[B11] The Apostles' Creed: The Divine Motive

The root of the secret of God’s care for us is found in one word of the First Article of the Creed, — the word Father. We here confess that God is not only a creator, not only a governor; He is not only a being before whose wisdom and power we are called to prostrate ourselves: God is a father, our Father, in the full, rich, sweet meaning of the word.

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11. The Divine Motive

I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast showed unto thy servant… — [Gen.] 32:10.

What a source of comfort it is for us to know that in all our troubles, of both body and soul, we are tenderly invited to cast all our cares on our loving heavenly Father; and to have the assurance that He does really care for us, and that what is best He always does for us. Many of us do not fully appreciate this in the days of health, pleasurable activity, and richly rewarded labors. And when we have held rather aloof from the Lord in these days, there is generally something lacking when the days of feebleness come, and we are largely forsaken of men; then there is a feeling in our breasts that, because of neglected opportunities, when the days were fair, it is presumptuous to claim the Lord’s help when the storm breaks. Oh, how much of strength and peace is thus forfeited by us in our hours of need.

Others there are who learn, under all circumstances, to appreciate God’s care. They appreciate Him, first of all, for what He is; for His glorious perfections; for His vouchsafed fellowship; and in a secondary sense for His specific acts of helpfulness. To such how sweet is God’s presence in the hour of need. As the hands grow feeble, and lose their grasp of things here below, they can feel the tightening of the grip of the Father’s hand; as the darkness deepens, there is a voice which keeps whispering, Fear not, I am with thee. And so they experience the truth of the promise:

“It shall be light at eventide.”

At this point a question suggests itself, and the question is this: What moves God, our heavenly Father, to so lovingly care for us? This is a question of the greatest importance. Is the cause in us or in Him? Is God’s care purchased by some kind of service or deportment, or is it gratuitously given? These and kindred questions must be satisfactorily answered before we can, in the fullest sense, appreciate God’s care. This is the problem we are going to consider this morning. We will take as our subject, the secret of God’s fatherly care, or, still more briefly stated — the Divine Motive.

The Fatherhood of God

The root of the secret of God’s care for us is found in one word of the First Article of the Creed, — the word Father. We here confess that God is not only a creator, not only a governor; He is not only a being before whose wisdom and power we are called to prostrate ourselves: God is a father, our Father, in the full, rich, sweet meaning of the word.

How do we know that God is a father to the children of men? There are many things bearing unmistakable witness to this truth. There is a testimony borne by the heart of man universally. Is not the helpless form of the babe in the crib, crying out for the warm embrace of a mother’s arms, and the nurture a mother’s breasts were intended to give, is this not the unimpeachable evidence that there is such a being as a mother? Such a thing as a mother’s love and care? Everywhere there is in man a consciousness of dependence, a feeling of being orphaned. Everywhere the strong cry goes out from the heart of man for an all-wise, all-powerful Father to take his children in his embrace, supply their wants, shield them from the ever threatening dangers, lead them safely through the encircling gloom, and assure them that this Father, infinite in power, wisdom and love, is controlling the affairs of life. Thus does man’s own nature prove the fatherhood of God.

The Word of God confirms and illuminates that to which the heart of man universally testifies. There is no truth more clearly and emphatically taught in the inspired Word than the fact that God is the father of the children of men; a father by original creation, a father by virtue of a new spiritual creation prepared for all who will accept it. This was one of the supreme messages of Jesus Christ to the world, that He had come forth from the bosom of the Father of the universe to make God more fully and indubitably known to the children of men as their Father, a Father full of pity and forgiveness, a Father desirous of bestowing the wealth of his blessings upon his children. It was Jesus who taught the world to say, with a richness of meaning never before known:

“Our Father who art in Heaven.”

Those whose hearts the breath of the Holy Spirit has touched, know the fatherhood of God not only on the evidence of their natural needy hearts; they know from experience that the words of Jesus about the fatherhood of God are true. Through the Word and the Sacraments a new spiritual life has been begotten in them. And now to that recreated spirit the Spirit of the living God bears direct witness. There is an inner circle of the sons of God. They have become such by the new birth. Theirs is no longer only a natural but also a spiritual sonship. They know by the Spirit the Son, and through the Son the Father, whom to know is eternal life. They know His forgiving love. They are conscious of the pulsations of the new life He gives. They walk in constant fellowship with Him.

It is indeed true that God has a fatherly heart for all the children of men. He does all the good He possibly can for all men. He makes His sun to shine and His rain to fall on all alike. God would woo all men by His kindness. True, God does not give all, or even His best, gifts to all men. It is not, however, because He will not; only because He cannot. Many will not accept them. But even where these spiritual gifts are most ungraciously spurned, the desire on God’s part to bestow them still continues. To his rebellious people He cried out in great grief:

“O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thy help.” Come back, come back, and I will still forgive and bless you. Could there possibly be a greater confirmation of this truth than Christ’s lament over the holy city? “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.”

Not Man’s Lovableness But God’s Love

What is the secret of this solicitude on God’s part? On the part of man such conduct is often easily explained. Men often fawn at the feet of other people, are very solicitous about their every want, dog their steps, and crave an opportunity to serve them because they have wealth, or power, or pull. These men are moved wholly by selfish motives. They are serving because they are hoping to be more effectually served themselves. Others are moved by better, but still not wholly unselfish motives. They admire the qualities, the culture, the ease, the grace of others; by association they hope to absorb some of it into their own lives. Sometimes we find men and women thus serving from unselfish motives. They love those they serve. They have found admirable qualities in them. There is an attraction in the one served which complements some faculty of the soul of the server. Do any of these things, or any kindred things, explain God’s love and care for the children of men? No, the secret of God’s loving care for the sons of men is not in their lovableness, but solely in His love.

It is not a bright picture that we are called upon to contemplate in the study of man. It is often as dark as the raven’s wing. We are often told that the Scriptures paint the picture in colors too dark and dreary. The question of importance is not whether it is too dark for our taste, but whether it is true. True to the revelations of God, and the intimations of our own better nature, the Master interpreter of the Creed tells us that all of God’s ceaseless care for us and all men is “without any merit or worthiness in me.” We are all prodigal sons and daughters. We have all forsaken our Father’s house. Every one of us has dishonored His name. There is not one of us that has not broken His heart. Where is there one who has not had some of the rags and odor of the swineherd upon him? Who of us, by nature, can rightfully come into the Father’s presence without saying:

“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before Thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son?” Is it not written, and reiterated:

“They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one”? (Ps. 14:3). So when we come to consider why God ever keeps His watchful eye over us; and holds our hand in His guiding, protecting one; and provides for our necessities of body and soul, we can come to no other conclusion than this, it is only because of God’s love, not by virtue of our lovableness.

If we look only at ourselves, dark, foreboding, hopeless is the picture. Wounds and bruises and putrefying sores stare us in the face on every hand; and with all our own struggling and striving there is no achieving. The one bright ray of light and glory comes from the story of God’s love for the unlovely; a love as high as the heavens, and encircling the universe. And this love of God, thanks be to His name, no power in the universe, outside of our own breasts, can keep from embracing us. No change in our condition, other than our lack of faith, can keep this love from us. Not all the serried ranks of the powers of darkness can keep the streams of God’s love from reaching us and refreshing our parched souls. It is raised above the limitations of time and change. And we cannot become so lost in the solitude of the desert, or the teeming throngs of some great metropolis, that this love shall overlook us. “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38, 39).

Here, in the closing words of this truly wonderful passage, we have another thought without which it would be utterly impossible for us to grasp the deeper meaning of God’s love to men. In Christ Jesus, the God-man, in His ministry, in His passion, O here we learn slowly to spell out the wonderful story of God’s love for man. Love is most love as it seeks to bless its beloved. The love for an equal, for some one who has knit his or her soul to ours by graciousness of action as well as character, this is explicable. But herein is the greatness of God’s love magnified in that while we were yet rebels, filth-defiled, and rabid, Christ loved us, and gave Himself for us, that He might wash us from our sins in His own blood. Thanks be to God that we have been taught believingly to sing:

“God is love — His mercy brightens
All the path in which we rove;
Bliss He wakes and woe He lightens,
God is wisdom, God is love.
E’en the hour that darkest seemeth,
Will His changeless goodness prove;
From the gloom His brightness streameth;
God is wisdom, God is love.
He with earthly care entwineth
Hope and comfort from above;
Everywhere His glory shineth;
God is wisdom, God is love.”

Not Man’s Merit But His Need

Man is always ready to think that any favors shown, or services rendered him, come as a result of his desert. He cannot easily think otherwise when God does something for him. And even though it be fully established that there is no lovableness in man that God should on that account love him, yet he does not easily give up the thought that there must be something in him which entitles him to the Father’s blessed ministrations. Sometimes men, who have no lovable traits, by the power of intellect, or the resourcefulness of which they show themselves capable, or some rough virtue they exhibit, make others feel under obligations to them. Is it so with God in His relation to man? In spite of man’s unlovableness, does God owe him something? Is man indispensable to Him? No, not in the least. God helps us because of our need, not because of our desert. Every man who speaks the truth will have to say with Jacob:

“I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast showed unto thy servant.” And as this is true of those who, by grace, have become saints, how much truer of those who have not yet walked in God’s ways.

Let us pause, for a moment, to ask ourselves the question: What have we done to obligate God to do so much for us; for our bodily welfare, and, as we shall soon more fully see, for our soul’s good? This is what we have done: we have often despised His love, and never fully appreciated it; we have never fully realized the rich measure of blessings God has bestowed upon us, and we have often abused them in a way that reflected on the Giver; we helped to crucify the Lord of glory, and by our weakness and forgetfulness have often wounded Him afresh; there is not one of us, at his best, who has profited as he should from the use of the gifts with which God has so richly blessed us. Truly, we have not merited the least of God’s mercies.

What is it in us, then, that makes the appeal to God on our behalf? Not our merit, but, in addition to His heart of overflowing love, our need, our crying need.

Unquestionably, God loved man when he was in his original state of innocence. Could a perfect father forget a perfect child? And He would have continued to love His children had they remained perfect. But it seems that the extent, and, humanly speaking, incurable nature of our need, now that we have become fallen, and bruised, and broken, makes an added appeal to the love of our Father’s heart. Have we not seen something like this among the families of men? Have we not seen families where there were children, two or three of them, who were models of deportment, giving every evidence of filial affection, living lives which reflected honor on the parental care with which they were reared? And in that same family we have seen a prodigal son, or a magdalen daughter, utterly regardless of parental feelings, throwing their counsel to the winds, steeling their hearts against all entreaties and tears, and trampling the family honor into the mire. And have we not seen such parents give evidence that their love, and solicitous care, increased in inverse ratio to the recklessness and unfeeling carelessness of the one loved? The parents would break down, by the sheer weight of their love, the stony heart and obstinate will of the thoughtless, loveless son or daughter.

Have we not seen another illustration of this truth which runs in another direction? Does it not happen that seemingly all the wealth of parental love goes out, not to the strong and healthful members of the family, who are always to be found doing their full duty in helping to bear the household burdens; but to the pale and frail one who, instead of helping, needs constant help? So it is with our Heavenly Father. Our need has put the note of sympathy and solicitude in His love for us. It has bestirred Him to effect plans for our restoration, and nerved His heart and His arm for their execution. And the purpose of it all is to bring us back to Him, to restore His image in us, to fit us for eternal fellowship with Him, and all His, in His heavenly household.

Brethren, let us take home, each one of us, the full significance of the words:

“All this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”

It is good for us to know the truth. We must be humbled before we can be exalted. But we will never recognize the discord in our lives till we listen to the music of our Father’s house. We will never know how threadbare and filthy our rags are till we have gazed on the robe which Christ has provided for us. We can never know how wretched, weary, and heavy-laden we are till we have experienced the rest to which Jesus invites us. We can never know the nature, extent, and consequences of our prodigality, till we have heard the Father’s voice saying: “This my son was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.”

Father in heaven, lift us up that we may feel our pains; show us Thy storehouses of treasures that we may realize our poverty; uncover Thy table laden with good things that we may know our hunger and thirst; smile upon us that we may learn to know the sorrow of sin; reveal to us Thy beauty that we may come to see how shriveled and haggard and feeble we are; love us that we may loathe ourselves — and when we have finally, and in reasonable measure, learned that all the good with which God showers us is not because of any lovableness on our part, but solely the result of His love; not the result of any merit on our part, but in answer to our need; then, too, we may learn to thank and praise, to serve and obey Him.

By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.

Luther’s Small Catechism: Series B – The Apostles’ Creed

Publication Information

  • Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
  • Title: “The Apostles’ Creed”
  • Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
  • Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
  • Copyright: CC BY 4.0