The Young Man Leaving Home

by John Angell James, 1844


You need, young man—to defend you from the perils to which you are exposed—a shield always at hand, and impenetrable to the arrows of your enemies—and you may find it in true religion. It does this by various means. True religion changes the moral nature, producing a dislike and dread of sin, and a love of holiness and virtue. Piety is a spiritual taste; and, like every other taste, it is accompanied with a distaste for the opposites of those things or qualities which are the subjects of its delight.

Sin is that bitter thing which the soul of a true Christian hates; it is the object of his antipathy, and therefore of his dread. He turns from it with aversion and loathing, as that which is offensive and disgusting. It is not merely that he is commanded by authority to abstain from sin—but he is led away from it by the expulsive power of a new attraction. He may have sinful propensities of his carnal nature—but he resists the indulgence of them, for it is sin against God.

Now what can be a more effectual protection from a practice or habit than an actual dislike of it—or distaste for it? Who does that which he dislikes to do, except under compulsion? When you have once tasted the sweetness of true religion—how insipid, how nauseous, will be those draughts of wicked pleasure with which the sinner intoxicates and poisons his soul! When you have acquired a relish for the pure, calm, satisfying joys of faith and holiness, how entirely will you disrelish the polluting, boisterous, and unsatisfying pleasures of sin! When you have once drunk of the waters of the river of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb, how loathsome will be the filthy turbid streams of licentious gratification!

The new nature, by its own powerful and holy instinct, will turn away your feet from every forbidden place, and every unhallowed scene. Panting after God, and thirsting for the living God, taking pleasure in his ways, and delighting in the communion of the saints, you will shudder at the idea of being found in the haunts of vice, or in the society of the wicked. It will be unnecessary to forbid your going to the tavern, the theater, the house of ill fame, the gambling-table, or horse-race; your own renewed and sanctified nature will be a law against these things, and compel the exclamation, "I will not sit with vain people, nor go in with dissemblers; I have hated the congregation of evil-doers, and will not sit with the wicked. Gather not my soul with sinners."

In addition to this, true religion will implant in your hearts a regard to the authority and presence of God. "By the fear of the Lord," Says Solomon, "men depart from evil." This veneration for God comes in to aid the exercise of love for holiness. By the fear of God, I do not mean a slavish and tormenting dread of the Divine Being, which haunts the mind like an ever-present spectre—that is superstition, not true religion. But I mean a fear springing out of affection, the fear of a child dreading to offend the father whom he loves. What a restraint from sin is there in that child's mind! He may be absent from his father; but love keeps him from doing what his father disapproves. So it is with true religion; it is love to God, and love originates fear. He who is thus blessed with the love and fear of God is armed as with a shield of triple brass, against sin. The temptation comes with all its seductive force—but it is repelled with the indignant question—"How shall I do this wickedness, and sin against God?"

And this awesome Being is felt to be everywhere! "O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my every thought when far away. You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You both precede and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to know! I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are both alike to you. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God! They are innumerable!"

Yes, God is in every place. Heaven and the earth are full of his presence. A person once dreamed that the sky was one vast eye of God, ever looking down upon him. He could never get out of the sight of this tremendous eye, he could never look up but this dreadful eye was gazing upon him. The moral of this fearful dream is a fact. God's eye is always, and everywhere, upon us. Who could sin, if he saw God in a bodily form looking upon him? Young man, could you go to the theater, or to still worse places, if you saw this vast and searching eye, with piercing looks, fixed upon you? Impossible! "No," you would say, "I must wait until that eye is gone, or closed, or averted." But it is never gone, never closed, never averted. This the pious man knows, and therefore says, "O God, you see me!" Would you sin, if your father were present? Would you enter the haunt of vice if he stood at the door, looking in your face, and saying, "My son, if sinners entice you, consent not; my son, do not walk in the way with them—turn your foot from their path?" You could not so insult and grieve your good father's heart. But though your earthly father is not there, your heavenly Father is. Your father's eye does not see you—but God's eye does! This the pious person believes and feels, and turns away from sin.

True religion also presents a judgment to come. Yes, "God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world by Jesus Christ." "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad." "And I saw a great white throne, and I saw the one who was sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God's throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to the things written in the books, according to what they had done. The sea gave up the dead in it, and death and the grave gave up the dead in them. They were all judged according to their deeds. And death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death—the lake of fire. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire!"

What a description! What a day will be the judgment-day! The voice of the descending Judge; the cry of the archangel, and the trumpet of God; the bursting tombs, and rising dead; the conflagration of the universe, and the gathering of the nations to the Lord in the air; the separation of the righteous from the wicked; and the final doom of all; the closing of time, and the commencing of eternity; the going away of the wicked into everlasting punishment, and of the righteous into life eternal! Oh, what destinies! The pious man believes all this, and acts under its influence. How many has the prospect of a day of judgment alarmed in the midst of their sins; how many has it checked; how many has it been the means of converting!

I knew a lady in high life, one of the most accomplished women I ever met with, who, while living in all the gaieties of fashionable life, visiting in noble families, and fascinating them by her power to please, dreamed that the day of judgment was arrived. She saw the Judge, in dreadful majesty, commence the dread assize. Around him, in a circle, the diameter of which no eye could measure, were drawn the human race, awaiting their doom. With slow and solemn pace, he traversed the whole circle; whomsoever he approved—to them he gave the token of his acceptance by graciously laying his hand upon their heads. Many he passed, and gave them no sign. As he approached the dreamer, her anxiety to know whether she would receive the token of his acceptance became intense, until as he drew still nearer, and was about to stop before her, the agony of her mind awoke her. It was but a dream—a blessed one, however, for her. It produced, through the Divine blessing, a deep solicitude for the salvation of her soul. She became an eminent and devoted Christian; and some years since departed—to receive from Christ the gracious token of his approval, in his immediate presence, and in the regions of immortality!

You, too, young man, must be brought into judgment. You are to form a part of the circle drawn round Christ—to receive your sentence—he will approach you; he will give you the token of reception or rejection. Do, do consider that tremendous scene! How dreadful was the irony of Solomon! "Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see—but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment!" You may go to places of wicked amusements—but you must go from thence to the judgment-seat of Christ! There is a path from every scene of sin—to the judgment of God. He goes with you as a witness; and conscience also goes with you as a witness—what witnesses these to be brought against you in judgment! "I will come near to you to judgment—and I will be a swift witness against all who do not fear not me, says the Lord."

Oh, did you realize this dreadful fact—did you keep your eye upon the judgment-seat—did you anticipate your appearance at the bar of Christ, which pious men do, and which true religion would lead you to do, if you possessed it—how effectually would you be protected from the evils by which you are surrounded! Could you sin, with a voice sounding in your ears, "For all these things I will bring you into judgment?" No! This would be a defense to you, as it has been to many others, and is to many now. Adopt it as yours!