Whatever Shall We Pray in Times Like These?

Some think the President of the United States is unqualified and unfit to hold office. Some think this man is the best chance to turn America around peacefully. Providence has caused many more hurricane landfalls on the US mainland than in the past ten years. Russia and China continue to use their proxies, Iran and North Korea, respectively, to cause strife in the world with the goal of overturning the existing world order. Whatever shall we pray in times like these?

The Lord Jesus Christ, when His followers requested: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples,” said:

Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.”

Matthew 6:9-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

And the Lord prefaced His instruction with a reassurance: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

So, should we merely repeat this prayer verbatim, or use it as a template for our own requests of the Living God? Let’s see what John Calvin had to say:

Do therefore pray thus …It was not the intention of the Son of God… to prescribe the words which we must use, so as not to leave us at liberty to depart from the form which he has dictated. His intention rather was, to guide and restrain our wishes, that they might not go beyond those limits and hence we infer, that the rule which he has given us for praying aright relates not to the words, but to the things themselves.

This form of prayer consists …of six petitions. The first three, it ought to be known, relate to the glory of God, without any regard to ourselves; and the remaining three relate to those things which are necessary for our salvation. …In prayer, Christ enjoins us to consider and seek the glory of God, and, at the same time, permits us to consult our own interests. …It would be altogether preposterous to mind only what belongs to ourselves, and to disregard the kingdom of God, which is of far greater importance.

Concerning our address to God, he says:

Our Father who art in heaven Whenever we engage in prayer, there are two things to be considered, both that we may have access to God, and that we may rely on Him with full and unshaken confidence: his fatherly love toward us, and his boundless power. Let us therefore entertain no doubt, that God is willing to receive us graciously, that he is ready to listen to our prayers, — in a word, that, of Himself, he is disposed to aid us.

…Now, as it would be the folly and madness of presumption, to call God our Father, except on the ground that, through our union to the body of Christ, we are acknowledged as his children, we conclude, that there is no other way of praying aright, but by approaching God with reliance on the Mediator.

Next, to the crux of the first petition, he says:

May thy name be sanctified …It is of unspeakable advantage to us that God reigns, and that he receives the honor which is due to him: but no man has a sufficiently earnest desire to promote the glory of God, unless (so to speak) he forgets himself, and raises his mind to seek God’s exalted greatness.

…To sanctify the name of God means nothing else than to give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name, so that men may never think or speak of him but with the deepest veneration. The opposite of this is the profanation of the name of God, which takes place, when men either speak disrespectfully of the divine majesty, or at least without that reverence which they ought to feel.

…We need not …wonder, if we are commanded to ask, in the first place, that the reverence which is due to [His Name] may be given by the world. Besides, this is no small honor done to us, when God recommends to us the advancement of his glory.

And, to the second petition:

May thy kingdom come …The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word, — would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world.

Now, he commences his reign by subduing the desires of our flesh. Again, as the kingdom of God is continually growing and advancing to the end of the world, we must pray every day that it may come: for to whatever extent iniquity abounds in the world, to such an extent the kingdom of God, which brings along with it perfect righteousness, is not yet come.

Finally, to the third:

May thy will be done …It is said, that the will of God is done, when he executes the secret counsels of his providence, however obstinately men may strive to oppose him. But here we are commanded to pray that, in another sense, his will may be done, — that all creatures may obey him, without opposition, and without reluctance.

…It is a prayer, that God may remove all the obstinacy of men, which rises in unceasing rebellion against him, and may render them gentle and submissive, that they may not wish or desire anything but what pleases him, and meets his [approval].

…When we pray that the earth may become obedient to the will of God, it is not necessary that we should look particularly at every individual. It is enough for us to declare, by such a prayer as this, that we hate and regret whatever we perceive to be contrary to the will of God, and long for its utter destruction, not only that it may be the rule of all our affections, but that we may yield ourselves without reserve, and with all cheerfulness, to its fulfillment.

Now Calvin tackles what he calls ‘the second table:’

…Of the form of prayer which Christ has prescribed to us this may be called, as [it were], the Second Table. I have adopted this mode of dividing it for the sake of instruction. The precepts which relate to the proper manner of worshipping God are contained in the First Table of the law [above], and those which relate to the duties of charity in the Second [below].

…We must not be so exclusively occupied with what is advantageous to ourselves, as to omit, in any instance, to give the first place to the glory of God. When we pray, therefore, we must never turn away our eyes from that object.

He has much to say about the first petition of the second table:

Give us today our daily bread …Though the forgiveness of sins is to be preferred to food, as far as the soul is more valuable than the body, yet our Lord commenced with bread and the supports of an earthly life, that from such a beginning he might carry us higher. …Since God condescends to nourish our bodies, there can be no doubt whatever, that he is far more careful of our spiritual life. This kind and gentle manner of treating us raises our confidence higher.

…It is indeed the true proof of our faith, when we ask nothing but from God, and not only acknowledge him to be the only fountain of all blessings, but feel that his fatherly kindness extends to the smallest matters, so that he does not disdain to take care even of our flesh.

…Such a petition as the following: “O Lord, since our life needs every day new supplies, may it please thee to grant them to us without interruption.” The adverb ‘today,’ as I said a little ago, is added to restrain our excessive desire, and to teach us, that we depend every moment on the kindness of God, and ought to be content with that portion which he gives us, to use a common expression, “from day to day.”

…These words remind us that, unless God feed us daily, the largest accumulation of the necessaries of life will be of no avail. Though we may have abundance of corn, and wine, and everything else, unless they are watered by the secret blessing of God, they will suddenly vanish, or we will be deprived of the use of them, or they will lose their natural power to support us, so that we shall famish in the midst of plenty.

There is …no reason to wonder, if Christ invites the rich and poor indiscriminately to apply to their Heavenly Father for the supply of their wants. No man will sincerely offer such a prayer as this, unless he has learned, by the example of the Apostle Paul, “to be full and to be hungry, to abound and to suffer need,” (Philippians 4:12,) to endure patiently his poverty or his humble condition, and not to be intoxicated by a false confidence in his abundance.

…Why [do] we ask that bread to be given to us, which we call OUR bread? I answer: It is so called, not because it belongs to us by right, but because the fatherly kindness of God has set it apart for our use. It becomes ours, because our Heavenly Father freely bestows it on us for the supply of our necessities. …What we seem to have acquired by our own industry is his gift.

We may likewise infer from this word, that, if we wish God to feed us, we must not take what belongs to others: for all who have been taught of God, (John 6:45,) whenever they employ this form of prayer, make a declaration that they desire nothing but what is their own.

Next, he comments on a second petition composed of two complementary parts:

And forgive us our debts …Christ has included in two petitions all that related to the eternal salvation of the soul, and to the spiritual life: for these are the two leading points of the divine covenant, in which all our salvation consists. He offers to us a free reconciliation by “not imputing our sins,” (2 Corinthians 5:19,) and promises the Spirit, to engrave the righteousness of the law on our hearts. We are commanded to ask both, and the prayer for obtaining the forgiveness of sins is placed first.

…For, though the righteousness of God shines, to some extent, in the saints, yet, so long as they are surrounded by the flesh, they lie under the burden of sins. …For, when he commands all his disciples to betake themselves to him daily for the forgiveness of sins, everyone, who thinks that he has no need of such a remedy, is struck out of the number of the disciples.

Now, the forgiveness, which we here ask to be bestowed on us, is inconsistent with satisfaction, by which the world endeavors to purchase its own deliverance. For that creditor is not said to forgive, who has received payment and asks nothing more, —but he who willingly and generously departs from his just claim, and frees the debtor…

Thus reminding us: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So, then, it follows:

As we forgive our debtors This condition is added, that no one may presume to approach God and ask forgiveness, who is not pure and free from all resentment. And yet the forgiveness, which we ask that God would give us, does not depend on the forgiveness which we grant to others: but the design of Christ was, to exhort us, in this manner, to forgive the offenses which have been committed against us, and at the same time, to give, as it were, the impression of his seal, to ratify the confidence in our own forgiveness. …If the Spirit of God reigns in our hearts, every description of ill-will and revenge ought to be banished.

And, of course, this calls to mind the example of: “the unmerciful servant.”

Finally, Calvin tackles the third, a second compound petition that happens to be recently in the news:

And lead us not into temptation Some people have split this petition into two. This is wrong: for the nature of the subject makes it manifest, that it is one and the same petition.

…The meaning is: “We are conscious of our own weakness, and desire to enjoy the protection of God, that we may remain impregnable against all the assaults of Satan.” We showed from the former petition, that no man can be reckoned a Christian, who does not acknowledge himself to be a sinner; and in the same manner, we conclude from this petition, that we have no strength for living a holy life, except so far as we obtain it from God. Whoever implores the assistance of God to overcome temptations, acknowledges that, unless God deliver him, he will be constantly falling.

The word temptation is often used generally for any kind of trial. …We are tempted both by adversity and by prosperity: because each of them is an occasion of bringing to light feelings which were formerly concealed. But here it denotes inward temptation, which may be fitly called the scourge of the devil, for exciting our lust.

…All wicked emotions, which excite us to sin, are included under the name of temptation …We ask that the Lord would not cause us to be thrown down, or suffer us to be overwhelmed, by temptations. …We are liable to constant stumbling and ruinous falls, if God does not uphold us with his hand.

As the news says, some would want to change this petition. To this, almost five hundred years ago, Calvin said:

Christ used this form of expression, (μὴ εἰσενέγκὟς,) Lead us not into temptation: or, as some render it, Bring us not into temptation.

It is certainly true, that “every man is tempted,” as the Apostle James says, (1:14) “by his own lust:” yet, as God not only gives us up to the will of Satan, to kindle the flame of lust, but employs him as the agent of his wrath, when he chooses to drive men headlong to destruction, he may be also said, in a way peculiar to himself, to lead them into temptation.

In the same sense, “an evil spirit from the Lord” is said to have “seized or troubled Saul,” (1 Samuel 16:14) and there are many passages of Scripture to the same purpose. And yet we will not therefore say, that God is the author of evil: because, by giving men over to a reprobate mind,” (Romans 1:28,) he does not exercise a confused tyranny, but executes his just, though secret judgments.

And, Calvin concludes the third petition with:

Deliver us from evil …The meaning remains nearly the same [to the previous clause], that we are in danger from the devil and from sin, if the Lord does not protect and deliver us.

Lastly, Calvin comments on a sometimes omitted clause:

For thine is the kingdom [Left out of the Latin, this petition] was not added merely for the purpose of kindling our hearts to seek the glory of God, and of reminding us what ought to be the object of our prayers; but likewise to teach us, that our prayers, which are here dictated to us, are founded on God alone, that we may not rely on our own merits.

***

Circling back, then, to what we should pray in our times, as the hysteria subsides before beginning again, gratitude towards our Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ, points the way.

The Lord’s Prayer by Dr. Albert Mohler – Lecture 1: Teach Us To Pray, YouTube, Mohler’s Series on Prayer

Unless – a Conjunction

While doing research for a previous blog post, I noticed that John’s Gospel quotes the Lord Jesus several times using the word: unless.

Unless is interesting because it is a logic term.

Unless

/ənˈles/

conjunction

Except if (used to introduce a case in which a statement being made is not true or valid).

“Unless you have a photographic memory, repetition is vital”

Speaking English – How to Use “Unless,” July 10, 2013, Learn English with Rebecca [engVid RebeccaESL]

The Lord Jesus Christ used this conjunction to lead those who heard Him into God’s Kingdom.

Unless it is granted him by the Father, no one can come to me John 6:64-66 English Standard Version (ESV)

Unless the Father who sent me draws him, no one can come to me John 6:43-45 (ESV)

Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God John 3:2-3 (ESV)

Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God John 3:4-6 (ESV)

Unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins John 8:23-25 (ESV)

To sum up, unless God the Father grants it and draws us we cannot come to the Lord Jesus. Unless one is born again, of water and the Spirit, we can neither see nor enter God’s Kingdom. And unless we believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the God who saves, we will die condemned to eternal punishment.

Sin No More

I’d always worried about the meaning of Christ’s phrase: “sin no more.” Only in the last few years have I come to a settled understanding closer to what the Lord meant by it:

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” John 5:14 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin has many words to say about this verse. Here are a few of them:

After these things Jesus found him. …When he charges him, sin no more, he does not enjoin him to be free from all sin, but speaks comparatively as to his former life; for Christ exhorts him henceforth to repent, and not to do as he had done before.

Lest something worse befall thee. …When we are incessantly pressed down by new afflictions, we ought to trace this to our obstinacy…There is no reason to wonder, therefore, if God makes use of severer punishment to bruise us…when moderate punishment is of no avail; for it is proper that they who will not endure to be corrected should be bruised by strokes.

…Indeed, the roots of vices are too deep in us to be capable of being torn out in a single day, or in a few days; and the cure of the diseases of the soul is too difficult to be effected by remedies applied for a short time.

Calvin’s entire commentary on the verse implies, among other things, that the man was made well through God’s grace, and not only that, but raised from the dead to new life in Him.

Recently, while researching a blog post on Idols, concerning a passage in Matthew:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money [or possessions].” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

I ran across this statement by Calvin:

…It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it [i.e., obedience] by the sinful desires of the flesh. But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters.

For their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience. But this passage reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.

This is a deep and encouraging statement about the sanctification process that God performs in His own to bring about their maturity in following His Son. And He brooks no counterfeit.

Sanctification leads to a maturity outlined by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatian church:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:19-23 (ESV)

To this passage, Calvin says:

But the fruit of the Spirit. In the former part of the description he condemned the whole nature of man as producing nothing but evil and worthless fruits. He now informs us that all virtues, all proper and well-regulated affections, proceed from the Spirit, that is, from the grace of God, and the renewed nature which we derive from Christ. As if he had said, “Nothing but what is evil comes from man; nothing good comes but from the Holy Spirit.”

So let’s lay aside the deeds of the flesh and press on to do good works and exhibit fruit of the Spirit.

Carpathian National Park from Hoverla

View of Carpathian National Park from Hoverla, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, Ukraine, 22 September 2013, 12:22:41, by Balkhovitin, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The Sower

The first 23 verses of the Book of Matthew, chapter 13, record the Lord Jesus’s parable of the sower, His reasoning behind speaking in parables, and His explanation of the sower parable. This is His explanation:

“Hear then the parable of the sower:

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Matthew 13:18-23 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin comments on the parable as a whole:

…He only intended to warn us, that, in many persons, the seed of life is lost on account of various defects, in consequence of which it is either destroyed immediately, or it withers, or it gradually degenerates.

That we may derive the greater advantage from this warning, we ought to bear in mind, that he makes no mention of despisers who openly reject the word of God, but describes those only in whom there is some appearance of docility.

But if the greater part of such men perishes, what shall become of the rest of the world, by whom the doctrine of salvation is openly rejected?

And relative to the good soil:

But he that received the seed into a good soil… None are compared by Christ to a good and fertile soil, but those in whom the word of God not only strikes its roots deep and solid, but overcomes every obstacle that would prevent it from yielding fruit.

Is it objected that it is impossible to find anyone who is pure and free from thorns? It is easy to reply, that Christ does not now speak of the perfection of faith, but only points out those in whom the word of God yields fruit. Though the produce may not be great, yet everyone who does not fall off from the sincere worship of God is reckoned a good and fertile soil

Hence too we learn that we have no right to despise those who occupy a lower degree of excellence; for the master of the house himself, though he gives to one the preference above another on account of more abundant produce, yet bestows the general designation, good, even on inferior soils…

Therefore, please:

…Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21 (ESV)

The Sower - Tissot

The Sower, 1886 – 1894, James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, PD-Art-US

The Samaritan Leper

The story where Jesus cleanses ten lepers is a familiar one. It’s unusual that it comes right before one of Jesus’s declarations of the Kingdom. Or is it?

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Luke 17:11-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin has some interesting comments about the passage:

Thy faith hath saved thee. The word save is restricted by some commentators to the cleanness of the flesh. But if this be the case, since Christ commends the lively faith of this Samaritan, it may be asked, how were the other nine saved? for all of them without exception obtained the same cure.

We must therefore arrive at the conclusion, that Christ has here pronounced a different estimate of the gift of God from that which is usually pronounced by ungodly men; namely, that it was a token or pledge of God’s fatherly love.

The nine lepers were cured; but as they wickedly efface the remembrance of the grace of God, the cure itself is debased and contaminated by their ingratitude, so that they do not derive from it the advantage which they ought. It is faith alone that sanctifies the gifts of God to us, so that they become pure, and, united to the lawful use of them, contribute to our salvation.

Lastly, by this word Christ has informed us in what manner we lawfully enjoy divine favors. Hence we infer that he included the eternal salvation of the soul along with the temporal gift. The Samaritan was saved by his faith How? Certainly not because he was cured of leprosy, (for this was likewise obtained by the rest,) but because he was admitted into the number of the children of God, and received from His hand a pledge of fatherly kindness.

We see the extent of God’s common grace through healings. But, without faith, those temporal miracles do not result in salvation.

Further, Calvin notes:

The kingdom of God will not come with observation. …The word observation is here employed by Christ to denote extraordinary splendor; and he declares, that the kingdom of God will not make its appearance at a distance, or attended by pompous display. He means, that they are greatly mistaken who seek with the eyes of the flesh the kingdom of God, which is in no respect carnal or earthly, for it is nothing else than the inward and spiritual renewal of the soul.

From the nature of the kingdom itself he shows that they are altogether in the wrong, who look around here or there, in order to observe visible marks. That restoration of the Church,” he tells us,which God has promised, must be looked for within; for, by quickening his elect into a heavenly newness of life, he establishes his kingdom within them.”

And thus he indirectly reproves the stupidity of the Pharisees, because they aimed at nothing but what was earthly and fading. It must be observed, however, that Christ speaks only of the beginnings of the kingdom of God; for we now begin to be formed anew by the Spirit after the image of God, in order that our entire renovation, and that of the whole world, may afterwards follow in due time.

I urge you, turn back, submit yourself to Him, and give Him thanks.

The Healing of the Ten Lepers, Tissot

The Healing of Ten Lepers, 1886 – 1894, James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, PD-Art-US