Children do commonly resemble their parents, not only in the outward proportion and feature of their countenances, but also in the disposition and temper of their spirits, and generally they are inclined to imitate the customs and carriage of their parents, so that they sometimes may be accounted the very living images of such persons; and in them men are thought to outlive themselves. Now, indeed, they that are the sons of God are known by this character, that they are led by the Spirit of God. And there is the more necessity and the more reason, too, of this resemblance of God and imitation of him in his children, because that very divine birth that they have from heaven consists in the renovation of their natures and assimilation to the divine nature, and, therefore, they are possessed with an inward principle that carries them powerfully towards a conformity with their heavenly Father, and it becometh their great study and endeavour to observe all the dispositions and carriage of their heavenly Father, which are so honourable and high, and suitable to himself, that they at least may breathe and halt(212) after the imitation of him. Therefore our Lord exhorts us, and taketh a domestic example and familiar pattern to persuade us the more by, "Be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect," Matt. v.48. And there is one perfection he especially recommends for our imitation, mercifulness and compassion towards men, opposed to the violence, fury, and implacableness, to the oppression, and revenge, and hatred that abounds among men, Luke vi.36. And, generally, in all his ways of holiness and purity, of goodness and mercy, we ought to be followers of him as dear children, who are not only obliged by the common law of sympathy between parents and children, but, moreover, engaged by the tender affection that he carrieth to us, Eph. v.1. Now, because God is high as heaven, and his ways and thoughts and dispositions are infinitely above us, the pattern seems to be so far out of sight that it is given over as desperate by many to attempt any conformity to it. Therefore it hath pleased the Lord to put his own Spirit within his own children, to be a bosom pattern and example, and it is our duty to resign ourselves to his leading and direction. The Spirit brings the copy near hand us, and though we cannot attain, yet we should follow after. Though we cannot make out the lesson, yet we should be scribbling at it, and the more we exercise ourselves this way, setting the Spirit's direction before our eyes, the more perfect shall we be.
It is high time, indeed, to pretend to this, to be a son or a daughter of God. It is a higher word than if a man could deduce his genealogy from an uninterrupted line of a thousand kings and princes. There is more honour, true honour, in it, and profit too. It is that which enriches the poorest, and ennobles the basest, inconceivably beyond all the imaginary degrees of men. Now, my beloved, this is the great design of the gospel, to bestow this incomparable privilege upon you, "to become the sons of God." But it is sad to think how many souls scarce think upon it, and how many delude themselves in it. But consider, that as many as are the sons of God, are led by the Spirit of God, -- they have gotten a new leader and guide, other than their own fancy or humour, which once they followed in the ignorance of their hearts. It is lamentable to conceive how the most part of us are acted,(213) and driven, and carried headlong, rather than gently led, by our own carnal and corrupt inclinations. Men pretending to Christianity, yet hurried away with every self-pleasing object, as if they were not masters of themselves, furiously agitated by violent lusts, miscarried continually against the very dictates of their own reason and conscience. And I fear there is too much of these even in those who have more reason to assume this honourable title of sonship. I know not how we are exceedingly addicted to self-pleasing in every thing. Whatsoever our fancy or inclination suggests to us, that we must do without more bands, if it be not directly sinful. Whatsoever we apprehend, that we must vent and speak it out, though to little or no edification. Like that of Solomon, we deny our hearts nothing they desire, except the grossness of it restrain us. Now, certainly if we knew what we are called to, who are the sons of God, we could not but disengage more with ourselves, even in lawful things, and give over the conduct of our hearts and ways to the Spirit of our Father whom we may be persuaded of, that he will lead us in the ways of pleasantness and peace.
Now, the special and peculiar operations of the Spirit are expressed in the following words. There are some workings of the Spirit of God that are but introductory and subservient to more excellent works, and, therefore, they are transient, not appointed to continue long, for they are not his great intendment. Of this kind are those terrible representations of sin and wrath, of the justice of God, which put the soul in a fear, a trembling fear, and while such a soul is kept within the apprehension of sin and judgment, it is shut up, as it were, in bondage. Now, though it be true, that in the conversion of a sinner, there is always something of this in more or less degrees, yet because this is not the great design of the gospel, to put men in fear, but rather to give them confidence, nor the great intendment of God in the dispensation of the law, to bring a soul in bondage under terror, but rather, by the gospel, to free them from that bondage, therefore he hath reason to express it thus: "Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear," &c. But there are other operations of the Spirit, which are chiefly intended, and principally bestowed, as the great gift of our Father, to express his bounty and goodness towards us, and from these he is called the Spirit of adoption, and the Spirit of intercession. The Spirit of adoption, not only in regard of that witness-bearing and testification to our consciences of God's love and favour, and our interest in it, as in the next verse, but also in regard of that child-like disposition of reverence and love and respect that he begets in our hearts towards God, as our Father. And from both these flows this next work, "crying, Abba, Father," aiding and assisting us in presenting our necessities to our Father, making this the continued vent of the heart in all extremities, to pour out all that burthens us in our Father's bosom. And this gives marvellous ease to the heart, and releases it from the bondage of carefulness and anxiety, which it may be subject to, after the soul is delivered from the fear and bondage of wrath.
Let us speak, then, to these in order. The first working of the Spirit is, to put a man in fear of himself, and such a fear as mightily straitens and embondages the soul of man. And this, though in itself it be neither so pleasant nor excellent as to make it come under the notion of any gift from God, it having rather the nature of a torment and punishment, and being some sparkle(214) of hell already kindled in the conscience, yet, hath made it beautiful and seasonable in its use and end, because he makes it to usher in the pleasant and refreshing sight of a Saviour, and the report of God's love to the world in him. It is true, all men are in bondage to sin and Satan, and shut up in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, and bound in the fetters of their own lusts, which are as the chains that are put about malefactors before they go to prison. "He that commits sin, is a servant of sin," John vii.34. And to be a servant of sin is slavery under the most cruel tyrant. All these things are, yet how few souls do apprehend it seriously, or are weary of their prison! How few groan to be delivered! Nay, the most part account it only liberty, to hate true delivery as bondage. But some there are, whose eyes the Spirit of God opens, and lets them see their bondage and slavery, and how they are concluded under the most heavy and weighty sentence that ever was pronounced, -- the curse and wrath of the everliving God, that there is no way to flee from it, or escape it, for any thing they can do or know. Now, indeed, this serious discovery cannot choose but make the heart of a man to tremble, as David, "My flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments," Psal. cxix.120. Such a serious representation will make the stoutest and proudest heart to fall down, and faint for fear of that infinite intolerable weight of deserved wrath, and then the soul is in a sensible bondage, that before was in a real, but insensible bondage, -- then it is environed about with bitter accusations, with dreadful challenges, -- then the law of God arrests and confines the soul within the bounds of its own accusing conscience. And this is some previous representation of that eternal imprisonment and banishment from the presence of God. Albeit many of you are free from this fear, and enjoy a kind of liberty to serve your own lusts, and are not sensible of any thraldom of your spirits, yet certainly the Lord will sometime arrest you, and bring you to this spiritual bondage, when he shall make the iniquities of your heels encompass you about, and the curses of his law surround you. When your conscience accuseth, and God condemneth, it may be too late, and out of date.
Alas! then what will you do, who now put your conscience by,(215) and will not hearken to it or be put in fear by any thing which can be represented to you? We do not desire to put you in fear, where no fear is, but where there is infinite cause of fear, and when it is possible that fear may introduce faith, and be the forerunner of these glad tidings that will compose the soul. We desire only you may know what bondage you are really into, whether it be observed or not, that you may fear, lest you be enthralled in the chains of everlasting darkness, and so may be persuaded to flee from it before it be irrecoverable. What a vain and empty sound is the gospel of liberty by a Redeemer, to the most part who do not feel their bondage? Who believes its report, or cares much for it -- because it is necessity that casts a beauty and lustre upon it, or takes the scales off our eyes, and opens our closed ears?
Now for you, who either are, or have been, detained in this bondage, under the fearful apprehension of the wrath of God, and the sad remembrance of your sins, know that this is not the prime intent and grand business, to torment you, as it were, before the time. There is some other more beautiful and satisfying structure to be raised out of this foundation. I would have you improve it thus, to commend the necessity, the absolute necessity, of a Redeemer, and to make him beautiful in your eyes. Do not dwell upon that, as if it were the ultimate or last work, but know that you are called in this rational way, to come out of yourselves into this glorious liberty of the sons of God, purchased by Christ, and revealed in the gospel. Know, "you have not received the spirit of bondage" only "to fear," but to drive you to faith in a Saviour. And then you ought so to walk, as not to return to that former thraldom of the fear of wrath, but believe his love.