IV. SPECIAL RULES FOR
In the last place, I will set down some particular rules of conduct which I
strongly advise all young men to follow.
(1) RESOLVE AT ONCE, BY GOD'S HELP, TO BREAK OFF EVERY KNOWN SIN, HOWEVER
Look within, each one of you. Examine your own hearts. Do you see there any
habit or custom which you know is wrong in the sight of God? If you do,
don't delay for a moment in attacking it. Resolve at once to lay it aside.
Nothing, darkens the eyes of the mind so much, and deadens the conscience so
surely, as an allowed sin. It may be a little one, but it is not any less
dangerous. A small leak will sink a great ship, and a small spark will
kindle a great fire, and a little allowed sin in like manner will ruin an
immortal soul. Take my advice, and never spare a little sin. Israel was
commanded to kill every Canaanite, both great and small. Act on the same
principle, and show no mercy to little sins. Well says the book of the Song
of Songs, "Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards"
(Song of Songs 2:15).
You can be sure that no wicked man ever meant to be so wicked at his first
beginnings. But he began with allowing himself some little sins, and that
led on to something greater, and that in time produced something greater
still, and thus he became the miserable being that he now is. When Hazael
heard from Elisha of the horrible acts that he would one day do, he said
with astonishment, "How could your servant, a mere dog, accomplish such a
feat?" (2 Kings 8:13). But he allowed sin to take root in his heart, and in
the end he did them all.
Young men, resist sin in its beginnings. They may look small and
insignificant, but mind what I say, resist them, make no compromise, let no
sin lodge quietly and undisturbed in your heart. There is nothing finer than
the point of a needle, but when it has made a hole, it draws all the thread
after it. Remember the Apostle's words, "A little yeast works through the
whole batch of dough" (1 Corinthians 5:6).
Many a young man could tell you with sorrow and shame, that he traces the
ruin of all his worldly prospects to the point I speak of--to giving way to
sin in its beginnings. He began habits of deception and dishonesty in little
things, and they grew on him. Step by step, he has gone on from bad to
worse, till he has done things that at one time he would have thought
impossible till at last he has lost his standing, lost his character, lost
his peace, and almost lost his soul. He allowed a gap in the wall of his
conscience, because it seemed a little one, and once allowed, that gap grew
larger every day, till in time the whole wall seemed to come down.
Remember this especially in matters of truth and honesty. Be careful in even
the least syllable spoken. "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also
be trusted with much" (Luke 16:10). Whatever the world may like to think,
there are no little sins. All great buildings are made up of little
parts--the first stone is as important as any other. All habits are formed
by a succession of little acts, and the first little act is of mighty
consequence. The axe in the fable only begged the trees to let him have one
little piece of wood to make a handle, and he would never trouble them any
more. He got it, and then he soon cut them all down. The devil only wants to
get the wedge of a little allowed sin into your heart, and you will soon be
all his own. It is a wise saying, "There is nothing small between us and
God, for God is an infinite God."
There are two ways of coming down from the top of a ladder; one is to jump
down, and the other is to come down by the steps: but both will lead you to
the bottom. So also there are two ways of going to hell; one is to walk into
it with your eyes open--few people do that; the other is to go down by the
steps of little sins--and that way, I fear, is only too common. Put up with
a few little sins, and you will soon want a few more. Even a heathen could
say, "Who was ever content with only one sin?" If you put up with little
sins then your path in life will be worse and worse every year. Jeremy
Taylor very clearly described the progress of sin in a man:
First it startles him, then it becomes pleasing, then easy, then delightful,
then frequent, then habitual, then a way of life! Then the man feels no
guilt, then obstinate, then resolves never to repent, and then he is damned.
Young men, if you don't want to come to this, remember the rule I give you
this day--resolve at once to break off every known sin.
(2) RESOLVE, BY GOD'S HELP, TO SHUN EVERYTHING WHICH MAY PROVE AN OCCASION
It is an excellent saying, "He that would be safe from the acts of evil,
must widely avoid the occasions." There is an old fable, that the butterfly
once asked the owl how she should deal with the fire, which had singed her
wings; and the owl counseled her, in reply, not to even look at its smoke.
It is not enough that we determine not to commit sin, we must carefully keep
at a distance from all approaches to it. By this test we ought to examine
the ways we spend our time--the books that we read, the friends that we
visit, the part of society which we interact with. We must not be content
with saying, "There is nothing wrong here;" we must go further, and say, "Is
there anything here which may cause me to sin?"
This is one great reason why idleness is to be avoided. It is not that doing
nothing is of itself so wicked; it is the opportunity it affords to evil and
empty thoughts; it is the wide door it opens for Satan to throw in the seeds
of bad things; it is this which is mainly to be feared. If David had not
given opportunity to the devil, by walking on his house-top in Jerusalem
with nothing to do, he probably never would have seen Bathsheba bathing, nor
murdered her husband Uriah.
This, too, is one good reason why worldly entertainments are so
objectionable. It may be difficult, in some instances, to show that they
are, in themselves, positively unscriptural and wrong. But there is little
difficulty in showing that the tendency of almost all of them is most
injurious to the soul. They sow the seeds of an earthly and sensual frame of
mind. They war against the life of faith. They promote an unhealthy and
unnatural craving after excitement. They minister to the lust of the flesh,
and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. They dim the view of heaven
and eternity, and give a false color to the things of time. They take away
time for private prayer, and Scripture reading, and calm communion with God.
The man who mingles in them is like one who gives Satan an advantage. He has
a battle to fight, and he gives his enemy the help of sun, and wind, and
hill. It would indeed be strange if he did not find himself continually
Young men, endeavor, as much as you can, to keep clear of everything which
may prove injurious to your soul. People may say you are too conscientious,
too particular, and ask where is the great harm of such and such things? But
don't listen to them. It is dangerous to play tricks with sharp tools: it is
far more dangerous to take liberties with your immortal soul. He that would
be safe must not come near the brink of danger. He must look on his heart as
a barrel of gunpowder, and be cautious not to handle one spark of temptation
more than he can help.
What is the use of your praying, "Lord keep me from temptation," unless you
are careful not to run into it and "keep me from evil," unless you show a
desire to keep out of its way? Take an example from Joseph--Not merely did
he refuse solicitation to sin from his master's wife, but he showed his
prudence in refusing to even be "with her" (Genesis 39:10). Take to heart
the advice of Solomon, not only to "Not set foot on the path of the wicked,"
but to "Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go your way"
(Proverbs 4:15); "Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in
the cup, when it goes down smoothly!" (Proverbs 23:31). The man who took the
vow of a Nazarite in Israel, not only took no wine, but be even abstained
from grapes in any shape whatever. "Hate what is evil," says Paul to the
Romans (Romans 12:9); not merely not to do it; "Flee the evil desires of
youth," he writes to Timothy; get away from them as far as possible (2
Timothy 2:22). Oh, how needful are such cautions! Dinah just had go out
among the wicked Shechemites, to see their ways, and she lost her virginity.
Lot just had pitched his tent near sinful Sodom, and he lost everything but
Young men, be wise with your time. Do not always be trying to see how near
you can allow the enemy of souls to come, and yet escape him. Hold him at
arm's length. Try to keep clear of temptation as far as possible, and this
will be one great help to keep clear of sin.
(3) RESOLVE NEVER TO FORGET THE EYE OF GOD.
The eye of God! Think of that. Everywhere, in every house, in every field,
in every room, in every company, alone or in a crowd, the eye of God is
always on you. "The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the
wicked and the good" (Proverbs 15:3), and they are eyes that read hearts as
well as actions.
Endeavor, I beg you, to realize this fact. Remember that you have to deal
with an all-seeing God, a God who never sleeps, a God who understands your
thoughts, and with whom the night shines as the day. You may leave your
father's house, and go away, like the prodigal, into a far country, and
think that there is nobody to watch your conduct; but the eye and ear of God
are there before you. You may deceive your parents or employers, you may
tell them lies, and act one way before their faces, and another behind their
backs, but you cannot deceive God. He knows you through and through. He
heard what you said as you came here today. He knows what you are thinking
of at this minute. He has set your most secret sins in the light of His
countenance, and they will one day come out before the world to your shame,
except you take heed.
How little is this really felt! How many things are done continually, which
men would never do if they thought they were seen! How many matters are
transacted in the rooms of imagination, which would never bear the light of
day! Yes; men entertain thoughts in private, and say words in private, and
do acts in private, which they would be ashamed and blush to have exposed
before the world. The sound of a footstep coming has stopped many a deed of
wickedness. A knock at the door has caused many an evil work to be hastily
suspended, and hurriedly laid aside. But oh, what miserable folly is all
this! There is an all-seeing Witness with us wherever we go. Lock the door,
pull down the blind, turn out the light; it doesn't matter, it makes no
difference; God is everywhere, you cannot shut Him out, or prevent His
seeing. "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is
uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account"
(Hebrews 4:13). Young Joseph understood this well when his employer's wife
tempted him. There was no one in the house to see them, no human eye to
witness against him; but Joseph was one who lived as seeing Him that is
invisible: "How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?"
Young men, I ask all of you to read Psalm 139. I advise all of you to learn
it by heart. Make it the test of all your dealings in this world's business:
say to yourself often, "Do I remember that God sees me?"
Live as in the sight of God. This is what Abraham did, he walked before Him.
This is what Enoch did, he walked with Him. This is what heaven itself will
be, the eternal presence of God. Do nothing that you would not like God to
see. Say nothing, you would not like God to hear. Write nothing, you would
not like God to read. Go no place where you would not like God to find you.
Read no book of which you would not like God to say, "Show it to Me." Never
spend your time in such a way that you would not like to have God say, "What
are you doing?"
(4) BE DILIGENT IN THE PRACTICE OF YOUR CHRISTIANITY.
Be regular in going to church, whenever it is open for prayer and preaching,
and it is in your power to attend. Be regular in keeping, the Lord's day
holy, and determine that God's day out of the seven shall always be given to
its rightful owner.
I would not want to leave any false impression on your minds. Do not go away
and say I told you that going to church made up the whole of Christianity. I
will tell you no such thing. I have no wish to see you grow up formalists
and Pharisees. If you think the mere carrying of your body to a certain
building, at certain times, on a certain day in the week, will make you a
Christian, and prepare you to meet God, I tell you flatly you are miserably
deceived. All services without heart-service are unprofitable and vain. They
only are true worshipers who "Worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for
they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks" (John 4:23).
But the practices of Christianity are not to be despised because they are
not saviors. Gold is not food, you cannot eat it, but you would not say it
is useless, and throw it away. Your soul's eternal wellbeing most certainly
does not depend on the practices of Christianity, but it is certain that
without them, as a general rule, your soul will not do well. God might take
all who are saved to heaven in a chariot of fire, as He did Elijah, but He
does not do so. He might teach them all by visions, and dreams, and
miraculous interventions, without requiring them to read or think for
themselves, but He does not do so. And why not? Because He is a God that
works by means, and it is His law and will that in all man's dealings with
Him means shall be used. No one but a fool would think of building a house
without ladders and scaffolding, and just so no wise man will despise means.
I dwell on this point, because Satan will try hard to fill your minds with
arguments against the practices of Christianity. He will draw your attention
to the numbers of persons who use them and are no better for the using. "See
there," he will whisper, "do you not observe that those who go to church are
no better than those who stay away?" But do not let this move you. It is
never fair to argue against a thing because it is improperly used. It does
not follow that the practices of Christianity can do no good because many do
them and get no good from them. Medicine is not to be despised because many
take it and do not recover their health. No man would think of giving up
eating, and drinking because others choose to eat and drink improperly, and
so make themselves sick. The value of the practices of Christianity, like
other things, depends, in a great measure, on the manner and spirit in which
we use them.
I dwell on this point too, because of the strong anxiety I feel that every
young man should regularly hear the preaching of Christ's gospel. I cannot
tell you how important I think this is. By God's blessing, the ministry of
the gospel might be the means of converting, your soul, of leading you to a
saving knowledge of Christ, of making you a child of God in action and in
truth. This would indeed be cause for eternal thankfulness. This would be an
event over which angels would rejoice. But even if this were not the case,
there is a restraining power and influence in the ministry of the gospel,
under which I earnestly desire every young man to be brought. There are
thousands whom it keeps back from evil, though it has not yet turned them to
God--it has made them far better members of society--though it has not yet
made them true Christians. There is a certain kind of mysterious power in
the faithful preaching of the gospel, which has an effect on multitudes who
listen to it without receiving it into their hearts. To hear sin exposed for
what it is, and holiness lifted up, to hear Christ exalted, and the words of
the devil denounced--to hear the kingdom of heaven and its blessedness
described, and the world and its emptiness exposed; to hear this week after
week, Sunday after Sunday, is seldom without a good effect to the soul. It
makes it far harder afterwards to run out and commit gross sins. It acts as
a wholesome check upon a man's heart. This, I believe, is one way in which
that promise of God is made good, "My word that goes out from my mouth: it
will not return to me empty" (Isaiah 55:11). There is so much truth in that
strong saying of Whitefield, "The gospel keeps many a person from going to
jail and from being hanged, if it does not keep him from hell."
Let me name another point which is closely connected with this subject. Let
nothing ever tempt you to become a Christian who does not make every effort
to attend church on Sunday and make the day special to the Lord. Make up
your mind to give all your Sundays to God. A spirit of disregard for this
day is growing up among us with fearful rapidity, and not least among young
men. Sunday vacations, Sunday visiting, Sunday excursions, to the exclusion
of church attendance and honoring of the Lord, are becoming more common
every year than they were, and are doing infinite harm to souls.
Young men, be jealous on this point. Whether you live in the city or in the
country, take up a decided line; resolve not to miss church on Sunday and
the fellowship of God's people. Do not let the plausible argument of
"needing to sleep-in to rest your body," do not let not the example of all
those around you, do not let the invitation of companions pull you away from
fellowship and worship; let none of these things move you to depart from
this settled rule, that Sunday's are for God's honor and for fellowship with
Once you don't consider Sundays important or anything special in your
Christian life, then in the end you will give up caring for your soul. The
steps which lead to this conclusion are easy and common. Begin with not
honoring the Lord's Day, and you will soon not honor God's people; cease to
honor God's book; and in time you will give God no honor at all. Let a man
lay the foundation of having no respect for God's worship or the fellowship
of the saints, and I am never surprised if he finishes with no God. It is a
remarkable saying of Judge Hale, "Of all the persons who were convicted of
capital crimes while he was on the bench, he found only a few who would not
confess, on inquiry, that they began their career of wickedness by a neglect
of the church and God's people."
Young men, you may have friends who forget the honor of the Lord's day; but
resolve, by God's help, that you will always remember to keep it special.
Honor it by a regular attendance at some place where the gospel is preached.
Settle down under a faithful ministry, and once settled, let your place in
church never be empty. Believe me, you will find a special blessing
following you: "If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from
doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and
the LORD'S holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your
joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and
to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob" (Isaiah 58:13-14). And one
thing is very certain, your feelings about Sunday and the fellowship will
always be a test and criterion of your fitness for heaven. Fellowship and
worship are a foretaste and a fragment of heaven. The man who finds them a
burden and not a privilege, may be sure that his heart stands in need of a
(5) RESOLVE THAT WHEREVER YOU ARE, YOU WILL PRAY.
Prayer is the life-breath of a man's soul. Without it, we may have a name to
live, and be counted Christians; but we are dead in the sight of God. The
feeling that we must cry to God for mercy and peace is a mark of salvation;
and the habit of spreading before Him our soul's needs is an evidence that
we have the spirit of adoption. And prayer is the appointed way to obtain
the relief of our spiritual necessities. It opens the treasury, and sets the
fountain flowing. If we don't have, it is because we don't ask.
Prayer is the way to procure the outpouring of the Spirit upon our hearts.
Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. He is ready to come down
with all His precious gifts, renewing, sanctifying, purifying,
strengthening, cheering, encouraging, enlightening, teaching, directing,
guiding, into all truth. But then He waits to be asked.
And here it is, I say it with sorrow, here it is that men fall short so
miserably. Few indeed are to be found who pray: there are many who go down
on their knees, and say a form perhaps, but few who pray; few who cry out to
God, few who call on the Lord, few who seek as if they wanted to find, few
who knock as if they hungered and thirsted, few who wrestle, few who strive
with God earnestly for an answer, few who give Him no rest, few who continue
in prayer, few who pray always without ceasing and do not grow weak. Yes:
few pray! It is just one of the things assumed as a matter of course, but
seldom practiced; a thing which is everybody's business, but in fact hardly
Young men, believe me, if your soul is to be saved, you must pray. God has
no speechless children. If you are to resist the world, the flesh, and the
devil, you must pray: it is in vain to look for strength in the hour of
trial, if it has not been sought for. You may be thrown in with those who
never do it, you may have to sleep in the same room with someone who never
asks anything of God, still, mark my words, you must pray.
I can believe that you find it difficult to do, difficulties about
opportunities to pray, and times to pray, and places to pray. I dare not lay
down too strict rules on such points as these. I leave them to your own
conscience. You must be guided by circumstances. Our Lord Jesus Christ
prayed on a mountain; Isaac prayed in the fields; Hezekiah turned his face
to the wall as he lay upon his bed; Daniel prayed by the riverside; Peter,
the Apostle, on the housetop. I have heard of young men praying in stables
and haylofts. All that I contend for is this, you must know what it is to
"go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen"
(Matthew 6:6). There must be stated times when you must speak to God face to
face, you must every day have your times for prayer--You must pray.
Without this, all my advice and counsel is useless. This is that piece of
spiritual armor which Paul names last in his list, in Ephesians 6, but it is
in truth that is first in value and importance. This is that meat which you
must eat daily, if you would travel safely through the wilderness of this
life. It is only in the strength of this that you will get onward towards
the mountain of God. I have heard it said that some people who grind metal
sometimes wear a magnetic mouthpiece at their work, which catches all the
fine metal dust that flies around them, prevents it from entering their
lungs, and so saves their lives. Prayer is the mouthpiece that you must wear
continually, or else you will never work uninjured by the unhealthy
atmosphere of this sinful world. You must pray.
Young men, be sure no time is so well spent as that which a man spends on
his knees. Make time for this, whatever your situation may be. Think of
David, King of Israel: what does be say? "Evening, morning and noon I cry
out in distress, and he hears my voice" (Psalm 55:17). Think of Daniel. He
had all the business of a kingdom on his hands; yet he prayed three times a
day. See there the secret of his safety in wicked Babylon. Think of Solomon.
He begins his reign with prayer for help and assistance, and hence his
wonderful prosperity. Think of Nehemiah. He could find time to pray to the
God of heaven, even when standing in the presence of his master, Artaxerxes.
Think of the example these good men have left you, and go and do likewise.
Oh that the Lord may give you all the spirit of grace and supplication!
"Have you not just called to me: 'My Father, my friend from my youth'"
(Jeremiah 3:4). Gladly would I consent to the fact that all of this message
should be forgotten, if only this doctrine of the importance of prayer might
be impressed on your hearts.