Perfect moral guidance for youth can only be found in the Word of God.
The instructors of morality in the world have no absolute standard. Their instruction is ever changing with each succeeding age and every culture. It follows the imagined wisdom of the world, which the apostle James in his letter calls earthly, sensual, and devilish (James 3:15). What was once condemned in past ages is today approved. Immorality of the grossest sort is promoted and glorified by the mass media and the entertainment industry. The world’s celebrities are among the most wicked and immoral, yet the youth of this world are enticed by their philosophy and captivated by their life style. They are willing to pay millions of dollars to these celebrities for the promotion of their wicked ways and life.
The youth of the world are enslaved to the worldwide Internet and hand-held electronic devices. Younger and younger children demand these of their parents to keep up with their peers. They spend hours of their time glued to cell phones. Studies have shown that as much 80% of the traffic on the Internet involves gross and explicit immorality. The world teaches that there is no greater excitement to be found, no greater pleasure and fellowship to be involved with. The world teaches its youth that they need not fear the judgment of the holy God on all of this. Young people are left confused and sometimes in despair about morality for their lives.
In this article we shall follow closely the question posed in Psalm 119:9, “Wherewithall shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.”
The instruction of this passage and the whole of Psalm 119 give the perfect guidance that God alone can give. If this guidance is followed by the young men and young women of the covenant, they shall never fall. They will not finally be disappointed. They will be blessed and glorious forever. They will be led by God to everlasting salvation and perfect and unending joy and happiness.
This instruction of Psalm 119 may be the words of a covenant father concerned about teaching true spiritual morality to his children. Some have suggested that the author of Psalm 119, especially in light of verse 9, was himself a young man who desired to teach others like himself. However, there is not sufficient basis for such a conclusion. Perhaps it was composed by an instructor among God’s people who had the benefit of a long life of experience from which he had learned great wisdom.
Psalm 119 uses 22 synonyms referring to the Word of God and the law of God. Every one of its 176 verses, with only two exceptions, contains one of these synonyms. This indicates that the writer of the Psalm had great love for the Word of God and deep understanding of its great wisdom. He knew how many ways the Word of God, if followed, would be of greatest practical benefit.
The Hebrew word translated in the KJV as “young man” can refer to a person from early childhood into the twenties. This word is used in the Bible for Rachel when Jacob first saw her and immediately fell in love with her. It is used for Ruth when she was first married. It is used for Joseph when he was brought down to Egypt, and for Solomon when he first became the king of Israel. It is used for young men in Israel when they were conscripted to go out to battle and fight with the fearful enemy. For the young man in view in Psalm 119, his very life was constantly being threatened.
The verse cited above specifically addresses youth, offering the perfect guidance of morality for their lives that they so desperately need. Youth are at a very important stage of their lives. They will face the questions of a career, the choice of a marriage partner, and a host of other tremendously important questions that will determine the course of their whole life. They must be ready to be independent from their parents and be equipped to live a morally responsible and upright life, making their own good decisions and judgments, though of course not all alone.
Young people are also in a significant stage of life personally from physical and psychological perspectives. Hormones are changing their feelings, desires, and inclinations. These have will have a very strong influence, an almost mysterious power.
In the beginning God made all of these desires good and perfect. Even the strong desire for sexual fulfillment and the intense pleasure and excitement it brings were made good and holy by God. Through the Fall man’s nature became corrupt and depraved. All of his desires, feelings, and purposes are affected by this. As young men and young women grow up, their personalities develop with hearts and minds that by nature are raging with the passions of sin. This is why the question posed in Psalm 119:9 is so extremely urgent. If the way of the young man is not cleansed, he will most definitely be led by his sinful passions to spiritual ruin. This will be true even when he lives an outwardly respectable and honorable life in society.
Immorality is contrary to the perfect holiness, beauty, and glory of God. He is the sovereign, righteous, and holy One. He is the righteous Judge of all. Even the sins that men do under the cover of the darkness are known to God. God is able to judge the secret thoughts and intents and desires of the heart.
We usually think of immorality in connection with the vile sexual perversions so common in the world. This form of immorality is an abomination to God and brings on man His heavy wrath and judgment.
But immorality also refers to every other spiritual- moral violation of the law of God. The pride of man before God is immoral. Hatred for God and the neighbor is immoral. Sinful anger and uncontrolled wrath are immoral. Jealousy and self-seeking are immoral. Materialism, the love of money, and all man’s greed are immoral. Every evil lust of man’s heart is immoral. The Bible warns us that love for the world and that which is in the world is enmity against God. All that is in the world is the lust of the flesh and the pride of life (I John 2:15, 16). When the spiritually minded young man or young woman seeks cleansing and moral guidance, he/ she must think of all of these forms of immorality.
There is reason, however, why there is such great emphasis and necessary condemnation of sins against the seventh commandment. The lust of these sins in the heart of man is extremely powerful and this lust is never satisfied. It is destructive to the soul of man, making him more and more corrupt. Even though this lust is glorified by the celebrities and media of the world, it brings shame and disgrace on those who live in it and, worst of all, the severe judgment of God.
Pagan religions have always been characterized by the practice of immorality, even making it part of their abominable worship. Only the Holy One whom we know to be the one only, true and living God condemns and judges this evil.
The violation of sexual morality brings to ruin many already in their youth. According to the book of Proverbs, even strong men are brought down to hell by this sin. One of the chief reasons why so many marriages that began seemingly with great happiness and excitement soon end up in the treachery and misery of divorce and broken homes is the immorality many walked in already in their youth. For this reason, the church must not be silent or ever temper its warnings regarding this great evil and its destructive power.
Even in the Reformed church world voices are being heard that advocate softening the warnings against this great evil. “We cannot imagine,” they say, “that our young people will remain holy and pure when they have such strong desires for sex and there are so many pressures in modern society. The world’s inventions of birth control have eliminated the dangers of unwanted pregnancies. It is unreasonable and unnecessary to condemn fornication among youth. We must adapt to our modern-day world and adjust our moral standards and expectations.”
But God created marriage to be a holy institution. This is the beauty and glory of marriage as God created it. Young people should exercise self-control and keep themselves holy for marriage. Failure to do so will make it all the more difficult to live in the blessed intimacy of marriage and in life-long faithfulness and devotion to the one husband or wife whom God has given.
Among the most shocking aspects of this sin of fornication is the breeding in one of deep hatred, often even for those with whom he/she casually sinned. The great evil of rape and the abuse of the women in our society arise from the depraved passions of worldly men. The sins against the seventh commandment often lead to the most atrocious and violent murders committed in the world in heat of immoral passion. God’s judgment is on our society and He is giving men and women over to vile affections.
All of this gives great urgency to the question of Psalm 119:9—“How shall a young man cleanse his way?” This question is directed to the godly young man. A young man who is not spiritually minded has no interest at all in this question. The text is speaking to sons and daughters of the covenant and members of the faithful church of Jesus Christ.