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Good Words 1860
Christian Counsel and Teaching for Young Men


Many, I hope, are disposed to do so among Christian young men. It is not, however, to such that I specially address myself, but rather to those who have not yet made up their minds to ''follow God fully." Christian young men have no doubt very much to learn, and may be taught much from experience, from their personal intercourse with Christ, and also from their brethren, in the form of wise and loving counsel. I feel that my calling at present is to give such help as, in spite of my own weakness or ignorance, I can afford to others who have not reached this point in their journey, but who may be seeking to know the way, or even very indifferent about it.

Now, there are some who, by a certain class in society, are considered beyond the reach of any serious advice, whether it is addressed to them by living lip, or dead print or pen. Some of those I shall briefly notice—though I must take the liberty of describing them in my own way, however unusual the style of doing so may be when writing on grave subjects. There are, for example, young men frequently called infidels, by those who often use the term without much consideration. I allude to men known to their companions as holding "strange notions about religion," or "sceptical sentiments," and who have come out with some of these fooleries (excuse me, my doubting, philosophic brother!) at home, to the astonishment and pain of parents or friends. I have known several of this class who were very hopeful, instead of being hopeless. Their " infidelity," however much it is to be lamented, or anxiously watched, was frequently not so very deep or so very serious as many careless onlookers, captious critics, and not overly wise friends imagined. I do not at present attempt to account for the origin, measure the mean depth, or minister to the cure of this scepticism. It may begin in love of independence, love of truth, or love of singularity; is often kept up by clever books, or clever companions ; and often, too, by stupid books and stupid people. Its best cure, on the whole, I think, is not so much books or lectures, but rather genuine Christian friendship without a grain of cant in it, but with thorough conviction of the truth, and actuated by the mighty love that "seeketh not her own;"—and, let me add, not to be argued with or teased by well-intentioned but not very wise "good people," who, though right themselves in the tiling, yet not unfrequently misunderstand both the man and his argument. Now, with reference to many young men who are called "infidels," I believe they are a class from whom, unless they have become wicked in their habits, I would expect a fair hearing. I have found among them open, frank, candid, inquiring men, with sincere desires after truth, with the mental capacity for understanding an argument, and who, if they only felt assured that their advisers were sincere and wished them well, and did not presume to sneer at their opinions, despise themselves as if they were worthless blackguards, or attempt to bully them as if they could be frightened into Christianity, were far more willing than most people to listen quietly and patiently to what one had had to say.

Believe me, pious reader, I am here describing from life as I have observed it, and instead, therefore, of despairing of such men, or blaming them, as if, forsooth, "there was no use talking to them," I have often had more cause to blame the inconsistencies, follies, and stupidities of professing Christians in general, and of injudicious friends in particular, and rather to hope more from such young men as I have spoken of than from many a correct, cold, but practically unconvinced formalist, who believed only because others believed and because he had been " brought up to it."

There is another class, generally put down by good people as "hopeless;" I mean those who, without professing any infidel doubts, have yet had, from their mental temperament, early upbringing, and other causes, "a great dislike to that sort of thing;" but who, so far from having any wish to be thought religious or pious, would protest vehemently against any such annoying accusation. The class to which I allude contains manly, bold, dashing men—shining in "honour bright," who would sooner die than lie or do anything mean and sneaking, but are wholly wanting in serious thoughtfulness. If ever "religion" accidentally becomes the subject of conversation round the fireside, they put it off, or try to pass it with such phrases as these,—"I don't pretend to be better than my neighbours" — or, "I am no saint, Heaven knows"— or, "I dislike all Methodism and every kind of Pharisaical cant," &c, &c. Yet such young men are by no means so impenetrable, "hardened," or indifferent, as they are too generally assumed to be by serious-minded persons. In a quieter hour they will have no difficulty in confessing that they ''have great respect for a good man;"—that they "really love that old Mrs So-and-so, whom they believe as good a Christian woman as ever lived;"—that they " knew one Christian, if ever there was one on earth, a parson, too, of a parish where they lived for some years, who used to tell them," &c.;—that, ''in fact, they envy any one who can be really sincere Christians, for they themselves have seen such;" —and then they look sad, as they recall some scene of family sorrow and loss ! Ah ! sick and dying ones, how your pale faces, and earnest eyes, and quiet words, and loving, unselfish ways, will come up in after-years, drawing the hearts of others after you to God ! These, doubtless, remembered you. But alas! with all these admissions, there are still serious drawbacks on the part of our supposed listener —"he does not like to be bored with people advising him continually,"he" would rather be let alone," or "he will take his chance, for it is really impossible for a young man to do this and that," &c, and, "after all, is it not his own look-out?" I like to get a quiet talk with a man of this stamp, in spite of his professed dislike to religious conversation. I do not at all despair of getting a hearing from him, even though he is addressed through the comparatively dry and cold medium of print.

There is, however, a far more difficult cast of character to deal with than this, with which, however, I would not be at all afraid of coming into contact, in the hope of finding a kindly hearing,—I mean the man who has been leading, not what is called a "reckless" life, or a "wild" life; yet one certainly "without God in the world,"—a life of self-will, in which every desire has been indulged with little control, except such as was imposed by a mere selfishness that made him have some regard for his health, his purse, and his reputation; or by checks of a more worthy kind, from love of home and of friends. Yet, within such limits as these, how wide is the scope for utter godlessness! "When temptation comes, this man is no more influenced to do what is right by God's commands, or by any sense of gratitude or responsibility towards his Maker; nor by any fear of the consequences of sin, or of desire of future happiness, than if atheism were his creed, or the Christian revelation a dream! The person I speak of possesses, possibly, many points of great attraction. He may have refined manners and tastes, and be fond of reading the current light literature of the day ; is probably a good sportsman, and sufficiently well informed to be an agreeable companion in general society. Nor is he necessarily openly gross or offensive in word or life, and is capable, moreover, of warm attachments and loyal friendships. Yet there is wanting in him all depth or force of character. He is impulsive, self-willed, and readily yields to the influences which surround him, if they harmonise at all with his bent. He has no idea of an attempt even at vigorous self-control, but makes a soft, easy self-pleasing the end of his existence, with as little annoyance to others as possible. He dislikes church ; though he may go occasionally "to please his mother" or "aunts," but prefers a long sleep and a long walk; is always late for family prayers, when there are any; takes everything easy, and "likes a quiet life." Yet such a man has his moments of reflection, when questionings are put to him by conscience, that disturb his peace, and make him uneasy; and times of great depression of spirits; with a keen sense of the nothingness of things which he would be glad some one would explain to him, and help him to remove,—hours of sober thought, when even a parson might gain a kindly hearing from him. There are various shades of this kind of man. He is "too good," as the phrase is, "to be wicked;" but, alas! he is also too wicked to be good; yet he may not scorn friendly counsel; and may become what he ought to be.

But there is a class common to all ranks, from those in the most vulgar Manchester or Glasgow workshop, to the members of the most fashionable London or Paris club, from whom I would expect no hearing, could I ever address them. The men I speak of are young in years, but old in sin; cold, cunning, selfish; gross in their passions, and debauched in their habits; without feeling and without remorse—who "glory in their shame," laugh away all virtue, ridicule every noble sentiment, scoff at religion, and invent oaths—who care neither for God nor man, nor any creature but themselves, and out of whom everything pure and lofty seems almost to have departed! These, as low-bred artisans, are the rude, riotous, and drunken in mobs or "pleasure excursions." As clerks and shopmen, they are seen by their companions in their true colours, after ten at night on the streets, or in taverns. As rich men's sons, they are the leaders on the fashionable promenades of ultra-puppyism, the boasters of all vileness in private, the free and easy in billiard rooms, the loungers in the saloons of theatres, the tempters of the weak, and the despisers of the good. Among them are the men whose highest ambition is to be thought knowing on the turf, to be of authority in sporting matters, familiarly acquainted with Tom This the famous jockey, or Jack That the well-known huntsman or whipper-in; and who covet greatly to be well up in their information about all wickedness in general, but to be profoundly ignorant of everything thoughtful and serious as unworthy of a "fast man!" If the reader understands my hero, I think he will agree with me in the opinion that, could I address such an one with all the arguments which might be supposed capable of stirring the heart of man, and of gaining the soul to God, it would be with as much chance of success, humanly speaking, as if they were addressed to the swine, or to the devils that entered into them ! Yet, after all, why should I say so? The love of God can cleanse and sanctify any heart! Certain it is, that if they are living in evil, it is from no other reason than this, that they do not choose the fear of the Lord, and " prefer darkness to light."

But if I can hope to be heard by all the others I have hinted at, how much more by the many thoughtful, sincere, and moral, who have greater knowledge of religion, truer convictions, more serious aims, higher aspirations, but who, to their own pain, are uneasy and restless in their minds, irresolute of purpose, weak in practice, not knowing whither they are going, yet wishful to go along the path of duty; not miserable, yet not happy; not "bad," yet not pious; not unbelievers, yet so weak in faith as apparently to be without it; seeking, yet not finding; and if finding, soon again losing and forgetting. How many dear to Christian families and friends — amiable, affectionate, promising—are among this number, whose great want is decision. How I should bless God, if I could be helpful to them; for I am sure they will give me a hearing.

In the hope of again meeting, and again being permitted to address you, without formality, but as a brother to brothers, and with such thoughts as come from the heart, and such words as come to the pen, to give them meaning, I bid you farewell for the present.

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