It is a matter of serious regret that young people are commonly so little disposed to listen to the advice of the aged…But it is greatly to be desired that the lessons of wisdom taught by the experience of one set of men should be made available for the instruction of those who come after them. We have therefore determined to address a few short hints of advice to the rising generation on subjects of deep and acknowledged importance to all. But previously to commencing, we would assure them that it is no part of our object to interfere with their innocent enjoyments or to deprive them of one pleasure that cannot be shown to be injurious to their best interests. We wish to approach you, dear youth, in the character of affectionate friends, rather than in that of dogmatical teachers or stern reprovers. We would therefore solicit your patient, candid, and impartial attention to the following counsels:
Aim at consistency in your christian character. There is a beauty in moral consistency that resembles the symmetry of a well-proportioned building, where nothing is deficient, nothing redundant. Consistency can only be acquired and maintained by cultivating every part of the Christian character…We are not very frequently permitted to witness a character well-proportioned and nicely balanced in all its parts: while in one branch, there is vigor and even exuberance, in another there may be the appearance of feebleness and sterility. The man who is distinguished for virtues of a particular class is apt to be deficient in those that belong to a different class…Men are frequently found whose zeal blazes out ardently and conspicuously, so as to leave most others far back in the shade, while they are totally destitute of that humility, meekness, and brotherly kindness that form an essential part of the Christian character. Some people are conscientious and punctilious in the performance of all the rites and external duties connected with the worship of God. [Yet they] are inattentive to the obligations of strict justice and veracity in their [dealings] with others. On the other hand, many boast of their morality and yet are notoriously inattentive to the duties of the Christian faith.
Real Christians, too, are often chargeable with inconsistency. [This] arises from a lack of clear discernment of the rule of moral conduct in its application to particular cases. While the general principles of duty are plain and easily understood by all, the ability to discriminate between right and wrong in many complicated cases is extremely rare. This delicate and correct perception of moral relations can only be acquired by the divine blessing…It is too commonly taken for granted that Christian morals are a subject so easy that all close study of it is unnecessary. This is an injurious mistake! Many of the deficiencies and inconsistencies of Christians are owing to a lack of clear and correct knowledge of the exact rule of moral conduct. On no subject will you find a greater diversity of opinion than concerning the lawfulness or unlawfulness of particular practices. Even good men are often thrown into difficulty and doubt respecting the proper course to be pursued.
But while many cases of inconsistency arise from ignorance of the exact standard of rectitude, more must be attributed to heedlessness and forgetfulness. Men do not act sufficiently from principle, but too much from custom, from fashion, and from habit. Thus, many actions are performed without any inquiry into their moral character.
Another cause of the inconsistency so commonly observed is the prevalence that certain passions or appetites may obtain in the time of temptation. The force of the internal principles of evil is not perceived when the objects and circumstances favorable to their exercise are absent. As the venomous adder seems to be harmless while chilled with cold, but soon manifests his malignity when brought near the fire, so sin often lies hid in the bosom as though it were dead until some exciting cause draws it forth into exercise. Then the person is surprised to find the strength of his own passions above anything that he had before conceived. Thus, in certain circumstances, people often act in a way altogether contrary to the general tenor of their conduct. It is by no means a fair inference from a single act of irregularity that the person who is guilty of it has acted hypocritically in all the apparent good actions of his former life. The true explanation is that principles of action that he has commonly been able to govern and restrain acquire — in some unguarded moment or under the power of some strong temptation — a force that his good principles are not at that moment strong enough to oppose. The person who is usually correct and orderly may thus be overtaken in a fault. As all are liable to the same frailties, there should exist a disposition to receive and restore offending Christians when they give sufficient evidence of penitence.
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