An act whereby any person receives another into his family, owns him for his son, and appoints him his heir.
Spiritual adoption is an act of God's free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.
Glorious, is that in which the saints, being raised from the dead, are at the last day solemnly owned to be the children of God, and enter into the full possession of that inheritance provided for them, Rom_7:19; Rom_7:23.
Adoption is a word taken from the civil law, and was much in use among the Romans in the apostles' time; when it was a custom for persons who had no children of their own, and were possessed of an estate, to prevent its being divided, or descending to strangers, to make choice of such who were agreeable to them, and beloved by them, whom they took into this political relation of children; obliging them to take their name upon them, and to pay respect to them as though they were their natural parents, and engaging to deal with them as though they had been so; and accordingly to give them a right to their estates, as an inheritance. This new relation, founded in a mutual consent, is a bond of affection; and the privilege arising from thence is, that he who is in this sense a father, takes care of and provides for the person whom he adopts, as though he were his son by nature; and therefore civilian call it an act of legitimation, imitating nature, or supplying the place of it.
It is easy, then, to conceive the propriety of the term as used by the apostle in reference to this act, though it must be confessed there is some difference between civil and spiritual adoption. Civil adoption was allowed of and provided for the relief and comfort of those who had no children; but in spiritual adoption this reason does not appear. The Almighty was under no obligation to do this; for he had innumerable spirits whom he had created, besides his own Son, who had all the perfections of the divine nature, who was the object of his delight, and who is styled the heir of all things, Heb_1:3. When men adopt, it is on account of some excellency in the persons who are adopted; thus Pharaoh's daughter adopted Moses because he was exceeding fair, Act_7:20-21; and Mordecai adopted Esther because she was his uncle's daughter, and exceeding fair, Est_2:7 : but man has nothing in him that merits the divine act, Eze_16:5. In civil adoption, though the name of a son be given, the nature of a son may not; this relation may not necessarily be attended with any change of disposition or temper.
But in spiritual adoption we are made partakers of the divine nature, and a temper or disposition given us becoming the relationship we bear, Jer_3:19. Much has been said as to the time of adoption. Some place it before regeneration, because it is supposed that we must be in the family before we can be partakers of the blessings of it. But it is difficult to conceive of one before the other; for although adoption may seem to precede regeneration in order of nature, yet not of time; they may be distinguished, but cannot be separated. "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name, " Joh_1:12. There is no adoption, says the great Charnock, without regeneration. "Adoption, " says the same author, "is not a mere relation; the privilege and the image of the sons of God go together. A state of adoption is never without a separation from defilement, 2Co_6:17-18. The new name in adoption is never given till the new creature be formed. 'As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God, Rom_8:14. Yet these are to be distinguished. Regeneration, as a physical act, gives us a likeness to God in our nature; adoption, as a legal act, gives us a right to an inheritance.
Regeneration makes us formally his sons, by conveying a principle, 1Pe_1:23; adoption makes us relatively his sons, by conveying a power, Joh_1:12. By the one we are instated in the divine affection; by the other we are partakers of the divine nature." The privileges of adoption are every way great and extensive.
It implies great honour. They have God's name put upon them, and are described as "his people, called by his name, " 2Ch 7:24; Eph_3:15. They are no longer slaves to sin and the world; but, emancipated from its dreadful bondage, are raised to dignity and honour, Gal_4:7 : 1Jn_3:1; 1Jn_2:1-29
Inexhaustible provision and riches. They inherit all things, Rev_21:7. All the blessings of a temporal kind that are for their good shall be given them. Psa_84:11. All the blessings of grace are treasured up in Jesus Christ for them, Eph_1:3. All the blessings of glory shall be enjoyed by them, Col_1:27. "All things are yours, " says the apostle, "whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours, " 1Co_3:22
Divine protection. "In the fear of the Lord in strong confidence, and his children shall have a place of refuge, " Pro_14:26. As the master of a family is engaged to defend and secure all under his roof, and committed to his care, so Jesus Christ is engaged to protect and defend his people. "They shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings and quiet resting places, " Isa_32:18. Heb_1:14
Unspeakable felicity. They enjoy the most intimate communion with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. They have access to his throne at all times, and under all circumstances. They see divine wisdom regulating every affair, and rendering every thing subservient to their good. Heb_12:6-11. The laws, the liberties, the privileges, the relations, the provisions, and the security of this family are all sources of happiness; but especially the presence, the approbation, and the goodness of God, as the governor thereof, afford joy unspeakable and full of glory, 1Pe_1:8. Pro_3:17; Heb_4:1-16
Eternal glory. In some cases, civil adoption might be made null and void, as among the Romans, when against the right of the pontifex, and without the decree of the college; but spiritual adoption, as it is divine as to its origin, so it is perpetual as to its duration. "the Son abideth in the house for ever, " Joh_8:35. "The inheritance of the saints is incorruptible, undefiled, and never fadeth away, " 1Pe_1:4. "Now are ye the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is, " 1Jn_3:2. In the present state we are as children at school; but in heaven we shall be as children at home, where we shall always behold the face of our heavenly Father, for ever celebrating his praises, admiring his perfections, and enjoying his presence. "So shall we be ever with the Lord." 1Th_4:17.
The evidences of adoption are,
Renunciation of all former dependencies. When a child is adopted, he relinquishes the object of his past confidence, and submits himself to the will and pleasure of the adopter; so they who are brought into the family of God, will evidence it by giving up every other object so far as it interferes with the will and glory of their heavenly Father. "Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?" Hos_14:8. "Other lords have had dominion over us; but by thee only will we make mention of thy name." Isa_26:13; Mat_13:45-46; Php_3:8.
Affection. This may not always apply to civil adoption, but it always does to spiritual. The children of God feel a regard for him above every other object. His own excellency, his unspeakable goodness to them, his promises of future blessings, are all grounds of the strongest love. "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee." Psa_73:25. "Thou art my portion, saith my soul, therefore will I hope in thee." Lam_3:24. Luk_7:47. Psa_18:1.
Access to God with a holy boldness. They who are the children by adoption are supposed to have the same liberty of access as those who are partakers of the blessings of spiritual adoption will prove it, by a reverential, yet familiar address to the Father of spirits: they will confess their unworthiness, acknowledge their dependence, and implore the mercy and favour of God. "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." Gal_4:6. "Through Jesus Christ we have access by one Spirit unto the Father." Eph_2:18. Having such a privilege, they "come boldly to the throne of grace, that they may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Heb_4:16.
Obedience. Those who are adopted into a family must obey the laws of that family; so believers prove themselves adopted by their obedience to the word and ordinances of God. "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." Joh_15:14. "Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also to walk even as he walked." 1Jn_2:1-29; 1Jn_4:5.
Patient yet joyful expectation of the inheritance. In civil adoption, indeed, an inheritance is not always certain; but in spiritual adoption it is. "To them who by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life." Rom_2:7. "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." 2Co_4:18. Rom_6:23. Heb_11:26-27. From the consideration of the whole of this doctrine, we may learn that adoption is an act of free grace through Jesus Christ. Eph_1:5. Applied to believers by the Holy Spirit, Gal_4:6. Rom_8:15-16. A blessing of the greatest importance, 1Jn_3:1, and lays us under an inviolable obligation of submission. Heb_12:9; imitation, Eph_5:1; and dependence, Mat_6:32.
See Ridgley's and Gill's Body of Div. art. Adoption; Charnock's Works, vol. 2: p. 32-72; Flavel's Works, vol. 2: p. 601; Brown's System of Nat. and Rev. Religion, p. 442; Witsii Econ. Fed, o, 165,