The Father Matthew 6:9

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Matthew 6:9

"Our Father which art in heaven."

"After this manner therefore pray ye." This then is the right way of praying. Our Lord here in the Sermon on the Mount is telling men how to do the three eminent duties - "When thou doest alms," "When ye fast," "When ye pray." About each of the three He has the same thing to say - Do not advertise it; but when He speaks of prayer He goes further, for it is by far the most difficult of the three; He goes on to tell us the right method. "After this manner therefore pray ye." The Lord's Prayer is given, not to tie us down to that particular form of words (though, indeed, there are none so good), but to show us how to pray. "After this manner." This is the right way.

1. Too often man trips in and out of God's presence, saying words that he does not feel towards a Person of whom he has no intelligent conception. But we must not do so. Our love and our awe must be first evoked. "Father," we approach Him as a child in the tenderest relationship; He is One who loves us with more than human love, loves us more than we can love Him, One who is more ready to hear than we are to pray.

Father! It is the greatest word on mortal tongue, and the truth of the universal Fatherhood of God is the greatest which ever dawned on the intelligence of man. But did it ever dawn upon the intelligence of man in such a way as the other truths have done? When Peter made his great confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," our Lord answered him in joy and thankfulness, "Blessed art thou, Simon, son of Jonah; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." May we not say that flesh and blood never revealed this truth of God's eternal Fatherhood? It is God's own direct supreme revelation of Himself in Christ His eternal Song of Solomon 1 [Note: C. F. Aked, The Lord's Prayer, 14.]

No exercise of will can procure for me, and no amount of demerit can forfeit for me, the fact, the existence, of a sonship and a Fatherhood. Even in the far country, where the prodigal son is feeding swine, not memory alone, but consciousness, recognizes a relationship between himself and a far-off person, whom he confidently calls his father. And when he forms the resolution to escape from his misery and his destitution, and to seek again the land and the home which for years have been to him but a dream and an illusion, he frames into words, without a doubt or a peradventure, the confession with which he will present himself at the door of that house and that heart, and it begins with the assertion of an inalienable relationship - "I will say to him, Father!"1 [Note: C. J. Vaughan, The Lord's Prayer, 15.]

2. The Lord's Prayer bids us lay aside all selfishness at the outset. Its first word - "Our" - is the most difficult of all; for to lay aside selfishness is the hardest thing in the world. We must begin by casting off self, by realizing that we are only one minute unit in the great millions of humanity. Think of it, what this word "our" means - all those who are separated from us by impassable barriers, those who are so far above us that we cannot reach them, those who are so far beneath us that we reckon the slightest act of human recognition is a gracious condescension, all those who belong to the opposite faction in politics, those who belong to hostile nations, those whose religion or whose irreligion wars with our deepest convictions; all those who are outcasts too, and criminals, the enemies of society, and those - it is often hardest to remember - with whom we have had disagreements, quarrels, those whom we feel we cannot like. He is our Father only in connexion with these others also. We cannot speak for ourselves unless we speak also for them; we cannot carry our petitions to the throne of His grace unless we carry theirs; we cannot ask for any good unless it is for them as much as for us. For He is their Father as much as ours, and we cannot say, "Our Father which art in heaven," unless we have first learnt to say, "Our brothers who are on the earth."

The Lord's Prayer is the simplest of all prayers, and also the deepest. We are children addressing a Father who is also the Lord of heaven and earth. In Him all the families of the earth become one family. The past as well as the present, the dead as well as the living, are embraced by His love. When we draw near to Him we draw nearer also to our fellow-men. From the smaller family to which we are bound by ties of relationship we extend our thoughts to that larger family which lives in His presence. When we say, "Our Father," we do not mean that God is the Father of us in particular, but of the whole human race, the great family in heaven and earth. The Heavenly Father is not like the earthly; yet through this image we attain a nearer notion of God than through any other. We mean that He loves us, that He educates us and all mankind, that He provides laws for us, that He receives us like the prodigal in the parable when we go astray. We mean that His is the nature which we most revere, with a mixed feeling of awe and of love; that He knows what is for our good far better than we know ourselves, and is able to do for us above all that we can ask or think. We mean that in His hands we are children, whose wish and pleasure is to do His will, whose duty is to trust in Him in all the accidents of their lives.1 [Note: Benjamin Jowett, Sermons on Faith and Doctrine, 252.]

It is in every line a prayer of fellowship and co-operation. It is a perfect illustration of the social nature of prayer. The co-operation and fellowship are not here confined, and they never are except in the lower stages, to the inward communion of an individual and his God. There is no I or me or mine in the whole prayer. The person who prays spiritually is enmeshed in a living group, and the reality of his vital union with persons like himself clarifies his vision of that deeper Reality to whom he prays. Divine Fatherhood and human brotherhood are born together. To say "Father" to God involves saying "brother" to one's fellows, and the ground swell of either relationship naturally carries the other with it, for no one can largely realize the significance of brotherly love without going to Him in whom love is completed.2 [Note: R. M. Jones, The Double Search, 65.]

3. Yet again, it is to the Father in heaven that we are to pray. Mankind before Christ sought two ways of knowing God. The philosopher thought of Him as far removed from earth in His perfection. The polytheist thought of Him as embodied in many gods, half-human, and for that reason very near to him. The one protested against the error of the other, and both were half-true. God is infinitely above us, as the philosopher thought; but He is also very human, very near. So Jesus Christ came to show us that God is not some vast abstraction, but is a present Father, closer to us than breathing, and nearer than hands or feet.

For God is never so far off
As even to be near.
He is within. Our spirit is
The home He holds most dear.

To think of Him as by our side
Is almost as untrue
As to remove His shrine beyond
Those skies of starry blue.

So all the while I thought myself
Homeless, forlorn, and weary,
Missing my joy, I walked the earth,
Myself God's sanctuary.

4. "In heaven" does not mean at a distance. What does it mean? It means perfection. "Our Father in heaven" suggests perfection in love, in helpfulness, in homeliness.

(1) Perfection in love. - We can learn heavenly things only from earthly types. Looking at such types, what is our idea of what a Father should be? At least we understand that the word represents love - love that thinks, love that works; the love of one who is wise, who is strong, and who takes trouble. It means this in man, it means this in God, and to perfection.

(2) Perfection in helpfulness. - "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" That word "if" seems meant not only to imply an argument, but to suggest a question. "If ye … know how!" Do fathers and mothers always know? Look at Hagar, when the bread was gone, the water spent, and Ishmael ready to die of want - did she know? "She cast the child under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him, a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept." Look at certain times into certain houses not far from your own, and you might hear a child ask for bread, and then hear the father say, "There is none." He would help, but he does not know how. God, as our helper, because He is our Father in heaven, might say to us, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so" - in helping you - "are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

(3) Perfection in homeliness. - The words, "Our Father which art in heaven," suggest to us the perfection of our home. Although the word "heaven" is here used mainly to remind us of our Father's perfection, it is meant also to remind us of the family home. Some Christians seem not to care for this doctrine, and in giving us their own views they are almost as refined as Confucius, who said, "Heaven is Principle." Our notion, although it includes this idea, does not stop at it. It includes not only character but condition, not only principle but place. We look upon heaven as the perfect home of perfect human nature.

What must that place be in which even God is at home! We cannot tell, and it is astonishing that any mortal has ever tried to tell. It is written in an old story that an artist, led by Indians, once went to paint Niagara, but that when he saw it, he dashed his disappointing pencil down the precipice, for he felt that he could as soon paint the roar, as the fall, the foam, the great sheets of light, the arch of coloured rays, with all the other wonders that went to make up the surprising cataract; and shall we who have only seen earth, try to picture heaven! No! poems of glory, pictures of magnificence, all fail, "imagination in its utmost stretch, in wonder dies away"; in our present state, our future state is a mystery, though a mystery of delight. It is our home, but the celestial homeliness is beyond us now.1 [Note: C. Stanford, The Lord's Prayer, 81.] 


to be continued