The Young Man's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character

by Harvey Newcomb, 1847


"Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!" Proverbs 6:6

There is no greater enemy to improvement than an indolent spirit. An aversion to effort paralyzes every noble desire, and defeats every attempt at advancement. If you are naturally indolent, you must put on resolution to overcome it, and strive against it with untiring vigilance. There is not a single point, in the process of education, at which this hydra-headed monster will not meet you. "The slothful man says there is a lion outside—I shall be slain in the street!" There is always a lion in the way, when slothful spirits are called upon to make any exertion. "I can't," is the sovereign arbiter of their destiny. It prevents their attempting anything difficult or laborious. If required to write a composition, they can't think of anything to write about. The Latin lesson is difficult; this word they can't find; that sentence they can't read. The sums in arithmetic are so hard, they can't do them. And so this lion in the way defeats everything. But those who expect ever to be anything, must not allow such a word as can't in their vocabulary.

It is the same with labor. The indolent dread all exertion. When requested to do anything, they have something else to do first, which their indolence has left unfinished; or they have some other reason to give why they should not attempt it. But if nothing else will do, the sluggard's excuse, "I can't," is always at hand. Were it not for the injury to them, it would be far more agreeable to do, one's self, what is desired of them, than to encounter the painful scowls that clothe the brow, when they think of making an effort. Solomon has described this disposition to the life—"The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth!"

But indolence is a source of great misery. There are none so happy as those who are always active. I do not mean that they should give themselves no relaxation from severe effort. But relaxation does not suppose idleness. To sit and fold one's hands, and do nothing, serves no purpose. Change of employment is the best recreation. And from the idea of employment, I would not exclude active and healthful sports, provided they are kept within due bounds. But to sit idly staring at vacancy is intolerable. There is no enjoyment in it. It is a stagnation of body and mind. An indolent person is, to the active and industrious, what a stagnant pool is to the clear and beautiful lake. Employment contributes greatly to enjoyment. It invigorates the body, sharpens the intellect, and promotes cheerfulness of spirit; while indolence makes a torpid body, a vacant mind, and a peevish, discontented spirit.

Indolence is a great waste of existence. Suppose you live to the age of seventy years, and squander in idleness one hour a day, you will absolutely throw away about three years of your existence. And if we consider that this is taken from the waking hours of the day, it should be reckoned six years. Are you willing, by idleness, to shorten your life six years? Then take care of the moments. Never fritter away time in doing nothing. Whatever you do, whether study, work, or play, enter into it with spirit and energy; and never waste your time in sauntering and doing nothing. "Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom." Ecclesiastes 9:10. "We must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work." John 9:4