Advice to Youth
by David Magie, Published by the American Tract Society
THE INFLUENCE OF FRIENDSHIP.
Someone remarked to the celebrated John Wesley, as he was
entering upon his religious course, "You must either find companions—or make
them." This is true of every one. It is not good for man to be alone. Even
the bliss of Paradise was not deemed complete, until Adam had a companion to
unite with him in his labors, and share with him his joys.
This is a law of our nature, operating upon all, but felt
with most force in early life. Young people are formed for communion and
companionship. It would make them wretched to immure them in a hermit's
cell. But just in proportion to the strength with which their feelings
fasten upon those whom they call their friends—will be the power of these
friends to be either a blessing or a curse to them.
Scarcely anything else is so pregnant of weal or woe.
Solomon has said, "He who walks with wise men shall be wise—but a companion
of fools shall be destroyed."
You will have friends—and you will feel their influence.
The link is mysterious which binds human beings together, so that the heart
of one answers to the heart of another, like the return of an echo; but such
a link exists. There seems to be a sort of welding process, by which the
feelings and principles of two individuals, before entire strangers, are
soon reduced to a complete identity. One catches the spirit, and copies
the manner of the other, so that in a short time the same character belongs
to both! Wax does not more certainly retain the figure of the seal, than
does the mind retain the impression produced by communion and association.
The influence is often silent and unperceived, like the rolling in of a wave
in a quiet sea; but like that same wave it is mighty and resistless.
On the one hand, make wise and good men your chosen
companions, and you put yourselves in the direct way of becoming wise and
good. Intimacies of this sort are invaluable in the formation of character.
A network of virtuous associations will thus be woven around you, through
which you will find it difficult to break, even should you desire so to do.
The operation is secret and imperceptible, but the effects are striking.
Could we only persuade the youth among us to mix with the pure, the
considerate, and the amiable—they would feel the happy influence. Strongly
inclined to evil as is the heart of man—godly friendship never fails to be a
check. Let them once become the companions of such as fear the Lord, and
they will rarely be found disbelieving his word and profaning his name, or
trampling his Sabbath in the dust. The power of a truly consistent godly
example, bad as the world is, is immense. Even when it does not reach so far
as to be saving, it proves salutary; and when it does not prevent eventual
ruin, it has the effect of putting far off the evil day.
But, on the other hand, become the associate of men of
bad principles and practices, and you are in danger of walking in the same
path. Example, always influential, is peculiarly so, when it sets in the
wrong direction. The reason is that in every such case the 'depraved model'
finds something in the bosom congenial to itself—and the 'wicked pattern'
finds its agreement in the existing state of the heart. On this account it
is, that a single improper friendship often works the most fatal results.
All that parents, teachers, and pious friends have been doing for years,
disappears as the refreshing dew before the rising sun. Associate with the
vile, and you will most assuredly become vile. To "walk in the
counsel of the ungodly," is the first step towards "standing in the
place of sinners," and "sitting in the seat of the scornful."
All this is well understood by those who have children to
educate, or sons to send out into the world. There is always a sense of
security, when it is certain that the roommate is studious and sober-minded,
and the fellow-apprentice and clerk are steady and church-going. Men who
have no real religion themselves, are often desirous to place their sons and
daughters in circumstances where God is honored, and the Bible is treated as
a book from heaven. This is a kind of homage, which truth and goodness exact
of thousands whose hearts after all continue wedded to the paths of
Remember, in this connection, that whatever is good or
bad, lofty or degrading, virtuous or vicious—in the human bosom—will be most
fully developed in society. Lot, no doubt, would have been a better man than
he was, had he been surrounded with examples of piety; and Esau would have
been a worse man than he was, had he lived in a wicked family. Encouragement
is thus given to those who are struggling upward, and obstacles are put in
the way of those who are going downward. No one, unsustained by
companionship and associates, ever rises to the fullest measure of
excellence; and no one, who is not urged on by others, ever sinks to the
lowest depths of depravity. The pious are more decidedly pious—and the
wicked are more decidedly wicked—as the result of union, concert, and
It is a well-ascertained fact, that a company of bad men
will generally be more openly and boldly vile than any one of that company
would dare to be alone. In this case, the first stimulates and draws on the
second, the second the third, until the voice of conscience is drowned, and
every feeling of shame is eradicated from the heart. If a person really
wishes to rid himself of all virtuous restraint, he has only to go with the
multitude to do evil, and the end is gained. In the confusion and bustle of
noisy associates, sin has no such sting as it has in private. What
opportunity is there here for those serious reflections and painful
misgivings, which come thronging upon the mind in the stillness of the
bed-chamber and the solitary walk. Instead of asking what God and conscience
approve, the only question now is—What will gratify the company? If this
point can be secured, there seems to be no thought of the remorse thus
stored up for a sick chamber, or a dying bed.
In a large majority of cases, pre-eminence in evil
results from the abuse of that social principle, which God has implanted in
our bosoms as a help to the development of piety. Where is it, let me ask,
that the profane jest is uttered against the Scriptures, the Lord's-day, and
the ministry of the Sanctuary? Under what circumstances is it, that the song
of the drunkard is heard, and the silence of midnight is disturbed by the
mutterings and curses of the gambler? How does it come to pass that here
one, and there another, is enticed to the house of infamy and the vortex of
damnation? These are not vices which spring up in retirement and are
connected with thinking on one's ways. They have their origin in noise and
bustle and excitement—and not in stillness or solitude.
This is the point at which the road starts which leads to
profaneness, intemperance, and debauchery. Festive seasons and days of
mirth, afford a fruitful soil for the growth of sin. The mind is thus
unbent; pleasurable sensations are excited, and one gives countenance to
another, until the most disgusting impiety and inebriation ensue.
There is more of weight and importance in these truths
than is always supposed. A solitary Deist or Universalist living in a
neighborhood of consistent Christians, is not likely to hold his errors very
firmly, or broach them with a very confident air. Infidelity is a plant
which does not thrive well by itself. It grows up more rankly and bears its
more noxious fruit amid the noise and smoke and fumes of the bar-room, and
puts on its deepest hues while the drunken cup is passing around. Who ever
heard of a man's railing against the Bible, or the final doom of the wicked,
in his solitary chamber? Perhaps such a thing is sometimes done, but impiety
like this loves publicity and show. Clairvoyants would not "mutter and peep"
if there were none to hear.
It is well, too, to remark that young men of amiable
dispositions are often most in danger from bad company. Owing to that great
catastrophe which so utterly deranged man's whole moral nature, some of
those very traits of character which are denominated virtues—seem really to
open the door to vice. This is but too true of thousands who are blessed
with a soft, mild and yielding disposition. Like some plants which change
the color of their blossoms as often as you change the soil in which they
stand, these people take their tone of feeling from surrounding
circumstances. While at home, where the Bible was read, prayer offered, the
sanctuary visited and God worshiped—everything apparently went well with
them. But after receiving the farewell blessing of a kind father, and the
parting embrace of a fond mother—new scenes soon opened and new impressions
We are pleased to see a soft and kindly temper in early
life; but it is not to be concealed that such a temper exposes one to
peculiar peril. A person of such a disposition, usually lacks firmness and
independence of character. Hence we frequently see him falling in with the
opinions and practices of his companions, even in opposition to his own
convictions of right and wrong. He has not internal strength to resist evil,
provided it puts on an inviting aspect. Often is he drawn into fellowship
with the wicked in scenes of dissipation and vice, simply because he has not
the courage to resist. Sooner than turn his back upon some unprincipled
associate, he will sacrifice conscience, peace of mind, and the favor of
Sad is it for such a one, when he falls into the snares
of those who, under a gentle and deceitful appearance, hide a heart of
deadly opposition to the ways of piety. The fly in the web of the spider, or
the fish on the hook of the angler, is a fit emblem of a victim like this.
Sir Matthew Hale, one of the most learned and upright
judges who ever sat on the bench in England or any other country, came near
being ruined in this very way. When quite young he was amiable and studious,
and great hopes were entertained of his future eminence. But some strolling
theatrical players came to the town where he lived, and he was induced by
his own yielding disposition, to become a witness of their performances.
This so completely captivated his heart, that he lost all relish for study,
and gave himself up to dissipated company. Happily, however, for his
prospective usefulness and peace of mind, as he was one day surrounded by
vile associates, it pleased God to put a stop to their folly, by smiting one
of their number with a sudden disease, which soon sent him to the grave.
This broke the bonds which tied the heart of young Hale to a life of
dissipation, and drove him to his closet, his Bible, and his God.
Instances of the like wandering are common—alas that
instances of like return are so few. Let one of an easy complying
disposition, and with little fixedness of principle, come into contact with
educated and refined iniquity—and the work of ruin is speedily done. The
politeness of the exterior renders him unsuspicious of the sink of
corruption within. At first he only listens, then he begins to imitate, and
soon he goes as an "ox to the slaughter and as a fool to the correction of
All this is confirmed by the fact, that young men are
sure to be estimated by the character of their companions. Not only do a
man's familiar friends exert an influence over him, but what is more, they
constitute the sure and ready test by which others judge of his worth. There
is an old proverb, and all experience verifies it—"every man is known by the
company he keeps." On this account it is that shrewd and intelligent
observers of human nature seldom put themselves to the trouble of looking
any further in order to decide upon a person's reputation. Tell them where
the clerk or apprentice spends his evenings, and with whom he takes his
walks, and it is enough. Nothing would seem stranger to them than to look
for a sober, considerate, trustworthy young man—in the midst of the idle,
the profane, and the licentious. Never do they expect to find one that is
temperate, industrious and correct—among a noisy, dissipated and drunken
crew. So certain is it, that every individual will be what his companions
are—in character, habits, and way of life—that in nine cases out of ten, no
further testimony is required.
REPUTATION is a delicate plant, which will not bear the
touch of violence, or the breath of pollution. Though it advance by slow and
almost imperceptible degrees, it often, like the Prophet's gourd, withers in
a night. It is possible for you to lose in an hour—what it costs years of
care and prudence to gain. A little lack of consideration—a little
forgetfulness of what is due to yourselves—a little yielding to the
blandishments of vice—may inflict an injury never to be repaired! But take
another course. Seek the society of the good—cast in your lot among the
virtuous and faithful—and your standing will become reputable at once.
Everybody will see that you respect yourselves, and this will secure the
respect of others.
I charge you, ponder well these remarks. If you are seen
to associate freely with such as are known to have no respect for the
Scriptures, and no reverence for the Sabbath, especially if it should once
come to be understood that you can cast in your lot with those who have gone
so far in the ways of transgression as to glory in their shame, you must not
deem it a hardship to be treated as if you maintained the very same
character. This is perfectly natural, and not at all to be complained of.
You might as well visit a district infected with the plague, and expect to
be welcomed at once to the bosom of families where health prevails; as to
associate with the workers of iniquity, and hope to pass along without
having a mark fixed upon you, by men of every name and place.
What a penalty to pay for going astray in this one
particular; and yet it must be paid, if the false step be taken. Such are
the legitimate fruits of friendships formed without regard to the high
interests of morality and virtue; and they open the way to a miserable
life—as well as an undone eternity. A young man of good character may hope
to gather around his dwelling the blessings of peace, and the comforts of
plenty. But with no safe and reliable passport like this, he enters upon
life only to end it in grief to himself and disappointment to his friends.
Ah! who would be willing to purchase the friendship of the wicked at so dear
a rate? Who can consent to pay such a price for the privilege of filling his
own cup with wormwood and gall?
As united fires send up the tallest and fiercest flames,
so in the case before us, the wickedness of the entire group seems to
concentrate upon each individual. Shun then, as you would pestilence and
death—all such as have contracted wicked habits. No matter what gay clothing
they wear, how flippant their conversation, or how respectable their
friends—they are not the companions for you. It is impossible to join
affinity with them, without exposing yourself to be dragged into the same
gulf, in which they are fast sinking.
If you will take the advice of one older than
yourselves—do not be ambitious of having a multitude of bosom friends. Far
be it from me to utter a syllable, which might by any possibility be
construed into an encouragement of those misanthropic feelings, which
sometimes struggle for ascendency, even in the youthful bosom. But still let
me tell you, that to open your arms to everyone's embrace, and to form
friendships with every newcomer, is to sow the seeds of sorrow for
yourselves. My advice is—be polite, be kind, be courteous to all. But for
your own sakes, be close friends with very few. Make companions of parents,
brothers and sisters, and you need never feel lonely.
Let me say further—in choosing friends, learn to set a
much higher value on virtue and religion—than on any outward distinctions.
Surely, you need not wonder at the multiplied sorrows which too often
embitter life, if you but call to mind on what principle it is, that some of
its most sacred ties are formed. The inquiry is not—Has the individual a
truly good character; but, has he wealth, is he prosperous in business, and
do his connections stand high in the world? Family, fortune, and personal
attractions are not infrequently regarded as a tolerably fair offset for
serious suspicions against purity of morals. Oh, is it any matter of
surprise that this world of ours is to so great an extent a sad and
disappointed world. What real happiness can a young person, male or female,
expect from a voluntary alliance with that which is low in feeling, debased
in taste, and depraved in habits? The hope of after-reformation in such
cases, is so fallacious, that you should never dream for a moment of relying
upon it. Let the change for the better come first, and let the union, if it
ought to take place, follow.