« AnteriorContinuar »
TO THE READER,
Especially to the strict and serious Professor of Christianity.
CHRISTIAN FRIEND, THE
power of godliness is much spoken of, but I am afraid very rarely to be found, even amongst celebrated professors : most content themselves with external visible duties, which formalists may carry on with as much seeming zeal and applause as sincere worshippers. A formal spirit is the disease of the present day: the beams of gospel light in the late noon-tide dispensations, have so far produced an assent to fundamental truths, and the necessity of some practical duties, that it is a shame in some places not to have a form of godliness. Many will be found in the day of accounts orthodox in their judgments, and externally conformable in their practices, yet without a principle of grace in their hearts, or the power of religion in their lives : witness the foolish Virgins. Thousands do finally miscarry besides the grossly profane. Some go to hell with a candle in their hand, Christ's colours in their hats, his word in their mouths, and having the habit of religion: every one is not a saint that looks like one; a well-executed picture makes a fair show, but wants life: a formalist would be amiable indeed, if animated with the truth of grace: but the leaven of hypocrisy spoils many good duties: this was that leaven of the Pharisees, that soured their
prayers, and rendered them distasteful to God: they made religious duties a stage to act their vain-glory upon, their prayers had a thick shell and little kernel. Our Saviour would not have his people like them, Christ's disciples must do some singular thing, more than others; their righteousness must go beyond that of the Scribes and Pharisees: sincerity is the spirit and life which is to run through religion, else it is a body with
out a soul, or clothes without the man: this is the chief drift of our Saviour's teaching, and main design of gospel commands, to render professors sincere and spiritual, approving their hearts to God in evangelical performances. I have many times bewailed the condition of those who are very busy in externals of religion abroad, and are grossly negligent of the main essentials at home. They are like those who are propping up some remote members of their body, while their vitals are wasting in a languishing consumption: they are like a man in a fever, his face and liands burn, but his heart shakes and quivers for cold: these I may
call pepper-professors, hot in the mouth, but cold at the stomach: there are thousands in the world will run many miles to hear a sermon, will countenance the best preachers, will read the Scriptures and good books, will pray in their families, yea keep days of fasting and prayer with others, that yet will not set about heart-work and flesh-displeasing duties, in mortifying beloved lusts, loving, forgiving and praying for enemies,-yea, that will not set themselves solemnly to the duties of meditation, self-examination, and secret prayer; the vessel will not stir except the wind of applause fill the sails; these are like the nightingale in the wood, of which it is recorded, that she sings most sweetly when she thinks any is near her. An hypocrite can pray best when taken notice of by men, you shall seldom see him at work with his heart in a closet: he is of the mind of those carnal persons of Christ's natural kindred, John. vii. 4, who said to Christ, “If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world, for, (saith the text, ver. 5.) neither did his brethren believe in him;" as if he had said, such as perform duties for ostentation, or counsel others to such undertakings as may expose them to public view, declare plainly they want true grace, which makes persons Jews inwardly, “whose circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, whose praise is not of men, but of God,” Rom. ii. 29. The main trade of a Christian is his home-trade, as one saith, which is spent in secret betwixt God and his own soul : here he drives an unknown trade, he is at heaven and home again, richly laden in his thoughts with heavenly melitations bcfore the world knows where he hath been.* The consideration of these things hath engaged me to spend
Gurnal's Christian Armour, ch. 12. sec. 3.
some thoughts on this great and much neglected duty of Closet Prayer; which when I had delivered, and several had got copies thereof, it was judged fit for the press. Some hopes being conceived of its further usefulness, I perused it again and methodized it into this form, and communicated my thoughts to a few concerning the publication of it. A friend informed me that there was a book extant upon the same subject, which I inquired after, and found one of Mr. Brooks' on the same text: that book I looked over, and was ready to think it would save me a labour; but, upon second thoughts, I considered that this might fall into some hands which that would not; that several men writing on the same subject may be useful, and that our method and most of our matter, are different; for I had finished mine before I saw the other, except two or three leaves at the close: besides that, the other is large, this a small piece, and more portable as a pocket book, or vade mecum: let it be then a short Appendix to that excellent piece.
I am heartily glad any of God's servants have set themselves to promote this part of practical piety; it is an excellent design, and I am well assured if Christians were more in their closets with God, their own souls would thrive better, and things would succeed better abroad; Mr. Rogers being silenced from public work, desired his hearers to spend that time they were wont to pass at his lecture in serious prayer and meditation in their closets, and he was confident Satan would be a loser, and their souls gainers by that providence: and this I can affirm, that if persons would spend part of that time in secret prayer they take to run abroad to sermons, they would be better proficients; not but that hearing the word is necessary, and so is this; nor must the one jostle out the other; yea, these secret duties help us to profit by public ordinances. If dung be poured down in heaps in the field it doth no good, it must be spread abroad before it make fruitful ground; the plaister heals not, except it be applied: so the word must be spread on our hearts by serious and secret meditation and application, or else it will never make our souls healthful and fruitful; and then we must pray over it for the showers of divine grace to wash it and work it into our hearts ; many scrmons are lost for want of people taking them home to their closets, and turning them into prayer. I fear
all will be little enough that ministers can preach or write upon this theme; I doubt still, this exercise will be either totally neglected or negligently performed; it is a difficult exercise, the spirit must travail in it, and, saith good Mr. Bains, the saints can endure better to hear an hour than to pray a quarter : yea, our trifling hearts will make any excuse to evade this duty, or shuffle it off, even though it be in exchange for another, a sign the work is of God, and tending much to the soul's good, or else Satan and our corrupt hearts would never so much hinder or oppose it.
Poor soul, it may be thou lookest abroad, and seest much wickedness committed, holiness persecuted, thy God dishonoured, many things out of order, and thou wantest a capacity to bring a remedy: I must therefore say to thee as it is reported Albertus Crantzius said to Luther, when he began to oppose the Pope, * Brother, go into thy cell, and say, God be merciful unto me; so say I. Alas, thy interest and influence reacheth but a little way to reform a wicked world, though thou shouldst seek to proceed as far as thy place and calling extend; but go thy way to God in thy closet, bewail thy sins, and the sins of others ; plead with God for thine own soul; busy thyself about thyself, set all straight at home, take heed of that of which the poor church complains, Cant. i. 6, “ They made me the keeper of the vineyards, but mine own vineyard have I not kept.” Oh leave other things undone, rather than this great matter, which concerns the affairs of thine own soul.
Mr. Fox tells us of one Peter Moyce, a German martyr, † that being called before the synod at Dornick, they began to examine him on certain articles of religion, and when he was about to answer boldly and expressly on every point, they interrupting him, bade him say in one word, either yea or nay. Then said he, if you will not suffer me to answer for myself in things of such importance, send me to my prison again among my toads and frogs, which will not interrupt me while I address my Lord and my God. O Christian, the time may come, or is already come, when men may stop thy mouth, and will not suffer thee to witness a good confession ; withdraw thyself from
* Frater, vade in cellam, et dic, Miserere mei, Deus.
men, and retire unto thy God, who will make thee freely welcome, to pour out thy soul to him in secret: he will neither shut thy mouth, nor stop his ear; he bids thee open thy mouth wide, Psal. lxxxi. 10, and he tells thee, his ear is open to thy cry, Psal. xxxiv. 15. Thou canst not ask such great things as he can and will give, only see thou beest a child of God. Naturalists tell of a precious stone, of an excellent virtue, which loseth all its efficacy when it is put into a dead man's mouth : 80 prayer in the lips of a saint or a righteous man, availeth much; but the prayer of the wicked is not only ineffectual, but abominable to God. See to your state, and then see that you pray aright, for manner, matter, and end ; many ask and receive not, because they ask amiss : above all, my reader, in thy secret addresses to God, take heed of a trifling spirit; thou wilt find most ado with thyself herein ; our giddy spirits are loth to be pent up in the narrow room of a spiritual performance; we love to take our liberty in ranging abroad to a thousand objects ; but Christian, as thou lovest thy peace, thy soul, thy God, look to thy spirit in secret prayer ; do not trifle away thy time upon thy knees, let not thy words freeze as they come from thee, let no discouragements beat thee off: the woman of Canaan, as one saith, takes the bullets that Christ shot at her, and with an humble boldness of faith, sends them back again in prayer; which indeed reached his heart, and prevailed with God for mercy.
However, I shall enlarge no more at present, but refer thee to this small treatise, wherewith I have, according to my poor talent, laid before thee this great duty; what effect it may have I know not, my God knows, in whose hands the blessing of our endeavours lies; get alone and pray over this book, and for the unworthy sinful author, as he desires to do for thee into whose hands this may come; let our prayers daily meet at the throne of grace till our souls meet before the throne of God; if thou receivest any good by this or any other work this poor worm hath handed to thee, ascribe nothing to the instrument, but all to the agent, and efficient, our good God from whom comes every good and perfect gift : disdain not the work for the plainness of the style; it was purposely put in this dress for the general benefit; and if it or myself be exposed to censure for that,