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Review: “Thoughts for Young Men” by J.C. Ryle

Earlier this week, while speaking at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Conference in Louisville, Ky., I came across J.C. Ryle’s classic book, Thoughts for Young Men. When I saw it on the bookshelf, it was like bumping into an old friend, and it flooded my mind with memories of when I first encountered Ryle’s work nearly two decades ago.

J.C. Ryle was an Anglican bishop who ministered in Liverpool, England, during the late-Victorian Era—a period of great social change and theological compromise in the Church of England. In the midst of this storm, Ryle stood as a strong tower, a bastion of moral clarity and doctrinal conviction.

Before he passed off the scene at the turn of the 20th century, he left the church a treasure trove of expository sermons and writings. Among Ryle’s more timeless works are Expository Thoughts on the Gospels and Holiness. As the title suggests, Thoughts for Young Men is Ryle’s sage counsel to teenage and post-adolescent men.

Thematically, Ryle builds Thoughts for Young Men on Paul’s instruction to Titus, “Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded.”[1] And his aim is straightforward enough:

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.[2]

Ryle’s small book is divided into four sections, with each building upon the one prior. In the first section, entitled, “General Reasons for Exhorting Young Men,” Ryle provides five macro-concerns he has for young men, and why it is important to speak into their lives at this crucial juncture.

Framing the rational of the book, in Section One Ryle warns,

“Sin may go lightly from your hand, or run smoothly off your tongue now, but depend on it, sin and you will meet again by and by, however little you may like it.”[3]

In Ryle’s second section, “Five Special Dangers Young Men Need to Be Warned Against,” he engages perennial sins that so often beset young men.

Ryle engages topics like pride and the pursuit of pleasure, as well as contempt of religion and the fear of man’s opinion.

In this section, Ryle offers counsel like:

Young men, be of good courage,—care not for what the world says or thinks: you will not be with the world always. Can man save your soul?—No. Will man be your judge in the great and dreadful day of account?—No….Call to mind the saying of the good Colonel Gardiner: ‘I fear God, and therefore I have none else to fear.’ Go and be like him.[4]

“Six General Counsels to Young Men” is Ryle’s third section. In this part of the book, Ryle leans into the basics of Christian discipleship—imploring the reader to follow Christ and to live by God’s Holy Scriptures. Lastly, Ryle’s fourth section, “Five Special Rules for Young Men,” reminds the reader of God’s presence in and over all of life, and that young men, especially, should live life ever-mindful of God’s watchful eye.

Thoughts for Young Men is a quick but profound read, and it is not just for young men. As Mark Dever wrote in the foreword of this new edition, “Much of this book is as applicable for women as for men, and for the old as for the young…”[5]

I’m glad I bumped into Thoughts for Young Men this week; it indeed was like getting reacquainted with an old friend. Ryle is a friend you should get to know too, if you’ve not already been blessed by his writing and by this fine little book.


[1] Titus 2:6.

[2] 1.

[3] 17.

[4] 35.

[5] Ix.

topicsBook ReviewJC Ryle

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