Considerations for Young Men
Jared Bell Waterbury, 1799
The author of the following letters, having been placed, by the providence of God, in circumstances favorable to acquiring a knowledge of the feelings, principles, and habits of young men — has ventured, with dependence on Divine aid, to address them in relation to subjects the most important which can engage their attention. The class of individuals to whom this work is inscribed, namely, those who belong to our principal cities and colleges, are the hope of our country. They embody, in a great degree, the influence which is destined to sway the moral and political interests of the nation. The author is deeply sensible of the responsibility of addressing so large and so respectable a class in the community; but he hopes that a perusal of the following sheets will convince his young readers, that his intentions at least are benevolent. The form of letters was adopted, because it admitted, as the author supposed, greater familiarity and directness; and also, because there is, unhappily, among many, a prejudice against essays, lectures, or sermons.
Let it not be supposed, however, that these letters are intended to displace, or supersede the many valuable sermons and lectures to the young, which are already before the public. Far from it; they are designed as a humble accompaniment. The author intended them as a manual, which the hand of Christian benevolence might offer to a friend, and which the pious parent might commit to a beloved son, upon leaving the paternal roof, for a residence among strangers.
Letter 1. PLEASURES AND ANTICIPATIONS
To the brief space between childhood and maturity, the man of experience reverts with mingled emotions of pleasure and of pain. The mirthful visions of life were then opening on the enraptured mind. Every scene was fresh to the eye, and every pleasure wore the charm of novelty.
CHILDHOOD, by some, is called the happiest portion of our mortal span. Its innocent gaiety, its confiding sweetness, its buoyant and affectionate playfulness, its gush of tears, and its glow of returning joys — throw around it an indescribable charm. Poets have sung of it, as if it were a seraphic state of existence. The victim of misfortune, and the sated votary of pleasure, have sighed over the period of their childhood, as carrying with it into oblivion the only pittance of happiness which the Creator has been pleased to assign them.
But even childhood has its cares, and its sorrows. You who have just passed from its scenes, are prepared to admit that it is a state by no means free from solicitude, nor fraught with all the felicity which some have ascribed to it. Tears of anguish, sobs that almost burst the young heart, broken toys, and bleeding wounds, successively agitate it. Even disappointment, which, to us who have almost forgotten our childish feelings, seems a later inheritance of misery, mingled in our earliest draughts its bitter ingredients.
The toy, which at first sight produces a momentary rapture, losing in a day all its attraction, lies broken and neglected. And the promised visit, hailed with clapping hands and laughing eyes — often ends in weariness, satiety, or tears.
Still childhood has its pleasures — its moments of delight and of ecstasy. Its sleep is an oblivion of its sorrows, and apparently a continued dream of delight. If disappointed in its pleasures, its versatile feelings open a new channel of happiness. If its tears are frequent, they are quickly dried; and often, while the big drop still hangs on the eyelid, the smile of merriment comes stealing from behind.
Every stage of our mortal journey has . . .
its hopes and its disappointments,
its cares and its alleviations,
its joys and its sorrows.
That gracious Being, to whom we owe our existence, and "from whom comes down every good and perfect gift," has thought fit, neither wholly to mar that existence, nor unceasingly to mete out its pleasures. From the cradle to the grave, it is a checkered scene with all of us. So soon as our infant feet tread the path of life, they feel the pricking thorns. And we quickly perceive, that, however beautiful in the commencement, that path "leads but to the grave."
Youth, with its teeming hopes, soon follows childhood. The sportive feeling, which perished almost in its birth, gives place to the rush of passion, and the play of imagination. Childish sports cease, and the kindling eye looks forward to the pursuits of manhood, with instinctive reverence and desire. There is something in the business and pleasures of mature life, which strikes strongly on the youthful imagination. His inexperienced mind contemplates them as the sure indications of that felicity for which it pants. Hence, when he is scarcely free from the restraints of the nursery, he begins to imitate the gait and bearing of manhood. He affects to scorn his infantile amusements, and chides the tardy lapse of time, which detains him from this enviable consummation.
Poor, mistaken youth! How little do you know of the cares that vex, and the afflictions that depress, the heart of man. Your eye all eagerness, and your breast all hope, fasten only on the lighter coloring of life. The respect which the wisdom of years receives, and the pleasures which the wealth of mammon commands, stand out to your vision in bold relief, and excite those restless desires, which must die by satiety, if not by disappointment. You do not see the care-worn countenance. The remorse of ill-gotten treasure lies too deep for your scrutiny. The disappointment that turns back on the heart of the voluptuary, and the vanity that is felt to attach to every earthly pursuit — come not within the scope of your anticipations.
I cannot but think, that the period of youth is, after all, the happiest portion of man's earthly existence. I speak now of those upon whom the sanctifying influence of genuine religion has never come. Viewed as a tenant of earth, and apart from his relations to eternity — the man who has passed the heyday of youth, has certainly left behind him the most beautiful and fragrant part of his journey. He has bid adieu to scenes of innocent delight. Pleasures which once had a relish, have now become insipid; and hopes which were then in blossom have been blasted, or at best have only borne the fruits of disappointment.
There may be a few favored exceptions; but the surprise which those few excite is proof of the general sentiment we have expressed.
Let me then, my youthful reader, address to you some considerations and cautions, connected with the present period of your existence. I shall do it with tenderness and affection. I shall do it as one standing on the line between buoyant youth and sedate manhood; retaining, as I trust, the fire of the former, though chastened somewhat by the incipient cares and afflictions of the latter.
With you I can sympathize. I know your hopes, your fears, and your feelings. I was born with the same characteristics, and was educated in the same manner. I have indulged the same anticipations, and have shared in similar pleasures. I wish you to know that you are enjoying probably the happiest period of your earthly career. I would not drop one ingredient of misery in your cup, nor extinguish one generous thought, nor curb one rational anticipation. On the contrary, it shall be my aim, in the observations I shall offer, to heighten your enjoyments; to displace an earthen cup, by a golden chalice; to turn your feet from sterile moors, to fragrant groves; and to open upon your vision fruits that never become tasteless, flowers that never fade, and a source of happiness that shall increase forever.
The remark in the preceding letter, that youth is probably the happiest period of our earthly existence, needs qualifying, and requires a more full explanation.
There may be circumstances, in which the assertion cannot be true. A sickly constitution may cast a gloom over the early stage of being; and those limbs which might have bounded like the deer, may be withered by disease, or weakened by hereditary infirmity. I have seen the eye that should have flashed with pleasure, grow languid in its socket. I have beheld the beauteous boy, or the lovely girl, withering under the pensive watchfulness of a parent's eye. Days that might have been winged with delight, hours that might have fled gaily away — dragged on their tedious course, and the pale and fettered child could only feed in imagination on the joys which he was forbidden to taste.
There is something mournfully interesting in such a scene! It seems as if a flower, which had opened in beauty, which had needed the sun to gild, and the dew to refresh it — was drooping and dying, in a confined and sickly atmosphere.
In manhood we expect misfortune; in old age we anticipate disease and death; but youth, that buoyant, blissful period of life, seems, by this premature weakness, to experience a double disappointment. But He, who orders every event, "tempers the wind to the shorn lamb." He gives the patience necessary to bear these early calamities, and often sanctifies the afflictions of youth to the soul. After years of suffering, nature sometimes reacts, and the constitution gains vigor.
It cannot be said, under these circumstances, that youth was more happy than manhood; for what is life, and what are its pleasures, if there is not health to enjoy, and a heart to relish them?
I can suppose a case, more marked than the one already mentioned, in which it will be evident, that youth was not the most desirable or happy portion of present existence. The passions of the young are not always under a wholesome restraint. They have not learned that unlawful indulgence is the death-blow to happiness. They will not believe that sin "at last bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder!" They wish to make trial for themselves. They give their ear to the call of pleasure, and follow her footsteps to the precipice of death and damnation. They bind on the chaplet she wreathes, and mingle in the orgies she celebrates.
Thus that period of life, so pregnant with innocent delight if rightly employed, and so fraught with instruction if faithfully improved — is by the young sensualist, murdered in the pursuit of low and unworthy pleasures. I cannot fully describe his condition. It is beyond the powers of my pen. Look into his blood-stained eye. See the wreck of moral principle in every line of his countenance. The open, frank, and manly air is gone. He removes from the virtuous, and mingles only with the profane. Blunted are his feelings, and sensualized is his soul.
But such a hapless youth has sometimes been reclaimed. There have been instances of a thorough and permanent change. Shame, perhaps, has operated to rouse him from his sensuality, and sever him from his dissipated companions. The tears of a tender sister, or the piteous look of a heart-broken mother, have gone to his obdurate heart, and wakened in him the resolution of amendment. That grace which saves the "chief of sinners" has . . .
arrested him in his mad career,
turned his sinful pleasures into wormwood,
fixed his eye in penitence on the cross, and
made him a regenerated and happy creature.
I cite this example, not to encourage the profligate. God forbid! I give it, as among the rare instances of divine mercy and of amendment. So rare, so "few and far between," that while one such moral miracle occurs, while one such reformation takes place — thousands and tens of thousands drop into the gulf of death, and sink to rise no more! They are lost to themselves, lost to the world, and lost forever! Should these pages fall under the eye of one who has begun to walk in this forbidden path — let them prove a barrier to his further progress — let them warn him of the dangers that threaten. It is no unreal vision that I have sketched. If your character, my reader, begins to bear even a remote resemblance to that I have described, remember that while you may imitate a reformed profligate in his wickedness, you may never experience the sovereign mercy by which he was rescued. You may die as you live; and your death, instead of being lamented, may only provoke from the unpitying multitude the passing remark, that you are better dead than alive!
But there are those who contemplate you as immortal; and who connect your wickedness and impenitence, with the wretchedness of your eternal doom. And oh if you have a mother — if your guilty career has not broken her heart, and sealed her eyes in death — if she yet lives to follow you to an early grave — she will pour the scalding tear upon your tomb, and like one of old, exclaim, "O my son! My son! If only I had died instead of you — O my son! my son!"
It cannot be supposed that the period of youth — when spent in habits of vice and dissipation, or dozed away in ignoble sloth — is to be preferred. I have seen those who could scarcely speak of their youth, but with tears; and who shuddered as they thought of the hellish vortex from which they had been rescued. They would gladly have blotted out that portion of their existence — and whenever they reflected upon it, the involuntary sigh of regret was followed by the upward breathing of gratitude.
"Remember not," says one who had entered the valley of years, "the sins of my youth." Who cannot echo the prayer, and enter into the spirit of the sentiment? Who can look back on that reckless — yet comparatively happy period, and not blush at the follies, and weep over the iniquities he has committed? We call it "innocent;" and so it may be, when compared with the fearful progress in sin, which marks the career of maturer years; but perfectly innocent, it cannot be. The fairest specimen of frank, sincere, uncorrupted youth, will not bear to be examined by one test, or measured by one unbending rule. There is a law, which speaks of inward purity, and which metes out its penalty for thoughts that are evil.
Lovely may be the early development of character, beautiful and auspicious as the morning light — but none so beautiful or lovely as not to need the grace that sanctifies, and the precious blood that redeems. None can claim exemption from guilt, and none can venture with impunity to neglect the fountain cleanses from sin and impurity. But when to native charms there is superadded the hallowed influence of heart-religion — then how fair, how beautiful, how blessed, is the character of youth!
In addition to the influence of profligate habits, I remarked, that indolence subtracts greatly from youthful enjoyments. Where the former do not exist, the latter is often indulged. Generally, I acknowledge, they coexist.
Indolence throws open the avenues of the soul to temptations; and the great fallen spirit, in his malignant march through the earth, seizes upon the occasion, and draws the unwary youth into his toils. By indolence, the moral principle is weakened, and the impulse of sinful passion is increased. Indolence is the gateway through which a troop of evil spirits gain admission to the citadel, and compel conscience to surrender to base desires. Activity in honorable pursuits strengthens moral principle, makes the conscience vigilant, and furnishes a bulwark of defense, impregnable to the assaults of the tempter.
But there are instances, where, apparently, vice is kept at bay, and a decent exterior is preserved while the individual is characterized by the most shameless inactivity and indolence. He sleeps away the seedtime of his existence. Roused, neither by the love of distinction, a principle so naturally operative in the young heart; nor by the entreaties of a parent, anxious for the future reputation of the child — he has been willing to fold his arms in ignoble sloth, while others have run and obtained the prize.
This is seen in every walk of life; in humble poverty — and abounding wealth. More commonly, however, indigence counteracts the causes of indolence; and if there be a spark of youthful fire in the soul, the stimulant of necessity will operate as a spur to vigorous action. Thence it is, that from the low walks of life, have risen some of the greatest statesmen, most learned divines, and most gifted geniuses. Their poverty has been the spring of their exertions. Though denied, in youth, the advantages which wealth commands, they have found more than an equivalent in their own unconquerable aspirations. What seemed to be an obstacle, became an impulse; and the impediments in their path to usefulness and reputation, which would have frightened back less noble spirits — only served, like the interposing Alps in the march of Hannibal, to make their victory the more glorious and complete.
O that I could reach the ear of every youth in the land, wake up in his soul those generous desires, and urge him to those active exertions, which should be at once his safeguard from temptation, and the pledge of successful living!
There is scarcely a more melancholy sight, than a young man, gifted by a gracious Providence with a mind susceptible of improvement — dozing away the most precious period of existence, wasting his time, burying his talent, and squandering the money which a generous parent appropriates for his benefit.
Besides the indolence natural to us all, there is, in many of these melancholy examples, a sort of contempt for a habit of assiduous and persevering diligence. It is the mirthful, easy, careless life which they covet. How much it is to be regretted, that such an infatuation should take possession of our youth! Where it exists, time, talents, opportunities, all are wasted. The precious hours for improvement speed away, while the merry idler saunters with his companions, or whistles his ditty. Such a spendthrift of time and privilege could scarcely claim our sympathy, even were he subjected to disappointment and disgrace.
The period between childhood and maturity, is not with him a season of happiness. Felicity is too sacred a name, and too rare an attainment, to be appropriated either to the base pleasures of sensuality, or to the dreaming apathy of the idler. There have been instances, though they are of rare occurrence, in which individuals have been roused from this dronish and dissipated state of mind. When almost too late, when the seed-time of intellect was well near gone, they have awaked as from a dream, and begun at the eleventh hour, to redeem their wasted opportunities. A thorough reform in their habits has taken place. From being indolent, they have become industrious; and instead of realizing the gloomy fears which their careless habits very justly excited, they have proved to be a credit to their friends, and an ornament to their country.
Though such instances of reformation may at long intervals occur, we have no right, as observed in the case of the profligate, to make them an apology for present indolence; nor to found upon them a hope of future amendment.
To the youth of inattentive and idle habits, I would address the language once applied to a still more fearful lethargy, "Awake you that sleep!" Shake off that mental drowsiness. Like the inactivity of the body, which "clothes a man in rags" — this intellectual supineness will cover the character with disgrace. Your companions, those who started with you in the race, are about to out-distance you. They will leave you to dishonor, and to self-reproach. You will have to meet the looks of disappointed friends, and bear the taunts of your successful contemporaries. You will be gathering the materials of future misery; forfeiting the little happiness which earthly pursuits, even when successful, can bestow. And last, though certainly not least, subjecting yourself to the displeasure of Him who gave the talent, and the opportunity to improve it, and who may charge you with having been "a wicked and slothful servant!"
I commenced with the assertion that youth was probably the most favored period of our mortal journey. To this proposition several exceptions have been stated. I cannot, however, admit that the proportion of profligate youth, in our favored land, is so fearfully great as some have been led to suppose. There is a large class whose early habits have been carefully cultivated, whose principles are in the main correct, and whose deportment and industry are at least commendable. In the exceptions adduced, I have supposed that the period of youth, though abused or wasted, was followed by a reformation in manhood. In these cases, the proposition before us cannot of course be sustained; but where there is at least a good character, and the development of mind is accompanied by industry and activity — we have no hesitation in asserting that, apart from the influences of genuine religion, the space between childhood and maturity is the happiest period.
If you look merely at pleasures, which in themselves are innocent, and become the occasions of guilt only when pursued as the ultimate end of life — you will find that none partake of them with so keen a relish as the young and buoyant mind. To such a mind they have all the freshness of untasted delight, and all the charm of novelty. 'Tis often repeated draughts which deprives the sweetest beverage of its favor. The landscape which always lies under the eye, ceases to delight the vision.
With the youth all is new, and all of course is attractive and interesting. He understands not the indifference with which the eye of experience looks upon life's fleeting joys — nor comprehends the result of wisdom's researches, that all on earth is "vanity and vexation of spirit." It is not natural that he should. His being is just unfolding, and his mind is opening and maturing amid scenes which wake into rapture the expanding faculties of the soul. He has not so often drank of the cup of pleasure as to be satiated, nor driven the circle of life's wearisome duties until the jaded body becomes a burden. Free from present solicitude, and alive to every new impression of delight, he is constantly gathering joys along his bright path, and anticipating fairer scenes that are in reserve. The distracting cares of manhood have not smothered the strong affections which still cling to parents, and to home; while everything around him, upon which the eye fastens, or to which the ear gives heed, adds a new item to his little stock of knowledge.
Childhood, scarcely conscious of anything beyond the small limits of the nursery, taken up with its own little momentary gratification, has neither eyes to see, nor feelings to appreciate the variety, the glory, and the sublimity, which are shed over the works of God. But to the youthful vision, all nature spreads out her cabinet of beauties, and woos him to investigate at every step. Thoughts rush in upon him from every object, and often produce, while the mind is yet undisciplined, a gush of sensations, a thrill of delight, which speaks in his eye, but can find no utterance on his tongue.
In fact, youth, if the expression may be admitted, is the poetry of existence. Who can have forgotten the deep delight that glowed in the soul, when spring breezes, summer clouds, and the waving beauties of forest and field, began to fix the eye, and interest the feelings? There is a freshness in these scenes, and a secret and mysterious sympathy with them, which, in after life, is apt to diminish, if not entirely to fade from the mind.
In this life of toil, severer duties soon demand the attention, and bustling activity quickly follows to the pleasures of youth. The dry detail of commerce, or the strife for political elevation, with all the tedious and vexatious cares that attend such pursuits — soon chase away this early glow of feeling, and with it a pleasure of no common kind. Repetition, even of innocent gratification, often produces satiety, and the frequent participation of any earthly pleasure is apt to be followed by disgust.
But youth is, in a measure, inexperienced in such disappointments. Come they must, and alas! they always come too soon. But until they are felt, he has much happiness from a world to which his Creator has adapted him.
We who have left behind us this part of our journey, would not turn back to chide you, my youthful reader, for the innocent recreations you pursue. We would not sigh at having parted with them, nor be envious of you who now possess them. We have no disposition to curtain this earth with sadness, nor would we blight your joys in the bud.
You must, however, permit me, as we pass along, to point out the line where innocent gratification ends, and where guilty indulgence commences. You must allow me to correct you if erring, and affectionately to apprise you of danger. If your pleasures are so great — you must let me direct your eye to Him who gave you the means and the capacity for enjoyment. If nature is clad for your vision in livery so rich, and garnished with beauty so fresh and radiant — tell me, dear youth, whose "handiwork" is exhibited there? All that is intricate, and all that is grand, from the pebble that glistens on the beach, to the glorious orbs that wheel and shine in the vaulted skies — all are the works of Him who gave you an eye to see, and a soul to enjoy.
You must "look through nature, up to nature's God." You must not rest satisfied with the pleasure which God's works afford. If you do, you will never know the calm, ennobling delight, which they experience, who, to the gratifications of taste, add the sublimer pleasures of genuine religion. You must also remember that a mind which can sympathize with objects so glorious as the works of the Creator, and feel the pantings of desire for more enjoyment — must have a nature that is immortal, and must find, after all, its fullest satisfaction in God.
"Give whatever you will — without you we are poor.
And with you we are rich — take what you will away."
A young person is not only susceptible of high gratification, from the objects which court his opening faculties; but he also derives, from the development of his social affections, another spring of happiness.
Allied to the love of nature, is the flow of affection for other human beings. There is a mysterious link, that binds us to each other, and heart answers to heart, like the return of an echo. This pleasing, pensive, anxious feeling, steals insensibly upon the soul, and before we are aware of its existence, betrays itself to others in the mantling blush.
In subsequent life, and after experiencing the cold and selfish indifference with which our generous sympathies are sometimes received, we naturally collect our dispersed affections, that they may repose principally on our kindred and friends. But a youth is generous and confiding. He mingles feelings without suspicion, and is ready to believe that all are sincere, who offer him their friendship. The collisions and jealousies of manhood have not yet been experienced, and there is a real, heartfelt satisfaction in early intimacies. Alas! like his other enjoyments, they are soon interrupted; and a few years evince, that souls which appeared almost to have blended into one, have scarcely the recollection of their mingled and reciprocal delights.
If, through that mercy which often overtakes us in our pilgrimage to eternity, those hearts that were early united, become sanctified for a nobler existence — the joyous recognition in the eternal world, shall increase the happiness with which that world abounds.
Besides this susceptibility, there is, as already hinted, seated still deeper in the heart, a strange and restless emotion, which pants for a closer alliance of the soul, than is felt or found in friendship. It was planted there by Him who framed our being, and who has made it the source of a felicity, which, if it does not remove, at least mitigates the woes of our fallen state. We should never make a Heaven of our temporal enjoyments; but that genuine religion, which teaches us to "crucify our affections," commands us to "love one another," and commends the union of hearts as "honorable in all."
It is surely a theme of grateful praise, that amid the trials of life, there can be one who shares and alleviates our burdens, and enhances every joy. Youth is susceptible, in a high degree, of this generous emotion. It is not always, however, a source of happiness. It sometimes becomes the nutriment of misery and death. It has lain in the heart, an unrequited offering, and instead of giving pleasure, it has, like a wasting fire, consumed its victim. These effects are generally observable, only where there exists an unlawful or indiscreet attachment.
Like many other feelings of our nature, this was given to heighten, and not to diminish, our earthly felicity. Like other feelings, it must be kept within the limits that God has assigned; it must be exercised under circumstances which discretion will justify; it must be a reasonable, and not a reckless passion. I abhor the cold, calculating heart, that measures its personal interests in another, by the amount of money possessed, or the number of acres inherited; and I equally detest the inconsiderate, frantic rush of passion, that is blind to considerations of duty and parental advice.
A check must be given to this emotion of the heart, while immature years are passed in the acquisition of knowledge, or employed in preparation for some useful station in society. The young affections should be restrained, until the period arrives when it will be honorable and safe to unfetter them. For lack of such restraint, many a youth has dashed his earthly hopes, and dragged out a miserable existence. There are, in the recollection of all, living examples of such heedless, infatuated people.
It is not to be denied, that when circumstances justify it, a reciprocal affection between the sexes, founded on virtuous and honorable principles, is one of the purest sources of earthly happiness. It seems as if the Creator, in pronouncing upon the sinning pair the curses which their disobedience so justly merited, left this soothing, mitigating blessing to them — in pity for their calamities. Yet this blessing should be cherished with a recollection of its instability. The strongest earthly ties may quickly be broken, and the sweetest pleasures seem like blossoms born for the blast. It is this fleeting, evanescent character, attaching to every object beneath the sun, which spreads a pensive beauty over the brightest. The thought, how soon they must pass away, will often steal upon our unwilling minds, and check the admiration with which we contemplate them.
Although earthly scenes must vanish, and the most exuberant delights be relinquished — yet there is a state that is permanent, and there are pleasures that never end. Yes, even on earth, you may have the incipient taste of this unfading bliss. If you "set your affections on things above," you shall not be disappointed in the objects of your choice. There, all is young, bright, and enduring. Not a hue of that scene shall ever fade, nor a feature grow old. Cease then to seek your highest happiness in this world, for in the comparison,
"All on earth is shadow — and all beyond
Is substance; the reverse is folly's creed."
Among the pleasures of youth, there is one of a negative character worthy of consideration — a comparative freedom from self-reproach. I speak now of those whose morals are uncorrupted, and whose general habits are commendable.
I would not insinuate that any young person is free from guilt, or in the pure eye of Heaven worthy or acceptable. That record which cannot err, has taught us that "there is none that does good, no not one." But youthful character may be viewed comparatively. We may consider it moral — as opposed to the dissolute; we may regard it lovely — as opposed to the refractory; we may speak of it as uncorrupt — in opposition to the deceitful and scheming. In this view there are certainly fewer subjects of self-reproach in youth, than in subsequent life.
"The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmities, but a wounded spirit who can bear?" This maxim of inspired wisdom is applicable to all; and the interrogatory with which it concludes, implies that the misery of self-reproach is of the most oppressive and pungent character — there is nothing that so disrobes the soul of its grandeur, and crushes its lofty aspirations. "The arrows that drink up the spirit," are those of self-reproach; and the wounds which they inflict, like the poisoned darts of the ancients, are curable only by a medicine that is Divine.
To carry in the bosom this corroding companion of guilt; to go with it to pleasures which cannot please, and to scenes of beauty which we affect to admire; to feel it mock the eye, and contradict the tongue, when eye and tongue are apparently eloquent with praise — oh! this is too much for mortal man to bear!
Much which passes for pleasure, and motions which seem to signify delight, are often deceitful. Like those visions that mock the eye of the mariner, they prove but illusions, which, upon a nearer inspection, vanish into thin air. So hollow, and so hypocritical often, is the pretended happiness of many who are the victims of self-reproach. It cannot be denied that He who formed the soul, put within it a faculty which, like a sentinel, gives the alarm at the approach of danger. He who heeds not this monitor, and voluntarily opens the portals of the soul to unlawful desire — must purchase his indulgence, or his gain, by sacrificing the calm pleasures of an approving conscience.
But how often is it done! What multitudes make the sacrifice; and when they have made it, they find too late that they have passed the prohibited limit, which has excluded them forever from the early paradise of their joys. They can never retrace their steps, nor regain that serenity of mind which had previously marked their youth. They have but one hope remaining. It is the hope which divine boundless mercy holds out to the despairing eye. If they embrace it, peace may again be restored to the bosom, and self-reproach may become the instrument of humility and contrition. This uneasy load, which so oppresses the hearts of most men, may be traced to three sources:
privileges and opportunities lost;
duties omitted; and
the commission of positive sin.
As we advance in life, it is natural to look back upon the past, but the view is not always one on which the heart delights to dwell. There is, here and there, a green spot in our retrospective glance; but the majority of men must heave a sigh over favorable opportunities lost — and precious privileges misimproved. Many must be covered with shame at the recollection, that the period, when the plastic soul might have taken an impress which would have placed them in an honorable and useful station — was whiled away in idleness and in ignorance. So often as the delinquency recurs, and recur it will again and again — we experience anew the misery of disappointment and remorse.
The review of privileges neglected, and opportunities lost, raises an inward regret, but does not perhaps contain so much that is painful and pungent as the recollection of duties omitted. It is the nature of man to grow either better — or worse. He cannot be stationary. His habits of feeling and of action are daily gaining strength. If their tendency is good — then he is "growing in grace." If his habits are growing evil — then he is becoming "hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." Of course that religious duty which might once have been performed with comparative ease and facility — becomes, in after life, almost impossible. The disposition and ability to perform it, decrease inversely as the years of carelessness and neglect increase. This is felt in many a bosom that retraces its early life with a melancholy self-reproach for having omitted duties, which have lost none of their claims by long neglect.
I have known many a man whose confessions on this point have agitated his frame, and told of the stormy conflict within. I have heard him sigh out his regret, and speak of such omissions with a melancholy tone, which seemed prophetic of the hopelessness of his case. But if, with misimproved privileges, and omitted duties, he has led a life of dissipation, there is added to the load, already too oppressive, an incumbent mass of anguish, which weighs down the soul, and makes it at times almost wish for annihilation!
Oh, the pangs of remorse! how excruciating, even in this world. And if these pangs are but the commencement of what shall be increased and perpetuated in the eternal state of existence, what heart thus stung with guilt can be indifferent to the calls of that Redeemer, who came into the world to save the chief of sinners, and wash away the foulest stains!
The sentiments advanced in the preceding letter are not intended to imply that youth is a period of innocence. Especially would I not leave the impression, that a person of either gender, who has arrived at the confines of mature life, has no grounds for self-reproach.
In the cases of the idler and the profligate — there may be, and there frequently is — a deep, and constant, and soul-harrowing remorse. Even the youth who maintains an honorable freedom from such vices, is not exempted from self-reproach. He should be as stainless as a seraph, to claim such indemnity. If his mind has been at all enlightened on the matter of obligation, or his eye have been but superficially fixed on the passing emotions of his heart — he will see little in himself to approve, and much to condemn. He must know, and he does know — that not a day passes in which he is free from sin; and not an action is performed that could bear the scrutiny of of the thrice holy God.
If, through the restraints which a merciful providence has bound around his soul, he is deterred from those gross vices which ruin character, and blight future prospects — he should be thankful to Him who has thus far restrained him. But such restraints do not always imply freedom from self-reproach. There may be other points on which conscience is loud in her upbraidings — secret sins that become the more aggravated as the obligations to avoid them are better known. Hence I cannot admit that any are, certainly not that any ought to be, free entirely from self-reproach.
If, my young reader, you will be honest in the development of your feelings, you will bear me witness, that, whatever topics of self-delight you may gather from your character and conduct — you cannot, on a review of your thoughts and actions, escape the feelings of self-condemnation. There are hours in your experience when the recoil of thought makes you uneasy and unhappy. There are omissions of duty for which the conscience will upbraid. Yes, you must admit, that the standard of action which has been given from God in His Word — is too pure for your feelings, and claims too much for your justification.
While this is conceded, we may speak of a comparative freedom from self-reproach. We may show, that, as life recedes, it leaves behind a more innocent portion of our existence. The hope of salvation in a future world, we indeed ground on no merit of man, no comparative innocence of youth — we fix it alone on the spotless purity, and the willing offering, of Him who died, "the just for the unjust."
But if you speak of present happiness or misery, founded on many or few subjects of self-reproach, we cannot deny that youth possesses more of such happiness, and less of such misery, than can be claimed by him who has traveled into the Valley of mature life.
It will be recollected that I am speaking of man, independent of the influences of genuine religion. I am supposing that in neither case its consolations are known. Bearing this in mind, I ask, if the man who has seen the lapse of many years, and grown wrinkled by care — does not look back upon the period of youth as furnishing fewer subjects of self-condemnation, than that to which he has arrived? Does not the thought force the involuntary sight?
At every step of our progress through life, we have . . .
new duties to perform,
new mercies to acknowledge,
and new temptations to resist.
If duties as they rise, are neglected;
if mercies as they fall, are received with ingratitude;
if temptations as they assail, are not resisted —
then, the further we advance in our course, the deeper is our guilt, and the deeper should be our self-reproach. The hoary head, instead of a crown of glory — is then the badge of infamy, and the stings of remorse remain after the power of sinful enjoyment is gone.
No men of mature age can feel that they have done their entire duty. All must acknowledge that they have much ground for self-reproach. The youth may upbraid himself for lack of parental esteem, or for disobedience to parental authority. But in addition to this, his seniors have often to reflect, with bitter anguish, on the neglected morals of their offspring. The youth may feel conscience-smitten for the neglect of the higher duties, which he owes to Him who gave him being; but at the same time, he encourages himself, though improperly, with the vain hope, that soon he will give full obedience to such obligations. The man of years has not only the oppressive thought that he has lived long in such guilty neglect, but the overwhelming consideration, that, having bid adieu to the tenderness of youth, there is little hope left of ever entering the paths of genuine religion.
The youth, needing the care of others, rather than having dependents of his own — has less responsibility, and of course violates fewer social obligations. But he, around whom Providence has gathered a numerous train of dependents, has often the harrowing reflection, that perhaps their future misery may be traced to his neglect. A son may have been lost by indulgence, or a daughter's immortal hopes been blasted by parental fondness. His servants, for lack of discipline, may be ruined under his eye. The scene of domestic troubles which he is obliged to endure, the reverse of what his youthful imagination had sketched — is but another proof that we are often disappointed in the visions of our early years.
The countenance of many an unfaithful parent has been clothed with sadness, by the wreck of one, whose infancy gave delight, and whose boyhood was full of promise. Oh! how many a pang of self-reproach has been inflicted on the parent's heart!
When, therefore, we consider the numerous causes of remorse which mark our more mature existence, we must concede to the period of youth much enjoyment; or rather we must allow it the absence of no small portion of misery.
After all, my young friend, you have no ground of boasting. You have obligations which are violated, and duties which have not been discharged. Great as is your enjoyment, and numerous as are your pleasures — you have within you that which speaks of guilt; and forebodings which a career of earthly pleasure cannot remove.
Let me then advise you to make an early surrender of yourself to Him, who can by his mercy pardon, and by his Spirit purify your soul; who can chase away your fears, and remove your apprehensions, by showing to faith the pledge of forgiveness, and the prospect of a sinless and happy eternal existence!
It has often been a subject of speculation and discussion, whether more felicity is derived from anticipation, than from the possession of the thing anticipated. I will occasionally glance at this point, though it is not my intention to give it a protracted consideration.
There is a distinction between hope and anticipation. Hope always refers to that which is desirable; anticipation may respect that which is dreaded, as well as that which is desired.
Hope, if expressive of less confidence, contains more stability; and if it clings to a less probability — lifts the soul sooner from the pressure of disappointment. It is a tenacious principle, sustaining the spirits when all is dark, and attending the most wretched with its glimmering light, even to the grave. Hence you find it symbolized, by an anchor supporting a female form. How appropriate the symbol. She whose slender texture and delicate feelings, expose her to sickness on the one hand, and a wounded or broken heart on the other; she, who, although suffering the greater proportion of life's trials, seems less adequate to endure them — surely she needs, in its fullest vigor, the encouraging, counteracting influence of Hope. Hope looks forward, perhaps more frequently, to the alleviation of suffering, than to greater happiness in reserve.
It may, therefore, be proper to speak of the pleasures of youth, as connected with anticipation, rather than hope. If, in life's pilgrimage, there is a spot upon which the sunshine falls most sweetly, the flowers breath out their richest fragrance, and the vista opens enchantingly to the eye — that spot is embraced in th anticipations of youth. You may sigh and say that those anticipations will never be realized. Before the sun reaches its meridian, the flowers and the vista will fade, and the scene vanish like the visions of romance. Suppose it should; it is still a vision which we would gladly recall; a deception to which we would again gladly submit. I mourn as much as any, that the scene should be sketched in colors so fleeting.
I would counsel you, young aspirant, to dip your pencil in "living light," and bring your anticipations to bear upon an eternal paradise, where the waters are "clear as crystal;" where the fragrance is immortal; where even the leaves afford a healing balm for our sorrows. I would have you strive for the "crown of glory" that shall never tarnish. I would lift your eye above the wealth that wearies its possessor — to the treasures which are "laid up in Heaven." And instead of picturing to your imagination the full flow of domestic delights, I would send your thoughts to that assembly of blessed spirits, who "are as the angels of God."
But we cannot deny, that even in the anticipations which respect this world, there is delight. We would not call them the foolish vagaries of a youthful brain; nor pronounce them entirely visionary. You may realize the scenes which your glowing imagination has sketched — but you may not find in them all the pleasure with which you had supposed them to be fraught. You may possess the objects — but you will be disappointed in the measure of enjoyment. There is no honorable occupation in life, which yields not to him who lawfully pursues it, a reasonable reward. Nor is there any elevated station, especially if attained by merit and industry, which affords not a fruition that should satisfy our expectations.
The difficulty is, that our expectations of earthly enjoyment are exorbitant and unwise. It was never intended by Him who planted these young desires in the heart, that they should terminate on earth. It was never meant that the youthful imagination should place its scenes of highest delight beneath the sun. These discursive feelings were designed to reach a higher sphere, and dwell in a sublimer region. If we overlook the end of our being, and rest our affections on earth alone — we ought to expect that satiety and disappointment would ensue. The soul of man finds, in earthly things, a sphere too circumscribed for its movements — and a provision too tasteless for its cravings. We must not blame the pleasures of the world for not yielding all the fruition we expected. If we have made them the object of our most ardent desires, they will make us feel, that in them supreme happiness is not to be found.
You now enjoy, probably, as much gratification in your anticipations, as you would ever realize, were you to obtain the objects you desire. If your expectations are extravagant; if you forget the incapacity of earthly enjoyments to meet the demands of an immortal mind; if you grasp solely the objects of time — depend upon it you will be disappointed.
Survey, with a judicious eye, the opening scenes of life, and admit into your calculations of happiness the many possibilities of miscarriage, and then your disappointments, though they may cloud your prospects for a while, will not overwhelm and prostrate your mental energies. The soul will often rise from the pressure with renovated strength; and having learned, by hard experience, how liable optimistic hopes are to be overthrown, will recommence its course with moderated expectations and desires.
There is everything to stimulate a youthful mind. "The world is all before him." Its honors — its pleasures — fame with her trumpet tongue, and wealth with her varied delights — speak in his ear, and beam on his eye, until, by the power of imagination, he almost sees them his; and by the force of anticipation, almost tastes their joys. O that he could see their comparative emptiness; measure them by the light of eternity; and nobly rising above the influence of their attractive power, seek "those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God!"
The objects of youthful anticipation generally vary, according to the character and circumstances of the individual. One born in high life, and from his infancy surrounded by the pageantry of wealth — would of course look forward with more elevated expectations, than the lowly offspring of poverty. The latter seldom ventures further, than to cast a wishful eye to those stations of opulence and of power, which seem not to have been destined for him.
There is, occasionally, a noble exception. Lofty aspirations sometimes take possession of a soul, which received its being in obscurity, and felt its first dawning hopes amid the embarrassments of poverty. Such a spirit spurns the impediments which surround it; and like the cloudy morning, whose vapors roll away from the face of the rising sun, shines the brighter because of its early obscurity.
While examples of such successful emulation are in our remembrance, we cannot doubt that many an indigent youth, although fraught with all the feverish excitement of hope, and endued with the elements of intellectual greatness, has sunk beneath his discouragements, and wasted his powers in some menial employment.
"Full many a gem, of purest ray serene,
The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear.
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."
But happily for the world, a gracious Providence has suited the feelings of his creatures to the situation in which he has seen fit to place them; and generally the anticipations of an indigent youth bear a proportion to the circumstances which surround him. If he ventures not to lift the eye of expectation to the proud eminence of affluence and of power — he finds equal pleasure in anticipating a humbler allotment. Seldom does the heart of one, who has been early schooled by adversity, whose young desires have grown up on the sterile soil of poverty — look with envy on the favorites of mammon, or the successful votaries of fame. To him, it is generally enough, that some food and humble dwelling which he may call his own, and a few acres, which shall yield, to unceasing industry, a pittance over his necessary supplies — may crown in manhood the hopes of his youth. Then the opulent may roll by in splendor, or fame's loud trumpet resound her favorite's name — he can see and hear these demonstrations of greatness, with little of envy or desire.
There may be exceptions to this description. There are some who identify exterior grandeur with the certain existence of haughtiness and disdain. In such cases, self-love and pride, which are natural even to the poorest, will lead them to detract from the character and condition of their superiors.
There are indeed countries, where the nature of the government restricts the young desires, and where the loftiest genius must fold its pinions in despair. But it is your privilege to live, where industry may thrive without impediments; and genius, instead of being imprisoned, may attain the eminence it deserves. If you appreciate your circumstances, and under God's blessing make the most of them, there is no hindrance to your advancement.
It is natural, as I have observed, to shape our anticipations according to the circumstances of our early life. That parent who has passed through the several grades of distinction which his country can bestow, naturally seeks the same distinctions for his offspring, and almost invariably encourages him to anticipate them. Under these circumstances, we should of course suppose that the early bias of youthful desires would be directed to worldly honor and greatness. His education is commenced with this view. Everything is done to wake in his mind the aspirings of ambition, and start him early in the race for earthly glory.
I shall not affirm, that all such stimulating measures for exciting the mind, or are entirely unjustifiable. It shall be my object, in these letters, to regard man as he is, and endeavor to impress him with just views, and inculcate proper principles. Whether emulation is a proper incentive to present to the young mind, I shall not here undertake to say. But I cannot justify that parent or instructor who makes it the only motive to exertion. I would at least insist upon its being his duty to inculcate, as paramount, the pure principles of genuine religion. These remarks will apply, with equal pertinency, to those who regard wealth as a great and important object of pursuit.
In this country, which, at the present time, may, without any gross insult to its inhabitants, be termed a money-making country — there are more youth who are stimulated by the love of gain, than by anything. Affluence is within the reach of many young men. Accordingly, it appears to be an object with many, who, by long and patient exertion, have accumulated wealth, to stimulate their sons in the same career. It does not occur to them that, possibly, such pursuits may end in a fixed habit of avarice, and that the young aspirant, having gained the world — may eventually lose his soul.
Money is an object of strong attraction. He who finds his highest happiness in counting and recounting his treasures — will be likely to begin early to introduce the same craving desires into the mind of his offspring. The youth will be drilled in the arts of business. The associations of business and the chances of bargaining will regularly court his attention, and a great fortune will be represented as the ground of respectability, and the source of influence and pleasure. Under such a training, what wonder that in the mind of youth all other considerations, but the simple one of acquiring wealth, should be forgotten and obliterated.
But there are other considerations; and as high as your hopes may rise, and as bright as may be your anticipations of lucre or renown — there are subjects of still higher import, objects which should more strongly attract the soul. Even, were the earthly object obtained — were the thing, coveted so eagerly, obtained, how soon must you relinquish it: "for we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out." O aspire to undecaying joys — pant for eternal honors — use the world, but do not abuse it; for this world and everything in it, is passing away!
To the youthful aspirant, whose anticipations are glowing with the prospect of wealth — I have additional remarks to offer. I do not approach you with a stern demeanor, as if intending harshly to upbraid you; nor with the moroseness of one who has himself felt the passion you feel, and found his hopes disappointed. I have not strongly desired riches, nor have I, of course, been disappointed in their pursuit. I am not one who thinks lightly of wealth when viewed in relation to this life; nor am I of that number who, unblessed with it, decry it in the possession of another. I would not take from the sons of Croesus their bed of down, and place under them a pallet of straw, nor disrobe their edifices of beauty, and send them to inhabit a hovel.
Even luxury, viewed in some respects, is useful. But you should remember that, too often, the person reposing in luxury perverts the gifts of Providence, and makes it less impossible that a camel should go through a needle's eye, than that his pampered and polluted soul should enter the kingdom of Heaven. It is not because he is rich that we censure him, but because his riches are abused — and thus made the means of his ruin. It is not his large establishment that we condemn — but his making it the object of his supreme delight.
Riches are the gifts of God. It is Heaven's blessing that makes exertion in any lawful pursuit successful. And it is Heaven's appointment when property, accumulated through the exertions of a parent, descends, by inheritance, to his offspring. The evil does not lie in the riches — but in him who perverts them.
I do not believe that wealth contributes nothing to our felicity. It does not indeed add to it, when sought with unhallowed motives, secured by dishonorable means, or spent in riotous living. It does not, when it produces a penurious and miserly habit — then indeed it will prove the "gold that shall canker," and the "rust that shall eat our flesh." Yet who can deny that property, obtained by honorable means, or patient industry, contributes to the enjoyment of its possessor? Who will say that, when sought as the means of usefulness, and appropriated to objects of charity, or employed as incitements to religious or literary improvement, it conveys no satisfaction to the soul? The great mistake lies in the wrong motive with which it is acquired, and the improper uses to which it is applied.
You doubtless aspire to the possession of riches, especially if you are placed by Providence in circumstances to warrant the expectation of obtaining them. In analyzing your feelings on this subject, do you find that you desire wealth for its own sake? Are your efforts prompted by the mere love of money? Do you follow the pursuit of riches as the supreme and all-absorbing business of the soul? Does it occupy your waking thoughts and your midnight dreams? Has it taken such a hold upon the inner man as to crowd out and crush down every subject which relates to your immortal destiny? Are your anticipations clinging to lucre and to the pleasures which it will purchase? Do you view it or them as the greatest good? If so, you are not only a candidate for disappointment in the possession — but you will be criminal, deeply, dreadfully criminal, in the pursuit.
Riches, sought as the highest good, will not, cannot, satisfy the soul. He whose inspiration gave the soul understanding, who intended it for higher pursuits, and a nobler portion — will not permit it. The very possession of wealth would, under such circumstances, become a punishment. If you will make a golden idol for yourself — Jehovah may leave you to be forever joined to it! You may cry to it in your affliction, but it will have no ears to hear. You may call upon it in your dying hour, but it will have no power to commiserate. You may invoke its aid, but it will put forth no hand to rescue.
It is highly important that you should learn to moderate your expectations of worldly prosperity. I do not wish you to become inactive in business or indifferent to the increase of your possessions; but I exhort you to look upon wealth as less, infinitely less, desirable than the inheritance which is "laid up in Heaven." View it as the means of rational enjoyment and extensive usefulness; and while you are "diligent in business," be also "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." If your parents have inculcated a different course, if they have sent you on the mere pursuit of this world's treasures, let me entreat you to pause, and inquire whether the course they have marked out is correct, and the motives they have presented such as God approves. Let me beseech you to examine the principles which govern you, and to estimate the wealth of this world — by the bright rewards of another. I would direct you to that Book where just calculations are made, and where you will find a scale in which you may weigh the happiness of the world, with the hopes and prospects of Heaven.
You know, young man, that youth must soon be followed by old age. You know that the anticipations of youth must soon be followed by satiety, and at last by incapacity to enjoy. You know too that old age is almost coincident with death. From that point, look at the world! Suppose you should have gained a large share of its treasures — must they not then terminate forever? And if, after death, there are no enjoyments of the treasures and delights of earth — what will be your eternity? Where will be your soul?
Wealth not only adds to the influence of its possessor, but gives him the means of gratification. In a country like ours, where property is sought with so much avidity, and secures to an individual so many advantages — it is not a matter of astonishment that many embark with high hopes of future opulence.
We are aware that the desire of wealth increases with the acquisition, and that the amount of property upon which the eye at first rested as the ultimate boundary of hope, becomes, when attained, but the starting point of another and more eager pursuit. So craving and yet so unsatisfied, is the votary of mammon!
The reputation of learning and political stations, requiring more talent in the pursuit, and holding out less probability of success — engage the attention, and waken the anticipations of comparatively few. Still there is a large class of young men, who, from the favorable opportunities which mark the period of their minority, or from a superior force of mind acting against the impediments which embarrass them — fix their restless desires on the loftier pinnacles of earthly glory.
The thirst for distinction, in its earliest development, appears in the domineering spirit of boyhood, which will act in no capacity but that of a leader in childish sports. It must venture one step further on the precipice than any of its compeers. It must hurl the stone one foot beyond the point which the efforts of its young antagonist has reached. It must even, by its acknowledged prowess, enforce submission, as the little tyrant, whose will gives the law, and whose arm administers punishment to the disobedient.
The same indomitable spirit looks out upon life's scenes, and pants to supplant those in power, and to usurp, if possible, the dominion of the world. With this motive, acting like a lever to the mind's energies, the ambitious will toil in the study, breast themselves to danger in the field, and travel among polar snows, or scorching deserts. If they cannot reach the scepter, they will bound their views only by the regions of possibility.
They may not, at first, have suspected the ultimate strength of this passion. As circumstances develop, as in their ascent to fame one impediment after another gives way before their untiring and restless struggles, they begin to find that ambition knows no limit and acknowledges no superior. It is this principle that often seats the student at the midnight lamp, that sustains the soldier amid the stormy conflict, and animates the statesman in the hall of debate. It is this which infuses energy into the mind, and gives eloquence to the tongue.
It is, however, a hypocritical principle. It often calls itself patriotism — when it is nothing but the desire of office. It often claims the character of benevolence — when it deserves only that of pride. It frequently passes for unselfishness — when it should be denominated supreme selfishness. Still it is a principle which, by the control of Him who brings good out of evil, operates very often to the advantage of society, and, in the absence of a nobler motive, becomes a spring to industry, and a promoter of the public good.
I do not pass sentence upon all who are engaged in the pursuit of honor. I would not attribute to my distinguished fellow-citizens, universally, the groveling motive of personal ambition. I believe that a loftier principle beats in many a heart, and that the name of patriot is not an empty sound. I will not admit that to ambition alone, we are indebted for the books of science which adorn our libraries, for the temple of freedom which graces our land, or the principles of liberty which breathe in our constitution. There is more than one name, hallowed in our recollections, upon which suspicion cannot fall. Do not understand me as wishing to undervalue the pursuits of honorable distinction. I would only give to your enthusiasm a right direction, and bid you go forward with expectations that may not be disappointed, and with motives which shall make your success doubly delightful.
It is natural that you should wish to become honored and respected. I cannot suppose that you are indifferent to your reputation. But let not your expectations be immoderate. There are, and I would urge you to remember it, rewards and distinctions which far outweigh the brightest honors of earth. Be not then so absorbed in the pursuit of fame, as to overlook "the honor which comes from God." The one is, in its very nature, unsatisfying; the other calms and elevates the soul. The one must be relinquished almost as soon as obtained — the other follows its possessor beyond the limits of time, and grows brighter and more blissful as the ages of eternity revolve.
If you disregard the honor that comes from God, and become absorbed in that which worldly ambition offers, you "put darkness for light, and light for darkness." You make an estimate of things, calculated to deceive you on earth, and ruin you forever in Hell. While earthly renown is not to be despised, when it may be irreproachably sought and obtained — it will, as you must admit, soon pass away. The chaplet has scarcely touched the temples — before it is exchanged for the habiliments of the grave. While the shout of acclamation rings on the ear of the successful candidate for civil promotion, and swells his exulting heart — that ear becomes insensible, and that heart ceases to beat.
O that you would fix your aim upon a higher, an imperishable reward! Be persuaded to estimate the things of earth by that record which has written "vanity of vanities" upon her brightest treasures.
I have thus far considered the pleasures and anticipations which characterize the period of youth. To these pleasures I have conceded as much of personal gratification as the most enthusiastic and optimistic could be warranted in claiming. It may indeed be thought by many, that I have given them too great an importance in the scale of earthly bliss. You will bear in mind, however, that I have all along considered them as the probable sources of disappointment, and have warned you, that if not wisely controlled, they may lead not only to the wreck of earthly hopes, but the utter ruin of the soul.
Some writers, in addressing the young, especially when they belong to a class of men whose profession creates an instinctive awe, may appear to have approached them in an austere, if not a harsh and repulsive manner. The youth, not careful to discriminate, supposes that his admonisher would strip him of every enjoyment, and send him, like a monk, to subdue his natural sensibilities, and to assume, while in youth, the coldness and gravity of age. But this is not his intention. He only wishes to set you right in the calculations you are making of earthly happiness, and to lift your immortal mind to those superior pleasures which can never satiate. If the mode of our address be occasionally pungent, you must refer the point and the earnestness to the interest which we feel in your happiness, and to the perception which we have of your danger. You must not call us harsh when we are only ardent; nor consider as cruelty to your feelings, what duty to our God and desire for your salvation impel us to say.
Certainly, young men, you will thus far acquit me of smothering youthful feelings; of driving you to premature sobriety; of crushing every flower that blooms in your early pilgrimage. You cannot accuse me of having grown gray myself, and of being therefore desirous to sprinkle upon your heads the frosts which whiten my own. You cannot impute to me feelings which have become cold, and which would therefore reduce your enthusiasm to my own indifference and apathy.
No, I come to you in these letters as one of your own number. I can appreciate your feelings, and participate, with as keen a relish as ever, in many of your joys. Some experience I may have had beyond yourselves. That experience has taught me to regard you with an interest arising from identity of hopes, prospects, and enjoyments. He certainly is a friendly traveler, who, having anticipated others a short distance of the road, turns back to apprise his companions of dangers to which they will be exposed; and those, to say the least, have an ungrateful heart, who receive the warning with suspicion or indifference.
There are dangers to which you are exposed; and they are not less real because the apprehension of them disturbs not your bosom. The greatest perils are often concealed. The most fatal shipwrecks occur from sunken rocks and unobserved quicksands. The day that is ushered in by the singing of birds and the playing of gentle zephyrs — may terminate in the gloomy and desolating tempest!
We have hitherto been considering the period of youth as fraught with high hopes and happy feelings. We have sketched some of its anticipated delights, but were we not to annex the dangers and temptations to which it is exposed — we would exhibit in our picture an unnatural and unwarrantable partiality.
In every earthly prospect, dark and light shades follow or are intermingled. The path through life is not without its precipices; and he who faithfully points out our exposure, bestows upon us a greater kindness than he who only dwells on the safe and agreeable portions of the journey. It has, I am aware, been often asked: Why apprise the youth that he must meet with disappointment? Why teach him to prepare for the hour of trial? Why compel him to suffer before the occasions of suffering occur?
Such, however it may sound to the unreflecting, is not the language of an honest and enlightened judgment. As well may you say to the unwary mariner, unfurl your sails and fly before the wind, when his very fleetness will impel him the more swiftly into the threatening breakers! As well refuse to erect the beacon, because, by its gloomy light, it indicates the rock-bound coast on which it shines. As well bid the bird fly and sing more merrily, because every flash of its wing brings it nearer to the fowler's snare. O it is cruel thus to deceive. Instead of benevolence, it is a blind and withering charity, that destroys by its mistaken kindness.
I would, therefore, draw upon the chart of life the requisite indications of danger, and bid you, as you proceed on your voyage, to observe them with a cautious eye. I would not, I cannot, hold out to you the hope, that all will be serene, that every wind which blows will be prosperous. No, the various aspects which mark the "deep blue sea," are a true resemblance of the fluctuating scenes of life. Now gentle breezes fan the surface; then the hurricane mingles ocean and sky in terrific fury.
You ought to be apprised of similar vicissitudes, and prepared for similar dangers. If there is a possibility of avoiding the perils that lie along your course — you should surely wish to know it; and if the means of safety are attainable — you should surely desire to employ them.
I shall then endeavor, in a few following letters, to point out some of the temptations to which the young are exposed, and to show the mode by which they may be avoided, resisted, or overcome. This, although a less pleasing task than that already accomplished, is of equal, perhaps of greater importance. If it shall appear at that great day when the history of the universe shall be unfolded in eternity, that, through these hints, one immortal mind was guarded from temptation, or drawn back from the brink of destruction; that any reckless youth may have been reclaimed, and a new direction given to feet that had begun to press onward in the broad road to death — I shall have the reward, the highest which I covet, of having "converted a sinner from the error of his ways, and saved a soul from death."
Letter 13. Dangers and Temptations
That very susceptibility to earthly enjoyment, which so strongly marks the period of youth, exposes the heart to the power of temptation. In youth, the feelings predominate over the judgment. Unaware of danger, and delighted with the objects that everywhere court his eye — the young man is exposed to the insidious serpent that lies coiled in concealment, and sees not the lure that is spread for his destruction. He is alive to every new impression, and throws open his arms, with unsuspecting confidence, to every plausible companion.
While such youthful enthusiasm and generosity are worthy of admiration, they are also the groundwork upon which the practical enemies of his peace, whether invisible or embodied spirits, build their hope of seducing and destroying him. They know he is alive to pleasure — and they mingle their cup and spread their feast for his enjoyment. They are aware that he is unsuspecting, and with apparent generosity, they offer him their aid.
Many a youth, bright with hope and unsullied in character, has parted from the embrace of his parents, to mingle in the busy scenes of life; and left at the paternal threshold all the happiness that he was ever to enjoy. The tear that fell on his cheek may have betrayed a mother's anxiety; but the self-confident youth has ascribed it to no apprehension of danger, because his own unsuspecting heart has felt no fear. But his very confidence becomes the occasion of his ruin.
The insidious foe knows how to accommodate his young mind, and graduates the degrees of temptation, to the advance which he has made, and the facility with which he has yielded himself up an unaware — yet voluntary victim.
From pleasures which may be termed innocent, to those deeply criminal — there is an approximation which is not the less fatal because it is gradual and unperceived. There is a sort of shading off, in this criminal process of seduction, that keeps the mind inattentive to its progress from comparative innocence, to the dark and deepening colors of guilt. That heinous sin which, if presented in the early stages of his career, would startle the young mind with horror — finds, after aggravated temptations have gradually weakened his moral powers, an unresisted and easy entrance to his heart.
There will sometimes flash upon him a recollection of his former rectitude. An instinctive comparison between what he now is, and what he once was, will, for a moment, take possession of his thoughts. The steps of his downward progress he may not discern; but the extremes will often strike the soul, like the knell of departed happiness.
It is, therefore, evident, that there is danger to a young man, who, without the safeguard of a fixed Christian character, plunges into the promiscuous scenes of life. The danger, generally, is not that he will at once abandon himself to sinful pleasures. This may, and often does, take place. Where there has been no previous attention given to his morals, and no prayerful and assiduous efforts to fix in his mind the counteracting influence of Christian principle — the youth makes rapid strides in guilt, and soon transcends the limit of decency and sobriety. There is, in such a one, scarcely the show of resistance to temptation. He capitulates at once.
Most parents feel, if on no other subject connected with genuine religion, something at least of the pressure of parental obligation — and endeavor to guard their offspring from indolence and vice. Those who have the faith of the gospel, feel this pressure in a peculiar and powerful degree. It will often start their tears, and heave their anxious bosoms. They cannot fail to connect with the happiness of their children, the exercises of the moral virtues — nor can they suppress fearful apprehension from their exposures to temptation.
If it has been the privilege of my reader to be born of such parents, and educated under the instructions which they have felt it their duty to communicate — the obligations which bind you to a corresponding life, are proportionate to the blessings you have enjoyed. Rid yourself of such obligations, you never can. The restraints which this early tutelage may have imposed, you can throw off. The ties which parental tenderness and anxiety bound around you, may be sundered — but the responsibilities that come from this early education, will abide upon your soul forever.
If, as the scenes of life open upon you, the pleasures of sin steal away your thoughts and affections, if you take those steps that conduct to eternal death, and turn into that broad road which leads to destruction, the memory of past privileges will give a pungency to the stings of conscience, and make your guilty career replete with tenfold criminality and misery! In your case the danger is, that there will be a gradual relaxation of that strict and unbending rule of conduct, which has been enjoined upon you. You may feel uneasy under the restraint, and even be compelled to hear the taunts of those who, having never felt the same force of obligation, are disposed to ridicule all who have.
You are aware how strong, in the young mind, is the principle of curiosity — and in what exaggerated colors things are often delineated to the imagination, which in reality are tame and unsatisfying. This force of imagination, in reference to pleasures that have not been enjoyed, and scenes which have never been visited, is a powerful lever in the hands of the tempter. The young wish to see and know for themselves. Confident of their own power to resist temptation, they venture upon the brink; and, alas! they too often find that curiosity is the gateway to desire; that self-confidence is a broken reed, inadequate to their support!
"Vice is a monster of such frightful deportment,
As to be hated, needs but to be seen.
But seen too oft, familiar with its face,
We first abhor, then pity, then embrace."
Those who are already traveling in this fatal course, are anxious to secure companions whose concurrence in guilt may afford approval and support. If the adage, "that misery loves company" is ever true, it is emphatically so in the case of those who, having fallen under temptation, have parted with their virtue, and who appear never so happy as when they can blast the hopes of a parent, by becoming accessory to the ruin of his offspring!
From this immoral band, I warn you off. If you feel them gaining upon your affections, or gradually drawing you astray by their example — take a determined stand. Plant your feet on this side of their sensual domains, and die, rather than be seduced by their evil machinations. As you value your peace in this world, and as you desire salvation beyond the tomb, I beseech you to proclaim eternal warfare with their insidious principles and habits!
It is desirable to consider, somewhat more in detail, the nature of those temptations which assail the youthful mind. When we speak of temptation, it is natural to connect with it the idea of gross and disgusting immoralities. The word, I am aware, is generally used in this sense; but it is my design to consider it in a more enlarged view, that I may embrace a class of people, who claim a freedom from base and sensual appetites, but who are nevertheless the victims of ruinous temptation.
I have spoken of wealth and fame as the great absorbing objects of youthful anticipation. This thirst for gain, and this spirit of accumulating property, generally operate as a barrier against the gross vices to which the idle are addicted. Such is the constitution of the mind, that, by having one ruling passion, it becomes comparatively indifferent to inferior impulses. Thus, when the desire of wealth, or the thirst for honorable distinction, takes full possession of a man — it often raises him above the influence of mere fleshly pleasures; and I have known those, who, by acquiring such a controlling spirit, have been lifted from the degradation of the sensualist.
But are there no temptations connected with the pursuit of riches, or the stirring strife of ambition? Those who are enlisted in such pursuits, often look down with pity and disgust on the mere voluptuary, as if the sphere in which they moved, were a guarantee against the influence of disreputable deeds. But those pursuits, as honorable as we may concede them to be, are the occasions of temptation and sin — as real, if not as gross, as those of the sensualist.
I might first inquire, whether to make wealth the great object to which all our energies are devoted, is not an occasion of tempting us to ruin! In the affections and desires of the human soul, one object will predominate. That "no man can serve two masters," is as true when applied to earthly objects and pursuits, as when applied to the service of God and the world. You cannot be supremely devoted to the acquisition of wealth — and at the same time supremely enlisted in the race for honorable distinction. Nor can you be entirely absorbed with the love of fame — and equally devoted to the amassing of riches.
You need not be told, that if two rival pursuits cannot claim an equal share of your attention, it is utterly impossible you should love your Creator supremely, and yet set your highest affections upon any terrestrial object. The temptation which wealth and fame spread for your feet, is such, that compliance detracts not from your influence or acceptableness among your fellow-men. They regard you as following a lawful occupation, or pursuing an honorable career. They analyze not your motives; and if they did, they would often render a favorable verdict, where a more discriminating Judge, he who holds the balances of the sanctuary, would pronounce you lacking.
Still the temptation is a real one, and in the sight of Him who claims your supreme regard — compliance involves the soul in guilt, and subjects it to his eternal displeasure.
I am now supposing that you render to every man his due, and that you live so as to receive the approbation of the community. I do not suppose you dishonest in your dealings, or oppressive in your demands. I am not attributing to you envy at the success of a competitor, or a haughty domineering spirit while in the possession of power. You are considered merely as a worshiper of mammon, or a devotee of worldly elevation — rejecting the claims of your Creator upon your highest regard, and transferring your whole soul to wealth or to power. You must acknowledge that there is something in the successful pursuit of these objects, calculated thus to seduce, absorb, and rivet the mind.
Look at the man who experiences, what are generally termed, the reverses of fortune. If he has given his highest regard to earthly grandeur, if he has sought it in the pageantry of wealth, or at the post of honorable distinction; and if he now finds his expectations suddenly blasted — what a vacuity marks his countenance, and what a desolation broods over his soul! He had fixed his hopes no higher than earth, and placed his affections on the distinctions which she holds out — and as those hopes are blighted, there is nothing left but despair, and as the objects of his affection are gone, his mental energies are wasted in self-reproach.
Here is an evidence, that pursuits, which under certain circumstances are lawful and honorable — may become the occasion of temptation and ruin. There is no difference, in the effect upon the mind, between him who is successful, and him who is disappointed. If both have made those pursuits the great end of their being — both have become involved in the same sin, and the only difference is, that he who is unsuccessful, has the misery of disappointment, to give pungency to the goadings of conscience. The successful candidate for wealth or fame, having overlooked the more important interests of the eternal world, finds a drawback upon his exultations, arising not only from numerous and vexatious cares, but from the consciousness of having set aside the claims of his Creator.
The temptation was alike pressing in both cases, and upon both was alike irresistible. They sought an earthly portion, and despised the eternal heavenly inheritance. They preferred the service of the world to the service of God. They were strongly tempted to this, by the impulse within, and by objects without; and though no gross immoralities attach to their character, they fall under the condemnation of that law, which enjoins upon us all, supreme devotion to our Creator. In the pursuit of wealth or fame, this one danger, and an insidious one it is, lies in your pathway, and demands a cautious eye.
Remember, that "no man can serve two masters;" no man, while loving the world supremely, can love God. "For if any man loves the world — the love of the Father is not in him." Yield to temptation on this point — and you yield all. You do not, in the eye of the world, become disreputable; you do not lose the respect and confidence of society — but you forfeit the favor of God, and the fruition of Heaven.
That sacred record, which teaches us to be "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord," inculcates, in the same sentence, the duty of being "not slothful in business." The two can coexist, and they must coexist, or we fall into temptation. He who habitually neglects the claims of domestic duty, or the necessary avocations of life, and pleads as his apology, an attention to the more important service of genuine religion, as certainly subjects himself to the displeasure of God, as the man who makes nothing of genuine religion — and everything of the world and its concerns.
In the preceding letter, I have considered our liability to prefer the riches and the honors of this life. The young are especially exposed to this temptation. On every hand they see the sons of opulence, and here and there observe the successful candidates for fame. The former dwell in houses of lofty and elegant proportions, are attended by an fawning train of servants, and receive that notice and respect which affluence, independent of the character of its possessor, almost invariably commands. The latter, when seen at a distance, look like figures in a mist, and seem to possess a superhuman grandeur — while their heroic deeds, or commanding eloquence, furnish themes for universal praise.
The enthusiastic mind of youth is wrought up to an extravagant excitement, and he burns to emulate these predecessors in the path of prosperity and honor. It does not occur to him that there is, or that there can be, a better portion. He sees no evil in embarking in these pursuits with his whole soul. His strong susceptibilities, and intense desires, fasten upon them with an unyielding grasp — and any attempt to detach them is considered as the indication of envy or uncharitableness.
If what you suppose were true, if there really were no better portion than wealth with its pageantry, and honor with its laurels — I would not be one to call you off from them. No, I would myself engage as a competitor; and, abandoning every other consideration, I would bend my energies in the race. I would, with the sole and simple motive of self-aggrandizement, pass my nights at the lamp, or expose myself on the field of battle. Nothing would be left undone to secure my fame, and no inducement operate to hinder my advancement.
I hold it to be the duty of young and old to secure the greatest good; and if there are none greater than honor and riches, instead of impeding your progress — I would urge every consideration to impel you in the course. But is there no higher happiness, no sublimer pursuit? Is there nothing more substantial, satisfying, and permanent? You know that there is. You know that "riches make to themselves wings;" and honor, in the language of one of the sweetest of poets, is often like "thorns about the bleeding brow." You also know the inevitable necessity of relinquishing them at death.
It is neither in envy nor uncharitableness, that I thus speak. Were there no danger — I would not sound the alarm. If you could pledge yourself that you would ever keep first in view the great end for which God created you, if you could pursue wealth with moderated desires, and aspire to distinction as affording a greater scope for usefulness — I would not arrest your attention by these unwelcome warnings; I would not thus speak of temptations. But if the grace of that gospel, which evaluates things according to their value, has not cleared your obstructed vision, and enabled you to fix a proper estimate upon earthly objects — you will not, you cannot, give such a pledge.
You need that faith which carries the eye beyond the boundary of time, and fixes its eager gaze upon the glories of eternity. You need that hope which aspires to an enduring substance, and those irrepressible desires which take hold on Heaven. All this you must have, before you can weigh the attractions of earth by an unerring balance — before you can pursue with safety to your soul, the path of honor, or accumulate, without danger of idolatry, the wealth which you desire.
Even the Christian, he in whose soul dwells the restraining and counteracting influence of holy principle, is aware of the danger to which we have alluded, and cautioned against loving the world, or ardently craving its treasures. If in his case it is necessary — it certainly is not less so in yours. You are not free from the obligations he acknowledges, although you profess not the hopes he entertains. What genuine religion commands him to do, she makes equally binding upon you. You will at least admit, that if it is necessary to caution him against the danger of allowing earthly objects to supplant those that are heavenly — then to you the caution must be doubly needful. He brings into view the brighter world to which he aspires — that its superior glories may eclipse the splendors of this. You look to no brighter world — and desire no better portion. He habitually meditates on the brevity of time, and the fading nature of earthly joys — thus sobering his views of the present world, by the recollection of his quick transition to the future. You think of the present as a permanent residence, and suppress every reflection upon your speedy passage to eternity.
If then the Christian, with all this to counteract the prevalence of worldly feeling, requires incessant watchfulness, and deep toned warnings — then is it not morally certain that you, whose very nature rushes with impetuosity, and without obstruction, into worldly pursuits — are in danger of making them your portion, and fixing upon them your highest affections? O be wise. Cast your eye along a path so dangerous, and as you commit your feet to it, consign yourself to the Protection of Him who can "guide you by his counsel, and afterwards receive you to glory!"
The danger of making wealth or honor the highest object of attraction, and of excluding the more important interests of the eternal world, we have briefly considered. We have spoken of the temptations to which, on these points, young men are peculiarly liable. But there are other evils connected with such pursuits which naturally present themselves to our view.
The temptation to dishonesty is often plausible and powerful. He, whose ruling passion is the love of money, will be strongly impelled, especially if secrecy can be maintained, to embezzle or defraud. In the absence of Christian principle, which condemns avarice, and deters from fraudulent designs — a man, who has the opportunity of being dishonest, will sometimes be powerfully assailed by temptation. At times, and, unhappily, the cases are not of rare occurrence, he yields to the allurements, even in view of almost certain detection and disgrace.
Many a young man, who had possessed the unlimited confidence of his employer, and, for years, justified that confidence by a scrupulous regard to his interests — has in an evil moment, either impelled by avarice or prompted by the love of pleasures which he had not the means of obtaining — fallen under the power of the tempter. His character is then gone, and his hopes for this world are forever blasted.
He may fly on the wings of the wind to distant climates, and elude the pursuit of justice — though seldom is he successful in this — but he can never erase from his character the foul blot, nor remove from his conscience the intolerable load. The disgrace will follow him into the most remote countries. It will clothe every prospect with gloom, turn every pleasure into bitterness, and make the miserable victim of dishonesty an object of suspicion, scorn, and abhorrence.
The commission of such a deed is easy. It is a deliberate abandonment of all that is desirable on earth. It is a death-blow to hope, and not infrequently the dread forerunner of suicide and eternal perdition.
Would you have an exemplification of these remarks, go to our prisons, and you will see many there, whose early life dawned as fair and as promising as yours. They indulged high hopes, and looked forward to the possession of influence and respectability. But the love of money became their ruin. One compliance with temptation blighted their prospects, and shut them up in those gloomy cells to spend their days in misery and self-reproach.
Such dishonesty may occur from sudden temptation, where the general habit of the mind is upright; or there may have been a previous indulgence in pilfering a small amount. In either case the deed is ruinous to the character, and the severity, which generally marks the punishment in both cases, should warm all young men of the sin and consequences of dishonesty.
If you are placed in circumstances to need this friendly caution, you will not, I trust, consider me as questioning your honesty, while feeling it my duty to administer it. The temptation may never have crossed your mind, and your intentions, in regard to the trusts reposed in you, may be of the most honorable character. This however is no proof that such a temptation never will occur. Your circumstances may change. It is possible that evil company may gain an influence over you, and that the principles, which you now consider as a safeguard, may be gradually undermined. It is possible that the objects of pleasure may so fascinate, or the love of lucre become so strong — that the one or the other, or the combined influence of both, may place you in a situation to need this warning.
The temptation to defraud, in order to be successfully resisted, must not be cherished or tampered with — no, not for an instant. Like every other temptation, it must be regarded as a suggestion of Satan, and be met by an abhorrence proportionate to the blackness of the crime and the danger to which it exposes. It is death to entertain it for a moment. Place not yourself in circumstances to invite it. Cut off an extravagance which your means will not meet, and curb the desire of pleasures which you have not money to procure. Above all, avoid those haunts of dissipation where the gambler lurks to entrap you, or the immoral siren woos you to inevitable destruction. How can honor or honesty stand before such determined enemies of virtue?
Resist the beginning of evil. A small leak may sink the most firmly built vessel, and a trifling breach in an embankment, if not quickly stopped, may soon so widen as to produce an inundation. So it is with the principle of honesty. The smallest deviation from the strictest uprightness, the least indulgence in converting to your own use the property of others, will soon pave the way for larger and more frequent frauds, until principle, character, and decency are forever gone!
Let me also remind you, that the sin of dishonesty is not to be measured by the amount embezzled. When a large quantity of property is fraudulently obtained, it excites more attention, and, in relation to the loser, is a greater evil. But the principle which induces a man to appropriate to himself that which belongs to another, be the thing appropriated great or small, is equally base and sinful. There is one light in which a trifling theft appears even more base. If compliance be extenuated by the force of temptation — then the smaller the amount, the more ignoble the deed. I entreat you, therefore, as you value your character, and your peace of mind, to look with abhorrence upon the least approximation to dishonesty.
There is an eye which rests upon you wherever you go, and sees whatever you do. Sin, ever so long concealed from man, lies open to that omniscient eye. If you would have a safeguard from temptation, you must act under the abiding impression of the sentiment, "You, O God, see me." You must shape your conduct by that rule which teaches you to render unto all their due — and, conscious of your own inability to preserve yourself in the path of rectitude, you must commit the keeping of your soul, your character, and your hopes, to a faithful Creator, and ever pray, with David, "Hold me up, and I shall be safe!"
There are many who pass for honest men, whose consciences give no echo to the appellation. The grades of dishonesty, from actual thievery, to the little deceptions of trade, are so numerous and ill-defined, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to draw the line where innocence ends, and guilt commences. We may remark, also, that what one man would consider a justifiable course — another would pronounce dishonorable; and what one would denominate fraud — another would consider but a little shuffling, incident to the profession. So various are our views of reciprocal obligation, and so differently understood are the principles which regulate commercial fellowship.
It is not my intention to enter minutely into this subject, nor yet to pass it over in silence. I am not ignorant of the artifices, petty frauds, and deceptions, which many practice, who pass for honorable men. It has been my lot to mingle in the busy mart, and to know from early experience, that an upright, honest merchant — is a character not easily maintained amid the tolerated depravity of trade. To avoid a literal falsehood, and yet convey a wrong impression; to undervalue when purchasing, and overrate when selling — these and similar expedients, for the sake of gain, are considered as involving no moral turpitude.
The strong desire of wealth, and the dreaded apprehension of loss, often push men, who in other things are apparently conscientious, beyond the limits of honesty and uprightness. The only salvo they have for conscience, is the miserable apology of the tricks of the trade. The only excuse they render, is the universality of the crime.
By these remarks, I accuse no individual; and while I believe that there are high-minded and honorable men in every profession, I warn you of dangers and temptations which, all must admit, lie in the road to affluence. Since there are such various and conflicting views entertained on the subject of business honesty, it is necessary of course to appeal to some standard of obligation, or everything will be in chaotic uncertainty. You cannot judge for another, nor could you be justified in a blind adoption of another's business principles. There is, I know, a certain understanding among men of trade, as to what is lawful, upright, and honorable. Having, however, no standard, a committee drawn at any emergency from among them, would be as likely to clash as to coincide in their views.
Self-interest is apt to sway opinions on this subject, and it is nearly impossible to obtain a correct verdict on a point of commercial ethics. The standard which I would recommend to you, is that great law of reciprocity which came down from Heaven; "In all things, whatever you would that men should do to you — do you even so to them." This principle is founded in kindness as well as justice — and covers in its application every possible exigency of trade. In fact it is the only principle in conducting business, which will leave your conscience free from reproach, and enable you to look back upon life's scenes with pleasure, and forward to your future account without trembling or dismay.
Perhaps you think, that to act upon principles so strict, would render it impossible to succeed in your enterprise. Perhaps you plead for a relaxation of this rule on the ground of the general practices of commerce. But is it not possible to carry on a successful trade without the violation of Christian principle? Must a man, to secure a fortune, sacrifice his honesty? Then indeed you had better, far better, abandon it. Better to handle the pick and spade, and feel your honest bosom responding to the call of duty, than to revel in affluence by parting with your integrity.
I cannot believe it impossible to pursue an occupation so honorable in itself, without violating the morality of the gospel. There are many men of high integrity, and unimpeachable character, engaged in such pursuits. They shall bear me witness that the difficulty lies chiefly in making "haste to be rich;" in an insatiable avarice, which, like "the daughters of the horse-leech," cries "Give, give!"
It is the supreme attachment to gold that begets dishonest artifices of trade. It is this which makes the seller deceive the buyer; and in return, the buyer, if possible, circumvent the seller. It is this that grudges the sacred interval of time that God in mercy has allotted to the soul, and places the worshiper of mammon at his desk and his books, while his seat in the sanctuary is vacant, and his accounts for eternity are running up with an awful acceleration!
Perhaps you are dependent upon an employer, and must conform in some measure to his mode of doing business. Here, again, it is necessary to administer a caution. I have heard of those, who obliged their dependents to say and to do things in the way of business, which bore a decidedly immoral aspect. The fear of his employer, and the dread of losing his place, have driven the youth into sins, from which his conscience revolted. Repetition of sin produced indifference, and he who came under the care of his cruel patron, with a tender regard to truth and uprightness, when thus schooled in the base arts of deception, forfeited his character, and finished his course in disgrace.
Let nothing, not even the frown of your employer, nor the fear of being driven from your station, induce you to part with your integrity. To maintain this at every hazard is a duty you owe to yourself, to the community, and to God. He who "hears the ravens when they cry," will provide for your support, if, for conscience sake, and through fear of offending him — you refuse to do that which neither he, nor your own conscience can approve. That "honesty is the best policy," is an old adage; but its antiquity has not diminished its importance; and if, in every relation of life, it be taken for your guide, you will become another living testimony to its truth and its excellence.
The temptations to fraud and dishonesty are not the only ones to which the pursuit of riches is exposed. The successful devotee is liable to fall into miserliness or prodigality. The former respects his deportment towards others; and the latter is often indicative of speedy ruin to himself. Few comparatively are exposed to the latter, while many are strongly tempted to the former.
Prodigality, however, is a vice, to which the young and ardent, who have the means of indulging it, are peculiarly exposed. The love of money may take its rise in very different motives.
The miser begins with stinginess, and ends in a confirmed habit of avarice. He seeks wealth, not for the luxuries it will enable him to enjoy; but for the sordid satisfaction which the possession of accumulated gold conveys to his soul. There is something so base and despicable in such a character, that a young and generous mind is prone to the other extreme, and for fear of baseness, is tempted to prodigality.
Either extreme, if not equally dangerous, should be scrupulously avoided. The miser cramps the noble powers of the soul, and makes it the sepulcher of every generous emotion. The prodigal, with lavish hand, collects luxuries, which, like the garlands of ancient victims, seem the prophetic and mournful indications of his destruction. Both, if persisted in, will lead to eternal ruin; the one by its sordid idolatry, the other by its sensuality and defilement.
There is a happy medium, which considers the claims of charity on the one hand, and the calls of personal and domestic duty on the other. There may be economy — without stinginess; and a moderate enjoyment of pleasure — without forbidden luxury and extravagance. There is such a thing as being generous without prodigality, and frugal without avarice.
But remember, that where riches are the supreme object of desire, that happy medium will be overlooked. It can be obtained only by those who view wealth as inferior to the higher gratification of intellect, or the still higher enjoyments of genuine religion. It is when the eye turns upward and contemplates sublimer things — that wealth takes its legitimate level, and the pleasures of sense are justly appreciated. It is this which evaluates according to its real value, and appropriates to its proper use — every blessing which a kind Providence bestows.
I might enlarge on the inevitable ruin to which prodigality conducts its victim. I might tell you of young men, of high hopes and flattering prospects, who, by this vice, weakened their credit, and involved themselves in ruin and disgrace. It is the gateway to early poverty; and the youth who commences in extravagance — will probably end in calamity.
As wealth increases, and one gale of prosperity succeeds another, it is almost a miracle if the pride of riches does not take a deep hold on the soul. He who was accustomed to be a drudge, finds himself a director of others; and he who began with trembling hopes of a competency, perceives his coffers beginning to overflow. He finds himself rising in importance, and wielding an influence which his once anticipative desires dared not picture to his imagination. He finds one luxury after another clustering around him. As he gazes on the scene, it seems to him as if some magic power had placed him there. He is conscious of the external change, but is inattentive to its influence upon himself. That influence has gone along with the change of outward circumstances; and from being humble, condescending, and polite — he becomes haughty, self-sufficient, and domineering.
The power of increasing affluence is irresistible; former friends are forgotten, and former favors overlooked. The notice and attention which riches procure, are interpreted as the indications of personal esteem, and the deference which is paid to fortune is considered as the legitimate claim of intrinsic worth.
It is thus that the road to wealth is beset with dangers; and it is for these reasons that He, who knows the human heart and the power of temptation, declares that "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter into the kingdom of Heaven." The proud spirit which wealth excites is generally opposed to that humility which the gospel requires, and to that holiness "without which no man shall see the Lord." Instead of favoring self-denial — it fosters self-indulgence. Instead of weaning the affections from earth — it rivets them to it the more closely. But why should a mortal man, to whom God has given riches, make them the occasion of pride or sensuality? The frail tenure by which he holds them in possession, the increase of obligation which they bring along with them, and the proportionally fearful account which must be rendered unto Him who bestowed them — should make the man of affluence cautious in the view of his unfaithfulness, and fearful of the ruin to which his circumstances expose him.
I have now glanced at a few of the temptations which are spread for those who aspire after wealth. Some of these, many will take the liberty to despise, while they will acknowledge that others are worthy of serious consideration. But let me entreat you, for whose benefit I write, not to think lightly of any of them. Fraud, avarice, prodigality, and pride, are sins which expose the character to infamy, and the soul to destruction. They cannot be neutralized by the influence of wealth, nor laughed out of the catalogue of sins for which man must enter into judgment. They will meet all who are guilty of them, when the pageantry of riches shall have been left behind forever.
Let me therefore, in conclusion, remind you, that
to guard against dishonesty, you require the fear of your Maker;
to counteract avarice, you need the charity of the gospel;
to escape from prodigality, you must possess a relish for spiritual enjoyments; and
to keep from the sin of pride, you must have a deep insight into your own heart, a just sense of your responsibility to God, and a cheering hope of a more blissful portion in eternity.
Nothing can give you these, but faith in that gospel, which secures the victory over this world, and crowns its followers with the bright rewards of the kingdom of Heaven.
As in the pursuit of riches, so also in a too ardent thirst for FAME, there are numerous and dangerous temptations. He who is ambitious, is as liable to sacrifice honorable principles, and endanger both his reputation and his happiness, as he who too ardently covets the possession of wealth. We would strike at the root of this evil by declaring at once, that a supreme regard to earthly honors exposes the soul to the condemnation of that law which places God first, and everything else subordinate.
The temptation begins here — the post of honor may be sought in ways which public opinion would pronounce justifiable; but being made the all-absorbing point of attraction, it becomes the occasion of sin, and, according to a higher verdict than man can give, renders its pursuer liable to "the pains of the second death."
There was once a class of men who fell under the reproving voice of him "who spoke as never man spoke," because "they loved the praise of men, more than the praise of God." This is the very evil to which ambition leads.
Honor is desirable; and the aspirations that beat in the young heart to obtain it, if rightly controlled and properly directed, may not subject the soul to such an evil. But how is it possible, without the higher motives of genuine religion, to run the race of earthly honor, and not be in danger of overlooking "the honor which comes from God?"
The impossibility of serving two masters applies with equal force in this case, as in the one already considered. There are people occupying a high place in the records of fame, and some who stood on the loftiest pinnacles of her temple, who, though "bearing earthly honors thick upon them," fixed their highest affections upon Heaven. While led on by the approving voice of conscience, their success has secured to them the crown of glory. To them the chaplet was but an incidental trifle, and the eulogy of the public less grateful than the consciousness of having faithfully discharged their duty.
There have been statesmen whose religion gave the impulse to their patriotism, and whose highest satisfaction was derived from the anticipation of the final plaudit, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord." There have been learned men who have labored to enlighten the world; and poets who, in breathing out their lofty strains of devotion, have unexpectedly found themselves enrolled on the records of fame.
The highest object of pursuit should lie beyond the narrow confines of earth. The first thing is to secure the immortality of Heaven. That being obtained, if wealth and honor attend your passage through life, you will experience more than the import of the promise comprised in the injunction of our Lord, "Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Like the son of David, ask first for "the wisdom that is from above," and with it you shall also receive inferior blessings, which shall prove the more grateful the less they were anticipated.
The ambitious are inclined, not only to make fame the highest object of their desires, and thus overlook their paramount obligations to God; but in their progress toward the dizzy height, they are exposed to the temptations of envy and detraction. Competitors they must and will have. They must meet and measure strength with each other, and come in contact with their superiors, and must submit to a contest terminating in defeat. They must sometimes experience the mortification of beholding a rival, with fewer advantages and acknowledged inferiority, intervene between them and their reward, and before they have recovered from the surprise, the unexpected competitor bears away the palm, and binds his head with the laurel which they had anticipated.
Amidst such a struggle for pre-eminence, how is it possible, in view of the natural depravity of man — to doubt the existence of envy, or to deny the frequent indulgence of detraction. The jarring strife of politics, the barbed arrows of the satirist, the newspaper defamation, and the illiberal and indecent attacks upon personal character and motives, which disgrace the proceedings of deliberative bodies — furnish so many ways in which the spirit of envy and detraction are cherished and invigorated. They are the outlets of those fires that scorch the bosom, and scathe the victim upon whom they fall. Like the gloomy cloud, surcharged with the elements of destruction, the votaries of ambition move along, rumbling with restrained wrath, and ready to flash death upon any who may venture to oppose them.
The world is full of these collisions. They are confined to no one profession or pursuit. Whenever selfishness is cherished as the controlling motive, envy will corrode every benevolent feeling, and detraction exhaust its malignant quiver. Happy is that man who can feel a generous sympathy in the misfortunes of a rival! Happy is he who can rejoice in the success of a competitor, whose talents eclipse, and whose powers exceed his own! Alas! how few can endure to hear the praises that are lavished upon another. Where detraction dare not speak, envy will secretly mutter her repinings. The least bit of commendation bestowed upon others, is regarded by the ambitious as an indignity to themselves; and often, where an opinion must be given of another, it is expressed in words so cautiously indifferent, as to hit an intended medium between calumny and praise.
Exertions for power and influence are attended with vexation and trouble. If you can mount the rugged height without envy on the one hand, or detraction on the other; if you can feel a generous ardor, that shall desire influence for the sake of using it for the glory of God, and the good of your fellow-men — then, instead of restraining, I would impel you in the career. But if your pursuit of reputation leads you into the indulgence of calumny, if it absorbs the soul — then you are in danger. Your success on earth, may be coincident with the forfeiture of your happiness in eternity. If unsuccessful, you will become the victim of morbid self-reproach, which will react in proportion to the strength of your disappointed expectations.
Wherever circumstances throw a large number of young men into each other's society, and where similar pursuits naturally lead to a homogeneous character — temptations are forcible, and often fatally successful. This happens in large cities, and in literary institutions. In the former, there is a vast concourse of young men assembled from all parts of the country, who come together as adventurers in the pursuit of affluence or pleasure. Some of them bring with them a reputable character, and correct moral principles. Others come to give loose to evil propensities, which, in the country, and under the restraints of home, were kept in some subordination.
When these characters mingle in a large and bustling city, the former class will naturally be exposed to the seductions of the latter. The pioneers in wickedness, the base and hardened crew, who have abandoned themselves to the indulgence of their passions — lie in ambush, to seize upon their victim and hurry him to ruin. Hundreds of such, with a comparatively plausible exterior, may be found in our cities. Some of them manage to keep up an outward show of decency, and conduct their plans of dissipation in so covert a manner, as neither to fall into disgrace nor excite suspicion or investigation. These are most to be dreaded.
Those who have gone beyond the bounds of external decency, and become so hardened as to feel no shame, have less influence in proportion to their loss of character and their notoriety in crime. A moral youth feels contaminated by their approach. Any visible connection with such, would be at once a forfeiture of character. It is men of fair professions and unsuspected wickedness — plausible, but insidious, who are most to be feared, because most likely to be successful. Practiced in the arts of temptation, they make a gradual advance upon the sincere and unsuspecting youth. They insinuate themselves into his confidence and friendship. When they have learned his scruples, and fathomed his character, they begin the work of drawing him on to their own desperate state of hypocrisy and crime. They will represent as base what is only frugal, and characterize those scruples of conscience which it is their object to eradicate as childish. They will first appeal to curiosity, and then make curiosity the avenue to crime. They will speak of the possibility of concealment, and insist that we could not have been endowed with propensities which it is unlawful to indulge. They will represent as manly, what is vile and debasing. They will tauntingly ascribe to superstition, what is but the sober dictate of reason and religion. By every possible mode of attack, by persuasion and ridicule, by professions of friendship, and sneers of contempt — will they assail the principles and conduct of their victim, until reason and conscience give way, and like the bird lured on by the fowler, he goes directly into the fatal snare!
The indulgence, at first, will be only such as causes a twinge of conscience, or a secret misgiving of soul. The tempted youth will feel a sort of shame and self-contempt; and in the cool moment of reflection, will fix his resolution against all future attacks. But, alas! the first step in a retrograde course has been taken. Like the first step in the retreat of an army, it is as dispiriting to the vanquished, as it is invigorating to his foe. The next attack is less likely to be resisted, for the ability to resist decreases with every successful temptation.
The first sacrifice of conscience and principle is like Samson giving up his locks. It is in vain then to go out and shake yourself in the consciousness of your strength. The seducer will be upon you! He will no longer fear, either the force of principle, or the vigor of resolution. He has carried his point; and one breach of obligation, he well knows, will make way for another, until your character and your destiny become identified with his own.
How many a young man has fallen a victim to this process of temptation! How many, with prospects of usefulness and success, and with a character which might have ensured respect, have, by listening to the voice of the seducer, forfeited the confidence, and fallen under the pity and contempt of the community. Yes, and with the wreck of his own character and prospects, he has become a source of mortification to his friends, and perhaps "brought down the gray hairs of a parent with sorrow to the grave!"
These remarks apply, with equal force, to the dangers and temptations of a college life. Human nature is the same in both circumstances. Instances of successful temptation are very common in our literary institutions. There is, there, the absence of parental watchfulness, and the presentation of powerful inducements to ruin. There is, there, a class of youth whose progress in dissipation is incredibly great. It is in inverse proportion to their years. Idle themselves — their study is to make others so. Lost to morality and decency themselves — they watch for opportunities to reduce their companions to the same degraded level. They endeavor not only to copy the manners, but to ape the vices of older profligates — and the rapidity with which they make shipwreck of health, character, and conscience, is a most melancholy proof of the force of temptation, and the prevalence of youthful depravity!
O you reckless young men, let me reach your ear, and pour into it a note of friendly warning. If there is left in your heart any feeling; if the rapid abandonment of all that is sacred and honorable has not carried away every vestige of remorse; let me remind you of the claims of your family, your country, and your God. Your course will give a death-blow to a father's hopes, and a death-pang to a mother's heart! It will deprive your country of services which might adorn her annals. It will draw down upon you the displeasure of God, and, if persisted in, will cover you with ignominy, and ultimately consign you to the eternal prison of despair!
With such certain consequences of your dissipation staring you in the face — can you, dare you, rush on to the outcome? Is it not time to pause — to repent — to break from the grasp of the destroyer?
If these pages meet the eye of one who is still on comparatively safe ground, who has not yet made a plunge into sensual and forbidden pleasures — I would bid him to beware of the destroyer. For you, there is hope. If a freedom from gross vice, and an avoidance of the occasions of temptation yet sustain you in the confidence of your friends, and in justifiable hopes of respectability and influence — again I say, beware of the destroyer! Place yourself in an attitude of defense. Grievous foes lurk around your path. A dangerous enemy lies in ambush. Avoid a wicked companion, as you would avoid the fascination and the fang of a serpent! His eye may attract, and his movements may seem graceful; but his intentions are deadly, and his venom is fatal! "He who walks with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed!"
It cannot be denied that a residence in one of our cities is attended with more danger to a youth of inexperience, than where the population is less, and the temptations proportionably fewer. The seducer does not work without his appropriate tools, nor hope to compass his end without the aid of intermediate agents.
The theater, appealing to that curiosity and fondness for excitement which strongly characterize the young, throws upon his eye, at every post and corner of the streets, the announcement of some splendid tragedy, or some popular performer. The comparative respectability of this amusement is plausibly urged, and the pittance for which it can be enjoyed is so trifling that, in the opinion of the tempter, it would be a disgrace never to have enjoyed the gratifications of the drama. While respectable names are brought forward as the warrant for an innocent attendance upon this species of amusement, the deadly concomitants are cautiously kept out of view. Profligacy appropriates to herself a large part of the ground, and rallies there her sons and daughters, who throw out their lures for the unsuspecting.
The unwary youth is not informed how many appendages of ruin are hung around the place, nor how easy is the transition to the revels of vice, and the haunts of her dissolute train. It will not do to talk of inculcating virtue from the stage, when even decency is often made to blush, and when some of the most acceptable pieces are fraught with immorality. Instead of being a "school of virtue," it is a school of vice, a hot-bed of iniquity, a panderer to pollution and death!
This is not idle declamation against a popular amusement. I speak a sentiment, to the truth of which the consciences, if not the lives, of theater-going men, will bear me witness. Many a youth has found, by lamentable experience, that, in passing the threshold of a theater, he bade adieu forever to morality, reputation, and happiness.
The auxiliary, next in influence, which comes to aid the tempter in his malignant projects, is the gambling-table. This is an appendage to some of those houses of refreshment, whose ostensible object is to afford an occasional meal, and offer to the social club the means of social enjoyment. But it is scarcely necessary to enter these depraved dwellings to understand that this is not their only object. Even in passing, you may hear the jarring strife, the intimidating threat, and the eager and malicious note of triumph, mingled with the bedlam roar of merriment. The sickly light that twinkles, evening after evening, over the porch of this detestable abode, conducts the unwary feet first to the revel, and then to the gambling-table.
The gambling room is generally thrown in the background, and sometimes shut out even from the light of day; thus indicating that designs so base require, for their perpetration, appropriate darkness. There, in that artificial night, and around that fatal table, dwell the maddened sons of strife, practiced in the arts of deception, and co-partners in the stakes which their adroitness enables them to seize. There they hover like so many vultures, circling and scanning their prey, until an opportunity enables them to swoop upon it, with the certainty of its destruction. From these men, all feeling, all sympathy, is gone. They have an eye that measures the possessions of their victim, and a hand that can feel its way, unobserved, to the last coin in the pocket.
Many of our young men are drawn into these scenes, and, after becoming once initiated, become permanent occupants of the card-table or the billiard-room.
There is still another dark porch which leads to certain ruin; and he, whose feet cross its threshold, will discover the truth of the inspired declaration, "Her house is the way to Hell, going down to the chambers of death!" I would willingly pass over this unwelcome subject; I would gladly indulge the hope that no young man possesses the baseness which is requisite to the indulgence of so base and destructive a crime. I would gladly presume, that it is necessary only to allude to it, to fill the soul of my youthful reader with horror. But alas! how many have gone to this fatal ground! How many have found themselves bound by a fascination which nothing could break! How many have felt an invisible influence chaining them to a spot, where they have sacrificed every hope for this world, and for that which is to come! Poor, wretched, ruined youth! You have nothing left but unceasing remorse — and nothing in reserve but irretrievable misery!
I cannot but hope that the pictures I have drawn of the dangers to which young men are exposed, may serve to deter those from vice who are comparatively moral. To recover those whose habits of wicked indulgence are confirmed, is beyond my expectations. The intemperate are seldom reclaimed. It has generally been found a hopeless effort to attempt to bring back the drunkard to the respectability he has forfeited. As much as it may wring the heart of benevolence, we are obliged to leave him to his chosen destiny. All that we can do for him is to commend him to the mercy of God.
So also is it with the confirmed profligate. Passion has so long domineered over reason and conscience, that we hardly dare hope for his restoration. We cannot convince him, for his mind is fully debased. We cannot alarm him, for he acknowledges that even Hell itself has less misery than is contained in his own bosom. We cannot arouse his sensibilities, for they have been drowned in the frequent and infamous debauch. He is an unhappy, devoted sensualist, over whom affectionate kindred must weep; and in whose behalf a virtuous community can do little more than pray.
But our hope is, to hold up to the minds of all who have been mercifully preserved from these extremes of wickedness — the danger to which they are exposed. I would take my stand between you, my youthful reader, and these scenes of horror and wretchedness; and by all that is sacred in genuine religion, and desirable in the "life that now is," warn you to avoid them. I would post a sentinel at every passage of death, to cry in your ears, Beware! Beware! I would throw in the pathway to these haunts of pollution, every obstacle to impede your course; and hang upon their door-posts the skeleton vestiges of those who have died within their precincts. I would, as it were, invoke the spirits of those unhappy wretches who have gone, to come back and hover around the scenes of their profligacy, to admonish you not to be allured to the same degradation and ruin! I would, were it possible, give them a voice that would curdle your blood, and dismay your soul, and save you from the eternal anguish and the misery which they have gone to inherit!
Letter 22. Prejudices Against Genuine Religion
There are, in some young men, a stability of character, and a power of conscience, connected with strong desires for respectability and influence, which operate as a safeguard from some of the temptations to which we have alluded. Such cases, however, are few, compared with those who become an easy prey to their seducing influence.
Where there is not the fear of God, founded on a thorough change of moral character; where genuine religion does not interpose her shield, and gird the soul with her invincible armor — there are always strong grounds for fear, even when other considerations have for years operated as a protection. Genuine religion, by giving a distaste to such scenes, affords the surest protection against their influence; and by implanting a relish for spiritual enjoyments, fills up that aching void, to which sensual pleasure makes her most powerful appeal.
But genuine religion is a subject at which young people are accustomed to shrink, as if we had introduced a monster, whose aspect and demeanor were calculated to produce only aversion and terror! An early prejudice against the subject gets hold of the mind, and proves one of the greatest obstacles in the way of instruction. This prejudice, however, is altogether unwarrantable. Piety has nothing in her appearance so repulsive, nothing in her claims so unreasonable, that you should startle at her name, or be frightened by her aspect. She comes from Heaven — the purest of regions. She originates with God — the most glorious of beings. "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."
Her aspect, instead of being repulsive, is as gracious as the mild blush of morning. If her restrictions seem to be severe — it is because they are viewed apart from the dangers that attend them. If her commands appear unreasonable — it is because they are not listened to with an impartial ear. If her service is thought to demand too many sacrifices — it is when the reward is overlooked, and the crown of glory kept out of view.
True, she does impose restrictions; but they are only such as procure respectability, steel the heart against vice, and preserve the conscience pure.
She also demands sacrifices; but they only subject the sensual to the rational man, and keep the body in due subordination to the soul. While she demands unlawful pleasure — she substitutes pure and spiritual joy. If she calls off the supreme affection from a world that is transient and unsatisfying — she fixes it upon one that is fraught with supreme and permanent delight. In all this you perceive nothing that is unreasonable, nothing that should prejudice your mind against genuine religion.
It is not perhaps always exhibited by its professors in its most lovely and attractive form; but a moment's reflection will convince you that the fault is not in genuine religion — but in the lack of it. Your prejudice against the ways of God proceeds from the depravity of your heart. That strong susceptibility to the pleasures and prospects of earth, which we have already considered — is the groundwork of this opposition. You are accustomed to identify happiness with the indulgence of such earthly pleasures. But genuine religion moderates earthly desires, and requires that the current of your affections should be directed upward.
Thus you early begin to consider godliness as an unwelcome intruder upon your joys. As you have not felt the dissatisfaction and disappointment experienced by older and more practiced votaries of the world, your imagination is busy with its airy fantasies, and your heart is indulging anticipations which you are destined never to realize. You do not wish to be restrained in your pursuits by the sacrifices and self-denial which the gospel enjoins. Hence, you begin to feel a secret hostility towards genuine religion and its teachers — as if it were their design to destroy your peace, and mar your innocent enjoyments. You stand aloof from their influence. You avoid, as far as possible, coming in direct contact with them.
The wider the separation — the more comfortable your feelings. If circumstances narrow down the distance, and you are unexpectedly brought into their presence — you feel a restraint that is irksome, and a dread of their influence, which makes you unhappy. These feelings are a sure indication that you are indulging an opposition of heart, against piety and its professors. That opposition will increase with the increase of years, unless a transforming power from on high shall eradicate it. Should any happy occasion introduce you to some of the friends of genuine religion, whose deportment reciprocally graces, and is graced by their principles — you would then discover that you had cherished a deep-rooted and unwarrantable prejudice. This often occurs to those whose early education was obtained apart from any influence of genuine religion.
There is another cause of prejudice, to which you may not be insensible. Piety is not always exhibited under the most agreeable aspects. It is professed by people of all classes and conditions. Of course, many who take upon them the responsibilities of a Christian profession, must, from circumstances not under their control, appear in a light calculated not to attract, but possibly to prejudice the young against piety. Some of them are in the humblest walks of life. Their language is vulgar, and their garb plain. Their homely phraseology is no indication that genuine religion is coarse; it only proves that they, having been excluded from the advantages of a refined education, have no better medium of conveying their ideas, or of expressing their feelings.
Others, again, are so unnatural in the expression of their piety, and assume, perhaps unconsciously, such a demure and inflexible gravity, accompanied with such a drawling and sanctimonious tone, that the light-hearted youth is disposed to turn away in disgust. He is in danger of identifying genuine religion with these outward expressions of voice and countenance.
There is no godliness in whining and cant. Piety produces cheerfulness without levity, and sobriety without sanctimoniousness. Where it has an unrestrained flow upon the soul, it causes a pleasing adjustment of all that is graceful and expressive. The unpleasant, and perhaps to some disgusting, expressions alluded to — should be viewed as the legitimate fruits of ignorance or eccentricity. They form no part of genuine religion. Many of the ardently pious are among the most dignified, polite, and pleasing of mankind. You must ever separate genuine religion from vulgarity; and make due allowance for those incidental anomalies, which are sometimes observed in the humblest orders of society.
Besides the prejudice entertained by many of the young against genuine religion, there are also gross misconceptions in relation to particular features of it. It is a very prevalent idea, that Christianity is another name for monkish austerity; and that practical piety is incompatible with any of the pleasures of life. This idea is probably derived from the fact that Christian men are restrained from that extravagance of worldly pleasure, which characterizes the mass of mankind. Those places of public resort, where undue excitement and hilarity are principally aimed at, are not frequented by the pious. Their almost uniform absence from such scenes, together with their moderate indulgence in lawful pleasures, give rise to this misconception.
Those, who identify happiness with a perpetual round of amusements, who live upon artificial excitement as the purpose of existence, are apt to impute a kind of monastic severity and wretchedness to that tenor of life, which the pious feel it their duty and their privilege to pursue. Ask the sons and daughters of pleasure, whether the scenes they frequent give satisfaction to the soul; and they will acknowledge, if they are honest in their reply, that they do not realize the happiness they anticipated, and yet they ascribe to a life of piety the absence of that enjoyment which they themselves are striving in vain to possess!
If you need any proof of the erroneous estimate that the ungodly make on this subject, you can find it in the testimony of those, whose experience has enabled them to judge of both sides of the question. If the pleasures of this world are the avenue to preeminent bliss — then how does it happen that those who were once the foremost in effort, and the fleetest in pursuit, do not, after trying the efficacy of genuine religion, turn away from it in disgust? Why is it, that they do not break from its piety's restraints, and go back to the world? Why is it, that they express the highest satisfaction with their present course — and the deepest abhorrence of their former course? They adhere to their present course without compulsion or restraint. There is no inquisition, with its gloomy walls, to affright them into the observance of genuine religion, or to bar up their retreat from her territories.
Many a votary of this world, with every possible facility for sensual enjoyment, has deliberately made choice of genuine religion, has abandoned forever his former pursuits, and embraced the principles and obeyed the commands of the gospel. What will you say of such men? Will you charge them with cowardice or folly?
Take, for example, the case of the celebrated Colonel Gardiner — a man of respectable intellect, and of high and undoubted courage. He feared nothing but God and his own conscience; and he was a Christian. Yes, and he had tried the pleasures of the world to a very great extent. His person was attractive; his manners were courtly and insinuating; and he possessed the means and opportunities of displaying both, to the envy of one gender, and the admiration of the other. To him, the cup of merriment was filled to the brim. All that could charm the eye, he saw; all that could please the ear, he heard; all that could fascinate the soul, he experienced. Yet this favored gentleman — this man of pleasure — was miserable amidst it all! While the mirthful and festive scene was waiting to be graced by his presence, while the eye of beauty watched his approach, and the ear listened to catch his sparkling wit — he was but a gilded wretch, who, according to his own confession, would gladly have exchanged places with a brute. He at length became a Christian. He abandoned the pursuits of earthly pleasure, and yielded up his affections and desires to God.
If genuine religion's ways are gloomy, and her employments are dull — then why, let me ask, did he, whose experience so well qualified him to judge, deliberately prefer godliness, to all the mirthful and glittering scenes of pleasure and luxury? This example is too well known, and too much in point, to admit of mistake or misapplication. It is a full and satisfactory refutation of the sentiment, that the ways of genuine religion, even on the score of present enjoyment, are less productive of happiness, or less worthy of our preference, than those of worldly vanity.
Men, who thus misjudge, do not give genuine religion the credit which she deserves. She neither enjoins monkish austerity, nor forbids any rational or honorable gratification. If there have been men, who, dressed in hair shirts, walked upon their naked feet, and fed upon the roots of the desert; it only proves how ignorant they were of that genuine religion, which requires not the torturing of the body, but the subduing of the desires which render that body the instrument of pollution. "The kingdom of God is not food and drink" — not merely external observances — "but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." He who gave us our genuine religion, and graced it by his own illustrious example, prayed not that his followers should be "taken out of the world," but that they should be "kept from the evil." We may "use the world," but we "may not abuse it."
It is emphatically the Christian who relishes the world. Its scenery is for his eye, and its music is for his ear. To him, the landscape smiles the more lovely, because it is an emblem of Paradise. The ocean rolls the more majestically, because it is an image of eternity. The mountains tower the more sublimely, because they point his thoughts upward to Heaven. He looks abroad into the varied field of nature; and calls the delightful scenery all his own. His are the mountains, and the valleys his, and the resplendent rivers are his to enjoy! With a propriety that none can feel, but who, with filial confidence inspired, can lift to Heaven an unpresumptuous eye, and smiling, say, "My Father made them all!"
How tasteless, compared with the calm delights of genuine religion, are the sickly enjoyments of the sensualist; or even the high excitements of successful ambition. If hitherto you have entertained a different opinion, let me assure you, it is founded in prejudice and error. Genuine religion has the promise of "the life that now is," and if you make the experiment, if you yield yourself up to her influence, you will find, by happy experience, that her promises never fail. "She is a tree of life to those who lay hold upon her; and happy is every one who retains her."
The idea, that piety prohibits the true pleasures and enjoyments of life, is not the only error into which young men are likely to fall. They sometimes entertain the notion, that genuine religion is adapted only to weak minds, to females, and to the aged. Not suspecting that, according to this very opinion, it might possibly find, in some of them at least, an appropriate theater for its exercise, they have endeavored to transfer its obligations from themselves to those whom they considered their inferiors. They have identified feminine weakness — and humility of soul; and ascribed to penitence, the relinquishment of a manly spirit. The active duties of the gospel, they have associated with vulgarity; and its passive virtues, they have attributed to cowardliness. Such are the views, which some of your dashing, superficial, reckless young men, have imbibed on the subject of genuine religion.
I admit, that, if the professors of genuine religion were to be polled, the result would probably show that a majority are females. But does this prove that they have minds inferior to ours? It is a strange sort of logic, that would deduce such an inference. It would be taking for granted, what such men might attempt in vain to prove, that genuine religion is a silly and senseless subject. If it is, as it purports, a message from Heaven, indispensable to happiness in this world, and the only passport to immortal glory — if this is conceded, I would, as the advocate of the other gender, turn the tables upon these gentlemen, and ask: who is chargeable with the greater weakness, she who receives the saving gospel — or he who rejects it?
I rejoice, that, in mercy to those soothing, sympathizing companions of man, God who has meted out to them the larger measure of suffering, has also mingled, with their sorrow, the hope that cheers, and the consolations that sustain them. It seems a blessed award, that the very sufferings they endure should become the rough pathway to Heaven. Such indeed is often the result.
While thoughtless man is absorbed in the strife and toil of earth, and apparently unconscious that there is any existence beyond the boundary of time — the partner of his life, sequestered from tumultuous scenes, "is setting her house in order," "trimming her lamp," and awaiting the summons to a brighter world.
Nor should we less rejoice, when the evening of life begins to throw its shadows around, and objects once so bright are becoming dim to the eye, that we may look forward, with clear vision, to that cloudless region, where everything is blissful and permanent.
It is a gross misapprehension, to suppose that genuine religion is adapted exclusively to weak minds. Allowing that those who entertain this opinion are as great and as gifted as their sentiments would seem to imply, would they not concede some sort of intellectual equality to the heroes, statesmen, and philosophers, who, while serving their country and mankind, have sustained, by their Christian virtues and honorable profession of genuine religion?
Perhaps it will be replied, that the number of such is very small. This is all that we assert. The number is small, or we would almost doubt the truth of that genuine religion, which has declared, that "not many wise men after the flesh are called." Still it seems as if the Author of the gospel, anticipating this objection, has, in every age, selected a few of rare endowments, whose example should silence the caviler.
"To the poor the gospel is preached;" and, generally, by the poor it is embraced. But it is not confined to them. It steps up occasionally into the ranks of nobility and greatness, and hallows for its service some of the brightest talents of earth.
But genuine religion needs no adventitious distinctions. Like its Author, its grandeur is inherent. The mind that falls under its influence, be its powers ever so vigorous, or its genius ever so bright — adds nothing to the honor of genuine religion, but acquires new glory by embracing it. Its effulgence, like that of the sum, can be neither increased nor diminished, by possessing a few luminaries to receive and reflect its radiance.
It appears to me evident, that a misapprehension which supposes genuine religion to be adapted merely to weak minds, must have its origin in an insincerity of character that leaves no hope of correction. It is a sort of desperate plunge after absurdities, which indicates the very weakness it would palm upon the pious. If genuine religion has claims for the feeble intellect — then it is equally obligatory upon the strong. If there is no salvation without it — then the haughtiest neck must bow to its yoke, or be broken under its insulted power.
Neither the wealthy, nor the gifted, nor the great, can escape its imperious claims. It holds them under even greater responsibility. It measures the accountability of man, by the talents committed to his charge. It weighs out his condemnation, in proportion to the wealth he has squandered or hoarded — and the talents he has neglected or perverted. It makes the amount of sin, to tally with the amount of abused privileges. There is no getting clear of its omnipotent grasp. You may turn over its claims to the poor, the aged, and the weak. This will exhibit a show of indifference, and an air of pretended superiority to its demands. But rest assured, the obligations of genuine religion are not so easily set aside. The God who binds them upon you, will not relinquish his authority!
It is the object of the last three letters to remove if possible, some of the prejudices and misconceptions which the young are prone to entertain, on the subject of genuine religion. If I have succeeded, I may indulge the hope of obtaining your attention, while I speak of its claims upon your conscience and your heart.
I might have argued for a wise and moderate pursuit of this world's pleasures, even on the principle of securing the greatest amount of present enjoyment. The most sage philosophers of ancient and modern times have taken this ground, and have commended to their disciples to chasten their desires, and to circumscribe the indulgence of sensual pleasure. But we take higher ground. We call upon you, as an immortal being — to regard, in your principles and conduct, the immortality to which you are destined. We do not consider you merely as an inhabitant of earth — but as an immortal being who will live forever, either in Heaven or Hell!
It is unnecessary for me to prove to you that you cannot live always in this poor world. You need no arguments to convince you that you must die. You can scarcely direct your attention to any point of the visible horizon, where the admonitions of death will not strike your eye, or fall upon your ear. Nor do you question the fact, that the hour of your departure is uncertain. You cannot tell in what moment the mortal agony shall come.
Now, have you never pondered on these points of personal peril and contemplated the solemn scenes that shall follow? You cannot imagine that death is the termination of your being. There have been skeptics who have promulgated such an opinion, and endeavored to support it by a plausible species of sophistry. The sentiment, however, is not common at the present day. The doctrine of immortality is too deeply founded in the constitution of man, to be easily subverted. Infidelity may for a season infuse doubts into your mind; but the truth will come back upon you with a force that you cannot resist. Immortality is so interwoven with your consciousness, that, however unwelcome, it will cling, with a pertinacious grasp, to your thoughts and feelings. You cannot annihilate it by sophistry, or drown it by sensual indulgence. Your reflections, overleaping every barrier, will fasten upon eternity.
Regarding you, therefore, as a rational and contemplative being, I ask, whether the thought, that you are immortal, does not awaken in your bosom some strange and affecting apprehensions? I ask, whether the consideration that death, come when it may, shall introduce your soul into another sphere of existence — does not bring along with it some fearful premonitions?
Perhaps you seldom permit the current of your thoughts to take this direction. Perhaps you watch against the first intimations of serious reflection, and endeavor to dissipate them by plunging into business or pleasures. Carrying in your bosom a consciousness of unfitness for such a change as death will produce, and having, in common with all men, an instinctive dread of the gloomy subject — you put away from you, as far as possible, the evil day, and determine that the mirthful scenes of life shall not be shadowed by such considerations.
I admit that to us all the thought of dying is, at times, unwelcome. Even the Christian cannot always look forward to a future state with undisturbed feelings. Though possessing a hope of God's favor, and an expectation of eternal felicity in Heaven; yet darkness and doubt will occasionally arise, and in some measure obscure his spiritual vision. How much more unwelcome then must be the thought, to a youth, teeming with worldly hopes, and alive to every earthly pleasure! To him, it conveys not only the painful apprehension of being sundered from every companion, severed from every amusement, and cut down amid the most joyous prospects and anticipations; but also the agonizing assurance of meeting a Being, whose purity and justice are arrayed against a life of sensual indulgences, "who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity," and "who will by no means clear the guilty!"
The necessity of relinquishing present happiness, and the fear of enduring future misery — cannot fail to excite anguish and dismay whenever he reflects upon death and eternity. If he does not at present enjoy so much earthly felicity as he once anticipated — he at least entertains the hope, that it is yet in reserve. If he cannot say, in the honesty of his heart, that he has now a hope of God's favor, founded on a Scriptural basis — he looks forward to the time when such a support shall be thrown under his soul; and he cannot bear the idea of being hurried, prematurely and unprepared, into the fearful scenes of futurity.
It is natural for young men of this character, to fly from the consideration of a subject so gloomy and painful. Hence we find, that, in order to crowd it out of their thoughts, they will resort to every species of gaiety, and often rush, with a sort of determined recklessness, into the grossest sensual indulgences. The hours in which business does not press, especially the sacred hours allotted to the soul's reformation, are a season of intolerable reflection. The immortal spirit brings forward her claims and inquiries, and the man of business or pleasure must answer or suppress them.
How often, alas! he prefers the latter! The gaiety and dissipation of the world hasten to his assistance, and he chooses to smother his reflections in a round of amusements, or in jovial company. It is in this way he endeavors to elude the enemies of his present peace, and to secure a temporary relief from the harassing convictions of conscience. It is a sort of truce, to which his soul reluctantly submits; but it is not a final surrender. It is only giving sharper weapons to conscience, and severer poignancy to her stings.
You cannot keep up such a perpetual recurrence of dissipating employments, as not to allow the conscience any interval for her claims. She will be heard! If you drown her voice through the day; if business, with its pressure and perplexities, aids you in stifling her reflections — rest assured she will present her account in a dark and sleepless hour of the night. She will make the couch on which you anticipated repose, as uneasy as a bed of thorns! Perhaps she will take advantage of your sleeplessness, to make you feel and fear her power. Your dreams may savor of her terrific visitations. You may awake, and find the cold sweat standing on your brow, as the indication of her presence, and the mark of her authority. You may carry a sadness through the day, an unaccountable sinking of spirits, which shall be proof enough that she has presented her account.
If you go to the haunts of dissipation, she will follow you, with a whisper, which shall shade your countenance, and writhe your frame. She will often make the heart heavy, where it anticipated buoyancy; and clothe with gloom, those scenes which promised nothing but sunshine. Such is the power of conscience; so fearful are her visitations. Why will you not listen to her call? Why will you not obey her voice? How can you hope to elude her warnings?
I would guard my reader against the inference, that the wicked alone are the subjects of such pangs of conscience as I have described. It is true that, other things being equal, remorse is more pungent in proportion to the magnitude of crimes. But still, where there is an apparent freedom from gross sensual indulgence; where the character is naturally amiable, and the conduct, to the eye of man's observance, at least free from immorality — the soul is not altogether at ease about its condition in a future world. Amiableness and morality are often assumed by their possessor as a ground of hope. Presenting, as they do, a striking contrast to the conduct and character of the abandoned sinner, they may excite an expectation of future happiness. It is, however, a feeble and undefined expectation which cannot erase, entirely, all concern — or suppress the voice of a reproving conscience.
There are two classes of duties obligatory upon man. The one relates to his deportment towards his fellow-men, and his influence in society; the other binds him by solemn obligations to God, and to futurity. He who expects security from the doom of the wicked, because he regulates his conduct towards his fellow-men by the principles of honesty and justice, and puts a rein upon his appetites and passions — cannot but be conscious, at the same time, that there are positive duties which he owes to his Maker.
He might present this external deportment — if he regarded his reputation merely. He might restrain his passions — if there were no future state. He might find a sufficient reward in the act of self-government, in the health of his body, and the composure of his spirits. The love of power, or the thirst of riches — might displace or keep under the grosser passions. We can suppose many reasons, not of a religious character, to operate upon the mind, and to prevent it from running into excessive wickedness. We can suppose, too, that such a restraint is attended with a satisfaction, and procures a respect and influence, which, independent altogether of the eternal world, are, to the character we are contemplating, a sufficient reward.
But how can a man, who believes the bible, base a hope towards God upon such grounds as morality and honesty? He may attempt to do it; but if the other class of duties, which relate to the claims of his Maker, are neglected, if he gives not God his supreme affections, and glorifies him not by an entire consecration of soul and body to his service — he cannot be free from painful apprehension.
There is a principle in man which tells him in fearful terms of such neglect. This principle not only accuses of intemperance in sensual pleasure, but is equally loud in its upbraidings when it speaks of obligations violated, and of duties neglected. You may take the most upright man, upright on mere worldly principles, and examine him on this point. You will soon find that while honesty, sobriety, and the good effects which flow from them, are the foundation of a comfortable self-satisfaction, he is agitated and distressed if you press him on the subject of neglecting the duties which he owes to God. You will touch his conscience at once. He cannot bear to have his character estimated by the devotion he has paid to his God, and the sacred reverence with which he has observed the Divine commands.
It is not possible, then, that any but a sinless being, can be free from terrors of conscience. I say not, that the fears of all men are equally strong, nor that the stings of remorse are in all equally pungent; but I cannot believe that any are entirely free from them. If they have not committed one particular sin — they have been guilty of many others. If they have not neglected one duty — they have omitted others. They may be free from intemperance — but addicted to covetousness. They may be not sensual — but ambitious. They may give to every man his due — but withhold the glory which is due to God. Instead of loving their Creator supremely — they may "love the creature more than the Creator." If free from gross immorality — they may not have improved their talents, nor made the attainments which their superior education and privileges demanded. If they maintain correct exterior deportment — He who searches the heart may discern pride, envy, or lust.
A good reputation among men — is no certain index of the state of the heart toward God. It is therefore clear, that, unless a man is as sinless as an unfallen angel, he must be, more or less, the subject of remorse. He must entertain some apprehensions about his future state, and have at least some solicitude on the subject of salvation.
If our allotment in a future world were to be measured and modified by merely external conduct; if a freedom from gross and disreputable sins were the only requisition which our Maker had made — then indeed there would be, in the man who had thus regulated his conduct, no room for remorse or self-condemnation. But, besides this exterior propriety of conduct — there is required also purity of heart. Besides "doing justice and loving mercy" — we are required "to walk humbly with God." We are directed not only to be honest, and sober, and "temperate in all things" — but also to love Jehovah with all our hearts, and to serve him with all our powers.
I state this point clearly, not only because it is important, but because it is so often overlooked by those who, like the pharisee, are in danger of a pride that is offensive to Heaven, and which, unless eradicated — must prove eternally fatal. If you, my reader, are amiable in your deportment, and moral in your habits of life — I would not be so indiscriminate or unreasonable as to class you with the wicked or the worthless. But I ask, have you never transgressed or disobeyed the Divine law? Has your conscience never reproved you for neglecting the duties which you owe to your God? If you are constrained to admit these facts, surely you will not, on the principles of strict justice, set up a claim upon God's favor, nor build a hope of eternal life upon your undeviating purity.
If you had never committed any sin, you might come forward with such a claim; but one sin is a forfeiture of the Divine favor, and one transgression of the law of God, subjects the transgressor to eternal death. This I say on the authority of the scriptures: "The soul that sins — it shall surely die." "The wages of sin is death." It is clear, therefore, that you, in common with all mankind, have strong ground for your fears respecting the eternal world. It is evident that you have urgent and unanswerable reasons for inquiring "what you must do to be saved."
The foregoing letter implies, that you are not only a sinful creature, but an accountable creature. You will not, I presume, deny either of these propositions. Your accountability grows out of your constitution as a rational and immortal being, and the connection which exists between you and your Maker. This connection is indissoluble. Nothing can destroy it. You have begun an existence which shall never end. He who gave you being, will perpetuate it. He has declared that you must exist forever, in a state either of enjoyment or of misery. He has, moreover, made that enjoyment or misery to depend on the character you sustain in this life. He has so constructed your mind, and so arranged your circumstances, that you cannot act on any subject without incurring responsibility.
This is a thought full of terror to a reflecting mind. He, to whom we are accountable, has not left us in uncertainty as to the requisitions he makes upon us. He has given us His Word as "a light to our feet, and a lamp to our path". He has revealed to us his will, and sent along with it the most solemn sanctions. According to his Word, we are accountable for our secret thoughts — as well as our overt acts. We are judged by the exercises of the heart — as well as the tenor of the life. God's Word enjoins purity of feeling — as strongly as propriety of outward conduct. It condemns for a lustful desire — as well as for an impure action; and reprobates covetousness — as severely as sensuality. God's Word commands supreme love to God — as well as love towards our neighbor. It enters into the whole man, searches every corner of his heart, and condemns for the least deviation from entire purity and uprightness.
Even He who came to cancel, by his sacrifice, the sins of men — has declared that it was no part of his mission to destroy the Divine law. It is obligatory now, and it will continue its obligations through eternity. Your daily actions and feelings are all to be judged and tried by this unbending rule of duty. Though you may not have heeded the fact — yet, depend upon it, they are duly registered on high; and they will be thoroughly examined and adjudicated by the Divine law. Not a day or an hour passes by, but you are swelling the items of that dread account, which you, as a rational and responsible creature, will be constrained to render at the bar of God.
If you are disposed to pronounce it hard that you should be judged by so severe a standard, I would appeal to yourself, whether Jehovah could have required less without marring his glorious and immutable perfections. There was then a necessity arising out of his nature, for adopting these high requisitions; and if you have not given to them your full and entire obedience, you must look, for deliverance from the penalty, to some other source than the very law by which it was denounced.
Let me therefore caution you against supposing that an estimate may be made of character by adding up the good deeds in one column, and the bad in another column — and making the one to balance or cancel the other. Were you to measure what you consider good deeds by the law of God, and to take into the account the motive with which they were performed — you would soon be convinced that "there is none that does good, no not one!" You would soon discover that you have violated your obligations to love God supremely, and to regard his will as the great incentive to action, and the leading motive to restrain you from vice.
The law of God is of such a nature, that if you have ever committed sin, it brings the charge of guilt upon your soul; and this charge it would neither revoke, nor remit, were all your subsequent life devoted to contrition and obedience. To violate that law, it is not necessary that you should be grossly wicked. If you have ever broken the least of its provisions, there is only one way by which you can escape its penalty — the "new and living way" revealed in the gospel — "repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ."
Around the base of Mount Sinai, is drawn a line which seems to say: Within this circle there is nothing but death. On its summit there are the demonstrations of wrath. There the lightnings flash and the thunders roll, as if the voice of incensed justice demanded its victim. Will you venture within that circle? Will you dare to climb that mountain? Oh! if you are a sinner, that mountain, be assured, speaks to you of death and damnation. It warns you of your doom. It declares, in most fearful language, "The soul that sins, it shall surely die." It holds out but one condition of life, "Do this and live!" It admits no extenuation. It receives no equivalent at your hands. If you have ever sinned, it seals your death warrant. It will lay aside its terrors, only when you are covered with the "garments of salvation."
Seek no longer, them, to obtain favor with God, or to calm the restlessness of conscience, by approaching the brow of this fearful precipice. Attempt not to palliate your sin, but sincerely confess and deeply lament it before God. Trust not to your own efforts for eternal life; but place your reliance on One "who is able to save to the uttermost, all who come unto God by him." There is no way of securing the Divine favor, unless you obtain him as your Advocate, whom the "Father always hears." There is nothing that can cancel your guilt, but the "blood which cleanses from all sin." There is no avenue of escape from the penalty of God's broken law, but that which leads to Jesus Christ, who is the "city of refuge," the "stronghold" to "prisoners of hope."
You are, I would hope, convinced, that instead of goodness or purity, there is in your heart and conduct, "only evil, and that continually." You at least discern the sentence of condemnation, which a violated law pronounces upon you. Do you feel the force of that sentence in your conscience? Do you fear the penalty of that law in your destiny? Are you, in one word, ready to inquire with the conscience-smitten jailer, "What must I do to be saved?"
This is an important question. It is an inquiry at once pertinent and pressing. It is one which you must make, sooner or later. If you defer it now, you will institute it in your dying hour. Beyond that point, it will be silenced forever. "It is appointed unto men once to die — but after this the judgment." "There is no work nor device, nor knowledge in the grave, where you are going."
I will suppose you sufficiently convinced of your sin and danger to propose the question now. I will assume that what you have read, has opened your eyes upon the actual existence of sin in your heart and conduct. I will consider you in the attitude of an inquirer. Such being the state of your feelings, it gives me pleasure to follow up the closing remarks of the last letter, by urging upon you, more at length, to have recourse to Him "who came into the world to save sinners."
The plan of salvation is simple, and the cardinal points of the gospel are few. A man who is disposed to cavil, can find materials enough in the bible for the gratification of his propensity. Many people are in the habit of overlooking points which are clear and obvious, and of raising objections to those which they consider as hard and mysterious. They seek an apology for sin and impenitence — in the abstruseness of certain doctrines; while they are obliged to pass by unheeded many a page, which plainly teaches their obligations in the most perspicuous and impressive terms. But the sincere inquirer after truth will not be so disturbed with difficulties.
If you are really convinced that you are a sinner, and in need of salvation; if you feel that you have violated God's law, and that you must be pardoned or punished; if you come to ask with a trembling, broken heart, for the way of deliverance — it will be as easy for you to hear, as for me to speak. It befits us, however, to speak on this point "according to the oracles of God." The sacred record, in alluding to the Lord Jesus Christ, declares, "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name, under Heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved."
Now, suppose that, overlooking this direction, I should tell you that you need not give way to anxiety and distress; that you had led a decent moral life, and that although you had committed some sins — yet if you would endeavor to do better for the future, all would be well enough with you at last. Suppose I should endeavor to calm your anxiety, and remove your fears by such advice — what would you think of it?
If you were really convinced of sin by the Holy Spirit, it might produce no fatal effect. You might still feel the pressure of guilt, and go to some better qualified instructor to learn the way of life and salvation. Were you to place your confidence in counsel so acceptable to the sinful heart, and permit it to govern your course of life — it would ruin you forever!
The awakened conscience, in frequent, and perhaps in most instances, resorts to external efforts, or what is termed good works, as a substitute for contrition and repentance. This course is the result of pride, not of humility. It is to confide in self-righteousness, and not in the righteousness of Christ. He who wraps himself in such a robe, will find it like the poisoned garment of Hercules — a covering and a shroud! I have no other direction to give to you, than that which the apostle gave to the jailer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved."
This is a short but comprehensive direction. You doubtless believe that there was such a person as Christ; you admit the divinity of his mission, and the performance of his miracles. But this is not complying with the direction given to the jailer. So far as it goes, it is well; but the demons have as much faith as this. They believe in the mission of Christ. Some of his miracles were wrought upon themselves; and they, of course, believed in their existence.
To truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, is to put your trust in him for salvation. It implies that you are deeply convinced of sin; that you discover no method of escape but through a crucified Savior; and that you go with your load of guilt and anguish, and cast yourself down at his nail-scarred feet. It implies that you renounce all self-dependence, abandon every earthly refuge, and fly to Jesus as your only hope. It implies that you place your entire reliance upon his atoning blood, and his spotless righteousness; that you unreservedly surrender your soul, with its immortal interests, into his hands; and that, believing all his promises and obeying all his commands, you look forward, through him alone, to the rewards of eternity.
If, then, you are convinced of your sinfulness, and are inquiring, "What must I do to be saved?" I would again say, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ — and you shall be saved." I would not tell you to go and do as well as you can, and leave all the rest with God; because the Bible does not warrant such a direction. It must therefore be dangerous to give it. But I assume no such culpability when I bid you to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." I am sure that I am on safe ground; and I can assure you, that if you comply, you also will be safe. Your soul will find a foundation that shall never give way. "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
If you listen to any other direction, or settle down upon any other hope — you do it at your eternal peril. There is no other hope. Your own righteousness is but filthy rags. Your reformation can never cancel your past sins. There is but one avenue from damnation; one road to life eternal; and that is emphatically styled "Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life."
I am the more particular in this caution, because there is a strong propensity in the heart of man to lean upon his doings as a ground of hope; to believe that a mere external reformation will be a sufficient passport to Heaven. Overlooking the great high-way thrown up by the mercy of God, setting aside the righteousness of a Savior — man is prone to make a provision for himself. But this is taking ground which death will undermine. It is building upon the sand. It is adding to your catalogue of crimes, the condemning sin of unbelief. It is casting contempt upon the cross. It will subject the soul to the penalty of a broken law; to the doom of those "who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ."
I know not that I have been successful in my attempts to convince you, that, on biblical principles, you are a sinful creature, and exposed to the eternal punishment which awaits the impenitent and the guilty. Nor, if you feel such a conviction, am I sure that I have explained, to your satisfaction, the way of salvation through faith in the Redeemer. I shall regret it, if I have failed on either of these points. The former is necessary to teach you the need of salvation; the latter is indispensable to a clear apprehension of God's mercy, and of the impossibility of being saved in any other way.
I might go on to explain, more fully, how the sufferings and death of Christ become the medium of mercy to him who repents of sin, and believes the message of the gospel. These points, however, are so often and so fully discussed, they are spread before you in so many discourses, both preached and printed, that it seems superfluous to give to them here a distinct consideration.
The intention, in presenting to you these sheets, was not to instruct you in theology, but to correct prejudices which you may have cherished against genuine religion; to throw light upon your duty; and to lead you, if possible, to renounce the ways of sin — and embrace the offer of forgiveness, through the one and only Mediator. If I have opened the wounds which sin has inflicted — I have at the same time presented the healing balm. If I have carried the trembling soul to Sinai — I have not overlooked the peace-speaking summit of Calvary.
I have presented the subject of genuine religion and its claims upon you, as an accountable creature — that I might close these pages by an affectionate appeal on a subject the most important and momentous. I have not lost sight of it. While speaking of the pleasures and prospects of the young, or depicting their dangers and temptations — I have considered the gospel as the guiding star amid life's checkered and tumultuous scenes. But it is important to bring its claims home upon the conscience. It is necessary, not only that we view it as gilding with additional beauty what nature has made bright, and distilling sweetness into the cup of earthly pleasure; but, that we ask ourselves whether we are the subjects of its influence — whether we have submitted to its claims.
Many a man will admit the general utility of genuine religion, will eulogize its character, and speak well of its professors — who would feel indignant, were you to press its obligations personally upon him.
Now I ask you, my reader: Will such general commendations of genuine religion save the soul? Will such admissions in its favor, wash away one sin, or place your feet one step on the road to Heaven? May not such a course be pursued by one who gives his highest affections to the world? Depend upon it — you must let its claims come home upon your own soul, and submit yourself to its dictates.
Perhaps you admit the justice of these conclusions, and agree that, if ever saved, you must bow to the requisitions of the gospel. The tempter will whisper in your soul: "There is time enough yet. Why should you abandon all your pleasures, and settle down, while so young, into the sobrieties of a religious character?" Be cautious in admitting such a thought.
You do not abandon pleasure, by becoming a Christian. There is fallacy in this suggestion. Pleasures, pursued as the supreme object of the soul, never have afforded satisfaction — and never can afford satisfaction. Genuine religion forbids only those habits and pursuits which corrupt and debase the soul. Instead of being an impediment — she is therefore a pathway to happiness. Instead of requiring you to relinquish your pleasures — she calls upon you only to abandon your sins. She holds in her hands a felicity, at once ennobling and permanent.
One of the most successful points in which the young are assailed, is undoubtedly that of representing genuine religion as curtailing their pleasures. There never was a greater mistake, nor one more successful in its operation. But suppose it were true, that genuine religion cuts us off from the essentials of earthly felicity; suppose it were a subject as gloomy as the young are apt to imagine — would it not be wise to weigh the question, whether a few fleeting pleasures are worth purchasing at so dear a rate, as that of forfeiting your eternal interests, and placing yourself in peril of endless misery! If a pursuit of earthly gratifications cannot be carried on, consistently with the soul's safety; if the one or the other must be surrendered; it is certainly worth your while to weigh the question, which you would relinquish. It would be wise to calculate that fearful problem, propounded by our Lord, "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Is it wise or safe to cast this subject aside? Is it not putting in jeopardy, interests too important?
That apology to conscience, which consists in admitting the importance of her claims, but deferring an attention to them until a future time — is one of the most common and fatal snares of the soul. This spirit of procrastination is the subtle poison, that secretly works death in its unsuspecting victim. Why should you defer the subject even for a day? Is it because it will prove more easy or acceptable than at present? Every hour that you defer it — sin is gathering strength, and conscience is losing her power. The patience cf God is waning — and the justice of God is waxing hot.
This spirit of procrastination accelerates your downward course. The soul, like the moving body on its way down the slippery slope, continually increases its momentum, and renders its arrest every moment more hopeless. Why should you defer it? You are not certain that the next hour may not launch you into a Christless eternity! While your eyes are running along these pages, they may rest upon the last warming, the last affectionate appeal, that shall ever be made to you. Now let the warning be received. Let the appeal reach your heart. Throw it not aside. It is a friendly voice, that would waken you to the reality of your danger, and press you to an immediate escape! By the brevity and uncertainty of life, by all that is joyous in Heaven, and dreadful in Hell — I entreat you, immortal man, immediately to submit to the claims of the gospel. Procrastination is eternal ruin! "Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation!"
In urging you to submit to the claims of the gospel, it is proper that I should not only present inducements, drawn from your exposure to future misery — but insist upon your obligations to Him, who made, who preserves you, and who has sent his Son to redeem sinners such as you.
You have doubtless reflected on the creative power of God. You see it in the sublime heavens, in the majestic ocean, in the towering mountains; and you discern its finer traces in the spreading foliage, and the blooming flower. The eye and the ear are hourly impressed with the wondrous works of the Creator; furnishing to the soul inlets of grandeur, sublimity, and beauty. Survey yourself. Is there, in nature, a more complicated structure; a more concentrated evidence of creative skill? Your body is a perpetual and undisputed argument of the existence, power, goodness, and wisdom of its Maker. Your soul, connected by a mysterious union to that body, is given by "the inspiration of the Almighty."
He who created you, holds you as his property by a right which none can dispute. He has a claim upon you which nothing in Heaven, on earth, or in Hell, can set aside. You call, by common consent, that yours, which you have earned by your industry — although it may have been the property of ten thousand before you. You consider that as your own, which your ingenuity has fashioned out of materials provided at your hand.
But upon you, God has a higher claim than these. He created the materials of which you are composed, and "breathed into your nostrils the breath of life." Never were you the property of another. You may say to any claim which your fellow men may set up, "I am my own master;" but you cannot say the same in reference to God. He will consider and treat you as his property, whatever may be the principles or conduct which you profess or exhibit.
Since God has given you being, does not that gift, I would ask, place you under obligations to love and obey him? Does it not imply that you are bound to serve him "with your body and your spirit, which are his." The whole visible creation serve him. The brute animals, and inanimate nature, all fulfill the end of their existence. The birds sing and warble to his praise. They obey the instinct which he has given them. The spring smiles, and the summer-fruits grow — at his bidding.
Yes, all but man seem delighted to obey his commands. Man, the noblest of his works, rebels against his Maker! Is it not strange that he who is the most highly gifted — should be the most ungrateful. Is it not astonishing that he who alone is capable of understanding his Maker's will, and enjoying his Maker's gracious smile — that he should withhold from God his due! What more can we need to prove "that all are gone out of the way, that they are together become unprofitable, that there is none that does good, no not one!"
Has it never occurred to you, my reader, that the goodness of Heaven is manifest in creating you a being superior in capacity to brutes or insects? Perhaps the thought has crossed your mind. Certainly you are made capable of a higher species of enjoyment than the inferior orders of creation. You have a mind that may be cultivated to an unlimited extent. You may go on improving beyond any assignable limit. This power of acquiring, will enlarge with the increase of information. The possession of such a capacity for improvement, and the means of gratifying it — are all from God. You are therefore bound to serve him with that mind.
You are also made capable of high delight from social fellowship, and the contemplation of nature. The interchange of friendship and sympathy, in the social relations, is a source of exquisite enjoyment. When properly regulated, much of our happiness depends upon it. But Who gave you this capacity for social enjoyment? Why are you not one of the gregarious animals, who, having neither the power of speech nor the capacity for rational fellowship — herd together from the mere force of instinct? Do these blessings impose upon you no obligations to your Creator?
You can look out upon creation with delight. You have an eye for its scenery, and a soul to relish it. You love to muse on objects of grandeur and of beauty. You can revel on the sketches delineated by the painter or the poet. He who fashioned the world, framed the intellect with its elevated powers of perception and fruition. Reflect then on the diversified means of intellectual enjoyment, and let me ask — do they not furnish an argument sufficient to constrain you to reverence your exalted and munificent Benefactor?
You may have been created free from those deformities which render some of our race objects of disgust, and which deprive them of many sources of happiness. Did this never strike your mind? Have you not, when the eye has lighted upon some poor idiot, or some ill-shaped and pitiable cripple, asked yourself why you were born with an intelligent mind, and a perfect set of limbs and features? Surely such a reflection befits you. The contrast should fill your soul with gratitude to Him who has made you to differ. It should lead you deeply to feel that your obligations are proportionable to your superior capacity.
It is to God, your Creator, that you are indebted for the mental and bodily structure which is so finely adjusted in all its points, and so happily adapted to the objects of creation by which you are surrounded. This Creator calls upon you, as his creature, to consecrate all your faculties to his service. He demands a voluntary surrender of yourself to him, and to the principles of the gospel. Your reluctance or refusal to make this surrender is most unreasonable. It will aggravate the amount of those neglected duties, and those violated obligations, which already swell to a most fearful catalogue. You can never cease to be the property of your Creator! His hand is around you. He will conduct you to the closing scene of your mortal existence, and when death shall open to you its gloomy portals — you must meet him as your final and inflexibly holy Judge!
The goodness of God in preserving us, is another motive for consecrating to him that life which has ever been the object of his care. From the cradle to the grave — man is a dependent creature. In the days of helpless infancy, the care of a protecting Providence is strikingly manifest. His needs cannot then be made known; but there is implanted in a mother's heart, that wakeful attention to apparently unintelligible signals of distress, which becomes a sufficient substitute for the power of speech. It seems almost a miracle, that so tender and so helpless a being should escape the ten thousand incidents and diseases which threaten the period of childhood! Indeed, the proportion of the human race who die in infancy, is very great.
During the reckless years of boyhood, the care and protection of divine Providence is equally manifest. Thoughtless of consequences, and impelled by curiosity or young ambition — how have we delighted to signalize our youth by feats of agility, or fearful exposures to danger! We sported presumptuously with life, as if possessing a charm against injury and death. We scaled the precipice, climbed the dizzy mast, or, forsaking our natural element, courted danger and death on the threatening waves, or in the deep and rapid current! The more perilous the scene — the more powerful was its attraction; and the glory of having surmounted the difficulty was sufficient to overcome the fears of destruction.
Is it not an astonishing fact, that, amid such scenes of peril, and when exposed to so many casualties — you should have been protected and preserved? You cannot warrantably refer it to chance, to good luck, or to fate. If "not a sparrow falls to the ground" without the intervention or direction of an overruling Providence — is it probable that your hairbreadth escapes can be attributed to any other cause?
I am well aware of the loose and irreverent manner in which some speak of such occurrences. But a reflecting mind, accustomed to trace the invisible hand of God in the various events of life, cannot ascribe to good luck, what legitimately belongs to a good and gracious Providence. Often has the beautiful hymn of Addison, on the care and protection of God, occurred to me with an application so forcible, that I seem almost to have foreseen and depicted my early history:
When, in the slippery paths of youth,
With heedless steps I ran,
Your arm, unseen, conveyed me safe,
And led me up to man.
Through hidden dangers, toils, and deaths,
It gently cleared my way;
And through the pleasing snares of vice,
More to be feared than they!
No man can look back upon his boyhood, without discovering some instances of the manifest care of Providence towards him. Have you not, my reader, experienced this protection and deliverance? If so, I would inquire, whether you have devoted to God that life which he has so mercifully preserved? Have you ever asked yourself the question: Why have my days been lengthened out? Was it to become indifferent to Him, whose care and kindness have so repeatedly been extended over me? Was it to waste, upon forbidden and unprofitable pleasures, those powers which might have been employed in benefitting society, and glorifying Him from whom I received them?
Send back your thoughts to early scenes, and mark the finger of Providence. Is there no obligation arising from this source? Might you not have been left to perish in your presumptuous career? O be mindful of that Being, who watched your faltering step, and guided you safe along your perilous path!
In sickness, also, you have been encircled by that unseen hand which has smoothed your pillow, and supported your head. Who was it that cooled the burning fever? Who gave efficacy to the medicines which healed you? Who bade the disorder to cease its ravages; and when death seemed ready to point his fatal dart — who interposed and averted the shaft?
Few, I believe, who arrive at years of maturity, can fail to be impressed with the almost miraculous continuance of their lives. Hundreds, who have been born after them, have found an early grave. Youth and beauty have perished by their side. Many, who gave early promise of a long life, who entered their pilgrimage flushed with health and full of hope — have disappeared suddenly and forever from this changeful scene! As young as you may be, you can find the solemn mementos of your contemporaries strewed along your path, indicating the ruin of youthful hopes, and evincing that your own preservation is to be traced to Him, "with whom are the issues of life."
Do you never reflect on such instances of the care of your heavenly Preserver? Have you never been raised from the bed of sickness, under circumstances so peculiar as to leave no room for doubt, that, had not God interposed — you must have gone into the chambers of death? And suppose you had gone — where would you have been at this moment? Perhaps you were totally unprepared. Perhaps to your mind death was "the king of terrors." You recoiled with horror at the thought of dying. You were ready, even under the apprehension, to make a surrender of yourself to God — if he would but spare you a little longer.
Surely, then, you are bound to give those powers, rescued from impending destruction, to the service of your Maker. You are bound to improve, to the promotion of his glory and the advancement of your eternal interests — that little span of life which has thus been lengthened out. Perhaps you are, at this very moment, placed in the situation of the "barren fig-tree," which was spared for a limited time — but which, should no fruit then appear, was doomed to destruction. Be warned by its fate! Be persuaded to obey the obligations which arise from the preserving mercy of God.
The creative goodness of God, and his preserving mercy — should have led you to devote yourself to his service. But we present another motive, which should move your heart, and induce you to submit to the claims of the gospel. It is the love of Him, who came to seek and to save sinners.
You form a link, in the vast chain of accountable beings, which stretches back to our original progenitors. This connection marks you as a sinner, and obliges you to feel all the miseries, and fear all the evils, which flow from transgression. They are evils, not only incident to the present life, but extending to the life which is to come. What a miserable assemblage of beings would we have been, had no adequate mediator appeared for our relief! There could have been no hope of happiness, either here or hereafter. "But thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!" Thanks to the almighty Savior for his condescending love!
You have read the history of those sufferings, which met your Lord at the manger, and attended him to the cross. It would ill befit me, by any attempt at description, to detract from the touching narrative which inspiration has given. Those who saw his agony, and heard his dying groans, have left a picture, which no coloring of mine could heighten.
Remember that these sufferings were endured to take away sin, and to raise the soul to Heaven. Remember, that, to accomplish our salvation, "He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross!" Without this sacrifice, I could never have offered, nor you have received, forgiveness. Without the intervention of this compassionate Mediator, no avenue of escape would have opened on our despairing eyes. "He came to seek and to save that which was lost." "He died, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God."
Let me for a moment, direct your view to Calvary. Survey that Sufferer, who is nailed to the bloody tree. As you gaze on the scene of agony, tell me, do not those death-groans speak to your heart? Do they not tell you of a doom to which you are exposed? Do they not speak of a love, that bleeds and dies for your rescue! Does not the Sufferer say to you from the cross, Come hither, O sinner, and see, in the wounds which I bear, what was due to your transgressions! Come and learn the height and depth of that compassion, to which you are insensible, and the preciousness of that blood which you trample under foot.
I shall leave you, my reader to pursue this subject for yourself. With the bible in your hand, go to some retired spot, and think of the dying love of Christ. Bring home the subject to your soul — it has a claim upon you. It says, "To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men." "Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? Behold, and see if there is any sorrow like unto my sorrow." Avoid considering the sufferings and death of Christ, as a mere exhibition of sympathy and moral grandeur. Poets have so often touched this plaintive theme, and painters so frequently made it the medium of their fame — that you are in danger of viewing it apart from its personal bearing. A shade of sadness may pass over your mind, when you hear the sufferings of the cross rehearsed in pensive refrains, or when you see on the canvass the vivid touches of the Redeemer's agony. But the solemn feeling should ripen into reverence, and the sympathetic tear should be accompanied by the gush of penitence. It was your sins which assisted to erect the cross, and to nail upon it the mysterious victim! Yes, it was your sins; and until they shall be repented of and abandoned, you have in your heart no sentiment towards the sufferer, but that of indifference or hatred.
Have you ever seriously meditated on the cross? Or is it a subject which you desire not to bring under consideration? Are you in the habit of viewing it, as appropriate to those only who are numbered among his visible followers? Ah, my young friend, that it is a subject of personal interest, you will discover when a death-bed shall dissipate your idle dreams, and compel you to look back upon life, and forward to an opening eternity! When you lie trembling on the brink of your mortal existence, you will admit the accounts which conscience shall present. You will then acknowledge sins, which you are now ready to conceal or extenuate. You will then wish for that blood which was "shed for the remission of sins." You would then give worlds for such a look as fell upon the dying thief, who sought and obtained the mercy of his Savior. You would then barter your dearest earthly interests, for a safe passport through the gloomy portals of death.
As you cast your eye forward, it falls upon that certain and terrific interview, which must take place between you and the Redeemer whom you have slighted. The vision of the future, turns you back upon the past. The insupportable view of the past, drives you forward to the future. Oh! what would you then give to know, that He who died on Calvary was your friend; to feel beneath you his arms of mercy; and to see above you his smile of welcome!
The day must come, when the question shall be tried. The hour must arrive, when it will be determined. Let me entreat you, now, to secure Christ's friendship. Let me urge you to bathe your guilty soul in his atoning blood. Listen to his invitations, while they greet your ear. Throw yourself into his arms, while they are extended to receive you. If the recurrence of God's goodness, which daily makes your cup to overflow — if his continued patience and persevering mercy have failed to fill your heart with penitence; let not the appeal from Calvary, the dying love of a compassionate Savior, fall unheeded on your ear. Aggravate not the catalogue of sins, already long, dark, and fearful — by rejecting the only hope set before you. "Whoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken; but on whoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."
In drawing my discursive remarks to a close, I would express a hope that both he who has written, and he who shall read them, though strangers in this world — may be friends and fellow-citizens in the heavenly world. If these rambling thoughts shall have been the means of awaking desires for that nobler scene, and of turning the youthful feet into the path which leads to eternal life; the pleasure of recognition, even in a single instance, shall sweeten the joys of Heaven, and be to the writer an abundant reward.
In perusing these pages, you may, occasionally, discern a current of remark which appears to savor of severity; but remember that no severity was intended. You must attribute the point and the earnestness with which the claims of genuine religion are pressed upon your attention, to that deep sense of its importance which the writer entertains, together with a solemn perception of the value and the danger of the soul. If it were a subject of minor importance, or if a neglect of it were not attended with consequences so enduring and tremendous, I would have courted your approbation, rather than incurred your censure.
When I touch the momentous subject of genuine religion, and speak of its bearing on the interests of the soul, it befits me, as I fear my Maker, and feel anxious for your eternal welfare, to address you in terms at once affectionate, pungent, and solemn. Such has been my aim. I have also endeavored to give to worldly pleasures all the power of contributing to our felicity which their votaries can honestly demand. You will bear me witness, that these pages are not marked by a system of proscription, which condemns earthly good, and tolerates nothing but monastic strictness and austerity.
While I have measured earthly pleasures on a scale, which will permit you to enjoy them with moderation and with gratitude — I have endeavored to allure you on to joys more permanent and satisfactory. It has been my object to detach you from earth — and to fix your hopes and anticipations on Heaven. Genuine religion has not been falsely represented as withering the flowers in your path, as spreading the frost of death upon the beauties of creation, or covering all nature with funereal gloom. On the contrary, I have endeavored to convince you, that her presence is the signal for nature to deck herself in richer robes, and present to the eye of her admirer a diviner aspect. Yes, it is genuine religion that unseals the eye, and opens upon it, from every visible object — new wonders which had hitherto been concealed. It is her mighty power that infuses into the glories of creation, a life and glow, which make inanimate things eloquent with beauty. Believe it or not, the fact is certain, that the highest relish for nature can be his alone, who, with a glowing imagination and a feeling heart, possesses the piety which acknowledges and adores his God in all.
You will perceive, that in depicting the dangers and temptations to which the young are exposed, I speak in a strain of deep-toned warning. It is because I have so often witnessed the wreck of youthful character and parental hope. It is because I would oppose a barrier between you and a similar destruction. I have been encouraged in the prosecution of this little work, by the consideration that I am addressing those whose characters may not have taken a fixed and unalterable mold.
Those who have advanced far into the valley of life, whose powers are always concentrated upon earth, seem to have acquired a tenacity of purpose, which the strongest arguments of genuine religion cannot shake. Like some species of tendrils which encircle the pine or the oak, and, in time, become incorporated with the very trunk which they clasp — these earthly minds, clinging to the world, appear at last riveted and irreclaimable.
But I would fondly believe that your heart is not yet so callous, and that you have not yet passed into evil habits, from which it were hopeless to attempt your reformation. I would persuade myself that these pages may speak to many a conscience not yet benumbed by vice, and to many a bosom not yet steeled against conviction. If you are young, you may yet be impressed by the motives which I have presented. Your character is yet susceptible of a change that would render you an ornament to the community, and the candidate for the heavenly world.
If you have begun a course of wicked pleasures, and, by each successive indulgence, found yourself more hardened and reckless in your career — may these pages be blessed of God to arrest your progress, and redeem you from destruction.
If you are satisfied with your own goodness, and are indifferent to the claims of the gospel, may these warnings, through Divine mercy, startle and reclaim you.
If prejudice against genuine religion has preoccupied your mind; if, instead of reverencing her institutions, and respecting her advocates, you have been casting contempt upon them — may God grant that these friendly communications may correct the error, and draw you to the sacred temple, by the glories of the Divinity who inhabits it.
Whatever may be your feelings in relation to these sentiments, certain I am that your own conscience must pass upon them a favorable verdict. While reading them, your conscience will approve, perhaps your heart will resolve; but if, when you rise from the perusal, and mingle in the busy scenes of life, you carry them not into practice; if you disregard the warnings, and reject the invitations which are here given, then rest assured, my reader, you make your destruction the more probable, and erect another formidable barrier to your salvation.
Here we must part. I present you these letters, as the pledge of my interest in your eternal welfare. I have written them for your benefit. It is my ardent wish that, as you survey the brief span which God has given you on earth, they may whisper in your ear the truth, that "life is a vapor, which appears but a little while, and then vanishes away!" As you anticipate with exulting feelings the prospects and pleasures of life — may you learn to moderate your expectations from earth, and to seek a better and more enduring substance in Heaven.