It is good for a man that he bear the yoke of his youth.
To bear the yoke is to be in subjection: to be compelled to walk in certain lines at the will of another, to be prevented from choosing for ourselves and being our own masters. The compulsion which is most commonly felt in youth is the compulsion of circumstances. Without being in absolute poverty, the majority of young men find that they have no choice, but must at once try to earn a livelihood. And the limitations thus prescribed by circumstances are often very serious, and press very heavily on the mind of the aspiring youth. Still, if there is a spark of real manhood, a leaven of generosity in the spirit, it will be found good to bear this yoke. To throw a boy into the water is a rough-and-ready lesson in the art of swimming, but with a boy of spirit it is likely to be successful. The training which straitened circumstances give is one which no money can purchase. A lad is put upon his mettle, and if there is grit in him at all, it will appear. He is conscious that it depends entirely on himself whether he is to succeed or to fail. He feels himself face to face with the world, and is compelled to use all his faculties and powers to save himself from defeat. The habits of industry, the love of work, the delight in mastering difficulties, the ability to put pressure on himself, and the independence of character which a lad thus acquires, pass into his nature as its permanent and most valuable ingredients. It must also be considered that the privations which press so heavily on some families, and which in some unhappy instances benumb affection, do in the main afford opportunities for self-sacrifice and considerateness and concern for the common good which bind families together, and give a richness and beauty to the family life which you might have sought in vain had circumstances been easy and calling for no sacrifice. But in other senses it is good that a man bear the yoke in his youth. He must put himself under control and discipline if he is to get the full benefit of his youth. All this control and discipline is intended to fit him for liberty afterwards, as all drill and gymnastics are meant to give the body freedom of movement, and to give a man the perfect use of all his powers. To allow passions, cravings, propensities, to rule us and govern and determine our conduct is to become the worst of slaves. Freedom comes through discipline; through absorbing into our own will the laws which govern our life; to be our own master is to exercise self-control, and allow that in us to rule which was intended to be supreme. When we submit ourselves to the rule of conscience and come into harmony with God's laws, approving them in our heart, then only are we free. You yourself are something nobler and better than any of your members or any faculty in you; these are your organs and instruments whereby you work on the world around you, but you yourself are different from these, and are called to rule all these. Thus only is it possible to become your own master. Coming to detail, then, we must exercise self-control in respect of all unworthy pleasures. The youth of a certain kind and brought up in certain companies thinks he is scarcely a man till he has tasted pleasures which he knows to be forbidden. The very fact that they are forbidden makes them objects of desire. The true corrective of this bias towards unworthy pleasures is to be found in filling our life with worthy pursuits. Of course knowledge also helps. When one has seen a little more of life, the pleasures which attract the mass of young men seem so very childish, so false and tawdry, so positively repulsive in many respects, that one wonders where the charm is. In the cloakroom of many a place of entertainment you must with your coat leave your self-respect, and all respect for humanity, and necessarily come out a poorer man, with less fitness for life. But even when the pleasures that attract are recognised to be such as no men of any real stature and dignity could possibly stoop to, our self-control needs some other aid than that of knowledge. It is good to say to ourselves, these scenes I am asked to join are degrading and delusive. Instead of proving my manhood by entering them, I show distinctly that my manhood is poor and weak, easily deceived, easily led, ignorant and undeveloped. It is good to cherish and strengthen our self-control thus, and by reading such healthy writers as Thackeray, whose scorn of all that is base and foolish and filthy and profane communicates itself to the reader and makes that seem contemptible which is contemptible, and that be repulsive to us which in itself is repulsive. But the true safeguard is to fill the heart and life with higher things, to commit ourselves cordially to the Christian life, recognising its attractiveness and finding in it enough and more than enough to interest, to stimulate, to satisfy. It is in Christ's service you find true life and true freedom and true manhood. Another detail in which self-control must be exercised is in the books we read. Happily, English literature is rich enough to make it quite unnecessary for us to open one suspected volume. Form your taste on Scott and Thackeray, Carlyle and Emerson, and you will have no relish for unclean and corrupting literature. Here again, if you feel you are losing something by not reading what others read, exercise self-control, and remember that what you lose is well lost, a tainted mind, a lowered tone, a polluted imagination, while you gain self-respect, manliness, and purity. But again, those who have too much self-respect to find any attraction in such undesirable knowledge, sometimes show a similar craving, but in a higher and purer sphere. It is not uncommon to meet with persons who have a silly ambition to be recognised as having passed through a severe struggle with doubt and spiritual perplexity. Now there are two kinds of doubt which are very different in their origin and character, and which must be treated differently. There is the doubt which is almost invariably begotten in a strong and independent mind when that mind first applies itself to the solution of the mysteries of nature, of life, and of God. There is also the doubt which is assumed, like any other manner or habit which finds favour in society; sometimes there is an affectation of weariness and ennui, sometimes of indifference, and so in some circles there is an affectation of doubt. It is "the thing" to talk disparagingly of traditional belief, and to assume a sceptical attitude towards miracles and other objects of faith. The fictitious or imitative doubter may always be distinguished from the true doubter by his frivolous and ignorant manner of meeting proposed solutions of his doubts. He who merely apes doubt and seems to consider it a desirable mental condition, shrinks from conviction and seeks to perpetuate his uncertainty. To such as fancy that sceptical difficulties are symptoms of enlightenment may be commended the words of the great philosopher who may be said to have consecrated doubt. After describing how he stripped himself one by one of all beliefs, he goes on to say, "For all that, I did not imitate the sceptics who doubt for doubting's sake, and pretend to be always undecided; on the contrary, my whole intention was to arrive at certainty, and to dig away the drift and sand until I arrived at the rock beneath" (Descartes in Huxley, 122). It is not through the understanding so much as through the conscience and the heart that a man becomes a Christian. And so long as any one is loyal to Christ because he is conscious that in Him he is brought into harmony with God, and because he desires to live in fellowship with Christ and to serve Him, it is not essential that he should believe all that he has been taught. There is room in the Church of Christ for questioning spirits as for docile and credulous spirits; and as there is work for the one class, so is there work for the other. What is wanted much more than acceptance of traditional belief is tolerance, based on the clear perception that many articles of our creed are not certain, and that thoughtful men cannot but have different opinions regarding their truth. Until we fight against sin as the allies and subjects of Christ, as well as for our own sake, we seem to fight not in Christ's strength, but in our own. And if we think of our sin as mainly our affair, if we hate it mainly for the shame it brings upon us, then when we are tempted by it and when our own view of it is changed, the advantage and pleasure of it being now clear and the shame of it remote and dimly seen, there is absolutely nothing to restrain us from it. But if we habitually live with Christ and consider His will in all things, and that our sin brings grief to Him, when we are tempted, though our own view of sin is altered, we are conscious that His view of it remains the same, and in sympathy with His judgment we also condemn it. Every evil habit you suffer to find place in you lowers your energy throughout life, weights and burdens you, and holds you back from what you aspire to. The sin you admit into your life is not like a stone in a horse's hoof, that cripples for a few steps but can easily be knocked out and leave no trace: it is a morbid growth, it is in your blood, it taints your whole system, and is a weakness to the end. Turn then from all that is low, and defiling, and secretive, and ungenerous, turn from what is ungodly — be sure you are gladly living under the great law of human life, dependence on Jesus Christ, and with Him there will enter your life, "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honourable,...just,...pure,...lovely,...of good report."
(M. Dods, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.