« PreviousContinue »
ment, where ostentation can have no influence, where there are no external impulses or aids to excite our emotions, and the soul is left to itself to exercise its feelings? Do we then become cold and indifferent, seeking excuses to evade this duty, or performing it without emotion? There is then great cause to apprehend that, although we may have “ the form of godliness," we are destitute of “ the power;" that we belong to the class of those insincere men, of whom Job asks, “ Will they delight themselves in the Almighty ? will they always call upon God?” On the contrary, does our closet habitually witness the depth of our penitence, the warmth of our devotion, the fervour of our aspirations for holiness? We may then cry, “ This is our rejoicing, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity,” we seek communion with God. From these secret transactions between him and our souls, we derive a cheering evidence of our earnest desire for holiness, and of our sincere devotedness to the Lord.
2. The examples of believers in every age, and that of the blessed Saviour, should incite us to the duty of private prayer.
The happy spirits who now, washed in the Redeemer's blood, stand before his throne triumphing and adoring, were those who upon earth, “ walked with God," and held communion with him in prayer. They are represented in scripture as the generation of those that “ seek God and that “ call upon the name of the Lord.” In perusing both the Old Testament and the New, you find continual instances of private prayer. Thus, Abraham prayed, and received the promise; thus he interceded with the Lord for Sodom : thus in the fields, Isaac meditated and prayed; thus Jacob prayed, and obtained a blessing; thus Moses prayed, and the people were spared ; thus David prayed, and received a pardon; thus Manassah prayed, and his soul was renewed. It was while engaged in private prayer, that Peter beheld his vision; that Cornelius enjoyed the presence of the angel; that Paul was caught up into the third heaven. I do not multiply these examples; from your own acquaintance with the scriptures, you can “add many other instances. If then, you would enjoy the glory to which they are raised, or partake of the blessings which they received, imitate their exa ple, and be men of prayer.
But why need. I speak of inferior models ? Behold your blessed Redeemer. He not only prays in public, as at the tomb of Lazarus, and with his disciples, as in his sacerdotal prayer; but he also retires from the world to converse with his Father. After employing the day in works of charity, he retires to the mount of Olives, to the garden of Gethsemane, to other private places, to hold communion with hea
Dare we call ourselves his disciples, and hope to be acknowledged as his followers, if we live neglectful of this duty ?
3. The habitual performance of private prayer is absolutely necessary for the cultivation of our holiness.
Look at the records of scripture, at the annals of the church, or at the circle of your acquaintances, and you will in vain seek a solitary example of one who, living in the neglect of private prayer, was yet noted for his growth in grace. It is in the closet, that the most permanent spiritual blessings are obtained. It is there that God makes his most precious communications to the soul. It is there that the Sun of Righteousness sheds those rays upon the
heart which enlighten and warm; which dissipate the clouds and vapours of earth which had rested upon it, and paint his own image there. It is there that power is obtained over our spiritual foes; that our corruptions are subdued, temptations weakened, and strength for the discharge of duty bestowed. It is there that faith, and hope, and love, are invigorated: the Christian returning from his closet to the world, bears with him a sense of the presence of his God. He cannot easily forget a friend with whom, morning and evening, he enjoys delicious converse. He feels an invisible hand sustaining him: a heavenly voice is heard speaking to his heart, which cheers, supports, and renders him victorious in his conflicts. His soul shines, as did the face of Moses, when he came down from the mount, after conversing with God; and the world cannot immediately cloud the heavenly lustre.
On the contrary, let the duties of the closet be neglected, and the life and power of religion in the soul will immediately decline; the sense of divine things will be gradually lost; the Christian graces will imperceptibly wither; the public services of religion will lose their sweetness and their efficacy; the holy familiarity of the soul with heaven will be gone; and a worldly spirit will be substituted for the noble and elevated temper that corresponds with the sublimity of our hopes, and the eternity of our being. Could we read the secret history of those who have departed from their duty and their God, we should find, almost without a single exception, that their backsliding and apostacy began at the closet; that they became more irregular and cold in their private prayers before those falls which wounded their consciences, and violated their engagements; and that when they rose again from their falls, it was by returning to their closets, that they recovered their strength. If, therefore,
in holiness, and glorify your God, and your Redeemer, be conscientious in the discharge of this duty.
4. The habitual practice of secret prayer produces the purest pleasure.
Much of the felicity of heaven consists in the vision and enjoyment of God. He who is prayerful, in a degree anticipates this blessedness. Approaching the All-Perfect, he cries with the Psalmist, “ It is good for me to draw near unto God.” While spreading before his Father all his wants, and cares, and fears, and expectations, he enjoys the united pleasures of friendship, and love, and gratitude, and trust, and hope. The experience of all real Chris- , tians will attest that there are in secret prayer, “ pleasures which pass all understanding, joys that are unspeakable ;" that their thirst for felicity is satisfied, while their Heavenly Father there reaches forth to them “ the water of life, that proceedeth out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb."
But especially is this cheering efficacy felt in the season of affliction. St. James directs, “ Is any man afflicted, let him pray;" and David “ thought upon God in his distress, and felt joy spring up in his soul.” Oh! how consolatory is it when bereft of earthly enjoyments; when suffering under sickness, sorrow, or reproach; when watching the last agonies of our friends, or weeping over their graves! How consolatory is it then to throw ourselves into the sympathizing bosom of our God, and there pour out our tears. Resting there, our sorrows expire, and our apprehensions cease. The world around may appear dark and melancholy as did Egypt; the prayer-room
is our Goshen, where all is light. It is true, even the prayerless at such seasons are driven to God; under the pressure of calamity, unwilling cries for the divine aid are extorted from them. But how different are their feelings from those of the believers to whom prayer is familiar; who come with holy boldness, and filial confidence, to that throne which they have often visited; to that Father whose kindness they have often experienced. Those who have been thus prayerful will declare, on a review of their lives, that the season of affliction has been to them the peculiar season of divine consolation, and spiritual joy. And even on the bed of death, we shall find consolation from remembering that we have walked before God; from seeing in this course of private. prayer a proof of our sincerity; from recollecting that in that solemn moment, we have not first to find the way of access to our God; from recalling times of communion with God in our closet, which still remain fresh and sweet upon our hearts, and console us in the agonies of dissolution. Thus it was with dying Jacob. He looked back to that secret manifestation to his soul, which the lapse of so many years had not made him forget. “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz, and blessed me.” And thus it has been with many expiring Christians. Dying, they have recalled scenes in the closet, which still warmed their souls; which were pledges to them of the love of God; and which could only be exceeded by those joys into which they were entering.
Since such are the obligations to secret prayer, and the benefits resulting from it, how deeply should we lament that so many neglect it; how many thousands, whose lives are prayerless! Sustained by the guardian providence of God through the night, they