James Carnahan.

The importance of virtuous habits in young men, and the means by which they may be attained online

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MAY 14, 1854,




Princeton, 2V^ J.,



Nassau Hall, May 15th, 1854.
Ret. Dr. Carxahax,


At a meeting of the Senior Class, the follow-
ing was unanimously adopted :

Resoh-ed, That a Committee of five be appointed to request a copy of Dr.
Carxahax's Baccalaureate Address for publication.
Hoping that you will comply with the above request,
We remain

Respectfully Yours,


RICHARD S. CONOYER, \ Committee.

Nassau Hall, May 15th, 1854.


A. B. Don, Edw. Taylor, R. S. Coxover, Edw. T. Green and
T. P. Mickell,

Young Gentlemen :

In compliance with your request
I submit to your disposal the discourse delivered in the College Chapel.

With my best wishes for your welfai-e and that of the class which you re-
present, I am truly and faithfully,

Your Friend,




^ jr'Mj2iair8S7626=cop.2-


Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way ? By taking heed


In every human enterprise it is important to begin
well. And in no case is this remark more appropriate
than in the journey of human life. A wrong step in
the commencement generally gives direction to the
whole future course. And if after we have proceeded
some distance in the wrong way, we attempt to retrace
our steps, the effort will be attended with great difficul-
ty, and much time and labor will be lost in regaining the
right road. In forming a plan of future conduct, two
things demand the utmost attention of every young
man. First, the object at which he should aim, and
next, the means necessary to secure it. In our text
the Psalmist suggests an object worthy the attention
of every individual, and especially of the young, and
he points out the means by which it may be attained.
' Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way ? By
taking heed thereto according to thy word.' To cleanse
his way, is the object. Taking heed to his way according
to the word of God, is the means.

To the consideration of these two points, we at this
time invite your attention. To cleanse his way is evi-

dently a figurative expression, which signifies to escape
from moral pollution and to attain purity of heart and
life. In the Sacred Scriptures it is usual to represent
sin, or moral evil under the notion of pollution — some-
thing which defiles the soul and renders it offensive and
disgustful. Sin destroys the beauty and loveliness of
rational beings, tarnishes the bright image of God in
which man was created, and invests the soul in a garb
so foul and loathsome as to excite the disgust of all ho-
ly beings. In the Sacred Scriptures sin is represented
^s an abominable thing from which God averts his eyes
as being too pure to behold evil. .

Integrity, purity, holiness and piety, (all of which
are included in the general expression to cleanse his
way\ are im^Dortant and necessary to all men of every
age. Yet there is a peculiar propriety in inquiring by
what means a young man may cleanse his way,

1. Because a young man is in more danger of con-
tamination than any other. This danger arises from
the inexjDcrience and ardor of youth, andfrom the pecu-
liar temptations to which that age is exposed. The ex-
tent of his own observation is limited, and he can sel-
dom be persuaded to listen to the experience of those
who have gone before him. When the victims of sen-
suality, in the last stage of moral degradation, without
reputation or property or health, are presented to - his
view, he cannot believe there is any similarity between
these extreme cases and his own. He cannot believe that
these outcasts from society, now clothed in rags, totter-
ing in the streets, or emaciated in the hospital, or con-
fined in the penitentiary, had when of his age that high
sense of honor, that delicate regard to the feelings of
their friends, and that strength and decision of charac-
ter which he possesses. He feels himself injured and

insulted by the suggestion that he may one day become
such as the degraded and miserable being whose very
aspect fills him with disgust. When you point him to
such examples, he looks around him and beholds
some who have advanced farther in a course of dissipa-
tion than he at present intends to go, enjoying a high
degree of health, respected by their friends, admitted
to reputable and fashionable society, occuj)ying honor-
able stations, apparently free from care and imparting
cheerfulness and joy to all their associates. And why
he asks, may not he walk in the same path, so smooth,-
so enchanting, so well adapted to his buoyant feelings,
especially as he is determined to avoid everything mean
and disreputable, and to associate only with intelligent
and genteel companions. And if on some special occa-
sions he should go beyond the limits which rigid moral-
ists would approve, he alleges it is nothing more than
others have done who still maintain a decent and res-
pectable standing in society. With these views, and en-
couraged by these examples he is induced to go farther
until it is too late to recede. Thus we have seen on a
summer evening a gay and beauteous insect, charmed
by the brilliancy of a lighted taper, sporting around the
dazzling object, alternately approaching and receding,
coming nearer at each successive circle, until touched
by the flame it falls to rise no more.

It has been said that such is the deformity of vice
that it needs only to be seen in order to be shunned.
This is true when viewed in all its consequences pres-
ent and remote. But it is not true when the aspect
usually presented to youth is contemplated. It is then
dressed in all the seductive charms of pleasure, of
wealth, of fame. Every thing calculated to excite tl
appetite and to inflame the passions of youth, is heh



out to view. Fragrant flowers delightful to the sight
hang in graceful clusters on each side of the winding
path which leads to the mansion filled with dead meris

There are also persons already initiated into the mys-
teries of iniquity, prepared to meet young men, when
they go forth into the world, and to lead them into the
paths of corruption and crime. Vice like misery loves
company. Whether this arises from the social princi-
ple common to all men or from a consciousness of guilt
which dreads to be alone, we shall not now stop to in-
quire. The fact is so, that those who are corrupt make
strenuous and successful efforts to' corrupt others. Un-
der the guise of friendship they present allurements,
which the inexperienced know not how to resist. At
one time addressing their appetites and passions, at an-
other appealing to their love of honor and distinction,
representing some sins as manly and honorable, and in-
deed as necessary, in order to maintain a standing in
fashionable society. And if they succeed in corrupting
the morals of a youth under their tuition, the religious
principles in which he has been educated, will soon give
way and cease to place any barrier in the road to ruin.
When his moral habits have received an evil bias, no
foreign influence is necessary in order to induce him to
abandon the religious principles in which he has been
instructed. Under the high excitement of his feelings
and of the various objects with which he is surrounded,
he finds no leisure for serious reflection. Or, if in some
transient moments, the thought of God and the retri-
butions of eternity should disturb his guilty pleasures,
his own ingenuity will find pretexts to justify his con-
duct and to calm his fears.

From long observation, we are persuaded that the

rejection of the gospel generally begins with the corrup-
tion of the heart, and the loss of virtuous habits. We
repeat it, men usually become infidels or what is the
same thing, adopt erroneous principles, in order to suit
the corrupt habits, which they have formed. In some
cases, it is true, a contrary process takes place. The
reading of infidel or erroneous books, or the conversa-
tion of irreligious and licentious companions, suggest
doubts, respecting the great truths inculcated in the
Bible. And when the principles of piety are obscured
by the mists of scepticism, the only effectual restraint
to the indulgence of licentious and malignant passions
is removed.

Young men of literary taste are peculiarly exposed
to the poison conveyed through the press. Scepticism
and licentiousness are interwoven with almost every
species of literature. It is found in the most polished
histories in the English, in philosophical disqui-
sitions, in natural history, in poetry and fiction.

A young man must abandon all thought of mental
improvement, if he be not in the course of his reading
exposed to the deadliest poison, presented in the most
insinuating and dangerous form. Indeed, sources of
moral contamination accessible to all classes of the
community, have been opened. Infidelity and licen-
tiousness in a form calculated to reach the most igno-
rant and stupid, are presented to every age and sex, in
public lectures, in weekly papers, in essays and tracts.
To this contaminating influence, young men are more
exposed than any other class, and they are more likely
to feel the blighting effects, because tlie principles in-
culcated with so much zeal arc calculated to inflame
those passions which the best regulated discipline can
hardly restrain. An aj^peal which few have firmness


enough to resist, is also made to their vanity. They
are told it is mean and unworthy a liberal mind to re-
ceive the dogmas inculcated by parents, and to submit
to the restraints imposed by the precepts of the gospel :
that the time has come when they should cast off the
leading strings of the nursery, and walk forth with an in-
dependent and unshackled step. To the youthful heart
such suggestions are extremely gratifying : and many
flattered with the idea of independence, resign them-
selves to the guidance of their new instructers, and be-
come the dupes of the wildest follies, and the slaves of
the most degrading passions.

2. Again the inquiry, wherewithal shall a young-
man cleanse his way, is made with peculiar propriety ;
because habits acquired in early life, usually become
fixed, and are scarcely cajDable of being changed at any
future period.

No fact is more indubitable, none more confirmed by
the experience of every individual, and by the testimo-
ny of all ages, than that now stated. Yet this is a
truth in the philosophy of human nature, which young
men are slow to learn. Few young men, we believe,
deliberately determine to abandon themselves to a life
of idleness and dissipation, and consequently of insig-
nificance and wretchedness. Their intention is, after
a short period of self indulgence, to change their course.
And if one individual in a thousand can be recollected
who abandoning the follies of youth, has risen to dis-
tinction in life, it is sufficient to encourage others to
make the experiment. Examples of this kind are treas-
ured up in the memory and handed down from genera-
tion to generation, while the cases of hundreds and thou-
sands of others who have ignobly perished, are totally for-
gotten. Thus a single prize in a lottery is told and trum-


peted throughout the land, and not one syllable is uttered
respectmg ten thousand blanks in the same drawing.
The capital prize in the next lottery attracts the notice
of numerous adventurers, each one hoping to be the fa-
vorite of fortune. But suppose the anticipations of the
youthful adventurer should be realized, what does he
gain ? A few days of sordid gratification, and years of
regret that his best days have been uselessly and crimi-
nally wasted, — that he must carry with him through
life a broken constitution and have a continual struggle
to resist the return of habits formed in early life. Be it
remembered that in a vast majority of cases, reforma-
tion never takes place. A fire has been kindled which
all the art of man cannot extinguish. It burns within,
and at each successive hour acquires fresh vigor.

3. Another consideration which gives intense interest
to the inquiry, by what means a young man may cleanse
his way, is the large number of youth lost to their
friends, their country and the world in consequence of
the corruption of their morals at an early period of life.
We cannot form an accurate estimate of the number,
who from this cause die in early life, or become utterly
useless to society. Some attempts have been made to
ascertain the number who die annually in the United
States, by the single vice of intemperance. And the
amount on the most moderate calculation is truly ap-
palling. Add to this the victims of other sins, of lewd-
ness, of gambling, of duelling, and how vast must be the
amount ? Of this fact, any one can convince himself,
if he will take a single village or neighborhood, and
count up all who from these causes have gone to a pre-
mature grave. Or let him look around the circle of his
acquaintance and note those who have gone, or who are
in the road to ruin, through the indulgence of criminal


passions. And let it be kept in mind, that through the
delicacy of friends many pine and sicken and die, in con-
sequence of sins unknown to the world. Take only
those cases where the cause is obvious, and how much
talent, how much intellectual acquirement, and how
much promise of usefulness and distinction, are blighted
and lost through the corruption of morals in early life !
In what city or village, or neighborhood, do we not see
parents mourning over a lost son ?

If all the young men who have perished during the
last ten years, or all who shall probably fall in the next
ten years to come, from this cause^, were cut off in one
day^ what lamentation and mourning would be heard
throughout our land ? Egypt on that memorable night
when the first born in every house was smitten, did not
present a spectacle more appalling. In the wise and
benevolent order of Providence, all do not fall at
once, so that the youth in each neighborhood may have
before their eyes every year and month, a beacon to
warn them of danger. And what is to be more regret-
ted, these victims are not always the ignorant, the mean
and worthless : young men of education, of talent, of
respectable connexions, to whose future eminence their
friends and country were looking forward with fond an-
ticipations are among those whom the destroying angel
has marked as his victims.

4. I'he good which a man, who in early life adopts
correct principles and forms virtuous habits may achieve,
and the mischief which he will probably accomplish if
he take a contrary course, make it highly desirable that
young men should be correct in their principles, and
pure in their morals.

Every individual however low in station, or inferior
in talent, has an influence on the happiness or misery


of those around him. As a father, a son, a husband,
he holds m his hands the domestic peace, and in many
cases the eternal destiny of the domestic circle.

Not unfrequently the moral influence of an individu-
al whether good or bad, extends to a much wider sphere.
' One sinner destroys much good.' By his conversation
and example he corrupts others, and they again become
centres from which moral pollution emanates. And
thus the contagion is spread from neighborhood to neigh-
borhood, and conveyed from generation to generation.
It is also an encouraging circumstance that an individ-
ual, especially if he commences in early life, may effect
much good. The history of the church and of the world,
demonstrates that the moral and religious reformation
of nations as well as of individuals, is effected through
the instrumentality of human agents. Not only distin-
guished men, whom God has raised up, in great emer-
gencies, but each individual in whatever sphere he may
be placed, is capable of contributing immense and in-
calculable aid to the cause of virtue and piety. And
to what better cause can a young man consecrate his
talents and influence ?

5. Finally, purity and holiness is the only qualifica-
tion which can elevate the soul to its true dignity, and
prepare it for heaven. ' Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.' ^And without holiness no man
shall see the Lord.' On this account it is important
and necessary that the young as well as the old should
cleanse his way! And if it be true, as we think expe-
rience sufficiently demonstrates, that comparatively few
become pure in heart, i. e. sincerely pious, after they
have passed the meridian of life, how important is the
inquiry, ' wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his
way ?'


Of this short life, youth is the seed time for eternity.
And if this season p^ass unimproved, the probability of
a joyful harvest is greatly diminished. .Every young-
man ought to bear in mind this solemn fact, when he
is laying plans to spend the morning of life in sinful
folly, and to attend to the concerns of hi^ soul in old
age. God may leave him as he has others, to reap th^
fruits of his own criminal folly.

Such are a few of the dangers to which young men
are exposed, and such the importance of avoiding vi-"
cious habits.

II. It remains that we consider very briefly by
what means a young man may escape the pit into -
which so many have fallen. The Psalmist in our
text has pointed out the only certain and effectual means
by which a young man may cleanse his way, vi-z : by
taking heed thereto according to the word of God.
That is by attention, and attention according to a cer-
tain rule — the word of God.

If one or the other, or both of these be neglected, the
end will certainly fail to be attained. A man who
treads a narrow path surrounded with deep precipices,
will be in great danger unless he takes h6ed to his steps.
He may have received the most accurate and explicit
instructions respecting the road — he may have in his
pocket a map or chart representing the track he is to
follow — marking the paths likely to lead him astray,
and the precipices over which preceding travellers^ hkve
fallen, and yet if he forget his instructions and neglect:
to consult his chart, he cannot hope to reach in "Safety
his desired destination ; nor can the best moral ^and
religious instructions, avail a young man, who dasKr
es on heedless of consequences, not regarding all he^
has heard or read respecting the d'angers that sur-^


' round his path ? As a moral agent every individual
must think and meditate, and compare the different ob-
jects placed before ^him, so that in view of their relative
importance, he may decide which he ought to choose
and which to reject. Young men are extremely jealous
of their independence, afraid to have it suspected that
tliey are swayed by any foreign authority, or governed
by any will except their own. If then they would act
wisely they must think, what is the nature and what
the tendency of their actions. If they do otherwise,
they in fac1> renounce that independence, which they
affect to idolize, and yield themselves to the impulse of
every surrounding object. Submission to the authori-
ty of the Bible is often refused on the ground, that it
it would take from a man the liberty of thinking and
acting for himself. The truth is, there is no duty which
the Bible more frequently and solemnly enjoins, than
that a man should think and act according to his own
conscience well enlightened. And there is no sin more
severely ^condemned than the want of consideration.
The want of consideration ruins the temporal and eter-
nal interests of a large number of mankind. When
men are involved in difficulties in consequence of their
sins, they more severely blame themselves for the want
of consideration, than for any thing else, ascribing their
calamities to their own rashness, folly and want of

^ It will readily h^ admitted that no one can succeed
in an important worldly enterprise, unless he wisely
arrange his plans, and attentively use means necessary
to their execution. And can any one without vigilance
and precaution hope to escape the snares and tempta-
tions that surround his path ?

The want of reflection is the common and besetting


sin of young men. They sometimes imagine that this
heedlessness is laudable and becoming their age. Not
conscious of any positive intention to do wrong, they
excuse themselves for acts admitted to be criminal,
when done after deliberation and forethought. But if
God has endowed man with the power of reason and
choice, made him capable of distinguishing right from
wrong, and of perceiving the connexion between cause
and effect, can it be no crime to neglect to exercise the
noblest attribute of human nature, and to follow the
guidance of blind impulses, possessed by brutes in a su-
perior degree ? In what strong and pathetic language
does God remonstrate with men on account of this heed-
lessness and want of consideration ? 'The ox know-
eth his owner, and the ass his master's crib : But Israel
doth not know; my people do not consider.' Is. i, 3.
' Oh that they were wise, that they understood this,
that they would consider their latter end.' Deut. xxxii.
29. Attention then is indispensably necessary. There
is no royal high road by which either young or old can
escape the pollutions of the world, and get to heaven
without their own care and reflection.

2. But if a young man is anxious to cleanse his way,
by what light shall he direct his steps ? What guide
shall he follow amidst the dangers that surround his path ?
There is only one infallible guide, — one steady and bril-
liant light, which never leads astray the weary travel-
ler. I mean, the word of God, contained in the Holy
Scriptures — ' the only infallible rule of faith and prac-
tice.' " The law of the Lord is perfect converting the
soul : the testimony of the Lord is sure making wise
the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing
the heart. The commandment of the Lord is pure, en-
lightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, en-


daring forever. The judgments of the Lord are true,
and rio;hteous altoo:ether. More to be desired than
gold ; yea than much fine gold ; sweeter also than honey
and the honey comb. Moreover by them is thy servant
warned ; and in keeping of them there is great reward."
This eulogy is as true as it is elegant. And whoever
will make the experiment, — ^lay it down as a first princi-
ple, to take the word of God as the rule of his conduct,
— endeavor to imbibe its spirit, to obey its precepts, to
cherish its hopes, — will find from his own experience
that the encomium is not exaggerated.

Where else can we find a perfect standard of duty ?
Where else an ^nchanging light to shine on our path ?
Every other standard will be found defective. Every
other lighi fallacious. Can a young man follow with
safety his own reason independent of divine revelation ?
It is true, experience and reflection may induce a man
to exchange one sin for another. Profligacy may give
place to avarice or ambition. The penuriousness of old
age may succeed the prodigality of youth. But in
these changes there is no approximation to real purity
or moral rectitude.

Again, will conscience unenlightened by the word of
God restrain the passions, and guide the footsteps of
impetuous youth ? Conscience derives the acuteness
of its perceptions and the energy of its decisions from
the truths of the Bible.

It is true there is a foundation laid in the human
constitution to distinguish right from wrong. There is
a mirror in the human breast, w^hich shows to a man
his own deformity, when the light of divine truth is
brought to bear upon it. liet we know from experi-
ence that conscience may be so perverted, as to call

good evil, and evil good. And even when duty is



known, and acknowledged, this inward monitor, not
strengthened by the truths revealed in the Bible, re-
monstrates in a voice so feeble as not to be heard amidst
the din of passion, and the tumults of life. But let the
light of heaven shine on the conscience, let the sinner


Online LibraryJames CarnahanThe importance of virtuous habits in young men, and the means by which they may be attained → online text (page 1 of 2)