The Young Man's Friend and Guide
Through Life to Immortality

John Angell James (1785—1859)

"You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward
You will take me into glory!" Psalm 73:24



"In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3:6

This passage of the Bible may be called the pole-star of human life, placed by the hand of God in the skies of Scripture, for the eye of man to observe upon earth—and he who fixes his attention upon it, and steers his course by it across this troubled and dangerous ocean, shall enter at length the haven of everlasting peace! It is applicable to all people and to all situations—but especially to those who are just entering upon the duties, dangers, and perplexities of man's terrestrial course. As a rule of conduct it is brief, simple, comprehensible, unmistakable, easily remembered, and delightful in its observance. If it does not assert, it implies, the existence and operations of an all-comprehensive, all-wise, all-gracious Providence—which appoints, directs, and controls the affairs of men; a Providence which is not only general, as guiding the destinies of nations and worlds, but is particular and minute, as shaping the history of individuals.

Some, who profess to believe in Providential interposition in the great events of history, deny it in regard to the minute affairs of individuals. But who can tell what, in fact, is great, and what is little, or how far great events are influenced by lesser ones? The destinies of nations have sometimes hung upon a thought. But we need not reason upon this, since Christ has asserted that "not a sparrow falls to the ground without the knowledge of our Heavenly Father." Without this view, the doctrine of Providence might be grand as an object of contemplation, but it could yield little consolation as a subject of faith. Individual trust, prayer, hope, and praise—all rest upon the ground of individual Providence. It is not what God is to the universe at large, but what he is to me as an individual, that is the chief source of my comfort, and the strongest motive to my duty.

Now the text proposes him to us as one to which we may individually resort to—and the injunction means, that, really believing God by His Providence directs all things, we should consult him by reading His Holy Word, where He has revealed His will; and that by sincere and earnest prayer we should seek His permission for everything, His direction in everything, His blessing upon everything, and His glory by everything, we do. In short, it means a devout and practical remembrance of God, as the Disposer of all things—in all the varying circumstances and all the changeful situations of life; and it promises us His wise and gracious direction in all our affairs. How easy, how safe, how tranquil, how dignified a course of action! How vast the privilege of this access to an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, all-sufficient Friend—for advice, direction, and consolation! A wise and benevolent human counselor ever at hand is a blessing—how much more one that is Divine!

So much for the introduction of this chapter—I now come to its subject, entrance upon adult life—by which I mean that period of a young man's existence which follows his education and apprenticeship, when he usually leaves his father's house, and becomes a shop-man, clerk, or journeyman; the intermediate stage between the youth and the man of business. Yet it may be remarked that the periods and situations intended to be described and distinguished as separate, in the last chapter and this, run much into one another, and extend onward to settlement in life and the commencement of business.

This, young men, is the situation of the greater part of those whom I address—most of you are not in business for yourselves, but looking forward to it; you are away from your parents, and support yourselves by your industry, and therefore are just stepping upon the stage of active life, and commencing your part in the great drama, with the scenes already shifting before and around you. Let me, then, remind you, a little more at large,

I. Of your actual situation. It is one of deep and pressing solicitude to your PARENTS and other friends. They have parted from you, and sent you forth, almost with the feeling and the fear that you were going as lambs among wolves. They know, for they have passed through them, the dangers of youth—and especially of the dangers of youth away from home. If your good conduct and well-formed character at home, have inspired them with confidence, their solicitude is somewhat abated; but even then an anxious father will exclaim, "What if this fair blossom of parental hope, which grew so beautifully and looked so lovely, when sheltered under the parental roof, should now be blighted when removed to the cold blasts of the world's temptations—the very possibility makes my heart bleed. Oh, my son, my son!" How intensely aggravated is this painful solicitude, if unhappily his child is going forth undecided in true religion, unconverted to God, with no "armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left," to defend him from the assaults of temptation; and if even at home, indications of future misconduct have showed themselves. "Oh," says the distressed father, "if the wholesome laws, the firm yet mild restraint of parental authority and domestic order, could not repress the outbreaks of youthful sinfulness, what is to become of him, when these restraints are withdrawn, and he is left to the unchecked strength of his own corruptions, and the force of surrounding temptations? Oh, my son, my son!"

Young men, you cannot know all a father's and a mother's agonizing solicitude for you, on your going out into the world; but you can conceive of it in part, by the scenes of that sorrowful hour when amid so many tears your mother parted from you, and, with a voice half choked, your father grasped your hand, and sobbed out, "Farewell, my boy. Behave yourself well, and comfort our hearts by your good conduct." How anxious are they to hear from you and of you—to have their fears dissipated and their hopes confirmed. How eagerly, joyfully, and yet how tremblingly, they open every letter to judge from its contents whether there are any signs of incipient moral mischief in your character. Respect their feelings, reward their affection, relieve their solicitude. Call it not suspicion, jealousy, distrust. No, no! It is love trembling over its object, affection agonizing for its loved one! Many an hour is that mother kept waking at midnight, thinking and praying for her son who has recently left her to enter upon the world's business; and often amid other cares, does that father feel it to be one of the mightiest of them all, to consider how his boy conducts himself in his new situation. Let me plead, then, for the peace of those two hearts which throb so anxiously for you, and for the peace of which, so far as it is in your keeping, your own heart ought to throb most responsively.

But I now turn from your parents, and remind you of the momentous and infinite importance of this period of your life to yourselves! It is, in all probability, the crisis of your history, the hinge of your destiny, the casting of your lot for both worlds, the formation of your character for time and for eternity. Through every hour, almost every minute, of this term, and in every scene, your character is passing from that state of boyhood and youth—into the cold, hard solidity and fixedness of manhood. It depends chiefly upon the time that is now passing over you, what you are to be, and to do, through all time and eternity. The next two years will very likely determine the great question, concerning the character of your whole existence. The observable tendencies of boyhood and youth, the significant prognostication from the pupil and the apprentice, the declaratory signs of earlier years, will now receive their full and perhaps final confirmation. Your character, which has been growing, like your body, through the previous stages of existence, now, like that, arrives at that full shape and maturity, which it will hereafter retain and exhibit.

Can you be thoughtlessly and carelessly indifferent at such a crisis? Is it possible? Can you help saying, "Is it so, then; am I really now, just at this period, becoming my permanent future self? Am I determining for all time, and for all eternity, what kind of moral, social, and intellectual being I am to be? Am I now casting my lot, forming my destiny, choosing my character? What thoughtfulness, seriousness, devotedness, and prayer for God's Holy Spirit to assist me—ought I to manifest! What do I wish to habitually be in and through all future life, and through all eternity? What I am now, that, in all probability, I shall be. I am entering upon life, and as I begin, so am I likely to continue." Yes, dwell upon that consideration. It is of immense importance to start well.

He who at the beginning of his journey takes the wrong road, diverges at every step farther and farther from the right path; and though return is not impossible, yet at what an expense of time and comfort is it made! Take care, then, to begin well. Solomon says, "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning;" especially if it be a good end of a bad beginning. But how rarely does a thing end well that begins badly—the fruit is better than the blossom; the reaping better than the sowing; the victory better than the battle; home better than the journey to it; the reward better than the service. But then all these better endings depend on good beginnings. There can be no rich fruit in autumn, without a good blossom in spring; no plentiful reaping without plentiful sowing; no victory without a well-fought battle; no returning home without a journey along the right road. So there can be no rational expectation of a good end of life—without a good beginning.

II. I will now remind you of the DANGERS that attend your entering into life. Yes, dangers! I really wish to excite your fears by the word. I am anxious to awaken your apprehension by thus ringing an alarm bell. Not indeed by raising spectres which have no real existence; not by calling up spirits from the vasty deep of a gloomy imagination. No, there is no need of passing before you the dark shadows and the ghosts of fiction, in order to excite your fears. The sober and dread realities of daylight and of everyday existence, are sufficiently numerous and appalling to justify the use of the most solemn, impressive, and earnest warnings we can give!

Young men, it is a truth, and a dreadful and anxious one for you—that the moral dangers of life stand thickest around its entrance into adulthood. The most perilous rocks and shoals in the voyage of life, are at the mouth of the river where it enters the ocean; and notwithstanding the lighthouse which in the Holy Scriptures and the faithful labors of authors and preachers, ever holds out its friendly warning over these dangerous places—more shipwrecks are made there than anywhere else. These dangers are so numerous, that they must be classed.

There are some dangers which may have been cast in your way perhaps—by the injudicious conduct of your PARENTS. They may have altogether neglected your moral training and left you to go forth into the world without any fixed principles, any good habits, or any rightly formed character. By a pattern of false and weak indulgence, they may have partially unfitted you for the trials, the difficulties, the roughness, and self-denial of life. We will not dwell upon their conduct with the severity it deserves; but be you aware of their mistake, and call up your own wisdom to correct it. They may have left you much to undo—as well as to do! Supply, by your own resolute will, the deficiency of proper training, with which they have left you. Abandon the soft, selfish, and lazy habits in which they have trained you—and determine to be men, and to acquire a manly character. You can, if you will, make up their deficiencies; but it will require much effort and more perseverance.

There are, next, the dangers that are inherent in YOURSELVES, and these are the greatest of all. You not only go to meet perils—you carry them forth within you! Now at the head of all this class, I must place the corruption of your own hearts. "Know yourself," was supposed by the ancients to be a maxim so replete with wisdom—as to have descended from heaven. No man can properly exercise self-government without self-knowledge. False notions on this subject must, of necessity, lead to practical errors of a most momentous kind. I cannot, I dare not, I will not—flatter you by speaking highly of the native goodness, the moral dignity, of human nature. Scripture, observation, and experience—must combine to prove, to any impartial mind, that man is in a sinful condition, alien from God, and estranged from righteousness. This is a first principle, not only in all true religion, but in all sound philosophy. Leaving out this, it is impossible satisfactorily to account for the present condition and general history of the human race. Forgetting or denying this, your whole system of religion and morals will be wrong, and your whole course of action defective and erroneous; you will not, cannot know, the chief source of your danger, and that which alone can account for the existence and power of other dangers—nor will you know how to begin or proceed in watching and guarding against them.

There is—you know it, you feel it, and perhaps some of you lament it—a fatal propensity to evil, which, though inclining to what is wrong, yet, as by divine grace it may be resisted and removed—is, neither an irresistible tendency nor an invincible necessity—but a voluntary choice, and is therefore no excuse for actual sin, though it may account for it. It is not danger from external influences only, that you have to fear—but also from within! Your danger is not merely from others—but from yourself! You carry your tempter in your own heart—you are your own tempter! You will be surrounded by external seductions—and you will expose to them your heart—too willing to be seduced! There is in you "an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God." You have more need to be afraid of yourself, than even of Satan or of the world! They can only tempt you, through your own corruptions. Hence the imperative need of your seeking first of all, the saving conversion of your own hearts, and keeping evermore a constant watch over yourselves. You will be most inadequately prepared to grapple with temptation, unless you know what it is that gives it force.

But the corruption of the heart assumes a different form in different people—and shows itself in ways suitable to their age, circumstances, and temptations. In your case there are those "youthful lusts," from which by apostolic injunction you are exhorted to flee. In addition to an inflammable and sensational imagination—the rashness and impetuosity of temper—the thoughtlessness and recklessness of disposition—the pride of independence—and the headstrong waywardness which are all too common in youth; there are the sensual appetites and propensities exhibiting themselves in all their force—those promptings of lust and impulses of sensuality, to which there are so many temptations—and which require so strong a restraint from reason and true religion; I mean, young men, the vices which form the drunkard and the debauchee—those illicit gratifications which degrade the man into the brute!

The danger here exceeds all the alarm I can possibly give. No warning can be too loud, no entreaties too importunate, in regard to this peril. Voices from the pulpit, from the hospital, from the prisons, from the workhouse, from the lunatic asylum, from the grave, and from the bottomless pit, all unite in saying, "Young men, beware of sensuality!" Flee from this as from a serpent or a lion! Read what Solomon says, who could speak on such a subject from his own unhappy and dishonorable experience—"The lips of a immoral woman drop as an honey-comb, and her mouth is smoother than oil—but her end is bitter as wormwood; sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps take hold on hell—let not your heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she has cast down many wounded—yes, many strong men have been slain by her! Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death." Proverbs 5, 7. Read these chapters, and, in connection with them, Job 20:11-14. 1 Cor. 6:15-20. 1 Thess. 4:2-5. Heb. 13:4. Rev. 21:8.

There is also another form which the corruption of our nature assumes, and which the apostle calls the deceitfulness of sin. "Exhort one another daily, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." Deceitfulness is not only one of the characteristics of sin, but is its most dangerous one; and none are so much in danger of being imposed upon by it as the young; nor are they at any period of youth so much so, as when just entering upon adulthood. You have never, perhaps, looked upon sin sufficiently in this view of it. You may have dwelt upon its exceeding wickedness—but its 'deceitfulness' has escaped you. Yet this is what you have chiefly to guard against. Sin is a most cunning and artful foe. Observe what pains it takes to disguise itself, and conceal its hideous nature. It does not appear in its own proper and genuine dress—nor call itself by its own proper name. It puts the mask of virtue upon its face, and wraps itself in the cloak of deceit, by calling vices virtues, and virtues vices. Thus gluttony and intemperance are called good social dispositions; extravagance is called liberality; pride and resentment are called honor and dignity; licentious levity is called innocent cheerfulness; lying artifice is called skill in business; sordid greediness is called frugality.

Virtue meets with the opposite treatment, and is always called by some disgusting or contemptible name. True religion is called sour puritanism, or hypocritical cant; tenderness of conscience is called narrowness of mind; zeal for truth is called bigotry.

Now, my young friends, do not be imposed upon by such shallow deceits as these—recognize in such attempts, a wicked and daring attempt to confound all moral distinctions, which must bring down the woe denounced against those "who call evil good, and good evil." Disdain this cajolery—this attempt to impose upon your understanding, by merely changing the names of things—while the things themselves remain the same. Consider that not only your moral, but your intellectual nature, is insulted by such a feeble effort to mislead it. Take it with you as a maxim of great importance to remember, that the generality of men are more governed by words and names than by the actual things themselves—and never more so than in questions of virtue or vice. Do you endeavor to be governed by realities, and not by names.

And then, in tracing the deceitfulness of sin, mark the excuses it makes for itself; the insensible degrees by which it leads the sinner on in his course—at first tempting to little sins, thus preparing him for greater ones; at first urging only to single sins—afterwards soliciting a repetition; at first asking for secret sins—soon emboldening him to open ones; at first allowing him to sin in decent company—at length drawing him into the society of the notoriously wicked; at first allowing him to blush—then making him boast in his shame; at first leaving him content to sin himself—then prompting him on to tempt others; at first telling him that if he does not choose to go on, he can soon and easily retrace his steps—-then cutting off his retreat by involving him in such a complexity of transgression, that he feels it almost necessary to go forward, adding sin to sin; at first telling him repentance is too soon, because his sins have hitherto been so trivial—then suggesting it is too late, because they have been so great; at first assuring him God is too lenient to notice his beginnings of sin—then declaring that he is too just to forgive his crimes. Thus by perpetual, though ever-varying delusions, leading him into, and keeping him, in the path of transgression.

Such is the horrid nature of sin—a horrid, practical lie! A deadly deceit! The greatest deception in the universe! The most destructive fraud ever perpetrated in the world's history! And you, young men, are the selected victims of its wiles! The arch-deceiver is more intent on you, than on any others. There the seductress sits on the rocks of the sea which you are just entering, sending forth her dulcet but deadly melodies, enrapturing you for your destruction; making you willing to be wrecked, and to die in her fatal arms!

Your INEXPERIENCE endangers you. Your life is an untrodden path. You are only just beginning to live—its difficulties, dangers, temptations—are all new to you. You are ignorant to a considerable extent of the schemes and machinations of Satan, the wiles of the world, and the devices of your own heart! You are ignorant of your own ignorance; and know not your own weakness and instability! You have hitherto been in some measure sheltered in the privacy of your home environment—but now you are to be exposed in public. Forms of iniquity, of which hitherto you were happily ignorant, will rise up with fascinating appearances in your path. Scenes never anticipated by you, and for which therefore you can make no special preparation, will open before you, and before you are aware draw you by their fallacious and deadly attractions—into temptation! Assaults, sudden and altogether new, will be made upon your principles—almost before you can have time to buckle on your armor! And what will greatly increase the danger is your own self-confidence, rashness, and impetuosity. You give yourselves credit for a degree of sagacity to detect, resolution to vanquish, and power to overcome, evil—which you do not really possess! You rush in where others, possessing more knowledge, caution, and experience—would fear to tread! You advance boldly to a contest from which it would be your wisdom to retreat from! And you are ready to resent a warning of your being in danger, as a disparagement of your strength of mind, purity of heart, and resoluteness of purpose. You are therefore likely to afford another proof and example that "he who leans to his own understanding, and trusts to his own heart, is a fool!"

Show me a young man setting out in life with high notions of his own sagacity, virtue, resoluteness of will, and inflexibility of purpose—and there, without a prophet's inspiration, I can foretell, will be a sad illustration of the Scripture which declares that "pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall!"

Then there are dangers from the corrupt state of SOCIETY. With such hearts as yours, there is, in the best state of public morals—wickedness enough to constitute just ground for alarm and for watchfulness. It may not be that your country is worse than all others, or your times more profligate—I think they are not. But it is enough to know that the aboundings of iniquity, and the overflowings of ungodliness, are such as to make all who have any regard for youthful purity, afraid. The undoubted fact of the growing prevalence of infidelity in its most seductive forms; the multiplication, as by a fresh breath of hellish thought, of all kinds of sinful indulgence; the endless new stimulants to worldly pleasure, the demoralized state of the public press; the new and ostentatious zeal and spread of Popery—all combine to load the moral atmosphere with a dark pestilence—and to send forth the destruction that wastes at noonday. Never were there so many malignant influences combining and conspiring against the religion and virtue of our young men as now; and never was it more necessary for them to be aroused to a sense of their danger, and to be put upon their guard.

Young men, the world is full of temptations; and its inhabitants are divided between the tempters and the tempted. Buckle on your armor, for you will need it; the helmet, the breastplate, the shield. The enemies are lurking around, the ambush is laid, the aim is taken, the arrow is fitted to the string, the bow is bent! Beware!

There are evil companions to be avoided. The Scripture says that the companion of fools shall be destroyed. I repeat what I have said—the workhouse, the lunatic asylum, the prison, the gallows, the bottomless pit—all, all, attest the truth of this—by the millions they have swallowed up in their jaws of destruction! Evil companionship has ruined more characters, more fortunes, more bodies, and more souls—than almost anything else that could be named. This is one of your first and most pressing dangers. It will meet you the very next day after you have entered into adult life. Man is a social and gregarious animal; he is made for society, and will have it—and the social instinct is strongest in youth.

Beware, then, I implore you, to whom you give your company and friendship—and whose company you accept in return. You must take your character, to a certain extent, from your companions. Your companions will seek to stamp their image upon you, and that at a time of life when your mind is in a state to receive the impression. And even if they did not seek to stamp their image upon you—you would insensibly, perhaps designedly, copy it. As waters, however pure when they issue from the spring, take the color of the soil through which they flow; as animals, transported from one region to another, lose something of their former habits, and degenerate little by little; so character assimilates to that which surrounds it. You may be forced to have bad connections, bad acquaintances, for perhaps you cannot avoid them; but you need not, and for your soul's sake, and for the sake of everything dear to you—do not have bad companions! Men who scoff at Christianity—who ridicule the godly—who make light of sin and laugh at conscience—who are lewd in their actions, or obscene in their conversation—who are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God—who are extravagant in their habits, and loose in their moral principles—these are the fools of whom Solomon speaks, who will bring their own destruction upon you, if you do not avoid them.

With much the same emphasis do I warn you against bad BOOKS, the infidel and immoral publications of which such a foul deluge is now flowing from the press, and depositing on the land a soil in which the seeds of all evil grow with profuseness. Infidelity and immorality have seized upon fiction and poetry, and are endeavoring to press into their service even science and the arts. But besides these, books that inflame the imagination and corrupt the taste, that by their excitement unfit the mind for the sober realities of life, or by continuous light entertainment, indispose the mind for what is grave, serious and holy—are all to be avoided. In some respects bad books are more mischievous than bad companions, since they are still more accessible, and more constantly with us; can be more secretly consulted, and lodge their poison more abidingly in the imagination, the intellect, and the heart. A bad book is a bad companion of the worst kind—and prepares for bad companions of all other kinds!

There are bad PLACES, also, which endanger you, as well as bad companions and bad books; where, if you have not already formed bad companionships, you are sure to find them! All these are the avenues to ruin—the wide gates that open into the way of destruction! Many who have been kept out of the way of these places at home, on entering adult life have indulged, in the first instance, rather from curiosity than an inclination to sin, and have thought they would go once to them, just to see what they are, and whether there is all the harm that has been represented. Fatal curiosity! Oh that once, that first wrong step, that slip off from the summit down the steep plane! The door of evil was opened, never again to be closed. Never trust yourself even once in a place where you would not feel justified in going habitually. Never go even once, where you are sure you would not be followed with the approbation of your father, your conscience, and your God—and from which you would not be willing to go immediately to the judgment-seat of Christ.

In illustration of the danger of a single visit to an un-Christian scene of amusement, I may here repeat the fact which I have given in another publication, of one of the primitive Christians, who for a long time resisted the importunities of a friend that invited him to witness the gladiatorial fights in the amphitheater. At length he gave in, but determined that he would sit with his eyes closed, and thus quiet his own conscience, while he yielded to the solicitations of his friend. An unusual shout of applause which followed some display of skill or courage, excited his curiosity. He opened his eyes, he was interested, could not close them again, went again voluntarily, became a constant and eager attendant, abandoned Christianity, and died a pagan! How many more have been victims to one visit to forbidden places.

I mention also bad HABITS—habits of extravagance in the way of apparel, ornaments, and pleasure-taking. A love of showy personal appearance, and sensual gratification, leads to expense; and as extravagance must have resources, if honesty and industry cannot supply them, dishonesty will create them. Be frugal, economical, prudent. Begin life with a determination to live within your income. Have no needless debts. Dispense with the cigar. Young men have often involved themselves in debt and consequent disgrace by this indulgence; besides it is costly in itself, excites an appetite for liquor, leads to evil company and evil places, and introduces other expenses and other habits.

Next I notice the love of pleasure. Here again is danger, imminent danger. Do you remember the words of Solomon on this subject? "He who loves pleasure shall be a poor man." Never was there more occasion for sounding this in the ears of the public, than now. Men were never more bent upon pleasure, and never had opportunities for enjoyment so much at command. It is a proof of human depravity that science and the arts never confer a benefit on society, but man's wickedness turns it into a means of sinning against God.

Invention is racked by those who cater for the public taste to find new pleasures, and fresh gratifications of sense and appetite. High and low, rich and poor, young and old, are all hungering and thirsting after pleasure—as if this world was given to us for no other purpose than to be a playground for its inhabitants—the multitudes are rushing after it with the atheistic language which the apostle puts into the lips of those who deny the resurrection of the dead—"Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Young men, I do not wish to deny you pleasure, but only say, let it be intellectual and spiritual, rather than sensual; individual and private, rather than social and public; economical, rather than expensive; an occasional recreation, and not an habitual pursuit; and such as shall rather fit than disqualify you for the business of life. No man will less enjoy pleasure than he who lives for and upon it; and paradoxical as it may appear, it is true, the way to enjoy pleasure is not to indulge in it to excess, but to partake of it in moderation. Honey, and other luscious sweets, will do to sample—but not to live or feast upon. Cyprian beautifully remarks, that "the greatest pleasure is to have conquered pleasure." I repeat the impressive proverb, "He who loves pleasure shall be a poor man;" for it is an expensive taste, which grows, like every other, by indulgence. It will make you poor in youth, poor in manhood, poor in old age; and this is a poverty which no one will pity, or be forward to relieve.

III. I will now lay before you the state of mind which befits you in this critical juncture of your history. I deliberately select this phrase, critical juncture. It is, whether you think so or not, most critical; and something will be gained by this chapter, if it only bring you in sober seriousness to respond to the expression, and say, "Yes, I am now in the crisis of my temporal and eternal destiny—and I own it, feel it, and will reflect upon it." Indeed, this, I will confess, is my main object and my chief hope in this volume. I have not touched upon controversy, as I have already intimated, nor is it my aim to suggest or supply topics of abstract thought or speculative inquiry; neither is it my purpose, if it were in my power, to gratify your curiosity by novelty, your imagination by taste, nor your love of controversy by logic. Time is too short, life too important, to be all spent upon such things. I have other purposes and aims—I want to make you seriously reflect upon your life and condition, your character and conduct, your present and future means and plans of action, usefulness, and happiness.

I am ambitious to check the levity and thoughtlessness with which so many are entering upon the most momentous period of their existence—and without producing an unnatural gravity or gloom, and without extinguishing the joyousness, happiness, and buoyancy of youth—still to make you deeply feel how solemn and eventful is the period of entering life. Remember, that as the power of reflection increases with your years, so the habit should strengthen also; and that if it should have awakened solemn thoughtfulness to consider that you were about to enter adult life—it should excite no less apprehensiveness to consider that you have actually started in the eventful race. And this thoughtfulness should embrace some specific subjects, take some practical form and direction, and induce some active habits. Nothing can be less likely to be serviceable to you than a dreamy pensiveness, a moody and morbid imagination, and a disposition to speculate upon possibilities, and spend in imagining situations in life, that time which should be employed in meeting your real condition. The thoughtfulness that I inculcate is not that which supplants action, but prepares it, incites to it, and guides in safety through it.

I will now take up, and place before you, the only special direction which the apostle Paul lays down for the guidance of your conduct, "Young men, exhort to be sober-minded." The very injunction supposes that this is a state of mind, not only peculiarly necessary for young men, but in which they are usually deficient. Now, do not be alarmed at the expression, and "recoil from it as from something which could come only from, and is suitable only to, old worn-out people, whose feelings are dried up into a kind of cold and stiffened prudence, which they wish to have reputed as wisdom; people who, having suffered the extinction of all vivacity in themselves, envy the young for possessing what they have lost. A dull, heavy, spiritless, formal, and calculating thing; almost mechanical in all pursuits and interests; the type of a person narrow in his notions, plodding in his operations, gloomy in his personality, and placed wholly out of sympathy with everything partaking of ardor, sensibility, adventure, and enthusiasm—and at the same time taking great credit to himself for all this. No, we may be quite sure that Paul's 'sober-minded young men,' were not to be examples of a dry formality, of a creeping prudence, of extinguished passion, of a cold aversion to animated interests—in short, not examples of the negation of everything that is really graceful and excellent in youth." (Foster's Lecture upon Sober-Mindedness)

What then did he mean? What is sobriety of mind? The predominance of true religion and sound reason over vice and folly, temper and fancy, imagination and passion, absurdity and extravagance. It is, in short, the mastery of the imagination by the judgment.

In youth, imagination is the regent of the soul. Almost everything is looked at, judged of, and ruled by, this miscalculating faculty—and is rendered much more dangerous by the ardor of passion. Things thus seen through a wrong medium are distorted and discolored. Evils and dangers which are seen by other eyes in all their magnitude of mischief, appear to the young (if, indeed they appear at all) reduced to almost invisible spots; while little matters of real or supposed good, are swelled out of all proportion, and adorned with the brightest hues with which imaginativeness can invest them. Hope, untutored and unchecked by knowledge of the world and experience, is ever building castles in the air, and treating as certainties what all others perceive to be improbabilities.

Sobriety of mind is reason arrived at its majority and sanctified by true religion, ascending the throne of the soul to take the scepter out of the hand of imagination. It means the capacity of forming a right estimate of things as they really are. This, young men, is what you need, but of which people of your age are often lamentably destitute. But I will select one or two subjects which sobriety of mind will especially bring under consideration, and of which it will lead you to form correct ideas.

Sobriety of mind will, above all things, lead you to a serious and devout consideration of the supreme end of life. I say the supreme, the chief end of human existence; since there are many subordinate ones arising out of our numerous and complex relationships. Pause and ponder this question then, "What is the supreme end of existence? "Mark well the subject; it is not what are all the ends of existence, but what is the supreme one, life's great business, the one thing needful, which being accomplished, whatever else we have missed, we still have not lived in vain; but which not having secured, we have lived in vain, gain whatever else we may. What, I say, is your errand—your object in life?

Surely, surely, if anything be worthy the attention of a living, rational creature, it must be the object of life—and if at any time, at the beginning of adult life. Proceed not another hour, take up no plan, no purpose, no pursuit, until you have settled the question, "What is the supreme end of life?" Whatever it is, it must combine all the following characteristics; it must be something lawful, which God and your conscience approve; something appropriate to your character and circumstances, and to all the changing scenes of life; something attainable; something worthy your existence; something adapted to satisfy the desires of an immortal mind and make you contented and happy; something which shall aid rather than hinder you in accomplishing all the subordinate ends of existence; something which shall combine your present with your everlasting destiny; something, in short, which God himself has fixed upon and proposed to you, as His supreme end in your creation. Is not this true? Must not the great end possess all these characteristics? Answer me! Must it not? And what, I ask, can do this but true religion? And it does!

Here, then, is the great end of life, that religion which leads to the salvation of the immortal soul—to glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life. "Compared with this, the objects of earthly ambition, which engage the attention and engross the affections of many in public life—are all vain, empty and unprofitable. The eager strifes and ephemeral victories of political leaders; the feverish dreams of the wealthy capitalist and the commercial adventurer—seem little better than toys and baubles! The sportive swarms of insects floating in the sunbeams of a summer evening appear to be a fit emblem of our vast cities and their busy crowds." "Believe, then, that the only supreme end worth living for, is an end which shall endure, an end which can never perish. Do not squander so precious a boon as life upon secondary objects. Do not throw away upon the perishing objects of an earthly ambition—your immortal soul, a jewel, compared with which any noble product of the diamond mines—is a thing of nothing.

Sobriety of mind will lead you also to consider the shortness and uncertainty of life, and the necessity of being always prepared to surrender the precious gift; and always so prepared by having secured that which is of the highest importance. The man who has achieved the chief end, is prepared, at any moment, to give up in death all subordinate ends; while he who has sought only subordinate objects, is never ready to give them up. He who has true piety, however young he may die, has effectually accomplished the chief purpose of his creation. While he who neglects true religion, whatever of rank, wealth, honor, or even earthly usefulness, he may have acquired, and however long he may live to enjoy them—has missed the chief end of his being; and will very soon look on his life as a lost adventure.

Equally true is it, that such a state of mind cannot be obtained otherwise than by the adoption of the principles necessary to secure the end of life—in other words, true religion, a strong habitual faith in the Bible, in God, in Christ, in Providence, in judgment, in heaven, and hell. Saving faith expresses itself not only in worship, in religious emotions, in zeal, in charity to the poor—but in an enlightened and tender conscientiousness both towards God and man, and in a systematic and strong restraint upon the passions, imagination, temper, and appetites.

In entering, then, upon adult life, take true religion with you. This will ensure you the protection of omnipotence; the guidance of omniscience; the companionship of omnipresence; the supplies of all-sufficiency. It will fill your intellect with the thoughts of God's own mind, and your soul with the joy of God's own heart, and thus furnish you at once with the supreme truth, and the chief good. It will set before you the most perfect examples, and the strongest motives to the practice of holiness and virtue. It will add the sanctity of the Christian to the virtue of the moral man, and mingle its own heavenly pleasures with the pure delights of earth. It will prepare you either for success or failure in business, and preserve you equally from the snares of prosperity and the withering blasts of adversity. It will be your nurse in sickness, your companion in solitude, and your preserver amid the corruptions of society. It will be your shield against temptations to sin, and the insidious attacks of infidelity and false philosophy. It will go with you across the sea, and dwell with you in a foreign land, if called by Providence to leave your native country, or make you honorable and useful members of the community, if you remain at home. It will be the guide of your youth, the protector of your matured life, and the prop of your old age. It will prepare you for early death, or for a multitude of years. It will smooth the pillow of death, by giving you immortal hopes amid the dissolution of nature, will rise with you from the grave in that day when death shall be swallowed up in victory. And having put you in possession of glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life, will dwell in your soul forever, as the chief element of your heavenly and everlasting felicity!

But still I would not forget that there are things on EARTH to be attended to as well as things in heaven—and true religion, as I have already said, neither detaches you from them, nor unfits you for them; and next to this due regard to the claims of God, and as a part of it—industry and diligence in business are indispensable. Honesty to your employers requires this. You have contracted with them, for so much wages—to give them your time, the faculties of your mind, and the members and powers of your body. That man who does not serve his employer to the best of his ability is, to all intents and purposes, a thief—not by stealing his master's goods—but his time! And I would give nothing for his moral principle who can defraud his employer even of this.

It is not, however, merely in this light that I speak now of industry, but as your own safeguard—"For Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do." Our idle days are his busy ones. An indolent young man invites temptation, and will soon become a prey to it. The diligent man is the protected man. Temptation comes and addresses him, but he is preoccupied; he says, "I am too busy to attend to you." Indolence unmans the faculties, impairs and debilitates the whole intellectual system. One way or other, be always employed. An idle man is the most miserable of all God's creatures; a contradiction in nature, where nothing is at rest. Among all other habits which you can form, next to saving religion, the most valuable is a habit of industry and activity. This must be acquired in youth, or never. Keep the ethereal fire of your soul alive and glowing by action. Not only have occupation, but love it. Let your mind take a pleasure and a pride in its own action. Nature, it is said, abhors a vacuum, and if nature does not, you should.

IV. Let me now lay before you a few opposite EXTREMES, which, in passing through life, it is necessary you should avoid; and with which, when just entering upon it, you should be intimately acquainted.

Avoid, then, on the one hand, a depressing anxiety—and on the other, an utter carelessness and lethargic indifference, about the FUTURE; a disposition to distress the mind by the question, "How am I to get on?"—or the opposite extreme, of a total destitution of all forethought or care about the matter. The former is not only a distrust of Providence, but it defeats its own ends by wasting those energies of mind in useless anxiety which should be employed in preparatory action. While the latter casts away that partial forethought which is given to us for wise and gracious purposes. Be hopeful—but not overly anxious. Be moderate—but not indifferent. Let your expectations be sufficiently high to encourage exertion—but not so extravagant as to bewilder you.

Equally to be avoided, as connected with this, is inordinate ambition to rise in life—and the opposite extreme of that low and creeping satisfaction with things as they are, which is rather the result of an indolent and abject mind, than of a contented one. The determination by any and by all means to get on—and the lazy disposition to make no effort, are equidistant from moral excellence. Determine to do for your just advancement all that skill, industry, frugality, and honorable principle can accomplish—but nothing more. Set out in life thoroughly convinced of the truth of the apostolic declaration, "Those who will be rich, fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil, which some covet after, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

Young men, guard against this low, sordid, mischievous avarice—this coveting of wealth for its own sake—this determination to get it, if by fair means, well; if not, by foul means. Begin your career of honest and honorable industry, with the poet's impressive, sarcastic aphorism before your eyes, "That loudest laugh of hell—the pride of dying rich." Guard against the self-distrust and despondency—which would lead you to form too low an opinion of your own capability and resources, on the one hand. And on the other hand, guard against the complacent self-reliance, confidence, and conceit, which would lead you to think you can do everything. While you do not lean altogether upon your own understanding, and trust implicitly to your own heart, remember they can both do something for you, and are both to be employed. Start upon the journey of life with the conviction that you can, by God's help and blessing, do something—yes, much, for yourself. Have faith in God first of all, and next to this, have faith in yourselves as God-sustained. Enter into the apostle's words, catch their spirit, and imitate their union of personal activity and confidence, with dependence on divine help, "Through Christ strengthening me, I can do all things."

Take heed against flexibility of principle, purpose, and character, in reference to what is right—and obstinate perseverance in what is wrong. Be master of yourself. Have a will of your own—but be governed by your own convictions. Knowing what is right, do it, though you stand alone, and though the world laughs in chorus at you. Possess that due degree of moral courage which, while it leaves you in possession of true shame when doing what is wrong, shall extinguish all false shame in doing what is right. It is a noble sight to behold a young man stand, with his back against the wall of truth, and, with the shield of faith, repel the arrows of a multitude of assailants. Be an oak, not a willow. Let it be seen that you can resist the force of persuasion, the influence of detraction, the ridicule of the witty, the sarcasms of the scornful, the contagion of peer pressure. It is a great, good, and glorious thing, to be able in some circumstances to say, "No!" and to stand by it.

On the other hand, it is no less great, good, and glorious, to say, "I am wrong," when charged with an error, and convinced that you have committed it. An obstinate perseverance in a bad course, to avoid the shame and humiliation of confessing that you are wrong, is neither dignity nor greatness of mind, but stubborn imbecility; the obstinacy of a brute.

Avoid equally a total indifference to the good opinion of others—and a craving after admiration and applause. Seek to be approved—rather than to be admired. Covet the esteem of the wise and the good—but do not hunger after the indiscriminate praise of any and everybody. Rather seek to be excellent—than desire to be thought so. To wish to stand well with those whose praise is virtuous, is lawful; but to be always anxious for the admiration of others, is contemptible. The former is itself an exercise of virtue, the other is mere vanity. Guard against this vanity; it will make you far more solicitous about praise than principle, and willing to sacrifice the one for the other.

Avoid the extremes of credulity and suspicion—of trusting everybody, as if all were worthy of your confidence; and of trusting nobody, as if all were knaves. Be cautious whom you trust, but do not suppose that everyone will betray you. It is well to be reserved, but not to be suspicious; to be prudent, but not cynical. On the other hand, as the danger of the young lies rather in being too frank, open, and ingenuous, than too retiring and exclusive—study well the character of everyone, before you give him your confidence.

V. Perhaps I cannot do better than add to all I have said a few MAXIMS, which may be considered as condensing some parts of the substance of this chapter, and which, as most easily remembered, may be of some service to you in your progress through life.

Your future history and character will be in a great measure of your own making, therefore pause and consider what you will make yourself.

What you would be in future, that begin to be at once; for the future is not at a great distance, but close at hand—the moment next to the present is the future, and the next action helps to make the future character.

While you consult your friends on every important step, (and this is at once your duty and your privilege,) rely less upon them than upon yourself; and ever combine self-reliance with dependence upon God, whose assistance and blessing come to the help of a man's own industry.

If setting out in life in the possession of property, let your dependence for success, after all, be less upon this, than upon industry. Industry creates capital, but beginning with capital has in many cases made a man careless and improvident, and destroyed his industry.

Consider the importance of the first wrong step. That first one leads to many others, and may be more easily avoided than any that follows it.

True religion (which means the habitual fear of God and sin), is your best friend for both worlds; multitudes owe their all to it; and multitudes more who have been ruined by vice, folly, and extravagance, would have been saved from them all had they lived in the fear of God.

They who would live without true religion would not die without it; but to enjoy its comforts in death, you must submit to its influence in life; and those who would have it in life, should seek it in youth.

The perfection of human character consists of piety, prudence, and knowledge. Make that noble trio your own.

Whatever specious arguments infidelity may put forth in defense of itself, and whatever objections it may bring against Christianity, hold fast the Bible until the infidel can furnish you a more abundant evidence of truth, a better rule of life, a more copious source of consolation, a surer ground of hope, and a more certain and glorious prospect of immortality. And remember that spiritual religion is a better defense against the seductions of infidelity and false philosophy than the most powerful or subtle logic.

Enter upon life as you would wish to retire from it, and spend time on earth as you would wish to spend eternity in heaven.

I now leave the subject for your most DEVOUT AND SERIOUS REFLECTION. Entering upon life! How weighty the phrase, how momentous the consideration, how solemn the anticipation! Millions of your fellow-creatures are at this moment like you entering upon life. What an infinity of weal and woe is bound up in the history of that vast aggregate of human beings. But this, all this, is of less consequence to you than that one life on which you are entering. For in the history of our world, in the convulsions of nations, in the revolutions of empires, in the stream of universal history, yes, in the chronicles of all other worlds than your own, there is less to affect your happiness, than in that one life which is before you.

You are in life; you cannot go back; you must go on. Whether you shall exist or not, is not left to your option; it is a question settled. What you have to determine is, (and oh! what is involved in the determination!) how existence shall be spent by you, and whether it shall be to you an infinite and eternal blessing, or an infinite and eternal curse! In view of such a career, let me with an importunity which words are far too feeble to express, beseech you to take up the language of the passage at the head of this chapter, as the rule of your conduct—"In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths."