DREADFUL is the havoc which intemperance works among us,
on the finest virtues of man and woman, on the peace of families, and the
membership of Christ's Church. The sad miseries it produces, the fair
characters it ruins, the kind hearts it breaks, the innocent children it
murders by want, cold, cruelty, and neglect, the grey hairs it brings with
sorrow to the grave, should make us seek to protect the young from its
dangerous influences. Our hope for society lies, not in adults, but in them; in
the rising generation the position of social reformers resembling that of
the priests who went down into the Jordan bearing the ark of God, and, leaving
the waters that had already passed to pursue their course and find a grave in
the Dead Sea, arrested the descending current. We have tried to accomplish
something like this. And when for that purpose advising parents, as they valued
their own peace, the safety of their children, and the reformation of society,
to rear their households in the entire disuse of all dangerous, because
intoxicating, stimulants, we have found them excuse themselves on the ground
that children brought up in this, or in any other strict way, are afterwards
much more likely than others, by the very law of recoil, to carry innocent
indulgence to excess.
There is no more vulgar or pernicious error than this. It is a groundless fearthe old cry of "a lion in the way!" wherewith many excuse themselves for not doing what in truth they have no inclination to do. We appeal from them to history; to the character as well as happy fortunes, for example, of a family whose stout adherence for successive generations to the simple and sober manners of their father is recorded with the highest approbation in the Word of God. Commissioned to try them, Jeremiah says, "I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites pots full of wine and cups, and I said unto them. Drink ye wine. But they said, We will drink no wine: for Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever. . . . Thus have we obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab our father in all that he charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, nor our daughters." Three hundred years had passed since Jonadab was laid in his grave; but these, which had seen other families rise and fall, wax and wane, win and lose their character, had wrought no change on Jonadab's. Teaching us how men live after they are dead for good or evil in their manners and morals, the character which their sire had impressed on his family remained through the lapse of centurieslike features cut in granite. How many families which .vice has reduced to abject poverty, sweeping some of them even from the face of the earth, would have inherited, had they been trained to virtuous practices, the happy fortunes of the sons of Rechab; and that through the ordinary operation of the laws of Providence?" Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, . . . Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever."
The case of these Rechabites demonstrates that strict training is not, as some believe, or at least allege, likely to be followed by loose living. The idea that children carefully instructed in the principles and strictly reared in the practices of piety, in a severe sobriety and holy observance of the Sabbath, are more prone than others to run into vice, cannot stand with the opinion of Solomon, "It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth." This notion, which is no less pernicious than absurd, sounds as different from Solomon's judgment as the ring of good money from bad. Nor can it bear the test of experience and Scripture more than a counterfeit coin the drop of acid that bites through the silver and lays bare the brass. But as this notion, were it allowed to stand, would stand in the way of the cultivation of early piety, let us look at one proof of it very commonly adduced. This is the fact, as they call it, that the children of the strictly religious, especially those of the manse, of ministers of the gospel, have been often observed to be more vicious than others. Cases of that kind have certainly occurred. But it is not difficult to account for such a melancholy result. It often happens that men discharging the functions. of the sacred ministry, or those who devote themselves to redress the wrongs and promote the welfare of society, have found their time and talent so taxed, so occupied, so engrossed by the public interest, that they have neglected their own. They have bestowed the care which belonged to their children on the affairs of others. As they contemplated the misconduct of this son, and the misfortunes of that, and were reminded, by the wreck which vice had wrought on their family, of the sad old plaint, " The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it," how might they add, "They made me the keeper of the vineyards, but mine own vineyard have I not kept! " But the bad result in such cases is not due to the children being reared too strictly, too carefully, too piously. Suffering, on the contrary, from neglect, they have been sacrificed, unintended but unhappy victims, on the altar of the public good. Nor when the children of pious people turn vicious is it wonderful that they become worse than others. The sweetest wine turns into the sourest vinegar; the blackest shadows are cast by the brightest light; the angel that falls becomes a deviland so, sinning against lightand conscience, the prayers, counsels, warnings, and tears of godly parents, the children of the good, on becoming wicked, become more remarkable than others for their wickedness. Like Jeremiah's figs, " the evil are very evil, so evil that they cannot be eaten." And being also from their birth and position as a city set on a hill, their case attracts more attention than that of others. While others escape notice, these are observed and talked of; and thus people fall into the vulgar, pernicious mistake that a strict and virtuous training is apt to result in a loose and vicious life.
Such is the complete and satisfactory explanation which we give of those cases that impart any semblance of truth to so gross an error. At the same time we can adduce facts to prove that it is an entire mistake. I have in my eye a district of my country sufficiently large, and containing a sufficient number of families, to form the basis of a wide and sure conclusion; and on looking to the history of the children who went forth from its manses to make their way in the world and fight the battle of lifepoor, but well, strictly, and virtuously educatedI can aver that, take them overhead, they have not done worse, but better than others.
Doing credit to their homes and virtuous training, the sons of clergymen stand above the common average, both in point of character and of the position they have won. Unhappily, some good people, by their sour tempers and severe forbidding manners, have made their children recoil from a pious life. By rough and injudicious treatment they have broken the twig which more skilful and gentle handling, with God's blessing, had trained upward to the skies. Accustom the young to associate the Sabbath, and the Bible, and piety, not with gladness, but with gloom; train them so that their aifections are not won over to the side of religion; and no wonder that, after being held in, like a horse, only by bit and bridle, when they go forth on the world with the reins loose on their own necks, that they plunge into a career of viceas the war horse rushes into the battle. But let justice be done to religion ; let gentleness temper severity; let there be as much pains taken to win the heart as to instruct the head of youth; let mothers, as of old, employ their loving, tender hands to give it a Christian shape and form; and the results will prove the soundness of the advice, " Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth."
The importance of this will appear if we consider that youth is the critical period of man's life.
An infant is a bud unblown, with green impervious sheath hiding the flower within; nor, though hope may paint fair visions of the future, can any tell whether the cradle in their house holds a Cain or Abel, a Jacob or an Esau. Childhood corresponds to the next stagethe bud has now blown out into a fragrant, lovely flower; but whether, as the bud has changed into a flower, the flower shall change into fruit, the child shall fulfil the wishes and reward the care of parents, who can tell? I have seen the blast strew the ground with the hopes of the garden, and trees stand barren in autumn that had been white with blossoms, as with a shower of snow. However genial the spring, or cloudless and warm the skies of summer, there is a critical period when the two seasons shade into each other. This, which holds the fruits and future of the orchard in its hand, fulfilling or disappointing the hopes of the gardener, lies in those few days and nights when, to use a common expression, the fruit is setting. Wrapped up in its warm sheath, the flower sleeps through the winter, nor feels nor fears the frost; when, waking to the voice of spring, it throws aside its coverings, and disclosing its beautiful form, opens its bosom to the sun, and its treasures to the bees, it is full of life and once changed into fruit, though its sweetness may depend on the character of summer, it battles bravely with adverse circumstances, and lives and ripens in spite of cold and rain. But there is a critical time, on which its whole future depends; and that lies in the few days and nights when, in its progress from one stage to another, the flower is changing into fruit. To use a fine Scotch expression, this is the tyning (losing) or the winning time.
Such a period is youth in human life. Then impressions are received which remain for ever; then the character, like the colour fixed by the mordant in cloth, is fixed; then the die is struck; then a life of virtue or of vice is begun ; then the turn is taken either for God or the world ; then the road is entered on which leads to heaven or to hell. The period is one which corresponds to a knoll I know, where you stand on the watershed of the country, midway between the two seas which wash our shores; and there, standing on the doorstep of a shepherd's cottage, as you turn your wrist to this side or to that, depends the course of the water you fling from your hand, whether, after long travels and many windings, it reach the east coast or the west, to mingle with the waves of the German or Atlantic Ocean. It is the youth, not the boy, as is commonly said, who is father of the man. What importance, then, belongs to this over any other period of lifewhat care does it call for on the part of the young, and on the part of those also who are charged with their up-bringing ! Childhood receives impressions easily; but, like the sea that bears no traces of the birds that skim or the keels that plough its waves, it does not retain them. Manhood, again, like the solid rock, retains impressions once made, but does not easily receive them. Now, it is in youth that our minds, like the wax to which the seal, or the clay to which the mould is applied, possess both the power of receiving impressions, and the power of retaining them. This, therefore, is the crisis of lifethe time to be most careful of our company, our pleasures, and our pursuits. Then the slightest thing may fix our character, and determine our future destinythe wax is cooling, the clay is hardening into stone, the soul is receiving its form and shape, and, as if time to some extent anticipated the irrevocable decrees of eternity it may be said in many instances of our youth, what shall be afterwards and absolutely and universally said of our departed spirits"He that is filthy let him be filthy still, and he that is righteous let him be righteous still." Youth is the most dangerous period of life.
There is no age which may not put principle and piety to trial. Old men who shock the world by their crimes, the occurrence ever and anon of cases where vice, like a long pent-up power, overcoming at length all restraint, breaks forth like the volcano that pours its burning lava on the woods, cornfields, and vineyards that clothe its slopes these, and many things else, warn us that we are never safe till we are in heaven, and have laid off with our bodies, the infirmities that belong to them. Here, like travellers on those Alpine slopes where a coating of snow hides the treacherous ice, and one false step may prove their ruin, we walk in slippery places, and have ever need to lean on an arm stronger than our own, praying, "Hold up my goings that my footsteps slip not." In no circumstances, and at no age, can any of us afford to forget the cautionLet him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
Still youth is of all ages the most dangerous. With its ardent temper, its inexperience, its credulousness, its impetuosity, its impatience of restraint, its unbroken passions, and feeble hands to control and guide them, it requires the utmost care and viligance. " Lead us not into temptation," should be its daily, constant, earnest, anxious prayer. The most interesting and picturesque scenes, it has been remarked, are found in those half-highland, half-lowland districts, where the wild and shaggy and savage grandeur of the mountains mingles with the rich and softer beauties of the plain; and so the most interesting period of life is that where in youth the lightness and buoyancy of childhood blends with the gravity and wisdom of age. But as it is among scenes intermediate between the mountains and the plain that the river, which winds like a silver stream through the glen, and after pursuing its calm and widening course through the plains loses itself in the sea, takes its wildest leaps, and, tearing its way through rocky gorges, new eddies in black pools, and anon rushes roaring and foaming on its way: so it is in youth, when man, subject to the turmoil and disturbances of impetuous passions, leaves the home of his birth to enter on the world, that virtue has to sustain her severest trials, and not seldom to suffer her sorest falls.
How critical, how dangerous, I will say how dreadful, the position of many launched, without father or friend to counsel or control them, on the temptations of a large city! In what a multitude of cases are large cities large graveyards of'virtue, honour, and honesty; large shambles, if I may say so, to which youths fresh from the country and yet uncontaminated by vice, come up live sheep to the slaughter? Read the list of wrecks that happen yearly on our winter nights and stormy shores. And even when fancy fills our ear with the shrieks of the drowning, or shows us their imploring faces and dying struggles, the corpses that strew the beach, the wild grief of widows, the desolate home where the fatherless boy weeps at a mother's knee, and the infant, unconscious of its loss, smiles or sleeps upon her breastwhat is that list of wrecks to that which were written, had we such a record, of the men and women who are year by year wrecked in their youth on the dangers and vices of our towns! Let the places of business, where employers show no regard to the welfare, but only to the work, of those in their service,let the houses where no friendly interest is taken in their domestics, in the way they pass the Sabbath, in their company and associates,let the scenes of public amusement, the haunts of drunkards, and the hells of vice, give up their secrets, as the sea does the drowned it casts on its beach, and we should have a roll like the prophet's, "written without and within with lamentation, mourning, and woe"something more shocking than the shores which the tempest strews with wrecks, than fields which war covers with its horrid carnage, the writhing forms of the wounded and the mangled bodies of the dead.
We have always considered it a hard crook in the lot of many, that they require to send their children away from the virtuous influences of home at the very period of life which forms the character,, and requires, more than any other, a parent's kind and Christian care. A dangerous transition, they pass, at once from the shelter and genial air of a conservatory to the blast of rude tempests, to the cold night and its biting frosts. Yet such is the tria| to which many a youth is exposed. His boyhood past, the day arrives when he must leave the safe and happy home where, ever since she first clasped her boy to her bosom, a mother's eye has watched over him, and a father's steps have guided his to the house of God, and his voice has mingled in the evening psalm, and his knee bent in the prayers which hallowed that home. It is a dark morning in the house. Every face grave and sad, they meet to pray and then to part; and for the last time a father's voice, amid a mother's sobs, tremblingly commends the boy to God. But the trial is past; and, the quiet harbour left far behind, with no other than his own inexperienced hand on the helm, the youth finds himself among the snares and sins of the citybreakers ahead ; roaring breakers on this bow and on that. He is beset with temptations; and has now means and opportunities of indulging in sin with which his principles and virtue have never yet been tried. At first shocked with what he hears and sees, the raillery and ridicule of the wicked fail to shake his virtuous resolutions. For a while he finds guardian angels in those memories of home that are still fresh and fragrant in his heart; in the recollection of a mother's last look and a father's last touching, tender prayers; in the knowledge that it would wring their loving hearts should he consent when sinners entice him. But time wears on ; and familiarity with vice softens its harsher features. It looks less shocking every day. He begins to doubt whether he is not too puritanical and precise. And now comes the struggle. The Philistines are on thee, Samson ! The hour of fate is arrived. He has put his foot on a slide, down which, unless God interpose and help, he goes to destruction with growing, flying speed. Not altogether approving, but quieting conscience by promises not to repeat it, he consents for once to desert the house of God for some Sunday pleasure-party; to venture for once, but only once, into scenes where virtue breathes the air, and dies. That first act wherein he yielded to the enticement of sinners, and whereby he did violence to conscience, is, so to speak, the first parallel of the siege. The ground is not lost without many a sore struggle; yet step by step, from trench to trench, the besiegers push on the attack; at length the last wall shakes, totters, falls, and a wide breach is made.
Now, unless Christ hold it, .unless, as the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of God lift up a standard against him, unless God save at the uttermost, vain all further struggle, vain the efforts of expiring virtue. Exhausted after some feeble strokes and show of resistance, she yields, and vice conquers; and after a while parents who, forgetting and forgiving all, open their doors to a child returning to die beneath their roof, find nothing left to mourn over but a miserable wrecktheir only consolation, perhaps, as they stand weeping by his grave, that the turf lies light on the breast of a penitgnt prodigal. As the French proverb says, "It is not only the first step that costs." Against that fatal stepthe beginning of evil let me warn the young; for if Satan, to use a homely proverb, gets an inch, depend on it, he will take an ell. The beginning of sin, as well as that of strife, is like the letting out of watersat first a drop like a diamond lies in a fissure, or hangs sparkling from a grassy tuft of the embankment; by and by, a succession of drops like pearls falling from a broken string by and by, a thin crystal stream; then a gush; then a torrent; and then, hurling down the dike, a wide, thundering, resistless flood, carrying havoc and death before it. Watch and pray, therefore; for safety lies in avoiding the approach as well as abstaining ffom the appearance of evil all toying, all tampering, with temptation j in a prompt obedience to the 'apostle's advice, Flee youthful lusts. Fight not, but flee; or if fight you must, copy the old Parthians, who; seated on fleet coursers and armed with bow and arrows, shot from the saddle, flying as they fought. If you cannot flee, then in Christ's name and strength face round on the foe, and make a bold stand for God ; and the virtues of youth shall rebuke the vices of age, and hoary sin shall go down before you armed with God's word, as did the Philistine before the young shepherd and his sling. Giving yourselves and the dew of your youth to Christ, so far as sin is concerned, be those maxims your rule Touch not, taste not, handle not.
When sinners entice thee, consent thou not; but recalling tender memories of home, a father's authority, and a mother's love, follow the advice of Solomon, "My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother; bind them continually about thine heart, and tie them about thy neck. When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee. For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life."
Go To Chapter Four
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