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protection and mercies we have receiv'd from him in that capacity. And this too has been the constant practice of good men in all ages; and the reason of the thing sufficiently speaks both for the piety and the necessity of it. (5.) But lastly, there are private prayers, wherein, retiring into some secret place, apart from all company, and in the cye of none but God, we seriously and devoutly address our selves to him for such mercies as concern our own personal state, not forgetting also our particular friends, and others whom we are bound to pray for. I have reserved this to the last place, because it is that very kind of prayer, which our Lord especially mentions, and directs, in these verses of his sermon now before us. And indeed there is too much occasion it should be pressed upon the consciences of men as a duty; for 'tis juftly to be fear'd, that there are many who go to the publick worship of God, and yet neglect the secret devotions they ought to perform at home. I doubt there are too many Christians, who have still so much of the Pharisee in them, that willingly shew themselves in such duties, wherein their religion may be seen of men, and wherein they may serve their credit and reputation ; but dispense with themselves in duties which are required to be so private, as only to be observed by God, and which can have no other principle than conscience and truc piety. Here, therefore, we have an express command for closet prayer: When thou prayelt, enter into thy closet; and when thou hast-sout thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, &c. By closet, is meant any private place, where we may be secure of being neither feen, overheard, nor interrupted in our devotions. And to some such convenience should every Christian retire, at least, twice a day, morning and evening, for that exercise; which has not only been the constant practice
of good men, but has the example of Christ himself to recommend it, as we may gather from the following passage. St. Mark tells us of him, that in the * morning rising up a great while before day, be went out into a solitary place, and there prayed. And St. Matthew, that t when he had sent away the multitudes, he went up into a mountain apart to pray; and when the evening was come, he was there alone. The reason of such a practice also pleads for it as a duty. For what can be more reasonable than to begin the day with a pious and devout adoration of that infinite Being, upon which we continually depend for all the necessaries and comforts of life; to praise him for his protection of us the past night, and to impore his grace to conduct us through the temptations, and his blessing to prosper us in the business of the day before us? And in like manner to conclude it, when we are going to rest, with thankful acknowledgments of his mercy; beseeching him to pardon the fins we have been guilty of, and humbly recommending our selves, and all that belong to us, to be kept safe by his providence the ensuing night ? And that this should be done in secret by our selves, as well as at Church with the congregation, is highly proper; because the public service being to luit the case of others, as well as our own, must be performed only in general terms; whereas we have every one of us, when we consider our own spiritual or temporal circumstances, some things particularly to beg of God, that may be suitable thereto; and on which we may enlarge in private prayer , as there is occafion. Our confessions of sin should also be more particular in secret, than the terms in public service will admit; our petitions for grace against this or that prevailing sin, and our thanksgivings for such mer
Mark i: 31.
Mar. xiv. 23.
cies as we especially have received, should be fo too, and have more room to be so in our closets than in public. In a word, this part of religion, I mean secret prayer, is so natural, fo rational, só necessary, that it will be hard to suppose any Christian, who neglects it, to have the fear or love of God in his heart, or any due belief or sense of his dependance upon him. Being assured therefore that secret prayer is a duty, which every one of us owes to God, let us now consider,
II. Those two cautions our Saviour here interposes in the performance of it: (1.) Against oftentation. (2.) Against vain repetitions.
(1.) AGAINST oftentation. The hypocrites in our Saviour's time were used to run into some corner of the temple, or of the streets, or other places of concourse; and there with hands and eyes lifted up, perform what they called their private prayers ; to the intent, that being observed by the multitude, their wondrous piety might be talked of: And thus while they pretended to pay their homage to God, they were in truth idolatrously worshiping themselves; or praying to the people for reputation, rather than to him for mercy; and settling a fund for their own praises, upon the foot of his. Now this being an odious mockery of God, our Saviour testifies his abhorrence of it, and requires us to affect secrecy in our prayers, as much as they did openness and observation : that we should not only not desire to be seen of men, when we perform them ; but also studiously contrive to avoid it, by a strict and close retirement. Nor is the choice of a private place for our private devotions, all that is included : there are many little arts of vanity, which hypocrites make use of to defeat the intention of the letter. They will contrive perhaps to be overheard at their prayers, tho' they will not be
seen at them; or by some lucky hints in conversation they will take care it shall be known how strict they are in secret duties, and the like. But all these arts, whatever they be, (for hypocrisy has a thoufand sly devices) are equally condemned by the reason and spirit of this caution; and 'tis the part of our consciences to admonish us faithfully of them, that we do not deceive our felves. Not that it is a sin, after all, to use our voices in closet prayers, tho' 'tis possible by that means we may be overheard in it. But when this or the like is done of purpose to be discovered; when we pray alone in our closets, with a design to be overheard; or leave a door unfasten’d, in hopes to be surpriz'd and seen; or mention our prayers in company, with an intention of vanity and oftentation: This is the sin we are here caution’d against.
Now tho' what has been said was chiefly spoken at first of personal and private prayer, as distinguish'd from the other kinds; and tho' it is in the nature of the thing most immediately applicable thereto; yet in those other kinds of prayer we are as much obliged to avoid whatsoever is really oftentation, as in this. We must go to the Church to worship God in public (and the oftner we go the better;) consequently our devotions must be seen there; and probably our devout and frequent attendance may be commended too: But if we go to Church for that very end, to gain our selves a reputation, and to draw the praises of men upon us ; if, when we are there, we contrive to be taken notice of by affected gestures of devotion, a louder voice than others, or the like; 'tis ostentation and hypocrisy. Tho’ family prayers are to be used, and whatever happens, we are not to be ashamed of them; yet conscience towards God, and the promoting religion in our families', ought to be their only principle. If therefore we proclaim and
boast of them, if we chuse such a public room in our houses to perform them in, as that we may be easily overheard by the neighbourhood, or pray very loud on purpose that we may be fo; 'tis still hyr pocrisy and oftentation. Ejaculatory prayers aro good upon proper occasions, and at proper times; but if we are venting them at every turn, and do really affect them in company, to be thought devout; that wretched mixture of vanity makes them criminal to us. And so our mental prayers, which as they are formed only in the heart, should be sent up from thence in a serious, but in a silent unobserved devotion; if by any outward postures and actions we contrive to discover them to those about us, we lose the religion in the oftentation of them. In short, of whatever kind our prayers are, if we design any thing else but God and true religion, we, profanc the sacrifices of the Lord, to whom alone is due the whole intention of such acts of worship; and whatever we may get of the praise of men in this world, we have nothing to expect, but the portion of hypocrites hereafter.
(2.) The second caution which our Saviour here gives us, is againīt vain repetitions. He neither says, nor can his meaning be, that we should use no repetitions at all; for we have many instances to the contrary in David's Pfalms; and we have the example of our Saviour too, who in his agony in the garden prayed thrice, saying the same words. But we are forbid such repetitions as are vain and needless, such as the heathens used, who thought their Gods would the rather hearken to them for their much speaking ; such a minute descending to particulars in our prayers, as if that infinite Being we pray to, did not know our case, 'till we our selves inform him fully of it; such a multiplicity of words to express one and the same request; as if he were liable to mistake us, and could not appre