But more than this. Here was an argument for Paul’s sincerity. Secret prayer is one of the best tests of sincere religion. If Jesus had said to Ananias, “Behold, he preacheth,” Ananias would have said, “that he may do, and yet be a deceiver.” If he had said, “He has gone to a meeting of the church,” Ananias would have said, “He may enter there as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” But when he said, “Behold, he prays,” that was argument enough. A young person comes and tells me about what he has felt and what he has been doing. At last I say, “kneel down and pray.” “I would much rather not.” “Never mind, you shall.” Down he falls on his knees, he has hardly a word to say; he begins groaning and crying, and there he stays on his knees till at last he stammers out, “Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner; I am the greatest of sinners; have mercy upon me!” Then I am a little more satisfied, and I say, “I did not mind all your talk, I wanted your prayers.” But oh! If I could trace him home; if I could see him go and pray alone, then I should feel sure; for he who prays in private is a real Christian. The mere reading of a book of daily devotion will not prove you a child of God; if you pray in private, then you have a sincere religion; a little religion, if sincere, is better than mountains of pretense. Home piety is the best piety. Praying will make you leave off sinning, or sinning will make you leave off praying. Prayer in the heart proves the reality of conversion. A man may be sincere, but sincerely wrong. Paul was sincerely right. “Behold, he prayeth,” was the best argument that his religion was right. If any one should ask me for an epitome of the Christian religion, I should say it is in that one word—“prayer.” If I should be asked, “What will take in the whole Christian experience?” I should answer, “prayer.” A man must have been convinced of sin before he could pray; he must have had some hope that there was mercy for him before he could pray. In fact, all the Christian virtues are locked up in that word, prayer. Do but tell me you are a man of prayer, and I will reply at once, “Sir, I have no doubt of the reality, as well as the sincerity, of your religion.”
But one more thought, and I will leave this subject. It was a proof of this man’s election, for you read directly afterwards, “Behold, he is a chosen vessel.” I often find people troubling themselves about the doctrine of election. Every now and then I get a letter from somebody or other taking me to task for preaching election. All the answer I can give is, “There it is in the Bible; go and ask my Master why he put it there. I cannot help it. I am only a serving man, and I tell you the message from above. If I were a footman, I should not alter my master’s message at the door. I happen to be an ambassador of heaven, and I dare not alter the message I have received. If it is wrong, send up to head-quarters. There it is, and I cannot alter it.” This much let me say in explanation. Some say, “How can I discover whether I am God’s elect? I am afraid I am not God’s elect.” Do you pray? If it can be said, “Behold, he prayeth,” it can also be said, Behold, he is a chosen vessel.” Have you faith? If so, you are elect. Those are the marks of election. If you have none of these, you have no grounds for concluding that you belong to the peculiar people of God. Have you a desire to believe? Have you a wish to love Christ? Have you the millionth part of a desire to come to Christ? And is it a practical desire? Does it lead you to offer earnest, tearful supplication? If so, never be afraid of non-election; for whoever prays with sincerity, is ordained of God before the foundation of the world, that he should be holy and without blame before Christ in love.
III. Now for the APPLICATION. A word or two with you, my dear friends, before I send you away this morning. I regret that I cannot better enter into the subject; but my glorious Master requires of each of us according to what we have, not according to what we have not. I am deeply conscious that I fail in urging home the truth so solemnly as I ought; Nevertheless, “my work is with God and my judgement with my God,” and the last day shall reveal that my error lay in judgment, but not in sincere affection for souls.
First, allow me to address the children of God. Do you not see, my dear brethren, that the best mark of our being sons of God is to be found in our devotion? “Behold, he prayeth.” Well, then, does it not follow, as a natural consequence, that the more we are found in prayer the brighter will our evidences be? Perhaps you have lost your evidence this morning; you do not know whether you are a child of God or not; I will tell you where you lost your confidence—you lost it in your closet. I speak what I have felt. I have often gone back from God—never so as to fall finally, I know, but I have often lost that sweet savor of his love which I once enjoyed. I have had to cry,
“Those peaceful hours I once enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void,
The world can never fill.”
I have gone up to God’s house to preach, without either fire or energy; I have read the Bible, and there has been no light upon it; I have tried to have communion with God, but all has been a failure. Shall I tell where that commenced! It commenced in my closet. I had ceased, in a measure, to pray. Here I stand, and do confess my faults; I do acknowledge that whenever I depart from God it is there it doth begin. O Christians, would you be happy? Be much in prayer. Would ye be victorious? Be much in prayer.
“Restraining prayer, we cease to fight,
Prayer makes the Christian’s armor bright.”