Advice To A Young Man Upon First Going To Oxford
( Originally Published 1832 )
SENSE OF RELIGION
MY DEAR NEPHEW,
IT gives me sincere pleasure to hear that you have actually become a member of the University of Oxford. This satisfaction, perhaps, may in some degree be attributed to the pleasing recollection of my own Oxford life, but certainly it arises principally from anticipation of the substantial benefits which you, I trust, will derive from your connexion with that seat of learning. At the same time, I will own that my satisfaction is not entirely unmixed with something like apprehension. An University education has many and great advantages, but it also is attended with many temptations;—temptations to which too many young men have yielded, sometimes to the great injury of their character, and the utter ruin of all their future prospects.
In fact, you are now entering upon the most important period—the turning point—of your whole life. You have become, in a great measure, your own master. For though you will be under a certain degree of discipline and surveillance, yet in a multiplicity of cases you will have to act for yourself—to take your own line. You will have to contend against the allurements of pleasure and dissipation, and you have just reached the age when the natural passions and appetites become most impatient of restraint. At the same time, you will be exposed to the influence both of the example and of the solicitations of lively young men, who will try to carry you along with them in their career of thoughtlessness and folly, and who will think it strange, and show you that they think it strange, if you run not with them to the same excess of riot. Against all these moral trials and temptations, your best safeguard will be found in a strong sense of religion, kept habitually present to your mind. You must endeavour, according to the language of Scripture—(and in writing to you I shall always gladly make use of the very words of Scripture, when they suit my purpose, as having a force and an authority which no other words can possess) you must endeavour to set the Lord always before you. Never for a moment forget that you are continually in the presence of that awful Being, who can, and who will, call you to a strict account for all that you do amiss. Nothing can excuse your forgetting Him.
If you at all believe in a Supreme Being, the Creator and Governor of the world ; if you believe that God is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and at the same time an avenger to execute wrath upon every soul that doeth evil, the least particle of common sense or common feeling will tell you, that nothing should be put in competition with his will. When his will is clear, it must be obeyed without hesitation.
I am sure that you will assent to this. If religion is any thing, it is every thing. It is, indeed, the one thing needful, in comparison with which every thing else sinks into insignificance, into nothingness. Endeavour, then, to keep up in your mind and heart this habitual sense of religion by every means in your power. It will require from you considerable care and attention. The lively spirits natural to your time of life, and the thoughtless levity of some of the young men into whose society you will be thrown, will have a tendency to make you think less of religion, if not to induce you entirely to forget it. Be ever ou your guard against thus swerving from your allegiance to your Creator.
Nothing will contribute more to preserve you from this danger than regularity and earnestness in your private devotions. When you rise in the morning, seek from God spiritual strength to enable you to resist and overcome the temptations to which you may be exposed during the day. Every night implore his forgiveness for your many failings and transgressions, and his protection against the dangers which surround you. Suffer nothing to induce you to neglect private prayer. You will of course be required every day to attend chapel. Consider such attendance not as an irksome duty, not as a mere matter of routine and college discipline, but try to regard it as a privilege, and to take a real interest and pleasure in it. Acquire the habit of joining fervently in the prayers, and of constantly deriving from the lessons and other portions of Scrip ture, the doctrinal and practical instruction which they were intended to convey. Many college chapels are furnished with Greek Testaments and Septuagints. You will judge from experience, whether following the lessons in the Greek assists in fixing your attention, or whether it diverts it from the matter to the language. My own opinion is in favour of the practice.
Make a point of giving to Sunday as much of a religious character as you can. I am not recommending a Jewish strictness. Let Sunday be a day of cheerfulness ; but let your reading and your thoughts, as far as may be, partake of the sacred character of the day.
The study of the Scriptures constitutes an important part of your preparation for your degree. This study will furnish an appropriate employment for a considerable portion of the Sunday. Always attend the University Sermons. I recommend this not merely as a branch of academical discipline, but as a means of religious and intellectual improvement. The sermon will generally, I believe, be worth attending to. The select preachers are chosen, for the most part, from the ablest men in the University ; men, several of whom are likely here-after to fill the highest stations in the Church. You will seldom be driven to have recourse to the advice of the pious Nicole in his Essay, " des moyens (le profiter de mauvais sermons."
The various modes in which different preachers enforce or illustrate the same great truths, and the diversities of their style and manner, may afford you matter—not of ill-natured criticism but of useful reflection. Some colleges require their under-graduates to give every week in writing a summary of the sermon which they have heard at St. Mary's. If you adopt this practice, you will find it contribute greatly to fix your attention, and to give you a habit of arranging and expressing your ideas with facility and readiness. Of course, some preachers deserve this steadiness of attention much more than others.
It is, I trust, unnecessary to remind you of the duty of receiving the Lords Supper, whenever it is administered in your college chapel. In some colleges, nearly all the under-graduates partake of this ordinance ; in others, I believe, almost all neglect it : at least this was the case formerly. In such and similar cases, you must be guided, not by common practice, not by the example of numbers, but by what you know to be your duty. If you feel any doubt or difficulty, frankly mention it to your tutor. There are, I am persuaded, few tutors now in Oxford, who would not be able and willing to assist you with their advice.
This attention to your religious duties need not be attended by any preciseness or austerity of manner. On the contrary, I should wish you to be at all times cheerful and good humoured, ready to take part in any innocent gaiety. My object is to impress upon you the absolute necessity of always putting religion in the first place. If you really believe what you profess to believe, do not hesitate as to shewing it in your conduct.
Never be so weak as to be ashamed of doing what you know to be your duty. Never be guilty of such unmanly cowardice as to be ashamed of avowing your allegiance to your Creator and your Redeemer.
My dear Nephew,
Your affectionate Uncle.