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Good Words 1860
Christian Counsel and Teaching for Young Men


BY A PASTOR.

Chapter I.—Introductory.

I write the words of simple truth only, when I affirm that I have profound sympathy with young men; I mean, that I do not look at them as a formal teacher, but feel with them as a brother; and, without assuming too much, I believe that I understand their tendencies and peculiar temptations better, perhaps, than they do themselves. I have been young myself; alas! that the past tense must needs, at last, be used! But though the time is past in tense, it is not, I hope, past in feeling; or in the power of living in the full tide of strong and buoyant youthfulness, or rejoicing with those who still move amidst the glories of the early dawn. Years, too, must have failed to bring that experience which, it is said, fools even find, unless they have enabled me to speak now with some of the sober wisdom of true love. God has so ordered the circumstances of my life, that I have known young men belonging to almost every rank of society, in almost every profession, and in different parts of the world. I have been more or less familiarly acquainted, and freely mingled with young sailors on the deck, their own field of fame; with young officers serving kings, emperors, or republics; with young innocents when leaving home for the first time, and young fools when sent back to it, friends weeping on both occasions; with young aspirants after fashion or fame; with lovers of literature and laziness; with students in every shape and form, at home and abroad; with young travellers from the Danube to the Delaware. I have known "fellows" of every kind—"good fellows," "oddfellows," "wild fellows," "reckless fellows," "had style of fellows," "gentlemanly fellows," "stupid fellows," "clever fellows," "highbred and low-bred fellows," "thoroughly bad and thoroughly good fellows." And in what various conditions have I not seen young men! In the glory of their strength, and in the sorrow at its departure; in the bright sunshine, as they thought it to be, of reckless indulgence, and in the darkness and agony, the emptiness and desolation, as they found it to be, of a misspent life, when they knew it was soon to be "all over with them." Have I not seen them weary and heavy-laden amidst all which sin could give, and also in the possession of the nobility and courage, the calmness and peace which genuine Christian principle alone can bestow ? I write all this from no silly boasting, for there is really nothing to boast about, were I disposed to feel or express such vanity; but rather to assure any young man who is pleased to read these lines, and to hear what I have got to say to him, that I am not thinking of him like some strange species, about whom information ha3 come to me while living in a lonely cell or secluded glen, but rather standing beside him in life's battle, walking with him in life's journey, and with a most sincere and honest wish to help him by such counsel as I can afford, to fight the battle, and to foot out the journey bravely and well, like a man and like a Christian. Yet I will as unaffectedly acknowledge that it is not without many doubts and misgivings that I assume the solemn responsibility of addressing young men, for I know from experience how unwilling many are to listen to advice who need it most; and how delicate and difficult a task it is to give any advice wisely, even to those who are most willing to listen to it. When I reflect, too, as I take up my pen, upon the vast variety and shades of character; the various degrees of intellectual culture ; the differences in social position and in mental habits; the different moulds of inner and outer life, in which that great class to whom I presume to address myself are cast, I naturally feel more and more perplexed; and, while utterly despairing of being able to help all, I am even doubtful how far, by mere writing, or by what selection of topics, I can help any.

On the other hand, as I recall family scenes I have witnessed, and conversations I have had during even a comparatively brief, but yet very busy ministerial life of upwards of twenty years, difficulties and obstacles vanish, voices warn me from the other side, from those to whom I have been called to minister, and who are gone to their account, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." I also feel assured that I may depend upon those generous sympathies in my readers which will induce them to take that kindly which is certainly kindly meant.

It seems to me that the young men of this country occupy a position of singular importance in the world. There is, no doubt, an interest attached to them in common with those who, in every country, are passing through the same period of existence, having the same temptations to encounter and difficulties to overcome. But, in addition to all this, the young men of Britain are placed by Providence in circumstances which cannot but excite our eager interest in their well-being and welldoing. They are the citizens of the freest, grandest, and most powerful nation upon earth. They possess, as their inheritance, the utmost possible liberty to form and give expression to their opinions upon every subject which can affect human character and conduct. Upon the youth of Britain devolves the responsibility of walking worthy of their country, and of transmitting her great historic past with increased lustre to the future. Nay, more, she has become the mother of nations, and is so closely linked by various chains to other portions of the globe, and to the vast majority of the human race, that her character must materially mould the destinies of mankind. The subjects of our Queen include people of almost every "nation and language" under heaven. " The conquering drum of Britain follows the sun from its rising to its setting." Seven hundred vessels each day enter or depart from our harbours.

"On breakers moaning to the gales "We spread a thousand thousand sails."

The youth of Britain visit every land as sailors or soldiers, as merchants or colonists, or as travellers, to give play to their energies by the excitements of adventure in unknown and. untrodden regions. There is, moreover, not a young man but may rise, by his industry or talent, to occupy the highest position at home ; or in India become a governor of millions of immortal men and of provinces equal almost in extent to his native island. Young men from our country are rapidly settling in the great southern island-continent, and on the rich plains of Worth America. With shouldered axe, mattock, and rifle, they are clearing primeval forests; tracking along unknown streams; or opening new mines of gold. By them savage nations are to be brought into the family of civilised men, and new colonies are to receive from them their future character and history. In them, as men of truth, honour, mercy, and goodness, will many a heathen worshipper study the principles and power of Christianity; and by what those are who leave our shores and mingle with other nations may the opinions of thousands be influenced for or against the religion of Jesus. Woe be to the young men who pervert their noble mission to the world by pursuing low and selfish ends; who, instead of making the next generation braver, greater, more self-sacrificing than any which preceded it, so that, with its accumulated advantages from the past, it may advance into the future with increasing worth and increasing usefulness, shall, instead of this, seek for it only increasing wealth and increasing means of mere personal gratification!

There is another aspect in which we may view the influence which young men may exercise in this country, and that is in more direct connexion with the Christian Church. To appreciate their importance in this respect, we must not associate the Church with the clergy merely, or with the solemn acts of public worship and instruction; but ever remember that each congregation is designed to be a society united by a common faith in Jesus Christ, and a common hope through His Spirit, and love to Him and to the brethren, yea, to the whole world. The evidence and expression of this are manifested in labours of love by the members for their mutual good, and for the good of all, as God gives them an opportunity. Now, it is only when we realise this grand function of the Christian society, of this brotherhood, this body in Christ, as consecrated by its living Head to be His very representative upon earth, to witness for His character by what it is, and for His unwearied goodwill to men by what it does—it is only then that we see what important members of the body young men are; how their gifts and talents of youth, energy, courage, and enthusiasm, constitute them the very thews and sinews, yea, the very strength of the body—the limbs by which it moves, the hands with which it works, the strength by which it endures and conquers difficulties. There are thus noble works to be done for the good of others which demand all the power, the activity, the manly force which they peculiarly possess. And there is not a rare gift which belongs to them in Providence—whether of rank or wealth, of scholarship or genius, of refined manners or knowledge of the world—-which may not be amply employed, and bring back a full and glorious reward, if occupied in what to many seems the very prose of life, but yet what may be converted by the true and good into its finest poetry. "The daily round, the common task" of instructing the ignorant, directing the perplexed, helping the meritorious, aiding the poor, visiting the sick — in one word, carrying the burdens of society, by taking a share in those noble works which our Lord has left us to do for the well-being of our brethren and of mankind;—oh, how worthy are such enterprises as these, which interest Heaven itself, to excite the ambition of the highest and best of the youth of our land, and to occupy those energies and talents which so often lie waste or are misdirected and abused. For God has, in His wisdom and in His love, so united man with man, that we are given to one another to benefit one another by self-denying labours, "to consider one another, and provoke to love and good works." But when young men refuse to enlist in this constant war which must be waged by the Church against sin and ignorance, in order to conquer both by the power of goodness and truth; when they look listlessly on, as if they had nothing to do with it, or become slaves in the service of mere money-making, and the constant pursuit of mere selfish excitement and amusement, then the loss is immense to the Church;—not the mere negative loss of no good, but the positive loss of much evil done. Indifference necessarily becomes opposition, for "he who is not for me is against me," saith the Lord. If ever, then, the Church of Christ is to be to the world what our Lord designed her to be—the light to those in darkness, the helper of the fallen, the comforter of the afflicted, the salt to preserve society from corruption, and the living power which is to make the kingdoms of the world the kingdoms of Christ— then, assuredly, must young men who are "strong with the word of God abiding in them, and who overcome the wicked one, be the very strength and glory of the Church! They cannot be wanted; we must have them. We cannot say to such a portion of the body, We have no need of thee! And who can express what a heaven upon earth a life of such honest labours and duties would become to themselves; what new interest to existence a sense of responsibility would give to thousands who seem hardly to know why they were created; who appear to think killing time is the best way of improving it and preparing for eternity; or that succeeding in business is the one thing needful for immortal men; who are wearied and worn out in seeking only to serve themselves; or to whom the excitement of mirth, and the amusement of the passing hour, are not means of refreshment in the midst of labour, but the very labour and end of their lives; and who no more realise their responsibility to Almighty God for the use they make of all they have received than if He had no existence, and there were no right or wrong, no death or judgment, no heaven or hell! A greater blessing could not therefore be conferred upon young men themselves than to make them feel their importance to society, and to induce them accordingly to put forth their strength, and use the portion of their goods on objects worthy of men and of immortal beings. Yes, young men! you know I am right. Smile at my words, turn them aside by a clever joke or clever sarcasm, but you feel in your souls that there is a force within you, which, if not wasted on wretched trifles, but if manfully and unselfishly used, would make you nobler and happier men, a blessing to others, and consequently blessed in yourselves. Will you bear with me if I thus speak the truth frankly to you? From whom among you may I hope to receive a fair and kind hearing? In next chapter I shall give you my own opinion on this point; in the meantime let us part as friends. If you won't agree with me, you may, nevertheless, especially if you have nothing else or nothing better to do, listen to me. That is all I ask at present.


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