BEING USEFUL

Can you find any thing, in all the works of Nature, which is not made
for some use? The cow gives milk, the ox labors in the field, the sheep
furnishes wool for clothing, and all of them provide us with meat. The
horse and the dog are the servants of man. Every animal,–every little
insect,–has its place, and its work to perform, carrying out the great
design of its Creator. And so it is with the inanimate creation. The
earth yields its products for the use of man and beast; and the sun,
and the air, and the clouds, (each in turn,) help forward the work.
And to how many thousand uses do we put the noble, stately tree! It
furnishes houses for us to live in, furniture for our convenience, fuel
to make us warm, ships to sail in, and to bring us the productions of
other lands. It yields us fruit for food, and to gratify our taste. And
so you may go through all the variety of animal and vegetable life, and
you will find every thing designed for some use. And, though there may
be some things of the use of which you are ignorant, yet you will find
every thing made with such evidence of design, that you cannot help
thinking it must have been intended for some use.

Now, if every thing in creation is designed for some use, surely you
ought not to think of being useless, or of living for nothing. God made
you to be useful; and, to answer the end of your being, you must begin
early to learn to be useful. “But how can I be useful?” you may ask.
“I wish to be useful. I am anxious to be qualified to fill some useful
station in life,–to be a missionary or a teacher, or in some other way
to do good. But I do not see what good I can do now.” Though you may
not say this in so many words, yet I have no doubt that such thoughts
may often have passed through your mind. Many people long to be useful,
as they suppose, but think they must be in some other situation, to
afford them the opportunity. This is a great mistake. God, who made all
creatures, has put every one in the right place. In the place where God
has put you, there you may find some useful thing to do. Do you ask me
what useful thing you can do? You may find a hundred opportunities for
doing good, and being useful, every day, if you watch for them. You
can be useful in assisting your mother; you can be useful in helping
your brothers and sisters; you can be useful in school, by supporting
the authority of your teacher, and by being kind and helpful to your
playmates. If you make it the great aim of your life to be useful, you
will never lack opportunities.

I have seen young persons, who would take great delight in mere play or
amusement; but the moment they were directed to do any thing useful,
they would be displeased. Now, I do not object to amusement, in its
proper place; for a suitable degree of amusement is useful to the
health. But pleasure alone is a small object to live for; and if you
attempt to live only to be amused, you will soon run the whole round
of pleasure, and become tired of it all. But if you make it your great
object to be useful, and seek your chief pleasure therein, you will
engage in occasional amusement with a double relish. No one can be
happy who is not useful. Pleasure soon satiates. One amusement soon
_grows gray_, and another is sought; till, at length, they all become
tasteless and insipid.

Let it be your object, then, every day of your life, to be useful
to yourself and others. In the morning, ask yourself, “What useful
things can I do to-day? What can I do that will be a lasting benefit
to myself? How can I make myself useful in the family? What can I do
for my father or mother? What for my brothers or sisters? And what
disinterested act can I perform for the benefit of those who have no
claim upon me?” Thus you will cultivate useful habits and benevolent
feelings. And you will find a rich return into your own bosom. By
making yourself useful to every body, you will find every one making
a return of your kindness. You will secure their friendship and good
will, as well as their bounty. You will find it, then, both for your
interest and happiness to BE USEFUL.

The true secret of happiness is, to be contented. “Godliness,” says
the apostle Paul, “_with contentment_, is great gain.” These two are
_great gain_, because, without them, all the gain in the world will not
make us happy. Young people are apt to think, if they had this thing or
that, or if they were in such and such circumstances, different from
their own, they would be happy. Sometimes they think, if their parents
were only rich, they should enjoy themselves. But rich people are often
more anxious to increase their riches than poor people are to be rich;
and the more their artificial wants are gratified, the more they are
increased. “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled
with hearing.” Solomon was a great king, so rich that he was able to
get whatever his heart desired. He built great palaces for himself; he
filled them with servants; he treasured up gold and silver; he bought
gardens, and vineyards, and fields; he bought herds of cattle, with
horses and carriages; he kept men and women singers, and players on
all sorts of instruments; whatever his eyes desired he kept not from
them; he withheld not his heart from any joy; but with it all he was
not satisfied. He called it all “vanity and vexation of spirit.” So you
may set your heart at rest, that riches will not make you happy. Nor
would you be any more happy, if you could exchange places with some
other persons, who seem to you to have many more means of enjoyment
than yourself. With these things that dazzle your eyes, they have also
their trials; and if you take their place, you must take the bitter
with the sweet.

But young people sometimes think, if they were only men and women, and
could manage for themselves, and have none to control them, then they
would certainly be happy, for they could do as they please. But in this
they are greatly mistaken. There will then be a great increase of care
and labor; and they will find it more difficult to _do as they please_
than they do now. If they have none to control them, they will have
none to provide for them. True, they may then manage for themselves;
but they will also have to support themselves. Those who have lived the
longest, generally consider youth the happiest period of life, because
it is comparatively free from trouble and care, and there is more time
for pleasure and amusement.

But there is one lesson, which, if you will learn it in youth, will
make you happy all your days. It is the lesson which Paul had learned.
You know that he suffered great hardships in travelling on foot, in
various countries, to preach the gospel. He was often persecuted,
reviled, defamed, beaten, and imprisoned. Yet he says, “_I have learned
in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content._” There are several
things which should teach us this lesson. In the first place, God, in
his holy providence, has placed us in the condition where we are. He
knows what is best for us, and what will best serve the end for which
he made us; and of all other situations, he has chosen for us the one
that we now occupy. Who could choose so well as he? And then, what can
we gain by fretting about it, and worrying ourselves for what we cannot
help? We only make ourselves unhappy. Moreover, it is very ungrateful
and wicked to complain of our lot, since God has given us more and
better than we deserve. It is better to look about us, and see how many
things we have to be thankful for; to look upon _what we have_, rather
than _what we have not_. This does not, indeed, forbid our seeking to
improve our condition, provided we do it with submission to the will
of God. We ought to use all fair and lawful means to this end; but not
in such a spirit of discontent and repining, as will make us miserable
if we are disappointed. If you desire to be happy, then, BE CONTENTED.

It is a mistake often made by young people, to associate religion
with a downcast look, a sad countenance, and an aching heart. Perhaps
the mistakes of some good people, in putting on a grave and severe
aspect, approaching even to moroseness, may have given some occasion
for this sentiment. I do not know, indeed, how prevalent the sentiment
is among the young. I can hardly think it is common with those who
are religiously educated. As for myself, I well remember that, in
my childhood, I thought true Christians must be the happiest people
in the world. There is no doubt, however, that many pleasure-loving
young people do look upon religion with that peculiar kind of dread
which they feel of the presence of a grave, severe maiden aunt, which
would spoil all their pleasure. And, I do not deny, that there are
certain kinds of pleasure which religion spoils; but then it first
removes the taste and desire for them, after which the spoliation is
nothing to be lamented. It is true, also, that there are some things in
religion which are painful. Repentance for sin is a painful exercise;
self-denial is painful; the resistance of temptation is sometimes
trying; and the subduing of evil dispositions is a difficult work.
But, to endure whatever of suffering there is in these things, is a
saving in the end. It is less painful than the tortures of a guilty
conscience, the gnawings of remorse, and the fear of hell. It is easier
to be endured than the consequences of neglecting religion. If you get
a sliver in your finger, it is easier to bear the pain of having it
removed, than it is to carry it about with you. If you have a decayed
tooth, it is easier to have it extracted than to bear the toothache. So
it is easier to repent of sin than to bear remorse and fear. And the
labor of resisting temptation, and of restraining and subduing evil
dispositions, is not so great an interference with one’s happiness as
it is to carry about a guilty conscience.

There is, however, nothing in true piety inconsistent with habitual
cheerfulness. There is a difference between cheerfulness and levity.
Cheerfulness is serene and peaceful. Levity is light and trifling. The
former promotes evenness of temper and equanimity of enjoyment; the
latter drowns sorrow and pain for a short time, only to have it return
again with redoubled power.

The Christian hope, and the promises and consolations of God’s word,
furnish the only true ground of cheerfulness. Who should be cheerful
and happy, if not one who is delivered from the terrors of hell and the
fear of death,–who is raised to the dignity of a child of God,–who
has the hope of eternal life–the prospect of dwelling forever in the
presence of God, in the society of the blessed, and in the enjoyment
of perfect felicity? But no one would associate these things with that
peculiar kind of mirth, which is the delight of the pleasure-loving
world. Your sense of propriety recoils from the idea of associating
things of such high import with rudeness, frolicking, and mirth. Yet
there is an innocent gayety of spirits, arising from natural vivacity,
especially in the period of childhood and youth, the indulgence of
which, within proper bounds, religion does not forbid.

There is a happy medium between a settled, severe gravity and gloom,
and frivolity, levity, and mirth, which young Christians should strive
to cultivate. If you give unbounded license to a mirthful spirit,
and indulge freely in all manner of levity, frivolity, and foolish
jesting, you cannot maintain that devout state of heart which is
essential to true piety. On the other hand, if you studiously repress
the natural vivacity of youthful feeling, and cultivate a romantic kind
of melancholy, or a severe gravity, you will destroy the elasticity
of your spirits, injure your health, and very likely become peevish
and irritable, and of a sour, morose temper; and this will be quite
as injurious to true religious feeling as the other. The true medium
is, to unite serious piety with habitual cheerfulness. Always bring
Christian motives to bear upon your feelings. The gospel of Jesus
Christ has a remedy for every thing in life that is calculated to make
us gloomy and sad. It offers the pardon of sin to the penitent and
believing, the aid of grace to those that struggle against an evil
disposition, and succor and help against temptation. It promises to
relieve the believer from fear, and afford consolation in affliction.
There is no reason why a true Christian should not be cheerful. There
are, indeed, many things, which he sees, within and without, that must
give him pain. But there is that in his Christian hope, and in the
considerations brought to his mind from the Word of God, which is able
to bear him high above them all.

Let me, then, earnestly recommend you to cultivate a serious but
cheerful piety. Let your religion be neither of that spurious kind
which expends itself in sighs, and tears, and gloomy feelings, nor that
which makes you insensible to all feeling. But while you are alive to
your own sins and imperfections, exercising godly sorrow for them,
and while you feel a deep and earnest sympathy for those who have no
interest in Christ, let your faith in the atoning blood of Jesus, and
your confidence in God, avail to keep you from sinking into melancholy
and gloom, and make you cheerful and happy, while you rest in God.

And now, gentle reader, after this long conversation, I must take leave
of you, commending you to God, with the prayer that my book may be
useful to you, in the formation of a well-balanced Christian character;
and that, after you and I shall have done the errand for which the Lord
sent us into the world, we may meet in heaven.

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