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tercourse with God, bar the door, and make it fast ; yea let none overhear thee in thy retired devotions; for, observe it, in true closet prayer there should be confinement of the voice as well as the body. Some pray so loud in their chambers that they may be heard into the streets. This is not properly closet prayer, since it doth not attain the end of this retirement, which is an approving the heart only to God, and avoiding all shew and occasions of hypocrisy and vain-glory ; for it is all one in this respect, whether the body be seen or the voice be heard. Only remember, this is spoken of secret prayer; for it doth not exclude public prayer in a congregation, where the body is seen and voice is heard; yet it doth by a sort of synecdoche require self-denial, singleness and sincerity in every kind of prayer, public, private, and secret; for one part or sign of uprightness in the duty is put for the whole, shutting the door, for integrity of heart in the whole* management of this important exercise.
3. Here is the object of prayer, pray to thy Father. Thy business is not with men, but with God; seek, therefore, to please and enjoy him. Nor yet art thou to fetch a compass and pray to saints and angels, but go straight to God in the name of Christ, and be sure thou look upon him as under the delightful relation of a tender Father, yea, “ thy Father.” O, a sweet word, a blessed word, and such a word as we durst not have taken into our mouths; f had it not been for Christ's glorious undertaking to procure adoption for us, and his gracious encouragement in the prescribed form of prayer, and also for God the Father's voluntary
Una specie simplicitatis pro toto genere positâ. + Quod nomen, nemo nostrum in oratione auderet attingere, nisi ipse nobis sic permisisset orare.-Cyprian Serm. de Orat. Dom. condescension. Come then, and fear not, poor disciple of Christ, come with filial affections, and the spirit of adoption, and thou art sure to speed, for this paternal relation imports affection, provision, condescension and compassion. If thou wilt be a child to him, he will be a Father to thee.--2 Cor. vi. 18.
4. Here are the arguments and encouragements to this duty of secret prayer.
(1.) Thy Father sees in secret. All is one to him whether you be in a public church or private closet; God, whose eyes are ten thousand times brighter than the sun, sees you in the one place, as well as in the other, and though men see you not, yet content yourselves with this consideration, that your own consciences and God, with whom you have to do, and from whom you have your reward, are competent witnesses of your uprightness.
(2.) He will reward thee openly. There are two things in this expression. First, they shall be rewarded; and secondly, they shall be openly rewarded. “So that men shall say, verily there is a reward for the righteous, verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth,” Psalm lviii. 11. The Scribes and Pharisees do all their works to be seen of men, and of men they have that sorry
reward: you do yours in the sight of God, and from him you shall receive your abundant and eternal recompense. Though men see you not, fear not, you shall be seen and accepted by him that searcheth hearts, and knoweth the mind of the Spirit. But of these, more anon.
The sum and design of the text is this. disciple, seest the plausible practices of the hypocritical Pharisees, to gain credit and applause; they perform their private duties in public places, as markets and synagogues, that they may pass among men for
eminent saints, and they are generally so esteemed ; that is their reward. But thou that hast given up thy name to me, in the profession of my name, take my counsel for regulating this important duty of secret prayer : let none see what thou goest about, steal time from all observers, withdraw thyself into some closet or private place, and when thou hast made all fast, set thyself in the presence of God, approve thy heart to him, lay open thy bosom before him, tell him all thy grievances; and though no creature is privy to thy secret groans, yet be assured that all thy desires are before God, and thy groaning is not hid from him, that he takes notice of thy tears, and reserves them in a bottle by him, to be rewarded in a visible manner in a seasonable time; thy labour is not in vain, thy work is with the Lord, and thy reward with thy God.
MANY doctrines lie couched in the words, I shall but suggest them, and select one:
1. Prayer is a choice part of religion ; it holds a conspicuous place in the natural worship of the supreme Being, though the right ordering of it is by institution. It is a prominent feature in a pious character, and therefore often put in Scripture for the whole service of God: “He that calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” Rom. x. 13. A prayerless soul is graceless.
2. Prayer is a duty much abused. There is scarcely any thing so much perverted and corrupted as this sacred duty, by formality, hypocrisy, superstition, base and bye-ends, as is shown by those Pharisees many ways, and their younger brethren the Papists at this day, in masses, dirges, invocation of saints, &c.
3. There are several sorts of prayer, occasioned by different modes and circumstances. The apostle distinguisheth supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, 1 Tim. ii. 1. There are also public prayer, family prayer, and closet prayer; now a Christian must pray with all prayer and supplication, Eph. vi. 18. The last is here insisted on.
4. A Christian must do nothing for praise or applause, especially in matters of religion. It is a base prostituting of the highest things of God to our ambition. It is to feed a humour, and ruin the soul with that which should save it. Let no Christians, as the Pharisees here, make prayer truckle to their credit, Phil. ii. 3, “Let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory.”
5. There are set and stated times of prayer. This is hinted in this phrase, When thou prayest. A time there must be for it, though the point of time is not determined, yet a time must be set apart for the duty, every day; a Christian must choose out the fittest season for the duty, by properly employing his liberty and discretion.
6. Circumstances are of great consideration in all our actions.
The streets are proper places to walk, talk, buy, and sell in, but not so fit for prayer; the church is a fit place for public devotion, not so for a solemn performance of the duty of secret prayer. Although mental ejaculations are fit enough in both, yet it is not convenient to kneel down or use outward gestures of secret prayer there.
7. Closet prayer must be with all secrecy and solitariness— in a closet, with the door shut; as we must not blow a trumpet when we give alms, so we must not hold out a flag when we go to wait on God in the duty of prayer. It was carnal counsel, the brethren of Christ gave him, John vii. 4, “Shew thyself to the world.” The reason is given, ver. 5, “For neither did his brethren believe in him :” a sad sign of carnality!
8. God alone is the proper object of our prayerspray to thy Father. As he is the object of our faith, so of prayer : for he alone can help, therefore he is to be sought, none else sees our state, or can satisfy souls, Isa. Ixiii. 16, “Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us.”
9. In all our addresses to God we must own God as our Father, as having adopted us in Christ; because his, therefore ours.
“I ascend (saith Christ) to my Father and your Father,” John xx. 17. Indeed by nature we were children of wrath, but by grace children of his love; so that we may say, “But now, O Lord, thou art our Father."* O plead and improve this relation.
10. God is omnipresent—thy Father which is in secret : the heaven of heavens cannot contain him,, 1 Kings, viii. 27. He filleth all places with his immense and infinite essence: heaven is his throne, the earth is his footstool; he is excluded from no place, included in none; for he is without all limitation or dimension.t
11. God is omniscient--Thy Father which seeth in · secret. The darkest night, or secretest closet, or most hidden thought of a reserved heart, can neither hide nor be hidden from God's all-seeing eye.—Heb. iv. 13. God beholds all things in heaven and on earth with one simple, single act of his understanding.
* Isa. lxiv. 8. + Hinc omnipræsens est quia nullum est ubi unde est exclusus, neque alicubi est inclusus. Ames. Med. Theol. lib. 1, cap 4, 47.