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prehensions of his Sovereign power, majesty, and gracious condescension; as also to pray with, and for others.
N this prayer we are taught to begin our prayers with a preface, and therein to make an explicit mention of the name of God, and some of his divine perfections. The preface to this prayer is contained in these words; Our Father which art in heaven. In which we may observe, that we are to draw near to God with reverence, and suitable apprehensions of his sovereign power, majesty, and other divine perfections, and with an holy confidence of his fatherly goodness; and that we are to pray with, and for others, which may be inferred from his being styled, Our Father; by which we are instructed to begin our prayers with some expressions of reverence, agreeable to the nature of the duty that we are engaged in, whereby we express the sense we have of his essential or relative glory, of which we have various instances in scripture, wherein God's people, in addressing themselves to him, have made mention of his glorious names, titles, and attributes, in variety of expressions. Thus David, in his Psalms, that contain the matter and form of prayers, sometimes begins them with the name of God, to whom they are directed; as when he says, God be merciful unto us, and bless us, &c. Psal. lxvii. 1. And elsewhere, O God! thou art my God, Psal. Ixiii. 1. And sometimes he makes mention of his name Jehovah; which we translate Lord: Thus he says, O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath, &c. Psal. xxxviii. 1. And elsewhere, I will love thee, O Lord, my strength, Psal. xviii. 1. And, O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth, Psal. viii. 1. And Solomon begins his prayer at the consecration of the temple ; Lord God of Israel, there is no God like thee in heaven above, or earth beneath; who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart, 1 Kings viii. 23. And Ezra begins his prayer, O my God! I am ashamed, and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God! Ezra ix. 6. And Daniel expresses himself thus, in the preface to his prayer, O 0 Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant, and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments, Dan. ix. 4. These are all expressions, that denote reverence, and adoration; which, together with other instances of the like nature, are of use for our direction, as to what respects the preface, or beginning of our prayers to God; but the preface to the Lord's prayer is somewhat different; in which we are taught,
1. To address ourselves to God as a Father; which relation includes in it,
(1.) Something common to mankind in general; in which
respect we are to adore him as our Creator, our Owner, and Benefactor, in whom we live, and move, and have our being, Acts xvii. 28. as the prophet says, Have we not all one Father? hath not one God created us? Mal. ii. 10. And elsewhere it is said, He formeth the spirit of man within him, Zech. xii. 1. upon which account he is called, the God of the spirits of all flesh, Numb. xvi. 22. and, the Father of spirits, Heb. xii. 9.
(2.) God being a Father to his people, sometimes denotes that external covenant-relation which they stand in to him, as a people called by his name, favoured with the means of grace, and as such, the objects of that care and goodness, which he is pleased to extend to those whom he governs by laws given by special revelation from, heaven, and encourages to wait on him in those ordinances, in which they may hope for his presence, and also promises all saving blessings to those that give up themselves to him by faith. In this sense we are to understand those scriptures, in which God says, Israel is my son, even my first-born, Exod. iv. 22. And, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me, Isa. i. 2. And, Wilt thou not, from this time cry to me, My Father, thou art the guide of my youth, Jer. iii. 4.
(3.) The relation which God stands in to his people, as a Father, is sometimes taken in the highest sense, as implying in it discriminating grace, or special love, which he is pleased to extend to the heirs of salvation. Thus he is called so by right of redemption; in which respect Christ is styled, The everlasting Father, Isa. ix. 6. as being the Head and Redeemer of his people. And the church says, Thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer; thy name is from everlasting, chap. Ixiii. And believers are called his children by regeneration; in which respect they are said to be born of God, John i. 13. and to be made partakers of a divine, 2 Pet. i. 4. that is, an holy and spiritual nature, which had its rise from God, when he was pleased to instamp his image upon them, consisting in holiness and righteousness. They are also called the children of God by adoption; thus he is said to have predestinated them to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, Eph. i. 5. and they are said to receive the adoption of sons, Gal. iv. 5. and as such, have a right to the inheritance of children, Rom. viii. 17. compared with Col. i. 12.
These various senses in which God is said to be a Father to man, may serve for our direction when we style him, Our Father, in prayer. Unregenerate persons, when they pray to God, can ascend no higher than what is contained in their relation to him as a God of nature, and of providence; who are obliged to adore him for the blessings which they have received from him, as the effects of common bounty, which include VOL. IV. Z z
in them all the blessings which belong to this life, together with his patience, forbearance, and long-suffering, which delays to inflict the punishment that sin deserves. Therefore, when they say, Our Father, they acknowledge that they derive their being from him, and though they cannot lay claim to the benefits of Christ's redemption, yet they confess their obligations to God as their Creator; and consider him as having given them souls capable of spiritual blessings, and themselves as daily receiving the good things of this life from him, and dependent on him for those things that tend to the comfort and support of life. They also stand in need of those blessings which are suited to the nature of the soul, and consequently beg that they may not remain destitute of those things that may conduce to their everlasting welfare; and therefore they may use the Psalmist's words, Thy hands have made me, and fashioned me: Give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments, Psal. cxix. 73.
As for those who are God's children, by an external covenant-relation, there is something more implied therein, than barely their being creatures; for herein they are led to adore him for those discoveries that he has made in the gospel, of the way of salvation by Jesus Christ, who calls and invites sinners to come to him, and encourages them to hope, that those who are enabled to do so in a right manner, he will, in no wise, cast out; therefore, when they call upon God as their Father in prayer, it is, in effect, to say; Lord, we cannot conclude ourselves to be thy children, as redeemed, effectually called and sanctified; nor can we lay claim to the inheritance laid up for thy saints in heaven; yet we are encouraged to wait on thee in the ordinances of thine appointment, and to hope for thy special presence therein, whereby they may be made effectual for our salvation. We are, indeed, destitute of special grace, and cannot conclude that we have a right to the saving blessings of the covenant; yet, through thy great goodness, we still enjoy the means of grace. We have not been admitted to partake of Christ's fulness, nor to eat of the bread of life; yet we are thankful for those blessings of thy house, which thou art pleased to continue to us; and since thou still includest us in the number of those who are thy children as favoured with the gospel, we humbly take leave, upon this account, to call thee our Father, and to wait and hope for thy salvation, and continue to implore that grace from thee, which will give us a right to the best of blessings that we stand in need of. (a)
As for those who are God's children in the highest sense, by
(a) Qu. For Father is designed in its appellative sense, and our as a covenantplea.
redemption, regeneration, and adoption, they may draw nigh to him, with an holy boldness; for these have, as the apostle expresseth it, the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father; they have reason to adore him for privileges of the highest nature, that he has conferred upon them, and to encourage themselves that he will bestow upon them all the blessings they stand in need of as to this, or a better world. These may draw nigh to God with confidence of his fatherly goodness, and their interest therein; which they ought to take notice of and improve, in order to their drawing nigh to him, in a right manner, in prayer, as well as to induce them to behave themselves, in the whole course of their conversation, as those who are taken into this honourable relation to him. Accordingly,
[1.] This should raise their admiring thoughts of him, that they, who were, by nature, strangers and enemies to him, should be admitted to partake of this inestimable privilege; as the apostle says, Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God! 1 John iii. 1.
[2.] We should also take encouragement from hence, to hope that he will hear and answer our prayers, though very imperfect, so far as it may tend to his glory and our real advantage. Thus our Saviour says, If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father, which is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him? Matt. vii. 11. Do we pray for spiritual blessings, such as the increase of grace, strength against corruption, and to be kept from temptation, or falling by it? we have ground to conclude that these shall be granted us, inasmuch as they are purchased for us by Christ, promised in the covenant of grace, as we have the earnest and first-fruits of the Spirit in our hearts, whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption. And when we pray for temporal blessings, we have reason to hope they shall be granted, if they be necessary for us, since our Saviour says, Our heavenly Father knoweth that we have need of all these things, Matt. vi. 32.
[3.] This should excite in us those child-like dispositions, which are agreeable to this relation, not only when we draw nigh to God in prayer, but in the whole conduct of our lives. And it includes in it,
1st, Humility and reverence, which is not only becoming those who have an interest in his love, and a liberty of access into his presence, with hope of acceptance in his sight; but it is what we are obliged to, as his peculiar people, and a branch of that honour which is due to him as our God and Father. Thus he says, by the prophet, A son honoureth his father, Mal. i. 6. whereby he intimates that this is the character and disposition of those that stand in the relation of children to
him. And the apostle argues from the less to the greater, when he says, that we have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us, and we gave them reverence, shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of Spirits, Heb. xii. 9.
2dly, Patience under rebukes, considering our proneness to go astray, whereby we not only deserve them, but they are rendered necessary; and especially when we consider that they flow from love, and are designed for our good; as the apostle says, Whom the Lord loveth he chastneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth, ver. 6.
3dly, Another child-like disposition is being grieved for our Father's frowns; especially that we have incurred his displeasure by our misbehaviour towards him; and it contains in it a readiness to confess our faults, and a carefulness to avoid them for the future.
4thly, Contentment with the provision of our Father's house, whatever it be. We shall never, indeed, have the least cause to complain of scarcity, as the returning prodigal in the parable says, that even the hired servants of his father, had bread enough, and to spare, Luke xv. 17. It can hardly be supposed that he who is at the fountain head, can perish for thirst; nevertheless, though we are not straitened in God, yet we are often straitened in our bowels, through the weakness of our faith, when we are not inclined to receive what God holds forth to us in the gospel; and then we are discontented and uneasy, while the blame lies at our own door; whereas, if we behaved ourselves as the children of such a Father, we should not only be pleased with, but constantly adore and live upon that fulness of grace that there is in Christ; and whether he is pleased to give us more or less of the blessings of common providence, we should learn, in whatsoever state we are, therewith to be content, Phil. iv. 11.
5thly, Obedience to a father's commands, without disputing his authority, or right to govern us, is another child-like disposition. Thus when we draw nigh to God as to our Father, we are to express a readiness to do whatever he requires, whereby we not only approve ourselves subjects under a law, but, as the apostle styles it, Obedient children, as being holy in all manner of conversation, 1 Pet. i. 14, 15.
6thly, Another disposition of children is, that they have a fervent zeal for their father's honour, and cannot bear to hear him reproached without the highest resentment. Thus the children of God, how much soever they may be concerned about their own affairs, when injuriously treated by the world, are always ready to testify their utmost dislike of every thing that reflects dishonour on him, or his ways.
7thly, Another child-like disposition is love, which the rela