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We have always felt a strong dislike to the practice of sermonizing young people, and our readers must have observed that in even our New Year's addresses our tone has been that of sympathy rather than warning. It is not that life appears to us less serious in its aspects because we happen to be addressing the young and not the old, for in truth we have the strongest possible feeling about the great issues of youthful years; but we want our young friends to catch merely the suggestion of a sermon from us, and then to preach it to themselves. We do not desire to stand in the place of their consciences; only, if possible, to awaken any slumbering, inert heart and mind, and get it to do duty on its own account. Surely this is, at the least, one of the modes in which a friend may be useful. We should be thankful indeed could we but know that our young people were dealing truly with themselves; and if, in the beginning of another year, we speak with anything of earnestness, may God press home to their hearts whatever in our poor words may hit upon any point of perplexity, any source of self-reproach, any consciousness of forgetfulness of Him who gives power to the weak, and comfort to the sad!
The great issues of youthful years' are, as we have said, subjects of strong interest to us. We look at our young friends all around us, as far as we know them, and dwell on the good and pleasant things we discern with perhaps somewhat of a partial delight; and yet we cannot shut out from our minds the consciousness that much of this good is but loosely planted, and a trembling sometimes comes upon us when we are obliged to own what delightful openings in life have now and then appeared to be all at once closed; how little has come of them all! There is this danger to begin with-that so many parents and near friends are easily satisfied with amiable traits, and do not exercise a firm and grave judgement in helping their children to strengthen a character at its root. great deal may be done by a wise arrangement of outward details-not that these are the essentials, but they are very important-for instance, it is surely a great evil when a young person cannot be alone at evening VOL. 7. PART 37.
and morning hours. If the love of sociability usurps the time of quiet thought and of earnest prayer, who does not see how injurious in its effects such a loss must be! At the same time, let it be acknowledged that the evil we merely touch on is far less frequent than it used to be. By what we have ourselves experienced, and far more by what we have learnt from our predecessors, we can judge of this; for we know that by young people in former times such a privilege as privacy was almost unknown, while now it is, we believe, very much more frequently struggled for and obtained. It is not perhaps unnecessary, but it might be tedious, if we were to advert to some other modes of helping the young in a course difficult enough at the best; what we aim at is to guard those about them from over-complacency, and from the dangerous state of standing still in the Christian path.
In the course of a few years we cannot help seeing that what is called the religious world, even, undergoes considerable changes, and surely it is our part to point out some of these to those who are beginning their career in it. It is absurd to ignore these changes. Young people read the books of the past as well as of the present day, and they must know that although they have the same Bible and the same Prayer Book that their parents had, the manner of performing the services and the outward appearances of our places of worship are a good deal altered; and when they listen to conversation on topics connected with religion, they know it is not like the conversation which Mrs. Hannah More, or Newton, or Cecil, would have most approved. Those worthies might have erred on the alarming, or discouraging, or over-confident side. An inquisitorial inquiry into personal standing with reference to the Saviour would have occupied them much, and some narrow dogmas would have been hazarded, which often would not have had a salutary effect on the young mind. But still, there is now surely a strong tendency, likewise dangerous, to dwell on externals; to talk of the decorations, the conveniences of the sacred buildings, the differences between Ritualists and Low or Broad Church. Imperceptibly the talk about religion gets into grooves of its own, and if we wish it ever so much, we cannot ignore the tastes and distastes which come out of the manner of presenting the subject; nor is it possible to be indifferent to these matters. Again let us advert to the experience of our own youth. Sunday after Sunday we were taken to the mossy, damp, cold building, which was then our Parish Church, We remember how its high enclosures kept the poor at a distance; that though one part of it was sheltered if not warmed, yet from another coughs and colds innumerable proceeded. We remember how the swallows skimmed over our heads, the fungi grew on the rafters, the windows were broken and unmended. We remember the miserable vestments-even the absence of a vestry-and all this, while the outward aspect of the sacred building was a noble one. People whose memory brings such things before them, may well be glad of the cheery change now visible; yet it is right to say, that the evils we have spoken
of did not always betoken want of reverence, but might in some cases spring from a mistaken indifference to outward appearances-a sort of grudge against creature comforts-as if the clergyman and his churchwardens must on no account render the service of God too easy. In short, as if the point of irreverence stood rather in regarding outward things to the obscuration of those unseen; as if we ought to see Heaven and the glorious dwellers therein, through the contrast of studied poverty and neglect. It is very curious to observe how Puritan and Papist may meet; how, in their different ways, through austerity and neglect of all that is beautiful, men sometimes come to the same point, while in theory dreading and shunning one another. What principally concerns us now, is the great importance of guarding ourselves and young people against party views of religion. Again and again would we implore them to go to the root of the matter, and first and chiefest of all to be careful of the inestimable habit of private devotion prefaced by meditation, and always accompanied by Scripture reading. It is certain, and it is an alarming thought, that much which seems outwardly right may go on, while there is diminished attention to this subject of frequent and earnest prayer; and yet we do believe that there is not one single element of true satisfaction in a character which neglects it. One delicate landmark after another will be (without it) most certainly swept away, sooner or later, and a state of miserable haziness will come down upon us, where all was once clear and bright.
It is an interesting thing at all times, though not always satisfactory in the end, to note the effects of Confirmation on young minds. In general we cannot doubt that the effect at the time and for some time after is most salutary. The young Catechumen, though touched and trembling, does mostly believe in herself with all her heart, feels that she is taking a right step, and hopes far more than she fears. This is as it should be, and the sight of these groups of young people is about one of the most affecting things in the world; likewise the most cheering. Have not we often exclaimed mentally on such occasions, 'Oh! timely happy, timely wise!' and have we not predicted for them almost involuntarily,
'the bliss of souls serene
When they have sworn and steadfast mean,
Their God, in all themselves deny?'
God forbid that we should ever deem such hopes delusive! Here, as we have them before us entering voluntarily into the liberty of Christians, bearing the Christian name, knowing Christ's nature and offices; God forbid that hope and faith should not predominate !
Still, one class of truths must not extinguish another. Still we must bear in mind the humbling knowledge of our sinful nature, not to engender despair, but caution and holy awe. We must follow these young persons onward, we must see how they bear themselves as years
roll on. We cannot, it is true, penetrate to the heart, but in our sympathy we would be with them, intreating them not to stand still, lest they should fall back. No stage or step in life can form a halting place. Life must be one perpetual move; no sooner is the foot planted on one vantage ground, than a look must be cast upon the next-and so it must go on to the end. God speed the eager, and strengthen the failing feet, till the summit is gained and the weary may rest!