The Young Man Leaving Home

by John Angell James, 1844


Such means there certainly are, if you will avail yourselves of them. Imminent as is the peril to which you are exposed—defense is at hand—and it will be your own fault if you are not preserved. Thousands have been kept amid the severest temptations. In the beautiful, touching, and instructive history of Joseph, as recorded in the book of Genesis—a history which will never cease to be admired as long as taste or piety shall remain in the world—we have a striking instance of moral preservation amid great danger, well worthy your attention. How fierce and seductive was the assault upon his morals! It came from a quarter, and in a form, the most likely to corrupt a youthful mind—yet how promptly, firmly, and successfully was it resisted! True, his virtue subjected him for a while to much suffering, for, defeated in her criminal intentions, his tempter, under the combined influence of disappointment, shame, and remorse—wickedly revenged herself upon the virtue she could not subdue—blasted his reputation by calumny and false accusation, and caused him to be cast into prison.

But God, in his Providence, ever watchful over the reputation and interests of pious men, overruled all for good, and made the prison of this illustrious Israelite the way to his elevation. But for Potiphar's wife, Joseph would never have been prime minister of Egypt; her guilt and its painful effects were rendered subservient to his advancement. Sooner or later, virtue will bring its own reward. But what was the means of Joseph's preservation from the snare? True piety. "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" was his noble reply. Here was the shield that covered his heart. True, he had a deep sense of the duty he owed to his employer, and on this ground expostulated with the tempter, "But he refused. "My master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife." Genesis 39:8-9

This was faithful, just, generous, noble; but there needed something else, something stronger—to resist such a temptation—morality alone would not have done it, and he called in the aid of his piety. "How can I do this great wickedness—and sin against God?" Thus armed with true piety, he fought with the tempter, and came off more than conqueror. Let every young man mark this, and see the power, excellence, and benefit of piety, as a preservative against sin.

Amid the snares to which you will be exposed, you will need something stronger and more trustworthy than those feeble defenses on which some rely—but which in many instances are demolished by the first assault upon mere unaided virtue. You may leave your father's house with fixed resolutions to shun what is evil, and practice what is good; you may suppose that you have no taste for the wicked pleasures of profligate people; you may cherish a tender regard for the feelings of your parents, sufficient, as you think—to preserve you from everything that would grieve their hearts; you may have your eye on future respectability and wealth, and be inspired with an ambition that makes you dread whatever would interfere with these objects of desire; you may be already moral and upright, and thus be led to imagine that you are prepared to repel every attack upon your purity and integrity.

But if destitute of real religion, you may soon be exposed to temptations which will either sweep away all these defenses as with the violence of a flood, or insidiously undermine them with the slow but certain process of a siege. Religion, true religion, young man, is the only defense to be relied upon; morality may—but piety will, protect you. What multitudes of instances could the history of the church of God furnish, of youths passing unconquered through the most corrupting scenes, by the aid of this Divine shield taken from the armory of Scripture—this shield of faith! I might mention names known and loved among the pious, of your own and other countries, who in youth went unbefriended and unsupported from the country to the metropolis, and who, by the fear of God, were not only preserved from evil—but were raised to wealth, to influence, and usefulness—by the aid of true religion.

There are two or three questions concerning true religion which may with great propriety be asked, and which have, or ought to have, great force in recommending it to all. Whom did it ever impoverish, except by martyrdom? Whom did it ever render miserable? Who has ever, on a death-bed, repented of having lived under its influence? On the contrary, how many millions has it blessed with wealth, with happiness in life, and comfort in death!

But what is true religion? Give me your attention while I attempt to answer this question. It is the most momentous inquiry which can engage the intellect of man. Literature, science, politics, commerce, and the arts, are all important in their place and measure; and men give proof that they duly, or rather unduly estimate their importance, by the devoted manner in which they attend to them. To multitudes they are everything. Yet man is an immortal creature, and there is an eternity before him, and what direct relation have these things to immortality? Or what influence do they exert on our everlasting destiny in another world? More—do they make us either virtuous or happy in this world? Is there any necessary connection between any, or all of these things—with human felicity? They call out and employ the noble faculties of the mind; they raise man from savage to civilized society; they refine the taste; they embellish life; they decorate the stage on which the great drama of existence is carried on, and give interest to the performance. But do they reach the seat of man's chief pleasures or pains—the heart? Do they cure its disorders, correct its tastes, mitigate its sorrows, or soften its weightiest cares? Do they comfort man amid the wreck of his fortunes—the disappointment of his hopes—the loss of his friends—the malignity of his enemies—the pains of a sick chamber—the struggles of a dying bed—and the prospect of a coming judgment? No! True religion is that, and that alone, which can do this! And this it can do, and is continually doing.

Disbelieve, then, the calumnies that ignorant men have circulated concerning it, who represent it as degrading our intellect, and destroying our happiness. On the contrary, a little reflection will convince you that it is the most sublime science, the noblest learning, the profoundest wisdom, the most consummate prudence. In its theory, it is called by way of eminence, truth; in its practice, wisdom; its essence, is love; its effect, even here, peace; and its ultimate reward, an immortality of joy. It is sustained by abundant and unanswerable evidence; it has engaged the attention and captivated the minds of men of the profoundest intellect—to speak only of our own country, I mention Bacon, Milton, Newton, Locke, Addison, and Johnson, and I might mention a host of others—and it is now preparing to subdue all nations to the obedience of faith. Is it not a subject, then, which demands and deserves attention?

The question, however, still returns, What is true religion? To reply first in NEGATIVES. It is not merely being baptized in any particular church; it is not merely being educated in the profession of any particular creed; it is not merely being accustomed to observe any particular religious forms; it is not merely an attendance at any particular place of public worship; or the preference of any particular set of doctrines, however orthodox and Scriptural. True religion is all this—but it is a great deal more; it includes this—but it goes much further.

True religion consists of REPENTANCE towards God. This is frequently enjoined in the New Testament. "Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish." "Repent, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out." "Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation." From this last passage it clearly appears what repentance means, and that sorrow is but a part of it, yes, only the operative cause of it. The word signifies a change of mind with regard to sin—it is such a view of the evil of sin in general, and of the number and aggravation of our own sins in particular, as leads us to confess them to God, without reserve or excuse—to hate, and to forsake them.

But repentance is not enough—this is but a part of true religion, and is not all that is necessary to salvation; for without FAITH, have whatever we may, it is impossible to please God. God has not left man to perish in his sins. Mercy has visited our world, and brought salvation to man. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish—but have everlasting life." When the jailer, expecting to perish, exclaimed, "What must I do to be saved?" the apostle replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." We are "justified by faith;" we "purify our hearts by faith," "we live by faith." Faith in general means such a belief of the whole of God's holy word, as leads us to observe and obey it. Faith in Christ signifies such a belief in the testimony borne to him in the Scripture, as the Son of God and Savior of the world; as our Mediator between God and man; as our Prophet, Priest, and King; as our atoning sacrifice and justifying righteousness, as leads us to quit all dependence upon our own works for pardon, acceptance with God, and salvation, and to rely exclusively, and with expectation of eternal life, upon his propitiation and intercession.

This is one great part of true religion, and an essential to salvation. Faith is the saving grace; it is not that for which we are saved, as the meritorious cause—but that by which we are saved, as the instrumental means. The first effect of true faith is peace, the second love, the third holiness.

With faith is connected the NEW BIRTH—an entire change of heart, conduct, and character. This is what our Lord calls, being "born again," being "born of water and the Spirit;" and the inspired evangelist designates it, being "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man—but of God." It is what the apostle calls, "putting off the old man which is corrupt with his deeds, and putting on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who created him." It is what is meant when he says, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature—old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." It is that entire change of our moral nature, which is effected by the Spirit of God, through the word received by faith; when the corrupt and fallen nature which we inherit from Adam is taken away, and the holy and spiritual nature which we receive from Christ is imparted.

This new birth is such a change of our hearts, that it gives a new direction to our thoughts, feelings, tastes, and pursuits; and this direction is towards God, holiness, and eternity; whereas formerly our whole direction was towards sin and the present world.

Now, the soul loves God with a supreme affection, and from this love springs a sincere desire to please him, and an endeavor to serve him with the obedience of affection, even as a son obeys the father whom he loves. Now he fears sin, hates it, and strives to avoid it, as that which God hates, and from which Christ died to redeem him. Now he has a tender conscience, and a jealousy over himself, lest he should offend God, and pollute his own soul. He watches and prays, lest he enter into temptation, and sanctification is his delight. Now he keeps holy the sabbath, reads the word of God, rejoices in the preaching of the cross, loves secret prayer, partakes of the supper of the Lord, joins the communion of saints—because these things are means of grace and ordinances of God.

Constrained by the love of Christ, he now seeks to be useful, especially by diffusing that true religion which he has found so beneficial to himself. He gives up all his former sinful amusements—the theater, the card party, the ball, fashionable and trifling visiting—for they do not now suit his taste. His delight is now in God and his service. He is independent of these sinful amusements, and happy without them.

To sum up, TRUE RELIGION is . . .

It is a thing of the heart—and not merely
external religious forms.

True religion is a living principle in the soul . . .
  influencing the mind,
alluring the affections,
  guiding the will,
directing and enlightening the conscience.

True religion is a supreme—not a subordinate matter.
It demands and obtains the throne of the soul. It guides
the whole character—and requires the whole man and all
his conduct to be in subordination.

True religion is not an occasional thing—but habitual.
It takes up its abode in the heart—and not merely
visits it at certain times and at particular seasons.

True religion is not a partial thing—but universal.
It does not confine itself to certain times, places,
and occasions—but forms an integral part of the
character—and blends with everything we do.

True religion is noble and lofty—not an abject,
servile, and groveling thing. It communes . . .
  with God,
  with truth,
  with holiness,
  with heaven,
  with eternity,
  with infinity!

True religion is a happy—and not a melancholy thing.
It gives peace that passes understanding, and joy that
is unspeakable, and full of glory.

True religion is a durable—and not a transient thing. It . . .
  passes with us through life,
lies down with us on the pillow of death,
rises with us at the last day, and
  dwells in our souls in heaven as the
  very element of eternal life!

Such is true religion—the most sublime thing in the
world—sent down to be our comforter on earth—and our
guide to everlasting life through all this gloomy valley!