Advice to Youth
by David Magie, Published by the American Tract Society in 1855.
RELIGION—THE PRINCIPAL THING
We are brought to the last of a series of chapters, which I trust you have not read in vain. In our progress, a wide range has been taken, and a variety of topics; some of them not often publicly discussed, has come under review. I have had high authority for enforcing, with all earnestness, the precepts of the second table of the law; but you need not be told that there is such a thing as sustaining a fair reputation, according to the world's estimate, of which the fear and love of God constitute no part. This is the point in relation to which my tenderest solicitudes are awakened, and I cannot bring these chapters to a close, without enjoining it upon your serious and immediate attention. Make the Almighty your friend, and you will never be ashamed or confounded.
To fear God, and keep his commandments, is the whole duty, and I may add the whole happiness of man. This "has promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." It is "the conclusion of the whole matter." Religion, pure and undefiled religion, as it is before God even the Father, is the perfection of human character and attainment. It is adapted to man's nature, and it is indispensable to his welfare.
1. Religion is adapted to man's nature.
What is religion? We speak of it as love to God, as repentance for sin, as faith in Christ, as a reception of the doctrines of the Bible, and as obedience to the divine commands. All these are included in the comprehensive word. Such a religion, growing out of the very relations which man sustains to his Maker, not as a creature merely, but as a sinner, and having for its object his restoration to holiness and happiness, must be suited to his nature.
This will appear, if you consider how strongly it addresses itself to his rational faculties. Taken as a collection of revealed truths, nothing is so fitted to give elevation and expansion to the mind, and to call its powers into the most vigorous exercise. Religion presents to one's consideration the most stupendous facts and events of which he can form a conception. The creation of the world, the special providence of God, the apostasy of the race, the redemption by Christ, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment—are the grand themes on which he is daily called to meditate. Can there be any source of mental and moral grandeur, comparable with these? Is there any other class of subjects, that takes such hold of the thinking faculties, and raises them so high? In this way, true piety always gives increased strength and perspicuity to the workings of the intellect. So far as respects clear, consistent thoughts of God, of human accountability, of the awards of a future world, religion not only "lifts the poor from the ash-heap," but it sets him above the "kings and nobles of the earth." What a spring did it give to the mental faculties of the Dairyman's Daughter, and the Shepherd of Salisbury Plain! It forms the very best school of intellectual elevation.
The mind will be feeble—so long as it is exercised solely with little things. To enlarge the scope of one's thoughts, he must learn to break away from the dull routine of every-day duty, and bring his powers into vigorous contact with things intrinsically grand and great. A new spring is given to his intellectual faculties, the moment he begins to take the dimensions of lofty and ennobling truths. His whole inner man now finds itself addressed by an adequate object, and at once girds up its energies for the task of swimming in waters where there is no bottom.
Rely upon it, my young friends, there is everything in scriptural, vital religion to widen the scope and stimulate the movements of the human understanding. All the lessons it gives us about the deep and awful depravity of man, his accountability to God for every feeling of his heart and every act of his life, his entire destitution of anything good in the sight of God, his dependence on the blood of Christ for pardon, and on the Spirit of Christ for sanctification, and the need he has of help from above in every step of his journey towards heaven, are adapted, beyond anything and everything else, to awaken thought, elicit inquiry, and prompt to effort. If the gospel bows down the loftiness of man and lays his haughtiness low, that God alone may be exalted, it does this, not by darkening his understanding, but by renewing his heart; not by cramping the workings of his intellect, but by changing the character of his affections. So true is it that the very tendency of real, spiritual religion is to unfold and call out all the mental energies, that no one can go through that conviction of sin and renunciation of self, and trust in the atonement, which the Scriptures denominate "passing from death to life," without being made by it a more thinking, reflecting, intellectual being than he was before. As to the mass of the community, the effect of genuine conversion in moving and expanding the mind is surprising indeed. In no other schools are lessons given which make so powerful an impression, or secure such mental development.
Never fear that any one will become mentally imbecile, by having his attention rightly directed to the subject of religion. To utter such a sentiment is a gross slander, as the lives of Hale, and Boyle, and Newton, and Owen, and Edwards, and Davies, and Chalmers, and a thousand other almost equally honored names, clearly testify. It is not the study of a self-existent God, a Deity incarnate, a throne of judgment, and a world of retribution, that bedwarfs the mind. It is not such a conviction of sin as led Luther to cry out from the very depths of his soul, "Oh! my sin! my sin!" it is not such a view of Christ on the cross as broke the cords which bound so fast the burden of Bunyan's Pilgrim; nor is it such an undoubting assurance of the love of God as lessened the death-struggle of the heroic Martyn—that can ever weaken the power of the mind. The thing is impossible. To pretend so is to exhibit the grossest ignorance. But this is not all.
Religion is something more than a mental exercise, it is suited to man's moral susceptibilities. We have a heart as well as an intellect, and our affections need to be regulated, even more than our understanding to be expanded.
Here it is, that the apostasy especially wrought its evil, and here it is that redemption especially applies its remedy. The Bible exhibits to us the attributes of God, not merely to excite emotions of awe, and grandeur, and magnificence—but to awaken love, and admiration, and confidence. It reveals a Savior dying on the cross, not only to engage the attention—but to produce an abiding influence on the heart. It speaks of sin, and pardon, and heaven, and hell, not simply to stir the intellectual powers—but to take a fast and energetic hold on the conscience. The God it makes known, is the God in whom we are to put our trust as a Father. The Redeemer it reveals is the Redeemer who offers to shelter us from the Divine wrath. The bliss it proclaims, and the woe it threatens—is bliss for us to seek, and woe for us to shun.
Yes, beloved youth, that religion which is recommended to you, is something without which your moral and spiritual nature can never have a right development. In befitting good men, you will not only gain a wider comprehension, and a sounder judgment, and a higher range of intellect, but you will gain, what you far more emphatically need, a better state of religious feeling. No one, try what experiments he please, can succeed in persuading himself that he is not a transgressor, and does not require an atonement. To attempt this is to practice an imposition upon himself. Hence, the great doctrine of salvation by the blood of the cross, though adapted to give breadth and compass to the understanding, is still more directly adapted to give peace and tranquillity to the conscience. If it is an instrument of expansion to the mind, it is the very panacea for the ills of the heart.
Let any candid man read the account of the creation, the temptation and fall, the institution of sacrifices, the promises of a Savior, the incarnation of the Son of God, his death in the room of sinners, the intercession which he is making at the right hand of the Father, the invitations of mercy sent abroad in his name, and the glory hereafter to be revealed, and compare all this with what he feels in his own bosom and sees in the world around him, and whatever else he may think or say, he cannot avoid the conclusion—that there is that in the religion of the Bible, which meets the necessities of the heart as nothing besides ever did, or ever can. It fills the great need of the human bosom. Without it one can never be what he should be—or do what he ought to do—or enjoy what he might enjoy.
This is a blessing of which no one can be destitute—and still hope to rise to the dignity of true happiness. "Every reflecting man," says a distinguished writer, "when thinking of his situation in the world, will often ask, With what can I be satisfied? I look at the opulent, and see Ahab pining away for a garden of herbs, and the rich fool dying while his barn was building, and Dives begging for a drop of water. I think of the wise, and see Ahithophel hanging himself, and Aaron making a golden calf, and Solomon besotted by his idolatrous wives. I turn to men of worldly pleasure, and see that such pleasure is nothing else than the bed into which Satan casts the Esaus, and the Absaloms of the day. I contemplate honor, and see in the far-famed Westminster Abbey, that the mightiest dead have nothing left them but a boasting epitaph. I must die. I must meet God. I must go into eternity, and how can things like these suit my case?" It can never be. To dream of happiness from objects so vain and evanescent—is to spend money "for that which is not bread."
May we not say then, that religion is adapted to man's nature, intellectual and moral? Why else has he such a capacity for mental enlargement, and such susceptibility to the influence of hope and fear? Why else does he feel such an irrepressible longing after immortality? Why else is the entire world, in which he lives, unable to carry one drop of real consolation to his lips? Why else is he so poor, so dependent, so unable to provide for himself? These simple facts tell us, as with angel eloquence, what he is, and what he needs. But,
2. Religion is necessary to man's welfare.
Certainly it gives the best possible promise of worldly prosperity. No one can take a readier way to establish himself in the respect and confidence of good men, and to gather around him the means of true enjoyment, than cordially to believe the doctrines, and faithfully practice the precepts of Christianity. The slightest consideration of the subject shows us that it must be so. Do the principles of the Bible ever lead to waste and prodigality? The tavern and the gaming-table often eat up the substance of a man—but prayer and church-going never do. Will piety carry discord and turmoil into the domestic circle? Many a husband has reduced his family to rags and wretchedness, by visiting the evening club and the halls of merriment—but never by the worship and love of God. Will one's health be undermined by submitting to the rules of the gospel? Excessive worldly care brings multitudes to an untimely grave, but never does a well-balanced Christian temper shorten a man's days.
There can be no ground for hesitancy on this subject. If "the way of transgressors is hard," if "the gall of bitterness" is connected with "the bonds of iniquity," and if "the curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked," we cannot expect to see either individuals or families permanently flourish—if God is forgotten, and the Bible neglected, and the sanctuary forsaken. I would not have you influenced by mere mercenary motives; but there is a natural and obvious connection between true piety and temporal success, and it cannot be wrong to show this connection. Right feelings towards God are almost sure to produce those habits of industry and economy which surround men with comfort and competency. These are New Testament as well as Old Testament blessings; and it may be said in our day, as emphatically as it ever could be, "forsake not Wisdom, and she shall preserve you, love her, and she shall keep you, exalt her, and she shall promote you; she shall bring you to honor, when you embrace her." If the prosperity you desire implies a competency of earthly good, a well-regulated home, and a peaceful frame of mind—love to God, and faith in Christ, and trust in the promises are in their very nature calculated to secure all these blessings. You do not often find miserable destitution among people who read the Scriptures, and keep up morning and evening prayer, and attend church regularly, and commune with God.
Do you still doubt? then ask the fathers, and they will teach you, and the elders, and they will tell you. Their testimony is that of men who have been young but now are old, and it all goes to show that the righteous are not forsaken, nor does his seed beg bread. In regard to this great matter, there can be no dispute. Heaven and earth unite in enforcing the injunction—Take fast hold of true Religion; "let her not go, keep her, for she is your life." No other friend will prove so careful of your welfare. She will lodge with you at night, toil with you by day, make her abode with you in the city, travel with you in the wilderness, and sail with you on the ocean. You will find her presence on the stone where Jacob lay down to sleep, in the den where Daniel was surrounded by the hungry lions, by the pillar where Hannah moved her lips in silent supplication, in the prison where Paul and Silas sang praises, and on the hill-side where the Man of Sorrows poured out his heart to God. She has written her name on many a cottage hearth, and many an opening cave, and many a dungeon floor. Her business is to make men happier as well as holier. Better that a vessel should be at sea without a rudder—than a young man in the world without piety. If the hour ever comes, when he is ready to resolve not to seek the Lord, he may expect in turn that God will cast him off forever.
It is of immense importance that all this should be well and thoroughly understood. Thousands look upon religion as valuable because it is connected with a safe and peaceful death, but see nothing to endear it to them as a means of good for this world. This is one of the greatest mistakes into which the unthinking multitude can fall. True piety is a rich present blessing. Its influence is felt beneficially upon all one's associations and connections in life. Let it universally prevail, and "our sons will be as plants grown up in their youth, and our daughters as cornerstones, polished after the similitude of a palace."
There are, however, dark hours in every life, and this leads me to add—that religion is the only sure support in trouble. Come sooner or later, the evil day most assuredly will. Disappointment, misfortune, unkindness, and inconstancy all will crowd around your pathway, as you make your journey through this valley of tears. At any moment, health may decay, friends prove treacherous, and a cloud black as midnight overshadow your prospects. Besides, there are troubles of the heart—which no human medicine can cure; and trials of the spirit—which no music has power to charm. What shall such a child of sorrow do, when his gourd withers, and the sun beats on his naked head? It is not the boisterous song, or the merry dance, or the flowing cup—which can cheer the mind in an hour like this. Ah! said Sir John Mason; all things forsake me in my affliction—but my God, my Bible, and my prayers. It is only "to the upright" that "'there arises light in darkness."
Chalmers tells a story, which ought to convey a salutary lesson. A person in deep melancholy once went to an eminent physician to ask his advice; and what think you was the answer he received? He was gravely told, as the best remedy in his case, to attend the performances of a celebrated stage-player. This was the only balm which the learned medical man knew for a wounded spirit. But it turned out, to the discredit of his prescription, that the patient was this very actor himself, and that while he was, night after night, exciting the applause of a crowded theater, his own heart was cold and cheerless as the grave. What a spectacle! This poor man went to kindle a joy in which he could not participate, and to stand a dejected mourner in the midst of the tumultuous joy which his own voice had awakened. Would that every pleasure-loving youth would remember this lesson! It teaches us in terms not to be gainsaid, that the heart may be torn with anguish, while forced smiles seem to irradiate the countenance.
Hume professed to be a happy man, how sincerely it is not very difficult to determine. You have all heard with what foolish and indecent jesting he passed the hours of the last night he was permitted to live. This was done, no doubt, to keep up the impression that his principles sustained him to the very end. But the heart has its own testimony to give on such subjects, and there are times in every man's life, when its voice will be heard. This man, after much pains and labor, succeeded partially in making an infidel of his own mother; but when he was absent from home, she fell sick, and was filled with mental anguish. In this emergency she wrote to her son, begging him to come back, or send her by letter the requisite consolations. Hume received the tidings with great sorrow, and set out at once; but before he arrived the mother was in eternity. Infidelity fails in the hour of sadness.
You must allow me to be specific here. We are all aware that it is no uncommon thing for the gayest flower to droop and die, just as it begins to send forth its sweetest fragrance. Yonder is an ardent, noble-minded young man, who at the very outset of his career, has been disappointed in the object on which he had most fully set his heart; and what can comfort him now? Here is a lovely female, through whose fresh joys the ploughshare of desolation has been ruthlessly driven, and now the hectic spot is coming out on her cheek. In the next dwelling is a young mother, who refuses to be comforted, because the babe she loved so well, and for a little while, pressed so warmly to her bosom is torn from her embrace, and put in its coffin. Now tell me what kind of cordials you would administer in cases like these? Could you do better than commend such sad ones to the friendship of Him, who breaks not the bruised reed, nor quenches the smoking flax?
Is there not something cruel, I had almost said inhuman, in sending these children of grief to look for consolation on the briery and thorny fields of the world? Rely upon it, no comforts but those that come from the cross, no music but that made by the harp of the Son of David, can relieve maladies like these. But blessed be God,
"Earth has no sorrows which heaven cannot cure."
Even the valley of the shadow of death is often lighted up by the presence of the Savior. This is an event which may overtake you, while the pulse of youth is still throbbing full and strong in your veins, or it may be deferred until old age has made its unmistakable marks on your brow. But be its advent when it will, it must prove the crisis of your being, and consign you to eternal joys—or eternal sorrows. In view of that dreadful hour, what is there to cheer the soul, but a well-established belief in the gospel of Christ, and a cordial reliance on the blood of the cross. No one, rest assured, is carried by angels to Abraham's bosom, merely because of his amiable dispositions, or his freedom from open and disreputable vices. There must be a renewal of the heart unto righteousness, or the crown of glory that fades not away, can never be worn.
Tell me then, is not religion necessary to human welfare? Look at man in prosperity and adversity, in health and in sickness, in life and in death, and say—does he not need just such a guide as the Bible, just such a refuge as Jesus, just such a father as God? Under all these circumstances, he must learn to cast anchor within the veil, if he would be secure from the storm. When God is relied upon, and Christ is trusted in, and the Scriptures are loved, there can be "no enchantment against Jacob," nor "divination against Israel."
My young friends, if you admit the truth of what has been said—and admit it I know you do—then we shall expect you to stand up, in all companies, and on all occasions—open, bold, and manly advocates of the gospel. As far as in you lies, never allow the book which brings such blessings to our world to be treated with contempt. Be understood everywhere as taking sides fearlessly and without flinching, with the church of God. Less than this you cannot do, without proving treacherous to the best interests of your fellow-men. Less than this you cannot do, without causing a dark cloud to overspread the face of your own heavens. Less than this you cannot do, without being derelict in your duty to God. Be not like Esau, "who for one morsel of food sold his birthright." You are passing through your SPRINGTIME; be careful so to spend it—that you may have a pleasant summer, an abundant autumn, and a cheerful winter.
Become truly and personally religious in early life. This you need for the expansion of your minds, and the rectification of your hearts, as a help to success, and a support under disappointment. Nothing is so essential to your welfare, as an experimental faith in Christ, and a daily subjection to his laws. Be good men and true men, of a sound creed and a holy life, men who fear God and keep his commandments, and it will be well with you for both earth and heaven.
Your lot, I need not tell you, is cast upon eventful times. The world is probably on the eve of great changes. Before the frosts of winter shall have whitened your heads, immense revolutions will occur in the state of society. O, be prepared to stand in your lot, and perform your part faithfully. In the times which try men's souls, nothing will answer like a steady, cheerful trust in God. See to it that all is right here—and all will be right everywhere. This is firm footing. Here is solid rock.
Only be right with God, and come joy or come sorrow—the outcome will be safe. No fear for you, if you but make it your earnest morning and evening prayer, that you may be led in the way of peace and truth, by the blessed Spirit. Under such teachings your feet shall not stumble, nor will you ever wander from the way. Should disease invade your body, and death lay its icy hand upon you in early life, you may lift up your eyes, and say as did a dear friend of mine, "Blessed Savior, I am near my home. Satan has tried to disturb me, but I have examined the ground of my hope, and find that I am on a rock. Yes, I feel that I am on a rock."
These pages have cost me thought, and labor, and prayer; but I ask no richer reward than to be the instrument in the hand of God, of helping you to become useful men and true Christians. "May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace."
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