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On Private Prayer..
It is observed by Dr. Owen, "that, if a man o fa carnal miod be brought into a large company, he will have much to do; if into a company of Christians, he will feel little interest; if into a still smaller, engaged in religious exercises, he will feel still less; but if taken into a closet, and forced to meditate on God and eternity, this will be insupportable to him." Man is evidently by nature averse to all communion with God. There is an enmity to be removed. Rom. viii, 7. And hence arises the necessity of a change of mind; of obtaining a spiritual mind,” without which, spiritual truths and exerciseş can neither engage nor influence the heart. The man who possesses a spiritual mind, does, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, often find that closet retirement, which Dr Owen states to be so insupportable to the carnal mind, a real privilege.
The duty of prayer generally has already been proy. ed; and that of closet devotion is plain from our Lord's direction. Matt. vi, 6. Let us endeavour, however, always to consider it as an advantage afforded to us, rather than as a work required of us." . .
Baxter well expresses this:* “What delightful con
* See his excellent little Tract, "Converse with God in Solitude."
verse may a Christian have with God alone! He is all ways present, always at leisure to be spoke with, always easy of access! He has no interest that will clash with our happiness. He never mistakes our meaning nor our character. In, proportion, indeed, as any thing of God appears in men, their converse is excellent and de lightful. But there is so much of vanity and sin in all of a us, as exceedingly darkens our light, and damps the pleasure, and blasts the profit of our mutual converse. How often have I been delighted in God, when I bave found most deceit and darkness in the world! How often has he comforted me, when it was not in man to do it!"
In order to have a fuller view of secret prayer, we will consider it under different sections, as it is distioguished from other kinds of worship; as it respects the object of worship; the subjects to be mentioned; the use of forms; the various parts, the answer, the frequency, and the reward of prayer. After dwelling on these particulars in this chapter, we may afterwards be the more brief in remarks on other kinds of prayer.'
Sect. I.-On Secret Prayer, as distinguished from other
kinds of Worship. .
There are soME THINGS IN WHICH SECRET PRAYER HAS AN ADVANTAGE OVER SOCIAL AND PUBLIC WORship.--By praying in secret we give God the glory of his being every where present, and seeing and knowing all things. We acknowledge not only his general providence, as taking care of communities; but his particular providence, as watching over us individually. We express our faith in his presence, his power, and his love.
The Christian can also in secret give free vent to every desire: vary his requests according to the present state of his mind, or the present necessities of the day 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, with a freedom that he would not before bis dearest friend. .
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 synågogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Matthew.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 the general state of our souls before
Other advantages of secret prayer will be noticed afterwards. But it must not be concealed, that there are peculiar DIFFICULTIES IN CONSTANT AND FERVENT SECRET PRAYER. We have many adversaries opposing us. We are by nature both reluctant to the duty, and utterly helpless 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 temptalions 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 constancy 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 cooştant, fervent and believing private prayer. "It is easier,” says ope, "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 wbich we must put on a strong and opalterable 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 sin ning, 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 thus 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 opinions 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 inculcated in the expression, Enter into thy closet. Retire from company. : Go. by thyself. Be alone. The word, TOLLELOV, (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 world, 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 a 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. Psalm iv, 4. Our Lord's closet was a mountain. When he had sent the multitude away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray, and when the evening was come, he was there alone.