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Our Father which art in heaven.
I HAVE insisted upon the foregoing verses, which do concern the duty of prayer; let me now come to the Lord’s Prayer itself. This prayer was formed and indited by Christ, and therefore to be highly esteemed by Christians: Jesus Christ, who was the wisdom of God, he knew both our necessities and the Father’s good-will towards us; and therefore surely he would give us a perfect form and directory. We are not absolutely tied to this form. We do not read that it was ever used by the apostles, though we have many of their prayers upon record in the Acts and in the Epistles; yet they plainly differ as to the construction of the words; and this very prayer is diversely set down by the evangelists themselves: Mat. vi. 11, ‘Give us this day our daily bread;’ it is in other words, Luke xi. 3, ‘Give us day by day our daily bread;’ and ver. 12, ‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;’ in Luke xi. 4, it is, ‘And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.’ But, however, though we are not tied to this form, yet I think it may be humbly used; for Christ taught his disciples how to pray while as yet they were in their ignorance and tenderness, and had not received the Spirit. And God usually puts words into sinners’ mouths: Hosea xi. 2, ‘Take with you words, and say unto him, Receive us graciously.’ Look, as Joseph is said to feed his father and his brethren as a little child is nourished (as it is in the margin), there is not only food provided, but it is put into their mouths, Gen. xlvii. 12; so did Christ teach his disciples to pray, not only as directing them what they should pray for, but putting a form of words into their mouths.
In this prayer there are three parts observable:—
1. The preface.
2. The petitions themselves.
3. The conclusion.40
In the preface we have a description of God, as always we should begin prayer with awful thoughts of God. God is described partly from his goodness and mercy—Our Father; and partly from his greatness and majesty—which art in heaven.
I. His goodness and mercy: Our Father; where is set forth:—
1. The relation wherein God standeth to his people, in the word Father.
2. Their propriety and interest in that relation, wherein, not the particular interest of a single believer is asserted, My Father, but the general interest of all the elect in Christ, Our Father.
I shall waive all which may be said concerning prayer in general; concerning the lawfulness or unlawfulness of a form in prayer; the disputes concerning the use of this form; as also all the disputes concerning the object of prayer, which we learn from hence to be God alone. Surely prayer is a sacrifice, and belongeth only to God; it cannot be made to any other but to him, who knoweth all the prayers that are made in the world at the same time, and the hearts of all those that pray. I will also waive what might be spoken concerning preparation before petition; for here there is a preface before the prayer itself. Neither shall I speak concerning the necessity of conceiving right thoughts of God in prayer; how we may conceive of his goodness, to beget a confidence; of his majesty, to beget an awe and reverence.
That which I shall insist upon is, the notion and relation under which God is here expressed, which is that of Father—Our Father.
Observe, those that would pray aright must address themselves to God as a father in Jesus Christ.
Hypocrites, at the last day, will cry, ‘Lord, Lord;’ but Christ hath taught us to say, ‘Our Father.’
Here I shall:—
I. Inquire in what sense God is a father.
II. What encouragements we have from thence in prayer, when we can take him up under this notion and appellation.
I. In what sense God is a father. This title may be given to God, either essentially, or with respect to personal relation.
1. Essentially; and so it is common to all the persons in the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; all three are God, and our Father. And thus, not only the first Person, but the second, is called ‘the Everlasting Father:’ Isa. ix. 6. And the Holy Ghost, being author of our being, is called our Maker. But,
2. It may be ascribed to God personally. And so the first Person is called God the Father; and that either with relation to Christ or to us.
[1.] With relation to Christ, as the Son of God. So the first Person is called the Father, as he is the fountain of the Deity, communicating to and with him the divine essence: Ps. ii. 7, ‘Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.’ The personal property of the Father is to beget; and of the Son, to be begotten. There is an, eternal now, wherein God is said to beget him. Thus he may be called the Father of Christ, as he is the second Person, and not only as incarnate and Mediator. Though God be Christ’s Father, as second Person, yet they are all equal in power, dignity, and glory; 41but as Mediator, God is his Father in another respect. So it is said, John xiv. 28, ‘My Father is greater than I’—not as God, for so he was equal; ‘He thought it no robbery to be equal with God:’ Phil. ii. 6. But ‘greater than I;’ that is, consider him as man and mediator, in the state of his humiliation; for it is notable to consider upon what occasion Christ speaks these words: ‘If ye love me ye would rejoice because I said I go unto the Father; for my Father is greater than I;’ that is, You admire me and prize my company exceedingly, because you see the power which I put forth in the miracles which I do; ye would rejoice if you understood it aright; he is infinitely more glorious than I appear in this state of abasement and humiliation. Thus, with respect to Christ, God, the first Person, may be called the Father.
[2.] With respect to us; for the first person is not only the Father of Christ, but our Father: John xx. 17, ‘I go to my Father, and your Father.’ We share with Christ in all his relations. As God was his God by covenant, so he is our God. And in this sense, personally, it may be taken here; for our business lieth mainly with the first Person, with whom Christ intercedeth for us: 1 John ii. 1, ‘We have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous.’ Before whom doth he appear? Before the Father. And it is to him to whom we direct our prayers, though not excluding the other persons: Eph. iii. 14, ‘I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Though it be not unlawful to pray to Christ, or to the Holy Ghost, for that hath been done by the saints. Stephen saith, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit;’ and Jacob saith, ‘The angel of the covenant bless the lads.’ And all baptized persons are baptized in the name of the Son and Holy Ghost, as well as in the name of the Father. But usually Christian worship is terminated upon God the Father, as being chief in the mystery of redemption; and so it is said, Eph. ii. 18, ‘Through him, by one Spirit, we have access to the Father.’ We come to him through Christ, as the meritorious cause, who hath procured leave for us; and by the Spirit, as the efficient cause, who gives us a heart to come; and to the Father, as the ultimate object of Christian worship. Christ procureth us leave to come, and the Spirit gives us a heart to come: so that by the Spirit, through Christ, we have access to God. So that now you may see what is meant by the Father—‘Our Father.’
But now let me distinguish again. God is a father to mankind, either:—
1. In a more general consideration and respect, by creation; or,
2. In a more special regard, by adoption.
First, By creation God is a father. At first he gave a being to all things; but to men and angels he gave reason: John i. 4, ‘And this life was the light of man.’ Other things had life, but man had such a life as was light; and so by his original constitution he became to be the son of God. To establish the relation of a father, there must be a communication of life and likeness. A painter, that makes an image or picture like himself, he is not the father of it, for though there be likeness, yet no life. The sun in propriety of speech is not the father of frogs and putrid creatures, which are quickened by its heat; though there be life, yet there is no likeness. We keep this 42relation for univocal generations and rational creatures. Thus, by creation, the angels are said to be the sons of God: Job xxxviii. 7, ‘When he was laying the foundations of the earth, the sons of God shouted for joy;’ that is, the angels. And thus Adam also was called the son of God: Luke iii. 38. Thus, by our first creation, and with respect to that, all men are the sons of God, children of God. And (mark it) in respect of God’s continual concurrence to our being, though we have deformed ourselves, and are not the same that we were when we were first created; yet still, in regard of some sorry remains of God’s image, and the light of reason, all are sons of God, and God in a general sense is a father to us; yea, more a father than our natural parents are. For our parents, they concur to our being but instrumentally, God originally. We had our being, under God, from our parents: he hath the greatest hand and stroke in forming us in the belly, and making us to be what we are. Which appeareth by this: Parents, they know not what the child will be, male or female, beautiful or deformed; they cannot tell the number of bones, muscles, veins, arteries, and cannot restore any of these in case they should be lost and spoiled; so that he that framed us in the womb, and wonder fully fashioned us in the secret parts, he is our Father: Ps. cxxxix. 14. As the writing is rather the work of the penman than of the pen, so we are rather the workmanship of God than of our parents; they are but instruments, God is the author and fountain of that life and being which we still have. And again, consider, the better part of man is of his immediate creation, and in this respect he is called ‘the Father of spirits:’ Heb. xii. 9. They do not run in the channel of carnal generation or fleshly descent, but they are immediately created by God. And it is said, Eccles. xii. 7, ‘The spirit returneth to God which gave it.’
Well, then, you see how, in a general sense, and with what good reason, God may be called our Father. Those which we call fathers, they are but subordinate instruments; the most we have from them is our corruption, our being depraved; but our substance, and the frame and fashion of it, our being, and all that is good in it, that is from the Lord.
Now, this is some advantage in prayer, to look upon God as our father by virtue of creation, that we can come to him as the work of his hands, and beseech him that he will not destroy us and suffer us to perish: Isa. lxiv. 8, ‘But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we are all the work of thine hand.’ There is a general mercy that God hath for all his creatures; and, therefore, as he gave us rational souls, and fashioned us in the womb, we may come to him and say, Lord, thou art our potter and we thy clay, do us good, forsake us not.
What advantage have we in prayer from this common interest or general respect of God’s being a father by virtue of creation?
[1.] This common relation binds us to pray to him. All things which God hath made, by a secret instinct they are carried to God for their supply: Ps. cxlv. 15, ‘The eyes of all things look up to thee.’ In their way they pray to him and moan to him for their supplies, even very beasts, young ravens, and fowls of the air. But much more 43is this man’s duty, as we have reason, and can clearly own the first cause. And therefore upon these natural grounds the apostle reasons with them why they should seek after God: Acts xiv. 17.
[2.] As this common relation binds us to pray, so it draweth common benefits after it: Mat. vi. 25, 26, ‘Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.’ Where God hath given a life, he will give food; and where he gives a body, he will give raiment, according to his good pleasure. He doth not cast off the care of any living creature he hath made, as long as he will preserve it for his glory. Beasts have their food and provision, much more men, which are capable of knowing and enjoying God.
[3.] It giveth us confidence in the power of God. He which made us out of nothing is able to keep, preserve, and supply us when all things fail, and in the midst of all dangers. Saints are able to make use of this common relation. And therefore it is said, 1 Pet. iv. 19, that we should ‘commit our souls unto him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.’ The apostle speaks of such times when they carried their lives in their hands from day to day. They did not know how soon they should be haled before tribunals and cast into prisons. Remember, you have a Creator, which made you out of nothing; and he can keep and preserve life when you have nothing. Thus this common relation is not to be forgotten, as he gives us our outward life and being: Ps. cxxiv. 8, ‘Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.’ As if the psalmist had said, as long as I see these glorious monuments of his power, these things framed out of nothing, shall I distrust God, whatever exigence or strait I may be reduced to?
Secondly, More especially there is a particular sort of men to whom God is a father in Christ, and that is, to believers: John i. 12, ‘To as many as received him, to them gave he power to be called the sons of God.’ Those which in their natural state and condition were children of wrath, and slaves to sin and Satan, when they come, and are willing to welcome and receive Christ into their hearts, in a sense of their misery, are willing to make out after God and Christ; they have an allowance to call God Father, and may have child-like communion with him, and run to him in all straits, and lay open their necessities to him. 2 Kings iv. 19, When the child cried unto his father, he said, ‘Carry him to his mother:’ so when we are ill at ease and in any straits, this is the privilege of our adoption, that we have a God to go to; we may go to our Father and plead with him, as the church: Isa. lxiii. 16, ‘Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, Lord, art our father, our redeemer.’ It is good to know God under this special relation of a father in Christ; and this is that which is the grace of adoption. Adoption is an act of free grace, by which we that were aliens and strangers, servants to sin and Satan, are, in and by Christ, made sons and daughters of God, and accordingly are so reckoned and treated with, to all intents and purposes. It is a great and special privilege, given to God’s own children, by virtue of their interest in 44Christ; and therefore it is said, 1 John iii. 1, ‘Behold, what love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!’ That is, behold it as a certain truth, and admire it as a great privilege. This second relation is a very great privilege, and it will appear to be so, if we consider:—
[1.] The persons that receive it. We that were aliens, and enemies, and bond-slaves; that were of another line and stock; that might ‘say to corruption, Thou art my father; to the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister:’ Job xvii. 14. We that were cousin-germans to worms, a handful of enlivened dust, that we should be taken into such a relation to God! We that might say indeed to the devil, Thou art our father, and the lusts of our father we will do: John viii. 24. Satan is the sinners’ father, and God disclaims them. The Lord disclaims the people which were brought out of the land of Egypt, when they rebelled against him: Exod. xxxii. 7, ‘The Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down, for thy people which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.’ Thy people, which thou hast brought, in scorn and disdain, as if God did disavow them from being his. And so it was with us all. When Adam had rebelled against God, God executed the law of the rebellious child against him, which was this, that he should be turned out of doors. So was Adam turned out of paradise, and lost his title and heritage; and we were reckoned to the devil. Now, ‘behold, what manner of love was this, that we should be called the sons of God!’
[2.] You will wonder at it, you will behold it as an excellent privilege, if you consider the nature of the privilege itself, to be sons and daughters of God, to be able to call God Father. This was Christ’s own title and honour. When God had a mind to honour Christ, he proclaims it from heaven: Mat. iii. 17. ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ Surely, if our hearts were as apprehensive of heavenly privileges as they are of earthly, we would admire it more. Earthly alliance, how is it prized! If a great man should match into our blood and line, what an honour and glory do we reckon it to us! 1 Sam. xviii. 23, ‘Seemeth it to you a light thing to be a king’s son-in-law?’ Do we account this a small matter, to be related to kings, and princes, and potentates? No, no; we have high thoughts of it. And is not this an excellent thing, to be sons and daughters of God? In all other cases, if men have children of their own, they do not adopt. God had a Son of his own, in whom his soul found full delight and complacency; yet he would adopt and take us wretched creatures, he would invest us with the title of sons; and shall it be said of this and that believer, here is the son of God? O behold what manner of love! &c.
[3.] Then do but consider the consequents of it, both in this life and the life to come. In this life, what immunities and privileges have we! Free access to God; we may come and treat with him when we please, as children to a father, when we stand in need of anything. ‘We have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father:’ Rom. viii. 15. If we ail anything, we may go to our Father and acquaint him with our case and grief. And we shall have a child’s allowance here in the world. The heirs of glory are well provided 45for in their nonage; they have aright to a large portion; all the good things of the world, meat, drink, marriage, such things they have by a son’s right. They have a right to the creature, in and by him who is heir of all things, so they are established in their right which Adam lost: 1 Tim. iv. 3, 4. And they are under the ministry of angels; the angels are sent forth to be their guardians, and to supply and provide for them.
And then, in the life to come (for we are not only sons, but heirs), we have a right to the glorious inheritance! Rom. viii. 17, ‘If children, then heirs, heirs of God.’ Here all the children are heirs, male and female, every son and daughter an heir and joint-heirs with Christ. We do as it were divide heaven between us; we have a great, blessed, and glorious inheritance; poor despicable creatures, ‘chosen heirs of a kingdom:’ James ii. 5.
[4.] You will see it was a very great privilege, if you consider how we come to be entitled to it: Eph. i. 5, ‘Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ, to himself.’ We come to it in and by Jesus Christ. Christ was fain to come down, and to take a mother upon earth, that we might have a Father in heaven. He comes down, and was made a man; he became our brother, and so layeth the foundation for the kindred: Heb. ii. 11. Nay, not only incarnate, but he died to purchase this title for us. When the business was debated in the council of the Trinity, how lost man might be restored in blood, and have a right and interest in God; and when justice put in exceptions against us, Jesus Christ was content to be ‘made under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons:’ Gal. iv. 4, 5. There could be no reconciliation, no amity, no alliance, until sin was expiated and justice satisfied; therefore Christ was not only ‘made of a woman,’ but ‘made under the law;’ first our brother by incarnation, and then our redeemer by his death and suffering. As under the law, if a man had waxen poor, the next of kin was to be his redeemer: Lev. xxv. 25; or if he had sold himself, ver. 47, one of his brethren was to redeem him. Christians, there was a kind of sale and forfeiture on our part of the inheritance and right and title of children; therefore Jesus Christ, when he became a man, jure propinquitatis, by virtue of his kindred and nearness to us, came to redeem his people, and purchase us to God. And this is the relation which is mainly intended in this place; for mark, Christ taught his disciples to pray, ‘Our Father;’ others, they cannot speak of this relation; and in them all that believe, and all that walk in the Spirit, these alone can come to God as a father.
II. What advantage have we in prayer by taking up God under this notion and relation, when we can come to him and say, ‘Our Father’?
1. It conduceth to our confidence in prayer.
2. It furthereth our duty.
First, It conduceth to our confidence in prayer: for it is not an empty title or a naked relation; but this is the ground of all that favour and grace which we stand in need of, and receive from God. It is notable, 2 Cor. vi. 18, saith God, ‘I will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters.’ In other places it is said, 46Ye shall be called my sons; but here, You shall be my sons; you shall not only be called so, but be so. He will really perform all the parts of a father to us; yea, no father like God. The outward father is but a shadow; as in all comparisons, outward things are but the shadow and similitude , the reality is in inward things. A servant is not always a servant, there may be a release; a husband is not always a husband, there may be a separation by divorce; but a father is always a father, and a child a child. ‘I am the true vine.’ The outward vine is but a shadow, but Christ himself hath the true properties of a vine. So the outward father is but a shadow and similitude, the reality is in God; none so fatherly and kind as he: Mat. vii. 11, ‘If ye, 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?’ There is a how much more upon the fatherly care of God. Natural parents, whose affections are stinted and limited, nay, corrupt and sinful, when a son comes for a fish, will not give him a scorpion, when he comes for bread, will not give him a stone. That were a monstrous thing, vile and unnatural. So Isa. xlix. 15: ‘Can a woman forget her sucking-child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.’ Passions in females are more vehement; the mother hath stronger affections. If the mother could do so as totally to forget that ever she had such a child, yet she would not forget her sucking-child—a poor, shiftless, helpless babe, that can do nothing without the mother, a child which never provoked her,—she would not forget such a child. They may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Certainly, God which hath left such an impression upon the hearts of parents, hath more of pity, bounty, and goodness in his own heart; for whatsoever of God is in the creature, is in God in a more eminent manner.
But particularly, How will God perform the parts of a father?
[1.] In allowing them full leave to come to him in all their necessities: Gal. iv. 6, ‘Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.’ There is a spirit that attendeth upon this state. They which are sons shall have the spirit of sons, and God will incline their hearts to come and call to him for supplies. This is a great advantage. When he gives a spirit of prayer, then he will be ready to hear and grant our requests; not only to give us a heart to ask them, but to incline his ear: Luke xi. 13, ‘How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?’ When we ask for the highest blessing; when we come and are importunate with him, and will take no nay.
[2.] In supplying all our wants: Mat. vi. 12, ‘Your Father which is in heaven knoweth you have need of these things.’ A father will not let his child starve—certainly none so fatherly as God. You have not such a father as is ignorant, regardless of your condition, but takes an exact notice of all your wants and pressures. It is notable to observe how God condescendeth to express the particular notice he taketh of the saints: Isa. xlix. 16, ‘Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.’ As we use to tie things about our hands, that we may remember such a work and business; so God doth, as it 47were, put a print and mark upon his hands; to speak after the manner of men. Nay, Mat. x. 30, ‘The hairs of their heads are numbered.’ God hath a particular notice of their necessities; and Jesus Christ, he is his remembrancer, one that ever appeareth before him to represent their wants: Heb. ix. 24. As the high priest in the law was to go in with the names of the tribes upon his breast and shoulder when he did minister before God: Exod. xxviii.; which is a type how much we are in the heart of Christ, ever presenting himself before the Lord on the behalf of such and such a believer.
[3.] Pitying our miseries. As he taketh notice of them, so he will pity their miseries, as a father pitieth his children when he seeth them in an afflicted condition: Ps. ciii. 13, ‘Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.’ Nay, he will pardon their sins: Mal. iii. 17, ‘And I will spare them as a man spareth his own son which serveth him.’ An only son needs not fear much if his father were to be his judge, though he hath done unworthily. They may exhaust and draw up all their pity, their bowls may shrink when they meet with multitude of provocations. Now, God will spare us as a man spares his only son—nay, not only his only son, but his dutiful son which serves him. Many times we forget the duty of children, but God will not forget the mercy of a father. ‘I will go to my father,’ saith the prodigal. He had forgotten the duty of a child, he went into a far country and wasted his patrimony, and that basely and filthily upon harlots; yet, upon his return, when he was a great way off, the father runs to meet him half-way, and kisseth him.
[4.] In disciplining and treating us with much indulgence, and wisdom, and care. A father takes a great deal of pains in forming his child, and fashioning its manners and behaviour; so doth God with his children. If he afflicteth, it is as a father only, with purposes of good, and not so as an earthly father: Heb. xii. 10, ‘For verily for a few days they chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness,’ They mingle a great deal of passion with their correction when they are inflamed; but God never mingleth passion with his rod. When he gives a bitter cup he is a father still: John xviii. 11.
[5.] In providing able guardians for his children. None so attended as God’s children are those which are adopted and taken into grace and favour with Christ: Heb. i. 14, Angels are ‘ministering spirits, sent abroad for the heirs of salvation.’ They have a guard of angels to watch over them, that they dash not their foot against a stone.
[6.] In laying up an inheritance for them. The apostle saith, 2 Cor. xii. 14, ‘Children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children.’ Now, God hath laid up for us, as well as laid out much upon us: Luke xii. 32, ‘Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ He has a kingdom, a glorious inheritance to bestow upon us; and we are kept for that happy state. Though he hath an heir already, Jesus Christ, the heir of all things, yet God hath made us ‘co-heirs with Christ:’ Rom. viii. 17.
Thus, then, it is a mighty advantage. If we did take up God in this notion, to look upon him as a father, it would increase our confidence and dependence upon him. This is a sweet relation: the 48reality is more in God than can be in an earthly father; for he is a father according to his essence, knowing our necessities, pardoning our sins, supplying our wants, forming and fashioning our manners, providing able guardians for ns, and laying up a blessed inheritance for us in heaven.
Secondly, As it encourageth us to pray, so it furthereth our duty in prayer, that we may behave ourselves with reverence, love, and gratitude.
[1.] With a child-like reverence and affection in prayer: Mal. i. 6, ‘If, then, I be a father, where is mine honour? And if I be a master, where is my fear?’ If we expect the supplies of children, we must perform the duty of children. God will be owned as a father, not with a fellow-like familiarity, but humbly, and with an awe of his majesty.
[2.] With love. Now, our love to God is mainly seen by subjection and obedience to his laws. Thus Christ would have us take up God in prayer under such a relation, that we might mind our duty to him: 1 Pet. i. 17, ‘And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.’ We never pray aright but when we pray resolving to cast off all sin. How can we call him Father, whom we care not continually to displease from day to day? So the Lord treats his people: Jer. iii. 5, 6, ‘Thou hast said, Thou art my father. Behold, thou hast spoken and done evil things as thou couldest.’ God takes it to be a contumely and reproach to himself when we do evil, yet come and call him Father. He takes it ill that men should come complimentally and flatter him with lying lips, and do not walk as children in holy obedience. Therefore, it is an engagement to serve God with holiness.
[3.] With gratitude. When we come to pray, we must remember not only what we want, but what we have received, acknowledging we have all from him; he is our father: Deut. xxxii. 6, ‘Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people, and unwise? Is not he thy father that hath bought thee? Hath he not made thee and established thee?’ We must acknowledge the good we have, as well as that we expect to come from him. Therefore, if we would have a praying frame, and be eased of our solicitude, and that anxious care which is a disparagement to providence, it is good to take up God under the notion of a father, which makes us rest upon him for all things: Mat. vi. 25, ‘Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.’ Why?’ For your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.’ You that are able fathers would think yourselves disparaged if that your children should filch and steal for their living, and beg and be solicitous, and go up and down from door to door for their maintenance and support, and not trust to your care and provision. A believer which knoweth he hath a heavenly Father will not be negligent in his calling, but be active and industrious in his way, and use those lawful means which, by the providence of God, he hath been brought up in; and then, ‘be careful for nothing,’ as the apostle’s advice is, Phil. iv. 6, and ‘in everything, by prayer and supplication, 49make your request known unto God.’ Oh, could we turn carking into prayer, and run to our Father, it would be happy for us. Care, and diligence, and necessary provision, that is our work and labour: but, for the success and event of things, leave it to God. When we are carking in the world with such anxiousness, and troubled with restless thoughts, how we should be provided for in old age, and what will become of us and ours, we take God’s work out of his hands. This is a disparagement to our heavenly Father, and a reproach to his providence and fatherly care. Well, then, certainly this is of great advantage in prayer.
Use. If it be a great advantage in prayer to take up God under the notion and relation of a father, then those that would pray aright, let this instruct and quicken them above all things. Clear up your adoption, that you may be able to call God Father, for otherwise, when you come to pray, it is a very lie to God. As Acts v. 4, when Ananias spake false to the apostle, saith Peter to him: ‘Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.’ Why? Because he knows all that is done in the world. But much more do they lie unto God here; this is a very disgrace and blasphemy, a contumely, rather than a prayer and supplication, when you will come and make God to father the devil’s brats. When you that live in sin, and have no reverence and awe of God upon your hearts, shall come and pray to him, this is a lie which is told to the very face of God.
But if this be a truth, that all those which would pray aright must clear up their adoption and get a sense of it, then here will doubts arise. Therefore here I shall handle three cases:—
1. What shall natural men do? Must they desist from prayer? for they have no right to it.
2. What shall they do which have not as yet received the testimony of the Spirit? For a child of God may have the right of children, yet have not a sense of his adoption.
3. What are the evidences by which our adoption may be cleared up to us, how we may know we are taken into a child-like state?
First, What shall natural men do? Must they desist from prayer? for they have no right to it.
I answer, you may see here the miserable condition of wicked men, how much they are bound to pray, and yet what an impossibility lieth upon them of praying aright. Certainly none should desist from this duty of prayer because they cannot perform it aright, for though we have lost our power and fitness, yet there is no reason God should lose his right and his power to our obedience. There is an obligation and precept from God, as a father by creation, upon all mankind; all which are reasonable creatures, they are to own God as a father in this way. I say prayer is a homage we owe to God by natural right, therefore no doubt wicked men do sin when they cease to pray. It is one of the accusations brought against natural men, and is an aggravation of their sin: Ps. xiv. 1, ‘They do not call upon God.’ Rom. iii. 10, it is applied to natural men. This is the misery they have subjected themselves to, that their prayer is turned into sin. As a natural man 50must not omit hearing, because it is a means to bring him to be acquainted with God, though he cannot hear in faith, so he must not omit prayer, because it is one means to bring us to own God as a father by adoption. A man is not to turn the back upon him, but call him Father, as well as he can: Jer. iii, 19, ‘But I said, How shall I put thee among the children, and give thee a pleasant land, a goodly heritage of the hosts of nations? And I said, Thou shalt call me, My Father, and shalt not turn away from me.’ Better to own God any way, than not to own him at all, than not to inquire after him; to own him rationally, if not spiritually, to own him by choice, if not out of sense. If we cannot come and clear up our title to this great privilege by the spirit of adoption, yet any way ‘Thou shalt not turn away from me.’ We should not shut the door upon ourselves. It is required of a natural man, being weary of his sins, to fly to God in Christ Jesus, for his grace and favour, that he might become his God and Father.
Secondly, What shall they do which have not as yet received the testimony of the Spirit, that do not know their adoption?
I answer, a child of God may have the effects and fruits of adoption, yet not always the feeling of it, to witness to him that God hath taken him into a child-like relation to himself. Certainly they are in a very uncomfortable condition, for they want a help in prayer. ‘Doubtless thou art our Father.’ Oh, what an advantage is that! How much of eloquence and rhetoric is there in that, when we can speak to God as a father! Yet they are not to neglect their addresses to God, for this is a means to obtain the Spirit of adoption: Luke xi. 13, ‘He will give the Spirit to them that ask him.’ Therefore, in what ever condition we be, we must pray; otherwise we shut the door upon our hopes. You continue the want upon yourselves, and so wholly detain yourselves in a comfortless condition.
There is a fourfold spiritual art we must use in prayer, when we have not the sense of our adoption, that we may be able to speak to God as our Father.
[1.] Disclaim when you cannot apply. When you cannot clear up your own relation and interest, then disclaim all other confidences. If thou canst not say Father; yet plead fatherless; Hosea xiv. 3, ‘In thee the fatherless find mercy.’ Come as poor, helpless, shiftless creatures; seek peace and reconciliation with God in Christ. It may be God may take you into his favour. He is a Father of the fatherless.
[2.] Own God in the humbling way. Learn the policy of the prodigal: Luke xv. 18, 19, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.’ This is the policy and art of a humble faith, to call God Father. As Paul catcheth hold of the promise on the dark side: ‘Jesus Christ came to save sinners;’ and presently he addeth, ‘whereof I am chief:’ so a believer may come and say, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to be called thy son, make me as one of thy hired servants.’
[3.] The third policy we should use in prayer is to call him Father in wish: Optando, si non affirmando. If we cannot do it by direct affirmation, let us do it by desire. Let us pray ourselves into this relation, and groan after it, that we may have a clearer sense that God is our Father in Christ.51
[4.] Faith hath one art more,—it maketh use of Christ Jesus. God hath a Son whose name signifieth much in heaven, therefore if you cannot come to him as your Father, come to him as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Eph. iii. 14, ‘For this cause I bow my knees to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Let Christ bring you into God’s presence. He is willing to change relations with us. Take him along with you in your arms. Go to God in Christ’s name: ‘Whatsoever you ask in my name, shall be given to you.’
Thirdly, But what are the evidences by which our adoption may be cleared up to us? How shall we know that we are taken into a child-like state?
[1.] Consider how it is brought about. How do we come to be related to God by Christ Jesus? By receiving Christ, as he is offered in the gospel: John i. 12, ‘To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.’ It is a prerogative, and special grant to those which receive Christ, even those that believe in his name, that is, those who, out of a sense of their own need, and sight of Christ offered in the promise, do really consent to take him for the ends for which God offereth him, to wit, as Prince and Saviour, that he might give you repentance and remission of sins, not in pretence, but in your hearts. These have full liberty to call God Father, to come to treat and deal with him, though they have not a sense of the blessedness of their state, for this followeth believing: ‘After you believed, you were sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise,’ Eph. i. 13, 14.
[2.] There is a witness which is given to the saints, that the thing may not always be dark and doubtful. The Holy Ghost is given as a witness. If you would know whether or no you are the children of God, see that of the apostle: Rom. viii. 16, ‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.’ As under the law, in the mouth of two witnesses every doubtful thing was to be established, Deut. xvii. 6, so here the Spirit beareth witness, together with our spirits, that we are the children of God. Our spirits alone may be lying, deceitful; we may flatter ourselves, and think we are the children of God, when we are children of the devil. All certainly comes from the Holy Ghost; and, therefore, the great question which is traversed to and fro in the heart, is, whether we be God’s children? What is the Spirit’s witness?
(1.) He lays down marks in scripture, which are the ground and decision of this debate, for the scriptures are of the Holy Ghost’s inditing, and so may be said to bear witness: Rom. viii. 14, ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God:’ 1 John iii. 10, ‘In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doth not righteousness, is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.’ Thus the Spirit beareth witness to our spirits, by laying down such marks as we, by our own spiritual sense and renewed conscience, feel to be right within ourselves. And this is the main thing called the witness of the Spirit.
(2.) He worketh such graces as are peculiar to God’s children, and are evidences of our interest in the favour of God; and therefore it is called ‘the sanctification of the Spirit,’ 2 Thes. ii. 13; and ‘the renewing 52of the Holy Ghost,’ Titus iii. 5. Look, as John knew Christ to be the Son of God by the Spirit’s descending and abiding upon him, John i. 32, so by the Spirit’s work, and the Spirit’s inhabitation, we know whether we are the children of God or no; whether ‘we dwell in God, and God in us, because of his Spirit that he hath given us;’ that is, because of those graces wrought in us. And this is called the seal of the Spirit; for the Holy Ghost, stamping the impress of God upon the soul, working in us an answerable likeness to Christ, is said to be the seal; then we have God’s impress upon us.
(3.) The Spirit goes further: he helpeth us to feel and discover those acts in ourselves. There is a stupid deadness in the conscience, so that we are not always sensible of our spiritual acts. Hagar saw not the fountain near her until God opened her eyes, so we may not see the work of the Spirit without the light of the Spirit. We cannot own grace in the midst of so much weakness and imperfection; there is a misgiving of conscience: therefore the Spirit of sanctification is also a ‘Spirit of revelation:’ Eph. i. 17. The author of the grace is the best revealer and interpreter of it: he works, and he gives us a sight of it. As a workman that made a thing can best warrant it to the buyer, he knows the goodness and strength of it, and how it is framed and made; so the Holy Ghost, which works grace, he reveals and discovers this grace to us.
(4.) The Spirit helps us to compare them with the rule, and accordingly to judge of their sincerity. The Spirit opens our under standings, that we may be able to discern the intent and scope of the scripture, that so we may not be mistaken. We must plough with God’s heifer if we would understand the riddle: ‘In thy light we shall see light.’ We shall be apt to misapply the rule, so as to judge of our own actions: Rom. ix. 1, ‘I lie not, the Holy Ghost bearing me witness;’ when he had spoken of some eminent thing wrought in him. We are apt to lie, and feign and misapply rules, comforts, and privileges; but now the Holy Ghost bearing witness with our spirits, by this means we come to have a certainty. There are so many circuits, wiles, turnings in the heart of man, that we are not competent judges of what is wrought in us; therefore it is usually ascribed to the Spirit to be the searcher of the heart: Ps. cxxxix. 7, ‘Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?’ Acts v. 4, ‘Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.’ The Holy Ghost is rather spoken of than any other person, because it is his personal operation to abide in the hearts of men, and to search and try the reins. It is more particularly ascribed to him, though it belongs to all the persons.
(5.) As the Spirit helps us to compare that which is wrought with the rule, the impression or thing sealed with the stamp or the thing sealing, so he helps us to conclude rightly of our estate. For many times when the premises are clear, the conclusion may be suspended, either out of self-love, in case of condemnation; or out of legal fear and jealousy, in case of self-acquitment. Therefore the conclusion is of the Holy Ghost: 1 John iv. 13, ‘Hereby we know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.’ There 53is a great deal ado to bring us to heaven with comfort. There needs a person of the Godhead to satisfy us as well as to satisfy God, and help us to determine concerning our condition.
(6.) He enlivens and heightens our apprehensions in all these particulars, and so fills us with comfort, and raiseth our joy upon the feeling of the sense of the favour of God; for all this is the fruit of his operation. Therefore it is said, Rom. v. 5, ‘The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.’ Those unspeakable glimpses of God’s favour, and sweet manifestations of God’s love in the conscience which we have, these are given by the Holy Ghost. There is not one act of the soul, but the Holy Ghost hath a stroke in it for our comfort. In every degree, all comes from God. So that if you would know what the witness of the Spirit is, consider What are the marks in scripture? what graces are wrought in your hearts? how doth the Spirit help you to discern those graces, to compare them to the rule, to make accordingly in these things a determination of our condition? and what joy and peace have you thereupon wrought in your hearts by the Holy Ghost? For an immediate testimony of the Spirit, the scripture knows of no such thing. All other is but delusion besides this.
[3.] There are certain fruits and effects which do more sensibly evidence it unto the soul. What are those fruits of the Spirit of adoption in our hearts, by which we may further evidence it, whether we are the children of God or not?
(1.) In prayer, by a kind of naturalness or delight in this duty of holy commerce with God: Rom. viii. 15, ‘We have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father;’ Gal. iv. 6, ‘Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father;’ and Zech. xii. 10, ‘I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication.’ Wherever the Spirit of God is dispensed, and dwelleth in the hearts of any, the heart of that man will be often with God. The Spirit of grace will put him upon supplication; he will be often acquainting God with his desires, wants, fears.
(2.) You will be mainly carried out to your inheritance in heaven. Those which are the children of God do look after a child’s portion, and will look for an estate in heaven, and cannot be satisfied with present things. Worldly men, they have their reward: Mat. vi. 2. They discharge God for other things. If they may have plenty, honour, worldly ease, and delights here, they never look after heaven. As a servant hath his reward from quarter to quarter, but a child waits until the inheritance comes, so when we are begotten for this lively hope, when there is a heavenly-mindedness in you, this is a fruit of the Holy Ghost wrought in the heart, by which you might know you are the sons of God: Rom. viii. 23, ‘Having the first-fruits of the Spirit, we groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.’
(3.) By a child-like reverence and dread of God, when we are afraid to offend God: Jer. xxxv. 5, 6. The sons of Rechab, their father had commanded them that they should drink no wine; now saith God by the prophet, ‘Set pots full of wine, and cups, and say unto them, 54Drink ye wine;’ that is, present the temptation. No, they would not: ‘Our fathers have forbidden us.’ So when a child of God is put upon temptation, his heart recoils, and reasons thus: ‘How can I do this wickedness, and sin against God?’ I dare not, my Father hath for bidden me. There is an awe of his heavenly Father upon him: 1 Pet. i. 17, ‘If you call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.’
We now come to speak of the possessive particle—Our Father. The word is used for a double reason:—
1. To comfort us in the sense of our interest in God.
2. To mind us of the common interest of all the saints in the same God. It is not my or thy Father only, but our Father.
First, Observe the great condescension of Christ, that poor creatures are allowed to claim an interest in God. If Christ had not put these words in our mouths, we never had had boldness to have gone to God, and said, ‘Doubtless thou art our Father.’ But he which was in the bosom of God, and knew his secrets, hath told us it is very pleasing to God we should use this compellation to him. This is a privilege which cannot be sufficiently valued; if we consider:—
[1.] The unworthiness of the persons which enjoy it: poor dust and ashes, sinful creatures, that were children of the devil, that we should lay claim and title to God for our Father. And,
[2.] If we consider the greatness of the privilege itself: ‘Oh, behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called his children!’ 1 John iii. 1. We think it much when we can say, This field, this house is mine; but surely this is more, to say, This God is mine.
Again, observe here that interest is a ground of audience. So Christ would have us begin our prayers, ‘Our Father.’ God’s interest in us, and our interest in God. God’s interest in us: when Christ mediates for his disciples, he saith, John xvii. 6, ‘Thine they were, and thou gavest them me,’ And David: Ps. cxix. 94, ‘I am thine, save me.’ That is his argument: the reason is, because God, by taking them for his own, binds himself to preserve and keep them. Everybody is bound to look to his own: ‘He that provides not for his own is worse than an infidel.’ Now what a sweet thing is it when we can go to God and say, We are thine! So it is the same, as to our interest in God. It is an excellent encouragement: Ps. xlii. 11, ‘Hope thou in God,’ saith David to his soul. Why? For he is my God. And elsewhere, reasoning with himself: Ps. xxiii. 1, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.’ First, his covenant-interest is built, and then conclusions of hope. So 2 Sam. xxx. 6, ‘David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.’ It is sweet when we can go to God as our God. Luther was wont to say, God was known better by the predicament of relation than by his natural properties. Why is interest such a sweet thing? Because by this relation to God we have a claim to God, and to all that he can and will do. God hath made over himself, quantus quantus est, as great as great he is, for his use and comfort. Therefore the psalmist saith, Ps. xvi. 5, ‘The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup.’ A believer hath as sure 55a right and title to God, as a man hath to his patrimony to which he is born, or as any Israelite had to that share which came to him by lot; so he may lay claim to God, and live upon his power and goodness, as a man doth upon his estate.
Well, then, labour to see God is yours, if you would find acceptance with him. It is not enough to know the goodness and power of God in general, but we must discern our interest in him, that we may not only say Father, but Our Father. It is the nature of faith thus to appropriate and apply: John xx. 28, ‘My Lord and my God.’ How is God made ours? How shall we know it, that we may come and lay our claim to him? Behold, Christ teacheth us here to say, Our Father, by taking hold of his covenant; and this is God’s covenant notion, ‘I will be your God, and you shall be my people.’ When we give up ourselves to be God’s, then he is ours. Resignation and appropriation go together. ‘I am my beloved’s;’ there is the resignation of obedience: ‘And he is mine;’ there is the appropriation of faith. A believer cannot always say God is his, but, I am thine; however it be with him, he would be no other’s but the Lord’s. If he cannot say he is God’s by an especial interest, yet he will be God’s by the resignation of his own vows. He knows God hath a better right and title to him than he hath to himself.
Quest. But how shall we know that we do indeed resign up ourselves to God?
I answer, When we make him our chief good and our utmost end—that is, when we unfeignedly choose him for our portion, and set apart ourselves to act for his glory.
1. When we choose and cleave to him as our all-sufficient portion: ‘The Lord is my portion, saith my soul,’ Lam. iii. 24. Sometimes the Lord speaks to us: ‘I am thy reward, I am thy salvation,’ Ps. xxxv. 3. So the soul speaks to God: ‘Thou art my portion.’ When we cleave to God, ‘He is my portion for ever,’ Ps. lxxiii. 25; ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee?’ &c. When our souls are satisfied in God, having enough in him, this is to give up ourselves to him.
2. When we set apart ourselves to his use, to live and act for his glory, this is also entering into covenant with God. As in that formal matrimonial covenant that was used between the prophet and his wife, Hosea iii. 3, ‘Thou shalt not be for another man, so will I also be for thee;’ so in the covenant we resolve to renounce all others, and to live and act for God:: The Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself,’ Ps. iv. 3. When we are thus set apart for God, to serve him and glorify him by this special dedication of ourselves to his use, this is the act of grace on our part. We were God’s by election; but he comes and takes possession for himself by the Spirit, and then the soul sets himself apart for God.
Secondly, That all the saints have a common interest in the same God; therefore Christ taught us to say, ‘Our Father.’ They have one Father, as well as one Spirit—one Christ, one hope, and one heaven: Eph. iv. 6. Questionless, it is lawful to say, My Father. Some have disputed it, because they suppose this expression is used to signify Christ’s singular filiation: Christ could only say, My Father. But it is lawful, provided we do not say it exclusively, and 56appropriating it to ourselves. But here Christ, when he giveth us this perfect form, teacheth us to say, ‘Our Father.’ As the sun in the firmament is every man’s, and all the world’s, so God is every single believer’s God—the God of all the elect. But why would Christ put this in this perfect pattern and form of prayer?
[1.] To quicken our love to the saints in prayer. When we come to pray, there must be a brotherly love expressed; now that is a distinct thing from common love: ‘Add to brotherly kindness, charity,’ 2 Pet i. 7. When we are dealing with God in prayer, we must express somewhat of this brotherly love. How must we express it? In praying for others, as well as for ourselves. Necessity will put men upon praying for themselves, but brotherly love will put them upon praying for others. Wherein must brotherly kindness be expressed in prayer? In two things:—
(1.) In a fellow-feeling of their miseries, in being touched with their necessities, as we would be with our own. To be senseless, it is a spiritual excommunication, a casting ourselves out of the body. Members must take care for one another. We must be grieved with their pains. ‘Who is offended,’ saith the apostle, ‘and I burn not?’ If there be any power in such a confession or title of a Father, we must be wrestling with God, how well soever it be with us, remembering we speak to him in whom others have a joint interest with ourselves.
(2.) It must be expressed in wishing the same good to others as to ourselves. Many that pray in their own case, with what earnestness and importunity are they carried out! but how flat and cold in the case of others! Now, a good Christian must be as earnest with God for others as for himself. Look, what earnestness and needfulness of soul he showeth when he puts up prayers for himself; the same must he do ‘for all saints:’ Eph. vi. 18. Self-love and self-respect must not breathe only in our prayers; they must be carried out with as much earnestness as if we would go to God in our own case.
[2.] Again, as it showeth us what brotherly love we should express in prayer, so it checketh many carnal dispositions which we are guilty of, and Christ would mind us of them. It checks strife and contention; we are brethren—have one common Father. Everywhere meekness and love: it is a qualification for prayer. ‘Let the husband live with his wife according to knowledge, that their prayers be not hindered:’ 1 Pet. iii. 7. If there be such brawls in the family, how can the husband and wife call upon God with such a united heart as is requisite? So, 1 Tim. ii. 8, ‘I will that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.’ Not only lift up ‘pure’ hands to God, and that ‘without doubting;’ there must be confidence in our prayers. But that is not all: but ‘without wrath;’ there must be nothing of revenge and passion mingled with your supplication. And then it checketh pride and disdain. Christ teacheth all, in all conditions, whether masters or servants, fathers or children, kings or beggars, all to say ‘Our Father;’ for we have all one Father. Thou hast not a better Christ, nor a better Father in heaven, than they have. The rich and the poor were to give one ransom under the law, Exod. xxx., to show they have all the same 57 Redeemer. The weak should not despise nor disdain the strong, nor the rich be ashamed to own the poor as brethren. We should never be ashamed to own him as a brother whom God will own as a sou.
Which art in heaven.
WE have considered the title given to God with respect to his goodness and mercy: He is a Father—‘our Father.’ Now, let us consider the titles given to him with respect to his greatness and majesty: ‘Which art in heaven.’ From thence note:—
Doct. It is an advantage in prayer to look upon God as a Father in heaven.
By way of explication, to show:—
First, What is meant by heaven. There are three heavens in the computation of the scripture. There is, first, the lowest heaven, that where the fowls of the air are, whence the rain descendeth; therefore the fowls are called the ‘fowls of heaven,’ Job xxxv. 11; and, James v. 18, ‘Elijah prayed, and the heaven gave rain.’ Secondly, the luminary heaven, where the sun, moon, and stars are: therefore it is said, Mark xiii. 25, ‘The stars of heaven shall fall.’ Thirdly, there is the highest heaven, or the heaven of the blessed, spoken of Mat. vii. 21: ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven;’ that is, into the third heaven, the glorious heaven, the blessed presence of God. Mat. xviii. 10: ‘In heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven:’ in heaven, that is, ‘the third heaven.’ So it is called by Paul, 2 Cor. xii. 2, which was the highest part, because he saw and heard things which it is not lawful for a man to utter. In this heaven God is.
Secondly, How is God there, since he is everywhere?
Negatively; It is not to be understood so as if he were included in heaven, or locally circumscribed within the compass of it; for ‘the heaven of heavens cannot contain him:’ 1 Kings viii. 27. In regard of his essence, he is in all places, being infinite and indivisible. He is not included within the heavens, nor excluded from earth, but filleth all places alike: Jer. xxiii. 24, ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.’ But yet in an especial manner is God present in heaven. That appears, because there is his throne: Ps. ciii. 19, ‘He hath prepared his throne in the heavens.’ Earthly kings, they have their thrones exalted higher than other places, but God’s throne is above all, it is in heaven. He hath a more universal and unlimited empire than all the kings of the earth; so he hath a more glorious throne. Heaven is the most convenient place to set forth his majesty and glory to the world, because of the sublimity, amplitude, and purity of it. And so, Isa. lxvi. 1, ‘Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.’ Heaven is his throne, because there is his majestical presence, more of his glory and excellency is discovered: and the earth is his footstool, because there, in the lowest part of the world, he manifesteth his powerful presence the lower creatures.58
Briefly, to conceive how God is in heaven, we must consider:—
[1.] The several ways of his presence. He is in Christ, hypostatically, essentially, or (as the apostle speaks) bodily: Col. ii. 19, ‘The fulness of God dwells in him bodily.’ In the temple, under the law, there God was present symbolically, because there were the signs and tokens of his presence. The Jewish temple was a sacramental place and type of Christ, in whose name, and by whose merit, worship was acceptable to God. But now, in Christians, he is present energetically, and operatively, by his Spirit. And in heaven, he there dwells by some eminent effects of his wisdom, power, greatness, and goodness. God hath showed more of his workmanship in the structure of the heavens than in any other part of the creation, that being the most glorious part of the world: Ps. xix. 1-3, ‘The heavens declare the glory of the Lord, and the firmament showeth his handiwork,’ &c. Certainly it is meet God should dwell in the most glorious part of the world; now heaven is the most glorious part of the creation. Heathens in their straits would not look to the capitol where their idols were; but to heaven, where God hath impressed his majesty and greatness. Whenever we look upon these aspectable heavens, the vast expansion, the glorious luminaries, the purity of the matter, and sublimity of its posture, it cannot but raise our hearts to think of a glorious God that dwelleth there. When we come by a poor cottage, we guess the inhabitant is no great person; but when we see a magnificent structure, we easily imagine some person of account dwells there. So, though the earth doth declare the glory of God, and show much of his wisdom and power, yet chiefly the heavens, whenever we look upon them, we cannot choose but have awful thoughts, and be struck with a religious horror, at the remembrance of the great God, which has stretched out these heavens by his wisdom and power.
[2.] Therefore God is said to dwell in heaven, because from thence he manifesteth his powerful providence, wisdom, justice, and goodness. God is not so shut up in heaven as not to mind human affairs, and to take notice of what is done here below: Ps. xi. 4, ‘The Lord’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try the children of men.’ Though his throne be in heaven, yet his providence is every where; his eyes behold, he seeth how we behave ourselves in his presence; and his eyelids try the children of men. He may seem to wink now and then, and to suspend the strokes of his vengeance, but it is but for our trial. He owneth his children from heaven: Deut. xxvi. 15, ‘Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people.’ And from thence he punisheth the wicked: Rom. i. 18, ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven.’
[3.] There is God most owned by the saints and glorified angels, therefore he is said to dwell there; as a king is beloved by his subjects, but most immediately served and attended upon by those of his own court. So that in heaven, there we have the highest pattern of all that duty which doth immediately concern God. In this prayer, ‘Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done,’ these three petitions concern God more immediately. Now before we put them up, Christ would have us think of our Father in heaven, praised by angels and saints that fall down before his throne, crying, Honour, 59glory, and praise. There he reigneth, his throne is there, and there he is perfectly obeyed and served without any opposition.
[4.] There God is most enjoyed, and therefore he dwells there, for there he doth more immediately exhibit the fulness of his glory to the saints and angels. In heaven God is all in all. Here we are supplied at second or third hand: Hosea ii. 18, ‘I will hear the heavens, and the heavens shall hear the earth,’ &c. But there God is immediately and fully enjoyed. Here there are many wants and vacuities to be filled up; but ‘in thy presence there is fulness of joy, and at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore:’ Ps. xvi. 11. Look, as when the flood was poured out upon the world, you read that ‘the windows of heaven were opened,’ Gen. vii. 11; the drops of rain were upon earth, but the cataracts and floodgates were in heaven; so when he raineth down drops of sweetness upon his people, the floodgates are above, they are reserved for that place where they are fully enjoyed.
Thirdly, Why hath God fixed and taken up his dwelling-place in the heavens? I answer,
[1.] Because mortal men they cannot endure his glorious presence: Deut. v. 23, ‘When ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, for the mountain did burn with fire, ye said, Behold, the Lord our God hath showed us his glory, and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die.’ Any manifestations of God, how easily do they overset and overcome us! A little spiritual enjoyment it is too strong for us. If God pour out but a drop of sweetness into the heart, we are ready to cry out, Hold, Lord, it is enough; our crazy vessels can endure no more. Therefore, when Christ was transfigured, the disciples were astonished and fell back; they could not endure the emissions and beamings out of his divine glory, because of the weakness and incapacity of the present state: therefore hath God a place above, where he discovereth his glory in the utmost latitude. It is notable in scripture, sometimes God is said to ‘dwell in light,’ 1 Tim. vi. 16; and sometimes to ‘make darkness his dwelling-place,’ Ps. xviii. 11. How doth he dwell in light, and how in darkness? Because of the glorious manifestations which are above, therefore it is said he dwells in light; and because of the weakness and incapacity of our comprehension, therefore he is said to dwell in darkness.
[2.] To try our faith and our obedience, that he might see whether we would live by faith, yea or no; whether a believer would love him and obey him, though he were invisible and withdrawn within the curtain of heaven. You know when the Israelites saw the glory of God, then they cried, ‘All that God hath commanded us we will do:’ Deut. v. 27. But as soon as that manifestation ceased, they were as bad as ever. If all were liable to sense, there would be no trial of this world; but God hath shut up himself, that by this means the faith of the elect might be manifested: for ‘faith is the evidence of things not seen:’ Heb. xi. 1. Where there is no sight there is exercise for faith. And that our love might be tried: 1 Pet. i. 8, ‘Whom 60having not seen, ye love: in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.’ And this is that which discovereth the faithless and disobedient world: Job xxii. 12-14, ‘Is not God in the height of heaven? How doth God know? can he judge through the dark cloud? Thick clouds are a covering to him that he seeth not, and he walketh in the circuit of heaven.’
[3.] It is fit there should be a better place into which the saints should be translated when the course of their obedience is ended: Eph. i. 3, ‘He hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places.’ The main of Christ’s purchase we have in heavenly places. It is fit the place of trial and place of recompense should differ; therefore the place of trial, that is God’s footstool; and the place of recompense, that is God’s throne. The world, that is a place of trial; it is a common inn for sons and bastards, for the elect and reprobate; a receptacle of man and beast: here God will show his bounty unto all his creatures; but now, in the place of his residence, he will show his love to his people. Therefore, when we have been tried and exercised, there is a place of preferment for us.
Fourthly, What advantage have we in prayer by considering God in heaven? Very much, whether we consider God absolutely, or with respect to a mediator; both ways we have an advantage.
.First, If we consider the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who have their residence in heaven; consider them without respect to a mediator. Why, the looking up to God in heaven:—
[1.] It showeth us that prayer is an act of the heart, and not of the lips. That it is not the sound of the voice which can pierce the heavens, and enter into the ears of the Lord of hosts, but sighs and groans of the spirit. Christians! in prayer God is near to us, and yet far from us, for we must look upon him as in heaven, and we upon earth. How then should we converse with God in prayer? Not by the tongue only, but by the heart. The commerce and communion of spirits is not hindered by local distance; but God is with us, and we with him, when our heart goeth up.
[2.] It teacheth the great work of prayer is to lift up the heart to God. To withdraw the heart from all created things which we see and feel here below, that we may converse with God in heaven: Ps. cxxiii. 1, ‘Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, thou that dwellest in the heavens;’ and, Lam. iii. 41, ‘Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.’ Prayer doth not consist in a multitude and clatter of words, but in the getting up of the heart to God, that we may behave ourselves as if we were alone with God, in the midst of glorious saints and angels. There is a double advantage which we have by this getting the soul into heaven in prayer. It is a means to free us from distractions and doubts. To free us from distractions and other intercurrent thoughts. Until we get our hearts out of the world, as if we were dead and shut up to all present things, how easily is the heart carried away with the thoughts of earthly concernments! Until we can separate and purge our spirits, how do we interline our prayers with many ridiculous thoughts! It 61is too usual for us to deal with God as an unskilful person that will gather a posy for his friend, and puts in as many or more stinking weeds than he doth choice flowers. The flesh interposeth, and our carnal hearts interline and interlace our prayers with vain thoughts and earthly distractions. When with our censer we come to offer incense to God, we mingle sulphur with our incense. Therefore we should labour all that we can to get the heart above the world into the presence of God and company of the blessed, that we may deal with him as if we were by him in heaven, and were wholly swallowed up of his glory. Though our bodies are on earth, yet our spirits should be with our Father in heaven. For want of practising this in prayer, these distractions increase upon us. So for doubts, when we look to things below, even the very manifestations of God to us upon earth, we have many discouragements, dangers without and difficulties within: till we get above the mists of the lower world, we can see nothing of clearness and comfort; but when we can get God and our hearts together, then we can see there is much in the fountain, though nothing in the stream; and though little on earth, yet we have a God in heaven.
[3.] This impresseth an awe and reverence, if we look upon the glory of God manifested in heaven, that bright and luminous place. This is urged by the Holy Ghost: Eccles. v. 2, ‘Thou art upon earth, and God is in heaven; therefore let thy words be few;’ Gen. xviii. 27, ‘Who am I that I should take upon me to speak unto the Lord, ‘Who am but dust and ashes?’ We are poor crawling worms, and therefore, when we think of the majesty of God, it should impress a holy awe upon us. Mean persons will behave themselves with all honour and reverence when they supplicate to men of quality; so should we to God, who is so high and so much above us; he is in heaven. It is a diminution of his greatness (Mal. i. 14) when we put off God with anything, and come slightly and carelessly into his presence.
[4.] It teacheth us that all our prayers should carry a correspondence with our great aim. What is our great aim? To be with God in heaven, as remembering that is the centre and place of our rest, to which we are all tending: Col. iii. 1, ‘If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.’ We come to our Father which is in heaven. He will have his residence there, that our hearts might be there. Therefore the main things we should seek of God from heaven are saving graces, for these ‘come down from above, from the Father of lights:’ James i. 17. We have liberty to ask supplies for the outward life, but chiefly we should ask spiritual and heavenly things: Mat. vi. 22, 23, ‘Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.’ What then? ‘First seek the kingdom of God,’ &c. If we have to do with a heavenly Father, our first and main care should be to ask things suitable to his being, and his excellency. If children should ask of their parents such a thing as is pleasing to their palate, possibly they might give it them; but when they ask instruction, and desire to be taught, that is far more acceptable to them. When we ask supplies of the outward life, food, raiment, God may give it us; but it is more pleasing to him when we ask for grace. In every 62prayer we should seek to be made more heavenly by conversing with our heavenly Father.
[5.] It giveth us ground of confidence in God’s power and absolute dominion over all things, for God is in heaven above all created beings: Ps. cxv. 3, ‘Our God is in the heavens, and doth whatsoever he pleaseth.’ So 2 Chron. xx. 6, ‘Art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to with stand thee?’ Oh, what an advantage is this in prayer, when we think of our all-sufficient God, who made heaven and earth, and hath fixed his throne there! What can be too hard for him?
[6 .] Here is encouragement against carnal fear. Whatever the world doth against us, we have a Father in heaven, and this should bear us up against all their threatenings and oppositions. When there were tumults and confusions in the world, it is said, Ps. ii. 4, ‘But God, which sits in heaven, shall laugh them to scorn.’ An earthly parent may have a large heart, but a short hand; though they may wish us well, yet they cannot defend us, and bear us out in all extremities. But our Father in heaven will laugh at the attempts against his empire and greatness. Thus considering God absolutely, it is an advantage to reflect upon him as a Father in heaven.
But I suppose this expression hath respect to a mediator. Therefore,
Secondly, Let us look upon God with respect to a mediator, for so I think we are chiefly bound to consider our Father in heaven, because of Christ which sits there at his right hand: Heb. viii. 1. It is said there, ‘He sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary.’ Oh, this is comfortable to think of. In heaven we have a Saviour, Jesus Christ, representing our persons and presenting our prayers to God, by which means God is reconciled and well pleased with us. So that our duty in prayer is to look up to heaven, and to see Christ at God’s right hand as our high priest, mediating for us that we may be accepted with God.
A notable resemblance we have between God’s presence in the tabernacle or temple, and God’s presence in heaven.
“In the temple you know there were three partitions. There was the outward court, and the sanctuary, as the apostle calls it, where the table of shew-bread was set, and there was the holy place, the holy of holies. Just so in heaven there are three partitions; there is the airy heaven, and the starry heaven, and the heaven of heavens: the lower heaven, which answers to the outward court; the starry heaven which answers to the sanctuary; and the heaven of heavens, which answers to the holy of holies by a fit analogy and proportion. Well, in the holy of holies, saith the apostle, there was the golden censer and the mercy-seat: Heb. ix. 4. There you find God conspicuously manifesteth his presence, and gives answers to his people: ‘At the mercy-seat, there will I answer thee, saith the Lord.’ So here, in this heaven of heavens, there is a mercy-seat, there is a throne of grace, and there God will answer. We may ‘come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need:’ Heb. iv. 16. 63Into this holy of holies none but the high priest did enter, and that once a year, after the sacrifice of atonement for the whole congregation: then the high priest was to come into the holy of holies, he was to pass through the veil with blood and with sweet incense in his hand. Just thus is Jesus entered into the heaven of heavens for us. He is gone there to present his blood and sufferings, to appear before God for us, to present himself as a sweet-smelling sacrifice: Heb ix. 24; Eph. v. 2. Now the high priest, when he went with this blood in to the mercy-seat, he went in with the names of the twelve tribes upon his breast and shoulder, as Jesus also doth appear before God for us, representing our persons continually before his Father. Now about the mercy-seat, there were cherubims, and figures of angels; just about the ark, there they stooped down, to show the angels do attend about the throne, to despatch messages abroad into the world, and convey blessings to the saints. There is a throne of grace, a mercy-seat, a mediator there, angels at God’s beck, ready to send up and down, to and fro, for the good of the saints. And mark, not only hath Jesus this liberty to enter into this heaven of heavens, but all the saints have a liberty to enter, and that not only at death, but in their life-time; for saith the apostle, Heb. x. 19, ‘Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest, by the blood of Jesus.’ All of us, not only when we die, and personally go to God, do we enter into the holy of holies, but now we have boldness. It relateth to prayer, for the word signifieth liberty of speech. This holy of holies, which was closed and shut up against us before, is opened by the blood of Jesus; the veil is rent, and now all saints have a privilege to come freely to converse with God. It is good to observe the difference between the holy of holies, and the heaven of heavens. The Jews their sanctum sanctorum was earthly; but our holy of holies is heavenly. Into theirs, which was as it were God’s bed-chamber, the common people were not admitted; none but the high priest could enter into the holy of holies. But now into ours all believers may enter and converse with God. There the high priest could enter but once a year; now we may come to the throne of grace as often as we have a cause to present to God. There the high priest he entered with the blood of beasts; but we enter by the blood of the Son of God. Oh, what a great privilege is this, that we have a Father in heaven! In this respect the holy place is now open to us. Though we have not a personal access till death, yet by the blood of Jesus we may come with boldness, presenting ourselves before the Lord with all our wants and desires. The great distance between heaven and earth shall not hinder our communion with God, if we have a friend above.”
Therefore it is very comfortable now to say, ‘Our Father which art in heaven;’ that is, our gracious and reconciled Father, in and by Christ.
If we have a Father in heaven, let us look up to heaven often.
1. If we have a Father in heaven, and a Saviour at his right hand, to do all things that are needful for us, let us look upon the aspectable heavens with an eye of sense, with our bodily eyes. It is good 64to contemplate the glory of the heavenly bodies, or the outside of that court which God hath provided for the saints. It is not an idle speculation I press you to; the saints of God have thought it to be worthy of their morning and evening thoughts. It is notable, David doth, in two psalms especially, contemplate heaven; one seems to be a nightly, the other a morning, meditation. The night meditation you have Ps. viii. 3: ‘When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained.’ David was got abroad in a moon-shining night, looks up, and had his heart affected. But now the 19th Psalm, that seems to be a morning meditation; he speaks of the ‘sun coming out like a bridegroom from his chamber in the east,’ and displaying his beams, and heat, and influences to the world; and then saith he, ver. 1, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God.’ Morning and evening, or whenever you go abroad to see the beauty of the outward heavens, say, I have a Father there, a Christ there; this is the pavement of that palace which God hath provided for the saints. Christians, it is a sweet meditation when you can say, He that made all things is there. It will be a delightful, profitable thing sometimes, with an eye of sense, to take a view of our Father’s palace, as much as we can see of it here below.
2. Let me especially press you to this: with an eye of faith to look within the veil; and whenever you come to pray, to see God in heaven, and Christ at his right hand. The great work of faith is to see him that is invisible; and the great duty of prayer is to get a sight of God in heaven, and Christ at his right hand. What Stephen did miraculously, or in an ecstasy, we must do graciously in prayer. Now it is said of Stephen, Acts vii. 56, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.’ There is a great deal of difference about Stephen’s sight: how the heavens could be opened, which are a solid body, and cannot be divided as fluid air, and so come together again; how he could see the glory of God with his corporal senses, which is invisible; how he could see Christ at such a distance, the eye not being able to reach so far. Some think it to be a mere intellectual vision, or a vision of faith; that is, he did so firmly believe, and had the comfort of it in his heart, as if he had seen it with his eyes. So they think Stephen saw the glory of God, and Christ at his right hand, as Abraham saw Christ’s day and rejoiced; that is, he saw it by faith. Some think it to be a prophetical vision, by seeing those things objected to his fancy by imaginary species; as Isaiah saw God in a vision—Isa. vi.—and as Paul’s rapture. Some think it a symbolical vision; that he saw these things represented by some corporal images, as John saw the Holy Ghost descending in the form of a dove. Some think his bodily eyes did pierce the clouds, and got a sight of the glory of Christ. Whatever it be, there must be such a sight in prayer, something answerable to this. In a spiritual way, this must ever be done: Ps. v. 3, ‘I will pray,’ saith the psalmist, ‘and look up.’ There is a looking up required in all prayer, a seeing the invisible God by faith. If you would have God look down upon you from his holy habitation, you must look up with an eye of faith, and converse with God in heaven: Ps. lxiii. 4, ‘I will lift up my hands in thy name.’ If you would have 65God look upon you with an eye of compassion, you must look up, and see Christ at his right hand, by an eye of faith.
3. Let us love our Father; love God in Christ, and love the place for his sake, where his residence is.
[1.] Love God in Christ: Ps. lxxiii. 25, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee?’ When God hath been so gracious to you! Christians, if I had no other argument to press you to love God but that he which is in heaven offereth to be your father in Christ Jesus, it might suffice; because it is a great condescension that the God of heaven will look upon poor broken-hearted creatures—that he whose throne is in heaven would look upon him that is of a trembling spirit: Isa. lxvi. 2. ‘That the high and lofty One, that dwelleth in the high and holy place, will look to him that is of a contrite heart:’ Isa. lvii. 15. That he that is the Lord of heaven and earth will be our Father, and own us and bless us! A great condescension on God’s part, and a great dignity also is put upon us; and how should our hearts be affected with it! Therefore, though there be a great distance between heaven and earth, it should not lessen our affections to God. He is mindful of us, visits us at every turn; we are dear and tender to him; therefore let the Lord be dear to you. The butler, when he was exalted, forgot Joseph; but Christ is not grown stately with his advancement—he doth not forget us. Oh, let not us forget God. Let us manifest our love, by being often with him at the throne of grace, with our Father which is in heaven. A child is never well but when in the mother’s lap or under the father’s wing: so should it be with us, with a humble affection coming into the presence of God, and getting into the bosom of our heavenly Father. Never delight in anything so much as conversing with him, and serious addresses to him in prayer. Again:—
[2.] Love the place for his sake; God is there, and Christ is there. We have cause to love the place for our own sakes; and in a short time, if you continue patient in well-doing, you will be with God. It is not only God’s throne, but it is your house: 2 Cor. v. 1, ‘We look for an house in heaven, not made with hands.’ It is a place appointed for our everlasting abode; therefore all our hopes, desires, and delights should run that way. But chiefly I would press you to love it for his sake, the place where your heavenly Father dwells. God hath not taken his denomination from earth, which is the place of corruption; but from heaven, which is the place of glory and happiness. Oh, let us not forget our heavenly Father’s house. We are too apt to say, It is good to be here. Christians, let us draw home apace; let us grow more heavenly-minded every day; seek the things which are above; prize it rather upon this occasion, because if we were more heavenly in the frame of our hearts, we would be more heavenly in our solemn approaches to God. What is the reason a man is haunted with the world, and things which are of a worldly interest and concern, when he comes to prayer? It is because his heart is taken with these things.66
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