Jesus came to reveal that the Supreme God is...

The Holy Father

P. T. Forsyth: When the 103rd Psalm says, "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him," (Psa. 103:13) it comes home to a time like our own. It is one of those gleams of vision in which the soul of Israel outran the spirit of its age. It transcended its own genius. It rose from the covenant God to the father God. It uttered an intuition whose source was inspiration, and which in the fullness of time rose into the revelation of God's first and last relation to the world. The music, heart, and passion of it lives for ever in Christ - endless pity, endless promise, endless power - lingering, searching pity, loving and lifting promise, weariless power and peace.

But it points beyond itself. There is a height and a depth in the Father beyond His utmost pity and His kindest love. He is Holy Father and Redeemer, and it is His holiness of fatherhood that is the source of our redemption and sonship. It is not their obstacle. "Thou, O Lord, art our Holy One, therefore we shall not die" (Hab. 1:12). He is father of pity to human weakness, still more father of grace to human sin, but chiefly father of holy joy to our Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament name and idea of God is not simply "Our Father", but "the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." And Christ's own prayer was "Holy Father" (John 17:11). That was Christ's central thought of God, and He knew God as He is. The new revelation in the cross was more than "God is love". It was this "Holy Father". That is, God at His most divine, as He was to Christ, as He was in Christ.

In the Old Testament God is father often enough as well as in other faiths. And in the 103rd Psalm it appears in a more original and tender way than I can stop to point out. But it is with many limitations. The name [of "father"], for instance, is as yet imported into God rather than revealed from Him. He is like a father more than He is a father. And He is Israel's father only. "Them that fear Him" (Psa 103:13) means Israel. But the chief limitation is this. The name [of "father"] is not yet evangelized. Fatherhood is not yet brought into direct connection with holiness, sin, sacrifice, redemption - only with weakness. The pity of the Father is connected with the allusion to our frail frame in those few verses, not with our transgression and the forgiveness which is the burden of the Psalm. God is Father, and He is holy, but it is not as Holy Father that He redeems. Fatherhood in the Old Testament neither demands sacrifice nor makes it, but in the New Testament the Holy Father does both. The holiness is the root of love, fatherhood, sacrifice, and redemption.

The ethical standard is becoming supreme with us to-day, not only in conduct, but also in theology. We may welcome the change. It carries us farther - to a standard truly spiritual. It plants us on God's holiness as His perfect nature, His eternal spirit, His ruling self and moving center. We have been over-engrossed with a mere distributive equity, which has made God the Lord Chief Justice of the world. Or we have recoiled from that to a love slack and over-sweet. But this lifts us up to a more spiritual and personal standard, to the Fatherly holiness whose satisfaction in a Holy Son is the great work and true soul of Godhead. The divine Father is the holy. And the Holy Father's first care is holiness. The first charge on a Redeemer is satisfaction to that holiness. The Holy Father is one who does and must atone. Atonement wears a new glory when read in Christ's own light. We see it flowing in grief from that very holiness of the Father to which it returns in praise. As Holy Father, He is the eternal Father and maker of sacrifice, no less than of man. He offers a sacrifice rent from His own heart. It is made to Him by no third party ("for who hath first given unto Him" - Rom. 11:35), but by Himself in His Son; and it is made to no foreign power, but to His own holy nature and law. Fatherhood is not bought from holiness by any cross; it is holiness itself that pays. It is love that expiates. "Do not say, 'God is love. Why atone?' The New Testament says, 'God has atoned. What love!'" The ruling passion of the Savior's holy God is this passion to atone and to redeem.

All this and more is in that "Holy Father", which is the last word in the naming of God. The Church of to-day has gained greatly in its sense of the love of God. There are still greater things waiting when she has moved on as far again, to that holiness whose outward movement is love, which love is but the passion to impart. You can go behind love to holiness, but be- hind holiness you cannot go. It is the true consuming fire. Any real belief in the Incarnation is a belief in the ultimacy, centrality, and supremacy of holiness for God and man. We may come to holiness by way of love, but we only come to love by reason of holiness. We may be all aglow for the coming of the kingdom, but there is a prior petition. It is the kingdom's one condition, "Hallowed be Thy Name" (Matt. 6:9). That hallowing [making holy] was done in Christ's death which founded the kingdom. We are in some danger of inverting the order of these prayers to-day. "Thy kingdom come" is not the first petition. The kingdom comes from the satisfaction of holiness. It does not make it. "God is Love" (1 John 4:8) is not the whole gospel. Love is not evangelical till it has dealt with holy law. In the midst of the rainbow is a throne (Rev. 4:3). There is a kind of consecration which would live close to the Father, but it does not always take seriously enough the holiness which makes the fatherhood of the cross - awful, inexhaustible, and eternal, as full of judgment as of salvation.

We cannot put too much into that word Father. It is the sum and marrow of all Christian divinity. It is more than natural paternity spiritualized. It is a supernatural word altogether when the cross becomes its key. But we may easily put into it too little. That is what we all do in some way. Only once has enough been put into it. And that was in the faith and work of Christ, "Father, forgive them" (Luke 23:34). "Father" - that was His faith. "Forgive them" that was His work. The soul of divine fatherhood is forgiveness by holiness. It is evangelical. It is a matter of grace meeting sin by sacrifice to holiness, more even than of love meeting need by service to man. To correct and revive that truth, to restore it to its place in the proportion of faith, would be to restore passion to our preaching, solemnity to our tenderness, real power to our energy, and moral virility to our piety. Our piety is too weak in the face of the virile passions it should rule. The chief lack of religion to-day is authority; and it must find that in the cross or nowhere, in the real nature of the cross, in its relation to the holy demand of God.

We put too little into that word Father, either when we think below the level of natural fatherhood, or when we rise no higher than that level.

We put too little, therefore, into the Fatherhood of God if we say He is the Father of us sinners without more ado, that nothing beyond our repentance was due to His holiness, that His love could be trusted if He let His holiness go, that He could show His heart's affections by simply choosing not to press His nature's demands.

We put too little into Fatherhood none the less if we think that the satisfaction of Christ was the source and cause of the Father's grace instead of its fruit.

And we likewise put too little into it if we dwell on the cost of forgiveness to God till we lose all sense of the grace in grace, its fullness, freedom, and spell, its tenderness, patience, and utter magnanimity with us.

But too much no son of man can put into that hallowed Fatherhood which is the whole of God and the fullness of Christ. It is the very nature and totality of Godhead, and the source of man's redemption. Its solemn love is the burden of the Savior's bloody passion, and it is the consecration of man's red-ripe passion for man. No name so fits our whole soul's whole God. Humanism has nothing so human, Christ has nothing so superhuman as this "Holy Father". It wraps the world like the warm waters of the cleansing sea. They touch the horrors of the nether earth below, and above reflect the heaven's endless smile.

We cannot abbreviate that name, "Holy Father", we cannot exhaust it. It is the deepest name and the dearest. It speaks to child, maid, and man. It is the tenderest, sternest, broadest, most sublime. It stamps our most human part as our godliest. The life of home, country, humanity, of church and kingdom, of action, passion, conscience, our human ties and duties, tender or heroic - that is what now bears God's monogram in us - the moral soul with all its love, care, grace, devotion, grandeur, woe and joy.

The old dear names [titles] in their new creation are the most divine still, and the nearest at our need. They are the holiest and most human too. Father, mother, wife, child, lover and maid - that is the old story of which the world never grows weary. Of the tale of romance and of renunciation we do not weary. Two lovers whispering by an orchard wall, these weeping their first-born dead or lost, these chilled and estranged for ever, or these at last grown grey and sleeping together at the foot of the hill - such things outlast in their interest for us all the centuries of human care and crime.

They outlive our folly, noise and sin, earth's triumph, glories, failures, fevers and frosts. But not only so. They are immortal also in God. They are hid with Christ in God. Eternity does not draw a sponge over the heart. Our great passions are laid up beneath the altar of the Father's passion to redeem. They are smoothed out there where all crooked things are made straight.

For us with our faith in Christ's Holy Father, love is not what the pessimists make it - Nature duping the individual in the interests of the species. It belongs to the eternal. Our brief life translates passion into affection, and our affections into moral worth. It spiritualizes, consecrates them. If life do that, how much more eternity! If life can thus reveal, wherefore not death? If life hallow, how much more does God the Holy! It is His own life that flows in these undying loves and ties. They will not give us the Father, but the Holy Father gives us them a thousandfold. Their perpetual song is but the echo of the Spirit, the murmur in the winding heart of the solemn, ceaseless river, which gladdens the city of God, and its fullness is the music of the world.

Our first love and our last, its young dream and its old sorrow, are eternalized in our Alpha and Omega, the Eternal Father, the Holy Redeemer. There also is the fountain of the sainthood that weds mankind, has the world for its parish, and lays down its life for those who are neither kith nor kin but thankless and evil.

Holy Father! It means a household God in a house not made with hands, the king of a righteous kingdom of loving hearts, a social God with a social gospel, a [paternal] God who is an eternal home and [family] in Himself. Love, loss, fatherhood, motherhood, wifehood, widowhood, home, country, and the heroisms that renounce these, are all eternal in the heavens. They are embalmed for ever in the heart of the infinite Father, once bereaved of His Son, and the Eternal Son, once orphaned of His Father. That is the holy love, sure of itself, which we need to correct the malady of our over-sensitive age.

Never did human pity and affection mean so much as to-day; but neither to-day nor to-morrow will it be dear or solemn enough for that primeval, endless love of God. The grace of the Holy Eternal Father has but one image among men, and it is the holy face of Jesus and Him as crucified. The cause of the cross was not only that man was lost, nor that God is love, but also that the Father is holy. Holiness is love's end, and it is only because He is holy that His Fatherhood is inexhaustible and our loves endure. Holiness is that in the love of God which fixes it and assures it for ever. If holiness fail not, then love cannot. If it cannot be put by, then love cannot fade.

The holiness which demanded that Christ should die is, by its satisfaction, our one guarantee of the love that cannot die. If God had taken His holiness lightly, how could we be sure He would never be light of love? But He that spared not His own Son (Rom. 8:32), how shall He not with Him also give us all things, and be to us all things which love should crave? There never was a more tender time than the present. But when we read behind the cross, and not only feel it, the heart of fatherhood is that moral tenderness which is so much more than pity, which not only weeps, soothes, and helps, but forgives, and forgives as one who in forgiving has to atone and redeem.

To-day we are learning new depths of that moral tenderness which is the soul of grace, and that holy kindness which is the source of Atonement. The cross has more than the moral majesty that broods on earth's solemnities, renunciations, pities, sorrows, and tragic purifications. It brought into history eternal redemption. We never understood as we do to-day the father of the child; perhaps we never were so ready to believe in the father of the prodigal. But also we never had such promise of understanding the Father of the Savior.

The Father of our [own] childhood and weakness we beautifully understand. That is most sweet and poignant pathos. And it is neither too keen nor too kind for the pity of God to His weak children. It melts us. It is very sacred.

But there is a deeper, tenderer note. It is the grace of God to His prodigals and rebels. "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions, and thy sins and thine iniquities will I remember no more" (Isa. 43:25). That bows us. It takes us into the Holy Place.

But One takes us behind that into the holiest of all. Deepest of all, tenderest, most solemn, glorious, silent, and eternal is the Father's joy in the Holy Son obedient on the sinful cross.

That joy is the Father's love of His own holiness. It is His blessed and only form of self-love.

It is all beyond thought, beyond poetry, beyond Scripture, beyond speech. God Himself in that mighty joy refrains from words. He could utter it only in act, in raising Christ from the dead by the spirit of holiness. He met the Son's great act by a greater. Deep answered deep. We can feel it and worship it at the last only in the power and silence of the same Holy Spirit. May the Holy Father never fail us, but keep us burning unconsumed sure, wise, kind, and strong, in His endless peace and power.

from a sermon by Peter Taylor Forsyth, 1896,
given before the Congregational Union at Leicester, England

"It pleased God also by the revelation of His holinesss and grace, which the great theologians taught me to find in the Bible, to bring home to me my sin in a way which submerged all the [academic] school questions in weight, urgency, and poignancy. I was turned from a Christian to a believer, from a lover of love to an object of grace." (P.T. Forsyth at Yale, 1907)


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