The common idea that the desire to change from the singular thee and thy to the plural you and your in addressing God is a modern phenomenon is scotched by a comment of Thomas Boston (1676-1732) in a sermon on the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Works, vol 2, p 587). Described in the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology as “a fine linguist”, Boston said:
“Observe here, by the by, that we are directed to speak to God in prayer as one. Hallowed be Thy name, not Your name: Thy will be done, not Your will. Wherefore then should any forsake such a form of sound words for such an harsh one as speaks to God by ye and your, your Majesty, ye know all things, etc? I will not insist on what may be said to defend it, from the plurality of persons in the Godhead, the manner of speaking to kings, and from common conversation (those who use it, I suppose, doing it rather from custom than judgement). But it is not the Scripture way of speaking to God; it is not the way of this pattern of prayer; it is offensive to, and grating in, the ears of the most part of Christians, as savouring of the opinion of the plurality of Gods, and therefore ought to be forsaken. I may well say in this case, ‘But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God’ (1 Cor 11:16).”
No doubt by this quotation Boston means, with the Apostle, that the Church does not regard as negotiable or controvertible those practices in worship which have biblical authority – Paul referring to the head-covering of women in worship, and Boston to the use of the singular in addressing God in prayer. The English language affords us the opportunity to reflect faithfully this particular shade of meaning in the original.
Rev Hugh M Cartwright
[This was first published in the December 2007 issue of The Free Presbyterian Magazine.]