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04 April 2012

If I Were Twenty-one Again

I have been looking for this particular essay for many years now. I had heard parts of it quoted by various people from time-to-time and wanted my own copy.  The beauty of the Internet is that you can sometimes find the most obscure things.  So, yesterday, I finally found what I'd wanted after being reminded of it in a sermon I recently uploaded by the late J. T. Pugh, and then going to a place a friend of mine calls: "the google god." 

I'm not sure if the date of the publication is the first time this article appeared in print, but I hope you enjoy and glean as much from Dr. Gordon's essay as I do.


“If I Were Twenty-one Again”[1]
Dr. James L. Gordon
July 31, 1923

DISRAELI, in one of his novels, places these strange words on the lips of a certain character: “Youth is a blunder, manhood is a struggle, and old age a regret.” That is a falsehood. For those who live right and walk circumspectly, youth is opportunity, manhood is achievement, and old age is a holy memory.

Life has two ends, a beginning and an ending. A certain old preacher once said: “At twenty we know everything; at seventy we know nothing.” Matured wisdom, like old wine, has a peculiar quality. We know just a few things at seventy, but we know what we know.

The bread of wisdom cannot be baked in a quick oven. The sweetest cream comes of quiet browsing. Every silver hair which crowns the brow of knowledge cost a thought. Experience is a great teacher, but she asks a high price for every bit of knowledge she sees fit to impart. Therefore, the man of years has a wisdom which he may reveal without the impoverishment of himself, and it is to the enrichment of all those who will listen.

1.    If I were twenty-one again, I would give twenty minutes every day to special physical exercise. All things being equal, happiness depends on health, health depends on digestion, digestion depends on the blood, the quality of the blood depends on the circulation, and the circulation of the blood depends on exercise. Health is life's first prize.

2.    If I were twenty-one again, I would study and strive to be an original thinker. The only real difference between the stupid man and the man who is “original” is the vital fact that one man thinks, and the other does not. Do not “take things for granted “—take them for what they are worth. Think your way through prejudice, precedent, custom, convention, style, fashion, and all the forms of modern folly, and get at the heart of things. Socrates' brain was not a whit better than yours, but he wore a thinking cap. Think your way in, and you will have some difficulty in thinking your way out. Apply your mental X-rays to every unanswered question and every unsolved problem. Have faith in your own conclusions when to the subject before you you have applied every test known to reason, knowledge, and experience. Be original. You can if you will try.

3.    If I were twenty-one again, I would steer my life by a few fundamental convictions. A man without conviction is as weak as a door hanging on its lower hinge. Luther was great because he crowned every great emergency with a great decision. In an age of uncertainty he knew what to do. When all others were in doubt, he was in full possession of himself. A clear conviction is as a searchlight shining through mountains of mist on a stormy, starless night. A strong thought rooted in the soil of the brain lends fiber to the quality of a man's thinking. One great idea clearly defined and nobly enthroned, is as a blazing torch in the darkness. Have a conviction.

4.    If I were twenty-one again, I would put quality into every thought, word, and deed. A Christian is a person who does ordinary things in an extraordinary way. One day, twenty centuries ago, a carpenter built a cross. That cross has been lifted into the sacred incandescence of spiritual glory. It stands today and forever on the sky line of history. The horizon of our civilization, encircling the earth, begins and ends with the cross of Calvary. Its four great arms like shafts of living gold have shed a halo over art, music, drama, and philosophy. It marks for us the most revered place on earth's geography. It stands for us as the most distinguishing landmark on the wrinkled surface of our rolling planet. It marks the dividing line between things ancient and modern, and stands exactly at the center of history. Little thought the humble carpenter when He was building the cross, that its rough boards touched by the sacred form of the world's Redeemer would miraculously flame into sign and symbol for the sacramental hosts of a world-conquering religion.

“In the cross of Christ I glory,

Towering o'er the wrecks of time;

All the light of sacred story

Gathers round its head sublime.”

5.    If I were twenty-one again, I would try to achieve one splendid success in some worthy realm of human effort. A taste of success in youth is as a taste of blood to a young lion. The man who has failed at everything is likely to be small, mean, bitter, quarrelsome, fussy, critical, oversensitive, and generally lacking in faith in himself and everyone else.

6.    If I were twenty-one again, I would crowd at least one kind act into every twenty-four hours. Arthur C. Benson, looking back on a prolonged period of sickness, said: “I cared nothing for my personal success in that hour; nothing for any small position I had gained, nothing for the books I had written, —what alone concerned me was the thought that I had helped some poor pilgrim and made his way straighter, easier, and smoother.” 

Kindness is the velvet of social intercourse. Kindness is the oil in the cogs of life's machinery. Kindness is the controlling spring which holds back the slamming door. Kindness is the burlap in the packing case of every day's merchandise. Kindness is the color in the cathedral window which, woven into beautiful characters, shuts out the hideous sights of the world which is all too practical. Kindness is the carpet on life’s floor which deadens the sound of shuffling feet and adds warmth to silence. Kindness is the satin lining of the silver casket. Kindness is the plush on the chair. Kindness is the green grass near the hard pebbles of the road. Kindness is the touch of an angel's hand.

7.    If I were twenty-one again, I would live in the light of every grand experience. Life has its sunbursts. There are moments which are sweet, and days which are divine. There are events which crowd an eternity into an hour. There are experiences which cause the heavens to be opened, and grant to the weary pilgrim a vision of the rainbow round about the throne. There are evenings when the stars seem to be living diamonds, and there are nights when northern lights fling trembling vibrations like divine reflections across the sky. Thank God, for every experience rich and rare. Live in the light of your experience.

8.    If I were twenty-one again, I would have two or three choice friends among the older people. They know the way. They have learned the meaning of life. They can be depended upon in the hour of emergency. They have traveled over the same road. They yearn for the compliment of your confidence. They would like to be of service to you. They would like to count you among their few favorites. They would like to be of assistance to you in your plans and schemes. They would glory in your success, and boast among their friends of your achievements. Cultivate the friendship of the folks who are older.

9.    If I were twenty-one again, I would read the Bible through once every twelve months, and I would read the four gospels over and over again as often as possible. The heart of the Bible is the life of Jesus. Everything in the Old Testament grows into, and everything between the Acts and the Revelation grows out of, the four Gospels. These sweet, quaint stories are written in a phraseology Oriental and richly colored. Broad reading will lead to a proper interpretation. The great thoughts of the Master’s mind are set forth in incident, accident, event, conversation, and familiar dialogue.

10. If I were twenty-one again, I would identify myself with some great unpopular cause. Courage is the finest test of character. If you think you are right, have your say. Be downright, upright, and outright. Stand fast, stand firm, stand erect, stand alone. Stand with your back toward the past, and with your face toward the unfolding of God's plan and purpose for humanity. Stand, and having done all, stand. Dare to differ. Dare to discuss. Dare to dispute. Dare to deny. Dare to defy. Be indifferent to the indifference of indifferent men. Remember the brave words of William Lloyd Garrison: “I will not excuse, I will not equivocate, I will not retreat an inch, I will be heard.” To be first in advocating a noble cause is to be lonely, but to be thus lonely is to be lofty. I would rather stand alone, than creep and crawl with the crowd. I would rather stand alone for God than, moping, move with the multitude.

11. If I were twenty-one again, I would spend a little time every day in the realm of the beautiful. Luther always placed a flower on his desk before he began to write. His stormy nature needed the soothing influence of beauty's touch. We all need it. A beautiful poem, a sweet song, a lovely picture, a rare literary gem — the touch of the beautiful — once a day. The nearest practical approach to this for the average person is in a well-ordered notebook, carefully conned and reviewed. Most great men have kept and carried a notebook. The things we “note,” are the things which stay with us. Because the quotation is brief enough to be written in a notebook, it is, therefore, easy of mental absorption. A line or two read over every day for a month will commit itself to memory. Did you ever try it?

Take a poem of three or four verses — read it over once every day with emphasis and fervor, and at the end of four or five weeks the poem is mentally yours. Try it. Crowd your brain with gems. Fill your soul with the beauty of a thousand lovely thoughts. Let the walls of your imagination be all alive with the living jewels of well-selected ideas. And do it while you are young, when the passing moments are yours, —”while the evil days come not,”— when the duties and responsibilities of life press so thick and hard that there does not seem to be a moment for soul culture or spiritual brooding.

12. If I were twenty-one again, I would give the flower of my .youth to Jesus Christ. I would begin life with Him. I would not wait until my hair had grown white in the service of sin, and then offer to the world's Redeemer the ashes of a misspent life — I would begin with Jesus. I would not try to understand all He said or all that has been said about Him. I would just surrender my life to Him. Just that. I would take Him for my hero, my ideal, my peerless one, my soul's partner, my secret fellow, my heart's joy — nothing less than that. And I would have hung on the wall of my room the wonderful face of Jesus. And I would have on my dressing table something which would bring to my mind and memory all the sweet hymns which I had ever heard sung about Jesus,—” My Jesus, as Thou wilt,” “Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear,” “Jesus, the very thought of Thee, “ “Jesus, Thy name I love,” “Jesus shall reign whene'er the sun,” “Jesus, I my cross have taken,” “Jesus, Saviour, pilot me,” and “Jesus, Lover of my soul,”— and in every hour of triumph, sorrow, or perplexity I would sing them over to myself. I would create a real Jesus in the hidden realm of thought.

[1] Gordon, James L. (1923). If I were twenty-one again. The Youth’s Instructor, 71(31), 5-6, 12.

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