The Filial Spirit of the Lord’s Prayer
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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 spirits."
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 God."
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 ofpower 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 conduct.
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'sbusiness?" 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 myFather, 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 holyobedience, 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."
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