Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology—Chapter 36



ADOPTION is that privilege, bestowed upon those who are united with Christ, and justified by faith, by which they are admitted into the family of God, adopted as his children, and made joint heirs with his own Son.

In the strict sense of the word “Son,” this title can be given only to the Eternal Son of God, who is the only begotten of the Father (John 1:14), and is exclusively “the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance.” (Heb. 1:3).

But others are called participatively sons of God, as probably the angels (Job 1:6; 38:7), as Adam (Luke 3:38), and as Israel (Ex. 4:22; Hosea 11:1; cf. Rom. 9:4). The sonship of angels and of Adam, manifestly proceeds from their creation by God in his image, and likeness. That of Israel, however, is to be ascribed to the typical relation which that nation occupied to the true people of God. The application to Christ in Matt. 2:15, of the sonship declared of Israel in Ex. 4:22, and Hosea 11:1, together with the adoption to which Paul refers, Rom. 9:4, shows, that Israel’s sonship, like Israel’s election, was but a type, the fulfillment and reality of which were to be found only in the antitype. So far as Israel itself was concerned, the title could mean no more, than that that nation had been chosen by God to be outwardly his people, the depository of his holy oracles, and the means through which his salvation would come to man. John 4:22.

The sonship ascribed to the believer in Christ, will be best understood by considering its gracious origin, its peculiar nature, and the wondrous blessing which it confers.

I. Its Gracious Origin.

1. It is not due to any natural relation, either originally possessed, or restored through justification.

2. Nor does it arise from any new image or likeness of God, which has come through regeneration.

3. It is the simple gift of God’s love to those who by faith are brought into union with his proper Son.

4. It is an act originating entirely in the good pleasure of God. Eph. 1:5.

5. It is due, meritoriously, only to the work of Christ. It could be founded thus upon nothing else.

6. It is conferred like justification upon all who by faith receive Christ. John 1:12.

7. It is bestowed at the beginning of the Christian career, when there could be no ground for supposing it due to the character or acts of the recipient.

II. Its Peculiar Nature.

If what has been said shows that the gift of sonship to the believer is a gracious act of God, that fact will appear more plain as we study the peculiar nature of that sonship.

1. It is an act by which God chooses to take those who are not his children, and to make them such by adopting them into his family. Because of this they “are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” Eph. 2:19.

2. As they are united in this sonship with his own Son, who “is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation,” (Col. 1:15), “the beginning of the creation of God.” (Rev. 3:14), so does their sonship partake of the nature of his not in its divine relations, but in those by which he is also, even in that human nature, the Son of God. Luke 1:35.

3. It is an everlasting sonship; because its continuance depends not upon what they do, and are, but upon what he has done, and is.

4. It is one in which Christ Jesus “is made unto us wisdom from God and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” 1 Cor. 1:30. Thus are all their deficiencies removed and exchanged for the glory of his abundant fulness.

5. It is one in connection with which is fulfilled the prayer of Christ, “that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us; . . . . “that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be perfected into one.” John 17:21-23.

6. To such a perfection of sonship do they consequently attain, that not of, nor through themselves, but solely through Christ Jesus, do they thus become “partakers of the divine nature,” (2 Pet. 1:4), attaining as near as creatures may, to the position and character of proper sonship to God.

III. Its Wondrous Blessings.

The blessings connected with this sonship are scarcely less wonderful than is its nature.

1. Intimate fellowship with Christ and God. “Wherefore,” says the apostle, “thou art no longer a bond servant, but a son.” Gal. 4:7. “No longer,” said Jesus, “do I call you servants; … but I have called you friends.” John 15:15.

2. The guidance of the Holy Spirit; “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” Rom. 8:14.

3. The witnessing presence of the Holy Spirit: “the Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God.” Rom. 8:16.

4. The conscious recognition in our hearts of God’s relation to us as Father. “God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” Gal. 4:6; also Rom. 8:15.

5. “If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” Rom. 8:17.

6. Unknown glory in future likeness to Christ: “it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him.” 1 John 3:2.

7. The inheritance includes all things: “he that overcometh shall inherit these things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” Rev. 21:7; cf. 1 Cor. 3:21-23.

IV. It Differs From Justification.

It has been contended that “adoption cannot be said to be a different act or grace from justification.” [Dabney’s Theology, p. 627.] “It appears to me,” says Dr. Dick, [Lect. 73, Theol., vol. 2, p. 224,] “to be virtually the same with justification, and to differ from it merely in the new view which it gives of the relations of believers to God, and in the peculiar form in which it exhibits the blessing to which they are entitled.” Turretine says also, “that adoption is included in justification as a part which, with the remission of sins, constitutes this whole blessing; nor can justification be distinguished from adoption, unless so far as it is taken strictly for the remission of sins; whilst in its own formal conception it includes also acceptance unto life which flows from the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.” Turretine’s Theol., B. 16, c. 6, sec. 7.

The position taken by these writers is a contrary extreme to that which some have held, viz.: that justification consists only of pardon. It is not to be doubted that justification is more than this, and includes restoration to the favor of God, and to eternal life. But these might have been bestowed without conferring upon the justified the peculiar blessings contained in Adoption. “Adoption,” says Buchanan [on Justification, p.262], “is distinct in some respects from justification. For although both denote a change in relation, it may be affirmed that, according to Scriptures, pardon, acceptance, and adoption, are distinct privileges, the one rising above the other in the order in which they have been stated; — that if it be conceivable that a sinner might have been pardoned, without being accepted to eternal life, it is equally conceivable that he might have been both pardoned and accepted, without being adopted as a son; — and that, while the first two first properly belong to his justification, as being both founded in the same relation,–that of a Ruler and Subject,–the third is radically distinct from them, as being founded on a nearer, more tender, and more endearing relation,–that between a Father and his Son.”

Dabney argues that there is no difference between the two because the “instrument is the same–faith–and because the meritorious ground of adoption is the same with that of justification, viz.: the righteousness of Christ.”

But these facts, which are admitted, are due to another, which is that the faith by which we are justified is one which secures to us union with Christ. It would not necessarily follow that this union confers upon us only a single blessing or a number of blessings which may be combined together under one name. We can only learn this by examination. If, therefore, it shall appear that there are distinctions between the accompanying blessings, to the extent that these exist must those blessings be regarded as different.

That there are distinctions appears to be plain from the following considerations:

1. The Scriptures speak separately of justification and adoption, and do not state that the latter is, in whole, or in part, the same as the former.

2. Justification is ascribed to the righteous character of God as it formal ground. In it he is only gracious in accepting and providing a substitute. Adoption is expressly referred to the love of God. 1 John 3:1. The fact that these cannot be interchanged, and justification referred to love, or adoption to justice, shows a decided distinction between them.

3. While there is a change of relation in each of them, in justification it is a change of relation to the law, and only through that to the lawgiver and judge; in adoption it is a change of relation to the family of God and thus to God as the Father.

4. While faith is that through which each is attained, in justification it is a condition precedent to a forensic act which we are assured that God will do because of righteousness as well as faithfulness (1 John 1:9); while in adoption it is merely receptive of Christ, securing that union through which the paternal love of God flows freely on no other ground than faithfulness to his promises.

5. The act of justification is never ascribed to the Son, and is seen to be plainly a prerogative of the Father as God; but it is said of the Son that “as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name.” John 1:12. In some sense, therefore, which is not true of justification, adoption is connected as a gift with the Son as well as the Father.

The above considerations are sufficient to show that there is a real basis of distinction between Justification and Adoption, and that the latter is not included in the former. They are separate effects which flow from the union with Christ attained through faith; because of which we are made partakers of all the benefits of his meritorious work. Justification is one of these; and by it we obtain pardon, and favour with God, which is eternal life. Adoption is yet another which confers upon us the especial privilege of children and heirs of God. It is no more to be confounded with justification than is sanctification, which is also an effect of the same union with Christ, for, although its distinctions are not so many, nor so broad, yet to the extent that they exist, they are as real.

“This closer and more endearing relation to God, which is constituted by Adoption, is necessary, in addition to that which is included in our Justification, to complete the view of our Christian privileges, and to enhance our enjoyment of them, by raising us above the spirit of bondage which is unto fear; and cherishing the spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father. It is necessary, also, to explain how the sins of believers are not visited with penal inflictions, properly so called, but are nevertheless treated in the way of fatherly chastisement; and, still further, to show that the kingdom of heaven hereafter will not be bestowed as wages for work done, but as an ‘inheritance,’ freely bestowed, on those, and those only, who are ‘joint heirs with Christ.'” Buchanan on Justification, pp.263, 264.

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