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served of men, the less careful were they that they should be acceptable in heaven. God will have no such service; he will accept of no such prayers. Imperfect services, indeed, and most polluted prayers, he does content him to receive, or he had never any at our hands—but he must have the object single and the purpose honest: he will never hear a prayer that is offered for any one's hearing but his own, or smile on an expression of devotion that is intended to win any smile but his. Whether the prayer be offered in the secrecy of our closets, or in the midst of an assembled crowd, it is the same to him, provided he see himself the only end and object of that prayer. It is not therefore that he rejects the publick service of his people, but that he disdains the mixed or the dissembled motive. He will have no worship at our hands beneath the world's smile, that we would not as freely render him beneath its frowns. He does not forbid us to pray in publick, or to acknowledge him before men-we have positive.command to do so but the motive of our publick prayers : must be the same as of our private ones-a simple desire to be heard of him we pray to.
“They have their reward”--the reward of hypocrisy, as just as it is fearful. It is no longer the fond requital of a grateful world to a humane and generous spirit—the richest of earthly wages, for the best of earthly services; it is no longer the affection of men rewarding the benevolence of men, as in the last division of the text.
The words are the same, but the sentence is now most awful. They have their reward—but what could it have been, for it should seem they merited none- bitter even in the gathering should be the fruit of an hypocrisy that deserved nothing of God or of man? Their reward on earth has been to gain credit for a sanctity they had not, and be admired for a devotion they felt not-to know withal that they were not what they were esteemed-to pass through a little space for something they know they are not, and gather a momentary applause that they know
they deserve not in stupid insensibility to forget, or in agony to remember, that some one beholds them who is not deceived. And at the last who would earn the shame of such a payment-to stand before the assembled world, unclothed, detected, exposed—the wonder of those who had admired, the shame of those who had loved them, the sorrow of the hosts of heaven, the proudest triumph of hell-beings who desired to seem what they never desired to be—who thought the counterfeit worth seeking while they despised the realityput themselves to the pain and trouble of disguise, to win the brief approbation of their fellow men; but thought not the approbation of the all-seeing God worthy of their regard. Beings most miserable, who have passed sentence on themselves or ever they are judged in heaven for they have shown that they knew the character they ought to wear, and consented to it as good, since they assumed it for their credit's sake.
The assumption of a religious character at the present day, as outwardly distinguished from that of the world at large, is every where extensively increasing—its outward features are as marked and as observable as the prayers of the Pharisees. We have our prayer-meetiugs, our expositions, our religious parties, our schools, and our associationsman interest in which is considered by the friends and the enemies of godliness, as a manifestation of a religious disposition, and in which those who desire so to be considered, eagerly enlist themselves. We have no right that I perceive, except it be on the ground of some very glaring inconsistency, to withold from any such the reward that heaven has assigned them. I cannot think, as some have done, that we are to draw baek from any such, or say to them, Stand aside, for ye are hypocrites-unless it be in a case where intimate knowledge and relative situation give us a right to be their counsellors. By assuming the habits and practices of the children of God, they make an open profession of godliness, and avow a desire to be considered religious among men, and to take their portion with the people of God. If we knew them false, which, unless we know their hearts, we cannot, we could not make them true. It rather seems that God has accorded them eir miserable choice, and that man is required to yield to them their pitiful reward—the transient recompence of successful hypocrisy. But how fearful, how tremendous to every one of us individually, to every one whom the world in derision or in admiration accounts religious, is this judicial grant from the God who sees the secrets of our hearts, and cannot be deceived. How fearful to think that the kindness with which we are welcomed into the society of the pious, the pleasure that is expressed at seeing us become more serious, the attention that is given to our words, the approbation that waits upon our actions, the name of piety that is every where attached to our character, may be no more than the reward which Heaven in indignant justice has assigned to the hypocrite. It is to the young more particularly we would represent this possibility, because they are most in danger of being themselves deceived in the deception they are practising -taking the opinions and the encouragement of those about them, as a proof of their own sincerity: as no man returns their coin, and tells them it is counterfeit, they, too, may believe it to be gold, till late it is weighed and found wanting. Nothing can avert from us a danger so imminent but an honest, close examination of our own hearts, humbly and before God-of our principles, apart from the external circumstances that influence them - of our conduct, apart from the temporal results we expect from it. Young people find the hubbub of action more congenial than the sedative of reflection, the excitation of religious society, than the probation of the closet: what they find agreeable, they fancy to be good-as the patient, languid from fever, fancies the stimulating draught revives him. With honest eagerness, and really desiring their own good, they hasten to seek the notice, and busy themselves in the employments of the persons they desire
to imitate. Far be it from us to check them in any pious pursuit, begun from a pious motive: but we would persuade them to reserve so much time at least from all this active zeal, as will suffice them to go into their closets, and shut their doors about them, and think thus within themselves—“My Father, which seeth in secret, knows exactly what is my inducement to this open display of my religion_whether I go to that place because certain others go, or simply because I think it my duty --whether I said those words to recommend my religion or myself—whether I did that deed because man would know it, or because God would know it—whether I seem devout because those I love encourage and desire it, or because it is the honest feeling of my heart toward God and my Redeemer?" Alas! our hearts are so deceptive, so treacherous, that with our utmost scrutiny we shall never come exactly at the truth of our feelings; but the prayer in secret that ensues on such an examination, will be more acceptable in heaven, than any publick exercise of devotion—it will bring down a light upon our bosom that will disclose what we could not else discover--that will purify what it does not disclose—that will sanctify the service which remains imperfect-and that prayer, the simple result of urgent necessity, the language of conscious imbecility, unheard by any but Him to whom it is addressed, left out entirely from the record men are keeping of our pious dispositions--that prayer will be registered in heaven where only it is heard: and little a debtor as indeed he is for what is no good to him, though much to us, God has declared he will reward it openly-openly to our own perceptions now, in the blessings that will answer to it-openly to the universe hereafter, by acknowledging us as his redeemed children, who have believed his word and obeyed it, and served him with a simple and an honest heart.
We would not, by these observations, discourage the outward manifestations of piety that the world expects of us—the tree must be known by its fruits—the seed that
brings forth a hundred fold, does surely not lie buried in the earth, and out of sight; but however manifest the fruit may be, the root that bears it must lie deeper buried than the eye of man can penetrate—it must be where it would remain, though man should despise its fruits and trample down its branches--it must be like the wild rose of the forest, that bears as many blossoms and as sweet, where no one comes to look at them, as when it hangs on the hedge-row of the garden.
Next to the place and motive of the prayer, our Saviour proceeds to censure the manner of it—and from the position of the sentence, this censure seems to apply to the secret as well as to the publick prayer—"They thought they should be heard,” which betrays at least a desire to be acceptable, or to have what they petition for. It cannot be simply the length of the prayer that is objected to, but the importance attached to its length by those who offer it. The heathen, in their addresses to their gods, likely valued the prayer by the words it contained, and laid claim to a reward proportioned to their pains: and we hear of Christians, 150, who claim merit for the number of times their poter-poster is repeated. The divine Preacher explains his own meaning, when he bids us not be like them; not because a long prayer is offensive to God, but because it is unnecessary—“Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask.” If prayer in itself were meritorious in the sight of God, as the heathen thought, and as I fear some Christians think, then the longer the prayer, the greater the merit, and God, who is so willing to bestow his blessings, would not put a limit to our purchase of them. But our prayers can make no purchase they have no merit—they can neither expiate our sins, nor entitle us to favour. On this ground, therefore, the length of the prayer avails not. If God needed to be informed of our wants, if he needed to be informed of our desires even, there would be reason why our prayers should be longfor many indeed, and frequent indeed are our necessities,