The Lord's Prayer
The spiritual sense of this Divine prayer relates to the regeneration of the human mind or spirit. Each of the petitions corresponds to some renovated condition of the mind, and the order in which they are arranged represents the succession of states through which it passes in the progress of its spiritual renovation.
Before the regeneration of the mind is commenced, man does not really pray; for the life of prayer is in the perceptive acknowledgment of spiritual truth, and in the love of goodness. Until his mind be receptive of new thoughts and new affections, all within him is spiritually dark and dead, and in such a state he does not pray, but merely repeats his prayers. For this reason, the germ of a new intellect and a new will is the beginning of prayer, the Lord's living prayer" in us.
So soon as a man begins to appreciate the truth, which points out to him higher motives of action than those by which he is naturally swayed, and nobler objects than those in which he naturally takes delight, a new intellect is formed within him. This is man's spiritual intellect, and being composed of heavenly thoughts, is collectively the heavens in which the Lord is present.
From the affection with which these thoughts are welcomed, the germ of a new will is produced, by the growth of which the evils of the natural mind are to be subdued. All states of heavenly love and truth are the Lord's Name, and as these are increased and multiplied, that Name is hallowed, and He Himself is worshipped.
While the heaven of a spiritual state is being formed, the Lord descends, with His light of truth, and His life of love, to chasten and subdue the falsehood and the evil of the natural mind, that by these spiritual victories, the power of His truth and goodness may be seen and felt by the natural man, even as it is by the spiritual. Heaven corresponds to the spiritual man, and the earth to the natural.
The Lord comes into the world of man's natural thoughts and affections that He may instruct him in the truths of heaven. The knowledge of heavenly truth and goodness is the bread which He daily gives for our support. This is "the bread that cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die."
To have our debts forgiven by the Lord, as we forgive our debtors, is, in its spiritual sense, to have the love of the world brought into subjection to the love of our neighbour. To love the world is to love riches for the sake of power, or for the sake of distinction, or of sensual pleasures, or for the mere love of possessing them. This kind of love is opposed to the love of our neighbour. But the Lord descends, as our daily bread, that He may overcome the world ; not by annihilating our external gratifications and delights, but by subordinating them to the heavenly love of our neighbour. As the love of the world is subdued, it harmonizes and co-operates with the love of others. The harmony and co-operation between the two are signified by "forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors."
This petition represents the difficult and painful struggle for mastery between the life of the Divine Truth and the evils of the love of self.
From the pain of so severe a combat the natural man recoils, and prays that the Lord would not lead him into the temptation. But this is the prayer of the natural mind only, in which neither the spiritual prayer, nor the spiritual sense of the prayer concurs. The Lord leads not any one into temptation, in the natural meaning of the words. The resistance which self-love offers to the Divine Truth in its descent is felt as temptation, into which of himself he is unwilling to be led. But through these temptations he must pass, that by successive victories over his selfish nature, and the evils that spring from it, his regeneration may be made complete.
This petition represents the crowning victory of the Lord's Divine Truth, in which the opposing lusts of evil are subdued, and man, as to the lowest faculties of his mind, is brought within the peaceful and all-protective sphere of heaven. Thenceforward, the grounds of temptation being removed, all is happiness and joy ; and the love of self, instead of opposing the influx of the Divine Love, is made to minister to the good of others. Man being thus spiritually born of God, or of the Divine Truth, no longer regards others for the sake of himself, but himself solely for the sake of others.
Having achieved for man the victory, or rather a succession of victories, over the love of self, the Lord rises from the natural kingdom, which He has made His own, with spiritual power and glory. This He does in proportion to the self-abasement of the regenerated mind, and to the perception on the part of man, that though of himself he is nothing else but evil, he has the power, by the gifts of freedom and of reason, of consenting to those spiritual changes which have ended in the blessings of eternal life.
The ages of man's natural life are made up of the images of nature, and the thoughts which they convey. The ages of his spiritual life are the progressive states of his regeneration, which is commenced in this world, to be continued for ever in the heaven of truth and love, for which he is created.
The Lord's Prayer, in its inmost spiritual sense, is the actual concurrence of man's volition with the Divine Love. The confirmation of this, which is true prayer, by the intellect, is signified by the concluding word, Amen. The meaning of the word is "Truth," and as it is the perception of truth which serves to confirm the goodness of the will, therefore by the law of heavenly order, which pervades this prayer even to the ultimate representative form, it is the closing word: for the living perception of heavenly truth is the basis on which the Divine Influx rests. From the spiritual explanation of the Lord's Prayer it may be seen that it is in itself a little gospel. For the descending series of its petitions represents the descent of the Lord, Who is the light as well as life of men, from heaven, and His advent into the world ; that by the conquest of hell, the hell of every evil passion, He may rise from the dead, and re-ascend into heaven, with power and glory.
This Prayer being, even as to its minutest particulars, a representative image of the Lord's kingdom within us, it is of importance to preserve in the translation, as far as possible, the same verbal arrangement as in the original.
In agreement with this rule it should be "Father of us," and not " Our Father," and in that petition which represents the Divine life of truth in its descent from the spiritual to the natural mind, it should be, "as it is in heaven, even so upon the earth," and not "in earth, as it is in heaven;" for the one, even in the arrangement of the words, gives the true order of the influx, whereas the other reverses it. by placing the natural man before the spiritual.
To unfold the meaning of the words in this prayer is to unfold the meaning of the things, of which the words are the literal signs only.
"To-day" represents our present state of internal life, or of the light of our mind, and in deference to "the bread for our support" which is prayed for, that state of mind in which man has an affection for the heavenly knowledge, which is to make him wise unto salvation. As the Lord is always giving the heavenly bread, but we on our parts have not always the appetite to receive it, the prayer for it marks the affection with which it is sought for, or the state of mind which is meet for its reception.
"Evil" is the love of self, the only source whence springs that legion of infernal lusts which lay waste the earth. The deliverance from evil is. the deliverance from its power. Then man, as to his spirit, can "sit, clothed and in his right mind." The ascent of the Lord, from the restored kingdom of the natural mind into the heavens of omnipotence and love, closes this gospel of His Advent.
"Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory." The regeneration of the mind, in which He rises again, is signified by the fact which is recorded, that " He lifted up His hands and blessed His disciples; and that it came to pass while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven."