An Exposition of Matthew 6: 5-15




Robert Govett






5. “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.  Verily, I say unto you, They have their reward at once



“When thou prayest



Jesus does not now for the first time command alms, prayer, or fasting.  These services existed under the law, and are natural parts of religion.  Jesus, then, assuming them to be parts of righteousness, directs us how they may become acceptable to God; or how we may escape those faults in their performance, which render them displeasing to the Most High.



How thankful should we be, that the times of prayer are left free!  How difficult it would have been for all to have been disengaged at the same time!  The factory-girl, the surgeon, the shop-man, the invalid, the sailor!  Yet it was quite in accordance with the spirit of the law, that they should have been defined.  The law regulated, to a considerable degree of precision, all that belonged to its worship.  There were two occasions in which worship was commanded by Moses: at the presenting of first-fruits and of tithes.  A form of words was dictated in each case: Deut. 26.  How is it, that Jesus is free from the tendencies of the religion He was brought up in, and from those of His nation?



Moreover, Mahomet, in his counterfeit revelation, fell into this scheme of bondage; though the wisdom of Jesus had preceded, to show him the true way.  Mahometans, by order of the Koran, pray five times a day, at set times.  (1) An hour and a half before sunrise.  (2) At noon.  (3) Two or three hours before sunset.  (4) At sunset.  (5) At midnight. - Koran, ch. 2. p. 6; ch. 20. p. 264; ch. 27. p. 234.



Now how could such a command be kept in the far north, where the sun rises for six months, and sets for six months?



Not content with this, Mahomet defines the very voice of prayer!  “Pronounce not thy prayer aloud, nor pronounce it with too low a voice, but follow a middle way between these: and say, ‘Praise be unto God, Who hath not begotten any child: Who hath no partner in the kingdom, nor any to protect Him from contempt: and magnify Him by proclaiming His greatness:’” ch. 18. p. 237.  What is the consequence of this?  Prayer is with Mahometans a heartless, formal thing.



Still, while Christ has left open the times of prayer, as best may suit the circumstances and employment of each, we shall not do well to leave the times of our prayers to chance: or to pray only when we feel an inclination to pray.  Religion cannot long sway the heart without prayer: and prayer should have its regular times, as well as our meals.



“Be not as the hypocrites



Man loves reality.  An Englishman detests deceit in those with whom he has to do, and despises the flattery which is prompted by the hope of gain.  God desires reality also.  He Who sees through the words into the heart, values the service by the heart, not by the words.  Words are appearances: the heart is the reality.



We can collect the real meaning of the heart, only at second hand.  But let a mayor know, that the praises lavished on him at his installation are only a regular form, gone through in set words, each time a citizen is chosen; and he would feel great contempt for such ‘cut-and-dried’ compliments.



The first requirement in every religious service, [e]specially in an address to God, is the heart.



Where there is a false motive at the bottom of any religious service, it is nearly sure to display itself by contrast with the true conduct of the right-minded.  The man of hypocritical prayer sought the most public places.  The streets were not public enough; he must choose a corner where he could be visible to persons moving in two directions.  He must go up to a house set apart for worship, that all might understand why he went.*


* There does not seem to be anything amiss in the posture they are said to have used.  ‘Standing’ was a common position for the exercise: 1 Sam. 1: 26; 1 Kings 8: 22; Mark 11: 25.



He Who knows the heart declares the motive, as well as describes the conduct which indicated the motive.  He reveals the motive, to teach us, that God’s eye is on the springs moving within the bosom.  To Him, not all is gold that glitters.  He saw rottenness at the core of this golden-rinded pine-apple.  The eye, in these hypocritical prayers, was turned, not on Himself, but on men.  Nature teaches us to look to the person whom we are addressing, and from whom we expect the gift we are requesting.  A king might well reject with indignation the petition of a Subject, whose eyes, while he was speaking, were turned away from his majesty, and wandering about upon the jewels and dresses of the courtiers round.



Christians! while we are engaged with God in prayer, let us see that our eyes are fixed full on Him; and that men are forgot, save in so far as we are pleading for them.



“Verily, I say unto you, They have their reward at once



The same significant notice re-appears.  The Saviour does not say-, ‘They receive no recompense whatever  They do.  They secured what they aimed at,- the favourable regards of their fellow-men.  But all they are to have, they get at once.  Where they sow, there they reap.  What they sow, that they reap. Their seed is earthly, earthly is their crop.  They sow no heavenly seed; no heavenly sheaves are theirs.



6. “But THOU, when thou prayest, enter into thy chamber; and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father Who seeth in secret shall reward thee



The true believer’s conduct should be unlike the hypocrite’s; quite a contrast to it, They seek the most public places out of doors.  Do you not only keep within doors, but choose the most private place, within the house.  And even when in your chamber, leave not the door open; but be, as far as possible, cut off from the eye and ear of men.



Observe again; as the chamber is the place pointed out by Christ for prayer, so it needs not any holy, any consecrated place for a Christian’s devotions.  The vain idea is abroad in our day, as if ‘churches,’ buildings ‘consecrated’ by men, were the beet places for prayer.  No! the Spirit of God foresaw this mistake, and dropped a word in correction.  “I will therefore that the men (Greek) pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands1 Tim. 2: 8.  Let the hands and heart be holy, and they will consecrate every place.  Public prayer is right in its place.  But true piety cannot long subsist without private devotion.



Some may object, that they do not know where to find a private spot.  Jesus points it out.  Our bed-chamber is the beat place ordinarily.  ’Tis generally in most houses unoccupied during the day, and hours during the night.  But if not within the house, we can find a private spot outside.  ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way  Jesus lived in the East, where, as a traveller testified, privacy is a thing almost unknown. The Saviour went apart to pray.



I was much struck with the contrast between the Saviour’s directions about prayer and the spirit of Mahometanism, as exemplified in the conduct of its followers.



“While standing here [at Suez] I noticed a Mahomedan going through his prayers: for Mahomedans, like the Pharisees, pray in public, not in private.  Amidst all the noise and confusion [of the arrival of a steamer] the man commenced his devotions, just as if no one were near.  Lifting up his open hands on each side of his head, he cries out, Allah- hu-Akbar,- ‘God is great  He then folds his hands in front of his body, muttering sentences from the Koran.  Then he stoops forward, putting his hands on his knees, as if making a low bow, and cries again, ‘God is great  Then he raises himself, and standing bolt upright, utters the same cry.  Then, still muttering verses from the Koran, he drops down on his knees, making his nose to touch the ground, with his open palms on the ground on each side of his head.  In a minute or two he raises, his head and body, still muttering his Arabic: then bringing himself into a sitting or squatting posture, with his body resting on his heels, and his hands on his knees, he concludes his first Rekah of devotion.  They look very solemn: much more than Greeks or Romanists at their devotions.  If a lady goes into any church in France or Italy, she will soon find her dress attracting the eyes of the devout.  One here is kneeling on the ground: another before some lighted candles: another before an image of the Virgin.  But they have time to look about them, and to examine the lady’s dress as she rustles through among them, lifting it up with their hands, and scrutinizing it all ways, while still holding the crucifix and muttering their Latin prayers.  Not so a Mahomedan.  He is wholly shut up within himself.  He looks at nobody till he has finished his Rekah.  I was told that these gestures and postures required by the prophet for prayer, are very difficult to learn, being much more minute and intricate than they appear.  The performance of these is a part of the education of children.  And no one can excel a Mahomedan at these devotional mechanics.  With him, prayer is the mere working of a piece of machinery five times a day.” - Christian Treasury for 1859, p. 498.



To whom is prayer to be directed?



“To thy Father which is in secret



You go to God, Christian!  You find Him when you go.  He is in secret.  He sees you, though you behold not Him.  He hears you, though no whisper betrays His presence, not a sound tells of His footsteps.



Pray to “your Father  This, of course, can belong only to one in Christ.  You are to draw nigh with love; for He loves you; drew you to Himself when you were at enmity; gave His Son’s blood, as the ransom price for you.  Go with affection!  Your troubles are felt by Him.  Your welfare is dear to Him. You may tell Him of all that concerns you.  Pray to your Father!



What an advance upon the prayers of the law!  “I have hearkened unto the voice of the Lord my God, and have done according to all that thou hast commanded me.  Look down from Thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Thy people Israel, and the land which Thou hast given us Deut. 26: 14, 15.



Go with reverence.  He is no earthly father: though toward such, a child should be respectful and reverent.  He is your Father in heaven, the Great God, Creator and Preserver of all.  Remember your nothingness, and be awed.  He is the Holy God, spotless in purity: and you a sinner, only able, through abounding grace, to approach Him.  Pray to your Father in heave!



The effect of such a coming before God, the God of holiness, cannot but have a good effect on your heart and conduct all through the day.  Just in proportion as your prayer has been a real exercise in the presence of the Most High, will it be seen in your feelings, words, conduct, through the day.  Here is found the failing of mere formal prayers.



“Prayer is with the Moslem (says another traveller) a simple performance.  He does it as he eats, sleeps, or dresses.  All alike are matters of routine, and of like moment.  The Moslem merchant will lie and cheat, and swear and pray, and lie and cheat, and swear again, and these are all (like different scenes in the same drama) quite in their places.  The feelings are not in the least shocked by thus mixing up things sacred and profane; and the simple reason is, there is no sacredness in their prayers.  A Moslem emir or pasha will issue his orders for oppression and savage cruelty, and even murder, and when the Muezzin-call is heard, will calmly spread his carpet, stroke his beard, and engage in the exercise of prayer, with a serenity, and (we may add) with a solemnity of countenance, that is altogether wonderful: and when the performance is at an end, he is ready to despatch the same routine of business over again



“It is never deemed necessary to the efficacy of prayer to have the mind composed, or the thoughts turned heavenward.  Prayer is not in the least out of place in the midst of a manifest attempt at fraud and open robbery: nay, the Arab will imbrue his hands in a brother’s blood, and while the crimson stain is yet fresh, he will lift them up in adoration of the God of peace and love!” – Porter’s Damascus, pp. 141, 212.



How much even nominal Christians have gained of light and morality from the knowledge of the words and precepts of Jesus



Then follows the promise.



“Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee



This is a wonderful promise.  Its force is quite passed by.  But  ’tis worthy of deep regard.



’Tis wonderful! Suppose there were in Norwich a storehouse at which the poor might make daily application for coals and candles, for tea and sugar, for flour and meat, clothes and money - a building whence their wants were supplied without payment, - would it not be considered a great, a surprising boon!  Would it not be thought, that the parties receiving such constant exhibitions of kindness from a wealthy gentleman, would be deeply indebted to him; and ought to express their gratitude for so princely an expenditure on their necessities!



It would scarcely enter any one’s head, that bounty could go further.  It would be deemed a wild absurdity for any poor widow, who was standing at the office window some hour or more every day, while she was uttering her wants, and receiving what she asked, at the year’s end to be expecting to be paid by the benevolent man for the time she had spent in putting up her petitions at his office window! We should resent such a thought, as the extravagance of folly!



But here the greatness of God’s grace promises that very thing.  Prayer daily makes us more and more indebted to God.  Each answer is a ship arriving from India, putting into port laden with good things for us.  We ask for peace, and we get it.  We petition for supply of our need in money, it comes.  We ask for relief in pain, ’tis granted.  We supplicate for the life, the salvation of some one dear to us: ’tis given.  With these gifts our obligations deepen.  We are more and more in debt to God.



But now the Saviour assures us, that God will requite these prayers in the coming day, as though He were our debtor, and not we His!  Pray on then, Christian!  Prayer is doubly blessed.  It has two harvests in its year.  It blesses now: it will bless in time to come.  You reap its present pleasant fruits.  But there is to be a better harvest, a nobler reaping still.  Here you get interest for your prayers: at the resurrection you are to receive the principal.



7. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions as the heathen do; for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking



We are taught by our Lord to be importunate in prayer: that is, to bring the same subject again and again before Him.  Is not that a contradiction to the advice given here?  No! ’Tis not repetitions of prayer which our Lord condemns, but vain repetitions.



The heathen repeat again and again their formula of worship without heart: imagining that prayer is like a magic charm in which all that is necessary is to repeat the words.  This is quite characteristic of most heathen acts of worship.  In India, the missionaries tell us, that the same cry is repeated again and again – ‘Hurree Bol  The Buddhist worship has the same fault.  Thus, too, did the priests of Baal continue shouting - “0 Baal, hear us



Now is not the rosary in the very spirit of this forbidden service?  It is a devotional instrument, to enable a performer of prayers to tell how many he has said.  The rosary requires you to give fifteen repetitions of the Lord’s Prayer in Latin, and one hundred and fifty Ave Marias, or ten times as many salutations to the Virgin Mary.  Now these repetitions are vain ones.  So many repetitions is a point of religious observance, necessary in order to the blessing.  Would any believe, except he know it, that professed disciples of Jesus prescribed the repetition of a certain number of the same forms of prayer as the means of obtaining a spiritual blessing from our Father in heaven!  But it is done in cases innumerable!  See the results of the shutting up of the Scriptures!  “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures



The secret root of this mistake in prayer is traced for us by our Lord.  It arises from false and low thoughts of the Godhead.  Man thinks that God is like himself, to be moved with noise.



Let us not confound together much prayer and much speaking.  The Saviour warns us against much speaking, but not against much prayer.  God needs not many words: not an empty, not an eloquent harangue, to lead Him to give.  Not many words, and no faith, but much faith, and words few and weighty.  Plead thus, and you will be likely to succeed.  ’Tis fervour of heart, and assurance of the power of our God, and of the efficacy of the Saviour’s intercession, that will lead to prevailing prayer.  As one has well said,- ‘The arrow that is to enter heaven must be launched from a bow fully bent



8. “Become, not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him



What perpetual danger there is in man, of his falling down to the low level of his depraved and ignorant nature!  The heathen, left to themselves, with nothing but the works of God around them to tell them what He is, show us what sort of thing man’s religion is.  In many cases, crimes the most awful are enacted as parts of his worship.  And at the best, religion is a lifeless form.  They worship the creatures of their own hands, and imagine that a few words addressed to them is enough.



“Your Father knoweth, before ye ask Him, what things ye have need of



True views of God are at the foundation of all worship. Our God, the true God, is All‑knowing. He does not need to be informed by His worshippers of their wants. He knows them ere they approach.



How remarkable a contrast to this is furnished by the New Zealand worship, as carried on ere the missionaries went over to enlighten them!



Their idols were made of wood a foot or two long, with the figure of a man, or of a human head, rudely carved at the top: the rest of the stick was sharpened to enable the worshipper to fasten it in the ground.  It was dressed up with parrot’s feathers, bound round with cord, and adorned with red ochre.  “When used, the idol was stuck into the ground, not far from which the worshipper seated himself, leaning against a small, stone pillar, about a foot high, called a praying-stone.  He held in one hand a string, which was attached to the god: and before he offered up his petition, he gave the string a little jerk, to excite the idol’s attention.  When the petition was made, he stuck a little stick in the ground, and then offered another prayer, giving a fresh jerk, and putting another stick in the ground.  This was repeated as often as a fresh prayer was made.  The sticks were to remind the god that so many prayers were uttered. These marks were perhaps to the rude New Zealander, what a string of beads is to a Roman Catholic worshipper.” – Ramsden’s Missions.



But the sentiment taught by the Saviour has been used against prayer.  ‘If God knows beforehand what you are coming to ask of Him, what is the good of it?  And how foolish to imagine, that your feeble words shall move the Great Creator!  What! do you suppose that His great and wise laws are to give way, for your whispers



To which we answer‑



1. We do not go to instruct God, but to entreat Him.  A friend tells you that Mrs. Jones has just lost her husband.  She is quite destitute.  How shall she bury him?  Presently after Mrs. J. raps at your door. Would it be enough to say, ‘I know, my good woman, what you are come about.’  ‘Do you, sir?  Then I trust you will be the more ready to grant me aid in my distress  And then with moving words and flowing tears she spreads her case before you.  Will you say, that it was of no use for such an one to come and plead?  Thousands have learned in like cases, that it has been of mighty benefit to plead before those that were made aware before they came of their sorrowful circumstances.



2. But even if we could not see what was the good of it, it would still be our duty and our interest to go to God in prayer.  He has appointed it.  He commands prayer.  “Ask, and it shall be given you  It must be of great importance then to obey.  It honours God.  It is His decreed way for us to attain our blessings.



‘But do you suppose a miracle is to take place on your behalf, every time you go to prayer?  Are God’s laws to be turned out of their railway level, laid down by infinite wisdom, just to please you



(1) Certainly not.  God can and does answer us by means of the laws He has appointed.  A poor widow, on rising in the morning kneels in her attic, and craves food of God for herself and little boy.  She has none.  God disposes the heart of a Christian lady to visit that house and its attic that day, and leave a shilling.  Or her son goes out into the street: a humane grocer wants a boy in his shop.  He is pleased with the lad’s appearance, learns that he has no work, engages him.  Here is God’s answer.  There is no miracle!  But there is a reply to the prayer of the morning, as much as if an angel bore the bread in a basket from the sky.



(2) But, to say the truth, if it were even necessary to suspend or alter one of God’s laws in order to grant a prayer, I believe it is not presumptuous to suppose God would do it.  I grant the Supreme, Eternal Majesty of Jehovah, Creator and Preserver.  But I go to Him as to my Father.  Is there nothing in that title, which leads me to believe that God is ready to listen to me, and willing to bid his regulations pause and bend, if it be for my profit or preservation?



Her Majesty Queen Victoria has appointed to review a large body of troops on Hounslow Heath, on Wednesday, 18th of June.  Regiments from all parts of the kingdom are put on their march.  Artillery and ammunition are preparing; accoutrements getting ready; parties making for the occasion; generals and officers are to be on the ground on that day.  But on the Monday, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is taken very ill.  Some one tells him of the intended review, and the splendour of the sight.  ‘Your mother is to be there  ‘Oh, no!  I cannot bear to have my mother leave me.  She must countermand it

‘How presumptuous of you! She, the great sovereign of the British Isles, indeed, to alter her wise arrangements and disappoint so many great men, and such thousands of spectators for one



I should think that would scarcely silence the Prince of Wales.  I should imagine he would be ready to conceive, that his informant was joking him.  Would he not say, if he thought it seriously meant? – ‘Great she is, but she is my mother!  Is it anything very presumptuous to suppose that she loves me, and will listen to the petition of her son!’  Would you conceive it impossible to believe, that after that prayer offered by her son, a royal letter was received by the commander-in-chief, telling him it was Her Majesty’s good pleasure that the review should be put off till further notice?



So neither do I think it incredible, that if it were necessary for my good, God, my Father in heaven, would suspend one of His laws; that where one of His express trains would crush me, if it continued its present speed and direction, he would make signal that it should slacken speed, till I have got across the line.



The beauty of this portion of our Lord’s words has been much more impressed on me since I read the following incident.



A Christian traveller was crossing the desert of the Red Sea.  He had some Bedouins for his guard.  One evening he lay down to rest in his tent, but could not sleep.  There was an alarm of the probability of a night-attack of robbers.  He left his tent and drew near his guard’s fire.



“My guards made room for me as I came near.



“My presence, he says, did not much disturb the loquacity of my guards; but I paid little heed to their rapid conversation, till the sheik, turning suddenly round on me, exclaimed -



“ ‘What strange men you Englishmen are!’



“ ‘How so?’ I asked, ‘why strange



“ ‘You never fast,’ said he.



“ ‘Not often,’ I replied laughingly; ‘that is, when we can get anything to eat



“My Arab friend laughed too, for that evening we had supped sparsely from necessity.  ‘But,’ said he, ‘is it not part of your religion?  You don’t pray: you don’t give alms: you do nothing



“This was a home-thrust, and my conscience felt it.  I had looked upon the poor fellows around me so bigoted in their faith, and had considered myself so completely in their power, that I deemed it prudent to avoid every topic that might arouse their passions.  In my solitary tent at mid-day I read the word of life: but I had concealed with jealous care from my guards the knowledge that I carried about with me the ‘Christian’s Koran:’ and when at morn and night I commended myself in prayer to God my Maker through Christ my Saviour, I had drawn close round me the curtain of the tent, and whispered low and fearfully, lest I should be overheard.



“ ‘You have no religion.’ said the sheik, ‘you don’t pray: you do nothing



“ ‘God forgive me,’ I thought: ‘the rebuke is not altogether unjust



“ ‘Now we’ - continued my reprover, and he went on boastingly to tell what their prophet required of them, and how faithful was their obedience in matters of devotion, charity, and self-denial: and while he spoke I lifted up my heart to God, and sought courage to bear a feeble testimony to His word.  When the sheik paused, I put my hand into my bosom, and drew forth a New Testament.  ‘I have religion,’ I said, ‘would you like to hear what it teaches on these high matters



“By this time the attention of all my guard was directed towards me.  Their quick sparkling eyes were fixed fiercely, as I thought, upon me, their dark visages looked more grim by the flashing fire around which they were seated: and their hands were ready to grasp a weapon that would speedily bring down vengeance upon the head of the infidel dog who dared to blaspheme against their prophet.



“ ‘Listen,’ I said, as I opened the Testament at the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.  ‘You speak of alms-giving; hear what my Koran says about alms:’ and I rendered into Arabic the four first verses, ‘Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.  Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms maybe in secret: and thy Father which seeth in Secret Himself shall reward thee openly  When I stopped, I looked up, and the dark countenances around me were glistening, but not with anger.



“ ‘Good,’ exclaimed the sheik; ‘this is very good go on



“ I gathered courage, and read again – ‘And when thou prayest,’ translating as I read, to the fifteenth verse.  ‘Bismillah! but this is wonderful, wonderful,’ exclaimed one to another, stroking their beards: ‘wonderful!’ and every harsh and forbidden feature was softened down, to quiet, calm attention.  ‘More, more!’'



“I read on – ‘Moreover, when ye fast etc.



‘Bismillah,’ exclaimed the sheik, ‘this is wonderful



“I needed no further urging on: verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph, I read on to the close of the chapter, interrupted by exclamations of wonder and approbation.



“ ‘Wonderful!’ said my worthy friend, the sheik, when I at length closed the book: ‘but this is wonderful! And what good people you Christians ought to be!”



This is the verdict of an enemy, beloved.  Taught as they have been from their earliest youth to despise Jesus, Son of Mary, as far inferior to Mahomet, they could but own, as they heard His words-, ‘But this is wonderful’ "' Yes, and what manner of persons ought we to be who have such a Master? and who, lest His words should prove a dead letter, sent down His Spirit on earth to enable us to carry His words into effect.  What is it we want?  With increased spirit and zeal to obey that word,- “Enter into thy closet, and pray to thy Father which is in secret  Such an increase of prayer would make itself felt in every direction, both among ourselves, - removing party-spirit, and silencing evil words, and swellings, and backbitings; and on the godless around, making them feel there is reality in our faith, and sinfulness in their career, filling their hearts with awe as they listen to God’s word, and turning them to God.



“When thou prayest says our Lord.  Does every reader pray?  No!  Do you pray?  If not, you do not know God as your Father.  You think of Him only as the Ruler, forbidding what you love, and opposed to YOU, because of your sins; and the Judge coming to condemn you.



Ought you not to pray?  Ask Scripture!  Ask conscience!  Is it not the duty of a creature to worship his Creator and Preserver?  Ought not a creature to acknowledge its God?  You acknowledge your superiors, or your equals, by a bow.  Ought you not to render God His due?  You are daily dependent on His goodness!  Is it right thanklessly to swallow all His mercy: to render no praise in return?



He bids you pray!  Ought you not to listen?  Should not the law of the King of kings be obeyed?



Ought you not to pray?  What will become of those who never pray?  When the throne is set for judgment, what will become of the unforgiven?  And how can they be forgiven who never asked forgiveness?  Reader, would you wish to be damned?  If not, let then the word of Christ convict you no longer of sin.



“When thou prayest  Begin to-day.  Each week a day is set apart for these sacred exercises.  You cannot say, you have no time.  To-day God appeals to you.  Go in secret.  Pray first for what is first needed, forgiveness of sins.  Be no longer worse than the heathen: with greater light, be not worse than the Mahometan.  Five times a day he renders to God what he accounts worship.  His God indeed is content with mutterings of the lip and bendings of the knee.  Our God, the true God, asks the heart, without which prayer is a vain shadow.  Ought He to ask less?  Ought you to give less?



The Mahometan appeals to his God through Mahomet.  Affecting to me was the prayer, which the pilgrim to Medinah puts up.  “We, thy friends, 0 prophet of Allah! appear before thee, travellers from distant lands and far countries, through dangers and difficulties, in the times of darkness, and in the hours of day, longing to give thee thy rights [honouring the prophet] and to obtain the blessings of thine intercession; for our sins have broken our backs, and thou intercedest with the Healer.  And Allah said, - ‘And though they have injured themselves, they came to thee, and begged thee to secure their pardon, and they found God an accepter of penitence, and full of compassion  0 prophet of Allah, intercession! intercession! intercession



From far the Mussulmen travel to the grave of their prophet, to obtain his favourable regard, to ask his prayers for them.  Will you refuse in your own land to call upon the True Prophet, the Great Atoning Priest?  Mahomet hears no prayer of his disciples; his ears are sealed in death.  Jesus “ever lives to make intercession” for you!  Do not those words beat upon your heart?  “Our sins have broken our backs, and thon intercedest with the Healer  Have you less sense of sin than they?  Does not that thrice repeated word touch you? – “0 prophet of Allah, intercession, intercession, intercession  Will you not draw nigh to the Son of God and ask Him with like zeal for your forgiveness,‑“0 Son of God - intercede, for else I am lost!  Intercede!  INTERCEDE  If you do not, will not these arise against you in the judgment, and condemn you; for they are more earnest with a false prophet, and a dead ear, than you with a living Saviour, and the Son of God slain “for your sins



9. “After this manner therefore pray YE.  ‘Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.’”



At this point I can imagine a plausible objection raised.  “Do you use the Lord’s prayer






“Either then the Sermon on the Mount is not intended for us; or you are inconsistent, in not making use of the Lord’s prayer



How shall we answer it?  Very easily.



What, we inquire, is our Lord’s design in giving the prayer?  Evidently, as a model for supplication, not as a form which must always be used.  This I gather -



1. From the fact, that the Saviour, after having warned us against the heathens’ use of vain repetitions, and their much speaking, gives this as an example on the contrary, of brevity and concise fulness of meaning.



1. “After this manner pray ye  Here is your model!



2. It comes expressly as a consequence from the principle just laid down.  “After this manner therefore pray ye



3. It is proved by His setting the disciples as the intelligent contrast to the senseless heathen.  “After this manner pray ye*


* The “Ye” is emphatic in the original.



‘But,’ it may be replied, ‘the other occasion on which our Lord spoke the prayer, binds it on us more strictly than here.  If you will turn to Luke 11: 2, you will see that Jesus, in giving the form, said, “When ye pray, say, Our Father, &c.”’



1. Yes; but notice also, that on that occasion there was a very serious defect in the mode of asking.  “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples



From this it seems fair to infer, that John gave his disciples a set form, and that the disciple, therefore, who addressed our Lord, was asking for a form of prayer, without enquiring whether a form was best for prayer.



2. But that the Lord’s Prayer was not designed to be the constant form of petition to God seems clear, by comparing the words of Luke with those of Matthew.  The genuine copy of the prayer, as given by late critics, is as follows:‑



“Father, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Give us day by day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins: for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.  And lead us not into temptation



Here are but five petitions, in place of the seven of Matthew’s; and no doxology.



3. Our Lord at the close of His career, when telling His disciples of His own departure, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit, discloses to them a new era in prayer which was then to commence.  “Hitherto ye have asked nothing in My name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be fullJohn 16: 24.



4. Lastly, it does not appear, that the apostles or disciples understood our Lord to require the use of the prayer as a form of words.  On more than one occasion they are exhibited to us as praying: when Maithias was chosen, and after they were threatened by the Sanhedrin: Acts 1: 24; 4: 24.  But, while their supplications are given, there is no mention of their use of the Lord’s Prayer.



The Saviour’s Prayer then is to serve us as a model for our addresses at the throne of grace.  Let us then notice its structure.  It consists of seven petitions, divided into four and three.  In this case the three precede, and are very evidently distinguished from the four which follow.  The three first seek the glory of God; the four last take up the weakness and poverty of man.  The distinction is thus clearly exhibited by a German writer:‑


1. Thy name be hallowed.


2. Thy kingdom come.


3. Thy will be done.



But the key-note of the after-part is different.



4.  Us give daily bread.


5. Us forgive our debts.


6. Us lead not into temptation.


7. Us deliver from evil.


We are instructed then to approach God with the confidence of sons; and, in the spirit of adoption, to cry, Abba, Father.  We are to come “with reverence  This Father is “in heaven  Under the law, God was as a king dwelling among his subjects on earth.  But now the Son of God has revealed the Father, and Himself is inhabiting the heaven, to draw our hearts thither where our portion is.



We are to address God alone, not saints or angels.  We are to remember our oneness with other believers and to say, not, “My Father,” but “Our Father



“Hallowed be Thy name  The name of God is holy.  We have not to make it so; but we desire that its holiness, its super-eminent majesty above all other names, may be recognized.



We pray then, that God may be known in His new Gospel name, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: Matt. 3: 28.  We desire that the glories of His character may be perceived; and that men and believers may, in consequence, render Him the reverence of obedience, of worship, and of love.  Greatly is His name profaned on earth, by constant disobedience, by false views, by blaspheming, and cursing.  ’Tis not to be so with us.  ‘May Thy due honour be given Thee, 0 God: may it be given to Thee alone!  Deliver us from atheism, which refuses Thee Thy due; deliver us from idolatry, which gives to others that which is duo to Thee alone



10. “Thy kingdom come



What kingdom is here supposed?  Most understand by it, - The Gospel.  But has not the Gospel already arrived?  How are we to ask for its coming?  This difficulty is so well understood, that those who so understand the kingdom are compelled to alter the terms of the prayer, and beseech the extension of God’s kingdom.



This should be proof sufficient, that their conception of the kingdom is different from the Saviour’s. Jesus speaks of it as a kingdom yet to come.  It must mean then the kingdom of glory, the millennial kingdom.  As the basis of the Sermon on the Mount, and of this, gospel, we ought to have right views of it.  We are to seek the kingdom as something future; not to lay hold of it, as something already before us, and possessed by us as believers.



The present is the time of Satan’s kingdom.  His throne is on earth: Rev. 2: 13.  He is Prince of the world.  We ask that God would overturn his throne, and dispossess the Usurper.



10. “Thy will be done, on the earth, as it is in heaven



It has been proposed to apply the concluding clauses of this sentence to the whole of the first three petitions.



Hallowed be Thy name,

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done,                                         As in heaven, so on earth.



But it does not suit well with the second.  The kingdom has yet to come to the heaven, as well as to the earth.  This is proved by Rev. 12.  As soon as Satan is cast down, a little before he is bound, the cry goes up – “Now is come ... the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ  “Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them: Woe to the inhabiters of the earthver. 10-12.



What is the meaning of “Thy will be done



There are two wills of God: (1) His secret providential will, which over-rules all His creation.  (2) His revealed will, by which He declares His good pleasure to His intelligent creatures, requiring their compliance.



1. We desire then with regard to God’s revealed will, that all His intelligent creatures should obey His commands.  This is the doing His will actively.



2. But the Saviour’ words in the Garden show us that the endurance of the Father’s providential good pleasure, or the patient and confiding reception of His afflictions, are included in this petition. “Not my will, but Thine be done  “The cup which MY Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it*


[* For the benefit of all who see only one kingdom of Messiah - His eternal kingdom in ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ -  see additional footnote supplied.  - Ed.]



A celebrated divine of New England tells us, that soon after the death of his wife, his two lovely children were taken from him within a few hours of each other.  “My cup of sorrow,” he says, “was filled to the brim.  I stood a few moments and viewed the remains of my two darlings who had gone to their long homes, never to return.  I felt at first as if I could not submit to such a complicated affliction.  My heart rose in all its strength against the government of God, and then suddenly sank under its distress [to a degree] which alarmed me.  I sprang up, and said to myself, ‘I am going into immediate distraction: I must submit, or I am undone for ever.’  In a few moments I was entirely calm, and resigned to the will of God.  I never enjoyed greater happiness than during that day and the next.  My mind was full of God. And I used to look toward the burying-ground, and wish for the time when I might be laid beside my departed wife and little ones.” *



* It is to the spirit of submission that God would bring His children.  When that is obtained, the rod is often removed.  Two remarkable examples are afforded in the life of that eccentric servant of God, the Rev. John Berridge.


“At an early Period of my life it pleased God to afflict me with blindness, and when I had become stone blind, the Lord said to me, ‘Jack Berridge, how likest thou that  And I said, ‘Lord, it is Thy will, and THY will be done  After a time it was His good will to restore my sight to me, and I have since seen as well as any man to the present hour.  At a later period of my life, it was His good pleasure to afflict me with deafness, and, when I had become quite deaf, the Lord said to me, ‘Jack Berridge, how likest thou that  I said again, ‘Lord, it is Thy will, and THY will be done  And, after a time, it was His good will to remove my deafness also, so that I have heard perfectly well to the present time



But a standard is exhibited, according to which we desire that God's will may be done.  On earth there are confusion, rebellion, blasphemy.  But among the un-fallen angels, there are a spirit and conduct wholly opposite.  In heaven God’s will is done exactly, lovingly, with alacrity, completely, purely, and constantly.  We pray that such a holy, happy state of things may have place in earth.



A little boy rehearsing this prayer after his mother, in place of – “Thy will be done said “My will be done  His mother corrected him, but still he repeated the same words.  “My dear, it is the will of God, not your will, for which you should pray.  It is not fit that your will should be done.  You know very little, and would often desire things amiss



Yes, mother, replied he, “I know that my will is not to be done but prayer is asking God for what we wish, and I do wish my will to be done  This is the secret feeling of many hearts: ’tis the prompting of nature in young and old.  ’Tis very hard to submit to God’s rule, when His providence is a sword that cuts deep.  When an only child is taken - a blooming youth opening into fair promise - when a loving wife is rent from the side – ’tis no easy task to acquiesce, and say, “Thy will be done



When one enquired of a deaf and dumb boy, why he thought he was born deaf and dumb? - taking the chalk, he wrote on the board, “Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight  Great part of the joy of heaven will consist in a heart fully attuned to the government of God: and its perfection will be, that God will then have no need to inflict pain.



When one said to a pious man on a sick bed, “If God were to put it to your choice whether to get well or to die, which would you choose  “I would just leave it with Him.” “But suppose that He were to refer it to you?”  “I would just refer it back to Him again  How happy a state!  The contrary feeling indulged will exclude from millennial bliss.  “Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the Destroyer1 Cor. 10: 10.



This petition, as taught us by the Saviour, Who is in perfect harmony with the will of His Father, must one day be accomplished.  That happy day is the kingdom of heaven, or the millennial reign of our Lord.  Indeed, all the three first petitions point to this one time, and will be fulfilled then.



11. “Give us to-day our necessary bread



Great is the discussion concerning the meaning of the Greek word - which we translate “daily.”  It is a word so uncommon, as not to be found in any other Greek writing.  The meaning will vary, as we decide concerning its derivation.  Some would translate it “to-morrow’s  “Give us to-day to-morrow’s bread There is much in favour of this rendering.  It is supposed, however, to clash with verse 34 of this chapter.  ‘Will it not be caring for to-morrow, to pray for it  I think not.  It seems the very way prescribed to us to get rid of care.  “Be careful [anxious] for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be inade known unto God. And the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep [guard] your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus:” (Greek.) Phil. 4: 6, 7.



But the difference between this and the rendering “necessary is not great.



The Saviour teaches us to bring to God our daily need, as being inhabitants of the body, and of the world. We may ask for necessaries, assured of their being granted.  We may not petition for great stores, nor expect to see “much goods laid up for many years  The kingdom of Christ may come very speedily.  In a moment His saints may be caught away to His presence.



This petition teaches us to confess our dependence for daily support on God’s care.  “Give us our bread.” The stoutest arm will not win its subsistence, without our Father’s will.  The weakest can obtain it, when given of God.  In troublous times and desolate places, God is still able to give, and willing.



12. “And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors



‘Does this petition apply to believers of the Church, members of Christ?  Is it not written? – “In Whom we have ... the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” Eph. 1: 7



Yes! for though our “old sins” are forgiven, when first we believe, yet do we daily sin, and need daily forgiveness.  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness1 John 1: 8, 9.



This is the only conditional petition of the seven.  ’Tis inserted, no doubt, because of its necessity.  Jesus afterwards shows us by the parable of the Unmerciful Servant, that even after sin has been forgiven to a believer, it is thrown back upon him, if he refuses to forgive an offending brother: Matt. 18: 23-35.



The same sentiment is repeated by our Lord in Mark 11: 24-26.  “And when ye stand praying, forgive if ye have ought against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.  But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses



Methinks this petition is often passed by in silence where the Lord’s prayer is repeated.  The conscience of the utterer cheeks him.  ‘To ask to be forgiven as you forgive, is to pray that you may NOT be forgiven; for remember the grudge you owe to -.’  But the leaving out the petition will not prevent its taking effect.  He who repeats the petition with careless lip but unforgiving heart, will be self-condemned.  He prays for wrath on himself.  But he who passes it by, will not escape the just anger of God.



How sad was the end of Queen Elizabeth!  She had given her favourite, the Earl of Essex, a ring with the promise, that if at any time her anger rose against him, upon sending her that token, she would forgive. She was incensed against him, and his life hung in the balance.  She was continually expecting that the ring would be presented to her, and was ready then to fulfil her royal promise.  As it never came she signed his death-warrant, and he was put to death.



She discovered afterwards, that the ring had been given by Essex to the Countess of Nottingham, to be delivered to her majesty.  But the Earl of Nottingham, the deadly foe of Essex, prevailed on her never to present it.  When the Countess lay on her death-bed, she communicated the sad secret to the Queen.  Her tenderness for the Earl at once revived.  She fell into a fearful rage, shook the dying Countess in her bed, and left her saying, “God may forgive you, but I never will  She then fell into a state of despondency, and died a few days after.



13. “And lead us not into temptation



There are two senses of temptation; in one of which it is impossible for God to tempt; in the other, it is here and in other Scriptures assumed, that He does tempt.



The devil tempts, by presenting something pleasant or advantageous, which cannot be obtained save by sin, desiring that the sin may be committed; and doing his best to quicken the desire for it, and to blind the understanding and conscience to a perception of the evil of it.  In this sense, God cannot tempt.  He cannot infuse evil into the mind or heart; nor desire to sway the mind of any to choose the evil, and refuse the good.



But He can and does tempt, in the sense of putting both His people and the ungodly into circumstances of trial, in which the tendencies of each shall be seen.*


* This sense of temptation had better, methinks, be severed from the other by the use of another word. Our translators frequently employ the unexceptionable word “proveEx. 20: 20, &c.



Thus God tempted (tried) Abraham (Gen. 22: 1), by the command to offer up Isaac.  He stood the trial, and glory and the oath of promise were the result.



So God tempted (or “proved”) Israel in the desert, by the waters of Marah.  They stood not the test; but fell into sin, and murmured: Ex. 15: 25.  God tried them again by the manna.  “Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day; that I may prove [tempt.] them, whether they will walk in My law or noEx. 20: 20.  So again by the terrors of Sinai.  “God is come to prove, [tempt] you, that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin notEx. 20: 20.  The principle is still more fully stated in Deuteronomy.  “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee and to prove [tempt] thee, to know what was in thy heart, whether thou wouldst keep His commandments or no.  And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knowest not, neither did thy fathers know: that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LordDeut. 8: 2, 3.



The trial is felt in its intensity, and the issue is sin, where even renewed man is left to make his own free choice.  Of this an instance is given us in the history of Hezekiah.  His life was spared in answer to prayer, and a miracle wrought on the occasion.  The effect on the sun called forth an embassy from the king of Babylon.  This elevated Hezekiah to pride, and the result of the trial was sin.  “In the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land. [earth].  GOD LEFT HIM, to try [tempt] him, that He might know all that was in his heart2 Chron. 32: 31.



Thus to tempt men is, God’s just right.  It is the same in principle as the father’s right to set his boy a difficult sum, when he wishes to discover how far he is advanced in arithmetic; or to give him a difficult passage of Horace to translate, that he may learn what is his proficiency in classical studies.



The petition before us teaches us, that the Enemy has no power to tempt us, save as granted of God. That is vividly exemplified in the case of Job.  God proves him with affliction after affliction; but the limit is always set to Satan’s power.



It is glorious, no doubt, to stand the trial, and to come off victorious.  It was so to Abraham on Mount Moriah.  Confidence in our powers might lead us to desire to be put to the proof.  How many have fancied, that if tried as our first parents were in Eden, they would have stood!  But our Lord, Who knows that the flesh profits nothing, teaches us the blessedness of poverty of spirit.  And let us gladly acquiesce in the sense of our weakness which prompts the petition, - “Lead us not into temptation  The longer we know the evil of our hearts, the more fervently will like petitions be offered.



13. “But deliver us from evil



‘Not only, Lord, do not bring on us fresh trial; but remove from us the various evils which encompass us. Deliver us from the evil of the world, of Satan, of our own wicked hearts.  Remove from us pain, calamity, death  This breathes a wish for the final deliverance of both soul and body.  It is a petition, therefore, if taken in its fullest sense, for the coming of the millennial kingdom.



Some would translate, “From the Evil One  But I prefer the A. V.



The doxology which follows this petition is now generally acknowledged not to be genuine.  It arose out of the use of the Lord’s Prayer as a church formulary, and is not found in the earliest manuscripts.



14. “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  15. But it ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses



The one conditional petition of the prayer is now explained.  Jesus tells us why He inserted the condition. It is because, without its fulfilment, we cannot be pardoned of God.  In this place “men” are to be forgiven.  In the parable of the Unmerciful Servant we are taught, that our brethren in Christ, if desiring it, are to be forgiven.



Jesus, Who knows the vindictive nature of men, how slow they are to forgive, how apt to harbour malice, here insists on the forgiveness of those who offend against us, as we desire the forgiveness of our offences against God.



If not forgiven of God here, there will of course be no entrance into the kingdom of Messiah.  Nay, the parable of Matthew 18. teaches, that positive punishment, of the most awful kind, awaits the unforgiving.  “His lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.  So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespassesMatt. 18: 34, 35.



We are to pray that God’s kingdom may come; but no joy will it be for us, if we are excluded.



The force of this truth was once happily used by Wesley.  ‘While travelling in Georgia, I picked up the following anecdote of John Wesley and General Oglethorpe.  It seems that these two gentlemen were fellow-passengers from Europe.  In the course of this voyage, Mr. Wesley heard General Oglethorpe making a great noise in the cabin, upon which he stepped in to know the cause.  The General immediately addressed him, saying:



“ ‘Mr. Wesley, you must excuse me; I have met with a provocation too great for man to bear.  You know the only wine I drink is Cyprus, as it agrees with me best of any.  I provided myself with several dozen of it, and this villain (his servant, who was present, almost dead with fear) has drank up the whole of it.  But I will be revenged on him.  I have ordered him to be tied hand and foot and to be carried to the man-of-war, which sails with us.  The rascal should have taken care how he used me so, for I never forgive.’



“ ‘Then, sir,’ said Mr. Wesley, looking calmly at him, ‘I hope you never sin.’



“The General, confounded at the reproof, threw his keys to his servant, and bade him do better for the future



*       *       *





“When he [Mr. Govett] brought out his ‘Entrance Into the Kingdom’ … [he] said (in the second preface):-


‘The native magnitude of this truth must speedily redeem it from all obscurity  The evidence is so sure, the conclusion so certain, that he seemed justified in his forecast; but it is plain now that he greatly under-estimated the unconquerable antagonism in the hearts of all truths which search or threaten us.  Only now is this royal truth emerging; and general coming persecution is likely to prove its powerful forcing-bed, for [regenerate] believers will see the Coming [Millennial] Age more clearly when they have lost this.  It may be symptomatic that Grace and Truth - [a Christian Magazine during the 1930’s] - refers to its modern re-discoverer as ‘that prolific expounder of the Word of God, Robert Govett, whose works are to-day experiencing an unprecedented revival calling for large republication.’



“Dr. Neighbour, … a foremost preacher in the Unitede States, … one more thinker to discern that the Millennial Age as a reward solves, or largly solves, the world-old conflict between the Calvinist and the Arminian – [two theological camps of regenerate believers who have failed to address God’s conditional promises and His present and future dealings with His redeemed people correctly!]  It is impossible but that both camps, each crowded with men of sanctity and ability and learning, can produce Scriptures equally (to all appearance) opposed; but the entire conflict mealts away when it is seen that eternal life is the ‘gift and millennial life is the ‘prize and that the gift is irrevocable while the prize is highly precarious [i.e., ‘not very safe or secure’]



“The organ of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Alliance Weekly, (Jan. 5, 1935), justly observes:-



‘The careless believer is excluded from the joy of his Lord, which to him is a veritable ‘outer darkness,’ although differing from the judgment of lost souls.  Failure to teach this has allowed much sin and coldness in the live of multitudes of professing Christians.’”