by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 7 - The Father of the Family
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 family.
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 and death.
"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 His children.
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.
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