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or hour, in which he is living; he can dwell on his personal wants; and, in short, give full scope to his feelings, and pour out his whole soul before God.
Prayer in secret is also considered by our Lord as forming a line of distinction between the Christian and the mere professor. “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.” Matt. vi, 5. When we are constant in secret prayer, not as an act of self-righteousness, but from a feeling of necessity, and of its being both our duty and privilege, we may hope well of our sincerity and of our state before God.
Other advantages of secret prayer will be noticed afterwards. But it must not be concealed, that there are PECULIAR DIFFICULTIES IN CONSTANT AND FERVENT SE
We have many adversaries opposing us. We are by nature both reluctant to the duty, and utterly belpless and insufficient in ourselves. We can do nothing by our own strength; though we may do all things by Christ strengthening us. And besides the oppositions of a corrupt nature within, the temptations of the world without, continually draw and allure us from the practice of this duty. Our great enemy, Satan, also uses every temptation to keep us from secret prayer. Hence, though it is a most evident and needful, as well as profitable duty, yet it is one, which it is not easy with corstancy and effect to fulfil. We do not find it so difficult to read the Bible, go to Church, or hear sermons, as we do to persevere in constant, fervent and believing private prayer. “ It is easier," says one, " to hear a whole hour, than to pray for a quarter of an hour."
When," says another, “ we have overcome the difficulties at one time, it may be the next day we shall meet with new conflicts,
new distempers, new afflictions, new strength of lusts, and a new indisposition of mind, against which we must put on a strong and unalterable resolution ; as that holy man who said, he never went to pray but he found so many impediments, that except he so bound himself by a firm determination, he could never have been constant, or kept himself from formal or customary performance.” Let it then encourage us to consider, that nothing so effectually as prayer impairs the kingdom of darkness, and hinders the success of our adversary. It is a just and excellent observation, that continuing in prayer will make a man give over sinning, or else, continuing in sin will make him give over praying.
THE RETIREMENT OF PRIVATE PRAYER specially distinguishes it; and our Lord has, in a few words, fully stated to us its true character in this respect. 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 thee openly.” The principle which is here inculcated is, the avoiding of all shew in your religion, any thing that might foster vain glory, or appear to proceed from it. In actions done in public, the opinion and thoughts of others are apt to have an undue weight and influence upon our minds. Our Lord is not here speaking against public or social worship, which he elsewhere commands, (Matt. xviii, 20.) but is exposing the vain shew and hypocrisy of mere professors having a form of godliness without the power.
That those who are here addressed do pray is taken for granted : the duty is manifest and unquestionable ; and the mode of our Lord's expression may imply, that a Christian's living without prayer, is a contradiction in terms.
The retirement of private devotion is strongly expressed. Enter into thy closet. Retire from coin pany. Go by thyself. Be alone. The word Tanelov, closet, means any retired solitary place, at home or abroad, where we may escape from the observation of others, and be undisturbed by them; not that the closet itself possesses any sanctity, or will work in the way of a charm. You are not to go into your closet on that account; but you retire from the notice of others to avoid ostentation on the one hand, and distraction on the other. Shut thy door. Keep out the worid, and prevent every intrusion: thou hast a great business to transact with thy God, and let not the dearest friend or relative interfere with thy intercourse and converse with him. The privacy of prayer is the great thing which is here enforced. Poor persons, who have but one apartment, may enter into the spirit of this direction by praying wherever they can be retired. Isaac's closet was the field. He went out to meditate in the field at even-tide. Gen. xxiv, 63. David's closet was his bed chamber. Commune with your own heart, upon your bed, and be still. Ps. iv, 4. Our Lord's closet was a mountain, “ when he had sent the multitude
into a mountain apart to pray, and when the evening was come, he was there alone. Matt. xiv, 23. Peter's closet was the house top. “Peter went up upon the house top to pray, about the sixth hour.” Acts x, 9. Hezekiah's closet was turning his face towards the wall and praying unto the Lord. Is. xxxviii, 2.
But there is a retiredness of heart and a self-recollection which is of greater importance than any particular place of prayer. This is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, as has been already shewn ; let us then continually look
for, and solely depend on his aid, which alone can enable us to give our whole hearts to this great work. Some have found it a happy means of assisting in gaining self-recollection, to have nothing to do but to pray. “We must,” says Bonnel,“ shut all other businesses from our minds at that time, and say, I have nothing to do this half hour, but to wait on my God. For if we determine ourselves no time, but are in haste to do something else, as soon as we have done our prayers, it is a great hazard if we are recollected at all during our worship.”
SECT. II.-On the Being to be worshipped.
It is evident that the Being whom all men are to worship must be every where present, have all power, and know all things. Many prayers being offered up, at the same time, by many persons, and for different things, an assurance that he possesses these attributes, is necessary, in order to our placing confidence in him, that he will answer all, and give to each that which is best in his particular situation. Hence the absurdity of praying to Saints and Angels, or through their mediation.
But when to this power, presence, and knowledge, we can add the attributes of tenderness and love, we may then have the greatest confidence And this is the case with the Christian. He considers God, not only as the Father of the human race, but as HIS FATHER in a more special relation. “ Like as a father pitieth his Children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. Ps. ciii, 13. Jesus Christ delights to bring this relation before us.
He tells us, pray to thy Father which is in secret. Christians have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father ; they are reconciled
to God by the death of his Son. Private prayer is the soul's approach in its retirements to this reconciled Father; to one who has been pleased to endear himself by so condescending and so kind a title. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, and in him he is ours also. Our Lord says to Mary, I ascend unto my Father and your Father,—first mine, and then yours. And how graciously he encourages us to bring our wants before God, “What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone ? or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father, which is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him.” Mat. vii, 9, 10.
In praying to God the Father, we do not exclude the Son and Holy Spirit from our worship. In some respects the Son and the Spirit bear this title of Father. Jesus Christ is the everlasting Father: (Isa ix, 6.) and Christians are born of the Spirit. We may pray to Jesus Christ, (Acts vii, 59. 2 Cor. xii, 8, 9.) and to the Spirit, (Mat. xxviii, 9. 2 Cor. xiii, 14. Isa vi, 3, 9. compared with Acts xxviii, 25.) In worshipping them, we only worship the one God; yet the general way of approaching the Almighty in prayer, is to God the Father, through the mediation of the Son, and by the aid of the Spirit.
How delightful is the relation subsisting between God and the Christian, as father and child! The child receives every thing freely from paternal love; it dors not come to the father as a purchaser, or as the merchant with an equivalent. When a desire for any good arises in the child's mind, it does not offer to buy it at a price, but simply expresses its feelings and asks it as a gift.