Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Thy Kingdom Come

Question 102: What do we pray for in the second petition?
Answer: In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray, that Satan's kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened. (WSC)
We pray that God’s kingdom would come. This coming is further explained by the phrase that concludes the first three petitions of the Lord's Prayer, "on earth as it is in heaven." God's kingdom comes to earth from heaven. The Gospel of Matthew usually calls it the "kingdom of heaven" even while teaching that it comes to earth. When man sinned, earth revolted from heaven and joined Satan’s kingdom, but now the king has come and God is reasserting his reign on earth. 

When does God’s kingdom come? It came with Jesus’ coming, as he himself proclaimed (Matt. 4:17, Luke 11:20). It comes more and more throughout this age, as a tree grows and as leaven works in bread, not all at once (Matt. 13:31-33). It will come in its consummated state when Jesus returns and judges all men, glorifying his people and purifying and restoring creation (Matt. 13:36-43, 2 Peter 3:4-13).

The kingdom of God is administered by Jesus in his capacity as our mediator. It comes by his gospel and Spirit at work in the salvation of sinners (“the kingdom of grace”) and by his providence and judgment (“the kingdom of his power,” see WLC 191 below). Only by being born again by water and the Spirit can a person enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5). Within this kingdom there is peace and protection through Christ the king. The kingdom comes as the word is preached, as disciples are baptized and trained, as they obey the king willingly in all areas of life, and as Christ guides history for the sake of his church. The world is transformed by this process, as dough is transformed by leaven. As Calvin comments
"The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word, — would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world." 
The visible church is the institutional expression of this kingdom in history (Matt. 13:47-50) and its officers bear the “keys of the kingdom” (Matt. 16:18-19, 18:17-20). The members of the visible church manifest the reign of Christ as they confess him as Lord and Savior and serve him in every sphere of human endeavor with “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). When he returns, the kingdom will be brought to perfection and glory (“the kingdom of glory”).

Here is the Westminster Larger Catechism’s version of this answer:
“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 forever: 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.” (WLC, Q. 191)


Monday, November 14, 2022

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Question 101: What do we pray for in the first petition?
Answer: In the first petition, which is, Hallowed be thy name, we pray, that God would enable us, and others, to glorify him in all that whereby he maketh himself known; and that he would dispose all things to his own glory. (WSC)
To be hallowed is to be made or regarded as holy, set apart from what is common. God’s name is holy, and we pray that it would be honored and glorified as such. God’s name refers to his revelation of himself, including the names and titles applied to him in Scripture, and his reputation and fame. This request aims at the way people treat God’s good name and whether he is honored or despised. Rebellious man tears down God’s good name, slanders it, despises it, treats it lightly. But it ought to be reverenced and glorified - esteemed in your heart and publicly praised.

The prophet Malachi condemned the priests of his day for despising God’s name (Malachi 1). How did they despise God’s name? By despising his worship and offering blind and lame sacrifices not even worthy of a human ruler. In response God said that he would make his name great among the nations. He would cause the nations to fear his name, to honor him as a great king, and to offer pure worship fitting for such a king.

Our Father is worthy to be praised. It is right and fitting that we recount in our prayers the reasons why he is worthy of glory and reverence, as many of the Psalms do. We should meditate on his perfect attributes and his mighty works.

Our Father does not yet receive the praise due to him. We are unable of ourselves to glorify him, but are rebellious and seek our own glory and praise. The world ought to glorify God, but much of it despises and distorts his name. Part of our motivation for evangelism is a zeal for the glory that is due God’s name. But this is also a motivation for prayer.

Knowing the depravity of man, we pray that God would enable all his creation to glorify him and join in the worship of heaven. We desire and pray that God would enable ourselves to treat God as holy in our hearts, in our words of praise and witness, in our reception of his word, and in our lives, that they might be lived to the glory of God. Let us pray that God would vindicate his name, uphold his reputation, and bring all men to honor him as the true God. 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Praying to Our Heavenly Father

Question 100: What doth the preface of the Lord's Prayer teach us?
Answer: The preface of the Lord's Prayer, which is, Our Father which art in heaven, teacheth us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others. (WSC)
In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus taught his disciples to pray using a prayer commonly known as the Lord's Prayer. This prayer begins by addressing God, “Our Father, who is in heaven…” (6:9, NASB). These opening words remind us of several truths:
  • We should pray to God through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who gives us the right to be called children of God (John 1:12). We become children of God by grace. Jesus makes God our Father through regeneration and through adoption. We become children of God by union with the only-begotten Son of God. We know God as our Father and not as a hostile judge through faith in Christ.  
  • God is our Father, therefore we should give him reverence. We are commanded to honor our earthly fathers and mothers in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12). Honor and revere, then, your Father in heaven (Malachi 1:6). 
  • God is our Father, therefore we should come with confidence. He cares for his children. “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? ... If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:9–11)
  • God is our Father in heaven, therefore we should distinguish him from the faults of earthly fathers and remember that God is all-powerful, and therefore able to do what we ask. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
  • God is our Father, therefore we pray with brothers and sisters, children of the same Father. I do not just mean the people that you connect with - I mean the people that God has brought into his family, the church. If you love God, you will love his children (1 John 4:20-5:1). You should pray with God’s children, since Jesus envisions the disciples praying this together. You should pray for God’s children, since you make these requests for “us.” You should remember God’s children even when you “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6). 

Friday, November 4, 2022

The Life of William Brewster

Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Walter Weir 

Birth and Early Years

William Brewster was born in c. 1566. This was twenty years after Martin Luther died, two years after John Calvin died, and six years before John Knox would die. The early stages of the Reformation was over, and now various nations were seeking to implement its implications in church and society. What had started as a debate about justification now was impacting liturgy, church government, and politics. 

William Brewster grew up in a family that was well connected to the times. His father, also named William Brewster, was the bailiff of Scrooby Manor, a manor that belonged to the archbishop of York. The estate included a manor-house surrounded by a moat, a chapel, bake-house, brew-house, gallery, barns and stables, farmland, and the archbishop’s offices. His father had also been appointed in the Queen’s service as the keeper of the post at Scrooby. This role as postmaster, though, did not consist of sorting mail. It consisted in the running of a tavern and inn and keeping a change of horses for official courtiers. The manor was on the Great North Road, going from London to Edinburgh. This manor was close to Sherwood forest, near Nottingham, and royalty still loved to hunt in those woods, just as in the days of Robin Hood.


The Brewster family was able to send their son to Peterhouse College at Cambridge University  in 1580 when he was about 14 years of age. At that time, Peterhouse College was designed to train clergy and “enlightened and competent statesmen and administrators.” Brewster was probably training to be a government official like his father. His time at Cambridge was important, for it was there that Brewster was “first seasoned with the seeds of grace and virtue” (Bradford). Cambridge University had fueled the English Reformation. Cambridge was the place where many reformers were trained and where many taught. The White Horse Inn, where men like Tyndale, Bilney, and Latimer had discussed theology, was in Cambridge. William Perkins, whose writings the Pilgrims prized, was also studying at Cambridge at this time. The Pilgrims' first four pastors, including John Robinson, were all trained at Cambridge. The Puritans prized learning, especially the study of Scripture. Here Brewster would learn Latin and some Greek, but his first application of this learning was not in the church, but in the colorful adventures of Sir William Davison. 

Political Service

Sir William Davison was Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth, and he took on William Brewster as an assistant. For three years, Brewster followed Davison in Scotland and Holland, assisting him in matters of greatest trust and secrecy. At the time, Brewster was in his late teens. At one point, Brewster was given the keys of a Dutch city that Davison had been given on behalf of the Queen. At another point, Davison gave Brewster a golden chain he had been given to wear as they rode through London. In the end, Davison was used as a scapegoat after the execution of Mary Stuart and was imprisoned for a time in the Tower of London. William Brewster assisted him during this time. Thus, it seems that Brewster was living in London when Sir Francis Drake defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Life at Scrooby Manor

In 1589, at the age of 23, William Brewster was back in Scrooby, assisting his father in his role. The next year his father died, and Brewster become the new bailiff and master of the Queen’s post. The next year, he married Mary Wentworth, whose father had also been the bailiff at one point. And so at age 25, William Brewster had received a good education in the university and by experience in the world and he had a good position in a busy estate with good connections, serving as an official of the archbishop and the Queen. He and his wife would have several children in the years to come: Jonathan (b. 1593), Patience (b. 1600), Fear (b. 1606), Love (b. 1611), and Wrestling (b. 1614). It seemed like he was living the English version of the American dream. 

Yet, in 1606, things would change. The ideas of the Puritans which he had picked up at Cambridge continued to work in his mind. He likely heard of the struggles of his classmates, some of whom had sought to reform the church. A few of them had broken away from the church of England. Like many others in that day, he began to be dissatisfied with the low condition of religion and insufficient reforms in worship and church government. At first, he used his position to promote reformation on a local scale. He set a good example, exhorted his people, and promoted good preachers. But when some people in his region decided to break away and form a church of their own, he offered his manor as a meeting place and joined them. This would become the congregation of the Pilgrims.

This choice had enormous repercussions upon his career. He was soon fined for not attending the established church and he had to resign his position as postmaster. Soon, he was being called to court on the charge of "Brownisim," that is, separatism. Some of the more radical sort of Brownists had been executed for what was seen as subversive activity. Brewster did not stay to find out his end. He did not appear at court. It was soon evident that the congregation would be more free in Holland than in England.

Thus, in two years, William Brewster had gone from a prosperous official, operating a tavern and manor, to a refugee, fleeing with his family and a separatist congregation to Holland.

Life in Holland

Not only did Brewster join the separatist congregation, but he also became a ruling elder in that church after they arrived in Holland. While living in Leiden, he found a job teaching English to the university students in that town. In 1616, he and Thomas Brewer and Edward Winslow set up a publishing operation at Brewster's house. They published books that promoted the reform of the church and criticized the errors of the Church of England, books that were they to be smuggled into England. They also published two books by David Calderwood, a Scottish Presbyterian who criticized the Perth Assembly and King James' attempt to roll back Presbyterianism in Scotland. This caught the king's attention, and Brewster had to lay low for a while to escape the king's men. 

Mayflower, Plymouth Colony

When the congregation began to consider leaving Holland and beginning a colony in North America, William Brewster spoke in favor of the idea. He began to assist with the negotiations with the officials in London, but then as he sought to avoid arrest, he handed over these duties to others. When the Pilgrims finally left on the Mayflower in 1620, William Brewster was 54 years old. During the first winter in Plymouth, he served both the religious and physical needs of the settlers. As William Bradford recounts, 
“And of these in the time of most distress, there was but 6 or 7 sound persons, who, to their great commendations be it spoken, spared no pains, night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beads, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them; in a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, shewing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren. A rare example and worthy to be remembered. Two of these 7 were Mr. William Brewster, their reverend Elder, and Myles Standish, their Captain and military commander, unto whom my self, and many others, were much beholden in our low and sick condition.”
Elder Brewster

Since their pastor, John Robinson, remained with part of the congregation in Holland, William Brewster was the only church officer in Plymouth from 1620 until they successfully called a pastor in 1629. He continued to serve as a ruling elder until his death, and remained a rock of stability when the first couple pastors did not stay long and various controversies arose in the church. William Bradford said of Elder Brewster's ministry, 
“he would labour with his hands in the fields as long as he was able; yet when the church had no other minister, he taught twice every Sabbath, and that both powerfully and profitably, to the great contentment of the hearers, and their comfortable edification; yea, many were brought to God by his ministry. He did more in this behalf in a year, than many that have their hundreds a year do in all their lives.”
Bradford praised Elder Brewster's leadership in teaching, prayer, and church government. 
“In teaching, he was very moving and stirring of affections, also very plain and distinct in what he taught; by which means he became the more profitable to the hearers. He had a singular good gift in prayer, both public and private, in ripping up the hart and conscience before God, in the humble confession of sin, and begging the mercies of God in Christ for the pardon of the same. He always thought it were better for ministers to pray oftener, and divide their prayers, then be long and tedious in the same (excepts upon solemn and special occasions, as in days of humiliation and the like). His reason was, that the hearts and spirits of all, especially the weak, could hardly continue and stand bent (as it were) so long towards God, as they ought to doe in that duty, without flagging and falling of. For the government of the church, (which was most proper to his office,) he was carful to preserve good order in the same, and to preserve purity, both in the doctrine and communion of the same; and to suppress any error or contention that might begin to rise up amongst them; and accordingly God gave good success to his endeavors herein all his days, and he saw the fruit of his labors in that behalf.”

William Brewster established a farm in nearby Duxbury in 1632, and his son Love would acquire a farm next door a few years later. William Brewster died peacefully in 1644, nearly 80 years of old. Included among his belongings were a violet coat, black silk stockings, a doublet, caps, pistol, rapier, and a tobacco case. He also had over 400 books, inventoried here, including books by Luther, Calvin, Beza, Erasmus, Thomas Cartwright, William Perkins, Machiavelli, Francis Bacon, as well as books on geography, silkworms, and medicine (62 of the books were in Latin and 302 of them were in English).  

William Brewster sacrificed much over the years and held fast to his principles. Though he had moved in influential circles, he was not haughty, but associated with the lowly. He served faithfully as an elder, shepherding his people amid many and various difficulties. As his younger contemporary recounted, William Brewster was
“a man that had done and suffered much for the Lord Jesus and the gospels sake, and had bore his part in well and woe with this poor persecuted church above 36 years in England, Holland, and in this wilderness, and done the Lord and them faithful service in his place and calling. And notwithstanding the many troubles and sorrows he passed throw, the Lord upheld him to a great age” (Bradford). 

Thursday, November 3, 2022

How Shall We Pray?

Question 99: What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?
Answer: 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. (WSC)
All of God’s word helps us to pray rightly. Prayer is a response of faith to God’s word. It is useful when reading Scripture to pray in response to it. When it gives commands, ask for forgiveness for breaking them and ask for grace and wisdom to obey them. When it gives promises, express faith in them and beseech God to fulfill them. When it describes God’s attributes and works, praise and thank him for them and appeal to them. The book of Psalms and the various prayers recorded elsewhere in Scripture are especially helpful in teaching us how to pray.

In particular, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray using what we call the Lord’s Prayer. Observing his commands on how to pray is part of our discipleship. Jesus teaches us to pray this prayer, with understanding and faith, as well as to use it as a model for our prayers (Matt. 6:9, Luke 11:2).

By teaching you how to pray, Jesus also directs your desires and gives you your priorities. Because of our depravity, our priorities are messed up and our desires are confused and corrupt. But as a good teacher, Jesus shows you what is important and what you should desire. Prayer is an offering up of our desires to God, and so if we ought to offer up these requests, then these requests ought to be our desires. And through prayer, these desires are deepened.

In this prayer, Jesus also shows you what to expect. He teaches you that these are not vain wishes. You will not receive them all at once, but they will come to pass for his disciples. These things are God’s will which he will accomplish in response to the prayers of his people. So in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches you how to pray, what is important, and what to expect by faith.