Reading the Bible with Dead Guys: Ryle on Luke 18

This article is part of the Reading the Bible with Dead Guys series.

Reading the Bible With Dead Guys is a weekly blog series giving you the chance to read God’s Word alongside some great theologians from church history. With content adapted from the Crossway Classic Commentaries series, these posts feature reflections on Scripture by giants of the faith like John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, John Owen, and more.

*Today we’ll hear from J.C. Ryle (1816–1900) on Luke 18:1-8. *

The parable of the widow and the judge (Luke 18:1-8) –– Read at

The meaning of this parable is explained by our Lord 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 (verse 1). These words are closely linked to the solemn words about the second coming at the end of the last chapter. Jesus is urging his disciples to pray without fainting during the long, weary interval between the first and second comings. We are ourselves standing in that interval. So this subject should be of special interest to us.

1. The importance of perseverance in prayer

These verses teach us, first, 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 dint of sheer importunity. “‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice’” (verse 5). If importunity gains so much from a wicked man, how much more will it gain for the children of God from the righteous Judge, their Father in heaven?

Prayer should always interest Christians. Prayer is the very life-breath of true Christianity. Here it is that religion begins; here it flourishes; here it decays. Prayer is one of the first signs of conversion (Acts 9:11). Neglect of prayer is the sure road to a fall (Matthew 26:40-41). Whatever throws light on prayer is for our soul’s health.

2. God cares for an elect people on earth

These verses teach us, second, that God has an elect people on earth who are under his special care. The Lord Jesus declares, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? . . . I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (verses 7-8).

Election is one of the deepest truths of Scripture. It is clearly and beautifully stated in the seventeenth Article of the Church of England. It is “the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, he hath decreed by his counsel, secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation.” This testimony is true.


J. C. Ryle

This Crossway Classic Commentary by J. C. Ryle still speaks to Christians today, thanks to the careful work of series editors J. I. Packer and Alister McGrath, who have revived and tailored Ryle's wisdom for modern readers.

Election is a truth which should draw out praise and thanksgiving from all true Christians. Unless God had chosen and called them, they would never have chosen and called on him. Unless he had chosen them of his own good pleasure, without reference to any goodness of theirs, there would never have been anything in them to make them worthy of his choice. The worldly may rail against the doctrine of election; the person who falsely professes to believe may abuse it and “change the grace of God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4). But the believer who knows his own heart will always bless God for election. He will confess that without election there would be no salvation.

What are the signs of election? How can a person know if he is one of God’s elect? The marks of election are clearly laid down in Scripture. Election is inseparably linked with faith in Christ and conforming to his likeness (Romans 8:29-30). When St. Paul saw the working faith and patient hope and laboring love of the Thessalonians, he knew that God had “chosen” them (1 Thessalonians 1:3-4). Above all, we have a clear sign described by our Lord in this passage: God’s elect are a people who “cry out to him day and night” (verse 8). They are essentially a praying people. A prayerless person cannot be called one of God’s elect.

There is doubtless an implied lesson here, that persevering prayer is the secret of keeping up faith. Augustine says, “When faith fails, prayer dies. In order to pray, then, we must have faith; and that our faith fail not, we must pray. Faith pours forth prayer; and the pouring forth of the heart in prayer gives steadfastness to faith.”

This article is adapted from J.C. Ryle’s commentary on Luke, part of the Crossway Classic Commentaries* series edited by Alister McGrath and J. I. Packer.*

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