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Short as your past course has been, yet I may say, that the time past of your life may suffice to have lived in thoughtlessness. Childhood and Youth are vanity : let them, as they depart, leave fewer and fewer traces of their vanity. Account it a signal mark of God's grace, that you have been stirred up, in any measure, sincerely to choose the one thing needful. Remember the forbearance of God towards you in days past. Young as you are, yet might not Justice have said of you, as of a barren figtree, “ Cut it down ; why cumbereth it the ground”? But the intercession of Jesus has prevailed on your behalf: “Let it alone this year also.” The sense of this His infinite love should inflame you with earnestness; which is the opposite of indifference. Begin now, with redoubled zeal, to work out your salvation, even with fear and trembling ; fearing lest the spirit of carelessness should again come upon you.
2. Again, Beware of the spirit of Irresolution. Pray for grace, not only to approve of a religious life, but to decide on it, and to enter upon it. Remember, that your Heavenly Father asks for your whole heart; and he asks for it now. An irresolute temper halts between two opinions, whether to serve the Lord or not: and this indecision of character is fostered by many vain imaginations, and many sinful excuses. Some treat the matter as if it were impossible to be religious, so young; saying, that it is not to be expected from young persons that they should quite have made up their minds; that some allowance is to be made for their natural gaiety; and that it is quite absurd to think of their setting up themselves as wiser than others. Even elderly persons will sometimes, in their hearing, make such remarks, and thus do incalculable mischief; sapping, as it were, the very foundation of decision of character. Then, our own hearts, which are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, suggest, that at some future, more convenient season, and under more favourable circumstances, it will be more easy for us to be religious; that we will then be quite religious; nay, eminently so. When we are twenty, or thirty, we propose to be very settled, pious characters; but not at fifteen or sixteen,—not yet. This was poor Augustine's snare, before his conversion : he wished to be converted; but “Not yet," was the language of his reluctant, procrastinating heart.
Young persons are also apt to look at aged Christians, with an idea that it is comparatively easy for them to be pious; that they are accustomed to it ; that they can scarcely help being good ;-also, that they are aided in their piety by having family obligations, and many important duties, to keep them steady. Especially with regard to those who bear the sacred office of Ministers of the Gospel, the young think that such persons must needs be preserved holy, from their always living in the midst of prayers and sermons. Certainly, there is great advantage in these things;—I would not have you think otherwise ;—but these many helps cannot, of themselves, make the character decided; any more than putting on a soldier's armour can make a man bold. The natural corruption of the heart is as great at the age of fifty, as at fifteen : and
be comforted to know it-Divine Grace can do as much at fifteen as at fifty, in enabling us to seek and serve the Lord with a perfect heart. It is a struggle, all through our Christian course; and whoever thinks of a life of piety, otherwise than as a race or a warfare, has yet to learn the first rudiments of the Gospel. But when your mind is fully convinced that you must take the kingdom of heaven by violence, still you will need the power of the Holy Ghost to inspire you with that energy of character, which is meant by the term “violence.” “Be strong, therefore, in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
Seek, by earnest prayer, to obtain this energy. If you set out in your own strength, you will very soon find that all your attempts to be pious are but so many fits and starts. True resolution is a steady, quiet grace: we scarcely ever know its character, till we have had so many proofs of our own weakness and corruption, as to make us feel that we must be dependent on Jesus, and on Him alone, for strength and righteousness.
Yours, affectionately, &c.
LETTER II. ENCOURAGEMENTS AND CAUTIONS. MY DEAR
In my former letter, I urged upon you earnestness and decisiveness of spirit, in the pursuit of Religion. I would now follow up the subject, by endeavouring to remove some of the painful scruples and fears of the young.
1. The principal one that I would notice, arises from their supposing, that, when they have entered on a religious life, they must thenceforward be perfect. “Wilt thou obediently keep God's holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life?” The answer to this, by Godfathers and Godmothers, at the baptism of infants, is, “I will.” Look, however, at the answer given by grown-up persons coming to receive Baptism : though both mean the same, yet the following expresses the meaning better : it is, “ I will endeavour so to do, the Lord being my helper.” The Catechism, also, beautifully introduces the necessity for prayer: “I pray unto God to give me his grace, that I may continue in the same unto