“Thoughts for Young Men”: Dangerous Procrastination

By Don

December 10, 2021


Reading Time: 4 minutes

” ‘Serious things tomorrow’, said a heathen, to one who warned him of coming danger; but his tomorrow never came. Tomorrow is the devil’s day, but today is God’s. Satan cares not how spiritual your intentions may be, and how holy your resolutions, if only they are fixed for tomorrow. Oh, give not place to the devil in this matter.”

JC Ryle – “Thoughts For Young Men”

I have returned often to JC Ryle’s “Thoughts For Young Men” since I was first introduced to the book several years ago. And each time I read it, this specific passage grabs me by both sides of my head, forces my attention, and gives me a little shake.

The section I quoted above runs through my head every December when I reflect on the last year, set goals, and map out a course for next year. Especially this pithy one-liner:

“Tomorrow is the devil’s day, but today is God’s.”

December is the annual “resolution limbo” period. We reflect on what we did and what we did not do in the prior year. We dream up what we want to accomplish in the year ahead. Sometimes those dreams turn into goals. And when those goals are in their final draft form and on paper, there’s a temptation to wait until the magical midnight strike of the New Year before we get serious about them.

But the truth is, there is a danger in procrastination, especially with the weighty matters of the soul. Tomorrow might never come. And Ryle pleads with his readers to understand this.

Dangerous Procrastination

JC Ryle was an English pastor in the 19th century. His book “Thoughts for Young Men” was originally published as a chapter in Ryle’s “The Upper Room” in 1888, yet the content is strikingly relevant and all-too convicting over 100 years later. “Thoughts for Young Men” is a series of exhortations, warnings, counsels, and principles written to young men. The book quickly and deeply traverses a variety of subjects in about 75 pages, and Ryle’s tone is one that continually pleads for young men to pay attention to the state of their souls, turn from any and all sin, and turn to Christ.
The passage I quoted in the opening of this article is in Ryle’s 1st chapter, where he lays down a series of arguments for why young men need to be exhorted. Ryle warns men of the ever-present reality of death, which young men tend not to think about due to their season of life. Young men are just getting started in their lives and they have not yet experienced enough to understand that death could be eminent.
Ryle warns men in this section that tomorrow may never come. With the highest level of urgency, he reminds men that attention needs to be given to the state of their souls, to ensure that they have repented and trusted in Christ for salvation. His pleading but forceful tone implores men all over this chapter –
“Your lot may be like one of theirs, and when death summons, it will be vain to talk of tomorrow, – you must go at once.” – Page 7
“Better make sure work while you can. Leave nothing unsettled that is eternal. Run no risk when your soul is at stake.” – Page 7
“Young men, your time is short. Your days are but a span long, – a shadow, a vapour, – a tale that is soon told. Your bodies are not brass.” – Page 7
“I cannot, dare not, will not let you alone”. – Page 8
“Surely none are so mad as those who are content to live unprepared to die”. – Page 8
“I fear lest you be hurried out of the world, and awake to find out, too late, that death and judgment are realities. I fear all this, and therefore I exhort you.” – Page 8-9

Start Today

These exhortations shake me each and every year when I consider my own goals and resolutions. I look at my list and ask myself – is there anything on my list that must not wait until January 1st, but must be started today? 

I experienced this last year when I set a 2021 goal for completing a bible reading plan. Must that wait until January 1st? Shouldn’t I start the regular habit of reading the bible today?

With my own fitness goals, I feel a similar temptation to procrastinate, especially in December. The allure of waiting until the start of a New Year to cut back on certain food or add that extra workout circuit to my week is strong during a month of celebration, cooler weather, and shorter days.

The truth is, habits will strengthen in December. Good habits will be made stronger in the upcoming weeks, just like bad ones will. And if tomorrow might never come, what’s the reason for putting off goals that will be beneficial for me today? 

Ryle’s thoughts turn to habits as well in his next section –

“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.” – Page 11

As Ryle rightly points out, if there are bad habits that need to be broken, or good habits that need to be built, do not delay. Habits only strengthen with time.

This creates a double danger in putting off serious matters for tomorrow. We are not promised tomorrow (James 4:13-17), and tomorrow your habits will be incrementally more powerful.  

Grace Today

With serious matters of the soul, there is not time to waste. And the gloriously good news of the Gospel is that the grace of Christ through His death and resurrection is available today

As we think about our own goals, the dreams we have, and the habits that need to be broken, we can rest in the truth that God is familiar with our weaknesses and struggles. He remembers that we “are but dust” (Psalm 103:14), and the Spirit helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26).

And in our worthy walk, if there are habits that you wish to address, do not delay in implementing them until the magical calendar date of January the 1st. Don’t wait until next year to start reading your bible, dealing with your known sin, serving your church, implementing family devotions, or stewarding your body for God’s glory. Start today.

** – Here’s a link to “Thoughts for Young Men” if you want to add it to your reading list. No affiliate links. 

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