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Letters from James Alexander (1804-1859)
to his younger brother, on the virtues and
vices, the duties and dangers of youth.

Life is Short

My dear brother,
Life has been compared to the flight of swift ships, and also to an eagle hastening to the prey. It is a moment, a hand's breadth, a dream. This is the account which the Scriptures give of human life, and if you will consider it, you will see much in it to make you alter your present course of conduct. When a youth looks forward, he almost always thinks of long life. He thinks somewhat in this way—"I am now thirteen, or fifteen, or seventeen years old, (as the case may be). In so many years more I shall be of age. Then I shall be my own master. I will do so and so; I will try such and such schemes; I shall be happy."

Mistaken boy! How different from this does life seem to the old man! He looks back, and says to himself—"It was but the other day that I was a boy. I was then full of hope. Life seemed a long and flowery path. I have mistaken it. It is a short journey, through a valley of tears."

From this, we all learn to say with Moses in the ninetieth psalm—"So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.'

Is life short? Then, my dear brother, whatever you have to do in life—ought to be done soon. You ought to begin at once. If you were put to a hard task, and an hour-glass were put by you, and you were told, "This sand runs out exactly in an hour, and at the end of the hour I will come to see whether you have done your task,"—how anxious would you be not to lose a moment! Just as anxious should you now be to make a good use of your time. If the whole of life is but a span, then the little portions of it—which we call childhood, youth, middle age, old age—are short indeed. The little portion of youth will soon be over; yet in this very season you are laying a foundation for all the rest of your days. If the young twig grows crooked, the full grown bough will have the same direction fixed. Think of this.

Youth is the gathering time. You must now be busy in laying up useful knowledge for time to come. Youth is the seed-time. If the farmer lets the time of sowing pass by, he will have no harvest in summer, and must starve. If you do not fix in your mind the seeds of truth and wisdom now, you will be ignorant and foolish when you grow to be a man, if you ever do become a man. For you must never forget that multitudes never reach manhood.

Everything you do, however trifling it may seem, has its bearing upon your future life. You will reap as you sow, and every moment you are sowing some good or some evil. It seems to you no great matter to trifle away an afternoon; but you are thereby getting a habit of idleness—you are losing just so much of your life—you are letting just so much sand run down without attending to your assigned task.

The great thing for which you were made is, to please God, and to enjoy his love. Life is short; therefore, do not put off the service of God until tomorrow. If life is so short, you ought to give God the whole of it. Surely, you will not rob him of the spring of your days—the very best part of them. He has as much right to this day as to the morrow; he demands your youth as well as your old age. Follow the example of our adorable Redeemer, who said, "I must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; the night comes when no man can work." This is what few boys think much of; but those who do are wiser and happier when they become older; and none enjoy life so much as those who have early given their affections to Jesus Christ the Lord.

Your affectionate brother,

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