Great Texts of the Bible
The Father and the Families
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.—Ephesians 3:14-15.
1. There are two great prayers in this Epistle. The first is in the first chapter. It seemed to Paul that the gospel was so wonderful that it was impossible for men to See the glory of it unless they were taught of God, and therefore after his lofty account of God’s purpose to bring the heavens and the earth into an eternal unity in Christ, he tells the Christians at Ephesus that he was continually praying that God would give them “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him,” and that the eyes of their heart might be enlightened that they might know the hope to which God had called them, and “the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” Spiritual illumination is necessary if we are to know the contents of the Christian gospel; for the gospel reveals invisible and eternal things lying far beyond the frontiers of the common thoughts of men.
The second prayer takes another form. Its central idea is strength. Strength is necessary as well as light. We cannot know the gospel unless its glories are divinely revealed to us; and the spiritual energy necessary to receive it and to hold it fast must also come from God.
2. The prayer which he offers here is no less remarkable and unique in his Epistles than the act of praise in chapter 1. Addressing himself to God as the Father of angels and of men, the Apostle asks that He will endow the readers in a manner corresponding to “the riches of his glory”—in other words, that the gifts He bestows may be worthy of the universal Father, worthy of the august character in which God has now revealed Himself to mankind. According to this measure, St. Paul beseeches for the Church, in the first instance, two gifts, which after all are one,—viz., the inward strength of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:16), and the permanent indwelling of Christ (Ephesians 3:17). These gifts he asks on his readers’ behalf with a view to their gaining two further blessings, which are also one,—viz., the power to understand the Divine plan (Ephesians 3:18) as it has been expounded in this letter, and so to know the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:19). Still, beyond these there rises in the distance a further end for man and the Church: the reception of the entire fulness of God. Human desire and thought thus reach their limit; they grasp at the infinite.
Few of us can fail to have been struck with the solemnity and high tone of this prayer. It may be that some of us have thought that it contained a higher standard of feeling and life than we could hope to reach, and therefore have been tempted to abandon the consideration of it in silence; whilst others, striving to force the feelings which it recommends, have been betrayed into false excitement and unreality. The remedy for both these common cases is a careful consideration of the Apostle’s petition as a whole. Almost every word is a rich mine of thought, but there is a lesson contained in its general scope which we must carefully observe. It is indeed very spiritual; but it is not the less practical. It is a pattern for the most advanced Christian; but it is a lesson for the weakest believer. We are not to regard it only as an Apostle’s prayer for the early saints, who lived in days far different from our times. It is a prayer suitable for all ministers of the Gospel, for all times. It shows us what is the object of Church teaching, and therefore points out the state to which all Christians ought to be advancing. The Apostle did not pray for any blessing which his people could not receive; and therefore all he prayed for they were bound to seek. Hence this petition came to the Ephesians not only as an evidence of their pastor’s love and devotion, but with an implied command.
And so it is now: the prayers of the Church are exhortations to the faithful. For example: when the earnest petition arises from the altar, “that this congregation here present may with meek heart and due reverence hear and receive Thy holy word,” it is a solemn admonition to cultivate that very meekness and reverence for which we pray. And when the Apostle tells us: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father that he would grant you according to the riches of his exceeding glory, to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man”; when he prays “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith,” and that we may be skilled in the heavenly wisdom of the “love of Christ,” as the members of His mystical body should be—are not these several petitions so many loving exhortations to us to seek after spiritual strength, to acquire a constant faith, to study God’s attributes, especially His love in the Cross, that love which exceeds all other mysteries and surpasses all other knowledge; and to strive after all the perfection which God requires? The Apostle opens the door of his “closet” to show all Christian pastors how they should pray for their people; and all Christian people what they should seek for themselves. As in church solemn lessons are conveyed in the services, so here we are admitted into the awful privacy of an Apostle, to learn our duty whilst we catch his fervour. So beautifully is edification always mingled with devotion.1 [Note: J. Armstrong.]
3. The prayer is conveniently divided into four petitions: “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man”—that is the first. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”—that is the second, the result of the first, and the preparation for the third. “That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge”—that is the third. And all lead up at last to that wonderful desire beyond which nothing is possible—“that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God.”
The Occasion of this Prayer
“For this cause.”
1. “For this cause,” says St. Paul, “I bow my knees,”—what is the cause on account of which he bows his knees? In order to ascertain this cause we must look back, first of all, to the beginning of the chapter. The chapter begins with the same words, “For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ, for you Gentiles.” Then there comes a parenthesis, which continues until the verse immediately preceding our text. Therefore, if we want to find the connexion, we must look at the close of the preceding chapter, where the cause is set forth in language beautifully and expressively instructive. There the Apostle has been speaking of those who were “builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit,” of those who, having been previously afar off, had been made nigh by the blood of Christ, who were “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God”; he had been speaking of those who were saved “by grace through faith,” who had been brought into covenant with God through Christ, through whom they had “access by one Spirit to the Father”; and then he says, “for this cause I bow my knees,” that is, as if he had said: God hath blessed my ministry to you—Ephesians; there was a time when you were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world”; but the God of all grace has reversed all this, and has now “created you anew in Christ Jesus”; and “for this cause I bow my knees to the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”
2. There is, however, an immediate and pressing necessity for this prayer, but it is rather implied than expressed. When he wrote this letter and offered this prayer, Paul was a prisoner in Rome, a circumstance which appears to have had a very depressing, if not a staggering effect on the newly-converted brethren at Ephesus. Retaining some of the follies of their former heathenism, they looked upon this calamity as an evil omen, and drew from it strange inferences. A prisoner in Rome, and an ambassador of the King of kings! A favourite of heaven and shut up in gaol! Can it be? Is Christianity of God? Is Paul true? So thought and so reasoned these novices in the Christian faith, as is evidently implied in the words immediately preceding our text—“Wherefore I ask that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which are your glory.” To save them from “fainting,” and to keep them steadfast in the faith, notwithstanding his imprisonment, he prayed for them. It is occasions that make prayer. We never pray as we ought without having definite cases before our minds, and seeking the Divine help, either for ourselves or others, according to the actual circumstances and the special needs of the time.
These Ephesian Christians have passed away, their city lies in ruins; the heron and the stork wander where once the multitude stood. The hand that wrote these lines has long since mouldered into dust; and yet to-day these words are as fresh and appropriate as when first penned. For the fundamental facts of human need and Divine grace remain through all generations, and are true of all nations. To the English Christians of the twentieth century, who represent the same Gentile Church as the Ephesians of the first, the message of the Apostle is suitable: “I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man.”1 [Note: J. W. Ewing, The Undying Christ, 69.]
The Apostle’s Attitude in Prayer
“I bow my knees.”
1. “I bow my knees.” Why is that mentioned? Is not posture a small thing compared with spirit? Why does the Apostle refer to the attitude? It is because of what that attitude meant to him and means to every sincere worshipper. Kneeling is the attitude of humility, of confession, of entreaty, of worship. Some have gone further, and thought that kneeling in prayer is a symbol of man’s fallen state, that he can no longer stand erect before God, but is broken and crushed in the presence of Jehovah. Certainly, kneeling is the natural position of man before the Almighty and All-Holy Creator. The holiest and highest of men have approached God thus. Solomon, the greatest, except David, of all Jewish kings, upon the day of the dedication of the Temple, knelt down before all his people and presented his prayer to God. Ezra, the priest, on receiving news of the people’s sin tells us: “I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God.” Daniel, the prophet, when, in the city of idolatry, he heard of the decree forbidding prayer, except to the king, for thirty days, went into his house and “kneeled upon his knees” as before.
But we have still higher authority; for did not Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, withdraw Himself from His disciples a stone’s throw and kneel down and pray? And, after Jesus, what a line of men—the greatest, the purest, the tenderest—we see kneeling in prayer. Stephen, with that stony rain beating out his life, kneels down and cries with a loud voice: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Peter, when Dorcas is dead, kneels down and prays for her restoration. And Paul, when bidding farewell to the elders of this very Church, knelt down on the seashore and poured out his heart to God for those he was leaving. Evidently it was the habit of his life.
I was touched by reading yesterday morning of Bishop Latimer, the martyr, that towards the end of his life he used to spend so much time kneeling in prayer that he had to be assisted to rise. He forgot his troubles when pouring out his soul before God. Robert McCheyne spent a large part of his time in prayer. As he said: “Prayer is the link between earth and Heaven.” These men stooped to conquer, knelt to prevail, humbled themselves that Christ might be exalted. I pity the man or the nation that knows not how to kneel in prayer to God.1 [Note: J. W. Ewing, The Undying Christ, 71.]
2. Yet no one could be less inclined than Paul to place any emphasis on any possible amount or variety of genuflexion. He knelt, but in assuming that attitude, and in mentioning it, he only gave expression to the humility, the reverence, the earnestness, the concentration of his spirit in devotion. Prayer lies in the heart only, but the words, the attitude, the place, the time, have all their influences directly or indirectly on our heart. We all kneel in private, and no doubt find the attitude helpful, at least to the fixedness of our attention on the work professedly in hand. Would not kneeling in public be equally helpful, and would not its general practice be as seemly as it would be helpful? But, whatever the attitude, let us not forget that the spirit fairly indicated by the Apostle’s expression, “I bow my knees,” is essential to the validity of prayer.
The old customary, seemly attitude in prayer was standing. So Jesus said when He described the penitent publican, “He stood afar off and prayed”; so when He commanded His disciples and said: “When ye stand praying, forgive!” So in the godly fear of our fathers I still remember the awe that seized me as a boy when the whole great congregation rose to its feet in prayer, when the feeble old man and the frail man lifted their worn faces uncovered in speechless reverence to the eternal light which descended and suffused them with a glory which makes the burnished nimbus with which the painter ever loved to decorate his saint seem tame and tawdry. So when the subject enters the presence of his sovereign he stands, and in the very act and attitude of his homage shows that he is a free-born citizen conscious of his dignity.
But prayer is too large and masterful a thing to be capable of being expressed in any single attitude. There are moments when collective worship is beautiful and seemly, and there are moments when a man is overpowered with a transcendent need and is forced to his knees. The man who is dazzled with excess of light finds that he lives and looks through a medium of vision too perfect for his dim eyes. So the man who for a moment is possessed by a great vision, or is conscious of a great need, may as it were be swept from his feet into the attitude of a suppliant before God. The year when I first entered the University was a year when the most learned of all Scottish thinkers died and passed away. As I saw him he was a frail and shrinking shadow, scarcely equal to the humblest act of articulation, yet round the benches the whisper passed that in strong manhood, when first he came to his Chair and wrestled with the problems of metaphysics, and seemed now and then to wrestle in vain, there would come such a torrent of passion and of intellectual conflict in him, that he would leap from his desk and away from his papers and fall prone before God, that light might come and he might, see.1 [Note: A. M. Fairbairn.]
Brother Lawrence told me that it was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times: that we were as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in its season. His view of prayer was nothing else but a sense of the Presence of God, his soul being at that time insensible to everything but Divine Love. When the appointed time of prayer was past, he found no difference, because he still continued with God, praising and blessing Him with all his might, so he passed his life in continual joy; yet hoped that God would give him somewhat to suffer, when he should have grown stronger.2 [Note: Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 21.]
“I bow my knees unto the Father.”
1. St. Paul says that he offered his prayer to “the Father.” He did not address a material image, a creation of his own fancy, a power, or even “the Divine totality of being.” He prayed to a Person. With St. Paul prayer was mind addressing mind; heart pleading with heart.
Madame Blavatsky, the founder of modern Theosophy, was asked: “Do you pray?” “No,” she replied, “we do not pray; the only Deity we know is an abstraction. We have no time to kneel to an abstraction.”1 [Note: J. W. Ewing, The Undying Christ, 71.]
2. The Authorized Version has an addition which we may well wish we could retain. “Unto the Father of our lord Jesus Christ.” There is something peculiarly tender and winning about this title of God. God is brought very near to us as the Father of Jesus. And we can still cherish that beautiful title, for it is used in several other places.
All nations, all men, who have cultivated religion, have given names and titles to God, in which they have expressed and embodied as well as they could their most exalted ideas concerning God. So the Jew called upon the God of his fathers by the name of Yahveh (“Jehovah”); and in that name called to mind a whole world of plighted troth, of faithfulness and tenderness. So the Moslem, as he tells his beads, recites the names of God, and passes into a kind of ecstasy as he recalls one by one the lofty titles of the beneficence and power of Allah. St. Paul, like all other Christians since, had no personal name for the God whom he adored, no long string of loud-sounding titles. You will not find in the New Testament any mention made of the Supreme Being, of the First Great Cause, of the Architect of the Universe, or anything else in that line. For St. Paul, and for us, God is simply and for ever “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is hardly too much to say, “that is all we know, and all we want to know, of Him.”
(1) The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ means “the Father” of our Lord’s teaching, of those good tidings which He came to bring home to our minds and hearts. That is quite good grammar, and quite good theology. It is (most emphatically) “the Father” of our Lord’s discourses and parables; it is the Father of the Prodigal Son, who went forth to meet him while he was yet a long way off, and fell on his neck and kissed him; it is the Father of whom our Lord testified, “I say not unto you that I will pray for you, for the Father himself loveth you”; it is He alone to whom we bow our knees, because we cannot help it, because His goodness and patience and amazing love are too much for us, because they have tamed our pride and broken down our obstinacy, and shamed us out of our indifference; and now we bow our knees to Him in adoring love, even if we have to add, “Father, I have sinned, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”
There are many people nowadays who claim to know “the Father,” and in the strength of that knowledge they reject the Saviour, reject the Bible, reject Christianity. Yet it remains absolutely true that the New Testament is the one and only book that ever told them anything worth knowing about “the Father”; it is a fact that “the Father” to whom they bow their knees (if, indeed, they ever bow them at all) belongs exclusively to our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone knew Him; He alone revealed Him. Even they have to come to the Father by Christ: as a matter of history, as a matter of fact; there is no other way. And so their position is this: they embrace with effusion the one great and glorious revelation of the Book, and then they throw the Book aside with contempt; they acknowledge with enthusiasm “the Father” whom Christ (and only Christ) declared unto them, and then they dismiss Christ with scant courtesy.1 [Note: R. Winterbotham.]
(2) In the second place, it is impossible to doubt (if we believe Himself) that “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” means more than “the Father” of His discourses, of His gospel. There was an ineffable relationship, a mysterious unity, between our Lord Jesus Christ and the Father, which is as strongly marked in His own words as in any creeds which have been made since. Whatever fault may be found with those creeds, they do not assert more strongly than He did Himself a oneness with the Father which passes man’s understanding; which, assuredly, it had been impossible for any other, and intolerable in any other to assert.
If we understand that He is indeed the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in such wise that there is absolutely no difference or inequality; that such as the Son is in the Gospels, such is the Father also above us, and such the Holy Spirit within us; even so good, so loving, so pitiful, so faithful and true, so unyielding in the face of wrong, so careful for His own, so just and right in all His ways, so compassionate to error, so grieved for sufferers, so sorrowful for sin even unto death; if we understand this, I say, then we believe our Lord’s saying, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (and cannot possibly be mistaken concerning Him), and we bow our knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with the most joyful and complete assurance.1 [Note: R. Winterbotham.]
Trust My Father, saith the Eldest-born;
I did trust Him ere the earth began;
Not to know Him is to be forlorn;
Not to love Him is—not to be man.
He that knows Him loves Him altogether;
With My Father I am so content
That through all this dreary human weather
I am working, waiting, confident.
He is with Me; I am not alone;
Life is bliss, because I am His child;
Down in Hades will I lay the stone
Whence shall rise to Heaven His city piled.
Hearken, brothers, pray you, to my story!
Hear Me, sister; hearken, child, to Me:
Our one Father is a perfect glory;
He is light, and there is none but He.
Come then with Me; I will lead the way;
All of you, sore-hearted, heavy-shod,
Come to Father, yours and mine, I pray;
Little ones, I pray you, come to God!2 [Note: George MacDonald.]
3. When St. Paul said, “I call upon the Father,” he was not saying a truism; he was striking the note that was distinctive of Christianity. He was saying the very central thing which Christ, our Master, came into the world to say. “I call upon the Father.” What does it mean, this belief that God is our Father? We are in the hands of a great power. No one can be such a fool as to think that man is independent. We are in the hands of a vast and universal power on which moment by moment we depend, as for our life originally, so, moment by moment, for the breath we breathe. What is this power? Is it blind force? The Jew alone of all the races was taught to believe that the power which lay behind him was righteousness, and that God was just and righteous; so it was that he set to work to build up the foundations of human society—because he believed that God was righteous, and all this our Lord maintained and deepened. He deepened it into the belief that God was a Father.
(1) That means, first of all, that God is love, that behind all the suffering, the misery, the inequality, and the injustice which confront us in this wild and irregular scene of human life, there beats always and everywhere the heart of a Father, the heart of a personal and impartial love. You ask how it was that Christ persuaded men of this truth. It was because of what He was. It was because He was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” If some bright angel had come down from heaven with all the glory of miracles, and had flown to the earth and had proclaimed in a voice of thunder and with works of wonder that God was love, we might have shaken our heads and said, “It is all very curious and mysterious, and it is a very nice thing to listen to, but I know better.” Our Lord persuaded men that God was love because He came a man among men, hiding not Himself from His own flesh, moving among men in free and open contact, bearing men’s sicknesses and carrying their infirmities; because He went down Himself into the dark valley of failure and suffering; because He bore all the pains of body, all the racking agonies of mind, all the mysterious sense of failure and desolation, that, generation after generation, have turned philanthropists into cynics and made them mad; all the human history that has lain behind that bitter cry of righteous men forsaken—that cry which we hear in the Psalm, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”—those words which rang out of the lips of Christ on the Cross.
In our great cities we seem as if we were lost in a crowd. What am I but a tiny little element in some vast human machine that sweeps along in the sway of great forces which move from one end of the industrial world to another and seem to annihilate any sense of the individuality of a single life? It is crushed under the great forces which rush along. So even the old Jew could feel years ago in the Book of Ecclesiasticus, where the writer says: “Say not thou, I shall be hidden from the Lord; and who shall remember me from on high? I shall not be known among so many people; for what is my soul in a boundless creation?” We feel it even more in our modern time, but the assurance of Christ is that it is not true; that there is no one of us lost in the crowd; that there is no one of us created by accident; that we were not turned out in hundreds or in thousands or in nations, that we were created individuals, that God is the Father of each and all; and that behind all the seeming inequalities of position and comfort there is the perfect rectifying justice and equality of God. I believe that God is my Father. That means that He knows all my circumstances, that He values me, not in proportion to my performance, but in proportion to how much I am tried; because, to keep my temper, if I am naturally an angry man, is worth in His sight ten thousand times more than to keep my temper if I am naturally an amiable person without a bad temper to contend with. He knows my circumstances. He knows me and cares about me with the infinite knowledge of the Creator and the Father of everything that goes to make the individuality of my lot, which means the individual love of God.1 [Note: Bishop Gore.]
(2) And then, the Fatherhood of God, St. Paul says, is the pattern and source of every fatherhood in heaven, and on earth. It means that God rules by a method of fatherhood. Men are set in groups and societies, and each group and society has one at the head of it, and the model of government is to be fatherhood. So it is in the family, and Christian civilization depends upon maintaining the sanctity and the dignity of the family. To believe in the Fatherhood of God is to set to work to be a good father, a good head of a household in our own families.
The other day I had occasion to find out, in very large works, about a great mass of very intelligent men who were workers there, that they were very unwilling that their wives should know how much money they were getting. I thought that was a very bad sign. There can be no sound and healthy married life where the wife does not know what money the husband is getting, because there can be no confidence; there can be nothing of that confidence of heart to heart, that real unity of life, that real fellowship and co-operation which means complete trust; and you know we have a great job to-day if we are to restore home life to its proper sanctity and dignity.1 [Note: Bishop Gore.]
Now, look for a moment how the small families of the earth are all made after the fashion of the heavenly family. Did it ever occur to you—surely it must—that God’s invention of the family in this world is just to compel our thoughts to rise up to the great Father, and to recognize the great family? Love is the secret of God; love is the creative power. It is symbolized in birth. See how the child comes into the world, dependent on the mother. See how the child has no notion of bliss but in the mother’s arms, surrounded with the protection of those arms, looking up into the heaven of her face, reading the infinite in her eyes. The child, I say, is compelled to love the mother. He cannot help himself. Of course, there is the faculty of loving in the child, or else he could not love. It is his Divine nature; he is born of love, and he is love; but it can be brought out only in this way—that he shall, through helplessness, passivity in bliss, feeding on the very body of the mother that bare him, seeking the shelter of her bosom at every dread or anxiety or fear that comes upon him, learn that there is an overshadowing, an upholding love, and that love is his very servant, and, I had almost said, Slave. Surely there is no servant in His house like God Himself, for He does everything for His little ones.2 [Note: George MacDonald.]
“Every family, in heaven and on earth.”
1. “I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom [not the whole family, but] every family in heaven and on earth is named.” The point of St. Paul’s original phrase is somewhat lost in translation. The Greek word for family (patria) is based on that for father (pater). A distinguished father anciently gave his name to his descendants; and this paternal name became the bond of family or tribal union, and the title which ennobled the race. So we have “the sons of Israel,” the “sons of Aaron” or “of Korah”; and in Greek history, the Atridae, the Alcaemonidae, who form a family of many kindred households—a clan, or gens, designated by their ancestral head. Thus Joseph (in Luke 2:4) is described as being “of the house and family [patria] of David”; and Jesus is “the Son of David.” Now Scripture speaks also of sons of God, and these of two chief orders. There are those “in heaven,” who form a race distinct from ourselves in origin—divided, it may be, amongst themselves into various orders and dwelling in their several homes in the heavenly places, and there are those “on earth.”
The various classes of men on earth, Jewish and Gentile, and the various orders of angels in heaven, are all related to God, the common Father, and only in virtue of that relation has any of them the name of family. The father makes the family; God is the Father of all; and if any community of intelligent beings, human or angelic, bears the great name of family, the reason for that lies in this relation of God to it. The significant name has its origin in the spiritual relationship.
This great and noble conception of the unity of heaven and earth in God is characteristic of that form of Christian theology which is illustrated in this Epistle and in the Epistle to the Colossians. It appears elsewhere; but in these two Epistles, which were written about the same time, it is developed with extraordinary boldness and with a vehement and glorious eloquence. As yet, according to Paul’s conception, the Divine idea is unfulfilled. Its orderly development has been troubled, thwarted, and delayed by sin, by sin in this world and in other worlds. But it will be fulfilled at last. In Christ “were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him”; and in union with Christ, the eternal Son of God, heaven and earth will be restored to the eternal Father.
During this tour in England (in 1894) Dr. Paton was invited by the Bishop of Durham—the late Bishop Westcott—to visit him at Auckland Castle. Both of the men of God who then met are gone, and we can speak more freely of the event. The Bishop received his Presbyterian brother as whole-heartedly as if he had been one of his own clergy. The missionary on his part was profoundly moved by the visit, and told his friend subsequently how the Bishop had led him away to his study, and there discussed, with evident eagerness of soul, the progress and hopes of the evangelization of the heathen in the South Sea Islands and in the world. Then they knelt together before God—those two warriors who, in such different fields and circumstances, had fought their great fight and well-nigh finished their course. They recognized that they were one in heart and purpose, and each poured out his soul in fervent petition for the other, and for the bringing in of the Kingdom of God.1 [Note: John G. Paton, iii. 52.]
Painful as it is to witness the ineffectual yearnings after unity on all hands of which you speak, still it is hopeful also. We may hope that our good God has not put it into the hearts of religious men to raise a prayer for unity without intending in His own time to fulfil the prayer. And since the bar against unity is a conscientious feeling, and a reverence for which each party holds itself to be the truth, and a desire to maintain the faith, we may humbly hope that in our day, and till He discloses to the hearts of men what the true faith is, He will, where hearts are honest, take the will for the deed.2 [Note: Cardinal Newman, in Life of David Brown, 239.]
2. The Greek words can grammatically mean only “every family” not “the whole family.” All such ideas, therefore, as that angels and men, or the blessed in heaven and the believing on earth, are in view as now making one great family, are excluded. The sense is “the Father, from whom all the related orders of intelligent beings, human and angelic, each by itself, get the significant name of family.”
In the Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul lays open a vision of the spiritual origins and influences and issues of things temporal and confirms the truth which lies in the bold surmise of the poet that earth is in some sense a shadow of heaven. Now he sees in the future of the material Temple with its “wall of partition” a figure of the state of the world before the Advent, and then passes to the contemplation of its living antitype, built on the foundation of apostles and prophets with Christ for its head corner-stone. Now he traces in the organization of the natural body the pattern of a glorious society fitly framed together by the ministries of every part, and guided by the animating energy of a Divine Head. Now he shows how through the experience of the Church on earth the manifold wisdom of God is made known to the heavenly hierarchy. Now he declares that marriage, in which the distinctive gifts and graces of divided humanity are brought together in harmonious fellowship, is a sign, a sacrament, in his own language, of that perfect union in which the Incarnate Word takes to Himself His Bride, the first-fruits of creation. And so in the paragraph where the text occurs he touches with thankful exultation on the universality of the Gospel, by which the many races of men, Jews and Gentiles—the people and the nations—are reunited, and the purpose of God in the education of the world is at last made clear.
Not in one line but in many; not through a calm, uninterrupted growth but in sorrow and tribulation men were trained in the past—this is his thought—to receive the crowning truth, and justified their training by their faith. By the help of that most signal example we can see how every ordered commonwealth, every bond of kinsmanship, owes its strength to a Divine presence. From the one Father, every fatherhood, every family through which the grace of fatherhood is embodied, derives its essential virtue.1 [Note: B. F. Westcott, The Incarnation and Common Life, 161.]
3. Family relationship is therefore a very sacred thing, its root being not in the creation, but in God. And though we shall not find on earth any development worthy of its holy root, nevertheless the flower which fills the world with choicest fragrance is family affection. It is capable of becoming most heavenly, since the Eternal Father is Himself the spring of parental as His Eternal Son is of filial love. Therefore, also, family affections are capable of ceaseless cultivation. There is nothing to hinder family love from becoming evermore deeper, stronger, and lovelier. If it is so strong and so precious among fallen creatures, what must it be among the perfect? If family life on the earth gives rise, as it often does, to a very paradise of courtesies and tender sanctities, what must family life be in the immediate Presence, and under the direct influence, of the Infinite Father and His only begotten Son? Christian parents and their children should know, therefore, that in their families they have not a little world, but a little heaven, to cultivate. Their families derive their distinctions and peculiarities from relations in the Godhead. Their families have names not only in time, but in eternity. Every family in Christ is named according to its distinction, as a manifestation of a corresponding variety in the Divine Nature.
(1) The family is a kingdom.—It is not of our design. It is not of our making. It is not of our choosing. It is not dependent on our pleasure for its continuance. When complete it includes each typical relation of society, the relation of command, of obedience, of fellowship. The members of a family in simple intercourse learn, however imperfectly, the duty of service. The feeling of the family conquers self. It is enough to appeal to the experience of home to refute the cynical assertion that personal interest is man’s single or strongest motive. In the family the tenderest affection, the most watchful care, the largest forethought, are lavished, not on the strongest or the most helpful, but rather on the most helpless and weak, who can make no measureable return to their comforters. In the family, need is taken as the measure of help, and a principle is spontaneously acknowledged which in its widest application would be adequate to deal with the sorrows of the world.
On no subject has human thought more centred than upon the family. There is nothing more important in our entire social life. For a nation will not be better than its homes. Christianity did not invent the family or marriage, but it has been probably the greatest agency in giving ideals to the home. This is all the more remarkable when one recalls that Jesus was not married, and that so much of the New Testament literature was written by Paul who, like his Master, had no home. But how incomplete would the gospel be without the figures drawn from fatherhood, sonship, marriage, and childhood! The more one reads the New Testament the more does one feel how sacred the family is, because it so often serves as a symbol of the relations of the Church with Christ. When the New Testament writers wish to express the very closest and holiest union of believers with their Lord it is to the family that they turn for symbols.1 [Note: Shailer Mathews, The Social Gospel, 35.]
(2) The family is also a school, a school of character. The outer school cannot mould the whole of man’s nature. Character is shaped by action and not by words. What has been learnt by memory must be tested and embodied by experience. Under one aspect the outer school stimulates new and importunate wants, while the home is fitted to bring that social discipline which checks the selfish endeavour to satisfy them. At the same time the school offers new interests which may brighten home. Out of the home, too, must spring the spirit of purity. For home has its own proper warnings when the occasion comes. The knowledge of the elder may guard the innocent from falling; and the young have no better earthly safeguard than to carry with them the thought of mother or sister as the witness of all they do or say or think.
In September I saw a tree bearing roses, whilst others of the same kind, round about it, were barren; demanding the cause of the gardener, why that tree was an exception from the rule of the rest, this reason was rendered: because that alone being clipped close in May, was then hindered to spring and sprout, and therefore took this advantage by itself to bud in autumn. Lord, if I were curbed and snipped in my younger years by fear of my parents, from those vicious excrescences to which that age was subject, give me to have a godly jealousy over my heart, suspecting an autumn-spring, lest corrupt nature (which without Thy restraining grace will have a vent) break forth in my reduced years into youthful vanities.1 [Note: Thomas Fuller, Good Thoughts in Worse Times.]
Ah! not to be happy alone,
Are men sent, or to be glad.
Oft-times the sweetest music is made
By the voices of the sad.
The thinker oft is bent
By a too-great load of thought;
The discoverer’s soul grows sick
With the secret vainly sought:
Lonely may be the home,
No breath of fame may come,
Yet through their lives doth shine
A purple light Divine,
And a nobler pain they prove
Than the bloom of lower pleasures, or the fleeting spell of love.2 [Note: Sir Lewis Morris, “Songs of Two Worlds” (Works, 68).]
(3) The family becomes also a sanctuary.—The splendour of palaces does not secure innocence and holiness within their walls, but a sense of the presence of God does. Where God is welcomed as a guest there an atmosphere of sanctity is diffused around. A witness whose experience is unsurpassed writes: “I know numbers of the prettiest, happiest little homes which consist of a single room.” We ask then that His hallowing Presence should be habitually sought. We ask that “daily bread” should be received with some simple words of blessing; that work and rest should be consecrated by some simple words of prayer and praise. In these observances there is nothing forced or unnatural; nothing which is not possible under the commonest outward circumstances; nothing which does not answer to the promptings of the human heart. And for the fulfilment of this desire we claim woman’s help. There is a message even for the present age in the fact emphatically recorded by St. John, that a woman was divinely charged to be the first herald of the Resurrection, the herald of the new life.
The need of England, the need of every land, is “good mothers.” If they fail, it is not for lack of womanly endowments in those who are called to fulfil the duty. Poor and desolate outcasts, whom we are tempted to place lowest, are capable of every sacrifice to shield their children from bodily suffering or loss. Let them only feel, and let mothers of every class feel, that there are sicknesses of the soul which require the ministries of wise and tender affection, spiritual perils which need to be guarded against by watchful forethought, desires of the heart which crave the fullness of more than human love, and we shall be brought near to the consummation of our daily prayer in the advent of the Kingdom of God.1 [Note: B. F. Westcott, The Incarnation and Common Life, 168.]
“Father Endeavour Clark,” as the founder of the Christian Endeavour movement is sometimes called, tells the story of a mother, whose family is as remarkable in its influence as that of the Crossleys of Halifax. This is the Murray family of Graaf Reinet, in South Africa. The father of the family, Andrew Murray the first, was a young Scotch missionary. He wooed and won a Dutch girl of Huguenot extraction, and carried her off, a bride of sixteen years, to his parsonage at Graaf Reinet. She became the mother of seventeen children, twelve of whom lived to grow up to bless the world. From them three hundred and four descendants have sprung (including those who have married into the family). The total number of ministers in the family, either directly or by marriage, is forty-two. Three are now studying for the ministry, six are missionaries in Central Africa, four others are in Mashonaland and the Transvaal, and three in Nyassaland. Three grandsons are in the South African Parliament. Of the original family, five sons were ministers, and the daughters wives of pastors and heads of educational establishments; the most well known, outside of South Africa, by his writings, being the beloved Andrew Murray, his father’s namesake. The influence of the whole family in South Africa is incalculable. Never, says Dr. Clark, were children more fortunate in their mother. Hers was one of those sweet, persuasive natures which mould and guide and bless, without seeming to know it themselves, certainly without conscious effort. When asked, “How did you bring up such a wonderful family?” she replied, “Oh, I do not know; I didn’t do anything.” But every one else knew if she did not. She just lived herself the life she wanted her boys and girls to live. Her life was hid with Christ in God; and they, through her, saw the beauty of holiness. “Her chief characteristic,” said one of her children, “was a happy contentment with her lot. She was always exactly where she wished to be, because she was where her Father in heaven had placed her.” She outlived her husband by many years. It was felt that her serenity and gentleness and loveliness of character came not a little from the hours of long communion when she looked into the Face of the Invisible, and thus learned to endure as seeing Him.1 [Note: H. S. Dyer, The Ideal Christian Home, 77.]
No clever, brilliant thinker she,
With college record and degree;
She has not known the paths of fame;
The world has never heard her name;
She walks in old long-trodden ways,
The valleys of the yesterdays.
Home is her kingdom, love her dower;
She seeks no other wand of power
To make home sweet, bring heaven near,
To win a smile and wipe a tear
And do her duty day by day,
In her own quiet place and way.
Around her childish hearts are twined,
As round some reverend saint enshrined,
And following hers the childish feet
Are led to ideals true and sweet,
And find all purity and good
In her divinest motherhood.
She keeps her faith unshadowed still;
God rules the world in good and ill;
Men in her creed are brave and true
And women pure as pearls of dew,
And life for her is high and grand
By work and glad endeavour spanned.
This sad old earth’s a brighter place
All for the sunshine of her face;
Her very smile a blessing throws,
And hearts are happier where she goes;
A gentle, clear-eyed messenger,
To whisper love—thank God for her!1 [Note: L. M. Montgomery.]
4. What a solace to our hearts is the assurance that we shall never cease to be members of a family! The perfection of the great heavenly Household is that it is a Household of households. We are born into a family, we grow up in a family, we die in a family, and after death, we shall not simply go into the great heaven, but to our own family, in our Father’s House. “Abraham gave up the ghost, and was gathered to his people.” “Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace,” God had said to him. All in heaven will not know us, but our own people will know us. We shall go to them.
We are but babes in the household of God; and, moreover, we are in a very humble part of His House, rather in an adjoining house than in the very House. But we are loved as babes, by our numerous kindred; and quite as much by our own in heaven as by our own on earth. The sweet affections of our heavenly kindred are ever seeking to reveal themselves in our hearts. What are our family altars but means of communication between families on earth and families in heaven? They unite with us in saying, “Our Father.” And in the joy of our fellowship with Him, and with His Son Jesus Christ, they joy with us.2 [Note: J. Pulsford, Christ and His Seed, 110.]
The two communities of earth and heaven are united. They, as we, live by derivation of the one life; they, as we, are fed and Messed by the one Lord. The occupations and thoughts of Christian life on earth and of the perfect life of saints above are one. They look to Christ as we do, when we live as Christians, though the sun, which is the light of both regions, shows there a broader disc, and pours forth more fervid rays, and is never obscured by clouds, nor ever sets in night. Whether conscious of us or not, they are doing there, in perfect fashion, what we imperfectly attempt, and partially accomplish.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
5. But the members of families on the earth should see to it that they are members of the Household of God. Let there be no doubt touching their union with Christ, the First-born Son. Let them have clear evidence that they are born again, and partakers of the Divine Nature. Members of Christian families who are not personally in Christ should lay it to heart that they are not as yet members of any heavenly household, and that they will be separated from their own families, unless they enter in at the door of grace, while they may. Has the door been opened in vain? We have been resting in the affections of our parents and enjoying the comforts of their house; but are we with them in Christ, and members with them of their eternal family?
In one sense, and that a very important one, every family with all its members has God for its Father, for He made all and upholds all; and the thought should be a welcome one, that we share His love with all the world, and yet our own share in His love and His care is none the less, and that the family of God is made up of those who are loved by Him. But there is more than this—the admission into His family implies for us the recovery of a lost privilege. Sin separated and banished us, made us as though we were not God’s children, and unwilling to accept the love and the care and the will of God; we needed to be made the Sons of God again, and here came a provision of the Fatherly care which made the limits of the Family as wide as ever; the barrier of enmity was broken down by the great Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Since He died, it is now, not indeed, every one upon earth, but “whosoever will”—every one who feels that he would be a child of God. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.”
That we might know Him, Thou didst come and live;
That we might find Him, Thou didst come and die;
The son-heart, Brother, Thy son-being give—
We too would love the Father perfectly,
And to His bosom go back with the cry,
Father, into Thy hands I give the heart
Which left Thee but to learn how good Thou art!
There are but two in all the universe—
The Father and His children—not a third;
Nor, all the weary time, fell any curse!
Not once dropped from its nest an unfledged bird
But Thou wast with it! Never sorrow stirred
But a love-pull it was upon the chain
That draws the children to the Father again!
O Jesus Christ, babe, man, eternal Son,
Take pity! we are poor where Thou art rich:
Our hearts are small; and yet there is not one
In all Thy Father’s noisy nursery which,
Merry, or mourning in its narrow niche,
Needs not Thy Father’s heart, this very now,
With all his being’s being, even as Thou!1 [Note: George MacDonald, Poetical Works, ii. 335.]
The Father and the Families
Baring-Gould (S.), Our Parish Church, 129.
Boyd (A. K. H.), Sunday Afternoons in a University City, 279.
Brown (J. B.), The Home, 217.
Brown (J. B.), The Home Life, 288.
Chadwick (W. E.), Social Relationships in the Light of Christianity, 173.
Clarke (J. E.), Common-Life Sermons, 29, 52.
Ewing (J. W.), The Undying Christ, 68.
Harris (H.), Short Sermons, 268.
Hull (E. L.), Sermons, i. 121.
Laird (J.), Memorials, 167.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Epistle to the Ephesians, 128.
Magee (W. C.), Sermons (Contemporary Pulpit Library), i. 73.
Pulsford (J.), Christ and His Seed, 106.
Ridgeway (C. J.), Social Life, 103.
Robertson (F. W.), Sermons, iii. 181.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxii. No. 1309.
Spurgeon (C. H.), My Sermon Notes, iv. 272.
Vaughan (C. J.), Authorized or Revised? 315.
Westcott (B. F.), Social Aspects of Christianity, 19.
Westcott (B. F.), The Incarnation and Common Life, 161.
Christian World Pulpit, xl. 233 (MacDonald); lviii. 19 (Fairbairn); lxxiv. 241 (Gore).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, xii. 201 (Armstrong), 214 (Kempthorne), 216 (Heber).