In his vision Jeremiah saw the potter working on the wheels, and the vessel he was forming was marred; but, because it was still soft, the potter was able to make another vessel out of it, not the one originally designed, but still one of use and honor. Later on the prophet was commanded to take a potter's bottle, completely formed and hardened, not capable of being worked over, and break it in the valley of Hinnom. The clay had been made into the bottle, and the bottle had been hardened in the fire. Its quality was fixed, and, since it did not suit the owner's purpose, it was good for nothing and was shivered into fragments.
Youth is a picture of the first vision; its clay is soft and ductile, and the mistakes made may be remedied. But middle life and age—that is a picture of the second vision. The vessel has been completely formed, and hardened in the fire of experience; no improvement can be made and all the mistakes and marrings must remain.
Take the man who has failed in the race of life or who, if successful, wears honors that are tainted and does, as a matter of habit, things that once he would have scorned to do—take that man back to the morning of his consecration, to the day when he left the doors of the college with the fires of high resolution and lofty ambition burning in his heart; and let him contrast his present disenchanted, disillusioned, easy-principled self with that youth of long ago, when the fleece was filled with dew and God spake on every wind that blew.
Oh, these abandoned, forgotten, sinned-against Ophrahs of the past! Now the fleece is dry; no flame goes up from the altar; no voice of God makes the heart beat quick and the eye look up.
Winston Churchill, whose marvelous gift of words rallied his nation and all free peoples when invasion threatened England, in an autobiography written in 1930, My Early Life, A Roving Commission, expresses his regret that he did not have a university training. But that regret was tempered by his observation of how college men wasted their time, and he wrote: "But I now pity undergraduates, when I see what frivolous lives many of them lead in the midst of precious, fleeting opportunity. After all, a man's life must be nailed to a cross, either of thought or of action. Without work, there is no play."
Youth is like one of those fountains in the park at Versailles, or in the gardens of Peterhof in Russia. What wonderful reflections, combinations, sparklings, scintillations, and radiant iridescence are to be seen in the play of a fountain when the sunlight builds a rainbow through the jet of water and a million drops are transfigured into jewels like those which flashed and flamed upon the walls of the Holy City—jasper, sapphire, calcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst—and fall, mingled with fire, upon the watery pavement.
But yonder an unseen hand turns an invisible valve, and the column of water begins to sink lower and lower. The glorious color fades from the drops, the ripples disappear, and the face of the pool becomes smooth and still. All its splendor is gone, all its music is hushed. The spirit is gone out of the pool. So flashes and flames for a little in all its beauty and glory the fountain of youth. And then it sinks. Make the most of it!
Youth faces an open door. It whispers its great messages, points to its great goals, calls for hard labor and application, for clean living and the avoidance of that which will hurt or defile the soul, and measures the ground for laying the foundations of future strength and character. In the bracing air and golden light of youth things can be planned and things can be done which afterward cannot be planned, cannot be achieved. The metals of life are molten and can be worked into almost any form that is desired. But when this metal has cooled with the years it cannot be worked. One day, whether youth has been used or misused, slowly but inexorably its golden door begins to close, and soon the door is shut. No self-deception, no assumed but unreal energies, no art of the beauty shop or the dressmaker or the hairdresser, can hide the fact that the door is shut and youth is gone.
That voice which rings out of the Old Testament, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth" (Eccles. 12:1), applies not only to that greatest interest of life, the soul's relationship to God, but to all that is good and desirable in life.
One day an Oxford undergraduate, after a night of dissipation, was lying on his bed in his chambers when one of his own set of idlers came into his room and said to him, "You are a fool. You are wasting your time and your chance. Your way of going on is silly and senseless. Why not rouse yourself and do something worthy?"
That very moment the young man, who had been letting youth's precious moments pass by unused, like the water of an ornamental fountain through the hands of a nymph or a child, came to himself and resolved to change his way. He ordered his servant to lay the fire the next morning at five o'clock. Thus he began to pursue that course of study and application which in time made him one of the noted men of his day, and, through his celebrated book—Paley's Evidences—a great defender of the Christain faith.
In my university days at Edinburgh there was a young medical student named Macfarlane. He was one of our finest athletes, and everybody liked him. One day he was stricken with typhoid, which proved fatal. Macfarlane in his days of boisterous health had neglected his Lord, and when one of his friends, visiting him in his sickness, led his thoughts to the Saviour, he turned and said: "But wouldn't it be a shabby thing to turn to Christ now?" "Yes," replied his friend, "it will be a shabby thing, but it will be shabbier not to turn to Him at all!" And I believe that poor Macfarlane turned his shame-filled soul to the Lord.
But it is shabby to offer our Lord the mere dregs of life's cup. It is shabby to offer Him the mere hull of the boat when the storms of passion have carried its serviceableness away.
Let me offer Him my best, my finest equipment, my youth! Let me offer Him the best, and give Him the helm when I am just setting sail and life abounds in golden promise! "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth."—J. H. Jowett.
Give thou thy youth to God,
With all its budding love:
Send up thy opening heart to Him,
Fix it on One above.
Take thou the side of God,
In things or great or small,
So shall He ever take thy side,
And bear thee safe through all.
Quail not before the bad,
Be brave for truth and right,
Fear God alone, and ever walk
As in His holy sight.—Rev. Horatius Bonar.