THE LORD'S PRAYER.
Before we proceed, however, to illustrate the Lord's Prayer successively, it is very necessary, indeed, to admonish the people and urge them to prayer in the outset, even as Christ and the Apostles did. And our first object should be to know that we are under obligation to pray by the command of God. For we have heard in the second commandment– Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain– that it is required by that commandment, to praise the holy Name, and in every time of need to call upon it, or to pray. For, to invoke is nothing else but to offer up prayer to God; consequently, this is as strictly and earnestly ordered, as we are forbidden to have other gods, to kill, or to steal, least any one should think that the consequences are all the same, whether he prays or not, as the rude are accustomed to act under these conceits and imaginations, saying: "Why should I pray? Who knows whether God hears or regards my prayers? If I do not pray, another will pray;"– and thus they fall into the custom of never praying, excusing themselves by the pretext that because we reject false and hypocritical prayer, we teach that people should not or dare not pray.
It is true, however, that the prayers heretofore delivered, vociferated, and sounded in clamorous words in the church, were undoubtedly no prayers. For external things of this kind, if conducted properly, may be an exercise for young children, pupils, and the inexperienced, and may be styled singing or reading, but they cannot be properly called praying. To pray, however, as the second commandment teaches, is– to call upon God in every time of need. This he desires us to do; and it is not left to our own choice, but we should pray and ought to pray, if we wish to be Christians, as well as we should and must obey our father and mother, and the civil government; for through this invocation and entreaty the name of God is employed with due reverence. This above all things you should observe, in order to repress and repel such thoughts as would prevent and deter you from prayer. For even as it would avail nothing, if a son should say to his father, "Of what advantage or consequence is my obedience? I will go on, and perpetrate what I can, it avails equally as much," for here stands the command of God, that you should and must do it; so likewise it is not left discretionary with me to pray, or not to pray, but we should and must pray* [unless we wish to incur the wrath and indignation of God. Now, this we should above all things observe and remember, so as to silence and repel the thoght, that it makes but little difference if we do not pray, or that those only are commanded to pray who are more holy and acceptable in the sight of God than we are; for these thoughts prevent and deter us from prayer. The heart of man is so perverted by nature, that it ever shrinks from God, and thinks God is averse to our prayers, because we are sinners, and have merited nothing but wrath. Opposed to these thoughts, I say, we should take into consideration this commandment, and turn to God, in order that we may not provoke him to a greater extent, through this disobedience. For by this commandment, he lets us sufficiently understand, that he will neither reject nor repel us from himself even if we are sinners, but that he desires to draw us to himself, so that we may humble ourselves before him, and lay open our distress, entreating him for grace and assistance. To this effect we read in the Scripture, that God is angry with those also who have been oppressed and chastised on account of their sins, because they have not returned unto him, appeased his wrath through prayer, and implored his grace.]
*Although the portion of this paragraph embraced in brackets, is not contained in the original Dresden edition of 1580; yet in asmuch as it appears in the Leipsic edition of 1790, from which we have made the translation, and since it belongs to the Larger Catechism of Luther, it was deemed proper to retain it here.–[Trans.
From this you should think and conclude,– since you are so earnestly commanded to pray,– that you should by no means despise your own prayer, but highly and greatly esteem it, always drawing similitude from the other commandments. For instance, a child should not, by any means, scorn his duty of obedience towards his father and mother, but he should reflect: "Whatever I do, I do from no other motive than obedience, and from submission to the command of God, upon which I can sustain myself, and highly value these duties, not on account of my worthiness, but for the sake of the commandment." So also here, what we pray and that for which we pray, we should view as required of God, and done in obedience to him; and thus we should think: "On my account it would be nothing, but because God has commanded it, it must avail." Therefore, every one, for whatever he may have occasion to pray, should always come before God in obedience to this commandment.
We, therefore, entreat, and most earnestly admonish every one to take this matter to heart, and by no means disregard his own prayer; for heretofore, the doctrines which were taught, were so perverse that no one was concerned about these things, thinking the mere utterance of prayer sufficient, whether God heard it or not. This is a vague and indefinite offering up of prayer; and consequently, it is ineffectual. For we permit thoughts like these to lead us astray and to perplex us: "I am not holy and worthy enough; if I were as pious and as holy as Sts. Peter or Paul, I would pray." But away with such thoughts; for even the command which ordered St. Paul to pray, orders me also; and the second commandment was instituted equally as much for my sake as for his; so that he has neither a better nor a more holy commandment to boast of than I have. For this reason, you should say, "My prayer which I make is as precious, indeed, and as holy, and as acceptable in the sight of God, as that of St. Paul, or the most holy saint. I will freely admit that greater holiness belonged to his person, but by no means to the commandment; because God regards prayer, not for the sake of the person, but on account of his word and the obedience manifested towards it; for upon that commandment upon which all saints base their prayers, I also base mine: besides, I pray even for what they all pray, or have prayed. Consequently, it is as highly necessary for me to pray as it was for those eminent saints." The first and most necessary point is, to base all our prayers on obedience towards God, regardless of our persons,– whether we be sinners or pious, worthy or unworthy. And we should know that God will by no means suffer it to pass as a jest, but that he will become angry and inflict punishment if we do not pray, as well as he punishes all other disobedience; and besides, that he will not permit our prayer to be vain and ineffectual. For, if he were not pleased to hear you, he would not command you to pray, and he would not have enjoined it so strictly.
In the second place, we should be the more urged and induced to pray, since God has given us a promise, and declared, that whatever we pray for, shall be sure and certain; as he says, Psalm 50, 15: "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee." And Christ, Matt. 7, 7, 8, says: "Ask, and it shall be given you," &c. "For every one that asketh, receiveth," &c. These promises should excite and stimulate our hearts to pray with love and desire,– since he testifies by his Word, that our prayer is well-pleasing to him, and besides, that it shall be assuredly heard and granted,– lest we should slight or neglect it, or pray in uncertainty.
These promises you can refer to, and say: "Here I come, beloved Father! and I pray, not from my own designs, nor induced by my own worthiness, but incited by thy command and promise, which can neither mislead nor deceive me." Whoever, then, disbelieves these promises, should know that he provokes God to wrath, by dishonoring him in the highest degree, charging him with falsehood.