Chapter 1: God’s Holy Name
And when we are taught to pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” the Lord Jesus would have us say at the very beginning of our prayers: “Our Father Who art in heaven, so reveal Thyself and so let Thy self-revelation be recognized and acknowledged by us, that Thy name alone may stand out in all the world as a name of infinite wisdom and knowledge and power, of absolute Lordship and sovereignty, of unchangeable righteousness and truth, of matchless beauty, purest love, boundless grace, abundant mercy, as the only name that is worthy of all glory and adoration and praise forever.”
Chapter 2: The Implications of the First Petition
In the first chapter we have briefly explained the meaning, the objective aspect, of the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
The question now arises: but what are the implications of these words, viewed as a prayer? For what do we really ask when we take this petition on our lips? For we may never overlook the fact that we are dealing here not with a mere question of cold doctrine, but with prayer. Nor is this the mere expression of a pious wish, “O, that Thy name were hallowed.” On the contrary, we are definitely asking for something. As we utter this petition, we are giving expression to a heartfelt need. We would like to receive some blessing from our Father in heaven. We earnestly beseech Him to do something in our behalf. And therefore the question must be answered: what is our request? What is it that we need and that we express as a heartfelt need in this petition?
Let us not overlook the fact that the verb in this petition stands in the passive. In it we do not pray that we may hallow or glorify the name of our Father which is in heaven; but it is left entirely general, “Hallowed be thy name.” It seems to us that the Heidelberg catechism somewhat ignores this element, although we may say, perhaps, that it is nevertheless implied in its answer. It explains as follows: “‘Hallowed be thy name’; that is, grant us, first, rightly to know thee, and to sanctify, glorify, and praise thee, in all thy works, in which thy power, wisdom, goodness, justice, mercy, and truth, are clearly displayed.” It cannot be denied that, although the Catechism suggests that God’s name is indeed hallowed or glorified in all His works, it nevertheless ignores the passive form of the prayer, “Hallowed be thy name.” Yet, we must not overlook this form, but try to answer the question: what does it mean?
Evidently it means, first of all, that we are taught to beseech our Father in heaven that He will so govern all things, the affairs of the whole world,—social, economical, political, national, and international,—the affairs of the church in the world, and all things that concern us personally, and our whole life in the world, in such a way that, first of all and above all, His name may receive all the glory and praise. For the passive form of the petition, “Hallowed be thy name,” implies undoubtedly that the Most High, that our Father in heaven will glorify His own name through us and through all things.
And this is very significant.
It means that we. approach God with the prayer on our lips, “Father, glorify Thy name regardless of what becomes of us, even though this should require that we be led in the ways of suffering and death. Glorify Thy name, O Father, no matter what becomes of our name.” It was thus that our Lord Himself prayed when the dark shadows of the terrible cross were already stealing over His soul, and He said: “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” John 12:27, 28. The glorification of the Father’s name was to Him His chief concern. He was willing that the Father’s name should be hallowed even though it would lead Him into the depth of death and hell. Principally, in the first petition we are taught to pray for the same thing. That is why this petition stands at the head of the whole series of requests. The glory of God is first. The petition means that it is also first in our hearts and minds. We seek it above all. In this petition we profess that we are not chiefly and first of all concerned about the question of what becomes of us and our earthly existence and life. If our Father sends war, and thus reveals His name in the world, our first concern is not with ourselves and our earthly well-being, but that in and through the war God’s name may be hallowed. It means that in those circumstances we do not immediately and rashly cry for peace, regardless of what may become of the revelation of God’s righteousness and power and holiness. But we say: “Our Father, even if it must be through war, glorify Thy name.” If we are led in ways of depression, hunger, want, suffering, sorrow, oppression, persecution for Christ’s sake, tie do not rebel against the ways of the most high, but we humbly ask Him for grace to say, “Our Father, if I must be led through these deep and difficult ways in order that Thy glorious power and grace may be revealed, hallowed be Thy name.”
This, then, is the first implication of this first petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
It means that we earnestly implore our Father in heaven so to reveal Himself in all things in the world, particularly too in all things that concern us and our present life in the world, that His name may be hallowed, whether it be in health or in sickness, in life or in death, in joy or in sorrow, in prosperity or in adversity, in peace or in war.
Secondly, this first petition of the Lord’s Prayer also implies a request for grace that we may always hallow and glorify the name of our Father in heaven in our confession and in our entire life and walk in the world. Also this is very significant. Nor is it easy for us to learn thus to pray in spirit and in truth. For, mark you well, this too implies that we earnestly desire grade from God always and everywhere to seek the glory of His name first, regardless of our position in the world.
The Catechism explains in this connection that the first petition implies that we ask, first of all, that our Father in heaven give us grace rightly to know Him. And this stands to reason. How shall we sanctify and glorify Him if we do not know Him with that true spiritual knowledge that is the knowledge of love and fellowship, and that is wrought in our hearts by His Spirit and Word? And to be sure, this true spiritual knowledge of God presupposes that we have the right, the correct and full knowledge about Him. For how shall we know Him spiritually if we have no knowledge about Him, about His name, His being, His virtues, His works, His salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord? This prayer therefore implies that we ask our Father in heaven that He may give us the true, unadulterated knowledge, the right doctrine of Him. This true knowledge of God is contained only in the Holy Scriptures. And we receive it and increase in this knowledge through the reading and searching of those Scriptures, as well as through the preaching of the Word and, the instruction of ourselves and our children in that Word, in the home, in the school, and in the church. The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, therefore, implies that we invoke God’s indispensable blessing upon all these means for the preservation and dissemination of the true knowledge of God. In it we pray that the church may be preserved and extended, and that she may receive grace to be zealous for the maintenance of the truth and to guard it against all heresy. In this prayer we pray for its ministry, that it may be wholly devoted to the proclamation of the true gospel, both within the church and without, and even to the uttermost ends of the earth. We pray that wherever our children receive their instruction, in the home or in the school or in the church, they may be nurtured in the fear and admonition of the Lord, so that they may become thoroughly furnished unto all good works. And then we pray that God may so sanctify this knowledge about Him unto our hearts by His Spirit and grace that it may become true knowledge of Him in Christ Jesus our Lord. A thorough knowledge of God, about Him, as revealed in the Scriptures, is necessary; but a mere head full of doctrinal knowledge is not sufficient. This petition, therefore, also implies that we ask for God’s Spirit and grace to give us that spiritual knowledge, that knowledge of the heart, which is eternal life; that we may love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. “Hallowed be, thy name.” That means: “Our Father Who art in heaven, give us to know Thee more and more, and preserve us ever in the truth of Thy holy Word.”
It is not difficult to understand what this implies as to the spiritual disposition of our hearts that is required to send this petition to the throne of grace.
It certainly presupposes that we are filled with an earnest desire and longing for the true knowledge of God, and that therefore we employ every means which God gives us to obtain that true knowledge. It means that we certainly are not doctrinally indifferent, but that we are zealous for the truth as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. For if this is not our attitude, we are hypocrites when we pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” And hypocrites are an abomination to the Lord. What would you think of a son who, being far from home, writes to his father that he longs to see him, but who does not even take the trouble of reading his father’s letters? And what, then, do you judge must be God’s attitude to us if, while we pray with our lips that His name may be hallowed, and that therefore we long to know Him, in the meantime we plainly evince in our life that we are not interested in His Word? What must we think of the preacher who from the pulpit sends this petition to the living God in heaven, but who during the week does not make a serious attempt to prepare for his sermons by studying the holy Scriptures, or who proclaims to his flock his own philosophy instead of expounding to them the true Word of God and preaching the full counsel of God? What is to beg thought of the individual Christian who repeats this prayer, but who cares not for sound doctrine, if only his soul is saved; whose seat is usually vacant when God’s people are congregated for worship on the sabbath day, and who shows no interest in the preaching of the Word of God? What is to be thought of the family that would pray for the hallowing of God’s name, but in whose midst the Bible remains a closed book? And what is to be thought of parents who teach their children the Lord’s Prayer, but who neglect to give them a Christian education, not only in the church but also in the home, as well as in the school established by the parents? If such is our spiritual disposition and our actual attitude when we take this first petition upon our lips, will not God answer us: “O you hypocrites and workers of iniquity, depart from me; for you honor me with your lips, but your heart is far from me?” Indeed, this prayer requires that we live in close contact with the Word of God, and have a profound delight in the knowledge of His glorious name.
But even so we have not exhausted the meaning of this first petition of the Lord’s Prayer. For in it we also ask for His grace to sanctify our hearts and minds, that we may always glorify the name of our Father in heaven. And to glorify Him implies, first of all, that we extol Him by the word of our mouth, and that we confess His glorious name.