Advice to Youth
by David Magie, Published by the American Tract Society in 1855.
CHRIST—AN EXAMPLE TO YOUNG MEN
There is one safe model character. No allowance need be made for him, whose early life I deem it my high privilege now to portray. Of the blessed Jesus, who was born of a woman, and had his dwelling among men, it may with truth be affirmed, that he never betrayed a bad temper, never spoke an idle word, and never did a wrong act. From the first, his character was a perfect character, and his life was a perfect life. In the tenderness of infancy, in the bloom of youth, in the maturity of riper years, "he did no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth."
How beautiful is such a picture! We love to be assured that the life of the Son of God on earth was no less complete as a pattern, than his death on the cross was complete as a sacrifice. All in detail is not given that we perhaps could have wished; but enough is revealed to show that his conduct as a youth is worthy of universal imitation. So much was he like all men in the trials he was called to bear, and in the duties he was appointed to perform, that you may well be invited to walk in his steps. Be what the Savior was, and you will be all that fond parents and kind friends could desire. No higher object can awaken your aspirations.
1. Reflect upon the perfect FITNESS of Christ to be an example for the young. This is a point, which I am persuaded, none of us ponder as we should. We are too much in the habit of thinking of the Son of God, as a being so entirely of a different order and another world, that he can scarcely enter experimentally into our feelings, or have any effective sympathy with us in our sorrows. It is hard to get a full impression of his oneness with the children of men, and the interest which he thus takes in our welfare. But this is a mistake no less prejudicial to ourselves, than it is derogatory to the glory of his name, as Mediator. Let me set you right here.
That spotless character which I now present to you, is the character of one in your very nature. The real humanity of him whom all the angels of God worship, you scarcely need be told, is as fundamental an article of the Christian's creed, as is his proper divinity. Whatever apparent contrariety there is between them, you must put the two characters together; Maker, and Elder Brother; existing from eternity, yet born in the days of Herod the king; the Word made flesh and dwelling among us. It would no less effectually undermine the religion of the gospel, and take away the foundation of the sinner's hope, to show that Jesus was not truly and in fact a man, than it would to show that he was not truly and in fact God. There may be a difficulty in conceiving of him in both lights at one and the same moment. How He, who was to be called the Son of the Highest, and to whom the Lord God was to give the throne of David, and who was to reign over the house of Jacob forever, could also be the babe of Bethlehem, the boy in the temple, and the young man of Nazareth, we cannot tell. Suffice it to say that "thus it is written." The Bible reveals it as a fact.
Call the statement mysterious, if you please, that the infant in the manger should be the Creator of the world, and that the child that asked questions of the doctors should be "the Wisdom of God," and that the man Christ Jesus should be "the Lord our righteousness"—it is no more mysterious than the union of your own soul and body, and no more difficult of comprehension.
I make no attempt, in holding up to you this bright example, to explain the doctrine of a two-fold nature in the one person of Christ. Sufficient is it for all useful purposes, that it is revealed as a truth, which we are to receive, and wherein we are to stand; and that we can see the connection of this precious truth with everything that is vital in experience, and everything that is correct in deportment. As God, Jesus made the world, searches the heart, is present where two or three meet in his name, governs the universe, will raise the dead, and conduct the final judgment; while as man he rested by the well of Samaria, wept at the grave of Lazarus, washed the disciples' feet, and ate of the broiled fish and honey-comb. You must hold fast here, as to life itself. Never forget that Jesus is your kinsman, as well as your Judge. As really was he a child in his mother's arms, and as really did he grow up in the home of his parents, and as really did he buffet the temptations of life, as any other of the sons of men. In this way alone could he have become a perfect example for your imitation.
I present to you also, the character of one, who subjected himself to your condition. Not in appearance merely, but in deed and in truth, did Christ take upon him the infirmities, and bear the sorrows of a son of Adam. So far as respects susceptibilities, mental and physical, he was "made like unto his brethren;" subsisting as they do, and feeling both joy and grief as they feel them. In all these respects he was as you are. His body, like yours, needed food, clothing and sleep; his hands, like yours, could be hardened with toil; his flesh, like yours, might be lacerated with stripes, and his mind, like yours, could be harassed and perplexed. If you have struggles, so had he. If you need encouragement, so did he. Satan could tempt him. His enemies could give him trouble. The soldiers could crucify him. His Father's countenance could fill him with joy. He could be animated by hope.
So far as the discharge of duty, and endurance of sufferings, and exposure to hardships, and conflict with temptations were involved, the condition to which Christ stooped, differed in no essential particular from that of mere men. Though he could bear his burden better, for he could bear it without impatience, without unbelief, without repining, this by no means proves that he felt it the less, or shed any fewer tears on its account.
Take away sin, and its accompanying dread of the future, and the Savior's condition was as is yours. With this exception, you have not a difficulty which did not press with equal weight upon him, nor a sorrow to which his heart was not equally exposed. His feelings could be hurt by ill-treatment as easily as yours, and he could weep over the neglect of professed friends as sincerely as you. Is your path rough? Christ's was still more so. Are you sometimes distressed? So was he. The fears which agitate your bosom, his was not a stranger to, and the hopes which may gild your closing hour, are hopes which shed their influence on his death. How fitted to be an example!
Again, Jesus was once of the very age which you have now reached. The thirty years which he spent on earth before entering on the work of his public ministry, included the period of childhood and youth. There was a reason for this. If it was a season of comparative obscurity, it was not a lost season. It gave him a fuller experience of human life in its early gladness and grief, and it enabled him to furnish a pattern for those who most urgently need it. What he felt of pain and weakness as a child, and what he knew of care and labor as a youth, serve to render his example the more useful.
It was not as an aged man, bending under the infirmities of years, that Jesus was seen crossing the hills and traversing the valleys of Judea. He was seen in Nazareth, not as one whose head is covered with the frosts of many winters, but as a child by his mother's side, as a boy in his father's shop, and as a youth at his allotted work. His time of life was just that which we contemplate with the deepest interest.
Can you think with indifference of the fact, that Jesus once stood, in age, exactly where you now stand? The precise number of weeks, and months, and years which have gone over your heads, went over his also. Your circumstances at this critical period, he cannot overlook; he remembers his own at the same period of life.
2. Let me name some of those VIRTUES, which the example of Christ inculcates for the young. A wide field opens here, inviting our entrance, and promising richly to reward our examination. The character of Jesus was one grand constellation of excellencies, embracing everything pure, and true, and lovely, and of good report. It is adapted to all men, and all countries, and all climates. I can dwell only on a few items.
Christ was distinguished for the improvement he made in the morning of life. His youth was not wasted in indolence, or lost in self-indulgence, or frittered away in things of no profit. None of the hours of the holy child Jesus were misspent, none were misappropriated. It is the explicit testimony of the inspired oracles, that he increased "in wisdom, and stature, and in favor with God and man." As he grew in years, he grew in knowledge. Having a true body and a reasonable soul, these could be expanded and developed as are the bodies and souls of other children and youth. The word of God no doubt was his study, and we may well conclude that he meditated therein day and night. He loved the appointed services of God's house. Its prayers and its praises were his delight.
However destitute Christ may have been of such literary advantages as are now justly prized, of one thing we are assured, he was blessed with the assiduous attentions of a wise and good mother—a mother who had received her child as a special gift of God, and who regarded him with mingled tenderness and veneration. Never did woman, before or since, perform so delightful a task. Can you conceive of anything more touching? Mary is sitting with the holy child Jesus by her side, and they read together out of the book of the law. Her heart overflows with tenderness, and his heart overflows with gratitude. Every day she witnesses his improvement, and every day he repays her care by his tender attentions.
I am well aware that this is treading upon ground where the imagination must not be allowed to run wild. We must not lose sight of the fact, that Jesus was "the mighty God," as well as the babe of Bethlehem; that he was not only the boy twelve years of age hearing and asking questions, but was possessed of all the attributes of Deity. This point has, I trust, been sufficiently guarded. The Godhead must not be forgotten, while we are contemplating his manhood. Still, to get the full benefit of his example, we should consider it in all the aspects presented in the holy Scriptures.
Jesus too was dutiful to his parents.
This is one of the loveliest features in the picture before us. The sacred writers are careful to say, that he was subject to Joseph and Mary, consulting their wishes, submitting to their authority, and obeying their commands. Never did he give them one moment's pain by impatience or forgetfulness, or lack of respect. Never did he fail to satisfy all their just expectations. It is the concurrent testimony of all early Church history, that Jesus learned the trade which his reputed father practiced, and thus cheerfully contributed to the comfort and maintenance of the family of which he was a member. He did not allow his parents to toil while he trifled, or to wear themselves out, while he ate the bread of idleness. Such a sight is always sad, and we may be assured, it was not witnessed in the household of which the holy child Jesus was an inhabitant.
I love to think of Christ as an obedient, dutiful son, the son of poor parents, taught early to labor with his hands, and by the cheerfulness of his spirit, and the correctness of his deportment, filling the lowly dwelling in which they lived, with light and joy and peace. How different this from the conduct of many an idle, restless, wayward child, disturbing the serenity of his father's fireside, and piercing his mother's heart with bitter sorrows! Such a one, whatever his talents or advantages, has not the mind that was in Christ.
Reflect, my young friends, upon the conduct of the Son of God, if ever tempted to swerve from the commands of him who begat you, and to disregard the entreaties of her that bore you. In turning a deaf ear to their requisitions, you will most assuredly wrong your own souls. Jesus delighted to honor his parents, and so must you, if "your days are to be long upon the land that the Lord your God gives you." Alas, how little is that son like Christ, who is careless whether he makes home happy or miserable! Whatever beauty of countenance, loveliness of person, or brightness of talent he possesses, he bears no resemblance to the holy child Jesus.
Again, besides being diligent and dutiful, Christ was truly and eminently pious. Love to God ruled his heart, not only controlling every inward emotion, but finding expression in all suitable outward acts. How cordially did he join the public worship of God's house, and go up with the multitude that kept holy day. With what pleasure did he unite in the daily devotions of the holy family at Nazareth! Such was his delight in prayer that we find him engaged in this sacred employment late in the evening, a great while before day, and even during the entire night. With him there was no forgetfulness, no indifference, no declension. Wherever he was—at the well of Samaria, in the house of Martha, or dining with the Pharisee—he evinced the same devout state of mind. His zeal knew no abatement, his faith no inconstancy, and his peace no interruption.
Yet there was nothing ascetic, nothing unsocial—in the piety of the Savior. We have good reason to conclude that he was as far removed from austerity and seclusion on the one hand, as he was from worldly conformity on the other. An air of mingled cheerfulness and sobriety seems usually to have sat on his brow. As he could weep with those who weep, so he could rejoice with those who rejoice. Never did he live a day without spiritual and heartfelt communion with God, and never without some act of tender and considerate benevolence.
Take the conduct of the blessed Savior for thirty-three years together, and what an example does it furnish of sincere and elevated piety! How serious is his frame of spirit, and yet how pleasant! How devotional, and yet how cheerful! How steadfast, and yet how mild! How courageous, and yet how condescending! At all times and under all circumstances, he was just what every child, every youth, and every man should be.
Now, what can I do better than to urge you, my young friends, to take the holy child Jesus as a pattern, and walk in his steps? Do this, and you will never grieve a father's or a mother's heart. Do this, and you will never make a brother or a sister blush. Do this, and you will never disappoint the hopes of the church of God. Do this, and you will not fail to be a blessing to the world. You will be all that the wisest benevolence could desire, if in temper and deportment, you are like the youthful Savior.
Bear with me while I press this suggestion. Other names are worthy of respect and love, but here is a name which stands out single and alone. What is Joseph, or Josiah, or John, compared with the holy child Jesus. They were dutiful, but they sometimes gave way to ill feelings and temper. They were pious, butt their hearts sometimes wandered from God. They were examples of goodness, yet it would not always be safe to follow them. But with Jesus there is no defect, no drawback, no alloy. I wish the youngest of you to remember that there was a person in the world of your very age who never had an ill feeling, never uttered a wicked word, and never did a wrong act. Think what a life the blessed Savior lived, at the same season through which you are now passing. Learn to contemplate him as he lies in the manger, or rests on his mother's bosom, or enters the carpenter's shop, or puts questions in the temple, with adoration and love. If he be your Redeemer, he is at the same time your example, and you are to walk in his steps.
This is a topic which none can exhaust. Gladly would I fix the minds of every one who reads these pages upon such a pattern of successful diligence, unwavering dutifulness, and Scriptural piety, as is here brought before us.
In Jesus there was no inattention to duty, no impatience of restraint, no forgetfulness of God. Think how he felt and acted, if ever you are tempted to dislike study, neglect your parents, or give up the duties of devotion. It is not thus that the holy child Jesus grew strong in spirit, and was filled with wisdom.
Especially look to him in every hour of sadness. Do you feel yourselves poor, and in danger of being neglected? Go, make your trouble known to one who had the cup of sorrow put to his lips from the birth. Are you sometimes terrified at a life of toil and labor? Go, and refresh your spirits by a sight of what is doing in the carpenter's shop at Nazareth. Does a life of serious piety now and then seem impracticable? Go, gather strength and courage from Him who delighted in nothing like communion with his Heavenly Father. There is no reason why you should faint or be disheartened.
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