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of these, we are not to conclude that it was wrong to pray in the synagogues; for both our Lord and his disciples mingled with the Jews in their public devotions. We read, indeed, that it was his custom to do so Sabbath-day.* But for a man to go into a crowd, to present a secret or individual address to the Majesty of Heaven, is highly unseemly. And as it regards “the corners of the streets,” that is, the angle of two streets, where all that passed along in either would have an opportunity of seeing them, the practice was, if possible, more censurable and offensive still. But thus it always has been, and ever will be, while the heart is so deceitful and wicked. When men adopt a profession of religion merely for the sake of appearing devout, the exhibition is generally excessive and disgusting.
Secondly. It was equally sinful in its object. It was to be applauded of their fellow-creatures, and to be thought devout by the gazing multitude. Because there were certain hours appointed for public prayer every day, whenever these hours arrived, they would perform their devotions on the very spot where they happened or continued to be. Thus we read of the third, the sixth, and the ninth hour of prayer, answering to nine, twelve, and three o'clock with us. Old and New Testament believers observed these periods; and it would be useful to ourselves to appropriate a portion of time, as often as circumstances will possibly admit, to the same purpose. But here was the error of these stage-players,—the hypocrites” mentioned in the text, that they took care to be in some public place; either the market, the court of justice, or the crowded street, at the return of these seasons. not to suppose that they would stand in the streets to pray rather than offer up their supplications to God in the sanctuary, or their own habitations, without any pretext; but
* Luhe iv. 16.
they availed themselves of the appointment of periodical devotion, to address the Divine Being before men on their own private affairs. The same custom prevails among many classes in the East at the present time. And while it must be admitted, although it is barely possible, that there may be some instances in which it was adopted from principles of real piety; yet in every case it has the appearance of a deliberate contrivance to acquire the vain admiration of beholders. In the case of the Scribes and Pharisees it was wholly so; and was, throughout, a studied scheme of duplicity and fraud.
Thirdly. It was also worthless as to its issue.“ Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” The good opinion of men being all they desire,—this is all they shall have: and if they have obtained it, they ought to be content. There is no reason wherefore they should expect more; seeing they never once thought of God in their addresses, or desired his blessing. And is not such a solemn declaration sufficient to make us watchful against this sin, and lead us to detest such a practice? Miserable exchange indeed !--the favour of God for the unmeaning, and generally pernicious, applause of mortals ! The custom may not be so palpably gross among us; but is there no reason to fear that its spirit exists and reigns in the hearts of those formalists, whose devotion is merely periodical, together with multitudes who affect unnecessary peculiarities of dress and of gesture, both in the house of God and in the world? We condemn not the adoption of any habits which are religiously preferred from conscientious convictions; but there is great danger of being led astray by corrupt motives in all these matters. Let us, therefore, watch over the state of our hearts on this affair: receive with meekness the caution, and faithfully follow the salutary counsel, contained in the text, which I now proceed to consider; namely,
II. THE OPPOSITE METHOD WE ARE COMMANDED TO ADOPT.
“ But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet; and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father, which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall answer thee openly.” As though he had said,—When you offer up private prayers, let them be private indeed. Retire from the crowd without, and the social circle within. Secure yourself against the intrusion of others, that your mind
may be unfettered in its comfessions, thanksgivings, and supplications, Then pour out the desire of your
soul before the footstool of Him“ whose eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good ;” not with loud and lengthened petitions, but as you would speak to a friend who stood by you, and who was well acquainted with all your necessities. And be assured, the sincere request thus presented, will be heard by Him who is emphatically the Hearer of Prayer, and be answered as far as shall be for your good and his glory. From this exposition of the passage, let us notice three things.
First. The hallowed work in which we are to engage. Pray to thy Father.” But what is prayer?
“ It is the application of want to Him who only can relieve it; the voice of sin to Him who alone can pardon it. It is the urgency of poverty - the prostration of humility - the fervency of penitence--the confidence of trust. It is not eloquence, but earnestness ; not the definition of helplessness, but the feeling of it; not figures of speech, but compunction of soul.”*
It is the burthen of a sigh,
The falling of a tear ;
When none but God is near.''
** Mrs. II. More.
You have heard the beggar solicit charity at your door ; the condemned malefactor cry for mercy before his judge; the offending child implore pardon at his father's feet ;this was prayer. Such was the prayer of the publican, when he smote on his breast, and said, “ God be merciful to me a sinner:"-of Peter, when he cried, “Save, Lord, I perish :"-of Bartimeus, when he accosted the Saviour as he was passing by, “ Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy
And these were successful prayers, because they were uttered in the true spirit of contrition and humility. Such likewise was the holy fervour of the pious patriarch at Peniel, when he wrestled with the angel of God: “ And Jacob was left alone : and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. 'And he said, let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he blessed him there." *
Every Christian will find many other holy and necessary duties to blend with his private addresses at the throne of mercy. He will have to inspect the frame of his heart,to review his life,—to examine into his motives and actions,—and to ascertain the complexion of “ the sin that doth so easily beset him ;” and he will find deep occasion from these exercises for profound humility. They will also teach him to lament his sins, and implore strength to overcome them for the future: and the paternal character of the Divine Being, whom he is encouraged to approach, ensures a favourable regard to all his petitions and confessions. There is, however, one thing which we must distinctly remember on this point. I refer to the medium of our access to God :-“ No man cometh to the Father, but by me,” said the Saviour to the Jews. While as Creator, he is to be regarded as our Universal Parent, " in
. Gen. xxxii. 24, 26, 29.
whom we live, and move, and have our being ;" yet, inasmuch as we are sinners against his moral government, we cannot call him Father, but through the mediation of our Elder Brother, who declares himself “ the way, the truth, and the life.” When the spirit of supplication and adoption enters the heart, the stubborn flint is melted into. tenderness and contrition ; but He who smites will also heal—He who wounds will also bind up: He will change the sinner into a saint, and the prodigal into a subdued, pardoned, and recovered child. From this time he draws near unto God as to a Father whom he loves, and thankfully embraces the method of mercy, through the death of his beloved Lord; while once he either overlooked it through ignorance, or despised it through the haughtiness of a miserable infidelity.
Secondly. The place to which we are to retire: “Enter thy closet, and shut thy door.”
The word means any separate apartment or chamber that affords an opportunity for seclusion from the notice of others. A warehouse, a wardrobe, or a barn, if you can make it secure against interruption, is a “closet,” where you may pray unto your Father, and answers to the spirit of the precept. Some have thought that our Lord used a word of such general signification, that no Christian, however humble his rank in life, should be without a convenience for secret worship. Two things are, however, necessary to constitute this retirement. The first is an exclusion of company. Devotion, it has been elegantly said, is fine spirit, which evaporates if it takes air. Not that we are always to be alone. A very large proportion of the duties of religion are to be done abroad. But the text is a general caution against all unnecessary association with the world, and directs us to spend a portion of every day with God. The second is, a withdrawment from secular affairs for the purpose of