That which will occupy us in our present
meditation, in connection with the family, is the title:
Perhaps it is not necessary to point out that
such a title represents a new revelation of God. Although family ideas and names
were prevalent in the Old Testament (Israel was called by God His "son", His
"firstborn" and the conception of the Lord's people being a household and a
family, is quite a common one in the Old Testament) yet strangely enough, and
significantly enough, with all that the Old Testament says about the Lord's
people being a family, it has practically nothing which speaks of God as Father.
The Lord's people in the Old Testament never speak of Him as their Father,
neither do they address Him as their Father. There is no revelation to speak of,
in a direct way, of God as Father in the Old Testament. You may here and there
find something which implies that, or suggests that, but not much. Titles of God
are numerous but "Father" is very rare indeed.
"Father" is a dispensational title, and that is
why it is not developed in the Old Testament. It belongs to a dispensation, and
therefore it had to be reserved in its full unveiling for that particular
dispensation. It is a very significant and helpful thing to recognise that
dispensations have been marked by divine titles all along. Dispensations are
periods of time in which specific and peculiar things, under the sovereignty and
government of God, are taking place. At these given periods of time the Lord is
found occupied with some specific thing, and that thing means that He is known
in that time by a special title.
For the greater part, the Old Testament
represents three great sections of divine activity governed by three divine
titles. Within these you will find much smaller things, belonging to just
fragments of time which bring out some further titles of the Lord; but taking
the whole, there are three great titles which govern the three great periods of
divine activity in the Old Testament. Those three titles of God are: El Shaddai,
Jehovah, and Jehovah Sabaoth. If you look into the history of the Old Testament
where those titles are introduced, and the periods governed by those titles, you
will see that certain quite clearly-defined activities of God are taking place.
You will find that "El Shaddai" was the title
of God which came in with the patriarchs. God had put His hand upon certain men
who were to be the fathers of His people. These men were just units in a
great world estranged from God and ignorant of God. When God put His hand upon
these units - one man here and another there in a world out of touch with Him
and out of cognisance with Him - He had to do something special within those men
to constitute them the fathers and the foundations of His people. And to the
patriarchs God made Himself known as "El Shaddai", that is, the Lord
All-sufficient. It is a combination of ideas which means the Lord in
all-sufficient fulness, holding His fulness at the disposal of others. It is the
Almighty Pourer-forth of His fulness, the All-sufficient One, Whose
all-sufficiency is for those in a certain relationship to Himself; and as such,
in the meaning of that title, He constituted the fathers of His people and built
up in them a personal dependence upon Him. His whole work with the patriarchs
was to bring them to a place where they depended wholly upon Him and found Him
All-sufficient. That was necessary as a foundation for His people; dependence
upon the Lord in His sufficiency, as their succourer. And so He appeared unto
them, and revealed Himself unto them as El Shaddai. That governs a period in
which that specific thing is being done.
There is a second period governed by the title
"Jehovah". "Jehovah" is the Lord Almighty, Self-existent,
Absolute. There is a clause in chapter 1 of the book of the Revelation which is
the exact definition of the title: "Which was and is and is to come", or
is the Ever-coming One, Almighty, Everlasting, Self-sufficient. The period
governed by that title is the period in which God is dealing, not with
individuals, but with a people; constituting a people for Himself. And they were
constituted upon the basis of the absolute supremacy of God in power and
ability. Israel knew Him by that Name. As a nation and as a company, they
existed upon this very foundation: the Lord Absolute in power and ability,
Self-sufficient, Infinitely-capable. To recognise that is to be introduced to a
tremendous amount as to Israel's responsibility and Israel's sin and Israel's
possibility and Israel's failure. "Jehovah" peculiarly related to the
formation of a people.
The third title is "Jehovah Sabaoth",
the Lord of Hosts. That title came in with the monarchy and had to do especially
with the wider range of the government of this world. The first title dealt with
individuals; the second with a nation; the third with the nations. That is, when
the people had been constituted and had come into contact with the nations and
had suffered at the hands of the nations and were beset and threatened by the
nations, and all the nations of the world were having their eyes upon them,
covetous and evil eyes; when it was a matter of this people dwelling in the
midst of the nations and needing (because of the nations and their hostility)
protection and safeguarding, then the Lord made Himself known as Jehovah Sabaoth,
the Lord of Hosts. It is the title which comes in as the Lord Who is able to
command His legions for the deliverance and protection of His people when they
walk in the midst of the hostility of the nations.
We have said that the title "Father" is
a dispensational title. By that we mean a title which governs a special time and
a special part of this world's history, in which some particular thing is being
done under the government of God. What is the thing which is being done
in this dispensation? It is the formation of a family in a sense in which that
has never been true before. That has never before been realised as the purpose,
the intention, the thought or the desire of God from eternity. Israel, in all
its family ideas and phraseology, was only at best a type of this thing, and not
the reality. Therefore, there could be no coming out into the full depth of the
meaning of "Father"; it could only be hinted at and typified. But when we
come to the time when God definitely moves to secure the family in its true,
spiritual character, then you get Him revealed in a great fulness as "Father".
We shall be impressed with this as we go on.
Take up the Gospel by John and remind
yourselves that in that little Gospel the name "Father" occurs no fewer
than 111 times. That is impressive, but when you proceed to note that the Lord
Jesus is saying to the official heads and representatives of the Jewish
nation, that they knew not the Father, that is a much more impressive thing.
Said He: "You do these things because you know not the Father". After all these
centuries, with the accumulated revelation of the oracles of their position and
of their history at their command, they knew not the Father. This is not
something said to the heathen world or to the pagan world; this is said to the
Jewish nation in its representative heads. Then the Lord Jesus proceeds
to make it perfectly clear by divine affirmations and by a life of revelations
that what He had come for was to make known the Father.
The Gospel by John can, from one standpoint, be
said to be the many-sided revelation of the Father. All we are able to do is to
touch some of the points at which that is true. It is impressive to note that
everything that the Lord Jesus says as to Himself is linked in some way with the
Father. We shall see, if we go through that Gospel thoughtfully and quietly,
that the title "Father" is particularly connected with the incarnation
and all the purposes of the incarnation. The incarnation was for the purpose of
securing this spiritual family, a family of those born from above and born of
God, but it was also intended to be the means of bringing the fulness of the
Father into view. Let us repeat that. The incarnation was intended to secure the
spiritual family, but it was also intended to be the means of bringing the
Father in fulness into view.
Taking this Gospel by John you will find that
the Lord Jesus speaks of Himself in various ways and in various titles. He is
introduced, first of all, as the Christ; that is, in the sense of the Messiah.
If you take that title "the Christ", you will have to go back over the
ground of two thousand years and right through two thousand years you will mark
a movement towards the Christ, in longing, in hope, in prayer, in promise, in
expectation. For two thousand years there is, as it were, something upon the
horizon and all hearts are lifted toward that horizon and living for that day.
And the attitude is: When the Christ is come, then all our longings will
be met and all our hopes will be fulfilled and all our needs will be satisfied.
That day will answer all our questions. Everything is bound up with: "When
Messiah comes..." and every old man in Israel for those two thousand years hoped
that he would not totter into the grave before Messiah came; in the same way as
today the blessed hope of the coming of the Lord grips the heart and the aged
wonder and hope that they will not go by the way of the grave. Everything is
bound up with the coming of the Lord; and so it was for two thousand years
before Messiah came. He came; the Christ! What was the one thing that He
brought? The Father! "He that has seen Me has seen the Father"; "I am
come in My Father's name"; "I have manifested Your name...". One
great, inclusive, dominating purpose of the incarnation of the Son of God, the
Christ, was to bring in the dispensation of the Father. All Israel's hopes,
expectations, longings and needs, were to be met by the coming of the Christ.
How was that fulfilled? Purely and only on the ground that He brought to light
the knowledge of the Father.
The Christ came! He went! Did Israel have all
their hopes realised, their expectations answered, their needs met? No! Why?
Because they refused what He brought in His own Person: the revelation of the
Father. That is the great argument of John's Gospel. Read it through again with
that in view. What the Lord Jesus is saying there with such intensity, is that
they are missing the way, because they will not believe that He has come from
the Father, because the reality of the Father coming in by Him, has been
rejected. But wherever an Israelite believed and accepted the Christ as the Son
of the Father, that Israelite found the two thousand years' hopes, expectations
and longings met. And that is so today.
You see how clearly John's Gospel is bound up
with Israel; taking up everything from the Old Testament and gathering it all up
in the Person of the Lord Jesus. And the supreme factor about that Person is
that He is the revelation and expression of the Father; that to receive Him, He
said, was to receive the Father. To reject Him was to reject the Father. All
hopes are realised in the family, all needs are met in the family. It comes
under the Fatherhood in its deepest and most inward meaning.
We dare not stay with the fragments of it, but
let us look at Nicodemus. "Are You a master (a teacher) in Israel...?"
Evidently Nicodemus was a hungry one; one with conscious need, one looking for
the Messiah. How is all the need in the heart of Nicodemus to be met? "You must
be born again (from above)". It introduces the great fact of the Father -
begotten of God.
The first revelation of the Lord Jesus in the
Gospel by John then, is as the Christ. "Is not this the Christ",
was the testimony and the interrogation of the woman of Sychar, who only a
little while before had said to that very One: "When Messiah comes". She
had found all her historic longings and expectations answered in Him. A new
dispensation comes in by the incarnation. It is the dispensation of the Father
in which all the needs of former dispensations are met.
Take some of these other designations which the
Lord takes to Himself. "I am the bread of life". Look at the
connection of that, in chapter 6 verses 35-38 "I am the bread of life; he
that comes to Me shall not hunger, and he that believes on Me shall never
thirst. But I said unto you, that you have seen Me, and yet believe not. All
that which the Father gives Me shall come unto Me; and him that comes to Me I
will in no wise cast out. For I am come down from heaven...". The Father is
related to that title and it says: This is the Father's interest in His family -
making provision for the life of the family and giving Bread. The Lord Jesus is
an expression of the Father's concern for the life of His family. The
incarnation is intended to be a revelation of the Father, and here the
revelation is that of the Father's concern for the very life of His spiritual
It is very simple, but it is striking and is a
proof of what we are seeking to say, that with the Lord Jesus, in a new
dispensation, there comes in this particular thing that God is doing. In Israel
He gave the manna, which was only a type - for they perished in the wilderness,
they died although they had eaten the manna - but here is the Father in relation
to the Anti-type, the true family, giving the Bread so that they will never die
and never perish. The Father is not concerned just with maintaining a company of
people on this earth for a period of time, but to preserve a spiritual family
eternally by imparting to them life incorruptible. That incorruptible life is
the Lord Jesus.
The Father has such a concern for His family,
that that family shall be provided by Him with that which shall maintain them in
life for evermore, and He gives the Lord Jesus for that. The Lord Jesus has to
come, has to be here, and has to come Himself in order to reveal that that is
the attitude of the Father and to show that that is what God is like, that is
what is in the heart of the Father; that is Fatherhood. To talk about the
Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man and leave the incarnation and the
Cross of the Lord Jesus out is to talk nonsense. The Bible knows nothing about
that. The revelation of the Father demands the incarnation and the Cross for the
constituting of a family, upon a basis of life which can never suffer corruption
"I am the light of the world". Read
chapter 8 verses 12, 16, and chapter 16 verse 32. The Lord Jesus associated the
Father with Himself in every detail and every connection. "I am the light of
the world"; "I and the Father that sent Me". What does the connecting
of those two things say to us? It says this, that the Father, with the Lord
Jesus in the specific capacity of the Light of the world and the Light of Life,
is concerned to have a spiritually enlightened family; a family enlightened as
to Himself and all that has to do with Himself. It says, by way of contrast,
that the world is in darkness and that His family, while in the midst of
darkness in this world, is illuminated and in Light. Just as Israel in type in
Egypt had light in their dwellings when there was darkness over all the land, so
in the Anti-type, God's family. It is a family which has light when the whole
world is in darkness and God is concerned that His family should be an illumined
and an enlightened family. The incarnation is the means by which that which is
in the Father' s heart and mind should be made known. The very association of
the Father with the Son in that connection shows what the Father's thought is:
an illumined family. "You are all the sons of light".
A new dispensation has come in, characterised
by "the Father", and God is doing a specific thing in this dispensation
under that title. He is constituting a family upon His own life, which He has
given in Christ as Bread. He is constituting a family by His own Light as
represented in the Lord Jesus.
Then: "I am the good shepherd" (chapter
10:14-15). It is striking how all the time the Father is associated with these
designations. "I am the good shepherd... I know Mine own... even as the
Father knows Me...". That says quite clearly and simply that the Father has
a personal knowledge of His own and a personal care for His own, He is in close,
intelligent association and that is revealed by the incarnation. The Lord Jesus
as the Good Shepherd, is a revelation of what God's relationship to His own
family is: that of personal, intelligent knowledge of each one.
It can be taken for granted that a father knows
his own and is in intelligent touch with all his own. The Lord has a very big
family - the human mind, of course, is altogether put out of court in this
matter, for as you get down on to that level you will simply say: "Well, amongst
hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, who are God's own children, what
presumption for me to think that I can make a personal appeal to Him and that He
will move heaven and earth on my behalf!" I remember some years ago going to the
top of a very high tower, which overlooked an exhibition ground that was
thronged with people, and as I looked down from that very high tower, hundreds
of feet up, they seemed like black ants crawling about the earth. And it came
home to me with tremendous force: Why, there are a few thousand people down
there and God looks down on millions and millions, and then you tell me that God
has a personal, intelligent interest in and association with every one of
those... and not only those, but all who have been and all who will be yet! That
is Fatherhood! That is Fatherhood in its dimensions and that is what Christ has
come to reveal: "The Lord knows them that are His", and has not only a
knowledge of their existence, but a personal interest in every individual.
Christ brought that knowledge to light, that God does not deal in masses, but
God deals with individuals. This Father does not overlook one of the smallest of
That is a simple thing to say, but if it came
home to our hearts it might help us a little more from time to time. Do you
think the Lord has forgotten you? We have all thought that sometimes. Like one
of old we have said: "Has the Lord forgotten to be gracious?" We need to
get a deeper, closer appreciation of the fact that God is our Father. What a lot
of help there can be in that, if we can truly say, with the real sense of it: "Father".
The enemy is out to destroy that word, to
destroy the value and meaning of that for us. He does not mind us having the
title: "God the All-terrible! King, who ordainest great winds Thy chariot, and
lightnings Thy sword," but "Father" he objects to. Any kind of conception
of God rather than that! And that is why the devil moved these Jewish leaders
against the Lord Jesus, "Because he made God his Father". Oh, for
the triumph of Calvary in our hearts in this matter, the real triumph over the
enemy to get established in us the reality of the Father!
"I am the resurrection and the life"
(chapter 11 verses 25-26,41). "I am the resurrection and the life...
Father, I thank You that You hear Me". It is not straining things to bridge
the gap of those intervening verses. If you will go back to chapter 5 you will
see that that is perfectly right: "For as the Father raises the dead and
quickens them, even so the Son also quickens whom He will" (verse 21). The
two things are one. The Father and the Son are One in resurrection power and
activity. The Son is a revelation of the fact that the Father raises up, so that
death cannot break up His family. The Father has His family, and once He has it,
death cannot rob Him of any member of it. He is Lord of death, Master of death,
Conqueror of death, and the very essence of this Fatherhood is that He can
preserve His family from death. That opens up a good deal more New Testament
truth, but we simply note the fact here.
God is acting in this dispensation to get a
family, and God's present dispensational activity is not going to be defeated by
death, and He is not going to be cheated of it by death. He will get a family,
and will cheat death of that family. It is not God, Infinite and Mighty, as
such, it is the Father; and it is a deathless family that He is after. This
family is never divided by death, this family is never broken into by death,
this family knows no such thing as bereavement by death, this family will never
lose a child by death. Of course, as the family, when we enter into the
appreciation of that, that is our comfort: that in this family we do not lose
anyone. Death may touch things here, but the spiritual family is no more
separated in the spiritual reality and in the eternal oneness of the Father's
house, than they would be if they were still here. It is the natural, human side
of us that suffers the loss and knows all that pain. But what is the comfort of
the believer? We sorrow not as those who have no hope. What is our hope? Because
we have a Father Who has got a family that can never be broken up by death and
never lose a member by death. Our hope is that the whole family will be together
with not one missing. The hope is that we have not lost any. Ours it is to be
together forever. "The whole family in heaven and on earth...".
That is a part of the meaning of Fatherhood, and that is what the Father is
doing in this dispensation; getting that kind of family.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the
husbandman" (chapter 15). The two go together all the time. This says
another thing. It is a figurative way of presenting the great spiritual truths
of the family. This says simply that the Father is concerned over the service of
His family. Chapter 15 is concerned with the service of believers:
fruit-bearing. That is the life of service. Do not let us stereotype it; do not
put service into a water-tight compartment and think of service as being
ministers or missionaries in that official designation. It may take various
forms and be through different channels, but service is the expression of the
life of the Father, it is answering to the Father's desires.
"My Father is the husbandman". In
order to get fruit He takes a certain course. There is fruit, but He sees that
by adopting a certain method He can get more fruit, and He is concerned with
that particular branch that it should be developed to its fullest possible
fruitfulness. So He adopts a certain method: "Whom the Lord loves He chastens"
is the word in the Hebrew letter which expresses this. "No chastening for the
present seems joyous but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yields the
peaceable fruit of righteousness". The Father prunes and chastens, in order
to develop fruitfulness to its fullest measure. "I am the vine and my
Father is the husbandman", and as such He is concerned with one thing, and
that is the fullest measure of fruit.
Do we relate pruning and chastening to God, or
to the Father? It makes a good deal of difference. The mentality of "God"
is sometimes severe. We can never have a severe mentality in the right
atmosphere of "the Father". All these things have to be brought into that
realm; the Lord's dealings with us now are the dealings of the Father and are
along the family line. That is what is happening in this dispensation.
This Gospel by John is one magnificent
unveiling of what is in the thought, the heart, the will, the concern of the
Father for a family.
The revelation above all revelations of God in
the history of the world, is the revelation in which we are now living; the
revelation of the Father, brought to us by the Son, Jesus Christ. In future when
we say "Our Father" may it have a fuller meaning for us.