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to the throne of grace: for as Luther speaks,* a feeble groan in the ears of God is a mighty noise, and doth so fill heaven and earth, that God can hear nothing besides it, but silenceth all other tumults to hearken to it.
Of what an easy quick access,
May our requests thy ear invade!
If I but lift mine eyes my suit is made:
A Love of Retirement characteristic of a true Christian.
ONCE more, I might shew that to make this excellent use of solitariness, is the duty and marks the character of a sincere Christian. Carnal persons love not to be alone, except they be such whose constitution inclines them to melancholy, and then they sit poring on things without profit; it is only the gracious soul that can tell how to make the right use of solitariness by having recourse to God. No man cares for being alone but the serious person, and no man cares for going to God when alone, but the sincere Christian. Man is a sociable creature, and naturally we have no mind to entertain ourselves by ourselves; a carnal heart hates a domestic audit, men that have shrewish wives love not to be at home, and persons that have guilty consciences cannot endure to come to an explanation with them, lest they be tormented before the time. O but a Christian that is upright, and downright, would know all that concerns his own heart, the best and worst: there
Exiguus gemitus in auribus Dei fortissimus est clamor; et ita cælum et terram replet, ut præter eum Deus nihil audiat, at compescit omnes omnium aliarum rerum clamores.-Luth. tom. 4. fore he communes with his own heart, as David did; and lest he miss or mistake in his search, he turns him to the heart-searching God by prayer, and entreats him to search his heart and discover him to himself. The life of religion consists in a soul's communion with God in secret; a man hath so much religion as he hath betwixt God and his own soul, and no more. A true saint dares in secret to appeal to God for the sincerity of his heart: he is there exercising himself, like a soldier by himself handling his pike, and keeping his postures, that he may be better fitted for a more serious onset; yea, a Christian doth purposely withdraw himself from company that he may converse with God. Papists are true Christians'apes; hence comes the solitary life of monks; pretending to imitate Elijah, and Elisha, John Baptist, and the Apostles: but it is acknowledged by Jerome, and great sticklers for a monastic life, that this practice begun not till about the year 260, or 300. Some say Hilarion, others Paulus Thebæus, others Antonius, begun this manner of living: but certainly there is a vast difference betwixt the solitary life of the ancient Christians and the Papists' way of monastic retirement.
1. Those first Christians lived solitary of necessity, that they might lie hid more safely in a time of persecution.
2. They were not compelled to give all to the poor.
3. They were not bound to a certain rule, nor did they engage themselves by perpetual vow to that place and state, but might change their manner of life if they saw good; they were not bound as to meats, marriage, or fasting.
4. Those ancient monks were of the laity, not of the clergy, nay not so much as deacons, or presbyters.
• Psalm. lxxvii. 6.
5. They had no conceit of merit in a monastic life, till these latter ages : I may add,
I 6. Those ancient monks had a particular calling, and did work, as the monks of Bangor that lived by the sweat of their brows;* and,
7. They were not restrained from conversing abroad, as there was occasion; and occasions there are manifold. It is not fit persons should be always cooped up in a corner, but that they be of use to others in their places and capacities : we were not born for ourselves, nor must we live only within ourselves, which would contradict the law of love and charity: a constant solitariness exposeth persons to a world of temptations; it is not good to be alone, saith Solomon. An ancient could speak it from his own experience, that a solitary life is inferior to common intercourse with others, because it is full of importunate cogitations, which, like little flies arising from a dunghill, fly into the eyes of the heart, and interrupt the sabbath of the mind. I
But I need not trouble you with the mention of popish fopperies. A right bred Christian, that hath learned the truth as it is in Jesus, being thrust into a retired place, knows how to improve solitariness for his soul's advantage; and voluntarily doth withdraw himself from the world, that he may set himself to the work of God in good earnest. Hence saith the apostle concerning husband and wife, 1 Cor. vii. 5, “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer;" thence note,
* Clark's Eccles. Hist. fol. 13.
+ Vita solitaria communi inferior est ; quia importunis cogitationibus plena, quæ tanquam muscæ minutissimæ de limo surgentes, volant in oculos cordis et interrumpunt sabbathum mentis. Ivo Carnatensis Epis. 258.--Vide sis plura in Perkins ubi supra, Demonstrat. Monasteria veterum, ut plurimum, fuisse scholas publiças, id est communitates docentium et discentium.
that it is convenient sometimes for Christians to sequester themselves from nearest relations, that they may have free communion with God in holy duties :* only let these four cautions and limitations of the text be observed, 1. That it be with mutual consent-2. But for a season—3. That it have as its object an advantage for fasting and prayer-4. That they come together again : this respects not every day's ordinary performances, but some solemn engagement for stated and extraordinary fasting in a day of danger or calamity; at which time, “the bridegroom is to go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet, Joel ii. 16; that is, to sequester themselves from conjugal intercourse, to afflict their souls by fasting and prayer : but in these cases, a sound Christian's due discretion regulated by the general rules laid down in scripture, will be sufficient for his guidance, that he may not dash either on the rock of superstition or of negligence, but maintain a close and constant communion with God in the duties of his general and particular calling in public ordinances, and in private and secret duties.
CASES WHICH MERIT REPREHENSION.
Wicked men reproved.
HERE is just ground of sharp rebuke to all careless, prayerless persons, who understand nothing of this duty; they know not what it is to pour out their hearts
• Vide Pareum in loc.
before the Lord, in closet prayer. David saith, “The wicked through the pride of his countenance will not seek after God; God is not in all his thoughts," Psalm
; x. 4: he cannot pray aright any where, much less in secret. The same Psalm tells us what he doth in secret, ver. 8–10,“ In the secret places doth he murder the innocent, his eyes are privily set against the poor.” The apostle saith, “It is a shame even to speak of those things that are done of them in secret,” Eph. v. 12. O the abominable practices of profane spirits in private! Their consciences can tell them sad stories of secret sins, which none but the God of heaven and themselves know of, yea, because they see not God they think God sees not them; like the ostrich, silly bird, because she thrusts her head into a bush, she thinks she is hid from the fowler, though her body be exposed to open view. Carnal men's maxim is like that monkish one, caute si non caste, proceed cautiously, if not chastely; if they can hide their sin from men, they take no notice whether God sees them or not; and, from wishing that he might not see, begin to suspect whether he do see ; and at last arrive at those men's arrogant demand, “Who seeth us?” or that positive conclusion, Psalm xciv. 7, “ The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard.” But what saith the Psalmist to these brutish creatures ? “ He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see,” ver. 9. Let these atheists know that God sees, and sets down all their secret wickedness, and will bring it forth before angels and men at the grea: day of reckoning. The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond,* and it can never be erased but by the blood of Christ; though, hy multiplied acts of notori
* Jer. xvii. l.