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I. To give the true import of this serious address to youth; and,
II. To endeavor to convince them of the propriety of it.
I. The first thing to be considered is, the true import of the address to youth in the text. It has often been understood and represented in a sense very different from the wise man's meaning. For,
1. Some suppose that Solomon means to express his approbation of young people, in pursuing the innocent recreations and amusements of life. They consider him as representing religion as not only free from austerity and gloominess, but as productive of the purest happiness in the present, as well as in the future state. And it must be allowed that he often does paint virtue and piety in this amiable and beautiful form. "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." "Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat and to drink and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labor the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun." "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works." The truth of these observations has been experienced by those who have lived a holy, devout and heavenly life. They have found that the enjoyments of religion lay the best foundation for the true enjoyment of the world. The good man is satisfied of himself, and prepared to receive, to improve, and to enjoy, every temporal blessing in the best manner possible. But yet,
2. This does not appear to be Solomon's meaning in the text, when he says, "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes." We can hardly suppose that he here addresses a pious youth, whose heart is right with God, and who loves to walk in the ways of his commandments; but the very terms he uses, denote that he is speaking to a careless, secure, unsanctified youth, who has no fear of God before his eyes. And surely he would not exhort such an one "to walk in the ways of his heart and in the sight of his eyes." It is therefore beyond a doubt that he means to speak ironically, and to convey an idea directly contrary to what his words literally express. The inspired writers often use this mode of speaking, in order to convey their real meaning in the most strong and pointed manner. Thus God said of Adam, after he had been guilty of the folly as well as sin of disobedience, "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil." And Christ said to the obdurate Jews, "Fill ye up the measure of your fathers." Instead of
exhorting young people to gratify their corrupt and vain hearts, Solomon means to warn them against every evil and false way. This appears from what he immediately subjoins. "But know thou, that for all these things, God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart and put away evil from thy flesh; for childhood and youth are vanity. Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them." It is presumed that every one will now admit that Solomon means, by his address to youth in the text, to remind them of their responsi bility to God for all their conduct through life; and to fasten on their minds a strong and constant sense of that great and decisive day, when God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. But now those who are in the morning of life may be ready to ask, Why should the wise man give us, in particular, such a solemn warning to live and act under a realizing view of the great and last day? Did he not know that such a view of future and eternal realities would disturb our peace and destroy all our pleasing hopes and prospects? Why did he not make this address to the aged, who have gone through the busy scenes of life, and are just ready to appear before the supreme tribunal of their final judge? We do not see the propriety of his solemn address to us, in particular. Now, as I proposed,
II. To convince you, who are ready to think, to feel and speak in this manner, of the propriety of the wise man's address, and of the importance of your living in a constant preparation for your future and final account, I will suggest the following things to your most serious consideration.
1. Please to reflect upon your hearts, which you have carried about with you, and which you have found to be extremely corrupt and sinful. You were shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin. You came into the world with hearts deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Every imagination of the thoughts of your hearts has been evil, only evil, continually. In you, that is, in your hearts, there has dwelt no good thing. And your hearts have not only been full of evil, but fully set in you to do evil. Have you not found that they have led you astray in a thousand instances? Have they not led you to be ungrateful, undutiful, and disobedient to your parents? Have they not led you to hate instruction, and despise reproof; to disobey the voice of your teachers, and disregard those who instructed you? Have they not led you to speak many vain and idle words, if not to take the name of the Lord your God
in vain? Have they not led you to pursue vain amusements and sinful diversions? Have they not led you to neglect reading the Bible and pious books, and to omit secret prayer, and private and public worship? Have they not led you to profane the Sabbath, and to run into almost all evil, in the midst of the congregation and assembly? Have they not led you to love vain conversation, vain company, and to entice others to follow your pernicious example? Have you not found your hearts opposed to God, to the friends of God, to the cause of God, and to every thing serious, sacred and divine? Have you not felt a strong disposition to put far away the evil day, and to banish, as much as possible, all serious thoughts and objects from your minds? But instead of pushing these inquiries any farther, it may be more pertinent to ask, whither will such corrupt and depraved hearts carry you? Can you conceive of any safety in trusting in such hearts, which you have found have so often betrayed, deceived, and well-nigh ruined you? Can you set any bounds to your progress in sinning? Is there any evil, or danger, to which you are not exposed? Is there not, then, a great propriety in the wise man's addressing you in particular; and in warning you not to walk in the ways of your hearts, which are the ways to certain and endless ruin?
2. Consider that the world in which you live, and through which you have to pass to your long home, is every way calculated to corrupt and destroy you.
In the first place, the things of the world are full of poison, and perfectly suited to increase and draw forth the native corruption of your hearts. Every object which strikes your eye, or your ear, directly tends to affect your hearts, and leave a bad impression there. All the natural good and evil you experience, serves to awaken some sinful and selfish affection. the objects around you are armed against you, and act an unfriendly part towards you. The regular succession of the seasons, the sudden and unexpected changes of fortune, the riches, the honors, and all the scenes of prosperity, which attract your desires and hopes, as well as all the evils you feel, or fear, concur to rivet your attention and attachment to some vain and unsatisfactory object. You cannot observe, much less mix with, the passing scenes of life, without being some way or other affected and corrupted by them. All the visible and sensible objects with which you are concerned and connected, have a direct and powerful tendency to blind your minds, harden your hearts, and unfit you for heaven.
In the next place, worldly employments, as well as worldly objects, are of a dangerous and ensnaring nature to your hearts.
God made you for activity, and has given you the best opportunities in this world, to exert and display all your active powers. You ought to be constantly engaged in some useful employment. But whether you cultivate the earth, or sail the ocean, or instruct others, or whatever business you pursue, your appropriate calling will engross your attention, and draw your hearts to some selfish interest. Any worldly business will tend to make you worldly-minded, and unfit you for the service and enjoyment of God. Every business, calling, or profession, has its peculiar evils and dangers, and naturally creates some custom, or habit, unfavorable to the concerns of the soul, while you retain your native depravity. You may imagine that if you avoid the more public and busy scenes of life, and seek retirement, you shall escape the dangers to which you see so many exposed; but your fond hope may involve you in the most insensible, and consequently in the most fatal evils; and that very business, which you expect will be your safety, may insensibly prove your ruin.
Besides, you are in no less danger from the men of the world, than from its business and objects. You are rising up with a rising generation, with whom you must live, and with whom you must converse, and with whom you must be more or less intimately connected. These children of disobedience will wish and endeavor to make you feel and act like themselves; and their weight and influence will be next to irresistible. This you have lived long enough to know by experience. How often have they already led you to think and speak and act contrary to the instructions you have received, the resolutions you have formed, and the plain dictates of your reason and conscience? If you turn to your right hand or left, if you associate with these or those of your age, they will lie in wait to deceive and destroy. Idle, vain, and wicked company is one of the most fatal snares to which you are exposed, and from which it is most difficult to escape. Old company may be as corrupting as the young, and sometimes far more fatal. Those who are grown gray in folly, vanity, and dissipation, are the most dangerous men in the world to those youths who, of choice or necessity, associate with them. This world lies in wickedness; and you cannot escape its contaminating influence, while you live in it with unholy hearts. Remember therefore your Saviour's caution: "Beware of men."
Farthermore, the god of the world unites with the men of the world, and all its scenes and objects, to lead you in the broad road to ruin. The apostle says, "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the
glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." And he asserts that "the prince of the power of the air is the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." While your hearts remain unsanctified, Satan has an uncontrolled influence over you, and employs every thing in the world to blind your minds, to stupify your consciences, and alienate your hearts from God and divine things. He is a subtile and malignant enemy. He goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. While you are ignorant of his devices, he has every advantage to lead you captive at his will. Thus all the objects, all the employments, all the men, and the god of this world, are united in their influence to destroy you. You are constantly surrounded by powerful spiritual enemies, and through hosts of these you are passing through life. Do you not need and ought you not to receive the admonition in the text; and all other friendly admonitions of danger? Can any thought be more proper to lie continually on your minds, than your constant exposedness to live and die impenitent.
3. Bear it in your minds, that you are now in a state of trial, and forming your characters for eternity. God is leading you through the snares and dangers of this world, as he did his people in the wilderness, to know what is in your hearts, and whether you will obey or disobey his commands. He knows what will most sensibly affect every individual in every situation of life. He may try you with health of body and vigor of mind, with favor of friends and frowns of enemies, with the blessings of providence, with the means of grace, and with the strivings of his Spirit. He may place you in one situation, and then in another, to try your feelings under very different circumstances. And he will keep his eye constantly fixed upon you. He will watch you when you go out, and when you come in; when you are idle, and when you are busy; when you rejoice, and when you mourn; when you hope, and when you fear; when you regard, and when you disregard, his solemn warnings and admonitions. So that you will live and move under the constant inspection of the allseeing and heart-searching God, who will be continually exhibiting before you new and various objects, on purpose to try your hearts, and prepare you for your future and eternal state. And can you conceive of being placed in a more serious, critical and trying situation? Though you are thoughtless of God, he will not be thoughtless of you; though you would have nothing to do with God, he will have something to do with you; and though you wish to flee out of his hand, his hand will hold you. He knows your down-sitting and