THOUGHTS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
I write this little book especially for the good of young people. When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to Titus about his duty as a minister, Paul mentioned young men as a group that requires special attention. Paul wrote about how older men and older women are to live. Then he added this simple but important advice, "Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded" (Titus 2:6). I am going to follow the Apostle Paul's advice. I am going to offer a few words of timely and friendly exhortation to young men and women.
I am growing old myself, but there are few things I remember as well as I do the days of my youth. I distinctly remember the joys and the sorrows, the hopes and the fears, the temptations and the difficulties. I remember my poor judgments and my misplaced affections. I remember my mistakes and my desires. All of these things are common in a young person's life. If I can say anything that will keep some young person on the right path, and preserve him or her from falling into sin that may damage his or her well-being both for time and eternity, I'll be very thankful.
There are four things that I plan to do. First, I will mention some general reasons why young people need exhorting. Second, I will point out some special dangers young people need to be warned of. Third, I will give some general counsel that I will ask young people to receive. Fourth, I will set down some special rules of conduct that I strongly advise young people to follow.
On each of these four points I have something to say. I pray to God that what I say may do some good to your soul, dear reader. First, what are the general reasons why young people in particular need exhortation? Here are several reasons:
(1) For one thing, it is a painful fact, but there are few young people anywhere who seem to be genuine Christians. It makes no difference whether they are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, live in the city or the country. It scares me how few young people live their lives following the Holy Spirit of God. It scares me how few are walking on the narrow way that Jesus said will lead to eternal life. It scares me how few have any heart or desire for the things of God. It scares me how few take Jesus' words seriously when He said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." I am very sorry to say these things, but before God I believe that what I am saying is completely true.
Young man, what is the condition of your soul? We may ask about your spiritual condition in several places, but we usually get the same answer!
What will our pastors answer if we ask them a few questions? Who participates the least in the Lord's Supper with any heart? Who are the least consistent in attending Sunday services? When they are there, who is it that is least involved in the singing? Who pays the least attention to the preaching? Who are the hardest to get to come to weekly Bible studies? Who are ones who seldom, if ever, show up to a prayer meeting? Which part of the pastor's congregation does he fear for most? You can count on it. His answer will generally be, the young people.
If we ask parents, how will they respond? Who in the family gives them the most pain and trouble? Who needs to be watched most? Who disturbs and disappoints them most? Who are the first to be led away from what is right, and the last to remember cautions and good advice? Who are the most difficult to keep in order? Who commits open sin the most? Who disgraces the family name most? Who makes their family unhappy most often? Who sends grandparents to the grave in sorrow? You can count on it. Their answer will generally will be, the young people.
If we ask police and the courts, how will they respond? Who are the most likely to be seen in bars? Who makes up rioting mobs? Who are most often hauled in for drunkenness, for disturbing the peace, fighting, stealing, assaults, and vandalism? Who fill the jails, and the penitentiaries? What group requires the most looking after? You can count on it. Their answer will be, the young people.
What shall we say to these things? These are facts, plain facts that stare us in the face. They are facts that cannot be denied. How horrible this is! How terrible to think that nearly every young person we meet is an enemy of God. (Sound harsh? The Bible says those who are not Christians are enemies of God!) Nearly every young person is on the road in life that leads to eternal destruction! In light of these facts, can you see why I am concerned for you? When you consider these things, I am sure you can see why I exhort you as I do.
(2) For another thing, young people are facing death and judgment, just like others, but they do not seem to be aware of it. Young person, the Bible says everyone is going to die. (Hebrews 9:27) No matter how strong and healthy you are now, how do you know the hour of your death is not very near? Young people get sick and die. The old are not the only ones. I perform funeral services for young people who have died, not just the elderly. When I walk through the cemetery I read the names of persons no older than you on many tombstones. I learn from books that, except for infancy and old age, more die between thirteen and twenty-three than at any other season of life. And yet you live as if you were sure you will not die at all.
Do you think that you can take care of your spiritual life tomorrow? Remember what wise King Solomon said: "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what will happen tomorrow" (Proverbs 27:1). Tomorrow is the devil's day, but today is God's. Satan doesn't care about your spiritual intentions for tomorrow. He doesn't worry about how holy you plan to be. He isn't a bit concerned, as long you aren't planning anything until tomorrow. Please don't play the devil's game! Tell him, "No, Satan! I am going to live for God today!"
Everyone doesn't live to be old, you know. Many children die before their fathers. King David in the Old Testament had to mourn the death of two of his finest sons. Job lost all ten of his children in one day. Your fate may be like one of theirs, and when death comes for you, it will be of no use to talk about tomorrow.
Do you think you will have a convenient opportunity to think about these things someday in the future? Hell is paved with ideas like that. I suggest you take care of these matters while you can. Don't leave eternal matters unsettled. Don't take risks when your eternal soul is at stake. Everyone needs a "great" salvation, whether they are young or old. Everyone needs to be born again. Everyone needs to be forgiven of their sins by being washed in Christ's blood. Everyone needs to be made holy by God's Spirit. The wise and happy man does not leave these things until later. He doesn't rest until he has received Christ and he knows he is a child of God.
Young people, your time is short. Your days are like a shadow, here and then gone. Before you know it, your life will be like a story that has already been told. Your body is not made of steel. The prophet Isaiah said, "Even the young men shall utterly fall" (Isaiah 40:30). Your health may be taken from you in a moment. It only takes a fall, a fever, an infection, a broken blood-vessel, and you will be dead. The worms will feed on you like those who have died before you. There is only a step between you and death. Tonight may be your last. The length of your life is uncertain, but your death and judgment are absolutely sure. Along with all others who have ever lived, you will stand before God's throne to be judged. That is why I cannot help but exhort you concerning your spiritual life.
I wish so much that you would seriously consider the words of the Solomon when he said, "Be happy, young man, while you are young . . . but know that God will bring you into judgment" (Ecclesiastes 11:9). It is amazing that so many are so careless and unconcerned, since we all have an appointment with God for judgment! There can be no greater fool than those who are content to live unprepared to die. I am amazed that so many do not believe this. Do you? I fear for you, that you may die early, and find out too late, that death and judgment are a reality. I fear for you. That is why I exhort you as I do.
(3) Here is another reason to exhort you. What young people end up being, depends usually on what they are now. Sadly, they forget this so easily. Youth is like the seed, while old age is the bloom of life. Youth is a short period of our lives, but it is the time when we can mold what we will be. Youth is the turning point in the history of a person's mind.
By the sprout, we judge what the tree will be. By the blossoms we judge what the fruit will be. By the morning we judge what the day will be. And by the character of the young person, we can generally judge what he or she will be when grown up.
Young people, do not be deceived. Do not think you can willfully serve yourself and your pleasures in the beginning of your life, and then go and serve God with ease at the end. It is a mockery to deal with God and your soul in that way. It is an awful mockery of God to think you can spend the strength of your youth on the world and the devil, and then buy God off with the scraps and leftovers of your old age. It is an awful mockery, and if you plan to do that, don't be surprised if you find out the horrible truth one day. It cannot be done.
Many young people are planning to turn to God later in life. If that is your plan, let me tell you, you do not know what you are doing. Repentance and faith are the gifts of God. They are gifts that He often withholds, when He has offered them over and over for a long time, but they have been refused. It is true that true repentance is never too late, but I warn you at the same time, late repentance is seldom true. It is true that one of the thieves hanging next to Jesus was saved in his last hours. This is an encouragement so that we may not give up, no matter how late in life we may repent. But I also warn you, the thief on the other side of Jesus was not saved. This is sober reminder so that we will not wait until late in life to repent, supposing we will have either the chance or the desire to do so at that point. (See Luke 23:39-43). It is true that the Bible says, Jesus is "able to save completely and forever all those who come to God by Him" (Hebrews 7:25). But I also warn you that the Bible also records God saying, "Because I have called, and you refused, I also will laugh at your trouble; I will mock when your terror comes" (Proverbs 1:24,26).
Believe me, you will not find it so easy to turn to God whenever you please. The way of sin is down hill. Once you start, you cannot stop whenever you wish.
Why do I say all this? I say it because of the power of bad habits. I say it because experience tells me that people's hearts are seldom changed if they are not changed when they are young. People are not saved very often in their old age. The reason is that habits have long roots. Once sin is allowed to take root in your heart, it cannot be pulled out all that easily. Habits make our personalities. It is not that easy to change our personalities once they are established. The prophet Jeremiah warned us of this when he asked if a man can change the color of his skin, or if a leopard can change his spots? The obvious answer is NO! Jeremiah then said it is equally impossible for a man who is used to doing bad to change and do what is good. (Jeremiah 13:23). Habits are like stones rolling down hill. The further they roll, the faster and more unpredictable their course will be. Habits are like trees. They are strengthened by age -- stronger either in what is good or what is evil. A boy may bend an oak, when it is a shoot sticking out of the ground, but a hundred men cannot pull it out when it is a full-grown tree. So it is with our habits. The older we are, the stronger they grow. The longer they have been a part of our lives, the harder it is to get them out of our lives. Habits give strength to sin. Every time we sin, the less we feel any sorrow for having done wrong. Every time we sin without being caught, the less we fear ever being found out. Our hearts become progressively harder. Our consciences become numb. Sin becomes easier.
Young people, you may think I am making too big of a deal about this point. But if you have seen old people, as I have, on the brink of death, without any feeling, you would not think I am making too big a deal about this. Believe me, you are not standing still spiritually. You are either being strengthened by your good habits, or you are being destroyed by your bad habits. Every day you are either getting nearer to God, or further away. Every year that you refuse to repent and receive Christ, the wall that separates you from heaven becomes higher and thicker. The canyon between you and God becomes deeper, broader and more uncrossable. Oh, I urge you, be afraid of allowing sin to harden your heart! Be aware that if you do not seek the Lord while you are young, you probably never will seek Him. This is what I fear for you. That is why I exhort you as I do.
(4) For another thing, the devil is especially diligent to destroy the souls of young people, and yet they seem not to know it. Satan knows that you will make up the next generation, and therefore he uses every trick in his book, quickly and early to make you his own. I don't want you to be ignorant of his ways.
Young people are the ones he uses all his choicest temptations on. He spreads his net with watchful care, in order to entangle your hearts. He baits his traps with the sweetest bait, to get you into his power. He displays his merchandise before your eyes with his utmost ingenuity, in order to make you buy his candy-coated poisons. You are the grand object of his attack. I pray that the Lord would keep him from you, and deliver you out of his hands.
Young people, beware of being tricked by him. He would go out of his way to make you think what is evil is good, and what is good is evil. He will paint, mask, and dress up sin, in order to make you fall in love with it. He will misrepresent and ridicule Christianity, in order to make you dislike it. He will exalt the pleasures of wickedness, but he will hide from you the sting it carries with it. He will remind you how painful the cross is and how difficult it is to follow Jesus. But he will not mention the eternal crown that will be given to those who faithfully follow the Lord. Satan promised Jesus everything if Jesus would only serve him. He will promise you the same. He won't mind if you are a hypocrite, saying you are a Christian, as long as you are not really living like one. He will tell you while you are young, "It is too soon to serve God." He will tell you at the end, "It is too late." Please do not be deceived by these lies!
I am afraid that you do not understand how much danger you are in from this dreadful enemy. You must not be like a blind man, walking in a field full of land mines. You must have your eyes wide open if you are going to see the perils that are around you.
Your enemy is powerful. He is called "The Prince of this world" (John 14:30). He opposed our Lord Jesus Christ throughout His ministry. He tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. That is how sin and death came into the world. He even tempted Peter, a chosen Apostle, and persuaded him to deny the Lord. Satan's intense hatred for God and His people has not diminished, and it must not be ignored!
Your enemy is restless. He never sleeps. He is always going about "as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). You may be careless about your soul; but he is not. He wants it to make you miserable. He wants to steal your soul, and he will if you let him. Satan's intense hatred for God and His people has not diminished, and it must not be ignored!
Your enemy is clever. For thousands of years he has been reading one book -- the heart of man. He knows it well. He knows all our weaknesses. He knows all our deceitfulness. He knows and takes full advantage of our foolishness. He has many temptations, which will do us the most harm. There is nowhere you can go that he cannot find you. Go to the city, he will be there. Go to the country, he will be there also. Hangout with druggies, drunks and party-goers, and he will be there to help you. Listen to your pastor preach, and Satan will be there to distract you. Satan's intense hatred for God and His people has not diminished, and it must not be ignored!
Young people, whether you believe it or not, this enemy is working hard to destroy you. You are the prize that he wants more than anything. He understands very well that to spoil the bud is the surest way to ruin the flower.
How I pray that your eyes would be opened to see the spiritual battle that is going on around you. (See 2 Kings 6:15-17.) How I pray that you would see how Satan is scheming against you! I must warn you, I must exhort you. Whether you will hear or not, I cannot, dare not, leave you alone.
(5) For another thing, young people need to be exhorted to live for God now, because it will save them great sorrow later. Sin is the mother of all sorrow, and no sin seems to give adults as much misery and pain as the past sins of their youth. The foolish things they did, the time they wasted, the bad choices they made, the bad crowd they hung around with, the harm they did to both body and soul, the positive opportunities they neglected; all these are things that often trouble the conscience of old people, and fill the latter days of their lives with shame.
Some people could tell you of the untimely loss of health, brought on by the sins of their youth. Disease racks their bodies with pain. Their physical strength is so wasted, that even the simplest chores are a burden. Their eyes are prematurely dim, and their hearing is damaged. The sun of their health has gone down while it is yet day, and they long for death to take them mercifully. Believe me, this is a bitter cup to drink.
Others could give you sad accounts of the consequences of idleness. They threw away the golden opportunity for learning. They would not get wisdom at the time when their minds were most able to receive it, and their memories most able to retain it. And now it is too late. They no longer have the leisure time to sit down and learn. They no longer have the same abilities, even if they had the leisure. Lost time can never be redeemed. This too is a bitter cup to drink.
Others could tell you of foolish mistakes in judgment, from which they suffer the rest of their lives. They insisted on having their own way as young people. They refused to listen to any advice. They established friendships that were destructive to their long-term happiness. They chose a profession that they later regretted entering into. And now as adults, they see what fools they were as youth. Don't be one whose eyes are only open once your mistakes can no longer be corrected. Oh, this is also a bitter cup to drink!
Young people, I do not want you to have to endure a conscience that is weighed down with a long list of youthful sins. They are the wounds that will pierce your spirit. Be wise and merciful to yourself. Seek the Lord early in life, and you will be spared many bitter tears later.
A man in the Bible named Zophar, speaking of the wicked, said, “His bones are full of the sins of his youth, which shall lie down with him in the dust" (Job 20:11). King David prayed to the Lord, "Do not remember the sins of my youth" (Psalm 25:7).
Go and ask believers now, and I think many of them will tell you the same thing. Many will say, "Oh how I wish I could live my younger days over again! Oh how I wish that I had used more wisdom in the beginning of my life! Oh how I wish I had not developed such bad habits as a youth!"
Young people, I want to save you all this sorrow, if I can. There are no non-believers in hell -- only believers who believed too late! Be wise in time. What youth plants, old age must harvest. Do not waste the most precious part of your life on those things that will not comfort you later in life.
You may sin easily, without thought. Filthy talk may run smoothly off your tongue now. But you can count on this: you will have to answer for those actions and those words before too long. It is true, whether you believe it or not. Physical injuries often ache and cause pain long after they are appear to be healed. Your sins will do the same. The footprints of animals have been found on the surface of rocks that were once wet sand. We have these fossils thousands of years after the animals that made them have died. Our sins are often like those footprints, reminding us of the foolish paths we once chose to walk.
Some people say experience is the best teacher. Others say the best way to learn is from your own mistakes. I want you to escape having to learn in the school of your own bad experience. I want you to avoid having to learn from your own youthful mistakes -- often when it is too late to do anything about them. Instead, learn from the experience of those who have gone before you. Learn from other people's mistakes, and do not repeat them. This is the last reason why I exhort you.
"Thoughts For Young Men"
Written in 1886 By John Charles Ryle
Edited in modern language for young men and women by Pastor Errol Hale