« PreviousContinue »
ous sinning, some may blur the engravings of sin on the table of their heart, yet it shall be as writing with the juice of lemons, being held to the fire of God's wrath, it is as legible to the conscience as the first moment when the sin was committed. O the secret wickednesses that sinners have to reckon for! But where are the secret prayers ? Alas, how rarely or how formally do they wait on God alone! Custom, vainglory, and carnal interest may put them on joining in public prayer, or family duty; but they are strangers to this spiritual self-denying duty of closet prayer. The carnal hypocrite exposeth all his religion to open view; he is like a house with a beautiful front, but every room within, dark; as one saith, he is a rotten post finely gilded; he hath dressed himself in the garb of religion, and will be as devout as the best in templeworship; but follow him to his closet, he cannot afford God one hour in a week ; he doth not make conscience of secret prayer: this gains him no credit with men, and therefore is little used. This, rightly performed, opens the heart to God, which the unsound professor dares not do. I shall shew hereafter, whether the hypocrite may use closet prayer, and wherein he is distinguished from a sincere Christian in that duty. At present I would reprove those that never use it, that look upon it as below them; they either dare not be alone, or scorn to stoop so low, for the purpose of sighing out their desires to God in secret, as though they would not be indebted to the great God for any mercy; but in their hearts and practice speak the language of those proud atheists in Jer. ii. 31, “We are lords, we will come no more unto thee?” But, as they imagine that they are gods, and will not be indebted to our God for mercy, let them know they shall die like men, and he damned like devils. Lord, have mercy on these poor prayerless sinners, that understand not the necessity and mystery of closet prayer, but look upon it as needless, and are ready to say, it is more to do than needs: but let them prepare to make good that desperate assertion at the bar of God's justice with flames about their ears, and let such know that God will answer their cavils against plain duty, after another manner than his ministers can do now. To which dreadful judgment, we leave them, except prevented by a speedy and sincere repentance,
Professors of religion reproved.
But the persons to be principally reproved at present, are the professors of religion, that acknowledge this to be a duty, but grievously neglect it. I fear, God's children are not so constant and conscientious in the performance of this duty of closet prayer as they ought to be. Are not pious people guilty of frequent omissions, and intermissions, or at least of negligent performance of this duty ? It was one of old Mr Dod's instructions, that at night we should ask ourselves, “Have I twice this day humbled myself before God in private ?” And again, “ How did I pray? in faith and love?”
Who goes to bed and doth not pray,
I am afraid, many of us could give but a sorry account in answer to these serious inquiries. Let us be ashamed, lay it to heart, and give God glory by repentance and reformation.
For the humbling of our hearts in this case, let me
Heb. v. 7.
propose these ten awakening interrogatories, that we may mourn for our neglect of this duty of closet prayer.
1. Are you not very unlike Jesus Christ ? Is not he the perfect copy that we should write after? And do we not find him often in private prayer? We meet with him in this solitary duty, sometimes in the day, sometimes in the night, sometimes all night; in a garden, in a mountain; he took all opportunities to go to his Father;* “In the days of his flesh he offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears,"
As he was a man of sorrows, so he was a man of prayer, and the sharper his sorrows, the stronger his cries, Luke xxii. 44, “ Being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly :” and was not this for our example, and for our advantage? Should we not learn of him? nay, doth not our very christianity consist in our conformity to Christ? Alas, how unlike him are most of us ? Shall we pass for Christians, that follow not his steps? Was it not blessed Paul's study and ambition to be conformed to this blessed pattern ? Can we imitate a better person? Was it necessary Christ should wrestle for us, and is it not as necessary we should wrestle with God for our own souls? Or, doth Christ's praying for us excuse our pleading for ourselves ? No, no, as it was for our example and benefit in the days of his flesh, so his present intercession in heaven doth both imply and encourage our praying: for we are to ask in his name, and employ our dear Advocate, that we may speed : and shall not we, as it were, set him to work, and send up our prayers to be mixed with his sweet incense ? The Lord humble us for, and pardon us our neglects and omissions !
2. Are you not herein very unlike the saints of God? The seed of Jacob are wrestlers with God. God hath
Luke vi. 12. Natt. xxvi. 36.
no children still-born, they all cry, Abba Father. Jacob wrestled with God in secret prayer, and ever since, all the saints in all ages have borne that name, Psalm xxiv. 6, “This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob,” that is, who seek the God of Jacob, as Jacob did; and indeed every one that is godly will thus pray.
There might be brought a cloud of witnesses in all ages, of praying saints, that conversed with God in secret : it is recorded of the apostle James, that his knees were as hard as camel's feet with praying. Some have sought out for private places to pray in, some have risen out of their beds to pray, some have set days apart to humble themselves in secret, by fasting and prayer,
others would never venture on business without seeking God : such as are acquainted with ecclesiastical history, or christian experience, may find store of instances of this sort : and why should we be unlike our brethren ? Have we not all one spirit, as well as all one Father? and is not this a spirit of grace and supplication ? and is it not that which on all occasions draws the soul to its Father? God said of Paul, when newly converted, “ Behold he prayeth !”—Acts ix. 11: others do not see it, but I know it; there he is in retirement, sighing and seeking me; go, Ananias, inquire for him, he is now one of you, a real convert, for, “ Behold he prayeth.” A soul praying in secret is worthy of observation, there is an ecce put upon it, “ Behold he prayeth !” And why should we that pretend to be Christians, be unlike our brethren?
3. Are you not herein unlike yourselves in former times? When God did at first work upon your hearts, did you
not then run to God privately? Did you not set yourselves intently to the duty of secret prayer ? How often did God find you by yourselves, sighing,
* Psalm xxxii. 6.
sorrowing, weeping, breathing after God, pouring out your hearts like water, before the face of the Lord; when your heavenly Father pitied you, spoke very kindly to you, wiped off your tears, cheered your hearts, heard your prayers, and made those days of grief, times of love? O the sweet endearments that then took place, betwixt your souls and God! Have you forgotten such a chamber, such a closet, such a barn, such a wood, where you sometimes walked and meditated; sometimes fell prostrate and wept before the Lord, till you had no more power to weep? If you have forgotten those blessed days, your God hath not : “ He remembers thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after him in a solitary wilderness," Jer. ii. 2. Canst not thou remember the day when thou wouldst rather have been with thy God in a private room, than upon a prince's throne? Yea, thou thought
, est thou wast to do nothing else but cry and pray
in secret : thou wast engaged in it every day, yea many times in a day. How comes it to pass that there is such a change; that thou dost so rarely go to visit thy best friend, as formerly? Is he changed ? is he not as good and kind as he was wont to be ? Hast thou found any fault in God? or art not thou blame-worthy? What has become of thy ancient spirit of prayer ? why dost thou forget thy sweetest wrestling-place? why dost thou not inquire for those good old ways of communion with thy God?
4. Let me further expostulate with God's children, that are rarely exercised in this duty of secret prayer. Do you not deprive yourselves of many sweet refreshments? Have not your souls had delightful experience of transporting incomes in secret duties? pleasant morsels have you eaten alone ? Have not these stolen waters been sweet? and would they not