"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name."
"AFTER this manner pray ye." This then is the right way of praying. Our Lord here in the Sermon on the Mount, is telling men how to do the three eminent duties--"When thou doest alms," "When ye fast," "When ye pray." About each of the three He has the same thing to say--Do not advertise it; but when He speaks of prayer He goes further, for it is by far the most difficult of the three, He goes on to tell us the right method. "After this manner therefore pray ye." The Lord's Prayer is given, not to tie us down to that particular form of words (though indeed, there are none so good), but to show us how to pray. "After this manner." This is the right way. Therefore every other way is wrong.
Our prayers will be futile if we reject this warning. Often and often they are. We ask and we receive not, because we ask amiss. Let us try during this Lent to learn to pray better, bringing our prayers nearer to the model of our Lord. And it will help us greatly if we realise at the outset that it is not at all easy. The Paternoster is readily committed to memory, but it is slowly learnt by heart.
It is so divine, so high and deep in its simplicity, so contrary to our natural desires. The prayer of human instinct is this--"My Father, give me to-day what I so sorely require." Is not that the way we often pray, and think we have done a pious, religious act?
The Paternoster begins quite differently. It bids us lay aside all selfishness at the outset. Its first word--"Our"--is the most difficult of all; for to lay aside selfishness is the hardest thing in the world.
I must begin by casting off self, by realising that I am only one minute unit in the great millions of humanity. Think of it, what this word "Our" means--all those who are separated from you by impassable barriers, those who are so far above you that you cannot reach them, those who are so far beneath you that you reckon the slightest act of human recognition is a gracious condescension--and those who belong to the opposite faction in politics, those who belong to hostile nations, those whose religion or whose irreligion wars with your deepest convictions; and those who are outcasts too and criminals, the enemies of society, and those, it is often hardest to remember, with whom you have had disagreements, quarrels, those whom you feel you cannot like.
"Our." He is your Father only in connection with these others also. You cannot speak for yourself unless you speak also for them; you cannot carry your petitions to the throne of His grace unless you carry theirs; you cannot ask for any good unless it is for them as much as for you.
For He is their Father as much as yours, and we cannot say, "Our Father, Who art in heaven," unless we have first learnt to say, "Our brothers, who are on the earth."
Thus solemnly we draw the brotherhood of mankind around us, and we put ourselves in the presence of God. That is the first act. Too often man trips in and out of God's presence, saying words that he does not feel towards a Person of whom he has no intelligent perception. But we must not be so. Our love and our awe must be first evoked. "Father," we approach Him as a child in the tenderest relationship; He is one who loves us with more than human love, loves us more than we can love Him, One Who is more ready to hear than we to pray. But, also, we must pray to One Who is present, "which art" Is not one great reason of our want of personal love to God this--that we in our hearts worship something that is past? We put a book, or tradition, or some fancied golden age in the place of the living God. Perhaps it is the Bible that we reverence, not God; its words become the subject of idolatry, precisely they are images to us--visible things that are the substitutes for the present realities of the spirit world. Or perhaps it is tradition, the ancient customs of the Church, or the modern conventions of religion. All such things, instead of being helps, become as God to us; and our religion is a faint shadow of the past. Then the younger generation begins its quest for the truth, and passes over the Christian faith, because we have made the faith to appear a thin echo of half-understood phrases and customs of dead days. And instead of joining in the search, and welcoming whatever light may come from it, we shrink back into reaction, into mere theological conversation; because all the time we have not known the living God, have not lifted up our souls to Him Who is.
Yet again, it is to the Father in heaven that we are to pray. Mankind before Christ sought two ways of knowing God. The philosopher thought of Him as far removed from earth in His perfection. The polytheist thought of Him as embodied in many gods, half-human, and for that reason very near to him. The one protested against the error of the other, and both were half-true. God is infinitely above us, as the philosopher thought; but He is also very human, very near. So Jesus Christ came to show us that God is not some vast abstraction, but is a present Father, closer to us than breathing, and nearer than hands or feet.
That was the truth contained in polytheism and in pantheism. God is our Father, close to us. Yet the other truth must not be forgotten. God is in heaven, that is, in a different state or plane of existence, infinitely above us. Jesus Christ did not come into the world to make our thoughts about God less full of awe, than when Moses cast off his shoes because the very ground was holy.
So we come into God's presence full of love for our Father, full of living fearless faith in Him Who is, now, to-day, but also full of reverence for Him Who is in the white light, the utter purity and power of heaven.
And, having thus laid ourselves in the presence of Him with Whom we have to do, what do we ask for first? Just that this Name, this revelation of the Heavenly Father may be hallowed.
Naturally we should begin by asking for ourselves, and end with an ascription to the glory of God. Men would say--"Let us have bread first, all necessary things for our bodies and our spiritual and intellectual needs. Should we not ask such things of an earthly father? Would it not be artificial--nay, almost profane and presumptuous--to place the needs of God Almighty before our own?" And then would come a time of sorrow, a painful inward gnawing in lonely hours, and they would realise that there is something else we need besides bread--sins to be pardoned, soul sores to be healed. Yes, on second thoughts, we would put forgiveness first. But no. Not even this. Our Lord recognises both these desires as reasonable and true; but He postpones them. Our first need is God's glory. Afterwards comes man's necessity.
"Hallowed be Thy Name." God's revelation of Himself to men is put above all human needs.
For this is the meaning of the petition. God has slowly spelt out His great name, letter by letter, before the eyes of men, or in their hearts, through the conscience, through Nature, through the prophets, and through His Son Jesus Christ. That revelation is His Name; it is the truth about God, the manifestion of His character, that we ask to be hallowed as in heaven so in earth.
It is the revelation of a Father, as we have seen, of Him whom the learned philosopher and the superstitious polytheist both have sought after, both right, and both wrong.
Is it a small thing that this should be put first? Nay, it is just where religion has gone wrong, and where religious people daily go astray, in that they put their own cravings and notions first; and forget that the true religion begins with God, the true teaching begins there and never lowers itself to the base and selfish thoughts of men.
There, in the heart of man, begins Superstition--there man has set up his own cruel, and bloody conceptions of the Almighty; for Superstition is ignorance of the name of God.
Superstition, and something else too. There is another system which takes man as the measure of God. Have you ever thought that our naturalistic agnosticisms and atheisms are fundamentally at one with the dark Superstition of the savage or the Calvinist? The conception of man has become more refined, the knowledge about Him immeasurably increased, but the reasoning is the same; man is taken as the standard of the Divine, and the material universe so far as he can sift and weigh it, and this is held to be all we can know about God. And the measure is laid along it, and held up--"This is the whole of truth." And what is forgotten is that God begins just where that measure stops. Just because He is God, we cannot understand Him. It is the old error in a neat modern dress. Superstition and naturalistic materialism are the same in this: man stands before the lantern and the screen is darkened.
So we pray for this as the greatest of all boons that God's revelation of Himself as the Father in Heaven, Who is above all and yet through all, and in us all, may be known; that the Name which Jesus Christ taught us to be that of a Father and Friend, Who is the Almighty, all wise, all loving Spirit, may be hallowed.
Now, we know that it is not hallowed to-day. Never was there greater need of this prayer. The old man-worship and the new jostle each other side by side; everywhere man's material powers grow, and he is absorbed in his triumphs over nature; his luxuries increase, and his vices, yet with the luxury gaunt Poverty stalks unrelieved. Man goes his way, forgetting God; the gold is piled up, the guns roar, the games are played; man is still the miser, the savage, the child--but with more confidence, more content to be so poor a thing, more absorbed in his little round. God is forgotten. There is so much else to think about. Every man must specialise in his own little corner; there is so much to learn.
And all over the world are the vast dumb millions, the working drudges of Europe, the coloured races of Asia and Africa. They look out upon the rulers of the world, and the teeming population of Christendom scoff and say, "Where is there any Christianity?" And the millions upon millions in Asia and Africa look on us, and see us cleverer but no more godly than themselves, and they say, "What is there in these men's religion? They have taught us to make torpedoes and money, but there is nothing else to be learned from them."
Convert them! Why, we cannot even convert our own people, the masses who have lost their religion. They are without God in the world because we have not hallowed His Name, but have dishonoured it. Be sure of this, the reason why the people are not religious is because our selfishness and callousness have sickened them of religion. To them the world is full of misery and want, and empty of the delights which are our daily need; they look around upon it, and over all they see--put yourself in their position--they see a comfortable class in broad cloth, muttering pious phrases, and occasionally dropping stray coins that will not be missed, but never coming down to help them, never giving up its own gains and its own greed and its own insufferable pride. Can you not imagine what we seem like to them?
And can you not imagine what we seem like to the heathen?--to the people of China, for instance, at this moment, who are learning that all our professions of justice, civilisation, and freedom were worth nothing when we wanted a market for our opium--so soon as we found that we wanted some cheap slave labour for our mines.
Let us admit that no class can form a true estimate of another. Yet is it not more true than the estimate that class forms of itself?
And it is at least that estimate which colours all conceptions of religion. It is the gross wickedness, and oppressions and miseries of the world that hide from men the Name of God.
A Father, loving, gentle, served by a Church to whom all men are brothers beloved. Ah! if men could see that this is the Name of God, would they not turn to it? But we cluster round that Name, and hide it from the world, as a court clusters round a king. They do not see Him, because they see us first, and are disgusted. So His Name is not hallowed.
"Thou that art a guide of the blind, a light of them that are in darkness, a teacher of babes . . . thou therefore that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou who gloriest in the law, through thy transgression of the law dishonourest thou God? For the Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you as it is written!"
Ah, God! we have dishonoured Thy Name, we who were the guardians of its honour. We pray that now it may he hallowed. We cannot hallow it, but Thou canst. And we pray Thee to hallow it, to keep it from contact with our folly and baseness; yet to take us as Thy servants and make it hallowed through us. Hallow it in our own hearts, through repentance, through conversion, through Thy coming in high moment's, through Thy chastisement of us and Thy grace. Hallow it in the world that Thy revelation may be accepted of men, Thy religion openly professed in Church and State, on Sundays and on week-days, in worship and in conduct.