GOD’S KINGDOM AND GOD’S WILL
Let your Kingdom come: Let your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth.
The phrase The Kingdom of God is characteristic of the whole New Testament. No phrase is used oftener in prayer and in preaching and in Christian literature. It is, therefore, of primary importance that we should be clear as to what it means.
It is evident that the Kingdom of God was central to the message of Jesus. The first emergence of Jesus on the scene of history was when he came into Galilee preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God (Mk.1:14). Jesus himself described the preaching of the kingdom as an obligation laid upon him: “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose” (Lk.4:43; Mk.1:38). Luke’s description of Jesus’ activity is that he went through every city and village preaching and showing the good news of the Kingdom of God (Lk.8:1). Clearly the meaning of the Kingdom of God is something which we are bound to try to understand.
When we do try to understand the meaning of this phrase we meet with certain puzzling facts. We find that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom in three different ways. He spoke of the Kingdom as existing in the past. He said that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets were in the Kingdom (Lk.13:28; Matt. 8:11). Clearly therefore the Kingdom goes far back into history. He spoke of the Kingdom as present. “The Kingdom of God,” he said, “is in the midst of you” (Lk.17:21). The Kingdom of God is therefore a present reality here and now. He spoke of the Kingdom of God as future, for he taught men to pray for the coming of the Kingdom in this his own prayer. How then can the Kingdom be past, present and future all at the one time? How can the Kingdom be at one and the same time something which existed, which exists, and for whose coming it is our duty to pray?
We find the key in this double petition of the Lord’s Prayer. One of the commonest characteristics of Hebrew style is what is technically known as parallelism. The Hebrew tended to say everything twice. He said it in one way, and then he said it in another way which repeated or amplified or explained the first way. Almost any verse of the Psalms will show this parallelism in action. Almost every verse of the Psalms divides in two in the middle; and the second half repeats or amplifies or explains the first half.
Let us take some examples and the thing will become clear:
“God is our refuge and strength–a very present help in trouble (Ps.46:1). “The Lord of Hosts is with us–the God of Jacob is our refuge (Ps.46:7). “The Lord is my shepherd–I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures–He leads me beside still waters” (Ps.23:1-2).
Let us apply this principle to these two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Let us set them down side by side:
“Thy Kingdom come–Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”
Let us assume that the second petition explains, and amplifies, and defines the first. We then have the perfect definition of the Kingdom of God–The Kingdom of God is a society, upon earth where Gods will is as perfectly done as it is in heaven. Here we have the explanation of how the Kingdom can be past, present and future all at the one time. Any man who at any time in history perfectly did God’s will was within the Kingdom; any man who perfectly does God’s will is within the Kingdom; but since the world is very far from being a place where God’s will is perfectly and universally done, the consummation of the Kingdom is still in the future and is still something for which we must pray.
To be in the Kingdom is to obey the will of God. Immediately we see that the Kingdom is not something which primarily has to do with nations and peoples and countries. It is something which has to do with each one of us. The Kingdom is in fact the most personal thing in the world. The Kingdom demands the submission of my will, my heart, my life. It is only when each one of us makes his personal decision and submission that the Kingdom comes.
The Chinese Christian prayed the well-known prayer, “Lord, revive thy Church, beginning with me,” and we might well paraphrase that and say, “Lord, bring in thy Kingdom, beginning with me.” To pray for the Kingdom of Heaven is to pray that we may submit our wills entirely to the will of God.
GOD’S KINGDOM AND GOD’S WILL
Matt. 6:10 (continued)
From what we have already seen it becomes clear that the most important thing in the world is to obey the will of God; the most important words in the world are “Thy will be done.” But it is equally clear that the frame of mind and the tone of voice in which these words are spoken will make a world of difference.
(i) A man may say, “Thy will be done,” in a tone of defeated resignation. He may say it, not because he wishes to say it, but because he has accepted the fact that he cannot possibly say anything else; he may say it because he has accepted the fact that God is too strong for him, and that it is useless to batter his head against the walls of the universe. He may say it thinking only of the ineluctable power of God which has him in its grip. As Omar Khayyam had it:
“But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays Upon this Checkerboard of Nights and Days; Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays, And one by one back in the closet lays. The Ball no question makes of Ayes and Noes, But Here or There as strikes the Player goes; And He that Toss’d you down into the Field, He knows about it all–He knows–HE knows!”
A man may accept the will of God for no other reason than that he has realized that he cannot do anything else.
(ii) A man may say, “Thy will be done,” in a tone of bitter resentment. Swinburne spoke of men feeling the trampling of the iron feet of God. He speaks of the supreme evil, God. Beethoven died all alone; and it is said that when they found his body his lips were drawn back in a snarl and his fists were clenched as if he were shaking his fists in the very face of God and of high heaven. A man may feel that God is his enemy, and yet an enemy so strong that he cannot resist. He may therefore accept God’s will, but he may accept it with bitter resentment and smouldering anger.
(iii) A man may say, “Thy will be done,” in perfect love and trust. He may say it gladly and willingly, no matter what that will may be. It should be easy for the Christian to say, “Thy will be done,” like that; for the Christian can be very sure of two things about God.
(a) He can be sure of the wisdom of God. Sometimes when we want something built or constructed, or altered or repaired, we take it to the craftsman and consult him about it. He makes some suggestion, and we often end up by saying, “Well, do what you think best. You are the expert.” God is the expert in life, and his guidance can never lead anyone astray.
When Richard Cameron, the Scottish Covenanter, was killed his head and his hands were cut off by one Murray and taken to Edinburgh. “His father being in prison for the same cause, the enemy carried them to him, to add grief unto his former sorrow, and inquired at him if he knew them. Taking his son’s head and hands, which were very fair (being a man of fair complexion like himself), he kissed them and said, `I know them–I know them. They are my son’s–my own dear son’s. It is the Lord. Good is the will of the Lord, who cannot wrong me or mine, but hath made goodness and mercy to follow us all our days.'” When a man can speak like that, when he is quite sure that his times are in the hands of the infinite wisdom of God, it is easy to say, “Thy will be done.”
(b) He can be sure of the love of God. We do not believe in a mocking and a capricious God, or in a blind and iron determinism. Thomas Hardy finishes his novel Tess with the grim words: “The President of the Immortals had finished his sport with Tess.” We believe in a God whose name is love. As Whittier had it:
“I know not where His islands lift Their fronded palms in air. I only know I cannot drift Beyond His love and care.”
As Browning triumphantly declared his faith:
“God, Thou art love! I build my faith on that … I know thee who has kept my path and made Light for me in the darkness, tempering sorrow So that it reached me like a solemn joy. It were too strange that I should doubt thy love.”
And as Paul had it: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Rom.8:32). No man can look at the Cross and doubt the love of God, and when we are sure of the love of God, it is easy to say, “Thy will be done.”
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