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

by Harvey Newcomb, 1847


A watch, to one who had never seen such a piece of mechanism before, would be a great wonder. It is an object of much curiosity to the natives of savage and barbarous tribes, visited by the missionaries. It seems to speak and move, as though instinct with life. I have read, somewhere, of a poor savage, who, seeing a white man's watch lying on the ground, and hearing it tick, supposed it to be some venomous reptile, and, with a stone, dashed it in pieces. A watch is an object of no less wonder to a child. Children are full of curiosity, as my readers well know. They wish to examine everything they see—to take it in pieces, and see how it is made. I dare say my readers remember the time when they sat on their father's knee, and modestly requested him to show them the little wheels of his watch.

If I could sit down with my young friends, and take my watch in pieces, I would teach them a useful lesson. I would show them how a watch resembles a human being. There is the case, which may be taken off, and put by itself, and still the watch will go as well as ever. In this respect, it is like the human body. Death separates it from the soul, and yet the soul remains, with all its active powers. It still lives. The inside of the watch, too, resembles the soul. It has a great many different parts, all working together in harmony—a great many wheels, all moving in concert. So the soul has a great many different powers or faculties, all designed to operate in concert with each other, as the understanding, the judgment, the conscience, the will, the affections, the memory, the passions, desires, etc.—and each one of these has a part to act, as important for the man as the several wheels and springs of the watch. If every part of the watch is in order, and in its proper place, it will keep exact time; but, if one wheel gets disordered, it will derange the whole. The secret power that moves the watch is unperceived. If you examine, you will see a large wheel, with a smooth surface, round which is wound a long chain, attached to another wheel, with ridges for the chain to run upon. Inside of the first-named wheel is the main-spring, which, by means of the chain, moves the whole machinery. The WILL is the main-spring of the soul. By a mysterious, invisible chain, it holds all the powers of the soul and body at its command. Not only the operations of the mind, but the motions of the body are controlled by the will.

But, if there were no check upon the mainspring of the watch, it would not give the time of day. It would set all the wheels in rapid motion, and in a few moments the watch would run down. To prevent this, there is a balance-wheel, which turns backwards and forwards, by means of a fine spring, called the hair-spring, and so keeps the whole machinery in a regular motion. To this is attached a little lever, called the regulator, which, by a gentle touch, works on this delicate spring, so as to move the balance-wheel faster or slower, as the case may be, to make the movement exact and regular.

Now, if there were no checks on the will, it would run on impetuously in its course, without regard to consequences. And this we often see in people called willful, self-willed, headstrong. Children are often so; if let alone, their stubborn will would lead them to rush on headlong to their own destruction. Without meaning to be very accurate in these illustrations, I shall call judgment the balance-wheel. This is the faculty which perceives, compares, and decides, keeps the mind balanced, and prevents its running to extremes either way.

The hair-spring and regulator of the watch I shall compare with conscience. A very slight touch of the regulator moves the hair-spring, and gives a quicker or a slower motion to the balance-wheel. But, if the watch is out of order, oftentimes the movement of the regulator has no effect upon it. So, when the soul is in order, a very slight touch of conscience will affect the judgment and regulate the will. But often, the soul is so much out of order, that conscience will have no effect upon it.

But who touches the regulator of the watch? There is nothing in the watch itself to do this. The power that moves the regulator is applied to it. So, the conscience is moved. The Word of God enlightens the conscience, and the Spirit of God applies the word. And this brings me to the point which I had in my mind when I began this chapter. What a poor thing a watch is, when it is out of order. It is of no use. A watch is made to keep the time of day; but, when it is out of order, it will keep no time.

Or, if it is in order, and yet not regulated, it will not keep the right time. Now until the heart is changed by the grace of God, the soul is out of order. It does not answer the purpose for which it was made. The will is wrong; the judgment is wrong; the conscience is wrong. And, whatever cultivation may be bestowed upon the mind, it will not act aright. In the very beginning, then, you lack piety, as the main-spring of action, and the regulator of the soul. Without this, you are not prepared to begin anything aright. Indeed, without it, you have no sufficient motive to action. You seem to be toiling and laboring and wearying yourself for nothing. But piety towards God gives a new impulse to the mind. When you set out to improve your mind, if you have no piety, the object to be gained by it is very small. It can secure to you no more than, perhaps, a little additional enjoyment, for the brief space you are to continue in this world. But piety opens to you a wide field of usefulness in this life, and the prospect of going forward in the improvement of your mind as long as eternity endures. It must, therefore, give new spring and vigor to all the faculties of the soul. It does more. It regulates the powers of the mind, and the affections of the heart, and gives a right direction to them all.

I would persuade you, then, as the first and great thing, to seek God. Remember what Christ has said—"Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Here is the promise that you shall have all else that is needful, if you seek God first. Yield your heart to him, and have his kingdom set up there. Let him rule in your heart, and devote yourself to his service, and he will supply all your need. This, also, will give a right direction to all your faculties, and lay a good foundation of character. But, without it, you will be like a watch without a balance-wheel or a regulator; you will be fit neither for this life nor that which is to come. And, it is of the utmost importance that you should become pious now, while you are young. If you would form a good character, you must have a good foundation laid at the beginning. Nothing but this can make a good foundation. All your habits ought to be formed and settled upon pious principles. Pious motives should enter into all your efforts to improve your mind and cultivate your affections. And, should you neglect true religion now, and afterwards, by the grace of God, be led to devote yourself to him, you will find it hard and difficult to overcome the wrong habits of mind and conduct which you will have formed.

Piety, then, is the first thing to be considered, in the formation of character. And remember, also, that you are forming character for eternity; and that your whole being, through a never ending existence, is to be affected by the character which you form now in your childhood and youth. If you lay the foundation of your character now in the love and fear of God, it will rise higher and higher, in excellence, beauty, and loveliness, forever and ever. But if you lay the foundation in selfishness and sin, and build accordingly, it will forever be sinking lower in degradation and deeper in wretchedness.