BY G. CAMPBELL MORGAN
They ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1).
SUCH IS Luke’s interpretation of the meaning of the parable which Jesus uttered to His disciples concerning the unrighteous judge “which feared not God, and regarded not man,” but who granted the request of the importunate widow from the purely selfish motive which he expressed graphically and accurately in the words, “lest she wear me out by her continual coming.” This is one of the most remarkable things in some senses that the Bible says anywhere about the prayer life, “They ought always to pray, and not to faint.” It is one of those statements that stagger and in the presence of which Christian men and women are always in danger of indulging in some measure of that criticism which is the outcome of unbelief.
The first objection raised is to the word “always.” It is suggested that this does not quite mean what it says, that the evident intention is that we should be men and women of prayer, having our appointed times and habits of prayer; that believing in the power of prayer, we ought to take advantage of the great possibility whenever we are able so to do, whenever we are in need. That is not what the text says. That is not the interpretation placed upon the parable of Jesus by Luke. The text says, “always to pray.”
There are other passages that indicate the same necessity. When he is closing his letter to the Thessalonians Paul utters in epigrammatic form great injunctions concerning the Christian life. One of them is, “Pray without ceasing”(1 Thessalonians 5:17). Of this it is also affirmed that he did not literally mean that we are to pray without ceasing. We are to pray every day, two or three times a day, as regularly as possible. We are to be men and women of prayer. But that is not what the apostle wrote. He wrote, “Pray without ceasing.” You will not at all misunderstand these introductory words.
I recognize the difficulty. You say, “I have been too busy today with work for God to take time in prayer. I was so pressed with the business cares of last week that I had very little time for prayer. I prayed at
morning, noon, and night; and often in the midst of the city’s rush and din, when some great need crowded on my heart, I lifted that heart to God. I prayed often, but I did not pray always; I did not pray without
As a believer in the inspired infallibility of Scripture, I abide by the words of it, “always,” “without ceasing” We are responsible, therefore, to ask very carefully what this text really means. I submit to you immediately that this particular text of mine in which Luke gives the inspired interpretation of the meaning of the Master’s parable lifts the whole subject of prayer on to a very high level and reveals to us the fact that there is infinitely more in prayer than the offering of petitions, than the uttering of words, than the taking of time, than the attitude of the body or of the mind; that there are deeper depths and higher heights; and that if we would enter into the prayer life with all its fulness of virtue and of victory we must
discover what this really means, “They ought always to pray,” “Pray without ceasing.”
For the Disciples
First of all, note the Authorized Version reads, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” The Revised Version reads, “They ought always to pray, and not to faint.” To whom was He speaking? If you go back to
the previous chapter (Luke 17) you will see how wonderful a chapter it is, full of solemn warnings and prophetic utterances, strange and mysterious many of them. At its twenty-second verse I find these words,
“And He said unto the disciples, The days will come when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.” Then He continues His teaching of the disciples right on the end of that chapter, and immediately and in that connection, whether uttered at that point or not is of no consequence, in that relationship, according to the placing of the story by Luke, He spoke the parable “unto them,” that is, to His own disciples, “that they ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
The distinction is an important one, and it is fundamental to our meditation. He had one philosophy of life, and He called on everyone to accept it. Here, however, He is laying His instructions upon such as have heard His call, and having obeyed it, have become His disciples. They are such as are described in Hebrews 11:6-which I believe Luke wrote, although the thinking is the thinking of Paul-“He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that seek after Him.” If a man does not believe these things, he will never pray. If these things are indeed believed, if this is indeed the truth concerning God accepted by the heart and mind, then of such as believe, the Lord by His parable affirms that “they ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
In Life’s Stress
Having drawn attention to the fact that these words were spoken to disciples, to those who believe that God is and that He is a Rewarder, let us notice the circumstances of this discourse. He is talking to His disciples in view of the fact that the life of faith is a strenuous life, characterized by stress and strain and conflict and difficulty. Notice how He ends His exposition of His parable, “When the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” In the previous chapter I find Him telling these men that to gain their life they must lose it, and to find the real value of eternal things they must turn themselves away from all the allurements of the material and the sensual. He is putting into contrast the life of faith with the life that is lived on the material level.
Farther on, we notice that He said almost exactly the same thing. Speaking of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem and of the fact that in those days men would faint for fear, He charged His own to watch and make supplication. Thus, the message of this parable and the declaration of this text have application to such as are His disciples and declare to them the supreme truth concerning the secret of prevailing life in the midst of the stress and strain of discipleship.
I need hardly stay to argue the fact that the Christian life is one of stress and strain. I am perfectly well aware that there are senses in which it is a life of peace, ease, and quietness. I remember the great promises of Scripture concerning peace for the children of God. There is granted to the child of God the peace from God our Father. There is granted to the child of God the peace of God in the heart, and, moreover, the presence and comradeship of the God of peace.
Yet these very facts create the strain and stress and difficulty. Surrounded every day by things material, in the midst of an age which in its outlook is as absolutely godless as any age which has preceded it, it is not easy to live the life of godliness. It is not easy to bear perpetual and prevailing testimony to the unseen things to the ordinary crowd of men and women with whom the believer comes into contact, living, as they do, as though there were no God, no hereafter, no spiritual verities.
To live the life of godliness in the midst of this age is still to live the life of conflict. Because of the allied forces of godlessness, the Christian life is the strenuous life, and there are scores of men and women in this world tonight-perhaps the affirmation is a strong one, but I believe it to be true-who are weary in the midst of the Christian life, who are tired, fainting, and filled with weariness because of the pressure of the forces of the world upon them. To these people Christ says, “They ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
The Meaning of Prayer
Before laying further emphasis upon the “always” let me take the terms of my text in order to understand Christ’s philosophy of life for His own disciples. What is the real suggestiveness of this word “pray”? If
you take it as to its first simplicity and intention, it means-and this is not complete, but it will help us to reach the complete thought-to wish forward, to desire toward the ultimate; or if you will have that
interpreted by the language of the apostle in one of his greatest epistles, that to the Colossians (3:1), it means the seeking of things which are above. That does not at all suggest that the Christian is forevermore to be sighing after heaven, expressing discontent now with the present world, and longing to escape from it; but rather it means that the Christian is to seek the higher things, setting his mind upon them, and everywhere and all the time he is to be hoping for, and seeking to obtain, the ultimate. That is the simple meaning of prayer. Reaching forward, wishing forward, desiring forward, seeking the upper, the higher, the nobler.
Therefore, in prayer there is included, first, always first, the thought of worship and adoration, that content of the heart with the perfection and acceptability and goodness of the will of God which bows the soul in worship. That is the first attitude of prayer. To pray is now, always to set the life in its inspiration and in all its endeavor toward that ultimate goal of the glory of God. “Being justified by faith, let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: through whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we
stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God?’ (Romans 5:1-2).
The soul, seeing that golden age as in the will of God and realizing that the supreme fact of the vision is that of God Himself, the supreme attitude of the life is that of cooperation with God toward the ultimate upon which His heart is set. That is prayer.
Prayer is not merely position of body or of mind. Prayer is not merely asking for something in order that I may obtain it for myself. Prayer forevermore says when it asks for anything, “Not my will, but Thine be
done,” which means, if the thing I ask for, however much I desire it, however good it seems to me to be, will hinder or postpone by a hair’s breadth or a moment, the ultimate victory, it should be denied to me. Those who know the real secret of the prayer life have discovered the fact that God’s denial of our requests is over and over again the graciousness of overwhelming answer. To pray is to desire forward, to seek forward to endeavor after. It is to have a new vision of God and of the ways of God, to be overwhelmingly convinced of the perfection of God, of the perfection of all He does and of the certainty of His ultimate victory, and then to respond to the profound and tremendous conviction by petition, by praise, and by endeavor; and so men “ought always to pray” and to “pray without ceasing.”
The Meaning Of Fainting
Now notice another term of our text, “to faint”. This is our Lord’s recognition of the strenuous nature of the life of the believing soul. What is this word “to faint”? Quite simply, its meaning is to be paralyzed, to be weak, to be worthless, to feel the force dying and the vigor passing, to be beaten, to be broken down and helpless.
A Clear Choice
We may now consider our Lord’s philosophy of life. He puts these two things into opposition. He declares in effect that this is the alternative before every one of us, to pray or to faint. There is no suggestion of a middle course. According to this word, this inspired interpretation of the meaning of our Lord’s parable and teaching is, if men pray they do not faint. If men faint it is because they have ceased to pray. If men do not pray they faint. Men “ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Interpret your prayer by the negation. Prayer is the opposite of fainting. Fainting is a sudden sense of inability and helplessness, the cessation of activity, weariness which is almost, and ultimately is, death. Pray and do not faint. To pray is to have the
vision clear, the virtue mighty, the victory assured. To pray is to “mount up with wings as eagles,” to “run and not be weary,” to “walk, and not faint.”
Pause with me one moment with that passage. Have you imagined that the great Isaiah at that point failed in his rhetorical method having said this great truth, he had nothing greater to say, and that afterward
there was an anticlimax and perhaps something of pathos? It is not so. As a matter of fact, he began with the easiest thing of all to “mount up with wings as eagles.” Then he took the next action in the order of
difficulty, to run, and the hardest thing last, to walk.
In the day when you first caught your vision of God, you mounted up with wings of eagles. I am not undervaluing that day. Thank God for the experience. We thank God for it whenever it returns. He gives us the vision often, and we “mount up with wings as eagles.” A defeated and disappointed man once said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! Then I would fly away and be at rest.” What a mistake. A man with the wings of a dove could not fly away and be at rest. When the inspired seer speaks of a man flying, he says “wings as eagles.” Notice the significance of it. The eagle is forevermore the symbol of deity. To wait upon God is to use the pinions of deity and mount and soar away.
Every young believer has those pinions and that great beginning, and God gives them to us throughout our pilgrimage. Presently, however, there comes a day when there are no wings and no mounting above; we
must run through. Yet “they shall run, and not be weary.” And yet there comes another day-some of you are in it now when it is almost night, so dark has it all become. You cannot run, the way is not clear enough,
the enemies are too many, there are difficulties all about you-you must walk, “They shall walk, and not faint.” Notice Isaiah’s word and Christ’s, “They shall walk, and not faint,” “They ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
Prayer is the opposite of fainting. It is mounting with wings. It is running without weariness. It is walking the uphill, rough and rugged road, and never fainting. That is Christ’s great philosophy of life. If men pray they do not faint. If men faint it is because they have forgotten to pray. “They ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
God Versus the Unjust Judge
In the parable we notice it is an exposition of the philosophy of the prayer life by contract all the way through it. The moment you forget that, you miss the beauty and the glory of it. First, all that the judge was, God is not. The judge did not fear God, that is to say, he had not submitted to the highest authority. He did not regard men. He was absolutely careless, and you may sum up the whole thing in Christ’s illuminative word, he was unrighteous. All that the judge was, God is not. God regards man. Notice the words of Jesus, “longsuffering over them.” God is righteous. “He will avenge,” and the word “avenge” there is not the word “revenge.” It means to do justice to. The widow came to the unrighteous judge and said to him, “Avenge me of mine adversary. Do me justice in connection with my adversary.” He was an unjust judge, an unrighteous man. God is righteous and just and will do justice by all who come to Him. That is the first contrast.
Another contrast. In order to persuade the unjust judge persistent pleading was necessary. Imploring is never necessary to persuade God. That is the point where we generally break down in this parable. We
make the contrast between the unjust judge and God, but not between the consequent action of the widow and that of the Christian. This parable is constantly taken as teaching that we are to be persistent toward
God. It teaches us rather that if we are always praying, praying in the sense of begging is not necessary. The prayer life does not consist of perpetual repetition of petitions. The prayer life consists of life that is always upward and onward and God ward. The passion of the heart is for the kingdom of God; the devotion of the mind is to His will; the attitude of the spirit is conformity thereto; and the higher we climb in the realm of prayer, the more unceasing will prayer be, and the fewer will be the petitions.
It is the opposite of fearful imploring that is taught here. Jesus describes God as compassionate, just, mighty, quick to respond to the forward wish of the weakest soul, so that in the midst of the stress and strain and struggle there need be no fainting. The life uplifted in prayer with the whole desire Godward brings an answer, and there is no comparison equal to showing the quickness of that answer. It is quicker
than thought or the lightning flash.
There is a man here who is tired of his sin and brokenhearted on account of it, who determines that without any after-meeting he will seek the pardon of his God. Will he have to be importunate and wait and
beg and beseech? No, God is “ready to pardon.”
For example, imagine a great battleship, the decks are cleared for action, every man is at his post. At last, as the awful moment arrives, the commanding officer says, “Ready?” “Ready, yes, ready!” comes back the answer, and he gives the order, “Fire!” You know what happens. That is slow work compared to God’s answer. He is ready to pardon, ready to answer your prayer.
The unjust judge did not regard God or man. He was selfish and self-centered. Because the widow went and went and went to him, to get rid of her, to save her bruising him, he gave her what she wanted. That is
the picture by contrast. God is the opposite of that. Your method in prayer is the opposite of that. Therefore men “ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Because of such a God, so full of compassion, so full of might, so full of infinite and strict integrity and justice, the foremost wish of the weakest, feeblest, frailest soul brings an answer. He is a God ready to hear and to answer.
The Duty and Power of Prayer
If all this is true, if this is what our Lord said to men, and if Luke’s inspired interpretation of the meaning is correct, allow me for a moment to lay emphasis upon another word in the text, “They ought always to pray.” It is a duty, not a privilege. Men ought. All omnipotence is at the disposal of the saint who prays since God is willing, then people ought to pray “Since God . . .pray so that they will not faint.” There ought to be no fainting.
Oh, how strenuous is life! I know a little of it. Men “ought always to pray, and not to faint.” How fierce the battle! I know something of the conflict, but I ought not to faint, because I can pray.
This truth means that in God there is a resource equal to every demand that can be made upon the trusting soul. There is no hour so dark but that if I will stay upon Him once again to use Isaiah’s fine language-I
shall discover His readiness to support me as I stay. There is no battle so fierce but that if I pray I may not stand, withstand, . . . and, having done all, to stand (Ephesians 6:13). There is no temptation so swift, so sudden or subtle, but that if I am always praying I may not find at once the wisdom and the might that enable me to overcome. Men ought not to faint because men ought to pray.
How to Pray Always
The whole life of the believer should be prayer-and this is the summary and conclusion-every act, every word, every wish. The act that is not prayer in the ultimate, and the word which is not prayer in the last
analysis, and the wish that is not prayer in the profoundest depth are to be put away; they do not become the life of faith. They are things that produce fainting.
How can every act be prayer? Ask yourself about your next act why you are doing it. The Sabbath will soon be over, and we shall leave it behind, for it is the day of prayer. Tomorrow morning you will face the calling of the day in the shop, the office, the school, professional life,-in whatever is your calling. What are you rising early and toiling all the day for? The answer of the average man will suit me for the moment. That answer will be, I am working for my living. Perfectly right, but what do you want to live for? Why should you endeavor to support your life and keep it? You have been overwhelmed with the stress and strain of actual physical and mental toil, and you are away to the mountains or to the sea for rest. Why are you going for rest? Why do you want rest? I ask. That I may regain my strength. For what?
Cross-examine yourself and see the meaning of your activity. Analyze your own wishing and desire, and see what inspiration lies at the back of it. If, by God’s infinite grace and by the indwelling of the Holy Christ Himself, at the back of all the activity and of all desire and all speech, there is the perpetual aspiration, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done,” then every act, every thought, is prayer.
“They ought always to pray, and not to faint.” If we do not pray always, we never pray. The man who makes prayer a scheme by which occasionally he tries to get something for himself has not learned the deep, profound secret of prayer. Prayer is life passionately wanting, wishing, desiring God’s triumph. Prayer is life striving and toiling everywhere and always for that ultimate victory. When men so pray they do not faint. They mount up with wings as eagles, they run without weariness, they tramp the hardest, roughest road, and they do not faint.
My desire has been to arrest irreverent and unintelligent prayer, to indicate a line of contrast which will reveal to all of us the fact that prayer is infinitely larger than we have often thought it to be. I charge upon you in this life of faith, do not degrade prayer to a low standard of experience, or make it that by which you attempt to gain things-and notice the startling language of Scripture-that you may spend them on your own lusts. “Ye have not because ye ask not,” or “ye have not because ye ask amiss” (James 4:2-3). What is it to ask amiss? To ask for things that I may spend them on my own desires. That is praying that is not answered. Men “ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
Oh, may I learn the lesson of Jesus that God is other than the unjust judge, that my method with Him may be other than that of the imploring widow, and that if I only know what prayer really is, I live at home in
omnipotence, and I need never faint by the way. May this strength be ours.
George Campbell Morgan (1863-1945) was the son of a British Baptist preacher and preached his first sermon when he was thirteen years old. He had no formal training for the ministry, but his tireless devotion to the study of the Bible helped him to become one of the leading Bible teachers of his day. Rejected by the Methodists, he was ordained into the Congregational ministry. He was associated with Dwight L. Moody in the Northfield Bible conferences and as an itinerant Bible teacher. He is best known as the pastor of Westminister Chapel, London (1904-17 and 1933-35). During his second term there, he had Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones as his associate. He published more than 60 books and booklets, and his sermons are found in The Westminister Pulpit (London, Pickering and Inglis). This sermon is from Volume 3.
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