"But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6:6
Beloved in Our Dear Lord Jesus,
The Lord at several times, and in several ways, has exercised you all in the furnace of affliction. This book may reach you all, and speak to you all when I can not, or when I may not, or which is more, when I am not.
Dear friends, many and great have been the breaches that the Lord has made upon your persons, upon your near and dear relations, and upon your sweetest comforts and contentments. There is not one of you but may truly say with Job, "He breaks me with breach upon breach," Job 16:14. God has chastised you all round with various rods; and oh that the Lord would help you all to "hear the rod, and him who has appointed it," Micah 6:9.
Now that you may give me leave a little to open and apply to your particulars, that
"The Lord's voice cries unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall hear your name: hear the rod, and him who has appointed it." Micah 6:9
The matter that I shall offer to your consideration from this scripture, will be not only of special concernment to yourselves, but also of high concernment to all sorts and ranks of men and women, in this sad day, when the sword devours on the one hand, and the pestilence rages on the other hand.
"The Lord's voice cries unto the city." Tremellius turns it thus, "The voice of the Lord does preach unto this city, for what the matter is, you see: hear you the rod," etc. This city, namely, Jerusalem, and so consequently to all the Israelites; for in this city all offices and duties of godliness and humanity were more religiously performed, or to be performed, than in any other place, because of the presence and majesty of God that was among them. "But your Majesty sees what wickedness is practiced among them," as is evident in the verses following.
"Cries." The word is from kara, which signifies,
First, "To cry aloud," or "to make a noise," Isa 58:1; "cry aloud" there is kara. The word signifies, to cry so loud as that all may hear that have ears to hear.
Secondly, The word signifies, "openly to proclaim, preach, or publish a thing." Exod 33:19, "I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you." Here is the word kara.
Thirdly, The word signifies, "to cry out." Gen 39:15, "I lifted up my voice and cried." Here is kara.
"And the man of wisdom shall see your name." Vethushiia properly signifies essence; and, therefore, according to the Hebrew, the words should be read thus, "And the man of essence shall see your name," etc., that is, he who is a man indeed, he who is not a sot, a stock, a stone. Most men are men of folly, and so not worthy of the name of men; but as for such as are truly wise, they "shall see your name." There is a great measure of spiritual art, of holy and heavenly wisdom required, both to enable a man to hear the voice of the rod and to understand the language of the rod. This wisdom is too high for a fool, Prov 24:7.
"Shall see your name." Now the Hebrew word here used, signifies to fear; and so the words will run smoothly thus, "The man of wisdom, or of essence, shall fear your name," considering that, it is majesty itself that cries, and that he is immediately to deal with God himself, and not with a poor, weak, mortal worm.
"Hear the rod." The word hear signifies,
First, "To mark, observe, and attend to what is said." Gen 29:33, "The Lord has heard that I was hated;" that is, "he has marked it, he has observed it." So here, Oh mark the rod! Oh observe the rod! Oh attend to what is spoken by the rod!
Secondly, The word signifies, "to understand what is spoken;" so Gen 42:23, "They knew not that Joseph understood them." In the Hebrew it is, "that Joseph heard them." Now to hear the rod, is to understand what is spoken to us by the rod.
Thirdly, The word signifies, "to believe a thing reported to be true;" so Exod 6:9, "They hearkened not unto Moses," that is, "they did not believe the report that Moses made." "Hear the rod," that is, "believe the report the rod makes." The rod reports, that of all evils sin is the greatest evil; and that of all bitters, sin is the greatest bitter. Oh believe the report of the rod! The rod reports, that God is angry, that God is displeased. Oh believe its report! The rod reports the creatures to be mere vanity and vexation of spirit. Oh believe its report! The rod reports our nearest and dearest comforts, contentments, and enjoyments to be mixed, mutable, and momentary. Oh believe its report! The rod reports sin to be vile, and the world to be vain, and heaven to be glorious, and Christ to be most precious. Oh believe its report!
"The rod." The Hebrew word matte, that is here rendered rod, has three significations:
First, It denotes "power and strength:" Psalm 2:9, "a rod of iron."
Secondly, It denotes "rigid and harsh government:" Isa 14:5, "The Lord has broken the staff," or rod, "of the wicked;" that is, "their rigorous and cruel government." Nebuchadnezzar had sorely afflicted the children of Judah; he was a rod, that broke them in pieces, and ruled over them with much rigor in Babylon.
Thirdly, It denotes "sore afflictions and heavy judgments:" Psalm 89:32, "I will visit your transgressions with a rod." And thus you are to understand the word rod in the text.
"And him who has appointed it." It is God who appoints the rod, and ordains it for the revenge of the quarrel of his covenant. The Hebrew word signifies properly "to appoint" or "constitute." It is God who appoints the rod, and who constitutes it to do what service he pleases. It is God who has not only a permissive, but also an active, hand, in all the afflictions that come upon his people.
And let thus much suffice for the opening of the words.
Now, though this choice garden affords many sweet flowers, yet I shall only present you with one, which is this, namely,
That all the afflictions, troubles, and trials which God lays upon His people, are his rod. It is their highest and greatest concernment to hear the voice of the rod, and to learn those lessons that God would have them learn by the rod.
For the opening and clearing up of this important point, I shall endeavor these two things:
First, To show you in what respects afflictions are like unto a rod.
Secondly, To show you what those special lessons are, that you are to learn by the rod.
The following discourse on closet prayer I heartily recommend to your serious perusal. I have many reasons to hope, that when you have once read it over, you will be more in love with closet prayer than ever, and that you will set a higher price upon closet prayer than ever, and that you will make a better and fuller improvement of closet prayer than ever yet you have done. Consider what I say in my epistle to the reader, and labor so to manage this little treatise, which now I put into your hands, that God may be glorified, your own souls edified, comforted, and encouraged in the ways of the Lord, and that you may be "my crown and joy, in the great day of our Lord Jesus," 1 Thes. 2:19-20.
Christian Reader, The epistle dedicatory being so large, I shall do little more than give you the grounds and reasons of sending forth this little piece into the world, especially in such a day as this is. Now, my reasons are these:
1. First, Because God by his present dispensations calls more loudly for closet prayer now, than he has done in those last twenty years that are now passed over our heads. See more of this in the 16th argument for closet prayer.
2. Secondly, Because I have several reasons to fear that many Christians do not clearly nor fully understand the necessity, excellency, and usefulness of this subject, and that many, oh that I could not say any, live in too great a neglect of this indispensable duty; and that more than a few, for lack of light, err in the very practice of it.
3. Thirdly, For the refreshing, support, and encouragement of all those churches of Christ that walk in the fear of the Lord, and in the comforts of the Holy Spirit, etc., especially that particular church to whom I stand related.
4. Fourthly, To preserve and keep up the power of religion and godliness both in men's houses, hearts, and lives. The power of religion and godliness lives, thrives, or dies, as closet prayer lives, thrives, or dies. Godliness never rises to a higher pitch than when men keep closest to their closets, etc.
5. Fifthly, Because closet prayer is a most sovereign remedy, a most precious antidote of God's own prescribing, against the plague that now rages in the midst of us, 1 Kings 8:37-39, etc.
6. Sixthly, Because every man is that really which he is secretly. Never tell me, how handsomely, how neatly, how bravely, this or that man acts his part before others; but tell me, if you can, how he acts his part before God in his closet; for the man is that certainly, which he is secretly. There are many who sweat upon the stage that are cold in their closets.
7. Seventhly, Though many worthies have done worthily upon all other parts of prayer, yet there are none either of a former or later date, that have fallen under my eye, who have written any treatise on this subject. I have not a little wondered that so many eminent writers should pass over this great and princely duty of closet prayer, either with a few brief touches, or else in a very great silence. If several Bodies of Divinity are consulted, you will find that all they say clearly and distinctly as to closet prayer, may be brought into a very narrow compass, if not into a nutshell.
I have also inquired of several old disciples, whether among all the thousand sermons that they have heard in their days, that ever they have heard one sermon on closet prayer? and they have answered, No. I have also inquired of them, whether ever they had read any treatise on that subject? and they have answered, No. And truly this has been no small encouragement to me, to make an offer of my mite; and if this small attempt of mine shall be so blessed, as to provoke others who have better heads, and hearts, and hands, than any I have, to do Christ and his people more service, in the handling of this choice point in a more copious way than what I have been able to reach unto, I shall therein rejoice.
8. Eighthly, and lastly, That favor, that good acceptance and fair quarter that my other poor labors have found, not only in this nation, but in other countries also, has put me upon putting pen to paper once more; and I hope that the good will of him who "dwelt in the bush," will rest upon this, as it has to the glory of free grace rested upon my former endeavors. I could add other reasonsóbut let these suffice.
Good reader, when you are in your closet, pray hard for a poor, weak, worthless worm, that I may be found faithful and fruitful to the death, that so at last I may receive a crown of life. So wishing you all happiness both in this lower and in that upper world, I rest,
Yours in our dear Lord Jesus,