"Our FATHER Who is in Heaven."
"Our FATHER Who is in Heaven."
1. The Divine FATHERHOOD
2. Fatherhood by CREATION—
3. Fatherhood by REDEMPTION and REGENERATION—
If, then, all people are children of God, they cannot be so in the same sense. Between them there exists the difference of light from darkness, of life from death. It cannot therefore be scriptural to speak of the unregenerate as needing only to see and recognize a relationship already existing. Our Lord declared with solemn emphasis, "Verily, verily, I say to you, Except a man be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Without this new birth he cannot therefore be a child of God. "For you are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus." The "all" is here limited to the possession of faith, which implies filial obedience. No one should be buoyed up with the false hope of being saved by virtue of relationship to the Father, while discarding His love and violating His laws.
May we not then appeal to sinners in any sense as His children? Even the prodigal, far from home and feeding on the husks of his own wickedness, still claimed the relationship, saying—"I will arise and go to my father." He knew that his father loved him still, but he could not obtain the allowance of even one of his father's "servants" if he remained away in guilty rebellion. So long he must expect nothing better than swine for company, and husks for food. There is a vital difference between the dutiful child at home and the rebellious profligate in self-chosen exile, although both may have one father. "This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." Sinners are "lost" until they return to God—they are dead until by believing in Christ they live anew. God is still their Father, inasmuch as He created them, has provided a way for their return, and invites them home. "Return, O backsliding children, says the Lord." Sinners may be appealed to as having in
God a Father who has not ceased to care for them, and who, if they return, will see them when far off, and welcome them home; so that none are excluded from the privilege of thus addressing the Most High—"Our Father in heaven."
4. BLESSINGS involved in Fatherhood—
5. Universal BROTHERHOOD in the Divine Fatherhood—
The "Our" encourages me to say "My." I know God is willing to be Father to me because He is Father to all besides. I shall utterly despair if I am to establish a special personal plea—assurance resulting from my own mind might disappear with tomorrow's clouded sky. It is only as one among mankind that I can begin to call God "my Father." He "so loved the world" as to give His Son to save it. Because Christ is the "propitiation for the sins of the whole world," I put in my claim simply as a sinner. Because God is "Our Father," I claim Him as "My Father."
And now I recognize with new emphasis my relationship to others with whom I share the qualification and the blessing. We are thus taught human brotherhood, while appealing to the Divine fatherhood. "When you pray alone, shut your door—shut out as much as you can the sight and notice of others, but shut not out the interest and good of others" (Leighton). In the very act of asking help for ourselves we are reminded of the aid we owe to one another. We cannot pray acceptably if we pray selfishly. We cannot truly call God "Father" unless we cherish the spirit that would call every man "brother." "Christ says—Bear others upon your heart all through—pray for yourself and them in one—say, 'Our Father,' and prayer is intercession at once. Take your friend with you, your pastor, your Church, your friend—yes, your enemy too, and your slanderer—and kneel with them, as one, in your own prayer and confession. So, at the very spring and fountainhead of your life, you will have cast in the salubrious tree which shall make every Marah of your converse sweetness" (Vaughan).
Thus we are reminded of a corresponding privilege; we share in the prayers of our brethren. What a blessed community of goods! This is indeed the "Communion of saints." All true prayers from filial hearts to "Our Father" bring ourselves into the tide of their benedictions, which help to bear us onward to God. "The most private prayer of the godly is a public good. Every believer has a share in all the prayers of all the rest; for he is a partner in every ship of that kind that sets to sea, and has a portion of all their gainful voyages" (Leighton).
How delightful is the realizing of this fellowship when the whole household—parents, children, servants—gathered round the family altar, seek daily blessings from their Divine Head, and the voices of young and old blend as they invoke the common "Father"! How impressive is it, when a ship's company—officers, seamen, passengers—one family, alike dependent on the care of Him who rides upon the storm, send up from the wide waste of waters this invocation—"Our Father"! And what more impressive part of any service in any congregation, however imposing or however simple the ceremonial, than the blending of the accents of rich and poor, minister and people, in this first word!
This recognition of brotherhood should include all who invoke the one Father. The special interest we feel in "Our Church" should not exclude from our hearts those who, in other organizations and with other forms, call upon "Our Father." How often our Creed has shut Charity out of doors! By whatever term distinguished, all congregations of believers belong to each; and each should regard as brethren "all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours." Varieties of form there must ever be; but while holding our own convictions with loyalty to conscience, we should cultivate brotherhood with all who invoke this Fatherhood. To narrow it by human authority, sectional jealousy, or personal antipathy; to cut ourselves off from the fellowship of any who, in the name of Christ and by the Holy Spirit, call God "Father," is a schism which this prayer condemns. How different from the mind of Christ, who said, "Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; One God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all."
This brotherhood in "Our Father" extends to the various conditions of social life. Rich and poor, master and servant, prince and peasant, queen and cottager, unite in one and the same confession, which should abate pride in the lofty and envy in the low, and prompt us to "bear one another's burdens." "This shows how far the equality reaches between the king and the poor man, if in things the greatest we all of us are fellows. No one has anything more than another—neither the rich more than the poor master than servant—ruler than subject—philosopher than barbarian—scholar than unlearned. For to all He has given one nobility, having given to be called Father of all alike" (Chrysostom).
This is the only real equality, the true Christian Socialism; not a bringing down of any, but a leveling up of all into the relationship of sons of God. The writer can never forget the exclamation of a negro woman, amid a congregation of recently emancipated slaves at Richmond, Virginia, to whom he had been preaching from the words, "Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted"—"When I feel the love of God in my heart, I know I belong to the royal family of heaven."
This word "Our" embraces nations. "Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?" The monopoly of the Fatherhood by the Jews to the exclusion of the Gentiles, and the haughty disdain of the Greeks towards barbarians, were grandly rebuked by Paul on Mars Hill, when he told the Athenians that "God has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth." All nations! colored and white, are included in the command to each member of the one brotherhood—"All things whatever you would that men should do to you, do even so to them." How would the recognition of this brotherhood influence the foreign policy of so-called Christian nations! There is but one law for us as individuals and as communities. We do not cease to be under the law of Christ when our responsibility is shared in a committee, or a senate, or an executive government. As all the inhabitants of the globe, however different their longitude, are lighted by the same sun in the course of every twenty-four hours; so, all men who pray this prayer, though as regards nationality, station and culture, they are opposites of each other, fix their eyes upon the same Throne of Grace, and invoke the same Father. What a bond to our otherwise dissevered humanity is this word "Our"! It ignores conventional exclusiveness; overleaps sectarian barriers; disregards social distinctions; knows nothing of crowns and coronets, titles and decorations; disdains the boundaries of mountains and rivers; sets at nothing varieties of hue and language; and sees only, springing from the one Fatherhood of God, the one Brotherhood of man. Thus the gospel, by drawing all men to the Father, draws all men to one another.
6. The MAJESTY of the Father—"in HEAVEN"
excluded from nothing; beneath all things, but not depressed under anything; above all things, but not lifted up out of the reach of anything" (Augustine). "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" "Behold, the heaven, and heaven of heavens, cannot contain You." But we may conceive of some region where God is specially manifested. Christ's ascended body is beheld and worshiped by angels and saints. "Christ has entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us," still revealing the Father. But we severely miss the purpose of these words if we dwell on ideas of mere locality.
By this word we are taught that God is not a vague abstraction, or unknowable force, but an actual Personality, existing somewhere, distinct from ourselves. We look beyond this earth to the immeasurable regions above us. We soar beyond the clouds and the blue sky; beyond the sun, the planets, and the stars; and we believe that everywhere in that immensity is God our Father. His works we see, but He is not His works. We are His creatures, but we are not God. Between Him and ourselves there are personal and distinct relations. We are His creatures, He is our Creator; we His children, He our Father; we on earth, He in heaven.Agnosticism would ignore God; Pantheism confound Him with His works; Paganism bring Him down from the boundless heaven and limit Him to this visible universe as the God of the sun, moon, ocean, or dry land.
But this word teaches that while we address Him on earth, He is still in heaven. We need not despair of finding Him because throned above—we need not wish to bring Him to earth and detain Him here, in order at all times to approach Him. In the person of His Son He satisfied the yearnings of the race that God should visit man; but in the Resurrection and Ascension we worship the Incarnate One no longer in the cave of the Nativity, nor on the cross of Calvary, but "on the right hand of the Majesty on high." We look above ourselves for help, even to the sublimest heights of Divine glory; without despairing on account of the vast distance, for though in heaven, He is our Father, and we on earth can hold filial communion with Him.
1. The term "in heaven" is suggestive of Dignity—The measureless expanse helps us to the conception of infinity. The beauty of the blue ether; the radiant glory of the sun, the mild majesty of the moon, the varying splendors of the countless stars—all impress the mind with admiration and awe. "Heaven is my throne," "You have set Your glory above the heavens," and He is our Father!2. Power—The resistless winds, the rolling clouds, the lightning's flash and thunder's peal, the revolution of the heavenly bodies by forces so stupendous, suggest Omnipotence. "The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies shows His handiwork." "He meted out heaven with the span." "By His Spirit He has garnished the heavens." "Can you hold back the movements of the stars? Are you able to restrain the Pleiades or Orion? Can you ensure the proper sequence of the seasons or guide the constellation of the Bear with her cubs across the heavens?" Our Father is on the seat of supreme dominion; above all circumstances, and can control them; stronger than all the forces of nature, and can make them serve His fatherly will; mightier than the enemies of His children; His love as Father moves the arm of Omnipotence. Earthly parents often have the desire, but lack the ability to help their children. But our Father is in heaven, and therefore "mighty to save."3. Knowledge—Standing on a plain or in a valley, we see only a little way; but as we climb a tower or a mountain, we extend our view. Still wider is our vision if in an air-balloon we float through our lower heavens. So the idea of knowledge is suggested by the word "heaven." "The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any who understand." We are reminded that our Father, who is in heaven, sees and knows all things. He looks through the eternity past and future. He sees the end from the beginning. He knows the secret purposes of all men; all we are, do, need; and can never be unmindful of one of His children, nor fail to listen to their cry, "for God sees under the whole heaven."4. Purity—The perfect clearness of the atmosphere above the region of the clouds is a fit emblem of the character of God. "He covers Himself with light as with a garment;" "dwelling in light which no man can approach." "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." No thought of evil can taint His nature. None of the moral imperfections which often deprive children of the help they need from earthly parents, can for a moment overshadow Him whom angels adore, saying, "Holy, holy, holy!"5. Mystery—The measureless expanse of the heavens, the number and motions of the stars, the phenomena of meteors and comets, the mysteries of wind and weather—these suggest our ignorance in reference to other departments of the Divine government. Order pervades the physical universe notwithstanding the mystery; and so we are sure that though "clouds and darkness are round about" our Father, yet "righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.""The ways of heaven are dark and intricate;
Our understanding traces them in vain,
Lost and bewildered in the fruitless search,
Nor sees with how much are the windings run,
Nor where the regular confusion ends."
6. Constancy—Whatever the mystery, order and regularity are conspicuous with every advance of astronomical science. There is no hurrying and no delay. No efforts of man can interfere with the working of those forces, so sublime both in might and minuteness. And our Father is steadfast in His loving purposes. Earthly parents may be swayed by current opinions, the influence of others, their own caprice; they may become impatient, self-indulgent, or weary of forgiving and assisting; but our Father, because He is in heaven, like the unchanging stars, abides ever. "I the Lord change not, therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed." Earthly parents die—but "when my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up." "Our fathers, where are they?"—but "the Lord lives;" for He is our "Father in heaven."7. Nearness—However distant the utmost limit of the heavens, we are at their very threshold. Our littleness always touches the infinite that reaches beyond the stars. We feel its influences, we see its light. And this is the same in every part of the globe. And so we are taught that if God is in the heavens, He is always near to us, and we to Him, and all mankind to Him, and therefore to one another in Him; and so we again are reminded of our Brotherhood in the Fatherhood. Every tiny dewdrop sparkles with the sun's own light, and in its smaller sphere reflects the whole circle of the sky, and brings heaven down to earth–"And the clear region where 'twas born,
Round in itself encloses
And in its little globe's extent,
Frames, as it can, its native element."
So each individual soul may appropriate the blessings of this heavenly relationship, and shine in the light of its native Home and Father, God. He is reflected in every filial heart. And as the dewdrop equally portrays the heavens, whether radiant from wayside hedge or castle-slope, so, wherever we may be and whatever our earthly station, we may shine in the light of God and rejoice in "heaven begun below."
VII. PRACTICAL LESSONS—
With confidence a loving child tells everything to a loving parent. A secret is a burden until revealed. Joys and sorrows are alike poured forth to listening love. Does some unexpected pleasure present itself, the child says, "I must tell father!" Does somedanger threaten or is pain felt, the ready instinct is at once to tell father. He will soothe the pain, protect from the peril, explain the difficulty, rejoice in the joy. "God's children in all their troubles should run to their heavenly Father as that sick child who cried, 'My head! my head!' So pour out your problems to God—'Father! my heart! my heart! my dead heart—quicken it! my hard heart—soften it in Christ's blood! Father, my heart! my heart!'" (Watson). So let us confide in God. Let our filial trust respond to His paternal love. O for more of the childlike communion which He invites! O for more simplicity in prayer; more habitual, trustful, happy, all-embracing, nothing-withholding outpour of the heart as to "Our Father"!
Let us not fear that such communion will be reproved. If an earthly father loves such signs of filial affection, He who has given us the Spirit of adoption will never be deaf to this appeal—Father! There are times when it is the only word we are able to utter. When we are unable to define what we feel, and can only say "Father!" we utter a word He never fails to hear. There may be more real prayer in that one word than in a whole liturgy. No imperfection in method will nullify its efficacy. An earthly parent never refuses the letter that breathes affection because blotted or misspelled. What blottings are there in our holy things! Yet our Father in heaven accepts us. Says God, 'He is my child; and he will do better.' A prince might stand on ceremony and reject the petition incorrectly drawn up, but no child of God need fear that the imperfections of sincere appeals will ever hinder their entrance to the Father's heart.
No words can adequately set forth the blessedness of those who can thus, however poor, call on God. They have a wealth beyond earth's arithmetic, who look up from humblest hovel or stony pillow and say, My Father! However sick, theirs is a solace beyond all that medical skill or tenderest nursing or boundless treasures can furnish. However unknown in the world, theirs is an honor no earthly prince could confer, in the luster of which all the splendors of royalty pale. How paltry are the prizes some spend their lives and wear away their hearts to win, compared with the real nobility, the deep abiding peace of the humblest of those who can say, "Our Father in heaven."
Does my cup flow over with gladness? I know who fills it—nor less when it is filled with woe. Amid the roaring of the winds and waves I hear Him say, "My child," and I respond and say, "My Father!" no less than when there is a great calm. His reproofs are blessings. His blows are boons. His withholdings are conferrings. He delays only to augment. He impoverishes to enrich.
2. Reverence—If the word "Father" gives confidence—the word "In Heaven" teaches reverence. "O come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker." The unfallen angels who need not say, "Forgive us," veil their faces before Him. The Elders in the Revelation "fall down before Him who sits on the throne." Sinners on earth, though privileged to call Him "Father," should not be less reverential. Those who are learning more and more of the meaning of this word, become increasingly humble thereby. It is only in such hearts that the voice of God is heard—it is only in such children that the Father dwells.For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place; but also with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit." Isaiah 57:15. How astonishing that God has two homes—"Eternity" and the contrite, humble heart! The highest heaven is the habitation of His glory! The humble heart is the habitation of His grace!And this reverence is not in spite of the confidence, but is caused by it. Instead of saying, "Notwithstanding our privileges," we say, "In consequence of them." The more intimate we become with some person of eminent wisdom and goodness, the more we respect as well as love him; the more by nearness we are able to detect faults, the more we become impressed with the absence of them. Familiarity, instead of breeding contempt, increases reverence. It was said of Augustus, that those who feared him, did not know his goodness; nor those who presumed, his power. But goodness itself, even more than power, often produces reverence. Some earthly parents are so tender and sympathetic, making such allowance for the weakness and ignorance of their children—that the children have no hesitation in coming to them on all occasions and opening their inmost hearts. This closeness of intimacy so reveals the character of those parents, that with the tenderest love there grows an ever-deepening reverence, so that any omission of dutiful respect would be almost an impossibility.
So will it be with the children of God. When our Lord encouraged Thomas to handle Him and see, this condescension called forth the adoring homage—"My Lord, and my God." The beloved disciple who was permitted to lean on the Savior's bosom was more than all the rest imbued with a sense of His Divine majesty, and left an enduring record of the homage He receives in heaven. Paul rejoiced in saying, "Abba, Father," but He said, "I bow my knees unto the Father, of whom the whole family in earth and heaven is named."
3. Gratitude—"Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!" We "love Him, because He first loved us." The reason why we should "love the Lord our God with all our heart," is this—He is our "Father." Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift—even Himself! What gratitude should be ours to Him who, having given Himself, will surely give us all things else!4. Resemblance—A child often reminds us of its parents by its features, manner and tone of voice. So we should be "Followers (imitators) of God as dear children." Much of a child's obedience is spontaneous. He naturally conforms to the wishes of the parent, the customs of the home. And the more we cultivate filial communion with our Heavenly Father, breathe the atmosphere of His Presence and listen to His voice, the less shall we be alive to external and contrary influences; the more we shall reflect His image, echo His words, think His thoughts, and, as children, become "partakers of the Divine Nature." We are to be "perfect, even as our Father who is in heaven is perfect," by imitating the broad beneficence of Him who "makes His sun to shine on the evil and on the good." We are to be peacemakers, and so obtain the fulfillment of the promise—"They shall be called the children of God." We should "walk worthy of the vocation with which we are called." We should, as children of a king, not degrade ourselves by stooping to anything unbecoming our high birth. Is our Father in heaven? We should set our affections on things above. Does He dwell in the light that no man can approach? Let us "walk as children of light." From His lofty throne does He behold every child of His? Let us "do always those things which are well-pleasing in His sight."5. Assurance—These filial characteristics constitute the only valid evidence of sharing the filial relationship. John said—"Let no man lead you astray—he who does righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous." So we may say, "He who feels and acts as a child of God is a child of God, even as He is Father to such children." "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." This cannot be a mere persuasion of our own minds. It is fanaticism to think all is right, while the life shows all is wrong. There are here two witnesses—the Holy Spirit and our own spirit, and these concur. They testify that we are children of God. But the Spirit so witnessing is "the Spirit of adoption." "You received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." Father! dear Father! the repetition of the name expressing tenderness of affection. Do we thus cry to God? Do we in penitence say, "I will go to my Father"? Do we in submission say, "My Father, Your will be done!"? And is it our desire to do His will? If so, we do cry, "Abba, Father"—"dear Father!" This is our own spirit thus crying out; but it is inspired by the Divine Spirit who is the Spirit of adoption, producing such a temper of mind. Our own spirit expressing sonship, responds to Him who is the Spirit of sonship, and who thus testifies within us that we are the children of God; not that we shall become so, but that we are so now. We need not wish to read our names in the Lamb's book of life; if "Abba, Father," is written on our hearts, that is the seal of the Spirit testifying that "Now are we the sons of God," because now, actually, we think of Him, and feel and act in reference to Him as to "Our Father."6. Hope—This assurance awakens in us those hopes which the sons of God may reasonably cherish. "If children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ." Children naturally claim what is their father's. They speak without presumption of his property as their own—"our garden," "our carriage," "our house;" and if God is our Father, there is a sure sense in which all that is His belongs to every child of His. Every one of them, however poor, is thus possessor of the universe, and may say, "All things are mine."His are the mountains, and the valleys his,
And the resplendent rivers. His to enjoy
With a propriety that none can feel,
But who, with filial confidence inspired,
Can lift to heaven an unpresumptuous eye,
And smiling say, 'My Father made them all!'
Therefore the heaven where his Father dwells, is his also. Jesus said—"In my Father's house are many mansions; I go to prepare a place for you—where I am, there you shall be also." Amid the toils and trials of the way, let us be encouraged by thinking of the repose, safety, purity and joy of that heaven toward which its God, our Father, is guiding us. Jesus said "I go to my Father and your Father." If He is ours, we also shall go to Him, and we are sure that "in His presence there is fullness of joy, and at His right hand there are pleasures for evermore."7. Prayerfulness—In the new Law Courts in London there is a grand central hall out of which, all around, are entrances to the chambers where lawsuits of various descriptions are tried. And so, having entered into the meaning of this appeal, "Our Father who is in heaven," we are provided with free access in the presentation of every petition! To fix the mind on God as our Father, and in heaven, is the best remedy for wandering thoughts and depressing doubts. We may well pray that such a Name may be hallowed; that the kingdom of such a Monarch may come; that the will of such a Father may be done; we may with confidence ask daily bread, and forgiveness, and help in temptation, and deliverance from evil, at the hands of a God who has taught us to call Him "Father." "This is the golden thread on which all the precious fruits are strung" (Saphir). This is the key to every door in the prayer. This is everywhere a ladder up which our petitions may climb to the highest heaven. We can always scale the skies with this one word—"Father"!The whole prayer is condensed in the first invocation and bears its name—the "Our Father." This is a word easily uttered, but never fully known. "The 'Our Father' is not, as some fancy, the easiest, the most natural of all devout utterances. It may be committed to memory quickly, but it is slowly learned in the heart" (Maurice). How deep its significance! How it enfolds all the promises! It is the very gospel itself—and means pardon, reconciliation, favor, holiness, blessedness, heaven! What encouragement is here held out to every sinner! If God shows us in the light of His love how great our sin must be—His being a Father encourages us to seek forgiveness. We have not to think about 'inducing' Him to be kind. He has not to be turned from being an angry Ruler into a gracious Father. He is this already! As such He is calling us home. "Before you call I will answer." However far we have wandered, if only we desire to come back—"Thus says the Lord, I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears." "Christ says, When you pray—when you first begin to pray—when the thought first comes to you, I am not happy, I am not at peace, I am far from home—say, at once, without waiting for fitness—without raising the question of a satisfactory repentance—without investigating your evidences whether of Christian faith or godly sorrow—begin by saying—'Father,' begin by going straight home" (Vaughan).
Return by the one and only way, Christ Jesus, who taught this prayer, died for our sins, and "makes intercession for the transgressors." Our response, "Abba, Father"—brings us home! Do we seem to dwell in the black shadow of His displeasure? It rests only on the region of alienation—let us leave it by returning to God—and we are at once in the sunshine! Do we dread the thunderbolt of justice? let us come nearer to Him who holds it—He will cast it away, and hold out the golden scepter of mercy! No one desiring to live as a child of God need despair while this word "Father" is inscribed on His throne. No love is so comprehensive, tender, enduring. He is in heaven, and "as the heaven is high above the earth—so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him."
"There is no place where earth's sorrows
Are so felt as up in Heaven
There is no place where earth's failings
Have such kindly judgment given.
Oh, if our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives should be all sunshine,
In the sweetness of our Lord." —Faber