Chapter 8 - The Seventh Petition
"But deliver us from evil"
This seventh petition brings us to the end of the petitionary part of our Lord’s Prayer. The four requests that are for the supply of our own needs are for providing grace ("give us"), pardoning grace ("forgive us"), preventing grace ("lead us not into temptation"), and preserving grace ("deliver us"). It is to be carefully noted that in each case the pronoun is in the plural number and not the singular—us and our, not me and my. For we are to supplicate not for ourselves only, but for all the members of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). How beautifully this demonstrates the family character of truly Christian prayer. For our Lord teaches us to address "our Father" and to embrace all His children in our requests. On the high priest’s breastplate were inscribed the names of all the tribes of Israel—a symbol of Christ’s intercession on high. So, too, the Apostle Paul enjoins "supplication for all saints" (Eph. 6:18). Self-love shuts up the bowels of compassion, confining us to our own interests; but the love of God shed abroad in our hearts makes us solicitous on behalf of our brethren.
"But deliver us from evil." We cannot agree with those who restrict the application of the word evil here to the Devil alone, though doubtless he is principally intended. The Greek may, with equal propriety, be rendered either the evil one or the evil thing; in fact, it is translated both ways.
We are taught to pray for deliverance from all kinds, degrees, and occasions of evil; from the malice, power, and subtlety of the powers of darkness; from this evil world and all its allurements, snares, tempers, and deceits; from the evil of our own hearts, that it may be restrained, subdued, and finally extirpated; and from the evil of suffering. . . (Thomas Scott).
This petition, then, expresses a desire to be delivered from all that is really prejudicial to us, and especially from sin, which has no good in it.
It is true that in contradistinction to God, who is the Holy One, Satan is designated "the wicked [or evil] one" (Eph. 6:16; 1 John 2:13, 14; 3:12; 5:18, 19). Yet it is also true that sin is evil (Rom. 12:9), the world is evil (Gal. 1:4), and our own corrupt nature is evil (Matthew 12:35). Moreover, the advantages that the Devil gains over us are by means of the flesh and the world, for they are his agents. Thus, this is a prayer for deliverance from all our spiritual enemies. It is true that we have been delivered from "the power of darkness" and translated into the Kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13), and that, as a consequence, Satan no longer has any lawful authority over us. Nevertheless, our adversary wields an awesome and oppressive power: though he cannot rule us, he is permitted to molest and harass us. He stirs up enemies to persecute us (Rev. 12, 13), he inflames our lusts (1 Chron. 21:1; 1 Cor. 7:5), and he disturbs our peace (1 Pet. 5:8). It is therefore our constant need and duty to pray for deliverance from him.
Satan’s favorite device is to incite or to deceive us into a prolonged self-indulgence in some one sin to which we are particularly inclined. Therefore, we need to be in constant prayer that our natural corruptions may be mortified. When he cannot cause some gross lust to tyrannize a child of God, he labors to get him to commit some evil deed whereby the name of God will be dishonored and His people offended, as he did in the case of David (2 Sam. 11). When a believer has fallen into sin the Devil seeks to make him easy therein, so that he has no remorse for it. When God chastens us for our faults, Satan strives to make us fret against our Father’s chastening or else to drive us to despair. When he fails in these methods of attack, then he stirs up our friends and relatives to oppose us, as in the case of Job. But whatever be his line of assault, prayer for deliverance must be our daily recourse.
Christ Himself has left us an example that should encourage us to offer this petition, for in His intercession on our behalf we find Him saying, "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil" (John 17:15). Observe how this explains to us the connection between the clause we are now considering and the one that precedes it. Christ did not pray absolutely that we should be exempted from temptation, for He knew that His people must expect assaults both from within and from without. Therefore, He asked not that we should be taken out of this world, but that we be delivered from the evil. To be kept from the evil of sin is a far greater mercy than to be kept from the trouble of temptation. But how far, it may be asked, has God undertaken to deliver us from evil? First, He keeps us from evil so far as it would be hurtful to our highest interests. It was for Peter’s ultimate good, and the good of God’s people, that he was suffered to fall temporarily (Luke 22:31-34). Second, God prevents evil from gaining full dominion over us, so that we shall not totally and finally apostatize. Third, He rescues us from evil by an ultimate deliverance, when He removes us to heaven.
"But deliver us from evil." This is a prayer, first, for Divine illumination, so that we may be able to detect Satan’s devices (2 Cor. 2:11). He who can transform himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) is far too subtle for human wisdom to cope with. Only as the Spirit graciously enlightens can we discern his snares. Second, this is a prayer for strength to resist Satan’s attacks, for he is much too powerful for us to withstand in our own might. Only as we are energized by the Spirit shall we be kept from willfully yielding to temptation or from taking pleasure in the sins we commit. Third, it is a prayer for grace to mortify our lusts, for only to the degree that we put to death our own internal corruptions shall we be enabled to refuse external solicitations to sin. We cannot justly throw the blame on Satan while we give license to the evil of our hearts. Salvation from the love of sin always precedes deliverance from its dominion. Fourth, this is a prayer for repentance when we do succumb. Sin has a fatal tendency to deaden our sensibilities and to harden our hearts (Heb. 3:13). Naught but Divine grace can free us from unabashed indifference and work in us a godly sorrow for our transgressions. The very words "deliver us" imply that we are as deeply plunged into sin as a beast that is stuck in the mire and must be forcibly dragged out. Fifth, it is a prayer for the removal of guilt from the conscience. When true repentance has been communicated, the soul is bowed down with shame before God; there is no relief till the Spirit sprinkles the conscience afresh with the cleansing blood of Christ. Sixth, it is a prayer that we may be so delivered from evil that our souls are restored again to communion with God. Seventh, it is a prayer that He will overrule our falls for His glory and for our lasting good. To have a sincere desire for all these things is a signal favor from God.
What we pray for we must endeavor to practice. We do but mock God, if we ask Him to deliver us from evil and then trifle with sin or recklessly rush into the place of temptation. Prayer and watchfulness must never be severed from each other. We must make it our special care to mortify our lusts (Col. 3:5; 2 Tim. 2:22), to make no provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14), to avoid every appearance (or form) of evil (1 Thess. 5:22), to resist the Devil steadfastly in the faith (1 Pet. 5:8, 9), to love not the world, neither the things that are in it (1 John 2:15). The more our character is formed and our conduct regulated by the holy Word of God the more we shall be enabled to overcome evil with good. Let us labor diligently to maintain a good conscience (Acts 24:16). Let us seek to live each day as though we knew it was our last one on earth (Prov. 27:1). Let us set our affection on things above (Col. 3:2). Then may we sincerely pray, "But deliver us from evil."