1Ti_4:12. Let no man despise thy youth; but be than an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
TO be earnestly engaged in advancing the welfare of our own souls, is doubtless our first concern. But we should consider, also, how far our conduct may affect the souls of others; and should endeavour so to demean ourselves, that we may prove stumbling-blocks to none, but helpers to all. Of course, those who are engaged in the ministerial office, inasmuch as their conduct is more noticed than that of others, and their influence consequently more extensive, are peculiarly bound to walk with all possible circumspection, “giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed.” But the same care is requisite in all: and the exhortation addressed by St. Paul to Timothy may with great propriety be addressed to all young persons professing godliness: “Let no man despise your youth; but be examples to all around you, and in every thing that is good.” To such, therefore, would I apply the Apostle’s directions, which may be regarded as delivered,
In a way of caution—
It is certain that young persons are liable to err—
[Their knowledge is contracted, in comparison of what it most probably will be at a more advanced period of life: and consequently their judgment cannot yet have been matured. Their experience too must, of necessity, have been small; so that, as yet, they do not exactly see what will be the probable result of any line of conduct upon the world around them. They are apt also to take but a partial view of things, and to be actuated more by feeling than by sound judgment; and to be more anxious about what relates to their present real or supposed interests, than about what shall eventually prove most beneficial to themselves and others. Hence, as may reasonably be expected, they do not always approve themselves to the judgment of those who are more considerate and wise.]
It must also be acknowledged, that there is amongst those who are more advanced in life, a proneness to condemn what is done by their younger brethren, especially what is done by them under the influence of religion—
[Persons of maturer years have no conception that the young and inexperienced should have juster views of things than themselves: and they judge it to be presumptuous in the young and arrogant to depart from the line prescribed and followed by their elders. To see persons just entering into life averse to pleasures which their fathers have so long pursued, and observant of duties which their fathers have altogether disregarded, is very offensive to the world; who are thus reduced to a necessity, of either acknowledging their own ways to be evil, or of condemning the ways of their younger brethren as fanatical and absurd. Which alternative they will prefer is obvious enough: and therefore it is always found, that the piety of young persons is a matter of offence to their ungodly superiors. “To the natural man, universally the things of the Spirit are foolishness [Note: 1Co_2:14],” even though they be found in persons of the most mature age and of the soundest discretion: much more, therefore, are they so reputed, when found in persons who possess not the advantages attached to age and experience: and, consequently, those who profess religion in early life must expect to be sneered at and despised by those whose habits are unfriendly to religion, and who “hate the light, because it reproves their evil deeds.”]
But from hence arises a necessity for peculiar care on the part of young persons, that “no man may have occasion to despise their youth”—
[It will be well for young persons to bear in mind the two points which we have just adverted to; namely, their own liability to err, and the proneness of their seniors to judge them harshly. To obviate both these evils, the greatest circumspection is necessary: nor can I give any better rule to the young than to exchange places with their seniors; and to consider, on every particular occasion, what judgment they themselves would form in a change of circumstances. I know, indeed, and they also should know, that “God alone can give them a right judgment in any thing [Note: 2Ti_2:7.].” But multitudes deceive themselves, whilst in praying to God for direction, they are yet following blindly the way of their own hearts. To obtain a right direction, the mind must be divested of every undue bias: and this will be effected by nothing better than the plan which I have just suggested.
It is highly desirable, also, that young persons be on their guard against raising matters of trifling consideration into an undue importance, and laying a stress on them, as though they were of vital interest to the soul. This is too much the habit of youth and inexperience; and it affords but too just an occasion for their seniors to complain of them, as ignorant, and wilful, and pertinacious, and absurd.
Let it be remembered then, that if piety spread the sails, wisdom should be at the belm; and that the determination of all, and of young persons in particular, should be in unison with that of David: “I will behave myself wisely before thee in a perfect way [Note: Psa_101:2.].” Every thing that is extravagant should be avoided. Times and circumstances should be taken into the account. The manner of doing every thing should also be an object of attention. In a word, it should never be forgotten, that we are in the midst of enemies, who will be glad to cast blame upon us; and that our wisdom is, so to conduct ourselves, that “they who are on the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of us [Note: Tit_2:8. See also 1Pe_3:16.].”]
But, with the Apostle, let us prosecute the same idea,
In a way of encouragement—
Young people are condemned for not keeping their religion to themselves. But they are not to put their light under a bushel: on the contrary, they are, as much as they ever will be at any future period of their lives, bound to “let their light so shine before men, that all who behold it may be constrained to glorify their Father who is in heaven [Note: Mat_5:16.].” There is no eminence to which it is not their duty and their privilege, to attain. And, if Timothy, at his early age, was to be “an example,” not to the world only, but “to believers” also; so should every young person endeavour to be, in the place and station where God has appointed him to move.
Let every one of you, then, be an example even to believers,
[The statements of Timothy were to be made in perfect accordance with God’s revealed will: and so should yours be also. Your adversaries will be glad to take advantage of any thing that is unsound in your sentiments; and, in order to find occasion against you, they will be urging you upon difficult questions and on matters of doubtful disputation. But, in all your intercourse with them, I would advise you to take your stand on ground that is utterly unassailable. That to seek the salvation which God offers us in the Gospel, is of indispensable moment to every child of man; and that so to live, as, at the hour of death, we shall wish we had lived, is the part of sound wisdom. These, and such like topics, I should recommend to the young when conversing with their seniors who are of an adverse mind: it will be time enough to enter into deeper subjects, when the cars of persons are open to hear, and their hearts are also open to receive, the truths which you may be able to lay before them. To spread pearls before persons who are disposed only to trample them under their feet, is at all times inexpedient and unwise: and even when young persons do make fuller statements of their views, they should do it with modesty, and caution, and moderation.]
[The whole of a young person’s deportment, too, should be such as becomes the Gospel of Christ. Every thing of levity and folly should be put away, and nothing admitted but what is consistent with “sound wisdom and discretion” — — —]
[Nothing should be said or done that is contrary to “love.” Whether in judging others, or in acting towards them, we should breathe nothing but love. True it is, that the treatment which persons in the exercise of early piety are likely to receive, is calculated to generate somewhat of resentment in their minds: but they must be much on their guard to “render nothing but good for evil,” until they shall have “overcome the evil with their good [Note: Rom_12:21.].”]
[There is a peculiar need for young persons to guard against every thing of conceit and forwardness, and every disposition that is contrary either to humility or love. Who does not admire modesty, and gentleness, and kindness, and all similar graces, which combine to render a person amiable? Let those graces then be ever cultivated, and ever in exercise, so that you may ever be seen “clothed with humility.” This will do much to recommend religion: and this will render you worthy of imitation by all who behold you.]
[There is in young persons too great a readiness to yield to discouragement, and to rely on an arm of flesh in times of more than ordinary trial. But you must look to God with all simplicity of mind, and confide in him, as engaged to make “all things work together for your good.” Never must you stagger at any promise through unbelief; but be strong in faith, giving glory to God.”]
[The very regard which is first created by sympathy and concord on the subjects of religion, may, if not watched, degenerate into feelings of a less hallowed kind; and especially at a period of life when the passions are strong, and a want of experience may put us off our guard. Every word and every look, yea, and every thought, ought to be well-guarded, in order that Satan may not take advantage of us, and that not even the breath of scandal may be raised against us.
In a word, the counsel given to Titus is that which every one of us should follow: “Young men exhort to be sober-minded; in all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works [Note: Tit_2:6-7.].”]
Those who are inclined to take offence at religion or its professors—
[There is an extreme unreasonableness in many, who expect, that the very instant a person becomes religiously inclined, he shall be freed at once from every infirmity incident to our fallen nature; and however young he may be, he shall become at once as wise and judicious as the most experienced Christian. But wisdom is not so soon attained; nor are the corruptions of our nature subdued without many severe conflicts, and many humiliating falls: and the fair way to judge any man, is, to inquire what he would have been without religion, and then to compare that with what he is as professing godliness. I may go further, and say, that even that is scarcely a fair criterion; because he is, by means of his new dispositions, brought into circumstances so entirely new, as that no part of his former experience will avail him for the direction of his conduct: and, inasmuch as the considerations of religion infinitely outweigh all others that can operate upon his mind, it is no wonder if they sometimes divert his attention from matters of subordinate importance, which yet ought to be noticed by him in order to a perfect regulation of his conduct.
But, if it be unreasonable for men to “despise the youth” of a religious professor, it is still more unreasonable to despise religion itself on account of the faults of those who profess it. Religion itself is the same, whatever be the conduct of its advocates; and it enjoins nothing but what is holy and just and good: and as well might a man despise the sun because of the exhalations of a dunghill, as despise religion on account of any thing which it may draw forth from the infirmities of our fallen nature. If we received it aright, and improved it as we ought, it would uniformly and universally assimilate us to our God.
Let candour then be exercised towards religion and its adherents. Let each stand or fall by their own merits. If those who profess religion walk unworthy of it, let them be condemned: but let not religion be condemned for their sake. And before they be finally condemned, let that allowance be made for them, which would be made for others of the same age, and similarly circumstanced. And if this candour be exercised, we fear not but that religion itself shall stand approved; and we trust, that the prejudices which exist against it shall be greatly diminished, if not utterly destroyed.]
Those who would recommend religion—
[Certainly, it is of vast importance that the professors of religion should adorn it, and walk worthy of it. To those who would approve themselves to God in this respect, I would say, remember how much the welfare of your fellow-creatures, yea, and the honour of your God too, depend on you. Be not hasty in your decisions, nor over-confident that you are right. Be willing to be advised by those of whose wisdom and piety you have reason to hope well. And be careful not to plead one duty as a reason and ground for the neglect of another. Sins and lusts may counteract each other; but graces and duties are, for the most part, harmonious: and if, in any case, you be compelled, for conscience sake, to refuse to man the submission he demands, let it be clear that you act from conscience only, and not from wilfulness: and be ready, not only with meekness and fear to assign your reasons for your conduct, but to submit those reasons to the test of sound wisdom and of real piety. In a word, endeavour “by your good and blameless conversation to win those” who would not listen to God’s revealed will: so shall you prove blessings to those around you; and bring glory to that God, in whom you trust, and whom you profess to serve.]