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
Means, Rules, and Directions
I have now but one thing more to do before I close up this discourse, and that is, to lay down some means, rules, or directions which may be of use to help you on in a faithful and conscientious discharge of this great duty, namely, closet-prayer. And therefore thus,
(1.) First, As ever you would give up yourselves to private prayer, Take heed of an idle and slothful spirit. If Adam, in the state of innocency, must work and dress the garden, and if, after his fall, when he was monarch of all the world, he must yet labor—why should any be idle or slothful? Idleness is a sin against the law of creation. God created man to labor, the idle person violates this law of creation; for by his idleness he casts off the authority of his Creator, who made him for labor. Idleness is a contradiction to the principles of our creation. Man in innocency should have been freed from weariness—but not from employment; he was to dress the garden by divine appointment: "And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden, to dress it, and to keep it," Gen 2:15. All weariness in labor, and all vexing, tiring, and tormenting labor, came in by the fall: "In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread," Gen 3:19. The bread of idleness is neither sweet nor sure: "An idle person shall suffer hunger," says Solomon, Prov 19:15. "Warn those who are idle." 1 Thessalonians 5:14
An idle life and a holy heart are far enough asunder. By doing nothing, says the heathen man, men learn to do evil things. It is easy slipping out of an idle life into an evil and wicked life; yes, an idle life is of itself evil, for man was made to be active, not to be idle. The Cyclops thought man's happiness did consist in doing nothing; but no excellent thing can be the child of idleness. Idleness is a mother-sin, a breeding-sin; it is the devil's cushion, on which he sits, and the devil's anvil, on which he frames very great and very many sins, Eph 4:28; 2 Thess 3:10,12. Look! as toads and serpents breed most in standing waters, so sin thrives most in idle people. Idleness is that which provokes the Lord to forsake men's bodies, and the devil to possess their souls.
No man has less means to preserve his body, and more temptations to infect his soul, than an idle person. Oh shake off sloth! The sluggish Christian will be sleeping, or idling, or trifling, when he should be in his closet a-praying. Sloth is a fatal sickness of the soul; get it cured, or it will be your eternal bane. Of all devils, it is the idle devil which keeps men most out of their closets. There is nothing that gives the devil so much advantage against us as idleness. It was good counsel that Jerome gave to his friend, that when the devil comes with a temptation, you may answer him you are not at leisure.
It was the speech of Mr. Greenham, once a famous preacher of this nation, that when the devil tempted a poor soul, she came to him for advice how she might resist the temptation, and he gave her this answer: "Never be idle—but be always well employed, for in my own experience I have found it. When the devil came to tempt me, I told him that I was not at leisure to hearken to his temptations, and by this means I resisted all his assaults." Idleness is the time of temptation, and an idle person is the devil's tennis-ball, tossed by him at his pleasure.
"He who labors," said the old hermit, "is tempted but by one devil—but he who is idle is assaulted by all." Cupid complained that he could never fasten upon the Muses, because he could never find them idle. The fowler bends his bow and spreads his net for birds when they are set, not when they are upon the wing. So Satan shoots his most fiery darts at men, when they are most idle and slothful. And this the Sodomites found by woeful experience, Ezek 16:49, when God rained hell out of heaven upon them, both for their idleness, and for those other sins of theirs, which their idleness did expose them to.
It was said of Rome, that during the time of their wars with Carthage and other enemies in Africa, they knew not what vice meant; but no sooner had they got the conquest—but through idleness they came to ruin. Idleness is a sin, not only against the law of grace—but also against the light of nature. You cannot look any way but every creature checks and upbraids your idleness and sloth; if you look up to the heavens, there you shall find all their glorious lights constant in their motions, "The sun rejoices as a strong man to run a race," Psalm 19:5; Psalm 104:23; the winds blow, the waters run, the earth brings forth her pleasant and delightful fruits, all the fish in the sea, fowls in the air, and beasts in the fields and on the mountains, have their motions and operations, all which call aloud upon man not to be idle—but active. Solomon sends the sluggard to the ant to learn industry, Prov 6:6. The ant is a very little creature—but exceeding laborious. Nature has put an instinct into her to be very busy and active all the summer; she is early and late at it, and will not lose an hour unless the weather hinders.
And the prophet Jeremiah sends the Jews to school to learn to wait, and observe of the stork, the turtle-dove, the crane, and the swallow, Jer 8:7. And our Savior sends us to the sparrows and lilies, to learn attendance upon providence, Matt 6:26,28. And let me send you to the busy bee, to learn activity and industry; though the bee is little in bulk—yet it is great in service; she flies far, examines the fields, hedges, trees, orchards, gardens, and loads herself with honey and wax, and then returns to her hive. Now how should the activity of these creatures put the idle person to a blush. O sirs! man is the most noble creature, into whom God has put principles of the greatest activity, as capable of the greatest and highest enjoyments; and therefore idleness is a forgetting man's dignity, and a forsaking of that rank that God has set him in, and a debasing of himself below the least and basest creatures, who constantly in their order obediently serve the law of their creation. Nay, if you look up to the blessed angels above you, you shall still find them active and serviceable; "are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" Heb 1:14. And if you look down to the demons of darkness below you, oh how laborious and industrious are they to destroy and damn your precious and immortal souls! 1 Pet 5:8.
For a close, remember that idleness is so great an evil, that it has been condemned and severely punished by the very worst of men. Among the Egyptians, idleness was a capital crime. Among the Lucans, he who lent money to an idle person was to forfeit it. By Solon's law, idle people were to suffer death; and Seneca had rather be sick than idle. The Lacedemonian called men to an account for their idle hours. Antoninus Pius, being emperor, caused the roofs and coverings of all such houses to be taken away, as were known to receive in idle people, affirming that nothing was more unfitting, or absurd to be allowed, than such idle caterpillars and slowworms to have their food and nourishment from that commonwealth, in the maintenance of which there was no supply from their industry and labor. All which should steel us and arm us against sloth and idleness.
I have the longer insisted on this, because there is not a greater hindrance to closet prayer than sloth and idleness. Slothful and idle people commonly lie so long a-bed, and spend so much precious time between the comb and the glass, and in eating, drinking, sporting, and trifling, etc., that they can find no time for private prayer. Certainly such as had rather go sleeping to hell, than sweating to heaven, will never care much for closet-prayer. And therefore shun sloth and idleness, as you would shun a lion in the way, or poison in your food, or coals in your bosom, or else you will never find time to wait upon God in your closets.
(2.) Secondly, Take heed of spending too much of your precious time about circumstantials, about the minor things of religion, as "mint, anise, and cummin," Matt 23:23, or in searching into the circumstances of worship, or in standing stoutly for this or that ceremony, or about inquiring what fruit it was which Adam ate in paradise, or in inquiring after things which God in his infinite wisdom has concealed, or in inquiring what God did before the world was made. When one asked Austin that question, he answered, "that he was preparing hell for such busy questionists as he was." It was a saying of Luther, "From a vain-glorious doctor, from a contentious pastor, and from unprofitable questions, the good Lord deliver his church." It is one of Satan's great designs to hinder men in the great and weighty duties of religion, by busying them most about the lowest and least matters of religion. Satan is never better pleased, than when he sees Christians puzzled and perplexed about those things in religion, which are of no great consequence or importance, Col 2:21. Such as who trade in religion for a good name, more than a good life; for a good report, more than a good conscience; to humor others, more than to honor God, etc., such will take no pleasure in closet-duties. Such as are more busied about ceremonies than substances, about the form of godliness than the power, 2 Tim 3:5, such will never make it their business to be much with God in their closets, as is evident in the Scribes and Pharisees, Matt 6:1-6. Such as are more taken up with the outward dress and garb of religion, than they are with the spirit, power, and life of religion. Such will never make a secret trade heavenwards, Luke 11:34-40. There cannot be a surer nor a greater character of a hypocrite, than to make a great deal of stir about little things in religion, and in the mean while neglect the great and main things in religion. Such as these have all along in the Scripture discovered a strangeness, and a perfect carelessness as to closet duties. I never knew any man hot and zealous about circumstantials, about the little things of religion, who was ever famous for closet prayer. But,
(3.) Thirdly, Take heed of curiosity, and of spending too much of your precious time in searching into those dark, abstruse, mysterious, and hidden truths and things of God and religion, which lie most remote from the understanding of the best and wisest of men. Curiosity is the spiritual adultery of the soul. Curiosity is a spiritual drunkenness; for look, as the drunkard is never satisfied unless he sees the bottom of the cup, be it ever so deep; so those who are troubled with the itch of curiosity, will say they can never be satisfied until they come to the bottom of the most deep and profound things of God. They love to pry into God's secrets, and to scan the mysteries of religion—by their weak, shallow reason—and to be wise above what is written. Curious searchers into the deep mysterious things of God will make all God's depths to be shallows, rather than they will be thought not able to fathom them by the short line of their own reason.
Oh that men would once learn to be contentedly ignorant, where God would not have them knowing! Oh that men were once so humble, as to account it no disparagement to them, to acknowledge some depths in God, and in the blessed Scripture, which their shallow reason cannot fathom! They are only a company of fools, who attempt to know more than God would have them. Did not Adam's tree of knowledge make him and his posterity mere fools? He who goes to school to his own reason, has a fool for his schoolmaster!
The ready way to grow stark blind is to be still prying and gazing upon the body of the sun: so the ready way to spiritual blindness is to be still prying into the most secret and hidden things of God, Deut 29:29. Are there not many who, by prying long into the secrets of nature, are become archenemies to the grace of God? Rom 9:20. Oh that we were wise to admire those deep mysteries which we cannot understand, and to adore those depths and counsels which we cannot reach. "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" Romans 11:33. "There are secret things which belong to the Lord our God." Deuteronomy 29:29. "For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:9
Oh let us check our curiosity in the things of God, and sit down satisfied and contented to resolve many of God's actions into some hidden causes which lie secret in the abyss of his eternal knowledge and infallible will. Christ, when he was on earth, very frequently, severely, and sharply condemned curious inquirers, as is evident by these scriptures: [John 21:22; Acts 1:6-7] and the great reason why our Savior did so frequently check this humor of curiosity, was because the great indulgers of it were too frequent neglecters of the more great, necessary, and important points of religion.
Curiosity is one of Satan's most dangerous weapons, by which he keeps many souls out of their closets, yes, out of heaven. When many a poor soul begins in good earnest to look towards heaven, and to apply himself to closet duties, then Satan begins to bestir himself, and to labor with all his might, so to busy the poor soul with vain inquiries, and curious speculations, and unprofitable curiosities, that the soul has no time for closet prayer. Ah! how well might it have been with many a man, had he but spent one quarter of that time in closet prayer, that he has spent in curious inquiries after things that have not been fundamental to his happiness.
The heathenish priests affected curiosity, they had their mythologies, and strange canting expressions of their imaginary inaccessible deities, to amaze and amuse their blind superstitious followers, and thereby to hold up their popish and apish idolatries in greater veneration. Oh that there were none of this heathenish spirit among many in these days, who have their faces toward heaven! Ah! how many are there that busy themselves more in searching after the reasons of the irrecoverableness of man's fall, than they do to recover themselves out of their fallen estate! Ah, how many are there that busy themselves more about the apostasy of the angels, than they do about securing their saving interest in Christ! And what a deal of precious time have some spent in discovering the natures, distinctions, properties, and orders of angels.
That high-soaring, imaginative Dionysius describes the hierarchy of angels as exactly as if he had dwelt among them. He says there are nine orders of them, which be grounds upon nine words, which are found partly in the Old Testament, and partly in the New; as seraphims, cherubim, thrones, powers, hosts, dominions, principalities, archangels, and angels; and then he describes their several natures, distinctions, and properties, as that the first three orders are for immediate attendance on the Almighty, and the next three orders for the general government of the creatures, and the last three orders for the particular good of God's elect; that the archangel surpasses the beauty of angels ten times, principalities surpass the archangels twenty times, and that powers surpass the principalities forty times, etc. How he came by this learning is not known, and yet this hierarchy in these nine several orders has passed for current through many ages of the church.
The devil knows he is no loser, and the curious soul but a very little gainer, if he can but persuade him to spend most of his precious time in studying and poring upon the most dark, mysterious, and hidden things of God. He who affects to read the Revelation of John more than his plain epistles; or Daniel's prophecies more than David's Psalms; and is more busy about reconciling difficult scriptures than he is about mortifying of unruly lusts, or who is set more upon vain speculations than upon things that make most for edification—he is not the man who is cut out for closet-prayer. Such as affect sublime notions, obscure expressions, and are men of abstracted conceits, are but a company of wise fools, that will never take any delight to be with God in a corner. Had many men spent but half that time in secret prayer, that they have spent in seeking after the philosopher's stone, how happy might they have been! Oh how holy, how happy, how heavenly, how humble, how wise, how knowing, might many men have been, had they spent but half that time in closet prayer, that they have spent in searching after those things that are hard to be understood! 2 Pet 3:16. But,
(4.) Fourthly, Take heed of engaging yourselves in a crowd of worldly businesses. Many have so much to do on earth that they have no time to look up to heaven. As much earth puts out the fire, so much worldly business puts out the fire of heavenly affections. Look! as the earth swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, Num 22:32; so much worldly business swallows up so much precious time, that many men have no leisure to be with God in their closets. "This business is to be done, and that business cannot be omitted, and the other necessary occasion must be attended—so that I have no leisure to step out of my shop into my closet," says the earthly-minded man, Phil 3:19. Thus a crowd of worldly businesses crowds closet-prayer quite out of doors. Many drive so great a trade in their shops, that their private trade to heaven is quite laid by. There is nothing that has kept men more from Christ and closet-prayer, than the shop, the exchange, the farm, and the oxen, etc., Luke 14:16-22.
The stars which have least circuit are nearest the pole; and men that are least perplexed with worldly businesses are commonly nearest to God, to Christ, to heaven, and so the fitter for closet-prayer. It is sad when men grasp so much worldly business, that they can have no leisure for communion with God in private prayer. The noise is such in a mill, as hinders all private fellowship between man and man; and so a multitude of worldly businesses make such a noise, as that it hinders all private fellowship between God and the soul. If a man of much business should now and then slide into his closet—yet his head and his heart will be so filled and distracted with the thoughts of his employments, that God shall have little of him but his bodily presence, or, at most—but bodily exercise, which profits little, 1 Tim 4:8. If Christ blamed Martha, Luke 10:40-42, for the multitude of her domestic employments, though they were undertaken for the immediate service and entertainment of himself, because they hindered her in her soul-concernments; oh how will he one day blame all those who, by running themselves into a crowd of worldly businesses, do cut themselves off from all opportunities of pouring out their souls before him in secret! But,
(5.) Fifthly, Take heed of secret sins. There is no greater hindrance to secret prayer in all the world than secret sins; and therefore stand upon your watch, and arm yourselves with all your might against them. There is an antipathy between secret sinning and secret praying; partly from guilt, which makes the soul shy of coming under God's secret eye; and partly from those fears, doubts, disputes, and disorders, which secret sins raise in the heart. Light is not more opposite to darkness, Christ to Belial, nor heaven to hell, than secret prayer is to secret sins; and therefore, whatever you do, look that you keep clear of secret sins. To that purpose consider these four things:
[1.] First, That God is privy to our most secret sins. [Psalm 139:1-4; Jer 13:27, and Jer 29:23; Psalm 39:1; 1 Kings 20:39; Job 10:12] His eye is as much upon secret sins, as it is upon open sins: Psalm 90:8, "You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance." God has an eye upon our inmost evils, he sees all that is done in the dark: Jer 23:24, "Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? says the Lord: do not I fill heaven and earth? says the Lord." Prov 15:3, "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." To say that God does not see the most secret sins of men, is not only derogatory to his omniscience—but also to his mercy; for how can God pardon those sins, which he does not see to be sins?
There is no cloud, nor curtain, nor moment of darkness, that can stand between the eyes of God and the ways of men: Prov 5:21, "The ways of men are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his goings." In this scripture Solomon mainly speaks of the ways of the adulterer, which usually are plotted with the most cunning secrecy; yet God sees all those ways. Look! as no boldness can exempt the adulterer from the justice of God, so no secrecy can hide him from the eye of God. Though men labor to hide their ways from others, and from themselves—yet it is but labor in vain to endeavor to hide them from God. Men who labor to hide God from themselves, can never hide themselves from God.
I have read that Paphnutius turned Thais and Ephron, two infamous strumpets, from immorality, only with this argument, "That God sees all things in the dark, when the doors are closed, the windows shut, and the curtains drawn." Heb 4:13, "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened (that is, anatomized) even to the eyes of him with whom we have to do." It is an allusion to the priests under the law, who, when they killed an animal for sacrifice, all things that were within the beast were laid open and naked before the priest, that he might see what was sound and what was corrupted. Though evil is done out of the eye of all the world—yet it is naked and manifest in his sight with whom we have to do.
Those sins which lie closest and are most secretly lurking in the heart, are as obvious and odious to God as those which are most fairly written upon a man's forehead. God is all eye; so that He sees all--even the most secret turnings and windings of our hearts. Our most secret sins are as plainly seen by him, as anything can be seen by us at noonday: Psalm 139:11-12, "If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,' even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you." It is not the thickest clouds which can bar out his observance, whose eyes fill heaven and earth. What is the curtain, or the darkest night, or the double lock, or the secret chamber—to him who clearly observes all things in a perfect nakedness. God has an eye upon the most inward intentions of the heart, and the most subtle motions of the soul.
Those philosophers were wrong, who held the eye and ear of God descended no lower than the heavens. Certainly there is not a creature, not a thought, not a thing—but lies open to the all-seeing eye of God. The Lord knows our all secret sinnings as exactly as our visible sinnings: Psalm 44:21, "He knows the secrets of our hearts." Would not a malefactor speak truly at the trial, did he know, did he believe that the judge had windows which looked into his heart?
Athenodorus, a heathen, could say, that all men ought to be careful in the actions of their life, because God was everywhere, and beheld all that was done.
Zeno, a wise heathen, affirmed that God beheld even the thoughts.
It was an excellent saying of Ambrose, "If you cannot hide yourself from the sun, which is God's minister of light, how impossible will it be to hide yourself from him, whose eyes are ten thousand times brighter than the sun." Though a sinner may baffle his conscience—yet he cannot baffle the eye of God's omniscience! Oh! that poor souls would remember, that as they are never out of the reach of God's hand, so they are never from under the view of his eye. God is 'totus oculus', all eye. Jer 16:17, "My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes." Job 34:21-22, "His eyes are on the ways of men; he sees their every step. There is no dark place, no deep shadow, where evildoers can hide." Jer 32:19, "Your eyes are open to all the ways of men; you reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve."
You know what Ahasuerus, that great monarch, said concerning Haman, when coming in he found him cast upon the queen's couch, on which she sat, "What," says he, "Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?" Esther 7:8. "What, will he dare to commit such villany, and I stand and look on?" O sirs! to sin in the sight of God, to do wickedly under the eye of God, is a thing that he looks upon as the greatest affront, and as the highest indignity that can possibly be done unto him. What, says God, will you be drunk before me? Will you swear and blaspheme before me? Will you be wanton and unclean before me? Will you be unjust and unrighteous under my eye? Will you pollute my ordinances before my face? Will you despise and persecute my servants in my presence? etc. This, then, is the killing aggravation of all sin—that it is done before the face of God, that it is committed in the royal presence of the King of kings!
The very consideration of God's omnipresence should bravely arm us against sin and Satan; the consideration of his all-seeing eye should make us shun all occasions of sin, and make us shy of all appearances of sin. Shall the eye of the teacher keep the scholar from blotting his copy? Shall the eye of the judge keep the malefactor from thieving and stealing? Shall the eye of the master keep the servant from idling and trifling? Shall the eye of the father keep the child from wandering and gadding? Shall the eye of the husband keep the wife from extravagancies and indecencies? Shall the sharp eye of a near neighbor, or the quick eye of a bosom-friend—keep you from many enormities and vanities? And shall not the strict, the pure, the jealous eye of an all-seeing God, keep you from sinning in the secret chamber, when all curtains are drawn, doors bolted, and everyone in the house sleeping--but you and your Delilah? Oh! what dreadful atheism is bound up in that man's heart, who is more afraid of the eye of his father, his pastor, his child, his servant, than he is of the eye and presence of the eternal God! Oh! that all whom this concerns, would take such serious notice of it, as to judge themselves severely for it, as to mourn bitterly over it, as to strive mightily in prayer with God both for the pardon of it, and for power against it.
The apostle sadly complains of some in his time who wallowed in secret sins. Eph 5:12, "For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret." He speaks of such as had lived in secret fornications and uncleanness. There were many that had put on a form of godliness, who yet did allow themselves in the secret actings of abominable wickedness and filthiness, as if there were no God to behold them, nor conscience to accuse them, nor judgment-day to arraign them, nor justice to condemn them, nor hell to torment them! Oh! how infinitely odious must they be in the eyes of a holy God, who can highly court and compliment him in public, and yet are so bold as to provoke him to his face in private. These are like those whores, who pretend a great deal of affection and respect to their husbands abroad, and yet at home will play the harlots before their husbands' eyes.
Such as perform religious duties only to cloak and color over their secret filthinesses, their secret wickednesses; such as pretend to pay their vows, and yet wait for the twilight, Prov 7:13-15; Job 24:15; such as commit wickedness in a corner, and yet with the harlot wipe their mouths, and say, 'What wrong have we done?' such shall at last find the chambers, the stones out of the wall, the beam out of the timber, the seats they sit on, and the beds they lie on—to witness against all their wanton dalliances, and lascivious behavior in secret, Hab 2:11. Heb 13:4, "God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." He will sentence them himself; and why? but because such sinners behave so secretly and craftily, that oftentimes none but God can find them out! Magistrates often neglect the punishing of such sinners, when their secret wickedness is made known; and therefore God himself will sit in judgment upon them. Though they may escape the eyes of men—yet they shall never escape the judgment of God!
Heart iniquities fall not under any human sentence. Usually the sexually immoral are very conniving, and secret and subtle to conceal their abominable filthiness; therefore the harlot is said to be 'subtle of heart,' Prov 7:10. The Hebrew is translated by one as "having her heart fenced. For as a city is environed with fortifications, so her heart is fortified round about with subtlety." Or else it may be rendered "fast shut up in the heart, even as close as a besieged city," that is, "most secret in the subtlety of her heart, how open soever she be in the boldness of her outward behavior." So the prophet Agur reckons the way of a man with a maid, and the way of an adulterous woman, among those things which neither himself nor any other man was possibly able to discover and find out; and compares it to the way of three things, which no wit nor industry of man is able to descry. But yet God sees all, and will bring all to the judgement, Prov 30:19-20. But,
[2.] Secondly, Consider that secret sins shall be revealed. [In my treatise called "Apples of Gold," I have proved by many arguments that the sins of the saints shall not be brought into the judgment of the great day; and therefore understand this second particular of such people who live and die in their secret sins without repentance and faith in the blood of Christ.]
The most hidden works of darkness shall be openly manifested; for though the actings of sin are in the dark—yet the judgings of sin shall be in the light; Luke 8:17, "For nothing is concealed that won’t be revealed, and nothing hidden that won’t be made known and come to light." Eccles 12:14, "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil." Mark, he does not say some work—but every work; and not only works—but secrets; and not only secrets—but every secret; and not only secret good things but evil things also. Whether good works or wicked works, whether secret or open—all must be brought to judgment. The books of God's omniscience, and man's conscience, shall then be opened; and then secret sins shall be as legible as if they were written on your forehead; as if they were written with the most glittering sunbeams upon a wall of crystal.
All men's secret sins are printed in heaven, and God will at last read them aloud in the ears of all the world: 1 Cor 4:5, "Therefore don’t judge anything prematurely, before the Lord comes, who will both bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts." Look! as there are a world of particles in the air, which we never see until the sun shines; so there are many thousand thousands of proud thoughts, and unclean thoughts, and worldly thoughts, and malicious thoughts, and envious thoughts, and bloody thoughts, etc., which the world neither sees nor knows! But in the great day, when the intentions of all hearts shall be manifest, then all shall come out; then all shall appear, to the open gaze of all the world. In that great day—all masks, cloaks, and hoods shall be pulled off—and then all shall made visible! All that ever you have done in the secret chamber, in the dark corner—shall be made known to men and angels, yes, to the whole court of heaven, and to all the world besides! Rom 2:16, "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ." In this great day, God will judge not only our words but our works, not only our open works—but also our secret works and ways.
When Jehoiakim was dead, there was found the superstitious marks, and prints of his sorcery upon his body, 2 Chron 36:8; which shows how deeply idolatry was rooted in his heart, seeing he bore the marks in his flesh during his life. He being a king, kept all hidden; but when he was dead, then all came out, then the marks of his abominable idolatry appeared upon his body. Though sinners, though the greatest of sinners, may hide and keep hidden their horrid abominations for a time—yet there will come a time when all shall be manifested; when all their secret marks and secret abominations shall be obvious to all the world.
But sinners may be ready to object and say, "Let us but alone in our secret sins until that day, and then we shall do well enough." And therefore in the,
[3.] Third place, consider, That God many times does, even in this life, discover and make known to the world men's secret sins. God loves to act suitable to his own names. Now, to be a revealer of secrets, is one of his names, Dan 2:47; and accordingly, even in this world, he often brings to light the most hidden things of darkness. Of all the glorious attributes of God, there is none which suffers so deeply by secret sins, as the attribute of his omniscience; and therefore in this world God often stands up to vindicate the honor of that attribute, by unmasking of sinners, and by bringing to the light all those secret paths and ways of wickedness, wherein they have long walked undiscovered.
It was for the honor of this blessed attribute of God, that the secret-plotted sin of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-42, was so openly discovered; "And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things." Joseph's brethren for a long time hid their malice, their craft, their cruelty, their envy, their treachery, in selling their brother into Egypt; but at last by amazing providences, all was brought to light, Gen 42:21-22; Gen 50:15-22. Conscience, which for a time may seem to be asleep—yet will in time awake, and make the sinner know, that he is as faithful in recording, as he is fearful in accusing; and this Joseph's brethren found by sad experience.
Likewise with Gehazi, he sins secretly, he lies fearfully; but at last all comes out, and instead of being clothed richly, he and his posterity were clothed with a leprosy forever; and instead of two changes of garments, God hangs them up in chains, as a monument of his wrath to all generations, 2 Kings 5:20, seq.
So Achan secretly and sacrilegiously steals a beautiful garment imported from Babylon, two hundred silver coins, and a bar of gold weighing more than a pound; and hides them in the earth in the midst of his tent, and by reason of this, Israel is defeated before their enemies. But at last Achan is found out, and all comes out, and his golden wedge proved a wedge to cleave him, and his Babylonish garment a garment to shroud him. Joshua makes a bonfire of all that he had secretly and sinfully stolen, and burns him, and his children, and all that he had, in it. Oh how openly, how severely does God sometimes punish men for their most secret iniquity!
The same you may see in that great instance of David; 2 Sam 12:9-12, "Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword (this was done in a secret letter) and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.' This is what the Lord says: 'Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.'" 2 Sam 16:22. David was very studious and very industrious to hide his sin, and to save his reputation; but the covering made of Uriah's blood was too short, and too narrow to hide his sin with Bathsheba, and therefore when he had done all he could, his sin was tossed like a ball, from man to man, through court, city, and country.
I have read of Parthenius, who, having traitorously slain Ausonius and his wife—when no man suspected or accused him thereof, he detected and accused himself after this strange manner: as he slept in his bed, suddenly he roared out most pitifully; and being asked what ailed him; he, half asleep, answered, "That Ausonius and his wife, whom he had slain long ago, summoned him to judgment before God." Upon which confession he was apprehended; and, after due examination, stoned to death. Thus the terrors and horrors of his own conscience unveiled that secret wickedness, which none could prove against him.
I have read how that Mahomet the great Turk, had with great rewards, procured two Turks to undertake to kill Scanderbeg. These traitors came to Scanderbeg, making such a show of the detestation both of Mahomet's tyrannical government and vain superstition, that they were both by Scanderbeg and others reputed to be indeed the men they desired to be accounted. Soon after, by a providence, it so happened that these two traitors argued between themselves, by which means the plot came to be discovered; and after due examination and confession of the fact, they were presently condemned and executed.
Conscience is God's spy in the heart. 'Conscience,' says Philo, 'is the little tribunal of the soul. Conscience is a thousand witnesses, for or against a man. Conscience is a court of record, and whatever it sees it writes down; and conscience is always as quick in writing as the sinner can be in sinning.' The very heathen could say that conscience was a god to every man. Conscience, as a scribe, a register—sits in the closet of your hearts, with pen in hand, and makes a journal of all your secret ways and secret crimes, which are above the cognizance of others. Conscience sets down the time when, the place where, the manner how, and the people with whom—such and such secret wickednesses have been committed; and that so clear and evident, that, go where you will, and do what you can, the characters of them shall never be cancelled or erased out, until God appears in judgment. Let a man sin in the most hidden seclusion which human policy can contrive, let him take all the ways he can to hide his sins, to cloak and cover his sin, as Adam did—yet conscience will so play the judge, that it will bring in the evidence, produce the law, urge the penalty, and pass the sentence of condemnation upon him.
There is many a man who makes a fair profession, and who has a great name in the world—who yet is self-condemned, for those secret sins which are not obvious to the eyes of man, nor punishable by the hands of men. Yes, many times in this life, God raises such a hell of horror and terror in many men's consciences, by reason of their secret sins—that they can have no rest nor quiet, neither at bed nor at board, neither lying down nor rising up. Gladly would they conceal their sins, unwilling they are that the world should know how vile they have been in secret; but conscience being upon the rack, and still a-gnawing, accusing, and condemning of them, they can hold no longer. Now all must come out; and now those sins that were most secret and concealed—come to be published upon the housetop.
Some who have been under anguish of conscience, others who have been smitten with a frenzy, and many in their very sleep—have been often the blazers and proclaimers of their own secret filthiness and wickedness. In those cases God has made many a secret sinner cry out with the leper, "Unclean, unclean!" Lev 13:45; and with Judas, before all present, "I have sinned, I have sinned!" Matt 27:4. Many times in this life, God very astonishingly discovers those secret works of darkness, in which people have lived long undiscovered.
A Pythagorean bought a pair of shoes upon trust; the shoemaker dies, he is glad, thinks them gained; but a while after his conscience flies upon him, and becomes a continual chider and tormentor of him. He hereupon visits to the house of the dead, casts in his money with these words, "There, take your due; you live to me, though dead to all besides." But,
[4.] Fourthly, Consider that secret sins are in some respects more dangerous than open sins. Many a man bleeds to death inwardly—while no one perceives it. The more inward and secret the disease is, the more the man is in danger to lose his life. There are no fevers so dangerous as those who prey upon the vitals and inward parts; so there are no sins so dangerous and pernicious to the souls of men as those who are most inward and secret. Secret sins often reign in the souls of men most powerfully, when they are least apparent.
First, Consider that he who sins secretly, deprives himself of those helps and remedies which, by a divine blessing, might arm him against sin, yes, make him victorious over sin; namely, the prayers, counsels, reproofs, examples, and encouragements of friends, relations, etc. A man's house may be on fire—but while it is all inside—no help comes. But when the fire flames out, when it caches the outside of the house, then help runs in, then help on all hands is ready. He who sins in secret debars himself of all public remedy, and takes great pains to damn his soul in secret, and to go to hell in the dark. But,
Secondly, Secret sins will make way for public sins. He who makes no conscience of sinning in the secret chamber, will before long, with Absalom, be ready to spread a tent upon the top of the house, and to go in to his concubines in the sight of all Israel, 2 Sam 12:11. Such as have made no conscience of stealing a few pins or pennies in private, have in time come to be so bold as to steal a purse in broad daylight. The cockatrice must be crushed in the egg, else it will soon become a serpent. The very thought of sin, if but continually meditated on, will break forth into action, action into custom, custom into habit, and then both body and soul are irrecoverably lost to all eternity!
If Satan can but wound our heel, as the poets feign of Achilles, he will send death from the heel to the heart. If the subtle Serpent can but wriggle in his tail by a sinful thought, he will soon get in his head by a worse action. Hence it is that Christ calls hatred, murder; and a wanton eye, immorality. Secret hatred, does often issue in open murder; and secret wanton glances of the eye, do often issue in open immorality. If Amnon is sick with the sinful imaginations of incestuous lust, how will his soul be in pain and travail until he has brought forth! And how many are there that in secret have taken now and then but one cup of liquor, who now may be seen at high noon reeling against every post. Look! as secret diseases in the body, if not cured, will in time openly break forth; so secret sins in the soul, if not pardoned and purged, will in time be openly revealed. Covetousness was Judas' secret sin; and no sooner does an occasion or a temptation present itself—but he is very ready and forward to betray and sell his Lord and Master for thirty pieces of silver before all the world! "Lust having conceived, brings forth sin," James 1:15. First, sin has its conception—which is its delight; and then sin has its birth—which is its action; and then sin has its growth—which is its custom; and then sin has its end—which is its damnation!
Thirdly, Secret sinning puts far more respect and fear upon men, than upon God. You will be unjust in secret, and wanton in secret, and unclean in secret, and treacherous in secret, etc., and why? Because you are afraid that such or such men should know it, or that such and such friends should know it, or that such and such relations should know it? Ah! poor wretch, are you afraid of the eye of a man, of a man who shall die, like the grass? Isa 51:12, and yet not tremble under God's eye, "whose eyes are as a blazing fire?" Rev 1:14. Ah! how full of atheism is that man's heart, which tacitly says, "If my sins be but hid from the eyes of the world, I do not care though the Lord knows them; though the Lord strictly observes them; though the Lord notes them all down." What is this, O man—but to brave it out with God, and to tempt him, and provoke him to his very face! Ah! sinner, sinner—can man damn you? can man disinherit you? can man fill your conscience with horrors and terrors? can man make your life a very hell? can man bar the gates of glory against you? can man speak you into the grave by a word of his mouth? What is worse—can man cast you into endless, easeless, and remediless torments? Oh no—he cannot! Can God do all this? Oh yes—God can! Why, then, does not your heart stand more in awe of the eye of the great God, than it does of the eye of a poor, weak, mortal man?
I have insisted the longer on this particular, because there is not any one thing in all the world that does more hinder secret communion with God and secret prayer—than secret sins. And oh that you would all make it your great business to watch against secret sins, and to pray against secret sins, and to mourn over secret sins, and deeply to judge and condemn yourselves for secret sins, and carefully and conscientiously to shun and avoid all occasions and provocations that may be as fuel to secret sins!
Certainly there are no men or women that are so sincere and serious in closet-prayer; or that are so frequent, so fervent, so constant in closet-prayer; or that are so delighted, so resolute, so undaunted, or so unwearied in closet-prayer; as those who keep themselves most clear and free from secret sins.
For a close, remember this—that though secret sins are in some respects more dangerous than other sins are—yet in three respects they are not so bad nor so dangerous as other sins are.
First, In that they do not so scandalize religion as open sins do.
Secondly, In that they do not shame, grieve, and wound the hearts of the saints as open sins do.
Thirdly, In that they are not so infectious to others, nor such provocations to others to sin against the Lord as open sins are.
And thus you may see what those things are that you must carefully take heed of, as ever you would addict yourselves to closet-prayer.
And as you must take heed of these five things, so there are several other things that you must carefully and conscientiously apply yourselves to, as ever you would be found faithful and constant in this great duty, namely, closet-prayer. Now they are these:
[1.] First, Lament greatly and mourn bitterly over the neglect of this choice duty. He who does not make conscience of mourning over the neglect of this duty, will never make conscience of performing this duty. Oh that your heads were waters, and your eyes a fountain of tears—that you might weep day and night for the great neglect of closet-prayer, Jer 9:1. He who mourns most for the neglect of this duty, will be found most in the practice of this duty. He who makes most conscience to accuse, arraign, and condemn himself for neglecting closet-prayer; he will make most conscience of giving himself up to closet-prayer. It is said of Adam, that he turned his face towards the garden of Eden, and from his heart bitterly lamented his great fall. Oh that you would turn your faces towards your closets, and bitterly lament your rarely going into them. But,
[2.] Secondly, Habituate yourselves, accustom yourselves, to closet-prayer. Make private prayer your constant trade. Frequency begets familiarity, and familiarity confidence. We can go freely and boldly into that friend's house whom we often visit. What we are habituated to, we do with ease and delight. A man who is habituated or accustomed to write; to read; to ride; to run; or to play on this or that musical instrument, etc., he does it all with delight and ease. And so a man who does habituate himself to closet-prayer, he will manage it with delight and ease. But,
[3.] Thirdly, Keep a diary of all your closet-experiences, Deut 7:18-19; Psalm 66:12. Oh, carefully record and book down all your closet mercies! Oh, be often in reading over your closet experiences, and be often in meditating and in pondering upon your closet experiences! There is no way like this, to inflame your love to closet-prayer, and to engage your hearts in this secret trade of private prayer.
Oh remember that at such a time you went into your closets with hard hearts, and dry eyes; but before you came out of your closets, ah, how sweetly, how graciously, how powerfully were you melted, and humbled before the Lord! Psalm 6:6; Psalm 39:12; Psalm 56:8. Oh remember how that at another time you went into your closets clouded and benighted—but came out of your closets with as glorious a shine of God upon your souls, as Moses had upon his face, when he came down from the mount from communing with God! Exod 34:28-29. Oh remember how often you have gone into your closets with cold, frozen spirits—but before you came out of your closets, what a fire has God kindled in your souls, what a spirit of burning have you found in your hearts! Luke 24:31-32; Isa 4:4. Oh remember how often you have gone into your closets straitened and shut up—but before you have come out, how have your souls been aflame! Oh remember what power God has given you against corruptions in your closets, and what strength God has given you against temptations in your closets! Oh remember the sweet discoveries of divine love that you have had when in your closets! Oh remember the secret visits, the secret kisses, the secret embraces, the secret whispers, the secret love-tokens, that Christ has given you in your closets! Oh seriously ponder upon these things, and then closet duties will be sweet unto you!
It was a sweet saying of Bernard, "O saint, know you not that your husband Christ is bashful, and will not be familiar in company; retire yourself by meditation into your closet, or into the fields, and there you shall have Christ's embraces," Song 8:11-12. Oh the more any man meditates upon his closet-experiences, the more he shall find his heart engaged to closet duties; the more you ponder upon closet experiences, the sweeter will closet-experiences be to your souls; and the sweeter closet-experiences are to your souls, the more your souls will delight to be with God in your closets.
Pliny tells us of one Messala Corvinus, whose memory was so bad, that he forgot his own name. And I am afraid that many of your memories are so bad, that you forget your closet-mercies, your closet-experiences.
I have read of such a pestilential disease once at Athens, as took away the memories of those who were infected with it, so that they forgot their own names. Oh that I had not cause to fear that some pestilential disease or other, has so taken away the memories of many, that they have quite forgot their closet-experiences. Well, friends, remember this, though stony hearts are bad—yet iron memories are good; and oh that you would all labor after iron memories, that so you may remember and ponder upon your closet-experiences.
I have read of the ancients, how they made use of white and black stones, for these two ends: first, they gave them to people at their arraignment before the judges; if they were condemned to death, they gave him a black stone—but if absolved and set free, a white stone. To which custom the Holy Spirit seems to allude in that Rev 2:17, "To him who overcomes will I give a white stone." A second use of those stones was this, that by them they might keep an account of all the good days or evil days they had met withal in their lives. Hence Giacopo Senzaro having been long in love, and much thwarted about his match, he filled a pot full of black stones, putting only one white stone among them, and being asked the reason, answered, "There will come one white day," meaning his marriage day, "which will make amends for all my black days."
Ah, friends! how often has God given you the white stone in your closets! Certainly you have had more white stones than black stones: your closet mercies and experiences have been more than your public crosses and miseries. O sirs! did you but reckon your good days according to the white stones you have had in your closets, it would make you more in love with closet-prayer than ever. But,
[4.] Fourthly, Be sure that you do not spend so much of your precious time in public duties and ordinances, as that you can spare none for private duties, for secret services. Though Pharaoh's cows ate up one another—yet our duties must not eat up one another, Gen 41:4. Public duties must not eat up family duties, nor family duties must not eat up public duties, nor neither of them must not eat up closet duties. The wisdom of a Christian does most eminently sparkle and shine, in giving every duty its proper time and place. He cannot be an excellent Christian, who is all eye to read, or all ear to hear, or all tongue to speak, or all knee to bow, to kneel, to pray, Eccles 8:5. Ah! how many are there that spend so much time in hearing of this man and that, and in running up and down from meeting to meeting, that they have no time to meet with God in their closets. O sirs! your duties are never so amiable and lovely, they are never so sweet and beautiful, as when they are seasonably and orderly performed.
Oh how wise are the men of this world, so to order all their civil affairs, that no one business shall interfere with another. They set apart for each business a convenient proportion of time; they allot an hour for one business, two for another, three for another, etc. Oh that we were as wise for our souls, as wise for eternity, as they are for this world. Oh that our hearts would so consult with our heads, that we may never lack a convenient time to seek God in private prayer!
That devil that loves to set one man against another, and one nation against another, and one Christian against another; that devil loves to set one duty against another. Hence it is that on the one hand he works some to cry up public prayers, in opposition to secret prayer; and on the other hand he works others to cry up private duties in opposition to all public duties; whereas all Christians stand obliged by God, so to manage one sort of duties, as not to shut out another sort of duties. Every Christian must find time and room for every duty incumbent upon him. But,
[5.] Fifthly, Love Christ with a more inflamed love. Oh strengthen your love to Christ, and your love to closet-duties. Lovers love much to be alone, to be in a corner together, Song 7:10-12. Certainly the more any man loves the Lord Jesus, the more he will delight to be with Christ in a corner. There was a great deal of love between Jonathan and David—and according to their love, so was their private converse, their secret communion one with another; they were always best when in the field together, or when in a corner together, or when behind the door together, or when locked up together. And just so would it be with you, did you but love the Lord Jesus Christ with a more raised and a more inflamed love; you would be always best when you were most with Christ in secret.
Divine love is like a rod of myrtle, which, as Pliny reports, makes the traveler that carries it in his hand so lively and cheerful, that he never faints or grows weary. Ah! friends, did you but love the Lord Jesus with a more strong, with a more raised love, you would never faint in closet-duties, nor you would never grow weary of closet-duties. Look! as the Israelites removed their tents from Mithcah to Hashmonah, from sweetness to swiftness—as the words import, Num 33:29—so the sweetness of divine love will make a man move swiftly on in a way of closet-duties. Divine love will make all closet-duties more easy to the soul, and more pleasant and delightful to the soul; and therefore do all you can to strengthen your love to Christ, and your love to closet-work.
It was observed among the primitive Christians, that they were so full of love one to another, that they could be acquainted one with another as well in half an hour, as in half a year. O sirs! if your hearts were but more full of love to Christ, and closet-duties, you would quickly be better acquainted with them, you would quickly know what secret communion with Christ behind the door means. But,
[6.] Sixthly, Be highly, thoroughly, and fixedly resolved, in the strength of Christ, to keep close to closet-duties, in the face of all difficulties and discouragements which you may meet with, Psalm 44:17-20. A man of no resolution, or of weak resolution, will be won with a nut, and lost with an apple. Satan, and the world, and carnal relations, and your own hearts, will cast in many things to discourage you, and take you off from closet prayer; but be nobly and firmly resolved to keep close to your closets, let the world, the flesh, and the devil, do and say what they can.
Daniel was a man of an invincible resolution; he would rather be cast into the den of lions—than he would omit praying in his chamber. Of all the duties of religion, Satan is the most deadly enemy to this duty of secret prayer; partly because secret prayer spoils him in his most secret designs, plots, and contrivances against the soul; and partly because secret prayer is so musical and delightful to God; and partly because secret prayer is of such rare use and advantage to the soul; and partly because it keeps the soul far from pride, vain glory, and worldly applause. Therefore he had rather that a man should pray a thousand times in public in the church, or in the corner of the streets—than that he should pray once in his closet. Therefore you had need to steel your hearts with holy courage and resolution, that whatever suggestions, temptations, oppositions, or objections you may encounter with, that yet you will keep close to closet prayer.
There is not any better bulwark in the day of battle, than a heroic resolution of heart before the day of battle. Sanctified resolutions do exceedingly weaken and discourage Satan in his assaults, they do greatly daunt and dishearten him in all his undertakings against the soul. That man will never long be quiet in his closet, who is not steadfastly resolved to seek the Lord in secret, though all the powers of darkness should make head against him. O sirs! divine fortitude, holy resolutions, will make you like a wall of brass, which no arrows can pierce; they will make you fully armored, so no shot can hurt; they will either enable you to remove the greatest mountains of oppositions which lie between you and closet-prayer, or else they will enable you to step over them.
Luther was a man of great resolution, and a man who spent much time in closet-prayer. And such another was Nehemiah, who met with so much opposition, that had he not been steeled by a strong and obstinate resolution, he could never have rebuilt the temple—but would have sunk in the midst of his works. Now, he was a man for private prayer, as I have shown in the beginning of this treatise. Who more resolute than David? and who more for secret prayer than David? The same I might say of Paul, Basil, and many others, who have been famous in their generations.
O sirs! sanctified resolutions for closet prayer, will chain you faster to secret prayer, than ever the resolutions Ulysses did chain him to the mast of the ship. It was a noble resolution that kept Ruth close to her mother-in-law, when her sister Orpah only compliments her, kisses her, and takes her leave of her, Ruth 1:10-20. Be but nobly resolved for closet-prayer, and then you will keep close to it, when others only court it, and take their leave of it.
In the Salentine country, there is mention made of a lake, that is still brimful: if you put in never so much, it never runs over; if you draw out never so much, it is still full. The resolution of every Christian for closet-prayer, should be like this lake—still brimful. Come life or death, come honor or reproach, come loss or gain, come liberty or bonds, come what can come—the true-bred Christian must be fully and constantly resolved to keep close to his closet. But,
[7.] Seventhly, Labor for a greater effusion of the Holy Spirit; for the greater measure any man has of the Spirit of God, the more that man will delight to be with God in secret: Zech 12:10, "And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and supplication."
Joel 2:28-29; Isa 44:3; mark, in the last of the last days, when men shall be generally under a greater effusion of the Holy Spirit than ever, then they shall be more given up to secret prayer than ever. There will never be such praying in secret, and such mourning in secret, as there will be when the Lord shall pour out most richly, gloriously, abundantly, of his Spirit upon his poor people. Now, every one shall pour out his tears and his soul before God in secret, to show the soundness of their sorrow, and to show their sincerity by their secrecy.
Certainly, the more any man is now under the blessed pouring out of the Spirit of Christ, the more that man gives himself up to secret communion with Christ. Every man is more or less with Christ in his closet, as he is more or less under the anointings of the Spirit of Christ. The more any man has of the Spirit of Christ, the more he loves Christ, and the more any man loves Christ, the more he delights to be with Christ alone. Lovers love to be alone. The more any man has of the Spirit of Christ, the more his heart will be set to please Christ.
Now, nothing pleases Christ more than the secret prayers of his people: Song 2:14, "O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see your countenance, let me hear your voice; for sweet is your voice, and your countenance is lovely." And therefore such a one will be much in secret prayer. The more any man has of the Spirit of Christ, the more his heart will be set upon glorifying and exalting Christ. Now, nothing glorifies Christ more, nor exalts him more, than secret prayer; and therefore the more any man has of the Spirit of Christ, the more that man will be found in secret prayer.
There are many people who say, they would be more in their closets than they are—but that they meet with many hindrances, many occasions, many diversions, many temptations, many oppositions, many difficulties, many discouragements, which prevent them. Ah, friends! had you a greater measure of the Holy Spirit upon you, none of these things would ever be able to hinder your secret trade heavenward. Had you a more rich anointing of the Spirit upon you, you would never plead, 'there is a lion in the way, a lion in the streets!' Prov 26:13. But were there a thousand lions between you and your closets, you would either step over them, or make your way through them—so that you might enjoy communion with Christ in your closets. But,
[8.] Eighthly and lastly, As ever you would keep close to private prayer, Be frequent in the serious consideration of eternity. Oh see eternity standing at the end of every closet-prayer, and this will make you pray to purpose in your closets.
O sirs! every work you do, is a step to a blessed, or to a cursed, eternity. Every motion, every action in this life, is a step toward eternity. As every step that a traveler takes brings him forward to his journey's end, so every step that a man takes in the secret ways of righteousness and holiness, such as closet duties are, they bring him nearer to his journey's end, they bring him nearer to a blessed eternity. Look! as every step the sinner takes in a way of wickedness, brings him nearer to hell; so every step which a saint takes in a way of holiness, brings him nearer to heaven. Look! as every step that a wicked man takes in the ways of unrighteousness brings him nearer to a cursed eternity, so every step that a godly man takes in a way of righteousness, brings him nearer to a blessed eternity.
Zeuxis, the famous painter, was so exceeding careful and cautious in drawing all his lines, that he would let no piece of his go abroad into the world, until he had turned it over and over, and viewed it on this side and that side, again and again, to see if he could spy any fault in it; and being asked the reason why he was so curious; and so long in drawing his lines, answered, 'I paint for eternity.' O sirs! we all pray for eternity, we fast for eternity, we read for eternity, we hear for eternity, we wait for eternity, we weep for eternity; and therefore oh, how exactly, how wisely, how faithfully, how carefully, how diligently, how unweariedly, should we be in all our closet duties and services; seeing that all we do is in order to eternity! Friends! you must all before long be eternally blessed, or eternally cursed; eternally happy, or eternally miserable; eternally saved, or eternally damned; eternally accepted, or eternally rejected. And therefore what infinite cause have you frequently to shut to your closet-doors, and to plead mightily with God in a corner, for the lives of your poor, precious, and immortal souls, that they may be eternally saved in the great day of our Lord Jesus. O sirs! when any hindrances to closet-prayer present themselves to you, seriously remember eternity—and that will remove them.
It is related of one Pachomius, that whensoever he felt any unlawful desires to arise in his mind, he was accustomed to drive them away with the remembrance of eternity.
One relates a story of an ungodly fellow, who on a certain night could not sleep, who, upon the serious consideration of death and eternity, and the damned lying in hell, could not be at rest—but eternity did still run in his mind; gladly would he have shaken off the thoughts thereof, as gnawing worms. Therefore he followed sports, and hobbies, and merry-meetings, and sought out companions like himself, and sat oftentimes so long at his drunken cups, that he laid his conscience asleep, and so seemed to take some rest; but when he was awakened, his conscience flew in his face, and would still be a-suggesting sad thoughts of eternity to him. Of all things in the world he could not bear it, to be kept awake in the night; but so it happened that being sick, he was kept awake one night, and could not sleep at all, whereupon these thoughts rise in him: "What! is it so tedious then to be kept from sleep one night, and to lie a few hours in the dark? Oh what is it then to be kept in torments and everlasting darkness! I am here in my own house upon a soft bed in the dark, kept from sleep but one night; but to lie in flames and endless misery, how dreadful must that be!" These and such like meditations were the happy means of this young man's conversion.
I have read a notable story of one Theodorus, a Christian young man in Egypt, who, when there was a great deal of feasting, mirth, and music in his father's house, withdrew himself from all the company, and being got alone, he thus thought with himself, "Here is contentment and delight enough for the flesh, I may have what I desire—but how long will this last? This will not hold out long." Then falling down upon his knees before the Lord in secret, he said, "O Lord, my heart is open unto you, I indeed know not what to ask—but only this: Lord, let me not die eternally; O Lord, you know I love you, O let me live eternally to praise you."
If there be any way or means on earth to bring us upon our knees before God in secret, it is the serious and solemn thoughts of eternity. Oh that the fear of eternity might fall upon all your souls! Oh that you would all seriously consider, that after a short time is expired, you must all enter upon an eternal estate! Oh consider that eternity is an infinite, endless, bottomless gulf, which no line can fathom, no time can reach, no age can extend to, no tongue can express. It is a duration always present, a being always in being; it is one perpetual day, which shall never see light. O sins! this is, and must be for a lamentation, namely, that eternity is a thing that most men never think of, or else very slenderly. But as ever you would have your hearts chained to your closets and to closet duties, as the men of Tyrus chained their God Apollo to a post, that they might be sure of him; then seriously and frequently ponder upon eternity, and with those forty valiant martyrs, be still a crying out, "O eternity, eternity!"
Mr. Wood, after some holy discourse, fell a-musing, and cried out before all present, for near half a quarter of an hour together, "Forever, forever, forever!" Austin's prayer was, "Rack me, hew me, burn me here—but spare me hereafter, spare me in eternity." Certainly, if Christians would but spare one quarter of an hour every day in the solemn thoughts of eternity, it would make them more in love with closet-prayer than ever, yes, it would make them more fearful of omitting closet-prayer than ever, and more careful and conscientious in the discharge of all closet-duties than ever.
And thus, according to my weak measure, I have given out all that at present the Lord has graciously given in to my poor soul, concerning this most necessary, most glorious, and most useful point of points, namely, closet-prayer. I shall, by assisting grace, follow this poor piece with my prayers, that it may be so blessed from on high, as that it may work mightily to the internal and eternal welfare—both of reader, hearer, and writer.