Category Archives: Prayer

Joseph Caryl on God Answering Prayer

Isaiah 65:24, “And it shall come to pass that before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

In the very act of praying, the answer came forth; yea, the answer sometimes antedates our asking, and the grant comes before the petition. The giving out of the answer may be deferred, but the answer is not deferred. We may be heard, and heard graciously, and yet, not presently receive the thing we ask; but every prayer is heard and laid up as soon as put up; he hangs it upon the file, he has it safe by him. Prayer receives an answer in heaven, as soon as spoken upon earth, though the answer be not returned to us on earth. God sleeps not at the prayer of those who are awake in prayer.[1]

[1] Joseph Caryl, Bible Thoughts (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), 110. This wonderful book was originally published in the Nineteenth Century and republished by Don Kistler. The book presents selections from Caryl’s twelve volume expositions on Job, his magnum opus. Joseph Caryl was one of the Westminster Assembly divines. Each selection expounds a passage of Scripture which the editor arranged in its canonical order. Unfortunately, the original work never cited the volume from which these selections came.

A Practical Guide to Prayer

A Practical Guide to Prayer[1]

Before they call I will answer. Isaiah 65:24

Introduction: George Swinnock offers some very helpful and practical steps to praying. He presents several things we should meditate on before praying. It may be appropriate to take each topic separately and then pray in response. He lists six categories on which we can meditate.

Meditation prepares the heart for prayer. “Meditation is the best beginning of prayer, and prayer is the best conclusion of meditation. Prayer is a building which reaches up to heaven, meditation lays in all the costly materials which are requisite for this building.” (p. 112)[2]

1. Meditate on your sins, and hunt them out of their lurking holes; this helps in our confession.[3] “Your duty in prayer is to indict, arraign, and condemn and execute those malefactors and transgressors of the royal law, which can never be done till they are apprehended. If you want to kill those foxes that spoil the vine, those lusts which hinder your regenerate part from thriving, your care must be by meditation to hunt them out of their lurking holes and take them.” (p. 113) [Name the sins before God in your meditation and confess and repent of them.]

2. Meditate on your needs, for God is fully able to supply them. Consider what you need—pardoning mercy, strength for victory, power against sin—that you may entreat God to give them to you. “Consider…what sin you lately prevented, and are afraid it will recover again, that you may beg strength to pursue the victory; what lust lately got the better of you, that you may entreat pardon of it, and power against it… This consideration of your needs, with the weight of them, will make you more urgent and instant with God for supply; they that feel hunger, how hard will they beg for bread!” (p. 114) [Consider your spiritual needs more than your material needs.]

3. Meditate upon his mercies to you from birth. Look at the dangers you have been delivered from, the journeys you have been protected in, the seasonable help he has sent you, the suitable support he has afforded you in distress, the counsel he has given you in doubts, and the comforts he has provided you in sorrow and darkness. These are present with you by meditation. Every breath in your life is a gift of mercy. Do not forget the former favours bestowed on you and your family. An empty perfume bottle still smells when the perfume is gone. “These thoughts before prayer may stir you up to bless the giver. If you should bless men when they curse you, much more should you bless God, when he blesses you.” (pp. 115-116) [Look over all the specific mercies God has given you.]

4. Then meditate upon your present mercies. How many do you enjoy—your house, family, body, and soul, are all full of blessings! Think of them particularly. Spread them out like jewels to your view. Meditate on how freely they are bestowed, on their fullness and greatness. But O, your soul’s mercies—the image of God, the blood of Christ, eternal life, and seasons of grace! Your whole life is a bundle of mercies. These stir us up to bless the Giver.  [Consider both “body-mercies” (things that benefit your body, physical life, etc.) and especially “soul-mercies” (things that benefit your soul) you receive on a daily basis.]

5. Then meditate on God to whom we pray. O how we are ashamed of our drops when we stand by this ocean! “As God rises in our thoughts, self falls. That sun discovers all our dust… This serious apprehension of your distance will quicken you to reverence. God’s greatness and man’s vileness are both arguments to make man humble and serious in the worship of God.” (p. 116) [Go through His attributes in your mind and consider how infinitely higher He is than you. This helps us to maintain a proper perspective in prayer.]

6. Meditate on his mercy and goodness.[4] These like Moses’ strokes will fetch water out of a rock. God delights to be sought and found. He delights to see men joyful in the house of prayer. God will not send you away sad. When you have by mediation put the wood in order upon the altar, you may by prayer set fire to it and offer up a sacrifice of sweet smelling savour. “Believe before you pray, that your hand of prayer shall not knock at heaven’s gate in vain, that God will not send you away sad.” (p. 116) [As a believer, this is the one thing you must be convinced of in your prayer or your prayers will be drudgery, legal, burdensome, and something you will want to dispense with as soon as possible. “Believe before you pray!”]

[1] Enlarged from Nov. 11, Voices from the Past, Vol. 1 (George Swinnock, Works, 1:111-117). The editor extracted this reading from Swinnock’s The Christian Man’s Calling. In particular, it represents a portion from chapter 12 entitled, “How a Christian may exercise himself to godliness in prayer.” I added extra sentences from the original work to the selection from Voices from the Past.

[2] This along with the rest of the quotes will be modernized.

[3] Swinnock says three things relate to us, “thy sins, wants [needs], and mercies.”

[4] “…what promises He has made to prayer, how bountiful he is to those who call upon Him. He does more than they can ask or think; he gives liberally without upbraiding.” (p. 116)

Mocking God with Our Prayers

Mocking God with our Prayers

As important and vital as prayer is, we must not forget that in this most holy duty, we can easily sin and bring judgment upon ourselves. I am not talking about cold, lifeless, distracted, etc. prayers — we are all too well aware of these struggles and problems. William Jay made some shocking observations and when we consider them, we cannot but remain mute and circumspect. He says,[1]

For there is much prayer that is a mere mockery of God. Out of their own mouths many will be condemned hereafter: and they would feel themselves condemned already, were it not that the heart is deceitful above all things, as well as desperately wicked.

[That is, if we were not so easily deceived because of our wicked hearts, we would quickly recognize how our prayers truly mock God. Our responses to our prayers betray us and in our heart of hearts, we know we’re not earnestly asking God for the things that we do ask. We give Him lip service but our hearts are far from Him.]

A man prays to redeem his time, and to have his conversation in heaven; and goes and sits in a place of dissipation for the answer.

[After having prayed, wept, etc. we think we have done it all. Did we not pour out our hearts? Well, that matter is concluded. We walk away from our time of prayer and act on principles contrary to the very things for which we prayed. We want to redeem the time — so we ask God for help. Somehow we convince ourselves that our petition was the deed. Our next activity contradicts everything we prayed for moments before.]

A father prays for the salvation of his child; and does all in his power to leave him affluent; and surrounded with temptations that render his conversion a miracle.

[How convicting is this? Do our children believe their education is the most important? Many rigorously discipline their children in matters of education and casually focus on matters of their soul. Whether they attend worship or not is not paramount. Their son can miss church at the slightest scent of a headache but they cannot forgo educational requirement unless they are half dead. Perhaps we focus on good work ethics, frugality, etc. — this is all well and good, but do we show the same earnestness and attention to their spiritual welfare? What do our children think is the most important?]

A third prays to be — condemned; for he prays, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us: and he is implacable.

[Some men and women remain bitter and “implacable” (cannot be appeased). They will have their pound of flesh from their offenders. They beg for personal forgiveness from the Lord but demand retribution from each person who has crossed them. How can that be? How can we ask the Lord for pardon and remain resentful, bitter, unforgiving, etc.? None of the offenses against us can equal the heinous nature of our wicked transgressions against a holy God. May we never condemn ourselves in this matter! Forgiving someone is the ABC’s of basic Christianity and the most lovely to behold.]

When a man sincerely desires a thing, in proportion as he desires it, he will seek after it; and use all the means placed within his reach to obtain it. When, therefore, a person professes a great concern for a thing, and neglects whatever is necessary to it, we make no scruple to tax him with folly or falsehood. Let us do, in religious matters, what we do in other cases — Let us judge of our faith, by our practice; and of our hearts, by our lives.[2]

[All of us must re-consider what we have been praying for and ask ourselves if we truly seek those things? O may the Lord be gracious to us in this matter because we can so easily mock Him. Lord have mercy upon us. Amen!]

[1] My comments are in brackets.

[2] William Jay, Morning Exercises, Oct. 31.

The Larger Catechism 195, Lead us not into Temptation, pt. 1

The Larger Catechism

Question 195


195.     Q. What do we pray for in the sixth petition?

A. In the sixth petition, (which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,[1273]) acknowledging, that the most wise, righteous, and gracious God, for divers holy and just ends, may so order things, that we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptations;[1274] that Satan,[1275] the world,[1276] and the flesh, are ready powerfully to draw us aside, and ensnare us;[1277] and that we, even after the pardon of our sins, by reason of our corruption,[1278] weakness, and want of watchfulness,[1279] are not only subject to be tempted, and forward to expose ourselves unto temptations,[1280] but also of ourselves unable and unwilling to resist them, to recover out of them, and to improve them;[1281] and worthy to be left under the power of them:[1282] we pray, that God would so overrule the world and all in it,[1283] subdue the flesh,[1284] and restrain Satan,[1285] order all things,[1286] bestow and bless all means of grace,[1287] and quicken us to watchfulness in the use of them, that we and all his people may by his providence be kept from being tempted to sin;[1288] or, if tempted, that by his Spirit we may be powerfully supported and enabled to stand in the hour of temptation;[1289] or when fallen, raised again and recovered out of it,[1290] and have a sanctified use and improvement thereof:[1291] that our sanctification and salvation may be perfected,[1292] Satan trodden under our feet,[1293] and we fully freed from sin, temptation, and all evil, forever.[1294]


Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[1273] Matthew 6:13. 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. [1274] 2 Chronicles 32:31. Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart. [1275] 1 Chronicles 21:1. And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. [1276] Luke 21:34. And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. Mark 4:19. And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. [1277] James 1:14. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. [1278] Galatians 5:17. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. [1279] Matthew 26:41. Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. [1280] Matthew 26:69-72. Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. Galatians 2:11-14. But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? 2 Chronicles 18:3. And Ahab king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Wilt thou go with me to Ramoth gilead? And he answered him, I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war. 2 Chronicles 19:2. And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD. [1281] Romans 7:23-24. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 1 Chronicles 21:1-4. And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it. And Joab answered, The LORD make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel? Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Wherefore Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles 16:7-10. And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said unto him, Because thou hast relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on the LORD thy God, therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of thine hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubims a huge host, with very many chariots and horsemen? yet, because thou didst rely on the LORD, he delivered them into thine hand. For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars. Then Asa was wroth with the seer, and put him in a prison house; for he was in a rage with him because of this thing. And Asa oppressed some of the people the same time. [1282] Psalm 81:11-12. But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels. [1283] John 17:15. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. [1284] Psalm 51:10. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 119:133. Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me. [1285] 2 Corinthians 12:7-8. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. [1286] 1 Corinthians 10:12-13. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. [1287] Hebrews 13:20-21. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. [1288] Matthew 26:41. Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Psalm 19:13. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. [1289] Ephesians 3:14-17. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love. 1 Thessalonians 3:13. To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints. Jude 24. Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. [1290] Psalm 51:12. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. [1291] 1 Peter 5:8-10. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. [1292] 2 Corinthians 13:7, 9. Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates…. For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong: and this also we wish, even your perfection. [1293] Romans 16:20. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. Luke 22:31-32. And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. [1294] John 17:15. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:23. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.



In the fifth petition, we recognized the need for God’s forgiveness of our sins and in this sixth petition, we recognize our need for God’s protection from our sins.  The petition assumes many things and therefore this petition may surprise you. It is not as simply, “God, protect me from sins.”[1] It says, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. It suggests that God is somehow related to our temptations and that we must petition God to deliver us.

The sixth petition assumes that the world is hostile and that we are not equal to the task. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign and in this hostile world, God orders all things in the midst of seeming chaos and evil. We can’t “wish” away the difficulties or project a “positive” outlook on life to avoid the conflicts and temptations. Those things come to us and the petition unapologetically assumes God is somehow behind all of these things yet without sin.


God and Temptations

The petition is asking God to not lead us into temptation. The LC explains it this way: “acknowledging, that the most wise, righteous, and gracious God, for divers holy and just ends, may so order things, that we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptations…” That is, God, for various reasons, can order temptations into our lives. Is there any biblical warrant for such a thing? Let me give two texts that support this (2Chron. 32:31; Deut. 8:2). In 2Chronicles 32:31 we read, “And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.” Hezekiah was left to his own self to respond to the Babylonian envoys. He had been healed of his sickness (v. 24) and envoys were sent to him to inquire about his sickness (cf. 2K. 20-12-13) and the miraculous sign given by God. Hezekiah gladly received them and his willingness to show his military supplies and armory “implies his readiness to form an alliance…”[2] There were repercussions to all of these things but what is important to us is the phrase “God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart…” Matthew Henry’s words are helpful in explaining this verse: “God, by the power of his almighty grace, could have prevented the sin; but he permitted it for wise and holy ends, that, by this trial and his weakness in it, he might know, that is, it might be known (a usual Hebraism), what was in his heart, that he was not so perfect in grace as he thought he was, but had his follies and infirmities as other men. God left him to himself to be proud of his wealth, to keep him from being proud of his holiness.” Yes, God could have prevented this sin but chose to withdrawal to allow Hezekiah’s heart to act out.

A similar but less forceful text comes from Deuteronomy 8:2, “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” God humbled Israel in the desert through all the difficulties. Would those years in the desert compel them to trust God and keep His commandments? They needed to learn that man did not live by bread alone but “by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (8:3). Though these difficulties (e.g. hunger) were not temptations per se, they did test their hearts. The point here is simply that God ordered the external circumstances to test them so as “to bring out into the open that which is hidden, for His own glory and justification and for the heil [salvation] of those who are His.”[3]

Our good God can “for divers holy and just ends…” order these events. It may be for sanctification, humbling, the purpose of weaning us from self-dependence, creature dependence, etc. God has His purposes and they are holy and just because He Himself is holy and just. We are also told that God  “may so order things, that we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptations…Assaulted means that temptations actually do come to us — they cannot be avoided, they are upon us. Foiled means that we are undone by the temptation; it defeats us as we succumb to it. And “for a time led captive…” means that the temptation has led to sin and that we are under its sway “for a time” (e.g. David and Bathsheba). This is not a permanent “bondage” per se but the power of sin will molest and compel us.  God can order all these things as He sees fit. Ridgley explains that God orders these things either objectively or permissively.

He does it objectively, when his providential dispensations, which in themselves are holy, just, and good, offer occasions of sin. … God leads into temptation permissively. This he does when he does not restrain the tempter, which he is not obliged to do, but suffers us to be assaulted by him, and, at the same time, denies the aids and assistance of his grace, to prevent our compliance with his temptations. Hence, when we pray that he would ‘not lead us into temptation,’ we desire that he would prevent the assault, or fortify us against it, that, through the weakness of our grace, or the prevalency of corruption, we may not comply with the temptation.[4]

 Ridgley’s explanation supports what all Calvinists have traditionally maintained. God can actively allow things to happen (like Israel in the wilderness to humble them, cf. Deut. 8) or permissively allow events to transpire and persons to act. God sovereignly rules all things.


The Assumptions in Temptations

Before positively explaining what the petition entails, we must come to terms with what the temptations assume.  On account of these theological assumptions, we are compelled to petition God to lead us not into temptation.


1. The petition assumes we have enemies. 

We have enemies without and within. The LC states “that Satan, the world, and the flesh, are ready powerfully to draw us aside, and ensnare us…” Satan opposes us and will do much to cause us to sin. This is the way Ursinus explains the phrase:

When the devil is said to lead us into temptation, it means that God permits him to entice and solicit us to sin. We are here in this petition taught to pray for deliverance from both of these forms of temptation. We therefore pray, 1. That God will not tempt us for the sake of trying us, if such be his will and pleasure, or if he does tempt us, that he will give us strength to endure the temptation.[5] 2. That he will not permit the devil, or the world or the flesh to entice us to sin, or if he does permit us to be tempted, that he himself will be present with us, that we may not fall into sin. This, therefore, is the true sense and meaning of this petition, Lead us not into temptation—suffer us not to be tempted above that which we are able to bear; neither permit the devil to tempt us in such a way that we may either sin, or wholly fall from thee.[6]

We do not wish to be tempted. We are too weak to stand and without the Lord’s sustaining grace, every temptation of Satan will undo us. We should not seek to be tested or tempted — this prayer has that in mind. Before going on to develop Satan’s role in temptation, as an aside, let us note the important advice John Newton gave in this regard. The young John Ryland believed he needed temptations to preserve him from growing cold and indifferent. Newton shot back: “And I advise you to be cautious how you indulge a desire to be exercised with Satan’s temptations, as supposing they would be conducive to make you more spiritual, or would of course open you a way to great consolations.” What was Newton concerned about? Isn’t Ryland’s desire a noble one? Not really. He wrote to the young minister these wise observations: “He who knows our weakness, and the power of our adversary, has graciously directed us to pray, that we enter not into temptation. Have you considered what the enemy can do, if he is permitted to come in like a flood? In one hour he could raise such a storm as would put you to your wit’s end.”[7] We must be well aware of the fact that we are utterly feeble and should not ask for temptations (whatever the form).

Getting back to Satan’s role and method in tempting us, allow me to give two weighty quotes on this matter. Herman Witsius gives a full sobering account of how the devil works — episodes taken from Scripture.

He attacked David, that invincible king, who had gained celebrity by his victory over the huge giant, and over so many fierce nations, and more than once overthrew him [1Chr. 21:1]. Not only did he stir up the perfidious [i.e. deceitful] Judas to a heinous crime, and make him the betrayer of the best and kindest of masters; but he attacked Peter, who, till then, had been a powerful adversary,—strove hard “to sift him as wheat,” and after large, express, and confident promises, drove him to deny three times his beloved Lord [Lk. 22:31]. He manifests the same disposition towards all who are the servants of God and of Christ, attacking them at one time with the cunning of the serpent, at another with the fierceness of the lion, “seeking whom he may” ruin and “devour.” [1Pet. 5:8] In whatever direction we move, we have the strongest reason to suspect that, under the herbs and flowers, this deceitful and cruel serpent lies concealed.[8]

 These accounts in Scripture remind us that the evil one is alive and well during our pilgrimage. He does not rest or sleep and we cannot stand up to him on our own strength. These are not fairy tales — they are accurate accounts of spiritual warfare. He wants to sift (σινιάσαι, Lk. 22:31) and devour (καταπιεῖν, 1Pet. 5:8) — there is no mercy in him. I offer one more extract to further unpack how Satan works and affects us. We need to be well aware of his devices.

That tempter has his stratagems, which, without suffering great injury, it is hardly possible for us to detect. The Apostle Paul calls them “the devices,” [2Cor. 2:11][9] “the wiles;” [Eph. 6:11][10] and Christ calls them “the depths of Satan.”[Rev. 2:24][11] It is astonishing with what power and efficacy he everywhere acts on the minds of wretched mortals. (1.) He enters into a man, so as to seem a domesticated enemy. [Luke 22:3; John. 13:27] (2.) He throws evil thoughts into the heart [Jn. 13:2], and “fills the heart” [Acts 5:3] to do evil. (3.) He “blinds their minds.” [2Cor. 4:4] (4.) And with all “subtlety.” [2Cor. 11:3] (5.) And with the greatest success. [Eph. 2:2] (6.) So that he frequently “prevails,” [1K. 22:22] and takes some of them “captive at his will.” [2 Tim. 2:26] All this is plainly taught us in scripture.[12]

 The second external enemy is the world. Luke 21:34 and Mark 4:19 support this point. Remember, Satan and the world “are ready powerfully to draw us aside, and ensnare us…” We can readily see how Satan can powerfully draw us aside but what about the world? Jesus exhorted us to watch ourselves: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” (Lk. 21:34) A real danger exists for all believers; the world and its ways can carry us away. The “cares of this life” (μερίμναις βιωτικαῖς) pertain to anything this life offers, the good, the bad, and the indifferent. One commentator said, “A warning against literal drunkenness is no doubt included, but the main force is probably metaphorical, warning disciples against succumbing to the intoxicating attractions of the sinful world…”[13] We can easily be dulled to spiritual things precisely because we are preoccupied by earthly things (βιωτικαῖς means ‘belonging to [daily] life’) — these necessary things can also easily intoxicate and dull our spiritual senses and thus “powerfully …draw us aside, and ensnare us.

Mark 4:19 is about the parable of the sower. The seed sown among thorns is likened to those who have been choked by the world: “but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” The Marcan phrase “cares of the world” (αἱ μέριμναι τοῦ αἰῶνος) is just like the “cares of this life” from Luke. The cares of the ages, the concerns of this world, the anxieties of this side of eternity, etc. can easily draw us aside and ensnare us. Yes, drunkenness and the waste spoken of in Luke 21:34 are outright sinful but the phrase “cares of the world” can be neutral but just as dangerous. Work, finances, retirement, vacation, backyard picnics, nice furniture, etc. may have their proper places in the life of a believer but they can also “choke the word” and so we prove to be unfruitful. We must not forget that many “unfruitful” professing believers are honest hard working busy men and women in the world. They may not be outright drunks and may not be living in debauchery but the world has nonetheless choked them from their spiritual concerns and interests. As Ridgley says, “The good things of the world, namely, its riches, honours, and pleasures, are sometimes a snare to us or an occasion of sin.”[14] Entertainment, good friends, the internet, television, simple seemingly harmless pleasures, etc. can easily corrupt us. The question we must be asking ourselves is not only “Is this sinful?” but also, “Does this draw my heart away from my Lord and ensnare me?” We delude ourselves into thinking that since the activity itself is not sinful, we cannot possibly use it sinfully.  The cares and desires of this world can ensnare us.

Satan and the world represent the external foes opposed to our spiritual growth. But the battle goes one step further. The flesh also will draw us aside and ensnare us. The flesh denotes the sinful inclination in every person (the fallen weak God opposing principle) — it stands for the enemy within. James 1:14 teaches that we fall into sin because of our own indwelling lusts or desires. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (τῆς ἰδίας ἐπιθυμίας).  Then desire (ἡ ἐπιθυμία) when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (1:14, 15) It is our own desire, our own lust that lures and entices us into sin. One commentator correctly calls this “the traitor within”: “James has excluded, or at least strategically ignored, the tempter without…, but only to point to the traitor within underlined by the emphatic ἰδίας [his own].”[15] Though Jesus declared that the Devil had nothing to work with, nothing for him to find guilty, nothing for him to draw into sin, etc.,[16] we cannot claim the same. We have desires for things unlawful and sinful— these lusts repeatedly humble us. These desires, left unchecked, can easily and powerfully draw us aside and ensnare us. “All other temptations might, without much difficulty, be resisted and overcome, were there not a corrupt disposition in our nature, which the apostle calls ‘lust,’ which inclines us to adhere to them and comply with them.”[17]

When it comes to the flesh, our prayers against it is not that we would be perfect but rather that we be restrained, mortified, etc. Once again Ridgley gives a helpful answer here:

 What we pray for is, that God would restrain and prevent the irregularity and pernicious tendency of our natural temper; or that he would keep us from those sins which more easily beset us, by reason of the propensity of our nature to commit them. We pray also that he would sanctify our affections, and bring them under the powerful influence of a principle of grace, which may maintain a perpetual opposition to those habits of sin which are daily leading us to turn aside from God; so that whatever temptations we meet with from objects without us, our souls may be internally fortified against them, and disposed to hate and avoid every thing which is contrary to his holy law, or tends to his dishonor.[18]


2. The petition assumes that though we are pardoned, we are nonetheless still corrupted and weak.

These three (Satan, the World, and the Flesh) assault you and me. On account of these overwhelming foes, we are compelled to petition our heavenly Father to not lead us into temptation. The divines take the matter further than merely listing our enemies. In a sense, the rest of the statements in this answer unpacks the nature of “the flesh” that affects us. The statement deals with Christians — and that we, even after the pardon of our sins. Christians struggle with this after being pardoned for their sins. This observation should compel us to be humble before God. These assumptions drive us to our God to petition Him to deliver us from temptations and the evil one.

Many assumptions about our own nature regulate this petition: by reason of our corruption, weakness, and want of watchfulness, are not only subject to be tempted, and forward to expose ourselves unto temptations, but also of ourselves unable and unwilling to resist them, to recover out of them, and to improve them; and worthy to be left under the power of them…”

The first thing is the plain admission that we are still corrupted (by reason of our corruption). Being impure, we do not perfectly desire the right things: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Gal. 5:17) Romans 7 also teaches the same (Rom. 7:8, “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.”). An indwelling corrupt nature still exists in our bosom and haunts all that we do: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rom. 7:15)

Our corrupt nature expresses itself in making us weak and feeble when it comes to holiness. The clearest expression of this weakness is our lack of vigilance: weakness, and want of watchfulness. Why would Jesus say this unless we need it? “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt. 26:41) Here, our Lord is expressing a theological truth — we are weak and need to watch and pray so as not to enter into temptation. This declaration has little effect on us. We lack watchfulness and we can hardly get ourselves to be serious about spiritual matters much less be spiritually vigilant.

Because of our nature we are not only subject to be tempted but we are also forward to expose ourselves unto temptations. One of the clearest examples is king Jehoshaphat (2Chron. 18:3; 19:2). He thrust himself to be with the ungodly Ahab and entered into an ungodly alliance with him. He should have avoided the opportunity but willingly entered into this temptation and ended up dishonoring the Lord. We foolishly think we would never commit such a particular sin or do such a wicked thing. We place ourselves in dangerous situations and think somehow we will leave unscathed. Into how many compromising situations have we placed ourselves? Because we didn’t sin before, we foolishly conclude we will not sin the second time. Each temptation has fed our carnal sense of security. Temptations will undo us eventually if we keep placing ourselves in them.

Some people think this may be going too far to say that believers actually consciously expose themselves to temptations. Doesn’t Christ’s work of grace prevent such things? Vos’s answer to this very question is helpful.

Of course Christians are not always forward to expose themselves to temptations, but only sometimes. We very easily become proud and confident of our own ability to stand upright and resist evil, and then we are very likely to become careless and even foolhardy with reference to temptations, and too often the outcome is a humiliating lapse into sin from which we are later recovered by the grace of God. (Vos, 581)

To make matters worse, we do not only expose ourselves by putting ourselves in harm’s way but also of ourselves unable and unwilling to resist them, to recover out of them, and to improve them. The two words “unable” and “unwilling” convey the effects of our corrupt nature. We do not want to resist the temptations that present themselves to us and we find we are unable to do so. A person secretly or openly lusts after the sin in the temptation. He is unwilling to avoid it because he desires it (whatever sin it might be). In turn, he finds that he is also unable to stop himself: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?.” (Rom. 7:24)

When David was incited by Satan to number Israel, Joab confronted him. Even in the face of this clear good awakening challenge, David insisted that his directive be followed through (1Chron. 21:1-4). We often set our hearts to do what is against the light of God’s Word and the conviction of our souls.

We are unwilling to be delivered and repent but instead we thrust ourselves into it. Have we not said, “Well, I’ve gone this far; there is no turning back now?” The venom of sin has infected our judgment and will. Let us remember, despite our hard hearted foolishness, God often, out of His rich compassion and mercy, sends a means of getting out of the ensnaring situation. Let us quickly repent and use the means of recovery while we can. We must flee to our Father for mercy, to go to the throne of grace that we may find mercy in our time of need.

The idea of improving our temptations may sound odd to our ears. It simply means to learn appropriate lessons from them and to take steps against them.

 To improve our temptations means to benefit from them in some way, as by learning the lessons that they can teach us, being humbled by them, resolving to be more watchful in the future, and praying to God increased grace to resist the devil. Every temptation that comes to a child of God is permitted in the wisdom and love of God for a good purpose. We are to discern, so far as possible, what that purpose is, and to learn the spiritual lessons involved accordingly. (Vos, 581)

We should learn from our own temptations as well as from others (from those recorded in Scripture to those we have heard about or witnessed). But how sad we are in this. Rather than learning from them, we tend to repeat them and display a level of obstinacy and stupidity that astonish us.

Many professionals say that people will not change until they grow sick and tired of being sick and tired (cf. Dave Ramsey, AA, NA, etc.). But after falling into sin, we are not at liberty to simply change and alter our own wills and propensity. The inclination to sin is too strong and left to ourselves, we will not grow tired of our iniquity — we will dig in deep and justify ourselves. That is why the last clause is so frightening. This last clause conveys much: and worthy to be left under the power of them. God can judiciously leave us since that is what we deserve. These sobering words of Psalm 81:11, 12 should cause us all to tremble: “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.” Spurgeon says this to the verse: “No punishment is more just or more severe than this. If men will not be checked, but madly take the bit between their teeth and refuse obedience, who shall wonder if the reins are thrown upon their necks, and they are let alone to work out their own destruction. It were better to be given up to lions than to our hearts’ lusts.”

God is better to us than we to Him; He is faithful to us in the face of our fickle faithlessness. In His mercy, He will deliver His elect and more often than not, will not allow us to be as bad as we can be for His mercy’s sake.  Our corrupt nature can overpower us but we are His and He will bring to perfection what He began in us.


Why pray this?

Why must we remember this last clause before we (as it were) pray this petition? We should be afraid of our own hearts and God’s just judgment. Knowing what we are capable of and knowing what we justly deserve, we should immediately run to our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. This knowledge gives the needed sense of urgency in our prayers. Our lack of urgency reveals the power of our corrupt nature.

This petition also implies something we can easily overlook. All these clauses up to this point teach us what normally happens if God does not intervene. That is, even as believers, if our gracious God does not help, sustain, and keep us, then we will fall into temptation and sin.[19] Our corrupt nature is active even though we are redeemed and the dominion of sin is broken in us. The world, the flesh and the devil are active principles and left to ourselves, we will fall. As some Puritans have noted, past grace cannot help in the present struggles. We need God’s daily grace and the sustaining care of our heavenly Father. Many think their past spiritual experiences will somehow keep them in the present. Too often we believe the past experiences will be effective in repelling present temptations. If grace is not present, then we will fall. For that reason, we pray to our heavenly Father to lead us not into temptation.

[1] The Heidelberg Catechism #127 defines it this way: “’And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;’ that is, since we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand a moment: and besides this, since our mortal enemies, the devil, the world, and our own flesh, cease not to assault us, do thou, therefore, preserve and strengthen us by the power of thy Holy Spirit, that we may not be overcome in this spiritual warfare, but constantly and strenuously may resist our foes, until at last we obtain a complete victory.”

[2] New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (ed. D. A Carson et al.; Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 380.

[3] J. Ridderbos, Deuteronomy, trans. Ed M. van der Maas, Bible Student’s Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 127.

[4] Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, Volume 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 645.

[5] In English, we use the word “test” when God is actively or permissively involved. Passages in Scripture often do not make that kind of distinction. The word for temptation in Mt. 6:13 (πειρασμόν) is used as trials (πειρασμοῖς) in 1Peter 1:6.

[6] Zacharias Ursinus and G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 654.

[7] John Newton, Wise Counsel – John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., ed. Grant Gordon (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 38; also in The Works of The Rev. John Newton (New York: Williams & Whiting, 1810), 1:233.

[8] Herman Witsius and William Pringle, Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer (Edinburgh: Thomas Clark, 1839), 348-49.

[9] οὐ γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὰ νοήματα ἀγνοοῦμεν (“for we are not ignorant of his designs”)

[10] τὰς μεθοδείας τοῦ διαβόλου (“the schemes of the devil”)

[11] τὰ βάθη τοῦ Σατανᾶ (“the deep things of Satan”)

[12] Herman Witsius and William Pringle, Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer (Edinburgh: Thomas Clark, 1839), 349.

[13] I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: a Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 782.

[14] Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, 2:647.

[15] Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: a Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 83. All the commentators note James’s use of the Jewish yetzer (rRx´y) theology, the evil desire or impulse in man (cf. Gen. 6:5) leading us to sin. Scot McKnight, The Letter of James (NICNT; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 119: “To make sense of life by avoiding chaos, Jews had three options to explain evil: God is the cause of evil, Satan is the cause of evil, or humans are the cause of evil. Jewish yetzer thinking focused on the third while not denying the second as a contributing factor.” (

[16] ESV has, “He has no claim on me” for Jn. 14:30. Literally, it can be translated as, “In me he has nothing” [ἐν ἐμοὶ οὐκ ἔχει οὐδέν].

[17] Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, 2:649.

[18] Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, 2:650.

[19] Cf. John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, ed. Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), 194-95.

Larger Catechism 194, Forgiveness, pt. 1

The Larger Catechism

Question 194

194.     Q. What do we pray for in the fifth petition?

A. In the fifth petition, (which is, Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,[1265]) acknowledging, that we and all others are guilty both of original and actual sin, and thereby become debtors to the justice of God; and that neither we, nor any other creature, can make the least satisfaction for that debt:[1266] we pray for ourselves and others, that God of his free grace would, through the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, apprehended and applied by faith, acquit us both from the guilt and punishment of sin,[1267] accept us in his Beloved;[1268] continue his favour and grace to us,[1269] pardon our daily failings,[1270] and fill us with peace and joy, in giving us daily more and more assurance of forgiveness;[1271] which we are the rather emboldened to ask, and encouraged to expect, when we have this testimony in ourselves, that we from the heart forgive others their offenses.[1272]

Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[1265] Matthew 6:12. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. [1266] Romans 3:9-22. What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one…. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God, etc. Matthew 18:24-25. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. Psalm 130:3-4. If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. [1267] Romans 3:24-26. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Hebrews 9:22. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. [1268] Ephesians 1:6-7. To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. [1269] 2 Peter 1:2. Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord. [1270] Hosea 14:2. Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips. Jeremiah 14:7. O LORD, though our iniquities testify against us, do thou it for thy name’s sake: for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against thee. [1271] Romans 15:13. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. Psalm 51:7-10, 12. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me…. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. [1272] Luke 11:4. 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. Matthew 6:14-15. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 18:35. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.


Many years ago, someone asked me if I ever run out things to pray for. The person seemed pretty convinced that more often than not, we will face periods of sheer dumbness. It seems reasonable – all the bases are covered, there is nothing else to pray for. We are done for the day; the list has been prayed through, the matter is concluded, we go on to the next thing scheduled for the day. Will believers run out of things to pray for? Our inability to pray, this “dumbness,” may in fact come from several factors.

It can come from our carnality. We are so caught up with the ways of the world or simply living in disobedience that we remain speechless before God. The soul is not interested in addressing God because it refuses to forsake its love affair with sin. Another reason may be insensibility. The “sense” of want or the awareness of one’s deep spiritual need does not press in on the mind and heart. There is no feeling, no sense of urgency, no sense of dread, etc. This spiritual numbness creates dumbness.

Still there is the conviction of sin that might prevent a person from praying. He is so overwhelmed and feels so guilty, he cannot even groan. Though this is a better situation (since he is sensible of something important), it can easily lead to despair and will issue in full unbelief if left in this condition.

Perhaps a far too common condition among the saints of God is that we tend to be too busy, preoccupied, and distracted. Running too fast and furious with many interests and concerns have crowed out our need for prayer. Some of these concerns may be legitimate, some perhaps neutral, etc. but in the end, our hearts have plunged themselves into those diversions so thoroughly that when it comes to praying, we can say little to nothing because the “other” concerns have grabbed our attention and affections.

These are all spiritual problems and most likely, the same person could (after giving up on prayer) speak energetically about anything else. That reveals much and speaks volumes regarding the spiritual decay.

Now coming back to the question. Theologically speaking, we should never be speechless because the fifth petition assumes something about our real problem. “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Mt. 6:12) We have enough sins to compel us to pray and enough to preoccupy our prayers. If nothing else comes to mind, surely there is something to confess! If we are not unacquainted with ourselves and not strangers to God’s holy standards, then we can (and should) confess our sins.

Thomas Ridgley beautifully connects this petition with the fourth. This flow in the Lord’s Prayer ought to be remembered:

Having been directed, in the former petition, to pray for outward blessings, we are now led to ask for forgiveness of sin. It is with very good reason that these two petitions are joined together; inasmuch as we cannot expect that God should give us the good things of this life, which are all forfeited by us, much less that we should have them bestowed on us in mercy and for our good, unless he is pleased to forgive those sins whereby we provoke him to withhold them from us. Nor can we take comfort in any outward blessings, while our consciences are burdened with a sense of the guilt of sin, and we have nothing to expect, as the consequence of it, but to be separated from his presence.[1]


Debts or Trespasses?[2]

Matthew 6:12 uses the word that must be translated as “debts” — “and forgive us our debts (ὀφειλήματα), as we also have forgiven our debtors (ὀφειλέταις).”[3] Almost every translation uses “debts” but the Catholics in the English speaking world continue to use “trespasses” (even though the Vulgate has “debita nostra” as well as their Douay translation). The Book of Common Prayer (1559) used “trespasses” while John Wycliffe early on used “debts” (dettis) in 1382. William Tyndale’s New Testament translation (1526) however ended up with “trespasses” and he maintained the same translation of v. 12 in 1533 in his exposition upon Matthew chs. 5-7.[4] Perhaps his influence through Coverdale came into The Book of Common Prayer?

Modern Catholics recognize that the word ought to be translated as “debts” but ever since they began to pray the Lord’s Prayer in English (as opposed to Latin), it was “trespasses.” Even the most recent Catechism of the Catholic Church uses “trespasses.”[5] Nevertheless, it is more accurate to translate it as “debts.”

Apparently the Greek word for debt was equivalent to the Aramaic word for sin as a debt.[6] The Targums used the Aramaic word to mean sin or transgression.[7] Clearly our sins place us in an indebted situation, as something owed to God. Something has to be done to clear our debt created by our sins (“debtors to the justice of God”).


Acknowledging our Guilt, Debt, and Incapacity

In this petition, we are in fact “acknowledging, that we and all others are guilty both of original and actual sin, and thereby become debtors to the justice of God; and that neither we, nor any other creature, can make the least satisfaction for that debt…” Three things are mentioned in this clause. One, we are acknowledging our guilt. An “uneasiness” should pervade our hearts as we come to Him (as we ponder ourselves). We know we are guilty for our “original and actual sin.” That is, we recognize we are tainted by a sinful nature and that we are also guilty on account of our actual sins against God. Rom. 3:9-22 clearly and emphatically teaches that we are “all under sin.” Though we may not “feel” it, we acknowledge it since it is a fact. Our inability to sense and feel this sin and its corresponding guilt indicates how deeply sin has infected our judgment and sense.  Vos makes this helpful observation:

The guilt of sin is an unpopular idea today; the man-centered religion of recent decades has tried to avoid this idea or explain it away. Sin is regarded as a misfortune or calamity, rather than as something deserving blame and punishment. Consequently, many modern people regard themselves as quite righteous; or if they think of themselves as sinners, they feel that they are to be pitied and consoled rather than judged and condemned. (Vos, 566)

Two, we are also admitting that we are in debt to God — “debtors to the justice of God.” Acknowledging our guilt means that we have become debtors to God. God requires holiness and we have fallen short of His glory (Rom. 3:23). Jesus tells a most searching parable of the unmerciful or unforgiving servant in Mt. 18:21-35. In it, Jesus equates the debt with sin. He concludes, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (v. 35) Jesus is teaching us that our debts have been forgiven and we should in turn forgive others. The debt in v. 24 is likened to something over a billion dollars in our currency; selling the family into slavery to pay of the debt would have perhaps cover one talent (nothing in comparison to the ten thousand talents he owed [ὀφειλέτης]).  Similarly, our guilt and sin has placed us in debt to the justice of God. We must see our offense and debt to be as they really are. Is it not true that we minimize our sins against God and maximize people’s offense against us?[8]

Three, we are acknowledging that we are incapable of paying for that debt. Our incapacity does not minimize our obligation — and that neither we, nor any other creature, can make the least satisfaction for that debt. The Psalmist said, “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Ps. 130:3) If God holds us accountable (and He does), we cannot stand before Him. His holy righteousness opposes us and we cannot satisfy Him of this debt. Always remember this! We are infinitely indebted to Him on account of our sins; we are incapable of satisfying that debt. We cannot repay what we owe!

Why is this necessary? Are we once again pressing for a “worm theology” that is neither healthy nor helpful? Not at all! Rather, this posture must always regulate and drive our prayers because it truly reflects our condition. The fifth petition helps us to come to terms with our need for pardon and that we (in ourselves) cannot take care of (or atone for) the sins we have committed! We must remember we cannot satisfy divine justice so we must flee to Him who alone can pardon and justify us. We must rid ourselves of that “legal” spirit that always rears its ugly head in our prayers: “I’m so sorry; I’ll never do it again. I will from now on do this and that and promise to always [insert your promised works of righteousness]!” No, we acknowledge that neither we, nor any other creature, can make the least satisfaction for that debt. We cannot make the least satisfaction much less a full satisfaction — that is what we must always remember in our prayers. We possess infinite demerit and come to God incapable of satisfying divine justice — in knowing and believing this, we possess the right posture to seek pardon from our gracious heavenly Father. It is most safe to be most honest before our heavenly Father.  (Though we must not think that even this “posture” merits his approval and thus earn our forgiveness and satisfy divine justice. Remember John Newton’s words, “My best is defective and defiled, and needs pardon before it can hope for acceptance; but through mercy my hope is built, not upon frames and feelings, but upon the atonement and mediation of Jesus.”)


We and All Others…Ourselves and Others

Confessing our own sins is a very personal and private matter. Yet the prayer requests pardon for “our debts.” None of us stand above another before God. We are all guilty and we all need pardon. Witsius says that “all are oppressed by the load [of sin], no one is able to discharge his own debt, much less that of others.”[9] So “we pray for ourselves and others…” Prayer must include the infirmities of others.

Before expounding the petition, we must remember that we are seeking the same for others. We cannot wish pardon for ourselves while secretly wishing the one we dislike or the one who hurt us be condemned and judged strictly for his debts. Our sins ought to grieve us and we should feel the same grief for the sins of others while seeking the Lord’s pardon for them. How our God answers those requests, we cannot be certain but surely we are encouraged to pray for mercy on behalf of others.

None of us can read the hearts of the other person but our heavenly Father can. To secretly yearn for judgment or calamity for someone else while beseeching only pardon for ourselves reveals something narrow and cruel in our hearts. We are to forgive our brother from our hearts (Mt. 18:35, ἀπὸ τῶν καρδιῶν ὑμῶν — “from your hearts”). How can we beg for mercy, pardon, and patience from God while looking with indifference on a brother’s plight (a brother or sister with whom we might have differed)?


To be Free from Guilt and Punishment

We must assume and acknowledge the previous clause. The heart of the petition lies in in what follows. In begging our heavenly Father to forgive us our debts — “we pray for ourselves and others, that God of his free grace would, through the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, apprehended and applied by faith, acquit us both from the guilt and punishment of sin…” Forgiveness is “of his free grace” and is not something we are naturally “due.” However, His grace does not run rough shod against His justice. It is granted to us “though the obedience and satisfaction of Christ…” This theological verity has fallen on hard times. The New Perspective and Federal Vision have vigorously rejected the notion that God would grant us forgiveness “through the obedience and satisfaction of Christ.”[10] They call this “merit theology” and eschew any suggestion that Christ’s obedience merited anything.[11] Clearly Christ’s obedience merited our salvation (see our study on the Larger Catechism question #38).[12]

The petition, in keeping with what is taught elsewhere in the Bible, teaches that God forgives us on the basis of Christ’s atonement. Christ perfectly obeyed the law (“obedience”) and fully paid for the infractions against the law (“satisfaction of Christ”). So Paul says that “by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).[13] Christ’s obedience and satisfaction are the righteous means of relieving us entirely from the guilt and punishment of our sins.

Rom. 3:24-26 makes clear that Christ’s redemptive death procures our justification — “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦv)” (3:24).[14] Though v. 25 may be difficult to interpret, we can still recognize that what God did through Jesus’ sacrificial death (“God put forward as a propitiation by his blood”) we are to receive by faith (“to be received by faith”). The fifth petition has in mind what Christ did (“through the…satisfaction of Christ”) and in our prayers we are to receive what He did by faith — “apprehended and applied by faith.”  The end result of looking in faith is that we would acquitted from our guilt and punishment. To put this simply, we are asking God to declare us right and innocent and forgo punishing us for our sins — why? We are asking that He would do so through Christ’s finished work (“through the obedience and satisfaction of Christ”). Ridgley makes this helpful observation: “As in this method of praying for forgiveness, we take occasion to adore the wisdom of God, which has found out this expedient to hallow or sanctify his own name, as well as to secure to us an interest in his love; and, at the same time, we express the high esteem we have for the person of Christ, who has procured it for us, and also our sense of the infinite value of the price he paid in order to procure it.”[15]

This is no idle theology. We are not defending something because it is “old” or because it is “traditional.” Not only is it biblical (on that basis, the matter should be concluded), it is eminently practical and serves as a great means of comforting our souls. When the believer sins, when he feels its weight and guilt, what does he do? He wishes he could pull it from his breast; rip it from his heart; cleanse it with his efforts. He knows his sins deserve judgment and he knows not what to do and is ashamed with guilt. When he prays, “Lord, forgive me, pardon me of my debts, my wicked trespasses, my rebellious sins.” he wishes he could do more than simply cry out. This is when the simple truth of Christ’s obedience and satisfaction assuages his conscience. He himself can do nothing but he can apprehend and apply by faith that Jesus has obeyed even unto death and has satisfied divine justice. There, he sees what his own sins justly deserve and recognize that God has acted with righteousness to condemn sin in Christ. With that, he simultaneously recognizes that he is acquitted on account of Christ. I can only believe and receive; I cannot pay for my own sins!

Acceptance and Favor

In our petition for acquittal, we are also asking for the other gospel benefits: “accept us in his Beloved; continue his favour and grace to us, pardon our daily failings, and fill us with peace and joy, in giving us daily more and more assurance of forgiveness…” These requests work together — they represent the full desire of what should be asking. It is not merely, “Get rid of this sin; please cover it by forgiving me.” Rather, “we pray… that God of his free grace would, through the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, apprehended and applied by faith…” would confer the following.

Accept us in his Beloved — Ephesians 1:6, 7 teaches that we are indeed blessed in Christ (“blessed us in the Beloved”). The KJV translated it as “he hath made us accepted in the beloved”. The word ἐχαρίτωσεν (from χαριτόω) simply means to be gracious, be favored, bestow on freely.[16] Some of the older commentators translated this broadly as “graciously accepted” or “made us subjects of His grace” (as in JFB).[17]  In the context, Paul praises God’s glorious grace with which he graced or blessed us in the beloved Lord Jesus Christ (literally, “his grace with which he has graced us” since the verbal cognate of the noun “grace” is used). We are praising the grace with which He graced us in Christ — as John Eadie says, “So it is not grace as a latent attribute, but grace in profuse donation…”

We are asking God to acquit us and to continue to graciously deal with us in Christ — to continue to bless us in Him (which would include continued acceptance in the Beloved).  If God does not forgive us, we will be bankrupt. Our petition for pardon also is a petition for God to continually bless us in Christ. Remember, we deserve nothing and our sinful ways only reinforces that point so any and all gracious dealings with God abundantly come to us on account of Christ or “in the beloved” (ἐν τῷ ἠγαπημένῳˆ).

A similar idea is found in the next clause — continue in his favour and grace to us. As Peter prays, “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord.” (2 Peter 1:2) We are daily dependent upon God’s continue favor and grace. The idea of grace or favor in 2 Peter suggests a “ruler’s favor” one writer says. “These readers have already received favor from God in that they have received a faith equal to that of the apostles. Now they are wished further favor from their divine patron, indeed multiplied favor.”[18] This comes to us through God’s grace.

We must ponder a most simple but practical point. When we come with that humble attitude before God and are ever aware of our guilt and offense, we cannot presume that any good should or would come to us. We are debtors to Him. But we come in faith, convinced of what God has done for us in Christ and how He has acquitted us in Him and therefore we can humbly ask that He would continue his favor and his grace to us for the sake of Christ. This is not a petition for material blessings but a petition for all the riches that flow to us in the beloved.

This part of the petition is something we all readily see, pardon our daily failings. The verses used to support this are helpful. Hosea 14:2 says, “Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, ‘Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips.’” We are called to return to the Lord with words of confession asking him to “take away all iniquity.” Surely God requires this of us on a daily basis. Jeremiah 24:7 gives these words, ““Though our iniquities testify against us, act, O LORD, for your name’s sake; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against you.” Daily pardon is required because daily sins are committed; they “testify against us” (at least they should) and our “backslidings are many.”

We might miss this simple point but the Lord’s Prayer assumes we sin on a daily basis and therefore need daily forgiveness. As we pray for daily bread, we also pray for daily pardon for our daily failings.  Why is that important? We are too often foolishly surprised by our own sins and failures. We are a wonder to ourselves — how could we sin so easily and so frequently? God has provided for us by giving His Son. Through his merits and sacrificial death, our miserable failures and high-handed sins are pardoned!

In the fifth petition, as we acknowledge our sinfulness and ask God for pardon, we can easily feel ashamed and disheartened. Did our Lord teach us this prayer so that we would grovel in guilt and shame? Is the purpose only to force us to come to terms with our wicked selves? It cannot be. Our divines recognized that this petition required and exercise of faith (“apprehended and applied by faith”). We must believe as we pray. In Ps. 51, the confession of sin rings clear and an unmistakable brokenness and humility permeate the Psalm. It includes petitions like, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (v. 12) and “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” (v. 15)[19] With contrition comes the petition for joy in the Lord. So the Larger Catechism interprets the petition to include: “and fill us with peace and joy, in giving us daily more and more assurance of forgiveness…” Asking for forgiveness did not mean that we would be placed in a substandard position. We deserve nothing and we will not be blessed because we deserve it. We were not adopted because we were righteous and we will not be blessed because we have been good. Christ’s death has purchased and secured our redemption, past and present pardon, and all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. This petition is a request for pardon and restoration.

Rom. 15:13 is Paul’s prayer-wish for the Roman church. He asks, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” That is, his prayer is that the believers would be filled with “all joy and peace in believing” — the end product (εἰς τὸ περισσεύειν ὑμᾶς) is so that they would abound in hope through the power of the Spirit. He fills us with joy and peace as we believe (ἐν τῷ πιστεύειν). Mounce says, “While it is God who provides the joy and peace, it is our continuing confidence and trust in God that enables him to bless us as he does. The joy and peace given by God results in an overflow of hope in the life of the believer. Our role is to maintain a relationship of continuing trust in God.” Or as Calvin would say, “for in order that our peace may be approved by God, we must be bound together by real and genuine faith.” That is, we must look to God, believe He will fill us with joy and peace. We are asking God to fill us with these things because we have lost the joy of our salvation. The Psalmist wishes to “hear joy and gladness” and experience “the joy of your [God’s] salvation.”

Furthermore, we are asking to be more assured of our forgiveness. This is not a call for easy believism or a formulaic plea. Rather, being convinced that God alone can pardon and that He alone can grant the assurance of our pardon, we look to him for both. Remember, the end of our confession is not defeat or some morbid depression — the end of this petition is apprehending by faith our pardon and peace, our acquittal and assurance, our justification and joy — those are what we must pray for.

In conclusion, we must remember that our time of confession of our sins to God should in relief, joy, and peace. This will not always happen with the same intensity but we must apprehend by faith all that has been promised to us in Christ. If we leave dejected and unbelieving, if we rise from our being on our knees unconvinced and unconsoled, then we have not prayed in faith.

[1] Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, Volume 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 633.

[2] I had originally stated that the KJV used “trespasses” in v. 12. One of our members pointed out that I was mistaken and it appears I had looked at v. 14 in the KJV and drew an incorrect conclusion. I have since then corrected this section.

[3] Luke 11:4 has “sins” (τὰς ἁμαρτίας).

[4]  G. E. Duffield, ed., The Work of William Tyndale, The Courtenay Library of Reformation Classics (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965), 261.

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1994), 682.

[6] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13 (WBC 33A; Accordance/Thomas Nelson electronic ed. Dallas: Word Books, 1993), 150: “The concept of sin as a “debt” owed to God has an Aramaic background (in the rabbinic literature, aDbOwj, ho®baœ}, is sin construed as a debt).”

[7] D. A. Carson, Matthew (EBC 8; ed. Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), n.p

[8] N. T. Wright gives an interesting interpretation to the word “debt” here. He argues that this alludes to the Jubilee command. It is more than individual guilt but a yearning for something more cosmic. He says, “The Lord’s Prayer makes sense, not just in terms of individual human beings quieting their own troubled consciences, vital though that is, but also in terms of the new day when justice and peace will embrace, economically and socially as well as personally and existentially” (N. T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer [London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996], 55). There may be something to that but Wright tends to minimize the salient aspect of this petition, viz., our own troubled consciences!

[9] Herman Witsius and William Pringle, Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer (Edinburgh: Thomas Clark, 1839), 316.

[10] See the following refutations of these novel views: Cornelis P. Venema, The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and New Perspective on Paul (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006); Guy Prentiss Waters, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2006).

[11] Cf. James B. Jordan, “Merit Versus Maturity: What Did Jesus Do for Us?,” in The Federal Vision, ed. Steve Wilkins and Duane Garner (Monroe, Louisiana: Athanasius Press, 2004), 151-195. It is my desire to refute this sometime in the future.

[12] Vos gives a good and hearty defense of the active obedience of Christ in his exposition of the LC, see The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, 569.

[13] Rom. 5:19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Herman Witsius speaks of “on account of the satisfaction and merits of his Son” (Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer, 317). For the historical arguments for the active obedience of Christ, see Jeffrey Jue, “The Active Obedience of Christ and the Theology of the Westminster Standards: A Historical Investigation,” in Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for Us in Justification, ed. Scott K. Oliphint (Great Britain: Mentor, 2007), 99-130; Alan D. Strange, “The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ at the Westminster Assembly,” in Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates Within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism, ed. Michael A G Haykin and Mark Jones, Reformed Historical Theology (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011), 31-51.

[14] Again, I refer the reader to LC #38 where we interact with this text.

[15] Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, 2:637-38.

[16] Verse 6 reads in the original, εἰς ἔπαινον δόξης τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ ἧς ἐχαρίτωσεν ἡμᾶς ἐν τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ.

[17] Eadie noted that many (including Calvin) took the meaning to be like the KJV translation, “The verb is supposed by them to refer to the personal or subjective result of grace, which is to give men acceptance with God—gratos et acceptos reddidit [rendered or caused to be gracious and acceptable]” — John Eadie, Eadie Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians (Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), n.p. Even the Latin translation got it right, in qua gratificavit nos.

[18] Peter H. Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 164.

[19] In all honesty, as I worked on this phrase and pondered its meaning, Ps. 51 came immediately to mind. After looking up the proof text, I was pleased to find that our divines had developed this point in part from Ps. 51.

Larger Catechism 193, Daily Bread

Larger Catechism 193ab

Use the above link to download the pdf version of the Larger Catechism lesson.

The Larger Catechism

Question 193


193.     Q. What do we pray for in the fourth petition?

A. In the fourth petition, (which is, Give us this day our daily bread,[1253]) acknowledging, that in Adam, and by our own sin, we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life, and deserve to be wholly deprived of them by God, and to have them cursed to us in the use of them;[1254] and that neither they of themselves are able to sustain us,[1255] nor we to merit,[1256] or by our own industry to procure them;[1257] but prone to desire,[1258] get,[1259] and use them unlawfully:[1260] we pray for ourselves and others, that both they and we, waiting upon the providence of God from day to day in the use of lawful means, may, of his free gift, and as to his fatherly wisdom shall seem best, enjoy a competent portion of them;[1261] and have the same continued and blessed unto us in our holy and comfortable use of them,[1262] and contentment in them;[1263] and be kept from all things that are contrary to our temporal support and comfort.[1264]

Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[1253] Matthew 6:11. Give us this day our daily bread. [1254] Genesis 2:17. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Genesis 3:17. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Romans 8:20-22. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. Jeremiah 5:25. Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you. Deuteronomy 28:15-17. But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store, etc. [1255] Deuteronomy 8:3. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. [1256] Genesis 32:10. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. [1257] Deuteronomy 8:17-18. And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day. [1258] Jeremiah 6:13. For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. Mark 7:21-22. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. [1259] Hosea 12:7. He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress. [1260] James 4:3. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. [1261] Genesis 43:12-14. And take double money in your hand; and the money that was brought again in the mouth of your sacks, carry it again in your hand; peradventure it was an oversight: Take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man: And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved. Genesis 28:20. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on. Ephesians 4:28. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. Philippians 4:6. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. [1262] 1 Timothy 4:3-5. Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. [1263] 1 Timothy 6:6-8. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. [1264] Proverbs 30:8-9. Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.


In our western world, it may seem difficult to pray for the fourth item in the Lord’s Prayer. How can we pray the fourth petition which is Give us this day our daily bread…)? We have food in the pantry, money in the bank, stores galore, and a “safety-net” of a sort to take care of us. Is this merely a pious petition having little to do with our lives?

Our inability to feel the true need exhibited in this petition betrays what is so wrong with us. In our hubris, we assume that what is is the same as what it ought to be and what it will be. That is, we presume that our good estate is what is owed.

In this petition, we come to terms with our finitude and dependence upon God. No matter what our political persuasion, we tend to think we have certain rights, certain inalienable rights. Though our Declaration of Independence makes this point clear, we must not confuse it with what the Bible teaches.

Vos clears up this confusion and we would do well to listen to him on this point. He asks, “Is it true that all men have an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” Then he offers this answer:

This is only true within the limited sphere of civil society. Human beings have a civil right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without unjust interference on the part of their fellow men. Even within the sphere of human society the right of life or liberty may be taken away as a judicial penalty for the commission of crime. A man who has committed murder no longer has a right to life and liberty.

When we speak of man’s relation to God, it is definitely not true that all men have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Whatever rights human beings might have had, have been forfeited by sin; first by Adam’s sin, which is imputed to all mankind; and then by each person’s own sin, so that no human being has any rights which he can claim over against God. Man has no rights which God is bound to respect. (Vos, 562)

Vos is correct. Once we understand this, we look at life differently and the fourth petition will have more force and urgency in our prayers. If we do not see this correctly, we will be bitter, despondent, and defiant against God. He will be viewed as our enemy and the omnipotent foe who wields His power malevolently against us. We will feel trapped, powerless, and an unspeakable sense of despair will grip our hearts. We will never rightly pray Give us this day our daily bread.


We Have Forfeited

In asking for daily bread, we are admitting that we have forfeited everything. That is, we have to ask for daily bread because we cannot assume that we are entitled to it. As the LC states, we are “acknowledging, that in Adam, and by our own sin, we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life, and deserve to be wholly deprived of them by God, and to have them cursed to us in the use of them…

Many elements of this point have been developed in our study of the LC #28 (“What are the punishments of sin in this world?”). We come into the world with sin (Adam’s and our own); therefore, God owes us nothing. Justice demands punishment; the blessings in this life are always free displays of God’s patience, benevolence, longsuffering, love, etc. We “deserve to be wholly deprived of them by God” — that is what we deserve (see LC #28). Our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments can all be cursed, deservedly! Ridgley says, “If he should deprive us of all the conveniencies of life, and so embitter it to us that we should be almost inclined to make the unhappy choice which Job did of ‘strangling and death, rather than life;’ there would be no reason to say that there is unrighteousness with God.”[1]

When we pray Give us this day our daily bread, we are acknowledging we don’t deserve it because we have forfeited every right to all the blessings in this life. Not only do we deserve to be deprived of them but we also deserve to have them become a curse to us: “to have them [i.e. “the outward blessings in this life”] cursed to us in the use of them.” Meaning, every good thing we enjoy and use can rightly be employed to curse us. Israel sinned so God kept the blessings from them (it did not rain): “Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you.” (Jer. 5:25)[2] God can withhold what is commonly good to us (in this case “rain”); He can also use them to our hurt (cf. the covenant curses in Deut. 28:15-17). God said that “all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you” (Deut. 28:15). These curses parallel the blessings enumerated in vv. 3-6; they are the counterparts. “The reason for this direct contrast is clear: obedience and disobedience to the covenant have exactly the opposite consequences.”[3]

If the Old Covenant was so strict, how much more for humanity who are outside of the covenant of grace? It is reasonable to conclude that disobedience negates all blessings. Therefore, God can curse any thing we use because we all are in the state of sin (apart from Christ). When we pray for our daily bread, we remember we have forfeited it and God can curse it to our harm. Should we not ponder the significance of this? That means every good thing can turn on us. Our cars, relationships, medicine, money, skills, circumstances, etc. may all seem promising but if the Lord does not bless them, they may in fact be used as curses against us. Israel was cursed with the meat in their mouth — they wanted those good things so God gave it to them (Num. 11:19-20, “You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’”). Those good things were not given to them for their benefit. They were used against His people. We must not assume and presume that all the blessings we have will work for our good; if the Lord blesses them to our benefit, then we rejoice. We cannot assume because of our monetary wealth, perfect bill of health, untiring industry, etc. that all will be well. We deserve to have all of them turn against us!


They Cannot Sustain Us

Though this could easily fit into the previous section, it is worth pondering on its own. The LC states that the outward blessings of life cannot sustain us: “and that neither they of themselves are able to sustain us…” In our health conscious age, we tend to think that medicine, right diet, regular exercise, healthy habits, etc. will all work for our good and will sustain and maintain our health. We assume that these outward blessings of life are calculated and created to sustain us in and of themselves. Good stewardship requires that we make good use of all the good things of life for our benefit — God may very well bless those efforts (and He often does). Yet, there is no inherent energy or efficacy in them to work in us for our good. This is a stupendous theological truth!

The divines used an interesting verse to support this most important point: “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut. 8:3) Forty years in the wilderness compelled them to trust in the Lord. “In the desert, he [God] was the only source of life, and the most important factor in Israel’s existence. The entire episode is an indictment against self-sufficiency: without Yahweh the Hebrews would not have survived the wilderness.”[4] Currid is correct. But more can be said about this verse.

When the people were hungry, God fed them manna; the provision of manna was not simply a miracle, but it was designed to teach the Israelites a fundamental principle of their existence as the covenant people of God. The basic source of life was God and the words of God to his people; every utterance of the mouth of the Lord (v. 3) was more basic to Israelite existence than was food. This principle did not mean that the Israelites were to expect at all times the miraculous provision of food, as in the instance when God provided manna. Normal circumstances would involve the normal acquisition of food supplies. But if the command of God directed the people to do something or go somewhere, the command should be obeyed; shortage of food or water, lack of strength, or any other excuse would be insufficient, for the command of God contained within it the provision of God.[5]

Still, there is more to this than what the commentator just stated. The older commentators understood the point better: “Possessing no nutritious properties inherent in it, this contributed to their sustenance, as indeed all food does (Matthew 4:4) solely through the ordinance and blessing of God. This remark is applicable to the means of spiritual as well as natural life.”[6] Think about it, the nation was sustained by manna for forty years. What nutritional value was there in manna? We do not know but it was blessed by God for the nourishment of the entire nation. They had to trust God to meet their needs — not in what they assumed they needed. “The general import is, of course, that the Lord wanted to teach Israel to trust, not in anything created, but only in the Creator.”[7] We too often trust in the blessings of life to sustain us as if they possessed inherent effectual power. Without God’s blessings, they will not benefit us. Therefore in this petition, we recognize that without God’s blessing, food, clothing, relationships, finances, work, etc. will do us no good if He does not effectually use them for our benefit! “He must add his blessing to all the mercies he bestows, else they will not conduce to our happiness, or answer the general end designed by them. Without the divine blessing, the bread we eat would no more nourish us than husks or chaff; our garments could no more contribute to our being warm, than if they were put upon a statue; and the air we breathe would rather stifle than refresh us.”[8]


Cannot Merit or Work Hard for Them

Our “can do” American society teaches us that if we simply give ourselves to hard work, we will prosper. This, after all, is the great land of opportunity. In fact, the book of Proverbs teaches a similar point. The difference, however, between the “American dream” and Proverbs is God. In Proverbs, God is the moral governor sustaining and blessing and those in covenant fellowship with Him believe His teaching and promises. We are taught, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.” (Prov. 12:11) As we have seen before (in the section above), this is true because God sustains, maintains, and blesses the means. In this case, he blesses those who work hard (numerous Proverbs could be cited to support the same teaching). The “can-do” philosophy tends to equate industry with the blessings of life. To put it bluntly, we procured the blessings of life through the merit of human industry. That is, we earned the blessings because we worked hard for them!

In asking God for our daily bread, we are in fact arguing just the opposite. The LC teaches: “nor we to merit, or by our own industry to procure them [all the outward blessings of this life]…” We come to this world with a deficit (our sins) and to a world that is cursed (Gen. 3:17-19). In this situation, we cannot merit the blessings of this life. All the blessings that happen to come to us are bestowed either by divine benevolence (on the just and unjust) or in terms of the covenant (relationship) for the sake of Christ.

Jacob said to his brother (against whom he sinned): “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.” (Gen. 32:10) If Jacob’s sin against a mere man makes him unworthy, how much more for sinners before a Holy God?

We also do not procure the blessings of this life by our industry (“or by our own industry to procure them”). A person may quickly agree that he cannot merit these blessings. Yet the same person instinctively believes that his hard work, diligence, and industrious efforts will procure those blessings. They will get what they want; they will not rest until those blessings are secured. Has he forgotten what Ps. 127 teaches? “Unless the Lord builds the house those who build it labor in vain.…It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil…” Deut. 8:17, 18 teach us one of the most important lessons regarding our “industry.” “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” God gives you power to get wealth! Though spoken in terms of the Old Covenant, the theological truth still pertains to us because it teaches us something about God. We tend to think raw hard work will earn all things. Without the Lord’s blessing, it will not produce what we want and whatever we do end up acquiring, it is because the Lord has given us the power to acquire it.

Let me now flip this around. Do we not assume that if we live godly lives, if we are honest and full of integrity, if we live in the fear of the Lord, no harm would befall us? We would never positively argue that we can actually merit God’s external blessings but we tend to believe that by doing good we will in turn receive good things. In general, this principle is true and God indeed blesses obedience. Yet we must not sneak in the opposite: Bad things cannot come into my house because I am doing good. After all, I am going to church, I am reading the Bible, I am trying to live with integrity, etc. Surely this means that all will go well. Job’s story teaches us that is not the case.

We are called to obey and be industrious. “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2Thess. 3:10) This is a New Testament truth. Diligence is required. God often blesses diligence and promises to meet all our needs. We make mistakes in our assumptions and our understanding of cause and effect. Our assumption is that obedience itself will produce earthly blessings (when in fact it is God who blesses). We think our industry and diligence actually procured the outward blessings of this life but we know unless the Lord blessed the means, our efforts would be fruitless. Let this be our plea, “O Lord… give success to your servant today” (Neh. 1:11).


Unlawful Use

This clause “but prone to desire, get, and use them unlawfully…” reminds us of another problem. Not only do we not merit any of these earthly blessings, but when God does bless us (though we are unworthy of them), we often use them unlawfully. The three verbs (desire, get, and use) are modified by the adverb “unlawfully” — we tend to desire, get, and use “all the outward blessings of this life” unlawfully. We want them for the wrong reason; we can at times acquire them unlawfully; and we utilize them to pander to our flesh. James 4:2-3 says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”[9] However we might punctuate these verses, one thing is clear. Desiring and asking are with wrong motives. We want certain things so that we can use them unlawfully (“to spend it on your passions”). “In such prayers God is regarded as a mere dispensary of instruments of vice. The language of monetary exchange is brought in by James. God does not answer their prayers not only because they are evil but also because they would just spend his generosity on themselves. They would, as it were, simply “cash in” whatever they could exchange his gifts with for their idea of “gain.””[10]

Before moving on to the positive aspect of this petition, let us simply remember that we often pray selfishly. Why should God bless us? What have we done with all his blessings before? What are we intending to do with them now? We are indeed prone to desire them unlawfully.


Waiting on God’s Providence

 Recognizing all that we have said above, the divines teach us what we are actually praying for: “we pray for ourselves and others, that both they and we, waiting upon the providence of God from day to day in the use of lawful means, may, of his free gift, and as to his fatherly wisdom shall seem best, enjoy a competent portion of them…” Vos calls this portion of the LC answer “a beautiful gem of scriptural teaching.” It certainly is. The Shorter Catechism gives a very brief answer and does not include this gem. As we pray, we wait upon God to provide for us. We wait “day to day” — that is, it is our daily portion we are asking and must not assume today’s portion entitles us to tomorrow’s without “waiting upon the providence of God.” We wait “… realizing that God will give us blessings according to his holy will in his own appointed time; therefore we are to avoid both unbelief and impatience. We will not demand blessings immediately when God in his wisdom sees fit to postpose them.” (Vos, 563)

As we wait upon our God, we utilize the “lawful means. ” That is, we are to be active in using the means God has provided. It is waiting and working. “If we are sick, we will trust in God to make us well if it is his will to do so, but we will also avail ourselves of the best possible medical treatment. If we are waiting on God for a harvest, we will also take pains to cultivate the soil and plant the seed. We will not expect God’s providence to eliminate our own toil and efforts.” (Vos, 564) Trusting God for our daily needs does not we do nothing. The “lawful means” include everything God calls us to do, work, save, pray, deny ourselves, plan, regulate our use of time, etc. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians the following corrective: “For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (2Thess. 3:11, 12) That is always the rule — “work quietly and to earn their own living”; idleness is forbidden.  Furthermore, Ridgley adds that the fourth petition does not mean we don’t make provisions for the future.

But not to make provision for the future is contrary to what we are exhorted to do, when we are called to consider the provision which the smallest insects make for their subsistence: ‘The ant provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.’ [Prov. 6:8] And the apostle says, ‘If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.’ [1Tim. 5:8] We hence ought to make provision for our future wants. Accordingly, we are to pray that God would give success to our lawful endeavours, in order to the attainment of this end.[11]

The lawful means we are to use, of course, forbids the use of unlawful means. Just because we believe we have not been treated justly by our boss does not mean we can steal from him to make ends meet. We cannot lie and cheat others to get what we need just because our clients may not have paid us for our services. “We will try to promote our business interests by intelligence and honest work, but not by use of dishonesty, untruth, or theft, or by injustice to anyone.” (Vos, 564) Paul says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Eph. 4:28)

As we wait while busying ourselves in the use of lawful means, we must firmly believe and be convinced that God’s fatherly wisdom will dispense what He deems best. Asking and trusting go together; trusting means we leave the matter to our heavenly Father and not dictate how He must provide. Vos answers this question, “Is it right to pray for earthly blessings such as financial prosperity for ourselves and others?” He says, “Certainly this is right, and we ought to do it, but always in subordination to the will of God ‘as to his fatherly wisdom shall seem best.’ We may pray for financial prosperity and similar earthly blessings, provided we pray that if it is God’s will he will give them to us. We have no way of knowing in advance whether or not such will be his will.” (Vos, 564)


Competent Portion

Lastly, in this petition we are asking for a “a competent portion.” The LC says, “enjoy a competent portion of them; and have the same continued and blessed unto us in our holy and comfortable use of them, and contentment in them; and be kept from all things that are contrary to our temporal support and comfort.” “Daily bread” does not mean a billionaire’s portion. A “competent portion” means a moderate portion of what we need. God determines what that is. An immoderate and inordinate yearning for a large portion of the world’s goods is greed. Again, the apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy the following exhortations: “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1Tim. 6:8-10) We’re to be content with what we receive. We must pray also that these things would be “blessed unto us in our holy and comfortable use of them.” We do not want the good things of God to be a snare. One commentator summarized Paul’s point in 1Tim. 6 in this way: “The point is clear enough. Godliness is not something to make material gain in or from (v. 5); rather, it is itself the greatest gain (v. 6). True godliness, however, is accompanied by contentment (v. 6). Since we can take nothing with us at death (v. 7), if we have life’s essentials, we can be content with these (v. 8); and such an attitude obviously excludes greed.”[12] Contentment is a rare jewel and may the Lord preserve us from an inordinate lust for wealth. Once again, the same commentator says the following:

Paul’s point is that the very desire for wealth has inherent spiritual dangers, partly because (vv. 6–8) wealth itself is unrelated to godliness in any way and partly because (v. 9) the desire is like a trap set by Satan himself to plunge one into spiritual ruin. To put that in a different way: Why would anyone want to get rich? Wealth has nothing to do with one’s eschatological existence in Christ; on the contrary, the desire leads to other desires that end up in ruin, of which truth the false teachers themselves are Exhibit A (v. 10).[13]

The last element of the petition is also necessary. We don’t want to be ensnared by riches or by poverty: “and be kept from all things that are contrary to our temporal support and comfort.” This truth comes from Proverbs 30:8-9 — “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” In our weakness, deprivations can often expose us to temptations. It is true, God often allows those deprivations to test us but it is not inappropriate to ask to have enough to sustain us for His glory. The point of this is not so that we can be carnally comfortable but rather the temporal support would be enough to keep us going so that we can do all things for His glory (unless God would have us glorify Him in that moment of deprivation — all according to His fatherly wisdom).

[1] Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, Volume 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 629.

[2] Charles L. Feinberg, Jeremiah (EBC 6; ed. Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), n.p.: “As Creator, God has control over the rain as he does over the sea (cf. Deut 11:10-17). The withholding of seasonal rains was attributable to their sinfulness (v.25).”

[3] John D. Currid, A Study Commentary on Deuteronomy, EP Study Commentary (Webster, NY: Evangelical Press USA, 2006), 437-8.

[4] Currid, Deuteronomy, 198.

[5] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (NICOT; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 185.

[6] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871, Accordance electronic ed. Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 1996), n.p.

[7] J. Ridderbos, Deuteronomy, trans. Ed M. van der Maas, Bible Student’s Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 127.

[8] Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, Volume 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 631.

[9] How we punctuate this verse is a subject of much debate. ESV translates it as murdering because we do not have. The NIV has “You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.” Murdering and coveting as not specifically related to the not the result of not getting.

[10] Kurt A. Richardson, James (NAC 36; ed. E. Ray Clendenen; Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 177.

[11] T. Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, 2:631-2.

[12] Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (NIBC 13; Accordance electronic ed. 18 vols.; Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988), 144.

[13] Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 145.