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that at a time when prayer to God was made a capital crime. Thus also we find, that Cornelius the Roman centurion, a proselyte to the Jewish religion, was one that prayed to God always,' Acts x. 2; and that it was secret, and not family-prayer, in which he was employed, when the angel appeared to him, is evident from ver. 7; for on the departure of the heavenly messenger from him, who certainly spoke to him in a retired chamber, he called some of his domestics, to dispatch them for Peter to come to him, as the angel had directed. Thus likewise we find, that good King Hezekiah was no stranger to this delightful exercise ; for when the prophet Isaiah was sent with a heavy message to him, announcing his death, he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the Lord,' Isa. xxxviii. 1, 2. Compare Cant. i. 7. And indeed to which of the saints can we turn in any age, who neglected this duty ? Habitual neglect of prayer is not the spot of God's children. No sooner does grace take possession of the soul of any person, but behold that person will pray, as Saul did at Damascus, after the extraordinary appearance of the Lord Jesus to him on his journey to that city, Acts ix. 11.
Thus we have express divine precepts, apostolical injunctions, and the approved practice of our Lord Jesus, and of all the saints, to recommend this duty to us; and wo unto us if we neglect it.
II. I proceed to shew the necessity of secret prayer. It is not necessary in regard of merit, as if we could procure heaven by it. The only ground of eternal life in the mansions of bliss is the righteousness of a crucified Redeemer. Beg. gars pay no debts, but confess insufficiency, saying with the prophet, Dan. ix. 5. “We have sinned, and have commit. ted iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts, and from thy judgements.
But it is necessary, 1. In regard of the command of God. He by a plain and express command requires it; and that command binds it as a necessary duty upon us. To neglect it, therefore, is a di. rect violation of the command of the great God and Law. giver; and to make conscience of it is a necessary and proper act of obedience to the divine will.
2. To give God the glory of his omniscience and omni.
presence. When we pray to our Father which is in secret, we plainly declare, that we believe he knows and sees all things, that the darkness and the light are alike unto him; and that he is the witness and inspector of all our actions, and will call us to an account for all our thoughts, words, and actions, which are well known to him.
3. To evidence our sincerity, that it is not to be seen of men that we pray; that we are not actuated from motives of ostentation and vain-glory, but from regard to the divine command, and a sincere desire to serve God; though indeed it will not hold that all such as pray in secret are sincere; for, alas ! men may be very assiduous in this duty, and yet be far from being sincere Christians, or accepted of God therein.
4. In regard that none know our case so well as ourselves: and therefore, though the master of the family pray in the family, yet we ought to pray by ourselves, in order to make known our particular case and wants unto God, which none other can know, and to ask such blessings and mercies of him as we stand in need of, and are suitable to our circumstances.
5. In regard that, if we know our own hearts, we cannot but have somewhat to say unto the Lord, that we cannot, nor would it be at all proper to say before others, respecting both confession of sins and supplication for mercies. Hence the spouse says, Cant. vii. 11, 12. Come, my Beloved, let us go forth unto the field: let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards, let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth ; there will I give thee my loves.'
6. In regard of our wants continually recurring on our hands, and daily and hourly temptations, that may call for this exercise, when family-prayer cannot be had What man is so well supplied, both as to temporal and spiritual blessings, as to have no occasion for asking supplies from above? Man is a needy and indigent creature in all respects; as a creature he lives on the bounties of providence, and as a Christian on the grace which is in Christ Jesus; and therefore he must daily apply to the throne of grace for necessary supplies in both. And as we are daily surrounded with temptations, and have no strength to resist or repel them,
we must fetch in strength from God in Christ by prayer, lest we fall and be overcome by the temptations in our way,
Thus it appears from these considerations, that prayer is ą necessary duty incumbent on all. And surely all who have tasted that the Lord is gracious will make conscience of this important and useful exercise.
III. I proceed to answer sone cases concerning this duty, which will tend to clear it further unto you.
Quest, 1. What is the proper season of this duty of secret prayer? or when are we called to this exercise ?
Ans. 1. We are doubtless to be very frequent in this duty, Thus we are called to 'pray always,' Eph. vi. 18., and « without ceasing,' 1 Thess. v. 17. that is, at all proper times, and to be continually in a praying frame, or to pray inwardly, though we utter not a word with our lips.
2. Whenever God calls us to it, putting an opportunity in our hands, and moving and inciting us to it, then we are to go about it. Thus, when the Lord Jesus says, Seek ye my face;' our hearts should say unto him, " Thy face, Lord, will we seek,' Psal. xxvii. 8. And thus we have daily calls and invitations to this duty, which we should carefully regard, and conscientiously embrace, lest we quench the Spirit, and provoke the Lord to harden our hearts from his fear.
3. The saints in scripture have sometimes been more, sometimes less frequent in this exercise. Thus David was sometimes employed thrice, sometimes seven times a day in prayer, Psal. Iv. 17. and cxix. 164. and Daniel three times, even at a very perilous juncture, Dan. vi. 10. From whose practice the frequency of performing this duty evidently appears.
4. Morning and evening at least we should pray, and not nèglect this duty. This appears from our Lord's practice, Mark i. 35. Matth. xiv. 23. both cited above; from the practice of the saints in scripture, Psal. lv. 2. and v. 2. for, merly quoted ; and from the morning and evening sacrifice under the legal dispensation, which were daily offered, and should excite us to offer up unto God daily the morning and evening sacrifice of prayer and praise. And the very light of nature teaches us so much ; that when we are preserved through the silent watches of the dark night, and from the perils we may be exposed unto in that gloomy season, we should acknowledge the goodness and kindness of God there. in; and that when we are preserved through the day, from the many snares and temptations we are liable to amidst the cares and distractions of our business, we should bless God for his preserving and protecting mercy, and commit ourselves, and all our concerns, into the hand of God, when we are going to take necessary rest, that we may fall asleep under a sense of his love, and may rise again to resume the business of our callings with his blessing and favour.
Quest. 2. What is the proper place for secret prayer?
Ans. A secret place is the most proper place for this exercise; and though every body has not a closet, or retired apartment, into which he may go in and shut the door, yet any place where we may be retired from the view and obe servation of others, answers the purpose; though in other respects it be a public place, yet if it be dark, and the yoice kept low, it is justly a secret place. And to a place of that sort did cur Lord retire for secret prayer, Matth. xiv. 23. pertaps not having proper conveniency in the place where he lodged all night. And indeed there is not a person but may meet with such a secret place every day, if he have a disposition for this exercise,
Quest, 3. What gesture are we to use in secret prayer?
Ans. 1. Holy scripture does not bind us to any gesture particularly; but we find these four gestures of the body in prayer spoken of there, viz. standing, Mark xi. 25; lying along on the face, Matth. xxvi. 39; kneeling, Dan. vi. 10, Eph. iii. 14; and sitting, 2 Sam. vii, 18,
2. Whatever the gesture be, let it be a reverent one, that may express a humble and reverent frame of spirit. Hence we are commanded to 'glorify God in our bodies,' I Cor. vi. 20.
3. I shall say these two things for the further determination of this question. (1.) Let it be such a gesture as is conformable unto, or flows natively from, the present disposition of the heart. Thus in extraordinary cases we find the saints were wont to fall on their faces, 2 Sam. xii, 16. And so likewise did the Lord Jesus in the garden, on the eve of his sufferings, Matth. xxvi. 39. (2.) Yet let it be always to edification ; and let that gesture be chosen which is most conducive to devotion, and occasions least distraction in the duty: As if kneeling be dangerous for the body, and so inay tend to disturb the mind, let another gesture be chosen that is not attended with these inconveniencies; though kneeling is certainly the most eligible gesture, and expressive of that humility which must ever accompany this exercise. And the same thing we may say of closing the eyes, or keeping them open; though praying with the eyes shut is certainly to be preferred.
Quest. 4. What are we to say of the voice in secret prayer?
Ans. 1. The duty may be performed without using the voice, as was done by Moses in the strait the children of Israel were reduced to, after their escape from Egypt, when high and inaccessible moụntains were on each side of them, the Red Sea before them, and the Egyptian host at their heels ready to cut them off. In this dilemma we find that great man crying to the Lord, though not with an audible voice, Exod. xiv. 15. Thus the voice is not to be used wben people cannot do so without being heard, or when through weakness of body, or disquiet of mind, they are unfit for speaking with the tongue.
2. Yet where the voice may be used, and that with con. venience and propriety, it should be made use of; and that, (1.) Because we are to glorify God with our bodies; and particularly our tongue is given to be an instrument of glo: rifying God; " Awake, my glory,' says David, Psal. lvii. 8. (2.) Because the voice is of good use in secret prayer, to stir up the affections, and to stay the mind from wandering. Yet an affected loudness of the voice, whereby the secret prayer is made public, is a sad sign of great hypocrisy, which every serious Christian will guard against.
Quest. 5. Is secret prayer a sure mark of sincerity? or can one pray in secret, and yet be an hypocrite?
Ans. This is not out of the reach of the hypocrite? A hy. pocrite may come this length, and much farther. Judas was among the rest whom our Lord taught to pray in secret, and
all know what was his fate. But though a hypocrite may continue a long time, nay, many years, in the practice of secret prayer; yet it is scarcely to be thought that he will always do so, if he live a long life: For, says Job, Will he [the hypocrite] always call upon God?' 'chap. xxvii. 10. It is not to be thought that he will, as he has no communion with God in the duty. And therefore adds the same holy