CHRIST spoke more fully on the subject of the Father than on any other. For this there is good reason. In Christ's day, as in our own, many misconceptions prevailed about the Father. It was needful that the world be enlightened in regard to the true character of God. This Christ came to do. He gave to the world a revelation of the Father, so that men might know what God is like. It was His work so fully to reflect the Father that whoever saw Christ would in effect have seen the Father also.
An illuminating passage concerning this subject is found in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to John. Christ, in speaking to Philip, says: "If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also: and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him." Verse 7. Evidently Philip did not fully understand Christ's meaning, for he exclaims: "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us." Verse 8. With gentle rebuke Christ answers: "Have I been so long time with, you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father: and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?" Verse 9.
"There is no other person of the heavenly trio that has been so misunderstood as has the Father."
According to this statement, Christ and the Father are one so completely that to see one is to see the other also. "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." According to the Bible, "no man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." John 1: 18. As the Father is "King eternal, immortal, invisible," "whom no man hath seen, nor can see," it is not to be wondered at that men do not know Him and do not understand Him. 1 Tim. 1: 17; 6: 16. For this reason it became necessary for Christ to come to this world to reveal the Father. This He did perfectly.
There is no other person of the heavenly trio that has been so misunderstood as has the Father. This we believe to be true not only of former times, but of the present. The Son we know, to some extent at least, for He came to this world and lived among men. He went about doing good, and men had opportunity to observe Him. The Holy Spirit is less known than the Son, though men did see manifestations of His power on the day of pentecost and afterward. But the Spirit has never been misunderstood as has the Father. The Spirit has always been conceived of as the purveyor of power and blessing, as helper and comforter. But not so the Father. He has been so misunderstood that many conceive Him as being unmerciful, vindictive, cruel. He has been pictured as being one who could never be satisfied until He had extracted the last farthing, one who is always on the watch to catch an unwary soul, and who would punish cruelly even little ones.
Some readers will remember that not many years ago certain preachers seemed to take delight in presenting the plight of "a soul in the hands of an angry God." God's love was almost forgotten, and His strictness was magnified out of all proportion. Christ was still presented as the One altogether lovely, the One to whom a sinner might flee in time of distress and find a refuge for the soul. But not so the Father. He was watching to find some charge against mankind; and He found it altogether too often. And it was not only for their own sins or shortcomings that men would suffer. If parents had neglected to have their little child ordered according to the rules of the church, not only would the parents suffer, but the little one himself would be thrown into hell, there to burn for ever and ever, world without end.
In an age when men dared not think, much less speak, this doctrine went largely unchallenged, though it did give men a horribly distorted picture of the Father. It created in men's minds a definite cleavage between the Father and the Son. Christ was thought of as kind and good, the Father as hard and unmerciful. The sinner's only hope was to flee to Christ for refuge before the Father could get hold of him. If the Father caught him, all hope was gone. God was conducting a hell where not only multitudes of creatures which God Himself had made were suffering the torments of the damned, but millions of little ones who had died too young to be guilty of conscious sin, nevertheless were suffering because their parents had neglected some ordinance of the church.
It was to correct such wrong doctrines and conceptions that Christ came to this world. He came to give to men a correct view of the Father. And nothing was more needed. Of what use was it that Christ Himself was good, and could and would draw all men to Him, if there still persisted in men's minds the old idea of the Father? Christ might save men, but if so it must be from the Father's wrath, and it was doubtful whether He could do this, for He Himself admitted that the Father was greater than He. John 14: 28.
It was therefore of supreme importance not only to Philip, but to all, that Christ stated that He and the Father were so alike that whoever had seen one had seen the other also. If Jesus and the Father were one and alike, no one would need to fear the Father. Men knew Christ and loved Him. If the Father was like Him, all was well. They would not need to fear Him in the sense of being afraid of Him. If the Father loved them as Christ loved them, they, in turn, could love Him. The Father was no longer their prosecutor and judge. He was their friend, one who loved them so much that He had given His only begotten Son to save them. The whole outlook of religion was changed when Christ made His declaration as to the Father.
It is stated above that Christ came to this world to reveal the Father. This is clearly presented in the fourteenth chapter of John. In this chapter the supreme burden of Christ's heart is to acquaint the disciples with the Father, and to assure them that the Father has the same interest in them that He has. The whole chapter deals with the Father. In it the Father's name is mentioned twenty-three times, and there are five other references to Him, making twenty-eight references in all in the thirty-one verses.
This chapter, however, does not exhaust Christ's references to the Father. The next three chapters continue the same theme. It is apparent that Christ is anxious that the disciples become acquainted with the Father, and that they love Him as they do Christ. The Father, who is the husbandman, is glorified when the disciples bear much fruit. John 15: 1, 8. The Father loves Christ, who has kept His commandments, and Christ loves us. Verses 9, 10. All that Christ receives from the Father, He communicates to us. Verse 15. If we bear fruit, and our fruit remains, we may ask what we will of the Father, and He will give it to us. Verse 16. Persecution will come to God's children, because the world does not know the Father. Verse 21; chap. 16: 3. The Father and the Son are so much one, that whoever hates the one hates the other also. John 15: 23, 24. All that the Father has belongs to Christ. We may, therefore, ask the Father anything in Christ's name, and He will give it to us. John 16: 15, 23. The time will come when Christ shall speak plainly of the Father. While it is proper that we ask in Christ's name, and while Christ will pray to the Father for us, we should know that the Father Himself loves us, because we love Christ and believe that He came from the Father. Verses 25-27.
The seventeenth chapter of John contains the high-priestly prayer of Christ, which is addressed to the Father. In it Christ uses such expressions as, "Father," "O Father," "holy Father," "righteous Father." Verses 1, 5, 11, 25. He states that to know the Father and the Son is eternal life, and that He has manifested the Father's name to those who had been given Him. Verses 3-6. The whole prayer breathes submission to the Father, and asks Him to bless and protect those for whom Christ is working.
It seems evident that Christ is anxious to have His disciples know the Father, and to have them understand that that Father loves them even as He does. He emphasizes the fact that He has come into the world to reveal the Father, and that this is His first work. "I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gayest Me out of the world," Christ says; "I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it." John 17: 6, 26. These statements mean that Christ has revealed to men the character, the nature, of God, and has in His life given a demonstration of what God is like, so that men no longer will need to be in ignorance of God's character. Such a demonstration needs to be made to each generation, for men are not acquainted with the Father as they should be. Too many have not as yet caught the meaning of the word "Father."
To some it may not seem important whom they worship, the Father or the Son. They are both God, they are one, and neither is perturbed over the honour given the other. To this we agree. But we do believe that it makes much difference to us if we conceive of the Father as having one character and the Son another. In fact, we believe that a wrong conception of the Father has done much to turn souls from God and religion, and fill them with hatred for everything that has anything to do with God or the church.
(Concluded next week)
To Know the Father
"There is no word which Christ used more in speaking of God than "Father." To Him it meant a peculiarly intimate relation. To Him God was Father, Friend, Counsellor, Protector, Provider— all that is true, and noble, and good."
IT is evident from our discussion thus far that we can have a just concept of God only as we get it from the teaching and example of Jesus. He came to this world for the express purpose of revealing the Father to man. We have stated before, and we repeat it, that there is nothing the world stands in need of more than such a revelation of God. To know God is life eternal.
There is no word which Christ used more in speaking of God than "Father." To Him it meant a peculiarly intimate relation. To Him God was Father, Friend, Counsellor, Protector, Provider— all that is true, and noble, and good. It may indeed be said that Christ gave the word "father" a new significance, and lifted it from all that is earthly and common to everything that is noble and beautiful. He not only gave man a new concept of God; He gave every father a new concept of what he should be and might become. In this He immeasurably lifted the whole concept and standard of human relationship.
"God the Father must not be politely bowed out of the church. He must be given His rightful place. And His place is first place. This is the place Christ assigns Him."
It might be news to some, but it is nevertheless true, that some Christians have but a slight acquaintance with the Father. Christ they know, the Holy Spirit they are acquainted with, but the Father is almost a stranger to them. It is also true that in many churches Christ is exalted and the Holy Spirit is honoured, but the Father barely gets passing notice. Some churches appear to have a fatherless religion, and were it possible for the Father to die, His passing would not seriously disturb or affect their worship. They are so used to being without Him, and He is so seldom mentioned, that if His name were not uttered for a year, few would notice it. It is doubtful that such a condition is conducive to true spirituality. God the Father must not be politely bowed out of the church. He must be given His rightful place. And His place is first place. This is the place Christ assigns Him.
There has been an agelong dispute among certain theologians as to who suffered the more, who sacrificed the more, who loved the more, Christ or the Father. We are unable to settle the dispute, for the Bible throws no light on it. But of this we are sure, that the Father suffered with the Son, that the Father sacrificed to the limit when He gave His Son, and that He so loved the world that He withheld not the dearest that He had. We believe it safe not to attempt to settle that which has not been revealed, but we do wish to protest against any view which makes of God an absentee landlord, a transcendent God, a far-away potentate. God Himself is anxious that this misconception be removed. For that purpose He sent His Son.
There is a story told in the sixth chapter of the Book of Second Kings which by way of contrast teaches a beautiful lesson. It is the story of the siege and famine of Samaria, with their attendant horrors. Men and women were starving, and food had risen to fabulous prices. Two women had entered into an infamous compact. They each had a son, and they had agreed to kill first one son and eat him and then kill the other. The first part of the bargain had been carried out. They had killed and eaten the one son; but when it came to killing the other, the mother objected, hid her son, and refused to give him up. This started a quarrel, and at this time the king appeared. When he heard the story, he was so shocked that he rent his clothes. The record reads: "It came to pass, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes; and he passed by upon the wall, and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within upon his flesh." 2 Kings 6: 30.
The king was a wicked king. He had respect for neither God nor man, and robbed and killed as he pleased. Nevertheless, the story as here related makes us think a little more kindly of him. He was not entirely depraved. When his people suffered, he suffered with them. He wore sackcloth within. It would be expected of that kind of king that he wear silk and not sackcloth. But his people were suffering, and he was suffering with them. It was not of necessity that the king wore sackcloth. He wore it as a matter of sympathy with his people. He wore sackcloth within.
"Had He been unable to save His Son, it would have been a terrific experience. For to stand helplessly by and see a loved one suffer is anguish personified. But to be able to help, to be able to remove the cup, to be able instantly to cause all suffering to cease, and then because of circumstances to refrain from using the power at one's disposal, is so much greater, higher, deeper, that it is unfathomable. But God must not intervene. He must not lessen the suffering of His beloved Son. "
We do not know why this is mentioned. May it be that God is teaching us that in the very worst of men there is something good? May it be that God is teaching us that we cannot always know what is within, that even a king may wear sackcloth and the people not know it? We know of some people who are thought to be happy and without a care or a burden, who are carrying heavy loads of which few know. In fact, it may be said that few who have lived at all are without some secret sorrow, some heartache, which perhaps only the Lord knows. This knowledge should make us all a little more kind and sympathetic.
God is not exempt from the ordinary experiences of mankind. He knows, what it is to suffer. He was with His Son in Gethsemane. He heard from Him the cry of anguish, He heard the agonized petition to have the cup removed. Had He been unable to save His Son, it would have been a terrific experience. For to stand helplessly by and see a loved one suffer is anguish personified. But to be able to help, to be able to remove the cup, to be able instantly to cause all suffering to cease, and then because of circumstances to refrain from using the power at one's disposal, is so much greater, higher, deeper, that it is unfathomable. But God must not intervene. He must not lessen the suffering of His beloved Son. He must not remove the cup. But we may believe that the Father noticed every slight, and felt every pang that pierced the heart of His Son. Unless all analogies fail, the Father suffered as deeply as His Son.
There are times when we become discouraged and disheartened. Men fail us, friends forsake us, and the outlook is dark. Sorrow like a cloud hangs over the soul; God seems far away. We pray, but no light breaks through; we weep, but no one seems to care or understand. We are alone, forsaken, crushed. Why does not God help? Why does He not reveal Himself? Does God not care?
"At the heart of the universe is not an impersonal force, not a cruel avenger, not a soulless tyrant, but a Father, a God, a Saviour, one who cares and loves. Why, then, should I not be happy, joyful, jubilant? God is my God; He is my Father. He loves me, and will not permit any sorrow or disappointment to come to me that is not for my good."
Then we have a vision. We see God, really see Him. We see Him in the garden as the Son prays to have the cup removed. We see Him at Golgotha. We see Him as the scourge descends upon the bare back of His beloved. We see Him as Jesus cries out in agony: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" And suddenly we understand. There is not a sorrow that He has not felt, not a pain that He has not experienced, not an anguish that has not pierced His heart. Through the gash made on Calvary we behold the very heart of God.
The revelation is profound, it is overwhelming. God is one with us! He knows our sorrows. His heart is pierced with our griefs. In all our affliction, He is afflicted. He understands, He knows, and He cares. Why, then, need I be afraid? At the heart of the universe is not an impersonal force, not a cruel avenger, not a soulless tyrant, but a Father, a God, a Saviour, one who cares and loves. Why, then, should I not be happy, joyful, jubilant? God is my God; He is my Father. He loves me, and will not permit any sorrow or disappointment to come to me that is not for my good.
And so through tears I look up and smile, as my heavenly Father looks down in love upon me. I am no longer lonely, or discouraged, or downcast. I have had a glimpse of God. I have looked through the rent on Golgotha; I know that God understands and weighs every sorrow in the balances of the sanctuary; I know that He feels with me; I know that He is touched with my grief. I have seen Him. I know that He wears sackcloth within.
It is this vision which Jesus would have us have of the Father. He wants us to know that the Father loves us, and will not permit anything to happen to us that is not for our good. He wants us to know that He and the Father are one, and that whoever has seen the Son has seen the Father also. This is the revelation which He came to give.
God the Father was in Christ when He was here on the earth. But Christ is here no more. We are sent in His place. We are His ambassadors. When we speak, it is "as though God did beseech you by us." We speak for God. We represent God. As Christ was sent into the world, "even so" we are sent. We are to help finish the work in the earth by representing God to men. Wonderful privilege! Wonderful responsibility!
It is not sufficient to say that men worship God in Christ, and that it is immaterial if God is not mentioned as often as is Christ. If Jesus has so emphasized the subject of the Father, we may not take an indifferent attitude. There are deeper and weightier reasons for Christ's emphasis on this subject than appear on the surface. As we find ourselves in a church world today which has practically relegated the Father to a minor role, which has put Him far in the background, it may be well to call the attention of the church to the words of Christ concerning the Father. If the church of the new covenant is to "keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus," if this "faith of Jesus" includes a profound reverence for the Father and an anxiety that He be given His rightful place in men's thinking and life, it is well for us to have our attention called to what Jesus believed and taught about God. This we have endeavoured to do. We believe that it shall not be in vain.