Recently I was approached concerning the use of the Lord’s Prayer, and specifically the matter of addressing God as “our Father”, in corporate prayer. The question is simply this: is the Lord’s Prayer (and its use of “our Father”) intended to be used as a pattern for an individual Christian’s prayer alone, or should it also be used as a pattern in settings of corporate prayer, such as family worship and public church worship. In response, I am seeking to gather relevant information on this issue from pertinent sources, and in this article I submit some of my current compilation of material on the subject.
The Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God reads as follows on this topic (see http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html ):
Of Prayer after Sermon.
THE sermon being ended, the minister is "To give thanks for the great love of God, in sending his Son Jesus Christ unto us; for the communication of his Holy Spirit; for the light and liberty of the glorious gospel, and the rich and heavenly blessings revealed therein; as, namely, election, vocation, adoption, justification, sanctification, and hope of glory; for the admirable goodness of God in freeing the land from antichristian darkness and tyranny, and for all other national deliverances; for the reformation of religion; for the covenant; and for many temporal blessings.
To pray for the continuance of the gospel, and all ordinances thereof, in their purity, power, and liberty: to turn the chief and most useful heads of the sermon into some few petitions; and to pray that it may abide in the heart, and bring forth fruit.
To pray for preparation for death and judgment, and a watching for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: to entreat of God the forgiveness of the iniquities of our holy things, and the acceptation of our spiritual sacrifice, through the merit and mediation of our great High Priest and Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ."
And because the prayer which Christ taught his disciples is not only a pattern of prayer, but itself a most comprehensive prayer, we recommend it also to be used in the prayers of the church. And whereas, at the administration of the sacraments, the holding publick fasts and days of thanksgiving, and other special occasions, which may afford matter of special petitions and thanksgivings, it is requisite to express somewhat in our publick prayers, (as at this time it is our duty to pray for a blessing upon the Assembly of Divines, the armies by sea and land, for the defence of the King, Parliament, and Kingdom,) every minister is herein to apply himself in his prayer, before or after sermon, to those occasions: but, for the manner, he is left to his liberty, as God shall direct and enable him in piety and wisdom to discharge his duty.
The prayer ended, let a psalm be sung, if with conveniency it may be done. After which (unless some other ordinance of Christ, that concerneth the congregation at that time, be to follow) let the minister dismiss the congregation with a solemn blessing.
Let the prayer, thanksgiving, or blessing of the bread and wine, be to this effect:
"With humble and hearty acknowledgment of the greatness of our misery, from which neither .i.man; nor angel was able to deliver us, and of our great unworthiness of the least of all God's mercies; to give thanks to God for all his benefits, and especially for that great benefit of our redemption, the love of God the Father, the sufferings and merits of the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, by which we are delivered; and for all means of grace, the word and sacraments; and for this sacrament in particular, by which Christ, and all his benefits, are applied and sealed up unto us, which, notwithstanding the denial of them unto others, are in great mercy continued unto us, after so much and long abuse of them all.
To profess that there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ, by whom alone we receive liberty and life, have access to the throne of grace, are admitted to eat and drink at his own table, and are sealed up by his Spirit to an assurance of happiness and everlasting life.
Earnestly to pray to God, the Father of all mercies, and God of all consolation, to vouchsafe his gracious presence, and the effectual working of his Spirit in us; and so to sanctify these elements both of bread and wine, and to bless his own ordinance, that we may receive by faith the body and blood of Jesus Christ, crucified for us, and so to feed upon him, that he may be one with us, and we one with him; that he may live in us, and we in him, and to him who hath loved us, and given himself for us."
The Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God was adopted by the Church of Scotland as follows (see http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html ):
ASSEMBLY AT EDINBURGH, February 3, 1645, Sess. 10.
ACT of the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the KIRK of SCOTLAND, for the establishing and putting in Execution of the DIRECTORY for the Publick Worship of God.
WHEREAS an happy unity, and uniformity in religion amongst the kirks of Christ, in these three kingdoms, united under on Sovereign, having been long and earnestly wished for by the godly a well-affected amongst us, was propounded as a main article of the large treaty, without which band and bulwark, no safe, well-grounded, and lasting peace could be expected; and afterward, with greater strength and maturity, revived in the Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms; whereby they stand straitly obliged to endeavour the nearest uniformity in one form of Church government, Directory of Worship, Confession of Faith, and Form of Catechising; which hath also before, and since our entering into that Covenant, been the matter of many supplications and remonstrances, and sending Commissioners to the King"s Majesty; of declarations to the Honourable Houses of the Parliament of England, and of letters to the Reverend Assembly of Divines, and others of the ministry of the kirk of England; being also the end of our sending Commissioners, as was desired, from this kirk, with commission to treat of uniformity in the four particulars afore-mentioned, with such committees as should be appointed by both Houses of Parliament of England, and by the Assembly of Divines sitting at Westminster; and beside all this, it being, in point of conscience, the chief motive and end of our adventuring upon manifold and great hazards, for quenching the devouring flame of the present unnatural and bloody war in England, thought o the weakening of this kingdom within itself, and the advantage of the enemy which have invaded it; accounting nothing too dear to us, so that this our joy be fulfilled. And now this great work being so far advanced, that a Directory for the Publick Worship of God in all the three kingdoms being agreed upon by the Honourable Houses of the parliament of England, after consultation with the Divines of both kingdoms there assembled, and sent to us for our approbation, that, being also agreed upon by this kirk and kingdom of Scotland, it may be in the name of both kingdoms presented to the King, for his royal consent and ratification; the General Assembly, having most seriously considered, revised, and examined the Directory afore-mentioned, after several publick readings of it, after much deliberation, both publickly and in private committees, after full liberty given to all to object against it, and earnest invitations of all who have any scruples about it, to make known the same, that they might be satisfied; doth unanimously, and without a contrary voice, agree to an approve the following Directory, in all the heads thereof, together with the Preface set before it; and doth require, decern, and ordain, That, according to the plain tenor and meaning thereof, and the intent of the Preface, it be carefully and uniformly observed and practised by all the ministers and others within this kingdom whom it doth concern; which practice shall be begun, upon intimation given to the several presbyteries from the printing of this Directory, that a printed copy of it be provided and kept of or the use of every kirk in this kingdom; also that each presbytery have a printed copy thereof for their use, and take special notice of the observation or neglect thereof in every General Assembly, as there shall b cause. Provided always, That the clause in the Directory, of the administration of the Lord's Supper, which metioneth the communicants sitting about the table, or at it, be not interpreted as if, in the judgment of this kirk, it were indifferent, and free for any of the communicants not to come to, and receive at the table; or as if we did approve the distributing of the elements by the minister to each communicant, and not by the communicants among themselves. It is also provided, That this shall be no prejudice to the order and practise of this kirk, in such particulars as are appointed by the books of discipline, and acts of General Assemblies, an are not otherwise ordered and appointed in the Directory.
Finally, The Assembly doth, with much joy and thankfulness, acknowledge the rich blessing and invaluable mercy of God, in bringing the so much wished for uniformity in religion to such a happy period, that these kingdoms, once at so great uniformity than any other reformed kirks; which is unto us the return of our prayers sorrows and sufferings; a taking away, in great measure, the reproach of the people of God, to the stopping of the mouths of malignant and disaffected persons; and an not of evil, to give us an expected end; in the expectation an confidence whereof we do rejoice; beseeching the Lord to preserve these kingdoms from heresies, schisms, offences, profaneness, and whatsoever is contrary to sound doctrine, and the power of godliness; and to continue with us, and the generations following, these his pure and purged ordinances, together with an increase of the power and life thereof, to the glory of his great name, the enlargement of the kingdom of his Son, the corroboration of peace and love between the kingdoms, the unity and comfort of all his people, and our edifying one another in love.
The Westminster Larger Catechism reads as follows:
Q. 186. What rule hath God given for our direction in the duty of prayer?
A. The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in the duty of prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which our Savior Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord’s Prayer. …
 Matthew 6:9-13. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. Luke 11:2-4. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
Q. 187. How is the Lord’s Prayer to be used?
A. The Lord’s Prayer is not only for direction, as a pattern, according to which we are to make other prayers; but may also be used as a prayer, so that it be done with understanding, faith, reverence, and other graces necessary to the right performance of the duty of prayer. …
Q. 188. Of how many parts doth the Lord’s Prayer consist?
A. The Lord’s Prayer consists of three parts; a preface, petitions, and a conclusion.
Q. 189. What doth 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,) teacheth us, when we pray, to draw near to God with confidence of his fatherly goodness, and our interest therein; with reverence, and all other childlike dispositions, heavenly affections, and due apprehensions of his sovereign power, majesty, and gracious condescension: as also, to pray with and for others.
 Luke 11:13. If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? Romans 8:15. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
 Isaiah 64:9. Be not wroth very sore, O LORD, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people.
 Psalm 123:1. Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens. Lamentations 3:41. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.
 Isaiah 63:15-16. Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory: where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me? are they restrained? Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting. Nehemiah 1:4-6. And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven, And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments: Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.
 Acts 12:5. Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
From the above materials we can deduce that the Westminster Standards, as they were originally adopted by the Church of Scotland, endorses the use of the Lord’s Prayer, including its preface with “our Father”, as a pattern for prayer in corporate settings (such as the public worship of God), as well as in individual prayers.
The “MANUAL OF THE PRACTICE OF THE FREE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF SCOTLAND BASED ON THE PRACTICE OF THE FREE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND IN HER SEVERAL COURTS” reads as follows (see http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcs062804.htm ) :
“The “Deed of Separation of 14th August, 1893”, which is also included in this manual, sheds additional light on the constitutional standards of the FPCS: “the constitution of said Church as settled in 1843 is contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith, as approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1647, the First and Second Book of Disciplines, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Claim Declaration and Protest of 1842, the Protest of 1843, the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission executed in the last mentioned year…”
Furthermore, in its 1910 declaration concerning reformation attainments, the FPCS took a clear official stand in agreement with the Westminster Standards as they were originally adopted by the Church of Scotland, exhibited in this quote from the 1910 declaration (see http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcs070605.htm ) :
“The immediate result of the Solemn League and Covenant was the Westminster Assembly. That Assembly’s work consisted mainly in producing a Directory for Public Worship, a Presbyterian Form of Church Government, a Confession of Faith, a Larger Catechism, and a Shorter Catechism. These documents, which were meant to be the basis of a covenanted uniformity in religion between the Churches of Christ in the three kingdoms, were received and adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in the years 1645, 1647, and 1648. Readers are referred to any ordinary copy of the Westminster Standards for the Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland adopting those five documents. The Synod accept and adhere to those documents in the sense in which they were received by the Church of Scotland in the years specified. “
Hence, constitutionally speaking, the FPCS endorses the use of the Lord’s Prayer, including its preface with “our Father”, as a pattern for prayer for use in corporate worship, as well as individual worship, since the FPCS has unequivocally adopted the Westminster Standards in the sense in which they were received by the Church of Scotland in the years adopted by the Church of Scotland.
Now let’s consider this topic considered at some other places. At http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html we find this:
M. Let us now consider the manner of prayer. Is it sufficient to pray with the tongue, or does prayer require also the mind and heart?
S. The tongue, indeed, is not always necessary, but true prayer can never be without understanding and affection.
M. By what argument will you prove this to me?
S. Since God is a Spirit, he requires men to give him the heart in all cases, and more especially in prayer, by which they hold communion with him. Wherefore he promises to be near to those only who call upon him in truth: on the other hand, he abominates and curses all who pray to him deceitfully, and not sincerely. (Psalm 145:18; Isaiah 29:13.)
M. All prayers, then, conceived only by the tongue, will be vain and worthless?
S. Not only so, but will be most displeasing to God.
M. What kind of feeling does God require in prayer
S. First, that we feel our want and misery, and that this feeling beget sorrow and anxiety in our minds. Secondly, that we be inflamed with an earnest and vehement desire to obtain grace from God. These things will also kindle in us an ardent longing to pray.
M. Does this feeling flow from the temper natural to man, or does it proceed from the grace of God?
S. Here God must come to our aid. For we are altogether stupid in regard to both. (Romans 8:2.5.) It is the Spirit of God who excites in us groanings which cannot be uttered, and frames our minds to the desires which are requisite in prayer, as Paul says. (Galatians 4:6.)
M. Is it the meaning of this doctrine, that we are to sit still, and, in a kind of vacillating state, wait for the motions of the Spirit, and not that each one is to urge himself to pray?
S. By no means. The meaning rather is, that when believers feel themselves cold or sluggish, and somewhat indisposed to pray, they should forthwith flee to God, and beseech him to inflame them by the fiery darts of his Spirit, that they may be rendered fit to pray.
M. You do not, however, mean that there is to be no use of the tongue in prayer
S. Not at all. For it often helps to sustain the mind, and keep it from being so easily drawn off from God. Besides, as it, more than other members, was created to display the glory of God, it is right that it be employed to this purpose, to the whole extent of its capacity. Moreover, vehemence of desire occasionally impels a man to break forth into utterance with the tongue without intending it.
M. If so, what profit have those who pray in a foreign tongue not understood by them?
S. It is nothing else than to sport with God. Christians, therefore, should have nothing to do with this hypocrisy. (1 Corinthians 14:15.)
M. But when we pray do we do it fortuitously, uncertain of success, or ought we to feel assured that the Lord will hear us?
S. The foundation of our prayer should always be, that the Lord will hear us, and that we shall obtain whatever we ask, in so far as is for our good. For this reason Paul tells us, that true prayer flows from faith. (Romans 10:14.) For no man will ever duly call upon him, without previously resting with firm reliance on his goodness.
M. What then will become of those who pray in doubt, and without fixing in their minds what profit they are to gain by praying, nay, are uncertain whether or not their prayers will be heard by God?
S. Their prayers are vain and void, not being supported by any promise. For we are ordered to ask with sure faith, and the promise is added, that whatever we shall ask, believing, we shall receive. (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24; James 1:6.)
M. It remains to be seen wherein we have such great confidence, that while unworthy, on so many accounts, of appearing in the presence of God, we however dare to sist ourselves before him.
S. First, we have promises by which we must simply abide, without making any reference to our own worthiness. Secondly, if we are sons, God animates and instigates us by his Spirit, so that we doubt not to betake ourselves to him in a familiar manner, as to a father. As we are like worms, and are oppressed by the consciousness of our sins, God, in order that we may not tremble at his glorious majesty, sets forth Christ as a Mediator, through whom we obtain access, and have no doubt at all of obtaining favor. (Psalm 4:15; 91:15; 145:18; Isaiah 30:19; 65:1; Jeremiah 29:12; Joel 2: 32; Romans 8:25; 10:13.)
M. Do you understand that we are to pray to God only in the name of Christ?
S. I so understand. For :it is both so enjoined in distinct terms, and the promise is added, that he will by his intercession obtain what we ask. (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:1.)
M. He is not then to be accused of rashness or presumption, who, trusting to this Advocate, makes a familiar approach to God, and holds forth to God and to himself Christ as the only one through whom he is to be heard? (Hebrews 4:14.)
S. By no means: For he who thus prays conceives his prayers as it were at the lips of Christ, seeing he knows, that by the intercession of Christ, his prayer is assisted and recommended. (Romans 8:15.)
M. Let us now consider what the prayers of believers ought to contain. Is it lawful to ask of God whatever comes into our mind, or is a certain rule to be observed?
S. It were a very preposterous method of prayer to indulge our own desires and the judgment of the flesh. We are too ignorant to be able to judge what is expedient for us, and we labor under an intemperance of desire, to which it is necessary that a bridle be applied.
M. What then requires to be done?
S. The only thing remaining is for God himself to prescribe a proper form of prayer, that we may follow him while he leads us by the hand, and as it were sets words before us.
M. What rule has he prescribed?
S. The doctrine on this subject is amply and copiously delivered in the Scriptures. But to give us a surer aim, he framed, and, as it were, dictated a form in which he has briefly comprehended and digested under a few heads whatever it is lawful, and in our interest to ask.
M. Repeat it.
S. Our Lord Jesus Christ being asked by his disciples in what way they ought to pray, answered, when ye would pray, say ye, (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2,) "Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen."
M. That we may the better understand what it contains, let us divide it into heads.
S. It contains six parts, of which the three first respect the glory of God alone as their proper end, without any reference to us: the other three relate to us and our interest.
M. Are we then to ask God for any thing from which no benefit redounds to us?
S. He indeed of his infinite goodness so arranges all things that nothing tends to his glory without being also salutary to us. Therefore when his name is sanctified, he causes it to turn to our sanctification also; nor does his kingdom come without our being in a manner sharers in it. But in asking all these things, we ought to look only to his glory without thinking of advantage to ourselves.
M. According to this view, three of these requests have a connection with our own good, and yet their only aim ought to be, that the name of God may be glorified.
S. It is so; and thus the; glory of God ought also to be considered in the other three, though they are properly intended to express desire for things which belong to our good and salvation.
M. Let us now proceed to an explanation of the words; and, first, Why is the name of Father, rather than any other, here given to God?
S. As security of conscience is one of the most essential requisites for praying aright, God assumes this name, which suggests only the idea of pure kindness, that having thus banished all anxiety from our minds, he may invite us to make a familiar approach to him.
M. Shall we then dare to go to him directly without hesitation as children to parents?
S. Wholly so: nay, with much surer confidence of obtaining what we ask. For as our Master reminds us, (Matthew 7:11,) If we being evil cannot however refuse good things to our children, nor bear to send [hem empty away, nor give them poison for bread, how much greater kindness is to be expected from our heavenly Father, who is not only supremely good, but goodness itself?
M. May we not from this name also draw the inference which we mentioned at the outset, viz., that to be approved, all our prayers should be founded on the intercession of Christ? (John 15:7; Romans 8:15.)
S. And indeed a most valid inference. For God regards us as sons, only in so far as we are members of Christ.74
M. Why do you call God :’ our Father" in common, rather than "my Father" in particular?
S. Each believer may indeed call him his own Father, but the Lord used the common epithet that he might accustom us to exercise charity in our prayers, and that we might not neglect others, by each caring only for himself.
M. What is meant by the additional clause, that God is in heaven?
S. It is just the same as if I were to call him exalted, mighty, incomprehensible.
From Calvin’s Commentary on MATTHEW 6:9-13; LUKE 11:1-4 at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom31.ix.liv.html we read this:
It is uncertain whether this form was once only or twice delivered by Christ to his disciples. 429 Some think that the latter is more probable; because Luke says that he was requested to do it, while Matthew represents him as teaching it of his own accord. But as we have said, that Matthew collects all the leading points of doctrine, in order that the whole amount of them may be more clearly perceived by the readers when they are placed in close succession, it is possible that Matthew may have omitted to mention the occasion which is related by Luke. On this subject, however, I am unwilling to debate with any person.
Luke 11:1 As John also taught his diciples. John delivered to his disciples a particular form of prayer; and he did so, in my opinion, because the time required it. The state of affairs among the Jews was, at that time, exceedingly corrupted. Every thing connected with religion had so miserably fallen, that we need not be surprised to find few among them, by whom prayer was offered in a proper manner. 430 Besides, it was proper, that the minds of believers should be excited, by prayer, to hope and desire the promised redemption, which was at hand. John might, therefore, have collected, out of various passages of Scripture, a certain prayer adapted to the time, and approaching more nearly to the spiritual kingdom of Christ, which had already begun to be revealed.
Matthew 6:9 Do ye therefore pray thus Instead of this Luke says, when ye pray, say: though Christ does not enjoin his people to pray in a prepared form of words, 431 but only points out what ought to be the object of all our wishes and prayers. He embraces, therefore, in six petitions what we are at liberty to ask from God. Nothing is more advantageous to us than such instruction. Though this is the most important exercise of piety, yet in forming our prayers, and regulating our wishes, all our senses fail us. No man will pray aright, unless his lips and heart shall be directed by the Heavenly Master. For that purpose he has laid down this rule, by which we must frame our prayers, if we desire to have them accounted lawful and approved by God. It was not the intention of the Son of God, (as we have already said), to prescribe the words which we must use, so as not to leave us at liberty to depart from the form which he has dictated. His intention rather was, to guide and restrain our wishes, that they might not go beyond those limits and hence we infer, that the rule which he has given us for praying aright relates not to the words, but to the things themselves.
This form of prayer consists, as I have said, of six petitions. The first three, it ought to be known, relate to the glory of God, without any regard to ourselves; and the remaining three relate to those things which are necessary for our salvation. As the law of God is divided into two tables, of which the former contains the duties of piety, and the latter the duties of charity, 432 so in prayer Christ enjoins us to consider and seek the glory of God, and, at the same time, permits us to consult our own interests. Let us therefore know, that we shall be in a state of mind for praying in a right manner, if we not only are in earnest about ourselves and our own advantage, but assign the first place to the glory of God: for it would be altogether preposterous to mind only what belongs to ourselves, and to disregard the kingdom of God, which is of far greater importance.
Our Father who art in heaven Whenever we engage in prayer, there are two things to be considered, both that we may have access to God, and that we may rely on Him with full and unshaken confidence: his fatherly love toward us, and his boundless power. Let us therefore entertain no doubt, that God is willing to receive us graciously, that he is ready to listen to our prayers, — in a word, that of Himself he is disposed to aid us. Father is the appellation given to him; and under this title Christ supplies us with sufficiently copious materials for confidence. But as it is only the half of our reliance that is founded on the goodness of God, in the next clause, who art in heaven, he gives us a lofty idea of the power of God. When the Scripture says, that God is in heaven, the meaning is, that all things are subject to his dominions, — that the world, and everything in it, is held by his hand, — that his power is everywhere diffused, — that all things are arranged by his providence. David says, “He that dwelleth in the heavens shall laugh at them,” (Psalm 2:4); and again, “Our God is in heaven: he hath done whatever he hath pleased,” (Psalm 115:3).
When God is said to be in heaven, we must not suppose that he dwells only there; but, on the contrary, must hold what is said in another passage, that “the heavens of heavens do not contain him,” (2 Chronicles 2:6). This mode of expression separates him from the rank of creatures, and reminds us that, when we think of him, we ought not to form any low or earthly conceptions: for he is higher than the whole world. We have now ascertained the design of Christ. In the commencement of the prayer, he desired his own people to rest their confidence on the goodness and power of God; because, unless our prayers are founded on faith, they will be of no advantage. Now, as it would be the folly and madness of presumption, to call God our Father, except on the ground that, through our union to the body of Christ, we are acknowledged as his children, we conclude, that there is no other way of praying aright, but by approaching God with reliance on the Mediator.
May thy name be sanctified This makes still more manifest what I have said, that in the first three petitions we ought to lose sight of ourselves, and seek the glory of God: not that it is separated from our salvation, but that the majesty of God ought to be greatly preferred by us to every other object of solicitude. It is of unspeakable advantage to us that God reigns, and that he receives the honor which is due to him: but no man has a sufficiently earnest desire to promote the glory of God, unless (so to speak) he forgets himself, and raises his mind to seek God’s exalted greatness. There is a close connection and resemblance between those three petitions. The sanctification of the name of God is always connected with his kingdom; and the most important part of his kingdom lies in his will being done. Whoever considers how cold and negligent we are in desiring the greatest of those blessings for which we are here commanded to pray, will acknowledge that nothing here is superfluous, but that it is proper that the three petitions should be thus distinguished.
To sanctify the name of God means nothing else, than to give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name, so that men may never think or speak of him but with the deepest veneration. The opposite of this is the profanation of the name of God, which takes place, when men either speak disrespectfully of the divine majesty, or at least without that reverence which they ought to feel. Now, the glory, by which it is sanctified, flows and results from the acknowledgments made by men as to the wisdom, goodness, righteousness, power, and all the other attributes of God. For holiness always dwells, and permanently remains, in God: but men obscure it by their malice and depravity, or dishonor and pollute it by sacrilegious contempt. The substance of this petition is, that the glory of God may shine in the world, and may be duly acknowledged by men. But religion is in its highest purity and rigour, when men believe, that whatever proceeds from God is right and proper, full of righteousness and wisdom: for the consequence is, that they embrace his word with the obedience of faith, and approve of all his ordinances and works. That faith which we yield to the word of God is, so to speak, our subscription, 433 by which we “set to our seal that God is faithful,” (John 3:33;) as the highest dishonor that can be done to him is unbelief and contempt of his word.
We now see, what wickedness is displayed by most men in judging of the works of God, and how freely they allow themselves to indulge in censure. If any of us are chastised, they grumble, and murmur, and complain, and some break out into open blasphemies: if he does not grant our wishes, we think that he is not sufficiently kind to us. 434 Many turn into matter of idle talk and jesting his incomprehensible providence and secret judgments. Even his holy and sacred name is often treated with the grossest mockery. In short, a part of the world profane his holiness to the utmost of their power. We need not then wonder, if we are commanded to ask, in the first place, that the reverence which is due to it may be given by the world. Besides, this is no small honor done to us, when God recommends to us the advancement of his glory.
10. May thy kingdom come Though the Greek verb (ἐλθέτω) is simple, yet if, instead of May thy kingdom come, we read, as it was rendered in the old translation, May thy kingdom arrive, 435 the meaning will remain unchanged. We must first attend to the definition of the kingdom of God. He is said to reign among men, when they voluntarily devote and submit themselves to be governed by him, placing their flesh under the yoke, and renouncing their desires. Such is the corruption of the nature, that all our affections are so many soldiers of Satan, who oppose the justice of God, and consequently obstruct or disturb his reign. By this prayer we ask, that he may remove all hindrances, and may bring all men under his dominion, and may lead them to meditate on the heavenly life.
This is done partly by the preaching of the word, and partly by the secret power of the Spirit. It is his will to govern men by his word: but as the bare voice, if the inward power of the Spirit be not added, does not pierce the hearts of men, both must be joined together, in order that the kingdom of God may be established. We therefore pray that God would exert his power, both by the Word and by the Spirit, that the whole world may willingly submit to him. The kingdom of God is opposed to all disorder (ἀταξία) and confusion for good order is nowhere found in the world, except when he regulates by his hand the schemes and dispositions of men. Hence we conclude, that the commencement of the reign of God in us is the destruction of the old man, and the denial of ourselves, that we may be renewed to another life.
An article originally appearing in Origins the
Historical Magazine of the Archives of the Hekman Library at
This would imply that historically the use of “our Father” to address God in the public worship was not forbidden in the Dutch Reformed churches.
Dr. Derek Thomas, in an article entitled “Forms and Prayer Books” at http://www.fpcjackson.org/resources/sermons/Derek's%20SERMONS/prayer/derekpray3.htm, points out the following regarding the use of the Lord’s Prayer in public worship (which undoubtedly includes addressing God as “our Father”) over the course of church history:
So it would appear that there was general agreement during the Reformation, as well as long before, that it is commendable to address God as “our Father” in public worship. The very form of the Lord’s Prayer, with its use of the word “our” instead of “my”, suggests that it is especially appropriate for group and not merely private worship settings.