This meditation by Herman Hoeksema first appeared in the June 1, 1944 issue of the
SB in connection with Pentecost. It was reprinted 50 years later, in June of 1994.
Now we publish it again, nearly 79 years later. HH was one of the first editors of
the SB, pastor of First PRC in Grand Rapids, MI, and founding professor in the PRC

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. Romans 8:15, 16

Blessed Spirit!

It is through Him, the Parakleet, the Comforter, whom the Lord had promised to send from the Father, and whom He poured forth into His church on the day of the firstfruits, that we become heirs and partakers of all the blessings of salvation!

He it is that imparts unto us the fullness of Christ and all His benefits!

Apart from Him we are children of wrath, and lie in the midst of death, incapable of laying hold on the Christ of God, the blessings of forgiveness, eternal righteousness, the adoption unto children, freedom from all condemnation, the everlasting love of God, eternal life, and glory. For how could we possibly reach out for the Christ and His fullness? He must come to us. And in the Spirit He returned! He was with us for a little while, in our death and in our misery. While He was with us still, He took all our sicknesses and pains upon Himself, assumed the full burden of all our sins and iniquities, and carried them all to the accursed tree, there to become obedient unto death, and to descend into lowest hell, that He might bring us to God. He is no more with us. For He was raised from the dead. And He is exalted into the highest glory, at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven, Lord of life and of death! Thither He must draw us. From thence He must reach out for us. For we cannot reach out for Him. And He did come, in the Spirit, to abide with us forever, and to impart unto us Himself in all the riches of His grace!

And so, through the Spirit He lives in us.

And through the same Spirit we live by His grace.

And living by His grace, we do mortify the deeds of the body, realizing that we are debtors, not to the flesh to live after the flesh, but to the Spirit to live after Him.

And mortifying the deeds of the body, we know that we are the sons of God, children that are led by the Spirit of God in the way of His good commandments.

For the Spirit whom the church received on the glad day of Pentecost is the Spirit of the living Lord. And He is not a spirit of bondage again to fear, but He is the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father!

And thus, Spirit controlled, and Spirit led, we receive the testimony through that same Spirit that we are the sons of God!

Blessed Spirit of the Lord!

Abba, Father!

In this outcry of faith, of love, of hope and longing, the church that is led by the Spirit expresses spontaneously her assurance of sonship. In it they give testimony of their being conscious that they are the children of God.

Abba, Pater!

In the original there is a repetition of the same word, first in the Chaldean, then in the Greek, both words meaning simply “Father.” The double phrase was probably a standing expression that had gradually been adopted in that form by the early church. In the New Testament we find that it is used by our Lord in the hour of His great agony in Gethsemane; in the sixth verse of Galatians 4, where it is said that God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, and that it is He that cries, Abba, Father; and here in the fifteenth verse of Romans 8, where believers are said to make this outcry under the impulse of the Spirit of adoption. Perhaps it was the fact that the Lord expressed Himself with this phrase in the hour of His suffering, coupled with the circumstance that the early church consisted of converts from Jews and Gentiles, that led to its adoption as a standing expression, perhaps even as a liturgical formula used by the church.

Abba, Father!

It is the strong and clear expression of our sonship inrelation to God, both in virtue of His gracious adoption, and by reason of our being born of Him.

For we are, first of all, children by adoption. By nature we are not children of God but children of wrath. Because of our sin we are born as exiles from God’s home, wandering about in darkness and under condemnation. We have no right to be called God’s sons, no right to dwell in His house; no right to the enjoyment of His blessed favor and of the pleasures that are at His right hand for evermore. But in pure grace He adopted us, bestowed on us the legal right to be called His sons, to be the objects of His love and favor, to dwell in His fellowship, and to become heirs of the eternal inheritance in His heavenly tabernacle. He forgives all our transgressions, and clothes us with an eternal righteousness through Jesus Christ our Lord, all of pure grace, without any merit on our part.

And the consciousness of this adoption as children of God, of our full redemption, of the forgiveness of sins, of our perfect righteousness before God, of His free and sovereign everlasting love to us we express in this outcry: Abba, Father!

But there is more.

For it is not only by adoption that we become children of God. In fact, it would be impossible to lay hold on this blessed adoption, or even to long for it and to rejoice in its possession and assurance, if God did not also bestow upon us and work within us the wonder of grace whereby we are born of Him, His image is restored within us, and we become sons of God in spiritual reality. But He realizes the adoption in our hearts by making us partakers of His nature. By nature we are not only devoid of the right to be called children of God and to dwell in His house, but we are also enemies of God, minding the things of the flesh, loving the darkness rather than the light. We care not to dwell in God’s house. Far from Him we wander and seek the evil foolishly. But He reaches out into our hearts, removes the darkness, roots out the enmity, enlightens the mind, changes the refractory will, instills into our hearts a new life, the life of the risen Lord, assures us of His love, and causes us to love Him, to love His precepts, to love the brethren, to long for His fellowship, and to seek to be pleasing to Him.

And it is also the consciousness of this real, spiritual sonship, of this love to God and to one another, of this longing for His favor and fellowship, that is expressed in the cry: Abba, Father!

We cry!

It is a matter of fact!

The apostle does not speak here of a possibility. He does not state a general doctrine: believers cry, Abba, Father! He does not put it in the form of an admonition or exhortation. The matter is definite and personal: we, the apostles, all believers, the whole church of Christ in the world, cry, Abba, Father!

Is it true?

Dare we follow the apostle and adopt his bold statement in application to ourselves?

O, let us not forget, as we try to answer this question, that it is a cry that leaves our lips, that is pressed from our hearts, when we say, Abba, Father!

And to be sure, this means that the testimony concerning our sonship is expressed with fervency. It is strong, powerful, clear. But it also implies that it is made from the depths, by those who, while they are conscious of their nearness to God, are yet far off at the same time; as those who, while they are assured of their sonship, yet look upon that sonship as something that must still be realized, and the realization of which seems to lie in the distant future; or as those who, while they are sons, yet are not sons; who, while they are righteous, yet are full of sin; who, while they live, yet lie in the midst of death; who, while they are heirs of all things, are in possession of nothing. From the depths, out of the midst of death, believers raise their cry: Abba, Father!

It is an outcry of the assurance of our adoption, and of the consciousness of our being children of God, but then, it is still a cry!

A groan of hope!

A cry of longing for the perfect day!

For as yet we have but a small beginning of the new obedience!

Yet, the beginning is a principle.

And by virtue of that principle we do sing with the psalmist: “As the hart panteth after waterbrooks, so longs our soul for Thee!”

For Thee, the living God!

Abba, Father!

Blessed Spirit of adoption!

For through Him alone may we carry this assurance of our sonship in our hearts.

It is not we that of ourselves cry, Abba, Father!

How could we? Or what comfort and blessedness would there be in this outcry of assurance and longing were it of ourselves? Are we, perhaps, not deceiving ourselves in so crying to God? Will He hear us and receive us, and will He respond to our outcry? Do we, perhaps, too audaciously appropriate to ourselves what does not belong to us? Are we claiming a right which God does not seal?

Only when the outcry is divinely wrought, only whenit is but the expression of what God Himself impels us to cry, can there be the true assurance of sonship in our hearts when we cry, Abba, Father!

And so it is.

For we have received the Spirit!

And the Spirit we have received is the real Author of this outcry, not we ourselves. He it is that always cries, Abba, Father! He does so as the Spirit of the Son in the adorable and blessed Trinity. For in that Spirit the Father eternally faces the Son saying: My beloved Son; and the Son is eternally facing the Father, saying: Abba, Father. He does so as the Spirit of Christ in Christ Himself. For it is in that Spirit that He cried to the Father in the days of His flesh and humiliation; and it is in that same Spirit that the Holy Child Jesus, now in the state of His exceeding glory, constantly turns to His God, crying, Abba, Father! It is in that same Spirit, the Spirit of God as the Spirit of Christ poured forth into the church, that believers in this world lift up their hearts to the God of their salvation in Christ Jesus their Lord, crying, Abba, Father!

For He is the Spirit of adoption!

He is not a spirit of bondage again to fear.

Such a spirit controls those that are outside of the sphere and influence of this Spirit. It is the spirit of the sinner that, instead of being filled with the true reverence of love that acknowledges that God is God and that causes us to prostrate ourselves before Him in true humility, proudly brings to Him the sacrifices of the wicked, claiming the right to be accepted of God on the basis of his own goodness, his religiousness, his own works, and thus becoming abominable in the sight of the Most High, and receiving the testimony of his condemnation and rejection in his conscience.

That is the spirit of bondage that would work for God as a wage earner, being a stranger to the freedom of sons.

And that is the spirit that always fills with a slavish fear those who are possessed by it; for they never receive the assurance of forgiveness and righteousness, essential to all confidence and joy.

But such is not the Spirit we have received. He is the Spirit of adoption, and, therefore, the Spirit of true and perfect liberty, the Spirit of forgiveness and righteousness, the Spirit of the love of God, in which there is neither bondage nor fear.

He is the Spirit of adoption in the sense that He serves the cause of our adoption, so that He realizes our adoption unto children of God unto us, and causes us to possess it, and to be assured of it, and to rejoice in it, and to live in the consciousness and confidence and joy that we are the sons of God. We can speak of our adoption from before the foundation of the world. For God adopted us to be His sons in His everlasting good pleasure, when He chose us in Christ. We can speak of the objective realization of our adoption through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, for He was delivered for our transgressions, and raised for our justification. The eternal adoption of all the elect was objectively realized when Christ died for our sins, and when God raised Him from the dead. And we may speak of our adoption through faith before our own consciousness when we prostrate ourselves in dust and ashes before the face of God with the prayer of the publican in our hearts and upon our lips, and receive the testimony that our sins are forgiven and that we are clothed with everlasting righteousness; that God loved us and gave His Son for us; and that He raised Him from the dead unto our personal justification.

It is in the last sense that the Spirit of Christ poured out into the church is the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father!

He it is that brings us to a true knowledge and consciousness of our sin and guilt before the face of God.

He it is that ingrafts us into Christ, and makes us partakers of His death and resurrection.

He it is that pours out the love of God into our hearts.

He bestows upon us all the benefits of Christ.

He makes us children of God!

Blessed gift of the Spirit!

Sons of God!

Blessed assurance!

Blessed, because the assurance is not of us, but is the response to the testimony of the same Spirit of adoption, witnessing with our spirit that we are the children of God!

For the Spirit abides with us. And dwelling within us, He testifies constantly with our spirit concerning our sonship in relation to God. Not, indeed, as if there were two independent testimonies, ours and His, coinciding with each other, but so that the Spirit of adoption, through the Word of Christ in the Scriptures, works within us the personal assurance of our adoption and sonship, and thus becomes the ground of the witness of our own spirit!

Thus we are assured of our sonship by God’s own testimony!

And we have confidence to cry: Abba, Father!