Adoption is one of the most exciting and glorious doctrines of the Scripture; one that brings joy to believers. Nevertheless, there is a dearth of good books written on the topic. Many of the older writers dealt with it, but their wisdom has remained hidden away in complete works. Ettrick Press is to be commended for reprinting Thomas Houston’s The Adoption of Sons and bringing such a valuable work to public attention.
Houston was one of the most prominent Reformed Presbyterian ministers in the 19th Century and that fact alone should commend it to all Reformed Presbyterians for special attention. Although Houston served in the Irish Church, he was tremendously supportive of the work of Reformed Presbyterianism in Scotland, particularly in times of trial. When the majority of the denomination defected in 1863, the minority adhered to our distinctive principles at great cost. Dr. Houston, siding with the weakened but faithful church, preached in several Scottish pulpits in this time of need, supporting the four ministers left in the Synod. Houston served as a Professor at the Theological Hall in Belfast from 1854-1882, during which time he instructed most of the men who would serve as ministers in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland in the Victorian period. Some of these Irish students served their whole ministries in Scotland.
The Scottish Synod minutes from1882 record the feeling of the Court upon hearing of Houston’s death:
“On the Commission from the RP Synod in Ireland being read, and it being reported that Dr Houston, one of the deputation appointed to this Court, had recently been removed by death, Synod resolved to put on record its sense of the loss sustained by the Church in the death of the Rev. Professor Houston, D. D. For half a century Dr Houston has been widely known and held in the highest esteem by the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland as well as in Ireland. In his decease the pulpit has lost one of its best ornaments; the Theological Hall a Professor who was affectionate and labourious; the Reformed Presbyterian Church a faithful defender of her “Testimony”; and the many missionary and benevolent enterprises a warm-hearted and generous advocate & supporter. We assure Mrs Houston and her family of our sincere sympathy and pray that the tender Upbinder of the wounded may give them all consolation in this hour of trial. While mourning to-day the sad event that deprives us of his presence and words at our meeting, we would listen to the providence calling us to follow them who through faith and patience inherit the promises, considering the end of their conversation, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, & to-day, & for ever.”
If that tribute has whetted your appetite to find out more about Houston then you can be thankful that this edition of The Adoption of Sons contains a biographical sketch of Houston by our own Rev. Stephen Steele (Stranraer RPC). Stephen is expertly placed to give this introduction as Houston was the subject of his MA thesis.
The book itself, although a full and doctrinal treatment of the subject, is neither long or heavy but rather very practical and devotional. Any believer will be encouraged spiritually by hearing Houston’s Biblical exposition of this wonderful subject applied to their state. Houston deals with the family of God and the origin and nature of sonship, before showing the relation of the adopted child of God to each person of the Trinity and to other believers in the family. Next Houston gives the fruit, privileges, and responsibilities of adoption. He helpfully and carefully handles the pastoral issues of lack of assurance of sonship and of the Father’s chastening of His sons. These topics often prove difficult for God’s people to deal with and it is important to have a right view on them.
The practicality of being a member of a new family is a useful section. Some may be tempted to think of adoption only in the vertical direction: between the individual and God, the adopted child and his heavenly Father. But adoption brings us together as believers into God’s family. There are many privileges and benefits associated with this fellowship, but also a challenge to fulfil our mutual obligations. We must remember that as Christians we are working together in the same cause. There is not to be one member of the family doing all the work and others lazing around. As Houston says, “Such fellowship in arduous and honourable labour has often gladdened the hearts of ministers, when members of their flocks, male and female, have willingly aided them in performing the Lord’s work. This, too, has sustained the missionaries of the cross in their conflict with darkness and idolatry, and in labouring for the world’s conversion. And often, in the last utterances of the dying testimonies of the martyrs of Christ, emphatic and grateful mention has been made of the privilege of communion in work and suffering with fellow-confessors.” Houston’s book is calling us to participate in the family work on a global level.
One final quotation may entice you to purchase and read the book:
“Is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ indeed our Father? There is no measure to the love, grace, and pity which he will show us; there is nothing within the compass of his power which he is not prepared at all times to do on our behalf. Are we the called, adopted children of God? Then we have the fullest, strongest ground to confide in his mercy and hope in his salvation; as we are bound to walk worthy of him who has called us to his kingdom and glory. Then we should give all ‘diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.’ (Hebrews 6:11) ‘And if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.’ (Romans 8:17)”