Date: January 22, 1931?

Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereunto according to Thy Word.Psalm 119:9

OURS is a young people’s age. Look where you will today, whether it be in the inner circles of the financial world or in the leadership of educational activities or in the high places of politics, and you will find that modern young men and young women have attained to heights of accomplishment which not so long ago were reserved for more mature years and wider experience. We used to think of youth in terms only of tomorrow; but now, when industries demand young workers, some of them refusing to employ men of forty-five years or more; when the financial experts of one of the greatest money interests of the world assure us that today the age of approximately thirty years is regarded as the most valuable period in a modern life, we are forced to agree, in spite of all the harsh unfairness and the open inaccuracies of such statements, that now we must consider youth in terms of today as one of the most potent forces in the present social order.

Now, if I were to select a question of vital significance to modern youth, an issue of personal and direct importance to all the young men and young women listening in tonight, a topic in the discussion of which such tremendous issues as the welfare of the nation, the growth of the Church, and the happiness of our homes are directly involved, I think I could do no better than to discuss the ways and means of strengthening the moral fiber of the youth of our nation, to present the issue of personal purity, and to answer the question which the Bible, with all its practical applications to the problems of every-day life, asks in these words of our text, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?”

YOUTH ASKS, “WHEREWITHAL SHALL WE CLEANSE OUR WAY?”

To avoid misunderstanding, let me state right at the outset that the Church does not agree with those carping critics who consistently denounce the rising generation as the most godless and perverted the world has ever seen. Such a sweeping denunciation leaves no room for the constructive power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it does not know history, and it does not take cognizance of those admirable young people who march on under the banner of the Cross in such splendid youth crusades as our International Walther League, which makes the coast-to-coast youth messages possible.

Yet, while paying public tribute to the fresh and vigorous Christianity that vitalizes the lives of those who would follow Christ, as twelve young men followed Him in the resplendent young manhood of His early thirties, the Church should not shrink back from its divinely imposed duty of telling modern youth, “Keep thyself pure.” It should not hesitate to warn against the punishments of impurity and emphasize the means, God-given and powerful as they are, of avoiding the temptations which beset modem youth as they have never beset any previous generation.

Thus, the world has always been cursed with immoral literature, but this has never been as cheap and attractive as now, when this flood of printed filth, belched out by savage commercialism, inundates our country with the lurid and sensual appeal of crime and sin and impurity. There has always been immoral amusement and entertainment; but it has become the unholy distinction of our present age that it has drafted the fine facilities of some of the most popular forms of amusement the world has ever known into the service of scarlet sin. There have always been lying and destructive agitators; but it is the notorious accomplishment of this age that men who champion trial marriage, companionate marriage, and similar pernicious arrangements are greeted and feted by enthusiastic thousands throughout the nation. There have always been teachers who have led admiring students away from time­honored ideals of truth and purity; but, again, the twentieth century is the age which has produced the widely heralded university skeptic whose sophisticated sneers at Christian morality are applauded throughout the nation as particularly enlightened utterances.

Now, this contagion has spread its infection among our modern young people and has helped to produce the unfortunate and unmistakable decay of morals that stares us in the face today. A million divorces during the past five years, most of them separating young couples; the investigation of seventeen impartial newspaper reporters in various sections of our country who indict the moral life of present-day young people on the most serious charges; the deplorable increase in juvenile crime; the annual disappearance of 65,000 young women; the lamentable disintegration of the American home,—this is part of the conclusive evidence for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear that modern youth, with probably the worst examples that elders have ever given to the younger members of society, is toying with the dynamite of sin, which can blow into shapeless ruins much of the national and domestic happiness that we now enjoy.

Let those swim-with-the-stream leaders who glory in the dash and abandon of modern youth, who condone the free-and-easy love-making of the day, nod their approval as wild and whirling youth smashes down another pillar that supports the dome of decency in our national structure; let them behold the passionate pursuit of forbidden thrills and then laugh the situation off by stating, as a Pacific Coast educator writes, that youth is simply splashing full into the stream of experience, swimming in muddy waters and taking a little tarnish on its skin. The Bible tells us, with all of the power of God’s truth, that this tarnish is more than skin-deep; it is heart-deep, and unhesitatingly and unreservedly we are told, “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” There you have the divine verdict in plain and unreserved language, which tells us that in the life of every young person there are treacherous influences of immorality and impurity.

Now, in the chaos of modern cynicism there are many young people who, forgetting that they must be the architects of decency for a decent tomorrow, listen to this question, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” and tell us that this thing of cleansing your way of life is about as out-of-date as the lavender and lace of the mid-Victorian period and that daring, breath-taking youth is not worried about sin and the Bible’s denunciation of sin. Thus the author of a brutal piece of blasphemy, printed as a poem in a daily publication owned and edited by the student-body of one of our representative American colleges, challenges God to let him sin as he wants to sin and be damned in peace.

But I am here tonight to say that there is no peace either here or hereafter for those who do not remove the poison of impurity from their hearts and lives. Purity of life is so holy and so essential to the happiness of the individual and the sound development of the human race that God has marked its violations with penalties that sometimes take a most abhorrent and destructive form. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked.” Those who sow to the wind will reap the whirlwind. Blasted careers, wrecked lives, thwarted hopes, unhappy marriages, physical infirmities of various kinds, premature aging,—these afflictions are but a short part of the catalog of visitations that may follow in the wake of a life that lives in brazen protest against God’s demand, “Be ye holy.” Any physician can tell you what God means when He says, Beware of impurity “lest thou mourn at the last when thy flesh and thy body are consumed.” And even if such drastic consequences of sin may be avoided, the inner retribution is positively unescapable. The loss of self-respect, a diseased mind, the sacrificing of ideals, the sensuous groveling of one’s thoughts in the smeary, filthy things of life,—this is a fraction of the price that is paid for a life that will not be cleansed. The full price is separation from God and never-ending death.

You can cheat your way through this world with a lying, deceitful heart; but it is only of the pure in heart of whom Jesus says, “They shall see God.” You can deceive yourself and others by covering up secret sins and trying to whitewash the stain of sin; but you cannot deceive God, who searches the very heart and reins.

THE SCRIPTURES ANSWER: “TAKE HEED ACCORDING TO GOD’S WORD.”

So our appeal tonight, addressed to you who have been troubled with the assaults of sin and who want to cleanse your lives; to you who think that you can “sow wild oats” in the field of your life and still reap a worthwhile harvest; to you who, like the Pharisee of old, thank God that you are not like the rest of the crowd, forgetting that in the holiness of God even impure thoughts, impulses, and desires are unholy; to all of you we appeal tonight to take this question, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” to read the divine answer, “By taking heed thereunto according to Thy Word,” and with the help of God to translate this answer into a definite, constructive policy of life.

Note that the remedy which the Bible offers is diametrically opposed to the many suggestions for character­building that are proposed for young people today. God does not tell us to go to college and learn how to cleanse our way, because He knows that modern education deals with the head and not with the heart. He would endorse the statement of a prominent Eastern educator who admits, “There is a pitiable failure in the main business of education which is or should be the formation of character, the culture of the spirit, the building of the soul. We do everything else well, except just these imponderable things which are, after all, of the most supreme importance.” Neither does God tell us to cleanse our own ways, because bitter experience teaches us that “with might of ours can naught be done” and that, if we fight in our own strength against the principalities and powers of dark sin, we are doomed to disastrous defeat. Nor are we directed by God to cleanse our lives by withdrawing from the world, by living a dark, morose, joy-stifling existence. No, these and all the weird processes of mental hygiene of which we read and hear so much leave us helpless and hopeless. But He does tell us to cleanse our lives “by taking heed thereunto” according to the plain statements of His Word.

The first and foremost requirement of His Word is this, that with all our hearts we take the blessings of our Savior Jesus Christ and believe that His holy blood can wash and cleanse us from the guilt and stain of sin. Here is the sacred promise, in God’s own Word, “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” You young folks who have lived on without Christ (and that means without the inner and lasting happiness of the soul), listen to the wide and sweeping love of these divine words, “The blood of Jesus Christ,” the blood that flowed from His riven wounds when He hung suspended on the cross to pay for our sins with His life; that blood, not anything that you or I could earn or accomplish with a lifetime of regret or a century of our best efforts; that blood “cleanseth us,” every one of us, without limitation or restriction, who believes in this Jesus and accepts Him as the full and effective Redeemer;—that blood cleanses us “from all sin,” both from those flagrant violations of God’s commandments which honorable society condemns, and from those sinful impulses and emotions with which our hearts and minds are contaminated,—all these sins are forgiven and removed for time and for eternity by that priceless, sin-shed blood of Jesus.

That is the first lesson we learn when we go to God’s Word to ask, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” And the second is the surpassing truth that, with Christ in our hearts, we have the assurance of Christ and His blessed influence in our lives. “He that abideth in Me and I in Him,” the Savior promises, “the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without Me ye can do nothing.” But by taking heed unto Christ and His Word, you have a new outlook on life and a new and effective power to follow in His footsteps as far as this is possible in the weakness of our earth-bound existence. With Christ you hear the warning of His Word, “Flee youthful lusts,” and you will find that His truth and His answer to your prayers gives you the strength to break up friendships that are physically, morally, and spiritually dangerous; to release yourself from the coiling clutches of unworthy and degrading habits; to enjoy all the fine, happy pleasures that God wants you to enjoy, all the splendid companionships that God wants you to have and still not tarnish your soul. With Christ and the promise of His Word you will be able to meet your temptations (and there will be plenty of them) with the resolution of Joseph, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” With Christ and the strengthening power of His Word, even though you stumble and fall in the frailty of your own weakness, you have the sacred promise that His loving hand of divine comradeship will always be ready to raise you up with new strength and new conviction.

But if you resolve to regulate your life according to the directions of God’s Word, that determination involves these practical duties and implications: First of all, since you cannot take heed unto God’s Word if you are unacquainted with that Word, you must not permit a single day to pass without delving deeply into the treasures of spiritual strength that are found within the covers of your Bible. Then you must not place yourself deliberately in the path of temptation and thus preclude the possibility of praying sincerely, “Lead us not into temptation.” Further, you must pledge yourself not to purchase or read any magazines or novels which openly or by insinuation cater to immorality; nor knowingly to witness any motion­picture or stage production which in any degree glorifies the transgression against the commandment of purity; nor to permit yourself to be found in centers of commercialized recreation which in reality are graveyards of purity, where sin stalks unchecked. You must, in addition, conscientiously endeavor to keep busy with helpful methods of self-improvement, realizing that Satan has no difficulty in employing an idle hand and an idle mind; but especially you must employ the power of effective prayer to help you keep true to these high resolves and loyal to the ideals of a Christlike life.

So take heed unto your life according to God’s Word. Take Christ as the one and only effective power for a pure, clean, Christian life. Take Him for the sake of your country, which now, more than ever, needs the moral support which clean-living, clean-thinking citizens can offer. Take Him for the sake of the Church that bears His name and that is strengthened by the Christlike lives of its followers more than by any other human agency. Take Him for the sake of the young man or young woman who is destined to be your helpmate on the path of life. Take Christ, believe in Him, trust in Him for your own sake, so that in the confidence of Christ-centered youth you may face life with the victorious assurance: “My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure.” Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.