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Adoption, a part of Justification-Meaning of the term, “Sons of God”—The Practice and
Nature of Adoption among Men-Definition and Explanation of the Spiritual Privilege of Adoption—The Benefits flowing from it.
Having illustrated at considerable length, the doctrine of justification, I proceed to consider another privilege of believers in Christ, namely, Adoption. There are two reasons why I shall direct your attention to it: first, because it is expressly mentioned in the Scriptures as one of the blessings of redemption; and secondly, because a place is commonly assigned to it in systems of Theology. At the same time, it appears to me to be virtually the same with justification, and to differ from it merely in the new view which it gives of the relation of believers to God, and in the peculiar form in which it exhibits the blessings to which they are entitled. As it implies a change of state, it must be the same; for this change can take place but once; and whether we say that a sinner passes from a state of guilt and condemnation into a state of favour with God, or that he is translated from the family of Satan into the family of heaven, we express the same fact, and only diversify the terms. He who is justified is adopted, and he who is adopted is justified. But as the Scriptures make use of the term adoption, to denote the change of relation which takes place when we are effectually called, and believers are often exhibited in the character of the children of God, the subject is well worthy of our attention, and has a claim to a separate illustration.
There are different grounds on which men receive the designation of the Sons of God. First, they are so called on account of their relation to him as their Maker. “Have we not all one Father? and hath not one God created us ?''* It is for this reason that, in the third chapter of Luke, where the genealogy of our Saviour is recorded, the Evangelist having traced it up to the progenitor of the human race, by stating in the usual form that such a man was the son of such another man, concludes by saying of Adam, “which was the son of God.”+ And for the same reason, angels are called his sons. “ Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth; when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"! Again, the designation of sons of God is given to men in consequence of the external relation in which they stand to him as his people, and the favour with which he regards them. This is obviously the import of the message which God commanded Moses to deliver to Pharaoh. “Thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my first-born."'S It is intimated in these words, that he had chosen the Israelites to be his peculiar people; that he regarded them with peculiar affection, and purposed to bestow upon them distinguished marks of his favour; and that this was the reason why he commanded the king of Egypt to give them liberty to depart, and why he would himself interpose by miracles to effect their deliverance. In the New Testament they are described as the children of the kingdom; and on the same ground the character of the sons of God may now be given to the members of the visible church, who are externally in covenant with him, and have been symbolically admitted into his family by baptism. There remains another mode in which men are constituted the sons of God, namely, by adoption. The term is ap
* Mal. ii. 10.
4 Luke iii. 38.
Job xxxviii. 4. 7.
$ Exod. iv. 22.
plied indeed to the son-ship of the Israelites, “to whom," as Paul says, “pertained the adoption,"'* because God took them into a relation to himself, in which they did not naturally stand; but it is used in its proper sense and full import, in reference only to believers in Christ. 6. When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”+ And the same apostle says in another place, “ He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved."
“ To adopt a person, as Kennet says in his Roman Antiquities, “was to take him in the room of a son, and to give him a right to all the privileges which accompanied that title. Now the wisdom of the Roman constitution made this matter a public concern. When a man had a mind to adopt another into his family, he was obliged to draw up his reasons, and to offer them to the college of the Pontifices for their approbation. If this was obtained, on the motion of the Pontifices, the consul, or some other prime magistrate, brought in a bill at the Comitia Curiata, to make the adoption valid. The private ceremony consisted in buying the person to be adopted, of his parents, for such a sum of money formally given and taken ; and Suetonius tells us, that Augustus purchased his grandsons Caius and Lucius of their father Agrippa." It may be added to this account, that the parties appeared before the prætor, when the intended father said, “ Art thou willing to become my son ?" and the son answered, “I am willing." The relation was thus formed according to law, and the adopted son entered into the family of his new father, assumed his name, became subject to his authority, and was entitled to the whole of the inheritance, or to a share of it if there were any other sons.
I have referred to this practice as existing among the Romans, and sanctioned by the laws of the state; but it was not peculiar to them. It appears to have prevailed among the Greeks, the Egyptians, and, I believe, some other nations. We have an example of adoption among the Egyptians in the case of the daughter of Pharaoh the king, concerning whom it is related that, having accidentally found the infant Moses exposed on the banks of the Nile, she gave him to his mother to be nursed; and that when the child grew, his mother brought him to her, "and he became her son." He was thus admitted a member of the royal family, and it is mentioned as a proof of the power of his faith, that he renounced this high honour, and chose to take part with his own nation in their afflictions, because they were the people of God: “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter;// sacrificed the glory and the advantages which he already possessed, and had the prospect of enjoying, in consequence of his adoption. It is the opinion of some, that the term adoption in the New Testament, is not borrowed from the Greeks and Romans, but is founded on the style of the Old Testament, in which, as we have seen, the Israelites are called the sons of God. But it is more probable that, as the New Testament was intended for the use of the Gentiles as well as the Jews, it was the design of the writers, when they employed a word familiar to the latter, to refer to the thing denoted by it as it was practised among them, and thus to convey to them an intelligible idea of the spiritual relation between God and the objects of his favour.
Adoption, according to the scriptural sense of the term, is an act of God, by which he pronounces sinful men to be his sons, admits them into his family,
+ Gal. iv. 4, 5.
1 Eph. i. 4–6.
$ Exod. ii. 10.
* Rom. ix. 4. Vol. II.-29
|| Heb. xi. 24.
and gives them a right to the privileges of his children. With a view to illustrate this general definition, I request your attention to the following particulars.
First, As an adopted son originally belonged to a different family from that into which he was admitted, we must inquire from what family the children of God are taken. We might say, then, that they are of the family of Adam, understanding by this expression, not merely that they are his natural offspring, his sons and daughters by lineal descent, but that they were born in his image, and after his likeness, and derive from him the guilt, the pollution, and the curse, which he hath bequeathed to them as a fatal inheritance. We might accommodate to our present purpose the words of God to his ancient people, “Look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged."* • Look unto Adam your father, and unto Eve that conceived you in sin, and brought you forth in iniquity.' The Scriptures give another view of the subject; and pronounce all men in their fallen state to be the children not only of Adam, but of him by whose artifice they were reduced to their present condition; “ Ye are of your father the devil,”ť said our Lord to the Jews. “Ye boast of your connexion with Abraham, and found upon it the hope of acceptance with God; but your conduct proves you to be the genuine offspring of the enemy of all righteousness;' for he adds, “the works of your father ye do." Lest, however, we should suppose that this character is applicable to them alone on account of their peculiar depravity manifested in the rejection of the Messiah, the Scripture is careful to comprehend all unregenerated men under the same denomination: “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.” “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother."'! To the justness of this description in reference to notorious transgressors, few will be disposed to objeet. In their blasphemy, their profaneness, their malice, their envy, their violence and cruelty, we distinctly perceive the horrid features of the spirit of darkness. But pride, self-confidence, a dislike of the divine character and laws, repugnance to the will of our Maker, and a constant inclination to sin, which are found in every man who has not been born again, are indications not less certain, that we are guided by the counsels and actuated by the temper of the first rebel against the righteous government of God. “ He is the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience.”'S All the children of disobedience, therefore, are his sons. Although they may disown their relation, they daily recognise it by their unholy thoughts and actions, and unless divine mercy interpose, will receive the inheritance of wrath, which is their allotted portion.
Secondly, as an adopted son became a member of a new family, so he upon whom this spiritual privilege is conferred, is enrolled among the children of God. Like the prodigal, who had gone into a far country, and, having there wasted his substance in riotous living, was reduced to extreme distress, he returns, or rather by Divine Grace is brought back, to the house of his heavenly Father; and his father, to adopt the language of the parable, falling on his neck and embracing him in the arms of his love, does not place him in the condition of a servant, but restores him to the name and the right of a son. And, how glorious is this family to which we are re-united! First in dignity and honour is Jesus Christ himself, who, in his Divine Person, is the eternal Son of God, and, in his mediatorial character, stands in a particular relation to believers. The Scripture calls him “ the first born among many brethren,” intimating, that he belongs to the heavenly family, in which he claims precedence, and holds the most distinguished place He is the Elder Brother; for
* Is. li. 1.
+ John viii. 44.
1 1John iii. 8, 10.
$ Eph. ii 2.
he and the other children, or those of them who are taken from among men are partakers of a common nature; and for this cause “he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.”* Next in order are those glorious beings, who, having retained their purity and fidelity, have continued, without interruption, to enjoy the honour and felicity of their primeval state. Angels are the sons of God, as we formerly remarked, and constitute an illustrious portion of the family, distinguished by the excellence of their nature, the superiority of their endowments, the ardour of their love, and their unwearied activity. To them we are united by adoption; for the inhabitants of heaven, and the saints upon earth, compose one holy society, under the protection and government of him in whom all things are gathered together. Lastly, There are the saints triumphant and militant, who, although separated from one another in place, a part being in a state of manhood while the other part can be considered as only in infancy, are all invested with the same high character, and stand in the same relation to God. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the prophets and apostles, the martyrs and confessors, and believers of every age and nation, are associated in one great brotherhood. Taken by sovereign grace from the degraded and ruined family to which we naturally belonged, we are introduced into the fellowship of the most glorious creatures in the universe, the bright spirits who minister before the throne of the Eternal in heaven, and the happy men upon whom his own hand has impressed the image of his perfeetion. “Ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”| How wonderful the change which takes place in adoption, whether we consider it in itself, or in its consequences ! “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." I
We have seen that spiritual, like civil adoption, consists in translating a person from the family in which he was born, into that of a stranger.
In the case of civil adoption, the translation was made at the desire, and by the authority, of the person who, having no children of his own, had recourse to this expedient to supply the want. In like manner, the admission of sinners into the family of heaven, is the act of God, by whom we are blessed with all spiritual blessings. It is an act of his grace and authority; of his grace, in choosing persons so unworthy to enjoy this high honour; of his authority, in dissolving their original connexion, and constituting a new relation between them and himself. Birth, external privileges, corporeal and mental accomplishments, and the suffrages of others, cannot elevate us to this dignity. “We are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.''S The same sentence which acquits us from guilt and restores us to favour, invests us with the privilege of sonship and all the blessings attached to it. “It shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God."'ll
The meritorious cause of adoption, is the mediation of Christ, as we learn from the words formerly quoted: “God sent forth his Son to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. Ву taking our nature, Jesus has raised it from its fallen state, in which it was di
* Heb. ii. 11, 12.
# Ib. xii. 22–24.
11 John iii. 1.
vested of its glory, and so depraved that its Maker could not hold communion with it. Its dignity is restored in the person of our Saviour; and, through him, it is now worthy to stand in the presence of God, and to be distinguished by the tokens of his love. But this is not all. He has redeemed us from the curse of the law, and procured that the forfeiture of our sonship should be reversed. He has made satisfaction for our sins, and not only appeased the anger of God, but, by his infinitely valuable obedience, obtained for us all the blessings of salvation. “But now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometime were afar off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” • Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”* His righteousness, imputed to believers, gives them a title to the precious fruits of his death; and the union with him, which is formed by the Spirit, places them in the same relation to God with himself.
* Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”+
The last remark which I shall make, relates to the means by which we obtain the actual possession of the privilege of adoption. We have seen that, in civil adoption, the consent of the person to be adopted was demanded, and publicly expressed. Something similar takes place in spiritual adoption. The privilege is offered to us in the Gospel; but it does not become ours till we accept of it. Although we do not, and cannot merit it, yet our consent is required, and is indispensably necessary. Now, this consent consists in faith, which implies our cordial acceptance of the blessings which Christ purehased for us, and of which God makes a free gift to us in the Gospel. Hence, to believe in Christ, and to receive him, are used in the Scriptures as equivalent terms. •Art thou willing, God says, that I shall be thy Father?' 'The believing sinner answers, • I am willing.' “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." Now, they are no longer aliens and outcasts, but the members of his family, the objects of his affection and care, and heirs of the glory which shall be revealed." They are called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord hath named."'S
We have traced some points of resemblance between human adoption and our admission into the family of God; but there are some respects in which they differ, and to these I shall now direct your attention.
First, It is scarcely necessary to remark, that the primary cause of adoption among men does not exist in the present case. It was the want of children which gave rise to the practice, and the object in view was to provide, by this expedient, what nature had denied. But this reason cannot for a moment be supposed to have had an influence in procuring our adoption by our heavenly Father; for, besides that he is self-sufficient, and had always a Son, who is his perfect image, and with whom he maintains an intercourse of love, which is the source of ineffable and infinite blessedness; all the creatures in the universe could make no addition to his felicity, and have nothing to present but what they have first received from his bounty. The Divine nature, although single, is not solitary, and possesses in its own fulness the materials of perfect and perpetual bliss.
Secondly, Human adoption was founded on good qualities, real or supposed, in the object; for we cannot conceive any man to have chosen another to be his son, who did not appear to him worthy of this honour. The Scriptures are careful to impress upon our minds the difference with respect to spiritual adoption, by drawing, with the darkest colours, the original character of those upon whom the blessings of salvation are bestowed. It was necessary, as we
* Eph. ii. 13, 19.
+ John xx. 17.
#Ib. i. 12.
s Isa. Ixii. 2.