Which Art in HeavenA Practical Exposition of the Lord's Prayer by Thomas Manton (1620-1677) (Volume 1)
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“One way to get comfort is to plead the promise of God in prayer, show Him His handwriting; God is tender of His Word.”
…which art in heaven…
We have considered the title given to God with respect to his goodness and mercy: He is a Father— our Father. Now, let us consider the titles given to him with respect to his greatness and majesty: ‘Which art in heaven.’
From thence note: –
Doct. It is an advantage in prayer to look upon God as a Father in heaven.
By way of explication, to show: –
First, What is meant by heaven. There are three heavens in the computation of the scripture. There is, first, the lowest heaven, that where the fowls of the air are, whence the rain descendeth; therefore the fowls are called the ‘fowls of heaven,’ Job xxxv. 11; and, James v. 18, ‘Elijah prayed, and the heaven gave rain.’ Secondly, the luminary heaven, where the sun, moon, and stars are: therefore it is said, Mark xiii. 25, ‘The stars of heaven shall fall.’ Thirdly, there is the highest heaven, or the heaven of the blessed, spoken of Mat. vii. 21: ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven;’ that is, into the third heaven, the glorious heaven, the blessed presence of God. Mat. xviii. 10: ‘In heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven:’ in heaven, that is, ‘the third heaven.’ So it is called by Paul, 2 Cor. xii. 2, which was the highest part, because he saw and heard things which it is not lawful for a man to utter. In this heaven God is.
Secondly, How is God there, since he is everywhere?
Negatively; It is not to be understood so as if he were included in heaven, or locally circumscribed within the compass of it; for ‘the heaven of heavens cannot contain him:’ 1 Kings viii. 27. In regard of his essence, he is in all places, being infinite and indivisible. He is not included within the heavens, nor excluded from earth, but filleth all places alike: Jer. xxiii. 24, ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.’ But yet in an especial manner is God present in heaven. That appears, because there is his throne: Ps. ciii. 19, ‘He hath prepared his throne in the heavens.’ Earthly kings, they have their thrones exalted higher than other places, but God’s throne is above all, it is in heaven. He hath a more universal and unlimited empire than all the kings of the earth; so he hath a more glorious throne. Heaven is the most convenient place to set forth his majesty and glory to the world, because of the sublimity, amplitude, and purity of it. And so, Isa. lxvi. 1, ‘Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.’ Heaven is his throne, because there is his majestical presence, more of his glory and excellency is discovered: and the earth is his footstool, because there, in the lowest part of the world, he manifesteth his powerful presence among the lower creatures.
Briefly, to conceive how God is in heaven, we must consider
[1.] The several ways of his presence. He is in Christ, hypostatically, essentially, or (as the apostle speaks) bodily: Col. ii. 9, ‘The fulness of God dwells in him bodily.’ In the temple, under the law, there God was present symbolically, because there were the signs and tokens of his presence. The Jewish temple was a sacramental place and type of Christ, in whose name, and by whose merit, worship was acceptable to God. But now, in Christians, he is present energetically, and operatively, by his Spirit. And in heaven, he there dwells by some eminent effects of his wisdom, power, greatness, and goodness. God hath showed more of his workmanship in the structure of the heavens than in any other part of the creation, that being the most glorious part of the world: Ps. xix. 1—3, ‘The heavens declare the glory of the Lord, and the firmament showeth his handiwork,’ &c. Certainly it is meet God should dwell in the most glorious part of the world; now heaven is the most glorious part of the creation. Heathens in their straits would not look to the capitol where their idols were; but to heaven, where God hath impressed his majesty and greatness. Whenever we look upon these aspectable heavens, the vast expansion, the glorious luminaries, the purity of the matter, and sublimity of its posture, it cannot but raise our hearts to think of a glorious God that dwelleth there. When we come by a poor cottage, we guess the inhabitant is no great person; but when we see a magnificent structure, we easily imagine some person of account dwells there. So, though the earth doth declare the glory of God, and show much of his wisdom and power, yet chiefly the heavens, whenever we look upon them, we cannot choose but have awful thoughts, and be struck with a religious horror, at the remembrance of the great God, which has stretched out these heavens by his wisdom and power.
[2.] Therefore God is said to dwell in heaven, because from thence he manifesteth his powerful providence, wisdom, justice, and goodness. God is not so shut up in heaven as not to mind human affairs, and to take notice of what is done here below Ps. xi. 4, ‘The Lord’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try the children of men.’ Though his throne be in heaven, yet his providence is everywhere; his eyes behold, he seeth how we behave ourselves in his presence; and his eyelids try the children of men. He may seem to wink now and then, and to suspend the strokes, of his vengeance, but it is but for our trial. He owneth his children from heaven: Deut. xxvi. 15, ‘Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people.’ And from thence he punisheth the wicked: Rom. 1. 18, ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven.’
[3.] There is God most owned by the saints and glorified angels, therefore he is said to dwell there; as a king is beloved by his subjects, but most immediately served and attended upon by those of his own court. So that in heaven, there we have the highest pattern of all that duty which doth immediately concern God. In this prayer, ‘Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done,’ these three petitions concern God more immediately. Now before we put them up, Christ would have us think of our Father in heaven, praised by angels and saints that fall down before his throne, crying, Honour, glory, and praise. There he reigneth, his throne is there, and there he is perfectly obeyed and served without any opposition.
[4.] There God is most enjoyed, and therefore he dwells there, for there he doth more immediately exhibit the fulness of his glory to the saints and angels. In heaven God is all in all. Here we are supplied at second or third hand: Hosea ii. 21, ‘I will hear the heavens, and the heavens shall hear the earth,’ &c. But there God is immediately and fully enjoyed. Here there are many wants and vacuities to be filled up; but ‘in thy presence there is fulness of joy, and at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore:’ Ps. xvi. 11. Look, as when the flood was poured out upon the world, you read that the windows of heaven were opened, Gen. vii. 11; the drops of rain were upon earth, but the cataracts and floodgates were in heaven; so when he raineth down drops of sweetness upon his people, the floodgates are above, they are reserved for that place where they are fully enjoyed.
Thirdly, Why hath God fixed and taken up his dwelling-place in the heavens? I answer,
[1.] Because mortal men they cannot endure his glorious presence: Deut. v. 23, ‘When ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, for the mountain did burn with fire, ye said, Behold, the Lord our God hath showed us his glory, and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die.’ Any manifestations of God, how easily do they overset and overcome us! A little spiritual enjoyment it is too strong for us. If God pour out but a drop of sweetness into the heart, we are ready to cry out, Hold, Lord, it is enough; our crazy vessels can endure no more. Therefore, when Christ was transfigured, the disciples were astonished and fell back; they could not endure the emissions and beamings out of his divine glory, because of the weakness and incapacity of the present state: therefore hath God a place above, where he discovereth his glory in the utmost latitude. It is notable in scripture, sometimes God is said to ‘dwell in light,’ 1 Tim. vi. 16; and sometimes to ‘make darkness his dwelling-place,’ Ps. xviii. 11. How doth he dwell in light, and how in darkness? Because of the glorious manifestations which are above, therefore it is said he dwells in light; and because of the weakness and incapacity of our comprehension, therefore he is said to dwell in darkness.
[2.] To try our faith and our obedience, that he might see whether we would live by faith, yea or no; whether a believer would love him and obey him, though he were invisible and withdrawn within the curtain of heaven. You know when the Israelites saw the glory of God, then they cried, ‘All that God hath commanded us we will do:’ Deut. v. 27. But as soon as that manifestation ceased, they were as bad as ever. If all were liable to sense, there would be no trial of this world; but God hath shut up himself, that by this means the faith of the elect might be manifested; for ‘faith is the evidence of things not seen:’ Heb. xi. 1. Where there is no sight there is exercise for faith. And that our love might be tried: 1 Pet. i. 8, ‘Whom having not seen, ye love: in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory. And this is that which discovereth the faithless and disobedient world Job xxii. 12—14, ‘Is not God in the height of heaven? How doth God know? can he judge through the dark cloud? Thick clouds are a covering to him that he seeth not, and he walketh in the circuit of heaven.’
[3.] It is fit there should be a better place into which the saints should be translated when the course of their obedience is ended: Eph. i. 3, He hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places. The main of Christ’s purchase we have in heavenly places. It is fit the place of trial and place of recompense should differ; therefore the place of trial, that is God’s footstool; and the place of recompense, that is God’s throne. The world, that is a place of trial; it is a common inn for sons and bastards, for the elect and reprobate; a receptacle of man and beast: here God will show his bounty unto all his creatures; but now, in the place of his residence, he will show his love to his people. therefore when we have been tried and exercised, there is a place of preferment for us.
Fourthly, What advantage have we in prayer by considering God in heaven? Very much, whether we consider God absolutely, or with respect to a mediator; both ways we have an advantage.
First, If we consider the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who have their residence in heaven; consider them without respect to a mediator. Why, the looking up to God in heaven: –
[1.] It showeth us that prayer is an act of the heart, and not of the lips. That it is not the sound of the voice which can pierce the heavens, and enter into the ears of the Lord of hosts, but sighs and groans of the spirit. Christians! in prayer God is near to us, and yet far from us, for we must look upon him as in heaven, and we upon earth. How then should we converse with God in prayer? Not by the tongue only, but by the heart. The commerce and communion of spirits is not hindered by local distance; but God is with us, and we with him, when our heart goeth up.
[2.] It teacheth the great work of prayer is to lift up the heart to God. To withdraw the heart from all created things which we see and feel here below, that we may converse with God in heaven: Ps. cxxiii. 1, ‘Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens;’ and, Lam. iii. 41, ‘Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.’ Prayer doth not consist in a multitude and clatter of words, but in the getting up of the heart to God, that we may behave ourselves as if we were alone with God, in the midst of glorious saints and angels. There is a double advantage which we have by this getting the soul into heaven in prayer. It is a means to free us from distractions and doubts. To free us from distractions and other intercurrent thoughts. Until we get our hearts out of the world, as if we were dead and shut up to all present things, how easily is the heart carried away with the thoughts of earthly concernments! Until we can separate and purge our spirits, how do we interline our prayers with many ridiculous thoughts! It is too usual for us to deal with God as an unskilful person that will gather a posy for his friend, and puts in as many or more stinking weeds than he doth choice flowers. The flesh interposeth, and our carnal hearts interline and interlace our prayers with vain thoughts and earthly distractions. When with our censer we come to offer incense to God, we mingle sulphur with our incense. Therefore we should labour all that we can to get the heart above the world into the presence of God and company of the blessed, that we may deal with him as if we were by him in heaven, and were wholly swallowed up of his glory. Though our bodies are on earth, yet our spirits should be with our Father in heaven. For want of practising this in prayer, these distractions increase upon us. So for doubts, when we look to things below, even the very manifestations of God to us upon earth, we have many discouragements, dangers without and difficulties within: till we get above the mists of the lower world, we can see nothing of clearness and comfort; but when we can get God and our hearts together, then we can see there is much in the fountain, though nothing in the stream; and though little on earth, yet we have a God in heaven.
[3.] This impresseth an awe and reverence, if we look upon the glory of God manifested in heaven, that bright and luminous place. This is urged by the Holy Ghost: Eccles. v. 2, ‘Thou art upon earth, and God is in heaven; therefore let thy words be few;’ Gen. xviii. 27, ‘Who am I that I should take upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes?’ We are poor crawling worms, and therefore, when we think of the majesty of God, it should impress a holy awe upon us. Mean persons will behave themselves with all honour and reverence when they supplicate to men of quality; so should we to God, who is so high and so much above us; he is in heaven. It is a diminution of his greatness (Mal. i. 14) when we put off God with anything, and come slightly and carelessly into his presence.
[4.] It teacheth us that all our prayers should carry a correspondence with our great aim. What is our great aim? To be with God in heaven, as remembering that is the centre and place of our rest, to which we are all tending: Col. iii. 1, ‘If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.’ We come to our Father which is in heaven. He will have his residence there, that our hearts might be there. Therefore the main things we should seek of God from heaven are saving graces, for these ‘come down from above, from the Father of lights:’ James i. 17. We have liberty to ask supplies for the outward life, but chiefly we should ask spiritual and heavenly things: Mat. vi. 32, 33, Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. What then? ‘First seek the kingom of God,’ &c. If we have to do with a heavenly Father, our first and main care should be to ask things suitable to his being, and his excellency. If children should ask of their parents such a thing as is pleasing to their palate, possibly they might give it them; but when they ask instruction, and desire to be taught, that is far more acceptable to them. When we ask supplies of the outward life, food, raiment, God may give it us; but it is more pleasing to him when we ask for grace. In every prayer we should seek to be made more heavenly by conversing with our heavenly Father.
[5.] It giveth us ground of confidence in God’s power and absolute dominion over all things, for God is in heaven above all created beings: Ps. cxv, 3, ‘Our God is in the heavens, and doth whatsoever he pleaseth.’ So 2 Chron. xx. 6, ‘Art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?’ Oh, what an advantage is this in prayer, when we think of our all-sufficient God, who made heaven and earth, and hath fixed his throne there! What can be too hard for him?
[6.] Here is encouragement against carnal fear. Whatever the world doth against us, we have a Father in heaven, and this should bear us up against all their threatenings and oppositions. When there were tumults and confusions in the world, it is said, Ps. ii. 4, ‘But God, which sits in heaven, shall laugh them to scorn.’ An earthly parent may have a large heart, but a short hand; though they may wish us well, yet they cannot defend us, and bear us out in all extremities. But our Father in heaven will laugh at the attempts against his empire and greatness. Thus considering God absolutely, it is an advantage to reflect upon him as a Father in heaven.
But I suppose this expression hath respect to a mediator. Therefore,
Secondly, Let us look upon God with respect to a mediator, for so I think we are chiefly bound to consider our Father in heaven, because of Christ which sits there at his right hand: Heb. viii. 1. It is said there, ‘He sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary.’ Oh, this is comfortable to think of. In heaven we have a Saviour, Jesus Christ, representing our persons and presenting our prayers to God, by which means God is reconciled and well pleased with us. So that our duty in prayer is to look up to heaven, and to see Christ at God’s right hand as our high priest, mediating for us that we may be accepted with God.
A notable resemblance we have between God’s presence in the tabernacle or temple, and God’s presence in heaven.
“In the temple you know there were three partitions. There was the outward court, and the sanctuary, as the apostle calls it, where the table of shew-bread was set, and there was the holy place, the holy of holies. Just so in heaven there are three partitions; there is the airy heaven, and the starry heaven, and the heaven of heavens: the lower heaven, which answers to the outward court; the starry heaven which answers to the sanctuary; and the heaven of heavens, which answers to the holy of holies by a fit analogy and proportion. Well, in the holy of holies, saith the apostle, there was the golden censer and the mercy-seat: Heb. ix. 4. There you find God conspicuously manifesteth his presence, and gives answers to his people: ‘At the mercy-seat, there will I answer thee, saith the Lord.’ So here, in this heaven of heavens, there is a mercy-seat, there is a throne of grace, and there God will answer. We may ‘come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need:’ Heb. iv. 16.
Into this holy of holies none but the high priest did enter, and that once a year, after the sacrifice of atonement for the whole congregation: then the high priest was to come into the holy of holies, he was to pass through the veil with blood and with sweet incense in his hand. Just thus is Jesus entered into the heaven of heavens for us. He is gone there to present his blood and sufferings, to appear before God for us, to present himself as a sweet-smelling sacrifice: Heb. ix. 24; Eph. v. 2. Now the high priest, when he went with this blood in to the mercy-seat, he went in with the names of the twelve tribes upon his breast and shoulder, as Jesus also doth appear before God for us, representing our persons continually before his Father. Now about the mercy-seat, there were cherubims, and figures of angels; just about the ark, there they stooped down, to show the angels do attend about the throne, to despatch messages abroad into the world, and convey blessings to the saints. There is a throne of grace, a mercy-seat, a mediator there, angels at God’s beck, ready to send up and down, to and fro, for the good of the saints. And mark, not only hath Jesus this liberty to enter into this heaven of heavens, but all the saints have a liberty to enter, and that not only at death, but in their life-time; for saith the apostle, Heb. x, 19, ‘Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest, by the blood of Jesus.’ All of us, not only when we die, and personally go to God, do we enter into the holy of holies, but now we have boldness. It relateth to prayer, for the word signifieth liberty of speech. This holy of holies, which was closed and shut up against us before, is opened by the blood of Jesus; the veil is rent, and now all saints have a privilege to come freely to converse with God. It is good to observe the difference between the holy of holies, and the heaven of heavens. The Jews their sanctum sanctorum was earthly; but our holy of holies is heavenly. Into theirs, which was as it were God’s bed-chamber, the common people were not admitted; none but the high priest could enter into the holy of holies. But now into ours all believers may enter and converse with God. There the high priest could enter but once a year; now we may come to the throne of grace as often as we have a cause to present to God. There the high priest he entered with the blood of beasts; but we enter by the blood of the Son of God. Oh, what a great privilege is this, that we have a Father in heaven! In this respect the holy place is now open to us. Though we have not a personal access till death, yet by the blood of Jesus we may come with boldness, presenting ourselves before the Lord with all our wants and desires. The great distance between heaven and earth shall not hinder our communion with God, if we have a friend above.
Therefore it is very comfortable now to say, ‘Our Father which art in heaven;’ that is, our gracious and reconciled Father, in and by Christ.
If we have a Father in heaven, let us look up to heaven often.
1. If we have a Father in heaven, and a Saviour at his right hand, to do all things that are needful for us, let us look upon the aspectable heavens with an eye of sense, with our bodily eyes. It is good to contemplate the glory of the heavenly bodies, or the outside of that court which God hath provided for the saints. It is not an idle speculation I press you to; the saints of God have thought it to be worthy of their morning and evening thoughts. It is notable, David doth, in two psalms especially, contemplate heaven; one seems to be a nightly, the other a morning, meditation. The night meditation you have Ps. viii. 3: ‘When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained.’ David was got abroad in a moon-shining night, looks up, and had his heart affected. But now the 19th Psalm, that seems to be a morning meditation; he speaks of the ‘sun coming out like a bridegroom from his chamber in the east,’ and displaying his beams, and heat, and influences to the world; and then saith he, ver. 1, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God.’ Morning and evening, or whenever you go abroad to see the beauty of the outward heavens, say, I have a Father there, a Christ there; this is the pavement of that palace which God hath provided for the saints. Christians, it is a sweet meditation when you can say, He that made all things is there. It will be a delightful, profitable thing sometimes, with an eye of sense, to take a view of our Father’s palace, as much as we can see of it here below.
2. Let me especially press you to this: with an eye of faith to look within the veil; and whenever you come to pray, to see God in heaven, and Christ at his right hand. The great work of faith is to see him that is invisible; and the great duty of prayer is to get a sight of God in heaven, and Christ at his right hand. What Stephen did miraculously, or in an ecstasy, we must do graciously in prayer. Now it is said of Stephen, Acts vii. 56, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.’ There is a great deal of difference about Stephen’s sight: how the heavens could be opened, which are a solid body, and cannot be divided as fluid air, and so come together again; how he could see the glory of God with his corporal senses, which is invisible; how he could see Christ at such a distance, the eye not being able to reach so far. Some think it to be a mere intellectual vision, or a vision of faith; that is, he did so firmly believe, and had the comfort of it in his heart, as if he had seen it with his eyes. So they think Stephen saw the glory of God, and Christ at his right hand, as Abraham saw Christ’s day and rejoiced; that is, he saw it by faith. Some think it to be a prophetical vision, by seeing those things objected to his fancy by imaginary species; as Isaiah saw God in a vision—Isa. vi—and as Paul’s rapture. Some think it a symbolical vision; that he saw these things represented by some corporal images, as John saw the holy Ghost descending in the form of a dove. Some think his bodily eyes did pierce the clouds, and got a sight of the glory of Christ. Whatever it be, there must be such a sight in prayer, something answerable to this. In a spiritual way, this must ever be done: Ps. v. 3, ‘I will pray,’ saith the psalmist, ‘and look up.’ There is a looking up required in all prayer, a seeing the invisible God by faith. If you would have God look down upon you from his holy habitation, you must look up with an eye of faith, and converse with God in heaven: Ps. lxiii. 4,’ I will lift up my hands in thy name.’ If you would have God look upon you with an eye of compassion, you must look up, and see Christ at his right hand, by an eye of faith.
3. Let us love our Father; love God in Christ, and love the place for his sake, where his residence is.
[1.] Love God in Christ: Ps. lxxiii. 25, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee?’ When God hath been so gracious to you! Christians, if I had no other argument to press you to love God but that he which is in heaven offereth to be your father in Christ Jesus, it might suffice; because it is a great condescension that the God of heaven will look upon poor broken-hearted creatures—that he whose throne is in heaven would look upon him that is of a trembling spirit: Isa. lxvi. 2. ‘That the high and lofty One, that dwelleth in the high and holy place, will look to him that is of a contrite heart:’ Isa. lvii. 15. That he that is the Lord of heaven and earth will be our Father, and own us and bless us! A great condescension on God’s part, and a great dignity also is put upon us; and how should our hearts be affected with it! Therefore, though there be a great distance between heaven and earth, it should not lessen our affections to God. He is mindful of us, visits us at every turn; we are dear and tender to him; therefore let the Lord be dear to you. The butler, when he was exalted, forgot Joseph; but Christ is not grown stately with his advancement—he doth not forget us. Oh, let not us forget God. Let us manifest our love, by being often with him at the throne of grace, with our Father which is in heaven. A child is never well but when in the mother’s lap or under the father’s wing: so should it be with us, with a humble affection coming into the presence of God, and getting into the bosom of our heavenly Father. Never delight in anything so much as conversing with him, and serious addresses to him in prayer. Again: –
[2.] Love the place for his sake; God is there, and Christ is there. We have cause to love the place for our own sakes; and in a short time, if you continue patient in well-doing, you will be with God. It is not only God’s throne, but it is your house: 2 Cor. v. 1, ‘We look for an house in heaven, not made with hands.’ It is a place appointed for our everlasting abode; therefore all our hopes, desires, and delights should run that way. But chiefly I would press you to love it for his sake, the place where your heavenly Father dwells. God hath not taken his denomination from earth, which is the place of corruption; but from heaven, which is the place of glory and happiness. Oh, let us not forget our heavenly Father’s house. We are too apt to say, It is good to be here. Christians, let us draw home apace; let us grow more heavenly-minded every day; seek the things which are above; prize it rather upon this occasion, because if we were more heavenly in the frame of our hearts, we would be more heavenly in our solemn approaches to God. What is the reason a man is haunted with the world, and things which are of a worldly interest and concern, when he comes to prayer? It is because his heart is taken with these things.