An Introduction to the Exposition of the Lord's Prayer Part 1A Practical Exposition of the Lord's Prayer by Thomas Manton (1620-1677) (Volume 1)
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An Introduction to the Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer Part 1
‘But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet; and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father,’ etc. Mat. VI. 6-8
I intend to go over the Lord’s Prayer; and, to make way for it, I shall speak a little of these foregoing verses, wherein our Lord treats of the duty of prayer, and the necessity of being much therein. In the beginning of this chapter our Lord taxeth the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, which was plainly to be seen in all their duties – their alms, their prayers, and their fasting
I. For their alms: Christ deals with that in the first four verses. It seems it was their fashion, when they gave alms, to sound a trumpet, and their pretence was to call all the poor within hearing, or to give notice that such a rabbi giveth alms to-day. Now, our Lord showeth that though this were the fair pretence to call the poor, yet their heart was merely upon their own glory, their own esteem with men; and therefore he persuades his disciples to greater secrecy in this work, and to content themselves with God’s approbation, which will be open, and manifest; and honourable enough in due time, when the archangel shall blow the trumpet to call all the world together, 1 Thes. iv. 16, and Christ shall publish their good works in the hearing of men and angels: Matt xxv. 34-36. Thus he deals with them upon the point of alms.
II. For their prayers: Christ taxeth their affectation for applause, because they sought out places of the greatest resort, – the synagogues and corners of the streets, -and there did put themselves into a praying posture, that they might be seen of men, and appear to be persons of great devotion, and so might the better accomplish their own ends, their public designs upon the stage (for the Pharisees were great sticklers at that time), and also their private designs upon widows’ houses, that they might be trusted with the management of widows’ houses and orphans’ estates, as being devout men, and of great sanctity and holiness.
In which practice there was a double failing : –
1. As to the circumstance of place, performing a personal and solitary prayer in a public place, which was a great indecorum, and argued the action to be scenical, or brought upon the stage merely for public applause. And certainly that private praying which is used by men in churches doth justly come under our Lord’s reproof .
2. Their next failing was as to their end: ‘ Verily they do it to be seen of men.’
Object. But what fault was there in this ? Doth not Christ himself direct us, in his Sermon, Mat. v. 16, ‘ Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven’? And yet the Pharisees are here taxed for praying, fasting, and giving alms, that they might be seen of men;
How can these places stand together ?
By way of answer :–
1. We must distinguish of the different scope and intention of Christ in these two places. There, Christ’s scope is to commend and enjoin good works to be seen of men, ad edificationem, for their edification; here, his scope is to forbid us to do good works to be seen of men, ad ostentationem, for our own ostentation: There, Christian charity to the souls of men is commended; and here, vainglory is forbidden.
2. Again, good works are to be distinguished. Some are so truly and indeed; others only in outward show and appearance. Good works, that are truly so and indeed, Christ enjoins there; hypocritical and feigned acts, that are only so in outward show and semblance, are forbidden here. To pray is a good work, take inward and outward acts of it together, and so it is enjoined. But hypocritical and superstitious prayer, which hath only the face and show of goodness, this is forbidden.
3. We must distinguish of the ends of good works; principal and subordinate; adequate and inadequate. First, the principal and primary end of good works must not be that we may be seen of men, but the glory of God; but now the subordinate, or less principal end, that is, our whole and main intention and scope; but a collateral and side end it may be. It is one thing to do good works, only that they may be seen; it is another thing to do good works, that they may not only be seen, but also be imitated, to win others by them to give glory to God. It is one thing to do good works for the glory of God, another thing to do them for the glory of ourselves. We may do good works to be seen in the first respect, but not in the last. We may not pray with the Pharisees merely to be seen of men, yet we may let our light shine before men, to draw them to duty, and give more glory to God.
4. Again, there Christ speaks of the general bent of our conversation, and here only of particular and private duties. It would argue too much hypocrisy to do these in public, though the whole frame and course of our carriage before men must be religious in their sight. And that is agreeable to what the apostle saith, 2 Cor. viii 21, ‘ We should provide for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the sight of men.’ And. Phil. ii. 15, Christians are advised there to be ‘blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, shining among them as lights in the world.” That which is obvious to the sight and observance of men, must be such as will become our holy calling. But our private and particular duties which are to pass between God and us, these must be out of sight. I hope another man may approve himself to be honest and religious to me, though he doth not fall down and make his personal and private prayers before me. But to leave no scruple, if possible;
5. We must distinguish of the diverse significations of that phrase which is used here, (hopos), that we may be seen. There is a two-fold sense of, (hopos) or that. It may be taken two ways, as they speak either causally or eventually. Causally, and then it implies and imports the end and scope why we do such a thing, namely, for this very purpose, that we may obtain it, And thus the Pharisees here did pray, (hopos), that they might be seen of men, that is, this was their main end and scope. Thus that is taken causally. Secondly, that sometimes is taken eventually, and then it doth not import the end and scope, but only the event that will fall out and follow upon such a thing. Thus that is often taken in scripture. John ix. 39: Christ saith there, ‘ For judgment I am come into the world, that they which see not, might see; and that they which see, might be made blind.’ It was not Christ’s scope to do so, but Christ foresaw that this would be the event of his coming into the world, and, there fore, he saith, that, etc. So Luke xiv. 10: Christ tells them there ‘ But when thou art bidden to a feast, go and sit down in the lowest room, that when he that bade thee comes, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.’ That is taken eventually, not causally; for Christ doth not bid them there to set themselves at the lower end of the table, for this very end, or to make this their scope: that is the thing he forbids – affectation of precedency; but that, hoc est, then it will follow, that is, this is likely to be the event; then the master of the house will come to you if you do this. Not that it should be your scope to feign humility, that you may obtain the highest place at the table. And so may Christ’s words be taken ‘ Let your light so shine,’ etc. This will fall out upon it then – men will be conscious to your Christian carriage and gracious behaviour, and by that means God will be much honoured and glorified. There it is taken eventually, but here it is taken causally. The Pharisees did it that they might be seen of men; that is, this was their scope and principal intention. And thus may you reconcile these two places of scripture.
Well, now, Christ having taxed them for these two faults: for their undue place, the synagogue and corners of the streets being unfit for a private and personal act of worship; and for their end, that they might be seen of men, – he saith, ‘They have their reward’. That is, the whole debt is paid, they can challenge nothing at God’s hands. God will be behindhand with none of his creatures As they have what they looked for, so they must expect no more, they must be content with their penny. The phrase is borrowed from matters of contract between man and man, and is a word proper to those which give a discharge for a debt. As creditors and money-lenders, when they are paid home the full sum which is due to them, then they can exact no more; so here they must be contented with the empty, windy puffs of vainglory, and to feed upon the unsavoury breath of the people: they can expect no more from God, for the bond is cancelled, and they have received their full reward already. Briefly, here is the difference in the several rewards that the hypocrites and the children God have: the hypocrites, they are all for the present, and have their reward, and much good may it do them; there is not a jot behind; it will be in vain to expect any more: but now, for the children of God your Father will reward you; they must expect and wait for the future. And yet in scripture we read oftentimes that the children of God have their reward in this life; but then the word in original is (echousi), which signifieth they have but in part; not the word which is used here, (apechousi), which signifies they have what is due, it is fulfilled, paid them. So those expressions in scripture are to be taken:
‘Ye have eternal life,’ ‘and he hath,’ and ‘that ye may have.’ It is often spoken in scripture of the children of God, so that they seem to have their reward too. They have their reward but it is partially, not totally: there is something, the best things yet behind. A child of God, he hath promises, first-fruits, some beginnings of communion with God here, but he looks for greater things to come.
Well, then, Christ, having disproved the practice of the Pharisees, seeks to set his own disciples right in the management of their prayers, as well as in their alms. Pharisaism is very natural in the best. We are apt to be haunted with a carnal spirit in the best duties; not only in alms, where we have to do with men, but in prayer where our business lieth wholly with God; especially in public prayer; even there much of man will creep in. The devil is like a fly, which, if driven from one place, pitcheth upon another; so drive him out alms, and he will seek to taint your prayers.
Therefore Christ, to rectify his disciples in their personal and solitary prayers, instructs them to withdraw into some place of recess and retirement, and to be content with God for witness, approver, and judge. ‘But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou hast shut thy doors, pray to thy Father which is in secret.’ etc.
In which words you may observe:
I. A supposition concerning solitary prayer: ‘ But thou, when thou prayest.’
II. A direction about it: ‘Enter into thy closet, and shut thy door, and pray to thy Father which is in secret ‘
III. Encouragement to perform it: ‘And thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.’ Where two things are asserted:-
1. God’s sight: He is conscious to thy prayers when others are not.
2. God’s reward: ‘He will reward thee openly .’
To open the circumstances of the text:-
In the supposition, ‘ But thou, when thou prayest,’ observe:-
1. Christ takes it for granted that his disciples will pray to God. He doth not say, if thou prayest, but when thou prayest, as supposing them to be sufficiently convinced of this duty of being often with God in private.
2. I observe, again, Christ speaks of solitary prayer, when a man alone, and without company, pours out his heart to God. Therefore Christ speaks in the singular number: ‘ When thou prayest;’ not plurally and collectively, when ye pray, or meet together in prayer. Therefore he doth not forbid public praying in the assemblies of the saints, or family-worship; both are elsewhere required in scripture. God hath made promises to public and church prayer, praying with men or before men: Mat. xviii. 19, ‘ When two or three are met together, and shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.’ And when they shall agree in one public prayer, it seems to have a greater efficacy put upon it -when more are interested in the same prayer- when, with a combined force, they do as it were besiege the God of heaven, and will not let him go unless he leaves a blessing. Look, as the petition of a shire and county to authority is more than a private man’s supplication, so when we meet as a church to pray, and as a family, there is combined strength. And in this sense, that saying of the schoolmen is orthodox enough, viz., that prayer made in the church hath a more easy audience with God. Why ? Because of the concurrence of many which are met there to worship God. Christ doth not intend in this any way to jostle out that which he seeks to establish elsewhere. Let your intentions be secret, though your prayers be public and open in the family or assemblies of the saints.
II. Let us open the direction our Lord gives about solitary prayer. The direction is suited so as to avoid the double error of the Pharisees; their offence as to place, and as to the aim and end.
l. Their offence as to the place: ‘Enter into thy closet, and shut thy door.’ These words are not to be taken metaphorically, nor yet pressed too literally. Not metaphorically, as some would carry them. Descend into thy heart, be serious and devout with God in the closet of thy soul, which is the most inward recess and retiring-place of man. This were to be wanton with scripture. The literal sense is not to be left without necessity, nor yet pressed too literally, as if prayer should be confined to a chamber and closet. Christ prayed in the mountain, Mat xiv. 23; and Gen. xxiv. 63, Isaac went into the field to meditate. The meaning is, private prayer must be performed in a private place, retired from company and the sight of men as much as may be.
2. Christ rectifieth them as to the end: ‘ Pray to thy Father which is in secret; ‘ that is, pray to God, who is in that private place, though he cannot be seen with bodily eyes; wherein Christ seems secretly to tax the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who did rather pray to men than to God, who was invisible because all their aim was to be approved of men, and to be cried up by them as devout persons. So that what the Lord saith concerning fasting, Zech. vii. 5, 6, ‘ When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years did ye at all fast unto me, even to me ? and when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?’ So here, was this unto God? No, though the force and sound of the words carried it for God, yet they were directed to men. When God is not made both the object and aim, it is not to him; when you seek another paymaster, you decline God, yea, you make him your footstool, a step to some other thing.
III. Here are the encouragements to this personal, private, and solitary prayer; and they are taken from God’s sight, and God’s reward.
1. From God’s sight: ‘ Thy Father seeth in secret ;’ that is, observeth thy carriage. The posture and frame of thy spirit, the fervour and uprightness of heart which thou manifestest in prayer, is all known to him. Mark, that which is the hypocrite’s fear, and binds condemnation upon the heart of a wicked man, is here made to be the saints’ support and ground of comfort that they pray to an all-seeing God: 1 John iii. 20, ‘ If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things.’ Their heavenly Father seeth in secret; he can interpret their groans, and read the language of their sighs. Though they fail as to the outside of a duty, and there be much brokenness of speech, yet God seeth brokenness of heart there, and it is that he looks after. God seeth. What is that ? He seeth whether thou prayest or no, and how thou prayest.
(l.) He seeth whether thou prayest or no: mark that passage, Acts ix. 11, ‘ The Lord said to Ananias, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus; for behold, he prayeth.’ Go into such a city, such a street, such a house, such a part, in such a chamber, behold he prayeth. The Lord knew all these circumstances. It is known unto him whether we toil or loiter away our time, or whether we pray in secret; he knows what house, in what corner of the house, what we are doing there.
(2.) He seeth how you pray: Rom. viii. 27. It is propounded as the comfort of the saints, ‘And he that searcheth the heart knoweth what is the mind of the spirit.’ God knoweth you thoroughly, and can distinguish of your prayers, whether they be customary and formal, or serious acts of love to God, and communion with him.
2. The other thing which is propounded here is God’s reward: ‘And he will reward them openly.’ How doth God reward our prayers? Not for any worth or dignity which is in them. What merit can there be in begging? What doth a beggar deserve in asking alms? But it is out of his own grace and mercy, having by promise made himself as it were a debtor to a poor, faithful, and believing supplicant. But ‘he will reward thee openly.’ How is that? Either by a sensible answer to thy prayers, as he doth often to his children, by granting what they pray for; as when Daniel was praying in secret, God sent an angel to him, Dan. ix. 20; or by an evident blessing upon their prayers in this world, for the conscionable Performance of this duty. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that were men of much communion with God, were eminently and sensibly blessed; they were rewarded openly for their secret converse with him; or it may be, by giving them respect externally in the eyes of others. A praying people dart conviction into the consciences of men. It is notable that Pharaoh in his distress sent for Moses and Aaron, and not for the magicians. The consciences of wicked men are open at such a time, and they know God’s children have special favour and great audience with him; and he having the hearts of all men in His hands, can manage and dispose respect according as he pleaseth. And when they are in distress, this honour God hath put upon you, they shall send for you to pray with them; and those which honour him, though but in secret, God will openly put honour upon them: 1 Sam. ii.30. But chiefly this is meant at the day of judgment: then those which pray in secret their heavenly Father will reward them openly. When thou relievest the poor, and showest comfort to the needy, they cannot recompense but then thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just, Luke xiv. 14. There is the great and most public reward of Christians: 1 Cor. iv. 5, ‘ Then he will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart; and then shall every man have praise with God ;’ that is every man that is praiseworthy, however he be mistaken and judged of the world; for the apostle speaks it to comfort them against the censures of men. And mark, this is opposed to the reward which the Pharisees pleased themselves with: it was much with them to be well thought of in such a synagogue, or before such a company of men ‘but your Father, which seeth in secret, will reward you openly;’ that is, not only in the eyes of such a city or town, but before all the world.
The point is this : –
Doct. That private, solitary, and closet-prayer is a duty very necessary and profitable.
It is a necessary duty; for Christ supposeth it of his disciples, to whom he speaks: ‘But thou, when thou prayest,’ etc. And it is profitable, for unto it God makes promises: You have a Father which seeth in secret, and one day shall be owned before all the world.
First, It ls a duty necessary; and that will appear:-
1. From God’s precept. That precept which requireth prayer requireth secret and closet-prayer; for God’s command to pray first falls upon single persons, before it falls upon families and churches, which are made up of single persons. Therefore where God hath bidden thee to pray, you must take that precept as belonging to you in particular. I shall give some of the precepts: Col. iv.2 ‘Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;’ and 1 Thes. v.17, ‘Pray without ceasing.’ These are principally meant of our personal addresses to God, every man for himself; for in joining with others, the work is rather imposed upon us than taken up upon choice. And that can only be at stated times, when they can conveniently meet together; but we ourselves are called upon to continually pray, and that without ceasing; that is to be often with God, and to keep up not only a praying frame, but a constant correspondence with him. Surely every man which acknowledgeth a God, a Providence, and that depends upon him for blessings, much more every one that pretends he hath a Father in heaven, in whose hands are the guidance of all the things in the world, is bound to pray personally and alone, by himself to converse with God.
2. I shall argue it from the example of Christ, which bindeth us, and hath the force of a law in things moral. As Christ’s word is our rule, so his practice is our copy. This is true religion, to imitate him whom we worship. In this you must do as Christ did. Now we often read that Christ prayed alone – he went aside to pray to God; therefore, if we be Christians, so it should be with us: Mark i. 35, ‘ And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.’ He left the company of his disciples, with whom he often joined, that he might be alone with God betimes in the morning. And again you have it: Mat. xiv. 23, ‘ And 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.’ and, Luke vi. 12, it is said, ‘ He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.’ You see Christ takes all occasions in retiring and going apart to God. Now the pattern of Christ is both engaging and encouraging.
It is very engaging. Shall we think ourselves not to need that help which Christ would submit unto? There are many proud persons which think themselves above prayer. Christ had no need to pray as we have; he had the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in him bodily; yet he was not above prayer. And if he had need of prayer, he had no need of retirement to go and pray alone; his affections always served, and he was not pestered with any distraction, and all places and companies were alike to him; and yet he would depart into a solitary place that he might be private with God.
Then the pattern of Christ is very encouraging; for whatever Christ did, he sanctified in that respect – his steps in every duty leave a blessing. Look, as Christ sanctified baptism by being baptised himself, and made the water of baptism to be saving and comfortable for us; and the Lord’s supper, by being a guest himself, and eating himself at his own table, so he sanctified private prayer: when he prayed, a virtue went out from him, he left a strength to enable us to pray And it is encouraging in this respect, because he hath experimented this duty. He knows how soon human strength is spent and put to it, for he himself hath been wrestling with God in prayer with all his might. His submitting to these duties gave him sympathy; he knows the heart of a praying man when wrestling with God with all earnestness; therefore he helpeth us in these agonies of spirit. Again, his praying is an encouragement against our imperfections. Christians, when we are alone with God, and our hearts are heavy as a log and stone, what a comfort is it to think Christ himself prayed, and that earnestly, and was once alone wrestling with God in human nature! Matt. xiv. 23. And when the enemy came to attack him, he was alone, striving with God in prayer. He takes all occasions for intercourse with God; and if you have the Spirit, you will do likewise.
3. I might argue from God’s end in pouring out the Holy Ghost; wherefore hath God poured out his Spirit? Zech. xii. 10-14, ‘ I will pour out the Spirit of grace and of supplication,’ etc. He poureth out the Spirit, that it may break out by this vent: the Spirit of grace will presently run into supplication; the whole house of Israel shall mourn. There is the church, they have the benefit of the pouring out of the Spirit; and every household hath benefit, that he and his family may mourn apart, and every person apart; that we may go and mourn over our case and distempers before God, and pour out our hearts in a holy and affectionate manner. This argument I would have you to note, that this was God’s end in pouring out his Spirit, for a double reason, both to take off excuses, and to quicken diligence. Partly, to take off excuses, because many say they have no gifts, no readiness and savouriness of speech, and how can they go alone and pray to God? Certainly men which have necessities, and a sense of them, can speak of them in one fashion or other to God; but the Spirit is given to help. Such is God’s condescension to the saints, that he hath not only provided an advocate to present our petitions in court, but a notary to draw them up; not only appointed Christ for help against our guilt and unworthiness, but likewise the Spirit to help us in prayer. When we are apt to excuse ourselves by our weakness and insufficiency, he hath poured out the Holy Ghost, that we may pray apart. Partly to this end, the more to awaken our diligence, that God’s precious gift be not bestowed upon us in vain, to lie idle and unemployed, he hath poured out the Spirit; and therefore we should make use of it, not only that we may attend to the prayers of others, and join with them, but that we may make use of our own share of gifts and graces, and open and unfold our own case to God.
4. That it is a necessary duty, I plead it from the practice of saints, who are a praying people. Oh how often do we read in scripture that they are alone with God, pouring out their souls in complaints to him! Nothing so natural to them as prayer; they are called a ‘generation of them that seek God: ‘ Ps. xxiv. 6. As light bodies are moving upward, so the saints are looking upward to God, and praying alone to him. Daniel was three times a day with God, and would not omit his hours of prayer, though his life was in danger, Dan. vi. 10; and David, ‘ Seven times a day do I praise thee,’ Psa cxix. 164; and Cornelius, it is said that he prayed to God always, Acts x. 2, not only with his family, but alone in holy soliloquies. He was so frequent and diligent, that he had gotten a habit of prayer -he prayed always. Well, then, if this be the temper of God’s people, then we be altogether unlike them when we have no delight in these private converses with God, or neglect them, it gives just cause of suspicion.
5. Our private necessities show that it is a necessary duty, which cannot be so feelingly spoken to and expressed by others as by our-selves; and, it may be, are not so fit to be divulged and communicated to others. We cannot so well lay forth our hearts with such largeness and comfort in our own concernments before others. There is the plague of our own hearts, which every one must mourn ever: 1 Kings viii. 38. As we say, no nurse like the mother; so none so fit humbly with a broken heart to set forth our own wants before the Lord as ourselves. There is some thorn in the flesh that we have cause to pray against again and again: ‘ For this I sought the Lord thrice,’ saith St Paul, 2 Cor. xii 7,8. We should put promises in suit, and lay open our own case before the compassions of God. It is a help sometimes to join with others; but at other times it would he a hindrance. We have peculiar necessities of our own to commend to God, therefore we must be alone.
Secondly, This closet and solitary prayer, as it is a necessary duty so it is a profitable one.
1. It conduceth much to enlargement of heart. The more earnest men are, the more they desire to be alone, free from trouble and distraction. When a man weeps, and is in a mournful posture, he seeks secrecy, that he may indulge his grief. They were to mourn apart: Zech xii, and Jer. xiii. 17, ‘My soul shall weep sore for your pride in secret places.’ So here, when a man would deal most earnestly with God, he should seek retirement, and be alone. Christ in his agonies went apart from his disciples. When he would pray more earnestly, it is said, ‘ He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast.’ Luke xxii. 41. It is said, ‘He went apart.’ Strong affections are loth to be disturbed and diverted, therefore seek retirement. And, it is notable, Jacob, when he would wrestle with God, it is said, Gen. xxxii. 24, ‘And Jacob was left alone, and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.’ When he had a mind to deal with God in good earnest, he sent away all his company.
A hypocrite, he finds a greater flash of gifts in his public duties, when he prays with others, and is the mouth of others; but is slight and superficial when alone with God; if he feels anything, a little overly matter serves the turn. But usually God’s children most affectionately pour out their hearts before him in private; where they do more particularly express their own necessities, there they find their affections free to wrestle with God. In public we take in the necessities of others, but in private our own.
2. As it makes way for enlargement of heart on our part, so for secret manifestations of love on God’s part. Bernard hath a saying ‘The church’s Spouse is bashful, and will not be familiar and communicate his loves before company, but alone.’ The sweetest experiences which God’s saints receive many times are when they are alone with him. When Daniel was praying alone with great earnestness, the angel Gabriel was sent, and caused to fly swiftly to him to tell him his prayers were answered: Dan. ix. 21. And Cornelius, while he was praying alone, an angel of God came unto him, to report the hearing of his prayers: Acts x. 3; and, ver. 9. Peter, when he was praying alone, then God instructs him in the mystery of the calling of the Gentiles: then had he that vision when he was got upon the top of the house to pray. Before we are regenerated, God appeareth to us many times when we do not think of it; but after we are regenerated, usually he appeareth upon more eminent acts of grace- when we are exercising ourselves, and more particularly dealing with God, and putting forth the strength of our souls to take hold of him in private.
3. There is this profit in it: It is a mighty solace and support in affliction, especially when we are censured, scorned, and despised of men, and know not where to go to find a friend with whom we may unbosom our sorrow. Then to go aside, and open the matter to God, it is a mighty ease to the soul: Job xvi, 20, ‘My friends scorn me; but mine eye poureth out tears unto God.’ When we have a great burden upon us, to go aside and open the matter to God, it gives ease to the heart, and vent to our grief; as Hannah in great trouble falls a-praying to God, and then was no more sad: 1 Sam. i. 13. As the opening of a vein cooleth and refresheth in a fever, so when we make known our case to God, it is a mighty solace in affliction.
4. It is a great trial of our sincerity, of our faith, love, and obedience, when we are alone, and nobody knows what we do, then to see him that is invisible: Heb. xi. 27; -when we are much with God in private, where we have no reasons but those of duty and conscience to move us. Carnal hypocrites will be much in outward worship. They have their qualms, and pray themselves weary, and do something for fashion sake when foreign reasons move them; but will they so pray as to delight themselves in the Almighty? Will they always call upon God ? Job xxvii. 10. That delight in God, which puts in upon converses with God, affects privacy.
5. It is a profitable duty, because of the great promises which God hath made to it. This secret and private prayer in the text shall have a public reward; it will not be lost, for God will reward it openly. So Job xxii. 21: ‘Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace; thereby good shall come unto thee.’ Frequent correspondence with, and constant visits of God in prayer, what peace, comfort, quickening brings it into the soul! So Ps. lxix. 32: ‘His soul shall live that seeks the Lord.’ Without often seeking to God, the vitality of the soul is lost. We may as well expect a crop and harvest without sowing, as any liveliness of grace where there is not seeking of God. Could a man take notice of another in a crowd, whose face he never saw before? So, will God own and bless you in the crowds of the assemblies of his people, if you mind not this duty when you are alone?
Use 1. To reprove those which neglect closet-addresses to God; they wrong God and themselves.
They wrong God; because this is a necessary part of the creature’s homage, of that duty he expects from them, to be owned not only in public assemblies, but in private. And they wrong themselves; because it brings in a great deal of comfort and peace to the soul; and many sweet and gracious experiences there are which they deprive themselves of, and a blessing upon all other things.
But more particularly to show the evil of this sin:-
1. It is a sin of omission; and these sins are very dangerous, well as sins of commission. Natural conscience usually smites more for sins of commission, than for sins of omission. To wrong and beat a father seems a more heinous and unnatural act, than not to give him due reverence and attendance. We are sensible of sins of commission; but yet God will charge sins of omission as well as commission upon you; and so will conscience too when it is serious, when, against the plain knowledge of God’s will, you can omit such a necessary part of God’s worship: James iv. 17, ‘To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin,’ -that is, it will be sin with a witness. Conscience will own it so, when it is awakened by the word, or by providence, or great affliction, or cast upon your death-bed.
How will your own hearts reproach you then, that have neglected God, and lost such precious hours as you should have redeemed for communion with him! Sins of omission argue as great a contempt of God’s authority as sins of commission; for the same law which forbids a sin, doth also require a duty from us.
And sins of omission argue as much hatred of God as sins of commission. If two should live in the same house, and never speak to one another, it would be taken for an argument of as great hatred as to fight one with another. When God is in us and round about us, and we never take time to confer with him, it argues much hatred and neglect of him.
And sins of omission are an argument of our unregeneracy, as much as sins of commission. A man which lives in a course of drunkenness, filthiness, and adultery, you would judge him to be an unregenerate man, and that he hath such a spot upon him as is not the spot of God’s children. So, to live in a constant neglect of God, is an argument of unregeneracy, as much as to live in a course of debauchery. The apostle, when he would describe the Ephesians by their unconverted state, describes it thus: Eph. ii. 12, ‘That they lived without God in the world.’ When God is not owned and called upon, and unless the restraints of men, the law of common education, and customs of nations call for it, they live without God. So Ps xiv. 1 ‘ They are corrupt, they have done abominable works. There is none that doeth good, they are altogether become filthy.’ Every unregenerate man is that atheist. There is some difference among unregenerate men. Some are less in their excesses and gross outbreakings of their sins and folly. Some sin more, some less; but they all are abominable on this account, because they do not seek after God. And the apostle makes use of that argument to convince all men to be in a state of sin:
Rom. iii. 11, ‘ There is none that seeketh after God.’ The heart may be as much hardened by omissions (yea, sometimes more), than by commissions. As an act of sin brings a brawniness and deadness upon the heart, so doth the omission of a necessary duty. Not only the breaking of a string puts the instrument out of tune, but its being neglected and not looked after. Certainly by experience we find none so tender, so holy, so humble, and heavenly, as they which are often with God. This makes the heart tender, which otherwise would grow hard, dead, and stupid.
2. It is not only an omission in general, but an omission of prayer, which is, first, a duty very natural to the saints. Prayer is a duty very natural and kindly to the new creature. As soon as Paul was converted, the first news we hear of him, Acts ix. 11, ‘Behold, he prayeth.’ As soon as we are new-born, there will be a crying out for relief in prayer. It is the character of the saints: Ps. xxiv. 6, ‘This is the generation of them that seek thee,’ a people much in calling upon God. And the prophet describes them by the work of prayer: Zeph.iii. 10, ‘My supplicants’ and Zech xii.10, ‘I will pour upon them the Spirit of grace and supplication’ Wherever there is a spirit of grace, it presently runneth out into prayer. Look, as a preacher is so called from the frequency of his work, so a Christian is one that calleth upon God. ‘Every one that calleth on the name of the Lord, shall be saved:’ Rom. x. 13. In vain he is called a preacher that never preacheth, so he is in vain called a Christian that never prayeth. As things of an airy nature move upward, so the saints are carried up to God by a kind of naturality, when they are gracious. God hath no tongue-tied or dumb children; they are all crying, ‘Abba, Father.’ Then it is an omission of a duty which is of great importance as to our communion with God, which lieth in two things – fruition and familiarity; in the enjoyment of God, and in being familiar and often with him. Fruition we have by faith, and familiarity is carried on by prayer. There are two duties which are never out of season, hearing and prayer, both which are a holy dialogue betwixt God and the soul, until we come to vision, the sight of him in heaven. Our communion with God here is carried on by these two duties: we speak to God in prayer, God answereth us in the word; God speaks to us in the word, and we return and echo back again to him in prayer. Therefore the new creature delighteth much in these two duties. Look, as we should be ‘swift to hear,’ James i. 19, until we come to seeing, we should take all occasions, and be often in hearing. So in prayer we speak to God, and therefore should be redeeming time for this work. In the word God comes down to us, and in prayer we get up to God; therefore, if you would be familiar and often with God, you must be much in prayer. This is of great importance. You know the very notion of prayer. It is a ‘visiting’ of God: Isa. xxvi. 16, 1, ‘O Lord, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.’ Praying to God, and visiting of God, are equivalent expressions. Now it argueth very little friendship to God, when we will not so much as come at him. Can there be any familiarity where there is so much distance and strangeness as never to give God a visit?
3. It is the omission of secret and personal prayer, which in some respects should be more prized than other prayer.
Partly because here our converse with God is more express as to our own case. When we join with others, God may do it for their sakes, but here, Ps. cxvi. 1, ‘I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplication.’ When we deal with him alone, we put the promises in suit, and may know more it is we that have been heard. We put God more to the trial; we see what he will do for us, and upon our asking and striving. Partly, here we are more put to the trial what love we will express to our Father in secret, when we have no outward reasons, no inducements from respects of men to move us. In public duties (which are liable and open to the observance of others), hypocrites may put forth themselves with great vigour, quickness, and warmth, whereas in private addresses to God they are slight and careless A Christian is best tried and exercised in private, to these secret intercourses between God and his own soul; there he finds most communion with God, and most enlargement of heart. A man cannot so well judge his spirit, and discern the workings of it in public, because other men’s concernments and necessities, mingled with ours, are taken in, and because he is more liable to the notice of others. But when he is with God alone, he hath only reasons of conscience and duty to move him. When none but God is conscious and our own hearts, then we shall see what we do for the approbation of God, and acceptance with him.
And partly, in some respects, this is to be more prized, because privacy and retiredness is necessary, and is a great advantage, that men’s spirits may be settled and composed for the duty. Sinful distractions will crowd in upon us when in company, and we are thinking of this and that. How often do we mingle sulphur with our incense -carnal thoughts in our worship! How apt are we to do so in public duties! But in private we are wholly at leisure to deal with God in a child-like liberty. Now, will you omit this duty where you may be most free, without distraction, to let out the heart to God ?
And partly, because a man will not be fit to pray in public and in company, which doth not often pray in secret: he will lose his savour and delight in this exercise, and soon grow dry, barren, sapless, and careless of God. Look, as in the prophet Ezekiel, you read there that the glory of the Lord removed from the temple by degrees: it first removed from the holy place, then to the altar of burnt-offerings, then to the threshold of the house, then to the city, then to the mount which was on the east side of the city; there the glory of the Lord stood hovering a while, as loth to be gone, to see if the people would get it back again; this seems to be some emblem and representation of God’s dealing with particular men. First, God is cast out of the closet, private intercourses between God and them are neglected; and then he is cast out of the family, and within a little while out of the congregation; public ordinances begin to be slighted, and to be looked upon as useless things; and then men are given up to all profaneness and looseness, and lose all: so that religion, as it were, dieth by degrees, and a carnal Christian loseth more and more of the presence of God. And, therefore, if we would be able to pray in company, we must often pray in secret.
4. Consider the mischief which followeth a neglect of private verse with God.
Omissions make way for commissions. If a gardener withholds his hand, the ground is soon grown over with weeds. Restrain prayer and neglect God, and noisome lusts will abound. Our hearts are filled with distempers when we cease to be frequent with God in private. It is said of Job, chap. xv. 4, ‘Thou restrainest prayer before God’. That passage is notable, Ps. xiv. 4: ‘They eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord.’ Omit secret prayer, and some great sin will follow; within a little while you will be given up to some evil course or other: either brutish lusts, oppression, or violence; to hate the people of God, to join in a confederacy with them which cry up a confederacy against God. The less we converse with God in private, the more is the awe of God lessened. But now, a man which is often with God dareth not offend him so freely as others do. As they which are often with princes and great persons are better clothed and more neat in their apparel and carriage, so they which are often conversing with God grow more heavenly, holy, watchful, than others are; and when we are not with God, not only all this is lost, but a great many evils to be found. It is plainly seen by men’s conversations how little they converse with God.
But now, to avoid the stroke of this reproof, what will men do ? Either deny the guilt, or excuse themselves.
First, Some will deny the guilt. They do call upon God, and use private prayer, therefore think themselves to be free from this reproof. Yea, but are you as often with God as you should be ?
There are three sorts of persons:-
1. Some there are that omit it totally, cannot speak of redeeming any time for this work. These are practical atheists, ‘without God in the world’ Eph. ii. 12 They are heathens and pagans under a Christian name and profession. We should ‘pray without ceasing:’ 1 Thes. v. 17; that is, take all praying occasions; therefore they which pray not at all, all the week long God hears not from them, surely come under the force of this reproof.
2. There are some which perform it seldom. Oh, how many days and weeks pass over their heads and God never hears from them! The Lord complains of it, Jer. ii 32: ‘They have forgotten me days without number.’ It was time out of mind since they were last with God.
3. The most do not perform it so often as they should. And there-fore (that I may speak with evidence and conviction) I shall answer the case; what rules may be given; how often we should be with God; and when we are said to neglect God.
. Every day something should be done in this end. Acts x. 2: Cornelius prayed to God always, every day he had his times of familiarity with God. Daniel, though with the hazard of his life, would not omit ‘praying three times a day:’ Dan. vi. 10. And David speaks of ‘morning, evening, and noon’ Psa lv. 17. Though we cannot bind all men absolutely to these hours because of the difference of conditions, employments and occasions, yet thus much we may gather from hence, that surely they which are most holy will be most frequent in this work.
. Love will direct you. They which love one another, will not be strange one to another: a man cannot be long out of the company of him whom he loveth. Christ loved Lazarus, and Mary, and Martha, John xi. 5, and therefore his great resort was to Bethany, to Lazarus’ house. Surely they which love God will have frequent recourse to him. In the times of the gospel, God trusts love: we are not bound to such particular rules as under the law. Why? For love is a liberal grace, and will put us upon frequent visits, and tell us when we should pray to God.
[3.] The Spirit of God will direct you. There are certain times when God hath business with you alone; when he doth (as it were) speak to you as to the prophet in another case, Ezek. iii. 22, ‘Go forth into the plain in the desert, and there I will talk with thee.’ ‘So, get you to your closets; I have some business to speak with you.’ ‘Thou saidst, Seek ye my face: my heart answered, Thy face, Lord will I seek:’ Ps. xxvii. 8. God invites you to privacy and retirement; you are sent into your closet to deal with God about the things you heard from the pulpit. This is the actual profit we get by a sermon, when we deal seriously with God about what we have heard, When God sends for us (as it were) by his Spirit, and invites us into his presence by these motions, it is spiritual clownishness to refuse to come to him.
. Your own inward and outward necessities will put you in mind of it. God hath not stated what hours we shall eat and drink; the seasons and quantity of it are left to our choice. God hath left many wants upon us, to bring us into his presence. Sometimes we want wisdom and counsel in darkness: James 1. 5, ‘If any lack wisdom, let him ask of God, which giveth to all men liberally’. It is an occasion to bring us to God: God is the best casuist to resolve our doubts and guide us in our way. Sometimes we lack strength to withstand temptations; the throne of grace was set up for a time of need, Heb. iv. 16, when any ease is to be resolved, and comfort to be obtained. We want comfort, quickening, counsel, and all to bring us to God. So for outward necessities too. Certainly if a man doth but observe the temper of his own heart, he cannot neglect God, but will find some occasion or other to bring him into his presence, some errand to bring him to the throne of grace. We are daily to beg pardon of sin, and daily to beg supplies. Now, certainly, when you do not observe these things, you neglect God.
Secondly, Others, to avoid it, will excuse themselves. Why, they would pray to God in private, but either they want time, or they want a convenient place, or want parts and abilities But the truth is, they want a heart, and that is the cause of all; and, indeed, when a man hath no heart to the work, then something is out of the way.
1. Some plead they want time. Why, if you have time for other things, you should have a time for God. Shall we have a season for all things, and not for the most necessary work ? Hast thou time to eat, drink, sleep, follow thy trading (how dost thou live else?), and no time to be saved – no time to be familiar with God, which is the greatest business of all ? Get it from your sleep and food, rather than be without this necessary duty. Jesus Christ had no such necessity as we have, yet it is said, Mark i. 35, ‘He arose a great while before day, and went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.’ Therefore, must God only be encroached upon – the lean kine devour the fat – Sarah thrust out instead of Hagar – and religion be crowded out of doors? Felix illa domus, ubi Martha, queritur de Maria, That is a happy house where Martha complains of Mary. Martha, which was cumbered with much service, complained of Mary that she was at the feet of Jesus Christ, hearkening to his gracious counsel; but in most houses Mary may complain of Martha; religion is neglected and goes to the walls.
2 Some want a place. He that doth not want a heart will find a place. Christ went into a mountain to pray, and Peter to the top of the house.
3. Many say they want parts, they cannot tell how to pray. Wherefore hath God given his Spirit? In one fashion or other a man can open his case to God; he can go and breathe out his complaints, the Lord will hear breathings. Go, chatter out thy requests to thy Father: though you can but ‘chatter like a crane’, yet do it with fervency and with a spirit of adoption. We have not only Christ given us for an advocate but the Holy Ghost to help our infirmities. He hath given us the Sprit of his Son, whereby we may cry “Abba, Father:’ Gal.iv.6. A child can acquaint a father with his wants.
Use 2. To exhort God’s children to frequency in this duty, and to much watchfulness and seriousness in the performance of it.
First, To frequency. For arguments again to press you:-
l. It argueth more familiarity to pray to God alone than in company. He that goeth to a Prince alone, and upon all occasions hath access to him in private, when company is gone, hath nearer friendship and a greater intimacy with him than those which are only admitted to a speech with him in the company of others; so, the oftener you are with God alone the more familiar. He loves to treat with you apart, as friends are most free and open to one another when they are alone.
2. Then you will have a more sensible answer of your own prayers; you will see what God hath done upon your requests. Dan- ix. 21,22. Daniel was praying for the church, and an angel comes and tells him, ‘It is for thy prayers and supplications that I am come.’ Therefore surely a man would take some time to go and plead the promises with God. But further, by way of means:-
[l.] Consider the omnipresence of God, which is the argument in the text: ‘He is in secret, and seeth in secret.’ If men were convinced of that, they would make conscience of secret prayer. Look, as Jesus Christ says of himself, John xvi. 32, ‘You leave me alone, and yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.’ So when you are alone you are not alone; there is a Father in secret; though nobody to see and hear, yet God is there. We are apt to think all is lost which men are not conscious to, and done in their sight. Acts x. 4: ‘Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.’ God keeps a memorial of your private prayers; there is a register kept in heaven, and never a prayer lost.
[2.] Consider the excellency of communion with God. Jer . ii. 32 ‘Can a maid forget her ornaments, and a bride her attire ?’ Women are very curious and careful of their ornaments, and will not forget their dressing-attire, especially a bride upon the wedding-day, she that is to be set forth in a most costly array – she makes it her business to put on jewels, to be seen in all her glory. God is as necessary to us as ornaments to a bride. We should be as mindful of communion with God as a bride of her dressing-ornaments. ‘Yet they have forgotten me days without number.’ Whatever is forgotten, God must not be forgotten.
[3.] Make God a good allowance; resolve to be much in the practice of it. It is best to have set times for our religious worship. For persons which are sui juris, at their own dispose, it is lawful and very convenient to dedicate a certain part and portion of our time to the Lord of time. Lazy idle servants must be tasked and required to bring in their tale of brick; so it is good to task the heart, to make God a fair, and reasonable, and convenient allotment of some part of our time. David had his fixed hours: ‘Three times a day will I call upon thee.’ And Daniel had his set times; he prayed three times a day. Though we cannot charge you to observe these hours, yet you should make a prudent choice yourselves, and consecrate such a part of time as will suit with your occasions, your course of life, according to your abilities and opportunities. It is an expression of love to God to give him somewhat that is your own; and it will be of exceeding profit to you and make your communion with him more seasonable and orderly. This will make you careful and watchful how you spend your other hours that you may not be unfit when times of prayer come. 1 Pet. iii. 7 ‘ Husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, that your prayers be not hindered.’ But do not propose a task too great for your strength, and perplex yourselves with such an unreasonable allowance as will not suit with your occasions. Men create a trouble to themselves, and bind themselves with chains of their own making, when they propose more duty than they can well discharge.
The Second Part of the Use
Do it seriously, with caution, and warily. Here Christ gives direction. ‘When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and shut thy door, and then think of thy Father which is in secret.” We need a great deal of caution; for:-
1. When you shut the door upon all others, you cannot shut the devil out of your closets; he will crowd in. When you have bolted the door upon you, and shut other company out, you do not lock out Satan; he is always at hand, ready to disturb us in holy duties; wherever the children of God are, he seeks to come at them. When the sons of God met together, Satan was in the midst of them: Job i. He meets in congregations, he gets into the closet. When Joshua the high priest was ministering before the Lord, Satan stood at his right hand, ready to resist him: Zech. iii. 1.
2. There needs caution; because in private duties there may be many failings and evils, which we are apt to be tainted with in our private addresses to God.
[1.] There may be danger of ostentation, therefore Christ gives direction here, that it should be managed with the greatest secrecy, both as for place, time, and voice. Let none but God be conscious to our drawing aside that we may be alone. Withdraw yourselves out of the sight and hearing of others, lest pride and ostentation creep upon you. The devil will seek to blast this serious acknowledgment to God, one way or other.
[2.] There may be customariness, for fashion sake. It is said of Christ, that ‘he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath-day, as his custom was.’ We may use accustomed duties; but we must not do them customarily, and for fashion sake, no more than Christ himself did; for though this was his custom, yet he was not customary in these his synagogue attendances. We are very apt to do so, because we have used it for these many years. Men go on in a tract of duty, and reward not the ends of worship – Zech. vii. 3- they come with a fond scruple and case of conscience to the prophet: they had an old custom among them to fast for the destruction of the temple; now when the temple was built again, ‘Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years?’
[3.] Much slightness and perfunctoriness of heart you may be guilty of. Such is the wickedness of men, that they think God will be put off with anything; and though they would set off themselves with applause in the hearing of others, yet how slight are they apt to be when they deal with God alone! Consider, you must sanctify the name of God in private, as well as in public; you must speak to God with reverence and fear, and not in an overly fashion. Take heed of this slightness; it is a great wrong to the majesty of God. When they offered a sickly offering, saith God, ‘I am a great King, and my name is dreadful among the heathen: you do not consider my majesty.’
[4.] There may be this evil: resting in the work, in the tale and number of your prayers: Luke xviii. 12, ‘I fast twice in the week.’ Man is very apt to rest and dote upon his own worth, and to build all his acceptance with God upon it; to come to God, and challenge him for a debt, as the Pharisee did. It is very natural to rest in those duties, and make them an excuse for other things.
[5.] There may be pride, even in the exercise of our gifts. There is a delight in duties, which seems spiritual many times when it is not; – as when a man delighteth in the exercise of his own gifts, rather than in communion with God; when there is a secret tickling of heart with a conceit of our own worth; as when, in the carriage of a duty, we come off roundly, and parts have their free course and career. This complacency and pride, it may be not only in public, where we have advantage to discover ourselves with applause, but in private, between God and our souls. When a man is conceited of his gifts, they may end in the private exercise of them, to the wrong of God. When invention is quick and free, he may have such a delight as may make him rest in the work, as it is a fruit of parts, rather than as a means of communion with God. Therefore there needs a great deal of caution when we are alone with our heavenly Father.