THE MANNER OF ENTRANCE INTO THE RELATION;
ADOPTION AS CONNECTED WITH REGENERATION AND JUSTIFICATION.
"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to
become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name which were born,
not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of
God"- John i. 12, 13
THE manner of entrance into any relation must correspond to the nature and character of the relation, and must be in harmony and in keeping with it. If it is a relation of hired service of any sort, the way into it is through a properly adjusted bargain or mutual agreement. If it is such a relation as that of marriage, it is reached through consent on both sides sufficiently intimated and certified. If it is right standing in the eye of law, after being charged with crime, the only proper access is through a legal and judicial sentence of acquittal. If it is restoration to friendship and friendly intercourse, where misunderstanding and estrangenient have prevailed, the healing of the breach, through explanation given and accepted, is the obvious method of reconciliation.
The same rule or principle must apply to the relation of fatherhood and sonship between God and his people. According to what the relation itself is, so must the mode of entrance into it be.
But, in the present instance, how may this condition be realised?
I have been pleading for the identity of the relation, as common to the Son and to those who are his. I have admitted, no doubt, these two qualifications : - first, that he has filial consciousnesses and experiences in the past eternity which they cannot have ; and secondly, that their power of apprehending and appreciating all that the relation involves must be immeasurably less than his. This last qualification, I would say in passing, must be a continually decreasing one, as the years roll on of the eternity that is to come. For all along the line of its endless ages, they will be "growing in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ." They will be growing in their acquaintance with him as the Son; and in their understanding of his manner of existence as the Son with the Father from everlasting. With these qualifications, however, I have been maintaining that the relation is the same ; that it is in their case substantially identical with what it is in his.
How, then, are we to explain their admission into this relation? Is there not a serious difficulty here? Assuredly there is ; and it is a twofold difficulty. It may be put both as a natural, and as a relational difficulty - if I may be allowed to use such a phrase. It may be viewed either in the light of man's inward nature as a fallen being, or in the light of his outward legal standing as a guilty subject.
I. I begin with the consideration of the difficulty viewed as natural. How is man, as a fallen being, to become capable of sonship?
Here, however, I must, by way of preliminary remark, ask attention to the original and eternal filiation of the Second Person in the Trinity. For, in connection with my present subject, I cannot help thinking that there is something rather remarkable in the representation which Scripture gives of our Lord's sonship, and of the ground on which it originally rests. His entrance into this relation had no beginning; and therefore to speak of the manner of his entrance into it would be obviously unwarrantable. According to strict propriety of speech, he never entered into it at all. It has been his from everlasting. And yet his eternal relation is represented as resting from everlasting on his being begotten. Mysterious, incomprehensible, generation lies at the root of it. He is the only-begotten Son of God; "begotten, not made;" and begotten from everlasting (John i. 14, 18 ; iii. 16, 18; 1 John iv. 9, etc.)
This is unquestionably analogical language ; - it is speaking of God after the manner of men. It is the setting forth of the original foundation of an eternal divine relation, and an eternal distinction of related divine persons in the Godhead, under the analogy of an act or event in human history and experience, having its date, of course, in time. This is strange.
It is all the more so, if I am right in my opinion that, as regards the nature and character of God's paternal relation to his people, there is in Scripture, - especially in our Lord's teaohing,-a studied avoiding of the human analogy; indicating a desire on his part that his disciples should learn to conceive of their sonship, not analogically at all, but by direct knowledge and insight ; - or, in other words, that they should be led to apprehend their sonship, - not merely as a relation similar to sonship in a human family, - nor even as a relation similar to his own sonship in the divine family ; - but as identically the same relation. In that view, I think the use of the human analogy to describe or indicate the original constitution of the relation in the person of the Son, must be felt to be not a little noticeable and significant. As to the question - what the relation is ? - the human analogy is dispensed with, or rather studiously shunned. As to the question - how it subsists from the beginning ? - the human analogy is the chosen medium of revelation.
And yet, one would say, the human analogy is in this latter ease even more inadequate than in the former. The use of it, we might suppose, must be apt to mislead, or to be a stumbling-block. Indeed it has misled and proved a stumbling-block to not a few ; - the phrase, "only-begotten" or "first-begotten," being in their view irreconcilable with the doctrine of our Lord's supreme divinity, or his being the coequal, coeternal, consubstantial Son of the everlasting Father.
With all its imperfection, however, - when due allowance is made for the necessary defectiveness of every earthly similitude of what is heavenly, - this human analogy serves a most important purpose. It brings out, for one thing, the idea. of entire sameness of nature. The begotten son of a divine father must be himself essentially divine, - just as the begotten son of a human father is himself essentially human. The Son of God must himself be as really God, as a man's son is himself man. Thus the analogy, though it is a human analogy, does not degrade or obscure the divine and eternal sonship of our Lord. It rather illustrates and magnifies it.
Reflexly, also, this use of the term "begotten" may shed light on the sonship of our Lord's disciples, and the manner of its constitution. It now becomes, with reference to that subject, a divine analogy. It is, as it were, taken up into heaven. It is there appropriated, in a very wonderful way, to the relation of fatherhood and sonship subsisting from everlasting between the eternal Father and his beloved Son. From thence it may be brought to earth again. And, being thus sanctified and elevated, it may be applied, in illustration of the relation of fatherhood and sonship, as it is formed in time, between the eternal Father and the brethren of his Son.
Here, however, it might seem that the entire and utter inadequacy - not so much of the analogy to what is to be illustrated as of what is to be illustrated to the analogy - must absolutely preclude the use of the analogy, as in its very nature unsuitable and unsafe. There is, undoubtedly, in such matters, the utmost need of caution. But I do not think that I go too far when I suggest this thought. The employment of the phraseology of earth, - and of such phraseology, - to denote the original ground of the heavenly relation, may be merely an instance of gracious condescension on the part of God. But to my apprehension, it rather looks like a plan purposely intended to familiarise the minds of our Lord's disciples with the idea of his sonship being of such a sort that they can share in it.
The soundest of the fathers, those most strenuous in maintaining the Son's supreme divinity - his being uncreated and of one substance with the Father - his absolute and unqualified equality, in respect of nature, with the Father - were accustomed at the same time to allow, or rather to assert, a certain mysterious distinction, in virtue of which the Second Person in the Godhead has from everlasting been in some sense subordinate to the First, as the Third has been to the First and the Second. And though some modern writers have demurred to the opinion, thinking it inconsistent with a full belief of the Trinity, I still incline on the whole to side with Bull, Pearson, and Horsley on this question, if it really is a question, rather than with them.
Let it be noted that it is a relational distinction exclusively that is contended for, such as fits into what is written of the Father sending and the Son being sent; the Father giving and the Son being given; the Father begetting and the Son being begotten. And surely these last correlatives - begetting and begotten - are fitted - may I not say intended - to facilitate somewhat the conception of the relation which they indicate being such as we may have communicated to us. Not only is it a relation having its analogical representation in the natural human fatherhood and sonship ; it is even capable of really and actually moulding into conformity with itself the spiritual fatherhood and sonship which is constituted by grace. Whatever these expressions imply - in the line of relational priority in the Father and relational subordination in the Son - tends to harmonise sonship with creatureship. They go far to establish a presumption a priori that, whether in Christ or in his disciples, the relations may not be incompatible. It may thus appear how, in virtue of the grace by which he who is the only-begotten Son becomes a subject - they who are originally subjects only may be, in a real and vital sense, "begotten," or born again, as sons.
For it is the manner in which the two relations are combined that is here again the main question. In considering it, the incarnation must once more be the guiding fact.
What is it that constitutes Jesus, in and from his human birth, the Son of God? Or, otherwise, and more properly shaping the inquiry, - what is it about his human birth that prevents it, if one may say so, from clashing with his sonship, and secures that on the contrary his sonship shall continue identically the same, notwithstanding his change of state? Is it not the agency of the Holy Ghost in the production of his holy human nature?
The angel's annunciation to the Virgin Mary seems certainly to imply this at all events, - .-that if her son had taken human nature as it is in fallen creatures ; - if he had been born after the ordinary manner of men ; - divine sonship could not have been ascribed to him in his original condition as man. Any such supposition, however, carries in its bosom an intolerable, and all but inconceivable, contradiction. It would make Christ - who, though uniting in himself the two natures, continues to be one person - the Father's Son in one of the two natures, and not the Father's Son in the other. But this, - as we have seen, is a plain and palpable inconsistency; sonship being not a relation of the nature or natures to God, but a relation of the person. Hence the necessity of Christ becoming man in such a way as to secure that there shall be nothing in his manhood incompatible with continued sonship; or, in other words, with his being still the Son of God in his one undivided person, whole and entire. His being born through the operation of the Holy Ghost secures that. For it secures to him the possession of a human nature such as, from the very first moment of its existence, is capable of sharing in the filial relation with the divine nature - a body, soul, spirit, such as the Son of God may worthily take into personal union with himself, continuing still to be the Son.
Some may think at first sight - and the objection has been seriously urged - that this makes the Holy Ghost the father of our Lord's humanity, in respect of his being the agent in its production. But it is not so. There cannot be a father of a nature, but only of a person. Our Lord's human nature never had any proper personality of its own. It was assumed by him into his personality as the Son. What the Holy Ghost had to do was to provide that it should be such as the Son could thus assume, without derogation from his sonship.
Now, if it was necessary that the Holy Ghost should thus fashion and mould the human nature of Christ, - in order to its being such as might not detract from, but rather harmonise with, and even adorn, the relation of sonship in which he stands from all eternity to the Father, - much more are the good offices of the same gracious Spirit needed for human nature as it is in us, if we are to have a share in that relation.
And here the task might well seem to be more difficult, - the problem harder to be worked out. In his case it was simply a birth that the Holy Spirit had to effect; in ours it is a new birth. For him, he had to provide a manhood such as the Son of God might wear, by what might be regarded as equivalent to an act of creative energy, or the utterance of the creative fiat. In us he finds manhood so marred and corrupted that it requires to be, in a sense, unmade that it may be made over again anew. Nor is this unmaking and remaking a simple process. It demands the application of some power or specific that shall avail to obliterate the stains of guilt, - to break up entirely the whole of the old inner man, - to root out the seed of Satanic insubordination which is native and indigenous, and implant the seed of God, whence a new life of willing and obedient subjectship, compatible with highest and holiest sonship, may consistently spring.
This is the work of the Spirit in regeneration. Is it not a work corresponding closely to his agency in the human birth of Christ? He generated Christ's humanity that he might continue to be the Son. He regenerates our humanity that we may become sons. To be "born of the Spirit" may thus, I think, be shown to be, as far as the human nature and human state are concerned, an indispensable preliminary condition of that nature and that state being reconcilable with sonship.
II. But it is not enough to make out a capacity of sonship, or a fitness for sonship, in the human nature of the Son as generated - and in that of his disciples as regenerated - by the Holy Ghost. There must be an express act of the Father declaring or constituting the relation. For the possibillity of any of the fallen race of man being righteously owned and acknowledged as sons might well be called in question. Even if, subjectively, an inward renewal and regeneration of their natures might be effected, would that suffice for so righting, objectively, their standing in God's sight as to ensure legitimately and righteously the sonship? Nay, - more. When the eternal Son became one of the human family, - even under the guarantee of his not being himself personally involved in their natural pollution and criminality, - was it quite obvious beforehand that this could take place without the sacrifice or compromise - or, to say the least, the keeping in abeyance of his sonship? There must be as regards both - as regards both Christ and his people - an authoritative and official procedure, as it were, on the part of the Father; - declaring the continuance of the relation and its fuller development in his case ; constituting the relation in theirs. For him, it is the announcement of the voice from heaven at his baptism, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." For them, it is the act of free and gracious adoption.
I connect the two. And yet there is a vast difference. The voice from heaven recognises sonship already subsisting - having subsisted from all eternity, and continuing to subsist still unchanged, though by his assuming human nature the Son has become a creature and a subject. The act of adoption on the other hand confers sonship of new, de novo, on those who are originally nothing more than creatures and subjects. It assumes a newborn capacity of receiving sonship. But it does not assume, it constitutes, the sonship itself. It is a pure and simple act of the free grace of God.
Notwithstanding this difference, however, there is one particular in respect of which the declared or recognised Son, and the adopted sons, are on the same footing. In the case of both alike there is required, as a preliminary to the manifestation of the relation of sonship in all its glory and blessed joy, a full and final clearing up and settlement of whatever may be doubtful, or whatever may be wrong, in the relation of subjectship.
The Son himself, after his coming in the flesh, was not declared to be "the Son of God with power" till "his resurrection from the dead" (Rom. i. 4). Up till that time, he had to meet and contend with the liabilities which he had undertaken as "made under the law ; " - made under it when it had been broken by us, and had to be magnified and honoured at a terrible cost by him. He was "crucified through weakness." It is only thus that "he liveth by the power of God" (2 Cor. xii. 4). He must first be himself justified, through his fulfilling all the righteousness which he became bound on our account to fulfil, and expiating all the guilt which he consented on our account to answer for. His sonship, now that it has become associated with subjectship - in the broken and disordered state to which we, in whose nature he becomes a subject, have reduced this last relationship - cannot be set free, as it were, and made thoroughly available, as a source of power, otherwise than by this preliminary procedure of law.
When the case is that of creatures and subjects who are to be raised to the position of sons, a similar preliminary procedure of law would seem to be, a fortiori, indispensable.
I think it must be held to have been so, even when angels were the parties. If I am right in believing that these high and pure intelligences were not sons originally, in virtue of their creation or their innocence, but became sons, by a sovereign act of grace on the part of God - that act, I cannot doubt, must have followed the trial of their obedience. If so, it must have been preceded by what to them would be substantially equivalent to a sentence of justification. For the trial, whatever it was, to which they were subjected was really trial under law, and in terms of law. It turned upon their willingness to acknowledge and submit to the moral government of God, as ruling them by law and judgment. That was what was put to the test. When their companions sinned and were condemned, they through grace stood the test and were acquitted; they were accepted as righteous; in a word, they were justified. Their probation being well over, they are judicially, and as if it were by the sentence of a court, declared to be not merely innocent and upright creatures, but obedient subjects who have kept the commandment, and are on that account entitled to life. Then, as I conceive, and not before, they are in a condition to receive the adoption of Sons. For there is no inward work of the regenerating Spirit needed in their case; nor need the Son assume their nature to redeem them, before he can have them as his brethren. All that is required is an outward act of grace, the appropriate recompense and reward of the obedience by which they have made good their title to justification: The Son is presented to them by the Father; and the Spirit, by whom they have been enabled to stand as subjects, ensures their willingness to accept the position of Sons.
The case is, of course, somewhat altered when it is not holy angels but fallen men who are concerned. Still, allowance being made for difference of circumstances, the principle which rules it is essentially the same. Their relation to God as subjects must first be put upon a right and satisfactory footing before they can become sons.
This necessity has already been considered in its bearing on the redeeming work of Christ. I now advert to it again in connection with the gracious act of God conferring, and the gracious act of the believer appropriating, the benefit which immediately flows from Christ's redeeming work - the benefit of justification, as opening the way to the ulterior and higher benefit of adoption.
So long as men are in a state of guilt and condemnation under the righteous sentence of the law, they cannot be regarded as fit subjects for becoming the sons of God. Nor is the disqualification to be viewed as being merely of a vague and general sort ; - as if the objection raised on the part of God might be something like the repugnance which a man of pure taste and refined manners would naturally feel to admitting coarse, low-minded, ill-bred vagrants to the familiarities and sanctities of his home. If that were all, the difficulty or scruple might be got over by a little patience and forbearance, a little tact, a little judicious treatment and prudent kindness. Were the person I had to deal with merely, in some such indefinite sense as that, offensive to me, a moderate expenditure of time and pains might amend the fault. But he is in the hands of justice. The law has a hold over him. He is tried, convicted, condemned. He is an imprisoned criminal, either undergoing his sentence or awaiting the execution of it. That is the precise obstacle which, in the case of fallen man, must be got out of the way. And it is removed in his justification. Faith, uniting him to Christ, and making Christ and Christ's righteousness his, secures his being absolved from guilt and accounted righteous. He is now a free subject, and therefore cpable of sonship.
I have been endeavouring to trace and point out the nature of the connection which I hold to subsist between our becoming sons of God and our regeneration, on the one hand, with our justification, on the other. It seems to me to be of some consequence to have that determined as clearly as possible ; - I mean not only the connection but the nature of it. I cannot help suspecting that loose and indefinite views here have led to our forming somewhat inadequate apprehensions of what the sonship of Christ's disciples really is. Neither our regeneration nor our justification constitutes our sonship neither of them is the formal ground or warrant of our being sons of God. That is to be found in God's free and sovereign act of grace alone ; - in his "giving us the power" or privilege "to become the sons of God;" in his "calling us the sons of God;" in his having "predestinated us unto the adoption of children" (John i. 12; 1 John iii. 1; Eph. i. 5). But both regeneration and justification have a material bearing on this act of God, and it is important to know as exactly as may be what that bearing is. Perhaps the tendency has been to separate adoption somewhat too much from regeneration on the one side, and on the other side to confound it somewhat too much with justification.
I. In the writings of Jolm - I refer especially of course to his Gospel and First Epistle - the sonship, not only of Christ but of his disciples, is more fully and affectingly brought out than in other parts of scripture. It is John who sets before us most clearly and touchingly his master's filial manner of life. If we would obtain an insight into what Jesus as the Son is to the Father and the Father to him, we must ponder incessantly these books; nor will one ponder them long, I am well persuaded, without coming to the conviction, based on countless minute touches of most pathetic tenderness, that Jesus meant to identify those whom the Father had given him with himself in his sonship. John does not say much of the manner of our entering into that relation; but what he does say appears to me to make it turn very much on regeneration.
Thus, in the outset of his Gospel (i. 12, 13), he connects very emphatically the statement concerning "the Word," - "that to as many as received him, he gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name," - with this explanation, - "which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of the man, but of God." And immediately he goes on to say of "the Word made flesh, and dwelling among us, full of grace and truth," - " We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father."
Here, in the first place, I cannot but conclude that John intends to represent the sonship of those who receive "the Word," and believe on his name, as substantially the same relation with the sonship of "the Word" himself. It is not impossible, and not, I think, very improbable, that John may have been acquainted with what Paul had written - " We all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. iii. 18.) Had he that scripture in his mind when, speaking evidently of sonship, he says, - we beheld the glory of the sonship of the only begotten ? - beheld it so as to be changed into the same image, into the very form and fashion of that glorious relation? Of course I do not attach any argumentative importance to this conjecture, although it may serve for an illustration. Apart from that altogether, there is enough, I think, in the passage which I have quoted, taken by itself, to support my first conclusion with regard to it.
My second conclusion is more material to my present purpose. It is drawn from the fact that John connects very pointedly and emphatically our "becoming sons of God" with our "being born of God." Does not this intimate that, while acknowledging the act of grace towards us in which God gives us the standing of sons, he would represent our sonship as largely dependent also on the work of grace in us by which God gives us the nature of sons? "Power" of right "to become sons of God," secures the filial standing; "being born of God" secures the filial nature.
This last conclusion from these words in John's Gospel will commend itself with most peculiar force to those who are most intimately acquainted with his way of writing in his First Epistle.
Turning to that book we find one passage especially in which the manner of our entering into the relation of sonship is noticed. Our being sons is ascribed to the calling of God (iii. 1): - "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." Of course there is no difficulty in understanding what is meant by our being called by the Father the sons of God. It is not a nominal but a real calling that is intended, the actual constituting of a real relation. But the statement seems to make sonship depend solely and exclusively on God's calling, that is, on his adoptive act. It is not so, however. This verse should not be separated from the verse immediately preceding it (ii. 29), in which it is said that "every one that doeth righteousness is born of God." For it is plainly that thought, "being born of God," which suggests to John the burst of adoring gratitude, "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us that we should be called the sons of God." Thus, in point of fact, John rests that sonship, which is in his eyes so wonderful, mainly on our being born of God. Nor is this all. John, repeating the assertion, "we are the sons of God;' continues to dwell with singular earnestness and explicitness on what being born of God means, and what it involves - perfect likeness to God hereafter (iii. 2); purity like his now (3); having the seed of God remaining in us as the germ of an impeccable life (9). It is impossible, I think, to read that whole passage in the epistle with any care and thought, without coming to the conviction that John attaches a very deep meaning indeed to our being born of God; that he looks upon it as in some real and vital sense analogous - not merely to the relation of the human child to the human parent - but to the act in which the relation originates; that he regards it as actually effecting a certain community of nature between God and man.
Keeping all this in view, I can scarcely doubt that John's design is to represent our being sons of God as connected very closely with our regeneration; and connected, too, after the very same manner that a man's being the son of his earthly parent is connected with his generation in time ; - or what I apprehend was more in John's mind, after the very same manner that the Lord's being the Son of his heavenly Father is connected with his generation from eternity. If so, then that makes sonship not merely a relation of adoption, but in a real and important sense a natural relation also. There must be adoption. But he who adopts regenerates. The regeneration is a real communication to us on his part of "his seed," of what makes our moral and spiritual nature the same in character as his ; perfectly so at last, and imperfectly yet as far as it prevails, truly so, even now. Arid this regeneration makes the adoption real. The adopted Sons are sons by nature, and that, too, in a very literal acceptation of the term.
These views may be of use as enabling us better to understand how the sonship of Christ and that of his people are and must be, in a very intimate sense, identical; how it is one and the same relation for both. There are no more two sonships, one for them and another for him, than there are two sonships for him, one for his human nature and condition, and another for his divine. There is but one sonship for us both. It may well be so, if in us, as in him, it is a natural sonship.
Those who would make a distinction between the sonships, Christ's and ours, sometimes represent it as turning on the distinction between natural and adoptive sonship ; - Christ being the Father's son by nature, we being sons by adoption on'y. If the reference here is to the fact that whereas Christ is God's Son from the beginning we have become God's sons only yesterday ; - his, in that view, being of the very essence of his existence, a necessity of his very being, while ours is nothing of the sort ; - the fact is of course admitted. I have attempted, however, formerly to show that it is not to the purpose in this argument If anything more is meant, the distinction may now be seen to be without warrant. If we are the sons of God at all, we are, in virtue of our regeneration, his sons by nature as well as by adoption. The nature, as well as the standing, of the Son is ours.
I would only further add, on this part of my subject, that while John is our chief authority, it is not John alone who ascribes so high a signification to the change which the Holy Spirit effects in the new birth - making it imply the production of a certain community of nature between God and us. Peter speaks expressly of the children of God being "partakers of the divine nature " - (2 Ep. i. 4). Paul also, when he would reconcile us as sons to the chastening and corrective discipline of "the Father of spirits," represents this as the design of our Father's faithful dealing with us, "that we might be partakers of his holiness " - (Heb. xii. 10). And again, when he announces the high rank to which, from everlasting, God has destined "them that love him, and are the called according to his purpose," he describes them as "predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren " - (Rom. viii. 28, 29). Surely this is a strong assertion of their actual participation with the Son in his own very sonship. And it is made to rest on their being conformed to his image ;" or, in other words, on their community of nature with him. For though the Son's relation to the Father may be partly what is meant by "his image" here, - and the exact assimilation of our relation to the Father to his may consequently be partly what is meant by our being "conformed to his image " - yet the phrase can scarcely be taken otherwise than as inclusive of sameness of nature as well as sameness of relation. Likeness or identity of nature is what makes likeness or identity of relation possible and conceivable. And it is that also which makes it capable of being realised in consciousness and experience; more and more so, as the conformity to the image of the Son of God grows more and more complete ; until, in the full and final "regeneration" of the resurrection, the full and final "adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body" (23), long waited for, comes at last. Then is he indeed "the first-born among many brethren."
II. But if this relation of sonship, as shared by the Son with his disciples, has suffered from its close connection with regeneration not having been sufficiently recognised, it has suffered perhaps still more seriously from so many of our theologians having failed to recognise sufficiently its entire distinction and separation from justification. The two have, to a large extent, been confounded and mixed up together. What God does in the act of adoption has been so represented as to make it either a part of what he does in the act of justification, or a mere appendage and necessary corollary involved in that act. Turretine, for example (Locus XVI., Qucestio vi.), expressly and formally includes adoption in his exposition of justification. He makes adoption nothing more than another name for the positive element which all the reformed divines held to be embraced in justification. They all held that in the justification of any man there are these two things implied - the pardon of his sins and the acceptance of his person. He is on the one hand judicially, and in terms of law, absolved from guilt, from ill-desert, from just liability to punishment. And he is on the other hand - judicially also and in terms of law - pronounced righteous. He is acknowledged as having fulfilled all incumbent obligations, in virtue of his oneness with him who has done so in his stead; and he is received into favour accordingly. Even the former of these two things held to be implied in our justification, goes far beyond the mere idea of the remission of the threatened and deserved punishment, which is all that mankind naturally care for; all that they really include in their favourite fancy of an universal fatherhood. It carries in it the removal, not merely of the penalty, but of the desert of the penalty. It is the taking away, not only of that to which our guilt justly exposes us and makes us liable, but of our guilt itself. It is a thorough absolution. And when the second of the two things held to be implied in our justification is taken into account - our being treated, not only as if we had never sinned, but as if we had fulfilled all righteousness - it may be seen how far God's manner of dealing with us when he justifies us goes beyond the manner of men. This will be all the more apparent when it is considered that, in virtue of our real union to Christ by faith, the whole is a real transaction. It is no mere fiction in law. The use of the phrase "as if," in describing it, though scarcely to be avoided, is unfortunate and improper. As made one with Christ personally, by the Spirit working in me appropriating and uniting faith, I am really and truly one with him in his absolution from my guilt which he took upon himself, and in his being accepted as righteous on account of his "obedience unto death" for me.
I state thus as broadly and strongly as I can the great Reformation doctrine. For I would not lower justification in order to exalt adoption. On the contrary, the higher any one raises the privilege of justification, the better for my view; since I hold adoption to be a privilege higher still. It is the admission of a person thoroughly justified, as being really one with the Father's righteous Servant, to fellowship with him with whom he is one, in his higher position, as the Father's only begotten and well-beloved Son.
For that reason partly, I object to Turretine's identification of adoption with what may be described as the second or positive part of justification. But there is another objection to his view. It makes the act of God in adoption savour, as I think, too much of a legal and judicial procedure. Take special attention to this consideration.
The more strictly we attach the character of a legal and judicial procedure to the act of God in justification so much the better. It is only, I believe, in that way that we can really maintain the infinite distance that there should always be felt to be between God, the Creator, Ruler, Judge of all, and ourselves, who, as his creatures, are nothing more than his intelligent subjects. It is only in that way that we can uphold, in all its integrity, his government by law and judgment. We can scarcely, therefore, err in the direction of viewing justification too forensically - casting it too strongly into the mould of what passes, or may be supposed to pass, in a court of law. Nor need that detract from the grace of the ace, on the part of God. On the contrary, it is only when we recognise its strictly forensic character that the real grace of the act appears; and only in proportion as its strictly forensic character is practically apprehended and realised, will its real grace be felt. For in fact - strict law and judgment apart - Christ's work of redemption and God's act of justification founded upon it, so far from indicating grace, imply something like the opposite of grace. Strict law and judgment apart, - no reason can possibly be given for the interposition of the Son being required, with such suffering as it entailed on him, and for the Father's forgiveness being based on that interposition, which does not derogate from grace - which does not, in fact, impart to the whole transaction an ungracious aspect - as if God personally needed to be conciliated and appeased. It is only by adhering strictly to the legal and judicial character of the transaction - by viewing it as properly and literally forensic, both as regards God's treatment of Christ for us and as regards his treatment of us in Christ - that we can see and appreciate the grace that there is in our justification. Then, indeed, grace shines forth in it conspicuously - grace providing the substitute; grace accepting the substitute; grace making us one with the substitute; grace receiving us and dealing with us as one with the substitute. Thus, to conserve its gracious character, it is indispensably necessary to hold firm and fast the forensic character of justification.
All the more, however, on that very account, it seems desirable to extricate adoption out of its entanglement with justification, and to recognise it as having a place and character of its own in God's manner of dealing with us ; a place and character not in any proper sense forensic at all. No doubt the term adoption may be suggestive of legal procedure; - it is a term which occurs in law-books. In countries where the practice prevails it is commonly regulated by statute. It was so of old in the Roman commonwealth and empire; and it is probably the Roman usage that the New Testament writers have in view on the rare occasions - for they are comparatively rare - on which they thus designate the Christian sonship. Where adoption is allowed to affect civil and patrimonial rights, as it was held to do under the government of Rome, the parties must necessarily be required to appear before the judge, in order to have the transaction duly attested and recorded. I suppose that even in our own country, where this practice is not so expressly and formally recognised in law as it was at Rome, if I wished to adopt a strange child, to the effect of investing him with a legal right to maintenance and to the succession as my child, I would be obliged to go through some legal form. Let it be observed, however, that there is the widest difference between that and a purely forensic procedure. The case is not submitted to a tribunal for decision, but only for ascertainment and registration. No judicial sentence is asked for, or is competent. The adoption itself is altogether extrajudicial ; as much so as is the contracting of marriage; though in both cases it may belong to the judge or magistrate to require that he shall be satisfied as to the good order of what is done, and the good faith of the parties doing it.
I think it is of as much consequence to maintain the thoroughly unforensic character of God's act in adopting, as it is to maintain the strictly forensic character of his act in justifying. All is legal and judicial in the latter act ; if it were not so, there would be no grace in it at all. Nothing is legal or judicial in the other ; if there were anything of that sort in it, all its grace would be gone. I look upon God as in adoption giving full and unrestrained vent to the pure fatherly love which he has for his own dear Son; pouring it out upon him so lavishly that it overflows upon all that are his. There is nothing in his fatherhood or in his fatherly treatment of his Son that savours of the legal, the judicial, the forensic. There was once needed a very short and sharp dealing of that sort, on the Father's part, with the Son of his love, when he stood in our stead, as not only a subject but a criminal. That, however, is all over now. As criminal for our crime he has paid the penalty ; - as subject on our behalf he has fulfilled the righteousness. No outstanding claim of justice can ever arrest the flow of his Father's fatherly love. Nor does it flow by any legal rule, or under any legal restriction or condition. It is simply fatherly love. And it is that very love of which our adoption, following upon our justification and associated with our regeneration, makes us, as his brethren, partakers.
There are, I think, two practical advantages connected with
our keeping clear the distinction on which I have been insisting, between the
forensic character of God's act in justifying us, and the unforensic character
of his act in adopting us, - as well as of his treatment of us consequent upon
that act. To these I shall very briefly advert before I close the present
1. In the matter of our justification, we are accustomed to be very scrupulous in excluding everything on our part except faith alone. And it is carefully explained that faith is admitted as the means of our being justified, not because it has any merit, or virtue, or goodness in itself, - nor because it is the source of goodness, since it "worketh by love". - but only because it is the hand that accepts the benefit; or rather because it is the heart that embraces him in whom the benefit resides. It unites us to Christ. In the matter of our adoption again, it is the very circumstance of its "working by love" that fits faith for being the appropriate organ or instrument. In fact, one might almost put it thus - that love occupies somewhat of the same place with reference to adoption or sonship which faith occupies with reference to justification. It is in the exercise of mere and simple faith that we apprehend and realise our acceptance as righteous in the sight of God. It is in the exercise of faith working by love, or of the love by which faith works, that we apprehend and realise our loving fellowship with our heavenly Father as his sons.
This may be partly what the Lord means by these remarkable words, "At that day, ye shall ask in my name: and I say not that I will pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God" - (John xvi. 26, 27). The elder brother, having presented himself and those whom "he is not ashamed to call his brethren," to their common father, saying - " Behold, I and the little ones whom thou hast given me," - steps for a moment aside. He declines to be a mere negotiator between his Father and the younger members of the family, as if there were still some distance or reserve. He insists on their using their full privilege of sonship, and making full proof of their Father's heart ; tasting and seeing how he loves them for the love they bear to the Son; the love which, in a sense, constitutes them sons themselves.
I am inclined to think that this view which I am attempting to explain of sonship as not a part of justification, nor a mere corollary from it, but a distinct and separate benefit, - differently conferred, at least in some respects, and differently apprehended and realised, - will be found to be of some practical importance. There is unquestionably, in certain quarters, a feeling of distaste and dislike apt to arise when God is represented as on the one hand dealing judicially with Christ standing in the room of his people, and then, on the other hand, dealing judicially with them in virtue of their being one with him by faith. The whole transaction in both its parts, in requiring from the surety satisfaction to law and justice, and in giving us the benefit of that satisfaction, appears to some to wear a harsh, technical, and legal aspect; a sort of cold, business-like, court-of-justice air, which they cannot relish It is not difficult to show that this is a prejudice, occasioned, - either by the rude and coarse way in which the doctrine is sometimes handled by unwise advocates and expounders of it, - or, which is the far more common case, by some gross caricature of it which the parties choose to draw or paint for themselves. At the same time, - if that is the only mode of God's dealing with Christ, and with those whom Christ answers for in the judgment, which is prominently brought forward and insisted upon, - there may undoubtedly be some risk of its degenerating into barren and dogmatic orthodoxy. It would be a curious and interesting speculation to inquire whether we may not thus, to some extent at least, account for the lapse of the theology of the Reformation in the schools and colleges of the continent, as well as among ourselves, first into rigid and frigid scholastic systematising, and then into rationalism. At all events, I am persuaded that we have a stroig safeguard against any such danger, if we do full justice to the common sonship of Christ and of Christ's disciples ; - erecting it into a distinct and separate article of belief, and giving it a well-defined place of its own, "with ample room and verge enough," among the truths of the Christian creed and the elements of Christian experience. "Beloved, now are we the sons of God." Let that be fully taught.
2. My second observatioir is very much the, converse of the former. The manner of treating this whole subject for which I have been pleading seems to me well fitted to erect a barrier against all Antinomian and Neonomian tendencies. The mixing up, in any way or in any measure, of God's dealing with us as sons in our adoption, and his dealing with us as subjects in our forgiveness and acceptance, is apt to open the door for the notion, either of law, old strict law, being superseded, or of its being somehow modified. The idea of some sort of compromise between the paternal and the judicial in God's treatment of us, very readily suggests itself. And believers, once justified by faith, are either held to have nothing to do with law at all, it being their privilege to act, not from a sense of legal obligation, but from the spontaneous prompting of affection; or else they are held to be under some mysterious new form or fashion of law, partaking too often not a little of the character of license. There will be little room for such imaginations if the right balance and adjustment between our justification as subjects and our adoption as sons is maintained. For I need scarcely say that though they are to be distinguished, these two are not to be disjoined. We are not to conceive of them as successive states; as if our state as justified subjects coming first gave place to our state as adopted sons following after. They are simultaneous states, to be realised continually as such. Love reigns in both. Love delighting in the holy and good law of the Ruler reigns in the one; in the other, love rejoicing in the endearments of the Father. It is the very love which moved the Ruler's righteous servant, the Father's beloved Son, to say, "I delight to do thy will, 0 my God; yea, thy law is within my heart ;" "my meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work ;" "I must be about my Father's business ;" "The cup which my Father giveth me, shall I not drink it?"
Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Links | Photo-Wallet