by J. C. Ryle
And he spoke a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubles me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge says. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth? - Luke 18:1-8
The object of the parable before us, is explained by Christ Himself. To use the words of an old divine, "The key hangs at the door." "Jesus told His disciples a parable, to show them that they should always pray and not give up." These words, be it remembered, are closely connected with the solemn doctrine of the second coming, with which the preceding chapter concludes. It is perseverance in prayer, during the long weary intervals between the first and second comings, which Jesus is urging His disciples to keep up. In that interval, we ourselves are standing. The subject therefore is one which ought to possess a special interest in our eyes.
These verses teach us firstly — the great importance of perseverance in prayer. Our Lord conveys this lesson by telling the story of a friendless widow, who obtained justice from a wicked magistrate — by force of sheer importunity. "Though I do not fear God, nor regard man," said the unjust judge, "yet because this widow troubles me, I will see that she gets justice, lest by her continual coming she weary me."
Our Lord Himself supplies the application of the parable, "And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He delay in helping them?" If importunity obtains so much from a wicked man — then how much more will it obtain for the children of God — from the Righteous Judge, their Father in Heaven!
The subject of PRAYER ought always to be interesting to Christians. Prayer is the very life-breath of true Christianity. It is in prayer, that true religion begins. It is in prayer, that true religion flourishes. It is in prayer, that it decays. Prayer is one of the first evidences of conversion. (Acts 9:11.) Neglect of prayer, is the sure road to a fall. (Matthew 26:40, 41.) Whatever throws light on the subject of prayer, is for our soul's health.
Let it then be engraved deeply in our minds, that it is far more easy to begin a habit of prayer, than it is to keep it up. The fear of death, or some temporary piercings of conscience, or some excited feelings — may make a man begin praying, after a fashion. But to go on praying, requires saving faith. We are apt to become weary, and to give way to the suggestion of Satan, that "it is of no use." And then comes the time when the parable before us ought to be carefully remembered. We must recollect that our Lord expressly told us "always to pray — and never give up."
Do we ever feel a secret inclination to hurry our prayers, or shorten our prayers, or become careless about our prayers, or omit our prayers altogether? Let us be sure, when we do — that it is a direct temptation from the devil. He is trying to sap and undermine the very citadel of our souls, and to cast us down to Hell.
Let us resist the temptation, and cast it behind our backs. Let us resolve to pray on steadily, patiently, perseveringly — and let us never doubt that it does us good. However long the answer may be in coming — still let us pray on. Whatever sacrifice and self-denial it may cost us — still let us pray on. "Pray always." "Pray without ceasing." "Continue in prayer." (1 Thessalonians 5:17, Colossians 4:2.) Let us arm our minds with this parable, and while we live, whatever else we make time for — let us make time for prayer.
These verses teach us, secondly — that God has an elect people upon earth, who are under His special care. The Lord Jesus declares that God will "avenge His own elect, who cry day and night unto Him." "I tell you," He says, "that He will avenge them speedily."
Election is one of the deepest truths of Scripture. It is clearly and beautifully stated in the seventeenth Article of the Church of England. Election is "the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid — He has decreed by His counsel, secret to us — to deliver from curse and damnation, those whom He has chosen in Christ out of mankind — and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation." This testimony is true. This is "sound speech which cannot be condemned." (Titus 2:8.)
Election is a truth which should call forth praise and thanksgiving from all true Christians. Unless God had chosen and called them — they would never have chosen and called on Him. Except He had chosen them of His own good pleasure, without respect to any goodness of theirs — there would never have been anything in them to make them worthy of His choice. The worldly and the carnal-minded may rail at the doctrine of election. The false professor may abuse it, and turn the "grace of God into a license for sin." (Jude 4.) But the believer who knows his own heart, will ever bless God for election. He will confess that without election — there would be no salvation.
But what are the marks of election? By what tokens shall a man know whether he is one of God's elect? These marks are clearly laid down in Scripture.
Election is inseparably connected with faith in Christ, and conformity to His image. (Romans 8:29, 30.) It was when Paul saw the working "faith," and patient "hope," and laboring "love" of the Thessalonians — that he knew their "election of God." (1 Thessalonians 1:3, 4.)
Above all, we have a plain mark described by our Lord, in the passage before us. God's elect are a people who "cry unto Him night and day." They are essentially a praying people.
No doubt there are many people whose prayers are formal and hypocritical. But one thing is very clear — a prayerless man must never be called one of God's elect. Let that never be forgotten!
These verses teach us, lastly — that true faith will be found very scarce at the end of the world. The Lord Jesus shows this, by asking a very solemn question, "When the Son of Man comes — shall He find faith on the earth?"
The question before us is a very humbling one. It shows the uselessness of expecting that all the world will be converted before Christ comes again. It shows the foolishness of supposing that all people are "good," and that though differing in outward matters — they are all right at heart, and all going to Heaven. Such notions find no approval in the text before us.
Where is the use, after all, of ignoring facts under our own eyes; facts in the world — facts in the churches — facts in the congregations we belong to — facts by our own doors and firesides?
Where is faith to be seen? How many around us really believe what the Bible contains? How many live as if they believed that Christ died for them — and that there is a coming judgment, a Heaven, and a Hell? These are most painful and serious inquiries. But they demand and deserve an answer.
Have we faith ourselves? If we have — then let us bless God for it. It is a great thing to believe all the Bible. It is matter for daily thankfulness — if we feel our sins, and really trust in Jesus. We may be weak, frail, erring, short-coming sinners — but do we believe? That is the grand question. If we believe — then we shall be saved. But he who does not believe — shall not see life, and shall die in his sins, under God's wrath. (John 3:36; 8:24.)