Profiting from the Scriptures
By J.C. Ryle
(1) For one thing, begin reading your Bible this very day. The way to do a thing — is to do it; and the way to read the Bible — is actually to read it! It is not merely meaning, or wishing, or resolving, or intending, or thinking about it — which will advance you one step. You must positively read. There is no royal road in this matter, any more than in the matter of prayer. If you cannot read yourself, you must persuade somebody else to read it to you. But one way or another, through eyes or ears — the words of Scripture must actually pass before your mind.
(2) For another thing, read the Bible with an earnest desire to understand it. Do not think for a moment, that the great object is to turn over a certain quantity of printed paper, and that it matters nothing whether you understand it or not. Some ignorant people seem to imagine, that all is done if they advance so many chapters every day, though they may not have a notion what they are all about, and only know that they have pushed on their bookmark ahead so many pages. This is turning Bible reading into a mere ritual form. It is almost as bad as the Popish habit of 'buying indulgences' — by saying an astounding number of 'Ave-Marias' and 'Pater-nosters' (Hail-Mary's and Our-Father's — on their 'rosary beads'.) It reminds one of the poor Hottentot who ate up a Dutch hymn-book because he saw it comforted his neighbors' hearts! Settle it down in your mind as a general principle, that a Bible not understood — is a Bible that does no good! Say to yourself often as you read, "What is this all about?" Dig for the meaning like a man digging for gold.
(3) For another thing, read the Bible with child-like faith and humility. Open your heart — as you open God's book, and say,"Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!" Resolve to believe implicitly whatever you find there, however much it may run counter to your own desires and prejudices. Resolve to receive heartily every statement of truth — whether you like it or not. Beware of that miserable habit into which some readers of the Bible fall — they receive some doctrines because they like them; and they reject others because they are condemning to themselves, or to some relation, or friend. At this rate, the Bible is useless! Are we to be judges of what ought to be in God's Word? Do we know better than God? Settle it down in your mind — that you will receive all and believe all, and that what you cannot understand — you will take on trust. Remember, when you pray — that you are speaking to God, and God hears you. But, remember, when you read Scripture — that God is speaking to you, and you are not to "dictate," but to listen!
(4) For another thing, read the Bible in a spirit of obedience and self-application. Sit down to the study of it with a daily determination that you will . . .
live by its rules,
rest on its statements,
and act on its commands.
Consider, as you travel through every chapter, "How does this affect my thinking and daily conduct? What does this teach me?" It is poor work to read the Bible from mere curiosity, and for speculative purposes — in order to fill your head and store your mind with mere opinions; while you do not allow the book to influence your heart and life. That Bible is read best — which is practiced most!
(5) For another thing, read the Bible daily. Make it a part of every day's business to read and meditate on some portion of God's Word. Private means of grace are just as needful every day for our souls — as food and clothing are for our bodies. Yesterday's food will not feed the laborer today; and today's food will not feed the laborer tomorrow. Do as the Israelites did in the wilderness. Gather your manna fresh every morning. Choose your own seasons and hours. Do not scramble over and hurry your reading. Give your Bible the best, and not the worst part of your time! But whatever plan you pursue, let it be a rule of your life to visit the throne of graceand God's Word every day.
(6) For another thing, read all of the Bible — and read it in an orderly way. I fear there are many parts of the Word which some people never read at all. This is to say at the least, a very presumptuous habit. "All Scripture is profitable." (2 Timothy 3:16.) To this habit may be traced that lack of well-proportioned views of truth, which is so common in this day. Some people's Bible-reading is a system of perpetual 'dipping and picking'. They do not seem to have an idea of regularly going through the whole book.
This also is a great mistake. No doubt in times of sickness and affliction, it is allowable to search out seasonable portions. But with this exception, I believe it is by far the best plan to begin the Old and New Testaments at the same time — to read each straight through to the end, and then begin again. This is a matter in which every one must be persuaded in his own mind. I can only say it has been my own plan for nearly forty years, and I have never seen cause to alter it.
(7) For another thing, read the Bible fairly and honestly. Determine to take everything in its plain, obvious meaning — and regard all forced interpretations with great suspicion. As a general rule, whatever a verse of the Bible seems to mean — it does mean! Cecil's rule is a very valuable one, "The right way of interpreting Scripture is to take it as we find it, without any attempt to force it into any particular theological system."
(8) In the last place, read the Bible with Christ continually in view. The grand primary object of all Scripture, is to testify of Jesus! Old Testament ceremonies are shadows of Christ. Old Testament deliverers are types of Christ. Old Testament prophecies are full of Christ's sufferings, and of Christ's glory yet to come.
The first coming and the second;
the Lord's humiliation and His glorious kingdom;
His cross and the crown —
shine forth everywhere in the Bible. Keep fast hold on this clue, if you would read the Bible aright!
I might easily add to these hints, if space permitted. Few and short as they are — you will find them most profitable when implemented.
Do You Believe?
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish—but have everlasting life." John 3:16
Look at the well-known text which heads this page. Its words are probably familiar to your ears. You have very likely heard them, or read them, or quoted them, a hundred times. But have you ever considered what a vast amount of divinity this text contains? No wonder that Luther called it "the Bible in miniature!" And have you ever considered what an immensely solemn question arises out of this text? The Lord Jesus says, "Whoever believes shall not perish." Now, reader, DO YOU BELIEVE?
Questions about religion are seldom popular. They frighten people. They oblige them to look within and to think. The insolvent tradesman does not like his books to be searched. The faithless steward does not like his accounts to be examined. And the unconverted professing Christian does not like to be asked home-questions about his soul.
But questions about religion are very useful. The Lord Jesus Christ asked many questions during His ministry on earth. The servant of Christ ought not to be ashamed to do likewise. Questions about things necessary to salvation—questions which probe the conscience, and bring men face to face with God—such questions often bring life and health to souls. I know few questions more important than the one before you today. DO YOU BELIEVE?
Reader, the question before you is no easy one to answer. Think not to thrust it aside by the off-hand answer, "Of course I believe." I tell you this day, that true belief is no such "matter of course" as you suppose. I tell you that myriads of Protestants and Roman Catholics are constantly saying on Sundays, "I believe," who know nothing whatever of believing. They cannot explain what they mean. They neither know what, nor in whom, they believe. They can give no account of their faith. Reader, a belief of this kind is utterly useless. It can neither satisfy, nor sanctify, nor save.
I invite you in all affection, to consider the question which heads this tract. I ask you to give me your attention while I try to place it before you in its full proportions. In order to see clearly the importance of "believing," you should ponder well the words of Christ to which I have already referred. It is by the unfolding of these words, that I shall hope to make you feel the weight of the question, "Do you believe?"
There are four things which I wish to show you, and to impress upon your mind.
I. God's mind towards the world—He "loved" it.
2. God's gift to the world—"He gave His only begotten Son."
3. The only way to obtain the benefit of God's gift—"Whoever believes on Him shall not perish."
4. The marks by which true belief may be known.
Reader, I invite you to follow me step by step through the four points I have just stated. Do not throw down this tract in anger or impatience—but read it to the end. One thing I desire in writing it, and that is, YOUR SALVATION.
I. Let us consider, in the first place—God's mind towards the world—He "loved" it.
The extent of the Father's love towards the world is a subject on which there is some difference of opinion. It is a subject on which I have long taken my side, and never hesitate to speak my mind. I believe that the Bible teaches us, that God's love extends to all mankind. "His tender mercies are over all His works" (Psalm 145:9). He did not love the Jews only—but the Gentiles also. He does not love His own elect only. He loves all the world.
But what kind of love is this with which the Father regards all mankind? It cannot be a love of delight, or else He would cease to be a perfect God. He is one who cannot bear that which is evil. Oh, no! The world-wide love of which Jesus speaks—is a love of kindness, pity, and compassion. Fallen as man is, and provoking as man's ways are, the heart of God is full of kindness towards him. While as a righteous Judge He hates sin, He is yet able in a certain sense--to love sinners! The length and breadth of His compassion are not to be measured by our feeble measures. We are not to suppose that He is such a one as ourselves. Righteous and holy and pure as God is, it is yet possible for God to love all mankind.
Think, reader, for a moment, how wonderful is this extent of God's love. Look at the state of mankind in every part of the earth, and mark the amazing quantity of wickedness and ungodliness by which earth is defiled. Look at the millions of heathen worshiping stocks and stones, and living in a spiritual darkness "which may be felt." Look at the millions of Roman Catholics, burying the truth under man-made traditions, and giving the honor due to Christ to the church, the saints, and the priest. Look at the millions of Protestants who are content with a mere formal Christianity, and know nothing of Christian believing or Christian living--except the name. Look at the land in which we live at this very day, and mark the sins which abound even in a privileged nation like our own. Think how drunkenness, and immorality, and lying, and swearing, and pride, and covetousness, and infidelity—are crying aloud to God from one end of Great Britain to the other. And then remember that God loves this world! No wonder that we find it written that He is "merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth" (Exod. 34. 6). His compassions fail not. He is "not willing that any should perish—but that all should come to repentance." He "would have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." He "has no pleasure in the death of him who dies." (2 Peter 3. 9: 1 Tim. 2. 4: Ezek. 33. 11.) There lives not the man or woman on earth whom God regards with absolute hatred or complete indifference. His mercy is like all His other attributes. It passes knowledge. God loves the world.
Reader, there are divers and strange doctrines abroad in the present day about the love of God. It is a precious truth which Satan labors hard to obscure by misrepresentation and perversion. Grasp it firmly, and stand on your guard.
Beware of the common idea that God the Father is only an angry Being, whom sinful man can only regard with fear, and from whom he must flee to Christ for safety. Cast it aside as a baseless and unscriptural notion. Contend earnestly for all the attributes of God—for His holiness and His justice, as well as for His love. But never allow for one moment that there is any lack of love towards sinners in any Person in the Blessed Trinity. Oh, no! Such as the Father is—such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father loves, and the Son loves, and the Holy Spirit loves. When Christ came on earth, the kindness and love of God toward man appeared. (Titus 3:4.) The cross is the effect of the Father's love, and not the cause. Redemption is the result of the compassion of all three Persons in the Trinity. To place the Father and the Son in opposition one to another, is weak and crude theology. Christ died, not because God the Father hated—but because He loved the world.
Beware, again, of the common doctrine that God's love is limited and confined to His own elect, and that all the rest of mankind are passed by, neglected, and let alone. This also is a notion that will not bear examination by the light of Scripture. The father of a prodigal son can surely love and pity him, even when he is walking after his own lusts, and refusing to return home. The Maker of all things may surely love the work of His own hands with a love of compassion, even when rebellious against Him. Let us resist to the death, the unscriptural doctrine of universal salvation. It is not true that all mankind will be finally saved. But let us not fly into the extreme of denying God's universal compassion. It is true that God "loves the world." Let us maintain jealously the privileges of God's elect. It is true that they are loved with a special love, and will be loved to all eternity. But let us not exclude any man or woman from the pale of God's kindness and compassion. We have no right to pare down the meaning of words when Jesus says, "God loved the world." The heart of God is far wider than that of man. There is a sense in which the Father loves all mankind.
I hold firmly the doctrine of election—as one of the sheet anchors of my beliefs. I delight in the blessed truth that God has loved His own elect with an everlasting love, before the foundation of the world. But all this is beside the question before us. That question is, "How does God regard all mankind?" I reply unhesitatingly, that God loves them. God loves all the world with a love of compassion.
Reader, if you never took up the service of Christ in real earnest, and have the least desire to begin, take comfort in the truth now before you. Take comfort in the thought that God the Father is a God of infinite love and compassion. Do not hang back and hesitate, under the idea that God is an angry Being, who is unwilling to receive sinners, and slow to pardon. Remember this day that love is the Father's darling attribute. In Him there is perfect justice, perfect purity, perfect wisdom, perfect knowledge, infinite power. But, above all, never forget there is in the Father a perfect love and compassion. Draw near to Him with boldness, because Jesus has made a way for you. But draw near to Him also with boldness, because it is written that "He loved the world."
Reader, if you have taken up the service of God already, never be ashamed of imitating Him whom you serve. Be full of love and kindness to all men, and full of special love to those who believe. Let there be nothing narrow, limited, contracted, stingy, or sectarian in your love. Do not only love your family and your friends—love all mankind. Love your neighbors and your fellow countrymen. Love strangers and foreigners. Love heathen and Muhammadans. Love the worst of men with a love of pity. Love all the world. Lay aside all envy and malice—all selfishness and unkindness. To keep up such a spirit, is to be no better than an infidel. Let everything you do—be done with charity. Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and be not weary of doing them good, to your life's end. The world may sneer at such conduct and call it base and low-spirited. But this is the mind of Christ. This is the way to be like God! GOD LOVED THE WORLD.
2. The next thing I want you to consider is God's GIFT to the world. "He gave His only begotten Son."
The manner in which the truth before us is stated by our Lord Jesus Christ, demands special attention. It would be well for many who talk big swelling words about "the love of God" in the present day, if they would mark the way in which the Lord Jesus sets it before us.
The love of God towards the world is not a vague, abstract idea of mercy, which we are obliged to take on trust without any proof that it is true. It is a love which has been manifested by a mighty gift. It is a love which has been put before us in a plain, unmistakable, tangible form. God the Father was not content to sit in heaven, idly pitying His fallen creatures on earth. He has given the mightiest evidence of His love towards us by a gift of unspeakable value. He has "spared not His own Son—but delivered Him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). He has so loved us—that He has given us Christ! A higher proof of the Father's love could not have been given.
Again, it is not written that God so loved the world that He resolved to save it—but that He so loved it that He gave Christ. His love is not displayed at the expense of His holiness and justice. It flows down from heaven to earth through one particular channel. It is set before men in one special way. It is only—through Christ, by Christ, on account of Christ, and in inseparable connection with the work of Christ. Let us glory in God's love by all means. Let us proclaim to all the world that God is love. But let us carefully remember that we know little or nothing of God's love which can give us comfort, excepting in Jesus Christ. It is not written that God so loved the world that He will take all the world to heaven—but that He so loved it, that He has given His only begotten Son. He who ventures on God's love without reference to Christ—is building on a foundation of sand!
Who can estimate the value of God's gift, when He gave to the world His only begotten Son? It is something unspeakable and incomprehensible! It passes man's understanding. There are two which man has no arithmetic to compute, and no line to measure. One of these things is the extent of that man's loss—who loses his own soul. The other is the extent of God's gift—when He gave Christ to sinners. He gave no created thing for our redemption, though all the treasures of earth, and all the stars of heaven were at His disposal. He gave no created being to be our Redeemer, though angels, principalities and powers in heavenly places, were ready to do His will. Oh no! He gave us One who was nothing less than His own fellow, fully and truly God—His only begotten Son! He who thinks lightly of man's need and man's sin—would do well to consider man's Savior! Sin must indeed be exceeding sinful, when the Father must needs give His only Son to be the sinner's Friend and Savior!
Reader, have you ever considered to what the Father gave His only begotten Son? Was it to be received with gratitude and thankfulness by a lost and bankrupt world? Was it to reign in royal majesty on a restored earth, and put down every enemy under His feet? Was it to enter the world as a king, and to give laws to a willing and obedient people? No! The Father gave His Son to be despised and rejected by men, to be born of a poor woman, and live a life of poverty—to be hated, persecuted, slandered, and blasphemed—to be counted as a criminal, condemned as a transgressor, and die the death of a felon! Never was there such love as this! Never such condescension! The man among ourselves who cannot stoop much and suffer much in order to do good, knows nothing of the mind of Christ.
For what end and purpose did the Father give His only begotten Son? Was it only to supply an example of self-denial and self-sacrifice? No! It was for a far higher end and purpose than this. He gave Him to be a sacrifice for man's sin, and an atonement for man's transgression. He gave Him to be delivered for our offences, and to die for the ungodly. He gave Him to bear our iniquities, and to suffer for our sins—the just for the unjust. He gave Him to be made a curse for us—that we might be redeemed from the curse of the law. He gave Him who knew no sin—to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. He gave Him to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only—but for the sins of the whole world. He gave Him to be a ransom for us, and to make satisfaction for our heavy debt to God by His own precious blood. He gave Him to be the Almighty Friend of sinners—to be their Surety and Substitute—to do for them what they never could have done for themselves—to suffer what they could never have suffered—and to pay what they could never have paid. All that Jesus did and suffered on earth was according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. The chief end for which He lived and died—was to provide eternal redemption for sinners.
Reader, beware of ever losing sight of the great purpose for which Christ was given by God the Father. Let not the false teaching of modern divinity, however plausible it may sound, tempt you to forsake the old paths. Hold fast the faith once delivered to the saints, that the special object for which Christ was given—was to die for sinners, and to make atonement for them by His sacrifice on the cross. Once give up this great doctrine, and there is little worth contending for in Christianity. If Christ did not really bear our sins on the tree as our Substitute, there is an end of all solid peace.
Beware, again, of holding narrow and confined views of the extent of Christ's redemption. Regard Him as given by God the Father to be the common Savior for all the world. See in Him the fountain for all sin and wickedness, to which every sinner may come boldly, drink and live. See in Him the brazen serpent set up in the midst of the camp, to which every sin-bitten soul may look and be healed. See in Him a healing medicine of matchless value, sufficient for the needs of all the world, and offered freely to all mankind. The way to heaven is narrow enough already, by reason of man's pride, hardness, sloth, listlessness, and unbelief. But take heed that you do not make that way more narrow than it really is.
I confess, boldly—that I hold the doctrine of particular redemption, in a certain sense, as strongly as any one. I believe that none are effectually redeemed, but God's elect. They and they alone, are set free from the guilt, and power, and consequences of sin. But I hold no less strongly, that Christ's work of atonement is sufficient for all mankind. There is a sense in which He has tasted death for every man, and has taken upon Him the sin of the world. I dare not pare down, and file away, what appear to me the plain statements of Scripture. I dare not shut a door which God seems, to my eyes, to have left open. I dare not tell any man on earth that Christ has done nothing for him, and that he has no warrant to apply boldly to Christ for salvation. I must abide by the statements of the Bible. Christ is God's gift to the whole world.
Reader, I ask you to observe what a giving religion, true Christianity is. Gift, love, and free-grace are the grand characteristics of the pure gospel. The Father loves the world—and gives His only begotten Son. The Son loves us—and gives Himself for us. The Father and the Son together—give the Holy Spirit to all who ask. All Three Persons in the Blessed Trinity give grace upon grace to those who believe. Never be ashamed of being a giving Christian, if you profess to have any hope in Christ. Give freely, liberally, and self-denyingly, according as you have power and opportunity. Let not your love consist in nothing more than vague expressions of kindness and compassion. Make proof of it by actions. Help forward the cause of Christ on earth—by money, influence, pains, and prayer. If God so loved you as to give His Son for your soul—you should count it a privilege, and not a burden, to give what you can to do good to men.
Reader, if God has given you His only begotten Son, beware of doubting His kindness and love in any painful providence of your daily life! Never allow yourself to think hard thoughts of God. Never suppose that He can give you anything which is not really for your good. Remember the words of Paul: "He who spared not His own Son—but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things" (Romans 8:32.) See in every sorrow and trouble of your earthly pilgrimage—the hand of Him who gave Christ to die for your sins. That hand can never smite you—except in love. He who gave you His only begotten Son, will never withhold anything from you that is really for your good. Lean back on this thought and be content. Say to yourself in the darkest hour of trial, "This also is ordered by Him who gave Christ to die for my sins. It cannot be wrong. It is done in love. It must be well."
3. The third thing I propose to consider, is the WAY in which man obtains the benefit of God's love and Christ's salvation. It is written that "whoever believes shall not perish."
Reader, the point before you is of the deepest importance. To bring it out clearly before your eyes is one great object of the tract you are now reading. God has loved the world. God has given His Son "to be the Savior of the world" (1 John 4:14). And yet we learn from Scripture that many people in the world never reach heaven! Here at any rate is limitation. Here the gate is strait and the way narrow. Some and some only out of mankind, obtain eternal benefit from Christ. Who then, and what, are they?
Christ and His benefits are only available to those who believe. This is a doctrine repeatedly laid down in Scripture, in plain and unmistakable language. Those who will not believe in Him have no part in Him. Without believing there is no salvation. It is vain to suppose that any will be saved—merely because Christ was incarnate—or because Christ is in heaven—or because they belong to Christ's church—or because they are baptized—or because they have received the Lord's supper. All this is entirely useless to any man—except he believes. Without faith on his part, all these things together, will not save his soul. We must have personal faith in Christ, personal dealings with Christ, personal transactions with Christ—or we are lost for evermore. It is utterly false and unscriptural to say that Christ is in every man. Christ no doubt is for everyone—but Christ is not in everyone. He dwells only in those hearts which have faith—and all, unhappily, have not faith. He who believes not in the Son of God is yet in his sins—and the wrath of God abides on him! "He who believes not," says our Lord Jesus Christ in words of fearful distinctness—"He who believes not—shall be damned!" (Mark 6:16; John 3:36).
But Christ and all His benefits are the property of any person who believes. Everyone who believes on the Son of God—is at once pardoned, forgiven, justified, counted righteous, reckoned innocent, and freed from all liability to condemnation! His sins, however many—are at once cleansed away by Christ's precious blood. His soul, however guilty—is at once clothed with Christ's perfect righteousness. It matters not what he may have been in time past. His sins may have been of the worst kind. His former character may be of the blackest description. But does he believe on the Son of God? This is the one question. If he does believe, he is justified from all things in the sight of God. It matters nothing that he can bring to Christ nothing to recommend him—no good works, no long-proved amendments, no unmistakable repentance and change of life. But does he this day, believe in Jesus Christ? This is the grand question! If he does—he is at once accepted. He is accounted righteous for Christ's sake.
But what is this believing, which is of such matchless importance? What is the nature of this faith, which gives a man such amazing privileges? This is an important question. I ask your attention to the answer. Here is a rock on which many make shipwreck. And yet there is nothing really mysterious and hard to understand about saving belief. The whole difficulty arises from man's pride and self-righteousness. It is the very simplicity of justifying faith, at which thousands stumble. They cannot understand it—because they will not stoop.
Believing on Christ is no mere intellectual assent—or belief of the mind. This is no more than the faith of devils! We may believe that there was a divine Person called Jesus Christ, who lived and died and rose again, eighteen hundred years ago—and yet never believe so as to be saved. Doubtless there must be some knowledge of the gospel, before we can believe. There is no true religion in ignorance. But knowledge alone is not saving faith.
Believing on Christ again is not mere feeling something about Christ. This is often no more than temporary excitement, which, like the early dew, soon passes away. We may be pricked in conscience, and feel drawings toward the Gospel like Herod and Felix. We may even tremble and weep, and show much affection for the truth and those that profess it. And yet all this time our hearts and wills may remain utterly unchanged and secretly chained down to the world. Doubtless there is no saving faith where there is no feeling. But feeling alone—is not true faith.
True belief in Christ is the unreserved trust of a heart convinced of sin—in Christ, as an all-sufficient Savior. It is the combined act of the whole man's mind, conscience, heart, and will. It is often so weak and feeble at first, that he who has it, cannot be persuaded that he has it. And yet, like life in the newborn infant, his belief may be real, genuine, saving, and true. The moment that the conscience is convinced of sin, and the head sees Christ to be the only One who can save, and the heart and will lay hold on the hand that Christ holds out—that moment there is saving faith. In that moment a man truly believes.
True belief in Christ is so immensely important, that the Holy Spirit has graciously used many figures in the Bible in describing it. The Lord God knows the slowness of man to comprehend spiritual things. He has therefore multiplied forms of expression, in order to set true faith fully before us. The man who cannot understand "believing" in one form of words, will perhaps understand it in another.
1. Believing is the soul's COMING to Christ. The Lord Jesus says, "He who comes to Me shall never hunger." "Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (John 6:35; Matt. 11:28). Christ is that Almighty Friend, Advocate, and Physician, to whom all sinners, needing help, are commanded to apply. The believer comes to Him by faith—and is relieved.
2. Believing is the soul's RECEIVING Christ. Paul says, "You have received Christ Jesus the Lord" (Col. 2:6). Christ offers to come into man's heart with pardon, mercy, and grace, and to dwell there as its Peacemaker and King. He says, "I stand at the door and knock" (Rev. 3. 20). The believer hears His voice, opens the door, and admits Christ as his Teacher, Priest, and King.
3. Believing is the soul's BUILDING on Christ. Paul says, you are "built up in Him." "You are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Col. 2:7; Ephes. 2:20). Christ is that sure cornerstone, that strong foundation, which alone can bear the weight of a sinful soul. The believer places his hopes for eternity on Him—and is safe. The earth may be shaken and dissolved—but he is built upon a rock, and will never be confounded.
4. Believing is the soul's PUTTING ON Christ. Paul says, "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27). Christ is that pure white robe, which God has provided for all sinners who would enter heaven. The believer puts on this robe by faith—and is at once perfect, and free from any spot in God's sight.
5. Believing is the soul's LAYING HOLD on Christ. Paul says, "We have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us" (Heb. 6:18). Christ is that true city of refuge, to which the man fleeing from the avenger of blood runs, and in which he is safe. Christ is that altar which provided a sanctuary to him who laid hold on its horns. Christ is that almighty hand of mercy, which God holds out from heaven to lost and drowning sinners. The believer lays hold on this hand by faith, and is delivered from the pit of hell.
6. Believing is the soul's EATING Christ. The Lord Jesus says, "My flesh is food indeed. He who eats of this bread shall live forever" (John 6:55, 58). Christ is that divine food which God has provided for starving sinners. He is that divine bread which is at the same time—life, nourishment and medicine! The believer feeds on this bread of life by faith. His hunger is relieved. His soul is delivered from damnation!
7. Believing is the soul's DRINKING Christ. The Lord Jesus says, "My blood is drink indeed" (John 6:55). Christ is that fountain of living water which God has opened for the use of all thirsty and sin-defiled sinners, proclaiming, "Whoever will, let him take the water of life freely!" (Rev. 22:17). The believer drinks of this living water—and his thirst is quenched.
8. Believing is the soul's COMMITTAL of itself to Christ. Paul says, "He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). Christ is the appointed keeper and guardian of His people. It is His office to preserve from sin, death, hell, and the devil--any who are committed to His charge. The believer places his soul in the hands of this Almighty treasure-keeper, and is insured against loss to all eternity. He trusts himself to Christ—and is safe.
9. Last—but not least, believing is the soul's LOOK to Christ. Paul describes the saints as "looking unto Jesus" (Heb. 12:2). The invitation of the Gospel is, "look unto Me—and be saved" (Isaiah 45:22). Christ is that brazen serpent which God has set up in the world, for the healing of all sin-bitten souls who desire to be cured. The believer looks to Him by faith--and receives life, health, and spiritual strength!
One common remark applies to all the nine expressions which I have just gone through. They all give us the simplest idea of faith or believing--that man can desire. No one of them implies the notion of anything mysterious, great, or meritorious in the act of belief. All represent it as something within reach of the weakest and feeblest sinner, and within the comprehension of the most ignorant and unlearned. Grant for a moment that a man says, that he cannot understand what faith in Christ is. Let him look at the nine expressions under which faith is described in Scripture, and tell me, if he can, that he cannot understand them. Surely he must allow that coming to Christ, looking to Christ, committing our souls to Christ, laying hold on Christ, are simple ideas. Then let him remember that coming, looking, and committing our souls to Christ, are, in other words, believing.
And now, reader, if you love peace of conscience in your religion, I entreat you to grasp firmly the great doctrine which I have tried to set before you—and never let it go. Hold fast the grand truth, that saving faith is nothing but simple trust in Christ, that faith alone justifies, and that the one thing needful in order to obtain an interest in Christ—is to believe. No doubt repentance, holiness, and love are excellent things. They will always accompany true faith. But in the matter of justification, they have nothing to do. In that matter, the one thing needful is to believe. No doubt, belief is not the only grace to be found in the heart of a true Christian. But only belief gives him a saving interest in Christ. Prize that doctrine as the peculiar treasure of Christianity. Once let it go, or add anything to it, and there is an end of inward peace.
Prize the doctrine for its suitableness to the needs of fallen man. It places salvation within reach of the lowest and vilest sinner—if he has but heart and will to receive it. It asks him not for works, righteousness, merit, goodness or worthiness. It requires nothing of him. It strips him of all excuses. It deprives him of all pretext for despair. His sins may have been as scarlet. But will he believe? Then there is hope!
Prize the doctrine for its glorious simplicity. It brings eternal life near to the poor, and ignorant, and unlearned. It does not ask a man for a long confession of doctrinal orthodoxy. It does not require a store of head knowledge, and an acquaintance with articles and creeds. Does the man, with all his ignorance, come to Christ as a sinner, and commit himself entirely to Him for salvation? Will he believe? If he will—there is hope.
Above all, prize the doctrine for the glorious breadth and fullness of its terms. It does not say "the elect" who believe, or "the rich" who believe, or "the moral" people who believe, or "the Churchman" who believes, or "the Dissenter" who believes—these, and these only shall be saved. Oh! no, it uses a word of far wider signification: It says, "Whoever believes, shall not perish." Whoever—whatever his past life, conduct, or character; whatever his name, rank, job, or country; whatever his denomination, and whatever place of worship he may have attended; whoever believes in Christ shall not perish!
Reader, this is the Gospel. I do not marvel that Paul wrote those words, "if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you—let him be accursed!" (Gal. 1:8).
4. The fourth and last thing which I propose to consider, is a point of great practical importance. I wish to show you the MARKS by which true belief in Christ may be discerned and known.
The faith or believing of which I have spoken, is a grace of such importance, that we may naturally expect to hear of many counterfeits of it. There is a dead faith as well as a living one. There is a faith of devils as well as a faith of God's elect. There is a faith which is vain and useless, as well as a faith which justifies and saves. How shall a man know whether he has true faith? How shall he find out whether he believes to the saving of his soul? The thing may be found out! The Ethiopian may be known by the color of his skin; and the leopard may be known by his spots. True faith may always be known by certain marks. These marks are laid down unmistakably in Scripture. Reader, let me endeavor to set these marks plainly before you. Look at them carefully—and test your own soul by what I am going to say.
1. He who truly believes in Christ—has inward PEACE and HOPE. It is written, "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." "We which have believed do enter into rest" (Romans 5:1; Heb. 4:3). The believer's sins are pardoned, and his iniquities taken away. His conscience is no longer burdened with the load of unpardoned transgressions. He is reconciled to God, and is one of His friends. He can look forward to death, judgment, and eternity—without fear. The sting of death is taken away. When the great judgment of the last day is held, and the books are opened—there will be nothing laid to his charge. When eternity begins—he is provided for. He has a hope laid up in heaven, and a city which cannot be moved. He may not be fully sensible of all these privileges. His sense and view of them may vary greatly at different times—and be often obscured by doubts and fears. Like a child who is yet under age, though heir to a great fortune—he may not be fully aware of the value of his possessions. But with all his doubts and fears—he has a real, solid, true hope which will bear examination, and at his best moments, he will be able to say, "I feel a hope which makes me not ashamed." (Romans 5:5.)
2. He who truly believes in Christ—has a NEW HEART. It is written, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature—old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new." "To as many as received Christ, He gave power to become sons of God, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man—but of God." "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ—is born of God" (2 Cor. 5:17; John 1:12, 18; 1 John 5:1.) A believer has no longer the same nature with which he was born. He is changed, renewed, and transformed after the image of his Lord and Savior. He who minds first the things of the flesh—has no saving faith. True faith, and spiritual regeneration, are inseparable companions. An unconverted person is not a genuine believer!
3. He who truly believes in Christ—is a HOLY person in heart and life. It is written that God "purifies the heart by faith," and that Christians are "sanctified by faith." "Whoever has this hope in him, purifies himself." (Acts 15:9; 26:18; 1 John 3:3.). A believer loves what God loves, and hates what God hates. His heart's desire is to walk in the way of God's commandments, and to abstain from all manner of evil. His wish is to follow after the things which are just, and pure, and honest, and lovely, and of good report, and to cleanse himself from all filthiness of flesh and spirit. He falls far short of his aim, in many things. He finds his daily life a constant fight with indwelling corruption. But he fights on, and resolutely refuses to serve sin. Where there is no holiness, we may be sure there is no saving faith! An unholy man is not a genuine believer!
4. He who truly believes in Christ—works godly WORKS. It is written, that "faith works by love" (Gal. 5:6). True belief will never make a man idle, or allow him to sit still, contented with his own religion. It will stir him to do acts of love, kindness, and charity, according as he sees opportunity. It will constrain him to walk in the steps of his Master, who "went about doing good." In one way or another, it will make him work. The works that he does may attract no notice from the world. They may seem trifling and insignificant to many people. But they are not forgotten by Him who notices a cup of cold water given for His sake. Where there is no working love—there is no faith. A lazy, selfish professing Christian, has no right to regard himself as a genuine believer!
5. He who truly believes in Christ—overcomes the WORLD. It is written, that "whoever is born of God overcomes the world—and this is the victory which overcomes the world—even our faith" (1 John 5:4). A true believer is not ruled by the world's standard of right or wrong, of truth or error. He is independent of the world's opinion. He cares little for the world's praise. He is not moved by the world's censure. He does not seek for the world's pleasures. He is not ambitious of the world's rewards. He looks at things unseen. He sees an invisible Savior, a coming judgment, a crown of glory which never fades away. The sight of these objects, makes him think comparatively little of this present world. Where the world reigns in the heart, there is no genuine faith. A man who is habitually conformed to the world, has no title to the name of a true believer!
6. He who truly believes in Christ—has an inward TESTIMONY of his belief. It is written, that "he who believes on the Son of God, has the witness in himself" (1 John 5:10). The mark before us requires very delicate handling. The witness of the Spirit is unquestionably a very difficult subject. But I cannot shrink from declaring my own firm persuasion, that a true believer always has inward feelings peculiar to himself—feelings which are inseparably connected with his faith, and flow from it—feelings of which unbelievers know nothing at all. He has the spirit of adoption, by which he regards God as a reconciled Father, and looks up to Him without fear. He has the testimony of his conscience, sprinkled with Christ's blood, that, weak as he is, he rests on Christ. He has hopes, joys, fears, sorrows, consolations, expectations, of which he knew nothing before he believed. He has internal evidences which the world cannot understand—but which are better to him than all the books of evidence in existence. Feelings are, no doubt, very deceitful. But where there are no inward pious feelings—there is no faith. A man who knows nothing of an inward, spiritual, experimental religion, is not yet a genuine believer!
7. Last—but not least, He who truly believes in Christ—has a special regard in all his religion—to the person of CHRIST Himself. It is written, "Unto you that believe Christ is precious" (1 Peter 2:7). That text deserves especial notice. It does not say "Christianity" is precious, or the "Gospel" is precious, or "salvation" is precious—but Christ Himself. A true believer's religion, does not consist in mere intellectual assent to a certain set of propositions and doctrines. It is not a mere cold belief of a certain set of truths and facts concerning Christ. It consists in union, communion, and fellowship with an actual living Person, even Jesus the Son of God. It is a life of faith in Jesus, confidence in Jesus, leaning on Jesus, drawing out of the fullness of Jesus, speaking to Jesus, working for Jesus, loving Jesus, and looking for Jesus to come again. Such life may sound like enthusiasm to many. But where there is true faith, Christ will always be known and realized, as an actual living personal Friend. He who knows nothing of Christ as his own Priest, Physician, and Redeemer, knows nothing yet of genuine believing!
Reader, I place these seven marks of believing before you, and I ask you to consider them well. I do not say, that all believers have them equally. I do not say, that no one will be saved, who cannot discover all these marks in himself. I concede, freely, that many believers are so weak in faith, that they go doubting all their days, and make others doubt about them too. I simply say, that these are the marks to which a man should first direct his attention, if he would answer the mighty question, Do you believe?
Where the seven marks, of which I have just been speaking, are utterly lacking, I dare not tell a man that he is a true believer. He may be called a Christian, and attend a Christian church. He may have been baptized with Christian baptism, and be a member of a Christian church. But if he knows nothing of peace with God, conversion of heart, newness of life, victory over the world, I dare not pronounce him a believer. He is yet dead in trespasses and sins. Except he awakes to newness of life, he will perish everlastingly.
Show me a man who has about him the seven marks which I have described, and I feel a strong confidence about the state of his soul. He may be poor and needy in this world—but he is rich in the sight of God. He may be despised and sneered at by man—but he is honorable in the sight of the King of kings. He is traveling towards heaven! He has a mansion ready for him in the Father's house. He is cared for by Christ, while on earth. He will be owned by Christ before assembled worlds, in the life which is to come.
1. And now, reader, in drawing this tract to a conclusion, I return to the QUESTION with which I began. I press that question on your conscience. I ask you, in my Master's name, whether you yet know anything of the subject of it? I ask you, while these pages are yet before your eyes, to look my inquiry in the face. I ask you, Do you believe?
DO YOU BELIEVE? I think it impossible to overrate the immense importance of the question before you. Life or death, heaven or hell, blessing or cursing—all hinge and turn upon it. He who believes on Christ—is not condemned. He who believes not—shall be damned. If you believe—you are pardoned, justified, accepted in God's sight, and have a title to everlasting life. If you do not believe—you are perishing daily. Your sins are all upon your head, sinking you down to perdition. Every hour you are so much nearer to hell.
DO YOU BELIEVE? It matters nothing what others are doing. The question concerns yourself. The folly of other men is no excuse for yours. The loss of heaven will not be less bitter, because you lose it in company. Look at home. Think of your own soul.
DO YOU BELIEVE? It is no answer to say, that "you sometimes hope Christ died for you." The Scriptures never tell us to spend our time in doubts and hesitation on that point. We never read of a single case of one who stood still on that ground. Salvation is never made to turn on the question, whether Christ died for a man or not. The turning-point is always set before us as believing.
DO YOU BELIEVE? This is the point to which all must come at last, if they would be saved. It will signify little, when we hang on the brink of the grave, what we have professed, and to what denomination we have belonged. All this will sink into nothing, in comparison with the question of this tract. All will be useless, if we have not believed.
DO YOU BELIEVE? This is the common mark of all saved souls. Episcopalians or Presbyterians, Baptists or Independents, Methodists or Plymouth Brethren, Churchmen or Dissenters, all meet on this common ground, if they are true men. On other matters they are often hopelessly disagreed. But in living by faith on Jesus Christ, they are all one.
DO YOU BELIEVE? What reason can you give for unbelief, that will bear examination? Life is short and uncertain. Death is sure. Judgment is inevitable. Sin is exceeding sinful. Hell is a dreadful reality. Christ alone can save you. There is no other name given under heaven, whereby you can be saved. If not saved, the blame will be on your own head. You will not believe! You will not come to Christ, that He may give you life!
Reader, take warning this day. You must either believe on Christ, or perish everlastingly. Rest not until you can give a satisfactory answer to the question before you. Never be satisfied, until you can say, By the grace of God I do believe!
2. I pass on from questions—to COUNSEL. I offer it to all who are convinced of sin, and dissatisfied with their own spiritual condition. I entreat you to come to Christ by faith without delay. I invite you this day to believe on Christ to the saving of your soul.
I will not let you put me off by the common objection, "We cannot believe—we must wait until God gives us faith." I grant most fully that saving faith, like true repentance, is the gift of God. I grant that we have no natural power of our own to believe on Christ, receive Christ, come to Christ, lay hold on Christ, and commit our soul to Christ. But I see faith and repentance laid down clearly in Scripture as duties which God requires at any man's hands. He "commanded all men to repent." "This is His commandment, That we should believe" (Acts 17:30: 1 John 3:23). And I see it laid down with no less clearness, that unbelief and impenitence are sins for which man will be held accountable, and that he who does not repent and believe, destroys his own soul. (Mark 16:16; Luke 13:3).
Will anyone tell me that it is right for a man to sit still in sin? Will any one say that a sinner on the road to hell ought to wait idly for some power to take him up and put him in the way of heaven? Will any one say that it is right for a man to continue quietly serving the devil, in open rebellion against God—and that he is to make no effort, no struggle, no attempt to turn towards Christ?
Let others say these things, if they will. I cannot say them. I can find no warrant for them in Scripture. I will not waste time in trying to explain what cannot be explained, and unravel what cannot be unraveled. I will not attempt to show philosophically in what way an unconverted man can look to Christ, or repent, or believe. But this I know, that it is my plain duty to bid every unbeliever to repent and believe. And this I know, that the man who will not take the invitation, will find at last that he has ruined his own soul!
Reader, trust Christ, look to Christ, cry to the Lord Jesus Christ—if you never yet believed—about your soul. If you have not the right feelings yet, ask Him to give you right feelings. If you dare not think that you have true faith yet, ask Him to give you faith. But in any case do not sit still. Do not idle away your soul into hell—in ignorant, unscriptural sloth. Do not live on in senseless inactivity—waiting for you know not what—expecting what you cannot explain—increasing your guilt every day—offending God by continuing in lazy unbelief—and hourly digging a grave in hell for your own soul. Arise and call upon Christ! Awake and cry to Jesus about your soul! Whatever difficulties there may be about believing, one thing at least is abundantly clear—no man ever perished and went to hell—from the foot of the cross. If you can do nothing else, lie down at the foot of the cross!
3. I finish all by a word of EXHORTATION to all believers into whose hands this tract may fall. I address them as fellow-pilgrims and companions in tribulation. I exhort them, if they love life, and have found any peace in believing, to pray daily for an increase of faith. Let your prayer be continually, "Lord, increase my faith."
True faith admits of many degrees. The weakest faith is enough to join the soul to Christ, and to secure salvation. A trembling hand may receive a healing medicine. The feeblest infant may be heir to the richest possessions. The least true faith gives a sinner a title to heaven, as surely as the strongest. But little faith can never give so much sensible comfort as strong faith. According to the degree of our faith will be the degree of our peace, our hope, our strength for duty, and our patience in trial. Surely we should pray continually, "Increase our faith."
Believing reader, would you have more faith? Do you find believing so pleasant, that you would like to believe more? Then take heed that you are diligent in the use of every means of grace—diligent in your private communion with God—diligent in your daily watchfulness over time, temper, and tongue—diligent in your private Bible reading—diligent in your own private prayers. It is vain to expect spiritual prosperity, when we are careless about these things. Let those who will, call it over-precise and legal to be particular about these things. I only reply, that there never was an eminent saint who neglected them.
Reader, would you have more faith? Then seek to become more acquainted with Jesus Christ. Study your blessed Savior more and more, and strive to know more of the length and breadth and height of His love. Study Him in all His offices, as the Priest, the Physician, the Redeemer, the Advocate, the Friend, the Teacher, the Shepherd of His believing people. Study Him as one who not only died for you—but is also living for you at the right hand of God; as one who not only shed His blood for you—but daily intercedes for you at the right hand of God; as one who is soon coming again for you, and will stand once more on this earth. The miner who is fully persuaded that the rope which draws him up from the pit will not break, is drawn up without anxiety and alarm. The believer who is thoroughly acquainted with the fullness of Jesus Christ, is the believer who travels from grace to glory with the greatest comfort and peace.
Reader, I commend these things to your careful attention.
Looking Unto Jesus
By J.C. Ryle
"Looking unto Jesus." Hebrews 12:2
The text of Scripture which heads this page is well fitted to supply useful thoughts for Christmas. At a season like this, when we are specially invited to remember how our blessed Lord came into the world, and was born of the Virgin Mary, we surely cannot do better than ask ourselves, what we know of "Looking unto Jesus."
The Christianity which the world requires, is a Christianity for everyday life. No other religion will ever receive much heart-felt attention from mankind. It may exist; but it will never strike deep root, and satisfy souls. A mere Sunday religion is not enough. A thing put on and off with our Sunday clothes is powerless. Thinking men feel and know that there are seven days in a week, and that life is not made up of Sundays. A weekly round of forms and ceremonies within consecrated buildings, is not enough. Wise men remember that there is a world of duty and trial, outside the walls of the church, in which they have to play their part. They want something that they can carry with them into that world. A monastic religion will never do. A faith which cannot flourish except in an ecclesiastical hot-house, a faith which cannot face the cold air of worldly business, and bear fruit except behind the fence of retirement and private asceticism — such a faith is a plant which our Heavenly Father has not planted, and it brings no fruit to perfection.
A religion of spasmodic and hysterical excitement will not do. It may suit weak and sentimental minds for a little season; but it rarely lasts, and does not meet the needs of many. It lacks bone and muscle, and too often ends in deadness. It is not the wind, nor the fire, nor the earthquake—but the still small voice, which shows the real presence of the Holy Spirit. (1 Kings 19:12).
The Christianity which the world requires, and the Word of God reveals—is of a very different stamp. It is a useful everyday religion. It is a healthy, strong, manly plant, which can live in every position, and flourish in every atmosphere, except that of sin. It is a religion which a man can carry with him wherever he goes, and never need leave behind him. In the army or in the navy, at the public school or at college, in the hospital-room or at the bar, on the farm or in the shop—true heaven-born Christianity will live and not die. It will wear, and stand, and prosper in any climate—in winter and in summer, in heat and in cold. Such a religion meets the needs of mankind.
But where is such true Christianity to be found? What are its special ingredients? What is the nature of it? What are its peculiar characteristics? The answer to these questions is to be found in the three words of the text which form the title of this paper.
The secret of a vigorous, powerful, everyday Christianity—is to be ever "Looking unto Jesus!" The glorious company of the Apostles, the noble army of martyrs, the saints who in every age and land have made their mark on mankind, and turned the world upside down—all, all have had one common mint-stamp upon them. They have been men who lived "Looking unto Jesus!" The expression of the text is one of those pithy golden sayings which stand out here and there on the face of the New Testament, and demand special attention. It is like "to me to live is Christ," "Christ is all and in all," "Christ, who is our life," "He is our peace," "I live by the faith of the Son of God." (Philip. 1:21 ; Colos. 3:4, 11; Ephes. 2:14; Gal. 2:20.) To each and all of these sayings, one common remark applies. They are rich in thought and food for reflection. They contain far more than a careless eye can see on the surface.
In the phrase "looking unto Jesus," it is useful and interesting to remember that the Greek word which, in our English Bible, we render "looking," is only found here in the New Testament. Literally translated it means "looking off," looking away from other objects to one, only one, and looking on that one with a steady, fixed, intent gaze. And the object we are to look at, you will observe, is a PERSON—not a doctrine, not an abstract theological dogma—but a living Person; and that Person is Jesus the Son of God. How much matter for thought lies there!
Creeds and confessions are the necessary invention of a comparatively modern age. The first and simplest type of an apostolic early Christian was a man who trusted, and loved, a living Divine Person. Of head knowledge, and accurate theological definitions, perhaps he had but little store. Very likely he would have failed a basic exam in one of our theological schools. But one thing he did know: he knew, believed, loved, and would have died for, a living Savior, a real personal Friend in heaven, even Jesus, the crucified and risen Son of God. Well would it be for the Churches of the nineteenth century, if we had more of this simple Christianity among us, and could realize more the Person of Christ.
But, after all, the grand question which rises out of the text is this: What is it that we are to look at in Jesus? If we are to live habitually fixing the eyes of our mind on Christ, what are the special points to which we are to have regard? If "looking unto Jesus" is the real secret of a healthy, vigorous Christianity, what does the phrase mean?
I answer these questions without hesitation. I dismiss as insufficient and unsatisfactory, the idea that the Lord Jesus is only set before us here as an "example, and nothing more." I hold with that great divine, John Owen, who was once Dean of my own college at Oxford, that "Christ is proposed to us as one in whom we are to place our faith, trust, and confidence, with all our expectation of success in our Christian course." I consider there are four points of view in which we are intended to "look to Jesus," and I shall try, briefly, to put these four before you in order.
I. First, and foremost (yes! by far first), if we would look rightly to Jesus, we must look daily at His death—as the only source of inward peace. We need inward peace. So long as our conscience is asleep, deadened by indulged sin, or dulled and stupefied by incessant pursuit of the things of this world—so long can that man get on tolerably well without peace with God. But once let conscience open its eyes, and shake itself, and rise, and move—and it will make the stoutest child of Adam feel ill at ease. The irrepressible thought that this life is not all—that there is a God, and a judgment, and a something after death, an undiscovered destiny from which no traveler returns—that thought will come up at times in every man's mind, and make him long for inward peace.
It is easy to write brave words about "eternal hope," and strew the path to the grave with flowers. Such theology is naturally popular: the world loves to have it so. But after all, there is something deep down in the heart of hearts of most men, which must be satisfied. The strongest evidence of God's eternal truth, is the universal conscience of mankind. Who is there among us all, who can sit down and think over the days that are past—school days, and college days, and days of middle life, their countless things left undone that ought to have been done, and done that ought not to have been done—who, I say, can think over it all without shame, if indeed he does not turn from the review with disgust and terror, and refuse to think at all?
We all need peace. Where is the man in all England, the best and saintliest among us, whether old or young, who must not confess, if he speaks the truth, that his best things now are full of imperfection; and his life a constant succession of shortcomings? Yes! the older we grow, and the nearer we draw to death, the more we see our own great darkness and multitudinous defilements, and the more disposed we feel to cry, "Unclean! unclean! God be merciful to me a sinner!"
We need peace. Now, there is only one source of peace revealed in Scripture, and that is the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and the atonement which He has made for sin by that vicarious death on the cross. To obtain a portion in that great peace, we have only to "look" by faith to Jesus, as our Substitute and Redeemer, bearing our sin in His own body on the tree, and to cast all the weight of our souls on Him.
To enjoy that peace habitually, we must keep "daily looking back" to the same wondrous point at which we began, daily bringing all our iniquity to Him, and daily remembering that "the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6). This, I am bold to say, is the Bible way of peace. This is the old fountain of which all the true sheep of Christ have drunk for 1800 years, and have never found its waters to fail. Holy men of all ages, have agreed on one point, at least, in their respective creeds. And that point is this, that the only recipe for peace of conscience, is to "look" by faith to Jesus suffering in our stead, the just for the unjust, paying our debt by that suffering, and dying for us on the cross.
The carnal wisdom of these latter days entirely fails to find a better way of peace, than the old path of "looking" to the vicarious death of Christ. Thousands are annually growing grey, and blistering their hands in hewing out cisterns—broken cisterns, which can hold no water. They are vainly hoping that they will find some better way to heaven, than the old-fashioned way of the cross. They will never find it! They will have to turn at last, if they love life, like many before them, to the brazen serpent. They must be content, like Israel in the wilderness, to look and live, and to be saved by the blood of the Lamb!
The words which Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote in 1093 upon this subject, are well worth noticing. They are to be found in his directions for the visitation of the sick. Quaint and old-fashioned as they sound, they are wiser, I fear, than many things written in our own times. He says: "Place your trust in no other thing. Commit yourself wholly to the death of Christ. Wrap yourself wholly in this death. And if God would judge you, say, 'Lord, I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and Your judgment.' And if He shall say unto you that you are a sinner, say, 'I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and my sins.' If He shall say unto you that you have deserved damnation, say, 'Lord, I put the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between You and all my sins—and I offer His merits for my own.' If He says that He is angry with you, say, 'Lord, I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and Your anger.' "
Forever let us keep to this old path of peace, and never be ashamed of it. While others go back, and barely conceal their contempt for the so-called blood theology, let us boldly go forward, "looking unto Jesus," and saying daily to Him, "Lord, I have sinned—but You have suffered in my stead! I take You at Your word, and rest my soul on You."
So much for the first "Look to Jesus." We must look back habitually to Christ's death for peace and pardon. This is what Paul meant the Hebrews to do. Let this be the first item in our creed.
II. In the second place, if we would look rightly to Jesus—we must look daily to His life of intercession in heaven, as our principal provision of strength and help. We must surely feel that we need Almighty help every day we live, if we are true Christians. Even when started in the narrow way of life, with pardon, grace, and a new heart—we soon find that, left to ourselves, we would never get safely to our heavenly home. Every returning morning brings with it so much to be done and borne and suffered, that we are often tempted to despair. So weak and treacherous are our hearts, so busy the devil, so persecuting and ensnaring the world, that we are sometimes half inclined to look back and return to Egypt. We are such poor, weak creatures, that we cannot do two things at once. It seems almost impossible to do our duty in that place of life to which God has called us, and not to be absorbed in it and forget our souls. The cares and business and occupations of life appear to drink up all our thoughts, and swallow up all our attention. What are we to do? Where are we to look? How many are exercised with thoughts like these!
I believe the great Scriptural remedy for all who feel such helplessness as I have faintly described, is to look upward to Christ in heaven, and to keep steadily before our eyes His intercession at the right hand of God. We must learn to look UPWARD, away from ourselves and our weakness, and upward to Christ in heaven. We must try to realize daily that Jesus not only died for us and rose again, but that He also lives as our Advocate with the Father, and appears in heaven for us.
This, surely, was the mind of Paul, when he said, "Being reconciled to God by the death of His Son—we shall be saved by His life." (Romans v. 10). This, again, is what he meant when he gave that confident challenge, "Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, who is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us!" (Romans 8:34). This, above all, is what he had in view when he told the Hebrews, "He is able also to save to the uttermost, those who come unto God by Him—seeing He ever lives to make intercession for them." (Heb. 7:25).
Now I venture boldly to express a doubt whether modern Christians "look to Jesus" in this point of view, and make as much as they ought of His life of intercession. It is too often a dropped link in our present-day Christianity. We are apt to think only of the atoning DEATH and the precious blood, and to forget the LIFE and priestly office of our great Redeemer! It ought not to be so. We miss much by this forgetfulness of the whole truth as it is in Jesus.
What a mine of daily comfort there is in the thought—that we have an Advocate with the Father, who never slumbers or sleeps, whose eye is always upon us, who is continually pleading our cause and obtaining fresh supplies of grace for us, who watches over us in every company and place, and never forgets us, though we, in going to and fro, and doing our daily business, cannot always think of Him! While we are fighting Amalek in the valley below, One greater than Moses is holding up His hands for us in heaven, and through His intercession we shall prevail.
Surely, if we have been satisfied with half the truth about Jesus hitherto, we ought to say, 'I will live in such fashion no more.' And here let me declare my own firm conviction—that the habit of daily looking to the intercession of Christ is one great safeguard against some modern superstitions. If Jesus did NOT live in heaven as our merciful and faithful High Priest, I could understand a little the craving which exists in many minds for that deadly opiate, which, nowadays, usurps the name and office of spiritual medicine: I mean, habitual confession to earthly priests! But I cannot understand it when I read the Epistle to the Hebrews, and see that we have a great High Priest in heaven, who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and who bids us pour out our hearts before Him, and come to Him for grace to help in time of need.
In short, I do not hesitate to assert, that a right view of Christ's priestly office is the true antidote to some of the most dangerous errors of the Church of Rome. So much for the second "look to Jesus." We ought to look habitually to His life and intercession.
III. In the third place, if we would look rightly to Jesus, we must look daily at His example, as our chief standard of holy living. We must all feel, I suspect, and often feel—how hard it is to live a Christian life, by mere rules and regulations. Scores of circumstances will continually cross our path, in which we find it difficult to see the line of duty, and feel perplexed. Prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and attention to the practical part of the Epistles, are, undoubtedly, primary resources. But surely it would cut many a knot, and solve many a problem, if we would cultivate the habit of studying the daily behavior of our Lord Jesus, as recorded in the four Gospels, and strive to shape our own behavior by His pattern. Yet this must have been what our Lord meant when He said, "I have given you an example—that you should do as I have done to you." (John 13:15). And this is what Paul meant, when he wrote, "Be followers of me—even as I am of Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1). And this is what John meant when he said, "he who says he abides in Him, ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked." (1 John 2:6).
The chief end for which anyone is said to be predestined--is "to be conformed to the image of His Son." (Romans 8:29) This, says the 17th Article, with true wisdom, is the special character of God's elect, "they are made like the image of God's only begotten Son, Jesus Christ." In the face of such evidence as this, I have a right to say that our "look" to Jesus is very imperfect, if we do not look at His example, and strive to follow it.
Let us consider for a moment what a beautifier and marvelous portrait the four Gospels hold up to our eyes, of the Man Jesus Christ. It is a portrait that extorted the admiration even of a wretched sceptic like Rousseau. It is a portrait which, even to this day, is one of the cardinal difficulties of infidelity, for there never lived the infidel who could face the question, "Tell us, if you refuse to believe the Divine origin of Christianity, tell us who and what Christ was?"
Let us Christians trace all the footsteps of our Master's career from the carpenter's shop at Nazareth to the cross of Calvary. See how in every company and position, by the Sea of Galilee, and in the Temple courts of Jerusalem, by the well of Samaria, in the house Bethany, amidst the sneering Sadducees, or the despised publicans, alone with His faithful disciples, or surrounded by bitter enemies—He is always the same—always holy, harmless, undefiled; always perfect in word and deed.
Mark what a wonderful combination of seemingly opposite qualifications is to be seen in His character. Bold and outspoken in opposing hypocrisy and self-righteousness, tender and compassionate in receiving the chief of sinners. Profoundly wise in arguing before the Sanhedrin; simple, so that a child might understand Him, in teaching the poor. Patient towards His weak disciples; unruffled in temper by the keenest provocation. Considerate for all around Him; sympathizing, self-denying, prayerful, overflowing with love and compassion, utterly unselfish, always about His Father's business, ever going about doing good, continually ministering to others, and never expecting others to minister to Him. What person ever walked on earth, like Jesus of Nazareth!
We may well be humbled and ashamed when we think how unlike the best of us are, to our great Example, and what poor, blurred copies of His character we show to mankind. Like careless children at school, we are content to copy those around us, with all their faults, and do not look constantly at the only faultless copy, the One perfect Man, in whom even Satan could find "nothing." (John 14:30). But one thing, at any rate, we must all admit. If Christians, during the last eighteen centuries, had been more like Christ, the Church would certainly have been far more beautiful, and would probably have done far more good to the world.
It is a sorrowful thought, that Christ's example should be so little remembered or looked at, in these latter days. It is a striking illustration of man's mental littleness and inability to grasp more than a portion of the truth. You may lay your hand on a hundred books which profess to grapple with points of doctrine, before you will find one which handles the mighty subject of the true pattern of Christian practice. I believe the Church has suffered greatly by neglecting the point of which I now speak. The famous book of Thomas a Kempis may have many defects, I have no doubt, and to some it is even mischievous. But I am sure it would be well if we had many more Christlike men and women, who strive at home and abroad to imitate Christ. Let us beware of this error in these latter days. Let us cultivate the daily habit of "looking to Christ as our pattern," as well as our salvation. Let us not forget that a cunning artificer will tell you that he often learns more from a pattern in five minutes—than from the best written rules and directions in an hour. We can never look too steadily at Christ's death and intercession. But we may easily look too little at the blessed steps of His most holy life. Let us shake off this reproach. Let us strive and pray that we may make the tone and temper of Jesus our model and standard in our daily behavior. Let all men see that, as the poet says, "this example has a magnet force," and that we love to follow Him whom we profess to love. "My Master, my Master!" as George Herbert loved to say. "How would my Master have behaved in my position?" should be our constant cry. "Let me go and do likewise." So much for the third "look" at Jesus. We ought to look habitually to His example.
IV. Fourthly and lastly, if we would "look" to Jesus rightly, we must look forward to His second Advent, as the truest fountain of hope and consolation. That the early Christians were always looking forward to a second coming of their risen Master, is a fact beyond all controversy. You cannot read the Epistles and fail to see that one of their chief sources of comfort, was the hope of His return. They clung tenaciously to the old promise, "This same Jesus shall come in, like manner as you have seen Him go." (Acts 1:11). In all their trials and persecutions, under Roman Emperors and heathen rulers, they cheered one another with the thought that their own King would soon come again, and plead their cause. Persecutors and oppressors would soon be swept away, and the great Shepherd of the sheep would gather them into a fold of safety. "We look for the Savior." "We wait for the Son of God from heaven." "Yet in a little while, He who shall come will come, and will not tarry." "Be patient unto the coming of the Lord." (Philip. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 10:37; James 5:7).
Many, no doubt, in their impatience, misunderstood the times and seasons, and thought that the kingdom of God would immediately appear. But, for all that, it remains a fact that a second personal advent of Christ, was the great hope of the early Church.
Now, I believe firmly that this same second advent was meant to be the hope of the Church in every age of the world. It ought to be the consolation of Christians in these latter days, as much as it was in primitive times. And I doubt whether there ever was an era when it was so useful to keep the second advent of Christ steadily in view, as it is just now. Who can look abroad at public affairs all over the globe, and avoid the impression that this old, bankrupt world needs a new order of things? The cement seems to have fallen out of the walls of human society. On all sides we hear of restlessness, anarchy, lawlessness, envy, jealousy, distrust, suspicion, and discontent. The continuance of evils of every kind, physical, moral, and social—the constantly recurring revolutions, and wars, and famines, and pestilences—the never-ending growth of superstition, skepticism, and unbelief—the bitter strife of political parties—the divisions and controversies of Christians—the overflowing of intemperance and immorality—the boundless luxury and extravagance of some classes, and the grinding poverty of others—the strikes of workmen—the conflict of labor and capital—the shiftless helplessness of statesmen to devise remedies—the commercial dishonesty—the utter failure of mere secular knowledge to really help mankind—the comparative deadness of Churches—the apparently small results of missions at home and abroad—the universal "distress of nations with perplexity," and dread of something terrible coming. These strange phenomena and symptoms, what do they all mean? Yes—what indeed!
They all seem to tell us, with no uncertain voice, that the world is out of joint, and needs a new administration, and a new King. Like a crying infant in the arms of a stranger, the world is ever fretting, and wailing, and struggling, though it hardly knows why, and will never rest and be quiet until its rightful parent takes it in hand, and puts the stranger aside. As Plato makes Socrates say, in one of his dialogues, before the FIRST advent, "We must wait for some one, be he God, or inspired man, to give us light, and take away darkness from our eyes,"—even so we Christians must fix our hopes upon the SECOND advent, and look and long for the rightful King's appearing.
And who, again, can look round his own private circle, whether great or small, and fail to see many things which are most painful and distressing; things which, like a watcher by a dying pillow, he can only look on and feel deeply, but cannot mend? Think of the ever-flowing stream of sorrow arising from poverty, sickness, disease, and death—from quarrels about money, from incompatibility of temper, from family misunderstandings, from failures in business, from disappointments about children, from separations of families in pursuit of callings. What hidden skeletons there are in many households! How many aching hearts! How many secret sorrows known only to God! How many Jacobs in the world, vexed by their children, and refusing to be comforted! How many Absaloms bowing down a father's head by their thanklessness and rebellion! How many Isaacs and Rebeccas daily grieved by self-willed sons! How many weeping widows of Nain! Where is the thoughtful Christian who does not often sigh for a better state of things, and ask himself, "How long, O Lord, faithful and true, how long are we to go on weeping, and working, binding up wounds, and drinking bitter cups, and educating, and parting, and burying, and putting on mourning? When shall the end once be?"
Now, I believe that the true Scriptural source of consolation, in the face of all that troubles us, whether publicly or privately, is to keep steadily before our eyes the second coming of Christ. Once more I say, we must "look forward to Jesus." We must grasp and realize the blessed fact that the rightful King of the world is returning soon, and shall have His own again; that He shall put down that old usurper, the devil, and take away the curse from off the earth. Let us cultivate the habit of daily looking forward to the resurrection of the dead, the gathering together of the saints, the restitution of all things, the banishment of sorrow and sin, and the re-establishment of a new kingdom, of which the rule shall be righteousness.
Any sorrow or trial may be borne, I believe—if men only have a hope of an end. All the sorrows of this world will be cheerfully borne, and we shall work on with a light heart, if we thoroughly believe that Christ is coming again without sin unto salvation.
After all, one principal cause of human unhappiness is the indulgence of unwarrantable expectations from anybody or anything here below. I ask my younger readers especially to remember that. The less we expect from statesmen, philosophers, men of money, men of science, ay, even from visible Churches—the happier we shall be. He who leans on staffs like these, will find them pierce his hand. He who drinks only of these fountains, shall thirst again. Let us learn to fix our chief hopes on the second coming of Christ—and work, and watch, and wait confidently—like those who wait for the morning, and know for a certainty that in the time appointed by the Father, the Sun of Righteousness will arise, with healing on His wings. Then, and then alone, we shall not be disappointed.
So much for the fourth and last look to Jesus. We ought to look habitually to His second personal coming, as the hope of the Church and world. He who looks at the cross of Christ is a wise man; he who looks at the intercession and example is wiser still; but he who lives looking at all four objects—the death, the priesthood, the pattern, the second advent of Jesus—he is the wisest of all.
(a) And now let me wind up all by offering a word of friendly advice to all into whose hands this paper may fall. I offer it in all affection as one who longs to help you in the right way, who desires to promote in your heart a healthy, vigorous, everyday Christianity, and would gladly guard you against mistakes. Our greatest poet truly says, "We know what we are; but we know not what we may be."
All before us, is dark and uncertain, and mercifully kept from our eyes. I cannot tell you where the lot of many of my readers may be finally cast on earth, or what they may be called to do and bear before the end comes. But one thing I say confidently—let the keynote of your Christianity, in every quarter of the globe, be the phrase of my text— "Looking to Jesus!" Jesus dying, Jesus interceding, Jesus the example, Jesus coming again. Fix your eyes firmly on Him if you would so run as to obtain. Value the pure and reformed branch of Christ's Church, to which you belong, and all her many privileges. Love her services. Labor for her peace. Contend for her prosperity. But for your own personal religion, the salvation of your own soul, take care that your ruling idea is, "Looking to Jesus."
(b) Together with friendly advice, let me offer a friendly warning. Beware, if you love life, beware of a Christless religion. A watch without a mainspring, a steam engine without a fire, a solar system without the sun—all these are but faint and feeble images of the utter uselessness of a religion without Christ. And next to a Christless religion, beware of a religion in which Christ is not the first, foremost, chief, principal object—the very Alpha in the alphabet of your faith. He who enters upon a vast series of arithmetical calculations, requiring weeks and months of brain-exhausting toil, he knows well that his labor will be all in vain, and his conclusions faulty, if a single figure is wrong in his first line. And he who does not give Christ His rightful place and office in the beginning of his religion, must not be surprised if he never knows anything of joy and peace in believing, and goes cheerless and comfortless on his way to heaven, with "all the voyage of life bound in shallows and in misery."
(c) Finally, may I not say to all, both old and young, with this great text in view, that we shall do well to aim at greater SIMPLICITY in our own personal religion. The early Christians lacked many privileges and advantages that we enjoy. They had no printed books. They worshiped God in dens and caves and private homes, had few and simple "church clothes", and often received the Lord's Supper in vessels of wood, and not of silver or gold. They had little money, no church endowments, no universities. Their creeds were short. Their theological definitions were scanty and few. But what they knew—they knew well. They were men of one book. They knew Whom they believed. If they had wooden communion vessels, they had golden ministers and teachers. They "looked to Jesus" and realized intensely their personal relationship to Jesus. For Jesus they lived, and worked, and died.
But what are we doing? And where are we in the nineteenth century? And what deliverance are we working on earth? With all our countless advantages, our grand old cathedrals, our splendid libraries, our accurate definitions, our elaborate liturgies, our civil liberties, our religious societies, our numerous facilities—we may well doubt whether we are making such a mark on the world as the New Testament Christians made! I know we cannot put the clock back, and return to the A B C's of early Christianity. But one thing we can do: we can grasp more firmly, with every returning Christmas, the grand old foundational principles around which our modern Christianity has clustered, and swelled, and grown to its present proportions. Such a principle is that laid down in our text, "Looking unto Jesus." Then let us covenant with ourselves, that for the time to come we will try to run our race, fight our battles, fill our position, serve our generation, like men who are ever "looking to Jesus." So looking while we live—we shall see face to face when we die. And then when the last great gathering takes place, we shall joyfully exchange faith for sight, see as we have been seen, and know as we have been known!
I have a question to offer you. It is contained in three words, Do you pray?
The question is one that none but you can answer. Whether you attend public worship or not, your minister knows. Whether you have family prayers in your house or not, your relations know. But whether you pray in private or not, is a matter between yourself and God.
I beseech you in all affection to attend to the subject I bring before you. Do not say that my question is too close. If your heart is right in the sight of God, there is nothing in it to make you afraid. Do not turn off my question by replying that you say your prayers. It is one thing to say your prayers and another to pray. Do not tell me that my question is unnecessary. Listen to me for a few minutes, and I will show you good reasons for asking it.
I ask whether you pray, because prayer is absolutely needful to a man's salvation.
I say, absolutely needful, and I say so advisedly. I am not speaking now of infants or idiots. I am not settling the state of the heathen. I know 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 on the Lord Jesus Christ even now, and you shall be saved." But that a man can have salvation without asking for it, I cannot see in the Bible. That a man will receive pardon of his sins, who will not so much as lift up his heart inwardly, and say, "Lord Jesus, give it to me," this I cannot find. I can find that nobody will be saved by his prayers, but I cannot find that without prayer anybody will be saved.
It is not absolutely needful to salvation that a man should read the Bible. A man may have no learning, or be blind, and yet have Christ in his heart. It is not absolutely needful that a man should hear public preaching of the gospel. He may live where the gospel is not preached, or he may be bedridden, or deaf. But the same thing cannot be said about prayer. It is absolutely needful to salvation that a man should pray.
There is no royal road either to health or learning. Princes and kings, poor men and peasants, all alike must attend to the wants of their own bodies and their own minds. No man can eat, drink, or sleep by proxy. No man can get the alphabet learned for him by another. All these are things which everybody must do for himself, or they will not be done at all.
Just as it is with the mind and body, so it is with the soul. There are certain things absolutely needful to the soul's health and well-being. Each must attend to these things for himself. Each must repent for himself. Each must apply to Christ for himself. And for himself each must speak to God and pray. You must do it for yourself, for by nobody else can it be done.
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. Now can you wonder that I ask the question, Do you pray?
I ask again whether you pray, because 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 about their religion, they pray. Just as the first sign of life in an infant when born into the world is the act of breathing, so the first act of men and women when they are born again is praying.
This is one of the common marks of all the elect of God, "They cry unto him day and night" (Luke 18:1). The Holy Spirit, who makes them new creatures, works in them the feeling of adoption, and makes them cry, "Abba, Father" (Rom. 8:15). The Lord Jesus, when he quickens them, gives them a voice and a tongue, and says to them, "Be dumb no more." God has no dumb children. It is as much a part of their new nature to pray, as it is of a child to cry. They see their need of mercy and grace. They feel their emptiness and weakness. They can not 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" (I Peter 1:17), or "the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 1:2). Recorded as a characteristic of the wicked is the fact that "they call not upon the Lord" (Ps. 14:4).
I have read the lives of many eminent Christians who have been on earth since the Bible days. Some of them, I see, were rich, and some poor. Some were learned, and some unlearned. Some of them were Episcopalians, and some Christians of other names. Some were Calvinists, and some were Arminians. Some have loved to use a liturgy, and some to use none. But one thing, I see, they all had in common. They have all been men of prayer.
I study the reports of missionary societies in our own times. I see with joy that heathen men and women are receiving the gospel in various parts of the globe. There are conversions in Africa, in New Zealand, in Hindustan, in China. 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's praying proves is everything about his soul. As in every other part of religion, so also in this, there may be deception and hypocrisy.
But this I do say, that not praying is a clear proof that a man is not yet a true Christian. He cannot really feel his sins. He cannot love God. He cannot feel himself a debtor to Christ. He cannot long after holiness. He cannot desire heaven. He has yet to be born again. He has yet to be made a new creature. He may boast confidently of election, grace, faith, hope, and knowledge, and deceive ignorant people. But you may rest assured it is all vain talk if he does not pray.
And I say, furthermore, that of all the evidences of 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 in earnest. The Lord himself has set his stamp on prayer as the best proof of a true conversion. When he sent Ananias to Saul in Damascus, he gave him no other evidence of his change of heart than this, "Behold, he prayeth" (Acts 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 evidences. They are to be found in ungodly people, and often come to nothing. In many a case they are not more lasting than the morning cloud, and the dew that passeth away. A real, hearty prayer, coming from a broken and contrite spirit, is worth all these things put together.
I know that the Holy Spirit, who calls sinners from their evil ways, does in many instances lead them by very slow degrees to acquaintance with 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 dumb faith. The first act of faith will be to speak to God. Faith is to the soul what life is to the body. Prayer is to faith what breath is to life. How a man can live and not breathe is past my comprehension, and how a man can believe and not pray is past my comprehension too.
Never be surprised if you hear ministers of the gospel dwelling much on the importance of prayer. This is the point we want to bring you to; we want to know that you pray. Your views of doctrine may be correct. Your love of Protestantism may be warm and unmistakable. But still this may be nothing more than head knowledge and party spirit. We want to know whether you are actually acquainted with the throne of grace, and whether you can speak to God as well as speak about God.
Do you wish to find out whether you are a true Christian? Then rest assured that my question is of the very first importance - Do you pray?
I ask whether you pray, because there is no duty in religion so neglected as private prayer.
We live in days of abounding religious profession. There are more places of public worship now than there ever were before. There are more persons attending them than there ever were before. And yet in spite of all this public religion, I believe there is a vast neglect of private prayer. It is one of those private transactions between God and our souls which no eye sees, and therefore one which men are tempted to pass over and leave undone. I believe that thousands never utter a word of prayer at all. They eat. They drink. They sleep. They rise. They go forth to their labor. They return to their homes. They breathe God's air. They see God's sun. They walk on God's earth. They enjoy God's mercies. They have dying bodies. They have judgment and eternity before them. But they never speak to God. They live like the beasts that perish. They behave like creatures without souls. They have not one word to say to Him in whose hand are their life and breath, and all things, and from whose mouth they must one day receive their everlasting sentence. How dreadful this seems; but if the secrets of men were only known, how common.
I believe there are tens of thousands whose prayers are nothing but a mere form, a set of words repeated by rote, without a thought about their meaning.
Some say over a few hasty sentences picked up in the nursery when they were children. Some content themselves with repeating the Creed, forgetting that there is not a request in it. Some add the Lord's Prayer, but without the slightest desire that its solemn petitions may be granted.
Many, even of those who use good forms, mutter their prayers after they have gotten into bed, or while they wash or dress in the morning. Men may think what they please, but they may depend upon it that in the sight of God this is not praying. Words said without heart are as utterly useless to our souls as the drum beating of the poor heathen before their idols. Where there is no heart, there may be lip work and tongue work, but there is nothing that God listens to; there is no prayer. Saul, I have no doubt, said many a long prayer before the Lord met him on the way to Damascus. But it was not till his heart was broken that the Lord said, "He prayeth."
Does this surprise you? Listen to me, and I will show you that I am not speaking as I do without reason. Do you think that my assertions are extravagant and unwarrantable? Give me your attention, and I will soon show you that I am only telling you the truth.
Have you forgotten that it is not natural to any one to pray? "The carnal mind is enmity against God." The desire of man's heart is to get far away from God, and have nothing to do with him. His feeling towards him is not love, but fear. Why then should a man pray when he has no real sense of sin, no real feeling of spiritual wants, no thorough belief in unseen things, no desire after holiness and heaven? Of all these things the vast majority of men know and feel nothing. The multitude walk in the broad way. I cannot forget this. Therefore I say boldly, I believe that few pray.
Have you forgotten that it is not fashionable to pray? It is one of the things that many would be rather ashamed to own. There are hundreds who would sooner storm a breach, or lead a forlorn hope, than confess publicly that they make a habit of prayer. There are thousands who, if obliged to sleep in the same room with a stranger, would lie down in bed without a prayer. To dress well, to go to theaters, to be thought clever and agreeable, all this is fashionable, but not to pray. I cannot forget this. I cannot think a habit is common which so many seem ashamed to own. I believe that few pray.
Have you forgotten the lives that many live? Can we really believe that people are praying against sin night and day, when we see them plunging into it? Can we suppose they pray against the world, when they are entirely absorbed and taken up with its pursuits? Can we think they really ask God for grace to serve him, when they do not show the slightest desire to serve him at all? Oh, no, it is plain as daylight that the great majority of men either ask nothing of God or do not mean what they say when they do ask, which is just the same thing. Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer. I cannot forget this. I look at men's lives. I believe that few pray.
Have you forgotten the deaths that many die? How many, when they draw near death, seem entirely strangers to God. Not only are they sadly ignorant of his gospel, but sadly wanting in the power of speaking to him. There is a terrible awkwardness and shyness in their endeavors to approach him. They seem to be taking up a fresh thing. They appear as if they wanted an introduction to God, and as if they had never talked with him before. I remember having heard of a lady who was anxious to have a minister to visit her in her last illness. She desired that he would pray with her. He asked her what he should pray for. She did not know, and could not tell. She was utterly unable to name any one thing which she wished him to ask God for her soul. All she seemed to want was the form of a minister's prayers. I can quite understand this. Death beds are great revealers of secrets. I cannot forget what I have seen of sick and dying people. This also leads me to believe that few pray.
I cannot see your heart. I do not know your private history in spiritual things. But from what I see in the Bible and in the world I am certain I cannot ask you a more necessary question than that before you - Do you pray?
I ask whether you pray, because prayer is an act in religion to which there is great encouragement.
There is everything on God's part to make prayer easy, if men will only attempt it. All things are ready on his side. Every objection is anticipated. Every difficulty is provided for. The crooked places are made straight and the rough places are made smooth. There is no excuse left for the prayerless man.
There is a way by which any man, however sinful and unworthy, may draw near to God the Father. Jesus Christ has opened that way by the sacrifice he made for us upon the cross. The holiness and justice of God need not frighten sinners and keep them back. Only let them cry to God in the name of Jesus, only let them plead the atoning blood of Jesus, and they shall find God upon a throne of grace, willing and ready to hear. The name of Jesus is a never-failing passport for our prayers. In that name a man may draw near to God with boldness, and ask with confidence. God has engaged to hear him. Think of this. Is not this encouragement?
There is an Advocate and Intercessor always waiting to present the prayers of those who come to God through 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 bank note without a signature at the bottom is nothing but a worthless piece of paper. The stroke of a pen confers 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 availeth much. There 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. just so the ear of the Lord Jesus is ever open to the cry of all who want mercy and grace. It is his office to help them. Their prayer is his delight. Think of this. Is not this encouragement?
There is the Holy Spirit ever ready to help our infirmities in prayer. It is one part of his special office to assist us in our endeavors to speak with 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 seek his aid. The prayers of the Lord's people are the inspiration of the Lord's Spirit, the work of the Holy Ghost who dwells within them as the Spirit of grace and supplication. Surely the Lord's people may well hope to be heard. It is not they merely that pray, but the Holy Ghost pleading in them. Reader, think of this. Is not this encouragement?
There are exceeding great and precious promises to those who pray. What did the Lord Jesus mean when he spoke such words as these: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened" (Matt. 7:7, 8). "All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing, ye shall receive" (Matt. 21:22). "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will 1 do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, 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 importunate widow (Luke 11:5; 18:1)? Think over these passages. If this is not encouragement to pray, words have no meaning.
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 might Mary Queen of Scots say, "I fear John Knox's prayers more than an army of ten thousand men." Prayer has healed the sick. Prayer has raised the dead. Prayer has procured the conversion of souls. "The child of many prayers," said an old Christian to Augustine's mother, "shall never perish." Prayer, pains, and faith can do anything. Nothing seems impossible when a man has the spirit of adoption. "Let me alone," is the remarkable saying of God to Moses when Moses was about to intercede for the children of Israel - the Chaldee version has, "Leave off praying" - (Exod. 32:10). So long as Abraham asked mercy for Sodom, the Lord went on giving. He never ceased to give till Abraham ceased to pray. Think of this. Is not this encouragement?
What more can a man want to lead him to take any step in religion, than the things I have just told him about prayer? What more could 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 possibly be said for the man who, after all, dies without prayer? Surely I may feel anxious that you should not be that man. Surely I may well ask - Do you pray?
I ask whether you pray, because diligence in prayer is the secret of eminent holiness:
Without controversy there is a vast difference among true Christians. There is an immense interval between the foremost and the hindermost in the army of God.
They are all fighting the same good fight but how much more valiantly some fight than others. They are all doing the Lord's work but how much more some do than others. They are all light in the Lord; but how much more brightly some shine than others. They are all running the same race; but how much faster some get on than others. They all love the same Lord and Saviour; but how much more some love him than others. I ask any true Christian whether this is not the case. Are not these things so?
There are some of the Lord's people who seem never able to get on from the time of their conversion. They are born again, but they remain babes all their lives. You hear from them the same old experience. You remark in them the same want of spiritual appetite, the same want of interest in any thing beyond their own little circle, which you remarked ten years ago. They are pilgrims, indeed, but pilgrims like the Gibeonites of old; their bread is always dry and moldy, their shoes always old, and their garments always rent and torn. 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 advancing. They grow like the grass after rain; they increase like Israel in Egypt; they press on like Gideon, though sometimes faint, yet always pursuing. They are ever adding grace to grace, and faith to faith, and strength to strength. Every time you meet them their hearts seem larger, and their spiritual stature 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. They attempt great things, and they do great things. When they fail they try again, and when they f all they are soon up again. And all this time they think themselves poor, unprofitable servants, and fancy they do nothing at all. These are those who make religion lovely and beautiful in the eyes of all. They wrest praise even from the unconverted and win golden opinions even from the selfish men of the world. It does one good to see, to be with, and to hear them. 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, Are there not many such?
Now how can we account for the difference which I have just described? What is the reason that some believers are so much brighter and holier than others? I believe the difference, in nineteen cases out of twenty, arises from different habits about private prayer. I believe that those who are not eminently holy pray little, and those who are eminently holy pray much.
I dare say this opinion will startle some readers. I have little doubt that many look on eminent holiness as a kind of special gift, which none but a few must pretend to aim at. They admire it at a distance in books. They think it beautiful when they see an example near themselves. But as to its being a thing within the reach of any but a very few, such a notion never seems to enter their minds. In short, they consider it a kind of monopoly granted to a few favored believers, but certainly not to all.
Now I believe that this is a most dangerous mistake. I believe that spiritual as well as natural greatness depends in a high degree on the faithful use of means within everybody's reach. Of course I do not say we have a right to expect a miraculous grant of intellectual gifts; but this I do say, that when a man is once converted to God, his progress in holiness will be much in accordance with his own diligence in the use of God's appointed means. And I assert confidently that the principal means by which most believers have become great in the church of Christ is the habit of diligent private prayer.
Look through the lives of the brightest and best of God's servants, whether in the Bible or not. See what is written of Moses and David and Daniel and Paul. Mark what is recorded of Luther and Bradford the Reformers. Observe what is related of the private devotions of Whitefield and Cecil and Venn and Bickersteth and M'Cheyne. Tell me of one of all the goodly fellowship of saints and martyrs, who has not had this mark most prominently - he was a man of prayer. Depend upon it, prayer is power.
Prayer obtains fresh and continued outpourings of the Spirit. He alone begins the work of grace in a man's heart. He alone can carry it forward and make it prosper. But the good Spirit loves to be entreated. And those who ask most will have most of his influence.
Prayer is the surest remedy. Against the devil and besetting sins. That sin will never stand firm which is heartily prayed against. That devil will never long keep dominion over us which we beseech the Lord to cast forth. But then we must spread out all our cage before our heavenly Physician, if he is to give us daily relief.
Do you wish to grow in grace and be a devoted Christian? Be very sure, if you wish it, you could not have a more important question than this - Do you pray?
I ask whether you pray, because neglect of prayer is one great cause of backsliding.
There is such a thing as going back in religion after making a good profession. Men may run well for a season, like the Galatians, and then turn aside after false teachers. Men may profess loudly while their feelings are warm, as Peter did, and then in the hour of trial deny their Lord. Men may lose their first love as the Ephesians did. Men may cool down in their zeal to do good, like Mark the companion of Paul. Men may follow an apostle for a season, and like Demas go back to the world. All these things men may do.
It is a miserable thing to be a backslider. Of all unhappy things that can befall a man, I suppose it is the worst. A stranded ship, a brokenwinged 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. A wounded conscience - a mind sick of itself - a memory full of self-reproach - a heart pierced through with the Lord's arrows -a spirit broken with a load of inward accusation - all this is a taste of hell. It is a hell on earth. Truly that saying of the wise man is solemn and weighty, "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways" (Prov. 14:14).
Now what is the cause of most backslidings? I believe, as a general rule, one of the chief causes is neglect of private prayer. Of course the secret history of falls will not be known till the last day. I can only give my opinion as a minister of Christ and a student of the heart. That opinion is, I repeat distinctly, that backsliding generally first begins with neglect of private prayer.
Bibles read without prayer; sermons heard without prayer; marriages contracted without prayer; journeys undertaken without prayer; residences chosen without prayer; friendships formed without prayer; the daily act of private prayer itself hurried over, or gone through without heart: these are the kind of downward steps by which many a Christian descends to a condition of spiritual palsy, or reaches the point where God allows him to have a tremendous fall. This is the process which forms the lingering Lots, the unstable Samsons, the wife-idolizing Solomons, the inconsistent Asas, the pliable Jehoshaphats, the over-careful Marthas, of whom so many are to be found in the church of Christ. Often the simple history of such cases is this: they became careless about private prayer.
You may be very sure men fall in private long before they fall in public. They are backsliders on their knees long before they backslide openly in the eyes of the world. Like Peter, they first disregard the Lord's warning to watch and pray, and then like Peter, their strength is gone, and in the hour of temptation they deny their Lord.
The world takes notice of their fall, and scoffs loudly. But the world knows nothing of the real reason. The heathen succeeded in making a well-known Christian 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 of which history informs us, that on that very morning he had left his bed chamber hastily, and without finishing his usual prayers.
If you are a Christian indeed, I trust you will never be a backslider. But if you do not wish to be a backsliding Christian, remember the question I ask you: Do you pray?
I ask, lastly, whether you pray because prayer is one of the best means of happiness and contentment.
We live in a world where sorrow abounds. This has always been its state since sin came in. There cannot be sin without sorrow. And until 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 long without sorrows or cares of one sort or another. Our bodies, our property, our families, our children, our relations, our servants, our friends, our neighbors, our worldly callings, each and all of these are fountains of care. Sicknesses, deaths, losses, disappointments, partings, separations, ingratitude, slander, all these are common things. We cannot get through life without them. Some day or other they find us out. The greater are our affections the deeper are our afflictions, and the more we love the more we have to weep.
And what is the best means of cheerfulness in such a world as this? How shall we get through this valley of tears with least pain? I know no better means than the regular, habitual practice of taking everything to God in prayer. This is the plain advice that the Bible gives, both in the Old Testament and the New. What says the psalmist? "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me" (Ps. 50:15). "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved" (Ps. 55:22). What says the apostle Paul? "Be careful for nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God: and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6, 7). What says the apostle James? "Is any afflicted among you? let him 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 the men of Ai. This is what David did when he was in danger at Keilah. 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 trying to carry their own burdens which so often makes believers sad. If they will tell their troubles to God, he will enable them to bear them as easily as Samson did the gates of Gaza. If they are resolved to keep them to themselves, they will find one day that the very grasshopper is a burden.
There is a friend ever waiting to help us, if we will unbosom to him our sorrow - a friend who pitied the poor and sick and sorrowful, when he was upon earth - a friend who knows the heart of 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 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 fulness in him for all his believing members - a fulness that is ready to be poured out on every one that will ask in prayer. Oh that men would understand that happiness, does not depend on outward circumstances, but on the state of the heart.
Prayer can lighten crosses for us however heavy. It can bring down to our side One who will help us to bear them. Prayer can open a door for us when our way seems hedged up. It can bring down One who will say, "This is the way, walk in it." Prayer can let in a ray of hope when all our earthly prospects seem darkened. It can bring down One who will say, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Prayer can obtain relief for us when those we love most are taken away, and the world feels empty. It can bring down One who can fill the gap in our hearts with himself, and say to the waves within, "Peace; be still." Oh that men were not so like Hagar in the wilderness, blind to the well of living waters close beside them.
I want you to be happy. I know I cannot ask you a more useful question than this: Do you pray?
And now it is high time for me to bring this tract to an end. I trust I have brought before you things that will be seriously considered. I heartily pray God that this consideration may be blessed to your soul.
Let me speak a parting word to those who do not pray. I dare not suppose that all who read these pages are praying people. If you are a prayerless person, suffer me to speak to you this day on God's behalf.
Prayerless reader, I can only warn you, but I do warn you most solemnly. I warn you that you are in a position of fearful 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 know not 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 alms, 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 disposed. Our Lord prayed on a mountain; Peter on the housetop; Isaac in the field; Nathanael under the fig tree; Jonah in the whale's belly. Any place may become a closet, an oratory, 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 employ it. Time may be short, but time is always long enough for prayer. Daniel had 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 and morning and at noon will I pray" (Ps. 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 will not cry for mercy." This is a kind of argument for which there is no warrant in Scripture. "Call ye upon the Lord," saith Isaiah, "while he is near" (Isa. 55:6). "Take with you words, and turn unto the Lord," says Hosea (Hos. 14:1). "Repent and pray," 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 quickening of a dead soul.
Oh, prayerless reader, 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 worm 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 your latter end. Oh that you would arise and call upon God. Alas, there is a day coming when many shall pray loudly, "Lord, Lord, open to us," but all too late; when many shall 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.
Let me speak to those who have real desires for salvation, but know not 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 affectionate counsel.
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 pass away before they crossed Jordan. Yet there was some one who moved first when they marched from Ramah 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 one hundred and twenty 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 deep in 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 you desire salvation, and want to know what to do, I advise you to go this very day to the Lord Jesus Christ, in the first private place you can find, and earnestly and heartily entreat him in prayer to save your soul.
Tell him that you have heard that he receives sinners, and has said, "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." Tell him that you are a poor vile 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 vile and helpless, and hopeless in yourself: and that except he saves you, you have no hope of being saved at all. Beseech him to deliver you from the guilt, the power, and the consequences of sin. Beseech him to pardon you, and wash you in his own blood. Beseech him to give you a new heart, and plant the Holy Spirit in Your Soul. Beseech him to give you grace and faith and will and power to be his disciple and servant from this day forever. Oh, reader, go this very day, and tell these things to the Lord Jesus Christ, if you really are in earnest about your soul.
Tell him in your own way, and your own words. If a doctor came to see you when sick you could tell him where you felt pain. If your soul feels its disease indeed, you can surely find something to tell Christ.
Doubt not his willingness to save you, because you are a sinner. It is Christ's office to save sinners. He says himself, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32).
Wait not because you feel unworthy. Wait for nothing. Wait for nobody. Waiting comes from the devil. just as you are, go to Christ. The worse you are, the more need you have to apply to him. You will never mend yourself by staying away.
Fear not because your prayer is stammering, your words feeble, and your language poor. Jesus can understand you. Just as a mother understands the first lispings of her infant, so does the blessed Saviour understand sinners. He can read a sigh, and see a meaning in a groan.
Despair not because you do not get an answer immediately. While you are speaking, Jesus is listening. If he delays an answer, it is only for wise reasons, and to try if you are in earnest. The answer will surely come. Though it tarry, wait for it. It will surely come.
Oh, reader, 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 shall be saved.
Let me speak, lastly, to those who do pray. I trust that some who read this tract 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 manner of our prayers.
Brethren who pray, if I know anything of a Christian's heart, you are often sick of your own prayers. You never enter into the apostle's words, "When I would do good, evil is present with me," 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 Hottentot who was overheard praying, "Lord, deliver me from all my enemies, and above all, from that bad man myself." There are few children of God who do not often find the season of prayer a season of conflict. The devil has special wrath 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 goodness of our prayers, and that the prayer which pleases us least, often pleases God most. Suffer 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.
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 levity. Let us say to ourselves: "I am on holy ground. This is no other than the gate of heaven. If I do not mean what I say, I am trifling with God. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." Let us keep in mind the words of Solomon, "Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thy heart be hasty to utter anything before God; for God is in heaven, and thou on earth" (Eccl. 5:2). When Abraham spoke to God, he said, "I am dust and ashes." When Job spoke to God, he said, I am vile." Let us do likewise.
I commend to you the importance of praying spiritually. I mean by that, 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 but that it may become a form, and this is specially 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 do it all by rote without feeling it, and walk daily round an old beaten path. I desire to touch this point with caution and delicacy. I know that there are certain great things we daily want, and that there is nothing necessarily formal in asking for these things in the same words. The world, the devil, and our hearts, are daily the same. Of necessity we must daily go over old ground. But this I say, we must be very careful on this point. If the skeleton and outline of our prayers be by habit almost a form, let us strive that the clothing and filling up of our prayers be as far as possible of the Spirit, As to praying out of a book in our private devotions, 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 matter for congratulation. I should like to see him strong enough to throw his crutches away.
I commend to you 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 for morning and evening sacrifice in the Jewish temple were not fixed as they were without a meaning. Disorder is eminently one of the fruits of sin. But I would not bring any under bondage. This only I say, that it is essential to your soul's health to make praying a part of the business 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 seasons. 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 done with the world. But settle it in your minds, that prayer is one of the great things of every day. Do not drive it into a corner. Do not give it the scraps and parings of your duty. Whatever else you make a business of, make a business of prayer.
I commend to you the importance of perseverance in prayer. Once having begun the habit, never give it up. Your heart will sometimes say, "You have had family prayers: what mighty harm if you leave private prayer undone?" Your body will sometimes say, "You are unwell, or sleepy, or weary; you need not 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 direct from Satan. They are all 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. Paul said, "Continue in prayer, and, "Pray without ceasing." He did not mean that men should be always on their knees, but he did mean that our prayers should be, like the continual burnt offering, steadily persevered in every day; that it should be like seed time and harvest, and summer and winter, unceasingly coming round 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 company, or business, or in the very streets, you may be silently sending up little winged messengers to God, as Nehemiah did in the very presence of Artaxerxes. 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 keeping the Sabbath. A Christian never finds he is a loser, in the long run, by persevering in prayer.
I commend to you the importance of earnestness in prayer. It is not necessary that a man should shout, or scream, or be very loud, in order to prove that he is in earnest. 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 "effectual fervent" prayer that "availeth much." 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 thee go, except thou bless me" (Gen. 32:26). Daniel is another. Hear how he pleaded with God: "O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, 0 my God" (Dan. 9:19). Our Lord Jesus Christ is another. It is written of him, "In the days of his flesh, he offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears" (Heb. 5:7). Alas, how unlike is this to many of our supplications! 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."
I commend to you the importance of praying with faith. We should endeavor to believe that our prayers are heard, and that if we ask things according to God's will, we shall be answered. This is the plain command of our Lord Jesus Christ: "Whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:24). Faith is to prayer what the feather is to the arrow: without it prayer will not hit the mark. We should cultivate the habit of pleading promises in our prayers.
We should take with us some promise, and say, "Lord, here is thine own word pledged. Do for us as thou hast said." This was the habit of Jacob and Moses and David. The 119th Psalm is full of things asked, "according to thy 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. Alas, there are few points on which Christians come short so much as this. 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 solemn saying of Traill, "There is no surer mark of trifling in prayer, than when men are careless what they get by prayer."
I commend to you the importance of boldness in prayer. There is an unseemly familiarity in some men's prayers which I cannot praise. But there is such a thing as a holy boldness, which is exceedingly to be desired. I mean such boldness as that of Moses, when he pleads with God not to destroy Israel "Wherefore," says he, "should the Egyptians speak and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains? Turn from thy fierce anger" (Exod. 32:12). I mean such boldness as that of Joshua, when the children of Israel were defeated before men of Ai: "What," says he, "wilt thou do unto thy great name?" (Josh. 7:9). This is the boldness for which Luther was remarkable. One who heard him praying said, "What a spirit, what a confidence was in his very expressions. With such a reverence he sued, 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 Scotch divine of the seventeenth century. His prayers were said to be "like bolts shot up into heaven." Here also I fear we sadly come short. We do not sufficiently realize the believer's privileges. We do not plead as often as we might, "Lord, are we not thine own people? Is it not for thy glory that we should be sanctified? Is it not for thy honor that thy gospel should increase?"
I commend to you the importance of fullness in prayer. I do not forget that our Lord warns us against the example of the Pharisees, who, for pretense, 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 large and long devotions by continuing all night in prayer to God. At all events, we are not likely in this day 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 aggregate, very small? I am afraid these questions cannot be answered satisfactorily. I am afraid the private devotions of many are most painfully scanty 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. Alas, this is altogether wrong. Nothing is more common than to hear believers complaining that they do not get on. They tell us that they do not grow in grace as they could desire. Is it not rather to be suspected that many have quite as much grace as they ask for? Is it not the true account 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, narrow, diminutive prayers. They have not, because they ask not. Oh, we are not straitened in Christ, but in ourselves. The Lord says, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." But we are like the King of Israel who smote on the ground thrice and stayed, when he ought to have smitten five or six times.
I commend to you the importance of particularity in prayer. We ought not to be content with great 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 most deficient. It should not be enough to tell the Lord we are in trouble; we should describe our trouble and all its peculiarities. This is what Jacob did when he feared his brother Esau. He tells God exactly what it is that he fears (Gen. 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 (Gen. 24:12). This is what Paul did when he had a thorn in the flesh. He besought the Lord (II Cor. 12:8). This is true faith and confidence. We should believe that nothing is too small to be named before God. What should we think of the patient who told his doctor he was ill, but never went into particulars? What should 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? Christ is the true bridegroom 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 all our hearts.
I commend to you 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 conflicts, our own progress in religion, and to forget others. Against this tendency we all have need to watch and strive, and not least in our prayers. We should study to be of a public spirit. We should stir ourselves up to name other names besides our own before the throne of grace. We should try to bear in our hearts the whole world, the heathen, the Jews, 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 household in which we sojourn, the friends and relations we are connected with. For each and all of these we should plead. This is the highest charity. 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 moved 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, 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 pray.
I commend to you 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 supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6). "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" (Col. 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 of 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 crowd on our minds 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 endureth for ever. Never was there an eminent saint who was not full of thankfulness. St. Paul hardly ever writes an epistle without beginning with thankfulness. Men like Whitefield in the last century, and Bickersteth in our time, abounded in thankfulness. Oh, reader, if we would be bright and shining lights in our day, we must cherish a spirit of praise. Let our prayers be thankful prayers.
I commend to you the importance of watchfulness over your prayers. Prayer is that point in religion at which you must be most of all on your guard. Here it is 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 be tested. Prayer is the spiritual weatherglass. By this we may know whether it is fair or foul with our hearts. Oh, let us keep an eye continually upon our private devotions. Here is the pith and marrow 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 unhinge your hearts for communion with God and make your prayers drive heavily. There be on your guard. Observe narrowly what friends and what employments leave your soul in the most spiritual frame, and most ready to speak with God. To these cleave and stick fast. If you will take care of your prayers, nothing shall go very wrong with your soul.
I offer these points for your 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 desire myself and all I love to feel 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 to be a praying church. My heart's desire and prayer in sending forth this tract is to promote a spirit of prayerfulness. I want those who never prayed yet, to arise and call upon God, and I want those who do pray, to see that they are not praying amiss.