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YOUTH DIRECTED TO THE BEST TEACHER.*
“ Learn of Me." Mat. xi, 29. My Dear Young Friends; It is to you that I intend addressing myself. I shall endeavor to avoid all sermonizingall conventional forms and technical phrases, and give a free and conversational utterance to a few thoughts which may, under God's blessing, quicken your spiritual natures, and help you to reach the destinies of the good.
I. The first introductory thought I would have you understand and feel is, that You are all learners.
Man only, philosophically considered, is a learner. Other creatures have, treasured up in their mental constitutions, a sufficient amount of intuitive knowledge to enable them to supply their wants, to preserve their existence, and to fulfil the several purposes of their being. Hence there is no accumulation of knowledge in the lower creation-centuries add nothing to their common stock of intelligence or experience. The bird thatnow warbles in our groves, knows no more than its first parent which sang in the bowers of Paradise.
But you are learners. Learning is at once the Great Want, and the Great Law of your being.
It is your great want. What would your existence be without learning? You would be incapable of directing either the members of the body, the faculties of intellect, or the deathless and ever-stirring sympathies of the soul. To live for ever, without learning, would be to live in eternal infancy-a mere sentient life, passive, without meaning, and without power. To such a life, the lovely universe would be a blank; and the Infinite Creator, a cipher.
It is a great law as well. We are bound to learn ; we cannot help it. Were we excluded from all institutional schools, and never taught more than to read or write, or even say the alphabet, we are still in the great public school of life, where experience is the teacher, and every human being a pupil; and where, in every scene, the family, the street, the market, and nature in all her departments, lessons are hung up which we are all bound to
Being the substance of a Sermon to the Young, by the Rev. David Thomas, of
learn and feel. Nor is this a temporary law, a law confined to our first stage of existence, or to any particular subsequent portion of our history; it belongs to our whole being, here and hereafter; it is a part, not of our circumstances, but of our very nature. The more the mind learns, the more are the desire, capacity, and need for learning increased—the more need, because the more momentous the responsibilities to discharge.
II. The next introductory thought is -- This is your most important season for learning.
In the first place, we learn more in the first ten years of our life here, than in any after age. The mind is then more susceptible of impression ; the inquisitive faculty is more active, and the memory more tenacious. Hence old people, who lose the remembrance of what transpired yesterday, and to whom the preceding half century of their conscious being is oftentimes a blank, will call up with vividness the far-distant events of childhood.
Secondly. Our first stock of knowledge determines the character of all our subsequent attainments. There is the law of affinities and antipathies presiding as truly over the ideas and sentiments of souls, as over the various elements of the material world : the attractive and repulsive principles are not confined to natural philosophy. The holy and the true in thought will draw to themselves all that is true and holy, and repel those principles and sentiments which possess nothing in common with themselves. The more the soul is filled with the good, the more force it has to attract the excellent, and repel the bad; or, to use a more familiar figure, youthful knowledge is the foundation of all subsequent mental work : if the groundwork be good, you may build up for yourselves an edifice that will brave all future storms; but if not, however lofty and beautiful the superstructure, it must one day come down, and bury amidst its ruins all the great interests of your souls.
III. There is no step in life so important as that of choosing a teacher-a spiritual master who shall give you the right instruction. And here the text just meets your case, “Learn of Me." It is the language of supreme law. Who speaks? It is no other than the maker of the worlds, visible and invisible, the Lord of the universe, Jesus, who kindled up all minds and endowed them with immortality. He it is who now claims to be your instructor,
and seeks to fill and inspire your minds with the highest and holiest thoughts.
It is the language of supreme love as well as of supreme law Of whom beside could we learn savingly and to profit? Who else could meet, and minister to this great want of our nature? Certainly not the Jewish rabbins, nor the Greek or Roman sages. The first could only cumber and mislead the minds of their disciples by their vain traditions and carnal interpretations; the second would only bewilder and confound by the wild speculations of a vain and spurious philosophy.
Some of my young friends may perhaps be disposed to ask what the Scriptures mean when they enjoin us to learn of Christ? What are we to learn of him?
I answer that you are to learn of him just the two things which you are ever learning and ever bound to learn, ideas and habits—these make up the moral character of man, and will control his coming destinies.
Speaking of these separately, we may say that ideas belong to the understanding-habits, to the life; ideas, the elements of knowledge-habits, the elements of character. But there is a mutual connexion between them, they necessarily act and re-act on each other. We are to learn of Christ, then, in two ways,— .
I. Intellectually, as the teacher of ideas, and II. Morally, as the teacher of habits. I. INTELLECTUALLY, as the teacher of ideas. But what ideas does Jesus teach? We reply, theological. Theology is the highest of all intellectual pursuits—the noblest form of philosophy: and the theology of Christ is the sublime-the true theology. What knowledge can compare with that which concerns the being, the essence, the attributes, the claims, the works of the great God himself? And these are the subjects which Christ teaches ; the majestic themes to which he refers when he says, “ Learn of me." Others may teach you certain natural and secular sciences : but this science, of all sciences, Jesus alone can teach. It has been said, that Jesus brought no new theological ideas into the world; that what he enunciated had been proclaimed by Jewish seers and Gentile sages, long before his appearance in Judea.
Were this conceded, his teaching would still be pre-eminently glorious on account of its method. If the ideas were old, he took them up, moulded them into original forms, breathed into them a new life, clothed them with moral graudeur, and gave them a freshness and a power to break the monotony of thought which every where prevailed, wake up the slumbering faculties of man to earnest action, and model the world's mind after the image of himself. The very method of his teaching shows to me that the matter of his teaching was strictly his own, even though it had been in the world many ages before he tabernacled amongst men. “Never man spake like this man.” There were no formal classification, no set phrases, no attempt at finery, no effort to please the sentimentality, or charm the imagination of men. All was truthful; all real. Every word he spoke flashed upon his astonished hearers the conviction, “Here is a New Mind.” He was felt as well as heard. His words were things,
-things instinct with life; they unfolded and expressed his soul as naturally as the stream manifests the fountain, or a ray of light, the sun. He had no superstitious ideas as to place; but spoke with the same power and freedom every where. The mountain, the sea shore, the vessel, or the consecrated temple, were alike to him. Even in the house of the publican he had his audience. His teaching was not ruled by time or place, but by the presence and wants of souls.
And of this teacher you are to learn your theology. Go not, as your forefathers have done, to catechisms, to creeds, to sermons, to preachers, for your theology; but go to Jesus. Get at the “ truth as it is in him ;" not as it is in men or books. He alone can rightly instruct you in this incomparable branch of truth. This he tells you in the twenty-seventh verse, “ All things are delivered unto me of my Father; and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him." All treasures of wisdom and knowledge are shut up in him.
The sun is not to be revealed to us by the stars ; however bright and numerous these may be, they can give us no adequate idea of the glory of that great luminary. Just so, Christ, “the Sun of Righteousness,” is not to be revealed by books, by men, by angels. No! nothing but his own pure, immaculate bright
ness—the light, in whom there is no darkness at all, can adequately set forth his glory, Christianity, studied under Christ, is full of interest. You have heard it, perhaps, pronounced by some to be a dull thing-dark, sombre, and gloomy. But to whom is it dull ? To the man who has learnt it in dull catechisms, read it in dull books, or heard it from dull pulpits; not to the man who has received it from the living author, studied it at the fountain-head, and felt it breathing fresh and free from the heights of Judea. No; to him it is a thing of enchanting poetry, and quickening impulse, and heavenly inspiration. Judge not Christianity by the technical theology of the schools, which hedges in the mind by hackneyed phrases and artificial logic; but judge it by the free speech, and holy life of Jesus. Technical theology breathes the narrow, the dark, the impure spirit of man; the theology of Jesus, the holy, the free, and the quickening spirit of God himself.
But how are we to learn our theology from Jesus? I will mention two or three rules to guide you in the study.
1. Learn under a sense of the characters to which it addresses itself. If an argument or system be proposed, especially for a certain character, in that character it must be studied, in order to be appreciated. Now to whom is Christianity addressed. It comes to man as a fallen being - depraved and condemned ; and if we study not with this idea, how can we discover its adaptation or feel its power? It is for sinners; and who but the man who studies it, under a consciousness of his sinfulness, can reach its meaning, and appreciate its worth? What sympathy can I have with the great themes of sanctification, justification, or liberty, if I do not realize my position as unholy, condemned, and sold under sin ? Would you see the stars in the day-time? Then descend into the dark deep, hide yourself from the rays of the sun, and look above ; and ten thousand orbs may smile sweetly and serenely upon your head. And would you see the bright and morning star of Christianity? Then go down to the depths of your sinful nature, feel the darkness of guilt that surrounds you ; and then the Gospel will be seen, and hailed as a day-star for the heart.
2. Another rule that I would mention for learning Christ is, that you familiarize yourselves with the immediate circumstances