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Much depends on the instructions given to young converts. If they once get into the habit of supposing that they may indulge in things which they would condemn in a minister, it is extremely unlikely that they will ever get out of it.
9. They should aim at being perfect. Every young convert should be taught that if it is not his purpose to live without sin, he has not yet begun to be religious. What is religion but a supreme love to God and a supreme purpose of heart or disposition to obey God? If there is not this, there is no religion at all. It is one thing to profess to be perfect, and another thing to profess and feel you ought to be perfect. It is one thing to say that men ought to be perfect, and can be, if they are so disposed, and another thing to say that they are perfect. If any are prepared to say that they are perfect, all I have to say is: "Let them prove it." If they are so I hope they will show it by their actions, otherwise we can never believe they are perfect.
But it is the duty of all to be perfect, and to purpose entire, perpetual, and universal obedience to God. It should be their constant purpose to live wholly to God, and obey all His commandments. They should live so that if they should sin it would be an inconsistency, an exception, an individual case, in which they act contrary to the fixed and general purpose and tenor of their lives. They ought not to sin at all; they are bound to be as holy as God is; and young converts should be taught to set out in the right course, or they will never be right.
10. They should be taught to exhibit their light. If the young convert does not exhibit his light, and hold it up to the world, it will go out. If he does not bestir himself, and go forth and try to enlighten those around him, his light will go out, and his own soul will soon be in darkness. Sometimes young converts seem disposed to sit still and not do anything in public till they get a great deal of light, or a great deal of religion. But this is not the way. Let the convert use what he has; let him hold up his little twinkling rushlight, boldly and honestly, and then God will make it like a blazing torch. But God will not take the trouble to keep a light burning that is hid.
Why should He? Where is the use?
This is the reason why so many people have so little enjoyment in religion. They do not exert themselves to honor God. They keep what little they do enjoy so entirely to themselves, that there is no good reason why God should bestow blessings and benefits on them.
11. They should be taught how to win souls to Christ. Young converts should be taught particularly what to do to accomplish this, and how to do it; and then taught to live for this end as the great leading object of life.
How strange has been the course sometimes pursued! These persons have been converted, and - there they are. They get into the Church, and then they are left to go along just as they did before; they do nothing, and are taught to do nothing, for Christ; and the only change is that they go more regularly to church on the Sabbath, and let the minister feed them, as it is called. But suppose he does feed them, they do not grow strong, for they cannot digest it, because they take no exercise. They become spiritual dyspeptics. Now, the great object for which Christians are converted and left in this world is, to pull sinners out of the fire. If they do not effect this, they had better be dead. And young converts should be taught this as soon as they are born into the Kingdom. The first thing they do should be to go to work for this end - to save sinners.
II. HOW THE CHURCH SHOULD TREAT YOUNG CONVERTS.
1. Old professors ought to be able to give young converts a great deal of instruction, and they ought to give it. The truth is, however, that the great body of professors in the Churches do not know how to give good instruction to young converts; and, if they attempt to do so, they give only that which is false. The Church ought to be able to teach her children; and when she receives them she ought to be as busy in training them to act, as mothers are in teaching their little children such things as they will need to know and do hereafter. But this is far enough from being the case generally. And we can never expect to see young converts habitually taking right hold of duty, and going straight forward without declension and backsliding, until the time comes when all young converts are intelligently trained by the Church.
2. Young converts should not be kept back behind the rest of the Church.
How often is it found that the old professors will keep the young converts back behind the rest of the Church, and prevent them from taking any active part in religion, for fear they should become spiritually proud.
Young converts in such Churches are rarely or never called on to take a part in meetings, or set to any active duty, or the like, for fear they should become lifted up with spiritual pride. Thus the Church becomes the modest keeper of their humility, and teaches them to file in behind the old, stiff, dry, cold members and elders, for fear that if they should be allowed to do anything for Christ, it will make them proud. Whereas, the very way to make young converts humble and keep them so, is to put them to their work and keep them there. That is the way to keep God with them, and as long as God is with them, He will take care of their humility. Keep them constantly engaged in religion, and then the Spirit of God will dwell in them, and so they will be kept humble by the most effectual process. But if young converts are left to fall in behind the old professors, where they can never do anything, they will never know what spirit they are of, and this is the very way to run them into the danger of falling into the worst species of spiritual pride.
3. They should be watched over by the Church, and warned of their dangers, just as a tender mother watches over her young children. Young converts do not know at all the dangers by which they are surrounded.
The devices of the devil, the temptations of the world, the power of their own passions and habits, and the thousand forms of danger, they do not know; and if not properly watched and warned, they will run right into such dangers. The Church should watch over and care for her young children - just as mothers watch their little children in this great city, lest the carts run over them, or they stray away; or as they watch over them while growing up, for fear they may be drawn into the whirlpools of iniquity. The Church should watch over all the interests of her young members, know where they are, and what are their habits, temptations, dangers, privileges - the state of religion in their hearts, and their spirit of prayer. Look at that anxious mother, when she sees paleness gather round the brow of her little child. "What is the matter with you, my child? Have you eaten something improper? Have you taken cold? What ails you?"
Oh, how different it is with the children of the Church, the lambs that the Savior has committed to the care of His Church! Alas! instead of restraining her children, and taking care of them, the Church lets them go anywhere, and look out for themselves. What should we say of a mother who should knowingly let her children totter along to the edge of a precipice? Should we not say she was horribly guilty for doing so, and that if the child should fall and be killed, its blood would rest on the mother's head? What, then, is the guilt of the Church, in knowingly neglecting her young converts? I have known Churches where young converts were totally neglected, and regarded with suspicion and jealousy; nobody went near them to strengthen or encourage or counsel them; nothing was done to lead them to usefulness, to teach them what to do or how to do it, or to open to them a field of labor. And then - what then?
4. Be tender in reproving them. When Christians find it necessary to reprove young converts, they should be exceedingly careful in their manner of doing it. Young converts should be faithfully watched over by the elder members of the Church, and when they begin to lose ground, or to turn aside, they should be promptly admonished, and, if necessary, reproved.
But to do it in a wrong manner is worse than not to do it at all. It is sometimes done in a manner which is abrupt, harsh, and apparently censorious, more like scolding than like brotherly admonition. Such a manner, instead of inspiring confidence, or leading to reformation, is just calculated to harden the heart of the young convert, and confirm him in his wrong courses, while, at the same time, it closes his mind against the influence of such censorious guardians. The heart of a young convert is tender, and easily grieved, and sometimes a single unkind look will set him into such a state of mind as will fasten his errors upon him, and make him grow worse and worse.
You who are parents know how important it is when you reprove your children, that they should see that you do it from the best of motives, for their benefit, because you wish them to be good, and not because you are angry. Otherwise they will soon come to regard you as a tyrant, rather than a friend. Just so with young converts. Kindness and tenderness, even in reproof, will win their confidence, and attach them to you, and give an influence to your brotherly instructions and counsels, so that you can mold them into finished Christians. Instead of this, if you are severe and critical in your manner, that is the way to make them think you wish to Lord it over them. Many persons, under pretense of being faithful, as they call it, often hurt young converts by such a severe and overbearing manner, as to drive them away, or perhaps crush them into discouragement and apathy. Young converts have but little experience, and are easily thrown down. They are just like a little child when it first begins to walk. You see it tottering along, and it stumbles over a straw. You see the mother take everything out of the way, when her little one is going to try to walk. Just so with young converts. The Church ought to take up every stumbling block, and treat converts in such a way as to make them see that if they are reproved, Christ is in it. Then they will receive it as it is meant, and it will do them good.
5. Kindly point out things that are fault in the young convert, which he does not see. He is but a child, and knows so little about religion, so that there will be many things that he needs to learn, and a great many that he ought to mend. Whatever there is that is wrong in spirit, unlovely in his demeanor, or uncultivated in manner, that will impede his usefulness or impair his influence as a Christian, ought to be kindly pointed out and corrected. To do this in the right way, however, requires great wisdom.
Christians ought to make it a subject of much prayer and reflection, that they may do it in such a way as not to do more hurt than good. If you rebuke him merely for the things that he did not see, or did not know to be improper, it will grieve and disgust him. Such instruction should be carefully timed. Often, it is well to take the opportunity after you have been praying together, or after a kind conversation on religious subjects which has been calculated to make him feel that you love him, seek his good, and earnestly desire to promote his sanctification, his usefulness, and his happiness. Then, a mere hint will often do the work. Just suggest that "Such a thing in your prayer," or "your conduct in so-and-so, did not strike me pleasantly; had you not better think of it, and perhaps you will judge it better to avoid a recurrence of it?" Do it rightly, and you will help him and do him good. Do it in the wrong way, and you will do ten times more hurt than good. Often, young converts will err through ignorance; their judgment is unripe, and they need time to think and make up an enlightened judgment on some point that at first appears to them doubtful.
In such cases the older members should treat them with great kindness and forbearance; should kindly instruct them, and not denounce them at once for not seeing, at first, what perhaps they themselves did not understand until years after they were converted.
6. Do not speak of the faults of young converts behind their backs. This is too common among old professors; and, by and by, the converts hear of it; and what an influence it must exercise to destroy the confidence of young converts in their elder brethren, to grieve their hearts and discourage them, and perhaps to drive them away from the good influence of the Church.
III. SOME OF THE EVILS OF DEFECTIVE INSTRUCTION.
1. If not fully instructed, they will never be fully grounded in right principles. If they have right fundamental principles, this will lead them to adopt a right course of conduct in all particular cases. In forming a Christian character a great deal depends on establishing those fundamental principles which are correct on all subjects. If you look at the Bible, you will see there that God teaches right principles which we can carry out, in detail, in right conduct. If the education of young converts is defective, either in kind or degree, you will see the result in their character all their lives. This is the philosophical result - just what might be expected, and just what will always follow. It could be shown that almost all the practical errors that have prevailed in the Church are the natural results of certain false dogmas which have been taught to young converts, and which they have been made to swallow, as the truth of God, at a time when they were so ignorant as not to know any better.
2. If the instruction given to young converts is not correct and full, they will not grow in grace, but their religion will dwindle away and decay.
Their course, instead of being like the path of the just, growing brighter and brighter unto the perfect day (Proverbs 4:18), will grow dimmer and dimmer, and finally, perhaps, go out in darkness. Wherever you see young converts let their religion taper off till it comes to nothing, you may understand that it is the natural result of defective instruction. The philosophical result of teaching young converts the truth, and the whole truth, is that they grow stronger and stronger. Truth is the food of the mind - it is what gives the mind strength. And where religious character grows feeble, rely upon it, in nine cases out of ten it is owing to their being neglected, or falsely instructed, when they were young converts.
3. They will be left in doubt, justly, as to whether they are Christians. If their early instruction is false, or defective, there will be so much inconsistency in their lives, and so little evidence of real piety, that they themselves will finally doubt whether they have any. Probably they will live and die in doubt. You cannot make a little evidence go a great way. If they do not see clearly, they will not live consistently; if they do not live consistently, they can have but little evidence; and if they have not evidence, they must doubt, or live in presumption.
4. If young converts are rightly instructed and trained, it will generally be seen that they will take the right side on all great subjects that come before the Church. Subjects are continually coming up before the Churches, on which they have to take ground, and on many matters there is often no little difficulty in making the members take right ground. Take the subject of tracts, or missions, or Sabbath Schools, or temperance, for instance - what cavils, and objections, and resistance, and opposition, have been encountered from members of the Churches in different places. Go through the Churches, and where you find young converts have been well taught, you never find them making difficulty, or raising objections, or putting forth cavils. I do not hesitate to charge it upon pastors and older members of Churches, that there are so many who have to be dragged up to the right ground on all such subjects. If they had been well grounded in the principles of the Gospel at the outset, when they were first converted, they would have seen the application of their principles to all these things.
It is curious to see how ready young converts are to take right ground on any subject that may be proposed. See what they are willing to do for the education of ministers, for missions, moral reform, or for the slaves! If the great body of young converts from the late revivals had been well grounded in Gospel principles, you would have found in them, throughout the Church, but one heart and one soul in regard to every question of duty.
Let their early education be right, and you have got a body of Christians that you can depend on. If it had been general in the Church, how much more strength there would have been in all her great movements for the salvation of the world!
5. If young converts are not well instructed, they will inevitably backslide.
If their instruction is defective, they will probably live in such a way as to disgrace religion. The truth, kept steadily before the mind of a young convert, in proper proportions, has a natural tendency to make him grow "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). If any one point is made too prominent in the instruction given, there will probably be just that disproportion in his character. If he is fully instructed on some points and not on others, you will find a corresponding defect in his life and character.
If the instruction of young converts is greatly defective, they will press on in religion no farther than they are strongly propelled by the first emotions of their conversion. As soon as that is spent they will come to a stand, and then they will decline and backslide. And ever after you will find that they will go forward only when aroused by some powerful excitement. These are your "periodical" Christians, who are so apt to wake up in a time of revival, and bluster about as if they had the zeal of angels, for a few days, and then die away as dead and cold as a northern winter. Oh, how desirable, how infinitely important it is, that young converts should be so taught that their religion will not depend on impulses and excitements, but that they will go steadily onward in the Christian course, advancing from.
1. The Church is verily guilty for her past neglect, in regard to the instruction of young converts.
Instead of bringing up their young converts to be working Christians, the Churches have generally acted as if they did not know how to employ young converts, or what use to make of them. They have acted like a mother who has a great family of daughters, but knows not how to set them to work, and so suffers them to grow up idle and untaught, useless and despised, and to be the easy prey of every designing villain.
But instead of this, how many Churches actually oppose young converts who attempt to set themselves to work for Christ. Multitudes of old professors look with suspicion upon every movement of young converts, and talk against them, saying: "They are too forward, they ought not to put themselves forward, but wait for those who are older." There is waiting again! Instead of bidding young converts "Godspeed," and cheering them on, very often they hinder them, and perhaps put them down. How often have young converts been stopped from going forward, and turned into rank behind a formal, lazy, inefficient Church, till their spirit has been crushed, and their zeal extinguished; so that after a few ineffectual struggles to throw off the cords, they have concluded to sit down with the rest, and WAIT. In many places young converts cannot even attempt to hold a prayer meeting by themselves, without being rebuked by the pastor, or by some deacon, for being so forward, and reproached with spiritual pride. "Oho," it is said, "you are young converts, are you? And so you want to get together, and call all the neighbors together to look at you, because you are young converts. You had better turn preachers at once!" A celebrated Doctor of Divinity in New England boasted, at a public table, of his success in keeping all his converts still. He had great difficulty, he said, for they were in a terrible fever to do something, to talk, or pray, or get up meetings, but by the greatest vigilance he had kept it all down, and now his Church was just as quiet as it was before the revival. Wonderful achievement for a minister of Jesus Christ! Was that what the blessed Savior meant when he told Peter: "Feed My lambs"?
2. Young converts should be trained to labor just as carefully as young recruits in an army are trained for war. Suppose a captain in the army should get his company enlisted, and then take no more pains to teach and train, and discipline them, than are taken by many pastors to train and lead forward their young converts. Why, the enemy would laugh at such an army. Call them soldiers! Why, as to any effective service, they would not know what to do nor how to do it, and if you brought them up to the CHARGE, how would they fare? Such an army would resemble the Church that does not train her young converts. Instead of being trained to stand shoulder to shoulder in the onset, they feel no practical confidence in their leaders, no confidence in their neighbors, and no confidence in themselves; hence they scatter at the first shock of battle. Look at the Church now. Ministers are not agreed as to what shall be done, and many of them will fight against their brethren, quarreling about "new measures," or something. As to the members, they cannot feel confidence when they see the leaders so divided. And then if they attempt to do anything - alas! what ignorance, what awkwardness, what discord, what weakness we see, and what miserable work they make of it! And so it must continue, until the Church shall train up young converts to be intelligent, single-hearted, self-denying, working Christians. Here is an enterprise now going on in this city, which I rejoice to see. I mean the tract enterprise - a blessed work. And the plan is to train up a body of devoted Christians to do - what? Why, to do what all the Church ought to have been trained to do long ago: to know how to pray, and how to converse with people about salvation, and how to act in anxious meetings, and how to deal with inquirers, and how to SAVE SOULS.
3. The Church has entirely mistaken the manner in which she is to be sanctified. The experiment has been carried on long enough, of trying to sanctify the Church, without finding anything for the members to do. But holiness consists in obeying God, and sanctification, as a process, means obeying Him more and more perfectly. And the way to promote it in the Church, is to give every one something to do. Look at these great Churches, where they have five hundred or seven hundred members, and have a minister to feed them from Sabbath to Sabbath, while there are so many of them together that the greater part have nothing at all to do, and are never trained to make any direct efforts for the salvation of souls. And in that way they are expecting to be sanctified and prepared for heaven!
They never will be sanctified so. That is not the way God has appointed. Jesus Christ has made His people co-workers with Him in saving sinners, for this very reason, because sanctification consists in doing those things which are required to promote this work. This is one reason why He has not employed angels in the work, or carried it on by direct revelation of truth to the minds of men. It is because it is necessary as a means of sanctification, that the Church should sympathize with Christ in His feelings and His labors for the conversion of sinners. And in this way the entire Church must move, before the world will be converted. When the day comes that the whole body of professing Christians shall realize that they are here on earth as a body of missionaries, and when they shall live and labor accordingly, then will the day of man's redemption draw nigh.
Christian, if you cannot go abroad to labor, why are you not a missionary in your own family? If you are too feeble even to leave your room, be a missionary there in your bedchamber. How many unconverted servants have you in your house? Call in your unconverted servants, and your unconverted children, and be a missionary to them. Think of your physician, who, perhaps, is laying himself out to save your body; think that you receive his kindness and never make him the greatest return in your power.
It is necessary that the Church should take hold of her young converts at the outset, and set them to work in the right way. The hope of the Church is in the young converts.
4. We see what a responsibility rests on ministers and elders, and on all who have opportunity to assist in training young converts. How distressing is the picture which often forces itself upon the mind, where multitudes are converted, and yet so little pains are taken with young converts, that in a single year you cannot tell the young converts from the rest of the Church. And then we see the old Church members turn round and complain of these young converts, and perhaps slander them, when in truth these old professors themselves are most to blame - oh, it is too bad! This reaction that people talk so much about after a revival, as if reaction was the necessary effect of a revival, would never come, and young converts never would backslide as they do, if the Church would be prompt and faithful in attending to their instruction. If they are truly converted, they can be made thorough and energetic Christians. And if they are not made such, Jesus Christ will require it at the hands of the Church.