Fundamental Christian Theology, Vol. 2

By Aaron Hills

Part V - Soteriology

Chapter 15


This is a precious blessing concomitant with justification and regeneration. It may be discussed under three heads: 1. The nature of adoption. 2. The witness of the Spirit to it, 3. The benefits which it secures. We will consider.

I. The nature of adoption.

The ancient nations, as well as the modern, had the custom of adopting children. Among the Romans, the ceremony of adoption consisted in buying the child to be adopted from his parents for a sum of money, formally given and taken. The parties appeared before the magistrate in the presence of five Roman citizens; and the adopting father said to the child, "Art thou willing to become my son?" to which the child replied, "I am willing." Then the adopter, holding the money in his hand, and at the same time taking hold of the child, said, "I declare this child to be my son according to Roman law, and he is bought with this money," which was given to the father as the price of his son. Thus the relation was formed according to law and the adopted son entered into the family of the new father, took his name, and became an heir to the estate, or shared it with the other sons (Wakefield, quoted from Kennel's Roman Antiquities).

This is an excellent illustration of the transaction of adoption in the Divine economy, by which sinners and aliens become children of God. Without pressing the points of analogy unduly, there is a purchase price, the blood of Christ. The adopted child's or sinner's consent must be gained. God the Father adopts us, and we become "an heir of God" and "a joint-heir with Jesus Christ."

We may therefore define adoption, according to the Scriptural sense of the term to be that gracious act of God, by which we are acknowledged to be of the number, and become entitled to all the privileges of His children." The term expresses the covenant relation into which God graciously receives those who become justified and regenerated, by acknowledging them to be His people and declaring Himself to be their God.

The difference between this and the other experiences becomes plain. Justification emphasizes the pardon of sin. Regeneration relates to the change of moral choice and moral character. Adoption is the gracious reception into the Divine family, of those who were once alienated from God and disinherited. The Scriptures tersely describes their former state as "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2: 12).

This privilege of God is freely offered to all men, regardless of their sins: yet the spiritual adoption does not become ours until we personally accept it by our justifying and regenerating faith. "As many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the Sons of God even to them that believe on His name" (John 1: 12).

II. We consider the evidence of adoption the witness of the Spirit. It is not enough that we be forgiven. We need to know it. We could not be satisfied with a half-doubting conjecture. We need a joy-giving assurance of the fact. If a criminal were condemned to die, his sovereign might graciously pardon him; but how essential it would be that he should know the fact! And surely his king would make his kindness known, through some document or messenger. Such is always the case.

Now God at great pains and expense to Himself has granted to penitent and believing men His pardoning and regenerating grace. He has also made them His adopted children. Therefore what is more natural than that He should in some way make His favor known to us, and give us assurance of His love. "God sent forth His Son to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God" (Gal. 4:4, 5; 1 John 3: 1).

1. It is not consistent with such love that it should be permanently concealed from us. There is certainly a reasonable presumption that God, with His infinite resources, will grant us some comfortable persuasion of His favor to our waiting souls. If He forgives us, He will in some way assure us of the fact. Before Jesus ascended to His mediatorial throne, He frequently said to penitent, believing sinners: "Thy sins be forgiven thee." Has He less power now to make His pardon known? He reveals other things to the heart; can He not reveal this also? The convicting Spirit tells men that they are sinners; cannot the same Spirit assure them that the name sins are forgiven? There can be no rational doubt of it.

2. The Scriptures fully verify and confirm this presumption, "Ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom, 8: IS, 16). "And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Gal. 4; 6). "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in Himself." These passages seem to teach unmistakably, that God's Spirit witnesses to the heart of its adoption into the family of God. When the justification and regeneration becomes a reality, and the transaction of our adoption is completed, the Spirit of God so impresses the heart that it can look up and cry Abba, Father, as one who had heard from the skies. The Spirit of God comes to "dwell" in the believer, and speak His messages to the inmost soul. "Ye are the temple of the Holy Ghost," "the habitation of God through the Spirit." Such an indwelling of the Spirit is not voiceless.

3. The witness of the Spirit is given by an immediate operation within our consciousness in a manner to assure us of the gracious sonship. The state of sonship is prior to this testimony. There is first the fact, and then God's witness to the fact.

The Greek is very clear and striking: "The Spirit Himself beareth witness with" (summartureo) "our spirit." It means two witnesses jointly, yet separately, testifying to the same thing. The two are designated the Holy Spirit, and our spirit. Walton says: "I have never found the word used in a different sense by any writer in any one instance." But if it be denied that two witnesses are mentioned in this text, it would not change the truth in the least. For this text must then be translated: "The Spirit Himself beareth witness to our spirit." We should still have the witness of the Holy Spirit to our adoption as a truth of the Scriptures.

4. The manner of the Spirit's witnessing, the how of it, may be beyond our knowledge. When no awakening truth seems to be present to the mind, and no particular circumstance is calculated to call forth serious reflection, suddenly the Spirit may touch the springs of moral feeling and bring deep conviction of sin and peril, how we cannot tell. So by an operation of the Spirit equally immediate, there is produced in the mind of the believer in Christ, a comfortable persuasion, a sweet sense of sonship and acceptance with God. It is by some divine touch of holy influence; just how it is given may remain a mystery. .

This is not the only mystery relative to the Spirit's working. His work of inspiration is equally mysterious; but the truth He inspires is true just the same. His work of regeneration lies beyond our comprehension in its supernaturalness; but the new life that ensues is none the less real and blessed. "There is for us an utter mystery in the perceptions of the ear and eye; but sounds are just as sweet, and scenes are just as beautiful as if we understood their mode. So it is respecting the assurance of sonship through the witness of the Spirit" (Miley, Vol. II, p. 348).

III. Witness of Our Own Spirit,

The Greek verb, summartureo, as we have observed, implies two agreeing witnesses. The Holy Spirit is one witness; and our own spirit is the other. 1. This witness of our own spirit is indirect. It is a logical deduction from the fact that our inner experience tallies with the Bible description of believers. The Scriptures clearly state the determining facts of sonship, and a regenerated life. The reason can take these tests of sonship and compare them with the facts of our own experience, as revealed by conscience and consciousness. If they harmonize, a judgment is necessarily reached by our spirit that we are a child of God. The witness comes to us in the form of an inference; but it is one that is perfectly warranted and blessedly assuring.

2. Notice some determining facts, illustrating this truth.

(1)  Sonship is a state of conscious peace with God. When therefore we read Rom. 5: 1, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8: 1). The believing heart from which the sense of condemnation has gone, in the place of which has come a blissful, conscious peace with God, may conclude with perfect propriety. I have this experience; I measure up to this test. I am, therefore, an adopted child of God.

(2) The children of God love Him. When we read 1 John 4: 7, "Love is of God; and every one that loveth is begotten of God and knoweth God." The newly regenerated heart may say, "I find within myself a new and unaccustomed love of God, blessedly uniting my once dead heart to Him. I now am sure that I am His child."

(3) The children of God love one another. "We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren" (1 John 3: 14). "If we love one another, God abideth in us, and His love is perfected in us." Let a young convert read that who is conscious that ever since his conversion he has felt a warming of his heart toward every child of God, and he cannot but conclude that he himself is one of "the brethren"-a child of God.

(4) A child of God is obedient. "We know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of Him," If we read that, and are conscious of a supreme purpose to obey God, and that His "commandments are sweeter to us than honey and the droppings of the honey-comb," our spirit witnesses, and has a right to witness, that we are of the "household of faith."

(5) God's child has a victory over the world. "Whosoever is begotten of God overcometh the world" (1 John 5:4). Now let a Christian read that, who is blessedly conscious that the world has lost its power over him; that he is proof against its attractions, and dead to its charms; who can say "the world is crucified unto me and I unto thee," and to what possible conclusion could His Spirit come but this: "God's Word warrants me in saying, I am born into the divine family of God."

(6) The Sons of God are Spirit-led. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God." Now any true Christian knows whether he has an attentive ear to the Spirit's voice, and a willing heart to obey His slightest wish. It is a matter of consciousness when there is no uprising of soul against the light He brings and the truth He reveals, and the duty He makes plain. There is no deception about this. And in the face of this truth of God's word, the Spirit-guided soul will say, "I know whom I have believed; and I am persuaded" to whom I belong.

Such a witness of our own spirit confirms the direct testimony of the Holy Spirit. It assures us that we do not mistake the Divine voice, "The fruits of the Spirit," and the "answer of a good conscience," and a uniform obedience, and the indwelling of the mind of Christ, are a most assuring testimony, that we are the Lord's, and He is ours.

This witness may be the result of a logical process; but it often comes so rapidly that we may not distinguish the process in our consciousness. The peace and joy of conversion may bear an instant testimony to our sonship. But again this witness may be very gradual and tardy in coming. Human spirits differ, and the Holy Spirit does not confine Himself to one mode of operation. The witness of our own spirit and that of the Holy Spirit also vary in constancy and intensity. Much depends upon the richness and fullness of the Christian's own life. The state of the mind and of the body and the circumstances of the life may affect the clearness of the testimony. There may be times of temptation and trial, when the soul is in heaviness and sorrow, that the testimony is less distinct; or seasons of physical depression when the assurance is less keen and pronounced, Both Elijah and John the Baptist, had such an experience. But, usually, to the faithful children of God, there comes such a witness of the spirit to sonship as brings peace and rest of soul.

3. It must be admitted, too, that personal temperament has a decided influence upon the witness of our spirit. "Some," says Miley, "are timid, doubting, and hesitant, respecting their own spiritual good; others are joyous, hopeful, and confident. These differences must greatly vary the strength of assurance." The drooping souls may be more spiritual and conscientious than those of the sanguine turn of mind, though they have less joy in a conscious salvation.

4. We may, further observe that while this assurance is the result of a two-fold witnessing, yet as a mental state it is single, not double. It is so, not withstanding the profound differences between the witnesses, and the modes of witnessing. There are not two forms of assurance, one from the Holy Spirit, and one from our own heart; but a single, simple state of confidence, springing from the joint witnessing of the two. Though the witnesses are two, the subjective assurance of sonship is one (Miley, p. 350).

IV. The Benefits of Adoption.

These are many and most desirable. Far back in the antediluvian world some men were called the "sons of God," and they "began to call upon the name of Jehovah," or, as some translate, "call themselves by the name of the Lord" (Gen. 4: 26; 6:2). God said to His chosen ones. "I will be your God and ye shall be my people" (Lev. 26: 12).

1. It bestows upon all the true believers, great dignity and honor. How glorious is the family of which God is the Father and Jesus Christ is the "Elder Brother," and angels and saints are our brethren! The prophets and apostles, the heroic martyrs, and the glorious saints of all the ages are a part of the family, the glorious company, into which adoption admits us. We become joined to the most glorious fellowship in the universe. Well did John the Beloved, exclaim, "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!" (1 John .1:1).

2. By adoption we become entitled to all the privileges of the home. God becomes all to us that is implied in the precious word "Father," and we have all the rights of a child of the King. Whatever is for our good and for the furtherance of the kingdom will be granted to us. "No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Ps. 84: 11). "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom. 8:28). The blessings to the children are a matter of covenant and promise; and each may say with trusting heart, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" (Ps. 23: 6).

3. God has promised them His protection. What true father does not protect his helpless child? Much more does the infinite God. He says to every one of them, "The Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil; He shall preserve thy soul, The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in, from this time forth, even forevermore" (Ps. 121: 5-8). "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee. When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel thy Savior" (Isa. 43: 2, 3).

4. Like earthly fathers, God teaches His children. As the elder President Dwight of Yale said: "This work He accomplishes by His providences, by His Word, by His ordinances, by His ministers, by the life and conversation of Christians, by the Divine example of His Son, and by the peculiar communications of His Spirit. It is the Spirit who takes of the things of Christ, and shows them unto us. In all these ways He furnishes them with whatever knowledge and whatever useful impressions they need to receive, and trains them up as children, in effectual preparation for the perfect state of manhood to which they will arrive in His heavenly kingdom."

5. He will correct them. "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him; for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons, for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? ... He chastens for our profit that we might become partakers of His holiness" (Heb. 12:5-11).

6. He will bestow upon them an eternal inheritance. Children inherit the estate of their father. Not to press the analogy too far, we may truthfully say, God has an estate in glory to bestow upon us. "If we are children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ" (Rom. 8: 17). The Scripture abounds in the most glowing descriptions of the glory that lies beyond the veil. We are told of "the kingdom," "the crown of glory," "the crown of life," "a better country," "a city that hath foundations," "a crown of righteousness," "eternal life," "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory," "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away," reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet. 1: 4). God watches over His own, and He has prepared great things for them more than we can now know. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." It is enough to know that we are "joint heirs with Christ," and "we shall be like Him, and see Him as He is," and dwell with Him forever. How men have been sustained in the conflicts of life, in hours of pain and weariness, by the contemplation of these blessings that await us just beyond the horizon of this little life! We only have the earnest now. We see them by the eye of faith. We know them only in our hopes. The real treasures lie beyond the vail.