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.
My dear brother,
In the course of my reading I am always glad to meet with anything which strikes me as suitable for your instruction. This morning I opened upon a page of Mr. Jay's daily devotional books, in which he speaks of early rising, and his thoughts are so excellent, that I shall make free use of them, and mingle them with my own.
"The habit of early rising, if ever formed, is commonly established in childhood or youth. If one has wasted the delightful morning hours of fifteen years in bed, he will not readily learn to deny himself as an adult. Therefore, I wish you now to learn to enjoy,
The cool, the fragrant, and the silent morn,
To meditation due, and sacred song."
Perhaps you are ready to ask, "How much sleep is necessary?" This cannot be answered in a word. Some need more than others. But Mr. Jay says, "It is questionable whether they require much more. Yes, it may be questioned whether they require any more, as to length. What they need more of, is better sleep; and the quality would be improved by lessening the quantity." This remark used to be often made by the celebrated and excellent Dr. Benjamin Rush. Try the experiment of shortening your slumbers; you will have fewer dreams, fewer turnings and tossings but more solid repose, more refreshment.
But you must shorten your rest at the right end; not by sitting up late at night—but by rising early in the morning. Physicians say that one hour's sleep before midnight is worth more than two hours after it. However this may be, one hour of study before breakfast is certainly worth two after supper. The mind is more fresh and cheerful, and the health is less injured. And then, how much more delightful are the early hours! The poet says truly,
"Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,
With charm of earliest birds."
In the delightful months of spring, summer, and autumn, you should be up at sunrise. When the morning haze begins to disperse, you will observe all nature bedewed with sweetness. Fresh odors breathe from the woods, and fields, and gardens. A thousand birds are singing in the branches. The morning walk among such scenes is as useful to the health as it is pleasing to the taste.
It is time that you should begin to care for your health, and take measures to secure strength for future usefulness. The advantage of early rising, as it regards this, will be apparent in your vigor, your appetite, your nerves, your spirits, and even your complexion. Ask your physician. Is there a medical man on earth that would risk his reputation by a contrary opinion? Dr. Sinclair, in his volumes on health and long life, remarks, that though those who lived to a very great age differed in many things, they all resembled each other here. There was not one who did not rise early.
Whatever business you may ever be engaged in, will be furthered by early rising. What an advantage has a student from this habit in planning and arranging his pursuits for the day! And in having leisure for any incidental engagement, without putting everything else into disorder! While another is disposed to cry out, "A little more sleep, and a little more slumber," and who begins at ten what he should have begun at six, is thrown into hurry and confusion; and bustles about trying to remedy his situation. He feels himself a drudge all day; and at night is weary, without having accomplished his task. All this is so well known. Among all businessmen, a man's reputation suffers from the want of this virtue.
The heathen used to say, 'Morning is the friend to the muses.' It surely is a friend to the graces. If it is the best time for study, it is also the best time for devotion. When prayer and praise are neglected in the morning, they are commonly neglected all day; and if you let the world get the start of your soul in the morning, you will seldom overtake it all day. Morning devotion sweetens every succeeding hour, pours a balm on the conscience, gives a pleasant savor to business, locks the door against wicked thoughts, and furnishes matter for pious reflection. It is better to go from prayer to business—than from business to prayer. Fellowship with God prepares for fellowship with our fellow creatures, and for every event, whether pleasing or painful.
Boerhaave, celebrated physician, rose early in the morning, and through his life, his practice was to dedicate an hour each morning for private prayer and meditation. Colonel Gardiner, even when in camp, used to spend two hours of the early morning in pious exercises. The great Judge Hale, also, rose early for prayer, and read a portion of God's word, without which, he said, nothing prospered with him all day. Howard, the philanthropist, was an early riser. John Wesley usually slept five hours; and for many years, he, and all the first Methodist preachers, had a public service at five in the morning. President Dwight of Yale, was in the habit of studying Scripture before day. And there was in one of our southern States, a laboring man who, by devoting two hours of every morning to study, before he went to his work, became a learned theologian.
If you have already acquired the disgraceful habit of lying in bed late, break it off now, not gradually—but at once. Do not regard the little unpleasant feelings you may have to endure for a few weeks. Go forth, and inhale the fragrance of the charming spring and autumnal mornings; it will be a cordial to your body and your mind. And in the summer, the season from early dawn until breakfast is the only time you available, when you can enjoy a book, a walk or ride in the open air.
I have written to you more than once, concerning the example of our adorable Savior; and I wish the chief object of these letters may be, to set His blessed example more fully before you. Now, what do you suppose was our Lord's practice? Just imagine to yourself, the way in which he spent his morning hours. Can you for an instant suppose that he passed them in slumbers upon his couch? When the hum of business began among the laborers of Judea or of Galilee, and the sun shone warmly on the fields and villages—was the Redeemer asleep? Is it possible for you to think so? No, it is not. On a certain occasion, we read, "And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed"—and yet he had been greatly occupied the whole of the day preceding this.
We think little of time—but he never passed an idle hour. The language of the whole of his life was, "I must work the works of him who sent me, while it is yet day—the night comes, when no man can work." Yet he was really a man. He took our infirmities, and wearied nature required repose. But he distinguished between what was necessary and what was needless. It may be also said of his whole life, "He pleased not himself."
Your affectionate brother,