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solitary devotion. When Abraham was going to offer up his son, he commanded his young men to tarry behind, while he went to the mount with Isaac to worship. I do not, however, intend, by this observation, that you are not to endeavour to maintain fellowship with the Almighty in the midst of your daily labour, either in the field or the family. Much of the great secret of personal religion lies in the cultivation of a devotional spirit; the maintenance of a deep and vivid impression of his presence in every place, and in all company. But how is this to be done? Certainly not by never going to God alone. It can only be acquired by much earnest and spiritual communion with Him, abstracted from all secular concerns. And the individual who gathers not his daily bread by this holy means, will soon discover symptoms of spiritual languor and decay. Let, therefore, every day witness your withdrawment for a season to hold fellowship with your Heavenly Father.
Thirdly. The approbation which shall be given: "Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." O the immense value of his approval! What so dear, so desirable, so necessary, or so welcome, in a dying hour? Doubtless, there are many ways in which this promise is fulfilled in the present life. But the reference seems principally to the day of judgment, when the humble and sincere Christian shall be publicly acknowledged as the servant of Christ, and received, with the most transporting acclamation, into the joy of his Lord. May such be our gracious reward.
III. I SHALL NOW STATE A FEW CONSIDERATIONS TO ENGAGE YOU TO THE DISCHARGE OF THIS IMPORTANT DUTY.
First. Observe the divine commandment : “Stand in
awe, and sin not; commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still."* So also our Lord declares, that men ought always to pray and not to faint." So likewise in the text: "And when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and shut thy door." Now, if direction how to perform a duty does not suppose that he who gives it expects it to be done, and that, therefore, our Saviour, having told us how to pray, be no argument to demonstrate the obligation we are under to it, reason appears of little use, and the word of God of no authority. No man who lives without it can be a Christian, according to the Scriptures. It is the description of a hypocrite, that he will not "always call upon God;"+ whereas David, a man after God's own heart, is one that "will call upon him as long as he lives."+ "Behold he prayeth," is the first account we have of St. Paul's conversion; and "Lord Jesus receive my spirit," the last breath of dying Stephen.
Secondly. Let us observe the examples with which we are furnished in the sacred writings. Isaac went forth to meditate at eventide alone; and David abridged the slumbers of the night for communion with his God. The prophets of old retired from scenes of duty, to the recesses of the desert, where they could weep in secret for the pride of their countrymen; or sit alone under the yoke of affliction. It was the stated practice of a Daniel, a Cornelius, and a Peter, thus to go into solitude, and pour forth their desires into the ear of Him "who seeth in secret;" and it was in the solitude of banishment, that the " disciple whom Jesus loved" was permitted to hear the songs of heaven while on earth. In a word, it was the constant practice of our blessed Lord to avail himself of the hours allowed to repose for communion with his Heavenly Father. Sometimes He retired to a mountain,
Psalm. iv. 4.
t Job xxvii. 11.
Psalm cxvi. 2.
and continued all night in prayer; at other times, “He arose a great while before it was day, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.”*
Thirdly. Let me remind you of the necessity of secret prayer. This might be inferred from the circumstance of our Lord giving such plain directions respecting its discharge. But it is more obvious still from the nature of personal religion, and the various scenes through which we are daily passing in our journey to "the better country." It is necessary to be practised, not as an atonement for sin, or as penance for transgression; but as the appointed medium through which supplies of spiritual light and strength are conveyed, and by which we do homage to the perfections and presence of our Father who is in heaven. It is necessary to express our constant dependence upon Him; our belief in his omniscience and omnipresence; that He is "about our path and our bed; and is acquainted with all our ways;"+ and to evince the sincerity of our professions that we are not influenced by motives of secularity or vain glory, but from the cordial desire of giving our hearts to Him, and of being found in his blessed service. It is necessary, as it regards our indigence and weakness. Our wants are continually recurring new and unexpected difficulties and temptations are daily presenting themselves to us; and if we avail not ourselves of the supplies which are derivable by prayer and supplication, both as to the strength and wisdom we require, we shall soon fail. Besides, there are feelings of joys and of sorrows, which we may not disclose to the dearest connection on earth, but which we are encouraged thus to spread before God. In fine, there are sinful imaginations, and many backsliding steps, over which it behoves us to mourn, and to pour out our desires for pardoning mercy;
* Luke vi. 12. Mark i. 35.
+ Psalm cxxxix. iii.
and this can only be done with propriety in the solitude of the closet before Him "who restoreth the soul."
Finally. I will remind you of some of the advantages of private devotion. I say some of the advantages; for they are much too numerous for specification in one branch of a discourse, or even in a whole one. Remember, then, that it has a deep and powerful influence on personal religion, and spiritual prosperity. It is by this holy work that we are armed with "zeal according to knowledge" in the cause of Christ; and that our minds are furnished with grace to meet the contingencies and vicissitudes of this state of pilgrimage. He who is frequent and earnest in his secret applications to the throne of his Heavenly Father, is enabled to repose with confidence on his guidance, and enjoys the peace "which passeth all understanding in his heart." In such spiritual and hallowed engagements, he learns the nature of the world; discovers its vanity and deceit; and becomes fortified, both against its most dangerous enticements on the one hand, and its bitter reproaches on the other. I will appeal to some of my hearers, who cultivate the spirit of private devotion, if they cannot verify, from experience, the language of the prophet: "Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint."*
And it has also an intimate and vital connection with
Isaiah xl. 28-31.
our public usefulness. The consequences of individual prayer, recorded in the Holy Scriptures, are wonderful; they are miraculous. Joshua prayed that the "sun might stand still upon Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon, till the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies," and the Lord hearkened to his voice. Hezekiah prayed, and the Lord added fifteen years to his life. When "Elias prayed earnestly, that it might not rain, it rained not on the earth for three years and six months; and when he prayed again, the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit."+ We expect no miracles in the present day—that age is gone by; but we learn this truth from these examples,—that secret importunity with God is an incalculable benefit, both to ourselves, and the world in general. Are you much with God in secret?— then you find the advantage of it both in the family and the sanctuary. And, like Moses, your face shines when you go abroad to the duties of your calling. You are guarded against its smiles; little disturbed by losses; little elated by gains; and if sudden affliction, or death itself, should seize you, all will be well!
It now only remains that I press the discharge of this duty upon you all. I say upon all; for the work belongs to the most laborious amongst you: none are exempt: and if the moments that are frequently devoted to discourse, worse than unprofitable, were but appropriated to this exercise, every one, however numerous and toilsome his avocations, might find a considerable portion of time for its performance. Be diligent, therefore, in its practice; "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the the spirit; and watch thereunto with all perseverance and supplications for all saints." Let the deep conviction of your secret sins, wants, temptations, and backslidings,