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22 April, 2014
Practical Meditations on the Lord's Prayer
Newman Hall, 1889
The prayer which our Lord delivered to the disciples as a model in their approaches to God, and which has been designated "The Lord's Prayer," is recorded by two Evangelists, and was spoken on two different occasions.
In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord was reproving the superstition which regarded the frequent iteration of mere words as acceptable with God, and the Pharisaism which made a public parade of prayer to obtain the praise of men. Luke records that at a later period of Christ's ministry, "As He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples." This disciple may have forgotten the earlier instruction. Or he may have regarded it as too brief, or designed for the general multitude to whom it was addressed, and so asked for some counsel specially applicable to the inner circle of the disciples, similar to some teaching so given to the more intimate friends and followers of the Baptist. But our Lord simply repeated the subject-matter of the same Divine model, as containing the essence of all we need to ask, and as showing the spirit and manner of all acceptable prayer. Matt. 6:5-13; Luke 11:1-4.
On both occasions the reasonableness and duty of prayer were taken for granted; the Divine authority of our Lord being superadded to that of the older Revelation. Prayer is not simply one of many other features of religion; but is essential to its existence. "There is not among all moral instincts a more universal, a more invincible one than prayer. The child betakes himself to it with ready docility; aged men return to it as a refuge against decay and isolation. Prayer rises spontaneously from young lips that can scarcely lisp the name of God, and from expiring ones that have scarcely strength left to pronounce it" (Guizot). Human nature is so constituted, that the acknowledgment of a superior Being by adoration and petition, harmonizes with our intellectual and moral instincts. "The widely-spread belief, that man may draw near to God, that he may transfer his thoughts and wishes to the mind of the Eternal, proclaims his sense of a Divine relationship between himself and God. As the magnetic needle points to the unseen pole, so the soul, before it is hardened or demagnetized by the crude blows of the world, will point to the home and heart of the Great Father" (H. R. Reynolds). We feel it is befitting that we render adoration to Him on whom we are dependent for breath and all things, extolling His greatness, expressing our dependence, seeking His favor, and thanking Him for His gifts.
DIRECT BENEFITS OF PRAYER
The almost universal practice of prayer is proof of a general belief in its utility. Its reflex benefit to mind is not disputed; but we pray, expecting some direct advantage, not because of the wholesomeness of the exercise. Digging a garden may improve the health, but the hope of produce speeds the digging. Holy Scripture and the authority of Christ encourage us to expect direct and positive benefits, from prayer.
That God knows already whatever we can tell Him—Yes, and He knows far better than we do, what we really need. But He would also know our wishes from ourselves. An earthly parent may know many the child's desires and griefs, but likes to hear them from the child's own lips, because they interest the parent, and the habit of telling them cultivates filial affection in the child. In prayer we are not instructing God, but communing with Him, and lifting up our minds into the region of His own.
That we cannot improve God's Methods nor alter His Decrees—These co-exist with our moral nature. His Will does not destroy the freedom of our own. Benefit to us from action of His may depend on a corresponding fitness in ourselves. The gift, to be beneficial, needs certain qualities in the recipient. The purpose of God may therefore embrace the prayer of man, the object of which is not to improve His plans, but only to complete their manifestation. God may, in answer to our prayer, change His methods without any fluctuation of purpose. A sailor alters his tack to reach his port. A father carries out his abiding intention by altering his treatment according to the child's conduct. A physician varies his medicine with varying symptoms, in order to accomplish his unvarying purpose of cure. And so, though by prayer we cannot improve the Divine plans, prayer may so alter our own moral condition as to render suitable a change of method on God's part, which will bring us the very blessing we ask. Though all God's purposes are eternally fixed and unalterably sure, everyone tries to guard his body from accident, improve his estate, and secure the comforts of life. If we think we can improve our condition by exertions of our own, is it foolish to hope God may improve them in answer to our prayer?
That if God is willing to give all good, asking is superfluous—Our asking may be a necessary condition of His giving. Good seed will be wasted unless the soil be prepared to receive it. Without healthy appetite, wholesome food may injure. The soul must "hunger and thirst after righteousness" before it can be filled; and prayer stimulates as well as reveals this spiritual appetite. So also gifts of Providence may require the receptivity which prayer cultivates, to render those gifts beneficial. By prayer we come into the Divine storehouse where God's gifts are waiting for us. "Those things which God intends for us, we bring to ourselves by the mediation of holy prayers" (Jer. Taylor). God's light is always shining, but into the region of it we must come as He has ordained. "Thus prayer becomes the turning of the heart to Him who is always prepared to give, if we will receive what He gives. Unto a fountain so vast, the empty vessel must be moved" (Augustine-Trench).
No place for Prayer in the realm of Law—It is alleged that all existing things are subject to definite forces which operate uniformly and irresistibly, so that prayer can have no influence in bringing to pass any desired event. But among natural forces that of Will cannot be omitted. It is the force of which we know most, because we know it by our own consciousness. By our will we can influence that of others, through instruction and persuasion, and prompt them to set in motion a train of physical causation which may bring to pass events otherwise impossible. I may by personal influence (call it prayer) induce the crew of a lifeboat to save shipwrecked seamen, whom otherwise the waves, by natural law, would destroy. I may by persuasion (prayer) induce a physician to go to a man seemingly at death's door, and he, not by miracle, but by working within the sphere of law, may save a life which otherwise, by physical law, would have been the victim of disease. I may, by the exercise of my own will, hold out my arms to catch, when falling from a window, the child whom otherwise the law of gravitation would have killed. If then even I, by the exercise of my will, can interpose to bring about results in the operation of natural law, and can influence other wills to do the same, it cannot be impossible that the Author of Nature, without any interference with order, may do, in answer to prayer, what my fellow-creature can do on my request, and what I can do myself. Must the Divine order shut out the operation of the Divine will? Shall the uniform working of natural law be consistent with the exercise of freedom on my part, and not with that of freedom on God's part?
We do not believe that the "Reign of Law" excludes the agency of the "Lord of Law." Whence came the laws but from the Divine Mind? "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth," and not in eternal forces without thought, emotion, or character. He is free to act in modes novel to us, yet in harmony with law. Seeming changes may be law's developments, and my prayer and His response may be parts of the eternal order; God working according to prearranged principles which are developed whenever their appropriate sphere of operation unfolds. Thus our prayers may bring about the very conditions in which the results we ask may come to pass, in harmony with the higher order which includes moral as well as physical forces. This argument assumes the universal reign of Law. But we also believe in the reign of Grace.
Such objections have been current in all ages; yet in all ages prayer has been offered; and the worshipers have included the wisest and best of men. Poets, statesmen, heroes, prophets have prayed. Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel brought petitions to God, habitually, earnestly, and in full assurance of faith. They have had numberless counterparts up to the present day. Have all men who in all ages and lands have thus gratified the special yearning and employed the highest faculties of the mind been mistaken? If so, "the whole human race has a lie enshrined in its inmost heart; and this lie perpetually emerges age after age, generation after generation, in the child and the philosopher, in the heathen and the Christian. If it be so, the most noble are the most deceived; those who have risen highest, and who have in the largest extent blessed their fellow-men, have been the most entirely baffled and deluded; while, on the other hand, the sensualist, the barbarian with the fewest ideas, the imbecile who is most like the brute that perishes, has made, in a matter that is fundamental to happiness, honor, and usefulness, the nearest approach to the truth of things" (Reynolds).
O men of science! all honor to you in your own sphere. Show us the beauty, the wisdom, the beneficence of God, by showing us the order that pervades His works. But do not shut Him out of His own creation. Do not say that your experiments with microscope and telescope include all the facts of the universe, when the facts of Christianity and the facts of consciousness are not within your induction. There are facts which are incapable of being subjected to scientific scrutiny. God will not, at your bidding, come into your laboratory, cross the field of your telescope, or enter the wing of some hospital which you may choose to designate for experiments upon His handiwork. "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
REFLEX BENEFITS OF PRAYER
Humility—In the presence of the Infinite we feel our insignificance. In proportion as by prayer we have really met with God, we are less disposed unduly to exalt ourselves over our fellow-creatures, since we are all alike but "dust and ashes" in His sight. When we see God, we "abhor ourselves."
Dignity—There can be no greater honor than personal communion with God. We cannot leave the Presence Chamber of the Infinite feeling we are mere grains of sand in a desert; unnoticed, uncared for, hopeless. No! we are living people, and are in direct communion with a personal God, who hears our voice, reads our heart, helps our need. This produces a grand humility, a self-abasing dignity, which will make us respect both ourselves and all our fellows, and should keep us from dragging our nobility in the mud of sinful indulgence.
Sincerity—We are apt before our fellow-men to wear a mask, to hide our defects, to magnify our merits, or simulate those we do not possess. Before Him who knows the secrets of all hearts, the mask must be thrown off. In prayer we learn to know ourselves, to discover our hidden faults, to test the true nature of our motives and conduct.
Holiness—It is one thing to credit the fact that God is holy; it is quite another thing to feel that we are in the very presence of that holy God. Thus it is that the habit of praying induces the habit of obeying. It conveys no new truth, but it strengthens holy impulses. We cannot come direct from an interview with the king and violate his laws; from converse with our Father, and forget the claims of His love.
Moderation of Desire—Longings which may become passions, poisoning our whole life, must be checked when we try to bring them before God in prayer. When we wish for some questionable pleasure, some unrighteous gain, the gratification of vanity or revenge; and by the heating of this internal furnace of wrongful desire are in danger of some explosion which might be our ruin, the expression of such desire to God will reprove and possibly destroy it. There is so much we cannot ask God to give! We should be ashamed, afraid to ask it.
Trust and Courage—If we have any real faith in prayer, hope of needful help will enable us to bear our trials more patiently; to brace ourselves anew for difficult duty; to continue the fight we were ready basely to surrender.
Peace and Consolation—By the mere telling our troubles to a sympathizing friend, the burden is lightened, the bitter cup sweetened, the wound half healed. Much more should this be the result of pouring forth our heart-sorrows before a compassionate God, our Father. If "by prayer and supplication we make known our requests," we need "be anxious in nothing, and the peace of God which passes all understanding shall guard our hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus."
Gratitude—Prayer cultivates gratitude, by linking benefits with Him from whom they are asked. Recognition of the giver enhances the gift. Gratitude prompts to willing service, stimulates obedience, and promotes our own happiness. They who do not pray are not likely to praise. "In the earnest asking is the needful preparation for receiving with due thankfulness; while, on the contrary, the unsought would often remain the unacknowledged also." Prayer thus elevates earthly benefits into Divine blessings, so that the humblest fare of God's providing yields greater delight than costliest dainties regarded as the result of accident, or of our own unaided efforts. Does an objector say that all this reflex benefit is only the natural effect of certain ideas? Then it is evident that our moral organization is adapted to this exercise, and we infer that our Maker and the Being to whom we pray are one and the same; for He who bids us pray has so constituted us that compliance with His law corresponds with our moral nature, satisfies, purifies, exalts and gladdens it.
CHRIST'S AUTHORITY FOR PRAYER
Though Divine He prayed, because He was also human, and shared our weaknesses and wants. He prayed for a blessing on the bread He broke, for help in the miracles He wrought, for comfort in the sorrows He endured. He retired to mountain solitudes for prayer. He prayed in the upper chamber for His disciples; in the garden and on the cross for Himself and for His murderers. He has gone up to heaven to pray, and sits on the right hand of God to intercede. If He, without stain of sin, and in perfect accord with God, needed to pray, how much more must we! And this He enjoined on His followers by precept and promise. "Ask, and you shall receive." "If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?"
His great work was to help man's approach to God. His mediation was to remove the obstacle of our guilt. His Spirit was to remove the disinclination of our hearts. He was "the Way;" and He said, "No man comes to the Father but by me." Acceptance of His salvation brought men at once into the presence of their Father. Faith in Him was life; and the evidence and exercise of the Divine life in the soul was prayer. He brought men into a condition in which prayer was a necessity. He so guided the stream that it must fall into and flow along with the great river. He taught His disciples "always to pray, and not to faint." If they are to conquer in the strife with sin, the armor of God will not avail unless they "cry day and night unto Him."
When our Lord gave this prayer, He ignored all objections. There was no question as to whether the disciples prayed or not. Of course they did. All devout Jews did. The only question was as to the matter and manner of prayer. "When you pray." Our Lord knew all the objections that ever had been, that ever could be, raised against prayer, yet He said, Pray! He was the Author of Nature, the Creator of the worlds, the Head of the universe of Law, knowing the operation of all forces, yet He said, Pray! He was from eternity in the bosom of the Father, sharing the Father's counsels and eternal purposes, yet He said, Pray! He who conquered death and the grave can, should He so please, suspend the order of Nature in answer to prayer. Nothing is impossible with Him to whom is given "all power in heaven and earth." With full assurance we may pray, when He, who is the only-begotten Son, Himself pleads with the Father on our behalf.
THE METHOD OF PRAYER
Form or Freedom?—"When you pray, say," etc. The desires of the heart are to be expressed. Meditation is liable to pass off in frivolous thoughts or mental drowsiness. It is true that God regards fervent desire as prayer, and that no words avail without it; yet our Lord teaches us to express the desires of the heart, which are increased and made definite by utterance. "Take with you words, and return to the Lord—say to Him, Take away all iniquity, so will we render as bullocks the offering of our lips."
And there are times when the believer is conscious that "the Spirit makes intercession within him with groanings which cannot be uttered." Yet these are exceptional seasons. If all prayer were to be denied vocal utterance, little prayer would be left. Our Lord Himself, holding ineffable Spirit-communion with His Father, expressed His divinely-human longings in human words.
This our Lord taught us to do. But in what words? Surely sometimes in the very form prescribed. But did He mean that we should be restricted to this? Were this so, the two versions would be identical. But they vary. In the Revised Version of Luke we have simply "Father," instead of "Our Father in heaven." "Your will be done" is omitted. Instead of "Give us this day," we have "Give us day by day." Instead of debts, we have sins; and instead of "as we also have forgiven our debtors," we have "for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us." These variations show that not the precise form was prescribed, but the substance. Ours is the dispensation not of the letter but of the Spirit. Dean Alford says—"It is very improbable that the prayer was regarded in the very earliest times as a set form delivered for liturgical use by our Lord. The variations are fatal to the supposition of its being used liturgically at the time when these Gospels were written. Add to this, that we find very few traces of such use in early times. Yet this very prayer, though not imposed as an obligatory form, must ever be specially dear to Christian hearts. We feel encouraged when we use a petition drawn up by Himself. But to regard it as of itself efficacious, as though the mere utterance would bring down some blessing; and to repeat it many times, as if the reiteration would more effectually win regard, is to debase what was intended to cure superstition, as an instrument for promoting it.
But the question arises, whether, by giving this prayer, our Lord enjoined or sanctioned the use of forms of prayer, in preference to free utterance. There are two extremes; some advocate the exclusive use of forms, others condemn them altogether. In private prayer the spontaneous expression of desire is most natural, and best fitted to promote devotion. Prayer should begin in the heart and find utterance by the lip. In the "chapel which every man can build in his bosom, himself the priest, his heart the sacrifice, and the earth he stands on the altar," there is no need to regard any other mind than our own. No form ever composed can meet all the needs of any one soul. There are sins to confess, sorrows to utter, desires to express, constantly new and varied. The heart cannot be satisfied with mere generalities when the child is alone with its father. The most stammering petition which is the genuine utterance of the heart, is better in private devotion than the most perfect composition of another mind.
For public prayer in a prescribed form the following arguments are urged—The needs of the congregation as a whole are more likely to be expressed by a form carefully prepared by the concurrence of many minds, than when one individual prays according to his own feelings and circumstances. There is less intellectual excitement when the language is familiar, than when it comes as a novelty, possibly startling by strangeness, bewildering by obscurity, provoking criticism, and suggesting wandering thoughts. There is less of human performance when prayers previously prepared are simply read, than when the leader in worship has to exercise his own powers of conception and utterance. He is less tempted to obtrude himself, and to consider what others may think of him, than when originating prayers which, though addressed to God, are listened to and judged of by men. The people are better able to take their part in responses when they know what the prayers will be, than when they have to listen and judge before they can intelligently say, Amen. The psalms were inspired forms of prayer and praise, used by the Jews in the temple-worship.
Against the use of forms, and in favor of free prayer, it may be urged—Forms are apt to promote formalism. Familiar expressions are heard listlessly. The lip may utter the words unconsciously, while the thoughts may be wandering far away. Forms cannot express the varied needs of the people; nor be applicable to constantly changing circumstances. Forms confine the thoughts, repress the feelings, and restrain the motions of the Divine Spirit. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." There are many examples in Scripture of free prayer being offered according to the special circumstances and needs of the worshiper.
There is force in both sets of arguments. Either Form or Freedom is objectionable when one is prescribed to the exclusion of the other. In Christ's religion of liberty, things in themselves lawful become unlawful when what was left optional by the Master is made obligatory by His servants. He sanctioned the liturgic use of the Psalms by His own example at the Passover. Every form of prayer cannot be consistently condemned by those who habitually employ prayers artistically arranged in verse, and sung to elaborate tunes. Every free prayer is a form, except to the person speaking it. If he utters it from the fullness of his heart at the moment, it is only his own spontaneous prayer. To all who listen it must be form—as regards the speaker, the emotions prompt the words; but as regards the hearer, the words precede the desires, and do not necessarily produce the prayer in others, though John or Paul were the speaker. For the exclusion of forms it has been said, that "a hungry beggar does not ask alms by set form." It is also true that a community, presenting a united request to Government, agree together the wording of their petition.
Dean Vaughan says—"Christ prohibits not other forms. He forbids not to pray without forms. All that is from the heart is welcome in heaven. But unquestionably He silences here the silly tradition that nothing can be prayer but that which is extemporaneous and sudden. Neither with regard to prayers nor to sermons does the question lie between written and unwritten, but between formal and spiritual." Archbishop Leighton says of forms—"We are not to be bound to their continual use in private or in public; nor is there anything in the word of God, or any solid reason drawn from the word, to condemn their use." A learned and devout Principal of a Nonconformist College (Dr. Reynolds) says—"God does not listen to our words at all, but to our spirits. There is nothing in a form, when rightly used, inconsistent with the spirituality which is the indispensable condition of acceptable prayer. Sympathy with the blessed dead, communion with those who have passed within the veil, and holy fellowship with all who claim this rich inheritance of the Church, is possible in the use of hallowed, time-honored forms of praise and prayer; but the refusal to any man of the right to pour out his heart to God in words, fresh-coined there by his own personal sense of infinite need, seems like deliberately quenching the Holy Spirit, and resisting His mightiest operation in the heart of man." The author of the Pilgrim's Progress says, "In prayer it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart."
Each method has its advantages, and therefore neither should exclude the other. To make human forms binding on the Church which Christ has left free; or to bind the Church not to use forms which He has not forbidden, is equally a restriction of Christian liberty. Forms may degenerate into formalism; and the absolute forbiddal of forms may deprive the Church of much help from the piety and wisdom of past ages, and of the special advantages furnished by concerted prayer, as well as concerted praise. Why should not the Church avail itself of all the help both methods may afford, and rejoice that "all things are ours"? But in vain do we pray, whether in words of our own, or in forms composed by the holiest men and sanctioned by centuries of worship, or in these very words taught by Christ Himself, unless the heart ascends to God. Alas! how often we have to confess—
"My words fly up, my thoughts remain below; Words, without thoughts, never to heaven go." —Shakespeare
Another question arises. Our Lord gave us, as a model, a prayer characterized by brevity. Did He mean that no prayer should be longer? His own example is opposed to such an idea. We read of His continuing "all night in prayer to God." In the garden He was long in prayer, "saying the same words." After His ascension the disciples "continued with one accord in prayer and supplication." Paul exhorts Christians to "pray without ceasing," and to continue instant in prayer." The Scribes were condemned, not for long prayers, but because they made them "for a pretense." The Lord censured mere verbal utterances in place of heart-desires; prayer, to be noticed by man instead of to be accepted by God. "It is a bad sign when the prayers made before men are longer than those heard only by God." Every prayer, however few the words, is long if it comes not from the heart; no prayer is long which is the soul's true expression.
Some critics have said, that as the several petitions may be found in Jewish writings, the prayer is not original, and therefore not "the Lord's." Tholuck says that the agreement which has been asserted between this prayer and prayers of the Rabbis is wholly null. Our Lord expressly said that He had come, not to destroy the older revelation, but to fulfill; not to ignore any portion of truth already known, but to supplement it. Accordingly, His teaching abounded with allusions to the Old Testament. He often quoted its words as expressive of His own feelings. He died with them on His lips. It would indeed be strange if the petitions in a form solemnly given as being specially in accordance with the Divine will, had no parallel whatever in the thoughts and devotions of the Old Testament Church. Thus, although the character of God as Father was not prominent, yet it was known. "Doubtless You are our Father;" "If then, I be a Father, where is my honor? says the Lord Almighty." The hallowing of the Name was commanded through Moses—"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain;" illustrated by David—"From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the Lord's name is to be praised;" and guaranteed by Jehovah—"I will sanctify my great name." The kingdom was portrayed and prayed for by David, and predicted by Daniel. The doing the will of God was the subject of frequent petitions—"Teach me to do Your will;" "Incline my heart to Your testimonies." Agur prayed—"Feed me with food convenient for me." Forgiveness was assured by "The Lord God is merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity;" and for it the Israelites were encouraged to pray, "Let the wicked return to the Lord, and He will abundantly pardon." To be delivered from temptation and saved from evil was the theme of many of David's prayers—"Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments. Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things. Let not any iniquity have dominion over me." And this was answered by the Divine promise—"The Lord will preserve you from all evil. He will preserve your soul."
There was no need, therefore, for our Lord to search the writings of Jewish Rabbis in order to compile this formulary. Its truths were already revealed by His own Spirit through the prophets. What He did was to gather into a focus the scattered rays; to bring out into clearer light what had been indistinctly seen; to give prominence to what had been in the background; to arrange in progressive order what had hitherto existed in disjointed fragments. It is this combination, this concentration of so much into a space so small, this taking up of gems which had lain about amid the general stores of the Church, and setting them all together in this circlet of purest gold; it is not only what is included but what is omitted; it is not the separate petitions, invaluable as they are, but their combination in a prayer unrivaled not only for its substance, but for "the full brevity, the deep plainness, the lovely simplicity of expression" (Barrow)—it is all this which constitutes its superiority to all more human utterances of devotion. "The Lord's Prayer, for a succession of solemn thoughts, for fixing the attention upon a few great points, for suitableness to every condition, for sufficiency, for conciseness without obscurity, for the weight and real importance of its petitions, is without an equal or a rival" (Paley)—these features entitle it to be called "The Lord's Prayer."
The General Scope
As the Ten Commandments are a summary of our duties, so the Lord's Prayer is a summary of what ought to be our desires. The Decalogue begins with duties we owe to God, and passes on to those we owe to one another. The prayer begins with desires for God, and ends with desires for ourselves. The first four commands, to have no other God, to worship no image, to reverence the Name, and to observe the Sabbath of God, correspond with the prayers that His name may be hallowed, His kingdom come, and His will be done.
The next command and the next petition may be regarded as transitional in order. The claims of God are illustrated in those of parents; and our duties to parents have their origin and highest illustration in the honor we owe to God. The command to honor earthly parents suggests the title of God in the Prayer, reminding us both of duty and privilege. The parental relation is Divine, and involves mutual functions; and the bread we ask is the gift of God in heaven for His children's needs on earth. Thus both in the Law of Moses, and the Prayer of Jesus, we are here brought down to the human level. The rest of the commandments forbid the sins to which our lusts expose us. The rest of the petitions seek deliverance from the evils into which sin brings us. We ask God first for His own good things, and then for deliverance from our own evil things. And as the Decalogue is prefaced by a statement of His claims on the obedience of the Israelites as their Deliverer from Egypt, so the Prayer is prefaced by the comprehensive plea—"Our Father in heaven."
It might be expected that there would be resemblances between the Prayer and the Beatitudes which had just been pronounced. The Prayer teaches that God is our Father, and the Beatitude declares that "peacemakers shall be called the children of God." His name is hallowed by the humble and "meek." The privileges of the kingdom belong to "the poor in spirit;" for even now, "theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The will of God is done only by "the pure in heart." The prayer for daily bread has a spiritual as well as physical application, and they realize it who "hunger and thirst after righteousness." Sorrowing for sin, we pray that our trespasses may be forgiven, and are assured that "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." We profess that we who ask forgiveness, practice it towards others, and we are taught that "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." We ask to be delivered from temptation and all evil, and are assured that, even though persecuted for righteousness' sake, we shall not only be preserved from harm, but that "great shall be our reward in heaven." Matt. 5:1-12.
The prayer is not formally 'in the name of Jesus'. He had not yet fully developed His mediatorial character and work. Subsequently, on the eve of offering Himself as the sacrifice for sin, He distinctly taught His disciples to pray in His name. "Verily, verily, I say to you, If you shall ask anything of the Father, He will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name—ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be fulfilled." It is not only in accordance with His teaching that we should thus come before God, but it would be difficult for anyone who loved Him as Savior, to omit His name in any prayer to the Father.
Yet much more than the mere use of the word is required if we would pray in His name. We must come to God relying on His mediation, asking what He has taught us to desire, seeking His glory and to be aided by His Spirit, else the formula alone will not fulfill the condition. Thus the apostles prayed. Some of their petitions were offered directly to Christ. Other prayers, without the formula at their close, contained the name of Christ, expressing reliance, homage, service, adoration. Prayer and praise to God, as "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," were offered in this name. That this method of appealing to God was uniform and constant, we may gather from the words of Paul—"Through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father."
From these examples it is evident, that it is not so much the mention of Christ at the end of the prayer, as the breathing through the whole of it of faith and love towards Christ, which constitutes praying in His name. It is this reliance on Him while we pray, and this blending of our will with His in our petitions, which, without the customary clause, render a prayer more truly Christian than any number of repetitions of the mere name in the absence of this spirit. And therefore this prayer, because taught by Himself, as the very essence of what we should ask for, is eminently a prayer in His name, when, without the formula, we offer it in obedience to His teaching, and relying on His mediation.
"After this manner" means, if not by this very form, yet in this spirit, and for these benefits. Adoration of every kind, prayer for the Divine glory, for the spread of truth, holiness, and happiness, and for help to do and suffer the will of God, are embraced in the first portion of it. Supplication for every real necessity of our nature, the satisfaction of every pure instinct, bodily, mental, social, is involved in asking for daily bread; the confession of all sin, and the plea for all pardon, are in the prayer "Forgive;" grace to bear with and to forgive others, in the condition annexed; help in all temptations, trials, sorrows, and final deliverance from every form of evil, in the closing petitions. Whatever it is lawful to pray for is embodied here; and therefore at all times, and under all circumstances, all mankind may pray "after this manner."
They who use liturgies never omit this. They who repudiate the pre-composed prayer of men, with few exceptions avail themselves of this prayer of the Lord Jesus. Whatever the difference of Church government, whatever the variation of creed, all blend their voices harmoniously here. Surely they must be really united, however seemingly divided, who from the heart send up to heaven such requests. In the words of the Dean of Llandaff, "They who can pray together the Lord's Prayer in spirit and in truth, must be substantially one. The Church of all space and of all time meets and is one in the Master's Prayer." Thus it is a Divine bond of brotherhood for all who use it. It is a fulfillment of the condition joined to the promise, "If two of you agree as touching anything you shall ask, it shall be given." It may be urged with full confidence that, "If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us;" and the prayer He Himself taught must be according to His will. We may be sure that His intercession in heaven blends with our prayers on earth, when we pray "after this manner."
It is a prayer capable of ever varied enlargement. We may crowd a volume into each clause. We may, in protracted supplication, "continue all night in prayer to God," and yet keep within its limits and be guilty of no vain repetitions. It is suitable for seasons of safety and peril, joy and sorrow, health and sickness, festival and funeral. We may offer it amid the activities of life, and when drawing near to the gates of death. It is suited to all ages and all minds. There are depths in it which the most thoughtful intellect cannot fathom, and shallows where little children may lave their feet—heights which the strongest climber cannot scale, and valleys where the weak and wounded may rest and be refreshed. It was given for the Church universal, in every stage of development, both as a whole and in each member. The newborn child of God may acceptably present it, though he only understands as a child; the matured believer finds increasing help in it as he puts away childish things. What the poet so beautifully says of prayer in its various utterances, may be said of this one particular prayer, this one and the same utterance, according to the different thoughts and emotions of those who offer it:
"Prayer is the simplest form of speech That infant lips can try; Prayer the sublimest strains that reach The Majesty on high."