Prayer is one of the great laws of natural religion. That man is a brute, is a monster, that never prays, that never gives glory to his Maker, nor feels his favour, nor owns his dependence upon him. One great design therefore of Christianity is to assist us in prayer, to enforce the duty upon us, to instruct us in it, and encourage us to expect advantage by it. Now here,
I. We find Christ himself praying in a certain place, probably where he used to pray, Luke 11:1. As God, he was prayed to; as man, he prayed; and, though he was a Son, yet learned he this obedience. This evangelist has taken particular notice of Christ’s praying often, more than any other of the evangelists: when he was baptized (Luke 3:21), he was praying; he withdrew into the wilderness, and prayed (Luke 5:16); he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer (Luke 6:12); he was alone praying (Luke 9:18); soon after, he went up into a mountain to pray, and as he prayed he was transfigured (Luke 9:28, 29); and here he was praying in a certain place. Thus, like a genuine son of David, he gave himself unto prayer, Ps. 109:4. Whether Christ was now alone praying, and the disciples only knew that he was so, or whether he prayed with them, is uncertain; it is most probable that they were joining with him.
II. His disciples applied themselves to him for direction in prayer. When he was praying, they asked, Lord, teach us to pray. Note, The gifts and graces of others should excite us to covet earnestly the same. Their zeal should provoke us to a holy imitation and emulation; why should not we do as well as they? Observe, They came to him with this request, when he ceased; for they would not disturb him when he was at prayer, no, not with this good motion. Every thing is beautiful in its season. One of his disciples, in the name of the rest, and perhaps by their appointment, said, Lord, teach us. Note, Though Christ is apt to teach, yet he will for this be enquired of, and his disciples must attend him for instruction.
Now, 1. Their request is, “Lord, teach us to pray; give us a rule or model by which to go in praying, and put words into our mouths.” Note, It becomes the disciples of Christ to apply themselves to him for instruction in prayer. Lord, teach us to pray, is itself a good prayer, and a very needful one, for it is a hard thing to pray well and it is Jesus Christ only that can teach us, by his word and Spirit, how to pray. “Lord, teach me what it is to pray; Lord, excite and quicken me to the duty; Lord, direct me what to pray for; Lord, give me praying graces, that I may serve God acceptably in prayer; Lord, teach me to pray in proper words; give me a mouth and wisdom in prayer, that I may speak as I ought; teach me what I shall say.”
2. Their plea is, “As John also taught his disciples. He took care to instruct his disciples in this necessary duty, and we would be taught as they were, for we have a better Master than they had.” Dr. Lightfoot’s notion of this is, That whereas the Jews’ prayers were generally adorations, and praises of God, and doxologies, John taught his disciples such prayers as were more filled up with petitions and requests; for it is said of them that they did deeseis poiountai—make prayers, Luke 5:33. The word signifies such prayers as are properly petitionary. “Now, Lord, teach us this, to be added to those benedictions of the name of God which we have been accustomed to from our childhood.” According to this sense, Christ did there teach them a prayer consisting wholly of petitions, and even omitting the doxology which had been affixed; and the Amen, which was usually said in the giving of thanks (1 Cor. 14:16), and in the Psalms, is added to doxologies only. This disciple needed not to have urged John Baptist’s example: Christ was more ready to teach than ever John Baptist was, and particularly taught to pray better than John did, or could, teach his disciples.
III. Christ gave them direction, much the same as he had given them before in his sermon upon the mount, Matt. 6:9 We cannot think that they had forgotten it, but they ought to have had further and fuller instructions, and he did not, as yet, think fit to give them any; when the Spirit should be poured out upon them from on high, they would find all their requests couched in these few words, and would be able, in words of their own, to expatiate and enlarge upon them. In Matthew he had directed them to pray after this manner; here, When ye pray, say; which intimates that the Lord’s prayer was intended to be used both as a form of prayer and a directory.
1. There are some differences between the Lord’s prayer in Matthew and Luke, by which it appears that it was not the design of Christ that we should be tied up to these very words, for then there would have been no variation. Here is one difference in the translation only, which ought not to have been, when there is none in the original, and that is in the third petition: As in heaven, so in earth; whereas the words are the very same, and in the same order, as in Matthew. But there is a difference in the fourth petition. In Matthew we pray, “Give us daily bread this day:” here, “Give it us day by day”—kath hemeran. Day by day; that is, “Give us each day the bread which our bodies require, as they call for it:” not, “Give us this day bread for many days to come;” but as the Israelites had manna, “Let us have bread to-day for to-day, and to-morrow for to-morrow;” for thus we may be kept in a continual dependence upon God, as children upon their parents, and may have our mercies fresh from his hand daily, and may find ourselves under fresh obligations to do the work of every day in the day, according as the duty of the day requires, because we have from God the supplies of every day in the day, according as the necessity of the day requires. Here is likewise some difference in the fifth petition. In Matthew it is, Forgive us our debts, as we forgive: here it is, Forgive us our sins; which proves that our sins are our debts. For we forgive; not that our forgiving those that have offended us can merit pardon from God, or be an inducement to him to forgive us (he forgives for his own name’s sake, and his Son’s sake); but this is a very necessary qualification for forgiveness, and, if God have wrought it in us, we may plead that work of his grace for the enforcing of our petitions for the pardon of our sins: “Lord, forgive us, for thou hast thyself inclined us to forgive others.” There is another addition here; we plead not only in general, We forgive our debtors, but in particular, “We profess to forgive every one that is indebted to us, without exception. We so forgive our debtors as not to bear malice or ill-will to any, but true love to all, without any exception whatsoever.” Here also the doxology in the close is wholly omitted, and the Amen; for Christ would leave them at liberty to use that or any other doxology fetched out of David’s psalms; or, rather, he left a vacuum here, to be filled up by a doxology more peculiar to the Christian institutes, ascribing glory to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
2. Yet it is, for substance, the same; and we shall therefore here only gather up some general lessons from it.
(1.) That in prayer we ought to come to God as children to a Father, a common Father to us and all mankind, but in a peculiar manner a Father to all the disciples of Jesus Christ. Let us therefore in our requests both for others and for ourselves, come to him with a humble boldness, confiding in his power and goodness.
(2.) That at the same time, and in the same petitions, which we address to God for ourselves, we should take in with us all the children of men, as God’s creatures and our fellow-creatures. A rooted principle of catholic charity, and of Christian sanctified humanity, should go along with us, and dictate to us throughout this prayer, which is so worded as to be accommodated to that noble principle.
(3.) That in order to the confirming of the habit of heavenly-mindedness in us, which ought to actuate and govern us in the whole course of our conversation, we should, in all our devotions, with an eye of faith look heavenward, and view the God we pray to as our Father in heaven, that we may make the upper world more familiar to us, and may ourselves become better prepared for the future state.
(4.) That in prayer, as well as in the tenour of our lives, we must seek first the kingdom of God and the righteousness thereof, by ascribing honour to his name, his holy name, and power to his government, both that of his providence in the world and that of his grace in the church. O that both the one and the other may be more manifested, and we and others more manifestly brought into subjection to both!
(5.) That the principles and practices of the upper world, the unseen world (which therefore by faith only we are apprized of), are the great original—the archetypon, to which we should desire that the principles and practices of this lower world, both in others and in ourselves, may be more conformable. Those words, As in heaven, so on earth, refer to all the first three petitions: “Father, let thy name be sanctified and glorified, and thy kingdom prevail, and thy will be done on this earth that is now alienated from thy service, as it is in yonder heaven that is entirely devoted to thy service.”
(6.) That those who faithfully and sincerely mind the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof, may humbly hope that all other things, as far as to Infinite Wisdom seems good, shall be added to them, and they may in faith pray for them. If our first chief desire and care be that God’s name may be sanctified, his kingdom come, and his will be done, we may then come boldly to the throne of grace for our daily bread, which will then be sanctified to us when we are sanctified to God, and God is sanctified by us.
(7.) That in our prayers for temporal blessings we must moderate our desires, and confine them to a competency. The expression here used of day by day is the very same with our daily bread; and therefore some think that we must look for another signification of the word epiousios than that of daily, which we give it, and that it means our necessary bread, that bread that is suited to the craving of our nature, the fruit that is brought out of the earth for our bodies that are made of the earth and are earthly, Ps. 104:14.
(8.) That sins are debts which we are daily contracting, and which therefore we should every day pray for the forgiveness of. We are not only going behind with our rent every day by omissions of duty and in duty, but are daily incurring the penalty of the law, as well as the forfeiture of our bond, by our commissions. Every day adds to the score of our guilt, and it is a miracle of mercy that we have so much encouragement given us to come every day to the throne of grace, to pray for the pardon of our sins of daily infirmity. God multiplies to pardon beyond seventy times seven.
(9.) That we have no reason to expect, nor can with any confidence pray, that God would forgive our sins against him, if we do not sincerely, and from a truly Christian principle of charity, forgive those that have at any time affronted us or been injurious to us. Though the words of our mouth be even this prayer to God, if the meditation of our heart at the same time be, as often it is, malice and revenge to our brethren, we are not accepted, nor can we expect an answer of peace.
(10.) That temptations to sin should be as much dreaded and deprecated by us as ruin by sin; and it should be as much our care and prayer to get the power of sin broken in us as to get the guilt of sin removed from us; and though temptation may be a charming, fawning, flattering thing, we must be as earnest with God that we may not be led into it as that we may not be led by that to sin, and by sin to ruin.
(11.) That God is to be depended upon, and sought unto, for our deliverance from all evil; and we should pray, not only that we may not be left to ourselves to run into evil, but that we may not be left to Satan to bring evil upon us. Dr. Lightfoot understands it of being delivered from the evil one, that is, the devil, and suggests that we should pray particularly against the apparitions of the devil and his possessions. The disciples were employed to cast out devils, and therefore were concerned to pray that they might be guarded against the particular spite he would always be sure to have against them.
IV. He stirs up and encourages importunity, fervency, and constancy, in prayer, by showing,
1. That importunity will go far in our dealings with men, Luke 11:5-8. Suppose a man, upon a sudden emergency, goes to borrow a loaf or two of bread of a neighbour, at an unseasonable time of night, not for himself, but for his friend that came unexpectedly to him. His neighbour will be loth to accommodate him, for he has wakened him with his knocking, and put him out of humour, and he has a great deal to say in his excuse. The door is shut and locked, his children are asleep in bed, in the same room with him, and, if he make a noise, he shall disturb them. His servants are asleep, and he cannot make them hear; and, for his own part, he shall catch cold if he rise to give him. But his neighbour will have no nay, and therefore he continues knocking still, and tells him he will do so till he has what he comes for; so that he must give it to him, to be rid of him: He will rise, and give him as many as he needs, because of his importunity. He speaks this parable with the same intent that he speaks that in Luke 18:1: That men ought always to pray, and not to faint. Not that God can be wrought upon by importunity; we cannot be troublesome to him, nor by being so change his counsels. We prevail with men by importunity because they are displeased with it, but with God because he is pleased with it. Now this similitude may be of use to us,
(1.) To direct us in prayer. [1.] We must come to God with boldness and confidence for what we need, as a man does to the house of his neighbour or friend, who, he knows, loves him, and is inclined to be kind to him. [2.] We must come for bread, for that which is needful, and which we cannot be without. [3.] We must come to him by prayer for others as well as for ourselves. This man did not come for bread for himself, but for his friend. The Lord accepted Job, when he prayed for his friends, Job 42:10. We cannot come to God upon a more pleasing errand than when we come to him for grace to enable us to do good, to feed many with our lips, to entertain and edify those that come to us. [4.] We may come with the more boldness to God in a strait, if it be a strait that we have not brought ourselves into by our own folly and carelessness, but Providence has led us into it. This man would not have wanted bread if his friend had not come in unexpectedly. The care which Providence casts upon us, we may with cheerfulness cast back upon Providence. [5.] We ought to continue instant in prayer, and watch in the same with all perseverance.
(2.) To encourage us in prayer. If importunity could prevail thus with a man who was angry at it, much more with a God who is infinitely more kind and ready to do good to us than we are to one another, and is not angry at our importunity, but accepts it, especially when it is for spiritual mercies that we are importunate. If he do not answer our prayers presently, yet he will in due time, if we continue to pray.
2. That God has promised to give us what we ask of him. We have not only the goodness of nature to take comfort from, but the word which he has spoken (Luke 11:9, 10): “Ask, and it shall be given you; either the thing itself you shall ask or that which is equivalent; either the thorn in the flesh removed, or grace sufficient given in.”—We had this before, Matt. 7:7, 8. I say unto you. We have it from Christ’s own mouth, who knows his Father’s mind, and in whom all promises are yea and amen. We must not only ask, but we must seek, in the use of means, must second our prayers with our endeavours; and, in asking and seeking, we must continue pressing, still knocking at the same door, and we shall at length prevail, not only by our prayers in concert, but by our particular prayers: Every one that asketh receiveth, even the meanest saint that asks in faith. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, Ps. 34:6. When we ask of God those things which Christ has here directed us to ask, that his name may be sanctified, that his kingdom may come, and his will be done, in these requests we must be importunate, must never hold our peace day or night; we must not keep silence, nor give God any rest, until he establish, until he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth, Isa. 62:6, 7.
V. He gives us both instruction and encouragement in prayer from the consideration of our relation to God as a Father. Here is,
1. An appeal to the bowels of earthly fathers: “Let any of you that is a father, and knows the heart of a father, a father’s affection to a child and care for a child, tell me, if his son ask bread for his breakfast, will he give him a stone to breakfast on? If he ask a fish for his dinner (when it may be a fish-day), will he for a fish give him a serpent, that will poison and sting him? Or, if he shall ask an egg for his supper (an egg and to bed), will he offer him a scorpion? You know you could not be so unnatural to your own children,” Luke 11:11, 12.
2. An application of this to the blessings of our heavenly Father (Luke 11:13): If ye then, being evil, give, and know how to give, good gifts to your children, much more shall God give you the Spirit. He shall give good things; so it is in Matthew. Observe,
(1.) The direction he gives us what to pray for. We must ask for the Holy Spirit, not only a necessary in order to our praying well, but as inclusive of all the good things we are to pray for; we need no more to make us happy, for the Spirit is the worker of spiritual life, and the earnest of eternal life. Note, The gift of the Holy Ghost is a gift we are every one of us concerned earnestly and constantly to pray for.
(2.) The encouragement he gives us to hope that we shall speed in this prayer: Your heavenly Father will give. It is in his power to give the Spirit; he has all good things to bestow, wrapped up in that one; but that is not all, it is in his promise, the gift of the Holy Ghost is in the covenant, Acts 2:33, 38, and it is here inferred from parents’ readiness to supply their children’s needs, and gratify their desires, when they are natural and proper. If the child ask for a serpent, or a scorpion, the father, in kindness, will deny him, but not if he ask for what is needful, and will be nourishing. When God’s children ask for the Spirit, they do, in effect, ask for bread; for the Spirit is the staff of life; nay, he is the Author of the soul’s life. If our earthly parents, though evil, be yet so kind, if they, though weak, be yet so knowing, that they not only give, but give with discretion, give what is best, in the best manner and time, much more will our heavenly Father, who infinitely excels the fathers of our flesh both in wisdom and goodness, give us his Holy Spirit. If earthly parents be willing to lay out for the education of their children, to whom they design to leave their estates, much more will our heavenly Father give the spirit of sons to all those whom he has predestinated to the inheritance of sons.