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THE NEW IRISH PULPIT,
“ We preach Christ crucified-
PREACHED IN SAINT STEPHEN'S CHURCH, DIOCESE OF DUBLIN,
ON SUNDAY EVENING, FEBRUARY 16Th, 1840,
BY THE REV, HENRY WOODWARD, A.M.
(Rector of Fethard.)
St. Matt. vi. 6. " But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray
to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
The manner of speaking here" but contrived, that when a particular hour thou, when thou prayest," appears to arrived, when it was a matter of positive contrast the mode and manner of prayer necessity enjoined on them that they which our Lord enjoined on his disci- should pray, took care that they should ples, with some spurious kinds of devo be in such parts of the town or streetstion not unknown to those whom our at a corner where two ways met—that Lord addressed. In the preceding verse the eyes of the multitude might be athe speaks of those that prayed as hypo- tracted when they knelt down to pray. crites—“ for they love to pray, standing In verse 7, there is another mode of suin the synagogues and in the corners of perstitious worship to which our Lord the streets, that they may be seen of alludes,“ when you pray, use not vain men. Verily, I say unto you, they have repetitions as the heathen do; for their reward.” This alludes, as you all they think that they shall be heard for probably know, to the Pharisees, who their much speaking.” It was customary, made it a custom to kneel down in the in fact, to repeat over and over again most public parts of the streets, and who precisely the same words, without any
heart or meaning put into them, con- enjoined duties, from the fear of obserceiving that such a blind mode of adora- vation, is the shame which our Lord tion was acceptable to their gods. In most pointedly condemns—"whosoever," fact, prayer is the very breath of the sys- he says, “ shall be ashamed of me, and tem to which it belongs. All things are, of my words, in this adulterous and sinin a certain sense, vocal with God. ful generation, of him shall the Son of Every system of religion must have some Man be ashamed when he cometh in mode, intended or not intended, of im- the glory of his father with the holy mediate address to the object of worship: angels.” And again, in St. Luke, we the peculiarity of true religion is true find almost a repetition of the same pasprayer, and none but those who address sage, where he tells us, “ whosoever themselves to the living and true God, shall be ashamed of me and of my can understand what spiritual prayer is ; words, of him shall the Son of man be for prayer is the uplifting of our spirits ashamed when he shall come in his own to the Father of spirits—it is commu- glory, and in his Father's, and of the nion with the powers of the world to holy angels.” come—it is the sympathy of the soul! It is a most remarkable circumstance with eternity—this is real prayer, and in the history of man, that shame with every other kind of prayer is wide of the respect to religion—the being ashamed real mark—it may make a show in the sight to confess the God that we worship-beof men, but every prayer that is not the longs only to those who are the professpiritual uplifting of the heart will not sors of pure and true religion. The reach heaven, it will stop in mid air, it thing was unknown among the Heathen; will recoil on the worshipper.
it is unknown among the Mahomedans ; But though our Lord forbids us to it was unknown even to the Jews ; it is pray in order that we may be seen of unknown in every form and mode of men, yet we are not to be afraid to pray, Christianity which partakes so of outso that man may see us; I mean that ward ceremonies, as almost to assimilate the object should not be that man may it to the gorgeous worship of the heasee us, but we should not be deterred by then. In all these systems there is no false shame from offering up our homage such thing as being ashamed of religion ; to God. I do not mean to say that this belongs alone to those who profess there are not natural delicacies of the themselves to be worshippers of Him mind, and that there is not a privacy that who died upon the cross. And the reason the real worshipper would seek; for in- of this shame is quite plain: men feel a stance, if a man were on his knees, and reluctance at being singular ; they feel one came into the room, I do not say it there is naturally a recoiling of their is a false shame that would make one feel minds from any thing that is against the that one's privacy was interrupted, and general feeling and stream of custom ; that there was certain delicacies of the but pomps and ceremonies are not against mind that prevented our wishing to be the general feeling, and therefore men seen in the attitude of prayer ; but I are not ashamed of these ; but humility, say, that that shame which would blink and purity, and meekness, and deadness to the world, and crucifixion of the flesh, discomposed, we find that when he came after the image of Him who died upon to the place where God had told him of, the cross, these are against the general “ that Abraham built an altar there, feeling, against the general course and and laid the wood in order, and bound habit of society; and therefore men that Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar profess true and evangelical religion upon the wood, and Abraham stretched alone, are those that are ashamed of their forth his hand, and took the knife to slay profession.
his son.” And again, we find in the 1st " But thou, when thou praxest.” | Kings xviii. a mode of expression very There is something very emphatic in the similar to this. It is where Elijah is word “ thou :" thou child of God; thou engaged in that animated controversy immortal spirit ; thou heir of glory, with all the priests of Baal, and where “ when thou prayest, enter into thy they cut themselves after their manner closet.” There is indeed altogether in with knives and lancets, till the blood the measured clauses of this sentence gushed out upon them, we find then that something very remarkable_" thou, “ Elijah put the wood in order, and cut when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, the bullock in pieces, and laid Phim on and when thou hast shut thy door, pray the wood, and said—fill four barrels with to thy Father which is in secret, and thy water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice Father which seeth in secret shall reward and on the wood. And he said-do it thee openly.” There are many instances the second time; and they did it the in Scripture in which this distribution of second time. And he said—do it the the clauses of the sentence, this kind of third time; and they did it the third measured and deliberate movement seems time. And the water ran round about to speak with peculiar power, and to the altar, and he filled the trench also carry with it a calmness and tranquillity with water.” There is only one more that brings, as it were, peace into the passage that I would call your attention soul; and we find this manner of speak to, which I think very remarkable as an ing soinetimes recorded, where the whole instance of the mode of composition I scene is calculated to produce excite- have been speaking of—it is where the ment, as much as to show the power of Lord himself was under most exciting religion in calming and tranquillising the circumstances, where he had quite unexmind. For instance, we find in Genesis pectedly announced himself to be the xxii. where Abraham is just on the point Messiah, where he turned to that pasof offering up his only son, where every sage-"the Spirit of the Lord is upon hope that he has on earth, and every me, because he hath anointed me to hope, I would say, (at least intelligible preach the Gospel to the poor, he hath to his understanding); that could bear sent me to heal the broken hearted, to even on eternity, where God, by an un- preach deliverance to the captives, and expected and peremptory command had recovering of sight to the blind; to set at required of him a sacrifice which seemed liberty them that are bound, to preach in fact to be the yielding up of every the acceptable year of the Lord.” And thing—instead of being futtered and / now “the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him."- | our prayer is a mere deception on our. But instead of excitement, the calm tran- selves. We must, in the first place, if quillity of his soul is told in the simple we would pray acceptably to God, we expression of the evangelist more than it must forgive, we must pass over, we must could in the most artificially and exquisite- obliterate from the mind, we must forget, ly contrived human composition“ he closed as to every thing of practical rememthe book, and gave it again to the minister. brance, every unkindness and every
These are instances of that tranquillity, injury that we have received. If we which is the very life and soul of religion, would come into the presence of God in and therefore we are directed to seek to prayer, we must be able to lift up our have our closets for prayer.
| eyes to him, and call him to witness, that But some will say, that they are so cir- there is not one fellow creature on eartb, cumstanced, that they have no privacy in that, if we had our wish and will, we retirement, in which they can pray.— would not desire that God would give But every person can make a closet of every temporal blessing to, that may be his heart, every man can find that retire consistent with his eternal interests.ment from the world, and privacy for And we must have no guile. Nathaniel God, which men are vainly seeking for when he offered up that prayer under the in wildernesses and in cloisters, “thou fig tree, presented a sincere heart to God, shalt hide them privily by thine own -he had doubtless his sins to repent of, presence from the provoking of all men, his infirmity and his short comings, but thou shalt keep them secretly in thy his heart must have been right with God, tabernacle from the strife of tongues.”- he could have no sins of unfaithfulness, Yes, the felt presence of God is in itself or he could not have uplifted that prayer that solitude, that deep retreat and retire- to God. ment from the world, which those who Our Lord directs us, when we enter have found out God alone can know; and into our closets; (for if places of retirethus it is, that the heart may be made the ment we have, we ought to use them) he closet to which we may retire, and this directs us to “shut the door," and this we may carry with us wherever we go. may remind us of Isaiah xxvi. 20, “come, We may carry it with us into the fields, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, as Isaac did when he went to meditate at and shut thy doors about thee, hide thyeventide-we can carry it with us into self, as it were, for a little moment, until the deep solitudes of the mountains we the indignation be overpast." can carry it with us into the crowded “When thou hast shut thy door, pray walks and avenues of society, and there to thy Father which is in secret.” The we can find, in God's presence, in the term “ Father" implies, as it were, the interior of our own souls, a temple of familiarity of home. God, considered as prayer, calm and tranquil amidst the a Sovereign and as the Supreme Majesty, storms and tempests of life.
is at an infinite distance from us; and to But in order that we may be able thus offer him worship, suitable to that High to pray, we must remember in our lives, and Holy One that inhabiteth eternity, that seasons of prayer are coming round.would imply that all the riches of the Unless we live in a state suitable to praye earth, the gold of Arabia and Seba, that all should be brought as an offeriug, in , way, it should by no means be considered order to erect a temple suitable to the but that regular and stated rules should Lord, or to fit it up and establish it in be adopted and adhered to, that we such a manner as to be suitable to his should, at stated times, morning and service. But God, considered as a Father, evening, and as often more as we find it may be approached with all the ease, expedient, and that we have opportunity, and all the familiarity that men feel at kneel down and offer positive prayer unto home. When persons of a timid and the Lord, so that one species of devotion retired spirit have been, perhaps from the should not interfere with the other. duties of their station, forced into public The last clause in this verse is, “ that scenes where all is formality, and, if the thy Father which seeth lin secret shall station be high, all is grandeur, when reward thee openly." Yes, such is the they return to the bosom of their home, nature, and mind, and character of God, and feel the ease and the comfort that sur-that he not only allows us a promise to round them there, true lovers of home approach him, in all the familiarity of can best describe the contrast of which worship that implies the address of a child they are sensible. And thus it is, that to a parent, but that he also says he will that great and glorious Being that sits on reward us--as if there was a kind of merit the circle of the heavens, and looks from in asking God for all that Omnipotence eternity to eternity, and whose will is the can pour on us; and this reward he will law of the universe, condescends to invite administer openly,_he will do it before us into the retirement of our closets, that assembled men and angels: he will do it we may there, in the most easy posture of in the open day light of eternity. So, a the mind, at perfect rest, without any marvellous change will come and those distressing form, pour out the whole prayers which we sought the privacy of weight of our sorrows, or tell out the the closet, or the privacy of our own. deep gratitude of our hearts into the ear hearts to offer up unto the Lord, these of that heavenly Father. Some persons will come forth-the remembrance of these have experienced, that there is no time will be brought out before the assembled at which they can lift up their thoughts society of celestial orders. “ behold I and hearts to God better, than when, in create,” saith the Lord, “all things new,." the stillness and darkness and solitude of -a marvellous change will come_when the night, they lie upon their beds. I this invisibility in which the believer's have known a person of great piety, and life is hid with Christ in God, will put on great elevation of character, who said, visibility, and when “ that which was “ when after the business of the day, spoken in the ear in closets, shall be proand when all the household, except my claimed on the battlements of heaven.” self, had gone to rest, and I go the last | When we hear of some triumphant march of all, and lay myself down on my bed, for some distinguished military character, there is a luxurious peace, a sense of all there is something in our nature that absence of interruption—there is a calm responds to it, there is an excitement, and stillness of the soul that seems to pass which implies nothing wrong-it is part insensibly into my prayer.”