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Memoirs of John Urquhart
Appendix L


ADDRESS TO A SOCIETY OF YOUNG MEN, WHOM I WISH TO MEET WITH ME, ONCE A WEEK, FOR RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION.

As I have called you together, my friends, with only a very general intimation of what we propose to do at these weekly meetings, it may be necessary before we enter on the regular exercises, briefly to explain to you the design and nature of the association, which we are met this evening to form, and the motives which have induced me to attempt its formation.

You know that the age in which we live is very gloriously distinguished by the exertions which are making for the religious improvement of the whole world. In former ages, Christians seem to have had so much to do in providing for their own spiritual comfort, and fleeing from the hand of the persecutor, that we cannot wonder if they thought but little of the wants of others; or, thinking of them, could do but little to relieve them. In these ages of ignorance and bigotry, the flame of Christian benevolence was damped, but its fire was not wholly extinguished; and when civil and religious liberty were again restored, it burst forth with fresh and undecayed vigour, from the grasp of that oppression which had for a while restrained its energy. In these days, and in the happy country in which we live, we see the principles of the gospel of peace left (to a certain extent at least) to their own free operation, no longer adulterated so much as formerly, by the allurements of human ambition, and no longer in any degree restrained by the threatenings of human power. You live in a neighbourhood that may remind you of other days; "The battle of Bothwell Brig" is not yet forgotten. May it be remembered only to inspire us with thankfulness, that we need no longer to fight for our religious privileges; but can each of us sit under his own vine, and his own fig-tree, none daring to make us afraid. At length men have happily begun to see, that carnal weapons are altogether unfit, either for the defence or furtherance of a kingdom, which is spiritual; and the happy effects of unrestrained liberty of conscience, and freedom of discussion, are universally felt and acknowledged, by those who differ most widely in almost all other opinions. In these circumstances, we see that spirit of Christian philanthropy again awakened in the breasts of modern Christians, which glowed so fervently in the hearts of the early believers. The effects of religious liberty on the revival of Christian benevolence, must forcibly strike those of you who are at all acquainted with the history of philanthropy, during the last fifty years.

Within that short period, many institutions have been formed, most diversified indeed in their modes of operation, and in the more immediate purposes for which they are intended, but all having for their grand and ultimate object, the glory of God, and the best interests of man. These institutions do not confine their operations to one country or to one class of individuals. The field of their benevolent exertions extends over the whole habitable globe; and they embrace within the range of their benefits, people of almost every rank and every condition. We might enumerate among those intended for the temporal and religious improvement of our own countrymen, Bible Societies, whose operations are also extended to other nations, whose object is to furnish with the word of God such as could not, or would not otherwise obtain it; Home Missionary Societies, for sending the preachers of that word to such as are without the range of an evangelical ministry; Religious Tract Societies, for breaking down religious publications into a suitable form, and furnishing them at reduced prices, to encourage an extensive circulation; and had we time to extend our attention to those institutions which have an especial regard to the temporal welfare of our fellow-men, you know well that we might introduce a lengthened list of charitable institutions, of which not the least interesting, or the least important, are those Mechanics’ Institutions, which are now forming in the most populous parts of the country, and which bid fair to make the labouring classes tread upon the heels of their superiors, in the walks of science and philosophy. But our business at present is with religious institutions, and we remark, that besides those we have mentioned, which are especially designed for those who are grown up to manhood, we have also Sabbath-schools, with all their appendages, for the religious instruction of children.

While these institutions embrace a field so vast, and a variety of character so diversified, we cannot wonder if there should be some peculiarity of disposition or circumstances to which the operations of none of them are specifically adapted. Such a peculiarity, I conceive, is to be found in the case of young people of our own age. We are, generally speaking, too young to sympathize with the religious feelings of the old; and on the other hand, we are too old to submit to the discipline of institutions which are intended for the instruction of children.

When I say that we are too young to sympathize with the religious feelings of the old, let me not be misunderstood. Far be it from me to say that we are too young to feel interested in the preaching of the gospel; or even too young to unite ourselves to a Christian Church, and to unite in the most sublime and delightful exercises of the Christian sanctuary. If there be any age more suited than another for receiving impressions of an unseen world, and boldly declaring ourselves on the Lord’s side, it is surely that age when the affections are warm, the conscience not yet seared, nor the heart hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. What I mean to say, is, that many of us are not yet old enough, or may not think ourselves old enough to talk familiarly of religion with our parents and their associates, to enter into their views, and to sympathize with their feelings. Their trials, their temptations, their besetting sins, and even their pleasures and their hopes in this life, are all different from ours. There is a reverence about age that forbids too great familiarity: we feel more at ease when talking to those of our own age; and especially on the subject of religion, we feel a reserve when conversing with those who are much older than ourselves. From the conversation of the young again, this most important subject is often banished by mutual consent, as something gloomy; or at least too serious for youth, and that may with great safety be put off to an age of greater gravity and seriousness. It thus appears that in all that period of our life, when we have thrown off the habits of childhood, and have begun to think for ourselves, the important interests of eternity are too apt to be forgotten, and this important age seems to me not to be provided as it might be, with religious instruction peculiarly adapted to it. It is a period when the Christian parent or the guardian thinks he has done all he can. He has sown the good seed of instruction in the heart, and watered it, it may be with tears and earnest prayers; and he thinks that he may now rest from his labours, that he may now abate his watchfulness. And how frequently does it happen, that while he thus slumbers, the enemy comes and sows tares among the wheat, and the instructor looks in vain in the character of the man, for the fruits of those admonitions which he had so carefully instilled into the mind of the boy. It is the design of this meeting, my friends, to keep you in mind of early instruction, if you have enjoyed it, or to lead your attention to it now, if you have not had the privilege of a religious education.

The period of youth is, in many respects, the most important period of our life. It is the period when we are exposed to most danger, and it is the period when the character is generally formed. The opinions then received, are generally most pertinaciously adhered to through the rest of life.

It is not when the seed lies covered in the bosom of the soil that there is the most danger from an unpropitious season; though even then the parching heat may prevent its springing, or the too copious rain may sour it in its bed; neither is it when the plant has attained its full maturity, and has been hardened by its exposure to many a storm; but that is the period of the greatest danger, when the tender germ has just left the kindly protection of the earth, and is first exposed to the rude blast and the piercing cold.

And so it is with man, who has often been compared to the flower of the field. It is not when he enjoys the protection of a father’s roof, and the advantage of parental instruction, though even then, a bad system of education may ruin his after-character. Neither is it after he has been long exposed to the temptations of the world. The character has in general, by that time, been formed, either in accordance with the practice of the world, or in opposition to these practices. The danger is then past, though it may not have been avoided. It is when the youth first goes out into the world that the danger is at its greatest: it is then that every impulse, especially if it be sinful, and therefore congenial to the mind, is apt to give a direction to the future character; and, consequently, that every temptation is too apt to bring destruction along with it.

Some of you may have received a religious education, and maybe well acquainted with the doctrines of the gospel. But do not presume that, on this account, you are quite impregnable to the assaults of temptation, and may safely pass without a struggle, the most critical period of life.

In some respects, the very fact of having enjoyed a religious education, makes that time more critically dangerous, when you begin to enjoy it no longer. The plant that has been reared in a hot-house, and is guarded from all that could injure its infant growth, suffers more, when exposed to the inclemencies of the open sky, than that which has not been so carefully nurtured.

To one whose childhood has been protected by pious parents, sin is still by nature as agreeable as it is to others, and to him it has the additional charm of novelty. To another, the wickedness of the world has been gradually made known, as his mind gradually expands; but from such an individual, it is kept for a time almost secret, till at length it bursts all at once upon him. While under pious parents, the current of temptation has been kept from rushing upon him, but it has still been flowing on. It has not been diverted from its course, it has only been dammed up. The barrier that has been raised against it, cannot, however, stand for ever; it must, some time or other, give way; and the longer we have enjoyed its protection, the greater will be the torrent that shall burst upon us, when it is broken down. And if, my friends, it require an aid that is more than human, to enable us to stand against the natural stream, to preserve us against single, but successive temptations; surely when the enemy rushes in like a flood, it is the Spirit of the Lord alone that can raise up a standard against him.

Such are some of the dangers to which we are exposed from the world around us. There are others, which are from the state of our own minds. We have begun to think for ourselves, and have thrown off that servile deference to authority which influences the minds of children. Formerly, for our parents to tell us anything was sufficient evidence for our believing it. We thought they could not be wrong; but we now perceive that we have a principle of reason within ourselves, by whose aid, we feel that we ought to inquire into the truth of all our opinions.

Among others, our religious opinions come to be re-tried, and there are many things that may lead us, on this most important subject, to false conclusions.

Our parents had told us of the purity and perfection of Christianity, and we fondly thought that they were living examples of that perfection which they taught us to aim at. But we have begun to discover that they are not the perfect creatures we took them to be. We thought them angels, and we find they are but men. We thought them infallible, and we find they have their errors and their weaknesses, and their sins, as well as ourselves. The character of a witness materially affects his testimony; and, as we have in general no ground for the religious opinions of childhood, but the testimony of parents, our altered views of their character are apt to occasion an alteration in our views, of the unchanging truths which they have taught us. We so associate together their characters, and the doctrines which they delivered to us, that when we begin to think of the former as weak and imperfect, we are too apt to conclude, that the latter are weak and imperfect also.

If, when we are thus beginning to mistrust our early opinions, we should hear of some who have bid fair in the Christian course, falling away, it will add strength to our suspicion, that the doctrines of the Bible may not be all that we thought them, and the natural aversion which we have to the truths under review, will prevent us from perceiving the fallacy of the reasoning by which we have arrived at this conclusion. When we have got thus far on the way to infidelity, the very circumstance of our having received these opinions in childhood, will seem another reason for despising them. We shall associate them with the other fables which we then listened to with pleasure, and received with confidence; and we shall think that we believed the one, for the same reason that we gave credit to the other; because of our inability to discover the gross deceits that had been palmed upon us by those who had full possession of our confidence. By a process of thinking, somewhat similar to this, we may come at last to think of the devil and of hell, as we now do of the stories of ghosts and witches, which once excited our alarm; and even to associate the inspired descriptions of heavenly glory, with gorgeous fables of streets of gold, and palaces of emerald, which we have read of in the volumes of eastern fiction.

Nor is this all the imaginary picture. God forbid that it should be the fate of any of us. But, my friends, it is too true a sketch of the feelings of not a few who have been brought up to acknowledge the gospel, but whose repeated violations of the law of God, have driven them to the fearful expedient of pacifying conscience, by the rejection of that book which the Almighty has been pleased to send us, as a revelation of his will; and sometimes, by the denial of the existence of the Eternal himself.

You see then, my friends, that at our time of life, we are exposed, from a variety of causes, to great danger; and even if we have received a religious education, it alone will not guard us from the evil that is in the world. The great question with each of us should be, "How shall a young man cleanse his way?" The same inspired writer who proposes the question, gives us also its answer; "By taking heed thereto according to the word!’ If we would take heed to our ways according to the word of God, we must know what that word is; and in order to this, we must not only read, but search the Scriptures. The study of the Sacred Scriptures then, will form the chief part of the business of our meetings. As to what plan we ought to adopt in attempting this, I acknowledge to you I feel considerable difficulty. The persons whose attention I wish chiefly to engage, are not children, or I should at once decide upon prescribing a passage to be committed to memory, and examining them on what had been thus prepared, with a view to interest the scholar in its meaning. But you are not children, and I wish to treat you as men. If any of yourselves have any plan to propose, I shall be glad to listen to it, and consider its merits.

In the mean time I shall humbly propose the plan which seems to me most eligible. I shall propose a certain subject, and ask such of you as choose to search the Scriptures, for passages connected with it. These you will mark, and be prepared to read. If any difficulty occurs to any of you in the passages you meet with, I shall be glad to explain it if I can; or, if not, to take it into consideration. Remarks on the different verses may occur to me as you read, which I shall make in as plain and familiar a manner as possible. I shall study at home the same subject which you are considering, and shall choose some passage connected with it, from which, after we have gone over your passages, I propose to deliver a very short address.

Let me remind you, however, that all we can do to obtain a correct knowledge of the Scriptures, and to attend to our way according to the dictates of inspired wisdom, will prove utterly vain, unless we are assisted with power from on high — unless we are enlightened by that Spirit, whose office it is to take of the things of Christ, and show them unto men. The most far-sighted and acute discerner of earthly things, is a blind man with regard to divine things. Let me entreat you then, seriously and fervently to offer up the petition we have read this evening: "Open thou mine eyes!" One word before I conclude, about the spirit we ought to manifest at these meetings. Let it be a spirit of deep humility. To know our own ignorance, and to be willing to learn from every one, are the first steps toward the acquisition of wisdom, whether earthly or heavenly. There is none of us so wise, but he may learn something from the rest; and none so ignorant but we may all learn something from him. And from this let me just remark, that if any of your friends, more advanced in life, shall condescend to honour us with their presence, and to listen to our exercises, they shall always receive a hearty ‘Welcome.’ If they know the truth, as it is in Jesus, they will rejoice to see their children seeking the way to Zion; and if they know it not, they may receive knowledge even at this little meeting, for which they may bless God through the ages of eternity.

May I allude, before concluding, to the distressing state of our native land from the stagnation of trade? "Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?" We may depend upon it, that God does not afflict our country for nought. We may not be able to determine the cause for which these calamities have been sent, but that there is a cause, we may rest assured. And what, I ask, is more likely to bring the scourge of divine vengeance upon a nation, than its own iniquities? It were well if men would listen to the voice of Providence, which now speaks so loudly in every part of our land; and that, when the judgments of the Lord are abroad on the earth, men would learn righteousness.

The following is one of his short addresses to his class of young men, after it was formed —

AN ADDRESS TO HIS CLASS.

"Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding," &o. — Prov. iii. 13-19.

It would be a very reasonable question for any of you to put to me to-night, "What has been your object in calling us together?" And I think I should speak the sincere language of my heart, in answering, "My object simply is to try to make you happy." Could I succeed in convincing you, that this is really my design, and that I have rational expectations of accomplishing it; I know that I should secure the willing attendance, and the earnest attention of all whose circumstances do not absolutely forbid them. Every one wishes to be happy. However different may be the pursuits in which men engage, and however diversified the objects on which they set their affections, this is the great sum of their desires, and this the point to which all their efforts tend. Every one of you feels the truth of this statement. You are all seeking after happiness; and yet, were I to question each one of you on this subject, I dare say I should receive the same answer from all, that this great object of your wishes has not yet been obtained. There is still another point in which I may venture to say, you all agree. And this is, "that though you have not yet found this object of your wishes, you have the expectation, that at some future period it will be obtained." The most miserable has this expectation. Take it away, and you leave a man in despair.

You feel then, that at present, you are not quite happy. Many of you may feel yourselves to be very miserable. You earnestly desire to be happy; and you have some vague hope, that at some time or other, you will be so.

This is a subject then, which is interesting to all of you. It is interesting to those who are most careless and indifferent about everything else. And yet, though a subject of such universal interest, there is perhaps no subject on which men have differed so widely. Why have we so many different characters in the world? It is just because men have such different notions of what will make them happy.

One man thinks, if he were rich, he would be happy, and he gives all his diligence to accomplish this object. He becomes rich, and in all probability, is more wretched than before. This is such a common idea, that we may be required to dwell on it a little longer. Especially in times like the present, it is most natural for him who labours hard for the pittance that barely furnishes the necessaries of life, to think that ease and plenty are all that is necessary to constitute true happiness. But you have only to come in contact with the rich, to know how different is the fact. I have said, that I wish to make you happy, and that I have rational expectations of accomplishing it. Some, I doubt not, would think it a good proof of the sincerity of my assertions, were I able and willing to lavish among you the good things of this life. This you know to be impossible; but, were my ability and my benevolence as unbounded as this supposition would require, I should feel that I had miserably failed to fulfil the expectations which I might have excited. No; wealth does not constitute happiness. Riches cannot give peace of mind; and, without this, what avails all bodily ease and luxury.

Some again, have affected to despise wealth, and have sought for encouragement in what have been deemed more dignified pursuits. But all have proved alike unsatisfactory. There is a want, a longing for something more, when the world has given all that it can. There is one who had tried all the means of happiness this world can afford, who gives it as the testimony of his experience, that "all is vanity and vexation of spirit." And I believe, in the moments of sober thought, this is the feeling of every individual in looking back upon the past. All has been unsatisfying. Expectations of happiness have been cruelly disappointed; and, if there have been a few hours of pleasure, they have been but few, and have often left the sting of remorse, or the bitterness of grief behind them. There may have been gleams of enjoyment which appeared but to vanish: but anything like lasting and satisfying happiness has not been experienced. And yet, with all that is unsatisfactory in the experience of the past, there is a strange delusion that still hangs over the future. In spite of experience, men will still hope to find that happiness which has hitherto deceived their expectations. We will not believe that earth cannot give it. The child looks forward to the frolics of boyhood, and the boy to the freedom and the pleasures of youth. The youth enters on speculations of gain or ambition, and the accomplishment of these will perfect his happiness. Manhood has not brought the longed-for satisfaction, but it has not ceased to expect it. Still we will look to the future for happiness, till we have no future to look to. And often, the nearer the end approaches, the stronger is the delusion. And it is thus that many of us slumber on from childhood to grey hairs, still dreaming of an imaginary bliss, which, in spite of all experience, we will not believe to be imaginary; ever deceived, and yet ever willing to be deceived again. And it is thus, alas, that too many slumber on, pleased with the deceitful vision, till the voice of death awakes them to the dread reality.

And is there, then, no such thing as happiness! Or, if there be, how are we to find it? If riches and honours, and fame, and learning and pleasure, have deceived the expectations of those who trusted to them for happiness, must we give up the search? There is such a thing as true enjoyment, and there is a way of finding it, which is patent to us all. The meanest, yea, the vilest have found it before us, and we need not despair. God has been pleased to "show us the path of life;" and if many have sunk to the grave without attaining the object of their wishes, it is because they would listen to the dictates of their own depraved propensities, rather than to the voice of their Creator. O let us not imitate so sad an example! Let us turn to the Bible, and be directed by it in this the most interesting of all inquiries.

He, to whom I have before alluded, as having tried all earthly things, and pronounced them "vanity;" while writing under the influence of the Divine Spirit, has the following words "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom," &c. Prov. iii. 13-19. This points directly to the subject of our inquiries. It is ours, then, humbly to investigate what may be the meaning of the words, and to receive it as an intimation from Him who knoweth all things, who cannot be deceived, and who cannot lie.

It is evident, then, that the sense of the passage depends mainly upon the meaning we give to the words, "wisdom" and "understanding," If these are to be understood in the sense in which they generally pass current among us, the passage will seem at variance with the general remarks we have made about the unsatisfactory nature--of all earthly things. It is true, the pursuits of learning and science are productive of a higher and a purer pleasure, than the gross and degrading gratification of avarice or sensuality. But still there are many called wise, whose wisdom has failed to make them happy. This, therefore, cannot be the meaning of the words. The Bible is never at variance with facts. Accordingly, we find the very author of our text bearing witness to the unsatisfactory nature of mere earthly wisdom. (Eccles. i. 16, to the end.) If ever the wisdom of any man could afford happiness, the wisdom of the wisest must have done so. But you have heard him rank it with the other unsatisfactory vanities of earth. We are told of the uncertainty of riches; and, therefore we are exhorted "not to labour to be rich." It is added in the same verse "Cease from thine own wisdom." Prov. xxiii. 4.

What then is the meaning of those interestng words, which form the chief ingredients of that happiness, after which all are seeking? They are not used in their ordinary sense: for, in that case, the passage would not be true, and would stand at variance with other parts of Scripture. It is always the safest way of interpreting Scripture language, and especially those phrases which are peculiar to Scripture, when we can make the divine word its own interpreter. If you turn to the twenty-eighth verse of the twenty-eighth chapter of Job, you will have a beautiful illustration of what I mean. There the very same words occur, which are found in our text, accompanied with a full and explicit explanation, "Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil, is understanding." "The fear of the Lord," you know, is a common expression in Scripture for true religion. It indicates a feeling of the profoundest reverence, mingled with adoring love, which is the right state of. mind in which a creature should regard his Creator. To be truly happy, then, we must be truly religious. The understanding that is mentioned, is a departure from evil. This too, is an ingredient of happiness, and is the consequent of the former. True happiness is inseparably connected with holiness.

You will say, This is no new discovery. We have been often told so. Aye, but have you felt it to be a truth; and have you acted upon it as a truth? If so, whatever be your sorrows, you can tell that you have a joy which the world cannot give, and which it cannot take away. If you have not this joy, you have not yet laid hold on this true wisdom. Seek for her, for happy is the man that findeth her.

It appears then, that sin is the cause of all the misery that is in the world. There is a sense of guilt and a dread of punishment, which the most careless sometimes feel, and which must soon burst with overwhelming force upon them in that place where conscience will be ever awake. How blessed then is he "whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered," &c. (Psalm xxxii.) This consciousness of guilt must form a great part of the unhappiness of every one, whose conscience is not seared as with a hot iron. In the gospel then there is a remedy for this. The blessedness mentioned in the Psalm may be ours, if we believe that Christ died for our sins. But the misery arising from a sense of guilt, is not the only misery connected with sin; nor is it this which constitutes the main part of the unhappiness of mankind. An awakened conscience has driven many to despair, and the thinking part of mankind are often oppressed by the unwelcome intrusions of its warning voice. But the gay, unthinking multitude, who never reflect, and who never think of futurity,—are they oppressed with a sense of guilt? They often are. And yet is it true, that many dance along from the cradle to the grave in whom the past has excited no remorse, and the future no anxiety. And yet these were not happy. They roved from pleasure to pleasure, seeking what they could not obtain. Their very love of novelty, showed that the last amusement could amuse no longer. They have sunk to the grave, and they are miserable now. There is a misery then connected with sin, independent of a sense of guilt, or rather, I should say, Sin itself is misery. It is sin which has stamped vanity on all the means of happiness which the world presents. It is sin which has mingled bitterness with every earthly pleasure. In this view of the matter, every sinner must be unhappy, and that independent of the torments of conscience, or the foreboding of torments greater still. Misery must be mingled up with his very existence, and every enjoyment must be embittered by the principle of unhappiness which is in his own breast. One of the scripture names of the devil, means the self tormentor; and the appellation is applicable, in a certain degree, to every worker of iniquity. This is evidently the deadliest wound sin has given, but the religion of the Bible has a cure for this too.

In the gospel we are offered pardon, and this can disarm conscience and take the sting from death. But this is not all. We must be purified, as well as pardoned, ere our salvation be complete. The natural consequence of sin, is punishment proportioned to the enormity of the crime; a full pardon frees us from all the overwhelming consequences of our guilt. But sin itself is a punishment; and, so long as we are sinners, no pardon, however full or free, can save us from this punishment. While we remain depraved and unholy, we must be unhappy. A change of character then is the only hope of deliverance. And for this, most ample means are provided in the gospel of Christ. The very history of that atonement which procured our pardon, has a tendency while we meditate upon it, to promote our holiness. While we look to Christ, we are made like him. While we behold that glory with unveiled faces, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory. It is by believing in Christ then, and thinking much of his person and his history, that we shall find that wisdom, and get that understanding, which shall make us truly happy. For thus shall we fear the Lord, in the sense of that term; and thus too shall we be led to depart from evil.


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