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it is welcome. I write not to please learned scholars, but to profit plain Christians ; whose spiritual good I prefer above any credit to myself. I am sure there is none due: there being few of my brethren but they transcend me in parts and learning, but by the grace of God I am what I am, 1 Cor. xv. 10. Nor is his grace altogether in vain: for as he hath helped me in labours, so he hath in some measure blessed my labours, though I be nothing, the least of saints, not meet to be called a minister. Did those that read my performances know me, they would be ready to despise them ? this I speak because my former book hath found such good acceptance, and this is so much desired. And that no man may think of me, above what he knoweth to be in me, I shall add, my heart hath been near fainting through discouragements from my great weakness, had I not been supported many a time with that word, 2 Cor. iv. 7, “ But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of man.” Wherice I gather, that God can make use of weak, unlearned, sinful instruments to do great things; and he can use persons of mean abilities to accomplish his glorious purpose, in converting souls, as well as the profoundest clerks, or wisest men on earth : yea, sometimes he layeth aside these, and rather useth the former, that all the glory may be his, “and that no flesh may glory in his presence," i Cor. i. 29. But such as I am, or have, is all devoted to the honour of our Redeemer, and the welfare of souls,
Whilst I am,
Oct. 31, 1668.
Matth. vi. 6.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when
thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward
The Context examined.
In this excellent Sermon of our precious Saviour, on the Mount, we have both the gospel clearly proposed, and the law solidly expounded. The corrupt and carnal Pharisees had degraded God's holy law from its spiritual extent and control * by their low and literal glosses, but our Saviour restores it to its dignity and authority over the hearts and consciences of men.
In this chapter, the best preacher that ever opened his mouth, doth admirably explain the adjuncts, offices, and exercises of true piety; which are, principally, three-alms, prayer, and fasting ; ver. 1-19. Particularly, concerning the duty of prayer, there
The Author's word here is “regiment,” which, in the works of Hooker, frequently occurs in this sense.
were two materially dangerous faults, of which the Scribes and Pharisees were guilty, in that delightful and solemn exercise. Those were, 1. Hypocrisy, 2. Battology, or vain repetition. Jesus Christ rebukes and rectifies both.
1. They were wont to perform their private devotions in public places, merely for vain-glory, to be seen of men, as in the synagogues, or in the streets, ver. 5. Now for the disciples' practice in this case, he commands them to withdraw themselves out of the view of men, into some solitary place, and there perform that duty, where they would be least exposed to the danger of ostentation, ver. 6.
2. Another fault that our Redeemer rebukes in the duty of prayer is, vain repetition. And though he only mentions it here as the heathens' fault, verse 7, yet certainly the Scribes and Pharisees, who are censured for their long prayers, Matt. xxiii. 14, might also be guilty of it, but in different circumstances. Here the heathens use vain repetitions that they may move God; there the Scribes and Pharisees make long prayers that they may deceive men, and devour widows' houses. The text saith, “ They think they shall be heard for their much speaking;” just as Baal's priests, 1 Kings xviii. 26, “They called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, O Baal hear us! they leaped upon the altar, and cried aloud, and cut themselves with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.” No doubt this was done to move their cruel god, or rather stupid block, to some pity and compassion, just as the frantic Papists do at this day in their self-tormenting penances; but our God, who is the searcher of hearts, delights more in ardent affections, than in either extension of the voice or multiplication of words, or excruciating afflictions of the outward man; there
fore, our Saviour tells us, that when we pray, we come not to inform God of any thing he is ignorant of, ver. 8, “ Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before. ye ask him ;” but we pray that our own hearts may be affected, and that we may have the condition of acceptance—and for the rectifying of this abuse of vain babbling in prayer, Christ proposes and presents to us
, an exact draught and compendious platform of prayer, in what is commonly called, “ The Lord's Prayer;" not as though men should say only those words and no more, for then the apostles had failed in praying in other terms, but that this might be a directory for prayer ; so that every thing we ask should be reducible to some of those heads mentioned in this perfect platform; so that, as Cyprian saith, * “to pray otherwise than he hath taught, either as to the manner or substance of the matter, is not only ignorance but an offence; and indeed we cannot expect to be heard except we ask, as well according to Christ's mind as in his name.” But this is not the subject I have chosen to insist upon; that which falls under our present cognizance from this text, is,
The modification of prayer, with respect to the circumstances of privacy, solitariness, or retirement.
The text holds forth the warrant for, and manner of carrying on the great duty of closet prayer-a copious subject, a precious exercise, in which are,
1. The place for it, “ Thy closet.” 2. The closeness of the place, “Thy door being shut.” 3. The object of worship, “ Thy Father.”
” 4. The arguments to enforce thy duty. (1.) God's omniscience, “He sees.” (2.) His munificence, “Will reward.”
* Ut aliter orare quàm docuit, non ignorantia sola est sed et culpa.-Cyp. Serm. ad Orat. Domin. p. 408.
The Words erplained.
For a more distinct explanation of the words according to the parts before-mentioned, consider,
1. What is meant by a closet here. Some understand and interpret it, not literally but mystically, making an allegory of it, as though it did import, interiorem cordis recessum, the inner recesses or emotions of the heart; but though it be a truth and a duty that we must pray in the closet of the heart, yet I humbly conceive, this is not the proper meaning of the place, for we need not interpret this plain word in such a figurative sense, since multitudes of Scriptures are so express for worshipping God with the heart; besides, that is not suitable to the scope of the place, which opposeth self-retirement to the Pharisaical modes of devotion. The word then, is to be literally taken, and, in general, imports “ any secret place,”* where a thing is laid up; particularly, it signifies a safe or cupboard, to lay victuals in, or a chest locked up, wherein a treasure is usually reserved, or it is taken, as indeed here and often elsewhere, for a close or secret chamber, a withdrawing room, retiring place, where a person is not seen or heard, nor yet is disturbed in his devotions by any noise or commotion; a secret conclave or apartment locked up where no company is admitted.
2. Shut thy door. This word imports yet a further degree of secrecy, as if he had said, that thou mayest make thyself to be less observed, shut up thyself in a room ; let none come at thee to disturb thee in thy in
Leigh. in Crit. Sac. in verb. Matt. xxiv. 26. Luke xii. 3. Quemvis locum occultum notat.-Par.