The Young Man Leaving Home

by John Angell James, 1844


"Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." 2 Timothy 3:4

"Young men away from home must have something!" you are ready to say, "to interest—to amuse—to gratify them! They have been called to sacrifice the comforts of their father's house, and to endure many hardships and much discomfort—and need something to enliven and divert their minds!" True. But it should be of a kind that will not endanger their health, their morals, or their future interests—and especially their souls. To seek relief from the labors of business, the gloom of solitude, or the annoyance of an unpleasant home—by "the pleasures of sin, which are but for a season"—is to recruit our wearied nature, and to enliven our dull frame, by drinking a sweet-tasting and effervescing draught of deadly poison! That young man is not only not truly pious—but scarcely acts the part of a rational creature, whose love of diversion leads him to seek such gratifications as are ruinous to all his interests for time and eternity! A love of pleasure, a taste for amusement, as such—is a most dangerous propensity!

Business, young man, business is what you should attend to. There is pleasure in industry. Employment is gratification. But still you repeat, "We must have something which shall interest the mind when business is over; which shall be a subject of diversion and mental occupation—to fill up the gaps of thought during the day, and which shall be an object to which the eye may constantly turn for refreshment and relief amid all that is disgusting and disheartening in the rough cares of our situation." Well, here it is! Here is a glorious object! Here is what you need—just what you need—and all you need! True religion, true religion, my reader, will prove to be, if you try it, an engaging companion, a sympathizing comforter, an ever-present friend, and a sure guide to the fountain of happiness!

Do not listen to the ignorant testimony of those who have never tried it, and who represent it as the enemy of human delight; but attend to the intelligent witness of those who speak from experience, and who declare it to be the very element of happiness. Who would take the evidence of a blind man about color and form; or of a deaf one about sounds; or of one without the sense of taste about flavor? And equally irrational would it be to take the opinion of an ungodly man about true religion!

It is a truth, which the experience of millions has proved, that "Wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." Consider what true religion is—not mere bodily exercise, a drudgery of forms and ceremonies. No! But an occupation of the mind and heart! An occupation, too, which engages the noblest contemplation of the mind, and exercises the purest affections of the heart. It is the employment of the whole soul upon the most sublime object that mind can be conversant with.

Mental occupation is essential to felicity, and here it is in perfection and permanence. Dwell upon the privileges of true religion; the pardon of sin; full and free justification; the favor of the eternal God, together with the consciousness of that favor, and communion with Him; peace of conscience, like the sunshine on the heart; the renovation of our corrupt nature; and the subjection of passion, appetite, and animal propensity—to rules which Scripture prescribes, and reason approves—and all this united with the hope, prospect, and foretaste of eternal glory! I ask, can the man whose mind is in this state be otherwise than happy? I wish to impress you with the idea that the individual who is thus religious, whose piety is Scriptural, evangelical, experimental—and not superstitious, nominal, and ignorant—must be happy; not, indeed, perfectly so, for perfect happiness is known only in the heavenly world. But he is contented and satisfied, as being in a state of repose.

His mind is not anxiously and ignorantly urging the question, "Who will show us any good?" He has a definite idea of what will make him happy; he is not in quest of something to occupy his mind and satisfy his heart—but has found it, and is at rest! He has become possessed of a supreme object of interest, which his heart loves, and his conscience approves, an object which has many and great advantages; it is always at hand, for it is with him, yes, in him! He proves the truth of the assertion, "The good man shall be satisfied from himself;" because the spring of his happiness is in his own bosom! He is calm and tranquil. His pleasures are not only pure—but peaceful. His pleasures occasion no agitation, no painful reflection, no remorse. His pleasures are inexpensive. They do not unfit him for business, nor create in him a disgust with his trade or profession—but brace and invigorate him to carry on its labors, and endure its cares. His pleasures do not impair his health or enervate his mind—but are all of a healthful nature, both as regards the body and the soul.

True religion, moreover, includes duties that are all agreeable. The love of God, the service of Christ, the practice of holiness, the destruction of sin, the cultivation of charity, all are pleasant. The Christian, in going the house of God, enjoys far more delight than he does who treks about on Sunday excursions. The reading of the Bible, although it does not fascinate the imagination, and kindle the passions, like a novel or licentious poem—soothes, softens, and sanctifies the heart. Prayer is one of the most elevating exercises in which the soul can be engaged, for it is man speaking to God—the poor frail, finite child of dust and ashes, admitted, through the mediation of Christ—to an audience with the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God. And as to the pleasures of friendship, where are they enjoyed in such perfection as in the communion of saints?

Nor is this all—for true religion supplies an inexhaustible source of the deepest interest—in the various great and glorious institutions which are formed and in operation to promote the moral, spiritual, and eternal welfare of mankind; to many of these, young men are contributing, in different ways, their valuable assistance. I can with confidence ask, whether the polluted and polluting scenes of earthly pleasures—to which many resort, can yield half the satisfaction which is enjoyed at public meetings of pious institutions, where interesting facts unite to captivate the imagination and delight the heart. There is more real enjoyment here, than in any of those sinful diversions in which men of corrupt taste find their amusement. The great enterprises for the conversion of the world, now carrying on its operations through all lands, supplies an object of unrivaled sublimity, splendor, and importance, and which, by firing the ambition, and employing the energies of youthful piety, never fails to be productive of pure delight, as often as the eye contemplates it, or the mind is conscious of promoting it.

Blessed with true piety, a youth may be happy anywhere and everywhere. The apprentice, serving the most tyrannical employer, or oppressed by the most unfeeling and hard-hearted boss, will still find, if he possesses true religion, a relief sufficient to lighten the yoke and soften the rigors of the hard service. And how it will cheer the solitude of the clerk or the shopman in his private lodgings, when neither friend nor companion is near! There he can commune with his God, and pray to his heavenly Father, though his earthly one be far from him. He is not now tempted to leave his cheerless dwelling in quest of comfort, for he can find enough in pious exercises—or if he wishes, as he lawfully may do—to relieve his solitude, he can be happy in hearing a sermon, or going to the meeting of some Christian committee with which he is connected, or to the public meeting of some society which may be held in the neighborhood.

Solitude itself is not disagreeable, for he wishes to cultivate his mind by knowledge, and his heart by piety; and when exchanged for social communion and pleasures, they are of a kind to do him not harm—but good. True religion thus makes him comfortable whether alone—or in society.

Young man, I want you to be happy, and I am sure there is only one thing that will make you so—and that is true piety. You may be amused and gratified, pleased and diverted, at least for a while, without this; but amusement and diversion are only 'substitutes' for happiness—not the thing itself. Man was made for the service and enjoyment of God—and he cannot be truly happy until he is brought to answer the end of his creation.

Who can tell what sorrow awaits him in future life? Oh, could I lift up the 'veil of futurity', and disclose the scenes of your history, how would your heart sink to foresee the trials that are in reserve for you! Setting out upon the voyage of life, with a bright sky, a smooth sea, a fair wind, and every sail filled with the favorable breeze, you may soon have to encounter the storm that will reduce you to a wreck on some lonely and dreary shore. Your trade may fail, your wife may die, and your constitution may sink under the pressure of accumulated woes. What is there to comfort and support you amid solitude, and the long, dark, wintry night of adversity? True religion, had you sought it in the season of youth and health, would have helped you to sustain the shock of misfortune by its consoling and strengthening influence! But you have neglected it, and in its absence, there is nothing human or Divine to support you, and you fall, first into poverty, then to drinking, then to the grave, and then to the bottomless pit!

How many who have died of a broken heart, or as slaves to drunkenness, and have gone from the sorrows of time to the torments of eternity, would, if they had possessed true religion, notwithstanding their misfortunes, have lived in peace, died in hope, and been blessed forever! True religion, if it led only to misery upon earth, if it were really the gloomy and pleasure-destroying thing which many represent it, and others believe it to be—yet, as it leads from everlasting misery to eternal bliss hereafter, would be our highest as well as our incumbent duty! For who would not escape from hell and flee to heaven, if it could only be done by passing through dark or gloomy places, or a perpetual martyrdom?

But instead of this, true piety is the most serene and delightsome thing on earth! It is the sweetener of our comforts—the softener of our cares—the solace of our sorrows! It deprives us of no enjoyment but what would injure us—and gives other and far better ones in place of those it takes! It is the spring flower of youth—the summer sun of our manhood—the autumn fruits of our declining years—and the lunar brightness of the wintry night of our old age! It is a verdant, quiet, secluded path to the paradise of God! And, after giving us the light of his countenance in life, the support of his grace in death, will conduct us to his presence, where there is fullness of joy, and to his right hand, where there are pleasures forevermore!