Thoughts for Young Menby J.C. Ryle
Length: Approximately 3 hours. To read (75 pages).
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“Youth is the seed of full age, the molding season in the little space of human life, the turning point in the history of man’s mind” (9). This is what J.C. Ryle writes about the important season of life for young men. With this being the most impressionable time in life, and also the time when many young men make decisions that last a lifetime, both good and bad. In his work Thoughts for Youth Men, Ryle gives perspective and challenge to young men in living through the early years. This is a vital, and lively look at the spiritual formation of young men, something badly needed in our culture today. In a very Puritan way the author provides us with a great book for young men seeking to find a Gospel centered way to grow in their walk with the Lord.
Who should read this?
This book was written over a hundred years ago, but still has great relevance to the modern world. I think this book would find some benefit to any person choosing to read it. However, the main audience as seen in the title is for young men. It would be highly recommended for pastors to take their teens and 20’s men through this work. It would also be a helpful tool for a father to work through this with their teenage sons before they leave their house. This book is directed towards young men across the spectrum of their faith journey.
Godly, young men are something that can be hard to find in our current culture, even in the church. This was the same problem back when J.C. Ryle wrote Thoughts for Young Men over a century ago. Using sound wisdom and pulling from decades of pastoral advice, Ryle provides a short treatise on spiritual growth for young men.
In this Banner Ryle Classics version of this work, Mark Dever gives a rousing foreword, setting the table for the book. One important aspect of Dever’s beginning is the reminder of how contemporary this book really is. He comments here, “Although delivered more than 130 years ago, Thoughts for Young Men is strikingly contemporary. As a man in the business of mentoring young men, Mark Dever is the right man to provide the foreword for this book.
Ryle begins this book with general reasons why he wants to exhort young men in this fashion. Firstly, he shares that we are living in a godless society when it comes to young men. If anything we see in our culture today the same or most likely worse. The author argues here that the young men are the most easily swayed and attacked by Satan.
Secondly, he points out that the urgency for the souls of young men is at hand. He adds here, “Surely none are so mad as those who are content to live unprepared to die” (8). Next, this is the most crucial season for the men’s entire life going forward. The long-term success of these young men can depend so much on what the actions, decisions, and words they use now. One poignant section here is when he discusses the “forces of habit” that plague so many young men, not allowing them ever to achieve their potential.
Fourthly, young men are so oblivious to the fact that Satan is directly and subtly attempting to destroy their lives. J.C. Ryle challenges the young men here to serve God at a young age, and not be deceived by schemes thrown at them daily. He adds, “You may be careless about your souls: he is not”(13).
Lastly, he addresses the issue of helping young men to avoid sorrow later, by serving God now. One area he looks at here is how so many young men in the Bible showed great faith at such a young age because they decided to follow God. These reasons for writing this work set the table for the final two chapters.
The author then looks at some of the special dangers for young men he has encountered in his ministry career often. The first and foremost is pride. We are all born proud and it rears its ugly head many times with inexperienced men. He uses the biblical example of Rehoboam, who refused many times the counsel of older and more experienced men.
Humility and seeking the counsel of more seasoned men in the faith are the cure. Secondly, he addresses the love of pleasure. He shows how the trend is for young men to “murder their souls” through the pursuit of lusts of the flesh. He uses 1 Peter 2:11 as a warning for this danger. It reads, “Abstain from the fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” The answer to this danger is fleeing these things at all costs.
The next danger to avoid for young men is thoughtlessness, and the lack of study. So many inexperienced men strive after worldly things, and avoid the time of study and thought. He writes here, “Believe me, this world is not a world in which we can do well without thinking, and least of all do well in the matter of our souls” (28). Fourthly, he looks at the contempt towards religion. It is not trendy or fun to follow after God at a young age.
He challenges young men here with the need to both believe in Christian faith and follow with their lives in Christian faith. Ryle lastly looks at fear of man as danger for a young man. Far too often young men are too afraid of what other’s think to their detriment and folly. Younger men need to be of good courage and be distinct from the world.
In the final two sections the writer addresses general counsels and rules for young men. The general counsels surround the idea of spiritual growth from a Gospel perspective. You must first understand your sin in a way that leads you to needing a Savior in Jesus Christ. He talks about in the counsels as well the need for eternal perspective and thinking about the future of your soul.
Ryle adds, “One thing only God does look at, and that is the immortal soul” (43). Some of the very practical counsels he gives are keeping God’s Word as our authority over everything, serving God even at a young age, and making your closest friends, Christ followers. These challenges are ones that can go a long way to helping a young man grow spiritually long-term.
In the final section of the book J.C. Ryle provides special rules for young men. The highlights of this section begin with his portion on resolving to fight sin at all costs. This is the biggest vice for young men, and needs to be addressed for spiritual growth to happen. Another highlight of this section is remembering to be a regular church attender and server.
He talks about here the importance of motivation and the manner in which we are a part of Christ’s body. “The value of means of grace, like other things, depends in a great measure on the manner and spirit in which we use them” (64). He lastly addresses the need for fervent prayer in the life of the young believer. We cannot get very far in this life as Christians without a regular, and vibrant prayer life.
After finishing this book the first thing that came out of my mouth was, why did I not know about this book twenty years ago! This work by J.C. Ryle is both helpful personally and for my ministry as well. It is a great challenge to young men both in Ryle’s time and in our time now.
One of the great strengths of the book is the relevant nature for our young men in the church today. There are some different problems today, but the overall nature and challenges of this book works well for exhorting younger men now. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that there isn’t anything new under the sun, and I believe this book portrays that well.
So many young men in my ministry will benefit from this book in the future, especially looking at addressing the challenges of the lust of the flesh, and good rules/counsels they can put into practice in their daily lives.
Another plus in reading this book is the directness and bluntness that comes from the author. J.C. Ryle comes from a different era where this type of talk worked well for those reading. I would argue this is the type of tough talk that many of our young men need to wake up to the daily challenge they face.
His section on fleeing from sin at all costs was very impactful to me personally, and was very blunt in nature. We talk too softly on issues in our church culture too often. We need to be willing to be blunt and direct with a humble/loving spirit more often.
It is also important to see in this book how J.C. Ryle comes as a seasoned veteran of pastoral ministry to writing this. You can see with his urgency in the topics addressed that he truly cares as shepherd with the young men he is ministering too.
He knows what the problems are in the young men of his congregation, but he also mixes that with showing the problems the Bible gives us for young men as well. The examples, illustrations, and personal applications he gives are so strong because he knows what the problems and solutions are from years of experience.
Ryle’s work also comes with a couple of trouble spots that can detract from the book for the reader. Firstly, because of the era that the author comes from, there certainly are some legalistic tendencies in the author’s application.
He addresses card- playing, going to the theatre, and other activities that are not seen as problems in the church in our current culture. As the reader we have to be aware of the cultural context of the book as you read the book. All church cultures have blind spots and l believe some of the legalism of that time period in the church was shown throughout this book.
Another issue with this book is the Puritan blunt style of the writing throughout. As mentioned above I think it shows strength for the young men in our culture who need more of this. However, I think that it might be a work that could be lost on our culture because it is so blunt throughout the book. It borders on unloving in a few sections, and an unwillingness for recovery and forgiveness from the mistakes of our pasts.
The author should have shared some times of people being shown grace as young men despite their personal failures. He also could have shown more restraint at times in hammering young men and their behavior. Overall, this was an excellent work that I will use in my student and young adult ministry for years to come.
In his conclusion, Ryle writes, “Go then, young men, and resolve this day to remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (71). That is the challenge of my ministry calling and my own personal life. This work by J.C. Ryle Thoughts for Young Men gives the tools needed for young men to grow spiritually. With the pastoral wisdom he was blessed with Ryle presents us with an enduring work that will challenge young men to spiritual vitality until the Lord returns.
“For one thing, there is the painful fact that there are few young men anywhere who seem to have any religion.” (3)
“Habits of good or evil are daily strengthening in your hearts. Every day you are either getting nearer to God, or further off.” (11)
“God is serious in observing us, Christ is serious in interceding for us, the Spirit is serious in striving for us, the truths of God are serious, our spiritual enemies are serious in their endeavors to ruin us. (30)
“The path to heaven is always narrow, whether we be young or old. There are difficulties, but God will give you grace to overcome them. God is no hard master.” (45)
“You must recollect, we are all creatures of imitation: precept may teach us, but it is example that draws us.” (51)