PRAYER

 

J.C. Ryle

 


 

"Men ought always to pray" Luke 18:1
"I will that men pray everywhere" 1 Timothy 2:8

 

PRAYER is the most important subject in practical religion. All other subjects are second to it. Reading the Bible, keeping the Sabbath, hearing sermons, attending public worship going to the Lord's Table,––all these are very weighty matters. But none of them are so important as private prayer.

I propose in this paper to offer seven plain reasons why I use such strong language about prayer. I invite to these reasons the attention of every thinking man into whose hands this paper may fall. I venture to assert with confidence that they deserve serious consideration.

I. In the first place, Prayer is absolutely needful to a man's salvation.

I say absolutely needful, and I say so advisedly. ! am not speaking now of infants and idiots. I am not settling the state of the heathen. I remember that where little is given, there little will be required. I speak especially of those who call themselves Christians, in a land like our own. And of such I say no man or woman can expect to be saved who does not pray.

I hold salvation by grace as strongly as anyone. I would gladly offer a free and full pardon to the greatest sinner that ever lived. I would not hesitate to stand by his dying bed, and say, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ even now, and you shall be saved." But that a man can have salvation without asking for it, I cannot see in the Bible. That a man will receive pardon of his sins, who will not so much as lift up his heart inwardly, and say, "Lord Jesus, give it to me," this I cannot find. I can find that nobody will be saved by his prayers, but I cannot find that without prayer anybody will be saved.

It is not absolutely needful to salvation that a man should read the Bible. A man may have no learning, or be blind, and yet have Christ in his heart. It is not absolutely needful that a man should hear the public preaching of the Gospel. He may live where the Gospel is not preached, or he may be bedridden, or deaf. But the same thing cannot be said about prayer. It is absolutely needful to salvation that a man should pray.

There is no royal road either to health or learning. Princes and kings, poor men and peasants, all alike must attend to the wants of their own bodies and their own minds. No man can eat, drink, or sleep by proxy. No man can get the alphabet learned for him by another. All these are things which everybody must do for himself, or they will not be done at all.

Just as it is with the mind and body, so it is with the soul. There are certain things absolutely needful to the soul's health and wellbeing. Each one must attend to these things for himself. Each must repent for himself. Each must apply to Christ for himself. And for himself each one must speak to God and pray. You must do it for yourself, for by nobody else can it be done.

How can we expect to be saved by an "unknown" God? And how can we know God without prayer? We know nothing of men and women in this world, unless we speak with them. We cannot know God in Christ, unless we speak to Him in prayer. If we wish to be with Him in heaven, we must be His friends on earth. If we wish to be His friends on earth, we must pray.

There will be many at Christ's right hand in the last day. The saints gathered from North and South, and East and West, will be "a multitude that no man can number." (Rev. vii. 9.) The song of victory that will burst from their mouths, when their redemption is at length complete, will be a glorious song indeed. It will be far above the noise of many waters, and of mighty thunders. But there will be no discord in that song. They that sing will sing with one heart as well as one voice. Their experience will be one and the same. All will have believed. All will have been washed in the blood of Christ All will have been born again. All will have prayed. Yes, we must pray on earth, or we shall never praise in heaven. We must go through the school of prayer, or we shall never be fit for the holiday of praise. In short, to be prayerless is to be without God,-without Christ,-without grace,-without hope,-and without heaven. It is to be in the road to hell.

II In the second place, a habit of prayer is one of the surest marks of a true Christian.

All the children of Cod on earth are alike in this respect. From the moment there is any life and reality about their religion, they pray. Just as the first sign of life in an infant when born into the world, is the act of breathing, so the first act of men and women when they are born again, is praying.

This is one of the common marks of all the elect of God. "They cry unto Him day and night." (Luke xviii. 7.) The Holy Spirit, who makes them new creatures, works in them the feeling of adoption, and makes them cry, "Abba, Father." (Rom. viii. 15.) The Lord Jesus, when He quickens them, gives them a voice and a tongue, and says to them, "Be dumb no more." God has no dumb children. It is as much a part of their new nature to pray, as it is of a child to cry. They see their need of mercy and grace. They feel their emptiness and weakness. They cannot do otherwise than they do. They must pray.

I have looked carefully over the lives of God's saints in the Bible. I cannot find one of whose history much is told us, from Genesis to Revelation, who was not a man of prayer. I find it mentioned as a characteristic of the godly, that "they call on the Father," that "they call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." I find it recorded as a characteristic of the wicked, that "they call not upon the Lord." (1Peter i. 17; 1 Cor. i. 2; Psalm xiv. 4.)

I have read the lives of many eminent Christians who have been on earth since the Bible days. Some of them, I see, were rich, and some poor. Some were learned, and some unlearned. Some of them were Episcopalians, some Presbyterians, some Baptists, some Independents. Some were Calvinists, and some Arminians. Some have loved to use a liturgy, and some to use none. But one thing, I see, they all had in common. They have all been men of prayer.

I study the reports of Missionary Societies in our own times. I see with joy that heathen men and women are receiving the Gospel in various parts of the globe. There are conversions in Africa, in New Zealand, in India, in South America. The people converted are naturally unlike one another in every respect. But one striking thing I observe at all the Missionary stations. The converted people always pray.

I do not deny that a man may pray without heart, and without sincerity. I do not for a moment pretend to say that the mere fact of a person praying proves everything about his soul. As in every other religion, so also in this, there is plenty of deception and hypocrisy.

But this I do say,––that not praying is a clear proof that a man is not yet a true Christian. He cannot really feel his sins. He cannot love God. He cannot feel himself a debtor to Christ. He cannot long after holiness. He cannot desire heaven. He has yet to be born again. He has yet to be made a new creature. He may boast confidently of election, grace, faith, hope, and knowledge, and deceive ignorant people. But you may rest assured it is all vain talk if he does not pray.

And I say furthermore, that of all the evidences of real work of the Spirit, a habit of hearty private prayer is one of the most satisfactory that can be named. A man may preach from false motives. A man may write books, and make fine speeches, and seem diligent in good works, and yet be a Judas Iscariot. But a man seldom goes into his closet and pours out his soul before God in secret, unless he is in earnest. The Lord Himself has set His stamp on prayer as the best proof of a true conversion. When He sent Ananias to Saul in Damascus, He gave him no other evidence of his change of heart than this,––"Behold, he prayeth." (Acts ix. 11.)

I know that much may go on in a man's mind before he is brought to pray. He may have many convictions, desires, wishes, feelings, intentions, resolutions, hopes, and fears. But all these things are very uncertain evidences. They are to be found in ungodly people, and often come to nothing. In many a case they are not more lasting than "the morning cloud, and the dew that goeth away." (Hos. vi. 4.) A real hearty prayer, flowing from a broken and contrite spirit, is worth all these things put together.

I know that the elect of God are chosen to salvation from all eternity. I do not forget that the Holy Spirit, who calls them in due time, in many instances leads them by very slow degrees to acquaintance with Christ. But the eye of man can only judge by what it sees. I cannot call anyone justified until he believes. I dare not say that anyone believes until he prays. I cannot understand a dumb faith. The first act of faith will be to speak to God. Faith is to the soul what life is to the body. Prayer is to faith what breath is to life. How a man can live and not breathe is past my comprehension, and how a man can believe and not pray is past my comprehension too.

Let no one be surprised if he hears ministers of the Gospel dwelling much on the importance of prayer. This is the point we want to bring you to,––we want to know that you pray. Your views of doctrine may be correct. Your love of Protestantism may be warm and unmistakable. But still this may be nothing more than head knowledge and party spirit. The great point is this,-whether you can speak to God as well as speak about God.

III. In the third place, there is no duty in religion so neglected as private prayer.

We live in days of abounding religious profession. There are more places of public worship now than there ever were before. There are more persons attending them than there ever have been since England was a nation. And yet in spite of all this public religion, I believe there is a vast neglect of private prayer.

I should not have said so a few years ago. I once thought, in my ignorance, that most people said their prayers, and many people prayed. I have lived to think differently. I have come to the conclusion that the great majority of professing Christians do not pray at all.

I know this sounds very shocking, and will startle many. But I am satisfied that prayer is just one of those things which is thought a "matter of course," and, like many matters of course, is shamefully neglected. It is "everybody's business;" and, as it often happens in such cases, it is a business carried on by very few. It is one of those private transactions between God and our souls which no eye sees, and therefore one which there is every temptation to pass over and leave undone.

I believe that thousands never say a word of prayer at all. They eat; they drink; they sleep; they rise; they go forth to their labor; they return to their homes; they breathe God's air; they see God's sun; they walk on God's earth; they enjoy God's mercies; they have dying bodies; they have judgment and eternity before them. But they never speak to God! They live like the beasts that perish; they behave like creatures without souls; they have not a word to say to Him in whose hand are their life, and breath, and all things, and from whose mouth they must one day receive their everlasting sentence. How dreadful this seems ! But if the secrets of men were only known, how common!

I believe there are tens of thousands whose prayers are nothing but a mere form,––a set of words repeated by rote, without a thought about their meaning. Some say over a few hasty sentences picked up in the nursery when they were children. Some content themselves with repeating the Greed, forgetting that there is not a request in it. Some add the Lord's Prayer, but without the slightest desire that its solemn petitions may be granted. Some among the poor, even at this day, repeat the old popish lines:––

"Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on."

Many, even of those who use good forms, mutter their prayers over after they have got into bed, or scramble over them while they wash or dress in the morning. Men may think what they please, but they may depend that in the sight of God this is not praying. Words said without heart are as utterly useless to our souls as the drum–beating of the poor heathen before their idols. Where there is no heart, there may be lip–work and tongue–work, but there is nothing that God listens to,––there is no prayer. Saul I have no doubt, said many a long prayer before the Lord met him on the way to Damascus. But it was not till his heart was broken that the Lord said, "He prayeth." Does this surprise any reader? Listen to me and I will show you that I am not speaking as I do without reason. Do you think that my assertions are extravagant and unwarrantable? Give me your attention, and I will soon show you that I am only telling you the truth.

Have you forgotten that it is not natural to anyone to pray? The carnal mind is enmity against God. The desire of man's heart is to get far away from God, and to have nothing to do with Him. His feeling toward Him is not love but fear. Why then should a man pray when he has no real sense of sin, no real feeling of spiritual wants,––no thorough belief in unseen things,––no desire after holiness and heaven? Of all these things the vast majority of men know and feel nothing. The multitude walk in the broad way. I cannot forget this. Therefore I say boldly, I believe that few pray.

Have you forgotten that it is not fashionable to pray? It is just one of the things that many would be rather ashamed to own. There are hundreds who would sooner storm a breach, or lead a forlorn hope, than confess publicly that they make a habit of prayer. There are thousands who, if obliged by chance to sleep in the same room with a stranger, would lie down in bed without a prayer. To ride well, to shoot well, to dress well, to go to balls, and concerts, and theaters, to be thought clever and agreeable,––all this is fashionable, but not to pray. I cannot forget this. I cannot think a habit is common which so many seem ashamed to own. I believe that few pray.

Have you forgotten the lives that many live? Can we really suppose that people are praying against sin night and day, when we see see them plunging right into it? Can we suppose they pray against the world, when they are entirely absorbed and taken up with its pursuits? Can we think they really ask God for grace to serve Him, when they do not show the slightest desire to serve Him at all? Oh, no! It is plain as daylight that the great majority of men either ask nothing of God, or do not mean what they say when they do ask,-which is just the same thing. Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer. I cannot forget this. I look at men's lives. I believe that few pray.

Have you forgotten the deaths that many die? How many, when they draw near death, seem entire any strangers to God. Not only are they sadly ignorant of His Gospel, but sadly wanting in the power of speaking to Him. There is a terrible awkwardness, and shyness, and newness, and rawness, in their endeavors to approach Him. They seem to be taking up a fresh thing. They appear as if they wanted an introduction to God, and as if they had never talked with Him before. I remember having heard of a lady who was anxious to have a minister to visit her in her last illness. She desired that he would pray with her. He asked her what he should pray for. She did not know and could not tell. She was utterly unable to name any one thing which she wished him to ask God for her soul. All she seemed to want was the form of a minister's prayers. I can quite understand this. Death–beds are great revealers of secrets. I cannot forget what I have seen of sick and dying people. This also leads me to believe that few pray.

IV. In the fourth place, prayer is that act of religion to which there is the greatest encouragement.

There is everything on God's part part to make prayer easy, if men will only attempt it. "All things are ready" on His side. (Luke xiv. 17.) Every objection is anticipated. Every difficulty is provided for. The crooked places are made straight, and the rough places are made smooth. There is no excuse left for the prayerless man.

There is a way by which any man, however sinful and unworthy, may draw near to God the Father. Jesus Christ has opened that way by the sacrifice He made for us upon the cross. The holiness and justice of God need not frighten sinners and keep them back. Only let them cry to God in the name of Jesus,––only let them plead the atoning blood of Jesus,––and they shall find God upon a throne of grace, willing and ready to hear. The name of Jesus is a never-failing passport to our prayers. In that name a man may draw near to God with boldness, and ask with confidence. God has engaged to hear him. Think of this. Is not this encouragement?

There is an advocate and intercessor always waiting to present the to present the prayers of those who will employ Him. That advocate is Jesus Christ. He mingles our prayers with the incense of His own almighty intercession. So mingled they go up as a sweet savour before the throne of God. Poor as they are in themselves, they are mighty and powerful in the hand of our High Priest and elder brother. The bank–note without a signature at the bottom is nothing but a worthless piece of paper. A few strokes of a pen confer on it all its value. The prayer of a poor child of Adam is a feeble thing in itself, but once endorsed the hand of the Lord Jesus it availeth much. There was an officer by the city of Rome who was appointed to have his doors always open, in order to receive any Roman citizen who applied to him for help. Just so the ear of the Lord Jesus is ever open to the cry of all who want mercy and grace. It is His office to help them. Their prayer is His delight. Think of this. Is not this encouragement?

There is the Holy Spirit ever ready to help our infirmities in prayer. It is one part of His special office to assist us in our endeavors to speak to God. We need not be cast down and distressed by the fear of not knowing what to say. The Spirit will give us words if we will only seek His aid. He will supply us with "thoughts that breathe and p words that burn." The prayers of the Lord's people are the inspiration of the Lord's Spirit,––he work of the Holy Ghost who dwells within them as the Spirit of grace and supplications. Surely the Lord's people may well hope to be heard. It is not they merely that pray, but the Holy Ghost pleading in them. (Rom. viii. 26.) Think of this. Is not this encouragement?

There are exceeding great and precious promises to those who pray. What did the Lord Jesus mean when He spoke such words as these, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." (Matt. vii. 7, 8.) "All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing, ye shall receive." (Matt. xxi. 22.) "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it." (John xiv. 13, 14.) What did the Lord mean when He spoke the parables of the friend at midnight and the importunate widow? (Luke xi. 5, and xviii. 1.) Think over these passages. If this is not encouragement to pray, words have no meaning at all.

There are wonderful examples in Scripture of the power of prayer. Nothing seems to be too great, too hard, or too difficult for prayer to do. It has obtained things that seemed impossible and tout of reach. It has won victories over fire, air, earth, and water. Prayer opened the Red Sea. Prayer brought water from the rock and bread from heaven. Prayer made the sun stand still. Prayer brought fire from the sky on Elijah's sacrifice. Prayer turned the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness. Prayer overthrew the army of Sennacherib. Well might Mary, Queen of Scots, say, "I fear John Knox's prayers more than an army of ten thousand men." Prayer has healed the sick. Prayer has raised the dead. Prayer has procured the conversion of souls. "The child of many prayers," said an old Christian to Augustine's mother, "shall never perish." Prayer, pains, and faith can do anything. Nothing seems impossible when a man has the Spirit of adoption. 'Let me alone," is the remarkable saying of God to Moses, when Moses was about to intercede for the children of Israel. (Exod. xxxii. 10.) The Chaldee version has it "Leave off praying." So long as Abraham asked mercy for Sodom, the Lord went on giving. He never ceased to give till Abraham ceased to pray. Think of this. Is not this encouragement?

What more can a man want to lead him to take any step in religion than the things I have just told him about prayer? What more could he done to make the path to the mercy–seat easy, and to remove all occasions of stumbling from the sinner's way? Surely if the devils in hell had such a door set open before them they would leap for gladness, and make the very pit ring with joy.

But where will the man hide his head at last who neglects such glorious encouragements? What can be possibly said for the man who after all dies without prayer? God forbid that any reader of this paper should be that man.

V. In the fifth place, diligence in prayer is the secret of eminent holiness.

Without controversy there is a vast difference among true Christians. There is an immense interval between the foremost and the hindermost in the army of God.

They are all fighting the same good fight;––but how much more valiantly some fight than others! They are all doing the Lord's work;––but how much more some do than others! They are all light in the Lord;––but how much more brightly some shine than others! They are all running the same race;––but how much faster some get on than others! They all love the same Lord and Saviour;––but how much more some love Him than others! I ask any true Christian whether this is not the case. Are not these things so?

There are some of the Lord's people who seem never able to get on from the time of their conversion. They are born again, but they remain babies all their lives. They are learners in Christ's school, but they never seem to get beyond A B C, and the lowest form. They have got inside the fold, but there they lie down and get no further. Year after year you see in them the same old besetting sins. You hear from them the same old experience. You remark in them the same want of spiritual appetite,––the same squeamishness about anything but the milk of the Word, and the same dislike to strong meat,––the same childishness,-the same feebleness,––the same littleness of mind,––the same narrowness of heart,––the same want of interest in anything beyond their own little circle, which you remarked ten years ago. They are pilgrims indeed, but pilgrims like the Gibeonites of old;––their bread is always dry and moldy,––their shoes always old and clouted, and their garments always rent and torn. (Josh. ix. 4, 5.) I say this with sorrow and grief. But I ask any real Christian, Is it not true?

There are others of the Lord's people who seem to be always getting on. They grow like the grass after rain. They increase like Israel in Egypt. They press on like Gideon,-––hough sometimes "faint, yet always pursuing." (Judges viii. 4.) They are ever adding grace to grace, and faith to faith, and strength to strength. Every time you meet them their hearts seem larger, and their spiritual stature bigger, taller, and stronger. Every year they appear to see more, and know more, and believe more, and feel more in their religion. They not only have good works to prove the reality of their faith, but they are zealous of them. They not only do well, but they are unwearied in well-doing. (Titus ii. 14; Gal. vi. 9.) They attempt great things, and they do great things. When they fail they try again, and when they fall they are soon up again. And all this time they think themselves poor unprofitable servants, and fancy they do nothing at all!––These are those who make religion lovely and beautiful in the eyes of all. They wrest praise even from the unconverted, and win golden opinions even from the selfish men of the world. These are those whom it does one good to see, to be with, and to hear. When you meet them, you could believe that, like Moses, they had just come out from the presence of God. When you part with them you feel warmed by their company, as if your soul had been near a fire. I know such people are rare. I only ask, is it not so?

Now, how can we account for the difference which I have just described? What is the reason that some believers are so much brighter and holier than others? I believe the difference, in nineteen cases out of twenty, arises from different habits about private prayer. I believe that those who are not eminently holy pray little, and those who are eminently holy pray much.

I dare say this opinion will startle some readers. I have little doubt that many look on eminent holiness as a kind of special gift, which none but a few must pretend to aim at. They admire it at a distance, in books: they think it beautiful when they see an example near themselves. But as to its being a thing within the reach of any but a very few, such a notion never seems to enter their minds. In short, they consider it a kind of monopoly granted to a few favoured believers, but certainly not to all.

Now I believe that this is a most dangerous mistake. I believe that spiritual, as well as natural, greatness, depends far more on the use of means within everybody's reach, than on anything else. Of course I do not say we have a right to expect a miraculous grant of intellectual gifts. But this I do say, that when a man is once converted to God, whether he shall be e diligence in the use of God's appointed means And I assert confidently, that the principal means by which most believers have become great in the Church of Christ is the habit of diligent private prayer.

Look through the lives of the brightest and best of God's servants, whether in the Bible or not. See what is written of Moses, and David, and Daniel, and Paul. Mark what is recorded of Luther and Bradford, the Reformers. Observe what is related of the private devotions of Whitfield, and Cecil, and Venn, and Bickersteth, and M'Cheyne. Tell me of one of all the goodly fellowship of saints and martyrs, who has not had this mark most prominently,––he was a man of prayer. Oh, depend upon it, prayer is power!

Prayer obtains fresh and continued outpourings of the Spirit. He alone begins the work of grace in a man's heart: He alone can carry it forward and make it prosper. But the good Spirit loves to be entreated. And those who ask most, will always have most of His influence.

Prayer is the surest remedy against the devil and besetting sins. That sin will never stand firm which is heartily prayed against: that devil will never long keep dominion over us which we beseech the Lord to cast forth. But, then, we must spread out all our case before our Heavenly Physician, if He is to give us daily relief: we must drag our indwelling devils to the feet of Christ, and cry to Him to send them back to the pit.

Do we wish to grow in grace and be very holy Christians? Then let us never forget the value of prayer.

VI. In the sixth place, neglect of prayer is one great cause of backsliding.

There is such a thing as going back in religion, after making a good profession. Men may run well for a season, like the Galatians, and then turn aside after false teachers. Men may profess loudly, while their feelings are warm, as Peter did; and then, in the hour of trial, deny their Lord. Men may lose their first love, as the Ephesians did. Men may cool down in their zeal to do good, like Mark, the companion of Paul. Men may follow an apostle for a season, and then, like Demas, go back to the world.––AII these things men may do.

It is a miserable thing to be a backslider. Of all unhappy things that can befall a man, I suppose it is the worst. A stranded ship, a broken winged eagle, a garden overrun with weeds, a harp without strings, a church in ruins,-all these are sad sights; but a backslider is a sadder sight still. That true grace shall never be extinguished, and true union with Christ never be broken off, I feel no doubt. But I do believe that a man may fall away so far that he shall lose sight of his own grace, and despair of his own salvation. And if this is not hell, it is certainly the next thing to it! A wounded conscience, a mind sick of itself, a memory full of self-reproach, a heart pierced through with the Lord's arrows, a spirit broken with a load of inward accusation,-all this is a taste of hell. It is a hell on earth. Truly that saying of the wise man is solemn and weighty,––"The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways." (Prov. xiv. 14.)

Now, what is the cause of most backsliding? I believe, as a general rule, one of chief causes is neglect of private prayer. Of course the secret history of falls will not be known till the last day. I can only give my opinion as a minister of Christ and a student of the heart. That opinion is, I repeat distinctly, that backsliding generally first begins with neglect of private prayer.

Bibles read without prayer, sermons heard without prayer, marriages contracted without prayer, journeys undertaken without prayer, residences chosen without prayer, friendships formed without prayer, the daily act of private prayer itself hurried over or gone through without heart,-these are the kind of downward steps by which many a Christian descends to a condition of spiritual palsy, or reaches the point where God allows him to have a tremendous fall.

This is the process which forms the lingering Lots, the unstable Samsons, the wife-idolizing Solomons, the inconsistent Asas, the pliable Jehoshaphats, the over–careful Marthas, of whom so many are to be found in the Church of Christ. Often the simple history of such cases is this,-––hey became careless about private prayer.

We may be very sure that men fall in private long before they fall in public. They are backsliders on their knees long before they backslide openly in the eyes of the world. Like Peter, they first disregard the Lord's warning to watch and pray; and then, like Peter, their strength is gone, and in the hour of temptation they deny their Lord.

The world takes notice of their fall, and scoffs loudly. But the world knows nothing of the real reason. The heathen succeeded in making Origen, the old Christian Father, offer incense to an idol, by threatening him with a punishment worse than death. They then triumphed greatly at the sight of his cowardice and apostasy. But the heathen did not know the fact, which Origin himself tells us, that on that very morning he had left his bed chamber hastily, and without finishing his usual prayers.

If any reader of this paper is a Christian indeed I trust he will never be a backslider. But if you do not wish to be a backsliding Christian, remember the hint I give you,-Mind your prayers.

VII. In the seventh place, prayer is one of the best recipes for happiness and contentment.

We live in a world where sorrow abounds. This has always been its state since sin came ill. There cannot be sin without sorrow. And till sin is driven out from the world it is vain for anyone to suppose he can escape sorrow.

Some, without doubt, have a larger cup of sorrow to drink than others. But few are to be found who live long without sorrows or cares of one sort or another. Our bodies, our property, our families, our children, our relations, our servants, our friends, our neighbors, our worldly callings,––each and all of these are fountains of care. Sicknesses, deaths, losses, disappointments, partings, separations, ingratitude, slander;––all these are common things. We cannot get through life without them. Some day or other they find us out. The greater are our affections, the deeper are our afflictions; and the more we love, the more we have to weep.

And what is the best recipe for cheerfulness in such a world as this? How shall we get through this valley of tears with least pain? I know no better recipe than the habit of taking everything to God in prayer.

This is the plain advice that the Bible gives, both in the Old Testament and the New. What says the Psalmist? "Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." (Psalm l. 15.) "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved." (Psalm lv. 22.) What says the Apostle Paul? "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Phil. iv. 6, 7.) What says the Apostle James? "Is any afflicted among you ? Let him pray." (James v.13.)

This was the practice of all the saints whose history we have recorded in the Scriptures. This is what Jacob did, when he feared his brother Esau. This is what Moses did, when the people were ready to stone him in the wilderness. This is what Joshua did, when Israel was defeated before Ai. This is what David did, when he was in danger at Keliah. This is what Hezekiah did, when he received the letter from Sennacherib. This is what the Church did, when Peter was put in prison. This is what Paul did, when he was cast into the dungeon at Philippi.

The only way to be really happy in such a world as this, is to be ever casting all our cares on God. It is the trying to carry their own burdens which so often makes believers sad. If they will only tell their troubles to God He will enable them to bear them as easily as Samson did the gates of Gaza. If they are resolved to keep them to themselves they will find one day that the very grasshopper is a burden. (Eccles. xii. 5.)

There is a friend ever waiting to help us, if we will only unbosom to Him our sorrow,-a friend who pitied the poor, and sick, and sorrowful, when He was upon earth,––a friend who knows the heart of a man, for He lived thirty–three years as a man amongst us,-a friend who can weep with the weepers, for He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,––a friend who is able to help us, for there never was earthly pain He could not cure. The friend is Jesus Christ. The way to be happy is to be always opening our hearts to Him. Oh, that we were all like that poor Christian negro, who only answered, when threatened and punished, "I must tell the Lord."

Jesus can make those happy who trust Him and call on Him, whatever be their outward condition. He can give them peace of heart in a prison,-contentment in the midst of poverty,-comfort in the midst of bereavements,-joy on the brink of the grave. There is a mighty fullness in Him for all His believing members,-a fullness that is ready to be poured out on every one who will ask in prayer. Oh that men would understand that happiness does not depend on outward circumstances, but on the state of the heart.

Prayer can lighten crosses for us however heavy. It can bring down to our side One who will help us to bear them.-Prayer can open a door for us when our way seems hedged up. It can bring down One who will say, "This is the way, walk in it"-Prayer can let in a ray of hope, when all our earthly prospects seem darkened. It can bring down One who will say, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee."-Prayer can obtain relief for us when those we love most are taken away, and the world feels empty. It can bring down One who can fill the gap in our hearts with Himself, and say to the waves within, "Peace: be still!" Oh, that men were not so Like Hagar in the wilderness, blind to the well of Living waters close beside them! (Gen. xxi. 19.)

I want the readers of this paper to be really happy Christians. I am certain I cannot urge on them a more important duty than prayer.

 


Practical Religion. John Charles Ryle, D.D. James Clarke & Co. LTD. 7 All Saints Passage, Cambridge. 1970. Pages 46-59.