on Matthew 6 :7
Use not vain repetitions - Μη βαττολογησητε, Suidas explains this word well: "πολυλογια, much speaking, from one Battus, who made very prolix hymns, in which the same idea frequently recurred." "A frequent repetition of awful and striking words may often be the result of earnestness and fervor. See Daniel 9:3-20; but great length of prayer, which will of course involve much sameness and idle repetition, naturally creates fatigue and carelessness in the worshipper, and seems to suppose ignorance or inattention in the Deity; a fault against which our Lord more particularly wishes to secure them." See Matthew 6:8. This judicious note is from the late Mr. Gilbert Wakefield, who illustrates it with the following quotation from the Heautontimorumenos of Terence:
Ohe! jam decine Deos, uxor, gratulando Obtundere,
Tuam esse inventam gnatam: nisi illos ex Tuo Ingenio judicas,
Ut nil credas Intelligere, nisi idem Dictum Sit Centies
"Pray thee, wife, cease from Stunning the gods with thanksgivings, because thy child is in safety; unless thou judgest of them from thyself, that they cannot Understand a thing, unless they are told of it a Hundred Times." Heaut. ver. 880.
Prayer requires more of the heart than of the tongue. The eloquence of prayer consists in the fervency of desire, and the simplicity of faith. The abundance of fine thoughts, studied and vehement motions, and the order and politeness of the expressions, are things which compose a mere human harangue, not an humble and Christian prayer. Our trust and confidence ought to proceed from that which God is able to do in us, and not from that which we can say to him. It is abominable, says the Hedayah, that a person offering up prayers to God, should say, "I beseech thee, by the glory of thy heavens!" or, "by the splendor of thy throne!" for a style of this nature would lead to suspect that the Almighty derived glory from the heavens; whereas the heavens are created, but God with all his attributes is eternal and inimitable. Hedayah, vol. iv. p. 121.
This is the sentiment of a Mohammedan; and yet for this vain repetition the Mohammedans are peculiarly remarkable; they often use such words as the following: -
O God, O God, O God, O God! -
O Lord, O Lord, O Lord, O Lord! -
O living, O immortal, O living, O immortal,
O living, O immortal, O living, O immortal! -
O Creator of the heavens and the earth! -
O thou who art endowed with majesty and authority!
O wonderful, etc.
on Matthew 6 :7
Use not vain repetitions - The original word here is supposed to be derived from the name of a Greek poet, who made long and weary verses, declaring by many forms and endless repetitions the same sentiment. Hence, it means to repeat a thing often; to say the same thing in different words, or to repeat the same words, as though God did not hear at first. An example of this we have in 1 Kings 18:26; "They called on Baal from morning until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us!" It may serve to illustrate this passage, and to show how true is the description here of prevailing modes of prayer, to refer to the forms and modes of devotion still practiced in Palestine by the Muslims. Dr. Thomson ("The Land and the Book") gives the following description of what actually occurs: "See those men on that elevated terrace. One has spread his cloak, other their Persian rugs toward the south. They are Muslims, preparing to say prayers - rather perform them, in this most public place, and in the midst of all this noise and confusion.
"Let us stop and watch the ceremony as it goes on. That man next us raises his open hands until the thumbs touch the ears, exclaiming aloud, "Allah-hu-akbar" - 'God is great.' After uttering mentally a few short petitions, the hands are brought down and folded Together near the girdle, while he recites the first chapter of the Koran, and two or three other brief passages from the same book. And now he bends forward, rests his hands upon his knees, and repeats three times a formula of praise to 'God most great.' Then, standing erect, he cries "Allah-hu-akbar," as at the beginning. Then see him drop upon his knees, and bend forward until his nose and forehead touch the ground directly between his expanded hands. This he repeats three times, muttering all the while the same short formulas of prayer and praise. The next move will bring him to his knees, and then, settling back upon his heels, he will mumble over various small petitions, with sundry grunts and exclamations, according to taste and habit. He has now gone through one regular Rek'ah; and, standing up as at the first, and on exactly the same spot, he will perform a second, and even a third, if specially devout, with precisely the same genuflections.
"They are obliged to repeat some expressions thirty times, others many hundred times. Would that these remarks did not apply to nominal Christians in this land as well as to Muslims!"
The heathen do - The original word is that which is commonly translated "Gentile." The world was divided into two parts, the Jews and the Gentiles; that is, in the original, the "nations," the nations destitute of the true religion. Christ does not fix the length of our prayers. He says that we should not repeat the same thing, as though God did not hear; and it is not improbable that he intended to condemn the practice of long prayers. His own supplications were remarkably short.
on Matthew 6 :7
6:7 Use not vain repetitions - To repeat any words without meaning them, is certainly a vain repetition. Therefore we should be extremely careful in all our prayers to mean what we say; and to say only what we mean from the bottom of our hearts. The vain and heathenish repetitions which we are here warned against, are most dangerous, and yet very common; which is a principal cause why so many, who still profess religion, are a disgrace to it. Indeed all the words in the world are not equivalent to one holy desire. And the very best prayers are but vain repetitions, if they are not the language of the heart.