliest way to be honestly possessed of property yourself, and to acquire a habit of taking care of it.
7. If children are committed to your care, bring them up in habits of knowing the value of property, and the importance of taking care of it. Those who are careful themselves, but allow their children to be extravagant, have little encouragement to lay up property for them to squander.
8. See that, in all your gains, and savings, and prospects—that you keep the fear of God before your eyes. His blessing alone makes rich, and adds no sorrow. Wealth gotten by vanity (that is, unjust, selfish gain) will be soon diminished. It is like putting money into a bag with holes; but a godly man shall leave an inheritance to children's children.
9. Whatever you leave your children, do not neglect their best interests. Teach them to read; provide them with a Bible; store their minds with good principles, that so they may be prepared to be content with a little, or faithfully to improve and safely to enjoy more; and be sure to lay up for them a good store of prayers. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much; and a parent's prayers have often been answered in rich blessings on his offspring, long after his head has been laid in the grave. Let the chief concern be for yourselves and them, that you may all be possessors of durable riches and righteousness, a treasure in the heavens which fails not, where neither moth nor rust can corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal!
Among the many evils which judicious ladies will labor to oppose, as far as their influence extends, I ought to mention extravagance and expensive clothing in dress. They will set an example of neatness and modesty in apparel, without approaching to singularity. They never adopt a ridiculous fashion, nor are they backward in adopting what is convenient and befitting. I have often observed that the example of ladies in this respect has a great influence on those around them. I have seen servants imitating the dress of their ladies in everything but the quality and texture of the materials; and even Sunday-school children aping the bows and feathers and necklaces of their teachers.
It very often, however, requires some care and pains to bring young girls into the right habits in this respect. In fact, I believe that I have sometimes myself received a hint or two on the subject; at all events, I have gathered a few hints, which, for whoever they might be originally intended, are much at the service of all to whom they may he applicable.
To many young women, the love of dress is a great snare; it leads them into a series of mistakes from beginning to end. In the first place, they mistake by thinking that fine clothes sets off their appearance to advantage; whereas all people of taste acknowledge that real beauty does not need the aid of fine clothing, and that ugliness is only displayed and rendered more conspicuous by it.
Next, they imagine that fine clothes give them the appearance of belonging to a higher class of society, and prove their introduction to it. No such thing. The virtuous woman is revealed in her education, speech, and manners, which are not so easily imitated; and is more frequently distinguished by plainness of dress than by expensive clothing—which generally bears the stamp of vulgarity.
Another mistake is, they imagine that fine clothes will recommend them to the notice of young men, and lead to an advantageous marriage. This is a very unlikely thing! There are many young men who will admire such a girl as they would a peacock, and play with her as with a doll; but no sensible, godly young man would ever think of making her his wife! "No, no," says he; "give me a wife who does not carry her chief beauty outside, and all her wealth on her back! I must see the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is of great price; and the treasures of understanding and discretion, and the fear of God, which are more precious than rubies, and more rare than diamonds!"
Another mistake of dressy girls is, that they imagine that foolish fellows, who flatter them about their beauty and fine appearance are really sincere, and mean what they say; while the truth is, that they in heart despise and ridicule them; or, if they feel any of the fondness they profess, it is but a base, selfish passion, to which they will not hesitate to sacrifice their pretty, garnished victim.
Alas! by these mistakes thousands are every year brought to ruin and disgrace! She who thoughtlessly begins with the first and simplest of these mistakes, is in danger of proceeding to the last and grossest mistakes!
I recollect a remark which I heard many years ago, which my own observation has never contradicted, namely, that a dressy girl generally makes an untidy, slatternly wife and a negligent mother. I can look round me and see it confirmed in the dirty, blowzy finery of mothers and children, and the untidiness of the dwellings they inhabit; and in the remarks of occasional visitors: "Is it possible that that dirty, untidy slattern is the once smart, dressy Betsy——? I could not have believed that a few years would have made such an alteration. And who is that neat, respectable matron at the next house, surrounded by her little, cleanly, orderly group of children? I certainly recognize the cheerful, modest countenance and respectable appearance that I used so to admire in Mary——. Well, the only change in her is as natural and pleasing, as from the chaste blossoms of spring to the ripening fruits of autumn; but in the other, it is as contrary and as disgusting as if the flaunting poppy should ripen to the loathsome toadstool."
Many a husband, who has been won by fine clothing, has been weaned by slatternly negligence.
It was a saying of Augustus Caesar, the Roman emperor, that rich and mirthful clothing is either the sign of pride, or the nurse of extravagance.
A profusion of fine bows, feathers, necklaces, and earrings—is often the outward and visible sign of inward emptiness and vanity!
A minister, calling to visit a lady, was detained a long time while she was dressing. At length she made her appearance, bedecked in all the frippery of fashion and folly. The minister broke into tears. She demanded the cause of his grief; when he replied, "I weep, madam, to think that an immortal being should spend so much of that precious time which was given her to prepare for eternity, in thus vainly adorning that body which must so soon become a prey to worms!"
A lady once asked a minister whether a person might not be fond of fine dress and ornaments without being proud. "Madam," replied the minister, when you see the fox's tail peeping out of the hole—you may be sure the fox is within!"
Another lady asked the John Newton what was the best rule for female dress and behavior? "Madam," said he, "so dress and so conduct yourself, that people who have been in your company shall not recollect what you had on." This will generally be the case where singularity of dress is avoided, and where intelligence of mind and gentleness of manners are cultivated.
Two holy apostles have not considered it beneath them to describe a well-dressed woman. Paul directs, "I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God." 1 Timothy 2:9-10. Peter also exhorts, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful." 1 Peter 3:3-5
Solomon winds up his description of a virtuous woman, and one that is worth seeking in marriage, in these words: "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." Proverbs 31:30-31
This is a good place to set down the following remarks on the importance of teaching young women to pay attention to something better than mere outside show and finery. "The importance of female education will rise in our opinion, if we consider women as those who may become wives and mistresses of families. In this situation, they have duties to perform which lie at the very foundation of human life. The support or the ruin of families, depends on their conduct. A judicious woman, who is diligent and pious, is the very soul of a house. She gives orders for the good things of this life, and for those also of eternity."
It was a judicious resolution of a father, as well as a most pleasing compliment to his wife, when, on being asked by a friend what he intended to do with his girls, he replied, "I intend to apprentice them to their mother, that they may learn the art of improving time, and be fitted to become like her—wives, mothers, heads of families, and useful members of society." Equally just, but bitterly painful, was the remark of the unhappy husband of a vain, thoughtless, dressy slattern—"It is hard to say it, but if my girls are to have a chance of growing up to be good for anything—they must be sent out of the way of their mother's example!"
SOBRIETY AND MODERATION
I once knew a girl of excellent, steady habits, who came to live in a gentleman's family. Nancy Cox had fared hard at home, for there was a large family to keep upon small earnings; but she was healthy and industrious, well behaved, and willing to learn.
In the course of two or three months, she began to grow so fat, that you would hardly have known her; and when any of her old friends met her, they generally accosted her with, "Well, Nancy, how hearty you look! You credit your keeper." Nancy always replied, that she had a very comfortable place, and plenty of everything; and her father and mother often remarked, what a great thing it was for a healthy, growing girl to live where she could have plenty. True enough, it is a great blessing to have plenty, and one for which we ought to be very thankful; but there is a danger, of which many people are not aware, of taking a little more than enough; and, as the saying is, "Enough is as good as a feast; more is as bad as gluttony."
There are two sorts of people, who are principally in danger from this, namely, those who have not much wealth, and can have what they please to eat—one delicacy after another is contrived to make them eat a little more than is necessary; and those who are suddenly removed from the hard fare of a parent's cottage—to the plenty of a gentleman's house. All is new and tempting to them; they wish to taste every variety that is set before them, and at almost every meal, they eat a little more than nature requires, in order to gratify the palate with the taste of something new; and health is soon injured by it.
Nancy Cox had not been many months in this family before she became less nimble in her movements; her eyes looked heavy, her clear, ruddy complexion assumed a yellowish hue; she often complained of headaches; and as soon as she sat down, was sure to drop asleep. Her mistress now and then gave her a dose of medicine, and then she was better for a little while; but at last she was quite laid up, and they had the doctor visit her. He said it was gallbladder problem, and something about the blood clogged from flowing to the head. I did not rightly understand his learned words, but by what I could make out, it meant that the blood vessels were clogged up, and could not flow freely, and that this made her so heavy and dull. But I have never forgotten what he said when he cautioned her, as she recovered, against eating much meat or drinking much wine. He said, "I dare say your health was much better when you had only water to drink, and but little meat to eat. Now, if you wish to keep well, you must have resolution to bring your diet much nearer to what it was then. Though you can get so much more food and drink, it is no proof that more would do you good; indeed, this illness is a proof to the contrary. It is a sad mistake to suppose that a great quantity of food is nourishing and strengthening. It is not what people eat, but what they digest, which strengthens them; and if they eat a little more than they can digest, this is all so much hoarded up towards making them ill. I can assure you that more than half the doctor's work consists in attempting to undo the mischief that people have done themselves by habitually taking a little too much."
I am afraid that Nancy had not resolution enough strictly to follow the doctor's directions. As her appetite returned, she was eager after a little more meat, and wine, and pastry, than was quite proper for her. She was convinced that it would help her to get up her strength, which, however, was very long in getting up; and as long as she was in that family, which might be five or six years, she was more or less unwell, and obliged to take medication.
At length she was married to a poor, laboring man, and once more restored to cottage fare. She found it very hard at first, and indeed I have heard her say, that it was years before she could get a relish for the plain food to which in her childhood she had been accustomed. A few months after she was married, she was very ill. Dr. Collins attended her again, and told her that it was owing to the sudden change of diet; but that he thought, if she once got over the change, she would have better health than she had known while living in the midst of plenty, and feeding to the full; and so indeed it turned out. She became a very healthy woman, and the mother of a fine healthy family. She often looked back with regret on the years of her self-indulgence, and she brought up her children to be content with the homeliest fare, and to drink nothing stronger than water; and when they grew up and went to service, it was one of her great concerns that they should not learn to eat or drink more than was good for them. In particular, she used to caution them against getting fond of strong beer, porter or wine, and especially spirits, even in the smallest quantity. Some masters and mistresses, out of false kindness, allow these things; but these things neither give strength, nor prevent taking cold, nor indeed do any real good whatever; and too often they form a habit which lasts through life, and proves very injurious in every respect.
I remember a poor, dirty, half-starved old woman, who, it was often said, had seen better days, and who, if she had but a few pence to provide for all her wants through the day, might be seen every morning coming out of the public-house with her little jug of gin. She said she learned to take it, from having a glass allowed her before she began each day's work, by a very excellent and religious lady, who would have shuddered at the thought of being the occasion of sin to anyone. But just so, the poor creature got the wretched habit, and though she admitted that alcohol was the cause of her poverty and misery, she said it was impossible now to do without it. I fear she never tried in good earnest; but oh, how important is it that young people should guard against forming habits which may bring them into such disgraceful bondage! The only way to keep quite free from it, is by resolutely resisting the first temptation, from whatever quarter it may proceed.
I shall now set down a few maxims, both from the holy scriptures, and from the writings of wise and good men, which, I hope, will impress on the minds of the young the importance of strict sobriety and moderation; also some verses I lately met with in a magazine, and a piece called The Drunkard's Will, which I am sure ought to warn young men against once entering the public-house, or indulging the love of liquor.
"He who loves pleasure shall be a poor man. He who loves wine and oil (that is, luxurious living) shall not be rich."
"Dainties are deceitful food."
"If you find honey, eat just enough— too much of it, and you will vomit." Proverbs 25:16
"Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise." Proverbs 20:1
"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper!" Proverbs 23:29-35
"Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be overcharged with excess and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day (the day of death and judgment) come upon you unawares."
"Let us who are of the day be sober."
"Let your moderation be known unto all men: the Lord is at hand."
"He is the greatest slave who serves none but himself. He is the most beastly idolater who makes a god of his own belly."
"The luxurious live to eat and drink, the wise and temperate eat and drink only to live."
"Always rise from table with an appetite, and you will not be likely to sit down without one."
"He who hankers after dainties, must often feel dissatisfied."
"Who dainties love—will beggars prove."
A celebrated Roman epicure consumed the principal part of his property on sumptuous delicacies. He had still enough left to support himself in moderation and comfort, but he put an end to his life, lest he should not have enough to furnish the costly luxuries to which he had been accustomed.
"Nature is satisfied with little, grace with less, but lust with nothing!"
"An intemperate patient makes a cruel doctor."
"The glutton digs his grave with his own teeth!"
"Wine and strong drink have drowned more than the sea, and the teeth of intemperance have slain more than the sword."
When disease is abroad in the land, it generally selects its victims from among the intemperate and self-indulgent.
Disease will be often knocking at the door, while his old friend, intemperance, dwells within.
It was the saying of a celebrated physician, "When I see a group of people surrounding a splendid banquet, and feasting themselves without fear, I think if the prophet's prayer could be granted, 'O Lord! open their eyes that they may see,' the thoughtless creatures would then discover, under the disguise of luxurious viands and inviting bowls—fevers, dropsies, palsies, gouts, consumptions, death—and would flee in terror and amazement from the untasted banquet."
"The Christian, when he sits down to his meal, should ever remember that he has two guests to entertain, the body and the soul. Let him never so overload the former as to starve, sink and ruin the other; but whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do—let us do all to the glory of God."
The motto of the family of Doddridge was, "Live while you live." On this the excellent and pious Dr. Doddridge wrote the following pointed lines—
"Live while you live, the epicure would say,
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
One Glass more.
"Stop, mortal, stop! nor heedless thus
Disease and Death, forever near,
Go, view that prison's gloomy cells,
Had these a tongue, O man! your cheek
Behold that wretched female form,
Behold her! Ask that prattler dear
Stop, mortal, stop! repent, return;
Oh! flee the ale-house's horrid din,
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Drunkard's Will
"I, _____, beginning to be enfeebled in body, and fearing I may soon be palsied in mind, and having entered upon that course of intemperance from which I have not resolution to flee, do make and publish this my last will and testament—
Having been made in the image of my Creator, capable of rational enjoyment, of imparting happiness to others, and of promoting the glory of God, I know my accountability. Yet such is my fondness for sensual gratification, and my utter indisposition to resist temptation, that I give myself entirely to intemperance and its associate vices, and make the following bequests—
My property I give to be dissipated, knowing it will soon fall into the hands of those who furnish me with ardent spirits. My reputation, already tottering on a sandy foundation, I give to destruction. To my beloved wife, who has cheered me thus far through life, I give shame, poverty, sorrow, and a broken heart. To each of my children I bequeath my example, and the inheritance of the shame of their father's character. I give my body to disease, misery, and early dissolution. Finally, I give my soul, which can never die, to the disposal of that God whose commands I have broken, and who has warned me by his Word, that no drunkard shall inherit the kingdom of heaven."
Drunkard, this is your will!