And he said to them, When you pray, say, Our Father which are in heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done…
This petition is often quoted as if it were merely a prayer for meek resignation; or, as though it contained but an echo of the sobbings of Gethsemane. But whilst this is certainly included, the prayer seems to comprise much more; and to ask for Christian energy as well as for Christian endurance; and for diligence as much as patience. It is not only the motto of that blessed Redeemer, as He is beheld mutely suffering, but also as He is presented incessantly and effectually larbouring. All Christ's obedience in life, as well as His obedience unto death, is embraced in the sentiment and spirit of the petition before us. There would be another incongruity in giving to the present sentence merely the narrow construction of resignation to suffering; it is that angels and saints in heaven could scarce be presented to us in the manner in which here they are, as our patterns. Patterns they could not well be of those who are enduring evils, since from all evil they are now and for evermore exempt. But give to the petition the wider scope of conformity to the Father's will — in action as well as in submission — let it be the Lord's will done, as well as the Lord's will borne — endeavoured as well as endured — and you may readily see how the glorified worshippers on high — those who continually and perfectly and cheerfully obey the Father's wishes — may well be made models for our imitation, and their zeal furnish a burning incentive to our flagging emulation. It is the language of adoring obedience.
I. WHAT IS GOD'S WILL? There are depths and heights in His will yet but very partially known. It is His will of control — that sovereign and all-governing purpose, which foresees and uses all occurrences and all influences, and all resistances even — providing for the eruptions and avalanches of our revolt, and of our sinful disregard of Him, and of our league with hell, and weaving even these into His wide plans. Much of this controlling and overruling Will is among those "secret things" which, as Moses declared, belong only to the Lord; whilst the "things revealed" belong more properly to us and to our children. The great outlines and last results of this controlling and sovereign purpose He has made known; but its details and many of its relations are as yet inscrutable to our limited faculties. But there is another aspect of His will. It is His will of command; what He requires of us, and what He disapproves in us. This He makes known by the voice of reason and conscience in part, but more perfectly in the book of His Scriptures, and by the influences of His Spirit. We see in human beings, even the just and the wise of the race, the same distinction between their will of control, and their will of command or counsel. Take, for instance, the illustrious Howard the missionary martyr, of benevolence to the imprisoned and forsaken. This good man had devised, from his experience and observation, certain rules for the better construction and governance of prisons. Now, if his will of counsel or command, so to speak (his precepts of wisdom and kindness), had been heeded by evil-doers, they would not be the inmates of prisons; and the other portion of Howard's studies, his law of control, would be no longer needed. But if men, in the abuse of their freedom, did wrong, then in his controlling will — his disposition to bring out of the case as it stood, not as he had wished it, but as they made it, the most good to society and to the transgressor himself — he had his prisons prepared and arranged for the detention and restraint of the evil-doer. So too, a civil government, upright and equitable, whose just laws are threatened with resistance by a portion or by an entire province of its subjects, may by its will of counsel or command, urge sincerely and kindly the men of the province to abide the civil law; but if they scorn the milder legislation, it may in its will of control, proclaim, and that justly and inevitably, martial law for the repression of the revolt, and for the avengement of its own dishonoured and imperilled authority. Now sin is an anomaly in God's dominions. He, allowing to His creatures in the angelic and human races the exercise of freedom, may have permitted sin to occur, whilst His will of command or legislation sincerely and strictly condemns it; but He so permits it only because in His will of control He will ultimately restrain its ravages, and make its wrath to praise Him. His precepts are one thing; His decrees, in the event of our rejecting His precepts, another. To leave room and range for the exhibition of man's real character, for the evolving of the blossom and the full-blown flower of his depraved heart — to allow verge and margin enough for the existence of a world of probation, and for the manifestation of Satan's nature and will, and for the true fruits of the tempter's infernal counsels — God gives but the will of His command to be fully known; and keeps as yet in reserve and comparative darkness the will of His control; just as a legislator, having given his subjects, ere their revolt, just and full statements as to his statutes, is not bound, if they spurn these, to add a full and minute plan of His campaigns, when, as the avenger, He comes forth to punish them for the infringement of those statutes. It is enough for justice, that the sinner should know that his transgression, persisted in and remaining unrepented of, will be assuredly and eternally visited.
II. WHAT DOES THIS PETITION COMPRISE? Very comprehensive.
1. In offering this request, we by necessary implication ask that we may have grace earnestly and honestly to inquire, in all the channels through which it is to come to us, What His wishes are, and what He would have us His children do? So did Paul in the first agony of his conversion — "Lord, what wouldest Thou have me to do?" Conscience, then, will be cherished, and kept not as a tarnished but as a burnished mirror, that it may more clearly reflect the light and images cast upon it. Scripture will be pondered, habitually and prayerfully and practically. And as none of these petitions are isolated and selfish, but grasp our brother's needs as well as our own — to pray that God's will may be known is virtually to implore that the two Testaments of Revelation, the Old proclaimed by the prophets of the Saviour, and the New by the apostles of the Saviour, may be diffused abroad. It is to pledge ourselves at the mercy-seat that the prayers we offer shall be accompanied by plans and alms, and efforts for the translation and dispersion of these Scriptures among the whole brotherhood of our race.
2. It is, again, a prayer explicitly that the will, being once and in any way — by reading or hearing, by conscience or Scripture, or by the ministrations of the nursery, of the Sabbath-school or the pulpit — made known, it may be done by us. It is thus a prayer that God would give us the grace of obedience in action, that our lives and words and thoughts may practically carry out His law and exemplify His gospel.
3. But though obedience in action be required, it is not the sole meaning of the petition. Obedience must be shown in suffering as well as in toiling. And the obedience of suffering submits itself not only to the will of God's command, as requiring us to encounter all sacrifices of reputation and interest and ease that obedience to his precepts may occasion us; but it subjects itself also to the will of God's control, to His Sovereign and inscrutable Providence, which orders all events and overrules even the wickedness and wrath of man and of devils, for the accomplishment of its own wise purposes.
(W. R. Williams, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.