09 August 2005

davenant on "adoption"

John Davenant (1572-1641) was at one time the Lady Margaret professor of divinity at Cambridge and a member of the English delegation to the Synod of Dort. He later took up a call to be the Bishop of Salisbury and was, in his own lifetime, regarded as a Puritan Anglican.

I've been finishing up a translation of a Latin letter of his on the topic of perseverance, apostasy, and infant baptism. One of the topics he touches upon are the various ways in which the biblical notion of "adoption" can function scripturally and theologically.

The following an excerpt from that letter, leaving out the many supporting quotations Davenant draws from the Fathers, scholastics, and Protestant divines:



In order for the matter to come clear, we pay attention to the fact that men are said to be the adopted children of God in many ways:

[a] Some are called sons as to the eternal, unchangeable, and secret intention of God to conduct them to an heavenly inheritance....And if anyone were to maintain that any one among these adopted sons of God may become apostate and perish, he is not to be refuted by anyone, but to be mocked by everyone. For those, whom God has by his good gift has predestined to kingdom, shall without doubt reign with Christ. If "any of those should perish, then God would be defeated or deceived; neither of which is possible."

[b] They are called "sons of God" or "born of God," whom upon believing in his own Son, God grants the actual perogatives of sons, that is, the Spirit of adoption, crying in their hearts, "Abba, Father," repairing and restoring them to the image of God, and at least "sealing them to the day of redemption." This adoption is (so to speak) the genuine offspring of that secret one, which now, risen to light by its effect in time, testifies to that eternal adoption...

Regarding this adoption - that no one who comes to it shall afterwards perish - Protestant teaching is unanimous...When our theologians uphold perseverance and the infallible consequence of salvation, for those adopted, it is manifest that they understand it to be the adoption we have been describing.

[c] Men are called the "sons of God" by outward covenanting together with him or being gathered together among the visible people of God. In this sense all the tribes of Israel who entered into covenant with God, by means of the seal of circumcision, are called "sons of God" and "sons of the kingdom," even those who would be exiled from that kingdom and ejected into outer darkness. In this sense all Christians are covenanted together as sons of God, even if the greater part of them by their conversation were to prove themselves children of the devil. Both single persons and whole nations are able to be cut off from this outward adoption and slide into apostasy; as is evident from the example of those who have deserted the Christian faith for the perfidy of Islam. But this is not the adoption into the people God that we are considering when we dispute about the perseverance of the saints, the sons of God.

[d] And finally, whoever is sufficiently disposed for the heavenly inheritance with regard to his present state, he is called "an adopted son of God," even if he is not foreordained by God nor sealed by the Spirit of adoption unto future possession of it. Adam in the state of innocence was, in this sense, an adopted son of God because as such, according to his condition at that time, he was sufficiently fitted to the consequence of life eternal. The same can be said of the non-elect angels considered in the state in which they were created. And in this manner, nearly all baptized infants are accepted by God or adpoted, because "the divine willed has falled upon them, that they should be blessed, if they remain in such a state and subsequent sins are not an impediment." But (as you see) this adoption is limited; it is not that absolute, eternal, and infallible one founded upon election, which Aquinas admits "never to be in vain." Nor is that a kind of image of this eternal adoption, which the Holy Spirit impresses upon and seals in the hearts of believers. Nothing, therefore, is delivered against our opinion concerning the perseverance of the saints or of the sons of God regenerated by faith (which respects only the first and second manner of adoption) by attacks based upon examples of those who are adopted in the third or fourth manner and yet desert God and the divine covenant and thus perish in eternity; for we never asserted the infallible salvation of those who are adopted in those ways.



My translation could probably use some smoothing out. I'll provide a link to the entire letter once I've finished with it and provided some explanatory notes.