IV. THE REVELATION OF THE FATHER IN THE OTHER GOSPELS.
IN pursuance of our subject, we must now turn to the other
Gospels. We have seen traced out in that of John the revelation, first, of what
the Father does in the activity of divine grace to those who need life, and
deserve judgment; and next, how He cares for those whom He has given to His
Son. Coming to the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord first presents Him as the One
with whom those, who are disciples in truth, are brought into relationship, and
have become partakers of the divine nature. His character, therefore, and His
ways are to furnish them with instruction for their walk through this scene. So
the Lord often calls Him "your Father," besides speaking of Him at times as His
Father ; for obviously there might be occasions when He could only fittingly
speak of Him in relation to Himself. Two examples will make this
For the first, let us turn to Matt. xv. 13, where He replied to His disciples, on being told that the scribes and Pharisees who came from Jerusalem were offended by His rebuke, "Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up." Now, what were His words in John vi. 44, 45? "No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent Me, draw him : and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard from the Father, and hath learned, cometh unto Me." It is plain, since they rejected His teaching, that they had not heard from the Father. They were not God's children. Had He said on that occasion "your Father" it would have reminded the disciples of the relationship in which they were to God; but saying "My heavenly Father" the Lord would impress on all the absolute necessity of hearkening to His Father, and of being plants of His planting.
A second example is met with in Matt, xviii. 10, where the Lord is warning the disciples against despising a little child, assigning as a reason, that " in the heavens their angels" (i.e., those of the heavenly host who represent them in the presence of God)" do always behold the face of My Father which is in the heavens." "My Father" He said, not "their Father" because it was not here a question of the relationship of the little child to God. The angelic ministry referred to is quite independent of that, being God's provision for the creature as such. Their need of salvation is taught in succeeding verses. But when addressing disciples, taking them on the ground of their profession, He tells them of His Father as their Father. None but He of course could understand the full blessedness implied in such a relationship. Still, where it existsd it was a very real thing. His Father was the Father of all those who were His disciples in truth. Such, as born of God, were partakers of the divine nature ; hence the character and ways of their Father should be displayed by them. No one on earth has seen God the Father ; yet something of Him should be learned by men from the walk, the daily life, of the Lord's disciples ; and their Father would be glorified, as men saw that which was right, and owned that it was right, practised by His disciples. Of this the Lord speaks in the sermon on the mount: " Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in the heavens" (v. 16). Something of what He is would thus be set forth.
A new motive is here presented. Ezekiel had declared that the name of God was profaned among the Gentiles by the people of Israel, captives in a foreign land, and there manifesting by their evil ways what they were. Now, ere God can sanctify His name through their restoration (Ezek. xxxvi. 20, 23), the Lord taught His disciples of the opportunity and of the service entrusted to them in causing, by their good works, men around them to glorify their Father who is in the heavens. As His people, Israel ought to have shown the Gentiles what it was that was well-pleasing to God. As His children, the disciples should be illustrations of the moral character of their Father.
In daily life this should be ; but there would be occasions to call for it in a special way. Of such He reminded them when giving directions for their conduct under persecution ; for, loving their enemies, praying for their persecutors, and being merciful as their heavenly Father is merciful, they would be His sons who maketh His sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Thus they would be perfect, as their heavenly Father is perfect, profiting by the revelation given of Him who is kind to the unthankful and to the evil (Matt. v. 44-48 ; Luke vi. 35, 36). The Lord had spoken of persecutions to which they might be exposed, and persecutions at the hand of those who professed true zeal for God, and who were reckoned on earth amongst God's people. The Highest, then, whilst owning them as His sons, would not of necessity shield them from the hatred and opposition of their fellows. Rather would it be the occasion to show forth who and what was their Father.
But more. If God was their Father, they had to do with Him who seeth in secret, as well as to represent Him in their ways before men. He seeth in secret: this was to be remembered when engaged in those things which are commonly known amongst men as religious duties. So the Master continued His instruction : "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness* before men, to be seen of them ; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in the heavens" (vi. i).
* "Righteousness," not "alms," is the better reading here.
In a threefold way could they practice this - viz., in almsgiving (2-4), in prayer (5-15), and in fasting (16-18); but in whichever of these ways they practised righteousness, remembering from whom was their reward, they were to do it to Him who seeth in secret. This the Lord impressed on them. Their Father's eye was on them. Their Father was well acquainted with that which they were doing; He would not forget it. " Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee" **
** "Openly" should probably be omitted in each case.
(4, 6, 18). What encouragement! and at the same time, what a wholesome reminder! There is something, too, very gracious in the Lord's teaching here. " Thy Father," He said, not " your Father," referring thereby to the birth-tie formed between each true disciple and God. Each can say, " He is my Father;" and, if finding himself alone on earth from whatever cause, with none to turn to here, there is always that eye looking down on him, the eye of his Father who seeth in secret. The eye of his Father. One sees in Ps. cxxxix. what an uneasy feeling the saint experiences under the sense of God's eye being on him, till he gets hold of God's thoughts (14-18). The eye of my Father being on me should produce no such uneasiness ; rather the contrary, assured that neither locality nor darkness can hinder that eye resting on me. On Peter at midnight, sleeping between two soldiers in prison, and on Paul at night in the storm, when for many days neither sun nor stars had appeared, that eye looked down. The lights in heaven could be obscured by clouds or thickness ; but nothing comes between our Father's eye and the object it would rest on, for He seeth in secret: a word of comfort, yet a word of warning also ; for is there not a danger of forgetting before whom we are, and who beholds us ?
The Lord now speaks of prayer. Vain repetitions are needless, for "your Father," He declared,"knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him " (8). He not only sees each one, but knows all about each one, being cognisant of all that of which each has need. What confidence should this impart. God is my Father, and He knows what things I have need of before I ask Him. But how often has each one surely in the past forgotten this, even if there have been times when the soul has stayed itself on the remembrance of it. Is prayer then unneeded, a useless exercise? It is unneeded as the medium for informing God of what it is that we are in want; but it is not an exercise thrown away, when the child unbosoms and unburdens itself to its Father who is in heaven ; for it is the appointed way of relief for the heart of the creature thus to pour out its requests to God. So the Lord goes on to teach the disciples how they were to pray, and in doing so teaches them about the Father, who has a kingdom, who daily cares for His children, and who can act in grace, forgiving them when they have sinned.
As to His kingdom, it will come, so they are told to pray for it - a kingdom which embraces heaven and earth, a kingdom really bounded only by the limits of created things, a kingdom which shall last for ever and ever. For doubtless the petition, "Thy kingdom come," looks on beyond millennial times for its full accomplishment, even to the eternal state, when, all things having been subdued to the Son, He Himself shall be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all; for then He will have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father (i Cor. xv. 25-28). Yet ere this is effected, to which we are taught to look forward, the heavenly saints will experience an answer to this petition in measure, as they will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father throughout the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. xiii. 43). For it is our Father's good pleasure to give us the kingdom (Luke xii. 32); but into it only those on earth now enter who do His will (Matt. vii. 21).
If any ask who is our heavenly Father, the answer comes, It is God, who shall reign with undisputed sway for ever and ever. All that has resisted His authority, and everyone who has attempted to thwart His purposes, will then be completely and finally vanquished. Nor that only, but for ever and ever will such be obliged to acknowledge His might, and the impossibility of successful resistance to His will. Now, sin is rampant on earth ; ere long, it will seem to triumph for a season. But He who is our Father will triumph fully in the end. To that He looks forward, and teaches His children to do the same. For it is not from lack of power that He has not already interposed. His will is done in heaven; it will be certainly done on earth. Nor is it from lack of interest in His saints that He lets them suffer. He is their Father; but He waits till the set time has come to deal finally with the power of darkness. His long-suffering is salvation (2 Pet. iii. 15). Of this, each one of His children is an illustration.
Almighty power then is His, yet combined with tender pity and constant thought for His children here on earth. Of old, in the wilderness, Israel experienced Jehovah's care, as they went forth on the week-day mornings to gather the needed supply of manna provided for that large encampment whilst they were taking their rest. They slept, but Jehovah was working - raining down for them food for the coming day, in the strength of which they could go forth for the ordinary occupations of life. Now, His children are to acknowledge and to prove that He daily cares for them. It is the part of a father to provide for his children ; it is characteristic of our Father that He cares daily for His. "Give us this day our daily bread," teaches that, and the Lord's instruction about the birds and the lilies is to impress it on us (Matt. vi. 25-34 ; Luke xii. 22-31). "Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? "Again, "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore ; ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Matt. x. 29-31). To guard us from anxious care, we are told that our Father feedeth the birds. To keep the heart calm and confident in danger from enemies, the Lord reminds His own that they are of more value than many sparrows. Yet how slow, surely many a one will say, is he to learn these lessons based on the revelation of the Father.
But not only are we dependent creatures, we are also sinful creatures, and need, how often, forgiveness at His hand. Yet this will our Father extend to us, if we act as His children, showing a forgiving spirit towards others (Matt. vi. 12, 14, 15); and a later revelation reminds us that failure on our part does not break the link of relationship between the saint and God (i John ii. i). A most gracious intimation for the heart when it may specially need it.
All-powerful, then in the universe, yet ministering to the weakest, forgiving the undeserving, and willing to direct and to deliver His children from evil; such is our Father as set forth in this prayer by His Son. Nor need we fear to trouble Him by presenting our requests. Though He is God, who orders all things in heaven and earth, He would set each one perfectly free before Him to tell out his wants, since His Son has told us, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; .... If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in the heavens give good things to them that ask Him" (Matt. vii. 7-11). Another branch of this subject should be noticed, viz., the feelings of the Father's heart as revealed in the Word. And, first, in relation to Him who is His well-beloved Son? In the hearing of many dull of understanding, and unable to appreciate the truth which He was revealing, the Son, ever in the bosom of the Father, told out, as He only could, some of the secrets of that bosom, both when speaking in parables and when speaking plainly to those around Him.
In two parables He set this forth : the one, that of the husbandmen and the vineyard ; the other, that of the marriage supper for the king's son. In the former, related by the three evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the preciousness of the Son to the Father is declared. Messenger after messenger had been sent by the owner of the vineyard to receive its fruits from the husbandmen, but all in vain. What, then, was to be done? The husbandmen had slighted the messengers, and worse, had even put some of them to death, thus evidencing the spirit which animated them, and showing the treatment they justly deserved at the hands of the owner of the vineyard. But he was slow to anger, unwilling, if it could be averted, to pour out on them the vials of his wrath. Not a word had come from the husbandmen expressing regret for the past and promising amendment in the future. No suppliant came seeking for the owner's forgiveness. Obdurate these men had proved ; unsoftened, unsubdued they remained. What could be done? In Luke xx. 13, the lord of the vineyard is described as taking counsel with himself. "What shall I do? I will send my beloved son." In Mark (xii. 6), the preciousness of that son to his father is dwelt upon. He had yet "one, a beloved son ; he sent him last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son." Knowing, as we do, of whom the Lord spake - of His Father and of Himself we are taught the Father's affection for His Son, as the object to Him most precious; willing, indeed, to send Him, but only as the last resource!
In the parable of the marriage supper for the king's son, found in Matt. xxii. 1-14, we are taught of the Father's delight in His Son, and of the desire that others should share His joy. But all this fell on hearts estranged from God. The effect of the first parable on such was to make the chief priests and Pharisees seek to lay hands on Him; the effect of the second parable was to make the Pharisees take counsel to entangle Him in His talk. Known, of course, to the Lord beforehand was all this, yet it did not deter Him from uttering those parables; for if the chief priests and Pharisees could hear them unmoved, others might profit by them, and many in after ages get refreshment from what He then unfolded of the feelings towards Him of His Father's heart, which brings out to us the greatness of the grace displayed in sending His Son. Yet not till we see Him in the glory conferred on Him by His Father (John xvii. 24), gazing on Him as arrayed in all the tokens of His Father's love, shall we understand as far as creatures can understand it, what divine parental love is in its fulness.
Yet, thank God, we are not to be spectators merely of its display. We too share, and shall share for ever, in the Father's love, of which the Lord spake when on earth. To whom it can flow forth, we read ; and the parable of the prodigal son illustrates it, as the father therein welcomes to his bosom the one who had sinned against heaven and before him. We know of what the Lord was really speaking, desirous to acquaint men with His Father, and to tell out something of His love. Many and many a one has found light and warmth flow into his heart as he has perused that parable ; and, if the Lord tarries, many more may experience the same blessing. The story is told so touchingly; the scene is described so graphically. None need be afraid to cast themselves on His. father. None can say they cannot understand what it was the Lord intended to teach, yet none can fathom the love of which He was speaking. Thank God, none are asked to do that; but they are invited to share in it.
Go To Chapter Five
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