Thoughts for Young Men – by J.C. Ryle
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 small.
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.