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THE SECOND DELIVERY OF THE LORD'S PRAYER.
And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples, &c.-Luke xi. 1-13.
"THERE were two occasions," observes a writer, " on which our Savior delivered that form of prayer, which is known by his name. The first was in the sermon on the mount, about the time of the Pentecost; the second was in answer to the request made him in the words recited about the Feast of Tabernacles, many months afterwards. You are not to confound the two occasions, as though the Evangelists Matthew and Luke had but given different accounts of one and the same delivery. The occasions were wholly dissimilar, separated by a considerable interval of time: on the one, Christ gave the prayer of himself, with nothing to lead to it but his own wish to interest; whereas, on the other, he was distinctly asked by one of his disciples, who, probably, did but speak in the name of the others."
The form, in both cases, was essentially the same—yet not entirely. In the one, the word "debts" is used; in the other "sins." Luke says: "Give us day by day;" Matthew: "Give us this day, our daily bread." There is, however, a more important and noticeable variation-the omission in Luke of the doxology: "For thine is the kingdom," &c., which is found in the form given in Matthew.
The writer already quoted, (Melville,) hence infers that the prayer in the sermon on the mount, was a form designed for public use, or temple worship; as, according to Lightfoot and others, public prayers in the temple, were wont to be concluded with some sort of doxology; and our Savior is thought so far to have accommodated the form he gave to Jewish usage. But whether this conjecture be well founded.
may admit of doubt. It cannot be thought that the disciples should have forgotten that form which Christ had given them; and, strange, indeed, would it seem, if that was designed for public services, and had been only so used, that the disciples had not earlier made application for a form adapted to private use. Had they, then, not prayed in secret? If they had, what form, if any, had they used? The probability, therefore, is, that the form given by John to his disciples, to which allusion is made, so far differed from that given by the Savior to his disciples, as to attract the attention of the latter, and to excite their inquiry, whether some variation, or addition to that already given them by Christ, might not be desirable. They, therefore, on a certain occasion of the Redeemer's offering prayer-whether in private or otherwise, is not stated-proceeded to ask him, "as he ceased," to give them further and fuller instructions regarding prayer, if such were, in his opinion, important.
By repeating the same form, with only some minor differences of expression, Christ, evidently, would have his disciples understand that nothing further was necessary. By varying the language in some slight degree, he, perhaps, intended to show that they were not bound to just those words, but might say them according as circumstances should require.
The Savior, however, seized the opportunity thus presented to impart instructions regarding prayer, which have thrown around that duty and privilege endearments which have been, and will be valued to the end of time.
In a manner the most beautiful, as well as the most forcible, he proceeds to illustrate the power and propriety of persevering and importunate prayer.
Should a supperless traveler, says he, arrive at your residence late at night, and at a time when you was not prepared to entertain him, you would naturally step to a neighboring friend to obtain bread to set before him. Your friend might
have retired; and, at your call, might plead that circumstance, as a reason why he should not be disturbed. your necessities were not urgent, you would accept this excuse, and retire; but, if imperious, what expedient would you adopt to obtain the favor desired? You would continue to knock or call; you would set forth your necessities by every argument likely to influence; and, though he might not respond, because you are his friend, or because of your various arguments, he will, at length, rise, and give you, simply because of your importunity. "The word importunity denotes perseverance in an object, without due regard to time and place, or circumstances; an improper perseverance. By this your friend is influenced. Rather than be disturbed, he rises, and gives you what you ask."
Such is the illustration which Christ gives of the power of importunity. We see its effects in relation to man; and he says it has similar power with God. He introduces it for the kind and express purpose of showing his disciples. how they might obtain blessings which seemed, at first, to be denied, but which are important and essential.
A thousand questions, so to speak, might here be asked— difficult to answer; powerful objections be urged-difficult to meet; but that prayer is answered we know; and equally well are we assured that blessings come in answer to fervent, importunate prayer, which would not be sent down in answer to supplications, were they not thus fervent and importunate. Let the infidel weary himself with his array of difficulties and the skeptic, with his list of philosophical objections: the humble disciple of Jesus has a reply which satisfies him, if not them. "Christ declares by an apostle, (James 5: 16,) that earnest, energetic prayer avails much; and, on looking into the oracles of God, I find recorded instances of answers to such prayers."
Christ adds: "Ask"-"seek"- -"knock;" and the promise is, that what is thus sought, shall be given. Not, indeed.
immediately, as a matter of course. That might be inconsistent on the part of God, and even injurious to ourselves, or others connected with us. We may not be prepared for the favor sought. But let no one despair. If it be for our good, it will not be withheld. Let us first ask aright; let us see that our minds are in a proper state; let us feel our need of the blessing sought; let us inquire whether God has promised such a blessing; and then let us persevere until God gives it, or some blessing more important. God does not always give the identical blessing asked; he may give us something better. The parent may see that the favor asked by his child might ruin him, and he withholds it; he may see that it would be beneficial, but he can bestow that which is far more important to his welfare. Paul besought the Lord that the thorn might be removed; but God knew how to bestow a greater favor, which he did, in making his grace sufficient for him
In respect to importunity for temporal blessings-such as wealth, office, honor, success in worldly enterprise—we may well manifest a becoming modesty. We may, indeed, plead for any thing lawful; but it should be in submission to the Divine will, and the more should this feeling predominate as the ultimate utility of the blessing may be problematical. I cannot know whether wealth, or office, or human honor, would subserve my spiritual, or even worldly good. But there are blessings, of whose value and importance, in respect to himself, every individual may absolutely know; and for which he may pray, and the gift of which he may urge, and with an importunity in respect to which, there is little danger of excess; although, in regard to every blessing, whether it be temporal or spiritual, and for which we are dependent upon God, we should say, as to measure and time, not our wills, but thine, be done."
Christ encourages us to "ask," "seek," and "knock," by the conduct of parents. What parent, unless he be a mon
ster, responds to the petition of a child, by giving him a stone, instead of bread; or, what is worse, a serpent, instead of a fish? O no! this is not the law of parental kindness; but to listen to the wants of children, and find pleasure in gratifying them.
The pity of the Lord,
To those that fear his name,
Is such as tender parents feel;
Nay, God is better and kinder than the most tender parent; and therefore, with what confidence may we not come as his children, and ask the blessings we need. Christ says parents are evil, i. e. are imperfect, often partial, blind, and sometimes passionate; but God is free from all such imperfections; and, therefore, ever ready to bestow real blessings upon his children, and will bestow them in answer to importunate prayer; when, without such prayer, there is no reason to believe that they would be sent down. What says the prophet Hosea of Jacob, at Peniel? "By his strength, he had power over the angel, and prevailed; he wept, and made supplication to him." What said God to Moses, when the Israelites had greatly provoked him? "Now, therefore, let me alone, that I may consume them." Do not pray-do not urge me. But Moses could not see his people cut off in wrath, however just their destruction would be. He, therefore, prays-pleads; and, the Psalmist says that, had he not thrown himself, as he did, into the breach, the Lord would have destroyed them.
But the Lord could not destroy Israel, while Moses was thus pleading. Hence, we read: "the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people." And at another time, (Numbers xiv.) "I will smite this people." "But," said Moses, "the Egyptians will hear of it, and they will say, thou didst slay them because thou wast not able to bring them into the land which thou didst promise to give them.