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INTRODUCTION After all that has been spoken and written by godly men on prayer, we need something better than that which is of mere human origin to guide us if we are to perform aright this essential duty. How ignorant and sinful creatures are to endeavor to come before the Most High God, how they are to pray acceptably to Him and to obtain from Him what they need, can be discovered only as the great Hearer of prayer is pleased to reveal His will to us. This He has done: (1) by opening up a new and living way of access into His immediate presence for the very chief of sinners; (2) by appointing prayer as the chief means of intercourse and blessing between Himself and His people; and (3) by graciously supplying a perfect pattern after which the prayers of His people are to be modeled. Note the wise instruction of the Westminster divines: “The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer, but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught His disciples, commonly called The Lord’s Prayer ” (The Westminster Shorter Catechism).
From earliest times it has been called “the Lord’s Prayer,” not because it is one that He Himself addressed to the Father, but because it was graciously furnished by Him to teach us both the manner and method of how to pray and the matters for which to pray. It should therefore be highly esteemed by Christians. Christ knew both our needs and the Father’s good will toward us, and thus He has mercifully supplied us with a simple yet comprehensive directory. Every part or aspect of prayer is included therein.
Adoration is found in its opening clauses and thanksgiving in the conclusion. Confession is necessarily implied, for that which is asked for supposes our weakness or sinfulness. Petitions furnish the main substance, as in all praying. Intercession and supplication on behalf of the glory of God and for the triumph of His Kingdom and revealed will are involved in the first three petitions, whereas the last four are concerned with supplication and intercession concerning our own personal needs and those of others, as is indicated by pronouns in the plural number.
This prayer is found twice in the New Testament, being given by Christ on two different occasions. This, no doubt, is a hint for preachers to reiterate that which is of fundamental importance. The variations are significant. The language of Matthew 6:9 intimates that this prayer is given to us for a model, yet the words of Luke 11:2 indicate that it is to be used by us as a form. Like everything in Scripture, this prayer is perfect—perfect in its order, construction, and wording. Its order is adoration, supplication, and argumentation. Its petitions are seven in number. It is virtually an epitome of the Psalms and a most excellent summary of all prayer. Every clause in it occurs in the Old Testament, denoting that our prayers must be Scriptural if they are to be acceptable. “And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us” ( 1 John 5:14).
But we cannot know His will if we are ignorant of His Word.
It has been alleged that this prayer was designed only for the temporary use of Christ’s first disciples, until such time as the New Covenant was inaugurated. But both Matthew and Luke wrote their Gospels years after the Christian dispensation had commenced, and neither of them gives any intimation that it had become obsolete and no longer of service to Christians. It is contended by some that this prayer is not suitable for believers now, inasmuch as the petitions in it are not offered in the name of Christ, and contain no express reference to His atonement and intercession.
But this is a serious misconception and mistake; for by parity of reasoning, none of the Old Testament prayers, indeed none of the Psalms, could be used by us! But the prayers of Old Testament believers were presented to God for His name’s sake; and Christ was the Angel of the Covenant of whom it was said, “My name is in Him ” ( Exodus 23:20,21). Not only is the Lord’s Prayer to be offered in reliance upon Christ’s mediation, but it is that which He specially directs and authorizes us to offer.
In more recent times, certain “students of prophecy” have objected to the use of this prayer on dispensational grounds, arguing that it is exclusively a Jewish prayer and legalistic in its tenor. But this is nothing more nor less than a blatant attempt of Satan to rob God’s children of a valuable portion of their birthright. Christ did not give this prayer to Jews as Jews, but to His disciples. It is addressed to “Our Father,” and is therefore to be used by all the members of His family. It is recorded not only in Matthew but also in Luke, the Gentile Gospel. Christ’s injunction, after His resurrection, for His disciples to teach believers to observe all things whatsoever He had commanded them ( Matthew 28:20) includes His commandment in Matthew 6:9-13. There is nothing whatever in this prayer unsuited to the Christian today, and everything in it is needed by him.
It has long been a matter of dispute, which has given rise to much acrimonious controversy, whether the Lord’s Prayer is to be regarded as a form to be used or a pattern to be imitated. The right answer to this question is that it is to be considered as both. In Matthew it is manifestly brought forward as an example or pattern of the kind of prayer that is to be offered under the new economy. “After this manner therefore pray ye.” We are to pray “with that reverence, humility, seriousness, confidence in God, concern for His glory, love to mankind, submission, moderation in temporal things, and earnestness about spiritual things which it inculcates” (Thomas Scott). But in Luke 11:2 we find our Lord teaching this: “When ye pray, say ... ,” that is, we are to use His words as a formula. It is, then, the duty of Christ’s disciples in their praying both to use the Lord’s Prayer continually as a pattern and sometimes as a form.
As for those who object to the using of any form of prayer, let us remind them that God Himself often puts into the mouths of His needy people the very language that they are to employ in approaching Him. For example, the Lord says to Israel, “Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously” ( Hosea 14:2).
Doubtless, we need to be much on our guard against merely formal, and still more so against a superstitious, observance of the Lord’s Prayer.
Nevertheless, we must as sedulously avoid going to the opposite extreme and never employing it at all. In the opinion of this writer, it ought to be reverently and feelingly recited once at every public service and used daily at family worship. That it has been perverted by some, whose too frequent use thereof seems to amount to the “vain repetitions” that the Savior prohibited ( Matthew 6:7), is no valid reason why we should be altogether deprived of offering it at the Throne of Grace in the spirit that our Lord inculcated and in the very words that He dictated.
In every expression, petition, and argument of this prayer, we see Jesus: He and the Father are one. He has a “Name” given Him which is above every name. He is the blessed and only Potentate, and His “Kingdom” ruleth over all. He is the “living bread” which came down from Heaven. He had power on earth to “forgive sins.” He is able to succor them that are “tempted.” He is the Angel that “redeems from all evil.” The Kingdom, power, and glory pertain unto Him. He is the fulfillment and confirmation of all Divine promises and gracious assurances. Himself “the Amen, and faithful Witness.” Well did Tertullian term the Lord’s Prayer “The Gospel abbreviated.” The more clearly we understand the Gospel of the grace of God, “the Gospel of the glory of Christ,” the more shall we love this wonderful prayer, and glorying in the Gospel which is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” to them that believe, we shall rejoice with joy unspeakable as we offer the Divinely prescribed petitions and expect gracious answers (Thomas Houston).
This opening clause is a suitable preface to all that follows. It presents to us the great Object to whom we pray, teaches us the covenant office that He sustains to us, and denotes the obligation imposed upon us, namely, that of maintaining toward Him a filial spirit, with all that that entails. All real prayer ought to begin with a devout contemplation and to express an acknowledgment of the name of God and of His blessed perfections. We should draw near unto the Throne of Grace with suitable apprehensions of God’s sovereign majesty and power, yet with a holy confidence in His fatherly goodness. In these opening words we are plainly instructed to preface our petitions by expressing the sense we have of the essential and relative glories of the One whom we address. The Psalms abound in examples of this. See Psalm 8:1 as a case in point. “Our Father which art in heaven.” Let us first endeavor to ascertain the general principle that is embodied in this introductory clause. It informs us in the simplest possible manner that the great God is most graciously ready to grant us an audience. By directing us to address Him as our Father, it definitely assures us of His love and power. This precious title is designed to raise our affections, to excite us to reverent attention, and to confirm our confidence in the efficacy of prayer. Three things are essential to acceptable and effectual prayer: fervency, reverence, and confidence. This opening clause is designed to stir up each of these essential elements within us. Fervency is the effect of our affections being called into exercise; reverence will be promoted by an apprehension of the fact that we are addressing the heavenly throne; confidence will be deepened by viewing the Object of prayer as our Father.
What is more calculated to deepen our confidence and to draw forth the strongest love and earnest hopes of our hearts toward God, than Christ’s presenting Him to us in His most tender aspect and endearing relation?
How we are here encouraged to use holy boldness and to pour out our souls before Him! We could not suitably invoke an impersonal First Cause; still less could we adore or supplicate a great abstraction. No, it is to a person, a Divine Person, One who has our best interests at heart, that we are invited to draw near, even to our Father. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” ( 1 John 3:1).
God is the Father of all men naturally, being their Creator. “Have we not all one Father? hath not one God created us?” ( Malachi 2:10). “But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father; we are the clay, and Thou our Potter; and we all are the work of Thy hand” ( Isaiah 64:8).
The fact that such verses have been grossly perverted by some holding erroneous views on “the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man,” must not cause us to utterly repudiate them. It is our privilege to assure the most ungodly and abandoned that, if they will but throw down the weapons of their warfare and do as the prodigal did, there is a loving Father ready to welcome them. If He hears the cries of the ravens ( <19E709> Psalm 147:9), will He turn a deaf ear to the requests of a rational creature? Simon Magus, while still “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity,” was directed by an apostle to repent of his wickedness and to pray to God ( Acts 8:22,23).
But the depth and full import of this invocation can be entered into only by the believing Christian, for there is a higher relation between him and God than that which is merely of nature. First, God is his Father spiritually.
Second, God is the Father of His elect because He is the Father of their Lord Jesus Christ ( Ephesians 1:3). Thus Christ expressly announced, “I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God” ( John 20:17).
Third, God is the Father of His elect by eternal decree: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” ( Ephesians 1:5).
Fourth, He is the Father of His elect by regeneration, wherein they are born again and become “partakers of the Divine nature” ( 2 Peter 1:4).
These words “Our Father” not only signify the office that God sustains to us by virtue of the everlasting covenant, but they also clearly imply our obligation. They teach us both how we ought to dispose ourselves toward God when we pray to Him, and the conduct that is becoming to us by virtue of this relationship. As His children we must “honor” Him (even more than our human parents; see Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3), be in subjection to Him, delight in Him, and strive in all things to please Him. Again, the phrase “Our Father” not only teaches us our personal interest in God Himself, who by grace is our Father, but it also instructs us of our interest in our fellow Christians, who in Christ are our brethren. It is not merely to “my Father” to whom I pray, but to “our Father.” We must express our love to our brethren by praying for them; we are to be as much concerned about their needs as we are over our own. How much is included in these two words! “Which art in heaven.” What a blessed balance this gives to the previous phrase. If that tells us of God’s goodness and grace, this speaks of His greatness and majesty. If that teaches us of the nearness and dearness of His relationship to us, this announces His infinite elevation above us. If the words “Our Father” inspire confidence and love, then the words “which art in heaven” should fill us with humility and awe. These are the two things that should ever occupy our minds and engage our hearts: the first without the second tends toward unholy familiarity; the second without the first produces coldness and dread. By combining them together, we are preserved from both evils; and a suitable equipoise is wrought and maintained in the soul as we duly contemplate both the mercy and might of God, His unfathomable love and His immeasurable loftiness. Note how the same blessed balance was preserved by the Apostle Paul, when he employed the following words to describe God the Father: “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory” ( Ephesians 1:17).
The words “which art in heaven” are not used because He is confined there. We are reminded of the words of King Solomon: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have builded?” ( 1 Kings 8:27).
God is infinite and omnipresent. There is a particular sense, though, in which the Father is “in heaven,” for that is the place in which His majesty and glory are most eminently manifested. “Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool” ( Isaiah 66:1).
The realization of this should fill us with the deepest reverence and awe.
The words “which art in heaven” call attention to His providence, declaring the fact that He is directing all things from on high. These words proclaim His ability to undertake for us, for our Father is the Almighty. “But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased” ( <19B503> Psalm 115:3).
Yet though the Almighty, He is “our Father. ” “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him” ( <19A313> Psalm 103:13). “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” ( Luke 11:13).