The Virtue Of Timeliness
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Artemus Ward once said: "I have a gigantic intellect, but I do not happen to have it with me now." This was the 'humorist's way of saying that he was not ready for the occasion. And the remark is very significant, for unreadiness is one of the greatest mis-fortunes that can ever befall a man. Indeed, it is the secret of the majority of our failures. Not to be equal to an emergency when it arises is to lose every advantage which it brings ; not to seize an opportunity when it is offered is to lose it forever. It matters not how well prepared we may be before or afterward, if we are not ready at the right time our ability amounts to nothing. We believe that knowledge, forethought, energy and ambition have less to do with our success than the ability to see an emergency promptly and provide for it immediately. Practical tact will accomplish much more than all the qualities we have named. A little that is opportune and prompt will accomplish more than a great deal that is misplaced or a day behind-hand. He who has mastered the art of being on time, with all his powers and abilities ready for instant service, is already a successful man. Circumstances will bend to his will. Friends and helpers will rise about him on every side, and all he has to do is to take up the rewards of prompt and active services, that are never misdirected and never fail.
Now timeliness is that quality of character which enables us to adjust ourselves to circumstances. It enables us to do the right thing at the right time, and be neither too early, nor too late. It enables us to seize the main advantage and to win our successes while others sleep. As a habit it holds us to duty, and our work, if done on time, is always done with less friction and effort. Timeliness is indeed a prime condition of all high attainment and success.
See how vigilant and prompt the merchant is in studying the trade and adapting himself to the "signs of the times." How easily he keeps track of the changes in fashion and suits his business to these changes! He lets no opening pass without entering it. He is alert, always on the watch,ready to buy at advantage and sell at low rates. Observe the editor in his conduct of a public journal. How shrewd and sleepless is his watch over everything! How quick he is to seize upon every item of news! How easily he shapes his course to every new movement in the political and social world ! Had he a thousand eyes and were he endowed with perpetual and immortal youth, so that he need not sleep, could he be more timely than he now is ? He knows well that timeliness must dictate every word written for his paper, if it is to keep up with the times and retain its hold upon the public.
Some of our ministers of the gospel seem to forget what the wise man said, "That there is a time for everything." With impetuous haste they seek to crowd on revivals and urge this or that or the other hair-brained experiment for getting names upon the church book, forgetting that God himself has waited ages to perform what they wish to do in fifteen minutes. At last, in failure, the preacher learns this lesson, that he must conform to the drift and tendencies of life if he would succeed. He finds out that the salvation of men is accomplished by a discreet and wise adjustment of means to ends. He now patiently waits for opportunity and chooses his texts and topics to fit the needs of the hour.
No one needs to observe this principle more closely than the reformer. The history of all revolutions and reforms shows that change, to be effectual, must be wisely planned and most carefully executed. No great epoch in thought or morals has been marked out which was not duly adjusted to antecedents and consequents. The records of time abound with premature and, belated efforts to accomplish some great good, all of which came to naught because they were not timely. Men must learn to wait until the door is opened before they can enter into success. The Foreign Mission movement would not have succeeded in the days of Roger Williams. The emancipation of the slaves was totally impracticable when Garrison raised his cry of agitation. A long and terrible preparation was needed before that issue was in time.
And the temperance agitators have made some mistakes in trying to push their state and national prohibition before there was a public sentiment to warrant the movement. We are asked to support an amendment to the Constitution for state prohibition, when there is no possibility of such an amendment being carried or respected if it were. And zealous men and women have gone so far as to set up a noisy cry for national legislation in the temperance cause, when the indications are, that such laws would not prevail. The impatient philanthropist who would thus force good upon the world before men are ready for it, the zaelous radical who would crowd every desired consummation into the present, are trying to reverse the well established order of the universe. They want the end without the means ; the harvest before the . growth ; the victory in advance of the battle. But the logic of events is too true to the law of nature and the law of providence. Antecedents must go before consequents; premises must go before conclusions ; causes, before results. The wise man sees this and knows it, and the question which he asks always is, has the time fully come. When the times were ripe, slavery fell. When the times were ripe, the Protestant Reformation was ushered in and succeeded. When the times are ripe, prohibition amendments may be added to the state and national constitutions, but not before.