"Thy kingdom come." --MATTHEW vi. 10
You will instantly recognize this petition as being one of those contained in what is generally denominated, "the Lord's Prayer." In considering these words I propose briefly to explain,--
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
II. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN AN ACCEPTABLE OFFERING OF THIS PETITION TO GOD.
III. THAT THE STATE OF MIND THAT CAN ACCEPTABLY OFFER THIS PETITION TO GOD, IS UNIVERSALLY BINDING UPON ALL MEN.
IV. THAT IT IS ALSO A CONDITION OF SALVATION.
I. What is meant by the kingdom of God.
In some respects there are two ideas concerning the kingdom of God. One class of divines suppose that the kingdom of God is purely spiritual; others suppose that the Lord Jesus Christ will reign personally upon the earth, that when he comes a second time, it will be to set up his kingdom in this world, and reign here in his visible presence. These two classes, however, agree in this--that his kingdom must be spiritual, whether outward and visible or not; in either case he can reign over man no further then he reigns in their hearts. A spiritual kingdom must be set up in the soul--the Divine law must be written in the heart. If the Lord Jesus Christ should come and dwell visibly in London, walk in its streets, and mix with its people, and be here as truly as the Lord Mayor is, what would it advantage the people unless they were converted and truth prevailed in their hearts? Unless the laws of his kingdom were written in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, the people of London would be none the better for the Lord Jesus Christ's living amongst them. Therefore, whether the Lord Jesus Christ come and reign personally or not, his kingdom will be established and his dominion extended by the same means that it is now. When persons pray, therefore, "thy kingdom come," if they pray sincerely, they pray that there may be universal holiness in the earth--that this kingdom of grace may be set up in all hearts, and that Christ should exercise universal influence over the minds of men. I am to notice--
II. What is implied in an acceptable offering of this petition to God.
And here let me say that it was no part of the design of our Lord Jesus to give his disciples merely a form of prayer, the words of which they might repeat without knowing or caring what they meant or said; he did not give this prayer to be repeated over as a ceremony merely, without significance or interest. There is no greater profanity in the universe than to gabber it over in such a manner as it is frequently used. The Lord Jesus gave this prayer to be understood, and that the petition should be offered with sincerity and with faith, and in a certain state of mind. Who can doubt this? Did he intend to teach his disciples and his people in after-ages to be hypocrites? No, indeed! Did he intend them to offer insincere worship? No, indeed! Then he must have designed that they should offer these petitions with sincerity. Now, the question is, what is implied in sincerity? When is a man sincere in offering this petition to God? What are the characteristics and elements of sincerity? What is implied in being sincere?
1. I observe, first, that a sincere and acceptable offering of this petition implies repentance of past sins,--for sin rejects God, and tramples down his laws. No man who lives in sin can offer this prayer without gross hypocrisy--that's very clear; the man who rejects Christ and tramples on his laws, lives in sin, and cannot offer such a prayer as this acceptably. It implies, then, repentance and renunciation of all sin.
2. It implies confidence in God: observe, it is a petition to God, that his kingdom may come. Now, if an individual have not implicit confidence in the character and wisdom of God, in the perfection of his government, and in all the provisions of his kingdom, why should he pray it may come? Now, it is not enough that a man believes as a mere speculation that God is good, that his law is good, that his kingdom is what it should be; the devil knows this as well as anybody else. It is not enough that a man should admit intellectually that these things are so, but he must confide in God with his whole heart: to offer this petition acceptably he must really have heart-confidence in God's existence, in his wisdom, in his universal right to legislate for the world, in the perfection and wisdom of his government; he must have full confidence in God, I say, ere he can offer this petition acceptably--this is very certain.
3. Another thing implied in the acceptable offering of this petition is, that the heart obeys the law of God. An individual, for example, who does not in his heart submit to God's law, cannot pray that his kingdom may come, for what would he mean by that? That others may obey it, that others may submit to Christ's authority, that God's law may be set up in others' hearts, but not in his own. He cannot pray acceptably thus. The petitioner must have the law of God set up in his own heart, and his own life must be governed by it. But this leads me to say,
4. That, inasmuch as man's outward life is always of necessity, by a law of his nature, as his heart is, it implies an obedient life as well as an obedient heart. The term "heart" is used in various senses in the Scriptures--but whenever it is used in the sense that implies virtue, it means the Will. We say of those whose will is devoted to God, that their hearts are right--they are devoted to God, consecrated to him. Now, if we consider the heart as the will--and that is the sense in which I now use the term--the will governs the outward life; and if this will, or heart, devotes itself to the will of God, and yields itself up to obedience to the law of God, the outward life must be in conformity with the law of God, so far as it is understood. Let no man say, then, that his heart is better than his life. Let no man say that his heart has received the kingdom of God, while his outward life disobeys it.
5. Sincerity in offering this petition implies universal sympathy with God. By this I mean, first, that the petitioner really does sympathise with the great end which God is endeavouring to secure through the instrumentality of his law, and by the government of his kingdom. Now, government, remember, is not an end, but a means; neither is God's government an end, but a means. He proposes to ensure certain great ends by means of his government and his kingdom. Now, when a man prays that God's kingdom may come, to be sincere in his petition, he must fully sympathise with the end which is sought to be accomplished, and on which God has set his heart, which is his own glory, and the interests of his kingdom. A man, to offer this petition acceptably--"thy kingdom come," must understand this to be the great end, and set his heart upon it; to this he must consecrate his being, as the end on which God has set his heart. But it also implies, secondly, sympathy with God in reference to the means by which he is endeavouring to secure this great and glorious end. Again, sympathy with God implies a real and hearty aversion to all that stands in the way of the progress of his kingdom--all sin, in every form and in every shape. The individual that is not deeply and thoroughly opposed to sin, does not want God's kingdom to come; for God's kingdom would destroy all the works of the devil, would destroy sin in every form and degree. Those who offer this petition in sincerity, virtually pray that all sin may cease. Now, how can a man who does not cease from sin himself present such a petition as this? How can he pray for God's kingdom to come, while he is violating the known laws of that kingdom? If a man be not opposed to all sin, he cannot offer this petition acceptably.
6. It is plain that sincerity in offering this petition must imply supreme attachment to the King, his law and government. Observe, the petition does not express a partial attachment to the kingdom of God, but is an expression of entire agreement with God in reference to his kingdom--a universal submission, a universal attachment to the King and his entire administration. Every one, I think, will say that no man is or can be sincere in offering this petition, if he is not heartily and devotedly attached to the King and his government--to every principle and precept of his holy law and Gospel, and to his entire administration.
7. A sincere offering of this petition implies a sympathy with all the means that are used to establish this kingdom in the earth--to establish it in the hearts and souls of men. Now, if an individual prays that this kingdom may come, he prays that men may be made holy, as the condition of their being made happy, and of their being saved. Now, the man who does not truly love the souls of men, and desire their salvation, never offers this petition in sincerity; in order to do this, he must care for the souls of men.
8. It implies a supreme desire that God's kingdom may come. It is one thing for an individual to say "thy kingdom come," and another thing for him supremely to desire that it may come. It is common for a man to ask in words for what he does not deeply and sincerely desire; but I said that a man, to offer this prayer acceptably, must deeply, and sincerely, and supremely desire that God's kingdom may come. But, if a man is in bondage to his own lusts, and desires their gratification supremely, no one in this house, I presume, would affirm that such a man could offer this petition acceptably. Now, I suppose that, to offer this petition acceptably, there must be a supreme desire for the object prayed for; that no desire shall be allowed to prevail over this; that no merely selfish enjoyment or selfish indulgence shall have a chief place in the heart. Let me ask any one of you this question,--Suppose you should see a man on his knees offering this petition, and if you knew, at the same time, that he was a self-indulgent man, not willing to make any sacrifices, or hardly any, to promote the interests of this kingdom, spending ten times more on his own lusts than he gave to the cause of Christ, how could any of you believe that such a man was sincere in offering such a prayer? Such a man, if he uses this petition, virtually says,--"Lord, let thy kingdom come without my exercising any self-denial; let Providence enrich me, but let me keep all I get: let thy kingdom come, but let me seek my own gratifications." Now, if a man should pray in words in this way, you would say it is little less than blasphemy! But he might not say this in words for very shame; yet, suppose he said, "let thy kingdom come," and acted quite the opposite to any such desire, would his prayer be any the better?
9. But not only does an acceptable offering of this petition imply supreme desire--that is, without* more influence than other desires--but it implies also, that the mind is supremely devoted to the end for which it prays; the voluntary power of the will devotes itself, and devotes the whole being, to the promotion of this end. Now, suppose we should hear a man pray in this way--"Lord, let thy kingdom come, if it can come without my being devoted to its interests; let thy kingdom come, if it can come without my ever giving my heart, time, energies, property, possessions, sympathies, and prayers, to promote it; I will say let thy kingdom come, but I will go on in my own way, and do nothing to promote it or hasten its approach:" you would say that this is not an acceptable offering of this petition. I suppose that none of you are disposed to deny that an acceptable offering of this petition does really imply that the heart is truly and sincerely devoted to the kingdom of God.
10. An acceptable offering of this petition must imply self-denial. Now, please to understand what I mean by self-denial; remember, it is not the forsaking of one gratification for another: it sometimes happens that men forsake the gratification of one appetite in order that they may gratify another. Persons may deny themselves in a great many respects, and yet be guilty of much selfishness. Suppose a man be avaricious, and love money, his heart is supremely set upon acquiring it, and hoarding it up. That man may be very frugal in his expenditure--he may be very much disgusted with many who spend money for their own gratification; this avaricious man may deny himself many things; he may go so far as to deny himself the comforts of life, as misers do, and berate everybody who do otherwise; but the man is selfish nevertheless: the love of money prevails over the love of everything else--his heart is set upon that. What people call self-denial, is often no self-denial at all; self-love is very frequently at the bottom, after all. But real self-denial consists in this--an individual's refusing to live to please himself; to promote his own profit and interests, as distinguished from God's kingdom; who refuses to do anything simply and entirely for self. It implies that an individual ceases from self and consecrates himself to God; lives to please God and not himself, and sympathises with nothing whose ultimate end is not to serve and glorify God. Now, when a man who does not deny himself offers this petition to God, what does he mean? He is a rebel against God, opposed to his law. Why does he want God's kingdom to come? Let no selfish man, then--no man who lives in any form of self-pleasing, suppose that he can offer this prayer acceptably.
11. It implies, on the part of those who offer this prayer, a real and whole-hearted embarking of their all with God in this great enterprise. If we offer it sincerely, it implies that we have come into such sympathy with him as to embark ourselves, body and soul, for time and eternity, our characters and affections, our all, in making common cause with God in the advancement of the interests of his kingdom. Now, I think it cannot be doubted that all this is included in a sincere offering of the prayer, "thy kingdom come." Take the case of an earthly prince desiring to establish a kingdom--true patriotism consists in sincerely seeking the promotion of the aim of the prince. The fact is plain, that the acceptable offering of this petition must imply that those who offer it have given themselves up to the promotion of this object; that they have embarked their all in this great enterprise; that for this end they live, move, and have their being.
12. Let me say again, that it implies a fear towards whatever would be calculated to retard the progress of this kingdom. Persons in a right state of mind hate everything that would hinder the advancement of this kingdom, because they have set their hearts on its establishment. Sin and every form of evil is loathsome to them, because it retards the establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth. It is a law of man's being which makes him quiveringly, tremblingly alive to any interests on which he has set his heart, and causes him to be keen-sighted, and ever on the watch to remove anything that stands in the way of the progress of that upon which his hopes are so deeply set. Now, be it remembered this law of mind invariably shows itself in religious, as well as in worldly matters; it does do so, and must.
13. I observe, in the next place, that those who offer this petition sincerely, manifest grief and indignation at whatever is contrary to God's will. If they see an error, but which does not involve sin, they are grieved; but if it involves sin, they feel indignation. I do not mean malicious indignation, but a benevolent, a holy, a compassionate indignation.
14. Lastly, under this head, I observe that a right offering of this petition implies the joyful exercise of an economy in our lives, whether of time, talents, influence, or whatever else we possess; there is a joyful economising of everything for the promotion of this end. Now, who does not know that when men set their hearts upon any great object, that just in proportion to their attachment to that object will be their devotedness to it--just in that proportion are they cheerful, eager, and ready in using every economy for the promotion of this object--they husband everything for the promotion of that end. As an illustration of this, let me notice an affecting circumstance that occurred within my own knowledge. A woman, who was a slave in one of the southern states of America, had escaped from her bondage, but she had left her husband and children in slavery: the master of these individuals offered to sell them their time, and let them go free. This poor woman gave herself up to earn the money to redeem them; and it was very affecting to see how she toiled, and denied herself even the necessaries of life, in order to secure their liberty. Nothing daunted her; no hardship discouraged her; in the cold, when the snow was on the ground, you might see her working, with but little clothing, and her feet bare; if you gave her a pair of shoes or a garment, she would soon sell them, to get money to increase the fund which was to secure the liberation of her husband and children. Now, this poor creature practised economy for the promotion of the great end she had in view; I do not say that was wise economy in her case, for she nearly sacrificed her own life to it. Now, you mothers can understand and appreciate this woman's conduct; if you had husbands, sons, or daughters in slavery, would you not do as she did? This woman had no love for money, or for anything, only as it sustained a relation to the one great end on which her heart was set. This circumstance illustrates, I say, most powerfully this great principle, that whenever our hearts are supremely set upon any object, we count everything dear as it sustains a relation to, and secures that object; and he, therefore, who prays sincerely, "thy kingdom come," must have his heart so set upon the object, as to exercise a joyful and perpetual economy, with an especial reference to that end.
III. The state of mind that can acceptably offer this petition, is universally binding upon men--all the moral agents of our race.
The heathen themselves, by virtue of their own nature, know that there is a God, and that this God is good. They know that they ought to love their neighbours as themselves, and to love God supremely. The Bible teaches us that the light of nature, which they possess, leaves them wholly without excuse, if they do not love and obey their Creator. To believe and embrace the Gospel, then, is an universal duty. This you will all admit, and, therefore, I need not enlarge upon it.
IV. This state of mind is a condition of salvation.
Understand me, my hearers, I do not mean that it is a ground of acceptance with God--that is not what I mean: I do not mean that men are saved by their own righteousness--that on this ground they will be accepted of God. I know, and you know, that men are to be saved by the righteousness of Christ, and not by their own righteousness; therefore, when I say that this state of mind is a condition of salvation, I mean what I say--it is a condition as distinct from a ground; a condition in the sense that a man cannot be saved without being in this state of mind, but that this state of mind is not the ground of salvation. "All have sinned, and" therefore "come short of the glory of God." First, to be in this state of mind is a natural condition of salvation. Could anybody that cannot offer this petition be happy in heaven? What would such a man do in heaven? God has perfect dominion there. Now, unless an individual is in a state of mind that he can sincerely, acceptably, and prevailingly offer this petition to God, unless it be the natural expression of his heart, what possible enjoyment could he have in heaven? None whatever. Secondly, it is governmentally a condition of salvation. Every attribute of God in his moral government of the universe forbids any man to enter heaven who cannot present this petition acceptably to God. But we cannot further enlarge.
Let us now conclude with a few remarks.
1. This state of mind is not only a condition of salvation in the sense in which I have mentioned, but it is also a state of mind that must always be a condition of prevailing with God in prayer. Now, let me ask, Can any man expect to prevail with God if he is in a state of opposition to him, or not in the state of mind I have already described? While in a state of rebellion, while resisting God's authority, not having the heart in sympathy with God, not desiring the kingdom of God to come, how can an individual expect to have his prayer answered? No, neither this nor any other petition--that is very plain. It is true that God hears the young ravens when they cry--a mere cry of distress. And even when Satan himself prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ that he might not be sent out of the country, but that he might go into the herd of swine, his petition was granted; but the devil was not in a state of mind for prevailing, in the sense of offering prevailing prayer to God. I speak now of a state of mind that can secure the things promised, and this must be the state of mind in which a petitioner can acceptably offer the Lord's prayer--he must be within the meaning of the injunction of Christ's promise, as a condition upon which he has promised to hear and answer.
2. We can see from this subject why it is that prayer is often repeated by the petitioner, and is so seldom answered. God is "the hearer of prayer," not of hypocritical utterances in which the heart does not unite. Such prayers are not heard, because, in truth, they are not prayers at all. Individuals may repeat the Lord's Prayer every day, ten times a-day, and the more frequently they repeat it, the more they grieve the Spirit of God, and expose themselves to God's righteous indignation.
3. Those who offer this prayer acceptably are universal and very liberal contributors to the great cause of missions, and zealous supporters of all those various societies whose aim is to extend Christ's kingdom in the earth. By this I do not mean to say that these persons are always in a condition to give large amounts; but they will be cheerful and large contributors according to their means. And why? For the same reason that the slave mother was a cheerful and large contributor to that upon which she had set her heart, because their hearts are set upon the coming of Christ's kingdom in all its fulness, and power, and blessedness. I know that some may not be able to contribute more than their two mites, but I know, also, that they can give even this little with a full heart and a liberal hand. In a congregation to which I preached several years, in the city of New York, there was a woman named Dina, who had been brought up a slave, and continued a slave until she was forty years old and incapable of work; but although so poor, she always gave a quarter of a dollar--about a shilling--every Sabbath, to assist in meeting the current expenses of the congregation, and other things to which the money was applied. This was a free church; all the seats were free to every one. When Dina was asked how she could afford to give so much, she replied that the first quarter of a dollar which was given her in the week she laid by till the next Sabbath, for the purposes of the sanctuary. "I live upon God every day," she said, "and I know he will give me what I want." At the monthly missionary meeting, also, a box was carried round, and individuals put in their money, wrapped up in a piece of paper, with their names written upon it. Constantly, among the rest, was Dina's name written on a paper, enclosing a dollar. One of the collectors asked her if she really meant to put in so much as a dollar, and with some surprise, she replied, "Why, it's only a dollar--it's only a dollar; can't I give a dollar a-month." This poor woman seemed to have no interest in anything, only as it bore upon the advancement and interests of the Redeemer's kingdom.
Now, it must be that individuals who can really offer the Lord's Prayer, and mean it, will prayerfully do everything they can towards promoting his kingdom.
4. This leads me to say again,--The end for which a man lives will always reveal itself in his life; his sympathies will lie in the direction in which his efforts tend, and the reverse. If a man sincerely offers this petition, he will do everything in his power to spread a knowledge of the Gospel among men, and so extend the Saviour's reign upon earth.
5. The true Christian finds it "more blessed to give than to receive;" for example, the slave mother never felt so happy as when she was paying the price of her husband's and children's release. When she gave that money to the master, she felt it much more blessed to give than to receive; a great deal more blessed than to have spent it to please herself, to gratify her own appetites. Impenitent men are greatly deceived when they profess that Christians feel it a great sacrifice, a great trial, to be asked to contribute of their substance for the promotion of religion. I have known impenitent men keep away from God's house because they felt it to be such a hardship to be called upon to give to a collection; and I have even heard professors of religion talk in that way, and have abstained from going to meeting when there was a collection, because they did not like to be dunned. Now, what sort of a conception have such men of religion? Why, they know nothing about it. Suppose that a number of men were to meet together for the originating and carrying out of some object of business or benevolence, which they professed to have deeply at heart, and that when they came together, they found that money must be subscribed by each of them, and they were to say that it was a great and intense abomination to be called upon to give money,--what would you think of their sincerity? But would they act thus? Why, no, they would be anxious to give of their substance, in order that the object which they had at heart might be realised. The real Christian never gives grudgingly, but thankfully and joyfully. When you have dropped your contribution into the box, Christian, don't[sic.] your heart go away echoing, "God bless it! God bless it!" And if you have nothing to give yourself, you will pray for a blessing on the contributions of others. A collection will now be taken up for the London Missionary Society, before we close this morning's service, and another, for the same purpose, will be made in the evening; but I trust no person will stay away on that account. Amen. *The word "without" should probably read "with"--Ed.
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