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scythe of death stays not always till the harvest be ripe, but promiscnously mows down the young and
, old. Ah! begin, begin, then, to live! seize upon pleasure and happiness while they stand courting and inviting you ; pursue virtue and glory immediately, while the difficulties are fewer, your strengths and aids greater, your judgments being not yet corrupted by the maxims or rather the fancies of the world, nor your wills yet disabled and enslaved by a custom of sin.
Ah! venture not to devote your youth to vanity and folly, on presumption of devoting your age to repentance and religion; for if this were a rational and just design in itself, yet it is to you a very unsafe and doubtful one. For which way can you insure life, or on what ground can you confide on the morrow?
“Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” Prov. xxvii, 1.
I know what opposition will be raised against this kind of exhortation, and with what rude reflection they will be treated. Come, say they, this is our spring, let us enjoy ourselves whilst we have time and vigor; religion looks too grave and formal for these years : we shall have time enough to be dull and melancholy. Come on, then; let us enjoy ourselves as becomes our youth; this is our portion, and our lot is this ; and whatever they who have now outlived themselves, whose blood is sour and spirits low, may gravely talk against these things,
they, too, when time was, admired what they now would have us despise as vanity, and committed themselves what they now condemn in us.
In answer to this, let us pass over the briskness and the flourish, and examine the sense and reason of this sort of talk. The substance of it
be duced to three heads :
First. Youth is the season of pleasure, i. e. sin and folly. Inclination and opportunity conspire to invite you to it; therefore you indulge it. What a a strange argument is this! Is there any period of our life, from our cradle almost to our coffin, I mean from the moment we arrive at the use of reason to our grave, wherein some sin or other is not in season? May not manhood defend ambition, and old age covetousness, by the same argument by which you do your sinful pleasures ? If inclination to a folly would justify our commission of it, in what part of life should we begin to be wise and virtuous ! It will be hard to find the time wherein we shall 'save no inclination to any sin or folly; or rather, if this be so, who can be guilty? The adulterer will impute his uncleanliness to the impetus of his lust; the murderer his bloodshed to the violence of his rage ; i. e. each of them their sins to the strength of their inclinations; and if your argument be good they will be innocent. But do not deceive yourselves; then is your obedience, as most acceptable to God, sq most indispensable in itself, when you lie under temptations to sin, and heaven is proposed as a reward, not of following, but conquering your inclinations.
The second part of the objection is, that religion doth not look very graceful in young men. This I could never well understand. If you be so foolish as to think religion consists in sour faces, or an affected moroseness and sullenness, or in stupidity and melancholy, I must confess you have little reason to be fond of it; for this becomes no age, and much less the more verdant one.
But if by religion you understand devotion toward God, reverence towards your parents and superiors, temperance and chastity in yourselves, and such like virtues, I must needs say, nothing can appear to me more great and lovely than religion in youth. What can better become those who possess the gifts of nature in their own perfection, than gratitude to the God of nature ? What can be a greater glory to the young; than obedience to parents, and reverence to their elders and superiors ? What does more preserve or better become strength, than sobriety and temperance ? What is a more charming or more lasting ornament to beauty, than modesty and chastity? After all this, it is a vain thing to comfort yourselves with saying, that the grave and wise, when they had the same inclinations you now have, did as you do-indulge and gratify them ; for, first, this is not generally true; and, secondly, the less they did it, the more were they honored and beloved; but
l thirdly, if they did, it is certain that they have bit
terly condemned it and repented it. And is it not strangely absurd, that you should propose to yourselves nothing in the lives of the wise and virtuous but their frailties and errors, for your example; that you should pitch upon that only for your imitation, which all the wise and good detest and bemoan, as their sin and shame, and think it their highest wisdom to do so.
To conclude this address to the younger sort, un. less there be any who are possessed with a spirit of infidelity, against which I will not now enter the lists, all the pretences you can possibly form for your deferring to devote yourselves instantly to wisdom and religion, are founded in two suppositions, of which the one is false, and the other absurd. The false one is, that sin is a state of pleasure ; virtue of trouble and uneasiness; the contrary of which is, I think, sufficiently demonstrated through this whole treatise; and would you but be prevailed with to taste the pleasures of a sincere virtue, your experience would soon confute this fancy. What madness, then, is it to be afraid of becoming happy too soon! Ah! how differently are we affected under the maladies of the mind and of the body! Did the lame or blind, the lepers, the lunatics, or demoniacs, ever entreat our Lord to defer their cure, and give them leave to enjoy their miseries, diseases, and devils, a little longer?
The other supposition is absurd; which is, that you will repent hereafter. Must you then repent hereafter? Must this be the fruit of all your sinful pleasures, guilt and remorse, grief and fear, distress ' and agony of soul ? Do revelation and reason, death and judgment, do all your sober and retired thoughts preach you this one lesson, repentance? And yet can you resolve to plunge yourselves in that filthiness which must be washed off with tears ? Can you resolve to indulge those cheating and deceitful lusts which will one day fill your soul with shame and sorrow,
with distraction, horror, and amazement? Ah, infatuation ! ah, bewitchery! that ever a rational creature should live in such an open defiance and hostility against his reason! And yet, if repent ance, after many years, and innumerable gins, would be more easy ; if your sins would be more easily con. quered, or more easily atoned; this frenzy would not want some little color. But how contra y is this to truth.