Lord’s DAY 46
Chapter 1: Addressing God as our Father
The sonship of which he speaks is a sonship of grace, a very particular sonship, that has its deepest source in eternal election. In absolutely sovereign, elective love God adopted us to be His children. In eternal, sovereign grace He bestowed upon us the fight to be called the sons of God. In that sense, although in time we appear as children of the devil by nature, and children of wrath, we are indeed sons of God from before the foundation of the world. But God also realized that right in time. He laid the foundation of this sonship in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. For by His perfect obedience, even unto the death of the cross, our Lord Jesus Christ obtained for us eternal righteousness, the forgiveness of sins, and the adoption unto children of God. And in the resurrection of our Lord from the dead we have God’s own signature and seal to the certificate of our adoption.
Such is the legal aspect of our sonship.
And, when in the address of the Lord’s Prayer we approach God as our Father, we do so only by faith, in the consciousness that we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, Who died for us, Who became sin for us; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, and that therefore in His righteousness we received from God the rights of sonship and have the confidence to call Him our Father. We look at the cross and at the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and believe that in those two wonders of grace we may behold the eternal love of God to us as our Father in heaven. And therefore, although everything testifies against us in this life and in this world. and although our own conscience condemns us that we have sinned and do sin against all the commandments of God, nevertheless, on the basis of God’s own revelation in the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have the confidence that we are the children of God and may call Him our Father. In the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ we have God’s own signature and seal to the certificate of our adoption.
But there is more.
Human parents may adopt a strange child, but they can never make it their own flesh and blood. They may love that child and care for it as if it were their own. They may give it a place in their home, and even bestow upon it their inheritance. But it never becomes really their own child.
But with God this is different. When He bestows upon us the grace of adoption, He also realizes this adoption in their hearts. He regenerates us, so that we are born of Him and become conformed according to the image of His Son, in true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. He quickens us unto a new life, the life that is from above, the immortal, heavenly life wherewith we shall presently dwell in God’s tabernacle forever. He calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light, so that we repent of our sins and long to be restored to His favor. He, sheds abroad in our hearts the love wherewith He loved us in Christ Jesus, and gives us the faith whereby we rely on the righteousness of God revealed in the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. He causes the Spirit of Christ to dwell in our hearts and to abide with us forever. He assures us through the gospel that we are the sons of God. For thus He assures us Himself in His Word: “For ye have not received the Spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” Rom. 8:15, 16. And again, “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” Gal. 4:4-6.
Hence, when in the address of the Lord’s Prayer we call God our Father, this also implies that we are conscious of our real, spiritual; ethical sonship. We are conscious of this by the very fruits of our sonship, the love of God and the love of one another, the true confidence of faith, the delight in the keeping of His commandments. O, we do not forget that all this we possess only in principle. We have but a small beginning of the new obedience. Sin still dwells within us. And therefore, this consciousness of our sonship will often reveal itself in a confession of our sins before God and before one another, and a deep need of forgiveness, as well.as a longing for perfection.
Nevertheless, when we address God as our Father, we thereby express a childlike confidence that God will give us what we ask of Him according to His will and in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. And at the same time, it is also the expression of a childlike love, that asks only for those things that are pleasing to Him.
And it is all of grace.
At the very beginning of our prayer the Lord leads us in the marvelous way of His grace and through the entrance of His sovereign election into the presence of His heavenly majesty. We may boast to man of our own free will, whereby we have accepted our sonship. But even before we utter the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer, this boast has died on our lips, and we humbly confess: “Our Father Who art in heaven, it is none of self, all of Thee.”
Chapter 2: In the Heavenly Sanctuary
When the Lord teaches us to address cod as our Father, it implies, of course, that we draw very near to God, and that God draws very near to us. He takes us into His bosom, and we nestle there. He fills us with filial love and childlike confidence, so that we do not flee away from Him at the sight of His glory and infinite majesty, but have boldness to remain in His presence and to pour out our hearts before Him.
However, this does not mean that God has now become our equal, our next door neighbor, and that henceforth we can address Him with that familiarity that breeds contempt. There are those who appear to think that it is a token of real piety that they address the Most High very familiarly, as if He actually were their equal. I personally have heard prayers in which God was addressed as “you” and “your” instead of as “thou” and “thee” and “thy,” expressing, of course, that the one who thus prayed was very familiar with God. It must be evident that as long as anyone can express himself thus, he has never entered consciously into the presence of the most high majesty. He to whom we speak in prayer is the same whose glory and majesty the prophet Isaiah beheld in a vision, “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and whose train filled the temple. Above it stood seraphims; each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried to another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.” As the prophet thus beheld the glory of the great God, he cried out: “Woe is me! for I am undone!” Isa. 6:1-5. It is indeed a marvelous privilege that we may dwell in the presence of that great God, and that we may confidently draw near to His bosom, and stammer in spiritual ecstasy, “Our Father!” Let us beware that we do not destroy the wonder of it by dragging God down to the level of our own existence. Our Father is the most high majesty of heaven and earth. He dwelleth in an inaccessible light.
Lest we should forget this, the Lord teaches us to address God as our Father, but also to add immediately, “Who art in heaven.”
We understand at once, of course, that this addition may not be understood as a local, or limiting qualification. And it is not designed to make us cry very loudly to a very distant God, that we may reach Him with our voice. That would indeed be characteristic of an idol, not of the living God. Such a God would be no God. He is the proper object of the mockery of Elijah against the priests who cried unto Baal from morning till evening and received no answer, and whom. Elijah mocked in the well-known words: “Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.” God is omnipresent. He is not only in heaven, but also in the earth: “He is not far from every one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:27, 28. And even the very heaven of heavens cannot contain Him. II Chron. 6:18. He is the transcendent One, exalted above all that is called creature. Your prayer need not be a loud clamor to make Him hear you. When, if occasion demands, in shop or office, in restaurant or train, you desire to lift up your heart to Him in prayer, your whisper is quite sufficient; and He inclines His ear even unto your silent prayer.
The Catechism therefore avoids carefully all local implications when, in answer to the question, “Why is it here added, ‘Which art in heaven’?” it teaches us as follows: “Lest we should form any earthly conception of God’s heavenly majesty, and that we may expect from his almighty power all things necessary for soul and body.”
Indeed, we may never form an earthly conception of God and of His glorious majesty.
But aside from this, there are especially two implications in the words, “Who art in heaven.”
The first of these is that in your prayers you present yourself to God as He is revealed in heaven. You present, yourselves before His very face, in Christ Jesus our Lord. You do not address an abstract providence; nor do you speak to a vague omnipotence, or to an undefined omnipresence, when you pray. On the contrary, you seek Himself, His face, His person. Nor can you address Him as He is revealed on the earth in what is called “nature.” For indeed the invisible things of Him are manifested in the things that are seen, and reveal His eternal power and godhead. But the things in the world do not reveal His face, shining upon us in everlasting mercy and love, and drawing us into His covenant fellowship. On the contrary, in these things “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” We lie in the midst of death, and in His wrath we pine and die, But in- heaven, where the holy angels see His face, where is His sanctuary, where He is revealed in the face of Christ Jesus our Lord, who prays for us with continual intercession,—there is the revelation of the God of our salvation, the God of everlasting grace and mercy, who in His love forgiveth all our iniquities, that He may be feared. Thither, then, to heaven, where the face of God is, you direct your longing gaze. In your prayers you turn your eyes away from the present world and all that belongs to it, its wrath and death, in order to direct them to the holy place in heaven, to the sanctuary, whither Christ has gone before. For there you may find Him as your loving Father, at whose heart you may find rest.
And the second implication of the qualifying clause, “Who art in heaven,” is that God is very highly exalted above us and above all creation, infinite in power and wisdom, glorious in the splendor of His holiness. In distinction from all idols, the Scriptures teach us: “But our God is in the heavens; he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” Ps. 115:13. You therefore shall not think earthly of Him, neither drag Him down from His excellency, but be filled with a holy reverence, even when you address Him as your Father. And in this holy reverence and consciousness of His infinite power and wisdom, you will, on the one hand, feel assured that He knows all your needs and that He is able to help you. And on the other hand, you will refrain from praying thoughtlessly and from presenting before His face your sinful desires and carnal petitions. For thus the Scriptures admonish us: “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.” Ecclesiastes 5:2. Or, as the Lord teaches us in Matt. 6:7, 8: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much- speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”
Subjectively, therefore, the addition, “Who art in heaven,” presupposes that we approach our Father in heaven in true humility and assured confidence. We approach Him in humility because of His glorious majesty and our own insignificance, but also because of His glory and holiness and our sin. But on the other hand, we also approach Him in true and assured confidence. The glorious majesty of God, we are assured, is omnipotent: He always doeth whatsoever He pleaseth. And in that confidence, seeing that we approach Him as our Father in heaven, we are assured that we will receive whatsoever we ask of Him in the dame of our Lord Jesus Christ and according to His will. He is willing because He is our Father, Who loves -us with an everlasting love. And He is able, because He is all-powerful and all-wise. How then shall He not with Christ freely give us all things? I must observe once more, as I already did in another connection, that this address is introduced by the personal pronoun “our,”—in the plural, therefore. The scope of this plural is both exclusive and inclusive. It is exclusive because it cannot possibly mean that I approach our Father in heaven in the consciousness of my fellowship with all men. By nature men are children of wrath, and certainly not children of our Father which is in heaven. And it is inclusive because it embraces all believers, no one excepted. The scope of this plural is determined by Christ Jesus our Lord. It is only in Him that God is our Father. And in Him, and for His sake, He adopted us to be His children. Only in the consciousness bf that relationship, and therefore, in the consciousness of our fellowship, not with all men, but with believers in Jesus Christ our Lord, we address God as our Father who is in heaven. And of course, it implies too that he who thus addresses God stands in the love of the brethren, and is able to approach God in the consciousness that his relationship with the brethren is unmarred, and that there is no enmity or hatred in his heart against any one of them.
Thus we have discovered that the simple address of the Lord’s Prayer is very profound and very significant. O, it is indeed possible to recite the entire Lord’s Prayer in half a minute. Yet, it may well require more than a half hour of our time to utter this address alone in spirit and in truth, that through it we may really lift up our hearts to the most high, and contemplate Him with holy reverence, filial love, and childlike confidence. But if we have succeeded in this, and feel in our hearts that thus we have obtained audience with the living God, we are ready to continue our prayer. For in that holy reverence of Him that is in heaven we will seek His glory above all, and all others things only for His name’s sake. In that filial love of our Father we will be desirous to be pleasing to Him, and only ask for those things that are according to His will. In that childlike confidence we also feel assured that He will give us every good thing: for He is able to save us, being almighty God; and always willing to bless us, being our loving Father, “Who spared not His own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” How, then, “shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Rom. 8:32.