MY BROTHER'S KEEPER
Letters from James Alexander (1804-1859)
to his younger brother, on the virtues and
vices, the duties and dangers of youth.
The Great Concern
My dear brother,
There are many things to which it is right for you to attendóbut there is one thing which is important above all others. It is the salvation of your soul. Learning is goodóbut if you should get all the learning possible, it would only make you miserable, if you were cast into hell. And so it is with everything else. If, through the blessing of God, you finally get to heaven, it will be infinitely well with you, even if you have been poor and despised, wretched and ignorant.
You know I do not wish you to neglect your learningóbut I am very much afraid you will neglect eternal things. This is the true learning; this is eternal life, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. This is what the Bible calls wisdom. A man may be very learned in worldly things and yet be very foolish. What can be more foolish than to give away eternal joyóto gain a few years of pleasure? This is what many worldly-wise men are doing. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. A child who is taught of God, knows more about eternal truths than all the philosophers.
I am afraid, my dear brother, that you do not think of this as much as you should. I fear that you push away the thought, even when it comes into your mind. This is very dangerous. You may thus harden your heart until it becomes altogether unfeeling. When you turn away your thoughts from true religion, you are turning away from God and from Christ. If the Lord Jesus Christ were to come into the house where you live, and show himself to you, just as he did to his disciples at the sea of Tiberias, and say to you, "Follow me," what would you do?
Perhaps you would say, "I cannot follow Christ now, because I am too young." Many boys say so in their hearts. Christ says to them, "Follow me," just as really as if he were to come into your schoolroom, and take you by the hand, and utter these words. Perhaps you would say, "I cannot follow Christ now, because the boys would laugh at me." Ah, how wicked, how ungrateful is this! The wicked may indeed laugh at you if you follow Jesus. So they laughed at the disciples in old times. Do you think that the early Christians were free from ridicule? Not at all. They were mocked and scorned wherever they went; and not merely mocked and scorned, they were pursued, imprisoned, and put to death. You cannot follow Christ unless you are willing to suffer for his sake. Are you afraid of the laughter of silly boys and wicked men?
Think of the blessed Redeemer. He was not afraid of thisóbut underwent it, and a thousand times more, to save sinners. People laughed at him. They ridiculed him as the carpenter's son. They said he was a Samaritan, which was a name of reproach among the Jews. They said he was mad. They charged him with having a devil. Even when he was working miracles, they laughed him to scorn. Yes, and when he was hanging on the cross, in an agony, at the point of death, they wagged their heads at him, and made sport of his suffering and death. Think of this. This is what Jesus has done for us. And now he says, "Follow me." He seems to show you his pierced hands and feet, and to say, "My child, I have borne all this for sinners, and now all I ask is, that you should follow me."
It is your duty, my dear brother, to give your heart to God now; to believe now. There is no good reason for waiting. All the reasons which come into your mind to make you delay are wicked, selfish, rebellious excuses. Now is the accepted time! Tomorrow it will be as hard to believe in Christ as it is today; perhaps much harder, because, as I said, the heart becomes insensible when people continue to resist the Holy Spirit.
I pray that God would send his Holy Spirit down from heaven, to create a clean heart in you, and to renew you. Your carnal heart is enmity against God, and this is the reason why it is not subject to the law of God. Carnal hearts cannot be subject to God's law. And though Christ is every day inviting you, yet you will not come unto him, that you may have life. If you grow up in this state of blindness and impenitence, there is reason to fear that you will become so much the servant of sin, that the evil one will lead you into some open crime. There is a blessed hope of everlasting life given to true believers, and this is what I wish you to enjoy. Perhaps you may not live to be a man. Death sometimes approaches very suddenly. You saw the grave of a little boy not long ago. He was as healthy, a few weeks before his death, as you now are. He had no thought that he was about to die, and now he is in eternity!
Come now, my dear brother, and join with me and your Christian friends in seeking the Lord and calling upon him. "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near." Make this the chief business of every day, to please God. When you rise in the morning, let your first thought be that you have a soul to save. All the day long, let the salvation of your soul be your principal concern. Other things may wait, without any danger. Your plays and recreations may wait; for if you live, you can attend to them as well hereafter. Your studies may wait, for a few days lost may be regained by diligence. But the soul's concerns cannot wait. While you are waiting, death is coming. Death is nearer to you than when you began to read this letter. While you are putting off religion until another day, you are so much nearer to the Day of Judgment. You are loitering and lingering; but time does not linger. And before the day comes on which you mean to begin to seek the Lord's face, your soul may be tormented.
O, my dear brother, attend speedily to these warnings. All will be well with you as soon as you are persuaded to follow Christ. Make choice of himólook to himócome to himóreceive himóbelieve on himóand you will at once have the privilege of being one of the sons of God!
Go to some quiet, private place, and tell the Lord in prayer, how great a sinner you have been, and mourn over your sin, and cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" For "if you shall seek the Lord your God, you shall find him; if you seek him with all your heart, and with all your soul." May God abundantly bless you!
Your affectionate brother,