Advice to Youth
by David Magie, Published by the American Tract Society in 1855.
THE BIBLE—THE YOUNG MAN'S BOOK
My object in this chapter is to hold up the Scriptures, as a book for your daily study and meditation. There is no volume on earth like the volume of inspiration. Lay up these words of heavenly wisdom in your hearts, bind them as frontlets between your eyes, and all will be safe for time and eternity. Nothing can harm you so long as you take the Bible as a "light to your feet and a lamp to your path."
I may surely claim your earnest attention, while I converse with you about the book of God. You will not turn away when I approach you with such a message. The Bible, the blessed Bible, as a volume for youth, is my theme, and a theme worthy of an angel's pen. You need such a revelation to enlighten your understanding, and sanctify your heart. Let me enumerate a few of those features of the Bible which should commend it to your regard.
1. It is inspired—its thoughts are the thoughts of God, and its words were chosen by the Holy Spirit.
No man, young or old, will ever read the Bible aright, while he denies its true origin. The secret of its power lies in the fact that it is divine. While, in form and appearance, the book is like other books, it bears upon its pages the imprimatur of the celestial world. Its every chapter and verse is a communication from God.
I cannot at present enter upon an extended argument to prove the Divinity of the Scriptures. The merest outline of evidence must suffice. Look at the miracles which attest its claims—miracles wrought in open day, and in the presence of thousands of credible and competent witnesses. Recall a multitude of prophecies which have been fulfilled and are fulfilling to this hour. Think how the laws of Nature have been suspended, and the events of ages controlled to certify its character. Then open the book itself, and mark the purity of its sentiments, the splendor of its diction, and the agreement of its parts. If you consider these points carefully, you cannot fail to be convinced that the Bible is really and truly the book of God.
But there is another source of proof, still more satisfactory to the mass of Scripture readers; I refer to what is called internal evidence. Thousands who are not in circumstances to master the argument derived from miracles and prophecy, are yet perfectly convinced that the Bible is the word of God. Their proof is that of the shepherd boy, who said of the sun, "I see its light, and I feel its heat." They know where the Scriptures originated, by the unmistakable influence exerted in the reading of them upon their own hearts. This is the argument of experience, and it has mighty power with well-disposed minds. Here is a resting-place, from which none of the batteries of infidelity can frighten the humble believer. "I told him," said an unlettered Christian, recently, of his conversation with a Socialist lecturer—"I told him that I was not scholar enough to argue with him on science, yet I knew, by my own experience, that the Bible was true, and that he might as well try to persuade me that what I eat is not food, as that what I read in the Scriptures is not inspired."
Remember then, beloved youth, when you read the Bible, that you are holding communion with God himself. These thoughts, these precepts, these doctrines, are his. Everything about the Book, its history and its devotions, its statutes and its ordinances, its threatenings and its promises, indicate its Divine origin. It needs no harbinger to introduce it to men, no herald to announce its approach. The light which beams through its pages is light from the eternal throne, and the truth which it utters is truth coming from the Shekinah. Its voice is like that which our first parents heard in the midst of the trees of the garden. God himself is talking with you when you open these leaves and read these words.
2. This book is remarkable for its age, and its supernatural preservation.
If we have a spark of veneration for antiquity, our veneration must be excited by a sight of the Bible. It is the oldest writing extant. Its pages look down upon us, not from the pyramids of Egypt, but from the rock of Horeb, the land of Uz, and the banks of the Jordan. It speaks to us from Ararat, from Carmel, and from Olivet. This book has outlived everything contemporary with it. Babylon has been overthrown, Troy has been sacked, Jerusalem destroyed, but the Divine Scriptures remain unharmed and unchanged. The library of Ptolemy has perished, but the history of the bondage in Egypt remains. We may liken it to a monument standing in solitary grandeur on the wide wastes of time, inscribed from base to summit with evidences of its origin.
With the Bible in our hands, we seem to stand by the very cradle of the world, and see it advancing from infancy to manhood. From it we learn the origin of nations and empires. Portions of it were composed when there were no other writings in existence, and it informs us of things which, but for its chapters, could never have been known. The grand themes of this wonderful volume are the original innocence, the sad apostasy, and the final redemption of the race. These are the sum of the book, and on these the inspired penmen delight to dwell. But there is an infinite variety of thought to fill up this compendious outline—thoughts enkindled by fire from the altar of God. No other work is so full, so complete, so suggestive. There is a wonderful power of condensation here.
The Bible tells us about Eden, about the tree of knowledge, about the ark, and about the Red Sea. It has chapters on the wilderness of Sinai, and the conquest of Canaan. As we turn over its leaves, we read of the dispersion of nations, the planting of countries, and the promise of a Savior. Laws are here recorded as old as the world, and statutes are given concurrent with the race. Its writers were sixty in number—shepherds, kings, seers, priests and fishermen. Beginning with the first man, this one volume brings the history of the human family down through the long period of forty centuries, in unbroken succession. Not a page has ever been omitted—not a paragraph has been erased.
We may almost say of the Bible, as of its author, it has life in itself, Kings have set themselves, and rulers taken counsel against it in vain. To use the beautiful thoughts of another, "If compelled sometimes to prophesy in sackcloth and be slain in the streets, it is sure like the witnesses in prophetic vision, to stand upon its feet again. If committed to the flames, it will come out like the three Hebrew children, without so much as the smell of fire upon it. Even if entombed in the grave, it will, without fail, like Him of whose mission it treats, rise again on the third, the appointed day." Fear not, my young friends, that the Scriptures will ever be put down by force or fraud. No weapon of wit, or scorn, or cruelty formed against them can prosper.
3. There is an inimitable beauty and sublimity in the very style of the Bible.
This is a matter which cannot fail to arrest the attention of every man of taste and refinement. No room for discrepancy of opinion exists here. The language of the Bible, its sweet imagery, its kind entreaties, its grand conceptions, its bold appeals, and its touching pathos, can never be sufficiently admired. It unites in the most perfect degree both the tender and the terrible, the mild and the majestic. In these respects, all the sages and orators of antiquity are left in the background. We must turn to the writings of shepherds, fishermen and tent-makers, for the highest and purest specimens of genuine eloquence. Let me refer you to a very few passages as examples.
Are you looking, beloved youth, for something tender in incident, and spirit-stirring in plot, and exquisite in narrative? We have it in the Bible. Read the story of Joseph and his brethren, of David and Goliath, of Daniel in the den of lions, of Naomi and Ruth, and of the prodigal and his father. It is impossible to conceive of anything more impressive. No unsophisticated mind can weary in perusing tales so artless, events so pleasantly put together, instruction given so unpretendingly. These histories will never wear out. As long as the human heart retains any freshness and life, it will be interested with the coat of many colors, the sling and the stone, the prayers thrice a day, the gleaning after the reapers, and the fatted calf. It is a bad sign when such incidents lose their power.
Or is it the grand and majestic that you would contemplate? We have it in these sacred pages. What can equal the psalmist's description of the Most High, when he represents him as "riding upon a cherub and flying upon the wings of the wind." Habakkuk tells us, "the Holy One stood and measured the earth, he beheld and drove asunder the nations, the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow." Paul cries out almost as if already in heaven, "O death, where is your sting, O grave where is your victory!" This is genuine sublimity, the sublimity not of language merely, but of emotion, conception and thought. Compared with the loftiest flights of uninspired genius, it towers like a mighty mountain above the adjoining hills.
If you are in search of fine writing, you will not search in vain, if you have the Pentateuch, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the Revelation to study. There is more true beauty in the story of the governor of Egypt making himself known to his brethren, or in the book of Ruth, than in any work of fiction the world has ever seen. Where is there such a song as the Canticles, or such condensed maxims as the Proverbs, or such a description as the scene at Sinai, or such a parable as the rich man and Lazarus, or such a representation as that of the angel swearing that there shall be time no longer? These things interest the peasant as well as the philosopher. The child of ten years delights in them no less than the ripe scholar.
My young friends, would you acquire an effective style of speaking or writing, learn to draw from these wells of good Anglo-Saxon. Become familiar with the oracles of God. Everything here is ornate and tasteful, while at the same time, everything is strong and vigorous. The lawyer should study the Bible, and so should the statesman, as well as the preacher of the Gospel. It should be studied by the boy in his efforts at letter-writing, and by the young man preparing to win the honors of college. As to style simply, it ought to be regarded as a model.
4. This is the book which tells us how sinners may secure the favor of an offended God.
Here we learn, what without it we could never know, whence we came and where we are going. It informs us what man was by creation, what be has become by sin, and what he must be made by grace. No sooner did our first parents apostatize from God, than they were told of One who should in due time appear as a deliverer. Immediately after the fall, the whole race was placed under a dispensation of mercy. God began at once to reveal himself to men, in the person of a Mediator, through whom their restoration was to be effected.
The Bible leaves us in no doubt as to the fact, that we are all sinners in the sight of God. Its teachings on the subject of man's total depravity, are too clear to be misunderstood, and too explicit to be explained away. You may find the sad tale told in one form or other by patriarchs, by prophets, by apostles, and by Christ himself. With equal distinctness is the declaration made, that, without a new birth, no one can see the kingdom of heaven. And blessed be God, the Bible does not leave us enveloped in darkness as to the way of salvation. It points us to the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, as opening a way for the sinner's reconciliation with his Maker. And it reveals to us the wonder-working grace of the Spirit to change the heart. The remedy is fully adequate to the disease. We have only to look to "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world," that we may not perish, but have eternal life.
Surely you cannot be indifferent as to the relations in which you stand to your Maker. The inquiry will arise in your minds in the lonely walk, during the sleepless hours of night, and while standing by the bed of a dying friend, "With what shall I come before the Lord, or bow myself before the Most High God?" You must wish to know how poor guilty sinners, as you feel yourselves to be, can be pardoned and saved. Go then, study the 51st Psalm—ponder the conversation of Christ with Nicodemus—read how the father welcomed home the returning prodigal—hear with what tenderness the Spirit and the bride say "Come." These are topics which, let the proud and the skeptical and the ungodly think as they will, are full of deep and commanding interest. King Alfred, amid fame and power and prosperity, confessed that he needed pardon for sin, and hope in death, and a home in the eternal world. These are desires which the Bible alone supplies.
Beloved youth, you need not be in uncertainty as to the question of your future welfare. That Bible which you have in your hands, has guided millions upon millions, as vile as yourselves, to the mansions of eternal rest. In instances without number, it has dispelled the darkness of the coffin, the grave, and corruption. And what more could you wish for? If you are polluted, this holy book speaks of a cleansing fountain; if guilty, it points to a curse-removing sacrifice; and if fearful, it utters words of assurance. Its grand excellence is, that it makes plain the path to heaven.
5. The Bible is replete with consolation for the weary and heavy laden.
You are aware that an inheritance of grief is just as sure to mortals, as the laws of Nature are inviolable. "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward." Some parts of this pilgrimage seem more bright and cheerful than others; but, make what concession we will, life is a warfare, and earth a valley of tears. No long experience is necessary to convince us that our very comforts contain the elements of sorrow. The dearest delights we here enjoy only expose us the more to disappointment, and open avenues to the entrance of pain. This is the hard tenure by which we hold all earthly good.
Allow me to remind you, that you cannot escape the endurance of evil. Affliction will come—it will come from your own mistakes, it will come from the friends you love, and it will come from the hand of God. But where will you flee for refuge when the world is all hung in mourning? In this lovely and buoyant portion of life "you resemble birds," says one, "which build their nests in the sweet months of spring, while the foliage spreads its protection around them. Soon, however, cold winter comes, and the leaves drop off, and the little habitation has nothing left but the bare sticks and straw." How true to the life is a picture like this! It reminds us of the change which often passes upon the joyous and merry-hearted, when sickness approaches, and old age reaches out its palsied hand. Everything in us and about us serves to impress the lesson, "Too low they build, who build beneath the stars."
Yes, let me assure you, trials you must meet, as a part of your allotment. But open the Bible, and read, "Whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives." Look in upon the experience of the saints, and see how it is, that through much tribulation they enter the kingdom of heaven. Think of the great cloud of witnesses who, like their Divine Master, have been "made perfect through suffering." Hear it said; for your encouragement, "When you pass through the waters I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you."
Is not the Bible the best book for mourners? Its language is, "As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you." Think of this, beloved youth, when your fond hopes are dashed to the ground, and pain seizes upon you, and friends are far off. Is there any other resource for an hour like this? "Bring me the book," said the great Sir Walter Scott in his last hours. "What book?" inquired his son-in-law Lockhart. "Can you ask?" replied the dying man; "there is no book but the Bible." True, there is no book for a dying hour but the Bible.
Now, beloved youth, let me ask, will you carefully and prayerfully study the Bible? I cannot tell you how much my heart is set upon securing this one great object. Take this blessed volume, press it daily to your bosoms, make it the man of your counsel, and I dare promise that it will guide you safely amid all the rocks and shoals which obstruct your voyage. Here is to be found that wisdom which has length of days in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honor. The ways which this Holy Book discloses, "are ways of pleasantness," and all the paths which it reveals "are peace." Never shall I despair of any one of you, whatever the perils of the post you occupy, if you will take the Bible with you, and often stop to ask counsel of the Most High. This will prove a safer defense than munitions of rocks. With such a book for a companion, I shall expect to see you lifting up your heads, manfully, and pressing forward in the high road of duty.
What can I say to enhance the value of God's book in your eyes? Let me beg you to carry it with you to your apprenticeship, keep it in your bedroom as a clerk, and place it among your choicest volumes as a student. One thing I dare promise every young man, the oftener and the longer you read the Bible, the more will you love to read it. Its pages will be sweeter to you at forty than at twenty, and at seventy than at fifty. The consolations it offers, the promises it gives, the prospects it unfolds, and the glories it reveals, will increase in richness and fullness to the very end. The last chapter read to you before you go to your heavenly home, will seem most delightful of all.
Never shall I forget what emotions it awakened in my bosom, a few months ago, to hear an aged minister say, "My sight is so gone that I shall never be able to read another chapter in the Holy Bible." That venerable saint has since been taken to his rest, but what would he not have given, during the few days which then remained to him, for the privilege of searching again those precious pages which had so often soothed and cheered his heart in the land of his pilgrimage. With equal interest did I listen a few days since to a young lady, while the cold sweat of death was upon her brow, as she recommended, in tones of almost angel sweetness, to her companions in study, the daily and devout reading of the Holy Bible. It was pleasant to see early life, in this case, like advanced age in the other, testifying to the value of the word of God. Wilberforce, a little before his death, said to a pious friend, "Read the Bible—read the Bible—let no religious book take its place. It has been my hourly study." Books about religion may be useful, but they are no substitute for the simple truths of the Bible.
Let me close with one recommendation, and I make it to every youth who reads these pages—it is, that you never allow a day of your lives to pass without reading at least a chapter of the Bible. Do this while living quietly in your father's house; do it when forced out into the world to breast its difficulties and struggle with its storms. Keep the blessed Bible by your side, and let its precious doctrines and precepts dwell in you richly in all wisdom. I shall expect you thus to become useful and honorable men, as well as sincere and devout Christians. Under the guidance of this Divine light, you will walk safely in the way.
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