The Young Man's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character

by Harvey Newcomb, 1847


It is a mistake often made by young people, to associate piety with a downcast look, a sad countenance, and an aching heart. Perhaps the mistakes of some good people, in putting on a grave and severe visage, approaching even to moroseness, may have given some occasion for this sentiment. I do not know, indeed, how prevalent the sentiment is among the young. I can hardly think it is common with those who are piously educated. As for myself, I well remember that, in my childhood, I thought true Christians must be the happiest people in the world. There is no doubt, however, that many pleasure-loving young people do look upon religion with that peculiar kind of dread which they feel of the presence of a grave, severe maiden aunt, which would spoil all their pleasure.

And, I do not deny, that there are certain kinds of sinful pleasure which piety spoils; but then it first removes the taste and desire for them, after which the spoliation is nothing to be lamented. It is true, also, that there are some things in piety which are painful. Repentance for sin is a painful exercise; self-denial is painful; the resistance of temptation is sometimes trying; and the subduing of evil dispositions is a difficult work. But, to endure whatever of suffering there is in these things, is a saving in the end. It is less painful than the tortures of a guilty conscience, the gnawings of remorse, and the fear of hell. It is easier to be endured than the consequences of neglecting true religion. If you get a sliver in your finger, it is easier to bear the pain of having it removed, than it is to carry it about with you. If you have a decayed tooth, it is easier to have it extracted than to bear the toothache. So it is easier to repent of sin than to bear remorse and fear. And the labor of resisting temptation, and of restraining and subduing evil dispositions, is not so great an interference with one's happiness as it is to carry about a guilty conscience.

There is, however, nothing in true piety inconsistent with habitual cheerfulness. There is a difference between cheerfulness and levity. Cheerfulness is serene and peaceful. Levity is light and trifling. The former promotes evenness of temper and equanimity of enjoyment; the latter drowns sorrow and pain for a short time, only to have it return again with redoubled power.

The Christian hope, and the promises and consolations of God's word, furnish the only true ground of cheerfulness. Who should be cheerful and happy, if not one who is delivered from the terrors of hell and the fear of death—who is raised to the dignity of a child of God—who has the hope of eternal life—the prospect of dwelling forever in the presence of God, in the society of the blessed, and in the enjoyment of perfect felicity? But no one would associate these things with that peculiar kind of mirth, which is the delight of the pleasure-loving world. Your sense of propriety recoils from the idea of associating things of such high import with rudeness, frolicking, and mirth. Yet there is an innocent gaiety of spirits, arising from natural vivacity, especially in the period of childhood and youth, the indulgence of which, within proper bounds, piety does not forbid.

There is a happy medium between a settled, severe gravity and gloom—and frivolity, levity, and mirth—which young Christians should strive to cultivate. If you give unbounded license to a mirthful spirit, and indulge freely in all manner of levity, frivolity, and foolish jesting, you cannot maintain that devout state of heart which is essential to true piety. On the other hand, if you studiously repress the natural vivacity of youthful feeling, and cultivate a romantic kind of melancholy, or a severe gravity—you will destroy the elasticity of your spirits, injure your health, and very likely become peevish and irritable, and of a sour, morose temper; and this will be quite as injurious to true religious feeling as the other.

The true medium is, to unite serious piety with habitual cheerfulness. Always bring Christian motives to bear upon your feelings. The gospel of Jesus Christ has a remedy for everything in life that is calculated to make us gloomy and sad. It offers the pardon of sin to the penitent and believing, the aid of grace to those who struggle against an evil disposition, and succor and help against temptation. It promises to relieve the believer from fear, and afford consolation in affliction. There is no reason why a true Christian should not be cheerful. There are, indeed, many things, which he sees, within and without, that must give him pain. But there is that in his Christian hope, and in the considerations brought to his mind from the Word of God, which is able to bear him high above them all.

Let me, then, earnestly recommend you to cultivate a serious but cheerful piety. Let your religion be neither of that spurious kind which expends itself in sighs, and tears, and gloomy feelings; nor that which makes you insensible to all feeling. But while you are alive to your own sins and imperfections, exercising godly sorrow for them, and while you feel a deep and earnest sympathy for those who have no saving interest in Christ, let your faith in the atoning blood of Jesus, and your confidence in God, avail to keep you from sinking into melancholy and gloom, and make you cheerful and happy, while you rest in God.

And now, gentle reader, after this long conversation, I must take leave of you, commending you to God, with the prayer that my book may be useful to you, in the formation of a well-balanced Christian character; and that, after you and I shall have done the errand for which the Lord sent us into the world, we may meet in heaven. God bless you!