July, 2015

Thomas Watson on Adoption – Use 4

The Puritan Thomas Watson explains the doctrine of Adoption in his book, A Body of Divinity, as the taking of a stranger, an orphan, into the relation of a son and heir. The orphan takes on the name of the Father and receives all the rights and privileges of being a child of the Father. Then Watson unfolds four different uses of this great doctrine. The first use is that we see the amazing love of God in his adopting us. The second use is that we are able to determine our status as adopted children of God. The third use is that we can rejoice in the benefits of adoptions. The fourth and final use of adoption in the life of the Christian believer is extol and magnify God’s mercy.

Adoption is a free gift. In adoption, the child being adopted does not barter, negotiate, or sell himself to the adopting parents. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. The adopted child has nothing to offer to the adopting parents other than be a recipient of their love, support, and parentage. They only thing an adopting child has to offer is his willingness to receive. Adoption is a free gift. But like all good gifts, there is a great cost to it. Good gifts may not be expensive but there is always a great cost attached to them. Adoption is a free gift for the adopted, but it is a costly gift for the adopting parents. They go through great emotional, physical, and financial expense to secure and finalize the adoption. They go to great lengths to offer to this child the gift of being their son or daughter. They give for the privilege to be able to give more.

Adoption is a free gift of God’s grace. He has brought us into his family as sons and heirs. We were heirs of hell and now we are heirs of the promise of heaven. We were slaves and now we are free. He gave us power and dignity to be the sons of the Most High. Watson notes that there is a thread that runs through the whole tapestry of the doctrine of adoption and that thread is free grace. The privilege of adoption is granted by God’s free grace.

Watson calls the reader to consider this, adoption is a greater mercy than Adam received in the garden. Adam was made by birth a son of God (Luke 3:38). But that sonship resulted in Adam’s alienation from God due to his sin. Though he was born into the promise, he violated and rejected the covenant relationship with God by his sin. On his own efforts, Adam failed to live as a son of God. But we have a greater power at work within us. We have received the free grace of God on account of Christ’s great sacrifice for us. By faith in Christ we were adopted as sons and daughters. And this was not of our own merit or self-worth. It was purely of God’s grace. In civil adoption, the child being adopted has inherit worth and dignity. But in our spiritual adoption there is no worth or dignity in us. There is no beauty or heritage or virtue that would move God to bestow the blessing of adoption upon us. In fact, we only possess within us that which would move God to judge us and pour out his just wrath upon us. The amazing thing about grace is that when you deserved the worst, God poured out his richest blessings upon you. You should have been cast out as an enemy but instead were brought in as a son.

So what is our response to this great mercy and grace? We are to extol and magnify God’s mercy. Have you considered the depths from which you have been rescued? Have you seen the future from which you were redeemed? You have been plucked up by the divine hand of favor so that you will not face the bleak and awful realities of a Christ-less eternity. Let that sink in. And as this sinks in; as your brain begins to comprehend the sheer scope and enormity of the treasure you have found in Christ, one vastly beyond all earthly treasure, greater than the pearl of great price; as your heart begins to warm to the reality of seeing the Almighty and Omnipotent Creator of the Universe as your loving and doting Father; as this sinks in let your attitude before God be one of worship. Praise the God who would step down from limitless riches and opulence and power into unspeakable squalor and destitution in order to snatch you up and make you his beloved son or daughter. The silver thread of God’s free grace in adoption leads Watson to summarize the fourth use of it by saying, “Bless him with your praises who blessed you in making you his sons and daughters.” Let our hearts sing with gratitude for the mercy that has been poured out upon us by the one we now call “Father.”

In You the Orphan Finds Mercy

Tomorrow I will board a plane to Africa with my wife and three kids. When we fly back to the US we’ll be the parents of four kids. Early in our marriage, my wife and I felt a desire to grow our family through adoption. Circumstances being what they were, we waited several years before we initiated our adoption process. And other circumstances being what they were, we waited another three years for the process to work itself out. Years of waiting, thousands of dollars, countless tears shed, and reams of paperwork filed, re-filed, notarized, authenticated, and submitted for review by multiply layers of state, national, and international bureaucratic agencies and finally we leave to adopt our soon-to-be son. As I think back upon our adoption journey thus far, I can only conclude that we are crazy.
Why would we subject ourselves, our marriage, and our family to the rigors of adoption? I was asked this question the other night by a sweet family who was curious about this adoption process. I told them that I read in Galatians 4:1-7 and Romans 8:12-17 were God had adopted me. Spiritually speaking, we are born “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Gal 4:3). But God in his mercy provided redemption for the orphan through Jesus Christ, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4, 5). Additionally, I read throughout the Old Testament where God calls his people to provide for the most vulnerable in society, specifically “the widow, the fatherless, and the sojourner” (Ex 22:22, Deut 10:18, and 30+ other places). Quite simply, I believe that when God said this, he meant it. God loves to show mercy to the needy (see also, Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 12).
What compels us to adopt? When I get past the sappy and saccharine sentimentality of thinking I’m rescuing some poor child from poverty and realize that, theologically speaking, I am the orphan, it compels me to love the orphan as God has loved me. It is for the simple reason that when we were orphans God showed us mercy. Think about the beauty of this doctrine. God takes an orphan and puts his name upon him, gives him access to the throne of grace with boldness, loves him as his own child, and makes him an heir of heaven. When we were the orphan, lacking in the basic relationships and necessities of life, God showed us mercy. “In [God} the orphan finds mercy” (Hos 14:3). That which was lacking and missing in your life was fulfilled and met by God in his mercy. This is where our doctrine should lead to doxology, which should then lead to action. After I explained this reason for adoption, one of the family members looked at me and said, “Wow, you get to explain the Gospel every time someone asks you about adoption, don’t you?” I replied, “That’s exactly the point.”
Has God been merciful to you? Has God supplied your every need? Then you should seek to mirror the grace and mercy of your Heavenly Father by showing the same mercy to the fatherless. In commenting on Hosea 14:3, the Puritan Richard Sibbes gives us this exhortation,

Let us learn how we are to respond to God’s dealing with us. We are to show mercy to the fatherless and those who stand in need, as the apostle Paul exhorts in Colossians 3:12, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” as if he should say, as you would prove yourselves to be elect members of Christ and children of God, so show your likeness in this particular, “show compassion.” This has ever been, and yet is at all times, a character of God’s children, and shall be to the end of the world. It is a sign such a one has [experienced] mercy, that is ready upon all occasions to pour forth compassion upon others, as hard-heartedness shows a disposition which has not rightly tasted of mercy. As we say in another case, those that are appeased in their consciences, in the sense of the forgiveness of sins, they are peaceable to others, because they feel peace. So here, those that feel mercy will be merciful, those that have felt love will be loving to others… If God has stamped his image upon you, then you will pour out your hearts and be merciful to the orphan, the widow, and the distressed persons… Therefore, let us labor to express the image of our Heavenly Father in this. (Sibbes, Richard, and Alexander Balloch Grosart. Works of Richard Sibbes: Volume 2. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1983. 296-297.)

Around the world, there are an estimated 153 million orphans who have lost at least one parent. There are nearly 18 million children who have lost both parents and are living in orphanages or on the street (statistics provided by Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute). These are children who lack those family relationships which we would consider basic and essential. These are children who lack the care and attention of a mom and dad. These are children who, at best, will receive their basic nurturing not from parents but from an institution. These are children who are at constant risk of disease, malnutrition, exploitation, and death. 18,000,000 children waiting to experience the mercy of a father. 18,000,000. Let that number sink in. These are the most vulnerable of society and the very ones for whom God has called the Church to provide.
What if instead of thinking, “Isn’t it nice that God cares for the orphans,” we thought, “Isn’t it amazing that God cared for me!” And then, what if we thought, “God showed mercy to me when I was an orphan. Now I will show mercy to the orphan.” What would happen if the Church would reflect the image of a Heavenly Father who has shown us mercy? What if we cared more about showing mercy to the fatherless than we feared entering into the financially and emotionally draining mess and chaos of adoption? The Church MUST rise up as the answer to the crisis of 18 million orphans; 18 million kids who are in desperate need of a father’s mercy.
There are numerous ways in which the Church can show mercy to the fatherless. I will not be so presumptuous as to say every Christian must adopt. Though, I will add that many will use any wiggle room whatsoever to avoid the Lord’s call to adopt. I neither want to bind your conscience nor justify your flight from God’s command. But there are other ways to show mercy to the orphan. Adoption is financially draining on a family. You can financially support families who are adopting. You can pray for the orphan. You can advocate on behalf of orphans and raise awareness of the plight of the orphan. You can support your local crisis pregnancy center. If you are not called to adopt, you can still sponsor an orphan to help provide his basic needs. There are many ways to help and many great organizations that can connect you with ways to show mercy to the orphan.
I am well aware of the mess and chaos of adoption. Adoption is a process borne out of the trauma of a child being orphaned. It is going to be messy. And our process isn’t over yet. There are many more emotional, financial, and physical twists and turns ahead for us. But I am also well aware of the humiliation Christ faced in the incarnation. It was a messy process. He was born into poverty. He was subjected to the Law. He underwent the miseries of this life. He endured the wrath of God. He died a horrific death on the cross. He was buried and was held by the power of death for a time (WSC 27). What an ignoble journey for the Son of God. But the Son willingly submitted to the will of the Father so that we would experience the mercy of that same Father. If I am called to live a Christ-like life, then I must show mercy to the orphan. Beyond the orphan’s need to receive mercy, if I am to be faithful, I need to show him mercy.

Thomas Watson on Adoption – Use 3

The Puritan Thomas Watson explains the doctrine of Adoption in his book, A Body of Divinity, as the taking of a stranger, an orphan, into the relation of a son and heir. The orphan takes on the name of the Father and receives all the rights and privileges of being a child of the Father. Then Watson unfolds four different uses of this great doctrine. The first use is that we see the amazing love of God in his adopting us. The second use is that we are able to determine our status as adopted children of God. The third use is that we can rejoice in the benefits of adoptions.

What are the benefits of adoption? God’s adopted children receive a number of gracious benefits and freedoms. When the disciples were asked about the temple tax, “Jesus asked Peter, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?’ And when he said, ‘From others,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free’” (Matt 17:25, 26). The children of the King do not pay taxes or tolls. They are privileged. Before you get really excited, understand this verse will not gain you much traction in avoiding the IRS. It does not mean that those adopted by God’s act of free grace do not pay taxes. Rather Jesus is making mention of the fact that we do not pay for God’s mercy. We are recipients of it by grace and sonship. Instead of paying to receive the blessings of God’s grace, we receive it by inheritance as sons. Jesus does follow up this exchange by instructing Peter how he is to pay the tax for the two of them. But the benefit of adoption is that a son doesn’t pay to be child of the father.

As privileged sons and daughters we are also free from hurt. “Nothing shall hurt you” (Lk 10:19). This verse is another one that could be easily misunderstood. This verse does not say that you will never be hit. Watson says, “Hit you it may, but not hurt you.” That is a key distinction. There will be afflictions, miseries, and trials. But there is no ultimate harm that can befall the child of God. “No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent” (Ps 91:10). Your body may suffer and be afflicted but there is no eternal harm that can befall it. There is nothing that will prevent the power of the resurrection to eternal glory for the child of God. Conversely, for the unbeliever, affliction and miseries have evil in them. These hits and miseries will make him worse. They will curse him and make him curse. “They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory” (Rev 16:9).

In fact, without the fear of actual hurt, the afflictions and miseries we face are for our benefit. They serve as a means of discipline from a loving Father. “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb 12:8-10). The adopted child of God is actually bettered by afflictions. It is the furnace that purifies the gold.

The temptation we face in the midst of trials and afflictions is to believe that we are facing some punishment or condemnation from God. Satan would love to destroy the Christian by planting the thought that our suffering is God’s vengeful wrath being poured out on us when it is actually God’s fatherly and loving discipline. The Christian must remember that as sons, “nothing shall hurt you” because Christ has endured the ultimate suffering and wrath of God on the cross. Through Christ’s substitutionary atonement, justification has been imputed to the believer by faith. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). The adopted child of God is free from the sting and condemnation of afflictions because as a son he is free from God’s wrath. Watson summarizes this blessing with a metaphor straight out of a fantasy story, “When the dragon has poisoned the water, the unicorn with his horn extracts and draws out the poison; so Jesus Christ has drawn out the poison of every affliction, that it cannot injure the saints.” So there you have it, according to the Puritan Thomas Watson, Jesus is better than unicorns.

We can rejoice in our adoption as children of God because he has given us great privileges. We can also rejoice because we have been given a great inheritance. God’s Word makes a number of great promises to us. As heirs of the covenant of God, we are recipients of every promise in the Bible. In our dark despair, God promises to be the sun. In our disease and illness, God promises to be a healing balm. In our oppressive moments of temptation, God promises to be our refuge. In our battle with overwhelming sin, God promises to be a victorious king. Every promise of Scripture is ours by inheritance because we are the right and true sons and daughters of God.

Thomas Watson on Adoption – Use 2

The Puritan Thomas Watson explains the doctrine of Adoption in his book, A Body of Divinity, as the taking of a stranger, an orphan, into the relation of a son and heir. The orphan takes on the name of the Father and receives all the rights and privileges of being a child of the Father. Then Watson unfolds four different uses of this great doctrine. The first use is that we see the amazing love of God in his adopting us. The second use is that we are able to determine our status as adopted children of God.

There are two ultimate destinations in life. Either you are son of God or you are an heir of hell. That is not a popular way to view things in our pluralistic age. But these are the only two options presented in Scripture. Either you are destined for eternity as a son and heir of God, or you are destined for an eternity as an heir of hell. There is no middle ground. The great question for mankind then becomes, “Which way am I headed?” And the follow-up question is, “How do I know?” The second use of adoption is an answer to that second question and becomes a source of great assurance for the Christian.

The great difficulty in assurance is that godly parentage is no sign of being a son of God. None, other than Christ, are naturally sons of God. Watson gives four signs that point to whether we are adopted sons of God or not. The first sign is obedience. The second sign is a love of being in the presence of the Father. The third is to have the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And the fourth sign is a love for all of God’s children.

A son obeys his Father. A son of God hears the Father’s words and heeds them. This implies that the Father reveals his will. The true son of the Father receives this word and does it. True obedience, therefore, is always in line with God’s revealed will. And true obedience comes not only from the right rule, that is, his revealed will, but also from the right principle. Obedience must come by faith and not simply by externals. A crabapple may look pleasing to the eye, but it is sour to the taste. Additionally, true obedience is to be done to the right end. What is our goal in obeying God? It must be to glorify God. Watson warns that our obedience must shine but not blaze. By this he means that much should be made of Christ in our works and little should be made of the works. True obedience also looks at God in all things, “that Christ may be magnified” (Phil 1:20). The son who obeys the Father obeys all the Father’s words not just the preferred ones. Obedience in some but not in all shows an unsound heart. And finally, true obedience is in it for the long haul. Though the son of God may falter and fail from time to time, his desire is to obey. And when he comes up short he rests in Christ’s blood to supply his defects.

The second sign of being a true son of God is a love of being in the presence of the Father. The child who loves his father longs to be close to him. How do we get close to God as our Father? Through the means of grace he has given to his Church: the Word, Sacraments, and Prayer. In prayer we speak to God as our Father. In the preaching of the Word we hear his voice. In the Sacraments we see a sign and seal of his love for us. Watson notes that Cain, “went out from the presence of the Lord” (Gen 4:16). It isn’t that Cain was no longer visible to God, but that Cain extricated himself from the people of God, where the Lord had given visible tokens of his presence. A love of being in the presence of God the Father is the second sign and assurance that one is a true son of God.

The third sign of being a true son of God is having the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom 8:14). The child of God must not only be called by the name of the Father, but must also walk in the steps of the Father. Israel was led by the pillar of fire through the wilderness. God’s children are led by the Spirit through this life. Our flesh is inclined to rebel against God and to live in denial of our adoption. The Spirit constrains and checks that corruption to lead us in the right way.

The fourth sign of being a true son of God is that we have a love for all of God’s children. Peter encourages the church to “love the brotherhood” (1 Pet 2:17). We are to love all of those who are called by the name of Christ, even those who struggle to live up to it. All of God’s children bear the wounds of sin. But we must love the beautiful face of holiness though it may have a scar across it. Watson says that the true son of God loves the good that he sees in God’s children even as we pass over their blemishes. If we cannot love one another in spite of our blemishes, how do you think God loves you? God can call the orphan to be his child even though he is blemished. His children should exhibit the same grace. It is by these signs that we know and are assured of our adoption.

Fencing the Table

Do you have to be a member to receive Communion at Covenant Presbyterian Church?

Many of you have asked about the way we administer Communion at CPC. Particularly, several of you have asked me about the requirement that one should be a “member in good standing in an evangelical church” in order to receive Communion. What does that mean? Why do I say it that way? And, ultimately, do you have to be a member to take communion?

This particular language is part of what is called “fencing the Table.” In the old Scottish church, each church member, upon giving a credible profession of faith, was provided a token. This token was used to gain admission inside a literal fence that was set up around the Lord’s Table. If the member was under church discipline, their token was taken away and they were not admitted to the table. This fence was to protect unbelievers or Christians under church censure from partaking of the bread and wine in an unworthy manner.

To answer how one might partake in an unworthy manner requires us to take a look at Paul’s instruction about Communion in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32. God’s Word instructs us that if we eat the bread or drink the cup in an “unworthy manner” we will be “guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (v. 27). And anyone who “eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks a judgment on himself” (v. 29). By the phrases “unworthy manner” and “without discerning the body,” Paul means one who would partake in Communion without a self-examination in light of their sin and deep need for the grace of Jesus Christ. Those who have never repented of their sin and trusted in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, as freely offered in the Gospel, should not eat the bread and drink the wine. If they do, they are publicly declaring with their actions something they do not believe in their heart. They are lying about their relationship with Christ, and that lie will incur a judgment from Christ. It is not an unforgivable judgment, but it is a judgment nonetheless. The elders and I, therefore, have a holy obligation to protect people from that sin. So, we “fence” the table.

But you may still have the question, “Why do I need to be a ‘member in good standing in an evangelical church?’” Does this “fencing” require membership in the local church? While there is no single verse that will answer this question, if we look at the overall picture of Communion in Scripture it suggests that church membership is required for receiving Communion. When the “church” is mentioned in the New Testament it overwhelmingly refers to a particular local body of believers (e.g. the church at Galatia, Rome, Corinth, or Thessalonika). The Lord’s Supper was only observed in these same local and particular contexts. In Acts 2:42, the people who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread (what most scholars believe was the early practice of communion) and the prayers” were the same people who in Acts 2:41 “were baptized” and “added that day” to the number of the church. The baptism and counting into the number of the local church preceded the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Also, apart from the institution of the Lord’s Supper with the apostles (the very “foundation” of the church (Eph 2:20)) there is no biblical instance of the sacrament being given outside of the visible church.

Those who refuse to publicly join with the church of Jesus Christ in membership ought to consider this before they attempt to partake of the bread and wine. In Communion we not only express our union with Christ but we also express our union with the body of Christ. If you have not publicly committed to be a part of Christ’s visible church can you truthfully declare with the eating of bread and drinking of wine to be a part of that same church?

The overall biblical picture of Communion in the NT answers why we should be members of the church in order to take communion. Buy why “members in good standing in an evangelical church”? It is because the visible church has varying degrees of purity. If the relative purity of the visible Church was high, then all members of all churches would be invited and admitted to the Table. But this isn’t the case. “Particular churches…are more or less pure, according to the doctrine of the gospel taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them” (WCF 25.4). Since churches are more or less pure, to make communion completely open to members of ANY church would be to knowingly put sinners in a position to “eat and drink a judgment upon themselves” (1 Cor 11:29). And to close communion to ONLY members of CPC would be to exclude worthy recipients. Therefore, our restricted Communion (i.e. “fenced”) is the best biblical practice. This is why the PCA Book of Church Order says, “the minister, at the discretion of the Session, before the observance begins, may invite all those who profess the true religion, and are communicants (members) in good standing in any evangelical church, to participate in the ordinance” (BCO 58-4).

Thomas Watson on Adoption – Use 1

Thomas Watson in his A Body of Divinity defines adoption as taking a stranger, an orphan, into the relation of a son and heir. The orphan receives the name of the adoptive father, joins and is identified with that family. And the very nature of the one adopted is changed to be like that of the Father. It is in this last respect that theological adoption far exceeds that of civil adoption.

After Watson lays out a good understanding of this beautiful doctrine, he proceeds to give four uses of it. 1) We see the amazing love of God in making us his sons. 2) We can determine whether we have been adopted. 3) We can rejoice in the benefits of being adopted. 4) We extol and magnify God’s mercy.

We see the amazing love of God in his making us his sons. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn 3:1). When we understand the reality of God’s holiness and the depth of our fallenness, the idea of being made a child of God is nothing short of amazing. Watson gives six reasons the wonder of God’s love is displayed in our adoption. 1) God had no need for another son. 2) We were unworthy. 3) God went to great expense in adopting us. 4) We were God’s enemies. 5) God brings in a multitude of children into the family. 6) God has conferred a great honor on us.

Sometimes adoption is desired because a couple is unable to have biological children. This is not the case with every adoption, and it is not the case with God the Father. Jesus is God’s own “beloved Son” (Col 1:13). He was a perfect and eternal Son. Since God had a Son, the fact that he would yet adopt other sons and daughters ought to speak to us of his abounding love. Watson said, “We needed a Father, but he did not need sons.”

Our adoption speaks to God’s wondrous love in that we were unworthy of adoption. In Ezekiel 16 God does not adopt the orphan because she is beautiful or covered in jewels. There is nothing in her that is lovely at all. She is pitiful, abandoned, abhorred, and unclean, covered in blood. In that state she would be an object of scorn. Yet God showed his great love in adopting her still.

The cost of adoption can be great. In our current international adoption we are experiencing the great financial cost of adoption. There are fees for all the paperwork and documentation. There are fees for the orphanage and logistics. There are fees for travel and housing. It adds up, and yet whatever the cost it will be worth it to bring this precious child home. For God, the costs are even greater. The fee to adopt us and transfer us from heirs of wrath to heirs of promise was the blood of his own Son. Our adoption was purchased at a steep cost. It is a demonstration of God’s love for us that he would adopt us at so great an expense.

If your child were sick, you would spare no expense to help him. But if a stranger were sick, you would not likely bear the burden for his care. And if your enemy were sick, you certainly wouldn’t take on the responsibility to care for him. In a similar manner, Batman would never adopt the Joker because they are mortal enemies. If we accurately understand the gravity of our sin against a holy God, then we will be astonished at the depth of God’s love in adopting us. Our sin makes us the enemy of God. Watson notes, “For God to have pardoned his enemies had been much; but to adopt them for his heirs, sets the angels in heaven wondering.”

The author of Hebrews tells us that God “brings many sons to glory” (Heb 2:10). God is an advocate of big families and adopts millions into his family as heirs. If God had only adopted one or two or even a handful of people, then salvation would be like a lottery. Many would play but only a mathematically insignificant number would win. Instead of being a wonderful doctrine of God’s love it would invoke despair. But God brings many sons to glory. So there is hope for all whom God elects.

The sixth reason God’s wondrous love is displayed in adoption is the honor given to those adopted. David thought it was a tremendous honor to be called the son-in-law of the king (1 Sam 18:18). How much greater to be the son of the Most High God! The more we grasp of the honor given to us in adoption, the greater God’s love for us in adoption appears.

The wonders of God’s love are made manifest in God’s adoption of us. Our being made sons and heirs speaks of this great love. But while adoption makes God’s love shine to those who are adopted, the wicked remain blind to it. While adoption brings life to those adopted, death comes to unbelievers. They are “dead in their trespasses” (Eph 2:1). And God has no dead children. Those who remain in their sin have not right to adoption or to inherit the promises of God. They have no comprehension of the wondrous love of God.

Thomas Watson on Adoption

One area in which the Westminster Standards are somewhat unique from other Reformed documents is their inclusion of the doctrine of Adoption. Adoption stands as its own chapter in the Confession (Ch. 12). By giving it a full chapter the WCF emphasizes what is routinely an under-appreciated doctrine in other Reformed works.

I remember being struck by the beauty of this doctrine the very first time I read through the Confession of Faith. That God would take an orphan and put his name upon him, give him access to the throne of grace, love him as his own child, and make him an heir of heaven astounded me. Who would do that? The demonstration of grace in this doctrine is captivating and breathtaking. It made me want learn more about the theological doctrine of adoption. And Thomas Watson’s chapter on adoption in his book A Body of Divinity has been very helpful.

Thomas Watson was one of the most highly regarded Puritans of the late 17th century. Though little is actually known about his life, it is clear that he had a deep knowledge of Scripture and a passionate love for its Author. Watson’s book, A Body of Divinity, is a collection of his sermons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. These sermons lay out an exposition of the theology of Westminster from one of the preeminent scholar/pastors of that time.

Watson begins by rooting his exposition in a key passage for adoption, John 1:12. “But to all who did receive him, who believe in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God”. This gift must be received and that is done by ‘believing in his name’. The grace of adoption flows from faith as a benefit of our union with Christ. And the gift is that we are given sonship. We are “given the right,” which means to be designated with the power, as the sons of the living God.

Our sonship differs from that of Christ. There was never a time when Christ was not the Son of God. He was eternally begotten of the Father. But we, as created beings, have a definite beginning to our sonship. There was a time when were not, so there was a time when we were not sons. And our sonship can viewed in both a universal and a privileged sense. In the universal sense, we are sons by nature of our creation at the hand of the Father. But there is no privilege granted in this sonship. It is important to note that any benefits granted through sonship come not through mere creation but through adoption.

Before Watson begins to define what Adoption is, he makes a few more preliminary remarks. He notes that adoption is not based on birth. It does not matter the country in which one was born. Adoption had been limited to those born of the Jews, but the gospel opens wide the door to all nations. It does not matter what sex one is born. Both male and female are made sons and daughters. Watson notes that though some civil rights were denied women by nature of their sex, “of spiritual privileges, females are as capable as males.” Finally, this highlights that adoption is purely of God’s grace. It is “according to his good pleasure” (Eph 1:5). None have a right to this gift. All are strangers and aliens. The orphan has no right to demand adoption.

So what is Adoption? Watson defines it as taking a stranger, an orphan, into the relation of a son and heir. The orphan is given the name of the adoptive father, joining and being identified with that family. But God’s adoption of sinners far exceeds the civil adoption of man. While a man can adopt a child and give the child his name, he cannot change or alter his nature. The child does not become a genetic offspring of the adoptive parents. But with God, the nature of the orphan is changed. The one adopted is anointed and consecrated by the Spirit. He is given a new nature (Gal 2:20). His heart of stone is changed to a heart of flesh (Ezek 36:26). The orphan becomes a “partaker of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4).

In Justification we are given an innocent legal designation. We stand before the Judge without blame. But in adoption we are removed from that sin and misery and placed into a position of privilege. More than just being rescued from the River Nile, Moses was picked up from a basket among the reeds to be placed into the house of the Pharaoh. Adoption takes us from sin and misery and puts us in a state of excellence, liberty, and dignity. We are transformed from clay to heirs. We are now free worship, obey, and serve God. We are called God’s treasure (Ex 19:5) and precious jewel (Mal 3:17). And we are made the heirs of heaven. God promises to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32).

The gift of adoption comes through the instrument of faith (Gal 3:26). Before faith we were illegitimate sons with no relation to God. Before faith we could rightly call God our Judge but we could not call him our Father. But adoption changes that. By God’s free grace in Christ, we who were orphans are given the right and privilege to call God “Father” (Gal 4:6). Over the next few weeks we will look at four particular uses this great doctrine has for the Christian life.

Of the Civil Magistrate

There is a great deal of confusion in society today about the roles of the Church and the State. What is the relationship between the two? How does a Christian live in this current American context in a faithful and biblical way? Thankfully, chapter 23 of the Westminster Confession of Faith explains what the Scriptures teach about the nature of the relationship between the Church and the State.

The first phrase is perhaps the most important part of the whole chapter. If understood correctly, then the rest of the chapter just makes good sense. “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates to be under him over the people, for his own glory and the public good” (WCF 23.1). When Westminster uses language like “the Civil Magistrate,” it is referring to all agents of government here on earth: local, state, national, and even international. God owns the whole earth and everything and everyone who is on it. He is THE Lord and King. Every civil authority that exists owes its being and its authority to God. The apostle Paul makes this abundantly clear, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1). The old Princeton theologian A.A. Hodge helpfully adds:

Some have supposed that the right or legitimate authority of human government has its foundation ultimately in ‘the consent of the governed,’ ‘the will of    the majority,’ or in some imaginary ‘social compact’ entered into by the forefathers of the race at the origin of social life. It is self-evident, however, that the divine will is the source of all government” (Hodge, Archibald Alexander. The Westminster Confession: A Commentary. Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002. p. 293).

God has ordained it this way. Whatever the nature of the civil authority, it owes its existence to the sovereign will of God. And there is a reason God has ordained this civil authority. It is instituted by God for his own glory and for the public good.

So how is the Christian to respond to the government if God is the One who instituted it? What is the duty of the Christian toward government? The Confession of Faith gives us four practical duties of the Christian toward government. We are to pray for those in authority. We are to honor our leaders. We are to pay what is due. And we are to obey their lawful commands (WCF 23.4).

Paul urges his young disciple Timothy that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim 2:1, 2). God’s Word clearly instructs the Church to pray for all those in authority. This is easy when the guy we like is in office. But it is no less necessary when someone with whom we sharply disagree holds office. This command is irrespective of political beliefs.

We are also to honor those in authority. The apostle Peter gives four imperatives in 1 Peter 2:17. The Christian is to “honor everyone.” This is comprehensive. There is not a single person on earth that the Christian is not bound by God’s Word to honor. Everyone. But those in the Church deserve more than just our honor. The second imperative is to “Love the brotherhood.” The third imperative is to “Fear God.” We are to reverence and esteem God as holy and mighty. Now, Peter could have stopped here and these three imperatives would have been very thorough. Honor, love, and fear. He continues with a fourth imperative that seems to go back to the first, but adds a degree of emphasis. In case it wasn’t completely clear in the term “everyone,” Peter emphasizes that included in that term are those in authority; “Honor the emperor.” Government and those in authority are not to be viewed negatively. We are to honor those whom God has placed over us.

The third duty of the Christian toward the government is to pay what is due. The apostle Paul writes, “Pay to all what is owed to them” (Rom 13:7). And taxes are the first example Paul gives of what is owed. The government has the God-given right to levy taxes on its citizens and the citizens have the God-given responsibility to pay them. Next April when you grumble about your taxes, remember that God has both promised to provide for your daily bread and had commanded you to pay your taxes. To grumble and complain is to either believe God won’t provide sufficiently for your needs or that you shouldn’t have to obey God’s commands.

Finally, the Christian is to obey the government’s lawful commands. Paul says in Romans that we ought to obey our authorities not only to avoid wrath but also “for the sake of conscience” (Rom 13:5). When we begin to disobey earthly authority, our consciences become hard, making it easier to disobey heavenly authority. We must never grow accustomed to the concept of disobedience. And yet, we should note that Westminster limits this obedience to “lawful commands.” Those unlawful commands which would cause us to sin against God must be disobeyed because “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

The apostle Peter could instruct the Church to submit to the authority of the government even while he was in prison and suffering under the persecution of Babylon (1 Pet 5:13). By “Babylon” Peter is referring to the pagan Emperor Nero. When Peter said “honor the emperor” that was the one he had in mind. No matter how bad you believe the government is, we are to submit to it because, ultimately, we submit to God.