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the prayer which he offered up for his disciples and future believers, a short time before his sufferings; he has exhorted us to pray and not to faint; and when he was in the agony in the garden, he said the same things three times: but we are forbidden to enumerate many particulars in reference to our worldly wants, a practice which prevailed amongst the heathens, who seem to have imagined that if they mentioned many things to their Gods, they should be sure to obtain some of them. In opposition to this practice, Christ exhorts his disciples to content themselves with general expressions of their wishes on this subject; leaving it to the Divine Being to grant or withhold what he may think proper; from a persuasion that he knows what will be really useful*.
8. Be not ye therefore like unto them; for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
This is a reason that would weigh against prayer in general, if we regarded it as the means of making God acquainted with our wants, instead of being, what it is in reality, an act of homage, confidence and obedience in regard to God, by which we acknowledge that all our blessings come from him, and that to him we ought to ascribe the praise. This design of prayer the heathens were ignorant of, or overlooked: ihey were not therefore content with commending themselves and their affairs to him, in general, but expressed, by a long compass of words, what good things they would have given them, such as long life, strength of body, beauty, victory, eloquence, the favour of the great and powerful: these were the things, the temporal blessings, which the heathens sought of their Gods, not any moral virtues. The manner in which these words are connected with the preceding is this: “What occasion is there for many words to recount those things which relate to the convenience of life? It is enough in general to wish for what is convenient; what will best suit every one, men are ignorant of; but as God knows, they ought to leave the matter to him.
* Theol. Repos. Vol. vi. p. 178.
1. The excellence of the Christian religion appears by its directing us to be governed in our conduct by a regard to God; for this is the only stable foundation for good actions and an uniform course of virtue. The world does not want examples to prove that the love of praise is not sufficient to direct men to do right upon all occasions: they who seek popular applause will speak the truth and do good, as long as it happens to be in fashion; that is, they will swim with the stream, and follow the direction which is given them by others: but when the truth becomes distasteful; when a right conduct gives offence; here they shrink from their duty, and in order to gratify the inclinations of men, countenance them in doing and believing what they know to be wrong. Such behaviour is not friendly to the interests or happiness of the human race, any more than to the interests of the individual by whom it is exhibited; for men are encouraged hereby to injure themselves: but a fixed regard to God in what we do will lead us to do well upon all occasions; for in following his will we cannot be mistaken; it will incite us to do good in private as well as in public, and to promote the interests of mankind, although we may hereby incur their displeasure.
Let us therefore always regulate our conduct by this principle: let us set the Lord always before us; we shall not then regard the favour or the resentment of men.
2. We see that acts of charity were performed by Jews; and thic action itself was perfectly agreeable to the law of Moses, although the principle from which it proceeded was improper. From Christians, whose religion partakes so much more of the spirit of benevolence, these may be expected in a higher degree; it is our duty to abound in them: let us not imagine that our beneficence is to be limited merely to the relieving the indigent mendicant, which is what we usually mean by alms; the wants of our brethren in every form, whether temporal or spiritual, demand our assistance; nor ought it to be confined to particular times and seasons of the year, but to be exercised upon all occasions, as the wants of our fellow-men arise.
3. As Christ directs us to do good in secret, and pronounces what is done in public, from a desire of praise, of no value, let every man examine himself by this rule: Am I willing to relieve the wants and to promote the happiness of my brethren, when the actions which I perform cannot be known; when I have no witness to my beneficence but God and my own conscience; when I can expect no return of gratitude or praise from men? Then may I hope that I do good from a better motive than the desire of obtaining a little empty applause, even because I delight in benevolent actions; because I know that they are acceptable to God, and will be rewarded by him; then may I hope that my works of faith and labours of love will not be overlooked by him: but if the good which I do is all performed in the presence of my fellow-creatures
, and with no other view than to obtain their approbation and favour, then is my goodness destitute of a proper principle, and of no value in the sight of God. The love of praise is a powerful principle in human nature, and those who have benevolent institutions to support, act wisely in addressing themselves to it; but there is reason to fear that much of the good that is done in this way, if tried by the standard which Christ has given us, would be found not to proceed from the essential principles of benevolence. Let every one who wishes to know his own heart, do good in secret as well as in public.
4. Christ gives us the same rule with respect to our prayers as our charity; and we ought to attend to it, in the one case as well as in the other.
He who worships God only in public, in the presence of his fellow-creatures, and entirely neglects secret prayer, has great reason to suspect the reality of a religious temper. There is too much reason to believe that he assumes the appearance of devotion, in order to please men; to gratify a love of praise; or to promote some sinister end. Those who sincerely love and reverence God take as much pleasure in retiring to perform acts of devotion in secret, as others do in advancing their temporal interests; and where men feel an utter aversion to this duty, a religious temper is either entirely wanting, or is in a very imperfect and defective state.
Matthew vi. 9----16.
9. After this manner therefore pray ye.
In this sense, not in these words; for Christ does not direct them to recite his words; nor do we read any where that his apostles did so, although that may certainly be done with advantage: but he directs them to take the nature and substance of their prayers hence; and there is indeed nothing worthy to be prayed for, which may not be classed under one part or other of this prayer, as its proper head.
Our Father, which art in heaven. God may be called our Father, as he is the creator of us and of all things: he may likewise be called so, on account of the peculiar and truly paternal affection This great
which he bears to those who serve him. Being cannot be limited to any place; nor is he in one place more than another: yet he may be said to be in heaven, rather than elsewhere, because in that region we see the divine majesty displayed in the most singular and excellent manner; it is in heaven likewise that we expect our rewards from God hereafter, at that time when he will shew himself in the fullest manner to be our God and Father.
Hallowed be thy name. The name of God signifies the same thing, in scripture-language, as God himself; so, to call upon the name of the Lord is to call upon God; to pray therefore that God's name may be hallowed is to pray that he may
be sanctified by his creatures; that his holiness and, in general, all the virtues and perfections of his nature, may be acknowledged by them; that he alone may be honoured by their faith, their fear and their religious worship; or, in a word, that he may be glorified.
10. Thy kingdom come. The kingdom of God is universal and eternal: it is therefore the kingdom of the Messiah that is here referred to, which is called the kingdom of God: this Christ had before declared to be at hand
The coming of this kingdom has different degrees: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, his ascension, the descent of the Holy Spirit, were the beginnings of it. The preaching of this gospel to the gentiles extended beyond the bounds of Judæa; and, when Jerusalem was destroyed, and the ceremonial worship of the law entirely abolished, that temporal kingdom which God exercised in Judlæa ceased entirely, and the gospel was spread over the whole known world. This kingdom of God continues to make fresh progress, in proportion as the gospel establishes its empire over the minds of men, and will still be extended, until God shall have brought all things into subjection to Jesus Christ.
What we mean by this prayer, at the present day, is the progress