The Celestial Spirit of the Lord’s Prayer
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The CELESTIAL Spirit of the Lord's Prayer.
"Our Father, which art in heaven." Matthew 6:9
There are three points of view in which the invocation of the Lord's Prayer may be considered. I have already considered the first two--the PATERNAL and the BROTHERLY. It remains that we consider the third one--the CELESTIAL. "Our Father, which art in heaven." It was to heaven, where God is, and from whence He came, that Christ sought to uplift the hearts of His disciples. The earthward tendency of the renewed mind, even amid the solemn engagement of prayer, He, from whom no thought of the heart is concealed, perfectly knew. Who among the most spiritually-minded has not complained of the undevoutness of heart, the vagrancy of mind, the foolish imaginations, and probably skeptical thoughts which so often obtrude upon the believer when he would sincerely enter his closet and shut the door about him and be alone with God? At the very moment when, unclasping and uplifting the pinions of his soul, he would sincerely rise in faith and love and fellowship, he finds himself encompassed and assailed by a legion of mundane, atheistical, graceless thoughts and affections, which fetter the soul, stifle its aspirations, distract its meditations, and arrest its flight.
What an impediment, also, to real, spiritual prayer does the believer find in the tendency of his mind to lose sight of God's Dwelling. True, solemnly true, God's presence is everywhere; yet, while earth is His footstool, heaven is His dwelling-place. And where He is, there would He have the heart and mind of His supplicating child travel and repose. Hence the emphatic declaration of our Lord--"Our Father, which art in HEAVEN." Let this be the truth which now engages our study.
In ascribing location to God--in portraying heaven as His dwelling--we must not forget, as I have just remarked, one of the most solemn and, to the Christian mind, most sanctifying and consolatory truths, that there is not a place nor a spot in the vast universe where God is not. His presence pervades all space, engirdles the globe, brightens the bowers of heaven, darkens the caverns of hell. Who can hide himself from God? What mountain can cover, what rock conceal, what darkness veil the soul from His sight? "Where shall I go from Your Spirit? or where shall I flee from Your presence?" Saint of God! can you not in truth exclaim, "Lord! where would I flee from Your presence? Flee from Your presence! it is my heaven below, and it is all the heaven I expect or wish for above! If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Your hand lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me." Child of God! take the divine consolation of this truth. Where can you be where Christ will not be with you? Are you anticipating a new and untried stage of life? Are you about to relinquish the ties of home, perhaps of country, for a distant climate, to be exiled amid strangers, to battle with a new position of toil, temptation, and peril? Oh, let your child--like faith now grasp this great and precious truth, which shall be for your stay, strength, and comfort in all places where God conducts you--"Even there shall Your hand lead me, and Your right hand hold me." The promise is, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest." Go, then, beloved, leaning upon this divine staff, and it shall be well with you for time and for eternity. Other staffs, the beautiful and strong, may break; other props, the near and loved, may fail; but your covenant God in Christ will never leave nor forsake you. Go, then, where He leads you; pitch your tent in India or in China, in Australia, or in America, within that tent He will dwell, above and around it He will spread the wings of His power and love; and in all your engagements and difficulties, loneliness and want, temptations and sorrows you shall be enabled to exclaim, "Nevertheless I am continually with you--You have held me by my right hand. You shall guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside You."
And yet our Father has His FIXED and appropriate dwelling-place. The Scriptures of truth represent heaven as His abode. At the dedication of the temple, Solomon uses this language, "But will God indeed dwell on earth? behold, the heaven, and heaven of heavens, cannot contain You." And we have the prayer of the prophet Isaiah confirming this truth--"Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of Your holiness and of Your glory." And to crown these statements we have the declaration of Jehovah himself--"Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool."
We must suppose, then, that the highest heavens--sometimes called the "heaven of heavens," and "the third heaven"--is the place of God's dwelling. The "third heaven," into which the apostle in his rapture ascended, is a remarkable expression. The Jews were used to speak of the lower world, the middle world, and the supreme world. The lower heaven includes the aerial world immediately over us--the clouds and the atmosphere. The central heaven embraces the skies above it--the sun, the moon, and the stars. The supreme or third heaven is the highest of all, the supposed seat of the Divine Majesty, the region where God dwells, where Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father, conducts His intercessory work, and where the glorified saints are gathered--whose wonders Paul saw, whose music he heard, whose joy he felt but who, on returning to earth, was forbidden by God to communicate what he had seen and heard and felt of the invisible world.
Surely if God had permitted any knowledge to be conveyed to man of the place and condition of the departed spirits; if communion had been allowed between the dead and the living, we might suppose that this occasion would have demonstrated the fact. And yet the veil was not uplifted, and the silence of the apostle's lips was unbroken. Not one of the countless millions who have been received up into heaven have ever been permitted to revisit earth with communications concerning its glories. So fixed is the law, so settled the principle that has ever, on this point, regulated the Divine conduct. It would seem as if God would anticipate and confound the daring imposture of Mohammed, and of every other pseudo-prophet, and forever demonstrate the essential difference between true and false inspiration; causing to stand out in bold relief the dignified silence of the great apostle of the Gentiles, in contrast with the contemptible puerilities of the profane prophet of Mecca.
The inquiry which, doubtless, arises in many minds WHY Paul was forbidden to make known what he had seen in heaven, may be more speculative than profitable to pursue. My own conviction, however, is, that God would allow nothing to transpire calculated to lessen the dignity, sufficiency, and importance of His written Word in the eyes of men. A revelation other than that which, by Divine Inspiration, He had already given, would he most assuredly attended with this inevitable result. "But surely," you reply, "to have known more of heaven, more of the glories of paradise, more of what awaits the righteous, would have been useful in solving the doubts, confirming the faith, animating the hope, and soothing the trials, affliction, and sorrow of the saints on their way through much darkness and tribulation, to the celestial world."
Not so! Let God be the judge. If the present divine revelations of the heavenly world sometimes dazzle and confound us, how should we, in this imperfect state, be able to compass a fuller and more overpowering discovery? And if the doubt will sometimes arise, though the revelations are divine, what would be our unbelief of revelations predicated only upon the human? Enough, also, is made known of heaven to give us a clear and intelligent idea of its negative and its positive bliss. It suffices us to be assured that sin is annihilated, that tears are dried, that disease is banished, that pain is unfelt, that death is destroyed, that parting is unknown, that rest is enjoyed, and that peace, fellowship, and love reign universally and forever. In addition to these 'negative aspects' of heaven, there are the 'positive elements' of bliss.
With Jesus, forever beholding His glory. Blessed with the "glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the noble army of martyrs," encircled by time "spirits of just men made perfect," and reunited to all that we loved on earth and parted in death in the hope of eternal life. Is not this enough to support us in trial, to soothe us in sorrow, to animate us in duty, and to fortify us against temptation and sin? Will not this suffice to endure suffering patiently, to hear the cross cheerfully, and to mitigate the grief of parting; remembering that, "our light affliction which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory?"
Once more, in anticipation of the eternal heaven, this everlasting rest, our Father would have us live a life of FAITH. The sight, the fullness is to come; until then we are to take God at His word, believe all that He has revealed and promised, and live and die as did the worthies of old, of whom it is written, that, "not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."
Soon heaven will be entirely revealed and fully known. Before the sun, which ascended upon us in rosy beams in the morning, shall set in a flood of gold and purple at night, we may fall asleep in Jesus, and wake up amid heaven's unclouded and eternal splendor. Ecstatic thought! entrancing prospect! Absent from flesh, forever with the Lord! What! shall I soon see Jesus? Will the great, the solemn, the glorious mystery which so long absorbed my affections, awakened my desires, engaged my earnest thoughts, and occupied my dearest study, be all explained? Will the grand secret be soon revealed? Oh, for the pinions of the dove, that I might fly into His presence, fall at His feet, wake my harp to His praise, and repose in that ineffable bosom on which I have so often sobbed my griefs, and which once sobbed and bled for me.
"Why should I shrink at pain or woe,
Or feel at death, dismay?
I've Canaan's goodly land in view,
And realms of endless day.
"Apostles, martyrs, prophets there
Around my Savior stand;
And soon my friends in Christ beloved
Will join the glorious band.
"Jerusalem! my happy home!
My soul still pants for thee;
When shall my labor have an end
In joy, and peace, and thee!"
How appropriate, then, the third or the supreme heaven as the dwelling-place of Jehovah. Let me briefly illustrate this thought.
Heaven is a GLORIOUS place--the place of glory. The glory of God, indeed, is everywhere. There is no place in the universe unreached, nor spot unillumined, by its splendor. The constellations reflect it, the earth exhibits it, man illustrates it. "The earth is full of His glory." But heaven is especially the place of glory, because it is God's dwelling. The palace of the Sovereign of earth and heaven should be worthy of the Divine Majesty that occupies it. But what heaven can contain God? What palace can, in its magnificence and dimensions, be commensurate with the glory and greatness of the eternal, the uncreated One?
How profound was this conviction and how reverential the feeling in the mind of Solomon at the dedication of the temple he built for God "Will God in very deed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain You; how much less this house that I have built for You?" Where, then, on earth shall we travel for the temple worthy of the Deity? Shall we repair to the Gothic cathedral, to the ancient abbey, to the costly sanctuary raised by human hands? Most true, all who worship God within these sacred structures "in spirit and in truth" shall find Him there, shall feel His presence, hear His word, and receive His blessing.
But God has a more befitting, a more sacred, and a more Divine temple upon earth than this--it is the heart of the humble, and the soul of the contrite. His own words can alone convey this marvelous truth. Had He not spoken it, who would have believed it? and because He has spoken it, who will dare deny it? "Thus says the Lord, The heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house that you build unto me, and where is the place of my rest? For all these things has my hand made, and all these things have been, says the Lord; but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word."
A truth more marvelous, words more precious, an assurance more comforting, cannot be found in God's revelation. While heaven, the third heaven, the heaven of heavens, cannot contain Him, He finds a home and raises a temple for Himself within the heart of a poor sinner, who, lying in the dust, penitent, contrite, humble, confesses and deplores his sins. Is your heart this temple, my reader? Is mine? Vital and solemn question! Its answer, as in the sight of the Searcher of hearts, decides our conversion, sets to rest the fact of our being the temple of God through the Spirit. And is it so that, with Job you exclaim, "I have heard of You with the hearing of the ear--but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes"? Is it so that, with David you exclaim, "I acknowledge my transgressions--and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight?" Is it so that, with the tax-collector you smite upon your breast and exclaim, "God be merciful to me a sinner?"
Oh, divine and blessed evidence, that "the high and the holy One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy," also dwells within the compass of your heart, and finds there His beloved and sacred and eternal dwelling. Thus fragrant to God is the "sacrifice of a broken and a contrite heart;" thus precious is the humble and the penitent mind; thus glorious in His eye is the temple of the soul draped and shrouded with the emblems of holy, spiritual mourning, lamentation, and woe for sin. Lord! make my heart Your home--my body Your temple!
Our Father dwells in heaven, also, because it is a HOLY place. "Thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, I dwell in the high and holy place." Essential Holiness can alone dwell in a holy atmosphere. Sin can never enter the abode of God. In the heaven of heavens, where Jehovah dwells, iniquity has no existence, there in no way enters anything that defiles. Every thought, and word, and feeling, and aspiration there is in harmony with divine and infinite purity.
Is not this the chief perfection, the strong attraction of heaven to you, beloved, that there you will be SINLESS as Christ is sinless, HOLY as God is holy? What is this fond anticipation of your heart, but an offshoot of that divine and holy nature into which you are begotten of God? A stronger evidence of your conversion does not exist than this hunger and thirst of your soul after holiness, this longing desire, this joyous expectation of perfect freedom from the taint and thraldom of sin. There is nothing in the flesh in sympathy with Divine purity; for, "in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing." If, then, you find, amid much that is contradictory, much that would negate the validity of such a state--a real, earnest, though often feeble and fluctuating desire after conformity to God's holiness, a true loathing of sin, a sincere and prayerful resistance of its promptings and its power, you may, with all assurance, write yourself as a humble child of God, a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The breathing after sanctification is sanctification. The thirst for holiness is holiness, just as the vital heaving of the lungs is life. Oh, may the Holy Spirit increase this desire, strengthen this breathing of the new nature within us! May we be content with nothing short of an intense and supreme panting of the soul after God! There is the very element of heaven--heaven in its first fruits, its early dawn, its pledge--in the real earnest, though often thwarted effort, of the renewed soul after the holiness that is perfect in heaven.
This state of mind may be attended, yes, even be produced, by deeper discoveries of the depravity and corruption within; you may appear to yourself to be more unholy, to be at a further remove from sanctification than ever; nevertheless, hold fast your confidence, for the Holy Spirit is employing this deeper ploughing for your deeper sanctification, for your more matured fitness for the holiness of glory. Yes; heaven, with all its favored blessings, its sweet attractions, its sparkling glories, its treasured ties inviting us to its pleasant coast, would be no heaven to a saint of God were he doomed still to wear the chains of corruption, still to trail along its starry pavement and through its sylvan borders, this wretched "body of sin and of death."
But, oh, entrancing thought! the moment my spirit rends the last fetter, and crosses the threshold of glory, it floats in an atmosphere congenial with its heavenly nature, breathes the air of its native climate, and is as complete in holiness--the state often sighed, and wept, and prayed for--as God is complete. Let this assurance nerve your arm in the conflict with sin, let this prospect animate you in your strivings after sanctification, and let the end of all God's corrective discipline reconcile you to the cup your Father gave you, even to make you a partaker of His holiness!
Our Father dwells in heaven, as the abode of perfect HAPPINESS. God is perfectly happy because He is perfectly holy. The two states are inseparable; holiness and happiness are correlative terms, they are kindred truths. Sanctification is the essential element of peace, joy, and assurance. God--I speak it reverentially--can only restore fallen man to happiness by restoring him to holiness. Sin and happiness are more antagonistic and irreconcilable, in the experience of the believer, than any elements in nature of opposite qualities. By some ingenious process of science, the alchemist may so change the properties of opposite elements, as to effect either amalgamation or fusion; but God, infinite as is His nature, vast and exhaustless as are His resources, possesses no secret by which He can unite and harmonize, in the salvation of man, sin and holiness; no moral process by which He can make the sinner happy, peaceful, hopeful, and still leave him the vassal of Satan and the slave of concupiscence.
Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, both in the world and in the soul of man. God's plan, therefore, in the restoration of man to happiness, is not to reconcile the two opposite and antagonistic forces of sin and holiness, but to dethrone and destroy sin, and upon its ruins, raise the fabric of righteousness, the temple of the Holy Spirit, to the eternal praise of the glory of His grace. This He does in the conversion of the soul, by which the children of adoption become partakers of the Divine nature; and through the sanctification of the Spirit; and the hallowed discipline of affliction, by which they become more and more partakers of their Father's image.
But God is happy. He would have remained so, infinitely, independently, supremely happy, had He never created an intelligent being to whom He would display, and with whom He would share it. He might have remained in His own solitary grandeur, ineffably, supremely happy, in the eternal contemplation of His own glory, dwelling in light, which no man has seen or can see. And even after His creation of intelligent beings, He might have hurled every angel from heaven, and have swept every creature from the earth, and not a drop had diminished the fullness, nor a cloud had shaded the luster of His own essential felicity.
It is true that the redemption of His Church has made such a revelation of Himself as will command the admiration, homage, and love of countless millions of intelligent beings throughout eternity; but, since it was God's happiness to save man--and infinity can neither be lessened or increased--the salvation of the Church has not made God more happy than He was from everlasting. To this happiness our Father who is in heaven admits His children. Having given them Himself to be their Father, He intends that they shall share the happiness of which He is the infinite ocean and the illimitable supply.
What a provision He has made for our participation of this happiness through Christ! He is the sole medium, the divinely-appointed channel. "There is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus." All the outflow of God's love, all the distillings of His compassion, all the sunbeams of His happiness, come to us through Jesus. And, oh, what a happiness to know Jesus, to possess Jesus, to stand in Jesus, to commune with Jesus, and to possess the blessed hope of coming with Jesus in the clouds of heaven when He shall appear in His glory! Is not this happiness?
You may pass through deep trial; be the subject of constant suffering; eat the bread and drink the water of affliction; feel lonely, desolate, and forlorn; nevertheless, if Christ is yours, your Savior, your Friend, your Brother, your Portion, and you are looking forward to the prospect of being with, and of enjoying Him forever, no bird within its cage can sing more sweetly than your imprisoned heart its note of happiness, its psalm of praise. Possessing Christ as your portion, with His boundless, pure, inexhaustible resources; changeless love; deep, tender compassion; as all your own, you may boldly challenge every foe, and confidently confront every difficulty and trial in the language of the patriarch, "When He gives quietness, who then can make trouble?"
Heaven, then, as the home of the Father, defines the home, final and eternal, of the family. Home! what marvelous magic is in that word! Home! what magic power does that thought possess! Home! around what spot do our holiest associations, our fondest memories cluster? To what shrine do our warmest affections travel--across oceans, and mountains, and deserts, and continents--is it not the home and the hearth of our childhood? Home! it is the circle of the purest affections, the core of essential happiness, the hive in which the sweetest sweets of life are found. It is youth's temple, manhood's shrine, the sanctuary of age, the archive of the past, and the ark of the future.
The human heart has many dwelling-places, but only one home. No exile can efface its memories, no distance can dissever its ties; no prosperity can eclipse its luster, no crime, no shame, no suffering, can tear its portraits from the picture-gallery of the soul. Perhaps the most true and touching illustration of this feeling is, when we are for the first time, and it may be forever, leaving home. We were never so sensible of our home attachment as at that moment. The simplest object, the most trifling association, enchains us to the spot–
"We do not know how much we love,
Until we come to leave;
An aged tree, a common flower,
Are things o'er which we grieve.
We linger while we turn away,
We cling while we depart;
And memories, unmasked until then,
Come crowding round the heart.
Let what will lure us on our way,
Farewell's a bitter word to say."
"I know of no passage in classical literature," says an eloquent writer, "more beautiful or affecting than that where Xenophon describes the effect produced on the remnant of the ten thousand Greeks, when, after passing through dangers without number, they at length ascended a sacred mountain, and from its peak and summit caught sight of the sea. Dashing their shields with a hymn of joy, they rushed tumultuously forward. Some wept with the fullness of their delicious pleasure, others laughed, and more fell on their knees and blessed that broad ocean. Across its blue waters, like floating sea-birds, the memorials of their happy homes came and fanned their weary souls. All the perils they had encountered, all the companions they had lost, all the miseries they had endured, were in an instant forgotten, and nothing was with them but the gentle phantoms of past and future joys. O home, magical spell, all-powerful home! how strong must have been your influences when your faintest memory could cause these hungered heroes of a thousand fights to weep like tearful women! With the cooling freshness of a desert fountain, with the sweet fragrance of a flower found in winter, you came across the great waters to these wandering men, and beneath the peaceful shadow of your wings their souls found rest!"
Graphic and glowing as is this picture of the magic influence of home upon the returning exile, it pales before the believer's eye as he catches, from some Pisgah height, a view of the New Jerusalem, the happy home where he is forever to dwell--its walls of jasper, its gates of pearl, its sunlight dome, its golden streets, its crystal waters, its tree of life, its central throne, the Lamb seated thereon, its countless multitude of holy, happy beings, all united in adoration of the Lamb who was slain. And when the soul has actually crossed the flood, and planted its foot, weary and sore, upon the golden sands, what its ecstasy, what its transport to find itself in heaven at last! Heaven was the starting-point of our race, and heaven will be the final home of its ransomed portion.
The exquisite story of the younger brother who exchanged his home for exile, poverty, and need; but who, in penitence and faith, with confession and supplication, returned to its sacred shelter and met a father's welcome, is the true position of redeemed humanity. The sinner saved by grace, the wanderer restored by love, retraces his steps back to God, and home to the heaven from whence he originally departed. Heaven is the family home of all the children of God. It is the Father's home. There, day by day, hour by hour, the Father is bringing His sons and daughters--the adoption of grace. He Himself is there, and where should the children be but with the Father?
Not one of that REDEEMED family shall be absent from the domestic circle. The white-haired parent, whose sun had run a long and holy course and then set in a flood of golden light--is there! The youth of manliness and beauty, the flower and hope of the family, whose sun went down while it was yet day--is there! The child of prattle and of song, the sunbeam and the cherub of the house, whose brightness and music death has in a moment darkened and hushed--is there! The infant of a day, just opening its languid eyes upon the world of sin, then closing them, as if saddened by the scene it beheld--is there! Yes, enriched and domesticated by the countless number of the family who have departed with 'FAITH in Jesus', heaven is daily growing more enchanting and endeared to faith's far-seeing eye as the Father's house.
And is not OUR RECORD on high? "Rather rejoice," said Christ to His disciples when they reported to Him the subjection of demons to their power--"rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Oh, what a remarkable and precious mercy to have a name written in heaven! Better, infinitely better, to have it enrolled there than emblazoned on the page of historic fame, engraved in brass, sculptured in marble, or set in diamonds upon a mother's heart! But ALL the names of the family of God are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, and written there from the foundation of the world. Rejoice in this!
You ask, "How may I know it?" The Lord has not left you without evidence. Is the name of Jesus engraved upon your heart? Has the Holy Spirit shown to you in measure, the evil of your heart, and brought you to see its darkness, its vileness, and its treachery? Has the discovery led to a renunciation of your own righteousness, to an abandonment of all hope based upon the law, to a believing, simple, loving acceptance of the Lord Jesus? Have you been led by the Spirit as a poor, empty sinner to the blood and righteousness of the Redeemer, looking only to Jesus, trusting only in Jesus, clinging only to Jesus as the limpet clings to the rock, as the shipwrecked mariner clings to the plank, as the dying man clings to the last hope of life? Are you combating with sin, hating the garment spotted by the flesh, striving after and, in some degree, attaining unto holiness?
Then, be you assured that your name is written in heaven. If the Spirit of Christ has written the name of Christ, and pencilled the image of Christ, however faintly traced and dimly seen, upon your softened, believing, loving heart, doubt not the fact that your name is enrolled in glory on the pages of that volume in which divine love wrote it from eternity, and from which Christ our Captain will pronounce it when the great muster-roll is read in the last great day. Oh, mercy of mercies, to have a name written in heaven! Lord! write Your own precious name upon my heart, and I will sing aloud of Your righteousness all the day long!
Heaven, also, is the residence of Jesus, the Elder Brother, and must therefore be the final home of all His brethren. How often, and with what emphasis of meaning, did Jesus associate Himself with His brethren in glory. "That where I am, there you may be also." "Father, I will that they also whom You have given me be with me where I am, that they might behold my glory." "With Christ,"--"present with the Lord,"--"forever with the Lord," were modes of expression by which Jesus and the sacred writers instructed and comforted the saints in the prospect of their departure.
The return of Christ to heaven, His entrance within the veil, was as the Representative of His Church, as the First Born of His brethren. When He had found the "pearl of great price,"--His Church--for the discovery and rescue of which He purchased the "field"--in this sense, and in this sense only, becoming the Savior of the world--He returned in triumph to heaven, claiming and possessing it as the just reward of His sufferings, and as the fittest cabinet of the ransomed and priceless jewel.
From Christ his Elder Brother not one of the brethren--the lowest and unworthiest--shall be separated. The family would be broken, the home circle would be incomplete, were a place vacant at the banquet which shall celebrate the return of every wanderer home to God. Oh, the rejoicing, oh, the merriment when all shall safely arrive at heaven! What blissful reunions, what joyful recognitions, what fond greetings, what mutual congratulations, what entrancing music will resound through the bowers, and reverberate through the high arches of heaven, when the whole family on earth and in heaven shall meet in glory!
Is not this prospect worth living for, worth dying for? Is it not worth the struggle with sin, the battle with the world, the endurance of suffering, the light affliction, the cross, the moral, even the physical martyrdom which the gospel of Jesus involves? Yes! Christ our Elder Brother took the veritable nature of His brethren, wore it in poverty, suffering, and humiliation on earth; and then bore it to heaven as the first-fruits of that redeemed nature to be gathered home by the angel reapers at His coming. How did Joseph's soul yearn to have his brethren with him in Egypt, that they might see his greatness and be nourished at his side! Listen to the language of Joseph's spiritual Prototype. "Father, I will that they also whom You have given me be with me where I am, that they might behold my glory." What yearning of soul is here! what breathing of love! what power of will! That petition shall be answered!
Until then how incessantly and intently is the Elder Brother occupied in our behalf. Every moment, every thought, every affection is engaged upon, and entwined with, our present and future well-being. For us Christ is praying, for us He is governing, for us He is waiting, and with us He is sympathizing until His brethren are complete, and the last and least--theBenjamin of the family--is brought home to see His greatness, to share His glory, and to celebrate His praise.
Who, with any true, experimental knowledge of Him, would not love with the intensest affection of his heart, serve with every power of his ransomed being, make any sacrifice, and die, if need be, a martyr's death for such a Brother? Are we wearing His nature, as He still wears ours? Are we growing more divine, as He is changelessly human? Are we not ashamed of Him, as He is not ashamed of us? Are we living a Christ-imitating, a Christ-exalting life, even as He once lived a man-abased, yet a man-saving life?
I can only further remark, that the expression, "Our Father, which are in heaven," clearly describes heaven to be the only befitting abode of the saints in glory. Earth is not the proper realm for the holy ones. This world is indeed a school for the culture of our Christian graces, and a sphere for the exercise of Christian service, but here we have no abiding place. The moment a sinner is by grace transformed into a child of God he becomes a stranger here, an alien and a pilgrim. Heaven, henceforth, is the goal, the aspiration, the home of his spirit. God has provided and furnished a heavenly abode for the heavenly mind--a pure dwelling for the "pure in heart," a beauteous world for the beautiful in holiness. For this He is daily preparing you. All His providential dealings, and gracious operations; all your mental and spiritual exercises--every tempest, every furnace, every temptation--God is employing to prepare YOU for the prepared place. Accept every stroke of His rod, every discipline of His hand, as bent on this mission of love. Blend every trial, every affliction, every rebuke of your Father with a sweet, sunny thought of heaven.
SUFFERING and GLORY are united in golden links in the history of the saints. Peter speaks of himself as a "witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glorywhich shall be revealed." And again, "If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him." Look, then, beyond the dark waters and the leaden skies which lie between you and the holy, peaceful coasts of glory; and let faith's eye often peer within the door opened in heaven, and behold the place where your weary spirit, before long, will fold its drooping wing, smooth its ruffled plumage, lie down and rest upon the ineffable bosom of your glorified Lord. There they have arrived, and there they repose, who have out-sped us in the race, have reached the goal, and anticipate our coming. We mourn them not as lost, but as saved; not as far-sundered from us, but as nearer now than ever; not as wearing the sin-tainted and disfigured robe of the flesh, enfolded with the belt of suffering; but as clad with the holy, beautiful vestments of the Father's house, the glory-robe of heaven, all encircling and worshiping the Lamb that was slain.
"Thus heaven is gathering, one by one, in its capacious breast,
All that is pure and permanent, the beautiful and blest;
The family is scattered yet, though of one home and heart,
Part militant, in earthly gloom, in heavenly glory part.
But who can speak the rapture when the circle is complete,
And all the children, sundered now, before their Father meet?
One fold, one Shepherd, one employ, one everlasting home,
'Lo, I come quickly.' Even so, amen, Lord Jesus, come!"
This view of the celestial spirit of the Lord's Prayer is suggestive of many PRACTICAL LESSONS. We are instructed in the first place to look up in prayer. The proper attitude of the mind in approaching God is a heaven-bent attitude. The whole soul should be in the ascent. When we draw near to our heavenly Father we must remember that, He is in heaven. Earth with its cares and ties, its sins and sorrows, must be left below. For the time being we professedly have exchanged, in our mental and spiritual flight, the terrestrial for the celestial--the communion of the saints who are on earth, for the higher communion of our Father who is in heaven. How consonant with this the experience of the psalmist! "My voice shall you hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto you, and will look UP."
Alas! how little is there in our experience of this looking up to God in trial, in trouble, in sin. We look down, we look to the right hand and to the left, and there is none to help, none to deliver, and we despond and despair. It is just because our eyes are earthward and not heavenward, man-ward and not Godwards. What a tendency, also, is there to look withinourselves, and not from ourselves, through Jesus, up to our Father who is in heaven! We look at the darkness, at the vileness, at the barrenness, at the deadness of our hearts--absorbed in the profound contemplation of our own poverty, vileness, and unworthiness--rather than up to the loving, gracious, forgiving, paternal heart of God.
But our whole Christian course must be a looking up. The more we look to God, and the less to our own selves and to man, the holier and the happier shall we be. The memorable intercessory prayer of our Great High Priest when on earth is thus introduced, "And Jesus lifted UP his eyes unto heaven, and said, Father." Such, also, has been the attitude of the Lord's people in all ages. "My eyes," says David, "are ever toward the Lord." Thus, also, prayed Jehoshaphat, "O our God, will you not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that comes against us; neither know we what to do--but our eyes are upon you." Then again the psalmist, "Unto You lift I UP mine eyes, O You that dwell in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look into the hand of their masters, and as the eye of a maiden into the hand of her mistress, so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God until that he have mercy upon us."
Look up, then, tried believer! Look up, then, tempted saint! Look up, then, suffering child! Your help comes from where your trouble came--from above. Affliction springs not out of the ground, but is a Heaven-sent discipline; and from hence comes the divine strength that will sustain, and the grace that will sanctify, and the love that will soothe. Oh, look up! Look up to Jesus, your Elder Brother, now appearing in the presence of God for you. Look up to the sun shining behind the clouds, to the rock towering above the billows; to Jesus, theAuthor, the Sustainer, the Finisher, and who, holding out the diadem, waits to be the Crowner, of your faith.
Another lesson we are taught by the celestial spirit of the Lord's Prayer is, to seek heavenly blessings. Our Father is in heaven. Nothing but heavenly blessings should satisfy our desires. Earth's choicest, are poor; its sweetest, unsatisfying; its loveliest, fading; its fondest, passing away. If born again, God has given you a spiritual nature, which will be content only with spiritual things. The nutriment which nourishes the divine nature must be divine; the good which satisfies the heavenly nature must be heavenly. Our Father is in heaven, where our heart's treasure is, and from heaven our dearest blessings flow. "If you then are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God." Oh, let us be earnest after heavenly blessings! Deeply do we need them! The needs of the soul are infinitely greater, and more important than those of the body. Yet, how we pamper and gratify the body, and how we starve and neglect the soul. How eager our pursuit of the earthly!--how languid our desires for the heavenly!--as though the body, so soon to return to its original dust, were of greater moment than the soul, which never ceases to exist.
Great is our need of heavenly blessings. We need more love to God, more conformity to Christ, more of the anointing of the Spirit; a fuller assurance of our conversion, and a higher enjoyment of a present salvation. We need more personal, heart-religion; more spiritual life; a walking in closer fellowship with the unseen and the eternal; and a more filial and confidential converse with God. Since, then, our Father is in heaven, prepared to send down from above every good and perfect gift; and since Christ, our Elder Brother, is at His right hand, prepared to endorse every petition, and to urge every request, let us look up through the blood of Christ, and importune God for that grace, and strength, and help, which will promote our heavenliness, and fit us all the more perfectly for heaven itself.
What, my reader, is the real state of your soul? What is your hope for the future? Which the destiny that awaits you--heaven or hell? In the one or the other you must spend your eternity. Nothing will be admitted into heaven but the heavenly, the holy, the pure. None enter its holy gate but those who have washed in the Lamb's blood, and are robed in the vestment of His righteousness. None enter there but those who love God, and have union with Christ, and are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Oh, decide the question now! Heaven and Hell begin upon earth. So real is their commencement, so unmistakable their evidence, every individual may arrive at a moral certainty as to which of the two he is speeding his way.
Think of the joys of heaven, of the sorrows of hell! Think of the eternal glory, of the endless woe! Happy with Christ and the saints forever, or forever the companion and the associate of demons and the damned! Throw down the weapons of your enmity against God, repent and believe in Jesus, and henceforth you will become a child of the heavenly parent; your conversation in heaven; shedding around you the reflected purity and luster of that world of holiness and glory in which the Father dwells, and into which, before long, will be gathered and assembled, in domesticated union and eternal fellowship, the one family of God.
Children of the kingdom! repose, amid the weariness of your pilgrimage, upon the slopes of glory! Soon heaven will be reached--soon its golden spires, and cloudless dome, and towering turrets will burst upon your view--soon the portal will appear, and the pearl gate will open upon its golden hinges to admit you to an innumerable company of angels, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator, and to God the Judge of all. Your path through death's lonely valley will be all light, shining with increasing effulgence unto the perfect day. It was a strangely-beautiful remark of a child, when asked how his little sister, who had lately died, went up to heaven, replied, "She put her foot upon the sun, and went up." Thus will ascend to glory every child of the light. Perhaps the spirit, in its celestial flight, will make the sun in the natural skies a stepping-stone, from which it will spring into higher regions of glory. But, beyond all doubt, it will stand upon, and be clothed with, the divine "Sun of Righteousness," borne upon whose wings, and radiant with whose luster, it will float away into the world of light and song, of bliss and immortality--and so shall it be forever with the Lord!
"What is a scene of glory? I would say,
A Christian standing on the verge of heaven,
One foot on earth, another on the sun,
Standing sublime on Pisgah's lofty mount,
Spreading his wings, and ready for his flight;
Leaving earth's dim and shadowy things behind,
Catching already on his heaven-bound soul
The beams of that bright land to which he goes.
Done with the world, its sorrows, and its cares,
Its empty joys, and vain delusive hopes.
Done with the world, its sufferings, and its sins,
Its follies, and its frailties, and its fears.
Done with the world, and entering upon heaven,
With all its bright realities unseen
By mortal eye, full opening to the gaze
Of faith, so soon to be matured in sight.
"The sight of Jesus bursting on the eye,
The songs of angels floating on his ear;
The palm of victory, the spotless robe,
The crown of glory, and the golden harp,
Unfolding to the eyes, that close on earth
To open on the glorious things of heaven.
Around him waving the celestial wings
Of the angelic band, that waits to bear
His parting spirit to its heavenly home.
This is a scene of glory, in whose light
The brightest scenes of earth grow dim and fade;
The beams of this world's glory cease to shine,
E'en as the morning sun puts out the stars."
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