Also in the many prayers that are found in the Psalms we find that God is usually addressed as Jehovah, the Lord of all the earth and the God of His people Israel, that will surely save them. In the vision of Isaiah 6 we find that the seraphims are chiefly impressed by the holiness and glory of the Lord God. For they cover their faces and their feet, and cry, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” When the apostles Peter and John were released from their captivity by the Sanhedrin, and return to their own company, the church of Christ lifted up their voice in adoration and thanksgiving, and evidently addressed Him as the Lord, Who is sovereign over all the kings of the earth, and Who executes His own counsel not only in spite of them, but even through them. Cf. Acts 4:24-30. And the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4 cast down their crowns before the throne of God and worship Him, saying: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” And the great multitude in heaven, standing before the throne of God and the Lamb, clothed with white robes and palms in their hands, cried with a loud voice: “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” And the angels at the same time, standing round about the throne, fell upon their faces and worshipped God, saying, “Amen: blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever. Amen.” Particular circumstances, therefore, under which we pray, the peculiar state of our mind and heart when we pray and the specific consciousness of the needs we wish to present before the Most High often cause us to think of God particularly in the light of one or more of His infinite and marvelous virtues, whether it be His sovereignty or His omnipotence, His forgiving grace or His abundant mercy. And we address Him accordingly.
Nevertheless, in the first place, these glorious virtues of God are all very really implied in the simple address of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father which art in heaven.” And secondly, this address is certainly fundamental, and the attitude presupposed by it is surely indispensable to all true prayer. For if we cannot or dare not address God as “Our Father,” we cannot approach Him at all. And secondly, if we cannot add “Who art in heaven,” we make Him like unto us, drag Him down from His excellency, and pray to an idol. As long as we must cry unto Him from the darkness of our present death, as long as we have not entered. into the heavenly glory, we will never find an address to our prayers that is more perfect and all-comprehensive in its simplicity than that of the Lord’s Prayer, acknowledging as it does at the same time the excellency of His majesty while bringing Him very near unto us in His everlasting love and mercy.
The Lord Jesus teaches us in this prayer to address God as “Our Father.”
What does this mean?
Let us ask, first of all to whom are these words addressed? The answer must be, of course, to the triune God, the one adorable being of infinite perfections, who is one in essence, yet three in persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. By calling upon God as our Father, we do not address Him as the first person of the holy trinity, but as the one God subsisting in threeness of persons. This triune God is the Father of creation, who of nothing made heaven and earth. The same triune God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh, who was delivered for our transgressions and raised for our justification, and is now exalted at the right hand of God the Father almighty. And again, this same triune God is our Father for Christ’s sake only. It is true that we call upon Him as our Father through Jesus Christ His Son, and that it is only by the grace of the Holy Spirit that we can cry, “Abba, Father.” Nevertheless, through the Spirit of God, as the Spirit of Christ, and through our Lord Jesus Christ, as the mediator of God and man, we address not the first person of the holy trinity, but the triune God when we say, “Our Father who art in heaven.” In trinity the first person is Father of the Son in the Spirit. But in relation to us the triune God is our Father through Jesus Christ our Lord and by the operation of the Spirit of Christ, which He has given unto Him and unto us.
But what does it mean that we call Him our Father?
It surely expresses that He made us His children. And this is a profound mystery. Surely, you can teach the smallest child to address God in the words, “Our Father who art in heaven.” Yet, the depth of truth expressed in these words is not readily fathomed. For it implies nothing less than that the infinite, glorious, adorable God, who is the implication of all infinite perfections, Who is a light in whom there is no darkness at all, so made us, so formed us, that there is in us an affinity and likeness to the divine nature. As the apostle Peter expresses it in I Peter 1:4: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” It also means that on the basis of this likeness and this affinity, there is a communion of life and a communion of love between God and us. It signifies that He made us after the image of His eternal Son, so that in a creaturely measure we resemble Him and reflect His virtues, the virtues of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. It means that there is between Him and us the living bond of love and fellowship, so that we can know Him and trust in Him and believe that He will give us every good thing, and that we delight in seeking His glory and walking in humble obedience to Him in the way of His precepts. It means, finally, that we have received the right of children, the right to be called by His name, to claim His care, and to dwell in His house for ever. It means that we have the right to the eternal inheritance of glory which He prepared for all them that love Him. All this is implied in the relationship between God and us that; is expressed in the words, “Our Father.”
We must not overlook the fact that here we have not the expression of a mere doctrine of the fatherhood of God or of the fatherhood of God in Christ Jesus. Nor are we discussing the law of God, that demands that we love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength: But this is a prayer. It presupposes, therefore, that in these two words he who prays and thus addresses God is Conscious of this relationship and confesses all that is implied in it. He is consciously assured of his privilege to be called a son of God, and feels in his heart that God is not ashamed to be called his Father, and that He will not reject or repudiate him. He is confident that he may approach God, that he may expect all good things from Him, that he may dwell in the sanctuary of the most high. He is conscious of the fact that God has made him a reflection of His own virtues, and that there is in his deepest heart a desire to be pleasing to Him whom he calls his Father: to be righteous, as He is righteous; holy, as He is holy; and to keep all His good commandments. He trusts that God loves him, and that He will surely give him all things necessary for soul and body, and in the end, eternal life in God’s own tabernacle forever. It is in that spiritual disposition of humble obedience, of filial love, and of childlike confidence that we approach the Most High in His sanctuary when we begin our prayers with the simple, but profound address: “Our Father.”
The question must be asked: how is it possible that we can call God our Father? What right can we possibly have to call Him thus? How can we have the assurance in our hearts that we are His children? Whence is the confidence whereby we cry to Him, “Abba, Father?”
We certainly cannot possibly have that right by nature.
Many a modernist speaks of the universal fatherhood of God, and of the universal brotherhood of man, as if nothing happened to destroy that relationship since God created us after His own image. God, so they claim, is the Father of all men. And all men are children of God by virtue of their creation. Man was made after God’s image. That is the excellency of man above every other creature. That is his real worth. On this fact of man’s creation after the image of God modern man bases his right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, his right too to enter into the sanctuary of God and to address Him in the words, ” Our Father.”
This modern philosophy, however, completely ignores the tremendous and terrible fact and reality of sin and death. It is true indeed that God is our creator. It is true too that in creating us He made us after His own image, in true knowledge of Him, righteousness, and holiness. By virtue of this image of God in him, Adam wasp indeed the son of God. Cf. Luke 3:35. But no longer is it possible to call upon God as our Father on the basis of that original relationship. For by the fall and disobedience of the one man, Adam, we lost all the rights and privileges of sons. We became aliens and strangers. We were expelled from Father’s house. The image of God was subverted into the very image of the devil, and we are by nature children of wrath. Thus the Lord spoke to the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem inJohn 8:44: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.” And the apostle Paul writes inEph. 2:2, 3: “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh (fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature children of wrath, even as others.” This means that of ourselves, by nature, we have no right, neither are we spiritually capable to utter the first words of the Lord’s Prayer in spirit and in truth, and that modern philosophy of a universal fatherhood of God, which would place the address of this prayer upon the lips of every naked sinner, without Christ, is sheer presumption, provocative of the fierce anger of the Lord. Would not even a mere sinful man be provoked to wrath and indignation if a person from the lowest strata of society, notorious as a public enemy number one, would spread the story everywhere that he was his father ? How abominable, then, in the sight of God must be the pride and presumption of the naked sinned, who walks in darkness and loves iniquity, who reflects the image of his father the devil, and who nevertheless insists that he may take the son’s prayer upon his lips and call upon the holy one as his Father?
The address of the Lord’s Prayer, therefore, does not refer to the fatherhood of God in creation, but to that far richer and deeper fatherhood which He revealed and realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We can distinguish between our legal and our spiritual, ethical sonship of God.
The eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted us, who were not His children, and has conferred upon us all the legal rights of sons. That is, first of all, the confession of him that humbly enters into the sanctuary of God, crying, “Abba, Father.” When he prays, and in his prayer addresses God as his Father, he thereby consciously and humbly confesses that of himself he has no right whatsoever to be called the son of God.