by Rev. William Smith (1934)
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 98 & 99.
Q. 98. What is prayer?
A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.
An offering up of our desires. –Prayer is so called, because the words of our mouths, without the earnest desires of our hearts accompanying them, are but empty unmeaning sounds in God’s ears, the prayer of the wicked, which he himself has declared to be an abomination unto him.
Agreeable to his will. –To desire any thing agreeable to God’s will, is to ask only what he has, in his Word, promised to give, –that is, temporal mercies, as far as we really stand in need of them, –and spiritual blessings; but the latter ought always to occupy the chief place in our desires.
In the name of Christ. –We are to pray to God in the name of Christ, or for Christ’s sake, because our distance from God, by reason of the sinfulness of our natures, is so great, that we cannot come before him, or into his presence, without the help of a Mediator, or one to plead our cause with him. This also signifies, that we hope to obtain mercy, or the pardon of our sins, from God, for the sake of Christ.
Confession of our sins. –Owning sincerely before God, that we are exceedingly guilty in his sight, and being grieved on account of our sins.
With thankful acknowledgement of his mercies. –Returning thanks to God for the favors and the blessings, both to our bodies and to our souls, which, through Christ, he has bestowed upon us.
The information here received, respecting the nature of prayer, may be divided into five particulars.
1. That prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God. –Psal. lxii. 8. Trust in him at all times, ye people; pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.
2. That it must only be for things agreeable to God’s will. –1 John v. 14. If we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.
3. That we ought always to pray in the name of Christ. –John xvi. 23. Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father, in my name, he will give it to you.
4. That our petitions, or requests, should be accompanied with the confession of our sins. –Dan. ix. 4. I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession.
5. That we should always, in our prayers, also acknowledge God’s mercies with thankfulness. –Phil. iv. 6. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.
Q. 99. What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?
A. The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer, but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer, which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called the Lord’s prayer.
The special rule of direction. –The principal guide, or most complete pattern for us to imitate.
The Lord’s prayer. –This form of prayer is thus named, because Christ himself taught it to his disciples at their request, not however as a form which they were always to follow without alteration, but as a pattern to direct them in the performance of this duty.
The information here received is threefold :
1. That we need a rule to direct us, how to proceed, in the duty of prayer. –Rom. viii. 26. We know not what we should pray for as we ought.
2. That the whole Word of God is useful for this purpose. –John v. 14. If we ask any thing according to his will, (that is God’s Word, in which his will is revealed,) he heareth us.
3. That the Lord’s prayer, or that form which Christ taught his disciples, is a special rule of direction in this duty. –Matt. vi. 9-13. After this manner, therefore, pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, &c.