Bondage and Liberty

James Smith, 1862

"For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father!" Romans 8:15

Paul now gives us a further proof of sonship, and furnishes another reason why we should have eternal life. The evidences of our sonship cannot be too strong or satisfactory, as whatever proves us sons, proves that eternal life is ours. Our apostle looks back to the state in which the saints had been—in spiritual slavery; and the spirit by which they were actuated—a "spirit of bondage:" then he sets forth the privilege enjoyed at present—sons of God; and the Spirit by which they are influenced, "the Spirit of adoption." Let us briefly look at these two points: "For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father!" (Romans 8:15).

What They Formerly Possessed. The "spirit of bondage," or a slavish spirit. This is the spirit generated by the legal covenant, under which we all came in Adam, and from which there is no deliverance but by coming under the new covenant by faith in Christ. That covenant says, "Do—and live; transgress—and die." Having a consciousness of transgression, we are naturally afraid of God; and as death introduces us into the presence of an offended God, we are more or less all our lives in bondage, through the fear of death. Nor were the Jews much better off, except as they rose above the spirit of the dispensation they were under, by exercising faith in the promised Messiah. For though they were heirs of promise—yet, being in their minority, their state differed but little from that of servants, or favored slaves, as the apostle testified: "Now I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differs nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we."

The old economy, or covenant, revealed God as a Master requiring, or as a Lord commanding, rather than as a Father promising and giving. For work—there was wages. For obedience—there was reward. For idleness—there was the lash. For disobedience—there was punishment, even to exclusion from the promised land. This produced fear, and generated anxiety and alarm. The spirit of the dispensation was necessarily servile.

So we, who were not under the same economy, being Gentiles, were also in bondage to the lusts of our flesh, to the god of this world, and to the law, imperfect as was the copy of it, which ruled our consciences. For though our knowledge of God's law was necessarily small and imperfect—yet it was sufficient to convince us of sin, to fill us with fear of punishment, and at length to lead us to despair of pleasing God, or being accepted by him. All our duties, therefore, were performed through fear, and we were rather slaves than freemen, and felt rather as the servants of a hard and exacting master, than as the children of a kind, loving, sympathizing father. To correct this, and to change both our state and our feelings, the gospel was sent; and having embraced the gospel, "we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father!"

What They Now Enjoyed. "The Spirit of adoption" This is the Holy Spirit of promise, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit received through the gospel. The Spirit of adoption reveals to us God's paternal character, and opens to our view the paternal heart of God. He fixes the eye on God as revealed in Jesus, showing us that Jesus revealed the Father, clearly manifested him, so that to see Jesus is to see the Father. He leads us, as children, to take all our views of God, not from the wonders of nature, or the mysteries of providence—but from the simple and lovely life of the Lord Jesus, who always presented God to his disciples as a Father, inculcating love to him, confidence in him, and expectation from him.

So that whenever we are overawed with the greatness of God, or dazzled with his glory, or terrified with his justice—the Spirit seems to point with his finger to the Savior, saying, "Look at Jesus; God is that: see what Jesus did; God will do just the same; Jesus correctly revealed his Father." He persuades us of the love of God to us, shedding abroad the love of God in our hearts. He makes it plain to us that God loved us before we loved him, and that all our love to him flows from his love to us. He points to the cross, and says, "Behold the love of God!" He points to heaven, and says, "It is your Father's house, and your eternal home—behold the love of God."

In his own sovereign—but effectual way, the Spirit reveals the love of God to us; he represents God as saying, "I have loved you with an everlasting love, and therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn you;" so that at length we can adopt the language of John, "We have known and believed the love that God has to us! God is love."

He shows us our right of access to God—that we may come to God at all times, with all our affairs, and for all we need. That for this purpose the throne of grace is erected, the blood of Christ was shed, and our acceptance in the Beloved is published. As said Paul, "For through him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father." And again, "In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him."

As the child has at all times access to its father's presence, to whisper all its wishes into its father's ear, and to receive all it needs from its father's hand; even so we, under the influence of the Spirit of adoption, are taught to come at all times to our heavenly Father, and to cast all our cares on him.

He places us under the care and protection of God, showing us, that as it has pleased the Lord to adopt us for his own, fixing his special love upon us—so he will take special care of us. He repeats to us, in the secret and solemn fellowship which we have with him, some of our Father's sweet and precious words: "Nothing shall by any means hurt you." "He who touches you, touches the apple of his eye." "Mercy shall compass him about." "Not one hair of your head shall perish." "Lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day."

While in secret, silent communion with him, God's love appears so clear, his pity so tender, his care so constant, and his protection so sure—that we cannot doubt our safety. And the promises flow in so sweetly, so suitably, and so appropriately, that we could almost believe that they were made on purpose for us! All slavish fear is now gone, and loving confidence occupies its place.

The Spirit of adoption produces reconciliation to God—and we are pleased with all the Lord does, with all he has said in his word, and with all he requires of us. But we are filled with joy at the revelation of what God is in himself: all his attributes and perfections sparkle before the eyes of the mind, and every hard thought of God, every harsh feeling toward God, dies out. God in Christ appears all glorious, all lovely, everything one could wish or desire God to be. We no longer quarrel with his sovereignty, nor are we displeased with his requirements; all is right, perfectly right. All produces filial love to God.

We love him, not so much as a creature would love a God who is infinitely and eternally above him; but as a child loves a kind, gentle, loving father. There is a holy familiarity in this love, producing a divine freedom in the presence and service of God. We love him most heartily, and long to be swallowed up in his love, and to be eternally employed in loving, blessing, and praising his most holy name.

He produces sweet filial peace with God—the peace of a child in its father's presence, who is conscious that he has forgiven all its trespasses, and has forgotten all past transgressions. The Spirit of adoption makes us feel that there is nothing in God's book against us, nor anything in his heart towards us but pure, perfect, and perpetual love.

This leads us to show a filial regard to all the requirements of God. Obedience becomes pleasant. To do anything for God, who is our Father, and such a Father—is most grateful. Just in proportion as we feel the working of the Spirit of adoption within us, shall we esteem all the Lord's precepts to be right, and hate every false way. We shall wish to keep the least of his commandments, and long for the time when, no longer hindered by weakness within, or opposition without, we shall serve him day and night in his heavenly temple—and our obedience will be pure, perfect, and perpetual!

This Spirit produces also a hatred to all that offends God. We hate all that God hates, and because he hates it. As, therefore, God hates nothing but sin, or on account of sin—just so we. We hate sin without hating the sinner—pitying the victim, while we condemn the fault. To be angry and sin not, is the object and aim. Yes, so do we drink into the mind of God, that his thoughts, objects, and aims become ours. Oh, to be entirely and eternally under the full influence of the Spirit of adoption!

The Spirit of adoption leads us to cry, "Abba, Father!" No slave-child was of old allowed to call its guardian, "abba;" it was the peculiar privilege of the children. Now, as by nature we are slave-children, in our natural state we cannot, with a feeling of propriety and confidence, call God, Father. The Jews, unless they rose above the spirit of their dispensation, could not, as Paul shows, Galatians 4:22-26. Like the children of Hagar, Abraham's slave-girl, the natural Jews, notwithstanding the privilege of being in Abraham's house, and Abraham's seed, were in bondage; while those only who had faith in Christ were like the children of Sarah, the free woman Abraham's lawful and beloved wife, and enjoyed freedom.

Nor can any among the children understand what true freedom means, until the Spirit of adoption is received and enjoyed. Then, as children under a sense of need, who have freedom and access to God, with confidence they cry, "Father, help me out of this difficulty; supply this need; drive back this foe; unveil your lovely face; take off this burden from my mind, dispel this gloom from my spirit, and indulge me with free, familiar, and holy communion with yourself!"

Thus we make it manifest that "God has not given unto us the spirit of fear—but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." We understand our Lord's words, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." And again, "If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, you shall be free indeed." "Wherefore," as Paul wrote to the Galatians, "Wherefore you are no more a slave," having the spirit of bondage to fear, "but a son," having the Spirit of adoption; "and if a son, then an heir of God through faith."

Mark the true Christian's state—he is adopted. God has put him among his children; he has called him out from the world, and has said, "I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." Now He looks upon him lovingly, and out of the depths of his paternal heart asks, "Will you not from this time cry unto me: My Father, you are the guide of my youth?" And under the influence of the Spirit of adoption he replies, "Abba, Father, you shall guide me with your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory!

See the true believer's spirit—it is the Spirit of God's Son, the very Spirit that was in Jesus; as Paul testifies, "Because you are sons God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." The Spirit that cries Abba in you is the very self-same Spirit that cried Abba in Jesus! Oh, wondrous privilege, that the Spirit of God's Son should dwell in hearts like ours!

Observe the child's duty. If we are the sons of God by adoption and grace—then it is our duty to love God with a filial love, to fear him with a filial fear, to obey him with a filial obedience, to expect from him with a filial hope, and to depend on him with filial confidence. Everything should be done in a child-like, loving spirit.

Consider the adopted one's privilege—to come to God, to open the whole heart to God, crying, "Abba, Father, help, bless, and make me holy!" Also, to keep the eye fixed on the inheritance, which is the children's portion, and is reserved in heaven, as the object of their hope.

Adoption precedes regeneration, and is an act of grace outside us;
whereas regeneration is a work of grace within us.

Adoption is the gracious act of the Father;
regeneration is the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

Adoption puts us among the children;
regeneration makes us like the children.

Adoption gives us the privilege of a child;
regeneration gives us the nature of a child.

We are sons by God's choice, before we are sons, by the Spirit's work. Therefore the apostle said, "Because you are sons," (that is, by adoption,) "God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts."

Adoption reminds us of what we were; for we were not the sons of God by nature—but were the children of wrath, even as others. It says, "Look unto the rock whence you were hewn"—and be humble; "and to the hole of the pit whence you were dug"—and be grateful." It was a rock harder than granite—but grace hewed us from it! It was a pit, most horrible and terrible—but grace lifted us out of it.

It reminds us, too, of the honor that is put upon us. Its language is, "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!" Greater honor God could not confer—than to associate us with his beloved Son; to identify us with his Son, so that we shall not only reign in life by him—but with him, as heirs of the same inheritance, objects of the same love, and partakers of the same glory. Glory, everlasting glory be to God, for his unspeakable love!