One of the most precious passages in the Bible regarding the work of the Holy Spirit is found in Rom. viii. 15, 16, R. V., "For ye received not the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father. The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." There are two witnesses to our sonship, first, our own spirit, taking God at His Word ("As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God," John i. 12), bears witness to our sonship. Our own spirit unhesitatingly affirms that what God says is true that we are sons of God because God says so. But there is another witness to our sonship, namely, the Holy Spirit. He bears witness together with our spirit. "Together with" is the force of the Greek used in this passage. It does not say that He bears witness to our spirit but "together with" it. How He does this is explained in Gal iv. 6, "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." When we have received Jesus Christ as our Saviour and accepted God's testimony concerning Christ that through Him we have become sons, the Spirit of His Son comes into our hearts filling them with an overwhelming sense of sonship, and crying through our hearts, "Abba, Father." The natural attitude of our hearts towards God is not that of sons. We may call Him Father with our lips, as when for example we repeat in a formal way, the prayer that Jesus taught us, "Our Father, which art in heaven," but there is no real sense that He is our Father. Our calling Him so is mere words. We do not really trust Him. We do not love to come into His presence; we do not love to look up into His face with a sense of wonderful joy and trust because we are talking to our Father. We dread God. We come to Him in prayer because we think we ought to and perhaps we are afraid of what might happen if we did not. But when the Spirit of His Son bears witness together with our spirit to our sonship, then we are filled and thrilled with the sense that we are sons. We trust Him as we never even trusted our earthly Father. There is even less fear of Him than there was of our earthly father. Reverence there is, awe, but oh! such a sense of wonderful childlike trust.
Notice when it is that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. We have the order of experience in the order of the verses in Rom. viii. First we see the Holy Spirit setting us free from the law of sin and death, and consequently, the righteousness of the law fulfilled in us who walk not after the law but after the Spirit (vs. 2-4); then we have the believer not minding the things of the flesh but the things of the Spirit (v. 5); then we have the believer day by day through the Spirit putting to death the deeds of the body (v. 13); then we have the believer led by the Spirit of God; then and only then, we have the Spirit bearing witness to our sonship. There are many seeking the witness of the Spirit to their sonship in the wrong place. They practically demand the witness of the Spirit to their sonship before they have even confessed their acceptance of Christ, and certainly before they have surrendered their lives fully to the control of the indwelling Spirit of God. No, let us seek things in their right order. Let us accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and surrender to Him as our Lord and Master, because God commands us to do so; let us confess Him before the world because God commands that (Matt. x. 32, 33; Rom. x. 9, 10); let us assert that our sins are forgiven, that we have eternal life, that we are sons of God because God says so in His Word and we are unwilling to make God a liar by doubting Him (Acts x. 43; xiii. 38, 39; 1 John v. 10-13; John v. 24; John i. 12); let us surrender our lives to the control of the Spirit of Life, looking to Him to set us free from the law of sin and death; let us set our minds, not upon the things of the flesh but the things of the Spirit; let us through the Spirit day by day put to death the deeds of the body; let us give our lives up to be led by the Spirit of God in all things; and then let us simply trust God to send the Spirit of His Son into our hearts filling us with a sense of sonship, crying, "Abba, Father," and He will do it.
God, our Father, longs that we shall know and realize that we are His sons. He longs to hear us call Him Father from hearts that realize what they say, and that trust Him without a fear or anxiety. He is our Father, He alone in all the universe realizes the fullness of meaning that there is in that wonderful word "Father," and it brings joy to Him to have us realize that He is our Father and to call Him so.
Some years ago there was a father in the state of Illinois, who had a child who had been deaf and dumb from her birth. It was a sad day in that home when they came to realize that that little child was deaf and would never hear and, as they thought, would never speak. The father heard of an institution in Jacksonville, Ill., where deaf children were taught to talk. He took this little child to the institution and put her in charge of the superintendent. After the child had been there some time, the superintendent wrote telling the father that he would better come and visit his child. A day was appointed and the child was told that her father was coming. As the hour approached, she sat up in the window, watching the gate for her father to pass through. The moment he entered the gate she saw him, ran down the stairs and ran out on the lawn, met him, looked up into his face and lifted up her hands and said, "Papa." When that father heard the dumb lips of his child speak for the first time and frame that sweet word "Papa," such a throb of joy passed through his heart that he literally fell to the ground and rolled upon the grass in ecstasy. But there is a Father who loves as no earthly father, who longs to have His children realize that they are children, and when we look up into His face and from a heart which the Holy Spirit has filled with a sense of sonship call Him "Abba" (papa), "Father," no language can describe the joy of God.