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19. They shall be called the children of God
They shall be called the children of God.
In these words the glorious privilege of the saints is set down. Those who have made their peace with God and labour to make peace among brethren, this is the great honour conferred upon them, ‘They shall be called the children of God’.
‘They shall be (called)’, that is, they shall be so reputed and esteemed of God. God never miscalls anything. He does not call them children which are no children. ‘Thou shalt be called the prophet of the Highest’ (Luke 1:76), that is, thou shalt be so. They shall be ‘called the children of God’, that is, they shall be accounted and admitted for children.
The proposition resulting is this: that peacemakers are the children of the most High. God is said in Scripture to have many children:
By eternal generation. So only Christ is the natural Son of his Father. ‘Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten thee’ (Psalm 2:7).
By creation. So the angels are the sons of God. ‘When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy’ (Job 38:7).
By participation of dignity. So king and rulers are said to be children of the high God. ‘I have said, ye are gods, and all of you are children of the most High’ (Psalm 82:6).
By visible profession. So God has many children. Hypocrites forge a title of son-ship. ‘The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair’ (Genesis 6:2).
By real sanctification. So all the faithful are peculiarly and eminently the children of God.
That I may illustrate and amplify this, and that believers may suck much sweetness out of this gospel-flower, I shall discuss and demonstrate these seven particulars:
1 That naturally we are not the children of God.
2 What it is to be the children of God.
3 How we come to be made children.
4 The signs of God’s children.
5 The love of God in making us children.
6 The honour of God’s children.
7 The privileges of God’s children.
Naturally we are not the children of God. As Jerome says, we are not born God’s children but made so. By nature we are strangers to God, swine not sons (2 Peter 2:22). Will a man settle his estate upon his swine? He will give them his acorns, not his jewels. By nature we have the devil for our father: ‘Ye are of your father the devil (John 8:44). A wicked man may search the records of hell for his pedigree.
What it is to be the children of God. This child-ship consists in two things. Adoption; infusion of grace.
Child-ship consists in adoption: ‘That we might receive the adoption of sons’ (Galatians 4:5).
Wherein does the true nature of adoption consist?
In three things:
(i) A transition or translation from one family to another. He that is adopted is taken out of the old family of the devil and hell (Ephesians 2:2, 3) to which he was heir apparent, and is made of the family of heaven, of a noble family (Ephesians 2:19). God is his Father, Christ is his elder-brother, the saints co-heir, the angels fellow-servants in that family.
(ii) Adoption consists in an immunity and disobligement from all the laws of the former family. ‘Forget also thy father’s house’ (Psalm 45:10). He who is spiritually adopted has now no more to do with sin. ‘Ephraim shall say, what have I to do any more with idols?’ (Hosea 14:8). A child of God has indeed to do with sin as with an enemy to which he gives battle, but not as with a lord to which he yields obedience. He is freed from sin (Romans 6:7). I do not say he is freed from duty. Was it ever heard that a child should be freed from duty to his parents? This is such a freedom as rebels take.
(iii) Adoption consists in a legal investitute into the rights and royalties of the family into which the person is to be adopted. These are chiefly two:
The first royalty is a new name. He who is divinely adopted assumes a new name; before, a slave; now, a son; of a sinner, a saint. This is a name of honour better than any title of prince or monarch. ‘To him that overcometh I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written’ (Revelation 2:17). The white stone signifies remission. The new name signifies adoption, and the new name is put in the white stone to show that our adoption is grounded upon our justification; and this new name is written to show that God has all the names of his children enrolled in the book of life.
The second royalty is a giving the party adopted an interest in the inheritance. The making one an heir implies a relation to an inheritance. A man does not adopt another to a title but to an estate. So God in adopting us for his children gives us a glorious inheritance: ‘The inheritance of the saints in light’ (Colossians 1:12).
It is pleasant; it is an inheritance in light.
The heirs never die. Eternity is a jewel of their crown. ‘They shall reign for ever and ever’ (Revelation 22:5).
Before I pass to the next, here a question may arise. How do God’s adopting and man’s adopting differ?
1 Man adopts to supply a defect, because he has no children of his own, but God does not adopt upon this account. He had a Son of his own, the Lord Jesus. He was his natural Son and the Son of his love, testified by a voice from heaven, ‘This is my beloved Son’ (Matthew 3:17). Never was there any Son so like the Father. He was his exact effigy, ‘the express image of his person’ (Hebrews 1:3). He was such a Son as was worth more than all the angels in heaven: ‘Being made so much better than the angels’ (Hebrews 1:4); so that God adopts not out of necessity, but pity.
2 When a man adopts, he adopts but one heir, but God adopts many: ‘In bringing many sons to glory’ (Hebrews 2:10). Oh may a poor trembling Christian say, Why should I ever look for this privilege to be a child of God! It is true, if God did act as a man, if he adopted only one son, then you might despair. But he adopts millions. He brings ‘many sons to glory’. Indeed this may be the reason why a man adopts but one, because he does not have enough estate for more. If he should adopt many his land would not hold out. But God has enough land to give to all his children. ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions’ (John 14:2).
3 Man when he adopts does it with ease. It is but sealing a deed and the thing is done. But when God adopts, it puts him to a far greater expense. It sets his wisdom on work to find out a way to adopt us. It was no easy thing to reconcile hell and heaven, to make the children of wrath the children of the promise; and when God in his infinite wisdom had found out a way, it was no easy way. It cost God the death of his natural Son, to make us his adopted sons. When God was about to constitute us sons and heirs, he could not seal the deed but by the blood of his own Son. It did not cost God so much to make us creatures as to make us sons. To make us creatures cost but the speaking of a word. To make us sons cost the effusion of blood.
4 Man, when he adopts, settles but earthly privileges upon his heir, but God settles heavenly privileges justification, glorification. Men but entail their land upon the persons they adopt. God does more. He not only entails his land upon his children, but he entails himself upon them. ‘I will be their God’ (Hebrews 8:10). Not only heaven is their portion, but God is their portion.
God’s filiating or making of children is by infusion of grace. When God makes any his children he stamps his image upon them. This is more than any man living can do. He may adopt another, but he cannot alter his disposition. If he be of a morose rugged nature, he cannot alter it; but God in making of children fits them for son-ship. He prepares and sanctifies them for this privilege. He changes their disposition. He files off the ruggedness of their nature. He makes them not only sons, but saints. They are of another spirit (Numbers 14:24). They become meek and humble. They are ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4).
The third thing is how we come to be the children of God.
There is a double cause of our filiation or child-ship.
The impulsive cause is God’s free grace. We were rebels and traitors, and what could move God to make sinners sons, but free grace? ‘Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children according to the good pleasure of his will’ (Ephesians 1:5). Free grace gave the casting voice. Adoption is a mercy spun out of the bowels of free grace. It were much for God to take a clod of earth and make it a star, but it is more for God to take a piece of clay and sin and instate it into the glorious privilege of son-ship. How will the saints read over the lectures of free grace in heaven!
The organic or instrumental cause of our son-ship is faith. Baptism does not make us children. That is indeed a badge and livery and gives us right to many external privileges, but the thing which makes God take cognisance of us for children is faith. ‘Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:26). Before faith be wrought we have nothing to do with God. We are (as the apostle speaks in another sense) bastards and not sons (Hebrews 12:8). An unbeliever may call God his Judge, but not his Father. Wicked men may draw near to God in ordinances, and hope that God will be their Father, but while they are unbelievers they are bastards, and God will not father them but will lay them at the devil’s door. ‘Ye are the children of God by faith’. Faith legitimates us. It confers upon us the title of son-ship and gives us right to inherit.
How then should we labour for faith! Without faith we are creatures, not children. Without faith we are spiritually illegitimate. This word ‘illegitimate, is a term of infamy. Such as are illegitimate are looked upon with disgrace. We call them baseborn. You who ruffle it in your silks and velvets, but are in the state of nature, you are illegitimate. God looks upon you with an eye of scorn and contempt. You are a vile person, a son of the earth, ‘of the seed of the serpent’. The devil can show as good a coat of arms as you.
This word ‘illegitimate’ also imports infelicity and misery. Persons illegitimate cannot inherit legally. The land goes only to such as are lawful heirs. Till we are the children of God, we have no right to heaven, and there is no way to be children but by faith. ‘Ye are the children of God by faith’.
Here two things are to be discussed:
1 What faith is.
2 Why faith makes us children.
1 What faith is. If faith instates us into son-ship, it concerns us to know what faith is. There is a twofold faith.
(i) A more lax general faith. When we believe the truth of all that is revealed in the Holy Scriptures, this is not the faith which privileges us in son-ship. The devils believe all the articles in the creed. It is not the bare knowledge of a medicine or believing the sovereign virtue of it that will cure one that is ill. This general faith (so much cried up by some) will not save. This a man may have and not love God. He may believe that God will come to judge the quick and the dead, and hate him, as the prisoner believes the judge’s coming to the assizes, and abhors the thoughts of him. Take heed of resting in a general faith. You may have this and be no better than devils.
(ii) There is a special faith, when we not only believe the report we hear of Christ, but rest upon him, embrace him, ‘taking hold of the horns of this altar’, resolving there to abide. In the body there are sucking veins, which draw the meat into the stomach and concoct it there. So faith is the sucking vein which draws Christ into the heart and applies him there. This is the filiating faith. By this we are made the children of God, and wherever this faith is, it is not like physic in a dead man’s mouth, but is exceedingly operative. It obliges to duty. It works by love (Galatians 5:6).
But why does faith makes us children? Why should not other graces, repentance, love etc., do so? I answer: Because faith is instituted of God and honoured to this work of making us children. God’s institution gives faith its value and validity. It is the king’s stamp makes the coin pass current. If he would put his stamp upon brass or leather, it would go as current as silver. The great God has authorised and put the stamp of his institution upon faith, and that makes it pass for current and gives it a privilege above all the graces to make us children.
Again, faith makes us children as it is the vital principle. ‘The just shall live by faith’ (Habakkuk 2:4). All God’s children are living. None of them are stillborn. Now ‘by faith we live’. As the heart is the fountain of life in the body, so faith is the fountain of life in the soul.
Faith also makes us children as it is the uniting grace. It knits us to Christ. The other graces cannot do this. By faith we are one with Christ and so we are akin to God. Being united to the natural Son, we become adopted sons. The kindred comes in by faith. God is the Father of Christ. Faith makes us Christ’s brethren (Hebrews 2:11), and so God comes to be our Father.
The fourth particular to be discussed is to show the signs of God’s children. It concerns us to know whose children we are. Augustine says that all mankind are divided into two ranks; either they are the children of God or the children of the devil.
1 The first sign of our heavenly son-ship is tenderness of heart: ‘Because thy heart was tender’ (2 Chronicles 34:27). A childlike heart is a tender heart. He who before had a flinty, has now a fleshy heart. A tender heart is like melting wax to God. He may set what seal he will upon it. This tenderness of heart shows itself three ways.
(i) A tender heart grieves for sin. A child weeps for offending his father. Peter showed a tender heart when Christ looked upon him and he remembered his sin, he wept as a child. Clement of Alexandria says, he never heard a cock crow but he wept. And some learned writers tell us that by much weeping there seemed to be as it were channels made in his blessed face. The least hair makes the eye weep. The least sin makes the heart smite. David’s heart smote him when he cut off the lap of King Saul’s garment! What would it have done if he had cut off his head?
(ii) A tender heart melts under mercy. Though when God thunders by affliction, the rain of tears falls from a gracious eye, yet the heart is never so kindly dissolved as under the sunbeams of God’s mercy. See how David’s heart was melted with God’s kindness: ‘Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?’ (2 Samuel 7:18). There was a gracious thaw upon his heart. So says a child of God, ‘Lord, who am I (a piece of dust and sin kneaded together) that the orient beams of free grace should shine upon me? Who am I, that thou shouldest pity me when I lay in my blood and spread the golden wings of mercy over me? The soul is overcome with God’s goodness, the tears drop, the love flames; mercy has a melting influence upon the soul.
(iii) A tender heart trembles under God’s threatenings. ‘My flesh trembleth for fear of thee’ (Psalm 119:120). ‘Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and didst rend thy clothes...’ (2 Chronicles 34:27). If the father be angry, the child trembles. When ministers denounce the menaces and threats of God against sin, tender souls sit in a trembling posture. This frame of heart God delights in. ‘To this man will I look, even to him that trembleth at thy word’ (Isaiah 66:2). A wicked man, like the Leviathan, ‘is made without fear’ (Job 41:33). He neither believes the promises nor dreads the threatenings. Let judgement be denounced against sin, ‘he laughs at the shaking of a spear’. He thinks either that God is ignorant and does not see, or impotent and cannot punish. The mountains quake before the Lord, the hills melt, the rocks are thrown down by him (Nahum 1:5). But the hearts of sinners are more obdurate than the rocks. An hardened sinner like Nebuchadnezzar has ‘the heart of a beast given to him’ (Daniel 4:16). A childlike heart is a tender heart. The stone is taken away.
2 The second sign of son-ship is assimilation. ‘Ye have put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him’ (Colossians 3:10). The child resembles the father. God’s children are like their heavenly Father. They bear his very image and impress. Wicked men say they are the children of God, but there is too great a dissimilitude and unlikeness. The Jews bragged they were Abraham’s children, but Christ disproves them by this argument, because they were not like him. ‘Ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God; this did not Abraham’ (John 8:40). You, Abraham’s children, and go about to kill me! Abraham would not have murdered an innocent. You are more like Satan than Abraham. ‘Ye are of your father the devil’ (verse 44). Such as are proud, earthly, malicious may say, ‘Our father which art in hell’. It is blasphemy to call God our Father and make the devil our pattern. God’s children resemble him in meekness and holiness. They are his walking pictures. As the seal stamps its print and likeness upon the wax, so does God stamp the print and effigy of his own beauty upon his children.
3 The third sign of God’s children is, they have the Spirit of God. It is called the Spirit of adoption; ‘ye have received the Spirit of adoption . . .’ (Romans 8:15).
How shall we know that we have received the Spirit of adoption, and so are in the state of adoption?
The Spirit of God has a threefold work in them who are made children:
(i) A regenerating work. (ii) A supplicating work. (iii) A witnessing work.
(i) A regenerating work. Whomsoever the Spirit adopts, He regenerates. God’s children are said to be ‘born of the Spirit’. ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’ (John 3:5). We must first be born of the Spirit before we are baptised with this new name of sons and daughters. We are not God’s children by creation, but by renovation; not by our first birth, but by our new birth. This new birth produced by the Word as the material cause (James 1:18), and by the Spirit as the efficient cause, is nothing else but a change of nature (Romans 12:2), which though it be not a perfect change, yet is a thorough change (1 Thessalonians 5:23). This change of heart is as necessary as salvation.
How shall we know that we have this regenerating work of the Spirit?
Two ways: by the pangs; by the products.
By the pangs: there are spiritual pangs before the new birth, some bruisings of soul, some groanings and cryings out, some strugglings in the heart between flesh and Spirit. ‘They were pricked at their heart’ (Acts 2:37). The child has sharp throws before the birth; so it is in the new birth. I grant the new birth is marked by ‘more and less’. All do not have the same pangs of humiliation, yet all have pangs; all feel the hammer of the law upon their heart, though some are more bruised with this hammer than others. God’s Spirit is a Spirit of bondage before He is a Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15). What then shall we say to those who are as ignorant about the new birth as Nicodemus: ‘How can a man be born when he is old . . .?’ (John 3:4). The new birth is ‘a derision of the ungodly’, though it be ‘a great secret’ to the godly. Some thank God they never had any trouble of spirit. They were always quiet. These bless God for the greatest curse. It is a sign they are not God’s children. The child of grace is always born with pangs.
The new birth is known by the products, which are three:
Sensibility. The infant that is new-born is sensible of the least touch. If the Spirit has regenerated you, you are sensible of the ebullitions and first risings of sin which before you did not perceive. Paul cries out of the ‘law in his members’ (Romans 7:23). The new-born saint sees sin in the root.
Circumspection. He who is born of the Spirit is careful to preserve grace. He plies the breast of ordinances (1 Peter 2:1). He is fearful of that which may endanger his spiritual life (1 John 5:18). He lives by faith, yet passes the time of his sojourning in fear (1 Peter 1:17). This is the first work of the Spirit in them who are made children, a regenerating work.
(ii) The Spirit of God has a supplicating work in the heart. The Spirit of adoption is a Spirit of supplication. ‘Ye have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry Abba, Father’ (Romans 8:15). While the child is in the womb it cannot cry. While men lie in the womb of their natural estate, they cannot pray effectually, but when they are born of the Spirit, then they cry ‘Abba, Father’. Prayer is nothing else but the soul’s breathing itself into the bosom of its Father. It is a sweet and familiar intercourse with God. As soon as ever the Spirit of God comes into the heart, He sets it a-praying. No sooner was Paul converted but the next word is, ‘Behold, he prayeth’ (Acts 9:11). It is reported in the life of Luther that, when he prayed, it was with so much reverence as if he were praying to God, and with so much boldness, as if he had been speaking to his friend. And Eusebius reports of Constantine the Emperor that every day he used to shut up himself in some secret place in his palace, and there on bent knees make his devout prayers and soliloquies to God. God’s Spirit tunes the strings of the affections, and then we make melody in prayer. For any to say, in derision, ‘you pray by the Spirit’, is a blasphemy against the Spirit. It is a main work of the Spirit of God in the hearts of his children to help them to pray: ‘Because ye are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father’ (Galatians 4:6).
But many of the children of God do not have such abilities to express themselves in prayer. How then does the Spirit help their infirmities?
Though they do not have always the gifts of the Spirit in prayer, yet they have the groans of the Spirit (Romans 8:26). Gifts are the ornaments of prayer, but not the life of prayer. A carcass may be hung with jewels. Though the Spirit may deny fluency of speech, yet He gives fervency of desire, and such prayers are most prevalent. The prayers which the Spirit indites in the hearts of God’s children have these threefold qualifications.
The prayers of God’s children are believing prayers. Prayer is the key. Faith is the hand that turns it. Faith feathers the arrow of prayer and makes it pierce the throne of grace. ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing, ye shall receive’ (Matthew 21:22). Whereupon, says Jerome, I would not presume to pray unless I bring faith along with me. To pray and not believe is (as one says) a kind of jeer offered to God, as if we thought either he did not hear or he would not grant.
That faith may be animated in prayer, we must bring Christ in our arms when we appear before God. ‘And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt-offering; and Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel, and the Lord heard him’ (1 Samuel 7:9). This sucking lamb typified Christ. When we come to God in prayer we must bring the Lamb, Christ along with us. Themistocles carried the king’s son in his arms and so pacified the king when he was angry. The children of God present Christ in the arms of their faith.
The prayers of God’s children indited by the Spirit are ardent prayers. ‘Ye have received the Spirit, whereby we cry Abba, Father’ (Romans 8:15). ‘Father’; that implies faith. We cry; that implies fervency. The incense was to be laid upon burning coals (Leviticus 16:12). The incense was a type of prayer; the burning coals, of ardency in prayer. ‘Elias prayed earnestly, James 5:17). In the Greek it is ‘in praying he prayed’, that is, he did it with vehemence. In prayer the heart must boil over with heat of affection. Prayer is compared to groans unutterable (Romans 8:26). It alludes to a woman that is in pangs. We should be in pangs when we are travailing for mercy. Such prayer ‘commands God himself’ (Isaiah 45:11).
The prayers of God’s children are heart-cleansing prayers. They purge out sin. Many pray against sin and sin against prayer. God’s children not only pray against sin, but pray down sin.
(iii) The Spirit of God has a witnessing work in the heart. God’s children have not only the influence of the Spirit, but the witness. ‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God’ (Romans 8:16). There is a threefold witness a child of God has the witness of the Word, the witness of conscience, the witness of the Spirit. The Word makes the major proposition. He who is in such a manner qualified is a child of God. Conscience makes the minor proposition; but you are so divinely qualified. The Spirit makes the conclusion therefore you are a child of God. The Spirit joins with the witness of conscience. ‘The Spirit witnesseth with our spirits’ (Romans 8:16). The Spirit teaches conscience to search the records of Scripture and find its evidences for heaven. It helps conscience to spell out its name in a promise. It bears witness with our spirit.
But how shall I know the witness of the Spirit from a delusion?
The Spirit of God always witnesses according to the Word, as the echo answers the voice. Enthusiasts speak much of the Spirit, but they leave the Word. That inspiration which is either without the Word or against it, is an imposture. The Spirit of God indited the Word (2 Peter 1:21). Now if the Spirit should witness otherwise than according to the Word, the Spirit would be divided against Himself. He would be a spirit of contradiction, witnessing one thing for a truth in the Word and another thing different from it in a man’s conscience.
4 The fourth sign of God’s children is zeal for God. They are zealous for his day, his truth, his glory. They who are born of God are impatient of his dishonour. Moses was cool in his own cause, but hot in God’s. When the people of Israel had wrought folly in the golden calf, he breaks the tables. When St. Paul saw the people of Athens given to idolatry ‘his spirit was stirred in him’ (Acts 17:16). In the Greek it is his spirit was ‘embittered’, or, as the word may signify, he was in a paroxysm or burning fit of zeal. He could not contain, but with this fire of zeal discharges against their sin. As we shall answer for idle words, so for sinful silence. It is dangerous in this sense to be possessed with a ‘dumb devil’. David says, ‘the zeal of God’s house had eaten him up’ (Psalm 69:9). Many Christians whose zeal once had almost eaten them up, now they have eaten up their zeal. They are grown tepid and neutral. The breath of preferment blowing upon them has cooled their heat. I can never believe that he has the heart of a child in him that can be patient when God’s glory suffers. Can an ingenuous child endure to hear his father reproached? Though we should be silent under God’s displeasure, yet not under his dishonour. When there is an holy fire kindled in the heart, it will break forth at the lips. Zeal tempered with holiness is the white and sanguine which gives the soul its best complexion.
Of all others let ministers be impatient when God’s glory is impeached and eclipsed. A minister without zeal is like ’salt that has lost its savour’. Zeal will make men take injuries done to God as done to themselves. It is reported of Chrysostom that he reproved any sin against God as if he himself had received a personal wrong. Let not ministers be either shaken with fear or seduced with flattery. God never made ministers to be as false glasses, to make bad faces look fair. For want of this fire of zeal, they are in danger of another fire, even the ‘burning lake’ (Revelation 21:8), into which the fearful shall be cast.
5 Those who are God’s children and are born of God are of a more noble and celestial spirit than men of the world. They mind ‘things above’ (Colossians 3:2). ‘Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world’ (1 John 5:4). The children of God live in an higher region. They are compared to eagles (Isaiah 40:31), in regard of their sublimeness and heavenly-mindedness. Their souls are fled aloft. Christ is in their heart (Colossians 1:27) and the world is under their feet (Revelation 12:1). Men of the world are ever tumbling in thick clay. They are ’sons of earth’; not eagles, but earthworms. The saints are of another spirit. They are born of God and walk with God as the child walks with the father. ‘Noah walked with God’ (Genesis 6:9). God’s children show their high pedigree in their heavenly conversation (Philippians 3:20).
6 Another sign of adoption is love to them that are children. God’s children are knit together with the bond of love, as all the members of the body are knit together by several nerves and ligaments. If we are born of God, then we ‘love the brotherhood’ (1 Peter 2:17); He that loves the person, loves the picture. The children of God are his walking pictures, and if we are of God, we love those who have his effigy and portraiture drawn upon their souls. If we are born of God, we love the saints notwithstanding their infirmities. Children love one another though they have some imperfections of nature, a squint-eye, or a crooked back. We love gold in the ore, though it has some drossiness in it. The best saints have their blemishes. We read of the ’spot of God’s children’ (Deuteronomy 32:5). A saint in this life is like a fair face with a scar in it. If we are born of God we love his children though they are poor. We love to see the image and picture of our Father, though hung in never so poor a frame. We love to see a rich Christ in a poor man.
And if we are children of the Highest, we show our love to God’s children:
(i) By prizing their persons above others. He who is born of God ‘honoureth them that fear the Lord’ (Psalm 15:4). The saints are the ‘dearly beloved of God’s soul’ (Jeremiah 12:7). They are his ‘jewels’ (Malachi 3:17). They are of the true blood-royal, and he who is divinely adopted sets an higher estimate upon these than upon others.
(ii) We show our love to the children of God by prizing their company above others. Children love to associate and be together. The communion of saints is precious. Christ’s doves will flock together in company. ‘Like associates with like’. ‘I am a companion of all them that fear thee’ (Psalm 119:63). We read that ‘Abraham bowed himself to the children of Heth’ (Genesis 23:7) A child of God has a love of civility to all, but a love of complacency only to such as are fellow-heirs with him of the same inheritance.
By this persons may try their adoption. It appears plainly that they are not the children of God who hate those that are born of God. They soil and blacken the silver wings of Christ’s doves by their aspersive reproaches. They cannot endure the society of the saints. As vultures hate sweet smells and are killed with them, so the wicked do not love to come near the godly. They cannot abide the precious perfume of their graces. They hate these sweet smells. It is a sign they are of the serpent’s brood who hate the seed of the woman.
7 The seventh sign of God’s children is to delight to be much in God’s presence. Children love to be in the presence of their father. Where the king is, there is the court. Where the presence of God is, there is heaven. God is in a special manner present in his ordinances. They are the ark of his presence. Now if we are children, we love to be much in holy duties. In the use of ordinances we draw near to God. We come into our Father’s presence. In prayer we have secret conference with God. In the Word we hear God speaking from heaven to us, and how does every child of God delight to hear his Father’s voice! In the sacraments God kisses his children with the ‘kisses of his lips’. He gives them a smile of his face and a privy-seal of his love. Oh it is ‘good to draw near to God’ (Psalm 73:28). It is sweet being in his presence. Every true child of God says, ‘a day in thy courts is better than a thousand’ (Psalm 84:10). Slighters of ordinances are none of God’s children, because they care not to be in his presence. They love the tavern better than the temple. ‘Cain went out from the presence of the Lord’ (Genesis 4:16); not that he could go out of God’s sight (Psalm 139:7), but the meaning is, Cain went from the church of God where the Lord gave the visible signs of his presence to his people.
8 The eighth sign is compliance with the will of our heavenly Father. A childlike heart answers to God’s call as the echo answers to the voice. It is like the flower that opens and shuts with the sun. So it opens to God and shuts to temptation. This is the motto of a new-born saint, ‘Speak, Lord, thy servant hears’ (1 Samuel 3:9). When God bids his children pray in their closets, mortify sin, suffer for his name, they are ambitious to obey. They will lay down their lives at their Father’s call. Hypocrites court God and speak him fair, but refuse to go on his errand. They are not children but rebels.
9 The last sign is, He who is a child of God will labour to make others the children of God. The holy seed of grace propagates (Galatians 4:19; Philemon 10). He who is of the seed royal will be ambitiously desirous to bring others into the kindred. Are you divinely adopted? You will studiously endeavour to make your child a child of the most High.
How Christians should bring up their children
There are two reasons why a godly parent will endeavour to bring his child into the heavenly kindred:
(i) Out of conscience. A good parent sees the injury he has done to his child. He has conveyed the plague of sin to him, and in conscience he will endeavour to make some recompense. In the old law, he that had smitten and wounded another was bound to see him healed and pay for his cure. Parents have given their children a wound in their souls and therefore must do what in them lies by admonition, prayers, tears, to see the wound healed.
(ii) Out of flaming zeal to the honour of God. He who has tasted God’s love in adoption looks upon himself as engaged to bring God all the glory he can. If he has a child or acquaintance that are strangers to God he would gladly promote the work of grace in their hearts. It is a glory to Christ when multitudes are born to him.
How far are they from being God’s children who have no care to bring others into the family of God! To blame are those masters who mind more their servants’ work than their souls. To blame are those parents who are regardless of their children. They do not drop in principles of knowledge into them, but suffer them to have their head. They will let them lie and swear, but not ask blessing; read play-books but not Scripture.
But, say some, to catechise and teach our children is to take God’s name in vain.
Is the fulfilling God’s command taking his name in vain? ‘These words which I command thee this day, thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children’ (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7). ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6). ‘Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord’ (Ephesians 6:4). This threefold cord of Scripture is not easily broken.
The saints of old were continually grafting principles of holy knowledge in their children. ‘I know that Abraham will command his children, and they shall keep the way of the Lord’ (Genesis 18:19). ‘And thou Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father and serve him with a perfect heart’ (1 Chronicles 28:9). Sure Abraham and David did not take God’s name in vain! What need is there of instilling holy instructions to overtop the poisonful weeds of sin that grow! As husband-men, when they have planted young trees, they set stays to them to keep them from bending. Children are young plants. The heavenly precepts of their parents are like stays set about them, to keep them from bending to error and profaneness. When can there be a fitter season to disseminate and infuse knowledge into children than in their minority? Now is a time to give them the breast and let them suck in the ’sincere milk of the word’ (1 Peter 2:2).
But some may object that it is to no purpose to teach our children the knowledge of God. They have no sense of spiritual things, nor are they the better for our instructions. I answer:
We read in Scripture of children who by virtue of instruction have had their tender years sanctified. Timothy’s mother and grandmother taught him the Scriptures from his cradle: ‘And that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures’ (2 Timothy 3:15). Timothy sucked in religion as it were with his milk. We read of young children who cried ‘Hosanna’ to Christ and trumpeted forth his praises (Matthew 21:15). And sure those children of Tyre had some seeds of good wrought in them in that they showed their love to Paul and would help him on his way to the seashore. ‘They all brought us on our way with wives and children’ (Acts 21:5). Saint Paul had a convoy of young saints to bring him to take ship.
And again, suppose our counsel and instruction does not at present prevail with our children, it may afterwards take effect. The seed a man sows in his ground does not presently spring up, but in its season it brings forth a crop. He that plants a wood does not see the full growth till many years after. If we must not instruct our children because at present they do not reap the benefit, by the same reason we should not baptise our children, because at present they do not have the sense of baptism. Nay, by the same reason ministers should not preach the Word, because at present many of their hearers have no benefit.
Again, if our counsels and admonitions do not prevail with our children, yet ‘we have delivered our own souls’. There is comfort in the discharge of conscience. We must let alone issues and events. Duty is our work; success is God’s.
All which considered, should make parents whet holy instructions upon their children. They who are of the family of God and whom he has adopted for children, will endeavour that their children may be more God’s children than theirs. They will ‘travail in birth till Christ be formed in them’. A true saint is a loadstone that will be still drawing others to God. Let this suffice to have spoken of the signs of adoption. I proceed.
The fifth particular to be discussed is the love of God in making us children. ‘Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!’ (1 John 3:1). God showed power in making us creatures, but love in making us sons. Plato gave God thanks that he had made him a man and not a beast, but what cause have they to adore God’s love, who has made them children! The apostle puts a ‘Behold’ to it. That we may the better behold God’s love in making us children, consider three things.
1 We were deformed. ‘When I passed by thee and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, it was the time of love’ (Ezekiel 16:6, 8). Mordecai adopted Esther because she was fair, but we were in our blood, and then God adopted us. He did not adopt us when we were clothed with the robe of innocence in paradise, when we were hung with the jewels of holiness and were white and ruddy; but when we were in our blood and had our leprous spots upon us. The time of our loathing was the time of God’s loving.
2 As we did not deserve to be made children so neither did we desire it. No landed man will force another to become his heir against his will. If a king should go to adopt a beggar and make him heir of the crown, if the beggar should refuse the king’s favour and say, ‘I had rather be as I am, I would be a beggar still’; the king would take it in high contempt of his favour and would not adopt him against his will. Thus it was with us. We had no willingness to be made children. We would have been begging still, but God out of his infinite mercy and indulgence, not only offers to make us children, but makes us willing to embrace the offer (Psalm 110:3). ‘Behold what manner of love, is this!
3 It is the wonder of love that God should adopt us for his children when we were enemies. If a man would make another heir of his land, he would adopt one that is near akin to him. No man would adopt an enemy. But that God should make us children when we were enemies; that he should make us heirs to the crown when we were traitors to the crown; oh amazing, astonishing love! ‘Behold what manner of love, is this! We were not akin to God. We had by sin lost and forfeited our pedigree. We had done God all the injury and spite we could, defaced his image, violated his law, trampled upon his mercies, and when we had angered him, he adopted us. What stupendous love was this! Such love was never shown to the angels! When they fell (though they were of a more noble nature, and in probability might have done God more service than we can, yet) God never vouchsafed this privilege of adoption to them. He did not make them children, but prisoners. They were heirs only to ‘the treasures of wrath’ (Romans 2:5).
Let all who are thus nearly related to God, stand admiring his love. When they were like Saul, breathing forth enmity against God; when their hearts stood out as garrisons against him, the Lord conquered their stubbornness with kindness, and not only pardoned, but adopted them. It is hard to say which is greater, the mystery or the mercy. This is such amazing love as we shall be searching into and adoring to all eternity. The bottom of it cannot be fathomed by any angel in heaven. God’s love in making us children is a rich love. It is love in God to feed us, but it is rich love to adopt us. It is love to give us a crumb, but it is rich love to make us heirs to a crown.
It is a distinguishing love that when God has passed by so many millions, he should cast a favourable aspect upon thee! Most are cut out for fuel, and are made vessels of wrath. And that God should say to thee, ‘Thou art my son’, here is the mirror of mercy, the meridian of love! Who, O who, can tread upon these hot coals, and his heart not burn in love to God?
The sixth particular is the honour and renown of God’s children. For the illustration of this, observe two things:
I. God makes a precious account of them.
2. He looks upon them as persons of honour.
1 God makes a precious account of them. ‘Since thou wast precious in my sight . . .’ (Isaiah 43:4). A father prizes his child above his estate. How dearly did Jacob prize Benjamin! His ‘life was bound up in the life of the lad’ (Genesis 44:30). God makes a precious valuation of his children. The wicked are of no account with God. They are vile persons. ‘I will make thy grave for thou art vile’ (Nahum 1:14). Therefore the wicked are compared to chaff (Psalm 1:4), to dross (Psalm 119:119). There is little use of a wicked man while he lives and no loss of him when he dies. There is only a little chaff blown away, which may well be spared. But God’s children are precious in his sight. They are his jewels (Malachi 3:17). The wicked are but lumber which serves only to ‘cumber the ground’. But God’s children are his jewels locked up in the cabinet of his decree from all eternity. God’s children are ‘the apple of his eye’ (Zechariah 2:8), very dear and very tender to him, and the eyelid of his special providence covers them. The Lord accounts every thing of his children precious.
Their name is precious. The wicked leave their name for a curse (Isaiah 65:15). The names of God’s children are embalmed (Isaiah 60:15). So precious are their names that God enters them in the book of life and Christ carries them on his breast. How precious must their name needs be, who have God’s own name written upon them! ‘Him that overcometh, I will write upon him the name of my God’ (Revelation 3:12).
Their prayers are precious. ‘O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, let me hear thy voice, for sweet is thy voice’ (Canticles 2:14). Every child of God is this dove. Prayer is the voice of the dove, and ’sweet is this voice’. The prayer of God’s children is as sweet to him as music. A wicked man’s prayer is as the ‘howling’ of a dog (Hosea 7:14). The prayer of the saints is as the singing of the bird. The finger of God’s Spirit touching the lute-strings of their hearts, they make melody to the Lord. ‘Their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar’ (Isaiah 56:7).
Their tears are precious. They drop as pearls from their eyes. ‘I have seen thy tears’ (Isaiah 38:5). The tears of God’s children drop as precious wine into God’s bottle. ‘Put thou my tears into thy bottle’ (Psalm 56:8). A tear from a broken heart is a present for the king of heaven.
Their blood is precious. ‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints’ (Psalm 116:15). This is the blood God will chiefly make inquisition for. Athaliah shed the blood of the king’s children (2 Kings 11:1). The saints are the children of the most High, and such as shed their blood shall pay dear for it. ‘Thou hast given them blood to drink for they are worthy’ (Revelation 16:6).
2 God looks upon his children as persons of honour. ‘Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable . . .’ (Isaiah 43:4).
God makes them honourable. As a king creates dukes, marquises, earls, barons etc., so God installs his children into honour. He creates them noble persons, persons of renown. David thought it no small honour to be the king’s son-in-law. ‘Who am I that I should be son-in-law to the king?’ (1 Samuel 18:18). What an infinite honour is it to be the children of the High God, to be of the blood-royal of heaven! The saints are of an ancient family. They are sprung from ‘the Ancient of days’ (Daniel 7:9). That is the best pedigree which is fetched from heaven. Here the youngest child is an heir, a co-heir with Christ who is heir of all (Hebrews 1:2; Romans 8:17). Consider the honour of God’s children positively and comparatively.
They have their escutcheon. You may see the saints’ escutcheon or coat-armour. The Scripture has set forth their heraldry. Sometimes they give the lion in regard of their courage (Proverbs 28:1). Sometimes they give the eagle in regard of their sublimeness. They are ever flying up to heaven upon the two wings of faith and love. ‘They shall mount up with wings as eagles’ (Isaiah 40:31). Sometimes they give the dove in regard of their meekness and innocence (Canticles 2:14). This shows the children of God to be persons of renown.
Consider the honour of God’s children comparatively; and this comparison is double. Compare the children of God with Adam; with the angels.
Compare the children of God with Adam in a state of innocence. Adam was a person of honour. He was the sole monarch of the world. All the creatures veiled to him as their sovereign. He was placed in the garden of Eden which was a paradise of pleasure. He was crowned with all the contentments of the earth. Nay more, Adam was God’s lively picture. He was made in the likeness of God himself. Yet the state of the meanest of God’s children by adoption is far more excellent and honourable than the state of Adam was, when he wore the robe of innocence, for Adam’s condition, though it was glorious yet it was mutable, and was soon lost; Adam was a bright star, yet a falling star. But God’s children by adoption are in a state unalterable. Adam had a ‘posse non peccare’, a possibility of standing, but believers have a ‘non posse peccare’, an impossibility of falling; once adopted, and ever adopted. As Isaac said, when he had given the blessing to Jacob, ‘I have blessed him and he shall be blessed’ (Genesis 27:33). So may we say of all God’s children, they are adopted, and they shall be adopted; so that God’s children are in a better and more glorious condition now than Adam was in all his regal honour and majesty.
Let us ascend as high as heaven and compare God’s children with the glorious and blessed angels. God’s children are equal to the angels, in some sense above them, so that they must be persons of honour.
God’s children are equal to the angels. This is acknowledged by some of the angels themselves. ‘I am thy fellow-servant’ (Revelation 19:10). Here is a parallel made between John the Divine and the angel. The angel says to John, ‘I am thy fellow-servant.’
The children of God by adoption are in some sense above the angels, and that two ways.
The angels are servants to God’s children (Hebrews 1:14). Though they are ‘glorious spirits’, yet they are ‘ministering spirits’. The angels are the saints’ servitors. We have examples in Scripture of angels attending the persons of God’s children. We read of angels waiting upon Abraham, Moses, Daniel, the Virgin Mary etc. Nor do the angels only render service to God’s children while they live, but at their death too. Lazarus had a convoy of angels to carry him into the paradise of God. Thus we see the children of God have a pre-eminence and dignity above the angels. The angels are their servants both living and dying; and this is more to be observed, because it is never said in Scripture that the children of God are servants to the angels.
God’s children are above the angels, because Christ by taking their nature has ennobled and honoured it above the angelic. ‘He in no wise took the nature of angels’ (Hebrews 2:16). God by uniting us to Christ has made us nearer to himself than the angels. The children of God are members of Christ (Ephesians 5:30). This was never said of the angels. How can they be members of Christ, who are of a different nature from him? Indeed metaphorically and improperly Christ may be called the head of the angels, as they are subject to him (1 Peter 3:22). But that Christ is head of the angels in that near and sweet conjunction, as he is head of the believers, we nowhere find in Scripture. In this respect therefore I may clearly assert that the children of God have a superiority and honour even above the angels. Though by creation they are ‘a little lower than the angels’, yet by adoption and mystical union they are above the angels.
How may this comfort a child of God in the midst either of calumny or penury! He is a person of honour. He is above the angels. A gentleman that is fallen to decay will sometimes boast of his parentage and noble blood; so a Christian who is poor in the world, yet by virtue of his adoption he is of the family of God. He has the true blood-royal running in his veins. He has a fairer coat of arms to show than the angels themselves.
The seventh particular to be explained is to show the glorious privileges of God’s children; and what I shall say now belongs not to the wicked. It is ‘children’s bread’. The fruit of paradise was to be kept with a flaming sword. So these sweet and heart-ravishing privileges are to be kept with a flaming sword, that impure sensual persons may not touch them. There are twelve rare privileges which belong to the children of God.
1 If we are children, then God will be full of tender love and affection towards us. A father compassionates his child. ‘Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him’ (Psalm 103:13). Oh the yearning of God’s bowels to his children! ‘Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? My bowels are troubled for him, I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord’ (Jeremiah 31:20). Towards the wicked God’s wrath is kindled (Psalm 2:12). Towards them that are children, God’s repentings are kindled (Hosea 11:8). Mercy and pity as naturally flow from our heavenly Father as light from the sun.
Some may object: But God is angry and writes bitter things. How does this stand with love?
God’s love and his anger towards his children are not in opposition but ’showing a difference’. They may stand together. He is angry in love. ‘As many as I love I rebuke and chasten’ (Revelation 3:19). We have as much need of afflictions as ordinances. A bitter pill may be as needful for preserving health as a julep or cordial. God afflicts with the same love as he adopts. God is most angry when he is not angry. His hand is heaviest when it is lightest (Hosea 14:4). Affliction is an argument of son-ship. ‘If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons’ (Hebrews 12:7).
Oh, says one, surely God does not love me. I am none of his child, because he does not follow me with such sore afflictions. Why, it is a sign of child-ship to be sometimes under the rod. God had one son without sin, but no son without stripes. God puts his children to the school of the cross, and there they learn best. God speaks to us in the Word, children, do not be proud, do not love the world; ‘Walk circumspectly’ (Ephesians 5:15). But, we are ‘dull of hearing’; nay we ’stop the ear’. ‘I spake to thee in thy prosperity, but thou saidst, I will not hear’ (Jeremiah 22:21). Now, says God, I shall lose my child if I do not correct him. Then God in love smites that he may save. Aristotle’ speaks of a bird that lives among thorns, yet sings sweetly. God’s children make the best melody in their heart, when God ‘hedgeth their way with thorns’ (Hosea 2:6). Afflictions are refining. ‘The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold’ (Proverbs 17:3). Fiery trials make golden Christians. Afflictions are purifying. ‘Many shall be tried and made white’ (Daniel 12:10). We think God is going to destroy us, but he only lays us a-whitening. Some birds will not hatch but in time of thunder. Christians are commonly best in affliction. God will make his children at last bless him for sufferings. The eyes that sin shuts affliction opens. When Manasseh was in chains, ‘then he knew the Lord was God’ (2 Chronicles 33:13). Afflictions fit for heaven. First the stones of Solomon’s temple were hewn and polished and then set up into a building. First the saints (who are called ‘living stones’) must be hewn and carved by sufferings as the corner stone was, and so made meet for the celestial building (Colossians 1:12). And is there not love in all God’s Fatherly castigations?
But there may be another objection, that sometimes God’s children are under the black clouds of desertion. Is not this far from love?
Concerning desertion, I must needs say that this is the saddest condition that can betide God’s children. When the sun is gone, the dew falls. When the sunlight of God’s countenance is removed, then the dew of tears falls from the eyes of the saints. In desertion God rains hell out of heaven (to use Calvin’s expression). ‘The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit, Job 6:4). This is the poisoned arrow that wounds to the heart. Desertion is a taste of the torments of the damned. God says, ‘In a little wrath I hid my face from thee’ (Isaiah 54:8). I may here gloss with Saint Bernard, ‘Lord, dost thou call that a little wrath when thou hidest thy face? Is it but a little? What can be more bitter to me than the eclipsing of thy face?’ God is in the Scripture called a light and a fire. The deserted soul feels the fire but does not see the light. But yet you who are adopted may spell love in all this. They say of Hercules, club that it was made of wood of olive. The olive is an emblem of peace. So God’s club, whereby he beats down the soul in desertion, has something of the olive. There is peace and mercy in it. I shall hold forth a spiritual rainbow wherein the children of God may see the love of their Father in the midst of the clouds of desertion.
Therefore I answer:
(i) In time of desertion God leaves in his children a seed of comfort. ‘His seed remaineth in him’ (1 John 3:9). This seed of God is a seed of comfort. Though God’s children in desertion lack the seal of the Spirit, yet they have the unction of the Spirit (1 John 2:27). Though they lack the sun, yet they have a daystar in their hearts. As the tree in winter, though it has lost its leaves and fruit, yet there is sap in the root; so in the winter of desertion there is the sap of grace in the root of the heart. As it is with the sun masking itself with a cloud when it denies light to the earth, yet it gives forth its influence; so though God’s dear adopted ones may lose sight of his countenance, yet they have the influence of his grace.
What grace appears in the time of desertion? I answer:
An high prizing of God’s love. If God should say to the deserted soul, What wilt thou and it shall be granted to half of the kingdom?, he would reply, Lord that I might see thee ‘as I was wont to see thee in the sanctuary’; that I may have one golden beam of thy love. The deserted soul slights all other things in comparison. It is not gardens or orchards, or the most delicious objects that can give him contentment. They are like music to a sad heart. He desires, as Absalom, ‘to see the king’s face’.
A lamenting after the Lord. It is the saddest day for him when the sun of righteousness is eclipsed. A child of God can better bear the world’s stroke than God’s absence. He is even melted into tears; the clouds of desertion produce spiritual rain, and whence is this weeping but from love?
Willingness to suffer anything so he may have sight of God. A child of God could be content with Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross if he were sure Christ were upon it. He could willingly die, if with Simeon he might die with Christ in his arms. Behold here, ‘the seed of God’ in a believer, the work of sanctification, when he lacks the wine of consolation.
(ii) I answer, God has a design of mercy in hiding his face from his adopted ones.
First, it is for the trial of grace, and there are two graces brought to trial in time of desertion, faith and love.
Faith: When we can believe against sense and feeling; when we are without experience, yet can trust to a promise; when we do not have the ‘kisses of God’s mouth’, yet can cleave to ‘the word of his mouth’; this is faith indeed. Here is the sparkling of the diamond.
Love: When God smiles upon us, it is not much to love him, but when he seems to put us away in anger (Psalm 27:9), now to love him and be as the lime — the more water is thrown upon it the hotter it burns — this is love indeed. That love sure is ’strong as death’ (Canticles 8:6) which the waters of desertion cannot quench.
Secondly, it is for the exercise of grace. We are all for comfort. If it be put to our choice, we would be ever upon Mount Pisgah, looking into Canaan. We are loath to be in trials, agonies, desertions, as if God could not love us except he had us in his arms. It is hard to lie long in the lap of spiritual joy and not fall asleep. Too much sunshine causes a drought in our graces. Oftentimes when God lets down comfort into the heart, we begin to let down care. As it is with musicians, before they have money they will play you many a sweet lesson, but as soon as you throw them down money they are gone. You hear no more of them. Before joy and assurance, O the sweet music of prayer and repentance! But when God throws down the comforts of his Spirit, we either leave off duty or at least slacken the strings of our viol and grow remiss in it. You are taken with the money, but God is taken with the music. Grace is better than comfort. Rachel is more fair, but Leah is more fruitful. Comfort is fair to look upon, but grace has the fruitful womb. Now the only way to exercise grace and make it more vigorous and lively is sometimes to ‘walk in darkness and have no light’ (Isaiah 50:16). Faith is a star that shines brightest in the night of desertion. ‘I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet will I look again toward thy holy temple’ (Jonah 2:4). Grace usually puts forth its most heroic acts at such a time.
(iii) I answer: God may forsake his children in regard of vision, but not in regard of union. Thus it was with Jesus Christ when he cried out, ‘my God, my God’. There was not a separation of the union between him and his Father, only a suspension of the vision. God’s love through the interposition of our sins may be darkened and eclipsed, but still he is a Father. The sun may be hid in a cloud, but it is not out of the firmament. The promises in time of desertion may be, as it were, sequestered. We do not have the comfort from them as formerly, but still the believer’s title holds good in law.
(iv) I answer: when God hides his face from his child, his heart may be towards him. As Joseph, when he spake roughly to his brethren and made them believe he would take them for spies, still his heart was towards them and he was as full of love as ever he could hold. He was fain to go aside and weep. So God is full of love to his children even when he seems to look strange. And as Moses’ mother when she put her child into the ark of bulrushes and went away a little from it, yet still her eye was toward it. ‘The babe wept’; aye, and the mother wept too. So God, when he goes aside as if he had forsaken his children, yet he is full of sympathy and love towards them. God may change his countenance but not break his covenant. It is one thing for God to desert, another thing to disinherit. ‘How shall I give thee up, Ephraim . . .’ (Hosea 11:8). It is a metaphor taken from a father going to disinherit his son, and while he is setting his hand to the deed, his bowels begin to melt and to yearn over him and he thinks thus within himself, Though he be a prodigal child, yet he is a child; I will not cut off the entail. So says God, ‘How shall I give thee up?’ Though Ephraim has been a rebellious son, yet he is a son, I will not disinherit him. God’s thoughts may be full of love when there is a veil upon his face. The Lord may change his dispensation towards his children, but not his disposition. He may have the look of an enemy, but the heart of a Father. So that the believer may say, I am adopted; let God do what he will with me; let him take the rod or the staff; it is all one; He loves me.
2 The second adoptional privilege is this if we are children then God will bear with many infirmities. A father bears much with a child he loves. ‘I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him’ (Malachi 3:17). We often grieve the Spirit, abuse kindness. God will pass by much in his children. ‘He hath not seen iniquity in Jacob’ (Numbers 23:21). His love does not make him blind. He sees sin in his people but not with an eye of revenge, but pity. He sees sin in his children as a physician does a disease in his patient. He has not seen iniquity in Jacob so as to destroy him. God may use the rod (2 Samuel 7:14), not the scorpion. O how much is God willing to pass by in his children, because they are children! God takes notice of the good that is in his children, and passes by the infirmity. God does quite contrary to us. We often take notice of the evil that is in others and overlook the good. Our eye is upon the flaw in the diamond, but we do not observe its sparkling. But God takes notice of the good that is in his children. God sees their faith and winks at their failings (1 Peter 3:6). Even as ‘Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord’; the Holy Ghost does not mention her unbelief and laughing at the promise, but takes notice of the good in her, namely, her obedience to her husband. ‘She obeyed Abraham, calling him lord’. God puts his finger upon the scars and infirmities of his children. How much did God wink at in Israel his firstborn! Israel often provoked him with their murmurings (Deuteronomy 1:27), but God answered their murmurings with mercies. He spared them as a father spares his son.
3 The third privilege is this — if we are children then God will accept of our imperfect services. A parent takes anything in good part from his child. God accepts of the will for the deed (2 Corinthians 8:12). Often times we come with broken prayers, but if we are children, God spells out our meaning and will take our prayers as a grateful present. A father loves to hear his child speak, though he but lisps and stammers. Like a ‘crane, so did I chatter’ (Isaiah 38:14). Good Hezekiah looked upon his praying as chattering, yet that prayer was heard (verse 5). A sigh and groan from an humble heart goes up as the smoke of incense. ‘My groaning is not hid from thee’ (Psalm 38:9). When all the glistering shows of hypocrites evaporate and come to nothing, a little that a child of God does in sincerity is crowned with acceptance. A father is glad of a letter from his son though there are blots in the letter, though there are false spellings and broken English. O what blottings are there in our holy things! What broken English sometimes! Yet coming from broken hearts it is accepted. Though there be weakness in duty, yet if there be willingness, the Lord is much taken with it. Says God, it is my child and he would do better. ‘He hath accepted us in the beloved, (Ephesians 1:6).
4 If we are children then God will provide for us. A father will take care for his children. He gives them allowance and lays up a portion (2 Corinthians 12:14). So does our heavenly Father.
He gives us our allowance: ‘The God which fed me all my life long unto this day’ (Genesis 48:15). Whence is our daily bread, but from his daily care? God will not let his children starve, though our unbelief is ready sometimes to question his goodness and say, ‘Can God prepare a table?’ See what arguments Christ brings to prove God’s paternal care for his children. ‘Behold the fowls of the air, they sow not, neither do they reap, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them’ (Matthew 6:26). Does a man feed his bird, and will he not feed his child? ‘Consider the lilies how they grow; they toil not, they spin not; if then, God so clothe the grass . . .’ (Luke 12:27). Does God clothe the lilies and will he not clothe his lambs? ‘The Lord careth for you’ (1 Peter 5:7). As long as his heart is full of love, so long his head will be full of care. This should be as physic to kill the worm of unbelief.
As God gives his children a ‘viaticum’ or bait’ by the way, so he lays up a portion for them. ‘It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’ (Luke 12:32). Our Father keeps the purse and will give us enough to bear our charges here, and when at death we take shipping and shall be set upon the shore of eternity, then will our heavenly Father bestow upon us a kingdom immutable and immarcescible. Lo, here is a portion which can never be summed up.
5 If we are children then God will shield off dangers from us. A father will protect his child from injuries. God ever lies sentinel to keep off evil from his children temporal evil; spiritual evil.
(i) God screens off temporal evil. There are many casualties and contingencies which are incident to life. God mercifully prevents them. He keeps watch and ward for his children. ‘My defence is of God’ (Psalm 7:10). ‘He that keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep’ (Psalm 121:4). The eye of providence is ever awake. God gives his angels charge over his children (Psalm 91:11). A believer has a guard of angels for his lifeguard. We read of the wings of God in Scripture. As the breast of his mercy feeds his children, so the wings of his power cover them. How miraculously did God preserve Israel his firstborn! He with his wings sometimes covered, sometimes carried them. ‘He bare you as upon eagles, wings’ (Exodus 19:4), an emblem of God’s providential care. The eagle fears no bird from above to hurt her young, only the arrow from beneath. Therefore she carries them upon her wings that the arrow must first hit her before it can come at her young ones. Thus God carries his children upon the wings of providence, and they are such that there is no clipping these wings, nor can any arrow hurt them.
(ii) God shields off spiritual evils from his children. ‘There shall no evil befall thee’ (Psalm 91:10). God does not say no afflictions shall befall us, but no evil.
But some may say, that sometimes evil in this sense befalls the godly. They spot themselves with sin. I answer:
But that evil shall not be mortal. As quicksilver is in itself dangerous, but by ointments it is so tempered that it is killed, so sin is in itself deadly but being tempered with repentance and mixed with the sacred ointment of Christ’s blood, the venomous damning nature of it is taken away.
6 If we are children then God will reveal to us the great and wonderful things of his law. ‘I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes’ (Matthew 11:25). A father will teach his children. The child goes to his father, saying, ‘Father, teach me my lesson’. So David goes to God: ‘Teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God’ (Psalm 143:10). The Lord glories in this title, ‘I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit’ (Isaiah 48:17). God’s children have that anointing which teaches them all things necessary to salvation. They see those mysteries which are veiled over to carnal eyes, as Elisha saw those horses and chariots of fire which his servant did not see (2 Kings 6:17). The adopted see their own sins, Satan’s snares, and Christ’s beauty which they whom the god of the world has blinded cannot discern. Whence was it that David understood more than the ancients (Psalm 119:100)? He had a Father to teach him. God was his instructor. ‘O God, thou hast taught me from my youth’ (Psalm 71:17). Many a child of God complains of ignorance and dullness. Remember this — your Father will be your tutor. He has promised to give ‘his Spirit to lead thee into all truth’ (John 16:13). And God not only informs the understanding, but inclines the will. He not only teaches us what we should do but enables us to do it. ‘I will cause you to walk in my statutes’ (Ezekiel 36:27). What a glorious privilege is this, to have the star of the Word pointing us to Christ, and the loadstone of the Spirit drawing!
7 If we are children this gives us boldness in prayer. The child goes with confidence to his father, and he cannot find in his heart to deny him: ‘How much more shall your heavenly Father give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him!’ (Luke 11:13). All the father has is for his child. If he comes for money, who is it for but his child? If you come to God for pardon, for brokenness of heart, God cannot deny his child. Whom does he keep his mercies in store for, but his children?
And that which may give God’s children holy boldness in prayer is this; when they consider God not only in the relation of a father, but as having the disposition of a father. Some parents are of a morose, rugged nature, but God is the ‘Father of mercies’ (2 Corinthians 1:3). He begets all the bowels in the world. In prayer we should look upon God under this notion, ‘a Father of mercy’, sitting upon a ‘throne of grace’. We should run to this heavenly Father in all conditions.
In our sins, as that sick child who ’said unto his father, my head, my head!’ (2 Kings 4:19). As soon as he found himself not well, he ran to his father to succour him. So in case of sin, run to God: ‘My heart, my heart! O this dead heart, Father, quicken it; this hard heart, Father, soften it; Father, my heart, my heart!’
In our temptations: A child, when another strikes him, runs to his father and complains. So when the devil strikes us by his temptations, let us run to our Father: ‘Father, Satan assaults and hurls in his fiery darts. He would not only wound my peace, but thy glory. Father, take off the tempter. It is your child that is worried by this “red dragon”. Father, will you not “bruise Satan” under my feet?’ What a sweet privilege is this! When any burden lies upon our spirits, we may go to our Father and unload all our cares and griefs into his bosom!
8 If we are children, then we are in a state of freedom. Claudius Lysias valued his freedom of Rome at an high rate (Acts 22:20). A state of son-ship is a state of freedom. This is not to be understood in an Antinomian sense, that the children of God are freed from the rule of the moral law. This is such a freedom as rebels take. Was it ever heard that a child should be freed from duty to his parents? But the freedom which God’s children have is an holy freedom. They are freed from ‘the law of sin’ (Romans 8:2).
It is the sad misery of an unregenerate person that he is in a state of vassalage. He is under the tyranny of sin. Justin Martyr used to say, It is the greatest slavery in the world for a man to be subject to his own passions. A wicked man is as very a slave as he that works in the galley. Look into his heart and there are legions of lusts ruling him. He must do what sin will have him. A slave is at the service of an usurping tyrant. If he bid him dig in the mine, hew in the quarries, tug at the oar, he must do it. Thus every wicked man must do what corrupt nature inspired by the devil bids him. If sin bids him be drunk, be unchaste, he is at the command of sin, as the ass is at the command of the driver. Sin first enslaves and then damns.
But the children of God, though they are not free from the in-being of sin, yet they are freed from the law of sin. All sin’s commands are like laws repealed which are not in force. Though sin live in a child of God it does not reign. ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you’ (Romans 6:14). Sin does not have a coercive power over a child of God. There is a principle of grace in his heart which gives check to corruption. This is a believer’s comfort though sin be not removed, yet it is subdued; and though he cannot keep sin out, yet he keeps sin under. The saints of God are said to ‘crucify the flesh’ (Galatians 5:24). Crucifying was a lingering death. First one member died, then another.
Every child of God crucifies sin. Some limb of the old man is ever and anon dropping off. Though sin does not die perfectly, it dies daily. This is the blessed freedom of God’s children, they are freed from the law of sin. They are led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14). This Spirit makes them free and cheerful in obedience. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’ (2 Corinthians 3:17).
9 If we are children then we are heirs apparent to all the promises. The promises are called precious (2 Peter 2:4). The promises are a cabinet of jewels. They are breasts full of the milk of the gospel. The promises are enriched with variety and are suited to a Christian’s present condition. Does he want pardoning grace? There is a promise carries forgiveness in it (Jeremiah 31:34). Does he want sanctifying grace? There is a promise of healing (Hosea 14:4). Does he want corroborating grace? There is a promise of strength (Isaiah 41:10). And these promises are the children’s bread. The saints are called ‘heirs of the promise’ (Hebrews 6:17). There is Christ and heaven in a promise; and there is never a promise in the Bible but an adopted person may lay a legal claim to it and say, ‘This is mine.’ The natural man who remains still in the old family has nothing to do with these promises. He may read over the promises (as one may read over another man’s will or inventory) but has no right to them. The promises are like a garden of flowers, paled in and enclosed, which no stranger may gather, only the children of the family. Ishmael was the son of the bond-woman. He had no right to the family. ‘Cast out the bond-woman and her son,’ as Sarah once said to Abraham (Genesis 21:10). So the unbeliever is not adopted, he is none of the household, and God will say at the day of judgement, ‘Cast out this son of the bond-woman into utter darkness’, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
10 If we are children, then we shall have our Father’s blessing. ‘They are the seed which the Lord has blessed’ (Isaiah 61:9). We read that Isaac blessed his son Jacob: ‘God give thee of the dew of heaven’ (Genesis 27:28), which was not only a prayer for Jacob, but (as Luther says) a prophecy of that happiness and blessing which should come upon him and his posterity. Thus every adopted child has his heavenly Father’s benediction. There is a special blessing distilled into all that he possesses. ‘The Lord will bless his people with peace’ (Exodus 23:25; Psalm 29:11). He will not only give them peace, but they shall have it with a blessing. The wicked have the things they enjoy with God’s leave, but the adopted have them with God’s love. The wicked have them by providence; the saints by promise. Isaac had but one blessing to bestow. ‘Hast thou but one blessing, my father?’ (Genesis 27:38). But God has more blessings than one for his children. He blesses them in their souls, bodies, names, estate, posterity. He blesses them with the upper springs and the nether springs. He multiplies to bless them and his blessing cannot be reversed. As Isaac said concerning Jacob, ‘I have blessed him, yea and he shall be blessed’ (Genesis 27:33), so God blesses his children and they shall be blessed.
11 If we are children, then all things that fall out shall turn to our good. ‘All things work together for good to them that love God’ (Romans 8:28): good things; evil things.
(i) Good things work for good to God’s children. Mercies shall do them good. The mercies of God shall soften them. David’s heart was overcome with God’s mercy. ‘Who am I, and what is my house . . .?’ (2 Samuel 7:18). I who was of a mean family, I who held the shepherd’s staff, that now I should hold the royal sceptre! Nay, thou hast spoken of thy servant’s house for a great while to come. Thou hast made a promise that my children shall sit upon the throne; yea, that the blessed Messiah shall come of my line and race. And is this the manner of man, O Lord God! As if he had said, ‘Do men show such kindness undeserved? See how this good man’s heart was dissolved and softened by mercy! The flint is soonest broken upon a soft pillow.
Mercies make the children of God more fruitful. The ground bears the better crop for the cost that is laid upon it. God gives his children health and they spend and are spent for Christ. He gives them estates and they honour the Lord with their substance. The backs and bellies of the poor are the field where they sow the precious seed of their charity. A child of God makes his estate a golden clasp to bind his heart faster to God, a footstool to raise him up higher towards heaven.
Ordinances shall work for good to God’s children. The word preached shall do them good; it is a savour of life; it is a lamp to the feet and a laver to their hearts. The word preached is a means of health, a chariot of salvation. It is an engrafting and a transforming word; it is a word with unction, anointing their eyes to see that light. The preaching of the Word is that lattice where Christ looks forth and shows himself to his saints. This golden pipe of the sanctuary conveys the water of life. To the wicked the word preached works for evil; even the word of life becomes a savour of death. The same cause may have divers, nay, contrary effects. The sun dissolves the ice but hardens the clay. To the unregenerate and profane, the Word is not humbling but hardening. Jesus Christ, the best of preachers, was to some a rock of offence. The Jews sucked death from his sweet lips. It is sad that the breast should kill any. The wicked suck poison from that breast of ordinances where the children of God suck milk and are nourished unto salvation.
The sacrament works for good to the children of God. In the Word preached the saints hear Christ’s voice; in the sacrament they have his kiss. The Lord’s Supper is to the saints ‘a feast of fat things’. It is an healing and a sealing ordinance. In this charger, or rather chalice, a bleeding Saviour is brought in to revive drooping spirits. The sacrament has glorious effects in the hearts of God’s children. It quickens their affections, strengthens their faith, mortifies their sin, revives their hopes, increases their joy. It gives a prelibation and foretaste of heaven.
(ii) Evil things work for good to God’s children. ‘Unto the upright ariseth light in the darkness’ (Psalm 112:4).
Poverty works for good to God’s children. It starves their lusts. It increases their graces. ‘Poor in the world, rich in faith’ (James 2:5). Poverty tends to prayer. When God has clipped his children’s wings by poverty, they fly swiftest to the throne of grace.
Sickness works for their good. It shall bring the body of death into a consumption. ‘Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day’ (2 Corinthians 4:16). Like those two laurels at Rome, when the one withered the other flourished.’ When the body withers the soul of a Christian flourishes. How often have we seen a lively faith in a languishing body! Hezekiah was better on his sick bed than upon his throne. When he was upon his sickbed he humbles himself and weeps. When he was on his throne he grew proud (Isaiah 39:2). God’s children recover by sickness. In this sense, ‘out of weakness they are made strong’ (Hebrews 11:34).
Reproach works for good to God’s children; it increases their grace and their glory.
Disgrace increases their grace. The husband-man by dunging his ground makes the soil more rich and fertile. God lets the wicked dung his people with reproaches and calumnies, that their hearts may be a richer soil for grace to grow in.
Reproach increases their glory. He that unjustly takes from a saint’s credit shall add to his crown. The sun shines brighter after an eclipse. The more a child of God is eclipsed by reproaches the brighter he shall shine in the kingdom of heaven.
Persecution to God’s children works for good. The godly may be compared to that plant which Gregory Nazianzen speaks of. It lives by dying and grows by cutting. The zeal and love of the saints is blown up by sufferings. Their joy flourishes. Tertullian says the primitive Christians rejoiced more in their persecutions than in their deliverances.
Death works for good to the children of God. It is like the whirlwind to the prophet Elijah, which blew off his mantle, but carried him up to heaven. So death to a child of God is like a boisterous whirlwind which blows off the mantle of his flesh (for the body is but the mantle the soul is wrapped in), but it carries up the soul to God. This is the glorious privilege of the sons of God. Everything that falls out shall do them good. The children of God, when they come to heaven (as Chrysostom speaks), shall bless God for all cross providences.
12 And lastly, if we are children we shall never finally perish (John 5:24; 10:28). Those who are adopted are out of the power of damnation. ‘There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ’ (Romans 8:1). Will a father condemn his own son? God will never disinherit any of his children. Fathers may disinherit for some fault. Reuben for incest lost the prerogative of his birthright (Genesis 49:4). What is the reason parents disinherit their children? Surely this, because they can make them no better. They cannot make them fit for the inheritance. But when we are bad our heavenly Father knows how to make us better. He can make us fit to inherit. ‘Giving thanks to the Father who hath made us meet for the inheritance’ (Colossians 1:12). Therefore it being in his power to make us better and to work in us an idoneity and meetness for the inheritance, certainly he will never finally disinherit.
Because this is so sweet a privilege, and the life of a Christian’s comfort lies in it, therefore I shall clear it by arguments that the children of God cannot finally perish. The entail of hell and damnation is cut off. Not but that the best of God’s children have that guilt which deserves hell, but Christ is the friend at court which has begged their pardon. Therefore the damning power of sin is taken away, which I prove thus:
The children of God cannot finally perish, because God’s justice is satisfied for their sins. The blood of Christ is the price paid not only meritoriously, but efficaciously for all them that believe. This being the ‘blood of God’ (Acts 20:28), justice is fully satisfied and does not meddle to condemn those for whom this blood was shed and to whom it is applied. Jesus Christ was a sponsor. He stood bound for every child of God as a surety. He said to justice, ‘Have patience with them and I will pay thee all’, so that the believer cannot be liable to wrath. God will not require the debt twice, both of the surety and the debtor (Romans 3:24, 26). God is not only merciful in pardoning his children, but ‘righteous, ‘He is just to forgive’ (1 John 1:9). It is an act of God’s equity and justice to spare the sinner when he has been satisfied in the surety.
A damnatory sentence cannot pass upon the children of God, because they are so God’s children, as withal they are Christ’s spouse (Canticles 4:11). There is a marriage union between Christ and the saints. Every child of God is a part of Christ. He is ‘Christ mystical’. Now, shall a member of Christ perish? A child of God cannot perish but Christ must perish. Jesus Christ who is the Husband, is the Judge, and will he condemn his own spouse?
Every child of God is transformed into the likeness of Christ. He has the same Spirit, the same judgement, the same will. He is a lively picture of Christ. As Christ bears the saints’ names upon his breast, so they bear his image upon their hearts (Galatians 4:19). Will Christ suffer his own image to be destroyed? Theodosius counted them traitors who defaced his image. Christ will not let his image in believers be defaced and rent. He will not endure to see his own picture take fire. The sea has not only stinking carrion, but jewels thrown into it, but none of God’s jewels shall ever be thrown into the dread sea of hell.
If God’s children could be capable of final perishing then pardon of sin were no privilege. The Scripture says, ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven’ (Psalm 32:1). But what blessedness were there in having sin forgiven, if afterwards a final and damnatory sentence should pass upon the heirs of promise? What were a man the better for the king’s pardon if he were condemned after he were pardoned?
If the children of God should be finally disinherited then the Scripture could not be fulfilled which tells us of glorious rewards. ‘Verily there is a reward for the righteous’ (Psalm 58:11). God sweetens his commands with promises. He ties duty and reward together. As in the body the veins carry the blood and the arteries carry the spirits, so one part of the Word carries duty in it, and another part of the Word carries reward. Now if the adopted of God should eternally miscarry, what reward were there for the righteous? And Moses did indiscreetly in looking to the ‘recompense of the reward’ (Hebrews 11:26). And so by consequence there would be a door opened to despair.
By all which it appears that the children of God cannot be disinherited or reprobated. If they should lose happiness Christ should lose his purchase and should die in vain.
Thus we have seen the glorious privileges of the children of God. What an encouragement is here to religion! How may this tempt men to turn godly! Can the world vie with a child of God? Can the world give such privileges as these? As Saul said, ‘Will the son of Jesse give everyone of you fields and vineyards, and make you all captains of thousands?’ (1 Samuel 22:7). Can the world do that for you which God does for his children? Can it give you pardon of sin or eternal life? ‘Are not the gleanings of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?’ (Judges 8:2). Is not godliness gain? What is there in sin that men should love it? The work of sin is drudgery and the wages death. They who see more in sin than in the privileges of adoption, let them go on and have their ears bored to the devil’s service
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