The Young Man Leaving Home

by John Angell James, 1844

The Time of a Young Man's Leaving
Home is Always a Critical Period

Critical, I mean, as regards his character. Yes, imminently so. You are aware that, besides your attention to business, and acquiring a knowledge of the trade or profession to which that attention is directed, there is such a thing as the "formation of character"—or fixed habits of action, arising out of fixed principles. A man may be a good tradesman, and yet a bad man; though, generally, good moral character has a very favorable influence in forming the good tradesman. I wish you to direct your most serious attention to the importance of character—moral and religious character. What is everything else without character? How worthless is any man without this! He may have wealth, but he can neither enjoy it, improve it, nor be respected for it, without character. But it very rarely happens that those who begin life with a bad character, succeed in the great competition of this world's business. Multitudes, with every advantage at starting, have failed through bad conduct, while others, with every disadvantage, have succeeded by the aid and influence of good character.

Character for life—and for eternity too—is usually formed in youth! Set out with this idea written upon your very hearts, in order that it may be ever exerting its powerful influence on your conduct. As is the youth, such, in all probability, will be the man—whether he be good or bad. And as character is generally formed in youth, so it is not less generally formed at that period of youth when young people leave home. The first year or two after leaving his father's house, is the most eventful period of all a young man's history—and what he is at the expiration of the second or third year after leaving the parental abode, that, in all probability, he will be, as a tradesman for this world—and as an immortal being in the next! This should make you pause and consider. Before you read another line, I entreat you to think of it. Perhaps you doubt it. Attend then to what I have to offer in support of the assertion.

Does not reason suggest, that such a transition as leaving home, will powerfully influence the remainder of your life? You cannot leave so many restraints, so much inspection and guardianship, and come into such new circumstances, at an age when the heart is so susceptible, and the character so pliable, without receiving a bias—it is impossible. New temptations assail you, which, if not at once and successfully resisted, will acquire a permanent ascendancy!

Your parents, who have gone before you in the path of life, know the fact, and tremble. It makes their hearts ache to think of sending you away from home. You know not, you cannot know, what was the deep and silent trouble of your father's heart—the painful solicitude of your mother's gentle spirit—in the prospect of your leaving them. They sat hour after hour by the fire-side, or lay awake at night talking on the subject, and mingled their tears as they thought of other youths they know, whose ruin was dated from the hour of their departure from home. "Oh!" they exclaimed in anguish, "if this our son should be like them, and become a prodigal too, it would bring down our grey hairs in sorrow to the grave! O, that we could that we could keep him at home under our own care—but we cannot!" They then fell upon their knees, and by united prayer gained relief and comfort to their aching hearts, while commending you to Him, who has in ten thousand instances been the guide and protector of youth. While your mother, good woman! as she packed your trunk, dropped her fast flowing tears upon your clothes, placed the Bible among them, and sighed out the petition, "Oh my son, my son! Great God, preserve him from all evil."

Ministers have seen the danger of youths leaving home, most painfully exemplified in young men who have come from a distant town, recommended perhaps by parents to their care, and who for a while attended their ministry. At first their places in the sanctuary were regularly filled twice a day, and while the novelty lasted, they appeared to hear with attention and interest—this soon diminished, and they became listless and neglectful; then their seat was occasionally empty on a sabbath evening; then habitually so; until at length, giving up the morning, or only strolling in occasionally with some mirthful companion, they proclaimed the dreadful fact, that they had fallen into the dangers incident to young men upon leaving home—and the next news concerning them, perhaps, was a letter from a heart-broken parent, confirming the worst fears of the minister, by asking him to make effort to snatch their son from his evil companions and profligate courses.

Instances innumerable have occurred, in which youths, who, while dwelling under their father's roof, have been the joy and the hope of their parents, have, on leaving home and entering into the world—exhibited a melancholy and dreadful transformation of character. Some by slow degrees have passed from virtue to vice, while others have made the transition so suddenly, as if by one mighty bound they had resolved to reach the way of the ungodly. In either case, the bitterest disappointment has been experienced by those who have had to contrast the prodigal abroad—with the sober youth at home.

Youthful reader, I assure you that this is no uncommon case, but, on the contrary, so frequent, as to make every considerate parent tremble at sending away his son, especially to the large provincial towns, and most of all to that mighty sink of iniquity—the metropolis.

What, then, should be the state of your mind, and your reflections, upon reading such an account as this? "Is it so, that on leaving a father's house, so many young men, who were once virtuous and promising, have become vicious and profligate. How much does it become me to pause and reflect, lest I add another to the number! What was there in their circumstances and situation so dangerous to virtue, that I may not expect to find in mine? Or what is there in my habits and resolutions, which was not, in their better days, in them? Did they fall, and shall I be so confident of steadfastness, as to dismiss fear and despise caution? Do I recoil from vice? So did they, when, like me, they were at home. Do I shudder at grieving my parents by misconduct? So did they, when, like me, they had their parents continually before them. Am I going forth high in the confidence of my parents, and the esteem of my friends? So did they. Yet how cruelly have they disappointed every hope that was formed concerning them! And what is there in my habits and purposes that shall prevent me from imitating their example? Oh, if this should be the case! If I would add another to the victims of leaving home! If my reputation, now happily so fair, should be tarnished, faded, lost! If I, of whom hopes are entertained that I am becoming a Christian, should turn out a prodigal, a profligate! Dreadful apostasy. Great God, prevent it!"

Could I induce you thus to reflect, I would have hope of you; while a contrary spirit of self-dependence and confidence, would lead me to expect in you another proof that the time of a youth's leaving home is most critical.