Problems… of Youth by William B. Riley (an eBook)


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 William B. Riley


Pastor, First Baptist Church

Minneapolis, Minn.














My Six Children

Howard, Hewitt, Herbert, Eunice, William, and Branson

This Volume

is affectionately dedicated



For forty-four consecutive years, I have ministered from one pulpit – the First Baptist of Minneapolis. In that entire time, it has been my privilege to face, Sab­bath after Sabbath, an audience in which youth pre­dominates. Recently, at an evening service of about eight hundred, a count showed between two-thirds and three-fourths to be under thirty years of age.

In addition to this, the Northwestern Bible and Mis­sionary Training School and the Northwestern Evan­gelical Seminary over which I preside as President (numbering 1045 in attendance) are, with some excep­tions in the night school, entirely youthful.

It would be suicidal for any man so privileged to fail of a vital and continued concern in the problems of youth; and I can truthfully say that in several series of lectures to students and other youths, I have not chosen subjects of concern to that class in order to elicit their attendance but rather to express my own deep interest in their problems.

Of the several series of sermons addressed to youth, this series has seemed both to make the most definite appeal and produce the most desirable results. It was this fact that leads us now to commit them to print, trusting that while the letter alone killeth, the spirit in these printed appeals will make many to live.

It has long been my pulpit custom to preach in series of sermons. That practice accounts, in no small measure, for multiplied publications. Whether we reason logically that that which is given ardent audience will also excite a reader’s interest, it must be admitted that such expectation is natural.

Animated, then, by the hope of reaching a still larger number of young men and women, we commit this series to book form, praying God’s blessing upon all who will be pleased to peruse its pages.

  1. B. R.

First Baptist Church Minneapolis, Minn.




“Rejoice, О young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.”

– Eccl. 11:9

This series of talks is intended especially for youth. I trust, however, to put into them that which will profit people of all ages.

Dan Gilbert, the brilliant young author, has a most readable book on Thinking Youth’s Greatest Need, and I agree with his contention that that need is “Christian faith.” Before we end these chapters to young people, we expect to emphasize that fact.

All will admit that no past century has ever pre­sented so many and such serious problems for youth as this Twentieth involves. To speak wisdom or warning to the young of this generation is to bolster the civilization of tomorrow. Youth represents imma­turity and consequently is more emotional than logical. With it, therefore, the search for pleasure easily takes first place; the search for education being, in its judg­ment, an important second; and the search for employment a somewhat remote necessity; the search for God last, if not least.

Our text takes full account of this youthful passion for pleasure and also suggests the certainty of sorrow in consequence.

To interpret the text and, at the same time, to in­struct the interested, we shall follow three suggestions, namely, “Pleasure-Loving is Natural”; “Pleasure-Seeking is Seductive”; “Pleasure-Living is Destructive.”

Pleasure-Loving Is Natural

The sainted John, in his First Epistle, gives us the threefold source of temptation and sin and at the same time reveals to everyone the dangerous recesses of his carnal nature. His word is:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (I John 2: 15-16).

Inasmuch as the letter is addressed to “little children” and contains the Apostle’s emphasis upon youth, it is peculiarly applicable to this discussion. We can do no better, therefore, than to warn boys and girls and young men and women against this triple assault of Satan: “the lust of the flesh,” “the lust of the eyes,” “the pride of life.”

The lust of the flesh!

Jesus Christ, speaking of the last days, said: “Like­wise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed” (Luke 17: 28-30).

We seriously doubt if there has ever been a time since Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire when men indulged themselves in the lusts of the flesh as they are now doing!

Modernism in our universities has aided the racketeers of the underworld in an increasing destruc­tion of morals. By its denial of the authority of Sacred Writ and incidentally of the inspiration of the Deca­logue, it has opened the flood-gates of vice. If God never said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” then the fear of condemnation for this act is removed from the minds of passionate youth and the product is destructive indulgence.

It is doubtful if there is one large, outstanding uni­versity in America now absolutely free from the dele­terious influence of such professors! They have wormed their way into the teachers’ office and, like the worms that lately infested the elms of the East, they have punc­tured the very heart of morality, and the result is ethical death and decay.

This country has a bigger obligation to Charles R. Walgreen than has ever been publicly recognized. The creator of the Walgreen Drug Stores of America went before a committee investigating subversive teaching in the institutes, and bore his testimony to the effect that free love was being taught in the University of Chicago. When they asked, “By what professor?” he answered unhesitatingly, “By Professor Frederick Schuman.”

“But,” continued Mr. Walgreen, “such teaching is only one phase of this infamy. My niece told me that in the school’s syllabus of indispensable reading was Karl Marx’s and Frederick Engel’s communist mani­festo in which the institution of the family is ridiculed; and, in the lectures, she was told that the marriage in­stitution is breaking down and that there is not just one set of moral standards.”

If an institution that was born in the name and by the aid of a great Christian denomination – such as the Baptist – and endowed to the extent of millions on millions by a great Christian layman – such as Mr. Rockefeller – has permitted such immoral and infamous declarations, what can be expected other than that in­dulgence of the flesh which disregards all physical good and denies even the existence of God?

Imagine, if you can, the delight brought to the hearts of such panderers in vice as dance-hall owners, keepers of road-houses, managers of hotel assignation, saloons, and low theaters, when professors put before the youth of their classes Satanic philosophies!

But “the lust of the flesh” includes also other carnal appetites – meats and drinks. America at this moment is indulging herself in an orgy of intemperance. Never since the world was made have so many women been sucking at filthy cigarettes; and never, since America had a name as a nation, have so many young men and women been indulging in excessive drink! The Party in Power, that promised the old saloon should never return, has redeemed its pledge to society by sending, instead, seven devils, each more debauching than was the evil spirit cast out by the Eighteenth Amendment. Where, previous to the Eighteenth Amendment, we had one saloon, now we have more than ten. With the ex­ception of crime, most of which results from it, “booze” is the biggest of all the businesses of the United States.

Dr. Guy Edward Mark has said:

“Because I have known unborn babies to be cursed through booze; little children to starve because of booze; young people to be stunted for life through booze; gifted women to become imbeciles through booze; lead­ers in industry to become beggars in the street because of booze; wedding rings to be sold for booze; every article of furniture to be pawned for booze; fortunes to be squandered for booze; boys to become criminals through booze; girls to become prostitutes through booze; women to be hanged because of booze; men to go to the electric chair because of booze; because of all the foregoing I am bone-dry.”

He adds:

“Because I have never known booze to contribute to the happiness of a single child, or to the mental ability of a single young person, or to the moral uplift of a single middle-aged person, or to the comfort and bles­sedness of a single old person, I am bone-dry.”

“The lust of the eyes”!

People sometimes imagine that “the lust of the flesh” and “the lust of the eyes” is the same; but not so. The latter can be gratified often when the former is denied.

Eve, our first mother, when her temptation came, felt its first pull through the eye. “…the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes” (Gen. 3:6).

Demon-possession is still a possible experience, and the eye-gate is the way of entrance for literally legions of devils.

Some years ago, in the Donaldson Tea Room, Min­neapolis, there was on exhibit, for weeks, the famous picture “The Pursuit of Pleasure” by Astley D. M. Cooper. That picture was suggested to Mr. Cooper by Henryk Sienkiewicz’s famous novel Quo Vadis. The scene is an old Roman garden outside of the “City of Pleasure” – Rome – and it represents a young centurion in the chariot pursuing imaginary figures of nude beauty in the air. In this race, he and his fellows have gone far beyond the city walls and are pressing hard upon a precipice filled with flame. While the horses of the chariots realize the danger and are turning their beads and plunging madly in their endeavor to stop before it is too late, the drivers are lashing them straight into this inferno. It is a faithful picture of the folly and madness, as well as of the horrible destruction, that awaits the pleasure-crazed company of the twentieth century!

In this wholesale suicide, “the lust of the eyes” plays a dominant part. It accounts for the epidemic of nudity that has cursed every land since this century began.

The moving picture show, also, is Satan’s response to “the lust of the eyes” It is said that seventy-seven millions of people attend the movies in America every week – four times as many as are in all the Sunday schools in the land! It is claimed that the League of Nations Committee of Child Welfare, on a careful analysis of 250 American films, announced that 97 murders, 51 cases of adultery, 19 seductions, 22 ab­ductions, and 45 suicides characterized them; that in these same 250 films, there were 176 thieves, 25 prosti­tutes, and 35 drunkards.

The Chicago Censorship Board found that in 788 pictures they had to eliminate 1,811 scenes of assault with guns with intent to kill, 175 endeavors in the same direction with knives, 231 scenes of hanging, 757 scenes of nudity, and 21 of jail-breaking.

When one adds to these the frightful facts of the sexual scenes of these same shows, it requires no im­agination whatever to understand the present-day de­cline in morals. The almost uniform patronage of movies is the practical destruction of morality in America. Through “the lust of the eyes,” our people drive on a fate equally horrible with that awaiting the young centurion and other revellers in Cooper’s great painting! They, too, are headed for the flames; and the very eyes that eagerly search the landscape for salacious sights will yet be burned, blurred, blinded!

Among those who hear me tonight there are doubt­less many who patronize the Minneapolis movies weekly and some who seldom miss a day. The conduct of such is no more intelligent than that of the moth that swings about the candle until its wings are singed and its life consumed!

“The pride of life”!

There may be a sense in which “the lust of the flesh” and “the lust of the eyes” and “the pride of life” all relate to carnality; but, if so, there is another sense in which “the pride of life” is separate and distinct, and that is illustrated in various fashions and forms.

Take, for instance, the inordinate love of dress that leads a woman to adorn her body beyond the husband’s earning capacity. What is that but a “pride of life”?

Or the disposition to live a life of ease that refuses to be encumbered by children. What is that but “pride of life” in the form of personal selfishness?

Its still further display exists where maternity is refused in the interest of a lithe form, etc.

With men, it is a matter of money, horses, palaces, and important stations!

Our own State has been treated to an instance within the year past. Ed. T ––– was almost the idol of the little town of H –––. He was not only its banker, but he was its big man. His hand was upon all its business, and his judgment was consulted by its leading citizens. Even its principal street was created at his behest. His natural income was sufficient for all comfortable demands. But ambition ran beyond these, and coveted luxuries, bombastic display and additional exhibits of power. This led to bank peculation in order to play the markets. When the first failure came, it was followed by a second peculation, and so on, until the accumulated amount was fifty thou­sand dollars, – and then the crash came! Today he is sitting behind prison bars, thinking of a family bathed in tears and baptized in shame, of a community unrighteously robbed, of comforts forever gone, of con­science outraged, and experience of the penitentiary assured. My heart bleeds for him! What shame! What suffering! What sorrow!

Solomon was right, then, when he said: “Walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou9 that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.”

Pleasure-loving is natural, but to follow the whims of nature is to fall into the pits of flame!

Pleasure-Seeking Is Seductive

Pleasure appeals to natural appetites

Seduction is possible on that account; it reckons on the cooperation of natural desires.

I once read the story of an Indian who was a trapsetter. It was told by Rev. J. B. McCullagh. He said:

“I came across one of our Indians the other day out among the pines. He was kneeling on the snow, ar­ranging a miniature lane of pine branches and twigs. I stood and watched him. After completing two little hedges, he constructed a small arch in the middle and set up twigs on each side, leaving but a small opening in the center. ‘What is it you are making?’ I inquired.

“ ‘Rabbit snare,’ he answered.

“ ‘Where is the snare?’ I asked.

“ ‘Don’t put that in yet,’ he answered.

“ ‘Then what is the use of your present arrange­ment?’ I demanded.

“ ‘Ha-ha! I first make the rabbit familiar with the run; he come tonight and be very suspicious; no dan­ger! Next night he come again, closer; he find no danger. After a while he begin to nibble twigs, and then I put in my snare and I catch him!’”

“Well,” said McCullagh, “what a lesson! That’s the way the enemy of souls lays his snares for the unwary. He makes them first familiar with the environment of sin, but doesn’t let them get hurt in the beginning. He gets them to nibble at the temptations; then the great snare comes, and the soul is caught!”

Sometime ago, Lee Belongia, twenty-four years of age, was electrocuted in Colorado. He gave his body to the University of Denver and asked them to analyze his brain to find out, if possible, what made him a criminal. “Because,” he said, “in the eight years that I have spent in prison, put in again and again for dif­ferent criminal deeds, I have concluded that it is lack of will-power that sends men to the jail first and the gallows afterwards.”

And, doubtless, he was right.

Satan, who understands human nature well, plays upon that weakness, and for every “Adam” there is an apple hung temptingly before him; and for every “Eve” that which “was pleasant to the eyes.”

Pleasure-seeking is also stimulated by the panderer of souls.

There are men who love money so well that they are willing to make it at the expense of body, brain, and spirit of other fellows. The saloon-keeper must sleep, but how he manages to sleep with himself I can never imagine! His conscience is seared by the lust for silver and gold. The Madam of white slavery reckons money, dress, meats, and drinks as more to be desired than a conscience exempt from criminal conduct; even as an adequate price for the souls of women slain!

Back of Prohibition days, a Chicago paper gathered statistics to prove that fourteen thousand women and girls were frequenting the back rooms of saloons every twenty-four hours on Madison and Clark Streets and Cottage Grove Avenue. Today at front doors it is five to ten times worse! Think of making money after that manner!

Judas sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver. These social ghouls not only make merchandise of their fellows but rob the dead.

Sometime ago the Minneapolis Council of Feder­ated Church Women challenged the public with these questions:

“Do you know there are over 200 night clubs, 91 dance halls and taverns, and 58 movies licensed and operating in Minneapolis today? That over 1,700 drug stores, pool halls, candy stores, and groceries sell beer and provide loafing places for boys and girls of school age?

“Do you know that the closing hour is not being enforced? That minors are admitted and served with beer? That beer is spiked, contrary to law? That it is often served those already under the influence of liquor? That indecent ‘petting’ is being carried on without any interference?

“Do you know that less than fifty per cent of women eligible to vote exercise that privilege?”

Those figures look small today, though only a few years have passed since they were presented.

Minneapolis is a moral sink now beside what it was when the Eighteenth Amendment was abrogated. There is money enough in the saloon business not only to result in the seduction of thousands and tens of thou­sands of our sons and daughters, but there is money enough in it to buy up our legislators, control our courts, and render practically impossible the conviction of any murderer who shoots to death an advocate of common decency! If money is the root of all evil – and it is – it is also the power that makes the panderer of lust and sin and crime of every form a political power; and for its accumulation that panderer is willing to curse his fellows for time and eternity!

Pleasure-seeking uniformly ends in shame and sorrow.

The newspapers have given us another terrible illus­tration of this fact. Count Covadonga was born heir to the throne of Spain. His search for pleasure led him to renounce his inheritance in order to possess, as his own, Edelmira Sampedro-Ocejoy Robato, daughter of a Havana merchant. Shortly after, divorcing her, he took unto himself another Cuban beauty – Marta Rocafort, daughter of a Havana dentist. After two months, another separation occurred, and one night a while ago, out with a cigarette girl from Alabama famed for her beauty and for her disdain of conventionalities – the car in her hands left the street and encountered a tele­graph pole; and when the crash was over, all that was left of the Count was a man from whose head blood was streaming furiously, whose broken legs hung limp, and who had scarcely reached the hospital when he breathed his last!

Again Solomon’s words find occasion:

“Rejoice, О young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.”


Pleasure-Living Is Destructive

Strangely enough –

It destroys the capacity of enjoyment.

“The lust of the flesh” can be indulged until the pleasure incident thereto is destroyed. “The lust of the eyes” can be exercised until no scene or vision creates even a pleasant sensation, much less a thrill. “The pride of life” can be pushed to the point where pride itself perishes from over-exercise.

When I was a lad, I had a neighbor who indulged the appetite for wines. That finally burned out, and he took to strong liquors and, in the course of time, it took from one to two quarts a day to give him any sense of exhilaration.

The exact, same principle is employed at all points. To the total abstainer, all natural tastes remain keen and capable of satisfaction. To the temperate man, their indulgence brings a comfortable reaction. To the man given to excess, most indulgences lose all meaning and flatly refuse to provide satisfaction.

In fact –

Pleasure-living often produces physical and mental nausea.

Among the delicacies of the modern table, there are few meats that equal the quail. Some years since, when my eldest son was a very small chap, and before he had entered even the kindergarten, he had been taught by the maid in charge to spell out words and read short sentences. He was attending his mother on a trip to Lafayette, Indiana, and out of Chicago – on the train – they were being served a breakfast. Lillian said to her son, “Now, Howard, you can order anything you like from this menu.”

He took it and studied it rather critically and then said, “I’ll take quail on toast.”

It cost her a round dollar, but the boy had revealed an epicurean’s taste.

However, I remember full well the time when, more than sixty years ago, it was asserted in a widely read newspaper of the South that no man living could eat a quail a day for thirty days. Instantly it was disputed by thousands. Hundreds of them started in to disprove that assertion. The last man attempting it signally failed. Before they had reached the middle of the month, the very suggestion of quail was sickening, and long before they came to the end of it, the name of quail was nauseating.

It is easy to have too much of a good thing, even. A balanced ration is the best doctor’s advice in these days; and that applies to behavior as perfectly as it does to bodily sustenance.

Pleasure-seeking has an unfavorable reaction on the soul.

The man who feeds his body and forgets his spirit reduces himself to an animal level. His behavior is one with the brutes.

Sometime ago, at the Menard prison near East St. Louis, three young men paid the penalty of the electric chair for the murder of a street-car operator. John Krul was twenty-one years old. He left a wife and a two-year-old baby. Edward Balling was nineteen years old, and Buren Dedmon was twenty-five years old. When Balling, the youngest of the company, ap­proached the end, he broke down completely and sobbingly thanked the warden for his past kindnesses. His speech was said to be practically inaudible. Krul, the father of the two-year-old baby, begged to be forgiven by all he had wronged and cried: “May God forgive me also!” Dedmon, the eldest, uttered, as the last sen­tence of a somewhat lengthy speech, this cry: “God, be merciful to me!”

You can live in disregard of God; you can use His name in profane speech only; you can refuse to regard His Word or heed His warning; but when the time comes to go into His presence, fear will force from your lips a cry for His mercy!

How much better, then, to “remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw, nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them” (Eccl. 12:1).

How much better to remember in youth the fact that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

How much better to listen to the wooing language of the Lord Himself: “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).

How much safer to act on the clear way of salvation set forth in Holy Scripture: “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach: That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever be­lieveth on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. 10: 8-11).