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enter into our closet, and when we have shut the door, we pray to our Father which is in heaven.
MATT. vi. 7-15.
7. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
This is the thought which should always be present to our minds in prayer. What we are required to express, is not our wants, but our desires. Our heavenly Father knoweth what things we have need of before we ask him. Mere repetition is not here forbidden; for repetition is consistent with earnestness, and a natural result of earnestness. Our blessed Lord himself in the season of his agony at Gethsemane, "prayed the third time, saying the same words."1 Importunity, or perseverance in prayer is specially inculcated in the parable which represents the unjust judge as overcome by the urgent entreaty of the suitor who claimed redress from him. The error
Ch. xxvi. 44.
2 Luke xviii. 1. &c.
against which we are warned is a vain repetition: as if much speaking, the mere utterance of words could be acceptable to God. As if, for instance, it would be a service pleasing to him, to fix a certain number of times for repeating a certain form of prayer, to count these times by artificial means, lest there should be one too many, or one too few, and when the tale was completed to consider the task as done, and the work of prayer performed. He was a prophet indeed who could foresee the need of guarding his disciples against such vanities. bling to think that his words have rather proved a testimony to condemn, than a warning to preserve; that they are few who "worship God in spirit and in truth," compared with those whose worship is mere form and ceremony, and whose prayers may be justly censured as vain repetitions.
And it is hum
He, however, who has taught us what to avoid, has also taught us what to imitate: and has left us an example of the kind of prayer which God approves and will graciously receive.
9. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.
11. Give us this day our daily bread.
12. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
14. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you :
15. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
For if a man harbours malice in his heart against his brother, refuses to forgive him his trespasses whilst he seeks that his own may be forgiven, his prayer will be of no avail. He has not the spirit to which mercy can be shown. Like the impure vessel which taints the purest water, the revengeful, uncharitable heart would mar the effect of the most perfect form of prayer.
Indeed, the PRAYER here taught by our Lord to his disciples, and left for their continual use, is only suited to the renewed heart, as enlightened by the Holy Ghost. It will be a vain repetition, it will be an unmeaning form, unless the love of God as well as man should fill the heart of those who offer it. To what purpose would its petitions be uttered by one who is not in a state of reconciliation with his heavenly Father? How could such an one desire that the name should be hallowed, which he himself held in no reverence, and to which he paid no honour? How could he wish that his kingdom should come, his dominion be extended until "all the kingdoms of the earth become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ?"3 How pray, that his will may be done by men below, as readily and as completely as it is fulfilled by the angels who surround his throne, and "do his pleasure?" This will be the earnest prayer of those who love God, and of those alone. As the Lord Jesus forgot his own wants that he might instruct the Samaritan at the well of Sychar, and found
3 Rev. xi. 15.
it his "meat and drink to finish the work of him who sent him ;"*-so will the disciple of Jesus seek first his heavenly Father's glory. But he must first be reconciled to his Father, and then come and offer this prayer.
Again, if we use our Lord's words sincerely and intelligently, our love of worldly things must be slight and moderate, compared with our desire of spiritual blessings. One short petition suffices to ask for our daily bread. To be forgiven our trespasses, to be preserved from temptation, and delivered from the snares of the evil one,-these are the real wants of life. All other things are insignificant in comparison. If we have this, we have everything; if we are without this, we have nothing.
After this manner therefore pray ye: in a spirit of love to God, and of charity towards man: in a humble spirit, which feels its daily short-comings, its habitual infirmities; in a forgiving spirit, which is too conscious of its own need of pardon to be severe against the trespasses of others. Prayer offered in this tone of mind, is acceptable to God. It is his will to "be inquired of" by his people, even though he knoweth what things they have need of before they ask him. It is their intercourse with their Father which is in heaven. They thus "draw nigh to him," and he to them. The Scriptures abound with proof, that such prayers enter into the ears of the Lord, and come up "as a memorial before him."6
John iv. 34.
5 See Ezek. xxxvi. 37.
6 Acts x. 4.
MATT. vi. 16-18.
16. Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
To the other species of hypocrisy which our Lord had before condemned, another is now added, that of fasting, or feigned humiliation outward mortification. The hypocrite knows that there is a disposition to admire one who appears to be above the world, and to despise what others value. People shall perceive, said the Pharisee, that I am not like themselves. I fast thrice in the week: I put sackcloth on my limbs, and ashes on my head. They will respect these signs of mourning and penitence: they will be astonished at so much holiness and self-denial.
And these have their reward. This popular reverence is the reward they seek; and it is theirs.
Thus through the corruption of human nature sacred duties become profane, and sin is aggravated by the pretence of humiliation for sin.