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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. M. Pendleton
From Christian Doctrines: A Compendium of Theology, 1878
While regeneration denotes a change of heart, and justification a change of state, Adoption seems to be a complex term which represents the believer as regenerated and justified. So far as this term is expressive of the feelings of God's children toward him, it coincides with regeneration, and so far as it expresses a relation of acceptance with God through Christ, it is identical with justification.
It may shed some light on the subject to say, that ancient nations—Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and others —were familiar with the process of civil adoption. By this process, children were taken from families of which they were natural members, introduced into other families, and made to sustain a legal relation thereto—a relation similar in its results to those of the natural relation. Such children were recognized as the children of those who had adopted them, and became their heirs. In view of this definition of civil adoption we can easily see that spiritual adoption is the act by which God takes those who were by nature children of wrath in a new relation to himself—a filial relation—involving their recognition and treatment as children. They are distinguished by the appellation "sons and daughters" of the "Lord Almighty." (See II Cor. 6:18)
Civil adoption and spiritual are in some respects similar, in others dissimilar. The points of similarity are such as these:
1. In each kind of adoption, the child is taken from another family. The fact that the child belongs to another family renders the adopting process necessary. Sinners, we know, are estranged from God, children of the devil, members of another family.
2. In each, the adopted child sustains a new relation to the adopter. This relation is a filial one which cannot possibly exist until the adopting act is performed.
3. In each, the adopted becomes the heir of the adopter. By the law of nature and by the civil law too, the child is regarded as the heir of the father. The adopted one is in the place of a child. Christians, having been adopted by God, are his heirs. They inherit from him, and their inheritance is incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading.
But there are points of dissimilarity:
1. Civil adoption, it is supposed, was first permitted for the benefit and comfort of the childless. There is nothing like this in spiritual adoption. Jehovah is not childless. The angels are "the sons of God," and they constitute "an innumerable company." These "sons of God shouted for joy "when the omnipotent Creator laid the foundations of the earth. (Job 38: 7)
2. In civil adoption, something amiable and attractive in the adopted excites the regard of the adopter. Hence, Pharaoh's daughter was charmed with the infant loveliness of Moses, had compassion on him, and adopted him as her son. We are told also, that Mordecai, because Esther was "fair and beautiful" and her parents were dead, "took her for his own daughter." (Esther 2:7) To instances like these, there is nothing similar in spiritual adoption. In the moral character of those whom God adopts, there is nothing attractive, but everything repulsive. They are his enemies, guilty of high treason against the King of glory. They bear the image of Satan, for they are of their father, the devil. The wickedness of their lives is only an expression of the greater wickedness of their hearts. Surely, God, in adopting such creatures into his family is prompted by nothing good or amiable in them, but by his amazing and infinite love.
3. In civil adoption, though a filial relation is established, there is not necessarily a filial disposition. Adopted children sometimes become moral monsters in human form. So base is their requital of the kindness of their benefactors as to sicken every benevolent heart. Spiritual adoption is always connected with a filial temperament. It is inseparable from regeneration, by which we are born of God and become his children through faith in Jesus Christ. Where the filial relation is established the filial affections are exercised. All whom God adopts love him as their gracious Father.
The privileges of adoption claim attention. They are many, and I name the following:
1. Unobstructed access to God. The child can approach the father when a stranger would be repulsed. The son can gain admittance when the servant would ask a hearing in vain. The people of God may draw near to him at all times. He ever bids them welcome. They may approach him with confidence. He invites them to come boldly unto the throne of grace." (Heb. 4:16) Paul says, "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." (Rom. 8:15) How delightful to feel the sublime joy resulting from fellowship with God! How cheering is his fatherly smile! Who that has experienced the blessedness of free access to God as a Father would exchange it for all that "earth calls good or great"?
2. The adopted are brethren of Christ. "Having predestinated its unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." (Eph. 1:5) The whole of the process of spiritual adoption is through Christ, and the fatherhood of God is inseparable from brotherhood in Christ. All the adopted can claim the Lord Jesus as their Brother. He is said to be "the first-born among many brethren." (Rom. 8:29) There is a numerous family, but he is the Elder Brother. All others are adopted for his sake. Nor is he ashamed of the relation he sustains to them. "For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren." (Heb. 2:11) What an honor is this! To claim Christ, not only as a Friend, but as a Brother, and to know that this fraternal relation is cemented and sanctified by the blood of the cross.
3. They enjoy the Spirit of adoption. We are told, that "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 because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." (Gal. 4:4-6) The Spirit is a Comforter. He comforts the adopted by bearing testimony to their adoption. We therefore read in Rom. 8:16 as follows: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." He enables us to appropriate the promises made to the adopted. When we are conscious that we possess the evidences of adoption our spirits also bear witness.
There is concurrent testimony, for the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit. To enjoy the Spirit of adoption is an inestimable privilege. This Spirit cries—that is, prompts the adopted to cry—"Abba, Father." They claim relationship with God. The beloved disciple therefore says:
"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." (I John 3:1, 2)
How great the honor for Christians, while in this world of sin and sorrow, to enjoy the blessed consciousness that they are the children of God, with all the high possibilities of glory before them!
4. They are the objects of divine care and protection. A kind earthly father provides, according to his ability, what is needful for his children, and "like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." (Ps. 103:13) David, remembering his shepherd life and his care of the flocks committed to his charge, said, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters." (Ps. 23:1, 2)
The Psalmist, it is true, speaks here for himself, but elsewhere he uses language so general as to include all who love and serve God "For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." (Ps. 84:11) Paul said to the Philippian church, "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19) He also said to the Romans, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8:28) If God, who has "all things" under his control, makes all things work together for good to his people, what more can they ask or desire? Surely, they may rejoice in his care and protection.
5. They are chastened in love for their spiritual good. Some may think it strange that I include paternal chastening among the privileges of adoption, but it cannot be improper to do so when we are told that our heavenly Father chastens us "for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness." (Heb. 12:10) Earthly fathers, owing to their imperfection, often make mistakes in the infliction of chastisement. They are prompted, it may be, by passion or controlled by caprice, and they may have unworthy ends in view. God is infinitely perfect and infinitely wise. The motives which prompt his action are worthy of his nature. He doeth all things well. We may safely say that because of his great love for his people he would never chasten them at all if their spiritual good did not require it. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." (Heb. 12:6) Chastening, then, is a proof of his love, for he has in view the "profit" of those he chastens.
The expression, "that we may be partakers of his holiness," contains a most precious truth. It indicates that the chastenings which God inflicts on his people are promotive of their conformity to his moral image. To partake of his holiness is to become holy. This is his will concerning his people. He says, "But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy." (I Pet. 1:15, 16) The highest good of creatures is to be found in their holiness, in their likeness to God. If, then, God chastens those whom he adopts into his family that he may make them like himself: surely chastening is to be classed among the privileges of adoption. The sanctification of suffering is provided for in God's covenant with his adopted children, and they should, therefore, regard all their afflictions as blessings in disguise.
6. A glorious inheritance is in reserve for the adopted. This inspiring truth is taught in the following passages: "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." (Rom. 8:17); "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away." (I Pet. 1:3, 4); "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." (Rev. 21:7)
These precious Scriptures give assurance to the adopted of an inheritance so glorious that nothing more glorious can be desired or imagined. Who can adequately conceive how much is meant by the heavenly heirship—heirship with God and joint heirship with Christ? His adopted children are to inherit from God, their gracious Father, and they are to inherit in connection with their Elder Brother, Christ Jesus. They are to inherit all things, and their inheritance will be an immortal one. It is "incorruptible, undefiled, and fadeth not away." This is what Jesus means by "a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth." (Luke 12:33) How secure and how permanent! In the enjoyment of this heavenly treasure, the largest and highest aspirations of the saints will receive full gratification.
The expanded faculties of every redeemed soul will be filled to a blessed repletion with joy inexpressible and eternal. God will recognize his adopted ones, smile upon them, and permit them through endless ages to draw on his infinite resources for happiness. They will appear before his throne in all the beauty of unblemished purity, reflecting the image of their Redeemer, even as the polished mirror reflects the image of the noonday sun. But why enlarge? It will require eternity to comprehend and eternity to enjoy this last great privilege of adoption—the possession of the incorruptible inherits.