by James Buchanan
Excerpt from from The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit (free eBook)
The Spirit of God not only sanctifies his people, but he imparts a new character to their obedience. They 'run in the way of his commandments, when he has enlarged their hearts;' and this he does as the Spirit of adoption. '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. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.' - (Romans 8:15-17). When the apostle says, 'Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear,' the word 'again' implies that at some former period there did exist amongst God's people that spirit of bondage unto fear which is here contrasted with the spirit of adoption, and that they had even received it from God himself. There is reason to believe that the apostle refers, in the first instance, to the difference between the two great dispensations of divine truth, or to the contrast which is elsewhere so strikingly marked betwixt the law and the Gospel. The widely different characters of these dispensations are described, when in one place it is said, 'The law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ;' and in another, where we read of 'the two covenants, the one from Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage: the other from Jerusalem, which is above, and is free;' the law being alike fitted in its own nature, and designed in the purpose of God, to generate a spirit of bondage, to shut men up to the faith that was still to be revealed, and to place them, as it were, under tutors and governors, until the time appointed of the Father. 'Even so we,' adds the apostle, 'when we were children, were in bondage unto the elements or rudiments of the world. But when the fullness 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.' In so far as the law given by Moses was a republication of the covenant of works, it had no power to give peace to the sinner's conscience, and no tendency to liberate him from the bondage of his fears. On the contrary, it was fitted and designed to convince him of his guilt and danger, to impress him with an awful sense of God's unchangeable rectitude and justice, and to teach him, that 'by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.' It was, in fact, a ministration of death, a ministration of condemnation; and the bondage of the law preceded, and tended to prepare the way for, the glorious liberty wherewith Christ makes his people free.
'But while the apostle's words may be understood as referring, in the first instance, to the difference betwixt the two great dispensations of the law and the Gospel, they may be considered also as descriptive of two corresponding stages in the experience of every believer. There is a remarkable resemblance in this respect betwixt the course of God's dispensations to the Church at large, and the methods of his dealing with each individual in particular; for just as, in the history of the Church, the first covenant, which gendered unto bondage, preceded the fullness of Gospel liberty in Christ, so, in the experience of private Christians, there is often, in the first instance, a spirit of bondage unto fear, before they receive the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father. Many a soul is kept in bondage for a time, before it is brought into the liberty of a child of God. I refer not to the bondage of sin, of which the apostle speaks when he says of the ungodly, 'While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage;' and again, 'That they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.' This is indeed the natural condition of all men, and there is no tyranny more absolute and no bondage more severe; but it is a servitude which lamentable experience declares to be perfectly compatible with the utmost carelessness, and its unhappy victims, so far from suffering under the spirit of bondage unto fear, have often no apprehension of their danger, and no desire to escape from their misery, but cling to the chains by which they are bound. They are slaves but they know it not, slaves to their sin, and in bondage to their lusts; but, following 'the sight of their own eyes, and the desire of their own hearts,' they love their bondage, and even glory in their shame. But I speak not of the bondage of sin, but of the bondage of the law, not of the yoke of natural corruption, but of the galling yoke of convictions produced in the conscience by the Word and Spirit of God: such convictions as were felt by the Philippian gaoler, when, from being a careless sinner, he became a convinced and anxious inquirer, and called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'; and by the dying thief on the cross, when, under strong impressions of God's justice, he said to his fellow-sufferer, 'Dost thou not ear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? and we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds;' and by the three thousand on the day of Pentecost, who, when they heard Peter's sermon, 'were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? When the law of God is applied to the sinner's conscience; when. he is enabled to understand its spirituality and extent, as reaching even to the thoughts and intents of the heart; when he is impressed with a sense of his own sinfulness in particular, its aggravated guilt, and its awful demerit; and when, applying to himself God's threatenings, he is made to feel as if God were saying to him, 'Thou art the man'- then he will learn from his own experience what is meant by 'the spirit of bondage unto fear;' and the sudden change which is thus wrought in all his views and feelings will enable him to understand what the apostle felt, when he said, 'I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.' The right apprehension of God's law, and the serious application of it to a man's conscience, cannot fail to awaken convictions of guilt, and these, again, are always accompanied with fear and terror, for 'the law worketh wrath;' and its fearful curse will be felt either as a heavy burden oppressing the conscience, or as a grievous bondage from which no human power can effect his deliverance. This has been the bitter experience of many an anxious inquirer at the commencement of his course: he has been so deeply convinced of sin, and so much impressed with a sense of divine wrath, that he can have no difficulty in understanding what is meant by the spirit of bondage. God has been a terror to him, so that, like Job, he was ready to say, 'The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit; the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me;' or like David, 'I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed.' And the prospects of his soul, and especially the thought of death, and judgment, and eternity, have been unspeakably dreadful, insomuch that 'through fear of death he was subject to bondage.'
This spirit of bondage unto fear is the effect of the law, and the utmost that the mere law can accomplish: it 'gendereth unto bondage;' it awakens fear, and may occasion deep distress; but it has no capacity or fitness for pacifying the conscience, or ensuring the salvation of a sinner. God is pleased to use the law as an instrument of conviction, turning up, as with a ploughshare, the fallow ground of nature, and thereby preparing it for the reception of the good seed; and this preparatory work is of great practical use, and, indeed, of absolute and indispensable necessity, in order to saving conversion. When the apostle says, therefore, 'Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear,' his words are to be understood as intimating, not that sinners are now exempt from this preparatory discipline, or that it is no longer used under the Gospel, but that another and better spirit is the proper fruit of the new dispensation under which we have been placed, and ought to be found in the heart of every believer. I refer to 'the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.'
The spirit of bondage unto fear, which is produced by the law applied to the conscience, can only be exchanged for 'the Spirit of adoption' by our believing the Gospel. When the sinner, awakened out of the lethargy of nature, and convinced in his conscience, or pricked in his heart, begins to inquire. 'What must I do to be saved?, he is in a hopeful state of preparation for receiving the Gospel; and if, under the teaching of the Spirit, he is enabled to understand the message of peace which God has sent from the upper sanctuary; if he is taught to apprehend the nature of the scheme of grace, the design and object of the Saviour's work, the value and the efficacy of his death as an atonement for sin, the all-sufficiency of Christ as one who is able to save unto the very uttermost, and the richness and freeness of his grace as it is expressed and declared in the free and universal calls and invitations of the Gospel; and if, especially, he be enabled to apply the truth to his own case, so as to feel that the Gospel, which is glad tidings to all, is a Gospel to him, and that Jesus, who is the Christ of God, is a Christ to his own soul - then, on the instant when he understands and believes the Gospel message, and appropriates it to himself, may the spirit of bondage be displaced by the spirit of adoption in his heart, and he may enter at once on the glorious liberty wherewith Christ makes his people free. For it is simply by faith, simply by believing what God speaks to him in the Word, that the convinced sinner becomes a converted man; and there is enough in Christ's Gospel to produce and sustain a spirit of adoption in his heart, even were he the very chief of sinners. The reason why we remain so long under the bondage of legal fears is, not that the Gospel is inadequate to remove them or insufficient to produce a spirit of adoption, but because there is either some defect or error in our apprehension of the truth, or some lurking spirit of unbelief concerning it, or some remaining unwillingness to close with it. If we would only believe, we should see the salvation of God. If the most disconsolate sinner would only look out of himself to Christ, and behold him as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, and, opening his mind to the full impression of the truth, would receive it as a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ came into the world to save sinners; that Christ speaks to him individually in the Gospel, and offers him a free salvation, and calls, and invites, and beseeches, and commands him to accept of it; that he who died on the cross is now on the throne, a Saviour mighty to save; and that God is revealed no longer as the Lawgiver, Judge, and Avenger, but as God in Christ reconciling ('the Lord God merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin'), oh! then might the most anxious inquirer that ever smarted under the yoke of bondage pass at once into a state of perfect freedom, and exchange all his misgivings, and forebodings, and fears, for peace and joy in believing - that peace which passeth all understanding, and that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
For by faith in the Gospel he comes at once into a new state and relation to God. Formerly he was a child of disobedience, a child of wrath even as others; now he is, by adoption, a son; and if a son, then an heir, an heir of God, and a joint heir with Christ. This change in his relation to God is necessarily antecedent to the witness of the Spirit by which it is declared and confirmed; and it is because we are sons that God sends forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba, Father.' And this filial relation is constituted by faith; for on the instant that a sinner believes the Gospel, he is adopted into God's family, and becomes a partaker of all the privileges of his children. His whole relation to God is changed, so that to him may be addressed the language of the apostle, "Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.' Adoption is a most precious privilege; it brings us into a new and most endearing relation to God; it makes us the children and the heirs of him who graciously condescends to call himself our Father in heaven; and as it is bestowed, like every other privilege of his grace, through the mediation of his own Son, it confers an infallible security by making us 'joint heirs with Christ,' heirs not in our own right, but in the right of him who is God's only begotten and well-beloved Son. And this precious privilege, which brings us now under the paternal protection of God, and gives us a sure interest in all the promises of the Gospel, is attained simply by believing; for there is enough in the message of the Gospel to warrant even the very chief of sinners in drawing nigh unto God as a forgiving Father; and as soon as that message is clearly understood and cordially believed, we may enter at once on the state and condition of children.
But this change in his relation to God will be accompanied with a corresponding change in his views and feelings towards him; he will now regard him as his Father; his state being changed, his spirit will be changed also; and he will be conscious of a new frame of mind, which is here called 'the spirit of adoption, whereby he cries, Abba, Father.' This childlike disposition can only be produced by the truth as it is in Jesus, received in the exercise of a simple faith, and applied with power by the Spirit of all grace; and the spirit of adoption springs as naturally from the Spirit's work in applying the Gospel, as the spirit of bondage from the Spirit's work in applying the law. It belongs to the office of the Holy Spirit to unfold to the believer the unsearchable riches of Christ, to open up the freeness of his grace, and the fullness of Gospel privilege which belongs to his people; 'for,' says our Lord, 'he shall glorify me: he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you;' - and the apostle, 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him; but God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.' 'Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things which are freely given to us of God.'
The work of the Spirit in applying the Gospel for the comfort and establishment of believers, considered as the children of God, consists of two parts, which, although they may be intimately connected and mutually related with each other, are nevertheless capable of being distinguished, and are mentioned separately by the apostle. For two distinct effects of his operation are referred to, when we read in the 15th verse of 'the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father;' and in the 16th, of the witness of the Spirit, whereby he assures us that we are the children of God. The one denotes the childlike disposition which characterizes every true believer; the other, the assurance of their sonship, which is a higher attainment than the former, but one that is not always enjoyed, even by those who manifest much of the spirit of filial reverence, submission, and love. Some latent feeling of hope, some secret trust and confidence, is indeed necessarily implied in the spirit of adoption, by which the believer cries, 'Abba, Father;' and he may really be drawing near to God with the confidence of sonship, while, from some remaining darkness or defect in his faith, he may shrink from using the strong language of assurance, and dare not say in so many words that 'the Spirit beareth witness with his spirit that he is a child of God.' But if he has believed the Gospel at all, if he has been enabled to understand the Gospel message, and to apply it to his own soul, he must have experienced a great and a growing change in all his views, and feelings, and dispositions towards God; he must have been liberated in some measure from the spirit of bondage, and imbued with the spirit of adoption; and wherever this new spirit exists, it is in itself a proof of sonship, and in its growing strength and habitual exercise, it may lay the foundation of that full assurance of hope which is produced in the mind of a believer when 'the Spirit beareth witness with his spirit that he is one of the children of God.'
That we may understand the nature of this childlike frame of mind, and the new character which it imparts to the believer's obedience, it may be observed,
That the spirit of adoption implies reverence and godly fear, such as is due to God's infinite and adorable perfections, but excludes that slavish dread and terror which a conviction of guilt is apt to inspire. We read in Scripture of two kinds of fear, the one of which belongs to the spirit of bondage, the other to the spirit of adoption. They are usually distinguished, in the writings of divines, by the name of filial and slavish fear, the latter being the fear with which a slave regards his taskmaster, the former the fear with which a son regards his father. You can have no difficulty in distinguishing betwixt the two, or in seeing that while the one is excluded by faith in the Gospel, the other may be only deepened and confirmed by it. The fear which springs from a spirit of bondage arises from the terrible apprehension of God as an avenger, and is apt to exasperate our natural enmity, to widen our separation from God, and to excite distrust, dislike, and aversion; and this unhappy frame of mind it is one of the great objects of the Gospel to change, by removing the ground of our apprehensions, and proclaiming a message of reconciliation. But even where the Gospel message has been so clearly understood and so sincerely embraced that it has destroyed the spirit of bondage, and brought the soul into the conscious enjoyment of that liberty which belongs to the children of God, it does not remove, on the contrary it deepens, that filial fear, which it becomes us, as children, to cherish towards such a being as God is, even when he is regarded as our Father in heaven, a fear which properly consists in reverence, and expresses itself in the language of humble adoration, and produces a circumspect and watchful habit, such as is described when the apostle says to believers themselves, 'Be not high minded, but fear,'; 'work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;' and 'pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.' This reverential fear is not the fruit of guilt or mere conviction of conscience, nor is it confined to the bosoms of sinners; it is felt and cherished by the angels and seraphim of heaven, when they veil their feet and their faces with their wings, and cry one to another, 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts;' it was felt by all the saints of old who were admitted to near converse with God, or who witnessed any remarkable manifestation of his divine perfections; as Elijah, when he covered his face with his mantle; and Moses when he said, 'I exceedingly fear and quake;' and the beloved disciple, when he 'fell at his feet as dead.' It is indeed an essential and permanent part of true religion, both on earth and in heaven; for it will never cease to be true, that 'great fear is due unto the Lord in the meeting of his saints, and that he is to be had in reverence of all them that approach him.' The spirit of adoption, then, although it delivers us from the spirit of bondage, and the slavish dread which devils feel, of whom it is said that 'they believe and tremble,' has no tendency to cherish an undue familiarity with God, or to relieve our minds from that salutary awe and godly fear which is the very beginning of wisdom. On the contrary, the same Gospel, which releases us from the yoke of slavish terror, by revealing the grace and mercy of God to sinners, is fitted to deepen even our deepest thoughts of the holiness and justice, the truth and the majesty of God, insomuch that no believer can contemplate the cross of Christ without feeling a solemn sense of awe on his spirit, and entering into the meaning of the Psalmist's words, 'There is forgiveness with God, that he may be feared.'
The spirit of adoption implies a lively sense of gratitude, and a principle of supreme love to God, such as a child feels towards a forgiving and affectionate father; and excludes that sullen discontent and that resentful opposition which the spirit of bondage is apt to inspire. Slavish fear, a fear arising merely from convictions of conscience and the prospect of judgment, naturally tends to increase our aversion to God, and to inflame our natural enmity; and whether it evinces itself in violent opposition, as in the case of Herod, who feared John, and afterwards cast him into prison, or in dark and dreadful despair, as in the case of Judas, when under the influence of remorse he went and hanged himself, it has no power to attract or reconcile the sinner to his Judge. But 'what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.' The Gospel, as a message of love, is fitted to inspire the sinner with gratitude; and wherever it exists, faith works by love, by love to God for the benefits which he has conferred, for the compassion and mercy which he has exercised, and for all the adorable perfections of his divine nature which he has displayed in the scheme and work of redemption; and this love, engendered by the glad tidings of salvation through Christ, utterly excludes the slavish anxieties and terrors which belong to the spirit of bondage; for, says the apostle, 'There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.' But 'we love him, because he first loved us.' Who can describe the feelings of a convinced sinner when he is first enabled to look up to God as a forgiving Father, and to hear, as it were, from his own lips, the gracious words, 'Son! be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee!'Just such as were the feelings of the poor prodigal, when, after his wayward and weary sojourn in a strange land, where, professing himself to be free, he inwardly felt that he was the slave of his own passions, and in 'the spirit of bondage' preferred, even when he was in want, to go into a field, and fill his belly with the husks which the swine did eat, rather than return to his father's house; yet remembering his father's love, his heart relented, and he said, 'I will go to my father,' but still in the spirit of bondage added, 'Make me as one of thy hired servants'. He came, 'and when his father saw him afar off, he ran and fell upon his neck, and kissed him, and said, This my son which was dead is alive again, was lost and is found; bring out the fairest robe for him, and kill the fatted calf;' oh! just such, if we can conceive them, are the feelings of a sinner, when the spirit of bondage unto fear is displaced by the spirit of adoption, 'whereby he cries, Abba, Father.'
The spirit of adoption implies a warm brotherly love towards all who are members of God's family, a new affection corresponding to the new relation into which we have been introduced, and bearing some proportion to the sacred and endearing ties by which, as Christians, we are connected with one another. The spirit of adoption points directly to God, and consists in supreme love to him; but it necessarily implies also love to the brethren, for, says the apostle, 'Every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him,' -'If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? and this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.' The intimate connection which subsists betwixt the two - I mean betwixt love to God as our Father, and to one another as brethren - is abundantly proved by the experience of our own hearts, as well as by the express testimony of the Word: for if, on the one hand, we experience at any season an enlargement of affection towards God; if we taste most sweetly, and see most clearly, that the Lord is gracious, and have much liberty and comfort in crying to him, 'Abba, Father;' then also shall we feel a corresponding love to all his people, a disposition to forgive as we hope to be forgiven, and a desire to do good unto all men as we have opportunity, but especially unto them that are of the household of faith. And if, on the other hand, we allow our spirits at any time to be ruffled by strife and contention; if, in the heat of undue excitement, we begin to think or to speak harshly of one another, and allow the sun to go down upon our wrath; we shall feel in the very hour of prayer how fatal this unhallowed spirit is to comfortable fellowship with God, how it fetters our freedom and embitters our feelings; and even when we seek to cry, 'Abba, Father,' in the spirit of adoption, it infuses into our souls all the discomfort and anxiety of the old spirit of bondage. Hence our Lord's command to his disciples, 'If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift;' and the exhortation of the apostle, 'Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven you. Be ye, therefore, followers of God, as dear children, and walk in love.'
The spirit of adoption implies a disposition to hold fellowship and communion with God as our Father, and with his children as our brethren in Christ.
The spirit of adoption prompts the believer to hold communion with God; for it is by this spirit that he cries, 'Abba, Father.' And as it leads him to be much engaged in prayer, so it gives a new character to his devotions; they are no longer the expression of an anxious and fearful heart, but the outpourings of a spirit confiding in a father's wisdom, rejoicing in a father's love, and committing itself to a father's care. So long as he was under the spirit of bondage, prayer, instead of being a sweet and refreshing privilege, was felt to be a task, or used only as a form; his petitions were dictated by fear more than by faith, and he felt rather as a criminal speaking to his judge, or as a slave deprecating his master's wrath, than as a child communing with his father. But now, adopted into God's family, and reconciled through the blood of Christ, he feels a confidence in drawing near to God, such as a child has in speaking to a wise and affectionate parent, and which is only the more tender and deeply rooted in his heart, because he has been a rebellious child, and is now forgiven. The very recollection of his sins, when combined with a sense of God's pardoning mercy, will fill his heart to overflowing with love, and gratitude, and joy; and while he is deeply humbled, and ready to acknowledge that he is 'no more worthy to be called a son,' yet knowing that his adoption was an act of sovereign grace, and that it was vouchsafed, not on account of his own righteousness, but solely through the righteousness of Christ and the redemption of his cross, 'he can come boldly to the throne, that he may obtain mercy, and find grace to help him in every time of need.' And in doing so, he is encouraged by the relation in which God stands to him as his Father in heaven; and by the recollection of those gracious assurances which are founded on this relation in the Word; he remembers the words of Christ himself: 'But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet; and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly;' 'Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him;' and, If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father in heaven give good things to them that ask him.' There is a rich fountain of encouragement to prayer in the idea that God is our Father; for it assures us that even our weakness and infirmities, nay, our very sins and shortcomings, may not exclude us from his notice and regard: on the contrary, 'Even as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him;' and this is his own promise: 'I will spare them, even as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.' If such be the relation in which we stand to God, and such the feelings with which he regards us, then, when we draw near to him in the spirit of adoption, we need not be cast down or, discouraged by a sense of our weakness and infirmities: for just as a father's heart is touched by the weakness of his child, so that the child is never more tenderly dealt with than when he is sick and faint; 0 and just as a father's arm is all the more ready to be stretched forth for his child's support, when, sensible of its own weakness, it clings to him with fear lest it should fall; nay, just as a father's sympathy and love are sure to be called forth when an obedient son seeks to serve him, and grieves that he cannot serve him better, and are never more sincerely or deeply felt than when, in the exercise of a wise discipline, he chastens and rebukes the child of his love; just so God, as our Father in heaven, or rather much more, seeing that his love is infinite and unchangeable, will regard the weaknesses and wants, the infirmities and imperfections of his children. For hear his own gracious words, 'Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.' 'Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him: I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.' With such views of God, and of his relation to him as a Father, the believer's communion with him is sweet: he feels in prayer very much as a child does when he speaks to a father both able and willing to help him; and having liberty of access at all times, and frequent occasion, as well as the richest encouragement, to pour out his heart and to spread out his case before him, he acquires a growing desire for his fellowship, and prayer comes to be his constant habit and his sweetest privilege: he is 'careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, he makes his requests known unto God; and the very peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep his heart and mind through Christ Jesus.'
And just as the filial love which he bears to God as his Father is associated with a fraternal love to all his people, so the communion which he enjoys with God will ever be accompanied with the desire to hold communion also with all in every place who belong to the same family, who share in his privileges, and partake of his spirit, and cherish his hopes, as children of the same Father, and expectants of the same inheritance. It is the counsel of God to all his children, 'See that ye fall not out by the way,' 'love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous;' and in token of their common relation and their mutual love, God is pleased to make them sit down at the same table, and to unite in commemorating the riches of redeeming grace, while, by partaking of the sacred symbols, they profess the same faith, and are fed with the 'children's bread.' It is in 'the spirit of adoption' that every communicant should approach the table; not in the spirit of bondage, as if it were a task, or a gloomy and uncomfortable service; but in the spirit of adoption, crying, 'Abba, Father:' for the sacred symbols represent the broken body and the shed blood of the Saviour, through which we obtain liberty of access, and may come boldly to the throne of grace; they point to 'the new and living way which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh:' and when we are called on to partake of them together, in an act of solemn social worship, we should feel towards each other as brethren, as children of the same Father, seated around the same table, all sharing more or less in the infirmities and weaknesses which still cleave to his children on earth, but sharing also in the same precious privileges, partaking of the same spiritual food, and cherishing the same everlasting hopes.
The spirit of adoption implies a disposition to trust in God for the time to come, just as a child confides in the wisdom, and faithfulness, and care of a wise and affectionate father. If we have been delivered from the spirit of bondage unto fear, and if we have been enabled to draw near to God, through Christ, as our reconciled and forgiving Father, then we have ample reason to cherish an unshaken confidence in his unchangeable love, and to commit our future way unto the Lord, in the assurance that 'he will bring it to pass.' The prospects even of a child of God in this world may, indeed, be often dark and threatening; the future may seem to the eye of sense to afford much cause for anxiety and apprehension; and in musing over it, the believer may sometimes be conscious of many painful misgivings and dark forebodings of heart. Even when he has been on the mount of communion, and has been ready to exclaim, 'It is good for us to be here,' the thought may have occurred to him that he must soon descend again into the world, to be harassed once more by its business, and beset by its temptations, and exposed to all the dangers, and difficulties, and trials which must be his portion in the vale of tears; and he may occasionally feel a tendency to cherish the sad apprehension that possibly, after all the privileges he has enjoyed and all the professions he has made, he may fall short of the rest which remaineth for the people of God, and may make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience, by yielding to those adverse influences which he cannot avoid, and which he is so unequal to resist and overcome. At all events, he must lay his account with many trials; and he is perhaps afraid to face, and disposed to shrink from them. The spirit of bondage which is unto fear can give no relief, and afford no comfort in such a case; on the contrary, it is ever ready to brood over all the varieties of possible evil, and to convert future danger into present distress, and even to magnify, by its own distorted vision, the difficulties which lie before us: but the spirit of adoption may give relief; not, indeed, by exempting us from trials, still less by making us indifferent or insensible to them, but by enabling and disposing us to commit our case into God's hands, in compliance with his own declaration, 'Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee.' For just as a little child looks to the wisdom, and confides in the care of an affectionate father, and when he ventures out into the world feels all the more secure when he knows that a father's foresight has arranged his plans, and a father's eye is still watching over his progress, just so the believer, looking up to God as his Father in heaven, and knowing that nothing can happen to him without His permission or appointment, that He is ever present to observe, and almighty to sustain, and unerring to direct him; and that he has pledged his faithful word of promise, saying, 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,' 'as thy day is, so shall thy strength be,' 'my grace is sufficient for thee,' 'I will perfect my strength in weakness,' and 'all things shall work together for good to them that love God'- the believer, I say, is able to say with the apostle, in the spirit of childlike confidence, 'Therefore may we boldly say, The Lord is my helper, I will not fear;' and with the psalmist, 'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.'
The spirit of adoption implies a spirit of cheerful obedience and submission to God's will, of obedience to his will as it is revealed in the word, and of submission to his will as it is displayed by the dispensations of his providence.
An obligation to obedience is necessarily involved in the relation of sonship, and wherever that relation really exists, and is associated with the corresponding spirit of adoption, it will lead to the unreserved, unconditional, and cheerful observance of every part of God's revealed will. For 'a son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if, then, I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? If you have aught of the spirit of adoption, it will be 'your meat and your drink to do the will of your Father in heaven;' your language will be, 'Father, not my will, but thine be done;' 'Our Father which art in heaven, thy will be done on earth, even as it is done in heaven.' And this being your sincere desire, you will be solicitous, in the first instance, to ascertain in every case what is the will of God, by carefully consulting the law which he has written on the tablets of your hearts, and the clearer law which he has revealed in the pages of his Word; and when you have ascertained his will, you will obey it at all hazards, suffering neither the temptations of the world, nor the lusts of your own hearts, nor the sophistry by which your passions would beguile and mislead your conscience, nor any considerations of interest or expediency, to deter or seduce you from following that straight path of duty in which God commands you to walk. For being God's children, the opinions of men and the gain of the whole world will be as nothing to you in comparison with the slightest intimation of his will. And the spirit of adoption will give a new character to your obedience; it will be no longer the reluctant and half extorted service of a slave, but the willing, and cheerful, and devoted homage of a son submitting to his father's guidance, not of constraint, but willingly, and devoted to his service because he delights to do him honour. This is the characteristic difference betwixt the legal obedience of fear, and the evangelical obedience of love. And just as love is a more kindly and generous principle of action, so the obedience that flows from it will be at once more unreserved in its extent and more cheerful in its nature, pleasant to him who renders, and acceptable to him to whom it is paid. Such is the obedience which God, as a Father, expects from all his children; but oh! if an unreserved and cheerful compliance with his will be the test of sonship, if the spirit of adoption must reconcile us to all his commands, and engage us in a life of holy obedience, what shall we say of those who, bearing the Christian name, and appearing amongst the children at his table, are nevertheless living in the habitual neglect or violation of his law; communicants who come to his table, saying, 'Abba, Father!' and as often as they pray, call him 'Our Father which art in heaven;' yet, when they go back to the world, 'return like a dog to his vomit, or like a sow that is washed to her wallowing in the mire? Are there none bearing the Christian name among us, who are conscious that their practice ill accords with their profession as children of God? I speak not of the infirmities and shortcomings with which every Christian is chargeable; but of that wilful and habitual opposition, in some respect or other, to God's will, which is utterly inconsistent with the spirit of filial reverence and love. Can he be a child of God, who, when God commands him to sanctify the Sabbath, profanes it by worldly business or vain amusements; or when God commands him to be sober and temperate, gives himself to rioting and drunkenness; or when God enjoins purity of heart and life, lives in uncleanness and licentious pleasure; or when God prescribes the path of honour and integrity prefers the crooked paths of dishonesty and deceit? It cannot be: and they who, presuming on their Gospel liberty, dare to live in the habitual neglect or violation of any part of God's will, must bear to be reminded, that if the spirit of adoption gives a new character to our obedience, it is not in the way of relaxing it or bringing it down to the standard of the world's opinions and habits, but by raising it, and infusing into it new life and strength, and making it at once more cheerful, more unreserved, and more devoted than before; and that if, 'where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,' it is not the liberty of those who turn the grace of God into licentiousness, or 'who continue in sin because grace abounds, but the liberty of men 'who run in the way of his commandments, when God has enlarged their hearts;' and who feel the force of the apostle's exhortation, 'Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh;' as 'free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.'
The spirit of adoption, while it implies a disposition to obey God's will as it is revealed in his Word, will manifest itself also in the way of quiet and resigned submission to his will as it is displayed in the dispensations of his providence. These dispensations may often be afflictive; and they may serve to try the faith and patience of his people, insomuch that they may sometimes be in heaviness through manifold temptations. But the spirit of adoption will lead them to regard all these trials, however numerous and severe and protracted they may be, as the discipline of a Father's hand; and they will bow before the rod, and kiss it, even when it smites them. Knowing that nothing happens by chance, and that every thing in their lot is ordained by unerring wisdom and infinite love, and will be overruled for God's glory and their own good; and remembering the gracious words, 'Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth;' they will not only lay their account with trials, but feel it to be alike their duty and their privilege to resign themselves into the Lord's hands, saying, 'It is the Lord, let him do as seemeth good in his sight.' And who does not see that the spirit of adoption gives a new character to our submission, and imparts a sweetness to our very trials? The spirit of bondage may produce a sullen and reluctant submission, such as a man. would yield to inevitable necessity, or to overwhelming power; but the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry 'Abba, Father,' views every trial as a Father's chastisement, and connects it with a Father's love; and responds to the apostle's touching appeal: 'We have had fathers of our flesh who corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
The spirit of adoption is associated with inward peace, and comfort, and hope; which, although they may be disturbed and interrupted by the operation of other causes, are its proper and natural fruit, and which springing up, and growing by degrees, may issue in the full assurance of sonship. The spirit of adoption is essentially, in its own nature, a peaceful and happy frame of mind. Every thing, within and around, above and beneath, present and future, temporal and eternal, assumes a new aspect when we can call God our Father. Even the beauties of nature, always lovely, acquire a fresh loveliness to the Christian, when he can look abroad over its sublime mountains and smiling landscapes, and say, 'My Father made them all;' and so the events of providence, the unfoldings of that mighty scheme which embraces all our interests and hopes, appear in a new light to the believer, when he can say, 'My Father rules them all.'
But more especially, the vast scheme of grace and redemption appears in a new light, when, in the spirit of adoption, he can look to the Author of that scheme as his Father, once offended but now reconciled; and to what God has already done for him as a pledge of what he is still willing to do, an earnest of the fulfilment of all his promises. For 'if God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up to the death for us all; much more will he, with him, also freely give us all things.' 'I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
The spirit of adoption, implying, as it does, a sense of God's love, and faith in his covenant promises, must necessarily be accompanied with some measure of hope; and although that hope may be too weak to admit of our using the strong language of assurance in regard either to our present state or our everlasting prospects, it may be sufficient to sustain and animate and encourage us in our Christian course. A childlike disposition of mind, including trust and resignation, and a contrite and tender spirit, may exist where, through remaining darkness or occasional weakness, a believer may be unable to use that language; but as this filial spirit is matured, it may grow up to the full assurance of hope, being in itself at once an evidence of our sonship, and an earnest of our future inheritance; for the Holy Spirit of promise is itself the earnest of our inheritance, and the first-fruits of the Spirit are a pledge of a glorious harvest: and this may explain the difference, as well as the connection which subsists betwixt the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, 'Abba, Father,' and the witness of the Spirit, of which we read in the succeeding verse, by which 'He witnesseth with our spirits that we are the children of God; and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.'
There are two different classes, whose experience may be the same in so far as the absence of all sensible comfort is concerned, but is so different in other respects, that we must carefully discriminate betwixt them in offering, as we now propose to do, a few observations for their direction and relief.
There may be some who are sensible that they have never, at any time, been enabled to look to God with other feelings than those of terror and aversion; that his holy character, and righteous law, and awful government have invariably filled them with apprehension and alarm; and that they have obtained relief from these distressing feelings only when they succeeded for a time in banishing the thought of God and death and eternity from their minds, or in cherishing such conceptions of his perfections and purposes as they knew to be at variance with the revelation of his character and will in the Word, but which were felt to be more in accordance with their own wishes, and indispensable to their inward peace. Such persons may be assured, that, as often as their habitual carelessness has been disturbed by occasional convictions of conscience, or awakening glimpses of the truth, they have experienced what is meant by the apostle when he speaks of the spirit of bondage unto fear; and if there be any who are labouring under the burden of guilt, and groaning under the bondage of fear, while they are sensible of no relief, and even ignorant of the remedy which is provided for them in the Gospel, I would affectionately remind them that there is much in their present condition which is fitted alike to suggest a solemn warning and to impart a rich encouragement. There is something unspeakably solemn in the thought that these convictions - these fears and misgivings, of which they are conscious - have all been awakened by God's law applied to their consciences by the Holy Ghost; and that their present experience may be the first-fruit of the Spirit's operation, to whom it belongs 'to reprove the world of sin.' And considering them in this light, I would say nothing to allay their convictions, or to remove their fears, or to rebuke their misgivings, as if they were either extravagant or unfounded. On the contrary, believing that they are the proper fruits of the law when applied to a sinner's conscience, and that, so far from being too intense, they fall far short of what the real state of the case warrants and requires, I would seek to deepen even your deepest convictions of guilt, and to impress you with the thought that your danger is really greater than your fears. But while we dare not offer you relief from your present bondage, by relaxing the fetters, or lowering the demands, or tampering with the curse of God's righteous and unchangeable law, we can point to a way in which you may exchange your bondage for perfect freedom without any violation of God's law, without any disparagement of His character, without any dishonour to His government, without any denial, either of your own sin, or of His eternal justice. Look from the Law to the Gospel, from the curse to the cross, from Sinai, with its thunderings and lightnings, to Calvary, where the lawgiver became the law-fulfiller, and the end of that law for righteousness to every one that believeth. Look, even now, under all your legal terrors, to Christ, as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world; and to God in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, and not imputing unto men their trespasses; and on the instant when you apprehend the great truth, that, just as God is, and guilty as you feel yourselves to be, God can be, through Christ's propitiation, the just God and yet the Saviour, on that instant you may pass from a state of bondage into the liberty of a child, and feel that a new spirit is given to you, even the spirit of adoption, whereby you may cry, 'Abba, Father.' And that you may be encouraged to avail yourselves of this gracious deliverance, remember, I beseech you, that while the calls and invitations of the Gospel are alike universal and free, so that they belong to sinners as such, and to all sinners without exception; yet, as if with a special view to your own case, they are often particularly addressed to such as are labouring under the spirit of bondage unto fear (not that careless and fearless sinners are excluded, because all are invited, even the wicked and the unrighteous), but to meet the difficulties, and fears, and scruples, of convinced and awakened sinners, they are mentioned as it were by name: - 'Come unto me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'; 'Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters'; 'Whosoever is athirst, let him come, and take of the water of life freely.'
But there is another class, very different from the former, who may be labouring under a spirit which, if not the same, is yet nearly akin to the spirit of bondage unto fear. I mean the spirit of heaviness, through manifold temptations, to which many of God's people themselves are subject, and which is often associated with, and apt to engender doubts and fears as to their safety, misgivings as to their interest in Christ and their participation in the privileges of sonship. Such persons have experienced, in former times, the liberty and enlargement of heart which the Gospel imparts, and have known what it is to be translated out of darkness into God's marvellous light, and to look up to God, with childlike confidence, as a reconciled Father. But now they are visited again with a spirit of heaviness, arising from a sense of shortcoming, or from a season of declension, or from the withdrawment of the light-of God's countenance: and this spirit of heaviness may, like the spirit of bondage, be accompanied with many distressing misgivings and fears; so that, in their present state, they may have no comfort, and no childlike confidence in looking up to God, and no freedom to say, 'Abba, Father.' To such I would affectionately say, in the way of warning, Your present experience is a very solemn call to search and try your ways; to consider what may be the occasion of God's controversy with you; to humble yourselves on account of your sins and shortcomings, your neglected privileges, your abused mercies, your broken resolutions and vows; and to make full and frank confession before God, just as a child should do when he has offended an affectionate father. But I would also say, in the way of encouragement, that you are not to regard your present experience, dark and distressing as you may feel it to be, as affording, of itself, any evidence that you do not belong to the number of God's children. You may be apt to imagine that it would not be thus with you if you had obtained the privilege of sonship; but be assured, no trial has befallen you which has not been common to God's children in all ages of the Church: for Peter speaks of God's children, when he says, that 'now, for a season, if need be, they are in heaviness through manifold temptations;' and we have the recorded examples of holy David, who said, 'I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed;' and of Heman: 'Lord, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me? I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up; while I suffer thy terrors, I am distracted;' and of Job: 'The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit; the terrors of the Lord do set themselves in array against me;' and of Jonah: 'I said, I am cast out of thy sight, yet will I look again toward thy holy temple;' and of the Lord Jesus himself, who exclaimed on the cross, in words which breathe at once a spirit of heaviness and of childlike faith, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? And finally, in the way of direction, You must obtain relief from your present distresses and fears by the exercise of the same simple faith by which you first entered into peace; you must look out of yourselves to Christ, and, forsaking the law, find refuge in the gospel; you must repair anew to the fountain which God has opened for sin and for uncleanness, and cast yourselves on the mercy and faithfulness of a covenantkeeping God; and be assured, that, sooner or later - for you must wait the Lord's time - he who has taken you into the wilderness will speak comfortably unto you; the cloud which now intercepts from you the light of his countenance will be dispersed; and you will yet go on your way rejoicing, - and cry, in the spirit of adoption, 'Abba, Father.'
Excerpt from from The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit (free eBook)