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Instructions concerning Prayer

 2

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,


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1 I exhort therefore. These exercises of godliness maintain and even strengthen us in the sincere worship and fear of God, and cherish the good conscience of which he had spoken. Not inappropriately does he make use of the word therefore, to denote an inference; for those exhortations depend on the preceding commandment.

That, above all, prayers be made. First, he speaks of public prayers, which he enjoins to be offered, not only for believers, but for all mankind. Some might reason thus with themselves: “Why should we be anxious about the salvation of unbelievers, with whom we have no connection? Is it not enough, if we, who are brethren, pray mutually for our brethren, and recommend to God the whole of his Church? for we have nothing to do with strangers.” This perverse view Paul meets, and enjoins the Ephesians to include in their prayers all men, and not to limit them to the body of the Church.

What is the difference between three out of the four kinds which Paul enumerates, I own that I do not thoroughly understand. The view given by Augustine, who twists Paul’s words so as to denote ceremonial observances customary at that time, is quite childish. A simpler exposition is given by those who think that “requests” are when we ask to be delivered from what is evil; “prayers,” when we desire to obtain something profitable; and “supplications,” when we deplore before God injuries which we have endured. Yet for my own part, I do not draw the difference so ingeniously; or, at least, I prefer another way of distinguishing them.

Προσευχαὶ is the Greek word for every kind of prayer; and δεήσεις denotes those forms of petitions in which something definite is asked. In this way the two words agree with each other, as genus and species. ᾿Εντεύξεις is the word commonly used by Paul to signify those prayers which we offer for one another. The word used for it in the Latin Translation is “intercessiones,” intercessions. Yet Plato, in his second dialogue, styled Alcibiades, uses it in a different sense, to moan a definite petition offered by a person for himself; and in the very inscription of the book, and in many passages, he shows plainly, as I have said, that προσευχὴ is a general term. 3131     “Δεήσεις, if we attend to its etymological import, is derived ἀπὸ τοῦ δεῖσθαι, ‘from being in want’ and is a petition for that οὗ δεόμεθα, ‘which we want.’ It is very correctly defined by Gregory Nazianzen in his 15th Iambic Ode: Δέησιν οἵου τὴν αἴτησιν ἐνδεῶν, ‘consider that when you are in want of anything, your petition is δέησις.’ If we attend again to the customary usage of the word, it signifies ‘a petition for a benefit.’ My opinion is, that the various names express one and the same thing, viewed under various aspects. Our prayers are called δεήσεις, so far as by them we declare to God our need; for δέεσθαι is “to be in need.’ They are προσευχαὶ, as they contain our wishes. They are αἰτήματα, as they express petitions and desires. They are ἐντεύξεις, as we are permitted by God to approach Him, not with timidity, but in a familiar manner: for ἐντεύξις is a familiar conversation and interview.” — Witsius on the Lord’s Prayer

But not to dwell longer than is proper on a matter that is not essential, Paul, in my own opinion, simply enjoins that, whenever public prayers are offered, petitions and supplications should be made for all men, even for those who at present are not at all related to us. And yet this heaping up of words is not superfluous; but Paul appears to me purposely to join together three terms for the same purpose, in order to recommend more warmly, and urge more strongly, earnest and constant prayer. We know now sluggish we are in this religious duty; and therefore we need not wonder if, for the purpose of arousing us to it, the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of Paul, employs various excitements.

And thanksgivings. As to this term, there is no obscurity; for, as he bids us make supplication to God for the salvation of unbelievers, so also to give thanks on account of their prosperity and success. That wonderful goodness which he shews every day, when

“he maketh his sun to rise on the good and the bad,”
(Matthew 5:45,)

is worthy of being praised; and our love of our neighbor ought also to extend to those who are unworthy of it.




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