- Published: 24 May 2011
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This is the name given to the prayer that is recorded in Matthew six. We may think that the prayer of John seventeen more justly merits the title "The Lord's Prayer", but this is no place for quibbling. Before we consider the implications of the prayer itself, there are three things that must be known and understood:
- The prayer forms a part of the Sermon on the Mount.
- The prayer was given to the disciples at their request.
- The prayer has much in common with the form adopted by the Jews themselves.
The Sermon on the Mount. The gospel according to Matthew shows the place occupied by the Sermon on the Mount. Suffice it for the moment to realize that this prayer was given at a time when the disciples did not know that Christ must suffer and die (see Matt. 16:21-22). What is the place and purpose of this Sermon on the Mount? Speaking broadly, the varying views can be reduced under two heads:
- The Sermon on the Mount is the great outline of Christian practice (Bloomfield), and applies to the church today.
- The Sermon on the Mount does not apply to the church of today, but constitutes the laws of the kingdom which is yet to be set up on the earth.
A reference to the article The Church Which Is In Heaven will reveal that we could not possibly endorse No. 1, and a moment's consideration will show that No. 2 is just as untenable.
The opening beatitudes speak of "mourning" and being "persecuted for righteousness' sake". A blessing is pronounced upon those who are "reviled", "persecuted", and "slandered" falsely for the sake of Christ. We believe that the Scriptures testify that, when the kingdom of prophecy is set up and Christ reigns as the Son of David:
"In His days shall the righteous FLOURISH; and abundance of PEACE so long as the moon endureth" (Psa. 72:7).
The "needy" and the "poor" are to be His special care and:
"They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat; for as the days of a tree are the days of My people, and Mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. . . . They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, saith the Lord" (Isa. 65:22-25).
One cannot but realize that a different atmosphere pervades the references of the O.T. to the kingdom of the Messiah, from that of the Sermon on the Mount.
Under the conditions recognized by the Sermon on the Mount a man may be in danger of gehenna or of prison and the payment to the uttermost farthing. Divorce is still contemplated as a possibility, which we feel can find no warrant from O.T. prophecy of the future kingdom. Again, the injunction to resist not evil, and being sued for one's coat, or being compelled to go a mile, etc., bring before the mind a totally different economy from that which fills the vision of the prophets of old. Enemies are still abroad, and so are those that curse and hate. In the great prayer taught by the Lord to His disciples, the kingdom is still future. They pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven". Those addressed still "fasted", and still had the possibility of serving "two masters". The kingdom of God is to be the first object of their seeking, and "evil" is still to be expected day by day. "Dogs" and "swine" may still turn and rend those who indiscriminately dispense holy things, and those addressed are still in the condition that can be spoken of like this, "If ye then, being evil, etc." False prophets will still deceive, and some still build upon sand. Such a state of things makes the idea that the Sermon on the Mount are the laws of the future kingdom impossible. Rather do we see a persecuted, waiting people, suffering during the absence of their rightful king, sustained by the hope that, when He comes and the kingdom is set up, they will then receive their great reward which is in heaven, a waiting the day when they, the meek, shall inherit the earth.
The Sermon on the Mount relates neither to the church of the present day nor to the kingdom of the future, but were words of counsel and encouragement given by the rejected King to the men who had followed Him, and who now began to realize that the kingdom would not immediately appear, and it is in that atmosphere that the Lord's prayer was uttered and to this condition it belongs.
The prayer was given at the request of the disciples. From Luke 11:1 we learn that one of the disciples said, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples". It was a custom for a Rabbi to teach his pupils a form of prayer; it set a tone to the school, and gave a pointer to his special doctrine. John the Baptist had done this, and it was expected by the disciples that Christ would do so too. It is a solemn thought to think that the prayer is prefaced by the words "use not vain repetitions", and that at some services it is used so many times that one wonders why prayer for daily bread, and for any other of this set of petitions need to be iterated so frequently. It was an axiom with the Jews "every one that multiplies prayer, is heard" (Heiros Taanith, fol. 67.3). When the Saviour gave this prayer to His disciples, the stated number of prayers used by the Jews daily was EIGHTEEN. Owing to human frailty, these eighteen prayers were reduced into a brief summary. This summary was called "a fountain", and the Lord's prayer belongs to this category. Another canon of the Rabbis was that "he who prays, ought always when he prays, to join the church", and when alone his prayer should still be in the plural, as the Lord taught "say OUR Father".Three clauses in this prayer call for consideration, as they have a bearing upon dispensational truth:
- The prayer for daily bread.
- The prayer concerning temptation.
- The prayer for forgiveness.
Daily bread is the basic need of all men, whatever their standing or state, and its inclusion in this prayer should cause no questioning. When we examine the original, however, we meet with a fact that calls for considerable thought. One would imagine that such a word as "daily" would be so common as to need no comment. Yet although there were six different ways of expressing the thought of "daily", in use in the N.T., not one of these is used, but a word unknown either in the Greek N.T. or in any extant Greek writing is employed! The word translated "daily" is the Greek epiousios. It seems extraordinary to think that for so common a theme, the Lord or His Apostle was obliged to "coin" a word. The word is composed of epi "upon" and the participle of eimi "to come", and so the passage means literally "the bread which cometh down upon us". Now no Jew could ever hear the phrase "bread which cometh down upon us" without thinking immediately of the manna. If this prayer is a legitimate petition for the time now present, and if it actually refers to daily food, what reason can be given for employing so extraordinary a term? Suppose, however, a day is coming, when some of the people of Israel will once again be delivered, as from Pharaoh, and once again in a wilderness be absolutely dependent upon bread from heaven, then, if such a condition could be proved to be Scriptural, we should have both the time, place and people for whom "the Lord's prayer" will become a prayer indeed.
The book of the Revelation tells us that a day will come, when Satan will be cast out of heaven to the earth, and when that day comes Israel will be the object of his attack.
"And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man chi1d. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent" (Rev. 12:13-14).
Here, as never before, will the petition arise from the heart, "give us this day, the bread that cometh down upon us". Closely allied with this is the clause dealing with temptation. If it is difficult to understand how thousands of Christians, in times of peace and plenty, with money in the bank, and with staples well stored, could honestly adopt words that practically meant that they were as destitute as Israel would have been in the wilderness but for the manna; it is also difficult to understand how anyone using the prayer "lead us not into temptation" over and over again, can avoid the charge of insincerity, for if after any service where the Lord's Prayer is used, one were to ask any one of the congregation "what temptation" they had in mind, and why they felt it necessary, day in day out the whole year through to pray so extraordinary a prayer, most would have to confess that they really did not know. Do we believe that God is daily leading His people into temptation? Does He need this incessant pleading to spare us this temptation? Or are we once again proving the practical value of dispensational truth? In the book of the Revelation we have the promise "I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Rev. 3:10). We come back therefore to our original position. The Sermon on the Mount is the Lord's encouragement for His disciples while the kingdom is postponed and the King rejected, and the prayer embodied in that sermon is luminous when seen in its true setting, which a due regard for dispensational truth makes clear and inevitable.
One other clause in the prayer calls for consideration. The prayer for forgiveness.
"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
It is the intention and meaning of that word "AS" that we must consider. A casual reading may take the prayer to mean, "Lord, we forgive our fellow-men, and so we confidently hope that Thou wilt forgive us". Or a parallel might be sought in Ephesians 4:32:
"Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
All endeavours to soften the contractual element in this petition breaks down in the face of the Lord's own added explanation:
"For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive NOT men their trespasses, NEITHER will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15).
Later in this gospel the Lord enforced this lesson by the parable of the unforgiving servant. There the forgiveness was rescinded and the forgiven man put into prison. No one with any knowledge of the Gospel of Grace as revealed in the ministry of Paul could ever think of a forgiveness that could be cancelled or rescinded, and the forgiven person put back as he was before salvation. We are here faced with a problem that only "dispensational truth" can solve. If the gospel as preached in Matthew and Ephesians is "all one and the same" we must accept the condition, but no amount of reasoning can make the two accounts square. The answer to the problem is contained in the fact that in Matthew we have the PARDON of a King, where in Paul's epistle we have the ACQUITTAL of a Judge.
Taking therefore the context, the strong affinity with Jewish thought and practice, and the three clauses of the prayer we have considered, we believe it is impossible to deny that the Lord's prayer belongs to a dispensation very different from that of the church of the Mystery.
A concluding feature, last but by no means least, is that this prayer is not offered "in the name" of the Saviour. In John sixteen, the Lord said "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name". This includes "the Lord's prayer". He continued saying, "Ask, and ye shall receive" (John 16:23-24). If we ignore this word of the Lord, and persist in using a prayer which He Himself must have included in the word "hitherto", we shall not only defeat our own ends, but we shall exhibit before men that we do not appreciate as we should that most vital of all doctrines, namely the Mediation of Jesus Christ.