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THE DIVINE FATHERHOOD.
MATTHEW, vi. 9.—“Our Father which art in heaven.”
THE Lord's Prayer touches all hearts by its 1 simplicity and comprehensiveness. Its familiar words come home to us with a living meaning in comparison with which all other words of prayer are cold. The more we use them, the more we feel what true, healthy, happy words of prayer they are—how deeply they reach all our spiritual necessities, and carry them forth in one harmonious utterance to the throne of grace. The prayer is also one of more manifold and hallowed associations than any other. It is the catholic prayer of Christendom—the few heaven-taught syllables which unite the hearts of the faithful everywhere, and amidst divisions of opinion and diversities of service, in parish church and cathedral choir, draw the hearts of God's children together, and inspire them with a common feeling of brotherhood as they say, “Our Father.” It is the dearly-remembered prayer of childhood, when the mind as yet only vaguely understands what the heart with its deeper instinct owns; when the human realities of father and mother interpret the solemn language, and make its awe pass into sweetness. And in after-years, when we may have learned many forms of prayer, and sought a varied expression for the varied wants of life, the old beautiful words come back to us, as far more full of meaning—more adequate in their very simplicity—than all we have otherwise learned ; and we realise the truth so near to the centre of all religion, that the child's heart is the highest offering we can offer unto Godholy and acceptable in His sight.
The opening words of the prayer — “Our Father which art in heaven "_form the keynote from which all the rest starts, and to which they lead up. Let us try in a simple, unsystematic way to find the meaning of the words. This meaning in a certain sense is not far to seek.
The words of the text unfold three aspects of truth.
II. Common Fatherhood.
The idea of Father is the generic idea of the text. We are taught to pray to God as our Father. “After this manner ye shall pray,” our Lord taught His disciples. He had been speaking of the hypocritical prayers of the Pharisees in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets; and of the “ vain repetitions” of the heathen, thinking “they shall be heard for their much speaking.” He unfolds a higher conception of prayer as a living communion of spirit with spirit, of children with a Father. There was nothing absolutely new in this conception of Divine Fatherhood. No novelty is claimed for the conception. Even the heathen had spoken of the supreme Deity as “the Father of gods and men." The idea of Fatherhood is supposed by some to be an essential part of the primitive Aryan conception of God. And in the prophetical writings of . the Old Testament, the idea frequently appears. “Doubtless," says Isaiah,* “Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not. Thou, O Lord, art our Father.” “Have we not all one Father?” is almost the closing utterance of Jewish pro
* Chap. Ixiii. 16.
phecy.* The idea of Divine Fatherhood, therefore, could not have presented any novelty; the very language used by our Lord may not have been heard for the first time. “Our Father which art in heaven,” may have been customary words of prayer to the Jews. We may have in them an utterance of religious thought common to the Jewish schools of the period. Some have pleased themselves with this idea. Some have even imagined that the Lord's Prayer in its several details was a familiar Jewish prayer. Nor would it matter if it were. For here, as with other parts of our Lord's teaching, it is not absolute novelty that is claimed for it. It is not that the same things or similar things were never said before by any teacher. But it is that no one has ever said them, as He did,“ with authority.” No one ever transfigured them, as He did, with living light for the souls of men, or gave them such a creative transforming power over the wills of men. This is the Divine originality of our Lord, that He illuminated all truth, traditionary or otherwise, concerning our relations to the Divine, and imparted to it a force and life of meaning that it never had before. The idea of Divine Fatherhood, for example, became animated in all His speech and in all His acts into a spiritual principle, such as neither Gentile nor Jew had before felt it to be. In Christ, God was seen not merely to be the creative Source of the human race," who hath made us, and not we ourselves;” He was not merely a Divine Power or Ruler; the Divine Personality—creative and authoritative — was not only brought forth in Him into a clearer and happier light: but more than this-it was made plain that God loves men, and cares for them with a genuine, moral affection. As a wise and good man regards his children—and in a far higher degree
* Malachi, ii. 10.
-God regards us. He not merely made us and rules us, but He truly loves us; and all His actions towards us — all His dealings with us — spring from love. Love is the essence of the Divine 'Fatherhood in Christ. It sums up all its other meanings. We may love wrongly: a human father may allow his affection to outrun his justice in dealing with his children. There is no security for the balance of moral qualities in us. But in God as revealed in Christ there is a perfect consistency of all moral attributes, and love is the expression of this consistency. As St John says, “ God is love.” * The revelation of
* 1 John, iv. 8.