The Privy Key of Heaven
(A Discourse of Closet Prayer)
by Thomas Brooks, published during
the awful plague of London in 1665.
"But when you pray, go into your room, close
the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.
Then your Father, who sees what is done in
secret, will reward you." Matthew 6:6
Six objections stated and answered
But many will be ready to object and say, We have much business upon our hands, and we cannot spare time for private prayer; we have so much to do in our shops, and in our warehouses, and abroad with others, that we cannot spare time to wait upon the Lord in our closets.
Now to this objection I shall give these eight answers, that this objection may never have a resurrection more in any of your hearts.
(1.)First, What are all those businesses that are upon your hands, compared to those businesses and weighty affairs, which did lie upon the hands of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Daniel, Elijah, Nehemiah, Peter, Cornelius? and yet you find all these worthies exercising themselves in private prayers. And the king is commanded every day to read some part of God's word, notwithstanding all his great and weighty employments, Deut 17:18-20. Now certainly, sirs, your great businesses are little more than ciphers compared with theirs. And if there were any on earth that might have pleaded an exemption from private prayer, upon the account of business, of much business, of great business, these might have done it; but they were more honest and more noble than to neglect so choice a duty, upon the account of much business. These brave hearts made all their public employments stoop to private prayer; they would never allow their public employments to tread private prayer under foot. But,
(2.)Secondly, I answer, No men's outward affairs did ever more prosper than theirs did, who devoted themselves to private prayer, notwithstanding their many and great worldly employments. Witness the prosperity and outward flourishing estates of Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Nehemiah, David, Daniel, and Cornelius. These were much with God in their closets, and God blessed their blessings to them, Gen 22:17. How did their cups overflow! What signal favors did God heap upon them and theirs! No families have been so prospered, protected, and graced, as theirs who have maintained secret communion with God in a corner, 1 Chron 11:9. Private prayer does best expedite our temporal affairs. He who prays well in his closet, shall be sure to speed well in his shop, or at his plough, or whatever else he turns his hand unto, 1 Tim 4:8. It is true, Abimelech was rich as well as Abraham, and so was Laban rich as well as Jacob, and Saul was a king as well as David, and Julian was an emperor as well as Constantine; but it was only Abraham, Jacob, David, and Constantine, who had their blessings blessed unto them; all the rest had their blessings cursed unto them, Prov 3:33; Mal 2:2. They had many good things—but they had not "the good will of him who dwelt in the bush" with what they had; and therefore all their mercies were but bitter sweets unto them.
Though all the sons of Jacob returned laden from Egypt with grain and money in their sacks—yet Benjamin alone had the silver cup in the mouth of his sack. So though the men of the world have their grain and their money, etc.—yet it is only God's Benjamins who have the silver cup, the grace cup, the cup of blessing, as the apostle calls it, for their portion, 1 Cor 10:16. O sirs! as ever you would prosper and flourish in the world; as ever you would have your water turned into wine, your temporal mercies into spiritual benefits, be much with God in your closets. But,
(3.)Thirdly, I answer, It is ten to one but that the objector every day fools away, or trifles away, or idles away, or sins away—one hour in each day—and why then should he object the lack of time? There are none that toil and moil and busy themselves most in their worldly employments—but do spend an hour or more in a day to little or no purpose, either in gazing about, or in dallying, or toying, or trifling, or in telling of stories, or in busying themselves in other men's matters, or in idle visits, or in smoking the pipe, etc. And why then should not these men redeem an hour's time in a day for private prayer, out of that time which they usually spend so vainly and idly? Can you, notwithstanding all your great worldly employments, find an hour in the day to catch flies in, as Domitian the emperor did? and to play the fool in? and cannot you find an hour in the day to wait on God in your closets?
There were three special faults whereof Cato professed himself to have seriously repented: one was, traveling by water when he might have gone by land; another was, trusting a secret in a woman's bosom; but the main was, spending an hour unprofitably. This heathen will one day rise up in judgment against them who, notwithstanding their great employments, spend many hours in a week unprofitably, and yet cry out that they have so much to do on earth, that they have no time to look up to heaven.
It was a base and sordid spirit in that King Sardanapalus, who spent much of his time among women in knitting and playing cards, which should have been spent in ruling and governing his kingdom. So it is a base sordid spirit in any, to spend any of their time in toying and trifling, and then to cry out, that they have so much business to do in the world, that they have no time for closet-prayer, they have no time to serve God, nor to save their own precious and immortal souls. But,
(4.)Fourthly, I answer, No man dares plead this objection before the Lord Jesus in the great day of account, Eccles 11:9; Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10. And why then should any man be so childish and foolish, so ignorant and impudent to plead that before men, which is not pleadable before the judgment-seat of Christ. O sirs! as you love your souls, and as you would be happy forever, never put off your own consciences nor others' with any pleas, arguments, or objections now, that you dare not own and stand by, when you shall lie upon a dying bed, and when you shall appear before the whole court of heaven, etc. In the great day of account, when the secrets of all hearts shall be made manifest, and God shall call men to a reckoning before angels, men, and devils, for the neglect of private prayer; all guilty people will be found speechless: there will not be a man or woman found, who shall dare to stand up and say, "Lord, I would have waited upon you in my closet—but that I had so much business to do in the world, that I had no time to enjoy secret communion with you in a corner." It is the greatest wisdom in the world, to plead nothing by way of excuse in this our day, that we dare not plead in the great day. But,
(5.)Fifthly, I answer, That it is our duty to redeem time from all our secular businesses for private prayer. All sorts of Christians, whether bond or free, rich or poor, high or low, superiors or inferiors, are expressly charged by God to redeem time for prayer, for private prayer, as well as for other holy exercises: Col 4:2-3, "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains"
But here some may object and say, We have so much business to do in the world that we have no time for prayer. The apostle answers this objection in Col 4:5, "Walk in wisdom towards those who are without, redeeming the time." So Eph 5:16, "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil;" or buying out, or gaining the time. The words are a metaphor taken from merchants, who prefer the least profit that may be gained, before their pleasures or delights, closely following their business while the markets are at best. A merchant when he comes to a mart or fair, takes the first season and opportunity of buying his commodities; he puts it not off to the hazard of an evening, or to the next morning, in hopes to have a better bargain—but he improves the present season, and buys before the market is over.
Others carry the words thus: "Purchase at any rate all occasions and opportunities of doing good, that so you may thereby, in some sort, redeem that precious jewel of time which you have formerly lost." As travelers who have loitered by the way, or stayed long at their inn, when they find night coming upon them, they mend their pace, and go as many miles in an hour as they did before in many. Though time let slip is physically irrecoverable—yet in a moral consideration, it is accounted as regained, when men double their care, diligence, and endeavors to redeem it. The best Christian is he who is the greatest monopolizer of time for private prayer. No Christian can be compared to him who redeems time from his worldly occasions and his lawful comforts and recreations, to be with God in his closet.
David having tasted of the sweetness, goodness, and graciousness of God, cannot keep his bed—but will borrow some time from his sleep, that he might take some turns in paradise, and pour out his soul in prayer and praises, when no eye was open to see him, nor no ear open to hear him—but all were asleep round about him, Psalm 63:6. Psalm 119:62, "At midnight will I arise to give thanks unto you." Psalm 119:147, "I rise before dawn and cry for help. " David was up and at private prayer before daybreak. David was no sluggish Christian, no slothful Christian, no lazy Christian; he was accustomed to be in his closet when others were sleeping in their beds. So Psalm 119:148, "My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises." So Psalm 130:6, "My soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning; I say, more than those who watch for the morning." Look! as the weary sentinel in a dark, cold, wet night, waits and peeps, and peeps and waits for the appearance of the morning; so David did wait and peep, and peep and wait for the first and fittest season to pour out his soul before God in a corner. David would never allow his worldly business to jostle out holy exercises; he would often borrow time from the world for private prayer—but he would never borrow time from private prayer to bestow it upon the world.
Mr. Bradford, the martyr, counted that hour lost wherein he did not some good, either with his pen, tongue, or purse.
Ignatius, when he heard a clock strike, would use to say, "Now I have one hour more to answer for."
So the primitive Christians would redeem some time from their sleep, that they might be with God in their closets, as Clemens observes.
And I have read of Theodosius the emperor, that after the variety of worldly employments relating to his civil affairs in the day time were over, how he was accustomed to consecrate the greatest part of the night to the studying of the Scriptures and private prayer; to which purpose he had a lamp so artificially made, that it supplied itself with oil, that so he might no way be interrupted in his private retirements.
That time ought to be redeemed, is a lesson that has been taught by the very heathens themselves. It was the saying of Pittacus, one of the seven wise men, "Know time, lose not a minute." And so Theophrastus used to say, that "Time is of precious cost." And so Seneca: "Time is the only thing," says he, "that we can innocently be covetous of; and yet there is nothing of which many are more lavishly and profusely wasteful." And Chrestus always counted time so precious, that when he had misspent his time all the day, he would redeem it at night.
When Titus Vespasian, who revenged Christ's blood on Jerusalem, returned victor to Rome, remembering one night as he sat at supper with his friends, that he had done no good that day, he uttered this memorable and praiseworthy apophthegm, "My friends, I have lost a day."
Chilo, one of the seven sages, being asked what was the hardest thing in the world to be done, answered, "To use and employ a man's time well."
Cato held, that an account must be given, not only of our labor—but also of our leisure. And Elian gives this testimony of the Lacedemonian, "that they were hugely covetous of their time, spending it all about necessary things, and allowing no citizen either to be idle or play." And, says another, "We trifle with that which is most precious, and throw away that which is our greatest interest to redeem."
Certainly, these heathens will rise in judgment, not only against Domitian the Roman emperor, who spent much of his time in killing of flies; nor only against Archimedes, who spent his time in drawing lines on the ground when his country was taken captive; nor against Artaxerxes, who spent his time in carving handles for knives; nor only against Solyman the great Turk, who spent his time in making notches of horn for bows; nor only against Eropas, a Macedonian king, who spent his time in making of lanthorns; nor only against Hyrcanus the king of Parthia who spent his time in catching of moles; but also against many Christian professors who, instead of redeeming of precious time, do trifle and fool away much of their precious time at the mirror, the comb, the lute, the violin, the pipe, or at vain sports, and foolish pastimes, or by idle jestings, immoderate sleeping, and superfluous feasting, etc. O sirs! good hours, and blessed opportunities for closet prayer, are merchandise of the highest rate and price; and therefore, whoever has a mind to be rich in grace, and to be high in glory, should buy up that merchandise, they should be still a-redeeming precious time. O sirs! we should redeem time for private prayer out of our eating time, our drinking time, our sleeping time, our buying time, our selling time, our sinning time, our sporting time, rather than neglect our closet communion with God, etc. But,
(6.)Sixthly, I answer, Closet prayer is either a duty or it is no duty. Now that it is a duty, I have so strongly proved, I suppose, that no man nor devil can fairly or honestly deny it to be a duty. And therefore, why do men cry out of their great business? Alas! duty must be done whatever business is left undone; duty must be done, or the man who neglects it will be undone forever. It is a vain thing to object business, when a required duty is to be performed; and, indeed, if the bare objecting of business, of much business, were enough to excuse men from duty, I am afraid that there are but few duties of the gospel—but men would endeavor to evade under a pretense of business, of much business. He who pretends business to evade private prayer, will be as ready to pretend business to evade family prayer; and he who pretends business to evade family prayer, will be as ready to pretend business to evade public prayer.
Well, sirs! remember what became of those who excused themselves out of heaven, by their carnal apologies, and secular businesses: Luke 14:16-24. "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.' Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come." The true reason why they would not come to the supper that the King of kings had invited them to, was not because they had bought farms and oxen—but because their farms and oxen had bought them. The things of the world and their carnal relations had taken up so much room in their hearts and affections, that they had no stomach to heaven's dainties; and therefore it is observable what Christ adds at the end of the parable, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:26,27. By these words, it is evident, that it was not simply the farm nor the oxen, nor the wife—but a foolish, inordinate, carnal love and esteem of these things, above better and greater blessings, that made them refuse the gracious invitation of Christ. They refused the grace and mercy of God offering in the gospel, under a pretense of worldly business; and God peremptorily concludes, that not a man of them should taste of his supper. And indeed what can be more just and righteous, than that they should never so much as taste of spiritual and eternal blessings, who prefer their earthly business before heaven's dainties; who, with the Reubenites, prefer a country commodious for the feeding of their cattle, before an interest in the land of promise.
Private prayer is a work of absolute necessity, both to the bringing of the heart into a good frame, and to the keeping of the heart in a good frame. It is of absolute necessity, both for the discovery of sin, and for the preventing of sin, and for the embittering of sin, and for the weakening of sin, and for the purging away of sin. It is of absolute necessity, both for the discovery of grace, and for a full exercise of grace, and for an eminent increase of grace. It is of absolute necessity to arm us, both against inward and outward temptations, afflictions, and sufferings. It is of absolute necessity to fit us for all other duties and services, etc. For a man to glorify God, to save his own soul, and to further his own everlasting happiness, is a work of the greatest necessity.
Now private prayer is such a work; and therefore why should any man plead business, great business, when a work of such absolute necessity is before him? If a man's child or wife were dangerously sick, or wounded, or near to death, he would never plead, "I have business, I have a great deal of business to do, and therefore I cannot stay with my child, my wife; and I have no time to go or send to the physician," etc. Oh no! but he would rather argue thus: "It is absolutely necessary that I should look after the preservation of the life of my child, my wife, and this I will attend, whatever becomes of my business." O sirs! your souls are of greater concernment to you than the lives of all the wives and children in the world; and therefore these must be attended, these must be saved, whatever business is neglected. But,
(7.)Seventhly, I answer, That God did never appoint or design any man's ordinary, particular calling to thrust private prayer out of door. That it is a great sin for any professor to neglect his particular calling under any religious pretense, is evident enough by these scriptures: Exod 20:9, "Six days shall you labor, and do all your work;" 1 Cor 7:20, "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called;" 2 Thess 3:10-12, "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you disorderly, working not at all—but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread;" 1 Thess 4:11-12, "And that you study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that you may walk honestly toward those who are outside, and that you may have lack of nothing;" Eph 4:28, "But rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him who needs;" 1 Tim 5:8, "But if any provides not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." Yes, our Lord Jesus Christ was a plain downright carpenter, and was laborious in that particular calling until he entered upon the public ministry, as all the ancients do agree, Mark 6:3; Matt 13:55-56. And we read also that all the patriarchs had their particular callings. Abel was a keeper of sheep, Gen 4:2; Noah was a farmer, Gen 5:29; the sons of Jacob were shepherds and keepers of cattle, Gen 46:34, etc.; and all the apostles, before they were called to the work of the ministry, had their particular callings.
By the law of Mahomet, the great Turk himself is bound to exercise some manual trade or occupation.
Solon made a law, that the son should not be bound to relieve his father when old, unless he had set himself in his youth to some occupation. And at Athens, every man gave a yearly account to the magistrate by what trade or course of life he maintained himself, which, if he could not do, he was banished. And it is by all writers condemned as a very great vanity in Dionysius, who would needs be the best poet; and Caligula, who would needs be the best orator; and in Nero, who would needs be the best fiddler; and so became the three worst princes, by minding more other men's business than their own particular calling.
But for a man to evade or neglect private prayer under pretense of his particular calling, is agreeable to no scripture, yes, it is contrary to very many scriptures, as is evident by the many arguments formerly cited. Certainly no man's calling is a calling away from God or godliness. It never entered into the heart of God that our particular callings should ever drive out of doors our general calling of Christianity. Look! as our general calling must not eat up our particular calling, so our particular calling must not eat up our general calling. Certainly our particular calling must give place to our general calling. Did not the woman of Samaria leave her waterpot, and run into the city, and say, "Come, see a man who told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" John 4:28-29. Did not the shepherds leave their flocks in the field, and go to Bethlehem, and declare the good tidings of great joy that they had heard of the angel, namely, "That there was born that day, in the city of David, a Savior, who was Christ the Lord"? Luke 2:8-21. And did not Christ commend Mary for that holy neglect of her particular calling, when she sat at his feet, and heard his word? Luke 10:38, et seq. And what do all these instances show—but that our particular callings must give the right hand to the general calling of Christianity?
Certainly the works of our general calling are far more great and glorious, more eminent and excellent, more high and noble—than the works of our particular callings are; and therefore it is much more tolerable for our general calling to borrow time from our particular calling, than it is for our particular calling to borrow time from our general nailing. Certainly those men are very ignorant or very profane, who either think themselves so closely tied up to follow their particular callings six days in the week, as that they must not intermeddle with any pious services, or who think their particular callings to be a gulf or a grave designed by God to swallow up private prayer in.
God, who is the Lord of time, has reserved some part of our time to himself every day. Though the Jews were commanded to labor six days of the week—yet they were commanded also to offer up morning and evening sacrifice daily, Deut 6:6-8; Exod 29:38-39; Num 28:3. The Jews divided the day into three parts:
The first, time for prayer.
The second, time for the reading of the Scriptures.
And the third, time for the works of their lawful callings.
As bad as the Jews were—yet every day they set a part of the day apart for religious exercises. Certainly they are worse than Jews, who spend all their time about their particular callings, and shut closet-prayer quite out of doors. Certainly that man's soul is in a very ill case, who is so entangled with the incumbrances of the world, that he can spare no time for private prayer. If God is the Lord of your mercies, the Lord of your time, and the Lord of your soul, how can you, with any equity or honor, put off his service under a pretense of much business? That man is lost, that man is cursed, who can find time for anything—but none to meet with God in his closet. That man is doubtless upon the brink of ruin, whose worldly business eats up all thoughts of God, of Christ, of heaven, of eternity, of his soul, and of his soul concernments. But,
(8.)Eighthly, and lastly, I answer, The more worldly business lies upon your hand, the more need have you to keep close to your closet. Much business lays a man open to many sins, and to many snares, and to many temptations. Now, the more sins, snares, and temptations a man's business lays him open to, the more need that man has to be much in private prayer, that his soul may be kept pure from sin, and that his foot may not be taken in the devil's trap, and that he may stand fast in the hour of temptation. Private prayer is so far from being a hindrance to a man's business, that it is the way of ways to bring down a blessing from heaven upon a man's business, Psalm 1:2-3; Psalm 127:1-2; Psalm 128:1-2; as the first fruits that God's people gave to him brought down a blessing from heaven upon all the rest, Deut 26:10-11. Prayer and provender never hinder a journey.
Private prayer is like to Jacob, which brought down a blessing from heaven upon all that Laban had, Gen 30:27,30. Private prayer gives a man a sanctified use, both of all his earthly comforts, and of all his earthly business; and this David and Daniel found by experience: and therefore it was not their great public employments which could take them off from their private duties. Time spent in heavenly employments, is no time lost from worldly business, Deut 28:1-8. Private prayer makes all we take in hand successful. Closet-prayer has made many rich—but it never made any man poor or beggarly in this world.
No man on earth knows what may be the emergencies, or the occurrences of a day: Prov 27:1, "Boast not yourself of tomorrow, for you know not what a day may bring forth." Every day is as it were a great-bellied day; every day is as it were with child of something—but what it will bring forth, whether a cross or a comfort, no man can tell; as while a woman is with child, no man can tell what kind of birth it will be. No man knows what mercies a day may bring forth, no man knows what miseries a day may bring forth; no man knows what good a day may bring forth, no man knows what evil a day may bring forth; no man knows what afflictions a day may bring forth, no man knows what temptations a day may bring forth; no man knows what liberty a day may bring forth, no man knows what bonds a day may bring forth; no man knows what success a day may bring forth, no man knows what failure a day may bring forth; and therefore, a man had need be every day in his closet with God, that he may be prepared and fitted to entertain and improve all the occurrences, successes, and emergencies that may attend him in the course of his life. And let thus much suffice for answer to this first objection. But,
Objection 2.Secondly, Others may object and say, Sir, we grant that private prayer is an indispensable duty which lies upon the people of God; but we are servants, and we have no time that we can call our own, and our master's business is such as will not allow us any time for private prayer, and therefore we hope we may be excused.
Solution (1.)First, The text is all inclusive, and not limited to any sort or rank of people, whether high or low, rich or poor, bond or free, servant or master. "But you, when you pray, enter into your closet; and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in secret." Here are three yous—you, you, you—which are to be understood as all inclusive. You servant as well as you master, you bondman as well as you freeman, you poor man as well as you rich man, you maid as well as you mistress, you child as well as you father, you wife as well as you husband. Private prayer is an indispensable duty, which lies upon all sorts and ranks of people. A man may as well say that that pronoun you, that runs through the ten commandments—Exod 20:3-18, "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make unto you any engraved image. You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Six days shall you labor. You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house, you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maid servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's," etc.—relates to the rich, and not to the poor, to masters and not to servants, to the free and not to those who are in bonds, etc., as he may say, that the three yous in the text relates to the rich and not to the poor, to masters and not to servants, to those who are free but not to those who are bound; but certainly there is no man in his wits that will say so, that will affirm such a thing. Doubtless this pronoun you reaches every man, of whatever rank or place he is in this world. But,
(2.)Secondly, I answer, That the first, the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, and the eighth answers that are given to the first objection, are here very applicable; and oh that all masters and servants were so wise, so serious, and so ingenuous, as to lay all those answers warm on their own hearts! It might be a means to prevent much sin, and to bespeak masters and mistresses to give their pious servants a little more time to lift up their hearts to Christ in a corner. But,
(3.)Thirdly, I answer, If you are a servant that have liberty to choose a new master, you were better remove your station than live under such a master's roof, who is such an enemy to God, to Christ, to true religion, to himself, and to the eternal welfare of your poor soul—as that he will not give you half an hour's time in a day to spend in your chamber, your closet; though the glory of God, the good of his own family, and the everlasting happiness of your own soul, is concerned in it, Psalm 84:10; Psalm 120:5. It is better for you to shift your master, than to neglect your duty: 1 Cor 7:21, Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you--although if you can gain your freedom, do so."
Laban's house was full of idols. Great houses are often so. Jacob's tent was little—but the true worship of God was in it. It is infinitely better to live in Jacob's tent, than in Laban's house. It is best being with such masters where we may have least of sin, and most of God; where we may have the most helps, the best examples, and the choicest encouragements to be holy and happy.
The pious servant should be as careful in the choice of his master, as the pious master is careful in the choice of his servant. Gracious servants are great blessings to the families where they live; and that master may well be called the unhappy master, who will rather part with a gracious servant, than spare him a little time in a day to pour out his soul before the Lord in a corner. But,
(4.)Fourthly, I answer, If you are a gracious servant, then you are spirited and principled by God, to this very purpose, that you may cry, 'Abba, Father!' when you are alone, when you are in a corner, and no eye sees you—but his who sees in secret, Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6; 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Tim 1:14. If you are a gracious servant, then you have received not the spirit of the world—but the Spirit who is of God, 1 Cor 2:12. Now, he who has this tree of life, he has also the fruit that grows upon this tree: Gal 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance," etc. Now, grace is called, not the works of the Spirit—but the fruits of the Spirit.
(1.) Because all grace is derived from the Spirit as the fruit is derived from the root. And,
(2.) To note the pleasantness and delightfulness of grace, for what is more pleasant and delightful than sweet and wholesome fruits? Song 4:16; Song 6:2.
(3.) To note the profit and advantage that does redound to those who have the Spirit; for as many grow rich by the fruits of their gardens and orchards, so many grow rich in grace, in holiness, in comfort, in spiritual experiences, by the fruits of the Spirit. Now why has God given you his Spirit, and why has he laid into your soul a stock of supernatural graces—but that you may be every way qualified, disposed, and fitted for private prayer, and to maintain secret communion with God in a corner?
Certainly God never gave any poor servant a talent of gifts, or a talent of grace—but in order to his driving of a secret trade heavenward.
(5.)Fifthly, I answer, Though king Darius had made a decree that none should ask any petition of any God or man, for thirty days, upon the penalty of being cast into the den of lions—yet Daniel, who was both a subject and a servant to king Darius, and one upon whose hands the chief and greatest affairs of the kingdom did lie, kept up his private devotions. In Dan 6:1-2, you will find that Daniel had abundance of great and weighty employments upon his hands; he was set over the whole affairs of the whole empire of Persia, and he with two other presidents, of whom himself was chief, were to receive the accounts of the whole kingdom from all those hundred and twenty princes, which in the Persian monarchy were employed in all public businesses. And yet, notwithstanding such a multiplicity of business as lay upon his hands, and notwithstanding his servile condition—yet he was very careful to redeem time for private prayer; yes, it is very observable that the heart of Daniel, in the midst of all his mighty businesses, was so much set upon private prayer, upon his secret retirements for religions exercises, that he runs the hazard of losing all his honors, profits, pleasures, yes, and life itself, rather than he would be deprived of convenient time and opportunities to wait upon God in his chamber. Certainly Daniel will one day rise in judgment against all those subjects and servants who think to evade private prayer by their pleas of much business, and of their being servants, etc. But,
(6.)Sixthly, I answer, If you who are gracious servants, notwithstanding your masters' businesses, cannot redeem a little time to wrestle with God in a corner, what singular thing do you do, more than others? Do you hear? So do others. Do you read? So do others. Do you follow your masters to public prayers? So do others. Do you join with your masters in family prayers? So do others. Oh! but now gracious servants should go beyond all other servants in the world, they should do singular things for God: Matt 5:47, What do you do, more than others?" That is, 'What extraordinary thing do you do? What more ordinary than to find servants follow their masters to public prayers and to family prayers? Oh! but now to find poor servants to redeem a little time from their masters' business to pour out their souls before the Lord in a corner—this is not ordinary, yes, this is extraordinary, and this does wonderfully well befit gracious servants. Oh! that all men's servants, who are servants to the most high God, would seriously consider,
[1.] How singularly they are privileged by God above all other servants in the world. They are called, adopted, reconciled, pardoned, justified before the throne of God, which other servants are not, etc., 1 Cor 3:22-23. And why then should not such servants be singular in their services, who are so singular in their privileges?
[2.] Secondly, Gracious servants are made partakers of a more excellent nature than other servants are. 2 Pet 1:4, "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these you might be made partakers of the divine nature." The apostle in this expression does not aim at any essential change and conversion of our substance into the nature of God and Christ—but only at the elevation and dignifying of our nature by Christ. Though that real, that near, that dear, that choice, that mysterious, that peculiar, that singular, union that Christians have with Christ, does raise them up to a higher similitude and likeness of God and Christ; yet it does not introduce any real transmutation, either of our bodies or souls, into the divine nature. It is certain that our union and communion does enjoin our affections, and brings our wills into a league of amity with Christ. To be made partaker of the divine nature notes two things, say some.
First, A fellowship with God in his holiness.
Secondly, A fellowship with God in his blessedness, namely, in the beatifical vision and brightness of glory. To be made "partakers of the divine nature," say others, is to be made partakers of those holy graces, those divine qualities, which sometimes are called, "the image of God, the likeness of God, the life of God," etc., Eph 4:24; Col 3:10, whereby we resemble God, not only as a picture does a man in outward lineaments—but as a child does his father in countenance and nature. Now, take the words which ever way you will, how highly does it concern those servants, who are made partakers of the divine nature, to do singular things for God, to do such things for God, that other servants, who are not partakers of the divine nature, have no mind, no heart, no spirit to do! yes, that they refuse and scorn to do!
[3.] Thirdly, Gracious servants are worthily descended; they have the most illustrious extraction and honorable original, 1 John 5:19; John 3:8; James 2:5.
[4.] Fourthly, Gracious servants are worthily attended, they are nobly guarded; Psalm 34:15; Heb 1:14; Deut 33:26-27; Zech 2:5.
[5.] Fifthly, Gracious servants are worthily dignified; they are dignified with the highest and most honorable titles, 1 Pet 1:2,9; Rev 1:5-6; Rev 5:10.
[6.] Sixthly, Take many things in one: gracious servants have more excellent graces, experiences, comforts, communions, promises, assurances, discoveries, hopes, helps, principles, nourishment, raiment, portion—than all other servants in the world have; and therefore God may well expect better and greater things from them, than from all other servants in the world. God may very well expect that they should do singular things for his glory, who has done such singular things for their good. Certainly God expects that gracious servants should be a-blessing of him, when other servants are a-blaspheming of him; that they should be a-magnifying of him, when other servants are a-debasing of him; that they should be a-redeeming of precious time, when other servants are a-trifling, fooling, playing or sinning away of precious time; that they should be a-weeping in a corner, when other servants are a-sporting and making themselves merry among their jovial companions; that they should be a-mourning in secret, when other servants are a-sinning in secret; and that they should be at their private devotion, when other servants are sleeping and sporting, etc.
Solomon, who was the wisest prince who ever sat upon a throne, and who was guided by an infallible Spirit, has delivered it for a standing maxim above two thousand years ago, "that the righteous is more excellent than his neighbor," Prov 12:26. When Solomon dropped this aphorism from his royal pen, there was not a man in the world that was legally righteous; Adam and all his posterity being fallen from all their honor, glory, dignity, and excellency, into a most woeful gulf of sin and misery; and therefore Solomon must be understood of him who is evangelically righteous, Psalm 14:1-3; Rom 3:9-12; Lam 5:16. He who is evangelically righteous, be he master or servant, rich or poor, bond or free, high or low, is more excellent than his neighbor. And oh that all masters would seriously consider of this, that they may carry it no more so proudly, so loftily, so scornfully, so forwardly, so strangely, so sourly, so bitterly, so rigorously, towards their pious servants, as not to afford them a little time to pour out their souls before the Lord in a corner!
I have read of Ingo, an ancient king of the Draves and Veneds, who, making a stately feast, appointed all his pagan nobles to sit in the hall below; and at the same time commanded certain poor Christians to be brought up into his presence-chamber, to sit with him at his table, that they might eat of his kingly cheer; at which many wondering, he told them, that he accounted Christians, though never so poor, a greater ornament at his table, and more worthy of his company, than the greatest nobles that were not converted to the Christian faith; for says he, when these pagan nobles shall he thrust down to hell, these poor Christians shall be my consorts and fellow-princes in heaven. Certainly, this noble prince will one day rise in judgment against all sour, churlish Labans, who behave so harshly and so severely towards their gracious servants, as that they will not allow them a little time to wait upon God in private devotions, Eph 6:9.
Why should not gracious masters give their gracious servants a little time for closet prayer now, considering that they are sharers with them in all the fundamental good which comes by Christ in this world; and considering that they shall be partakers with them in all the glory of another world? The poorest servant in a family has a soul more precious than heaven and earth; and the greatest work that lies upon his hand in this world, is to look to the eternal safety and security of that: for if his soul is safe, all is safe; if that is well, all is well; but if that is lost, all is lost. Every gracious servant, though he be ever so poor and illiterate—yet has he the image of God, the image of the King of kings stamped upon him; and woe to him who shall wrong, or despise, or trample upon that image! Certainly, God himself is wronged by the injury which is done to his image. The contempt and despite which is done to the image of a king, is done to the king himself; and accordingly he will revenge it.
If it was a capital crime in Tiberius his days, to carry the image of Augustus upon a ring or coin into any sordid place; what crime must it be in those masters who despise, revile, reproach, scorn, abuse, and tread under foot, such servants as have the image of the great God stamped upon their souls, and all because they look Godward, Christ-ward, heavenward, holiness-ward, duty-ward? Masters should never ridicule their servants, for their inferiority, poverty, misery, low parentage, or servile condition; but remember that these things are more the Creator's pleasure than the servant's fault, and that that God who has made the master rich and the servant poor, can as quickly make the master poor and the servant rich, Prov 22:2; Prov 17:5. God many times puts down the mighty from their seats, and exalts those of low degree, Luke 1:52. Certainly, no master nor mistress should dare to insult or gloat over such servants as have souls as noble as their own; but they should seriously and frequently consider of Solomon's aphorism, "The righteous, though a servant," though the lowest among all the servants, "is more excellent than his neighbor," and accordingly give them a little time and liberty to converse with God in secret.
And oh, that all gracious servants would discover themselves to be more excellent than their neighbors, by making more conscience of private prayer than their neighbors do, and by being more in their closets than their neighbors are, and by delighting themselves in their secret retirements more than their neighbors will, and by redeeming some time for God, for their souls, and for eternity, more than their neighbors do. But,
(7.)Seventhly, I answer, That God alone, is the Lord of time. [Hab 2:8; Dan 11:27,29,35; Job 7:1; Psalm 102:13; Eccles 3:1; Dan 2:21; Isa 60:22; Job 14:14] Time is more the Lord's than it is your master's; and therefore it is no neglecting of your master's business, to take a little time daily for private prayer. Times do belong to God's providence; and as God is the God of our mercies, so he is the Lord of our times: "My times are in your hands," says David, Psalm 31:15. Not only the times of his sorrows—but also the times of his comforts; not only the times of his miseries—but also the times of his mercies; not only the times of his dangers—but also the times of his duties, were in the hands of God.
It is observable the Psalmist does not say time—but times, in the plural, to show that every point and period of time depends upon the hand of God.
That servant that borrows a little time every day to seek the face of God in a corner, borrows it rather of God than of his master; and therefore why should his master swell, or rage, or complain, considering that God never made him Lord of time? But,
(8.)Eighthly, I answer, That servants should rather redeem time from their sleep, their recreations, their daily meals—than neglect closet-duty a day. And certainly those servants that, out of conscience towards God, and out of a due regard to the internal and eternal welfare of their own souls, shall every day redeem an hour's time from their sleep, or sports, or meals, to spend with God in secret, they shall find by experience that the Lord will make a few hours' sleep sweeter and better than many hours' sleep to them; and their outward sports shall be made up with inward delights; and for their common bread, God will feed them with that bread which came down from heaven.
Sirs, was not Christ his Father's servant? Isa 42:1. "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my elect (or choice one), in whom my soul delights" (or is well pleased)! "I have put my Spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles." And did not he redeem time from his natural rest, rather than he would omit private prayer? Mark 1:35, "And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed." Christ spent the day in preaching, in healing the sick, in working of miracles; and rather than these noble works should shut out private prayer, he rises a great while before day, that he might have some time to wrestle with his Father in secret. So Luke 6:12, "And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God." O sirs! did Christ spend whole nights in private prayer for the salvation of your souls; and will you think it much to redeem an hour's time from your natural rest to seek and to serve him in a corner, and to make sure the things of your everlasting peace?
The redeeming of time for private prayer is the redeeming of a precious treasure, which, if once lost, can never fully be recovered again. If riches should make themselves wings, and fly away, they may return again, as they did to Job; or if credit, and honor, and worldly greatness and renown, should fly away, they may return again, as they did to Nebuchadnezzar; if success, and famous victories and conquests, should make themselves wings, and fly away, they may return again, as they did to many of the Roman conquerors and others; but if time, whom the poets paint with wings, to show the volubility and swiftness of it, fly from us, it will never more return unto us!
Queen Elizabeth, on her dying bed cried out, "Call time again, call time again; a world of wealth for an inch of time!" but time past was never, nor could never be recalled.
The Egyptians drew the picture of time with three heads.
The first was of a greedy wolf gaping for time past, because it has ravenously devoured even the memory of so many things past recalling.
The second of a crowned lion roaring for time present, because it has the principality of all action, for which it calls aloud.
And the third was of a deceitful dog, fawning for time to come, because it feeds fond men with many flattering hopes, to their eternal undoing. Oh that all this might prevail with servants to redeem time for private prayer! And if my counsel might take place, I should rather advise servants to redeem some time for private prayer from their sleep or lawful recreations, or set meals, etc., than to spend in private prayer that time which their masters call their time, especially if their masters be unconverted, and in "the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity;" and that for these five reasons.
[1.] First, Because this may be a means to prevent much sin on the master's side. Masters that are in their unregenerate estate are very apt to storm, and let fly against God, and Christ, and true religion, etc., when they see their servants spend that time in private prayer, or in any other pious exercise, which, according to their understanding, is their time, and ought to be wholly spent in following their businesses. Now gracious servants should have that honorable respect, and that tender affection, and that Christian compassion to their masters' souls—as to do to the utmost all that lies in them to prevent their masters from contracting guilt upon their souls, or from making work for repentance, for hell.
The Persians, the Turks, and many Indians are so compassionate, that they erect hospitals not only for lame and diseased men—but also for birds, beasts, and dogs that are either aged, starved, or hurt. Oh then, what tender compassions should gracious servants exercise towards their masters' souls, which are jewels more worth than heaven and earth! But,
[2.] Secondly, Because this may be a means to convince the judgments and consciences of their masters, that there is some worth, some excellency, some sweetness, etc., to be found in private prayer, and in other closet-duties; for when masters shall observe their servants to redeem time for closet duties, from their very sleep, recreations, dinners, suppers, they will be ready to conclude, that certainly there is more worth, more goodness, more sweetness, more excellency, more glory, more gain in closet duties, than ever they have understood, felt, or experienced, etc., and that their very poor servants are better and more righteous than themselves. Sozomen reports, that the devout life of a poor captive Christian woman, made a king and all his family embrace the faith of Jesus Christ. Godly lives convince more than miracles themselves.
I have read of one Pachomius, a soldier under Constantine the emperor, how that his army being almost starved for want of necessary provision, he came to a city of Christians, and they of their own charity relieved them speedily and freely; he wondering at their free and noble charity, inquired what kind of people they were whom he saw so bountiful? It was answered that they were Christians, whose profession it is to hurt no man, and do good to every man. Hereupon Pachomius, convinced of the excellency of this religion, threw away his weapons, and became a Christian, a saint. Look as husbands sometimes are won by the lives of their wives without the word, 1 Pet 3:1-2; so masters may sometimes be won by the gracious carriage and lives of their servants, without the word. The servant's redeeming of time for private duties, upon the hardest and severest terms, may be so blessed to the master, that it may issue in his conviction, conversion, and salvation. There is a perhaps for it; and a very perhaps should be a sufficient encouragement for every gracious servant to do all he can to save the soul of his master from going down into the infernal pit. But,
[3.] Thirdly, Because the servant's redeeming of time from his sleep, recreations, meals, for private prayer, will most clearly and abundantly evidence the singular love, the great delight, and the high esteem that he has of private prayer. We say those children love their books well, and delight much in learning, who will be at their books when others are gone to their beds, and who will be at their books before others can get out of their beds. Certainly they love private prayer well, and they delight much in closet communion with God, who will be a-praying when others are a-sleeping, and who will be a-dressing their souls before God in a corner, before their mistress is a-dressing of herself at the mirror, or their fellow servants a-dressing themselves in the shop. But,
[4.] Fourthly, Because the servant's redeeming of time for private prayer, from his sleep, set meals, recreations, etc., may be of most use to other fellow servants, both to awaken them, and to convince them that the things of true religion are of the greatest and highest importance, and that there is no trade, or pleasure, or profit, compared to that private trade which is driven between God and a man's own soul; and also to keep them from trifling, or fooling away of that time, which is truly and properly their masters' time, and by the royal law of heaven ought to be spent solely and wholly in their service and business. For what sincere servant is there in the world but will argue thus? I see that such and such of my fellow servants will redeem time for private prayer, and for other closet-services, from their very sleep, meals, recreations, etc.; rather than they will borrow, or steal that time which my master says is his, etc.; and why then should I be so foolish, so brutish, so mad, to trifle, or idle, or play, or toy away that time which should be spent in my master's service, and for my master's advantage? But,
[5.] Fifthly, and lastly, Because the servant's redeeming of time for private prayer from his sleep, his meals, his recreations, etc., cannot but be infinitely pleasing to God; and that which will afford him most comfort when he comes to die. The more any poor heart acts contrary to flesh and blood, the more he pleases God; the more any poor heart denies himself, the more he pleases God; the more any poor heart acts against the stream of sinful examples, the more he pleases God; the more difficulties and discouragements a poor heart meets with in the discharge of his duty, the more love he shows to God; and the more love a poor heart shows to God, the more he pleases God: Jer 2:2-3, "I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them." God was very highly pleased and greatly delighted with the singular love and choice affections of his people towards him, when they followed after him, and kept close to him, in that tedious and difficult passage through the waste, howling wilderness.
How all these things do weigh with that poor pious servant who redeems time for private prayer upon the hardest terms imaginable, I shall leave the sincere reader to judge. And certainly, upon a dying bed, no tongue can express, nor heart conceive—but he who feels it, the unspeakable comfort that closet-duties will afford to him who has been exercised in them, upon those hard terms that are under present consideration. But,
(9.)Ninthly, I answer, If you are a gracious servant, then the near and dear relationship which is between God and you, and the choice privileges that you are savingly interested in—calls aloud for private prayer, John 8:32-33,36. As you are your Master's servant, so you are the Lord's freeman: 1 Cor 7:22-23, "For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men"—either when they command you things forbidden by Christ, or forbid you things commanded by Christ; or when they would exercise a dominion over your faith, or a lordship over your consciences. Do not allow yourselves in spiritual things, to be brought into such bondage by any men or masters in the world, as not to use that freedom and liberty that Christ has purchased for you with his dearest blood, Gal 5:1; Col 2:20; Gal 2:4.
No servants are to serve their masters in opposition to Christ; nor are any servants to serve their masters as spiritual masters; nor are any servants to serve their masters as supreme masters—but as subordinate masters, Eph 6:5-7. And as every gracious servant is the Lord's freeman, so every gracious servant is the Lord's friend, Isa 41:8; James 2:23; John 15:13-15. And as every gracious servant is the Lord's friend, so every gracious servant is the Lord's son, Gal 4:5-6; Rom 8:16. And as every gracious servant is the Lord's son, so every gracious servant is the Lord's spouse, Hos 2:19-20; 2 Cor 11:2.
And now I appeal to the consciences of all who have tasted that the Lord is gracious, whether the near and dear relationship which is between the Lord and pious servants does not call aloud upon them to take all opportunities and advantages that possibly they can, to pour out their souls before the Lord in secret, and to acquaint him in a corner with all their secret wants, and weaknesses, and wishes, etc.
And as gracious servants are thus nearly and dearly related to God, so gracious servants are very highly privileged by God. Gracious servants are as much freed from the reign of sin, the dominion of sin, and the damnatory power of sin, as gracious masters are, Rom 6:14. Gracious servants are as much freed from hell, from the curse of the law, and from the wrath of God, as their gracious masters are, Rom 8:1. Gracious servants are as much adopted, as much reconciled, as much pardoned, as much justified, and as much redeemed, as their gracious masters are, Gal 3:13. Gracious servants are as much heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, as their gracious masters are. [1 Thess 1:10; Col 3:11; Gal 5:6; Rom 8:17; Gal 6:14; 1 Pet 2:9] Gracious servants are as much a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, called out of darkness into his marvelous light, as their gracious masters are. And therefore they being all alike interested in all these great and glorious privileges which belong to saints as saints, they are, without all question, alike obliged and engaged to all those duties which lies upon saints as saints, among which private prayer is one; and therefore they are to buckle to this duty against all carnal reasons and objections whatever. But,
(10.)Tenthly, and lastly, I answer, that the promised reward in the text lies as fair and as open to the servant as to the master, to the bond as to the free, to the peasant as to the prince. Whoever prays to his heavenly Father in secret, be he high or low, rich or poor, honorable or lowly, servant or master—he shall receive an open reward. The reward in the text is not to be confined or limited to this or that sort or rank of men—but it is to be extended to all ranks and sorts of men that make conscience of private prayer, of closet duties. So Eph 6:5-8, "Servants, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free." Col 3:22-24, "Servants, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
Such servants as serve their masters faithfully, cordially, and in singleness of spirit, shall receive the reward of grace and the reward of the inheritance. The lowest servant who is faithful in the service of his master, shall for a recompense receive the eternal inheritance, Rom 8:15-17. The recompense of reward in the scripture last cited is not of merit—but of mere grace, because the inheritance belongs only to children upon the account of their birth or adoption. Faithful servants shall be made sons of God, and so enjoy the heavenly inheritance. Christ is so noble a master, that he will not allow any service which has been performed to men out of conscience to his command, to pass unrewarded. Oh how much more will he recompense pious servants for those spiritual services that they perform for his sake, for his glory? God is so liberal a paymaster, that no man shall so much as shut the door, or kindle a fire upon his altar, or give a cup of cold water—one of the least, readiest, and lowest refreshments that be—but he shall be rewarded, Mal 1:10; Matt 10:42.
It is an excellent observation of Calvin, upon God's rewarding of the Rechabites' obedience, Jer 35:19, "God," says he, "often recompenses the shadows and seeming appearances of virtue, to show that delight which he takes in the ample rewards that he has reserved for true and sincere piety." Nebuchadnezzar, though a tyrant—yet being engaged in God's service against Tyre, he shall have Egypt as his pay, for his pains at Tyre, Ezek 29:18-20. It is an ancient slur and slander that has been cast upon God, as if he were an austere master, an illiberal Lord, and as if there were nothing to be gotten in his service but knocks, blows, wounds, crosses, losses, etc.; whereas he is a rewarder, not only of those who diligently seek him—but even of the very worst of men who do any service for him, Heb 11:6.
How much will the King of kings reward all those poor pious servants of his, who do not only give to him in his members cups of cold water—but do also redeem time from their very rest, meals, and recreations, that they may have some time to seek the face of God in a corner. Certainly, there shall not be a sigh, a groan, a prayer, a tear let fall by a poor servant in a corner, which shall not be at last regarded and rewarded by the great God. Lyra says, that Mordecai waited six years, before his good service was rewarded by king Ahasuerus. It may be God may reward you sooner for all your closet services; but if he does not reward you sooner, he will certainly reward you better, he will reward you with higher honors, with greater dignities, with more glorious robes, and with a more royal crown, even an incorruptible crown, a crown of righteousness, a crown of life, a crown of glory, 1 Cor 9:29; 2 Tim 4:8; Rev 2:10; James 1:12; 1 Pet 5:4. And therefore hold on and hold out in your secret retirements. Though some may deride you, and others revile you, and your carnal masters discourage you—yet God is faithful and will certainly reward you; yes, he will openly reward you for all the secret pourings out of your souls in his bosom. But,
Objection 3.Some may further object and say, Oh but we cannot pray alone; we lack those gifts and endowments which others have; we are shut up and know not how to pour out our souls before God in a corner; we would willingly pray—but we lack ability to pour out our souls before the Lord in secret, etc.
Solution 1.God's dearest children may sometimes be shut up; they may with Zacharias, for a time, be struck dumb, and not able to speak, Luke 1:20; Psalm 77:4. "I am so troubled that I cannot speak," Psalm 38:9. "Lord, all my desire is before you: and my groaning is not hid from you." God's dearest children have sometimes been so shut up, that they have been able to say nothing, nor to do anything but groan. A child of God may sometimes meet with such a blow from God, from conscience, from Scripture, from Satan, from the world, that may for a time so astonish him, that he may not be able to speak to God, nor speak to others, nor speak to his own heart. Look! as the Holy Spirit is not always a teaching Spirit, nor always a leading Spirit, nor always a comforting Spirit, nor always a sealing Spirit, nor always a witnessing Spirit, nor always an assuring Spirit to any of the saints; so he is not always a supplicating Spirit in any of the saints. When he is grieved, vexed, quenched, provoked—he may suspend his gracious influences, and deny the soul his assistance; and what can a Christian then say or do? But,
[2.]Secondly, I answer, You cannot pray; but can you not sigh? can you not groan? There may be the Spirit of adoption in sighs and groans, as well as in vocal prayer, Rom 8:26. The force, the virtue, the efficacy, the excellency of prayer does not consist in the number and flourish of words—but in the supernatural motions of the Spirit, in sighs, and groans, and pangs, and strong affections of heart, which are unspeakable and unutterable. Certainly, the very soul of prayer lies in the pouring out of a man's soul before the Lord, though it be but in sighs, groans, and tears, 1 Sam 1:13-19. One sigh and groan from a broken heart, is better pleasing to God, than all human eloquence. But,
[3.] Thirdly, I answer, Beg of God to teach you to pray. Oh beg the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of prayer. God has promised his Holy Spirit to those who ask, Luke 11:13. "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Ezek 36:26-27. "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." Ezek 11:19. "And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh," Zech 12:10. "I will pour upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and supplication."
Now gracious promises are God's pledges, and he loves to see his people put them to use. God expects that we should be his remembrancers, and that we should pray over his promises, Isa 62:6-7; Isa 42:25-26. When he had promised great things to his people concerning justification, sanctification, and preservation; he subjoins, "Yet, I will for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it," Ezek 36:37. God looks that we should spread his gracious promises before him, as Hezekiah did Sennacherib's letter, Isa 37:14. God is never better pleased than when his people importune him in his own words, and urge him with arguments taken from his own promises. Though God is a very affectionate father, and a very liberal father—yet he is not a wasteful father, for he will never throw away his mercies on such as will not stoutly and humbly plead out his promises with him. God loves to be sought unto, both for his giving of mercies, and for his making good of precious promises.
You say you can not pray; why! can you not go into a corner, and spread the promises last cited before the Lord, and tell him how much it concerns his honor and glory, as well as your own internal and eternal good, to make good those gracious promises that he has made concerning his giving of his Spirit to those who ask him, and his putting his Spirit within them, and his pouring out a Spirit of grace and supplication upon them?
We read of Tamar, Gen 38:18,25, that when Judah her father-in-law lay with her, she took as a pledge his signet, bracelets, and staff; and afterwards, when she was in great distress, and ready to be burnt as an harlot, she then brought out her staff, and signet, and bracelets, and said, "By the man whose these are, am I with child," and thereby she saved her life. The promises of God are as so many rich mines, they are as so many choice flowers of paradise, they are the food, life, and strength of the soul. They are as a staff to support the soul, and they are as jewelry to adorn the soul, and nourishment to enrich the soul; and therefore poor sinners should bring them forth, and lay them before the Lord, and urge God with them, there being no way on earth to save a man's soul, and to prevent a burning in hell, like pleading the promises. Concerning precious promises, let me give you these eight hints.
[1.] First, That they are truly propounded and stated by God, Mark 10:30.
[2.] Secondly, That they shall certainly be performed, 2 Cor 1:20, they being all made in and through Christ. They are made first to Christ, and then to all who have union and communion with him.
Sirtorius, says Plutarch, paid what he promised with mere fair words; but God pays with performance. Men many times say and unsay; they often eat their words as soon as they have spoken them; but God will never eat the words that are gone out of his mouth: Isa 46:10-11, "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: yes, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass: I have purposed it, I will also do it."
[3.] Thirdly, That they all issue from free grace, from special love, from divine goodness, Hos 14:4.
[4.] Fourthly, That they are all as unchangeable as he is, who made them, Jer 31:3.
[5.] Fifthly, That they are all bottomed and founded upon the truth, faithfulness, and all-sufficiency of God, Mal 3:6.
[6.] Sixthly, That they are pledges of great things that God will do for his people in time, Heb 13:5.
[7.] Seventhly, That they are most sure and certain evidences of divine favor, and a declaration of the heart and goodwill of God to his poor people, Heb 6:12; Num 23:19.
[8.] Eighthly, That they are the price of Christ's blood.
Now how should all these things encourage poor souls to be still a-pressing of God with his promises. But,
[4.] Fourthly, You say you cannot pray, etc. Oh that you would leave off objecting, and fall upon praying. If you cannot pray as you would, nor as you should, pray as well as you can. Joseph's brethren stood so long dallying, and delaying, and trifling out the time, that, having a journey to go to buy grain, they might have bought and returned twice before they went and bought once. When Elijah called Elisha, he must first go bid his father and mother farewell, before he could follow the prophet, 1 Kings 19:20. O friends! take heed of dallying, delaying, trifling, and going about the bush, when you should be a-falling upon the work of prayer. What though with Hannah you can but weep out a prayer, or with Moses stammer out a prayer, or with Hezekiah chatter out a prayer—yet do as well as you can, and you shall find acceptance with God: 2 Cor 8:12, "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man has, and not according to that he has not."
The publican's prayer had not much rhetoric or eloquence in it, "God be merciful to me a sinner," Luke 18:13, and yet God accepted it. He prayed much, though he spoke little, and God did not turn a deaf ear upon him. That God who once accepted a handful of meal for a sacrifice, and a grip of goat's hair for an oblation, and the poor widow's two mites—as if they had been two million; will certainly accept of what you are able to do, though you do fall short, yes, much short, of what you ought to do, Lev 2:1-2, and Lev 6:15; Luke 21:3. "Lord," says Luther, "you command me to pray. I cannot pray as I would—yet I will obey; for though my prayer is not acceptable—yet your own commandment is acceptable to you." If weak Christians would but put forth in prayer that little strength they have, God would quickly renew their spiritual strength; he would certainly carry them on from strength to strength; he would still, by secret assistances and secret influences, help them on in their heavenly trade, Isa 49:20-22; Psalm 84:7.
As a loving and caring father will take his little child in his arms, and carry him on in his way homeward, when his strength begins to fail him, and he can walk no further, and the way proves dirty, slippery, or uneven; so does God by his: Hos 11:3, "I taught Ephraim also to walk" (as a nurse does the infant), "taking them by their arm." When God's poor children come to a foul way, or a rough place, he takes them up in his own arms, and helps them over the quagmire of crosses, and the difficulties of duties, and over all that straitness, and narrowness, and weakness of spirit which attends them in their closet performances.
It is observable, that when the king of Israel was to shoot the arrow, he did put his hand upon the bow, and Elisha did put his hand upon the king's hand, 2 Kings 13:16. So when we go into our closets, we are to put up our hand, and then the Spirit of God likewise will put his hand upon our hand, he will put his strength to our strength, or rather to our weakness: Rom 8:26, "Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities." The Greek word properly signifies such a help, as when another man of strength and ability steps in to sustain the burden which lies upon our shoulders, be it a log, or a piece of timber, setting his shoulders under it, to lift up, and bear part of it with us; or to help us as the nurse helps her little child, upholding it by the sleeve. When a poor Christian sets himself to closet prayer, or to mourn, or to believe, or to obey, etc.; then the Spirit comes in with new help, and new influences, and new assistances, and so carries him on in all these noble services.
That child that does but stammer at first, in time will speak plainly and fluently. Oh how many Christians are there, who now can pray with much freedom, liberty, and fluency, who at first could only sigh out a prayer, or stammer out a prayer, or weep out a prayer! You say you cannot pray—but did you but stir up yourself to obey that command, Matt 6:6, as well as you can, you do not know but that a power may go forth with the command, that may enable you to act suitable to the command. In Matt 9:1-9, Christ bid the palsied man rise and walk: "Take up your bed, and go unto your house." The palsy man might have objected, "Alas! I am carried by four men, I am not able to stir a limb, much less to rise—but least of all to take up my bed and walk, etc." Oh but he rouses up himself as well as he could, and a power went forth with the command, which enabled him to do what was commanded.
So in Matthew 12:10-14, there was a poor man who had a withered hand, and Christ commands him to stretch forth his hand; he might have replied, "My hand is withered, and if I might be given a million worlds to stretch it forth, I could not stretch it forth; yes, if my very life, if my very salvation did lie upon stretching forth my withered arm, I could not stretch it forth." Oh! but he throws by all such pleas, and complies with Christ's command as well as he could, and a power went forth and healed his hand.
O sirs! if you would but pray in your closets as well as you can, you do not know but that such a power and virtue might flow from Christ into your hearts, as might carry you on in your closet-duties, beyond expectation, even to admiration; others have found it so, and why not you, why not you? Well! remember, that God is no curious nor critical observer of the poor expressions which fall from his poor children when they are in their closet-duties; he is such a Father as is very well pleased with the broken expressions and flawed stammerings of his people when they pray. It is not a flood of words, nor studied notions, nor seraphical expressions, nor elegant phrases in prayer—which takes the ear, or which delights the heart of God, or which opens the gates of glory, or which brings down the best of blessings upon the soul; but uprightness, holiness, heavenliness, spiritualness, and brokenness of heart: these are the things that make a conquest upon God, and bring most benefit to the soul. But,
(5.)Fifthly, You say you cannot pray—but if you are a child of God, you have the Spirit of God—and the Spirit of God is a Spirit of prayer and supplication. That all the children of God have the Spirit of God is most evident in the blessed Scriptures. Take these for a taste: Zech 12:10, "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and supplication." Rom 8:15, "You have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." 1 Cor 2:12, "We have received, not the spirit of the world—but the Spirit who is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." 1 Thess 4:8, "Who has given unto us his Holy Spirit." 1 John 3:4, "Hereby we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us." 1 John 4:13, "Hereby we know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit."
That all the children of God have the Spirit of God, may be further made evident by an induction of these seven particulars.
[1.] First, They are all SANCTIFIED by the Spirit: 1 Cor 6:11, "You are sanctified by the Spirit of our God." I do not say, that they are all equally sanctified by the Spirit—but I say they are all really sanctified by the Spirit. Though all the servants of Christ have their talents—yet all have not their ten talents, nor all have not their five talents, nor all have not their two talents; some have only their one talent, Matt 25:15. Though Benjamin's portion was five times as much as his brethren's portion—yet everyone of his brethren had their portion, Gen 43:32-34. So, though some Christians have five times more measure of the Spirit, and greater measures of light, of love, of holiness, of heavenly-mindedness, etc., than others have—yet every Christian has some measure of the Spirit, and some measure of grace and holiness, etc. Though some are babes in Christ, and others are children in Christ, though some are young men in Christ, and others old men in Christ—yet everyone of them is born of the Spirit of Christ, 1 Pet 2:2; 1 John 2:12-14; John 3:8. Though none of the people of God in this life have the Spirit in perfection—yet every one of them have so much of the Spirit as will bring him to salvation. Every Christian has so much of the Spirit as will bring Christ and his soul together; and therefore without any question, every Christian has so much of the Spirit, as will at last bring heaven and his soul together.
[2.] Secondly, They are all LED by the Spirit: Rom 8:14, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God." Every child of God has a twofold guide: the word without, and the Spirit within, Isa 30:20-21. How the Spirit leads by the rule of the word, and how he leads to God, and leads to Christ, and leads to truth, and leads to righteousness, and leads to holiness, and leads to happiness, I shall not now undertake to show, Prov 6:22; Eph 5:9.
[3.] Thirdly, They are all UPHELD and STRENGTHENED by the Spirit: Psalm 51:12, "Uphold me with your free Spirit;" or underprop me or sustain me, as the Hebrew has it, with your free, voluntary Spirit; or, as the Greek renders it, with your noble, princely Spirit. So Eph 3:16, "To be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man." By the inner man, some understand the regenerate part of man; others, by the inner man, do understand the soul with all its noble faculties and motions. Take the words which way you will, it is certain that all the spiritual might and strength that a Christian has, he has it from the Holy Spirit. Though the Spirit strengthens every Christian in the inner man—yet I do not say that the Spirit strengthens every Christian alike in the inward man. Some have stronger corruptions to subdue than others, and more violent temptations to withstand than others, and greater difficulties to wrestle with than others, and choicer mercies to improve than others, and higher and harder pious duties to manage than others, and accordingly they are more strengthened in the inner man than others.
[4.] Fourthly, They are all PARTAKERS of the first fruits of the Spirit: Rom 8:23, "We ourselves have the first fruits of the Spirit," which are but as a handful of corn in respect of the whole crop. All the grace and all the holiness which we have from the regenerating Spirit at first conversion is but a drop to that sea, a mite to those talents, which we shall receive in the life to come, 2 Cor 1:22.
[5.] Fifthly, They are all TAUGHT by the Spirit, John 14:26. "The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things," Isa 59:21. This promise primarily belongs to the apostles. Secondarily, to all believers. Though these words were spoken at first to the apostles only—yet they were not spoken of the apostles only Isa 54:13, "And all your children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of your children." In these words there are three things promised to the apostles:
First, Immediate illumination by the Spirit of God.
Secondly, A full knowledge of all those truths belonging to their apostolical office, and that were necessary for them at that juncture of time.
Thirdly, Absolute infallibility as to matter of doctrine.
There are also three things promised to all believers:
First, Mediate illumination, teaching truths by the Spirit of truth, in the use of the means of grace.
Secondly, Knowledge of all truth necessary to salvation.
Thirdly, Infallibility too, so far forth as they adhere and keep close to the Spirit's teaching in the word.
Philo says that the primitive Christians were called tillers, because, as farmers till their fields and fertilize their grounds, so did they teach their families and nurture their children and servants with good instructions. Oh, what choice teachings of the Spirit were these primitive Christians under, who made it so much their business, their work, to teach those who were under their charge, 1 Thess 4:9; 2 Cor 3:8. So 1 John 2:27, "As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him." Not that we know all things simply, or that we need not a ministry to teach and instruct us; but he speaks comparatively: you shall not be so helped by any instructions without the Spirit, as with the Spirit. The Spirit shall declare the truth as it is in Jesus more clearly, more freely, more particularly, more certainly, more universally, more effectually, than any other is able to do. [1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Tim 4:1; John 16:25; Isa 48:17; Eccles 11:5] The Spirit, this holy unction, shall teach the saints all things; not all things knowable, for that is impossible for finite creatures to attain unto. Who knows the motions of the heavens, the influences of the stars, the nature of the creatures, or how the bones grow in the womb of her that is with child? Who knows the reason why the river Nilus should overflow in the summer, when waters are at the lowest; or why the loadstone should draw iron to it, or incline to the pole star?
Pliny tells us of one that spent fifty-eight years in learning about the nature of the bee, and yet had not fully attained to it. How is it possible, then, for the wisest naturalist to enter into the deep things of God?
Paul, who learned his divinity among the angels, and who had the Holy Spirit for his immediate teacher, tells us plainly that "he knew but in part," 1 Cor 13:9-11; and oh then, how little a part of that part do we know! But the Spirit teaches the saints all things; that is,
First, He teaches them all things needful for the salvation of their souls, all things necessary to bring them to heaven, John 17:3.
Secondly, All things needful to life and godliness, 2 Pet 1:3.
Thirdly, All things needful to their places, callings, sexes, ages, and conditions.
Fourthly, All things needful for you to know to preserve you in the truth, and to preserve you from being deluded and seduced by those false teachers of whom he speaks, 1 John 2:10,19,22-23,26. And certainly this is the main thing that John hints at in that expression. The "all things" spoken of in 1 John 2:27, according to the ordinary Scripture style, must necessarily be interpreted only of all those things which are there spoken of But,
[6.] Sixthly, They are all COMFORTED by the Spirit: [John 14:16,26; John 15:26, and John 16:7] Acts 9:31, They walked in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit;" Rom 14:17, "For the kingdom of God is not food and drink—but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." 1 Thess 1:6, "And you became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit." Not that all Christians have always actual comfort, actual joy. Oh no! For as the air is sometimes clear and sometimes cloudy, and as the sea is sometimes ebbing and sometimes flowing; so the comforts and joys of the people of God are sometimes ebbing and sometimes flowing, sometimes clear and sometimes cloudy.
Hudson the martyr, and having prayed earnestly, was comforted immediately, and suffered valiantly.
So Mr. Glover the martyr, as he was going to the stake he looked back, and cried out to his friend, "He is come, he is come," meaning the Comforter, and so he laid down his life with joy.
Rachel wept, and would not be comforted; she gave so much way to weeping, that she would not give the least way to comfort; and so it is many times with the choicest saints, "My soul refused to be comforted," Psalm 77:2. It is not my purpose at present to insist on the several ways whereby the people of God refuse comfort, and fall short of those strong consolations which God is willing that they should receive. The sun may operate where it does not shine, and a man may be in a state of salvation, and yet lack consolation; a man may fear the Lord, and obey the voice of his servant, and yet walk in darkness and see no light, Isa 50:10. There is no Christian but may sometimes have trouble in his conscience, and grief in his heart, and tears in his eyes, and fears and questionings in his soul—whether God is his Father, and whether Christ is his redeemer, and whether mercy belongs to him, yes, whether any promise in the book of God belongs to him, etc.
Joy and comfort are those dainties, those sweets of heaven, which God does not every day feast his people with, Psalm 30:6-7; every day is not a wedding day, nor is every day a harvest day, nor is every day a summer day. The fatted calf is not killed every day, nor are the robe and the ring put on every day; nor is every day a festival day or a dancing day, Luke 15:22-23; Eccles 3:4; Rom 12:15. As there is a time to sing, so there is a time to sigh; as there is a time to laugh, so there is a time to weep; and as there is a time to dance, so there is a time to mourn. All tears will never be totally wiped from our eyes, until all sin is totally taken out of our hearts.
But notwithstanding all this—yet gracious souls have always sure and choice grounds of consolation; they have the promises, they have the "first fruits of the Spirit," they have union with Christ, and they have right to eternal life—though they have not always sensible comforts. The children of God have always cause to exercise faith and hope in God in their darkest condition, though they have not always actual joy and consolation, Job 13:15; Psalm 42:5. The Comforter always abides with the saints—though he does not always actually comfort the saints, John 1:16. The Spirit many times carries on his sanctifying work in the soul—when he does not carry on his comforting work in the soul; the Spirit many times acts in a way of humiliation—when he does not act in a way of consolation; the Spirit many times fills the soul with godly sorrow—when he does not fill the soul with holy joy. The actings of the Spirit, as to his comforting work, are all of his own sovereign will and pleasure; and therefore he may abide in the soul when he does not actually comfort the soul. But,
[7.] Seventhly, The people of God, first or last, are SEALED by the Spirit: Eph 1:13, "In whom, after you believed, you were sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise." The nature of sealing consists in the imparting of the image or character of the seal, to the thing sealed. To seal a thing is to stamp the character of the seal on it. Now, the Spirit of God does really and effectually communicate the image of God to us, which image consists in righteousness and true holiness. Then are we truly sealed by the Spirit of God when the Holy Spirit stamps the image of grace and holiness so obviously, so evidently upon the soul, as that the soul sees it, feels it, and can run and read it; then the soul is sealed by the Holy Spirit. So Eph 4:30, "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption." The person of the Holy Spirit is here set forth in the Greek with a very great energy, such as our tongue is not able fully to express.
Here are three words, that have three articles, every word his several article by itself; the Spirit, not a Spirit; and not holy—but the holy; nor of God—but of that God: 2 Cor 1:22, "Who has also sealed us, and given the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts." In these scriptures you see that the Spirit is a seal. Now, a seal among men is,
First, For secrecy.
Secondly, For distinction.
Thirdly, For authority.
Fourthly, For certainty. A writing sealed is authentic; and for ensuring.
In the three texts last cited, if you compare them together, you may observe these six things:
First, The person sealing, and that is, the Father.
Secondly, In whom, in Christ.
Thirdly, With what seal, the Spirit of promise. Where are all the persons in the Trinity making us sure of our inheritance.
Fourthly, When, after you believed.
Fifthly, The end, which is twofold:
(1.) Subordinate, and that is the certainty of our salvation;
(2.) Ultimate, and that is, the praise of his glory.
Sixthly, The time, how long this seal and earnest shall assure us, and that is, "until we have the complete possession of what it is in pledge."
To prevent mistakes and disputes about the sealings of the Spirit on the one hand; and to support, comfort, and encourage the poor people of God on the other hand, let me briefly hint at the Spirit's special sealing times.
[1.] First, CONVERSION times are often the Spirit's sealing times, Luke 15:22-23. Upon the prodigal's return, the fatted calf is killed, and the best robe is put upon his back, and the ring is put upon his hand, and shoes on his feet. Some by the robe understand the righteousness of Christ. And by the ring, some understand the pledges of God's love, rings being given as pledges of love; and by the ring others understand the seal of God's Holy Spirit, men using the seal with their rings. Among the Romans the ring was a sign of virtue, honor, and nobility, whereby those who wore them were distinguished from the common people.
I think the main thing intended by the robe and the ring is, to show us, that God sometimes upon the sinner's conversion and returning to him, is graciously pleased to give him some choice manifestations of his gracious pleasure and goodwill, and to seal up to him his everlasting love and favor. And hence it comes to pass that some that are but babes in Christ, 1 Pet 2:2-3; 1 John 2:12-14, are so diligent and active in religious duties, and so conscientious and dexterous in the exercise of their graces. At first conversion, God helps some of his people to read their own names written in legible letters in the book of life, Acts 9:3-6. No sooner are some converted—but the Spirit stamps his seal upon them.
[2.] Secondly, BELIEVING times are sealing times, Eph 1:13. When they were in the very exercise of their faith, when they were acting of their faith, for so much the original imports, the Spirit came and sealed them up to the day of redemption, Rom 15:13; 1 Pet 1:8. He who honors Christ by frequent actings of faith on him, him will Christ honor, by setting his seal and mark upon him.
[3.] Thirdly, HUMBLING times, mourning times, are sealing times. When a holy man was asked, which were the joyfullest days, the comfortablest days, that ever he enjoyed, he answered—his mourning days. His mourning days were his joyfullest days; and therefore he cried out, "Oh give me my mourning days, give me my mourning days; for they were my joyfullest days." Those were days wherein God sealed up his everlasting love to his soul, Job 22:29; Isa 29:19. When the prodigal had greatly humbled himself before his father, then the best robe and ring were put upon him, Luke 15:17-24. There are none who long for the sealings of the Spirit like humble souls; nor any set so high a price upon the sealings of the Spirit, as humble souls; nor any make so choice an improvement of the sealings of the Spirit, as humble souls. And therefore when men's hearts are humble and low, the Spirit comes and sets the secret-seal of heaven upon them.
[4.] Fourthly, SIN-KILLING, sin-mortifying, sin-subduing times, are the Spirit's sealing times; Rev 2:17, "To him who overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, that no man knows, but he who receives it."
God will give to the victorious Christian a secret love-token, whereby his soul may rest assured of the unspeakable love of God, and of its freedom from condemnation. White stones were of very great use among the Romans, and among the Athenians, and served to acquit the accused in courts of justice. When malefactors were accused, arraigned, and condemned in their courts, they gave them a black stone in token of condemnation; but when they were acquitted, they gave them white stones, in token of absolution; and to this practice the Holy Spirit seems to allude. He who is victorious over his lusts shall have a new name, "which is better than the names of sons and daughters," Isa 56:5; and he shall have the pardon of his sins written in clear letters upon the white stone, so that he may run and read his absolution. The victorious Christian shall have assurance of the full discharge of all his sins, he shall have a clear evidence of his justification, and a blessed assurance of his eternal election; all which are hidden and mysterious things, to all but those who have experienced and tasted what these sweet meats of heaven mean, 1 John 1:7.
Among the Romans there were solemn feasts held in honor of those who were victorious in their sacred games. Now those who were to be admitted to those feasts were accustomed to have their names written on white shells, and white stones, and by these tickets they were admitted. Now some think the Holy Spirit alludes to this practice, and so would hint to us a secret mark whereby victorious Christians may be known, and admitted as bidden guests to the heavenly banquet of the hidden, manna, according to Rev 19:9. O sirs! when predominate lusts are brought under, when bosom-sins lie slain in the soul—then the Spirit comes and seals up love, and life, and glory to the soul.
[5.] Fifthly, SUFFERING times are sealing times; Acts 7:55-56,59-60; Rev 1:9-10; 2 Cor 4:15-17. The primitive Christians found them so, and the suffering saints in the Marian days found them so. [Acts 5:40-42; Psalm 71:20-21; and Psalm 94:19; Rev 1:9-10] When the furnace is seven times hotter than ordinary, the Spirit of the Lord comes and seals up a man's pardon in his bosom, and his peace with God, and his title to heaven. When the world frowns most—then God smiles most; when the world puts their iron chains upon the saints' legs—then God puts his golden chains about the saints' necks; when the world puts a bitter cup into one hand—then the Lord puts a cup of consolation into the other hand; when the world cries out, "Crucify them, crucify them!"—then commonly they hear that sweet voice from heaven, "These are my beloved ones, in whom I am well pleased."
Blessed Bradford looked upon his sufferings as an evidence to him that he was in the right way to heaven. And says Ignatius, "It is better for me to be a martyr than to be a monarch."
[6.] Sixthly, SELF-DENYING times are the Spirit's sealing times, Matt 19:27-29. "If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." Mark 8:34
He must deny sinful self, which takes in a man's lusts.
He must deny natural self, which takes in a man's arts, parts, gifts, and reason.
He must deny religious self, which takes in all a man's religious duties and services, whether ordinary or extraordinary.
He must deny moral self, which includes a freedom from gross, heinous, enormous wickednesses; and a fair, sweet, harmless behavior towards men.
He must deny relative self, which takes in our nearest and dearest relations in the flesh; as wife, children, father, mother, brothers, sisters, etc., Psalm 45:7-11.
Now when a man comes thus universally to deny himself for Christ's sake, and the gospel's sake, and religion's sake, then the Spirit of the Lord comes and seals him up unto the day of redemption. This is a truth confirmed by the experiences of many martyrs now in heaven, and by the testimony of many Christians still alive.
[7.] Seventhly, SACRAMENT times are sealing times. In that "feast of fat things," God by his Spirit seals up his love to his people, and his covenant to his people, and pardon of sin to his people, and heaven and happiness to his people. There are many precious souls who have found Christ in this ordinance, and when they could not find him in other ordinances, though they have sought him sorrowingly. In this ordinance many a distressed soul has been strengthened, comforted and sealed.
I might give you many instances. Take one for all. There was a gracious woman, who, after God had filled her soul with comfort, and sealed up his everlasting love to her, fell under former fears and trouble of spirit, and being at the Lord's supper, a little before the bread was administered to her, Satan seemed to appear to her, and told her that she should not presume to eat; but at that very nick of time, the Lord was pleased to bring into her mind that passage in the Canticles, "Eat, O my friend," Song 5:1. But notwithstanding this, Satan still continued terrifying of her, and when she had eaten, he told her that she should not drink; but then the Lord brought that second clause of the verse to her remembrance, "Drink, yes drink abundantly" (or, "be drunk," as the Hebrew has it) "my beloved" (or, "my loves," as the Hebrew has it;—all faithful souls are Christ's loves), and so she drank also, and presently was filled with such unspeakable joys, that she hardly knew how she got home; which soul-ravishing joys continued for a two weeks after, and filled her mouth with songs of praise, so that she could neither sleep nor eat, more than she forced herself to do out of conscience of duty. At the fortnight's end, when God was pleased to abate her measure of joy, she came to a settled peace of conscience, and assurance of the love of God; so that for twenty years after, she had not so much as a cloud upon her spirit, or the least questioning of her interest in Christ. But,
[8.] Eighthly, When God calls his people to some great and noble WORK, when he puts them upon some high services, some difficult duties, some holy and eminent employments—then his Spirit comes and sets his seal upon them: Jer 1:5, "Before I formed you in the belly I knew you: and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you to be a prophet unto the nations." The Lord sending the prophet Jeremiah to denounce most dreadful judgments against a rebellious people, an impudent brazen-faced nation, he assures him of his eternal election, and of his choice presence, and singular assistance in that work that he set him about, Jer 1:8,17-19. Thus the Lord dealt with Peter, James, and John, Matt 17:1-6, and thus be dealt with Paul, Acts 9:1-23.
[9.] Ninthly, When they are taken up into more than ordinary COMMUNION with God—then is the Spirit's sealing time. When was it that the spouse cried out, "My beloved is mine, and I am his!" but when Christ brought her to his banqueting house, and his banner over her was love? Song 2:16; Song 2:3-6, compared, etc.
[10.] Tenthly and lastly, When Christians give themselves up to PRIVATE PRAYER, when Christians are more than ordinarily exercised in secret prayer, in closet duties—then the Spirit comes and seals up the covenant and the love of the Father to them. When Daniel had been wrestling and weeping, and weeping and wrestling all day long with God in his closet, then the angel tells him, "that he was a man greatly beloved of God." Dan 9:20-23.
There was a gracious woman who, after much frequenting of sermons, and walking in the ways of the Lord, fell into great desertions; but being in secret prayer, God came in with abundance of light and comfort, sealing up to her soul that part of his covenant, namely, "I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh; that they may walk in my statutes, and keep my ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God," Ezek 11:19-20.
And thus I have given you a brief account of the Spirit's special sealing times. Now mark, this seal God sets upon all his wares, upon all his adopted children; for sooner or later, all of God's children are sealed with this seal. God sets his seal of regeneration, he stamps his image of holiness upon all his people, to difference and distinguish them from all profane, immoral, and hypocritical people in the world, John 3:3; 2 Thess 2:13; Heb 12:14. Doubtless the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, imprinting the likeness and lineaments of God's image of righteousness and holiness upon man, as a seal or signet does leave an impression and stamp of its likeness upon the thing sealed, is the seal of the Spirit spoken of in Scripture: 2 Tim 2:19, "The foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows those who are his. And let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
But to prevent mistakes, you must remember, that though the Spirit of the Lord, first or last, will set his seal upon every real saint—yet the impression of that seal is not alike visible in all; for some bear this impression as babes, others as men grown up to some maturity. All God's adopted children bear this impression truly—but none of them bear it perfectly in this life. Sometimes this seal of regeneration, this seal of holiness is so plain and obvious that a man may run and read it in himself and others; and at other times it is so obscure and dark, that he can hardly discern it, either in himself or others. This seal is so lively stamped on some of God's people, that it discovers itself very visibly, eminently, gloriously; but on others it is not alike visible. And thus I have made it evident by these seven particulars, that all the children of God have the Spirit of God.
Now mark, the Spirit of God, who is in all the saints, is a Spirit of prayer and supplication: Rom 8:15, "You have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." While the child is in the womb it cannot cry—but as soon as it is born it cries. While Paul did lie in the womb of his natural estate, he could not pray; but no sooner was he born of the Spirit—but the next news is, "Behold he prays!" Acts 9:11. Prayer is nothing but the turning of a man's inside outward before the Lord. The very soul of prayer lies in the pouring out of a man's soul into the bosom of God. Prayer is nothing but the breathing that out before the Lord that was first breathed into us by the Spirit of the Lord. Prayer is nothing but a choice, a free, a sweet, and familiar fellowship of the soul with God. Certainly, it is a great work of the Spirit to help the saints to pray: Gal 4:6, "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." God has no stillborn children. The gemination, "Abba, Father," notes fiducial, filial, and vehement affection. Abba is an Hebrew word; Father is a Greek word, whereby is signified the union of the Hebrews and Grecians, or the Jews and Gentiles, in one church, "Abba, Father." In Christ the cornerstone, both Jews and Gentiles are joined.
The word Abba, say others, signifies father in the Hebrew tongue, which the apostle here retains, because it is a word full of affection, which young children retain almost in all languages, when they begin to speak. And he adds the word Father, not only to expound the same—but also the better to express the eager movings and the earnest and vehement desires and singular affections of believers, in their crying unto God; even as Christ himself redoubled the word Father, Mark 14:36, to the same purpose, when he was in his greatest distress. This little word Father, says Luther, lisped forth in prayer by a child of God, exceeds the eloquence of Demosthenes, Cicero, and all other so famed orators in the world.
It is certain that the Spirit of God helps the saints in all their communions with God, namely, in their meditations of God, in their reading and hearing of the word of God, in the communions one with another, and in all their solemn addresses to God. And as to this the apostle gives us a most special instance in that Rom 8:26, "Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercessions for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." When we are to pray, there is in us sometimes an infirmity of ignorance, so that we know not what to pray for, either in regard of the matter or the manner. And there is in us at other times an infirmity of pride and conceitedness, so that we cannot pray with that humility and lowliness of spirit as we should, spiritual pride having puffed up our prayers. Sometimes there is in us an infirmity of deadness, dullness, drowsiness, etc., so that we cannot pray with that warmth, heat, life, spirit, and fervency, as we should, or as we would. And at other times there is in us an infirmity of unbelief and slavish fears, so that we cannot pray with that faith and holy boldness, as befits children who draw near to a throne of grace, to a throne of mercy, etc. But now the Spirit helps these infirmities by way of instruction, prompting and teaching us what to pray for, and how we should spell our lesson; and by telling us as it were within, what we should say, and how we should sigh and groan; and by rousing and quickening, and stirring of us up to prayer, and by his singular influence and choice assistance opening and enlarging our hearts in prayer; and by his tuning the strings of our affections, he prepares us and fits us for the work of supplication.
Now, all the saints having the Spirit, and the Spirit being a Spirit of prayer and supplication, there is no reason in the world why a saint should say, 'I would pray in secret—but I cannot pray, I cannot pour out my soul nor my complaint before the Lord in a corner.'
(6.)Sixthly and lastly, You say you can not pray, you have not the gifts and abilities which others have. But you can manage your callings, your worldly business as well as others; and why then can you not pray as well as others? Ah, friends! did you but love private prayer as well as you love the world, and delight in private prayer as much as you delight in the world, and were your hearts as much set upon closet-prayer as they are set upon the world—you would never say you could not pray, yes, you would as quickly pray as well as others. It is not so much from lack of ability to pray in secret, that you don't pray in secret; as it is from lack of desire, and lack of heart to pray in secret, that you don't pray in secret.
Jacob's love to Rachel, and Shechem's love to Dinah, carried them through the greatest difficulties, Gen 29 and Gen 34. Were men's affections but strongly set upon private prayer, they would quickly find abilities to pray. He who sets his affections upon a virgin, though he be not learned nor eloquent, will find words enough to let her know how his heart is taken with her. The application is easy. He in Seneca complained of a thorn in his foot, when his lungs was rotten. So many complain of lack of ability to pray in their closets, when their hearts are rotten. Sirs! do but get better hearts, and then you will never say you can't pray. It is one of the saddest sights in all the world, to see men strongly parted and gifted for all worldly businesses, to cry out that they can't pray, that they have no ability to pour out their souls before the Lord in secret. You have sufficient parts and gifts to tell men of your sins, your needs, your dangers, your difficulties, your mercies, your deliverances, your duties, your crosses, your losses, your enjoyments, your friends, your foes; and why then are you not ashamed to complain of your want of parts and gifts, to tell those very things to God in a corner, which you can tell to men even upon the housetops? etc. But,
Objection 4.Fourthly, Some may further object and say, God is very well acquainted with all our needs, necessities, straits, trials; and there is no moving of him to bestow any favors upon us, which he does not intend to bestow upon us, whether we pray in our closets or no; and therefore to what purpose do you press secret prayer so hard upon us? etc.
To this objection I shall give these answers.
(1.)First, That this objection lies as strong against family prayer and public prayer, as it does against private prayer. God knows all your needs and necessities, all your straits and trials, etc., and therefore what need you pray in your family, what need you attend public prayers in the communion of saints? There is no wringing of any mercy out of the hands of heaven, which God does not intend to bestow. This objection faces all kind of prayer, and fights against all kinds of prayer. But,
(2.)Secondly, I answer, That private prayer is that piece of divine worship and adoration, it is a part of that homage which we owe to God upon the account of a divine command, as I have already proved. Now, all objections must bow before the face of divine commands; as Joseph's brethren bowed before him, Gen 42:6; or as king Ahasuerus his servants bowed before Haman, Esther 3:2. Indeed, every objection that is formed up against a divine command, should fall before it, as Dagon fell before the ark, or as Goliath fell before David. He who casts off private prayer under any pretense whatever, he casts off the dominion of God, the authority of God, and this may be as much as a man's life and soul is worth. But,
(3.)Thirdly, I answer, Though prayer is not the ground, nor the cause of obtaining favors and mercies from God—yet it is the means, it is the silver channel, it is the golden pipe, through which the Lord is pleased to convey to his people all temporal, spiritual, and eternal favors, [Isa 55:6; James 1:5; Isa 62:7; Psalm 22:24] Ezek 36:26-37. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." Matthew 7:7-8.
God promises to give them the cream, the choicest, the sweetest of all spiritual, eternal, and temporal blessings; but mark, Ezek 36:37, "I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them." Though God is very prompt and ready to bestow upon his people the best and the greatest of blessings—yet he will by prayer be sought unto for the actual enjoyment of them. He who has no heart to pray for a mercy, he has no ground to believe that ever God will give him the mercy. There is no receiving without asking, no finding without seeking, no opening without knocking. The threefold promise annexed to the threefold precept in Matt 7:7, should encourage all Christians to be instant, fervent, and constant in prayer. The proud beggar gets nothing from men, and the dumb sinner gets nothing of God. As there is no mercy too great for God to give, so there is no mercy too little for us to crave. Certainly that man has little worth in him who thinks any mercy not worth a seeking. But,
(4.)Fourthly and lastly, I answer, Every Christian should labor to enjoy his mercies in mercy; he should labor to have his blessings blessed unto him; he should labor to have "the good will of him who dwelt in the bush," with all he has, Gen 22:17. Now this is an everlasting truth, a maxim to live and die with, that whatever mercy comes not in upon the wing of prayer is not given in mercy. Oh, how sweet is that mercy that comes flying in upon the wing of prayer! How sweet was that water to Samson which streamed to him in the channel of private prayer, Judg 15:19; he called the name of it En-hakkcore, the well of him who prayed. Samson prayed as for life, and that water that was handed to him was as sweet as life. Every mercy which is gathered by the hand of prayer is as sweet as the rose of Sharon, Song 2:1. But that mercy which comes not in at the door of prayer, comes not in at the right door; and that mercy that comes not in at the right door will do a man no good: such mercies will make themselves wings and fly from us, Prov 23:5.
Every Christian should narrowly look that all his mercies are sanctified mercies. Now, every mercy is sanctified by the word and prayer, 1 Tim 4:4-5. Prayer prepares and fits us for mercy, and mercy for us. It is prayer which gives us a right and holy use of all our mercies. Such mercies are but great miseries, which come not in upon the wing of prayer. Prayerless men's mercies are all given in wrath; yes, their blessings are cursed unto them, Prov 3:33; Mal 2:2. Look! as every sacrifice was to be seasoned with salt, so every mercy is to be sanctified by prayer. Look! as gold sometimes is laid not only upon cloth and silks—but also upon silver itself, so prayer is that golden duty that must be laid not only upon all our natural and civil actions, as eating, drinking, buying, selling, etc.—but also upon all our silver duties, upon all our most religious and spiritual performances, as hearing, reading, meditating, conference, church-fellowship, breaking of bread, etc.
Certainly prayer is very necessary to make every providence, and every ordinance, and every mercy—to be a blessing to us. Every mercy that comes in upon the wing of private prayer is a double mercy; it is a great-bellied mercy; it is a mercy that has many mercies in the womb of it. Happy is that Christian who can lay his hand upon every mercy that he enjoys, and say of them all as once Hannah said of her Samuel: 1 Sam 1:27, "For this child I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of him." But,
Objection 5.Fifthly, Some may further object and say, I would drive a private trade with God, I would exercise myself in secret prayer—but I lack a convenient place to retire into; I lack a private corner to unbosom my soul to my Father in, etc.
To this objection I shall give these three short answers:
(1.)First, I suppose this objection concerns but a few Christians in our days. That God who has given a Christ to believers does commonly give them a convenient corner to enjoy private communion with himself in, Rom 8:32. Most Christians, I am afraid, do rather lack a heart for private prayer, than a convenient place for private prayer. What men set their hearts upon, they will find time and place to effect it, whether it be good or whether it be evil, whether it concerns temporals or spirituals, whether it concerns this world or another world, this life or eternal life. If most men would but get better hearts, they would quickly find or make convenient places for private prayer. He who has an inflamed love to God will certainly find out a corner to enjoy secret communion with God. True lovers will find out corners to enjoy one another in. How many men are there, who can easily find out private places for their dogs to lie in, and their swine to sleep in, and their horses to stand in, and their oxen to feed in, etc., who can't find out a private place to seek the face of God in! But did these men but love their God, or their souls, or private prayer, or eternity, as well or better than their beasts, they would not be such brutes but that they would quickly find out a hole, a corner, to wait upon the Lord in. But,
(2.)Secondly, I answer, If a Christian be on the top of a house with Peter, he may pray there; or if he be walking in the field with Isaac, he may pray there; or if be on the mountain with Christ, he may pray there; or if he be behind the door with Paul, he may pray there; or if he be waiting at table with Nehemiah, he may secretly pray there; or if he be in a forest, he may pray there, as the primitive Christians in times of persecution did; or if he be behind a tree, he may pray there; or if he be by the sea side, he may pray there, as the apostles did. It was a choice saying of Austin, "Every saint is God's temple," says he, "and he who carries his temple about him, may go to prayer when he pleases." Some saints have never had so much of heaven brought down into their hearts, as when, they have been with God in a corner. Oh the secret manifestations of divine love, the secret kisses, the secret embraces, the secret influences, the secret communion with God, that many a precious Christian has had in the most solitary places: it may be behind the door, or behind the wall, or behind the hedge, or behind the arbor, or behind the tree, or behind the rock, or behind the bush, etc. But,
(3.)Thirdly, and lastly, Did you never in your unregenerate estate make use of all your wits, and parts, and utmost endeavors, to find out convenient seasons, and secret corners, and solitary places—to sin in, and to dishonor your God in, and to undo your own and others' souls in? Yes! I remember with shame and blushing, that it was so with me when I was dead in trespasses and sins, and walked according to the course of this world, Eph 2:1-3. Oh, how much then does it concern you in your renewed, sanctified, and raised estate, to make use of all your wits, and parts, and utmost endeavors, to find out the fittest seasons, and the most secret corners, and solitary places you can, to honor your God in, and to seek the welfare of your own and others' souls in! Oh that men were but as serious, studious, and industrious, to find out convenient seasons, secret places to please and serve and glorify the Lord in—as they have been serious, studious, and industrious to find out convenient seasons, and secret places to displease and grieve the Spirit of the Lord in. But,
Objection 6.Sixthly, and lastly, others may further object and say, We would be often in private with God, we would give ourselves up to closet-prayer—but that we can no sooner shut our closet doors—but a multitude of infirmities, weaknesses, and vanities do face us, and rise up against us. Our hearts being full of distempers and follies; and our bodies, say some, are under great indispositions; and our souls, say others, are under present indispositions; and how then can we seek the face of God in a corner? how can we wrestle with God in our closets? etc.
Now, to this objection I shall give these six answers.
(1.)If these kinds of reasonings or arguings were sufficient to shut private prayer out of doors, where does that man or woman live, that husband or wife, that father or child, that master or servant—who would ever be found in the practice of that duty? [Psalm 40:12; Psalm 51:5; Rom 7:15,24; Psalm 130:3; 1 Cor 4:4; 2 Chron 6:36; Phil 3:12] Where is there a person under heaven whose heart is not full of infirmities, weaknesses, follies, and vanities; and whose body and soul is not too often indisposed to closet duties? 1 Kings 8:46, "If they sin against you, for there is no man who sins not, etc." Eccles 7:20, "For there is not a just man upon the earth that does good and sins not." Prov 20:9, "Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" Job 14:4, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one." Job 9:30-31, "If I wash myself with snow-water, and make my hands ever so clean; yet shall you plunge me in the ditch, and my own clothes shall abhor me." Job 9:20, "If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse." Psalm 143:2, "And enter not into judgment with your servant: for in your sight shall no man living be justified." James 3:2, "For in many things we all offend." 1 John 1:8, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
Such who affirm that men may be fully perfect in this life, or without sin in this life—they do affirm that which is expressly contrary to the Scriptures last cited, and to the universal experience of all saints, who daily feel and lament over that body of sin and death which they bear about with them; yes, they do affirm that which is quite contrary to the very state or constitution of all the saints in this life. In every saint, "the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit lusts against the flesh, and these are contrary one to the other, so that they cannot do the things that they would," Gal 5:17. In every Christian man there are two men, the old man and the new; the one must be daily put on, and the other daily put off, Eph 4:22-24. All saints have a law in their members rebelling against the law of their minds; so that the good that they would do, they do not; and the evil that they would not do, that they do, Rom 7:23,25, comp. They have two contrary principles in them, from whence proceeds two manner of actions, motions, and inclinations, continually opposite one to another. Hence it is that there is a continual combat in them, like the struggling of the twins in Rebekah's womb.
An absolute perfection is peculiar to the triumphant state of God's elect in heaven: heaven is the only privileged place, where no unclean thing can enter in, Rev 23:21; that is the only place where neither sin nor Satan shall ever get footing. Such as dream of an absolute perfection in this life, do confound and jumble heaven and earth together; the state of the church militant, with the state of the church triumphant, which are certainly distinct both in time and place, and in order, measure, and attendants, Heb 12:22-23. This dangerous opinion of absolute perfection in this life, shakes the very foundation of religion, and overthrows the gospel of grace; it renders the satisfaction of Christ, and all his great transactions, null and void; it tells the world that there is no need of faith, of repentance, of ordinances, of watchfulness. Those who say they have no sin, say they have no need of the blood of Christ to cleanse them from sin, 1 John 1:7. Such as say they have no sin, say they have no need of faith to rest upon Christ for imputed righteousness to justify their persons. Such as say they have no sin, say they have no need of Christ as king to subdue their lusts; nor as priest, to expiate offences; nor as prophet, to teach and instruct them; nor as a Savior, to save them from their sins, or from wrath to come, Matt 1:21; 1 Thess 1:10. Those who have a perfect righteousness of their own, need not be indebted to Christ for his pure, perfect, spotless, matchless righteousness. Such as are without sin have no cause to repent of sin, nor yet to watch against sin. Such as are perfect cannot say, 'We are unprofitable servants.'
But are they indeed just? Then they must live by faith, Heb 2:4. Are they men, and not angels? Then they must repent, Acts 17:30, "For now he commands all men everywhere to repent." Surely the best of men—are but men at the best. Oh how bad those men must be, who make God himself a liar, 1 John 1:10. But if these men are absolutely perfect, how comes it to pass that they are afflicted and diseased as other men? How comes it to pass that they eat, and drink, and sleep, and buy, and sell, and die as other men? Are these things consistent with an absolute perfection? Surely not! An absolute perfection is not a step short of heaven; it is heaven on this side heaven; and those who would obtain it must step to heaven before they have it. But,
(2.)Secondly, I answer, That this objection lies as strong against family-prayer, and against all other kind of prayer, as it does against closet-prayer. He who shall upon any grounds make this objection a great bugbear to scare his soul from closet-prayer; he may upon the same ground make it a great bugbear to scare his soul not only from all other kind of prayer—but from all other duties of religion also, whether private or public. The spirit of this objection fights against all religion at once; and therefore you should say to it, as Christ said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan!" But.
(3.)Thirdly, I answer, It is not the infirmities and weaknesses of a Christian which are known, lamented, bewailed, and resisted—that can obstruct or hinder the efficacy and success of his prayers. A spiritual infirmity is the indisposition of the soul, which arises from a weakness of grace. Let me clear up this in a few instances. Jonah, you know, was a man full of sinful passions, and other weaknesses, etc., and yet his prayer was very prevalent with God: Jon 2:1-2,7,10, compared.
So Elijah's prayers were exceeding prevalent with God; he could open and shut heaven at his pleasure; and yet subject to like passions as we are, James 3:17. Elijah was a man of extraordinary sanctity and holiness, a man who lived in heaven while he dwelt on earth; Enoch-like, he walked with God, and yet subject to like passions as we are, 1 Kings 19:8; Rom 11:2-3. God did in an eminent way communicate to him his counsel and secrets; he lay in the bosom of the Father; and yet was a man subject to like passions as we are. He was a very powerful and prevalent prophet; his very name imports as much; Eli-jah signifies my strong God. In that 1 Kings 17:1, it is Eli-jahu, that is, the Lord is my strong God; and yet subject to like passions as we are. He was a man much in fasting and prayer; he was an inferior mediator between God and his people; and yet subject to like passions as we are.
Now because some from hence might object and say, No wonder if such a man as he was, could by his prayers open and shut heaven at his pleasure; but I am a poor, weak, low, sinful, and unworthy creature; I am full of infirmities, weaknesses, and passions; and shall my prayers ever find access to God, and acceptance with God, or gracious answers and returns from God? Now to obviate this objection, and to remove this discouragement out of the thoughts and hearts of poor sinners, the Holy Spirit adds this clause, that he was not a God, nor an angel—but a man, and such a man as was not exempted from common infirmities; for he had his passions, frailties, and weaknesses as well as other saints; intimating to us, that infirmities in the lowest saints should no more prejudice the acceptance and success of their prayers with God, than they did in Elijah himself.
The word passion sometimes signifies, first, a motion of the sensual appetite, arising from the imagination of good or ill, with some commotion of the body; secondly, sometimes passions signify sinful infirmities, sinful perturbations of the mind; and thirdly, sometimes passion is taken more strictly for the especial affection of sinful anger and wrath, which Chrysostom calls a short devil. It makes a man speak he knows not what, as you may see in Jonah; and to do he knows not what, as you may see in Saul. Now in these two last senses Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and yet a man so potent with God, that by private prayer he could do even what he desired in the court of heaven.
In 1 Sam 21, you may read of David's bold lies, and of his other failings, infirmities, and unseemly carriages before Achish, king of Gath, and for which he was turned out of the king's presence, under the notion of a madman; and yet at that very time he prays, and prevails with God for favor, mercy, and deliverance: Psalm 34:4, "I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me out of all my fear." But when was this? Read the title of the psalm, and you shall find it: "A psalm of David, who changed his behavior before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed."
In Num 20:10-12, Moses' infirmities are pointed out.
First, You have there his immoderate anger.
(2.) His speaking to the people, when he should have spoken to the rock, Num 20:8.
(3.) His smiting of it, when he should only have spoken to it with the rod in his hand; and smiting it twice, as in a pang of passion and impatience.
(4.) His distrusting of the Lord's word, Num 20:12.
(5.) His reviling of the people, when he should have convinced them, "Hear, you rebels."
(6.) He seems to be so offended at his commission, that he can hardly forbear murmuring: "Must we bring water out of the rock?" Mark that word, "must we." Oh how is the meekest man in all the world transported into passion, and anger, and unbelief, and hurried into sad indecencies! Num 12:3. And yet there was not a man on earth whose prayers were so powerful and prevalent with God as Moses' were, Psalm 106:23; Exod 32:9-15; Exod 33:11-17; Exod 14:13-16, etc.
So king Asa was a man full of infirmities and weaknesses; he relies on the king of Syria, and not on the Lord, 2 Chron 16:7-13; he is very impatient, and under a great rage upon the prophet's reproof. He imprisons the prophet; he oppressed some of the people; or, as the Hebrew has it, "he crushed," or he trampled upon some of the people at the same time; and being greatly diseased in his feet, he sought to the physicians and not to the Lord. And yet this man's prayer was wonderfully prevalent with God, 2 Chron 14:11-15.
The saints' failings and infirmities can never make void those gracious promises by which God stands engaged to hearken to the prayers of his people, Psalm 50:15; Isa 30:19, and Isa 65:24. God's hearing of our prayers does not depend upon sanctification—but upon Christ's intercession; not upon what we are in ourselves—but upon what we are in the Lord Jesus; both our persons and our prayers are acceptable in the beloved, Eph 1:6; 1 Pet 2:5. When God hears our prayers, it is neither for our own sakes nor yet for our prayers' sake—but it is for his own sake, and his Son's sake, and his glory's sake, and his promise's sake, etc.
Certainly God will never cast off his people for their failings and infirmities.
First, It is the glory of a man to pass by infirmities, Prov 19:11. Oh how much more, then, must it be the glory of God to pass by the infirmities of his people!
Secondly, Saints are children; and what father will cast off his children for their infirmities and weaknesses? Psalm 103:13-14; 1 Cor 12:27.
Thirdly, Saints are members of Christ's body; and what man will cut off a limb because there is a scab or wart upon it? "What man will cut off his nose," says Luther, "because there is some filth in it?"
Fourthly, Saints are Christ's purchase; they are his possession, his inheritance. [Eph 1:22-23; 1 Cor 6:20; 1 Cor 7:23; 1 Pet 1:18-20] Now what man is there that will cast away, or cast off his purchase, his possession, his inheritance, because of thorns, bushes, or briars that grow upon it?
Fifthly, Saints are in a marriage-covenant with God, Hos 2:19-20. Now what husband is there that will cast off his wife for her failings and infirmities? So long as a man is in covenant with God, his infirmities can't cut him off from God's mercy and grace. Now it is certain a man may have very many infirmities upon him, and yet not break his covenant with God, for no sin breaks a man's covenant with God but such as unties the marriage knot.
As in other marriages, every offence or infirmity does not disannul the marriage union; it is only the breach of the marriage vow, namely, adultery, which unties the marriage knot; so here it is only those sins which breaks the covenant, which unties the marriage knot between God and the soul: (1) When men freely subject to any lust as a new master; or, (2.) When men take another husband; and this men do, when they enter into a league with sin or the world, when they make a new covenant with hell and death, Isa 28:15,18. Now from these mischiefs God secures his chosen ones. In a word, if God should cast off his people for their failings and infirmities, then none of the sons or daughters of Adam could be saved: "For there is not a just man upon the earth that does good and sins not," Eccles 7:20. Now if God will not cast off his people for their infirmities, then certainly he will not cast off the prayers of his people because of those invincible infirmities which hang upon them; and therefore our infirmities should not discourage us, or take us off from closet prayer, or from any other duties of religion. But,
(4.)Fourthly, I answer, The more infirmities and weaknesses hang upon us, the more cause have we to keep close and constant to our closet-duties. If grace is weak, the omission of private prayer will make it weaker. Look! as he who will not eat will certainly grow weaker and weaker; so he who will not pray in his closet will certainly grow weaker and weaker. If corruptions are strong, the neglect of private prayer will make them stronger. The more the remedy is neglected, the more the disease is strengthened. Whatever the distempers of a man's heart be, they will never be abated—but augmented, by the omission of private prayer. The more bodily infirmities hang upon us, the more need we have of the physician; and so the more sinful infirmities hang upon our souls, the more need we have of private prayer. All sinful omissions will make work for repentance, for hell, or for the physician of souls. Sinful omissions lead to sinful commissions, as you may see in the angels that fell from heaven to hell, and in Adam's fall in paradise.
Origen going to comfort and encourage a martyr who was to be tortured, was himself apprehended by the officers, and constrained either to offer to the idols, or to have his body tortured; of which hard choice, to save his life, he bowed unto the idol; but afterwards, making a sad confession of his foul fact, he said, "That he went forth that morning before he had been with God in his closet;" and so peremptorily concludes, "that his neglect of prayer was the cause of his falling into that great sin."
The neglect of one day, of one duty, of one hour, would undo us forever, if we had not an advocate with the Father, 1 John 2:1-2. Those years, those months, those weeks, those days, those hours that are not filled up with God, with Christ, with grace, with duty, will certainly be filled up with vanity and folly. All omissions of duty, will more and more unfit the soul for duty. A key thrown aside, gathers rust; a pump not used, will be hard to work; and armor not used, will not be bright, etc. Look! as sinful commissions will stab the soul; so sinful omissions will starve the soul. Such as live in the neglect of private prayer may well cry out, Isa 24:16; Job 16:8, "Our leanness, our leanness!" And therefore away with all these pleas and reasonings about infirmities, and weaknesses, and indispositions, and address yourselves to closet prayer! But,
(5.)Fifthly, I answer, It may be your distemper and indisposition of body is not so great—but that you can buy, and sell, and get gain. Notwithstanding your aching head, and your shooting back, and your pained sides, and your feeble knees—yet you can, with Martha, cumber yourself about your worldly affairs. In that Song 5:3, Christ calls upon his spouse to open the door, and let him in. But sin and shifting coming into the world together, see how poorly and unworthily she labors to shift Christ off: "I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?" Rather than she will make no excuse for herself, she will make a silly excuse, a worthless excuse. She was not a mere child; and what a great business had it been for her to have risen to have let in such a guest, who brings everything with him that heart can wish or need require, Rev 3:17-18. She was not grown so decrepit with old age—but that she was able to make herself ready; at least, she might easily have slipped on her morning-coat and stepped to the door without any danger of taking cold, or of being wet to the skin, and so have let him in, who never comes empty-handed, Rev 22:12; yes, who was now come full of the dew of divine blessings to enrich her; for so some sense those words, "My head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night." Oh, the frivolous pretenses, and idle excuses that even gracious people are apt sometimes to take up to over-color their neglect of duty!
But some may say, It may be the spouse of Christ was asleep. Oh no! for she says, Song 5:2, "I sleep—but my heart wakes." She slept with open eyes, as the lion does; she slept but half-sleep; though her outward man was drowsy—yet her inward man was wakeful; though the flesh took a nap—yet her spirit did not nod.
Oh! but it may be Christ made no noise, he gave no notice that he was at the door! O yes! he knocked and knocked by the hammer of his word, and the hand of his Spirit; he knocked by outward corrections and inward admonitions; he knocked by providences, and he knocked by mercies. His importunity and vehemency for admission was very great.
Oh! but it maybe he did but only knock, he should have called as well as knocked; for none but madmen would open their doors in the night, except they knew the voice of him who knocks. Oh yes! he did not only knock—but called also.
Oh! but it may be she did not know his voice, and therefore she would not open. No chaste wife will at unseasonable hours arise and open her doors unto a stranger, especially in her husband's absence. Oh yes, she knew his voice: Song 5:2, "It is the voice of my beloved who knocks." She was not so fast asleep—but that she knew the voice of her beloved from all other voices, and could tell every tittle that he said. The calls of Christ were so strong, so loud, and his pulsations so mighty, that she could not but know and confess, that it was the voice of her beloved, though she was not so respectful and dutiful as to obey that voice.
Oh! but it may be Christ knocked and called, like a friend in his journey, only to inquire how it was with her, or to speak to her at the window. Oh no! he speaks plainly, he speaks with authority, "Open to me!"
Oh! but it may be she had no power to open the door. Oh yes; for when he commands his people to open, he lends them a key to open the door, that he may enter in, Phil 1:6,13; 1 Cor 15:10. Infused grace is a living principle that will enable the soul to open to Christ. If a man be not a free agent to work and act by the helps of grace received, to what purpose are counsels, commands, exhortations and directions, given to perform this, and that, and the other work? And certainly it is our greatest honor and happiness in this world to cooperate with God in those things which concern his own glory, and our own internal and eternal good.
Oh! but it may be Christ had given his spouse some distaste, or it may be he had let fall some hard words, or some unkind speeches, which made her a little froward and petulant. Oh no! for he owns her as his beloved, and courts her highly, with the most winning and amicable terms of love: "My sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled, or my perfect one." He calls her so for her dovelike simplicity, purity, and integrity. All these endearing and honoring titles, are the rhetoric of divine love; and should have been as so many sacred engagements upon her, to open to her beloved.
Oh! but it may be Christ was too quick for her, it may be he gave but a knock and a call, and was gone before she could rise and open the door. O no! Christ stayed until his head was filled with dew, and his locks with the drops of the night; which most passionate expression notes the tender goodness, patience, and gentleness of our Lord Jesus, who endures far greater and harder things for his spouse's sake, than ever Jacob did for his Rachel's sake.
After Christ had suffered much for her sake, and waited her leisure a long while, she very unkindly, and very unmannerly, and unworthily turns her back upon all his sweet and comfortable compellations, and blessed and bleeding embracements, and turns him off to look for his lodging in some other place; so that he might well have said, Is this your kindness to your friend, your husband, your Lord—to allow him to stand bareheaded, and that in foul weather, yes, in the night time, wooing, entreating, and beseeching admittance; and yet to turn him off as one in whom your soul could take no pleasure?
Now, if you will but seriously weigh all these circumstances in the balance of the sanctuary, you may run and read the fault and folly, the weakness and madness, the slightness and laziness of the spouse; and by her you may make a judgment of those sad and sinful distempers that may seize upon the best of saints, and see how ready the flesh is to frame excuses; and all to keep the soul off from duty, and the doors fast bolted against the Lord Jesus.
It is sad when men are well enough to sit, and chat, and trade in their shops—but are not well enough to pray in their closets. Certainly, that man's heart is not right with God, at least at this time, who, under all his bodily distempers, can maintain and keep up his public trade with men—but is not well enough to maintain his private trade with heaven. Our bodies are but dirt, handsomely fashioned. We derive our pedigree from the dirt, and are akin to clay. One calls the body "the blot of nature;" another calls it the "the soul's beast," "a sack of dung," "worms' food;" another calls it "a prison," "a sepulcher;" and Paul calls it "a body of vileness." "All your life you will sweat to produce food, until your dying day. Then you will return to the ground from which you came. For you were made from dust, and to the dust you will return." Genesis 3:19. Now for a man to make so much ado about the distempers of his body to excuse the neglects of his soul, is an evil made up of many evils.
But really, sir, I am so ill, and my body is so distempered and indisposed, that I am not able to mind or meddle with the least things of the world! Well! if this be so, then know that God has on purpose knocked you off from the things of this world, that you may look the more effectually after the things of the eternal world. The design of God in all the distempers that are upon your body, is to wind you more off from your worldly trade, and to work you to follow your heavenly trade more close. Many a man had never found the way to his closet, if God by bodily distempers had not turned him out of his shop, his trade, his business, his all, etc.
Well, Christians! remember this once for all, if your indisposition to closet prayer does really arise from bodily distempers, then you may be confident that the Lord will pity you much, and bear with you much, and kindly accept of a little. You know how affectionately parents and kind masters treat their children and servants, when they are under bodily distempers and indisposition; and you may be confident that God will never treat you worse. Ponder often upon that Ezek 34:4,16,21-22. But,
(6.)Sixthly, and lastly, I shall answer this objection by way of distinction, thus: FIRSTLY, There is a voluntary indisposition to private prayer; and there is an involuntary indisposition to private prayer.
There is a voluntary indisposition, and that is when a man, by his willful sinning against light, knowledge, conviction, etc., contracts that guilt that lies as a load upon his conscience. Now guilt makes the soul shy of God; and the greater the guilt is, the more shy the soul is of drawing near to God in a corner. The child that is sensibly under guilt hides himself; as Adam did, in the day from his father's eye, and at night he slips to bed, to avoid either a chiding or a whipping from his father, Gen 3:7-8. Guilt makes a man fly from God, and fly from prayer. It is a hard thing to look God in the face, when guilt stares a man in the face, Job 11:14-15. Guilt makes a man a terror to himself, Jer 20:3-4; now when a man is a terror to himself, he is neither fit to live, nor fit to die, nor fit to pray.
When poison gets into the body, it works upon the vitals, and it weakens the vitals, and it endangers life, and unfits and indisposes a man to all natural actions. It is so here; when guilt lies heavy upon the conscience, it works upon the soul, it weakens the soul, it endangers the soul, and it does greatly unfit and indispose the soul to all holy actions. Guilt fights against our souls, our consciences, our comforts, our duties, yes, and our very graces also, 1 Pet 2:11. There is nothing which wounds and lames our graces like guilt; there is nothing which weakens and wastes our graces like guilt; there is nothing which hinders the activity of our graces like guilt; nor there is nothing which clouds our evidences of grace like guilt. Look! what water is to the fire, that our sinnings are to our graces, evidences, and duties. Guilt is like Prometheus' vulture, which ever lies gnawing. It is better with Evagrius to lie on a bed of straw with a good conscience, than to lie on a bed of down with a guilty conscience.
What the probationer-disciple said to our Savior—Matt 8:19, "Master, I will follow you wherever you go,"—that a guilty conscience says to the sinner, "Wherever you go I will follow you." If you go to a fast, I will follow you, and fill your mind with black and dismal apprehensions of God; if you go to a feast, I will follow you, and show you the handwriting on the wall, Dan 5:5; if you go abroad, I will follow you, and make you afraid of every leaf that shakes; you shall look upon every bush as an armed man, and upon every man as a devil; if you stay at home, I will follow you from room to room, and fill you with horror and terror; if you lie down to rest, I will follow you with fearful dreams and tormenting apparitions; if you go into your closet, I will follow you, and make your very closet a hell to hold you.
It is storied of king Richard the Third, that after he had murdered his two nephews, guilt lay so hard upon his conscience, that his sleeps were very unquiet; for he would often leap out of his bed in the dark, and catching his sword in his hand, which hung by his bedside, he would go distractedly about his chamber seeking for the traitor.
So Charles the Ninth of France, after he had made the streets of Paris run down with the blood of the Protestants, he could seldom take any sound sleep, nor could he endure to be awakened out of his sleep without music.
Judge Morgan, who passed the sentence of condemnation upon Jane Grey, a virtuous lady, shortly after fell mad, and in his raving cried out continually, "Take away the Lady Jane from me, take away the Lady Jane from me," and in that horror ended his wretched life.
James Abyes, going to execution for Christ's sake, as he went along, he gave his money and his clothes to one and another, until he had given all away to his shirt, whereupon one of the sheriff's men fell a-scoffing and deriding of him, and told him that he was a madman and a heretic, and not to be believed; but as soon as the good man was executed, this wretch was struck mad, and threw away his clothes, and cried out that "James Abyes was a good man, and gone to heaven—but he himself was a wicked man, and was damned," and thus he continued crying out until his death. Certainly he who derides a man for walking according to the word of the Lord, the Lord will, sooner or later, so smite and wound that man's conscience, that all the physicians in the world shall not heal it.
Now if your indisposition to private prayer springs from contracting guilt upon your conscience, then your best way is speedily to renew your repentance, and greatly to judge and humble your own soul, and so to act faith afresh upon the blood of Christ, both for pardoning mercy and for purging grace. When a man is stung with guilt, it is his highest wisdom in the world to look up to the brazen serpent, and not to spend his time or create torments to his own soul by perpetual poring upon his guilt. When guilt upon the conscience works a man to water the earth with tears, and to make heaven ring with his groans, then it works kindly. When the sense of guilt drives a man to God, to duty, to the throne of grace, then it will not be long night with that man. He who thinks to shift off private prayer under the pretense of guilt, does but in that increase his own guilt. Neglect of duty will never get guilt off the conscience.
But there is also an involuntary indisposition to private prayer; as in a sick man, who would work and walk—but cannot, being hindered by his disease; or as it is with a man who has a great chain on his leg, he would very gladly walk or get away—but his chain hinders him. Now if your indisposition to private prayer is an involuntary indisposition, then God will in mercy, in course, both pardon it and remove it.
SECONDLY, There is a total indisposition to private prayer, and there is a partial indisposition to private prayer.
A total indisposition to private prayer is, when a man has no mind at all to private prayer, nor any will at all to private prayer, nor any love at all to private prayer, nor any delight, nor any heart at all to private prayer, Jer 4:22, and Jer 44:17-19. Now where this frame of heart is, there all is evil, very evil, stark evil.
A partial indisposition to private prayer is, when a man has some will to private prayer, though not such a will as once he had; and some mind to private prayer, though not such a mind as once he had; and some affections to private prayer, though not such warm and burning affections as once he had.
Now if your indisposition to private prayer is total, then you must wait upon the Lord in all his appointments for a changed nature, and for union with Christ; but if your indisposition to private prayer be only partial, then the Lord will certainly pardon it, and in the very use of holy means, in time remove it. But,
THIRDLY, and lastly, There is a transient, accidental, occasional, or fleeting indisposition to private prayer; and there is a customary, a constant, or permanent indisposition to private prayer.
Now a transient, accidental, occasional, or fleeting indisposition to that which is good may be found upon the best of saints, as you may see in Moses, Exod 4:10-14; and in Jeremiah, Jer 1:5-8,17-19, and Jer 20:9; and in Jon 1; and in David, Psalm 39:2-3. Now if this be the indisposition that you are under, then you may be confident that it will certainly work off by degrees, as theirs did—which I have cited, Isa 65:2.
But then there is a customary, a constant or permanent indisposition to private prayer, and to all other holy duties of religion. Now if this be the indisposition that you are under, then I may safely conclude that you are in the very gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity, Acts 8:21-23, and your work lies not in complaining of your indisposition—but in repenting and believing, and in laboring for a change of your heart and state; for until your heart, your state be changed, you will remain forever indisposed both to closet prayer and to all other duties of religion and godliness. To see a sinner sailing hell-ward with wind and tide on his side—to alter his course, and tack about for heaven; to see the earthly man become heavenly; the carnal man become spiritual; the proud man become humble; the vain man become serious; to see a sinner move contrary to himself in the ways of Christ and holiness—is as strange as to see a fish flying in mid air, contrary to its own nature. And yet a divine power of God upon the soul can effect it; and this must be effected before the sinner will be graciously inclined and sincerely disposed to closet prayer. And let thus much suffice by way of answer to this objection also.