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and how solemn and recollected should be our approach to him : beware then of all precipitancy, when in secret before the throne of grace. What wonder is it, that many of this sort of secret worshippers, soon become weary of religon, and turn aside to folly?
1. When you enter into your closet, “take sufficient time." Consider yourself as in the immediate presence of God. As sure as you slight him in prayer, (or indeed in any thing else,) he will slight you. It is blessings that you want; and if for blessings you fervently plead, his blessings will surely be given you.
2. Consider how impossible it is to have access to “your Father," unless the Holy Spirit aid you : plead then his promise to "give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him,” Luke xi, 13. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities : for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” Rom. viii, 26. In no case can these texts be more appropriate than in secret prayer; for secret prayer, when devoutly and faithfully performed, is an exercise of a peculiar character. The soul is alone with God; and there are no such restraints as arise from the presence of others; all our thoughts are willingly opened before him, and no disguise or cover can be used in his presence; for we know that he sees our inmost soul, and we confess and plead before him as one that has " come even to his seat : we order our eause before him,” Job xxiii, 3, 4. Here Christ and his disciple are in private : we may pray, and repeat without vain repetition, in humble fervency of spirit.
3. See that your whole heart and soul enter into every petition. You are not now in social prayer, where your expressions must be used in reference to those that hear you ; but you are perfectly untrammelled; all your heart and soul should be in prayer : this is, in the fullest sense, to worship God in spirit and in truth ; by which you may come into a fuller fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, than in most other religious services.
4. Labour to pray in faith. “ All things whatsoever you ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." " Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering," James i, 6. Faith is the measure which God fills ; "according to your faith, be it unto you.” Faith relies on divine goodness, nor doubts the promises : it is God's condition ; of course he will enable us to exercise it, if we are persevering in
5. Attend secret prayer, if possible, as often as you feed the body: “Evening and morning and at noon will I pray,” Psalm Iv, 17. Daniel prayed three times a day, Dan. vi, 10." And of all your devotions, let secret prayer be among the most fervent, humble, and persevering ; and watch thereunto, and the Holy Spirit will continually abide with you, and enable you to feel an habitual spirit of prayer: and the spirit of devotion will be interwoven with all your deportment : you will be a “vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work,” 2 Tim.ü, 21. Particularly in the closet will,
6. The minister of Christ derive his best helps for the pulpit, the best wisdom for government and discipline, and the best success of his labours : but in slighting the duties of the closet, he slights bis soul, and the souls of all others, and becomes inefficient in his work, and may cry, My leanness, my leanness!
II. Consider the greatness of the privilege of secret prayer. The closet may well be styled,
1. The audience chamber of our God. Appointed by himself, where he has promised to meet us, attend to our prayer, and grant us favours :-favours on which our present and eternal welfare depends, and without which we cannot be happy, here or hereafter.
2. The closet may be considered his office of attendance, that is always open, where he attends in person : "your Father which is in secret," and with him you may reverently converse, as with a father and best friend; and unbosom your whole soul before him : and the endearing name “Father," which he directs to be said, is his pledge for all needful supply.
3. IN THE CLOSET, is our most unembarrassed and delightful intercourse with the holy Trinity in unity; our most unmingled cup of consolation and salvation, in Christ and in the Holy Ghost. He promises that,
III.' “ He will reward thee.” 1. In the very exercise of prayer, " the consolations of God” will so abound in thee, that thy seasons of retirement shall ever be seasons of unspeakable delight.
2. “Reward thee:" with spiritual strength, whereby you will at all times enjoy God, your soul will be as a well watered garden, bearing her fruit unto holiness. · Grace shall be “in you as a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” “ Walking unconcern'd in care, and unconsum'd in fire." (Wesley's hymns.)
3. “Reward thee :" with special providential gifts and preservation; and with defence, from all enemies, human or infernal: “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust : his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day," Psalm xci, 4, 5.
66 Reward thee OPENLY. 1. As the face of Moses shone, while he knew it not; so the Spirit of God, with a faithful man, is as a HALO about him, producing an influence peculiar to itself, before men : while his humility, one of the brightest traits of the Christian character, renders him unconscious of his being thus dignified, with such a peculiar influence.
2. “ Openly:" by the wisdom given thee from above, and shining forth, “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without bypocrisy,".
James iii, 17. “He will guide his affairs with discretion." " In his tongue is the law of kindness.” His 6 wisdom maketh his face to shine.”
3. “Openly." By the unutterable influence of a holy example “ before men, who see his good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.” The spirit and practice of a good man are a perpetual comment on the pure doctrines of Christ, a demonstration of the reality of religion, and of the practicability of keeping “the whole law, without offending in one point, and thereby becoming guilty of the whole," James ii, 10. St. James shows that the whole law can be kept, if we love our neighbour as ourselves. See the 8th verse, where he explains the 10th.
4. “ Openly:" Is he a minister of Christ? His public and social services have a divine influence which can be rationally accounted for no other way, than that he is a man who, like Jacob, “ hath power with God" and that to him, as a man of faith, that promise is fulfilled, “ Lo, I am with you;" and of course, his labour is not in vain in the Lord.
Openly.” In the day of judgment : when the good man will be seen as he is: when the genuineness of his piety, the purity of his motives, the integrity of his heart, and the value of bis services, shall be laid open before an assembled world, and the Judge shall say, “Well done, good and faithful servant-enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
Improvement. The neglect or deficiency of any person in this invaluable means of grace, cannot be commuted by any, or all
, the other religious services which we can perform : God will not accept any other service as a substitute for secret prayer: it must be well attended by all who would inherit eternal life : none can neglect it, but at the hazard of his soul ; or perforin it superficially without grieving the Holy Spirit. Nor is there any Christian duty against which Satan uses more art and assiduity to prevent or spoil ; and if he can spoil us in this, he will spoil the whole of our piety, and effectually ruin all our well grounded hopes of heaven. The man or woman who neglects secret prayer, entirely neglects salvation. How can he expect to be forgiven and prepared for heaven, who will not comply with so simple and so easy a direction of Christ? In what sense can such be said to forsake all, and bear the cross for the sake of Christ? What! will he not even pray in secret for mercy? Then “he shall have judgment without mercy who hath showed no mercy" to his own soul. All excuses for the neglect of secret prayer, are so many excuses for not accepting salvation; and so many excuses to justify against us the sentence of eternal damnation.
To direct us into the matter and manner of prayer, Christ has, as it were, put the very words into our mouth, in that inimitable form, the Lord's prayer; that we may, by his Spirit, make those words the very language of our hearts. There are very few things for which we can pray, that are not included in the comprehensive language of that simple, sublime, concise, and copious prayer: every expression in it is a text, which, by dwelling upon before the throne of grace, we may enlarge, and embrace almost every want which we would lay before God; and however our minds may
be expanded and diversified in prayer, let none think that he understands praying so well, that he may safely neglect the use of this prayer in secret. He who has taught us to pray, knows well what would please him, and has so informed us.
The privileges of a soul at the throne of grace are incalculable. Here, pardon, peace, and holiness ; wisdom, strength, and salvation, are obtained through Jesus Christ. Here, the children of God
sap the foundation of the kingdom of darkness, and by faith claim the divine promises that are founded in Christ Jesus, yea and amen; which by the power of prayer, being brought to bear upon the strong holds of the devil, and to grasp the world of sinners, purchased by the blood of Christ, shall, ere long, like the famous lever of Archimedes, “move the world.” Saith Jehovah, " I will shake all nations, and the DESIRE of nations shall come,” Hab. ii, 7; and secret prayer
of those whose life is bid with Christ in God, is one of his grand engines for this work, without which, all piety will expire : for example, all revivals of religion, under God, originate in secret prayer, and they will prosper no longer than the subjects of such revivals are faithful in this means of grace. Why among professors are there so many dwarfs in religion ? Secret prayer is not well performed. Why so many backsliders? Secret prayer is trifled with. Why so much dull and fruitless preaching ? Deficiency of secret prayer. Why no more revivals ? Because there are no more wrestlings with God in secret for this one thing. Whence all the discord in the church ? Backsliders, by the neglect of prayer, like Jonah in the ship, occasion the storin
The faithful followers of a peaceful Saviour will not “ fall out by the way: even a difference of judgment or opinion among the pious, will not spoil their brotherly love : their fervent charity covers a multitude of errors, so that they can love one another with a pure heart fervently: and the peace of their own souls, and the peace of the church, is too dear to them to be parted with on account of trifling differences, or even great differences, where nothing amounts to immorality : their love “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." Christ is their head, their wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, 1 Cor. i, 30. All their cares are cast upon him who careth for them; the fulness of Christ is their portion;, and his merit, his grace, they view, as the great caTHOLICON of heaven, the thorough and radical cure of all diseases.
Before I close, a word to the sinner on this interesting subject.
Do you, unregenerate man, live to this day without secret prayer? Can it be, that he who made, redeemed, and preserves you, is thus neglected ? that he who invites you to him, and to heaven, is treated with such indifference? Do you not consider that yourself is the sufferer for all this ? Nor you alone ; those near to you, by the tenderest ties, by your unholy influence may be for ever involved in that misery to which you are hastening ! In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I adjure you to stop : stop now! I beseech you, move not one step farther hellward ! Begin now
your heart, “ God be merciful to me a sinner !” Have you no happiness to secure, no soul to save? Have you considered the consequences of such a course of irreligion ? Have you no desire to avoid hell, and gain heaven? You certainly have. Then delay not ; the way of salvation is now open to you, even you poor sinner, guilty before God. Sue for pardon immediately, for now is the accepted time! Therefore fly to Christ, the friend of sinners, by secret prayer, and he will abundantly pardon : he will give you a new heart, he will put his Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in his statutes ; to keep his commandments and do them. Read Ezek. xxxvi, 25, and four following verses. Your sins now cry against you for vengeance ; and their cry will certainly prevail, unless you fervently and perseveringly cry to God against them for salvation ; for pardon through the blood of Christ. It is peace with God that you want, and secret prayer is one of the best means to obtain it. Without secret prayer you cannot obtain it; for it is by this you shall be enabled to believe on him that justifieth the ungodly: even now, while you hear or read, your heart may immediately go out to God through Christ in prayer; and he can give you, in answer to prayer, that faith that comes by hearing the word of God. Let nothing prevent or delay your prayer, one day; one hour hence may be for ever too late. Now it is not too late ; Christ has now sent you his message,
and is looking for your decision. Decide at once ; decide now : the fate of your soul for eternity depends on your decision. immediately fly, to Christ, and you shall be saved.
Finally, my brethren, have we all considered the power of prayer? See Moses interposing between divine vengeance and guilty trembling Israel : see the prophet staying and opening the bottles of heaven, and the fire descending on his altar : the furnace controlled by three Hebrews in Babylon : the ferocity of lions by Daniel : the house shaken and suppliants filled with the Holy Ghost in Jerusalem : the prison opened and Peter delivered : the earthquake and trembling jailer, with Paul and Silas. See John Wesley, bursting forth from a European college, and setting England, Scotland, Ireland and America on fire ; the twenty-four states and the territories catching the flame; the Indians of the forest kindling in a blaze, that outburns all their firewater, and