The Young Man Leaving Home

by John Angell James, 1844


Did you ever consider the wise King's praise of Wisdom, and the beautiful personifications in which he conveys it? "Happy is the person who finds wisdom and gains understanding. For the profit of wisdom is better than silver, and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. She offers you life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left hand. She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly." Proverbs 3:13-18

This is one of the sparkling gems of composition which decorate and enliven the pages of Scripture. Go, young man—to this beautiful personification, this angel form—she has length of days in her right hand. True religion will not necessarily insure health and avert disease—but it will prevent the body and mind from being destroyed or impaired by vice. Read the description which is given of the consequences of sin in the book of Job, as exhibited in an aged, worn-out sinner—"His bones are full of the sin of his youth, which shall lie down with him in the dust." And then add the language of Solomon, where he says, "at the end of life you will groan in anguish when disease consumes your body, and you will say—How I hated discipline! If only I had not demanded my own way! Oh, why didn't I listen to my teachers? Why didn't I pay attention to those who gave me instruction? I have come to the brink of utter ruin, and now I must face public disgrace." Proverbs 5:11-14

Slaves of lust! Victims of drunkenness! You loathsome spectacles, you living corpses, full of everything that is tormenting to yourselves and disgusting to others—rise like specters before the imagination of young men—to deter them from the crimes which have reduced you to corruption—even on this side of the grave! True religion would have guarded you from all this! Such men live out not half their days.

But see what is in the 'left hand' of wisdom—"riches and honor." Not that true religion shields from poverty, and guides all her subjects to wealth—but still it prevents the crimes which lead to poverty—and implants the virtues which tend to the wealth. SIN is an expensive thing, as I have already remarked—it is a constant drain upon the pocket, and keeps a man poor, or makes him dishonest. While true piety is frugal, industrious, sober, and prudent—it makes a man trustworthy and procures for him esteem, preference, and position. Do you wish to prosper, and get on in the world? (and it is quite lawful for you to wish it, you ought, indeed—to wish it,) go to wisdom, and take the blessing—even riches and honor, which she has in her left hand, and which she holds out to you. Go and pluck the fruit of this tree of life, or catch the precious produce as the boughs are shaken by the favoring gales of Providence!

How many young men have left their native village, and their father's house, with all the property they had on earth tied up in the bundle they carried in their hand, and have gone to London poor and almost friendless lads, who yet, because they became the disciples and admirers of godly wisdom, have risen to wealth and respectability! What names could I record, dear to the church of God, and known to the 'friends of man' throughout the country and the world, who, by the aid of true religion, rose from obscurity to renown—and from poverty to wealth! Their history is a striking proof that "godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come."

I could mention, were it proper, the name of one, who went into an large business in London as a boy to sweep the shop and carry out goods—who became, at length, possessor of the whole business, died rich, and his property, in part, became the foundation of a new charitable institution. I could mention another man, who, from a poor lad, became a leading man in one of our religious denominations, and the funder of one of our most useful Christian societies. I could mention a third man, who, from being a shop-boy in the city, became the possessor of a large fortune, which at his decease enriched many of the noblest institutions of the present time.

In these cases, true religion, by rendering them steady, industrious, and responsible—was the means of their wealth and elevation. They shunned evil companions, evil places, evil habits, evil amusements—and, under the influence of piety, entered those paths which lead many from poverty to wealth, and from obscurity to renown. They sat down as young men at the feet of wisdom—learned her lessons—and received her rewards!

I do not mean to say that true religion—without application to business, or talents for it, will succeed. But true religion, by giving diligence and sharpening the faculties—will promote success. Piety exerts a favorable influence, not only on the morals—but on the 'secular habits of life'—and one piece of advice which wisdom delivers, as she holds out her left hand blessings, is, "Be diligent in business—as well as fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." It is a lawful and proper ambition to try to excel in the profession or business to which you have devoted your life. You ought not to be satisfied with dull mediocrity—much less with creeping, groveling inferiority. You happily live in a country where the summits of society are accessible to those who seem, by the circumstances of their birth—to be placed at the bottom. But it is only talent—united with good conduct—that can expect to rise. While incompetence, which is more frequently the result of a lack of industry, than of ability and indolence, will sink. Piety and a desire to excel in business are helpful to each other. Piety will give the virtues necessary to the latter—while the latter will guard the former from being destroyed by many of those evils to which youth are exposed—and by which they are hindered from getting on in life.

The cultivation of the mind in all useful knowledge is also auxiliary to elevation in life. A 'religious dolt' may rise in business—but it is not usual. Besides, admitting that true religion does sometimes help ignorance up the steep ascent to wealth, it is knowledge alone that can fit a man for eminent usefulness. Employ your spare time in reading, and acquiring knowledge. Ignorance was never so inexcusable as it is now, when the fountains of science are opened all around us, and the streams of learning are flowing even into the cottages of the poor. True religion and knowledge agree well together, and are reciprocally helpful. Let your reading be select and useful. Do not squander the little time you have to spare, upon trash!

How well is that young man defended from the dangers that surround him, and how likely to rise in life, who has true religion to sanctify his heart, application to business to occupy his time, and a taste for reading to employ his leisure! It is he who receives from wisdom the blessings she holds forth in both of her hands—length of days in the right hand—and riches and honor in the left hand—and at the same time it is his to gather from the tree of life the fruit of glory and immortality!