J.C. Ryle’s book Holiness stands as a cornerstone piece in the library of Christian classics. This 350-plus page work offers readers a deep dive into the biblical topic of personal and practical holiness. As Ryle served in his role in the Church of England and as the Bishop of Liverpool, he noticed that one group noticeably neglected the discipline of personal holiness; young men. With this burdensome awareness and a keen exegetical eye that noticed Paul’s particular treatment of young men in Titus 2:6, Ryle wrote the much shorter book, Thoughts for Young Men.
With a shepherding heart and no fear of using a pastoral rod, Ryle set out to steer young men towards living for Christ. He explains, “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” (5). Throughout the book, he encourages the reader with thoughts of Christ and warns him with sobering words about sin and its consequences.
In chapter one, Ryle offers five reasons for exhorting young men. He begins by acknowledging that few young men seem to be genuinely converted at all. Secondly, Ryle warns young men that death and judgment are waiting for them, though many young men live as though they were invincible. Thirdly he explains the reality that young men set out on a path that will determine their future. Fourth, Ryle warns young men that the devil uses special diligence to seek and destroy them. Finally, Ryle considers the sorrow that young men can avoid if they begin living for God now.
In chapter two, Ryle warns of five dangers that face young men. These dangers include pride, the love of pleasure, thoughtlessness, contempt of Christianity, and the fear of man’s opinion.
In chapter three, Ryle offers seven general counsels for young men. First, he encourages them to get a clear understanding of the evil of sin. Then, he positively encourages them to know Jesus Christ. Ryle argues, “This is, indeed, the principal thing in Christianity. […] A watch that doesn’t keep track of time is as useless as religion without Christ.” (54). Third, Ryle warns young men to prioritize their soul. Fourth, he informs them that it is possible to be a young man and serve God. Fifth, Ryle points young men to the Scriptures as their guide and advisor. Sixth, Ryle exposes the danger of bad company as he tells young men to “never make an intimate friend of any one who is not a friend of God” (65).
In chapter four, Ryle lays out special rules for young men. He warns them to break off any known sin. He exhorts them to flee from any occasion for sin. He reminds them of the searching gaze of God who knows and sees all. He exhorts them in the practice of godliness. Finally, he prompts them to be men of prayer.
Finally, in a brief conclusion, Ryle appeals to the young man’s conscience to examine what he has written and to determine whether or not it is true.
In Thoughts for Young Men, J.C. Ryle offers readers straight to the point counsel. He provides very little exegetical treatment. He points readers only briefly to the character or nature of God or the person and work of Christ beyond what is required for his point.
Ryle wastes no words. Each sentence cuts to the heart and applies to life. Young men will not make it through a paragraph without being convicted. Ryle’s illustrations are gritty and practical as he applies these truths to his readers.
Years ago, I picked up a copy of Thoughts for Young Men. Every page is marked with underlines and highlights. Recently, a group of young men in our church read this book together and found great help in it. Even now, a group of teenaged young men in our church is reading it. This swell of interest prompted me to strike a deal with my two sons. If they would read the book and discuss it with me, I’d give them each $50. My youngest, age ten, and I have already read it and had many great discussions on our front porch. My oldest, age thirteen, has finished reading, and we are talking through the book now. I believe that is money well invested. They may spend the money on a video game or baseball cards. But however, they spend it, they will have Ryle spurring them on to walk with Christ!
Jeff is the glad husband of Lauren and the proud dad of Aiden and Carter. He pastors Catalyst Church in Newport News, VA and works as a Church Planting Strategist with the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia. Jeff is the author of Called to Cooperate: A Biblical Survey and Application of Teamwork.