( c ) The blessed condition and assured hope of such as are in Christ Jesus. The summary of the contents of this chapter, which follows the Exposition, may be referred to in the first place by the student, so as to assist comprehension of the line of thought.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the Spirit of adoption, wherein we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him . In Romans 8:14 is introduced a further ground for the assertion in Romans 8:13 , ζήσεσθε ; viz. the felt sonship to God of those who have so received his Spirit as to be led ( i.e. practically actuated) by it. We say "felt" because, though in this verse the sonship is alleged as a fact, yet, in the following verses (15,16) the inward experience of true Christians is appealed to as evidence of such sonship. Then, in Romans 8:17 , the thought is carried out, that sonship implies inheritance, and hence a share in the glorified eternal life of Christ. (This conclusion makes further evident what was meant to be implied above in the expression ζήσεσθε .) "When, after your conversion," the apostle would say, "ye received the Spirit, it did not inspire you with the fear of slaves, but with filial love and trust. And this you know also is the feeling that we give vent to in the congregation, when we cry out [ κράζομεν , denoting emotional utterance], Abba, Father." This last expression is given by St. Mark as our Lord's own in the garden of Gethsemane ( Mark 14:36 ). We may conclude that the Aramaic word ἀββᾶ was the one used by him, and heard by St. Peter, who is said to have been St. Mark's informant in the composition of his Gospel; the equivalent Greek word, ὁ πατήρ , having been added originally by the evangelist in explanation. Afterwards it may be further supposed that the Greek-speaking Christians came to use the whole phrase, as it had been delivered to them, in their own devotions, as representing our Lord's own mode of addressing the Father, and so as expressing peculiarly their union with Christ, and their filial relation to God in him. It is probable also, from the way St. Paul here introduces the expression ( κράζομεν , changing from the second to the first person plural), that it was in customary use, perhaps at some special parts of the service, in congregational worship. It occurs once more in a passage closely corresponding with the one before us, and which should be studied in connection with it ( Galatians 4:6 ). It is to be observed how, in verse 17, the idea of our sonship now, and consequently of our being joint-heirs with Christ, leads up to a resumption of the now prevailing thought of our present condition in the mortal body being no bar to our final inheritance of life. It is our being as yet in these mortal bodies that is the cause of our present suffering; but he also was in the body, and he also so suffered; and our sharing in his sufferings really unites us the more to him, and the more ensures our final inheritance with him (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:5 , 2 Corinthians 1:7 ; Philippians 3:10 ).
The apostle introduces next a deep and suggestive view, both in explanation of our now being subject to suffering, and in confirmation of our expectation of future glory notwithstanding. He points to nature generally, to God's whole creation, so far as it is under our view in this mundane sphere, as being at present "subject to vanity," and, as it were, groaning under some power of evil, which is at variance with our ideal of what it should be, and from which there is a general and instinctive yearning for deliverance. Our present sufferings—all those drawbacks to the full enjoyment of our spiritual life—are due to our being at present in the body, and so forming part of the present system of things. But that general yearning is in itself significant of a deliverance; and so the sympathetic witness of nature confirms the hope of our higher spiritual yearnings, and encourages us to endure and wait. Such is the general drift of the passage, continued to the end of verse 25. Particular thoughts and expressions will be noticed in the course of it.
For the Spirit you received when you became Christians was one of sonship; our habitual earnest cry of "Abba, Father," expresses our feeling of it; the Spirit still witnesses with our spirit that we are God's children; and sonship implies heirship—heirship with Christ, through our union with whom we feel ourselves to be sons; and, if we have to share in his sufferings now, this only unites us the more to him, and fits us the more for our inheritance of eternal life with him.
The privileges and responsibilities of the children of God.
The apostle in these verses makes a high claim for believers—the claim of being children of God. In this eighth chapter he unfolds, as in a panoramic view, the whole plan of salvation. He begins with the idea that those who are in Christ Jesus are delivered from condemnation. But salvation is something more than that. It means sonship also. And step by step, verse by verse, the apostle advances, at each step unfolding some fresh view of the Christian's privileges, till at last, as he surveys the whole field of sin and sorrow, of joy and suffering, of trials and temptations, of time and eternity, he grows stronger in the confidence of his sonship, and exclaims, "For! am persuaded, that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
I. THE PRIVILEGES OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD .
1. God is their Father. They can say that in a special and spiritual sense. In one sense all human beings are the offspring of God. We are all the creatures of his hand, and are dependent continually upon his bountiful care. But sin has come in and separated us from him. It has made us prone to disobey rather than to fulfil our Father's commands. Jesus came into this world that he might bring us back again into the relationship of God's spiritual children. He became a child of humanity that we might become children of God. He became "sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." All who believe on him are born again. They are by creation God's children; now they are his by a spiritual birth. Now they receive "the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father" ( Romans 8:15 ). Oh, the greatness of our heavenly Father's love! He has not cast us off. He has sent his own Son to bring us back, to restore his image in our hearts, and by-and-by to have us sit down with him in his everlasting kingdom.
2. Jesus Christ is their elder Brother. "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" ( Romans 8:17 ). The inheritance which Christ has we have, if by receiving him we become children of God. It is almost too great a privilege to conceive, but it is plainly revealed to us by God. If we are Christ's, all things are ours; for we are Christ's, and Christ is God's. Christ's own prayer was, "Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me be with me where I am." And then there is a family likeness between the children of God by adoption and their elder Brother. If children of some humble rank were adopted into a noble or royal family, there would be a great dissimilarity between them and the children of that family. There would not be community of feeling. It seems a wonderful thing that we, poor, weak, sinful creatures, should be adopted into the family of God, and made the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. How can there be any likeness between us and him? But God has provided for this. Those are remarkable words, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the Firstborn among many brethren" ( Romans 8:29 ). Thus God has provided that as we are to be the brethren of Christ, we shall be like him. "Beloved , now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him: for we shall see him as he is." This likeness to Christ is a gradual growth. It is the development of the Christian character. It is not in the infant lying in the cradle that much likeness to its parent can be detected. But as the body matures, as the features become more marked, as the individuality of character begins to show itself, then we see the likeness, and we say, He is his father's son, She is her mother's daughter. Those beautiful statues of the Louvre or of Florence, which are the admiration of the world, did not spring by magic from the sculptor's hands. He had his ideal. He had his plan. With that ideal before him, he took the rough material, and on it he gradually worked out his plans. He first modelled his figure in clay, and then took the rough, shapeless mass of marble, in which no one could see any traces of the future statue's loveliness or symmetry of form. But the sculptor's love for his work, the skill of his hand, the patience and perseverance of his mind, the hammer and chisel which he wielded, slowly but surely accomplished his purpose, until at last the statue stood forth in all its beauty. So God has his ideal for the Christian—likeness to Christ, the image of his Son. He has his plan, the plan of redemption, of sanctification. With that ideal before him he takes our human nature, and, by the slow and sometimes painful discipline of Christian experience, he develops the Christian character, until at last the believer is found meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light.
3. The Spirit of God is their Helper. There are three ways mentioned by the apostle in which the Spirit helps us.
4. Heaven is their home. "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" ( Romans 8:18 ). While enjoying the fellowship of our earthly homes, let us think of the better home on high, the only home that shall never be broken up.
II. THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD . They are summed up in the apostle's brief words, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh" ( Romans 8:12 ). "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" ( Romans 8:13 ). We are to remember that we are debtors. We are to reflect how much we owe. We are to realize God's claims upon us. We are to think of the claims of that heavenly Father who has condescended to adopt us as his children, and who is constantly caring for us. We are to think of the claims of that loving Saviour who gave himself for us. We are to think of the claims of that Spirit who has quickened us from the dead, who has been enlightening our minds, and who is renewing us after the image of God.
"All that I am, e'en here on earth,
All that I hope to be
When Jesus comes, and glory dawns,
I owe it, Lord, to thee."
The adoption in Christ.
Is our desire, is our vocation, life? Then we are bound in honour, hound by the necessity of the case, to live, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. But are we even then sure of the destiny of life? We are walking in a way; whither does the way lead? The answer to this question lies in the prevailing characteristic of the life we live now—a life that is "led by the Spirit of God:" These are sons! Survey the life: only "sons" could live a life like that. And the life, being of God, is to God; "If children, then heirs." We have, then, to consider—sonship, heirship.
I. THE SONSHIP . In Romans 8:15 he leads them back to the commencement of this new life. What was the change which then passed over them? They were in bondage once—such bondage as he has described in Romans 7:1-25 . And this bondage might be said to be of God, for it was the transition to liberty. God showed them the infinite claims of his holy Law, and thereby revealed to them their guilt, their helplessness, their doom. Oh, what bondage was theirs then! The whole purport of that period of their spiritual discipline was "unto fear." Nay, not the whole purport; they were but wounded that they might be made whole. God had prepared some better things for them. "In me dwelleth no good thing :" yes, this they learned. But, in Christ, they "received the Spirit of adoption;" in him they saw their sin forgiven, and in the power of God's boundless love they mounted upward as on eagles' wings. Accepted in the Beloved!
1. The adoption. An alienation is here implied from the original sonship. Man's fall; each one's sin and wicked works. The potential adoption of all in Christ Jesus: hold fast to this great fact. But not this alone: each one's individuality respected, and hence the actual adoption only of those who voluntarily attach themselves to the new Headship of Christ Jesus. This the blessed concomitant of pardon; and love working by law (Roman custom), that in this also "he might be just."
2. The witness. Each one who unfeignedly believes in Christ Jesus is adopted into the family of God. But may not this blessed adoption be realized? Thank God, it may: "The Spirit witnesseth with our spirit." "All things are of God" ( 2 Corinthians 5:18 ), and so the whole of the great work of salvation is his work, and when every holy confidence towards himself is inspired in the believer's mind, it is his inspiration. But he deals with men in harmony with the laws of their own minds, and guides and inspires them through the processes of their own thought. Hence the expression, "witnesseth with our spirit." Our consciousness of God's forgiveness, our conviction of his love, are produced instrumentally by our apprehension of his purposes and promises in Christ; but in and through the working of our own spirit his Spirit works. We are prompted by our perception of God's love in Christ to cry, "Abba, Father;" but it is also by him that we thus cry. He works the assurance in and through the working of our thought and feeling: "witnesseth with our spirit." And thus is explained the failure, where there is failure, to realize this assurance. God's inspiration is not wanting, but the instrumentality is at fault. Perceptions, tone, temperament—these constitute the hindrance. And remediable by proper means. Such, then, the sonship which is the secret of the new life: adoption, and the realization of that adoption—all of God. His children! His beloved ones! Therefore we love him; therefore we live to him.
II. THE HEIRSHIP . But if sonship be the inspiration of this new life, what must its destiny be? We are heirs—"heirs of God; joint-heirs with Christ."
1. Heirs of God. The idea of fatherhood is the bestowal of all benediction on the child. And "of him every fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named" ( Ephesians 3:15 ). Therefore he himself, and all that he can give, shall constitute our heritage. Now, in this world, God is ours; this is the great possession: his presence, his power, his love. And thus the world itself is transmuted into an inheritance of joy, even sorrows yielding blessing. But we are not yet of age; our manhood then! And oh, the inheritance that shall be! God himself we shall see face to face, knowing even as we are known. And God's creation shall be made—how fair and beautiful to us, who shall say? "In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" ( Psalms 16:11 ). And that "path of life" shall be "shown" us by God.
2. Joint-heirs with Christ. Christ, the Appointed One, the Son of man—God has adopted us in him; God has made us heirs in him! And his appropriation of the heritage is our pledge. His life in the world: the Father, the Father's gifts; yea, even the cross. His risen and ascended life: "the Firstfruits of them that slept;" "whither the Forerunner is for us entered" ( 1 Corinthians 15:20 ; Hebrews 6:20 ). See John 17:1-26 ., where the co-heirship is so set forth.
But meanwhile, "if so be that we suffer with him"! The process of recovery to sonship, heirship. We drink of that cup, we bear that cross; but so we shall wear that crown.—T.F.L.
The guidance of the Spirit.
Moses displayed a beautiful absence of jealousy when he cried, "Would to God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them!" His wish is realized under the Christian dispensation, where "the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal." This gift is the fulfilment of Christ's promise that his disciples should not be left "orphans," and our investiture with his Spirit is a testimony to the efficacy of the work of Christ. The Spirit operates silently but powerfully on the heart; though unseen, his presence is most real. Science acquaints us with subtle forces that work on matter. Place a bar of steel in the magnetic meridian with the north end downward, and, if struck with a wooden mallet, the bar will be magnetized. ]No outward difference is perceptible, yet the particles have assumed a uniform direction, have acquired new properties. So does the Spirit impart a new tendency, a new nature, and the whole man is changed. The Spirit works not like the influences of our environment from without inwardly, but from within outwardly.
I. THE LEADING FOR WHICH THAT OF THE SPIRIT IS SUBSTITUTED . It is called "self," or "the flesh," where the inimical power of the great adversary is the chief factor. The aim of the life may not be clear to the man possessed. He may seem to have no definable object of pursuit; led on now by one impulse, now by another, its force and persistency varying in all degrees. Some rely on their own native wisdom for the steerage of their course, others are governed by the maxims and customs of the society in which they move. The "spirit of the age" is a prevalent controlling force. In proportion as any one goal is kept in view, and "reached forth to' perseveringly, is the man esteemed strong and successful. And the Christian is strong according to the heartiness and fidelity with which he surrenders himself to the guidance of the Spirit. He acknowledges that "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."
II. THE ROAD TRAVELLED UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF THE SPIRIT . It is a heavenward journey; the affections are "set on things above." It begins with taking up the cross to follow Christ, and implies self-denial in order to please God. It is a pilgrimage. This world is not our rest, or our final home. It involves a warfare, for many foes beset our path, and there is no turning aside to By-path Meadows for the man under the influence of the Spirit. How the natural life is glorified and transfigured by this conception of the unseen hand impelling us! No man is ever harmed by the Spirit's leading, and if he falls into a snare it is because he has mistaken the Divine indications of his route.
III. ASCERTAINING THE MIND OF THE SPIRIT . We are not led blindfold and irresistibly; the reason is illumined, the emotions are quickened. All that strengthens the spiritual life contributes to the clearness with which we recognize the Spirit's prompting, and to the readiness with which we yield to his gentlest touch. Prayer keeps open the communication with the spiritual realm. Ask for guidance before, not after, commencing an enterprise; nor expect the Holy Spirit to come in as a deus ex machina to rectify your errors. Compare your judgment and conduct with the precepts and principles of Scripture, and with the example of good men, especially of Jesus Christ. We are taught in his school. Like an artist intently studying some work of genius and imbibing its spirit, so meditate on Christ till you catch his enthusiasm for goodness and consecration to the will of God. Make the most of the seasons when you are blessedly conscious that you are "in the Spirit," be it on "the Lord's day" or any other. It is sin that darkens our spiritual perceptions, as some accident to the body may blunt the finer sensations, may dull the hearing and dim the sight.
IV. THE FAMILY LIKENESS WHICH THIS GUIDANCE IMPARTS . The Spirit of God enables us to realize our sonship. Hatred and disobedience and fear are exchanged for glad communion and willing service. We become increasingly like our Father, like our elder Brother Christ, and like the rest of the redeemed children. It is not identical sameness, but similarity, which results. Members of the same home may differ much in exact lineaments, yet the stranger can discern a family likeness. By his Spirit is the Saviour preparing his brethren for their heavenly home, to enter with intelligent zest into its enjoyments, the society of the angels and of the blest, into holier worship and higher service than we can render here.—S.R.A.
The Spirit of adoption.
In the previous section we have found "Paradise restored," through the Spirit destroying sin and thereby death within us, first in the soul and then in the body. But this experience of spiritual-mindedness is realized on the line of God's adopting love. The emancipating Spirit is the Spirit of adoption. Let us notice the stages as here presented by the apostle.
I. OUR OBLIGATION IS NOW TO THE SPIRIT , AND NOT TO THE FLESH . ( Romans 8:12 , Romans 8:13 .) The Spirit of Christ has freed us from every condemnation; he has secured a measure of sanctification, and death is defeated in soul and will be in body. Such a work carries clearly obligation with it. We are his debtors. We realize accordingly:
1. That we are not bound to live after the flesh. To do so would only be to court death. It would be to return to our vomit, like the filthy dog; it would be to wallow once more in the mire, like the once-washed swine.
2. We are bound to mortify the deeds of the body, and so live. Mortification of fleshly desires and lusts is the great duty the Christian owes to the Spirit who condescends to dwell within him. It is a painful process, but passes into a painless one. When we earnestly set about it, it abundantly rewards us. And we find that mortification of the deeds of the body is the very secret of life. It is thus evident that the struggle of the latter part of the seventh chapter is also found in the eighth. Christian progress, as we have seen, is through antagonizing our sinful desires and tendencies, and so largely discharging our obligation to the pure Spirit who condescends to dwell within us (cf. Shedd's 'Commentary,' in loc .).
II. SONSHIP IS REALIZED IN THIS SUBMISSION TO THE SPIRIT . ( Romans 8:14 .) God's adopting love is realized within. He can give the family spirit as well as the legal standing as sons. Sonship among men, and especially adoption, may be destitute of the becoming spirit. The children may despise their parents or their foster-parents, and treat them inconsiderately. But in God-given sonship there is as its essence submission to God's Spirit. The adopted soul abandons himself to the Divine inspiration; the right filial attitude is reached; and life becomes the outcome of inspiration. They only are sons of God who are led by his Spirit.
III. ALL GOD 'S TRUE CHILDREN PROVE PRAYERFUL . ( Romans 8:15 .) The spirit of bondage which leads souls to fear like stricken slaves before God gets cast out by the Spirit of adoption, and there is within us the divinely prompted cry, "Abba, Father." Just as true children love to have fellowship with their earthly parents, so God's children love to hold fellowship with their heavenly Parent. Prayerfulness is one of the best tests of our relation to God. It is the instinct of an adopted child. In this way the spiritual relationship is realized. Just as fellowship is the essence of family relationship, so is it with the family of God.
IV. THE PRAYERFUL CHILDREN RECEIVE THE SPIRIT 'S WITNESS TO THEIR SONSHIP . ( Romans 8:16 .) The witness of the Spirit is something distinct from the testimony of our own consciousness, as the verse implies. The latter concurs with the former. What is it, then? If we consider Jesus in his baptismal prayer, we shall find that he received not only the gift of the opened heaven, that is, all needful revelation, and the gift of the descending dove, that is, the perfect inspiration, but also the audible assurance of his Sonship, when the voice came from heaven to say, "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The Father assures the Son of his ineffable relation. Now, this passage shows that there is something corresponding to this assurance granted to God's sons. They are enabled to hear the Father's voice, and are reassured thereby. It is not, of course, an audible voice, as when they said, "It thundered;" yet a voice which speaks home to the spirit within. It comes through God's Word. Up to a certain point the Bible is a splendid literary treasure; but the Spirit comes, and the Bible becomes a child's book, with a Father's voice ringing lovingly through it all. These spiritual tones are found to coincide with experience, and we have the witness within. It is thus that we are enabled to examine ourselves through God's Word. We begin to read it as children should to whom a father is faithfully speaking, and we are reassured and comforted thereby. £
V. THE PRAYERFUL CHILDREN THROUGH LISTENING TO THE FATHER 'S VOICE COME TO REALIZE THAT THEY ARE HEIRS OF GOD , AND JOINT - HEIRS WITH CHRIST . ( Romans 8:17 .) Heirship succeeds the sense of sonship, Now, in earthly inheritances the sad condition now is the parent's death; but it was not so under the ancient law. Then, as in the parable of the prodigal son, the inheritance could be divided in the father's lifetime, and either enjoyed with the father or away from him. £ Thus the father says to the elder son, "All that I have is thine;" and the promise to God's children is clear, "All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's" ( 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 ). When we realize, therefore, that God is to us "all in all," then have we entered into our inheritance with him. And what adds to its preciousness is the fact that it is a joint-inheritance with Christ. It is through him that it has become ours. What he gets we get. He has raised his brothers and sisters through adoption to the platform of his own inheritance.
VI. FELLOWSHIP IN SUFFERING IS THE SIGN AND PLEDGE OF FELLOWSHIP IN THE COMING GLORY . ( Romans 8:17 .) Now, we must remember that fellowship through suffering is the closest fellowship of all. It is when hearts are together in the fires that they are welded or rather melted into one. Now, life gets sooner or later for the true son of God like Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace, with one like unto the Son of God in the fire along with him. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" ( Hebrews 11:6 , Hebrews 11:7 ). It is to this fellowship in his sufferings that we are providentially called, that so we may become in due season conformable unto his death ( Philippians 3:11 ). We should reconcile ourselves to our inheritance of suffering, seeing that it is through it we, as a rule, reach our inheritance of wisdom, £ And as a suffering with Christ is the sign and pledge of being glorified together with him, we should hail it as the birthright mark, and rejoice in hope of the glory.—R.M.E.