(Kersten, The Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2, Part 20) Of the Address of Prayer Lord's Day 46 Psalter No. 203 st. 2 & 3 Read I Peter 1 Psalter No. 243 st. 5, 8, 9 Psalter No. 431 st. 4 Psalter No. 278 st. 1, 2 Beloved, It has pleased God to restore into His blessed communion, to their salvation, the sons and daughters of Adam. To their eternal destruction have they separated themselves from Him; therefore God's glorious essence is a devouring fire and everlasting burnings, with which the sinner cannot dwell. To that end in His death Christ first brought the sacrifice to satisfy the offended justice of God. Afterward on the ground of that satisfaction, He will bring our human nature with soul and body into heaven. Thus in Christ, the breach which sin had made is healed. He is the Way whereby the sinner comes into that communion which is to his salvation; to be perfect in glory, but already on this side of the grave by faith. That soul-saving communion is exercised in prayer, in blessing the Lord's three holy Names, also in calling upon Him for all our temporal and spiritual needs. Prayer is the way by which the sinner comes to God. Christ Himself has said that this coming to the Most High is by faith and with childlike liberty: "He that comets to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." All hard thoughts of God that are natural to us since we are full of slavish fear, must be banished out of our souls if we are to have the true exercise of prayer. If we are beset by slavish fear and hard thoughts of God, we cannot approach Him. God's true people may draw nigh to God's throne of grace, not only with holy reverence, but also childlike boldness. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." The Lord wishes to excite this boldness in His people by teaching them to address God thus: "Our Father, Which art in heaven." This address of prayer is discussed in Lord's Day 46 of our Heidelberg Catechism which we shall now read together: Q. 120. Why has Christ commanded us to address God thus: "Our Father"? A. That immediately, in the very beginning of our prayer, He might excite in us a childlike reverence for, and confidence in God, which are the foundation of our prayer: namely, that God is become our Father in Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in true faith, than our parents will refuse us earthly things. Q. 121. Why is it here added, "Which art in heaven"? A. Lest we should form any earthly conceptions of God's heavenly majesty, and that we may expect from His almighty power all things necessary for soul and body. Lord's Day 46 as you have just heard, speaks of the address of prayer, and it does so in such a way that this address I. refers to the foundation of prayer, II. aims to excite a humble expectation. I Both a childlike reverence for and confidence in God are the foundation of our prayer, not that we are to rest our supplications upon them, and on the ground of our childlike reverence and trust expect to be heard. No, indeed, also in prayer there is no other ground than Christ and Him crucified. He is the altar from which the prayers of the saints, sanctified by His merits and made acceptable to God, arise to the throne of God. In ourselves we have no ground to plead upon and no ground upon which to stand even for a moment, not even after having received grace. God's people learn to understand this. God the Holy Spirit thrusts them more and more from their resting places, also from their tears and prayers upon which they were so set and valued so highly. Then they learn to understand that their prayers have no ground of acceptance in all the emotions of their hearts, but that their only foundation remains: "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous, Who is even at the right hand of God, Who also maketh intercession for us." Only in Christ does a lost sinner have access to the Father by grace. When the Catechism teaches that the childlike reverence and confidence in God that the Lord works in us are the foundation of our prayer, the instructor certainly does not mean we must make that reverence and confidence a ground of acceptance, as though God should hear us because of those feelings. Such a ground is entirely excluded. Although Christ only is and remains the Intercessor, His righteousness the foundation upon which we may base our prayers, yet leaning upon Christ cannot be exercised by an indifferent, self-confident, God-distrusting heart that is full of slavish fear. All these vices are also present in the souls of God's children. When these vices have the upper hand in their hearts, prayer is impossible; in fact, they would then rather curse God. In order to flee to God with all our needs or to thank His Name, we need not only a firm foundation outside of ourselves in the intercession of Christ, but our souls must also be brought by the Holy Spirit into such a frame that it can exercise a childlike reverence for and a confidence in God. That frame is indispensable; the true supplicant draws near in that frame, relying upon Christ. God wishes to excite that childlike reverence and confidence. He is pleased with such a frame, and nothing is more appropriate for us than to walk with childlike reverence and quiet confidence in Him. "A son honoreth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a Father, where is My honour? and if I be a Master where is My fear? saith the Lord of hosts." It is that childlike reverence that speaks in prayer. Praying is speaking to God, not to men; not even to those people with whom or for whom we pray. Therefore prayer always demands that the supplicant's heart and mind be fixed upon the glorious Majesty in heaven. Alas, how often our thoughts wander and our hearts are full of earthly things while we pray. Truly, we know not what we should pray for as we ought. Holy shame should cover our faces for we can count the times when our souls were really filled with impressions of the presence of God. Yet God would impress us with His holy presence as in the prayer which He taught His disciples to address God, the Lord. That address should immediately cause us to feel that we are in the presence of the Lord. The Bible saints have repeatedly given us clear testimonies of it. "Cause me" said David, "to hear Thy loving kindness in the morning; for in Thee do I trust. Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk, for I lift up my soul to Thee." To mention no more, we see it also in Jeremiah. In Lam. 3:41, he says, "Let us lift up our heart unto God in the heavens." Our prayers lack the very first characteristic of a true prayer. It is only lip-work or at best a lifting up of our hands, and not our souls, if we do not set God before us. However beautiful our words may be, if we lack the real impression that we are in the majestic presence of the Lord Jehovah, our prayer is worthless. Prayers are often too lengthy. Many times in the family circle, in religious gatherings and in church, anything and everything is included in the prayer. At the same time there is no impression upon the hearers, because the heart of him who prays does not fully realize he is approaching to God. He shows no reverence. Rev. Comrie says there are people who tell God how it should go as though God does not know what religion is. This is the result when we do not realize that we are speaking to God, when childlike fear is not in exercise, or when trust in God is lacking by which we might rely upon Him. There is also a slavish fear, being afraid of God. Slavish fear is a result of sin. The devils also believe there is a God, and they tremble. On the other hand, filial fear of which the Catechism speaks, is a fruit of the love of God which He has shed abroad in the hearts of His people. It is humble and tender, since the Lord grants the promise of supplying all needs to those who fear Him. They that fear Him have no want. Inseparably connected to that filial fear is reliance upon the Lord, as a child relies on its father and trusts him in his greatest needs. Thus the soul that is filled with filial fear may have confidence in God in prayer, whatever need may arise. For a true supplicant every refuge outside of God is cut off. Only God, and God alone has become the refuge of his heart. "My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever." This caused Hezekiah in his greatest sickness, which threatened to cut off the throne of David, to chatter like a crane or a swallow, and to mourn as a dove, "O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me." How destitute of all this is the natural man! He has no knowledge of filial fear. He may call to his God in time of need, like the mariners on Jonah's ship, but his soul never learned to bow before God in true humility. His conscience makes him tremble in the apprehension of the punishment that must follow, according to God's justice, yet he never fell at God's feet to make supplication to his Judge. He is full of slavish fear and lacks filial fear, which would cause him to approach to God instead of fleeing from Him. Oh, that the time might come, before the time of grace is passed, that we might seek the Lord while He is to be found in true contrition. We would then have a refuge for time and eternity, and in every distress we could rely upon the Almighty, Whose hand alone can save and deliver His people when they cry unto Him. He is a refuge from generation to generation for them that call upon Him, that call upon Him in truth. Then something of that childlike reverence and confidence in Him must be exercised. This makes the way of the true supplicant so narrow for flesh and blood. How often do we rely upon ourselves, upon other creatures and upon circumstances, because we cannot rely upon the Lord alone. Is it not necessary for the waters to rise to the lips, for us to acknowledge that we have leaned upon reeds which pierce the hand? Does not God in His leadings of love, often direct matters in such a way that there is no ground of confidence left, and that we must cast ourselves upon Him with all our hearts? The woman who came to Christ had had many physicians. Instead of being healed she suffered many things of them and had grown worse instead of better. Then, when nothing else could help, when all her money was spent, when there was nothing more to be done, then she came to Christ to touch the hem of His garment. That was enough. Yes, people of God, it is enough to rely on Christ when all else fails you. God is the never-failing refuge of His people. Oh, what fools we are, self-righteous and perverse creatures, unwilling to bow before God! May all that cannot help us fall away, so that our help may be in the Name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. The way of access to God's throne of grace is open, only for those who by grace put their trust in the Lord. Christ wants to excite in His people that childlike reverence for and confidence in God by having them address God as "our Father." In that address He wishes to teach us what a close fellowship with God He merited for the sinner, a fellowship like a child has with his father; because in Christ God has become a father to His chosen people and wishes to deal with them as a father. Much less than an earthly father withholds, will the eternal Covenant God withhold from His people what they need. Shall not that people be permitted to go freely to the throne of grace in every need and want for time and eternity? Christ Himself lays the foundation for that access, namely: that God has become our Father in Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in true faith, then our parents will refuse us earthly things. God is become our Father! That certainly is no small blessing. This was once true of man when still an image bearer of God in the state of rectitude. Adam was called the son of God. That blissful relationship of love was ruined by man through his wilful apostasy. He withdrew himself from God's fatherly love and became an object of God's wrath. As the prodigal son he went his way. Oh, how unfathomable is the love of God, according to His sovereign good pleasure! God sought Adam and with him as many of his posterity as He purposed to include, to whom He would be a God and Father. That could not be done unless God's perfections were glorified. Therefore, God Himself opened that only way in His only begotten Son. Through Christ He wishes to be and has become the Father of His people. This He already testified to His Israel in the old dispensation. Through Moses He spoke to that nation as a whole: "Is He not thy Father that has bought thee? has He not made thee, and established thee?" Through Malachi, Jehovah wished to show His people their filial duties when He said, "If then I be a Father, where is My honour, and if I be a Master, where is My fear? saith the Lord of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise My Name." Isaiah cried, "Doubtless Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: Thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer; Thy Name is from everlasting." Thus, even through the ministration of the law God wished to show His people the greatness of His love. That benefit is much more clearly displayed in the better dispensation of the New Testament, not in general to an entire nation, but to each person who embraces it by faith. It is written, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave power to become the sons of God." Also in granting the sonship of God, the new covenant excels the old. "The Spirit Itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." That does not mean that our sonship is rooted in the assurance of faith; nor, on the other hand, that all under the new covenant attain to the full assurance. God is a Father to everyone that is born in Zion, and every newborn child immediately reveals the characteristics of a child, in hungering for communion with God and with His people. According to God's Word he may be recognized by that mark. He that is born of God, loves those that are born of God. He is an object of God's love. He has obtained the adoption; he is an heir. But it is a second benefit to obtain the conscious knowledge of this by faith. Alas, many seem to feel no need for this assurance of faith. For them it is sufficient that they have had a conversion. They conclude from what has taken place that they are partakers of the blessings of the covenant. They are rich (as they think), whereas destitute souls feel their poverty. Is it not a sad condition in which many find themselves, that a holy need of the soul to have Christ and His benefits is lacking? Are not many content with some stirrings of the conscience that are quieted by a prayer, a tear and a psalm verse? Is their rest not a false rest? Where is the wrestling to gain Christ? Come, let us be honest. Where is the running of the race to gain the prize? Men no longer live as poor sinners. They are more assured than an established Christian, although they lack a firm foundation. Tell me, is that the true life? Certainly not. Here Christ must reprove His church: "Because thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked..." God takes away all grounds of confidence. By His working in His people, He causes them to realize that all they have experienced is no foundation to stand upon before God. That realization makes them seek Him and lets them have no rest until they have received God in Christ as their portion. They who are born in Zion are children of God. They have greater riches than a thousand world's could contain; and what they have in their hearts they would not exchange for the whole world. Still they are poor in themselves. They are like a newborn child that is an heir as well as the older son, but is unaware of the riches of the inheritance. Even when the soul attains a hope in Christ, there is still much timidity. To say that God is our Father is a great thing. God as Judge is known by all quickened souls. But to know God as our Father is possible, only through an in grafting in Christ. When the consciousness of this ingrafting and its application are lacking, the soul falls short of the benefit of this sonship. Should we not complain in these sad days as Rev. Comrie did that only a few of God's children attain that full benefit? Nevertheless, may love persuade us not to rest until we have attained to it. It is not enough that the prodigal son comes to himself, but he also arises, goes to his father, and is accepted as the Father's child. Verily, that people is blessed who have the Lord for their portion. Nevertheless, the consciousness of it by faith, however great it may be, is not the ground of sonship. That ground lies in God, in the gracious adoption. However buffeted God's people may be, God called them from darkness to His marvelous light, claimed them, and adopted them as His children. He now works in their hearts that free access to call upon Him as their Father with all their needs. He will much less deny them what they ask in true faith, than our parents will refuse us earthly things. What father will give his son a stone when he asks for bread? Would God then deny His people that which they ask of Him in faith? Would He withhold what they in honour to His Name, desire for the fulfillment of their needs? "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?" Is that possible? Alas, there are such inhuman mothers! But the love of God surpasses by far the tenderest love on earth, and never fails. "They may forget, yet will I not forget thee." Come, people of God, unfold your wings of prayer. Poor, needy souls, with God there is a fulness to satisfy you. Feel free to bring your wants to Him Who reconciles enemies to Himself. Tell us, did God ever let you call upon Him in vain? In whatever need you were, however unfaithfully you behaved, reviewing your whole life, counting again all your miseries, your sorrows, and your troubles, did you ever come in vain when you depended on God alone? No, indeed; on the contrary you must exclaim with the church, "But truly God has heard my voice, My prayer has reached His ear." (Psalter No. 174:3c) If such childlike, humble supplications were exercised more often, coming as a lost one in ourselves and leaning upon Christ alone, then God's Fatherly, unchanging love with which He loves His own eternally, would be tasted more often, and we would pray, "Our Father, which art in heaven." Think of the communion we would then have with the whole church of God. The relationship, "Our Father" never ceases. Spiritual life causes the soul to have communion with all of God's people, and in the lively exercise of prayer there is an acknowledgment of the benefits we partake with them in Christ. The true supplicant does not only believe for himself, nor pray for himself. He helps to bear the needs of the entire church. Yes, there are examples of some who felt the need of others so particularly bound upon their hearts, though they did not know the circumstances, that they could not cease wrestling for their companions. God's people are no solitary people; they form a spiritual community, all alike poor and needy, all are rich only in God. They seek the Lord's face for and with each other, for He is our Father. II This address of prayer also excites a humble expectation. The filial relationship to Himself in which God places His people, excites them to go boldly to the throne of grace. In that childlike relationship there is the exercise of true faith and a familiar intercourse with the living God. If there were more assurance of faith among God's people and a walking in more lively faith, they would enjoy more of this familiarity. If it is true in any case, then it is evident in this, how much injury our soul suffers when it lacks the firmness and consciousness of faith, and when often and sometimes long, in a barren condition. The unspeakable, rich benefits of the Covenant of Grace are for the most part concealed for us. Due to the forsaking of this great privilege, the spirituality of the church declines. God is as a stranger to us, and entirely in conflict with the relationship which He graciously wrought; we are troubled when we remember God. How different is the life which cries after God, seeks His communion and finds refuge in Him in every need. We ought to beg continually, "Lord, quicken me according to Thy Word", so that in filial fear, far from sin, we may walk before the face of God with holy boldness, as it is written of Enoch, and as Abraham did, who was called a friend of God. Nevertheless, that bold, childlike fellowship with God is characterized by holy reverence. The Lord teaches us this by adding to the address of prayer: "Which art in heaven." In agreement with this the Catechism asks in question 121: "Why is it here added, Which art in heaven?" "Lest we should form any earthly conceptions of God's heavenly majesty, and that we may expect from His almighty power all things necessary for soul and body." The address of prayer not only points to the foundation of prayer, but also to a humble anticipation of His benefits. Therefore we must not form any earthly conceptions of God's heavenly majesty. But we are full of them. This is the formal sin of the heathen: "He planteth an ash, and the rain does nourish it. Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take therefore and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshipeth it." (Isa. 44) When in the discussion of the holy law of God we saw what idolatry is, it became evident that heathens are not the only idolaters. It is a characteristic of our nature, which is estranged from God, to think of God as one who is like ourselves. When we persevere in sin we are saying boldly, "The Lord does not see, neither does He regard it", and in our will-worship we think we can stand before God, because we have earthly conceptions of Him. His perfect holiness does not weigh heavily upon our souls; His justice does not condemn us, and we do not reckon with the true God. Our souls would shrink within us if we could see but a little of the majesty of God. The cold, formal prayers of God's children would also testify against them. The lack of reverence which our words and posture show, indicates how earthly our conception of God's heavenly majesty is. Would we speak as irreverently to an earthly monarch, as some commonly speak in their prayers to God? Is that not an evidence that we have no lively impression of God's majesty? Or do you think, to mention just one matter, that we would lay our head on our arms, or set ourselves ready to sleep during the congregational prayer, if we had any impression of the fact that we are approaching God in prayer? The lack of self-loathing is evident even in external things. Notice, on the contrary, the upright utterance of God's people. The people of Israel, who are praising the Rock of their salvation exclaim, "Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods." Should there not be in our souls an impression of God's majesty as we draw nigh to Him? Abraham, the father of the faithful, a favorite of the Lord, bows low in such deep reverence for God, that in the strong exercise of faith shown in his prayer for the preservation of Sodom and Gomorra, he repeatedly expresses his insignificance, "Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes." Twice he pleads in deep humility, "Oh let not the Lord be angry and I will speak." Job's feelings also testify of that humiliation when he received that greatest grace, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Dust are we; even less, we are ashes. Now, that insignificant, sinful, hell-worthy man, approaches the living God, Whose throne is heaven and before Whom the angels cover their faces with two of their wings, exclaiming, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." May our souls lift themselves on high. There above the clouds and stars in the regions which the Lord formed as a dwelling place for Himself; there in those regions of eternal glory, the Lord has prepared His throne, and His kingdom rules over all. He is the God of gods, before Whom every knee shall one day bow. The most dazzling splendor of the mighty on earth fades at the light of His glory. No one can stand before the majesty of heaven. God is a devouring fire and everlasting burnings, with whom no sinner can dwell. What do you think? Can it be called praying when we mutter a few words as we set ourselves brazenly and haughtily before God? All the while that true bowing in the dust is lacking, from the depth in which we call upon God Who dwells in heaven. Unto the wicked God says, "What hast thou to do to declare My statutes, or that thou shouldest take My covenant in thy mouth?" The true supplicant lies in deep humiliation before God; he bows down in the dust. By the grace of God he knows and acknowledges that he deserves to be cursed and sent to hell. He has a lively impression of the most high, of the heavenly majesty of God. Thus he learns the prayer of the destitute. Such a destitute supplicant obtains access through Christ. Read the wonderful sermon of Rev. Comrie on this subject (Psalm 102). Thus there is no inconsistency in having an impression of the majesty of God in the soul, and yet expecting from His almighty power all things necessary for soul and body. This does mean however that we can never obtain access to God except in communion with Christ the High Priest, Who ever lives to make intercession for His people. In His intercession the prayers of His children are sanctified. He is the Altar that causes the prayers and supplications to ascend as incense before His face. In Him God can and will and shall hear His pleading people, and fulfill every need both for soul and body; which fulfillment they shall never expect from Him in vain. For God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound in every good work. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (James 1:17) He, the Lord, is in heaven. There He is the omnipresent One, high above all heathens; above the heavens is His glory. Who is like unto the Lord our God, Who dwelleth on high, Who humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth?" Can His people, then, ever look to Him in vain for anything? He can and will satisfy His people for both soul and body. No want, however small or great, is excluded. Whether for the needs of soul or body, God's people never call in vain. How necessary it is to be reminded of the majesty of God time and again. It is contrary to our nature to expect all things from Him. For us, God is the last to whom we resort; we go to Him when we have no other helper. To come to Him we need a lively impression of His majesty, so that in deep humility, as well as with childlike liberty, we may ask of Him all things, as we sing now from Psalter No. 431:4 "Open," saith the Lord, "Wide thy mouth, believing This My covenant word; I will if thou plead, Fill thine every need; All thy wants relieving." You who use the Lord's Prayer as a form prayer, and have spoken the words, Our Father, innumerable times, have you ever realized what it signifies as in this prayer is written, "Which art in heaven." Did God's majesty ever weigh heavily upon your heart? Or are you content with your forms, and do you belong to those who do not set God before them? Some day you will behold that majesty of God. Here you may shut your eyes, by your heart, banish God as far as you can; but soon you shall stand before His judgment seat from which you will not be able to flee. God in heaven will cast you into hell. Oh, do forsake your manner of life, your form-worship. Awake out of your dream. May you come to the realization that you are calling upon God, Which is in heaven. Seek Him while the way is still open in Christ, while His goodness which has supplied all your temporal needs, calls you to repentance. Seek Him now, while it is the acceptable time, since reconciliation and sanctification in Christ are proclaimed to you. Seek the Lord while He is to be found. May God's people come as lost sinners, as those who deserve death and who tremble before God's majesty, but for whom the way of salvation is opened in Christ. Oh, people of God, seek much to obtain lively impressions of the majesty of God in your hearts. Seek an understanding of the perfect attributes of God. Do not rest until you have received reconciliation in Him, in Whom those perfections are glorified; in fact, not until you can testify that you have received the adoption of sons. Is it not sad that we can be so content without the joy and the rest of faith in Christ? God is free to instruct and lead His people as He pleases, even though He should permit them to sigh and cry until the hour of their death. Nevertheless, God's people may not make God's sovereignty an excuse for inaction. Spiritual life seeks communion with God; it thirsts after God as a hart thirsts after the water brooks. We have too little of the right understanding of the heavenly majesty of God; too much do we nourish earthly thoughts of God in our hearts. Therefore God's justice does not drive us out of ourselves, and we rest too much in our experiences. Therefore (must we not acknowledge it to our shame?) there is so little liveliness in our hearts. May the majesty of God, Who is in heaven, cause us to hate sin continuously and arouse us from our beds of sloth to seek our Beloved, so that our life may be, "It is good for me to draw near to God." It should humble us continually that we do nothing but forget God, while He does not forget us. His love is unchangeable and does not decrease because of our coldness. He loves His own from eternity, and He will be a Father to them in His only begotten Son. Who can fathom that love? It sought us in our state of death and quickened us. It often satisfied us abundantly. It delivered us out of all our distresses. Come, people of God, kneel in the dust, and so call upon Him as "Our Father, which art in heaven." There, there is His throne; there is also the house of many mansions, where a place is prepared for us, so that one day we shall enter into His glory. In all the ways He leads us, in all afflictions that come upon us, in all that comes upon our body or soul, in life and in death, may He be a God of mercy of Whom our souls may testify: "The tender love a father has For all his children dear, Such love the Lord bestows on them Who worship Him in fear. The Lord remembers we are dust, And all our frailty knows; Man's days are like the tender grass And as the flower he grows." Amen Kersten, Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2 (continued in part 21...) ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-02: krhc2-20.txt .