The Knowledge of the Father
It is one thing to speak of God, quite another to speak of Him as Father. Let us therefore look into the grounds on which we believe in God as Father.
Is it really possible that the Supreme Being, whose power has been so marvellously displayed in both creation and redemption, is my Father? Wonderful thought! Not only “my God and your God”, but “my Father and your Father”! (John 20: 17). Can it be true that He stands in that relation to any of us, that we have the blessed privilege of invoking Him as Father? (1 Pet. 1: 17).
Matt. 11: 27 tells me that “no one knows the Son but the Father, nor does any one know the Father, but the Son”, but it does not stop there. The verse goes on to say, “and he to whom the Son may be pleased to reveal [him].” We thus have a revelation to us of the Father by the Son. It is the only way the Father can be known. We are shut up to this: Are we willing to have the Father revealed to us by the Son? Only He who is God Himself, only the Son could reveal the Father.
In the O. T. there is a different way in which God is spoken of as Father. The first place in Scripture where we have such a truth in any way mentioned is Ex. 4: 22: “Thus saith Jehovah: Israel is my son, my firstborn.” Here we see that the people of Israel as a whole could say of Jehovah, ‘we are his son’, but no single Israelite could say ‘Jehovah is my Father.’ He was a national Father.
Again in Jer. 31: 9, it is written “I will be a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” After all their failure, God does not alter His original purpose about Israel. Still, here again it is only the people as a whole who could say, Jehovah is our Father; no individual could say, He is my Father.
Turn to Isaiah, where we find the remnant blessing God, and saying “For thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, Jehovah, art our Father; our Redeemer, from everlasting, is thy name”, (Is. 63: 16). What He reveals of Himself, expressing what He is, does not change: the Father of Israel does not alter whatever the failure of His people may be. Doubtless when they return in their hearts to Jehovah, their words will be “For thou art our Father.” The fact remains however, that He is the Father of Israel, not exactly the Israelite. What a contrast to Christianity, where the believer knows a personal Father: he to whom the Son may be pleased to reveal [him], (See Matt. 11: 27).
There is another difference between the ways in which the Father is spoken of in the Old and New Testaments. In the OT, Jehovah is the Father of Israel. In the NT, the Father is One of the Godhead, the others being the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is true of course that we get the thought of the plurality of the Godhead in the OT, but we do not get all three exactly expressed by their individual Names. The most well known example of this is Gen. 1: 26 “And God said, Let us make man in our image.” However, perhaps an even more striking example is Gen. 19: 24: “And Jehovah rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Jehovah out of heaven”. Here we have plurality plainly spoken of, but not the distinction of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—that awaits the NT So as the Lord said in the verse quoted from Matt. 11, “nor does any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom the Son may be pleased to reveal [him].” The first to speak of the Father as distinct from the Son, was the Son Himself. Until the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, the Father was unrevealed. As Scripture tells us, no one has seen the Father at any time, but the Son: “not that any one has seen the Father, except he who is of (or from with) God, he has seen the Father”, (John 6: 46). Who else could declare Him?
In the Gospels the Lord speaks frequently to His disciples of His Father. Sometimes He said to them my Father, at other times your Father, and again at others the Father. Yet whatever the exact wording used, it is indisputable that the thought of the Father is prominent in the Gospels. Not once in the OT do we read anything like that detailed in, for instance, Matt. 6: 6: “when thou prayest, enter into thy chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who sees in secret will render [it] to thee”. Which of the OT saints knew of prayer like this? With the introduction of this concept of God as a personal Father, it became apparent that the forms of prayer that they had hitherto used were no longer suited, and so He gave them the so–called Lord’s prayer, (Matt. 6: 9–13; Luke 11: 2–4).
However, whilst the Gospels are a significant advance over the O. T. Scriptures in their presentation of God as Father, they do not present the same level of intimacy that is seen in the Christian era. In the Gospels the Father is often described as a heavenly Father (for example, Matt. 6: 14) or as in the heavens (for example Mark 11: 25) or in similar terms. All this implies distance—He in heaven, we on earth. It is significant that after the Lord had died and risen again these terms are never again used. The inference from this surely is that Christianity brings in an intimacy with the Father that exceeds even that which the Lord revealed in the Gospels.
The first notice of this is John 20, where the grieving Mary is surprised by her risen Lord: “Jesus says to her, Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and [to] my God and your God”, (v17). He was going away to His Father—the Father with whom He enjoyed constant and intimate communion. Consider for example His words in Mark 14: 36: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee: take away this cup from me; but not what I will, but what thou [wilt].” Or John 17: 24: “Father, [as to] those whom thou hast given me, I desire that where I am they also may be with me, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me, for thou lovedst me before [the] foundation of [the] world.” He was, and is, “the only–begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father”, (John 1: 18). The disciples did not know the Father in such an intimate way. Of course they knew of God as Father, but only in the sense of the provider of daily need, (for example, Matt. 6: 25–34). Prayer to Him was along the lines of “give us to–day our needed bread”, (Matt. 6: 12). Communion with God as Father was unknown. Now however, the Lord indicates that consequent upon His death, resurrection, and ascension, they could know the Father after the same fashion that He knew the Father, only as in all things He must take the first place. It is “I ascend to my Father” then “ and your Father”, (John 20: 17). With the sin question dealt with, real and intimate communion with the Father was now possible. This was the message that Mary was to convey to the brethren.
Of course the communion between the Son and the Father remains forever distinct. We are sons, but He is the only–begotten Son. Thus He does not say I ascend to our Father, but my Father and your Father. There is distinction as well as connection. In Christianity we touch a little of what it is to know the Father as the Lord Jesus did whilst here, but nonetheless, we remain forever creatures.
The coming of the Holy Spirit, (Acts 2: 1–4), gave practical force to the Lord’s words in John 20. Thus we read that “for as many as are led by [the] Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For ye have not received a spirit of bondage again for fear, but ye have received a spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father,” (Rom. 8: 14–15). Of course we are “all God’s sons by faith in Christ Jesus”, (Gal. 3: 26), but the Holy Spirit is the one who gives the relationship living power. It is “because ye are sons” that “God has sent out the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Gal. 4: 6–7). Faith gives me the adoption papers, the Spirit gives me the practical realisation of that adoption. The Father is not to be to us as One who is unknown. Even now I know His actions, His ways, His heart. I trace Him in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospels we see what the Lord was and what was the desire of His heart; but it is in all this that we learn another—the Father.
Who is competent to speak to us of the Father but the Son? Who knows the Son but the Father, and who knows the Father but the Son? Though we cannot claim to have seen the Father, yet He is not to be a stranger to us, for in all the ways of the Lord Jesus we learn to know Him. I cannot show you the Father, but I can show you the ways of the Father. If you want to know what the Father is towards those who have sinned against Him, debtors to His grace and mercy, or if you want to know what the heart of the Father is towards His saints, His redeemed people, turn to the four Gospels and see. As the Lord says, “He that has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14: 9).
The Lord speaks of the Father as quite distinct from Himself, yet still there is the most perfect communion between Them. The Son’s thoughts are all the Father’s, and the Father’s are all the Son’s. So that we learn in the life of the Lord Jesus here on earth how near the Father came to us in the person of His Son. I cannot see Him with my eyes, but I know Him in the revelation that He has made to me in the Son.
Now let us turn to John 4: 23, and listen to the Lord’s words to the Samaritan woman: “[the] hour is coming and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for also the Father seeks such as his worshippers”. What a beautiful display is this of the Father! To sinners He gives life; to saints He gives sustainment; and from His people’s hearts He seeks worship.
Are we responding to this? May every soul be bowed down under the sense of the Father’s goodness, and thus seek to pour itself out in worship to that Father! He delights to see the homage, the adoration, the praise of worship rise out of the hearts of His children. True worship is based upon this, the soul knowing its relation to God, and approaching Him as Father. Is this how we worship—in full consciousness of the relationship of sonship? Are we half alive to this wonderful grace? Previously God was to be worshipped as the Creator, as the Almighty, as Jehovah, but now we know Him as our FATHER!
Just one more thing, John 17: 23, 26: “thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me .... And I have made known to them thy name, and will make [it] known; that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them and I in them.” The desire of the Lord is that we should enter into the enjoyment of the Father’s love. There was One, the Son, who passed through this scene enjoying His Father’s love as He walked about on earth, and He wants each one of us who can say Abba Father, to enjoy that love as well. So He declares the Father’s name; He gives His people to know the relationship between the Father and themselves. Such is the revelation of the Father!