The Marvel of Adoption
Extracts from the chapter on ‘Adoption’ in John Murray’s Redemption – Accomplished and Applied, reprinted in a new British edition by the Trust in 2009.1
When God adopts men and women into his family he insures that not only may they have the rights and privileges of his sons and daughters but also the nature or disposition consonant with such a status. This he does by regeneration — he renews them after his image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. God never has in his family those who are alien to its atmosphere and spirit and station. Regeneration is the prerequisite of adoption. It is the same Holy Spirit who regenerates who is also sent into the hearts of the adopted, crying ‘Abba Father’. But adoption itself is not simply regeneration, nor is it the Spirit of adoption — the one is prerequisite, the other is consequent.
Adoption, as the term clearly implies, is an act of transfer from an alien family into the family of God himself. This is surely the apex of grace and privilege. We would not dare to conceive of such grace far less to claim it apart from God’s own revelation and assurance. It staggers imagination because of its amazing condescension and love. The Spirit alone could be the seal of it in our hearts.
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: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2:9, 10).
It is only as there is the conjunction of the witness of revelation and the inward witness of the Spirit in our hearts that we are able to scale this pinnacle of faith and say with filial confidence and love, ‘Abba Father’ . . .
The great truth of God’s fatherhood and of the sonship which God bestows upon men is one that belongs to the application of redemption. It is true in respect of all men no more than are effectual calling, regeneration, and justification. God becomes the Father of his own people by the act of adoption. It is the marvel of such grace that constrained the Apostle John to exclaim, ‘Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called children of God’ (1 John 3:1). And to assure his readers of this privilege as a present possession and not simply a hope for the future he adds immediately, ‘and we are.’ To indicate the cleavage which this status institutes among men he continues, ‘On this account the world does not know us, because it did not know him.’ Lest there should be any doubt regarding the reality of the sonship bestowed he insists, ‘Beloved, now are we the children of God’ (verse 2). John had pondered and learned well the words of the Lord himself when he said, ‘He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father . . . If a man love me he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him’ (John 14:21, 23). And now in writing his first epistle his heart overflows with wonderment at this donation of the Father’s love, ‘Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us.’ It is specifically the Father’s act of grace. John could not get over it and he never will. Eternity will not exhaust its marvel . . .
When God is thought of in terms of adoption as ‘our heavenly Father’ or ‘our Father’ it is the first person of the Trinity, the person who is specifically the Father, who is in view. The people of God are the sons of God the Father and he sustains to them this highest and most intimate of relationships. This fact enhances the marvel of the relationship established by adoption.
The first person of the Godhead is not only the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ but is also the God and Father of those who believe in Jesus’ name. The relation of God as Father to the Son must not be equated, of course, with the relation of God as Father to men. Eternal generation must not be equated with adoption. Our Lord himself guarded the distinction. He did not include the disciples with himself and in community with them call the Father ‘our Father.’ He said to his disciples, ‘After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven’ (Matt. 6:9). He did not, and as a matter of fact could not, pray with them the prayer he taught them to pray. And he said to Mary Magdalene, ‘I ascend unto my Father and your Father and my God and your God’ (John 20:17). But though the relation of Fatherhood differs, it is the same person who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ in the ineffable mystery of the Trinity who is the Father of believers in the mystery of his adoptive grace.
God the Father is not only the specific agent in the act of adoption; he also constitutes those who believe in Jesus’ name his own children. Could anything disclose the marvel of adoption or certify the security of its tenure and privilege more effectively than the fact that the Father himself, on account of whom are all things and through whom are all things, who made the captain of salvation perfect through sufferings, becomes by deed of grace the Father of the many sons whom he will bring to glory? And that is the reason why the captain of salvation himself is not ashamed to call them brethren and can exult with joy unspeakable, ‘Behold I and the children whom God hath given to me’ (Heb. 2:13).
- Published in the United States by Eerdmans.
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