"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God's very own children, adopted into his family—calling him "Father, dear Father." For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God's children. And since we are his children, we will share his treasures—for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering." Romans 8:14-17

Another prolonged note of the divine music; and again suggested by one preceding.

The Apostle had just been dwelling on the Holy Spirit and His operations as the active Force in the regenerated nature; awaking, inspiring, invigorating, perpetuating "life" (vers. 9, 10, 11, 13). This leads, by a natural transition, to a yet higher strain in the symphony. The subject, in itself entirely new, forms a distinct advance in the argument of the chapter. To use a different figure, we may regard it as a golden gate, like that on the eastern wall of Zion, leading to the privileges of the true Spiritual Temple. All the benefits of the New Covenant with which the chapter closes, which have their crown and culmination in the triumph of divine love, spring out of the relationship here disclosed--Sons of God.

Among the Bible truths which owe their fuller development and acceptance to these later decades, prominently is the divine Fatherhood and sonship. They form the essential doctrine--the dual "Song" of New Testament times and Gospel story. God, under the Old Covenant, was revealed as Jehovah--the Almighty, the Shepherd, the Stone (or Rock) of Israel (Gen. 17;1, 49;24). It was reserved to the Author and Finisher of the faith--Himself the divine Son, to be the revealer of the more endearing name of Father. How He loves to dwell upon it, and to enshrine it in discourse, and parable, and miracle! It is breathed by Him in His own mountain Oratories, whether by the shores of Gennesaret or on the green slopes of Olivet. It forms the opening word and key-note of His own appointed prayer, "Our Father in heaven!" It is repeated in His great Valedictory and in His great Intercessory prayer; in the hour of superhuman conflict in Gethsemane--the hour of superhuman darkness on the Cross. It is consecrated in the first Easter words--a possession for His Church in all time--"I ascend unto My Father and your Father; and to My God and your God!" (John 20;17).

Who can wonder that Paul here catches up a strain that had so divine a warrant? We may well call the verses now to be considered, "the Song of the adopted children." No loftier cadence can rise from the lips of the holy Church throughout all the world– "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God's very own children, adopted into his family—calling him "Father, dear Father." For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God's children. And since we are his children, we will share his treasures—for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering." Romans 8:14-17

In this singularly beautiful passage, the Apostle's object seems, to show the highest ground on which believers may rest their spiritual privileges and eternal safety. Not merely, as he had already pointed out, by being invested with a new spiritual life infused and quickened by the Holy Spirit, but as the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty--God's own children by adoption. As such, their rights are inalienable. "Why you are no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Gal. 4;7).

He begins with the customary antithesis; contrasting the spirit of bondage and the spirit of sonship. "The spirit of bondage again to fear." The law and its inexorable demands generates this apprehension--"it genders to bondage." It is Sinai with its "blackness and darkness and tempest; the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words;" and whose natural expression is--"I exceedingly fear and quake." Is not this servile dread, even in the case of God's own children, at times unhappily nurtured and strengthened by a repellent theology--unwise and unscriptural teaching; inspiring, of necessity, a joyless faith; while with morbid or sensitive natures, self-introspection deepens the gloom,
"And conscience does make cowards of us all."

Paul's belief was very different. It was the echo of his great Master's utterances; the unfolding of a tender, sympathetic FATHER--the human tie which binds child to parent, having its archetype in this higher relationship. As the earthly child in the hour of fear and danger rushes to its parent's arms and (in the expressive Greek word of our present passage) "cries" "Father;"--feeling its need of guardianship and protection, and knowing that that loving protection is assured; so is it with the believer and his Father-God. Away with all harsh theories; all the misconceptions which had their gloomy origin in the mythology of those Romans to whom this Epistle was written--whose dominant thought was deity to be propitiated--not deity to be reverenced and trusted and loved.

"God," says Bernard; and he is the interpreter of the earlier, in contrast with the mediaeval centuries--"God is not called the Father of Vengeance, but the Father of Mercies." We do not thus set aside or minimize the Law and its demands. It must ever occupy its own important place in the divine economy. It demonstrates the deficiency and defilement of our best obedience, the hopelessness of any effort of ours to meet its requirements, satisfy its exactions and pay its penalties. But in the Gospel system, as unfolded in all its length and breadth in this eighth of Romans, we are taught to regard it as "a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ" (Gal. 3;24). It is not the great motive principle in the renewed nature. That new dominating motive is the sweet constraint of filial love, by which we are drawn to the Father. The "You shall" of Sinai, with its stern impossibilities, is changed for the words echoed from Calvary--"We love Him because He first loved us."

O wondrous privilege! O marvelous sonship! Prodigals by nature--bondaged slaves--now, to use the expression of an old writer, "within the house." In accordance with the New Covenant, the deed of release is signed and sealed by the divine Ransomer--"Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Eph. 2;19). This is what the Apostle here calls in the corresponding antithetical clause, "the spirit of adoption." Even the freed slave in ancient times dared not address his master as a son. But Christ's ransomed freeman can. "If the Son makes you free, then you shall be free indeed." Yes, "free," as Paul here adds--free to address the mightiest and holiest of all Beings by the endearing name, "ABBA!" "Abba" is the Syro-Chaldaic form of the Hebrew word for Father. It was more familiar to Paul, as a Hebrew of the Hebrews, than the foreign Greek [word], and would be the more genuine expression of his newborn filial devotion and consecration. Perhaps, too, in harmony with Luther's rendering of it--as "dear Father," it might be the avowal of familiarity and loving trust. Or, add to this, may it not have been like the superscription on the Cross, in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin--to bring the sacred name by an emphatic conjunction, home to Jew and Greek; the Father-Head of one vast united family? No strain in this Song of Songs is sweeter or more divinely musical. It is like a serenade of Angels--no rather, a lullaby from Him who is spoken of "as one whom his mother comforts" (Isa. 66;13)

But then comes, with solemn urgency, the all-important, all-momentous question--"How do I know that this sonship is mine? How can I establish my claim to these lofty privileges and immunities."

The Apostle proceeds to reply. There is, first, the "leading" of the Spirit. In the solemn emphasis of the original Greek in v. 14--"As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they" (these and these only,) "are the sons of God." Then, secondly, there is the witness of the Spirit--the inward evidencing power of this divine Agent in the soul. "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (v. 16).

How does the Spirit thus bear witness? Here we tread on difficult and delicate ground, the borderland of mysticism and faith. One thing we know, "The Spirit of God is not straitened." He can act how, and where, and when, and as He pleases. Moreover, the means He employs vary with the individual feelings and idiosyncrasies of those who are the subject of His divine operations. We must take special care, however, not to mistake the character of these. Especially should we be jealous of the demand which not a few make, of pronounced outward manifestations--the display of vehement emotion--"sensationalism." Such tests are often unsafe and unreliable; the hallucination of excited feeling and overwrought temperament. Far less are we to look for the witness of the Spirit in mere mechanical rites; the alleged efficacy of sacramental symbol. His normal operations are rather thus beautifully described by lips of sacred authority--"The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell whence it comes, and where it goes; so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3;8). Or again, He is likened to the dew--silently distilling on the earth; hanging its pearl-drops on leaf of tree or spire of grass--without noise or premonition. "The kingdom of God comes not with observation." Yes; "not with observation;" and yet, in a very real sense, with observation--subjective, yet at the same time objective. His witness may be most safely described as evidenced in daily life--"known by its fruits." These fruits are not left for our conjecture. They are specially enumerated; they are specially called "the fruits of the Spirit,"--"love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Gal. 5;22, 23). The indwelling of the Spirit is authenticated and countersigned by a holy, pure, consistent, heavenly character. These are evidences patent to every honest "seeker after God;" that, too, despite of many mournful alienations and deflections--the ever-present painful consciousness of coming so far short of the divine ideal.

O God--my Father-God!--have I been enabled in any feeble measure to realize this my sonship, and to have the inward, divine, responsive witness of the Spirit? Have I been able to dismiss the old slavish fear of You? Am I among the number of those of whom the Savior speaks, who "will" (desire) "to do Your will?"--saying, "Your Spirit, O God, is good, lead me to the land of uprightness?" Can I stand such simple tests as these--do I love the Word? do I prize the privilege of prayer? When affliction comes, and the divine hand is heavy upon me, am I "led" by this Spirit of Yours to own the rectitude of Your dispensations; and just because of conscious sonship am I able to say, it may be through tears, "Even so, FATHER! for so it seemed good in Your sight; and, as Your son, I shall not permit it to be evil or unrighteous in mine!" There are few tokens of the Spirit's "leadings" more frequently or more beautifully evidenced than this latter; when He is visibly seen to come down, as predicted, "like rain upon the mown grass, and as showers that water the earth." The human soul, mowed by the scythe of affliction, humble, stricken, lies withered and faded. But the heavenly Agent descends--faith and love and devout resignation go up like a cloud of fragrant incense to the Father's throne and the Father's heart.

"As many as are led." It was the Savior's own promise--"He will guide you into all truth…He will show you things to come" (John 16;13). Just as some of us may recall, in early days, the guide over Alpine glaciers and crevasses, terrains and boulders; then up the jagged precipices that conducted above mist and cloud to "the blue skies," with boundless prospect of "everlasting hills." That experienced conductor, of strong muscle, and eagle eye, and unerring footstep, is a feeble type of the Infallible GUIDE of His Church, alike individually and collectively.

Blessed Spirit! whose office and mission was thus announced by the departing Christ, do lead me! Let me strive to do nothing that would grieve the gracious Agent, by whom I am "sealed unto the day of redemption." Enable me to curb passion, restrain temper, subdue and mortify pride and vainglory. Attune my life and heart to an Old Testament Song, which has its sweetest cadence in the New--"He LEADS me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; he leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake." Nor let me be satisfied with negative results; but rising to the dignity and glory and responsibility of sonship, give me increase of holiness--gradual conformity to the divine mind. Waking up from spiritual sloth and ease, help me to rebuild the collapsed purpose, and consecrate fresh energy in the heavenly service, aiming to live and walk so as to please You. Specially enable me to follow the footsteps of the Great Example. When, from His divine lips comes still, as of old, the solemn heart-searching question--"Do you love Me?" may it be mine to reply, even though under a trembling apprehension of my own vacillation and instability--"Lord, You know all things, You know it is my desire to love You!"

And it may be a help to those who are most feelingly alive to this fitfulness of their love and the inefficacy of their obedience, that that sonship is not dependent on their capricious frames and feelings. Like all else in the everlasting covenant, it is divinely secured, ratified, sealed. For thus runs their charter deed--"Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He has made us accepted in the beloved" (Eph. 1;5, 6). The glory of that sonship, with all its concomitant blessings, is rendered sure by a God that cannot lie--"I have called you by your name; you are Mine!" (Isa. 43;1). "But I said, How shall I put you among the children, and give you a pleasant land, a goodly heritage of the hosts of nations? And I said, You shall call me, My Father; and shall not turn away from me" (Jer. 3;19). "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people" (Heb. 8;10).

It is to this the Apostle now leads us in the present verses; "And, if children, then heirs." It is a heritage from which nothing can cut us out or cut us off.

What is the heritage thus spoken of and promised? His words are remarkable. They can be best left to their own mystic, divine interpretation. The ideas they embody are untransferable by the poor vehicle of human language. They are among those he elsewhere describes as being "impossible for a man to utter" (2 Cor. 12;4)--"Heirs of God!"--"partakers of the divine nature." We have recalled the like symbol in the Book of Revelation describing the indescribable glories of the Redeemed; "And I saw no Temple therein, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple of it" (Rev. 21;22). "And there shall be no night there, and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God gives them light, and they shall reign forever and ever" (Rev. 22;5 ). "Him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God; and I will write upon him my new name" (Rev. 3;12).

"Heirs of God!" In these three words are comprehended all the blessings Omnipotence can bestow. Every attribute of the divine nature is embarked on my side and pledged for my salvation--Power, Wisdom, Faithfulness. ABBA!--a Father's house--a Father's halls--a Father's love--a Father's welcome--a Father's presence forever and ever! "This," says Luther, "far passes all man's capacity, that God should call us heirs, not of some rich and mighty Prince, not of the Emperor, not of the whole world merely, but of Himself, the Almighty Creator of all things. If a man could comprehend the great excellency of this, that he is indeed a son and heir of God, and with a constant faith believe the same, he would abhor all the pomp and glory of the world in comparison of the eternal inheritance." (Watchwords from Luther," p. 334.)

Nor is this all. These peerless blessings are confirmed and ratified by the farther guarantee--"joint-heirs with Christ." Christ, as the Brother in my nature, has made the heritage doubly sure "for us miserable sinners, who lay in darkness and the shadow of death, that He might make us the children of God, and exalt us to everlasting life." He, indeed, in His divine essence, occupies a place and realm all His own. He is "Heir," by virtue of His essential dignity; what the old writers call His "Crown rights." He is "the First-born among many brethren"--a name is given Him which is above every name. "He has on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords" (Rev. 19;16). We, on the other hand, are heirs by adoption and grace, by virtue of our living union with our living Head. This heritage is ours, first and partially in possession--"Beloved, now are we the sons of God." Its full blessings are ours in future possession, when Christ's own words, uttered, not in the days of His humiliation, but in His exaltation at the right hand of power, will be fulfilled"--To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with Me (a fellow heir) on My throne" (Rev. 3;21).

Oh wondrous endowment!--and as free and gracious as it is wondrous! Under the Hebrew code, the law of first-born was rigidly observed. The, eldest-born received the inheritance. Isaac was Abraham's heir; and while the other children of the patriarch had their limited portions meted out to them, he, as the recognized son of the promise, entered on his father's goods and possessions. It is different with the spiritual Israel. There is no law of first-born in the Church of God's first-born. All are on divine equality here. All are warranted and welcome to enter on the purchased heritage--to claim the adoption of sons and the co-heirship with Christ. There is but one condition--"And IF CHRIST'S--then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3;29).

The remaining clause of the verse is needed to complete this Adoption-Song, though we shall reserve its fuller consideration for the kindred one which follows, and which will demand a separate treatment. (V. 17) "If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together." Observe it is not only, that suffering is the law of the kingdom, but that we SUFFER WITH HIM.

Elevating and inspiring surely is the thought to all sufferers whatever the diverse causes of affliction may be, that they and their great Lord pass through the same ordeal; that He has drunk of every sorrow-brook by the way (Ps. 110;7). "Perfect through suffering" is the characteristic alike of the Head and the members. In all their afflictions He was afflicted; in all their tears "Jesus wept." "With Him!" How the assurance disarms trial of its sting--"I am undergoing the experience of the Son, who 'learned obedience by the things which He suffered.'" Who knew better than Paul the boon, and blessing of this identity of suffering with his suffering Master? Hear his testimony in the Mamertine dungeon, with certain death hanging over him, "All men forsook me; notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me and strengthened me; and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion" (2 Tim. 4;16, 17).

This suffering culminates in glory--"That we may be also glorified together" (v. 17). "If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim. 2;12). "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy" (1 Pet. 4;12, 13). No words in the Redeemer's intercessory prayer are more elevating and comforting than those, in which the Father's name is linked with the bliss of His ransomed people--"FATHER, I will that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory" (John 17;24). Following their Lord's example, and echoing His utterance, the inspired writers seem to love thus to repeat the filial name and recount the adoption privileges. In selecting from one of these, let us, in closing, put emphasis on the words of John's apostrophe, and make them the refrain of this Redemption Song--"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him." 1 John 3:1

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