Perfect Prayer, by Chauncey Giles

from Chauncey Giles Perfect Prayer. How Offered: How Answered  (Philadelphia: Lippincott 1903)

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Perfect Prayer.
How Offered: How Answered

by Chauncey Giles

XIV. Summary of the Lord's Prayer:
The Logical Relation of the Special Petitions

After this manner, therefore, pray ye.” — Matthew vi. 9

Divine truth is revealed to us in the Sacred Scriptures in a perfectly logical manner, and this order exists in the Divine nature, and in all the Lord’s works. It is the form in which the human mind is organized, and according to which all its developments proceed. The relations of one truth to another are those of cause and effect. This logical sequence exists not only in the lowest plane of truth, where one event is followed by another, but it is a progression by distinct steps from inmost principles to outward effects. The first truth revealed is the cause, the germ, and all the particulars are evolved from that in orderly succession, as we see in every act of creation around us. There is, “first, the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” The prayer which our Lord taught His disciples is not a collection of unrelated petitions, like a book of maxims. Their order could not be changed without breaking up the coherence and weakening the spiritual force and life of the prayer. There is very little evidence of this essential coherence between one part and another in the letter of the Word. Regarded from without, from a natural point of view, there does not appear to be any essential connection between the parts and the whole. Subjects are often introduced which, in their natural meaning, have no relation to what precedes or follows them. But this is owing to the Divine manner in which the Word is written. The natural acts and objects mentioned are signs of spiritual truths which are revealed by them. The connection exists in the spiritual laws revealed, and the natural expressions are connected by means of the spiritual laws embodied in them, and not directly with one another. We find a perfect illustration of this fact in every plant. The leaves, blossoms, and fruit are not connected with one another by outward contact, but by inward paths which originated in the germ.

Such being the manner in which the Word is written, we must try to get the central point of view and regard every particular from that; then we can see the relation of the parts to the whole and the whole to the parts. We have considered the various petitions of the Lord’s Prayer separately; let us, in conclusion, regard them in their connections and relations, and get, as far as possible, a comprehensive view, collecting the rays of each particular truth into a focus, and pouring the concentrated light upon all.

“Our Father.” These are the first words, and they reveal the central truth. They direct the mind to the Divine Person to whom we must direct our prayers, and in one word teach us how to regard Him. He is our Father. The idea is so familiar and simple that the little child can gain some true conception of it, and so comprehensive and profound that the highest angel cannot fully fathom and exhaust it. It includes all parental qualities. It comprises fatherhood and motherhood both. It teaches us that all wise and provident care, all gentle and tender ministries, originate in Him. It implies the deepest sympathy with us in all our sufferings and sorrows, help in our needs, forgiveness for our sins, and a love which changes not, and which desires to give itself with all its infinite riches to every human being. It is a conception of the Lord which commands respect, wins our confidence, and tends to draw out our affections to Him. He is our Father, not an almighty and inaccessible sovereign. The little child can go to Him with confidence and filial affection, ask its little blessings, and pour its little, transient sorrows into His patient ear; the ignorant can seek wisdom, the forsaken and lonely can find companionship, the widow and the fatherless protection and help.

This idea of the kind, tender, loving, wise fatherhood of the Lord must enter into our conceptions of all His relations to us. Is He in every principle of His nature opposed to evil and error? It is our Father who runs to meet and opens His infinite arms to the returning prodigal. Is He our Judge? A father's love enters into every decision and every sentence He pronounces. It is our Father whose name we must hallow, for the coming of whose kingdom we pray, whose will we seek to have done on earth as it is in heaven. It is our Father, and not some cold and heartless dispenser of public charity, from whom we ask our daily bread. It is our Father, loving, patient, forbearing, tender, and true, and not some inexorable tyrant, whose forgiveness we implore. It is a Father whom we beseech to stand by us in temptation, and deliver us from evil. It is a Father, our Father, to whom we ascribe all honor, power, and glory, in all states and conditions of life. Could we keep this loving, tender conception of the Lord in our minds, so distinct and powerful that it dominated every other, how delightful it would be to go to Him, to trust, to obey, to love Him!

But we are taught to think of Him not only as our Father, but as “our Father in the heavens,” where we hope to find our eternal home. We are not to try to think of Him as some inconceivable essence above the heavens, but as “our Father in the heavens.” There is something more important in this idea than merely locating Him in some place. He is in every truth and affection which constitutes heaven. He is in every pure affection, in every true thought, in every good deed; He is in every genuine good we enjoy. He makes heaven. He is the soul and life of all the sweet and lovely relations of the angels, of all their glowing activities, their glorious conceptions of the Divine nature, and the deep peace which fills their souls. Yes, He is our Father in the heavens, and will be forever.

With this idea of God clear in our minds, and the love which gives birth to it glowing in our hearts, we are prepared to say, “Hallowed be Thy name.” It is not a dead formula; it is the spontaneous expression of our hearts. But what is the name of our Father in the heavens? It is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Divine Humanity which Jehovah assumed and by which He came into the world and redeemed His children from the hand of their enemies and saved them. Our Lord Himself declared, “I and my Father are one;” “I am in the Father and the Father in me;” “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” And addressing the Father, He says, “All mine are thine, and thine are mine.” By these words is expressed that reciprocal relation and personal unity which exists between the soul and the body. In another place He declares, “The Father dwelleth in me;” “No man cometh to the Father but by the Son;” “No man knoweth the Father save the Son and he to whom the Son revealeth Him.” The Father and Son are one person, as man’s soul and body are one person. The Father and Son are one God, as man’s soul and body are one man. The human nature assumed and glorified, or made Divine, made one with the Divine, became the embodiment of all the Divine qualities in a form adapted to human comprehension. The Divine as it is in itself is above all finite consciousness. In the Humanity it is brought down to human conception. This truth is perfectly illustrated in man himself. His unclothed spirit is above the power of the senses. The spirit must be clothed with a material body before it can reveal itself to other human beings in this world. The material body is the man on the material plane of being. The spirit dwells in it, and it dwells in the spirit. It can say to the spirit, all mine are thine, and thine are mine; no man can gain access to you but by me; my name is your name and your name is mine.

But name implies much more than an epithet applied to the Lord; it comprises all the Divine qualities, all the love and wisdom of Jehovah, and the infinite variety of forms in which they are embodied and manifested. To hallow our Father’s name, then, is to regard as holy and sacred all the Divine attributes as they are revealed to us in Jesus Christ. It is to revere His person, to cherish His spirit, to obey His commandments, to follow His example. In doing this we hallow our Father’s name; we open our hearts to the reception of His love; we receive His truth into our understandings, and we become more fully His children.

In the degree we hallow our Father’s name His kingdom will come, and we shall desire to have it come with increasing power and glory. We regard as sacred the principles which constitute His kingdom; we love and adore the Being who is establishing His kingdom in the world and in human minds. In the degree we hallow our Father’s name we place ourselves in such relations to Him that He can establish His kingdom in us; we open our understandings to the reception of the truths which constitute His kingdom. Whenever we regard a truth as supremely precious, every faculty of our nature seeks it, welcomes it and cherishes it when gained. If it is a truth relating to our business, which teaches us how to succeed, with what joy we welcome it! How reverently we hallow it! How scrupulously we obey it! Suppose your father was sovereign of a rich and powerful kingdom which you were certain to inherit if you complied with some specified conditions. How eagerly you would seek to know the conditions! and when you had learned them, how faithfully you would preserve and obey them! They are your charter, your guide to power; they are the paths by which the kingdom comes to you. We can see how this principle operates in natural things, and how prompt the natural man is to hallow the name of every truth which will lead him to wealth and power. The same law governs in the spiritual realm. Our Father is a King; He is King of kings and Lord of lords. There are immutable conditions on which His kingdom will come to us, and we shall be endowed with its riches, power, and glory. The kingdom will come to us in the exact degree we hallow the name of our Father. The coming of the kingdom is the logical sequence and effect of hallowing the Lord’s name.

“Thy will be done on the earth as it is in heaven.” The Lord’s will cannot be done until we know what it is. This is revealed to us in the truths which constitute His kingdom. We must, therefore, first learn the principles of His kingdom before we can do His will. This petition, therefore, follows in logical order from the preceding one. The Lord’s will is His Divine love which is the purpose or end He constantly seeks. His kingdom is the government and order, and methods of His Divine wisdom. He seeks to establish His kingdom that it may become the embodiment of His love and the means of communicating it. He seeks to have His will done on the earth as it is in heaven. The Lord is in the constant effort to establish a heavenly kingdom on the earth. Heaven is heaven from the fact that the Lord's will is done in it. The societies of heaven are organized according to the Lord’s will. Perfect order, subordination, and harmony reign there. It is the Lord’s will that we should love Him supremely and our neighbor as ourselves. That is the law which reigns in heavenly societies. He teaches us to pray that it may be done in the earth.

This law of the Divine order has a personal application. The Lord teaches us to pray that His will may be done in the natural mind and on the earth of the material body as it is in the heaven of the spiritual mind. The Lord teaches us to pray that heavenly love may imbue all our natural affections, and purify and exalt them; that heavenly wisdom may guide our thoughts and control our actions in our business, in our social relations, and in all the activities of natural life. We are to pray to have the natural mind and our material actions dominated by heavenly principles. The practical and effective way to offer this petition is to apply it to ourselves, and to begin to do our part of the work in establishing the Lord’s kingdom on the earth of our own natural minds. As men and women do this, the Lord’s will will be done on the earth as it is in heaven. Civil governments will be organized in a heavenly form and public affairs will be conducted on heavenly principles; domestic and social life will be reduced to heavenly order, pervaded by a heavenly spirit, and arranged in heavenly forms; and grimy, servile, exhausting, ill-requited labor, will be animated by heavenly motives and become a form of heavenly use.

So far the petitions have looked directly to the Lord. We have asked nothing specially for ourselves. We are first raised to the highest, the inmost, the centre of all being, and from that point we begin to descend by means of the Divine Humanity, and according to the laws of the Divine order, to the earth. We return from the Lord to man, but, so far as we have offered the prayer with intelligence and sincerity, we bring with us the fatherhood of the Lord, and a reverent feeling for His holy name; we have learned what that name is, and we have gained a distinct idea of our Father as a Divine man in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. So far as we have gained any true knowledge of His Divine character and purposes, we are prepared and incited to ask that His kingdom may come and His will be done on the earth as it is in heaven. If we have any just conceptions of what this implies, of the immense changes which must take place in ourselves and in human society before His will can be done, and our agency in effecting it, we shall feel the need of Divine aid.

This leads us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” As the Lord’s will is done, we begin to see our dependence upon Him, and our need of help. There is an immense and difficult work put into our hands. It is the establishment of a kingdom among a hostile people, against the power of marshaled hosts, in the face of the most wily enemies; it is to be done with labor, and conflict, and pain; with the surrender of what we have held most precious; we are to take up the cross and even lay down our life. We have occasion then to ask our Father to give us our daily bread. As we begin to do our work in the establishment of His kingdom, we shall gain a wider and higher idea of what is meant by bread. The little child and the natural man may regard it as food for the body only. But we shall soon discover that we need meat of a different kind of which the body knows nothing, meat that will feed our souls, nourish our affections and support us in our conflicts and labors in preparing the way for the coming of our Father’s kingdom. As we begin to hunger and thirst after righteousness we shall ask for the means of supplying our wants. As we gain a truer knowledge of the Lord’s kingdom and of our relations to Him, we shall see that our life, and the means of sustaining it, are a constant gift from Him, and we shall go to Him with filial trust that He will supply our daily needs according to their nature and degree.

The Lord’s kingdom is to the natural mind as the sun to the material world. As its organization advances and it becomes established in our minds, its light dispels the darkness which has brooded over them, and reveals the diseased and disorderly conditions of our affections and the distorted forms of our intellectual faculties. “The light shineth in darkness.” Our true condition and relations to the Lord are revealed. We are confronted with the terrible fact that, before we can really become the children of our heavenly Father, bear His image and likeness and become heirs of His power and glory, before we can hallow His name, before His kingdom can really come to us and His will be done on the earth of the natural mind as it is in heaven, there is a difficult and painful work to be done. This light reveals to us powerful enemies to be combated, evil and false principles to be eradicated, habits of thought and feeling and action which have become organized in our nature to be broken up. We awake to the fact that, instead of being children of our heavenly Father, and legal heirs of His kingdom, we are hopelessly insolvent debtors. Instead of claiming rights and enjoying possession, we must humbly supplicate for the forgiveness of our debts. Instead of being raised to heaven and taking our places in the Father’s kingdom, of being clothed with princely apparel, and entering with shining faces into its noble activities, we must humble ourselves in the dust, we must confess our poverty, our indebtedness, our absolute dependence. Before the light for which we prayed came, we thought we were rich; now we find ourselves utterly destitute. Elated with the love of self and the world, we gloried in our independence; now we begin to see that we have no power of our own; every faculty and the ability to exercise it is a constant gift from the Lord. Where can we turn? What can we do? What else can we say than utter the Divine words which our Lord puts to our lips, “Forgive us our debts”? We are led to it by a logic of cause and effect from which there is no escape.

Suppose we have offered this petition with a sincere desire to have it granted. The Lord begins to answer it; He begins to forgive us. But how? In the way we have asked Him; in the only way it can be done, and that is, “as we forgive our debtors.” Now all our selfish and worldly loves are aroused. The mind becomes the arena of fierce conflicts. Wars are waged in it; earthquakes shake it; tempests of passion sweep over it; our hearts are rent with conflicting emotions; the mind is filled with confusion and pain and despair. This was not what we prayed for. We asked for forgiveness. We prayed to have our debts cancelled, and to become a member of the Lord’s kingdom. We prayed for freedom and peace. Now we cry, O Lord, “lead us not into temptation.” Save us from this conflict and pain. “Deliver us from evil.”

Could we hear His answer it would be, “I am forgiving your debts; I am delivering you from evil. I am doing it in the only way in which it can be done. Your evil affections stand between you and heaven, and they must be subdued; they are enemies which must be driven out of the promised land before you can gain possession of it. The principles you have adopted as the rule of life are false; they are contrary to every law of my kingdom and they must be rejected. ‘You cannot serve God and mammon.’ Sins cannot be uprooted, and the hard ground of the natural mind prepared for the seeds of heavenly principles without commotion and pain. You are a captive; you are in the hands of your enemies; you are a miserable slave, though they charm you by their illusions and persuade you that you are free. They promise you the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, and you have yielded to their enchantments. These illusions must be dispelled, and you must be rescued from their power before you can be delivered from evil. So long as you are wholly in evil you do not come into conflict. But when you seek deliverance from these enemies, then comes the conflict. My hand is in the struggle though you see it not. The pain which rends your soul is caused by the strain of heavenly forces withdrawing your affections from the grasp of your enemies. I am answering your prayer. Yield to me, and I will deliver from all evil; I will forgive every debt; I will create you into my likeness and image; I will make you my child and heir to all my riches. The forgiveness of sin is not a remission of its penalties. It is the uprooting of its principles and the recreation of the human soul.”

Suppose this work to have advanced so far that you can see its principles and necessary conditions. You see that the Lord’s kingdom cannot be established in the human mind and His will be done on the earth of your own natural mind, or in human society, until the kingdom of evil and falsity is destroyed, and you begin to feel and to understand your utter helplessness to do this work alone. You see that you are a part of it; you are enslaved by its illusions, and subject to its dominion, and you can no more extricate yourself from its bondage by your own unaided power than you can change the organization of the material body, or the nature of the human mind. You are helpless in the toils of merciless enemies, and your Heavenly Father is the only being who can save you.

What would be the spontaneous utterance of one who understood the danger of his condition; the impossibility of escape from hopeless bondage by any power of his own, and who saw his bonds gradually loosening, the illusions disappearing, light breaking forth from the darkness, the hope of freedom and joy dawning, and who knew the Source from whence came his help? Would it not be: “Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory”? I owe my deliverance, I owe all I have and am to my Heavenly Father.

But the order and logical sequence of its parts is only one of the wonderful qualities of this Divine Prayer. It is a golden key which unlocks the doors of the inmost closets of the mind and admits light and love from heaven. Swedenborg’s experience of the wonderful power of this prayer is worthy of our attention, for his mind was consciously open to heavenly influences and a knowledge of the means by which they operate. The processes which go on in the secret chambers of the mind may be the same with others as with him, though we are not conscious of them. “While I was reading the Lord’s prayer, morning and evening,” he says, “the ideas of my thought were constantly open towards heaven, and innumerable things flowed in, so that I perceived clearly that the ideas of thought conceived from the contents of the prayer were filled from heaven. And such things were also infused, as it is impossible to utter, and also impossible for me to comprehend, only I was sensible of the general affection thence resulting. And what is wonderful, the things which flowed in were varied every day. Hence it was given me to know that in the contents of this prayer there are more things than the universal heaven is capable of comprehending; and that with man more things are in it in proportion as his thought is open towards heaven.” Does not this give us a glimpse of the profound activities which may be going on in the secret chambers of the soul when we enter the closet and shut the door against selfish and worldly influences, and open it to the Lord? We pray to our Father in secret. We use the words He has given us, and we make them the vehicle of the desires of our heart. We perceive no powerful effects; the soul is not filled with exalted and glowing affections, the understanding is not flooded with light, because the operations are in secret. And yet the ideas of thought may be opened towards heaven, and innumerable things may flow in; influences may be exerted upon us which will have a controlling power in this life to protect us from evil and lead us to good. The highest forms of the will and the understanding, which are the most sensitive to the Divine forces, which give us our life, and which contain within them the promise and potency of every human endowment and attainment, are penetrated and imbued with life, the germs of heavenly affections are implanted in the will, and the power of perception, understanding, and thought is deposited in the intellect. The Lord draws nearer to us, gets a firmer hold upon the primary motives of life by means of which He can exert a more powerful control over our actions. We may have no conscious knowledge of these operations which are set in motion by a humble and reverent utterance of this prayer; but the germs of every good received in this act of communion with the Lord will come out into distinct consciousness when we pass into the spiritual world, and will give us new and larger capacities for the reception of the Divine life, create new forms, and add new charms to every relation and possession through the endless cycles of the ages.

We teach this prayer to our little children as soon as they are able to lisp it. It may not seem to us to be of much use. They can have only natural ideas of its meaning. But if we could see its real influence as revealed in the writings of the New Church, we should regard it of supreme importance. Speaking of the nature of an infant's mind in the other life, Swedenborg says, “At several different times, by the Divine mercy of the Lord, there were sent to me infants in choruses, and it was also granted to me to read to them the Lord’s prayer, and at the same time it was given to perceive on such occasions how the angels in whose consort they were insinuated into their tender and novitiate ideas the sense of the things contained in that prayer, and filled their ideas according to their capacity of reception; and afterwards how it was given to the infants to think the same things as of themselves.” Again he says, “While I was praying, the Lord’s prayer and infants at the same time flowed into the ideas of my thought from their intellectual faculty, which was so tender that they scarce received anything but the sense of the words; nevertheless, it was manifest that their ideas in that state of tenderness were open even to the Lord,—that is, from the Lord; for the Lord flows into the ideas of infants in a more especial manner from the inmost plane of their being, inasmuch as nothing has as yet closed their ideas, as with the adult.”

Do not these disclosures concerning the nature of the infant mind withdraw the veil and show us the power of this prayer, and the incalculable importance of teaching it to our children? While the mother with reverent and loving care is teaching it to her child and hearing it repeated by its innocent lips, angels are present who insinuate into its tender and sensitive mind the sense of the things contained in that prayer. A sphere of pure and heavenly influences flow from them which tend to mould the child’s spiritual nature into heavenly forms, and to awaken in all its faculties heavenly activities. There is a power in this prayer of which we have no adequate conception. It is composed of living truths in a heavenly order. These truths are vessels for the reception of the Divine life, and when incorporated into the mind and cherished by the affections they are open to the Lord. Life from Him constantly broods over them and according to their capacity flows into them, moulding them into the Divine image and likeness, arranging them into a heavenly order, and moving them to heavenly harmonies. It comprises all we need, all we can ask for, from the least to the greatest. It contains infinite things, because it is the embodiment of all the Lord desires to give us and all that any created being can receive. Let us, therefore, teach it to our children; let us study it in its particular and related meanings; let us try to understand it, and to fill its ideas with genuine affection; let us repeat it with reverent hearts; let us ask the Lord to teach us how to pray it in an intelligent, fervent, and efficacious manner, that our affections may be penetrated and purified and exalted by its spirit, our understanding enlightened by its truth, and our actions guided by its wisdom.

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