The FILIAL Spirit of
the Lords Prayer.
"Our Father." Matthew 6:9.
When our Lord Jesus sealed this Divinely Paternal Name
upon the lips of His disciples, He was, as their Authorised Teacher,
instructing them in the holy art of prayer. He alone was competent to the
task. Himself the Object, as, mediatorially, the Medium of
prayer, He was in every way fitted to lead them, in the spirit of filial
worship, within the veil into the Holiest. In complying with their request,
"Lord, teach us to pray," His first lesson, obviously, was to unfold the
Paternal relationship in which God stood to them. This was a lost truth
to our sinning and sinful race. In forfeiting his own sonship, man had
forfeited the Fatherhood of God. In demanding his portion of the patrimony,
and then turning his back upon his Father, he became an orphan and a
fugitive upon the earth, the parental image as completely effaced from his
soul, as the consciousness of his sonship was from his heart.
Such was the great truth our Lord presented to His
disciples in instructing them to approach God in prayer. From no other
teacher could they learn that God was their Father by adopting grace; and
from no other source could they receive the Spirit whereby they should
approach Him in filial love. Christ only could restore this lost truth, and
supply the broken link which once united God and man in parental love and in
filial worship. Thus the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God in its relation
to His Church is a doctrine of Divine revelation. It made its advent
amid the holy scenes of Bethlehem; was uttered in sobs of woe in Gethsemane;
was written in atoning blood on Calvary; and was ratified amid the
resurrection splendors which encircled the tomb in Joseph's garden.
We seek not, in thus vindicating the Divine revelation of
this doctrine, to lessen the force of the fact that the relation of God to
man as a Father by CREATION was a truth recognized by the pagan world. Paul,
in his memorable address to the Athenians, quoting from one of their Gentile
poets, attests this fact. "In Him we live and move and have our being, as
certain of your own poets have said, For we are His offspring." Thus the
human race may trace its ancestry to Eden, and its origin to "the Father of
But the Lord Jesus presented the Parental relation of God
in a newer light, encircled with a diviner luster, associated with holier
obligations, and blended with a more transcendent glory--as the covenant God
and Father of His people by electing love, most free and sovereign grace.
And if, as we wander over earth's beauties, descend its valleys and climb
its steeps, luxuriating amid the wonders and glories of God's creative
power, we exultingly exclaim, "My Father made them all!" what must be
the height of our admiration, what the depth of our love, as we stand before
the cross of Jesus and exclaim, "In You I see my Father's image, in You I
behold my Father's love!"
We are as yet but upon the threshold of our great
subject. Let it be distinctly kept in view that our main design in the
present chapter is to unfold the filial spirit of worship which the Lord's
Prayer inculcates. In a formula of devotion enjoined by Christ Himself, and
as appertaining to the new Christian dispensation, we could reasonably
expect nothing less. Moses has retired, the legal economy has passed, the
bond-servant is freed, the shadows are gone, the veil of the temple is rent
in twain, for Christ is come, and we now enter into the Holiest, and
approach the Holy One with "Abba, Father" breathing from our filial lips.
But we have yet to learn in what way the Lord Jesus has
made known to us the Father. To the revelation of Christ we are alone
indebted for our spiritual and saving knowledge of Him in this relation.
This truth is not a dogma of Christianity, it is Christianity itself. The
gospel is an unveiling of the Divine glory, because it is a revelation of
the Divine Savior. "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of
darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of
the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." Such is the great truth which
we now proceed to unfold. HOW DOES CHRIST REVEAL TO US THE FATHER?
In the first place, Christ confirms the fact of God's
Paternity. I have remarked that we have no clear, demonstrative evidence
in nature of the Fatherhood of God in its spiritual and gracious relation
to His people. Creation's testimony to His eternal power and Godhead
is universal and conclusive, leaving the atheist without excuse.
"The lowest pin in nature's frame
Marks out some letter of His name;
Across the earth, around the sky,
There's not a spot, or depth or height,
Where the Creator has not trod,
And left the footsteps of a God."
But beyond its testimony to this truth, all nature is
silent. Not one syllable does it breathe of adopting love, of pardoning
grace, of reconciliation between God and man. The sun in its brightness
reflects it not; the ocean in its fullness embodies it not; the wind in its
majesty thunders it not; the rivulet in its music murmurs it not; the flower
in its fragrance breathes it not; the rock in its fastness images it not.
Creation in its endless forms of sublimity, beauty, and tenderness, fails to
answer the most touching, the most momentous of all inquiries, "How may I
know and approach God as my reconciled Father?"
Nor this alone. While Creation was silent on a theme so
vital and transcendent, HUMAN PHILOSOPHY was equally mute. "The world by
wisdom knew not God." At Athens, "the eye of all Greece," where philosophy
sat enthroned in imperial splendor, issuing her lessons in authoritative
tones and with matchless eloquence, they reared an altar "to the unknown
God." Truly did our Great High Priest, in His intercessory prayer, testify,
"O righteous Father, the world has not known you." But what Creation could
not reveal or Philosophy discover, the Lord Jesus Christ has made known to
us. How clear and emphatic His declaration, "All things are delivered unto
me by my Father--and no man knows who the Son is but the Father; and who the
Father is but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him."
It follows from these words that Jesus is God, and that,
as the Divine Mediator, He is the Revealer of the Father. What further
testimony to this great truth need we? Taking us by the hand, He gently
leads us to God and bids us call Him--"Father!" This, O believer, is your
filial and precious privilege! Nothing shall rob you of your birthright. You
may have been a foolish and a sinful child; you may be poor and needy,
little and despicable, deeming yourself unworthy to be called a son;
nevertheless, the mercy-seat is your Father's meeting-place; and every
atoning drop that sprinkles it, and every golden beam that bathes it, and
every accent of love that breathes from it, bids and encourages your
approach to God, and cry, "My Father!"
Christ was also the personal and visible representation
of the Father. Instead of leaving us to deal with an impersonal being,
an infinite abstraction, the Lord Jesus reveals to us the God, of whose
glory He is the brightness, and of whose person He is the image. How
explicit is the statement. "God has in these last days spoken unto us by His
Son . . . who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His
person." "The brightness of His glory"--all other reflections being but
shadows of God. "The express image of His person"--that is, of the same
substance as the Father. Thus the Son is the visible image of the invisible
God; so that he who by faith has seen the Son, has in the Son's likeness
seen the Father.
Has God thus been revealed to you, my reader? Have you
seen Him in Jesus? Have you recognized His parental relation? Are you
conscious that He is at peace with you through the atonement of His Son?
Have you clasped Him in your filial affections, exclaiming, in the deep
tenderness of filial love, "You are my Father, God!" Give your soul no rest
until it rests in this truth, so divinely revealed by the Holy Spirit. "The
Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of
Christ also reveals the Parental character of God. He
might have testified to God's parental relationship, leaving us in
ignorance of His parental character. He might have presented to us a
portrait of God's image arrayed in the infinite attributes of His being,
leaving us to imagine what His will towards us was--and what the
feelings of His heart. Wandering through a foreign gallery of art, I gazed
with speechless wonder upon the pictures of the illustrious dead which
bestud its walls--ancient masterpieces of the human fine arts. But nothing
could I gather from their portraits, gazing down upon me in silent grandeur,
of the intellectual or moral elements which formed their living characters,
or of the events which contributed to their deathless renown.
But not thus with this Divine-human Portrait. We behold
in the Lord Jesus a perfect unveiling of the character of the Father, as we
recognize the express image of His person. How clearly did Christ teach this
truth. "I am in my Father, and my Father in me. From henceforth you know Him
and have seen Him. He that has seen me has seen the Father." Thus, what no
angel could have made known, what no eye could have discovered, what no
human heart could have conceived, what no pencil could have portrayed, and
what no tongue could have described, the Lord Jesus Christ has fully made
known to us--the character of God as a Father.
Listen to His declaration once more, "He that has seen me
has seen the Father." As though He had said, "All the glory in me
which entrances you, all the beauty in me which attracts you, all the
truths from me which instruct you, all the love in me which
wins you, all the grace in me which sanctifies you, all the
sympathy in me which soothes you, all my miracles of power and
acts of mercy which command your homage, enkindle your gratitude, and
inspire your praise, are the true, the perfect reflection of Him from whose
bosom I descended to make Him known to you as your Father. He that has seen
me has seen my Father also."
What a gentle rebuke of all our crude thoughts, dim
conceptions, low views, and rebellious feelings concerning God! What
injustice have we done Him! What ingratitude have we shown Him! How have we
misunderstood His character, misinterpreted His dealings, distrusted His
wisdom, and misread His heart! Does Jesus, who is the glory of all that is
Divine, the perfection of all that is human, the brightness of all that is
holy, the manifestation of all that is loving, tender, and compassionate;
who is the object of my highest adoration and the deepest love, represent
the character, as He does the person of the Father? Is the
Father all that Christ is? Henceforth I will no more distrust Him,
misinterpret Him, or entertain one hard thought of His conduct, or one
unkind suspicion of His love.
Such be your reflection, my reader, as you stand before
this marvelous, this finished portrait of the Father. Be it your
profoundest, your constant study. Be not satisfied with an occasional visit,
with a distant view, or with a superficial acquaintance. All that is
spiritually revealed or savingly known of the Father is embodied in the
person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let Christ be your one, your chief, your
constant and absorbing study. At first His beauty may not attract you, His
glory may not dazzle you, His love may not win you. But persevere. Each
prayerful desire, each believing look, each loving visit will make Him
better known, more supremely admired, and deeply loved who, among ten
thousand loved ones, is the chief, and who, among ten thousand lovely ones,
is the altogether lovely One.
What one of the most classical writers on the fine
arts--so eloquently said of the Apollo Belvedere, when endeavoring to deepen
the admiration of those students who would become eminent in art, I would
say, with the profoundest reverence, of the portrait of the Father as
presented in the Lord Jesus Christ, "Go and study it. And if you see no
peculiar beauty to captivate you, go again. And if still you discover
nothing, go again and again and again until you feel it; for be assured it
is there." Precious truth! How it elevates and enlarges my views of the
Father! How it unfolds His character, unveils His glory, and endears His
To see my Father's smile reflected in the smile of my
Savior; to behold His glory beaming in the face of Jesus; to hear His voice
in the echoes of Christ's love; to trace His compassion, tenderness, and
sympathy in the very words and works and tears of the Great High Priest,
even when the discipline of the parental rod is the most severe, this is
heaven upon earth. What a wonderful person is the Savior of men! Bursting
forth, as a hidden sun, we behold in the glorious life and peerless
character of Jesus the living portrait of that infinitely great and Divine
Being whom we are invited to approach and call--"Our Father."
Christ also revealed the parental heart of God. He
who from eternity dwelt in the bosom of the Father could alone make known
the love of God. Our Lord might have revealed the mind, the thoughts, the
will of the Father, leaving His heart still, and forever, enshrouded
with a deep and impenetrable veil. But He made His illustrious advent to our
earth not so much to reveal the mind as to unveil the heart of
God--less to expound the majesty and purpose of His will than to disclose
the existence and depth of His love. Who but the Son of God had authority
and power to utter a truth concerning the Father so great and marvelous as
this--"God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that
whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life."
How fully did the Lord Jesus here draw aside the veil and
show us the heart of the Father, pulsating with a love infinite as His
nature and eternal as His being. "God so loved"--the most sublime
thought, the tenderest words, the greatest fact lips ever uttered. Truly,
"Never a man spoke like this man." Conducting us into the most hidden recess
of the Father's bosom by the "new and living way," every step of which
unfolded the eternal grace which planned it, He leads us into the very
center of God's heart, and bids us call Him "Father."
And lest we should exclusively rest in Jesus the
Divine gift, to the exclusion of God the Divine Giver; or suppose that
the Father's love was purchased and procured, and not an essential and
spontaneous affection, He distinctly and emphatically declares, "The Father
Himself loves you." How jealous was the Son of God of the Father's love to
His Church. Not one ray of that love would He shade, not one stream would He
divert, that He might enhance and aggrandize His own. Well did He know--for
He had felt its eternal throbbings--that the love of the Father was not the
effect, but was the moving cause of His sacrifice; that He
died, not that His Father might love, but because He has loved, and "so
loved that He gave His only-begotten Son."
Behold the great truth which the Lord Jesus would teach
you! He would elevate and enlarge your thought of the Father's love, remove
your distrust, dissolve your coldness, quell your fears, and awaken in your
whole soul a responsive affection. "The Father Himself loves
you"--loves you with an individual and special affection--as much, as fully
yours, as if for you only, you exclusively, its deep pulsations throbbed. He
has loved you unto the death of His Son. Upon Him He laid your sins; of Him
He exacted your penalty; into His cup He pressed all the bitterness of your
death and all the ingredients of your condemnation. Disbelieve not, distrust
not, wound not His love. Doubt the love of the mother who bore you, distrust
the love of her who wedded you, question the love of the friend enshrined
within your breast--but oh, doubt not the love of your Father in heaven, who
surrendered His only and well-beloved Son unto the death for you!
There may be stages in the Christian pilgrimage in which
the existence of God's love may be obscured; afflictive dispensations in
which its tenderness may be questioned; trials of your faith where its
faithfulness may seem to fail--nevertheless, His heart loves you in sending
all, loves you passing through all, and will love you to the end of all the
chequered events, the changing scenes--the sunshine and the cloud, of life's
pathway to heaven.
Having thus revealed the parental relationship and
character of God, our blessed Lord proceeds to inculcate the filial
spirit becoming His disciples in their approach to this their
heavenly Father. "When you pray, say, 'Our Father, which art in
heaven.'" With such a Father as the Object of prayer, any spirit other than
the most filial, confiding, and loving in our approach to the
mercy-seat, would seem as dishonoring to God as unjust to ourselves. The
true spirit of a child of God in prayer is childlike. The proper
approach to God is filial. Any other than this springs from some
defective view of the parental character of God, or from a legal, servile
state of the soul.
Christ illustrated in His own personal history the same
filial spirit with which He so earnestly sought to imbue the minds of His
disciples. His own Sonship was a truth never absent from His mind. How early
in His life did this appear. To the anxious inquiry of His earthly parents
how striking and touching His reply, "Know you not that I must be about
my Father's business?" From the moment when, standing in the temple
surrounded by the masters of the law, He announced His divine Sonship, to
His life's last hour, He maintained, through all its scenes of labor,
sorrow, and suffering, the same filial love, confidence, and demeanor. How
touching and instructive His words, uttered in soul-agony and tears--"Not my
will, O my Father, but yours be done." Thus has our Lord set us an
example of filial approach to the throne of grace; of childlike
communion with God; echoing but the breathing of His own heart when He
taught us to say, "Our Father, which art in heaven."
"Father!" It is the language of the believing heart.
As the adoption of His people is the highest act of God's grace, so
the filial response of His children to that adoption is the highest act
of our faith. Could faith on its strongest pinion soar higher than the
Fatherhood of God? Oh, it is a marvelous fact, a stupendous truth, that God
should be our Father! Higher than this the soul cannot rise. Love then
reaches its deepest yearnings. Only realize this fact, that God is your
Father, and it explains every chapter of your history, every event of your
life, every sentiment, feeling, and desire of your soul. All that is
omnipotent in strength, all that is profound in wisdom, all that is tender
in sympathy, all that is rich in infinite plenitude, is bound up in the
endearing epithet--"Father." That Father is yours! You were His child from
eternity! Stupendous thought! His love to you, His choice of you, His
purpose to adopt, His plan to redeem, sanctify, and bring you to glory, were
concurrent with His being! They are eternal acts of His grace.
This is not language too presumptuous, too bold, for
faith. After such eternal love, such an act of mercy, such a condescension
of grace, to approach God in prayer with the trembling of doubt upon the
lips, with the fetters of the slave upon the soul, with distrust, suspicion,
and coldness in the heart, were of the darkest hue. If God calls me His
child, ingrate that I am not to respond, "My Father!" Are you a parent? Does
your child doubt his relation to you as such? What would you think of it if
he did? The deep, underlying principle of all his love, reverence, and
obedience is the full confidence he has in you as his parent. Have like
precious faith in your heavenly Father. Let your faith be thus filial,
childlike, and firm. Believe that all He does is for the best; that your
highest interests are all in His hands, and in His hands are all so secure.
Lock your hand in His, as your little one links its hand with yours, willing
to be led, unquestioning, confiding, meekly, just where your Father leads.
If God declares, "I am a Father to Israel," it is the deepest humility of
faith to respond, "My Father, God!"
"Father!" It is the language of filial love. How
sweet the voice of love as it pronounces the name of Father! What tenderness
in its tones, what significance in its language, what a world of meaning in
the one title it breathes! It would seem as if every, and the deepest,
spring of sensibility in the soul were unsealed the moment love breathed to
heaven that Name. This is what our Father looks for in our filial approach
to Him through Jesus. "My son, give me your heart." Himself
love--essential love--paternal love--unchanging love--He asks for love in
return. And what is the love He asks, the love which He himself inspires and
accepts? It is the filial affection of the loving child.
There may be love in a slave towards his owner, love in a
servant towards his master; but the love of the child toward its parent
distances and transcends all love. Let your love to God be filial--the
expression of adoption--the sentiment of an obedient child! This will impart
sweetness to your Father's commands, will expel all reserves from your
disobedience, and invest your service for Him with the most perfect freedom.
"I will run the way of Your commandments, when You shall enlarge my heart."
Filial love alone expands the heart to the utmost limit of God's commands.
And when the precept, the command, the discipline are traced to the
authority, and to the love, and to the hand of a Father, the filial heart
bows in the most profound, cheerful, and holy acquiescence.
God asks the love that casts out all slavish fear. He
wants you to love Him intensely as a Parent. Securing this, He has secured
your most perfect confidence, your most holy obedience, and
your most unreserved surrender as a child. Look less at the depth,
the great undertaking, the costly sacrifice of your love; than at its
filial, obedient character. A son may be deeply conscious of his affection
for his parent, while yet incapable of demonstrating as he would wish its
reality and depth. You, also, may feel that you love God as your Father,
obey Him as His child, and yet have no power to embody that love in worthy
and brilliant expression.
Still you love Him. You love Him in poverty, you love Him
in sickness, you love Him in suffering, you love Him in chastening, you love
Him in rebuke. And in that sleepless night, and on that bed of pain, and
from that chamber of solitude and sorrow, the fragrant incense of your
filial love ascends to Him in solemn prayer and praise, while you cry, "My
Father, it is Your hand that chastens, and it is well!"
It is the language of the spirit of adoption in prayer.
It is in direct fellowship with God that the filial spirit of the Lord's
Prayer is the most seen. True prayer is filial. It is not so much the
supplication of the petitioner, as the communion of the child--a beloved
child in the closest, sweetest fellowship with a loving Father. "You have
not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the
Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." If ever this Divine
Spirit breathes His quickening, emancipating, and enlarging grace, it is
when the believing soul is in audience with God.
The real test of our Divine sonship is--communion with
our Heavenly Father. We may read of adoption, and speak of adoption, and
desire to act from a sense of adoption; but it is at the mercy-seat, when
the soul is wrapped in communion with the Invisible, that the believer fully
realizes the blessedness of fellowship, the closeness of communion, the
solemn consciousness of soul-nearness to the Heavenly Parent.
It is then no matter of doubt. We could as easily
question the reality of our own existence, as doubt the fact that God was
our Father. There is no engagement of the believer so self-evidencing as
communion with God. The act is so unearthly, the inspiration is so divine,
the emotion is so holy, the feeling so ecstatic of a soul in filial
fellowship with the Infinite, that it reaches the highest elevation of
assurance which it is possible to gain this side of glory. It seems but one
step from that sacred height of spiritual fellowship and holy rapture, and
the soul is in heaven, expatiating amid the wonders of the upper world.
Cultivate a filial approach to God in prayer. Do
not, yielding to a false idea, deem it humility to doubt your sonship. The
profoundest lowliness is to acknowledge, and the deepest holiness is to
experience the Fatherhood of God. Draw near to God as your Father, and
commune with Him as His child. You may then open wide your mouth in prayer,
supplication, and confession. You complain of smallness, lifelessness, and
reluctance in devotion. You cannot trace the glow of love, the strength of
desire, the sweetness of communion, in your approaches to the throne of
grace of which others speak. May not the cause be found in the imperfect
realization of your adoption, in the faint conception you have of the
Parental relation of God to you, in the little filial affection and
confidence which marks your approach to the throne of grace?
Remember that true prayer is nothing less than the warm,
confidential communion of a believing child with God. Wrestle with the Holy
Spirit for this inestimable blessing. Give Him no rest until, baptizing you
afresh in the cloud and in the sea of His quickening grace, He imparts to
you the clearer witness and seal of your divine and inalienable sonship,
enabling you to exclaim with an emphasis of meaning and tone of sweetness
unexperienced before--"My Father!"
"Descend, immortal Dove,
Spread Your kind wings abroad;
And, wrapped in flames of holy love,
Bear all my soul to God.
"Behold, my heart expands
To catch the heavenly fire;
It longs to feel the gentle hands,
And groans with strong desire.
"Your love, my God, appears,
And brings salvation down;
My cordial through this vale of tears,
In paradise my crown."
The filial spirit which breathes through the prayer
taught His disciples by our Lord is not less exhibited in times of trial,
than in seasons of communion. Times of parental correction are often times
of blessed realization of our adoption. The rod is sent, among other holy
purposes, especially for this. It awakens the slumbering affections of the
soul. Then the chastened child cries out to God. The spirit of prayer, so
long stagnant, is stirred up. The heart so cold and torpid is set upon
seeking the Lord. The chastening is seen as belonging to a child and as
coming from a Father. May this be the hallowed and happy issue of your
present trial! Look at it as parental. Your Father's heart prepared, and His
hand presents the bitter cup. His wisdom, love, and righteousness ordained
and arranged the whole. Even more than this. What is the heart of God
towards you as His chastened and sorrowing child? The words of inspiration
alone can supply the answer. "Like as a Father pities his children, so the
Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we
are dust." Tender relation! touching image! A father's pity! This is our
God. This is your Father. He has corrected you, but not in anger. He has
brought you low, but He has not given you over unto death. He has removed
some blessings, but He has not taken all. He has blown upon some flowers of
your heart, but others--perhaps lovelier and more precious--still live and
bloom to delight you with their beauty, and to gladden you with their
fragrance. The pleasant gourd which covered and refreshed you is withered
and gone; but He who made it to grow, and then removed it, spreads over you
the undying foliage of His love; and the sun shall not smite you by day, nor
the moon by night, for "upon all your glory there shall be a defense."