God lovingly inviteth us, in this little preface, truly to believe in Him, that He is our true Father, and that we are truly His children; so that full of confidence we may more boldly call upon His name, even as we see children with a kind of confidence ask anything of their parents.”—LUTHER’S CATECHISM.
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"Holy Father."—JOHN xvii. 11.
It is natural and fitting in an attempt to understand the teaching of Jesus that we should begin with His doctrine of God. For a man’s idea of God is fundamental, regulative of all his religious thinking. As is his God, so will his religion be. Given the arc we can complete the circle; given a man’s conception of God, from that we can construct the main outlines of his creed. What, then, was the teaching of Jesus concerning God?
In harmony with what has been already said in the previous chapter, concerning Christ’s manner and method as a teacher, we shall find little or nothing defined, formal, systematic in Christ’s teaching on this subject. In those theological handbooks which piloted some of us through the troublous waters of our early theological thinking, one chapter is always occupied with proofs, more or less elaborate, of the existence of God, and another with a discussion of what are termed the Divine “attributes.” And for the purposes of a theological handbook doubtless this is the right course to take. But this was not Christ’s way. Search the four Gospels through, and probably not one verse can be found which by itself would serve as a suitable definition for any religious catechism or theological textbook. Christ, we must remember, did not, in His teaching, begin de novo. He never forgot that He was speaking to a people whose were the law and the prophets and the fathers; throughout He assumed and built upon the accepted truths of Old Testament revelation. To have addressed elaborate arguments in proof of the existence of God to the Jews would have been a mere waste of words; for that faith was the very foundation of their national life. Nor did Christ speak about the “attributes” of God. Again that was not His way. He chose to speak in the concrete rather than in the abstract, and, therefore, instead of defining God, He shows us how He acts. In parable, in story, and in His own life He sets God before us, that so we may learn what He is, and how He feels toward us.
Christ, I say, built upon the foundation of the Old Testament. To understand, therefore, the true significance of His teaching about God, we must first of all put ourselves at the point of view of a devout Jew of His day, and see how far he had been brought by that earlier revelation which Christ took up and carried to completion. What, then, did the Jews know of God before Christ came?