The New Zealand Evangelist
Christ As An Example Of Private Prayer
Christ As An Example Of Private Prayer.
Matt. xiv. 23. ‘And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.’
Christ is not only brought before us in His word as a Saviour, but as an example also. “Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ.“The same inspired writer tells us, the believers are “predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son.” The example of Christ is to be taken both in suffering and in doing—see I Peter, ii. 21–23, and parallel passages. His meat was to do the will of Him that sent Him: in his ceaseless efforts to do good to others, we must imitate him. So also in the performance of our more personal duties: the example of Christ is here preceptive. In following Christ, we tread on safe and sure ground. In following ordinary men, we may doubt their wisdom, prudence, and consistency—but Christ is a safe and sure example. In the passage which we have selected as a motto, the Saviour, by His example, teaches us the duty of private prayer.page 362
But what is private prayer? Guided by this passage, we may define it to be the secluding of ourselves from the world, and from the company of our nearest friends, and calling alone upon God. God respects not the place: in the privacy of our chamber, in the wood or in the cell, His ear will He incline. Private prayer is also, generally, inaudible to man. Sighing, tears of joy or sorrow, mighty wrestling, alone disturb the silence of that scene.
1. In enforcing this duty we remark, that it is indispensable. It is in the most positive manner enjoined, Matt. vi. 6. It is also taught us in the lives of those whose example we are directed to follow—as David, Daniel, and Peter. It is essential in every stage of Christain attainment. We say essential, firmly believing that no one can be in a right state of mind, who habitually neglects it. Besides, a neglect of this, is direct disobedience to a Divine command. God's word bears us out, as we state, that there is no maturity of Christain grace unto which we can attain—no amount of scriptural knowledge which we can acquire—no height of love to which we can rise, that can release us from this obligation, or render private prayer unnecessary. How clearly and impressively is this seen, in the example of Christ. Surely, if any state of Christian holiness could dispense with secret prayer, our Lord might have done so; but though there was in Christ no sin, no error, no leaning thereunto, yet was He mighty in this holy exercise.
2. How necessary too does private prayer at once appear to be, for Christains newly brought in. Your stage is one of great exposure. The Apostle styles you babes in Christ. There must of necessity be, however liberal your education, or privileged your birth, much ignorance of divine things. This ignorance comprehends imperfect views of Christian duties—an unacquaintance of Satan's devices, and the many dangers which are in the world. The chart of immortality has but just been put in to your hands; you have but just seen the land of destruction which page 363 you are leaving, a distant view of that port to which you are bound; you have not had time to study this chart, to learn the devious currents, the rocky lee-ward shores, which mark your way. For light and knowledge, you must resort to God by meditation and prayer. You may and should value whatever kind of and you, may be able to obtain—good books, holy friends, the house of prayer; but none of these, nor all of these, can supply the place of private prayer.
3. Let us view private prayer in relation to our office or situation in life. Our personal salvation, we grant, must be the subject of our supreme concern. After this we shall be influenced according to the relation we sustain: not that our petition will not be comprehensive, but there will be a striking connection between our prayers, and the office we fill. See this illustrated in our Blessed Redeemer. What a striking relation between His prayers, and the object of His mission. We know that His prayers were world-wide, but they seem to have had such a particular bearing upon His work, as a Saviour. He not only laboured and suffered and died like a Saviour, but He prayed like a Saviour. So with us. Pious ministers, next to personal salvation, will be led to pray for the Divine unction upon their whole range of ministerial duties. Consider, too, the parent. Here his tenderest and strongest emotions will be awakened: here with more than usual interest he will implore Divine guidance, in the management of his family—the selection of schools and callings, and their settlement in life. Of the same nature will be the feelings and concern and prayer of the youth, on the behalf of himself; and this connection there should, in every case, be.
4. Public engagements must not supercede private prayer. It matters not what may be the nature of these engagements. They may be either purely secular or purely religious, personal or private—private prayer must not be unattended to. The one must be done, the other not left undone. David, page 364 though a rich and powerful and diligent king, could say, Seven times a day do I praise thee. Daniel, though next to the king, in dignity and power, would three times a day enter his chamber for private prayer. Perhaps with proper care and industry, there is no calling but what will allow time for this. If it does not, it is exceedingly questionable, as to whether it be a lawful calling. We believe that it is not. We have said that religious engagements of a public character must not lead us to neglect this, however much of our time such engagements may have. Look at the Saviour for a proof of this. Consider the nature of His work, how good: bear in mind, too, how long and unintermitted were his lalabours: yet notwithstanding this, how much was he in secret: and if necessary for Him, how much more must it be for us. Look at the Minister of the Gospel. His studies are chiefly biblical. The doctrines of Scripture are familiar to him—so its duties. Those who visit him have generally a religious errand. Those whom he visits call forth religious conversation, and frequently prayer. There is no immersion in the cares of the world. From Sabbath to Sabbath, is he religiously engaged: but notwithstanding all these things, private prayer cannot be dispensed with. If it should be, such a minister will be dead while he liveth. A man may have abounding privileges at home—a pious family—domestic duties of a religious character, regularly attended to. In this circle there may be no persecution, on the one hand, nor unholy allurements on the other. His Sabbath, and other leisure hours, may be spent in reading to others—in visiting the sick, in distributing tracts or teaching the young; but none of these things, nor all of them combined, will warrant our neglect of private prayer, or supply its deficiency. Nor will any degree of public esteem allow us to do so. If you glance at the 22nd v., and at John vi. 15, you will perceive that the multitudes were so struck with Christ, that they were about to take Him by force, and to make Him their King; page 365 still the Redeemer prayed as much as in His days of ordinary trial. Reader, “go, and do thou likewise.”
5. The Saviour continued long in this holy exercise. It was in the evening when he repaired to this mountain, and from the 25 v., we see, that he was there until the fourth watch, or in other words, until three in the morning. How often were his locks wet with the dew of Heaven. Jacob, again, not only wrestled with the angel but continued doing so until the break of day. There is no virtue in long prayers, simply regarded, the Scribes, Pharisees, and Hypocrites made long prayers, and received the greater damnation. Continuing so long in this holy employ, in a general way, is not required of us, nor is it practicable: but on extraordinary occasions, for the destruction of some sin—for direction in some great difficulty—for consolation under some vast sorrow—to obtain some great blessing, it is expedient.—See in illustration of our remarks the case of Jacob returning to his home. From this home he had fled from the hand of an exasperated brother: and though he had been long away, he knew not the state of his brothers mind. He trembled as he approached; and under this distress, he sends all he has over the book Jabbok, and was left himself there alone, to pray all night to God. See the gracious results of this in the peaceful, happy melting meeting of those two brother's, Gen. xxxii 4, “And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him; and they wept.
6. The Saviour continued in retirement in defiance of the weather. It was a cold and stormy night. His beloved disciples were being tossed, in their fragile bark, on the billows of the Galilean sea. Yet he remained there. We are not called to practise austerities, nor imprudently to expose ourselves, but we do gather this from the example of the Saviour, that little things should not hinder us, in the discharge of this duty. How many there are who do allow the veriest trifles to hinder their private page 366 devotions. The mere calling of a friend—devotedness to the world—the yielding to the feelings of a wearied frame, are often to be noted as the hinderance to secret prayer. Allowing that there may be times when we cannot formally attend to private devotion, we should endeavour prayerfully to engage the mind; but nothing but a necessity which will stand good at God's solemn tribunal, should prevent us. No confused state of mind—no excessive care, or joy, or grief, should be looked upon as a sufficient ground for neglect. The Saviour's devotional exercises in the garden and on the mountain, prepared him for his mighty labours, and mightier trials. O Christian never forget private prayer.
Finally, the frequency of his retirement, John xviii, v. 2, “for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples.” The garden, over the brook Cedron, is here meant, and to its seclusion and shade the Redeemer would frequently repair. And when his traitor wished to betray him, he knew where to find him—he sought him and found him in this garden. We may neither have the leasure of David to pray thus seven times a day, nor of Daniel to pray three times, but we should, at least, once and if possible twice a day, retire for secret prayer.
Perhaps some of our readers may be mourning over religious coolness and decline. Do you pray like Christ? If you do not, here is a sufficient cause. Progress, in divine things, you never can, as long as this strictly-imposed duty is neglected. Begin afresh, begin this very day. Waiting thus in a right manner upon God, this duty will become a delightful one—a well in the valley of Baca, where you will renew your strength, “run and not be weary, walk and not faint.”