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ing 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.
REASONS TO PROVE THAT CLOSET PRAYER IS A
Privacy convenient for prayer.
ALL the reasons that I shall employ at present for the proof of this doctrine, and showing secret prayer to be a duty, shall be fetched out of the text, and they are these :
The conveniency of privacy for prayer.-—The relation betwixt God and a believer.--God's omniscience.-God's munificence.
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.
First, The great conveniency there is in privacy for prayer, and the good providence of God, bestowing upon us private rooms, which implicitly calls us to the performance of that duty. For there is in retirement a great advantage for the managing of any work of wisdom, Prov. xviii. 1, “Through desire a man having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom,” that is, he that is really studious of true piety will voluntarily sequester himself to prosecute it. This was anciently the well-meaning design of a monastic life, which since hath been wofully abused : but yet certainly there is a very great advantage in solitariness for carrying on a religious business. Take only two things at present, which are advantages attending this duty of prayer, whereunto secrecy contributes :
1. Self-expostulations, and self-abasing gestures and expressions. When a Christian in prayer finds his heart hard, dead, dull, distracted, or any way out of order, he may in secret make a pause, and begin to commune with his own heart, examine the matter, lament the cause, chide his untoward heart, and charge his roving spirit to keep close to his God in duty: thus David, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul ? Awake psaltery and harp, I myself will awake early : my soul wait thou
Nothing is more common in the Psalms than such intercisions and diversions from the immediate exercise, to raise up the heart to a higher tune in prayer and praises. And this may be of singular use; for by such heart-reasonings and debates a saint may wind up his spirit, and get better prepared for the remaining part of the exercise: now such a work as this would not be so seasonable and convenient, when others join in the duty. So also for bodily postures ; sometimes for an evidence of greater humiliation, a Christian finds it requisite to prostrate himself before
the Lord, and use such gestures as would not be fit in the sight of others; therefore closet prayer is very necessary where a Christian may use his discretion as God shall direct him, for the humbling, quickening, raising, and melting of his heart before the Lord alone.
2. It is a wonderful help against distraction. When we are (as it were) out of the noise of the world, we are then fitter for attendance upon God: the affairs, discourses, troubles, and confusions of a family (if within hearing) are a great hinderance to the duties of meditation and prayer: experience testifies this, a man cannot study or cast up accounts in a crowd or throng of people. When we are intent upon any business, how little a noise sometimes diverts us? It may be this was the reason why that hospitable gentlewoman, in 2 Kings iv. 10, would have a chamber built for her welcome guest the prophet Elisha, yea built upon the wall: for she might judge him to be a contemplative man, and though she might have lodging rooms in her house, yet she might look upon that at a little distance, as more commodious for his devotions and meditations, as being out of the noise of household business and hurry. An active fancy quickly closeth with any diversion in our attendance upon God, therefore ought we to study to attend upon the Lord without distraction: when Abraham went to worship in the mount, he left his servants below in the valley, lest they should obstruct his communion with God: when Moses was to go up unto the Lord, though Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and the seventy elders went further than the people, yet the text saith, “ They should worship afar off;" but, saith God, “ Moses alone shall come near the Lord,” Exod. xxiv. 1, 2. Observe it, when Moses had parted with his company, and was alone, then he should come near the Lord; common
professors worship not God at all acceptably; sincere saints worshipping God with others are comparatively far off ; but souls in a corner or closet are admitted to come near God, and have sweet intimacy with him, as I shall shew anon: yet mistake me not, as though I preferred secret prayer alone, before public prayer along with others; for as God delights in the joint prayers of his people, so a soul may enjoy God in the communion of saints, and is ordinarily more carried out to God than in private, according to the helps and advantages he hath with others; yet when the heart is in frame, there is usually more intimacy expressed betwixt God and the Christian in secret, than when in the company of
, others. Yet further, mistake not, as though solitariness freed us from all distractions : if we take our hearts with us, we shall have a principle of diversion, and want neither noise nor visible objects to keep us from God; and this, those that have magnified solitariness most, have found by sad experience, and left upon record. Take an instance; Cyprian speaking of Christ's fasting and being tempted in the wilderness, “ Choosing,” saith he, “that place for its secrecy, because fastings are to be observed so as God alone may be judge, and in such engagements as these we are to call on God alone as spectator and helper :" and he shews fully the danger of vainglory, and the advantages of secrecy; yet adds, “ Let not a man imagine he hath escaped all dangers, when he comes into a wilderness or solitary place : for be is invaded by the tempter, so much the more dangerously, because more subtlely, who sitting before the doors of the thoughts, seeks to strangle all the buds of virtue in their very appearance. Yet the disentangled soul will more freely resist its enemy, when the fetters of impediments are wanting, when the sight discerns no allurements, and the conflict is more secure; when particular affairs pluck not back the combatant, nor the delights of enticing pleasures inebriate the mind."*
Relation between God and a genuine Christian.
SECONDLY.-Another reason held forth also in the text, is drawn from that relation which is betwixt God and a believing soul; therefore our Saviour says pray to thy Father: and this reason hath two parts—first, the believer can more freely open his heart to God in a closet; secondly, God will more clearly manifest himself to the soul in secret.
1. A soul in secret making its addresses to God goes to him as a Father. Now, we know children cannot be so free in their addresses to their Father, in company, and before strangers, as when nobody is present:
* Locus secretus eligitur, quia solius Dei judicio jejunia sunt agenda, et singularem inspectorem, adjutoremque Deum volunt hæc habere certamina, neque in agonibus aliquibus periculosus militatur: - Propter hoc, solitudo carens arbitris, et eremus, ostentatorum satellitio vacuo, a jejunante Christo eligitur, ut non cum carne et sanguine, sed cum spiritualibus nequitiis dimicetur, et amotis minorum occasionibus homo cum diabolo colluctetur, et soli sint in palæstra Christus et Antichristus, Spiritus et Antispiritus. Neque patet hominem evasisse pericula cum in eremum venerit, quia quanto subtilius tanto difficilius a tentatore invaditur, qui cogitationum foribus assidens omnia virtutum germina in ipso ortu strangulare molitur.-Cyp. de Jejun. et Tentat. Christi, prope init. pag. 300, 301. Verum liberius, anima expedita obviat impugnanti ubi compedes impedimentorum defuerint et aspectus irritamenta non noverit : securiorque est congressus, ubi singula non velicant dimicantem, nec inebriant animum lenocinia voluptatum.