LORD’S DAY 45
Chapter 3: The Perfection of the Lord’s Prayer
In conclusion, let us notice that in this prayer the Lord teaches us throughout to use the plural, and not the singular. Our Father, we pray that Thy name be hallowed, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. Wepray for our daily bread. We pray that Thou wilt forgiveour debts, as eve forgive our debtors; and that Thou wilt not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. And this does not mean that we may only pray in unison with all the people of God; For indeed we are admonished that we shall enter into our inner chamber, shut the door, and pray to our Father who seeth in secret. Nor does it mean that we cannot have very urgent and pressing personal needs that impel us to cry to Jehovah very emphatically in the singular. The prayer of the publican must needs be in the singular, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” But it certainly signifies that true prayer presupposes love to the brethren and fellowship with all the people of God. Your prayer must needs die on your lips if you should appear in the sanctuary of God with hatred, against the brethren, or even against one brother, in your heart. What the Lord Jesus once said with reference to offering one’s gift on the altar applies with double force to the holy art of prayer, so that we may surely paraphrase His words thus: “If therefore thou art drawing near unto God in the sanctuary, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave thy prayer unuttered, first go and reconcile with thy brother, and then return to offer thy prayer.” Matt. 5:23, 24. May the Spirit of prayer and supplication give us grace to obey the injunction of our Lord, “After this manner therefore pray ye.”
LORD’S DAY 46
Q. 120. Why hath Christ commanded us to address God thus: “Our Father”?
A. That immediately, in the very beginning of our prayer, he might excite in us a childlike reverence for, and confidence in God, which are the foundation of our prayer: namely, that God is become our Father in Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of him in true faith, than our parents will refuse us earthly things.
Q. 121. Why is it here added, “Which art in heaven”?
A. Lest we should form any earthly conceptions of God’s heavenly majesty, and that we may expect from his almighty power all things necessary for soul and body.
Chapter 1: Addressing God as our Father
The Lord’s Prayer, as it occurs in Matthew 6, appears in a very beautiful and significant context, a context that enunciates several important principles of prayer. First of all, it is emphasized that prayer must not be a mere outward show, but must be from the heart. Thus we read in vss. 5 and 6: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 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.” In this connection we may also apply the words of John 4:24: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” These words of our Lord must always be applied in our prayers. It means that we cannot please the living God, who is a Spirit, by mere outward form, and that our prayer must be a matter of the heart, not an outward show. As we pray, there must live in our inmost mind and heart that which we express by the words of our mouth. We may flatter a man by vain words, while our heart is far from him; but this is impossible with God. He looks at the heart.
In Matthew 6:7, 8, the principle is announced that in our prayers we must not act as if it is necessary for us to persuade God to give us what we ask of Him. We need not use vain repetitions, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” You therefore are not heard because you pray, but fundamentally you pray because you want to worship God, and acknowledge Him only as the giver of all good things.
Further, it is emphasized that in your prayer you must take your brethren along, and that too, without exception. Love of the brethren and the spirit of forgiveness must be in your hearts. This is the principle announced in vss. 14 and 15 of the same chapter: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” And, it stands to reason that if our heavenly Father does not hear our prayer for the forgiveness of sins, no other petition can possibly be acceptable to Him.
Finally, in the same chapter it is emphasized that we certainly shall not be motivated by anxiety for earthly things in our prayer, but that we shall chiefly be concerned with God’s cause and His kingdom. This is emphasized in that beautiful last part of Matthew 6:25-34. The question what we shall eat or what we shall drink certainly need not be an object of our anxiety and care in our prayers. For these things we shall take no thought. Life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. The fowls of the air neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns; but our heavenly Father never forgets them. The lilies of the field toil not, neither do they spin; yet our heavenly Father clothes them with the most beautiful garments, more beautiful than those with which Solomon in all his glory was adorned. Therefore, we shall surely take no thought for the things after which the Gentiles seek, eating and drinking and clothing. But “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you.”
These principles are certainly embodied in that most perfect prayer which the Lord taught us to pray. This prayer is certainly not a vain repetition of words. It is so brief that we could not possibly eliminate one word without marring the whole. It places at once not before men, but before the face of our Father which is in heaven. And the plural that is used throughout this prayer, as well as the fifth petition, for the forgiveness of sins, presupposes that we pray in the communion of saints, in the fellowship of all our brethren, without exception. The fourth petition leaves no room for anxiety for the morrow. And the whole prayer certainly emphasizes that the kingdom of God is first, and that all other things shall be added unto us.
In our discussion of the contents of the Lord’s Prayer we are constantly confronted by and must attempt to answer two questions. The first of these is, of course: what is the meaning of each petition and of each part of this prayer? For we must pray intelligently, understanding what we say, and must not utter mere words, that have no meaning for us. And the second question we must seek to answer is: what is the spiritual attitude or disposition of the heart that is required in order to utter each petition in spirit and in truth? For if our spiritual disposition is not in harmony with the meaning of our petitions, we become hypocrites, abominable in the sight of God.
With these two questions in mind we now, first of all, approach the address, or allocution, of this model prayer of the Lord: “Our Father who art in heaven.” Let us take note, first of all, that these introductory words form no petition, but are the address of the whole prayer. Before we bring our requests to the throne of grace, we are taught to address, to speak to God directly, and, as it were, face to face. What is the meaning of this? What is the significance of addressing God in our prayers? Is this address intended as a mere form of politeness? Or does it serve some such purpose as the superscription of a letter? It will be evident as once that it must have a much richer and deeper significance, especially if we remember that we must pray intelligently and that the spiritual condition of our heart must be such that we can utter this address in spirit and in truth. Then it will be clear that in this address we approach the true God. We come to stand before His face in the sanctuary. Then this address is not the thoughtless expression of what we have learned by heart, but the conscious effort to conceive of Him as He is, as He revealed Himself to us in His Word, and of His relation to us. It is the spiritual exercise of faith, whereby we seek and find Him, or rather, whereby we sought and found Him, that is expressed in this address. It is the expression of that spiritual activity of the mind and heart and soul whereby we are absorbed in profound contemplation of the living God, and try to penetrate the darkness that envelops us, until we gaze with adoration and wonder upon His face and all our attention is concentrated upon His glorious majesty. And thus this act of addressing God determines our whole attitude through our entire prayer. It is because He is what we declare Him to be in this address that we direct our prayer to Him, that we dare to approach Him, that we are confident that He will hear us. And it is because we gaze upon Him and keep the spiritual eyes of our faith fixed upon Him throughout our prayer that we pray as we do, and ask for the things which are briefly enumerated in the Lord’s Prayer. The address, therefore, represents the indispensable preliminary of all true prayer. Expressed in spirit and in truth, it signifies that we have entered into the sanctuary of God and that we have found Him for whom our soul is yearning.
Simple, yet very profound; brief, yet all-comprehensive, is the address of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven.” Of course, the purpose of this allocution, is not to impress upon our minds that we may never employ other words and other names of God than those of this particular address in our approach to the throne of grace. The Saints on earth in the past, as well as the saints in heaven, employ various names to address the Lord God. When king Solomon stood before the Lord at the occasion of the dedication of the temple, he addressed God as follows: “Lord God of Israel, there is no god like thee, in heaven above, “or on earth beneath, who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before Thee with all their heart: who hast kept with thy servant David my father that thou promisedst him: thou spakest also with thy mouth, and hast fulfilled it with thine hand, as it is this day.” In this address the sovereignty and glory and power of God, as well as His faithfulness in keeping His covenant, are emphasized. I Kings 8:23, 24. Thus also in the prayer which Hezekiah uttered over against the blasphemous words of Rabshakeh the power and sovereignty of God is emphasized in these words: “Now therefore, O Lord our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord God, even thou only.” II Kings 19:19.