George Whitefield Sermon 11

The Benefits of an Early Piety

Preached at Bow Church, London, before the Religious Societies.

Eccelesiastes 12:1, "Remember now thy Creator in the Days of thy Youth."

The amiableness of religion in itself, and the innumerable advantages

that flow from it to society in general, as well as to each sincere

professor in particular, cannot but recommend it to the choice of every

considerate person, and make, even wicked men, as they wish to die the

death, so in their more sober intervals, to envy the life of the righteous.

And, indeed, we must do the world so much justice, as to confess, that the

question about religion does not usually arise from a dispute whether it be

necessary or not (for most men see the necessity of doing something for the

salvation of their souls;) but when is the best time to set about it.

Persons are convinced by universal experience, that the first essays or

endeavors towards the attainment of religion, are attended with some

difficulty and trouble, and therefore they would willingly defer the

beginning of such a seemingly ungrateful work, as long as they can. The

wanton prodigal, who is spending his substance in riotous living, cries, a

little more pleasure, a little more sensuality, and then I will be sober in

earnest. The covetous worldling, that employs all his care and pains in

"heaping up riches, though he cannot tell who shall gather them," does not

flatter himself that this will do always; but hopes with the rich fool in

the gospel, to lay up goods for a few more years on earth, and then he will

begin to lay up treasures in heaven. And, in short, thus it is that most

people are convinced of the necessity of being religious some time or

another; but then, like Felix, they put off the acting suitably to their

convictions, `till, what they imagine, a more convenient season: whereas,

would we be so humble as to be guided by the experience and counsel of the

wisest men, we should learn that youth is the fittest season for religion;

"Remember now thy creator, (says Solomon) in the days of thy youth." By the

word remember, we are not to understand a bare speculative remembrance, or

calling to mind, (for that, like a dead faith, will profit us nothing,) but

such a remembrance as will constrain us to obedience, and oblige us out of

gratitude, to perform all that the Lord our God shall require of us. F9or

as the forgetting God in scripture language, implies a total neglect of our

duty, in like manner remembering him signifies a perfect performance of it:

so that, when Solomon says, "Remember thy Creator in the days of thy

youth,: it is the same as if he had said, keep God's commandments; or, in

other words, be religious in the days of thy youth, thereby implying, that

youth is the most proper season for it.

I shall in the following discourse,

FIRST, Endeavor to make good the wise man's proposition, implied in

the words of the text, and to show that youth is the fittest season for


SECONDLY, By way of motive, I shall consider the many unspeakable

advantages that will arise from, "Remembering our Creator in the days of

our youth." And,

THIRDLY, I shall conclude with a word or two of exhortation to the

younger part of this audience.

FIRST, I am to make good the wise man's proposition, implied in the

words of the text, and to show that youth is the fittest season for

religion: "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth." But to

proceed more clearly in this argument, it may not be improper, first, to

explain what I mean by the word religion. By this term, then, I would not

be understood to mean a bare outward profession or naming the name of

Christ; for we are told, that many who have even prophesied in his name,

and in his name cast out devils, shall notwithstanding be rejected by him

at the last day: nor would I understand by it, barely being admitted into

Christ's church by baptism; for then Simon Magus, Arius, and the

heresiarchs [heresies, maybe arch-heresies] of old,, might pass for

religious persons; for these were baptized: nor yet the receiving the other

seal of the covenant, for then Judas himself might be canonized for a

saint; nor indeed do I mean any or all of these together, considered by

themselves; but a thorough, real, inward change of nature, wrought in us by

the powerful operations of the Holy Ghost, conveyed to and nourished in our

hearts, by a constant use of all the means of grace, evidenced by a good

life, and bringing forth the fruits of the spirit.

The attaining this real, inward religion, is a work of so great

difficulty, that Nicodemus, a learned doctor and teacher in Israel, thought

it altogether impossible, and therefore ignorantly asked our blessed Lord,

"How this thing could be?" And, truly, to rectify a disordered nature, to

mortify our corrupt passions, to turn darkness to light, to put off the old

man, and put on the new, and thereby to have the image of God reinstamped

upon the soul, or, in one word, "to be born again," however light some may

make of it, must, after all our endeavors, be owned by man to be

impossible. It is true, indeed, Christ's yoke is said to be an easy or a

gracious yoke, and his burden light; but then it is to those only to whom

grace has been given to bear and draw in it. For, as the wise son of Sirach

observes, "At first wisdom walked with her children in crooked ways, and

bring them into fear, and torments them with her discipline, and does not

turn to comfort and rejoice them, `till she has tried them and d proved

their judgment." No, we must not flatter ourselves that we shall walk in

wisdom's pleasant ways, unless we first submit to a great many

difficulties. The spiritual birth is attended with its pangs, as well as

the natural: for they that have experienced it (an they only are the proper

judges,) can acquaint you, that in all things that are dear to corrupt

nature, we must deny ourselves, lest, after all, when w come to the birth,

we should want strength to bring forth.

But if these things are so; if there are difficulties and pangs

attending our being born again; if we must deny ourselves, what season more

proper than that of youth? When, if ever, our bodies are robust and

vigorous, and our minds active and courageous; and, consequently, we are

then best qualified to endure hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.

We find, in secular matters, people commonly observe this method, and

send their children abroad among the toils and fatigues of business, in

their younger years, as well knowing they are then fittest to undergo them.

And why do they not act with the same consistency in the grand affair of

religion? Because, as our Savior has told us, "The children of this world

are wiser in their generation than the children of light.

But, SECONDLY, If pure and undefiled religion consists in the renewal

of our corrupted natures, then it is not only a work of difficulty, but,

the perfection of it, of time.

And if this be the case, then it highly concerns every one to set

about it betimes, and to "work their work while it is day, before the night

cometh, when no man can work."

Could we, indeed, live to the age of Methuselah, and had but little

business to employ ourselves in, we might then be more excusable, if we

made no other use of this world, than what too many do, take our pastime

therein: but since our lives are so very short, and we are called to work

our salvation with fear and trembling, we have no room left for trifling,

lest we should be snatched away while our lamps are untrimmed, and we are

entirely unprepared to meet the Bridegroom.

Did we know a friend or neighbor, who had a long journey of the utmost

importance to make, and yet should stand all the day idle, neglecting to

set out till the sun was about to go down, we could not but pity and

condemn his egregious folly. And yet it is to be feared most men are just

such fools; they have a long journey to take, nay, a journey to eternity, a

journey of infinite importance, and which they are obliged to dispatch

before the sun of their natural life be gone down; and yet they loiter away

the time allotted them to perform their journey in, till sickness or death

surprises them; and then they cry out, "What shall we do to inherit eternal

life?" But leaving such to the mercies of God in Christ, who can call at

the eleventh hour, I pass on to

The SECOND general thing proposed, To show the advantages that will

arise from remembering our Creator in the days of our youth; which may

serve as so many motives to excite and quicken all persons immediately to

set about it.

And the FIRST benefit resulting from thence is, that it will bring

most honor and glory to God. This, I suppose, every serious person will

grant, ought to be the point in which our actions should center; for to

this end were we born, and to this end were we redeemed by the precious

blood of Jesus Christ, that we should promote God's eternal glory. And as

the glory of God is most advanced by paying obedience to his precepts, they

that begin soonest to walk in his ways, act most to his glory. The common

objection against the divine laws in general, and the doctrines of the

gospel in particular, is, they are not practicable; that they are contrary

to flesh and blood; and that all those precepts concerning self-denial,

renunciation of and deadness to the world, are but so many arbitrary

restraints imposed upon human nature: but when we see mere striplings not

only practicing, but delighting in such religious duties, and in the days

of their youth, when, if ever, they have a relish for sensual pleasures,

subduing and despising the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the

pride of life; this, this is pleasing to God; this vindicates his injured

honor; this shows that his service is perfect freedom, "that his yoke is

easy, and his burden light."

But, SECONDLY, as an early piety redounds most to the honor o God, so

it will bring most honor to ourselves: for those that honor God, God will

honor. We find it, therefore, remarked to the praise of Obadiah, that he

served the Lord from his youth: of Samuel, that he stood, when young,

before God in a linen ephod: of Timothy, that from a child he had known the

holy scriptures: of St. John, that he was the youngest and most beloved

disciple: and of our blessed Lord himself, that at twelve years old he went

up to the temple, and sat among the doctors, both hearing and asking them


Nor, THIRDLY, will an early piety afford us less comfort than honor,

not only because it renders religion habitual to us, but also because it

gives us a well-grounded assurance of the sincerity of our profession. Was

there no other argument against a death-bed repentance, but the

unsatisfactoriness and anxiety of such a state, that should be sufficient

to deter all thinking persons from deferring the most important business of

their life to such a dreadful period of it. For supposing a man to be

sincere in his profession of repentance on a death-bed (which, in most

cases, is very much to be doubted) yet, he is often afraid lest his

convictions and remorse proceed not from a true sorrow for sin, but a

servile fear of punishment. But one, who is a young saint, need fear no

such perplexity; he knows that he loves God for his own sake, and is not

driven to him by a dread of impending evil; he does not decline the

gratifications of sense, because he can no longer "hear the voice of

singing men and singing women;" but willingly takes up his cross, and

follows his blessed Master in his youth, and therefore has reason to expect

greater confidence of his sincerity towards God. But further, as an early

piety assures the heart of its sincerity, so, likewise, it brings its

present reward with it, as it renders religion and its duties habitual and

easy. A young saint, were you to ask him, would joyfully tell you the

unspeakable comfort of beginning to be religious betimes: as for his part,

he knows not what men mean by talking of mortification, self-denial, and

retirement, as hard and rigorous duties; for he has so accustomed himself

to them, that, by the grace of God, they are now become even natural, and

he takes infinitely more pleasure in practicing the severest precepts of

the gospel, than a luxurious Dives in a bed of state, or an ambitious Haman

at a royal banquet. And O how happy must that youth be, whose duty is

become a second nature, and to whom those things, which seem terrible to

others, are grown both easy and delightful!

But the greatest advantage of an early piety is still behind,

FOURTHLY, It lays in the best provision of comfort and support against such

time as we shall stand most in need thereof, viz. All times of our

tribulation, and in particular, against the time of old age, the hour of

death, and the day of judgment.

This is the argument the wise man makes use of in the words

immediately following the text: "Remember now your Creator in the days of

thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, wherein

thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them." Observe, the time of old age,

is an evil time, years wherein there is no pleasure: and ask those that are

grown old, and they will inform you so. Cordials surely, then, must be

exceeding proper to support our drooping spirits: and O what cordial

comparable to the recollection of early piety, depending wholly on the

righteousness of Christ? When the eyes, like Isaac's, are grown dim with

age; when "the keepers of the house, the hands, shall tremble," as the wise

man goes on to describe the infirmities of old age; when "the strong men

bow themselves," or the legs grow feeble; and the "grinders," the tooth,

shall cease to do their proper office, because they are few; for a person

then to hear the precepts of the gospel read over to him, and to be able to

lay his hand on his heart, and to say sincerely, notwithstanding a

consciousness of numberless short-comings, "All these have I endeavored,

through grace, to keep from my youth:" this must give him, through Christ

who worketh all, comfort that I want words to express and thoughts to

conceive. But, supposing it was possible for us to escape the

inconveniences of old age, yet still death is a debt, since the fall, we

all must pay; and, what is worse, it generally comes attended with such

dreadful circumstances, that it will make even a Felix to tremble. But as

for the godly, that have been enabled to serve the Lord from their youth,

it is not usually so with them; no, they have faith given them to look upon

death, not as a king of terrors, but as a welcome messenger, that is come

to conduct them to their wished-for home. All the days of their appointed

time have they waited, and it has been the business of their whole lives to

study to prepare themselves for the coming of their great change; and,

therefore, they rejoice to hear they are called to meet the heavenly

Bridegroom. Thus dies the early pious, whose "path has been as the shining

light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." But follow him

beyond the grave, and see with what an holy triumph he enters into his

Master's joy; with what an humble boldness he stands at the dreadful

tribunal of Jesus Christ; and can you then forbear to cry out, "Let me die

the death of the righteous, and let my latter end, and future state, be

like his?"

Need I then, after having shown so many advantages to arise from an

early piety, use any more arguments to persuade the younger part of this

audience, to whom, in the THIRD and last place, I address myself, to

"remember their Creator in the days of their youth?"

What! Will not all the arguments I have mentioned, prevail with them

to leave their husks, and return home to eat of the fatted calf? What! Will

they thus requite our Savior's love? That be far from them! Did he come

down and shed his precious blood to deliver them from the power of sin; and

will they spend their youthful strength and vigor in the service of it, and

then think to serve Christ, when they can follow their lusts no longer? Is

it fit, that many, who are endowed with excellent gifts, and are thereby

qualified to be supports and ornaments of our sinking church, should,

notwithstanding, forget the God who gave them, and employ them in things

that will not profit? O why will they not arise, and, like so many

Phineas's, be zealous for the Lord of Hosts? Doubtless, when death

overtakes them, they will wish they had: and what hinders them, but that

they begin now? Think you that any one yet ever repented that he began to

be religious too soon? But how many, on the contrary, have repented that

they began when almost too late? May we not well imagine, that young Samuel

now rejoices that he waited so soon at the tabernacle of the Lord? Or young

Timothy, that from a child he knew the holy scriptures? And if you wish to

be partakers of their joy, let me persuade you to be partakers of their


I could still go on to fill my mouth with arguments; but the

circumstances and piety of those amongst whom I am now preaching "the

kingdom of God," remind me to change my style; and, instead of urging any

more dissuasives from sin, to fill up what is behind of this discourse,

with encouragements to persevere in holiness.

Blessed, for ever blessed be the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus

Christ, I am not speaking to persons inflamed with youthful lusts, but to a

multitude of young professors, who by frequently assembling together, and

forming themselves into religious societies, are, I hope on good ground, in

a ready way to be of the number of those "young men, who have overcome the


Believe me, it gladdens my very soul, to see so many of your faces set

heaven-wards, and the visible happy effects of your uniting together,

cannot but rejoice the hearts of all sincere Christians, and oblige them to

wish you good luck in the name of the Lord. The many souls who are

nourished weekly with the spiritual body and blood of Jesus Christ, by your

means; the weekly and monthly lectures that are preached by your

contributions; the daily incense of thanksgiving and prayer which is

publicly sent up to the throne of grace by your subscriptions; the many

children which are trained up "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,"

by your charities; and, lastly, the commendable and pious zeal you exert in

promoting and encouraging divine psalmody, are such plain and apparent

proofs of the benefit of your religious societies, that they call for a

public acknowledgment of praise and thanksgiving to our blessed Master, who

has not only put into your hearts such good designs, but enabled you also

to bring the same to good effect.

It is true it has been object, "That young men forming themselves into

religious societies, has a tendency to make them spiritually proud, and to

think more highly of themselves than they ought to think." And, perhaps,

the imprudent, imperious behavior of some novices in religion, who, "though

they went out from you, were not of you," may have given too much occasion

for such as aspersion.

But you, brethren, have not so learned Christ. Far, far be it from you

to look upon yourselves, as righteous, and despise others, because you

often assemble yourselves together. No; this, instead of creating pride,

ought to beget an holy fear in your hearts, lest your practice should not

correspond with your profession, and that, after you have benefited and

edified others, you yourselves should become cast-aways.

Worldly-mindedness, my brethren, is another rock against which we are

in danger of splitting. For, if other sins have slain their thousands of

professing Christians, this has slain its ten thousands. I need not appeal

to past ages; your own experience, no doubt, has furnished you with many

unhappy instances of young men, who, "after (as one would have imagined)

they had escaped the pollutions which are in the world through lust," and

"had tasted the good word of life," and endured for a season, whilst under

the tuition and inspection of others; yet, when they have come to be their

own masters, through a want of faith, and through too great an earnestness

in "laboring for the meat which perisheth," have cast off their first love,

been again entangled with the world, and "returned like the dog to his

vomit, and like the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire." You

would, therefore, do well, my brethren, frequently to remind each other of

this dangerous snare, and to exhort one another to begin, pursue, and end

your Christian warfare, in a thorough renunciation of the world, and

worldly tempers; so that, when you are obliged by Providence to provide for

yourselves, and those of your respective households, you may continue to

walk by faith, and still "seek first the kingdom of God, and his

righteousness;" not doubting, but all other things, upon your honest

industry and endeavors, shall be added unto you.

And now, what shall I say more? To speak unto you, fathers, who have

been in Christ so many years before me, and know the malignity of worldly-

mindedness, and pride in the spiritual life, would be altogether needless.

To you, therefore, O young men, (for whom I am distressed, for whom I fear

as well as for myself) do I once more address myself, in the words of the

beloved disciple, "Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which

we have wrought, but receive a full reward." Be ever mindful, then, of the

words that have been spoken to us by the apostles of the Lord and Savior,

"Give diligence to make your calling and election sure. Beware, lest ye

also being led away by the error of the wicked, fall from your own

steadfastness. Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.

Be not high-minded, but fear. But we are persuaded better things of you,

and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not

unrighteous, to forget your works and labor of love. And we desire that

every one of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope

unto the end: that ye be not slothful, but followers of them, who through

faith and patience inherit the promises." It is true, we have many

difficulties to encounter, many powerful enemies to overcome, ere we can

get possession of the promised land. WE have an artful devil, and ensnaring

world, and above all, the treachery of our own hearts, to withstand and

strive against. "For straight is the gate, and narrow is the way that

leadeth unto eternal life." But wherefore should we fear, since he that is

with us is far more powerful, than all who are against us? Have we not

already experienced his almighty power, in enabling us to conquer some

difficulties which seemed as insurmountable then, as those we struggle with

now? And cannot he, who delivered us out of the paws of those bears and

lions, preserve us also from being hurt by the strongest Goliath?

"Be steadfast therefore, my brethren, be immovable." Be not "ashamed

of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation." Fear

not man; fear not the contempt and revilings which you must meet with in

the way of duty; for one of you shall chase a thousand; and two of you put

ten thousand of your enemies to flight. And if you will be contented,

through grace, to suffer for a short time here; I speak the truth in

Christ, I lie not; then may ye hope, according to the blessed word of

promise, that ye shall be exalted to sit down with the Son of Man, when he

shall come in the glory of his Father, with his holy angels, to judgment

hereafter. May Almighty God give every one of us such a measure of his

grace, that we may not be of the number of those that draw back unto

perdition, but of them that believe and endure unto the end, to the saving

of our souls, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Which God, &c.