The Abuser’s Claim to be a Christian Examined (J.C. Ryle)

The following is taken from J.C. Ryle’s great book Practical Religion. Ryle was the Anglican Bishop at Liverpool back in the 1800’s. Read his books and you will find yourself quite well grounded in the faith.

What Ryle says here about the Christian and prayer is very insightful for us when we apply it not only to ourselves, but to the abuser who claims to be a Christian. Those of you who are abuse victims/survivors might be helped by what Ryle says here because I think he pulls back the curtain of the abuser’s façade of false faith. Think about it as you read. Did/Does your abuser have a personal, private, prayer life in which he prays from his heart to God?

II. In the second place, “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 in 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 always pray and do not give up” (Luke 18:1).

The Holy Spirit, who makes them new creatures, works in them the feeling of adoption, and makes them cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). The Lord Jesus, when He saves them, gives them a voice and a tongue, and says to them, “Be silent no more.” God has no speechless 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 cannot 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,” that “they call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” I find it recorded as a characteristic of the wicked, that “they do not call upon the Lord.” (1 Peter 1:17; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Psalm 14:4). I have read the lives of many great Christians who have been on earth since the Bible days. Some of them, I see, were rich, and some poor. Some were educated, and some uneducated. They came from various denominations and some were Independents. Some loved a very structured worship service, and some liked it rather informal. But one thing, I see, they all had in common. The have all been “men of prayer.”

I study the reports of missionaries 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, and in America. 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 praying proves everything about his soul. As in every other part of religion, so also in this, there is plenty of 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 for his sins. He cannot love God. He cannot feel himself in debt to God. 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 furthermore, I say, 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 serious.

The Lord Himself has set His stamp on prayer as the best proof of true conversion. When He sent Ananias to Saul in Damascus, He gave him no other evidence of his change of heart than this, “he is praying” (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 proofs. They are to be found in ungodly people, and often come to nothing. In many cases they are not more lasting than “the morning mist, and the early dew that disappears” (Hosea 6:4). A real hearty prayer, flowing from a broken and repentant spirit, is worth all these things put together.

I know that the elect of God are chosen to salvation from all eternity. I do not forget that the Holy Spirit, who calls them in due time, in many instances leads them by very slow degrees to an awareness of 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 silent and speechless 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 can a man live and not breathe is past my comprehension, and how a man can believe and not pray is past my comprehension too. Let no one be surprised if he hears ministers of the Gospel dwelling a lot 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 evangelical religion may be warm and unmistakable. But still this may be nothing more than head knowledge and party spirit. The great point is this– whether you can speak “to” God as well as speak “about” God.

Ryle, J.C. (2010-08-06). Practical Religion (Kindle Locations 1063-1107).  . Kindle Edition.

2 thoughts on “The Abuser’s Claim to be a Christian Examined (J.C. Ryle)

  1. This brought up so many memories and thoughts – as your posts often do. Part of what confused me about my ex-husband was the fact that he did pray. I don’t know what he prayed, but whenever he prayed with me (which was extremely rare), his prayers were self-serving, ego-centered, and often made sport of me during them. He would direct God as if God were his servant, his blessing fountain who longed for nothing else but to serve my husband’s needs and whims. There was no humility. And his life showed no fruit whatsoever, which was what helped me to realize the truth about who I was married to. As time went on, our life was more and more cursed externally. We literally lost everything – home, possessions, health, even our dog.

    But I confess that as the difficulties in my marriage increased – and I am curious if other women experienced this also – I felt so oppressed that I myself could hardly pray at all. Eventually, I would only be able to utter single sentences and the resounding one was, “Lord, please kill me, or kill him, for I can no longer endure,” or “Lord, please restore to me the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.”

    Once I was finally released from my marriage, my prayer life returned to me, and I gained an understanding and compassion for women who were experiencing or had endured similar situations. I have felt very convicted about this – my inability to remain strongly connected to God through prayer in this time. But it truly felt as if Satan himself were standing on the vocal chords of my heart. I am grateful for God’s mercy in releasing me in the manner that he did. Even though my church abandoned me when I left my husband because they were directed to by our pastor (who was besties with my husband), and I had to relocate to a distant place leaving all I loved behind, the hardships I experienced simply served to strengthen my faith in a good God who will not a bruised reed break. All these things will pass away, but our God stands forever.

  2. This makes me think of Psalm 137:3-4 “for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion! But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a pagan land?”

    It also reminds me of the Exodus story how Pharaoh oppressed God’s people even more after they requested time off to take Shabbat, and further added to their work load (Exodus 5).

    When my vocal cords are too fatigued from the abuse and oppression — which is almost always – to “pray,” in sense of what we think is prayer, I found just singing the Lords Prayer over and over helpful. I kind of created my own tune for it and found just singing it over and over helps, but I think it is actually inspired by the tune from the children’s song “The Lord Is My Shepherd I’ll Walk with Him Always.”

    Sometimes I will also pick a line from Scripture and I just sing that line over and over. Sometimes it lasts over an hour and half. Most recently I like singing Psalm 84:10: “one day in your courts is better than a thousands elsewhere.”

    I have found myself getting increasingly unsettled by most, not all, other people’s prayers, and going through the “its hard to trust anyone” phase.

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