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Readings for the Old


Turn we to the next page. We have entered on the busy scenes of life, we are surrounded by an entirely new class of companions; we have changed our innocent childish playfellows for young aspirants to commercial and professional celebrity; we have cast aside all boyish recreations and seek for those of a more manly character; we mix with youths older than ourselves and try to catch the tone of their manners; we find everything new to us, and of necessity must have some standard to guide ourselves by; in the selection of this standard we are insensibly drawn towards the idle and dissolute, those who in short appear mostly their own masters (for such is man’s love of independence that he would almost prefer doing wrong without control, to doing right under the supervision of another); after our hours of business we seek their society, we walk or ride together, visit a tavern or theatre, play some game of chance, or perhaps retire with some chosen one to his room and spend the evening in social converse; we find that we become by degrees strongly attached to this selected friend, scarcely moving without him, abiding by his decision on all occasions, in short he has become essential to our very existence. At this time we are in good employ; but at his suggestion we break our engagement and join him in business; he is several years our senior, and having lost both his parents at an early age has just inherited a legacy of a few thousand dollars; this, to our inexperienced mind is inexhaustible, especially when aided by the credit that it will obtain for us he has, by two, years employment in a wholesale dry-goods establishment, acquired some knowledge of the business; he is an experienced financier, and we have to our limited and biased views most flattering prospects; but the legitimate dry-goods business is too slow in its operations for our partner, and we become speculators—reckless speculators! To our blind <<402>>partiality his judgment is all-sufficient, and we never oppose it. In a few years we make money, a considerable amount, and our credit of course stands high; but we find the succeeding year to be one of sad reverses, and in the year following that we lose all—and become bankrupts!

This is a heavy blow to us; we are still very young, and all our brilliant hopes and prospects seem crushed at once; it completely paralyses us; our eyes are now opened to the recklessness of our late dealings, to the many shifts that we had been compelled to make, to the numberless irregularities (to call them by no worse name), that we had practised to carry on a business amounting to ten times our capital. We now find also that our failure involves an nearly ruins some honest and industrious men (for we had bought out the entire stock of several small manufacturers). All this is exposed to public view, our business is broken up, our credit is lost, and we are for the time ruined men. This is a melancholy page in our history; all, too, recorded at so early a period; scarcely six years after we had quitted school. But let us, my respected  friends, review these events; let us see if this tale of every-day occurrence might not have been told differently; whether if even our business had been unsuccessful in the end, it must needs  have been disgraceful—to the breaking up of our establishment, to the loss of our credit, and our ultimate ruin.

In the selection of our companions, and particularly our friend, our parents’ oft-repeated caution and advice were unheeded or forgotten; how frequently have they put us on our guard against such specious characters as this friend proved to be; how often have they repeated to us “honesty is the best policy;” but in our transactions we entirely discarded such reflections, giving bonds for thousands which we knew we never could pay, unless our groundless speculations succeeded beyond even our own fallacious hopes. Nay, in many instances, we fear, our names were lent for accommodation without even the intention of paying, although we might have been compelled to do so, thus trading largely on other men’s capital and credit, for of course these interchanges of kindness were reciprocal. How often, when pushed by necessity, have we practised mean subter<<403>>fuge to obtain time and put off the evil day! Was not all this dishonest? Decidedly it was.

I fear that too many of our books of life contain similar records, and are attended with similar results. And why is this? Because we disregard the precepts of the Law of God! Have we “observed the Sabbath day to keep it holy?” No; we rather disregarded its very existence. Have we not slandered our fellow-creature for the purpose of obtaining his customers? thus “bearing false witness against our neighbour?” Have we not in the height of our prosperity sought to obtain possession of his business premises or his assistants, because we thought them more desirable than our own? thereby “coveting our neighbour’s house?” Do we not make unto ourselves a god from that “which is in the earth beneath?” and though we do not set it up, and bow the head, or bend the knee to it (a species of worship, so called, too often mechanically practised towards the living God), do we not worship it with all our hearts and souls? sacrificing all else for its possession? the duties of a child? of a husband? of a parent? All, all, are immolated on the altar of this visionary god!

We neglected the observance of the lessons so carefully taught us by our parents, who, watching our heedless and sinful career, but unable from our headstrong self-sufficiency to check it, pined away in hopeless suffering at the disappointment of all their best hopes, and died a sacrifice to our avarice and ambition. Our wife too! Oh, pardon, thou patient participator of all our former sufferings and deprivations, thou venerable partner of our present peaceful and tranquil happiness, for thus recalling to your mind our former sinful course to you; how did we neglect your wise counsel! your kind and affectionate solicitude! your gentle and unobtrusive advice! how did we slight your pure and holy example, practising as you did all the precepts of God’s holy Law, to the extent of your ability! how did our stubborn heart suffer all, all to pass unheeded! While you observed our sacred Sabbath with rigid exactness, we were to be seen in our store transacting business. Our holy festivals were equally neglected, and we foolishly thought that by going to Synagogue for an hour or two on Yom Kippur, and abstaining from food for twenty-four hours, <<404>>we made full atonement to our God for all our past misdeeds. Miserable delusion! It is true, that in the committal of these deadly sins we did not deliberately plan and execute, but we knew that we were sinning. When the all-absorbing thirst for  gold would sometimes be interrupted (for it was never allayed), and a gleam of holy and religious reflection would burst upon our mind like the glorious sunlight breaking though the murky clouds, and shining on the tossed and troubled ocean: did we hail this heavenly harbinger? did we encourage the spark and fan it into flame, until it penetrated the darkest, the deepest recesses of our soul, and showed its unveiled hideousness to our sight? No! we rather drove the holy messenger, fresh from the mercy-seat of God, far, far away from our mind; we considered it as an intruder; “we should have time enough for reflection, time enough for repentance.” This proves that we did not sin from ignorance; but we had not time to seek into its nature,—we had not leisure to correct it—our every moment was occupied in seeking after treasure.

And our children: those beloved pledges of affection, those buds of promise that we vainly hoped would open into goodly blossoms, would ripen into fair and comely fruit, merely by the slight unfrequent sprinkling of the dew of precept, while the vivifying showers of example, whose steady and impressive action on the mind was more certain of producing vigorous and healthy results, were entirely neglected by us,—in vain did their anxious mother send them to the house of God on Sabbaths and holy days; they saw their father totally neglect the duties which they were taught were essential to the correct observance of those days; they saw him transact his business as usual, they saw him indulge in a cigar, they saw him ride in an omnibus, and start on various journeys to neighbouring cities. Their mother taught them from their earliest infancy to join her in prayers to God morning and evening, but they saw not their father at these gatherings; in the morning his business demanded his attention too early for him to join them at prayers, and his early orisons, though regularly if not very devoutly performed in his chamber, lost the effect of example on his offspring. At night he was either out or engaged <<405>>at home playing some game with his friends, or, overcome by the fatigues of the day, asleep at the time when he should have been surrounded by his children, offering up his fervent thanks to his Maker for his mercies, and supplicating a continuance of them to himself and those most dear to him. How many of us, my aged friends, have unfortunately cause to repeat with the poet:

                            “The thorns which I have reaped
Are of the tree I planted, they wound me and I bleed;
I should have known what fruit would spring from such a seed.”

We find then, upon mature consideration, upon viewing the causes of these lamentable effects, that our history might have been made to exhibit a very different record; that, in fact, we had by our own perverse and sinful course, produced all the evils that we endured; that, had we been dutiful and obedient to our venerable and pious parents, and followed their example, instead of selecting a standard of our own creation; that, had our minds been more occupied in seeking our God, the true and living God, instead of the vain and visionary one that we had ourselves erected as our guide by night and day, peace and prosperity would have been our portion, instead of suffering, disgrace, and ruin!

Here then we find that we were the sinners. Good example was held up to us, but we would not heed it; we cannot throw the blame on others; but must acknowledge ourselves alone responsible for all. Let us, however, my beloved friends, at this stage of life, so near our journey’s end, when we know not how soon we may be called to “that country from whose bourne no traveler returns,” study to show a good example only to the youth of our people; and let them not have cause reproachfully to say of us, that our practice is not such as to aid in enforcing obedience to our preaching.


Philadelphia, September 8th, 5611.