Prayer to the Lord Jesus
E W Rogers, Oxford
So many varied questions have reached us on this matter that we have thought it well to deal with the subject at length and in a way which will cover the ground better than separate answers on different points.
INCREDIBLE as it may seem to some, yet it is unfortunately true that many believers have been seriously unsettled by teaching which insists that it is wrong to address the Lord Jesus in prayer and praise. This view is being propagated with a zeal worthy of a better cause. Even hymns which saintly and well taught men have written, and which for generations have proved such wonderful channels for the expression of the praise and worship of devoted hearts are drastically amended if any words in them are addressed to the Lord Jesus.
If any brethren are fully persuaded in their own minds that it is wrong to address the Son, surely no one would wish to override their consciences or coerce them into acting contrary to their convictions. We would rather pray that God would “reveal even this unto them” This is not the difficulty. The unfortunate part is that too often these brethren are not content to let the matter rest there, but they impose a burden on the consciences of others and require their fellow-believers to follow them, when, as we contend, they have no Scriptural warrant for so doing. In this way serious injury has sometimes been done to the affections of the saints and this is a grave matter. Furthermore, spontaneity of worship has been hindered and in many cases a legalistic spirit has tended to put supposed correctness of form in the place of reality of heart. Nor does the tendency stop there—gradually the meeting for the remembrance of the Lord has been hedged about with increasing restrictions of one kind and another. The whole thing has been made an unhappy bone of contention and a cause of deplorable division. Believing that the phase will pass and that things will eventually fall back into their proper perspective, we would fain leave it there, but so much harm is being done meanwhile, that whilst we have not the slightest desire to augment the controversy we feel that the question must be faced.
We believe that such teaching is unscriptural and liable in the end to obscure the true glory of Christ. At the same time we realise that the proper balance must be preserved, and we must be on our guard lest we allow one extreme view to drive us to the opposite extreme. Admittedly prayer and praise is more generally addressed to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit as the following Scriptures show: Eph. 5. 20; Col. 3. 16, 17; Heb. 13. 15; John 4. 23; Jude 24, 25. All three persons of the Godhead are involved and these Scriptures recognise their respective activities towards the saints and their inter-relations with each other. But this is not the question. The question is—“Is it wrong to address the Son?”
What becomes of the Lord’s saying, “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father,” if we are to honour the Father in praise and worship and yet decline to honour the Son in the same way? If in Rev. 1. 6 (“To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”) Christ’s worthiness to receive praise is clearly stated, how can it be wrong to render it?
Although it is sometimes contended that the Lord was personally addressed only in the days of His flesh, our readers will have no difficulty in remembering many instances where the Lord was addressed not only after His resurrection, but actually after His ascension. We mention a few striking cases which will repay careful consideration.
- Stephen, a man “ full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”—“full of grace and power,”—prayed to the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit and forgive his murderers (Acts 7. 59, 60).
- On the Damascus road Saul sought and received directions from the Lord Jesus (Acts 22. 10).
- Three times Paul besought the Lord with regard to a thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12. 7-10).
- Paul gave thanks to Christ for putting him into His service (1 Tim. 1. 12).
In face of the above no one can question the believer’s right to address the Lord Jesus in prayer and praise. This much is generally conceded to the individual by those who support the theory we are now discussing, but they dispose of such Scriptures by contending that what is permissible in the individual is not permissible in the assembly. It is difficult to see on what logical grounds such a contention can be maintained. If it is right for individuals in their private devotions to address prayer and praise to the Lord Jesus, how does it become wrong to do so, when those self-same individuals meet together with the express purpose of remembering Him?
As is only to be expected when a theory has to be maintained, various arguments are advanced, but we do not find them convincing. Some of these arguments are complex and depend on inferences and deductions which may sound impressive, but we advise our readers not to allow any involved arguments to becloud a simple issue. For example—we are told the Children of Israel when gathered for worship did not address their High Priest, and seeing that Christ is our Great High Priest it must therefore be wrong for us to address Him. This is a very precarious piece of reasoning which overlooks several considerations. We can certainly learn many precious lessons from the ordinances of the Tabernacle, but we must be careful. The Epistle to the Hebrews shows that Christian worship is on a much higher plane and our privileges far greater. In any case it would have been so manifestly improper for the Children of Israel to offer praise or prayer to a sinful man like themselves that we cannot rest the aforesaid deduction on the mere fact that they did not address him. Dare we argue that because it was improper for them to address their failing High Priest it is improper for us to address our beloved Lord, Whose Person is infinitely more glorious than Aaron, and Whose Great High Priesthood, whilst wonderfully illustrated in the Aaronic priesthood, is nevertheless of an altogether different and superior order? In any case, even if it could be proved that it is incongruous for us to address Him as our Great High Priest (and we cannot see that it is), it does not settle the question at issue for the very simple reason that He sustains towards His people many other precious relationships.
It seems to us that such arguments would never have been advanced but for the determination to support a cherished theory. We do not propose to go further into these arguments because we feel that our available space will be better employed in setting out some plain facts to show that the Scriptures supply several instances of prayer and praise being addressed to Christ in gatherings of the Lord’s people. This is a sufficient answer. If Thomas, in a gathering of disciples on the first day of the week, exclaimed in wondering worship, “My Lord, and my God,” and received no rebuke from the Lord for doing so, but only for his failure to realise it earlier, on what grounds are we to be prevented from pouring out our hearts to the One to Whom we owe so much, when we meet with His promised presence and for the express purpose of remembering Him? This could only result in an unnatural restraint on our truest instincts and would surely limit the liberty of the Spirit. If the disciples as a company “worshipped” (same word as John 4. 23, “worship the Father”) Christ just before He was received up into heaven (Matt. 28. 17), is there less reason to worship Him now that He is at the Right Hand of the Majesty on High, far above all principality and power? Was it not a large assembly in Acts 1. 24 which prayed, “Lord . . .show whether of these two Thou hast chosen”? Seeing that Peter had just referred to the Lord Jesus and seeing that the choice of apostles is attributed to Christ (1. 2, 9. 15) no unprejudiced reader will have difficulty in believing that the simple title “Lord” as generally in the book of Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament here means the Lord Jesus.
Furthermore, we have several instances where it is clearly indicated that believers were in the habit of calling upon Christ. When the Lord Jesus instructed Ananias to go to Saul, Ananias pointed out that Saul had authority from the chief priests to “bind all that call on Thy Name,” suggesting that it was the accepted and well known practice of the saints. That this practice was general in the churches is clear from 1 Cor. 1. 2, “All that in every place call upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours,” on which passage Dean Alford writes: “It is a direct testimony to the divine worship of Jesus Christ as universal in the church.” Without question Eph. 5. 19 contemplates assembly gatherings—“Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (see R.V.). In view of this we cannot help feeling that the ruthless deletion from hymns of any words addressed to the Lord Jesus is a proceeding most grievous to the heart of the Father, and most dishonouring to His Son. When Timothy was instructed to cultivate fellowship with like-minded believers they were referred to as “them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2. 22). It is straining things to say that those whose fellowship was to be sought because they called on the Lord would not call upon the Lord when they met. Or again, if the Spirit and the Bride are found united in Rev. 22. 17 in saying “Come” to the needy, can we say that the prayer of verse 20, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” is not fitted to the Bride’s lips but must be confined to the private devotions of the individual believer?
Who that reads that grand passage in Rev. 5 will not feel that if such rapturous ascriptions of praise are to be rendered to Christ, first by the company of the four living creatures and four and twenty elders, all prostrate before the Lamb, offering the prayers of the saints, and singing praise to Christ, then by the’ assembled hosts of angels, and at last by the whole creation praising God and the Lamb together, it must be a serious thing to hinder those who would worship Christ in the humbler assemblies of earth?
Much more is involved in this' matter than may at; first appear and we appeal to any of our readers who may meet this theory, not to allow any specious, argument to move them away from the plain statements of Scripture. Whilst it is true that praise and worship is more generally to be addressed to the Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ, let us cherish the liberty given us by the Scriptures to offer to our Lord and Saviour the homage of our hearts.
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength, and honour and glory and blessing.”