By John Hooper
1. The Use of Amen
In the Scriptures not only do we find the principles that underlie the meaning of Amen personified in the person of our Lord and Saviour, but we find them exemplified in His life and practice and applied to the life and practice of His people.
a] Our Saviour used it
In Matthew 5:18, for instance, Jesus says, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” It may not be obvious to the reader but in this verse and on every other occasion that Jesus used the word “verily,” He was actually saying “Amen.” We are accustomed to saying Amen at the end of our prayers, and so we should, but Jesus puts an Amen at the beginning of His statement, thereby declaring that what He is about to say is final and complete. There is nothing more to be said. There is no room for argument, debate, or discussion. There is a finality about the sayings of Jesus that stems from His authority as the Son of the living God. This was something the Pharisees refused to accept, but the only right response of a believing heart is humble and unquestioning submission.
When a “verily” is attached to one of the Lord’s promises it becomes an especially precious promise to the soul because it accentuates the certainty of its fulfilment. The “verily” spoken to the dying but repentant thief would have given him the sweetest assurance and comfort as he endured his final hours: “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). There would have been no room in his soul for any doubts or questions but only a certain looking forward to heavenly joy.
Sometimes Jesus would repeat an Amen, as in “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Repetition adds emphasis to the point, in this case stressing the absolute necessity of the new birth as something about which there can be no question for entering the kingdom. Without it there is not even the faintest glimpse of the kingdom. Interestingly it is only in the gospel account of John that these double “verilys” are recorded, and it is also worth noting that this use of repetition, so clearly evident in the original language, is sadly and unnecessarily missing from many modern versions of the Bible. Adopting a dynamic equivalence method of translation they give us instead phrases such as “most assuredly” or “I tell you the truth,” which come across as limp substitutes for the crisp clarity of the original.
b] Amen in prayer
The Lord’s pattern prayer in Matthew 6 ends with a grand doxology, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (verse 13). Here again, a comment about modern translations and what they have done to this prayer. If you look at this verse as it is found in the English Standard Version, for example, you will discover that there is no Amen. In fact the entire doxology beginning “For thine …” is missing. Yes, this equates with the prayer as recorded in Luke 11:2-4, but we are reliably informed that in by far the majority of Greek manuscripts of Matthew 6 the doxology is present. Furthermore it is entirely suited to the content of the prayer.
Indeed, it would be hard to find an ending that is more fitting … The doxology of the Lord’s Prayer is thus a statement of faith in which the believer praises His heavenly Father and expresses confidence that his prayer will be answered. The word “amen” lends even more force to this, and it is therefore rightly understood as an expression of faith that God will hear the prayer. (H.N. Ridderbos).
So if the Lord ends His pattern prayer with an “Amen” then that is the pattern that He wants us to follow, and a more fitting end to prayer would be hard to find. But what is the Amen at the close of prayer intended to express?
Firstly, Amen is an expression of completion. Of the five “books” of psalms, all but the last end with Amen and it is noteworthy that the first three books close with a double Amen:
- “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen” (Psalm 41:13).
- “And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen. The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended” (Psalm 72:19,20).
- “Blessed be the LORD for evermore. Amen, and Amen” (Psalm 89:52).
- “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the LORD” (Psalm 106:48).
Turning to the New Testament (Authorised Version), all but three of its twenty-seven books end with Amen, the exceptions being Acts, James and 3 John. And of course, Amen marks the completion of the entire Word of God! “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Revelation 22:20,21).
While this final Amen underlines the certainty of the Lord’s return, it also marks the completion of the entire revelation of God in Scripture. It really is the final word and we may not expect any further revelation. This is borne out by the warning just a few verses earlier, “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19). The last word of the Bible places a seal upon The Book so that none may add to it or take anything from it.
The final Amen reminds us too that the whole of Scripture is an infallible book, having come to us from a faithful, dependable God. It reveals to us His sure covenant and is full of His sure promises. It is the Word of a True and Faithful Witness, the Amen, so that upon it we can place with complete confidence the salvation of our souls. It is a sure place. The Bible is also our sure guide through life and our certain comfort in death.
The Amen that closes the Lord’s model prayer in Matthew 6 marks its completion. At the outset the Lord had said, “After this manner therefore pray ye” (verse 8), so we may be sure that by the time we have reached the Amen every principle of true prayer will have been applied and exemplified for our instruction and benefit. Whether we consider the content of the individual expressions and petitions, or the order in which they are given, or the manner in which they are stated, all that we need to know concerning our approach to God in prayer has been covered. The prayer is beautifully simple and brief but we can be sure that its petitions are full and complete. Nothing is lacking. To pray after this pattern, then, however imperfect and inadequate we feel our prayer to have been, is to pray according to the will of God.
But “Amen” is more than a closing signature, a rhetorical full-stop to mark the end of our prayer. It is, secondly, an expression of sincerity. We are saying that the words of our prayer are true words expressing the true desires of our heart. Taking the Lord’s pattern prayer as our guide, we truly confess that we are sons and daughters of our heavenly Father and we sincerely desire to hallow His name. We do not look for worldly gain and carnal pleasures but for such things as the Lord Himself has taught us to pray for: the coming of His kingdom, the fulfilment of His will, our daily bread, the forgiveness of our sins and the grace to forgive the sins of one another. We genuinely seek to be delivered from evil and to give God all glory.
The saying of Amen emphasises that we do not make our requests flippantly or thoughtlessly. It is a serious component of our prayer, perhaps more serious than we sometimes appreciate, so is to be undertaken in a thoughtful and meaningful frame of mind and soul. We are saying to the living God, who already knows the thoughts and desires of our hearts far better than we do, that we mean what we say. To add Amen to a prayer that is uttered in haste, without proper thought or sincerity, only increases the hypocritical character of the prayer.
Amen is also an expression of assent. In I Kings 1:36 Benaiah includes an Amen in his response to the words of David the king: “And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada answered the king, and said, Amen: the LORD God of my lord the king say so too.” David is almost at the end of his life and he is carefully putting in place arrangements for the succession of Solomon, following the attempt of Solomon’s older brother Adonijah to take the throne. Benaiah’s audible Amen certainly reflected the sincerity of his own heart but not only that, he was also speaking on behalf of all present. His Amen was a representative Amen with which the whole people were identified. All were expressing their concurrence with the choice of Solomon to reign over them.
But then Benaiah goes further still. Knowing that the accession of Solomon was in fulfilment of the promise of God Himself, he adds, “the LORD God of my lord the king say so too.” Benaiah and the people have added their Amen to the Amen of God. They give their hearty assent to that which God Himself has declared to be His will and which He Himself has promised. Their assent is not so much to the will and words of David as to the will and promise of God.
Likewise, the Amen at the close of a congregational prayer is an expression of assent to the will of God as expressed in the words of the one who has spoken them, which brings us to our next point.
Fourthly, Amen is an expression of unity. Take as an example the response of the people of Israel to David’s psalm of thanksgiving for the return of the ark of the covenant: “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel for ever and ever. And all the people said, Amen, and praised the LORD.” (1 Chronicles 16:36). Notice that everyone said Amen. Similarly Psalm 106 ends with the words, “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the LORD” (verse 48). This was a public declaration of assent by every member of the gathered people, indicating that the prayer was their prayer. Clearly it was, and remains, pleasing to the Lord to hear His people together expressing their assent.
Then again in Deuteronomy 27 the people of Israel are to pronounce curses on twelve kinds of evildoers found amongst them, and in response to each curse comes the Lord’s command, “And all the people shall say, Amen” (verses 14-26). The Amen was audible and was spoken by all the people as an expression of their united assent.
This takes us to the heart of what is happening in congregational prayer. It is true that only one voice is speaking but it is not true that only one is praying. All the people are praying as they are led. All are beseeching the throne of grace and all are expressing their assent as they join together in a vocal Amen. The Amen is the united “yes” of the Lord’s people as they identify themselves wholeheartedly with the words and sentiment of the prayer just offered.
Now it has to be said that this practice of joining in with the Amen is one that, generally speaking, the Lord’s people seem reluctant to take on board. While there are churches that close their congregational prayers with a hearty Amen, they are few and far between. This is not a new phenomenon. Even Matthew Henry in his day felt the need to give a gentle reminder to readers of his commentary:
It was of old the practice of good people to say, Amen, audibly at the end of every prayer, and it is a commendable practice, provided it be done with understanding, as the apostle directs (1 Corinthians 14:16), and uprightly, with life and liveliness, and inward impressions, answerable to that outward expression of desire and confidence. (Commentary on Matthew 6:13)
The lack of an audible Amen might suggest that the people cannot in all good conscience before God give their assent to it. They are silent because they cannot be anything else. The prayer offered has been clearly contrary to the will of God, devoid of Biblical truth and failed utterly to give the Lord all glory. To say Amen to that prayer would be insincere, if not hypocritical. But where the prayer is according to God’s will and wholly glorifying to Him surely we cannot stay silent. Our hearts burst and our lips cry out with a heartfelt Amen to all that has ascended to the Lord in united and corporate supplication. The people are many but the prayer is one.
Fifthly, Amen is an expression of faith and trust in the faithfulness of our heavenly Father. When we bring our petitions, our cares and burdens, our needs and requests to God in the name of Jesus Christ and leave them with Him it is as though we are taking our heavy load and hanging it on a nail in a sure place. We may be completely confident that those prayers will be heard. He is faithful and we can trust Him to answer those prayers according to His own sovereign will, knowing that He will always do for us what is best, what is right.
The usual meaning given to Amen in prayer is “so let it be,” but I am sure we can go further than that. Remember that our prayers are to be according to the will of God and we are assured that when that is the case He will hear us and grant us our petitions. “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14,15). So the Amen signifies rather more than a resigned and perhaps even doubtful “so let it be.” It indicates a firm trust and confidence on the part of the one(s) praying. It is more like “it shall be so.” This is reflected in the final question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism:
Q. 129 What doth the word Amen signify?
A. Amen signifies, it shall truly and certainly be; for my prayer is more assuredly heard of God than I feel in my heart that I desire these things of Him.
c] An apostolic practice.
We have already mentioned the fact that most of the epistles end with an Amen. An example of this is the last verse of I Corinthians: “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.” (16:24) Paul ends his letter with a personal benediction. It has been a letter in which many hard issues have needed to be addressed and much plain speaking called for, no doubt causing offence or upset to some in the Corinthian church, but the apostle now makes it clear that he has only ever told them the truth in love. Yes, he loves them! He loves them as those who are united together with him in Christ, and on this positive note he ends with an Amen.
The Amen indicates that Paul the penman regards the letter as complete. It is composed of all that the Spirit of God gave Paul to say, no more and no less, for the correction and sanctification of the church. It says all that needs to be said. It is true and it is trustworthy.
The Amen also indicates that the letter calls for a response. Just as Paul himself, under inspiration of course, adds his own personal Amen to all that he has written, so the church is called to respond in the same way. The letter cannot be read dispassionately. It demands a response from the heart, a free and sincere assent to every word, giving rise to a willing and joyous obedience. That is what it means to say Amen. It is no small thing.
d] A New Testament church practice
We have already referred to the Old Testament practice of the united Amen, but we find it in the New Testament too. Staying in First Corinthians we read this in chapter 14: “For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?” (verses 14-16). Clearly the audible Amen at the close of public prayer was an established part of early church life and practice, but in order to express their assent the people needed to understand the words of the prayer.
e] A Heavenly practice
In Revelation 5 the Spirit of God has given us a picture of overwhelming glory and beauty. It is a picture of the risen and exalted Lamb of God receiving from the hand of His Father in heaven all power and authority in heaven, earth and hell. Christ alone has dominion over the affairs of all men and nations. He rules with absolute sureness and certainty so that none can thwart Him. What is more He rules and governs with just one glorious purpose in view. As He breaks the seals of the book so He accomplishes the will of His Father, which is the establishing of His glorious kingdom of righteousness. As this eternal purpose and decree of God unfolds so the creatures and the elders and the angels join together in praise of the Lamb until, says John, “every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen” (verses 13,14).
And the four beasts said Amen! Symbolically creation expresses its united and heartfelt assent. Not a faint little murmur that can scarcely be heard, but a sound like claps of thunder, an expression of confident faith and glad worship, a thorough assent to all that has been said – a cry of “This is so! This is gloriously true!” (Richard Brooks, The Lamb is all the Glory).
Two chapters later, in Revelation 7, we have the record of the glorious song of the redeemed in heaven as that great multitude joins in ascribing salvation to God alone, to whom alone belongs all the glory. All that mighty work is done. Each one of the great throng of the elect has been safely gathered to their eternal home, creation itself has been perfected, and the redeemed now join to sing in one harmonious chorus, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” Yes, ‘Salvation is of the Lord’ will be our eternal theme!
And there are witnesses to this: all the angels standing around the throne and around the elders and the four beasts, the angels who with holy curiosity desire to look into the work and progress of the gospel through the ages now see that work of God completed. They hear the song of the redeemed and cannot remain silent. Falling on their faces and worshipping God they respond, “Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen” (verses. 11,12). Notice they begin and end their seven-fold ascription of glory to God with an Amen. With those Amens they announce God’s cosmic redemptive work complete and all heaven rings with its united assent. All that God has purposed from before time He has most surely brought to pass. Each one of His elect He has not failed to gather to Himself. Amen, the glorious work of God is done. Amen, to Him belongs all glory. Amen, so shall it ever be!
Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honours to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud Amen.