The Brotherly Spirit of the Lord’s Prayer
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The BROTHERLY Spirit of the Lord's Prayer
"Our Father." Matthew 6:6
The Lord Jesus having presented the Paternal character of God, and the consequent filial spirit of His children, naturally blends with it the fraternal relationship which the children of God sustain to each other. He could not separate the Fatherhood from the Brotherhood. The existence of the one relationship necessarily involved the existence of the other. If I am a child of God, I am a brother to all God's children. In returning to God as my Heavenly Father, I do not turn my back upon my spiritual kindred. In earnestly seeking to be well assured of my adoption, I do not sink the social relationship in the personal relationship of my religion; and in putting in a humble title to a filial union with God, isolate myself in affection, sympathy, and fellowship from a fraternal union with the whole household of faith.
In this light prayer is never exclusive and selfish. I am indeed privileged--and oh, how great and precious that privilege is!--to call God "My Father;" but I must never forget that Jesus taught me to say, in concert with the one family, "OUR Father." And that when I enter into my closet it is my privilege, as my duty, to bear before my Father, not my personal sins and sorrows only, but those also of the holy brotherhood to which, by a divine affiliation, I belong.
The UNITY of His Church was a truth dear to the heart of Christ. As the hour of His mysterious sufferings darkened, this truth dilated before His mind and occupied a more distinct and prominent place in His discourse. Foreseeing the divisions of sect and the differences of judgment and the alienation of affection which would spring up in His Church after His ascension to glory--defacing its beauty and impairing its strength--standing as beneath the shadow of His cross, He prostrates Himself at the feet of His Father, and binding the whole brotherhood around His heart, He prays, "That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they all may be one in us; that the world may believe that You have sent me."
This sublime petition of the Great Intercessor is being partially answered now in every act of brotherly love, in every recognition of fraternal relation, in every lowly, loving effort to manifest and promote the visible unity of the Church. Upon all such shall belong the blessing of the "peacemakers!" But the full, the perfect accomplishment of this desire of the Savior's soul awaits the day of His second coming. Not until then will the world fully believe in His Divine Messiahship and mission, for not until then will the whole Church appear in its visible unity.
The Lord's Prayer pre-eminently breathes a UNIVERSAL spirit. The inspiration of the Spirit of love, taught us by Him who is the Incarnation of love, and clustering us as one family around the feet of Him who is "Love," it would he marvelous did it not teach us to love as brethren. The fraternal affection is cognate to the filial. If I love my God who begat me, I must love, from the very necessity of the case, all others who are begotten by God. If my affection for God be truly filial, my affection for the children of God will be truly fraternal. My return to God as my Father is the impulse and measure of my return to man as my brother.
The prodigal in the Gospel, when he severed the tie that bound him to his father, by the same act of selfish exile, severed the tie that bound him to his brother. "Give me the portion of goods that falls to me." Thus man's revolt from God, was man's alienation from man. Hence the sinful hatred of nations, the strife of parties, the jealousies, the feuds, the injustice, and the wrong which have armed nation against nation, church against church, man against man, and have made this once fair and beauteous world a very Aceldama. All springs from one cause--man became the enemy of God, and so became the foe of his race.
But the Lord Jesus came to gather together His people of all nations and tongues around one mercy-seat, teaching them to say--"OUR Father;" thus uniting in the one "household of faith" Jew and Gentile, male and female, bond and free--all one in Christ, and all one with each other. Let us now proceed to illustrate the universal spirit of this beautiful formula.
The foundation truth is--the one Father of us ALL. I speak now only of the election of grace--the family of God. We who through grace believe, have not many, but one Father. "Have we not all one Father?" By one and the same act of predestinating grace God has adopted all His children. "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He has made us accepted in the beloved." Still more emphatically does the apostle state this truth in another place--"For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in earth and in heaven is named."
Magnificent truth! The whole family of God one, and as one, clustering at the feet of their one Father!--the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. How real and how near is heaven! The ties that bind some hearts to the saints above, are closer and holier than the ties that bind us to the saints below. This may be explained on the principle that we admire and love, and feel closer fellowship with, that which is perfect. Do you not feel that the saints of God who are the most holy, who in their spirit and walk the most closely resemble Jesus, attract to them your warmest love and sympathy? Thus it is that the saints now made perfect, whom once we knew, by whose side we traveled, whom we accompanied to the river of death, and saw pass over and disappear within the veil of heaven; but who, because they are beautiful in holiness, perfected in love, resplendent with glory, seem to hold our hearts in the spell of a stronger, holier love and fellowship.
Sweet thought is it, also, that nothing but the rivulet of death sunders us from their fullest and eternal communion. There is but a step between you and them. How close are they to us even now! Heaven is nearer to us than earth!--nearer than India, than China, than Australia, than the Crimea. And the more heavenly we grow, and the closer our connection with the unseen, the nearer shall we feel to the "family in heaven." Let us endure as seeing the invisible!
But to go forth in silent converse with the saints in glory, need I separate myself from the communion of the saints on earth? Assuredly not! The tie is one and the same, with this difference only, that its association with heaven, its perfect freedom from all taint of sin and from all trace of infirmity, imparts to it a tenderness and invests it with a sanctity and solemnity which no tie on earth possesses. But prayer is the great cement of the saints below. There is not an engagement so uniting, so healing, so hallowing as prayer. In this holy atmosphere nothing can live but the pure, the holy, the loving. Sectarianism vanishes, bigotry expires, coldness dissolves, wounds are healed; and the saints, clustering together around the feet of the one God and Father of all, realize their spiritual unity, exhibit their indivisible oneness, and present a spectacle of holy love such as earth, with all its boasted alliances never saw, and such as heaven, from amid its perfect harmony, looks down to see.
Oh, were there a deeper and more universal spirit of united prayer pervading Christ's Church, it would tide over those sectarian differences and party jealousies which so much deface its loveliness, impair its power, and shade its luster; and flowing with the effulgence which encircles the throne of grace, she would go forth, luminous and invincible, to subdue and bless the world, "fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and dreadful as an army with banners."
What a family-uniting truth, then, is this--OUR Father. The very breathing of the word seems to diminish the magnitude of those minor differences that separate the children of God; while its influence upon the heart draws forth the sweetest charity and the deepest love towards all who bow their knees with us in prayer, and say--"OUR Father!" Again, I ask, should not the one Fatherhood of "the adoption of grace" be more distinctly recognized, and constitute a more uniting truth among the true children of God? To know that whatever partition separates, or polity divides, or forms distinguish the saints; the moment persecution is awakened, or affliction befalls the Church, all arise and give themselves to prayer; and, traveling to one mercy-seat--converging as lines to a common center--find that, after all, they are children of one family, brethren one of another, and that into the ears of one Father all pour the breathings of their hearts.
Surely this divine, sanctifying, cementing truth, attended with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, must promote more visible union among the saints of the most high God. Let us study it more closely, get it in-wrought in our hearts, realize fully our personal adoption, learn to call God "Father" with a less faltering tongue, then will our hearts be drawn forth with a deeper fraternal affection towards all who worship in spirit and in truth the same Father, and whom that Father recognizes as His.
Alas! the reason why we stand aloof from God's children so much, is because we love the Father so little! Did we, under a clearer sense of our adoption of God, with a deeper conviction of the debt we owed Him for this signal bestowment of His grace, walk in closer converse with God, the things which separate us from the family of God--the differences of ecclesiastical polity, of modes of worship, the hard speeches, the slights, the woundings, the misunderstandings which engender so much suspicion, coldness, and alienation among the saints--would be buried and lost sight of as the rugged rocks disappear beneath the flowing tide. Love--love to the one Father--would prompt us to throw the mantle of love over the one brotherhood, veiling every feature but, "the Father's image in the children's face."
The equality of love with which the Father regards alike all the family, supplies another strong tie of affection in the Christian brotherhood. There may be different manifestations of God's love, but, I imagine, no degrees. He must regard with an equal affection all whom He has everlastingly chosen. As the ground of our election of God is love--love, like His being, without beginning--so in one heart of love, which can admit of no grades in the infinitude of its affection, is bound the one family of God.
In this one family of our Father there are those who exhibit different degrees of love to God, as different shades of resemblance to His image--still they are brethren, and as such it is both our duty and our privilege to recognize and love them. Should not this truth--the equality of the Father's love to His family--place us all on equal footing as children of God? Why should we not love, even though we differ? Why should we not unite, even though we are separated? Why should we not bear each other's burdens, and sympathize with each other's trials, and aid each other's efforts, and bow together at the footstool of the same Father, even though we are laboring for Him in sundered departments of the one house? If our love to the Father is genuine, our love to the offspring of that Father will be true. Love to the one will be the measure, as the evidence, of our love to the other.
Oh, for more love! Were I asked what the first great need of the Church was, I should unhesitatingly reply--love. And what the second--love. And what the third--love. I marvel not that our Lord added a "new commandment," as it were, to the decalogue--"That you love one another, even as I have loved you." Love would veil infirmities; love would seal the law of kindness upon the lip; love would rebuke slander, reprove falsehood, and suppress every thought, feeling, and word that would dishonor the Father through the child; wound the Savior through the disciple; grieve the Master through the servant.
Realizing our personal interest in God's love, and remembering that He loves alike all the children of His family, with what holy guardedness should we respect the feelings, and shield the reputation, and promote the happiness of all the sons and daughters of God! Oh, how can I look coldly upon him on whom God smiles? How dare I disown one whom Christ accepts? Where is the evidence of my own sonship if I unite not in heart and voice with my brother in saying, "OUR Father, who art in heaven?"--and while I breathe the filial words, feel not a brother's love glowing in my heart?
And have we not one and the same Elder Brother--the Lord Jesus Christ? What a uniting truth is this! He is "the first-born among many brethren"--the Elder Brother of the Christian brotherhood. How often, and with what tenderness of tone and expressiveness of meaning, did these words fall from His lips--"My brethren!" And how ready He ever was to acknowledge the one Father of Himself and His brethren; thus taking His place at the head of the family as the First-Born of the many sons whom the Father is bringing to glory.
Through the one mediation, then, of this our Elder Brother, we all approach "OUR Father in heaven." We plead alike His personal merits; we present alike His atoning blood; we breathe alike His endearing name; we appear before our Father clad in the garment of the Elder Brother, in whom, and for whose sake, the Father smiles pleased alike upon all. Here we stand side by side on an equality with each other. No national hate, no political creed, no ecclesiastical distinction, no social caste, nor learning, nor rank, nor wealth should be allowed for one moment to interpose a barrier to Christian recognition, fellowship, and service between those who, washed in the blood and robed in the righteousness of the Elder Brother, are members of Him, "of whom the whole Church in heaven and earth is named."
Christ our Brother! how close and endearing the relationship! How sweet to travel to Him as to a brother, calling His Father our Father, His God our God! A Brother, though divine, made flesh like unto His brethren! A Brother, the heir of all things, and making us, His brethren, co-heirs with Himself! A brother born for His brethren's adversity! Contemplate Christ as such. Go to Him as such. Deal with Him as such. At all times and in all places are you welcome.
You may go to an earthly brother in the day of your calamity, and find, in his lack of sympathy or his inability to help, that, "better is a neighbor that is near than he." But never, never shall you go to Jesus in adversity and not find in Him all the sympathy and support that you need--yes, sticking closer than a brother.
You may, also, find it harder to restore to your reconciled affection a Christian brother whom you have offended than to win a strong city. But if you grieve and wound your Elder Brother, and go to His feet and confess your sin, and sob your grief upon His bosom, you will find Him prepared, graciously, lovingly, and fully, to be reconciled--forgiving the offender and remembering the offence no more forever.
Oh, let us cultivate frequent and intimate transactions with Jesus our Elder Brother. Treat Him not as a stranger. Have confidence in His love, trust His faithfulness, rely upon His power, embosom yourself in His sympathy. Alas! how little we deal directly and personally with Jesus! He would have us entwine Him with our every affection, blend Him with our every thought, associate Him with every transaction, bring to Him every need, confess to Him every sin, and repose upon His heart every sorrow. Should not this truth constrain us to "love as brethren;" and to seek on all occasions to manifest the essential unity of the brotherhood before a God-hating, a Christ-rejecting world?
And does not the same Spirit of Adoption dwell alike in all the children of God? Most assuredly, if they are indeed His children. It is by this same Holy Spirit that each one cries, "Abba, Father," when he approaches the mercy-seat. "For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father." He it is who seals the uniting word upon our lips--"Our Father," and so binds us all in one fraternal chain of holy brotherhood. Refusing, then, to recognize a professing disciple of Jesus as a brother because he belongs not to my sect, and kneels not at my altar, and sees not eye to eye with me in all things, I grieve the one indwelling Spirit, wound the Savior in the house of His friends, bring barrenness into my soul, and go far to ignore my own fraternal relation to the family of God.
But behold the true catholic spirit which the Lord's Prayer breathes--"OUR Father." And in whomsoever that spirit truly dwells, and whoever breathes that prayer from his heart, is bound, as with the solemnity of an oath, to "love the brotherhood." For, brethren, to kneel before the throne and say, "Our Father," and then go forth and in angry polemics, and heated strifes about questions which admit of perfect freedom of judgment, and which after all may resolve themselves into mere human opinion, and "bite and devour one another," until well-near "consumed by one another," is a spectacle which might bedew an angel's eye with tears, as in reality it clothes a demon's tongue with exultation.
Yes, beloved, God is "our Father." He enshrines us all in one parental heart, accepts us all in His beloved Son, seals us all with one Spirit of adoption--cares for us all, provides for us all, protects us all, sympathizes with us all alike. And who are you, and who am I, that we should denounce and despise one of these whom God our Father claims as His child?
And what a brotherly-uniting truth is this, that our Father is bringing us all to one parental and eternal home. A part of the family is already there--"the family in heaven." Those who once shared our earthly home, sat with us at the family table, clustered with us around the domestic hearth, and who departed in the faith of Jesus, are not lost--they are housed in the Home of the Father in heaven, and are gathered around the Lamb, basking in the sunshine of His ineffable glory. What a soothing thought is this! how sanctifying, how uniting!
BEREAVED ONE! sorrow not as those who have no hope--raise your eyes from the shrouded remains, the sepulchered dust of the holy dead, up to the cloudless world of glory, purity, and bliss into which they have entered--and think of them only as there! They are not here, they are there--in heaven! They have ascended where no sin taints, nor sorrow grieves, nor unkindness wounds, nor sickness wastes, nor death separates. The sun shall not smite them by day nor the moon by night. No faithless friendships, nor lying tongue, nor throbbing brow, nor aching heart, nor weary frame affects them now. They mourn no more indwelling sin, they struggle no more with ungodly men, they battle no more with the prowling tempter; they have fought the last fight, have gotten the victory, have removed the armor, and have exchanged the shield for the palm, and the sword for the crown--and are forever with the Lord.
What a uniting link is this in the family of God on earth! What holy love, what powerful attraction, what tender sympathy, what united prayer, what mutual comfort, should the thought of the present state of our friends in heaven inspire those who have similar bereavements, kindred sorrows, like consolations, the same hopes, and are hastening to join them on high! How closely should these things draw the holy brotherhood together! Why should we not, though of different communions, break through the fence and leap over the wall of separation, and pour out our sorrowing hearts together in mutual fellowship at the feet of our Father in heaven?
Could these happy spirits, who have fled from the 'religious divisions and strifes of the Church on earth', bend from their thrones and speak, with what holy earnestness, with what glowing love, with what celestial and touching eloquence would they exclaim--"Your different forms of church polity and worship are merely human; your essential faith and heavenly hopes are divine! Oh, love as brethren! We now see the folly of our divisions, the sin of our contentions, the iniquity of our jealousies, strifes, and alienations. Here there are no different communions, no separating walls, no exclusive altars--nothing to impair the power, or shade the luster, or disturb the music of that love which now knits every heart in the closest fellowship, and blends every voice in the sweetest song. We are now with Christ! In the effulgence of His glory, all is absorbed and annihilated that once created a cloud, or inspired a jarring note. His love so overflows our souls that we are transformed into love, we are all love, and nothing but love one toward another. All our thoughts and feelings, worship and service, so center in Christ, that, forgetting earth's divisions and strifes, or, remembering them but to deepen our humility and heighten our song, we now feel, as we never felt before, how human, how trivial, how insignificant were the things which once separated us--and how divine, how real, how lasting are those which now unite us in a fellowship as holy, as close, and as eternal as the unity of the God we adore."
Let us endeavor to approximate, in some measure, to the sentiments and feelings of the glorified saints. Let us realize in some degree what that love in heaven is, that unifies the most fierce polemics and the widest sectarians, who once wrote and spoke and strove with each other so fiercely and so bitterly, each for his own communion, now to meet in the embrace of a love that buries all the past of earth's infirmities in its infinite depths and its eternal flow. Oh, in the light of one close view of eternity, in the experience of one moment's realization of heaven, how unimportant and childish the contentions as to "whose doctrines are the most valid, or whose church polity is the most apostolic!"
Our Father, who art in heaven! look down upon Your one family! and so fill it with Your love, that, casting out all selfishness, coldness, and alienation, all may meet at Your feet, and love as brethren, and worship You as the one God and Father of all.
The topic discussed in this chapter belongs essentially to practical Christianity. The unity of the Christian Church, the oneness of the family of God, is not a cold, abstract truth--it is vital, warm, sanctifying. Am I one of God's children? Do I acknowledge as my brethren--of every nation and tongue and sect--all who, through the Person, and by the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, approach God as their Father? Then how precious and sacred to my heart should be the character, the reputation, and the happiness of my brother, thus recognized and thus loved! Would I allow the tainted tongue of slander, the cruel breath of malice, the floating rumor of falsehood to rest upon a brother or a sister bound to me by the fond tie ofnature, but with a solemn and indignant protest? Would I not shield them as myself?
How much nearer and dearer to me should be the Christian character, and the individual peace of a child of God, a brother or a sister in Christ Jesus! Refraining myself from all evil speaking and evil thinking--all that would shade His fame, impair His influence, and wound His feelings--with what wakeful jealousy and holy indignation should I rebuke the foul slanderer, silence the tongue of falsehood, and defend the character and reputation of my brother as I would the sacred and endeared name of my blessed Lord!
How pointed and holy the divine precepts touching the duty of saint with saint! "Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaks evil of his brother, and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law, and judges the law." "Love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but contrariwise blessing." "Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us." "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil-speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; and be kind one to another, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." "Let brotherly love continue."
Were these divine and holy precepts more conscientiously and strictly observed, were they entwined more closely with the communion of saint with saint, and of the saints with the world in daily life, how much evil would be prevented, how much alienation of affection would be averted, how many Christian brethren, now sundered in communion and fellowship by misrepresentations, evil-speaking, and mischief-making, would be united in the sweetest communion and in the holiest service for Christ! Oh, to remember that every shaft hurled at a brother's fair name pierces him through the heart of Jesus! "He that touches you, touches the apple of mine eye."
"Must I my brother keep,
And share his pains and toil;
And weep with those that weep,
And smile with those that smile;
And act to each a brother's part,
And feel his sorrows in my heart?
"Must I his burden bear
As though it were my own,
And do as I would care
Should to myself be done;
And faithful to his interests prove,
And as my neighbor love?
"Must I reprove his sin,
Must I partake his grief,
And kindly enter in
And minister relief;
The naked clothe, the hungry feed,
And love him not in word, but deed?
"Then, Jesus, at Your feet
A student let me be,
And learn as it is meet
My duty, Lord, of Thee;
For You did come on mercy's plan,
And all Your life was love to man.
"Oh, make me as You art,
Your Spirit, Lord, bestow;
The kind and gentle heart
That feels another's woe,
That thus I may be like my Head,
And in my Savior's footsteps tread."
How uniting and hallowing is this truth in its influence upon the family institution! Each domestic circle, trained in the fear and love of God, morning and evening touchingly illustrates this fraternal bond in its approaches to the mercy-seat. At the feet of one heavenly Father all cluster when bending at the family altar. Whatever selfishness may have divided their interests, whatever dissensions may have disturbed their unanimity, whatever differences of judgment may for the moment have rippled the tranquil surface of domestic life--here all meet as one, and with one heart and with one voice uplift their prayer to God and say, "Our Father, which art in heaven." How touching the scene! how holy the bond! how tender, sacred, and uniting the thoughts, the sympathies, and the love which now beat responsive in each bosom, and diffuse peace and repose over each mind!
Should not this truth--the one Fatherhood of our God--sanctify and endear the various ties of the domestic circle, preventing those jealousies, discords, and divided interests which too frequently invade the sanctuary and embitter the happiness of the home circle. Let this truth have its full weight in promoting family love and domestic concord; in strengthening and hallowing the parental, the filial, and the fraternal relations; and all pious families will then be centers of spiritual influence, healthful and far-reaching in their extent, beauteous types of the Father's house into which all the children of God will before long be gathered.
And as we approach eternity, and realize more the heavenly glory, do we not feel a closer drawing towards all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth? Standing once by the dying bed of a child of God, he stretched forth his emaciated hand, cold and clammy with the moisture of death, and, grasping mine, exclaimed, "The nearer I get to heaven, the dearer to my heart are the Lord's people of every branch of His one family." Such, also, was the testimony, a few days before his death, of an eminent professor of an American university--"The longer I live the more dearly do I prize being a Christian, and the more signally unimportant seem to me the differences by which true Christians are separated from each other." How sweetly these dying testimonies to the unity of the Church of Christ chime with the dying prayer of Christ Himself for His universal Church, "That they all may be ONE."
"The last note of this divine strain breathes love and union, and sweetly closes the most fervent production of any spirit that has ever tabernacled in the flesh. Let us catch with loving ear this music of His dying voice, as it rises and swells with the ecstasy of gratitude and hope; trembles with anxiety for His 'little flock' in the midst of an angry world, and sinks away in a joyful cadence of eternal glory, love, and blessedness, in which hover images of peace and union between Himself, His disciples, and His Father in the everlasting home of heaven."
Into that home we shall soon enter. And could then a blush crimson our cheek, or a tear bedew our eye, or a pang pierce our heart, how deep would be our shame, how intense our grief, how inexpressible our agony, that, in our pilgrimage to its mansions of love, we should ever have felt unkindly, have thought unkindly, have spoken unkindly, have actedunkindly towards one who, with us, bent his knees and bowed his heart at the mercy-seat, and prayed--"OUR Father, who are in heaven."
"Oh then the glory and the bliss,
When all that pained and seemed amiss
Shall melt with earth and sin away;
When saints beneath their Savior's eye,
Filled with each other's company,
Shall spend in love the eternal day."
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