SERMON XXXVIII. THE LORD'S PRAYER
Windsor Castle, 1867. Chester Cathedral, 1870.
Matthew vi. 9, 10. "After this manner, therefore, pray ye, Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
Let us think for a while on these great words. Let us remember that some day or other they will certainly be fulfilled. Let us remember that Christ would not have bidden us use them, unless He intended that they should be fulfilled. And let us remember, likewise, that we must help to fulfil them. We need to be reminded of this from time to time, for we are all inclined to forget it. We are inclined to forget that mankind has a Father in heaven, who is ruling, and guiding, and educating us, His human children, to
"One far off divine event, Toward which the whole creation moves."
We are apt to fancy that the world will always go on very much as it goes on now; that it will be guided, not by the will of God, but by the will of man; by man's craft; by man's ambition; by man's self-interest; by man's cravings after the luxuries, and even after the mere necessities of this life. In a word, we are apt to fancy that man, not God, is the master of this earth on which we live, and that men have no king over them in heaven.
The Lord's Prayer tells us that men HAVE a king over them in heaven, and that that king is a Father likewise--a Father whose name will one day be hallowed above all names. That the world will not always go on as it goes on now, but that the Father's kingdom will come. That above the will of man, there is a will of God, which must be done, and therefore will be done some day. In a word, the Lord's Prayer tells us that this world is under a Divine government; that the Lord, even Jesus Christ our Saviour, is King, be the people never so impatient. That He sitteth between the cherubim, master of all the powers of nature, be the earth never so unquiet. That His power loves justice. That He has prepared equity. That He has executed, and therefore will execute to the end, judgment and righteousness in the earth. That Christ reigns in justice and in love. That He has for those who disobey His laws the most terrible penalties; for those who obey them blessings such as eye hath not seen nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive. That He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet and delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father. That on that great day He will prove His royalty, and His Father's royalty, in the sight of all heaven and earth, and make every soul of man aware, in a fashion which none shall mistake, that He is Lord and King. This is the message which the Lord's Prayer brings--a message of mingled fear and joy.
But a message of more joy than fear. Else why does our Lord bid us pray for it that it may come to pass?--pray daily, before we even pray for our daily bread, or the forgiveness of our sins--that His Father's name may be hallowed, His Father's kingdom come, His Father's will be done?
He bids us pray for that because it will bring blessings. Blessings to every soul of man who desires to be good and true. Because it will satisfy every aspiration which has ever risen up from the heart of man after what is noble, what is generous, what is just, what is useful, what is pure. Surely it is so. Consider but these short words of my text, and think what the world would be like if they were fulfilled; what the next world will actually be like when they are fulfilled.
"Hallowed be thy name." But what name? The name of Father. If that name were hallowed by men, there would be an end of all superstitions. The root of all superstitions, fanaticisms, and false religions is this-- that they do not hallow the name of Father. They do not see that it is a Holy name, a beautiful and tender as well as an awful and venerable name. They think of fathers, like too many among themselves, proud, and arbitrary, selfish and cruel. They say in their hearts, even such fathers as we are, such is God. Therefore, they shrink from God, and turn from Him to idols, to the Virgin Mary, or Saints, or any other beings who can deliver them (as they fancy) out of the hands of their Father in heaven. If men once learnt to hallow the name of Father, to think of a father as one who not only possessed power but felt love, who not only had rights which he would enforce, and issued commands which must be obeyed, but who felt yearning sympathy for his children's weakness, an active interest in their education, and was ready to labour for, to sacrifice himself for, his family--That would be truly to hallow the name of Father, and look on it as a holy thing, whether in heaven above or in earth beneath.
To hallow the Father's name would abolish all the superstition of the world. And so the coming of the Father's kingdom would abolish all the misrule and anarchy of the world. For the kingdom of God the Father is a kingdom of perfect order, perfect justice, perfect usefulness. Surely the first consequences of that kingdom's coming would be, that every one would be exactly in his right place, and that every one would get his exact deserts. That would indeed be the kingdom of God on earth. The prospect of such a kingdom would be painful enough to those who were in their wrong place, to those who were undeserving. All who were useless, taking wages either from man or from God, without doing any work in return, all these would have but too good reason to dread the coming of the kingdom of God.
But those who were trying earnestly to do their work, though amid many mistakes and failures, why should they dread the coming of the kingdom of God? Why should they shrink from remembering that, though God's kingdom is not come in perfection and fulness, it is here already, and they are in it? Why should they shrink from that thought? They will find it full of comfort, of strength, and hope, if they will but hallow their Father's name, and remember the fact of all facts--that they have a Father in heaven. There are thousands on earth, from the highest to the lowest, who can say honestly--to take the commonest instance--every parent can say it--"I have a heavy work to do, a heavy responsibility to fulfil. God knows I did not seek it, thrust myself into it; it was thrust upon me. It came to me in the course of nature or of society, and circumstances over which I had no control. In one word it was MY DUTY. But now that I have my duty to do, behold I cannot do it. I try my best, but I fail. I come short daily of my own low standard of duty. How much more of God's perfect standard of it! And the burden of responsibility, the regret for failure, is more than I can bear.
To such we may answer, hallow your Father's name, and be of good cheer. YOUR FATHER has given you your work. Because He is a Father, He is surely educating you for your work. Because He is a Father, He will surely set you no task which you are unable to fulfil. Because He is a Father, He will help you to fulfil your task. Your station and calling is His will; and because it is a Father's will it is a good will.
And the Judge of your work--He is no stern taskmaster, no unfeeling tyrant, but Jesus Christ, your Lord, who died for you on the Cross. He knows what is in man. He remembereth that we are but dust. Else the spirit would fail before Him and the souls which He has made. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, seeing that He was tempted in all things like as we are, yet without sin. He can sympathise utterly; He can make all just allowances; He will judge not by outward results, but by the inward will and desire. He will judge not by the hearing of the ear, nor the seeing of the eye, as the shallow cruel world judges, but He will judge righteous judgment. Trust your cause to Him, and trust yourself to Him. Believe that if He can sympathise, He can also help; for from Him, as well as from His Father, proceeds the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of power and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, and He will inspire you to see your duty, and do your duty, and rejoice in your duty, in spite of weariness and failure, and all the burdens of the flesh and of the spirit.
"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." If that were done, it would abolish all the vice of the world, and therefore the misery which springs from vice. Ah, that God's will were but done on earth as it is in the material heaven overhead, in perfect order and obedience, as the stars roll in their courses, without rest, yet without haste; as all created things, even the most awful, fire and hail, snow and vapour, wind and storm, fulfil God's word, who hath made them sure for ever and ever, and given them a law which shall not be broken. But above them; above the divine and wonderful order of the material universe, and the winds which are God's angels, and the flames of fire which are His messengers; above all, the prophets and apostles have caught sight of another divine and wonderful order of RATIONAL beings, of races, loftier and purer than man--angels and archangels, thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, fulfilling God's will in heaven as it is not alas! fulfilled on earth.
And beside them, beside the innumerable company of angels, are there not the spirits of just men made perfect, freed from the fetters of the gross animal body, and now somewhere in that boundless universe in which this earth is but a tiny speck, doing God's will, as they longed to do it on earth, with clearer light, fuller faith, deeper love, mightier powers of usefulness? Ah, that we were like to them! Ah, that we could perform the least part of our day's work on earth as it is performed by saints and angels for ever in heaven! When we think of what this poor confused world is, and then what it might be, were God's will done therein as it is done in heaven; what it might be if even the little of God's will which we already know, the little of God's laws which are proved already to be certain, were carried out with any earnestness by the majority of mankind, or even of one civilized nation--when we think--to take the very lowest ground--of the health and wealth, the peace and happiness, which would cover this earth did men only do the will of God; then, if we have human hearts within us--if we care at all for the welfare of our fellow- men--ought not this to be the prayer of all our prayers, and ought we not to welcome any event, however awful, which would bring mankind to reason and to virtue, and to God, and abolish the sin and misery of this unhappy world?
To abolish the superstition, the misrule, the vice, the misery of this world. That is what Christ will do in the day when He has put all enemies under His feet. That is what Christ has been doing, step by step, ever since that day when first He came to do His Father's will on earth in great humility. Therefore, that is what we must do, each in our place and station, if we be indeed His subjects, fellow-workers with Him in the improvement of the human race, fellow-soldiers with Him in the battle against evil.
But what we wish to do for our fellow-creatures, we must do first for ourselves. We can give them nothing save what God has already given us. We must become good before we can make them good, and wise before we can make them wise. Let us pray, then, the Lord's Prayer in spirit and in truth. Let us pray that we may hallow the name of God, our Father. Let us pray that His kingdom may come in our own hearts. Let us pray that we may do His will on earth as those whom we love and honour do it in heaven. Let us keep that before us, day and night, as the aim and purpose of our lives. Let us pray for forgiveness of our failures in that; for help to do that better as our years run on. So we shall be ready for the day in which Christ shall have accomplished the number of His elect, and hastened His kingdom. So we shall be found in that dread day, not on the side of evil, but of God; not on the side of darkness, anarchy, and vice, but on the side of light, of justice, and of virtue, which is the side of Christ and of God. And so we, with all those that are departed in the faith of His holy name, shall have our perfect consummation and bliss in His eternal and everlasting glory, to which may He, of His great mercy, bring us all. Amen.
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