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Good Words 1860
Christian Counsel and Teaching for Young Men


In my last counsel to you, I stated frankly the kind of men whom I thought would give me a hearing, and listen, at least, perhaps kindly, to my words.

Assuming that I now address such, my reader probably exclaims—"Well, what have you to say? Out with it at once, that we may know what all this is about! The old story, I suppose, of religion; and the old advice, that we young men being all sinners ought to be saints, and look solemn, and talk cant, and go to church, and read our Bibles, and be good boys, and give up everything agreeable; deny ourselves whatever is pleasant to the body, and to the soul, also, for aught we know —in short, make ourselves as miserable as possible in this world, in order to secure happiness of some mystical kind somewhere or other after we die ! Is this what you want ? Please, don't go about the bush; but if so, speak it out like a man." Believe me, I have no wish "to go about the bush;" as it seems to me no great compliment to your sense or intellect to do so. I shall also endeavour to "speak out like a man." Will you also endeavour to listen like one?

Now, I tell you at once, that I would not spend precious time in addressing you, except for the sole object of making you saints. Yes ! do not read the words with either wonder or impatience, though you and I, doubtless, attach a very different meaning to them; and what I mean shall be explained in due time. At present, I merely express and repeat my most earnest desire to make you, my reader, a saint; or, if you prefer another phraseology, to make you a good man, in the true sense of the term. May I beg, therefore—the trouble to you is very small-—not to lay aside this paper with dislike, indifference, or an affected yawn, as much as to say, ''I think this will keep cold," &c.; or, "I have pretty much made up my mind—and I suppose I have a right to do so, without interference from other people — to leave this subject alone at present. I don't wish, however, to trouble you or others with my ideas on the point, nor do I wish to be bored about it myself." I am sorry to "bore" you, or add to your cares ; but as I have, during life, met many who once spoke just as you now do, but who afterwards thanked God that others, who had their interests at heart a great deal more than they themselves had, did trouble and "bore" them, I shall not be dissuaded from addressing you. Yet let me here say that it is this want of consideration—this determined recklessness as to what even may be true, this dogged resolution not to think, this, what I must call, abject moral cowardice— which is by far the most dangerous and deadly feature in the character of many young men. Let me only find one who will honestly and bravely think; who is not afraid to meet such questions as are involved in this great one of "religion;" and I have every hope that good and peace must come in the end; because a seeking spirit must find. But I can discover no hope for the man who wilfully and obstinately shuts his eyes to whatever, if true, would tend to make him give up his own sinful way. Such a disposition is itself a wickedness that deserves to be punished by moral blindness and hardness of heart.

Reader, will you think? Will you think seriously and patiently on the subject I mean to bring before you, and which involves your personal responsibility and duty to God?

I have already stated that my earnest purpose is to induce you to become "saints." Perhaps this seems to some of you very extravagant, or even very amusing, from its apparent absurdity; at all events, utterly impracticable. I am not the least astonished if you think so; for had I the notions which some people, and probably you yourselves, attach to the word "saint" I would acquiesce in this judgment. What these notions are to which I allude, you already, I daresay, conjecture with tolerable accuracy.

The Roman Catholic Church boasts of saints without number. Their name is legion in her calendar. It is a standing joke in Italy, how some families have been beggared from the number of sinners, and others from the number of saints. In the one case they had to pay heavy fines to the Church for crime; in the other, as heavy fees for canonisation. The result in either ease was, that the Church became more wealthy, and the families bankrupt.

The idea of what constitutes saintship in the Popish Church has influenced our minds more than we are aware of. This arises partly from the fact that the word saint has, in latter ages, been used almost exclusively by the Roman Catholic Church; while the Protestant Church, owing to the shocking abuse of the name by Papists, has dropped it out of its ordinary vocabulary, though seeking, under God, to realise its Scripture idea, expressed, however, by a different phraseology, such as "good man," "pious man," "true Christian," &c.

Yet, after all, we cannot get quit of the word. It is enshrined in our English translation of the Scriptures, and lives among our most sacred associations. It is familiar to our ears in sermons, and to our eye in works of piety. Let us retain it, then, but endeavour to have such an understanding of its meaning as the apostles had.

Is such the understanding of the Popish Church regarding it ? Ought its saints to be our models? In asking every young man to become a "saint" in whatever walk of life he may be, and whatever lawful trade or profession he may follow, can we direct him to the "Lives of the Saints," or to those of the Christian heroes of Rome, and say, "Such persons you ought to imitate?" Now, we all know how saintship in the Church of Rome is associated with the wildest extravagances and peculiarities; with separation from the world and the business of life in monasteries or nunneries, caves and dens of the earth; or with bodily tortures, starvations, scourgings, and every species of ingenious agony—unequalled, except among the degraded and superstitious fakirs of India. And is this, or anything like this, to be our standard of moral excellence? Even Protestantism is not free from this tendency. Good, sensible men and women in every section of the Church often manifest a decided tendency to associate saintship with something essentially outre, out-of-the-way, peculiar, in dress or manner; in coat or beard, in cant phrase or look, shaven crown or sandal foot, emaciated cheek or cast-down eyes—something, in short, that marks an exclusive caste, as wide apart in outward appearance and manner from other good men, as the material church fabric in the street differs in appearance from the busy shops with which it is surrounded. Accordingly, if the idea is suggested that a cabdriver or huxter, a waiter or boots, a railway guard or engine-driver, an able-bodied sailor or boatswain's mate, a commonplace tradesman or chimney-sweep, a bustling salesman or plodding merchant, a gallant officer or high-bred country gentlemen, a young clerk or young student, may be a saint—a saint in the sight of God and angels—a "Saint James," or "Saint John," or " Saint Peter," in the real sense in which these very apostles themselves were saints, or those persons in the Churches to whom the apostles addressed their several epistles,—I believe there are many intelligent Christians who would deem the very supposition almost irreverent or profane. "What!" methinks I hear some pious man or woman exclaim, ''a cabdriver a saint! a waiter or boots at an hotel a saint! a dashing officer a saint! Shocking! it seems like the mockery of infidelity!" Now, can anything prove more clearly than this the kind of notions which possess people's minds regarding saintship? Yet their absurdity is the element in them least to be feared or regretted; for they are in the very highest degree detrimental to true religion, and most injurious to the spread of genuine piety. For what is it which you, who have these ideas of saintship, practically deny to the vast mass of society? On the one hand you open the Bible, and tell them, in apostolic language, that they and all men are "called to be saints," and prove from its pages, as you may certainly do, that there is no distinction in kind recognised in Scripture between saints and true Christians of every degree of goodness; that all who hear the gospel must be saints, or for ever lost; that, in short, they must be saints or devils; and, on the other hand, you turn round to the multitude, and say to them, "While it is ordained of God that, as long as the world lasts, millions of men and women must fulfil certain callings in society, and be busily occupied in the hard work of life, yet you cannot be true 'saints' while so engaged, unless you separate yourselves from the mass of mankind, by becoming priests or bishops, ministers or missionaries, and wear a 'saintly' dress, follow some 'saintly' occupation, or assume a 'saintly' manner; at all events, cease to drive coaches, or brush boots, or sweep chimneys, or to buy and sell, plant or build, fight as brave soldiers or sailors, or labour in such 'worldly vocations.'" Could the devil's work on earth be better helped than by such intensely false ideas of saintship? Young men! if you have been impressed by them, I wonder not that you should protest vehemently against them!

And yet remember that saints we must be, and therefore, thank God, saints we 'may be. We are "called to be saints," and nothing lower than this in character or dignity. We are to be " made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light;" for no other inheritance, unless that of sin and misery, can be ours. There is but one kind of character which can be called "good"—one kind for earth and heaven, for men and angels—because there is but one kind of moral perfection in that God whose image we all bear, and to hold fellowship with whom we are all created. As sure as He is One in all worlds and in all ages, so is moral excellence one. We must, then, I repeat it, be saints—not must as a "sad necessity," but as a glorious necessity, which springs out of the immense love of God in creating us for the perfection of character and of happiness which He Himself possesses. Let us, then, briefly consider in what saintship consists.

From what I have said, it is clear that it may be defined as likeness to God—being one with Him in character, or, what is the same thing, "having the mind that was in Christ Jesus," who is one with the Father. But, to make this more clear to those who have not considered it seriously hitherto, and who therefore may possibly think this definition too abstract or "mystical," I shall describe saintship as consisting in right being, right doing, and right enjoying.

(1.) It is right being, or, if you prefer the expression, being right. This describes the true condition of the inner man, the moral life and health of the soul, which must precede all outward action. It is the good quality of the tree which is essential to its bringing forth good fruit, the purity of the fountain ere its streams can be pure.

If you ask me what is "right being," or "being right," I reply that the phrase has primary and special reference to the relation of our being to God—to what we think and know of Him, and how we feel towards Him. If this is wrong, all is wrong. If this is right, all is right in principle, and comes right in fact. God has made us and redeemed us, that we might for ever possess the highest good and joy possible for a creature; in other words, that we might possess that which is His own good and joy. And what is this but to know and love Himself! This is the realisation of the highest perfection. I know how dimly we see this, how little we feel it, how indifferently we seek after it, because sin has blinded us, degraded us, robbed us of our birthright, and made us almost insensible to our loss. Heirs to a throne, we prefer, like beggars, our rags and our hovel; "king's sons embrace dunghills." Like prodigals, we prefer the swine and the husks to our father's home. Like criminals to whom vice is an ingrained habit, we may see no beauty, no happiness, in a life of pure and high moral character. Like those accustomed to bad society, the thought has no charm, and fires no ambition, of our being brought into the most exalted society, and made capable of enjoying the true, the beautiful, and the good, with the interchanges of perfect social love for ever!

And yet God never so leaves Himself without a witness in the soul of man, but that it will respond in some degree to the declaration that man's right being must consist in friendship towards the Perfect One—in looking up to Him in peace as to a reconciled father—in perceiving with our own spirits how good and glorious He is in Himself, in all He is and does—in sympathy with His mind and will—in rejoicing in Him and with Him—. and in being able to say truly, because feeling it truly, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven!"

I shall not discuss here the practical and all-important question as to how this right state of mind towards God can be produced. Let me rather press home the preliminary point at issue on my reader—the absolute necessity of the existence in him of this state of mind towards God, before he can possibly have true peace. I do not ask when, or where, or how this is to be obtained. Were it so that, not in this present evil world, but in some different, as yet unknown, region of the universe—that not now, but in some future millennial age—that not by any moral discipline which earth affords, but by some untried process in another state of belief—this love to God is to become an abiding, living power in the heart; yet, nevertheless, as true as there is a God, and an eternal, unchangeable right and wrong for all responsible beings, and for all worlds, so true is it that love to God, whenever or however obtained, is the only right condition of the soul, the only realisation of the end for which it was created, and the only conceivable source of its true, enduring happiness. Love alone is salvation and heaven; because love alone is right. Were it possible, therefore, to demonstrate the falsehood of the alleged facts of the Christian religion, even this would not destroy the eternal necessity of religion itself, so long as God and man existed in the universe. The extinction of Christianity, if that were conceivable, would, no doubt, annihilate the only means hitherto known to us by which this religion of love to God has been actually realised by all who have availed themselves of its power. Yet this would not alter the constitution of the moral universe, which has for ever linked, by indissoluble chains, happiness to right, and misery to wrong. Destroy the bridge, if you can, which spans the moral gulf separating us from God, yet the gulf separating us from God must be crossed, if we are ever to meet. Destroy the lifeboat which can alone bring us to the shore of love and rest, yet the shore must be reached, or we perish in the unfathomable abyss! Let this necessity, therefore, of being "saints," become only a deep conviction, and thi3 will invest the question of "how?" with tenfold interest. It will prepare your mind to receive the teaching of Christ, not as a series of dead doctrines printed on the page of a dead book, to be accepted as dead opinions, but as a teaching of life and death ; as that which, if received in faith and love, will produce in you the very state of being which you cannot but recognise to be right in truth, even when you fail to realise it in fact. The revelation of Jesus will flash upon you in demonstration of the Spirit, and with power. A personal Saviour, and not a myth or an abstraction, presenting Himself to you as the object of your love, because one worthy of it from His perfect character and supreme dignity;—a Saviour, revealing His love to you personally as a lost sinner, and irrespective of anything attractive in your character, or anything in you except your wickedness, and misery, and need, calculated to excite His deepest interest;—a Saviour, dying for you, the chief of sinners, on the cross, and in that, above all, revealing a matchless love which freely pardons sin, and reconciles every man who will believe in it to God;—a Saviour, who will give to all who ask Him the Holy Spirit, to be their instructor in spiritual things, and to teach them, above all, to know and to love God as their Father in Christ;—this Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, will become your light and life, if you sincerely desire to be right towards God as He Himself was ; for Jesus died and lives for evermore, to make us partakers of this His own blessedness. What is there mysterious, or mystical, or unreasonable, or hard in this ? Again and again we repeat it, and force it on your conscience, as your very life—-you must be right towards God. If you are not so, you must ''repent" of the wrong, and be "converted" to the right; you must give up the ''unregenerated" heart of enmity, which, though "natural," is yet so unnatural, and have the "regenerated" heart of loving as a little child. This is the religion which is necessarily demanded from every man, whatever be his rank or employment in life, and whatever be his country or his clime. The poor negro, and the high-born peer; the prelate before the altar, or the peasant '' sweating in the eye of Phoebus;" Lazarus among the dogs, or David on the throne; the young man in the heyday of his health, or the old patriarch, blind and tottering, must all be saints, by loving God, and, therefore, being right towards Him, or perish, by remaining, as they are, under the fearful doom of a heart without genuine and abiding love to God and to one another: For this is hell. Reject Christ and His Spirit, and your responsibility remains unchanged, and unchangeable, of becoming saints. But by what other method or instrumentality this is to be produced I know not, for I know of no other name, or power, by which men can be thus saved, but the name of Jesus.

(2.) It is needless here to illustrate at any length the second point, or that of right doing towards others. Our being right towards our fellow-men, will follow necessarily from our being right towards God. The life which expresses itself in the higher relationship must do so in the lower. A loving soul cannot possibly love God only, though supremely. Truly to love justice, mercy, truth, goodness, as seen in God, is one and the same thing with ourselves being just, merciful, truthful, good. If so, our fellow-men will be treated by us in accordance with our character and likings. When we are right towards God, the centre, we are thereby brought into a right relationship to every other point within it, or in the vast circumference of universal being. ''He who loves God, loves his brother also." A certain kind and degree of morality may exist without religion, but no religion can exist without morality. ''This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments."

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