A Godly Treatise on Prayer: The Lord's Prayer. Part, 1Our Father. Bishop George Downame.
February 28, 2019
Some do expound these words as though they were a rhetorical preface which we use to win God’s favour. But we use words in our prayer not that God, but that we may be moved and affected. First we call him Father: whereof we are first to seek the meaning, and then the use. By the name of Father God alone is understood: For, as our Saviour saith we must call no man father (Matt. 23. 9), because we have but one Father who is in heaven. We have one Father, which is God (John 8. 41): a good profession if it had been uttered with a good conscience.
Now God is said to be a Father two ways: by Creation, and Adoption. By creation, as Isa. 64. 8. So Adam is said to be the son of God, Luke 3. 38, and the Angels, Job 1. By Adoption in Christ, Eph. 1. 5, so every believer is born of God, 1 John 5. 1. For to so many as believe in Christ God hath given this privilege, to be the sons of God, John 1. 12. And in this sense is every faithful man to call God Father.
But here it may be demanded, whether the whole Trinity is called upon in the name of Father, or the first Person alone.
The word Father is attributed unto God two ways; either essentially or personally. Essentially, when he is so called in respect of the creatures, 1 Cor. 8. 6. Personally, when it hath relation to the other Persons, the Son and the Holy Ghost. In this place it hath relation to the creatures. So Deut. 32. 6 & Isa. 63. 16. But howsoever the whole Trinity is our Father, and so to be worshipped of us, yet this speech is more peculiarly directed to the first Person, the fountain of the Godhead, who is the Father of Christ, Eph. 3. 14, and in him our Father, John 20. 17, yet so as in worshipping him we jointly worship the other two, who as they are all one in essence, coequal and coeternal, concurring also in all actions towards us, so they are altogether to be worshipped. O God, thou Father of Christ, and in him our Father, who givest the Spirit of thy Son, whereby we cry, Abba, Father, to thee we present our prayers in the name of thy Son, craving the help of the Holy Ghost.
The second Person is called our Father, Isa. 9. 6 and so may the Holy Ghost, who doth regenerate us, Deut. 32. 6. and to either of them may our prayers be directed, Acts 7. 59. So that our prayer may be directed to any or to all the Persons, 2. Cor. 13. 13, or to two of them, 1 Thess. 3. 11.
We are taught to whom to direct our prayers, namely, to God alone. For seeing our Saviour hath commanded us, when we pray, to say, Our Father, it is evident that we break the commandment if we direct our prayers to any to whom we may not say, Our Father, &c. Which title without blasphemy we cannot attribute to any but only to the Lord, who is our heavenly Father: Jer. 31. 9. Sum Israeli Pater, I am a father to Israel.
Secondly, whereas by nature we are the children of wrath, and yet commanded to call upon God as our Father, we are taught in whose name we are to come unto God: Not in our own names or worthiness Dan. 9. 18, for then we shall find him a Judge rather then a Father; but only in the name and mediation of Christ Eph. 3. 12, in whom he is our Father, and in whose name he hath promised to grant whatsoever we ask according to his will. It is well said of Calvin, Cum Deum Patrem vocamus, Christi nomen praetendimus, When we call God Father, we pretend the name of Christ.
3. We are taught that the help of the Holy Ghost is necessary in prayer. For how should we which were children of wrath dare to call God our Father, or be assured that we be his children? By the Holy Ghost, who is the spirit of adoption, and beareth witness to our spirits, that we are the sons of God, we cry in our hearts, Abba, Father, Rom. 2. 15, 16. For if none can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost; then much less can a man call upon God as his Father in Christ except he be endued by the Holy Ghost. We must therefore, as the Apostle teacheth us Eph. 2. 18, call upon God the Father in the name of the Son by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, so shall we, though unworthy and unable to call upon God, in Christ be accepted and by the Holy Ghost be enabled to pray according to God.
Here therefore first are they refuted who think they may lawfully direct their prayers either to Angels or Saints, to whom the name Father is opposed, Isa. 63. 16, or to their images, saying to a stock or stone, our father, Jer. 2. 27. If God be our heavenly Father, who is more willing to give good things then any earthly parents, and also all-sufficient, why should we seek to any other, unless we can either accuse him of unkindness, or object want of power unto him?
Secondly, if God be our Father in Christ, then ought we with boldness to come unto the throne of grace through him, Eph. 3. 12. Neither do we need any other mediation than of the Son, who is the only Mediator as of redemption so also of intercession 1. Tim. 2. 5, contrary to the doctrine of the Papists, who teach men to use the mediation of Saints: Whereas our Saviour John 16. 26, having commanded us to pray in his name, addeth, I say not that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself loveth you.
Duties in Prayer.
If God be our Father, we must come: 1. In reverence as unto our heavenly Father. 2. In dutiful, thankful, and son-like affection, acknowledging his mercy of adoption, who when we were by nature children of wrath adopted us to be his sons; and if sons, then heirs. Behold, what love the Father hath shewed on us, that we should be called the sons of God. 3. In faith and assurance, not only that we and our prayers are accepted in Christ, but that our prayers shall be granted unto us of our Father as may be most for his glory and our good.
And that we may come in faith, let us consider, First, that without faith we are no sons of his, but children of wrath, Eph. 2. 3, 12. and if we believe we are the sons of God, John 1. 12. and of the household of faith.
Secondly, that if God be our Father in Christ, he will grant us what good thing soever we ask. For, 1. He is affected as a good Father towards his children: yea, his love towards us is so much greater than the love of earthly parents as his goodness and mercy is greater, Isa. 63. 16, Psal. 27. 10, Isa. 49. 15, Matth. 7. 11, and Luke 11. 13. 2. In that he is our Father he hath given us the greatest gift that can be imagined, and therefore will not deny the less. Pater quid filiis, qui jam quòd pater est? What will the Father deny to his sons, who hath vouchsafed already to be our Father? For if he have so loved us that he gave his Son for us (that in him we might be adopted his children) how shall he not with him give us all good things? Rom. 8. 32. 3. In that he hath vouchsafed us this great love to be our Father and that we should be his children, he hath also made us his heirs, and provided us an inheritance in heaven. For as he gave his Son in pretium, for a price, so he reserveth himself in praemium, for a reward. If therefore it be our Father’s pleasure to give us a kingdom, we need not fear but that he will grant us matters of less moment, Luke 12. 32. 4. In son-like submission we are to call upon God our Father, &c. Matt. 26. 39, 42. And in this faith we are to rest in the will of our Father, submitting ourselves thereto, knowing that he will dispose of us for the best.
Duties in our lives.
If we call God our Father, we must behave ourselves as dutiful and obedient children, 1. Pet. 1. 14, we must walk worthy our calling, Ephes. 4. 1. For seeing we have these promises, namely, that God will be a Father unto us, and that we shall be his sons and daughters, we ought to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and grow up into all godliness in the fear of God, 2. Cor. 6. 18. and 7. 1. Deut. 32. 6. Nonne ipse Pater tuus, &c. Is not he thy Father that hath bought thee? We must honour him, we must fear him, 1. Pet. 1. 17. Neither ought we to fear any thing so much as to displease him. We must love him, and Christ his Son, John 8. 42 and for his sake our neighbours, as the sons of God and members of Christ, and consequently as our brethren and fellow-members, 1. John 5. 1. We are to imitate our heavenly Father, Matt. 5. 45. Luke 6. 36. We must patiently and meekly bear afflictions as fatherly chastisements, Heb. 12. 6, 7, &c. Otherwise we shew ourselves to be bastards rather then sons. We must trust in him, Psal. 27. 10. Isai. 63. 16.
Here therefore is reproved the hypocrisy of those who using these words do not call upon God in their prayers with son-like reverence, faith, affection, submission, nor in their lives behave themselves as God’s children. For though we call upon God as our Father, and yet do not obey him, nor honour him, nor fear him, nor love him, nor follow him, nor submit ourselves to his chastisements, nor trust in him, we shew ourselves not to be the children of God, but rather of the Devil. For our Saviour saith to the Jews affirming that God was their Father, His sons ye are whose works ye do, John 8. 39, 48. And John also saith, 1. Epist. 3. 8, 9, 10. He that committeth sin is of the devil: Whosoever is born of God sinneth not; for his seed remaineth in him, &c.In this the children of God are known and the children of the devil. Whosoever doth not righteousness is not of God; neither he that loveth not his brother. See Deut. 32. 5, 6.
When as our Saviour teacheth us to say, Our Father, Give us, &c. he may seem to some to have prescribed a form of public prayer only. Otherwise why doth he not teach us to say, My Father, Give me, &c.? But out of verse 6 it appeareth that he prescribeth this form as well for private as for public prayer. Now he teacheth us to say, Our Father, give us, &c. that we may learn it to be our duty to call upon God not only for ourselves but also for others.
But for what others? For all men, 1. Tim. 2. 1 (for God is the Father of all by creation) but especially for the faithful, to whom God is a Father by grace of adoption, and they also our brethren in Christ. We are therefore to pray for the whole brotherhood, which is the universal Church, and the whole company of the faithful, Psal. 122. 6. O pray for the peace of Jerusalem. For the universal Church, I say, militant upon earth. For unto the present estate of the Church militant our Saviour doth accommodate this prayer: as, that we may do the will of God upon earth as it is in heaven; that he would give us our daily bread; that he would forgive our sins, and not lead us into temptation. When as therefore this prayer is used amongst the Papists for the dead, they shew themselves not impious only but also ridiculous.
Uses concerning Prayer.
First, whereas Christ commandeth us to call God Father not only of other faithful and elect but also ours, he requireth in us when we are to pray a true and justifying faith whereby we are persuaded that God is our Father in Christ, and the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry in our hearts,Abba, Father. Therefore that special faith which the Papists call presumption, whereby every Christian man believeth that he is adopted in Christ, reconciled to God, and justified by him, and that for his sake both himself and his prayer is accepted of God, Christ requireth in this place. For unless I be persuaded that the Lord is not only the Father of the rest of the faithful and elect, but also my Father, I cannot in truth call him our Father. Unto prayer therefore we must bring faith, without which it is impossible to please God.
Secondly, whereas Christ commandeth us to call upon God not only for ourselves, but also in the behalf of the whole fraternity, which is the universal Church, Our Father, Give us, &c. he teacheth us to exercise the communion of Saints by mutual prayers for one another, Eph. 6. 18 and not only to have respect to our own good but also to the good of others, 1. Cor. 13. 5. and withal informeth us how we are to be affected towards our brethren when we come to call upon God; that we should desire the same good things for them which we ask for ourselves; that we should be touched with a fellow-feeling of their wants, as it becometh those which are not only the sons of the same Father, but also members of the same body, Heb. 13. 3. Therefore as we ought to bring faith towards God, so also charity towards men, that without wrath and dissension we may lift up pure hands unto God, 1. Tim. 2. 8.
But is it not lawful to say sometimes, My Father, My God, and to pray for ourselves in particular or for some others?
It is lawful in private prayers to call God thy Father, so that thou dost not arrogate any thing peculiar to thy self besides or above other faithful men. For this is the voice of justifying faith (especially in the time of temptation, when the faithful man may seem forsaken of God) to apply unto himself in particular that which commonly belongeth to all the faithful, Psal. 22. 1. Deus meus, My God, My God, &c. John 20. 28 & Rom. 1. 8. The Lord instructeth his people thus to call him, My Father, Jer. 3. 4, 19 and Christ his disciples, Matt. 6. 6. Pray to thy Father; and thy Father which seeth in secret, &c.
It is lawful also to pray for thyself and for others in particular, so as thou forget not to pray for the whole brotherhood of God’s children. For as when we are commanded to do good to all, but especially to the household of faith, Gal. 6. 10, we are bound in particular to do good to those whose wants are known unto us: so when we are commanded to pray for all, we are bound in particular to pray for those whose wants are known unto us, and especially for such as do any ways belong unto us or do desire to be commended in our prayers unto God, Rom. 15. 30, Jam. 5. 14, Eph. 5. 19 & 1. Tim. 2. 1, 2.
Thirdly, whereas we are taught to say, Our Father, Give us, &c. we may gather that this prayer and those that are made to the like effect are the common voice of the Church and of all the members thereof praying mutually for one another: which affordeth comfort to every one of us; for although the sense of thy own wants and weakness in calling upon God doth discourage thee, yet this ought to comfort thee, that this prayer and the like is the common prayer of the Church and of all the faithful lifting up holy hands in every place, and praying for thee, if thou be a faithful man, as well as for themselves. Now the prayer of the Church the Lord who is most gracious unto it is ready to hear, Deut. 4. 7 & Isa. 65. 24 and being most faithful is also willing to perform, Matt. 18. 20. Therefore this serveth, as for instruction, teaching us our duty in calling upon God for one another, so also for our comfort, assuring us that others in like sort pray for us, and that we are partakers of all the prayers of the whole Church and all the members thereof.
Fourthly, the hypocrisy of those is condemned who say with the Jews, John 8. 41. We have all one Father, God; but neither have faith in God, nor charity towards men, nor any fellow-feeling of other men's wants, nor any true desire of their good; who say, Every man for himself, and God for us all.
Uses concerning our lives.
Seeing we have all one and the same Father, Matt. 23. 9 therefore we ought to embrace one another with brotherly love, Eph. 4. 3, 4, 6. For if God be the Father of us all, then are we all brethren. Which word of love ought to tie us with the bond of love, and break off all dissension, Gen. 13. 8, Acts 7. 26. & Mal. 2. 10. And surely if we love not our brethren, the love of God is not in us: For he which loveth him that begetteth, loveth also those that are begotten, 1. Joh. 5. 1. And, Whosoever saith that he loveth God and hateth his brother, he is a liar, 1. John 4. 19, 20. Therefore where is not brotherly love there is not the love of God; where is not the love of God there is no faith; and who hath not faith is not the son of God. Therefore the Apostle saith, 1. John 3. 10 In this the children of God are known and the children of the devil; whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, nor he that loveth not his brother. For if those that be the sons of God, as all the faithful are (and we are to hope well of the most when we speak of particulars) be not our brethren, and so we esteem them, then are not we the sons of God. For if he be our Father, then his children are our brethren; If the sons of God be not brethren to us, then are not we his children. If therefore we shall hate the children of God, how can we call upon him as our Father?
Secondly, whereas all, as well poor as rich, are commanded to call God Father, this ought to teach the rich, and comfort the poor. The rich ought from hence to learn humility and not to despise the poorest Christian, seeing they are our brethren by the law of nature, and of the same blood Acts 17, the same flesh Isa. 58, and also by our redemption by Christ they are our brethren in him, sons of the same Father, and have as good part in Christ, if they believe, as the best, for God is a Father that respecteth no persons, Acts 10. 34, 35 & 1 Pet. 1. 17. And in Christ there is no difference of rich and poor, bond or free; but we are all one in him, Gal. 3. 28. To which purpose Paul exhorteth Philemon to receive his servant Onesimus, being now converted, as a brother, v. 17. Let therefore the rich follow the advice, Rom. 12. 16. Example, Job 31. 13, 14, 15. that of the wife 1. Pet. 3. 7, which is to be extended to all Christians, viz. that they be coheirs. Which doctrine doth not favour the Anabaptists; for although in respect of our spiritual estate there ought to be no respect of persons, Jam. 2. 1. neither is there difference of bond and free in Christ, yet in respect of our outward estate the Lord hath ordained superiors and inferiors, &c. and hath established orders and degrees in the outward polity.
The poor also are to comfort themselves with this consideration, that howsoever they be contemned in the world, yet they are dear in God’s sight. God is their Father as well, or rather of them than of the rich, Psal. 68. 6 and Christ their brother: yea, they are members of Christ, to whom what is done Christ esteemeth as done to himself, Matt. 25. The which is to be understood of the godly poor; for otherwise, as their estate is miserable now, so a thousand times more miserable shall it be in the world to come.
Uses of reproof.
They are condemned that call God their Father, and yet hate the children of God because they are godly, and deride the name of brethren.
Schismatics, who call God their Father, but deny his children to be their brethren. For they which will have God for their Father, must have the true Church to their mother. And these words, Our Father, are the voice of the Church, and of all that be of the same brotherhood.
Again, when we are bid to say, Our Father, &c. we are taught to direct our prayers unto God immediately, as being present with us. Which confutes the Papists, who would not have us go directly to God, but to desire Mary, or Peter, &c. to pray for us: whereas this privilege have all the faithful, to come with boldness to the throne of grace by Christ, Ephs. 3. 12. Secondly, we are to believe that God who is in heaven is also present with us, hearing our prayers: and therefore so ought we to pour forth our prayers as into his bosom, yea though we pray in secret, Matth. 6. 6. Thirdly, we ought to have the eye of faith to see him that is invisible, Heb. 11. so shall we set God before our eyes, and behave ourselves as it becometh those that speak to so glorious a Majesty. But most men because they see none present are touched with less reverence than if they spake to a mortal superior.