The Secret Burden

by Alexander Whyte

The Secret Burden

Alexander Whyte was born in Kirriemuir, Scotland, in 1836 to an unwed mother, who raised him in poverty but provided a Christian upbringing. While apprenticed to a shoemaker, he felt God's call to the ministry, and after serving his obligated time as an apprentice, he worked his way through King's College. He completed his theological training at New College in Edinburgh. In 1866 he was ordained a deacon, and began serving as assistant minister of Free St. John's Church in Glasgow. Eventually he was accorded the two highest honors accorded by the Free Church: being named moderator of the church's General Assembly and being named principal of New College.

"Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1); "...apart..." (Zech. 12:12).

Secret sin, and secret prayer have this in common, that they both make a man travel his fastest. Secret sin makes him who commits it travel his fastest down into "the fire that is not quenched," whereas secret prayer makes him who so prays travel his very fastest up to the throne of God.

"Apart! Apart! Apart!" cries Zechariah, ten times in the text. If he could only get "the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem" to pray and to pray apart-the Fountain for sin and for uncleanness would soon be opened; and the Kingdom of God would soon come.

Being solitary in prayer has immense and incomparable advantages over all other kinds and practices of prayer. Hence Zechariah instructs all, as individuals, to pray apart. Our Lord says the same thing in Matthew 6:6: "Enter your closet; and with your door shut, and only Your Father with you, then pray."

Take just your minister and then yourselves as proof of the advantage of private prayer over public prayer:

As soon as the church bells stop ringing on the Sabbath morning, your ministers must immediately begin to pray publicly-whether they are prepared or no; whether they are in the proper spirit or no; and whether they have lost hold of God that morning or no. It is expected that, as soon as the opening psalm is sung, the pulpit should begin to pray.

What you get is not prayer. It is merely a tribute to the House of Prayer, and to the Day of Prayer. Even if our hearts are breaking, we must begin at the advertised hour. And we must not by a sigh, or a sob, or by one utterance of reality and sincerity, annoy or upset you. In pulpit prayer, we must not let our passions out.

But in our closets we can muse and meditate till the fire begins to burn! That was what David did. "My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue" (Ps. 39:3). I cannot imagine what would become of us, of all men, without solitary prayer! But, with his closet, no minister need despair. "Apart! Apart! Every minister-of all men-apart!"

The same thing holds true of yourselves, my praying brethren. If all your praying is performed here-and if it is all performed by your minister for you-may God pity you, and teach you Himself to pray! But if you are living a life of secret prayer, then you are not dependent on us. Indeed, if you pray much apart, you are wiser than all your teachers. You sit out the public worship, and then you rise up, and go home. It is with you as when a hungry man dreams and behold, he eats; but he awakens and his soul is empty. Till you get home, and the house is asleep. And then, could we but get our ear close to your keyhole, we should learn a lesson in prayer that we should not forget.

For a further illustration, take the confession of sin, in public and in private prayer. The feeling of sin is the most personal, and poignant, and overpowering part of your daily and hourly prayer. And, if you will think about it for one moment, you will see how absolutely impossible it is for you to lay bare your sin in public prayer. You cannot do it. You dare not do it. And if you do it, under some unbearable load of guilt or some overpowering pain of heart, you do yourself no good, and you tempt all who hear you to think and to speak about you and your prayers, which is a most mischievous thing.

Even if you should speak plainly about your sin you cannot in public prayer go into particulars and instances, and times, and places, and people. Yet particularity is the very lifeblood of all true and prevailing prayer. But you dare not do that-you dare not utter an outstanding instance of your daily sinfulness and utter corruption of heart in public or in family prayer.

When you are beside yourself with the leprosy of the sin within you-as with all God's greatest saints-your soul may sweat great drops of blood in secret, and no human being is any wiser. But if you let yourself say in public the intimacies you share with your God, they would carry you to the madhouse.

And as for those heavenly watchers who see it all, "there is joy in heaven" over you. When you really look on Him whom you have pierced, as this great prophet has it, then you will begin to understand what it is to be in bitterness, and to mourn apart, as one is in bitterness for his first-born.

Then you will cry, "Oh, that mine head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the Son of God whom I have slain by my sin." And God will provide a place apart for you, by Him, till one day, when your head is, as never before, "waters," He will say: "It is enough. Go in peace and weep no more." And He will wipe all tears from your eyes.

And the same holds true of all intercessory prayer. It would be resented and never forgiven if you were to pray in public for others, as you are permitted and commanded to pray for them in private. You simply dare not pray, in public, for other men-any more than for yourself-as they need to be prayed for. You would be arrested and imprisoned under the law of libel if you did it.

But in private, neither your friend not your enemy will ever know, or even guess, till the last day, what they owe to you, and to your closet. You will never incur either blame or resentment or retaliation by the way you speak about them and their needs in the ear of God. But you must bear them by name, and all their sins and vices, before God. And if you do so, you will come out of your closet to love, and to put up with, and to protect your client the more-the more you see what is wrong with him, and the more you importune God in his behalf.

Finally, take thanksgiving, which is, by far, the best and the most blessed part of both public and private prayer. You cannot thank God with all your heart in public. You cannot tell in public-even to them that fear God-all that God has done for your soul. Even David himself could not do it.

Here is the best specimen of a true thanksgiving I have ever met with. It is not a public, but a private devotion:

"O God," this unnamed man of prayer was wont to say in secret to God, "I thank Thee for my existence: for my life, and for my reason. For all Thy gifts to me of grace, nature, fortune"-(enumerating them, and taking time to do it)-"for all Thy long-suffering to me. For all good things I have received of Thy hand"-(naming some of them)-"for my parents"-(recollecting instances of their goodness)-"and for benefactors, never to be forgotten" (naming them). "For all who have helped me by their writings." "For all who have blessed me by their sermons, and their prayers. "For all whose rebukes and remonstrances have reformed me. For those even who have, intentionally or unintentionally, insulted and injured me-but I have got good out of it all"-and so on.

You could not offer a sacrifice of praise like that before everybody. You could not do it with propriety before anybody!. Yet they must be said.

There are men among you whose hearts would absolutely burst, if they could not say such things. And it is to them that our Lord says "I will pour out upon them the spirit of grace and of supplications... and they shall pray apart...till their Father which seeth, and heareth, apart and in secret, shall reward [them] openly" (Zech 12:10, 12; Matt. 6:6).