15.]He now confirms the certainty of that confidence, in which he has already bidden the faithful to rest secure; and he does this by mentioning the special effect produced by the Spirit; for he has not been given for the purpose of harassing us with trembling or of tormenting us with anxiety; but on the contrary, for this end — that having calmed every perturbation, and restoring our minds to a tranquil state, he may stir us up to call on God with confidence and freedom. He does not then pursue only the argument which he had before stated, but dwells more on another clause, which he had connected with it, even the paternal mercy of God, by which he forgives his people the infirmities of the flesh and the sins which still remain in them. He teaches us that our confidence in this respect is made certain by the Spirit of adoption, who could not inspire us with confidence in prayer without sealing to us a gratuitous pardon: and that he might make this more evident, he mentions a twofold spirit; he calls one the spirit of bondage, which we receive from the law; and the other, the spirit of adoption, which proceeds from the gospel. The first, he says, was given formerly to produce fear; the other is given now to afford assurance. By such a comparison of contrary things the certainty of our salvation, which he intended to confirm, is, as you see, made more evident. (253) The same comparison is used by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where he says, that we have not come to Mount Sinai, where all thing were so terrible, that the people, being alarmed as it were by an immediate apprehension of death, implored that the word should be no more spoken to them, and Moses himself confessed that he was terrified;
“but to Sion, the mount of the Lord, and to his city, the heavenly Jerusalem, where Jesus is, the Mediator of the New Testament,” etc. (Hebrews 12:22.)
By the adverb again, we learn, that the law is here compared with the gospel: for the Son of God by his coming has brought to us this invaluable benefit, — that we are no longer bound by the servile condition of the law. You are not however to infer from this, either that no one before the coming of Christ was endued with the spirit of adoption, or that all who received the law were servants and not sons: for he compares the ministration of the law with the dispensation of the gospel rather than persons with persons. I indeed allow that the faithful are here reminded how much more bountifully God now deals with them than he did formerly with the fathers under the Old Testament; he yet regards the outward dispensation, in respect of which only we excel them: for though the faith of Abraham, of Moses, and of David, was superior to ours, yet as God kept them apparently under a schoolmaster, they had not advanced into that liberty which has been revealed to us.
But it must at the same time be noticed, that it was designedly, on account of false apostles, that a contrast was made between the literal disciples of the law, and the faithful whom Christ, the heavenly Teacher, not only addresses by words, but also teaches inwardly and effectually by his Spirit.
And though the covenant of grace is included under the law, it is yet far different from it; for in setting up the gospel in opposition to it, he regards nothing but what was peculiar to the law itself, as it commands and forbids, and restrains transgressors by the denunciation of death: and thus he gives the law its own character, in which it differs from the gospel; or this statement may be preferred by some, — “He sets forth the law only, as that by which God covenants with us on the ground of works.” So then persons only must be regarded as to the Jewish people; for when the law was published, and also after it was published, the godly were illuminated by the same Spirit of faith; and thus the hope of eternal life, of which the Spirit is the earnest and seal, was sealed on their hearts. The only difference is, that the Spirit is more largely and abundantly poured forth in the kingdom of Christ. But if you regard only the dispensation of the law, it will then appear, that salvation was first clearly revealed at that time, when Christ was manifested in the flesh. All things under the Old Testament were involved in great obscurity, when compared with the clear light of the gospel.
And then, if the law be viewed in itself, it can do nothing but restrain those, devoted to its miserable bondage, by the horror of death; for it promises no good except under condition, and denounces death on all transgressors. Hence, as there is the spirit of bondage under the law, which oppresses the conscience with fear; so under the gospel there is the spirit of adoption, which exhilarates our souls by bearing a testimony as to our salvation. But observe, that fear is connected with bondage, as it cannot be otherwise, but that the law will harass and torment souls with miserable disquietness, as long as it exercises its dominion. There is then no other remedy for quieting them, except God forgives us our sin and deals kindly with us as a father with his children.
Through whom we cry, etc. He has changed the person, that he might describe the common privilege of all the saints; as though he had said, — “Ye have the spirit, through whom you and all we, the rest of the faithful, cry,” etc. The imitation of their language is very significant; when he introduces the word Father, in the person of the faithful. The repetition of the name is for the sake of amplification; for Paul intimates, that God’s mercy was so published through the whole world, that he was invoked, as [Augustine ] observes, indiscriminately in all languages. (254) His object then was to express the consent which existed among all nations. It hence follows, that there is now no difference between the Jew and the Greek, as they are united together. Isaiah speaks differently when he declares, that the language of Canaan would be common to all, (Isaiah 19:18;) yet the meaning is the same; for he had no respect to the external idiom, but to the harmony of heart in serving God, and to the same undisguised zeal in professing his true and pure worship. The word cry is set down for the purpose of expressing confidence; as though he said, “We pray not doubtingly, but we confidently raise up a loud voice to heaven.”
The faithful also under the law did indeed call God their Father, but not with such full confidence, as the vail kept them at a distance from the sanctuary: but now, since an entrance has been opened to us by the blood of Christ, we may rejoice fully and openly that we are the children of God; hence arises this crying. In short, thus is fulfilled the prophecy of Hosea,
“I will say to them, My people are ye: they in their turn will answer, Thou art our God.” (Hosea 2:23.)
For the more evident the promise is, the greater the freedom in prayer.