Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I have a collection of books that were written a hundred years ago, with a target audience of young men who maybe worked on the farm or had little in the way of material goods, and could not go to college. These books were written to encourage them to be all that they could be and not to lay down under discouragement. It was the prevalent thought of the century and much of it was still around when I grew up. I do think much of it is lacking today, and encouraging pieces like the following are sometimes never heard by young men and women today. Tis a pity. God has knitted us together and with such potential to overcome the “tyranny of circumstance”, but without words of encouragement, we may never realize but half of what He had in store for us. So, fathers and mothers, the gauntlet is in your hands, pass it on.

A Roman politician, when captured by traitors, was tauntingly asked: -- “Where is thy stronghold now?” Placing his hand upon his heart, he answered: -- “Here!”
And this must be the stronghold of every seeker after knowledge. I am sure that no good work in the way of maturity will be done by young men who accustom themselves to lean upon others, who are always finding new leaders, and professing themselves disciples of new Gamaliels. They must learn to think their own thoughts, to form their own opinions, valuing authority justly, but not submitting to it slavishly. Call it independence, self-reliance, self-help, what you will; the spirit I speak of is that which distinguishes the man from the slave. It is the spirit which made Columbus the discoverer of the New World; Luther the author of the German Reformation. It is the spirit that glowed in the great reformer’s heart when he replied to the messenger who half-warned, half-threatened him not to visit Worms:-- “Go, tell thy master that were there as many devils in Worms as there are tiles upon the roofs, I would enter it.” It is the spirit that strengthens a man to live laborious days and bear the storms of poverty, in order that he may gain some small portion at least of the ample treasures of knowledge. It is the spirit that nerves us to resist temptation, to trample it under our feet, to repel the wicked suggestions, to love and defend the pure. It is the spirit that in the workshop keeps a young man temperate and true, in spite of the example and solicitations of men who, having forfeited their own self-respect, are intent upon dragging others down into the same slough of despond.
It is the spirit that ennobled the loneliness of the great Beethoven, and found expression in his favorite saying:-- “The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, ‘Thus far and no farther.’”
It is the spirit which lifts a man above the common herd, gives him a purpose and an aim in life, and constitutes him a center of wholesome and elevating influences; as was said of Sir Philip Sidney, that, “his wit and understanding leant upon his heart, to make himself and others, not in word or opinion, but in life and action, good and great.”
The spirit of independence, which is indeed, to be a moral and intellectual power, unfettered by circumstances and disregardful of material conditions. The young student who does his work thoroughly and honestly, who feeds his mind with the contemplation of wise thoughts and noble actions, who is conscious of aspirations after an ideal truth and beauty, who helps as best he can to diminish the vast mass of human suffering, who struggles persistently towards the light, who nobly scorns the solicitations of worldly pleasure, who holds himself free to weigh the worth of everything that is set before him, who cherishes in his heart a deep reverence for woman, who strives after knowledge and wisdom with a ceaseless endeavor, and who, knowing God, daily lifts up hands of prayer both for himself and those who call him friend, he it is whom I would call independent. He can go his way, leaning on no man’s arm, borrowing staff or crutch from none…….”

The powerful image by Bobby Carlyle of the rugged “Self Made Man,” chiseling himself out of a solid block of rock captures the essence of the freedom philosophy – that left to his own devices; man will use his God-given talents to be creative, productive, and prosperous. Using free will, he will better his own situation and that of those around him, thereby influencing in a positive way his own destiny.

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