That this is to be issue of all. A grand prophecy.
III. Why put first.
Singular, that so remote a petition should stand at beginning. We should begin not with ourselves, but with God; not with temporal wants, not even with our own spiritual ones.
We begin not with men, but with God.
It is God's glory even more than men's knowledge of Him that the petition contemplates. And though the two things coincide, which of them is foremost in our minds makes an infinite difference.
Then in regard to God, we first ask not that His law may be kept, but that His nature may be known.
The place of this petition in the prayer is explained by considerations which suggest very important thoughts for ourselves and all men.
That true knowledge of God is the deepest and fundamental necessity for all men.
That the knowledge will affect their whole scheme of thought and life.
That the most important of all questions is, How does a man think of God?
That the Inward comes before the Outward.
That knowledge is the guide of emotions and of practical life, as set forth here in the order of petitions.
This sequence of petitions corrects many errors into which we are apt to fall.
(a) That religion is chiefly to give us forgiveness.
(b) That accurate knowledge of God and His will matters comparatively little if we have devout emotions and experiences.
(c) That plans for the reformation of men should begin with the exterior, leaving theological subtleties to themselves.
But this is not a theological subtlety.
'Seek ye first the kingdom of God,' is a maxim for social reformation as well as for individual life.
IV. To what practical life this prayer binds us.
Following in our estimates, aims, and practice the sequence which it prescribes. Desiring for world most of all that it may hallow the Name.
Seeking for ourselves to hallow it.
Seeking for ourselves that we may be the means of others doing so.
The ever-present remembrance, that the name of God is blasphemed or hallowed, that God is glorified or disgraced, by us.
That to be like His name is true way to commend it. Do you know this name?
'THY KINGDOM COME'
'Thy kingdom come.—MATT. vi. 10.
'The Lord reigneth, let the earth be glad'; 'The Lord reigneth, let the people tremble,' was the burden of Jewish psalmist and prophet from the first to the last. They have no doubt of His present dominion. Neither man's forgetfulness and man's rebellion, nor all the dark crosses and woes of the world, can disturb their conviction that He is then and for ever the sole Lord.
The kingdom is come, then. Yet John the Baptist broke the slumbers of that degenerate people with the trumpet-call, 'Repent, for the kingdom is at hand.' It is not come, then—but coming. And the Master said, 'If I by the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.' It is come, then, in Him. This prayer throws it forward again into the future, and far down on the stream of prophecy; we hear borne up to us through the darkness the shouts that shall hail a future day when here on earth the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. It is a kingdom, then, that has ever been, and yet has stages of progress, a kingdom that was established in Jesus; a kingdom that has a past, a present, and a future on earth. It is after this world that the words are said, 'Come, ye blessed, enter into the kingdom.' It is a kingdom, then, manifested on earth, and yet a kingdom into which death, who keeps the keys of all secrets, admits us.
Once more—the kingdom of God is within you. 'The kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy.' But there is beyond earth to be a manifestation of the kingdom in a more perfect form. It is 'the kingdom of heaven,' not only because the King is 'Our Father which art in heaven,' but because we cannot completely come into it, or it into us, till we pass out of earth by death, and enter through that gate into the city. He has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son.
It is a dominion, then, over heart and soul, having its realm within, standing not so much in outward institutions as in inner experiences; and yet a kingdom which, though like leaven hid, shall like leaven be seen in its effects; though like a seed buried deep, shall like a seed blossom into a mighty tree; though it cometh not with observation, yet is like to the lightning that flashes with a kind of omnipresence in its rapid course from end to end, everywhere at once; which though it be within, yet clearly is meant to rule over all outward acts, and one day to have all kings bowing down before it.
These are the varieties with which the one thought of the kingdom of God, or of heaven, is presented in Scripture. It is eternal yet revealed in time, ever here but ever coming, ever coming but never come on earth, but entered when we go yonder, ruling us man by man, inward, spiritual, unseen, and yet moulding nations and institutions, outward and visible, compelling sight and filling all the earth.
But these varieties are not contradictions, still less are they the effects of a vague and imperfect notion which means anything or everything according to the fancy of the writer. The conception is clear and well defined. The kingdom of God is an organised community which is subject to the will of the personal God. The elements of subordination and society are both there. On the one hand there is the Ruler, on the other there is the mass of subjects. The whole of the varieties in the use of the term can be all reconciled in the one simple central notion, but we cannot afford to lose sight of any of them if we would understand what is meant by this prayer.
Let us take these thoughts which I have suggested, as expressing the Scriptural meaning of this phrase, and by their help try to ascertain what this prayer suggests.
I. God reigns, yet we pray for the coming of His kingdom.
That is to acknowledge that the world has departed from Him. It is at once to separate ourselves from those who see in it no signs of departure and rebellion. It is to confess that, Lord as He is whether men believe it or no, whether men will it or no, yet that the relation of common subordination as to a supreme Lord which we hold with all creatures is not all that we are fit for, not all that we should be. That dominion which the psalmist saw making the sea and the fulness thereof rejoice, which is at once the control and the upholding, the sustaining and the commanding, of all orders of being, is not the whole of the dominion which can be exercised over man. The rule, which we share with the trees of the field and the tribes of life, is not all; and the unwilling control which the thought of an overruling Providence demands that we shall believe that God exercises over all the workings of men—that is not enough. And the terrible bending of men into unconscious instruments, by which He that sitteth in the heavens laughs at princes' and rulers' counsel, speaking to the tyrant as the rod of His anger, using men as the axe with which He hews, and the staff in His hand, and then casting away the tool into the fire—that is not the kingdom that men are made to be. Something more, even the loving, willing submission of heart and life to Him is possible, is needed, unless, indeed, it is true that a man hath no pre-eminence over a beast. Enough for them that He feedeth them when they cry; enough for them that led they know not how, and fed by they know not whom, they live they know not why, do they know not what, and die they know not when. But 'be ye not as the horse or the mule which have no understanding'; it is our prerogative to be led by His eye speaking to the heart, not by His bridle appealing to the sense; to do Him loyal service, to understand His purposes, to sympathise with them, and sympathising to execute. This our prayer gives us the clear distinction, then, between mere blind obedience and the true goal of man. The kingdom is other and better than the creature-wide dominion.
And then, this prayer reposes on the confession that that higher, better form of obedience is not yet attained. In a word, it can only be prayed aright by a man who feels that the world has gone away from God and His commandments. We separate ourselves by it from all who think that this present state is the natural condition of men, the order into which they were born, the kind of world which God intended; and we assert, in sight of all the evils and sore sorrows that fill the world, that this is not God's intention. People tell us that the doctrine of a fall, an earth which has departed from God, a race which has rebelled, is a gloomy and dark one, covering the face of life with sackcloth. But it seems to me that instead of being so, it is the only conviction that can make a man bear to see the world as it is. Brethren, which of these two is the gloomy—the creed that says, Look at all these men dying—in dumb ignorance, living in brutal sin; look at blood, rapine, lies, battlefields, broken hearts, hopes that never set to fruit but died in the bud, the stream of sad groans, and sadder curses, and wild mirth, saddest of all. Look at it all, coming to pass on this fair earth amid the pomp of sunsets and the calm beauty of autumn, and beneath the cold stars, in a world where the noblest creature is the saddest, and accept for explanation that it is the necessary road for the perfecting of the creature; that it is all for the best, that it is exactly what God meant the world to be;—or the creed which sees the same things and says: 'This is not what God intended: an enemy hath done this'? Sin hath entered into the world, and death by sin.
The Christian doctrine does not make the facts, but only the Christian doctrine can explain them. It seems to me that if I believed that life as I see it in the world, and as I feel it in myself, is life as God meant it to be, I should either go mad or be a wise man, not a fool, if I were to look up at the unpitying stars that could sing for joy over such a creation, and say, There is no God. It is a refuge from such possible horrors, not an aggravation of them, which this prayer teaches us when it teaches us to pray for a kingdom yet to come, from which men have departed, and in departing have worked for themselves all this woe and ruin.
II. The kingdom for the coming of which we pray is established already.
Christ has established it. His name is King of kings and Lord of lords. He is Prince of all the kings of the earth. He is crowned with glory and honour. By Him, that is to say, it becomes possible for men to serve God with the energies of their will, and by Him it becomes possible for men to take the pardon which God gives in Him. He founds the kingdom, and He exercises the dominion. On an eternal relation and on an historical fact that dominion of His is grounded,—on an eternal relation inasmuch as He, the everlasting Word of God, has from the beginning been the Lord and King of the world; on an historical fact inasmuch as that eternal Word has been manifested on earth, and tasted death for every man. Christ founds the kingdom, for He by His Incarnation and Sacrifice sets forth the weightiest motives for service; He opens the path to return; He brings God's forgiveness to men, and so shall rule over them for ever—a King and Priest upon His throne: the Prince of all the kings of the earth, both because He has from everlasting been the anointed King, and because in time He has been, and will for ever be, the faithful and true witness, and the first begotten from the dead. The foundation is thus laid, the dominion established, the kingdom is come; but we are to pray for its perfecting as the one hope of the world.
Then let us remember that we are thus guarded from the error that is always rife, of looking for some new thing as the one deliverance for earth. It is sad to mark how undying that tendency is. Age after age, men have had the heartache of seeing hopes blasted, and fair schemes for the regeneration of the world knocked to pieces about the ears of their projectors, and yet they hope on. Every period, as every man, has its times of credulity, its firm conviction that it has found the one thing needful, and the shout of Eureka goes ever up. Alas, alas! time after time the old experience is repeated, and the gratulations die down into gloomy silence. Yet men hope on. What a strange testimony at once of the futility of all the past attempts, and of the indestructible conviction that men have of the certainty that the world will be better and brighter some day, that undying expectation is! It is sorrowful and yet ennobling to think of the persistency of the expectation, and the disappointment of it.
God forbid that I should say a word to seem to disparage it! Not so. I say the expectations are of God, and if men give them false shapes, and scarcely understand them when they utter them, that does not in any degree make the expectation less noble or less true. But what I wish to urge is this, that the Christian attitude towards all such hopes should not be unsympathising. Rather we are bound to say 'yes, it is so, and we know how.' We are bound to proclaim that it is not any new thing that we expect, but only the working out of the old. God be thanked that it is not! The evils are not new, they have been from the beginning; and God has surely not been so cruel to the world as to leave it till now in the dark. Our hopes are not set on any new, untried remedy. This bridge across the Infinite for us is not a frail plank on which no one has yet walked, and which may crack and break when the timid foot of the first passenger is on the centre, but it is a tried structure upon which ages have walked.
Then if I have any hearers who are fancying that the gospel is worn out, any who are glowing with the anticipation of great new things, who scarcely know how, but believe that somehow, the ills that have in all ages cursed humanity are to be exorcised by some new methods of social organisation or the like—I pray them to ponder this prayer and to receive its lesson. Do not say, you are but adding one more to the Babel of opinions which confound us. Not so. We are not arguing for an opinion, we are proclaiming a fact. We are not ventilating a nostrum, we are preaching a divine revelation, a divine revealer. We are not setting forth our notion of the evil, and our idea of what may be a remedy. We are telling men God's word about both. We are preaching an old, old truth: not man's opinion, but God's act; not man's device, but Christ's power. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is nigh you, and while a Babel, as you say, of private opinions, of passionate complaints, of despairing cries afflicts the silence, one serene voice rises, 'Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden,' and after that sole voice rings out the twofold choral anthem—of praise, 'Rejoice, O earth, for thy King is come'; and of prayer, 'Thy kingdom come.'
III. We pray for the coming of a kingdom which is inward and spiritual.
I do not mean to weary you with any proofs that this is so. The whole language of Christ, the whole tenor of Scripture, the common sense of the case, the testimony of our own souls as to what we want most, confirm this. But it is enough to note the admitted fact; to enforce the thought that thus the kingdom assumes a purely individual character, and that thus its power over individuals is the pledge of its power over masses, and is its way of exercising universal sway. 'We have all of us one human heart, and therefore what the kingdom can do and has done for me or for any oilier man, it can do for all.
Let me remind you of two or three consequences that flow from this thought.
1. Lessons for politicians, for all men, as to the true way to cure the evils of the world: Not by external arrangements; not by better laws; not by education; not by progress in arts; not by trade, etc.
You must go deeper than these 'pills to cure an earthquake'—it is the soul, the individual will that is diseased; and the one cure for the world's evil is that it should be right with God; and that loyal, hearty obedience by Christ should be in it.
2. Lessons for Christian men as to hasty externalising of the kingdom:
Theocracies, State Churches, and the like.
3. We pray for a kingdom that will be external. If spirit, then body; if individuals, then communities.
It is to be all-comprehensive governing:—institutions, arts, sciences. All spheres of human life are capable of sanctification and will receive it. A prophet had a vision of a day when the very bells of the horses should bear the same inscription of 'holiness to the Lord' as was engraved on the High Priest's mitre, and when every pot and pan in the kitchens of Jerusalem should be sacred as the vessels of the Temple.
The fault of Christians in losing sight of this—how all the aspects are reconciled—and how this must be the completion—the point to which all tends; how clearly maimed the gospel would be if such were not the goal.
So much, then, the prayer assumes:—the certainty that the world is wrong; the certainty that the kingdom is the only thing to set it right; the certainty that it can set it all right; the certainty that it will.
4. We pray for a kingdom to come which cannot be fully realised on this side the grave. Large as are the capabilities of this scene, they are not large enough for the full display of all the blessedness that lies in that kingdom. And so it is not all a mistake when men say, 'Ah, this world can never do for us'; it is not all an unhealthy dream that says, 'I am weary of this; let me die.'
Think of the chorus of voices that present this prayer—the unconscious cries that have gone up; the voices of sorrow and want. The cry hath entered into the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth; the creature groaneth and travaileth; all men unconsciously pray this prayer when they weep and when they hope. Christian men pray it when they mourn their rebellious wilfulness and when they feel the weight of all this anarchic world, or when their work in bringing it back to its King seems almost vain, the souls underneath the altar pray it when they cry, 'How long, O Lord, how long?'
And ah, dear friends—there should come a sadder, humbler cry from us, each feeling his own sinful heart. To me the glory of that coming, and the life from the dead which it shall be to the world, will be as nothing unless I know the King and trust Him. Let us each re-echo the cry of that dying thief, which He cannot refuse to answer, 'Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom.'
'THY WILL BE DONE'
'Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.'—MATT. vi. 10.
It makes all the difference whether the thought of the name, or that of the will, of God be the prominent one. If men begin with the will, then their religion will be slavish, a dull, sullen resignation, or a painful, weary round of unwelcome duties and reluctant abstainings. The will of an unknown God will be in their thoughts a dark and tyrannous necessity, a mysterious, inscrutable force, which rules by virtue of being stronger, and demands only obedience. There is no more horrible conception of God than that which makes Him merely or mainly sovereign will.
But when we think first of God as desiring that His name should be known, and to that end mirroring Himself in all the great and beautiful, the ordered whole of creation, and energising through all the complexities of human affairs, and gathering the scattered syllables of His name into one full and articulate utterance in the Word of God, then our thoughts of His will become reverent and loving; we are sure that the will of the self-revealing God must be intelligible, we are sure that the will of the loving God must be good. Then our obedience becomes different, and instead of being slavish is filial; instead of being reluctant submission to a mightier force, is glad conformity to the fountain of love and goodness; instead of being sullen resignation, is trustful reliance; instead of being painful execution of unwelcome duties, is spontaneous expression in acts which are easy of the indwelling love. He who begins with 'Thy will be done' is a slave, and never really does the will at all; he who begins with 'Our Father, hallowed,' is a son, and obeys from the heart.
This, then, is one reason for the order in which the clauses of the prayer follow each other, perhaps the chief reason.
Let us consider—
I. Obedience is here set forth as the end of all divine revelation.
II. As the issue in man of all religious thought and emotion.
III. As the sum of all Christ's and our desires for men.
IV. As the bond which unites all creation into one.
I. Obedience to the will of God is the end of all divine revelation.
God's name is made known before His will is proclaimed. That order suggests as to God's will—
1. That it is not mere naked omnipotent authority.
2. That it is not inscrutable.
3. That its scope and direction are to be determined by His name. All these thoughts are included in this, that it is the will of a loving, good God, the will of a Father.
How that destroys all harsh, awful ideas such as those of a stony fate, or a cold necessity, or an omnipotent tyrant, or an inscrutable sovereign.
How Christianity has been affected by these ideas—extreme Calvinism, for instance; but it is more profitable to think how the tendency to them lies in us all.
II. Obedience is the issue of all religion.
The knowledge of the name, and the hallowing of it must go first. Note—
1. How inward the nature of obedience is. This sequence of petitions shifts the centre from without to within, from actions to dispositions.
2. How nothing is obedience that is not cheerful and loving. Not constrained, not sullen, not task-work.
3. How naturally dominant over all life the principles of God's truth are. Let them be known, and all the rest will follow. They have power to control all acts, great and small.
4. How impossible practical righteousness is without religion. The Name is the true basis of morality. We hear a great deal about life rather than creed; the Gospel is both. The one foundation of theoretical and practical morals is the will of God.
5. How maimed and spurious is religion without practical obedience.
Religion in the form of thought and of emotion is intended to influence life.
The ultimate result of God's revelation of Himself and of God's kingdom among men is the conformity of our life and actions with the Will of God. That is the test of our religion. Character and conduct are all important. Here is a lesson for us all as to what the final issue of religious profession ought to be. Knowledge of God, true reverent thoughts of Him, submission in spirit to His kingdom—all these have for their final sphere the full sanctification of the nature and the free, spontaneous obedience of the life. We are all tempted to separate between our consciousness and emotions of a religious nature, and our daily life. Many a man is a good Christian in his heart, with real religious feeling, but when you get him into the field of the world he is full of sins. There must always be a disproportion in this world between convictions, resolutions, and actions; we imperfectly live out our principles; the force of gravity pulls down the arrow, and however true the bow and careful the aim and strong the hand, its course will be a curve, not a straight line.
Our machinery does not work in vacuo, and the force of friction and atmosphere opposes it and brings it to a standstill. This must be; but the discrepancy may be indefinitely lessened, and this prayer is a prophecy and kindles a hope.
III. Obedience is the sum of all Christ's desires for the world.
This is the last loftiest petition, beyond that there is nothing, for if our wills are conformed to God's, then we are perfect and blessed.
1. The loftiest dignity of man is to obey. We have will: God has will. Ours is evidently meant to submit, His to rule. He only is what he ought to be whose whole soul bows to the divine command.
2. The will submitted to God is free, strong, restful. He does not desire that it should be crushed or absorbed, but freely acting in obedience. That will is truly free which is delivered from bondage, and the burden of sin and evil. Submission to God strengthens the will. Sin overbears it, as we all know. Obedience braces and nerves it. Submission to God makes it restful. It is the conflict of self-will which troubles us. Peace is to will as God does; so He flows through us, and He is 'the living will that shall endure.'
3. The results of obedience will be perfect blessedness.
God's will is only for our good. His will for men and nations observed would change the face of the world.
Then this prayer includes everything that ardent lovers of their kind would desire.
How Christianity reforms from within, giving new life and letting that work on laws and institutions. Here is a lesson for all social reformers and for Christian men to see to it that they, for the world, try to spread the knowledge of His name, and for themselves, seek to be harmonised with His will.
But this petition sets forth an apparently unattainable example as our pattern of obedience. 'As in heaven,' refers perhaps to the visible universe, which has always left on thoughtful minds the impression of beauty and order, and is the great revelation in nature of the omnipotent will of God. There clouds float on in peacefulness obeying Him, there stars burn and planets roll on their mighty revolutions. 'These all continue this day, according to Thine ordinance.'
But that is by no means the exhaustive idea of this clause. We should not desire, were it possible, that men should be lowered to the level of the stars, doing a will which they know not, and swayed by a force which they have no eyes to discern. The obedience, the only true obedience, is that of spiritual beings who know God and can turn themselves to contemplate the will which rules their currents, as the sea looks up to the moon that sways its tides. So the reference is obviously to higher orders of beings, either higher by creation as angels, or higher because they have died, and are glorious saints before the Throne.
This petition, then, is a revelation as well. For the doing of God's will there must be spiritual beings, like ourselves. If our doing it like them is the highest last desire which He who came to do that will can form for us, and is the ultimate goal which, if reached, the world's history would be crowned, then these spiritual beings must do it perfectly. Their obedience must be complete. There can be no interruption to it from sin, no effort in it because of weakness, no resistance because of temptation, no flaw because of ignorance, no pause because of weariness, no pain because of rebellious will. Their obedience must be free, constant, spontaneous, happy. It must cover all their lives. Their whole being must be a sacrifice and service to the God whom they behold, and their life must be a life of activity. It is not the knowledge that floods the perfect spirits in heaven that is proposed for our example, nor their blessedness, but their service. So the thoughts of those who regard that heavenly existence only as idleness are corrected, and we are taught that, while we know little as to that future life, the conformity to the will of God, which in its present partial attainment is the secret of the purest blessedness, in its perfection will be the heaven of heaven.
Then again, there is here the grand idea that the whole creation will be bound into a unity by obedience to one will. We and they now form one whole, because now we serve the one Lord. And there comes a time when there shall be one Lord and His name one; when the omnipresent energy of His will in the physical universe shall be but a faint shadow of the universal dominion of His loving will in all His creatures. Then indeed it will be true, 'Thou doest according to Thy will in the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of earth.'
What glorious harmonies will sound then, when all co-operate with God and with one another, and one purpose, and one will, and one love fills the whole creation!
The petition has a bearing of this upon the dreams of moralists and reformers. They were true, they shall be more than fulfilled. Earth will be no longer separated from heaven, but united with it, and from one extremity of creation to another will be no creature which does not obey and rejoice.
THE CRY FOR BREAD
'Give us this day our daily bread.'—MATT. vi. 11.
What a contrast there is between the two consecutive petitions, Thy will be done, and Give us this day! The one is so comprehensive, the other so narrow; the one loses self in the wide prospect of an obedient world, the other is engrossed with personal wants; the one rises to such a lofty, ideal height, the other is dragged down to the lowest animal wants.
And yet this apparent bathos is apparent only, and the fact that so narrow and earthly a petition has its place in the pattern of all prayer is full of instruction. No less instructive is the place which it has. A single word about that place may constitute a fitting introduction to our remarks now. We have already seen how the former petitions constitute together a great whole. That first part of the prayer expresses the desires which should ever be foremost in a good man's soul—those which have to do with God, and point to the advancement of His glory. It begins, as I said, with the inward, and advances to the outward, as must ever be the law of progress in the sanctifying of human souls and life. It begins with heaven and brings heaven down to earth, that earth may become like heaven, and both 'according well may make one music.' Then, in the second part of the prayer we come to individual wants. These have their legitimate place in our approaches to God. Prayer is not merely communion with God, not merely reverent contemplation of His fatherly and holy name, though that should always be first and chiefest in it. It is not merely the expression of absorbed contemplation, but of a nature that desires and is dependent. Nor is it only the utterance of world-wide desires, and the expression of a being that has conquered self. The perfection of man is not to have no desires, or to be petrified or absorbed into a state without a will and without a wish, still less to be elevated into a condition of absolute possession of all he seeks, without a want. And the perfection of prayer is not that it should be the utterance of that impossible emotion, 'disinterested love' to God, but that it should be the recognition of our dependence on God, the expression of our many wants, and the frank telling Him, with wills submitted, or rather conformed, to His, what we need. To pray is to adore; to pray is also to ask. We have to say Our Father, and we have also to say, Give us, being sure that if we, being evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, much more does He know how to give good things to them that ask Him.
So much for the general considerations applicable to the whole of this second part.
As to the connection of its several petitions with each other, it may be noticed that it is the exact opposite of the former part. That began with the highest and came downwards; this begins with the lowest and goes upwards. That began with the inward and worked outwards; this begins with the outward and passes inwards. That set forth the heavenly order in its gradual self-revelation, working the transformation of earth; this sets forth the earthly order in its gradual appropriation of Heaven's gifts. The former declares, that foremost in importance and in God's order are the spiritual blessings which come from knowledge of His name; the latter, beginning with the prayer for bread, and thence advancing to deeper necessities, reminds us, that in the order of time the least important is still the condition of all the rest. The loftiest pinnacles looking out to the morning sky must have their foundations rooted in common earth. 'That was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterwards that which is spiritual.' This order, then, is in symmetrical opposition to that of the previous part. There is a rhythmical correspondence in inverted movement, like the expansion and contraction of the heart, or the rise and fall of a fountain.
It is worth noticing how these two opposed halves make one whole; and as the former begins with contemplation of the fatherly greatness in the heavens, so the latter part, starting with the cry for bread, climbs slowly up through all the ills of life, and passing from want to trespass, human unkindness and hatred, and again to personal weakness and a tempting world, and the evil of sin and the evil of sorrow, reaches once more after cries and tears the point from which all began, and rises to heaven and God. The doxology comes circling round to the invocation, and the prayer, which has winged its weary way through all weltering floods of human sorrow and want, comes back like Noah's dove, with peace born of its flight, to its home in God, and ends where it began. They whose prayer and whose lives start with 'Our Father which art in Heaven,' will end with the confidence and the praise, 'Thine is the kingdom and the honour.'
Now looking at this petition in itself, I note—
I. The prayer for Bread.
This contains first an important lesson as to what may be legitimately the subject of our prayers.
The Lord by this juxtaposition condemns the overstrained and fantastic spiritualism which tramples down earthly wants and condemns desires rooted in our physical nature as sin. It is a wonderful testimony from Jesus of the worth of common gifts, that the desire for them should here stand beside that great one for the doing of God's will. There is nothing here of the false asceticism which undervalues the life which now is, nothing of the morbid tone of feeling which despises and condemns as sinful the due appreciation of and desire for the blessings of this life. To give predominance to material wants and earthly good is heathen and unchristian, therefore the petition for these follows the others. But to despise them and pretend to be indifferent to them is heathen and unchristian too; therefore the prayer for them finds its place among the others. So the right understanding of this prayer is a barrier against the opposite evils of a false sensuousness which forgets the spirit that is in the flesh, and of a false spirituality which forgets the flesh that is around the spirit. He who made us desire truth in the inward parts, made us also to desire our daily bread, and we observe His order when we do both, and seek the Kingdom of God, not exclusively, but first.
And not only is this petition the vindication of a healthy naturalism, but it also shows us that we may rightly make prayers of our desires for earthly things.
We sometimes hear it said that we have only a right to ask God for such gifts as holiness and conformity to His will. This has a truth, a great truth, in it. But it may be overstrained. We are to subdue our wishes, we are to be more anxious for our soul's health than for our bodily wants. We are to present our desires concerning all things in this life, with an implied 'if it be Thy will,' but while all that is true, we are also to ask Him for these lower blessings. Our prayers should include all which we desire, all which we need. Our desires should be such as we can turn into prayers. If we dare not ask God for a thing, do not let us seek for it. But whatever we do want, let us go to Him for it, and be sure that He does not wish lip homage and fine-sounding petitions for things for which we do not really care, but that He does desire that we should be frank with Him, making a prayer of every wish, and seeing that we have neither wishes which we dare not make prayers, nor prayers which are not really wishes. Let our supplications cover all the ground of our daily wants, and be true to our own souls. If any man lack anything, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men life and breath and all things.
Then still further—the prayer is the recognition of God as the Giver of daily bread.
'Thou openest Thine hand,' says the old psalm, 'and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.' There is no part of the divine dealings of which the Bible speaks more frequently and more lovingly than His supply of all creatures' wants. It is a grand thought, 'Who feedeth the young ravens when they cry, who maketh the grass to grow on the mountains. The eyes of all wait upon Thee.' There is a magnificent verse in the 104th Psalm, which regards even the roar of the lion prowling for its prey in midnight forests as a cry to God—'The young lions seek their meat from God.' As Luther says somewhere in his rough prose—'Even to feed the sparrows God spends more than the revenues of the French king would buy.' And that universal bounty applies truly to those whose lot is 'In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.' For us it is true. God feeds us. 'Thou givest meat to them that fear Thee, Thou wilt ever be mindful of Thy covenant.' In giving us our daily bread, His hand is hid under second causes, but these should not mask the truth from us.
God is the life of nature. His will is the power whose orderly working we call nature's laws. Force is the sign manual of God. There would be no harvest, no growth, unless to each seed God gave a body as it hath pleased Him. The existence of bread is the effect of His work. 'He hath not left Himself without witness in that He giveth rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.' as Paul said to the rough farmer folk of Lycaonia.
The distribution of the bread is of God.
By second causes, our work and other means.
Be it so. Here is a steam engine, in one room away at one end of your mill; here is a spindle whirring five hundred yards off. What then? Who thinks that that bit of belting moves the drum round which it turns, or that the cog-wheel that carries the motion originates it? The motion here has force at the other end, the effect here has its cause in God.
The nourishment by bread is of God.
'Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.'
The reason why any natural substance has properties is by reason of present will of God; they reside not in itself, but in Him.
All this we say that we believe when we pray this prayer.
How much it conflicts with our modern habit of putting God as far away from daily life as we can!
The prayer is the consecration of our work for bread.
The indirect way by which it is answered is a great blessing, and it pledges us to labour.
Orare est laborare. Not, as it is sometimes quoted, as if toil was to do instead of prayer, but that active life may be consecrated to God, and all our efforts which terminate in gaining bread for ourselves and for those we love may become prayer, and be offered to God.
How can we pray for God to give us our daily bread, and then go to seek it by means which we dare not avow or defend in our prayers? Bless my cheating, bless my sharp practice, bless my half-heartedness. It is no part of my business to apply principles to details of conduct, but it is my business to say—take this prayer for a test, and if you dare not pray it over what you do in earning your living, ask yourself whether you are not rather earning your death.
Then the prayer is a pledge of thankful recognition of God in our blessings.
Ah! dear friends, are we not all guilty in this? How utterly heathenish is our oblivion of God in our daily life! How far we have come from that temper which recognises Him in all joys, and begins every new day with Him! Daily mercies demand daily songs of praise. His love wakens us morning by morning. It follows us all the day long with its fatherly benefits. It reveals itself anew every time He spreads our table, every time He gives us teaching or joy. And our thanksgiving and consciousness of His presence should be as constant as are His gifts. 'My voice shalt thou hear in the morning.' 'They walk all the day long in the light of Thy countenance.' 'I will both lay me down in peace and sleep.' 'They ate their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.'
II. The union with our brethren in our prayer.
'Give us.' The struggle for existence is represented by many as the very law of human life. The fight for bread is the great antagonist of brotherly regard for our fellows. Trade is said to be warfare; and then others starting from that conception that one man's gains are some other man's losses, proclaim with undoubted truth on these premises 'property is robbery.' But surely this clause of our prayer teaches us a more excellent way. We are not to be like stiff-necked men who fight with one another for the drop of brackish water caught in the corner of a sail, but we are to be as children bowing down together before a great Father, all sitting at His table where nothing wants, and where even the pet dogs below it eat of the crumbs.
The main thing is to note how our Lord teaches us here to identify ourselves with others, to make common cause with them in our petition for bread. He who rightly enters into the meaning of this prayer, and feels the unity which it supposes, can scarcely regard his possessions as given to himself alone, or to be held without regard to other people. We are all one in need; high and low, rich and poor, we all hang on God for the same supplies. We are all one in reception of His gifts. Is it becoming in one who is a member of such a whole, to clasp his portion in both his hands and carry it off to a corner where he gnaws it by himself? That is how wolves feast, with one foot on their bone and a watchful eye all round for thieves, not how men, brethren, should feast.
I am not here to deal with economical questions, or to apply principles to details, but surely one may say that this petition contemplates as possible a better state of things than 'each for himself,' whether God is for us all or no, and that it does teach that at all events a man is part of a whole which has a claim on his possessions. 'Neither said any man that aught which he possessed was his own.'
The Christian doctrine of property does not seem to be communism. You have your property. It is your own. You have the power, and as far as law is concerned, the right, to do with it none but selfish acts. You have it, but you are not an owner—only a steward. You have it, but you hold it not for your own sake, but as a trustee. You have it as a member of a family, a great community. You have it that you may dispense to others, you have it that you may help to multiply the bonds of affection to benefactors and of love to the great Giver.
And this liberality is founded, according to this petition, in our common relation to God. We do not want charity—we want justice. The needy cannot enforce their claims, but their cry enters into the ears of the Lord, and what is withheld from them is 'kept back by fraud.' The Bible always puts benevolence and liberality on the ground of their being a debt. 'Withhold not good from him to whom it is due.'
So how, beside this prayer, does it look to see two men who have united in it, the one being Dives clothed and faring sumptuously, and the other Lazarus with scraps for his food and dogs for his doctors? There is many a contrast like that to-day. All I have to say is—that such contrasts are not meant as the product of Christianity and civilisation and commerce for eighteen hundred years, and that one chief way of ending them is that we shall learn to feel and live the true communism which traces all a man's possessions to God, and feels that he has received them as a member of a community for the blessing of all, even as Christ taught when He bid us say, 'Give us our daily bread.'
III. The prayer for bread for to-day.
This carries with it precious truths as to the manner of the divine gifts and the limit of our cares and anxieties.
God gives not all at once, but continuously, and in portions sufficient for the day.
As with the manna fresh gathered every morning, so all our gifts from Him are given according to the present exigencies.
Note the beauty and blessedness of this method of supplying our wants. It gives to each moment its own special character, it gives to each the glory of having in it a fresh gift of God. It binds all together in one long line of brightness made up of an infinite number of points, each a separate act of divine love, each a glittering sign of His presence. It brings God very near to all life. It draws us closer to Him, by giving us at each moment opportunity and need for feeling our dependence upon Him, by bringing us once again to His throne that our wants may be supplied. And as each moment, so each day, comes with its new duties and its new wants. Yesterday's food nourishes us not to-day. To-day's strength must come from this day's God and His new supplies. And thus the monotony of life is somewhat broken, and there come to us all the fresh vigour and the new hope of each returning day, and the merciful wall of the night's slumber is built up between us and yesterday with its tasks and its weariness. And fresh elastic hopes, along with renewed dependence on God, should waken us morning by morning, as we look into the unknown hours and say, 'Give us this day our daily bread.'
Then, again, let us learn not to try to abrogate this wise ordinance by onward-looking anxieties. We have to exercise forethought, and not to possess it is to be a poor creature, below the ant and the bee. No man is in a favourable position for intellectual or moral growth who has not some certainty in his life, and a reasonable prospect of such perpetuity as is compatible with this changeful state. But that is a very different thing from the careful, anxious forebodings in which we are all so prone to indulge. These are profitless and harmful, robbing us of strength and contributing nothing to our wisdom or to our security. They are contrary to this law of the divine dealings that we shall get our rations as we need them, no sooner; that the path will be opened when we come to it, not till then. God knows the line of march, and will issue our route each morning. God looks after the commissariat and saves us the trouble of carrying it.
Let us try not to be 'over-inquisitive to cast the fashion of uncertain evils,' nor magnify trouble in the fog of our own thoughts, but limit our cares to to-day, and let to-morrow alone, for our God will be in it as He has been in the past. He will never take us where He will not go with us. Each day will have its own brightness, as each place its own rainbow. If we are led into dry lands, there will be a fountain opened in the desert, and He will feed us by His ravens ere we shall want. Bread shall be given and water made sure. To-morrow shall be as this day. Then let the veil still hang, nor try to lift it with the hand of forecasting thought, nor be over-careful to make the future sure by earthly means, but let present blessings be parents of bright hopes. Remember Him who is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. In Him the past is unwept for and the future sure. Accept the merciful limitations on His gifts, and let them be the limitations which you set to your own desires while you pray, 'Give us this day our daily bread.'
IV. The prayer for bread suited to our needs.
'Daily bread' clearly cannot be the right rendering, for after 'this day' that would be weak repetition.
The word is difficult, for it only occurs here and there in Luke.
It may be rendered 'for the coming (day),' but that can scarcely be supposed to be our Lord's meaning, when His precept to take no thought for the morrow is remembered. A more satisfactory rendering is, 'sufficient for our subsistence,' the bread which we need to sustain us.
Such a petition points to desires limited by our necessities. What we should wish, and what we have a right to ask from God, is what we need—no more and no less.
This does not reduce us all to one level, but leaves Him to settle what we do want. How different this prayer in the mouth of a king and of a pauper! But it does rebuke immoderate and unbridled desires. God does not limit us to mere naked necessaries—He giveth liberally, and means life to be beautiful and adorned. That which is over and above bread is to a large extent that which makes life graceful and refined, and I have no wish to preach a crusade against it; but I have just as little hesitation in declaring what it is not left to pulpit moralists to say, that the falsely luxurious style of living among us looks very strange by the side of this petition. So much luxury which does not mean refinement; so much ostentatious expenditure which does not represent increased culture or pleasure or anything but a resolve to be on a level with somebody else; so much which is so ludicrously unlike the poor little shrimp of a man or woman that sits in the centre of it all!
'Plain living and high thinking are no more.'
'My riches consist not in the abundance of my possessions, but in the fewness of my wants.'
'The less a man needs, the nearer is he to the gods.'
So, what a lesson for us all in this age, where everyone of us is tempted to adopt a scale of what is necessary very far beyond the truth.
Young and old—dare, if need be, to be poor. 'Having food and raiment, let us therewith be content.'
We cannot all become rich, but let us learn to bring down our desires to, and bound them by, our true wants.
Christ has taught us here to put this petition after these loftier ones, and He has taught us to pass quickly by it to the more noble and higher needs of the soul. Do we treat it thus, making it a secondary element in our wishes? If so, then our days will be blessed, each filled with fresh gifts from God, and each leading us to Him who is the true Bread that came down from Heaven.
'FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS'
'Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.'—MATT. vi. 12.
The sequence of the petitions in the second half of the Lord's Prayer suggests that every man who needs to pray for daily bread needs also to pray for daily forgiveness. The supplication for the supply of our bodily needs precedes the others, because it deals with a need which is fundamental indeed, but of less importance than those which prompt the subsequent petitions. God made us to need bread, we have made ourselves to need pardon. The answer to the later petition is as certain as that to the earlier. He who gives meat will not withhold forgiveness. Give and forgive refer to our deepest wants, but how many who feel the one are all unconscious of the other!
I. The consciousness of sin, of which this petition is the expression.
'Debt' and 'duty' are one word. 'Owe' and 'ought' are one word. Duty is what is due. Ought is what we owe—to some one or other. We are under obligations all round, which conscience tells us that we have not fulfilled. The unfulfilled obligation or duty becomes a debt. We divide our obligations into duties to God, our neighbours, and ourselves; but the division is superficial, for whatever we owe to ourselves or to men, we owe also to God, and the non-fulfilment of our obligations to Him is sin. 'No man liveth to himself, ... we live unto God.' Our consciences accuse us of undone duties to ourselves, the indulgence of evil tempers, a slack hand over ourselves, a careless husbandry which leaves furrows full of weeds, failure to bend the bow to the uttermost, to keep the mirror bright. It accuses us of undone duties to our neighbours, unkindness, neglect of opportunities of service, and many another ugly fault. Duties undone are debts not only to ourselves or to our fellows, but to God. The great Over-lord reckons offences against His vassals as crimes against Himself.
That graver aspect of our faults as being sins may seem a gloomy thought, but it is really one full of blessing, for it lodges the true power of remission of our burdensome debts in the hands of the one true creditor, whom the prayer has taught us to call 'Our Father.'
That consciousness of sin should be as universal as the sense of bodily hunger; but, alas! it is too often dormant. It is especially needful to try to awake it in this generation, when the natural tendency of the heart to ignore it is strengthened by talk of heredity and environment, and by the disposition to think of sin with pity rather than reprobation. Men are apt to regard a consciousness of sin as morbid. They will acknowledge failure or imperfection, but there is little realisation of sin, and therefore little sense of the need for a deliverer. If men are ever to be brought to a saving grip of Jesus Christ, they must have learned a far more heart-piercing consciousness of their sin than this morally relaxed age possesses.
II. The cry to which that consciousness gives voice.
We often ask for forgiveness; have we any definite notion of what we are asking for? When we forgive one another, he who forgives puts away alienation of heart, every cloud of suspicion from his mind, and his feeling and his conduct are as if there had never been a jar or an offence, or are more tender and loving because of the offence that is now forgiven. He who is forgiven has, on his part, a deeper shame for the offence, which looks far darker now, when it is blotted out, than it did before forgiveness. Both are eager to show love, not in order to erase the past, but because the past is erased.
When a father forgives his child, does that merely or chiefly mean that he spares the rod; or does it not much rather mean that he lets his love flow out to the little culprit, undammed back by the child's fault? And when God forgives He does so, not so much as a judge but rather as the Father. It is the father's heart that the child craves when it cries for pardon. The remission of punishment is an element, but by no means the chief element, in man's forgiveness, and that is still more true as to God's. There are present, and for the most part outward, consequences of a forgiven man's sin which are not averted by forgiveness, and which it is for his good that he should not escape. But when the assurance of God's unhindered love rests on a pardoned soul, those consequences of its sins which it has to reap cease to be penal and become educative, cease to be the expressions only of God's hatred of evil, and become expressions of His love to the forgiven evil-doer. 'I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men ... but My mercy shall not depart from him.'
III. The startling addition to the cry.
'As we forgive.' Is, then, our poor forgiveness the measure or condition of God's? At first sight that addition seems to impose a limit on His pardon which might well plunge us into despair. But reflection on the words brings to light more comforting, though solemnly warning, thoughts.
We learn that our human forgiveness is the faint reflection of the light of His. We have a right to infer His gentleness, forbearance, and forgiveness from the existence of such gracious qualities in ourselves. God is all that is good in men. 'Whatsoever things are reverend, whatsoever things are honourable, whatsoever things are lovely—all these are in Him, and all as they are seen in men are from Him. 'He that formed the eye, shall not He see?' We forgive, and will not He?
In a very real sense our forgiving is the condition of our being forgiven. We are accustomed to hear that faith and repentance are conditions of receiving the divine forgiveness. But the very same disposition which, when directed to God, produces faith and repentance, when directed to men, produces a forgiving temper. A deep sense of my own unworthiness, and of having no ground of right to stand on, will surely lead me to be lenient and placable to others. We cannot cut our lives into halves, and be inwardly filled with contrition, and outwardly full of assertion of our rights. We cannot plead with God to do for us what we will not do for others. Our prayer for forgiveness must, if it is real, influence our whole behaviour; and if it is not real, it will not be answered.
The possession of God's forgiveness will make us forgiving. 'Forgiving one another, even as also God in Christ hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children.'
Our continuous possession and conscious enjoyment of God's forgiveness will be contingent on our forgivingness. He who took his fellow-servant by the throat and half choked him in his determination to exact the last farthing of his debt was, by the act, cancelling his own discharge and piling up a mountain of debt, against himself. Our consciousness of forgiveness will be most clear and satisfying when we are forgiving those who trespass against us. We shall pardon most spontaneously and fully when our hearts are warm with the beams of God's pardon.
'LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION'
'And lead us not into temptation.'—MATT. vi. 13.
The petition of the previous clause has to do with the past, this with the future; the one is the confession of sin, the other the supplication which comes from the consciousness of weakness. The best man needs both. Forgiveness does not break the bonds of evil by which we are held. But forgiveness increases our consciousness of weakness, and in the new desire which comes from it to walk in holiness, we are first rightly aware of the strength and frequency of inducements to sin. A man may by mere natural conscience know something of what temptation is, but only he understands its strength who resists it.
The sense of forgiveness and the new desires and love thereby developed, lead to the falling of the mask from the deceitful forms that gleam around us. He who is forgiven has his eyesight purged, and can see that these are not what they seem, but demons that lure us to our destruction. It is true that the sign of the Cross compels the foul thing to appear in its own true form. 'Then started up in his own shape the fiend.' The love which comes from forgiveness and the new sympathies which it engenders are the Ithuriel's spear. What a wonderful change passes upon the siren tempters when we believe that Christ has pardoned us, and have learned to love Him! Then the fishtail is seen below the sunlit waters.
Forgiveness is one of the chief means of teaching us our sin. The removal of all dread of personal consequences, which it effects, leaves us free to contemplate with calmed hearts the moral character of our actions. The revelation of God's love which is made in forgiveness quickens our consciences as well as purges them, and our standard of purity is raised. The effort to live rightly, which is the sure result of God's love believed, first teaches us thoroughly how wrong we are. We know the strength of the current when we try to pull against it. Looking to God as our Father, our blackness shows blacker against the radiant purity of His white light.
Forgiveness does not at once and wholly annihilate the tendency to transgress. True, the belief that God has forgiven supplies the strongest motives for holiness, and the new life which comes to every man who so believes will by degrees conquer all the lingering garrisons of the Philistines which hold scattered strong-posts in the land. But though this be so, still the purifying process is a slow and gradual one, and evil may be forced out of the heart while yet it is in the blood. The central will may be cleansed while yet habits continue to be strong, and the power of resistance, new-born as it is, may be weak in act though omnipotent in nature. All sin leaves some tendency to recurrence. The path which one avalanche has hollowed lies ready for another. It is true, on the one side, that no purity is so bright and no obedience so steadfast as that of the man who has been cleansed and reclaimed from rebellion. But it is also true that, on the road to that ultimate purity, a pardoned man has to struggle daily with the bitter relics of his old self, to wage war against evils the force of which he never knew till he tried to resist them, against sins which were all sleek, and velvety, and purring, as long as he fondled and stroked them, but which flash out sharp claws when he would fling them from their dens in his heart. Forgiveness does not at once conquer sin, and forgiveness leads to deeper consciousness of sin. Hence the order of petitions here. Following on the prayer for pardon, comes that for shelter from and in temptation which arises from deep consciousness of our own weakness and liability to fall.
Temptation has two parts in it—the circumstances which lead to sin, the desire which is addressed by them. There must be tinder as well as spark, if there is to be flame. Fire falling on water or upon bare rock will kindle nothing. God sends the one, we make the other.
I. Expresses our recognition of God as ordering all circumstances.
There is the general faith that His Providence orders our lot, and the specific that God orders and brings about temptations.
To tempt is to present inducements to sin, but a secondary significance is to do so maliciously, and with desire that we should fall. It is in this secondary sense that James denies that God tempts any man. We tempt ourselves, or evil tempts us. But God does tempt in so far as He presents outward circumstances which become occasions of falling or of standing, as we take them. He sends temptations, He sends trials, and the two only differ in name, and in what is implied in the word, of the disposition of the sender. Christ was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted. If God does not in malice tempt, still He does in mercy try. God sends trials; we make them temptations.
II. Implies that our chiefest wish is holiness, our greatest dread sin.
This is the only negative petition.
What would be our deprecatory prayers? Lead us not into sorrow, loss, poverty, disease, death?
How we fill our prayers with womanish shriekings and fears!
This petition can come only from a man whose will is resigned and fixed on God. One thing he fears, and that is to sin.
The one thing to be desired is not outward well-being, but inward character.
Think of our lives: what do we dread most?
III. Expresses our self-distrust.
It is from consciousness of our weakness that we pray thus. The language at first sight seems to breathe only a wish to be exempt from temptation. If that were its meaning, it were contrary to Christ's teaching and to the whole tenor of Scripture. But such a wish is included in it, and corresponds to one tone of mind, and to what ought always to be our feeling. We rightly shrink from temptation because we know our own weakness. That is the only allowable ground; if we do it from indolence, or dread of trouble, we are wrong. If flesh shrinks from pain, we are 'carnal and walk as men.' If we desire simply to have a smooth path, then we have yet to learn what our Master meant when He said, 'In the world ye shall have tribulation.' His servants should 'count it all joy when they fall into divers temptations.'
But if we rightly understand our own weakness, we shall dread to meet the enemy, because we know how often circumstances make all the difference between saint and sinner.
IV. Expresses our reliance on God if temptation comes.
I take to be 'tempted' as being presentation of inducement to sin. I take to 'enter into temptation' as the further step of consenting to it.
Perhaps there may be hovering in the words of the petition a half-conscious allusion to a captive being led into a prison.
What we should chiefly desire is that God would lead us not into, but through and out of, temptation. To pray simply for exemption from trial is—
1. To ask what is impossible.
All scenes of life, all stages, both sexes, all relations, all professions, are and ever will be full of inducements to sin.
Whether any given circumstance will tempt you or not depends on what you are. If there is nothing adhesive on you, it will not stick.
2. To ask what would not be for our good.
Effect of conquered temptation on the Christian life.
Effect on character. The old belief that the strength of a slain enemy passed into his slayer is true in regard to a Christian's overcome temptations.
Effect on grasp of truth.
Effect on consciousness of relation to God.
Effect on Future.
So then we ought to desire not so much exemption from temptation, as strength in it.
And He will always be at our side to grant us this.
We should seek not freedom from furnace, but His presence in it; not to be guided away from the dark valley, but through it. His prayer is our model; His life is our pattern, who was tempted 'though He were the Son'; His strength is our hope. He is 'able to succour them that are tempted.'
We identify ourselves in such a prayer with all who have sinned, and knowing that we are men of like passions, and that we may fall like them, we cry 'lead us not.'
He who offers this prayer from such motives will best and most willingly meet temptation when it comes. The soldier who goes into the field with careful circumspection, knowing the enemy's strength and his own weakness, is the most likely to conquer. It is the presumptuous men, confident in their own strength, who are sure to get beaten.
'DELIVER US FROM EVIL'
'But deliver us from evil.'—MATT. vi. 13.
The two halves of this prayer are like a calm sky with stars shining silently in its steadfast blue, and a troubled earth beneath, where storms sweep, and changes come, and tears are ever being shed. The one is so tranquil, the other so full of woe and want. What a dark picture of human conditions lies beneath the petitions of this second half! Hunger and sin and temptation, and wider still, that tragic word which includes them all—evil. Forgiveness and defence and deliverance—what sorrows these presuppose! Each step of these latter supplications seems to carry us deeper into the shadow and the darkness, each to present a darker aspect of what human life really is; and now that we have reached the last, we have an all-comprehensive cry which holds within its meaning every ill that flesh is heir to.
But seeing that we have to do with a prayer, we have also to do with a prophecy. We know that if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us, and therefore the sadder the want which is expressed, the fuller of hope is the prayer. This petition gives a dark picture of human wants, but whatsoever thing we pray about or against, we thereby profess to believe to be contrary to God's will, and to be certain of removal by Him; and when our Lord commanded us to say 'Our Father, ... deliver us from evil,' He gave us the lively hope that all which is included in that terribly wide word should be swept away, and that He would break every yoke and let His oppressed go free. The whole sum of human sorrow is gathered into one petition, that we may all feel that every item of it is capable of attenuation and extinction; and so our prayer, in the very clause which seems to sound the lowest depth, really rises to the loftiest height, and the words which sound likest a wail over all the misery that is done under the sun, have in them the notes of triumph. 'The sweetest songs are those which tell of saddest thought.' The most jubilant and confident prayer is that which feels most keenly the burden of evil, and 'falling with its weight of sins 'upon the great world's altar-stairs,' cries to God for deliverance.
I. The width of this petition.
What is evil?
Well, we leave God to decide what it is, but also we have no reason that I can see for limiting the impressive width of the word. It is a profound insight into the nature of evil which, in our own language and in other tongues, uses one word to express both what we call sin, and what we call sorrow. And I know not why we should suppose that our Lord does not include both of these here. There is what we call physical evil, pain, sorrow, meaning thereby whatever wars against our well-being and happiness. There is what we call moral evil, sin, meaning thereby whatever wars against our purity. Both are evil. Men's consciences tell them so of the one. Men's sensibilities tell them so of the other.
You cannot sophisticate a man into believing that he is not suffering when his flesh is racked or his heart wounded. It is evil to be in pain. It is evil to carry a heavy heart. It is evil to be stripped of what we have long been accustomed to lean upon. It is evil to be crushed down by loss and want. It is evil to stand by the black hole that swallows the coffin that holds the light of our eyes. It is evil to have the arrows of calumny or hate sticking in our quivering spirits. It is evil to be battered with the shocks of change and doom in the world, to have to toil at ungrateful tasks beyond our strength. The life which turns the child's rounded features into the thin face lined and wrinkled, and the child's elastic run into the slow, heavy tread, is after all a life which in its outward aspects is a life of evil.
And many a man who has had little sympathy with what seem to him the hazy platitudes of the rest of the prayer, learns to pray this clause, and is always ready to pray it. For we may be sure of this, that they who make the world their all are they who feel its evils most keenly. From how many lips unused to prayer are cries every hour going up in this sorrowful world which really mean, 'deliver us from evil'!
But it is not only these external evils which the prayer includes. It means every kind of sin, all dominion of what is contrary to God's will.
And the petition is 'deliver,' pull us out, drag us from. It is a cry for the entire emancipation or utter extinction of evil in its effect upon us.
So this petition in its clear recognition of evil sets forth man's condition distinctly, and is opposed to that false stoicism which tries to argue men out of their senses, and convince them that the fire which burns them is only a painted fire. Christianity has nothing in common with that insensibility to suffering which it is sometimes supposed to teach. Christ wept, and bade the daughters of Jerusalem weep also.
Christianity has deep words to say about evil and pain as being salutary and for our good, and about submission to God's will as being better than wild wishes to be delivered now and at once from all pain and sorrow. But it begins with full admission that evil is evil, and all its teachings presuppose that. Job was tormented by the well-meaning platitudes of his friends, who lifted up their hands in holy horror that he did not lie on his dunghill, as if it had been a bed of roses; and Job, who felt all the sorrow of his losses and ground out many a wrong saying between his teeth, was justified because he had held by the truth that his senses taught him, that pain was bitter and bad, and by the other which his faith taught him, that God must be good. He could not reconcile them. We can in part; but our Lord has taught us in this prayer that it is not to be done by denying or sophisticating facts. Then let us use this prayer in all its breadth, and feel that it covers all which makes our hearts heavy, and all which makes our consciences sore.
'From all evil and mischief—plague, pestilence, and famine, as well as envy, hatred, and hypocrisy—from sin, from the crafts and assaults of the devil,—Good Lord, deliver us.' 'In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our wealth, in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment,—Good Lord, deliver us.'
II. The unity and source of the evil.
The singular number suggests that all evil, multiform as it seems, is at bottom one. It is a great weltering coil, but wilderness and tangle as it appears, there is a tap root from which it all comes, like a close-clinging mass of ivy which is choking the life out of an elm-tree. If that root were grubbed up, all would fall. It is like some huge sea monster 'floating many a rood,' but there is only one life in it. The hydra has a hundred heads, but one heart. And the place in the prayer in which this clause comes suggests what that is—sin.
That place implies that all human sorrows and sufferings are consequences of human evil. And that is true inasmuch as many of them are distinctly and naturally its results. Disease is often the result of dissipation, poverty of indolence, friendlessness of selfishness. How many of the miseries of our great cities, how many of the miseries of nations, result from criminal neglect and injustice! 'Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.' Ah! if all men were saying from the heart, 'Thy will be done,' how many of their griefs would be at an end! And it is true that sorrows are the consequences of sin inasmuch as suffering has been introduced by God into the world because of sin. He has been forced by our rebellion to use judgments, and that to bring us back.
And it is true that sorrows are the consequences of sin inasmuch as the sting is taken out of them when our sins are forgiven and we love God. Then they so change their characters as scarcely to deserve to be called by their old name, and the paradox, 'sorrowful yet always rejoicing,' becomes a sober fact of experience.
III. The divine opposition to evil.
This prayer implies that all evil is contrary to His will. The one kind is so, absolutely and always. The other is a method to which He has had recourse, but not that which, if things had gone right, He would have adopted.
So this prayer breathes confidence that God will overcome both kinds.
How much there is to make us believe that evil is eternal.
How apt we are to fall into despair, to lose heart for ourselves and our fellows; to say that it has always been so, and it always will be so.
For all social reformers here is encouragement.
For ourselves, when we seem to do so little in setting ourselves right, here is confidence.
But it must be God who conquers the world's evil.
Our most potent weapon in the struggle with our own and the world's evil is the earnest offering of this petition.
Think of the failure of godless schemes; how often we have been on the verge of political and other millenniums.
Only the God, who cures sin, can cure the world's ills.
We are not to substitute praying for working. God may answer our prayer by setting us to work.
Remember that you pledge yourselves to work for your fellows by that Us, and to try to reduce, were it by ever so little, the sum of human misery.
IV. The manner of God's deliverance from evil. God delivers us by Christ, that is the sum of all.
He delivers us from sin by His answers to the previous petitions.
He delivers us from suffering by teaching us how to bear it, and by showing us the meaning of it. The evil in evil is taken away. There shines a brightness round about the devouring fire (Ezek. i. 4). 'All things work together for good.'
Finally, He delivers by taking us to Himself.
This prayer goes beyond present experience. It is the yearning for full redemption. It is the last which is answered. But there lies in it a not indistinct prophecy of that great and blessed time when we shall be like Him, and delivered from all evil.
For ourselves and for the world it carries the assurance that neither sorrow nor sin shall be permitted to deform for ever the face of this fair creation; but that the day comes when God's name being everywhere hallowed, and His will done on earth, and His kingdom set up, and all our wants supplied, and all our sins forgiven, and all temptations taken out of the way, evil of every kind shall be scourged out of God's universe, and 'the ransomed of the Lord shall return with joy upon their heads, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.'
Then shall this mighty prayer be answered, the prayer of God's children in all ages, the prayer which He offers before the Throne who on earth prayed, 'Not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil'; the prayer which the white-robed souls offer when they cry, 'How long, O Lord, how long?' the prayer which, all unconsciously, the sobs, and cries, and sorrows of six thousand years have been offering; the prayer which is every hour being answered in hourly mercies, and multitudes of forgivenesses and gracious guiding; the prayer which has been steadily tending towards its fulfilment, through all the ages during which God's name has been growing in men's love, and His will more and more obeyed, and His kingdom more and more fully come; the prayer which will be at last completely realised when all His children shall stand before His Throne happy and good, and the noise of earth's evil shall sound only in the ear of memory, like the murmur of some far-off sea heard from the sacred mountain, or the remembrance of the tempest when all the winds are still.
If our prayer is, 'Deliver us from evil,' our life's experience will be that 'He delivered us from so great a death and will deliver,' our dying word will be thanksgiving to 'the angel who delivered us from all evil,' and our death will bring the full deliverance for which while here we pray, and admit us into that region of unmingled good and blessing and purity, whose distant brightness we, tossing on the unquiet sea, behold from afar and long to possess. 'After this manner pray ye,' and to you the promise will be blessedly fulfilled, 'Because he hath set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him. I will set him on high, because he hath known My name' (Ps. xci. 14).
'THINE IS THE KINGDOM'
'Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.' MATT. vi. 13.
There is no reason to suppose that this doxology was spoken by Christ. It does not occur in any of the oldest and most authoritative manuscripts of Matthew's Gospel. It does not seem to have been known to the earliest Christian writers. Long association has for us intertwined the words inextricably with our Lord's Prayer, and it is a wound to reverential feeling to strike out what so many generations have used in their common supplications. No doubt this doxology is appropriate as a conclusion, and serves to give an aspect of completeness. It sounds cold and cheerless to end our prayer with 'evil.' But the question is not one of feeling or of our notions of fitness, but purely one of criticism, and the only evidence which has any right to be heard in settling the text of the New Testament is dead against this clause. If we regard that evidence, we are obliged to say that the doxology has no business here. How it stands here is a question which may be answered satisfactorily. When the Lord's Prayer came to be used in public worship, it was natural to append to it a doxology, just as in chanting the psalms it became the habit to repeat at the end of each the Gloria. This doxology, originally written on the margin of the gospel, would gradually creep into the text, and once there, was naturally retained.
It does not follow that, because Christ did not speak it, we ought not to use it. It should not be in the Bible, but it may well be in our prayers. If we think that our Lord gave us a pattern rather than a form, we are quite justified in extending that pattern by any additions which harmonise with its spirit. If we think He gave us a form to be repeated verbatim, then we ought not to add to it this doxology.
At first sight it seems as if the prayer without it were incomplete. It contains loving desires, lowly dependence, humble penitence, earnest wishes for cleansing, but there appears none of that rapturous praise which is also an element in all true devotion. And this may have been one reason for the addition of the doxology. But I think that that absence of praise and joy is only apparent; the first clause of the prayer expresses the highest form of both. The doxology, if you will think of it, adds nothing to the contemplation of the divine character which the prayer has already taught us. It is only a repetition at the close of what we had at the beginning, and its conception, lofty and grand as it is, falls beneath that of 'Our Father.' We might almost say that the doxology is incongruous with the prayer as presenting a less blessed, spiritual, distinctively Christian thought of God. That would be going too far, but I cannot but feel a certain change in tone, a dropping from the loftiest elevation down to the celebration of the lower aspects of the divine. 'Kingdom, power, and glory' are grand, but they do not reach the height of ascription of praise which sounds in the very first words of the prayer.
Properly speaking, too, this doxology is not a part of the prayer. It expresses two things: the devout contemplation of God which the whole course of the petitions has excited in the soul—and in that aspect it is the Church's echo to the Lord's Prayer; and the confidence with which we pray—and in that aspect it is rather the utterance of meditative reflection asking of itself its reasons for hope and stirring itself up to lay hold on God.
I. The meaning of the doxology.
Kingdom, power, and glory correspond to kingdom, will, and hallowing in the first part. The order is not the same, but it is still substantially identical.
'Thine the kingdom.' All earthly things, the whole fates of men here, are ruled by Him. The prayer asked that it might be so; here we declare that it is so already, not, of course, in the deepest sense, but that even now and here He rules with authority. 'Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,' and this conviction is inseparable from our Christianity. How hard it is to believe it at all times, from what we see around us! The temptation is to think that the kingdom is men's, or belongs to blind fate, or chance, and our own evil hearts ever suggest that the kingdom is our own. Satan said, 'All is mine, and I will give it Thee.'
The affairs of the world seem so far from God, we are so tempted to believe that He is remote from it, that nations and their rulers and the field of politics are void of Him. We see craft and force and villainy ruling, we see kingdoms far from any perception that society is for man and from God. We see Dei gratia on our coins, and 'by the grace of the Devil' for real motto. We see long tracks of godless crime and mean intrigue, and here and there a divine gleam falling from some heroic deed of sacrifice. We see king and priest playing into each other's hands, and the people destroyed, whatever be the feud. But we are to believe that the world is the kingdom of God; to learn whence comes all human rule, and to be sure that even here and now 'Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.'
'Thine the Power.' Not merely has He authority over, but He works indeed through all—the whole world and all creatures are the field of the ever present energy of God. That is a simple truth, deep but clear, that all power comes from Him. He is the cause of all changes, physical and all other. Force is the garment of the present God, and among men all power is from Him. His will is the creative word.
'Thine the Glory.' God's glory is the praise which comes from the accomplishment of His purpose and will. This is the end of all Creation and Manifestation. The thought of Scripture is that all things are for the greater glory of God. It may be a most cold-blooded and cruel doctrine, or it may be a most blessed one. All depends on what is our conception of the character of the God whose self-revelation is His glory.
An almighty Devil is the God of many people. But we have learned to say 'Our Father,' and hence this thought is blessed. Unless we had so learned, the thought that His end was His glory would make Him a selfish tyrant. But since we know Him to be our Father, we know that His Glory is the revelation of His Love, His Fatherhood; that when we say that He does all things for His own glory, we say that He does all things that men may know His character as it is, and 'to know Him is life eternal.'
'Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory': whatsoever we may have lost and suffered in the past; whatsoever fiery baptism and strife of arms or of principles we may yet have to go through; whatsoever shocks of loss and sorrow may strike upon our own hearts; whatsoever untraversed seas our nation or our race may have to embark upon, One abides, the same One remains ours and is ever with us. We may have to face storm and cloud, and 'neither sun nor stars may appear'; we may have to fling out the best anchors we can find, if haply they may hold on anything, and may wearily 'wish for the day.' But 'the Lord sitteth upon the flood,' and in the thickest of the night, when we lift our wearied eyes, we shall see Him coming to us across the storm, and the surges smoothing themselves to rest for His pavement, and the waves subside into their caves at His voice.