This is from J.C. Ryle’s Thoughts For Young Men, Chapter 1: Reasons for Exhorting Young Men: Determining the Future
I grant you true repentance is never too late, but I warn you at the same time, late repentance is seldom true. I grant you, one penitent thief was converted in his last hours, that no man might despair; but I warn you, only one was converted, that no man might presume.Tweet
THE FUTURE IS DETERMINED BY ONE’S PRESENT RELATIONSHIP WITH SIN
For another thing, what young men will be, in all probability, depends on what they are now, and they seem to forget this. Youth is the seedtime of full age, the molding season in the little space of human life, the turning point in the history of a man’s mind. By the shoot, we judge of the tree; by the blossoms, we judge of the fruit; by the spring, we judge of the harvest; by the morning, we judge of the day; and by the character of the young man, we may generally judge what he will be when he grows up.
Young men, be not deceived. Think not you can, at will, serve lusts and pleasures in your beginning, and then go and serve God with ease at your latter end. Think not you can live with Esau, and then die with Jacob. “Don’t think that you can live the life of a sinner, and then die the death of saint” (Davis, 16). It is a mockery to deal with God and your souls in such a fashion. It is an awful mockery to suppose you can give the flower of your strength to the world and the devil, and then put off the King of kings with the scraps and leavings of your hearts, and the wreck and remnant of your powers. It is an awful mockery, and you may find to your cost the thing cannot be done.
THE FUTURE IS DETERMINED BY ONE’S PRESENT REPENTANCE UNTO LIFE
I daresay you are reckoning on a late repentance. You know not what you are doing: you are reckoning without God. Repentance and faith are the gifts of God, and gifts that He often withholds when they have been long offered in vain. I grant you true repentance is never too late, but I warn you at the same time, late repentance is seldom true. I grant you, one penitent thief was converted in his last hours, that no man might despair; but I warn you, only one was converted, that no man might presume. I grant you it is written, Jesus is “able to save them to the uttermost that come to God by him” (Heb 7:25). But I warn you, it is also written by the same Spirit, “Because I have called, and ye refused, I also will laugh at your calamity…I will mock when your fear cometh” (Pro 1:24, 26).
Believe me, you will find it no easy matter to turn to God just when you please. It is a true saying of good Archbishop Leighton:7 “The way of sin is downhill; a man cannot stop when he would.” Holy desires and serious convictions are not like the servants of the Centurion (Mat 8:5), ready to come and go at your desire; rather are they like the unicorn (stubborn wild ox) in Job (Job 39:9): they will not obey your voice, nor attend at your bidding. It was said of a famous general of old, Hannibal (247-183 BC) when he could have taken Rome, that he warred against it but would not take it; and by and by when he would, he could not. Beware, lest the same kind of event befall you in the matter of eternal life.
THE FUTURE IS DETERMINED BY ONE’S PRESENT ROUTINE
Why do I say all this? I say it because of the force of habit. I say it because experience tells me that people’s hearts are seldom changed if they are not changed when young. Seldom indeed are men converted when they are old. Habits have long roots. Sin once allowed to nestle in your bosom will not be turned out at your bidding. Custom becomes second nature, and its chains are threefold cords not easily broken. Well says the prophet: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jer 13:23). Habits are like stones rolling downhill: the further they roll, the faster and more ungovernable is their course. Habits, like trees, are strengthened by age. A boy may bend an oak when it is a sapling; a hundred men cannot root it up when it is a full-grown tree. A child can wade over the river Thames at its fountainhead; the largest ship in the world can float in it when it gets near the sea. So it is with habits: the older the stronger—the longer they have held possession, the harder they will be to cast out. They grow with our growth, and strengthen with our strength. Custom is the nurse of sin. “Habits breeds sin” (Davis, 18). Every fresh act of sin lessens fear and remorse, hardens our hearts, blunts the edge of our conscience, and increases our evil inclination.
…people’s hearts are seldom changed if they are not changed when young. Seldom indeed are men converted when they are old. Habits have long roots. Sin once allowed to nestle in your bosom will not be turned out at your bidding. Custom becomes second nature, and its chains are threefold cords not easily broken.
Young men, you may fancy I am laying too much stress on this point. If you had seen old men, as I have done, on the brink of the grave, feelingless, seared, callous, dead, cold, hard as the nether8 mill-stone—you would not think so. Believe me, you cannot stand still in the affairs of your souls. Habits of good or evil are daily strengthening in your hearts. Every day you are either getting nearer to God or further off. Every year that you continue impenitent, the wall of division between you and heaven becomes higher and thicker, and the gulf to be crossed deeper and broader. Oh, dread the hardening effect of constant lingering in sin! Now is the accepted time. See that your flight be not in the winter of your days. If you seek not the Lord when young, the strength of habit is such that you will probably never seek Him at all.
I fear this, and therefore I exhort you.
7 Robert Leighton (1611-1684) – Scottish Archbishop of Glasgow, Scotland, known for his holy, humble life.
8 nether– lower, lying under. Two circular stones are used to grind grain in a mill, placed horizontally with the grain in between; the lower had to be the harder in order to bear the weight of the upper stone.
Study Questions (from Chapel Libary) :
Very Important Note: We ask you to always get your answer from the text, but use your own words in your answer. Please do not merely quote the text for your answer. Rather, read what the text says, think about the meaning of what it says, and summarize the meaning of the text in your own words for your answer. In this way, you will learn much more than simply a “search/find/quote” method for answering the questions. Read: First, please read the reading text. Please answer the questions below from the information in this chapter. Read the Scriptures: The author will refer to Bible verses, it is to your utmost benefit to read the verses. Read Slowly: Please read slowly enough so you understand what you read. Read Prayerfully: Please also pray before each lesson asking the LORD for wisdom to apply what you learn to your life, and to enable you to love Him with all your mind, heart, soul, and strength, for this is the greatest commandment (Mar 12:30).
Why is true repentance later in life so rare?
How does “force of habit” prevent one’s coming to Christ?
The solution for “habits of sin” is the “habits of grace.”
Making It Personal: What negative habits are you dealing with? To what degree do they control you?
To God be the glory!
Ryle, J. C., & Davis, M. (2018). Thoughts for young Men: An exhortation directed to those in the prime of life. Ep Books.