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Love makes every thing easy; hence it comes to pass that Christ's yoke is easy, Matt. xi. 30, his ways pleasant, and his commandments not grievous, 1 John v. 3. If thy heart were right, duties would be sweet to thy soul; it is no burden to eat, drink, sleep; the acts of nature are delightful to persons in a right temper, if they be not, nature is opprest, and out of order. A child of God in duty, so far as regenerated, is like a man in his calling, or a creature in its proper element; besides, wert thou more accustomed to duty in secret, it would be more familiar to thee, and less irksome. We see by experience, use makes heavy things light, we hardly feel the weight of our clothes, because fitted to us, and constantly carried by us, whereas the same weight upon our shoulders would trouble
Christians, consider all christian duties are not of equal difficulty ; yet withal observe it, duties that are hardest to go through, many times bring the sweetest income; and so is this, the profit of it will abundantly recompense for your pains in it; be sure when a duty is lined with difficulty, and your corrupt hearts draw back, and have most averseness to it, there is something of God in that duty, and God intends you more than ordinary advantage by it; therefore do not say a word against it, but stir up yourselves, spur on your hearts, shake off sloth, and run to God, whatever Satan, the world, or the flesh say to the contrary.
Some Cases of Conscience, examined and solved.
THERE are yet four cases of conscience I shall briefly propose and answer.
1. Case. Whether or not may a hypocrite or graceless soul perforin this duty of closet prayer; and what
difference is there betwixt a real saint and an unregenerate person in this exercise ?
Ans. It is possible a carnal man may pray in secret, but with these differences :-(1.) He is urged to it by the challenges of an accusing conscience, he is as it were dogged to it, he dare not but do it; but a child of God hath a gracious principle, inclining him to it, from love to God, and a desire to please and enjoy him: yet, through the remainders of corruption, there is much unwillingness in the best, so that sometimes a saint must even force himself to the perform
(2.) A hypocrite will not thus pray always, Job xxvii. 9, 10; it is only in some pang, or under some pressing affliction; and when this favourable mood is over, he takes his leave of God, till whipt to him again in a similar way; but a child of God is in some measure constant and diligent in the duty, though he may have sinful omissions and intermissions, yet never a total cessation from duty. Grace works the heart God-ward, and the soul is not content without Him.
(3.) A hypocrite doth not make conscience of getting his heart up to God in the duty, he is content with the work done or words said ; but a real saint hath most ado with his heart, that is the hardest piece of the work; he dare not leave that behind him, and he hath difficulty in getting it along, and engaging it in the service.
(4.) A carnal man keeps his round in formal duty, but gets nothing; he prays to little profit or purpose, and indeed doth not much study to gain spiritual good: but a child of God is a great gainer, he obtains sometimes communion with God and communications from him; () what good doth his soul meet with ! though not always, yet at times.
2. Case. Whether a Christian may bind himself to the performance of this duty of closet prayer at stated times ? or suppose a Christian miss his times designed for that duty, what must he then do?
Ans. In general thou mayest and must swear and vow, that thou wilt keep God's commandments, Psal. cxix. 106, so doth David. And in scripture we are bid to make vows, and pay them to the Lord, Psal. lxxvi. 11. Vowing ourselves and all that we have to God, is necessary. Sequestring some part of our time to his service is requisite; and in some cases for some persons, it may be expedient to bind and task themselves by a holy resolution to take so much time, at least every day for God's worship, also at such a time as may be judged most commodious from experience. And this may be a good help to keep in our treacherous hearts from delay or dallying ; but to engage ourselves to a particular hour so punctually and unalterably, as not to take another, may not be so safe; partly, because our times are in God's hands, and we know not what intervening providence may fall in to prevent our performance, whereby conscience may be entangled in a perplexing labyrinth ; besides, our outward occasions, and the frame of our spirits, may discover a greater fitness at another season; yet, though I would not have Christians bring a snare upon their souls by vowing, yet I humbly conceive that they may consult conveniences and design some time for that work and purpose, God willing, to keep an hour of prayer; and if they be hindered by a journey or any unexpected unavoidable occasions, they must mourn for it as their burden, redouble their diligence another time, not plead needless diversions, lift up ejaculations to God, keep a praying frame of spirit, and God will graciously pardon and accept them.
3. Case. How may a Christian know that he enjoyeth communion with God in closet prayer?
Ans. Communion with God is twofold, (1.) As to graces. (2.) As to comforts. Sometimes a Christian may feel the joy of God's salvation, have the sweet manifestations of his favour, the smiles of his face, the seals of the Spirit, and lively springings of joy and transporting pleasures; these carry their own evidence along with them: but all have not these, nor any at all times; therefore the surest way is to inquire after communion with God, with reference to the exercise of grace in duty. Then hath a believer true fellowship with God, when by the gracious assistance of his Spirit the mind is knit to the object of worship, when the understanding is fruitful in spiritual thoughts, when the will and affections are carried out in strong and panting desires and longings after God, when the heart is thoroughly broken with a sense of sin, melted into godly sorrow, affected with the sweetness of pardoning grace, and ardently pleads with God for acceptance ; also, when the graces of the Spirit are exercised in the duty, such as a holy awe and fear of God, faith, love, humility, zeal and fervency, and a willingness to forgive others, as well as to be forgiven by the Lord. Lastly, a soul may know when it hath communion with God, by the consequences of duty, as when the Christian is more vile in his own eyes, as Abraham was, gives God all the glory, sees and bewails his defects in the greatest enlargements, when the spirit is left in a better frame, and fitter to bear crosses, and perform after duties, &c. I do but hint these things.
4. Case. Suppose I have prayed and prayed, and find not my heart affected; it is dead, dull, distracted, I do no good; get no good in duty, I fear I offend God, what shall I do?
Ans. Such a case is sad : yet consider,
(1.) It may be the case of gracious hearts; David was so depressed and troubled, that he could not speak, Psalm lxxvii. 3, 4. God's best children are sometimes out of frame, and their spirits unfit for duty.
(2.) A total neglect will not mend the matter, nor help the frame of your hearts; one sin will never cure another; running from the fire is not the way to be warm; your hearts are not better, but worse, by forbearance ; omission indisposeth.
(3.) Who knows but God may come at the next time? Keep upon the royal exchange still, ply the oars, give God no rest, gratify not Satan by neglect. Tradesmen keep their markets, though for small gains : you will get something at last worth your pains; they never were ashamed that have waited on him; the issue will be good.
(4.) God may graciously accept thy obedience, though thou hast not sweet enlargement; the obedience is thine, the enlargement God's: he is a free agent, and works when he pleaseth ; he loves to see poor souls tug and struggle with their own hearts, though they can get little forward, yet they would be better and do better. The Father takes it well when the child is striving to obey him, though it fall very far short; he sees the spirit is willing, though the flesh be weak, and accepts of upright endeavours : nay, observe it, a Christian's conscientious attendance upon God, without a sensible enjoyment of his presence, may be more acceptable to God than when he hath the most sensible enjoyment ; because there is most obedience in such a