OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN
THE REVELATION IN JESUS CHRIST
Christs Own Testimony and Teaching
- Jesus Testimony in Matthew 11:25-27. There is no saying of Jesus preserved to us in the gospels that bears more directly on the subject before us than the one written in Matt. 11:25-27: I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father, for so it was well pleasing in thy sight. All things have been delivered unto me of my Father, and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him (comp. Luke 10:21, 22). It is quite arbitrary and unjustifiable to question this text, as some critics have done, solely on account of its remarkable harmony with the doctrine and style of the fourth gospel. Its sentiment is in thorough harmony with the general spirit and teaching of our Lord, and the three things which demand our careful attention are the following: (1) The filial relationship of Jesus to God, and the consciousness that he is personally the medium of a very special and superior revelation of his Father; (2) this superior revelation is intelligible to babes in understanding, that is, people of simple and receptive hearts like guileless children, as against those who pride themselves in their own wisdom and knowledge; (3) the Father himself enjoys a real pleasure in thus revealing himself to such as are, like Jesus, meek and lowly in heart. These three noble truths find ample support in other teachings of our Lord recorded in the synoptic gospels, as we proceed to show.
(1) Fuller Revelation of the Father. The consciousness that he came to reveal the Father in a more complete manner than had bpn Tnade known in the Law and the Prophets, is apparent in the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the 3founL. Doth the oubotanoo of his teaching and the authority with which he spoke astonished the multitudes that heard him (Matt. vii, 28, 29). 1 came not to destroy the law or the prophets, he says, but to fulfill. I declare unto you a deeper sense in the old commandments than the world has yet recognized. The law against murder is violated by every one who is angry with his brother. The law against adultery is broken even by the lustful look and thought. He is guilty of swearing profanely who allows his speech to go beyond the simple, straightforward yea and nay. The law of personal retaliation and hatred of enemies is to be superseded by the new commandment, Love your enemies and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust (5:44, 45). In the matter of prayer he puts stress on ones personal approach to the Father. The psalmist uttered one of the most affecting conceptions of Jehovah to be found in the Old Testament when he said, As a father pitieth his children, so Jehovah pitieth them that fear him (103:13). But the utterance is general, and is based on the conception of reverential awe rather than of love in the heart of the child. Jesus speaks of thy Father, and inculcates personal confidence and affection in ones approach unto God: When thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee (6:6). He assures us that our heavenly Father knows our needs before we ask him. Be not anxious, he says, about food and drink and clothes. Your heavenly Father feeds the birds, and clothes the lilies, and are ye not of much more value in his sight than they? And so, in addressing God in prayer, he teaches us to say, Our Father; give us our daily bread; forgive us our debts; bring us not into temptation. Elsewhere he says: Not one sparrow shall fall on the ground without your Father; but the very hairs of your head are all numbered (10:29, 30). With what personal confidence, then, ought we to pray unto our Father who is in the heavens! We are, accordingly, admonished to be perfect children, inasmuch as we have such a perfect heavenly Father (5:48), and to let our light shine before men, that they, too, may see, and know, and glorify our Father who is in the heavens (5:16). Other teachings of Jesus in the synoptic gospels involve this same impressive doctrine of our heavenly Father. He assures those who are persecuted and brought to bear witness for him before governors and kings that it shall be given them in that hour what they shall say by the Spirit of their Father (Matt. 10:20). This is in noteworthy harmony with the doctrine of the Comforter in Johns gospel. Call no man your father on the earth, he says (23:9), for one is your Father, the heavenly. This means that the filial relation to God should be realized in a manner so enhancing to our thought that no merely human title, not even that of father, should for a moment lead us to forget our blessed relationship to our heavenly Father. His frequent use of the expression my Father has also its suggestions. Whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in the heavens, he is my brother, and sister, and mother (12:50). Here, surely, Jesus reveals his Father in a most personal and affectionate way. Every pure human relationship is thus sanctified with those whose lives are hid with Christ in God, and all the blessed possibilities of regeneration and eternal life take on an overwhelming heavenly aspect by the suggestions of such spiritual relationship to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Add to this the solemn words of Matt. 10:32, 33: Every one who shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father who is in the heavens. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in the heavens. Also those of Matt. 15:13: Every plant which my heavenly Father planted not, shall be rooted up. In all such statements Jesus not only assumes a unique relation to God as his heavenly Father, but also implies the provision for a personal filial relation to God of all that love him. He also reveals the Father in various aspects of his heavenly tenderness in such other savings as, If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father who is in the heavens (Matt. 18:19). It is not the will of my Father who is in the heavens, that one of these little ones should perish (ver. 14:). Verily I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold. the face of my Father who is in the heavens (ver. 10). The righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (13:43). I appoint unto you a kingdom, even as my Father appointed unto me, that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and ye shall sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:29, 30; comp. Matt. 19:28). It is impossible to study these sayings of our Lord and fail to see that in a variety of profoundly suggestive ways he is making the Father known to them that are willing to know him. His language has at times the style of metaphor and proverb, but the essential thought is never difficult to grasp, and in every instance we catch some new and impressive glimpse of the love of our Father who is in the heavens.
(2) Simplicity of Christs Gospel of the Father. Furthermore, this manner of revealing the Father has its peculiar adaptation to those who possess childlike simplicity and willingness to learn the truth. Things that concern our deepest needs, things of a very practical character but of far-reaching importance, are often hidden, by reason of barriers of their own construction, from those who are wise in their own conceit. The simplicity of the gospel of Christ is one of its highest claims upon our confidence, and the beatitudes, pronounced in Matt. 5:3-8, upon the poor in spirit, the sorrowful, the gentle, the merciful, and the pure in heart surpass in beauty and tenderness even such exceptionally comforting words of the Old Testament as, Jehovah is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as are of a contrite spirit (Psa. 34:18); or those of Isa. 57:15: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit. The simple adaptation of Christs teaching to touch the heart of humanity everywhere is its crowning excellence. Herein he surpasses psalmists and prophets that were before him. While it is written, in Dan. 7:27, that the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, Jesus says, Fear not, little flock, for it is your Fathers good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32). In explaining the purpose of his parables he said to the disciples: Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them (who vainly pride themselves in ability to see and hear) it is not given…. Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto, you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which ye see, and saw them not; and to hear the things which ye hear, and heard them not (Matt. 13:11-17; comp. Lnke 10:21-24). All this and much more of a similar kind illustrates the simple, direct, and touching manner in which Jesus made known the Spirit of his Father and our Father who is in heaven.
(3) The Fathers Delight in His Children. But these same teachings also reveal the delight of our heavenly Father in communicating his grace to those who are of a receptive heart. Such revelation is a positive pleasure (______, a delightful satisfaction) unto him. He is as well pleased to impart the riches of his kingdom to his children as he is well pleased in his beloved Son (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). As the Father loves his anointed Son, and delights to honor him, he reveals in this conspicuous fact that he has exquisite joy in all his obedient children. The great commandment which Christ extols as comprehensive of the whole Law and the Prophets would be without force if we did not assume that the Father himself loves us with an affection that passeth understanding. How wonderfully and genuinely must he love us to expect that we love him with all the heart and soul and mind and strength! He surely expects reciprocal affection, and in the entire ministry of his Son Jesus Christ he has given us assurance of his unspeakable pleasure in manifesting his holy love for man, and in receiving from man the simple, childlike response of a love unfeigned.
- Great Advance on the Old Testament View. In this more personal revelation of the love of our heavenly Father, Jesus made a noteworthy advance beyond the general teaching of the Old Testament. He spoke with an authority greater than that of Moses and the prophets, and in proportionate clearness brought God nearer to the human heart. For while the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms extol the loving-kindness and long-suffering of the God of Israel, and in a few instances ascribe to him the title of Father, the power, majesty, righteousness, and holiness of God receive by far the more elaborate treatment. In that older time the nation and the family were put so far above the individual that personal interests were comparatively lost from sight. Hence when Jehovah says in Jer. 31:9, 1 am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born, it is the nation, the people as a collective body, not the individual Israelite, that is thought of as the dear son, the darling child (ver. 20). So, too, in Hos. 11:1, when Israel was a child, then I loved him and called my son out of Egypt, it is not an individual but all the tribes of Israel that the prophet has in mind. The same appears in Exod. 4:22: Thus saith Jehovah, Israel is my son, my first-born. Also in Isa. 63:16; 64:8, Thou, O Jehovah, art our Father, is the cry of Jehovahs servant Israel, who calls himself thy holy people, the tribes of thine inheritance. While such a collective idea of Jehovahs first born son was the prevailing thought, the true personal relation of each individual to God as his heavenly Father could not be fully made known. This highest and holiest personal relationship was first brought to light in Jesus, who at twelve years of age spoke confidently of my Father (Luke 2:49), and whom at the Jordan the voice out of heaven proclaimed as my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. What the prophet Hosea (11:1) said of Israel as a people, the evangelist sees fulfilled personally in Jesus (Matt. 2:15). The magnificent language, which in Isa. 42:1-4, is addressed by Jehovah to Jacob his servant and Israel whom he has chosen, is in Matt. 12:18-21, applied directly to Jesus Christ. And, similarly, in all the teaching of our Lord relative to his Father and our Father who, is in heaven, he puts forward the more personal revelation of the Father to the individual heart of everyone to whom the Son willeth to reveal him.
- The Only One Good. It is further to be remarked that in his revelation of the Father Jesus declares him as the one God who is the impersonation of all goodness. To the man who addressed him as good Master, he said: Why callest thou me good? None is good save one, the God (_____; Mark 10:18). This declaration should not be construed into a denial of Christs goodness, but is designed rather to put forward the highest conception of personal goodness and center it in God. Somewhat after the manner of Eliphaz (in Job 4:18; 15:15), who would enhance the thought of Gods holiness by suggesting that his holy ones and even the heavens themselves are comparatively unclean, Jesus affirms that God alone is absolutely good. This characteristic quality of the divine nature must needs comprehend all those moral attributes which we have classified under omnisentience, namely, faithfulness, goodness, loving-kindness, emotionality, righteousness, and holiness; and hence we learn that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ possesses all these qualities in absolute perfection. The Pharisee, whose notions of righteousness and goodness were altogether conventional, and who was wont to tithe mint, and rue, and every herb, and pass over the justice and the love of God (Luke 11:42), was hardly susceptible to such a revelation of divine goodness as these words of Jesus contain. This declaration concerning goodness might perhaps be paraphrased so as to conform to what our Lord said about his knowledge of the day and hour (Mark 13:32): No one is absolutely good, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
- Doctrine of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. The peculiarities of the fourth gospel are such as to justify our study of its doctrine of God in connection with the same doctrine found in the first epistle of John. In both gospel and epistle we find the teaching of Jesus touching his heavenly Father set forth in language and style peculiar to the Johannine writings, but the doctrine is in all essentials in complete harmony with that of the synoptic gospels. The doctrine of the Logos, in whose incarnation was beheld a glory as of an only begotten from a Father full of grace and truth, has its commanding significance for the true revelation of God. There are also other statements of a general character, which here call for only a passing notice. The Father is the only true God (17:3; comp. 7:28; 8:26); he is the holy Father, and the righteous Father (17:11, 25), also the living Father, who has life in himself, and has given to the Son to have life in himself (6:57; 5:26). In the first epistle (1:9; 2:29; 3:7; 5:20) we meet with the same general statements, and from all such teaching we derive the concept of a blessed Father, full of grace and truth, existing through eternity but manifesting himself in time as holy and righteous altogether, and that supreme manifestation is in and through his Son.
(1) God is Spirit. The most specific declaration of the essential nature of God to be found in Johns gospel is in 4:24, where Jesus says to the woman of Samaria, God is Spirit. The Greek word _______, Spirit, is here without the article and occupies the emphatic position in the sentence, thus notably describing the nature rather than the personality of God. The Samaritan woman seems to have held the old notion of her ancestors (comp. 2nd Kings 17:26, 27) that each country has its local deity, and that within that region one place of worship would be more acceptable than another. Over against this notion Jesus set forth the sublime spiritual and monotheistic concept of God, the one universal Father, whose presence may be known in any place. Nay, instead of presuming to find God in this mountain or in that, the Father himself is the one who seeks the true worshipers. The real concern of one who would know the Father must be, not a question of time, and place, and outward forms of reverence, but the spirit and truth in which he opens his inmost soul to the reception of that which is good. Spiritual truth may be spiritually discerned in any place, and every spot where God thus makes himself known to his true worshiper is holy ground. The essential attributes of a spirit are not and cannot be seen by fleshly eyes, but they may be felt and known in personal consciousness. Spirit answers to spirit, and Gods wisdom, love, and power are spiritual verities to be truly apprehended by spiritual intuition. Only the spiritual man can truly discern, examine, and receive the things of the Spirit of God.
(2) God is the Life and the Light. We have noticed that, in John 6:57, Jesus calls God the living Father. In another place (5:26) he says: As the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself. Accordingly, the prologue of this gospel declares that in him was life, and the life was the light of men (1:4). The coming of Christ is that men may have life, and may have it abundantly (10:10). Life and light are thus closely associated in the mind of this evangelist, and the main thought is that of spiritual life and its heavenly illumination. God is the one eternal source of life and light, and these he imparts to man through the incarnation of the Word through whom all things were made. Hence by necessary implication the Father is the source of all life and all light in the universe. All possibilities of life, vegetable, animal, and spiritual, exist primordially in him. Life and light associate naturally together, and since the life was the light of men, Jesus says with great force, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life (8:12). In this connection the language of 1st John 1:5, may well be cited: God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. He became incarnate that he might appear and witness the true light which lighteth every man (1:9; 9:5; 12:46).
(3) God is Love. The love of the Father finds highest expression in the person and work of his only begotten Son. The language of John 1:18, is very remarkable. It is the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, who alone can fully reveal him. This statement is in substance the same as that of Jesus himself in Matt. 11:27, but in this fourth gospel we note the phrases only begotten Son, and the bosom of the Father. These are terms of holiest affection, and the concept of the eternal Word, in the beginning with God, existing, in the glory of the Father, and beloved of the Father before the world was (comp. 17:5, 24), yet becoming flesh and manifesting himself as a man among men, is unique and marvelous among all the self-revelations of God. While this Son of the Father makes known the truth and holiness and righteousness of God, and magnifies all moral excellencies to the highest conceivable perfection, his manifestation of the love of God has noteworthy preëminence. The classic text, which embodies the whole gospel in one sentence, is John 3:16: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. This is the love divine which, when duly felt, prompts our loving God with all the heart and soul. As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you: abide ye in my love (15:9). The same idea of Gods love is emphasized in the first epistle of John. We are to love one another because love is of God, and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God. Thus every true child of God is to know the love of the Father, and all such are to love one another also, as dear children, in whom God delights to abide and perfect his own heavenly love. God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him (4:7-16). Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God (3:1). All these sayings are but echoes of the teaching of Jesus in the gospel according to John. God is the tender, affectionate, all-compassionate Father. As truly as he is a Spirit so also God is love, and we think of his onmisentience as preeminently the delicate sensitiveness of an infinite loving-kindness toward his whole creation. The groaning and travailing world of life suffers no, emotion that is not also felt in the bosom of the Father. How unfathomable the love that so grasps the world as to feel every joy and every pang of insect, bird, beast, and child of man that ever lived and moved upon the face of the earth, in the depths of the sea, or in the heavens above!
(4) Johannine Concept of the Fatherhood. The name of the Father is employed in referring to God about one hundred and twenty times in the gospel, and twelve times in the first epistle of John. The expression is generally the Father, and frequently my Father, but, with the sole exception of 20:17, your Father does not appear as in the synoptic gospels. To the unbelieving Jews who claimed God for their Father he said: If God were your Father, ye would love me, for I came forth and am come from God…. Ye are of your father the devil (8:42-44). So in the parable of the tares those who offend and work iniquity are called sons of the evil one (Matt. 13:38). There is nothing in the nature of fatherhood nor in the yearnings of love to coerce filial obedience in any human heart. And so while all men are offspring of God, and the whole world of life has its origin in the eternal Spirit, men have rebelled against God, rejected his truth, alienated themselves from his fellowship, and sold themselves to do evil. But on the other hand, to as many as receive this Son of God, gave he the right to become children of God (1:12). This right to become children of God is a Johannine phrase, and the idea is not very different from Pauls doctrine of adoption (______). It is the gracious bestowal of a peculiar power or authority (____) for personal fellowship with God and with Christ. To those who enjoy such filial right the fatherhood of God becomes in Christ a blessed and glorious vision. He that hath seen me hath seen the Father (14:9). The everlasting Father lives, loves, and shows his wisdom and power in the person of his Son, whom he has sent to be the Saviour of the world. There are many mansions in the Fathers house prepared for and awaiting those that love him (14:2), and it is the only begotten Son who prepares them, and comes and receives his own, and takes them away to behold his heavenly glory. The Father is thus manifested and glorified in the Son. Hence the force and suggestiveness of the words, I am in the Father and the Father in me. At the same time the dependence of the Son upon the Father is declared in most positive terms: The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing; for what things soever he doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth (5:19, 20; comp. 8:28; 12:49). It is in accordance with this self-testimony that he can both say, I and the Father are one (10:30), and the Father is greater than I (14:28). The Father as the infinite source of all love, wisdom, and power holds the essential relationship of fatherhood, but in the outworking of his purpose of redemption he acts in dynamic unity of fellowship with the only begotten Son, and the real basis of such fellowship is a spiritual unity of nature and of life.