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pocrisy are they guilty, who, retiring to fields, or groves, or other solitary places, there pray with an elevated voice, that they may be heard at a distance, and deemed uncommonly fervent and devout. Secrecy is a circumstance expressly enjoined. And to pray with loud vociferations in a field or wood, is as inconsistent with secrecy, and with sincerity, as to pray in the corner of a street. A needless ostentation of our piety and devotion is hypocrisy, in whatever manner this ostentation is made.
2. Another reason for secrecy in our personal or solitary prayers, is, that we may be undisturbed.
Too easily are our pious thoughts diverted by objects, which present themselves in our way. The noise and tumult of the world will interrupt our devoutest frames. Even in retirement the spirit of devotion will often languish; and impertinent thoughts will insensibly steal in upon us. Prudence will therefore direct us, as far as possible, to shun external diversions. When we shut the door of our closet against the intrusion of worldly objects, we must shut the door of our hearts against the entrance of worldly thoughts. We may often be surprised with them before we are aware; but we must not invite them. On the contrary, as soon as we discover them, we must banish them to a distance, and call in devout meditations to fill our minds. The more vacant the soul is of pious and heavenly affections, the more room is there for evil thoughts to enter. When the house is empty and swept, unclean spirits come in and dwell there. To shut the door of the closet, is the means of preventing disturbance from abroad. But in vain is this door shut, if the door of the soul is thrown wide open for every irregular passion and earthly care to rush in and occupy the place. Who is he that engageth his heart to approach unto God? Him God will cause to draw near to himself.
3. A farther reason for secrecy and solitude, is, that our minds may enjoy greater freedom in communion with God.
In our social prayers, the special and peculiar cases of each worshipper cannot always be distinctly and fully expressed. He who speaks in behalf of others, accommodates the matter and manner of his prayer to the capacities and circumstances of his fellow worshippers in general. They who join with him, employ their minds in adopting and appropriating his petitions. Every Christian finds in himself wants and desires, which it is not possible, nor indeed proper, that others should know; and which, if they knew them, they could not so well express, as he may himself from the feelings of his own heart. Be sure, there are many things, in the case of eve. ry Christian, which, though proper to be laid before God, could not, with propriety and common edification, be introduced into a publick prayer.
But in the closet we are under no restraints of this kind. There we may open our bosoms, utter all our desires, and pour out our whole souls. There we may confess those secret sins, lament those secret infirmities, and mourn those secret temptations which we never have disclosed, and choose not to disclose, to the most intimate friend on earth. There we need not be confined to method or order, nor be solicitous in the choice of our expressions. We may address the throne of God on matters which lie heaviest on our hearts, and in language which our feelings dictate. We may there speak in desires and groans, which cannot be uttered: And he who searcheth the heart, knoweth what is the mind of the spirit. He who possesses our reins, knows our thoughts afar off. He who is present with our spirits, knows our feelings and desires, before they are expressed in words. While we are speaking, he hears; before we call, he an
swers. The forward motions of his love, David joyfully experienced.-I said, I will confess my transgressions unto thee; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. For this shall every one that is godly pray to thee in a time, when thou mayest be found.
This example of our gracious Redeemer may be applied for the reproof of the irreligious, and the encouragement of the godly.
They who wholly neglect, or often intermit, the duty of secret prayer, are reproved by this example. Christ made it so much his constant exercise, that, rather than once omit it, he would rise before day, in a morning too which followed a laborious evening. Awakened and encouraged by this example, let us daily draw near to God. Let us never yield to trifling diversions, nor suffer the cares of the world to extinguish the spirit of devotion.
They who plead the want of leisure, or the want of place, for retirement, should consider, that when labours crowded, Jesus found leisure by rising the earlier, and when company thronged, he found a solitary place, by departing the farther.
Let those, who neglect the care of their souls, remember how laborious Jesus was in the work of men's salvation. Was that a trifling object for which he was so ardently engaged?-Ör, Can you be safe in neglecting a work in which he was so assiduously employed?
Great was that salvation which the Son of God came to procure for sinful men. Great were his labours, and greater his sufferings, in this design. Great was the price which he paid for our redemption. How shall we escape, if we neglect this. great salvation?
What mighty encouragement have we to seek it! The Saviour, who was so laborious in our cause, will approve and aid our labours. He, who was so
thuch in prayer for men while he was on earth, will regard our humble prayers now he is in heaven. He is able to save to the uttermost them who come to God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession. He has departed from this world, and ascend ed into heaven, to appear in the presence of God for us. Let all men seek after him. They who seek shall find. Them who come to him, he will in no wise cast out. He has commanded us to seek him; and he has not said to us, Seek ye me in vain.
EPHESIANS vi. 18.
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance
OUR text might naturally lead us to con sider the duty of prayer at large: But what I have more especially in view, is the duty of family pray This is one kind of prayer, and therefore one thing intended by the Apostle, when he directs us to pray always with all prayer.
If family prayer was practised by pious men, under the old testament, and in the time of our Saviour and his Apostles, as I shall shew that it was; and if the expression, pray always, is generally us ed to signify daily prayer, as I think will appear in its proper place, then we must suppose, that in this exhortation, family worship is included, and principally designed.
I shall therefore,
1. Shew our obligation to family prayer. II. Inquire what reasons there are for stated morning and evening prayer.
III. Represent the manner in which family worship ought to be performed.