Meditations on the Lord's Prayer
Newman Hall, 1889
The INVOCATION—"Our FATHER Who is in Heaven."
1. The Divine FATHERHOOD—
We look back with loving remembrance to our first
conscious acts of prayer. We think of the kind father who told us of our
other Father above the blue sky—or we recall the time when we knelt at our
mother's knee, and felt her soft hand hold ours, as she taught our
child-lips to say, "Our Father in heaven." So, when the Church was in its
infancy, the Savior, acting towards His disciples as to "one whom his mother
comforts," taught that infant Church to pray. And now, in its maturity, that
Church recalls the early lesson, and treasures those sweet words, and with
no epithet so loves to approach God as with this—"Our Father in heaven."
"The invisible things of God are clearly seen by the
things that are made; even His eternal power and Godhead." But the heart
yearns for more. In our own nature there are emotions as well as thoughts.
Our relationships and their instincts are more than what we possess or do.
Of these none are stronger than the parental. Children know the treasure of
a father's, a mother's tender affection, and the happiness of confiding to
them every sorrow or desire; and parents know how musical is the voice of
the loving child, and their delight to listen and help.
Can such feelings be shared by Deity? Not if He be a mere
abstraction, a force, a formula—or if, being a Person, He is only calm
thought and inexorable will. But why may I not regard Him as Father, if He
is known by His works? The noblest of these works is man, and He made man in
His own image—therefore in all that we most admire in human nature we may
trace the Creator as much as in the flowers and the stars. We may then infer
resemblance in the Divine nature to this fatherliness in human nature; the
faultless ideal of the copy which, though sin has defaced it, is yet so
We are not left to speculation. He has made His nature
known in the man Christ Jesus. What other form could be so appropriate if
man himself was made after the image of God—an image existing therefore from
eternity? What if God did not only adopt our nature, but also manifest to
men the Eternal Type from which man was originally molded; so that Christ
was the very Image of God, because perfect man? And now, God "manifest in
the flesh," He who could say, "He who has seen me has seen the Father," is
asked by men how they may best approach God, by what name know Him, what
relationship claim with Him. And God, incarnate in the man, speaking to men,
some of whom felt the tenderness of parental love, all of whom knew the
trustful love of children, replied—"When you pray, say, Father"! Not
"Great Creator," "Majestic Ruler," "Omniscient Judge"—He is all these—but
the idea of Him we are habitually to cherish, the title we are chiefly to
use, is one which assures us that our prayer will certainly be heard, for
God Himself teaches us to call Him "Father."
Some say it is only a figure of speech. They may give it
a grand name, and call it an anthropomorphism. But suppose, in using a term
adapted to our nature, God employs the exact term adapted to the model on
which that nature was framed; so that, instead of borrowing from human
paternity, human paternity is only an imperfect copy of His own? How they
err who deem they exalt the Divine Majesty by denying it such emotions as
this term suggests; "who would make heaven clear by making it cold, and
would assert the dignity of the Divine Essence by emptying it of its love,
and reducing it into nothingness" (Maurice).
Figures of speech are not facts, but may mean much more.
Earth's facts must be infinitely inferior to heaven's glories, yet may help
us to conceive of them. A figure used by God is not a fiction, but a
gracious method to assist our infant powers to attain some faint idea of
what exceeds all power of language. He who made the father's heart, and
knows what is in man, adopts the title "Father," and bids us so address Him.
Indistinctly seen by Old Testament saints, this truth, which is life and
immortality, was brought into clearer light by the gospel. The title
"Father," feebly felt, was seldom uttered by the lips of worshipers who
adored the Almighty God, the infinite "I AM." Now we know that among all
other titles there is none He so loves to hear from His children as this.
Thus approaching, we recognize His power without trembling, and adore His
holiness without shrinking; we can exult in all His perfections as children
who share in His honor, and while bowing before Him with reverence may
rejoice with confidence.
Atheism says there is nothing but what we perceive by
our senses; and that all things are the result of law that has no author,
and forces that have no originator. Pantheism, with a web of words,
would entangle God in His works, and blend the soul itself with Deity.
Paganism, admitting personality, represents Him, one or multiform, as a
Being whom it is necessary to placate by offerings, and whom we must
approach with dread. But the soul, divinely taught, rejoices to recognize a
personal God who is not wrath but love, and who bids us approach Him with
child-like confidence. Agnosticism has searched the universe and has
found many things, but cannot discover God. It says, if such a Being exists,
He hides Himself from most diligent search of geologist, chemist and
astronomer. If existent, He is unknown and unknowable.
How blessed those who are as certain He is their Father
as they are that He exists; who by faith see His face, hear His voice, feel
His hand and respond to His love; who have daily communion with Him; and
ever coming forth anew from such communion are more sure of His Being than
they are of that of any earthly friend. He is not to them an "Unknown God."
The little child, shrinking timidly from every stranger,
flies to its father's open arms. He may be gigantic in form and solemn in
feature; and as he returns from field of toil or scene of strife, may be to
others an object of fear; but his own little one, as father's step is heard
on the threshold, runs to clasp his knee and be folded in his arms. And so
the mighty God, before whom angels veil their faces, encourages us to run
and welcome His advance, to trust Him, to love Him as "Our Father."
2. Fatherhood by CREATION—
Earthly parents are only links in the chain of dependent
causation; but He who made all things is God. Whatever the methods, whether
by a separate fiat creating each distinct species in its full maturity, or
whether by slow process of evolution from lower forms, a Primal Originator
there must be, adequate in power and wisdom to form a universe replete with
evidences of strength and design. In all things we trace
"The unambiguous footsteps of the God
Who gives its luster to an insect's wing,
And wheels His throne upon the rolling worlds.
Nature is but a name for an effect,
Whose cause is God. . . . Not a flower
But shows some touch in freckle, streak, or stain,
Of His unrivaled pencil." —Cowper
Strange, that in an age of scientific discovery any
should fail to recognize the Designer of works which, the better they are
known, inspire the more admiration. Lord Bacon said he would rather believe
all the fables of the Talmud or Koran, than that this universal frame of
nature was without a God. Of all the evidences of a wise Creator, none are
more impressive than those nearest to us—in man himself. Every advance in
anatomical and physiological science demonstrates more clearly that we are
"fearfully and wonderfully made." Any single organ should suffice for
proof—the hand, the foot, the ear, the eye; each fitted for special service;
the marvelous mechanism within—for all functions necessary for life; the
adaptation of these to each other; the intellectual and moral nature in
harmony with the physical; and all with the external world—so distinctly
speak their Divine Original, that even heathen writers, as the poet quoted
by Paul, confessed, "We are also His offspring."
I see a portrait and admire the outline, the coloring,
the character revealed in eye and mouth. I contemplate a statue, so perfect
in its representation of the human form that the marble seems to breathe.
Should any suggest that no painter had drawn skillful brush across that
canvas, that no sculptor with cunning chisel had shaped that marble, but
that both had come into existence without any personal agency, such a critic
would be regarded either as joking or as insane. And can I look on the human
artist possessing the life of which his productions only wear the semblance,
and refuse to recognize in him the handiwork of the Divine Artist, the
Father of men?
3. Fatherhood by REDEMPTION and REGENERATION—
Although, as Creator, God is the Father of all men, yet,
as "all men have sinned," they have forfeited the higher privileges of
sonship, our restoration to which was the object of the mission of Christ.
"The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost." The nature of
His mediation, it is not the purpose of these pages to discuss; but the
result is stated by the Evangelist—"As many as received Him, to them gave He
the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name;"
and by Paul—"God sent forth His Son, to redeem those who were under the law,
that we might receive the adoption of sons." Sonship is here restricted to
believers in Christ. Sentence of banishment is annulled, and their unfitness
for dwelling in God removed. All others remain in a state of alienation. To
the Jews who boasted, "We have one Father, even God," Christ replied, "If
God were your Father, you would love me—you are of your father the devil."
"The good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the
children of the wicked one." "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they
are the sons of God," and receive "the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry,
Abba, Father." Those who are "dead in trespasses and sins" are "the children
of wrath, even as others." The distinction is again clearly drawn by
John—"Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we
should be called children of God! Whoever is begotten of God does not sin.
In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil." It
was only to disciples Jesus said—"I ascend to my Father and your Father."
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—
1. Love—That "God
is Love" is a grand revelation—that God is "Father" is grander still. This
comes home to the heart. It has more beneath it and not less than our
loftiest conceptions can picture and our strongest yearnings crave. Earthly
parents, the tenderest and best, do not fully realize the Divine ideal of
fatherhood, and therefore human experience inadequately represents what God
is to His children. How great, then, is the encouragement given us to pray
when we address God as Father! All pleas are blended in this one opening
word—"Father." Earthly parents love their children before those
children love them, in spite of very inaccurate knowledge, feeble affection,
imperfect obedience, and even rebellion; they love them unselfishly, hoping
for nothing but the response of love, the value of any service by those
children being the love that prompts it. So our Father loves us with all the
love the word can suggest, and can do all that such love desires.
earthly parent provides for the child, which, at least in its early life,
would otherwise perish. So our Father in heaven cares for us. "No good thing
will He withhold." He who made us "knows our frame." "Your heavenly Father
knows that you have need of all these things." He feeds the fowls of the
air; much more His children. Only during childhood do we absolutely depend
on an earthly parent—but we never cease to need and experience our heavenly
Father's care. In the person of Jesus He appealed to the heart of earthly
fathers. If, though degenerate and selfish, they give their children the
good things needed, how much more will the perfectly righteous and loving
Father act in accordance with His name! If He gives the greater gift of His
Spirit, whereby we say "Father," He will not deny those lesser gifts
required for the body in which that Spirit dwells.
earthly parent offers a weak emblem of our heavenly Father's guardian care.
His omniscience keeps watch over us, His omnipotence shelters us, His
providence directs us. "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are
the everlasting arms." "God is our refuge and strength; therefore will not
we fear;" for this refuge is "Our Father."
wise father neglects the educating of the faculties of his child. He will
never allow mere fondness, the pleasure of the hour, to supersede the
training needed for the long future of life. So our heavenly Father trains
His children for His service and glory. He instructs them by His word and
Spirit, and exercises them in all godliness. Many a difficult lesson must be
learned, many a hard task performed. Like children at school, we sometimes
question the utility and murmur at the difficulty of the lesson. Much that a
father insists on in the education of his child can be appreciated only in
relation to the enlarging capacity of the child for the work of manhood. So
our Father seeks not merely our present comfort, but our permanent
well-being. He is training us for immortality.
"The ills we see,
The mysteries of sorrow, deep and long,
The dark enigmas of permitted wrong,
Have all one key;
This strange sad world is but our Father's school,
All chance and change His love shall grandly overrule.
How sweet to know
The trials which we cannot comprehend
Have each their own divinely purposed end:
He trains so
For higher learning, ever onward reaching
For fuller knowledge yet, and His own deeper teaching.
What though today
You cannot trace at all the hidden reason
For his strange dealings through the trial season,
Trust and obey.
In after life and light all shall be plain and clear."
reproof is even more painful to the parent than to the child, it would be
unkind clemency and pernicious selfishness to withhold it. A child without
discipline grows up to be a misery to itself, and a plague to others. So our
heavenly Father will permit no child of His to perish through lack of
needful correction. "Whom the Lord loves He chastens. God deals with you as
with sons; for what son is he whom the father does not chasten?" If even the
"Captain of Salvation" was "made perfect through suffering," much more is it
necessary for God, "in bringing many sons unto glory," to appoint for them
the "tribulation that works patience, and patience experience, and
experience hope." Sorrows which He sends are among the "all things" that
"work together for good;" because He is
"A Father, whose authority, in show
When most severe, and mustering all its force,
Is but the graver countenance of love:
Whose favor, like the clouds of spring, may lower,
And utter now and then a dreadful voice,
But has a blessing in its darkest frown,
Threatening at once, and nourishing the plant."
idea is bound up in the very words Father, Mother. What earthly
comforter can be compared to a mother? Bearing her little one in her bosom,
shielding it from the cold, supplying its needs from her own life-stream,
soothing its griefs by her tender caresses and the gentle murmur of her
voice, "dandling it on her knees" (as the divinely-directed prophet
graphically depicts); then, when grown older, entering into all its childish
griefs and troubles, not despising them because trifles to her, but
patiently listening and earnestly consoling, because to that little one
those troubles are real and great—afterwards, when the child has become the
man, so making his sorrows her own that the heart, locked up perhaps to all
besides, can unburden itself on that bosom where in infancy it first found
solace—never wearied by the long enumeration of woes, and by what to others
would be the tedious repetition of the same sad tale; cheerfully sharing the
trouble even when there may be little hope of lightening it; never treating
it with levity or indifference; advising, but at such a time never rebuking!
Even when that child may have been the cause of her bitterest grief—when his
troubles have come on him by his own folly or wickedness—when he has
forsaken his childhood's home and scorned its love, yet, when he comes to
her with a heart bursting with anguish, forgetting all his faults in the
contemplation of his sorrows, and with undiminished tenderness folding him
to her bosom, wiping his tears, palliating his errors, pleading his cause—O
how a mother comforts!
And God who inspired that maternal tenderness, and who
gave the father's heart its pity, says—"As a father pities his children, so
the Lord pities those who fear Him;" and, "As one whom his mother comforts,
so will I comfort you." How fully assured may we be that the compassion of
any earthly parent is surpassed by Him who says, "Can a woman forget her
nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Yes, they may forget, yet will not I forget you." All this, and much more
than this, was revealed by Him who, as the Word, came to express in His
spirit and conduct as man the tender compassion of "the God of all
consolation," "Our Father."
father does not treat his children as strangers or visitors, but is on terms
of loving familiarity. They are not kept at a distance, as courtiers by a
stately monarch, but are "at home" with him. Even so we may draw near to
God, not merely on stated occasions of solemn worship, but in our chamber,
and amid the varied toils, sorrows and joys of daily life. Not only may we
bring to Him our greatest necessities and bitterest griefs, but all our
little cares, purposes, hopes and fears, and know He loves to listen.
father's wish to lay up in store for his children may be carried to excess,
so as to foster idleness in his son. Many a rich heir has been ruined by
wealth for which he did not work. And at the best, the inheritance
bequeathed lasts but for a little while. But God provides "an inheritance
incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away"—wealth which we could
never secure by our own exertions, yet the hope of which stimulates to
industry and makes us rich indeed. If we are "children, then heirs; heirs of
God, joint-heirs with Christ."
5. Universal BROTHERHOOD in the Divine Fatherhood—
Many use the word "OUR" thoughtlessly, forgetting that it
implies the individual acceptance of God in this relationship. It is
comparatively easy to recognize a general fatherhood in God, without
yielding the heart in solemn surrender, saying, "My Father." The
prodigal said, "I will arise and go to my Father." Thus all sinners
must return one by one. Thus every believer with adoring faith exclaims, "My
Lord and my God." So Christ teaches in this very discourse. "You, when
you pray, enter into your closet, and pray to your Father who is
in secret; and your Father, which sees in secret, shall reward you
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
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"
The Heidelberg Catechism replies to the question– Why is
this added? 'In order that there may not be anything earthly in our
conception of the heavenly majesty of God.' The word "heaven" is not to be
explained as referring to some definite locality to which Deity is confined.
The Infinite Spirit cannot be localized. "God is within all things, but is
shut up in nothing; outside all things, but
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
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
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!
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."
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."
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!"
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
"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."
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."
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
"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—
1. Filial Confidence—We
should absolutely rely on the representation He gives of Himself. Bible
names express qualities—they are descriptions, not mere designations. As
"Jehovah" means the Self-existent; and "Jesus" means Savior; so "Father" is
an assurance of what God actually is. He who cannot lie will prove Himself
to be all He thus expresses, more than all we can conceive. May we not
therefore "come with boldness to the throne of grace," when He who sits
there is "Our Father"? As "Our Father" He must desire to give us all that is
good for us, and being "in heaven" He is able to fulfill all the yearnings
of His fatherly heart. To those who can in faith say "Father," the Apostle
says "All things are yours." "What will not the Father give to sons seeking
Him, who has already bestowed this—that they are His sons!" (Augustine).
Never should we doubt the love that prompts, the power that
executes, or the wisdom that directs.
It is related of three little children, that during a
thunderstorm they were asked each to choose a favorite text. One selected
"The Lord of glory thunders," and being asked her reason, said, "I once
heard a great noise when I thought I was all alone in the house; and I was
so frightened, I screamed, and father's voice called out, Don't be
afraid, little Margie, it's only father. And now when it thunders very
loud, it always seems as if I heard God say, 'Don't be afraid, little
Margie, it's only Father;' and I don't feel a bit frightened."
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 some danger
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.
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
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
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
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!
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
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."
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."
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