The Adoption of Sons: A Practical and Experimental Treatise
by Thomas Houston, Ettrick Press, 2021, 212 pp, £8.95
The author of this book was the minister of Knockbracken Reformed Presbyterian Church from 1828 until his death in 1882. ‘The Adoption of Sons’ was originally included in the 4-volume ‘Collected Works of Thomas Houston’, published in 1872.
Those ‘Works’ are now extremely rare so Ettrick Press has done the Christian public a great service in republishing this little gem which has been concealed for far too long.
I describe this book, ‘a little gem’, and that is no overstatement because this is one of the best treatises ever published on the subject of ‘Adoption’. Houston, in 14 succinct chapters skillfully develops his subject, clearly defining its theological contours and thoughtfully setting out its pastoral implications and applications.
The subject of ‘Adoption’ in the spiritual realm immediately makes the reader think of his relationship to God the Father. Houston develops this theme in one of the early chapters entitled: “The believer’s relation to God the Father”, showing how this concept is originally found in God’s relationship to Israel. “Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my first-born.” (Exodus 4:22). And also in Israel’s relationship to God. Collectively they address him: “Blessed be thou, Lord God of Israel, our father, for ever and ever.” (1 Chronicles 29:10)
From this platform the author defines our adoption in relation to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ, as the elder brother, has a special relationship with the redeemed, described in Isaiah 8:18 – “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me. …” (See also Jn. 17:6, 9). Houston writes about Jesus, “The Elder Brother provides for the children of the family all that is needful for their support, and comfort, and happiness.”
With reference to the Holy Spirit, Houston affirms that he “acts an important part in conferring the adoption of sons, and in investing with its high privileges”. A key aspect of the Spirit’s role in our adoption is his granting believers assurance of their sonship and therefore of their future inheritance. The Spirit “bears witness with out spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16)
A spiritually, warm and intensely devotional chapter is entitled: “Fellowship in the adopted family”. Houston writes, “The ties of grace, binding heart to heart, are stronger and more enduring than those of nature…. Next to communion with God himself, the fellowship of the saints is one of the most exalted and endearing privileges that can be realized on earth.”
Subsequent chapter headings give a clear indication as to how Houston further develops his subject:
The spirit of the adopted; The work of the children of God on earth; The privileges of sonship; The government and discipline of the family; Lack of evidence of our sonship; The future manifestation of the sons of God; The Father’s house; Practical uses of the adoption of sons.
In the domestic sphere home is extremely precious to children. Likewise, the children of the Kingdom have a longing for their home in heaven which will one day be realized. Houston captures this thought as he concludes his treatise:
“In that day it shall be said by all the holy, happy family of God, and by each individual, as they are brought fully home to their Father’s house, ‘Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him; and he will save us. This is the Lord, we have waited for him; we will be glad, and rejoice in his salvation.’ (Isaiah 25:9)”
Four interesting appendices complete this splendid volume: The Fatherhood of God; Manton on the witness of the Spirit; Luther on the witness of the Spirit; Behold the Bridegroom cometh!” These add interesting insights and demonstrate Houston’s extensive research in preparing his material for publication. This is a brilliant book and will fill the heart of thoughtful readers with gratitude at being adopted by grace and having conferred all the privileges of the sons of God.
Prof Robert McCollum, Retired Pastor of Lisburn RPCI and Current Professor at Reformed Theological College, Belfast