Article 3 ~ August 2009
Christianity began as a young people's movement. The fishermen whom Jesus found by the shores of lovely Galilee, and whom he challenged to be His disciples, leaving their boats and nets for a great avocation and a mighty adventure, were in life's morning time. It was a retinue of youths that the Master gathered to His side. When He and they moved about the villages, and among the cornfields, or under the olive trees, or by the waters of the lake sharing memorable experiences of friendship and service, His mode of addressing them was "lads."
And He was their contemporary. When Isaac Watts was composing his popular hymn, "When I survey the wondrous Cross," he had thought of following that line, not with the words we have "On which the Prince of Glory died," but with these: "Where the young Prince of Glory died." It is a pity that version didn't win its way, for it would have been a constant reminder to us that the Captain of our Salvation had the dew of youth. Ecclesiastes 7:1 "In the days of thy youth"
Youth is the time of generous impulse and eager enthusiasm. Dr. James Stalker wrote: "There is something awe-inspiring in the first glance cast by the young on the world in which they find themselves. It is so clear and unbiased; they distinguish so instantaneously between the right and the wrong, the noble and the base; and they blurt out so frankly what they see. As we grow older, we train ourselves unawares not to see straight or, if we see, we hold our peace. The first open look of young eyes on the condition of the world is one of the principal regenerative forces of humanity."
There is a fund of idealism in life's morning. Caution and calculation come later, as do contempt and cynicism. "Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them." Response to the clarion call of Christ; committal to the high enterprise is never easier than at the threshold of manhood and womanhood. Then should come the challenge to discipleship.
And let it be the living Lord who is held up to youth, the man of action, the Leader depicted in the Gospels who appeals not to our softness but to our strength. Let it not be some anaemic figure, some creature of the theologian's imagination, remote from reality. For it has not always been the real Jesus that men have acknowledged. It was acclaimed as a triumph when the Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity. Was it not rather a sad day for the Church, for to assimilate the celebrated convert she compromised. Was official religion pure ever since? We talk of the faith spreading and conquering Europe. "What Jesus conquered Europe? A conventionalized Jesus as unlike the real one as the floral patterns on wall paper are unlike the flowers of the fields."
Youth hungers for a creed, a cause, a captain. If some worthy passion doesn't grip it then some base frenzy may intoxicate it, some pernicious philosophy may ensnare it in its toils and hold it in the thrall. Douglas Hyde says that where there is a spiritual vacuum Communism rushes in to fill it. There is a void in too many hearts. Help the Saviour to possess those vacant places. He can fill with unparalleled good the empty hands of yearning reached out to life by wistful souls.
It is said that the needs of youth are someone to trust, something to live for, something to belong to, and in the service of Christ and His Church, in the community of those pledged to be strong with His strength, tender with His tenderness, patient with His patience, those needs can be most adequately met.
The choices of youth are fraught with far-reaching consequences. Frank Bullen told how he joined the Cachalot as one of her crew. "Sailors," he said, "are naturally and usually careless about the nature of the articles they sign, their chief anxiety being to get to sea and under somebody's charge. But had I been ever so anxious to know what I was going to sign this time I could not for the language might as well have been Chinese for all I understood of it. However, I signed and passed on, engaged to go I knew not where, in some ship I did not even know the name of, in which I was to receive I did not know how much, or how little, for my labour, nor how long I was going to be away."
Such madness is not a monopoly of mariners. Some are so greedy for life, so avid for experience, that they blunder into a grievous bondage. Indiscretions have to be clearly paid for in a mortgaged future. False steps bring a not easily remedied misery.
Would you embark upon adventures? You can commit yourself to Christ with confidence. His service is perfect freedom. Discipleship has enduring delight. Round that high venture the regrets of life will never gather.
Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long