The heart is the real test of a man’s character. It is not what he says or what he does by which the man may be always known. He may say and do things that are right, from false and unworthy motives, while his heart is altogether wrong. The heart is the man. “As he thinks in his heart, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7).
The heart is the right test of a man’s religion. It is not enough that a man holds to correct doctrine, and maintains a proper outward form of godliness. What is in his heart? That is the great question. That is what God looks at. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). This is what Paul lays down distinctly as the standard measure of the soul: “A man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart” (Romans 2:28). Who can doubt that this mighty sentence was written for Christians as well as for Jews? He is a Christian, the apostle would have us know, which is one inwardly, and baptism is that of the heart.
J. C. Ryle
“Now what is the cause of most backslidings? I believe, as a general rule, one of the chief causes is neglect of private prayer. You may be very sure men fall in private long before they fall in public. They are backsliders on their knees long before they backslide openly in the eyes of the world.”
J.C. Ryle, A Call to Prayer
So how are your private prayers?
The devil has more knowledge than any of us, and yet is no better for it.
Knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
Isaiah 47:10 (ESV) You felt secure in your wickedness, you said, “No one sees me”; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me.”
1 Corinthians 13:2 (ESV) And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
“I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week, and he has gone as far as thousands around him ever go in religion. All this is cheap and easy work: it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice. If this is saving Christianity, and will take us to heaven when we die, we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to heaven!”
J. C. Ryle
The best public worship is that which produces the best private Christianity. The best Church services for the congregation are those which make its individual members most holy at home and alone. If we want to know whether our own public worship is doing us good, let us try it by these tests. Does it stimulate our conscience? Does it send us to Christ? Does it add to our knowledge? Does it sanctify our life? If it does, we may depend on it; it is worship of which we have no cause to be ashamed.
Will your public worship tomorrow encourage your private worship the rest of the week?
Previously when we were in a church with separate Sunday School and children’s activities, we had to limit the interaction of our children with others due to the poor example set by the other children. I know that is mighty judgmental of us and we should be “ashamed” for putting what is best for our children above other children, blah, blah, blah…. I’ve heard the arguments all before.
I have also been told that we should be more willing to have our children socialize in the loose children’s groups such as can be found in many churches. You know the average class of one teacher and 10 plus students of varying backgrounds and family life. We’ve been told “That these children need to be around obedient children so they can set a good example for them.” That sounds well and good except that is not how life works. It actually works in reverse, the obedient children learn from the more disobedient children more often than not.
Now don’t get me wrong, believe me I know how truly disobedient and sinfully selfish my children are. We work on that daily. But in the overall scheme they are more obedient than the average child even though we have a long way to go. This also doesn’t mean my children can only be around “perfect” children – like those actually exist! But the goal is for a parent to be available to supervise the children’s interaction with others so that problems can be dealt with immediately. If you know my children you would realize they aren’t lacking for socialization nor are they shy and withdrawn. But I do strive to supervise their interactions with others especially foolish children.
Proverbs 13:20 (ESV) Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
I like the warning J.C. Ryle gives young men about friends. We as parents need to heed whom we allow our children to befriend.
Never make an intimate friend of anyone who is not a friend of God.
Understand me, I do not speak of acquaintances. I do not mean that you ought to have nothing to do with anyone but true Christians. To take such a line is neither possible nor desirable in this world. Christianity requires no man to be discourteous.
But I do advise you to be very careful in your choice of friends. Do not open all your heart to a man merely because he is clever, agreeable, good-natured, and kind. These things are all very well in their way, but they are not everything. Never be satisfied with the friendship of any one who will not be useful to your soul.
Believe me, the importance of this advice cannot be overrated. There is no telling the harm that is done by associating with godless companions and friends. The devil has few better helps in ruining a man’s soul. Grant him this help, and he cares little for all the armor with which you may be armed against him. Good education, early habits of morality, sermons, books, all, he knows well, will avail you little, if you will only cling to ungodly friends. You may resist many open temptations, refuse many plain snares; but once you take up a bad companion, and he is content. That awful chapter which describes Amnon’s wicked conduct about Tamar, almost begins with these words, “Now Amnon had a friend, a very shrewd man” (2 Samuel 13:3).
You must remember, we are all creatures of imitation: precept may teach us, but it is example that draws us. There is that in us all, that we are always disposed to catch the ways of those with whom we live; and the more we like them, the stronger does the disposition grow. Without our being aware of it, they influence our tastes and opinions; we gradually give up what they dislike, and take up what they like, in order to become closer friends with them. And, worst of all, we catch their ways in things that are wrong far quicker than in things that are right. Health, unhappily, is not contagious, but disease is. It is far more easy to catch a chill than to impart a warmth; and to make each other’s religion dwindle away, than grow and prosper.
Young men, I ask you to take these things to heart. Before you let any one become your constant companion, before you get into the habit of telling him everything, and going to him with all your troubles and all your pleasures–before you do this, just think of what I have been saying; ask yourself, “Will this be a useful friendship to me or not?”
“Bad company” does indeed “corrupt good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). I wish that text were written in the hearts of all young men. Good friends are among our greatest blessings; they may keep us away from much evil, remind us of our course, speak an appropriate word at the right time, draw us upward, and draw us on. But a bad friend is a burden, a weight continually dragging, us down, and chaining us to earth. Keep company with an unsaved man, and it is more than probable you will in the end become like him. That is the general consequence of all such friendships. The good go down to the bad, and the bad do not come up to the good. The world’s proverb is only too correct: “Clothes and company tell true tales about character.” “Show me who a man lives with and I will show you what he is.”
I dwell upon this point, because it has more to do with your prospects in life than first appears. If you ever marry, it is more than probable you will choose a wife from among your circle of friends or their acquaintances. If Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram had not formed a friendship with Ahab’s family, he would most likely not have married Ahab’s daughter. And who can estimate the importance of a right choice in marriage? It is a step which, according, to the old saying, “either makes a man or ruins him.” Your happiness in both lives may depend on it. Your wife must either help your soul or harm it. She will either fan the flame of Christianity in your heart, or throw cold water upon it, and make it burn low. She will either be, wings or handcuffs, an encouragement or an hindrance to your Christianity, according to her character. He that finds a good wife does indeed “finds a good thing;” so if you have the desire to find one, be very careful how you choose your friends.
Do you ask me what kind of friends you should choose? Choose friends who will benefit your soul, friends whom you can really respect, friends whom you would like to have near you on your deathbed, friends who love the Bible, and are not afraid to speak to you about it, friends that you would not be ashamed of having at the coming of Christ, and the day of judgment. Follow the example that David sets for you: he says, “I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts” (Psalm 119:63). Remember the words of Solomon: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). But depend on it, bad company in this life, is the sure way to procure worse company in the life to come.
J.C. Ryle – Thoughts for Young Men
What your young men are today is very likely what they will be as Fathers.
Are they selfish and self-centered?
Are they given to pleasure and shun work?
Are they impatient with others?
Do they listen to those in authority over them?
J.C. Ryle in Thoughts for Young Men
What young men will be, in all probability depends on what they are now, and they seem to forget this.
Youth is the planting time of full age, the molding season in the little space of human life, the turning point in the history of man’s mind.
By the shoot that springs up we can judge the type of tree that is growing, by the blossoms we judge the kind of fruit, by the spring we judge the type of harvest coming, by the morning we judge the coming day, and by the character of the young man, we may generally judge what he will be when he grows up.
Young men, do not be deceived. Don’t think you can, at will, serve lusts and pleasures in your beginning, and then go and serve God with ease at your latter end. Don’t think that you can live with Esau, and then die with Jacob. 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 remains of your hearts, the wreck and remnant of your powers. It is an awful mockery, and you may find to your loss that the thing cannot be done.
I dare say you are planning on a late repentance. You do not know what you are doing. You are planning without God. Repentance and faith are the gifts of God, and they are 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 completely those who come to God through him” (Hebrews 7:25). But I warn you, it is also written by the same Spirit, “Since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you” (Proverbs 1:24, 26).
Believe me, you will find it no easy matter to turn to God whenever you please. It is a true saying of the godly Leighton, “The way of sin is down hill; a man cannot stop when he wants too.” Holy desires and serious convictions are not like the servants of the Centurion, ready to come and go at your desire; rather they are like the unicorn in Job, they will not obey your voice, nor attend at your bidding. It was said of the famous general Hannibal of old, when he could have taken the city he warred against, he would not, and in time when he would, he could not. Beware lest the same kind of thing happens to you in the matter of eternal life.
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 deep roots. Once sin is allowed to settle in your heart, it will not be turned out at your bidding. Custom becomes second nature, and its chains are not easily broken. The prophet has well said, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil” (Jeremiah 13:23). Habits are like stones rolling down hill–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 Thames River at its fountain-head–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. Every fresh act of sin lessens fear and remorse, hardens our hearts, blunts the edge of our conscience, and increases our evil inclination.
Young men, you may fancy I am laying too much stress on this point. If you had seen old men, as I have, on the brink of the grave, without any feelings, seared, callous, dead, cold, hard as stone–you would not think so. Believe me, you cannot stand still in 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 unrepentant, 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 decision not be put off until the winter of your days. If you do not seek the Lord when young, the strength of habit is such that you will probably never seek Him at all.
What habits have we let develop that will be a detriment to our sons in their Fatherhood and soul later in life?