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JOSHUA xxiv. 15.
But as for me and my house, we pill serve
FROM these words I shall take occasion to discourse to you of the necessity and great importance of private and family prayer. And, in order to this, I shall,
First, Shew that it is the indispensible duty of every one to retire into his closet, and pray to his heavenly Father in secret.
Secondly, That it is the duty of every governor of a family to call every one of his household together, and offer up their joint prayers to God for his blessing and protection.
Thirdly, I shall endeavour to answer the objections to this duty.
And, lastly, conclude with a suitable application.
First, I am to shew that it is the indispensible duty of every one to retire into his closet, and pray to his heavenly Father in secret.
And this is very evident from the nature of the thing itself. For private worship is a surer testimony of our belief in God's omniscience, than public devotions can be, because it is not to be supposed that a man would shut himself in a closet and pray, unless he had a firm belief that he was addressing himself to a Being of infinite knowledge; a Being who knows the secrets of his heart, knows his wants and infirmities, and is all-powerful to grant his requests whenever he sees it fitting.
But in public prayer it may be otherwise. A man's heart is so treacherous, that he often deceives himself as well as the world, and makes himself believe that he is acting upon a religious motive, while he is influenced by views of interest, or a principle of vain glory: like the Pharisees of old, he prays in public, that he may be seen of men, out of custom, decency, or some worldly motive.
But in private prayer a person cannot be deceived, because praying in secret is founded upon the belief of God's omniscience, and the constant exercise of it must naturally keep up in our minds a due sense of being under the allseeing eye of God, which will be a means to restrain us from committing even the most secret sin ; and it is our secret sin that we are in the greatest danger of.
Besides, in private we have an opportunity to be more particular in our prayers than it is possible to be in public. We have, all of us, some particular sins to confess; some particular temptations to pray against ; some particular wants to be satisfied, and some particular blessings to give thanks for. Now, we cannot make these particular circumstances, peculiar to each of us, the subject of our public devotions; therefore we must retire into our closets, and pray to our heavenly father in secret...
If we attend the public devotions of our families, or at the church, ever so constantly, still there is a necessity for daily private devotions, that we may confess our secret sins, give thanks to God for our particular blessings, and pray particularly for his divine Grace to protect us from those temptations to which we are most liable..
When we are thus particular in confessing our secret sins, and in acknowledging the mercies and blessings of our Creator, it must have a much stronger effect upon our minds than if we only did all this in a public and general manner. · Among the many excellent instructions given, by our Saviour to his disciples is this: IVher thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and rohen thou hast shut the door, pray to thry Father which is in secret, and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. And this he practised himself; he chose a mountain, a desert, or a garden, for this purpose ; and, that he might be more private, he prayed at night; when he was uncbserved by any human eye. A great while before it was day, he went out and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. All another time, he continued all night in prayer to God.
Many examples of this kind we have in the seriptures : Hannah prayed unto the Lord, and
wept soré; she spoke in her heart, and her voice was not heard. David remembered God upon his bed, and meditated on him in the nightwatches. Abraham was alone when he stood before the Lord and prayed for Sodom. Jere- . miah's soul wept in secret places for the pride of his people. And Peter went up upon the house top to pray about the sixth hour. All these are written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the scriptures, might have hope.
We are not obliged always to be upon our knees, but we ought once every day at least to retire into some secret place, and perform this important duty. And, when we do this, it will be an effectual means of increasing our faith; will make us perfectly resigned to the will of Providence, and ready to perform all possible acts of kindness to our fellow creatures. When we come out of the closet to worship God in the family, or to the public worship in church, we are then much better prepared for it than if we had neglected this duty; the public ordinances would be more improving to us, and we should relish religious exercises with greater pleasure.
What can tend more to alleviate an afflicted mind, which is, perhaps, labouring under the pressure of losses and disappointments, under sickness, or some bodily pain, than to retire in secret and vent its grief, and implore the divine assistance? And what greater comfort can there be to a man, than to think that he is addressing himself to a gracious Father, who
has pronrised to reward him openly for suci secret acts of piery? The bountiful Creator will, most assuredly, reward him openly in this life, or that which is to come.
Every one has something in his constitution ' or situation that subjects him to particular temptations, which requires that he should be very watchful over himself; to give a due attention to his thoughts, words, and actions, and to keep a strong guard where he finds himself most exposed to danger. And how is he to do this, unless he retires into his closet to examine his actions, and pray to the supreme Being to guard and protect him?
If ye will be followers of Christ, and those good men whose examples are recorded in scripture for our imitation, we must needs think ourselves under the highest obligation to · pray in secret. And when we accustom our
selves to this, we shall obtain an habitual temper of devotion; so that whenever we catch ourselves in a fault, we shall naturally address our minds to God in a penitential ejaculation : . and this we may do in company as well as in the claset.
As prayer is the life of religion, so short ejaculations are the life of prayer. And frequency of prayer requires that we should offer up short ejaculations to God. We have abundant instances of this sort in scripture, especially in the Book of Psalms. Holy David took occasion from almost every circumstance of life, to break out into pathetic starts of devotion, which kept his heart continually warmi.