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command by a superior to an inferior, or a familiar discourse as amongst equals :"* therefore let us humbly plead God's will as Abraham did, Gen. xviii. 27. Further consider, the design of prayer is not to incline God before unwilling, to our mind and desire, for with him there is no variableness nor shadow of change ; but that we may obtain of him by prayer what we know before-hand he is willing to give. Lastly, consider Christ's example: Matt. xxvi. 39, “ If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” This is right praying, to ground our petition upon a promise, yet freely to leave all at God's feet, to dispose of us as he sees good. Our prayers and God's promises should point towards each other as intended for correspondence; promises do bend downwards, and to approach them, our prayers must ascend upwards, so will there be a blessed harmony and seasonable return.
4. Place dependance on your Advocate; John xiv. 13, “Whatsoever you ask in my name, that will I do.” To ask any thing in his name, is not rudely, customarily, or by way of compliment to conclude with these words
through Jesus Christ our Lord,” &c. but, in confidence of his merit and intercession, to call upon our heavenly Father, as Daniel pleads, " for the Lord's sake,” Dan. ix. 17. For, since the fall, none can come immediately to God but through a mediator; nor are we to fetch a compass by the groundless invocation of saints and angels. I hope you have otherwise learned Christ. I am most afraid in the practical part, that, in particu
* Hæc representatio debet esse submissa et humilis: alias enim non esset precatio religiosa, à creaturâ subdita ad supremum Numen et Creatorem directa ; sed vel imperium superioris erga inferiorem, vel quasi familiaris collocutio, qualis est inter æquales.-Ames. Medull. Theol. lib. 2. c. 9. p. 251.
lar acts at least, precious souls are in danger to miscarry, especially in closet prayer. When a Christian is alone, and there finds a sweet gale of the blessed Spirit, inclining his heart to mourn for sin, to bewail his misery, to plead for mercy, and to give God the glory due unto his name; () then he goes away much satisfied, and God must needs accept his person and hear his prayer. Why so? Why, he hath found abundant assistance, melting frames, and enlargements. Alas, sirs, where is Christ all this while? I am afraid your advocate is quite forgotten, your surety is set aside as a poor insignificant cipher. And tell me, friend, thou that boastest thus of thy enlargements, darest thou appear before a holy God in those rags ? Suppose thy rags be velvet, they are but rags still, and are too scanty a garment for thy naked soul; thou comest to gain the ear of God and open his heart, in a wrong way; we are accepted only in the Beloved, and not because we are enlarged. It is true, evangelical assistance may be a sign of acceptance, but it is no cause thereof; no, no, our persons and prayers are owned only on account of our surety and intercessor. Our dear Lord Jesus, who died for us, has stationed himself at the court of heaven as our ambassador, to plead for us, and to see matters carried fairly betwixt God and ransomed souls—and shall we not employ our advocate, and find him work ? or shall we think to go our own errand ? Lord, forgive this black ingratitude. 0. Christians, whatever your straitness or enlargements be, make use of him who is at God's right hand ; place your sacrifices on this golden altar; lay the whole stress of your acceptance upon Christ's meritorious intercession; act faith on him who mingles his sweet incense with your poor performances. O look after our Aaron who is gone into the Holy of VOL. III.
holies for us. Consider, friends, it would be a sad thing for you
you were to be judged according to the best secret duties that ever you performed. It is good to have an enlarged heart in secret, yet there is danger in it, and it may undo us, because our foolish hearts are apt to boast of, and trust to our good frames; therefore it is better for us to be sometimes straitened, than constantly enlarged in our closet prayers. This is what hath made some say that their duties have done them more hurt than their infirmities; and the reason is plain, because our corrupt hearts are so apt to depend upon the former, whereas we are daunted and emptied of ourselves by considering the latter. The Lord help us all in this important business of prayer, yea this principal part of our religion, to depend wholly upon the righteousness and intercession of Jesus Christ, for access to, and acceptance with God. Study these Scriptures, John xvi. 23, 24. Eph. iii. 12. Heb. iv. 15, 16. x. 19—22. Phil. iii. 3. The gospel is full of this, yea, this is the main hinge of our religion: you are not Christians unless you acknowledge Jehovah your righteousness in all that you do, as well as make God your ultimate end : you will go away as the proud Pharisee without acceptance, if you plead your enlargements with God: but if you come as the Publican, pleading only God's mercy, and Christ's merits, you shall be owned and crowned with abundant incomes.
There are also several other necessary ingredients in all prayer, which I might urge with reference to this duty of secret prayer; as,
(1.) A right understanding, 1 Cor. xiv. 15, “ I will pray with the understanding;" for blind devotion is not pleasing to God.
(2.) A sensible perception of our wants; we must come
weary and heavy laden, Matt. xi. 28; burdened with the guilt of sin, distressed for want of grace.
(3.) Fervency of spirit, James v. 17, arising from a consideration of the necessity and excellency of what we desire.
(4.) A reverent disposition, Eccl. v. 2; an unfeigned abasing of ourselves before God, from the sense of his infinite majesty and our own unworthiness.
(5.) Secret persuasions of prevailing, 1 Tim. ii. 8. grounded on God's all-sufficiency and fidelity, though we be unworthy.
(6.) A charitable disposition, forgiving others, Matt. vi. 14, and especially having an endeared affection for all saints.
(7.) Perseverance in prayer, holding on without cessation, Eph. vi. 18, following God in the duty all our days.
Such constituent qualities as these are essentially requisite in the duty of prayer.
The Circumstances of Secret Prayer.
THESE circumstances may be a great furtherance or hinderance in this performance. They are four :
Place, posture, season, and voice.
1. With respect to place, I advise you to choose the most retired room, where you may be freest from disturbance, that you may not hear the noise of the family or distracting commotions of a tumultuous world. Be not curious in the choice of a place, if only it accomplish your end for secrecy or retirement ; no matter how homely it be, the sweetness of the company will
compensate for the meanness of the place. If you have not a convenient room within doors, yet a pious heart will not disdain to go and meet its beloved Lord in any cote, or barn, or wood. “ Isaac walked out into the fields to pray and meditate.” See you choose a private place wherever it be, according to the nature of the duty, before opened to you. Observe God's providences in disposing of you, and accept such place as he shall offer.
2. For posture, in general, see that what you adopt be humble. There are examples of several laudable gestures in prayer. Sometimes we find saints standing, ordinarily kneeling, spreading forth their hands, lifting up their eyes towards heaven; sometimes prostrating the body all along upon the earth before the Lord. You may do in this as you find most advantageous in your experience : no invariable rules can be given as to these particular circumstances; only see that your closet prayers be with as much reverence as if you were before others. Consider, your bodies are God's, and must be presented as a sacrifice to God: he will be worshipped with the outward as well as inward man; you cannot, without dangerous sacrilege, rob him of either. Besides, observe it, there are both evidence and assistance in the body's humble gesture; it is a help to make you humble, and it is a sign that you are humble: but, on the contrary, an unsuitable sight and position of the body in God's service, is a sad sign of an unhumbled soul, and prevents humiliation. Therefore though you be never so solitary, yet remember, your Father in heaven sees you ; therefore, as Cyprian exhorts,* let us consider we stand under the view of
• Cogitemus, nos sub conspectu Dei stare; placendum est Divinis oculis, et habitu corporis et modo vocis.-Cyp. Serm. in Orat. Dom. p. 409.