THE VIRGIN BIRTH
There is (it may be said) but one miracle in the Christian Faith, comprehending and involving all others, and that miracle is the coming of a Supernatural Person into the world; and it was inevitable that the entrance of such a Person, like His exit, should be supernatural too. Thus the whole Church held the Virgin Birth of Christ, until challenged by the Ebionites and the Gnostics; and for another fifteen hundred years it was held by the entire Church, until the modern denial, springing from Paine and Voltaire, was reinforced by Strauss and Renan. Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostle John, says:- “Stop your ears when anyone speaks to you at variance with the truth that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Virgin Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost.” The first professed Christian teacher to deny the Virgin Birth was Cerinthus, the deadly Gnostic opponent of John.
FOR MESSIAH HAD TO BE THE SON OF A VIRGIN. “The Lord Himself shall give you a sign” - a miracle; a natural conception would be no miracle: “behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name IMMANUEL” (Isaiah 7: 14), which, Matthew is careful to explain (Matthew 1: 23), means “God with us.” If from stones God could raise up Children to Abraham - and the Scripture says so - miraculous conception cannot be impossible; for, as Gabriel assures Mary, “no word from God shall be void of power” (Luke 1: 37) - that is, every utterance of God carries in it the dynamic of its own fulfilment. “God can form man in four ways: from a man and a woman, as constant custom shows; from neither man nor woman, as Adam; from a man without a woman, as Eve; or from a woman without a man, as the Son of God” (Anselm). Jehovah’s interdict had irrevocably barred the ancestry of Joseph from producing the Messiah (Jeremiah 22: 20; Matthew 1: 11): if Jesus was Joseph’s Son, He was not the Messiah.
MESSIAH ALSO HAD TO BE THE SON OF GOD. “For unto us a child is born, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God” (Isaiah 9: 6). So Gabriel says to Mary:- “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: WHEREFORE also that which is to be born shall be called (1) holy, (2) the Son of God” (Luke 1: 35): that is, both the sinlessness and the Deity of Jesus spring wholly and exclusively from the virgin birth; not, shall be holy, the Son of God, for these He always was; but, for the first time on human lips and in the human arena, “shall be called holy, the Son of God.” The Branch of God was grafted into human stock from without: so, in the manner of all grafts, it bore its own fruit, not the fruit of the stock. (The alleged heathen “virgin births” are not virgin births at all; but angelic fornications which brought the old world to ruin - Genesis 6: 2, 4 - and form the basis of all heathen mythology). Vital and momentous is the truth; for if the birth was not of the Holy Ghost, since it was also not of Joseph, himself being witness (Matthew 1: 19), Jesus was base-born, bastard-born: there is but one step between belief and blasphemy.
All requirements of Messiahship mingled, as only God could blend them, in the Lord. MESSIAH HAD TO BE THE LEGAL HEIR OF JOSEPH. Both Joseph and Mary were in unbroken descent from David, Joseph through Solomon, Mary through Nathan; but Joseph was heir of the elder branch; no Jew, therefore, could accept Jesus as Messiah, unless, in the eyes of the Law, he was son of Joseph. Betrothal, under the Law, involved the legal status of wedlock (Deuteronomy 22: 23, 24); so, after the espousal, and before the marriage, took place the conception by the Holy Ghost. So also God’s angel said: “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife” (Matthew 1: 20); and Gabriel could say, with the Law on his side, “the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David” (Luke 1: 32). For Jesus was the legal Heir of the Head of the eldest branch of the Royal House.*
* It is contended that “only” Matthew and Luke assert the Virgin Birth. How often must God say a thing before it becomes true? One utterance of the Holy Ghost is decisive: moreover, only Matthew and Luke record anything about our Lord’s infancy at all. “At the mouth of two witnesses shall a matter be established.” (Deuteronomy 19: 15).
all competing claims of Scripture coalesce in the Virgin Birth, with
which the Christmas faith is established, without which it is destroyed. In Joseph, the legal Heir (Luke 3: 23; “supposed”
- regarded legally); in Mary, the
human Sacrifice; in the Holy Ghost, Immanuel: in Joseph, the Son of David; in
Mary, the Son of Man; in the Holy Ghost, the Son of God: in Joseph, Heir of
Israel (Matthew 21: 38); in Mary, Heir of
the world (Romans 4: 13); in the Holy Ghost,
Heir of all things (Hebrews 1: 2). But where lay the supreme reason for the
Virgin Birth? MESSIAH’S BODY HAD TO BE THE SOLE BURNT OFFERING. The reason
- D. M. PANTON.
* * *
CHRISTMAS AND PROPHECY
In the study of
Scripture pertaining to the birth of the Lord, we have accustomed ourselves to
thinking of only manger scenes and childhood scenes with a devotional slant on the
Scriptures; however, each one of the so-called Christmas stories is deeply
prophetic. For instance, in the second
chapter of Matthew we read of the wise men
coming from the east to
What a different concept Christians would have of our Lord and His ministry if they would but study and understand just this one passage of Scripture. Seven things are mentioned by the angel in this prophecy and at once one has to decide whether he is going to take the Word of the Lord literally or figuratively. There should be no trouble at all in taking the entire Bible literally except in those instances where it is designated by the Lord to be a parable or a figure of speech, symbol or type. Let us consider these seven phrases of this prophecy and see if we can determine whether it is literal or figurative.
Here are the seven statements of the prophecy:-
(1) Thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son;
(2) And shalt call His name JESUS;
(3) He shall be great;
(4) And shall be called the Son of the Highest;
(5) And the Lord shall give unto Him the throne of His father David;
(6) And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever;
(7) And of His kingdom there shall be no end.
An elementary and fundamental rule of interpretation is consistency. If part of this prophecy is literal then all must be literal. If part is figurative then all must be figurative. The Lord Himself never confused them, but always distinguished the literal and the figurative interpretation.
Let us consider the first phrase. Was the conception of the birth of Jesus literal? We read in Matthew 1: 18-25 that when Joseph realized that Mary was with child before they were married, he naturally supposed she had been untrue to him and was minded to put her away privately. The law made provision for a public stoning of those guilty of infidelity, but Joseph was a good man and was not going to make a public spectacle of the one he loved. The fact is that Mary’s conception of Jesus was known to all people. One of the many tragedies of our Lord’s life was that often when He was in a crowd, the Pharisees would ask the insulting question, “Who is thy father?” insinuating that He was born out of wedlock. The point is that Mary actually, literally and physically conceived and brought forth a Son. In all of the arguments presented by Satan against Christianity, we have never encountered a denial of the existence of Mary and of the fact that she gave birth to a Son named Jesus.
This brings us to the second point: “And shalt call His name JESUS.” Renan, the French infidel, has written extensively on the life of Jesus. Josephus, in his Antiquity of the Jews, speaks of Him and some of His experiences. The point we are making is that infidels, atheists, modernists, rationalists, Mohammedans and Buddhists all acknowledge that there was actually, literally and physically a person named Jesus of Nazareth. Their denial pertains to His Deity, not to His humanity. He was called Jesus because He was to be the Saviour. God Almighty has set forth one of the most important questions facing man, “What think ye of Jesus? Whose Son is He?” To acknowledge that He is the Son of the living God means eternal life. To deny it means eternal damnation.
The third statement of the prophecy is, “He shall be great.” We were interested a number of years ago in an article appearing in the AMERICAN MAGAZINE entitled “The Ten Greatest Men Who Ever Lived.” The author condescended to name Jesus first. He called Him the greatest man that ever lived. Judaism, modernism, atheism, secularism, and all realms of thought are at one in saying that Jesus was great - great in His life, great in His teaching, great in His example. He is acknowledged by one and all to be great; and the prophecy that He shall be great has been literally and actually fulfilled.
The fourth statement, “He shall be called the Son of the Highest,” was actually and literally fulfilled at the time of His baptism. “And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water; and lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him. And lo, a voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3: 16, 17). And again in the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17: 5) we have the Lord God from heaven speaking, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him.” Again, here is a prophecy actually, literally and audibly fulfilled. He was called by the Highest the Son of the Highest.
Generally speaking we do not encounter much opposition to those four phases of prophecy being accepted literally, but when it comes to the remaining three there is a wide divergence of interpretation; but if the first four are literal, these remaining three must also be literal. If the latter are not literal, then the former are not literal.
The fifth phase of
the prophecy is, “The Lord God shall give unto
Him the throne of His father, David.” Did David actually
and literally have a throne [on this earth] upon which he sat and from whence
he administered the affairs of an earthly kingdom? In 2 Samuel 5: 5, we read: “In
The sixth phase of the prophecy is, “He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever.” Many today try to interpret that as meaning the Church, and Christ is reigning over the church, but Scripture never speaks of Christ as King of the church nor reigning over the church. Christ is the Head of the church, and the church [of the firstborn] * is His bride the consort Queen which shall rule and reign with Him. Is there a house of Jacob? In 2 Samuel 7: 14-17 we have the Lord’s prophecy through Nathan that He is going to make a house of David, who was a descendant of Jacob, and that over this house, designated in the Scripture as the house of Israel (Jacob’s name after he met the Lord at the brook Jabok), the Seed of David, which is Jesus, should reign forever. Scripture becomes absolutely meaningless unless the Lord Jesus Christ returns and reigns over the literal house of J
[* NOTE. It would be better to have written: ‘Christ is the Head of the Church; and He will select out of His Church the Bride, who shall rule and reign with Him.’ Not all who are in the Church will reign with Christ in His Millennial Kingdom. If the Church includes all the redeemed called out from the world; the “Church of the Firstborn” (Heb. 12: 23), must include all who have been called out from amongst the redeemed, who will have a double portion of their Father’s inheritance. That is, firstborn sons of God will inherit the Millennial Kingdom 1,000 years before the eternal inheritance in ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (Rev. 21: 1); which is the single portion of the Father’s inheritance promised to all who are redeemed and eternally saved. Compare Heb. 12: 16, 17 with Gen. 27: 1-38.]
The seventh and last phase of the prophecy has to do with the fact that “of His Kingdom there shall be no end.”* The second chapter of Daniel tells of four world-wide kingdoms that are to exist here on the earth, and these kingdoms will be destroyed and supplanted by the Kingdom of our Lord at the time of His return. His Kingdom, described as a rock cut out of a mountain without hands, grows until it fills the whole earth; and having established His reign over the earth, He shall then continue to reign over the new earth, and over His kingdom there, [there] shall be no end.
[* The millennial kingdom must end after ‘the thousand years’ and the last rebellion (Rev. 20: 7, 8); when Messiah Jesus “hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion and power” (1 Cor. 15: 24); but in the “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21: 1), there will be no sea: and the Son will rule for ever and ever.]
Our Lord told us to pray, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Spirit of the Lord breathed this prayer in closing the Scriptures: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” and we await the literal, physical return of our Lord and the establishment of His literal, physical [Millennial] Kingdom on the [this] earth.
- A. Edwin Wilson
* * *
THE KING OF THE JEWS
(Matthew 2: 1-12.)
The quietness of
everyday life in the city of
Word of the
presence and demeanor of the wise men soon reached
Herod the king, and when he heard these things “he was troubled, and all
Herod’s first step was to gather the chief priests and scribes together and demand of them where Christ should be born. It has always been an interesting thought to me that Herod, an unbeliever, recognized at once that the King of the Jews was Christ! I say interesting, because while speaking on this subject last summer at a prominent Bible conference I had some of the religious leaders try to tell me that Christ was not the King of the Jews!
Another point of interest is that these scribes and chief priests replied immediately without having to look in the Scriptures: “... In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus is it written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”
the place of His birth, Herod’s second step was to determine the time of His
birth. This he did by privately calling
the wise men aside and inquiring very diligently concerning the time of the
appearance of the star. Then he told
them to go to
The joy produced
by the appearing of the star at
The events that followed cause us to believe that very likely the Child Jesus was about two years old when the wise men found Him in the house and fell down and worshipped Him. Their worship was manifested in the presentation of gifts. These are highly symbolic and provide a fruitful study. There was gold which symbolized the Godly sovereignty and Kingship - a confession on the part of the wise men that this was God the King in the flesh. The incense which was offered is described in Revelation as intercessory prayers of the saints in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ. It shows the faith of the wise men in confessing Christ to be their High Priest and Intercessor. The myrrh, always used in connection with the preparation of bodies for burial, bespeaks the faith of the wise men in the sacrificial death of this One for their sins. The three gifts revealed the three offices of our Lord: Myrrh, Prophet; frankincense, Priest; gold, King. This is a truth which many purported religious leaders today have not yet learned in their studies of Christ - that He WAS Prophet, IS NOW Priest, and when He comes again WILL BE King.
The wise men were
then warned of God not to go to Herod, so they went home in another
direction. Joseph also was warned in a
dream of Herod’s scheme to take the young Child’s life and was told to take Him
with His mother to go down to
May the Lord bless you this Christmas season and grant to you insight into the Person and work of our blessed Lord - that you may see in Him your Prophet, Priest, and King.
* * *
A CHILD IS BORN
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establishment it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9: 6, 7).
This is a description of the coming
Messiah who shall rule and reign upon the throne of David in
Consider also His names:
(1) WONDERFUL: This means that He Himself is a miracle and that He Himself possesses the supernatural powers which belong only to the Almighty God. See Matt. 28: 18.
(2) COUNSELLOR: As
Christ He is the Wisdom of God; therefore, He can admonish, advise,
teach and instruct. See
(3) THE MIGHTY GOD: As the Mighty God not only is He the source of all power but He is all powerful in and of Himself. There is no power outside, neither apart from Him whose name is The Mighty God.
(4) THE EVERLASTING FATHER: He is from eternity to eternity; all plans and purposes, for all that is, come from Him as The Everlasting Father. To me the most precious thought in this connection is that not only is our Mighty God not only our Father, but He has said that, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him” (Psalm 103: 13). Selah. This word in the Hebrew means “Just think of that.” So I want you to just think of the fact that The Almighty God is our Father. For that reason Jesus said, After this manner pray ye, “Our Father ...”
(5) PRINCE OF PEACE: There is no peace apart from the grace of God, and, of necessity, the Lord Jesus Christ must come and manifest the grace of God in dying for the sins of the whole world. Each individual Christian can have the peace of God and peace with God by virtue of faith in His atoning sacrifice. But the world as such can never have [lasting] peace until, the Prince of Peace returns, puts down every enemy and establishes His personal reign of peace.
This is the One of whom we sing and in whose name we pray when we think of the Babe in the manger.
A. E. WILSON
* * *
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS
Usually the first thoughts in our minds associated with Christmas are about gifts - what to give, and wondering what will be given to us. Seldom do individuals think of the Gift of gifts.
When the wise men
from the east came to
Now in a sentence - the presentation of the gifts by the wise men expressed to all creation their belief that this Child was Prophet, Priest, and King - God manifest in the flesh. And because the Lord had given Himself for us, what better gift can we give Him than to acknowledge before the whole world that He is our Prophet, Priest, and coming King? This is done by expressing a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the power of His Holy Spirit, living for His honour and glory.
[The ‘wise men from the east’ (Matt. 2: 1) were not the ‘shepherds’ who were living in the fields nearby (Luke 2: 8). It was the latter group (the shepherds) who visited the stable to ‘find a babe’ (Luke 2: 12, R.V.) lying inside; the wise men from the east arrived a considerable time later to “see the young child with Mary his mother” (Matt. 2: 13, R.V.).]
* * *
WHAT GOD’S PROPHETS
[GOD’S] prophets foretold Messiah
glorified on the earth; reigning at
“Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun
ashamed when the Lord of Hosts shall reign in
Isa. 24: 23.
(2) “Every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles:”
Zech. 14: 16.
(3) “And thou, 0 tower of the
flock, the stronghold of the daughter of
Mic. 4: 8; compare Acts 1: 6.
(4) “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” “Yea, all kings shall fall down before Him, all nations shall serve Him:”
Ps. 72: 8, 11.
On such prophecies the Jewish mind fastened. These it expected to be fulfilled, the moment Messiah appeared. Hence, when Jesus appeared in meekness, and without regal power, the nation rejected Him. But were these the only passages that spoke of Messiah? Nay, there were others that, as unequivocally, foretold His humiliation.
(1) “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair.
I hid not my face from shame and spitting:”
Isa. 1: 6.
(2) “Then I said I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and in vain,
yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God:”
Isa. 49: 4.
(3) “Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One, to him whom
man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers,
kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship:”
Isa. 49: 7.
(4) “They shall look on me whom they have pierced, and shall mourn:”
Zech. 12: 10.
Now, as the Jews could not see how to reconcile both these classes of passages, they took the set which pleased them best, and rejected the opposite series. Hence, with minds blinded by prejudice, - a prejudice which refused to receive the entire compass of God’s testimony, they understood not the clearest assertions of the Saviour respecting His approaching sufferings.
“Then He took unto Him the twelve,
and said unto them, ‘Behold we go up to
But now the opposite result has taken place: and Christians, finding that the promises to Jerusalem, to the Jews, and to Jesus as the King of the Jews, have not yet been accomplished, have decided in their own minds, that they are never to be literally fulfilled; but that they belong to some future and indefinite expansion and victory of the Church of Christ.
Thus have, they, like the Jews of old, believed only the half of what the prophets have declared, and fall under the lash of the Saviour’s rebuke to the two mourning disciples that travelled to Emmaus: “O fools and slow of heart to believe ALL that the prophets have spoken!”
- R. GOVETT.
* * *
THE MODEL PRAYER
By J. D. JONES
THE SECOND PETITION (pp. 63-82)
“Thy Kingdom come.” - MATTHEW 6: 10; Luke 11: 2.
THE Bible is a book of
hope. It looks, not backward, but
forward. It has its face turned towards the light. It always speaks of “a best that is still to be.” We open its pages and we read of
even in the story of that bitter loss I detect the note of “hope.” You perhaps
remember the old Greek legend which says that when Pandora was married to Epimetheus the gods gave her a box, which was full of
winged blessings, as a wedding present.
As long as Pandora kept the box locked, so long life was like a summer’s
day. She and her husband enjoyed every
blessing. But one day, tempted by
curiosity, she opened the box, and on the instant the little winged creatures who were locked inside took flight and left her for ever. All? did I say. No, not quite all. Hope remained at the
bottom of the box, the only blessing left to Pandora and her husband! And so exactly man lost
everything by sin except hope. When
God made man He gave him every blessing.
But when man unmade himself, these blessings took flight. He lost his innocence, he lost his peace, he
lost his happiness, he lost his home, he lost
everything but hope. God
left him hope to
comfort him in his bitter grief. God
left him hope to
save him from despair. [Page
64] When man’s night was blackest,
God sent into his sky a star, a star that was the promise of a day to come. In pronouncing
doom upon disobedient man, God also gave him a promise as if to say, “It shall not always be midnight and deep despair with
thee. Thy dayspring shall again arise.” That note of hope, struck even
in the story of the tragedy of the fall, is the keynote of the Bible. The Bible is a book of the future, and the
spring-time, and the dawn.
You will not find its pages taken up with regrets for the
“Thy kingdom come.” The prayer,
you will notice, regards the “kingdom” as something still to be realised. As yet it is in the future. In other places in the New Testament [Page
69] it is talked of as actually
existent. Both views are
true - the
kingdom is both present and future. You remember that when the Pharisees asked Jesus when
yet, while the
kind of kingdom is this? It is worth while noticing that the “kingdom” occupied a large place in the thought and speech
of Christ. His gospel was a gospel of
the kingdom. He announced that He had
come to found a kingdom; He claimed the title “King” for [Page 71] Himself; and in what is known as the Sermon on
the Mount, He gave us, shall I say, the laws and rules of the kingdom. Christ was not
the first to picture an “
let me go on to ask the question, What is the sphere of the kingdom? First
let me say, the sphere of the kingdom is the individual
heart. When I pray, “Thy kingdom come” I do not feel that I am praying solely for the work
of foreign missions. I do not think only
of the millions of heathen in
in offering this prayer, we must not stop at ourselves. The
prayer embraces the wide
world in its sweep. Thy kingdom
come! Where? Everywhere. All nations are to bow down before Him, all people are to serve Him. Men discuss the question sometimes as to
which race is likely to become the dominant race in the earth. We people who
live in this little island are inclined to believe that this splendid destiny [Page 75] is reserved for the Anglo-Saxon race. We stand among the nations for the principles
of liberty and truth and justice; and as I heard Dr. Clifford say some months ago, we believe that “the momentum of these ideas will carry us to the government
of the earth.” And so far as
me now proceed to the question, “How
is this kingdom to be established?” - Let me first
say how it cannot. It
cannot be established by force. Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon built
up their empires with the sword, and cemented them with blood, but not so is
“Thy kingdom come.” It is a prayer
to-day; but the time will come when the prayer shall be changed into praise,
and we shall be able to say, “Thy kingdom has come!” It has been coming for eighteen hundred
years, and it is not here yet; but doubt not, despair not, faint not,
it SHALL COME. Men have called the visions such men as Plato
and Sir Thomas More have given us of the “
Break, triumphant day of God,
Break at last, our hearts to cheer;
Throbbing souls and holy songs
Wait to hail thy dawning here.
Empires, temples, sceptres, thrones,
May they all for God be won;
And, in every human heart,
Father, let Thy kingdom come.
* * *
THE THIRD PETITION (pp. 82-99)
“Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.” - MATTHEW 6: 10.
THE third petition, which is omitted from Luke’s version of the Prayer, springs directly and naturally out of the second petition, and is really explanatory of it. We have been taught to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” God’s kingdom will come, when His will is done on earth, as it is done in heaven.
The central idea of kingship is that of rule, authority, power. Kingship is only real and effective when the King commands and the people obey. In heaven God’s kingship is a reality. The eyes of all the inhabitants of the better land wait upon God. Cherubim and Seraphim, saints and angels, delight to do His will. In heaven, God speaks and it is done. This third petition is a prayer that men may learn to obey God as the angels do, so that His [Page 83] kingship may be as real and as effective here on earth as it is now in heaven.
draw a distinction between kings de jure - kings
by legal right, and kings de facto - kings in actual possession and exercise of the
royal power. Now God, if I may be
allowed to say so, is the world’s King de
jure. He is the world’s lawful Sovereign and rightful
Lord. “The earth is the Lord’s and the
fulness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein.” But God is not [at this present time]
King de facto. His kingship is not effective. His people do not obey. There are large sections of the world, whole
departments of human activity, where His rule is not recognised.
And here we come across that solemn and awful power which is the prerogative of manhood - the power of resisting the will of God. Nature obeys God’s will. The flower that blooms in hedge-side or meadow; the lark that sings its way up to heaven’s gate in the spring sunshine; the rivers that roll towards [Page 85] the sea; the ocean with its regular ebb and flow; the sun and moon and stars observing their seasons and travelling along their appointed orbits - all these are what they are, and do what they do in obedience to God’s will. The wind is God’s messenger; the thunder His voice; the lightning His sword. Nature obeys God. And above, in heaven, the angels and the blest do God’s pleasure. “Thousands at His bidding speed, and post o’er land and ocean without rest.” Is there any one then who resists God’s will? Yes, there is one, just one, and that one is man. In all God’s universe he is the only one who is disobedient. He is the only one who clenches his fist and says “No” to God. He is the only one invested with the terrible power of resisting, thwarting, opposing the will of God. And that awful power he possesses because he possesses a free and independent will of his own. God made man, we are told, in His own likeness. The special feature that marks man off from the brute creation and links him on to the Divine, is his possession of moral freedom. God is a moral Being. Man, too, is a moral being. But in order to make man a moral being, God had to limit Himself and make man free. For there can be no [Page 86] moral quality where there is no freedom. Nature is unmoral because nature acts under necessity. Man is not under necessity. He can either obey or disobey. He is a moral being because he is free.
Now all the misery of the world is due to the fact that man abused his freedom, that he chose not to obey, but to disobey. What was the first sin? An act of disobedience; and that act of disobedience brought in its train a multitude of woes. I want you to remember that vice is not here by God’s will; lust is not here by God’s will; strife and malice and envy are not here by God’s will; war and bloodshed and slaughter are not here by God’s will; misery and poverty and shame are not here by God’s will. They are here by man’s will, because man set up his own will in opposition to that of God. The secret of the world’s unhappiness and sorrow and pain you will find in these familiar words of the General Confession, “We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.” “Selfishness,” as Bishop Westcott says, “lies at the root of all sin.” Here is the fountain of the world’s woe, that man preferred his own will rather than the will of God. While man was obedient there was happiness and joy, happiness that lasted. As John Milton says - [Page 87]
- till disproportioned Sin
Jarr’d against nature’s chime, and with harsh din
Broke the fair music that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion sway’d
In perfect diapason, whilst they stood
In first obedience and their state of good.
But from that day, that day of disobedience, the whole creation has been groaning and travailing together in pain until now. But to discover the fountain of the disease is also to discover the secret of the remedy. If the world owes its present misery to the fact that man has followed his own will, the world will see its perfect day when man submits his own will to the will of God. “Come and let us return” is the prophet’s cry, “let us get back to the old allegiance.” “Come and let us return” is the preacher’s call to-day. The way to the millennium is along the path of obedience. When God’s kingship is real and effective, because men everywhere are obedient, the Golden Age will have dawned. The new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness will be a blessed fact when -
We learn with God to win one will,
To do and to endure.
“Thy Will be done!” This petition teaches us that it must be our supreme desire that God [Page 88] may have His way with us. You will notice, as I pointed out a Sunday or two ago, that this petition comes before the petitions for personal blessing. It is infinitely more important that God’s will should be done than that we should have the things upon which we have set our hearts. “Thy will be done!” Do you not feel humbled and reproached by this petition? I will speak for myself, and say that this petition and its place in the prayer put me to utter shame. Why, our very prayers are selfish! A secularist once said with a sneer that “prayer was a machine warranted by theologians to make God do whatsoever His clients want.” Have not our prayers given some ground for the sneer? Have not our wants and interests occupied too large a place in our petition? This is the true order in prayer - God first. This is the petition that must dominate every other, “Thy will be done.”
Let me not be misunderstood. I am far from saying it is wrong to tell God about our personal wishes and desires. No! Tell Him everything. There ought to be no reserve in the conversation between a child and his Father. I am not afraid or ashamed to tell God about my personal affairs. I ask Him to preserve me from trouble and loss. I ask Him to keep me [Page 89] safe from harm and danger. I ask Him to ward off from me sickness and suffering. I ask Him to watch over those I love. But there is another prayer I must learn to pray, another prayer I must learn to pray first - and oh! what a lot of learning it takes - and that prayer is this, “Thy will be done.” For it may be God’s will to send me the very things I shrink from. He may see that it is the discipline of trouble and loss and sickness that I need. I am but as a little child, blind and ignorant as a little child, and when I pray for temporal gifts, I may be only praying to my own hurt. This is the only prayer for me, for you, for all men, “Father, Thy will be done.” We wish for success in life, but because such a success might prove a curse and not a blessing, we must add, “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.” We pray for freedom from bereavement and sorrow, but because such discipline may result in truest blessedness, we add, “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.” We pray for peace and comfort and quietness, but because struggle and conflict may be necessary, in order to make us strong, we add, “Nevertheless not my will but Thine be done.” We have not learned to pray truly at all, until every petition in our prayers is made subject to this one; until it becomes [Page 90] our chief and supreme desire that God’s will may be done.
Will it be hard? Hard? I know of nothing harder. This is the great feat of life. You can only learn to say “Thy will be done” through struggle and agony and heartbreak. This old Book compares the agony through which men must pass before they learn sincerely to pray this prayer, to the agony inflicted by the plucking out of an eye or the cutting off of a limb. Obedience to God leads to the land of blessedness and peace, but the gate by which we enter - the gate of self-denial - is a narrow gate, and we have to agonise to enter in. God has a will for each of us, and His will concerning us often clashes with our own. The desires of the flesh and of the mind hanker after earthly comfort and wealth and ease. God’s will concerning us is, that whatever the cost and the pain, we should be clean and honest and true. Scarcely a day passes but our desires and the will of God for us come into violent conflict. To surrender our own wills, to make God’s will ours, means pain. It is a dying. It is a crucifixion. But there are one or two considerations of which I would like to remind you, which ought to make this surrender easier for us. This is the first:-
(1) The will we are asked to make our own is our Father’s will. “Thy will be done!” Whose will? Our Father’s will! After all, it ought not to be very difficult to obey a father’s will, to fulfil a father’s desire, even when that will runs counter to our own, for we know there is love in the case. Remember, you are not asked to obey a despot; you are not asked to obey a tyrant; you are not asked to obey a slave-driver; you are asked to do the will of your Father - your Father, whose love is only to be measured by the Cross of Jesus Christ. It was the remembrance that the will He was called upon to obey was His Father’s will, that helped Jesus in the Garden. It was a hard thing for our Lord to say “Thy will be done,” when He knew that involved the Cross and the Grave for Jesus, let me say it with all reverence, had all a man’s feelings, and He shrank from the bitter agony and shame. He would gladly have escaped the Cross and the Tomb. “If it be possible, let this cup pass.” Then he remembered it was His Father who was bidding Him drink that bitter cup. That thought steadied Him, gave Him courage, made Him strong, He was ready for anything and everything that His Father appointed. “The cup which the Father hath given me to drink shall I not drink [Page 92] it?” We, too, shall be strong to make God’s will our own, when we remember it is our Father’s will. For our Father is love - love at its best and highest. Mr. Spurgeon tells a story about a man who had in his garden a weather-cock which had on it this inscription, “God is Love.” A friend seeing it asked if it was meant to imply that God’s love was as fickle as the wind. “No,” was the reply, “I mean that from whatever quarter the wind may happen to blow, God is still love.” Bear that in mind - God is love; the will you are asked to obey is your Father’s will. Then, though that will ordain for us sorrow, sickness, pain, loss, we shall have grace to say, “Thy will be done.”
The second consideration which I would impress upon you is this:-
(2) God’s will ever seeks our highest good. What else could any one expect, seeing that it is our Father’s will? How we who are parents plan and scheme and contrive in order to secure a happy and prosperous future for our children! In exactly the same way God plans and purposes for us. He is always thinking upon us for our good. His will, says the Apostle, is our sanctification. It is a good and perfect and acceptable will. The very discipline through which He sometimes calls upon us to [Page 93] pass is meant to build us up in patience [perseverance] and purity and faith. The boy in school is apt to regard his lessons as a hardship. He would prefer the field and the sunshine to the schoolroom and the desk. But in after years he will be thankful he did not get his own way in the days of his youth, for he will recognise then that the hours he spent over his Algebraic problems and his Latin declensions enriched his life by contributing to the culture of his mind. We are scholars in God’s schools. The discipline of the school is painful sometimes; but in later years we shall be thankful even for our sorrows and losses and bereavements, when we see how they have enriched our lives by contributing to the culture of our souls. Yes, it will be easier to embrace God’s will when we realise with the Apostle that all things work together for good to them that love God.
Thy will be done! Notice, God,s will is not simply to be endured or suffered - it is to be DONE. In our every-day speech we have unduly narrowed the scope and meaning of this petition. We talk about this petition as if it were a prayer that God would give us the grace of resignation. It is in times of bereavement that this phrase leaps to the lips of men. It is upon tombstones that it is inscribed by sorrowing [Page 94] relatives. Again do not let me be misunderstood. Suffering God’s will is embraced in the scope of this prayer. To many of us the hardest part of all is patient submission to the will of God. The man bereft of wealth, stripped of all his possessions, flung back again into the poverty from which by hard and persistent effort he had emerged, needs grace to say, “Thy will be done.” The man who languishes upon a bed of sickness, who lies there helpless while perhaps wife and children look up to him for bread - he needs grace to say, “Thy will be done.” Those who have parted with some loved one, who have seen father or mother, or husband or wife or child, hidden from them in the dark cold grave, and who come home again to miss the well-loved face and familiar voice - they need grace to say, while their hearts are aching and their eyes are full of tears, “Thy will be done.” Some of you know how hard it is. You find it impossible almost to say, as Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Yes, it is hard to be submissive and resigned, and it is out of a broken heart the prayer often ascends, “Thy will be done.”
this prayer is much more than a prayer for the grace of resignation and patient
[Page 95] submission. The petition is not “Help
us to suffer thy will” but “Help US to DO it.” This is not a prayer simply for the invalid
and the mourner and the bereaved; it is a prayer also for those who are happy
and well and strong. This is not a
prayer simply for our times of trouble and our days of deep distress; it is a prayer
for all times and every day. It
is not every day, nor every month, nor even every year, that we are called upon
to suffer God’s will, but not a day, not an hour
passes, but we
are called upon TO DO it. Do not narrow the scope of this prayer. You prayed this morning, “Thy will be done on earth as
it is in heaven”? What did you mean by it? I will tell you what you ought to have meant
by it: “Help me, 0 God, to do what Thou wouldest have
me do, to be what Thou wouldest have me.” That is what the prayer means. It means that we accept God’s plans and
purposes as our own, and resolve to realise them. You can pray no nobler prayer than this, for in the doing of God’s will lies the secret of the perfect life. We look at the life of Jesus - so beautiful,
so pure, so perfect - and we are lost in wonder and
rapture. But the secret of that life is
here: Jesus from the beginning to the close of life was intent on doing God’s
will. He Himself let us into the [Page
96] secret. “I am come,” He
said, “not to do My own will, but the will of the Father who sent Me.” “My meat and drink,” He said, on another occasion, “is to do the will of Him that
sent Me, and to accomplish His work.” When a boy of twelve He had come to the sublime decision that every
moment of His life should be spent in doing His Father’s business. Do not commit the mistake of thinking that it
was only in Gethsemane and the judgment Hall and on
Look at the qualifying words that follow: “as in heaven so on earth.” Heaven supplies the pattern for earth. I have just two words to say about the way in which God’s will is done in heaven - (1) It is done cheerfully. Saints and angels [will] find their highest joy in doing God’s will. If earth is to be like heaven in this respect, we must obey God cheerfully. God wants no grudging service. Our obedience must be glad, willing, free. God’s will can not be done by us as it is done in heaven, until we can say sincerely, “I delight to do Thy will, 0 my God, yea, Thy law is within my heart.” (2) It is done by ALL. You will look in vain in the heavenly land for the disobedient and the refractory and the rebellious. [After the time of Resurrection]*, Heaven is perfectly happy, because all its people are perfect in their obedience. Before earth can be like heaven, God’s will must be done by ALL. It is done to-day only by a Few. There are multitudes who rebel against Him. When these return to their allegiance, the day of God will break.
[* 2 Tim. 2: 17, 18. cf. John 3: 13; 14: 3; 1 Thess. 4: 14-17; Rev. 6: 9-11; 20: 4-6.]
Thy will be done! This petition calls our attention to the most crying and urgent need of our day, the need of a simpler and more implicit [Page 99] obedience. It is not more knowledge of God’s will that we want, but grace to put in practice what we know. What is the use of coming here to-day to hear God’s will declared, if to-morrow in our business life, we deliberately flout and reject it? I venture to say this, that if to-morrow and the following days we only did what we know our Lord desires us to do, we should revolutionise the life of this town. And will you suffer me to remind you that it is not to those who make a profession and parade of religion that heaven is promised, but to those who faithfully and loyally obey. “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven.”