In his celebrated "Give me liberty, or give me death!" speech Patrick Henry said, "I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past."
Experience is the lamp which guides the footsteps of man. Just as there is no progress without memory, so there is no wisdom and character without experience. Yet how many act regardless of, or in defiance of, experience.
When Walpole in the House of Commons accused William Pitt with the atrocious crime of being young, Pitt rejoined by wishing that he might "be one of those whose follies cease with their youth, and not of those who continue ignorant in spite of age and experience.
Ignorant, in spite of experience! Multitudes are in that condition. The full companies of the living and the regiments of the dead press forward to entreat men to be wise, to be taught by experience. But they continue to be foolish, as if they could rewrite the moral law and found a moral world of their own, a world in which folly is not punished and where sin is not followed by retribution. There are some for whom experience is like the stern light of a vessel. It gives no light in advance, but it does serve as a guide and a warning to those who follow.
Imagine, if you will, a man in his old age—one who has drunk deeply of the cup of life and experienced much of its joys and sorrows, its shams and frauds, and its great and beautiful realities, too—returning to visit on a summer day the church of his childhood. The congregation that once worshiped there are now scattered, and of those that once filled the pews on the holy day, many now sleep in the quiet acre adjoining the church. It was there he listened to the preaching of the word of God, and was exhorted "to keep himself unspotted from the world," to love his fellow man, "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly" with his God. Then it was all theory, but now he has had a chance to put these theories to test in the laboratory of life.
Sit down by his side in the pew, in the now empty and silent church, and ask him to tell you what his verdict is. Will he tell you that those rules and precepts of the Kingdom of God were not worthy, that time has proved their falsehood? Or will he not rather say, "I have learned by experience that these things are true. 'The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold. . . . Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.' " (Ps. 19:9-11.) Yes, after all other things have come and gone, that faith, hope, and love of which the apostles spake are the things that remain. Link your life to that which abides forever!
It was a saying of Terence, "This is a wise maxim, 'to take warning from others of what may be to your own advantage.'" Always these danger signals are flashing in the lives of other men, letting us know when we draw near to some dangerous shore, inviting us to Stop, Look, and Listen. What flaming lessons! What stern and earnest teachers! Everywhere we see men and women getting ensnared, entangled, soiled, defiled, broken, wrecked. How can we hear of this, read of it, see it depicted on the printed page, or elsewhere, without being warned thereby?
If you have started just recendy, or perhaps, who knows, have traveled far along the same path, be warned by what you see in the experience of others. O Life, what a teacher thou art! how generous with thy lessons! how patient with thy unwilling scholars! how plain and unmistakable thy instruction, line upon line and precept upon precept! How eloquent thy pleadings! How sad thy farewell to the soul that would not be warned. "Turn you at my reproof. . . . Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh." (Prov. 1:23, 24-26.)
Listen to the verdict of the great Apostle John. It is true that John was just a fisherman in his youth, but he had been in company with the greatest of teachers, and in the long years of his life at Ephesus, one of the world's greatest and richest cities, he had had good opportunity to see what the world can do for a man. You can see him there in some upper chamber of his home at Ephesus. In the distance rise the great columns of the world's grandest temple, the temple of Diana. Outside his chamber, perhaps the multitudes pass up and down the famous Corso, with its marble stones and its busts of the emperors and the gods.
John is dictating to his amanuensis the first of the three letters that bear his name. As he speaks, perhaps the wind, blowing in from the Aegean, carries with it the sound of the cheering of the multitude assembled in the amphitheater to enjoy its bloody spectacles. John pauses for a moment, as he and the others listen, and then he says: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. . . . For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." (I John 2:15-17.)
Experience is a wonderful thing. It helps you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.
Experience is a comb which nature gives to men when they are bald.—Old Proverb
Experience seems to be like the shining of a bright lantern. It suddenly becomes clear in the mind what was already there, perhaps, but dim.—Walter de la Mare
If a middle-aged school superintendent could only sell his experience for half what it cost him, he could live in retirement and luxury.
Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you.—Huxley
Sometimes it seems as if all I ever learn from experience is that I have made another mistake.—Burton Hillis, Better Homes and Gardens
A hundred thousand tongues may discuss to you about the sweetness of honey; but you can never have such knowledge of it as by taste. So a world full of books may tell you wonders of the things of God in religion; but you can never understand them exactly but by the taste of experience.—Caussin
In the early days of the telegraph, serious plans were being made for a line from Washington to Baltimore. Five men were appointed to investigate the possibilities of such a line and to make their reports. Two did some quick figuring and concluded "No"; two more said, "Give it a trial." One went out for a little and returned saying, "Yes, the line is entirely practicable." He had experienced the sensation of receiving a message over the experimental wire, realized the possibilities, and come to an emphatic conclusion. So the "born again" person can speak of "that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of Life" (I John 1:1). Having had a message over the heavenly wires, he is impregnable to the doubts and insinuations of darkness on every hand. (I John 5:18-20).—Selected