Posted by Mark Herzer

The Larger Catechism

Question 74

74.       Q. What is adoption?

A. Adoption is an act of the free grace of God,[307] in and for his only Son Jesus Christ,[308] whereby all those that are justified are received into the number of his children,[309] have his name put upon them,[310] the Spirit of his Son given to them,[311] are under his fatherly care and dispensations,[312] admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory.[313]

PART 2

His Name and Spirit

To be received into the number means that the children of God “have his name put upon them, the Spirit of his Son given to them…” We are legally His children; we have His name. “And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (2Cor. 6:18) As He calls us His sons and daughters, we are also promised that He “will write upon [us] the name of my God” (Rev. 3:12). But we His people are already called by His name as God refers to His people as “my people who are called by my name” (2Chron. 7:14). What does this mean? God is legally our Father and we are members of His glorious household. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” (Eph. 2:19) In this verse, Paul mentions two privileges, we are citizens in God’s kingdom and family members in His household. “In Christ Gentiles are not only fellow-citizens with Jewish believers under God’s rule; they are also children together in God’s own family.”[1] A believer may not feel himself to be a child of God yet the translation from being a child of Satan to being a child of God is binding and permanent. The name is on him. Fisher offers a helpful illustration: “as the wife’s name is sunk unto her husband’s, so the former name of the adopted is sunk unto Christ’s new name, Rev. iii. 12, ‘I will write upon him my new name.’”[2] God is our Father and we His children; His name is upon us forever!

The latter phrase “the Spirit of his Son given to them” adds a very necessary dimension to the nature of our adoption. The new name, the new family status, is legal, external, and permanent. But God did not stop there. The Spirit of God’s Son is given to us who enables us to cry Abba, Father. Because we are indeed God’s children by adoption, God gives us the Spirit (“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Gal. 4:6). The logic here is unmistakable. Because we are indeed God’s sons, Paul says, God therefore sends the Spirit into our hearts. The German liberal commentator actually explains this verse very well. “God bestows on us not only the status of sons [through the sending of his Son] but also the character and knowledge of sons [through the sending of the Spirit]. And he bestows on us the character and knowledge of sons because we are already in the status of sons.”[3] That is, the Holy Spirit who comes to us through the mediation of Christ enables us to respond as genuine sons. Notice how the verse states that the Spirit is sent into our hearts (εἰς τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν).

It is not uncommon to meet adopted children who don’t feel like they are part of the family or that their adoptive parents are really their own. The new parents may bend over backwards to reach out to their adopted son but they cannot put a filial spirit into him. That he feels himself to be a part of their family or that at his gut level he is indeed their beloved son are dispositions the parents cannot impart. Yet this sad dilemma will not occur for genuine believers. The Holy Spirit actually enables us to instinctively (and therefore ‘naturally’) cry out to God as our heavenly father. That instinct, that filial disposition, that family feeling, etc. come out of us because of the Holy Spirit. We have received “the Spirit of adoption as sons” (Rom. 8:15). Therefore the legal status of adoption with God’s name upon us includes the Holy Spirit who enables us to look to our heavenly father. A child of God is not “trained” by man to call upon God; he is enabled by the Holy Spirit to cry out to His heavenly father.

Under the Father’s Care

The privileges of being adopted include God’s fatherly care: “are under his fatherly care and dispensations.” The verses used to support this phrase are interesting. Our heavenly Father’s pity or compassion from Ps. 103:13 is mentioned (“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.”) along with the privilege of being able to take refuge in Him in Prov. 14:26 (“In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.”). The great promise of Mt. 6:32 that our heavenly Father is well aware of our needs is also mentioned (“For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”).

All these privileges are wonderful as well as comforting. God cares for us; He is concerned and is compassionate towards us. Good fathers feel the pain of their sons and daughters; their compassion or pity go out towards their children. If they can wisely relieve their children in their distress, they would. Yet, their compassion is not matched by their power. They may weep on account of their son’s struggle but is powerless to do anything about it. Our heavenly fatherly is not so limited. If he does not relieve, it is not because he does not care or that he is unable to take care of the problem. Our father has wisely chosen not to intervene though his bowels of compassion are moved. Furthermore, we are reminded that because He cares for us, we can take refuge in Him (Prov. 14:26). We can be safe in Him because of He is a strong tower. Like an earthly father, he cares for us. Yet, he cares for us far better than we deserve.

Most of the writers who explain the Catechisms and Confession mention God’s fatherly discipline (Ridgeley, Beattie, Fisher, Green, etc.). The LC states that we are under God’s dispensations. This means we are under our heavenly father’s government, his order, control, oversight, etc. It would include chastening as our Confession states. The WCF states that we are “pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him, as by a father…” (12.1). Though the verses cited for the LC do not list Heb. 12:6 like the WCF, yet the truth of the point can easily be seen. We are under our father’s care and government; we are under his special dealings with us as our father which would at times include discipline. Whatever we need, we will receive from our Father, even discipline because He loves us: “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:6). We are illegitimate children and not sons if we are not disciplined by Him (Heb. 12:8). What the divines seem to be teaching is that we are under the father’s care and that includes whatever we might need (both positive and negative [though they are ultimately all positive]) as his children. Ridgeley summarized it this way:

As God’s children are prone to backslide from him, and so have need of restoring grace, he will recover and humble them, and thereby prevent their total apostasy. This he sometimes does by afflictions, which the apostle calls fatherly chastisements, and which he reckons not only consistent with his love, but evidences of it. ‘Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth;’ and ‘if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.’ The apostle speaks here, of afflictions, not as considered absolutely in themselves, but as proceeding from the love of God, as designed to do them good, and as adapted to the present state, in which they are training up for the glorious inheritance reserved for them in heaven, and need some trying dispensations which may put them in mind of that state of perfect blessedness which is laid up for them. These afflictions are rendered subservient to their present and future advantage. In the present life, they ‘bring forth the peaceful fruits of righteousness’ to them; and when they are in the end perfectly freed from them, they will tend to enhance their joy and praise.[4]

The difficulties in life come to us “under his fatherly…dispensations.” They are not to crush us but to correct us; they are not given to destroy us but to demonstrate his love to us as His children. “Thus, many of the ills of this life may turn out to be blessings in disguise, while the chastisement itself is a proof of the love of God, and of their adoption into his family.”[5] Because we are His children, our heavenly Father brings difficulties into our lives: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons.” (Heb. 12:7)

Liberties and Privileges

The last thing listed in the answer is that we are “admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory.” Rather than listing everything that could pertain to our adoption, the divines simply summarize the point as being admitted to all the liberties and privileges.  Part of that liberty of course is that as children, we are free from the law (as a means of salvation and from its condemning power). Paul says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1) The privileges include access to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16), we have “access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18). Paul’s statement reveals so much. It is not just that we have access to God per se (that we have in Christ) but we have access to the Father — that is the language of sonship, adoption, and God’s fatherhood.

The privilege underscored in the LC is our inheritance. We are exhorted to persevere “through faith and patience” to “inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12). The great privilege of sonship is that we will inherit all that God has promised to us in Christ. We cited this before but it is a helpful reminder: “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Rom. 8:17) The divines used this verse to come up with “and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory.”

Conclusion

1. Calvin said, “For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him— they will never yield him willing service.” (Institutes, 1.1.1, p. 41) This is the essence of piety. Are you convinced of God’s fatherly care? Do you believe you are actually nourished by his fatherly care? If not, you will never yield him willing service.

2. One of the implications of adoption is as our Confession teaches that when we are chastised, we are “never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption; and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.” God will never disown his children. May we find encouragement in this!

3. Earthly fathers can and will fail us but our heavenly Father will not. To know the love of the Father is to look at the cross, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8, NASB)


[1] Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (PNTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 211-212.

[2] James Fisher, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained, By Way of Question and Answer. In Two Parts. (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, nd), 168.

[3] H. Schlier, Galater, 197 cited in F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: a Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 198.

[4] Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, Volume 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 136.

[5] Beattie, The Presbyterian Standards, 215-6.


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