I wish to speak freely to my young friends on this subject through the Instructor; and I am particularly desirous to do so, because I know from my own experience that it is of no trifling consequence. While we live in such a solemn hour, just when the last echo of mercy is dying away, and Satan is especially busy in every possible way to draw the mind from God, and prevent us from securing the salvation of our souls, how carefully we ought to watch lest he should in some way get an advantage, and lead us astray, even before we are aware of it. Feeling grateful for the mercy that has opened my eyes to one of the fatal snares that had been laid for my feet, I am anxious, as far as in my power, to caution my young brothers and sisters, lest they be overtaken in a similar fault. It is in regard to reading such books as may indeed charm and captivate the mind, but which do not tend to make us more spiritual, or better prepared to endure the trials, and overcome the temptations that we meet with from day to day. A little sketch of my own experience on this point, will best express what I would say.
I had naturally a fondness for reading of almost any kind, but especially for romance and anything in the form of a story, seemed perfectly irresistible. But for some years after I gave my heart to God, the only reading I allowed myself, was the Bible and strictly religious books. In the Christian experience of such eminently holy persons as Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher, I greatly delighted, and never read them without more earnestly desiring to be, as they were, conformed to the image of Christ, and a fuller determination to overcome, as they overcame. But as time passed on, and I began to leave my first love, I gradually grew less and less strict, and indulged my natural taste for reading more freely. Poetry, I regarded as a gift so divine, that I was fully at liberty to read whatever I met with in that dress. But in this I erred; for the highest and noblest gifts may be perverted to a bad use. And then, I reasoned, there could possibly be no harm in reading some of the beautifully written tales that appear in magazines, etc., especially as many professing Christians were engaged in their publication, and some, in whose piety and superior judgment I had great confidence, encouraged such reading in their families. At first I trembled lest it was wrong; but at length persuaded myself that it was not only right, but really necessary for the improvement of the mind. I determined, however, that my first business should be to serve God, that I would on no account neglect my Bible, and would be very careful that such reading did not engross too much of my attention. But I soon found that in this respect, my power of self-denial was gone, and many, many precious hours were wasted, that, should have been spent in storing my mind with the treasures of heavenly wisdom.
But what was its effect upon my spiritual life? Nothing indeed was farther from my mind than the idea of giving up any part of the truth, or of joining with the world again. But where was that sweet communion with God that I once enjoyed in my closet, and my love for His holy Bible? Alas! it had been neglected, or if I read it daily, its sweetness was gone, and I tremble to think how often I knelt before the Lord with my mind so excited from unprofitable reading, that I hardly realized what I was doing. Where was that trembling conscientiousness that made me so carefully question my conduct, lest some of my ways should be displeasing to God? Then, though I had many evil things to overcome, there was something within, that was continually stirring me up to a holy life; but now, that too, was gone, and though deeply sensible of the change, and constantly mourning over it, I was yet unwilling to admit that the change in my reading habits had much to do with it. I believed I could enjoy religion and still indulge in these things, and many were the resolutions that I formed to be more watchful, more earnest and faithful in secret prayer, and to live nearer to God; but all appeared fruitless and vain. If at times I experienced any measure of the blessing of God, it seemed to vanish like the morning cloud, and the early dew. Indeed, what effort can restore greenness to the leaf, while the worm is suffered to remain at the root? But the Lord was long-suffering, and at length, through His abounding mercy, I was led to see the snare of Satan into which I had fallen; and it became the language of my heart—
“The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be;
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.”
I then resolved that, by the grace of God, I would no longer indulge a taste and inclination so destructive to vital godliness. That my reading should be selected with reference to the glory of God and the best interest of my soul. I would in this manner waste no more of the golden moments that were still left me to prepare for heaven; but would bear in mind that I must give an account of them all to God, and that I was not at liberty to please myself, but should please Him who purchased me with His own blood.
Though this resolution may be severely tried, and the power of temptation is strong, I rely upon the promise of the Lord for strength to overcome. Thus far it is easier than I anticipated, for I taste once more the preciousness of a Saviour’s love. Again He meets me in the closet, and it seems easy to part with all beside. But never again can I rest without the assurance of my acceptance with Him. How good and merciful God has been, my tongue can never express. But at times I can realize and feel it, in some degree at least; and the thought of grieving Him again is more sad than the thought of death. O, I do love Him, and I long to love Him more.
The evil effects of such reading as is here referred to, are many; but one in particular I noticed upon myself. Men and women of the world, without one particle of the spirit of true religion are made to appear as real Christians, and represented as far less human than divine; and as we read, they become in our minds, models of excellence, and worthy of all imitation, and we, look no higher. Thus the standard of piety is lowered to the very dust, and ere we are aware of it we become just like the world. We may think we can read without being influenced by it, but it is not so. We shun our former associates, because we fear the influence of their worldly spirit; but worldly books are no less dangerous companions, and should be as carefully avoided.
Perhaps some of my young friends may find in this little sketch, a record of their own experience, though I hope not many. Yet we are exposed to similar temptations, and may be overtaken in the same snare; so that the fall of one should admonish the others, and we may each, perhaps, expose some device of the enemy, and in this way be helpers to each other. I rejoice that, though we have such an artful and mighty foe to contend with, our God is wiser and stronger than he, and has promised to deliver us if we trust in Him. Jesus has overcome, and we too may overcome, and with Him inherit all things.
My dear young brothers and sisters, let us look heaven-ward. Glory, glory unspeakable is there, and it may all be our own. Let us never for one moment think it hard to part with the, pleasures and enjoyments of this vain, perishing world; but rather rejoice that we are permitted in any degree to deny ourselves for the sake of the friendship of Jesus, and have respect unto the recompense of reward. It is only when we lose sight of the glorious things that God has prepared for those who love Him, that this world possesses any attractions for us. I feel like leaving it all behind, and pressing forward to grasp the everlasting prize. We leave nothing that will be of any value to us in the “day for which all other days were made.” Let us remember this, and employ our time in such a way as will appear to our advantage then. Let us make the Bible our heart’s best treasure, and our book of study, and its sacred truths will sanctify us, its precious promises be our joy even in the midst of grief, and its holy precepts guide us safely through to our Father’s kingdom.
The Youth’s Instructor, January, 1854.