Matthew 6:6
But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(6) Enter into thy closet.—Literally, the store-closet of thy house. The principle, as before, is embodied in a rule which startles, and which cannot be binding literally. Not in synagogue or street, nor by the river-side (Acts 16:13); not under the fig-tree in the court-yard (John 1:50), nor on the housetop where men were wont to pray (Acts 10:9)—these might, each and all, present the temptations of publicity—but in the steward’s closet, in the place which seemed to men least likely, which they would count it irreverent to connect with the idea of prayer. The principle thus clothed in paradox is, of course, that personal prayer should be strictly personal and private. Our Lord’s mode of acting on the principle was, it will be remembered, to withdraw from crowds and cities, and to pass the night in prayer on the lonely slopes of the hills of Galilee (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46; John 6:15).

Openly.—Probably, as before, in Matthew 6:4, an interpolation.

6:5-8 It is taken for granted that all who are disciples of Christ pray. You may as soon find a living man that does not breathe, as a living Christian that does not pray. If prayerless, then graceless. The Scribes and Pharisees were guilty of two great faults in prayer, vain-glory and vain repetitions. Verily they have their reward; if in so great a matter as is between us and God, when we are at prayer, we can look to so poor a thing as the praise of men, it is just that it should be all our reward. Yet there is not a secret, sudden breathing after God, but he observes it. It is called a reward, but it is of grace, not of debt; what merit can there be in begging? If he does not give his people what they ask, it is because he knows they do not need it, and that it is not for their good. So far is God from being wrought upon by the length or words of our prayers, that the most powerful intercessions are those which are made with groanings that cannot be uttered. Let us well study what is shown of the frame of mind in which our prayers should be offered, and learn daily from Christ how to pray.Enter into thy closet - Every Jewish house had a place for secret devotion. The roofs of their houses were flat places, well adapted for walking, conversation, and meditation. See the notes at Matthew 9:2. Professor Hackett ("Illustrations of Scripture," p. 82) says: "On the roof of the house in which I lodged at Damascus were chambers and rooms along the side and at the corners of the open space or terrace, which constitutes often a sort of upper story. I observed the same thing in connection with other houses." Over the porch, or entrance of the house, there was frequently a small room of the size of the porch, raised a story above the rest of the house, expressly appropriated for the place of retirement. Here, in secrecy and solitude, the pious Jew might offer his prayers, unseen by any but the Searcher of hearts. To this place, or to some similar place, our Saviour directed his disciples to repair when they wished to hold communion with God. This is the place commonly mentioned in the New Testament as the "upper room," or the place for secret prayer.

The meaning of the Saviour is, that there should be some place where we may be in secret - where we may be alone with God. There should be some "place" to which we may resort where no ear will hear us but "His" ear, and no eye can see us but His eye. Unless there is such a place, secret prayer will not be long or strictly maintained. It is often said that we have no such place, and can secure none. We are away from home; we are traveling; we are among strangers; we are in stages and steamboats, and how can we find such places of retirement? I answer, the desire to pray, and the love of prayer, will create such places in abundance. The Saviour had all the difficulties which we can have, but yet he lived in the practice of secret prayer. To be alone, he rose up "a great while before day," and went into a solitary place and prayed, Mark 1:35. With him a grove, a mountain, a garden, furnished such a place, and, though a traveler, and among strangers, and without a house, he lived in the habit of secret prayer. What excuse can they have for not praying who have a home, and who spend the precious hours of the morning in sleep, and who will practice no self-denial that they may be alone with God? O Christian! thy Saviour would have broken in upon these hours, and would have trod his solitary way to the mountain or the grove that he might pray. He did do it. He did it to pray for thee, too indolent and too unconcerned about thy own salvation and that of the world to practice the least self-denial in order to commune with God! How can religion live thus? How can such a soul be saved?

The Saviour does not specify the times when we should pray in secret. He does not say how often it should be done. The reasons may have been:

(1) that he designed that his religion should be "voluntary," and there is not a better "test" of true piety than a disposition to engage often in secret prayer. He intended to leave it to his people to show attachment to him by coming to God often, and as often as they chose.

(2) an attempt to specify the times when this should be done would tend to make religion formal and heartless. Mohammed undertook to regulate this, and the consequence is a cold and formal prostration at the appointed hours of prayer all over the land where his religion has spread.

(3) the periods are so numerous, and the seasons for secret prayer vary so much, that it would nor be easy to fix rules when this should be done.

Yet without giving rules, where the Saviour has given none, we may suggest the following as times when secret prayer is proper:

1. In the morning. Nothing can be more appropriate when we have been preserved through the night, and when we are about to enter upon the duties and dangers of another day, than to render to our great Preserver thanks, and to commit ourselves to His fatherly care.

2. In the evening. When the day has closed, what would be more natural than to offer thanksgiving for the mercies of the day, and to implore forgiveness for what we have said or done amiss? And when about to lie down again to sleep, not knowing but it may be our last sleep and that we may awake in eternity, what more proper than to commend ourselves to the care of Him "who never slumbers nor sleeps?"

3. We should pray in times of embarrassment and perplexity. Such times occur in every man's life, and it is then a privilege and a duty to go to God and seek his direction. In the most difficult and embarrassed time of the American Revolution, Washington was seen to retire to a grove in the vicinity of the camp at Valley Forge. Curiosity led a man to observe him, and the father of his country was seen on his knees supplicating the God of hosts in prayer. Who can tell how much the liberty of this nation is owing to the answer to the secret prayer of Washington?

4. We should pray when we are beset with strong temptations. So the Saviour prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (compare Hebrews 5:7-8), and so we should pray when we are tempted.

5. We should pray when the Spirit prompts us to pray; when we feel lust like praying; when nothing can satisfy the soul but prayer. Such times occur in the life of every Christian, (and they are "spring-times" of piety - favorable gales to waft us on to heaven. Prayer to the Christian, at such times, is just as congenial as conversation with a friend when the bosom is filled with love; as the society of father, mother, sister, child is, when the heart glows with attachment; as the strains of sweet music are to the ear best attuned to the love of harmony; as the most exquisite poetry is to the heart enamored with the muses; and as the most delicious banquet is to the hungry.

Prayer, then, is the element of being - the breath the vital air; and, then, the Christian must and should pray. He is the most eminent Christian who is most favored with such strong emotions urging him to prayer. The heart is then full; the soul is tender; the sun of glory shines with unusual splendor; no cloud intervenes; the Christian rises above the world, and pants for glory. then we may go to be alone with God. We may enter the closet, and breathe forth our warm desires into his ever-open ear, and He who sees in secret will reward us openly.

In secret - Who is unseen.

continued...

6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet—a place of retirement.

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—Of course, it is not the simple publicity of prayer which is here condemned. It may be offered in any circumstances, however open, if not prompted by the spirit of ostentation, but dictated by the great ends of prayer itself. It is the retiring character of true prayer which is here taught.

Supplementary Directions and Model Prayer (Mt 6:7-15).

By this public prayer is not condemned, but secret prayer is established, and made every Christian’s duty; and Christians are warned not to think that their duty of prayer is discharged by their going to places of public worship, and praying there: but that which our Saviour here cautions us against is ostentation, by which men may as much offend in their closets as elsewhere. Wherever we pray, we must take heed that our ends be right, that the glory of God be our principal end, and yielding obedience to his command; and there is no better means in order to this than the right setting of God before our eyes, as he that seeth in secret, and knoweth the most secret designs, scopes, and intentions of our hearts, and who, if we thus perform our duty, will reward us of his free grace and mercy; not as persons who by our prayers have merited any thing at his hand, (for what merit can there be in our prayers?) but as having showed our obedience to his will, and in the fulfilling of those many promises which he hath made to those that seek his face for the hearing of their prayers. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet,.... Or "chamber", a secret place, fit for private retirement, meditation, and prayer.

And when thou hast shut thy door; see some such like phrases in Isaiah 26:20 where they are used to express security, here secrecy. Our Lord does not mean to exclude and condemn public prayer, in joining with few, or more persons, in such service; for he himself directs to it, and approves of it, Matthew 18:19 but his view is to instruct persons that they should not only pray in public, but in private also; and especially the latter, which is more suitable and fitting for their particular cases, and less liable to pride, hypocrisy, and vanity.

Pray to thy Father, which is in secret; who is invisible; not to be seen with the eyes of the body, but to be approached with a true heart, in faith and fear, through his Son Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man; and who is the image of the invisible God, and in whom he is pleased to manifest himself to his people, so as he does not unto the world:

and thy Father, which seeth in secret, observes and takes notice of the secret breathings, pantings, desires, and requests of thy heart and lips,

shall reward thee openly, both here and hereafter; by pouring into thy bosom all the good things thou hast been praying for, both for time and eternity. This is agreeable to what the Jews sometimes say,

"that a man ought not to cause his voice to be heard in prayer; but should pray "silently", with a voice that is not heard; and this is the prayer which is daily accepted (g).''

(g) Zohar in Gen. fol. 114. 4.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 6:6. Ταμεῖον] any room in the interior of the house, as opposed to the synagogues and the streets. We are therefore not to think exclusively of the closet in the strict sense of the word, which was called ὑπερῷον; see note on Acts 1:13. For the expression, comp. Isaiah 24:20; for ταμεῖον, conclave, see Xen. Hell. v. 4. 5; Matthew 24:26; Sir 29:12; Tob 7:17.

ἀποδώσει σοι] for thy undemonstrative piety. It is not public prayer in itself that Jesus condemns, but praying in an ostentatious manner; rather than this, He would have us betake ourselves to a lonely room. Theophylact: ὁ τόπος οὐ βλάπτει, ἀ̓λλʼ ὁ τρόπος καὶ ὁ σκόπος.Matthew 6:6 : true prayer in contrast to the theatrical type.—σὺ δὲ, hou, my disciple, in opposition to the “actors”.—ὅταν, when the spirit moves, not when the customary hour comes, freedom from rule in prayer, as in fasting (Matthew 9:14), is taken for granted.—τὸ ταμεῖον, late form for ταμιεῖον (Lobeck, Phryn., 493), first a store-chamber, then any place of privacy, a closet (Matthew 24:26). Note the σου after ταμ. and θύραν and πατρί, all emphasising isolation, thy closet, thy door, thy Father.—κλείσας, carefully shutting thy door, the door of thine own retreat, to exclude all but thy Father, with as much secrecy as if you were about a guilty act. What delicacy of feeling, as well as sincerity, is implied in all this; greatly to be respected, often sinned against.—τῷ ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ, He who is in the secret place; perhaps with allusion to God’s presence in the dark holy of holies (Achelis). He is there in the place from which all fellow-men are excluded. Is social prayer negatived by this directory? No, but it is implied that social prayer will be a reality only in proportion as it proceeds from a gathering of men accustomed to private prayer.6. closet] A private oratory or place of prayer. These were usually in the upper part of the house. The Greek word in the original is translated (1) “Secret Chambers,” ch. Matthew 24:26; (2) “Storehouse,” Luke 12:24.

pray to thy Father which is in secret] Christ was the first to enjoin clearly secret and silent prayer. Certainly to pray aloud and in public appears to have been the Jewish practice; it is still the practice with the heathen and Mahomedans. The Roman looked with suspicion on private prayer: “quod scire hominem nolunt deo narrant” (Seneca). Cp. Hor. Ep. i. 16. 59–62, where see Macleane’s note. Cp. also Soph. Electra, 638, where Clytemnestra apologises for offering up a secret prayer.Matthew 6:6. Ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ, in secret) God both is, and sees, in secret.Verse 6. - But thou (emphatic) when thou prayset, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray, etc. An adaptation of Isaiah 26:20 (cf. also 2 Kings 4:33). The prophet's language describing the action befitting a time of terror is used by our Lord to express what ought to be the normal practice of each of his followers. Observe that the widow of one of the sons of the prophets so acted when she was about to receive the miraculous supply of oil (2 Kings 4:4, 5). Closet; Revised Version, inner chamber, more readily suggesting the passage in Isaiah to the English reader. To thy Father which is in secret. Not "which seeth in secret," as in the next clause. The thought here may be partly that to be unseen of men is a help to communion with him who is also unseen by them, but especially that the manner of your actions ought to resemble that of your Father's, who is himself unseen and works unseen. And thy Father which seeth in secret. You will be no loser, since his eyes pass by nothing, however well concealed it be from the eyes of men. Shall reward thee openly (ver. 4, notes). Closet (ταμιεῖον)

See on Luke 12:3.

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