18 MARCH (PREACHED 1770)
Waiting on God in secret
‘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.’ Matthew 6:6
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING: Matthew 6:5–18
Prayer is the ordinance in which we have most immediate access to God. It is the most spiritual part of worship, which is the reason why our carnal hearts are most averse to it. In conversing and hearing, it is more easy to keep up some attention without the actual exercise of grace. And therefore we find many ready enough to talk with Christians, or to hear sermons, who know but little of waiting upon God in secret. To keep up this communion, the soul must be habitually disposed to seek the Lord for his own sake. In prayer, if spiritually performed, we turn our backs upon creatures, and call home our thoughts to fix them immediate upon God in Christ, as seated on his throne of glory. It seems plain therefore that this exercise is especially suited to engage our hearts. Hence they that live much in prayer may be said to live much with God, and as frequency of visits gives acquaintance and freedom, they are most in the way of receiving special manifestations from him. On this account, I would remark that though it is very desirable to maintain a praying frame at all times and in all places, so as to be able to lift up our hearts to him in spontaneous and secret prayer—in our common occasions, and as we are walking in the streets—yet it is our wisdom to be punctual in observing set times of approaching him. There are some great ends in prayer, particularly the contemplation of his glory, which seem to require a retired and solemn attendance upon him.
FOR MEDITATION: Think of him as often as you can; make a point of praying to him in secret, remembering that when you are most alone, he is still with you. When you pray, endeavour simply to express your wants and feelings just as if you were speaking to me. Fine words and phrases, some people abound in; but true prayer is the genuine language of the heart, which the Lord understands and accepts, however brokenly expressed. The woman of Canaan only said, ‘Lord, help me!’ The publican’s prayer was almost as short, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’; and both were heard.
John Newton to his niece, 23 October 1783
SERMON SERIES: ON THE TRANSFIGURATION, NO. 3 [2/4], LUKE 9:29