Our principles are the springs of our actions; our actions, the springs of our happiness or misery. Too much care, therefore, can not be taken in forming our principles. Men of genuine excellence in every station of life—men of industry, of integrity, of high principles, of sterling honesty of purpose—command the spontaneous homage of mankind. It is natural to believe in such men, to have confidence in them, and to imitate them. All that is good in the world is upheld by them, and without their presence in it, the world would scarcely be worth the living in.
That young man is sure to become a worthless character and a pernicious member of society, who is loose in his principles and habits, who lives without plan and without object, spending his time in idleness and pleasure. He forgets his high destination as a rational, immortal being; he degrades himself to a level with the brute, and is not only disqualified for all the serious duties of life, but proves himself a nuisance and a curse to all with whom he is connected. Every unprincipled man is an enemy to society, and richly merits its condemnation. They are not respected, they are not patronized; confidence and support are withheld from them, and they are left, neglected and despised, to float down the stream of life.
No young man can hope to rise in society, or act worthily his part in life, without a fair moral character. The basis of such a character is virtuous principles, or a deep, fixed sense of moral obligation. The man who possesses such character can be trusted. Integrity and justice are to him words of meaning, and he aims to exemplify the virtues they express in his outward life. Such a man has decision of character; he knows what is right, and is firm in doing it. He has independence of character; he thinks and acts for himself, and is not to be made a tool to serve the purpose of party. He has consistency of purpose, pursuing a straightforward course; and what he is to-day he will be to-morrow. Such a man has true worth of character, and his life is a blessing to himself, to his family, to society, and to the world. To have a character founded on good principles is the first and indispensable qualification of a good citizen. It imparts life and strength and beauty not only to individual character, but to all social institutions. It is, indeed, the dew and the rain that nourish the vine and the fig-tree by which we are shaded and refreshed.
Deportment, honesty, caution, and a desire to do right, carried out in practice, are to human character what truth, reverence, and love are to religion. They are the constant elements of a good character. Let the vulgar and the degraded scoff at such virtues if they will, a strict, upright, onward course will evince to the world that there is more manly independence in one forgiving smile than in all their fictitious rules of honor. Virtue must have its admirers, and firmness of principle, both moral and religious, will ever command the proudest encomiums of the intelligent world. The auspicious bearing of such principles on the formation of your character and on your best interests can not be too highly estimated. These are the mainspring of purpose and action. Their formation can not be begun too early in life, since they will remain with you as long as you live, and exert a decisive influence on your condition of success or failure.
There is no brighter jewel in any young man’s character than to be firmly established on principles of unyielding rectitude. They change not with times and circumstances. They are the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. They extend their sway to all beings and to all classes, to the man of learning and the ignorant peasant, to the beggar and the prince; they are the bond of union and the source of blessedness to all subjects of God’s empire. It is always easy to know what is right, but often difficult to decide what is best for our present interests or popularity. He who, acts from false principles is often perplexed in deciding on any plan of action. He knows not what course to pursue, or how to avoid the difficulties that are ever thickening around him. His way is dark and crooked, and full of snares and pitfalls. But the way is light as day to him whose ruling principle is duty. He is not perplexed as to questions of interest or popularity.
Such a man, whether rich or poor, has those solid and excellent traits of character which are certain to secure for him the esteem and confidence of all good men; and even those who are too weak to imitate his virtues are obliged to yield to him the secret homage of their respect. But the greatest boon of all is the self-respect he thus secures. He is not degraded in his own eyes by acting from unworthy and criminal motives. And it is only when once lost that you fully realize how valuable is this boon of self-respect. It is the fruit of exertion in right ways.
There are false principles, to embrace which is certain defeat to hopes of future usefulness. There are some who make pleasure the aim of their lives, and who seem to live only for their own enjoyment. Man was made for action, for duty, and usefulness; and it is only when he lives in accordance with this great design of his being that he attains his highest dignity and truest happiness. To make pleasure his ultimate aim is certainly to fail of it. No matter what a young man’s situation and prospects are—no matter if he is perfectly independent in his circumstances and heir to millions—he will certainly become a worthless character if he does not aim at something higher than his own selfish enjoyment. A life thus spent is a life lost. It is utterly inconsistent with all manliness of thought and action. It forms a character of effeminacy and feebleness, and entails on its possessor, not only the contempt of all worthy and good men, but embitters the decline of life with shame and self-reproach.
Another principle of evil import is the love of money, which exerts a mighty and powerful influence over the children of men. When once the love of money becomes in any man a dominant principle of action there is an end of all hope of his ever attaining the true excellence of an intelligent moral being. Money is the supreme and governing motive of his conduct, and, where this is the case, it is not to be expected that a man will be very scrupulous as to the means of obtaining it. Put a piece of gold too close to the eye and it is large enough to blind you to home, to love, to death, and to heaven itself.
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