THE CHILDREN FOR CHRIST
1 If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good gifts to them that ask Him ?'—Matt. vii. 11.
E began our meditations on the Old Testa
M ment with man created in the image, after the likeness of God, and the home on earth the picture of the home in heaven. The glory of the New Testament is its fuller revelation of the Father in heaven: we can have no better beginning for our New Testament studies of what God means family life to be, than to see what light the fatherliness of God casts upon our own fatherhood, and upon what we are to be to our children.
1. And first we note how Jesus wants us to rise from and through the experiences of fatherhood on earth to know the Father in heaven aright. Not as if our fatherhood were the original and the reality, to be used by way of comparison
and illustration to make God's relation clear to us. By no means. God is the true Father: from eternity, in His very nature, as the God of Love. Fatherhood was the glory and the blessedness of the Divine Being. And our fatherhood on earth has been given as a reflection of His, and to lead us to a participation in its honour and joy. We, too, are to taste the blessedness of begetting a son in our likeness, having in him the object of our love, the reflection of our image, a companion and helper in all our work.
But because this fatherhood in heaven is so high above us, we are to study the father-heart on earth, and from it continually rise into a truer and fuller apprehension of what God is to us. Home life is a school as much for training parents as children; the deepest mysteries of God's love are best studied by a parent in his own bosom. As we think of our love to our children, the joy they give us, the tender sympathy their troubles wake, the patient kindness their dulness or waywardness requires, the ready response their needs and requests meet with, Jesus wants us to look up and calculate how much more than in us who are evil all this must be in God, the Good and Perfect One, the Fountain of love. He wants us to banish every shadow of unbelief from the heart, and live our life in the sunshine of God's love. As we see what influence a parent can exert on his child, breathing his disposition and even his will into him, securing his unbounded trust, He would have us be sure that the Father does love, and is able to breathe His own mind, His own disposition, what Jesus calls His own Spirit, into us. And as we claim and strive to secure the love and obedience of our children, as we long that they should find their happiness in our will, our friendship, our company, He asks us to remember that the Father loves to meet us in secret, that the voice and the trust of His child are His joy, and will meet a rich reward. What a study for every father, and every mother too, in each pulse of love and joy that swells the heart to mark the revelation of a love and joy that is bending over them, and longs to meet with the response of their childlike love and joy. And so, in the light of the fatherhood of earth, we rise to what fatherhood in heaven is.
2. But then, again, the fatherhood in heaven will also cast its light on the fatherhood of earth, and teach us what it ought to be. In giving us the place and the name and the power of father, God has in a very real and solemn sense made us His image-bearers. He asks and expects us, in doing our work as such, in every way to copy Him, to act as like Him as possible. The parents who desire to bring a full blessing to their children must make God's fatherhood their model and their study.
They must enter into God's purpose, and make it their own, and give themselves to pursue it with their whole heart. The heavenly Father seeks to educate children into His likeness: He has nothing higher to bestow on them; with nothing less can He be content, if they are to have a place for ever in His home. God has appointed parents on earth to be His ministers and fellow-workers, to carry out His plan: how can they, unless they understand it, and make its realization the first object of family life 1
From the Father in heaven they must learn, too, the way in which that purpose is to be attained. In His dealings with His people they will see how He first came, as with Abraham, in love and kindness, securing trust and confidence; then with law and its authority, to lead on to self-knowledge and self-renunciation; then with the gospel of full liberty in the Spirit, that we might no longer be children, but men. From Him parents will learn to combine love with authority, and through them to aim at the free and hearty surrender to all God's will. In the tenderness and patience and self-sacrifice of the Divine love, in the firmness and righteousness of Divine rule, the parent will find the secret of successful training.
From the Father must above all be learnt what a very personal thing such training is. How the Father has come down to us in Christ; how in His own example He shows us that He only wants us to be as He is; how in giving us His Spirit He would have us understand that fatherhood longs to draw the child into perfect likeness and oneness with itself. As the earthly father gazes and studies, it will dawn upon him how the highest duty of our fatherhood is just to be what the child is to be. A father must breathe his own spirit into the child; he that as a child of the heavenly Father receives His Spirit day by day, can breathe this into his child too. Is it not a solemn but most blessed thing to be a parent? first a child of the heavenly Father, and then His image, His substitute, His picture to the child on earth.
3. This brings us to a third lesson. The earthly father must not only take the Father in heaven as his model and guide, but he must so reflect Him that the child may most naturally rise from him whom he sees to the unseen One whom he represents. A child loves its parents by natural instinct : as the child sees in the father all that is holy and worthy of honour, natural love becomes the homage of an affectionate and enthusiastic admiration. In a Christian father a child ought to have a better exposition than the best of sermons can give of the love and care of the heavenly Father, and all the blessing and joy He wants to bestow.
But to attain to this the parent must consciously and distinctly aim at making himself, and the name he bears, the ladder by which the child can climb to the Father above. It is when the bright, living, happy piety of the parents, a mingling of holy reverence to God with childlike love, shines on the children from their early youth, that the name of God as Father will become linked with all that is lovely and holy in the memory of a child. Not so much as a matter of reflection or thought, but as the life-breath taken in all unconsciously, the fatherhood of earth will have been the gate of the Father's home above.
And is it possible so to live that all this shall be true? The one thing the Father loves to give, the sum and centre of all His good gifts, is His own Holy Spirit—His Father-Spirit to be in us the spirit of a son. And we have only to believe, and as we believe, to receive, and as we receive, to yield to and live in the Spirit, and He will make our fatherhood the image of God's, and from us too there will flow streams of living water to bless our children.
What a world it would be if every Christian father set himself in true earnest to realize and fulfil his calling, and in his little home circle as God's vicegerent to bear God's name—the holy name of father; if, in a holy partnership with the Father in heaven, he yielded himself by Him to be taught, and sanctified, and used to train children for the Father who is in heaven. Shall we not, all who are fathers, join, and shall not all mothers, with whom the fathers are so truly one, and on whom they so depend for what they are to be as fathers in the family, join too in the fervent prayer that the Father would make us all the worthy bearers of that name 1
Our Father which art in heaven, we unite in an earnest prayer for all Thy children who bear the holy name of father. Give us, we beseech Thee, more insight into Thy Fatherhood, and what unspeakable riches of blessing for us and our children it includes. Let us, from the wonderful traits of Thine own likeness in our own feelings towards our children, rise up to believe and enjoy the Divine fulness of love which Thy heart and Thy name offer to us. Let our fatherhood so teach us the blessedness of being the children of Thy Father-love.
And then, our Father, give us to see how really Thou dost command and expect that our fatherhood shall be nothing less than the reflection and the outflow of Thine own. Oh may they indeed be one; one in purpose, one in method, one in principle, one in spirit. O God! we want to be fathers to our children, just as Thou art to us: make us such, so that Thou canst fully use us as the channels for thy Father-grace to our little ones. May they see in us true pictures of Him to whom we teach them to say, Our Father which art in heaven.
Father! we look to Thy Son, and the' how much more ' He taught us, for the answer to our prayer. We count upon the tenderness and the faithfulness of Thy love, and upon Thy mighty power and Spirit, to bless the parents of Thy Church who cry to Thee. Amen.