"Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God," 1 John iii.1. It is a wonderful expression of love to advance his own creatures, not only infinitely below himself, but far below other creatures, to such a dignity. Lord, what is man that thou so magnified him! But it surpasseth wonder, that rebellious creatures, his enemies, should have, not only their rebellions freely pardoned, but this privilege of sonship bestowed upon them, that he should take enemies, and make sons of them, and not only sons, but heirs, co-heirs with his own only begotten Son. And then, how he makes them sons, is as wonderful as the thing itself, that he should make his own Son our brother, "bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh," and make him spring out as a branch or rod out of the dry stem of Jesse, who himself was the root of all mankind. This is the way, God sent his Son, made of a woman, under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons, Gal. iv.5. The house of heaven marries with the earth, with them who have their foundation in the dust, the chief heir of that heavenly family joineth in kindred with our base and obscure family, and by this means we are made of kin to God. "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus," 1 Cor. i.30. It behoved Christ, in a manner to lose his own sonship as to men, to have it so veiled and darkened by the superadded interest in us, and his nearness to us. He was so properly a Son of man, subject to all human infirmities, except sin, that without eyes of faith, men could not perceive that he was the Son of God. And by this wonderful exchange are we made the sons of God. Whoever, in the apprehension of their own enmity and distance from God, receive Christ Jesus, offered as the peace, the bond of union between the two families of heaven and earth, that were at an infinite odds and distance, whoever (I say) believes thus in him, and flies to him, desiring to lay down the weapons of their warfare, their peace is not only made by that marriage which Christ made with our nature, but they are blessed with this power and privilege, to be the sons and daughter of the Most High. And from thence you may conclude, that if God be your Father, you can want nothing that is good. But the determination of what is good for you, whether in spiritual enlargements, or in the things of this life, you must refer to his wisdom, for his love indeed is strong as death, nothing can quench it. In the point of reality and constancy, there is nothing to shadow it out among men. The love of women is earnest and vehement, but that is nothing to it, (Isa. xlix.15,) for they may forget, but he cannot. Yet his love is not a foolish dotage, like mans that is often miscarried with fancy and lust; but it is a rational and wise affection, administered and expressed with infinite reason and wisdom; and therefore, he chooses rather to profit us than to please us in his dealings. And we who are not so fit to judge and discern our own good, should commit all to his fatherly and wise Providence. Therefore, if you be tempted to anxiety and carefulness of mind, either through the earthliness of your dispositions, or the present straits of the time, you who have resigned yourself to Jesus Christ, should call to mind that your heavenly Father careth for you. And what need you care too? Why not use your lawful callings, be diligent in them? This is not to prejudge that, but if you believe in God, then you are obliged by that profession to abate from the superfluous tormenting thoughtfulness that is good for nothing but to make you more miserable than your troubles can make you, and to make you miserable before you be miserable, to anticipate your sorrows. If you say, God is your father, you are tied to devolve yourselves over on him, and trust in his good will and faithfulness, and to sit down quietly as children that have parents to provide for them.
Now, the other gift is great too, "the Spirit of adoption," and because ye are sons, therefore hath he given you "the Spirit of his Son," saith this apostle, Gal. iv.6. And so it is a kind of consectary(216) of the great privilege and blessed estate of adoption. They who adopt children, use to give them some kind of token to express their love to them. But as the Lord is higher than all, and this privilege to be his son or child is the greatest dignity imaginable, so this gift of his Spirit suits the greatness and glory and love of our Father. It is a father's gift indeed, a gift suitable to our heavenly Father. If a father that is tender of the education of his child, and would desire nothing so much as that he might be of a virtuous and gracious disposition, and good ingine,(217) I think if he were to express his love in one wish, it would be this, that he might have such a Spirit in him, and this he would account better than all that he could leave him. But if it were possible to transmit a gracious, well-disposed and understanding spirit from one to another, and if men could leave it, as they do their inheritance to their children, certainly a wise and religious parent would first make over a disposition of that to his children; as Elisha sought a double measure of Elijah's spirit, so a father would wish such a measure to his children, and, if it were possible, give it. But that may not be. All that can be done is to wish well to them, and leave them a good example for imitation. But in this our heavenly Father transcends all, that he can impart his own Spirit to his adopted children, and his Spirit is in a manner the very essential principle that maketh them children of the Father. Their natures, their dispositions, are under his power. He can as well reform them, as you can change your children's garments. He can make of us what he will. Our hearts are in his hand, as the water, capable of any impression he pleaseth to put on it, and this is the impression he putteth on his children, he putteth his Spirit in their hearts, and writeth his law in their inward parts, a more divine and higher work than all human persuasion can reach. This Spirit they receive as an earnest of the inheritance, and withal, to make them fit for the inheritance of the saints in light.
Now, the working of this Spirit of adoption, I conceive to be threefold, beside that of intersession expressed in the verse. The first work of the Spirit of adoption, that wherein a father's affection seems to break first from under ground, is, the revealing to the heart the love and mercy of God to sinners. I do not say, to such a soul in particular, for that application is neither first, nor universal. But herein the Spirit of adoption first appears from under the cloud of fear; and this is the first opening of the prison of bondage, wherein a soul was shut, when the plain way of reconciliation to God in Christ, and delivery from the bondage of sin and wrath, is holden out; when such a word as this comes into the soul, and is received with some gladness, "God so loved the world that he gave his Son," &c. "This is a true and faithful saying," &c. "Come, ye that labour and are weary, and I will give rest to your souls." When a soul is made to hear the glad tidings of liberty preached to captives, of light to the blind, of joy to the heavy in spirit, of life to the dead, though he cannot come that length as to see his own particular interest, yet the very receiving affectionately and greedily such a general report as good and true, gives some ease and relaxation to the heart. To see delivery possible, is some door of hope to a desperate sinner. But to see it, and espy more than a possibility, even great probability, though he cannot reach a certainty, that will be as the breaking open of a window of light in a dark dungeon. It will be as the taking off of some of the hardest fetters, and the worst chains, which makes a man almost to think himself at liberty. Now this is the great office of the Spirit of the Father, to beget in us good thoughts of him, to incline us to charitable and favourable constructions of him, and make us ready to think well of him, to beget a good understanding in us and him, and correct our jealous misapprehensions of him. For certainly we are naturally suspicious of God, that he deals not in sad earnest with us. Whenever we see the height of our provocation, and weight of deserved indignation, we think him like ourselves, and can hardly receive without suspicion the gospel that lays open his love in Christ to the world.
Now, this is the Spirit's work, to make us entertain that honourable thought of God, that he is most inclinable to pardon sinners; and that his mercy is infinitely above man's sin; and that it is no prejudice to his holiness or justice; and to apprehend seriously a constant reality and solid truth in the promises of the gospel; and so to convince a soul of righteousness, (John xvi.) that there is a way of justifying a sinner or ungodly person, without wrong to God's righteousness; and this being well pondered in the heart, and received in love, the great business is done. After that, particular application is more easy, of which I shall not speak now, because occasion will be given in the next verse, about the Spirit's witnessing with our spirits, which is another of the Spirit's workings: only I say this, that which makes this so difficult, is a defect in the first. But the common principles of the gospel are not really, and so seriously apprehended, because many souls do not put to their seal to witness to the promises and truth of it. Therefore the Lord often denies this seal and witness to our comfort. It is certainly a preposterous way Satan puts souls upon, first, to get such a testimony from the Spirit before they labour to get such a testimony to Christ, and echo or answer in their hearts to his word. This way seems shortest; for they would leap into the greater liberty at the first hand. But certainly it is farthest about, because it is impossible for souls to leap immediately out of bondage to assurance, without some middle step. They cannot pass thus from extremes to extremes, without going through the middle state of receiving Christ, and laying his word up in the heart; and therefore it proves the way furthest about, because when souls have long wearied themselves, they must at length turn in hither.
But there is another working of the Spirit I wish you were acquainted with. As the first work is to beget a suitable apprehension of God's mind and heart towards sinners, so the next is, to beget a suitable disposition in our hearts towards God as a Father. The first apprehends his love, the next reflects it back again with the heart of a sinner to him. The Spirit first brings the report of the love and grace of God to us, and then he carries the love and respect of the heart up to God.
You know how God complains in Malachi, "If I be a Father, where is my fear and honour?" For these are the only fitting qualifications of children, such a reverent, respective observance of our heavenly Father, such affectionate and humble carriage towards him, as becometh both his majesty and his love. As these are tempered one with another in him, his love not abasing his majesty, and his majesty not diminishing his love; so we ought to carry, as reverence and confidence, fear and love, may be contempered one with another, so as we may neither forget his infinite greatness, nor doubt of his unspeakable love. And this inward disposition engraven on the heart, will be the principle of willing and ready obedience. It will in some measure be our meat and drink to do our Father's will. For Christ gave us an example how we should carry towards him. How humble and obedient was he, though his only begotten Son!