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such a one had, yet I have opened my heart to God as I could in secret formerly, and there is the same refuge now, the same road into this city and sanctuary, and therefore all my comfort is not gone, blessed be God. But a poor soul that hath leaned upon the staff of others' enlargements will be severely put to it when that staff is gone: and, is it not a great disparagement to a noble and immortal soul, that it cannot treat and entertain its God alone? What, cannot God and a heaven-born soul converse together without auxiliaries? Must another interpose as an instrument, without whom you cannot enjoy communion with God? Be ashamed of it, and chide yourselves, as not acting suitably to your rational powers, much less to a supernatural principle of grace.
Lastly, let me further demand of you—what, if our Lord should call you away and find you under the guilt of neglecting this known duty ? What confusion, grief, and jealousy would possess you if death should arrest you in such state? What a hurry was forlorn Saul in, when the Philistines were upon him, and he had not offered sacrifice unto God? And what a desperate plunge will you be put to, when the king of
, terrors is upon you, and you have not personally and privately been seeking God? Though you may be right and safe for the main, yet your spirits will be much perplexed, and you will suffer shrewd rebukes from your own consciences for your omission, and will be put to that last prayer of a dying saint eminent in the church, “ The Lord forgive me my sins of omission ;” and possibly may want that spiritual solace in a dying hour that praying souls may have. O what a blessed thing will it be, if our dear Redeemer find a believer upon his knees before the Lord! Othe hearty welcome he will give unto his God! This is
the time he waited for, he was got into a corner, was sighing over his sins, pleading for mercy, breathing after grace, and panting for glory, and behold, what a quick return doth his God make! even while he is speaking and praying the Lord doth send a guard of angels to conduct the soul into eternal mansions, where God and the soul shall part no more.
Blessed for ever is that servant whom his Lord, when he cometh shall find so doing! Now consider of it, which state would you be found in? And do not you know, his coming may be sudden and unexpected? Would you be found under neglect, or in the faithful performance of duty ? Would you not be carried from your closet devotions, to eternal communion with God ? O then take our Lord's most wholesome counsel, “ Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.”—Mark xiii. 33.
I might here challenge Christians also, not only for their neglect, but careless performance of this duty of closet prayer : with what sorry shifts do we put off God ? how hard, dead, unbelieving, distracted are our hearts in secret? God takes much pleasure in adverbs; it pleaseth not God that a duty be done, except it be well done. Many satisfy their own consciences that they have prayed, but consider not how they have prayed. There is a curse on such as do the work of God negligently; and, that have in their flock a male, and offer to the Lord a corrupt thing * And it is a fearful thing to get a curse upon our knees, when we come for a blessing. Look to it, God takes notice how you pray; the devil stands under your closet window, and heareth what you say to God in secret, all the while studying how he may commence a suit against you for your duty; like those that come to sermons
* Jer. xlviii. 10. Mal. i. 14.
to carp or catch at what the preacher saith; or as one saith, like a cunning opponent in the schools, while his adversary is busy reading his position, he is studying to confute it; and oh, what advantage do we often give Satan to .trip us and make us tardy? What occasion do we afford him to accuse us to God and to ourselves, while we have our filthy garments on us ? Yea, remissness in our duties brings decay in grace. Tradesmen may go behind-hand by being careless in their dealings, as well as by being much out of their shops. Alas, what sad decay is in our souls for want of close and constant communion with God! We have very perverse hearts, we have much ado with them ; when we would do good, evil is present. It is our great sin we are so much out of order, even upon our knees. Satan sends his imps to haunt and torment us, he jogs our hand when we are to write a letter to heaven in prayer, so that we can scarcely make sense of what we present to God. Our thoughts are unfixed, ranging abroad like a spaniel to a thousand objects, so that sometimes we have lost ourselves, and know not where we are. Oh let us lament our vain and trifling spirit in secret duties, and turn unto God for help, as a servant when the child he tends is troublesome, and will not be ruled by him, calls out to the father to come to him, who no sooner speaks the word, but all is hushed with him; our God can set in order our unruly spirits, only he will be called upon by earnest prayer.
INSTRUCTIONS RELATIVE TO THE DEVOTIONS
OF THE CLOSET.
My next and main business is to furnish assistance in the duty of closet prayer, by proposing some helps and rules for direction, which I shall reduce to these four heads : namely,
Preparatives to it,--essentials in it,-circumstances about it,--and consequences upon it. To prepare :
1. Look to your state before God. If you be not real saints, you are not fit for this spiritual duty. Your relation must be changed by converting grace ; hence the text saith, “Pray to thy Father.” See then that God be your Father in Jesus Christ, else you cannot truly cry, Abba Father. If we must be reconciled to our brother before we offer our gifts, much more to God, for how can two walk together except they be agreed? I deny not but an unregenerate person should withdraw himself into retirement, examine his state, fall down on his knees, and beg converting and pardoning grace, and thus men should acquaint themselves with God, that they may come before him; for depraved, unconverted sinners, have no right as children to call to the King of heaven, though as creatures they may and must seek unto God, yet they worship afar off. It is the gracious Christian only, that prayeth acceptably: wicked men's prayers are an abomination; an hypocrite shall not come before him.-Job xiii. 16. And, indeed, till you be real saints, you will have no mind to buckle close to this duty: truth of grace will capacitate you for secret approaches to God; strength of grace will elevate you to God; and evidence of sincerity will make you come boldly to the throne of grace. Therefore try your state, inquire what relation you have to God, or else expect no familiarity with him. God will not take the wicked by the hand to lead them into these chambers of communion, the throne of iniquity hath no fellowship with him. Our Lord Jesus marrieth none but widows that are divorced from all other husbands, and he opens his heart to none but his betrothed spouse. O sirs ! come over without reserve to God, by closing with Christ, renounce yourselves, be united to him, and then come aud welcome to enjoy communion with him in closet prayer.
2. Discard other things from your hearts and'hands, let not your earthly transactions intrude into your closet exercises; say to the concerns and affairs of the world as Abraham to his servants, “Stay there while I go and worship the Lord yonder," or as Nehemiah in another case, “I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down to you:” so do thou say, I have appointed other times and seasons for attending worldly business, let me alone with my God, every thing is beautiful in its season, communion with God is as much as I can attend to at once, I must not be diverted by other objects, the business I am about is of the greatest importance, I must consult how I may attend upon the Lord without distraction, and worldly matters have distracted me in God's service, and have cost me many a tear; therefore get away from me. Why should the work of the Lord cease? Why should I be kept from my God? What can you afford me that can be worth one hour's communion with him ?
Thus do you