For more than a century, J. C. Ryle was best known for his plain and
lively writings on practical and spiritual themes. His great aim in all
his ministry was to encourage strong and serious Christian living. But
Ryle was not naive in his understanding of how this should be done. He
recognized that, as a pastor of the flock of God, he had a responsibility
to guard Christ’s sheep and to warn them whenever he saw approaching
dangers. His penetrating comments are as wise and relevant today as they
were when he first wrote them. His sermons and other writings have been
consistently recognized, and their usefulness and impact have continued
to the present day, even in the outdated English of the author’s own day.
Why then should expositions already so successful and of such stature and
proven usefulness require adaptation, revision, rewrite or even editing?
The answer is obvious. To increase its usefulness to today’s reader the
language in which it was originally written needs updating.
Though his sermons have served other generations well, just as they came
from the pen of the author in the nineteenth century, they still could be
lost to present and future generations simply because, to them, the
language is neither readily nor fully understandable.
My goal, however, has not been to reduce the original writing to the
vernacular of our day. It is designed primarily for you who desire to
read and study comfortably and at ease in the language of our time. Only
obviously archaic terminology and passages obscured by expressions not
totally familiar in our day have been revised. However, neither Ryle’s
meaning nor intent have been tampered with.
All Scripture references are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL
VERSION (C) 1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of
Zondervan Bible Publishers.
J. C. Ryle
“Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached
the word of the Lord and see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36).
The text which heads this page contains a proposal which the Apostle Paul
made to Barnabas after their first missionary journey. He proposed to
revisit the Churches they had founded, and to see how the were getting
along. Were their members continuing steadfast in the faith? Were they
growing in grace? Were they going forward, or standing still? Were they
prospering, or falling away? “Let us go back and visit the brothers in
all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are
This was a wise and useful proposal. Let us lay it to heart, and apply
it to ourselves today. Let us search our ways, and find out how matters
stand between ourselves and God. Let us “see how we are doing?” I ask
every reader of this volume to begin its perusal by joining me in self-
examination. If ever self-examination about religion was needed, it is
We live in an age of unusual spiritual privileges. Since the world began
there never was such an opportunity for a man’s soul to be saved as there
is in England at this time. There never were so many signs of religion
in the land, so many sermons preached, so many services held in churches
and chapels, so many Bibles sold, so many religious books and tracts
printed, so many Societies for evangelizing mankind supported, so much
outward respect paid to Christianity. Things are done everywhere now-a-
days which a hundred years ago would have been thought impossible.
Pastors support the boldest and most aggressive efforts to reach the
unconverted. Clergy of the most formal and structured denominations
advocate special missions, and vie with the Evangelical brethren in
proclaiming that going to church on Sunday is not enough to take a man to
In short, there is a stir about religion now-a-days to which there has
been nothing like since England was a nation, and which the cleverest
skeptics and agnostics cannot deny. If Romaine, and Venn, and Berridge,
and Rowlands, and Grimshaw, and Hervey, had been told that such things
would come to pass about a century after their deaths, they would have
been tempted to say, with the Samaritan nobleman, “Look, even if the LORD
should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?” (2 Kings
7:19). But the Lord has opened the floodgates of heaven. There is more
taught now-a-days in England of the real Gospel, and of the way of
salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, in one week, than there was in a year
in Romaine’s time. Surely I have a right to say that we live in an age
of spiritual privileges. But are we any better for it? In an age like
this it is well to ask, “How is it going with our souls?”
We live in an age of special spiritual danger. Never perhaps since the
world began was there such an immense amount of mere outward profession
of religion as there is in the present day. A painfully large proportion
of all the congregations in the land consists of unconverted people, who
know nothing of heart-religion, never come to the Lord’s Table, and never
confess Christ in their daily lives. Myriads of those who are always
running after preachers, and crowding to hear special sermons, are
nothing better than empty tubs, and tinkling cymbals, without a bit of
real vital Christianity at home.
It is curious and instructive to observe how history repeats itself, and
how much sameness there is in the human heart in every age. Even in the
Early Church, many persons were found at church for the great Christian
ceremonies, and at the theaters, or even at the temples, for the heathen
spectacles. The ritual of the Church was viewed as a theatrical
spectacle. The sermons were listened to as the display of rhetoricians;
and eloquent preachers were cheered, with clapping of hands, stamping of
feet, waving of handkerchiefs, cries of “Orthodox,” “Thirteenth Apostle,”
and such like demonstrations, which such teachers as Chrysostom and
Augustine tried to restrain, that they might persuade their flocks to a
more profitable manner of hearing. Some went to Church for the sermon
only, alleging that they could pray at home. And when the more
attractive parts of the service were over, the great mass of the people
departed without remaining for the Lord’s Table.
The parable of the sower is continually receiving most vivid and painful
illustrations. The pathway hearers, the stony-ground hearers, the
thorny-ground hearers abound on every side.
The life of many religious persons, I fear, in this age, is nothing
better than a “continual course of spiritual tasting.” They are always
morbidly craving fresh excitement; and they seem to care little what it
is if they only get it. All preaching seems to be the same to them; and
they appear unable to “see differences” so long as they hear what is
clever, have their ears tickled, and sit in a crowd. Worst of all, there
are hundreds of young believers who are so infected with the same love of
excitement, that they actually think it a duty to be always seeking it.
Insensible almost to themselves, they take up a kind of hysterical,
sensational, sentimental Christianity, until they are never content with
the “old paths” and, like the Athenians, are always running after
To see a calm-minded young believer, who is not stuck up, self confident,
self-conceited, and more ready to teach than learn, but content with a
daily steady effort to grow up into Christ’s likeness, and to do Christ’s
work quietly and inconspicuously, at home, is really becoming almost a
rarity! They show how little deep root they have, and how little
knowledge of their hearts, by noise, forwardness, readiness to contradict
and set down old Christians, and over-weaning trust in their own fancied
soundness and wisdom! Well will it be for many young professors of this
age if they do not end, after being tossed about for a while, and
“carried to and fro by every wind of doctrine,” by joining some petty,
narrow-minded, censorious sect, or embracing some senseless, unreasoning
heresy. Surely, in times like these there is great need for self-
examination. When we look around us, we may well ask, “How is it with
In handling this question, I think the shortest plan will be to suggest a
list of subjects for self-examination, and to get them in order. By so
doing I shall hope to meet the case of every one into whose hands this
volume may fall. I invite every reader of this paper to join me in calm,
searching self-examination, for a few short minutes. I desire to speak
to myself as well as to you. I approach you not as an enemy, but as a
friend. “My heart’s desire and prayer to God is that you may be saved”
(Romans 10:1). Bear with me if I say things which at first sight look
harsh and severe. Believe me, he is your best friend who tells you the
(1) Let me ask, in the first place, “Do we ever think about our souls at
Thousands of people, I fear, cannot answer that question satisfactorily.
They never give the subject of religion any place in their thoughts.
From the beginning of the year to the end they are absorbed in the
pursuit of business, pleasure, politics, money, or self-indulgence of
some kind or another. Death, and judgment, and eternity, and heaven, and
hell, and a world to come, are never calmly looked at and considered.
They live on as if they were never going to die, or rise again, or stand
at the bar of God, or receive an eternal sentence! They do not openly
oppose Christianity, for they do not have sufficient reflection about it
to do so; but they eat and drink, and sleep, and get money, and spend
money, as if Christianity was a mere fiction and not a reality.
They are neither Roman Catholics, nor Socinians, nor infidels, nor High
Church, nor Low Church, nor Broad Church. They are just nothing at all,
and do not take the trouble to have opinions. A more senseless and
unreasonable way of living cannot be conceived; but they do not pretend
to reason it out. They simply never think about God, unless frightened
for few minutes by sickness, death in their families, or an accident.
Barring such interruptions, they appear to ignore Christianity
altogether, and hold on to their way cool and undisturbed, as if there
were nothing worth thinking of except this world.
It is hard to imagine a life more unworthy of an immortal creature than
such a life as I have just described, for it reduces a man to the level
of a beast. But it is literally and truly the life of multitudes and as
they pass away their place is taken by multitudes like them. The
picture, no doubt, is horrible, distressing, and revolting but,
unhappily, it is only too true. In every large town, in every market, on
every stock-exchange, in every club, you may see specimens of this class
by the scores–men who think of everything under the sun except the one
thing needful–the salvation of their souls.
Like the Jews of old they do not “consider their ways,” they do not
“consider their latter end;” they do not “consider that they do evil”
(Isaiah 1:3; Haggai 1:7; Deuteronomy 32:29; Ecclesiastes 5:1). Like
Gallio they “care for none of these things:” they are not in their way.
(Acts 18:17). If they prosper in the world, and get rich, and succeed in
their line of life, they are praised, and admired by their
contemporaries. Nothing succeeds today like success! But for all this
they cannot live forever. They will have to die and appear before the
bar of God, and be judged; and then what will the end be? When a large
class of this kind exists in our country, no reader need wonder that I
ask whether he belongs to it. If you do, you ought to have a mark set on
your door, as there used to be a mark on a plague-stricken house two
centuries ago, with the words, “Lord have mercy on us,” written on it.
Look at the class I have been describing, and then look at your own soul.
(2) Let me ask, in the second place, whether we ever do anything about
There are multitudes who think occasionally about Christianity, but
unhappily never get beyond thinking. After a stirring sermon, or after a
funeral, or under the pressure of illness, or on Sunday evening, or when
things go bad in their families, or when they meet some bright example of
a Christian, or when they fall in with some striking, religious book or
tract, they will at the time think a good deal, and even talk a little
about religion in a vague way. But they stop short, as if thinking and
talking were enough to save them. They are always meaning, and
intending, and purposing, and resolving, and wishing, and telling us that
they “know” what is right, and “hope” to be found right in the end, but
they never attain to any action.
There is no actual separation from the world and sin, no real taking up
the cross and following Christ, no positive “doings” in their
Christianity. Their life is spent in playing the part of the son in our
Lord’s parable, to whom the father said, “‘Go and work today in the
vineyard:’ and he answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go” (Matthew
They are like those whom Ezekiel describes, who liked his preaching, but
never practiced what he preached: “My people come to you, as they usually
do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them
into practice. . . .Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who
sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for
they hear your words but do not put them into practice” (Ezekiel 33:31-
In a day like this, when hearing and thinking without doing, is so
common, no one can rightly wonder that I press upon men the absolute need
of self-examination. Once more, then, I ask my readers to consider the
question of my text, “How is it with our souls?”
(3) Let me ask, in the third place, whether we are trying to satisfy our
consciences with a mere formal religion?
There are myriads at this moment who are making shipwreck on this rock.
Like the Pharisees of old, they make much ado about the outward part of
Christianity, while the inward and spiritual part is totally neglected.
They are careful to attend all the services of their place of worship,
and are regular at all the church functions. They are never absent from
Communion when the Lord’s Supper is administered. Sometimes they are
most strict in observing Lent, and attach great importance to Saints’
days. They are often keen partisans of their own Church, or sect, or
congregation, and ready to contend with any one who does not agree with
them. Yet all this time there is no heart in their religion.
Anyone who knows them intimately can see with half an eye that their
affections are set on things below, and not on things above; and that
they are trying to make up for the want of inward Christianity by an
excessive quantity of outward form. And this formal religion does them
no real good. They are not satisfied. Beginning at the wrong end, by
making the outward things first, they know nothing of inward joy and
peace, and pass their days in a constant struggle, secretly conscious
that there is something wrong, and yet not knowing why. It would be
well, after all, if they do not go on from one stage of formality to
another, until in despair they take a fatal plunge, and fall into Roman
Catholicism! When professing Christians of this kind are so painfully
numerous, no one need wonder if I press upon him the paramount importance
of close self-examination. If you love life, do not be content with the
husk, and shell, and scaffolding of religion. Remember our Savior’s
words about the Jewish formalists of His day: “These people honor me with
their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matthew 15:8-9).
It needs something more than going diligently to church, and receiving
the Lord’s Supper, to take our souls to heaven. These things are useful
in their way, and God seldom does anything for His church without them.
But let us beware of making shipwreck on the very lighthouse which helps
to show the channel into the harbor. Once more I ask, “How is it with
(4) Let me ask, in the fourth place, whether we have received the
forgiveness of our sins?
Few reasonable persons would think of denying that they are sinners.
Many perhaps would say that they are not as bad as others, and that they
have not been really wicked, and so forth. But few, I repeat, would
pretend to say that they had always lived like angels, and never done, or
said, or thought a wrong thing all their life. In short, all of us must
confess that we are “sinners,” and, as sinners, are guilty before God;
and, as guilty, we must be forgiven, or be lost and condemned forever at
the last day. Now it is the glory of the Christian religion that it
provides for us the very forgiveness that we need–full, free, perfect,
eternal, and complete. It is a fundamental belief of the Christian Faith
that we are forgiven.
This forgiveness of sins has been purchased for us by the eternal Son of
God, our Lord Jesus Christ. He has purchased it for us by coming into
the world to be our Savior, and by living, dying, and rising again, as
our Substitute, in our behalf. He has bought it for us at the price of
His own most precious blood, by suffering in our place on the cross, and
making satisfaction to God for our sins. But this forgiveness, great,
and full, and glorious as it is, does not become the property of every
man and woman as a matter of course. It is not a privilege which every
member of a church possesses, merely because they are a member of a
church. It is a thing which each individual must receive for himself by
his own personal faith, grab hold of by faith, appropriate by faith, and
make his own by faith: or else, so far as he is concerned, Christ will
have died in vain. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but
whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on
him” (John 3:36).
No terms can be imagined more simple, and more suitable to man. As good
old Latimer said in speaking of the matter of justification, “It is but
believe and have. It is only faith that is required; and faith is
nothing more than the humble, heartfelt trust of the soul which desires
to be saved. Jesus is able and willing to save; but man must come to
Jesus and believe. All that believe are at once justified and forgiven:
but without believing there is no forgiveness at all.
Now here is exactly the point, I am afraid, because multitudes of our
people who go to church are unsaved sinners, and are in imminent danger
of being lost forever. They know that there is no forgiveness of sin
except in Christ Jesus. They can tell you that there is no Savior for
sinners, no Redeemer, no Mediator, excepting Him who was born of the
Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died, and buried.
But here they stop, and get no further! They never come to the point of
actually laying hold of Christ by faith, and becoming one with Christ and
Christ in them. They can say, He is a Savior, but not my Savior–a
Redeemer, but not my Redeemer–a Priest, but not my Priest–an Advocate,
but not my Advocate: and so they live and die unforgiven! No wonder that
Martin Luther said, “Many are lost because they cannot use possessive
pronouns. When this is the state of many in this day, no one need wonder
that I ask men whether they have received the forgiveness of sins.
An eminent Christian lady once said, in her old age, “The beginning of
eternal life in my soul, was a conversation I had with an old gentleman
who came to visit my father when I was only a little girl. He took me by
the hand one day and said, My dear child, my life is nearly over, and you
will probably live many years after I am gone. But never forget two
things. One is, that there is such a thing as having our sins forgiven
while we live. The other is, that there is such a thing as knowing and
feeling that we are forgiven. I thank God I have never forgotten his
words.” How is it with us? Let us not rest till we “know and feel” that
we are forgiven. Once more let us ask, in the matter of forgiveness of
sins, “How is it with our souls?”
(5) Let me ask, in the fifth place, whether we know anything by
experience of conversion to God.
Without conversion there is no salvation.
Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter
the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).
No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:3).
If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to
Christ (Romans 8:9).
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We are all by nature so weak, so worldly, so earthly-minded, so inclined
to sin, that without a thorough change we cannot serve God in life, and
could not enjoy Him after death. Just as ducks, as soon as they are
hatched, take naturally to water, so do children, as soon as they can do
anything, take to selfishness, lying, and deceit; and none pray or love
God, unless they are taught. Rich or poor, gentle or simple, we all need
a complete change–a change which the Holy Spirit gives to us. Call it
what you please–new birth, regeneration, renewal, new creation,
quickening, repentance–the thing must be possessed if we are to be
saved: and if we have the thing it will be seen.
Sense of sin and deep hatred of it, faith in Christ and love to Him,
delight in holiness and longing after more of it, love for God’s people
and distaste for the things of the world,–these, these are the signs and
evidences which always accompany conversion. Myriads around us, it may
be feared, know nothing about it. They are, in Scripture language, dead,
and asleep, and blind, and unfit for the kingdom of God. Year after
year, perhaps, they go on repeating the words, “I believe in the Holy
Spirit,” but they are utterly ignorant of His changing power on the
inward man. Sometimes they flatter themselves they are born again,
because they have been baptized, and go to church, and receive the Lord’s
Supper; while they are totally destitute of the marks of the new birth,
as described by John in his first Epistle. And all this time the words
of Scripture are clear and plain, “Unless you change and become like
little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew
In times like these, no reader ought to wonder that I press the subject
of conversion on men’s souls. No doubt there are plenty of sham
conversions in such a day of religious excitement as this. But a bad
coin is no proof that there is no good money: no, rather it is a sign
that there is some money currency which is valuable, and is worth
imitation. Hypocrites and sham Christians are indirect evidence that
there is such a thing as real grace among men. Let us search our own
hearts then, and see how it is with ourselves. Once more let us ask, in
the matter of conversion, “How is it with us?”
(6) Let me ask, in the sixth place, whether we know anything of
practical Christian holiness?
It is as certain as anything in the Bible that “without holiness no one
will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). It is equally certain that it is the
invariable fruit of saving faith, the real test of regeneration, the only
sound evidence of indwelling grace, the certain consequence of vital
union with Christ.
Holiness is not absolute perfection and freedom from all faults. Nothing
of the kind! The wild words of some who talk of enjoying “unbroken
communion with God for many months, are greatly to be condemned, because
they raise unscriptural expectations in the minds of young believers, and
so do harm. Absolute perfection is for heaven, and not for earth, where
we have a weak body, a wicked world, and a busy devil continually near
our souls. Nor is real Christian holiness ever attained, or maintained,
without a constant fight and struggle. The great Apostle, who said “I
beat my body and make it my slave (1 Corinthians 9:27), would have been
amazed to hear of sanctification without personal effort, and to be told
that believers only need to sit still, and everything will be done for
Yet, weak and imperfect as the holiness of the best saints may be, it is
a real true thing, and has a character about it as unmistakable as light
and salt. It is not a thing which begins and ends with noisy profession:
it will be seen much more than heard. Genuine Scriptural holiness will
make a man do his duty at home, and adorn his doctrine in the little
trials of daily life. It will make a man humble, kind, gentle,
unselfish, good-tempered, considerate of others, loving, meek, and
forgiving. It will not force him to go out of the world, and shut
himself up in a cave, like a hermit. But it will make him do his duty in
that state to which God has called him, on Christian principles, and
after the pattern of Christ.
Such holiness, I know well, is not common. It is a style of practical
Christianity which is painfully rare in these days. But I can find no
other standard of holiness in the Word of God, no other which comes up to
the pictures drawn by our Lord and His Apostles. In an age like this no
reader can wonder if I press this subject also on men’s attention. Once
more let us ask–In the matter of holiness, how is it with our souls?
“How are we doing?”
(7) Let me ask, in the seventh place, whether we know anything of
enjoying the means of grace?
When I speak of the means of grace, I have in my mind’s eye five
The Reading of the Bible
The Taking of the Lord’s Supper
The Rest of the Lord’s day.
They are means which God has graciously appointed in order to convey
grace to man’s heart by the Holy Spirit, or keep up the spiritual life
after it has begun. As long as the world stands, the state of a man’s
soul will always depend greatly on the manner and spirit in which he uses
means of grace. The manner and spirit, I say deliberately and of
purpose. Many people use the means of grace regularly and formally, but
know nothing of enjoying them: they attend to them as a matter of duty,
but without a lot of feeling, interest, or affection. Yet even common
sense might tell us that this formal, mechanical use of holy things is
utterly worthless and unprofitable. Our feeling about them is just one
of the many tests of the state of our souls. How can that man be
thought to love God who reads about Him and His Christ as a mere matter
of duty, content and satisfied if he has just moved his bookmark onward
over so many chapters? How can that man suppose he is ready to meet
Christ who never takes any trouble to pour out his heart to Him in
private as a Friend, and is satisfied with saying over a string of words
every morning and evening, under the name of prayer, scarcely thinking
what he is about? How could that man be happy in heaven forever who
finds Sunday a dull, gloomy, tiresome day–who knows nothing of hearty
prayer and praise, and cares nothing whether he hears truth or error from
the pulpit, or scarcely listens to the sermon? What can be the spiritual
condition of that man whose heart never “burns within him,” when he
receives that bread and wine which specially remind us of Christ’s death
on the cross, and the atonement for sin?
These inquiries are very serious and important. If means of grace had no
other use, and were not mighty helps toward heaven, they would be useful
in supplying a test of our real state in the sight of God. Tell me what
a man does in the matter of Bible reading and praying, in the matter of
Sunday, public worship, and the Lord’s Supper, and I will soon tell you
what he is, and on which road he is traveling. How is it with ourselves?
Once more let us ask–In the matter of means of grace, “How are we
(8) Let me ask, in the eighth place, whether we ever try to do any good
in the world?
Our Lord Jesus Christ was continually “going around doing good,” while He
was on earth (Acts 10:38). The Apostles, and all the disciples in Bible
times, were always striving to walk in His steps. A Christian who was
content to go to heaven himself and cared not what became of others,
whether they lived happy and died in peace or not, would have been
regarded as a kind of monster in primitive times, who did not have the
Spirit of Christ. Why should we suppose for a moment that a lower
standard will suffice in the present day? Why should fig trees which
bear no fruit be spared in the present day, when in our Lord’s time they
were to be cut down because, “why should it use up the soil?” (Luke 13:7).
These are serious inquiries, and demand serious answers.
There is a generation of professing Christians now-a-days, who seem to
know nothing of caring for their neighbors, and are completely swallowed
up in the concerns of number one–that is, their own and their family’s.
They eat, and drink, and sleep, and dress, and work, and earn money, and
spend money, year after year; and whether others are happy or miserable,
well or ill, converted or unconverted, traveling towards heaven or toward
hell, appear to be questions about which they are supremely indifferent.
Can this be right? Can it be reconciled with the religion of Him who
spoke the parable of the good Samaritan, and commanded us “Go and do
likewise”? (Luke 10:37). I doubt it completely.
There is much to be done everywhere. There is not a place where there is
not a field for work and an open door for being useful, if any one is
willing to enter it. There is not a Christian who cannot find some good
work to do for others, if he has only a heart to do it. The poorest man
or woman, without a single penny to give, can always show his deep
sympathy to the sick and sorrowful, and by simple good-nature and tender
helpfulness can lessen the misery and increase the comfort of somebody in
this troubled world. But no, the vast majority of professing Christians,
whether rich or poor, faithful Church attendees or not, seem possessed
with a devil of detestable selfishness, and do not know the luxury of
doing good. They can argue by the hour about baptism, and the Lord’s
supper, and the forms of worship, and the union of Church and State, and
other dry-bone questions. But all this time they seem to care nothing
for their neighbors. The plain practical point, whether they love
their neighbor, as the Samaritan loved the traveler in the parable, and
can spare any time and trouble to do him good, is a point they never
touch with one of their fingers.
In too many places, both in the city and the country, true love seems
almost dead, both in church and chapel, and wretched denomination spirit
and controversy are the only fruits that Christianity appears able to
produce. In a day like this, no reader should wonder if I press this
plain old subject on his conscience. Do we know anything of genuine
Samaritan love to others? Do we ever try to do any good to any one
beside our own friends and relatives, and our and our own denomination or
cause? Are we living like disciples of Him who always “went about doing
good,” and commanded His disciples to take Him for their “example”? (John
13:15). If not, with what face shall we meet Him in the judgment day?
In this matter also, how is it with our souls? Once more I ask, “How are
(9) Let me ask, in the ninth place, whether we know anything of living
the life of habitual communion with Christ?
By “communion,” I mean that habit of “abiding in Christ” which our Lord
speaks of, in the fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, as essential to
Christian fruitfulness (John 15:4-8). Let it be distinctly understood
that union with Christ is one thing, and communion is another. There can
be no communion with the Lord Jesus without union first; but unhappily
there may be union with the Lord Jesus, and afterwards little or no
communion at all. The difference between the two things is the
difference between two distinct steps, but the higher and lower ends of
an inclined plane. Union is the common privilege of all who feel their
sins, and truly repent, and come to Christ by faith, and are accepted,
forgiven, and justified in Him. Too many believers, it may be feared,
never get beyond this stage! Partly from ignorance, partly from
laziness, partly from the fear of man, partly from secret love of the
world, partly from some unmortified besetting sin, they are content with
a little faith, and a little hope, and a little peace, and a little
measure of holiness. And they live on all their lives in this condition,
doubting, weak, hesitant, and bearing fruit only “thirty-fold” to the
very end of their days!
Communion with Christ is the privilege of those who are continually
striving to grow in grace, and faith, and knowledge, and conformity to
the mind of Christ in all things–who “forget what is behind,” and “do
not consider themselves yet to have taken hold of it, but “press on
toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward
in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14). Union is the bud, but communion
is the flower: union is the baby, but communion is the strong man. He
that has union with Christ does well; but he that enjoys communion with
Him does far better. Both have one life, one hope, one heavenly seed in
their heart–one Lord, one Savior, one Holy Spirit, one eternal home: but
union is not as good as communion! The grand secret of communion with
Christ is to be continually living by faith in the Son of God, and
drawing out of Him every hour the supply that every hour requires. To
me, said Paul, to live is Christ.–I no longer live, but Christ lives in
me (Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:21).
Communion like this is the secret of the abiding “joy and peace in
believing,” which eminent saints like Bradford and Rutherford notoriously
possessed. None were ever more humble, or more deeply convinced of their
own infirmities and corruption. They would have told you that the
seventh chapter of Romans precisely described their own experience. They
would have said continually, “The remembrance of our sins is grievous to
us; the burden of them is intolerable.” But they were always looking to
Jesus, and in Him they were always able to rejoice–Communion like this
is the secret of the splendid victories which such men as these won over
sin, the world, and the fear of death. They did not sit still idly,
saying, “I leave it all to Christ to do for me, but, strong in the Lord,
they used the Divine nature He had implanted in them, boldly and
confidently, and were more than conquerors through Him who loved them
(Romans 8:37). Like Paul they would have said, “I can do everything
through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).
Ignorance of this life of communion is one among many reasons why so many
in this age are prey to formal religions and strange doctrines. Such
errors often spring from imperfect knowledge of Christ, and obscure views
of the life of faith in a risen, living, and interceding Savior.
Is communion with Christ like this a common thing? No! It is very rare
indeed! The greater part of believers seem content with the barest
elementary knowledge of justification by faith, and half-a-dozen other
doctrines, and go doubting, limping, groaning along the way to heaven,
and experience little of the sense of victory or of joy.
The Churches of these latter days are full of weak, powerless, and
uninfluential believers, saved at last, but only as one escaping through
the flames, but never shaking the world, and knowing nothing of an rich
welcome (1 Corinthians 3:15; 2 Peter 1:11). Despondency and Feeble-mind
and Much-afraid, Pilgrim’s Progress,” reached the celestial city as
really and truly as Valiant-for-the-truth and Greatheart. But they
certainly did not reach it with the same comfort, and did not do a tenth
part of the same good in the world! I fear there are many like them in
these days! When things are like this in the Churches, no reader can
wonder that I inquire how it is with our souls. Once more I ask–In the
matter of communion with Christ, “How are we doing?
(10) Let me ask, in the tenth and last place, whether we know anything
of being ready for Christ’s second coming?
That He will come again the second time is as certain as anything in the
Bible. The world has not yet seen the last of Him. As surely as He went
up visibly and in the body on the Mount of Olives before the eyes of His
disciples, so surely will he come again in the clouds of heaven, with
power and great glory (Acts 1:11). He will come to raise the dead, to
change the living, to reward His saints, to punish the wicked, to renew
the earth, and take the curse away–to purify the world, even as He
purified the temple–and to establish a kingdom where sin will have no
place, and holiness will be the universal rule. The doctrines which we
repeat and profess to believe, continually declare that Christ is coming
The early Christians made it a part of their religion to look for His
return. Backward they looked to the cross and the atonement for sin, and
rejoiced in Christ crucified. Upward they looked to Christ at the right
hand of God, and rejoiced in Christ interceding. Forward they looked to
the promised return of their Master, and rejoiced in the thought that
they would see Him again. And we ought to do the same.
What have we really got from Christ? What do we know of Him? What do we
think of Him? Are we living as if we long to see Him again, and love His
appearing? Readiness for that appearing is nothing more than being a
real, consistent Christian. It requires no man to cease from his daily
business. The farmer need not give up his farm, nor the shopkeeper his
counter, nor the doctor his patients, nor the carpenter his hammer and
nails, nor the bricklayer his mortar and trowel. Each and all cannot do
better than be found doing his duty, but doing it as a Christian, and
with a heart packed up and ready to be gone. In the face of truth like
this no reader can feel surprised if I ask, How is it with our souls in
the matter of Christ’s second coming?
The world is growing old and running to seed. The vast majority of
Christians seem like the men in the time of Noah and Lot, who were eating
and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, planting and building, up
to the very day when flood and fire came. Those words of our Master are
very solemn and heart-searching,–Remember Lot’s wife–“Be careful, or
your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the
anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a
trap (Luke 17:32; 21:34). Once more I ask–In the matter of readiness
for Christ’s second coming, “How are we doing?
I end my inquiries here. I might easily add to them; but I trust I have
said enough, at the beginning of this volume, to stir up self-inquiry and
self-examination in many minds. God is my witness that I have said
nothing that I do not feel of paramount importance to my own soul. I
only want to do good to others. Let me now conclude with a few words of
(a) Is any reader of this paper asleep and utterly thoughtless about
Oh, awake and sleep no more! Look at the cemeteries. One by one the
people around you are dropping into them, and you must lie there one day.
Look forward to a world to come, and lay your hand on your heart, and
say, if you dare, that you ready to die and meet God. Ah! You are like
one sleeping in a boat drifting down the stream towards the falls of
Niagara! “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your God!–Wake up, O
sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Jonah 1:6;
(b) Is any reader of this paper feeling self-condemned, and afraid that
there is no hope for his soul?
Cast aside your fears, and accept the offer of our Lord Jesus Christ to
sinners. Hear Him saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and
burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). If anyone is
thirsty, let him come to me and drink (John 7:37). Whoever comes to me I
will never drive away (John 6:37).
Do not doubt that these words are for you as well as for anyone else.
Bring all your sins, and unbelief, and sense of guilt, and unfitness, and
doubts, and infirmities–bring all to Christ. This man welcomes sinners,
and He will welcome you (Luke 15:2). Do not stand still, wavering
between two opinions, and waiting for a convenient season. On your feet!
He’s calling you. Come to Christ this very day (Mark 10:49).
(c) Is any reader of this paper a professing believer in Christ, but a
believer without much joy and peace and comfort?
Take advice this day. Search your own heart, and see whether the fault
is not entirely your own. Very likely you are sitting at ease, content
with a little faith, and a little repentance, a little grace and a little
sanctification, and unconsciously shrinking back from extremes. You will
never be a very happy Christian at this rate, if you live to the age of
Methuselah. Change your plan, if you love life and would see good days,
without delay. Come out boldly, and act decidedly. Be thorough,
thorough, very through in your Christianity, and set your face fully
towards the sun. Lay aside every weight, and the sin that does so easily
overtakes you. Strive to get nearer to Christ, to abide in Him, to
cleave to Him, and to sit at His feet like Mary, and drink full portions
out of the fountain of life. These things, says John, we write to make
our joy complete (1 John 1:4). If we walk in the light, as He is in the
light, we have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7).
(d) Is any reader of this paper a believer oppressed with doubts and
fears, on account of his weakness, infirmity, and sense of sin?
Remember the text that says of Jesus, A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out (Matthew 12:20). Take
comfort in the thought that this text is for you. What though your faith
be weak? It is better than no faith at all. The least grain of life is
better than death. Perhaps you are expecting too much in this world.
Earth is not heaven. You are still in the body. Expect little from
self, but much from Christ. Look more to Jesus, and less to self.
(e) Finally, is any reader of this paper sometimes downcast by the
trials he meets with on the way to heaven, bodily trials, family trials,
trials of circumstances, trials from neighbors, and trials from the
world? Look up to a sympathizing Savior at God’s right hand, and pour
out your heart before Him. He can be touched with the feelings of your
trials, for He Himself suffered when He was tempted–Are you alone? So
was He. Are you misrepresented and slandered? So was He. Are you
forsaken by friends? So was He. Are you persecuted? So was He. Are
you wearied in body and grieved in spirit? So was He. Yes! He can feel
for you, and He can help as well as feel. Then learn to draw nearer to
Christ. The time is short. Yet in a little while, and all will be over:
we shall soon be with the Lord. There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off (Proverbs 23:18). You need to
persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive
what he has promised. For in just a very little while, He who is coming
will come and will not delay (Hebrews 10:36-37).
J. C. Ryle
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell
you, will try to enter and will not be able to” (Luke 13:24).
There once was a man who asked our Lord Jesus Christ a very serious
question. He said to Him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be
Who this man was we do not know. What his motive was for asking this
question we are not told. Perhaps he wished to gratify an idle
curiosity: perhaps he wanted an excuse for not seeking salvation himself.
The Holy Spirit has kept back all this from us: the name and motive of
the seeker are both hidden.
But one thing is very clear, and that is the vast importance of the
saying of our Lord to which the question gave rise. Jesus seized the
opportunity to direct the minds of all around Him to their own plain
duty. He knew the train of thought which the man’s inquiry had set
moving in their hearts: He saw what was going on within them. “Make
every effort,” He cries, “to enter through the narrow door.” Whether
there be few saved or many, your course is clear–make every effort to
enter in. Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation. A day
will come when many will seek to enter in and will not be able. “Make
every effort to enter in now.”
I desire to call the serious attention of all who read this paper to the
solemn lessons which this saying of the Lord Jesus is meant to teach. It
is one which deserves special remembrance in the present day. It teaches
unmistakably that mighty truth, our own personal responsibility for the
salvation of our souls. It shows the immense danger of putting off the
great business of Christianity, as so many unhappily do. On both these
points the witness of our Lord Jesus Christ in the text is clear. He,
who is the eternal God, and who spoke the words of perfect wisdom, says
to the sons of men, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door,
because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to”
I. Here is a “description” of the way of salvation. Jesus calls it “the
II. Here is a clear “command.” Jesus says, “Make every effort to enter
III. Here is an frightful “prophecy.” Jesus says, “Many will try to
enter and will not be able to.”
May the Holy Spirit apply the subject to the hearts of all into whose
hands this paper may fall! May all who read it know the way of salvation
experimentally, obey the command of the Lord practically, and be found
safe in the great day of His second coming!
I. Here is a “description” of the way of salvation–Jesus calls it “the
There is a door which leads to forgiveness, peace with God, and heaven.
Whosoever goes in through that door will be saved. Never, surely, was a
door more needed.
Sin is a vast mountain between man and God. How will a man climb over
Sin is a high wall between man and God. How will man get through it?
Sin is a deep gulf between man and God. How will man cross over it?
God is in heaven, holy, pure, spiritual, undefiled, light without any
darkness at all, a Being who cannot bear that which is evil, or look upon
sin. Man is a poor fallen worm, crawling on earth for a few
years–sinful, corrupt, erring, defective–a being whose imagination is
only evil, and whose heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately
wicked. How will man and God be brought together? How will man ever
draw near to his Maker without fear and shame? Blessed be God, there is
a way! There is a road. There is a path. There is a door. It is the
door spoken of in the words of Christ–“the narrow door.”
This door was “made for sinners by the Lord Jesus Christ.” From all
eternity He covenanted and promised that He would make it. In the
fullness of time He came into the world and made it, by His own atoning
death on the cross. By that death He made satisfaction for man’s sin,
paid man’s debt to God, and bore man’s punishment. He built a great door
at the cost of His own body and blood. He raised a ladder on earth whose
top reached to heaven. He made a door by which the chief of sinners may
enter into the holy presence of God, and not be afraid. He opened a road
by which the vilest of men, believing in Him, may draw near to God and
have peace. He cries to us, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me
will be saved” (John 10:9). “I am the way: No one comes to the Father
except through me” (John 14:6). “In Him,” says Paul, “we may approach
God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). Thus was the door of
This door is called “the narrow door,” and it is not called so without
cause. It is always narrow, constricted, and difficult to pass through
to some persons, and it will be so as long as the world stands. It is
narrow to all who love sin, and are determine not to part with it. It is
narrow to all who set their affection on this world, and seek first its
pleasures and rewards. It is narrow to all who dislike trouble, and are
unwilling to take pains and make sacrifices for their souls. It is
narrow to all who like company, and want to keep in with the crowd. It
is narrow to all who are self-righteous, and think they are good people,
and deserve to be saved. To all, the great door, which Christ made, is
narrow and constricted. In vain they seek to pass through. The door
will not admit them. God is not unwilling to receive them; their sins
are not too many to be forgiven: but they are not willing to be saved
God’s way. Thousands, in the last nineteen centuries, have tried to make
the doorway wider: thousands have worked and toiled to get to heaven on
their terms. But the door never alters. It is not elastic: it will not
stretch to accommodate one man more than another. It is still the narrow
Narrow as this door is, it is “the only one by which men can get to
heaven.” There is no side door; there is no side road; there is no gap
or low-place in the wall. All that are ever saved will be saved only by
Christ, and only by simple faith in Him–Not one will be saved by simply
repenting. Today’s sorrow does not wipe off yesterday’s score. Not one
will be saved by his own works. The best works that any man can do are
little better than impressive sins. Not one will be saved by his formal
regularity in the use of the outward means of grace [going to church,
reading his Bible, praying, taking the Lord’s Supper, and honoring the
Lord’s day]. When we have done it all, we are nothing but poor
“unprofitable servants.” Oh, no! it is a mere waste of time to seek any
other road to eternal life. Men may look to the right and to the left,
and weary themselves with their own methods, but they will never find
another door. Proud men may dislike the door if they want. Depraved men
may scoff at it, and make a jest of those who use it. Lazy men may
complain that the way is hard. But men will discover no other salvation
than that of faith in the blood and righteousness of a crucified
Redeemer. There stands between us and heaven one great door: it may be
narrow; but it is the only one. We must either enter heaven by the
narrow door, or not at all.
Narrow as this door is, it is “a door always ready to open.” No sinners
of any kind are forbidden to draw near: whosoever will may enter in and
be saved. There is but one condition of admission: that condition is
that you really feel your sins and desire to be saved by Christ in His
own way. Are you really aware of your guilt and vileness? Have you a
truly broken and contrite heart? Look at the door of salvation, and come
in. He that made it declares, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive
away” (John 6:37). The question to be considered is not whether you are
a great sinner or a little sinner–whether you are elect or not–whether
you are converted or not. The question is simply this, “Do you feel your
sins? Do you feel burdened and heavy-laden? Are you willing to put your
life into Christ’s hand?” Then if that be the case, the door will open
to you at once. Come in this very day. Why are you standing out there?
Narrow as this door is, it is “one through which thousands have gone in
and been saved.” No sinner was ever turned back, and told he was too bad
to be admitted, if he came really sick of his sins. Thousands of all
sorts have been received, cleansed, washed, forgiven, clothed, and made
heirs of eternal life. Some of them seemed very unlikely to be admitted:
you and I might have thought they were too bad to be saved. But He that
built the door did not refuse them. As soon as they knocked, He gave
orders that they should be let in.
Manasseh, King of Judah, went up to this door. None could have been
worse than he up to that time. He had despised his good father
Hezekiah’s example and advice. He had bowed down to idols. He had
filled Jerusalem with bloodshed and cruelty. He had slain his own
children. But as soon as his eyes were opened to his sins, and he fled
to the door for forgiveness, the door flew wide open and he was saved.
Saul the Pharisee went up to this door. He had been a blasphemer of
Christ, and a persecutor of Christ’s people. He had labored hard to stop
the progress of the Gospel. But as soon as his heart was touched, and he
found out his own guilt and fled to the door for forgiveness, at once the
door flew wide open, and he was saved.
Many of the Jews who crucified our Lord went up to this door. They had
been grievous sinners indeed. They had refused and rejected their own
Messiah. They had delivered Him to Pilate, and pleaded that He might be
slain. They had desired Barabbas to be let go, and the Son of God to be
crucified. But in the day when they were convicted in their heart by
Peter’s preaching, they fled to the door for forgiveness, and at once the
door flew open, and they were saved.
The jailer at Philippi went up to this door. He had been a cruel, hard,
godless man. He had done all in his power to ill-treat Paul and his
companion. He had thrust them into the inner prison, and locked their
feet in the stocks. But when his conscience was aroused by the
earthquake, and his mind enlightened by Paul’s teaching of the Word of
God, he fled to the door for forgiveness, and at once the door flew open,
and he was saved.
But why would I need to stop short in Bible examples? Why should I not
say that multitudes have gone to “the narrow door” since the days of the
Apostles, and have entered in by it and been saved? Thousands of all
ranks, classes, and ages–educated and uneducated, rich and poor, old and
young–have tried the door and found it ready to open–have gone through
it and found peace for their souls. Yes: thousands of persons yet living
have proven the effectiveness of the door, and found it the way to real
happiness. Noblemen and commoners, merchants and bankers, soldiers and
sailors, farmers and tradesmen, laborers and workmen, are still upon
earth, who have found the narrow door to be “a way of pleasantness and a
path of peace.” They have not brought up an evil report of what they
found inside the door. They have found Christ’s yoke to be easy, and His
burden to be light. Their only regret has been that so few enter in, and
that they themselves did not enter in before.
This is the door which I want every one to enter, into whose hand this
paper may fall. I don’t want you merely to go to church, but to go with
heart and soul to the door of life. I don’t want you merely to believe
there is such a door, and to think it a good thing, but to enter by faith
and be saved.
Think “what a privilege” it is to have a door at all. The angels who did
not remain faithful to God, fell, never to rise again. To them there was
no door of escape opened. Millions of pagans have never heard of any way
to eternal life. What would they have given, if they could only have
heard one plain sermon about Christ? The Jews in Old Testament times saw
only the door dimly and far away. “The way into the Most Holy Place had
not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still
standing” (Hebrews 9:8). You have the door set plainly before you: you
have Christ and full salvation offered to you, without money and without
price. You never need to be at a loss which way to turn. Oh, consider
what a mercy this is! Beware that you do not despise the door and perish
in unbelief. Better a thousand times not to know of the door than to
know of it and yet remain outside. How will you escape if you neglect so
great a salvation?
Think what a thankful man you ought to be if you have really gone in at
the narrow door. To be a pardoned, forgiven, justified soul–to be ready
for sickness, death, judgment and eternity–to always be provided for in
both worlds–surely this is a matter for daily praise. True Christians
ought to be more full of thanksgivings than they are. I fear that few
sufficiently remember what they were by nature, and what debtors they
are to grace. A heathen remarked that singing hymns of praise was one
special mark of the early Christians. It would be good for Christians in
the present day, if they knew more of this frame of mind. It is no
evidence of a healthy state of soul when there is much complaining and
little praise. It is an amazing mercy that there is any door of
salvation at all; but it is a still greater mercy when we are taught to
enter in by it and be saved.
II. In the second place, here is a plain “command.” Jesus says to us,
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.”
There is often much to be learned in a single word of Scripture. The
words of our Lord Jesus in particular, are always full of matter for
thought. Here is a word which is a striking example of what I mean. Let
us see what the great Teacher would have us gather out of the words “Make
“Make every effort” teaches that a man must use means diligently, if he
would have his soul saved. There are means which God has appointed to
help man in his efforts to approach Him. There are ways in which a man
must walk, if he desires to be found by Christ. Public Worship, reading
the Bible, hearing the Gospel preached–these are the kind of things to
which I refer. They lie, as it were, in the middle, between man and God.
Doubtless no one can change his own heart, or wipe away one of his sins,
or make himself in the least degree acceptable to God; but I do say that
if man could do nothing but sit still, Christ would never have said “Make
“Make every effort” teaches that man is a free agent, and will be dealt
with by God as a responsible being. The Lord Jesus does not tell us to
wait, and wish, and feel, and hope, and desire. He says, “Make every
effort.” I call that worthless religion which teaches people to be
content with saying, “We can do nothing ourselves,” and makes them
continue in sin. It is as bad as teaching people that it is not their
fault if they are not converted, and that God only is to blame if they
are not saved. I find no such theology in the New Testament. I hear
Jesus saying to sinners, “Come–repent–believe–labor-ask–knock.” I
see plainly that our salvation, from first to last, is entirely “of God;”
but I see with no less clarity that our ruin, if lost, is wholly and
entirely of ourselves. I maintain that sinners are always addressed as
accountable and responsible; and I see no better proof of this than what
is contained in the words “Make every effort.”
“Make every effort” teaches that a man must expect many adversaries and a
hard battle, if he would have his soul saved. And this, as a matter of
experience, is strictly true. There are no “gains without pains” in
spiritual things any more than in temporal. That roaring lion, the
devil, will never let a soul escape from him without a struggle. The
heart which is naturally sensual and earthly will never be turned to
spiritual things without a daily fight. The world, with all its
opposition and temptations, will never be overcome without a conflict.
But why should all this surprise us? What great and good thing was ever
done without trouble? Wheat does not grow without plowing and sowing;
riches are not obtained without care and attention; success in life is
not won without hardships and work; and heaven, above all, is not to be
reached without the cross and the battle. The “kingdom of heaven has
been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew
11:12). A man must “Make every effort.”
“Make every effort” teaches that it is worthwhile for a man to seek
salvation. If there is anything that deserves a struggle in this world,
it is the prosperity of the soul. The objects for which the great
majority of men “make every effort” are comparatively poor and trifling
things. Riches, and greatness, and rank, and learning, are “a
corruptible crown.” The incorruptible things are all within the narrow
door. The peace of God which passes all understanding–the bright hope
of good things to come–the sense of the Spirit dwelling in us–the
consciousness that we are forgiven, safe, ready, insured, provided for in
time and eternity, whatever may happen–these are true gold, and lasting
riches. It is right and good that the Lord Jesus call on us to “make
“Make every effort” teaches that laziness towards Christianity is a great
sin. It is not merely a misfortune, as some fancy–a thing for which
people are to be pitied, and a matter for regret. It is something far
more than this. It is a breach of a clear commandment. What will be
said of the man who violates God’s law, and does something which God
says, “You will not do?” There can be but one answer. He is a sinner.
“Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (1 John
3:4). And what will be said of the man who neglects his soul, and makes
no effort to enter the narrow door? There can be only one reply. He is
omitting a explicit duty. Christ says to him, “Make every effort,” and
behold, he sits still!
“Make every effort” teaches that all those outside the narrow door are
in great danger. They are in danger of being lost and tormented forever.
There is but a step between them and death. If death finds them in their
present condition, they will perish without hope. The Lord Jesus saw
that clearly. He knew the uncertainty of life and the shortness of time:
He would rejoice to have sinners hurry and not to delay, lest they put
off the business of their soul till it is too late. He speaks as one who
saw the devil drawing near to them daily, and the days of their life
gradually ebbing away. He would have them be very careful that they
would not wait too long: therefore He cries, “Make every effort.”
Those words “Make every effort,” raises solemn thoughts in my mind. It
is full of condemnation for thousands of baptized persons. It condemns
the ways and practices of multitudes who profess and call themselves
Christians. There are many who neither swear, nor murder, nor commit
adultery, nor steal, nor lie; but one thing unhappily cannot be said of
them: they cannot be said to be “making every effort” to be saved. The
“spirit of slumber” possesses their hearts in everything that concerns
Christianity. They are very busy about the things of the world: they
rise early, and go to bed late; they work; they labor; they are busy;
they are careful: but the one thing they need to accomplish they never
do–they never “make every effort,” towards the things of God.
1. What will I say of those who are irregular about public worship on
There are thousands who answer this description. Sometimes, if they feel
disposed, they go to some church, and attend a religious service; at
other times they stay at home and read the paper, or idle about, or look
over their accounts, or seek some amusement. “Is this making every
effort?” I speak to men of common sense. Let them judge what I say.
2. What will I say of those who come regularly to a place of worship,
but come entirely as a matter of form?
There are many in every part of our country in this condition. Their
fathers taught them to come; their custom has always been to come: it
would not be respectable to stay away. But they care nothing for the
worship of God when they do come. Whether they hear law or Gospel, truth
or error, it is all the same to them. They remember nothing afterwards.
They take off their form of religion with their Sunday clothes, and
return to the world. And “is this making every effort?” I speak to men
of common sense. Let them judge what I say.
3. What will I say of those who seldom or never read the Bible?
There are thousands of persons, I fear, who answer this description.
They know the Book by name; they know it is commonly regarded as the only
Book which teaches us how to live and how to die: but they can never find
time for reading it, Newspapers, reviews, novels, romances, they can
read, but not the Bible. And “is this making every effort?” to enter in?
I speak to men of common sense. Let them judge what I say.
4. What will I say of those who never pray? There are multitudes, I
firmly believe, in this condition. Without God they rise in the morning,
and without God they lie down at night. They ask for nothing; they
confess nothing; they return thanks for nothing, they seek nothing. They
are all dying creatures, and yet they are not even on speaking terms with
their Maker and their Judge! And “is this making every effort?” I speak
to men of common sense. Let them judge what I say.
It is a solemn thing to be a minister of the Gospel. It is a painful
thing to look on, and notice the ways of mankind in spiritual matters.
We hold in our hands that great law Book of God, which declares that
without repentance, and conversion, and faith in Christ, and holiness, no
man living can be saved. In discharge of our office we urge men to
repent, believe, and be saved; but, to our grief, how frequently we have
to lament that our labor seems all in vain. Men attend our churches, and
listen, and approve, but do not “make every effort” to be saved. We
show the sinfulness of sin; we unfold the loveliness of Christ; we expose
the vanity of the world; we set forth the happiness of Christ’s service;
we offer the living water to the wearied and heavy laden sons of toil:
but, to our dismay, how often we seem to speak to the winds. Our words
are patiently heard on Sundays; our arguments are not refuted: but we see
plainly in the week that men are not “making every effort” to be saved.
There comes the devil on Monday morning, and offers his countless snares;
there comes the world, and holds out its illusive prizes: our hearers
follow them greedily. They work hard for this world’s goods; they toil
at Satan’s bidding: but the one thing they need to do they won’t–they
will not “make every effort” at all.
I am not writing from hear-say. I speak what I have seen. I write down
the result of thirty-seven years’ experience in the ministry. I have
learned lessons about human nature during that period which I never knew
before. I have seen how true are our Lord’s words about the narrow road.
I have discovered how few there are that “make every effort” to be saved.
Seriousness about fleeting matters is common enough. Striving to be rich
and prosperous in this world is not rare at all. Pains about money, and
business, and politics–pains about trade, and science, and fine arts,
and amusements–pains about rent, and wages, and labor, and land–pains
about such matters I see in abundance both in the city and the country.
But I see few who take pains about their souls. I see few anywhere who
“make every effort” to enter in through the narrow door.
I am not surprised at all this. I read in the Bible that it is only what
I am to expect. The parable of the great supper is an exact picture of
things that I have seen with my own eyes ever since I became a minister
(Luke 14:16). I find, as my Lord and Savior tells me, that “men make
excuse.” One has his piece of land to see; another has his oxen to
prove; a third has his family hindrances. But all this does not prevent
my feeling deeply grieved for the souls of men. I grieve to think that
they should have eternal life so close to them, and yet be lost because
they will not “make every effort” to enter in and be saved.
I do not know in what state of soul many readers of this paper may be.
But I warn you to take heed that you do not perish forever because you
did not “make every effort.” Do not suppose that it needs some great
scarlet sin to bring you to the pit of destruction. You have only to sit
still and do nothing, and you will find yourself eventually in the pit of
Hell. Yes! Satan does not ask you to walk in the steps of Cain, and
Pharaoh, and Ahab, and Belshazzar, and Judas Iscariot. There is another
road to Hell that is guaranteed to get you there–the road of spiritual
sluggishness, spiritual laziness, and spiritual sloth. Satan has no
objection to you being known as a respectable member of the Christian
Church. He will let you give your offerings; he will allow you to sit
comfortably in church every Sunday that you live. He knows full well,
that so long as you do not “make every effort,” you must come at last to
the place where the destroying maggot never dies, and the fire that is
never quenched. Be careful that you do not come to this end. I repeat
it, “you have only to do nothing, and you will be lost.”
If you have been taught to “make every effort” for your soul’s well-
being, I beg you never to suppose you can go too far. Never give way to
the idea that you are too concerned about your spiritual condition, and
that there is no need for so much carefulness. Settle it rather in your
mind that “in all labor there is profit,” and that no labor is so
profitable as that bestowed on the soul. It is a maxim among good
farmers that the more they do for the land the more the land does for
them. I am sure it should be a maxim among Christians that the more they
do for their Christianity the more their Christianity will do for them.
Watch out for the slightest inclination to be careless about such things
as reading the Bible, going to church, praying, and the taking of the
Lord’s Supper. Beware of shortening your prayers, Bible reading, your
private communion with God. Be careful that you do not give way to a
thoughtless, lazy manner of using weekly services of the Church. Fight
against any rising disposition to be sleepy, critical, and fault-finding,
while you listen to the preaching of the Gospel. Whatever you do for
God, do it with all your heart, mind and strength. In other things be
moderate, and dread running into extremes. In matters of the soul fear
moderation just as you would fear the plague. Don’t care what men may
think of you. Let it be enough for you that your Master says, “make
III. The last thing I wish to consider in this paper is the “dreadful
prediction which the Lord Jesus delivers.” He says, “Many will try to
enter and will not be able to.”
When will this be? At what period will the door of salvation be shut for
ever? When will the “making of every effort” to enter in be of no use?
These are serious questions. The door is now ready to open to the chief
of sinners; but a day comes when it will open no more.
The time foretold by our Lord is the time of His own second coming to
judge the world. The patience of God will at last have an end. The
throne of grace will at last be taken down, and the throne of judgment
will be set up in its place. The fountain of living waters will finally
be closed. The narrow door will at last be barred and bolted. The day
of grace will be passed and over. The day of reckoning with a sin-laden
world will finally begin. And then will be brought to pass the solemn
prediction of the Lord Jesus “Many will try to enter in and will not be
All prophecies of Scripture that have been fulfilled up to this time,
have been fulfilled to the very letter. They have seemed to many
unlikely, improbable, impossible, up to the very time of their
accomplishment; but not one word of them has ever failed.
The promises of “good things” have come to pass, in spite of difficulties
that seemed impossible:
1. Sarah had a son when she was well past the age for the bearing of
2. The children of Israel were brought out of Egypt and planted in the
3. The Jews were redeemed from the captivity of Babylon, after seventy
years, and enabled once more to build the temple.
4. The Lord Jesus was born of a pure virgin, lived, ministered, was
betrayed, and cut off, precisely as Scripture foretold.
The Word of God was promised in all these cases, that it should be. And
so it was. The predictions of judgments on cities and nations have come
to pass, though at the time they were first spoken they seemed
incredible. Edom is a wilderness; Tyre is a rock for drying nets;
Nineveh, that “greater than great city,” is laid waste, and become a
desolation; Babylon is a dry land and a wilderness–her extensive walls
are utterly broken down. In all these cases the Word of God foretold
that it should be so. And so it was.
The prediction of the Lord Jesus Christ which I press on your attention
this day, will be fulfilled in like manner. Not one word of it will fail
when the time of its accomplishment is due. “Many will try to enter in
and will not be able to.”
There is a time coming when seeking God will be useless. Oh, that men
would remember that! Too many seem to believe that the hour will never
arrive when they will seek and not find: but they are sadly mistaken.
They will discover their mistake one day to their own confusion, except
they repent. When Christ comes “many will try to enter in, and will ‘not
be able to.'”
There is a time coming when many will be shut out from heaven forever.
It will not be the lot of a few, but of a great multitude; it will not
happen to one or two in this area, and one or two in another: it will be
the miserable end of a immense crowd. “‘Many’ will try to enter in, and
will not be able to.”
Knowledge will come to many too late. They will see at last the value of
an immortal soul, and the happiness of having it saved. They will
understand at last their own sinfulness and God’s holiness, and the
glorious fitness of the Gospel of Christ. They will comprehend at last
why ministers seemed so anxious, and preached so long, and implored them
so earnestly to be converted. But, to their grief, they will know all
this “too late!”
Repentance will come to many too late. They will discover their own
surpassing wickedness and be thoroughly ashamed of their past folly.
They will be full of bitter regret and hopeless wailings, of keen
convictions and of piercing sorrows. They will weep, and wail, and
mourn, when they reflect on their sins. The remembrance of their lives
will be grievous to them; the burden of their guilt will seem
intolerable. But, to their grief, like Judas Iscariot, they will repent
Faith will come to many too late. They will no longer be able to deny
that there is a God, and a devil, a heaven, and a hell. False religion,
and skepticism, and unfaithfulness will be laid aside forever; scoffing,
and joking, and free-thinking will cease. They will see with their own
eyes and feel in their own bodies, that the things of which ministers
spoke were not cleverly devised fables, but great real truths. They will
find out to their cost that evangelical religion was not lip service,
extravagance, fanaticism, and enthusiasm: they will discover that it was
the one thing they needed, and that the lack of it will cause them to be
lost forever. Like the devil, they will finally believe and tremble, but
A desire of salvation will come to many too late. They will long after
forgiveness, and peace, and the favor of God, when they can no more be
had. They will wish they might have one more Sunday over again, have one
more offer of forgiveness, have one more call to prayer. But it will
matter nothing what they think, or feel, or desire then: the day of grace
will be over; the door of salvation will be bolted and barred. It will
be “too late!”
I often think what a change there will be one day in the price and
estimation at which things are valued. I look around this world in which
my lot is cast; I note the current price of everything this world
contains; I look forward to the coming of Christ, and the great day of
God. I think of the new order of things, which that day will bring in; I
read the words of the Lord Jesus, when He describes the master of the
house rising up and shutting the door; and as I read, I say to myself,
“There will be a great change soon.”
What are the “dear things” now? Gold, silver, precious stones, bank
notes, mines, ships, lands, houses, horses, cars, furniture, food, drink,
clothes, and the like. These are the things that are thought valuable;
these are the things that command a ready market; these are the things
which you can never get below a certain price. He that has a lot of
these things is counted a wealthy man. Such is the world!
And what are the “cheap things” now? The knowledge of God, the free
salvation of the Gospel, the favor of Christ, the grace of the Holy
Spirit, the privilege of being God’s son, the title to eternal life, the
right to the tree of life, the promise of a room in the Father’s House in
heaven, the promises of an incorruptible inheritance, the offer of a
crown of glory that does not fade away.
These are the things that no man hardly cares for. They are offered to
the sons of men without money and without price: they may be had for
nothing–freely and generously. Whosoever will may take his share. But,
sadly, there is no demand for these things! They go begging. They are
scarcely looked at. They are offered in vain. Such is the world!
But a day is coming upon us all when the value of everything will be
altered. A day is coming when banknotes will be as useless as rags, and
gold will be as worthless as the dust of the earth. A day is coming when
thousands will care nothing for the things for which they once lived, and
will desire nothing so much as the things which they once despised. The
mansions and palaces will be forgotten in the desire of a “house not made
with hands.” The favor of the rich and great will be remembered no more,
in the longing for the favor of the King of kings. The silks, and
satins, and velvets, and laces, will be lost sight of in the anxious need
of the robe of Christ’s righteousness. All will be altered, all will be
changed in the great day of the Lord’s return. “Many will try to enter
in and will not be able to”
It was a weighty saying of some wise man, that “hell is truth known too
late.” I fear that thousands of those who profess to be Christians in
this day will find this out by experience. They will discover the value
of their souls when it is too late to obtain mercy, and see the beauty of
the Gospel when they can derive no benefit from it. Oh, that men would
be wise early in life! I often think there are few passages of Scripture
more awful than that in the first chapter of Proverbs,
But since you rejected me when I called
and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand,
since you ignored all my advice
and would not accept my rebuke,
I in turn will laugh at your disaster;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you–
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me.
Since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the LORD,
since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
Some reader of this paper may be one of those who neither like the faith
nor practice which the Gospel of Christ requires. You think that we are
extreme when we implore you to repent and be converted. You think we ask
too much when we urge you to come out from the world, and take up the
cross, and follow Christ. But take notice that you will one day confess
that we were right. Sooner or later, in this world or the next, you will
acknowledge that you were wrong. Yes! It is a sad consideration for the
faithful minister of the Gospel, that all who hear him will one day
acknowledge that his counsel was good. Mocked, despised, scorned,
neglected as his testimony may be on earth, a day is coming which will
prove that truth was on his side. The rich man who hears us and yet
makes a god of this world–the tradesman who hears us and yet makes his
ledger his Bible–the farmer who hears us and yet remains cold as the
clay on his land–the worker who hears us and feels no more for his soul
than a stone–all, all will in time acknowledge before the world that
they were wrong. All will in time earnestly desire that very mercy which
we now set before them in vain. “They will try to enter in, and will not
be able to.”
Some reader of this paper may be one of those who love the Lord Jesus
Christ in sincerity. Such an one may well take comfort when he looks
forward. You often suffer persecution now for Christianity’s sake. You
have to bear hard words and unkind insinuations. Your motives are often
misrepresented, and your conduct slandered. The reproach of the cross
has not ceased. But you may take courage when you look forward and think
of the Lord’s second coming. That day will make amends for all. You
will see those who now laugh at you because you read the Bible, and pray,
and love Christ, in a very different state of mind. They will come to
you as the foolish virgins came to the wise, saying, “Give us some of
your oil; our lamps are going out” (Matthew 25:8).
You will see those who now hate you and call you fools because, like
Caleb and Joshua, you bring up a good report of Christ’s service. Some
day they will say, “Oh, that we had taken part with you! You have been
the truly wise, and we the foolish.” Then do not fear the reproach of
men. Confess Christ boldly before the world. Show your colors, and do
not be ashamed of your Master. Time is short: eternity rushes on. The
cross is only for a short time: the crown is forever. “Many will try to
enter in, and will not be able to.”
And now let me offer to every one who reads this paper a few parting
words, in order to apply the whole subject to his soul. You have heard
the words of the Lord Jesus unfolded and expounded. You have seen the
picture of the way of salvation: it is a narrow door–You have heard the
command of the King: “Make every effort to enter in”–You have been told
of His solemn warning: “Many will try to enter in, and will not be able
to”–Bear with me a little longer while I try to impress the whole matter
on your conscience. I still have something to say on God’s behalf.
(1) For one thing, I will ask you a simple question. “Have you entered
in through the narrow door or not? Old or young, rich or poor, religious
or atheist, I repeat my question, “Have you entered in through the narrow
I do not ask whether you have heard of it, and believe there is a door.
I do not ask whether you have looked at it, and admired it, and hope one
day to go through. I ask whether you have gone up to it, knocked on it,
been admitted, and “are now inside?”
If you are not inside, what good have you got from your religion? You
are not pardoned and forgiven. You are not reconciled to God. You are
not born again, sanctified, and suitable for heaven. If you die as you
are, you will live in the same place of torment as the devil
will–forever, and your soul will be eternally miserable.
Oh, think, think what a state this is to live in! Think, think above all
things, what a state this is to die in! Your life is but a vapor. A few
more years at most and you are gone: your place in the world will soon be
filled up; your house will be occupied by another. The sun will go on
shining; the grass and daises will soon grow thick over your grave; your
body will be food for worms, and your soul will be lost for all of
And all this time there stands open before you a door of salvation. God
invites you. Jesus Christ offers to save you. All things are ready for
your deliverance. Only one thing is lacking, and that is that you should
be willing to be saved. Oh think of these things, and be wise!
(2) For another thing, I will give plain advice to all who are not yet
inside the narrow door. That advice is simply this: “to enter in without
a day’s delay.”
Tell me, if you can, of anyone who ever reached heaven except through
“the narrow door.” I know of none. From Abel, the first who died, down
to the end of the list of Bible names, I see none saved by any way but
faith in Christ.
Tell me, if you can, of any one who ever entered through the narrow door
without “making every effort.” I know of none except those who die in
infancy. He that would win heaven must be content to fight for it.
Tell me, if you can, of any one who ever strove earnestly to enter, and
failed to succeed. I know of none. I believe that however weak and
ignorant men may be, they never seek life heartily and conscientiously,
at the right door, and are left without an answer of peace.
Tell me, if you can, of any one who ever entered through the narrow door,
and was sorry afterwards. I know of none. I believe the footsteps on
the threshold of the door are all one way. All have found it a good
thing to serve Christ, and have never regretted taking up His cross.
If these things are true, seek Christ without delay, and enter through
the door of life while you can! Make a beginning this very day. Go to
that merciful and mighty Savior in prayer, and pour out your heart before
Him. Confess to Him your guilt and wickedness and sin. Open your heart
freely to Him: keep nothing back. Tell Him that you put yourself and all
your soul’s affairs wholly on His hands, and ask Him to save you
according to His promise, and put His Holy Spirit within you.
There is everything “to encourage you to do this.” Thousands as bad as
you have applied to Christ in this way, and not one of them has been sent
away and refused. They have found a peace of conscience they never knew
before, and have gone on their way rejoicing. They have found strength
for all the trials of life, and none of them have been allowed to perish
in the wilderness. Why shouldn’t you also seek Christ?
There is everything to encourage you to do what I tell you “at once.” I
know no reason why your repentance and conversion should not be as
immediate as that of others before you. The Samaritan woman came to the
well an ignorant sinner, and returned to her home a new creature. The
Philippian jailer turned from darkness to light, and became a professed
disciple of Christ in a single day. And why shouldn’t others do the
same? Why shouldn’t you give up your sins, and trust in Christ this very
I know that the advice I have given you is good. The grand question is,
Will you take it?
(3) The last thing I have to say will be a request to all who have really
entered through the narrow door. That request is, that you will tell
others of the blessings which you have found.
I want all converted people to be missionaries. I do not want them all
to go out to foreign lands, and preach to the heathen; but I do want all
to be of a missionary spirit, and to make every effort to do good at
home. I want them to testify to all around them that the narrow door is
the way to happiness, and to persuade them to enter through it.
When Andrew was converted he found his brother Peter, and said to him,
“‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). And he brought him
to Jesus” (John 1:41-42). When Philip was converted he found Nathaniel,
and said to him, “‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law,
and about whom the prophets also wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of
Joseph.’ ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathaniel asked.
‘Come and see,’ said Philip” (John 1:45-46). When the Samaritan woman
was converted, “Leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town
and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever
did. Could this be the Christ?'” (John 4:28-29). When Saul the Pharisee
was converted, “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus
is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20).
I long to see this kind of spirit among Christians in the present day. I
long to see more zeal to commend the narrow door to all who are yet
outside, and more desire to persuade them to enter through and be saved.
Happy indeed is that Church whose members not only desire to reach heaven
themselves, but desire also to take others with them!
The great door of salvation is still ready to open, but the hour draws
near when it will be closed forever. Let us work while it is called
today, for “night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). Let us
tell our relatives and friends, that we have accepted the way of life and
found it pleasant, that we have tasted the bread of life and found it
I have heard it calculated that if every believer in the world were to
bring one soul to Christ each year, the whole human race would be
converted in less than twenty years. I make no comment on such a
calculation. Whether such a thing might be or not, one thing is sure:
that thing is, that many more “souls might probably be converted to God,
if Christians were more zealous to do good.”
This, at least, we may remember, that God does “not want anyone to
perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He that
endeavors to show his neighbor the narrow door is doing a work which God
approves. He is doing a work which angels regard with interest, and with
which the building of a pyramid will not compare in importance. What
does the Scripture say? “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his
way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James
Let us all awaken to a deeper sense of our responsibility in this matter.
Let us look around the circle of those among whom we live, and consider
their state before God. Are there not many of them yet outside the door,
unforgiven, unsanctified, and not prepared to die? Let us watch for
opportunities of speaking to them. Let us tell them of the narrow door,
and entreat them to “make every effort to enter in.”
Who can tell what “a word spoken at the right time” may do? Who can tell
what it may do when spoken in faith and prayer? It maybe the turning
point in some man’s history. It may be the beginning of thought, prayer,
and eternal life. Oh, for more love and boldness among
believers! Think what a blessing to be allowed to speak one converting
I do not know what the feelings of my readers may be on this subject. My
heart’s desire and prayer is that you may daily remember Christ’s solemn
words, “Many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”
Keep these words in mind.
J. C. Ryle
“Rejected silver” (Jeremiah 6:30)
“Nothing but leaves” (Mark 11:13)
“Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”
(1 John 3:18).
“You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1)
If we profess to have any religion at all, let us be careful that it is
authentic. I say it emphatically, and I repeat the saying: Let us be
careful that our religion is authentic.
What do I mean when I use the word “authentic.” I mean that which is
genuine, and sincere, and honest, and thorough. I mean that which is not
inferior, and hollow, and formal, and false, and counterfeit, and sham,
and nominal. “Authentic” religion is not mere show, and pretense, and
skin-deep feeling, and temporary profession, and works only on the
outside. It is something inward, solid, substantial, intrinsic, living,
lasting. We know the difference between counterfeit and authentic
money–between solid gold and tinsel–between plated metal and
silver–between authentic stone and plaster imitation. Let us think of
these things as we consider the subject of this paper. What is the
character of our religion? Is it authentic? It may be weak, and feeble,
and mingled with many defects. That is not the point before us today.
Is our religion authentic? Is it true?
The times in which we live demand attention to this subject. A want of
authenticity is a striking feature of a vast amount of religion in the
present day. Poets have sometimes told us that the world has passed
through four different states or conditions. We have had a golden age,
and a silver age, a brass age, and an iron age. How far this is true, I
do not stop to inquire. But I fear there is little doubt as to the
character of the age in which we live. It is universally an age of cheap
metal and alloy. If we measure the religion of the age by its apparent
quantity, there is much of it. But if we measure it by its quality,
there is indeed very little. On every side we want MORE AUTHENTICITY.
I ask your attention, while I try to bring home to men’s consciences the
question of this paper. There are two things which I propose to do:
I. In the first place, I will show the “importance of authenticity in
II. In the second place, I will supply “some tests by which we may prove
whether our own religion is authentic.”
Does any reader of this paper have any desire to go to heaven when he
dies? Do you wish to have a religion which will comfort you in life,
give you good hope in death, and survive the judgment of God at the last
day? Then, do not turn away from the subject before you. Sit down, and
consider calmly, whether your Christianity is authentic and true, or
counterfeit and hollow.
I. I have to show “the importance of authenticity in religion.”
The point is one which, at first sight, may seem to require very few
remarks to establish it. All men, I am told, are fully convinced of the
importance of authenticity. But is this true? Can it indeed be said
that authenticity is rightly judged among Christians? I deny it
entirely. The greater part of people who profess to admire authenticity,
seem to think that everyone possesses it! “They tell us that all have
got good hearts,” and that all are sincere and true for the most part,
though they may make mistakes. They call us unchristian, and harsh, and
censorious, if we doubt anybody’s goodness of heart. In short, they
destroy the value of authenticity by regarding it as a thing, which
almost every one has.
This widespread delusion is precisely one of the causes why I take up
this subject. I want men to understand that “authenticity” is a far more
rare and uncommon thing than is commonly supposed. I want men to see
that “unreality” is one of the great dangers of which Christians ought to
What does the Scripture say? This is the only judge that can try the
subject. Let us turn to our Bibles, and examine them fairly, and then
deny, if we can, the importance of authenticity in religion, and the
danger of not being authentic.
(1) Let us look then, for one thing, at the parables spoken by our Lord
Jesus Christ. Observe how many of them are intended to put in strong
contrast the true believer and the mere nominal disciple (in name only).
The parables of the sower, of the weeds, of the net, of the two sons, of
the wedding garment, of the ten virgins, of the talents, of the great
banquet, of the ten minas, of the two builders, all have one great point
in common. They all bring out in striking colors the difference between
authenticity and unreality in religion. They all show the uselessness
and danger of any Christianity which is not authentic, thorough, and
(2) Let us look, for another thing, at the language of our Lord Jesus
Christ about the scribes and the Pharisees. Eight times in one chapter
we find Him denouncing them as “hypocrites,” in words of almost fearful
severity–“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being
condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33). What can we learn from these
tremendously strong expressions? How is it that our gracious and
merciful Savior used such cutting words about people who at any rate were
more moral and decent than the tax collectors and prostitutes? It is
meant to teach us the exceeding detestableness of false profession and
mere outward religion in God’s sight. Open wickedness and willful
submission to fleshly lusts are no doubt ruinous sins, if not given up.
But there seems nothing which is so displeasing to Christ as hypocrisy
(3) Let us also look at the startling fact, that there is hardly a grace
in the character of a true Christian of which you will not find a
counterfeit described in the Word of God. There is not a feature in a
believer’s countenance of which there is not an imitation. Give me your
attention, and I will show you this in a few examples.
Is there not a false “repentance?” Without a doubt there is. Saul and
Ahab, and Herod, and Judas Iscariot had many feelings of sorrow about
sin. But they never really repented unto salvation.
Is there not a false “faith?” Without a doubt there is. It is written
of Simon Magus, at Samaria, that he “believed,” and yet his heart was not
right in the sight of God. It is even written of the devils that they
“believe and shudder” (Acts 8:13; James 2:19).
Is there not a false “holiness.” Without a doubt there is. Joash, king
of Judah, appeared to everyone very holy and good, so long as Jehoiada
the priest lived. But as soon as he died the religion of Joash died at
the same time (2 Chronicles 24:2). Judas Iscariot’s outward life was as
correct as that of any of the apostles up to the time that he betrayed
his Master. There was nothing suspicious about him. Yet in reality he
was “a thief” and a traitor (John 12:6).
Is there not a false “love and kindness?” Without a doubt there is. The
is a love which consists in words and tender expressions, and a great
show of affection, and calling other people “dear brethren,” while the
heart does not love at all. It is not for nothing that John says, “Let
us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
It was not without cause that Paul said: “Love must be sincere.” (1 John
3:18; Romans 12:19).
Is there not a false “humility?” Without a doubt there is. There is a
pretended meekness of demeanor, which often covers over a very proud
heart. Paul warns us against a “forced humility,” and speaks of “having
an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false
humility” (Colossians 2:18, 23).
Is there not a false “praying?” Without a doubt there is. Our Lord
denounces it as one of the special sins of the Pharisees–that for a
“show make lengthy prayers” (Matthew 23:14). He does not charge them
with not praying, or with praying short prayers. Their sin lay in this,
that their prayers were not authentic.
Is there not a false “worship?” Without a doubt there is. Our Lord said
of the Jews: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are
far from me” (Matthew 15:8). They had plenty of formal services in their
temples and their synagogues. But the fatal defect about them was want
of authenticity and heart.
Is there not a lot of false “talking” about religion? Without a doubt
there is. Ezekiel describes some professing Jews who talked and spoke
like God’s people “but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain” (Ezekiel
33:31). Paul tells us that we may “speak in the tongues of men and of
angels,” and yet be no better than a resounding gong or a clanging
cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1).
What shall we say about these things? To say the least they ought to set
us thinking. To my own mind they seem to lead to only one conclusion.
They show clearly the immense importance which Scripture attaches to
authenticity in religion. They show clearly we need to be careful lest
our Christianity turn out to be merely nominal, formal, unreal, and
The subject is of deep importance in every age. There has never been a
time, since the Church of Jesus Christ was founded, when there has not
been a vast amount of trivial and mere nominal religion among professing
Christians. I am sure it is the case in the present day. Wherever I
turn my eyes I see abundant cause for the warning, “Beware of inferior
religion. Be genuine. Be thorough. Be authentic. Be true.”
How much religion among some members of the Church consists of “nothing
but churchmanship!” They belong to the Established Church. They are
baptized in her baptistery, married in her sanctuary, preached to on
Sundays by her ministers. But the great doctrines and truths preached
from her pulpits have no place in their hearts, and no influence on their
lives. They neither think, nor feel, nor care, nor know anything about
them. And is the religion of these people authentic Christianity? It is
nothing of the kind. It is a cheap imitation. It is not the
Christianity of Peter, and James, and John, and Paul. It is
“Churchianity,” and no more.
How much religion among some Independents consists of “nothing but
disagreement!” They pride themselves on having nothing to do with the
formal denomination church. They rejoice in having no ritual, no forms,
no bishops. They glory in the exercise of their private judgment, and
the absence of everything ceremonial in their public worship. But all
this time they have neither grace, nor faith, nor repentance, nor
holiness, nor spirituality of conduct or conversation. The experimental
and practical piety of the old Separatist is a thing of which they are
utterly destitute. Their Christianity is as sapless and fruitless as a
dead tree, and as dry and marrowless as an old bone. And is the
Christianity of these people authentic? It is nothing of the kind. It
is cheap imitation. It is not the Christianity of the Reformers of the
past. It is “Nonconformity” and nothing more.
How much Ritualistic religion is utterly false! You will sometimes see
men boiling over with zeal about outward expressions of worship such as
church music and order of service, while their hearts are manifestly in
the world. Of the inward work of the Holy Spirit–of living faith in the
Lord Jesus–of delight in the Bible and religious conversation–of
separation from worldly silliness and entertainment–of zeal for the
conversion of souls to Christ–of all these things they are profoundly
ignorant. And is this kind of Christianity authentic? It is nothing of
the kind. It is a mere name.
How much Evangelical religion is completely make believe? You will
sometimes see men professing great affection for the pure “Gospel,” while
they are, practically speaking, inflicting on it the greatest injury.
They will talk loudly of soundness in the faith, and have a keen nose for
heresy. They will run eagerly after popular preachers, and applaud
evangelical speakers at public meetings. They are familiar with all the
phrases of evangelical religion, and can converse fluently about its
leading doctrines. To see their faces at public meetings, or in church,
you would think they were eminently godly. To hear them talk you would
suppose their lives were tied up all kinds of religious activity. And
yet these people in private will sometimes do things of which even some
heathens would be ashamed. They are neither truthful, nor sincere, nor
honest, nor just, nor good-tempered, nor unselfish, nor merciful, nor
humble, nor kind! And is such Christianity as this authentic? It is
not. It is a worthless fake, a wretched cheat and farce.
How much Revivalist religion in the present day is utterly false! You
will find a crowd of false believers bringing discredit on the work of
God wherever the Holy Spirit is poured out. How many people today will
profess to be suddenly convinced of sin, to find peace in Jesus–to be
overwhelmed with joys and ecstasies of soul–while in authenticity of
religion they have no grace at all. Like the “rocky-soil” hearers, they
endure but for a short time. “In the time of testing they fall away”
(Luke 8:13). As soon as the first excitement has passed, they return to
their old ways, and resume their former sins. Their religion is like
Jonah’s gourd, which came up in a night and perished in a night. They
have neither root nor vitality. They only injure God’s cause and give
occasion to God’s enemies to blaspheme. And is Christianity like this
authentic? It is nothing of the kind. It is a cheap imitation from the
devil’s mint, and is worthless in God’s sight.
I write these things with sorrow. I have no desire to bring any section
of the Church of Christ into contempt. I have no wish to cast any slur
on any movement which begins with the Spirit of God. But the times
demand very plain speaking about some points in the prevailing
Christianity of our day. And one point, I am quite sure demands
attention, is the abounding lack of authenticity which is to be seen on
No reader, at any rate, can deny that the subject of the paper before him
is of vast importance.
II. I pass on now to the second thing which I propose to do. “I will
supply some tests by which we may try the reality of our religion.”
In approaching this part of my subject, I ask every reader of this paper
to deal fairly, honestly, and reasonably with his soul. Dismiss from
your mind the common idea–that of course all is right if you go to
church. Cast away such vain notions forever. You must look further,
higher, and deeper than this, if you would find out the truth. Listen to
me, and I will give you a few hints. Believe me, it is no light matter.
It is your life.
(1) If you want to know whether your religion is authentic, try it by
“the place it occupies” in your inner man.
It is not enough that it is in your “head.” You may know the truth, and
assent to the truth, and believe the truth, and yet be wrong in God’s
sight. It is not enough that it is on your “lips.” You may say “Amen”
to public prayer in church, and yet have nothing more than an outward
religion. It is not enough that it is in your “feelings.” You may weep
under preaching one day, and be lifted to the third heaven by joyous
excitement another day, and yet be dead to God. Your religion, if it is
authentic, and given by the Holy Spirit, must be in your heart. It must
hold the reins. It must sway the affections. It must lead the will. It
must direct the tastes. It must influence the choices and decisions. It
must fill the deepest, lowest, inmost seat in your soul. Is this your
religion? If not, you may have good reason to doubt whether it is
“authentic” and true. (Acts 8:21; Romans 10:10)
(2) If you want to know whether your religion is authentic, try it by
the “feelings towards sin” which it produces.
The Christianity which is from the Holy Spirit will always have a very
deep view of the sinfulness of sin. It will not merely regard sin as a
blemish and misfortune, which makes men and women objects of pity, and
compassion. It will see in sin the abominable thing which God hates, the
thing which makes man guilty and lost in his Maker’s sight, the thing
which deserves God’s wrath and condemnation. It will look on sin as the
cause of all sorrow and unhappiness, of strife and wars, of quarrels and
contentions, of sickness and death–the curse which cursed God’s
beautiful creation, the cursed thing which makes the whole earth groan
and struggle in pain. Above all, it will see in sin the thing which will
ruin us eternally, unless we can find a ransom,–lead us captive, except
we can get its chains broken,–and destroy our happiness, both here and
hereafter, except we fight against it, even unto death. Is this your
religion? Are these your feelings about sin? If not, you should doubt
whether your religion is “authentic.”
(3) If you want to know whether your religion is authentic, try it by
the “feelings toward Christ” which it produces.
Nominal religion may believe that such a person as Christ existed, and
was a great helper to mankind. It may show Him some external respect,
attend the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and bow the head at His
name. But it will go no further. Authentic religion will make a man
glory in Christ, as the Redeemer, the Deliverer, the Priest, the Friend,
without whom he would have no hope at all. It will produce confidence in
Him, love towards Him delight in Him, comfort in Him, as the mediator,
the food, the light, the life, the peace of the soul. Is this your
religion? Do you know anything of feelings like these toward Jesus
Christ? If not, you have every reason to doubt whether your religion is
(4) If you want to know whether your religion is authentic, try it by
“the fruit it bears in your heart and life.”
The Christianity which is from above will always be known by its fruits.
It will produce in the man who has it repentance, faith, hope, love,
humility, spirituality, kindness, self-denial, unselfishness, forgiving
spirit, moderation, truthfulness, hospitality, and patience.
The degree in which these various graces appear may vary in different
believers. The germ and seeds of them will be found in all who are the
children of God. By their fruits they will be known. Is this your
religion? If not, you should doubt whether it is “authentic.”
(5) If you want to know whether your religion is authentic, try it by
“your feelings and habits about means of grace.”
Prove it by the Sunday. Is that day a time of fatigue and pressure, or a
delight and refreshment, and a sweet anticipation of the rest to come in
heaven? Prove it by the public means of grace. What are your feelings
about public prayer and public praise, about the public preaching of
God’s Word, and the administration of the Lord’s Supper? Are they things
to which you give a cold assent, and tolerate them as proper and correct?
Or, are they things in which you take pleasure, and without which you
could not be happy? Prove it, finally, by your feelings about private
means of grace. Do you find it essential to your comfort to read the
Bible regularly in private, and to speak to God in prayer? Or, do you
find these practices boring, and either slight them, or neglect them
altogether? These questions deserve your attention. If means of grace,
whether public or private, are not as necessary to your soul as food and
drink are to your body, you may well doubt whether your religion is
I press on the attention of all my readers the five points which I have
just named. There is nothing like coming to particulars about these
matters. If you want to know whether your religion is “authentic,”
genuine, and true, measure it by the five particulars which I have now
named. Measure it fairly: test it honestly. If your heart is right in
the sight of God, you have no cause to flinch from examination. If it is
wrong, the sooner you find it out the better.
And now I have done what I proposed to do. I have shown from Scripture
the unspeakable importance of authenticity in religion, and the danger in
which many stand of being lost forever, for want of it. I have given
five plain tests, by which a man may find out whether his Christianity is
authentic. I will conclude all by a direct application of the whole
subject to the souls of all who read this paper. I will draw my bow and
trust that God will bring an arrow home to the hearts and consciences of
(1) My first word of application will be “a question.”
Is you own religion authentic or false? genuine or fake? I do not ask
what you think about others. Perhaps you may see many hypocrites around
you. You may be able to point to many who have no “authenticity” at all.
This is not the question. You may be right in your opinion about others.
But I want to know about yourself. Is your own Christianity authentic
and true? or nominal and counterfeit?
If you love life, do not turn away from the question which is now before
you. The time must come when the whole truth will be known. The
judgment day will reveal every man’s religion, of what sort it is. The
parable of the wedding-clothes will receive an awful fulfillment. Surely
it is a thousand times better to find out “now” your condition, and to
repent, than to find it out too late in the next world, when there will
be no opportunity for repentance. If you have common sense, reason, and
judgment, consider what I say. Sit down quietly this day, and examine
yourself. Find out the authentic character of your religion. With the
Bible in your hand, and honesty in your heart, the thing may be known.
Then resolve to find out.
(2) My second word of application will be a “warning.”
I address it to all who know, in their own consciences, that their
religion is not authentic. I ask them to remember the greatness of their
danger, and their exceeding guilt in the sight of God.
A false Christianity is especially offensive to that Great God with whom
we have to deal. He is continually spoken of in Scripture as the God of
Truth. Truth is absolutely one of His attributes. Can you doubt for a
moment that He detests everything that is not genuine and true? Better,
I firmly believe it is better to be found an ignorant heathen at the last
day, than to be found with nothing better than a nominal religion. If
your religion is of this sort, beware!
A false Christianity is sure to fail a man in the end. It will wear out;
it will break down; it will leave its possessor like a wreck on a
sandbank, high and dry and forsaken by the tide; it will supply no
comfort in the hour when comfort is most needed–in the time of
affliction, and on the bed of death. If you want a religion to be of any
use to your soul, beware of false Christianity! If you want to avoid
being comfortless in death, and hopeless in the judgment day, be genuine,
be authentic, be true.
(3) My third word of application will be “advice.”
I offer it to all who feel pricked in their conscience by the subject of
this paper. I advise them to cease from all dawdling and playing with
religion, and to become honest, wholehearted followers of the Lord Jesus
Cry out without delay to the Lord Jesus, and ask Him to become your
Savior, your Physician, your Priest, and your Friend. Let not the
thought of your unworthiness keep you away: do not let the remembrance of
your sins prevent your petition. Never, never forget that Christ can
cleanse you from any quantity of sins, if you only commit your soul to
Him. But one thing He does ask of those who come to Him: He asks them to
be authentic, honest, and true.
Let authenticity be one great mark of your approach to Christ, and there
is everything to give you hope. Your repentance may be feeble, but let
it be authentic; your faith may be weak, but let it be authentic; your
desires after holiness may be mingled with much weakness, but let them be
authentic. Let there be nothing of coldness, of double-dealing, of
dishonesty, of sham, of counterfeit, in your Christianity. Never be
content to wear a cloak of religion. Be all that you profess. Though
you may sin, be authentic. Though you may stumble, be true. Keep
this principle continually before your eyes, and it will be well with
your soul throughout your journey from grace to glory.
(4) My last word of application will be “encouragement.”
I address it to all who have courageously taken up the cross, and are
honestly following Christ. I exhort them to persevere, and not to be
moved by difficulties and opposition.
You may often find few with you, and many against you. You may often
hear cruel things said of you. You may often be told that you go too
far, and that you are extreme. Don’t listen to it. Turn a deaf ear to
remarks of this kind. Press on.
If there is anything which a man ought to do thoroughly, authentically,
truly, honestly, and with all of his heart, it is the business of his
soul. If there is any work which he ought never to slight, and do in a
careless fashion, it is the great work of “working out his own
salvation” (Philippians 2:12). Believer in Christ, remember this!
Whatever you do in religion, do it well. Be authentic. Be thorough. Be
honest. Be true.
If there is anything in the world of which a man need not be ashamed, it
is the service to Jesus Christ. Of sin, of worldliness, of flippancy, of
frivolousness, of time-wasting, of pleasure-seeking, of bad temper, of
pride, of making an idol of money, clothes, hunting, sports, card-
playing, novel-reading, and the like–of all this a man should be
ashamed. Living after this fashion he makes the angels sorrow, and the
devils rejoice. But of living for his soul–caring for his
soul–thinking of his soul–providing for his soul–making his soul’s
salvation the principal and chief thing in his daily life–of all this a
man has no cause to be ashamed at all. Believer in Christ, remember
this! Remember it in your Bible-reading, and your private praying.
Remember it on Sundays. Remember it in your worship of God. In all
these things never be ashamed of being wholehearted, authentic, thorough,
The years of our life are fast passing away. Who knows but this year may
be the last in his life? Who can tell but that he may be called this
very year to meet his God? If you would be found ready, be an authentic
and true Christian. Do not be cheap imitation.
The time is fast coming when nothing but authenticity will stand the
fire. Authentic repentance towards God–authentic faith towards our Lord
Jesus Christ–authentic holiness of heart and life–these, these are the
things which will alone stand the judgment at the last day. It is a
solemn saying of our Lord Jesus Christ, “Many will say to me on that day,
‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out
demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I
never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:22-23)
J. C. Ryle
“Disciples should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).
“I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer” (1 Timothy 2:8).
Prayer is the most important subject in practical religion. All other
subjects are second to it. Reading the Bible, listening to sermons,
attending public worship, going to the Lord’s Table–all these are very
important matters. But none of them are so important as private prayer.
I propose in this paper to offer seven clear reasons why I use such
strong language about prayer. I draw 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 necessary to a man’s
I say what is absolutely necessary and I say so with caution. I am not
speaking now of infants and the retarded. 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 any one. 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 in the Lord Jesus,
and you will 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 necessary 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 necessary that a man should “hear” the
public preaching of the Gospel [though he must receive the Word by some
means]. He may live where the Gospel is not preached publicly, or he may
be bedridden, or deaf. But the same thing cannot be said about prayer.
It is absolutely necessary 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
Just as it is with the mind and body, so it is with the soul. There are
certain things absolutely necessary to the soul’s health and well-being.
Each one must attend to these things for himself. Each must repent for
himself. Each must submit to Christ for himself. And for himself each
one must speak to God and pray. You must do it for yourself, for nobody
else can do it for you.
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 great
multitude that no one could count” (Revelation 7:9). The song of victory
that will burst from their months, when their redemption is finally
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 will never praise in heaven. We must go through the school of
prayer, or we will never be fit for the celebration 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 on 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 God on earth are alike in this respect. From the
moment there is any life and reality in 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 always
pray and do not give up” (Luke 18:1). The Holy Spirit, who makes them
new creatures, works in them the feeling of adoption, and makes them cry,
“Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). The Lord Jesus, when He saves them, gives
them a voice and a tongue, and says to them, “Be silent no more.” God
has no speechless 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 do not call upon the Lord.”
(1 Peter 1:17; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Psalm 14:4).
I have read the lives of many great Christians who have been on earth
since the Bible days. Some of them, I see, were rich, and some poor.
Some were educated, and some uneducated. They came from various
denominations and some were Independents. Some loved a very structured
worship service, and some liked it rather informal. But one thing, I
see, they all had in common. The have all been “men of prayer.”
I study the reports of missionaries 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, and in
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 part of
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 for his sins. He cannot
love God. He cannot feel himself in debt to God. 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 furthermore, I say, that of all the evidences of the 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 serious. The Lord
Himself has set His stamp on prayer as the best proof of true conversion.
When He sent Ananias to Saul in Damascus, He gave him no other evidence
of his change of heart than this, “he is praying” (Acts 9:11)
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
proofs. They are to be found in ungodly people, and often come to
nothing. In many cases they are not more lasting than “the morning mist,
and the early dew that disappears” (Hosea 6:4). A real hearty prayer,
flowing from a broken and repentant spirit, is worth all these things put
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 an awareness of Christ. But
the eye of man can only judge by what it sees. I cannot call any one
justified until he believes. I dare not say that any one believes until
he prays. I cannot understand a silent and speechless 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 can a man
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 a
lot 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 evangelical religion 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
III. In the third place, “there is no part of religion so neglected as
We live in days abounding in 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 we became a
nation. And yet in spite of all this public religion, I believe there is
a vast neglect of private prayer.
I would not have said that 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 that this sounds very shocking and will startle many. But I am
convinced that prayer is just one of those things which is thought to be
“a private matter,” and like many “private matters” it is shamefully
neglected. It is “everybody’s duty;” 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
I believe that thousands “never say a word of prayer at all.” They eat;
they drink; they sleep; they rise; they go forward to their work; 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 animals that perish; they behave like creatures
without souls; they have no words to say to Him in whose hand is 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 that 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. 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 can count on the fact 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, the lips may move and the tongue wag, 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 is praying.”
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 unwarranted? 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 any one to pray? The
carnal mind has a hatred towards 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 needs–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 are traveling on the wide road. I cannot forget this.
Therefore I say boldly, I believe that few people 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 admit is their
practice. There are hundreds who would sooner storm a beach in battle
than confess publicly that they make it a habit to pray. There are
thousands who, if obligated by chance to sleep in the same room with a
stranger, would lie down in bed without a prayer. To ride a horse well,
to shoot well, to dress well, to go to balls and concerts, and theaters,
to be thought clever and congenial–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 admit. 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 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 clear 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 like entire strangers to God. Not only are they sadly
ignorant of His Gospel, but sadly devoid of the power of speaking to Him.
There is a terrible awkwardness, and shyness, and newness, and coldness,
in their endeavors to approach Him. They seem to be taking up a new
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 in religion in which there
is the greatest encouragement.”
There is everything on God’s part to make prayer easy, if men will only
attempt it. “Everything is now ready” on His side (Luke 14:17). 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 will find God on 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
pledged to hear him. Think of this. Is this not encouragement?
There is “an advocate” and intercessor always waiting 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 savor 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 banknote 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 by the hand of the Lord Jesus
it accomplishes much. There once was an officer in 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. In the same way, the ear of
the Lord Jesus is ever open to the cry of all who want mercy and grace.
It is His business to help them. Their prayer is His delight. Think of
this. Is this not encouragement?
There is “the Holy Spirit” always ready to help our weakness in prayer.
It is one part of His special functions 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 words that
burn.” The prayers of the Lord’s people are the inspiration of the
Lord’s Spirit–the work of the Holy Spirit 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 that they merely pray, but the Holy Spirit
pleading in them (Romans 8:26). Think of this. Is this encouragement?
There are surpassing “promises” to those who pray. What did the Lord
Jesus mean when He spoke such words as these, “Ask and it will be given
to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who
knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). “If you believe, you
will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22). “I will do
whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the
Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John
14:13-14). What did the Lord mean when He spoke the parables of the
friend at midnight and the insistent widow? (Luke 11:5; 18:1). Think
over these passages. If this is not encouragement to pray then 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 out 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 said Mary
Queen of Scots, “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, “will never
perish.” Prayer, pains, and faith can do anything. Nothing seems
impossible when a man has the Spirit of adoption. “Leave me alone,” is
the remarkable saying of God to Moses, when Moses was about to intercede
for the children of Israel. (Exodus 32:10). The Chaldee version has it
“Stop 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 this not 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 be 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 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
Without question there is a vast difference among true Christians. There
is an immense gap between the greatest and the weakest in the army of
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 run than others! They all love the same
Lord and Savior–but how much more some love Him than others! I ask any
true Christian whether this is not the case. Are these things not so?
There are some of the Lord’s people who seem “never able to advance and
grow” 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. They have got inside the fold, but
there they lie down and go no further. Year after year you see in them
the same old habitual sins. You hear from them the same old experience.
You note in them the same need of spiritual appetite–the same
squeamishness about anything but the milk of the Word, and the same
dislike of the strong meat of the Bible-the same childishness–the same
feebleness–the same trivialness of mind–the same narrowness of
heart–the same want of interest in anything beyond their own little
circle, which you noted ten years ago. They are indeed pilgrims, but
they are like the Gibeonites pilgrims of old; their bread is always dry
and moldy–their shoes always old and split, and their garments always
ripped and torn (Joshua 9:4-5). 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 growing.”
They grow like the grass after rain. They increase like Israel in Egypt.
They press on like Gideon–though sometimes “exhausted yet keeping up the
pursuit” (Judges 8:4). They are ever adding 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 2:14; Galatians 6:9).
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 of 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 obtain 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 true?”
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 of private prayer. I believe that those who
are not eminently holy pray “little,” and those who are eminently holy
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 favored believers, but certainly not to
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 I do say this, that when a man is born again by Jesus Christ,
whether he will be exceptionally holy or not depends mainly on his own
diligence in the use of God’s appointed means. And I confidently assert
that the principal means by which most believers have become great in
the Church of Jesus 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. Note what is recorded about Luther and the
Reformers. Observe what is related of the private devotions of
Whitfield, and M’Cheyne. Tell me of one of all the godly fellowship of
saints and martyrs, who has not had this mark most prominently–he was a
“man of prayer.” Oh, depend on 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 Holy Spirit loves to be petitioned. 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: the devil
will never maintain influence over us when we ask the Lord to help us.
But, then, we must spread out all our case before our Heavenly Physician,
if He is to give us daily relief: we must ask Christ to send them back to
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
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–Men may do all these things.
It is a miserable thing to be a backslider. Of all the unhappy things
that can happen to 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. There is no doubt that if the person is truly a Christian
then the true grace will never be extinguished, and true union with
Christ will never be broken. But I do believe that a man may backslide
so far that he will 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.
Now, what is the cause of most backsliding? I believe, as a general
rule, one of the chief causes is neglect of private prayer. Of course the
secret history of backsliding will not be known until the last day. I
can only give my opinion as a minister of Christ and a student of the
heart. That opinion is, that backsliding, generally first begins with
“neglect of private prayer.”
Bibles read without prayer, sermons heard without prayer, engagements to
marriage without prayer, travel undertaken without prayer, homes 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 paralysis, 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–they 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 then 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 Origen himself tells us, that he had neglected
his private time of prayer with the Lord.
If any reader of this paper is really a Christian then 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 way to acquire
happiness and contentment.”
We live in a world where sorrow abounds. This has always been its state
since sin came into the world. There cannot be sin without sorrow. And
till sin is driven out from the world it is vain for any one 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 very long
without sorrows or cares of one sort or another. Our bodies, our
property, our families, our children, our relations, 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 they will find us out.
The greater are our affections, the deeper are our afflictions; and the
more we love, the more we have to cry.
And what is the best way to acquire cheerfulness in such a world as this?
How will we get though this valley of tears with the least pain? I know
no better way than the habit of “taking everything to God in prayer.”
This is the clear advice that the Bible gives, both in the Old Testament
and the New. What does God say? “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I
will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15). “Cast your cares
on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous
fall” (Psalm 55:22). What does the Apostle Paul say? “Do not be anxious
about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with
thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which
transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in
Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). What does the Apostle James say? “Is
any one of you in trouble? He should pray” (James 5:13)
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 attempt of carrying 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 grass hopper is a burden
There is a friend ever waiting, to help us, if we will only tell Him our
sorrow–a friend who pitied the poor, and sick, and sorrowful, when He
was on earth–a friend who knows the heart of a man, for He lived thirty-
three years as a man among 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.
That 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 Black Christian,
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 no matter how heavy they are. 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 you nor forsake you.” 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 much like Hagar in the wilderness, blind to the well
of living waters close beside them! (Genesis 21:19).
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.
And now it is high time for me to bring this paper to an end. I trust I
have brought before my readers things that will be seriously considered.
I heartily pray to God that this consideration may be blessed to their
(1) Let me speak a parting word “to those who do not pray.” I dare not
suppose that all who read these pages will be praying people. If you are
a prayerless person, permit me to speak to you this day on God’s behalf.
Prayerless friend, I can only warn you; but I do warn you most solemnly.
I warn you that you are in a position of dreadful danger. If you die in
your present state you are a lost soul. You will only rise again to be
eternally miserable. I warn you that of all professing Christians you
are most utterly without excuse. There is not a single good reason that
you can show for living without prayer.
It is useless to say you “You don’t know how to pray.” Prayer is the
simplest act in all religion. It is simply speaking to God. It needs
neither learning, nor wisdom, nor book-knowledge to begin it. It needs
nothing but heart and will. The weakest infant can cry when he is
hungry. The poorest beggar can hold out his hand for charity, and does
not wait to find fine words. The most ignorant man will find something
to say to God, if he has only a mind.
It is useless to say you have no convenient place to pray in. Any man
can find a place private enough, if he is inclined. Our Lord prayed on a
mountain; Peter on the house-top; Isaac in the field; Nathanael under the
fig-tree; Jonah in the whale’s belly. Any place may become a closet, and
a Bethel, and be to us the presence of God.
It is useless to say you have no time. There is plenty of time, if men
will only utilize it. Time may be short, but time is always long enough
for prayer. Daniel had all the affairs of a kingdom on his hands, and
yet he prayed three times a day. David was ruler over a mighty nation,
and yet he says, “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress” (Psalm
55:17). When time is really wanted, time can always be found.
It is useless to say you “cannot pray till you have faith and a new
heart,” and that you must sit still and wait for them. This is to add
sin to sin. It is bad enough to be unconverted and going to hell. It is
even worse to say, “I know it, but I will not cry for mercy.” This is a
kind of argument for which there is no warrant in Scripture. “Seek the
LORD while he may be found,” says Isaiah, “call on him while he is near”
(Isaiah 55:6). “Take words with you and return to the LORD,” says Hosea
(Hosea 14:2). “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord,” says
Peter to Simon Magus (Acts 8:22). If you want faith and a new heart, go
and cry to the Lord for them. The very attempt to pray has often been
the arousing of a dead soul. Yes, there is no devil so dangerous as a
Oh, prayerless man, who and what are you that you will not ask anything
of God? Have you made a covenant with death and hell? Are you at peace
with the maggot and the fire? Have you no sins to be pardoned? Have
you no fear of eternal torment? Have you no desire after heaven? Oh,
that you would awake from your present folly! Oh that you would consider
the coming end of your life! Oh, that you would rise up and call upon
God! Yes, there is a day coming when men will pray loudly, “Lord, Lord,
let us in,” but all will be too late; when many will cry to the rocks to
fall on them, and the hills to cover them, who would never cry to God.
In all affection I warn you. Beware lest this be the end of your soul.
Salvation is very near you. Do not lose heaven for want of asking.
(2) Let me speak in the next place “to those who have real desires for
salvation, but do not know what steps to take or where to begin.” I
cannot but hope that some readers may be in this state of mind, and if
there be but one such I must offer him encouragement and advice.
In every journey there must be a first step. There must be a change from
sitting still to moving forward. The journeyings of Israel from Egypt to
Canaan were long and wearisome. Forty years passed away before they
crossed the Jordan. Yet there was someone who moved first when they
marched from Rameses to Succoth. When does a man really take his first
step in coming out from sin and the world? He does it in the day when
he first prays with his heart.
In every building, the first stone must be laid, and the first blow must
be struck. The ark was 120 years in building. Yet there was a day when
Noah laid his axe to the first tree he cut down to form it. The temple
of Solomon was a glorious building. But there was a day when the first
huge stone, was laid at the foot of Mount Moriah. When does the building
of the Spirit really begin to appear in a man’s heart? It begins, so far
as we can judge, when he first pours out his heart to God in prayer.
If any reader of this paper desires salvation, and wants to know what to
do, I advise him to go this very day to the Lord Jesus Christ, in the
first private place he can find, and plead with Him in prayer to save his
Tell Him that you have heard that He receives sinners, and has said,
“Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). Tell Him that
you are a poor wretched sinner, and that you come to Him on the faith of
His own invitation. Tell Him you put yourself wholly and entirely in His
hands–that you feel evil and helpless, and hopeless in yourself, and
that unless He saves you, you have no hope to be saved at all. Plead
with Him to deliver you from the guilt, the power, and the consequences
of sin. Plead with Him to pardon you and wash you in His own blood.
Plead with Him to give you a new heart, and plant the Holy Spirit in your
soul. Plead with Him to give you grace, and faith, and will, and power
to be His disciple and servant from this day forever. Yes: go this very
day, and tell these things to the Lord Jesus Christ, if you really are
serious about your soul.
Tell Him in your own way and your own words. If a doctor came to see you
when you are sick you could tell him where you felt pain. If your soul
really feels its disease you can surely find something to tell Christ.
Do not doubt His willingness to save you, because you are a sinner. It
is Christ’s business to save sinners. He says Himself, “I have not come
to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).
Do not wait, because you feel unworthy. Wait for nothing: wait for
nobody. Waiting, comes from the devil. Just as we are, go to Christ.
The worse you are, the more need you have to go to Him. You will never
mend yourself by staying away.
Do not fear because your prayer is stammering, your words feeble, and
your language poor. Jesus can understand you. Just as a mother
understands the first babblings of her infant, so does the blessed Savior
understand sinners. He can read a sign, and see a meaning in a groan.
Do not despair, because you do not get an answer immediately. While you
are speaking, Jesus is listening. If He delays in His answer, it is only
for wise reasons, and to test if you are serious. Pray on, and the
answer will surely come. Though it be delayed, wait for it: it will
surely come at last.
If you have any desire to be saved, remember the advice I have given you
this day. Act upon it honestly and heartily, and you will be saved.
(3) Let me speak, lastly, to those who do pray. I trust that some who
read this paper know well what prayer is, and have the Spirit of
adoption. To all such I offer a few words of brotherly counsel and
exhortation. The incense offered in the tabernacle was ordered to be
made in a particular way. Not every kind of incense would do. Let us
remember this, and be careful about the matter and manners of our
If I know anything of a Christian’s heart, you to whom I now speak are
often sick of your own prayers. You never enter into the Apostle’s
words, “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Romans
7:21), so thoroughly as you sometimes do upon your knees. You can
understand David’s words, “I hate vain thoughts.” You can sympathize
with that poor converted soul, who was overheard praying, “Lord, deliver
me from all my enemies; and, above all, from that my own evil self!”
There are few children of God who do not often find the season of prayer
a season of conflict. The devil has a special rage against us when he
sees us on our knees. Yet I believe that prayers which cost us no
trouble should be regarded with great suspicion. I believe we are very
poor judges of the quality of our prayers, and that the prayer which
pleases us “least” often pleases God “most.” Permit me then, as a
companion in the Christian warfare, to offer you a few words of
exhortation. One thing, at least, we all feel–we must pray. We cannot
give it up: we must go on.
(a) I commend, then, to your attention the importance of “reverence and
humility” in prayer.
Let us never forget what we are, and what a solemn thing it is to speak
with God. Let us beware of rushing into His presence with carelessness
and flippancy. Let us say to ourselves, “I am on holy ground. This is
none other than the gate of heaven. If I do not mean what I say, I am
trifling with God. If I hold sin in my heart, the Lord will not
hear me.” Let us keep in mind the words of Solomon: “Do not be quick
with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before
God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few”
(Ecclesiastics 5:2). When Abraham spoke to God, he said, “I am nothing
but dust and ashes” When Job spoke, he said, “I am unworthy–how can I
reply to you?” (Genesis 18:27; Job 40:4). Let us do likewise.
(b) I commend to you, in the next place, the importance of praying
By this I mean that we should labor always to have the direct help of the
Spirit in our prayers, and beware above all things of formality. There
is nothing so spiritual that it cannot become a form, and this is
especially true of private prayer. We may insensibly get into the habit
of using the fittest possible words, and offering the most Scriptural
petitions; and yet we may do it all by rote, without feeling it, and walk
daily round an old beaten path, like a horse in a mill. I desire to
touch this point with caution and delicacy. I know that there are
certain critical things we want every day, and that there is nothing
necessarily formal in asking for these things in the same words. The
world, the devil, and our hearts, are the same every day. Of necessity
we must each day go over old ground. But this I saying–we must be very
careful on this point. If the skeleton and outline of our prayers be by
our habit almost a form, let us strive that the clothing and filling up
of our prayers be as much as possible of the Spirit.
As to praying a written prayer out of a book, it is a habit I cannot
praise. If we can tell our doctors the state of our bodies without a
book, we ought to be able to tell the state of our souls to God. I have
no objection to a man using crutches, when he is first recovering from a
broken limb. It is better to use crutches than not to walk at all. But
if I saw him all his life on crutches, I should not think it a matter for
congratulation. I should like to see him strong, enough to throw his
(c) I commend to you, in the next place, the importance of making prayer
a “regular business of life.”
I might say something of the value of regular times in the day for
prayer. God is a God of order. The hours of the morning and evening
sacrifice in the Jewish temple were not established as they were without
a meaning. Disorder is notably one of the fruits of sin. But I would
not bring anyone under bondage. I only say this, that it is essential to
your soul’s health to make praying a part of the routine of every
twenty-four hours in your life. Just as you allot time to eating,
sleeping, and business, so also allot time to prayer. Choose your own
hours and periods. At the very least, speak with God in the morning,
before you speak with the world; and speak with God at night, after you
have finished with the world for that day. But settle it in your minds
that prayer is one of the vital things of each day. Do not put it into a
corner. Do not give it the scraps, and leftover minutes of your day.
Whatever else you make a business of, make a business of prayer.
(d) I commend to you, in the next place, the importance of
“perseverance” in prayer.
Once having begun the habit, never give it up. Your heart will sometimes
say, “We have had family prayers; what great harm is it if we leave our
private prayer undone?” Your body will sometimes say, “You are sick, or
sleepy, or weary; you do not need to pray.” Your mind will sometimes
say, “You have important business to attend to today; cut short your
prayers.” Look on all such suggestions as coming directly from the
devil. They are as good as saying, “Neglect your soul.” I do not
maintain that prayers should always be of the same length; but I do say,
let no excuse make you give up prayer. It is not for nothing that Paul
said, “Devote yourselves to prayer,” and “Pray continually.” (Colossians
4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). He did not mean that men should be always on
their knees, as an old sect, called the Euchitae, supposed. But he did
mean that our prayers should be like the continual burnt offering–a thing
steadily persevered in every day–that it should be like seed-time and
harvest, and summer and winter–a thing that should unceasingly come
around at regular seasons–that it should be like the fire on the altar,
not always consuming sacrifices, but never completely going out.
Never forget that you may tie together morning and evening devotions by
an endless chain of short ejaculatory prayers throughout the day. Even
in the company of others, or while you work, or going down the street,
you may be silently sending up little winged messengers to God, as
Nehemiah did in the very presence of Artaxerxes. (Nehemiah 2:4). And
never think that time is wasted which is given to God. A nation does not
become poorer because it loses one year of working days in seven by
honoring the Lord’s Day. A Christian never finds he is a loser in the
long run by persevering in prayer.
(e) I commend to you, in the next place, the importance of “earnestness”
It is not necessary that a man should shout, or scream, or be very loud,
in order to prove that he is serious. But it is desirable that we should
be hearty, and fervent, and warm, and ask as if we were really interested
in what we were doing. It is the prayer of a righteous man that is
“powerful and effective,” and not the cold, sleepy, lazy, listless one.
This is the lesson that is taught us by the expressions used in Scripture
about prayer. It is called, “crying, knocking, wrestling, laboring,
striving.” This is the lesson taught us by Scripture examples. Jacob is
one. He said to the angel at Penuel, “I will not let you go unless you
bless me” (Genesis 32:26). Daniel is another. Hear how he pleaded with
God: “O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake,
O my God” (Daniel 9:19). Our Lord Jesus Christ is another. It is written
of Him, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and
petitions with loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). Yet, how unlike is
this to many of our petitions! How tame and lukewarm they seem by
comparison! How truly might God say to many of us, “You do not really want
what you pray for!” Let us try to amend this fault. Let us knock loudly
at the door of grace, like Mercy in “Pilgrim’s Progress,” as if we must
perish unless heard. Let us settle it in our minds, that cold prayers are
a sacrifice without fire. Let us remember the story of Demosthenes, the
great orator, when one came to him, and wanted him to plead his cause. He
heard him without attention, while he told his story without earnestness.
The man saw this, and cried out with anxiety that it was all true. “Ah!”
said Demosthenes, “I believe you now.”
(f) I commend to you, in the next place, the importance of “praying with
We should endeavor to believe that our prayers are always heard, and that
if we ask things according to God’s will, we will always be answered.
This is the plain command of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Whatever you ask for
in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark
11:24). Faith is to prayer what the feather is to the arrow: without it
prayer will not hit the target. We should cultivate the habit of
pleading promises in our prayers. We should take with us some promise,
and say, “LORD God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning
your servant and his house. Do as you promised” (2 Samuel 7:25).
This was the habit of Jacob, and Moses, and David. The 119th Psalm is
full of things asked, “according to Your word.” Above all we should
cultivate the habit of expecting answers to our prayers. We should do
like the merchant who sends his ships to sea. We should not be satisfied
unless we see some return. The Church at Jerusalem made prayer without
ceasing for Peter in prison; but when the prayer was answered they would
hardly believe it. (Acts 12:15). It is a serious saying of old, “There
is no surer mark of trifling in prayer, than when men are careless what
they get by prayer.”
(g) I commend to you, in the next place, the importance of “boldness” in
There is an unbecoming familiarity in some men’s prayers, which I cannot
praise. But there is such a thing as a holy boldness, which is greatly
to be desired. I mean such boldness as that of Moses, when he pleads
with God not to destroy Israel: “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was
with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains
and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger;
relent and do not bring disaster on your people” (Exodus 32:12). I mean
such boldness as that of Joshua, when the children of Israel were
defeated before Ai: “What,” he says, “then will you do for your own great
name?” (Joshua 7:9). This is the boldness for which Luther was
distinguished. One who heard him praying said, “What a spirit–what a
confidence was in his very expression! With such a reverence he
petitioned, as one begging of God, and yet with such hope and assurance,
as if he spoke with a loving, father or friend.” This is the boldness
which distinguished Bruce, a great Scottish man of God of the 17th century.
His prayers were said to be “like thunderbolts shot up into heaven.”
Here I also fear we sadly come short. We do not sufficiently realize the
believer’s privileges. We do not plead as often as we should, “Lord, are
we not Your own people? Is it not for Your glory that we should be made
holy? Is it not for Your honor that the Gospel should be preached?”
(h) I commend to you, in the next place the “fullness” of prayer.
I do not forget that our Lord warns us against the example of the
Pharisees, who for show made long prayers, and commands us, when we pray,
not to use vain repetitions. But I cannot forget, on the other hand, that
He has given His own sanction to long devotions, by continuing all night
in prayer to God. In this day we are not likely to err on the side of
praying “too much.” Might it not rather be feared that many believers in
this generation pray “too little?” Is not the actual amount of time
that many Christians give to prayer in the total very small? I am afraid
these questions cannot be answered satisfactorily. I am afraid the
private devotions of many are most painfully few and limited–just enough
to prove they are alive, and no more. They really seem to want little
from God. They seem to have little to confess, little to ask for, and
little to thank Him for. Yes, this is completely wrong! Nothing is more
common than to hear believers complaining that they do not grow in their
faith. They tell us that they do not grow in grace, as they would
desire. Is it not rather to be suspected that many have just as much
grace as they ask for? Is it not the true story of many, that they have
little, because they ask little? The cause of their weakness is to be
found in their own stunted, dwarfish, clipped, contracted, hurried,
little, narrow, diminutive prayers. “They do not have not because they
do not ask.” Oh, reader, we are limited in Christ, but in ourselves.
The Lord says, “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” But we are
like the king of Israel who hit the ground three time and stopped, when
he ought to have hit it five or six times. (Psalm 81:10; 2 Kings 13:18-
(i) I commend to you, in the next place, the importance “being specific”
We ought not be content with general petitions. We ought to specify our
wants before the throne of grace. It should not be enough to confess we
are sinners. We should name the sins of which our conscience tells us we
are most guilty. It should not be enough to ask for holiness. We should
name the graces in which we feel the most deficient. It should not be
enough to tell the Lord we are in trouble. We should describe our
trouble and all its circumstances. This is what Jacob did, when he
feared his brother Esau. He tells God exactly what it is that he fears.
(Genesis 32:11). This is what Eliezer did, when he sought a wife for his
master’s son. He spreads before God precisely what he wants.
(Genesis 24:12). This is what Paul did, when be had a thorn in the
flesh. He told the Lord. (2 Corinthians 12:8). This is true faith and
confidence. We should believe that nothing is too small to be named
before God. What would we think of the patient who told his doctor he
was ill, but never went into particulars? What would we think of the
wife who told her husband she was unhappy, but did not specify the cause?
What should we think of the child who told his father he was in trouble,
but nothing more? Let us never forget that Christ is the true bride
groom of the soul–the true physician of the heart–the real father of
all His people. Let us show that we feel this, by being unreserved in
our communications with Him. Let us hide no secrets from Him. Let us
tell Him everything that is in our hearts.
(j) I commend to you, in the next place, the importance of
“intercession” in our prayers.
We are all selfish by nature, and our selfishness is very apt to stick to
us, even when we are converted. There is a tendency in us to think only
of our own souls–our own spiritual conflict–our own progress in
religion, and to forget others. Against this tendency we have need to
watch and strive, not the least in our prayers. We should study to be of
a public spirit. We should stir ourselves up to name other names beside
our own before the throne of grace. We should try to bear in our hearts
the whole world–the heathen–the Jew–the Roman Catholics–the body of
true believers–the professing Protestant Churches–the country in which
we live–the congregation to which we belong–the family and home in
which we live–the friends and relations we are connected with. For each
and all of these we should plead. This is the highest love. He loves me
best who loves me in his prayers. This is for our soul’s health. It
enlarges our sympathies and expands our hearts. This is for the benefit
of the Church. The wheels of all machinery for extending the Gospel are
oiled by prayer. They do as much for the Lord’s cause who intercede like
Moses on the mount, as they do who fight like Joshua in the thick of the
battle. This is to be like Christ. He bears the names of His people on
His breast and shoulders as their High Priest before the Father. Oh, the
privilege of being like Jesus! This is to be a true helper to ministers.
If I must choose a congregation, give me a people that prays.
(k) I commend to you, in the next place, the importance of
“thankfulness” in prayer.
I know well that asking God is one thing, and praising God is another.
But I see so close a connection between prayer and praise in the Bible,
that I dare not call that true prayer in which thankfulness has no part.
It is not for nothing that Paul says, “By prayer and petition, with
thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). “Devote
yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). It
is of mercy that we are not in hell. It is of mercy that we have the
hope of heaven. It is of mercy that we live in a land with spiritual
light. It is of mercy that we have been called by the Spirit, and not
left to reap the fruit of our own ways. It is of mercy that we still
live, and have opportunities of glorifying God actively or passively.
Surely, these thoughts should come to mind whenever we speak with God.
Surely, we should never open our lips in prayer without blessing God for
that free grace by which we live, and for that loving-kindness which
endures forever. Never was there a celebrated saint who was not full of
thankfulness. Men like Whitfield in the last century were ever running
over with thankfulness. Oh, if we would be bright and shining lights in
our day, we must cherish a spirit of praise! And above all, let our
prayers be thankful prayers.
(l) I commend to you, in the last place, the importance of “watchfulness
over your prayers.”
Prayer is that point of all others in religion at which you must be on
your guard. It is here that true religion begins: here it flourishes,
and here it decays. Tell me what a man’s prayers are, and I will soon
tell you the state of his soul. Prayer is the spiritual pulse: by this
the spiritual health may always be tested. Prayer is the spiritual
weather-glass: by this we may always know whether it is fair or foul with
our hearts. Oh, let us keep an eye continually upon our private
devotions! Here is the essence, and substance, and backbone of our
practical Christianity. Sermons, and books, and tracts, and committee
meetings, and the company of good men, are all good in their way; but
they will never make up for the neglect of private prayer. Mark well the
places, and society, and companions, that keep your hearts from communion
with God, and tend to make your prayers difficult. “There be on your
guard.” Observe what friends and what occupations leave your soul in
the most spiritual frame, and most ready to speak with God. “To these
cling and adhere to tightly.” If you will only take care of your
prayers, I will promise that nothing will go wrong with your soul.
I offer these points for private consideration. I do it in all humility.
I know no one who needs to be reminded of them more than I do myself.
But I believe them to be God’s own truth, and I should love to know and
understand them more.
I want the times we live in to be praying times. I want the Christians
of our day to be praying Christians. I want the Church of our age to be
a praying Church. My heart’s desire and prayer in sending out this paper
is to promote a spirit of prayerfulness. I want those who never prayed
yet, to rise and call upon God; and I want those who do pray, to improve
their prayers every year, and to see that they are not slacking off and
praying in the wrong way.
Transcribed by Tony Capoccia of
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