5 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
6 Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!
8 Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
11 For your name’s sake, O LORD,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
We all learned this beautiful verse by singing it from our psalm books as children:
Never again remember the sins
That I have committed in my youth.
Remember me in your kindness
That I may always benefit from your goodness.
But in our youth did we ever think or even suspect how the verse from the Psalms on which this stanza is based would bother our consciences in old age?
How it would cast our souls entirely on the grace of God?
Every individual among God’s people feels sad and burdened about “the sins of our youth.” That’s because those sins are simply there. They lurk behind you in your memories. You can’t get rid of them. They still haunt you. And what is worst of all is that they get bigger every day.
You ask how that’s possible. How can the sins of his youth become larger with every passing day for a person well along in years? Look, the answer is obvious and is really very simple. It’s by the holy light of God’s Spirit that time and again something from your youth is exposed as sinful. When you did it, you didn’t see it as sinful at all. But now you are definitely conscious of the fact that it went against God, that it grieved the Spirit present at your baptism, and that you are accountable for it.
Permit me to add this as well: the further along you get in life, it won’t get any better. For, if I could put it this way, suppose that in your past there’s a part that is white and another that is completely black. And suppose that these are blotches that lie beside each other. Then you have to reckon with the fact that the black one will expand and the white one will only contract until the question finally occurs to you of whether there was anything wholesome there at all.
The sins of youth are doubly disastrous.
They amount to the appearance of an angry abscess in what appears to be sound and healthy tissue, or to the steady dripping of poison into what is still developing. Except that for the entire remainder of something’s development it wreaks damage and destruction.
The sins of youth! Oh, how they control the formation of a person’s entire character, the whole tone of their life, and the total shape of their future.
They eat so deeply into us because youthful character is doubly soft and impressionable. They put at Satan’s disposal the boundless youthful energy and passionate spirit that thrives in the hearts of young people.
Oh, who can ever measure the terrible evil involved in those “sins of our youth,” including the “secret sins” buried there? For, and understand this clearly, they are not readily detected. People think better things of you. Your youth itself is like a shield that protects you. It causes anyone admonishing you to focus on better things about you. And that’s a license for you to persist without interruption or impediment in doing what’s evil.
Still worse is that after you commit them, they continue working for as long as you live.
Even when you have been reconciled and saved by God’s inexpressible mercy, that old enemy is still lying in wait inside you and evil constantly roils up, “as though from a polluted spring,” to use the words of our confession.
Oh, where could we hide if we didn’t have a Savior who covered the sins of our youth with the burial shroud of his divine mercy? Think what it would be like if you could never get rid of those persistent memories. How frightening that would be for you.
But also think about how inexpressibly gracious it is on the part of God’s Son that he stands between you and your youth. And he says to you: “Forget what is behind you. Stretch out toward what is ahead of you.” Already from his cradle, he quietly whispers a word of blessed reconciliation to you!
Oh, if our young smart alecks, our children, and our youngsters would only know what those “sins of our youth” will be for a still-unreconciled heart! How they should flee to God. How they should flee from the world’s contamination. How they should find their shelter close to him who said: “Let the little children come to me!” That’s where his protective grace is at work even for unconverted youth.
Don’t underestimate “the sins of your youth,” you children!
Pray them away before they happen! Fight against them with your whole heart. This much I know: there is no youth without sin. So why don’t you turn, heart and soul, to that which is lovely and of good report?
Church of the living God, help your baptized children come to that point. Parents, you especially should do this! So much can be avoided. So much can be resisted. The pores of a child’s soul are so receptive. You penetrate them so easily and so undetected through your own sinful surroundings. But the Lord also wants to use you in unnoticed ways to inoculate your children with good medicine.
Once again, “the sins of our youth” represent such a sad and deeply depressing chapter in the history of human sin. At the same time, so much can be done from the Word of God for, with, and in our young people to restrain and limit them as well as remove incentives to commit them.
So guard yourselves, my readers both young and old. Stay faithful!
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms