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"thy will in the armies of heaven, and amongst the inhabitants "of the earth. Thy power is irresistible, and thy works won"derful But it is matter of the highest astonishment, that "thou should exercise that gracious government, in which "thou condescendest to be called the King of saints. What "is man, that thou shou dst thus magnify him, and set thine "heart upon him; that they, whom thou mightest have dealt "with as traitors, and enemies to thy government, and, as "such, have ruled them with a rod of iron, and broken them "in pieces, like a potter's vessel, should be admitted to par"take of the privileges which thou art pleased to bestow on "thy servants and subjects! Thou hast often invited us, by "holding forth thy sceptre of grace, to come and acknowledge "thee to be our Lord and Sovereign; but our hearts have "been filled with rebellion against thee. We have served "divers lusts and pleasures, and been in confederacy with "hell and death, yielding ourselves slaves to Satan, thine "avowed enemy: But now, we desire to cast ourselves down "before thy foot-stool; and, while we stand amazed at thy "clemency, we accept of the overture of a pardon which "thou hast made in the gospel, with the greatest thankful"ness, accounting it our highest privilege, as well as our in"dispensable duty, to be thy subjects. Write thy law, we "beseech thee, in our hearts; bring down every high thought "and imagination, which sets itself against thine interest, and "make us entirely willing to be thy servants, devoted to thy "fear. We also beg, that thou wouldst take to thyself thy "great power and reign. Let Satan's kingdom be destroyed, "thy gospel propagated throughout the world. May thine "ancient people, the Jews, who now refuse that thou shouldst "reign over them, be called and inclined to own thee as their "King; and may the dark parts of the earth see thy salvation. "Reform thy churches; let them be constantly supplied with "those who shall go in and out before them, and shall feed "them with knowledge and understanding. May they be "purged from those corruptions which are a reproach to thy "government; let not the commandments of men be received, "instead of thine holy institutions; may thine ordinances be purely dispensed, that thy people may have ground to hope "for thy presence therein; and may they be made effectual for "the converting of sinners, and establishing thy saints in their "holy faith. And let all the dispensations of thy providence "in the world, have a tendency to advance thy kingdom of "grace, that, as thou hast, in all ages, appeared in the behalf of "thy church and people; so it may be preserved and carried "through all the difficulties that it meets with, and be secured
"from the attempts of thine enemies against it, till they who "rejoice in thy government here, shall be received into thy "heavenly kingdom hereafter."
QUEST. CXCII. What do we pray for in the third petition?
ANSW. In the third petition, [which is, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven] acknowledging that, by nature, we, and all men, are not only utterly unable and unwilling to know and do the will of God, but prone to rebel against his word, to repine and murmur against his providence, and wholly inclined to do the will of the flesh, and of the Devil: We pray, that God would by his Spirit, take away from ourselves and others, all blindness, weakness, indisposedness, and perverseness of heart, and by his grace make us able and willing to know, do, and submit to his will in all things, with the like humility, cheerfulness, faithfulness, diligence, zeal, sincerity, and constancy, as the angels do in heaven.
OR the understanding of this petition, we must enquire, I. What is meant by the will of God, and how it is said to be done by us. We have, under a foregoing answer, considered, that this is distinguished into his secret and revealed will, and shewn that as the former of these is the reason of his own actings, and determines the event of things; the latter is what we are more especially concerned about, as it is a rule of duty to us. It is also farther distinguished into his perceptive and providential will; the former of which we are to obey; the latter, to admire, submit to, and be well pleased with: Accordingly, when we pray, Thy will be done, we desire, that his laws might be obeyed, and thereby his universal dominion, and right to govern the world, practically acknowledged; and that, by this means, sin might be prevented, and this earth might not become so much like hell as it would be, in this method, which God has taken to direct our actions, and give a check to our corruptions, were wholly disregarded by us. When we consider God as the Creator of man, the next idea we have of him is, that he exercises his dominion and sovereignty in giving laws to him; which he is under a natural obligation to obey; otherwise he disowns himself to be a creature, or a subject, which is the highest affront that can be offered to the divine Majesty, and exposes him to that punishment which is due to those who are found in open rebellion against him: This is
See Vol. I. Quest. xii. p. 471.
what we are to pray against in this petition, in which there is something supposed, namely, (a)
(a) It has beeen said, that there cannot be any reason or motive to pray, or make any petition, to an unchangeable God, whose design cannot be altered, and who has fixed all events, without a possibility of any change.
Before any attempt is made to remove this objection, and supposed difficulty, it must be observed, that it equally lies against the foreknowledge of God. For if God certainly foreknows every thing that will take place, then every event is fixed and certain, otherwise it could not be foreknown. "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." He has determined, and passed an unchangeable decree, with respect to all that he will do to eternity. Upon the plan of the objection under consideration, it may be asked, What reason or motive can any one have to ask God to do any thing for him, or any one else, since he infallibly knows from the beginning what he will do, and therefore it is unalterably fixed? Therefore if it be reasonable to pray to an omniscient God, it is equally reasonable to pray to an unchangeable God. For the former necessarily implies the latter. But in order to show that the objection is without foundation, the following things must be observed.
1. If God were not omniscient and unchangeable, and had not foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, he would not be the proper object of worship, and there would be no foundation, reason, or encouragement to make any petition to him.
This, it is presumed, will be evident to any one who will well consider the following observations.
First. If there were no unchangeable, omniscient Being, there would be no God, no proper object of worship. A being who is capable of change, is necessarily imperfect, and may change from bad to worse, and even cease to exist, and therefore could not be trusted. If we could know that such a being has existed, and that he was once wise, and good, and powerful, we could have no evidence that he would continue to be wise or good, or that he is so now, or that he is now disposed to pay any regard to our petitions, or is either willing or able to grant them; or even that he has any existence. What reason of encouragement then can there be to pray to a changeable being? Surely none at all. Therefore, if there be no reason to pray to an unchangeable God, there can be no reason to pray at all.
Secondly. If God be infinitely wise, and good, and omnipotent, supreme and independent; then he certainly is unchangeable, and has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. This has been proved above, or rather is self-evident. But if he be not infinitely wise and good, &c. then he cannot be trusted; he cannot be the object of that trust and confidence which is implied, and even expressed, in praying to him.
Thirdly. The truly pious, benevolent, devout man would not desire, or even dare, to pray to God for any thing, if he were changeable, and disposed to alter his purpose and plan, in order to grant his petitions. Therefore he never does pray to any but an unchangeable God, whose counsel stands forever, and the thoughts of his heart to all generations. He is sensible that he is a very imperfect creature; that his heart, his will, is awfully depraved and sinful; that he knows not what is wisest and best to be done in any one instance; what is best for him, for mankind in general, for the world, or for the universe; what is most for the glory of God, and the greatest general good; and that it would be infinitely undesirable and dreadful to have his own will regarded so as to govern in determining what shall be done for him or any other being, or what shall take place. If it could be left to him to determine in the least instance, he would not dare to do it, but would refer it back to God, and say, "Not my will, but thine be done." But he could not do this, unless he were certain that the will of God was unchangeably wise and good, and that he had decreed to do what was most for his own glory, and the greatest good of the whole; at the
1. That his will must be known by us, otherwise it cannot be obeyed. And this supposes the law to be promulgated;
same time infallibly knowing what must take place, in every instance, in order to answer this end; and consequently must have fixed upon the most wise and best plan, foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass. Therefore, whatever be his petitions for himself, or for others, he offers them to God, and asks, on this condition, always either expressed or implied, If it be agreeable to thy will: for, otherwise he would not have his petitions granted, if it were possible. And he who asks any thing of God, without making this condition, but sets up his own will, and desires to have it gratified, whether it be for the glory of God, and the greatest good of his kingdom, or not; and would, were it in his power, compet his Maker to grant his petition, and bow the will of God to his own will; he who prays to God with such a disposition, is an impious enemy to God, exercises no true devotion, and cannot be heard; and it is desireable to all the friends of God that he should be rejected. Resignation to the will of God always supposes his will is unchangeably fixed and established, which it could not be, unless he has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.
Thus it appears that if God were changeable, and had not foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, there would be no foundation for religious worship, or reason for praying to him; or that there can be no reason or encouragement for prayer and petition to any but an unchangeable God.-I proceed to observe,
2. There is good reason, and all desirable and possible encouragement, to pray to an unchangeable God, who has from eternity determined what he will do, in every instance, and has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.
This will doubtless be evident, to him who will duly, consider the following particulars.
First. Prayer is as proper, important, and necessary, in order to obtain favour from an unchangeable God, as it could be were he changeable, and had not foreordained any thing.
Means are as necessary in order to obtain the end, as if nothing were fixed and certain. Though it was decreed that Paul and all the men in the ship should get safe to land, when they were in a storm at sea; yet this must be accomplished by means, and unless the sailors had assisted in managing the ship, this event could not take place, and they could not be saved. Prayer is a means of obtaining what God had determined to grant; for he has determined to give it in answer to prayer, and no other way." Ask, and ye shall receive," says our Saviour. When God had promised to do many and great things for Israel, he adds, "Thus saith the Lord God, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them:" [Ezek. xxxvi. 37.] The granting the favours, which God had determined to bestow, was as much suspended on their asking for them, as if there had been nothing determined and fixed about it. There is as much regard had to prayer in granting favours, and the prayer is heard, and God gives them, as really and as much in answer to it, as if there were nothing determined and foreordained respecting them: for the decree includes and fixes the means, as much as the end; the method and way by which events are to take place, as much as those events themselves. The one depends on the other, as much as if there were no decree, and nothing fixed; yea, much more: for the decree fixes the dependence and connexion between the means and the end: whereas if there were no decree, and nothing fixed, there would be no established connexion, but all would be uncertain, and there would be no reason or encouragement to use means, or do any thing to obtain an end.
Surely, then, there is as much reason and encouragement to pray to an unchangeable God, and this is as important and necessary, as if there were nothing fixed by the divine decrees, and much more: yea, the unchangeable purposes of God are the necessary and only proper ground and reason of prayer.
Secondly. Though prayer is not designed to make any change in God, or alter his purpose, which is impossible; yet it is suited and designed to have an effect
which has been already done; particularly as it was written by God on the heart of man at first, in such legible characters,
on the petitioner, and prepare him to receive that for which he prays. And this is a good reason why he should pray. It tends to make the petitioner to feel more and more sensibly his wants, and those of others for whom he prays, and the miserable state in which he and they are: for in prayer these are called up to view, and dwelt upon; and prayer tends to give a sense of the worth and importance of the favours asked. It is also suited to make persons feel, more and more, their own helplessness, and entire dependence on God for the favours for which they petition, of which their praying is an acknowledgment: and therefore tends to enhance them in the eyes of the petitioner, when given in answer to prayer, and make him more sensible of the free, sovereign goodness of God in granting them. In sum, this is suited to keep the existence and character of God in view, and impress a sense of religious truths in general on the mind, and to form the mind to universal obedience, and a conscientious watchfulness aud circumspection, in all religious exercises.,
Thirdly. It is reasonable, and highly proper and important, and for the honour of God, that the friends of God should express and acknowledge their entire dependence on him, and trust in him, for all they want for themselves and others, and their belief in the power, wisdom and goodness of God; and all this is acknowledged, expressly or implicity, in prayer to God. It is also reasonable and proper that they should express their desire of those things which are needed by themselves or others, and which God alone can give or accomplish: and such desires are expressed in the best way and manner by petitioning for them. And in asking for blessings on others, and praying for their enemies, they express their benevolence, which is an advantage to themselves, and pleasing to God, even though their petitions should have no influence in procuring the favours which they ask. And in praying that God would honour himself, and advance his own kingdom, and accomplish all the great and glorious things which he has promised to do for his own honour, and the good of his people, they do not express any doubts of his fulfilling his promises, but are certain he will grant their petitions; but they hereby express their acquiescence in these things, and their earnest desire that they may be accomplished; and also profess and express their love to God, and friendship to his people and kingdom; and do that which the feelings of a pious, benevolent heart will naturally, and even necessarily, prompt them to do.
We have many examples of such petitions and prayers for those things and events, which the petitioners, antecedent to their prayers, knew would certainly be accomplished. We have a decisive and remarkable instance of this in David, the king of Israel, in the following words: “And now, O Lord God, the word that thou hast spoken concerning thy servant, and concerning his house, establish it for ever, and do as thou hast said. And let thy name be magnified forever, saying, The Lord of hosts is the God over Israel: and let the house of thy servant David be established before thee. For thou, O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, bast revealed to thy servant, saying, I will build thee an house: therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray this prayer before thee. And now, Lord God, thou art that God, and thy words be true, and thou hast promised
A kind and wise father, who designs to give his child some particular favour, will bring the child to ask for it before he bestows it, and will suspend the gift upon this condition, for the benefit of the child, that what he grants may be a real advantage to him, and a greater than if it were given before the child was better prepared to receive it, by earnestly and humbly asking for it; and that the father may hereby receive a proper acknowledgment from the child, and be treated in a becoming manner. And in this case, the petition of the child is as really regarded, heard and granted, and the child's application and prayer to the father is as much a means of obtaining the favour, and as proper, important. and necessary, as if the father had not previously determined the whole affair. And when the children of such a father know that this is his way of bestowing favours on them, they will have as proper motives, and as much encouragement, to ask for all they want, as if he had not determined what he would do antecedent to their asking him; yea, much more.