But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret…
These words are not intended to discourage the practice of public worship. The contrast they afford to the ostentatious worship of the Pharisees. makes it clear that our Lord is not alluding to the general prayers of a congregation. For with the synagogue he associates the street corner (ver. 5), thus showing that he is thinking of a man's personal devotions throughout, although in the case of the Pharisee these are made indecently public, and therefore do not deserve the name "private" which is usually attached to them in contrast with what is called the "public" worship of the Church. The secret prayer in private is commended to us.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE PRAYER. Jesus is very explicit in regard to these details, although his object is simply to obtain reality and spirituality of worship, because we are largely influenced by the scenes among which we live. The private chamber and the closed door are necessary for the devotion which Christ approves of.
1. Unostentatiousness. This is readily secured. We cannot think of winning the applause of men when we have shut out all observers. Yet even here the danger may return if we let it he known that we resort to seclusion for prayer. Therefore the very act of retirement should be kept private.
2. Freedom from distraction. The noise and glare of the world are withdrawn, and we are left alone with God. This need not l)e in a room. Christ found it on the mountain.
3. A personal approach to God. Each soul must seek God separately. There is a loneliness of personality, a deep seclusion of the interior life. We do not really pray until we open this up to God.
II. THE OBJECT OF THE PRAYER. The end is not secured by the mere act of going into seclusion. We may carry the world into our chamber; and we shall do so if the world is in our hearts. We may not meet God there; and we shall not find him if he is "not in all our thoughts." The accessories are but favourable conditions. Still, we need the spiritual effort of devotion, which is to draw near to our Father - the highest act of human experience. When that is truly attained, the accessories cease to be very important. We may find the soul's secret chamber in the heart of a crowd, while walking through the busy street, or while rushing over the country in a railway carriage full of fellow-travellers, if we can withdraw our minds into inwardness of thought, into the seclusion of private meditation; we have but to shut to the door of observation, and we are alone with God. But this is only possible in proportion as our worship is a really spiritual approach to God. We have just to consider what worship is - not a performance, but a communion.
III. THE RESULT OF THE PRAYER.
1. Observed by God. He sees in secret. He sees the secret hollowness, vanity, falsehood, and blasphemy that lie behind the decorous worship of ostentation. He also sees the prayer that is but a thought,
"Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear;
The upward glancing of an eye,
When none but God is near."
2. Rewarded by God. The reward of prayer is to hear and answer it. We are not to expect to be paid for our goodness in being unostentatious. It is enough that God meets us in secret prayer, that he condescends to respond and to visit our chamber, transforming it into a temple. That is the reward. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.