Tyndale wrote this treatise to “fill up the leaf of the paternoster [Latin: ‘Our Father’]”. The treatise is, he says, “very necessary and profitable, wherein—if you mark it—you shall perceive what prayer is and all that belongs to prayer.”
The importance of the tone of God’s language to the dialogue is explained in Tyndale’s preface:
“The sinner prays the petitions of the paternoster, and God answers by the law, as though He would put him from his desire. The sinner acknowledges that he is worthy to be put back, but nevertheless faith cleaves fast to God’s promises and compels Him, for His truth’s sake, to hear the petition. Mark this well and take it for a sure conclusion: when God commands us in the law to do anything, He commands not therefore that we are able to do it but to bring us unto the knowledge of ourselves, that we might see what we are and what a miserable state we are in, and to know our lack, that thereby we should turn to God to acknowledge our wretchedness unto Him, and to desire Him that of His mercy He would make us what He bids us be, and to give us strength and power to do that which the law requires of us . . . The office of the law is only to utter sin, and to declare what miserable damnation and captivity we are in. Is it not a miserable, yes, a fearsome and horrible damnation . . . when our very hearts are so fast bound and locked unto the power of the devil that we cannot once as much as consent unto the will of almighty God, our Father, Creator, and Maker?”
Tyndale writes that we should elaborate upon the Lord’s Prayer like this:
The Sinner: Our Father who art in heaven, what a great space is between Thee and us. How therefore shall we, Thy children here on earth, banished and exiled from Thee in this vale of misery and wretchedness, come home to Thee into our natural country?
God: The child honours his father, and the servant his master. If I am your father, where is My honour? If I am your lord, where is My fear? (Malachi 1). For My name through you and by your means is blasphemed, railed upon and evil spoken of (Isaiah 52).
The Sinner: Alas, O Father, that is true. We acknowledge our sin and trespass. Yet be Thou a merciful father, and deal not with us according to our deservings, neither judge us by the rigorousness of Thy will, but give us grace that we may so live that Thy holy name may be hallowed and sanctified in us. And keep our hearts, that we neither do nor speak, no, that we not once think or purpose anything but that which is to Thy honour and praise, and above all things make Thy name and honour to be sought of us and not our own name and vain glory. And of Thy mighty power bring to pass in us that we may love and fear Thee as a son his father.
God: How can My honour and name be hallowed among you, when your hearts and thoughts are always inclined to evil, and yes in bondage and captivity under sin; moreover seeing that no man can sing My laud and praise in a strange country (Psalm 136).
The Sinner: O Father, that is true. We feel our members, yes, and also our very hearts, prone and ready to sin. And that the world, the flesh, and the devil rule in us, and expel the due honour of Thy holy name. Wherefore we beseech Thee, most merciful Father, for the love that Thou hast unto Thy son Christ, help us out of this miserable bondage, and let Thy kingdom come, to drive out the sin, to loose the bonds of Satan, to tame the flesh, to make us righteous and perfect, and to cleave unto Thee, that Thou only mayest reign in us, and that we may be Thy kingdom and possession, and Thee obey with all our power and strength, both within and without.
God: Whom I help, them I destroy. And whom I make living, safe, rich and good, them I kill, condemn and cast away, make them beggars and bring them to nought. But so be cured of me, [and] you will not suffer (Psalm 77). How then shall I heal you, yes, and what can I do more? (Isaiah 5).
The Sinner: That is to us great sorrow and grief, that we can neither understand nor suffer Thy wholesome hand. Wherefore help, dear Father, open our eyes and work patience in us, that we may understand Thy wholesome hand and also patiently suffer Thy godly will to be fulfilled in us. Furthermore, though Thy most wholesome cure be never so painful unto us, yet go forward therewith, punish, beat, cut, burn, destroy, bring to nought, damn, cast down unto hell, and do whatsoever Thou wilt, that Thy will only may be fulfilled and not ours. Forbid, dear Father, and in no wise suffer us to follow our own good thoughts and imaginations, neither to prosecute our own will, meaning and purpose. For Thy will and ours are clean contrary one to the other, thine only good (though it otherwise appear unto our blind reason), and ours evil (though our blindness see it not).
God: I am well served and dealt withal, that men love me with their lips and their hearts are far from me, and when I take them in hand to make them better and to amend them, then run they backward, and in the midst of their curing, while their health is aworking, they withdraw themselves from me, as you read (Psalms 77), conversi sunt in die belli. They are turned back in the day of battle, that is to say, they which began well and committed themselves unto me, that I should take them in hand and cure them, are gone back from me in time of temptations and fulfilling of the flesh, and are returned to sin and unto dishonouring me again.
The Sinner: O Father, have mercy on us, and deny us not that bread of love. It grieves us sore, even at the very root of our heart, that we cannot satisfy Thy words and follow it. We desire thee, therefore, to have patience with us, Thy poor and wretched children, and to forgive us our trespass and guilt, and judge us not after Thy law, for no man is righteous in Thy presence. Look on Thy promises. We forgive our trespassers, and that with all our hearts, and unto such hast Thou promised forgiveness—not that we through such forgiveness are worthy of Thy forgiveness, but that Thou are true, and of Thy grace and mercy have promised forgiveness unto all them that forgive their neighbours. In this Thy promise, therefore, is all our hope and trust.
God: I forgive you often and loose you often, and you never abide steadfast. Children of little faith are you. You cannot watch and endure with me a little while, but at once fall again into temptation (Matthew 26) . . . . I am righteous and right in my judgment, and therefore sin cannot go unpunished.
The Sinner: For as much, then, as adversity, tribulation, affliction and evil which fight against sin give us temptation, deliver us out of them, finish Thy cure and make us thoroughly whole, that we, loosed from sin and evil, may be unto Thee a kingdom, to laud, to praise and to sanctify Thee. Amen. And seeing that Thou hast taught us thus to pray, and hast promised also to hear us, we hope and are sure that Thou wilt graciously and mercifully grant us our petitions, for Thy truth’s sake, and to the honouring of Thy truth. Amen.
Finally, some man will say haply, “What and if I cannot believe that my prayer is heard?” I answer, “Then do as the father of the possessed did in the 9th [chapter] of Mark, when Christ said unto him, ‘If you could believe, all things are possible unto him that believes.’ The father answered, ‘I believe, Lord help my unbelief,’ that is to say, heal my unbelief and give perfect belief and strengthen the weakness of my faith and increase it.