We are accountable to God for the wise improvement of every mental faculty and every physical power. Who can measure his responsibility? We must render an account for the influence which we exert. That which seems to us to be a small defect in our character will be reproduced in others in a greater degree, and thus the influence we have exerted for evil may be increased and perpetuated.
Let none venture to speak lightly of the cautions given by those whose duty it is to guard their moral and spiritual welfare. The words may seem to be of little consequence, producing only a momentary impression on the minds of the hearers. But this is not all. In many cases these words find a response in the unsanctified hearts of youth who have never submitted to caution or restraint. The influence of a thoughtless word may affect a soul's eternal destiny. Every person is exerting an influence upon the lives of others. We must be either as a light to brighten and cheer their path, or as a desolating tempest to destroy. We are either leading our associates upward to happiness and immortal life, or downward to sorrow and eternal ruin. No man will perish alone in his iniquity. However contracted may be one's sphere of influence, it is exerted either for good or for evil. One man upon his deathbed exclaimed: "Gather up my influence, and bury it with me." Could this be done? No, no; like the thistle seed it had been borne everywhere and had taken root and would yield an abundant harvest.
There are few who form evil habits deliberately. By frequent repetition of wrong acts, habits are formed unconsciously and become so firmly established that the most persistent effort is required to effect a change. We should never be slow in breaking up a sinful habit. Unless evil habits are conquered, they will conquer us and destroy our happiness. There are many poor creatures, now miserable, disappointed,
and degraded, a curse to all around them, who might have been useful and happy men had they but improved their opportunities. Many youth waste the precious hours of life in idle daydreaming. Such persons have not much force of character or strength of principle. Many drift about, the sport of every changing circumstance. They are ever looking to others for sympathy, vainly depending upon others for happiness. All who pursue this course will wreck their hopes, both for this life and for the life to come.
Young persons who are thrown into one another's society may make their association a blessing or a curse. They may edify, bless, and strengthen one another, improving in deportment, in disposition, in knowledge; or, by permitting themselves to become careless and unfaithful, they may exert only a demoralizing influence.
Jesus will be the helper of all who put their trust in Him. Those who are connected with Christ have happiness at their command. They follow in the path where their Saviour leads, for His sake crucifying self with the affections and lusts. These persons have built their hopes on Christ, and the storms of earth are powerless to sweep them from the sure foundation.
It rests with yourselves, young men and women, whether you will become persons of trust, of integrity and real usefulness. You should be ready and resolute to take your stand for the right, under all circumstances. Our wrong habits cannot be taken to heaven with us, and unless overcome here, they will shut us out of the abode of the righteous. Bad habits, when opposed, will offer the most vigorous resistance; but if the warfare is kept up with energy and perseverance, they may be conquered.
In order to form correct habits, we should seek the company of persons of sound moral and religious influence. We should constantly bear in mind that we may be fitting to inhabit the heavenly courts. The precious hours of probation are granted that we may remove every defect from the character; and we should seek to do this, not only that we may obtain the future
life, but that we may be useful here. Young men and women should regard a good character as a capital of more value than gold or silver or stocks. It will be unaffected by panics and failures, and will bring rich returns when earthly possessions shall be swept away. The youth need a higher, nobler view of the value of Christian character. Sin blinds the eyes and defiles the heart. Integrity, firmness, and perseverance are qualities which all should seek earnestly to cultivate; for they clothe the possessor with a power which is irresistible, a power which makes him strong to do good, strong to resist evil, strong to bear adversity. It is here that true excellence of character shines forth with the greatest luster.
Strength of character consists of two things--power of will and power of self-control. Many youth mistake strong, uncontrolled passion for strength of character; but the truth is that he who is mastered by his passions is a weak man. The real greatness and nobility of the man is measured by the power of the feelings that he subdues, not by the power of the feelings that subdue him. The strongest man is he, who, while sensitive to abuse, will yet restrain passion and forgive his enemies. Such men are true heroes.
Many have such meager ideas of what they may become that they will ever remain dwarfed and narrow, when, if they would improve the powers which God has given them, they might develop a noble character and exert an influence that would win souls to Christ. Knowledge is power; but intellectual ability, without goodness of heart, is a power for evil.
God has given us our intellectual and moral powers, but to a great extent every person is the architect of his own character. Every day the structure is going up. The word of God warns us to take heed how we build, to see that our building is founded upon the eternal Rock. The time is coming when our work will stand revealed just as it is. Now is the time for all to cultivate the powers which God has given them, that they may form characters for usefulness here and for a higher life hereafter.
Every act of life, however unimportant, has its influence in forming the character. A good character is more precious than worldly possessions, and the work of forming it is the noblest in which men can engage.
Characters formed by circumstance are changeable and discordant--a mass of contraries. Their possessors have no high aim or purpose in life. They have no ennobling influence upon the characters of others. They are purposeless and powerless.
The little span of life allotted us here should be wisely improved. God would have His church a living, devoted, working church. But our people, as a body, are far from this now. God calls for strong, brave souls, for active, living Christians, who are following the true Pattern, and who will exert a decided influence for God and the right. The Lord has committed to us, as a sacred trust, most important and solemn truths, and we should show their influence upon our lives and characters.