VII. TAKE HEED TO YOUR STEPS
Beware, not merely of falling, but of stumbling. 'Walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise'; like men in an enemy's country, or like travellers climbing a hill, slippery with ice, and terrible with precipices, where every step may be a fall, and every fall a plunge into a chasm. Beware of little slips, slight inconsistencies, as they are called; they are the beginning of all backsliding, and they are in themselves evil, as well as hateful to God. Keep your garments undefiled (Rev 3:4); beware of small spots as well as larger stains or rents; and the moment you discover any speck, however small, go wash in the fountain, that your 'garments may be always white,' and so pleasing in the eyes of Him, whose you are, and whom you serve. 'Crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts' (Gal 5:24). 'Mortify your members which are upon the earth' (Col 3:5).
Remember the Lord's words to His Church, 'Thou hast a few names, even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.' Stand aloof from the world's gaiety, and be jealous of what are called 'harmless amusements.' I do not condemn all amusements, but I ask that they should be useful and profitable, not merely harmless. Dancing and card playing are the world's devices for killing time. They are bits of the world and the world's ways which will ensnare your feet and lead you away from the cross. Let them alone. Keep away from the ballroom, the opera, the oratorio, the theatre. Dress, finery, and display, are deadly snares. Put away levity and frivolity; all silly conversation, or gossip; remembering the apostle's words, 'Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting which are not convenient' (Eph 5:4); and, 'Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers; and grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption' (Eph 4:29,30).
'Flee youthful lusts,' if you be young men or women; flee all lusts, whether you be young or old. Shun light company, and take no pleasure in the conversation of 'vain persons.' 'Abstain from all appearance of evil.' Be thou a Christian in little things as well as great. Dread little sins, little errors, little omissions of duty. Beware of false steps; and if betrayed into one, retrace it soon as discovered. If persevered in, the consequences may be months of sorrow.
That cherished sin, 'twill cost thee dear.
Remember, as a French writer remarks, that, sooner or later, 'every crown of flowers becomes a crown of thorns.'
Redeem the time: much of your progress depends on this. Be men of 'method and punctuality'; waste no moments; have always something to do, and do it; use up the little spaces of life, the little intervals between engagements. I knew a friend who, one winter, read through some five or six octavo volumes, by making use of the brief interval between family worship and breakfast. Pack up your life well; your trunk will contain twice as much if well packed; attend, then, to the packing of each day and hour. You may save years by this. How many have 'slipped' and 'fallen' through idleness! How many begin a score of things and end nothing, 'dawdle' away their morning or their evening hours, sleep longer than is needful, trifle through their duties, hurrying about from work to work, or from book to book, or from meeting to meeting, instead of being calm, methodical, energetic! Thus life is loitered away, and each sun sets upon twelve wasted hours, and an uneasy, dissatisfied conscience. Be punctual and regular in all duties and engagements. Keep no man waiting. Be honest as to time, both with yourselves and others, lest you get into a state of chronic flurry and excitement; so destructive of peace and progress; so grieving to the Spirit, whose very nature is calmness and rest.
These may seem small things, but they are the roots of great. Resist beginnings. 'Seize time by the forelock.' Live while you live. Watch your steps; count your minutes; live as men who are pressing on to a kingdom, and who fear, not only open apostasy, but the smallest measure of coming short, the slightest stain upon the garment of a saint, the faintest slur upon the name of a disciple (Heb 4:1; Jude 23).
Watch against special sins; or things that have 'the appearance of evil'; or things that lead into evil, and discredit 'that worthy name by which you are called' (1 Thess 5:22; James 2:7). If you have a bad temper, watch against that. If you have a rude way of speech, a cold, distant, repulsive manner, or are ill to please, look well to these, and 'be courteous' (1 Peter 3:8). If you are covetous in disposition, or shabby in your dwellings, or niggardly in your givings, take care; 'the love of money is the root of all evil.' If you are slovenly in your dress, or untidy in your person, or unpolite in your demeanour, set yourself to rectify these blemishes. If you are lazy, luxurious, given to the good things of this life, or selfish, disobliging, unneighbourly, rude, blunt, unbrotherly, look to your Pattern, and see if these things were in Him. If you are fickle, and frivolous, and flippant, greedy of jokes, carried away with immoderate laughter, be upon your guard. If you are romantic and sentimental, take care lest the indulgence of such a temperament should land you in peevishness, self pity, and a cowardly avoidance of the common duties of life. If you are censorious, captious, fault finding, proud, domineering, supercilious, and sulky, get the unclean spirit cast out forthwith. If you be a gossip, or a gadabout, or a busybody in other men's matters, take care, for at such crevices Satan creeps in. If you be secretive and cunning, with a certain littleness or slyness in your nature, which never lets you forget your own interests, beware! Christ was not such; Paul was not such. Be frank, open, manly. Remember the summing up of David's picture of the blessed man, 'in whose spirit there is no guile' (Psa 32:2). Be not 'Jacob,' a man of guile; but Israel, a noble prince--'an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile' (John 1:48).
Walk 'straight up,' along the path of life, like a forgiven man, with God at your side (Gen 5:24, 6:9), and with the joy of the Lord for your strength (Neh 8:9; Eccl 9:7); doing heartily your daily work, whether sacred or common, with an unshaded brow and an earnest but cheerful face. In short, watch against your old self at every point.
Do not evade these remarks by saying that some of the things spoken of are trifles, and beneath notice. Nothing should be too small for a Christian to notice, either of right or wrong. Remember the Master's words about denying self--every part of self; be not a servant of self, or a worshipper of self, or a 'lover of self' (2 Tim 3:1,2) in any form. Take up your cross, and follow your Lord (Matt 16:24); as it is written, 'Even Christ pleased not Himself' (Rom 15:3).