The Devotional Spirit of the Lord’s Prayer
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The DEVOTIONAL Spirit of the Lord's Prayer.
"But deliver us from evil." Matthew 6:13
The spirit of the Lord's Prayer is essentially and pre-eminently devout. It is the soul and essence of true prayer. Were this more solemnly and profoundly felt, there would be less cold neglect of the prayer on the one hand, and less superstitious idolatry of it on the other. Its graceless use by some individuals may evaporate, so to speak, its living power, as to leave nothing but the dry residuum of a lifeless form, as offensive to the spiritual nature of God, as it is deadening to the spiritual religion of the worshiper. Nevertheless, those who pray this prayer, who find it an appropriate and living embodiment of the heart's utterances, are deeply conscious of its high, devotional, and spirit-elevating character; to such it is, as I have remarked, the soul and essence of prayer.
It should be remembered that the words of this Prayer flowed from His lips in whom the Spirit dwelt without measure; that they were taught us by Him who, as the Divine Mediator between God and the soul, undertook both to present and answer our petitions; that they embody the great verities of our faith, and express the deepest need of the living soul--who can question, then, the devotional spirit of the Prayer, or, what should be the devout state of mind of him who breathes it?
But, perhaps, the truth most dear to the devout heart illustrated by these words is--the preciousness and power of prayer. The mention of this privilege can never be too frequent, nor can either its importance be too exaggerated, or its enforcement be too earnest. The prayer of faith is power with God--we might almost say, the only power that man has with Heaven. It is this simple yet mighty weapon in the hands of the weakest saint, the obscurest believer, which--we write it reverently--overcomes God. Thus did the angel of the covenant address the holy wrestler--"Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel--for as a prince have you power with God and with men, and have prevailed."
In thus yielding to the power of prayer, Jehovah yields to Himself. It is His own power which He implants in the soul, that overcomes Him. Prayer is the breathing of the Spirit, it is the life of God in men, it is the divine nature in communion with the human. "Prayer, like Jonathan's chariot, returns not empty. Never was faithful prayer lost at sea. No merchant trades with such certainty as the praying saint. Some prayers, indeed, have a longer voyage than others; but then they return with the richer lading at last." Oh, the power with Jehovah of simple, childlike, believing prayer! That single word "Father!" lisped by a child, or uttered by a stammerer, exceeds the eloquence of the most persuasive oratory. It leaps into heaven, and draws back its richest treasures. "My prayer returned into my own bosom."
Man in audience with God is the most sublime moral spectacle on earth. Angelic students bending from their thrones gaze with holy awe upon, and gather deep instruction from, the hallowed scene. The believing hand, touching thus the divine electric wire, in a moment each petition, need, and sorrow is laid upon the heart of God. No two friends dwelling at the most remote distance from each other are so instantaneously and closely brought into mental contact by this highway of thought, as the believing soul is into the divine presence by prayer. In the twinkling of an eye the believer is in possession of the ear and heart of God.
So simple too is prayer. We but ask, and we receive. We but seek, and we find. We but knock, and it is opened to us. We present the name of Jesus, plead the blood of Jesus, enlist the advocacy of Jesus, and our suit is granted. Thus are we taught that it is not the eloquence of prayer that prevails with God, but the grace of prayer. Man may applaud the beauty of the one, but God yields to the power of the other. As Bunyan pithily puts it, "It is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart." And since it is to the heart alone that God looks, let not your lack of words, your stammering speech, your defective eloquence, discourage you from pouring out your soul before Him.
Nor let your heart, because it is cold, and sinful, and sad, deter you from prayer. You must give yourself to prayer, be your temporal condition, your spiritual frame what it may. None can help you but God. None can intercede for you but His Son. None can sympathize with you but Jesus. Then arise and approach the Mercy-seat. The blood of atonement is upon it. The God of all grace and comfort, the God of peace and of hope, holds His court, and waits to accept and answer prayer. Hesitate, then, not to enter, since the blood of Jesus admits you within the holiest.
The burden of the prayer we are considering is deliverance from evil. In its widest application, but less articulated utterance, it is the voice of humanity, the cry of the race. Conscious of the oppression of the curse, and of the working of evil, yet with no intelligent idea or spiritual perception of the cause, men everywhere cry, "Who will show us any good?" in other words, who will deliver us from all evil? And what is the cause--the one, primal, unrepealed cause--of all the evil beneath which our common nature is bowed, and from which it sighs to be delivered? What but the sinfulness of man, the original and universal corruption, of our race. And yet, how is this truth diluted, controverted, denied--not merely by moral reformers, by earnest educationists, and by political economists, but even by men religious in creed, and teachers of religion by profession, who scoff at and reject as wild and visionary the doctrine of man's original and total depravity.
But, the whole structure of the Bible, the entire scheme of Redemption, the cross of Calvary standing in its own solitary grandeur, the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of thousands, demonstrate the great fact that, man has sinned, and that in consequence, "human life is but one long conflict with suffering anticipated, or one prolonged contact with suffering endured." But let us regard this petition as the prayer of the penitent and devout Christian, "Deliver us from evil." From what evil, my reader?
You pray to be delivered from the evil of--SIN. This is the greatest evil. Emancipated from this, you are disenthralled from all evil, for sin is the prolific parent of all. It is your heaviest burden, your bitterest grief. The liberty with which Christ makes His people free is the only liberty that can free from this galling chain. But from whence this cry?--from the knowledge of the plague of your own heart. And from whence this knowledge?--from the teaching of God's Holy Spirit. Knowing their existence, conscious of their indwelling within your heart, you long to be delivered from the evil passions, the carnal lusts, the worldly affections, the idolatrous attachments, the sordid cares that enchain and fetter you, and to float into a higher and holier region, as upon the snowy wing of an unfallen angel; or upon the yet loftier wing of the spirits of just men made perfect, who, in virtue of the blood of Christ and the robing of His righteousness, soar higher and approach nearer the throne of God than the loftiest angel in heaven. There is a present deliverance from the evil of sin in the experience of every believer. Christ has delivered us from the guilt, the tyranny, and the condemnation of sin. Oh, what a real, present, and glorious deliverance is this! "Christ has delivered us from the curse of the law?" "He has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin." These marvelous declarations clearly indicate a present deliverance from the evil of sin, so far as relates to its guilt and dominion. The believing conviction of this enters essentially into our growing sanctity of life, and our consequent peace and joy. And yet the spirit sighs for more. So long as sin exists within us, though its guilt be cleansed and its scepter is broken, we cannot rest. So long as one foot of territory is occupied by the foe--so long as a single "Canaanite" yet dwells in the land, we, cannot, we dare not, lay down our arms--we must fight to the hilt, and fight to the last. Thus we cry, "Deliver us from the evil of sin. Lord, subdue its power, cleanse its guilt, weaken its assault, and let not any iniquity have dominion over me."
Is this the breathing of your heart, my reader? Rejoice, then, that the "Spirit of holiness" has His temple within you. Nothing but a moral evil savor, exhales from a nature totally unregenerate and corrupt--its taste may be refined, its conceptions poetical, its thoughts intellectual, nevertheless, these are but the flowers which wreath and garnish the gangrene corpse. The sweet fragrance of holiness, the heavenly perfume of righteousness, can only breathe from a holy and a heavenly nature implanted in the soul by God the Holy Spirit. Are you mournfully conscious or indwelling sin? Do you loathe it, battle with it, and pant for the annihilation of the last link that binds you to corruption? Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness, sigh for purity, long for holiness? Oh, the sweet spices which filled the sacred temple with their cloud of fragrance, never emitted so rich perfume as that which breathes from your soul, wafted up to heaven in sighs and prayers for conformity to the divine holiness! What evidence more assuring of your being a partaker of the divine nature than this?
Again, you pray to be delivered from the evil of THE WORLD. With this the intercessory prayer of Jesus is in the closest sympathy. "I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil." Our Christianity is not to exile us from the world. The religion of Jesus is not that of the hermit. Asceticism is not an element of the gospel of Christ. Christ did not ask of the Father our translation to the kingdom of glory immediately upon our calling into the kingdom of grace. The rule of the gospel is this--"Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he is called." This apostolic rule may admit of some qualification, without in the least degree contravening its authority or questioning its wisdom. For example, the grace of God may convert an individual pursuing an occupation--as in the case of the eminent John Newton, when engaged in the slave-trading--essentially irreligious and immorally wrong. The immediate abandonment of such a calling admits of not a moment's hesitation.
How many a man of God, also, is now an earnest and useful preacher of the gospel of peace, at whose side once dangled the sword of war! How many an able and faithful minister of Christ is now pleading in the pulpit powerfully for God, who once pleaded eloquently at the bar for man--the advocate, perhaps, of a cause in direct and painfully excruciating antagonism to his judgment, conscience, and feelings! These men may, therefore, relinquish their position, not because either the military or legal profession--once adorned with the names of Colonel Gardiner and Judge Hale--is essentially or necessarily incompatible with a Christian profession and with Christian usefulness; but simply because they felt that divine grace had developed in them powers and had conferred upon them gifts pointing to a more congenial, as to a more extended sphere of service for God.
But, a man is to abide in his rank, or wealth, or occupation, provided he can as well glorify God. His Christianity does not teach, nor his Christian profession require, that he should lay down his rank, remove from his social position, relinquish his wealth, and level himself to a grade other than that in which the providence of God placed and in which the grace of God found him. In all these things he is to live to God. If his rank gives him influence, if his affluence provides him with means, if his talents arm him with power, if his social or ecclesiastical position opens to him an extended and important sphere of usefulness, let him remain what and where he is, writing "Holiness to the Lord" upon all.
But for what did our Lord pray on behalf of His people? He prayed that, keeping His people for a while in the world, as the school of their grace and the scene of their conflict, God would preserve them from its evil. All is evil here! He who made, and sustains, and governs the world, has pronounced both it and its works to be evil--their nature evil. Sin has disorganized and tainted everything that was originally good, perfect, and pure. Nature is less lovely, because it is accursed; the air is less vital, because it is tainted; the springs are less healthful, because they are poisoned; the flowers are less fragrant, because they are blighted. Every object in nature teaches that man is fallen, that sin reigns, and that, because of sin, the curse has smitten and blighted all.
But it was moral evil our Lord more especially deprecated in the name of His people. He did not pray that they might be exempt from the afflictions and trials, from the reproaches and persecutions, or even the temptations of the world--but from the moral evil that is in it--the corruption that is in the world through lust--its religion and its friendship, its ungodly principles and its sinful practices. Knowing the danger they were in, and their inability to keep themselves; before He left the world in the midst of whose fires He was about to leave them, He bears them in the arms of His intercession, and lays them upon the bosom of God. "Keep them from the evil."
The world--its employments, its pleasures, its gaieties, its friendships--has nothing that is holy, nothing that is in sympathy with the life of God in our souls, nothing that can aid our growth in holiness, and speed us on our heaven-bound way. Quite the contrary. The more we have to do with this evil world, the more we seek to please it, to conciliate it by concession, to win it by compromise, to serve it by sacrifice, the more deeply shall we be sadly conscious of its evil, and its taint, and its sting. Pass through the world as a stranger, having as little to do with it as possible. From its malice and its slanders you cannot expect to be exempt. It will attempt to do you all the injury in its power. It is evil--and it will speak only evil. It is evil--and it will imagine only evil. It is evil--and it will invent only evil. It is evil--and it will do only evil.
The holier you live, the more distinguished a mark will you be for the venom of the world. Jesus was perfectly holy, yet never was one so traduced and maligned, so slandered, wounded, and ill-treated by the world as He. "If any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he shall suffer persecution." But heed it not. Fear the world's smiles rather than its frowns; its caresses than its revilings; its eulogy than its slander; its commendation than its condemnation. Let us aim to live holily, to walk humbly with God, and to deal justly and kindly with men, and we may confidently leave our personal and dearest interests in the Lord's hands.
Ever bear in mind one great end of Christ's death was, our death to the world. "Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world." How great the evil, since to rescue us from its power, it demanded an expedient so great, a sacrifice so costly and precious! Thus in the light of the cross we learn what an evil world this is, that nothing less than the sacrifice of God's beloved Son could weaken its power or emancipate us from its thraldom.
When invited to go into the world, when tempted to imitate the world, when falsely accused by the world, turn and look at Jesus, and in the holy, tender, solemn light of that magnificent scene--Jesus upon the cross--commune with your own heart, interrogate your conscience, and inquire if your appearance at the theater, the opera, the oratorio--if your presence in the ball-room, at the card-table, or the race-course--if your perusal of works of unholy fiction or of religious error, are in harmony with the sacred and solemn profession you have made of discipleship of Him whose Church and religion, whose gospel and followers are not of this world, but who "gave Himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world," that we should be a "holy nation, a peculiar people, a royal priesthood."
Thus, our hearts sequestered in Gethsemane, and our souls in frequent communion at the cross, we shall be crucified to the world and the world to us. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even the faith that deals with the unseen, walks with the invisible God, loves an unseen Savior, and takes frequent excursions into the eternal world, returning, as the believing spies from Canaan, laden with its precious fruit. It is this fellowship with unearthly and eternal realities that enables us to live above the world, and to live down the world, alike unseduced by its blandishments and its smiles, as indifferent to its judgment and its frowns.
You ask to be delivered from evil MEN. There are few wiser or more needed petitions than this. Evil men are agents in the hands of the Evil One for accomplishing his evil designs. Our Lord would not commit Himself to the hands of men, "because He knew what was in man." David prayed, "Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man." And the Apostles ask the prayers of the Thessalonians that they might be "delivered from unreasonable and wicked men." On another occasion Paul warns the saints to "beware of men." And in the same words Jesus uttered precisely the same caution, "Beware of men."
How divinely inspired the desire of the royal penitent, "Let us fall into the hands of the Lord; for His mercies are great--and let me not fall into the hand of man!" The knowledge of what the fallen creature is in its worst estate, and of what the renewed creature is in its best, will, in all circumstances prompt the wise and holy desire that we may rather be at God's disposal than at man's. We cannot, indeed, be indifferent to the divine instruction, the spiritual refreshment, the holy consolation, the soothing sympathy we have derived through a human channel. Nevertheless, it is infinitely better to lie in the hands of a correcting God, than to repose upon the bosom of a caressing saint. The frowns of our heavenly Father have more of love in them than the smiles of His most loving child.
Again, we repeat--we thank God for all that He has made the saints to us; and yet who will say that his expectations have ever been fully realized? Who has not, in some instances, found their love fickle, their promises capricious, their opinions often harsh, and their judgment always fallible? But this is, perhaps, more our fault than theirs. We have expected too much from the creature, more than any creature could possibly give, or we ourselves possessed. We reposed a while beneath our pleasant gourd, and in a night it perished. We nursed our bosom-flower, and in an hour it died. We leaned upon the strong and beautiful staff, and in a moment it broke. We came to the crystal stream that had so often refreshed us, and, lo! it was dried! Alas, we drained of all its sweets the sponge of creature good, and it became at last aridness itself!
But it is more from the evil that is in the UNGODLY that we should pray to be kept. If our Lord shrank from committing Himself into their hands, what greater need have we to pray with David, "Deliver me, O Lord ,from the evil man--preserve me from the violent man; which imagine mischiefs in their hearts. Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked!" Oh to be kept--divinely kept--from the wickedness, the maliciousness, the deceitfulness, the depths of concealed evil dwelling in the ungodly! Pray that you may not fall into their power. "Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm," was the lamentation of an inspired apostle.
Thus yet more earnestly may we pray to be delivered from the evil of false religionists, of deceived and deceiving Christian professors. More are they to be dreaded, avoided, and prayed against than even the openly profane and ungodly. Religious hypocrisy is a far more potent element of evil, is a more baneful and noxious weed in society, than the avowed irreligion, the undisguised worldliness, the unblushing impiety of those who make no pretensions to godliness, and who, if they are unholy and profane, possess at least this merit, that they are sincere. Less to be dreaded and shunned are they than the honeyed religious deceiver, and the varnished Christ-professing hypocrite! What a wise and holy request of the apostles, "Brethren, pray for us, . . . that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men--for all men have not faith!" Let this be our daily prayer for ourselves, for the saints, and especially for Christ's ministers.
We have already, in the preceding pages, referred to the temptations of the EVIL ONE. We may be pardoned for again returning to the subject in connection with the present petition, seeing how much satanic power has to do with the saints of God, and yet how imperfectly the subject is understood. Satan is the prince of this world, and the sworn and eternal foe of Christ and of the Church. Wounded, and writhing in the anguish of his mortal bruise, he is yet, until Christ shall come, the reigning sovereign of a fallen world, against whose plots we have need to be watchful, and from whose power we must pray to be delivered. He is everywhere, without being omnipresent--knows every being, without possessing omniscience--is powerful, without omnipotence. As one of the reformers quaintly remarked, Satan is a diligent prelate, always at work in his diocese; a sovereign, ruling vigilantly his kingdom; a foe, whose malice never sleeps; a roaring lion, going about seeking whom he may devour. Let us, then, pray to be delivered from this Evil One, "lest Satan should get an advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices." It is essential to our foiling of this our great adversary that we should not be so. It is the lack of a more intelligent acquaintance with his mode of warfare that often leads to our momentary defeat.
One of his favorite devices, we too often forget, is, to select as the object of his toils the most gracious and useful saints. He is too crafty a pirate, as Cowper remarks, to attack an empty vessel, but seeks to waylay those vessels chiefly which are richly laden. "When the coat of a saint is cleanest, the devil is most anxious to roll him in the mire." It is a remarkable fact in the history of Christ that the two most eventful periods of His life--His baptism, which commenced His public life, and His passion, which closed it--were those in which He encountered the fiercest assaults of the devil. From this circumstance we are instructed to seek a large measure of grace when called to occupy some more prominent part in the Christian Church; and to be, with the prophet, whole nights in our watch-tower when engaged in some eminent service for God. If he wounded Peter, and buffeted Paul, and shot at our Lord, let those to whom, by the consent of their brethren, some distinguished and important mission in the interests of God and of truth is confided, take heed lest through a like assault, but unfortified by a like grace, they fall. The secret of our safety in so elevated and perilous a position is, in looking up, keeping the eye single and fixed upon God, and the heart, tremulous and anxious, reposing upon Christ.
But even the obscure position, the shaded path of a child of God, is no exemption from the shafts of Satan. He will find out the Lord's "hidden one;" and shoot at them secretly. One of his most common weapons is, the suggestion that their sins are so many and so great as to exceed the pardoning mercy of God in Christ Jesus. The quiver of Satan is full of arrows of this temper. But this base insinuation proves its origin. To represent a believer's sins before conversion, and his relapses in grace after conversion, as too great for the restoring grace of the covenant, the atoning blood of Jesus, the subduing power of the Spirit, is the most daring fiction ever perpetrated by the "father of lies."
But are you assailed, my reader, by this fiery dart? Are you filled with dismay at the greatness, the number, and the aggravation of your sins? and are you tempted to limit the provision God has made for their present and full remission? Oh, weigh this vile suggestion of the enemy, endorsed, perhaps, by your own cruel unbelief; with that precious and magnificent declaration of God's Word, which, to the last hour of time, will be as fresh and potent as when it first flowed from the pen of inspiration, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin," and you will quench the dart and put to flight the foe.
There is no divine truth before which Satan more trembles, or the believing hold of which more effectually neutralizes every doubt and stifles every fear arising from conscious guilt, as the atoning blood. The moment faith apprehends the blood, we are brought into peace with God, the tempest ceases, and there is a great calm. Guilt-bowed, sin-distressed soul! this blood fully meets your case. Take hold of it by faith, for it is yours. I emphatically and confidently repeat--yours. The Holy Spirit's gracious work in your soul is the divine warrant for believing that this blood was shed for you. All whose sins the Son bore, the Father draws, the Spirit convicts of sin, and the blood cleanses from sin. Receive, then, the comfort and peace a believing apprehension of Christ's blood will give you. Why hesitate? If this blood has satisfied divine justice, it may well satisfy your conscience. If Jehovah is well pleased with it, surely you may be. If God has accepted it, why should there be any hesitation or demur on your part?
And remember how closely connected is this blood with a fruitful profession of Christ. If this blood is at the root of your religion, you will be "like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season." Daily sprinkled upon your conscience, constantly moistening the root of your Christian profession, your obedience to God will be unreserved, your service for Christ will be perfect freedom, your endurance of the trial, whatever its shape, will be meek and cheerful, your carriage under your Father's discipline will be quiet and submissive, your converse with man will be holy, and your walk with God will be humble. If this blood be daily apprehended by faith, you will be as perfectly conscious of safety as the Israelite when the blood of the paschal lamb was upon his door, and as Rahab when the scarlet line floated from her window.
Oh for more exalted views of atoning blood! Is it not a humbling reflection that, with all our religious profession, we know so little of that blood in which our dearest, holiest interests are involved--that blood that ought to make our daily life a bright sunbeam and a pleasant psalm? And should it not be a cause of deep shame to us as ministers of Christ that, with all our preaching, we have presented so imperfectly, have lifted up so obscurely, have unfolded with such timid, almost criminal, reserve the atonement of the Son of God? And yet, what is our ministry without it, but a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal?
Such is the holy and much-needed petition Jesus has taught us to present. Let it be our daily prayer. Oh, to what evil may one day expose us!--the evil of our own hearts--the evil in the hearts of others--the evil attaching to our professional and business life--the evil, in a word, that lies in ambush along every path we tread. Who can deliver us but He who is acquainted with all our ways, who knows our down-sitting and our uprising, and our thoughts and dangers afar off. "Lord! You have been my deliverer times without number. When my feet had almost gone, when the clouds were lowering, and the sky was wintry, and the winds moaned like a funereal knell, when trouble was near, and evil threatened, then You have delivered! And I will testify to Your faithfulness, and sing of Your love, and extol Your power, that others may take heart and learn to put their trust in You, the Great Deliverer!"
But our final and full deliverance speeds on. The day of our death will be the day of our life--the day that binds our limbs with his icy fetters will be our perfect freedom from all evil. Then we who have often cried, "Who shall deliver me from this body of death?" will, by death, be delivered from the last fetter of sin, and the last vestige of corruption, and the last shade of sorrow. Shrink not, then, O Christian, from dying! If, "in the midst of life we are in death," enclosed in Jesus, in the midst of death we are in life! Let the solemn summonscome when or where it may, absent from the body, in a moment we shall be present with the Lord. And when the Lord comes in personal majesty and glory to raise and glorify His saints, then we who sleep in Jesus, "waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body," shall spring into perfect liberty, exclaiming, "O grave! where is your victory?"
"Absent from flesh! O blissful thought!
What unknown joys this moment brings!
Freed from the mischief sin has brought,
From pains, and fears, and all their springs.
"Absent from flesh! illustrious day!
Surprising scene! triumphant stroke
That rends the prison of my clay;
And I can feel my fetters broke.
"Absent from flesh! then rise, my soul,
Where feet nor wings could never climb,
Beyond the heaven, where planets roll;
Measuring the cares and joys of time."
"The Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and keep you from all evil. The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom--to Him be glory forever and ever. Amen."
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