RPM, Volume 19, Number 48, November 26 to December 2, 2017

The Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism

By Dr. Zacharias Ursinus


Question 120. Why hath Christ commanded us to address God thus, "OUR FATHER?"

Answer. That immediately, in the very beginning of our prayer, he might excite in us a childlike reverence for, and confidence in God, which are the foundation of our prayer; namely, that God is become our father in Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of him in true faith, than our parents refuse us earthly things.


The Lord's Prayer consists of three parts; a preface -- petitions, and a conclusion.

The preface is contained in the words, Our Father which art in heaven. This again consists of two parts: a calling upon the true God contained in the words, Our Father, and a description of the true God expressed by the words, Who art in heaven. Christ will have us to pray in this way, because God desires to be called upon with due honor, which consists, 1. In true knowledge. 2. In confidence. 3. In obedience. Obedience comprehends true love, fear, hope, humility and patience.

Our Father. God is our Father, 1. In respect to our creation. "Which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God." 2. In respect to our redemption, and reception into divine favor through Christ our mediator. Christ is the only begotten and natural Son of God -- we are by nature the children of wrath, and are adopted as children by God for Christ sake. 3. In respect to our sanctification or regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

Christ will have us call God, Father, and so to address him, 1. That we may direct true prayer to God, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2. On account of true knowledge, that we may know and acknowledge him to be our Father, who for the sake of the Son of God our mediator, adopted us as his children, when we were his enemies. "I ascend unto my Father, and your Father." (John 20:17.) This same God also regenerates us by the Holy Spirit, and confers upon us all necessary good. 3. On account of reverence, or that we may be led to cherish true reverence towards God; for since he is our Father, we, therefore, conduct ourselves as it is proper for children to do, and cherish such reverence for him as children should have for a father, especially those who have been adopted, and are undeserving of the benefits of God. 4. On account of confidence, or that we may have such a confidence wrought in us as that by which we may be assured of being heard, and that God will grant us all things which pertain to our salvation. For since God, whom we call upon, is our Father, and loved us so greatly as to give his only begotten Son to die for us, how shall he not with him give us all things necessary to our salvation. (Rom. 8; 32.) 5. For a remembrance of creation. God now will hear none but those who thus pray unto him, because it is in them only that he obtains the end of his blessings.

Obj. 1. We call upon the Father according to the command of Christ. Therefore we are not to call upon the Son and Holy Ghost. Ans. We deny the consequence which is here drawn; for it is no just conclusion which infers that certain attributes are withdrawn from the other persons of the Godhead, when they are attributed to one of the persons. Again: the name of the Father, as the name of God, when it is opposed to creatures, must be understood essentially; and where it is used in connection with the other persons of the Godhead, it must be understood personally. The name Father must, therefore, here be understood essentially, the reasons of which are evident: 1. Because the name of Father is not here put in opposition to the other persons of the Godhead, but in opposition to creatures by whom he is called upon. It is in this way that Christ is called by the prophet Isaiah the everlasting Father. (Is. 9:6.) 2. Because when one of the persons of the Godhead is named, the others are not excluded, when mention is made of their external operations or works. 3. We cannot think of God the Father, and draw near to him, except in his Son, our mediator. The Son has also made us the sons of God by the Holy Spirit, who is for this reason called the Spirit of adoption. 4. Christ commands us to call upon him likewise, saying, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you." (John 16:23.) 5. Christ gives the Holy Ghost. It is, therefore, he himself from whom we are to ask the Holy Spirit.

Obj. 2. Christ is called, and is our brother. Therefore he is not our Father. Ans. He is our brother in as far as he is man; and our Father in as far as he is God, our Creator and Redeemer. He is the everlasting Father. (Is. 9:6.)

Obj. 3. He who receives us into favor for Christ's sake, is not Christ himself. But the Father, whom we here so call, receives us into favor for Christ's sake. Therefore he is not Christ. Ans. He who receives us into favor for Christ's sake, is not Christ himself, viz., in the same respect. Christ, as mediator, is he on account of whom we are received into divine favor; but as God he is the person who receives us.

Our Father. Why does Christ direct us to say our Father, and not my Father? He does this:

1. That he may excite in us a confidence of being heard: for since we do not pray alone, but seeing that the whole church unites its voice with ours, God will not reject the prayers of the whole church, but hears them, according as it is said: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." But someone may perhaps be ready to say, it is often the case that Christians pray at home when the church is ignorant of it; but then Christians, and the whole church, always pray for themselves, and for all the members, with desire and affection. Love is an habitual quality, abiding even when we are asleep, and is not an affection or passion quickly passing away. Hence, when any one prays alone in his closet, the whole church prays with him in affection and desire.

2. That he might admonish us to mutual love. Christians possessing mutual love should pray one for another. It is for this reason that Christ, by placing the word our in the very commencement of this prayer, would admonish us of the duty of cherishing mutual love: 1. Because where there is no true love to our neighbor, there is no true prayer; neither can we have any assurance that God will hear us. For if we come into the presence of God, having no regard for our brethren, the sons of God, he will not regard us as his sons. 2. Because where there is no love to our neighbor, there is no faith; and without faith there is no prayer; "for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (Rom. 14:23.)

Obj. It belongs to a father to withhold nothing from his children. But God withholds many things from us. Therefore he is not our Father. Ans. It belongs to a father to grant his children everything necessary and pro per for them; and to withhold from them whatever is unnecessary, useless and hurtful. It is in this way that God deals with us, giving us all good things, temporal and spiritual, which are necessary and profitable, and contribute to our salvation.

Question 121. Why is here added, "WHICH ART IN HEAVEN?"

Answer. Lest we should form any earthly conceptions of God's heavenly majesty, and that we may expect from his almighty power all things necessary for soul and body.


The second part of the preface of the Lord's prayer is contained in the words, Who art in heaven; that is, heavenly. The term heaven, as here used, signifies the abode or habitation of God, of the holy angels, and blessed men, concerning which God says in the prophecy of Isaiah, Heaven is my throne; and of which Christ says, In my father's house are many mansions. (Is. 66:1. John 14:2.) God is indeed everywhere by his immensity; but he is said to exist and to dwell in heaven, because he is there more glorious than in the world, and there manifests himself immediately. Christ now commands us to address God as our Father who art in heaven:

1. That he might show what a contrast and difference there is between earthly parents and his Father; or that he might separate him from earthly parents, and that we might regard him as such a Father: 1. Who is not earthly, but heavenly, dwelling gloriously in heaven. 2. Who rules everywhere with heavenly glory and majesty, presides over all things, and who governs by his providence the whole world which he himself created. 3. Who is free from all manner of corruption and change. 4. Who even there, that is in heaven, manifests himself gloriously to angels, and declares what a Father he is, how good, how great and rich.

2. That he might excite in us a confidence that God hears us; because if he is our Father, and is possessed of infinite goodness, which he especially displays in heaven, then he will also give us all things necessary for our salvation; and if this our Father be also Lord in heaven, and possessed of infinite power, so that he can help us in our need, then he can also easily grant unto us what we ask at his hands.

3. That he might excite in us reverence. For since our Father is so great a Lord, -- even one that is heavenly, who rules everywhere, and has power to cast both soul and body into hell, -- we ought to reverence him, and come into his presence with the greatest humiliation of soul and body.

4. That we may call upon him in fervency of spirit.

5. That the minds of all those who worship him may be elevated and fixed upon heavenly things.

6. That we may be led to desire heavenly things

7. That we may not fall into the error of the heathen, who imagine that God can be adored and worshipped in creatures.

8. That we might be admonished not to direct our prayers to any particular place, as under the Old Testament.

Subscribe to RPM
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.