The Urgent Duty of the Young, Part 1
OUR FATHER, we know your regard for our young ones. We feel the tenderness of your heart toward them, and you know our own heart toward them. And so we pray now that you would give grace to the servant whom you have appointed for this hour and this duty, that he may make clear the words that have come to him from your Word. Grant to him composure and sympathy and clarity and a heart filled with righteousness and boldness. Grant to the little ones attentiveness. Lord, engage all of the resources of your own self to bring about the result that we long to see the conversion of the young, the preservation of their lives and souls from the Devil and from the world and from their own sins, and the raising them up to be mighty servants to our Lord Jesus Christ. Our hearts, O Lord . . . [pastoral weeping] Our hearts, O Lord, wait upon you. And we long, O God, not to manipulate nor to evoke unlasting response. We have no trust in our flesh nor even in our emotions, but in your Word and Spirit. So now, Lord, help us and come. Address our souls. Deal with our consciences. Deliver us from ourselves and our fears, and make us to know what it means to trust in our Redeemer with all our hearts. Grant unto us, O God, the souls of our children and the souls of those who are young in our midst. Help me preach. I wait upon you and look to you and depend upon you. Have mercy on us, O Lord, in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Ecclesiastes chapter 11, beginning with verse 9.
Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth, and walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes; but know you, that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from your heart, and put away evil from your flesh; for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when you shall say, I have no pleasure in them; before the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars, are darkened, and the clouds return after the rain; in the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out the windows shall be darkened, and the doors shall be shut in the street; when the sound of the grinding is low, and one shall rise up at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low; yea, they shall be afraid of that which is high, and terrors shall be in the way; and the almond tree shall blossom, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail; because man goes to his everlasting home, and the mourners go about the streets; before the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns unto God who gave it.
This morning I wish to preach to you who are young. Who are the young people? They're any who are able to understand what I say and who need to hear what I say. There are some who will not be able to attend, for a whole hour, my sermon and understand and retain it all. Some of the things I preach will be for them, but they'll not be able to receive the things and handle them well. They need a lot of help from Mom and Dad when they go home.
Part of the parental duty is to take what's preached in this place and grind it down so that they can understand it. A part of your responsibility is to help the minister of the Word to instruct your children, to prepare them for it on Saturdays, follow through on Sundays, and ask questions through the week to help put those things into their conscience. If we have to do it that way every time we preach, we won't have time to do all the other things that need to be done for the souls of God's people. But once in a while, laid upon a pastor is a burden upon his own soul to address directly the young people.
Really, I'm thinking of all of those who are old enough as children to be able to sit for a hour and to hear preaching and understand what's being said, all the way up into the 20's and to the age of about 30. We consider you to be young people. My address is to you. And I trust that in addressing you, some of the gleanings will fall upon the older ones; and as they hear what's being preached to those who come along behind them, their own hearts will be stirred not only to remember what they wish had been said to them when they were younger, but to stir them to renew their own commitments in their older years.
We speak about youth: that delightsome, free, confusing, troubling, vulnerable, wonderful thing. There's a rationale for our preaching to young people. First of all, God cares about you. You are dear to His heart.
Second, the current trends in our culture demand that we preach to you. Children and youth in our culture have been neglected, frequently rejected, used by lusting and selfish adults, hated even, and resented by parents who've had to sacrifice a bit for them. The term "unwanted pregnancy" reverberates in our ears. "Unwanted children" rings out in our culture even so that 45+% of the voting populace of our country voted for a man who uses the line of an entire movement which sees the principle of an unwanted child as the predominant principle for decision making. Want or not want determines all they do with all their lives. And our nation has received that philosophy and has expressed it in the ballot box by pulling the lever of their own defiled conscience.
Young people need to hear the truth which they've not heard. They need to see it exemplified because they haven't seen it. They don't know where they are. They don't know who they are. And they don't know where they're going. And they need the anchor of the Word of God to reel them in and give them a place in the world, to let them know who they are, and why they're here, and what they must do with their lives, and who will help them.
Third, my pastoral duty also demands it and requires it. I will not be dealing with every one of you as a father does with children if I don't preach to you young people. I think that I've earned the right in my behavior with you. I think you know that I love you. I think that you know that I have a heart of affection for you. I think your parents can see it demonstrated. It's not put on. It's not feigned. It's not flattery. It's not designed to trick you. It comes from my real, genuine heart. I truly like and love the youth in this church. You are special to me. You are precious to me. And I must teach you the truth, or I've not fulfilled my duty nor my desire to you.
Fourth, a parent's heart also dictates that I address the youth. I'm a parent. I have four. And parents in this church, since they found out I was going to preach this, have prayed this week that God would make it true to their own children and save their own children and help their own children.
Parents' hearts are grieved because they don't live the way they know they ought to live in front of their children. They fail. They sin. They hope their sins don't drag their children down. They don't want their example to hurt their children. And they hope, somehow, that Pastor Allen can preach in such a way as even to overcome their own weaknesses and their own ignorance and their own failure. They long that the Spirit of God will come and, somehow, do that which we could never do unless He Himself works. So the hearts of your parents dictate this sermon.
We've read the text in Ecclesiastes. I want to summarize what we're told in this text under three headings, and then I want to draw out some developed applications to you.
What I'm going to do first is ask the question, What? What are you supposed to do, young people? Second, I'm going to ask the question, When? and answer it. When are you supposed to do it? Third, we're going to ask, Why? Why are you supposed to do that when you're supposed to do it? And then, the Lord willing, I want to list for you some crucial factors to motivate you to do that thing which this text tells you you must do.
Then I want to lay out some notable examples to encourage you to do the thing that God tells you young people to do. And then I want to show some important directives for your safety growing out of those considerations, trusting that even in the process some of you adults will glean some truth that I speak to the young.
Finally, I want to remind you of some hindrances, some very large obstacles to your being able to obey the directive of Scripture to remember your Creator now in the days of your youth. And then, to draw some concluding remarks and hope to bring it home to your consciences and hearts.
Summary of the Text
First of all then, what does the text tell us to do? Verse 1, chapter 12, of Ecclesiastes a book dedicated to reminding men that everything they do in this world ultimately, in itself, is vanity. Nothing in this world lasts. We give our lives and our hearts to all sorts of things that at the time we do them feel so important to us.
We cannot imagine not doing what we're doing. But it's all vain in itself because it's all passing away. It never lasts. And things that young people give themselves to, and spend their time and money on, and give their energies to, and dream about having and doing all of those things will make you sad in the end. They'll disillusion you. They'll discourage you. They'll never give you what they promise to give you in your youth.
So you're told in Ecclesiastes, the book about vanity, what you should do. Verse 1 of chapter 12 says remember your Creator. That's what you should do. That's what you must do. Remember your Creator. Oh, you children, and all you older children, and you teen-agers, and you young adults, remember your Creator. It is the proneness of youth to forget his Maker. There are a lot of reasons why, but it is the tendency of youth to forget God. The Bible says remember Him. Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth.
Four little things I want to say that explain what it means to remember your Creator. If you remember your Creator, it means, in the first place, that you will acknowledge His rights over you. It is God, the Bible says, that has made us and not we ourselves.
The children's catechism asks the question that my 2-year-old can answer: Who made you? And the answer: God made you. What does that mean? Well, it means a lot of things. But one thing it means is that God is the one that has a right to tell you how to live your life. God gave you your life. He's your Creator. He didn't need any help when He made you. God didn't do what Thomas Edison did.
Thomas Edison took some materials that were already in the world, and he thought about them, and worked hard on them, and developed them, and put them together and invented the light bulb. He's called an inventor perhaps the greatest inventor in the history of the world. But God didn't do it that way when He made you.
God didn't take existing materials and create the world. He took nothing but His own will and His own voice, and He spoke the universe into existence. And out of that which He made with nobody's help, He formed man. And He set in motion a series of processes in human life out of which little children are born. God made you, and you owe your life and existence to God. So you must remember that and acknowledge that He has a right to tell you what to do with your life.
Now I want to look straight in the eye of you young people who are in your teens. Maybe you're not in your teens. Maybe you're 10 or 11, but you're old enough to think that you are smarter than Mom or Dad.
Sometimes you think you know best. Sometimes when Mom or Dad say do something, you say, "Why?" Or you say, "I don't like that," or, "I don't want to do that." That tells me that you think you know something more than Mother knows. It tells me that you think you have a right to decide for yourself what you do.
The Bible says you must remember your Creator, and a part of what that means is that you must acknowledge that He has the right to tell you what to do with your life. Now do you understand what that has to do with your mom or dad? You may say, "Well, that's fine, Pastor. I don't mind the Lord telling me, but I don't want my mother telling me." But don't you understand? It is your mother that God sent to tell you what He wants you to do. It is your mother that's bringing God's message to you. That's how God speaks to you often through your mom or your dad. And when you say, "No" to your mom or dad, or "Why?" to your mom or dad, or stomp your foot to your mom or dad, you're saying that to God. You're not remembering that He's your Creator and that He has a right to tell you what to do. You're forgetting it, aren't you? The Bible says don't forget that. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He'll direct your paths (Prov. 3:6).
Do you know why many people today in their 20's have their lives literally falling apart in front of them? Their lives are sifting through their fingers like sand. They don't understand what went wrong, and they have not the slightest idea of how to put it back together. Do you know why? It's because they did not acknowledge God in all their ways all those years.
And all of a sudden, nothing directs their path. They don't know where they're headed. Back in the 60's that was expressed by the hippies who would be seen sitting under a tree someplace strumming a ukelele, saying, "Why am I here?" That was the knell of the hippie movement. "Who am I? Why am I here?"
But, you see, the young person who acknowledges God and God's rights over him all his days, never has to ask that question. It's a question that never occurs to him to ask. He knows by nature why he's here. He's here for what? Why did God make you and all things? For His own glory.
And when you acknowledge your Creator, and listen to Him speak, and acknowledge that He has a right to tell you what to do, then God gets glory out of your life because you'll live right and people will see it. And people will like what they see. They won't feel sorry for you. They won't think that your life is a pitiful wreck. And you won't live your life pouting and sad. You'll live with purpose because you remember your Creator and acknowledge that He has a right over you to tell you how to live.
You see, to reject God and His will and not do what He says is to steal from God what belongs to Him: you. God owns you. You're His property. And if you take your own life into your own hands and live it your way and not God's way in the Bible, you have robbed God of what He owns and you're a big thief. And God will have to punish you for that.
But in the second place, not only should you acknowledge His rights over you as your Creator, but in remembering Him, you should seek His will for you. You've not remembered your Creator if you're not asking your Creator and looking to Him to show you how to live. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will direct your paths.
When you ask the question, "Why was I born?" you ask it of God. "Lord, what must I do? What will you have me to do?" Remember Samuel? In his youth (when it finally became known to him that it was God that was speaking to him), he said, "Here am I." ["Whatever you want me to do, Lord, I am willing to do it. It doesn't matter what you want me to do. It doesn't matter how hard it is to do. It doesn't matter that every one of my friends doesn't do it. It doesn't matter how strange it may seem. Lord, if you want me to do it, I belong to you. Show me what to do."] The reason most people have problems in their lives is because they never ask God what He wants them to do. "You have not because you ask not" (James 4:2).
I'm speaking to you children. Some of you are asking your parents already, "What am I going to be when I grow up?" Well, what you're going to be when you grow up if you listen to what I'm saying today and if you listen to God's voice is servants of God.
You're going to live your life to the glory of God. Everything you do, you're going to be doing it for God. How are you going to find out, though, what your job is going to be?
Are you going to be a fireman? Or a policeman? Or a homebuilder? Or a preacher? Are you going to be the pastor of a church some day? Are you going to go off some place where people haven't heard the gospel and preach to them and be an evangelist? A missionary? Are you going to be a lawyer or a doctor? Are you going to be a senator or the president of the United States?
How are you going to know? I'll tell you how you're going to know. God is going to show you if you spend all your days asking Him to show you, searching His Word, and being ready to do whatever He wants you to do. God will show you.
Now I'm speaking to some in their 20's and 30's who still don't know what they're going to do when they grow up. We have a generation of young men who have not the slightest idea of who they are and what they are doing in the world. And that's why women don't get attracted to them.
You can't get a wife, my friend, you can't get a good wife, you can't get a virtuous woman, a wise woman, if you don't know what in the world you're doing here. If all you know is that you want to satisfy your pleasures and you need a gal to help you do it, if that's all you've got going, that's the only kind of woman you're going to get to marry you, unless she's the stupidest thing I've met.
This is a problem in our culture. Young men don't have a sense of calling. They don't have a sense of heritage. Our schools are giving us history lessons that have nothing to do with reality. They're twisting history itself, revising it to meet a current agenda for a small minority of people who want to destroy everything dear.
We have no sense of heritage. We have no sense of calling. Why? We haven't sought God's will. We didn't say, "Lord, all I want to know is what you want me to do." I'm convinced that a child who grows up asking God that question sincerely will never have a problem with a calling. There's no magic formula. There's no series of counseling that will tell you what to do. There is no aptitude test that will tell you. I didn't say those things are not a part of the process that needs to be used, but God is the one that will direct the paths of those that seek His will. If you remember your Creator, you'll seek His will for you.
But, in the third place, if you remember your Creator, not only will you acknowledge His rights over you and seek His will for you, you will fear His threatenings against you. The threats of God's Word are no idle things. What did we read in verse 9? Go ahead, young man, live your life. Do what you think is best. Have a good time. Enjoy your youth. Have your pleasure. But remember this, that for all these things in other words, for everything you do God will bring you into judgment.
In my counseling as a twentieth-century pastor, often I speak to people who have not one ounce of the fear of God anywhere in their bones. It never occurred to them that their lives are answerable to their Creator and that some day they are going to stand in front of God and everything they ever said (Jesus said every idle word) God will judge. Everything they ever thought and everything they ever did, God is going to bring it up just like on a giant computer. He's going to take all the bits of it and analyze it all and judge you for it.
Maybe their mommy or their grandmommy never said to them what my grandmother said to me (2?-years-old, learning John 3:16 by memory from my grandmother). She said, "God knows everything you do, and He's watching everything you do. You better do right." And a 2?-year-old boy believed it.
God gave grace, and I believed it. And you know what? It's the one thing that has saved my life. I've done wrong. But I have never been able to do wrong with a high hand, with an arrogant attitude, without caring. I never was able even to think a dirty thought without my conscience saying, "God heard that." And it scared me.
How thankful I am that I had a heritage that said, "God is watching everything you do, and you're going to answer to Him for it." There were times nobody would have known, but God. And if I hadn't known that God knew, I would have done it and ruined my life! I did enough when I knew He knew. But when I did the thing I knew God hated, as soon as I did it, I was scared to death God was going to get me.
As a young adult there were days I was afraid to get in my car because I knew that God would probably make me have a wreck and kill me right then. There were days that I went to bed at night scared to death that I wouldn't wake up the next morning. Is that bad? I'll tell you what: this generation hates such stuff so much that they would love to drive every bit of that negative thinking out of your mind. They don't want you to be scared when you go to bed. They say, "Don't worry. Be yourself. Do what works for you."
The Bible says do what works for God. Remember your Creator. He's watching and He is weighing everything you think, everything you say, everything you do. My dear young people, every time you have murmured against your mommy or your daddy, God has listened to it. And God is going to bring you into judgment for it. Do you hear me, children? Little boys?
Some of you parents don't know this, but a little boy doesn't have to get very old before he starts thinking dirty thoughts. That comes into little boys' minds a long time before puberty. You better learn that, parent. Don't be naive. You better watch what you let your little boys watch on TV. And you better watch who you let them see undress in the bathroom. You better be careful.
We had a whole generation before ours that would never think of a boy and a girl in the same house seeing each other, brother and sister, without their clothes on. And we've had a movement in our culture to get away from all that and to lower the esteem of the body, and to lower the sanctity of the body, and to lower our modesty. We've created a sex-crazy generation. Don't tell me it doesn't have any relationship. Don't you see what's going on? That men actually buy automobiles because of their lusts for women? Young people, when you're thinking dirty God is going to judge you for it. Fear His threatenings against you because God doesn't forget.
Somebody is thinking, "Pastor Allen, you're being pretty hard on these precious, innocent, guileless little children." I've got three things against that argument. One is I know my Bible and you obviously don't. Second, I used to be a little boy. And the third is I love these kids more than you do, if that's your posture.
I'm not here to try to make you feel that I'm being comfortable with the kids. I want to scare my boys and my little girl out of their wits if it means it will drive them to say, "Lord, have mercy on me and help me not sin." And let me tell you something else. There are some things that if you do them when you're young, they make a mark and a dent and a damage and a wound in you that will never go away. I would spare you who have not broken those laws yet. I don't want you to go through what I've gone through. I don't want you to go through what I go through in the counseling room: trying to get people retrieved from lifetimes of habits they started when they were 8 or 10 or 15.
We have kids in the fifth grade in our country who are addicted to drugs already. We have kids that are allowed to go to the whiskey closet right in their homes, when they are children, and have as much as they want. We have children that are in pornography before they're even in puberty. It's not nearly as much of an exception as we would like to think it is. God judges children for their sins. The Bible says the children will not suffer for the sins of their fathers; they will be judged for their own sins. So fear the threatenings of God against you. Remember your Creator. He made you. He expects you to do what He wants.
But, in the fourth place, not only are you to acknowledge God's rights over you, and seek His will for you, and fear His threatenings against you, but (and this is the helpful one) trust His promises to you. The Lord said if you will acknowledge Him in all your ways, He will direct your path. You'll never have to ask, "What am I doing here? What does my life mean?" You'll never be lost. You'll never be alone. My children feel lonely sometimes (and that's natural), but I tell them every time God never leaves nor forsakes His children. They don't always believe me, but it's still true. And I'm going to still tell them. You're never alone when you walk with God. You can never be alone when God is your God. One of the reasons that people are happy whose God is the Lord is that He never forsakes them.
We have a culture of 25-year-olds who are so frantically lonely that they'll do almost anything for companionship. They can't spend five minutes without either a radio or a television. They've got to have something going on. They can't be quiet because they're alone and they don't understand the presence of God. When they're told to read their Bibles and pray and spend time alone with God, they don't even know what that means. Alone with God? Their minds are unable to grasp such a concept. I tell you, there's no sweeter place and no better company in the world than the secret place with God. I've never been lonely when I've been with God. And I've been extremely lonely when I've been with all my best friends. I tell you this: having lots of kids doesn't relieve the loneliness. And getting married doesn't take care of it. It only heightens it if Jesus Christ is not what your heart's desire is.
You children want to be free from your loneliness? You want to know somebody is always with you and takes care of you and loves you and feels what you need? Trust God's promises to you. God never breaks His promises. God cannot lie, and He has promised, "I'll never leave you nor forsake you" (Heb. 13:5). He's talking to those who will trust in Him and believe in Him and walk with Him. You walk with God, God will walk with you. If you do what you want to do and not what God wants, you'll be lonely and your life will fall to little pieces.
Well, that's what you should do. Remember your Creator. Acknowledge His rights over you. Seek His will for you. Fear His threatenings against you. And trust His promises to you.
But in the second place, when are you supposed to do it? Now, in the days of your youth. There's an urgency to this exhortation in the Bible. Do it now. That means two things at least. First, of all, without delay. If you understand what I've been saying, you know what your duty is to do? Right now, today, make sure that you remember your Creator. Right now. Make sure that you look to God, and ask God to take the sin out of your heart, to forgive you of your sins, to straighten out your life now, without delay. "Now is the accepted time...[Today] is the day of salvation" (II Cor. 6:2).
Parents, don't be afraid to have your kids converted. We don't baptize them when they're young here. It's not because we don't believe they can be saved. It's because we want to be sure that the public testimony of the church is not compromised by what might not be real, genuine conversion. We want to make sure we don't put a burden on children that they cannot bear as to church membership and its responsibilities and its heavy liability. But we're not suggesting that you shouldn't seek their conversion, and ask them to believe in Christ, and to trust the Lord, and to love Christ, and to obey Christ, and to thank Him for saving them. Move in that direction.
Be careful you don't manipulate, but keep telling them what they must do to be saved. Keep telling them what God has done to save them. Keep calling them to Christ from the time they're little all the way up. Do it and trust God in it. Children, God gave His Son to die for your sins. Unless you trust in Him you cannot be saved, and you'll perish and go to hell. Trust in Christ. Turn to Christ now without delay. Remember your creator now.
Teen-agers, you may be thinking, "Not now. Don't push me now. Please tell me I've got a few years. There are things that my big brothers and sisters and my daddy got to do, and they made it. Don't tell me I can't do those things. There are a few things that my friends at school are getting to do, and I'm hoping to sort of sneak in on some of that some day. Everybody else gets to have free sex. Why not I? Everybody else gets to toy around with drugs, including alcohol. Why not me?"
I'll tell you why not you. Because you'll remember your Creator, and you'll not do that to yourself because you belong to Him. "Pastor Allen wants me to repent today. I've got plans for Tuesday night. He wants me to break it now." That's right. I ask you a question. What makes you think if you aren't willing now, knowing God is going to bring you to judgment...If you're not willing to change it now, straighten it out now, repent of it now, and forsake it now, are you going to be in a mood to do it Wednesday morning? What do you think is going to happen? Do you think you're invincible? Do you think you have the ability any time you please to turn it around? I tell you, some of you that are 15 or 16 have already developed some habits that are going to be very hard to break.
Without delay look to the Lord. Call upon Him while He is near, and He's never nearer than when you are hearing the preaching of His Word.
But not only without delay. It says, "now in the days of your youth." Not only do you do it now and turn to God and remember what you forgot now, you do it all your days, in the days, the whole time, continually, regularly, permanently. It's not a one-time thing. I trust that you teen-agers who go to the retreat this Christmas will not fall under the thought that, somehow, because of the atmosphere of that thing and the warm emotion and all that could happen in the preaching, etc., that you can get your whole life turned around inside-out on a weekend and come home and it's all settled.
I grew up in a situation in which that was the practice. All year long parents neglected their own duty. The church did nothing with the kids, and then they would send them off to their youth retreat in the spring to a professional child evangelist. They would all come home converted, supposedly. The church would stick them down in their statistics and baptize them and make them church members.
And next year they would have another retreat, and they would all get converted again. There was something about the atmosphere, the tremendous charged emotional experience. It made them feel like persons. They were loved. They were appreciated. They were among friends. I was all wonderful, and God's name was connected with all the good stuff. They wanted more of that. So whatever they were asked to do, they did it walk down an aisle and say yes to Jesus. And they would do it. Some children at 11 years old committed their lives to go to the Congo to preach the gospel, having no desire at all to live in a jungle.
And then when they were 20, they would come to look at the realities of what that meant and feel guilty that they made a commitment to God and couldn't follow through. Some of them lived their whole lives having been drawn into an immediate decision without any reality. I'm not suggesting that you get an emotional flash and say, "Yes, I remember my Creator, and I've got it settled. I remember the day I decided." There's more to it than that. "In the days of your youth." Continually. It's a commitment that you live before the eye of God all the time. There are no exceptions.
There is no weekend in which you may change the rules and drop the principles and compromise. There is no invitation from your school friends that you may accept that would cause you to compromise the commitment that you've made. This party is not an exception to the rule. You don't have the right to tell God at which times you can sin or play around with fire and it won't burn you. Continually. In the days, not just one day in seven, on Sunday when your folks force you into this Sabbath mold that in your heart you wish you could be freed of, but every day.
When you're sitting in the classroom and all the kids around you are not paying attention to the math teacher, and they're showing rebellious attitudes so you feel that you can do the same, the Christian young person says, "Lord, you know that would be ungodly. I'm going to listen to math. I'm going to learn it and do my best." When they say, "Hey, can I look at your notes during the test?" "Look here, I've got some answers under the table. You're free to look, too." But you know Christ is watching. And it's Tuesday, and the pastor is not there and Mom and Dad aren't there. You know your report card is going to be checked and you want to do well. What do you do? You remember your Creator. Now. And do right every day of your life.
But why? Why now? Why remember your Creator? And this is how the writer of the Scripture and how the Spirit of God drive this home: because the time will come when you will be unable to do what God is inviting you today to do. Look back at what He describes in the passage. In verse 1, the second half, "before the evil days come." What evil days? "The years draw nigh." What years? The end of your life "when you shall say I have no pleasure in them." The day is coming when living in this world isn't going to be fun any more, when everything in your body isn't going to be able to perform up to snuff. You're going to say, "I don't have any pleasure in these years. All the fun has gone out of life." When you get old, that's what he's talking about.
Now, there are degrees of this principle. This does not say to you who are old that your life is over. But you would testify that things have changed in your body, haven't they? And there are things that used to be delightful that just aren't any more. There are things you used to look forward to that just don't matter any more for lots of reasons.
But before those days come, get it settled that you're going to live for your Creator. Because when those days come, you're going to have a whole lot more on your hands than remembering your Creator. "Before the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars..." He goes on and describes the luminaries. You know what he's saying? Before the years come in which your life is gloomy, desolate, and the glow is gone... This is a poem, a graphic description of what old age is like. The gleam and the glow and the brightness of life has faded.
Then he says, before "the clouds return after the rain." What kind of a picture is this that after it rains the clouds come back again? That's not what you normally expect to happen. When the clouds rain, you get rid of the clouds and expect the sun to peek out, the rainbow to pop in and, hey, a fresh new day! Had some nice rain. I liked the smell. Everything was watered. Now some sunshine. But there's coming a time in your life when there will be one trouble after another. You get over one problem and another is right on the heels. One ache and another ache. One doctor specialist dealing with this problem, and then you've got to go to another doctor dealing with this problem and another dietary problem and a problem with this and a problem with that...They're just one after the other. Rains come and one after the other the clouds return right back. Before that happens, get it right with God.
You little children, you are so resilient. The bottom can fall right out of your life, and in ten minutes you can be on top of a mountain. It's one of the redeeming things about parenthood. It's one of those things we welcome. We would have no hope if they weren't like that. We've ruined it for them so often, but they spring back. And we say, "Thank you, Lord. Maybe there's another chance." We lose our tempers and wipe them out and they lie in the dust. Then in a few minutes something nice happens and they go, "Wow! Yeah!" They don't remember it. That's youth.
An 18-year-old man goes out and gets his brain blown with alcohol Friday night, and he gets tremendously sick Saturday morning. He wakes up and doesn't want to look at the light of day. His life is a wreck and he can't imagine what kind of an idiot he was Friday night. And he'll never do that again. Saturday night, he's over it. He can't remember the pain, and he says, "I think I'm going to go do that again." That's what Proverbs describes as a drunk. He said his eyes are red, he staggers like a man on the mast of a ship. His life is falling apart. He's got bruises because he's been in a fight. He's got stitches all over him. He's lost blood. He's sick at his stomach. And it says he turns from that and says, "I will seek it yet again" (Prov. 23:29-35).
Youth is so resilient that it can overcome all sorts of problems. You can bludgeon your body as a young person and come back and get more. You can beat it to death and come back and thrive. And you think, "Hey, it didn't cost much, did it?" But the day will come when it will cost. The older you get, the harder it is to rebound from the stupidity. Remember your Creator before those days come.
Verse 3. He's describing a house. "...in the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves..." I believe he's talking about this tabernacle, this earthly house. The "keepers of the house" (your hands and arms) are weakened. They'll tremble. The "strong men" (your back, your legs) bow themselves. The "grinders" (your teeth) are few. You've got to chew on one side all the time, and then that side goes bad. Then you have to eat potato soup. When you're old you won't laugh. It's no fun. The grinders are few.
And then he speaks of "those that look out the windows" (verse 3, at the end), and the "windows" are darkened (your eyes). The windows of your soul get dark when you get older. You can't read your Bible as you could when you were young. You didn't then; you can't now. Read it now.
When your daddy is reading it at the supper table or at your family devotions, you listen to what he's reading. Pray that God will help you listen to all of it. There will come a day when you can't hear it and you can't see it any more. Learn to read and learn to read your Bible. (It's the reason the first public schools in this country were instituted: so children could learn to read their Bibles. That's ironic, isn't it? Now, public school is a way to keep them from reading their Bibles, and they actually feel threatened when we want to keep them at home so we can teach them to read their Bibles.) Read it when you can. Your eyes will be darkened.
Then it says (in verse 4), "The doors shall be shut in the street" (all the things that get entrance: the door of hearing, the door of speech, shut). And "one shall rise up at the voice of a bird" (your sleep). Anything wakes you up potentially. Two hours of sleep a night, old people think is a blessing. Before it comes, when you're not walking around in a stupor because you can't sleep, before that comes, get straight with God and remember God. We could go on. The "daughters of music" (your lungs, your voice, your ear). All of it breaks down. You can't worship God very well any more.
What a grief it is for old saints who wasted their youth not praising God. Now they know. Now they've learned that that's what they should be living for, and now the instruments that God gave them are impotent. Oh, they wish they could get back that strong voice they used to use for blasphemy and cursing and yelling at their parents. They wish they could change it and yell to the praise of God, but it's too late. Before that happens, employ every part of your human frailty to the glory of God. Your feet let them walk straight paths. Your eyes let them look right on. Your mouth not to speak perverse things. Your ears be careful little ears what you hear. Be careful little eyes what you see. Be careful little mouth what you say. Be careful little hands what you do. While you can. That's what he's saying. Do you see the description?
Finally, he says "they'll be afraid of that which is high." Your ambition is gone. Your enterprise is gone. You just don't want to try anything, risking that or this. You begin to pull into yourself. The "almond tree shall blossom." That's the head getting grey. The almond tree blossom is white. The "grasshopper shall be a burden." The grasshopper is a light little thing. But when you get old, light little things become heavy. Getting up in the morning is hard. That's what he's describing. He's describing the onset of years as you're moving closer to the dust from which you came and your everlasting home (your long home, the King James says), the grave.
Before those days get near, remember your Creator because the time will come when you cannot do what God is freely inviting you to do today. Old age bends the back, but sin breaks the back. As one old woman said, "Old age is the worst time we can choose to mend either our lives or our fortunes." Don't wait till you're old to start saving up for retirement. Don't wait until you're old to start straightening out your soul with God.
Crucial Factors to Motivate Obedience
Well, let me give you some crucial factors for motivation. In the first place, my dear children, my dear young men, in the vigor and youth of your days, remember this: repentance is easier when you are young.
Somebody says, "Now, Pastor, if it depends on the power of God, He can do it any time." That's right. It's not the way He has chosen to build the system, though. Generally speaking, very few people repent when they get old because it's the nature of your system that when it gets ingrained so deeply, it takes a lot more to reach down to the roots of it and get it out. You dig up a 200-year-old oak tree and tell me that in the power of God it makes no difference between that and digging up a 3-week-old willow. The nature of the trees makes digging them up a lot different and a lot harder.
How is it that you have such a hard time repenting now? And you think you're going to have an easy time when everything is grounded into your system when you're old? Repentance is easier now, so do it now. Sin is less rooted in you. Satan's grips are less fastened on you. The Spirit of God will not have been so long quenched. Your conscience will not be so hard now as it will when years go by. Remember now your Creator. God doesn't say that as though it doesn't matter. God knows that if you don't remember Him now, you probably never will.
Secondly, if you forget God when you're young, don't be surprised if He forgets you when you're old. It would be just for Him to do so. You know what shocked me when I moved up to the Northeast? I found there was a pattern of sour, cynical, bitter, grey-headed old folks.
In the South (and I'm not setting the South up as a righteous evidence of anything because that's a wicked place to live just like everywhere else), there's a lot of common grace. Older people, more generally, are really nice folks to be around. It doesn't matter if they're white or black. Some of the sweetest folks in this country are old black folks in the South. Old white folks are a lot like that. I used to love being around the old-timers. My dad owned a grocery store, and they'd whittle and chew t'baccy and talk. They were good old guys. You know, they were crotchety and got irritated with youth, but they didn't have an outlook on life that was sour.
I don't think it's exceptional and surprising that many of the Reformed Baptist Churches that are growing up are predominantly young. If you're old and God has redeemed you, give God the glory because you're a rare exception. There is a generation that is bitter with life and the world and sour. God has given them what they wanted. He has His justice to do it. If you forget Him when you're young, it's just for Him to forget you when you are old.
But another crucial matter for motivating you to get right with God now: God will judge you for all your sins. Don't say, "My parents were bad examples." That's no excuse. I'm speaking to some 20-year-olds here, maybe some teen-agers, who already resent your parents.
Let me tell you what: resenting parents is not the same as honoring parents, and the Bible says honor them. "Pastor, if you knew my parents, you wouldn't tell me that." I don't need to know your parents. I know God's Word. God knows your parents, and He told you to honor them. You don't like the way your daddy acts? Tough! Do what he says. Smile about it. We tell our children, "Smile in your heart." "Pastor, that's demanding more than they can give." Yes, but it makes them know they need God's grace to get it. Makes them go a little further than their own strength. They say, "Lord, I don't have it in my own heart. Help me." We pray with them, "Lord, help him smile in his heart." (Not like some of their mothers: "I'm obeying with my body, but I'm disobeying with my heart. I'm submitting to my husband, but I resent it.")
God is going to judge you, and He's not going to let the judgment lessen because you say, "But what about the way my parents lived?" God is not judging you for your parents' sin; He's judging you for your sin. Don't say, "Well, I didn't mean to. I didn't know this was going to turn out this way." Of course you didn't because you haven't been listening to God's Word. You haven't been reading the Bible. "How did this happen to me, Pastor?" You disobeyed God's law. That's how it happened. Repent. Find the grace of God in the forgiveness of Christ, and stop that and start living for God.
We could speak of Samuel, Josiah, the little children on the lap of Jesus, Solomon in his childhood, Daniel (greatly favored in his youth), Timothy (who from a child knew the Holy Scriptures), John the Beloved Apostle (who started out young and ended up a hoary headed, great man of God at the end of the century), and the Lord Jesus Himself.
The Lord Jesus
I'm going to direct your attention, in conclusion, to Luke 2:41-52. Here's the example of our Lord. You remember the experience.
His parents were going up to Jerusalem every year. One year they went and started back home in the caravan of all their friends and relatives, a long process of folks. Mom and Dad figured Jesus, who was 12 years old, was with "Aunt Sally" back in the back someplace. They've got a couple of days of going down the road, and they go back to "Aunt Sally" and say, ["Well, we just want to check on Him. Maybe He ought to start joining up with us because we're going to be in Nazareth not too..." "What do you mean? He's not with us; we thought He was with you." "Where's Jesus?"] Remember that? And they had to go all the way back to Jerusalem. They searched high and low. He was in the temple debating and answering questions and asking questions (12-year-old boy, who knew more than the wisest old men of Israel knew) God Himself, in the flesh, in the temple where He belonged, about His Father's business.
Then in Luke 2:48, "And when they saw him, they were astonished; and his mother [typical of a good mother] said unto him, Son, why have you thus dealt with us? behold, your father and I sought you sorrowing." ["You really caused us some grief. What's wrong with you?"] Joseph, His father? But there is another Father she has forgotten.
Now, here's His mother who has forgotten all that He is in the world to do, who has forgotten who His real Father is. For a moment, in her feminine and motherly instinctive weakness here, she's forgetting. And she is so upset because she and Dad have been distraught over this kid. ["How could you be so irresponsible? Do you know what you've done to us?"] And what did the Son of God do in response to this? I mean, this is a great time. ["Look, if that's your attitude, I'll just stay here in the temple and serve my Father. He's not my father anyway. Who are you to tell me what I ought to do with my life? Don't you know who I am?"]
Now ask yourself a question. If a bunch of us sinners talked like that to our parents, wouldn't He have a right to talk like that to His earthly parents? No, no. He asks the question, "How is it that ye sought me? Didn't you know I must be about my Father's business?" Literally, "in my Father's house?" He wasn't saying this cynically. It was an honest question. ["Mom, you should have known to find me right here at the temple. That's my Father's place of business. That's where you'd expect to find me. Have you forgotten?"] He's been very gentle. But read on.
Verse 50: "And they understood not the saying which he spoke to them." All right, here are these ignorant earthlings. They don't know what's best for the kingdom of God, the world. They don't know why Jesus came. They're all distraught and upset and parents who don't understand a little kid. Hm? And He knows more than...It's obvious God has given Him a gift. He could start preaching now, and the whole world would follow Him. (I know children that leave home against their parents because "God called them." They go out and make a fool of themselves "serving Jesus," dishonoring their parents.) No. Verse 51: "And he went down with them and came to Nazareth; and he was subject to them." Twelve-year-old boy. Had His priorities straight.
That's your example, children, the supreme example of your life. If you remember your Creator in the days of your youth, you will honor those that He has put over you to teach you how to live. If you don't do what Mom and Dad say, if in your heart you resent Mom and Dad for the restrictions they put upon you, if you pout in your heart because you don't appreciate the way they reared you or what they justify out or what they put on you, if you will not honor them and appreciate them and do the best you can to be the example to them that you they weren't to you, the day will come when you will find yourself one of those who did not remember your Creator in the days of your youth and it will be too late.
If you want to date somebody and Dad says no, that ends the discussion. If you want to go out with the gang and Mom says no, end of discussion. You want to go spend the night with a friend and Mom and Dad say no, end of conversation. Children, listen to your parents. Listen to your teachers. Listen to your pastor. Learn everything you can learn from God now. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.
You know, I have a child that amazes me. I don't know how deep this goes into the heart of him, but he's working at taking me seriously. You know what he's made a practice of doing? He says, "May we do...?" And I know it's the thing he would rather do more than anything, and I say, "No, not now." You know what he's doing? "Thank you." Blows me away when he does that because I know how much energy it takes for him to do that. And I'm aware that it's discipline.
In his heart of hearts I'm sure that much of the time he really is disappointed. But he heard me say, "Be thankful that you even have a daddy you can ask, who loves you enough to say no when he knows things you don't know." And he says, "Thank you." I see him sometimes swallowing hard when he says it. I tell you what: it's everything I can do to keep from changing my mind and giving him twice what he asked. I mean that. And I point out to the others, "Look at what this boy did." I'm not setting one of my children up as a righteous epitome of anything, brethren. Trust me. I'm using it as an illustration that that's the way you must do.
I don't have time now to go through all the other stuff, but I want to drive it home to you if I can and if God will allow it. However old you are, stop what you're doing right now and remember God who made you. Acknowledge His rights over you. Seek His will for you. Fear His judgments and threats against you. Trust His promises to you. And understand that if you have broken His law and you've done wrong and you're looking and all of a sudden you're shocked to be aware that you have not even thought of God in what you've been doing with your life (no wonder you're in the mess you're in), turn to Him now and say, "Lord, forgive me. I have not given to my Maker what's due His name."
Can you imagine something that would look at its maker and despise him and say, "You have no right to tell me what to do"? I want to tell you that if you'll do what God says (as painful as it may seem, as illogical as it may feel, as difficult as it may be to do it), if you will follow Christ and do His will with all your strength by God's grace, you will be a happy, well-put-together, well-ordered human being. And you'll make it to heaven, and you'll thank God eternally for what somebody told you this morning. May God give us grace to hear the Word.
Anybody that's past their youth, may God give you grace, if you look back in regret, to come to Him this morning and repent of sin and receive the free, ready forgiveness of all your sins. You haven't done anything that the blood of Jesus will not wash away when you look to Him. You've done some bad stuff, but nothing is beyond His forgiveness and His power. Bow before Him. Remember your Creator now, and God will bless your life.
Pray with me, please. Our Father, take the words that have been given from a sincere heart and bind them to the hearts of the many who've heard them, and deliver the young from the sins of youth and the grief of old age. Lord, may they grow up with hoary heads, not having lost the glow of the joy of Christ; but in their old years may they be able to say, "Jesus led me all the way." And may there be that twinkle in the eye even the eye that's dim to sight may they, in those years when they can't see the things of this world any more, see all the more clearly the things of Glory awaiting them and look back on their lives without undue regret. O Lord, have mercy on our generation and on the one following us. O God, let them not go the way of their fathers. Hear our prayer for the sake of your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
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