How Can a Young Man Keep His Way Pure?
Edward Griffin, 1807
"How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your Word." Psalm 119:9
I am now to preach for the last time to the class who are going forth into the world. No longer to enjoy opportunities to reach their ear — I am now to give them my parting counsel and blessing. What I say to them will apply, in a greater or less degree, to the rest of the audience — and will, I hope, usefully occupy their attention.
I know not, dear youth, a subject more suitable for this parting hour than the one I have chosen. Of all the questions that could be started, the one most interesting to you is that which is raised in the text: "How can a young man keep his way pure?" Moral purity, with the society and knowledge, the dignity and happiness, which it brings — is infinitely the most important attainment that you can make. You are set here to act a part for a few days — but you have a higher and infinitely more important part to act through ages of endless endurance. You are citizens of the universe — subjects of an empire whose head is Jehovah. You are under a law the most just and benignant; a law extending to the heart, and requiring affections of the highest benevolence towards God and His creatures, and actions of the same character; a law calculated to bind the universe together in everlasting love and happiness. It is as subjects of God's empire, that you are launching forth on the sea of life. What chart shall guide you but the Word of God? What can better cleanse your way, than "By living according to God's Word"? Among the directions which the Scriptures suggest, I will select the following.
1. Let the fear of God always be before your eyes.This will hold you back from a thousand evils. To feel that you are in the presence of your Maker, that an omniscient eye is upon you — is the best preservative against sin. It is the only preservative. Philosophy has tried her power to reform the world. Plato and Seneca have reasoned. But philosophy has proved as powerless as it is blind.
The fear of the world has been tried — but this has only made men-pleasers. It has merely washed "the outside of the cup and the platter," and left men to do anything in secret which their hearts desired, and anything in public which the corrupt taste of the times approved. Nothing can secure a thorough morality, which does not mold the heart. The salt must be cast into that fountain if you would sweeten the streams. Nothing but the fear of God, the God of the Bible, can make a godly man. And certainly nothing else can constitute a servant of God.
What is it to be the servant of a man? It is to act under the impulse of his authority and to be employed in advancing his interest; and that, not one hour in a day nor one day in a week, but habitually.
And what is it to be the servant of God? It is to go forth from day to day and from hour to hour under the impulse of His authority and with a hearty aim at His glory. Nothing less than this can make you acknowledged as His servants. You may preserve a fair exterior; you may do many good things "to be seen by men" or to answer other selfish ends; but you are not God's servants any further than you prevailingly act from a regard to His authority and glory: and this is not done by any course of conduct, however outwardly right, while God is always excluded from the thoughts.
2. Be not among those who thrust a Mediator from their religion.Many will speak of God — while they studiously avoid every allusion to the Christian system. The name of God is hallowed by many classical associations; and His existence is so manifest to philosophy, and is so generally acknowledged, that few even in youth are ashamed to speak of a supreme Being, or a Deity, or occasionally, even of God — who would shrink from uttering the name of Christ. They would make cold and distant allusions to devotion, while they would consider it mere cant to speak of repentance or faith or any of the graces which respect a Mediator. This is to throw off the entire influence of that religion which came from Heaven, and to hang loosely about us a religion as heartless and as uninfluential as heathenism itself.
"No man knows the Father — but the Son, and whoever the Son will reveal him." You can have no true knowledge of God without a Mediator. Nowhere does God fully shine but "in the face of Jesus Christ." If you turn away from those peculiar views of God which are exhibited in the Gospel, your God no more resembles the God of the Bible than did Jupiter. If then you exclude the Mediator, you are without any religion that can reform the heart.
While every principle of honor, and even the prescriptions of good taste, would restrain you from a wordy profession of a religion which you do not possess — it is manly both to feel and to avow an attachment to a religion so full of evidence, so full of reason, so full of the wisdom of God, and which involves all the hopes and the highest dignity of man. Every friend of his race, every friend of the universe, ought to speak of this religion with as little shame as he would speak of the honor of his father or the kindness of his mother.
Nor let it be a mere nominal adhesion to Christ. You are sinners — and need a Mediator to introduce you to God. You need the blood of atonement to wash out the deep stains of your guilt, and the righteousness of a Savior to earn for you an eternal inheritance. Come with all the simplicity of children, and with all the contrition of the tax-collector — and cast yourselves on the grace and fullness of the Redeemer!
3. Let it be the great aim of your lives to improve the condition of the world.In the selection of your profession ask yourselves: In what course of life can I most contribute to the permanent prosperity of my race? and let that consideration decide your choice. In all your future course, instead of a selfish round of efforts with a view limited to the details of business — let your eye be constantly awake to discover how you can best increase the stock of human happiness. I would not have you make futile plans. The efforts of your plans, while prompted by a warm and generous heart, should be under the control of a sound judgment.
It is an age which offers many opportunities of doing good. Generous minds will not be contented to be drones in such a period, nor to labor in a selfish round of business, without extending a thought to the common welfare and prosperity of the Church of God. Addict yourselves to the great work of charity. Remember that a part of what you earn or inherit, is to be returned as a tax to Him who gave you all your talents and privileges. Never let a sordid avarice close your hands — while millions are bringing their offerings into the treasury of the Lord; from the rich man, with his hundred thousands, to the day-laborer and the little child, with their hard-earned pence.
That general benevolence which befits you as citizens of the universe, although it is not inconsistent with local affections, such as those which center in one's family or country, is altogether opposed to party spirit. Party spirit, whether in religion or politics or whatever else — is a selfish spirit, which debases the affections, perverts the judgment, and injures as well the habits of the mind as the interests of society. It severs you from the community, and wraps you up in a party. It obstructs the operation of unselfishness and candor and justice, and substitutes in their stead, the dominion of self-interest, self-will, and prejudice. It may place you at the head of a party — but it can never make you philanthropists. In politics it will constitute you a zealot, but not a patriot. In religion, it will constitute you a bigot, but not a Christian. Shun that taint of mind as the pestilence — that moral sirocco which blasts in its course all religion and patriotism, all charity and wisdom, and whelms country and church under the ruin which it scatters.
Among the methods of promoting human happiness, I hope you will arrange yourselves on the side of those who, to every practical extent, are enemies to war. Whether defensive war, in the last extremity — is lawful, needs not to be settled in order to make room for a wide and very important resistance to the common principles on which war is justified and conducted. We know from the best authority, that the time is coming when men will "beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks" and "learn war no more." That time can scarcely fail to be ushered in by a general conviction of the wickedness of former wars, and of the frivolous pretexts on which they have been waged. All must become the friends of peace and the enemies of war to an extent never yet known on earth since the fall.
4. There must be a careful and vigorous and diligent operation upon yourselves.You must take heed to the regulation of your own minds and your own ways according to God's word. You partake of the common depravity of the race. You have hearts which by nature are "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." You are going forth into a world full of temptations — and you have invisible foes which spread snares for incautious souls. The world, the flesh, and the devil — are before you. And is there any hope that you can overcome all these, without taking diligent heed to yourselves?
You have seen what labors and watchings were necessary to overcome the difficulties of science — but far greater efforts and vigilance are required to control the wayward heart, to eradicate prejudice, to subdue pride, to tame the passions, to resist the syren voice of pleasure, to vanquish selfishness by transferring the supreme affections to God, to expand the heart with those generous feelings and sentiments which are comprehended in heavenly charity. To do all this over again every day and hour; to keep the ground you have gained and to make new advances in opposition to two worlds — this will require the most wakeful care and the most untiring exertion.
It should be a main point in the outset, to fix your habits right. We are creatures of habit. Once establish those habits which are good — and the warfare is half accomplished. On the other hand, let bad and sinful habits once get confirmed — and nothing but supernatural power can ordinarily break them. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? then may you also do good that are accustomed to do evil." If for no other end than to fix your habits right — it would be worth your while to take diligent heed to your ways for the first part of your life. As in the mechanic arts, so in the art of living — habit will make the work easy. Every step you take, will increase the facility of taking another. Every battle you win, will render future victory more easy and certain.
On every man habit, good or bad, is constantly fastening its influence. One is making the progressive attainment of moral purity every day more easy. Another is making a return to it every day more difficult and improbable. One of these processes is passing upon each of you today, and has been constantly passing upon you in times past, and will be passing upon you in all time to come. If ever you wish to rise to angelic purity and escape the pollution of the great prison-house of the universe — take care, take earnest care of your early habits. I mean not only those habits which are external, but those also and chiefly which are mental. Take care of your habits of thought and of feeling. Take care of your habitual temper towards God and man.
After all you must not go forth in your own strength. You must cast yourselves on the strength of God and seek the aid of His Spirit. But you must seek it in the way of His appointment; that is, you must diligently and sincerely attend on the means of grace. You must take His word for "the man of your counsel." God's word is the great instrument of conviction, conversion, and sanctification. Make its contents familiar to your minds. Go to it daily, not merely as the guide of your understanding, but as the means of affecting your heart. Those who desert the Word of God, may expect to be deserted by the Spirit of God. Those who seldom read the Bible, are not likely by any influence to be delivered from their old sins.
Another important ordinance of divine appointment is the holy Sabbath. This is the day ordained for special attendance on those means which God has instituted for the conviction, conversion, and sanctification of men, and which He is accustomed to bless for these ends. This is the day on which the Spirit ordinarily descends to impress, renew, and sanctify those who attend on the ordinances of God. Most of those who are saved, are probably first impressed and chiefly sanctified on this day. Very few who grossly profane the Sabbath, are ever brought to repentance — and many who continue to do this, ever reach the kingdom of Heaven. Settle it therefore as an aphorism to be engraved on your hearts: If you lose your Sabbaths — then you lose your souls. Set out in life with a fixed determination to hallow this sacred day. Secure yourselves from the danger of neglecting it, by entrenching yourselves in the habit of observing it strictly. Shun, as you would the plague, the practice of profaning the day by vain conversation or idleness or sleep, and especially by business or professional studies.
Be diligent attendants in the house of God. This is the place where salvation is to be found. On your regard for the Sabbath and the sanctuary, not only your own souls are at stake, but the souls of others, and the good of your country. You are set for an example to society; and your influence will do much to break down or to build up those habits of order and virtue on which the happiness of the world depends. Be known as the friends of order and religion. Your superior privileges entitle your country to expect this of you, and entitle your Maker to demand this of you.
The last thing that I shall mention in the list of operations on yourselves, is the habit of prayer. This lies at the foundation of all the rest, and will support the whole. Prayer will draw from Heaven an influence to ensure all other duties — and without prayer that influence will never be obtained. It is a fundamental law of Heaven, that these blessings, if not sought for — shall not be bestowed. On this account, and because prayer is expressly enjoined and cannot be neglected without rebellion to God — no one can be a godly man without the stated performance of this duty. No man without prayer can be saved. Without prayer, no man has any security against a plunge into the deepest crimes. Without prayer, no man can calculate on worldly prosperity. If it is sent on the wicked and prayerless — it is an act of sovereignty which they had no right to expect, and which, if they continue prayerless, will only sink them lower in perdition.
It is most reasonable for creatures to acknowledge their dependence on their Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer, and their infinite indebtedness to Him. The neglect of this duty is the height of ingratitude! It sets up for independence, as well in relation to the formation of the character, as to all other ingredients of present and future happiness. And what can a poor worm of the dust do in this boasted state of independence? Can he break through and be happy without God? Can he command the agents of nature to work for his prosperity? Can he keep the breath in his own nostrils a moment? Can he quench the fire of Hell and take possession of Heaven by force — a creature crushed before the moth, and with no strength or even existence but what he receives?
These thoughts, beloved youth, I have deemed it my duty to suggest on this occasion. You are going forth into a world full of dangers — to encounter you know not what. You will need the shield and buckler of the Almighty God. You are going into a world full of trials. No mortal eye can foresee what is to befall you. Some of you will perhaps find an early grave. Others of you may meet with disappointments, and bleed under the strokes of a chastising Providence. You will need the consolations of religion and the bosom of the heavenly Father to lean upon. May you find this relief in every time of need.
It is natural for me to feel towards you, some of the affection and anxieties of a parent. Wherever you go and whatever befalls you, my best wishes and my prayers attend you. I hope to see you as ornaments to your several professions, and staunch friends of order and virtue. May you recompense the care of your parents and friends, by fulfilling all their just expectations. May your conduct honor and console them. May you enjoy all the happiness allotted to mortals here — and after blessing the world in your passage through it, and scattering happiness as from an angel's wing — may you find an honorable and peaceful grave. May I be so happy as to meet you all in our Father's house above, to part no more forever. Beloved youth, farewell.