As a pastor, books have always been a constant companion on my spiritual journey. Over the last 35 years, they’ve slowly filled my office, home, and even my bedroom. Among these, one book stands out in its profound impact on my life: J.C. Ryle’s “Thoughts for Young Men.” While the source of this book—whether a thoughtful gift or personal purchase—remains a mystery, its influence on my spiritual development is crystal clear.
Ryle’s seminal work has been a well-worn reference throughout my life, and one passage has struck a particularly resonant chord: “How Young Men Turn Out Depends Largely on What They Are Now.” As a young man who fervently sought to understand and serve God, these words ignited a transformation within me.
In Ryle’s wisdom, I found the crucial truth that our future selves are profoundly shaped by our present actions. Young men, Ryle cautioned, often forget this fundamental reality. He emphasizes the profound role of habits, comparing their tenacity to the strength of a mature oak tree. The habits we cultivate today—good or bad—are progressively entrenched in our hearts each day, drawing us either closer to or further from God.
Inspired by Ryle’s profound insights, I embraced two driving desires that evolved into holy habits: a healthy fear of sin and a yearning to serve God.
Reject the Path of Sin The journey of life is directionally dependent, and straying down the wrong path can ensnare us deeper into the clutches of sin. Alarmed by this realization, I yearned to cling tightly to my Heavenly Father’s hand, rejecting the seductive call of sin. The words of Ryle stirred within me a commitment to resist folly and pursue wisdom, both stemming from a reverential fear of God.
Empowered by God’s grace, I cultivated open, honest relationships where accountability was both anticipated and enforced. This fostered a spirit of repentance, steering me away from the snares of sin and towards wise counsel from seasoned believers.
To all the seasoned believers reading this, I urge you to reach out to younger generations. Teach them the vital importance of resisting sin through God’s grace rather than yielding to it. Satan whispers the deception that God’s laws are too severe, and sin is too appealing to refuse. Counter this lie with the liberating truth: Sin leads to slavery and death, whereas knowing God through Christ offers a satisfaction that surpasses any worldly gains (Philippians 3:8).
Embrace the Power of Holy Habits Through Ryle’s teachings, I also came to appreciate the sanctifying power of holy habits. Like any relationship, our connection to God deepens or weakens based on the habits we practice. Over time, I cultivated a habit of prayer as I started each day and ensured to read the Bible no matter how busy I became. These commitments gradually solidified into lifelong habits, fostering my growth in the knowledge and love of God.
Christian fellowship is another holy habit that sadly is often neglected. 2 Timothy 2:22 encourages us to flee from youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, alongside those with pure hearts. This fellowship with fellow believers provides a potent means of grace to combat sin and strive for godliness.
In essence, the wisdom I’ve gleaned isn’t revolutionary. God feeds us as His children, and the means of grace He provides aren’t beyond comprehension for new believers. The early followers of Christ devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42), and Ryle’s words encourage young believers to do the same.
In conclusion, while Ryle may have passed over a hundred years ago, his words continue to provide spiritual guidance for countless young men. If Christ tarries, I pray that we will carry on the torch and encourage the young generation to embrace these holy habits.