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hence it is, that when a child hath any special business with his Father, he takes him aside, or whispers to him, that none may over-hear him: and observe it, God's children have an errand to him that none must know of; as Ehud said to Eglon, “I have a secret errand to thee, O King,” Judg. iii. 19. So a gracious soul may say, O my King, my God, my Father, I have a secret errand to thee: a depraved propensity to confess, or a mercy to beg or bless thee for, of which I would not have others to know. It is not fit any should be privy to that which a gracious soul tells God of: in this case it may be said, “ Discover not thy secret to another,” Prov. xxv. 9. Two may keep counsel, but three cannot : God and a gracious soul will be faithful to each other, but a third must not know of these matters ; nay, in this case we may say, “Keep the doors of thy lips from her that lieth in thy bosom,” Mic. vii. 5. There are many things a saint tells God of, with which he will not 'acquaint either father, or wife or friend, that is as his own soul, but only his heavenly Father; he opens his bosom freely to him, and tells him his whole heart, best and worst; hides nothing from him, because he only knows the heart : and truly I have often in this, admired the wisdom of God, who hath so far consulted his people's credit and modesty as to appoint them place and ways of speaking to him privately, designing secret prayer for this very end, that the soul may spread its case of wants and complaints before its Father, and present its petition to the King of heaven. The spouse of Christ is modest, (saith an ancient) and cannot so freely explain herself to her beloved before others as in secret; here then comes in the use and advantage of closet prayer, that a Christian may, (as Jonathan and David unbosomed themselves to each other alone) open his heart to God
where no eyes see, nor ears hear his secret groans and tears : but further,
2. God will more familiarly communicate himself to the soul in secret: he also hath something to whisper in the believer's ear, that none must know of; and therefore takes him by himself; a lively emblem whereof we have in Joseph making himself known to his brethren, when his bowels were working, “and he could not refrain himself, he cried, cause every man to go out from me. Then he wept aloud, and said I am Joseph.' And O what endeared reciprocal affections did work in all their breasts toward each other! Just thus it is betwixt our Joseph and his brethren, Jesus Christ and his members; there stands none with him while Jesus makes himself known unto his brethren; and though at first they be, as it were, troubled at his presence, yet when he speaks tenderly, and passeth by former unkindnesses, and saith, come near unto me I pray you, then they come near, and he saith convincingly, “ I am Jesus whom ye sold and crucified;" this affects and humbles their obdurate hearts, and being broken he pours oil into their troubled spirits, and speaks many heartreviving words unto them; then, then the child of God hath most sweet refreshing incomes : when God hath allured the soul into the wilderness, he speaks to the heart. A wilderness is a solitary place, where other speech is not heard, as the word imports :t then speaks God to the soul when men cannot speak to it: when men are remote, God is near at hand, yea nearest to help, melt, comfort, and quicken, when men are farthest off: our Saviour saith of himself, John xvi. 32, “You leave me alone, yet I am not alone, for the Father is
Gen. xlv. 1-4. + Hos. ij. 14. 779 Desertum, sic dictum per Antiphrasin quasi locus à sermone remotus.
with me,” as if he had said, when you go away, my Father comes to visit me with most familiar endearings. O blessed exchange! Thus it is often with the saints: when men leave them, or they withdraw from men, they have, many times, most of God: and is it not infinitely better, to have the presence of God, than the company of men ?
What God saith of Abraham, is worth observing, Isa. li. 2, “I called him alone and blessed him." Mark it, when God had drawn Abraham from all his friends, and got him alone, then he blesseth him, and you know what the blessing of Abraham was, even a covenant blessing ; such God distributes to his saints when he hath withdrawn them from company into some sequestered place: this is that which made an ancient profess, that a town was his prison—a solitary place his paradise.* Cities or numerous societies introduce a veil betwixt God and the soul, which solitariness withdraws, and thus many times becomes most sweet: we often lose God in a crowd of business or company, but find him when alone: hence a corner of our house may be a little corner of heaven, and in our closets we may find the sweetest cordials and contentment. You know, friends do most familiarly enjoy one another when others are not present ; Jonathan sent away the lad when he would be familiar with his friend David :t and then they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded. There lies a restraint, as it were, upon God by company, which is taken off in a measure by solitariness. O when God finds a soul alone by itself, having set itself purposely to meet him, then he reveals his love, unveils his face, unlocks his blessed store, distributes doles of love and grace, and sends it not away empty, but full of grace
peace, • Mihi oppidum carcer est, solitudo paradisus.--Hieronym. + 1 Sam. xx. 40, 41.
Thus that word of Solomon is verified, Prov. xiv. 10, “ The heart knoweth his own bitterness, and a stranger intermeddleth not with his joy,” that is, no creature on earth is privy to the secret groans or sweet solace of a retired saint.
God's omniscience and omnipresence.
THIRDLY, A further reason is drawn from the omniscience and omnipresence of God. The text saith, “ Thy Father sees in secret:” and the strength or force of this argument lies in these four particulars :
1. God sees in secret, therefore he takes notice whether thou pray in secret or not: he looks after thee, as it were, when thou goest into such a chamber and solitary place, and saith, that person hath now an opportunity, a convenient place and fit occasion, to wait upon me, and will he not?
Will he be always so busy in other company, that I must have none of his fellowship? Must his converse be so much with men, that he can spare no time for communion with God? nay, will he go so often into such a room to do such and such a business, and can he never find time to go down upon his knees, and address me? Hath he so much to do in the world, that he hath no leisure to look up to heaven ? Do his worldly occasions still thrust out spiritual meditations ? Will he never set himself solemnly in prayer and meditation, to transact betwixt myself and him the most important business of his soul? Ah sirs, the omnipresent God takes notice of all your movements into and out of your chambers, and expects that sometimes at least your souls should wait upon him. And why should Christians frustrate his expectations ?
2. God sees in secret, therefore he hath seen thy secret sins: thy close and closet wickedness is naked and open before the piercing eyes of an all-seeing God; and therefore should thy closet tears and prayers testify thy sound and saving repentance. For this is a rule in practical divinity, that sorrow for sin must bear some proportion to the nature and aggravations of the sin, both as to degree, and circumstances of time and place. Manasseh humbled himself greatly for his great abominations. So for place and manner, they that sin openly must be rebuked before all, and testify their repentance before the church.* So if the sin be private or less known, the rule in Matt. xviii. 15, 16, is to be observed for private admonition and confession: and consequently secret sins must be secretly mourned over. When thy sins are known to none but to God and thine own conscience, thou art not bound, except in some few cases, to discover them to any other but to God, in a hearty secret repentance. Here then come in secret prayer and godly sorrow : well, there are none of us without our secret sins, and God sees them all though never so privately committed; we may hide sin from man, we cannot hide it from the Lord : he sets our secret sins in the light of his countenance, Psalm xc. 8. His eyes are open upon all the ways of man, and he knows all the errors of his life.† Therefore must we get alone and enumerate all the sins we know of, and desire God to shew us what we do not know, and with holy David, breathe out that devout petition, Psalm xix. 12, “ Cleanse thou me from secret faults."
3. God sees in secret, therefore thou dost not lose thy labour, though men know not where thou art, or what thou art doing, yet thy God takes notice of thee: thou dost not thy good works incognito, though thy groans I Tim. v. 20. † Job xxxiv. 21, 22. Jer. xxxii. 19. Prov. v. 21.