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Characteristics of Sonship

By Walter L. Surbrook


      Text: "Lord. teach us to pray." -- Luke 11:1.

      My text is a request. You will no doubt desire, long for, and yearn after many things in life that you will never receive. If you were to receive an answer to some of your requests, it would, perhaps, not be any special hindrance to you, and yet it would be no blessing. You will long for and seek after other things that you will never receive. If you were to receive an answer to some of your requests, it would, perhaps, prove to be the greatest hindrance in your life, and God, in mercy, does not grant your desire. If you always knew when you were desiring something that is not God's highest plan for you, you would cease; but it sometimes takes weeks, and even months, to he sure of God's best thought. But here is a request you are always safe to make, "Lord, teach us to pray."

      You may be filled with ambition to tower a thousand leagues above your fellow-men, in the pursuits of this life, but no greater desire ought ever to fill your bosom than that which was expressed in the words of this disciple, "Lord, teach us to pray." This request was made by a disciple after he had heard, and perhaps had seen, Jesus in prayer. His heart was stirred. He caught a new glimpse of the possibilities of prayer. His soul was gripped by the passion and fire of the Lord. It so wrought upon him that he, no doubt, paced around anxiously waiting until Jesus was through; and, as soon as He had ceased praying, this disciple rushed right up into His presence with a soul that was stirred and said, "Lord, teach us to pray".

      You will notice he did not say, "Teach us how to pray," but He said, "Teach us to pray." There is a vast difference in being taught how to pray and being taught TO pray. This disciple knew, as well as we know, that no matter who the individual is, if he gets in a close place, if he gets in a corner, he will not need to he taught how to pray. He will pray something, even if he does not pray any more than the sinner who went up to the temple with the Pharisee, who bowed his head in humility, smote himself on the breast and said, "God be merciful to me a sinner". This disciple did not ask to be taught how to pray; he asked to be taught to do the only thing in the world that will keep us spiritual, on fire, and in touch with God. An answer to this request will save us from dead formality, on the one hand, and fanaticism on the other.

      Jesus now answered this disciple's request in two respects: First, by example, for He prayed; and second, by precept, for He gave His disciples the prayer which has often been called the "Lord's prayer". But Dwight L. Moody stated that this is not the Lord's prayer, but the disciples' prayer. He further stated that the Lord's prayer is in the seventeenth chapter of John, where Jesus poured out his soul in that inimitable, incomparable, intercessory prayer for the sanctification of His people. Here his burden was, "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." This is the Lord's prayer. But the prayer which Jesus gave to His disciples was intended for an illustration, or an example to follow; not that you always have to pray this prayer, but that it serves as a splendid model, or example, for Jesus said, "After this manner pray ye", etc.

      Since this prayer has been given to the disciples, and we are disciples, it is as much for us as it was for them. Now that it is for us, let us examine the prayer a little. We may not touch the edges of what is contained in it but let us take a passing glance at it. First, we will notice the introductory words. Jesus said, "When ye pray, say, Our Father." Who has a right to address God as Father? No one but a son. But you are not a son when you are born into this world, neither are you a son when you are old enough to vote. No one has a right to address God as Father unless he is a son. If he is a son, it necessitates that he has been born into the family, and he is not born into the family of God until he is horn again. No sinner has a right to this prayer, no one but a son can say, "Our Father."

      In order for one to be able to say, "Our Father," he must have experienced that radical, instantaneous new birth which Jesus pointed out to Nicodemus in the third chapter of John's Gospel. Nicodemus had been under the law and its teachings all his life. He seems to have gotten a little light on the new birth and came over to Jesus for further help. But it took Jesus quite a while to lead him, step by step, line upon line, out of Judaism and away from his legal thinking into a heartfelt experience in salvation. Nicodemus' soul was so dead that it was hard for him to comprehend spiritual things. He could not see how a man could be born again after he was old. But after talking to him for a considerable time Jesus used an illustration concerning the wind, which seems to have cleared Nicodemus up in spiritual things, and from that time on his only question was "How can these things be?"

      In Jesus' reference to the blowing of the wind, He likened it to the birth of the Spirit. He showed Nicodemus that the wind blows and you do not see it; it may be blowing and you do not hear it. But how do you know the wind blows? You FEEL it! So is everyone that is born of the Spirit. You may not see anything when you are born again, you may not hear anything, but you will FEEL the birth of the Spirit. In spite of the fact that modernists, dead religionists, and backslidden preachers are trying to divorce feeling and emotionalism from religion, it is still there; and as long as a man keeps God in his life, he will have feeling in his religion. When one loses his religions feelings, that sweet, tender peace and joy that came to the soul in conversion, he is a backslider.

      Let us now notice some characteristics of sonship:

      I. RELATION OF A SON TO A FATHER. Being a son of God gives you that sweet, precious, tender feeling that a son holds toward a father. There is a great deal of preaching (and rightfully so) on the love of a mother being likened to the love of Jesus; but there is very little preaching on the relation of a son to a father. This is a phase of truth which is seldom preached; but when one becomes a son of God, it gives him a feeling of confidence, faith, dependability, and mutual interest. Every true son gratefully confides in his father and with great faith depends upon him.

      II. A HOMELIKE FEELING. When I go to my mother's home I do not feel ill at ease, as if I were a stranger. I do not feel that I am an intruder. I neither ring the door-bell nor rap at the door, because I am a son. I walk right in and feel at home. Mother never has to say to me, "Walter, make yourself at home", for she knows I am at home. I feel at home and act as if I am at home! You could not do that in my mother's home, because you are not a son. Nobody else can enjoy the privileges of my home that I can enjoy because I am a son.

      In a good many homes where I have been entertained in evangelistic work, my host has said to me, "Now, Brother Surbrook, we want you to feel perfectly at home." They showed me my room but insisted that I should not confine myself alone to that room. Pastors have said, "Here is my study;" housewives have said, "Come and sit in the parlor and enjoy the deep, overstuffed furniture." They have said to me, "If there is anything you want, please be free to mention it, for we want you to feel at home." I have appreciated this kindness and believed that they meant what they said, but I am an outsider; I am not a member of the family, I am not a son, so there are certain ethical bounds beyond which I dare not cross and be a Christian gentleman. There is a certain restraint because I am not a son; but in my mother's home, where I am a son, there is no restraint and I feel perfectly at ease. So it is with a son of God in the house of the Lord; he does not feel that be is a stranger. He may never have visited that church or congregation before, but if he is spiritual and the church is spiritual, he is not an intruder, but he feels perfectly at home because he is a member of the same family.

      III. FAMILY RESEMBLANCES. There is a family likeness among the people of God. There are certain family traits, family characteristics and earmarks which belong to the household of faith. When you become one of God's children, you will not have to try to act as if you are a member of the family. You will not be under any strain trying to watch yourself to be sure that you manifest only family characteristics, because family resemblances are natural and they will get out on you in spite of yourself. Somebody will pick you out as a member of the Lord's family; they will see on you, and about you, family resemblances. Let me illustrate. Some time ago when I was at my mother's home, she asked me to do some shopping for her. She gave me a list of articles which she wished me to buy, and, among other things, she mentioned a pound of coffee. She carefully instructed me that I should go up to Harry's Place (Harry is a Jew) to buy the coffee. The brand of coffee was new to me. I am not sure that I had ever heard of it before. I jotted down in my memory the articles Mother wished, walked up the street, and did the shopping. When I had bought everything that she wanted except the coffee, I then had to walk a block farther to Harry's Place to buy it, but I had forgotten the brand. I was at a loss for a few moments to know what to do. I thought, Harry does not know me, for I have never been in his place of business except once or twice. I was sure that if I heard the name of that brand of coffee again I would recognize it. As I entered Harry's Place, he came to me with a smile and said, "Is there something for you?"

      I said, "Yes, sir, I want a pound of coffee"; and immediately he told me the brand I wanted. I looked at him, smiled, and said, "flow did you know what kind of coffee I want?"

      He replied, "Oh, I know what everybody drinks all around the community".

      But that did not answer my question, for I wanted to know how he knew me; so I said again, "How did you know what kind of coffee I want?"

      "Oh," he said, "I know who you are. I know you by your brother, the preacher." He meant my brother George, who had been to his place of business and talked salvation to him and reasoned with him concerning that Prophet, like unto Moses, whom God promised to raise up. He knew my brother George, and he knew me by family resemblances.

      So it is with a son of God, there are family resemblances that will show on you and people will see them and recognize you as a child of God. You will not have to try to put it on, or act like it, or make people believe it, but it will be as natural for you to act like a son of God as it is for you to manifest your natural family characteristics.

      A friend of mine, an evangelist, had been holding a meeting and was on his way home, very worn and tired. He had to wait several hours in a large city between trains, and, rather than stay in the dirty depot and breathe tobacco smoke, he walked over to a hotel lobby, sat down in one of the large chairs, slid away down, and relaxed to rest. While he was sitting there, an old bum came along with a dirty, filthy old pipe, sat down by him, and began smoking. He smoked and puffed and kept watch of my friend, who had been a smoker in other days; but God had saved him from it, as He does all of His children. After the bum had smoked quite a while, he offered my friend a smoke, who graciously thanked him and said he did not use tobacco; and he continued resting. The old bum saw that he could not get my friend to smoke, and after he had smoked around him and blown the smoke on him for quite a while, and the preacher did not say a word, finally the old bum got up and looked my friend in the face and said, "Say, mister, let me guess your business."

      My friend said, "All right".

      He said, "You are a preacher".

      My friend smiled, looked up, and said, "Why do you guess me to be a preacher?"

      The bum answered, "Because you have such a kind expression on your face."

      After I heard that I said, "My Lord, help me always to have a kind expression on my face."

      There was that man of God under fire, under temptation, being smoked and tempted by the devil through that smoker; yet he had enough grace and enough of God on hand that he kept a kind expression on his face. That old bum picked him out to be a son of God because he saw family resemblances. I do not care who you are, or what kind of training you have had, or how far you may be from home, if you are born into the family of God you will bear family resemblances. Family characteristics will show themselves on you and you will he peeked out, again and again, as a child of God. You will not be picked out as a lawyer, a drummer, or just an ordinary business man, if you bear family resemblances.

      I was on a train some months ago on my way out West to hold a camp meeting, and, as far as I knew, I was a stranger on the train. Being a stranger I had not made friends yet with anybody, but had taken plenty of tune to pray, read my Bible and meditate, getting ready for the camp. On the second day of our trip, a man who had a berth across the aisle from me came over and sat down in front of me, looked me in the face and said, "May I ask you what your business is?"

      I said, "Certainly, I am a minister of the Gospel."

      He replied, "I thought so."

      Then I asked him; "Why did you pick me out to he a minister of the Gospel?"

      He replied, "Because men in your business are not always taking in with everything that is going on around them."

      I then asked him his religious affiliation and he said, "I am a Roman Catholic."

      I looked up in my soul and said, "Thank God, I have the testimony of a pagan, the testimony of an idolater, that I am bearing family resemblances." I was not trying to act like a Son of God. I was under no strain. I was not trying to put anything on; but sonship just naturally lived itself out and that man saw it.

      Let me give you another illustration. A tall, well-dressed son of God was on a train going to a meeting. The train pulled up to the town where he was to get off, and, as it stopped, a little boy came out on the platform with a basket of fruit, shouting, "Apples, oranges, five cents apiece, three for a dime!" The thoughtless passengers rushed out with their baggage, and some careless fellow bumped into the child and spilled his basket of fruit on the platform. As the man of God got off the train he took in the situation at a glance, set his baggage down, stooped over and helped the boy pick up the fruit. He put it all back in the basket and then put his hand in his pocket and gave the boy a piece of change. The boy was a dirty, ragged street urchin. He had been cuffed, cursed, kicked around, and spit upon; but he had never been treated as kindly as that before. This stranger, with his act of kindness, completely overwhelmed the boy and he stood almost breathless for a moment. After the stranger had given him the piece of money, the boy, with large brown eyes, looked up in his face with a very inquiring look and said, "Mister, be you Jesus? Mister, be you Jesus?"

      "No, son, I am just one of his boys."

      That poor, dirty, ragged street urchin recognized in that stranger family resemblances! It is not a question of your family training, your money, or where you are from, that will make people see in you the characteristics of a son of God; it is a question of the new birth. If you have been definitely and positively and instantaneously converted; if you have been drastically changed from the old life into the family of God, you are bound to bear family resemblances.

      IV. INTERESTED IN THE SAME THINGS. When I was a young man at home, my father's successes were my joy and his reverses were my sorrow, for I was vitally interested in everything in which my father was interested. So it is with a child of God. If you are a genuine son of God, you are so vitally interested in your Father's work that if it suffers, you suffer; if it prospers, it is your joy. If a member of the family suffers, you suffer with him. You never rejoice over the failures, reverses, or sorrows of another member of the family. Paul said, "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." You are not living for self, but living for others. You are living a poured-out life. You are living a laid-down life. You are living a life of sacrifice. You are living for the success of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Those who associate with you will recognize that you are a pilgrim and a stranger here, a sojourner; your citizenship, conversation, and treasures are all in Heaven.

      Time and space will not permit the same concentration on the rest of this prayer that we have devote to the introductory words. May I make just a few passing remarks as we glance at the rest of it?

      Jesus continued, "Hallowed be thy name." Hallowed means holy. Holy is Thy name. I am not to say "Hallowed be thy name," in lip service alone for that is cheap; but every act of my life, every word my lips, the whole outflow of my being is to say "Hallowed be thy name," or "Holiness unto the Lord."

      "Thy kingdom come." He taught them to be premillennialists, to long and groan for the return Jesus and the kingdom age, which is the millennial age.

      "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth." I other words, I am not engaged in anything that illegal or in any respect contrary to the highest will of God. Not only am I willing for His will to be wrought out perfectly in earth as it is in Heaven, but I am longing for it.

      "Give us day by day our daily bread." Some one said this is spiritual bread; if it is, you are not neglecting your soul, but you are seeking after the spiritual bread. If it is material bread and God supplied the bread for your physical strength, you are, in turn, indebted to God to return that strength into His work. If God supplies your physical sustenance and you do not gratefully return that strength to His kingdom, you are a traitor to the cause of Christ.

      "And forgive us our sins for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us." This Scripture literally says, "Forgive me just as I forgive the other fellow. If you have had trouble with somebody whom you have not forgiven, and you profess to be a Christian, your religion is vain; for Jesus said, "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." By asking God to forgive us as we forgive our debtors, we ask God to forgive us to the same extent that we forgive our debtors. If we have not forgiven them, we are not forgiven; for in our request we have tied the hands of God and He can forgive only to the same extent that we forgive.

      Let me illustrate this verse of Scripture. Some months before I was converted, my sister was doing some telephoning. Mr. ____, a neighbor, wished to use the telephone at the same time. Being an unconverted man, he did not have patience to wait until my sister had finished, so he cursed her over the phone. Of course, this stirred me and in a moment I was ready to fight. I walked down the road to his home and told him what I could do with him and about how quickly I could do it, if he would just come out in the road. I did not propose to allow him to curse my sister. He did not come out, however.

      Some months later, after I had prayed through and gotten saved and sanctified, on a Sunday afternoon I had been away and was driving home. To reach my destination I had to pass by this man's house. When I was yet a half mile down the road, the Holy Spirit said, "What about that trouble you had with Mr. ____?" My soul sank within me. The Lord revealed to me in a few moments that I must go to this man now and apologize. For the next half mile I prayed and promised God that, if He would give me the grace and courage, I would stop that afternoon and fix everything up.

      As I drove up in front of his home, he and two other men walked out of the house. I stopped my horse, got out of the buggy, called him out to the road, and said, "Mr. ____, you remember the trouble we had some months ago?" I said, "I am sorry for the way I acted and for what I said, and I want you to forgive me. I gave my heart to God a few weeks ago and was definitely converted. God has forgiven all my past. I want to go to Heaven, and I do not believe anybody can go to Heaven with old grudges and troubles not fixed up." I then offered to shake hands with him. Although he professed to be a skeptic, he looked at me with tears in bis eyes, his chin trembling, and gave me as warm a hand-shake as I ever got in my life; then he said, "Walter, I forgive you."

      Some months later my brother and I pitched a tent across the road from that man's farm, and began preaching the Gospel. His wife was the first woman converted at our altar. Did it not pay me to fix up that old grudge and get that old sore healed? If I had not obeyed God that Sunday afternoon, I would have had to forfeit my relationship with God; for He forgives only as we forgive, and keeps us cleansed as we walk in the light. That man who had been my enemy at once became one of my best friends.

      One manifestation of the characteristics of a son of God broke down the barrier, melted his iceberg of unbelief, and at once he became a believer in Christianity. We may fail in a good many other things, but let us see to it that we do not fail to manifest the characteristics of a child of God. Let us insist on acting like a member of the family which we represent.

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