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Chapter VIII. 12-17 - The life of sonship.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: A Practical Exposition
by Charles Gore, M.A., D.D. 
(Volume I, London, 1899)
We are now in the Spirit.  The divine Spirit dwells within us, and restores our nature to its proper balance by giving us control over our lower nature.  The moral meaning and obligations of such a condition are plain, and St. Paul proceeds to enforce them.  When our impulses and appetites solicit us to let them have their own way, we must give them to understand that they are making a claim which we cannot recognize and which, if we did, would lead us the way of death.  On the contrary, it is these merely physical tendencies – the practices of the body when left to itself – that we must put to death by the power of the Spirit.  And if we do this we are on the way of life.  Why so certainly?  Because we are sons of God – nothing less.  Those who thus act under the Spirit’s guidance are all of them sons of God.  Further if we ask ourselves what sort of spirit we received when we became Christians, we know that it was not a spirit appropriate to slaves and calculated to bring us again into a condition of terror under a law.  It was a spirit appropriate to those who have been adopted for sons of God, and it is in the power of that spirit that we cry out to God by the name of Abba, Father, in our familiar supplication.  We have thus in our own spirits the sense that we are sons; and behind that and reinforcing it, the divine Spirit, by putting the word Father into our lips, bears the same witness.  Well then, if we are thus children of God, we have the child’s prospect of entering into our inheritance.  Christ, our elder brother, has already entered into it, and we shall enter into it with Him, if we are content to take the Christian maxim for true, and suffer with Him on this side of death, that we may share His glory beyond. 

There are several phrases in this passage which we shall do well to notice. 

1.  If by the spirit ye mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.  Mortification is absolutely necessary, and at every stage of the Christian life.  It is the carrying into effect in detail of the fundamental law of our new life – the law which the baptismal ritual was intended to teach – life by means of death.  For the body had gained the upper hand : it had come to control the weakened spirit.  Therefore the reinvigorated spirit must react upon the body and its impulses.  It must make its government felt, and the physical tendencies must be checked, pruned, cut back.  This is the Christian circumcision.  And as Christ was first born, then circumcised the eighth day; so each new birth in Christ must be followed by a like circumcision of the luxuriance of animal appetites.  We learn the lesson when we are children: we expect to be restrained and curbed: and unless we are very foolish we learn the lesson only more deeply in later life.  There is no single faculty or function of our being which can escape this law.  No friendship can be cemented without mutual self-denial.  No marriage, however founded on affection, can be blessed without the mutual pain of self-repression and concession.  No art or science can be mastered by mere intelligence without moral discipline.  No gift can be consecrated in its natural luxuriance.  ‘Every branch in Christ that beareth fruit, He pruneth it that it may bring forth more fruit.’ 

2.  As many are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  The New Testament language would have us regard all the baptized as regenerate and sons of God, but it will not let us mistake the meaning of this teaching.  In any effective sense it is they, and only they, who are really controlled by the divine Spirit who can call themselves sons.  As St. John says, freedom from sin is the only test of divine birth [1 John 3:9].  And the best way to make our new birth effective is to meditate on the gift which we, when we became Christians, did actually receive.  We who, like the first Christians, received baptism with the laying-on of hands, did then and there receive (such is the implication of St. Paul’s language – ‘Ye received’ at a particular time, not ‘Ye have received’) a spirit proper not to slaves but to sons of God, qualifying us to call on God as our Father, and to co-operate in the purposes of His kingdom.  It remains for us to claim these powers and privileges of our sonship, and to claim them to the full.  Yet how many anxious-minded Christians of our day would appear to have received nothing more nor less than the spirit of slaves!  They realize their religion as a restraint, a responsibility, a cause of fear.  And such a servile religion is no doubt better than a hypocritical sense of sonship unaccompanied by the fear of sin.  The wise man remarks that ‘a servant that dealeth wisely shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, and shall have part in the inheritance among the brethren’ [Prov 17:2].  But the spirit of the slave is not what we are called to.  If we had more religion, if we would give it freer course, if we would consent to think less of our circumstances and more of God and His gifts, there would be less fear and more joy both in our work and our prayer. 

3.  Abba, Father.  Our Lord, speaking in Aramaic, the vernacular of Palestine, is recorded by St. Mark in His hour of agony to have said Abba.  And even in the Greek-speaking churches of St. Paul’s day, that sacred word was still used side by side with its Greek equivalent, according to the witness of this and the parallel passage, Gal. 4:6.  St. Paul appears to be referring to some occasion on which the Church was in the habit of calling on God with the Aramaic and Greek words side by side, and it is more than likely that he is making a definite reference to the Lord’s Prayer, as recited by the Roman and Galatian Christians in the form prescribed for us in St. Luke’s version, beginning ‘Father.’  The retention by Greek Christians of an Aramaic word in a familiar religious formula, is like the later retention by the Latins of the Greek prayer, Kyrie eleison, or the retention by us of the names Te Deum, Magnificat, &c.  St. Paul’s meaning would come home to us better if we were to read – ‘whereby we cry Our Father.’ 

4.  ‘The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God.’  This is a very important passage for showing that St. Paul did not in any way confuse the divine Spirit and the human, and that in his belief the divine indwelling did not in any way annihilate the human personality.  Even in the closest union God remains God and man man.  But the passage is at least as important as opening up a special avenue of insight into St. Paul’s conception of Christian worship and spiritual life generally.  He speaks first of a witness of the individual spirits of Christians to the fact of their divine sonship; and he distinguishes from it something greater, a witness of the divine Spirit, supporting the human.  What exactly does he mean by this witness of the divine Spirit as distinct from the consciousness which – under the leading of the divine Spirit – Christians are led themselves to form?  How are we to distinguish the Spirit’s witness from the witness of our own hearts inspired by Him?  Is it merely that the ‘consciousness (of the individual) is analyzed, and its data are referred partly to the man himself, partly to the Spirit of God moving and prompting him?’  I do not think that a closer examination will lead us to be satisfied with this. 

The witness of the divine Spirit is apparently fixed by the context to consist in the supply to us of the phrase ‘Abba, Father’.  It is the Spirit ‘in whom we cry’ (or, as the passage in the Galatians says, ‘who Himself comes into our hearts crying) Abba, Father,’ who thus, by suggesting this cry to us, bears witness with our own spirits that we are sons of God.  Thus the supporting witness of the Spirit lies especially in a certain mode of address to God or formula of prayer which He supplies.  But this ‘cry’ or prayer the Spirit supplies to the hearts of the Church as a whole.  The whole Church, and not the individual soul only, is the Spirit’s home.  ‘Know ye not that ye are (corporately) a temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you’ [1 Cor. 3:16] ?  The witness of the Spirit is thus a witness borne in the whole Church, which supports and sustains the witness of the individual soul.  This is a thought full of consolation.  The life of the individual Christian reposes upon, and is infolded by, the larger life of the whole body.  Behind his own spiritual consciousness, with all its vicissitudes, lies the inspired consciousness of the whole body, the witness of the Spirit; and this in part expresses itself in inspired formulas – the Lord’s Prayer, the psalms, the creeds of the divine name, the Church’s worship; and these formulas, representing our best self, are to sustain us in our fluctuations of feeling, and carry us over our periods of dryness and insensibility.  ‘The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit.’ 

5.  ‘The inheritance’ of the children of God, which the Old Testament begins by meaning the Holy Land, was spiritualized into meaning [ed. note: or rather seen for what it truly pointed to] the kingdom of the Messiah.  ‘They shall inherit the land for ever’ [Isa. 60:21]: ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’ [Matt. 5:5].  And this kingdom of the Messiah is an eternal kingdom: ‘they shall inherit eternal life’ [Matt. 19:29] – that is to be our inheritance as the chosen people of the Lord.  And it is an inheritance not only incorruptible but inexhaustible: all share in it to the full of their capacities, and the abundance of those who share diminishes nothing from the richness that remains. 

And into that inheritance Christ is ‘the way.’  His life shows the law by which it is to be won.  It was a current Christian saying – ‘a faithful saying’ – ‘if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him’ [2 Tim. 2:11].  And whenever we are inclined to complain at anything we may have to suffer, there is one thought capable at once of quenching all murmuring, because of its indisputable reasonableness – ‘It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master.’