Our Father in Heaven
May 23rd, 1965 @ 7:30 PM
OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-23-65 7:30 p.m.
In your Bible turn to the First Gospel, that of Matthew, Matthew chapter 6; we shall read together verses 5 through 15 [Matthew 6:5-15]. And if on the radio you share with us this hour, turn in your Bible, open it, lay it on your lap or on the table before you or on the bed by your side; Matthew chapter 6, verses 5 through 15. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church bringing the evening message entitled Our Father in Heaven. And it is a message concerning prayer and our Lord as He looks down upon us. Now all of us reading out loud together verses 5 through 15:
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.
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, for ever. Amen.
[For] if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Which of course is an incomparable message from our Lord on prayer, and contains one of the great revelations of the Christian faith, if not the greatest revelation. Now our Lord says that when we pray, we are not to be vainglorious. We are not to address this audience, but we are to pray to God.
One of the most astonishing things to me is when I watch over television these great assemblies of state, and inauguration, other things like that, and the so-called minister will stand up and he will unfold his paper, and he reads his prayer looking at the audience, all around, reading his prayer, as though he were addressing the audience. It is all right to address an audience, make a funeral oration, make an inauguration address, a political harangue, anything; but to address an audience in prayer is a peculiar sort of a psychology. There is private prayer, there is public prayer—but whether public or private, it ought to be as unto God. But these people our Lord speaks of here, they prayed for men to hear them, and to be seen of men, and to be looked upon as holy and sanctified, as being pious and having some kind of a mandate upon what God could do for us in heaven.
Now the Lord says, now when you pray—in your private prayers, when you address yourself to God—don’t you do that in order that men may say, “Oh, look how holy!” or “Look how fine! Look how Christian!” and “Look how wonderful, and look how dedicated and consecrated!” Don’t you do that, but you go into a private place, and there you tell your Father, between you and Him [Matthew 6:6], all of these things you’d like to lay before His throne of grace. That will be a marvelous thing and it will reflect, says our Lord, in the look in your eye and the smile on your countenance, and the way you walk, and the way you talk, and the way you live. All of this will be seen openly; it will be very noticeable if you’ve been someone who has talked to God in secret and alone.
When I was a young preacher, one of those men, a godly man—before I left to go away to the seminary in Louisville, Kentucky—one of those godly men took me up a mountainside, a little hillside, “mountainside” here in Texas. Texas is a great place where every molehill is a mountain; every dry river, every dry wadi, every dry slough gulch is a river; every hole in the ground is an oil well, and every man is a liar. Now that’s what Texas is! Well anyway, he took me up on the side of this mountain, little hill, and up at the top was a grove, and on the inside of that grove was a little place that was cleared underneath it, but overhanging boughs of trees. And in the middle of the grove was a root that came out of the ground and down into the ground, like a little rainbow, like a little arch, and I was amazed to see it up there. And he had a little trail up there, where he’d walked up that hillside, little mountainside, so many times.
And he said, “This is my prayer mountain; this is my place of prayer.” Now he says, “Before you go away, I want you to kneel down here by my side, and I’m going to kneel down here where I come every day, and I want to pray for you.” Oh, it made a deep and everlasting impression upon me! You have a place that’s just known to you and God, and there you talk to your Father in heaven. And what you do when nobody is around, it will appear in all of your outward life.
Then He says a second thing, “But when ye pray, when you pray, use not vain repetitions like the pagans do: for they think they shall be heard for their much repeating, much repetition” [Matthew 6:7]. For in the Lord’s Day there were those who felt that if they said the Shema [Deuteronomy 6:4-9], often enough, they would buy heaven as a man would buy a piece of property. They owned it; they had a right to it because of how many times they had said these things over and over and over again. That’s just as pagan as it can be.
When you go to the Orient, you’ll find there in all of those Buddhist temples, you’ll find prayer wheels. And you’ll write your prayer on a piece of paper and put it in the prayer wheel, and just the more you turn that prayer wheel, every time it turns around, why, that’s a prayer offered at the presence or at the throne or at the feet of a Buddha somewhere, wherever Buddha is; in some nirvana, some limbo, some thing out there in the—they don’t know where, but anyway, wherever Buddha is. Well, every time that prayer wheel goes over and over and over, why, that is a meritorious appeal up there for Buddha to answer. So they wind, and wind, and wind, and wind, and wind the prayer wheel over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.
Or you can go here in Dallas and you’ll see people doing the same thing with beads, and they count those beads over, and over, and over, and over, and they say the same thing one, two, three, four, and over, and over, and over, and go around. And then after they go around, then they go around again, and the more they go around, repeating, repeating, repeating—around, and around, and around, repeating, repeating, repeating, around, repeating, repeating, and around, and around, and around—and the more they do it, the more meritorious they are, and the more they are buying the indulgence of heaven, and the more they’re being accepted. Oh, how much there is of that!
And Jesus says when you pray, when you pray, don’t you do that. Don’t you do that. With the most earnest sincerity of which you are capable, lay your requests before God because the Lord is not going to hear you for your much speaking and your much talking [Matthew 6:6-8]. Don’t you wish once in a while, when a fellow’s catching up on his praying in public, don’t you wish you could catch him by his coattail and yank on him and say, “My brother, why don’t you catch up with your praying at home? And when you pray out here in public, why, let’s just make it short and to the point because you’re not going to be heard up there in heaven because you have a long drawn out prayer. Cut it off, brother, cut it off! Cut it off.” I am in favor of short public praying. Then when you get before God, well, you can just agonize before the Lord all you want to. But it is good to have prayers that are straight and to the point, just make them sincere and from the soul.
Then He says another thing: that your Father is far more willing to bestow the gift upon you than you are to ask for it. Don’t you be afraid, because your Father knows all of these things you have need of before you ask Him [Matthew 6:8]. And in this Sermon on the Mount He emphasizes that, and He does it in one of the most magnificent passages in the world. “Ask,” He says in the next chapter:
And it will be given to you; you seek, and you will find; knock, it will be opened to you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Then He illustrates it:
What man of you who has a son, if his son ask him for bread, will he give him a stone?
If he ask him for a fish, will he give him a snake?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to him that asketh?
Don’t you worry about God up there in heaven. He is far more eager and willing to answer than we are to ask. And if we who are fathers know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our heavenly Father give good gifts to us? [Matthew 7:7-11]. So, as the Lord said in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, “Fear not, little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” [Luke 12:32]. Everything at God’s command is yours, so ask. Don’t do it as though you had to ding-dong for it. Ask! And if God in His pleasure feels, knows, is persuaded that it is best for you, it’ll be given to you. You’ll always have one of three answers from God. It’ll be either “Yes” or it’ll be either “No” or it’ll be either “Wait a while”; one or the other. You don’t need to worry, and the Lord will always pick for us what is best.
Then the Lord makes this sublime revelation: “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, our Father in heaven” [Matthew 6:9]. Now most of your scholars and most of your great teachers will say that the sublimest and most unique of all the revelations of Jesus Christ is this, that God is our Father. Now to us that sounds so primary. It sounds so adolescent. It sounds so known and familiar, but did you know before Jesus the Lord was never addressed as “Father?”
No Old Testament saint ever addressed God as Father. It was a unique revelation of Jesus Christ to know, to address, to believe, to love our God as “our Father” [Matthew 6:9]. Over here in the second chapter of Malachi there is a reference by that prophet to God as a Father, “Have we not all one Father, hath not one God created us?” [Malachi 2:10] Now that is found in Malachi. But Jesus isn’t talking about a father like that. What Malachi refers to is that God is our Father in the sense that He is our Creator; in that sense He is the Father of the centipede, and of the insect, and of the bug. And He is the Father of the rattlesnake, and He is the Father of the rock, and of the lily, and of the tree, and of the oceans, and of the stars, and of all those things, and, of course, our Father. He created it all. But Jesus is not referring to that at all. Jesus is referring to a likeness of relationship, a consanguinity, a likeness, a relationship between us and God, that there are things about us that are alike, like a father and his son. Love in us is the same thing as love in God. And anger in us is the same thing as anger in God, though without sin in Him [Ephesians 4:26].
The feelings we have and the aspirations we have and all of the things that make us what we are, are the things that you find in God; like the son is like his father. That’s what the Lord means by that word “Father,” our “Father” in heaven [Matthew 6:9]. We are like Him, and He is like us. There is a relationship between us, a similarity, a likeness of nature. Now when you say that, why, there are a lot of people like the Socinians who say, “Why, that’s blasphemy! That’s sheer inanity! For there’s nothing in common between the nature of God and the nature of man; we’re altogether dissimilar, altogether. He is infinite, and we’re finite. He is boundless, and we are bound and circumscribed. There’s nothing in God and man that is common; nothing at all,” they say. “You can’t mingle light and darkness, and you can’t make water and fire coalesce; so the likeness of God to man is a figment of a philosopher’s imagination. But there’s no reality in it. There’s no common ground between God and man. He is transcendent and up there somewhere, and we are down here like worms in the dust.”
Now, that’s just not so according to the revelation of the Book of God, either Old Testament or New Testament. When I turn back to the Old Testament I read this:
And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness, after Our likeness … So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.
So we are created in the image of God, and that divine image can be seen everywhere, and it can be seen even in the lowest of men, made in the image of God.
Now I want you to see that: “made in the image of God” [Genesis 1:27], a likeness between God and man. I want to show you three things in us, among other things that I can mention, but three things that reflect that divine image of God. One is found in our aspirations and in our desires. You can take any man who has achieved in this earth, any man, and you will find in him—the more sensitive that he is—you will find in him a divine restlessness. For example, the rich young ruler [Matthew 19:19-22]: he was rich, he had money, he was affluent, he had what the world could give. He was young; he had youth, and what a wonderful thing to be young and to be rich. “I’d love you,” said the girl to the boy, “if you had a Ford. But, oh! Thou hast a Cadillac.” Think of that, think of that. Young and rich, and not only young and rich, but responsible; he was a ruler, he led his people, and he was from his youth up a marvelous character. There wasn’t a flaw in him. He was noble, and sun-crowned, and straight, and tall, and glorious! Yet you find him at the feet of Jesus, saying, “Lord, all of these things do I have, and all of these things have I kept, what lack I yet?” [Matthew 19:20] There’s something still, and something over, and beside, and beyond [Matthew 19:21-22].
Or the Pharisees who kept the law in every particular, with such punctilious observance and righteousness; yet you find them down there on the banks of the Jordan River listening to John the Baptist [Matthew 3:1-7]. Now what I picked out here in the Bible, you can pick out in every field in the world. The artist, or the singer, or the scientist, or the teacher—or anybody anywhere in the world—there is in a man’s soul a divine longing and aspiration above what his hands can grasp and what his life and work can achieve. Now that’s like God: an infinite longing and a desire for the boundless, on, and on, and on.
All right, another thing, like the image of God: you’ll find the image of God in a man in the capabilities of his soul. They are almost infinite; how like God the capabilities of a man’s soul in the world of music, music, music; or art, art, wonderful art; or literature. If I had one life extra to live, I would love to be a teacher of English literature. I majored in English when I was in college. I would love to teach English literature.
There is no limit to the boundlessness of the expression of the soul in poetry, and in fiction, and in novel, and in drama, and in plays—all the capabilities of a man just soaring up, and up, and up, and up, until he touches God Himself! Appreciation, sensitivity; why, sometimes a thing’s music, or poetry, or the eloquence of a preacher will play on your soul like a divine plectrum playing on a harp; just feel it in your deepest soul, the chords of your heart. That’s like God. God made us that way.
Now I have another one, and we must hasten. The most, that I think, shows a man in the image of God his Father is in his ability of self-sacrifice. And I repeat again: that’s in the lowest kind of a man; the willingness of a man to sacrifice himself for somebody else or for something else. I don’t care how low the man is, how degraded. He may be a reprobate, and he may run with the foulest criminal gang in the world, but you’ll never find a man in your life to which he is not loyal in some things. There are some causes that are dearer to him than life itself. And you will never find a man in your life that somebody is not dearer to him than life itself; sacrifice anything—the love of his heart, the devotion of his soul—that’s like God, the ability to self-sacrifice [Hebrews 10:5-14].
You students over here, when you read American literature, did you read Bret Harte’s The Luck of Roaring Camp? Did you? Well, you’re not educated yet. You’ve still got a lot to do, still got a lot to learn. That’s one of the most famous stories in American literature, and I suppose the most famous story of frontier days, Bret Harte’s The Luck of Roaring Camp. Briefly, it’s this. For the first time that gambler has laid down his cards, and that gangster’s put down his gun, and that miner’s put down his shovel, for there is a little child being born in Roaring Camp. And Cherokee Sal, an unsavory kind of a woman, is giving birth to a little child; first time it ever happened in that rough mining camp in California. That’s the way the story opens.
And so Cherokee Sal dies in the birth of that child, and they bury her. And then they all gather together, those rough miners, and gamblers, and murderers, and six-gunners, they all gather—“What we going to do with this little child?” That’s the way the thing starts. Well, somebody stands up and says, “Now we’re going to take this little thing over here to Red Dog, forty miles down, because there’s a woman over there.” Man, they nearly bobbed that guy. “We’re not going to take this little fellow to Red Dog. There’s a low down reprobates at Red Dog. No, we’re not going to do that!” So somebody says, “Well, let’s import us a female character to take care of the child.”
“Oh,” they said, “the kind of female characters we could import here to Roaring Camp, we’ve had too many of them going by as it is; not any of them, not any of them.” So finally it was decided that they were going to rear that child themselves, that little newborn baby. And those rough, those rough, rugged miners out there, with that little baby, and they got a jenny, and they milked the jenny, and they fed the little baby jenny’s milk, except they didn’t use the word “jenny.” And they just went right on. They went right on, and those rough men raising that little child. Well, they had to have a name for it, so they had a counsel and what they going to name it? Well, since that little child was born, they found more gold and dug up more nuggets and panned out more dust than they’d ever had in all their lives before, so they finally named it “Luck.” They named him Tommy Luck, and that’s where the name came, The Luck of Roaring Camp.
And then the rest of the story, how those rough miners doted on that child, and how they cleaned up, and how they washed their cabins, and how they scrubbed themselves before they came in to play with the little fellow, and on and on and on it goes. That’s the finest story you ever read in your life. And then of course it ends in a tragedy. Down that gulch comes an awful, awful flood! And Stumpy—that’s the miner that had charge of rearing the little fellow—Stumpy finds that wall of water coming down, and it’s going to take away that little baby, and he grabs the little fellow and holds the little fellow to his heart, and when they find them down the gulch, miles where the water has washed them, why, there is Stumpy, drowned, and there’s the little baby Luck, drowned. But Stumpy has got the little baby in his heart, holding in his arms, giving his life for the little baby.
That’s like God! And there’s not anybody so low down or so profligate that doesn’t have that image in him; there’s somebody, there’s some cause, that he loves more than he loves life itself. And you search your own heart. Don’t you know somebody that if it came a choice between your life and that life, you’d give your life for that life? You’ve got a little boy? Got a little girl? Or some great cause to which you’d devote your life, such as our soldiers do in behalf of our beloved country? That’s the image of God.
Now what’s the difference in us? What’s the difference in us? For some of us disown our father. The Lord said to some of those people:
You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do … He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because you are not of God.
[John 8:44, 47]
Now what does that mean? That means simply this: that’s the story of the prodigal son who left [Luke 15:11-32]. “I don’t want anything of him, and I don’t want to know anything about him. I’m tired of this house, I’m tired of this home, I’m tired of everything about this place, and I’m heading out, I’m dragging west; I’m leaving home,” and away he left [Luke 15:11-13]. And his father there at the house, looking down the long road and his son way out there, way out there, way out there in a far country [Luke 15:20].
I have never felt that we belong to the devil and God’s trying to take us away. I’ve always felt the other way around. We belong to God, and the devil has blinded us. We belong to God, and the devil has disinherited us. We belong to God, and the devil has damned our souls and ruined our lives. We belong to God. We are His children. He made us, and Jesus died to save us [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:5-14].
And when the fellow’s prodigal, he’s in a strange and far away country, but his father, and the house that he belongs in, and the Jesus he ought to love are back home. They are back home. So it was that when the prodigal came to himself, came to himself, he said, “I am going to arise, and I am going back to my father and home” [Luke 15:18].
And my brother, when you come down that aisle to give your heart to Jesus, you’re just coming back to where you belong. When you come down that aisle and take the Lord as your Savior, you’re just turning your face homeward. You’re just coming back where God made you to be. And the sweetest of all of the pieces and commitments and devotions that can ever come to your life is to turn your face homeward, and God-ward, and Father-ward.
I want to tell you something that I heard when I was a boy, when I was a boy. My pastor told the story in the little church in which I grew up, and it stayed with me ever since, ever since. He told the story of Deacon Brown, of the Brown Shoe Company in Saint Louis, Missouri. Deacon Brown was a marvelous Baptist leader, philanthropist, man of God, a layman, Deacon Brown. And Deacon Brown stood up upon a day, and told the story of his conversion. And it was this. He said, “I grew up in a large family on a poor farm. And because there was not enough for us, I being the eldest boy, though very young; it was decided that I’d go away and try to find a place for myself in that big wide world beyond in order that there not be one more mouth to feed in that poor home.”
So he said, “The day came when I packed up what little I had, and started down the road.” And he said, “When I started down the road, my father walked with me and put his arm around my shoulder.” And he said, “When we got down the way just a piece,” he said, “my father stopped, and he reached in his pocket and took out a fifty-cent piece—all that he had in the world.” And he said, “My father pressed that in my hand and said, ‘Son, this is all I have in the world. I give it to you. God bless you, son.’” And he said, the boy, he said, “I went away, and when I got to the last hill, I looked back, and there was my father, standing, looking, waving goodbye.”
He said, “In the years that followed, I went to church one day.” And he said, “The preacher preached on our Father in heaven.” That’s the title I gave this sermon tonight: Our Father in Heaven. And he said, “As the minister preached about our Father in heaven,” he said, “I began thinking, I began thinking about that day when I left home, and that fifty cents that my father pressed in my hand, and the way my father looked as I bid him goodbye when I walked to the brow of the hill.” And he said, “There came in my heart such a conviction and such a love for God, that when the invitation was given, I went down the aisle and accepted Jesus as my Savior.” And that was the conversion of that great and marvelous man, Deacon Brown of the Brown Shoe Company.
If you had a good father, if you had a Christian father, if you had a godly father, multiply all of the marvelous qualities in that good man ten thousand times an infinite number of times, and you have our Father in heaven, willing for us every marvelous gift, eager to bestow upon us what only heaven could afford. And to turn our faces Father-ward, heavenward, God-ward, Christ-ward, church-ward is coming home where you belong. You don’t belong out there, fellow. You belong here with the Lord. You weren’t made to devote your life out there. You were made to serve God, to love God, to glorify God. And when you turn your face God-ward, you’re turning your face homeward where you belong.
And while we sing this hymn of appeal, to do that tonight, would you now? Would you now? “Pastor, tonight I come, taking the Lord as my Savior [Ephesians 2:8]. Pastor, here I am. Here I come.” Bow down here with us. Let’s pray together, talk to God together. Would you like to reconsecrate your life to the Lord? Would you like to come out of the world and into the household of faith, and into the family of love and devotion to our Lord? Come, make it tonight. Would you like to put your life in the church? Would you like to bring your family with you? Is there a child to take Jesus as Savior tonight, or to be baptized? Oh! in how many ways does the Holy Spirit press His appeal upon our souls! While we sing this song tonight, you come. On the first note of the first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.
OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. As unto God, not unto an audience
1. A secret, private place (Matthew 6:6)
B. From the heart, not mechanical piety (Matthew 6:7)
C. To a willing God (Matthew 6:8, 7:7-11, Luke 12:32)
D. The heavenly Father (Matthew 6:9)
1. Before Jesus, the Lord was never addressed as “Father” (Malachi 2:10)
2. We are like HimII. Objection: God and man dissimilar
A. Socinian: nothing in common between God and man
B. Bible says we are made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27)III. Things in us that reflect the image of God
A. Man’s desire for something boundless – a “divine restlessness” (Luke 18:18-23)
B. Infinite capacities of man’s soul
C. Ability of self-sacrifice
1. The Luck of Roaring CampIV. God is the Father of us all
A. The difference lies in our recognition (John 8:44-47)
B. The teachings of Jesus in Luke 15:11-32
C. The blessedness of this humble acknowledgement