Counsels For the Young

Proverbs 4:20-27.

There was never a time when more manifest dangers beset the path of the young than at the present moment; and this is true both in respect of young believers and of the children of Christian parents. Through every avenue by which their hearts may be reached, Satan is ever seeking to pour in his allurements. As the god of this world he appeals to their eyes, their ears - to all their senses, in fact - to seduce them, if possible, to walk in his ways. Through the cultivation of the fine arts, and from the education of the tastes of the people, temptations abound on every hand. This cannot fail to impress the most careless beholder. Even the pictorial embellishments which cover the hoardings of our streets are instrumentalities for the insinuation or suggestion of evil things, and thus for calling forth the flesh into activity. In view of these patent dangers, it becomes a question whether Christian teachers and parents are sufficiently careful to provide the antidotes which are to be found in the Word of God - first, in warning the young of the perils which surround their path, and then in ministering to them that which alone can satisfy their hearts, and draw them after our blessed Lord and Saviour in the path of devoted discipleship.

In the scripture which we have cited we may discover divine instruction, needed by all, but especially by the class before our minds, which, if treasured up, will preserve from evil and afford guidance while passing through this world. For what we have in this Book of Proverbs is divine wisdom for the earthly path. In Christianity an object outside of this world, Christ glorified, is revealed, and when He possesses the heart He binds the soul to Himself, and, filling it with the enjoyment of His love, draws it away from everything which is unsuited to Himself. To know Him is everything; but it is well to listen to the divine counsels which are given as to the details of the path. These counsels suppose relationship - or a relationship - for they are addressed to "my son." It is assumed, therefore, that the one addressed is numbered amongst the people of God; for you cannot enforce the precepts of God's Word upon the unconverted - always remembering at the same time that the children of believers have an especial place before God, and hence are exhorted to obey their parents in the Lord.

Before pointing out the means of preservation, Solomon lays the foundation for what he is about to say in a positive state of soul. He thus commences with urging attention to the Word of God: "My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings." In a recent paper upon parental responsibility, it was pointed out that the Jewish parents had to use continual diligence in sowing the seed of the Word in the hearts of their children: here the responsibility is pressed upon the children and upon young believers. It is they who are called upon to attend to the divine words, and to incline their ears unto what is said. And surely the very form of the exhortation implies that to comply with it requires purpose of heart. How many dear young Christians would confess to the truth of this, as they own that the serial tale, or other imaginative story, has often robbed them of the time they might have given to God's Word. If the truth indeed must be told, there has been a great increase in reading books which, in former days, would not have been seen in the houses of godly families. The consequence has been not only less intelligence in the Scriptures, but also the loss of appetite for the Word of God. There is much need, therefore, to hearken to the scripture before us, and to seek grace to be diligent in the attentive study of the Bible. It is said of the righteous man - Christ - in Psalm 1, "And in His law doth He meditate day and night." Can we do better than follow His blessed example?

Solomon, indeed, adds, "Let them not depart from thine eyes." The ears were to hear, and the eyes were to read - and to read constantly. Every devout reader of the Scriptures would say - and let this be a great encouragement to newly-born souls - that the more they read the more interested they become, and the more they desire to read. To get into the spirit of the Scriptures is soon to become absorbed with what they reveal, especially when it is learned that the written Word is but the unfolding of the living Word. This is undoubtedly the reason of the next exhortation, "Keep them in the midst of thine heart." That is to say, if the Word of God is continually read it will surely pass through the eyes into the heart. It cannot fail to do this when read in prayerful dependence, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Still, this does not dispense with the necessity for diligence to guard, and to hold fast, what has thus entered the heart. The truth is that the moment we enter upon the enjoyment of any blessing Satan will seek to rob us of it, and hence we need to "keep" God's words in the midst of our hearts. Retained there they will form us morally through the power of the Holy Ghost, and we shall thus become the living expressions of the truth we have acquired.

The reason given for obedience to this word of exhortation will explain the above sentence: "For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh." As the Lord Jesus Himself said - and He was the Word of life - "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life"; and again, "I have not spoken of Myself; but the Father which sent Me, He gave Me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that His commandment is life everlasting." (John 12:49-50.) Truly it is so, that those who "find" the words of God discover that they are life to their souls. It is so at the commencement of the spiritual life, and it is so all along the wilderness journey; for it is through the Word that Christ Himself is ministered to His people. There is yet another thing which, if ever true in principle, will find its exact application to the earthly people, "And health to all their flesh." At the same time let not the young Christian forget that walking in God's way, hearing His words, and thus cultivating the spiritual life, will preserve him from many a bodily snare and danger. In this sense he will learn that keeping God's words in the midst of his heart will become health to his flesh, as then, avoiding all self-indulgence and gratifications of the flesh, and walking in subjection to the divine laws, he will be, even as to the body, in the path of life.

Having laid the foundations, the Spirit of God gives, in the next place, counsels for the maintenance of the spiritual life, and for the preservation of a holy walk. The first of these relates - and necessarily relates - to the heart, which is to be kept with all diligence, because out of it are the issues of life. An unsatisfied heart is a constant source of danger, and a divided heart is the continual cause of inconsistency of walk. On the other hand, when Christ possesses and engrosses the affections we are superior to every temptation of the enemy. We have only to read what the Lord Himself says about the heart of man (Matt. 15:19, 23), to understand what evils lurk in the flesh even of believers, and the consequent necessity for this exhortation. It should ever be remembered that if our hearts are set on one single thing on which the heart of God is not set, in so far we are out of communion. This fact will make it very evident that the issues of life proceed from the heart. (Compare Romans 8:13.) Let every dear babe in Christ weigh this in the presence of God, for Satan well knows, even if we forget, that his most successful temptations are addressed to the affections of the young.

In the next place, the mouth and the lips are to be guarded. This naturally follows upon the exhortation just considered, because our words are the index of the heart. The Lord Jesus taught this when He said, "O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things." (Matt. 12:34-35.) Again and again did He warn those around Him of the danger arising from uncontrolled speech, and in every part of Scripture the warning is repeated. James especially deals with the subject in most solemn language (chap. 3), and he even says that "if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body"; and in the Psalms prayer after prayer is found for the guard and preservation of the lips from speaking evil. The means for the attainment of this desired end is that Christ and His things should fill our hearts, and then our conversation will flow out from that with which we are occupied.

The eyes and the feet next come under consideration. Remembering that the lust of the eye is one of the avenues to our souls (1 John 2), we shall perceive at once the force of the exhortation to let our eyes look right on, and our eyelids straight before us. Ah' how often have we been tempted through the unguarded eyes - eyes roving in every direction - while we were passing through "Vanity Fair." Some of the paths in the mountains are so narrow, and running by the side of such huge precipices, that inattention or unwatchfulness for a single moment might be the cause of destruction. So in our scripture, immediately after the precept concerning the eyes, it is said, "Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established." See to it, that is, that you are in God's way, and that you may be so, consider well, and be sure that you are in it, and having this certainty, let all your ways be established in and according to it. All this will become simple when once you have taken Christ's yoke upon you, and when, with the single eye fastened upon Him, you are learning from His blessed example.

Finally it is said, "Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil." God's path for the believer is a straight one, so that, having found it, there is nothing now to do except to seek grace to be kept going straight on - like, for example, the apostle Paul in Philippians 3. The "evil" lies on both sides of this narrow way, and approaches to its very boundaries. We are therefore safest when we are walking in the centre, as being fully in it, and as delighting in it. Many allurements will be spread out on either side, and many a by-path which will promise greater ease and comfort; but if the eye be kept "straight on" to the glorious goal, which will be reached when Christ comes to receive us, we shall be delivered from all these snares, and guarded by divine power from every artifice of the enemy.

The Lord lead His dear young saints into the path of His own example, and fill their hearts with the sense of His presence and love, that they may become ever more and more devoted to Himself while awaiting His return.