Visibly Adopted but Still Under the Spirit of Bondage

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.”