Back in 1890, a baby girl named Magdalena was born to a young couple living in New York City. Her German immigrant parents were, like most young parents at the time, living hand to mouth, both working hard to carve out a new life in the overcrowded and under-regulated city that New York was in those days. In the late 19th century our nation in general, and the East coast more specifically, was being swept away in a flood of cultural, economic, and technological changes as we moved from a society built on manual labor centered around farming and construction, to one dominated by industry and machine manufacture.
Inventions designed to make our lives easier were springing up at record pace. Things like the sewing machine, the telephone, the washing machine, moving pictures, the light bulb, cameras, internal combustion engines, and a host of other things we take for granted were expanding employment opportunities exponentially for those who lived in cities large enough to build mills and mass-produce products. The end of the 19th, and the entire 20th century was one of great changes in lifestyle and perspective, as I’m sure we all comprehend to one degree or another regardless of which generation we were born into. The modern age and the potential for mass consumerism and materialism was about to change the world forever.
Sad to say, little Magdalena did not find the world very welcoming, and instead of growing up in a loving stable home with her own birth family, she soon became part of a growing social problem in New York. One particularly tragic by-product of this new social and economic order was a generation of children who were considered property. An increase in problems such as alcoholism and it’s destructive effect on the family order, unregulated hours in factories by both mothers and fathers, and a lack of really any extended family among immigrants resulted in minors being left to fend for themselves on the streets, resorting to begging, joining street gangs, and – often at the tender age of 5 – selling things like matches and sometimes stolen items in order to survive. Basically, they were tossed aside for apparently more pressing priorities than parenthood. Law enforcement was at it’s wit’s end as to how to deal with so many unprotected and deserted children. So, along with tens of thousands of other children of her generation, she was released to a fledgling social system that was struggling to find a way to give these children some kind of life. Did God see their plight? Oh, yes. Did He have a plan for these precious kids? Again, yes indeed.
The sweeping changes that took place all those years ago make up a portion of American history that is generally completely ignored by the history books. Because of this, most Americans have never looked into it of it but many may actually be who they are because of it. More about Magdalena and her place in history in a moment.
Let’s switch gears utterly and take a brief look at Galatians 4:1-7. Stay with me, I am going somewhere with this.
1 Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all,
2 but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father.
3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.
4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
These few verses are loaded application for the believer, and application means we allow God to make His Word real to us as we live out our lives in the real world, becoming master weavers at His hand and bringing two trains of thought together. This is what we are about to do.
If you have given your life to Christ and are living for Him, and filled with His Spirit, the first thing you might see in these verses is grace.
I say that because of the simple concept expressed here of, ‘this is who you were, and this is what God did’. Any time you see a Scripture defining the human condition, followed by, ‘but God’, you know what follows will be something marvelous to think about. “Even so” (vs 3);”But when” (vs 4);”and because” (vs 6).
Grace is simply God’s unmerited favor on our lives regardless of what we have done, simply by virtue of the sacrifice of His Son Jesus on the cross as payment for our sins. We don’t deserve it, we can’t conjure it up, and it’s not related to our worthiness. “Grace” is often defined with the acronym God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense: G.R.A.C.E. And since Romans says we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s eternal glory, we are all on equal footing before Him.
Once we give our lives to Him, things change radically. Whereas we were once part of a worldly lifestyle, a worldly family, and prone to live for the flesh, making many mistakes and in some cases acting in a self-destructive manner, or perhaps relying on religious tradition to save us, now in Christ we have a new family, a new destiny, a new way to live by His power. We are no longer children of this world, and tossed about by the lies and deceptions of the world – we have a completely new heart, new perspective, and new goals, and are awaiting our redemption, even as our bodies are subject to corruption. All we have to do is walk in this newness of life.
So, it’s all about grace. The longer I walk with Jesus, and compare His infinite grace with my own characteristic failings, the more I am persuaded that I have hardly begun to plumb the depths of His grace and mercy, and how badly I want to model that grace and mercy in my own life so I can better reflect Him to people. Because of my upbringing, I admit that the concept of grace has been the hardest thing for me to grab hold of. Why is that true for so many of us? Because in our pride we are works-oriented and want to think we had something to do with our own redemption, that there is something worthy about us, deserving of His approval. It is very hard on us humans to think otherwise, but the Word runs contrary to our flesh every time.
Maybe you were taught as a child that if you are a good person, you might hope for heaven when you die. Even if you weren’t the least bit religious as a child, maybe you found that pleasing the adults in your life was a requirement if you wanted good things out of life. The fact of the matter is, the world does teach us that if you do good, you will get good in return. If you are bad, you will have a life filled with negative consequences. Some call it “karma” – the idea is, ’what goes around, comes around’. And in a sense, that is what our text is saying to us – this is what the Bible teaches when we read about reaping and sowing – but I am getting ahead of myself. Put your thinking caps on and let’s dive in.
Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all
but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father.
Think for a moment about what it would be like to be a child whose father is a king; or at the very least, a very wealthy man. This child may stand to inherit untold wealth and a vast kingdom; is a royal heir and the sky is the limit on the scope of his or her wealth wealth – or, it will be – someday. This child may be a child of royalty, but this child is not going to access their inheritance as a mere child, as there is a future date of inheritance, a period of maturity and waiting involved. No man of great wealth would let a child administer his estate, it’s just not done for obvious reasons; they won’t be writing checks, paying bills, or making decisions for the empire, even though it is every bit theirs by birthright and inheritance. This is what this verse is taking about. Master of all, and an heir; born without choice into a family because God ordered it…yet on par with a slave? (vs 1)
This child, though he be a future king, would be under the authority of servants who are given the right to discipline this child like any other child. A king’s servants, or a child’s governess, can spank the royal behind as they see fit and are obligated to raise the child though he were just any child. He is, as vs 2 says, ‘under guardians and stewards.’ Jesus was born under the Law; Jesus did what his earthly parents said; Jesus was willing, though He was God, to take on the form of a servant.
Back to little Magdalena. This adorable little three-year-old, because of her birth situation, has nothing of any value except her life. She didn’t ask to be born, but here she is, and someone has to take responsibility for her. In our day, maybe her parents would have decided to terminate her life before she had seen the light of day, a selfish and murderous act. But the reality is, her parents could find neither the will nor resources to raise her, so she, like many others, was turned over to the ‘authorities’; in this case, the staff of one of two large child welfare institutions in New York, the Children’s Foundling Hospital, which was Catholic, and the Children’s Aid Society, which was Protestant.
They were set up to see to the welfare and needs of thousands of abandoned children, a huge and difficult undertaking. Officially rejected by her parents, Magdalena was turned over to the New York Foundling Hospital. They then, under the authority of the State of New York, made the decisions necessary to make sure that kids like her could have a chance at real life in a new setting. Historical writings and records indicate that the goal of the administrators of these two charitable organizations was to give them to ‘Christian homes’ where they could have siblings, discipline, hot meals, learn their ABCs and 10 commandments and a chance to hopefully become contributing members of society.
As a minor child, Magdalena was under the guardians and stewards of the state of New York; we could say that she was under the Law. The law gave them the right to do with these kids what they thought was best for them, and for their future; but for now the children had to comply with whatever those laws determined was right. Perhaps the method was unorthodox, and we know they would never by law get away with this methodology today, but they did for a season what constitutes a unique time in America’s history: they placed the children on trains bound for the Midwest. The remedy that was decided upon to take these kids from a state of abandonment to one of inheritance was called THE ORPHAN TRAIN MOVEMENT. Between 1854 and 1939, over 150,000 children of all ages from primarily these two charitable organizations in New York City to nearly every state in the Midwest was really the beginning of the Foster Care program. Those who gave their time and resources to help them did so because they were moved with pity by the plight of these children and by their wanderings, knowing what awaited them in a world in which they had no home or place.
Even at the tender age of three, Magdalena may have sensed that her life was in a state of flux; that she was not in control of any decisions made for her. Children were treated as property in those days, and they were told that if they were sent out, they were to cut all ties to their origin, whether name or identity, even if that meant never seeing any siblings or birth parents again..
How long would her state of being unwanted and unclaimed last? Would there come a day when her status would change, would she ever have an identity or a people of her own? Only when one who had the authority to claim her, to adopt her, to give her a name and an inheritance would there be a change in her status as one under the bondage of the laws of the State of New York.
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
As I said earlier, as citizens of this world, we start out in bondage under the elements of the world. The elements of the world, that cause-and-effect layer of law that society is built upon, is what society needs to function. We soon learn that our actions have re-actions; whether we behave and abide by the cause and effect elements of law, or rebel and are disciplined by the law, we learn quickly in life that there are rules; there is sowing and reaping, and there are consequences of our actions, at least in a just society built on the basics of Law.
In a loving family, a spanking tells a rebellious toddler that there are certain behavioral expectations of them. As we get older, every circle we travel in has rules; schools have rules, home has rules, jobs have rules. As we grow in a loving family, we are given more authority and latitude, but rules remain.
Say you have two children, raised in the same way in the same house under the same rules. One is Miss Compliant, never gives you a day of grief. The other is always challenging authority, always looking to push boundaries. And as a parent you sense this early on. What trips up a lot of parents is trying, and naturally so, to keep Hellraising Jr. on a short leash, and possibly keep him from making mistakes that would push the envelope of legal trouble. They might make more rules for Junior, which of course he sees as an opportunity to rebel even more. Or worse, they cover for him, they bail him out, they don’t discipline, wishing to avoid a nuclear meltdown; nothing is working and everyone is at their wit’s end. So, we do our best to teach right from wrong and the laws of cause and effect; and of course, we just don’t want anyone to get hurt because of Junior’s foolishness.
But think this through with me in light of Galatians 4:
It says here that we are under the law until the time determined by the Father. What is that time? How do we approach this with our own kids? Well, the law says that at 18, or in some cases 21, our little darlings are ‘of age’- they are ‘adults’ and ‘ grown-ups’ with certain rights. But are they? With some kids, 21 is just another number, they pass the mark quietly. Other times, 21 is just another year to rebel. The world has an arbitrary age limit on immaturity; the Lord does not. Only He knows when your kids are accountable eternally and understand the concept of walking with Him, as he works in their lives, deals with them, disciplines them, and He is as long-suffering and patient as He needs to be. The Bible tells us that the Law is put into place to show us our sinful nature and allow us to see our need for the Lord – and hopefully bring us to repentance.
But: here’s Junior, maybe he or she is 22 or older and still working through that cause-and-effect thing. They just don’t seem to grasp the concept that they are accountable for what they do, that if they operate outside the Law, that they will pay. The Law is STILL their tutor, their schoolmaster. Gee, some 40-year-olds don’t get that.
Our society is in deep trouble for a lot of reasons, one of which is that criminals today are often seen as simply victims; that they can’t help what they do because of a dysfunctional upbringing, and so they need their hands held and an excuse to continue on in their foolishness. Personal responsibility has taken a back seat to protecting self-esteem. But this kind of nonsense of mass victimhood nullifies the Law and keeps it from doing its work. A society that goes soft on justice will eventually descend into anarchy because it refuses to draw clear lines between right and wrong and nullifies accountability.
So, Junior is just not listening to his parents, let alone the Holy Spirit as Mom and Dad would prefer, (or maybe mom and dad aren’t even believers) so God gave us the law to set the standard of righteousness and hopefully bring conviction. But how long does the law need to tutor us? Until the time set aside by the Father….as long as it takes, whatever it takes. Don’t we pray that for the rebellious ones in our lives? If you are praying this, be prepared to stand strong for righteousness, and be prepared to have to follow behind that rebellious one and pick up the pieces that fall off. This is part of the parental job description.
If this is your child, if you are dealing with a rebellious one who is in trouble and being disciplined by the law of the land, by God’s spiritual laws, be encouraged! The universe is spinning just as God designed it to. When your kids rebel and just don’t seem to get it, be glad that the Law does exactly what it was designed to do, bring us to the end of ourselves and into the loving arms of a Saviour who wills that none should perish, but that all would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. Stop and think before bailing that rebellious one out, so that the Law can do it’s work.
If by some reason our loved ones don’t choose to repent in life, after death then, the Law will be their judge; they will be judged by their works, whether good or bad, which is what they chose over life and peace in Christ. As our young people grow up, they are becoming autonomous adults accountable to God and Him alone until the day of their death; it is all part of the cycle of life we all experience.
Frankly, I would much rather be under grace than the law; if it weren’t for grace, we would all be under judgment of His perfect law; but thanks be to God for His amazing gift of Jesus Christ.
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
At God’s chosen time, he sent Jesus to set us free from the Law. Since the law could never make anyone a son of God, God sent Jesus to make a way for us to be adopted as sons and daughters.
So, Magdalena, who probably had no other siblings, was one of those chosen to be a part of this great migration west, to get on an Orphan Train in 1893 in search of a family to adopt her. Knowing no one, with probably only a change of clothes to carry, and with no destination or guarantee, the one they called Lena faced a very frightening situation indeed.
Once the trains set out, the placement process into a family was casual at best. Handbills and posters were distributed ahead of time in a community on the train’s route. Once in a while, a church would be contacted as to the arrival schedule so as to give families who might consider adopting a child to be there at the appointed time.
As a train would pull into town, youngsters were cleaned up and paraded in front of potential families. One can only imagine the confusion and humiliation these kids suffered upon inspection, and often rejection, by potential parents who may be looking more on the outward instead of the inward. And some of these kids, having not been parented at all, were pretty ill-mannered and undisciplined, a self-defeating situation for those too immature to understand what was really at stake!
Results of the effort were mixed: many were placed into loving homes with every advantage and right, fully adopted as sons and daughters. Some were placed into farm families and literally indentured as laborers, never adopted.
Never able to inherit, they remained under the law, so to speak, for their entire lives, living with a stigma that many chose to never discuss or disclose to any successive generations. Some rebelled against their placement and became unruly or ran away; others simply endured and never entertained self-pity. Some found their place in society, whether it be politics or the work world; others never quite recovered from this rocky start in life. But they all had something in common; they were never allowed to communicate with their past and were forced into circumstances that had the power to make or break their lives.
Although little is known about Lena’s trip West or how many stops along the way her train made, it IS known that at one point, perhaps when she was most weary of that endless ride, she got off at a scheduled stop and walked up to a young couple, looked at the man and said, ‘Daddy!’ as if by that proclamation it became so. That bold little girl got her wish, because “Daddy” he became to her.
She had come to the end of the line, and had no where to look but up.
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
Why Abba? This is not an English word, obviously; why did the Bible translators leave this word untranslated and what does it mean? Conventional wisdom from many sources on this is that “ABBA” is such an intimate word, such an affectionate title for our Heavenly Father that they did not want to even hint at any irreverance for God by translating it to English as the word, “Daddy”; but in essence, that is what it means. Personally, I cringe when I hear someone refer to God as Daddy on what sounds like a superficial level, but on a deeply personal level, I know this is accurate; I would never verbalize it. However, as we draw nearer and nearer to Christ in our walk with Him, as we grow in our trust in and devotion to Him by spending time in His presence, we do experience an intimacy, and devotion to him as our Dad, One we can go to for every need, and even more so, just to love and worship Him.
Our approach as believers to God should be one of reverence, yes, but one of affection and joy as well; having a childlike heart of devotion for Him. Some people may think they need to approach Him with big words and formality, hoping He will hear them because of their lofty approach, when if you truly understand the concept of Him as Abba, you can just delight in spending time with him, being yourself, just like you would with an earthly father whom you both love and reverence.
Romans 8:15-17 is the mirror verse of Galatians 4:
“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
This is only one passage we can look to for a glimpse into who He is to be to us, and what He has done. In light of His nature and His grace, we can now study how he deals with Israel, and the land He has promised to them and see it all in light of His irrevocable promises.
So what happened to Lena? Lena grew up in a loving home, on a small farm just north of Appleton. She had other brothers and sisters who loved her as though she was born with the same last name. She became what we call a genuine “Daddy’s Girl”, a phrase that suggests someone who makes her Father proud, who puts the gleam in his eye, the spring in his step, who is loved and fussed over and given every advantage of a natural child.
Her father gave her a new name, and her old life was just a vague memory. Lena, now Helen, married a local man, Edward, in 1910, and they had 7 sons and 5 daughters. Her middle daughter was named Olive. Olive had a daughter named Mary, who married Tim and had a daughter named Holly, whose story is just being written. God in His mercy has redeemed the last three generations that we know of and He alone deserves the glory, including determining that little Lena should live in Appleton, because I would not be writing this today without His divine guidance in all things.
Finally, Galatians 4:7 says:
Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
As a slave of the world, we served other gods.
As a child of God, we serve the living God and Him alone, and look forward to an inheritance that is incorruptible, eternal in the heavens. Glory!
Wow Mary, that was an awesome article! I was adopted by my dad when I was six, so I can kind of relate to some of what you shared. Is this story about your family?
Blessings in Christ Jesus,