Private Prayer, Radiant Life
By J. C. Ryle
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 Savior, but how much more some love Him than others. I ask any true Christian whether this is not the case. Are these things not so?
There are some of the Lord’s people who seem never able to get on from the time of their conversion. They are born again, but they remain babies all their lives. You hear from them the same old experience. You remark in them the same lack of spiritual appetite, the same lack of interest in anything beyond their own little circle, which you remarked ten years ago. They are pilgrims indeed, but pilgrims like the Gibeonites of old; their bread is always dry and moldy, their shoes always old, and their garments always rent and torn (Josh. 9:4-5). I say this with sorrow and grief; but I ask, Is it not true?
There are others of the Lord’s people who seem to be always advancing. They grow like 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 fall they are soon up again. And all this time they think themselves poor, unprofitable servants, and fancy that 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 people of the world. It does one good to see them, to be with them, 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.
Now how can you 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 may startle some hearers. 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 have an example near themselves. But as to it 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 I do say that when a person 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 McCheyne. Tell me of one of the goodly fellowship of saints and martyrs who has not had this mark most prominently – they were men of prayer. Depend on it, prayer is power.
Prayer obtains fresh and continued outpourings of the Spirit. He alone begins the work of grace in a person’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. The devil will never long keep dominion over us which we beseech the Lord to cast forth. But then we must spread out all our case before our heavenly Physician, if He is to give us daily relief.
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?