John Angell James
Addresses To Young Men
Pious young men, you form a happy and an important class, if not a numerous one. Rich and sovereign mercy has called you out of darkness, and made you the children of light. Bless God, that while so many are walking according to the course of this world, and fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind—you are walking in the ways of godliness and peace. And while you are thankful, be humble, be circumspect, and prayerful. You are, and will be exposed to great and painful trials of your steadfastness. Perhaps you are placed in a situation, where you find not one like-minded with yourself. You alone are “faithful found among the faithless,” and will need great grace to stand your ground against the annoyance, ridicule, and opposition, with which your religion will be assailed, by a set of mirthful, wicked and profane youths.
It is of vast importance, that you should at once, and without hesitation, let it be seen and known that you fear God. Let there be no attempt to conceal your principles or your practices. Let those with whom you are to associate, know at your first entrance among them, that you profess to regard the claims of true religion. If you begin by concealing your principles, it will be extremely difficult to exhibit them afterwards, and thus your life will be wretched under the stings of conscience reproaching you for cowardice, and the dread of open avowal. Moreover, you will often be obliged, or tempted at any rate, in order to keep up the delusion—to do things which you know to be wrong, and thus bring much remorse into your bosom. Remember who has said, “Whoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). Pray much, and pray earnestly and believingly, for moral courage. Entreat of God to be with you. Beseech him to stand by you, and uphold you with a strength greater than your own.
You will be in imminent peril without great watchfulness. Every ingenious art and device will be tried to shake your constancy. The licentious or skeptical book will often be placed in your way. You will be besieged, and if the smallest breach be made, in even the outworks of your character, the advantage will be plied against you until the whole is carried by storm or surrender. The first temptation presented by your companions will be to small offenses—to matters of doubtful or debatable propriety, and if these succeed, they will become more bold. Steel your heart against ridicule. Betray no irritability. Bear all with dignified meekness. Petulance will only provoke to greater annoyance. Forbearance on your part will be most likely to induce them to desist. They will soon feel, that it is useless to laugh at a man, who accounts their scorn his praise, and who glories in their reproach as his honor; and they will at length respect the firmness of mind, strength of principle, and heroism of character—which their assaults can neither break nor bend.
It will tend much to your defense and stability, by inspiring them with respect, if you are skillful in your business, and possess a well-cultivated mind. Strive to be superior in all that constitutes the clever tradesman or professional man, and the well informed man. Convince them, that although true religion is the enemy of sin—it is the friend of all that can benefit and adorn humanity. Study well and deeply the evidences of revealed religion, and make yourself intimately acquainted with the method of meeting all the objections of the popular infidelity of the day.
But especially be consistent. Let your piety be unvarying and universal, and interwoven with the whole texture of your character. It should produce, not only the fear of God—but the love of man—it should blend the amiable and the devout, the cheerful and the serious, the useful and the happy. You should seek, by the steady consistent influence of example, as well as by the occasional and well-timed persuasion of direct address—to reclaim those who are gone astray. You should judiciously and affectionately warn your associates, who are seeking the pleasures of sin—of their danger. You may be honored to convert them from the error of their ways, and save their souls from death. It is astonishing what small means may sometimes do much good, even when nothing is said, and where it is only the power of example that operates.
As a proof of this, I will mention a fact which I know to have occurred in the history of a well-known and successful minister of the gospel. At the time of leaving home, he was strictly moral, and had some veneration for godliness; but soon became careless and indifferent. He could not, however, give up all attention to the welfare of his soul. It was his custom to retire to his room for prayer on Sundays between the public services of true religion; neglecting it at all other times, and being ashamed to pray in the presence of his fellow apprentice. Aware of the sinfulness of his conduct, and lacking the courage and resolution to change, he earnestly and sincerely besought God to raise up someone in the house to help and guide him in this momentous concern. After a time, a third apprentice was taken into the business. The first night he slept in the house, on retiring to bed, he fell on his knees, and continued some time in prayer. The effect of this upon the mind of the youth, whose history I am relating, was instantaneous and powerful. It seemed to him as if a voice, in impressive accents, said, “Behold the answer of your prayer—there is the individual sent to guide you into the way of true religion.“
Serious reflection followed; his conscience was awakened; his heart was stirred; and decided piety was at length the result. He was introduced by his companion to a circle of pious friends, and after a year or two, exchanged secular for sacred pursuits, went to college, became a minister of the gospel, and has been greatly honored by the usefulness both of his preaching and his publications. And I have heard him say, that he traces up all his usefulness to the prayer of that youth, who had the moral courage to bend his knee and acknowledge God before his new companions, from whom he plainly saw he should receive no countenance in the habits of piety. This fact should be a motive and an encouragement to those who have any sense of true religion never to conceal it—but to let their light shine before others, that they, seeing their good works, may glorify God their heavenly Father.