Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle is only 75 pages long. Yep, that's it. You can easily read it in one sitting, especially if you're the type of person that doesn't have the patience to read through a thick book. If you're that curious, you can find it on Amazon for a whopping $6.00. I highly recommend that you do because I believe you will be convicted as I have been. J.C. Ryle has numerous one-liners that I made sure to make note of, knowing I'd want to remember and quote them due to their power. In case you don't know who Ryle was, here is his condensed bio: "J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) was a prominent writer, preacher, and Anglican clergyman in nineteenth-century Britain. He is the author of the classic Expository Thoughts on the Gospels and retired as the bishop of Liverpool." Now, let's dive into his thoughts for young men!
“Depend on it, they will at once point to the same quarter, - they will say, ‘The Young Men.’”
Why does Ryle call out the young men and not the women? In the opening chapter he says that if you were to ask anyone in a public office, specifically the office of a judge or other governmental position, they will all say that young men are the ones who by and large cause protests and ruckus. Young men fill the jails more than women. Young men are the "Sabbath-breakers" and the ones who are most often found drunk, stealing, and having to be looked after because of their bad behavior. Ryle calls out the young men of the 19th century (and every century following) to do better.
“Habits, like trees, are strengthened by age.”
Ryle begins his exhortation of young men by telling them to follow God while they are young. Why? Because habits, once formed, are nearly impossible to break, especially habits formed in youth. He pleads: "If you seek not the Lord when young, the strength of habit is such that you will probably never seek him at all." Point taken: It's never too early to start following Christ.
“Satan knows well that you will make up the next generation, and therefore he employs every art betimes to make you his own.”
Satan will use literally whatever he can to make sure you don't follow Christ, especially in your youth when you are establishing who you are and who you will be for the rest of your life. Ryle states simply that if you resist the devil when you are young, you'll have fewer mistakes and regrets to look back on. The devil's lies look so sweet and promising, but you'll find yourself caught in a snare if you give in. You want to be able to remember your youth as a time when you grew in your faith, not a season of your life when you wasted time. "Never will you go to the place where he [Satan] will not find you," Ryle says.
“Hell itself is truth known too late.”
Ryle really drives this point home. None of us know when we're going to die. Ryle's point in this is that we shouldn't waste time doing foolish things because we never know when it's our turn to go. The sins of our youth will remain with us throughout our lifetimes, so we should choose wisely what we do with our time.
“Sin will not come to you, saying, ‘I am sin.’”
Be on your guard! Sin often appears enticing and beautiful. Run from it! Remember the simple rule "if it seems too good to be true it probably is." Run, and don't look back.
“But whatever men may say, the things needful for salvation are as clear as daylight.”
Ryle beseeches young men to read the Bible. Yes, he fully admits that there are passages in the Bible that are difficult to understand. But why would God's holy book be so easy to understand? We wouldn't need God if we fully understood everything inside His book. Ryle says: "You do not despise medicines because you cannot explain all that your doctor does by them." So why would we despise the Bible? What we need for our salvation is clear in the Bible, and that's what's important.
“It is only when self is nothing and Christ is all our confidence, it is then only that we shall do great exploits.”
This statement is self-explanatory. Do you want to do great things? Trust in Christ.
“He measures all men by one standard, one measure, one test, one criterion, and that is the state of their souls.”
When you reach the end of your life, only one thing matters to God and that is whether your soul is surrendered to Him or not. The rich, the poor, the disabled, the successful, the broken, the "I have it all together" types, it doesn't matter because we are all on the same level before God. You have no possession more important than your soul.
“But get your mind stored with Scripture, by diligent reading, and you will soon discover its value and power.”
Do not read the Bible selectively or every now and then. No, you need to read it every day and study it. Ryle says that when you're in conflicting situations or don't know what to do, Scripture passages will come to mind and encourage you, point you in the right direction, and give you wisdom. Don't doubt its power.
“Never be satisfied with the friendship of anyone who will not be useful to your soul.”
Basically, bad company corrupts good morals. Don't be close to people who drain you and make you worse. Be with people who will call you out in your mistakes, build you up, and leave you better for it.
“Nothing darkens the eyes of the mind so much, and deadens the conscience so surely, as an allowed sin.”
This goes back to the developing of bad habits statement. Don't let something wrong become "okay" just because you're used to doing it. Ryle states: "A small leak will sink a great ship, and a small spark will kindle a great fire, and a little allowed sin in like manner will ruin an immortal soul."
“Young men of the present day, you are wanted for God.”
Ryle encourages young men to hold fast to Christ and make the commitment to follow Christ right now. Doing this will lead to a life well-lived and fewer regrets and more happiness. It's not a popular thing to do, but it's the right thing to do. Ryle ends with: "Young men, these things are true. Suffer the word of exhortation. Be persuaded. Take up the cross. Follow Christ. Yield yourselves unto God."