Chapter 11: The Fatherhood of God
by Jack Palmer, N. Ireland
The Fatherhood of God is one of the great fundamental doctrines of the Bible. It is a precious truth that pervades the whole of Scripture, is comprehensive and compelling in the breadth of its presentation, and a proper grasp of its teaching is essential to an appreciation of all that the people of God enjoy through "the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" Eph.2.7. Likewise, it is basic to endorsing the eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus, something which is constantly under attack and repeatedly called into question. This is a subject that spans eternity, is vital to all that the Word of God presents both doctrinally and dispensationally and is most challenging but yet consoling in its practical application. In view of the scope and comprehensiveness of the subject it is appropriate to consider it under its main and various aspects.
God is the bearer of many titles. For example, the first title used in the Bible is Elohim, Gen.1.1 which occurs about 2,500 times altogether and speaks primarily of His power. Another title, Adonai, represents God as Sovereign, Lord, Master and highlights His possessions. Jehovah and the kindred titles reflect the attributes of His person and provision. El Shaddai portrays the splendour of His preeminence. The title employed in Eph.1.17, "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory", reveals the totality of His paternal characteristics.
When Paul delivered that remarkable message "in the midst of Mars’ hill" Acts 17.22, he declared that "we are also His offspring". On that occasion he revealed that all have a creatorial relationship with God but it is clearly taught that not all know God as "Father". Such knowledge can only be enjoyed through a relationship with the Son. Jn.1.18 makes it clear that "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him". Again Jn.14.6 teaches that "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me".
When the Lord Jesus taught that He was the Son of God He was making an unequivocal declaration that He is on equality with the Father; equality in all the attributes of Deity such as eternal existence, stature, power, honour and glory. In the intimacy of the high priestly prayer the Lord Jesus prayed for the oneness of His own and then added most instructively "even as We are one" Jn.17.22. The Lord also confirmed their equality, when in His reply to a question from Phillip he explained, "he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" Jn.14.9.
God has been communicating with men since the days of Adam. The opening verses of Hebrews chapter 1 show that God has spoken in many ways and at different times to the fathers by the prophets but "hath in these last days spoken unto us by [in] His Son, v.2. We learn that the "only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" Jn.1.18. When the Lord declared, "I am Alpha and Omega", Rev.1.8, He was indicating that He was God’s alphabet to men - the One Who has fully and completely told out God. The eternal relationship between the Father and the Son, based on absolute and perfect equality, should fill the heart of every believer with worship although we recognise that it is beyond us to fully grasp the wonder of equality and glory that never knew a point of origin.
The Lord Jesus was consistent in His teaching that He came out from the Father. This was something that the Jewish people found difficulty in accepting and was the cause of hostility toward Him as reflected on the occasion recorded in Jn.10.31 when " the Jews took up stones again to stone Him". Just as He taught that He had come out from the Father He made it equally clear, Jn.16.28, that when He left this world He was returning to the Father.
Much of the doctrinal basis for the teaching surrounding the " Fatherhood of God" comes from the Son and in particular from the various ways in which He addressed the Father. These modes of address provide ample evidence of the Father/Son relationship that is so precious to those brought into the family of God through regeneration. In particular let us note that the Lord Jesus spoke to the Father as:
On several occasions He spoke to Him as "Father". This highlights the intimacy of the relationship between Father and Son. How interesting that this should be the mode of address in the garden when the Son prayed as recorded in Lk.22.42, "Father, If Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless, not My will, but Thine, be done". He also uses this precious term of endearment "Father" in Jn.11.41; 12.27,28; 17.1,21,24. These represent situations of the utmost intimacy, sensitivity and compassion.
The use of the term "My Father" is worthy of note. The Lord Jesus always had the activity of His Father before Him. He talked about "My Father’s business" in Lk.2.49 and in Jn.5.17 He revealed, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work". The Father’s authority was paramount to Him as illustrated by His declaration, "This commandment have I received of My Father" Jn.10.18. He also used this title to convey the Father’s assurance in regard to the abiding safety and security of the believer when He informed His own that "no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand" Jn.10.29. Again, the Lord Jesus engages this manner of address to emphasise the Father’s association with Him and His own. Jn.14.23 declares, "If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him." As we presently enjoy the reality of these totally undeserved blessings, we look forward with joyful anticipation to the Father’s abode, remembering that the Lord Himself comforted His own by assuring them that, "In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you", Jn.14.2.
The employment of the title "The Father" brings an important, added dimension to the consideration of the Fatherhood of God. This reveals in a special way what the Father is essentially in Himself – His essential characteristics. Let us ponder the Father’s:
Such is the holiness and majesty of God that no man can look upon God. Moses "was afraid to look upon God" Ex.3.6, and was only permitted later to observe from the safety of the "clift of the rock" Ex.33.22, and "see My back parts: but My face shall not be seen", Ex.33.23. How wonderful that we read, " He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father", Jn.14.9.
The Lord Jesus in Jn.6.44 stated emphatically that, "No man can come to Me, except the Father draw him." We recognise that the lifting up of the Lord Jesus on the cross is fundamental in the drawing of sinners to the Saviour. How precious to be drawn and brought into a living and lasting relationship with "The Father" through the Son.
At Jacob’s well the seeking Saviour instructed the woman that "the Father seeketh such to worship Him" Jn.4.23. What a joy to be able to approach the Father through the Son and bring the adoration of redeemed hearts.
- Praise our God Who willed it thus;
- Praise the Lamb Who died for us;
- Praise the Father through the Son,
- Who so vast a work hath done.
- (J. Cennick)
"The Father loveth the Son" Jn.3.35. We do well to ponder the love of the Father for the Son. In every way this is fully understandable but when we read "for the Father Himself loveth you" Jn.16.27, it is completely beyond comprehension and as we wonder, gratitude and praise abound to His glory.
The Lord Jesus taught His own that while He was about to leave them the Comforter would come. He spoke about "the Holy Ghost whom the Father will send in My Name" Jn.14.26. We often reflect on the Father sending the Son into the world but we should not underestimate all that was involved, when upon the return of the Son to the Father, the Holy Spirit was sent.
While it is precious to dwell upon God as Father, My Father and The Father, there is something intimate and consoling about the title "Your Father". This precious title conveys the ideas of relationship and responsibility. In this particular context it is vital to observe the uniqueness of the relationship between the Father and the Son; it fills our souls with joy and appreciation when we realise that the One Who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ was described by the Lord Himself as "Your Father". Soon after the Lord had been raised out from among the dead He brought comfort and confirmation to the heart of Mary when He spoke to her personally and informed her, "Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father: but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God" Jn.20.17. Such a relationship not only brings us into the family of God but is vital to unlocking all that is available through the affection of the Father’s heart and the abundance of His giving hand. This precious truth will be developed later in this chapter when we deal with the practical dimensions of the Fatherhood of God.
The relationship between the Father and the Son is unique and unbreakable. Having traced its glory and grandeur it is appropriate now to consider the Fatherhood of God in relation to His earthly people – the nation of Israel. In the formation of the nation, as initiated by the call of Abram from the darkness of idolatry, the principles of grace and election are clearly evident in operation. The nation chosen by God and developed under His purposeful supervision is described as "Israel is my son, even my firstborn" Ex.4.22. The unmistakable declaration is that God is the Father of the nation and this is confirmed by Jeremiah who highlights what the nation meant to God. He writes, "For I am a Father to Israel, And Ephraim is My firstborn" Jer.31.9.
A reflection on the dealings of God with His earthly people will magnify the preciousness of His:
God moved in gracious sovereignty in making Israel His own peculiar treasure. It was His desire to have "an holy people unto the Lord thy God" and thus He "hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth" Deut.7.6.
The definiteness of such choice must also be contemplated against the backdrop of God’s matchless compassion. Divine love knows no cause, is free from every condition and is unchanging in its glorious characteristics. Rational thinking can find no human explanation as we consider the fact that "The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people: for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you" Deut.7.7,8a.
The dealings of God as Father of the nation demonstrate that God is ever faithful. He constantly met their needs and responded to the demands of every situation regardless of their recurring failures. Water from the smitten rock, daily supplies of bread from heaven and shoes that did not deteriorate with usage are only some of the examples that bear testimony to the faithfulness of unfailing Fatherly care and attention to particular circumstances.
God’s dealings with the nation demonstrated His hatred of sin and disobedience. Sin must be punished, consequences of departure faced, and the lessons taught under the disciplining hand of God taken on board. Failure to enter the land led to the wanderings in the wilderness and many were not permitted to "enter in because of unbelief" Heb.3.19.
One of God’s great purposes in having a people for His own was that, "I may dwell among them" Ex.25.8. Later the tabernacle would give way to the temple, but the principle of God dwelling in the midst of His people had been firmly established.
In addition to guiding the movements of the nation God regulated their manner of living through the requirements of the Law. All of this established that the nation was accountable to the One Who had the right to exercise every aspect of a Father’s discipline and control.
We have much to learn from the dealings of God with His people nationally. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" Rom.15.4. Often history repeats itself and we fail to learn from the lessons of the past. This must be grieving to our Father.
While it is a real encouragement to look back and observe all that Israel enjoyed corporately, albeit undeservedly, it is vital that we, as the children of God in the present age of grace, begin to appreciate and enter into all that is ours individually. While God’s relationship with Israel was corporate and earthly, ours is individual and heavenly. We do well to ponder such a favoured relationship. Peter in his first epistle uses this blessed reality as a great source of encouragement to individual believers who were subjects of diverse and severe trials. It ought to be equally encouraging to us in the midst of the difficulties of life.
The individual blessing of the believer is a truth that is presented in the Ephesian letter. In keeping with its heavenly character we are reminded that all we enjoy is attributed to "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" Eph.1.3. These blessings are amplified in chapter 1 of the epistle and we note that God has: "blessed us" v.3; "chosen us" v.4; "predestinated us" v.5; "made us accepted in the beloved" v.6; "abounded toward us" v.8; "made known unto us" v.9.
All of these blessings are made good to those who, as individuals, "first trusted in Christ … after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation" Eph.1.12,13. How comforting to note that each individual is, upon believing, "sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory" Eph.1.13,14.
In addition to the outline given in the Ephesian epistle of all the blessings bestowed upon the individual believer, the second letter to Corinth sets out the comfort and consolation that each enjoys. Paul attributes these to our knowledge of God as Father when he clearly declares, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God" 2 Cor.1.3 (R.V.). Perhaps our lack of appreciation of the God of all comfort as the Father of mercies deprives us of the capacity to truly be of real comfort to our fellow believers in seasons of trial and hardship.
The same expression, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" is used by Peter to assure suffering saints that they have been brought into the blessing of a living hope, and that tempted to contemplate what they may have lost through links with Christ, he reminds them of "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" 1 Pet.1.3-5. Well might we sing:
- Our Father and our God!
- We bless Thy sacred name;
- Thy promises to us fulfilled,
- Thy faithfulness proclaim.
- (A Midlane)
To know God as Father is truly a new but precious, abiding relationship. Once we were of our "father the devil" Jn.8.44, but now "our fellowship is with the Father" 1 Jn.1.3. Fellowship with the Father brings intimate communion and allows us to offer appropriate praise and appreciation. It also means that we have access to the Father in times of difficulty, knowing that we can tell Him things that we would not want to disclose to any other. Not only can we come to the Father in time of need, but our relationship with Him is such that we have been made partakers in all He purposes and provides for His children.
To occupy a place of such intimacy is indeed precious. To be sure of it and to know that nothing can dislodge us from it is equally precious. Such assurance comes through the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit. In Gal.4.6 we read, "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba Father", and the same truth is confirmed by the statement in Rom.8.14, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God".
Such a favoured position brings weighty responsibilities. "If ye call on Him as Father" 1 Pet.1.17 (R.V.), many obligations rest upon us, particularly in relation to obedience. Our spiritual experience began by obeying the gospel. The Saviour taught His own, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments" Jn.14.15. It is tragic when the conduct of believers does not endorse their position as children in the family of God. There is a dignity associated with sonship, and recognition of this should regulate our lives so that we live in a manner that reflects well upon our Father. We should ever be mindful of the Saviour’s exhortation, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" Matt.5.16; and again " Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" Matt.5.48.
Having noted our obligations to reflect the character of our Father it is a huge consolation to appreciate all that we enjoy through an unbreakable relationship with such an One in the unpredictability of our Christian pathway through a difficult and dark world. Much as we treasure the role and resources provided by a natural father, it can only provide a very faint indication of all that God is to His own paternally. It is most reassuring to realise that God, as Father, is constantly aware of the needs of His children. In Matt.6.8 the Lord Jesus taught, "your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him". He also taught that the same Father was approachable and gave clear instruction about where and how to pray. In Matt.6.6 we read, "when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father". The Saviour also highlighted the Father’s ability to meet the needs of all and stressed that His own should be free from anxiety about the recurring needs of everyday living such as what we should wear and eat, on the basis that your "heavenly Father" Matt.6.26, feeds the fowls of the air and also clothes "the grass of the field" Matt.6.30. Furthermore, it is helpful to observe the Father’s attention to minute detail. "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall to the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows" Matt.10.29-31. Often we worry unnecessarily. If we fully understood the attitude and authority of our Father it would greatly regulate our approach to our way of living and negate so much of the care and concern we needlessly carry.
- My times are in Thy Hand,
- Why should I doubt or fear?
- A Father’s hand will never cause
- His child a needless tear.
- (W. F. Lloyd)
If we are to enjoy the full benefit and rest that flows from our relationship with the Father, it is vital that we cultivate the habit of regular and intimate communion with Him. We have every encouragement to pray and to develop an attitude of dependence on the Father. The Lord Jesus offered such encouragement when He again drew a parallel with an earthly father and posed the question, "if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?" Matt.7.9,10. He goes on to state that if earthly fathers "know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him" Matt.7.11. Perhaps we fail in asking but this provides great encouragement to pray knowing that the response will be for our good in the gracious omniscience of our Father. The glory of the Father will be the overriding consideration and this was endorsed by the Lord when He instructed His own, "And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it" Jn.14.13,14.
- Oh! What peace we often forfeit,
- Oh! What needless pain we bear,
- All because we do not carry
- Everything to God in prayer.
- (J. M. Scriven)
All four Gospels give a presentation of the Father. We have noted several of the practical encouragements highlighted by Matthew but as we compare the Gospels, we note that John draws considerably more attention to the presentation of the Father than the others. This is not surprising bearing in mind that the presentation of the Lord Jesus as the Son of God is the main theme of his Gospel. It would be impossible to treat such a subject without magnifying the Father. There are some 155 references in John to the Father and while it would be profitable to deal with them in detail, limits on the size of this chapter mean that we must be selective.
John presents the many and varied possessions of the Father. He writes about "the bosom of the Father" Jn.1.18 and this focuses on His affection primarily in relation to the Lord Jesus. He also refers to "My Father’s house" Jn.2.16; 14.2, and these highlight the blessedness of His abode. In Jn.5.26 we learn that "the Father hath life in Himself", and in Jn.5.30 "… the will of the Father which hath sent Me", drawing attention to just some of the attributes of the Father. The Lord Jesus set forth the authority of the Father when He declared, "I am come in My Father’s name" Jn.5.43, and drew attention to the Father’s ability when He referred to "the works of My Father" Jn.10.37.
It is most reassuring to appreciate that such a Father has a vital role in the protection and keeping of His own. This is a truth skilfully woven by John into the fabric of his Gospel. In teaching the eternal security of the sheep, the Good Shepherd shows that they are in His hand and in His Father’s hand, and He states that "no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and My Father are one" Jn.10.29,30. Such a precious truth is further developed when, in His high priestly prayer He asked, "Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as We are" Jn.17.11.
A secure and intimate position such as this brings weighty responsibilities. The Father’s expectations are most challenging and searching. This was confirmed when the Lord spoke about "My Father’s commandment" and then gave His own a direct instruction, "These things I command you, that ye love one another" Jn.15.17. This brings to bear on us the weight of the Father’s precept governing our relationship the one with the other.
Obedience combined with devotion to the Lord Jesus represents a path of blessing. The Saviour, about to leave His own, made it clear to them that "If a man love Me, he will keep My Words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him" Jn.14.23. This is clearly revealing that it is possible for an individual believer to know and enjoy the intimacy of the Father’s presence. To experience such a blessing on earth is to live in the good of heaven on earth, anticipating our eternal abode in the Father’s house, Jn.14.2. All of this should draw forth our affection to the Father as we enjoy the bounty of His heart and hand through the glory of His Son.
As we ponder our love to the Father we must also reflect on His love for us. This is manifest in the fact that we are His children and thus enjoy His provision and care. However, relationship goes beyond that of children; it extends to the dignified position of sons. Our relationship to the Father as sons introduces the important matter of a Father’s discipline and brings us into the school of God, where His purpose is to mould and shape those that are His in a way that will reflect His glory. "My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of His correction: For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth; Even as a father the son in whom he delighteth" Prov.3.11,12. This principle is developed in Heb.12.4-13, where it is clearly affirmed that it is the Father’s prerogative to deal with and train His sons in moulding them for His glory. Such correction is in accordance with His sovereignty, wisdom and love and is permitted for the benefit of those that are genuinely His. To be a true-born son means that chastening is inevitable, and likewise its absence is a clear indication that there is no real relationship with the Father.
While chastening is not pleasant, recognition that it is permitted by the Father out of love and for the spiritual development of those that belong to Him, will be a source of strength and will preserve from falling into the danger of treating chastisement lightly. These considerations should regulate our attitude to the circumstances of life realising that "no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness" Heb.12.11. May we enjoy the grace and the spiritual discernment to be willing and submissive students in the school of the Father’s discipline and correction.
Any article on the Fatherhood of God would be incomplete without something, albeit brief and in summary form, on the aspect of its eternal vastness. One of the very interesting titles given prophetically by Isaiah to the Lord Jesus is that of "Everlasting Father" Isa.9.6. In the same context the One Who was to come is spoken of as "a Son given" thus confirming the eternality and the equality of the Father and the Son. It also, of course, confirms the distinctiveness of personalities within the Godhead.
In pondering the Father’s eternal existence our minds go to 1Pet.1.2, where we are introduced to "the foreknowledge of God the Father" particularly in the context of God making choice of saints, who were the subject of persecution; this shows that God will at all times work out His eternal purpose in His own time.
While this is true in relation to His people, it is primarily true in relation to His Son. In Heb.1.5 we read, "For unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to Him a Father and He shall be to Me a Son". This has a link back to Ps.2.7, "The Lord hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son; This day have I begotten Thee". The term "begotten" (Strong 03205) is first used in Gen.3.16 "… in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children …" and clearly means to bring to the birth. When applied to the Lord Jesus it brings us to the wonder of incarnation. Not that He became the Son in incarnation; that He was eternally, but He was "begotten" as a Man, something He never was before. Mr J. N. Darby’s comment, in his Collected Writings, Vol.25, is worth noting, "It was the Son that created in Hebrews 1, and in Colossians 1; and as to being Son in the eternal state, He says, "I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world"; again, "I leave the world and go to the Father"; and you have no Father if you have no Son. If I do not know Him as Son when He came into the world, I have no mission from God at all. And you get too the Father sent the Son. "Son of the Father" and "Son of God" are the same essentially, only one is personal relationship, the other nature. But there are persons who take it that Christ was only Son as come into the world. The positive answer is given to this in Hebrews and Colossians, that by Him, the Son, the world was made. He is also called Son as born into this world. There is "This day have I begotten Thee," in Psalm 2. That is not quite the same thing, though the same Person, of course. He was begotten in time, that is true as to His human estate."
The term "only begotten" which, apart from Heb.11.17, is exclusive to the writings of John, stresses the unique and un-originated relationship of the Son to the Father. Seeing the Son has an eternal relationship with God, it clearly follows that the Father is equally eternal. No angel could enjoy such a relationship. Scripture shows that it is possible for angels to fall but as far as the Son of the everlasting Father is concerned it delights our souls to read "But unto the Son He saith, Thy throne O God is for ever and ever" or as J.N.D. translates, "… but as to the Son, Thy throne, O God, is to the age of the age" Heb.1.8.
It is rather difficult for us, conditioned by time, to comprehend the vastness of eternity. However, even allowing for our limited appreciation we can enjoy in measure the fact that we have been born into the family of God and that our relationship with Him is unending and unbreakable. How precious to sing with confidence:
- Redeemed how I love to proclaim it!
- Redeemed through the blood of the Lamb,
- Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
- God’s child and forever I am.
- (F. J. Crosby)
Looking back we have much cause for thanksgiving. It is with equal gratitude that we ponder the future in light of the teaching in the Word of God about a programme of events, yet to unfold, that will commence with the coming of the Lord to the air for those that are His. Many stages in God’s prophetic programme will run their course but Paul put the Divine telescope to his eye as he wrote in 1 Cor.15.24, "then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power". Even then, when time shall be no more and the eternal state has been established, God shall never be divested of the glory, majesty and uniqueness of His eternal Fatherhood.