The exercise of Christian virtue makes youth the pleasanter in all the circumstances and concerns of it. Herein it has greatly the advantage of a course of youthful vanity, for the pleasure of that is exceeding unsteady and inconstant: it serves them only for a moment.
1. Young people’s exercise of Christian virtue, would sweeten both their company and their solitude.
(a) Their company would be abundantly sweeter, if they were virtuous in company. It would be more rational, more becoming reasonable creatures: their own reason would approve of it. They would be glad when they reflected and thought of it: everyone’s mind would approve of it.
It is a strange notion that many young people have, that company will be the worse for being virtuous. Vice is the most useless thing in the world in company: it does no good in any way: they may have free conversation without it, they may please and divert one another without it. And virtue would sweeten all that is said and done: it would make everyone the more pleasant company, one to another: it would supply ’em with the most pleasant and entertaining subjects of conversation.
(b) The exercise of Christian virtue would also sweeten solitude. Oftentimes those that live viciously and appear very merry in company, are afraid of solitude. They don’t love to be much in retirement; for they have nothing to entertain them alone. And when they are alone, reason and conscience is more apt to be in exercise, which greatly disturbs their peace. But those young people that walk in Christ and Christian virtue have wherein to rejoice, and to entertain their mind, both alone and in company. ‘Tis pleasant to them oftentimes to be alone; for then they have the better opportunity to fix their minds on divine objects, to withdraw their thoughts from worldly things, and the more uninterruptedly to delight themselves in divine contemplations, and holy exercise and converse with God. Christ calls forth such young persons from the company and noise of the world in such language as that.
2. It sweetens both business and diversion. To walk in Christ and Christian virtue, is the way to have the sensible presence of God, and the light of his countenance, and testimony of his favor, which is enough to sweeten everything to them.
If a person has good evidence of that, that his sins are forgiven, and that he is at peace with God, and is the object of God’s love, and has within him the testimony of a good conscience; this is enough to give quietness and cheerfulness, wherever he is, and whatever he is about. ‘Tis enough to make hard labor easy, and he may well do whatsoever he doth cheerfully that does to the Lord, and not to men (Ephesians 6:7). The exercise of religion would even sweeten young people’s diversions, as it would regulate them according to the rules of wisdom and virtue, and would direct ’em to suitable and worthy ends, and make them subservient to excellent purposes.
As has been already said of earthly enjoyments and company, so it is true diversions, that they are abundantly sweetest, when virtue moderates and guides them.
3. It sweetens what is present, and also the thoughts of what is to come. When young people spend their youth in sin and vanity, it gives them no pleasure but in what is present. It has a tendency to make the prospect of that which is future terrible. And therefore such young people are not wont to think much of what is future; hate such thoughts [as] are uncomfortable to them, and therefore shut them out what they can.
But when young people walk in the ways of Christ and Christian virtue, it not only gives them abundantly the most pleasant enjoyment of the present time, but renders the prospect of what is to come comfortable and joyful. They that spend their youth in the exercise of Christian virtue, they may think of old age with comfort, if they should live to it: and they may think of death with comfort, and may think of eternity with unspeakable joy. We are born for an eternal duration. Those that are now young, and have had their beings but a little, which they are to have their beings to all eternity, and Christ will give young people rational comfort and joy, let them look as far forward as they will, in this endless duration.
Adapted from Works, “Sermons and Discourses,” 1734-1738, (Yale University Press, 2001), 86-88.