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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Presbyterian Standards

Francis R. Beattie




Adoption and sanctification are two important benefits which come to believers through the redemption which is in Jesus Christ. These are now to be explained in a single chapter. Each will receive separate treatment, though sanctification will naturally require the more extended statement.

1. Adoption Gomes First in Order.

The Standards throughout give a separate place to this doctrine. Each of the Catechisms has a question upon it, and the Confession devotes a separate chapter to its consideration. In view of this fact it seems a little strange that some of our leading theologians should give no distinct place to adoption in their systems, and many of them devote but little attention to it. By some it is made a factor in justification, by others it is regarded as belonging partly to justification and partly to santification. It is clear that the Standards give to adoption a place of its own, and the exposition now to be given will follow the Standards in this connection.

The Shorter Catechism defines adoption to be an act of God's free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God. This definition the Larger Catechism expands considerably, while the Confession has a brief chapter which contains a very clear statement of the doctrine. Though it is not necessary to justify at length the propriety of assigning a separate place to adoption in the system of doctrine, still a hint or two may be of some value in confirming the view taken by the Standards.

First, In the Scriptures there are two distinct sets of texts of significance in their bearing upon this question. The one set uses the terms law, justice, pardon, justify, reconcile, and other legal words or phrases, and the other set employs the terms adoption, sonship, heir, begotten, and others of a similar nature. Now, these words and phrases cannot be well construed in terms of each other, so that they naturally call for separate doctrinal places, the former under justification, and the latter under adoption. This is just what the Standards do.

Secondly, In the Scriptures justification is directly related to the law of God, and adoption to the love of God. This being so, each should have its own doctrinal place. If this be done, due prominence will be given to the love of God in the system of doctrine, and the fact of the sonship of believers will thereby be put in its proper place. It may be that the limited attention devoted to this topic in some of the great treatises on theology has had something to do with the undue development, in other directions, of the idea of the fatherhood of God, and the divine sonship of all men. This is, no doubt, the swing of the pendulum from one extreme to the other. The true position is that of the Standards, which gives a separate place to adoption, and plants the fact of the spiritual fatherhood of God and the divine sonship of the believer, as distinct from that which is merely natural, upon the redemptive work of Christ our elder brother.

Thirdly, According to Scripture, the results which flow from adoption are different from those which arise from either justification or sanctification. From justification flow peace, reconciliation, acceptance in a legal sense, and assurance of the divine favor. Under the experience of sanctification, there come the renewal of the nature and the rectitude of the life. But under adoption there emerges the relation of sons, as distinct from that of servants. Believers receive the adoption of sons, which makes them the spiritual children of God. As children they are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. They have power or authority to become the sons of God. They receive the spirit of adoption and can cry, Abba, Father; and they are called the sons of God, and God sends forth the Spirit of his Son into their hearts, and this Spirit witnesses to the fact of their divine sonship. For such reasons as these the Standards are right in giving a separate place to the article of adoption.

1. Adoption is God's gracious act. It assumes justification, and vouchsafes a further benefit. By means of adoption the believer is transferred from the estate of legal acceptance and reward, which justification secures, to that of the filial relation, with its privileges of sonship. This transfer is effected by the judicial act of God, and in this respect adoption resembles justification. As gracious, the act of adoption, like that of justification, rests upon the work of Christ as its ground. It is in and for the sake of his only Son Jesus Christ that God makes believers partakers of the grace of adoption. Believers are thereby put in the relation of sons of God, and their standing is made secure therein. Adoption also stands related to regeneration, which produces the nature of God's sons, and then sanctification builds up that nature in the divine image. Adoption puts believers in the filial relation, with respect to God and his spiritual household, and secures to them the nature of the sons of God. Adoption thus assumes election, effectual calling, regeneration, faith, and justification.

2. By means of adoption all those who are justified are taken, or received, into the number of the children of God. By the judicial act of God this change of legal relation is effected. God's name, as the Confession and Larger Catechism say, is put upon them, so that they are members of the household of faith and of the family of God. In this new relation the spirit of adoption is bestowed upon them, and in this new and tender relation they have the spirit of the children of God. This is the main matter in adoption on the purely legal side.

3. Again, by means of adoption those who are justified have a covenant right to all the liberties and privileges of the children of God. These liberties and privileges are recited at some length in the Confession and the Larger Catechism. These are now to be set down with some care, as they are very precious. In addition to having his name upon them, and his Spirit in them as a filial spirit, they have access with boldness at a throne of grace. Just as a child in the home has nearer access to the father, and may make his requests with more boldness than the servant dares, so in the enjoyment of the grace of adoption the believer may come at all times with boldness to a throne of grace and make known his requests, assured that as an earthly father hears and helps his children, so the heavenly Father will hear and help his children. Then, by reason of adoption it is the privilege of believers to call God, Father. Were it not for this gracious privilege of adoption, believers could never call the great God their Father in the tender way in which they now can. Further, believers, as the adopted sons of God, have the precious privilege of being pitied by one who pities as a father, of being protected under the fatherly care of Almighty God, and of being constantly provided with every good and perfect gift by his unfailing providence. Another important privilege given in adoption is that God's children are chastened by the Lord as by a father. For their sins and failures they may not be punished, strictly speaking, but they are chastened by his fatherly discipline, for their own good and growth in grace. Thus, many of the ills of this life may turn out to be blessings in disguise, while the chastisement itself is a proof of the love of God, and of their adoption into his family. Finally, the privilege of security is more fully enjoyed by believers by reason of their adoption. They are sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption, they are heirs of God through Jesus Christ and inherit all the promises of God, and they are heirs of everlasting salvation and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory.

This comprehensive inventory of the privileges which adoption brings shows how important and precious it is. Justification could never bring these benefits, for it leaves the believer in the forum of the divine procedure, with pardon, acceptance, and a title to reward, and it can bring nothing more. But adoption takes the believer from the forum and places him in the family of God, where he may rejoice in all the privileges already mentioned. Thus adoption has its proper place as a doctrine of the Christian system, and it is a very precious practical religious experience.

II. Sanctification is the Third Great Benefit which Believers Receive through the Work of Christ as Redeemer.

This is a doctrine and a fact of Christian experience which is carefully considered in the Standards, and hence it must be suitably explained in this exposition. Certain closely-related topics, such as good works, perseverance therein, and the assurance of faith and salvation, must be adjourned to a subsequent chapter, after faith and repentance have been considered. In a general way, sanctification may be described as inward spiritual renewal of the nature and dispositions, which results in outward reformation of life and conduct. Sanctification is intimately related to regeneration, and is to be carefully distinguished from justification. Sanctification grows out of regeneration as its root, and it carries on the work begun in effectual calling and regeneration.

1. The relation of sanctification to justification requires some explanation at the outset. This point is specially treated of in the Larger Catechism, and a brief paragraph is now devoted to it. Sanctification and justification are inseparably joined together, hence all who are justified, they being also regenerated, are under the experience of sanctification, and none others but those who are justified are being sanctified. But they differ in certain important respects. In justification God imputes the righteousness of Christ to the believer; in sanctification the Holy Spirit infuseth grace and enableth to the exercise thereof. In justification sin is pardoned, so that its guilt is removed; in sanctification sin is subdued, so that it no longer exercises its supreme control. In justification all believers are equally freed from the revengeful wrath of God perfectly in this life, so that they never fall into condemnation; but sanctification is not equal in all, but of various degrees; nor is it perfect in any in this life, but growing up unto perfection. These distinctions, though not expressly stated in the Confession, are yet plainly implied in the exposition it makes of justification and sanctification, respectively.

2. Sanctification is God's gracious work in the renewed, believing, justified, and adopted soul. Instead of being an act of God done once for all, like justification and adoption, it is a work of God's Spirit carried on gradually and continuously in the believing soul. Thus sanctification is a real, personal work in the soul, by means of which its dispositions and acts are radically changed. This work, more over, is gracious. Both Catechisms agree in saying that it is the work of God's free grace, in which the believer actively co-operates, as he works out his own salvation, God at the same time working in him both to will and to do of his good pleasure. As believers are chosen in Christ that they should be holy, sanctification actually makes them holy, so that the means as well as the end are included in the eternal purposes of electing grace.

3. The indispensable condition of sanctification is that mystical union with Christ which is secured in effectual calling, and which results in consequent faith. The Confession says that the effectually called are further sanctified through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection. Through their union with him they are made partakers of his life, even as they have obtained the benefits of his death. The Larger Catechism says that God, through the powerful operation of his Spirit, applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, effects the sanctification of his people. This grounds the sanctification of believers, finally, in their union with Christ, who is thus not only their peace but is also their life.

4. The agent in sanctification is the Holy Spirit, and the usual means by which his work is done is the word of God. The sanctifying Spirit of God and of Christ, for both terms are used in the Scriptures and in the Standards, is the agent by whom believers are sanctified. This Spirit first unites them to Christ and renews them, and then dwells in them to nourish the seeds of grace in their souls. The means by which the Spirit usually works is the word or truth of God. The Scriptures themselves emphasize this fact, and our Lord prays, "sanctify them through the truth, thy word is truth." The apostle also speaks of sanctification, not only being by the Spirit as its agent, but also through belief of the truth as its instrument. This brings out the function of faith in relation to sanctification. Believers are sanctified by the Spirit, and their hearts are purified by faith.

5. The nature of sanctification is, perhaps, the most important point to be explained in connection with the doctrine. Several things are to be mentioned here.

First, Sanctification, the Confession says, is throughout in the whole man. Body, soul and spirit are brought under its gracious operation, and every power and faculty of man's complex nature is affected thereby. Just as sin has affected the whole man, and has wrought ruin therein, so grace in sanctification seeks to undo the dreadful ravages of sin, and, in due time, as will be soon seen, it shall succeed. The dominion of the whole body of sin is to be destroyed, as sanctification progresses. It is not mere reformation in outward conduct; it is the inward renovation of the dispositions and states of the soul in the whole man after the image of God.

Secondly, On the negative side, sanctification consists in dying daily unto sin. Believers are thereby enabled to die more and more unto sin. This is the clear language of the Catechisms. The Confession says that the several lusts of the body of sin are more and more weakened and mortified. The corruption of nature remains, but it is being subdued and will be finally extirpated. The flesh with its affections and lusts is crucified daily, and the deeds of the body are mortified increasingly, and the old man with his deeds is being constantly put off. The Standards here follow the Scriptures very closely.

Thirdly, On the positive side, sanctification consists in the believer being renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and in his being enabled to live more and more unto righteousness. The Larger Catechism has a somewhat different form of statement here. It says that believers are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and have the seeds of repentance unto life, and of all the other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces stirred up, increased, and strengthened as they rise unto newness of life. The Confession has still another form of statement. After stating that sinful lusts are weakened and mortified, it goes on to say that in sanctification believers are more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man can see the Lord. This statement gives a very full, complete view of the nature of sanctification on the positive side. The image of God, lost by the fall, is slowly reproduced, and righteousness is exhibited in heart and life. Grace is poured into the heart, to the end that the graces may be stirred up and strengthened unto newness of life. True holiness is the sure result in this life, and meetness for heaven is the certain outcome for the life beyond. Thus the inward and the outward life, the nature and the acts, of the believer are all affected by sanctification.

Fourthly, Though sanctification extends to the whole man, it is yet ever imperfect in this life. There still abides some remnants of corruption in every part. The old sinful nature with its lusts, though pardoned and mortified, yet remains in part, and its motions are of the nature of sin, for sin pertains not merely to voluntary acts, but also to the states and dispositions of the heart. The imperfection of the sanctification of believers arises from these remnants of sin abiding in every part of them, and from the perpetual lusting of the flesh against the spirit. The result is that believers are often foiled with temptations and fall into various sins. They are also hindered in all their spiritual services, and their best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God. In this statement there is no favor for any form of perfectionism in this life, nor for entire sanctification in this earthly state. Sanctification is the goal towards which the believer is to strive, and to which he shall be finally conducted; but this goal is only reached at the time of death, and is never attained in this life.

Fifthly, As a result of the presence of good and evil in the believer, an irreconcilable warfare is found to be going on in his experience. The old man and the new, the flesh and the spirit, the law of the members and the law of the mind, are in constant antagonism, whence arises an incessant spiritual conflict, in which the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. Still, in this warfare there is no doubt as to the final outcome, for though the remaining corruption with its lusts may, for a time, prevail, yet victory is sure in the end, because through the continual supply of grace and strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ the regenerate part of the nature overcomes the unregenerate part. It is through this conflict and its pledge of victory that believers grow in grace and perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord.

From all this it is evident that the Christian life is a constant conflict between good and evil in a true religious experience, and that sanctification is a constant and gradual growth going on in the heart of the Christian. It begins with regeneration, and it is continued by the Spirit of God and the suitable means of grace, till at the end of life's conflict it is found to be complete. Those who make justification a progressive work, like sanctification, as the Romanists do, make a serious mistake. No less serious is the error of some Protestants, who hold that sanctification is an immediate act of God producing entire freedom from sin. Sanctification, in the sense of setting apart to a holy service, may be regarded as an immediate act, and as alike and complete in all believers; but sanctification, in the sense in which it is chiefly used in the Standards, as denoting spiritual renewal and moral purification, is not, and in the nature of the case can scarcely be, an immediate act, either of God or of the soul. It is a slow, gradual, ebbing and flowing, progressive work, moving steadily on towards its goal, and certainly reached at death.

III. There are some important benefits flowing from justification, adoption, and sanctification which remain to be considered. The statement of these benefits is found in the Shorter Catechism. They consist in the benefits which flow to believers from justification, adoption, and sanctification in this life, at death, and at the resurrection. Little more need be done here than to mention some of these benefits, as in a future chapter, based upon the Confession and Larger Catechism, some of these same facts will have to be explained in another connection.

One of the benefits received in this life is assurance of the love of God. The believer has the good confidence of God's love, for it is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him. Then he has peace of conscience, for reconciliation has been effected, and he is admitted to the household of faith. By the word and Spirit of God the enmity of the believer's heart is also subdued. Thus, that which provides for peace outwardly in relation to God produces peace inwardly in the conscience of the believer. There also follows joy in the Holy Ghost. This is a holy spiritual joy, which the world can neither give nor take away. Increase of grace and perseverance unto the end are also assured to the believer. Grace gains momentum as it moves onward, and it halts not till its goal is reached in glory.

The benefits which come at death and the resurrection need only be mentioned. At death the souls of believers are made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory. Their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves until the resurrection. This is the precious hope of the believer. At the resurrection, believers, being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted at the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the enjoying of God to all eternity. This is the glorious hope of every believer, and it is the crowning benefit which comes to all those who are justified, adopted and sanctified, through the rich provisions of the gospel of God's dear Son. And this, moi cover, is all that the Shorter Catechism has to say concerning death, resurrection, the middle state, and the final judgment.

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