Jonathan Edwards writes,
When God sets his seal on a man’s heart by his Spirit, there is some holy stamp, some image impressed, and left upon the heart by the Spirit, as by the seal upon the wax. And this holy stamp, or impressed image, exhibiting clear evidence to the conscience that the subject of it is the child of God, is the very thing which in Scripture is called the seal of the Spirit, and the witness or evidence of the Spirit. And this mark stamped by the Spirit on God’s children is his own image. That is the evidence by which they are known to be God’s children; they have the image of their Father stamped upon their hearts by the Spirit of adoption.
***Taken from Elliot Ritzema and Elizabeth Vince, eds., 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Puritans, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).
If you are doubtful concerning your state and condition, do not expect an extraordinary determination of it by an immediate testimony of the Spirit of God. I do grant that God doth sometimes, by this means, bring in peace and satisfaction unto the soul. He gives his own Spirit immediately “to bear witness with ours that we are the children of God,” both upon the account of regeneration and adoption. He doth so; but, as far as we can observe, in a way of sovereignty, when and to whom he pleaseth. Besides, that men may content and satisfy themselves with his ordinary teachings, consolations, and communications of his grace, he hath left the nature of that peculiar testimony of the Spirit very dark and difficult to be found out, few agreeing wherein it doth consist or what is the nature of it. No one man’s experience is a rule unto others, and an undue apprehension of it is a matter of great danger. Yet it is certain that humble souls in extraordinary cases may have recourse unto it with benefit and relief thereby. This, then, you may desire, you may pray for, but not with such a frame of spirit as to refuse that other satisfaction which in the ways of truth and peace you may find. This is the putting of the hand into the side of Christ; but “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
*** Taken from John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 594.
Adoption is a greater mercy than Adam had in paradise; he was a son by creation, but here is a further sonship by adoption. To make us thankful, consider, in civil adoption there is some worth and excellence in the person to be adopted; but there was no worth in us, neither beauty, nor parentage, nor virtue; nothing in us to move God to correct us, but nothing to move him to adopt us, therefore exalt free grace; begin the work of angels here; bless him with your praises who has blessed you in making you his sons and daughters.
Thomas Brooks asserts that sanctification is simply a living out of one’s adoption and sonship (John 1:12; Rom. 8:17). He writes,
If thou art a holy person, then of a child of wrath thou art become a child of God, a child of love; and of an heir of hell thou art become an heir of heaven; and of a slave, thou art become a son.
The Puritans would resonate well with J.I. Packer’s assertion that sanctification is,
simply a consistent living out of our filial relationship with God, into which the gospel brings us. It is just a matter of the child of God being true to type, true to his Father, to his Saviour, and to himself. It is the expressing of one’s adoption in one’s life. It is a matter of being a good son, as distinct from a prodigal or black sheep in the royal family.
Through sanctification the believer is brought into a fuller experiential awareness of his adoption. He learns to grasp more fully what adoption is, and learns to live out of its wonders
Thomas Manton gives four counsels to assist the weak in faith in being able to call God their Father.
First, “disclaim when you cannot apply.” If you cannot say “Father,” plead on your “fatherless” condition, using such texts as Hosea 14:3, “In thee the fatherless find mercy.”
Second, “own God in the humbling way.” Come to the Father like the prodigal son, confessing your unworthiness, or like Paul, as the chief of sinners. Come to Him as your Father-Creator if you cannot come to Him as your Father-Savior.
Third, “call him Father in wish.” If you cannot call Him Father with directness, do it with desire. “Let us pray ourselves into this relation, and groan after it, that we may have a clearer sense that God is our Father in Christ,” he counsels.
Fourth, make “use of Christ Jesus.” Since Christ’s name means so much in heaven, “if you cannot come to God as your Father, come to him as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:14). Let Christ bring you into God’s presence. He is willing to change relations with us. Take him along with you in your arms. Go to God in Christ’s name: `Whatsoever you ask in my name, shall be given to you.’”
Some do more improve their privileges than others do. Now they cannot rationally expect the best and richest fruits of this gift, and to be enabled and enlarged by the Spirit, who do not give such ready entertainment and obedience to his motions, as the more serious and fruitful Christian doth.
– Thomas Manton
Some do more improve their privileges than others do; now they cannot rationally expect the best and richest fruits of this gift, and to be enabled and enlarged by the Spirit, who do not give such ready entertainment and obedience to his motions, as the more serious and fruitful Christian doth.
– Thomas Manton
Some professing members of the church are under “the Spirit of bondage,” that is, those who are under the Holy Spirit’s power to convict of sin, but do not as yet have liberty in Jesus Christ. Some Puritans—though by no means all—understand this to mean what is at times called “a preparatory work of grace.” Ezekiel Hopkins lays out the essence of this approach more succinctly. His key thoughts form an apt summary:
- The preparatory work of conversion is usually carried on in the soul by legal fears and terrors.
- This legal fear is slavish, and engenders bondage.
- This slavish fear is wrought in the soul by the Spirit of God, though it be slavish.
- When the soul is prepared for the work of grace by the work of conviction, when it is prepared for comfort by the work of humiliation, the same Spirit, that was before a Spirit of bondage, becomes now a Spirit of adoption.
- To whom the Spirit hath once been a Spirit of adoption, it never more becomes to them a Spirit of bondage and fear.
- A reverential, filial fear of God, may and ought to possess our souls, while the Spirit of God, who is a spirit of adoption, is, by the clearest evidences, actually witnessing our sonship to us.
Pastorally, the Puritans advised those who were under the Spirit of bondage of their danger, their invitation, and their encouragement. Their danger is that they will perish if they do not take refuge to Christ with penitent faith and come to know the Spirit of adoption. Their invitation is to come to Christ immediately, confessing their sins—also the sin of lacking childlike fear. They must ask the Holy Spirit to drive them out of their self-confidence and cause them to storm the mercy seat. Their encouragement is, according to Simon Ford,
That God will not keep His elect indefinitely in bondage for several reasons. Thus, religion would become uncomfortable and unappealing, people would faint under their burden of sin, and they would develop hard thoughts of God. God will lead those under bondage into liberty to show that it is not in vain to serve Him. He wants to wean His own from this world, and He wants to commune often with them.”
William Ames says there are four differences between human and divine adoption:
- Human adoption relates to a person, who, as a stranger, has no right to the inheritance except through adoption. But believers, though by natural birth they have no right to the inheritance of life, are given it because of rebirth, faith, and justification.
- Human adoption is only an outward designation and bestowal of external things. But divine adoption is so real a relationship that it is based on an inward action and the communications of a new inner life.
- Human adoption was introduced when there were no, or too few, natural sons. But divine adoption is not from any want but from abundant goodness, whereby a likeness of a natural son and mystical union is given to the adopted sons.
- The human adoption is ordained so that the son may succeed the father in the inheritance. But divine adoption is not ordained for succession, but for participation in the inheritance assigned. Both the Father and his first-begotten Son live forever and this admits no succession.
In short, the Puritans taught that regeneration and adoption are to be distinguished in several ways. Here is a summary of points made by Thomas Manton and Stephen Charnock on the differences between the doctrines of adoption and regeneration:
- Regeneration brings us to close with Jesus Christ – adoption causes the Spirit to abide in our hearts.
- Regeneration is the Spirit’s renewing. Adoption, the Spirit’s inhabiting. In regeneration, the Holy Spirit builds a house for Himself, in adoption, He dwells in the house—much like bees that “first make their cells, and then dwell in them.”
- Regeneration is not conditioned by faith, adoption is.
- Regeneration enables us to believe unto justification and adoption.
- Regeneration engraves upon us the lineaments of a father; adoption relates us to God as our Father.
- Regeneration makes us God’s sons by conveying the principle of new life (1 Pet. 1:23); adoption keeps us God’s sons by conferring the power of new life (John 1:12).
- Regeneration makes us partakers of the divine nature; adoption makes us partakers of the divine affections.
- Regeneration affects our nature, adoption, our relationships.
The most important Puritan works ever written on adoption, are:
John Crabb, A Testimony concerning the VVorks of the Living God. Shewing how the mysteries of his workings hath worked many wayes in and amongst mankind. Or, The knowledge of God revealed, which shews the way from the bondage of darkness into the liberty of the Sons of God.
Simon Ford, The Spirit of Bondage and Adoption: Largely and Practically handled, with reference to the way and manner of working both those Effects; and the proper Cases of Conscience belonging to them both.
M.G., The Glorious Excellencie of the Spirit of Adoption.
Thomas Granger, A Looking-Glasse for Christians. Or, The Comfortable Doctrine of Adoption.
Cotton Mather, The Sealed Servants of our God, Appearing with Two Witnesses, to produce a Well-Established Assurance of their being the Children of the Lord Almighty or, the Witness of the Holy Spirit, with the Spirit of the Beleever, to his Adoption of God; briefly and plainly Described.
Samuel Petto, The Voice of the Spirit. Or, An essay towards a discoverie of the witnessings of the Spirit.
Samuel Willard, The Child’s Portion: Or the unseen Glory of the Children of God, Asserted, and proved: Together with several other Sermons Occasionally Preached.
Sadly, none of these books have been reprinted, which, in part, serves to promote the misrepresentation that the Puritans rarely addressed this subject. However, you can fully be made aware of the Puritans understanding and theological development on the doctrine of adoption in Dr. Joel Beeke’s Heirs with Christ through RHB Publications.
While reading some of John Calvin’s works this past weekend, I came across something in particular that stood out to me from all the rest. Not only does the Christian live their earthly lives in the common kingdom of this world, but is adopted into the Redemptive Kingdom of God’s promises to Abraham. Philippians 2:14-16 reads,
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of oa crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine pas lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ sI may be proud that tI did not run in vain or labor in vain.
It was Calvin’s comments on verse 15 that brought to me the idea of seeing God’s adoption of His children through the lens of Two-Kingdoms.
The sons of God, unreprovable. It ought to be rendered—unreprovable, because ye are the sons of God. For God’s adoption of us ought to be a motive to a blameless life, that we may in some degree resemble our Father. Now, although there never has been such perfection in the world as to have nothing worthy of reproof, those are, nevertheless, said to be unreprovable who aim at this with the whole bent of their mind, as has been observed elsewhere.4
In the midst of a wicked generation. Believers, it is true, live on earth, intermingled with the wicked;5 they breathe the same air, they enjoy the same soil, and at that time1 they were even more intermingled, inasmuch as there could scarcely be found a single pious family that was not surrounded on all sides by unbelievers. So much the more does Paul stir up the Philippians to guard carefully against all corruptions. The meaning therefore is this: “You are, it is true, inclosed in the midst of the wicked; but, in the mean time, bear in mind that you are, by God’s adoption, separated from them: let there be, therefore, in your manner of life, conspicuous marks by which you may be distinguished. Nay more, this consideration ought to stir you up the more to aim at a pious and holy life, that we may not also be a part of the crooked generation,2 entangled by their vices and contagion.”
As to his calling them a wicked and crooked generation, this corresponds with the connection of the passage. For he teaches us that we must so much the more carefully take heed on this account—that many occasions of offence are stirred up by unbelievers, which disturb their right course; and the whole life of unbelievers is, as it were, a labyrinth of various windings, that draw us off from the right way. They are, however, notwithstanding, epithets of perpetual application, that are descriptive of unbelievers of all nations and in all ages. For if the heart of man is wicked and unsearchable, (Jer. 17:9,) what will be the fruits springing from such a root? Hence we are taught in these words, that in the life of man there is nothing pure, nothing right, until he has been renewed by the Spirit of God.
Among whom shine ye. The termination of the Greek word is doubtful, for it might be taken as the indicative—ye shine; but the imperative suits better with the exhortation. He would have unbelievers be as lamps, which shine amidst the darkness of the world, as though he had said, “Believers, it is true, are children of the night, and there is in the world nothing but darkness; but God has enlightened you for this end, that the purity of your life may shine forth amidst that darkness, that his grace may appear the more illustrious.” Thus, also, it is said by the Prophet, “The Lord will arise upon thee, and his glory will be seen upon thee.” (Isaiah 60:2.) He adds immediately afterwards, “The Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy countenance.” Though Isaiah speaks there rather of doctrine, while Paul speaks here of an exemplary life, yet, even in relation to doctrine, Christ in another passage specially designates the Apostles the light of the world. (Matt 5:14.)