(Kersten, The Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2, Part 23)

The Petition That God's Will Be Done

Lord's Day 49

Psalter No. 7 st. 1, 2
Read Romans 10
Psalter No. 86 st. 1, 2, 3
Psalter No. 236 st. 1, 2
Psalter No. 366 st. 1, 2, 3


    The Apostle says in Romans 10 that whosoever shall call upon the
name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him of
Whom they have not heard? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing
by the Word of God. This calling by the Word is twofold, external and
internal. Although both take place by the Word they differ in this,
that in the internal calling the Holy Spirit makes the Word effectual
by His saving operation. The Apostle has this in mind when he says that
they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah saith, "Who has
believed our report?" They only believed the report to whom the arm of
the Lord was revealed. This shows how impossible it is for us to
believe and how unwilling we are by nature to yield to and embrace
Christ, as He is presented in the Gospel. However, the Lord renews the
heart of His elect and acquaints them with the state of their misery.
On the other hand He proposes to them the redemption which is in Christ
Jesus. Thus it is only by the Word that the Lord calls sinners to
    There is also a calling in nature which comes even to the blind
heathen, a calling to bow before God as the Creator of heaven and
earth, since they see His power and Godhead. This calling does not
teach men to know Christ, nor does it speak of the One and Only Triune
God. This calling is not saving, since faith cometh by hearing, and
hearing by the Word of God. Nevertheless the Lord causes a voice to be
heard from nature. Our Confession of Faith says that the creation is as
a book in which all creatures are so many characters leading us to
contemplate the invisible things of God. Even in nature the Lord speaks
of His majesty and glory, so that all shall bow the knees before Him
and rightly serve God their Creator, Who is not far from anyone of us.
He also reveals Himself in the continuous activities there are in
nature, namely, the works of His providence. The works of God's
providence extend over our entire life. They are the work of the Father
in which God shows His paternal authority over all creatures in heaven
and on earth, to His own glory.
    Those works are a source of spiritual comfort for God's people, for
by embracing Him Who merited their sonship, they may at times
experience His Fatherly love in all circumstances of life; believing
that His Fatherly will alone is holy and good, tending to the
glorification of God's perfections and the salvation of their souls.
This teaches them to pray for the execution of the heavenly Father's
will, in the petition which we must now speak of according to the
explanation given in the forty-ninth Lord's Day of our Heidelberg
Q. 124. Which is the third petition?

A.  "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"; that is, grant that
    we and all men may renounce our own will, and without murmuring
    obey thy will, which is only good; that so every one may attend
    to, and perform the duties of his station and calling, as
    willingly and faithfully as the angels do in heaven.

    Our subject for discussion is the petition that God's will be done.
We learn from the instructor that doing God's will demands:
      I. Renouncing our own will,
     II. Submitting to God's will, and
    III. Willingly performing the duties of our earthly calling.
    In the previous petition the supplicant's desire was the complete
dominion of the great King: "Thy kingdom come". The prayer is that He
may reign and be recognized by us as a sovereign in His full majesty.
May He be King in us and around us, disrupting the work of the devil,
and establishing His church until one day His Kingdom shall come in
eternal glory. But how shall we ever acknowledge the dominion of the
King of heaven except in our entire submission to Him? How can He be
sovereign for us, except we renounce our own will? Therefore the
petition, "Thy will be done", is indispensable.
    It is as it were a basic petition, a foundation upon which our
desires shall be built. A supplicant is not one who just asks for all
he wishes to have. A true supplicant knows the limits of prayer in
submission to the will of God: "If it can please Thee". He must often
renounce his own desires and will to submit himself to the will of God.
Nature does not teach this. Hence prayer, true prayer is foreign to us
by nature. It is against flesh and blood, but is exercised by faith.
    Practicing the will of God demands, as we said, renouncing our own
will. God created man as a rational being, that is to say, with a mind
and a will. Irrational creatures have no mind, nor can they be said to
have a will. Both men and angels were elevated above all other
creatures because they were created as rational creatures, but man's
glory is superior to that of the angels because God created man in His
image and likeness. The full development, therefore, of that divinely
created glory must consist in man's willingness to serve God. Sun, moon
and stars involuntarily follow the course laid by God. The beasts of
the field and the birds of the air, the herbs bearing seed and the
mighty trees unconsciously obey the natural laws which God has
ordained. As for man, how was he ever to display his full glory above
all creatures except by serving God, His Creator, not unconsciously,
because there was no other choice, but by the voluntary expression of
his will. He had to choose between God and Satan. He had to face the
probationary command; the serpent through which the devil spoke, and
Satan's suggestion of another way, namely the way of disobedience. All
this was necessary for men to reveal the superiority of his creation
above that of his fellow creatures. God did not lay a snare for man in
paradise, but He opened the way by which the creature that was created
in God's image could attain to full development, in fact, would come to
life eternal. He was to serve God of his own will because God is worthy
to be served. Man is created a rational creature with a mind and will.
    Man remained a rational creature even after the fall. Indeed, he
destroyed himself willfully; he made himself a debtor to God's
righteousness; he plunged himself into death; he is born spiritually
dead; his understanding is darkened, and his will is contrary to God's
will. He remained a man with a will after the fall, but with a will
that is enmity against God's will, and enmity also against the
salvation which is in Christ by grace.
    "Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life in My Name", said
the Lord. And "Those which would not that I should reign over them,
bring hither, and slay them before Me." These are the awful words of
the King to be pronounced against all who are disobedient to the voice
of the Son of God. Anyone who tries to hide behind his inability,
secretly casting the blame of his state of misery upon God, would do
well to consider that he does not want to be saved.
    How true then is the explanation of the Catechism that the
petition, "Thy will be done" means: Grant that we and all men may
renounce our own will. There is only one way that leads to submission
to the will of God; it is to renounce our own will. Man must yield if
ever he is to pray to God in truth. Only grace teaches us the desire to
renounce our own will by the conquering ministry of the Holy Spirit. We
will oppose God as long as we can. Notwithstanding all admonitions and
warnings, we continue our mad rush upon the broad way. We will not
yield to God, and will never, never surrender, unless God becomes too
strong for us; then our old way of life comes to an end. Whatever may
then arise in opposition to this change of heart, whether it be
husband, wife, children, friends, acquaintances or even the whole
world, though it be at all costs, the sinner who is conquered by the
love of God cannot continue any longer in sin which he enjoyed before.
His choice is as Ruth the Moabitess: "Thy people shall be my people,
and thy God my God." What an unregrettable and upright choice this was.
    Alas, such complete surrender as this happens very seldom. Too
often there are murmurings of heart against God or in other words,
disagreement with God's ways. Even after having received grace, God's
people learn constantly that this petition is not a fruit which grows
in the soil of their own hearts. Was Moses willing to deliver Israel
when it was God's time? Did Jonah renounce his will when he rose up to
flee from the presence of the Lord? Had Asaph mortified his own will
when he said, "Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my
hands in innocence?" Is it not always the same, over and over again
that we feel this opposition to God's will in us and join battle
against God, saying in our hearts, "But I do not want to"? No, we do
not want to die to the world, to sin, to our own will and desires; we
do not want to pray, "Thy will be done" except when grace triumphs.
When this takes place, all opposition to the will of the Lord is
broken; the sinner humbles himself in the dust before God; his enmity
becomes sin and guilt; he is covered with holy shame, as his variance
with God's will and his opposition to it grieve him sorely. Has God
ever done anything but good? Has not His way always been a blessing for
His people? Has He not revealed time after time that He is with His
own? Did He not promise, "When thou passes through the waters, I will
be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee"?
    Why then is there that opposition, that bitter enmity and that
unwillingness to yield? Oh, that our souls were one with God! Therein
lies life, gladness, and blessedness. May our prayer be, "Oh, Lord,
grant that we may renounce our own will". That is living on free grace.
There is nothing more blessed than to be one with God. It causes us to
sing in prison and glory in tribulations. That takes the grief out of
our suffering.
    We wish that every man could experience it. Grace is liberal. God's
honour would be promoted if there were more and more subjection to His
will. The instructor teaches us that there is this well wishing grace
in the heart of the true supplicant: "Grant that we and all men may
renounce our own will". This is the duty of all men. "Who would not
fear Thee, O Thou Creator of heaven and earth? For to Thee does it
appertain", says the prophet. Our nature is selfish. But love seeketh
not her own. She seeks God's honour and her neighbor's salvation. This
is her language,
        For all my brethren and companions' sakes
        My prayer shall be, Let peace in thee abide;
        Since God the Lord in thee His dwelling makes
        To thee my love shall never be denied.
                (Psalter No. 349:4)
    Thus the desire that the will of the Lord be done finds its root in
our renouncing our own will. Our own will is corrupted by sin and
always evil; opposing the will of God and never yielding to God's will.
Therefore there remains only one remedy which can avail, not a little
cultivation of the will, not a little improvement as many have
advocated, but our will must be renounced and abandoned. That is what
grace teaches.
    God's work is not only negative. In the true conversion of a sinner
to God there is not only the mortification of the old man, but also the
quickening of the new man. Therefore the petition that the Lord's will
be done includes not only the desire that our own perverse will be
renounced but also, as I wish to expound in my second thought, the need
    Submitting to the will of God.
    According to scripture, the will of God is to be considered in a
twofold sense, namely, as the will of God's decree or His secret will,
and the will of God's command or His revealed will. This distinction
does not mean that there are two wills in God. How can that be? One
will would conflict with the other, or the one would be subordinate to
the other and be overruled. This is impossible with God. In sinful men
you can observe that conflict. Israel wishes to serve Baal, but not to
forsake God. The people want to do both. Elijah, the prophet calls to
them, "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God,
follow Him, but if Baal, then follow him." May we assume that in Him
Who wishes to be served with a single will, there are two wills? To
ascribe two wills to God is to lower Him to the level of a sinful
creature. In God there is one undivided will. That one will is partly
hidden from us, and partly revealed to us. Therefore we speak of a
secret and of a revealed will, or of the will of His decree and the
will of His command. One example may serve to clarify this: God had
decreed to test Abraham's faith by telling him to offer Isaac. Only the
command came to Abraham. God's decree to try Abraham's faith was kept
hidden from the father of the faithful until he had undergone the
    In Scripture the Lord often speaks of the will of His decree. "My
counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure", says the Word of
God in Isaiah's prophecy. Paul testifies that God worketh all things
after the counsel of His own will.
    The will of God's decree is unknown to man, and he must beware of
trying to intrude into it. "The secret things belong unto the Lord our
God", says Moses. Yet it has pleased the Lord at times to reveal
something of His decree to man. So it was in regard to the coming as
well as the suffering and death of Christ, of which the prophets spoke
hundreds of years before. So also God revealed His decree concerning
the judgments that would come upon Israel because of their obstinacy.
"Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto
His servants the prophets." Sometimes the revelation of what God had
determined in His counsel concerned the private life of God's children.
Thus the Holy Spirit witnessed to Paul in every city that bonds and
affliction awaited Him. Paul was also informed what God had intended
concerning his fellow travelers on their terrible voyage to Italy. Then
the great Apostle to the gentiles could encourage the people saying,
"For there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the
ship." It still happens that the Lord is pleased at times to reveal
something of His secret will to His people, whether it be for their own
life, for the church or nation, about judgments to come, or for
protection against dangers. It is still true, "Shall I hide from
Abraham that thing which I do?"
    Yet we ought to be very cautious in this matter. Even in the hearts
of God's people there can be so much that is unholy and deceptive.
Several have been put to shame with what they supposed was a revelation
of God and published such, which was merely the imagination of their
own hearts. God does not waste His grace. We should pay close attention
whether the Lord's work is in our hearts and whether God the Holy
Spirit has made us to understand something of the secrets of His hidden
will. The exact words of a highly esteemed elder of one of our
congregations remain worthy of serious thought, "I think more of those
who pray, than of those who prophesy."
    Rather than inquire into that will, we should be submissive to and
adore that will of God's decree, so that we may yield ourselves into
the hand of the Lord for the future with everything that may befall us
according to His decree. He is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth Him
good. How greatly would we be encouraged as we walk through life and
look upward in adversity. So often we bite upon the stone without
looking to Him that cast it. Submission to God's will would make us as
clay in the hands of the Potter. What a comfort Asaph found in that
immovable will of the Lord, "Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and
afterward receive me to glory." God's people ought always to pray, "Thy
will be done", so that submission to His will may cause them to taste
the comfort that lies in the will of His decree for all that people.
    In addition, the prayer for submission to God's will includes also
submission to the will of God's command. The Catechism speaks very
clearly on that matter, "Grant that we may without murmuring obey Thy
will, which is only good". Obedience refers to the command. The command
is that we hate and flee from sin. All God's commands are included in
these two: to love God above all, and our neighbor as ourselves.
Because of our deep fall we are haters of God and inclined to hate our
neighbor. Although we may not show it in our deeds, do we not cherish
sin in our hearts? By nature we do not have the true love to God's
commandments. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these:
adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry,
witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions,
heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revealings and such like.
    How shall a person pray, "Thy will be done", if he has not truly
learned to hate sin? What nature does not know, in fact, what it
loathes, God's people are taught by His grace. The love of God shed
abroad in our hearts causes us to hate and flee from sin. As we learn
to know and acknowledge ourselves to be what we are, it causes us to
realize that in us, that is in our flesh, dwells no good thing. Against
the sinful rebellion of our hearts in opposition to God's commandment,
there arises a longing that the Lord may unite us with His will so we
may hate what He hates and love what He loves. Only the will of God is
good - not ours, for ours is evil. Submission to God's will is what
God's people need. They need to approve of God's way, allow God to be
the sovereign lawgiver, and love both His will and law. This is what is
necessary in order to be submissive to the will of God.
        "O let Thy Spirit be my constant aid,
        That all my ways may ever be directed
        To keep Thy statutes, so to be obeyed,
        That from all error I may be protected,
        I shall not be ashamed then or afraid,
        When Thy commandment I have e'er respected."
                        (Psalter No. 428:2)
    Such submission to God's will, with the renunciation of our own,
causes us to do what we now wish to give our attention to in that part
of the Catechism which discusses it, namely,
    To perform willingly the duties of our earthly calling. This the
instructor discusses in the last place when he says, "That so everyone
may attend to, and perform the duties of his station and calling, as
willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven".
    The angels in heaven are the angels that did not revolt against
God; that are still in the state of perfection in which God created and
confirmed them. They are God's ministering spirits, sent forth to
minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation.
    Jacob saw God's host sent for his protection, and he called the
name of that place Mahanaim. Elisha also saw himself surrounded at
Dothan by horses and chariots of fire, and upon his prayer his
servant's eyes were opened so that he also saw them. Those mighty,
heavenly hosts are always ready to go at God's command. Everyone is
perfectly willing day and night to fulfill the duties assigned to each
of them according to the celestial order.
    Those perfect angels are placed before us here as examples. As in
heaven, so let God's will be done on earth. No, perfection cannot be
attained on earth. It is laid away in heaven for God's people, but
still their hearts yearn for it. "I follow after, if that I may
apprehend it", says Paul. Since then God seeks perfection, should not
His people desire that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven,
including the performance of the duties of our station and calling? As
the holy angels each receive their calling from God according to the
station in which He placed them, so also every man on earth has his
station and calling from God. Our form for the confirmation of marriage
speaks of the calling wherein God has set you. This is true in civil
life as well. Civil authorities are called of God to their office and
so are the subjects, both common and distinguished, both rich and poor.
    But to agree with God in this is another matter. That I am only a
shoemaker and can rise no higher, while another attains a prominent
place in life; that my station remains low and my income small, while
God elevates another is not to my liking. Oh, it is not in the spirit
of the times to labor willingly. Discontent has taken hold of the
people. You can see in the eyes of thousands that they are far from
acknowledging that it is God Who calls us to our duties and we must
perform them willingly. Riot and revolution are preached. Fundamentally
it is all rebellion against God. Did not He appoint our path of life?
Did not He place us there? Say then that the Lord is unjust! But He is
not! "The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His
works." May His grace make us bow under His will and perform our labor
with joy, and fulfill our duties in social, church, and civil life.
Socialism cannot take deep root in us if we may experience something of
this petition, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". Then we
shall not be so often discouraged, for God cares for those who do His
will, in small matters as well as great. Do not desire what is high and
great. The responsibility is that much heavier, and life that much more
difficult. May the Lord make us faithful in the place where He set us,
and cause us to labor in submission to His will, as willingly as the
angels in heaven do, as we now will sing:
        "By all whom Thou hast made
        Be praise and worship paid
        Through earth abroad;
        Thy Name be glorified,
        There is none great beside,
        Matchless Thy works abide,
        For Thou art God.
        "Help me Thy will to do,
        Thy truth I will pursue,
        Teach me to fear;
        Give me the single eye
        Thy Name to glorify,
        O Lord, my God Most High,
        With heart sincere."
            (Psalter No. 236:1 & 2)
    How much easier life would be for God's people if they could have
more of that full submission to God's will. Thy will be done. in health
or sickness: what does it matter? God's will leads to our eternal
advantage. How many cares and troubles do God's children have here in
this world. How seldom do we pray this prayer in a lively manner. An
unconverted man knows nothing of it. By nature we have subjected
ourselves to the judgment of eternal death. Nevertheless, according to
His counsel, God brought us under the preaching of the Word. He has
given us our place on earth, and we have lacked nothing in spite of all
the sorrows and adversities that have come upon us because of our sins.
Do we ever give it any thought that one day we shall give an account?
God's Word reveals His will to us, namely, that we should hate sin and
love God. Life and death, blessing and curse are proclaimed to us. He
could have given us up, He could have let us go. Where would our place
then be? Is it not true that every heartbeat testifies of God's
goodness? God's people learn to understand something of it when they
cry out, "O God, how can Thou bear with such a one as I am any longer?"
Shall we then live on, cold and indifferent to all this, and have no
care about the revelation of God's will? One day God will return with
the severity of His demand, "What have you done with My will?"
    Oh that God might glorify Himself in our lives by means of His
Word, that we as insignificant mortals may learn to bow down in the
dust before Him our Creator. We would then enjoy the great privilege of
God's children, the inheritance of His elect. They are a blessed people
because they have God for their Father. All things therefore that
befall them in this life will tend to their good. Sometimes they have
that joy in God which the world does not know, the joy which lies in
true submission to the will of the heavenly Father. In this joy they
experience the favour of God, in Him Who entered into death to obtain
for His church the opening of the heart of the Father.
    To experience this benefit, God brings His people into distress,
either internal or external. Often they are visited with afflictions,
so they must live out of the Father's hand. Then again He takes away
their dearest possession on earth, so that they become confounded and
silent. Then in complete submission to the will of God, they are given
to experience what Asaph sang; "My flesh and my heart faileth: but God
is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever". Then God becomes
their satisfying Portion, and they enjoy His Fatherly favour in Christ,
which strengthens them more than choicest foods.
    Let me say to the unconverted, "Look to the Creator of heaven and
earth!" To God's children I would say, "Behold what Christ has merited!
It was His meat to do the will of His Father, even unto the accursed
death of the cross". Oh, that rebellious heart of ours! It will never
be in accord with the will of God. It is grace that gives the victory
and causes us to follow the Lamb withersoever He goes. Then, times of
adversity are often not the worst times for God's dear children. The
Psalmist sang of this in Psalm 94: 12 & 13, "Blessed is the man whom
Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law; that Thou
mayest give him rest from the days of adversity..."
    Here faith is in exercise to believe that the Lord will take care
of us and not forsake us. May we walk more with our blessed Head, for
whose sake God is not only able to grant us all we need for time and
eternity, but as a faithful Father, He is also willing to grant us all
things. Soon the church will come out of the great tribulation, but
their clothes are washed white in the blood of the Lamb. In that
perfection nothing will ever separate us from the love of God which is
in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Kersten, Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2
(continued in part 24...)

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