When preparing to journey to Europe, I found, among the articles of clothing I needed, some woolen goods which at first appeared all right, but when brought to the light and shaken thoroughly, revealed the destructive work of moths. Had we not made close inspection, we should not have discovered their depredations. The moth is so small a creature as to be scarcely observable; but the traces of its existence are apparent, and the destruction that it makes with fur and woolen goods shows that it is a practical worker, although out of sight and unsuspected.
Thinking of the secret but destructive work of these moths, reminded us of some human beings we had known. How often our hearts have been pained by some sudden revelation in the outward actions of those for whom we had hoped better things, bringing to light their true character, that had heretofore been hidden from the sight of all! When held up before the light of God’s word, the character is found to be like the moth-eaten garment, which, when shaken out and examined, reveals the destructive work that has been going on secretly for years. While they have a form of godliness, sins small in their eyes have been eating into the warp and woof of their character; and that which at a casual glance appeared lovely, is unsightly and disgusting to look upon. Could the actor, as he entered upon this path of wrong, have seen himself as he appeared when his true character was opened to the light, he would have been as terrified and startled as was Hazael when Elisha told him what a wicked and cruel course he would pursue in the future. He made answer, “What, is thy servant a dog that he should do this great thing?” Little sins oft repeated become habit, and demoralize the soul. They work for a time unperceived, but are at length brought to the light.
The formation of character is a work that is steadily advancing, and how careful children and youth should be in regard to the habits they form! You will be for time and eternity what the habits you now form make you. Your principles and practices once formed determine your character. No one suddenly develops, as did Hazael, into a deep-dyed sinner, cruel and merciless. It took time for the moth to do its work of destruction so quietly in the dark; and it takes time, little by little, for a child or youth to be easy and happy and feel secure in a course of prevarication, a course of sin hidden from human eyes. Any one act, either good or evil, does not form the character, but thoughts and feelings indulged, prepare the way for acts and deeds of the same kind. A single glass of wine may lead to the formation of a habit most difficult to overcome, and is the first step which may lead to dishonesty, theft, and murder. What you do once, children and youth, you will do more readily the second time. It is the starting in any wrong course that must be guarded against. Be careful not to let your feet take the first step in any evil way. If you will lay the foundation for your character in a pure, virtuous life, seeking help and strength from God, your character will not be like the moth-eaten garment, but it will be firm and solid.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. If you are indeed a child of God, you will be a partaker of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. Let the youth ever remember that there is something to escape, evils to shun. God has given his children faculties, the right employment of which would make them happy. The Lord never designed that they should be employed for our destruction. The structure of a strong, well-balanced character is made by a faithful performance of individual acts of duty in little things. You need, dear youth, to be particular in regard to your words. Your deportment, the spirit and feelings that you cherish, care and thoughtfulness in the things which are least in every-day life, form the true test of character.
This life is full of gracious opportunities, which you can improve in the exercise of your God-given abilities to bless others, and in so doing bless yourself, without considering self in the matter. Trivial circumstances oftentimes prove a decided blessing to the one who acts from principle, and has formed the habit of doing right because it is right. Seek for a perfect character, and let all you do, whether seen and appreciated by human eyes or not, be done with an eye single to God’s glory; because you belong to God, and he has redeemed you at the price of his own life. Be faithful in the least as well as in the greatest; learn to speak the truth, to act at all times the truth. Let the heart be fully submitted to God. If controlled by his grace, you will do little deeds of kindness, take up the duties lying next you, and bring all the sunshine into your life and character that it is possible to bring, scattering the gifts of love and blessing along the pathway of life. Your works will be far-reaching as eternity. Your life-work will be seen in heaven, and there it will live, through ceaseless ages, because it is found precious in the sight of God.
— E.G. White, Youth’s Instructor, December 15, 1886