RPM, Volume 19, Number 51 December 17 to December 23, 2017

The Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism

By Dr. Zacharias Ursinus

FORTY-NINTH LORD'S DAY.

Question 124. Which is the third petition?

Answer. "THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN;" that is, grant that we and all men may renounce our own will, and without murmuring obey thy will, which is only good; that so everyone may attend to, and perform the duties of his station and calling, as willingly and faithfully as the angels do in heaven.

EXPOSITION

In considering this petition we must enquire,

I. What is the will of God?
II. What we desire in this petition, and in what does it differ from the second?
III. Why is this petition necessary?
IV. Why is it added, as in heaven?

I. WHAT IS THE WILL OF GOD?

The will of God signifies in the Scriptures, 1. The commandment of God. "Ye ministers of his that do his pleasure." "This is the will of God, even your sanctification." (Ps. 103:21. 1 Thes. 4:3.) 2. It signifies the events, or rather the decree of God respecting future events in which it is continually revealing and manifesting itself "not my will, but thine be done." "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure." "Who hath resisted his will." (Luke 22:42. Is. 46:10. Rom. 9:19.

II. WHAT DO WE DESIRE IN THIS PETITION, AND IN WHAT DOES IT DIFFER FROM THE SECOND?

Thy will be done. The sense is cause and grant that we may do not our own will, which is corrupt and perverse, but thine which alone is just and holy, and that we may yield obedience to thee. We desire, therefore,

1. A denying of ourselves, which consists in these two parts: 1. That we hold ourselves in readiness to give up all our desires and wishes which are in opposition to the law of God. 2. That we hold ourselves in readiness to take up the cross, and submit ourselves willingly to God in all things. In offering up this petition, thy will be done, we pray, therefore, first of all, that God would bestow upon us his grace, so as to enable us to deny and renounce our own corrupt and perverse will, and be willing to suffer the loss of all things contrary to his will.

2. A cheerful and proper discharge of our duty, that everyone in his appropriate sphere may be able to serve God with diligence, and to do his will, as well in those duties which are common as in those which are special. Those duties are common, which are required not only from us, but also from all Christians, and comprise the virtues necessary for all the godly, as faith, conversion, godliness, charity, temperance, &c. Special duties are those which have respect to our own, and to every man's proper calling in life. In praying, therefore, that the will of God may be done, we desire that all these duties may be properly discharged, and that everyone may abide in the calling which has been assigned him, and serve God therein, leaving the final issue of events with God, who disposes and directs all things.

3. We desire that such events as are not contrary to the will of God, and which are pleasing to him may come to pass.

4. We pray that all our actions and designs may be blessed and prospered, or that God may be pleased, out of his infinite good, to direct and accompany with his blessing all our actions, counsels, desires and labors, so that no other events may follow them but such as he knows will most contribute to his glory and our salvation. God wills that we should desire these things, from him, and leave the final issue of things with himself, we in the meantime properly discharging our duties.

To express the whole in a few words, we may say that when we offer up the petition, thy will be done, we pray that God may, as it were, bury in us all corrupt desires and wishes, and that he alone may work in us by his Spirit, so that we, being sustained by divine grace, may discharge our various duties and carry out the end of our calling.

Obj. But the former petition also contains a request that we may rightly perform our duty. Therefore this seems to be superfluous. Ans. We do not here pray for precisely the same thing, that we do in the former petition: for in the former we desire that God may commence his kingdom in us, by ruling us by his Spirit, who renews our will, so that we hence forth, rightly discharging our duty, may render such obedience to our King, as becomes subjects of his kingdom. But in this petition we desire that we may all faithfully carry out the will of God respecting us by properly discharging our duties in the different spheres in which we are placed. Or we may express the difference thus; In the former petition we pray that the church may exist, be preserved and glorified: in this we ask of God that everyone may properly discharge his duty in the church.

We may here as we pass along notice the connection and difference between the three petitions, which we have been considering. The connection between them is of the most intimate character, so much so that no one can exist without the others. The third contributes to the second, and the second to the first: for the name of God is not sanctified, unless his kingdom come; nor does the kingdom of God come, except by the use of those means by which it is advanced. These means now are the duties which belong to every man's calling in life. They differ in the following respect: In the first we pray for sanctification, or for the true acknowledgement and praise of God, together with all his works and counsels. In the second we desire the gathering, preservation and government of the church, and that God may rule us by his word and Spirit, defend and protect us, and deliver us from all the evils of guilt and punishment. In the third, we desire that everyone may be diligently engaged in his proper place, direct all that he does to the glory of God, and regard whatever God sends upon him as good and calculated to advance his well-being.

III. WHY IS THIS PETITION NECESSARY?

This petition is necessary, 1. That the kingdom of God may come, which is the thing we pray for in the second petition; for unless God bring it to pass that everyone in his own peculiar sphere diligently do his will, this kingdom cannot be established, flourish and be preserved. 2. That we may be in this kingdom. We cannot be members of this kingdom without doing the will of God. Nor can we of ourselves, on account of the corruption of our nature, do the will of God, if he does not give us the necessary strength. This strength now God does not grant unto any except those who desire it. Hence it is necessary that we should pray to God that he may impart it unto us.

Obj. It is not necessary that we should desire that which is always done, and which will certainly come to pass, even though we do not pray for it. The will of God is always done, and will most certainly come to pass, even though we do not desire it. Therefore it is not necessary that we should pray that it may be done. Ans. There is in the major proposition a fallacy in regarding that as a cause which is none; for we do not pray that the will of God may be done as if it would not be done, if we did not desire and pray for it, but for other causes, viz. that it may also be done by us, and that the events which God has ordained may contribute to our comfort and salvation. These events will not turn out to our advantage and salvation, unless we submit to the will of God, and desire only that to be done which God has decreed and desires to be done. We also deny the minor proposition, which is false, 1. As it respects the calling of everyone; because those who do not desire and pray that they may be able in their appropriate sphere to discharge their duty correctly, faithfully and with comfort to themselves, never do it. 2. It is also false as it respects the divine decrees; because God has decreed many events, yet in such a way that he has also decreed the means necessary thereto. And should someone reply, the decrees of God are unchangeable, so that the things which he determines upon will come to pass, even without our prayers; we answer, the decrees of God are unchangeable not only as it respects the event or end, but also as it respects the means which lead to this end. God has decreed to give the end, but it is by the means which lead to it, which is with the condition that we desire and pray for it.

IV. WHY IS IT ADDED, AS IN HEAVEN?

Christ adds the clause, As in heaven for these two reasons, 1. That he might set before us an example of perfection after which we should strive 2. That from the desire of perfection we might be assured that God will here grant unto us the commencement, and in the life to come the consummation of all that we desire in reference to his kingdom and will. "To him that hath shall be given." (Luke 8:18.) The reason of both is this, that in heaven the will of God is done perfectly. Does anyone ask by whom? We answer, 1. By the Son of God, who does all that the Father wills. "Lo I come, I delight to do thy will, my God." "I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." (Ps. 40:7, 8; John 6:38.) 2. By the holy angels and blessed men. The will of God is done in heaven in such a way by the angels, that every one of them stands before God ready to do whatever he commands. They do the general and special will of God most promptly and cheerfully. No one declines or refuses to do the service which God requires from them -- no one transcends the limits which God has prescribed, and in which he requires them to serve him -- no one is ashamed to serve us; although we offend them and God by our sins. They are ministering spirits. (Heb. 1:14.) It is in this way, therefore, we all desire, that we may also obey God and do his will on earth, as the holy angels do it in heaven.

Obj. Things which are impossible should not be desired. But to desire that the will of God may be done on earth, as in heaven, or that we may discharge our duty as the angels do in heaven, is impossible; yea, it is to desire and pray for that which is contrary to the will of God. Therefore it is not to be sought, since God designs that this shall be our state in the life to come, and not in the present state of being. Ans. In answering this objection we would make the following distinction in reference to the major proposition: Things which are impossible should not be desired, unless God designs to give them at length to those who desire them. But God wills to give the ability to perform obedience to this his will to such as desire it, in such a way that they commence this obedience in this life, and shall have it perfected in the life to come. The consummation of it is, therefore, to be ardently desired, whilst the impossibility of it should be patiently endured in this life. The consummation of it should also be desired that we may at length obtain it, since he who does not desire it will certainly never obtain it. It is one thing not to be able to obtain this consummation, and another thing not to desire it. We also deny the minor proposition, in which there is an error in regarding that as a cause which is no cause: for we do not desire and pray that the consummation of our obedience to God may be accomplished in this life; but that we may here have the commencement, the continuation and increase of this obedience in us, and that at length, after it has been gradually carried forward by constant progression and increase, it may be perfected, and that we may then do the will of God as fully and perfectly as the angels continually do it in heaven. Hence when we pray that the will of God may be done on earth as in heaven, the word as, does not refer to and signify the degree, but the kind of obedience, here alluded to; viz. the beginning of it; the desire and obtaining of which is not contrary to the divine decree. And as to the consummation of this obedience, it is proper that we should every moment desire and pray that we may be wholly delivered from sin: for it is agreeable to the will of God that we should pray for this, even though he does not design to perfect it in this life. It is not proper for us to search and scrutinize into what God has decreed, when we have this rule prescribed, that we pray for things upon the condition of the will of God. We should therefore submit ourselves to the divine will, and pray for what God has commanded us to ask of him, whether he has decreed it, or not. God, for instance, wills the death of our parents, and yet he does not design that we should desire and pray for their death. So God also wills that the church should have her seasons of affliction and oppression, but does desire that we should pray for these afflictions, but for her deliverance, or that she may patiently submit to the afflictions which he sees fit to send upon her. So it is now in reference to the subject in hand. God does not design to give us perfect deliverance from sin in this life, and yet he wills that we should desire it and constantly pray that we may be wholly delivered from sin. There are, therefore, some things to be sought and prayed for, which God will not bring to pass; and on the other hand, there are some things which God designs to bring to pass, which we are not to desire and pray for, but patiently to endure, if they do come to pass. And yet in doing this, we do not pray contrary to the will of God, because we always submit ourselves to his will in our prayers.

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