THE MODEL PRAYER
By J. D. JONES
The Expositions in this volume were originally given as Sunday morning lectures. They are printed in deference to the wishes of members of my congregation, who, finding them helpful when first delivered, desire to possess them in more permanent form. They do not lay claim to any originality. I have derived help from many quarters, especially from the expositions of the Lord’s Prayer written by Dr. Dods and Dr. Stanford respectively. My thanks are also due to my friend Mr. E. Carr for many valuable suggestions, and for kindly undertaking to see this little volume through the press.
J. D. J.
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Chapter 1 – THE DISCIPLE’S REQUEST – PAGE 9
Chapter 2 – “OUR FATHER” – PAGE 25
Chapter 3 – “HALLOWED BE THY NAME” – PAGE 44
Chapter 4 – THE SECOND PETITION – PAGE 62
Chapter 5 – THE THIRD PETITION – PAGE 82
Chapter 6 – “DAILY BREAD” – PAGE 100
Chapter 7 – “FORGIVENESS” – PAGE 117
Chapter 8 – “TEMPTATION” – PAGE 137
Chapter 9 – THE MODEL PRAYER – PAGE 157
* * *
The Disciples’ Request.
“And it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, that when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also
taught his disciples.” - LUKE 11: 1.
It is my purpose, God willing, to give at intervals, on Sabbath mornings, a series of expositions of that prayer which our Lord taught His disciples to pray, which, because of its beauty, its spirituality, its broad, loving charity, has well deserved the names “Epitome of the Gospels” and “Pearl of Prayers.” But before I address myself to the consideration of the prayer itself, I would like to clear the ground a little - to explain its setting - to consider the circumstances that called it forth, so that we may be able to appreciate and understand it the better.
This prayer - the Lord’s prayer as we commonly call it, though
I often think it might be more appropriately called “The
Disciples’ [Page 10] Prayer” - is a prayer we learned at our
mother’s knee; it is hallowed for many of us by the fact that those who taught
it to us at the first have exchanged prayer for praise: earth for heaven. Their lips have been silent for long years,
but the prayer they taught us in our childhood, we repeat morning and evening
still! Ah! how many times we have
repeated it! From the very dawn of life
this has been our prayer! We repeated it
as children! We are repeating it to-day,
as grown up men! Some of us are
repeating it as old men! This prayer is
one of the dear familiar things of life.
But there is a danger in our very familiarity with this beautiful
prayer. The peril is that by using it so
often, it may become to us a mere form of words; the danger is that when we
repeat it, we may do so mechanically - that we may say the Lord’s Prayer without praying.
“Familiarity breeds contempt,” we
say. People who live in the
[Hence the truth expressed in the children’s Hymn:-
“I often say my prayers,
But do I ever pray?
And do the wishes of my heart
Go with the words I say?
I might as well kneel down
And worship gods of stone,
As offer to the living God
A prayer of words alone!
For words without the heart,
The Lord will never hear;
Nor will He to those lips attend,
Whose prayers are not sincere.”]
The next best thing to saying a new thing, is to say an old thing in a new way. Originality consists not so much in discovering new truth, as in making old truth real and vital. The painter does not invent the beauty of nature which he depicts on his canvas, he simply brings it out and makes it visible. “I never see the kind of things you paint in your pictures,” said a lady one day to Turner, the great artist. “Don’t you wish you did, madam?” was the painter’s reply. The fault was in the lady’s vision. The artist saw beauties in nature [Page 12] which were missed and unheeded by the crowd, and painted them for us on his glowing canvases. The preacher sees wonders and glories in old and familiar things - glories missed or unheeded perhaps by those who have less time to read and ponder this grand old book. It is his business to bring them out, to show to his people the peerless beauty there is even in the most common and familiar things. Buttercups and daisies are common little flowers. They cover our fields. They carpet our meadows. We cannot take a walk in the fields in summer without treading hundreds of them under foot. They are so cheap and common that no one ever thinks of making a posy of daisies, unless it be our children, and they often enough fling the little flowers away before they reach their homes. Yet there is beauty in the daisy, and a glory in the buttercup. It is only familiarity that has made us blind. We should think them beautiful perhaps if they were as rare as orchids. And even as it is, we need only listen to a lover of flowers as he describes to us the delicacy and beauty of the daisy and the buttercup, to realise that even these - the commonest flowers that bloom - reveal something of the glory of God. Probably there is no form of words so absolutely and universally familiar as the Lord’s Prayer. [Page 13] I would like, if I can, to reveal to you some of its wonder, and beauty, and glory. There are, in this old familiar prayer, heights we have never scaled, depths we have never sounded. I want, if I can, to help you to realise its meaning, to feel its power, to grasp the sweep of its demands, so that this - the most familiar of all prayers - may be on our lips, fresh, real, vital; so that we may pray, not with the lips only, but with the understanding also, so that when we use these sacred words, whether it be in public or in private, we may not simply repeat the Lord’s Prayer, but really and truly pray. To bring out the full meaning of this familiar prayer, to illustrate its truths, to point out the demands it makes - that is the aim I have set before myself in this series of expositions which I purpose to deliver.
I would first of all call your attention to the circumstances of the origin of this prayer. My text sets these forth. Jesus Christ had been praying. He was a man of prayer. His favourite temple was the mountain top. Away from the noise and bustle of the town, in the solitude of the mountain summit, in the solemn hush and silence of the night, Jesus Christ prayed. No one can talk much with God without bearing about with him visible [Page 14] results of that high fellowship. Moses, after he had been on the mount with God, came down with a countenance that had caught and retained some of the divine glory. His face shone. John G. Paton, the heroic missionary, tells in his autobiography how his saintly father would withdraw every day to talk with God, and as children he and his brother used to notice with wonder and awe the beautiful light upon their father’s face when he came forth from that interview. Do not think me fanciful when I say that I believe that the Master’s face in the morning used to proclaim plainly in what sacred communion He had been spending the night. The halo of the old painters may be fancy, but I am sure that there would be a radiance about the Saviour’s face, an aspect of such unruffled serenity and calm upon His countenance, as would proclaim to all that Jesus had been spending the night in holy fellowship with God. There were many things to try our Lord in life - the malignant hatred of the Pharisees, the persistent blundering of the disciples; and often when Jesus left the mountain He was tired, worn, weary, but after His night of prayer Jesus always came down from the mountain peaceful, calm and strong. And I cannot help thinking that His disciples must [Page 15] often have noticed that expression of calm and peace on their Master’s face after His nights of prayer. It quickened within them the desire to pray as their Master prayed, that they too might enjoy the like peace and strength. And that leads me to remark in passing that people are to be convinced of the supreme value of prayer not by tracts about prayer, not by eloquent and clever sermons which profess to explain away all the difficulties connected with prayer, but by seeing in us the effects of prayer. When they see us calm, happy, and strong in the midst of the difficulties and worries and cares of life, they will want to know the secret, and so they too will be led to pray. Was it not so with these disciples? Jesus had gone apart to pray. And when He ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, “Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples.” They wanted to be in command of the secret of peace. They wanted to be in possession of the key to God’s storehouse of power. “Teach us to pray.” And it was in answer to that request that Jesus gave to them the “Pearl of Prayers.”
Now, looking at this request of the disciples for a moment, will you notice that it is -
1. A Confession of Need. “Teach us to pray.” We ask the question sometimes, “Why do men pray?” Why do men pray! We might just as well ask, “Why does the nightingale sing? Why does the eagle soar into the boundless blue?” The nightingale sings because it was made to sing; the eagle soars away because its pinions were made for flight, and man prays because he was made for prayer. “Teach us to pray.” That is just the cry of men who must have their instincts satisfied. Man was made to pray. This is the cry that gives expression to the necessity of his nature. “Lord, teach us to pray.” Let me remind you that this is not a need which Christianity has created. Oh, no! the need is in the very make and constitution of a man. Christ only satisfied the need. Prayer is as old as man himself. The first man is far removed from us; in outward circumstances we are utterly unlike him, but we are like him in this respect, in our need of prayer. Society to-day is very different from the primitive simplicity of society in the time of the patriarchs; but we are like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in this respect - we all pray. The Bible is a book of prayers. It is the great prayer-book of the world. All the prayers in it are not on the same spiritual [Page 17] level. In many you will find much that is mistaken. But there they are the prayers of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Hezekiah - all bearing witness to the same need, the same instinct. And I will not confine what I am saying to the men who are mentioned in the Bible. This sense of need is universal. God made man for Himself, and wherever you find man you find his heart and flesh cry out for the living God. The African who worships his fetish, the Hindoo who prostrates himself before his idol, even those poor, benighted people who do their praying by machinery - all these by their acts bear witness to the universal need. Indeed, it is this sense of need that makes the wide world one. When an infant is in need of anything it cries, and the cry of the little one is its prayer. When we men are in need of anything we pray; we may pray in a hundred different ways; we may utter no spoken word, but pray we must. In this respect, men the whole world over are the same. North and south, east and west, wherever you find man, you find him with this instinct for God, under this necessity to pray. It was because these twelve disciples felt that necessity that they made this request eighteen hundred years ago to the Man who [Page 18] was best able to answer it, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
2. This request of the disciples is a confession of ignorance. “Teach us to pray,” said the disciples. Prayer was a necessity to them. But how were they to pray? What were they to pray for? These disciples felt that there might be a right and a wrong way of praying; that there might be a right and a wrong in the things prayed for. And they judged rightly. Prayer is the key to the treasure house of God, but it will lie useless in man’s hand until he is shown how to use it. So here comes the Confession of Ignorance, “Lord, teach us to pray.” “We know not how, nor what to pray for - Thou must show.”
“Teach us to pray!” Teach us how! for there is a right and wrong of praying. Man must pray - he cannot help himself. But how he blunders in his attempts at prayer sometimes. Look at the Hindoo cutting and maiming himself! Look at the Mongol with his praying machine! Ah, yes, man needs to be taught how to pray. I think the disciples wanted to know what I may call without irreverence the “etiquette” of prayer. “Wherewithal shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the High God?” that was difficulty. They knew [Page 19] not how they were to enter into the presence of the great King. If a man wishes to be presented to the King, he must obey all the formalities of Court etiquette, and to many that seems rather a formidable task. Perhaps these disciples thought there were equal difficulties in the way of approach to the throne of the Heavenly grace. They wanted to know the etiquette of God’s court. “Teach us to pray. We know not how.” Do we need an intermediary at the throne? Do we need to be introduced to Him that sits thereon? By what name shall we address Him? “Lord, teach us to pray. We know not how.” And here Jesus instructs their ignorance. “You need no intermediary, go boldly to that Throne yourselves; you need no introduction to Him that sits thereon – He knows you, calls you by your name; address Him not as King, Judge, Lord - call Him “Father.” It was in answer to their confession of ignorance that Jesus taught His disciples how to pray.
But further, these disciples knew not what to pray for. They did not know what they were to ask for in their petitions! Nor do we! We are “the sons of ignorance and night.” We do not know what is best for us! I often think that if God wished to be unkind to us, He has [Page 20] only to answer our prayers; for we ask Him for things that can only do us harm. The little child often begs for things that look nice, or are pleasant to the taste, but the mother, who knows the harm that would result if these things were given says “No.” We are like little children in our ignorance, and have often asked our Heavenly Father for things that would only injure us. We have all of us to make this confession of ignorance. We have all of us to acknowledge “We know not what to pray for.” We all need to go to Jesus with this request, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And He will teach us. He will tell us what to pray for. He will tell us what He prayed for. He will tell us how He told out to His Father all His desires, but ended every prayer with these words, “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done,” and He will give us the assurance that whatsoever we ask of the Father in His name after the Spirit of His prayers, the Father will give unto us.
3. This request of the disciples is a confession that the old prayers are no longer good enough. “Lord, teach us to pray,” they said. Had, then, these disciples never prayed before? Yes, many a time, every day of their lives, and probably several times each day. I imagine that before Jesus called the twelve, they had been [Page 21] what the world would call “religious men.” In fact, we need not imagine it, we know it. Several of them had been disciples of John the Baptist before they became disciples of Jesus. The Jews were, we are told, particularly conscientious in the matter of prayer. Three times a day they withdrew for devotion. And these disciples were good Jews, strict Jews, punctilious in their regard for all points of ritual. We are justified, therefore, in saying that the disciples all through their lives had been attentive to the duty of prayer. What, then, is the explanation of this request “Lord teach us to pray?” Well, the explanation is simply this: the old prayers no longer satisfied them; even the prayers John the Baptist had taught them seemed strangely deficient or inappropriate. After living with Jesus, after hearing Him preach, after listening to His words about God, the old stereotyped prayers seemed to lose all their beauty and power. The disciples felt they could not pray them any longer. They had received from Jesus a new revelation of God, and this new revelation of God created the need for a new prayer. There is a familiar ballad the first line of which runs, “I cannot sing the old songs.” Some change has taken place in the singer’s feelings which makes [Page 22] the old song inappropriate, impossible. It was so with these disciples. They could not pray the old prayers, because their hearts were changed [because of prevailing and violent circumstances]. We all know something of this kind of feeling. Sometimes I look back over old sermons, and very often I have to say to myself, “I could not preach that again.” God has been teaching me during the years of my ministry, and leading me into a fuller knowledge of the truth. In sermons, as in well nigh everything else, “Time makes ancient good uncouth.” It was so with the twelve. They had been to school to Christ; from their great Master they had learned many a new and glorious lesson about God, and the result of their new knowledge of God, their larger, grander conceptions of His character, was the absolute necessity for a new prayer. They had outgrown the old ones in which they had been brought up. They no longer expressed their feelings or satisfied their needs. You have an illustration of what I am trying to point out in the history of Paul. He was a prominent man in religious circles before he became a Christian. He was scrupulous in his observance of religious duties. After the straitest sect he lived a Pharisee, and if the Pharisees were punctilious about one thing more than another, [Page 23] it was their prayers. But yet, in the account of his conversion, Scripture, after describing Saul as alone and blind in the house in the street called Strait, adds this remark, as if recording a new fact in Saul’s history, “Behold he prayeth.” Saul had said his prayers thousands of times before, but now, for the first time, he was praying the new prayer, which a sense of his own sin and the gentleness of God had made necessary. Oh, yes, when religion is a formality then a prayer which is also a formality will suffice. But once we see the love of God, once we feel our own unworthiness, we shall find the old formal prayers will no longer suffice. We shall need a new prayer then, and like these disciples we shall come to Christ with the request, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Notice what the disciple adds, “As John also taught his disciples.” Christ might imitate John in the act of teaching, but in the prayer taught Jesus was no imitator. Here Jesus was grandly, supremely original. This was a new prayer He gave. John could not have given it. No man, however saintly and good, could have given it. It surpasses the best efforts of man as the sunlight surpasses the starlight. No one but the Son, who lay in [Page 24] the bosom of the Father; no one but the Son, who had intimate knowledge of the very heart of God, could have taught this prayer, for it opens with a New Name for God - the name Father - and no man knoweth the Father but the Son.
This short but perfect prayer is the Master’s answer to the request of His disciples. They say that prayer is never answered! This “Pearl of Prayers” is - [and one “DAY”* will be more visibly] - the best refutation of that statement. It was given in answer to prayer. “Lord, teach us to pray,” said the disciple, and the answer to his request was this prayer, which has met the needs and expressed the desires of Gods people throughout all generations. And so this prayer itself becomes the best proof of the truth proclaimed in our hymn,
Beyond our utmost wants
His love and power can bless,
To praying souls He always grants
More than they can express.
[* NOTE. “The Day of the Lord is a theme to which the prophets were drawn like moths to a candle flame. What is this great event that so occupied their thoughts and which keeps breaking into their writings as if they had suddenly taken off their reading glasses and instead had picked up a telescope to gaze with astonishing clarity of vision into the distant future?
It is the major theme of biblical prophecy, running like an unbroken thread through the writings of the Hebrew prophets, in which the phrase ‘the Day of the Lord’, with its unique significance, accrues 21 times between Isaiah 2: 12 and the very last verse of the Old Testament, Malachi 4: 5. Parallel to that phrase is another that has similar theological significance when used by the prophets: ‘in that day’, which is found 107 times in their writings and out of 80 references are directly related to the future Day of the Lord. …
It can express either a particular point in time, or a period of time that may extend during months or even years. When included in the phrases ‘the Day of the Lord,’ or ‘in that day’, it is used prophetically to indicate a particular future period of time when God’s personal and direct intervention in human history will occur in order to fulfil His purposes.” – (David Noakes, The Day of the Lord, pp. 39, 40.)
* * *
“After this manner therefore pray ye,
Our Father which art in heaven.” - MATTHEW 6: 9.
“When ye pray, say Father.”- LUKE 11: 2.
I said last Sunday morning that in the prayer He taught, Jesus was grandly, supremely original. That originality appears in most striking fashion in the invocation with which the prayer opens. The prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray begins with a new name for God, “When ye pray, say Father.”
In the Old Testament God is very seldom spoken of as Father,
and when the name is used, it is always with reference to the nation of Israel and
not to individuals - that is to say, the name “Father,” the few times it occurs in the Old
Testament, stands for a national not a personal relationship.
The Old Testament has many names for God - [Page 26] names that tell of His might, His
power, His majesty. It speaks of Him as
Jehovah; it speaks of Him as the great “I am”; it speaks of Him as “King” and “Lord” but from Genesis to Malachi you will
not find a single instance of an individual speaking of God as “Father.”
Moses did not dare to use this name.
David, the sweet singer of
I suppose no one can pass from the Old Testament to the New
without being conscious of a change of atmosphere. Between the books there is a difference of
theological climate. It is the
difference between starlight, clear but cold, and the warm and gracious
sunlight; it is the difference between law and gospel; it is the difference
between debt and grace; it is the difference between fear and love; it is the
difference between servitude and sonship; it is the difference between Sinai
This name “Father” is a new name. It is a name no one but Jesus could have revealed to men. We could never have known God the Father save through
the Incarnate Son. Men only saw God from the outside. They only judged Him by His works. They were impressed by His greatness, His
wisdom, His power, as revealed to them in the wonders of earth and sea and sky,
and they named Him accordingly. But men
felt that, after all, wisdom and power and might were only parts of God’s ways;
they felt there was a secret about God which they had not been told, and they
had to confess that, strain as they would, there were clouds and thick darkness
about Him through which no eye could pierce.
But here we get a view of God, if I may so speak, from the inside. Here you have God’s heart laid bare. Here you have light thrown upon the inmost
nature of God. The secret hidden from
prophet and psalmist and seer is here declared to the world in this name “Father.”
Who could have given God this name?
Who could have discovered this grand secret? Who could have thrown this light upon the
Divine nature? Only Jesus - [Page 28] only the Son who from eternity had lain in the bosom of the Father. The knowledge of God, the Father, is only to be gained through the Incarnate Son. “No man knoweth the Father save the
Son, and he to whomsoever the Son shall reveal Him.”
And it seems to me that one of the chief ends for which Christ came to
earth was just to tell us this new name, and so to bring sunshine into our
souls and hope into our lives. In
Is God Father to everybody?
Yes, to everybody. He is Father
to the humblest, the poorest, the most degraded. God said, “Let us make
man in our likeness,” and in the image of God created He him.
All men belong to God’s family, and upon all some trace of the family
likeness is to be seen. The old Greek [Page 29] poet, whose words Paul quoted in his memorable speech at
[* NOTE. This parable appears to be one of restoration not regeneration! “This my son was dead, but is alive again.” He was described as being ‘alive’ when with his father and before separating himself, and described as “dead”! Wilful sin and disobedience will cause the Holy Spirit’s withdrawal! His repentance, confession, and a desire for renewed fellowship with his father, was what brought about the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and the new life to return ‘again’! See ‘The Personal Indwelling of the Holy Spirit,’ by G. H. Lang. The ‘house’ that was once ‘swept clean,’ can be reoccupied by evil ‘spirits’: and the last state of that man will be worse than it was before being cleansed! See also, Acts 5: 32. cf. Rev. 3: 15- 20, etc.]
Now this new name, “Father,”
Christ places at the very commencement of the model prayer. This name is to be the very basis of our Prayer. To pray aright, certain things are required in him who
prays. The Psalmist asked himself this
question one day, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord and who shall
stand in His holy place?” Who has the right to worship God and pray to Him? That is the Psalmist’s question translated
into present day speech. And he proceeds
to answer the question he himself asks.
And this is the answer he gives, Who has the right to worship and
pray? “He that hath clean hands and a pure heart,
who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully.”
But the Psalmist’s answer is one of blank despair. For who is there whose hands are clean? Who is there whose heart is pure? Where is the man who has not lifted up his
soul unto vanity? Brethren, when we look
upon ourselves what do we see but SIN! SIN! SIN! and the cry that breaks from
our lips is the terrible cry of [Page 33] the leper of old - Unclean,
unclean. If we have to wait till our
hands are clean and our hearts pure we shall never, never ascend unto the hill of the Lord or stand in His holy
place. But thank God there are no
impossible conditions of that kind to be fulfilled before you and I can
pray. What right have I, sinful man, to
pray? What warrant have I for coming
boldly to the throne of grace? Well,
brethren, I have no right but that which this name gives. I have no warrant save that which the name “Father”
supplies. That is my right - not that I have clean
hands or a pure heart, but that I am a son, and He, the Almighty God, is my Father. I have read a
story somewhere which says that when one of the Roman Emperors was entering
But this word not only supplies our warrant for prayer, it also suggests to us the spirit in which our prayers must be offered. We must pray in the spirit of filial trust, in the spirit of childlike confidence. “He that cometh to God,” says the Apostle, “must believe that HE IS.” We must believe first of all in the reality of God. To many God is a name and nothing more. The world to them would be no emptier than it is if there were no God at all. We must first of all believe that God is. But that is not all. The Mongol, the Hindoo, the African savage believe that God IS; but no one would say that their devotions illustrate the true spirit of prayer. No: we must not only believe that God is, we must also believe [Page 35] He is a REWARDER. We must believe He is eager to bless. Some would have you believe that God is the helpless creature of His own laws, bound and held captive by them, and therefore unable to listen or to answer the cry of men - like one of those great stone impassive deities of Egypt, that sit there with staring eyes, and hands on knees, the very picture of impotence and helplessness. If God were no more than that, prayer would be a mockery, a delusion, a sham. But the God we are asked to believe in is a REWARDER - a FATHER more eager to bless us than any earthly parent is to answer the request of his child. And Christ puts this word in the very front, in order to help us to come with boldness, in order to beget within us a spirit of childlike expectancy and trust. I fancy when I hear some prayers, that we imagine God keeps His heart bolted and barred, and that we have, by the importunity of our petitions, to force and batter our way through. That was the kind of notion Job had. You remember his cry, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him.” Well, what would Job do if he did find Him? “Oh,” says Job, “I would order my cause before Him, and fill my mouth with arguments.” Job thought that every blessing had to be wrung out of the [Page 36] hands of God. “I would fill my mouth with arguments,” as if nothing were to be had from God except by hard and importunate pleading.
“Fill your mouth with arguments?” What need is there for that? Go to Him and call Him “Father” - that is all the argument you need. Brethren, we receive not, because sometimes we ask amiss. The old book says that according to our faith it shall be done unto us. We have received little, because our faith has been so little. We have treated God as if He were close, economical, niggardly. This word “Father” is here to teach us confidence, trust, faith, holy boldness; to inspire us with that perfect love which casteth out all fear. Let us go to God in the childlike spirit of a simple trust; let us use this golden key to His great treasure house, which He has placed in our hands; when we pray, let us say “Father,” and we shall find that before we call He will answer, and while we are yet speaking He will hear.
“Father,” that is how the prayer begins in Luke’s version. That glorious word stands alone in all its royal simplicity. Matthew in his version expands that into “Our Father, which art in heaven.” “Our Father!” No word in this old book is meaningless, and this [Page 37] little word “our” gives us a glimpse of the splendid truth. It is not the singular, but the plural possessive pronoun that our Lord bids us use, not “my Father,” but “our Father.” Of course it is legitimate to use the singular pronoun “my,” and say “my Father.” There come times when, with a great rush of feeling, we realise that God loves us as individuals, and then we take refuge in the first person singular, just as Paul did when he said “The Son of God loved ME, and gave Himself for ME.” In fact, religion never becomes real and vital until it becomes individual and personal, until we can say like Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” But in this prayer Christ would have us think not simply of ourselves, but also of others - not simply of blessings peculiar and personal, but of blessings shared. So we are to say, not “my Father,” but “OUR Father,” and by doing so we have linked ourselves to all others who pray this prayer. “Our,” that is the pronoun of partnership. We have said “OUR Father” in this church this morning, we have confessed that we have the same Father. But people who are the sons and daughters of the one Father must be brothers and sisters the one to the other. So that when we said “our Father,” we did more than simply proclaim God’s Fatherhood – [Page 38] we proclaimed our BROTHERHOOD. And I will not confine myself to this congregation. It is not simply the brotherhood of those of us who meet week by week in this Congregational Church that we proclaimed when we said “our Father,” we proclaimed the brotherhood of the race. Not my Father simply, but OUR Father - for He is the Father of all! The great truth of the Fatherhood of God implies the correspondingly great truth of the brotherhood of man, and universal brotherhood depends upon the universal Fatherhood. You cannot have this brotherhood of man, except by getting them to kneel together and say “our Father.” The link that binds men together is the possession of a common Father. When we address God by that sweet name, we awake to the fact that we are all members of one great family, bound to one another by the strongest and dearest of ties. Oh! we pray for the time when jealousy, pride, hatred and war shall cease, when “man to man the world o’er shall brothers be for a’ that!” I will tell you when that time shall come. It shall come when you can get all men everywhere to kneel down and begin their prayer with these grand but simple words “Our Father.”
“Then shall the whole round earth be every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.”
“Our Father, who art in Heaven,” says Matthew. Our Father is high and lifted up, He is “in Heaven.” That does not mean that God is not with us here on earth. He is the High and Holy One who inhabits eternity; but He is also the one who dwells in the lowly and the contrite heart. But as Dr. Morison puts it, “On earth there are spots, hearts at least and many of them, where God is not. He is not admitted. He is shut out. But in heaven He is all in all. In a peculiar fulness of acceptation, then, God may be said to be in Heaven!” But this little phrase, “who art in Heaven,” is something more than a topographical direction. It is more, shall I say, than God’s postal address. This little phrase tells us what kind of a Father we have. I do not think it at all fanciful to say with Dr. Stanford, that, as Heaven is the place of perfection, “our Father, who art in Heaven” may be interpreted to mean, “our Father, who art the one perfect Father.” But whether this interpretation is legitimate or not, the idea is a true and Scriptural one. God is the model - the pattern Father. Paul says that “of Him every fatherhood in heaven and earth is named.” You can look at the tender relations that bind the best of fathers to the best of sons here on earth, and I tell you they but faintly illustrate [Page 40] the tender relations that bind God to you. He is the one perfect Father. He is perfect in LOVE. “No earthly father loves like Thee, no mother half so mild.” Mothers may forget their children but God will never forget us. Parents may turn their backs upon us, father and mother may forsake us, and even then God will take us up. He is perfect in wisdom. Earthly parents are not always wise. They are sometimes unwise in severity; they are oftener, I think, unwise in their love; and many a child’s character, has been injured, if not ruined, by the un-wisdom of its parents. But God is all wise. He is always thinking upon His children for their good. In perfect wisdom, perfect love, He is working for the best. He is perfect in helpfulness.
Human love can do much, but there are times when human love is
helpless. Have you ever seen a mother
watch by a sick child? I have seen a
little one lie in her cot with fevered brow, fighting for life. I have seen her eyes make mute appeal to her
mother, and I have seen the mother sitting there in torment and agony, watching
the death struggle going on and powerless to help, the very picture of
impotent, defeated love. But God is
perfect in helpfulness. There is no limit to His power, [Page 41] He will be a refuge for us in trouble; He will make our bed in sickness;
He will make us conquerors over temptation; when we pass through the waters He
will not suffer them to overflow us; and when we enter the valley, into which
no human friend can accompany us, God will be with us still, His rod and staff
they will comfort us. “Our Father,
who art in Heaven,” one other idea the words suggest to me.
“Heaven” is spoken of in the Bible as the place of dominion and
authority. “The Lord hath
prepared his throne in the heavens,” says the Psalmist, “and His kingdom ruleth over all.”
In another psalm we get the picture of kings and princes plotting
together to destroy the
“Our Father, who art in Heaven.” The gospel is in that phrase. I have not been able to translate into language the half of the beauty and glory I myself have seen in it. You must find out for yourselves, by experience, the joy and peace it can bring into life. This name is ours to use; the love implied in it is ours to enjoy. Not one of us need go through life alone; not one of us need be orphaned and poor; not one of us need carry a troubled anxious heart. For Christ has taught us to see love on the Throne, and to call to the Almighty and Everlasting God who fainteth not, neither is weary, “Our Father, who art in Heaven.”
* * *
HALLOWED BE THY NAME
“Hallowed be Thy Name.” - MATTHEW 6: 9; LUKE 11: 2.
Last Sunday morning we talked together of the new and beautiful name by which Jesus taught us to address God when we draw near to Him in prayer. “When we pray, say Father.” This morning we pass on to the consideration of the first petition in the prayer itself. Between this first petition and the invocation there is the closest and most intimate connection. In the invocation Jesus gave us a new name for God. In the first petition He teaches us to pray for grace, to honour that new name of “Father” by thought and life.
This “Pearl of Prayer” divides
itself naturally into two parts, and it is a fact worth noticing that the
petitions in the first half of the prayer are all concerned with God’s honour
and glory. Our first thoughts when we
kneel in [Page 45] prayer must be of God.
Our first petitions must concern themselves not with our own personal
advantage but with God’s glory and praise.
This petition, “Hallowed be Thy name,” stands first, because it is the first in natural
order. For there is an order, “an order of precedence” shall I say, in prayer. I have seen a volume of sermons by Mr.
When, where and how has that name been revealed to us? Well, it has been revealed, as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews puts it, “by divers portions, and in divers manners.”
(1) It has been
revealed to us in Nature.
The Psalmist watching his sheep in the still and starry night saw God in
the arching sky, and sang, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the
firmament sheweth His handiwork.” And one of our own
great poets, John Ruskin, has said, “It is but the
outer hem of God’s great mantle, our poor stars do gem.” The Arabs speak of tracing God’s footsteps in
the world; Kepler, in studying the planets, said he
was thinking God’s thoughts after Him; Mrs. Barrett-Browning cries, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire
with God.” Yes! God reveals His name to us through
nature. I have been shown rocks which
bear upon them indentations that have some resemblance to a cloven foot, and I
have been told of legends that connect those marks with the devil. The devil, so the legends say, made those particular
rocks a momentary resting-place, and in the cloven foot he has left his mark
upon them [Page 50] for ever. But,
brethren, it is not the devil’s mark, but God’s mark that the great world
bears. I can see God’s mark on the sky
and the sea, on mountain and flood, on flower and tree. When I look at the great mountains I cannot
help remembering that it was God who planted them there. “He weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance.” When I look at the
great and wide sea, at the sunny, sleepy sea, at the angry, restless sea, I
remember it was God who placed it there.
“He measured the waters in the hollow of His hand. He has placed bounds for it which it cannot
pass.” When I see the lightning flash, I remember
that the lightning is His messenger.
When I hear the thunder roll, I remember that the thunder is His
voice. When I see the birds of the air,
I remember that not one of them falls to the ground without God. When I see the lilies of the field, I
remember that God clothes them. Oh, yes,
the world speaks of God. It is true, as
Coleridge sings in his magnificent “Hymn before
“Earth with her thousand voices praises God.”
But Nature does not tell all the secret. If we knew only what Nature tells we should be [Page 51] compelled to cry with the old Hebrew prophet, “Verily, Thou art a God that hidest Thyself.” After all Nature has to say, our entreaty is still, “Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name.”
(2) God’s name has been revealed to us more plainly in the Bible. In this book you have one name for God following another, and with every fresh name came new light. Westcott says that “the three chief stages in the history of the Old Testament are characterised in broad outline by the names under which God was pleased to make Himself known in each!” First He is El-Shaddai, the God of might. Then He is Jehovah, the Great I AM, the God of the covenant. Then He is Lord of Hosts, the King of the Universe, the Disposer of Events, the Ruler of the world. It was a great event in the history of men when God announced by His servants and prophets a new name for Himself: We talk about great discoveries - the discovery of a new mountain range, or river, or lake in the Dark Continent, the discovery of some new facts in the realm of science, the discovery of some new method of applying Nature’s forces to do men’s work. I am not saying these are not great discoveries, but I do say the greatest discovery that ever happens in this world of ours is the discovery [Page 52] of a new name for God. You have the history of those names, those discoveries in the Bible. To trace the giving of these names is to trace the history of men as they were being led out of darkness into His most marvellous light.
But who would not feel that, if the Bible stopped short at the book of Malachi, the light at best was only the dim and uncertain twilight. If the old book finished there, our cry would be still, “Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name.” Well, thanks be to Him, He has told us His name. He has kept nothing from us.
(3) God has revealed Himself fully to us in Jesus Christ. He had given glimpses of Himself to seers and prophets before. But God was greater and better than the best word even Isaiah had said about Him. And at last, when the fulness of time was come, God told the final truth about Himself by sending Jesus Christ into the world. He is the effulgence of His glory and the express image of His person. There are likenesses between human beings. We talk about “family likenesses.” There are striking resemblances between father and son, mother and daughter, brother and sister. But with the resemblances there are also differences. You can always distinguish [Page 53] between one and another. But between God and Jesus Christ the likeness is absolute. There are no differences. Jesus is the Word of God. He is what God is, expressed in terms of human thought and speech. God has kept nothing back from us. He has reserved no secret. You may enter into the holiest place by the blood of Jesus. What is God’s name? God’s name is Jesus Christ. In Jesus you get the full and final revelation of God’s character. God could not fully reveal Himself through nature. He could not have been pictured for us in a book. It was only in a life that God could fully reveal Himself, and that full revelation He gave in the life of His Son. When Philip said to Jesus, “Shew us the Father,” Jesus answered, “I and my Father are one. He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” Jesus was God’s answer to the cry of man – “Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name.” It is by looking at Jesus, then, that we discover the character of God. And if you ask me, after studying Christ’s life, what I find God’s character to be and what His best name is, I answer that His nature is love, and that the best name that describes Him is the name “Father.” When, then, Jesus tells us to pray, “Hallowed be Thy name,” He is telling us to honour God’s [Page 54] character as revealed in Himself. He is telling us to honour God as Father both in thought and life.
Now let me pass on to ask, How may we hallow God’s name? You remember the old commandment “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Well, we must give a strict obedience to that old commandment if we are to hallow God’s name. There are men in our midst who can scarcely utter a sentence without dragging in the name of God. They interlard their speech with oaths, and blasphemously use the name of the sacred Majesty on High. Such men dishonour and degrade the Holy Name. But if we imagine that by abstaining from the vulgar and wicked habit of swearing we have “hallowed God’s name,” we are much mistaken. The Jews of old gave scrupulous obedience to the letter of the command, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” but they violated its spirit. They were so scrupulous that they would not even pronounce the sacred name. They passed it over in silence; they would never tread upon a piece of paper lying on the ground for fear the sacred name might be written upon it. And yet the Jew, while giving this strict literal obedience to the command, was all the [Page 55] while violating its spirit, and by his sin, his greed, his hypocrisy, was dishonouring that God whose name he feared to pronounce.
And for the matter of that, there are people amongst us who attach, as the ancient Jews did, a superstitious reverence to the name, who treat it as if it were a charm; who pay an idolatrous worship to the mere word. I have been occasionally to services in the cathedrals and parish churches of our land, and I have noticed that the men and women who attend them will bow at “the name.” Now I am not prepared to say that act is wrong, but I am quite prepared to say that the tendency of all such practices is to make people imagine that God is to be honoured and worshipped by mere externalisms. The danger of such a practice is that of making people imagine they have “hallowed God’s name,” by bowing in church. Brethren, it is all a very pitiful delusion. What is the use of bowing at the name, if people go home to be selfish and unkind, or to their business to be hard and over-reaching; or into society to be gossips and tale-bearers? In spite of the outward respect they pay, such people dishonour God’s name, drag it through the mire, and make it the jest of blasphemers and fools. “Hallowing God’s name” does not mean bowing [Page 56] when that sacred name is pronounced: it means honouring the character of God, as that character has been made known to us in Jesus Christ. This is a prayer not simply for the man to pray who is fighting against the blaspheming habit, it is a prayer that the best of Christians may well utter. Well, how shall we “hallow God’s name?”
(1) By cherishing worthy ideas of God. We are dishallowing (if I may be allowed to use the word) God’s name when
we have unworthy ideas of His nature. We
are sinning against this name “Father” when we think of God as harsh, unkind, cruel. Our new theology may have its defects and its
dangers, but at any rate it “has hallowed God’s name.” It has made God more beautiful, more tender,
more loving and lovable. Do you know I
am not surprised that men broke out into revolt against the stern, hard,
pitiless theology of a century ago. Theologians were attributing to God conduct
that would be branded as hateful in men!
Augustine and Calvin have laid the Church under vast obligations, but when Augustine and Calvin talked about little infants being damned,
they were dishonouring God’s name, casting a slur upon His character, and
sinning against His Fatherhood.
There is an old painting in one [Page 57] of the Italian galleries which
pictures God as shooting arrows at men, and Jesus catching them before they
reached their mark. That picture
represents the spirit of much of the old theology. Christ is represented as kind and pitiful,
but God is represented as cruel, vengeful, vindictive. Brethren, that is a libel upon God. It is a cruel slander upon God’s
character. “God is love.” “God was in Christ,
reconciling the world unto Himself.”
“God so loved the world that He gave His only
begotten Son”. That is the true picture. Refuse to believe in anything that
contradicts that. Refuse to believe that
God can ever be guilty of what would be accounted base in man. Believe with
“Nothing can be good in Him, which evil is in me.”
Say with Browning, “Thou, God, art Love. I build my faith on that.” You must cherish lofty, beautiful, gracious thoughts of God if you are to hallow His name. And go on to know the Lord. There are depths of love in God, unrealised as yet by the best of us. I know a valley in South Wales, which outwardly is not much to look at, but in its bosom are buried vast treasures, and men who have digged beneath the surface have found there boundless [Page 58] wealth. The deeper we penetrate into the nature of God, the more loving, the more gracious we shall find Him to be. Therefore, press on to know Him, until you come to feel that God is your passion and your joy, that in earth, in heaven, you want none but Him. By so doing, you will be hallowing God’s name.
But God’s name must be hallowed not only in thought, but in life. So I pass on to say that not only can you hallow God’s name by cherishing worthy thoughts of God, but you can hallow God’s name also -
(2) By the trustfulness of your life.
Jesus has told
us God’s name of “Father” by quietly trusting Him.
You cannot dishonour a friend more than by refusing to trust him, can
suspicion, is an insult to friendship. A child cannot dishonour a father more than
by fearing him, being suspicious about him, doubting his love. Fear,* suspicion, distrust - these things are an
insult to fatherhood. Are we never
guilty of insulting the Fatherhood of God?
I have heard people sometimes complain of God, of God’s dealing with them
[* NOTE. Should we as His redeemed children (when disobedient to His precepts), not “fear” Him! Can we expect a holy and righteous Judge (Who out of love for our well-being) to treat us any different than what our actions of disobedience deserve! There is a “fear” of God which is “the beginning of wisdom!” Prov. 9: 10. “Fear” of God is healthy, Prov. 10: 27; 14:26, 27; 15: 16, 33; 19: 23; 22: 4; 23: 17; Eccl. 8: 12; 12: 13. Lk. 1: 50; Acts 9: 31: to be without “fear” of Him is unhealthy! Rom. 3: 18.]
(3) We can hallow God’s name of “Father” by our obedience. The Italian brigand will repeat the Pater
Noster and then go on with his robbery. The Mussul man will
interlard his filthiest talk with appeals to Allah. But nothing is so dishonouring to
God as profession without practice. God will have obedience and not sacrifice. God
was weary of the outward marks of respect the Jews paid Him, because all these
outward marks of reverence were accompanied by gross and persistent
disobedience of life. Does a child
want to honour his father? He cannot do
it better than by being an obedient child, by giving prompt and willing
obedience to his father’s commands. Do
you want to honour your Father in heaven?
Obey Him. Obey Him in the home;
obey Him in society; obey Him in your business; obey Him in your public and
political life. Obey Him promptly,
absolutely, willingly. That was how
Jesus hallowed His Father’s name. From
the earliest dawn of life He was about His Father’s business. It was His meat and drink to do God’s
will. He was born at
* * *
THE SECOND PETITION
“Thy Kingdom come.” - MATTHEW 6: 10; Luke 11: 2.
THE Bible is a
book of hope. It looks, not backward, but
forward. It has its face turned towards the light. It always speaks of “a best that is still to be.” We open its pages and we read of
But even in the story of that bitter loss I detect the note of
You perhaps remember the old Greek legend which says that when Pandora
was married to Epimetheus the gods gave her a box,
which was full of winged blessings, as a wedding present. As long as Pandora kept the box locked, so
long life was like a summer’s day. She
and her husband enjoyed every blessing.
But one day, tempted by curiosity, she opened the box, and on the
instant the little winged creatures who were locked inside took flight and left
her for ever. All? did I say. No, not
quite all. Hope remained at the
bottom of the box, the only blessing left to Pandora and her husband! And so exactly man lost everything by sin
except hope. When God made man He gave him every
blessing. But when man unmade himself,
these blessings took flight. He lost his
innocence, he lost his peace, he lost his happiness, he lost his home, he lost
everything but hope. God left him hope to comfort him in his bitter grief. God left him hope to save him from despair. [Page 64] When man’s night was blackest, God sent into his sky a star, a star that
was the promise of a day to come. In
pronouncing doom upon disobedient man, God also gave him a promise as if to
say, “It shall not always be midnight and deep despair
with thee. Thy dayspring shall again
arise.” That note of hope,
struck even in the story of the tragedy of the fall, is the keynote of the
Bible. The Bible is a book of the
future, and the spring-time, and the dawn. You will not find its pages taken up with
regrets for the
“Thy kingdom come.”
The prayer, you will notice, regards the “kingdom” as something still to
be realised. As yet it is in the future. In other places in the New Testament [Page 69] it is talked of as actually existent.
Both views are true - the kingdom is both present and future. You remember that when the Pharisees asked Jesus when
And yet, while the
What kind of kingdom is this? It is worth while
noticing that the “kingdom” occupied a large place in the thought and speech of
Christ. His gospel was a gospel of the
kingdom. He announced that He had come
to found a kingdom; He claimed the title “King” for [Page 71] Himself; and in what is known as
the Sermon on the Mount, He gave us, shall I say, the laws and rules of the
kingdom. Christ was not
the first to picture an “
Now let me go on to ask the question, What is the sphere of the kingdom? First let me say, the sphere of the kingdom is the individual heart. When I pray, “Thy kingdom come” I do not feel that I am praying
solely for the work of foreign missions.
I do not think only of the millions of heathen in
But in offering this prayer, we must not stop at ourselves. The prayer embraces the wide world in its sweep. Thy kingdom come! Where?
Everywhere. All nations are to
bow down before Him, all people are to serve Him. Men discuss the question sometimes as to
which race is likely to become the dominant race in the earth. We people who
live in this little island are inclined to believe that this splendid destiny [Page 75] is reserved for
the Anglo-Saxon race. We stand among the
nations for the principles of liberty and truth and justice; and as I heard Dr. Clifford say some months ago, we
believe that “the momentum of these ideas will carry
us to the government of the earth.”
And so far as
Let me now proceed to the question, “How is this kingdom to be
established?” - Let me first say how it cannot. It cannot be established by force. Alexander,
Caesar, Napoleon built up their empires with the sword, and cemented them
with blood, but not so is the
“Thy kingdom come.”
It is a prayer to-day; but the time will come when the prayer shall be
changed into praise, and we shall be able to say, “Thy
kingdom has come!” It has been
coming for eighteen hundred years, and it is not here yet; but doubt not, despair not, faint not, it SHALL COME. Men have called the visions such men as Plato
and Sir Thomas More have given us of the “
Break, triumphant day of God,
Break at last, our hearts to cheer;
Throbbing 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.
* * *
THE THIRD PETITION
“Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.” - MATTHEW 6: 10.
THE third petition, which is omitted from Luke’s version of the Prayer, springs directly and naturally out of the second petition, and is really explanatory of it. We have been taught to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” God’s kingdom will come, when His will is done on earth, as it is done in heaven.
The central idea of kingship is that of rule, authority, power. Kingship is only real and effective when the King commands and the people obey. In heaven God’s kingship is a reality. The eyes of all the inhabitants of the better land wait upon God. Cherubim and Seraphim, saints and angels, delight to do His will. In heaven, God speaks and it is done. This third petition is a prayer that men may learn to obey God as the angels do, so that His [Page 83] kingship may be as real and as effective here on earth as it is now in heaven.
Jurists draw a distinction between kings de jure - kings by legal right, and kings de facto - kings in actual possession and
exercise of the royal power. Now God, if
I may be allowed to say so, is the world’s King de jure. He is the world’s lawful Sovereign and rightful
Lord. “The earth is the Lord’s and the
fulness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein.” But God is not [at this present time]
King de facto.
His kingship is not effective.
His people do not obey. There are
large sections of the world, whole departments of human activity, where His
rule is not recognised.
And here we come across that solemn and awful power which is the prerogative of manhood - the power of resisting the will of God. Nature obeys God’s will. The flower that blooms in hedge-side or meadow; the lark that sings its way up to heaven’s gate in the spring sunshine; the rivers that roll towards [Page 85] the sea; the ocean with its regular ebb and flow; the sun and moon and stars observing their seasons and travelling along their appointed orbits - all these are what they are, and do what they do in obedience to God’s will. The wind is God’s messenger; the thunder His voice; the lightning His sword. Nature obeys God. And above, in heaven, the angels and the blest do God’s pleasure. “Thousands at His bidding speed, and post o’er land and ocean without rest.” Is there any one then who resists God’s will? Yes, there is one, just one, and that one is man. In all God’s universe he is the only one who is disobedient. He is the only one who clenches his fist and says “No” to God. He is the only one invested with the terrible power of resisting, thwarting, opposing the will of God. And that awful power he possesses because he possesses a free and independent will of his own. God made man, we are told, in His own likeness. The special feature that marks man off from the brute creation and links him on to the Divine, is his possession of moral freedom. God is a moral Being. Man, too, is a moral being. But in order to make man a moral being, God had to limit Himself and make man free. For there can be no [Page 86] moral quality where there is no freedom. Nature is unmoral because nature acts under necessity. Man is not under necessity. He can either obey or disobey. He is a moral being because he is free.
Now all the misery of the world is due to the fact that man abused his freedom, that he chose not to obey, but to disobey. What was the first sin? An act of disobedience; and that act of disobedience brought in its train a multitude of woes. I want you to remember that vice is not here by God’s will; lust is not here by God’s will; strife and malice and envy are not here by God’s will; war and bloodshed and slaughter are not here by God’s will; misery and poverty and shame are not here by God’s will. They are here by man’s will, because man set up his own will in opposition to that of God. The secret of the world’s unhappiness and sorrow and pain you will find in these familiar words of the General Confession, “We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.” “Selfishness,” as Bishop Westcott says, “lies at the root of all sin.” Here is the fountain of the world’s woe, that man preferred his own will rather than the will of God. While man was obedient there was happiness and joy, happiness that lasted. As John Milton says - [Page 87]
- till disproportioned Sin
Jarr’d against nature’s chime, and with harsh din
Broke the fair music that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion sway’d
In perfect diapason, whilst they stood
In first obedience and their state of good.
But from that day, that day of disobedience, the whole creation has been groaning and travailing together in pain until now. But to discover the fountain of the disease is also to discover the secret of the remedy. If the world owes its present misery to the fact that man has followed his own will, the world will see its perfect day when man submits his own will to the will of God. “Come and let us return” is the prophet’s cry, “let us get back to the old allegiance.” “Come and let us return” is the preacher’s call to-day. The way to the millennium is along the path of obedience. When God’s kingship is real and effective, because men everywhere are obedient, the Golden Age will have dawned. The new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness will be a blessed fact when -
We learn with God to win one will,
To do and to endure.
“Thy Will be done!” This petition teaches us that it must be our supreme desire that God [Page 88] may have His way with us. You will notice, as I pointed out a Sunday or two ago, that this petition comes before the petitions for personal blessing. It is infinitely more important that God’s will should be done than that we should have the things upon which we have set our hearts. “Thy will be done!” Do you not feel humbled and reproached by this petition? I will speak for myself, and say that this petition and its place in the prayer put me to utter shame. Why, our very prayers are selfish! A secularist once said with a sneer that “prayer was a machine warranted by theologians to make God do whatsoever His clients want.” Have not our prayers given some ground for the sneer? Have not our wants and interests occupied too large a place in our petition? This is the true order in prayer - God first. This is the petition that must dominate every other, “Thy will be done.”
Let me not be misunderstood. I am far from saying it is wrong to tell God about our personal wishes and desires. No! Tell Him everything. There ought to be no reserve in the conversation between a child and his Father. I am not afraid or ashamed to tell God about my personal affairs. I ask Him to preserve me from trouble and loss. I ask Him to keep me [Page 89] safe from harm and danger. I ask Him to ward off from me sickness and suffering. I ask Him to watch over those I love. But there is another prayer I must learn to pray, another prayer I must learn to pray first - and oh! what a lot of learning it takes - and that prayer is this, “Thy will be done.” For it may be God’s will to send me the very things I shrink from. He may see that it is the discipline of trouble and loss and sickness that I need. I am but as a little child, blind and ignorant as a little child, and when I pray for temporal gifts, I may be only praying to my own hurt. This is the only prayer for me, for you, for all men, “Father, Thy will be done.” We wish for success in life, but because such a success might prove a curse and not a blessing, we must add, “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.” We pray for freedom from bereavement and sorrow, but because such discipline may result in truest blessedness, we add, “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.” We pray for peace and comfort and quietness, but because struggle and conflict may be necessary, in order to make us strong, we add, “Nevertheless not my will but Thine be done.” We have not learned to pray truly at all, until every petition in our prayers is made subject to this one; until it becomes [Page 90] our chief and supreme desire that God’s will may be done.
Will it be hard? Hard? I know of nothing harder. This is the great feat of life. You can only learn to say “Thy will be done” through struggle and agony and heartbreak. This old Book compares the agony through which men must pass before they learn sincerely to pray this prayer, to the agony inflicted by the plucking out of an eye or the cutting off of a limb. Obedience to God leads to the land of blessedness and peace, but the gate by which we enter - the gate of self-denial - is a narrow gate, and we have to agonise to enter in. God has a will for each of us, and His will concerning us often clashes with our own. The desires of the flesh and of the mind hanker after earthly comfort and wealth and ease. God’s will concerning us is, that whatever the cost and the pain, we should be clean and honest and true. Scarcely a day passes but our desires and the will of God for us come into violent conflict. To surrender our own wills, to make God’s will ours, means pain. It is a dying. It is a crucifixion. But there are one or two considerations of which I would like to remind you, which ought to make this surrender easier for us. This is the first:-
(1) The will we are asked to make our own is our Father’s will. “Thy will be done!” Whose will? Our Father’s will! After all, it ought not to be very difficult to obey a father’s will, to fulfil a father’s desire, even when that will runs counter to our own, for we know there is love in the case. Remember, you are not asked to obey a despot; you are not asked to obey a tyrant; you are not asked to obey a slave-driver; you are asked to do the will of your Father - your Father, whose love is only to be measured by the Cross of Jesus Christ. It was the remembrance that the will He was called upon to obey was His Father’s will, that helped Jesus in the Garden. It was a hard thing for our Lord to say “Thy will be done,” when He knew that involved the Cross and the Grave for Jesus, let me say it with all reverence, had all a man’s feelings, and He shrank from the bitter agony and shame. He would gladly have escaped the Cross and the Tomb. “If it be possible, let this cup pass.” Then he remembered it was His Father who was bidding Him drink that bitter cup. That thought steadied Him, gave Him courage, made Him strong, He was ready for anything and everything that His Father appointed. “The cup which the Father hath given me to drink shall I not drink [Page 92] it?” We, too, shall be strong to make God’s will our own, when we remember it is our Father’s will. For our Father is love - love at its best and highest. Mr. Spurgeon tells a story about a man who had in his garden a weather-cock which had on it this inscription, “God is Love.” A friend seeing it asked if it was meant to imply that God’s love was as fickle as the wind. “No,” was the reply, “I mean that from whatever quarter the wind may happen to blow, God is still love.” Bear that in mind - God is love; the will you are asked to obey is your Father’s will. Then, though that will ordain for us sorrow, sickness, pain, loss, we shall have grace to say, “Thy will be done.”
The second consideration which I would impress upon you is this:-
(2) God’s will ever seeks our highest good. What else could any one expect, seeing that it is our Father’s will? How we who are parents plan and scheme and contrive in order to secure a happy and prosperous future for our children! In exactly the same way God plans and purposes for us. He is always thinking upon us for our good. His will, says the Apostle, is our sanctification. It is a good and perfect and acceptable will. The very discipline through which He sometimes calls upon us to [Page 93] pass is meant to build us up in patience [perseverance] and purity and faith. The boy in school is apt to regard his lessons as a hardship. He would prefer the field and the sunshine to the schoolroom and the desk. But in after years he will be thankful he did not get his own way in the days of his youth, for he will recognise then that the hours he spent over his Algebraic problems and his Latin declensions enriched his life by contributing to the culture of his mind. We are scholars in God’s schools. The discipline of the school is painful sometimes; but in later years we shall be thankful even for our sorrows and losses and bereavements, when we see how they have enriched our lives by contributing to the culture of our souls. Yes, it will be easier to embrace God’s will when we realise with the Apostle that all things work together for good to them that love God.
Thy will be done! Notice, God,s will is not simply to be endured or suffered - it is to be DONE. In our every-day speech we have unduly narrowed the scope and meaning of this petition. We talk about this petition as if it were a prayer that God would give us the grace of resignation. It is in times of bereavement that this phrase leaps to the lips of men. It is upon tombstones that it is inscribed by sorrowing [Page 94] relatives. Again do not let me be misunderstood. Suffering God’s will is embraced in the scope of this prayer. To many of us the hardest part of all is patient submission to the will of God. The man bereft of wealth, stripped of all his possessions, flung back again into the poverty from which by hard and persistent effort he had emerged, needs grace to say, “Thy will be done.” The man who languishes upon a bed of sickness, who lies there helpless while perhaps wife and children look up to him for bread - he needs grace to say, “Thy will be done.” Those who have parted with some loved one, who have seen father or mother, or husband or wife or child, hidden from them in the dark cold grave, and who come home again to miss the well-loved face and familiar voice - they need grace to say, while their hearts are aching and their eyes are full of tears, “Thy will be done.” Some of you know how hard it is. You find it impossible almost to say, as Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Yes, it is hard to be submissive and resigned, and it is out of a broken heart the prayer often ascends, “Thy will be done.”
But this prayer is much more than a prayer for the grace of
resignation and patient [Page 95] submission. The petition is not “Help
us to suffer thy will”
but “Help US
to DO it.” This is not a prayer simply for the invalid
and the mourner and the bereaved; it is a prayer also for those who are happy
and well and strong. This is not a
prayer simply for our times of trouble and our days of deep distress; it is a
prayer for all times and every day. It is not every day, nor every month, nor even every year, that we are
called upon to suffer God’s will, but not a day, not an hour passes, but we are called upon TO
DO it. Do not narrow
the scope of this prayer. You prayed
this morning, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?
What did you mean by it? I will
tell you what you ought to have meant by it: “Help me,
0 God, to do what Thou wouldest have me do, to be what Thou wouldest have me.” That is what the prayer means. It means that we accept God’s plans and
purposes as our own, and resolve to realise them. You can pray no nobler prayer than this, for in the doing of God’s will lies the secret of the perfect life. We look at the life of Jesus - so beautiful,
so pure, so perfect - and we are lost in wonder and rapture. But the secret of that life is here: Jesus
from the beginning to the close of life was intent on doing God’s will. He Himself let us into the [Page 96] secret. “I am come,” He said, “not to do My own
will, but the will of the Father who sent Me.”
“My meat and drink,” He said, on another occasion, “is to do the
will of Him that sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”
When a boy of twelve He had come to the sublime decision that every
moment of His life should be spent in doing His Father’s business. Do not commit the mistake of thinking that it
was only in Gethsemane and the judgment Hall and on
Look at the qualifying words that follow: “as in heaven so on earth.” Heaven supplies the pattern for earth. I have just two words to say about the way in which God’s will is done in heaven - (1) It is done cheerfully. Saints and angels [will] find their highest joy in doing God’s will. If earth is to be like heaven in this respect, we must obey God cheerfully. God wants no grudging service. Our obedience must be glad, willing, free. God’s will can not be done by us as it is done in heaven, until we can say sincerely, “I delight to do Thy will, 0 my God, yea, Thy law is within my heart.” (2) It is done by ALL. You will look in vain in the heavenly land for the disobedient and the refractory and the rebellious. [After the time of Resurrection]*, Heaven is perfectly happy, because all its people are perfect in their obedience. Before earth can be like heaven, God’s will must be done by ALL. It is done to-day only by a Few. There are multitudes who rebel against Him. When these return to their allegiance, the day of God will break.
[* 2 Tim. 2: 17, 18. cf. John 3: 13; 14: 3; 1 Thess. 4: 14-17; Rev. 6: 9-11; 20: 4-6.]
Thy will be done! This petition calls our attention to the most crying and urgent need of our day, the need of a simpler and more implicit [Page 99] obedience. It is not more knowledge of God’s will that we want, but grace to put in practice what we know. What is the use of coming here to-day to hear God’s will declared, if to-morrow in our business life, we deliberately flout and reject it? I venture to say this, that if to-morrow and the following days we only did what we know our Lord desires us to do, we should revolutionise the life of this town. And will you suffer me to remind you that it is not to those who make a profession and parade of religion that heaven is promised, but to those who faithfully and loyally obey. “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven.”
* * *
“Give us this day our daily bread.” - MATTHEW 6: 11.
“Give us day by day our daily bread.” - LUKE 11: 3.
The petition which we are to study together this morning opens the second part of the Lord’s Prayer. Up to this point our petitions have all been concerned with God’s glory and praise. We have prayed “Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Having thus observed the rule, “first things first,” having sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we are now at liberty to pass on to secondary things, and to offer up to God petitions for personal blessings. And the first petition we are taught to offer is this, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We begin at the very bottom. We start the list of personal petitions with a prayer for “daily bread.”
Will you notice what a gracious light this petition throws upon the condescension of God? Our Lord is the high and Holy One, who inhabits eternity, and yet He stoops to lowly folk and lowly things. “The Lord thinketh upon me.” Whatsoever concerns me is of concern to Him. “Give me bread” is not too humble a petition to bring into the presence of the great White Throne. A one-sided notion of the majesty of God has led men oftentimes to feel that the ordinary little cares of a human life are quite too insignificant and trifling for Him to notice. “God is so busy,” they say; “He has so many things to think about, that we ought not to trouble Him with our little anxieties and worries. Such petty things are quite beneath the dignity of His attention.” That was exactly how the disciples felt long ago, when they were for driving away those mothers who had brought their little children for Christ to bless. They felt that the great Preacher, on whose lips vast crowds hung, ought not to be bothered about babies. They thought that Christ had so many things of importance to think about, that it was absurd to expect Him to take notice of little children. The same kind of feeling has possessed many of the men who have commented on this petition. Many of the old [Page 102] church fathers, and indeed many modern commentators, refuse to believe that this is a prayer for ordinary food, for mere bread. They cannot persuade themselves that a petition for so commonplace a thing as bread could possibly find a place for itself in the Model Prayer. This is too trifling a request to trouble God about. So they cast about for some other than the obvious and literal meaning of the sentence, something which they imagine is more dignified, and satisfy themselves at last by saying that bread here means spiritual bread, food for the soul, the Bread of Life. But the simple and obvious meaning of the phrase is, after all, the true one. Erasmus, the great sixteenth century Grecian, thought a reference to physical food would be incongruous “in so heavenly a prayer.” But far from being incongruous, the prayer becomes more gracious and beautiful because this petition for bread is in it! The picture of Christ, which is given us in the Gospels, is all the more winsome for the story which tells us that He took the little children in His arms and blessed them; and the character of God becomes all the more beautiful when we see His love stooping even to caring for our commonest wants. “Give us bread.” This petition asks God to supply our primary physical wants. It [Page 103] is not an unworthy petition. It is not too trivial a request to bring to God; for God is not a God simply for great crises, supreme emergencies, tremendous catastrophes: He is a God for every day, and for the common events of every day. Our God is, shall I say, a Master of detail. He cares not simply for the movements of worlds and the policies of nations. He notes the fall of a sparrow, and He counts the very hairs of our head. Nothing is too small for God to notice; the commonest affairs of the commonest life are matters of concern to Him.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” Will you notice! -
(1) That this prayer proclaims the fact of our dependence upon God for the very simplest of boons. “Give us bread.” At first glance we might be tempted to think this was a poor man’s prayer; a prayer for the man who is face to face with hunger; a prayer for the man who does not know to-day how he is going to live through to-morrow; a prayer for the man whose balance at the bank has been exhausted, and whose last shilling has been spent; a prayer for the man whose cupboard is empty, and who has nothing in basket or store. “But,” we say, “this is not a prayer [Page 104] for a rich man; this is not a prayer for a man whose barns and storehouses ate full; this is not a prayer for those who are nursed in the lap of luxury - the well-to-do, the affluent, the millionaire.” This is a prayer for Lazarus, not for Dives. But, as a matter of fact, I do not read that Jesus anywhere says that this is a petition the rich men need not offer. In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, you will find that some of the prayers, e.g., the general thanksgiving and the prayer for all sorts and conditions of men - contain petitions which may be inserted or omitted according to the circumstances of the congregation. Such petitions you will find printed in italics and enclosed in brackets, and the instruction is given at the side, that such a petition is only to be used when any members of the congregation specially desire it. But this petition is not printed in italics. It is not enclosed in brackets. There is no instruction at the side to say, “This petition is to be offered by a congregation of the poor, but may be omitted by a congregation of the rich.” Oh no! there it stands in the body of the prayer. Before it you will find the command of Christ “When ye pray, say, Give us this day our daily bread.” There are no exceptions made. This is a prayer for all men, for the prince as well as the [Page 105] pauper, for the rich as well as the poor - “Give us this day our daily bread.”
And it is thus a prayer for all, because all are absolutely dependent upon God. We have nothing which we have not
received. Every good and perfect gift
cometh from above from the Father of Light, with whom is no variableness
neither shadow cast by turning. In God
we live and move and have our being. All
men depend upon God, and they depend upon him for everything. For life, for breath, for vigour of mind, for
strength of body, we all depend on Him.
And nowhere is this utter dependence of man upon God more clearly seen
than in the matter of DAILY BREAD. The possession of wealth is apt to blind us
to the fact of our dependence.
Men who are
rich and increased with goods are always in danger of thinking they have need
of nothing. Men whose affairs have
prospered, like the rich fool in the parable, are always prone to think
themselves secure and safe for future years, and say to their souls as he said,
thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and
be merry.” Why, we talk ourselves about a man who has
private property which brings him in a few hundreds a year being “independent.”
Independent of what? [Page 106] Independent of whom? It
is not simply that wealth has a curious trick sometimes of taking to itself
wings and flying away; it is not simply that life is full of instances of
tragic vicissitudes of fortune; it is not simply that we see the supposed
possessor of millions the friend of titled lords one day, figuring in the
Bankruptcy Court the next. Even assuming that riches when made can be kept, of
whom is a man “independent”? Why, though you had the wealth of the Rothschilds, you would still be as dependent upon God for
mere bread as the meanest pauper in
Now, let me pass on to speak, in the second place, of:
(2) The modesty and simplicity of the request made in this prayer, “Give us this day our daily BREAD.” “Bread” that is what is asked for - the bare necessities of life. As T. T. Lynch quaintly puts it, “This is a prayer for daily bread, not for daily cake.” And as if to emphasise the modesty of the request, it is not for the necessities of a lifetime, but for the [Page 109] necessities of to-day that we are to ask. “Give us this day our daily bread.” The adjective which is translated “daily” is a word that has caused scholars no end of trouble. It is found nowhere else in literature, either sacred or profane, and there have been at least thirty different meanings assigned to it. But only two interpretations need be considered. One is that which we have in our familiar version of the prayer, “daily bread”; the other would make the word to mean “sufficient for my sustenance.” The old Syriac version translates it “bread for my need.” So that you will notice that whichever interpretation is adopted “human wants,” as Godet says, “are here reduced to the minimum.” We are to pray for bread; we are to pray for only as much of that as will suffice for the day, or meet our present needs. The spirit of this petition is that of the prayer of Agur of old, “Feed me with food convenient for me.”
I cannot help feeling that our modern life, with its
insatiable appetite for wealth and its love of luxury, stands rebuked by this
prayer. Men in these days desire not
simply enough for their wants; they desire more than enough - more even than
they can use. They struggle and strain
that they may get a superfluity; and [Page 110] the result is poverty at one end of
the social scale, and luxury, extravagance and waste at the other. Now, I am not prepared to say that to acquire
wealth is wrong. But I am prepared to say this, and in saying it I base myself on our Lord’s
own words, wealth and the luxury it buys are perilous to the best interests of
On that hard, Roman world, disgust
And secret loathing fell;
Deep weariness and sated lust
Made human life a hell.
Wealth is as perilous
as ever it was. Luxury still corrupts
the soul. Plain living is most conducive
to high thinking. It is easier always to
be a Christian in a peasant’s hut than in Caesar’s household. For the Christian life is a simple, spare -
may I not say a severe life. Therefore Christ warned us against riches when he
hardly shall they that [Page 111] have riches enter into the
Let me go on to notice further that in offering this prayer:-
(3) We pray for others as well as
How does the
petition read? “Give US this day
our daily bread.”
The prayer is in the plural, not the singular.
It is not “Give ME,” but “Give US” our daily bread. Christ will not let
us forget the fact of brotherhood. He
will not let us forget that we are members of a great [redeemed] family. He will
not let us forget what moderns call “the solidarity of
the race.” We must pray for
others as well as
ourselves. Christ when He was on earth
gave us an improved edition of the commandments. Moses had ten commandments in
his code. Jesus reduced them to
two. And the two commands in the code of
Christ were – “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with
all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength,” and second, “Thou shalt
love thy neighbour as thyself.” Now this petition
illustrates that second commandment, and embodies its spirit. We are “loving our neighbours as ourselves”
when we say [Page 112] “Give us!”
This is a prayer for our brother’s need, for our brother’s want. We are remembering him, bearing his burden when
we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
When we uttered that prayer this morning we were praying for the poor
and needy everywhere - the poor in Bournemouth, the poor in vast
Yet again notice that in offering this prayer we pray:
(4) For what is legitimately and honestly our own. “Give us,” so runs the petition, “our daily bread.” I do not think it is at all fanciful to interpret this pronoun OUR, as Dr. Dods does, to mean that the bread we pray for must be our own and not another’s; that is to say, it must be fairly earned and honestly come by. “Except a man work,” so says the Scripture, “neither shall he eat.” The divine law is that the bread a man eats should be bread won by his own labour. But there are plenty of people in this world who try to live out of the labour of other people. They are busy, as the saying is, “taking the bread out of other people’s mouths.” They do this not simply by deception and theft and robbery - they do it also by unfair competition, by false dealing, by bogus company promoting, by stock-exchange gambling, by oppression, injustice and wrong. There are those among us [Page 114] who devote their talents to the task of drawing hard-earned money out of the pockets of English people without giving value in return. They want to live and grow fat on the bread of others, not on bread of their own earning. But what we have to pray for is our own bread, bread honestly and fairly earned. That little word “our” stands there to warn us against all dishonesty, trickery, fraud, injustice. The man of business must be able to say that every sovereign of his profits has been gained by fair and honest trading. The artisan must be able to say that every penny in his week’s wage has been earned by good and faithful labour. The master who pays his men less than their due, the man who wastes his master’s time, the shopkeeper who resorts to sharp practices - in fact, any one who strives to get hold of money otherwise than by fairly and squarely earning it, are all sinning against the spirit of this prayer which teaches us to say, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Just one word more before I close. I have said that the primary and essential reference of this petition is to bread, this material bread that nourishes the life of our bodies. But we need not exclude altogether from our thoughts that spiritual bread, that Bread of Life, to which the old Fathers saw reference here. Man does [Page 115] not live by bread alone. Man is not a mere animal. God breathed into man the breath of life, and he became a living soul. And the soul needs fit nourishment even as the body does, and that fit nourishment the soul finds in Jesus Christ. He is the “Bread of Life.” This petition is also the right prayer for the hungering soul, “Give us this day our daily bread,” for our souls need a daily supply. The supply of yesterday will not do for to-day, any more than yesterday’s dinner will suffice us for to-day’s work. You cannot live on the memory of past spiritual experiences. You cannot live on the remembrance of blessed fellowship with your Lord held long ago. You cannot live on the recollection of mercies received months or years back. For every day you need a fresh gift of grace. The manna of old only held good for one day. It had to be gathered fresh every morning. The manna of one day grew corrupt and worthless before the next. So it is with the bread of our souls. You must get it fresh every day. For every day you must get new stores of grace. This is the prayer for you and me, “Give us this day our daily bread.” GIVE! yes, this also is a gift. You cannot buy “the Bread of Life.” Its price has never been quoted in the markets. No money could [Page 116] purchase it. But what no money could purchase is offered to you and me for nothing. God never sells. God is a king, He gives. Buy? No, you cannot buy. Can you, buy pardon? Can you buy peace? Can you buy redemption? Can you buy heaven? No, you cannot buy; but what you cannot buy God will give. Listen, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money come ye, buy and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Listen again, “Everyone that thirsteth let him come and take of the water of life freely.” Listen yet again, “The gift of God is eternal life.” Giving! This is royal giving. Hungering souls come to God - come to God for the Bread of Life. There is in the Father’s house enough and to spare; why hunger ye any more? Why spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Your father is waiting to give you all you need. He is only waiting to hear you say, “Evermore give us this bread.”
* * *
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” - MATTHEW 6: 12.
“And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us.” - LUKE 11: 4.
My exposition of the Lord’s Prayer brings me this morning to speak a few simple words upon the two great fundamental facts of the Gospel - man’s need of forgiveness, and God’s willingness to bestow it.
The petition immediately preceding this one is the prayer for daily bread. We are absolutely dependent upon God for our very existence; so our Lord teaches us to ask God for the food - the material bread that is to sustain our physical life from day to day. But “man shall not live by bread alone.” There is another hunger than hunger of the body - there is a hunger of the soul; and what the soul hungers for [Page 118] is pardon, forgiveness, and the peace forgiveness always brings. So when we have prayed for bread we have not come to an end. We have another prayer to offer. We have a larger request to make. We have a greater boon to ask - “Give us this day our daily bread, AND forgive us our sins.”
The question has often been asked, “Is life worth living?” By some the question is answered without reservation in the affirmative, by others in the negative. For myself, I am not prepared to answer either “Yes” or “No.” My reply would be, “It all depends.” Life, it seems to me, is not worth having if it be not lived in the sunshine of God’s smile. Life is not worth having if God’s face is turned away from us. Life is not worth having if our sins interpose themselves like a black frowning cloud between us and the Eternal Light. To make life worth living, life must be made happy and blessed and peaceful, and before life can be made happy that barrier of sin must be removed, and we must walk in the light of God’s countenance. The prayer for bread is a prayer for life - for mere existence. But mere existence may be a doubtful boon. To some the prolongation of life simply means the prolongation of misery. Why should men pray for the [Page 119] continuance of a life which is radically wretched? There are multitudes in our world more inclined to pray for swift death than for long life. They say, with Charles Kingsley, “The sooner it’s over, the sooner to sleep.” No, it is not mere life, it is not life at any price, but it is the blessed, the peaceful life we want. So we go on to pray for a gift greater far than the gift of bread; we go on to pray for that which alone can make life tolerable, welcome, really worth living; we go on to pray for mercy, pardon, reconciliation, peace. “Father, forgive us our sins.”
“Sin” is an ugly word, a word that stands for the ugliest, most terrible fact in the universe of God. The world was fair and bright till sin entered it; all its wretchedness is the result of sin. Man was pure and happy till sin entered; his foulness and broken-heartedness are the result of sin. The Bible looks at this terrible fact of sin, and fails to find a single word large enough to describe it in all its many aspects of horror. It employs various words for this one terrible thing according as it views it from different standpoints. Looking at it from the standpoint of the true end of human life, sin is a “missing of the mark.” The chief end of man is to glorify God. The sinner fails in [Page 120] that. He misses the mark. Sin from this point of view means failure, defeat, disaster. The Bible looks at sin from the standpoint of Law, the Divine Law written in the nature and on the conscience of man, and brands sin as lawlessness. Every single sin is a trespass, a transgression, and overstepping of the bounds. The Bible looks at sin from the standpoint of prudence, and stigmatises sin as folly - the most stupendous and senseless of all follies. The sinner is a man who, for a few moments of delirious excitement, barters away his [inheritance* and] immortal soul. The Bible looks at sin from the standpoint of God, and sin then becomes disobedience, or, as in the text quoted from Matthew, it becomes “debt.”
[* Heb. 12: 14-17.]
Perhaps we are too apt to think of sin only in its effect upon ourselves. We think of the blight it brings upon human character and the ruin it makes in human lives. It is terrible to us because it always brings a curse with it. We fear and dread sin, not always because of its own intrinsic horror, but because of the penalties it inevitably entails; so that all too often our very fear of sin has it roots in selfishness, and springs out of self-love. I want to say to you that we shall never see sin in its naked horror, we shall never see it in its awful [Page 121] hatefulness, until we look at it from another standpoint. We sin not against ourselves alone, but against God. David, in the great crime of his life, had sinned against Uriah, whose blood he had caused to be shed, and against Bathsheba, the partner of his sin, and against his own soul; but when under the faithful speech of Nathan he was brought to see that awful sin of his in its true light, he lost sight of himself, and Bathsheba and Uriah; he could only think of the God he had flouted and outraged and grieved, and this was the agonised cry that broke from his lips, “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight.” Then comes in the enormity of sin. It is sin against God! Let me illustrate what I mean from our ordinary human life. Say that a son who has been loved at home and has been the pride of his mother’s heart, falls into disgrace and is brought up in the police courts charged with some shameful deed. If such a son has any sensibility at all, his sin will appear hateful to him, not so much because it has brought disgrace and loss of liberty to himself, but because away at his home a mother’s heart is well nigh broken with shame and grief. That will be the keenest stab of pain such a lad will suffer. It is the picture [Page 122] of his heart-broken mother that will make him loathe and despise and hate his sin. It is then we shall see the hatefulness of sin, when we occupy David’s standpoint, and say, “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned.” Even though sin entailed no loss to the sinner, involved no penalty, brought with it no curse, it would remain still utterly loathsome and hateful if we only realised that every sin of ours caused grief and pain to the heart of the eternal God, our loving Father in heaven.
Now that is the point of view from which sin is regarded in this prayer. It is against God! Matthew uses the word “debt.” As Dr. Morison says, “When we sin there is something in our act for which we become liable to God. Formerly He had a claim upon us; now He has a claim against us.” The sins of our past history are included in this word “debt.” They have not done with us, though we try to persuade ourselves that we have done with them! Ah! what a relief it would be if we could only be sure that sin when once committed was over and done with for ever! But it is not so! These sins of ours enrol themselves in a great book of accounts; not one is omitted; not one is overlooked; not one is forgotten. Do we try to persuade ourselves that somehow or other [Page 123] the sins of the past have been lost sight of? Do we try to flatter ourselves that they have been buried in the dust of the years? That is a vain hope. There are no mistakes, no omissions in the eternal account books. The ink of those books never fades. There every sin is enrolled. There you see them - a long, black, damning list. That is your DEBT. Sins of commission - the evil words we have spoken, the evil deeds we have done, they are all there. Sins of omission are there as well. In fact, I fancy that it is to sins of this class that the word “debt” specially points. “Debt” is something we owe. In relation to God it is something we owed to Him and failed to pay. So it stands here for the many things we ought to have done, which we have left undone.
There are some of us who perhaps flatter ourselves that we have never committed any flagrant sin. We are not blasphemers; we are not drunkards; we are not profligates; we have never committed theft or adultery or murder; we have never been guilty of any crime that has brought us to public shame; and on the strength of that we are half inclined to think that the name “sinner” is not applicable to us. But notice how this word “debt” lays hold of even the most respectable of us. [Page 124] There are certain things we owe to God. We owe Him reverence. Have we given it to Him? We owe Him obedience. Have we given it to Him? We owe Him service. Have we given it to Him? We owe Him our heart’s best love. Have we given it to Him? We owe Him the first place in our thoughts and affections. Have we given it to Him? We owe Him complete self-surrender. Have we given it to Him? Ask yourselves these questions. Probe your hearts with them. Face them frankly and honestly. Have you given God perfect obedience, the best love of your hearts, the first place in your lives? Oh, how such questions humble us! How they cover us with shame and confusion! Looking back over my own life, I can see how my years have been marred and disfigured by my failure to give to God what He has a right to expect. I can see that I have not reverenced Him as I ought; that I have not obeyed Him as I ought; that I have not placed Him first, as I ought. When I begin to ask myself if I have done what God expects from me, my pride all disappears, my heart is pierced as with sharp swords, my self-satisfaction is torn to shreds, and I am humbled to the dust; for as I look back every day tells its tale of things left undone which I ought to have done, [Page 125] and these sins of omission rise up before me - a mountain load of debt which I owe to God.
DEBT! what a terrible word that is to every true and honest man! There are multitudes who would prefer to bear privation and poverty rather than run into debt. The workhouse is bad enough, but better the workhouse than “debt.” But will you suffer me to say that “debtors” we all of us are? “We have all sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We have come short - we have given God less than His due; He has a claim against us; we are “in debt” to Him. And the debt is one that cannot be expressed in the figures and coinage of earth. It is a debt that money can never pay. I have heard sometimes of men who, when they have found themselves in financial difficulties, have called their creditors together, and have said to them, “If you will but give me time, I will pay you all in full”; and from time to time we read in our newspapers of honourable men discharging with interest debts they had incurred years before. Can we do something like that with this debt we owe to God? Can we work it off in the days and years that are to come? I cannot hold out to you any hope of doing that. Work as hard as you like to please God to-day, [Page 126] when the day is done, what will you have to say? Just this, “We have been unprofitable servants - we have only done what we ought.” Only what we ought - there is no margin, nothing over, which you can apply to the reduction of the old debt. The arrears of obligation are untouched. May I venture to say that, before night comes, by some sin or other, you will have added to the debt? It would be as easy to bale the ocean dry as to hope by your own efforts to pay this debt. It would be as easy - nay, it would be infinitely easier - to count the sands of the seashore than to remove this mountain load of obligation. Try your best, and you will fail as Paul failed, as Luther failed. Spite of your best efforts the debt - that crushing debt - goes on increasing. Well, what can you do? You can do nothing. Sin past and present, sin of commission and omission, sin - that long, black, damning record that stands against your name in the eternal account book - what can you do with it? How can you remove it? How can you blot it out? How can you bury it out of sight and mind? How can you erase out of the book that fatal story? You say you must have something done, or that debt will strangle you. What can you do to be delivered from [Page 127] this body of death? My brother, you can do nothing; you cannot pay the debt, you cannot blot out the sin, you cannot erase the record from the book. Do your best, and at the end you will be “in debt.” But you say, “Can nothing be done? Am I, then, doomed to ruin and to death? Is there no way of paying this debt?” Here is the gospel in a nutshell. Here is the good news, old as the centuries, but new in your ears and mine to-day. Something can be done! You can do nothing, I can do nothing, but God, the God against whom we have sinned, He can do everything. He can remove that mountain load of debt. He can blot out that fatal record in the book. He can erase every entry. He can bury our sins out of sight for ever. We can never pay that overwhelming debt; but HE, He can give us our account back with “Settled” written at the bottom of it. Oh yes, here is the Gospel: Sin in man, but forgiveness in God; debt in man, but mercy in God. “Where sin doth abound there grace doth much more abound.”*
[* See Num. 14: 20. cf. 1 Cor. 10: 5-14; Heb. 10: 26-38; 12: 14.]
Listen, as to what God will do with your sins and mine! He will cancel the debt! He will blot out the handwriting that was against us and put it out of the way, nailing it to the Cross of Christ! He will erase that fatal [Page 128] record in the book! He will remember our sins against us no more. As far as the east is from the west, so far will He remove our transgressions from us. Listen to His invitation and His gracious promise, “Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool.” This is the Gospel - this is the good news. There is something greater, stronger even than the sin of man, and that is the grace of God. I can see a limit to human sin. I can see no limit to the Divine mercy.
Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to pardon all my sin.
Yes, there is mercy with God! There is forgiveness with Him! The wonder of the world still is that the God against whom we have sinned is the One who will take our sin away.
All souls that were, were forfeit once,
And He that might the vantage best have took
Found out the remedy.
That remedy was the Cross of Christ. It is He, the sinless Jesus, who has cancelled
the debt. “He died for us according to
It is His pierced hand that shall [Page 129] blot out the record of our sins. It is in His life-blood that we are to be
washed free from every stain. It is at
the foot of His Cross our sins are to be buried. Christ the sinless one is the
Lamb of God. He hath borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us
all. This is the Gospel. There is a debt against us we can never hope
to pay. But God for Christ’s sake will
cancel it. There are sins which crush us
with their weight and burden, but God for Christ’s sake will take them all
away. There are stains upon us - black and
deep and foul; but the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin. Just as
the snow descends from heaven and hides all the grime and filth of earth
underneath its mantle until the whole surface is one pure glistening white, so
God will let His mercy cover us; He will clothe us in righteousness until every
stain is covered and we stand forth whiter than snow. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto
Himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses. The Cross proclaims that there is forgiveness
with God. And I want to preach the free
glad Gospel of the Cross to you this morning.
I want to say to you sin-stricken, perishing, dying men and women, there
is forgiveness [Page 130] with God. There is nothing which His mercy
cannot do. There is no sin too great, no
guilt too black for Him to pardon.
A poor criminal in
E’er since by faith I saw the stream
His flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.
Well! and what was the price of pardon? I can tell you what
it cost God. It cost God the death of
His own, His only Son. The Cross was
necessary to make pardon possible.
“Without shedding of blood there is no remission. That is what your forgiveness and mine cost
God, it cost Him the blood of His Son.
But what will it cost us? What
will it cost? It will cost us nothing. As I said, when speaking [Page 131] of the previous petition, God does
not sell, God gives. Some have tried to buy forgiveness by fasts
and vigils and penances and rigid self-discipline. That is how Luther, when he was a monk at
Let me now go on to ask you to notice for a moment the qualifying clause: “As we also have forgiven our debtors,” says Matthew. “For we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us,” says Luke. I think these words are meant to be in the first place words of encouragement. If man can forgive, much more can God. They remind us of that splendid verse, “If ye being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall [Page 133] your Father who is in heaven give good things unto them that ask Him.” We have known men who have generously and freely forgiven great wrongs committed against them. We are here told to think of the way in which even men can forgive in order that we may have faith to believe that God, who is infinitely more loving and pitiful than the best of men, can and will forgive to the uttermost. But these words are also words of solemn warning. Sometimes they make the prayer die upon our lips, for they require the forgiving spirit to be in us before we ask forgiveness from God. Do you notice how this prayer, which soars to the heights, enforces also the simple everyday moralities? Look at this petition, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us.” “For we ourselves also forgive every one.” Is that true? Have you forgiven every one? Are there no grudges that you cherish? Are there no enmities in your heart? Is there no one against whom you cherish malice or ill-will? If there is ill-will against anyone in your heart, can you pray this prayer? Can you say to God, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one?” You remember how, in the striking story of the two debtors, our Lord condemned the man who [Page 134] could ask God to forgive him that awful debt of sin, and yet cherish an unforgiving spirit against his neighbour. Oh what a warning, a solemn warning, there is in this petition, “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Or look at the way Matthew puts it, “Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.” I want to ask you a plain question: “Would you really like God to forgive just in exactly the same way as you forgive your enemies?” Do you think you would? Why, is not our forgiveness all too often grudging and half-hearted? Do we not often cherish the remembrance of the offences? Do we not say, “I will forgive, but I cannot forget?” Would you like God to forgive you like that? I can never forget the words which Augustus Hare writes on this passage. He pictures an unforgiving man praying this prayer, and this is what he says: “0 God, I have sinned against Thee many times from my youth up till now. I have often been forgetful of Thy goodness. I have neglected Thy service. I have broken Thy laws. I have done many things utterly wrong against Thee. Such is my guiltiness, 0 Lord, in Thy sight; deal with me, I beseech Thee, even as I deal with my neighbour. He has not offended [Page 135] me one-tenth, one-hundredth part as much as I have offended Thee. But I cannot forgive Him. Deal with me, I beseech Thee, 0 Lord as I deal with him. He has been very ungrateful to me, though not a tenth, not a hundredth part as ungrateful as I have been to Thee. Yet I cannot overlook his ingratitude. Deal with me, 0 Lord, I beseech Thee, as I deal with him. I remember and treasure up every trifle which shows how ill he has behaved to me. Deal with me, I beseech Thee, 0 Lord, as I deal with him. I am determined to take the very first opportunity of doing him an ill turn. Deal with me, I beseech Thee, 0 Lord, as I deal with him.” Oh, what a terrible curse such a prayer is! But, brethren, may it not be that, if we cherish unkind feelings in our hearts, if we hug secret hates and enmities, when we ask God to forgive us, in exactly the same way as we forgive others, we too may be invoking not blessing, but doom upon our own heads. Before we can pray this prayer we need the spirit of forgiveness in our own hearts. Emerson says of Abraham Lincoln, that “his heart was as big as the world, but there was no room in it for the memory of a wrong.” Such must be our spirit also, the spirit that Jesus showed when on the Cross [Page 136] he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” May God help us even now to forgive from our hearts our brothers their trespasses, then can we draw near with boldness to the throne of grace and pray, “Father, forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us.”
* * *
“And bring us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” - MATTHEW 6: 13.
“And bring us not into temptation.” -LUKE 1: 5.
FORGIVENESS is the beginning not the end, the first step not the last in the Christian life. In the Gospel according to John, we read a story about a poor woman who was dragged half dead with shame into the presence of Christ, and charged before Him with a nameless crime. Her enemies crowded round clamouring for her instant punishment. But Jesus, just because He was so pure and good, was infinitely tender and pitiful. He had no harsh judgment to pronounce upon this poor, shame-stricken woman.
When her brutal accusers, made cowards by their own consciences, slunk away one by one, leaving the sinner alone with her [Page 138] Saviour, His word to her was one of pure compassion, “Neither do I condemn thee.” There was pardon for her black sin, forgiveness for her shameful past. But having forgiven her, Christ did not let her go without laying a command upon her. This forgiven woman was not at liberty to return to her old life of folly and shame. “Go,” said Jesus, dismissing her, to “sin no more.” That is an illustration of Christ’s unvarying methods with sinners. Forgiveness - full, free forgiveness - is to be had for the asking. Bring your sinful, shameful past before Him; you will hear no bitter, angry words of reproach from His lips. The words you will hear will be words of tenderest compassion. Bring your terrible debt before Him and tell Him of your dire, your abject, your utter poverty. Say to Him, “Lord, I have nothing to pay,” and He will say to you, “All this thy debt, I freely forgive.” Bring your burden of guilt and shame to Him. He will not spurn you from Him though He is so pure and you so unclean, but with words of pity and love He will welcome you, and take the burden of your guilt and shame clean away. Yes, Christ will freely forgive you. He will have mercy upon you. He will abundantly pardon. But forgiveness of the past is not all. What of [Page 139] the future? Well, as to that future the Master will lay upon you also the old injunction, “Go, sin no more.” For the forgiven man cannot return to his old life of sin. After forgiveness comes the life of struggle and conflict against the world, the flesh and the devil. After the blotting out of the shameful past comes the earnest striving to keep the record of the future clean. Forgiveness is not the end, but the beginning. After forgiveness comes all that our fathers meant by the old term, “sanctification.” After forgiveness comes all that John means when he tells us to purify ourselves even as He is pure; all that Paul means when he tells us “to work out our own salvation.” The struggle, the conflict, the battle comes after pardon has been bestowed. For when Jesus whispers into our ears the gladsome message, “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” He lays upon us also the command, “Go, sin no more.”
What I have been saying up to this point illustrates the connection between this petition and the one we studied together last Sunday morning. “Forgive us our debts” is a prayer that God will blot out the record of past sin. “Lead us not into temptation” is a prayer for protection in the future. For I want you to notice that the man who has truly repented [Page 140] of his sin wants not simply the past to be blotted out, but he wants grace to shun sin in the days to come. He wants not only to be delivered from the penalty of sin, but he also longs to be emancipated from its power. Let not the freeness of forgiveness ever lead you to think lightly of sin. There were some in the very early days of the Church who interpreted this freeness of forgiveness as a licence to sin. They said, “What matters it? God will forgive.” Nay, they even thought, or at any rate they tried to persuade themselves, they were doing a favour to God by continuing their old wicked practices, as the greater their sin was, the finer the opportunity for the display of God’s forgiving love. They sinned, so they said, that grace might abound. The Church has been troubled and harassed by many a heresy in the course of the centuries, but the most damnable, the most soul-destroying that ever assailed it, was this Antinomian heresy, which bade men sin on because God was ready to forgive, which taught that sin was light, trivial cheap, because pardon was free. Sin light? Sin cheap? Sin trivial? Brethren, look at the Cross of Jesus Christ! Measure the enormity of the sin by the sacrifice of the Cross! It cost God the life of His own Son to deliver us from it.
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin,
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven and let us in.
Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! for by every sin of ours we crucify the Lord afresh, and put Him to an open shame. The programme of the Christian life is not sin and pardon, sin and pardon, sin and pardon, day after day, month after month, year after year. The programme of the Christian life is pardon, sanctification, holiness. After pardon comes the daily struggle with sin, until its power in our souls is broken, and we come off more than conquerors, through Him who loved us. Not that I would imply that any one on this side the grave attains to a state of sinless perfection, or that the time will ever come on earth when the prayer, “Forgive us our sins,” will be out of place on our lips. But the goal set before us is the perfect life; towards that goal we must daily press, and though on earth we may never attain to it, yet to-day ought to see us nearer to it than yesterday, and to-morrow ought to find us nearer than to-day. There is something radically wrong with us if sin has as great a power over us to-day as it had, say, ten years ago. Repentance [Page 142] is never genuine and sincere unless it creates within us a hatred and loathing of sin. We have never been truly forgiven if we can go on sinning the old sins day after day; for we never hear Christ say to us, “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” without hearing Him add this charge, “From henceforth sin no more.”
But the command is a hard one to obey. In a world so full of trial and temptation, so full of seductions and enticements to evil, how hard it is for poor, weak, frail men to obey the command, “Go, sin no more.” In a world that presses in upon us on every side, that spreads its glittering prizes before our eyes to tempt us, how hard it is to be unworldly, to hold earth’s best gifts cheap, while we set our affections on things above! In a world so full of uncleanness and impurity, how hard it is to keep one’s garments clean and unspotted! Hard, did I say? Nay, impossible. With the world as it is, and man as he is, the task is impossible. To obey that command, we need help and strength. The task is too difficult for us. It is more than we can do in our own native strength. So we cast the burden back again upon our Lord and say to Him, “Master we would fain obey Thee: we would fain live without sin; but we are weak, and the world [Page 143] is strong - too strong for us. Lord, undertake Thou for us. Have pity on our weakness, and bring us not into temptation.” There it stands, a prayer for the future; a cry to God that He will not suffer the world to overcome us, and drag us down again to sin.
Now you will notice that this prayer recognises the fact that -
(1) The world is full of peril to the Christian, because it is lull of temptation. The word translated “temptation” in my text really means “testing,
trial.” Never a day passes but something happens
which puts our moral strength to the test.
God does not “tempt” in the sense of inciting to evil; God TESTS. The presence of evil
in our world, the incitements to evil that abound, looked at from God’s
standpoint, are tests - tests of character, tests of moral strength. But these incitements to evil appeal to
weakness and evil in our own hearts, and so to us they become “temptations.”
And of such “temptations” our world is full.
Bunyan described the Christian life as a journey, but it is a journey
through a very dangerous country. There
are snares and pit-falls around us on every side. The path leads between a ditch on one side
and a quagmire on the other, and along the route are the Slough of Despond, [Page 144] and By-Path Meadow, and Doubting Castle, and the Mount of Error, Broad Way
Gate, and Dead Man’s Lane, and Vanity Fair.
Yes, the path is one that is surrounded with peril, and
to stray from it is a very easy matter. That path is the path of life, and these
pitfalls and snares and by-paths that endanger the unwary traveller on every
hand, are the temptations that beset a man in life, and lure him to his ruin
and death. The old story of the fight
between the English and the Scotch at
(2) This verse implies the WEAKNESS of man. “Bring us not into
temptation,” into trial, into testing, because we are so prone to break
down under the trial. The fact that
temptations abound would not matter very much if we were proof against
them. It is because we ourselves are so
prone to yield that temptation is terrible.
To take a spark to green wood would not do very much harm. But to bring temptation upon us is like
applying flame to dry shavings or a match to gunpowder. The attack of temptation from without is made
formidable by the weakness and treachery within. It is because we know our own
weakness, it is because we know how liable we are to break down under any
severe test, that we pray, “Bring us not into temptation.” I am simply stating a matter of fact and
observation, when I say that there is in all of us a bias toward sin, an
inclination toward evil. We talk lightly
sometimes of the old doctrine of “original sin.” But surely it expressed a truth that we dare
not ignore. There is a bias in the human
heart toward sin. It is easier for us to do wrong than to do right. That was the truth our Lord meant to convey
when He said the path of evil was a broad way, while the road to [age-lasting] life was
a narrow path. To do evil [Page 148] is easy; you have only to shout with the crowd and swim with the
stream. But to do right is hard; you must swim against the current, you must
dare to stand alone. And it is just
this that gives temptation its power and makes it terrible. It accords with our own inclinations. The passions and desires of the flesh second
its efforts. The devil finds his best
ally in the lusts and weaknesses of a man’s own heart. There is no man safe from temptation. There is no one who can boast that he is
strong enough to resist every allurement.
There is in all of us some weakness of the soul, and temptation will
assail us just at the weakest point; it will find the unfortified place and
concentrate its attack upon that; it will find the joints in our harness and
point the poisoned arrow there. The old
Greek story says that Achilles, the great hero of the Trojan war, was dipped
while he was yet a child in the waters of the
(3) Let me ask you to notice that this petition illustrates the spirit of true Christian courage. It is not courage, but foolhardiness that courts danger. It is not courage that risks life and limb in an utterly stupid, needless, bootless task ; it is folly. It was not courage that made that mad youth climb the sheer face of the cliff at Folkestone the other day, it was mere senseless bravado. True courage will keep away from danger; true courage will only incur risk and peril when duty demands. Let us learn this lesson. You young men learn this lesson. It is not courage to venture into doubtful places; it is not courage to unite with questionable companions it is not courage to peer into unclean books it is not courage to spend your evenings in the public-house; it is not courage to dally with the intoxicating cup; it is not courage to frequent the theatre, with its evil associations, to accustom yourselves to gaze upon the indecencies and to listen to the pruriencies too often heard upon [Page 152] the stage. It is not courage to court company where the filthy jest and the coarse laugh and the brutal blasphemy are common; it is not courage to see how near you can go to the edge of the precipice without falling over. No, this is not courage, unless you are prepared to say that it is courage that makes the silly moth flutter round the flame until at last it flutters into it. Courage? No! it is not courage - it is wicked, mad bravado! Your safety, brethren, against sin lies in being shocked at it. True courage looks at the incitements to evil with which life abounds and confesses, “I am afraid of them,” and then makes this petition its prayer, “Father, bring us not into temptation.”
But it may be that in spite of our fears, and in spite of our prayers, God may see fit to bring us into temptation, into some fierce trial that shall test our moral strength. “God,” we read in Genesis, “did tempt, i.e. did test, Abraham.” He put Abraham’s faith and obedience to a searching trial. Jesus, we read, was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, to undergo those forty days of fierce testing. We shrink from these fierce trials, but they are good for us, for if resisted they knit thews and sinews of strength in our souls. We are better [Page 154] for temptation resisted and overcome than we should have been if we had never been tempted at all. It is in conflict with temptation that God’s Victoria Cross - the Cross “for valour” - is to be won. Let us ever remember this - there is nothing sinful in being tempted. We sin only when we yield to temptation. Well, supposing that God does see fit to let us enter into temptation, to let our strength and courage be tested in fierce, grim, deadly conflict with sin and evil, what shall we pray for? We will pray then, “Deliver us from the evil one.” We will pray to Him to help us, that we may not sin against Him by yielding. We will ask Him to clothe us with the whole armour of God, and to put in our hands the sword of the Spirit, and so enable us to withstand the assaults of the evil one, and having done all things to stand. There shall be on our part no foolish rushing into temptation; nay, remembering our own weakness we will pray, “Father, lead us not into it.” But if temptation comes upon us when we are in the path of duty, then we can look up to him, claim His presence with us in the battle, and say, “Deliver us from the evil one.” We say “Let us not be overcome in the struggle. Let us not be beaten in the fight. Suffer us not to fall away from Thee. [Page 154] Deliver us, by Thy mercy deliver us, good Lord.” And God will deliver us. I say nothing about the man who rushes into temptation of his own free will; but of the man upon whom temptation comes when he is in the line of duty I am bold to say, “God will deliver him.” His promises are here in this book. Here they are - “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptations make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it.” “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation.” “I will keep you also in the hour of temptation.” Christian had a fierce, long, and stubborn fight with Apollyon, but he won the victory at last, and was able to shout exultingly, “Now, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” Oh, take comfort, you who feel the force and keenness of temptation. No conflict need end in defeat. No struggle need end in disaster. Pray to your Father, “Deliver us from the evil one.” By prayer link yourself to God’s Almightiness, take Him with you into the conflict, and every fight shall end in victory, and every struggle in triumph, and these very temptations when vanquished and overcome shall help to make [Page 155] you a strong man in Christ, and you will be able then to realise the truth of that word of the Apostle James, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he hath been approved he shall receive the crown of life which the Lord promised to them that loved Him.”
“Deliver us from the evil one,” that must be our prayer. Do you remember that sentence in Christ’s great intercessory prayer? “I pray, not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” We are in the world, and we have no right even to wish to leave it. It is the coward who runs away, locks himself up in some monastic cell, and leaves the world to perish. Our place is in the world. But the world is full of evil, evil which presses itself, forces itself upon us at every turn. From that evil we must ask God to keep us. “Deliver us from evil.” We have been forgiven. We want now complete deliverance from sin. We want to be emancipated from its power. We want to be rid of its foul stains, We want to grow in purity, truth and grace, and to become daily more like our Lord. Oh, this is the prayer of the Christian life “Deliver us from evil!” When shall this deliverance come?
Perhaps not completely here - though the chains shall be loosened. But absolute deliverance shall come in the beautiful homeland.
Where we shall see His face,
And never, never sin,
And from the rivers of His grace
Drink endless pleasures in.
* * *
THE MODEL PRAYER
“After this manner therefore pray ye.” – MATTHEW 6: 9.
A fortnight ago we completed our study of the petitions that make up the Lord’s Prayer. For the prayer as it fell from the lips of Christ ended with that petition, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The great doxology, which in the Authorised Version you will find at the close of Matthew’s account of the prayer, and which has become so familiar to us by its constant repetition in the public use of the prayer, formed no part of the original prayer at all, but must be regarded as a liturgical addition made by the Church in later years. It is wanting in the great Greek MSS., and in some important versions, and has been quite properly omitted from our revised English Bible. The probability is that the words “For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and [Page 158] the glory, for ever, Amen,” were added to the prayer in its public recitations, much in the same way as we to-day sing, “Glory be to the Father,” at the end of the Psalms.
It is not my intention, therefore, to make any comment upon that doxology with which, in our daily use, we end the prayer, but rather to call your attention to some thoughts on prayer in general suggested by the study of this prayer which Jesus gave to His disciples in answer to their request that He would teach them how to pray. First of all, let me say that I believe Jesus gave this prayer to His disciples for use, that is to say, He contemplated their using this very form of words. The circumstances of its origin seem to place this beyond dispute. This is the record Luke gives, “And it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, that when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples.’ And He said unto them, ‘When ye pray, say Father.’” In face of those words, “When ye pray, say,” there is, as Dr. Dods puts it, “no getting past the evident precept here delivered, that we ought habitually to use these words.” “Then our Lord,” some one will remark, “sanctions the use of forms of prayer.” I am here, I [Page 159] know, on the very edge of a question which is one of the most difficult to deal with, and one on which Free Churchmen differ strongly among themselves. Discussions upon the use of liturgical forms in worship crop up periodically at various assemblies, but my experience of them is, that they generate a good deal of heat without giving much light. In our Congregational Churches free prayer is the general, almost the invariable practice. Our forefathers were so shocked at the formalism of the liturgical worship of the Established Church, that in the interest of true spiritual worship they rejected forms altogether; some even going to the length of objecting to the use of the Lord’s Prayer in the public services of the sanctuary. Their dislike and distrust of forms we have to a large extent inherited. But the fact that many people are asking the question to-day whether our services would not be all the more helpful if a little of the liturgical element were imported into them, is proof that there are those amongst us who think that our fathers in their revolt against formalism went to the opposite extreme, and by their complete rejection of forms injured themselves and impoverished the public worship of the sanctuary. Of course formalism is fatal to true [Page 160] worship. But the use of forms is not formalism. Formalism is the abuse of forms. But the fact that forms get abused is no reason for discarding them altogether, any more than the fact that liberty sometimes, and with some people, degenerates into licence is a reason why we should all abjure our freedom. In fact, a certain amount of form is absolutely necessary. As some one has put it, “there may be occasionally form without life, but there can never be life without form.” No one, of course, proposes to do away with free prayer. The abolition of free prayer from our services would, I am convinced, do irreparable injury to the spiritual life of our Free Churches. Our freedom in prayer has been our glory and our proud privilege, and that freedom we must jealously guard. But there are in our congregations men and women of differing temperaments. There are those amongst us - and I am speaking now out of the experience I have gathered during my ten years’ ministry - who would find simple forms a help to them, and the question is whether the interests of a congregation as a whole would not be better met by an order of service which should combine free and liturgical prayer, rather than by an order which should confine itself rigidly to the [Page 161] one, to the utter exclusion of the other. Further into the question I do not mean to enter. I shall have achieved my object if I have brought you to see that the question is really one of Christian expediency. There is no question here of right or wrong. About our perfect right to introduce forms if we choose there can be no doubt. But a thing may be lawful and yet not expedient. And that is the point we have to settle with reference to liturgical forms. Is it expedient to introduce them? Would they enrich our worship. Would they edify the worshipper? Would they help us to come with boldness to the throne of grace? If they would, then adopt them. But if they would tend to formalism, if their effect would be to make us say our prayers instead of praying, or if their introduction would create bitterness or breed dissension in the Church, then better for ever remain without them.
This form of prayer, however, stands quite apart from every
other. It has a sacredness all its
own. It is the Lord’s prayer. With
perfect appropriateness this form finds a place in all our services. I welcome the public use of the Lord’s Prayer
for various reasons. First of all, it is
the one perfect prayer. In its six brief petitions it seems to
include everybody and everything. [Page 162] Men are always partial and one-sided and our human prayers are partial and
one-sided also. They express the needs
of some and not of others. But this
brief prayer is like its Author, it is complete. Jesus was the Son of Man, the Universal
Man. Everybody finds his counterpart in
Jesus. And the prayer He gave is an
universal prayer. It voices the cry of
every heart, the need of every soul. Then I welcome the use of this prayer for
its associations. What sacred
associations cluster around it! It is
sacred to us because of Him who first gave it.
This is our Lord’s prayer, His gift to the world. Then it is sacred to us because of the
Saints, Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs, who have used it. This prayer is a link that binds all the
Christian centuries together. Peter and
John and Paul and James used to kneel down and say, “Our Father.”
Those early Christian assemblies in the upper room in
Then for many of us it has associations of a still tenderer kind. It comes to us burdened [Page 163] with memories of the past. Dr. Guthrie, when lying on his dying bed, used often to ask the members of his family to sing him a bairn’s hymn. Those childish hymns used to carry him back to the old home and the long ago. Vanished days came back again as he listened to the songs he learned first at his mother’s knee. What those “bairn’s hymns” were to Dr. Guthrie, that, this prayer is to most of us. It is the prayer in which we learned our first lessons of Christian truth. The first words we were taught to lisp were the words “Our Father.” When we pray this prayer we are back again in the far-off days of childhood. We remember our fathers and mothers, some of them in glory now, who would have given their lives for our souls. And as we think of those happy days, we become children once again, and becoming children we become fit to receive the blessing; for except we turn and become as little children we shall in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven. So this form of prayer becomes a vehicle of grace. Tender, sacred, universal, it lifts us near to God and rightly finds a place in all the public services of the sanctuary.
But this prayer is much more than a form to be used - it is also a model for all our prayers. [Page 164] The disciples came to Jesus asking Him to teach them how to pray. This prayer is the answer to that request. Instead of giving the disciples a string of rules and principles, instead of delivering a long discourse on the theory of prayer, Jesus did what was infinitely more helpful, He gave them a pattern prayer. He taught them this exquisite prayer of six petitions, and said to them, “After this manner, therefore, pray ye.” This prayer is a model prayer, both as to manner, and order, and spirit.
(1) It is a model as to manner. I will note here only three characteristics
of the prayer. First, will you notice
its brevity! The prayer that teaches to pray contains
only six short petitions. The measure of a prayer is not its length, but its sincerity and
earnestness. One good friend
reminded a minister who was accustomed to take full time in his preaching, that
there was all the difference in the world between the length of a sermon and the strength of a
sermon. So there is all the difference
between the length of a prayer and the strength of a prayer. We are not heard for our much speaking. The priests of Baal cut themselves with
knives and cried from morn until the dusk of evening, “Baal, hear us.”
The mob at
Secondly, notice the directness of the prayer. How pointed the petitions are! There are no waste words! Here are a number of distinct and definite requests, each of which is stated clearly and plainly in a few simple words. There is no need for a cloud of words in prayer; there is no need of elaborate and high-flown language; there is no need to beat about the bush. Let us be direct in our prayers! I am afraid we have got into the habit of using a kind of conventional language in prayer, as if God did not understand our common talk! The ideal prayer, however, is that which makes our request known to God with the same frankness and directness with which a child makes known his wants to his parents. Look at these petitions! Each of them is a prayer for a distinct and definite object. We want the same directness in our prayers to-day. As [Page 167] Matthew Henry quaintly puts it, “We should always strike at the white.”
Then notice the simplicity of the prayer. It is a prayer so simple that a little child can understand it! This is not a prayer reserved for the use of the learned, the cultured, the highly educated. This is a prayer everybody can understand. Wayfaring men, though fools, need not err therein. But its simplicity is not shallowness. People are apt to make mistakes. They think that profound which is simply turbid and muddy. They think, on the other hand, that which is pellucid and clear must of necessity be shallow. But the turbid pool is often very shallow, while those waters of crystal clearness contain depths no plummet can fathom. It is so with this prayer. It is simple, exquisitely simple, so simple that even a child can grasp its meaning. But what depths these simple sentences hide! Have we not been learning Sabbath by Sabbath something of the grandeur and sweep of the prayer? We have been trying during these past Sabbaths to explore the length and breadth, the height and depth of this prayer, but have you not felt, as the preacher has felt, that after all our exploring, there are yet undiscovered regions in this prayer?
There’s a deep below the deep, and a height beyond the height,
And our hearing is not hearing, and our seeing is not sight.
Profundity is always a matter of idea, not of language. A man is not profound because he revels in polysyllables. The profoundest thought can be clothed in the simplest language. Shall I tell you the profoundest truth ever uttered by mortal man? Here it is, “God is love.” Yet the words are the simplest that language could afford. It is so exactly with this prayer. Beneath these simple sentences there are depths we have never fathomed. That is why this prayer will never be among the childish things which we can put away. Added years will only increase our sense of its sweep and depth and beauty.
(2) Now let me pass on to say that this prayer is a model as to Order. I need not dwell long upon this, for I have already drawn attention to it in the course of my exposition. But let me repeat again that this Model Prayer teaches us that in all true prayer God’s glory will occupy the first place. Before ever a word is said about personal needs our Lord teaches His disciples to pray that God’s name may be hallowed, that His kingdom may come, [Page 169] and that His will may be done on earth as it is done in heaven. It is “after this manner” we are to pray always. That is the order we must observe in all prayers, “First things first.” First God’s glory, then our personal wants. This is the hardest lesson of all to learn. The great feat of life is accomplished when we have learned to prefer God’s will to our own, and when we honestly seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. And yet this hard lesson we must all learn if we are to find strength and comfort in prayer. People talk about “unanswered prayers!” There ought to be no unanswered prayers. I make bold to say that to the man who has learned the true secret of prayer there are no unanswered prayers. It is the man who has forgotten the true order who complains of unanswered prayers. It is the man who has thought more of his own personal desires than of the glory of God who complains that Heaven is deaf to his cry. The man who has learned to seek first the kingdom of God, who sincerely desires that God's will may be done, that man never talks about unanswered prayers. All his prayers are richly and graciously answered. He asks and receives, he seeks and finds, he knocks and the door is always opened. If you [Page 170] put the emphasis in the wrong place by laying stress on your own desires, you will be troubled by “unanswered prayers”; but if you put God first, if you desire His will may be done, what e’er betide, you will never miss the blessings, but you will find in your own experience the old promise still true, “If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us.”
(3) Let me ask you to notice that this prayer is a model as to Spirit. After all, the power of a prayer depends not upon the words we use, but upon the spirit in which we offer it. “According to your faith it shall be unto you.” Our prayers may be beautiful in their language, correct in their theology, brief, simple, direct; and yet they may rise no higher than the ceiling of the room in which they are uttered. Yes! even this Pearl of Prayers, as uttered by some of us, may be nothing but a barren form. Before prayer becomes living, throbbing, vital, before it can take to itself wings, before it can reach the ear of God, we must pray in the spirit. And the spirit which alone gives prayer its efficacy and power, is the spirit of childlike confidence and trust. This Model Prayer is full of that spirit. Notice how it begins, “Our Father.” That implies that we come to God as His children, believing He is readier to give good [Page 171] things to us than we are to give good things to our children. It is “after that manner” - in childlike faith in God’s love - that we are always to pray. The measure of our trust in God will be the measure of our power in prayer. “According to our faith it shall be unto us.” Christ’s prayers were prevailing prayers, because He had a perfect faith. He called God “Father,” and He honoured God’s Fatherhood by placing an absolute and utter trust in Him. We want the Christ spirit to make our prayers effectual. It is not the words that are wrong, it is not the order that is amiss, it is the faith that is lacking. If only Christ’s spirit of loving confidence in God were breathed into our prayers, how irresistible they would be. Dr. Stanford, in his little volume on the Lord’s Prayer, quotes those exquisite lines, in which George Macdonald applies the legend of how the boy Jesus once made some clay birds fly to the prayers men offer -
My prayer-bird was cold - would not away,
Although I set it on the edge of the nest,
Then I bethought me of the story old,
Love - fact, or loving fable, thou knowest best,
How, when the children had made sparrows of clay,
Thou mad’st them birds, with wings to flutter and fold;
Take, Lord my prayer in Thy hand, and make it pray.
Our prayers are often like those clay-birds. They do not rise. They are lifeless and dead. But how they would soar if only the spirit of Jesus, the spirit of childlike faith in God, were breathed into them! “Our Father,” the first words of the prayer, teach us the spirit in which we should pray. Is there anything we want more than faith, confidence, trust in God? If we are straitened at all, we are straitened not in Him, but in ourselves. If no mighty works are being done in our midst, it is not because God’s arm is shortened, it is because of our unbelief. We have not yet realised the meaning and the power of that word “Father.” We have not yet realised that He loves us with an everlasting love. We have not yet realised that He is willing to do for us exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think. So we are hungering when there is abundance within reach. We are weak when we might be strong. We are feeble when we might be resistless. We live at a poor, dying rate, when there is abundant life to be had for the asking. What do we need more than faith? A simpler trust in the power and love of God would make us irresistible. If we had faith as a grain of mustard-seed, we might say to the greatest mountain of difficulty, “Remove hence,” and it should [Page 173] remove, and nothing would be impossible unto us.
This prayer is the Model Prayer. It is a pattern which we are to imitate. And the pattern Man of Prayer was Jesus
Himself. Prayer was His vital
breath. After the labours of the day
were over, Jesus was accustomed to steal away to some lonely hill, where He
would spend the night in quiet, loving fellowship with God. Days of toil were followed by nights of
communion, nights of communion prepared Him for days of toil. The example of Jesus enforces the Apostolic
precept, “Pray without ceasing.”
And Jesus illustrates also the blessing of prayer. What great answers were given to His
petitions. As He was praying at His
baptism, the heavens opened. As He was
praying on the Mount, His countenance was altered, and His raiment became white
and glistening, and there came to Him Moses and Elijah, to converse with Him
and speak of His departure, which He should accomplish at