And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
~ Genesis 32:24-29
And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD.
~ 2 Kings 4:32-33
Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.
~ Isaiah 26:20
And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
~ Matthew 14:23
Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
~ Matthew 26:36-39
On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
~ Acts 10:9
And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,
~ Acts 10:30
The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.
~ Psalm 34:15
And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
~ Isaiah 65:24
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
~ Ephesians 3:14
Closet Prayer, by Oliver Heywood. This is Chapter One of his work.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
— Matthew. VI. 6
The Context examined. In this excellent Sermon of our precious Saviour, on the Mount, we have both the gospel clearly proposed, and the law solidly expounded. The corrupt and carnal Pharisees had degraded God’s holy law from its spiritual extent and control* by their low and literal glosses, but our Saviour restores it to its dignity and authority over the hearts and consciences of men.
In this chapter, the best preacher that ever opened his mouth, doth admirably explain the adjuncts, offices, and exercises of true piety; which are, principally, three–alms, prayer, and fasting; ver. 1-19.
Particularly, concerning the duty of prayer, there
* The Author’s word here is “ regiment,” which, in the works of Hooker, frequently occurs in this sense.
were two materially dangerous faults, of which the Scribes and Pharisees were guilty, in that delightful and solemn exercise. Those were, 1. Hypocrisy, 2. Battology, or vain repetition. Jesus Christ rebukes and rectifies both.
1. They were wont to perform their private devotions in public places, merely for vain-glory, to be seen of men, as in the synagogues, or in the streets, ver. 5. Now for the disciples’ practice in this case, he commands them to withdraw themselves out of the view of men, into some solitary place, and there perform that duty, where they would be least exposed to the danger of ostentation, ver. 6.
2. Another fault that our Redeemer rebukes in the duty of prayer is, vain repetition. And though he only mentions it here as the heathens’ fault, verse 7, yet certainly the Scribes and Pharisees, who are censured for their long prayers, Matt. xxiii. 14, might also be guilty of it, but in different circumstances. Here the heathens use vain repetitions that they may move God; there the Scribes and Pharisees make long prayers that they may deceive men, and devour widows’ houses. The text saith, “ They think they shall be heard for their much speaking;” just as Baal’s priests, 1 Kings xviii. 26, “They called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, O Baal hear us! they leaped upon the altar, and cried aloud, and cut themselves with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.” No doubt this was done to move their cruel god, or rather stupid block, to some pity and compassion, just as the frantic Papists do at this day in their self-tormenting penances; but our God, who is the searcher of hearts, delights more in ardent affections, than in either extension of the voice or multiplication of words, or excruciating afflictions of the outward man; therefore, our Saviour tells us, that when we pray, we come not to inform God of any thing he is ignorant of, ver. 8, “ Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him;” but we pray that our own hearts may be affected, and that we may have the condition of acceptance and for the rectifying of this abuse of vain babbling in prayer, Christ proposes and presents to us an exact draught and compendious platform of prayer, in what is commonly called, ” The Lord’s Prayer;” not as though men should say only those words and no more, for then the apostles had failed in praying in other terms, but that this might be a directory for prayer; so that every thing we ask should be reducible to some of those heads mentioned in this perfect platform; so that, as Cyprian saith,* “to pray otherwise than he hath taught, either as to the manner or substance of the matter, is not only ignorance but an offence; and indeed we cannot expect to be heard except we ask, as well according to Christ’s mind as in his name.” But this is not the subject I have chosen to insist upon; that which falls under our present cognizance from this text, is,
The modification of prayer, with respect to the circumstances of privacy, solitariness, or retirement.
The text holds forth the warrant for, and manner of carrying on the great duty of closet prayer a copious subject, a precious exercise, in which are,
1. The place for it, “ Thy closet.”
2. The closeness of the place, “Thy door being shut.“
3. The object of worship, “ Thy Father.”
4. The arguments to enforce thy duty.
(1.) God’s omniscience, “He sees.”
(2.) His munificence, “Will reward.” .
* Ut aliter orare quàm docuit, non ignorantia sola est sed et culpa. –Cyp. Serm. ad Orat. Domin. p. 408.
The Words explained.
For a more distinct explanation of the words according to the parts before-mentioned, consider,
1. What is meant by a closet here. Some understand and interpret it, not literally but mystically, making an allegory of it, as though it did import, interiorem cordis recessum, the inner recesses or emotions of the heart; but though it be a truth and a duty that we must pray in the closet of the heart, yet I humbly conceive, this is not the proper meaning of the place, for we need not interpret this plain word in such a figurative sense, since multitudes of Scriptures are so express for worshipping God with the heart; besides, that is not suitable to the scope of the place, which opposeth self-retirement to the Pharisaical modes of devotion. The word then, is to be literally taken, and, in general, imports “ any secret place,”* where a thing is laid up; particularly, it signifies a safe or cupboard, to lay victuals in, or a chest locked up, wherein a treasure is usually reserved, or it is taken, as indeed here and often elsewhere, for a close or secret chamber, a withdrawing room, retiring place, where a person is not seen or heard, nor yet is disturbed in his devotions by any noise or commotion; a secret conclave or apartment locked up where no company is admitted.
2. Shut thy door. This word imports yet a further degree of secrecy, as if he had said, that thou mayest make thyself to be less observed, shut up thyself in a room; let none come at thee to disturb thee in thy intercourse
*Leigh. in Crit. Sac. in verb. Matt. xxiv. 26. Luke xii. 3. Quemvis locum occultum notat.-Par.
with God, bar the door, and make it fast; yea let none overhear thee in thy retired devotions; for, observe it, in true closet prayer there should be a confinement of the voice as well as the body. Some pray so loud in their chambers that they may be heard into the streets. This is not properly closet prayer, since it doth not attain the end of this retirement, which is an approving the heart only to God, and avoiding all shew and occasions of hypocrisy and vain-glory; for it is all one in this respect, whether the body be seen or the voice be heard. Only remember, this is spoken of secret prayer; for it doth not exclude public prayer in a congregation, where the body is seen and voice is heard; yet it doth by a sort of synecdoche require self-denial, singleness and sincerity in every kind of prayer, public, private, and secret; for one part or sign of uprightness in the duty is put for the whole, shutting the door, for integrity of heart in the whole* management of this important exercise.
3. Here is the object of prayer, pray to thy Father. Thy business is not with men, but with God; seek, therefore, to please and enjoy him. Nor yet art thou to fetch a compass and pray to saints and angels, but go straight to God in the name of Christ, and be sure thou look upon him as under the delightful relation of a tender Father, yea, “ thy Father.” O, a sweet word, a blessed word, and such a word as we durst not have taken into our mouths+; had it not been for Christ’s glorious undertaking to procure adoption for us, and his gracious encouragement in the prescribed form of prayer, and also for God the Father’s voluntary
* Una specie simplicitatis pro toto genere positâ.
+ Quod nomen, nemo nostrum in oratione auderet attingere, nisi ipse nobis sic permisisset orare..Cyprian Serm. de Orat. Dom. page 414.
condescension. Come then, and fear not, poor disciple of Christ, come with filial affections, and the spirit of adoption, and thou art sure to speed, for this paternal relation imports affection, provision, condescension and compassion. If thou wilt be a child to him, he will be a Father to thee.—2 Cor. vi. 18.
4. Here are the arguments and encouragements to this duty of secret prayer.
(1.) Thy Father sees in secret. All is one to him whether you be in a public church or private closet; God, whose eyes are ten thousand times brighter than the sun, sees you in the one place, as well as in the other, and though men see you not, yet content yourselves with this consideration, that your own consciences and God, with whom you have to do, and from whom you have your reward, are competent witnesses of your uprightness.
(2.) He will reward thee openly. There are two things in this expression. First, they shall be rewarded; and secondly, they shall be openly rewarded. “So that men shall say, verily there is a reward for the righteous, verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth,” Psalm lviii. 11. The Scribes and Pharisees do all their works to be seen of men, and of men they have that sorry reward: you do yours in the sight of God, and from him you shall receive your abundant and eternal recompense. Though men see you not, fear not, you shall be seen and accepted by him that searcheth hearts, and knoweth the mind of the Spirit. But of these, more anon.
The sum and design of the text is this. Thou, my disciple, seest the plausible practices of the hypocritical Pharisees, to gain credit and applause; they perform their private duties in public places, as markets and synagogues, that they may pass among men for eminent saints, and they are generally so esteemed; that is their reward. But thou that hast given up thy name to me, in the profession of my name, take my counsel for regulating this important duty of secret prayer: let none see what thou goest about, steal time from all observers, withdraw thyself into some closet or private place, and when thou hast made all fast, set thyself in the presence of God, approve thy heart to him, lay open thy bosom before him, tell him all thy grievances; and though no creature is privy to thy secret groans, yet be assured that all thy desires are before God, and thy groaning is not hid from him, that he takes notice of thy tears, and reserves them in a bottle by him, to be rewarded in a visible manner in a seasonable time; thy labour is not in vain, thy work is with the Lord, and thy reward with thy God.
Many doctrines lie couched in the words, I shall but suggest them, and select one:
1. Prayer is a choice part of religion; it holds a conspicuous place in the natural worship of the supreme Being, though the right ordering of it is by institution. It is a prominent feature in a pious character, and therefore often put in Scripture for the whole service of God: “He that calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” Rom. x. 13. A prayerless soul is graceless.
2. Prayer is a duty much abused. There is scarcely any thing so much perverted and corrupted as this sacred duty, by formality, hypocrisy, superstition, base and bye-ends, as is shown by those Pharisees many ways, and their younger brethren the Papists at this day, in masses, dirges, invocation of saints, &c.
3. There are several sorts of prayer, occasioned by different modes and circumstances. The apostle distinguisheth supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, 1 Tim. ii. 1. There are also public prayer, family prayer, and closet prayer; now a Christian must pray with all prayer and supplication, Eph. vi. 18. The last is here insisted on.
4. A Christian must do nothing for praise or applause, especially in matters of religion. It is a base prostituting of the highest things of God to our ambition. It is to feed a humour, and ruin the soul with that which should save it. Let no Christians, as the Pharisees here, make prayer truckle to their credit, Phil. ii. 3, “Let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory.”
5. There are set and stated times of prayer. This is hinted in this phrase, When thou prayest. A time there must be for it, though the point of time is not determined, yet a time must be set apart for the duty, every day; a Christian must choose out the fittest season for the duty, by properly employing his liberty and discretion.
6. Circumstances are of great consideration in all our actions. The streets are proper places to walk, talk, buy, and sell in, but not so fit for prayer; the church is a fit place for public devotion, not so for a solemn performance of the duty of secret prayer. Although mental ejaculations are fit enough in both, yet it is not convenient to kneel down or use outward gestures of secret prayer there.
7. Closet prayer must be with all secrecy and solitariness in a closet, with the door shut; as we must not blow a trumpet when we give alms, so we must not hold out a flag when we go to wait on God in the duty of prayer. It was carnal counsel, the brethren of Christ gave him, John vii. 4, “Shew thyself to the world.” The reason is given, ver. 5, “For neither did his brethren believe in him;” a sad sign of carnality!
8. God alone is the proper object of our prayers, pray to thy Father. As he is the object of our faith, so of prayer: for he alone can help, therefore he is to be sought, none else sees our state, or can satisfy souls, Isa. lxiii. 16, “Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us.”
9. In all our addresses to God we must own God as our Father, as having adopted us in Christ; because his, therefore ours. “I ascend (saith Christ) to my Father and your Father,” John xx. 17. Indeed by nature we were children of wrath, but by grace children of his love; so that we may say, “But now, O Lord, thou art our Father.”* O plead and improve this relation.
10. God is omnipresent-thy Father which is in secret: the heaven of heavens cannot contain him, 1 Kings, viii. 27. He filleth all places with his immense and infinite essence: heaven is his throne, the earth is his footstool; he is excluded from no place, included in none; for he is without all limitation or dimension.+
11. God is omniscient—Thy Father which seeth in secret. The darkest night, or secretest closet, or most hidden thought of a reserved heart, can neither hide nor be hidden from God’s all-seeing eye.–Heb. iv. 13. God beholds all things in heaven and on earth with one simple, single act of his understanding.
* Isa. lxiv. 8.
+ Hinc omnipræsens est quia nullum est ubi unde est exclusus, neque alicubi est inclusus. Ames. Med. Theol. lib. 1, cap 4, 47,
12. Every believing prayer hath a sure reward he will reward thee openly: not a good word addressed to God, or good work for God, shall be lost: “ To him that soweth righteousness, shall be a sure reward,” Prov. xi. 18. And we know every right prayer is real seed, Psal. cxxvi. 6, and it will rise in a full and plentiful crop another day.
13. The reward of secret prayer shall be open and manifest. There is previously a reward or gift in secret; communion with God is an abundant recompense. “In keeping thy commandments there is great reward,” Psal. xix. 11. But this is a (præmium ante premium) reward before the reward: the other shall be in heaven, before angels and men.
14. A Christian’s reward is from God-thy Father will reward thee, not men. Scribes and Pharisees have their reward from men, from men they expect it: saints expect their reward from God, and God gives it them: men reward them evil for their good will, and they expect no better: if better comes from men, they own it as a gratuity sent from their Father: it is a principle of religion to know and “ believe that God is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”—Heb. xi. 6. And as God gives a reward, so he is the reward of his saints, Gen. xv. 1, “ Yea, an exceeding great reward.” It can admit of no hyperbole, it cannot have a sufficient emphasis: to enjoy God is a reward sufficient, in and for the service of God. These doctrines would require large discourses, but none of these are the subject on which I shall insist.
I shall raise only one doctrine from the main scope of the text, namely That closet prayer is a christian duty. Secret prayer is an evangelical exercise.
Every child of God may and must perform the duty of secret prayer.
As a Christian must pray all manner of prayer, so in all places, 1 Tim. ii. 8, “ I will that men pray every where;” and if every where, then in their closets. This divine incense should perfume every room, and should ascend to heaven from chambers as well as churches: any place now is fit for a divine oratory; God and a believing soul may meet in a corner: a saint should give himself to prayer, and dedicate his house to God;* he should, as it were, consecrate every room in his house to be a place of private devotion. Abraham reared an altar to God wherever he came, so must a Christian make every place wherever he can get close to the duty, a place of prayer.
Mr. Mede hath undertaken to prove, from Josh. xxiv. 26, that the Jews of old, as well as Christians in gospel times had their proseucha, or praying places, which he thus describes,+ as to the Jews of old: “a proseucha,” saith he, “ was a plot of ground, encompassed with a wall, or some other similar fence or inclosure, and open above, much like to our courts, the use being properly for prayer, as the name proseucha imports: and these were without the cities, as synagogues were within:” of this, as he thinks, was that mentioned Acts xvi. 13, and also that, Luke vi. 12, where Jesus Christ is said to continue all night, ev tū apogeuxõ…in proseucha Dei, in the place of prayer, or proseucha of God. Now although I shall say little on the notion, yet I cannot see how it will prove any relative holiness of places; nor yet do I believe or find, but that the saints had other praying places, as in houses and elsewhere as occasion offered, even in dwelling-houses, Acts xii. 12. But as to this duty of secret prayer, it
* Psalm cix. 4. Psalm xxx. title
+ Mede’s Diatribe, page 279.
must not be so narrowly confined, but we may go into any closet or private room where our souls may meet with God: and, as one saith, we shall not fail to find that the grots and caves lie as open to the celestial influences, as the fairest and most beautiful temples.*
Several instances in Scripture of closet prayer.
The doctrine needs not explication, but confirmation; which I shall furnish from Scripture instances and reasons.
We have several examples of patriarchs, prophets, and apostles that practised this duty of solitary or secret prayer.
1. Abraham, the friend of God, and father of the faithful, conversed much with his God alone; particularly in this duty of prayer, Gen. xviii. 22. When the men, that is, the created angels that seemed men, were gone towards Sodom—“Abraham stood yet before the Lord,” or Jehovah, that is, Jesus Christ, the Angel of the covenant. Standing is a praying posture, therefore put for prayer; hence, Abraham drew near and pleaded with God for Sodom: that was his errand to God at that time. No doubt he had used this course frequently in other cases: hence arose that intimacy betwixt God and Abraham:+ so that God talked with him, came to him, and he again discoursed familiarly with God.
2. Isaac, the son of the promise, a very contemplative man, therefore it is said, Gen. xxiv. 63, that “ Isaac
* The Life of Dr. Hammond, in a Letter, p. 201.
+ Gen. xv. 8-13. xvii. 3.
went out to meditate in the field at even-tide.” The word signifies as well to pray as meditate;* it is likely he did both in some solitary walk, where he conversed with his God. The Chaldee translates it by praying, but the Greek by exercising himself, that is, both in meditation and prayer: and truly there is a near affinity betwixt these two solemn, yet pleasant duties, and it is usual for a devout soul to pass out of the one into the other, in its retirements. Soliloquy in the heart, helps to a colloquy with God: but here observe Isaac’s oratory, which he had in the field, and which he used for more privacy; “There,” saith Pareus,+ “he constantly poured out prayers to God, and at this time more earnestly for the happy success of his servant—a singular example of piety: a place it was, every way fit for prayer, especially in solitude where the senses are less drawn off from pious meditations.” Some think he was returning from his devotions, and then it is worth noticing, what a speedy reward of his piety, and effect of his prayers was granted: would all young men take the like course for a wife, they might meet seasonably with a Rebecca in mercy.
3. Jacob is a fainous instance of this choice exercise, few like him; he was made to flee, but he could not be driven from his God: they had their meeting places and intercourse where none saw, particularly that remarkable time, Gen. xxxii. 24, “ Jacob was left alone: and there wrestled a man with him, until the breaking of the day.” It is likely Jacob had sent his household away on purpose, that he might wrestle with God alone. I shall not dispute whether Jacob had any extraordinary
* Locutus est ore, vel corde cogitavit; proprie significat, submissa voce loqui, ut orantes.-Leigh.
+ Locus precibus ubique commodus; maxime in solitudine, ubi sensus de piis meditationibus minus avocantur.Pareus in loc.
natural strength of body, I am sure he had abundance of spiritual strength of grace, nor shall I take notice of the Hebrews’ subtle disputes concerning this man. Hosea tells us it was an angel, yet withal he tells us, “that by his strength he had power with God,” Hos. xii. 3, 4. Therefore this was God himself, the creating, not a created angel, even Jesus Christ, the angel that redeemed him from all evil,* whom Malachi calls, “the angel of the covenant,” Mal. iii. 1. It was God himself, Elohim, whom Jacob overcame in this stupendous monomachia, or conflict. But how did he thus prevail? The text saith, with prayers and tears, he wept and made supplication: now he had gotten God to a side, as it were, and none came to distract him, or to part this strong and blessed duel: he is resolved to make good his hold, and not let God go, till he blessed him: the consequence was that good Jacob came off a noble conqueror, and from that procured the famous name of Israel. O unequal match! O unparalleled conquest! The seemingly adverse combatant was Jacob’s only assistant, and the conquered was the invincible Jehovah, and no seconds or spectators, but the infinite God, and worm Jacob.
4. Moses was an excellent man of God, whom the Scripture characterizeth as a non-such, Deut. xxxiv. 10. “ There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face:” and this intimate acquaintance was obtained, maintained, and cherished by this secret conversing with God: how often do we find the Lord and his servant Moses together and none with them? yea, Moses only must come near, and the rest must worship afar off:+ and what business have these familiar friends with each other? Why, sometimes the Lord speaks to Moses,
* Gen. xlviii. 16.
+ Exodus xxiv. 12.
sometimes Moses speaks to God in secret prayer: see both together in Exod. xxxii. 9-11. A strange scripture-God and Moses had been conversing with each other in the mount forty days: God tells Moses, the people had made them a molten calf, and he was angry and would consume them, and bids Moses let him alone, as though Moses had bound the hands of omnipotence: nay then, thinks Moses, if my poor people be in this hazard since I am with God, I will ply the throne of grace, and improve my interest for them: and then he falls close to the work, he besought the Lord his God, and supplicated mercy for the people. At this time he alone stood in the gap, and prevailed by his intercession to turn away God’s wrath from Israel:* here was a deliverance, and this was the fruit of secret prayer.
5. David, the man after God’s own heart, was a man much skilled in secret or closet meditations and prayer: hence some of his Psalms of prayer and praise were first composed in caves, wildernesses, and solitary places, Psalm cxlii. the title is, “Maschil of David, a prayer when he was in the cave,” and this is for instruction to us, so Maschil signifies: yea, he purposely compiles the cii. Psalm, as a pattern to all that may be in his case, that is, solitary, “ As a pelican in the wilderness, an owl in the desert, or a sparrow alone upon the house-top,” ver. 6,7. Then they are to pray as he did, and to pour out their complaint before the Lord: yea, upon a declaration of God’s covenant, or designs of mercy to David and his louse, the good man went either into some private room in his own house, or into the tent before the ark, and there set himself, first to meditate, then to pray; for he did both, as that scripture clearly intimates, 2 Sam. vii. 17–27.
* Psalm cvi. 23.
And O what memorable fruits of secret prayer had David frequently? Surely he felt the sweetness of it, both in his soul and body, in his spiritual estate, and political affairs; therefore he commends it to all, Psalm iv, 4, 5, “ Commune with your own heart upon your bed,” (or in your bed-chamber) and there also “offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.”
6. Another example from Scripture of the performance of this duty of secret prayer, is, the celebrated man of God Elijah, who wrought many miracles, and was mighty in prayer, for so the apostle James testifies of him, chap. v. 17, 18, that he could shut and open heaven; he had, as it were, got the key of the clouds, to open the windows of heaven, that it might rain or not rain, according to his word. But how came he by this power? Why, certainly he had much intercourse with his God in secret. Take one instance what his practice was, 1 Kings xvii. 19—24. It is the memorable history of raising the widow woman’s dead son. It was a great undertaking: none but God could raise the dead; God is to be implored by earnest prayer, no place so fit for that great duty as a closet, or some close chamber; therefore he being to deal with his God in extreme good earnest about this important business, saith the text, “He carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed, and then he cried to the Lord,” ver. 19, 20. It was not the first time Elijah had there wrestled with God; if it was his lodging room, it was his praying room, and here God heard him, and wrought the miracle: what he did for Elijah, he can and will do for us, if he see fit; for Elijah was no more than a man, and subject to like passions as we are.
7. Jeremiah is a remarkable instance: he was a Prophet of the Lord, sanctified from his mother’s womb, yet he met with so many discouragements, that he hath a mind to leave his people, and he wisheth for a lodging-place in the wilderness,* that is, some solitary retirement, that there he might take his fill of weeping; however he resolved at present, that wherever he is, he will retire, and, saith he, “My soul shall weep in secret places for your pride.”-Jer. xiii. 17. Yet more appropriately to the business of secret prayer, see Jer. xv. 17, where he saith, “I sat alone because of thy hand.” But what did he alone? Did he only pore and muse upon the church’s sins and sufferings? No, he had something to say to his God, v. 18. “Why is my pain perpetual?” And God then hath something to say to him by way of gracious answer, v. 19, “If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me:” this is the result of his secret prayer, a restoration of him to, and his confirmation in, his office and function, and to the public exercise thereof: this is worth praying for.
8. Daniel is a famous pattern of the resolute and courageous performance of this duty, against all opposition: although he might have pleaded, (if ever any) there is a lion in the way, I shall be slain in the streets or den, for exercise of prayer in my chamber; yet he feared nothing, he ventured upon a severe law, his prince’s displeasure, the loss of his preferment, the rage of his competitors, and the lions’ hungry stomachs, rather than he would omit or intermit his accustomed course of chamber-worship; he will endure the lions’ cruelty, rather than neglect a known duty: nay, he is so far from gratifying his proud adversaries, that he will not in the least abate his wonted frequency, or visibility in the duty; “ but his windows being open
* Jeremiah, ix. 1, 2.
toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day and prayed,” Daniel, vi. 10. But did Daniel hold out a flag, or blow a trumpet, by setting open his windows to declare to men what he was going to do? Was not this contrary to the rule in the text? Are we here commanded to shut our door, and may Daniel open his window? Is not that all one? Surely that good man did not open his windows out of hypocrisy and vain-glory; but to shew his resolution, courage and constancy, out-daring these impious, presumptuous commands of men: he did not fear to be seen now in so plain a case. What spirit are they of, that will rather gire themselves to the roaring lion, and incur the wrath of the King of heaven, which exceeds in terror a thousand hungry lions, than solemnly perform this useful duty of secret prayer: let the careless consider this.
9. Peter, a distinguished apostle, shall be another instance in the case, Acts ix. 40. When Tabitha or Dorcas lay dead in an upper chamber, and the widows stood weeping by her, and he was about to raise her, “ he put them all forth, and kneeled down and prayed, and turning him to the body, said, Tabitha, arise, and she opened her eyes.” See here another miracle, like Elijah’s, following secret prayer: but this was in an extraordinary case, did Peter use to pray alone? Yes, turn only to the next chapter, Acts x. 9, “ Peter went up upon the house-top to pray, about the sixth hour,” which was about noon, another praying season;* certainly he missed not morning and night for such devotion: he went to the top of the flat-rooft house, which was a private place, and equivalent to a closet; there Peter prayed, in prayer he fell into a trance, and in that trance he had a vision concerning the calling in of the
* Psalm lv. 17.
Gentiles,* a glorious mystery and transcendent mercy towards us poor outcasts–a mystery which had been kept secret since the world began, hid from ages and generations–a blessed mystery that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of God’s promise in Christ by the gospel; yet this transcendent design of love was manifested to an eminent apostle while he was in the performance of this duty of secret prayer: this is very remarkable, and worth observation.
10. The last instance is of our blessed Saviour. Our dear Lord Jesus was very conversant in this duty. Mark, i. 35, “In the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed:” our precious Redeemer went about doing good, and the day-time he usually spent in preaching, conversation, healing diseases, &c. and the night he spent in prayer, meditation, and such other holy exercises: he had scarce time to eat or sleep for doing his father’s work; he spent not one moment of time unprofitably in above thirty years: how early doth he rise, and earnestly doth he follow his business in communion with his Father, and in the work of our redemption? Yea, Luke vi. 12, “He continued all night in prayer to God;” that is, on a mountain, in secret prayer, and frequently elsewhere we shall find him alone, and in this work:+ and wherefore was all this? Was it not principally for our sakes? for our salvation, and imitation? Yes certainly, he designed our good in all; he prayed that we might pray, and reap the profit of all his prayers and purchase. Hear we Cyprian expressly speaking on this point: “He taught us to pray not by words only but deeds; (for He) himself praying frequently, both supplicating, and demonstrating
* Rom. xvi. 25. Col. i. 26, 27. Eph. iii. 5,6.
+ Matt. xxvi. 36.
what we are to do by the evidence of his own example.”*
Most divines hold the obligatory power of scripture examples, in things not forbidden; especially in prayer which being so laudable a practice, and implied in other scriptures, all the preceding instances seem cogent arguments; and the last, taken from the life of Jesus Christ, hath the force of a positive precept and command.
But there are few or none that have the face of Christians, who dare deny this to be a duty; though I fear many that would go for Christians, live in a common neglect of it.
* Nec verbis tantum sed et factis Dominus orare nos docuit, ipse orans frequenter, et deprecans, et quid facere nos oportet exempli sui contestatione demonstrans.Cyp. Serm. de Orat. Dom. p. 425.