The Lord's Prayer Matthew 6:9

After this manner therefore pray ye. - Matthew 6:9

1. The Lord's Prayer has been the type of prayer among Christians in all ages. Throughout the Christian centuries men have poured forth their hearts to God in these few words, which have probably had a greater influence on the world than all the writings of theologians put together. They are the simplest form of communion with Christ: when we utter them we are one with Him; His thoughts become our thoughts, and we draw near to God through Him. They are also the simplest form of communion with our fellow-men, in which we acknowledge that He is our common Father and that we are His children. And the least particulars of our lives admit of being ranged under one or other of the petitions which we offer up to Him.

2. It has not only become the one universal prayer of Christendom; it has appealed to and has been adopted by the most enlightened exponents of other faiths. This result is all the more astounding if, as some scholars have declared, no single petition of the prayer was in the strict sense "original," the startling originality being in the structure of the prayer. Within the narrow framework of an utterance containing only petitions, Jesus has gathered all the deepest necessities of the collective and of the individual life of mankind, and has so knit together and built up these petitions in orderly sequence that the prayer as a whole appeals to men everywhere, and remains to any man who will thoughtfully use it a liberal education in sympathy with mankind and in understanding the character of God.

In his "Ode on the Pleasure Arising from Vicissitude," Thomas Gray endeavoured to impress on an age of indifference the priceless value of the daily earthly blessings which we receive, too often without a thought of their beauty, and healthfulness, and joy, without a word of gratitude to Him who gives and sustains, without one real expression of prayer that we may consecrate them more entirely to His service. He describes the feelings of one who, after a long and painful illness, finds himself at last able to leave his room, and move once more amid familiar sights and sounds which, in a normal state of health, scarcely excite attention:

See the Wretch, that long has tost
On the stormy bed of Pain,
At length repair his vigour lost
And breathe and walk again;
The meanest flowret of the vale,
The simplest note that swells the gale,
The common Sun, the air, the skies,
To him are opening Paradise.

In the spiritual world there are blessings like "the common sun, the air, the skies," the priceless value of which in regard to communion with God in Christ, the conscious sense of the Divine presence, the formation of character, and control of conduct, we for the most part hardly estimate until we find ourselves deprived of them, or unable to make use of them. Among such blessings, inestimable, yet taken as a matter of course, is the gift of the Lord's Prayer.1 [Note: A. J. Worlledge, Prayer, 160.]

(1) To begin with, a man is bidden postpone the outpouring of his private needs till he has related himself aright to the needs of the world: the first three petitions of the Lord's Prayer are "missionary" intercessions, which, when a man begins to use, at once narrowness and possible selfishness of outlook are checked, and the sympathies spread out to take in the wants that lie deepest in the life of universal man. "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name" - hallowed, that is, the whole world over. What a sweep of intercessory affection, what enlightening recollection of what the world most truly needs, what readjustment to fraternal fellowship of desire lies behind the intelligent use of this petition alone! It means that one sees, instructed by Christ, that the profoundest necessity for the broken and sundered lives of our race is reunion in spiritual religion, in one universal reverence to one worthy thought of God; and to go on intelligently to pray, "Thy kingdom come: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," is to desire (and surely also to be moved to work for) the reorganizing of man's broken life on the basis of a universal subordination to God, orderly and loyal, because willing, enlightened, and free. Think of the power that lies in a series of intercessions like that to educate the intercessor in the true meaning and inwardness of the history behind him and being made around him! Think of its stores of impulse to a cosmopolitan outlook, its potent force as a solvent of the parochial spirit! And then think of the range and depth of the insight of the "Galilæan peasant" who thus perceived and read the universal needs of man! How came He to have those eyes which, like the eyes of God, "are over all the earth"?

In each petition we ask to be blessed with God Himself. In each petition we therefore see the Trinity, while one Person of the Trinity is more prominently brought forward. The name is the Son revealing the Father; the kingdom is the Father beheld and loved in the Son; the will renewed is the Holy Ghost fulfilling in us what the Father ordains and Christ mediates. In these three petitions there is no sequence - they are co-equal, co-ordinate - hence there is no conjunction.1 [Note: Adolph Saphir, The Lord's Prayer, 58.]

(2) The remaining four petitions of the prayer are no less marvellous as a transcript of the cry of the world-wide heart of man. "Give us this day our daily bread" - give us, for we can neither manufacture nor for very long so much as store the raw material of life's nourishment. "Forgive us our debts" - forgive, for we can neither pay for, expiate, nor endure unexpiated, the irreparable past. "Lead us not into temptation" - for life is beset with risk as well as opportunity. "Deliver us from evil" - for that is the deep-set root of all woes. Is it not the unanimous voice of mankind that sights through these petitions? Has there ever been so perfect, so adequate an articulation of the murmur of the hungering world-soul? Is prayer for more than this prayer includes essential? Would prayer for less be less than vicious? Men vary in their power of calling up from the subconscious region the thoughts and sympathies that wander to the farthest frontiers of personality and seem to travel even beyond; but this is more than telepathy in excelsis: it is a knowledge of universal man gathering itself in such a way within the compass of a single mind that the inference is irresistible that this Man's consciousness was more than "individual," and that these things He had learned in some residence in God antedating His residence on earth. The vast sweep of the Lord's Prayer, and its astounding grasp of what is deepest in the necessities of the world in every age, go far to make credible even the saying attributed to Christ in the Fourth Gospel, "Before Abraham was, I am."

Of symbolical numbers in Scripture, there are none whose meaning is so certain and obvious as the numbers three, four, and seven. Three is the number of God, as in the threefold blessing which the high priest pronounced, the threefold "holy" in the song of the seraphim, and in various passages. The mystery, most clearly expressed in the institution of baptism and throughout the Epistles, is contained in germ in all the manifestations of God unto His people. The number four is evidently the number of the world, of the manifold mundane relationship of creation in its fulness and variety. This symbolism finds its expression in nature - the four directions in space, the four corners of the earth, the four winds, from which all the elect shall be gathered. It is to be noticed in the Tabernacle, the measures, curtains, colours, and ingredients, where it denotes regularity and completeness. With this correspond the facts that we have a fourfold account of the life of Christ, and that the creaturely life and perfection is represented by the four living Beings. Seven is the number symbolizing God manifesting Himself in the world. From the very first chapter of Genesis to the closing Book of the inspired record, this number is invested with a special dignity and solemnity. The seventh day is not merely the day of rest, but the day on which are completed and perfected the works of God. Seven is the number of clean animals which Noah was commanded to bring into the Ark. Seven branches had the golden candlestick in the holy place of the Tabernacle; seven days lasted the great festivals in Israel; on seven pillars was built the House of Wisdom; walking amid seven golden candlesticks Jesus is represented in the Apocalypse; seven spirits are before the throne; seven words the Saviour uttered from the cross; seven petitions He gives to His people.1 [Note: Adolph Saphir, The Lord's Prayer, 59.] 

to be continued