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Sermons

The Appellation of the Father

September 29, 2013

Preached in the Parish Church of St. John, Manchester, By the Rev. J. CLOWES, M. A. RECTOR OF THE SAID CHURCH, AND LATE FELLOW OF TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.

Bible Reading

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

(Matthew 6:9-13)

Sermon

After this manner therefore pray ye: “ Our Father which art in Heaven.”

INTENDING in this and some future discourses to unfold and explain the several particular petitions contained in that most holy form of prayer, called the Lord’s Prayer, I shall bespeak a previous attention to some general observations on the nature and use of Prayer.

It is then the great end and design of Prayer to change, to reform, and to purify our hearts and lives. Our Lord therefore taught us in what manner we should pray, that He might teach us what is the best, the purest, and most reformed state of heart and life.

In repeating therefore our Lord’s prayer, if we would render it of any real benefit to us, we should consider not only the words, but the spirit of it, or what state of heart and life it recommendeth to us, and hath a tendency to produce in us. For if we only repeat the words, and do not at the same time attend to the spirit, the meaning, the purpose, intended to be expressed and conveyed by the words, how plain is it to see, that if we repeated the prayer twenty times in a day, it would leave us just as unimproved, because as unpurified, as it found us.

For God, it deserves to be noted, is not pleased with our prayers for His own sake, but for our sakes. Our prayers cannot affect God, so as to make any change in His disposition towards us, but they are intended to affect us, and to make a change in the disposition of our hearts before God; and when they have this effect, then they are pleasing to God; because then they make us such as God would have us to be; reducing us to such a humble and holy state of heart and life, as is most pleasing in His sight, because He knoweth it to be most pure, and beneficial, and blessed to ourselves.

In discoursing to you, then, on our Lord’s Prayer, I shall endeavour to point out to you the spirit which it involves, or that state of heart and life which it recommendeth to us, and is calculated to form in us, because then only we shall enter into the uses and the benefits of it, when we discover its spirit, and endeavour to correct the state of our hearts and lives by its divine purity, wisdom, and sanctity.

Now the spirit of our Lord’s Prayer, or that state of heart and life which it recornmendeth, and is calculated to open and form in us, is the most heavenly, the most sublime, the most angelic, the most wise and perfect that can possibly be conceived; because in its inward spirit it is divine. For in its inward spirit it is full of the love, the wisdom, and the power of the Almighty Himself, and therefore it has a tendency to impart to the devout supplicant such a spirit or temper of heart and life as must of necessity be in all respects most perfect, most holy, and most blessed.

Let us attend then to this sacred form of Prayer as to the purest wisdom of God, designed to convey a measure of the same wisdom unto ourselves, whereby our hearts may become changed into the likeness of God, and we ourselves, being made partakers of His nature, may be made partakers of His glory, of His happiness, of His immortality.

The first address which demands our attention in this divine Prayer, is in the words of my text, “ Our Father which art in Heaven.” Let us consider now the spirit of these words particularly and attentively, that so we may find all that spiritual instruction which is contained in them, and intended to be conveyed by them.

The words resolve themselves into three distinct considerations;

1st. What is involved in the appellation of Father, as applied to the Great and Holy God;

2ndly. Why we are taught to address Him as our Father;

and 3rdly. What we are to understand by the concluding terms, “Which art in heaven.”

In my present discourse I shall confine myself to the first of these considerations, viz. What is involved in the appellation of Father, as applied to the Great and Holy God.

The holy title and character of Father, as applied to God, instruct us in these great truths — 1st. That we have originally derived from Him the beginning of life, with all its several blessings and comforts. — 2ndly. That we owe to Him the daily continuation, growth, and perfection of that life. — 3rdly. That we are therefore dependent upon Him at all times for all that we are or have, whether it be internal or external. — 4thly. That God hath the purest and tenderest love as a parent towards every one of us, and that therefore we may with the utmost confidence approach Him; we may with the utmost confidence lay open our hearts before Him; because He will receive us, He will listen to us, with all the tenderness of the tenderest parent; and He will no more withhold from us those real blessings which we in sincerity ask of Him, and which He seeth we want, than a kind father upon earth will withhold good things from the child whom he affectionately loveth.

Our Blessed Lord therefore taught us to address the Divine Being under the affectionate and venerable name of Father, to remind us of the tender and holy relationship which subsists between us and Himself, that so we might learn to approach Him with dispositions suitable to the nearness and dearness of such a connection. Let us learn then, brethren, to call God our Father, not in words only, but in the more true and sensible language of feeling and affectionate hearts.

Let us learn to adore Him as the Father and Fountain of life with all its blessings and comforts, both in ourselves and in every other creature: let us learn to confess that we daily owe to Him the continuation, the growth, and the perfection of our life: let us thus teach ourselves to acknowledge that we are dependent upon God for all that we are or have, whether it be natural or spiritual, whether it be temporal or eternal; and that every good thing both within us, and without us, is of the divine mercy, grace, and love of our Heavenly Father. Let us thus learn to worship; let us thus learn to adore; let us thus learn to approach our Divine Parent; not as slaves and servants, who are afraid of Him, but as children and as sons whom He infinitely loveth, and whom He hath called to a holy liberty with Himself, and by whom He wisheth to be loved, to be importuned, and to be trusted in, as a Father of endless blessing, protection, hope, and comfort both now and for ever, unto all His creatures.

Alas! how little in general do we know God! How little therefore do we love Him, because we do not thus approach Him as our Father; because we do not thus adore Him as the God and Parent of our life, in whom we live, and move, and have our being! We all of us indeed with our lips call God our Father, but how few of us do really know and acknowledge Him to be so with our hearts! How few of us do really see and confess that all we are or have is from Him; and that what we call our life is but an emanation from His all-blessed love and wisdom communicated daily in mercy and kindness unto us! Oh then, if we would truly know, if we would truly love and worship God, let us contemplate and adore Him as the Father and Fountain of life, of blessing, and comfort, both in ourselves and in all the boundless universe of creatures and creation both visible and invisible, which he hath formed.

But further—If we would call God indeed our Father, we should study to purify and perfect our souls through His divine righteousness and truth. For this is the only true mark of our being the children of God, and that He is our Father, when we are endeavouring to become like unto Him in wisdom, in holiness, in purity of life and conversation. It is therefore written, “That they only are the sons of God who are led by the spirit of God” (Rom. viii. 14). If we do not therefore partake of our Father’s wise and righteous spirit, suffering ourselves to be led and governed by it in all our thoughts, words, and actions, it is a plain proof that we are not His sons. For sons or children do always partake of a life similar to that of their parent. We are all of us sons or children of earthly parents, because we partake of an earthly life which we have derived from them; even so, to become the true sons or children of God our heavenly parent, we must partake of a heavenly life, which will be derived to us from Him according as we endeavour to purify and perfect our hearts by heavenly righteousness, wisdom, and truth. If then we desire to call God our Father; if we desire to know and to find Him to be related to us by such a near, such a holy and happy relationship, let us endeavour to live righteously; let us endeavour to purify our souls by the lessons of our Father’s heavenly and eternal wisdom; let us take care that we may ever be partakers of His holiness, and that we may always keep open the communication between His righteous Spirit and our own hearts. Thus shall we become indeed the true sons and children of our Father which is in Heaven, deriving from Him a heavenly and eternal life, as we have derived from our earthly parents an earthly and a temporal life.

Lastly. Let me give you here one word of important and instructive caution. Whensoever you approach and address yourselves unto your Father which is in Heaven, remember that He now dwelleth bodily in the Glorified Humanity of your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and that you can only be admitted to Him, or have any communication with Him, as you approach Him through this Divine Humanity of the Blessed Jesus. This is what He declared when He said, “No Man cometh to the Father but by me” (John xiv. 6). And again, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me” (John xiv. 11). And again, “He that hath seen me hath seen my Father also” (John xiv. 9), by which words He meant to instruct us in this great and important truth, that if we would approach unto or have any communication with the Godhead of the Eternal Invisible Father, we must now approach unto Him, we must now seek communication with Him through the Humanity which He assumed here below; and in which He now dwelleth bodily and visibly in the glorified Person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Do we wish then to find and to worship God as our Father? Let us first seek Him in the centre and depth of our own hearts, as the Father and Fountain of all the life, blessing, and comfort, which we ourselves and all other creatures do daily receive. But let us here seek Him in righteousness, in purity, in wisdom, and in truth: let us remember that He is our Father, and we are His sons, only so far as we partake of and are led by His righteous, pure, wise, and heavenly spirit: let us remember lastly, that He now dwelleth with all His fulness in the Glorified Humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that therefore we can have no communication with Him but through this Divine Humanity: let us therefore draw nigh and approach unto the Blessed Jesus: let us acknowledge Him from henceforth as our God and Father, agreeably with the magnificent prophetic testimony concerning Him, where it is written, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah ix. 6). Amen.

Prayers

Most gracious and holy Father,
give us wisdom to perceive you,
intelligence to understand you,
diligence to seek you,
patience to wait for you,
eyes to behold you,
a heart to meditate on you,
and a life to proclaim you,
through the power of the Holy Spirit
and the love of Jesus Christ our Lord.

- Frank Topping, 1994


Eternal Trinity, you are a deep sea,
into which the more I enter the more I find,
and the more I find the more I seek.
My soul hungers in the mystery of your depth
and longs to see you in and through your own light;
as the deer years for clear spring water
so my soul yearns for your truth.

- After St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)


Show us, O Lord, what it is to reverence you,
to adore you, and to love you.
Amidst all our sins and shortcomings,
help us to long for your grace
and to be wholly united to you.
Refresh us with your Spirit
and take our aching hearts to yourself,
for in your love alone
is our healing and our peace;
to the glory of your name.

- Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882)

Rev. Jonathan Clowes, M.A.