Advice to Youth
by David Magie, Published by the American Tract Society in 1855.
INDUSTRY, the road to success.
There is running through the whole system of nature, providence and grace, a very close connection between means and ends. Success is not to be gained—the hill is not to be climbed—the crown is not to be won—without an effort. No one need expect to be borne along to the prize, either in religious or secular matters, independently of his own exertions. Though the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, yet he who deals with a slack hand will become poor. The diligent in business may fail, but drowsiness is sure to clothe a man with rags.
This is a wise and kind arrangement, at once blessing men and making them a blessing. It is the flowing brook, and not the stagnant pool, that is pure itself, and spreads health and fertility over the land; and it is the man of persevering industry, who is happy in his own bosom, and who contributes to the happiness of others. Let idleness prevail, and the cheerful hum of business is exchanged for the discordant notes of vice and revelry. Besides, it should never be forgotten, that the use of one's powers, physical and mental, is necessary to their full and proper development. Without bodily exercise, the muscular arm of the laboring man would never have had its present strength. Without activity of mind, Bacon and Locke and Newton would have been weak as other men.
Think of this, as you are now starting for the goal, and gird yourselves for a life-long labor. If you look about in the world at all, you must see that comfort and competency are not ordinarily to be anticipated, except at the price of honest industry. So teaches the inspired volume, and such is the testimony of observation and experience. You wish to rise in the world, and we blame you not for it. The desire is natural and laudable. But remember that the cost of this attainment is steadfast and well-directed effort. Let me tell you,
1. What industry really IMPLIES.
You must engage in some useful calling. Labor is the allotted condition of man. It was so in Paradise, and still more emphatically is it so now. He is to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow. Active exertion is what he was intended for. Every feature of his countenance, every faculty of his mind, every bone of his body, every muscle of his limbs give indication of this. It is said that all are indolent by nature, but indolence is proof of depravity. Savages hate work. Barbarians in every land and climate are lazy. It is only in Christian countries, that habits of industry are found, and these are formed generally while the heart is tender and the character is taking its complexion. You can scarcely find an industrious man, anywhere, the morning of whose days was spent in idleness. So well was this understood among the Jews, that it passed into a proverb—he who does not bring up his child to industry, brings him up to be a beggar.
Yet toiling with the hands is not necessary in every case to show that man is fulfilling his allotted condition here on earth. Who works harder than the minister of the gospel, with the cares and responsibilities of a large congregation upon him—or the physician, liable to be called to the sick-bed by day and by night—or the lawyer, surrounded by clients whose interests he is bound to regard as his own—or the judge, dispensing justice from the bench—or the legislator, watching for the welfare of multitudes. Chalmers, and John Mason, and Emmet, and Sir Matthew Hale, and Wilberforce were industrious. It is a great mistake to suppose that labor is confined to farmers, mechanics and merchants. The nature of the service rendered to God and their generation by these several classes of people differs, but there is no harder work than that which tasks the head, the mind and the heart. This often wrinkles the face and turns the hair gray sooner than ploughing and digging.
No exceptions are to be made for such as are in affluent circumstances. In respect to industry, there is no favored class. Parents, who are themselves happy examples of successful industry, must not let their children grow up in idle habits. Sons and daughters should scorn the idea of allowing their fathers and mothers to toil from the rising of the morning until the stars appear, while they themselves have nothing to do. The kind of employment is left very much to your own option, but the duty of being employed is one of divine inculcation. We are to labor six days of the week, as well as rest on the Sabbath.
Besides, you must work energetically and perseveringly. Not that there must be incessant toil, without relaxation or rest. Nature demands due repose, and nothing is lost to mind, body or estate by hearkening to her voice. The man who toils early and late, and hardly takes time to sleep, to visit a friend, or observe the Lord's-day, will find sooner or later, that he is not consulting his own best interests. It is impossible for you to better the divine arrangements. "Poor Castlereagh," cried one of his earliest and best friends, when he heard of the suicide of the great statesman, "Poor Castlereagh! he had no Sabbath." Relaxation is like stopping to sharpen a scythe, a file or saw, or oil the wheels of a carriage. The time thus spent is more than made up by the ease of the after movements.
It is easy to make grievous miscalculations here. Energetic as the student, the clerk, or the apprentice may occasionally be, he will find it impracticable to lay the burden of one period over upon another. What is not done at the proper time, whether in sacred or secular things, is generally never done, and certainly never done well. But it is possible for men to be occupied every day and every hour of the day, with no result that seems to correspond with the effort put forth. Thousands, says the old adage, make greater haste than good speed. This reminds us of the exclamation of a busy man on his death bed, "I have wasted life by laboriously doing nothing." There is such a thing as being in a hurry, and yet not getting forward. The reasons are two—men either occupy themselves with trifles, or they fail to carry through what they undertake. It is not the deep and majestic river, but the shallow brook that makes a noise. What we need, both in the church and in the world, is a calm, steady spirit. To run well for awhile is not sufficient. There must be a holding on and a holding out to the end, or the prize will not be secured.
Again, you must act upon some regular and well-considered plan. System is everything. A distinguished individual was once asked, how it was possible for him to get through with such an amount of labor. His reply is worth remembering. "I do one thing at a time." General Washington was remarkable for the order and regularity with which he attended to the vast affairs entrusted to his care. Every paper had its date and its place. No time was lost in looking up what had been mislaid. The distinction of Henry Martyn, both as a man and a missionary, depended not a little upon his habits of regularity. To such an extent did he carry these, that he was known in the University, as the student who never wasted an hour. No wonder that he rose to such eminence as a scholar and a Christian.
There is more in this than you probably are aware of. How often is it that men carry to their graves a sort of unfixedness and desultoriness of character contracted in early life. They never become in the pulpit, at the bar, or on the bench, what they ought to have been. If they have a shop, everything is out of order; and if they have a farm, it looks as though it had no owner. The inattention of the first fifteen or twenty years of life, hangs about them like a gloomy incubus to the very end. When will it be learned that distinction is not won by fits and starts. A sudden impulse now and then, however noble, is not enough to lift one up to enduring eminence and respectability. "Patient continuance in well-doing," is necessary.
A good plan of life is like the skillful packing of merchandise; you get much more into the same space. What can a man do, who has no regular hours for rising, for prayer, for meals, or for rest. Everything in such a case must of necessity be loose and ineffective. Take for instance the bright and buoyant hours which thousands waste on the morning pillow, and what a vacuum do they make in life. Piety, health, and success, all suffer by such indulgence. Reckoning the day at ten hours of active employment, and one hour lost in bed, out of every twenty-four, makes a difference of six years in sixty. Who of the heavy-headed slumberers among us thinks of this? The celebrated Buffon promised his servant half a crown for every time he should get him up at a certain hour. And to this fact, he tells us the world is indebted for his Natural History.
But it is time we proceeded to the inquiry how is industry the road to success.
It is so, partly because it keeps men out of the way of temptation. To be busy, is itself a security against a thousand ills, and a passport to a thousand blessings. If the young Divine has no pastoral charge, let him read, and think, and write, and a call will come in due time. If the young lawyer has but few causes to try, let him attend to his office and his books, and clients will by and by appear. If the young Physician has only now and then a patient, let him keep at work in gaining fitness for duty, and his services will be sought. If the young Merchant or Mechanic has but few customers at first, let him stick to his counter or shop, and they will come by and by. The effect of such a course is two-fold—it preserves him from evil, and it fits him for duty.
We have an affecting description of an idle, sauntering youth, in the seventh chapter of the Book of Proverbs. Much of the detail could not with propriety be given here. But suffice it to say, that a young man void of understanding was seen at the dusk of the evening, wandering about the city, where he was met by an impudent woman, who with her much fine speech caused him to yield, so that he went after her straight-way, as an ox to the slaughter, or a fool to the correction of the stocks. But it proved like a dart striking through his liver, and he found at last, that her house was the way to hell, leading down to the chambers of death. But for King David's leisure, the story of Uriah's murder had never been told. It is a proverbial remark, founded on experience and common sense, that Satan will employ him, who does not find employment for himself. Unoccupied, he is sure to fall into a current which will gradually carry him farther and farther away from God, from hope, and from heaven.
Industry will secure the confidence and encouragement of good men. What is it that we first inquire after, respecting one who is just coming forward on the arena of public life? Brilliant talents may be desirable; respectable connections may have an influence; property may serve as an outfit; but after all, our real judgment of the man, and our readiness to commit important trusts to his keeping, will depend on something more inherent and personal. We must know that he is industrious and faithful. Without these abiding qualities, capacity, and family, and fortune will seem light as air and empty as a bubble.
It is instructive to ask who they are, that rise to the highest distinctions both in church and state. Flashes of genius and outbursts of effort usually accomplish little. We hear much of fair openings and happy beginnings, but in a great majority of instances the men of persevering diligence bear away the palm. The best talent on earth is that of assiduous application. Pharaoh understood this matter well, when he said to Joseph, "If you know any men of activity" among your brethren, "make them rulers over my cattle." We know what to depend upon when we employ such people. But show me a young man, who mingles in every little group gathered at the corners of the street, and is ready to attend to anybody's business but his own, and it requires no prophetic eye to foretell his course. No one puts confidence in him. He dooms himself to the occupancy of an inferior position all the days of his life.
Moreover, persevering industry generally secures a competency of worldly good. God has nowhere bound himself by an absolute promise, to fill the barns of every diligent man with plenty, and cause his presses to burst out with new wine. This would give to the Divine administration a temporary and earthly aspect, unbefitting its high ends. Cases will be found in which the best human exertions and the greatest human prudence fail of success. A wind from the wilderness may beat down the dwelling, fire from heaven may consume the sheep, and robbers from the desert may drive away the cattle. Neither industry nor piety is to be regarded as a protection from sickness and loss and disappointment. Still, as a general remark, it will be found true that "the hand of the diligent" literally "makes rich." This is a law of Providence, and it operates with more force and regularity than many seem aware of. If industry and frugality sometimes stand disconnected with the comforts of life, the instances, it must be admitted, are rare indeed.
Riches may "make themselves wings and fly away;" but who does not know that the poverty and misery which exist in the land, are generally to be traced to indolence and intemperance and improvidence. It is no lack of charity to say, that squalid and oppressive poverty, in our happy country, as a general thing, is criminal, and should be so regarded. Hear in what glowing language Solomon speaks—"I walked by the field of a lazy person, the vineyard of one lacking sense. I saw that it was overgrown with thorns. It was covered with weeds, and its walls were broken down. Then, as I looked and thought about it, I learned this lesson: A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber." (Proverbs 24:30-34). Striking description this, and true to the life.
But who is not gratified to see honest industry conducting to happy results? In every city, town and village of the land, we find men who began the world with nothing, living now in great respectability, and exerting a widespread influence on all around them. Theirs is a favored lot. It is pleasant to see labor thus rewarded. Such people may adopt the language of the grateful patriarch, and say, "With my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands." If piety is added to their other mercies, they indeed have all and abound.
Cheer up, then, young men, and let your hands be strong. You live in a land of industry and enterprise. It has been strikingly said, "that here, as nowhere else, we subdue and replenish the earth—we plant corn in the very path lately trod by the buffalo of the wilderness—we gather wheat on the spot where the Indian council-fire but recently burned—we build cities almost as by oriental enchantment—we raise millions of money for the purpose of popular education—we voluntarily support thousands of churches and ministers, and what is more, we send preachers and printing-presses and Bibles to the dwellers in distant lands." What a picture! Yes, and all this by a people that two centuries and a half ago had no existence.
Examples of successful industry are at hand. It would be pleasant to speak of men of every profession, and in every walk of life, from the pioneer of the wilderness, to the Merchant Prince, all of whom, by the blessing of God, became what they were and what they are, by the help of their own strong arm and resolute hearts. But there is one case so exactly in point, and so literally an illustration of our subject, as to merit a distinct notice. Had you been in Philadelphia a hundred and twenty years ago and met a poor boy, friendless and alone, with a roll of bread under his arm, inquiring for work in a printing-office, you could hardly have imagined that a lad so forlorn, would ever come to rank among the Philosophers of the day, be an ambassador to a foreign country, and actually stand before kings. Yet all this was achieved by Benjamin Franklin. What a testimony to the value of diligence in business!
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