The Sermon On The Mount
"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen."
Matthew 6: 9-13
It is only two years since we wrote a series of ten cover-page articles on what is usually designated the Lord's Prayer, and therefore we shall not now enter as fully into detail as we otherwise would have done. Before taking up its several clauses, let us make one or two general observations on the prayer as a whole. First, we would note the words with which Christ prefaced it: "After this manner therefore pray ye." This intimates that the Lord Jesus was supplying a pattern after which our prayers are to be modeled. So ignorant are we that "we know not what we should pray for as we ought" (Rom. 8:26), and therefore in answer to our oft-repeated request, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1), He has graciously furnished the instruction we so sorely need, revealing the manner in which Christians should approach God, the order in which their requests should be presented, the things they most need to ask for, and the adoration which is due to the One they are supplicating.
This model prayer is also found, in condensed form, in Luke's Gospel, and there it is introduced by the words, "When ye pray, say," (11:2). This makes it clear that this prayer is not only a pattern to be copied, but also a form to be used verbatim, the plural pronouns therein suggesting that it is appropriate for collective use when the saints assemble together. The fact that its use as a form has been perverted is no argument why it should never be thus employed. True we need to be much on our guard against repeating it by rote, coldly and mechanically, and earnestly seek grace to recite it reverently and feelingly-in our judgment, once every public service, and always at family worship. In view of the class to whom we write it is scarcely necessary to add that many have made a superstitious use of this prayer as though it were a magical charm.
A few of our readers may have been disturbed by the foolish and harmful error that the Lord's prayer was not designed and is not suited for use in this dispensation: that instead, it is "Jewish" and intended for a godly remnant in some "great tribulation period" yet future. One would think the very stating of such a fantasy quite sufficient to expose its absurdity to those with any spiritual intelligence. Neither our Lord nor any of His apostles gave any warning that this prayer was not to be used by Christians, or any intimation that it was designed for a future age. The fact that it is found in Luke's Gospel as well as Matthew's is clear indication that it is to be employed by Jewish and Gentile saints alike. There is nothing whatever in this prayer which is unsuited to Christians now, yea, everything in it is needed by them. That it is addressed to "our Father" furnishes all the warrant we need for it to be used by all the members of His family. Then let none of God's children allow Satan to rob them of this valuable part of their birthright.
The more this blessed and wondrous prayer be pondered-one which we personally love to think of as "the family prayer"-the more will the perfect wisdom of its Author be apparent. Here we are taught both the manner and method of how to pray, and the matter for which to pray. Christ knew both our needs and the Father's good will toward us, and therefore has He graciously supplied us with a simple but sufficient directory. Every aspect of prayer is included therein: adoration in its opening clause, thanksgiving at the close, confession of sin is implied. Its petitions are seven in number, showing the completeness of the outline here furnished us. It is virtually an epitome of the Psalms and a most excellent summary of all prayer. Every clause in it is taken from the Old Testament, denoting that our prayers cannot be acceptable unless they be scriptural. "If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us" (1 John 5:14), and God's will can only be learned from His Word.
"Our Father which art in heaven." This opening clause presents to us the Object to whom we p ray and the most endearing relation which He sustains to us. B y directing us to address the great God as "Our Father which art in heaven" we are assured of His love and power: this precious title being designed to raise our affections, excite to reverential fear and confirm our confidence in the efficacy of prayer. It is to a Divine person, One who has our best interests at heart, that we are invited to draw nigh: "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us" (1 John 3:1)! God is our "Father" first by creation: (Mal. 2:10). Second, He is our Father by covenant-relationship, and this by virtue of our federal union with Christ-because God is His Father, He is ours (John 20:17). Third, He is our Father by regeneration: when born again we are "made partakers of the Divine nature" (Gal. 4:6; 2 Pet. 1:4.) Oh, for faith to extract the sweetness of this relationship.
It is blessed to see how the Old Testament saints, at a time of peculiar trouble and distress, boldly pleaded this relationship to God. They declared, "Thou didst terrible things . . . behold Thou art wroth." They owned, "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." They acknowledged, "Thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us because of our iniquities." And then they pleaded, "But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father" (Isa. 64:3-8). Though we have conducted ourselves very undutifully and ungratefully toward Thee, yet we are Thy dear children: though Thou hast chastened us sorely, nevertheless Thou art still our Father. To Thee therefore we now in penitence turn, to Thee we would apply ourselves in prayer, for to whom should we look for succour and relief but our Father! That was the language of faith.
"Our Father." This teaches us to recognize the Christian brotherhood,. to pray for the whole family and not for ourselves only. We must express our love for the brethren by praying for them: we are to be as much concerned about their needs as we are over our own. "Which art in heaven." Here we are reminded of God's greatness, of His infinite elevation above us. If the words "Our Father" inspire confidence and love, "which art in heaven" should fill us with humility and awe. It is true that God is everywhere, but He is present in heaven in a special sense. It is there that He has "prepared His throne": not only His throne of government, by which His kingdom rules over all, but also His throne of grace to which we must by faith draw near. We are to eye Him as God in heaven, in contrast with the false gods which dwell in temples made by hands.
These words, "which art in heaven," should serve as a guide to direct us in our praying. Heaven is a high and exalted place, and we should address ourselves to God as One who is infinitely above us. It is the place of prospect, and we must picture His holy eye upon us. It is a place of ineffable purity, and nothing which defiles or makes a lie can enter there. It is the "firmament of His power," and we must depend upon Him as the One to whom all might belongs. When the Lord Jesus prayed He "lifted up His eyes to heaven," directing us whence to obtain the blessings we need. If God is in heaven then prayer needs to be a thing of the heart and not of the lips, for no physical voice on earth can rend the skies, but sighs and groans will reach the ears of God. If we are to pray to God in heaven, then our souls must be detached from all of earth. If we pray to God in heaven, then faith must wing our petitions. Since we pray to God in heaven our desires and aspirations must be heavenly.
"Hallowed be Thy name." Thus begins the petitionary part of this blessed prayer. The requests are seven in number, being divided into a three and a four: the first three concerning God, and the last four (ever the number of the creature) our own selves-similarly are the Ten Commandments divided: the first five treating of our duty Godward (in the fifth the parent stands to the child in the place of God), the last five our duty manwards. How clearly, then, is the fundamental duty in prayer here set forth: self and all its needs must be given a secondary place and the Lord freely accorded the preeminence in our thoughts, desires and supplications. This petition must take the precedence, for the glory of God's great name is the ultimate end of all things: every other request must not only be subordinated to this one, but be in harmony with and in pursuance of it. We cannot pray aright unless the honour of God be dominant in our hearts. If we cherish a desire for the honoring of God's name we must not ask for anything which it would be against the Divine holiness to bestow.
By "Thy name" is meant God Himself, as in Psalm 20:1, etc. But more particularly His "name" signifies God as He is revealed. It has pleased the Maker of heaven and earth to make Himself known to us, not only in His works, but in the Scriptures, and supremely so in Christ. In the written and in the personal Word God has displayed Himself to us, manifesting His glorious perfections: His matchless attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence; His moral character of holiness, righteousness, goodness and mercy. He is also revealed through His blessed titles: the Rock of Israel, Him that cannot lie, the Father of mercies, the God of all grace. And when we pray that the name of God may be hallowed we make request that the glory thereof may be displayed by Him, and that we may be enabled to esteem and magnify Him agreeably thereto.
In praying that God's name be hallowed we ask that He will so act that His creatures may be moved to render that adoration which is due Him. His name has indeed been eminently glorified in all ages, in the various workings of His providence and grace, whereby His power, wisdom, righteousness and mercy have been demonstrated before the eyes of angels and of men. We therefore request that He would continue to glorify these perfections. In the past God has in the magnifying of His name employed methods and measures which were strange and staggering to finite intelligence: often allowing His enemies to prosper for a time and His people to be sorely persecuted-nevertheless, they glorified "the Lord in the fires" (Isa. 24:15). And so now, and in the future, when we ask for God to be glorified in the prosperity of His Church, the dissemination of the Gospel and the extension of His kingdom, we must subordinate our request to the Divine sovereignty and leave it with Him as to where and when and how these things shall be brought to pass.
"Hallowed be Thy name": how easy it is to utter these words without the slightest thought of their profound and holy import! If we offer this petition from the heart we desire that God's name may be sanctified by us, and at the same time own the indisposition and utter inability to do this of ourselves. Such a request denotes a longing to be empowered to glorify God in everything whereby He makes Himself known, that we may honour Him in all situations and circumstances. Whatever be my lot, however low I may sink, through whatever deep waters I may be called to pass, get to Thyself glory in me and by me. Blessedly was this exemplified by our perfect Saviour. "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): though He must be immersed in the baptism of suffering, yet "Hallowed be Thy name."
"Thy kingdom come: Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." The first petition has respect to God's honour, the second and third indicate the means whereby His glory is manifested on earth. God's name is manifestatively glorified here just in proportion as His "kingdom" comes to us and His "will" is done by us. This is why we are exhorted to "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). In praying "Thy kingdom come" we acknowledge that by nature we are under the dominion of sin and Satan, and beg that we may be the more fully delivered therefrom and that the rule of God may be more completely established in our hearts. We long to see the kingdom of grace extended and the kingdom of glory ushered in. Accordingly we make request that God's will may be more fully made known to us, wrought in us and performed by us: "in earth as it is in heaven": that is, humbly, cheerfully, impartially, promptly, constantly.
"Give us this day our daily bread." This is the first of the four petitions more immediately relating to the supply of our own needs, in which we can clearly discern an implied reference to each of the Persons in the blessed Trinity. Our temporal wants are supplied by the kindness of the Father; our sins are forgiven through the mediation of the Son; we are preserved from temptation anti delivered from evil by the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit. By asking for our "daily bread" a tacit acknowledgment is made that "in Adam and by our own sins we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life, and deserve to be wholly deprived of them by God, and to have them cursed to us in the use of them; and that neither they of themselves are able to sustain us, nor we to merit, or by our own industry to procure them, but prone to desire, get and use them unlawfully; we pray for ourselves and others that they and we, waiting upon the providence of God from day to day, in the use of lawful means, may of His free gift, and as His Fatherly wisdom shall deem best, enjoy a competent portion of them, and have the same continued and blessed unto us in our holy and comfortable use of them and contentment in them" (Larger Cat.).
"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." As it is contrary to the holiness of God, sin is a defilement, a dishonor and reproach to us; as it is a violation of His Law, it is a crime; and as to the guilt which we contract thereby, it is a debt. As creatures we owed a debt of obedience unto our Maker and Governor, and through failure to render the same on account of our rank disobedience we have incurred a debt of punishment, and it is for this latter that we implore the Divine pardon. In order to the obtaining of God's forgiveness we are required to address ourselves unto Him in faith and prayer. The designed connection between this and the preceding petition should not be missed: "Give us . . . and forgive us": the former cannot profit us without the latter-what true comfort can we derive from external mercies when our conscience remains burdened on account of a sense of guilt! But since Christ here teaches us that He is a giving God, what encouragement to look unto Him as a forgiving God!
"And lead us not into temptation." The "us" includes all fellow Christians on earth, for one of the first things which grace teaches us is unselfishness; to be as much concerned about the good of my brethren as I am about my own-not only for their temporal welfare, but especially for their spiritual. In the preceding petition we have prayed that the guilt of past sins may be remitted, here we beg to be saved from incurring new guilt through being overcome by fresh sin. This request makes acknowledgment of the universal providence of God, that all creatures are at the sovereign disposal of their Maker, that He has the same absolute control over evil as over good, and therefore has the ordering of all temptations. It is from the evil of temptations we ask to be spared: if God sees fit that we should be tempted objectively (through providences which, though good in themselves, offer occasion to sin within us), that we may not yield thereto, or, if we yield, that we may not be absolutely overcome.
"But deliver us from evil." All temptations (trials and troubles) are not evil either in their nature, design, or outcome. The Saviour Himself was tempted of the Devil and was definitely led into the wilderness by the Spirit for that very end. It is therefore from the evil of temptations we are to ask for deliverance, as this final petition indicates. We are to pray not for a total exemption from them, but only for a removal of the judgment of them. This is clear from our Lord's own example in prayer: "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil" (John 17:15). To be kept from the evil of sin is a far greater mercy than deliverance from the trouble of temptation. But how far has God undertaken to deliver us from evil? First, as it would be hurtful to our highest interests: it was for Peter's ultimate good that he was suffered temporarily to fall. Second, from its having full dominion over us, so that we shall not totally and finally apostatize. Third, by an ultimate deliverance when He removes us to heaven.
"For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." Thus the family prayer closes with a doxology or an ascription of that glory which is due unto God, thereby teaching us that prayer and praise should always go together. It is to be carefully noted that this doxology of the Divine perfections is made use of as a plea to enforce the preceding petitions: "deliver us from evil for Thine is the kingdom," etc.-teaching us to back up our requests with scriptural reasons or arguments. From the Divine perfections the suppliant is to take encouragement to expect a gracious answer. There is nothing in or from ourselves which is meritorious, and therefore hope must be grounded upon the character of Him to whom we pray. His perfections are not evanescent. but "for ever." The concluding "Amen" expresses both a fervent desire, "so be it," and an avowal to faith, "it shall be so."