Great Texts of the Bible
The Lord’s Prayer
After this manner therefore pray ye.—Matthew 6:9.
1. The Lord’s Prayer has been the type of prayer among Christians in all ages. Throughout the Christian centuries men have poured forth their hearts to God in these few words, which have probably had a greater influence on the world than all the writings of theologians put together. They are the simplest form of communion with Christ: when we utter them we are one with Him; His thoughts become our thoughts, and we draw near to God through Him. They are also the simplest form of communion with our fellow-men, in which we acknowledge that He is our common Father and that we are His children. And the least particulars of our lives admit of being ranged under one or other of the petitions which we offer up to Him.
2. It has not only become the one universal prayer of Christendom; it has appealed to and has been adopted by the most enlightened exponents of other faiths. This result is all the more astounding if, as some scholars have declared, no single petition of the prayer was in the strict sense “original,” the startling originality being in the structure of the prayer. Within the narrow framework of an utterance containing only petitions, Jesus has gathered all the deepest necessities of the collective and of the individual life of mankind, and has so knit together and built up these petitions in orderly sequence that the prayer as a whole appeals to men everywhere, and remains to any man who will thoughtfully use it a liberal education in sympathy with mankind and in understanding the character of God.
In his “Ode on the Pleasure Arising from Vicissitude,” Thomas Gray endeavoured to impress on an age of indifference the priceless value of the daily earthly blessings which we receive, too often without a thought of their beauty, and healthfulness, and joy, without a word of gratitude to Him who gives and sustains, without one real expression of prayer that we may consecrate them more entirely to His service. He describes the feelings of one who, after a long and painful illness, finds himself at last able to leave his room, and move once more amid familiar sights and sounds which, in a normal state of health, scarcely excite attention:
See the Wretch, that long has tost
On the stormy bed of Pain,
At length repair his vigour lost
And breathe and walk again;
The meanest flowret of the vale,
The simplest note that swells the gale,
The common Sun, the air, the skies,
To him are opening Paradise.
In the spiritual world there are blessings like “the common sun, the air, the skies,” the priceless value of which in regard to communion with God in Christ, the conscious sense of the Divine presence, the formation of character, and control of conduct, we for the most part hardly estimate until we find ourselves deprived of them, or unable to make use of them. Among such blessings, inestimable, yet taken as a matter of course, is the gift of the Lord’s Prayer.1 [Note: A. J. Worlledge, Prayer, 160.]
(1) To begin with, a man is bidden postpone the outpouring of his private needs till he has related himself aright to the needs of the world: the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are “missionary” intercessions, which, when a man begins to use, at once narrowness and possible selfishness of outlook are checked, and the sympathies spread out to take in the wants that lie deepest in the life of universal man. “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name”—hallowed, that is, the whole world over. What a sweep of intercessory affection, what enlightening recollection of what the world most truly needs, what readjustment to fraternal fellowship of desire lies behind the intelligent use of this petition alone! It means that one sees, instructed by Christ, that the profoundest necessity for the broken and sundered lives of our race is reunion in spiritual religion, in one universal reverence to one worthy thought of God; and to go on intelligently to pray, “Thy kingdom come: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” is to desire (and surely also to be moved to work for) the reorganizing of man’s broken life on the basis of a universal subordination to God, orderly and loyal, because willing, enlightened, and free. Think of the power that lies in a series of intercessions like that to educate the intercessor in the true meaning and inwardness of the history behind him and being made around him! Think of its stores of impulse to a cosmopolitan outlook, its potent force as a solvent of the parochial spirit! And then think of the range and depth of the insight of the “Galilæan peasant” who thus perceived and read the universal needs of man! How came He to have those eyes which, like the eyes of God, “are over all the earth”?
In each petition we ask to be blessed with God Himself. In each petition we therefore see the Trinity, while one Person of the Trinity is more prominently brought forward. The name is the Son revealing the Father; the kingdom is the Father beheld and loved in the Son; the will renewed is the Holy Ghost fulfilling in us what the Father ordains and Christ mediates. In these three petitions there is no sequence—they are co-equal, co-ordinate—hence there is no conjunction.1 [Note: Adolph Saphir, The Lord’s Prayer, 58.]
(2) The remaining four petitions of the prayer are no less marvellous as a transcript of the cry of the world-wide heart of man. “Give us this day our daily bread”—give us, for we can neither manufacture nor for very long so much as store the raw material of life’s nourishment. “Forgive us our debts”—forgive, for we can neither pay for, expiate, nor endure unexpiated, the irreparable past. “Lead us not into temptation”—for life is beset with risk as well as opportunity. “Deliver us from evil”—for that is the deep-set root of all woes. Is it not the unanimous voice of mankind that sights through these petitions? Has there ever been so perfect, so adequate an articulation of the murmur of the hungering world-soul? Is prayer for more than this prayer includes essential? Would prayer for less be less than vicious? Men vary in their power of calling up from the subconscious region the thoughts and sympathies that wander to the farthest frontiers of personality and seem to travel even beyond; but this is more than telepathy in excelsis: it is a knowledge of universal man gathering itself in such a way within the compass of a single mind that the inference is irresistible that this Man’s consciousness was more than “individual,” and that these things He had learned in some residence in God antedating His residence on earth. The vast sweep of the Lord’s Prayer, and its astounding grasp of what is deepest in the necessities of the world in every age, go far to make credible even the saying attributed to Christ in the Fourth Gospel, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
Of symbolical numbers in Scripture, there are none whose meaning is so certain and obvious as the numbers three, four, and seven. Three is the number of God, as in the threefold blessing which the high priest pronounced, the threefold “holy” in the song of the seraphim, and in various passages. The mystery, most clearly expressed in the institution of baptism and throughout the Epistles, is contained in germ in all the manifestations of God unto His people. The number four is evidently the number of the world, of the manifold mundane relationship of creation in its fulness and variety. This symbolism finds its expression in nature—the four directions in space, the four corners of the earth, the four winds, from which all the elect shall be gathered. It is to be noticed in the Tabernacle, the measures, curtains, colours, and ingredients, where it denotes regularity and completeness. With this correspond the facts that we have a fourfold account of the life of Christ, and that the creaturely life and perfection is represented by the four living Beings. Seven is the number symbolizing God manifesting Himself in the world. From the very first chapter of Genesis to the closing Book of the inspired record, this number is invested with a special dignity and solemnity. The seventh day is not merely the day of rest, but the day on which are completed and perfected the works of God. Seven is the number of clean animals which Noah was commanded to bring into the Ark. Seven branches had the golden candlestick in the holy place of the Tabernacle; seven days lasted the great festivals in Israel; on seven pillars was built the House of Wisdom; walking amid seven golden candlesticks Jesus is represented in the Apocalypse; seven spirits are before the throne; seven words the Saviour uttered from the cross; seven petitions He gives to His people.1 [Note: Adolph Saphir, The Lord’s Prayer, 59.]
“Our Father which art in heaven.”
“After this manner therefore pray ye.” This then is the right way of praying. Our Lord here in the Sermon on the Mount is telling men how to do the three eminent duties—“When thou doest alms,” “When ye fast,” “When ye pray.” About each of the three He has the same thing to say—Do not advertise it; but when He speaks of prayer He goes further, for it is by far the most difficult of the three; He goes on to tell us the right method. “After this manner therefore pray ye.” The Lord’s Prayer is given, not to tie us down to that particular form of words (though, indeed, there are none so good), but to show us how to pray. “After this manner.” This is the right way.
1. Too often man trips in and out of God’s presence, saying words that he does not feel towards a Person of whom he has no intelligent conception. But we must not do so. Our love and our awe must be first evoked. “Father,” we approach Him as a child in the tenderest relationship; He is One who loves us with more than human love, loves us more than we can love Him, One who is more ready to hear than we are to pray.
Father! It is the greatest word on mortal tongue, and the truth of the universal Fatherhood of God is the greatest which ever dawned on the intelligence of man. But did it ever dawn upon the intelligence of man in such a way as the other truths have done? When Peter made his great confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” our Lord answered him in joy and thankfulness, “Blessed art thou, Simon, son of Jonah; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” May we not say that flesh and blood never revealed this truth of God’s eternal Fatherhood? It is God’s own direct supreme revelation of Himself in Christ His eternal Song of Solomon 1 [Note: C. F. Aked, The Lord’s Prayer, 14.]
No exercise of will can procure for me, and no amount of demerit can forfeit for me, the fact, the existence, of a sonship and a Fatherhood. Even in the far country, where the prodigal son is feeding swine, not memory alone, but consciousness, recognizes a relationship between himself and a far-off person, whom he confidently calls his father. And when he forms the resolution to escape from his misery and his destitution, and to seek again the land and the home which for years have been to him but a dream and an illusion, he frames into words, without a doubt or a peradventure, the confession with which he will present himself at the door of that house and that heart, and it begins with the assertion of an inalienable relationship—“I will say to him, Father!”1 [Note: C. J. Vaughan, The Lord’s Prayer, 15.]
2. The Lord’s Prayer bids us lay aside all selfishness at the outset. Its first word—“Our”—is the most difficult of all; for to lay aside selfishness is the hardest thing in the world. We must begin by casting off self, by realizing that we are only one minute unit in the great millions of humanity. Think of it, what this word “our” means—all those who are separated from us by impassable barriers, those who are so far above us that we cannot reach them, those who are so far beneath us that we reckon the slightest act of human recognition is a gracious condescension, all those who belong to the opposite faction in politics, those who belong to hostile nations, those whose religion or whose irreligion wars with our deepest convictions; all those who are outcasts too, and criminals, the enemies of society, and those—it is often hardest to remember—with whom we have had disagreements, quarrels, those whom we feel we cannot like. He is our Father only in connexion with these others also. We cannot speak for ourselves unless we speak also for them; we cannot carry our petitions to the throne of His grace unless we carry theirs; we cannot ask for any good unless it is for them as much as for us. For He is their Father as much as ours, and we cannot say, “Our Father which art in heaven,” unless we have first learnt to say, “Our brothers who are on the earth.”
The Lord’s Prayer is the simplest of all prayers, and also the deepest. We are children addressing a Father who is also the Lord of heaven and earth. In Him all the families of the earth become one family. The past as well as the present, the dead as well as the living, are embraced by His love. When we draw near to Him we draw nearer also to our fellow-men. From the smaller family to which we are bound by ties of relationship we extend our thoughts to that larger family which lives in His presence. When we say, “Our Father,” we do not mean that God is the Father of us in particular, but of the whole human race, the great family in heaven and earth. The Heavenly Father is not like the earthly; yet through this image we attain a nearer notion of God than through any other. We mean that He loves us, that He educates us and all mankind, that He provides laws for us, that He receives us like the prodigal in the parable when we go astray. We mean that His is the nature which we most revere, with a mixed feeling of awe and of love; that He knows what is for our good far better than we know ourselves, and is able to do for us above all that we can ask or think. We mean that in His hands we are children, whose wish and pleasure is to do His will, whose duty is to trust in Him in all the accidents of their lives.1 [Note: Benjamin Jowett, Sermons on Faith and Doctrine, 252.]
It is in every line a prayer of fellowship and co-operation. It is a perfect illustration of the social nature of prayer. The co-operation and fellowship are not here confined, and they never are except in the lower stages, to the inward communion of an individual and his God. There is no I or me or mine in the whole prayer. The person who prays spiritually is enmeshed in a living group, and the reality of his vital union with persons like himself clarifies his vision of that deeper Reality to whom he prays. Divine Fatherhood and human brotherhood are born together. To say “Father” to God involves saying “brother” to one’s fellows, and the ground swell of either relationship naturally carries the other with it, for no one can largely realize the significance of brotherly love without going to Him in whom love is completed.2 [Note: R. M. Jones, The Double Search, 65.]
3. Yet again, it is to the Father in heaven that we are to pray. Mankind before Christ sought two ways of knowing God. The philosopher thought of Him as far removed from earth in His perfection. The polytheist thought of Him as embodied in many gods, half-human, and for that reason very near to him. The one protested against the error of the other, and both were half-true. God is infinitely above us, as the philosopher thought; but He is also very human, very near. So Jesus Christ came to show us that God is not some vast abstraction, but is a present Father, closer to us than breathing, and nearer than hands or feet.
For God is never so far off
As even to be near.
He is within. Our spirit is
The home He holds most dear.
To think of Him as by our side
Is almost as untrue
As to remove His shrine beyond
Those skies of starry blue.
So all the while I thought myself
Homeless, forlorn, and weary,
Missing my joy, I walked the earth,
Myself God’s sanctuary.
4. “In heaven” does not mean at a distance. What does it mean? It means perfection. “Our Father in heaven” suggests perfection in love, in helpfulness, in homeliness.
(1) Perfection in love.—We can learn heavenly things only from earthly types. Looking at such types, what is our idea of what a Father should be? At least we understand that the word represents love—love that thinks, love that works; the love of one who is wise, who is strong, and who takes trouble. It means this in man, it means this in God, and to perfection.
(2) Perfection in helpfulness.—“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” That word “if” seems meant not only to imply an argument, but to suggest a question. “If ye … know how!” Do fathers and mothers always know? Look at Hagar, when the bread was gone, the water spent, and Ishmael ready to die of want—did she know? “She cast the child under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him, a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.” Look at certain times into certain houses not far from your own, and you might hear a child ask for bread, and then hear the father say, “There is none.” He would help, but he does not know how. God, as our helper, because He is our Father in heaven, might say to us, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so”—in helping you—“are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
(3) Perfection in homeliness.—The words, “Our Father which art in heaven,” suggest to us the perfection of our home. Although the word “heaven” is here used mainly to remind us of our Father’s perfection, it is meant also to remind us of the family home. Some Christians seem not to care for this doctrine, and in giving us their own views they are almost as refined as Confucius, who said, “Heaven is Principle.” Our notion, although it includes this idea, does not stop at it. It includes not only character but condition, not only principle but place. We look upon heaven as the perfect home of perfect human nature.
What must that place be in which even God is at home! We cannot tell, and it is astonishing that any mortal has ever tried to tell. It is written in an old story that an artist, led by Indians, once went to paint Niagara, but that when he saw it, he dashed his disappointing pencil down the precipice, for he felt that he could as soon paint the roar, as the fall, the foam, the great sheets of light, the arch of coloured rays, with all the other wonders that went to make up the surprising cataract; and shall we who have only seen earth, try to picture heaven! No! poems of glory, pictures of magnificence, all fail, “imagination in its utmost stretch, in wonder dies away”; in our present state, our future state is a mystery, though a mystery of delight. It is our home, but the celestial homeliness is beyond us now.1 [Note: C. Stanford, The Lord’s Prayer, 81.]
“Hallowed be thy name.”
This is no doxology. It is a prayer. It is the first of three prayers concerning God Himself.
1. What is a “name”? What is it for us? A name is the brief summary of a person. The use of a name, the object of each man having a name, is to supersede the necessity of interminable descriptions, and to set before us, by a sort of telegraphic dispatch, the whole person—face, form, and properties—of him whom we know and of whom we would make mention. The “name” is the catchword which renders amplification needless by bringing up to us the person—figure and qualities and characteristics in one. The name is the man. The absent, distant, inaccessible man is made present to us in the naming of the name.
Even thus is it with the name of God. When Moses prayed, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory”—and when he was told that to see the Face of God was impossible, but that he might be privileged to behold some sort of back look and (as it were) retrospect of His Person—we read next that the Lord descended, passed by before him, and, in answer to that prayer for a sight of His glory, proclaimed the name of the Lord. Now what was that name? Was it the “Jehovah,” the “I Am,” of the original revelation? Read it as it lies there at length in the 34th chapter of the Book of Exodus, and you will see that the name of God is, in other words, the sum of God’s attributes, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.” God, such as He is, in mercy and righteousness, in boundless compassion and just judgment—that, that is His “name.”
2. Learning what God is, we ask that His name may be hallowed or held sacred, regarded by all as a true and holy thing that is at any cost to be maintained in esteem, and under all temptation still believed in. May the idea of God which He would have us to possess be held as the choice possession of our spirits, the treasure on which our hearts rest, and to which they ever return; may it be held separate from all contamination of our own thoughts about God; and may it never be obscured by any cloud of adversity tempting us to think that God has changed, never lost sight of by any careless devotion of our thoughts to other objects and names; never presumed upon nor polluted as countenancing folly or sin, but cherished still and guarded as “the holy and reverend name of the Lord.”
It is to be noted that this petition stands first of all the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. It is the very first thing that a disciple thinks of as he begins to pray, indicating what must be our first business on the first day of every week—to hallow God’s name. Nothing else is to take precedence of that. Other things may follow. Before the day is over it will be right to offer a prayer for daily bread, but that can wait till later. Even the prayer for forgiveness of our sins comes later, and the prayer for deliverance from temptation comes later. In Christ’s order earliest of all stands this petition that the name of God our Father may be hallowed.1 [Note: W. R. Richards, A Study of the Lord’s Prayer, 45.]
“Thy kingdom come.”
What is a kingdom? It is a society of men living in an orderly manner a common life under one head or ruler. The Kingdom of God is this, but more. For human rule is over men only, speaking generally; the rule of God is over all created things. Thus the Kingdom of God is an orderly constitution of all things visible and invisible, inanimate, animate and spiritual, each in its own place fulfilling the Divine will.
1. Now this idea of the Kingdom is taken for granted when we pray “Thy kingdom come.” The necessity for this prayer arises only because the rule of God in the world has been—not indeed banished, but—obscured. So that from the point of view of sinful, alienated man, the Kingdom of God, His manifested rule, must be treated as an absent thing to be desired and invoked.
2. This is by no means to be limited to the desire that God’s sovereignty should be established over our hearts. The prayer is put into the mouth of disciples, who have already surrendered their hearts and wills to God. “Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom”; and the Kingdom of God is only Christ’s name for the blessings of the gospel. Therefore this petition means: Let thy gospel have world-wide supremacy, and the conceptions of God and of life which it teaches govern everywhere. It means that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, through the acceptance and application of Christian teachings; and that the name of God which is to be hallowed is that revealed by Jesus Christ.
I am prepared to adopt the following declaration: “The coming of the kingdom would mean the death of flunkeyism and toadyism in the personal life, the death of mammon in the social life, and the death of jingoism in the national life.” I venture to think that it would banish from our social life all strife, all envy, all slander. It forbids Christian people to follow unchristian fashions. It makes the pride and stand-offishness of some Christians towards their fellow-members positively ridiculous. It bids us be courteous, kindly affectioned, pitiful, given to hospitality, charitable. The same consecrating hand laid upon our commercial life will prevent the fierce competition which chokes the life out of the weak and exalts the strong; a heartless rejection of a good servant because a few shillings a week can be saved by giving the post to a boy: a recognition of a moral code differing fundamentally from Jesus Christ’s moral code. Business men will give a helping hand to fallen brothers who are trying to recover themselves; they will scorn to ask their young clerks to make untrue statements about goods. Workmen will lose their passion for strikes. Christian people—certainly Christian ministers—will be ashamed to take shares in a brewery “because it pays,” or to demand a larger dividend from any company without enquiring what the effect may be on the employees. In civic and political life we shall refuse to allow large vested interests to occupy the seat of authority and to shape legislation for their own advantage. When the Kingdom comes, no Parliament would allow the children’s charter—a Bill for preventing the sale of intoxicants to young children, a Bill the necessity for which was recognized by everybody—to be flung to the brewers and publicans for them to tear and trample upon. Indeed, we might go a step farther back, and say that when the Kingdom comes there will be no liquor traffic on lines that bear any comparison with that which shocks and mocks and murders us to-day. And in our national life when this prayer is prayed earnestly, we shall distinguish between the shoddy patriotism which is only a masked pagan vice, which desires to exalt British interests by any means warlike or not at the expense of other people, and that truer patriotism which is a Christian virtue, which longs to make one’s own nation good, that it may be blessed of God and become a means of blessing to the world. You may easily quarrel with my provisional programme of Christian life, but you cannot be a true follower of Christ if you do not pray and labour for the coming of the Kingdom of our Father, through the spread of the Christian religion and the supremacy of the teaching of Jesus.1 [Note: J. E. Roberts, Studies in the Lord’s Prayer, 29.]
Father, let Thy kingdom come,—
Let it come with living power;
Speak at length the final word,
Usher in the triumph hour.
As it came in days of old,
In the deepest hearts of men,
When Thy martyrs died for Thee,
Let it come, O God, again.
Tyrant thrones and idol shrines,
Let them from their place be hurled:
Enter on Thy better reign,
Wear the crown of this poor world.
O what long, sad years have gone,
Since Thy Church was taught this prayer!
O what eyes have watched and wept
For the dawning everywhere.
Break, triumphant day of God!
Break at last, our hearts to cheer;
Eager souls and holy songs
Wait to hail Thy dawning here.
Empires, temples, sceptres, thrones,
May they all for God be won;
And, in every human heart,
Father, let Thy kingdom come.1 [Note: John Page Hopps.]
“Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
In the second petition of this prayer, we have prayed for God’s spiritual Kingdom, that it may be set up and established in our hearts; for His visible Kingdom, or Church, that it may increase and spread, until it fill the whole earth; and for His heavenly Kingdom, that it may soon drive away and put an end to every kind of sin and sorrow, and leave nothing to be seen in the new heavens and the new earth but a glorious God, filling all things with His presence, and ruling with a Father’s love over His dutiful and holy children. Already, therefore, we have desired that those things be fulfilled which are contained in this third petition. We cannot desire that He be King over the earth, without desiring that His will be done on earth. We do not sincerely own Him as King, unless we set His will above our own and every other. For a kingdom where there is not one guiding will is a distracted kingdom, doomed to fall: a king whose will is not done is a mocked and virtually dethroned king. However, to add this petition is not to repeat, though it be to develop and follow out, the preceding. The three petitions are to one another as root, stem, and fruit; as beginning, middle, and end.
It is not enough that the Kingdom be established, that its boundaries be enlarged, and its glory delighted in; there is an end for which all this is brought about, and that end is that the will of the Ruler may be done. We desire that God may assert His dominion over us and all men, and may give us to know that He is a living and near God by the force of His will upon us. From the “name” we pass to the work as displayed in His Kingdom, and from the work to the will. From the outskirts of His personality we pass to its heart.
1. The petition, “Thy will be done,” is not only the summit or the climax of those petitions in which we seek God’s honour and glory; it is the foundation of all prayer. For what is prayer? It is not, as is sometimes foolishly thought, a mere means of trying to extort something from God; nor an attempt to change the will of God regarding us, as if, by our continual asking, we might obtain certain things which God had hitherto denied us. It is, first of all and chief of all, an acknowledgment on our part that God knows what is best for us, and a desire that He would enable us to submit our wills to His will. We cannot rightly ask for anything, unless we ask for it in humble dependence upon the will of God; unless, in asking, we are conscious that we do not desire it, unless God desires it for us.
2. “Thy will be done,”—that, then, is the spirit of every true prayer. But it is more, it ought to be the spirit of every true life. Apart from such acknowledgment as is here implied, how aimless our lives are apt to be, swayed hither and thither by every idle impulse, at the mercy of every gust of passion, or at the best centred in some selfish or worldly pursuit. But, on the other hand, once a man has realized that he has come forth from God, that God has need of him, and has a purpose for him to fulfil, what new strength and dignity of character he gains! He learns that he does not stand alone, and gradually there is borne in upon him the triumphant consciousness of a life lived, not according to any self-willed object or desire, but step by step unfolding itself according to “the complete and perfect plan cherished for it in the heart of God.” With the Hebrew Psalmist he can exclaim, “O Lord my God, in thee do I put my trust.” “My times are in thy hand.”
3. God’s will is to be done here—here on earth—and now. We are not to wait for another life, as if then alone we could truly serve God. But our service here is to prepare us for our service hereafter. We are told of the angels of God that they “do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word,” and that they are “all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” And the ministry of the angels is, as this petition teaches us, to be the model of our ministry.
When Hooker was lying on his deathbed, a friend visiting him found him in deep contemplation, and asking what his thoughts were, received the reply that he was “meditating the nature and number of angels, and their blessed obedience and order, without which peace could not be in heaven; and, Oh! that it might be so on earth.”1 [Note: G. Milligan, The Lord’s Prayer, 83.]
When Gladstone was asked for his favourite quotation he gave the six words of Dante, “La sua volontade e nostra pace”—“His Will is our peace.”2 [Note: P. Dearmer, in Churchmanship and Labour, 249.]
The Daily Bread
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
In the Lord’s Prayer there are three petitions for God’s glory, three for man’s spiritual necessity, and in the midst is set one petition for man’s bodily needs—only one, and that most full of significance, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Let us be reverent enough to take this sentence in its plain meaning. To give it some mystical or symbolic interpretation which our Lord did not mean it to have is to set up another prayer which is not the Lord’s Prayer. “Daily bread” does not refer to the Eucharist. The word translated “daily” is very obscure, it occurs nowhere else in the Greek language; but all are agreed that the meaning is “bread for our daily subsistence,” and the attempt made by Abelard in the twelfth century to translate it “supersubstantial” is undoubtedly wrong. The petition simply deals with the most fundamental of social questions—the need of sustenance.
There is no better commentary on this petition than that of old Bishop Barrow: “A noble heart will disdain to subsist like a drone on the honey gained by others’ labour; or like vermin to filch its food from the public granary; or like a shark to prey on the lesser fry: but will one way or other earn his subsistence, for he that does not earn can hardly be said to own his daily bread.”1 [Note: P. Dearmer, in Churchmanship and Labour, 252.]
1. The first point to notice in this clause of the Lord’s Prayer is its moderation. In the prayer which is prompted by our natural instinct we ask for everything we happen to want; we put ourselves first; we are immoderate in our desires; we seek to bend the Divine will to our own wishes. In all these respects, as has been already noticed, the Lord’s Prayer puts human instinct under the strongest check. This prayer for the supply of our own needs is not allowed to be uttered till it has been preceded by prayer for the honouring of the Divine name, the coming of the Divine Kingdom, and the doing of the Divine will; and till, in all these respects, the law of heaven has been taken for the law of human conduct.
2. Next let us ask what daily bread can be understood to include? Surely it is all that is necessary for us to make the best of our faculties. It is nourishment; and everything may fairly be called nourishment which can be said to fertilize and liberate the energies of human nature, instead of cloying and clogging them. Once grant this, and it is obvious that very different things are meant by “bread” to different people. There is hardly any luxury which has not its use to stimulate this or that nature, or to meet this or that exceptional need. The question whether this or that article of diet or comfort can be used under the head of “daily bread,” can be answered only by answering the question—Do I work the better for it? And in answering this question there are two facts, closely allied, which have to be kept in mind.
(1) The first is, that comforts very soon reach the point where they begin to clog human energies instead of liberating them. A venerable statesman has been often heard to remark that the things people say they “can’t do without” are like the pieces of thread with which the Lilliputians bound Gulliver. Each of them could be snapt by itself, but taken together they bound him more tightly than strong cords. Nobody, therefore, can find out what he really needs for his work without constantly testing himself in giving up things. No one can consider a number of well-to-do Englishmen without perceiving that they are materialized; that is, that the supply of food and drink and comfort generally dulls their intellectual and still more their spiritual powers. In other words, the spirit in them is the slave of the flesh.
(2) Here comes in view the second fact. Fasting has been historically a principle of Christianity, and was so in Apostolic Christianity. Rightly stated, the principle of fasting is but the recognition that the flesh has in ordinary human life got the upper hand of the spirit, and that it is time for the spirit to take revenges upon the flesh, and to assert its mastery. Fasting, like every other principle, must have its methods and its rules and its order, or it will fail to take effect; but we are concerned now only with the principle, and it is this—the Christian will, from time to time, deliberately deny himself in lawful comforts, and nourishment of the body, in order to assert spiritual vitality, in order to find out what he can do without, in order to maintain the principle that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
3. The next point in this petition lies in the word “this day.” St. Matthew has “this day”; St. Luke has “day by day.” It is conjectured that the one was the morning version and the other the evening version of the Early Church. The lesson is simple. We must be content to wait from day to day upon the hand of God; we must ask only for present needs; we must not be anxious about the morrow.
But, it may be said, how can this be reconciled with the forethought and far-sightedness that are necessary to civilized life? The answer lies in our own experience. Have we found that anxiety about possible consequences increased the clearness of our judgment? Have we found that it made us wiser and braver in meeting the present, or more far-sighted in arming ourselves for the future? We know very well that it is the opposite spirit that has made civilization possible—the spirit of men who are content to do their work from day to day, to plough the field and wait for the harvest, the spirit of men who take their meat from God in simple and hearty reliance upon the Power whom the earth and the winds and seas obey. Clearness of vision, providence, discovery, are the rewards of the calm and patient spirit, that is content day by day to have the daily bread. Out of the anxiety for the morrow that cannot pray, “Give us to-day our bread,” spring all the evils of the money-lust—the fever of speculation, the hasting to be rich, the endless scheming, the continual reactions of fantastic hope and deep depression in individuals, of mad prosperity and intense sufferings in nations. Wars, oppressions, misery, crime—these are because men do not pray, “Give us this day.”
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
After bread, forgiveness. After the wants of the body comes this prime necessity of the soul. “Give us our bread, forgive us our debts.” It is put here as a daily spiritual need—something that we require as constantly as food.
1. Debts.—The Bible has many words for sin, but debt is the only word for it in the Lord’s Prayer. In explaining this petition, our Saviour calls sins “trespasses,” but in the Prayer itself we have only “debts.” A debt is what is due but has not been done or paid. “Debts,” “dues,” and “duty” come from the same root. Sins are like debts in many ways, though not in everything, for the debts of the soul are more awful than any money debts can be. Sins represent duties that have not been met, and they make us guilty or liable to punishment.
2. Our debts.—Our debts are ours exclusively—without any subtraction, division, or partnership. They are ours as our eyes, our bones, and our soul are ours: they are ours alone; they cannot be ascribed to us and to some other person. It is in vain to blame others for them, as Adam blamed Eve, and Eve the serpent. Our temptations are not our sins, and our tempters cannot sin for us. Each is a solitary agent, and must bear his own burden of blame. And our debts are ours inseparably. Many tickets have the words, “Not transferable”; we are not allowed to hand them to some one else. Some people think that they may transfer their sins to pious relatives, to monks or nuns who pray and fast much, to priests, or to the Church. That cannot be; for there is only One who can say, “Put that on mine account.”
3. The forgiveness of our debts.—A gospel is in the words. Here, in the Master’s Prayer, given for the perpetual use of all men, is mention made of “sins” as belonging to all, and of “forgiveness” as ready for all; and the little particle “and” couples this petition, as though it were the easiest and most natural thing in the world, to the request for “daily bread.” Could all this be so, if Christ our Lord were not teaching us that which God alone could know, that of which the reality could have been seen only in heaven, concerning that most impossible thing to flesh and blood—“the absolution and remission of our sins”?
Forgiveness is the miracle of miracles of the Gospel Dispensation. You count it a great thing—it is so—when you see the Holy Ghost breathing into dead matter newness of life; when you see the lifeless affection rekindled, and the sinner, buried in his lusts and passions, quickened out of that grave into newness of life. But surely even this miracle, were infinites comparable, might shrink into insignificance in contrast with that other. In this you see the effect, if not the instrumentality. You hear the wind, if you cannot track it. In the other, all is faith, all is supernatural, all is Divine, God, by the fiat of His own “Let there be light,” bids the past, which is a real existence, shrivel up, and be no more. God bids the wicked act which you did last night, in your wantonness or in your refusal to reflect, to die with itself and bear no fruit. Did you think, when you lightly or summarily said last night’s prayer, “Forgive us our sins,” all, all that was involved in it? You might not—but Christ did. Christ, who presided over Creation—Christ, who became Incarnate that He might “become sin”—Christ took the measure of it. Christ taught that Prayer which you uttered—only I cannot tell whether the lips which said it meant it, felt it, or “babbled” in the uttering.1 [Note: C. J. Vaughan, The Lord’s Prayer, 131.]
“Lead us not into temptation.”
The original and true meaning of the word “temptation” is simply a “trial,” or a “test.” Anything which tries a man’s mettle, puts him to the proof, reveals the real character of his heart, is a temptation in the true sense of the word. This is its meaning in Holy Scripture, and this was also its only meaning in English at the time of the translation of our Authorized Version. Viewed in this light, every experience of life is a temptation. Our joys and sorrows, our health or sickness, our work or play, our adversity and prosperity can and do put us to the test quite as effectively as Eve’s temptation in the Garden of Eden.
1. The Christian, while in the world, has to face the temptations and dangers of the world; and, so long as there is any evil within him, he will be prone to yield to these. Only after a race, a race run in much weakness, it may be with many falls and bruises, does he obtain the prize. Only after a fight, a fight with the evil within him, around him, a fight which he is at times tempted to abandon in despair, is the victory his. Therefore it is that our Lord, to the petition for forgiveness, adds the further petition, “Lead us not into temptation.” As that points to the past, this points to the future. When we pray, “Forgive us our debts,” we think of contracted guilt which we ask God to cancel, liabilities we have failed to meet which we ask Him to pardon. When we pray “and lead us” (or “bring us”) “not into temptation,” we think of the temptations and difficulties which are lying before us, and ask for the needful grace and strength to meet them. It is as if with the Psalmist we cried, “Thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?”
2. But it may be asked: “Why should we thus pray to God? Do we not know that, as He ‘cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man’ ” (Jam 1:13)? Yes; but God may permit temptation. He does not, like the tempter, stand on the side of temptation, and desire to see evil result from it; but He may at times place a man in such a situation that it is very easy for him to do wrong, very hard for him to do right. Thus we read of our Lord Himself that He was “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1). He was as much under the guidance and direction of God then as when He went down into the water to be baptized; and because His will was in perfect harmony with the will of God, He successfully overcame the temptation. And so, when we look forward to the temptations which must meet us in the world, what petition can be more natural for us than that God should not bring us into such as may prove too strong for us? It is our prayer of conscious weakness, the weakness which shrinks from the danger by which it may be overcome; or, in the words of the Shorter Catechism, it is the prayer “that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.”
3. If we are following Christ fully, we will not hesitate to go with Him into any experience, however perilous it may be. “He that saveth his life shall lose it.” Yet so much is involved in temptation, such possibilities of defeat and failure are dependent on the issue, that we dare not desire to enter into it. It is presumptuous to clamour to be led into the conflict. More than once Jesus warned His disciples to watch, that they might not enter into temptation. He knew how inadequate their courage and strength would prove in battle with the Evil One, how their faith would fail in the moment of assault. We read of soldiers sick of camp, and chafing to be led against the enemy, but the Christian who is impatient to be tempted is very foolish. Temptation is too terrible an experience to be rushed into, unled by God.
The Evil One
“Deliver us from the evil one” (R.V.).
St. Paul says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” In other words, the temptations that come from visible and tangible sources draw their strength from a source which is unseen. Behind visible foes there is an invisible; behind the visible opposition of evil men there is an invisible prince of darkness and an unseen host of fallen spirits intruding themselves into the highest things, into the heavenly places.
I am quite sure that our Lord speaks so confidently and so frequently of the existence of evil spirits that a sober Christian cannot doubt their reality, and I feel sure also that their existence interprets a good deal which would otherwise be unintelligible in our spiritual experience. When thoughts of poisonous evil, distinct and vivid, are shot into our mind, like suggestions from a bad companion; when a tempest of pride and rebellion against God surges over our soul; when voices of discouragement and despair tell us that it is no use trying, and that human nature is hopelessly bad; when a sinful course of action presents itself to us in a wholly false aspect until we have committed ourselves to it, and then strips off its disguises and shows itself in its true colours, in its ugliness, in its treachery, in its infamy—in all such experiences we do well to remember that besides the weakness or pollution of our own flesh, and besides the solicitations of the world, there is “the adversary,” “the devil,” that is, the slanderer of God and of our human nature and the “father of lies,” actually at work to seduce our wills and sophisticate our intelligences.1 [Note: Charles Gore, Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer, 75.]
1. What the particular form of deliverance is which we require must be left for each one to discover in the silence of his or her own heart. The devil does not assail us all alike; he comes to us in many ways. To some he comes in great spiritual dulness or deadness, rendering them unable to lift up their thoughts or hearts to God, whispering that God has forgotten them, and no longer cares for them, His children. To others he comes in all the might of some terrible besetting sin,—anger, pride, impurity, intemperance,—binding them with cords which seem too strong to be broken; while many—all—even if they are not conscious of any one outstanding temptation, and can point to no special hindrance in their Christian path, yet know that their lives are not what they ought to be, and that, consciously or unconsciously, openly or secretly, they are continually led to do those things which they ought not to have done, and to leave undone those things which they ought to have done.
It is told of a Roman youth who, notwithstanding a mother’s unwearied prayers, had lived a life of self-seeking and sinful indulgence, that one day, as he sat in the garden, in the cloudless beauty of an autumn day, a great struggle took place in his mind. Throwing himself on his knees he prayed earnestly to God, “O Lord, how long—how long—how long wilt thou be angry with me? Must it be for ever to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow? Why should it not be to-day?” Suddenly in his agony he seemed to hear the voice as of a little child repeating, “Take up and read”; “Take up and read.” And taking up the Epistles of St. Paul which he had happened to be reading, and opening the book at random, his eye caught these words: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:13-14). The words came to him as a direct message from God, and in one instant strong resolve, he determined for ever to break with his old life and in the might of Christ to enter on the new. Augustine put on Christ.2 [Note: G. Milligan, The Lord’s Prayer, 153.]
2. There are temptations to the energetic and there are temptations to the indolent.
(1) To the energetic.—Let us mention just a few temptations. Irritability with others who perhaps do not work quite on our lines, or in our way; self-satisfaction, with that blunting of sympathy for others which so often accompanies it; trust in self, rather than reliance on God; perhaps a disposition to sacrifice means to ends, to be so anxious to attain some good object that we, as Shakespeare says, “to do a great right do a little wrong.” We may name also uncharitable judgments; want of consideration for other people’s points of view; perhaps thinking we are doing so much for God in some respects that He will not be very particular about our shortcomings in others; e.g., letting our practical duties swallow up all our time for prayer, or being very kind to those we love, but not quite upright and sincere in our dealings with our neighbour, or being very devout, and good to the poor, yet living on in some sinful habit. Let us add, impatience for results, and fretfulness under disappointment.
(2) To the indolent.—Are there no temptations to the timid, the slothful, and the indifferent? Does not Satan come to us in the guise of a false humility?—false humility, as Milton represents him doing to our Lord when he appeared an aged man in rural weeds—
Following, as seem’d, the quest of some stray ewe,
Or wither’d sticks to gather; which might serve
Against a winter’s day when winds blow keen,
To warm him wet return’d from field at eve,
or when he departs, baffled at the close—
His gray dissimulation.
Does not Satan often come wearing an air of lowliness, or inviting us to assume one, whispering in our ear that we are not the people to put ourselves forward or to exert ourselves, that we are only commonplace, that third-class carriages are the proper ones for us to ride in, that we need not feel any self-reproach when we hear of great acts, great efforts, great self-denials?
We read of a man like Henry Martyn, the evangelist of India, and think we have settled everything by saying, “People like that are born saints; they belong to quite a different category from ourselves.” We seem to think there is a kind of virtue in shirking anything that calls us to rise above an everyday level, and that we deserve credit for our very neglect of duty. I do wish sometimes some of us were a little more ambitious, a little more eager, about the best things. We do not seem to realize that Satan can tempt and does tempt people quite as much to be slothful and stupid in religion as he does to be proud and self-righteous. There is no more instructive passage in the Pilgrim’s Progress than the picture of the enchanted ground. It has no grim figure of Apollyon with his darts, nor of Giant Despair with his bolts and bars, nor of the worldly seductions and bitter persecutions of “Vanity Fair”: the enemy is not seen; he is shapeless and impalpable, but his power is on the heavy eyelids, the stupefied brain, the laggard limbs of every pilgrim who goes through the region and feels its dulling, deadening influence.1 [Note: Elizabeth Wordsworth, Thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer, 212.]
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