Matthew 6:10

Episcopal Unknown 1757

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Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10) .

These words are the last of those three petitions, in the prayer which was given us by our [blessed] Lord, that are to be considered not only as petitions, but likewise as acts of worship. In the first we acknowledge, that the name of God is worthy to be praised and had in honor, that all the world may have worthy & suitable notions of the Deity, and accordingly adore and worship him (Matthew 6:9) . In the second petition we pray that his kingdom may come, that the Christian religion may be spread over the face of the whole earth (Matthew 6:10) . In the third, which is the subject of our present discourse, we declare that it is our duty to promote God’s Glory by our actions as well as by our faith, that the design of Christ’s kingdom is to promote universal obedience to the will of God: & therefore we pray that we may be able to do this in the most acceptable manner, or in the words of my text, that his will may be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10) .

These words are capable of two senses, they either signify our request for a passive obedience to God’s providence, or an active obedience to his will. Those who follow the former sense observe, that our Lord used this expression upon the like occasion, Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine be done (Matthew 26:39) . They therefore make the words express our resignation in all Conditions. Thy will be done (Matthew 6:10) ; that is, let our wills be submissive to all thy disposals of us and our affairs, and whatever thy wisdom shall appoint, let it be our virtue patiently & cheerfully to receive. But the latter sense that refers the words to an active obedience

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is followed by the ancient Interpreters, & is most agreeable to the Content. For wherein, but in such an obedience to God, can his kingdom be said to come? What, but the practice of piety & virtue can justify the Comparison of earth to heaven? And how can we in submission, patience, & resignation, be said to resemble the blessed above, from whose eyes God hath already wiped away all tears, & given them rest from their labors (Revelation 7:15-17) ? By doing God’s will therefore we here mean obedience to his Commands; & by praying that it may be done on earth as it is in heaven, we ask for grace, whereby we may be enabled, like the blessed spirits in heaven, perfectly & cheerfully to perform it.

In discoursing upon these words, we shall in the First place, shew what is meant by the will of God. Secondly inquire in what manner it may be said to be done on earth as it is done in heaven. Thirdly show what we particularly ask for ourselves in desiring this.

First we are to show what is meant by the will of God. The will of God, says St. Paul, is our Sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3) , it contains all those rules of duty, that he hath imposed upon his Creatures, in order to make them act a reasonable and virtuous part, & to render them perfect as he is perfect (Matthew 5:48) .

Were men left to the Guidance of their own wills, without any restraint from above, guilt should then be their Character, & misery their portion. Nothing could be more unhappy, or more deservedly so that they, if they were given up to their own hasty & unguarded desires. Their appetites, when neither directed by God’s law, nor restrained by his Grace,

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Grace, would prove unfaithful Counselors, and would sink them both in their merit and Condition, as low as the beasts that perish (Psalms 49:12-20) . They would not in this undirected station, have one thought for their real good, and would sell their wishes, their endeavors & their whole hopes for a few present pleasures, which would be short & disappointing in their enjoyment, but severe and bitter in their remembrance. The noblest part of the creation would be thus ignorant of its Interest, or froward in the pursuit of it, if it was not directed by him, who, tho on high, yet humbleth himself, to behold the things that are done on earth (Psalms 113:5-6) .

But as the pursuit of our own sensual wills tends to our destruction, so the obedience to the will of God, doth in the very nature and Consequence of it tend to our peace & happiness. The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul, the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, & rejoice the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes (Psalms 19:7-8) .

God hath by his laws preserved us from (our worst Enemies) our wild affections, and hath mercifully restrained that liberty which we should abuse to our ruin. He hath made his service the most perfect freedom; & in laying his commands hath not made use of an absolute arbitrary dominion over us, nor are his Commandments founded in mere will and pleasure, to shew his Sovereignty & exact a servile submission from us, tho we are his creatures & the work of his hands; but they proceed from eternal wisdom, & most perfect holiness, are agreeable to the eternal & immutable truth & reason of things, & to those rational faculties which our natures are endowed

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with: And were they not expressly enjoined by God, we should be under an obligation to perform them from the principles of nature & the dictates of our own reason and conscience. To do the will of God is the most excellent and eligible in itself, and all his Commandments are holy, just, & good. There is nothing in them contrary to what a reasonable man, who hath a just sense of things, but would choose himself to perform: nor do they restrain us in any satisfaction or enjoyment, that is fit for, or worthy of our attainment. They tend to make us wise by the most useful & valuable knowledge, & to make us good by imitating the example of goodness itself.

And as the doing God’s will, or keeping his laws is reasonable in itself, and suitable to our nature and faculties, so it is highly beneficial to us, & promotes our highest Interest. The precepts of the Gospel are the injunctions of God’s infinite love & kindness to us. In their own nature they tend to advance us to all that perfection & happiness we are capable of; they fill our minds with true light and knowledge; they purifie our hearts and inspire us with noble dispositions and affections; they destroy in us all base and irregular emotions & Inclinations; they beget peace, quiet, and Joy of Conscience, so that nothing can offend us. And this perfection and happiness, which are the proper and genuine effect of living according to the will of God, are, by his positive & gracious appointment, made to be eternal. For he that doth the will of God abideth for ever. And our Lord himself says, this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life (John 6:40) . The will of God therefore is the salvation of men; & so we

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are commanded to pray, that it may be done, not so much for God’s sake, as our own, that we and all the members of Christ’s Church, walking worthy of our holy profession, & in conformity to the rules of the Gospel, may obtain the promise of future & eternal bliss.

We have also the Example of our blessed Lord, as the greatest motive and encouragement to perform the will of God. He declares, that he came down from heaven, not to do his own will, but the will of him that sent him, and to finish his work (John 6:38) . And that they which do the will of his father in heaven, are nearer and dearer to him, than his mother & brethren (Matthew 12:48-50) . Our blessed Lord who possessed the fulness of glory in heaven, yet thought it his greatest happiness to descend from thence, & humble himself in our nature, that he might perform the will of his father, & that we following the steps of his obedience, in doing God’s will, might with him ascend to the same place, there to partake of those endless pleasures which he forever enjoys at God’s right hand. This Consideration should mightily affect and move us to do God’s will with the greatest readiness and cheerfulness, that so we may attain the heavenly promises annexed to the performance of it. And to render our good endeavors effectual, we have the assurance given of divine aid & assistance to conquer our rebellious lusts & passions, to curb and subdue the exorbitancy of our self wills, which oppose the will of God, & to enable us to divest ourselves of all unreasonable appetites & desires, & to subject both our souls & bodies, to a constant compliance, & hearty obedience to his divine will.

What those duties are, which God requires of us, to perform his will in an acceptable manner, are fully declared in the Scriptures

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wherein we are instructed in all the duties of piety respecting the worship of God; and in all the virtues of sobriety, Justice, & Charity, which relate to ourselves, or others. We are therefore taught to love the Lord our God, with all our heart (Matthew 22:37) , to serve him with the spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, with holiness & purity of life & Conversation, & to prefer the knowledge and love of God, above all the attainments, Interests and considerations of the world; to hold fast and contend for the faith and profession of the Gospel; & to suffer no temptations, or temporal afflictions to shake our constancy, and reliance on the divine promises, or deprive our hopes of a blessed Immortality.

With respect to our neighbours our Lord hath taught us meekness and Humility in our Conversation, demeanor, decency & modesty in our words, righteousness and equity in our actions & dealings, & to be exercised in Charity and good works; to injure no one, to bear patiently & readily to forgive those who offend us; to follow peace with all men, and to express an universal Benevolence and love towards one another. This is the principal characteristic of a true Christian, the ground and life of all social virtue; for if we have love one to another, by this shall all men know that we are the disciples of Christ (John 13:35)

Lastly, with relation to the Conduct of ourselves, it is the will and Commandment of God, that we should deny the Gratifications of our passions & irregular Inclinations, be lowly minded & temperate; and in all the difficulties and evils of life, submit to the divine Providence with entire Resignation.

These are the virtues to which we are obliged by our Christian profession; & when they are so deeply impressed on our minds, as to

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influence us to all holy living; when we do not only profess the faith of Christ, but act suitably to the rules contained in the Gospel, and imitate the Example of its blessed author, then has this petition its blessed effect in us, and we acceptably perform the will of God.

I shall next consider the manner, in which we are instructed to pray, that God’s will may be done in earth, as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10) . This Expression does not imply, that our obedience to God’s will on earth, ought to be equally perfect with that of the angels in heaven; but only to have it bear some similitude & likeness thereto. It being impossible (& therefore not required by God) that such imperfect creatures as we, who are commonly tempted & liable to sin, from the solicitations of a wicked world, and our own irregular passions & appetites, should pay such an unerring obedience to the laws of God, as do those blessed Spirits, who are free from all these temptations, & have neither sensitive objects, nor temporal Interests, to take off their attendance from the Service of God, or interrupt their performing his will. Thus when we are commanded to be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48) , it does not mean an equality with the perfections of God (of which no creature is capable) but only a resemblance & imitation of them, by a Godly sincerity and unblameable Conversation, so far as is consistent with the frailty of our Condition. Thus also when we are taught to love our neighbours, as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) , it is not required that we should love them in the same, or equal degree as ourselves; but only to shew our affection &

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kindness to them in all the Instances we can, according to the several relations and circumstances, in which they stand to us. Thus again, they who shall attain the resurrection to eternal life, are said to be as angels (Luke 20:36) , and yet are not supposed to be hereafter equal in glory and happiness to the angelick spirits; but only to partake in some measure of the heavenly felicity which the angels enjoy. So in like manner, when, according to our Lord’s direction, we pray, that God’s will may be done in earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10) , it means not, that an equal degree of perfection is required of us, as is required of the angels, who are placed in a far higher & purer State, and possessed of much greater spiritual Gifts, than the best of men have; but only, that our obedience ought to have the same qualities and dispositions with the angels, who continually serve and execute the will of God.

In the first place, the blessed above do God’s will from a principle of obedience. They readily perform God’s commands as such, and from no other motives than because he is pleased to impose them. They have no little Interests distinct from their master's service; and therefore whatever they do, they do singly for his sake. This must be the natural Consequence of seeing God, and enjoying the pleasures at his right hand. They must from this near approach, have too quick a sense of God’s Goodness in himself, and of the effusion of it upon his Creatures, to want any other motives to please him. If they have any disposition, (as those blessed Spirits must certainly have in a great degree) to admire what is excellent,

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or to love what is kind and beneficent to themselves; they must readily obey that God, whom they know to be so unspeakably eminent in both.

Now this principle of obedience is more, or less, wanting in the most shining [* illeg.] of mortals, and is therefore with great reason asked for in this petition. Many parts of God’s will, especially the relative duties, have an immediate tendency to make them happy in this world; & therefore may be, & indeed frequently are done, from worldly views. Moral duties, as to their external practice, may be common to an Infidel & Believer; but the principle by which they are influenced, makes the differrence: If they proceed from secular views, they are then no better than acts of civil prudence; but they have only the merit and reward of God’s will when done upon a principle of obedience. A singleness of heart (Ephesians 6:5) is particularly recommended by the Gospel; and no less than that can, or ought, to be accepted by the Searcher of hearts (Romans 8:27) . A Being of the knowledge and bounty, who from the one had no title to command our affections, or from the other but small means to discover them, might be content with such eye=service (Ephesians 6:6) , in which he had only the name, and another the fruits. But the Lord of heaven and earth hath the justest claim to the utmost sincerity of our obedience, and readily discovers & resents all the deficiencies of it.

Nothing therefore can have the name, or at least, the reward of God’s Service, but what is done to him, & not to men. The Lord

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seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7) . He rewardeth all that is Religion in us, and nothing more; he puts not to his own account the discreet temperance, the designing Charity, the necessary Justice, or the grave Hypocrisy, which the world extorts from us: he leaves us to seek the Recompense of these from that present power, or esteem, we thereby gain amongst our fellow Creatures; but he reserves his bounty for those, who have served him with spirit and truth (John 4:24) , and by seeking only his favor, have thereby deserved it. This sincere principle of obedience is then one Condition by which God’s will may be done on earth, as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10) .

Secondly, God’s will is done in heaven more perfectly. The obedience of the blessed above, is both sincere in its principle, & universal in its extent; and they are therefore called those ministers of his that do his pleasure (Psalms 103:21) . God’s will receives a thorough Compliance from those blessed Spirits. They do not discharge one part of it, & neglect the rest, but uniformly apply themselves to perform the whole. They are not left to struggle with the corrupt wills of themselves & others, and have no need to contend either with the violence or deceivableness of unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:10) , but every thing about them facilitates their obedience.

But a little acquaintance with the general Conduct of mankind will show their deficiency, & thereby the great necessity of the petition. They measure the obedience they owe to God, by their own partial and narrow Inclination; and by the performance

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of some one easy duty, commute for the neglect of all the rest. They, like the Scribes in our Savior’s time, reduce the whole Law to one great Commandment, & make that one great Commandment something, that may cost them as cheap as may be. They consider not so much what God’s will requires, as what their own stubborn and sensual appetites can comply with, & therefore stop at the first uneasiness of duty. Their virtues are all complexional, and they make a merit of that before God, which is the Consequence of their own natural dispositions.

Every one's habitual Complexion or Station in the world, disposeth them more easily to one duty than another; but if that come single, it is not the obedience that resembles heaven. Thus the man of phlegm and Indolence shall think his unavoidable easiness and good nature sufficient to discharge the whole debt of duty to God. The rigid Stoick shall put the whole Issue of his cause upon a complexional severity of his own Conduct and an implacable Censure of others. The miser thinks himself a good servant to God, by his temperance & specious Care of his family: the Prodigal expects the same for his indiscreet bounty; the Coward for his Justice, & the Courtier for his patience and convenient Command of temper. Thus they falsely impute that to the power of Religion, which is either the work of nature, or the predominance of other vices; & would be thought to serve God, when they serve only themselves. Any one virtue, how great soever in its degree, if it stand alone, is

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not obedience to God’s will; and if he who is guilty of one point is guilty of all (James 2:10) , what must be the Case of those who are guilty of all points but one?

But as the sensual Inclinations of some suffer them only to do one part of God’s will, so there is withal a narrowness of our dispositions on earth, by which when we apply ourselves seriously to our duty, we are tempted to neglect others as necessary. Our sins, like a numerous army, surround us on all sides; & our care & diligence at one part, sometimes leave us defenseless at another. It is hard, even with a good Inclination, to dispose our watchfulness so uniformly to all quarters, that the Enemy may take nowhere any opportunity of surprise. So true it is, that in many things we offend all (James 3:2) , that our perfections in one part lead us to great & dangerous defects in another.

Thus some with an honest Intention apply themselves to the duties of civil life; but then this commendable & useful application breaks in upon their religious Cares, and they in the patriot drop the Christian. And on the other hand , the warmth of the Recluse shall make his devotion stand for the whole of God’s will: how useful soever he might be to others, he shall act as if he was born for his own sake, and by bearing no part in common life, defeat the Ends of Providence, for which he was placed in it. A rigid behavior, and a long course of self denial, lead men sometimes to be inexorable in their Judgement of others, who cannot, or perhaps need not, practice so many severities; & their well

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meant zeal & uniform exactness, shall endanger their meekness & Charity. To mention one Instance more; a devout mind, tho’ the greatest single perfection on this side the grave, hath its danger; and if not discreetly governed (so nearly allied are our virtues to our faults) is found to betray some into spiritual pride and self sufficiency

Now these defects, which are more, or less in all mankind, arise from a narrowness of human minds, which suffers them not to pursue above one thing at once, and makes therefore great difference between the observances of God’s will on earth, & that in heaven; however that use should be made of these defects, as to defy for them, either a supply of strength from God’s Grace, or forgiveness from his mercy. We should with the more earnestness send up this petition for power to do his will perfectly & universally, since we are so liable to be deficient in it: we should endeavor to root out this partiality of Judgement, that makes us obstinately disobedient to some part of our duty, & withal we should watch that Inadvertency of temper, which tempts us to be indiscreetly negligent of others: and we cannot make a better provision in both those cares, than by the sincere and serious use of this petition.

Thirdly, God’s will is done in heaven more cheerfully. Our obedience to God must be much more acceptable from the cheerfulness with which it is performed; and this is one circumstance wherein those above may be supposed to excel. They have with this life laid aside every weight of sin, that so easily besets them (Hebrews 12:1) , & rest at once both from their Infirmities & their labors: they are

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not disturbed with (that Consequence of guilt, & evidence of human misery) a reluctance of will to their duty; but as they have no difficulty in directing their desires, so they are in no danger of disapproving them afterwards. Their nearer view of the divine Excellencies cannot suffer them to love with indifference but makes it their unwearied employment to praise him, who hath thus loved them, & washed them from their sins, & made them Kings & Priests to God (Revelation 1:5-6)

But the disposition of men to do God’s will is as different from this alacrity, as earth is from heaven. They are made up of two contrary parts; by which Constitution, as the wise man observes, the corruptible body presseth down the soul, & the earthly tabernacle weighteth down the mind, that museth on many things (Wisdom of Solomon 9:15) . The Gospel which is the rule and measure of duty, is against every thing that is sensual & delightful in us, requiring us as the apostle observes, not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) . He who will make God’s will the rule of his own, must prefer the things that are not seen, to the things that are seen (2 Corinthians 4:18) ; and in doing so, must meet with the reluctance of his hasty passions, and the uncertainty & irresolution of his Judgment. This struggle between flesh & spirit is a Just reason why the Station of men upon earth is called a warfare (2 Corinthinans 10:4) , since every Instance of true obedience is a Conflict of one parts of the man with the other. The good that I would, that I

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do not; and the evil that I would not, that I do, was ye Complaint of St Paul (Romans 7:19) ; and as it was his Case before his Conversion, is undoubtedly that of most of mankind. There is some rebellion of will, more or less, remaining even in the best of men; & the strife between the spiritual, & the carnal part is seldom so perfectly decided, as not to leave some uneasiness in denying a craving affection. The perfection of this life may be compared to the harvest of the Gospel, where some good corn was mixed with many tares (Matthew 13:24-30) , and there are few, that may not from a better knowledge of themselves justly complain in the words of the Psalmist, who can tell how oft he offendeth; O cleanse thou me from my secret faults (Psalms 19:12) . 1

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Taken from the deserted residence of Bishop [William Mercer] Green July 11th 1863 Jackson, Mississippi


1. This version of the psalm is found in The Book of Common Prayer, which suggests the unknown author of this sermon was an Anglican minister.