And it came to pass, that, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, on of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.
Which words do bring us to that form of invocation, to which by degrees we have been approaching: for, first, out of St. Paul we learned, that 'of ourselves we are not able so much as to think a good thought, much more unable to do that which is good; secondly, from St. James, that albeit we have no power in ourselves, yet our want may be supplied by the 'Father of lights;' thirdly, that therefore to the end we may obtain this ability, we are to seek for it by prayer, as Christ. counselleth Petite, et dabitur vobis
But then we meet weiht another difficulty, and that is, as Paul confesseth, that albeit grace may be obtained at the hands of God by prayer, yet we know not how or what to ask except 'the Spirit' of God supply 'our infirmities' and therefore, as then it was said that 'the Spirit of God maketh intercession for us,' so here the same spirit doth move the disciples to seek for a form of prayer of Christ; whereby we are taught, that if we know not how or what to [342/343] pray for, our duty is to repair Christ with the disciples that He would direct us.
This text hath two parts: first, the petition of the Apostles; secondly, Christ's answer thereunto.
In the first part we are to consider, first, the occasion of the petition; secondly, the petition itself, Domine, doce nos , 'Master teach us.'
Touching the first point, the disciples took occasion of this petition from Christ's praying; for seeing Him not only pray now but at sundry other times, presently they conceived this within themselves, that doubtless prayer was a matter of great importance and a means of no small benefit, otherwise Christ would never have prayed so often.
Before, we considered two special motives to prayer: the first was Christ's commandment, the second Christ's promise, 'Ask, and it shall be given you.' And here again we have two other motives: first, the provocation of Christ's example, Whom the disciples found praying in a certain place; secondly, the mould and set form of prayer which He hath given us for our better direction in this duty, 'Our Father, &c.'
Concerning the first of these, no doubt the examples of holy men ought to move us to pray; much more when Jesus Christ Himself, Who is the 'Holy of Holies,' doth by His own example stir us up hereunto.
King David, when he had his crown pulled off his head by his own son, and was driven out of his kingdom, said to the priest, 'If it please God He can bring me again, and shew me' both the ark and the tabernacle. Declaring hereby, that he was more careful to have the liberty to come into the house of prayer to pour out his supplication before the Lord, as he was wont, than to be restored to his crown; so great account did he make of prayer. The like account did the holy prophet Daniel make; for when by the commandment of the king it was proclaimed that whosoever made any petition to God or men save only to the king should be 'thrown into the lion's den,' he chose rather to adventure his life than not to pray. Whereby we may gather, both how acceptable to God, and also how necessary for us, this duty of prayer and invocation is; so that these examples of these holy men ought to be of no small efficacy to persuade us hereunto; and especially if we consider the example of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Who [343/344] is greater than either David or Daniel. Of Whom it is reported, that He went into a 'solitary place' alone, not only in the morning but also in the evening; not for an hour, but to spend 'the whole night in prayer.; He prayed not only in deserto, 'in the desert' which was a place of distress, but in horto, in the garden, which was a place of pleasure. As He prayed when He was in his agony, so also when He was to be made King, to teach us that as well in prosperity as in adversity we have need to pray; for hereunto our Saviour doth exhort us in plain words not only by precept, 'Pray that ye enter not into temptations,' because prayer is a means to keep us from, both a malo culpæ et a malo poenæ,' as well from sin as from all manner of plagues' which are the effects of sin-as one saith, there would none adversity come upon us, unless there were perversity in us-but secondly, by promise of reward, 'Pray unto your Father in secret, and He will reward you openly.
We think it sufficient, if earthly princes will vouchsafe to hearken to our prayer; but God promiseth us more, He will rewards us for the same. Therefore seeing God both commands us to pray, and promiseth to grant us that we pray for; seeing He doth not only by His example teach us that prayer is requisite, but prescribes us also a form of prayer, we ought not to be negligent in this duty.
Besides, out of this occasion we are to consider this, that Christ prayed though He needed nothing. As He was 'the only-begotten' Son of God, He was 'full of grace and truth,' He had received the Spirit without 'measure:' yet for all that He prayed.
There are three uses of prayer: first, there is an use of necessity; for God hath; left prayer to be our city of refuge, to the end that when all means fail we should fly unto God by prayer. In which regard the Wise Man saith, Turris altissima est nomen Domini, 'The name of the Lord is a strong tower.' But Christians should have a further use of this duty; for unreasonable creatures, as lions and ravens, are provoked in regard of their necessity to call upon God.
Secondly, the use of duty, for prayer is an offering; the Prophet compareth it to 'incense,' 'a reasonable service,' our spiritual sacrifice. It is compared to 'incense' which giveth a sweet smell to all our works, words, and thoughts [344/345] which otherwise would stink, and be offensive to the Majesty of God. This use of prayer, we have not only for the supply of our wants in the time of adversity, but at all times, as Job saith.
Thirdly, there is the use of dignity, when a man doth abstract himself from the earth, and by often prayer doth grow into acquaintance and familiarity with God; for this is a great dignity, that flesh and blood shall be exalted so much as to have continual conference with God.
Now as Christ was the Son of God, He had no cause to pray in any of these three respects; but as he was Principium omnis creaturæ, 'the first-born of every creature,' as He was 'the Head of the Church,' He had use of prayer in these three respects. As he was a creature, He stood in need of those things which other creatures of God were wont to desire. Again, as He was a creature though the chief of all creatures, He owed this duty of invocation unto God His Creator; and as he called on God in these two respects so He was heard, as Christ speaks, 'I know Thou hearest Me always.' But as He was in the state of a creature, the last use doth most of all concern Him; for which cause having told Martha that 'one thing was needful,' because the obtaining of the same is not in our power, He presently withdraweth Himself unto prayer in the beginning of this Chapter, teaching us to do the like.
Before we come to the petition, these words, ut cessavit, are to be considered; for there are some with Saul will call for the ark, and will presently cry, Away with it; that is, will begin their prayers and will break them off in the midst upon any occasion: but the Spirit of God doth teach us to be of another mind, when He willeth us to avoid whatsoever may be a means to interrupt our prayers.
The disciples forbare to make their petitions to Christ till He had done praying, and therefore from their example we are to learn so to settle ourselves to prayer as that nothing should cause us to break off, and so to regard others that are occupied in this duty as by no means to interrupt them.
In the petition we are to consider, first, the thing that they desire; secondly, the reason why they make this petition. First, whereas they make request that Christ would teach them how to pray, they do by implication acknowledge as [345/346] much as St. Paul speaketh of, that they 'know not what to ask.' Not that they were without that general institution which we have from nature, that is, to desire that which is good, but because they know not how to limit their desire.
As in temporal things, they know not whether it were good for them to be the chief men in a kingdom, whichc was the ignorance of the sons of Zebedee, so in spiritual matters they will be like St. Paul, who thought it good for him to be saved from the temptation, whereas God told him that His 'grace was sufficient' for him, and yet that the temptation should continue still.
As James and John made a request ignorantly for themselves, so they make another in the behalf of Christ: 'Lord, wilt Thou command that fire come down from heaven?' and therefore were reproved by Christ for it. And as we see both by examples of Christ's own disciples that we may 'pray amiss,' so in the Old Testament David saith we may pray so as 'prayer'(which is a part of God's service) 'shall be turned into sin.' For prayer is nothing else but an interpreter of our desire, as one saith Ea petimus quæ appetimus, 'We pray for those things which we desire;' and as our desires are many times not only vain and unprofitable but dangerous and hurtful, so it falls out likewise that our prayers are vain, and so are turned in to sin.
The disciples therefore being privy to their own infirmities in this case are stirred by God's spirit to seek for a perfect from of prayer of Christ, in Whom 'all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge are hid.' And this they do to the end they might not fail either in the matter or manner of their prayers, and that having received a platform of prayer from Christ. they might use it as a pattern and complement of all their petitions.
The Pharisees were great prayers, but they under a pretence of long prayers did 'devour widow's houses,' and therefore their prayer turned into sin. The heathen used also to make long prayers, but they erred, for they thought that they should be heard for their long babbling. Therefore the disciples that they might not pray amiss do make their request to our Saviour, 'Lord teach us to pray.' Which petition was therefore acceptable to Christ, because profitable for [346/347] themselves; for thus He professeth of Himself, Ego Dominus Deus tuus docens te utilia. Not subtilia, saith Augustine. So St. Paul confirmeth that he 'withheld nothing' from the Church 'that was profitable' for them to know.
The world is full of curious questions: The Pharisees move questions touching matrimony. The Sadducees asked what should come to pass after the end of the world, whether we shall know one another. These were unprofitable and curious, the inventions of flesh and blood, not those that proceeded from the Holy Ghost. The disciples' question is here, how they may serve God, and how they may perform that duty for which they came into the world: curious things are those abscondita which belong to God, with which we may not meddle; we must enquire of things which concern us. Of the sons of Cain and Abel, who were inventors of tents, some devised to work in brass and copper, others found out music, as they thought it most profitable for the public weal. The trade that the sons of Seth used and professed at the same time, that they thought to be most profitable, was the 'calling upon the name of the Lord;' and they were occupied therein, as an art no less profitable than the building of houses, or making of armour. And ever since, howsoever to world do addict themselves to other things that serve to make most for their private profit, yet the Church and city of God are busy in studying how they may by prayer 'receive mercy, and obtain grace to help them in time of need.'
The reason whereby they urge their suit is 'as John taught his disciples.' Which reason, in the judgment of flesh and blood, might seem of small efficacy; for whereas John confessed himself 'unworthy to unloose Christ's shoe,' He might have took it in scorn that the disciples of John should teach Him His duty after the example of John; but Christ to commend His humility is content both in His preaching and praying to follow John. John said, 'Every tree that brings not forth good fruit,' and Christ, though He were the wisdom of God, and furnished with all manner of doctrine, yet was content to borrow that sentence from John Baptist as appeareth in His sermon. So He was content to follow him in prayer; so that the example of John's diligence [347/348] in teaching his disciples that duty, was a motive to Him to do the like unto him.
Whereas the disciples of Christ tell Him that John was wont to teach his disciples to pray, they speak by experience, for divers of them were before-time disciples unto John, as appears by John the first chapter and thirty-seventh verse.
The ordinary prayer that was used in the Synagogue among the Jews, was that prayer which is intituled 'The prayer of Moses;' and as Christ saith, 'The Law and the Prophets were until John,' so that prayer of Moses continued in the Church of the Jews until John's time. When he was come, he used another form of prayer, which endured to the coming of Christ, Who having taught His disciples a third form of prayer, John's prayer ceased. The reason was because, as the Apostle speaketh of Moses, albeit both Moses, the Prophets, and John, were faithful in the house of God, yet they were but servants, but Christ was Sun of Righteousness, and the Day-Star that was long before promised; and therefore seeing He being come hath taught a more perfect form of prayer, He being only wise, all other forms ought to give place to His.
Secondly, according to the rule of John Baptist, 'a man can receive nothing except it be given from above.' Then if we will obtain any thing, we must put up our supplications to God for it. But in making our prayers we may offend, for 'he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaks earthly things:' therefore John, according to his own confession, may mingle some corruption with his prayer. But Christ 'That is from heaven is above all,' and therefore if He teach us to pray, it shall be in such sort as God shall accept it: and for this cause Christ's prayer doth excel the prayers both of Moses and John, and all the Prophets.
Touching which form of prayer, as before He had given them an abridgement of that obedience which the Law requireth, so here He doth briefly set down a form of prayer.
As it is said of Him, that 'grace and truth is by Jesus Christ,' so when in the other chapter He had shewed them the truth of the Law, so now He tells them that grace must be sought for of God by prayer, whereby we may be able to obey that law.
[348/349] The suit of the disciples being both profitable to themselves and no subtle question, Christ is content presently to grant their requests, and therefore His answer is. 'When ye pray, say' &c.
Wherein we are to observe two things: first, whereas there are certain practice spirits that cross that saying of our Saviour, and tell us we may not use this prayer which Christ gave, saying, 'Our Father,' but that we are to frame our prayers of our own as our state shall require, these words area contradiction to their Ne dicite.
Christ Himself hath commanded us to use this form of prayer, and therefore we may be bold to say, 'Our Father.' Whatsoever prayers we make of ourselves they have some earth, because we ourselves are of the earth, but the prayer instituted by Christ is free from all imperfection, because it was penned from Him That was 'from above.'
In this prayer there is not one word wanting that should be put in, nor any word more than ought to be. Therefore both in regard of the Author of it and the matter, we may safely use this form of prayer.
Secondly, these words are an opposition betwixt Cogitate and Dicite. It is not enough to think in our minds this prayer, but our prayers must be vocal; so that as in this Christ casteth out the dumb devil, so here he casteth out the dumb prayer. It is true that the life of prayer and thanksgiving standeth herein, 'that we sing praises with understanding,' that we do orare mente et spiritu. Herein stands the soul of prayer, but as we ourselves have not only a soul but a body our 'tongue must be the pen of a ready writer.' We must at the time of prayer bow our knees, as our Saviour Christ did. We must 'lift up our hearts with our hands.' Our eyes must be lifted up to God 'That dwelleth in the heaven.' And as David says, al our 'bones' must be exercised in prayer.
The reason why we must use this form of prayer is taken from the skill of Him That hath penned it, and from His favour with God.
We are not acquainted with the phrases of the Court, and we know not what suit to make unto God. But Christ Who is our Advocate, in Whom 'all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid,' [349/350] He can form us a bill and make such a petition for us, as shall be acceptable at the hands of God; 'None knows the things of God, but the Spirit of God.' So none knows what pleaseth God but Christ, Who hath received the Spirit from God; and in this regard, as He knows God's will best, so He is best able to frame a form of prayer so as it may be agreeable to God's will.
Secondly, touching the authority which Christ hath with God His Father, it was such as God proclaimed from heaven, 'This is my beloved Son;' and Christ saith, 'Thou hearest Me always.' So greatly was He respected with God.
In both these respects we may be bold to say, 'Our Father,' &c.
We have the promise, that if we ask any thing in the Name of Christ, He gives it us. Much more may we have confidence to be heard, si non modo in nomine Ejus, sed verbis Ejus.
The Apostle saith, 'If I had the tongue of men and angels.' His meaning is, that the tongues of Angels were more glorious than the tongues of men; and therefore that song of the Angels, 'Holy, holy, holy,' is magnified in the Church; but this prayer was formed by the tongue of Christ, Who is the Lord of Angels.
The Cherubims hid their faces before the Lord of hosts, And He that made this prayer was the Lord of Hosts, of Whom it is said, Os Domini exercitum locutum est.
This prayer, as one said, is d£neisma tÁj ¢g£phj, 'the engaging of our character and love;' for we desire to have remission of sin no otherwise than as we forgive our brethren, whereby the love of our brother is continually increased. And this prayer is breviarium fidei it teacheth is to believe those things which we pray for.
Lastly, our perfection in obeying the Law, and believing those things which we ought to intreat, with such a hope by prayer: Legem implendi, et legem credendi, lex statuit supplicandi.