Prayer: Westminster Catechisms

A section of the Presbyterian Standards by Francis R. Beattie,

Chapter 28 – The Means of Grace: Prayer

is a commentary on the portions of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the questions of Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms that address prayer. See the Christianity page for more information about these historic articles of doctrine and theology.

The language of these documents reflect their origins in the 17th century. The following links will take you right to the Questions:

The Shorter Catechism, questions 98 – 107, address the topic of prayer and include scripture references:

  1. What is prayer?
  2. What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?
  3. What doth the preface of the Lord’s prayer teach us?
  4. What do we pray for in the first petition?
  5. What do we pray for in the second petition?
  6. What do we pray for in the third petition?
  7. What do we pray for in the fourth petition?
  8. What do we pray for in the fifth petition?
  9. What do we pray for in the sixth petition?
  10. What doth the conclusion of the Lord’s prayer teach us?

The Westminster Larger Catechism, questions 178 – 196 address the topic of prayer and are as follows:

Q. 178. What is Prayer?

A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.

Q. 179. Are we to pray unto God only?

A. God only being able to search the hearts, hear the requests, pardon the sins, and fulfill the desires of all; and only to be believed in, and worshiped with religious worship; prayer, which isa special part thereof, is to be made by all to him alone, and to none other.

Q. 180. What is it to pray in the name of Christ?

A. To pray in the name of Christ, is, in obedience to his command, and in confidence on his promises, to ask mercy for his sake; not by bare mentioning of his name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation.

Q. 181. Why are we to pray in the name of Christ?

A. The sinfulness of man, and his distance from God by reason thereof, being so great, as that we can have no access into his presence without a mediator; and there being none in heaven or earth appointed to, or fit for, that glorious work but Christ alone, we are to pray in no other name but his only.

Q. 182. How doth the Spirit help us to pray?

A. We not knowing what to pray for as we ought, the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, by enabling us to understand both for whom, and what, and how prayer is to be made; and by working and quickening in our hearts (although not in all persons, nor at all times, in the same measure) those apprehensions, affections, and graces which are requisite for the right performance of that duty.

Q. 183. For whom are we to pray?

A. We are to pray for the whole Church of Christ upon earth; for magistrates, and ministers; for ourselves, our brethren, yea, our enemies; and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter; but not for the dead, nor for those that are known to have sinned the sin unto death.

Q. 184. For what things are we to pray?

A. We are to pray for all things tending to the glory of God, the welfare of the Church, our own or others’ good; but not for any thing that is unlawful.

Q. 185. How are we to pray?

A. We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God, and deep sense of our own unworthiness, necessities, and sins; with penitent, thankful, and enlarged hearts; with understanding, faith, sincerity, fervency, love, and perseverance, waiting upon him, with humble submission to his will.

Q. 186. What rule hath God given for our direction in the duty of prayer?

A. The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in the duty of prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which our Saviour Christ taught his disciples, commonly called, The Lord’s Prayer.

Q. 187. How is the Lord’s Prayer to be used?

A. The Lord’s Prayer is not only for direction, as a pattern, according to which we are to make other prayers; but may be also used as a prayer, so that it be done with understanding, faith, reverence, and other graces necessary >to the right performance of the duty of prayer.

Q. 188. Of how many parts doth the Lord’s Prayer consist?

A. The Lord’s Prayer consists of three parts: a preface, petitions, and a conclusion.

Q. 189. What doth the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?

A. The preface of the Lord’s Prayer (contained in these words, Our Father which art in heaven) teacheth us, when we pray, to draw near to God with confidence of his fatherly goodness, and our interest therein; with reverence, and all other childlike dispositions, heavenly affections, and due apprehensions of his sovereign power, majesty, and gracious condescension: as also, to pray with and for others.

Q. 190. What do we pray for in the first petition?

A. In the first petition, (which is, Hallowed be thy name) acknowledging the utter inability and indisposition that is in ourselves and all men to honor God aright, we pray, that God would by his grace enable and incline us and others to know, to acknowledge, and highly to esteem him, his titles, attributes, ordinances, word, works, and whatsoever he is pleased to make himself known by; and to glorify him in thought, word, and deed: that he would prevent and remove atheism, ignorance, idolatry, profaneness, and whatsoever is dishonorable to him; and, by his overruling providence, direct and dispose of all things to his own glory.

Q. 191. What do we pray for in the second petition?

A. In the second petition, (which is, Thy kingdom come) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the Church furnished with all gospel officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him for ever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.

Q. 192. What do we pray for in the third petition?

A. In the third petition, (which is, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven) acknowledging, that by nature we and all men are not only utterly unable and unwilling to know and do the will of God, but prone to rebel against his Word, to repine and murmur against his providence, and wholly inclined to do the will of the flesh, and of the devil: we pray, that God would by his Spirit take away from ourselves and others all blindness, weakness, indisposedness, and perverseness of heart; and by his grace make us able and willing to know, do, and submit to his will in all things, with the like humility, cheerfulness, faithfulness, diligence, zeal, sincerity, and constancy, as the angels do in heaven.

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

A. In the fourth petition, (which is, Give us this day our daily bread) 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; and that neither they of themselves are able to sustain us, nor we to merit, or by our own industry to procure them; but prone to desire, get, and use them unlawfully: 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; 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.

Q. 194. 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) 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 the debt: 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, accept us in his Beloved; continue his favor 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; 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 offences.

Q 195. 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) 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 Satan, the world, and the flesh, are ready powerfully to draw us aside, and ensnare us; and that we, even after the pardon of our sins, 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, we pray, that God would so overrule the world and all in it, subdue the flesh, and restrain Satan, order all things, bestow and bless all means of grace, 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; or, if tempted, that by his Spirit we may be powerfully supported and enabled to stand in the hour of temptation; or when fallen, raised again and recovered out of it, and have a sanctified use and improvement thereof: that our sanctification and salvation may be perfected, Satan trodden under our feet, and we fully freed from sin, temptation, and all evil, for ever.

Q. 196. What doth the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?

A. The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, (which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power; and the glory, for ever. Amen.) teacheth us to enforce our petitions with arguments, which are to be taken, not from any worthiness in ourselves, or in any other creature, but from God; and with our prayers to join praises, ascribing to God alone eternal sovereignty, omnipotency, and glorious excellency; in regard whereof, as he is able and willing to help us, so we by faith are emboldened to plead with him that he would, and quietly to rely upon him that he will fulfill our requests. And, to testify our desire and assurance, we say, Amen.

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