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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW - Chapter 6 - Verse 6

Verse 6. Enter into thy closet. Every Jewish house had a place for secret devotion. The roofs of their houses were flat places for walking, conversation, and meditation, in the cool of the evening. See Barnes "Mt 9:2".

Over the porch, or entrance of the house, was, however, a small room of the size of the porch, raised a story above the rest of the house, expressly appropriated for the place of retirement, in secrecy and solitude, the pious Jew might offer his prayers, unseen by any but the Searcher of hearts. To this place, or to some similar place, our Saviour directed his disciples to repair when they wished to hold communion with God. This is the place commonly mentioned in the New Testament as the upper room, or the place for secret prayer. The meaning of the Saviour is, that there should be some place where we may be in secret—where we may be alone with God. There should be some place to which we may resort where no ear will hear us but His ear, and no eye can see us but His eye. Unless there is such a place, secret prayer will not be long or strictly maintained. It is often said that we have no such place, and can secure none. We are away from home; we are travelling; we are among strangers; we are in stages and steam-boats, and how can we find such places of retirement? I answer, the desire to pray, and the love of prayer, will create such places in abundance. The Saviour had all the difficulties which we can have, but yet he lived in the practice of secret prayer. To be alone, he rose up "a great while before day," and went into a solitary place and prayed. With him, a grove, a mountain, a garden, furnished such a place; and though a traveller, and among strangers, and without a house, he lived in the habit of secret prayer. What excuse have they who have a home, and who spend the precious hours of the morning in sleep, and who will practise no self-denial that they may be alone with God? O Christian! thy Saviour would have broken in upon these hours, and would have trod his solitary way to the mountain or the grove, there he might pray. He did do it. He did it to pray for thee, too indolent and too unconcerned about thy own salvation and that of the world, to practise the least self-denial in order to commune with God! How can religion live thus ? How can such a soul be saved?

The Saviour does not specify the times when we should pray in secret. He does not say how often it should be done. The reasons may have been,

(1.) that he designed that his religion should be voluntary—and there is not a better test of true piety than a disposition to engage often in secret prayer. He designed to leave it to his people to show attachment to him by coming to God often—and as often as they chose.

(2.) An attempt to specify the times when this should be done would tend to make religion formal and heartless. Mohammed undertook to regulate this, and the consequence is a cold and formal prostration at the appointed hours of prayer all over the land where his religion has spread.

(3.) The periods are so numerous, and the seasons for secret prayer vary so much, that it would not be easy to fix rules when this should be done. Yet without giving rules—where the Saviour has given none—we may suggest the following as times when secret prayer is proper:

(1.) In the morning. Nothing can be more appropriate when we have been preserved through the night, and when we are about to enter upon the duties and dangers of another day, than to render him thanks, and to commit ourselves to his fatherly care.

(2.) In the evening. When the day has closed, what more natural than to render thanks and to implore forgiveness for what we have said or done amiss, and to pray for a blessing on the labours of the day; and when about to lie down again to sleep, not knowing but it may be our last sleep, and that we may awake in eternity, what more proper than to commend ourselves to the care of Him "who never slumbers nor sleeps."

(3.) We should pray in times of embarrassment and perplexity. Such times occur in every man's life, and it is then a privilege and a duty to go to God and seek his direction. In the most difficult and embarrassed time of the American revolution, Washington was seen to retire daily to a grove in the vicinity of the camp at Valley Forge. Curiosity led a man to observe him on one occasion, and the father of his country was seen on his knees supplicating the God of Hosts in prayer. Who can tell how much the liberty of this nation is owing to the answer to the secret prayer of Washington?

(4.) We should pray when we are beset with strong temptations. So the Saviour prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, (Comp. Heb 5:7,8) and so we should pray when we are tempted.

(5.) We should pray when the Spirit prompts us to pray; when we feel just like praying; when nothing can satisfy the soul but prayer. Such times occur in the life, of every Christian; and they are "spring- times" of piety—favourable gales to waft us on to heaven. Prayer to the Christian, at such times, is just as congenial as conversation with a friend when the bosom is filled with love; as the society of father, mother, sister, child is, when the heart glows with attachment; as the strains of sweet music are to the ear best attuned to the love of harmony; as the most exquisite poetry is to the heart enamoured with the muses; and as the most delicious banquet is to the hungry. Prayer, then, is the element of being; the breath; the vital air; and then the Christian must and should pray. He is the most eminent Christian who is most favoured with such strong emotions urging him to prayer. The heart is then full. The soul is tender. The sun of glory shines with unusual splendour. No cloud intervenes. The Christian rises from the earth, and pants for glory. Then we may go alone with God, We may enter the closet, and breathe forth our warm desires into the ever-open ear of God, and he who sees in secret will reward us openly.

In secret. Who is unseen.

Who seeth in secret. Who sees what the human eye cannot see; who sees the secret real designs and desires of the heart. Prayer should always be offered, remembering that God is acquainted with our real desires; and that it is those real desires, and not the words of prayer, that he will answer.

{p} "seeth in secret" Ps 34:15; Is 65:24

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