Exposition

The form of prayer prescribed by Christ is recited by two of the evangelists, Matthew and Luke. It is, without doubt, the best, the most expressive and perfect form of prayer that has ever been delivered. It was delivered by Christ, who is the wisdom of God, and whose words were always heard and answered by his heavenly Father. It also contains, in the most condense form, all things which are to be sought as necessary for soul and body. It is in like manner a rule or pattern with which all our prayers ought to conform and agree.

It is sometimes asked, Are we so bound down to this form of prayer, as not to be permitted to use other and different words when we pray? We reply to this Question, that Christ delivered this form, not that we should “be restricted to these words, but that we might know what things we should ask of God, and how we should ask them. It is a general form respecting the manner, and the things which we should pray for. It is likewise frequently the case that there are particular benefits necessary for us, which we should particularly ask of God, according as it is said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” “If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.” “Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.” (John 16:23. James 1:5. Matt. 24:20.) But these things are not to be found in this prayer as far as the words are concerned. There are also many examples of prayers, both in the Old and New Testament, which as to the words at least, are different from this prayer; as the prayers of Jehoshaphat, Solomon, Daniel; of Christ himself, of the apostles, &c. (2 Chron. 20:6. 2 Kings 8:15. Dan. 9:4. John 17:1. Acts 4:24.) These prayers, too, were heard and answered of God. It follows, therefore, that this form prescribed by Christ is a thing indifferent in as far as it respects the words.

Obj. 1. But we must not pretend to be wiser than Christ. Therefore since he has prescribed a certain form of prayer for us, we should be satisfied with it, and are chargeable with doing wrong whenever we use other forms of prayer.

Ans. We should indeed, do wrong in departing from this form of prayer, if Christ had intended to restrict us to its use. Bu he did not design to restrict us to the very language of this prayer; for his purpose was, when he gave this form to the disciples and taught them thus to pray, to give them a summary of the things which we should ask of God in our prayers.

Obj. 2. That should be retained, than which no better can be invented. But it is not possible for us to invent any better form of prayer, nor to select more suitable words, than we find in the Lord’s Prayer. Therefore we should retain both the form and the words of Christ.

Ans. We cannot invent a better form, nor more suitable words for the purpose of expressing the same summary which is as it were, the general of all those things which we ought to seek in prayer. These kinds or classes of benefits which Christ has prescribed in this form of prayer as the ones to be prayed for, cannot be presented in a better form. But then Christ will have us to descend into particulars, and pray for special benefits according to our necessity. The form which Christ has prescribed is nothing else than a series of certain classes or heads, under which may be comprehended and referred all spiritual and temporal blessings necessary for us. Hence when Christ commands us to pray for these general benefits, he at the same time commands us to pray for every special benefit included in that which is general. And still further, those things which are here expressed generally, we ought to specify particularly, that we may in this way be led to a consideration of our necessity, and to a desire of asking God to help us in our necessity. But it is necessary in order that we may do this, that we should have special forms of prayer; for the explanation of that which is general by that which is special necessarily requires other forms of expression. Hence Augustin declares that all the prayers of the saints which we have in the Scriptures are contained in the Lord’s Prayer. Augustin also adds, that we are at liberty to express the same things in other words when we pray, but are not allowed to pray for things different from those comprehended in this prayer.