Chapter 12 of the Second London Baptist Confession may be short, but it contains divine realities full of spiritual sweetness.
One of the several benefits purchased by the redemptive work of Christ is adoption into the family of God. The Confession of Faith is clear; adoption is a grace. That is, adoption, first and foremost, reveals to humanity something of the gracious character of the living God. It demonstrates to an onlooking world His unearned, unsought and utterly free favour and love as the basis of redemption in Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, ad option in its Latin origin emphasises God's activity in graciously placing justified sinners into His covenant family. A summary of this chapter assists us in considering some ways that the biblical doctrine of adoption applies to the nature and function of the local church.
First, it is essential to note that this chapter of the Confession begins with the transition statement, "All those that are justified". It is no accident that Chapter 12 follows Chapter 11. Adoption is intimately connected to the doctrine of justification. No matter how long a foster child may live with a loving and caring family, they do not have a right to the family name until the adoption has been made legal. Similarly, there is no believer whose sins have been pardoned and accounted for and accepted as righteous who have not also been brought into God's household and granted the family name. Because Jesus Christ has met the legal requirements of spiritual adoption, which God credits to the believer's account, every person who is justified has a legal right to the grace of adoption.
Second, consider the foundation of the grace of adoption. The Confession states, "God vouchsafed, in, and for the sake of his only Son Jesus Christ". Imagine a strict guard whose job is to prevent unauthorised access into the palace of a great king. Whoever approaches the palace doors is met with a stern gaze and searching interrogation. Unless one can present evidence of a right of access, then no entry is possible. So it is with the Law and family of God.
We have no hope of entering the kingdom of God of our own merit. The walls are too high to scale; the guard is too demanding to satisfy; the interrogation is far too searching to deceive. We have no right to access the palace, for the King's Law exposes us as enemies and traitors. However, all who come willing to heed the King's gracious call to admit their sin and enter based on Christ's righteousness receive a most unexpected phenomenon. The King himself will come, lay His hand upon their shoulder and say to the guard, 'I can vouch for them. They are My children.'
In this way, God has chosen to glorify His Son as the goal of the grace of adoption. Thus, God Himself vouches for all who are vitally united to Christ by faith to the praise of His glory. Let the enemies of our souls bring what accusations they may, and no matter what demands the Law may require, every believer has a right to enter the King's home. Christ’s righteousness alone is the foundation of the grace of adoption through redemption in His blood.
Third, consider how God communicates the grace of adoption to believers. The Confession states that God has established that all justified sinners are "partakers of the grace of adoption". Adoption into God's family flows to the believer through their union with Christ by faith. In Christ alone, believers receive the grace of adoption into their living experience. One of the most remarkable aspects of the biblical doctrine of adoption is not how it compares with human adoption but how it contrasts. A dear friend is currently going through the challenging process of adoption. The love and care shown to the child are lovely to behold. How my friend and his wife have received the little one into their lives is utterly moving and is exactly as it should be. Yet, one thing will always remain impossible; no matter how much they share with the child, he will never share his father's nature. He will always be the biological son of another.
However, for those who have obtained the grace of adoption, God makes them "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). For this reason, the writer of Hebrews explains that believers "share [God's] holiness" (Hebrews 12:10) because of God’s fatherly discipline. They receive what Henry Scougal describes in his book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man. We all are born initially into the wrong family, the family of Adam, sharing his fallen nature. But, through the mysterious work of regeneration by the operation of the Holy Spirit, God implants within every blood bought child something of His very nature. He makes them new creatures in Christ Jesus our Lord. The work of Christ is so dynamic and thorough that it does not merely change their spiritual position, but their spiritual condition until that day when what they are now will be fully apparent, for they will be made like Him because they shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).
Fourth, consider the family rights that belong to those who have received the grace of adoption. Union with Christ is inseparable from union with Christ's people. Thus, a believer is "taken into the number" of the children of God. They receive a spiritual belonging unfamiliar to those who remain wedded to this sin-sick world. God so owns the believer that they "have His Name put upon them" in which they find their identity. They "receive the Spirit of Adoption", having open "access to the throne of grace" by which they may come confidently expecting an audience with the King whenever they wish. They are enabled to come identifying God as their "Father", knowing that they will receive His pity, protection, provision and chastening. God will never "cast off" His children. They need not worry that God will disregard them, fearing that the remaining vestiges of sin will one day exhaust His unlimited supply of grace.
So sure is God's ownership and determination to bring about their redemption that He seals them as His own with nothing less than the Holy Spirit. Not only does God promise “everlasting salvation” for them, with all its infinite and matchless glory, but he secures their interest in it, "as heirs" through the application of Christ's saving work in them by His Spirit.
Finally, how does adoption apply to the nature and function of the local church? The doctrine of adoption teaches us that whatever beauty the church possesses comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Commenting on the Song of Solomon 1:16, Hanserd Knollys wrote, "Christ is most beautiful in himself, and the fountain of all spiritual beauty in the Churches and Saints". Then, meditating on this inherent beauty of Christ, Knollys proceeds to show Christ's beauty in His position as the Son of God,
"bearing the Image of the Father, Heb. 1.3. In whose face the Saints do behold the light of the glory of God, 2 Cor. 4.6. And in beholding are changed into the same Image from glory to glory, even by the Spirit of the Lord, 2 Cor. 3.18. By whom believers are made Sons, Joh. 1.22. And receive the Spirit of Sonship or Adoption, Gal. 3.26 & 4.6. Whereby they can call God their Father, Rom. 8.15, 16. And by that Spirit of Adoption & Sonship all the Saints have access through him unto the Father, Ephes. 2.18. And many other dignities and privileges of Sonship, which are the glorious liberties of the Sons of God."
Considering these words, we can examine one essential way that the doctrine of adoption pertains to the nature and function of the local church. What is it about each member and each local church that should captivate the attention of an onlooking world? It is the manifest presence of Christ, the Son of God, among His people. The local church is the chosen context of the divine and covenant manifestation of the presence of Christ. When Christ's people gather for corporate worship in spirit and truth, to hear His Word declared, He promises his presence will be manifest to such an extent that Paul says that for unbelievers attending "the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you." (1 Cor. 14:25)
Therefore, the most basic function of the local church is two-fold; to biblically proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ while cultivating the kind of lives among whom Christ is pleased to dwell. Christ reveals Himself in covenant fullness in the local church, rightly ordered and in pursuit of that holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Accordingly, we share in the family likeness of God. The culture around us may like or dislike the family resemblance, but they cannot ignore it. It is to our detriment if we choose instead to separate ourselves from the family of God where our Elder Brother meets with us in a way not found in any other context. Confessional Baptist churches should be places where people can say, as Knollys wrote,
"When God reveals Christ in any poor Soul, and by his Spirit shows unto him the things that are freely given him of God, speaking pardon and peace unto him in a promise of free grace, witnessing the Fathers love, and his Sonship by the Spirit of Adoption, Oh! how does that poor Saint admire the free grace of God in Christ, and wonder at the love of God in Christ to his Soul! What? Is it so indeed? Has God loved me with an everlasting love? Is God my Father? Is Christ mine? Am I a child of God? In everlasting Covenant with God? and shall I have eternal life? Who am I? Oh, how vile am I? how defiled, polluted and sinful am I? What! love me, pardon my sins, make me an heir of grace, give me a kingdom; O infinite loving kindness! Oh, admirable free grace! Oh, the height, and depth, and length, and breadth, of the love of God in Christ, to poor lost perishing sinners!"
Tuesday 13th July 2021