The Christian Father's Present to His Children
by John Angell James, 1825
THE GREAT END OF LIFE
Never was there a more rational, or a more important question proposed for the consideration of the human understanding, than "What is man's chief end?" This, I say, is a most rational, and a most important inquiry; for every thinking being should certainly ask himself, "What is the great end of my existence? I find myself in a world where innumerable objects present themselves to my notice, each soliciting my heart, and each claiming to be most worthy of its supreme regard. I have faculties of mind capable of high pursuits. I perceive, by universal experience, that my stay in this world will be very short, for I am only a stranger and a sojourner here upon earth, as all my fathers were; and as I am anxious not to go out of the world without answering the end for which I came into it, I would wish to know the chief purpose for which I exist." Such a reflection is what every one should make—but which very few do make. Would they fritter away their lives as they do, on the most contemptible trifles, if they seriously inquired for what purpose their lives were given?
What, then, is the CHIEF end of man? You will perceive, I lay all the stress of the inquiry on the adjective; for there are many ends to be kept in view, many purposes to be accomplished, many objects to be sought. We must provide for our own sustenance, and the comfort of our family; we should store our mind with useful knowledge; endeavor to be useful, ornamental, and respectable members of society; and there are many other things which may be lawfully pursued—but we are now considering that ONE GREAT OBJECT, which is paramount to all others, to which all others must be subservient, and the loss of which will constitute life, whatever else we might have gained, a lost adventure.
There are five claimants for this high distinction, this supreme rank, in the objects of human pursuit—the pretensions of which shall be separately examined.
1. RICHES, with peculiar boldness, assert their claims to be "the one thing needful," and multitudes practically confess the justice of the demand. Hence, there is no deity whose worshipers are more numerous than Mammon. We see many all round us who are obviously making this world the exclusive object of their solicitude. Wealth is with them the main chance. For this they rise early, and sit up late, eat the bread of anxiety, and drink the water of affliction. This is their language, "I care for nothing if I may but succeed in business, and acquire property. I will endure any fatigue, make any sacrifice, suffer any privation, so that I at last may realize a fortune!" It is perfectly evident that beyond this they have neither a wish nor an object. Money, money, money, is their chief good, and the highest end of their existence. God, true religion, the soul, salvation, heaven, hell, are as much forgotten as if they were mere fables, and all the energies and anxieties of their soul are concentrated in wealth. Is this rational?
Consider the uncertainty which attends the pursuit of this object. FORTUNE has been often described as a capricious goddess, not always bestowing her golden gifts on those, who by their prudence and industry seem most to deserve them. "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong." The wisest and most industrious worldling sometimes ends in poverty. And shall we seek that as the end of life, which after all, we may never gain? Shall we deliberately devote existence to secure that which after all, we may never secure? How many miserable creatures are going down to the grave, confessing that they have spent their lives in courting fortune, and have scarcely obtained a smile—while others, who have hardly asked a favor, have been loaded with them. Poor creatures! they may say in reference to the world, what Wolsey did, "Had I served God with half the zeal that I have served Mammon, he would not now have forsaken me in my old age."
But even granting that the end is secured, do riches bring all the pleasures in their train which they promise? It is a very true remark, that a man's happiness is not in proportion to his wealth. "A man's life," said Christ, "consists not in the abundance of things which he has;" and yet many act as if they denied the truth of the sentiment. Do you think that all rich men are happy, and that all poor men are miserable? As to mere animal enjoyment, does the affluent man receive a larger share than his poor neighbor? Whose head aches less, for the costly plume that waves on the brow? Whose body enjoys the glow of health more for the rich velvet which enwraps it, or the lace which adorns it? Whose sleep is sounder because it is enjoyed on down? Whose palate is more pleased because it is fed with many dishes instead of one, and from silver instead of delft? Whose bosom is more free from pain because of the diamond which sparkles there? Do riches multiply the number of the senses, and give other inlets of sensation to the soul, or increase the power of those we already possess? Do they add to the just and natural appetites, or afford greater gratifications to those we already feel? Do they insure health, keep off disease? Nothing of the kind! Numerous servants, splendid clothes, rich furniture, luxurious living—add very little to a man's happiness! We may say of these things as Pliny did of the pyramids of Egypt, "They are only proud proclamations of that wealth and abundance which their possessor knew not how to use."
Anxious care is the shadow of possession, and the magnitude of the shadow will always be in proportion to the dimensions of the substance. Great wealth certainly makes a man many anxieties. What shall I do? is a question often asked by affluence, as well as by poverty. There is nothing in earthly things suited as a portion to the desires of the human mind. The soul of man needs something better for its provision than wealth. It is on this account, partly, that our Lord brands the rich man in the gospel for a fool, who, when he surveyed his treasures, said to his soul, "You have goods laid up for many years in store; eat, drink, and be merry."
Then how precarious is the continuance of riches. They appear to us as in a dream; they come and are gone; they stand by us in the form of a golden image, high in stature, and deeply founded on a rock—but while we look at them they are transformed into an eagle with wings, and when we are preparing to embrace them, they fly away! What changes have we witnessed even within our own circles of observation. How many do we know, now suffering in poverty, who formerly rolled in affluence! They set out in life in the full sunshine of prosperity—but the storm overtook them, and blasted every comfort they had in the world!
But if riches continue to the end of life, how uncertain is life itself. How often do we see people called away by death in the very midst of their prosperity. Just when they have most reasons to desire to live, then they must die. Their industry has been successful, their desires after wealth have been gratified, they build houses, plant gardens, and when preparing for many years of ease and enjoyment, they leave all—for the grave! And then, whose shall those things be which they have amassed? "It is recorded of Saladin, the Saracen conqueror, that after he had subdued Egypt, passed the Euphrates, and conquered cities without number; after he had retaken Jerusalem, and performed exploits almost more than human, he finished his life in the performance of an action that ought to be transmitted to the most distant posterity. A moment before he uttered his last sigh, he called the herald who had carried his banners before him in all his battles; he commanded him to fasten to the top of a lance, the shroud in which the dying prince was soon to be buried. "Go," said he, "carry this lance, unfurl this banner, and while you lift up this standard, proclaim, This, this is all that remains to Saladin the Great, the Conqueror, and the King of the Empire, of all his glory!"
Yes, and that piece of shroud in which his perishing remains shall be enwrapped, is all that will be left of his wealth, to the rich man when he leaves the present world. Not one step will his riches go with him beyond the grave. What a sad parting will that be when the soul shall leave all its treasures behind in this world, and enter upon another state of existence, where it cannot take a penny, and where it would be useless if it could take it all. Then the miserable spirit, like a shipwrecked merchant, thrown on some strange coast after the loss of all his property, shall be cast on the shore of eternity, without one single comfort to relieve its pressing and everlasting necessities.
Can riches then substantiate their claims to be the chief end of man? What, when it is so doubtful whether, after all our endeavors, we shall possess them; when the possession of them contributes so little to our real felicity; when their continuance is so uncertain; their duration so short; their influence upon our eternal destiny worse than nothing? Will any reasonable creature have the folly to assert that the chief end for which God sent him into this world is to amass property, to build a splendid house, and to store it with furniture equally splendid, to wear costly clothes, and feed on rich food; to live in affluence, and die rich?
2. PLEASURE. The next pretender to the distinction of being the supreme good, and man's chief object of pursuit, is pleasure. To this many have devoted their lives; some are living for the sports of the field, others for the gratification of the appetites, others for the enjoyment of the round of fashionable amusements. Pleasure, in one form or other, is the object of pursuit with myriads. As to the gratification of our animal appetites, few will think it necessary to have much to persuade them, that to sink to the level of the brute creation, and hold communion with swine, and goats, and rats, cannot be the chief end of a rational being!
Who would not be ashamed to say, and even deliberately to think, they were sent into the world to consume so much property; to devour the produce of so many men's labor; to eat and drink away the little residue of wit and reason they have left; to mingle with this 'high and distinguished employment', their impure and vulgar jests—that they may befriend one another in proving themselves to be yet of human race, by this almost only remaining demonstration of it—that they can laugh as well as eat and drink. Surely, surely, that cannot be the chief end of man which sensualizes, brutalizes his nature; which drowns his reason, undermines his health, shortens his life, hurries him to the grave!
And then, as to what are called the pleasures of the sports of the field—will any man say that God sent him into the world to ride after dogs, to run after birds, or torture fish upon a hook? Are all the high faculties of the soul to be wasted, all the precious moments of life to be consumed, in seeing how many foxes, hares, pheasants, and trout, we can kill
Fashionable amusements seem to be with many, the end of life. Multitudes live for pleasures of this kind. Ball succeeds to concert; the private party to the public assembly; the card party to the dinner party; and in this busy round of fashionable follies does the life of many pass away. Can it then be the high object of existence to sing, and play, and dress and dance? Do not these things, when we reflect upon them, look more like the pursuits of butterflies and grasshoppers, and canary birds, than of rational creatures? Is it not melancholy to see beings with never-dying souls, sinking to the amusements of children; and employing time as if it were given them for nothing but mirth; and using the world as if it were created by God only to be a sort of playground or tennis court for its inhabitants?
Does this kind of life satisfy those who pursue it? Far, very far, from it! Can any person, in reality, be farther from happiness than they who live for pleasure? You shall hear the testimony of a man who will be admitted by all to be no incompetent judge—I mean Lord Chesterfield. The world was the god of his idolatry, he tendered his service to act as high priest for this divinity, published its liturgy, and conducted its ceremonies. What happiness he found in the worship of his deity, and how fair he recommends others to the shrine, you shall learn from his own pen. And by the way, this language furnishes the most powerful antidote to the poison contained in his trumpery volumes, that was ever published.
"I have run," says the man of the world, "the silly rounds of business and pleasure, and have done them all. I have enjoyed all the pleasures of the world, and consequently know their futility, and do not regret their loss. I appraise them at their real value, which is, in truth, very low; whereas those that have not experienced, always overrate them. They only see their mirthful outside, and are dazzled with the glare. But I have been behind the scenes. I have seen all the coarse pulleys and dirty ropes, which exhibit and move the gaudy machines; and I have seen and smelled the tallow candles, which illumine the whole decoration, to the astonishment and admiration of an ignorant audience. When I reflect back upon what I have seen, what I have heard, and what I have done, I can hardly persuade myself that all that frivolous hurry, and bustle, and pleasure of the world, had any reality. But I look upon all that has passed as one of those romantic dreams which opium commonly brings about; and I do by no means desire to repeat the nauseous dose for the sake of the fugitive dream. Shall I tell you that I bear this melancholy situation with that delight and resignation which most people boast of? No! for I really cannot help it. I bear it—because I must bear it, whether I will or no. I think of nothing but of killing time the best way I can—now that time has become my enemy. It is my resolution to sleep in the carriage during the remainder of the journey."
Poor, wretched, forlorn Chesterfield, and was it thus you did close your career? Is it thus that the worldling, in his last moments, feels and acts, looking back upon the past with disgust, and forward to the future with despair? Then, O God, in your mercy, "save me from the men of this world—who have their portion in this life!"
In alluding to the case of Chesterfield, Horne says, "When a Christian minister speaks slightingly of the world, he is supposed to do it in the way of his profession, and to decry, through envy, the pleasures he is forbidden to taste. But here I think you have the testimony of a witness every way competent. No one ever knew the world better, or enjoyed more of its favors than Chesterfield. Yet you see in how poor, abject, and wretched a condition, at the time when he most needed help and comfort—the world left him—and he left the world. The sentences above cited from him, compose, in my humble opinion, the most striking and affecting sermon on the subject ever yet preached to mankind. My younger friends, lay them up in your minds, and write them on the tables of your hearts; take them into life with you; they will prove an excellent preservative against temptation. When you have duly considered them, and the character of him by whom they were uttered, you shall compare them, if you please, with the words of another person, who took his leave of the world in a very different manner. 'I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me at that day.' Say, shall your lot be with the Christian, or the man of the world; with the apostle, or Chesterfield? You will not hesitate a moment—but, in reply to those who may attempt to seduce you into the paths of vice and error, honestly and boldly exclaim, every one of you with Joshua, Choose this day whom you will serve—but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!"
You will also call to remembrance, my dear children, that passage in the Life of Colonel Gardiner, whose history you have read, or should read, in which he tells us, that when living in all kinds of wickedness, and when complimented for the external gaiety of his demeanor, he was in reality so totally wretched, and so entirely disgusted with his mode of living, that, on beholding the kennel of his dog, he wished he could change places with the ignorant animal.
Is pleasure then the chief end of life? Yes, in Doddridge's explanation of it, in his beautiful stanza–
"Live while you live, the epicure will say,
And take the pleasure of the present day!
Live while you live, the holy preacher cries,
And give to God each moment as it flies!
Lord, in my view, let both united be—
I live in pleasure when I live to Thee."
3. FAMEis with some, the great end of life. This is an object which comparatively few can hope to obtain, and therefore for which few contend. Still there are some; and if they were honest, they would tell you that 'vanity', which is another name for 'the love of fame'—is a passion, which, like the venom of a serpent injected into its own body, tortures itself. The pursuit of fame is attended with a state of mind, which is the most remote from happiness.
"When fame succeeds, it degenerates into arrogance; when it is disappointed, (and it is almost always disappointed,) it is exasperated into malignity, and corrupted into envy. In this 'theater of fame', the vain man commences with envy—he detests that excellence which he cannot reach. He lives upon the misfortunes of others; the vices and miseries of his superiors are his element and his food. The virtues, talents, and genius of the eminent, are his natural enemies, which he persecutes with instinctive eagerness and unremitting hostility. There are some who doubt the existence of such a disposition—but it certainly issues out of the dregs of disappointed vanity; a disease which taints and vitiates the whole character, wherever it prevails. It forms the heart to such a profound indifference to the welfare of others, that 'whatever appearance he may assume', or however wide the circles of his seeming talents may extend, you will infallibly find the vain man in his own center. Attentive only to himself, absorbed in the contemplations of his own perfections, instead of feeling tenderness for his fellow-creatures, as members of the same family, as beings with whom he is destined to act, to suffer, and to sympathize—he considers life as a theater on which he is acting a part, and mankind in no other light than spectators. Whether he smiles or frowns; whether his path is adorned with the rays of beneficence, or his steps are dyed in blood; an attention to self is the spring of every movement, and the motive to which every action is referred."
When therefore we consider that perpetual restlessness of mind, that mortification, arising from disappointed hopes; that envy, which is increased by the success of competitors, that feverish excitement, which is kept up by the intense desire of victory; the love of fame will appear too torturing a state of mind to be the end of man's existence; it is plunging into a kind of purgatory for the mere chance of reaching a celestial summit.
Should the effort to gain distinction be successful, will it then reward the pains that have been expended to gain it? We have a striking illustration of the emptiness of the rewards of fame, in the memoirs of Henry Martyn. He tells us that after a severe contest with many distinguished competitors, for the prize of being the highest mathematical honor which the University of Cambridge can bestow upon its students, the palm was awarded to him; and having received it, he exclaims, "I was astonished to find what a 'shadow' I had grasped." Perhaps there never yet was a candidate for fame, whatever was the particular object for which he contended, who did not feel the same disappointment. The reward of fame may be compared to the garlands in the Olympic games, which began to wither the moment they were grasped by the hand, or worn upon the brow, of the victor!
How often do we see the aspirants to a place in the Temple of Fame cut off by death! Some, just when they have begun the difficult ascent—others when half way up the hill—and a few when they have gained the summit, and tread upon the threshold of the sacred temple! An explorer thinks to gain immortal renown by tracing the unknown course of a river, laying open a new continent, discovering a new island, or describing the remains of ancient cities—but dies in the very midst of his discoveries. A warrior enters upon a military or naval life, and hopes to gather his laurels on the bloodied field of conflict; and falling in the hour of victory, receives the crown upon his coffin, instead of his brow; and leaves his monument, in lieu of himself, to receive the tribute of his country's praise! The scholar and the philosopher pursue some new object of science or literature, and hope, by their success, to gain a niche for their shrine in the Temple of Fame. But just as they have established their theory, and are about to receive their honor, they are removed, by death, to a world where the rewards of talent have no place, and where virtue constitutes the sole distinction.
Those distinctions which now excite the desires, and inflame the ambition of so many ardent minds; which absorb the time, the energies, the interest, the health of their impassioned admirers and eager pursuers—are all of the earth, earthly! All terminate with the present world, and in reference to the eternal destiny of their possessors, have not the place of an atom, nor the weight of a feather. In the admiration and gratitude and applause of their fellow-creatures; in the records of the journalist, the biographer, and the historian; in the acknowledgments of the present generation, and the remembrance of posterity—the envied individuals have their reward. But if they possessed not true piety—in these things alone their object terminates. "Verily, verily I say unto you, they have their reward in full." But the smile of an approving God, the hope of eternal life, the possession of everlasting happiness, is no part of it. The star of their glory is among the number, which, at the last day, shall fall from the heavens, and set in the blackness of darkness forever!
The astonishing works of Shakespeare, Bacon, Newton, Milton, Locke, which have surrounded their authors with such a radiant crown on earth—will not be mentioned in the judgment; nor procure so much consideration as a cup of cold water, which was given to a disciple of Christ out of love to his Master.
What is earthly renown to a man that is in eternity? If he is in heaven, the praises of the whole globe cannot add one jot to his felicity! If he be in hell, they do not lessen one pang of his misery—he is unconscious of all—inaccessible to all. To a lost soul in hell, who had sunk to perdition under a weight of earthly honors, what a dreadful sting must such a reflection as this give to all his sufferings! "Alas! Alas! while my memory is almost idolized on earth—I am tormented in this flame!"
4. KNOWLEDGEpresents itself to some as the end of life. To store up ideas, to amass intellectual treasures is the end and delight of their existence. They are never satisfied with what they know, and are always seeking for something which they do not know. They are literary misers. They labor in the world of mind. These, I admit, are far more rational than the others, in selecting their chief end of existence. But still they are far from wisdom. Solomon, the wisest of men has told us, "I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom, concerning all things that are done under the sun. I communed with my own heart; lo, I have gotten more wisdom than all those who have been before me in Jerusalem—yes, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. I perceive that this also is vexation of spirit—for in much wisdom is much grief; and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh."
Will knowledge comfort its possessors amid the ills of life? Will it soothe them in the agonies of death? Will it avail them at the day of judgment? However it may dignify and delight them on earth, will it entitle them to heaven—or prepare them for its bliss? No! No! Knowledge alone will raise no man to the celestial city in which God dwells. It may elevate them to earth's pinnacle—but will leave them at an infinite distance from heaven's threshold! It may lift them high above the scorn and contempt of men below—but still leave them all exposed to the wrath and curse of God from above! There is something ineffably dreadful in anticipating the loss of any human soul—but the sense of agony is increased, when we think of the eternal ruin of a mind, which had accumulated all the stores of the most varied knowledge. It is painful to see the least and lowest spark of intelligence fluttering to extinction over the marshes of sensuality—but it is most painful to see one of the highest order of minds, darting, like a falling star, into the blackness and darkness of eternal night! It is dreadful to follow such a spirit into the unseen world, and to behold, in imagination, the 'despicable damned', whom he spurned on earth as a vulgar herd, taking up against him the ancient taunt, "Have you also become like one of us?" "How are you fallen, O Lucifer, son of the morning."
5. DOMESTIC COMFORTis with many the chief, the only end of life. They aspire not to riches, they pace not the giddy round of pleasure, they have no ambition for fame, they have no taste for science or learning; to marry happily and live comfortably; in moderate competency, is the limit of their prospects and pursuits.
But is this all? Is this the chief end of life! Consider, much that has been said of riches will apply to this. Although you seek it—it is uncertain whether you will succeed! Should you gain your object—how soon it may be taken from you again! Your trade may be ruined; the partner of your joys and sorrows may be removed by death; your health may be impaired. If none of these things happens, you yourself may be removed to the eternal world—just when the one you now inhabit may appear most enchanting. Or if spared to old age in undiminished enjoyment, how dreadful is the thought of going from a state of such comfort, to another, in which not a ray of peace will ever fall upon you through everlasting ages!
None of these things which I have mentioned, therefore, are worthy to be the objects of our supreme solicitude, or ultimate pursuit. They may be all taken up as inferior and subordinate objects. We may in moderation, and by honest industry, not only endeavor to obtain a competency—but even affluence. We are allowed to desire to seek a comfortable settlement in the world. We may enjoy, in measure, the lawful pleasures of life. We may endeavor, if our motives are right, to establish our reputation, not only for virtue—but for talents. We may, to the widest extent, pursue our researches after knowledge. All this is allowed not only by reason—but by Scripture. True religion is not the enemy of one single excellence of the human character—nor opposed to any of the lawful possessions of the present world.
But the question to be decided is—What is the CHIEF end of man? Now the definition which I would give of this is as follows–
1. It must be an object suited to the nature of man as a rational creature.
2. It must be an object which, if sought in a right manner, shall with absolute certainty be obtained.
3. It must be an object which shall not interfere with any of the necessary duties of the present state.
4. It must be an object which, when obtained, shall not only temporarily please, but satisfy the mind.
5. It must be an object which shall prepare us for our eternal state of existence.
6. It must be an object which accompanies us to the unseen world as our portion forever.
All these things must enter into the chief good—the great end of life—the ultimate object of pursuit. There is but one thing in the universe to which this will apply, and to that one, it will in all parts of the definition most strictly apply—and this is the salvation of the soul.
You are immortal creatures, lost sinners, capable of enjoying eternal happiness, yet exposed to the sufferings of eternal death! What can be the chief end of an eternal being short of ETERNAL LIFE? Once admit that you are going on to eternity—and it would be idiotism to deny that anything less than eternal happiness should be your great aim! The Catechism has defined the chief end of man to be, "To glorify God and enjoy him forever." This is strictly true, and accords with what I have said. For to glorify God is to believe in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the soul; and under the influence of this faith, to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present evil world. And thus glorifying God on earth, we shall be taken to enjoy him forever in that state of ineffable felicity which he has prepared for those who love him!
The salvation of the soul is a good which–
1. Suits our rational nature.
2. Is absolutely certain to those who seek it in the right way.
3. Rather insures than interrupts, all the other duties of life.
4. Satisfies and delights the mind, giving consolation under its troubles, and contentment to its desires.
5. Fits us for our eternal state.
6. Goes with us to glory as our portion forever.
But there are many who accept this in theory—yet they neglect it in practice! And therefore I must now exhort you to keep this end of life constantly in view. Every man, when he sets out on a journey or pursuit, should have a definite object, and constantly keep it in view. My dear children, you are setting out on the journey of life, you know the chief object of that journey, and now, ever keep it before your mind! Let this conviction not only be written on your understanding—like a picture drawn on ice, or an impression produced on the snow, which thaws beneath the next sun—but be engraved on your heart, like chiselings on a rock, which nothing can efface—that your main business on earth is to obtain the salvation of your immortal soul!
Let this conviction lie at the bottom of your whole character—let it be thoroughly wrought into the fabric of all your mental habits—let it be the main wheel in the whole machinery of your conduct. It is recorded of a pilgrim on his way to Jerusalem, that in passing through Constantinople, when that city was in its glory, he met with a friend, who, wishing to detain him in the eastern metropolis, took him about to see the beauties of that celebrated place. "Very splendid," exclaimed the pilgrim, "but this is not the holy city." So should we say to everything which would limit and detain our hearts on earth, "Very good in its place—but it is not salvation!"
Often inquire of yourselves, and examine your hearts, whether you are keeping in mind this one thing needful. At the close of every division of your time—of your years, your months, your weeks—ask yourselves the question, "Is my eye upon the supreme summit of Christian desire and expectation—or am I beginning to lower my aim, and sink my pursuit?"
Regulate all your feelings of admiration and pity, in reference to the conduct and situations of others by this object. If you see the rich man accumulating wealth, the scholar increasing the stores of learning, the philosopher adding to the discoveries of science, the man of military or literary renown, gathering laurels to decorate his brow—but, at the same time, neglecting the claims, and despising the blessings of true religion—view them rather as objects of pity, rather than of envy! And rank them among the individuals who are losing sight of the great end of a rational creature's existence! On the other hand, wherever you perceive an individual, however obscure in station, limited in acquirements, or afflicted in his circumstances—but who is yet glorifying God, and preparing to enjoy him forever—there realize a character who is keeping before him the great end for which God sent him into this world, and who is fairly entitled to your highest estimation!
Keep this in view in the selection of employments and the formation of friendships. Are you just starting out in life? Accept of no employment, however advantageous in a worldly point of view it may appear, where you are likely to be cut off from the means of grace, and the helps to a life of faith and holiness. Bring the rule of eternal life to it, and ask—Will it help or hinder me in the pursuit of salvation? Let this direct you in choosing the place of worship you attend, and the minister you hear. Inquire not where the people of fashion go, or who is the most eloquent preacher—but where the most instructive, awakening, and soul-improving ministry of the word is to be enjoyed; and where you are likely to be kept most steadily in the pursuit of eternal life.
In your Christian life, dwell most on the plain, and obvious, and important truths of the gospel, such as are most intimately connected with the life of piety in the heart. Do not turn aside to novelties, speculations, and religious curiosities. In selecting your vocation in life, keep this in mind, and if there be any calling which, in your judgment, necessarily takes off the mind from true religion, choose another in preference. In accepting or selecting a companion for life, let not this subject be put out of view—but consider how much you will be assisted or opposed, in seeking eternal salvation. In choosing your residence, inquire not only what is the weather, or the facilities for trade or pleasure—but what are the means of grace, the helps to true religion, the ministry of the word in the neighborhood. In short, let it appear in all you do—that the salvation of your soul is the one thing needful, the chief business of life.
Act, in reference to eternal salvation and the affairs of this life, as a man, who most tenderly loves and ardently longs for his home, does upon his journey, in returning to that home. He selects as comfortable an inn, as he can honestly afford—he enjoys the prospects which present themselves to his eye, he is pleased with the company he meets with on the road, he gains as much knowledge as he can accumulate by the way, he performs the duties of his calling as diligently, and secures as much profit as he equitably can—but still his eye and his heart are at home! For his comfort at home—and not his pleasure abroad, he is supremely concerned. So far as he can promote, or not hinder his prosperity at home, he is willing to gain knowledge, to take pleasure, to secure respect abroad—but HOME is his great object! To reach home, and prepare for its increasing comfort, is his aim and his hope.
So act, my children, towards the salvation of the soul. This, this is the end of life! Keep it constantly in mind! Never lose sight of it! Gain all the knowledge, all the comfort, all the fame, all the wealth, you can—in subordination to this once great business. But remember that whatever subordinate ends you may pursue, the paramount object which you must seek, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever!
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