1 CORINTHIANS xiii.11.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
After having noticed last Sunday what were those particular points in childhood, which in manhood should be put away, and having observed that this change cannot take place all at once, but gradually, during a period of several years, I proposed to consider, as on this day, whether it were possible to hasten this change, that is, whether it could be hastened without injury to the future development of the character; for undoubtedly, there is such, a thing in minds, as well as in bodies, as precocious growth; and although it is not so frequent as precocious growth in the body, nor by any means so generally regarded as an evil, yet it is really a thing to be deprecated; and we ought not to adopt such measures as might be likely to occasion it.
Now I believe the only reason which could make it supposed to be possible that there could be danger in hastening this change, is drawn from the observation of what takes place sometimes with regard to intellectual advancement. It is seen that some young men of great ambition, or remarkable love of knowledge, do really injure their health, and exhaust their minds, by an excess of early study. I always grieve over such cases exceedingly; not only for the individual's sake who is the sufferer, but also for the mischievous effect of his example. It affords a pretence to others to justify their own want of exertion; and those to whom it is in reality the least dangerous, are always the very persons who seem to dread it the most. But we should clearly understand, that this excess of intellectual exertion at an early age, is by no means the same thing with hastening the change from childishness to manliness. We are all enough aware, in common life, that a very clever and forward boy may be, in his conduct, exceeding childish; that those whose talents and book-knowledge are by no means remarkable, may be, in their conduct, exceedingly manly. Examples of both these truths instantly present themselves to my memory, and perhaps may do so to some of yours. I may say farther, that some whose change from childhood to manhood had been, in St. Paul's sense of the terms, the most remarkably advanced, were so far from being distinguished for their cleverness or proficiency in their school-work, that it would almost seem as if their only remaining childishness had been displayed there. What I mean, therefore, by the change from childhood to manhood, is altogether distinct from a premature advance in book-knowledge, and involves in it nothing of that over-study which is dreaded as so injurious.
Yet it is true that I described the change from childhood to manhood, as a change from ignorance to wisdom. I did so, certainly; but yet, rare as knowledge is, wisdom is rarer; and knowledge, unhappily, can exist without wisdom, as wisdom can exist with a very inferior degree of knowledge. We shall see this, if we consider what we mean by knowledge; and, without going into a more general definition of it, let us see what we mean by it here. We mean by it, either a knowledge of points of scholarship, of grammar, and matters connected with grammar; or a knowledge of history and geography; or a knowledge of mathematics: or, it may be, of natural history; or, if we use the term, |knowledge of the world,| then we mean, I think, a knowledge of points of manner and fashion; such a knowledge as may save us from exposing ourselves in trifling things, by awkwardness or inexperience. Now the knowledge of none of these things brings us of necessity any nearer to real thoughtfulness, such as alone gives wisdom, than the knowledge of a well-contrived game. Some of you, probably, well know that there are games from which chance is wholly excluded, and skill in which is only the result of much thought and calculation. There is no doubt that the game of chess may properly be called an intellectual study; but why does it not, and cannot, make any man wise? Because, in the first place, the calculations do but respect the movements of little pieces of wood or ivory, and not those of our own minds and hearts; and, again, they are calculations which have nothing to do whatever with our being better men, or worse, with our pleasing God or displeasing him. And what is true of this game, is true no less of the highest calculations of Astronomy, of the profoundest researches into language; nay, what may seem stranger still, it is often true no less of the deepest study even of the actions and principles of man's nature; and, strangest of all, it may be, and is often true, also, of the study of the very Scripture itself; and that, not only of the incidental points of Scripture, its antiquities, chronology, and history, but of its very most divine truths, of man's justification and of God's nature. Here, indeed, we are considering about things where wisdom, so to speak, sits enshrined. We are very near her, we see the place where she abides; but her very self we obtain not. And why? -- but because, in the most solemn study, no less than in the lightest, our own moral state may be set apart from our consideration; we may be unconscious all the while of our great want; and forgetting our great business, to be reconciled to God, and to do his will: for wisdom, to speak properly, is to us nothing else than the true answer to the Philippian jailor's question, |What must I do to be saved?|
Now then, as knowledge of all kinds may be gained without being received, or meant at all to be applied, as the answer to this question, so it may be quite distinct from wisdom. And when I use the term thoughtfulness, as opposed to a child's carelessness, I mean it to express an anxiety for the obtaining of this wisdom. And farther, I do not see how this wisdom, or this thoughtfulness, can be premature in any one; or how it can exhaust before their time any faculties, whether of body or mind. This requires no sitting up late at night, no giving up of healthful exercise; it brings no headaches, no feverishness, no strong excitement at first, to be followed by exhaustion afterwards. Hear how it is described by one who spoke of it from experience. |The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.| There is surely nothing of premature exhaustion connected-with any one of these things.
Or, if we turn to the third point of change from childhood to a Christian manhood, the change from selfishness to unselfishness, neither can we find any possible danger in hastening this. This cannot hurt our health or strain our faculties; it can but make life at every age more peaceful and more happy. Nor indeed do I suppose that any one could fancy that such a change was otherwise than wholesome at the earliest possible period.
There may remain, however, a vague notion, that generally, if what we mean by an early change from childishness to manliness be that we should become religious, then, although it may not exhaust the powers, or injure the health, yet it would destroy the natural liveliness and gaiety of youth, and by bringing on a premature seriousness of manner and language, would be unbecoming and ridiculous. Now, in the first place, there is a great deal of confusion and a great deal of folly in the common notions of the gaiety of youth. If gaiety mean real happiness of mind, I do not believe that there is more of it in youth than in manhood; if for this reason only, that the temper in youth being commonly not yet brought into good order, irritation and passion are felt, probably, oftener than in after life, and these are sad drawbacks, as we all know, to a real cheerfulness of mind. And of the outward gaiety of youth, there is a part also which is like the gaiety of a drunken man; which is riotous, insolent, and annoying to others; which, in short, is a folly and a sin. There remains that which strictly belongs to youth, partly physically -- the lighter step and the livelier movement of the growing and vigorous body; partly from circumstances, because a young person's parents or friends stand between him and many of the cares of life, and protect him from feeling them altogether; partly from the abundance of hope which belongs to the beginning of every thing, and which continually hinders the mind from dwelling on past pain. And I know not which of these causes of gaiety would be taken away or lessened by the earlier change from childhood to manhood. True it is, that the question, |What must I do to be saved?| is a grave one, and must be considered seriously; but I do not suppose that any one proposes that a young person should never be serious at all. True it is, again, that if we are living in folly and sin, this question may be a painful one; we might be gayer for a time without it. But, then, the matter is, what is to become of us if we do not think of being saved? -- shall we be saved without thinking of it? And what is it to be not saved but lost? I cannot pretend to say that the thought of God would not very much disturb the peace and gaiety of an ungodly and sinful mind; that it would not interfere with the mirth of the bully, or the drunkard, or the reveller, or the glutton, or the idler, or the fool. It would, no doubt; just as the hand that was seen to write on the wall threw a gloom over the guests at Belshazzar's festival. I never meant or mean to say, that the thought of God, or that God himself, can be other than a plague to those who do not love Him. The thought of Him is their plague here; the sight of Him will be their judgment for ever. But I suppose the point is, whether the thought of Him would cloud the gaiety of those who were striving to please Him. It would cloud it as much, and be just as unwelcome and no more, as will be the very actual presence of our Lord to the righteous, when they shall see Him as He is. Can that which we know to be able to make old age, and sickness, and poverty, many times full of comfort, -- can that make youth and health gloomy? When to natural cheerfulness and sanguineness, are added a consciousness of God's ever present care, and a knowledge of his rich promises, are we likely to be the more sad or the more unhappy?
What reason, then, is there for any one's not anticipating the common progress of Christian manliness, and hastening; to exchange, as I said before, ignorance for wisdom, selfishness for unselfishness, carelessness for thoughtfulness? I see no reason why we should not; but is there no reason why we should? You are young, and for the most part strong and healthy; I grant that, humanly speaking, the chances of early death to any particular person among you are small. But still, considering what life is, even to the youngest and strongest, it does seem a fearful risk to be living unredeemed; to be living in that state, that if we should happen to die, (it may be very unlikely, but still it is clearly possible,) -- that if we should happen to die, we should be most certainly lost for ever. Risks, however, we do not mind; the chances, we think, are in our favour, and we will run the hazard. It may be so; but he who delays to turn to God when the thought has been once put before him, is incurring something more than a risk. He may not die these fifty or sixty years; we cannot tell how that may be; but he is certainly at this very present time hardening his heart, and doing despite unto the Spirit of Grace. By the very wickedness of putting off turning to God till a future time, he lessens his power of turning to Him ever. This is certain; no one can reject God's call without becoming less likely to hear it when it is made to him again. And thus the lingering wilfully in the evil things of childhood, when we might be at work in putting them off, and when God calls us to do so, is an infinite risk, and a certain evil; -- an infinite risk, for it is living in such a state that death at any moment would be certain condemnation; -- and a certain evil, because, whether we live or not, we are actually raising up barriers between ourselves and our salvation; we not only do not draw nigh to God, but we are going farther from Him, and lessening our power of drawing nigh to Him hereafter.