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To all who have made it over here from my old blog: greetings. I hope that this blog will enable me to better make use of what God has given to me.

I would greatly appreciate your changing your blog links to reflect my new blog site. That will help to facilitate the move better for many folks. Thank you in advance.

My commentary recommendations

Larger Catechism

In this post, I will start a commentary on the Larger Catechism, question by question, using Thomas Ridgely’s commentary as a point of departure.

The first question is this: 1. Q. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him for ever.

The texts cited in support of this question are as follows: Rom 11.36, 1 Cor 10:31, Ps 73:24-28, John 17:21-23.

Ridgely says that “there is a great difference between God’s glorifying himself and our glorifying him. He glorifies himself, when he demonstrates or shows forth his glory; we glorify him by ascribing to him the glory that is his due, -even as the sun discovers its brightness by its rays, and the eye beholds it” (4). I don’t think I need to comment on this, as this is quite clear. The next question is this: how are we to glorify God?

Ridgely answers this by saying that “We are to glorifty God, by recommending, proclaiming, and setting forth his excellency to others” (4). The particulars include confession of sin (Josh 7:19); loving God; believing and trusting in God; having a fervent zeal for his honor; improving our talents (John 15:8); walking humbly, thankfully, and cheefully before God; heavenly mindedness; and by yielding complete submission to God.

The enjoying of God comes primarily afterwards. That is, one must glorify God before one can enjoy Him. After all, “we cannot be said to enjoy that to which we have no right or claim, as one man cannot be said to enjoy an estate which belongs to another” (6). “One shall not be attained without the other. It is the highest presumption to expect to be made happy with him forever without living to His glory here” (7). The enjoying of God comes primarily in the new heavens and the new earth. We do not enjoy it here.

One further point of interest: “Since the eternal enjoyment of God is one great end which we ought to have in view, it is no sign of a mercenary spirit to have an eye to the heavenly glory that we may be enlivened to duty” (7). It is not wrong to desire our heavenly reward, since it is for that that we are made. God uses that reward as motivation for this life. We are to desire it as the pearl of great price (though that passage is primarily referring to salvation).

Our Father in Heaven

Matthew 6:9
I’m sure that you have heard this before: “I just prayed and prayed but nothing happened. I did not seem to find peace. I did not seem to get any satisfaction out of it.” Also, we ourselves seem to hate to pray. I know that I myself really struggle with this. I find it difficult to pray on a regular basis. I also find it difficult to enjoy praying. I feel as if it is something that I have to do, rather than something I get to do. Jesus has some very good words for us. And they are still helpful, even though we know these words extremely well. Let’s dig deeper and find some fresh water to cure our prayer desert.

First of all, we must remember what Jesus said right before. He warned us of two dangers that constantly beset our desire to pray. The first danger to avoid was ostentation; praying so that others might see just how pious we are. The second danger that we must avoid is that we pray in such language that we think God must hear, regardless of whether our heart is in it or not. With those two negative examples behind us, now we can turn to the positive example of how to pray. Having taught us how not to pray, now Jesus tells us how to pray. It should be mentioned in passing, that while the Lord Jesus did give us this prayer; still, it could more accurately be called “The Disciples’ Prayer.”

We should not pass over too quickly those first words of verse 9: “This, then, is how you should pray.” Notice that Jesus does not say, “This, then, is what you should pray.” In other words, Jesus is not here giving us a formula to which God will automatically respond. Of course, it is not wrong to pray this exact prayer, as we do so often in our worship, and as many of us do at home. But this prayer is not a formula. Rather, it is a model. We should model our prayers after this prayer. We should pray for the kinds of things that are in this prayer. Now, this prayer is not exhaustive. We should not think that because Jesus did not mention something specifically in this prayer, that therefore we should not pray for it. For instance, this prayer does not explicitly mention what all our daily needs are. It is a summary of what prayer should contain. It is remarkable how much this prayer does contain.

We should contrast this prayer with how some people think of prayer. For instance, some of us may be familiar with the Prayer of Jabez. That is a prayer in Chronicles that Bruce Wilkinson siezed upon as the basis for a health and wealth Gospel. He recites it as a mantra, almost. That falls into the very trap that Jesus warned us against in the previous verses. When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He didn’t say, “Don’t you remember that great prayer in Chronicles about enlarging your borders?” Jesus gives us a much more comprehensive model on which to base our prayers. We will examine this prayer over the next several weeks in order to refresh our minds as to its full meaning, and in an effort to help us to pray this prayer with our hearts and minds fully engage, rather than merely repeating it as an empty exercise.

Let’s take a look at the prayer as a whole briefly before we look at the first sentence. First, we must notice that the prayer starts talking about God, not about ourselves. This is what is so wrong about people who pray only when they need something from God. That approach is so wrong, because it stems from a wrong view of God. God is not primarily someone who is supposed to meet our needs. God is someone who is primarily someone to be worshipped by us. That is why the whole first half of this prayer glorifies God, seeks His righteousness, and His kingdom first, before all these others things are added. How many times do we only perfunctorily pray about God’s glory, and then rush right to our wish list, which is a mile long? Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that “We tend to be so self-centred in our prayers that when we drop on our knees before God, we think only about ourselves and our troubles and perplexities.” As John Calvin says, we think that God doesn’t love us if He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want Him to. Oftentimes, the reason that God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want Him to is that we haven’t even begun to address Him the right way. You wouldn’t go in front of a prince or a king without knowing the proper way to approach him. There are rules you must follow, etiquette that is important. The same thing is true of our heavenly Father. Yes, He is our Father, but He is god of the universe, and we must remember that when we come before Him.

The other aspect of the Lord’s Prayer as whole that we must look at is the outlook of the prayer. The first half of the prayer is eschatological. That is a long word that simply means that we are concerned about heavenly things. We have an eye toward the future establishment of God’s kingdom, even though that kingdom has come already. What we pray for then, is the consummation of the kingdom, the climax of Jesus’ rule on earth. That part of the prayer that is about God is also about God’s kingdom, and we pray that that kingdom will come. It is future, though the kingdom is also already here. We must always pray, then, with the future in view, and not just the immediate future, but the entire future. The second half of the prayer could be labelled “meanwhile.” As we wait for the first half to take place, we pray for more immediate things as well.

Every word in this prayer counts. The first word is “our.” There are two things to notice about that word. The first is that prayer should be corporate as well as private. He gave us instructions for individual prayer before. Now, He gives us a corporate model. The second thing we should notice about this word is that it is what is known in grammar as a possessive pronoun. That it, it indicates that we possess something. Now, we do not possess God as we might possess our car. However, the word does indicate that there is a special relationship between us and the Father. This means that we must be in a right relationship to the Father, in order to call Him “Our Father.” He cannot be ours, unless we are His children. You cannot call God “Father” if your true father is the devil. This prayer is a prayer for disciples only. This is not a prayer that anyone can pray. This is because only disciples can call God “Father.” What is true in the Beatitudes must be true for us, if we are to be in a position to pray this prayer.

This brings us to the second word in the prayer, “Father.” In what sense is God our Father? Well there is more than one way that He is our Father. He is our Father because He has created us. In that sense God is the Father of all mankind. But that is not the kind of Fatherhood that Jesus means here. Jesus is not talking about modernist humanistic agenda. D. Clair Davis, my professor of church history at Westminster Seminary, once said, “Unitarianism talks about the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of man, in the neighborhood of Boston.” Well, that is not the kind of Fatherhood about which Jesus is speaking. The other kind of Fatherhood spoken of in Scripture is the far more important Fatherhood by adoption. That is, we become adopted into God’ family, becoming brothers to Christ, who is preeminently the Son of God. You see, Jesus Christ is the Son of God by right, and by eternal generation. That is a fancy way of saying that Jesus was always the Son of God, even in eternity past. His Sonship is by right and by eternal generation. Our sonship comes by adoption. We had thrown off the yoke of God before, when we fell into sin. Adam is the true prodigal son, and we are all in Adam. There was nothing left of our sonship. We disinherited ourselves. But God is the great Adopter. He loves adoption. There is no one who has adopted more children than God has. Every Christian who has ever lived is a child by adoption. The question then becomes, “How are we adopted?” This is nothing less than the question of salvation itself. The only way that we can become adopted by God is if first the legal problem of sin is dealt with. We owe God so much that we can never repay Him. That debt has to be paid if we are to become part of God’s family. That debt is what our Elder Brother Jesus Christ paid for us. And He did that by taking on our sin on to Himself. He took our debt on to Himself. He tells the Father, “I have paid that person’s debt in full. There is nothing in the way now for you to adopt that person.” And if we are adopted, then we are full heirs. We have an inheritance. When we call God Father, then, that is what we mean.

Notice here that the relationship with God as Father means that we can come to Him anytime. There is no time in which He is unavailable. He is close to us. And He runs to hear us. He earnestly desires that we speak with Him, even as we earthly fathers love it when our children come to us wanting to talk, and ask questions, and learn, and grow. So also our heavenly Father loves to instruct us and see us grow. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “You will find that the outstanding characteristic of all the most saintly people the world has ever known has been that they have not only spent much time in private prayer, but have also delighted in it.” We should delight to talk with our Heavenly Father.

Now it is right here that many people have a problem. When someone tells them that God is their Father, they conjure up in their minds images of their earthly fathers, and some of those images are not very pleasant. Some of the things that our earthly fathers do are not very helpful, for indeed, they sin. Sometimes, they even abuse their children, verbally, or even sexually. We must be careful not to equate God the Father with images along those lines. That is not what our Heavenly Father is like. God is just, and God is merciful, and He is both at the same time. If you had a bad father, or one who never demonstrated his love very well, then cleanse your mind of that image and think of a different image of father: imagine a father who is always patient, who always listens, who always looks out for your true best interests, who writes so many letters to you that it constitutes an entire book, who sacrifices His true Son for you, an adopted son, who is quick to notice anything you do that is right, and praises you for it, even though it was His strength that gave you the ability in the first place, and who overlooks countless wrongs and insults given by you to His very face. That is a more accurate picture of our Heavenly Father. It is He Whom we address.

Now, there is always the temptation to go the other way, too. We can be so taken with the fact that we can approach God, that we forget Who He really is. He is not our chum, with whom we joke around. This is not to say that God is without humor; there are several passages in Scripture that indicate that God has a sense of humor, and that God created laughter. However, we are not to treat God lightly. That is why Jesus tells us that when we address God as Father, it must come also with the recognition that He is in heaven. Theologians talk about God being immanent in creation; that is, that He is present in creation. God didn’t wind up the world like a toy and then set it goin, never to influence the world again. No, God is present everywhere, and works out His will. He is immanent. However, God is also above the world. That is, He is transcendent. God transcends the world. He is not to be equated with the world, as many religions do. Hinduism, for instance, would say, “Our Father, who is in us.” New Age religions would also say that. But that is wrong. God is in heaven, even as He is also present everywhere on earth. The Jews, on the other hand, saw God as so transcendent, that they could not really talk with Him on a regular basis. They had no Mediator, such as we have in Jesus Christ. That is why they would never even call God by name. They would simply pray to “The Name.” Now, that practice was designed to make sure that they never used God’s name in vain. However, it also meant that they could never address God as Father. Understand, then, that what Jesus is saying here was rather revolutionary in Jewish circles. But to us, we need to hear the second portion of that address: God is not our buddy. He is our Friend, but He is also God of the universe. He is in heaven. And so we must avoid both extremes. We must avoid being to chummy with God, and so depriving God of that worship and adoration which we should always bestown on Him when we pray. But we should also recognize that we can indeed call God our Father. He is not a God who is far off, but a God who is near. And He is for us.

He is for us as we are in the church. The great early church father Tertullian once said, “Nor is Mother Church passed over without mention, for the mother is recognized in the Son and the Father, as it is within the church that we learn the meaning of the terms Father and Son.” Do you understand that profound statement? It is only in the church that we learn what it means for God to be our Father, and for Jesus to be His Son. That is another implication of the word “our” at the beginning of the prayer. Augustine says it this way, “You cannot have God for your Father without having the church for your mother.” and that is certainly true. To say otherwise would be to agree that an eye can live without being connected to the rest of the body, or that a hand can be used without a brain to wield it. It is absurd.

And so, we pray to our heavenly Father. It is a marvelous privilege. If you want to pray and pray and have God hear and answer, then we must consider what these words mean, what they imply. We must be disciples, concerned about God’s glory and kingdom. We must have God as our Father. We must see Him also as the transcendent God of the universe. We must have the church for our mother. That is of the essence of true prayer. To close, let’s hear from our catechisms: HC 120: Q. Why did Christ command us to call God “our Father”? A. at the very beginning of our prayer Christ wants to kindle in us what is basic to our prayer- the childlike awe and trust that God through Christ has become our Father. Our fathers do not refuse us the things of this life; God our Father will even less refuse to give us what we ask in faith. 121. Q. Why the words “in heaven”? A. these words teach us not to think of God’s heavenly majesty as something earthly, and to expect everything for body and soul from his almighty power. The Westminster Larger Catechism says this: “Q. 189 What does the preface of the Lord’s prayer teach us? A. The preface of the Lord’s prayer (contained in these words, Our Father which art in heaven,) teaches us, when we pray, to draw near to God with confidence of His Fatherly goodness, and our interest therein; with reverence, and all other child-like dispositions, heavenly affections, and due apprehensions of His sovereign power, majesty, and gracious condescension: as also, to pray with and for others.” Hallelujah! We have a God who answers prayer!

Westminster Confession of Faith

Here are the links to my complete commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. They are by chapter number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7a, 7b, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Matthew 6:9
How often do we think about our own names? It can give you a weird feeling if you think about it for too long, since thinking about your own name usually means too deep a look inside yourself. And yet, it can be healthy every now and then to look at your name, and ask yourself the question, “What does my name mean?” Often, what we’ll discover is that we don’t know what our name means, or if we do, it doesn’t really have anything to do with who we are. It is quite different with God. His name means something important. And His name is extremely important when it comes to knowing who He is.

We look today at the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer. It has to do with God’s name. Let’s take a look at this request one word at a time. The first word is “Hallowed.” That is not a word that we use very often in day to day conversation. In fact, just about the only time we ever hear it is when we say this prayer. What does the word “hallow” mean? It means “to set apart for special use.” So here it means that we do not use God’s name like we use any other name. There is something special, something different about it.

Of course, we cannot even begin to think about this petition without immediately being reminded of the third commandment: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” What is stated there in a negative form (do not misuse the name of the Lord) is here in Matthew stated in a positive form (you shall use it properly).

What comes to mind for most of us when we think of this commandment is swearing. Certainly, swearing is forbidden under the third commandment. So also is the use of God’s name in a joking manner, or using it as an exclamation. In fact, the misuse of God’s name should disturb us even more than common curse words. We should stand up for God’s name when it is being misused. However, there is a right and a wrong way to do that. We should stand up for God’s name in a way that impacts people with the knowledge that we really do care about God’s name. In other words, we should speak the truth in love. Here is one example of someone doing just that: the story is told by Rob Schenck: “Some years ago, after a long speaking itinerary in the midwest, I boarded a late-night flight to return home. I was tired and looking forward to a rest. Sitting behind me in the airplane were two salesmen whose conversation was peppered with profanity. I had finally had it when they began running the Lord’s name into the gutter. I raised myself up from my seat and turned around so that I was looking down on them from my perch. Then I asked, ‘Are either one of you in the ministry?’ The one in the aisle seat raised his eyebrows incredulously and said, ‘What the…would ever make you think that?’ ‘Well, I am in the ministry,’ I said with a smile. ‘And I am amazed at your communication skills. You just said God, damn, hell, and Jesus Christ in one sentence. I can’t get all of that into a whole sermon!’ They both blushed and were silent during the entire rest of the trip!”

Here is what our catechisms have to say about this part of the Lord’s Prayer: Q 122: What does the first reqest mean? A. Hallowed be your name means: Help us to really know you, to bless, worship, and praise you for all your works and for all that shines forth from them: your almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth. And it means: Help us to direct all our living- what we think, say, and do- so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised. The WLC: Q 190: What do we pray for in the first petition? A. In the first petition, (which is, Hallowed be thy name), acknowledging the utter inability and indisposition that is in ourselves and all men to honour God aright, we pray, that God would by His grace enable and incline us and others to know, to acknowledge, and highly to esteem him, his titles, attributes, ordinances, word, works, and whatsoever he is pleased to make himself known by; and to glorify him in thought, word, and deed: that he would prevent and remove atheism, ignorance, idolatry, profaneness, and whatsoever is dishonorable to him; and, by his over-ruling providence, direct and dispose of all things to his own glory. The Heidelberg Q. and A. is fairly self-explanatory. The WLC requires a brief summary: what it is saying is that even this petition is not divorced from the Gospel. We cannot worship God correctly in and of ourselves. Instead, we would do anything rather than worship God correctly by bringing honor and glory to His name. Therefore, this petition is also a request for God’s Good News to spread through all the world. The name recognition for God is to be expanded until all people in the world recognize, acknowledge, and bow before that Name above all names.

We are unable to worship God and use His name properly in and of ourselves. If left to ourselves, we would dishonor God by dragging His name through the mud, spitting on Him, and finding any way possible to bring disgrace on to God. We are rebels. But, of course, God’s honor cannot be stolen in an ultimate sense. God will be glorified in all things. Even through the rebellion of mankind, God will be glorified. That is, He will overturn evil, and good will triumph.

Now, imagine for a moment that you are going to come before the President of the United States. Wouldn’t you want to seek counsel about how to approach him; what etiquette might be involved? Now imagine that you are a traitor to the United States, that you had sold state secrets to a foreign country. Now, how would you want to approach the President of the United States? We should approach God with penitence and humility. We can only approach God if we have Jesus Christ as our Mediator, since only He has opened the doors to paradise. Hebrews says that there is only one Mediator between God and man, and that Mediator is Christ Jesus. We cannot expect God to listen to us if we are in rebellion to Him. So the call to God that His name be hallowed is also a call to us that we hallow His name by calling on the name of Jesus for our salvation.

Furthermore, when we pray that God’s name be hallowed, we are also praying that salvation will come to the world. I know that we have looked at this a bit already, but I want to drive this point home: honoring God’s name is a way of sharing the Gospel. For instance, in that example I gave earlier about the two men on the airplane, the pastor was sharing the Gospel in a way, since the men were not honoring God, or holding His name as sacred. They could not do so, since they were in rebellion. My old pastor in Philadelphia, Phil Ryken, says this: “When non-Christians use God’s name- even in vain- it shows that deep down they know there really is a God. Their rage is direct rebellion against His honor.” When we confront in a loving way this dishonor of God’s name, we are confronting that rebellion against God in which they are engaged. Tconfronting rebellion is part of sharing the Gospel to people. It is not the whole of it. But it is a part. And it is a very important part.

If we pray that God’s name be hallowed, that should strengthen us to do just that. How do we hallow God’s name? We must be careful here not to limit the application too narrowly. This hallowing of God’s name has a very wide application. For instance, we hallow God’s name when we worship Him properly. We hallow God’s name when we avoid grumbling and complaining, since it is against God’s goodness (and hence against His name) that we grumble. We hallow God’s name when we give the same honor and glory to Christ the Son as we give to God the Father. Some people deny the divinity of Christ. For instance, the book that has now become a movie, The Da Vinci Code, asserts that Jesus was just a man, a prophet, and no more. But if that is true, then Jesus cannot take our sin upon Himself. Only God can carry the infinite burden of sin and do away with it. If Jesus is not God, then we are still in our sins, with no hope of salvation whatsoever. We hallow God’s name when we obey the Scriptures that God has given to us. In that sense, hallowing God’s name cannot be a sort of shorthand for the entire Christian life. All that we do is to be for the honor and glory of God’s name.

Here is an appropriate analogy to help us understand how to treat God’s name. This illustration is from Gary North, quoted in Phil Ryken’s book on the Ten Commandments: “One way for a modern American to begin to understand this…is to treat God’s name as a trademarked property. In order to gain widespread distribution for His copyrighted repair manuel-the Bible- and also to capture greater market share for His authorized franchise-the Church- God has graciously licensed the use of His name to anyone who will use it according to His written instructions. It needs to be understood, however, that God’s name has not been released into the public domain. God retains legal control over His name and threatens serious penalties against the unauthorized misuse of this supremely valuable property. All trademark violations will be prosecuted to the full limits of the law. The prosecutor, judge, jury, and enforcer is God.” That is what the third commandment means when it says, “God will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.”

Well, how do we misuse God’s name? How do we not hallow it? We misuse God’s name when we use the name of God carelessly or in an exclamation such as “Oh, my God!” “What the heck?” “Good Lord!” “Gosh darn it!” I believe that these expressions do not bring honor and glory to God’s name. We misuse God’s name when we fail to stand up for God’s name when it is being misused by others. And we misuse God’s name when we fail to bring all the honor and glory to God’s name that we should bring. By that count, as we should recognize, none of us honor and glorify God’s name as we ought. Sins of omission here are just as bad as sins of commission. We misuse God’s name when we do not take advantage of ministry opportunities as we should.

I hope we realize by now that none of us are sufficient to hallow God’s name properly. And that is exactly where God gives us grace. What is impossible with man is possible with God. Won’t you start honoring His name today? And not just partially, but fully. That is the call. May God truly help us in this endeavor

How Not to Pray

Matthew 6:5-8
Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer once told a story about prayer. It seems that a certain minister was in the habit of profound prayers, oftentimes using words that the people didn’t know. This went on week after week, to the dismay and frustration of the congregation. At last, a small Scottish woman in the choir ventured to take the matter in hand. On a given Sunday, as the minister was waxing his most eloquently verbose, the little woman reached across the curtain separating the choir from the pulpit. Taking a firm grasp on the frock tail of the minister, she gave it a yank, and was heard to whisper, “Jes’ call Him Fether, and ask ‘im for somethin’.” Now, that is a story about a minister. What about us? Do we do certain things to try to make sure that our prayers are heard? I think we do. But let’s look at our passage to see what Jesus tells us. What Jesus tells us here is how not to pray.

There are two dangers in prayer about which Jesus tells us. The first danger is hypocrisy: doing prayer so that other people will notice how pious we are. This is given to us in verses 5-6. The second danger Jesus tells us to avoid is meaningless jabbering. Let us examines these one by one.

First of all, we must notice that we are now in the second of three examples. Jesus has told us in verse one of this chapter that we are not to practice our righteousness before other men in order to be seen by them. Then Jesus gives three examples of how our righteousness should be private: alms, prayer, and fasting. We are going to spend some time on prayer, at least several weeks.

Well, what is this hypocrisy about which Jesus warns us? Hypocrites love to be noticed in their piety. I just saw a picture the other day of Hilary Clinton praying in front of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. There were all sorts of cameras there taking pictures of her. My guess is that she was doing anything but praying to the Lord God. What she was doing was sheer politics. She everyone to see that she was praying. In the first century, hypocrisy was down to a fine art, as it is today. What they would do is time their business just right, so that when the time came for the scheduled prayers of the day, they would just happen to be in a great spot to be noticed by just about as many people as possible. They were ostentatious in their display of piety. But they were not praying to God. Instead, they were praying to other people. Another story: a man went to a church in Boston, and heard a very erudite preacher pray in his congregation. It was a very long-winded prayer that did not take people up to the throne of grace, as a pastoral prayer should, but rather tried to impress the people with his knowledge. The man remarked, “That was the best prayer I ever heard offerred to a church in Boston.” Prayer needs to be directed solely to God, not to anyone else.

That is why Jesus says that they have received their reward. Again, we have that word that means “paid in full.” There is no further payment to be expected. Furthermore, what Jesus says here implies that it wasn’t really prayer at all, in fact. Prayer is by definition directed to God, not to people. That is why Jesus tells us what the remedy is for hypocritical prayer: it is to engage in prayer in a place where we cannot possibly be seen by anyone. And, of course, it does no good for us to somehow let someone know that we have to go pray now. We can sometimes say, “Last night while I was praying,” or “The Lord showed me while I was praying.” These expressions can often be used as subtle hints that we are quite holy and pious. One is reminded of the story of Pharisee and the tax-collector. The Pharisee stands upright in the middle of the Temple area, and publicly thanks God that he is not like this tax-collector. But the tax-collector was the one unable to face God. He simply beat his breast and called to God to have mercy on him. Jesus tells us that it was the tax-collector, not the Pharisee, who went home justified.

Now, it is important to recognize that Jesus is not condemning public prayer. If He was, then the early disciples surely misunderstood Him badly when they prayed together in their meetings in church. Jesus is talking about our private prayers, those prayers that should only exist between God and yourself. He is not talking about public worship, and so we cannot read His statements here as condemning public prayer.

Well, what kind of place does Jesus recommend? He recommends the most private place you can find. In those days, the only real privacy you could have among other people was in a private store-room that could be locked. That is the room Jesus is talking about here. You see, Jews of those days thought that the only acceptable place to pray was the Temple. So, in one sentence, Jesus tells us that the most Holy place in which we can pray, is the room most likely viewed as the least holy place. We might think this way today about the church. “I can only really pray in church, because it is more solemn there.” The fact is that you can pray anywhere. But if you are going to pray when other people are around, and there occasions when we must do so, then we should pray in our hearts. Now, what about prayer meetings? Is Jesus condemning those? Well, no, He is not. But He would condemn prayer meetings where people pray to other people rather than to God. If you are in a prayer meeting, or are in a place where other people are going to pray, say, family night, or Ladies’ Aid, then beware lest your prayers turn into a performance for the other people there. What you must do instead is lift the people to the very throne room of God. You are not on display for other people, but are rather to be talking with God. For that is the most basic definition of prayer: talking with God. God talks to us in Scripture. We talk to God in prayer. Both are necessary, and both complement the other.

This is a good segue into the second danger that Jesus warns us about: long-windedness. We’ve all probably experienced some time in our lives, someone praying, and we just wish that person would shut up. Probably some of you have thought that about some of the pastoral prayers that I have offered! Well, long-windedness is not very acceptable to people. What makes us think it is more acceptable to God? For it is often the case that the very same people who would object to hearing long-windedness in others will do the very same thing themselves! What does Jesus mean here?

Well, we must understand the background to Jesus’ statement. Pagans of that time were very fond of long prayers. They would call on every deity they knew (for most of them were polytheists), and after a lengthy recitation of gods’ names (along with all the various attributes they thought the gods had), then, and only then, would they start actually talking to the gods. They thought that you had to address God in a very particular way, or that god would be offended. In fact, they would often include a catch-all phrase at the end of the gods’ names, lest they had forgotten one. What they would then do is to pile up meaningless phrase after meaningless phrase, thinking that the gods would only hear you if they really thought you were sincere because of your long-windedness. This is sometimes true in the Roman Catholic tradition, where they will say the Hail Mary and the Our Father about 100 times, thinking that God will hear them only after they have said that many times.

But what about ourselves? It is easy to point to something like that and say that it doesn’t affect us. Do we use an exalted style of language to talk to God, thinking that God will only listen to us if we use King James English? I’m not saying that it is wrong to use such language. However, we must ask ourselves this question: why do we do that? Do we do it out of true reverence? Or do we do it only when other people are around, so that they will think that we are reverent and pious?

How often do we think about what we say when we pray the Lord’s Prayer? Is it just another meaningless repetition of the Lord’s Prayer? Just mouthing the words? Or do we mean it every time we say it? Do we understand it? That is one reason why we are (Lord-willing) going to go rather slowly through the Lord’s Prayer. It is so familiar, that we don’t listen to it anymore, oftentimes. We need to hear the Lord’s Prayer afresh, or we will wind up turning the Lord’s Prayer into the very thing that Jesus here condemns: meaningless words!

Now, let’s clarify what Jesus is NOT saying. He is not saying that repetition is necessarily bad. Jesus himself did it in the High Priestly Prayer in John 17, where He stresses the unity between Father, Son, and church very many times. Jesus is also not condemning length in prayers, for He Himself would often pray all night. He certainly did the night He was arrested, when He prayed in Gethsemane.

Well then, what is Jesus condemning? He condemns meaningless repetition. Repetition done so that God will hear better. Why is this? Why are we not to meaninglessly repeat things in our prayer? Jesus gives us the reason in verse 8: God already knows what we need before we even ask Him. You might remember the parable of the unjust judge. There, the woman kept on coming back and coming back to the judge, demanding justice from him, until finally the judge gave in, simply to get this old woman off his hands. Jesus is there arguing that if such persistance is required with an unjust judge, then how much more will God hear us, when He is not unjust, and hurries to fulfill His children’s requests? We should not give up, simply because God seems slow to us. God’s time runs differently from ours, much like Narnia time runs differently from England time, in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. God calls all times soon. And so we should not be impatient in our prayers, thinking that God does not hear. One is reminded of the story of the prophets of Baal versus Elijah the prophet. Those Baal prophets cried out from morning to night on the name of their god, who did not answer. The silence was deafening. Elijah makes one simple, short, direct, and fervent prayer to God, and does God ever answer him! Martin Luther said that our prayers should be “brief, frequent, and intense.” We pray when we need to pray, which is far more often than we normally pray.

This brings up another issue in regards to prayer: how often should we pray? If we are not praying morning, noon, and night, then are we inferior Christians? That is rather a difficult question. On the one hand, it is certainly true that our whole lives should be one long prayer to God. On the other hand, we often use such a thought as an excuse not really to pray at all. There should definitely be set times when we come before our Heavenly Father in prayer. Morning is probably the best time, since we are not immediately thinking about the events of the day, like we are at night. On the other hand, night-time is the best time for talking with God about the events of the day. Sometimes we also need prayer in the middle of the day, so that God would help us to accomplish the task at hand. Our lives are to be characterized by prayer. That is what Paul means when he says, “Pray without ceasing.” He does not mean that we are only to pray, and do nothing besides. But it does mean that we are to be characterized by prayer.

We should remember in all this that we cannot come to the throne of grace without a Mediator. Jesus is here telling us that we need Him as a Mediator. We don’t use the opinion of other people as a Mediator, which is what hypocrites do. Nor do we use many words as our Mediator. No, we simply have Christ as our Mediator. He is our High Priest in the heavens, listening to our prayers, and pleading for us, on our behalf, to the Father. Do you want to know if God hears your prayers? Do you have a Mediator? The answer to that question answers the other question. If you have Jesus as a Mediator, then God hears your prayers. That is an absolute promise in Scripture. If you do not have Jesus, then it doesn’t matter how many people see you pray, and it doesn’t matter how long you pray, or how many meaningless phrases you pile up, God will not hear your prayer.

A final word on the efficacy of prayer. What does it accomplish? James tells us that the prayer of a righteous man avails much. That is, it is effectual. We like to think sometimes that the only thing it changes is us. That is true. God does not change because of our prayers. However, there is a danger in thinking that way. We can start to think that because prayer doesn’t change God, that therefore God doesn’t care about our prayers, and then we are tempted to give it up altogether. What we must know is that God uses our prayers to accomplish His purposes. Yes, even our weak, unfaithful, lapsed prayers are tools God uses to accomplish His will. That is an amazing idea, isn’t it? Why should God use me, a sinner? And yet, He does. So, pray to the Father. “Call ‘im Fether, and ask ‘im for somethin’.” He is a loving Father, who desires to give all good gifts to His children.

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The Final Judgment

Christ shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead. This is creedal, and it is biblical. the book of Revelation amply testifies to it, as do many other passages of Scripture.

The one issue that I wish to deal with is the future aspect of justification. There are many today who would say that our present justification is on the basis of works, and that future justification is on the basis of a life well-lived. In doing so, they make justification again to depend on our works. Scripture never says that the future aspect of justification is based on works. We must note here that LC 90 does indeed say that there is an open acknowledgment and acquittal on the final day of judgment. Hence, there is a future aspect to justification which in no way whatsoever competes with or diminishes the present finality of justification. We will never be more innocent or more “saved” than we are right now, if we be united to Christ. The future aspect is merely a public acknowledgment of what has already happened on the basis of Christ’s work. That judgment in the future has already been brought into the present in all its finality. There is nothing uncertain about our standing before Christ if we be justified now. We are not going to plead our own works on the day of judgment as the reason why we should be openly acquitted. See, the operative word there in LC 90 is “open.” Justification as it is in its present aspect, is a private acquittal in God’s court-room. But the whole world does not know about it. On Judgment Day, believers will come before the judgment seat of Christ, and Christ will say, “This person was justified by faith alone in his lifetime: does the world need proof of this? Then look at the fruit that came from it.” The fruit is the evidence of justification. Therefore, the fruit will function as a witness that we were in fact justified. The fruit will not function as the basis for future justification (which is Christ’s righteousness), but as the evidence for it. We need to avoid any intimation whatsoever that we are not completely justified in this life if we be united to Christ. Otherwise, Romans 8:1 will have zero force: “There is now therefore no condemnation…” If there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, then they have nothing to fear on Judgment Day, and hence are utterly and completely justified right now. However, that fact is not evident to all the world, which is what the future aspect to justification addresses. Scripture uses the language that the future judgment will be according to works, not on the basis of works. The phrase “according to” has evidentiary force (Romans 2:6). Romans 2 must be interpreted in the light of chapters 5-8. Paul does not contradict himself. A further point must be noted in Romans 2: we can say that judgment is according to each person’s works: it is Jesus Christ’s works by which he will be judged! Furthermore, degrees of reward (and punishment) will be in accordance with each person’s own works. Only this understanding does justice to all of Paul’s teaching.

This brings up a profound problem in N.T. Wright’s theology. He claims that justification is the verdict of the final day brought into the present (he says this: I’m not going to look it up right now, Todd: you do it). And he says that that is by faith (although he has problems with that, too: his other theology negates that claim). But then he says that future justification is on the basis of a life lived in service to God, or words to that effect. This is a deep contradiction that he has not even begun to resolve. The only way I can see for him to resolve it is to say that faith and works can inhabit the same sphere of basis. But that is to confuse faith and works, the very thing that the Roman Catholic Church did at Trent.

How Not to Pray

Matthew 6:5-8
Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer once told a story about prayer. It seems that a certain minister was in the habit of profound prayers, oftentimes using words that the people didn’t know. This went on week after week, to the dismay and frustration of the congregation. At last, a small Scottish woman in the choir ventured to take the matter in hand. On a given Sunday, as the minister was waxing his most eloquently verbose, the little woman reached across the curtain separating the choir from the pulpit. Taking a firm grasp on the frock tail of the minister, she gave it a yank, and was heard to whisper, “Jes’ call Him Fether, and ask ‘im for somethin’.” Now, that is a story about a minister. What about us? Do we do certain things to try to make sure that our prayers are heard? I think we do. But let’s look at our passage to see what Jesus tells us. What Jesus tells us here is how not to pray.

There are two dangers in prayer about which Jesus tells us. The first danger is hypocrisy: doing prayer so that other people will notice how pious we are. This is given to us in verses 5-6. The second danger Jesus tells us to avoid is meaningless jabbering. Let us examines these one by one.

First of all, we must notice that we are now in the second of three examples. Jesus has told us in verse one of this chapter that we are not to practice our righteousness before other men in order to be seen by them. Then Jesus gives three examples of how our righteousness should be private: alms, prayer, and fasting. We are going to spend some time on prayer, at least several weeks.

Well, what is this hypocrisy about which Jesus warns us? Hypocrites love to be noticed in their piety. I just saw a picture the other day of Hilary Clinton praying in front of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. There were all sorts of cameras there taking pictures of her. My guess is that she was doing anything but praying to the Lord God. What she was doing was sheer politics. She everyone to see that she was praying. In the first century, hypocrisy was down to a fine art, as it is today. What they would do is time their business just right, so that when the time came for the scheduled prayers of the day, they would just happen to be in a great spot to be noticed by just about as many people as possible. They were ostentatious in their display of piety. But they were not praying to God. Instead, they were praying to other people. Another story: a man went to a church in Boston, and heard a very erudite preacher pray in his congregation. It was a very long-winded prayer that did not take people up to the throne of grace, as a pastoral prayer should, but rather tried to impress the people with his knowledge. The man remarked, “That was the best prayer I ever heard offerred to a church in Boston.” Prayer needs to be directed solely to God, not to anyone else.

That is why Jesus says that they have received their reward. Again, we have that word that means “paid in full.” There is no further payment to be expected. Furthermore, what Jesus says here implies that it wasn’t really prayer at all, in fact. Prayer is by definition directed to God, not to people. That is why Jesus tells us what the remedy is for hypocritical prayer: it is to engage in prayer in a place where we cannot possibly be seen by anyone. And, of course, it does no good for us to somehow let someone know that we have to go pray now. We can sometimes say, “Last night while I was praying,” or “The Lord showed me while I was praying.” These expressions can often be used as subtle hints that we are quite holy and pious. One is reminded of the story of Pharisee and the tax-collector. The Pharisee stands upright in the middle of the Temple area, and publicly thanks God that he is not like this tax-collector. But the tax-collector was the one unable to face God. He simply beat his breast and called to God to have mercy on him. Jesus tells us that it was the tax-collector, not the Pharisee, who went home justified.

Now, it is important to recognize that Jesus is not condemning public prayer. If He was, then the early disciples surely misunderstood Him badly when they prayed together in their meetings in church. Jesus is talking about our private prayers, those prayers that should only exist between God and yourself. He is not talking about public worship, and so we cannot read His statements here as condemning public prayer.

Well, what kind of place does Jesus recommend? He recommends the most private place you can find. In those days, the only real privacy you could have among other people was in a private store-room that could be locked. That is the room Jesus is talking about here. You see, Jews of those days thought that the only acceptable place to pray was the Temple. So, in one sentence, Jesus tells us that the most Holy place in which we can pray, is the room most likely viewed as the least holy place. We might think this way today about the church. “I can only really pray in church, because it is more solemn there.” The fact is that you can pray anywhere. But if you are going to pray when other people are around, and there occasions when we must do so, then we should pray in our hearts. Now, what about prayer meetings? Is Jesus condemning those? Well, no, He is not. But He would condemn prayer meetings where people pray to other people rather than to God. If you are in a prayer meeting, or are in a place where other people are going to pray, say, family night, or Ladies’ Aid, then beware lest your prayers turn into a performance for the other people there. What you must do instead is lift the people to the very throne room of God. You are not on display for other people, but are rather to be talking with God. For that is the most basic definition of prayer: talking with God. God talks to us in Scripture. We talk to God in prayer. Both are necessary, and both complement the other.

This is a good segue into the second danger that Jesus warns us about: long-windedness. We’ve all probably experienced some time in our lives, someone praying, and we just wish that person would shut up. Probably some of you have thought that about some of the pastoral prayers that I have offered! Well, long-windedness is not very acceptable to people. What makes us think it is more acceptable to God? For it is often the case that the very same people who would object to hearing long-windedness in others will do the very same thing themselves! What does Jesus mean here?

Well, we must understand the background to Jesus’ statement. Pagans of that time were very fond of long prayers. They would call on every deity they knew (for most of them were polytheists), and after a lengthy recitation of gods’ names (along with all the various attributes they thought the gods had), then, and only then, would they start actually talking to the gods. They thought that you had to address God in a very particular way, or that god would be offended. In fact, they would often include a catch-all phrase at the end of the gods’ names, lest they had forgotten one. What they would then do is to pile up meaningless phrase after meaningless phrase, thinking that the gods would only hear you if they really thought you were sincere because of your long-windedness. This is sometimes true in the Roman Catholic tradition, where they will say the Hail Mary and the Our Father about 100 times, thinking that God will hear them only after they have said that many times.

But what about ourselves? It is easy to point to something like that and say that it doesn’t affect us. Do we use an exalted style of language to talk to God, thinking that God will only listen to us if we use King James English? I’m not saying that it is wrong to use such language. However, we must ask ourselves this question: why do we do that? Do we do it out of true reverence? Or do we do it only when other people are around, so that they will think that we are reverent and pious?

How often do we think about what we say when we pray the Lord’s Prayer? Is it just another meaningless repetition of the Lord’s Prayer? Just mouthing the words? Or do we mean it every time we say it? Do we understand it? That is one reason why we are (Lord-willing) going to go rather slowly through the Lord’s Prayer. It is so familiar, that we don’t listen to it anymore, oftentimes. We need to hear the Lord’s Prayer afresh, or we will wind up turning the Lord’s Prayer into the very thing that Jesus here condemns: meaningless words!

Now, let’s clarify what Jesus is NOT saying. He is not saying that repetition is necessarily bad. Jesus himself did it in the High Priestly Prayer in John 17, where He stresses the unity between Father, Son, and church very many times. Jesus is also not condemning length in prayers, for He Himself would often pray all night. He certainly did the night He was arrested, when He prayed in Gethsemane.

Well then, what is Jesus condemning? He condemns meaningless repetition. Repetition done so that God will hear better. Why is this? Why are we not to meaninglessly repeat things in our prayer? Jesus gives us the reason in verse 8: God already knows what we need before we even ask Him. You might remember the parable of the unjust judge. There, the woman kept on coming back and coming back to the judge, demanding justice from him, until finally the judge gave in, simply to get this old woman off his hands. Jesus is there arguing that if such persistance is required with an unjust judge, then how much more will God hear us, when He is not unjust, and hurries to fulfill His children’s requests? We should not give up, simply because God seems slow to us. God’s time runs differently from ours, much like Narnia time runs differently from England time, in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. God calls all times soon. And so we should not be impatient in our prayers, thinking that God does not hear. One is reminded of the story of the prophets of Baal versus Elijah the prophet. Those Baal prophets cried out from morning to night on the name of their god, who did not answer. The silence was deafening. Elijah makes one simple, short, direct, and fervent prayer to God, and does God ever answer him! Martin Luther said that our prayers should be “brief, frequent, and intense.” We pray when we need to pray, which is far more often than we normally pray.

This brings up another issue in regards to prayer: how often should we pray? If we are not praying morning, noon, and night, then are we inferior Christians? That is rather a difficult question. On the one hand, it is certainly true that our whole lives should be one long prayer to God. On the other hand, we often use such a thought as an excuse not really to pray at all. There should definitely be set times when we come before our Heavenly Father in prayer. Morning is probably the best time, since we are not immediately thinking about the events of the day, like we are at night. On the other hand, night-time is the best time for talking with God about the events of the day. Sometimes we also need prayer in the middle of the day, so that God would help us to accomplish the task at hand. Our lives are to be characterized by prayer. That is what Paul means when he says, “Pray without ceasing.” He does not mean that we are only to pray, and do nothing besides. But it does mean that we are to be characterized by prayer.

We should remember in all this that we cannot come to the throne of grace without a Mediator. Jesus is here telling us that we need Him as a Mediator. We don’t use the opinion of other people as a Mediator, which is what hypocrites do. Nor do we use many words as our Mediator. No, we simply have Christ as our Mediator. He is our High Priest in the heavens, listening to our prayers, and pleading for us, on our behalf, to the Father. Do you want to know if God hears your prayers? Do you have a Mediator? The answer to that question answers the other question. If you have Jesus as a Mediator, then God hears your prayers. That is an absolute promise in Scripture. If you do not have Jesus, then it doesn’t matter how many people see you pray, and it doesn’t matter how long you pray, or how many meaningless phrases you pile up, God will not hear your prayer.

A final word on the efficacy of prayer. What does it accomplish? James tells us that the prayer of a righteous man avails much. That is, it is effectual. We like to think sometimes that the only thing it changes is us. That is true. God does not change because of our prayers. However, there is a danger in thinking that way. We can start to think that because prayer doesn’t change God, that therefore God doesn’t care about our prayers, and then we are tempted to give it up altogether. What we must know is that God uses our prayers to accomplish His purposes. Yes, even our weak, unfaithful, lapsed prayers are tools God uses to accomplish His will. That is an amazing idea, isn’t it? Why should God use me, a sinner? And yet, He does. So, pray to the Father. “Call ‘im Fether, and ask ‘im for somethin’.” He is a loving Father, who desires to give all good gifts to His children.

The Intermediate State

When a believer dies, his soul goes to be with God, though his body turns to dust. The soul does not sleep. This is proved by Hebrews 12:1, among other passages. The body awaits the resurrection, of which Christ’s resurrection is the first-fruits.

I would like to focus for a bit on how to minister to the dying and the bereaved. This is a vitally important ministry, and is misunderstood by many. Firstly, there is no need to be especially talkative to such people, unless they really want to talk. Often, it is the presence, the aura of peace that you bring that is especially helpful.

Secondly, it is not about the dead that people really wish to talk. Bereaved people really wish to know other things. This is why it is not really helpful to say, “Well, that person is in a better place now.” That’s great for the dead person. And it’s true, if the deceased by a believer. But how does that help the living person? It is much more helpful to say, “You will see that person again (in the case of talking to a believer about a believer’s death), talk to them again, touch them again, hug them again. There is resurrection, and you will know them again. You will recognize them (a question often asked, by the way).” They do want to know about the intermediate state, but the reality is that the pain is very much on a physical level: it is the physical presence that is missed. It is the person as he existed in the body who is missed.

If you can utter nothing but platitudes, then it is better by far to say nothing. They will not misunderstand you if you utter platitudes (that is, they will assume that you mean well), but they will not derive much comfort from your being there, if you utter platitudes. Instead, if you cannot think of anything to say, just be there, comfortable with silence. This is ministry, too. Do not think that you must say something. For many people, they would simply prefer you be there, but be silent. It can be helpful to ask them whether or not they wish to talk. Make yourself available for the form of comfort in which they are interested.

Do not ever underestimate the power of touch to comfort. They miss the person on a physical level very much. Comfort, then, on a physical level can be very helpful, especially holding their hand and hugging. Do not be ashamed or uncomfortable if they start crying. Cry with them.

Passages for bereaved people are: Psalm 23, Job 19, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4, John 11, Revelation 21-22

For the dying person, the Gospel is the focus, especially the resurrection aspect of it. Dying believers really need to know that this is not the end, but rather the beginning of victory. They need to know that Christ’s resurrection has turned death from defeat into victory. They need to know about the resurrection body. This gives inestimable comfort. 1 Cor 15 is key here.

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