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SECONDLY, The second parts of prayer is confession of our sins. Here we shall shew,
1. What sins we are to confess.
2. The necessity of confession. 3. How we are to confess sin.
First, The sins we are to confess are, original and actual sins, sins of omission, commission, heart, lip, and life, Psal. li. 4, 5. In a word, all our sins, so far as we are capable, (for who can understand his errors?' Psal. xix. 12.) but especially those which must wound the conscience, we are to be particular in, with their aggravations.
Secondly, Let us consider the necessity of confession, (1.) It is necessary to clear the Lord's justice in proceeding against us, Psal. li. 4. Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. (2.) The nature of the thing requires it, in order to obtain pardoning mercy, Prov. xxviii. 13. Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall have mercy.'
Thirdly, How are we to confess sin?
1. Fully, without hiding of any thing wilfully, Prov. xxviii. 13. He that covereth his sins shall not prosper. God knows all our sins, and all the circumstances of them! so that it is in vain to mince our confession, and it speaks a heart not duly humbled.
2. Freely and voluntarily, pouring out the heart like water, and not merely making the confession as extorted. Whenever grace touches the heart, it will make it come freely away.
3. Sincerely, confessing it with shame, sorrow, hatred of it, and a real purpose of reformation; otherwise it is but a mock confession.
THIRDLY, The third part of prayer is thanksgiving for mercies. Here I shall shortly shew,
1. What is the matter of this thanksgiving,
2. The necessity of it.
3. How we should give thanks. First, The matter of it is,
1. Spiritual mercies, Eph. i. 3. These are mercies for our souls, and lead to everlasting happiness; and therefore are most to be prized. They challenge the warmest and
the most grateful acknowledgements from all who have received them.
2. Temporal mercies from the womb till now, Psal, cxxxix. 14. These call for the most thankful acknowledgments every day, for they are new every morning. And we ought to be thankful for mercies conferred, not only on ourselves, but also on others, particular persons or societies. So did the apostle as to Philemon, Phil, ver. 4. I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers. And so he did as to the Philippians, chap. i. 3. "I thank my God, upon every remembrance of you.'
Secondly, Let us consider the necessity of thanksgiving. 1. It is all that we can render to God for good or benefits received, Hos. xiv. 2. namely, to acknowledge debt, and be thankful. Ingratitude among men is reckoned a great sin and scandal, and fixes an odious character on the person: but how much greater a sin and scandalous offence is it to be unthankful to God for the mercies which we enjoy, and that we never deserved at his bountiful hand! It is the character of heathens, Rom. i. 21. O let it not be that of Christians!
2. It is the way to get more. Unthankfulness mars the course of divine communications; but to the thankful it is opened, Phil. iv. 6. Ingratitude among men provokes the liberal person to with-hold his hand; and so does it provoke the holy God, the giver of all good, to restrain his favours. Alas! it is more natural to us to ask than to give thanks, Among ten seekers (the lepers), whom Christ cured of a very inveterate disease, there was but one thanker; and he is specially noticed in the gospel-history. We should never beg a mercy from the Lord, without heartily thanking him for all we have formerly received, as this is the ready way to procure more.
Thirdly, How should we give thanks? With enlarged hearts, wondering at undeserved goodness; with deep humility for mercies conferred on such mean and unworthy creatures; with hearty resolutions to improve them for God's glory and honour; and with warm desires to receive more favours from the hands of God, our bountiful be nefactor.
I shall conclude with a few inferences.
1. To live without prayer is a godless and graceless life, It is no better than the life of beasts, unsuitable to the rational nature of man, contrary to the design and end of his creation, and highly unbecoming one who is a candidate for immortality. It exposes the sinner to the severest strokes of God's justice; and, persisted in, will land him in hell. O let us all be excited to a life of prayer, remembering that we cannot be Christians without it. To pretend to be a Christian, and not to live a life of prayer, is a palpable contradiction,
2. The missing of the answers of prayer is our own fault, we pray amiss. If we always prayed in faith, and in the manner formerly observed, we would not be disappointed. Let us then be induced to pray in a right manner, and wait particularly on the Lord for gracious acceptance, and a favourable answer.
3. It is through Jesus Christ that the communication with heaven is opened and obtained. Let us then pray in his name, depend upon his intercession, and present all our petitions to God through him: for him the Father heareth always.
4. We need the Spirit of prayer, in order to our praying aright. Let us then cry incessantly for the Holy Spirit, and his influences; for we know not what to pray for as we ought. Let us look for his quickening influences to quicken our dead hearts, and warm our frozen affections, that we may send up our hearts unto God, and wing our desires to heaven.
5. Be exhorted to give yourselves unto prayer in all the sorts of it. Be men of prayer, as David was Psal. cxix, 164. Seven times a-day do I praise thee.' How may this shame many Christians who pray but twice a-day? And how does it condemn all who restrain prayer before the Lord? O let us be induced to make conscience of this important and delightful duty; without the exercise of which, we behave no better than the beasts that perish, and are a company of ungrateful monsters, that shall be turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God, Pray evening and morning, and at all convenient seasons. Be always in a praying frame, and be devout and lively in all your applications to the throne of grace. Omit no season of it, not even amidst your daily employments; for even then ye
may send forth pious thoughts towards heaven, and maintain communion with God while you are engaged in your daily labours: Pray without ceasing.'.
I might have spoke of occasional and stated prayer; of public, private, and secret prayer; and of ordinary and extraordinary; but I shall drop all these, and only give you next a discourse on secret prayer.
A DISCOURSE ON SECRET PRAYER.
Matth. 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.
AVING opened unto you the nature of prayer in ge.
neral, before I proceed to the explanation of the Lord's prayer, it will not be improper to discourse a little of that too much neglected duty, secret prayer; concerning which our blessed Lord gives directions in this passage of scripture. And this he does negatively, ver. 5. cautioning against performing that important duty with vanity and ostentation, to gain the applause of men. (2.) Positively, in the text. Wherein consider,
1. The duty itself urged by the Lord. And in it we may observe,
(1.) The duty supposed: When thou prayest. That this is to be understood only of secret prayer, is manifest from the text, and the preceding verse. Public prayer cannot be meant; for where else is that to be performed but in the congregation? Not family-prayer, which is not performed in a closet, and which must be done by more than one. Not ejaculatory prayer, which may be done any where, in any company, and whatever one be doing, as in the case of Nehemiah, chap. ii. 4. Therefore we must understand here solemn secret prayer; which, in the text, the Lord takes it for granted that his disciples made conscience of.
(2.) The place to be chosen for it: Enter into thy closet; that is, a secret place, where you may be out of the view
of others; for secret prayers are not to be restrained to secret chambers, as Christ's praying on a mountain does evidence.
(3.) The care that we should take least our secret place become public: Shut thy door, so as others may not see thee, and so thou fall a sacrifice to hypocrisy, vanity and
(4.) The duty itself commanded: Pray to thy father which is in secret. Where we have, [1.] The object of prayer, thy Father, namely in Christ; intimating to us, that when we go to God, we should go to him as he is our Father in Christ, able and ready to help us, and reconciled to us in him. [2.] A designation which the Father gets, which is in secret; who knows as well what thou sayest in a secret place as what thou sayest in public; for he is omniscient and omnipresent.
2. The motive whereby he presseth secret prayer, viz. God's reward, who will openly reward service done in secret, which the world knows not of. And those who make conscience of this duty in faith and fervency, are no strangers to those rewards and advantages that are to be met with in this heavenly traffic.
The text affords the following doctrine.
DOCT. Secret prayer is a necessary duty incumbent on all.'
In discoursing from this subject, I shall,
I. Confirm the doctrine.
II. Shew the necessity of secret prayer.
III. Answer some cases relating to this duty, in order to clear it further to you.
IV. Make some practical improvement.
I. I am to confirm the doctrine, or shew that secret prayer is a necessary duty incumbent on all. This will be clear, if ye consider,
1. Christ's express command in the text, which is to us instead of all reasons. His will is a sufficient ground of our duty. He commands nothing but what is just and right in itself, good for us, and conducive to his glory. And the command of God should be a prevalent motive