Adoption: A Biblical and Theological Exposition of a
Rev. Angus Stewart
(Slightly developed from an article first published in the
British Reformed Journal)
(I) A Neglected Doctrine
The doctrine of God's gracious adoption of elect sinners has
received inadequate treatment in the Church.1
In the early centuries Christ's Deity and eternal sonship were the vital issues
the fathers faced, rather than our adoptive sonship.2
The Middle Ages made no significant development in adoption. However, even then
the comfort of this doctrine was never completely lost, for, after all, the
Church has always prayed, "Our Father who art in heaven." The
Reformation, with its proclamation of the sovereign grace of God and
justification by faith alone, made great advances in soteriology. With this
glorious foundation, there was potential for significant progress regarding
Calvin does not give adoption a separate chapter in his
Institutes, but he has a firm grasp of its importance and use in the church.
For example, he links our sonship with prayer (3.20.36-38), election (3.24.1)
and both the sacraments (4.15.1; 4.16.24; 4.17.1). In his lengthy list of the
titles of the Holy Spirit, he places "the Spirit of adoption" first (3.1.3).3
Adoption received little further development in the Three
Forms of Unity. The Belgic Confession
(1561) refers to God's fatherly love for us in its treatment of Providence
(Article 13) and in connection with the acceptance of our prayers through Christ
(26). In baptism, we are told, "our gracious God and Father" testifies to our
salvation (34). Article 15, in speaking of Original Sin, teaches that the sins
of the "children of God" are graciously forgiven.
The Heidelberg Catechism
(1563) also speaks in various places of believers as God's children and of God
as our Father. In Question and Answer 33, however, we have a clear statement
relating our sonship to that of the eternal Son of God:
Q. 33. Why is Christ called the only begotten Son of God,
since we are also the children of God?
A. 33. Because Christ alone is the eternal and natural
Son of God; but we are children adopted of God, by grace, for his sake.
The treatment of the doctrines of grace at the Synod of
Dordt (1618-1619) did not mark any progress upon
Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 33.4
In fact, the subject has received little treatment in continental Reformed
theology. For example, Abraham Kuyper could write The Work of the Holy Spirit
(1888), with only occasional brief references to adoption.5
With Herman Bavinck, his fellow Dutchman, this doctrine played a more
One factor which led to the neglect of adoption in
continental theology was its being subsumed under justification, as a "part."7
In this regard, the Westminster Standards, which treat adoption as a
separate locus, are to be preferred.8 However, even
in Westminster Standards circles,9 adoption
has received insufficient attention.10 In a
nineteenth century debate, Scottish Presbyterianism has produced at least two
works on the subject.11 American
Southern Presbyterianism has also weighed in with two significant treatments.12
It is clear that this doctrine deserves further attention;
past work is not satisfactory in several respects; improvements can be made.
This essay proposes to develop adoption along the lines of the Westminster
Standards, by relating it to the inter-Trinitarian relations within the
Godhead and to union with Christ.
(II) Adoption and the
"Adoption," states the Westminster Shorter Catechism,
"is an act of God's free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and
have the right to all the privileges of the sons of God" (Q. & A. 34). By
adoption, we are brought into the family of our heavenly Father and fellowship
with Him as His dear children. But what is involved in being sons of God? In the
history of redemption (historia salutis), the Scripture set forth two
models, to help us to understand this unspeakable privilege. We shall follow the
(A) Adam—Original Sonship
(1) Sonship and Image
On the sixth day, as the culmination and crown of the
creation, "God created man in his own image" (Gen. 1:27). Though the opening
chapters of Genesis nowhere explicitly state that Adam was God's son, the New
Testament makes this clear (Luke 3:38, cf. v. 23). There has been much confusion
in the history of the Christian Church, regarding the meaning of the image of
God (imago dei). However, the Reformed Confessions are undoubtedly
correct, when, according to Scripture, they define the image of God as
knowledge, righteousness and holiness (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24).13
Adam's sonship and his carrying the imago dei stand or
fall together.14 For the basis of this unity, we
must consider the inter-Trinitarian relations within the Godhead, and more
specifically the relationship between the First and Second Persons.
The Father eternally begets the Son and the Son is eternally
begotten of the Father: He is the Only Begotten of the Father (John 1:14, 18;
3:16; I John 4:9). This is the key idea in their relation as Father and Son.
Scripture ascribes other names to the Son, such as the Word
(John 1:1), the Effulgence of God's glory (Heb. 1:3) and the Image of God (II
Cor. 4:4). Although each of these titles helps us to understand something of
the Son's eternal generation,15
it is the last that concerns us here.
In that Christ is the Image of God, we learn that the Father,
in eternally generating the Son, begets Him in His own likeness. The infinite,
eternal, unchangeable, wise, powerful, holy, just, good and true Father
expresses Himself perfectly in His Image, the Son, who is infinite, eternal,
unchangeable, wise, powerful, holy, just, good and true.16
Thus when God the Father through the Son and by the Spirit,
in His works ad extra, creates Adam and Eve, as rational, moral beings,
they are His children and partake of His image, albeit in a creaturely way.
Whereas the Son is eternally begotten, Adam is created in time. The Son is the
express image of the Father; Adam is a creature of the dust, though
magnificently adorned in moral rectitude and holiness. The Son's generation is
necessary; Adam's is contingent, according to the sovereign pleasure of God.
God, out of His own infinite sufficiency and fullness, freely willed to
communicate His blessedness to the creature. God formed sons, not to have a
family, but because He is the true Family—the Father and the Son in the
Spirit—and that His own covenant life might be manifested in His people to the
glory of His holy name.
Adam was God's covenant friend, loving, adoring and rejoicing
in God. God communicated Himself to him and fellowshipped with him in love: Adam
was a son of God.
However, Adam "being in honour ... understood it not, neither
knew his excellency, but wilfully subjected himself to sin, and consequently to
death and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil."17
Adam lost the image of God and was no longer a son of God. Now he bore the image
of the devil, "being wholly defiled in all parts and faculties of soul and
He became a child of the flesh (Rom. 9:8), a child of darkness (Eph. 5:8), a
child of disobedience (Eph. 2:2), a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3), a child of the
devil (I John 3:10) and a child of hell (Matt. 23:15).19
Not only did Adam fall, but, because he was constituted
mankind's federal head, the whole human race fell in him (Rom. 5:12-21). As God
made Adam in His likeness, so Adam's children were begotten after the likeness
of their father (Gen. 5:1-3). Mankind plunged itself into sin and misery.
(2) Are All Men Sons of God by Creation?
The gross denial of original sin by the Pelagians and the old
liberal theology—the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man—need not be
discussed here. One Reformed debate, however merits attention: Is there some
sense in which the natural man is a child of God by creation? In the last
century in Scotland, Thomas Crawford, Professor of Divinity at Edinburgh
University answered affirmatively, while Robert Candlish, Principal of the Free
Church of Scotland's New College disavowed it.20
The doughty John Kennedy of Dingwall weighed in with his fellow Free Churchman.21
Crawford's position is probably the majority opinion amongst Presbyterian and
Reformed men, but, from what we have seen regarding "sonship" and "image," it
must be rejected.
Some texts alleged as proof of a universal fatherhood of God
by creation merit brief attention. Malachi 2:10: "Have we not all one father?
hath not one God created us?" might seem convincing. However, the "we," "all"
and "us" do not refer to every individual in the world, but to all of
Judah/Israel (vv. 8-9, 11). The prophet is rebuking God's chosen nation for
"profaning the covenant of our father" (v. 10) and committing idolatry (v. 11).
The text does speak of "father" and "create" (bara), but the latter is
also used in a redemptive sense to speak of God's original act of calling Israel
to Himself (cf. Isa. 43:1). The text actually teaches God's particular,
theocratic fatherhood of Judah.22
Girardeau, in analyzing the Crawford-Candlish debate, reckons
Luke 15:11-32, Acts 17:28-29 and Luke 3:38 are the clearest texts proving
To appeal to the parable of the prodigal son (to give it its popular
designation) is to clutch at straws. First, it is simply bad hermeneutics to
appeal to a parable to establish a controverted doctrine. Second, the context
tells us that Christ delivered the parable to vindicate His receiving the
ungodly (Luke 15:1-2). The parable's teaching concerning God's fatherhood is
that He loves His elect sons, who will, in the process of time, return to His
loving embrace. There is nothing universalistic about sonship in this parable.
Paul's words to the philosophers on Mars Hill might seem to
present a tougher case, but he only asserts that all men are God's offspring,
not sons.24 As we have seen, this is true, for the
origin of all men is ultimately from God. He it was who created Adam as a son
(Luke 3:38), but just because pre-fall Adam was God's son it does not follow
that his post-fall children are God's sons. Adam fell as the root of all mankind
(Acts 17:26) and produced children in his fallen image (Gen. 5:3).
Fallen man is, of course, still a man, a moral and rational
being, created and upheld by the omnipotent, transcendent, sovereign God (Acts
17:24, 26, 28). As a dependent moral being, man must worship something, but,
being sinful, he wickedly subverts his knowledge of God and, by substituting
false gods, seeks to bury all recollection of Him (vv. 22-25, 27-31). Paul
protests against this depravity and folly: "as we are the offspring of God, we
ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver" (v. 29).25
James 1:17, which tells us that God is the "Father of
lights," is another verse to which appeal is made. This Divine title refers to
God's resplendent glory and effulgence, which James goes on to say is immutable
and perfect: "with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
The God of light gives "every good and every perfect gift." In the context,
James is speaking of believers, so no universal love is here expressed. However,
even if James was speaking of God's good gifts to the reprobate, this would not
indicate a favourable disposition toward them, still less that they were God's
To complete our brief examination of texts appealed to for
some sort of universal fatherhood of God, we will consider Hebrews 12:9, which
speaks of God as "the Father of spirits." The context makes clear that this does
not mean that God is the Father of all human spirits. Hebrews 12:5-11 speaks of
God's fatherly dealing with His sons. The fathers of our flesh corrected us and
we submitted, argues the apostle, and so must we behave regarding the discipline
of the Father of spirits (v. 9). So clear is it that God is not the Father of
all men that those who are not chastened by God are described as "bastards and
not sons" (v. 8).
To hold to a universal fatherhood of God through creation, it
is necessary to misinterpret Scripture and ignore the biblical and Trinitarian
unity between "image" and "sonship." Serious theological problems then arise. An
ungodly man is in the image of God by creation, even though God's wrath lies
upon him and he manifests the imago diaboli and is a son of Satan. When
converted he is then a child of God both by physical creation and adoption.26
No wonder John Murray writes, "the concept of universal fatherhood, if used at
all, must be employed with great caution."27
What sort of a doctrine is it that must be so treated?
As for Crawford's position that preaching a universal
fatherhood of God by creation aids evangelism, we must respectfully demur. God
uses His own truth to call His wandering sheep. Nothing more is needed.
Sonship goes hand in hand with the image of God and involves
an intimate fellowship with the Father in heaven. The antithesis must be
maintained: neither believers, nor Christ, nor the Triune God has any fellowship
with the children of Belial. Outside divine sonship there is nothing but sin and
Canadian Arthur Custance rightly stated, "God is the Father only of
those who are His children by rebirth."27a
English Baptist preacher, C. H. Spurgeon declared,
Believe the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God to his people.
As I have warned you before, abhor the doctrine of the
universal fatherhood of God, for it is a lie, and a deep
deception. It stabs at the heart, first, of the doctrine of
the adoption, which is taught in Scripture, for how can God
adopt men if they are all his children already? In the
second place, it stabs at the heart of the doctrine of
regeneration, which is certainly taught in the Word of God.
Now it is by regeneration and faith that we become the
children of God, but how can that be if we are the children
of God already? "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." How can
God give to men the power to become his sons if they have it
already? Believe not that lie of the devil, but believe this
truth of God, that Christ and all who are by living faith in
Christ may rejoice in the Fatherhood of God.27b
Nineteenth-century Scottish Presbyterian theologian George Smeaton summed it up well:
The effectually called become adopted sons, and are
translated by the power of the Spirit into the family of God. According to
the canon, that whatever is imparted in the exercise of Christ's grace
implies the opposite in our state by nature, they who were born into God's
family were in the opposite family—in the family of Satan—before. It is the
more necessary to set this in its proper light, because many do not hesitate
to say, under the bias of a false system, that God is universal Father, and
that all men are His children. They hold by what they call "The Fatherhood
of God" in virtue of an alleged unbroken relation formed by creation, and
assert that all men, without exception or distinction, belong to the family
of God, much in the same way as Pope describes Him as Father of all in his
universal prayer. Children, forsooth, who only disobey and dishonour their
father! No: all men by nature belong to a family antagonistic to the family
of God, and they do the lusts of a father who is described as a liar and
murderer from the beginning. That position is in harmony with the doctrine
of Christ and His apostles. Men cannot, at one and the same moment, be of
their father the devil, as Cain was (I John 4:10-12), and as the Jews were,
when our Lord announced to them their family (John 8:44), and yet be
recognised or called the sons of God. The doctrine of our Lord and His
apostles sets forth that sinners and all unregenerate men are children of
the evil one.27c
In his classic book, Knowing God, Anglican J. I. Packer "emphatically" denies that
unbelievers are God's children:
The idea that all men are children of God
is not found in the Bible anywhere.
The Old Testament knows God as the Father, not of all
men, but of His own people, the seed of Abraham. "Israel
is my son, even my firstborn: and I say unto thee, Let
my son go ..." (Exodus 4:22f.). The New Testament has a
world vision, but it too shows God as the Father, not of
all men, but of those who, knowing themselves to be
sinners, put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as
their divine sin-bearer and master, and so become
Abraham's spiritual seed. "Ye are all sons of God,
through faith, in Christ Jesus ... ye all are one man in
Christ Jesus. And if ye are Christ's, then are ye
Abraham's seed" (Galatians 3:26ff.). Sonship to God is
not, therefore, a universal status upon which everyone
enters by natural birth, but a supernatural gift which
one receives through receiving Jesus. "No man cometh
unto the Father"—in other words, is acknowledged by God
as a son—"but by me" (John 14:6). The gift of sonship to
God becomes ours, not through being born, but through
being born again. "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 1:12f.).27d
(B) Israel—Adoptive Sonship
(1) Israel as God’s Son
Whereas Adam was God's son through creation in God's image,
Israel was so only through God's adoptive act.28
The apostle Paul places this adoption at the head of a lengthy list of
privileges God gave to the Israelites (Rom. 9:4-5).
Israel's sonship was due to God's sovereign choice (Deut.
14:1-2) and not because of anything in him (Deut. 7:7).29
Though Israel was weak and despised (Eze. 16:1-15), God made bare His mighty arm
and redeemed him (Deut. 7:8; 32:5-6). God's beloved firstborn son (Ex. 4:22) was
effectually called out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1). God realised His covenant with
Israel and gave him His law as a rule to guide him, the Mosaic ordinances to
train him in true worship, and the promises to set his hope in the coming
Messiah (Rom. 9:4-5). The land of Canaan served the Israelites as an interim
inheritance (Jer. 3:19), typical of heaven (Heb. 11:8-10, 13-16).
In all His dealings with Israel, God manifested His
loving-kindness and goodness, through the Angel of His Presence (Isa. 63:7-9).
He it was who guided Israel in the wilderness and brought them into the promised
land (Ex. 23:20-23).
It was on the basis of his adoption that the Lord exhorted
Israel to filial obedience (Deut. 14:1). Jehovah's firstborn son must serve Him
(Ex. 4:22-23), and if the Lord is the Father of the nation then all Israelites
are brothers and must act accordingly (Mal. 2:10).
Disobedience is particularly heinous because Israel is God's
son (Isa. 1:2). As Israel's Father, Jehovah is worthy of paternal honour (Mal.
1:6). All too often in the Old Testament, God has occasion to refer to the
Israelites as "sottish children" (Jer. 4:22). Yet, His love remains constant and
His exhortations are especially tender: "Return, ye backsliding children, and I
will heal your backslidings" (Jer. 3:22). Often with His people, the Lord has to
bring out the divine rod: "My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD;
neither be weary of his correction" (Prov. 3:11, cf. v. 12).
(2) The Adoption of Israel and New Testament Adoption
In God's dealings with Old Testament Israel, we see a divine
pattern for God's dealings with His New Covenant sons, yet there are obvious and
In general, these partake of the differences between the Old and New
Dispensations. The Old is anticipation; the New is realization. The Old is the
realm of shadows and types; the New of fulfilment. Through the death and
resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we now have God's
covenant blessings in a fuller, richer and deeper way than in the Old Testament.
Most obviously, God's adopting grace is now known amongst the
nations. The church has been freed from the swaddling bands of Jewish
nationalism. Hosea prophesied,
"It shall come to pass, that in the place where it was
said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye
are the sons of the living God (Hos. 1:10)."31
Not only has God's adoption "widened" to include the
Gentiles, but it has also become more individualized. Whereas Adam and Eve were
created God's son and daughter, Israel was adopted as a nation. It is
the nation of Israel that pleads with God, "Doubtless thou art our father,
though Abraham be ignorant of us" (Isa. 63:16). God asks Israel, "Wilt thou not
from this time cry unto me, My father, thou art the guide of my youth?" (Jer.
Now in the "last days," the believer cries, "Abba,
Father" (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). It is true that since God is the father of Israel
and that the nation is made up of individuals, that He is the father of each and
every believer in Israel, but the Old Testament never explicitly states this.32
Isaiah 43:6: "Bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from
the ends of the earth," goes some way towards this, in mentioning women.33
Deuteronomy 8:5, and especially Proverbs 3:11-12, comes very close to individual
sonship, but the son is "loved" and "corrected," "as a man chastens his son."
Similarly, the LORD "pities" (Ps. 103:13) and "spares" (Mal. 3:7) the godly
Israelite, as a father his son.34
In none of the Psalms, for example, do we read a prayer
addressed to God as Father.35
Even when Christ quoted Psalm 31 in His last word from the cross, "Father into
thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46), we realize that "Father" is not
included in Psalm 31:5.
Galatians 4:1-10 makes an additional point regarding the
fullness of New Testament adoption. Whereas the Israelites were placed under the
outward, external discipline of the law, New Testament believers have a greater
liberty in the Spirit. The apostle, viewing the old dispensation in the light of
the new, even compares it to servitude (v. 7). Israel, Paul explains, is like a
rich man's child, who is tutored by governors until the time appointed by his
father, when he enters his dignity as heir and rules as master (vv. 1-2, 7).
Now, through the incarnation and death of Christ (vv. 4-5), the church has
matured and the Spirit of the Son is sent forth into our hearts (v. 6).
The outpouring of the Spirit and the intercession of the Son
also result in a greater liberty of access to the Father. All around the world,
multitudes of God's people are crying out, "Abba, Father" (v. 4). Consider
Paul's prayers in Ephesians, for example. They are all addressed to God as
Father and breathe an intense filial
(3) The Trinitarian Perspective
Here again we need to consider the Trinitarian perspective.
Why exactly is it that, through the coming of Christ and the outpouring of the
Spirit, New Testament adoption is fuller and freer?
First, there is the matter of revelation
and the church's subjective appropriation of it. Through the Incarnation and
Pentecost, God made clear to His church that He is Triune—Father, Son and Holy
Spirit. This doctrine is also, more dimly, taught in the Old Testament, but it
took the "concrete" historical manifestations of the Second and Third Persons,
for the mind of the Church to attain a firm grip on it. Also, it is only through
Christ's incarnation and the Spirit's outpouring, that we can grasp the ad
intra Trinitarian relationships: the Father's eternal generation of the Son
and the Holy Spirit's eternal procession from the Father through the Son.37
Second, there is the matter of theology
proper. Viewing God merely monotheistically, it is not at all clear how He can
be Father. His fatherhood seems rather to be "tacked on" to His Deity. When,
however, the one Being of God is properly understood as consisting in three
Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—everything falls into place. In that the
Father is the First Person of the Trinity, it is clear that God is eternally and
essentially Father in Himself. He would still be the perfect and all
sufficient Father had He never willed to adopt a church, for within the Godhead
the Father is eternally begetting the Son.
Third, there is the matter of Christology. As the
"only begotten Son," dwelling "in the bosom of the Father," Christ perfectly
"expounded" or "exegeted" the Father (John 1:18).38 Jesus
summed up His divine mission: "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John
14:9; cf. 12:45). Christ, to use Luther's words, is the "mirror of the fatherly
heart of God."39 Nowhere in Christ's ministry is
this more clearly seen than in His death on the cross. Not only does Christ, as
the Word of God, reveal the Father, but also through the Father-Son relationship
revealed in the Scriptures, we see the love of the Father for His only begotten
J. I. Packer has done some fine work here, in summarizing
Christ's teaching on this in John's Gospel.40
God's fatherly relation to Christ implies first of all authority. "I came
down from heaven," Christ said, "not to do mine own will, but the will of him
that sent me" (John 6:38).41
Second, fatherhood implies honour: "Father, glorify thy Son" (John 17:1).42
Third, fatherhood implies affection: "The Father loveth the Son" (John
Fourth, fatherhood implies fellowship: "I am not alone, because the
Father is with me" (John 16:32).44
As those adopted in Christ (Eph. 1:5), Christ's Father is our
Father (John 20:17). We too are under God's fatherly rule and receive the
abundant privileges of those beloved of God. Most glorious of all is our
intimate covenant communion with the Father and the Son in the Spirit.45
Fourth, there is the matter of pneumatology. Through
His redemptive death on the cross, Christ obtained our salvation and gifts for
His Church (Eph. 4:8). In the New Testament era, as the dispensation of
fulfilment and fullness, these gifts are lavished in greater abundance. In the
Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the gift of love from the Father to the Son and
from the Son to the Father.46 Here, as always,
God's ad extra work of redemption truly reveals His inter-Trinitarian
life—the gift Christ merited for His sons is the Holy Spirit, the eternal gift.
The Holy Spirit immediately seals our sonship upon our hearts
by manifesting Christ to us. Christ, in turn, is the Son, Image and Word of the
Father. The Spirit thus reveals the Son and the Father and we know ourselves as
sons and God as our Father, for Jesus sake.
(III) Adoption and the Ordo
So far we have considered the glorious dignity of the sons of
God—covenant fellowship with the Triune God. Now we need to turn to consider the
legal act of adoption by which God reckons us as His children. To sharpen our
conception of adoption and clear away false theories, we will consider the
relationships between adoption and several other steps in the order of salvation
(A) Adoption and Justification
Some eminent theologians, including Francis Turretin and
Charles Hodge, have viewed adoption as a "part" of justification.47
Both are legal acts; both are single acts of all three Trinitarian Persons. Our
adoption reflects the divine economy in our justification: the Father
predestinates us to adoption; the Son by His atonement has procured its
accomplishment; and the Holy Spirit applies it in due time.48
Both (and this seems to be the clincher for many) invest the elect regenerated
sinner with a legal right to the divine inheritance.
The Bible gives a more lengthy treatment to justification
than to the act of adoption.49
The Greek word for adoption (huiothesia), in fact, occurs only five times
in the New Testament; all of which are in Paul’s letters.50
If we add to this the historical significance of the doctrine of justification
by faith alone, it is not surprising that many have subsumed adoption under
Though not surprising, it is not correct. First, though both
justification and adoption provide a right to inheritance, it does not follow
that one must be an aspect of the other. In justification, Christ's
righteousness is imputed to us, and, in adoption, we are reckoned as God's sons.
God, in His grace, can reward us not only as sons but as righteous. For example,
in Romans 5:17, 18 and 21, justification gives us a title to eternal life. The
contrast is between the complex of sin-death-condemnation and that of
righteousness-life-justification. The fatherhood of God or our sonship is not in
Second, that justification and adoption are both legal acts
is also inconclusive. Regeneration and calling are both organic acts, and
Reformed theology has recognized them as distinct carrying their own particular
ideas.51 Though both are forensic acts, the sphere
of justification is the courtroom; of adoption, the home. Justification brings
us into the number of the righteous; adoption ushers us into the family of God.
In justification, the elect sinner is viewed as an innocent subject; in
adoption, as a son. In justification, God is judge; in adoption, God is Father.
Justification is rooted in an attribute of God, His righteousness; adoption is
rooted in the personal distinctions in the Holy Trinity. The comfort of
justification is acquittal and imputed righteousness; in adoption, it is
fellowship with the Father.52
Here, Louis Berkhof's scheme breaks down. In his presentation
of adoption as a part of justification, he speaks of the latter as consisting of
"two elements:" a negative and a positive element. The negative element, he
says, is the forgiveness of sins, and the positive element has two components:
"the adoption of children" and "the right to eternal life."53
Through his failure to distinguish between justification and
adoption, Berkhof's analysis of both suffers. First, he never gets round to
explicitly stating the positive element in justification—the imputation of the
righteousness of Christ.54
Second, he does not express the negative aspect of adoption—our removal from the
dominion of the devil's "fatherhood."55
To state the matter fully: in justification, our sins are forgiven and we are
righteous in Christ; in adoption, we no longer have Satan, but the Triune God
for our Father. This must be made clear.56
(B) Adoption and Regeneration
Whereas Charles Hodge followed Turretin in his analysis of
adoption rather than the Westminster Standards, his son A. A. Hodge
plotted a different path, neither that of his father or of his confession.57
For A. A. Hodge, adoption is a combination of both justification (a legal
blessing) and regeneration (an organic blessing).58
While Charles Hodge saw adoption as a part of justification, Archibald Hodge saw
justification as a part of adoption. Since, as we have seen, justification and
adoption are distinct, though related, acts of God, neither presentation is
Though both are divine acts, Regeneration is organic
and determines our nature, while adoption is legal and determines our status. In
regeneration, God deals with a spiritually dead sinner; in adoption, with a
child of the devil.59
Regeneration is creative—God gives us life; adoption is declarative—He gives us
the names of sons. John 1:12-13 is of great importance here:
But as many as received him, to them gave he power [i.e.,
authority or right] 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
The text traces God's salvation back through adoption, to
faith and to regeneration (and to God's sovereign good pleasure). God gives us
life in regeneration and out of this seed we believe. Faith is prior to
justification (Rom. 5:1) and also to adoption (Gal. 3:26). Galatians chapters
3-4 and Romans chapters 1-8 treat adoption after justification, but in itself
this is not conclusive. However, since it is incongruous to think of God
adopting children whom He has not reckoned as righteous in Christ, we must see
adoption as following justification in the ordo salutis. In
justification, we are accepted as righteous; in adoption God heaps grace upon
grace by going a step further and making us sons.
We thus arrive at the following order:
regeneration—(faith)—justification—adoption. Not only are justification and
adoption distinct acts, so too are regeneration and adoption. Regeneration
produces faith and faith precedes adoption.
(C) Adoption and Sanctification
Whereas regeneration, justification and adoption are distinct
divine acts occurring only once, sanctification is a progressive divine work.
The question arises: What is adoption's relation to sanctification? Is adoption
So far we have seen the negative and positive elements of
God's legal adoptive act. We now need to consider the work of the Spirit with
respect to our adoption. After speaking of our adoption (Gal. 4:5), the apostle
states, "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into
your hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (v. 6).
Three points must be noted from this text. First, the
relationship between the adoptive act and God's sending His Spirit into our
hearts is causal.60 God sends forth His Holy Spirit
because we are sons. Second, the Spirit is entitled "the Spirit of his
Son."61 Third, the work of the Spirit in our
hearts is to bear testimony to our sonship.
Galatians 4:6 teaches us that the Spirit in us cries, "Abba,
Father," and Romans 8:15 states that by the Spirit of adoption, "we cry, Abba,
There is no contradiction here. Galatians 4 fixes the spotlight on the Spirit's
testimony in us, while Romans 8 goes on to turn the spotlight on the fruit this
inner testimony bears in our hearts: we receive a joyful consciousness of our
sonship and are emboldened to freely call upon God as our heavenly Father.63
While Scripture clearly speaks of the work of the Spirit in
testifying of our sonship, it does not ascribe Sanctification, that progressive
work of conforming us to the image of the Son, to the Spirit of adoption. Here
we must respectfully disagree with Calvin. "Whomsoever ... God receives into his
favour," writes the Genevan reformer, "he presents with the Spirit of
adoption, whose agency forms them anew into his image."64
While sanctification is indeed the work of the Spirit, it is not His work as the
Spirit of adoption.
Like justification, adoption changes one's status. One is
either guilty or innocent (by justification); a child of the devil or a child of
God (by adoption). One's legal standing does not permit of increase (or
decrease); one cannot become "more" innocent or "more" a child of God. The work
of the Spirit with regard to our justification is to witness to it in our
hearts; the work of the Spirit of adoption is to testify to our sonship.65
Adoption does, however, have implications for our
sanctification. The eternal Son, who came to show us the Father (John 14:9),
perfectly manifested the filial spirit. He ever lived in the consciousness of
His sonship, and thus He loved, honoured and glorified the Father. "Now,
as the knowledge of His unique sonship controlled Jesus’ living of His own life
on earth," writes Packer, "so He insists that the knowledge of our adoptive
sonship control our lives too."66
Through our adoption, the same Spirit, who fully dwelt in
Christ, dwells in our hearts. Christ, in His intimate communion with the Father,
called Him, "Abba" (Mark 14:36), and now the Spirit He gives us evokes our cry,
"Abba, Father" (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Believers, as James Scott enthuses,
"participate in the sonship of the messianic Son of God to such an extent that
they address God with the ipsissima verba of the Son."67
This wonderful work of the Spirit in taking the things of
Christ and applying them to us (cf. John 16:13-15) is entirely consistent with
His eternal procession from the Father through the Son. As the bond of
fellowship between the Father and the Son, He effects our union and communion
with God. He assures us that we are God's children (Rom. 8:16) and the objects
of His unfailing love. In the Spirit, we talk to the majestic Creator of heaven
and earth as our Father and friend (Rom. 8:15, 26-27; John 15:14-15). Through
Him, God's covenant is effected in His elect.
(D) Adoption and Glorification
The sonship of the child of God is fully realized in
glorification. In Galatians 4, the contrast is between the adoption of Israel
and New Testament adoption, or, if you will, between the past and present. In
Romans 8, it is between the present and the future, the "already" of our
adoption in this life, and the "not yet" of the adoption of our bodies in the
world to come.68
The same Spirit, who makes us cry out to our Father (Gal.
4:6; Rom. 8:15), groans within us "for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of
the body" (Rom. 8:23; cf. v. 11).69
The eschatological perfection of our bodies is part of the content of our
Christian hope. This future adoption is the object of our longing and for it we
patiently wait (Rom. 8:25). We have company in our groaning: the creation that
was unwillingly subjected to vanity longs for its liberation (vv. 20-21).
On the great day of the resurrection, there will be a new
heaven and a new earth, and all Christ's enemies will be put under His feet (I
Cor. 15:25). The sons of God shall be clothed with glory (Rom. 8:17-21). In
Christ's supreme vindication, they too will be honoured, and that before the
ungodly world, which spurned their sonship and persecuted them (I John 3:1-2;
Rom. 8:17). Christ will be the "firstborn" (Col. 1:15; Rev. 3:14) among His many
brethren (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:11). All things will be summed up in Christ (Eph.
1:10) and "the whole family in heaven and earth" (Eph. 3:15) will be perfectly
It is no wonder that the sons of God groan for their
inheritance in Christ (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 4:7). Only then will the sons of God be
completely righteous in both body and soul, like pre-fall Adam; restored to full
communion in the true paradise.70
Thankfully, there can be no defecting from this sonship. God's promise will be
fulfilled through all eternity: "He that overcometh shall inherit all things;
and I will be his God, and he shall be my son" (Rev. 21:7).
(E) Adoption and Union with Christ
The groaning of the believer for the perfection of his
adoption must be understood theologically. Our groaning is the product of
the "firstfruits of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:23). He is the bond between the Father
and the Son, and He works in us the love of God (cf. Rom. 5:5). In and through
us, the Spirit breathes forth the Son's love to the Father and the Father's love
to the Son. This holy love in us yearns for perfect fruition—union with God in
the eternal state. Our union with God is, of course, different from that
essential and eternal unity in the Holy Trinity. Even in glory, man is still a
creature; lighter than vanity, in comparison with the Most High God. The child
of God will always remain distinct from God, as a separate being. Nevertheless,
the elect son is in an organic, vital, personal and joyous union with the Triune
God, through the Son and in the Spirit.71
Adoption is rooted in the Triune life of God and issues in
our experiential union with Him in Christ.72
Eternally the Father decreed to adopt us in Christ to Himself.73
Like the Son's eternal generation, our adoption is "in love" (Eph. 1:4-5). Like
all spiritual blessings in Ephesians 1, adoption is in Christ
and according to election (vv. 3-6). Thus to be adopted, or to have any
spiritual blessing, is to have all spiritual blessings eternally in Christ.
Redemption is in Christ
(Eph. 1: 7), and is, therefore, particular. It is not for the reprobate, who
will forever carry the imago diaboli. In due time the Spirit unites us to
Christ. From the bond of faith, proceeds the activity of faith, which results in
our appropriation of our adoption (Gal. 3:26). Because we are adopted, God sends
forth into our hearts the Spirit of His Son (Gal. 4:6), who testifies to us of
our new status as God's children and realises in us the joy of our union with
Christ and hence with the Triune God.74
Jonathan Edwards, in the conclusion of his sermon, "The
Excellency of Christ," expressed it beautifully:
Christ has brought it to pass, that those whom the Father
has given him shall be brought into the household of God; that he and his
Father, and his people, should be as one society, one family; that the
church should be as it were admitted into the society of the blessed
The Westminster Standards
provide the clearest creedal presentation of the biblical doctrine of adoption.
The Westminster divines correctly present adoption as distinct from both
regeneration/calling and justification. As a Reformed confession, it roots
adoption in God's sovereign predestination.76 For
all this it is to be commended. It does not, however, root adoption in the
inter-Trinitarian life of the Godhead.77
It has mostly been the Presbyterians, following the lead of
their confession, who have sought to develop and promote the doctrine of
adoption. In Scottish Presbyterianism, however, neither Crawford nor Candlish
are satisfactory in all respects. The former saw all (by creation) as sons of
God, while the latter denied the dignity of sonship to pre-fall Adam. In the
writings of the Southern Presbyterians a greater clarity and abler presentation
are to be found. However, it must be questioned if John Henry Thornwell’s moral
government approach was as key an insight as they seemed to think.78
The servant-son distinction they applied to the doctrine does indeed have its
uses and provides insights, but alone it does not yield the desired results.
Both the Scottish and the American Presbyterian theologians
could have done more with adoption by seeking more fully to view it from a
Trinitarian perspective. It is the "bond" between the Holy Trinity and adoption
that provides the key for understanding the latter and enables us to view
adoption in a truly Reformed and covenantal framework. The union between
"sonship" and "image" is central to denying sonship to the reprobate in any
sense. The inter-Trinitarian relationships, which are reflected in God's
outgoing redemptive acts, help us to understand the reason for the differences
in the adoption of Israel and that of New Testament believers. Most importantly,
the doctrine of the Holy Trinity reveals God's covenant fellowship that is at
the heart of our sonship.
Thus, while many have been confusing adoption with
justification or regeneration, or both, it is adoption's relationship to union
with Christ that deserves more treatment. In this, however, we must be careful
to avoid mysticism, by anchoring God's legal act of adoption in the cross.
As to the value of the doctrine of adoption for Christ's
church, several general conclusions force themselves upon us. First, adoption,
as we have seen, is a broad doctrine, touching on all the six
traditional loci of dogmatics: theology (the Trinity, predestination),
anthropology (man in the image of God, the fall), Christology (the covenant, the
atonement), soteriology (the Spirit of Christ, union with Christ, regeneration,
justification, sanctification), ecclesiology (the church invisible, the
communion of the saints) and eschatology (the resurrection, the new creation).
Second, adoption is very clearly a gracious doctrine.
Roman Catholicism teaches an adoption based on an infused grace (gratia
infusa); the Bible teaches that adoption is a sovereign legal act of the
Father, grounded in the atonement of the Son. Arminianism teaches that the child
of God can be lost; the biblical doctrine of a loving and powerful heavenly
Father denies that He can ever forsake or disinherit us.79
Common grace teaches that all men bear the image of God; adoption shows us that
"image" and "sonship" are coterminous.
Third, adoption is a practical
doctrine. Adoption gives us a rich perspective on the Christian life, as
covenant fellowship with the Triune God. It presents sanctification from the
viewpoint of our sonship. In opposition to the Pharisaism of Romanism and our
sinful natures, adoption teaches us that our obedience to God's law is not for
the purpose of meriting, but of pleasing our heavenly Father. "Adoption," as
Packer points out, "appears in the Sermon [on the Mount] as the basis of
The fatherhood of God undergirds the whole sermon and hence must be central in
Our sonship is at the heart of prayer, as we have seen.
Adoption has a direct bearing on assurance.81
With biblical warrant, the Reformed have traditionally considered Christian
liberty in the light of our sonship.82 Divine
correction must be understood in the light of it.83
As God's children, we experience the loving chastening of our Father, and not
retributive punishment as the ungodly. Indeed, there are a wealth of
applications which may be brought out.
Fourth, adoption is a comforting
doctrine. Christ has promised that He will never leave us as orphans (John
14:18; Greek). God is our Father who works all things for our good.84
Does the atonement of our Saviour show us the great love of God (Rom. 5:8; I
John 4:8-10)? Here is another doctrine that reveals that love from another
perspective (I John 3:1). Adoption brings us into fellowship with the glorious
Triune God. Here is joy and blessedness (I John 1:3-4).
1 The standard works on the history of dogma have little to work with and
so do not even deal with it.
Nicene Creed (325) does speak of "one Lord Jesus Christ, the only
begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds ... who, for
us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by
the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary." Although Christ's eternal sonship and
incarnation are necessary for our salvation, Nicea does not address how we
receive the Son's salvation—whether adoption plays a role in this or not.
Nevertheless, it is suggestive.
3 Sinclair B. Ferguson's explains Calvin's statement
in Institutes 3.1.3 that "the first
title" of the Holy Spirit is the "Spirit of adoption," even though the phrase
itself is only found once in the Bible (Rom. 8:15): "This is the single
most important description of the Spirit because, in Calvin's view, sonship is
the most basic and comprehensive rubric for understanding the nature of the
Christian life. This is all of a piece with the fact that Calvin places strong
emphasis on the gospel as the means by which we come to know the fatherhood of
God, in which He brings us into His family and makes us His children" ("Calvin
and Christian Experience: The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Christian" in Joel
R. Beeke and Garry J. Williams (eds.), Calvin, Theologian and Reformer
[Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010], p. 102;
cf. Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit [Downers Grove,
IL: IVP, 1996], p. 182). Adoption runs like a golden thread through
Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (especially book 3) and
plays a significant part in his theology, yet Robert Webb makes the astounding
claim that Calvin "makes no allusion whatever to adoption" (Robert A. Webb,
The Reformed Doctrine of Adoption [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1947], p. 16).
4 This, of course, was not an issue at the synod. The Canons of Dordt,
however, relate adoption to "The Perseverance of the Saints" in the fifth head
5 Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, trans. Henri De
Vries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, repr. 1975).
6 Cf. Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, trans. Henry Zylstra
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1956).
7 Cf. Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, trans. G. T. Thompson
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, repr. 1978), pp. 552-553.
Westminster Confession 12; Westminster Larger Catechism,
Q. & A. 74; Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. & A. 34. The English
divine, William Ames, Professor of Theology at Franeker in the Netherlands, was
one on the continent who taught adoption as a separate locus (The Marrow of
Theology [Durham, NC: The Labyrinth Press, repr. 1968], pp.
9 This includes traditional Congregational and Baptist churches, which
adopted modified versions: the Savoy Declaration (1658) and the
Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), respectively.
10 Assessing the whole Presbyterian and Reformed world, James Green can
state, "The doctrine of adoption has received scant recognition in theological
discussions and pulpit dissertations. Some great treatises omit it altogether,
others devote to it a few remarks, while scarcely any of them articulates it as
a separate head in divinity" (A Harmony of the Westminster Presbyterian
Standards with Explanatory Notes [U. S. A.: William Collins & World, 1976],
11 Thomas J. Crawford, The Fatherhood of God (Edinburgh and London:
William Blackwood and Sons, 1867); Robert S. Candlish, The Fatherhood of God
(Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1870).
12 John L. Girardeau, "The Doctrine of Adoption," in Discussions of
Theological Questions (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, repr.
1986), pp. 428-521; Robert A. Webb, Op. cit.
13 Belgic Confession 14; Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 6;
Canons of Dordt, III/IV:1; III/IV:R:2; Westminster Confession 4:2.
14 Cf. Samuel E. Waldron: "the idea of image-bearing is intimately
connected with that of sonship" (A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist
Confession of Faith [Great Britain: Evangelical Press, 1989], p. 166).
15 Cf. Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: RFPA,
1966), pp. 145-150.
Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. & A. 4.
17 Belgic Confession 14.
18 Westminster Confession 6:2.
19 "In fallen man," says Geoffrey W. Bromiley, "there is nothing left that
can have the reality or bear the nature of son" ("Children of God; Sons of God,"
in Geoffrey W. Bromiley et al eds., The International Student Bible
Encyclopedia, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rev. 1979], p. 648).
Op. cit.; Candlish, Op. cit. Interestingly, Crawford saw his
position as aiding evangelism (pp. 62-67). For an analysis of the debate, see
John Macleod, Scottish Theology (Edinburgh: The Publications Committee
of the Free Church of Scotland, 1943), pp. 272-275.
21 John Kennedy, Man's Relations to God (Great Britain: The James
Begg Society, repr. 1995).
22 John Murray, who argues for a universal creative fatherhood of God,
admits that this text is useless for his position (The Collected Writings of
John Murray, vol. 2 [Great Britain: Banner, 1977], p. 224).
Op. cit., pp. 430, 472.
Op. cit., p. 19. "To use the word son of mere creaturehood is to give it
a different sense from that which it has in NT usage" (Bromiley, "Children of
God," p. 648).
25 John Murray reluctantly, but correctly, states, "Nowhere is God
expressly called the Father of all men" (Collected Writings, p. 224).
26 Cf. Gordon H. Clark: "If a man becomes a child of God by adoption, he
could not have been a child of God by nature" (What do Presbyterians Believe?
[Philadelphia, PA: P & R, 1965], p. 132).
Collected Writings, vol. 2, pp. 224-225.
27b C. H. Spurgeon, "Our Lord's Last Cry from the Cross," a
sermon delivered on Sunday evening 9 June, 1889, now listed
as Sermon 2311 in Volume 39 of editions of his printed
27c George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Great Britain:
Banner, repr. 1958), p. 206.
27d J. I. Packer, Knowing God (London: Hodder and Stoughton, repr. 1992), p. 223.
28 Regarding God's adoption of Israel, Calvin points out that efficacious
grace was only bestowed on the elect within the nation (Institutes
29 God's election and adoption of Old Testament Israel was particular and
discriminating. "In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel" (Ps. 76:1).
"He hath not dealt so with any [other] nation" (Ps. 147:20).
30 James M. Scott shows that New Testament adoption is to be viewed against
an Old Testament, rather than a Greco-Roman background ("Adoption, Sonship," in
Gerald F. Hawthorne et al eds., Dictionary of Paul and his Letters
[Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1993], pp. 16-18).
31 Hosea 1:10 is quoted in Romans 9:26 (cf. Hos. 2:23; Rom. 9:25).
32 Cf. Edwin H. Palmer: "The emphasis is upon Israel as the son, and not
upon the separate individuals as children" (Scheeben's Doctrine of Divine
Adoption [Kampen: J. H. Kok, n.d.], p. 174).
33 Galatians 3:28 is the classic New Testament text in this regard.
34 The very nearness of these texts to proving that "the relationship of
personal sonship to the Father was revealed as the privilege of the saints
individually," as Candlish observes, "makes the stopping short of it all the
more noticeable" (Op. cit., p. 77).
35 Psalm 89:26, which might, at first, seem to be an exception, is put in
the mouth of the Messiah. The Davidic king (as a type of Christ) is referred to
as God's "son" (II Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7). The Messiah is also typified as "son" in
the Old Testament civil judges (Ps. 82:6). Furthermore, the righteous angels,
being in the image of God, are called God's sons (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). It is
fallacious to reason that since Satan came with the "sons of God," he is also a
son of God (Job 1:6).
36 Eph. 1:2, 17; 2:18-19; 3:14-15; 6:23.
37 The outgoing works of the Triune God, as Christian theology has
confessed, are true revelations of His own inter-Trinitarian relationships.
38 "The Son's exegesis is good exegesis. It is both true and thorough"
(David J. Engelsma, Trinity and Covenant:
God as Holy Family [Jenison, MI:RFPA, 2006], p. 20).
39 Quoted in J. Gottschick, "Adoption," in Samuel Macauley Jackson et al
eds., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. 1
(New York and London: Funk Wagnalis Company, 1908), p. 47.
40 Packer, Op. cit., pp. 228-229.
41 Cf. John 4:34; 5:19; 8:28; 12:49-50; 14:31; 17:4.
42 Cf. John 5:19f., 36f.; 17:5.
43 Cf. John 10:17; 15:9f.; 17:23-26.
44 Cf. John 8:29; 10:15; 17:5, 21-26.
45 Cf. John 17:26: "I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare
it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them."
46 Engelsma, Op. cit., p. 79.
47 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George
Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1994), pp. 666-669; Charles
Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, repr. 1986),
pp. 128-129, 164.
48 Cf. Ames, Op. cit., p. 164.
49 However, the Bible has a lot to say on the resultant life of the
50 Rom. 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph.1:5. Huiothesia comes from two
Greek words huios
("son") and tithemi ("place" or "appoint") and means, literally, the
"placing as sons."
51 Interestingly, the Westminster Confession, which does
such a fine job in distinguishing between justification (chapter 11) and
adoption (chapter 12) as two separate elements in the ordo salutis, fails
to distinguish between regeneration and calling (chapter 10).
52 Cf. T. Rees: "Justification is the act of a merciful judge setting the
prisoner free, but adoption is the act of a generous father, taking a son to his
bosom and endowing him with liberty, favor, and a heritage" ("Adoption;
Sonship," in Geoffrey W. Bromiley et al eds., The International Student Bible
Encyclopedia, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rev. 1979], p. 54). We must
heartily disagree with Turretin, who holds that "to no purpose do some anxiously
ask ... how justification and adoption differ from each other" (Op. cit.,
53 Louis Berkhof, "D. The Elements of Justification," in
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rev. 1996), pp. 514-516.
54 In this section, he says that there is more to justification than
remission of sins; that justification has a positive element; and that the
latter more particularly concerns Christ's "active obedience." My point is not
that Berkhof departs from the orthodox faith here (he does clearly teach the
imputation of Christ's righteousness elsewhere in the chapter) but merely that
his compounding justification and adoption is to the detriment of his
presentation of both.
55 The fatherhood of Satan does not carry the idea of love, but, as we have
said, like all fatherhood it carries the idea of image: here, of hate. In
the family of Satan, everyone is "hateful and hating one another" (cf. Titus
3:3). They only unite in opposition to God, and for selfish purposes.
56 The Westminster Standards do not actually point out the negative
aspect of adoption.
57 Archibald A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (New York: Robert Carter
and Brothers, 1878), pp. 515-519; A Commentary on the Confession of Faith
(London and Worcester: Banner, repr. 1958), pp. 191-193.
58 Adoption, says A. A. Hodge, "embraces in one complex view the
newly-regenerated creature in the new relations into which he is introduced
by justification" (ibid., p. 192).
59 To complete the listing of God's four initiatory saving acts, we might
add that in calling God calls sinners to be what they are not (Rom. 4:17; 9:26;
I Cor. 1:28; I Pet. 2:9-10); and in justification God deals with the
unrighteous and guilty.
60 The hoti of Galatians 4:6 is to be understood as causal
("because") rather than demonstrative ("that") (cf. Palmer, Op. cit., pp.
61 In the thought of the apostle in Galatians 4, we can only be sons (vv.
5-7) because God is the true Father (v. 7), our redeemer is His Son (vv. 4, 6)
and the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son (v. 6). Our adoption to sons of God is
only because God the Son (in a human nature) died for us. Similarly, Augustine
wrote: "He alone became the Son of God and the Son of man, that he might make us
to be with himself sons of God" (quoted in Calvin, Institutes 3.5.3).
62 "Abba" is Aramaic and its meaning is somewhere between "daddy" and
"father." John Murray notes, "The repetition [i.e., "Abba, Father"] indicates
the warmth as well as the confidence with which the Holy Spirit emboldens the
people of God to draw nigh as children to a father able and ready to help them"
(The Epistle to the Romans, NICOT, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1959],
63 Again John Murray's remarks are felicitous:
The hesitation to entertain this confidence of approach to God the Father is
not a mark of true humility. It is to be noted that it is by or in the Holy
Spirit that this approach is made. Without this filial reverence and
tenderness fostered by the Spirit the address is presumption and arrogance (ibid.,
64 Calvin, Institutes
65 Of course, this is not to deny that justification and adoption are
inseparably linked to sanctification. The justified child of God will
(inescapably) know the purifying work of the Holy Spirit in his life.
Sanctification evinces not only our justification but also our adoption (Calvin,
66 Packer, Op. cit., p. 235.
67 James M. Scott, Adoption as Sons of God (Germany: J. C. B. Mohr,
1992), pp. 182-183.
68 Cf. I John 3:1-2.
69 So far we have noted:
(1) Adoption consists of negative and positive
aspects (translation from the fatherhood of Satan to that of God).
(2) Adoption is a legal act that changes our state before God. It
is sealed in the consciousness of the believer by the witness of the Spirit.
Now we also see:
(3) Our adoption is both a present reality
(I John 3:2: "now are we the sons of God") and a future hope
70 "Then," says Rees, "will adoption be complete, when man's whole
personality shall be in harmony with the spirit of sonship" ("Adoption;
Sonship," p. 18).
71 John Murray writes, "We cannot think of adoption apart from union with
Christ" (Redemption—Accomplished and Applied [Great Britain: Banner,
repr.1979], p. 170).
72 Perhaps this is another application of Gregory of Nazianzus’ famous
line: "I cannot think on the one without being encircled by the splendour of the
three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the
73 For a discussion of eternal adoption, see John Gill, A Body of
(Atlanta, GA: Turner Lassetter, repr. 1950), pp. 201-203.
74 Cf. John Murray: "Union with Christ reaches its zenith in adoption and
adoption has its orbit in union with Christ" (Redemption, p. 170).
75 Edward Hickman ed., The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Great
Britain: Banner, repr. 1974), p. 689. Cf. John H. Gerstner, The Rational
Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 3 (Powhatan, VA: Berea
Publications, 1993), pp. 221-223.
76 Westminster Confession 3:6; 12:1; cf. 11:1; 10:1. See also The
Irish Articles of Religion (1615) Article 15, in Philip Schaff, The
Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1877), p. 529.
77 This is not surprising in the light of the brief treatment this doctrine
receives in the Westminster Confession (2:3).
78 Morton H. Smith writes of the role this occupied in the thinking of
Girardeau and Webb (Systematic Theology, vol. 2 [U. S. A: Greenville
Seminary Press, 1994], p. 465; Studies in Southern Presbyterian Theology
[Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1962], pp. 265-266).
79 Cf. Canons of Dordt
V:6. Calvin speaks of the Holy Spirit as "the earnest peny [i.e., penny] of our
adoption" (Sermons on the Epistles to Timothy and Titus [Oxford: Banner,
repr. 1983], p. 927). Elsewhere, he declares that our adoption is "sure and
80 Packer, Op. cit., p. 235; italics Packer's.
81 Romans 8:16; Canons of Dordt V:10; Westminster Confession
82 Cf. Heppe, Op. cit., p. 553;
Westminster Confession 20:1; Turretin, Op. cit., p. 669.
83 Prov. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5-11.
84 Cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 27-28.