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MATTHEW vi. 9.
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
KNOW not whether it may be thought
worth the while to remark, that, in strictness of modern language, this petition should be translated, “ Thy will be done on earth, as it “ is in heaven :” as also the first petition should be, “ Our Father, who art in heaven.” I must, however, do so much justice to the translators of our bible, as to say, that they expressed themselves, in both petitions, agreeably to the mode of the times in which they wrote. For there can be no doubt, that “ in earth” is a common expression in our older English writers, and the authority of the best grammarians will support me in saying that the relative pronoun “ which,” though now used in relation to things only, was formerly used in relation both to persons and things.
Bat, leaving these minutie of verbal criticism, to those who delight in such barren disquisitions, let us proceed to examine what is more important, the sense and substance of the petition be
I have already observed, that the several parts of this divine prayer have a manifest and well arranged connection with each other. Thus, in the first petition, we pray, that the name of God may be hallowed, and that whatever belongs to him and his service may be treated with decency and respect. In the second, we pray, that his kingdoin may come, and that his religion may become universal. But how could this be, if his will also was not to be done? How could he be a king, if no obedience were to be paid by his subjects? With great propriety, therefore, we here pray, that his will may be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
My present business shall be to shew,
First, What this will of God is :
Secondly, What is the measure of our obedience to it: and,
Thirdly, The reasonableness of doing it.
First, The will of God signifies his providential power, by which he governs the world. And this will is, in some sort, always done. All: nature hears his voice, and is obedient. " Whạt"! soever 'the Lord pleased, that did he, in
heaven, and in earth, and in the seas, and in "all deep places.” Private events and public revolutions are all conducted by his design and order. And even those who will not do, are yet compelled to suffer his divine will. The sceptic ridicules a divine providence, and the fool says in his heart, there is no God: but both the one and the other are forced to yield to that controlling hand of omnipotence, which guides and directs the several component parts of the great machine of the universe.
We cannot, therefore, pray, that this will of God may be done: for it cannot be resisted. But we may pray, that we may chearfully acquiesce in it, and submit to our destiny ; that in all the changes and chances of life, we may acknowledge and adore his resistless will, who ruleth over all.
Secondly, The will of God more especially here means that law of obedience, which he has prescribed to rational and free agents, as the guide of their conduct. This law was originally
contained in the clear dictates of reason and conscience; which are, therefore, called in scripture “ the law written in their hearts ;” and, “ the light that enlightens every man that 6 cometh into the world.” But alas ! this natural light soon became dim and obscure. The corrupt passions of mankind, the
prejudice, and the prevalence of error soon conspired together, either wholly to eradicate the first principles of duty and virtue, or, at least, to leave no traces of their efficacy in regulating the actions and conduct of the greater part of the world.
God, therefore, after having preserved a knowledge of his will among one peculiar people, for the space of fifteen hundred years, by a particular revelation, at length graciously condescended to make it known in a more full and general way, by the revelation of his Son, whom he sent into the world for this very purpose, that all men might come to the knowledge of the truth, and be saved. We Christians, therefore, well know the will of God. It is laid down in the Gospel, in terms so clear and express, that he that runs may read it. But though the will of God is easily known by us, it is not so easily practised, amidst the infirmities of a corrupt nature, and the temptations of a dangerous world. We are, therefore, here taught to pray, both for strength to obey it ourselves, and also that others may do the same.
But secondly, We are not only to do the will of God, but the measure and manner of our obedience is also here prescribed to us, when we pray, that the will of God may be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
By which expression some have thought, that our Saviour alludes to the steady, regular, and uniform inotion of the heavenly bodies, which God hath established for ever and ever, and given them a law, which shall not be broken: and that man should be as punctual and conformable in his obedience to the will of God, as the moon, which is appointed for certain seasons, and the sun, which knoweth his going down. And, indeed, it must be owned, the regular order and succession of that host of heaven, which God hath ordained, may but too well serve to reproach the disorder and irregularity of man, the only rebel of the created world; who should be the noblest of God's works, as being made in his own image, and yet, in his actions, is too often sunk below the very brute that perisheth.
* Vide Grotii comm, in loc. L 2