Between the 1850s and 1920s, an estimated 250,000 abandoned or orphaned children were transported from Eastern cities to Midwestern, Southern and Western towns and farm communities for the purpose of giving them a better life, a life away from the dangers of street life.
They were given one-way tickets and put on a train.
The goal for the train ride was that the children would be adopted by loving families. Of course, it didn’t always work out that way.
There were many success stories, and the vast majority of them had a better life than they otherwise would have had, but the “Orphan Trains,” as they were called, were not without problems.
Some claimed that the children were often treated like cattle (or worse, like slaves) when being selected for a home, being poked and prodded to see how strong and healthy they were.
So it is true that the motives of those who were adopting were not always the best.
But for those who ended up in loving families, it was indeed a great blessing. They had a new and better life than the one they left behind.
They were part of a family, with all of the privileges and responsibilities associated with that. They were now heirs of their new parents’ inheritance ,through no effort of their own.
God also picked us out of a crowd of spiritual orphans. But unlike some of the families mentioned above who were quite picky when it came to the children they adopted, God does not look us over to see if we deserve to be selected. He does not look at our good qualities to see if they outweigh the bad ones before choosing us, because God knows that we have no real good qualities.
What King David said of himself is also true of us: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)
Despite the fact that we have no merit in ourselves, Jesus invites all people to become a part of His kingdom.
The Apostle Peter wrote, “For you who believe … are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession … who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1st Peter 2:9-10)
After waiting nearly three years, my wife Emma and I were finally able to officially adopt our daughter, and now she is legally a part of our family. Of course she has been a real part of our family all along (we have had her since she was three weeks old), but she will now have our name and the same legal rights and privileges as if she were born to us.
She will receive all of the benefits, even though she did absolutely nothing to earn it. It was all a gift, given to her in adoption.
Again, spiritually speaking, the same is true of all of us who believe in Jesus – we have been adopted through no credit of our own. We were spiritual orphans, but we were purchased by the shed blood of Christ.
He made us His own children in the waters of baptism. When we came to faith in Jesus, He kept the promise made to the disciples in John 14:18: “I will not leave you as orphans.”
As adopted children of God, we have been given a new name (Christian) and the full rights and privileges and responsibilities of being a part of His family.
“He predestined us for adoption … through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us … in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:5-7)
Jesus came to the earth in order to “redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption” (Galatians 4:5) into God’s family.
We are no longer slaves to sin, but heirs of a heavenly inheritance through Christ.
As adopted children of God, we are privileged to call God our Heavenly Father, but only through Jesus, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6b)
Remember, “God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children” and let us, “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1st Peter 2-9b)