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The Preface to the Lord’s Prayer
‘Our Father which art in Heaven ’
Having gone over the chief grounds and fundamentals of religion, and enlarged upon the decalogue, or ten commandments, I shall speak now upon the Lord’s prayer.
‘After this manner therefore pray ye, Our Father which art in heaven hallowed,’ &100:. Matt. 6: 9.
In this Scripture are two things observable: the introduction to the prayer, and the prayer itself
The introduction to the Lord’s prayer is, ‘After this manner pray ye.’ Our Lord Jesus, in these words, gave to his disciples and to us a directory for prayer. The ten commandments are the rule of our life, the creed is the sum of our faith, and the Lord’s prayer is the pattern of our prayer. As God prescribed Moses a pattern of the tabernacle (Exod 25: 9), so Christ has here prescribed us a pattern of prayer. ‘After this manner pray ye,’ &c. The meaning is, let this be the rule and model according to which you frame your prayers. Ad hanc regulam preces nostras exigere necesse est [We ought to examine our prayers by this rule]. Calvin. Not that we are tied to the words of the Lord’s prayer. Christ says not, ‘After these words, pray ye;’ but ‘After this manner:’ that is, let all your petitions agree and symbolise with the things contained in the Lord’s prayer; and well may we make all our prayers consonant and agreeable to this prayer. Tertullian calls it, Breviarium totius evangelii, ‘a breviary and compendium of the gospel,’ it is like a heap of massive gold. The exactness of this prayer appears in the dignity of the Author. A piece of work has commendation from its artifices, and this prayer has commendation from its Author; it is the Lord’s prayer. As the moral law was written with the finger of God, so this prayer was dropped from the lips of the Son of God. Non vox hominem sonat, est Deus [The voice is not that of a man, but that of God]. The exactness of the prayer appears in the excellence of the matter. It is ‘as silver tried in a furnace, purified seven times.’ Psa 12: 6. Never was prayer so admirably and curiously composed as this. As Solomon’s Song, for its excellence is called the ‘Song of songs,’ so may this be well called the ‘Prayer of prayers’. The matter of it is admirable, 1. For its comprehensiveness. It is short and pithy, Multum in parvo, a great deal said in a few words. It requires most art to draw the two globes curiously in a little map. This short prayer is a system or body of divinity. 2. For its clearness. It is plain and intelligible to every capacity. Clearness is the grace of speech. 3. For its completeness. It contains the chief things that we have to ask, or God has to bestow.
Use. Let us have a great esteem of the Lord’s prayer; let it be the model and pattern of all our prayers. There is a double benefit arising from framing our petitions suitably to this prayer. Hereby error in prayer is prevented. It is not easy to write wrong after this copy; we cannot easily err when we have our pattern before us. Hereby mercies requested are obtained; for the apostle assures us that God will hear us when we pray ‘according to his will.’ 1 John 5: 14. And sure we pray according to his will when we pray according to the pattern he has set us. So much for the introduction to the Lord’s prayer, ‘After this manner pray ye.’
The prayer itself consists of three parts. 1. A Preface. 2. Petitions. 3. The Conclusion. The preface to the prayer includes, ‘Our Father;’ and, ‘Which art in heaven.’
I. The first part of the preface is ‘Our Father.’ Father is sometimes taken personally, ‘My Father is greater than I’ (John 14: 28); but Father in the text is taken essentially for the whole Deity. This title, Father, teaches us that we must address ourselves in prayer to God alone. There is no such thing in the Lord’s prayer, as, ‘O ye saints or angels that are in heaven, hear us’; but, ‘Our Father which art in heaven.’
In what order must we direct our prayers to God? Here the Father only is named. May we not direct our prayers to the Son and Holy Ghost also?
Though the Father only be named in the Lord’s prayer, yet the other two Persons are not excluded. The Father is mentioned because he is first in order; but the Son and Holy Ghost are included because they are the same in essence. As all the three Persons subsist in one Godhead, so, in our prayers, though we name but one Person, we must pray to all. To come more closely to the first words of the preface, ‘Our Father.’ Princes on earth give themselves titles expressing their greatness, as ‘High and Mighty.’ God might have done so, and expressed himself thus, ‘Our King of glory, our Judge:’ but he gives himself another title, ‘Our Father,’ an expression of love and condescension. That he might encourage us to pray to him, he represents himself under the sweet notion of a Father. ‘Our Father.’ Dulce nomen Patris [Sweet is the name of Father]. The name Jehovah carries majesty in it: the name Father carries mercy in it.
In what sense is God a Father?
(1) By creation; it is he that has made us: ‘We are also his offspring.’ Acts 17: 28. ‘Have we not all one Father?’ Mal 2: 10. Has not one God created us? But there is little comfort in this; for God is Father in the same way to the devils by creation; but he that made them will not save them.
(2) God is a Father by election, having chosen a certain number to be his children, upon whom he will entail heaven. ‘He has chosen us in him.’ Eph 1: 4.
(3) God is a Father by special grace. He consecrates the elect by his Spirit, and infuses a supernatural principle of holiness, therefore they are said to be ‘born of God.’ 1 John 3: 9. Such only as are sanctified can say, ‘Our Father which art in heaven.’
What is the difference between God being the Father of Christ, and the Father of the elect?
He is the Father of Christ in a more glorious and transcendent manner. Christ has the primogeniture; he is the eldest Son, a Son by eternal generation; ‘I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.’ Prov 8: 23. ‘Who shall declare his generation?’ Isa 53: 8. Christ is a Son to the Father, as he is of the same nature with the Father, having all the incommunicable properties of the Godhead belonging to him; but we are sons of God by adoption and grace, ‘That we might receive the adoption of sons. Gal 4: 5.
What is that which makes God our Father?
Faith. ‘Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.’ Gal 3: 26. An unbeliever may call God his Creator, and his Judge, but not his Father. Faith legitimises us, and makes us of the blood-royal of heaven. ‘Ye are the children of God by faith.’ Baptism makes us church members, but faith makes us children. Without faith the devil can show as good a coat of arms as we can.
How does faith make God to be our Father?
As it is a uniting grace. By faith we have coalition and union with Christ, and so the kindred comes in; being united to Christ, the natural Son, we become adopted sons. God is the Father of Christ; faith makes us Christ’s brethren, and so God comes to be our Father. Heb 2: 11.
Wherein does it appear that God is the best Father?
(1) In that he is most ancient. ‘The Ancient of days did sit.’ Dan 7: 9. A figurative representation of God, who was before all time, which may cause veneration.
(2) God is the best Father, because he is perfect. ‘Your Father which is in heaven is perfect;’ he is perfectly good. Matt 5: 48. Earthly fathers are subject to infirmities; Elias, though a prophet, ‘was a man subject to like passions’ (James 5: 17); but God is perfectly good. All the perfection we can arrive at in this life is sincerity. We may resemble God a little, but not equal him; he is infinitely perfect.
(3) God is the best Father in respect of wisdom. ‘The only wise God.’ 1 Tim 1: 17. He has a perfect idea of wisdom in himself; he knows the fittest means to bring about his own designs. The angels light at his lamp. In particular, one branch of his wisdom is, that he knows what is best for us. An earthly parent knows not, in some intricate cases, how to advise his child, or what may be best for him to do; but God is a most wise Father; he knows what is best for us; he knows what comfort is best for us: he keeps his cordials for fainting. ‘God that comforteth those that are cast down.’ 2 Cor 7: 6. He knows when affliction is best for us, and when it is fit to give a bitter potion. ‘If need be ye are in heaviness.’ 1 Pet 1: 6. He is the only wise God; he knows how to make evil things work for good to his children. Rom 8: 28. He can make a sovereign treacle of poison. Thus he is the best Father for wisdom.
(4) He is the best Father, because the most loving. ‘God is love.’ 1 John 4: 16. He who causes bowels of affection in others, must needs have more bowels himself; quod efficit tale [for he accomplishes the same]. The affections in parents are but marble and adamant in comparison of God’s love to his children; he gives them the cream of his love — electing love, saving love. ‘He will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing.’ Zeph 3: 17. No father like God for love; if thou art his child thou canst not love thy own soul so entirely as he loves thee.
(5) He is the best Father, for riches. He has land enough to give to all his children; he has unsearchable riches. Eph 3: 8. He gives the hidden manna, the tree of life, rivers of joy. He has treasures that cannot be exhausted, gates of pearl, pleasures that cannot be ended. If earthly fathers should be ever giving, they would have nothing left to give; but God is ever giving to his children, and yet has not the less. His riches are imparted not impaired; like the sun that still shines, and yet has not less light. He cannot be poor who is infinite. Thus he is the best Father; he gives more to his children than any father or prince can bestow.
(6) God is the best Father, because he can reform his children. When his son takes bad courses, a father knows not how to make him better; but God knows how to make the children of the election better: he can change their hearts. When Paul was breathing out persecution against the saints, God soon altered his course, and set him praying. ‘Behold, he prayeth.’ Acts 9: 11. None of those who belong to the election are so roughcast and unhewn but God can polish them with his grace, and make them fit for the inheritance.
(7) God is the best Father, because he never dies. ‘Who only has immortality.’ 1 Tim. 6: 16. Earthly fathers die, and their children are exposed to many injuries, but God lives for ever. ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending.’ Rev 1: 8. God’s crown has no successors.
Wherein lies the dignity of those who have God for their Father?
(1) They have greater honour than is conferred on the princes of the earth; they are precious in God’s esteem. ‘Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable.’ Isa 43: 4. The wicked are dross (Psa 119: 119), and chaff (Psa 1: 4); but God numbers his children among his jewels. Mal 3: 17. He writes all his children’s names in the book of life. ‘Whose names are in the book of life.’ Phil 4: 3. Among the Romans the names of their senators were written down in a book, patres conscripti [the enrolled fathers]. God enrols the names of his children, and will not blot them out of the register. ‘I will not blot his name out of the book of life.’ Rev 3: 5. God will not be ashamed of his children. ‘God is not ashamed to be called their God.’ Heb 11: 16. One might think it were something below God to father such children as are dust and sin mingled; but he is not ashamed to be called our God. That we may see he is not ashamed of his children, he writes his own name upon them. ‘I will write upon him the name of my God;’ that is, I will openly acknowledge him before all the angels to be my child; I will write my name upon him, as the son bears his father’s name. Rev 3: 12. What an honour and dignity is this!
(2) God confers honourable titles upon his children. He calls them the excellent of the earth, or the magnificent, as Junius renders it. Psa 16: 3. They must needs be excellent who are e regio sanguine nati, of the blood royal of heaven; they are the spiritual phoenixes of the world, the glory of the creation. God calls his children his glory. ‘Israel, my glory.’ Isa 46: 13. He honours his people with the title of kings. ‘And has made us kings.’ Rev 1: 6. All God’s children are kings, though they have not earthly kingdoms. They carry a kingdom about them. ‘The kingdom of God is within you. ‘Grace is a kingdom set up in the hearts of God’s children. Luke 17: 21. They are kings to rule over their sins, to bind those kings in chains. Psa 149: 8. They are like kings. They have their insignia regalia, their ensigns of royalty and majesty. They have their crown. In this life they are kings in disguise; they are not known, therefore they are exposed to poverty and reproach. ‘Now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be.’ 1 John 3: 2. Why, what shall we be? Every son of God shall have his crown of glory, and white robes. 1 Pet 5: 4; Rev. 6: 2: Robes signify dignity, and white signifies sanctity.
(3) The honour of those who have God for their Father is, that they are all heirs; the youngest son is an heir. God’s children are heirs to the things of this life. God being their Father, they have the best title to earthly things, they have a sanctified right to them. Though they have often the least share, they have the best right; and with what they have they have the blessing of God’s love and favour. Others may have more of the venison, but God’s children have more of the blessing. Thus they are heirs to the things of this life. They are heirs to the other world. ‘Heirs of salvation’ (Heb 1: 14); ‘Joint heirs with Christ’ (Rom 8: 17). They are co-sharers with Christ in glory. Among men the eldest son commonly carries away all; but God’s children are all — joint-heirs with Christ, they have a co-partnership with him in his riches. Has Christ a place in the celestial mansions? So have the saints. ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you.’ John 14: 2. Has he his Father’s love? So have they. ‘That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them.’ Psa 146: 8; John 17: 26. Does he sit upon a throne? So do God’s children. Rev 3: 21. What a high honour is this!
(4) God makes his children equal in honour to the angels. Luke 20: 36. They are equal to the angels; nay, those saints who have God for their Father, are in some sense superior to the angels; for Jesus Christ having taken our nature, naturam nostram nobilitavit, says Augustine, has ennobled and honoured it above the angelic. Heb 2: 16. God has made his children, by adoption, nearer to himself than the angels. The angels are the friends of Christ: believers are his members, and this honour have all the saints. What a comfort is this to God’s children who are here despised, and loaded with calumnies and invectives! ‘We are made as the filth of the world,’ etc. 1 Cor 4: 13. But God will put honour upon his children at the last day, and crown them with immortal bliss, to the envy of their adversaries.
How may we know that God is our Father? All cannot say, ‘Our Father.’ The Jews boasted that God was their Father. ‘We have one Father, even God.’ John 8: 41. Christ tells them their true pedigree. ‘Ye are of your father the devil;’ ver 44. They who are of Satanic spirits, and make use of their power to beat down the power of godliness, cannot say, God is their Father; they may say, ‘Our father who art in hell.’ How then may we know that God is our Father?
(1) By having a filial disposition, which is seen in four things.  To melt in tears for sin as a child weeps for offending his father: When Christ looked on Peter, and Peter remembered his sin in denying him, he fell to weeping. Clemens Alexandrinus reports of Peter that he never heard a cock crow but he wept. It is a sign that God is our Father when the heart of stone is taken away, and there is a gracious thaw in the heart; and it melts into tears for sin. He who has a childlike heart, mourns for sin in a spiritual manner, as it is sin he grieves for, as it is an act of pollution. Sin deflowers the virgin soul; it defaces God’s image; it turns beauty into deformity; it is called the plague of the heart. 1 Kings 8: 38. A child of God mourns for the defilement of sin; sin has to him a blacker aspect than hell.
He who has a childlike heart, grieves for sin, as it is an act of enmity. Sin is diametrically opposed to God. It is called walking contrary to God. ‘If they shall confess their iniquity, and that they have walked contrary unto me.’ Lev 26: 40. It does all it can to spite God; if God be of one mind, sin will be of another; sin would not only enthrone God, but strike at his very being. If sin could help it, God would no longer be God. A childlike heart grieves for this; ‘Oh!’ say she, ‘that I should have so much enmity in me, that my will should be no more subdued to the will of my heavenly Father!’ This springs a leak of godly sorrow.
A childlike heart weeps for sin, as it is an act of ingratitude. It is an abuse of God’s love; it is taking the jewels of his mercies, and making use of them to sin. God has done more for his children than others; he has planted his grace and given them some intimations of his favour; and to sin against kindness, dyes a sin in grain, and makes it crimson; like Absalom, who soon as his Father kissed him, and took him into favour, plotted treason against him. Nothing so melts a childlike heart in tears, as sins of unkindness. Oh, that I should sin against the blood of a Saviour, and the bowels of a Father! I condemn ingratitude in my child, yet I am guilty of ingratitude against my heavenly Father. This opens a vein of godly sorrow, and makes the heart bleed afresh. Certainly it evidences God to be our Father, when he has given us a childlike frame of heart, to weep for sin as it is sin, an act of pollution, enmity and ingratitude. A wicked man may mourn for the bitter fruit of sin, but only a child of God can grieve for its odious nature.
 A filial disposition is to be full of sympathy. We lay to heart the dishonours reflected upon our heavenly Father. When we see his worship adulterated, and his truth mingled with the poison of error, it is as a sword in our bones, to see his glory suffer. ‘I beheld the transgressors and was grieved. ’ Psa 119: 158. Homer describing Agamemnon’s grief when forced to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, brings in all his friends weeping and condoling with him; so, when God is dishonoured, we sympathise, and are as it were clad in mourning. A child that has any good nature, is cut to the heart to hear his father reproached; so an heir of heaven takes a dishonour done to God more heinous than a disgrace done to himself.
 A filial disposition, is to love our heavenly Father. He is unnatural that does not love his father. God who is crowned with excellency, is the proper object of delight; and every true child of God says as Peter, ‘Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.’ But who will not say he loves God? If ours be a true genuine love to our heavenly Father, it may be known by the effects. Then we have a holy fear. There is the fear which rises from love to God, of losing the visible tokens of his presence. Eli’s ‘heart trembled for the ark.’ 1 Sam 4: 13. It is not said his heart trembled for his two sons Hophni and Phinehas; but his heart trembled for the ark, because the ark was the special sign of God’s presence; and if that were taken, the glory was departed. He who loves his heavenly Father, fears lest the tokens of his presence should be removed, lest profaneness should break in like a flood, lest Popery should get head, and God should go from his people. The presence of God in his ordinances is the glory and strength of a nation. The Trojans had the image of Dallas, and they had an opinion that as long as that image was preserved among them, they should never be conquered; so, as long as God’s presence is with a people they are safe. Every true child of God fears lest God should go, and the glory depart. Let us try by this whether we have a filial disposition. Do we love God, and does this love cause fear and jealousy? Are we afraid lest we should lose God’s presence, lest the Sun of Righteousness should remove out of our horizon? Many are afraid lest they should lose some of their worldly profits, but not lest they should lose the presence of God. If they may have peace and trading, they care not what becomes of the ark of God. A true child of God fears nothing so much as the loss of his Father’s presence. ‘Woe to them when I depart from them.’ Hos 9: 12.
Love to our heavenly Father is seen by loving his day. ‘If thou call the Sabbath a delight.’ Isa 58: 13. The ancients called this regina dierum, the queen of days. If we love our Father in heaven, we spend this day in devotion, in reading, hearing, meditating; on this day manna falls double. God sanctified the Sabbath; he made all the other days in the week, but he has sanctified this day; this day he has crowned with a blessing. Love to our heavenly Father is seen by loving his children. ‘Every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.’ 1 John 5: 1. If we love God, the more we see of him in any, the more we love them. We love then though they are poor, as a child loves to see his father’s picture, though hung in a mean frame. We love the children of our Father, though they are persecuted. ‘Onesiphorus was not ashamed of my chain.’ 2 Tim 1: 16. Constantine kissed the hole of Paphnusius’s eye, because he suffered the loss of his eye for Christ. They have no love to God, who have no love to his children; they care not for their company; they have a secret disgust and antipathy against them. Hypocrites pretend great reverence to departed saints; they canonise dead saints, but persecute living ones. I may say of these, as the apostle in Heb 12: 8: they are ‘bastards, not sons.’
If we love our heavenly Father, we shall be advocates for him, and stand up in the defence of his truth. He who loves his father will plead for him when he is traduced and wronged. He has no childlike heart, no love to God, who can hear his name dishonoured and be silent. Does Christ appear for us in heaven, and are we afraid to appear for him on earth? Such as dare not own God and religion in times of danger, God will be ashamed to be called their God; it will be a reproach to him to have such children as will not own him. A childlike love to God is known by its degree. We love our Father in heaven above all other things; above estate, or relations, as oil runs above the water. Psa 73: 25. A child of God seeing a supereminence of goodness and a constellation of all beauties in him, is carried out in love to him in the highest measure. As God gives his children electing love, such as he does not bestow upon the wicked, so his children give to him such love as they bestow upon none else. They give him the flower and spirits of their love; they love him with a love joined with worship; this spiced wine they keep only for their Father to drink of. Cant 8: 2.
 A childlike disposition is seen in honouring our heavenly Father. ‘A son honoureth his father.’ Mal 1: 6.
We show our honour to our Father in heaven, by having a reverential awe of him upon us. ‘Thou shalt fear thy God.’ Lev 25: 17. This reverential fear of God, is when we dare do nothing that he has forbidden in his Word. ‘How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ Gen 39: 9. It is part of the honour a son gives to a father, that he fears to displease him. We show our honour to our heavenly Father, by doing all we can to exalt him and make his excellencies shine forth. Though we cannot lift him up higher in heaven, yet we may lift him higher in our hearts, and in the esteem of others. When we speak well of God, set forth his renown, display the trophies of his goodness; when we ascribe the glory of all we do to him; when we are the trumpeters of his praise; this is honouring our Father in heaven, and a sure sign of a childlike heart. ‘Whose offereth praise, glorifieth me.’ Psa 123.
(2) We may know God is our Father by resembling him. The child is his father’s picture. ‘Each one resembled the children of a king’, every child of God resembles the king of heaven. Judg 8: 18. Herein God’s adopted children and man’s differ. A man adopts one for his son and heir that does not at all resemble him; but whomsoever God adopts for his child is like him; he not only bears his heavenly Father’s name, but his image. ‘And have put on the new man, which is renewed after the image of him that created him.’ Col 3: 10. He who has God for his Father, resembles him in holiness, which is the glory of the Godhead. Exod 15: 11. The holiness of God is the intrinsic purity of his essence. He who has God for his Father, partakes of the divine nature; though not of the divine essence, yet of the divine likeness; as the seal sets its print and likeness upon the wax, so he who has God for his Father, has the print and effigies of his holiness stamped upon him. ‘Aaron, the saint of the Lord.’ Psa 106: 16. Wicked men desire to be like God hereafter in glory, but do not affect to be like him here in grace; they give it out to the world that God is their Father, yet have nothing of God to be seen in them; they are unclean: they are not only without his image, but hate it.
(3) We may know God is our Father by having his Spirit in us.  By having the intercession of the Spirit. It is a Spirit of prayer. ‘Because ye are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father.’ Gal 4: 6. Prayer is the soul’s breathing itself into the bosom of its heavenly Father. None of God’s children are born dumb. Implet Spiritus Sanctus organum suum, et tanquam fila chordarum tangit Spiritus Dei corda sanctorum [The Holy Spirit fills his instrument, and the Spirit of God touches the hearts of the saints like the threads of harp-strings]. Prosper. ‘Behold, he prayeth.’ Acts 9: 11. But it is not every prayer that evidences God’s Spirit in us. Such as have no grace may excel in gifts, and affect the hearts of others in prayer, when their own hearts are not affected; as the lute makes a sweet sound in the ears of others, but itself is not sensible.
How shall we know our prayers to be indited by the Spirit, and so he is our Father?
When they are not only vocal, but mental; when they are not only gifts, but groans. Rom 8: 26. The best music is in concert: the best prayer is when the heart and tongue join together in concert.
When they are zealous and fervent. ‘The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.’ James 5: 16. The eyes melt in prayer, and the heart burns. Fervency is to prayer as fire to incense, which makes it ascend to heaven as a sweet perfume.
When prayer has faith mingled with it. Prayer is the key of heaven, and faith is the hand that turns it. ‘We cry, Abba, Father.’ Rom 8: 15. ‘We cry,’ there is fervency in prayer; ‘Abba, Father,’ there is faith. Those prayers suffer shipwreck which dash upon the rock of unbelief. We may know God is our Father, by having his Spirit praying in us; as Christ intercedes above, so the Spirit intercedes within.
 By having the renewing of the Spirit, which is nothing else but regeneration, which is called a being born of the Spirit. John 3: 5. This regenerating work of the Spirit is a transformation, or change of nature. ‘Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ Rom 12: 2. He who is born of God has a new heart: new, not for substance, but for qualities. The strings of a viol may be the same, but the tune is altered. Before regeneration, there are spiritual pangs, much heart-breaking for sin. It is called a circumcision of the heart. Col 2: 11. In circumcision there was a pain in the flesh; so in spiritual circumcision there is pain in the heart; there is much sorrow arising from a sense of guilt and wrath. The jailor’s trembling was a pang in the new birth. Acts 16: 29. God’s Spirit is a spirit of bondage before it is a spirit of adoption. This blessed work of regeneration spreads over the whole soul; it irradiates the mind; it consecrates the heart, and reforms the life; though regeneration be but in part, yet it is in every part. 1 Thess 5: 23. Regeneration is the signature and engraving of the Holy Ghost upon the soul, the new-born Christian is bespangled with the jewels of the graces, which are the angels’ glory. Regeneration is the spring of all true joy. At our first birth we come weeping into the world, but at our new birth there is cause of rejoicing; for now, God is our Father, and we are begotten to a lively hope of glory. 1 Pet 1: 3. We may try by this our relation to God. Has a regenerating work of God’s Spirit passed upon our souls? Are we made of another spirit, humble and heavenly? This is a good sign of sonship, and we may say, ‘Our Father which art in heaven.’
 We know God is our Father by having the conduct of the Spirit. We are led by the Spirit. ‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.’ Rom 8: 14. God’s Spirit does not only quicken us in our regeneration, but leads us on till we come to the end of our faith. It is not enough that the child has life, but he must be led every step by the nurse. ‘I taught Ephraim to go, taking them by their arms.’ Hos 11: 3. As the Israelites had the cloud and pillar of fire to go before them, and be a guide to them, so God’s Spirit is a guide to go before us, and lead us into all truth, and counsel us in all our doubts, and influence us in all our actions. ‘Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel.’ Psa 73: 24. None can call God Father but such as have the conduct of the Spirit. Try then what spirit you are led by. Such as are led by a spirit of envy, lust, and avarice, are not led by the Spirit of God; it were blasphemy for them to call God Father; they are led by the spirit of Satan, and may say, ‘Our father which art in hell.’
 By having the witness of the Spirit. ‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.’ Rom 8: 16. This witness of the Spirit, suggesting that God is our Father, is not a vocal witness or voice from heaven. The Spirit in the word witnesseth: the Spirit in the word says, he who is qualified, who is a hater of sin and a lover of holiness, is a child of God, and God is his Father. If I can find such qualifications wrought, it is the Spirit witnessing with my spirit that I am a child of God. Besides, we may carry it higher. The Spirit of God witnesses to our spirit by making more than ordinary impressions upon our hearts, and giving some secret hints and whispers that God has purposes of love to us, which is a concurrent witness of the Spirit with conscience, that we are heirs of heaven, and God is our Father. This witness is better felt than expressed; it scatters doubts and fears, and silences temptations. But what shall one do that has not this witness of the Spirit? If we want the witness of the Spirit let us labour to find the work of the Spirit; if we have not the Spirit testifying, let us labour to have it sanctifying, and that will be a support to us.
(4) If God be our Father, we are of peaceable spirits. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.’ Matt 5: 9. Grace infuses a sweet, amicable disposition; it files off the ruggedness of men’s spirits; it turns the lion-like fierceness into a lamb-like gentleness. Isa 11: 7. They who have God to be their Father follow peace as well as holiness. God the Father is called the ‘God of peace,’ Heb 13: 20: God the Son, the ‘Prince of Peace,’ Isa 9: 6: God the Holy Ghost, a Spirit of peace; ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ Eph 4: 3. The more peaceable, the more like God. God is not the Father of those who are fierce and cruel, as if, with Romulus, they had sucked the milk of a wolf ‘The way of peace have they not known.’ Rom 3: 17. They sport in mischief, and are of a persecuting spirit, as Maximinus, Diocletian, Antiochus, who, as Eusebius says, took more tedious journeys, and ran more hazards in vexing and persecuting the Jews, than any of his predecessors had done in obtaining victories. These furies cannot call God Father. If they do, they will have as little comfort in saying Father, as Dives had in hell, when he said, ‘Father Abraham.’ Luke 16: 24. Nor can those who are makers of division. ‘Mark them which cause divisions, and avoid them.’ Rom 16: 17. Such as are born of God, are makers of peace. What shall we think of such as are makers of divisions? Will God father these? The devil made the first division in heaven. They may call the devil father; they may give the cloven foot in their coat of arms; their sweetest music is in discord; they unite to divide. Samson’s fox tails were tied together only to set the Philistine’ corn on fire. Judges 15: 4. Papists unite only to set the church’s peace on fire. Satan’s kingdom grows up by making divisions. Chrysostom observes of the church of Corinth, that when many converts were brought in, Satan knew no better way to dam up the current of religion than to throw in an apple of strife, and divide them into parties: one was for Paul, and another for Apollo, but few for Christ. Would Christ not have his coat rent, and can he endure to have his body rent? Surely, God will never father them who are not sons of peace. Of all those whom God hates, he is named for one who is a sower of discord among brethren. Prov 6: 19.
(5) If God be our Father, we shall love to be near him, and to have converse with him. An ingenuous child delights to approach near to his father, and go into his presence. David envied the birds that built their nest near to God’s altars, when he was debarred his Father’s house. Psa 84: 3. True saints love to get as near to God as they can. In the word they draw near to his holy oracle, in the sacrament they draw near to his table. A child of God delights to be in his Father’s presence; he cannot stay away long from God; he sees a Sabbath-day approaching, and rejoices; his heart has been often melted and quickened in an ordinance; he has tasted that the Lord is good, therefore he loves to be in his Father’s presence; he cannot keep away long from God. Such as care not for ordinances cannot say, ‘Our Father which art in heaven.’ Is God the Father of those who cannot endure to be in his presence?
Use 1. For instruction. See the amazing goodness of God, that he is pleased to enter into the sweet relation of a Father to us. He needed not to adopt us, he did not want a Son, but we wanted a Father. He showed power in being our Maker, but mercy in being our Father. That when we were enemies, and our hearts stood out as garrisons against God, he should conquer our stubbornness, and of enemies make us children, and write his name, and put his image upon us, and bestow a kingdom of glory; what a miracle of mercy is this! Every adopted child may say, ‘Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.’ Matt 11: 26.
If God be a Father, then I infer that whatever he does to his children, is in love.
(1) If he smiles upon them in prosperity, it is in love. They have the world not only with God’s leave, but with his love. He says to every child of his, as Naaman to Gehazi, ‘Be content, take two talents.’ 2 Kings 5: 23. So God says to his child, ‘I am thy Father, take two talents.’ Take health, and take my love with it; take an estate, and take my love with it: take two talents. His love is a sweetening ingredient in every mercy.
How does it appear that a child of God has worldly things in love?
Because he has a good title to them. God is his father, therefore he has a good title. A wicked man has a civil title to the creature, but no more; he has it not from the hand of a father; he is like one that takes up cloth at the draper’s, and it is not paid for; but a believer has a good title to every foot of land he has, for his Father has settled it upon him.
A child of God has worldly things in love, because they are sanctified to him. They make him better, and are loadstones to draw him nearer to God. He has his Father’s blessing with them. A little that is blest is sweet. ‘He shall bless thy bread and thy water.’ Exod 23: 25. Esau had the venison, but Jacob got the blessing. While the wicked have their meat sauced with God’s wrath, believers have their comforts seasoned with a blessing. Psa 78: 30, 31. It was a sacred blessing from God that made Daniel’s pulse nourish him more, and made him look fairer than they that ate of the king’s meat. Dan 1: 15.
A child of God has worldly things in love, because whatever he has is an earnest of more; every bit of bread is a pledge and earnest of glory.
(2) God being a Father, if he frown, if he dip his pen in gall, and write bitter things, if he correct, it is in love. A father loves his child as well when he chastises and disciplines him, as when he settles his land on him. ‘As many as I love, I rebuke.’ Rev 3: 19. Afflictions are sharp arrows, says Gregory Nazianzen, but they are shot from the hand of a loving Father. Correctio est virtutis gymnasium [Correction is the school of character]. God afflicts with love: he does it to humble and purify. Gentle correction is as necessary as daily bread; nay, as needful as ordinances, as word and sacraments. There is love in all: God smites that he may save.
(3) God being a Father, if he desert and hide his face from his child, it is in love. Desertion is sad in itself, a short hell. Job 6: 9. When the light is withdrawn, the dew falls. Yet we may see a rainbow in the cloud — the love of a Father in all this. God hereby quickens grace. Perhaps grace lay dormant. Cant 5: 2. It was as fire in the embers, and God withdrew comfort to invigorate and exercise it. Faith as a star sometimes shines brightest in the dark night of desertion. Jonah 2: 4. When God hides his face from his child, he is still a Father, and his heart is towards his child. As when Joseph spake roughly to his brethren, and made them believe he would take them for spies, his heart was full of love, and he was fain to go aside and weep; so God’s bowels yearn towards his children when he seems to look strange. ‘In a little wrath I hid my face from thee, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.’ Isa 54: 8. Though God may have the look of an enemy, yet still he has the heart of a Father.
Learn hence the sad case of the wicked. They cannot say, ‘Our Father in heaven;’ they may say, ‘Our Judge,’ but not ‘Our Father;’ they fetch their pedigree from hell. ‘Ye are of your father the devil.’ John 8: 44. Such as are unclean and profane, are the spurious brood of the old serpent, and it were blasphemy for them to call God Father. The case of the wicked is deplorable; if they are in misery, they have none to make their moan to. God is not their Father, he disclaims all kindred with them. ‘I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’ Matt 7: 23. The wicked, dying in their sins, can expect no mercy from God as a Father. Many say, He that made them will save them; but ‘It is a people of no understanding; therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them.’ Isa 27: 11. Though God was their Father by creation, yet because they were not his children by adoption, therefore He that made them would not save them.
Use 2. For invitation. Let all who are yet strangers to God, labour to come into this heavenly kindred; never cease till they can say, ‘Our Father which art in heaven.’
But will God be a Father to me, who has profaned his name, and been a great sinner?
If thou wilt now at last seek God by prayer, and break off thy sins, he has the bowels of a Father for thee, and will in nowise cast thee out. When the prodigal arose and went to his father, ‘his father had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck, and kissed him.’ Luke 15: 20. Though thou hast been a prodigal, and almost spent all upon thy lusts, yet if thou wilt give a bill of divorce to thy sins, and flee to God by repentance, know that he has the bowels of a Father; he will embrace thee in the arms of his mercy, and seal thy pardon with a kiss. What though thy sins have been heinous? The wound is not so broad as the plaister of Christ’s blood. The sea covers great rocks; the sea of God’s compassion can drown thy great sins; therefore be not discouraged, go to God, resolve to cast thyself upon his Fatherly compassion. He may be entreated of thee, as he was of Manasseh. 2 Chron 33: 13.
Use 3. For comfort. Here is comfort for such as can, upon good grounds, call God Father. There is more sweetness in this word Father than if we had ten thousand worlds. David thought it a great matter to be son-in-law to a king. ‘What is my father’s family, that I should be son-in-law to the king?’ 1 Sam 18: 18. But what is it to be born of God, and have him for our Father?
Wherein lies the happiness of having God for our Father?
(1) If God be our Father, he will teach us. What father will refuse to counsel his son? Does God command parents to instruct their children, and will not he instruct his? Deut 4: 10. ‘I am the Lord thy God, which teacheth thee to profit.’ Isa 48: 17. ‘O God, thou hast taught me from my youth.’ Psa 71: 17. If God be our Father, he will give us the teachings of his Spirit. ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of God, neither can he know them.’ 1 Cor 2: 14. The natural man may have excellent notions in divinity but God must teach us to know the mysteries of the gospel after a spiritual manner. A man may see the figures upon a dial, but he cannot tell how the day goes unless the sun shines; so we may read many truths in the Bible, but we cannot know them savingly, till God by his Spirit shines upon our soul. God teaches not only our ear, but our heart; he not only informs our mind, but inclines our will. We never learn aught till God teach us. If he be our Father, he will teach us how to order our affairs with discretion (Psa 112: 5) and how to carry ourselves wisely. ‘David behaved himself wisely.’ 1 Sam 18: 5. He will teach us what to answer when we are brought before governors; he will put words into our mouths. ‘Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake; but take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.’ Matt 10: 18, 19, 20.
(2) If God be our Father, he has bowels of affection towards us. If it be so unnatural for a father not to love his child, can we think God can be defective in his love? All the affections of parents come from God, yet are they but a spark from his flame. He is the Father of mercies. 2 Cor 1: 3. He begets all the mercies and bowels in the creature; his love to his children is a love which passeth knowledge. Eph 3: 19. It exceeds all dimensions; it is higher than heaven, it is broader than the sea. That you may see God’s fatherly love to his children: Consider, God makes a precious valuation of them. ‘Since thou wast precious in my sight.’ Isa 43: 4. A father prizes his child above his jewels. Their names are precious, for they have God’s own name written upon them. ‘I will write upon him the name of my God.’ Rev 3: 12. Their prayers are a precious perfume; their tears he bottles. Psa 56: 8. He esteems his children as a crown of glory in his hands. Isa 62: 3. God loves the places where they were born in for their sakes. ‘Of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her’; this and that believer was born there. Psa 87: 5. He loves the ground his children tread upon; hence, Judea, the seat of his children and chosen ones, he calls a delight some land. Mal 3: 12. It was not only pleasant for situation and fruitfulness, but because his children, who were his Hephzibah, or delight, lived there. He charges the great ones of the world not to injure his children, because their persons are sacred. ‘He suffered no man to do them wrong, yea, he reproved kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not mine anointed.’ Psa 105: 14, 15. By anointed is meant the children of the high God, who have the unction of the Spirit, and are set apart for God. He delights in their company. He loves to see their countenance, and hear their voice. Cant 2: 14. He cannot refrain long from their company; let but two or three of his children meet and pray together, he will be sure to be among them. ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ Matt 18: 20. He bears his children in his bosom, as a nursing father does the sucking child. Numb 11: 12; Isa 46: 4. To be carried in God’s bosom shows how near his children lie to his heart. He is full of solicitous care for them. ‘He cares for you.’ 1 Peter 5: 7. His eye is still upon them, they are never out of his thoughts. A father cannot always take care for his child, he sometimes is asleep; but God is a Father that never sleeps. ‘He shall neither slumber nor sleep.’ Psa 121: 4. He thinks nothing too good to part with for his children; he gives them the kidneys of the wheat, and honey out of the rock, and ‘wines on the lees well refined.’ Isa 25: 6. He gives them three jewels more worth than heaven — the blood of his Son, the grace of his Spirit, and the light of his countenance. Never was there such an indulgent, affectionate Father. If he has one love better than another, he bestows it upon them; they have the cream and quintessence of his love. ‘He will rejoice over thee, he will rest in his love.’ Zeph 3: 17. He loves his children with such a love as he loves Christ. John 17: 26. It is the same love, for the unchangeableness of it. God will no more cease to love his adopted sons than he will to love his natural Son.
(3) If God be our Father, he will be full of sympathy. ‘As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.’ Psa 103: 13. ‘Is Ephraim my dear son? my bowels are troubled for him.’ Jer 31: 20. God pities his children in two cases.
 In case of infirmities. If the child be deformed, or has any bodily distemper, the father pities it; so, if God be our Father, he pities our weaknesses: and he so pities them as to heal them. ‘I have seen his ways, and will heal him.’ Isa 57: 18. As he has bowels to pity, so he has balsam to heal.
 In case of injuries. Every blow of the child goes to the father’s heart; so, when the saints suffer, God sympathises. ‘In all their affliction he was afflicted.’ Isa 63: 9. He did, as it were, bleed in their wounds. ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutes thou me?’ When the foot was trod on, the head cried out. God’s soul was grieved for the children of Israel. Judges 10: 16. As when one string in a lute is touched, all the rest sound; so when God’s children are stricken, his bowels sound. ‘He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.’ Zech 2: 8.
(4) If God be our Father, he will take notice of the least good he sees in us; if there be but a sigh for sin, he hears it. ‘My groaning is not hid from thee.’ Psa 38: 9. If but a penitential tear comes out of the eye he sees it. ‘I have seen thy tears.’ Isa 38: 5. If there be but a good intention, he takes notice of it. ‘Whereas it was in thine heart to build an house unto my name, thou didst well that it was in thine heart.’ 1 Kings 8: 18. He punishes intentional wickedness, and crowns intentional goodness. ‘Thou didst well that it was in thine heart,’ He takes notice of the least scintilla, the least spark of grace in his children. ‘Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.’ 1 Peter 3: 6. The Holy Ghost does not mention Sara’s unbelief, or laughing at the promise; he puts a finger upon the scar, winks at her failing, and only takes notice of the good that was in her, her obedience to her husband — she ‘obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.’ Nay, that good which the saints scarce take notice of in themselves, God in a special manner observes. ‘I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. Then shall the righteous answer, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred and fed thee?’ Matt 25: 35, 37. They as it were overlooked and disclaimed their own works of charity, but Christ takes notice of them — ‘I was an hungred, and ye fed me.’ What comfort is this! God spies the least good in his children; he can see a grain of corn hid under chaff, grace hid under corruption.
(5) If God be our Father, he will take all we do in good part. Those duties which we ourselves censure he will crown. When a child of God looks over his best duties, he sees so much sin cleaving to them that he is confounded. ‘Lord,’ he says, ‘there is more sulphur than incense in my prayers.’ But for your comfort, if God be your Father, he will crown those duties which you yourselves censure. He sees there is sincerity in the hearts of his children, and this gold, though light, shall have grains of allowance. Though there may be many defects in the services of his children, he will not cast away their offering. ‘The Lord healed the people.’ 2 Chron 30: 20. The tribes of Israel, being straitened in time, wanted some legal purifications; yet because their hearts were right God healed them and pardoned them. He accepts of the good will. 2 Cor 8: 12. A father takes a letter from his son kindly, though there are blots or bad English in it. What blotting are there in our holy things! Yet our Father in heaven accepts them. ‘It is my child,’ God says, ‘and he will do better; I will look upon him, through Christ, with a merciful eye.’
(6) If God be our Father, he will correct us in measure. ‘I will correct thee in measure.’ Jer 30: 11. This he will do two ways. It shall be in measure for the kind. He will not lay upon us more than we are able to bear. 1 Cor 10: 13. He knows our frame. Psa 103: 14. He knows we are not steel or marble, therefore will deal gently, he will not over-afflict. As the physician, who knows the temper of the body, will not give physic too strong for the body, nor give one drachm or scruple too much, so God, who has not only the title, but the bowels of a father, will not lay too heavy burdens on his children, lest their spirits fail before him. He will correct in measure, for duration; he will not let the affliction lie too long. ‘The rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous,’ Psa 125: 3. It may be there, but not rest. ‘I will not contend for ever.’ Isa 57: 16. Our heavenly Father will love for ever, but he will not contend for ever. The torments of the damned are for ever. ‘The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.’ Rev 14: 11. The wicked shall drink a sea of wrath, but God’s children only taste of the cup of affliction, and their heavenly Father will say, transeat calix, ‘let this cup pass away from them.’ Isa 35: 10.
(7) If God be our Father, he will intermix mercy with all our afflictions. If he gives us wormwood to drink, he will mix it with honey. In the ark the rod was laid up and manna; so with our Father’s rod there is always some manna. Asher’s shoes were iron and brass, but his foot was dipped in oil. Deut 33: 24, 25. Affliction is the shoe of brass that pinches; but there is mercy in the affliction, there is the foot dipped in oil. When God afflicts the body, he gives peace of conscience; there is mercy in the affliction. An affliction comes to prevent falling into sin; there is mercy in an affliction. Jacob had his thigh hurt in wrestling; there was the affliction: but when he saw God’s face, and received a blessing from the angel, there was mercy in the affliction. Gen 32: 30. In every cloud a child of God may see a rainbow of mercy shining. As the painter mixeth dark shadows and bright colours together, so our heavenly Father mingles the dark and bright together, crosses and blessings; and is not this a great happiness, for God thus to cheques his providence, and mingle goodness with severity?
(8) If God be our Father, the evil one shall not prevail against us. Satan is called the evil one, emphatically. He is the grand enemy of the saints; and that both in a military sense, as he fights against them with his temptations; and in a forensic or law sense, as he is an accuser, and pleads against them; yet neither way shall he prevail against God’s children. As for shooting his fiery darts, God will bruise Satan shortly under the saints’ feet. Rom 16: 20. As for his accusing, Christ is an advocate for the saints, and answers all bills of indictment brought against them. God will make all Satan’s temptations promote the good of his children.  As they set them praying. 2 Cor 12: 8. Temptation is a medicine for security.  As they are a means to humble them. ‘Lest I should be exalted above measure, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan.’ 2 Cor 12: 7. The thorn in the flesh was a temptation; it was to prick the bladder of pride.  As they establish them more in grace. A tree shaken by the wind is more settled and rooted; so the blowing of a temptation does but settle a child of God more in grace. Thus the evil one, Satan, shall not prevail against the children of God.
(9) If God be our Father, no real evil shall befall us. ‘There shall no evil befall thee.’ Psa 91: 10. It is not said, no trouble; but, no evil. God’s children are privileged persons; they are privileged from being hurt of every thing. ‘Nothing shall by any means hurt you.’ Luke 10: 19. The hurt and malignity of the affliction is taken away. Affliction to a wicked man has evil in it; it makes him worse. ‘Men were scorched with great heat and blasphemed the name of God.’ Rev 16: 9. But no evil befalls a child of God; he is bettered by affliction. ‘That we might be made partakers of his holiness.’ Heb 12: 10. What hurt does the furnace to the gold? It only makes it purer. What hurt does affliction to grace? Only refine and purify it. What a great privilege it is to be freed, though not from the stroke, yet from the sting of affliction! No evil shall touch a saint. When the dragon, say they, has poisoned the water, the unicorn with his horn draws out the poison. Christ has drawn the poison out of every affliction, that it cannot injure a child of God. Again, no evil befalls a child of God, because no condemnation. ‘No condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.’ Rom 8: 1. God does not condemn them, nor does conscience. When both jury and judge acquit, no evil befalls the accused; for nothing is really an evil but that which damns.
(10) If God be our Father, we may go with cheerfulness to the throne of grace. Were a man to petition his enemy, there were little hope; but when a child petitions his father, he may hope with confidence to succeed. The word ‘Father’ works upon God; it toucheth his very bowels. What can a father deny his child? ‘If his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?’ Matt 7: 9. This may embolden us to go to God for pardon of sin, and further degrees of sanctity. We pray to a Father of mercy sitting upon a throne of grace. ‘If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?’ Luke 11: 13. This quickens the church, and adds wing to prayer. ‘Look down from heaven.’ Isa 63: 15. ‘Doubtless thou art our Father’; ver 16. For whom does God keep his mercies but for his children? Three things may give boldness in prayer. We have a Father to pray to, and the Spirit to help us to pray, and an Advocate to present our prayers. God’s children should in all their troubles run to their heavenly Father, as the sick child in 2 Kings 4: 19: ‘He said unto his father, My head, my head.’ So pour out thy complaint to God in prayer. ‘Father, my heart, my heart; my dead heart, quicken it; my hard heart, soften it in Christ’s blood. Father, my heart, my heart.’ Surely God, who hears the cry of ravens, will hear the cry of his children!
(11) If God be our Father, he will stand between us and danger. A father will keep off danger from his child. God calls himself Scutum, a shield. As a shield he defends the head, guards the vitals, and shields off dangers from his children. ‘I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee.’ Acts 18: 10. God is a hiding-place. Psa 27: 5. He preserved Athanasius strangely; he put it into his mind to depart out of the house he was in, the night before the enemy came to search for him. As God has a breast to feed, so he has wings to cover his children. ‘He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.’ Psa 91: 4. He appoints his holy angels to be a lifeguard about his children. Heb 1: 14. Never was any prince so well guarded as a believer. The angels  are a numerous guard. ‘The mountain was full of horses of fire round about Elisha.’ 2 Kings 6: 17. ‘The horses and chariots of fire’ were the angels of God to defend the prophet Elisha.  A strong guard. One angel, in a night, slew a hundred and fourscore and five thousand. 2 Kings 19: 35. If one angel slew so many, what would an army of angels have done?  The angels are a swift guard; they are ready in an instant to help God’s children. They are described with wings to show their swiftness: they fly to our help. ‘At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come.’ Dan 9: 23. Here was swift motion for the angel, to come from heaven to earth between the beginning and ending of Daniel’s prayer.  The angels are a watchful guard; not like Saul’s guard, asleep when their lord was in danger. 1 Sam 26: 12. The angels are a vigilant guard; they watch over God’s children to defend them. ‘The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him.’ Psa 34: 7. There is an invisible guardianship of angels about God’s children.
(12) If God be our Father, we shall not want anything that he sees to be good for us. ‘They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.’ Psa 34: 10. God is pleased sometimes to keep his children on hard commons, but it is good for them. As sheep thrive best on short pasture, so God sees too much may not be good for his people; plenty might breed surfeit. Luxuriant animi rebus secundis [In prosperity men’s characters run riot]. God sees it good sometimes to diet his children, and keep them short, that they may run the heavenly race the better. It was good for Jacob that there was a famine in the land; it was the means of bringing him to his son Joseph; so God’s children sometimes see the world’s emptiness, that they may acquaint themselves more with Christ’s fulness. If God sees it to be good for them to have more of the world, they shall have it. He will not let them want any good thing.
(13) If God be our Father, all the promises of the Bible belong to us. His children are called ‘heirs of promise.’ Heb 6: 17. A wicked man can lay claim to nothing in the Bible but the curses; he has no more to do absolutely with the promises than a ploughman has to do with the city charter. The promises are children’s bread; they are mulctralia evangelii, the breasts of the gospel milking out consolations; and who are to suck these breasts but God’s children? The promise of pardon is for them. ‘I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned against me.’ Jer 33: 8. The promise of healing is for them. Isa 57: 19. The promise of salvation is for them. Jer 23: 6. The promises are the supports of faith; they are God’s sealed deed; they are a Christian’s cordial. Oh, the heavenly comforts which are distilled from the promises! Chrysostom compares the Scripture to a garden: the promises are the fruit trees that grow in this garden. A child of God may go to any promise in the Bible, and pluck comfort from it; he is an heir of the promise.
(14) God makes all his children conquerors. They conquer themselves; fortior est qui se quam qui fortissima vincit moenia [he who conquers himself is stronger than he who conquers the stoutest ramparts]. The saints conquer their own lusts; they bind these princes in fetters of iron. Psa 149: 8. Though the children of God may be sometimes foiled, and lose a single battle, yet not the victory. They conquer the world. The world holds forth her two breasts of profit and pleasure, and many are overcome by it; but the children of God have a world-conquering faith. ‘This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.’ 1 John 5: 4. They conquer their enemies. How can that be, when their enemies often take away their lives? They conquer, by not complying with them; as the three children would not fall down to the golden image. Dan 3: 18. They would rather burn than bow. Thus they were conquerors. He who complies with another’s lust, is a captive; he who refuses to comply, is a conqueror. God’s children conquer their enemies by heroic patience. A patient Christian, like the anvil, bears all strokes invincibly. Thus the martyrs overcame their enemies by patience. God’s children are more than conquerors. ‘We are more than conquerors.’ Rom 8: 37. How are they more than conquerors? Because they conquer without loss, and because they are crowned after death, which other conquerors are not.
(15) If God be our Father, he will now and then send us some token of his love. His children live far from home, and meet sometimes with coarse usage from the unkind world; therefore, to encourage them, he sends them tokens and pledges of his love. What are these? He gives them an answer to prayer, which is a token of love; he quickens and enlarges their hearts in duty, which is a token of love; he gives them the first fruits of his Spirit, which are love tokens. Rom 8: 23. As he gives the wicked the first fruits of hell, horror of conscience and despair, so he gives his children the first fruits of his Spirit, joy and peace, which are foretastes of glory. Some of his children, having received those tokens of love from him, have been so transported, that they have died for joy, as the glass often breaks with the strength of the wine put into it.
(16) If God be our Father, he will indulge and spare us. ‘I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.’ Mal 3: 17. God’s sparing his children, imports his clemency towards them. He does not punish them as he might. ‘He has not dealt with us after our sins.’ Psa 103: 10. We often do that which merits wrath, grieve God’s Spirit, and relapse into sin. God passes by much and spares us. He did not spare his natural Son, and yet he spares his adopted sons. Rom 8: 32. He threatened Ephraim to make him as the chaff driven with the whirlwind, but he soon repented. ‘Yet I am the Lord thy God.’ Hos 13: 4. ‘I will be thy king;’ ver 10. Here God spared him, as a father spares his son. Israel often provoked God with their complaints, but he used clemency towards them; he often answered their murmurings with mercies. Thus he spared them, as a father spares his son.
(17) If God be our Father, he will put honour and renown upon us at the last day.  He will clear the innocence of his children. His children in this life are strangely misrepresented. They are loaded with invectives — they are called factious, seditious; as Elijah, the troubler of Israel; and Luther, the trumpet of rebellion. Athanasius was accused to the Emperor Constantine as the raiser of tumults; and the primitive Christians were accused as infanticidii, incestus rei, ‘killers of their children, guilty of incest.’ Tertullus reported Paul to be a pestilent person. Acts 24: 5. Famous Wycliffe was called the idol of the heretics, and reported to have died drunk. If Satan cannot defile God’s children, he will disgrace then; if he cannot strike his fiery darts into their consciences he will put a dead fly to their names; but God will one day clear their innocence; he will roll away their reproach. As he will make a resurrection of bodies, so of names. ‘The Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces, and the rebuke of his people shall he take away.’ Isa 25: 8. He will be the saints’ vindicator. ‘He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light.’ Psa 37: 6. The night casts its dark mantle upon the most beautiful flowers; but the light comes in the morning and dispels the darkness, and every flower appears in its orient brightness. So the wicked may by misreports darken the honour and repute of the saints; but God will dispel this darkness, and cause their names to shine forth. ‘He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light.’ Thus God stood up for the honour of Moses when Aaron and Miriam sought to eclipse his fame. ‘Wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?’ Numb 12: 8. So God will one day say to the wicked, ‘Wherefore were ye not afraid to defame and traduce my children? Having my image upon them, how durst you abuse my picture?’ At last his children shall come forth out of all their calumnies, as ‘a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.’ Psa 68: 13.  God will make an open and honourable recital of all their good deeds. As the sins of the wicked shall be openly mentioned, to their eternal infamy and confusion; so all the good deeds of the saints shall be openly mentioned, ‘and then shall every man have praise of God.’ 1 Cor 4: 5. Every prayer made with melting eyes, every good service, every work of charity, shall be openly declared before men and angels. ‘I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: thirsty, and ye gave me drink: naked, and ye clothed me.’ Matt 25: 35, 36. Thus God will set a trophy of honour upon all his children at the last day. ‘Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.’ Matt 13: 43.
(18) If God be our Father, he will settle a good inheritance upon us. ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, which has begotten us again unto a lively hope, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled.’ I Pet 1: 3, 4. A father may have lost his goods, and have nothing to leave his son but his blessing; but God will settle an inheritance on his children, and an inheritance no less than a kingdom. ‘It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ Luke 12: 32. This kingdom is more glorious and magnificent than any earthly kingdom; it is set out by pearls, precious stones, and the richest jewels. Rev 21: 19. What are all the rarities of the world, the coasts of pearl, the islands of spices, the rocks of diamonds, to this kingdom? In this heavenly kingdom is satisfying, unparalleled beauty, rivers of pleasure, and that for ever. ‘At thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.’ Psa 16: 2. Heaven’s eminence is its permanence; and this kingdom God’s children enter into immediately after death. There is a sudden transition and passage from death to glory. ‘Absent from the body, present with the Lord.’ 2 Cor 5: 8. God’s children shall not wait long for their inheritance; it is but winking, and they shall see God. How should this comfort those of God’s children who are low in the world! Your Father in heaven will settle a kingdom upon you at death, such a kingdom as eye has not seen; he will give you a crown not of gold, but glory; he will give you white robes lined with immortality. ‘It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’
(19) If God be our Father, it is a comfort in case of the loss of relations. Hast thou lost a father? If thou art a believer, thou art no orphan, thou hast a heavenly Father, a Father that never dies. ‘Who only has immortality.’ 1 Tim 6: 16. It is comfort in case of your own death. God is thy Father, and death is but going to thy Father. Well might Paul say death is yours. 1 Cor 3: 22. It is your friend that will carry you home to your Father. How glad are children when they are going home! It was Christ’s comfort at death that he was going to his Father. ‘I leave the world, and go to the Father.’ John 16: 28. ‘I ascend unto my Father.’ John 20: 17. If God be our Father, we may with comfort, at the day of death, resign our souls into his hand. Thus did Christ. ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ Luke 23: 46. If a child has any jewel, he will in time of danger put it into his father’s hands, where he thinks it will be kept most safe; so the soul, which is our richest jewel, we may resign at death into God’s hands, where it will be safer than in our own keeping. ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ What a comfort it is that death carries a believer to his Father’s house, where are delights unspeakable and full of glory! How glad was old Jacob when he saw the wagons and chariots to carry him to his son Joseph! ‘The spirit of Jacob revived.’ Gen 45: 27. Death is a triumphant chariot, to carry every child of God to his Father’s mansion-house.
(20) If God be our Father, he will not disinherit us. He may for a time desert his children, but will not disinherit them. The sons of kings have sometimes been disinherited by the cruelty of usurpers; as the son of Alexander the Great was put out of his just right, through the violence and ambition of his father’s captains; but what power on earth can hinder the heirs of the promise from their inheritance? Men cannot, and God will not cut off the entail. The Armenians hold falling away from grace, so that a child of God may be deprived of his inheritance, but God’s children can never be degraded or disinherited, and their heavenly Father will not cast them off from being children. It is evident that God’s children cannot be finally disinherited, by virtue of the eternal decree of heaven. God’s decree is the very pillar and basis on which the saints’ perseverance depends. That decree ties the knot of adoption so fast, that neither sin, death, nor hell, can break it asunder. ‘Whom he did predestinate, them he also called,’ &c. Rom 8: 30. Predestination is nothing else but God’s decreeing a certain number to be heirs of glory, on whom he will settle the crown; for whom he predestinates, he glorifies. What shall hinder God’s electing love, or make his decree null and void? Besides God’s decree, he has engaged himself by promise, that the heirs of heaven shall never be put out of their inheritance. His promises are not like blanks in a lottery, but as a sealed deed which cannot be reversed; they are the saints’ royal charter; and one promise is that their heavenly Father will not disinherit them. ‘I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.’ Jer 32: 40. God’s fidelity, which is the richest pearl of his crown, is engaged in this promise for his children’s perseverance. ‘I will not turn away from them.’ A child of God cannot fall away while he is held fast in these two arms of God — his love, and his faithfulness. Jesus Christ undertakes that all God’s children by adoption shall be preserved in a state of grace till they inherit glory. The heathens feigned of Atlas that he bore up the heavens from falling; but Jesus Christ is that blessed Atlas that bears up the saints from falling away.
How does Christ preserve the saints’ graces, till they come to heaven?
(1) Influxu Spiritus [By the influence of the Spirit]. He carries on grace in the souls of the elect, by the influence and co-operation of his Spirit. He continually excites and quickens grace in the godly; he by his Spirit blows up the sparks of grace into a holy flame. Spiritus est vicarius Christi; the Spirit is Christ’s vicar on earth, his proxy, his executor, to see that all that he has purchased for the saints be made good. Christ has obtained for them an inheritance incorruptible, and the Spirit is his executor, to see that the inheritance be settled upon them. 1 Pet 1: 4, 5. (2) He carries on his work perseveringly in the souls of the elect, by the prevalence of his intercession. ‘He ever liveth to make intercession for them.’ Heb 7: 25. He prays that every saint may hold out in grace till he comes to heaven. Can the children of such prayers perish? If the heirs of heaven should be disinherited, and fall short of glory, then God’s decree must be reversed, his promise broken, and Christ’s prayer frustrated, which would be blasphemy to imagine.
(3) That God’s children cannot be disinherited, or put out of their right to the crown of heaven, is evident from their mystic union with Christ. Believers are incorporated into him; they are knit to him as members to the head, by the nerves and ligaments of faith, so that they cannot be broken off. ‘The church, which is his body.’ Eph 1: 22, 23. What was once said of Christ’s natural body, is as true of his mystic body. ‘A bone of it shall not be broken.’ As it is impossible to sever the leaven and the dough when they are once mingled and kneaded together, so it is impossible, when Christ and believers are once united, that they should ever, by the power of death or hell, be separated. Christ and his spiritual members make one Christ. Is it possible that any part of Christ should perish? How can Christ want any member of his mystic body and be perfect? Every member is an ornament to the body, and adds to the honour of it. How can Christ part with any mystic member, and not part with some of his glory too? By all this it is evident that God’s children must needs persevere in grace, and cannot be disinherited. If they could be disinherited, the Scripture could not be fulfilled, which tells us of glorious rewards for the heirs of promise. ‘Verily there is a reward for the righteous.’ Psa 58: 11. If God’s adopted children should fall away finally from grace, and miss of heaven, what reward would there be for the righteous? Moses indiscreetly looked for the recompense of the reward, and a door would be opened to despair.
But the doctrine of final perseverance, and the certainty of the heavenly inheritance may lead to carnal security, and unholy walking.
Corrupt nature may suck poison from this flower; but he who has felt the efficacy of grace upon his heart, dares not abuse this doctrine. He knows that perseverance is attained in the use of means, and walks homily, that in the use of the means he may arrive at perseverance. Paul knew that he should not be disinherited, and that nothing could separate him from the love of Christ; but who more holy and watchful than he was? ‘I keep under my body.’ 1 Cor 9: 27. ‘I press toward the mark.’ Phil 3: 14. God’s children have a holy fear which keeps them from self-security and wantonness; they believe the promise, therefore they rejoice in hope; they fear their hearts, therefore they watch and pray.
Thus you see what strong consolation there is for all the heirs of the promise. Such as have God for their Father are the happiest persons on earth; they are in such a condition that nothing can hurt them; they have their Father’s blessing, all things conspire for their good; they have a kingdom settled on them, and the entail can never be cut off. How comforted should they be in all conditions, let the times be what they will! Their Father who is in heaven rules over all. If troubles arise, they carry them sooner to their Father. The more violently the wind beats against the sails of a ship, the sooner it is brought to the haven; and the more fiercely God’s children are assaulted, the sooner they come to their Father’s house. ‘Wherefore comfort one another with these words.’ 1 Thess 4: 18.
Use 4. For exhortation. Let us behave ourselves as the children of such a Father.
(1) Let us depend upon him in all our straits and exigencies; let us believe that he will provide for all our wants. Children rely upon their parents for the supply of their wants. If we trust God for salvation, shall we not trust him for a livelihood? There is a lawful and prudent care to be used. But beware of being distrustful. ‘Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; and God feedeth them.’ Luke 12: 24. Does God feed the birds of the air, and will he not feed his children? ‘Consider the lilies how they grow: they spin not; yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these;’ ver 27. Does God clothe the lilies, and will he not clothe his lambs? Even the wicked taste of his bounty. ‘Their eyes stand out with fatness.’ Psa 73: 7. Does God feed his slaves, and will he not feed his family? His children may not have a liberal share in the things of this life; they may have but little meal in the barrel; they may be drawn low, and almost dry; but they shall have as much as God sees to be good for them. ‘They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.’ Psa 34: 10. If God gives them not ad voluntaten [what they want], he will ad sanitatem [what is good for them]; if he gives them not always what they crave, he will give them what they need; if he gives them not a feast, he will give them a viaticum — a bait by the way. Let them depend upon his fatherly providence; let them not give way to distrustful thoughts, distracting cares, or indirect means. ‘Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.’ I Pet 5: 7. An earthly parent may have affection for his child, and would gladly provide for him, but may not be able; but God is never at a loss to provide for his children, and he has promised an adequate supply. ‘Verily thou shalt be fed.’ Psa 37: 3. Will God give his children heaven, and will he not give them enough to bear their charges thither? Will he give them a kingdom, and deny them daily bread? O put your trust in him, for he has said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ Heb 13: 5.
(2) If God be our Father, let us imitate him. The child not only bears his father’s image, but imitates him in his speech, gesture and behaviour. If God be our Father, let us imitate him. ‘Be ye followers of God, as dear children.’ Eph 5: 1. Imitate God in forgiving injuries. ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions.’ Isa 44: 22. As the sun scatters not only thin mists, but thick clouds, so God pardons great offences. Imitate him in this. ‘Forgiving one another.’ Eph 4: 32. Cranmer was a man of a forgiving spirit: he buried injuries and requited good for evil. He who has God for his Father, will have him for his pattern. Imitate God in works of mercy. ‘The Lord looseth the prisoners.’ Psa 146: 7. He opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing. Psa 145: 16. He drops his sweet dew upon the thistle as well as the rose. Imitate God in works of mercy; relieve the wants of others; be rich in good works. ‘Be merciful, as your Father also is merciful.’ Luke 6: 36. Be not so hard hearted as to shut out the poor from all communication. Dives denied Lazarus a crumb of bread, and Dives was denied a drop of water.
(3) If God be our Father, let us submit patiently to his will. If he lay his strokes on us, they are the corrections of a Father, not the punishments of a judge. This made Christ himself patient. ‘The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?’ John 18: 11. He sees we need affliction. 1 Pet 1: 6. He appoints it as a diet drink, to purge and sanctify us. Isa 27: 9. Therefore dispute not, but submit. ‘We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence.’ Heb 12: 9. They might correct out of ill humour, but God does it for our profit. Heb 12: 10. Therefore say as Eli, ‘It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good’. 1 Sam 3:18. What does the child get by struggling, but more blows? What got Israel by their murmuring and rebelling, but a longer and more tedious march, till, at last, their carcass fell in the wilderness?
(4) If God be our Father, let it cause in us a childlike reverence. ‘If I be a father, where is mine honour?’ Mal 1: 6. It is part of the honour we give to God to reverence and adore him; if we have not always a childlike confidence, let us always preserve a childlike reverence. How ready are we to run into extremes, either to despond or to grow wanton! Because God is a Father, do not think you may take liberty to sin, if you do, he may act as if he were no Father, and throw hell into your conscience. When David presumed upon God’s paternal affection, and began to wax wanton under mercy, God made him pay dear for it by withdrawing the sense of his love; and, though he had the heart of a Father, yet he had the look of an enemy. David prayed, ‘Make me to hear joy and gladness.’ Psa 51: 8. He lay several months in desertion, and it is thought never recovered his full joy to the day of his death. O keep alive holy fear! With childlike confidence, preserve an humble reverence. The Lord is a Father, therefore love to serve him, he is the mighty God, therefore fear to offend him.
(5) If God be our Father, let us walk obediently. ‘As obedient children.’ I Pet 1: 14. When God bids you be humble and self-denying, deny yourselves; part with your bosom sin. Be sober in your attire, savoury in your speech, grave in your deportment; obey your Father’s voice; open to him as the flower to the sun. If you expect your Father’s blessing, obey him in whatever he commands, both in first and second table duties. When a musician would make sweet music, he touches upon every string of the lute. The ten commandments are like a ten-stringed instrument, and we must touch every string, obey every commandment, or we cannot make sweet melody in religion. Obey your heavenly Father, though he commands things contrary to flesh and blood; when he commands to mortify sin, the sin which has been most dear: pluck out a right eye, that you may see better to go to heaven; when he commands you to suffer for sin. Acts 21: 13. Every good Christian has a spirit of martyrdom in him, and is ready to suffer for the truth rather than the truth should suffer. Luther said he had rather be a martyr than a monarch. Peter was crucified with his head downwards, as Eusebius relates. Ignatius called his chains his spiritual pearls, and wore his fetters as a bracelet of diamonds. We act as God’s children, when we obey his voice, and count not our lives dear, so that we may show our love to him. ‘They loved not their lives unto the death.’ Rev 12: 11.
(6) If God be our Father, let us show by our cheerful looks that we are the children of such a Father. Too much drooping and despondency disparages the relation in which we stand to him. What though we meet with hard usage in the world! We are now in a strange land, far from home, it will be shortly better with us when we are in our own country, and our Father has us in his arms. Does not the heir rejoice in hope? Shall the sons of a king walk dejected? ‘Why art thou, being the king’s son, lean?’ 2 Samuel 13: 4. Is God an unkind Father? Are his commands grievous? Has he no land to give his heirs? Why, then, do his children walk so sad? Never had children such privileges as they who are of the seed-royal of heaven, and have God for their Father. They should rejoice who are within a few hours of being crowned with glory.
(7) If God be our Father, let us honour him by walking very homily. ‘Be ye holy; for I am holy.’ I Pet 1: 16. A young prince, having asked a philosopher how he should behave himself, the philosopher said, ‘Memento te filium esse regis.’ ‘Remember thou art a king’s son; do nothing but what becomes the son of a king.’ So let us remember we are the adopted sons and daughters of the high God, and do nothing unworthy of such a relation. A debauched child is the disgrace of his father. ‘Is this thy son’s coat?’ said they to Jacob, when they brought it home dipped in blood. So, when we see a person defiled with malice, passion, drunkenness, we may say, Is this the coat of God’s adopted son? Does he look like an heir of glory? It is blaspheming the name of God to call him Father, and yet live in sin. Such as profess God to be their Father and live unholily, slander and defraud; they are as bad to God as the heathen. ‘Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians to me, O children of Israel? saith the Lord.’ Amos 9: 7. When Israel grew wicked, they were no better to God than Ethiopians, who were uncircumcised, a base and ill-bred people. Loose, scandalous livers under the gospel are no better in God’s esteem than Pagans; nay, they shall have a hotter place in hell. Oh! let all who profess God to be their Father, honour him by their unspotted lives. Scipio abhorred the embraces of a harlot, because he was the general of an army. Abstain from all sin, because you are born of God, and have God for your Father. ‘Abstain from all appearance of evil.’ 1 Thess 5: 22. It was a saying of Augustus, that ‘an emperor should not only be free from crimes, but from the suspicion of them.’ By a holy life you should bring glory to your heavenly Father, and cause others to become his children. Est pellax virtutis odor [the fragrance of virtue is seductive]. Causinus, in his hieroglyphics, speaks of a dove, whose wings being perfumed with sweet ointments, drew the other doves after her; so the holy lives of God’s children are a sweet perfume to draw others to religion, and make them to be of the family of God. Justin Martyr says, that which converted him to Christianity was beholding the blameless lives of the Christians.
(8) If God be our Father, let us love all that are his children. ‘How pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!’ Psa 133: 1. It is compared to ointment for its sweet fragrance. ‘Love the brotherhood.’ 1 Peter 2: 17. Idem est motus animae in imaginem et rem [The motion of the soul is the same towards the image and the reality]. The saints are the walking pictures of God. If God be our Father, we shall love to see his picture of holiness in believers; shall pity them for their infirmities, but love them for their graces; we shall prize their company above others. Psa 119: 63. It may justly be suspected that God is not Father of those who love not his children. Though they retain the communion of saints in their creed, they banish the communion of saints out of their company.
(9) If God be our Father, let us show heavenly-mindedness. They who are born of God, set their affections on things that are above. Col 3: 2. O ye children of the high God! do not disgrace your high birth by sordid covetousness. What, a son of God, and a slave to the world! What, sprung from heaven, and buried in the earth! For a Christian, who pretends to derive his pedigree from heaven, wholly to mind earthly things is to debase himself; as if a king should leave his throne to follow the slough. ‘Seekest thou great things for thyself?’ Jer 45:5. As if the Lord had said, ‘What thou Barak, thou who art born of God, akin to angels, and by thy office a Levite dost thou debase thyself, and spot the silver wings of thy grace by beliming them with earth! Seekest thou great things? Seek them not.’ The earth chokes the fire; so earthliness chokes the fire of good affections.
(10) If God be our Father, let us own him as such in the worst times, stand up in his cause, and defend his truths. Athanasius owned God when most of the world turned Asians. If suffering come, do not deny God. He is a bad son who denies his father. Such as are ashamed to own God in times of danger, he will be ashamed to own for his children. ‘Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels.’ Mark 8: 38.
II. The second part of the preface is, ‘Which art in heaven.’ God is said to be in heaven, not because he is so included there as if he were nowhere else; for ‘the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee.’ 1 Kings 8: 27. But the meaning is, that he is chiefly resident in what the apostle calls ‘the third heaven,’ where he reveals his glory most to saints and angels. 2 Cor 12: 2.
What may we learn from God being in heaven?
(1) That we are to raise our minds in prayer above the earth. God is nowhere to be spoken with but in heaven. He never denied that soul its suit that went as far as heaven to ask it.
(2) We learn his sovereign power. Hoc vocabulo intelligitur omnia subesse ejus imperio [By this word we learn that all things are under his rule]. Calvin. ‘Our God is in the heavens: he has done whatsoever he has pleased.’ Psa 115: 3. In heaven he governs the universe, and orders all occurrences here below for the good of his children. When the saints are in straits and dangers, and see no way of relief, he sends from heaven and helps them. ‘He shall send from heaven, and save me.’ Psa 57: 3.
(3) We learn his glory and majesty. He is in heaven; therefore he is covered with light. Psa 104: 2. He is ‘clothed with honour.’ Psa 104: 1: He is far above all worldly princes, as heaven is above earth.
(4) We learn his omniscience. All things are naked and unmasked to his eye. Heb 4: 13. Men plot and contrive against the church; but God is in heaven, and they do nothing but what he sees. If a man were on the top of a tower or theatre, he might see all the people below; God in heaven, as on a high tower or theatre, sees all the transactions of men. The wicked make wounds in the backs of the righteous, and then pour in vinegar; but God writes down their cruelty. ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people.’ Exod 3: 7. God can thunder out of heaven upon his enemies. ‘The Lord thundered in the heavens; yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.’ Psa 18: 13, 14.
(5) We learn comfort for the children of God. When they pray to their Father, the way to heaven cannot be blocked up. One may have a father living in foreign parts, but the way, both by sea and land, may be so blocked up, that there is no coming to him; but thou, saint of God, when thou prayest to thy Father, he is in heaven; and though thou art ever so confined, thou mayest have access to him. A prison cannot keep thee from thy God; the way to heaven can never be blocked up.
III. I shall next speak of the pronoun ‘our.’ There is an appropriation of the appellation, ‘Father.’ ‘Our Father.’ Christ, by the word ‘our,’ would teach us thus much: that in all our prayers to God, we should exercise faith. Father denotes reverence: Our Father, denotes faith. In all our prayers to God we should exercise faith. Faith baptises prayer, and gives it a name; it is called ‘the prayer of faith.’ James 5: 15. Without faith, it is speaking, not praying. Faith is the breath of prayer; prayer is dead unless faith breathe in it. Faith is a necessary requisite in prayer. The oil of the sanctuary was made up of several sweet spices, pure myrrh, cassia, cinnamon. Exod 30: 23, 24. Faith is the chief spice or ingredient in prayer, which makes it go up to the Lord as sweet incense. ‘Let him ask in faith.’ James 1: 6. ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.’ Matt 21: 22. Invoco te, Domine, quamquam languida et imbecilla fide, tamen fide. ‘Lord,’ said Cruciger, ‘I pray, though with a weak faith, yet with faith.’ Prayer is the gun we shoot with, fervency is the fire that discharges it, and faith is the bullet which pierces the throne of grace. Prayer is the key of heaven, faith is the hand that turns it. Pray in faith, ‘Our Father.’ Faith must take prayer by the hand, or there is no coming nigh to God. Prayer without faith is unsuccessful. If a poor handicraftsman, who lives by his labour, has spoiled his tools so that he cannot work, how shall he subsist? Prayer is the tool we work with, which procures all good for us; but unbelief spoils and blunts our prayers, and then we get no blessing from God. A faithless prayer is fruitless. As Joseph said, ‘Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you’ (Gen 43: 3); so prayer cannot see God’s face unless it bring its brother faith with it. What is said of Israel, ‘They could not enter in because of unbelief,’ is as true of prayer; it cannot enter into heaven because of unbelief. Heb 3: 19. Prayer often suffers shipwreck because it dashes upon the rock of unbelief. O mingle faith with prayer! We must say, ‘Our Father.’
What does praying in faith imply?
Praying in faith implies having faith, and the act implies the habit. To walk implies a principle of life; so to pray in faith implies a habit of grace. None can pray in faith but believers.
What is it to pray in faith?
(1) It is to pray for that which God has promised. Where there is no promise, we cannot pray in faith.
(2) It is to pray in Christ’s meritorious name. ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do.’ John 14: 13. To pray in Christ’s name, is to pray with confidence in Christ’s merit. When we present Christ to God in prayer; when we carry the Lamb slain in our arms; when we say, ‘Lord, we are sinners, but here is our surety; for Christ’s sake be propitious,’ we come to God in Christ’s name; and this is to pray in faith.
(3) It is to fix our faith in prayer on God’s faithfulness, believing that he hears and will help. This is taking hold of God. Isa 64: 7. By prayer we draw nigh to God, by faith we take hold of him. ‘They cried unto the Lord;’ and this was the crying of faith. 2 Chron 13: 14. They ‘prevailed, because they relied upon the Lord God of their fathers;’ ver 18. Making supplication to God, and staying the soul on God, is praying in faith. To pray, and not rely on God to grant our petitions, irrisio Dei est, says Pelican; ‘it is to abuse and put a scorn on God.’ By praying we seem to honour God; by not believing we affront him. In prayer we say, ‘Almighty, merciful Father;’ by not believing, we blot out all his titles again.
How may we know that we truly pray in faith?
(1) When faith in prayer is humble. A presumptuous person hopes to be heard for some inherent worthiness in himself; he is so qualified, and has done God good service, therefore he is confident God will hear him. See an instance in Luke 18: 11, 12: ‘The Pharisee stood and prayed thus, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ This was a presumptuous prayer; but a sincere heart evinces humility in prayer as well as faith. ‘The publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.’ ‘God be merciful,’ there was faith; ‘to me a sinner,’ there was humility and a sense of unworthiness. Luke 18: 13.
(2) We may know we pray in faith, when, though we have not the thing we pray for, we believe God will grant it, and are willing to stay his leisure. A Christian having a command to pray, and a promise, is resolved to follow God with prayer, and not give over; as Peter knocked, and when the door was not opened, continued knocking until at last it was opened. Acts 12: 16. So when a Christian prays, and prays, and has no answer, he continues to knock at heaven’s door, knowing an answer will come. ‘Thou wilt answer me.’ Psa 86: 7. Here is one that prays in faith. Christ says, ‘Pray, and faint not.’ Luke 18: 1. A believer, at Christ’s word, lets down the net of prayer, and though he catch nothing, he will cast the net again, believing that mercy will come. Patience in prayer is nothing but faith spun out.
Use 1. For reproof of those who pray in formality, not in faith; they who question whether God hears or will grant. ‘Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss.’ James 4: 3. He does not say, ye ask that which is unlawful; but ye ask amiss, and therefore ye receive not. Unbelief clips the wings of prayer, that it will not fly to the throne of grace; the rubbish of unbelief stops the current of prayer.
Use 2. For exhortation. Let us set faith to work in prayer. The husband man sows in hope; prayer is the seed we sow, and when the hand of faith scatters this seed, it brings forth a fruitful crop of blessing. Prayer is the ship we send out to heaven; when faith makes an adventure in this ship, it brings home large returns of mercy. O pray in faith; say, ‘Our Father.’ That we may exercise faith in prayer, consider:
(1) God’s readiness to hear prayer. Deus paratus ad vota exaudienda. Calvin: Did God forbid all addresses to him, it would put a damp upon the trade of prayer; but his ear is open to prayer. One of the names by which he is known, is, ‘O thou that hearest prayer.’ Psa 65: 2. The aediles among the Romans had their doors always open, that all who had petitions might have free access to them. God is both ready to hear and grant prayer, which should encourage faith in prayer. Some may say, they have prayed, but have had no answer. God may hear prayer, though he does not immediately answer it. We write a letter to a friend, he may have received it, though we have yet had no answer to it. Perhaps thou prayest for the light of God’s face; he may lend thee an ear, though he does not show thee his face. God may give an answer to prayer, when we do not perceive it. His giving a heart to pray, and inflaming the affections in prayer, is an answer to prayer. ‘In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.’ Psa 138: 3. David’s inward strength was an answer to prayer. Therefore let God’s readiness to hear prayer encourage faith in prayer.
(2) That we may exercise faith in prayer, let us consider that we do not pray alone. Christ prays our prayers over again. His prayer is the ground why our prayer is heard. He takes the dross out of our prayer, and presents nothing to his Father but pure gold. He mingles his sweet odours with the prayers of the saints. Rev 5: 8. Think of the dignity of his person, he is God; and the sweetness of his relation, he is a Son. Oh, what encouragement is here, to pray in faith! Our prayers are put into the hand of a Mediator. Christ’s prayer is mighty and powerful.
(3) We pray to God for nothing but what is pleasing to him, and he has a mind to grant. If a son ask nothing but what his father is willing to bestow, it will make him go to him with confidence. When we pray to God for holy hearts, there is nothing more pleasing to him. ‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification.’ 1 Thess 4: 3. We pray that God would give us hearts to love him, and there is nothing he more desires than our love. How should it make us pray in faith, when we pray for nothing but what is acceptable to God, and which he delights to bestow!
(4) To encourage faith in prayer, let us consider the many sweet promises that God has made to prayer. The cork keeps the net from sinking, so the promises are the cork to keep faith from sinking in prayer. God has bound himself to us by his promises. The Bible is bespangled with promises made to prayer. ‘He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry.’ Isa 30: 19. ‘The Lord is rich unto all that call upon him.’ Rom 10: 12. ‘Ye shall find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.’ Jer 29: 13. ‘He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him.’ Psa 145: 19. The Syrians tied their god Hercules with a golden chain that he should not remove; God has tied himself fast to us by his promises. How should these animate and spirit faith in prayer! Faith gets strength in prayer by sucking from the breast of a promise.
(5) That we may exercise faith in prayer, consider that Jesus Christ has purchased that which we pray for. We may think the things we ask for in prayer too great for us to obtain, but they are not too great for Christ to purchase. We pray for pardon. Christ has purchased it with his blood. We pray for the Spirit to animate and inspire us. The sending down of the Holy Ghost into our hearts, is the fruit of Christ’s death. It should put life into our prayers, and make us pray in faith, to reflect that the things we ask, though more than we deserve, yet they are not more than Christ has purchased for us.
(6) To pray in faith, consider there is such bountifulness in God, that he often exceeds the prayers of his people. He gives them more than they ask! Hannah asked a son, and God not only gave her a son, but a prophet. Solomon asked wisdom, and God gave him not only wisdom, but riches and honour besides. Jacob prayed that God would give him food and raiment, and he increased his pilgrim’s staff into two bands. Gen 32: 10. God is often better to us than our prayers, as when Gehazi asked but one talent, Naaman would needs force two upon him. 2 Kings 5: 23. We ask one talent, and God gives two. The woman of Canaan asked but a crumb, namely, to have the life of her child; and Christ gave her more, he sent her home with the life of her soul.
(7) The great success which the prayer of faith has found. Like Jonathan’s bow, it has not returned empty. Vocula pater dicta in corde [The little word ‘father’ spoken in the heart], says Luther. The little word father, pronounced in faith, has overcome God. ‘Deliver me, I pray thee.’ Gen 32: 11. This was mixed with faith in the promise. ‘Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good;’ ver 12. This prayer had power with God, and prevailed. Hos 12: 4. The prayer of faith has opened prison doors, stopped the chariot of the sun, locked and unlocked heaven. James 5: 17. The prayer of faith has strangled the plots of enemies in their birth, and has routed their forces. Moses’ prayer against Amalek did more than Joshua’s sword; and should not this hearten and corroborate faith in prayer?
(8) If all this will not prevail, consider how heartless and comfortless it is not to pray in faith! The heart misgives secretly that God does not hear, nor will he grant. Faithless praying must needs be comfortless; for there is no promise made to unbelieving prayer. It is sad sailing where there is no anchoring, and sad praying where there is no promise to anchor upon. James 1: 7. The disciples toiled all night and caught nothing; so the unbeliever toils in prayer and catches nothing; he receives not any spiritual blessings, pardon of sin, or grace. As for the temporal mercies which the unbeliever has, he cannot look upon them as the fruit of prayer, but as the overflowing of God’s bounty. Oh, therefore labour to exert and put forth faith in prayer!
But so much sin cleaves to my prayer, that I fear it is not the prayer of faith, and God will not hear it.
If thou mournest for this, it hinders not but that thy prayer may be in faith, and God may hear it. Weakness shall not make void the saint’s prayers. ‘I said in my haste, I am cut off.’ Psa 31: 22. There was much unbelief in that prayer: ‘I said in my haste:’ in the Hebrew, ‘in my trembling,’ David’s faith trembled and fainted, yet God heard his prayer. The saints’ passions do not hinder their prayers. James 5: 17. Therefore be not discouraged, for though sin will cleave to thy holy offering, yea, these two things may comfort, that thou mayest pray with faith, though with weakness; and God sees the sincerity, and will pass by the infirmity.
How shall we pray in faith?
Implore the Spirit of God. We cannot say, ‘Our Father,’ but by the Holy Ghost. God’s Spirit helps us, not only to pray with sighs and groans, but with faith. The Spirit carries us to God, not only as to a Creator, but a Father. ‘God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.’ Gal 4: 6. ‘Crying:’ there the Spirit causes us to pray with fervency. ‘Abba, Father:’ there the Spirit helps us to pray with faith. The Spirit helps faith to turn the key of prayer, and then it unlocks heaven.
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