Book review: ‘Thoughts for Young Men’ by J.C Ryle
Written by Jarrod Booker, Boys Ministry Advisor, Youthworks Training
Long before any hip American preachers started telling young men to put on their pants and ‘man-up,’ J.C Ryle was already hard at it. Over 130 years ago, he was imploring young men to be real men of faith in society, in the home, and in the church.
Published in 1886, his forthright call for young men to heed the call of Christ on their lives is as relevant now as it was then.
What the book is about
Ryle's motivation for writing this book is to see young men stay on the right path and avoid the mistakes of youth. He says:
‘I am growing old myself, but there are few things I remember so well as the days of my youth. I have a most distinct recollection of the joys and the sorrows, the hopes and the fears, the temptations and the difficulties, the mistaken judgments and the misplaced affections, the errors and the aspirations, which surround and accompany a young man’s life. If I can only say something to keep some young man in the right way, and preserve him from faults and sins, which may mar his prospects both for time and eternity, I shall be very thankful.’
And so what we have in ‘Thoughts for Young Men’ is a greatly helpful book of advice from an older godly man to young men.
At 62 pages, more booklet than book, it is an accessible read for everyone, especially young men for whom it is aimed.
It is written in a clear style, and as you’d expect, Bible references abound so that all Bishop Ryle’s exhortations find their motivations from the Word of God.
Laid out in four short chapters with a conclusion, each chapter containing five or six points, he goes about his appeal to young men in a clear, punchy, and direct manner.
Overview of 'Thoughts for Young Men'
In chapter one he lays out, in a ‘no holds barred’ way, his belief that so many young men are faithless, because they ignore the fact that death and judgment is coming. He wants young men to change because their futures depend on it, because the devil is at work, and to avoid the heartache of youthful sins.
In chapter two, in much the same style, he explains four dangers for young men to avoid. These are pride, the love of pleasure, selfishness, and contempt for the things of God.
In chapter three he provides six helpful counsels to young men: have a healthy understanding of your own sin, know Christ, understand eternity, you can be young and still follow God, know the Bible, and choose your friends wisely.
The final chapter is reserved for laying down five rules for young men to live by: get rid of the things in your life causing you to sin, avoid temptation, remember God is all seeing, go to church, and pray.
Each chapter is so full of good and godly advice that the modern reader can’t miss the emphasis on the call to holy living. I love how he tackles issues like avoiding sexual sin, idleness, and temptation head-on. Pearls of wisdom abound for young men today.
J.C. Ryle's advice to young men in 2011
But what would J. C Ryle say to the internet absorbed, X-box obsessed young man of the 21st century?
I imagine it would have something to do with getting off his backside and spending more time with God and less on Facebook. I can’t imagine how the Bishop would view the pastimes of many a young man today. I’m sure though some would not surprise him: binge drinking, idleness, and love of money come to mind.
At the end of the day, J.C Ryle desires that young men heed the call of Christ on their lives and step-up and become the kind of men God calls them to be.
This is a greatly useful book in so many ways. For the young man seeking some ‘old school’ advice for his modern situation, for the father wanting to impart some godly wisdom from an old hero of the church down to his high-school aged son, for the youth leader/pastor looking for a great resource to use amongst the young men in his midst.
I can’t help but think that what we have here also is an excellent extended evangelistic tract to be handed out to the young men in our lives who we know might benefit from it. Whilst it might do with some modernising of language for today, its powerful message and the truth that lies behind it remains timeless.