"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body." - Romans 8:18-24.
PAUL admits that this present time is a scene of sufferings. There is no situation, from the palace to the hovel, exempt from tribulations and sufferings. The rich and the poor, the noble and the ignoble, the saint and the sinner, are equally the subjects of sufferings - the pains, and anguish which flesh is heir to. 'Tis not the design of the Gospel to exempt men from the sufferings and calamities of this "present time." There is nothing in a renewed heart that renders the body
proof against disease. There is no power in a sanctified spirit that can assuage convulsive pains, or cool the raging fever or repair the wastes of an ever-consuming disease, or extract the venom from the shafts of death, so true it is that "one event happeneth to all."
But the office of religion is to be our attending angel, to hover around the couch of the sufferer, and whisper hope, and joy and peace. Though it cannot disperse the clouds of misfortunes from our earthly skies, it can gild and illumine them, and directing the eye of our faith through their openings, point to the calm untroubled heaven that lies beyond us. We should bear in mind that the early Christians to whom this was originally addressed were exposed to unusual calamities, such as persecutions, imprisonments, the loss of all things earthly, and even life itself by cruel torture, and Paul would in our text direct their mind away from all these to the glory that would soon be revealed to them. He assures them that their present sufferings could not be compared to the inconceivable glory with which they would soon be crowned. By this hope he would buoy up their desponding spirits, and strengthen their fainting hearts.
The main scope of this portion of this epistle which we have chosen seems to be to show the sustaining power of religion in the midst of sufferings and trials, by the "hope" and "expectation" of a speedy deliverance, when they would
"be delivered from the bondage of corruption," which is a state of vanity, "into the glorious liberty of the children of God." That the children should not consider this condition as peculiarly trying, since it is the common condition of all the world, "for the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together," but to him alone is there a prospect of deliverance. By this interpretation of the passages, we shall now proceed to establish:
I. That the term creature only refers to the "new creature" in Christ, or the renewed nature of the Christian.
It is but just to remark here, in the language of a distinguished commentator, that: "Perhaps there is not a passage in the New Testament that has been more difficult of interpretation than this." To me, the difficulty has been more to make it convey a different sense from what it was intended, than to arrive at its plain teachings. The Universalist claims that the term "creature" embraces the whole intelligent creation (vide Pengries debate with Waller). Others claim it for the whole animate creation.
Neither of these interpretations can be sustained by the text itself, or the context. We adduce six reasons why (1) it cannot be understood to mean the brute creation:
(1) The brutes are not made subject to the peculiar state of vanity which is predicated of the creature in the context.
(2) The brutes could not be said to be made subject, either willingly or unwillingly. Moral feelings cannot be ascribed to the brute.
(3) Neither are they subjected "in hope."
(4) Nor does the "earnest expectation" of the brutes wait "for the manifestations of the sons of God."
(5) Nor will the brute creation "be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."
(6) Because they are spoken of, in contradistinction to those denominated creature, as the whole creation. Again, not only this "whole creation" but "ourselves also," the creature, etc. We might continue these objections, but these are more than sufficient.
2. It cannot be understood of the whole intelligent creation.
(1) If this state of vanity has anything connected with this present life, the unrenewed man could not be said to be made subject to it, either willingly or unwillingly; for before his creation volitions (willingness or unwillingness) could not be predicated of him.
(2) If a state of vanity implied the things of this life, then does the unregenerate man subject himself to them willingly. For the present state of things, so far as his senses are concerned, is consonant with his depraved and worldly taste.
(3) If a state of vanity implies a state of sin,
then is he not unwillingly a subject to it, for the sinner "rolls sin as a sweet morsel under his tongue."
(4) He does not earnestly wait for the "manifestation of the sons of God," he is not "subjected in hope" - he does not groan within himself, "waiting for the adoption"; he does not long "to be unclothed that he may be clothed upon," nor does he wait for the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He desires none, he has no taste for any, of these things. He loves the world, he would live here always. He loves sin. He dreads the approach of his final Judge - he has no good hope through grace, no longings for heaven, no desire for its holy joys, he has no groanings to be delivered from sin, but longings to continue. Thus we see that the ungodly, unrenewed, unregenerate, are not, can not, be included in the term "creature." This strong pillar of universal salvation falls to the ground, before the slightest touch of truth.
3. If it cannot mean the brute creation, nor the unrenewed intelligent creature, it must mean the renewed creature. Several reasons we will adduce in proof: (1) This is the only interpretation that suits the connection, or makes sense in the argument. If the word creature refers to the rational or the material creation to the bodies of men or to angels, or to men and mankind in general, as some have
supposed, it is impossible by any plausible construction to see what connection either would have with the argument. The apostle was setting forth the benefits of the Gospel, in the midst of trials, and unless we understand this of them, there is no argument, or meaning in it at all - no connection, no bearing upon any point.
(2 ) Paul is accustomed to speak of the renewed man under this term, i. e., ktisis, creature. "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (II Corinthians 5:17). "For to Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision availeth anything, but a new creature" (Galatians 6:15). Read Ephesians 2:10; also, 4:20.
(3) The great power of God displayed in his conversion, and the strong resemblance between the impartation of spiritual life and the creation itself, would naturally suggest the idea and justify the expression.
(4) Similar expressions occur in the Old Testament. The children of Israel are frequently spoken of in distinction from all others as, "made " for God, "formed," "created." "Every one that is called by my name; for I have created him for my glory. I have formed him" (Isaiah 43:7). "This people have I formed for myself" (v. 21).
These are our reasons for understanding the term creature, to mean only those created in Christ.
"Created for his glory," the new creature formed within after the likeness of God.
Having now considered and settled the interpretation of the term, we will proceed to notice what is predicated of him.
II. He is "subjected" "unwillingly" to a state of depravity and the consequences of sin with which the world is filled. In which he finds little joy but great trials, temptations and sufferings, and is earnestly longing for his future glory.
1. Vanity is descriptive of this frail, transient, dying state. Here we are exposed to trials, temptations and curses. Here we are engaged in conflicts and tears. If he had only reference to the ills and sufferings of this present time, he might well express it by vanity. The preacher wrote upon it all: "Vanity and vexation of spirit."
2. But the original word malavites, from the verb malaioa, not only means foolishness, but perverseness and depravity. Then we understand that being "made subject to vanity" is being brought into captivity to the law of sin in our members. Paul complains of this bondage in the seventh chapter, twenty-third verse: "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."
3. It is not a voluntary subjection: (1) The instinctive feelings of those truly born of God lead them to desire a purer and happier world.
They groan in spirit to be delivered from the "vanities," temptations and contaminations of " this present time." They wait and long for the appearing of Christ their Redeemer, as a captive for his deliverance, or the watchman for the light of the morning. This is one of the certain marks of a renewed heart. Paul sighed for this. "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death " (Romans 7:24); again: "I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better" (Philippians 1:23). (2) The true Christian does not simply desire to depart to escape the flls and sufferings of this time, but to be with Christ.
4. This subjection to depravity is the arrangement of God, no doubt for some wise purpose not fully understood by us. "He might have taken His people at once to heaven as soon as they are converted. But though we know not all the reasons why they are continued here in this state of vanity, we can see some of them," and He has told us others:
(1) To do good to others. "For we are . . . created in Christ Jesus unto good works " (Ephesians 2:10). "Ye are the salt of the earth, the light of the world," said Christ. This we could not be if removed from it. "Ye are living epistles known and read of all men," therefore we must be among men - it is but right that we should engage in the service of Him who has redeemed us.
(2) To exhibit the power of the Gospel, in overcoming sin and withstanding temptations, in sustaining us under trials and sufferings, and thus furnish living evidence of the power and excellency of the Gospel. None of this could be done if we were removed out of the sight of the body.
(3) It is a proper training for a season. It brings out the Christian character and fits it for the skies. These fiery trials are but the refiners of fire and the fuller's soap by which He purifies the sons of Levi.
(4) That heaven may be more desirable. If this was a world to our liking, we should never desire another. If we had suffered no bondage here, it would be no freedom there; if we endured no pains, no nights of sorrow here, no fatigue, no toils, no tossings on those seas of trouble, no tears, no death, we could not appreciate those descriptions of heaven, or expatiate in its enjoyment. We learn also:
III. The children of God should not consider their condition as peculiarly trying as though it was confined to themselves alone, for it is the common lot of the ungodly, and of the "whole creation" but the children of God alone have the prospect of deliverance.
When we look around us we see the "whole creation" labouring, groaning under the curse, subjected to the consequences of depravity.
1. The material earth is itself in subjection to
the primeval curse. It groans from within, and is rent with earthquakes. Thorns and briars grow rank where it once waved with lost Eden bloom, storms and whirlwinds sweep over, and tornadoes do their work of rage and desolation upon it, and the lightnings of heaven terrify it, and the bolts of heaven descend deep into its bosom. "It travaileth in pain."
2. But the wicked and irreligious are labouring and groaning under the common curse - but not for the "manifestations of the sons of light." All the pains and diseases, and afflictions, that can possibly affect the child of God, affect them, and they are compelled to endure them without the soothing influence and sustainings primary of religion in the soul, to make it strong in the day of conflict, and joyous in the hour of sorrow, and light in the night of gloom; so that, though the cold storms and tempest beat upon the Christian's clayey tabernacle from without, the soul is basking in light and is warmed with the holy fire from within. No, the poor sinner, when afflicted and groaning under the burden of a sin-cursed world, is left in darkness and despair; for he has no hope.
3. The children of God are blessed above all others, for they alone can expect a deliverance.
(1) No hope is held out to the groaning sin-cursed world; it will be given up to the rage of the last fires that shall sweep like seas over it, and purify it from every effect of sin.
(2) No deliverance, but a speedy death, awaits the brute creation. No compensation is held out for all their sufferings from the hand of man, no restoration; no resurrection awaits them.
(3) No deliverance is held out to the impenitent sinner who clothes himself with sin as a garment. He suffers all the afflictions and pains and sufferings here that the Christian does, but to him no ray of hope comes down to gladden his heart and light his soul to heaven. He only waits to be removed, felon-like, from the jail to the dark walls of his eternal prison.
(4) But a speedy deliverance awaits the "creature" of God. He is held here as an unwilling captive. His fettered spirit is panting for a purer atmosphere and brighter skies - his spirit finds no rest; this world is not its home, its birthplace is in the bosom of its God. This state, "vanity," is a corrupt, imperfect, perishing condition; one that leads to sin and temptation and conflict and anxiety; one which destroys the peace, mars the happiness, dims the hope, enfeebles the faith and weakens the love of Christians; and this is called the bondage of corruption. But our continuance in it is but for a day. Our great deliverer, the Captain of our Salvation, will soon appear. He will burst the walls of our prison house, He will cause its doors to fly open, as the prison doors which held Peter, He will break from our bodies the chains which confine them, and we shall lift high
our unfettered and emancipated limbs in the glorious liberty of the children of God. Yes, it will be liberty, for we have been confined; it will be freedom, for we have been in bondage.
(a) It will be liberty - freedom from sin, from corruption, from evil desires, from calamity and death. The highest freedom in the universe is the freedom of heaven, where the redeemed are under a government and King who commands nothing but what they greatly desire to do.
(b) It is a glorious liberty - it is encompassed with majesty, and crowned with splendour.
(c) It is eternal. If it were to endure no longer than our sufferings lasted here, it would be desirable, it would be our ample reward; but our joys, and our honours, our blessedness and glory, our crowns and our thrones, are to be forever and forever. We can - we can drink in the sunlight of God's countenance, until our souls become but suns of fire, and thus forever:
"When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we first begun."
Paul tells us what he thought of the pains of this state, when placed beside the pleasures of that, and he thought they were "not worthy to be compared," and what should we say? We know something of what this world sets trials on - but
the joys the Father hath promised for them that love Him! Oh, my brethren, what do we here? Rejoicing? Murmuring and complaining? And oft saying and feeling that it is a "vain thing to serve God," often ready to give up the battle and the day as lost. Look beyond! Oh, once go up on Pisgah's height, and look over into the promised land - one sight, and you will be satisfied. Oh, when we shall have entered heaven, one breath of its holy atmosphere will fill our new angelic bodies with ineffable delight and ecstatic joys; and as one wave of the sea of rest rolls across our weary souls it will wash out every remembrance of former earthly woe. Are the sufferings of "this present time" worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us?
Poor sinner, neither are all your pains and sufferings which you can endure here able to be compared to the pains and woes eternal, which will take hold on you in the day of your despair. No eye hath ever beheld the fierce fires of that o'er-heated furnace of God's wrath, and lived. No ear ever heard the groans and wailings of lost spirits; nor can mortal heart conceive of the bitterness and fierceness of that retribution which God has prepared for those that hate Him. If God is infinite in mercy, He is infinite in His justice also. If God is love, He is also a consuming fire!
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