RPM, Volume 19, Number 52 December 24 to December 30, 2017

The Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism

By Dr. Zacharias Ursinus


Question 125. Which is the fourth petition?

Answer. "GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD;" that is, be pleased to provide us with all things necessary for the body, that we may thereby acknowledge thee to be the only fountain of all good, and that neither our care nor industry, nor even thy gifts, can profit us without thy blessing, and therefore that we may withdraw our trust from all creatures, and place it alone in thee.


This petition respecting our daily bread, it would seem should have been placed after the petition in which we pray for the forgiveness of our sins, inasmuch as such benefits as are most important should be prayed for first, whilst those which are less important should be sought last. But Christ having regard to our infirmities, placed this fourth petition respecting our daily bread, as it were in the middle of the prayer which he prescribed, that we might both commence and end our prayers with petitions for spiritual blessings as being most important; and that the obtaining and receiving of temporal benefits might confirm in us more and more a confidence of obtaining spiritual blessings.

In this fourth petition we are taught to pray for temporal blessings, concerning which we must enquire,

I. Why temporal blessings should be prayed for:
II. In what manner they are to be sought:
III. Why Christ comprehends temporal blessings under the term BREAD:
IV. Why he calls it OUR bread:
V. Why he calls it DAILY BREAD:
VI. Why it should be given DAILY:
VII. Whether it is lawful for us to pray for riches:
VIII. Whether it is lawful to lay up anything for the time to come.


We should desire and pray for temporal blessings from God no less than such as are spiritual:

1. On account of the command of God, which of itself should be sufficient, even though we could assign no other reason. We have as a war rant for asking temporal blessings from God both a general and special command. Christ gives a general command when he says, "Ask and it shall be given you." (Matt. 7:7.) We have also a special command uttered by Christ when he prescribed unto us this form of prayer, saying, "After this manner therefore pray ye;" in which he also commands us to ask bread, or temporal blessings from God. When Christ, therefore, commands us to take no thought in regard to what we shall eat, and says that all these things shall be added unto us, he does not design to forbid us to ask of God our daily bread, but condemns distrust, or a want of confidence in God. (Matt. 5:31,33.)

2. On account of the divine promise. God has promised to give us all things necessary for our life, and has promised them in order that we might desire and pray for them, and that we might have a firm confidence that we shall obtain things necessary for us, which confidence is spiritual and not carnal. "Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." (Matt. 6:32.)

3. On account of the glory of God. This petition for temporal blessings is an acknowledgment and profession of the providence of God, especially towards the church. God desires that this praise should be given to him, inasmuch as he is the source of all good things, and that we may not suppose these things to come by mere chance.

4. On account of our comfort; that they may be expressions of God's good-will towards us, since good gifts — such as contribute to salvation, are promised and conferred only upon the children of God. Hence when these gifts are conferred upon us, we should comfort ourselves by believing that we are of the number of those to whom God has promised to grant these things.

5. That the desire and expectation of these blessings maybe an exercise of our confidence and hope; for we cannot promise to ourselves temporal blessings, unless we are assured of spiritual blessings, and of God's good will towards us; neither can we desire and pray for temporal blessings from God, unless we are persuaded that we are in favor with him.

6. On account of our necessity, that we may be able to do the will of God on earth. This we cannot do without daily bread. "The dead praise not the Lord." (Ps. 115:17.)

7. That the desire of these things may be a confirmation to us, and a profession before the world, that it is God who confers upon us even the smallest gifts.

8. For this comfort, that we may know that the church shall always be preserved on earth, since God always hears our prayers, and will constantly grant unto us our daily bread according to his promise.


Temporal blessings are to be sought and prayed for, as well as other good things promised in the gospel:

1. With confidence in the promise of God, or from faith. If we offer up our prayers differently they are not heard, neither are the good things which we have, made contributory to our salvation.

2. With the condition of the will of God; that God would give us what we pray for, if it be pleasing to him, and as he knows they may contribute to our advantage and his glory; because he has promised these things not with any determined circumstances. God has not prescribed in his word, what temporal blessings he will confer upon us. It is different, however, as it respects spiritual blessings; for in reference to these God has expressly promised that he will give them to everyone that asks.

3. With confidence of being heard; so that we believe that God will give us as much as is necessary to meet our wants.

4. To this end, that we may in the use of these things serve God and our neighbor, and not that they may contribute to our sensual desire. Those who do not in this way desire these blessings are not heard; and although they may receive what they ask, yet God does not hear them, because the things which they receive are not made profitable to their salvation. There are two reasons why God has not specified in his word what temporal blessings he will confer upon us, as the salvation of everyone, and the manifestation of his own glory demands. 1. Because we are often ignorant what we should pray for, and what would be good for us. God knows best what blessings it is desirable that he should confer upon us, for the manifestation of his own glory and our salvation. As we, therefore, often err in asking temporal blessings, God confers only such upon us as he knows will be profitable for us. It is different, however, as it respects spiritual blessings; because these are all profitable unto us, and God has prescribed the way in which we are to pray for them, so that we cannot err in desiring them. For what God has positively promised, that we ought to desire positively; and what he has specially and simply promised, that we should seek and pray for in the same way. So we should simply desire and pray for the Holy Ghost, because God has simply and expressly promised to give the Holy Ghost to everyone that asks. 2. That we may learn to be contented with those things which we have received from God, and always submit our will to the will of God.


1. Christ, by a synecdoche which is common in the Hebrew language, comprehends under the term bread all temporal blessings, and such as are necessary for the sustenance of life, as food, raiment, health, civil peace, &c. This is evident from the design of the petition, for we pray for bread from our necessity. But there are many other things besides bread necessary for us. Therefore we pray for them also under the term bread. This synecdoche so common in the Hebrew language, often occurs in the Bible; as, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." "He that did eat of my bread hath lifted up his heel against me." (Gen. 3:19. Ps. 41:9.) Nor did Christ merely comprehend under the term bread, things necessary for the sustenance of life, but he also comprises such a use of these things as is profitable; for bread, apart from such a use, is no better than a stone.

2. Christ furthermore comprehends all temporal blessings under the term bread, 1. That he might restrain our desires, and teach us to pray only for such things as are necessary for the support of life, and for the service of God and our neighbor, both in our common and proper calling. 2. That he might teach us to pray not only for such things as are necessary, but also that the use of them might be made profitable to us, and tend to our salvation, inasmuch as these things profit us nothing without such a use.

Bread, now, is made profitable to us, 1. If we pray for it and receive it with faith, or with the intention — after the manner and to the end which God directs, which requires that we look in the exercise of faith to God, the author and giver of all good things. 2. If we desire that God will give with the bread which we receive the virtue and power of nourishing and preserving our bodies, which requires that we do not merely pray for bread itself, but also for the blessing of God; for if God does not bless us in that which we receive, all our cares and labors are vain, and the gifts of God themselves are therefore useless and hurtful according to the threatening, "I will break the staff of your bread." (Lev. 26:26.) We may now easily see what we desire when we pray for bread, viz: 1. Not great riches, but only such things as are necessary for us. 2. That these things may be to us bread, or be made profitable and salutary by the blessing of God, without which bread is not bread, but becomes as it were a stone or poison; for he who gives bread that it may not profit him that receives it any more than if it were a stone, gives a stone and not bread. Such, now, are the blessings which the wicked receive from God, and take as it were to themselves.


Christ commands us to pray for our bread, and not for mine, or thine, or any other man's, 1. That we may desire those things which are given to us of God; for the bread which God gives us as necessary for the support of life is, and is made ours when it is given unto us. This petition, therefore, Give us our bread, signifies, Give us, God, the bread allotted to us, and which thou dost design shall be ours. God, as a householder, distributes to everyone his own portion, or that which we deserve at his hands. 2. That we may desire things necessary, acquired by lawful labor in some honest and proper calling, pleasing to God and profitable to society at large, or that we may receive what we ask at the hands of God by ordinary means and lawful ways, the hand of God reaching them to us from heaven. "This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat." "Let him that stole, steal no more, but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good." (2 Thes. 3:10. Eph. 4:28.) 3. That we may use them with a good conscience and with thanks giving. For God desires that we should take unto ourselves the assurance that when he gives us these things he also grants unto us the privilege of enjoying his gifts. God desires that we should use his gifts, not as thieves and robbers, but cheerfully and with thanksgiving.


Christ calls the bread which we are commanded to ask of God, daily bread, 1. Because he will have us to ask daily as much as we need for each day. 2. Because he would restrain our raging and boundless desires. "Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." "A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked." "There is no want to them that fear him." (Matt. 6:32. Ps. 37:16; 34:9.) Hence the petition, Give us our daily bread, means, Give us as much bread as is sufficient for us give us so much of what is necessary for the support of life as everyone of us needs, to serve thee and our neighbor in our several callings in life.


Christ adds the phrase, This day, 1. That he might meet and guard against our distrust and covetousness, and keep us from both these vices. 2. That we might depend upon him alone, as yesterday, so this day and tomorrow, and always expect the necessaries of life from the hands of God, that we may know that they are not obtained by our own hands, or labor, or diligence, but that God confers them upon us, and that we may know that even though we receive them, yet they will not profit our bodies, if the blessing of God does not accompany them. 3. That the exercise of faith and prayer may always be continued in us; for as long as it is said, This day, so long does Christ design that prayer should be continued, that we may yield obedience to the command to pray always. (2 Thes. 5:17.)


This, in connection with the following Question, naturally grows out of what we have already said in reference to this petition; for when we are commanded to pray only for our daily bread, and that, too, this day, it would seem at first view that it is not lawful either to desire riches, or to lay anything by for tomorrow. It is, however, certainly right and proper to desire riches, if we remove all ambiguity from the word, and understand by it things which are necessary for the support of life. It was in this way also that Epicurus defined riches "to be a poverty adapted to the law of nature" This is a good definition of the term; for they are to be considered truly rich, who enjoy a sufficient amount of the things necessary for the support of life, and are contented therewith. If we, therefore, understand the term riches as just defined, they are certainly to be sought and prayed for at the hands of God, inasmuch as we are to desire such things as are necessary for nature, and for the position and office which God has assigned us in life. And the reason is, that these necessary things, or riches, are the daily bread which we are commanded to ask and pray for at the hands of God. There are others, again, who define the term differently, under standing by it an abundance and plenty over and above what is necessary. So Croesus, surnamed the Rich, said, "That no one is rich, unless he was able to support an army by his revenue" In this sense, riches are never to be asked of God, seeing that this is not to pray for our daily bread. Solomon says, in the person of all the godly, "Give me neither poverty nor riches," (Prov. 30:8); by which words the Holy Ghost teaches that riches, when understood to mean an abundance over and above what is necessary, are to be deprecated by us. The declaration of the Apostle Paul, in his first Epistle to Tim. 6:9, is also here in point, where he says,. "They that will be rich fall into temptations and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition." Christ also calls riches thorns, which we cannot handle without exposing ourselves to the danger of being pricked thereby. (Matt. 13:22.) But, on the other hand, godliness is great gain, if a man be contented with what he has. (1 Tim. 6:6.) Should God, however, give us anything besides what is actually necessary for us, we should use these things properly, or reserve them for purposes good and necessary; for Christ commanded the disciples to gather up the fragments, that nothing might be lost. (John 6:12.) We have also a remarkable example in the person of Joseph, who, being warned of the approaching famine, gathered and laid by pro visions in the time of plenty, for the years of scarcity and dearth which were to come upon the land of Egypt. (Gen. 41:48.) But here care must be taken: 1. That we do not repose our trust in them. "If riches increase, set not your heart upon them." (Ps. 62:10.) 2. That we avoid luxury and every abuse of the gifts of God. 3. We should regard ourselves as stewards of God, who has committed these riches to our charge for the purpose of being properly expended, and has imposed upon us the duty of administering them so as to promote his glory, and that we shall at some time be required to render an account to God for our stewardship and administration.


That it is right and proper for us to lay something by for the time to come, may be inferred from the command of Christ, "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost." (John 6:12.) The same thing is also taught by the word our, as it is here used. For we are required to aid and contribute to the support of the commonwealth, and to give to the poor as opportunity presents itself. This, however, we cannot do, unless we lay something of our own by, so that we may have something to give whenever any occasion calls for the exercise of our liberality. We may here appropriately refer to all the precepts and rules which the Scriptures give respecting parsimony and frugality, which virtues are employed in keeping and profitably disposing of things honestly acquired for one's own use, and for the benefit of his friends, so as to avoid all sumptuousness, prodigality, luxury and waste of the gifts of God. The Apostle Paul teaches that it is the duty of parents to lay something in store for their children, when he says, "The children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children." (2 Cor. 12:14.)

These three things should, however, be observed in laying up possessions for the time to come: 1. That the things which are laid by in store be lawfully gotten, having been acquired by honest and lawful labor. 2. That we do not repose our confidence in them. 3. That they be preserved for lawful and necessary purposes, both as it respects ourselves and others: such as a proper support for our own life and for our families; for the preservation of the church and state, and for administering to the wants of the poor and needy, concerning which we may cite the following passages of Scripture: "Trust not in oppression, and become not vain in robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart upon them." "Let him that stole, steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." (Ps. 62:10. Eph. 4:28.)

We may now easily return an answer to the objections which are brought against this petition.

Obj. 1. It is not necessary to desire and pray for what is ours. Daily bread is ours. Therefore we need not desire it from God. Ans. There are here four terms arising from the ambiguity of the word our, which in the major proposition signifies a thing which we have in our own power; whilst in the minor it signifies a thing which becomes ours by the gift of God, or which we obtain from God by prayer, as we have already shown.

Obj. 2. It is not necessary that we should labor for that which is obtained not by labor, but by prayer. Our daily bread is obtained not by labor but by prayer. Therefore we should not labor for it, but merely pray. Ans. There is here an error in regarding that as absolutely true, which is true only in part. Those things which are simply not obtained by labor, neither as a cause nor as the necessary means, for these it is to no purpose that we labor. But although our labor is not necessary, for the purpose of obtaining temporal benefits, as the whole or principal efficient cause, yet it is, nevertheless, necessary as a means instituted by God, according as it is said, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the ground." "This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat." (Gen. 3:19; 2 Thes. 3:10.) God gives all things freely, but not without labor and prayer on our part.

Obj. 3. Christ here commands us to pray for our daily bread, and this day and not tomorrow. Therefore it is not lawful to lay anything in store for the time to come. Why, then, does Paul say that the parents ought to lay up for their children? (2 Cor. 12:14.) Ans. This objection is of no account, inasmuch as it regards that as a cause which is none. Christ commands us to pray for our daily bread, and this day. Hence, we are to ask that which is necessary for every day, this day, tomorrow, and as long as we live. We are, therefore, not to understand Christ as teaching that he will not have us to labor for the morrow, or that we are not to lay anything by for the future, or that we are to cast away those things which God has already given us, as sufficient for the time to come; for his object is to remove from us distrust, covetousness, and an unrighteous acquisition of goods, and disobedience. He does indeed say, in another place, "Take no thought for the morrow "(Matt. 6:34); but his meaning evidently is. that we should not think of the morrow with distrust, as though God would then give us nothing, or as though it would not be necessary for us to pray. He does not, therefore, forbid labor and prayer, but merely distrust, and a want of confidence in God.

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