THE GROANING CREATION DELIVERED.
An Exposition of Romans 8: 19-23
ROBERT GOVETT, M. A.
"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 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: 19-23. (Authorized King James Version.)
"For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body."
Romans 8: 19-23. (Revised Version of 1881)
"The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."
Romans 8: 19-23. (New International Version)
"For the anxious watching of the creation the revelation of the sons of God is eagerly expecting. For to vanity the creation was subjected, not willingly, but because of the (one) subjecting, in hope because even itself the creation will be freed from the slavery of corruption to the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that all the creation groans together and travails together until now; and not only (so), but also (our) selves the first-fruit of the Spirit having we also (our) selves in ourselves groan adoption eagerly expecting the redemption of the body of us."
Romans 8; 19-23. (Greek -English Interlinear. [Nestle Greek Text translated out of the original Greek])
"For the earnest expectation of the creation awaiteth the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be freed from the bondage of corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, we ourselves also groan within ourselves, awaiting our adoption, the redemption of our body."
Romans 8; 19-23. (The New Testament Revision [based on the Greek text as established by Bible Numerics]).
Because I believe a correct understanding of this passage of Scripture is of immense importance to Christians, I have quoted (as above) to show the reader what differences there are in some of the various translations.
Gone now are the days when Christians had the privilege to read or listen to faithful expositions of passages directly related to the Millennial Reign of Christ. The spiritualisers, allegorizers and A-Millennialists, by their flawed interpretations, have succeeded (in some degree) in obscuring this divine truth, which is so important to the regenerate believer to hear and understand! Romans 8: 19-23 is one of many such passages which teach us the contrary to what we are now accustomed to hearing throughout the land in our apostate churches.
I consider it a great honour to present Mr Govett's exposition, primarily to the regenerate for their study. It has been said, It is possible to spend one's whole lifetime searching for a faithful, in depth, exposition. In my opinion, the reader has now found one: may God, in His grace, grant is the spiritual wisdom and understanding to recognise the truth and empower us seek entrance into that kingdom where only those whose personal standard of righteousness will enable them to attain an entrance: Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven [of the heavens], (Matt. 5: 20.).
Robert Govett died in 1901: the following quotation is taken from his Memoir by W. J. Dalby, M. A.:-
His writings are marked by five particularly noticeable
characteristics. The first is
logic. Few men equal Govett in ordered and
sustained argument. He was fearless in pursuing a point to its rational
conclusion; and none could put his
finger more unerringly on weak points in current theology. This brings us to a second feature - Govett's entire independence. He subjected the
teachings of the Scriptures to a fresh scrutiny, not acquiescing in all the
ordinary doctrines of post-Reformation Protestantism. A third
characteristic of his teaching is its ordered arrangement - he was in the best
sense of the term a systematic theologian. He seems to have been the
first to present in a clear view the truth of reward for believers at the
judgement seat of Christ and its relation to the
The passage above given, is confessedly a difficult one; but it is so principally, because it contains a truth which Christians are slow to believe, and which many strive to evade, or openly deny. In order fully to comprehend it, let us notice first the sense of that which precedes.
In a former verse, Paul had declared that believers are sons of God; and since they were sons, they were also heirs of the Most High. But do not sufferings and the trials of this mortal life, prove that this cannot be their high dignity? No: for Christ the Son of God suffered; and as he mounted the throne of all things and eternal glory, through suffering, so must we pass through it. He consoles believers also in their endurance of trial, because the suffering bears no proportion to the immensity and eternity of the glory. And he teaches further, that if the un-sinning creation endures patiently its suffering in hope of future glory, much more may believers, whose trespasses call for correction.
Such is the general drift of the passage that precedes. Let us now enter on the text itself: first expounding it; and then showing the argumentative bearing of the Apostle's statements on the opinions entertained by Christians.
Now it is evident at a glance, that the most important word of the passage, is that which is translated "creature," and "creation," and which occurs four times in this place. What then are we to understand by it?
There are three different opinions which I purpose to notice, before proceeding to prove the true meaning.
1. Some suppose, that by the creature, is meant the whole human race.*
(* This is fortified by two passages of the New Testament, "Preach the gospel to every creature:" Mark 16: 15. And the "gospel which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven: Col. 1: 23." But both of these are mis-translations; as is manifest on consulting the original. The presence of the article in both cases shows that it is to be taken not distributively, but collectively. "In all the creation.")
2. Others, that the Gentiles, or unconverted nations, are meant.
3. Others, that the body is intended.
Some have also said, that it means good angels; but this cannot be: for they are not under the bondage of corruption. Nor can it intend evil angels; for they will not be delivered.
1. Those who maintain, that "the creature" signifies 'the whole human race,' support their proposition by declaring, that all man are desiring, and in some sort expecting, a better state of things than the present.
But that does not come up to the statement of the Apostle, nor will it square either with Scripture, or with fact. Paul affirms, that the creature is expecting, not vaguely, "a better state of things," but "the manifestation of the sons of God." This, unconverted men neither expect nor desire; for they have no faith. Even those to whom it is preached, receive not the testimony, and much less is it expected by those who have never heard the gospel [of the kingdom]. Far from desiring the time when the sons of God and their great Captain, Jesus Christ, are manifested, they are seen in utter dismay and terror, when they learn by the signs in heaven, that the hour draws on: Rev. 6; 15-17.
2nd. Nor is it true, that they are "subject to vanity, not willingly." Whether by "vanity" we understand sin, or the evil consequences of sin, it is not true. For in voluntarily choosing sin, they choose also its evil consequences, which are before made known unto them by God. And if it be said, that by their subjection to vanity, is meant Adam's choice of sin, by which they become liable to its penalty, this offends against what is added, that he who subjected them to vanity, did so "under hope." For Adam did not sin in the hope that his descendants would be delivered.
3rd. Moreover Paul assures us, that the creature not only desires deliverance, but "will be delivered into the glorious liberty of the sons of God." Is this true of 'the whole human race?' None but an Universalist could affirm it. On the contrary, so far from being rescued from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the saved, they will be forever captives to death in its gloomiest eternal form: the second death, the worm that never dies, the fire that never is quenched. And the day of the Saviour's coming, is the time when he will appear "in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God;" "the day of judgement and perdition of ungodly men."
4th. The opinion also contains an evident
logical flaw; for Paul throughout distinguishes two classes, "the creation" forming the one, "the sons of God," the other. But this view
destroys the distinction, and confounds the classes, the second having been
already comprehended in the first. How absurd it would be to say - 'All
Britons are expecting an invasion of
2. Nor can the "creature" signify unconverted nations, or wicked men in general. For while these would indeed be distinguished from "the sons of God," yet they, (as was argued above) neither expect the glory of Christ, nor will attain it.
3. Nor can it mean the body: (1) for the body is not "the whole creation," and (2) the Apostle distinguishes between "our body" and "the creature." 'We,' he says, 'who are the sons of God, shall have our bodies redeemed from corruption, and so will the creature.'
But if none of these senses are the true, it remains that we take "the creation" in its usual sense, as signifying things animate and inanimate; brute beasts, vegetables, the elements, the earth. Such is the sense in which it is employed by Paul in this very epistle. "The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made." But men "changed the glory of the incorruptible God, into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things ... Who worshipped and served the creature more than the creator:" Rom.1: 20,23,25. Thus he explains what he means by the creature, describing it by the three usual classes into which animals are divided in Scripture.*
(*It is observable that Paul does not use the expression which in this view, would have been natural to us, or to a classical writer. He would have spoken of "nature." But that is an expression used by those who would thrust God out of sight. The Apostle used the word "creation," for that necessarily implies a "Creator.")
With this meaning in our hand, it will be found as we proceed, that the whole drift of the passage falls in naturally. Great is the glory, says the Apostle of the Gentiles, which is laid up for the [obedient regenerate] believer. But it is not for himself alone: all creation is waiting for that day, when the sons of God shall be revealed. Believers are the children of God now: but they are not manifested as such. They suffer hunger, thirst and cold; their bodies are afflicted with aches, disease, and death, equally with the wicked; nor do they give any token that they will one day, "shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." And therefore the world knows them not, even as it knows not Jesus: 1 John 3: 1. But they are waiting, in confidence that their sonship will soon be manifested, and their glory appear.
What then is the time of their manifestation, for which creation is waiting? (1) The coming of Christ Jesus: as it is written, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him:" 1John 3: 2. "When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory:" Col. 3: 4. (2) The day of the resurrection of the just: as it is written, "They who are accounted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection [out] from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage, neither can they die any more; for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God being the children of the resurrection:" Luke 20: 35,36. And the resurrection of the righteous dead is at the coming of Christ. "Every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward they that are Christ's at his coming:" 1Cor. 15: 20,23. And thus also Paul states in the present passage, that the expectation of the saints, is "their adoption, the redemption of their body."
"For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope."
God at the creation made everything beautiful and perfect in its kind. He looked over the expanse of the world he had framed, and pronounced it "very good." But his enemy entered it, to defile and destroy. Satan became incarnate in the body of a serpent, and by that means tempted our first parents to sin. He gained over their will, and they sinned of set choice. Then came the Most High, and calling the three culprits before him, sentenced them each in turn. First the curse upon the serpent was uttered, and in him upon all the beasts. "The Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field:" Gen. 3: 14. In the serpent then all the cattle and the beasts were cursed, the heaviest portion of the curse falling upon that creature by which sin entered.* Yet the serpent had no choice in the matter. Satan chose that form, and the reptile could not resist. It was sentenced, but not because of sin in itself. And herein it stands distinguished from the human agents, concerned. They sinned willingly and wilfully, and in just indignation came the sentence on them.
(*And when all the others rejoice, the stigma of God will still rest on that by which sin entered. "The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock, and dust shall be the serpent's meat:" Isa. 65: 25.)
In consequence of the curse in the garden then, and the Tempter's wile, sin's dismal effects fell upon all creation. The tree of knowledge of good and evil, cast a blight over the vegetable world, and calamity hung over the whole of the animated races of earth, from the incarnation of Satan, and the outbreak of sin from the serpent. The ground itself was cursed for Adam's sake: 3: 17. It was to yield to him ever the thorn and the thistle, until at death its mould closed over his corpse. From that day the creature became subject to vanity: Eccles. 1: 2-8. It became like a sail rent away from its ropes by the tornado's sweep, that flaps and flutters idly up and down, and is torn into shreds by each gust of the storm.
is unsettled, unstable, unsatisfactory. By the
fall it became liable (1) to disease, infirmities, and pains terminating in
death. (2) Fierce and deadly instincts of war and bloodshed broke out,
and one tribe warred upon another, making the tame and innocent ones its
prey. (3) Over all settled the discomforts of winter, the inclemency of
the seasons, barrenness, famine, and abortion. (4) The animals became
subservient to man; to be taken and destroyed by him; to be killed and eaten as
food. (5) As sacrifices, they were commanded to be slain. (6) they became subject to the cruel and unmerciful, who take
away life without reason, or inflict torture; who over-task and underfeed
them. (7) they were exposed to the judgements of
God. When he sent his wrath on sinners, they also felt its edge. At
the flood, all but the favoured ones in the ark were swept away to death.
"All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of
all that was in the dry land, died." When
Yet is this subjection not hopeless. And thus it is proved, that he who subjected creation was neither the devil nor man, as some have supposed; for neither of these brought the creation under woe, with the hope that they might one day escape it; but, God did. At the very time he sentenced the creation, he uttered the words of hope, in the tidings of the woman's Seed, who should conquer back what had been lost. Nay, and in the deliverance of a favoured few of animals in the ark, and the covenant that followed, that hope is confirmed.
Thus Paul plunges into the consideration of that great difficulty which besieges alike the Christian, the philosopher, and the deist, and which the gospel partially develops, and sets at rest. How is it - all nature cries to the deist - (to teach him, if possible, his ignorance, and to lead him to revelation); how is it, in the world of that Infinite Power, whose existence you admit, that woe so broad, and constant in its tide, ever rolls on? - That there is no form of life that is not dimmed by pain, and finally extinguished by death? - That restlessness, dissatisfaction, and suffering, heavily canopy this wide earth? - that not the voice of joy nor calmness of repose, but the cries of infirmity, disease, and woe, in a thousand shapes, mount up to heaven? Grant, even, that man may suffer as a sinner, and deserves it. Yet, why are innocent animals joined with him in the calamity? Why are they torn, baited, over-driven, maimed, underfed, tortured, slain at the caprice of man, and for his uses and service? The present passage gives the answer in part. It renders the only reply that can be given aright.
The answer that will be given, in the last days, to this mysterious question, will be blasphemy. They will say, "The Creator is not a good and holy being. The weakness, imperfection, and misery we discern, springs, not from sin, as you fanatics affirm, (for how could animals sin? and we deny that there is such a thing as sin at all,) but from the weakness and imperfection of the Creator, He either could not or would not hinder this mass of misery. He is either limited in power, or he is pleased with suffering."
Now, Paul answers not the difficulty as the philosopher does now. Science would assure us, that this state of things has ever been: that, however we may whine or moan, it is best that it should be so, and that a world without pain or death is not to be thought of. It would teach us, that thus it must continue as long as the world shall last, and the planets shall track their courses. In direct contradiction thereto, Paul declares, that it was not so once. Once the whole was only blooming, only joyous; its music without a wail, its leaves without a blight, its fields unstained by blood, its dust undefiled by the dead. He consoles us with the assurance that it shall not be always so. No! it was not so from the first. Sin has blighted it! It shall not always be thus forever. The Redeemer has come!*
[* The First Advent of Christ has brought into the Christians view a hope of entering into the promised Millennial Rest with all Creation. At His Second Advent, the promised Creation-Rest will become effective. Therefore, since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us - the regenerate be careful that none of you who now disbelieve the good news of the promised millennial kingdom be found to have fallen short of it, (Heb. 4: 1. N.I.V.).]
"Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God."
If I rightly perceive the drift of the present passage, the Apostle gives two views of the degeneration of creation; and answerably thereto, two glimpses of deliverance. For the effects of sin appeared, first in pain during life; then in corruption after death. And it is the latter of these he treats of in the verse before us. Both these effects of sin are to be removed by two corresponding stages of deliverance. There will be the joy of the creatures living on earth during the Saviour's reign: there will be the immortality of the creation finally ransomed from death, on the new earth, in which is no sea: Rev. 20:1. We have presented to us, both the joy of the mother after the birth of the child, answering to the millennial joy of the creation: and also the casting off the yoke of corruption, which supposes the possession of immortal life.
This is the most startling feature of the two. What! shall animals attain immorality, no less than ourselves?
I reply - what is the import of the present words? What is "corruption?" Is it not that force, whereby the body of the animal, that in life was held together by a mighty but secret chemistry, is dissolved, and scattered to the winds? Paul employs it in this sense, "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory:" 1Cor. 15: 42,43. And what is "the bondage (or slavery) of corruption," but the perpetual imprisonment which the body suffers [in the grave], when once it has begun to moulder? Spring comes, the summer glows; but they exert no power to collect the scattered atoms. The iron hand of death holds it with unrelaxing gripe. But the Apostle affirms, that as the saints of God, whose bodies lie now beneath this slavery of corruption, shall one day be delivered from it, even so shall the creature also. For us this mortal shall put on immortality; and death be swallowed up in victory. But it will be with ourselves; so, (says Paul,) will it be with them. The sons of God will exchange slavery for freedom, and a corrupting corpse for the glorious body of the resurrection. This will be "the liberty of the glory of the sons of God." But as the creature now lies beneath this bondage, so will it enter into the same liberty! Many difficulties may encompass the thought, but does not inspiration say so?
Observe in the force of the expression used, a further proof of the correctness of the interpretation. "Because even the creature itself, (or "the very creature") shall be delivered." The term employed, shows, that it is something so far inferior to man, that one might have supposed its interests overlooked or forgotten. Since man is the direct object of redemption, it might have been thought that all other questions were neglected in regard of the superlative importance of his deliverance from sin and the curse. The force of the expression will be seen, by putting a parallel case. Suppose we read in an account of the coronation of Queen Victoria - "Her Majesty on the occasion of her coronation made a royal feast to her nobility, archbishops, bishops, and the peers of the realm: Nay, so princely was her bounty, that the very servants themselves of the palace were sumptuously entertained." By such a mode of expression, we should understand the writer to intend, that whereas it might have been expected, that the pleasures of inferiors would have been neglected in the vastly greater importance of the principal banquet, yet they were not forgotten.
And this is really the state of things in the present instance. Scarcely one in a thousand has seen, that the interests of the inferior creation have been consulted and provided for in the great scheme of redemption by Jesus. But not so with God. His plans are perfect; nothing can be added to them, nothing taken away. He discerns the end from the beginning, and with infinite wisdom gives to each part of the scheme, its proper place.
Let us then turn to some of the passages which speak of the blessings of the inferior creation, at the period of the return of the Saviour. And in order to render the contrast more striking, take a view of the world under the day of Great Tribulation, whose stormy winds and waters burst in all their gloom and fury, just before the Lord Jesus as the Sun of righteousness appears. "The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted; the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth. Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl O ye wine-dressers, for the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished. The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field are withered; because joy is withered away from the sons of men:" Joel 1: 10, 12. "Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come:" "How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate. O Lord, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned the trees of the field. The beasts of the field cry also to thee; for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness:" 15, 18, 20.
Now let us see the contrast - "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots; and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge, and of the fear of the Lord; and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord, and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice's den: they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the EARTH shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea:" Isaiah 11: 1-9.
"For we know that the whole creation groaneth together, and travaileth together in pain until now."
word "together" belongs both to "groaneth" and "travaileth," though in the
English translation it is given but once. This is intended to lead us to
remark, that while the creation is made up of many different parts, yet none is
free from the burden, but all suffer from it, and groan under its
pressure. For as the creation is one great whole or body, if one of the
members suffer, all the members suffer with it.
And so, when one of the members of the sons of God are
honoured, all the members will rejoice with it. The great fact of
creation's suffering we all know; common experience makes it manifest.
The bleating of its tired sheep, the lowing of its driven herds, the cries of
slaughtered animals, all proclaim the pain of creation. The blighted,
torn, mildewed, withered leaves, proclaim to us the
curse that rests as a weary burthen upon creation. It not only "groans together," but it "travails together until
now." The figure made use of, is
that of pregnancy. What then does it import? (1) That there is a
certain and definitely fixed period for the woe of creation. (2) That its suffering will continually increase in
But what is the birth with which creation is in travail? The text itself supplies the answer. As the mother looks forward to the birth of the child, so is creation looking forward for "the manifestation of the sons of God." The child then, on whose birth so much depends, is the souls of the just in Hades - the unseen womb of the earth.* This burthen, (answerably to the figure,) is daily increasing, and has been so ever since the curse was laid on the world. Death holds them in bondage as yet, "the gates of Hades, (not 'hell') prevail" against them for the present. But when these come forth and receive "the adoption, the redemption" of the resurrection "body," then will joy arise on this saddened earth. But the cries of birth is terrible; the Saviour describes it in part, in Matthew 24. War, famine, pestilence are the "beginning of sorrows," (Greek -"birth-pangs.") then comes the Great Tribulation, such as never was and never will be again. And at that time the earth, riven by a fierce "earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth," opens, and the just [saints of God, accounted worthy to reign with Christ,] arise. "He bowed the heavens, and came down, and it was darkness under his feet." "And the channels of the sea appeared, the foundations of the world were discovered at the rebuking of the Lord, at the blast of the breath of his nostrils. He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters:" 2 Samuel 22: 10, 16, 17. The burden of slavery, (to which the woe of creation is compared in the twenty-first verse,) is a hateful burden. The burden of pregnancy, (verse 22,) is a cherished burden, and answers to the souls of the righteous, who, in the day of the [first] resurrection, issuing forth from the dark bowels and womb of the earth, will be manifest to all as the then visible, but now unseen and waiting sons of God.
vast majority of regenerate believers erroneously believe that they ascend into
Heaven at the time of Death! They
choose to ignore the Scriptural doctrine of Resurrection, and the
"Like as a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and crieth out in her pangs, so have we been in thy sight, O Lord."
(Then comes the birth) - "Thy dead men shall live; my dead body shall they arise." (Then joy) - "Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead." And this at the time when Jesus appears, and the Lord "cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity:" Isaiah 26: 18, 19, 21. For the sons of God are in two states, the living and the dead; and in neither are they manifested as the children of God, nor will they be, till the day of resurrection.
"And not only it (the creation) but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves, groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption - the redemption of our body."
The realms of nature and of grace are in the same attitude; both under bondage, and groaning under the pressure, and both expecting and waiting for a deliverance promised by God.
In which words notice the remarkable expression, "who have the first-fruits of the Spirit." This refers to the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, which we have not now.Ή These endowments, by the very title given them, foretold the glory that is to appear. They were "powers of the age to come:" Hebrews 6: 4, 5. "The earnest of the inheritance:" Ephesians 1: 14. They gave token and proof of the day of deliverance from the present bondage of creation. He who was gifted with these, showed that he belonged to that better order of things, which is one day to draw upon the earth. To one was given the power of casting out demons; and this was the token and the earnest, that one day Satan and all his angels shall be cast into the bottomless pit, and shut up during the thousand years. Another possessed the gift of healing, and he, by repelling the attacks of disease, and the advances of death and corruption, give a joyful signal of that glorious day, when, to those in the flesh, disease shall be checked, and the life of man shall be as the days of a tree.
"We" (says Paul) "have the first-fruits," they were the possessions of all believers then: they ought to be now.* The first-fruits betokened that the harvest was coming; so the gifts of the Holy Ghost to [regenerate and Spirit filled] believers in Jesus are the pledge of that coming day, when, as Joel says, the Lord "will pour out his Spirit on all flesh." And, as Jeremiah declares, "they shall no more teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest." And, to use the Saviour's own quotation, "They shall all be taught of God." Now, the first-fruits belonged to the priests - "And this shall be the priest's due from the people, from them that offer a sacrifice, whether it be ox or sheep; and they shall give unto the priest the shoulder, and the two cheeks, and the maw. The first-fruits also of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep, thou shalt give him:" Deut. 18: 3, 4.
in mind: the Church at
then, as made unto our God kings and priests, by the blood of Jesus,
ought to possess the first-fruits. The harvest is to be for all flesh,
when the day of glory and of Christ's appearing is come. The first-fruits
are our consolation - the harvest is the promised joy of
The Apostle then adds, that we are looking out for "the adoption." But how is this? Are we not, if we are believers, already adopted? We have "the spirit of adoption," (Romans 8: 15) as this very chapter affirms, but not adoption itself; though God hath predestined us thereto: Eph. 1: 5.
The time of our adoption, and its great and manifesting act, is the redemption of our body. For even in us who are alive, "the body is dead because of sin:" (verse 10.) And in the case of the sleeping saints, the body is manifestly under "the bondage of corruption." The soul is in custody in Hades, the body in the prison of the grave.² These bonds must be loosed, ere we are manifestly God's; ere our bondage is exchanged for liberty, and our corruption for glory.
2. Having thus expounded the meaning of the passage, I would just gather up its general sentiment, to show its argumentative force against the general teaching of the present day.
It appears then, that Paul in these verses, takes a general view of Creation, as it exists now, and gives three statements of its condition, as being (1) subject to vanity through the sin of man: (2) under the bondage of corruption; (3) and groaning and travailing throughout in pain. And correspondently therewith he presents three views of the future condition of the saints and sons of God, (1) their manifestation, (2) their glorious liberty, (3) their adoption, that is, the redemption of their body. Now scripture informs us, that at the beginning, creation was very good; and that the woe which now burdens it, came on it from the sin of man. To the opponents then of the Millennium, I would say, - Why do you believe that the only change and restoration will take effect on man? You acknowledge that the sin of the first Adam brought in ruin upon the whole creation. Why then should you refuse to admit that the obedience of the second Adam will redeem the inferior creation likewise? You acknowledge that the incarnation of Satan in the serpent produced the fall of man, and that man's fall drew after it the wreck of creation animate and inanimate. Why then doubt that Christ's incarnation in the manhood shall lift up from corruption's bondage, not the redeemed of the human race alone, but the animated races of creation? This certainly is Paul's doctrine here. As creation fell with the fall of man, and continues subject to its evils still, under the disposing will of God: so with man's rising it will recover itself, and rejoice at Satan's discomfiture, and the victory of Messiah.
But this doctrine, though more acknowledged than formerly, is yet much resisted. Hear Doddridge, who speaks the thought of many:- "To explain it (this passage) as chiefly referring to the brutal or inanimate creation is insufferable; since the day of the redemption of our bodies will be attended with the conflagration, which will put an end to them." But is this true? No: such a statement results from the denial of the first resurrection of the saints, and the belief that all men rise together. For it has been shown already, that the redemption of the bodies of the saints, takes place at the Saviour's coming, and the Saviour's coming is celebrated as the term of the rejoicing of creation, not of its destruction; as it is written - "Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar and the fullness thereof! then shall all the trees of the field rejoice before the Lord: for he cometh to judge the earth; he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth:" Psalm 96: 11-13; Psalm 98.
We must choose therefore whose statements we will believe. If we reject the Millennium, Paul's language and the Psalmist's will be unaccounted for. If we make the Millennium a spiritual reign only [without the personal and bodily Presence of Jesus the King], in which good men will be very abundant, and the gospel preached and received everywhere, Paul must be mistaken; for to the gospel no such effects as the renovation of creation can be ascribed. It does not touch, except indirectly, the sufferings even of man. It offers consolation to the soul, but it does not decrease the sufferings of the body. It does not stave off pestilence, disease, death. It does not rise the dead from their sepulcher, or undo the sentence of corruption. Much less does it take off from the creature its sufferings. It still permits the slaughter of animals for food, the abuse of them by the cruel; it still permits, as it needs must, the inclemency of the wintry sky, and the sultry droughts of summer. It does not manifest the sons of God, or crown them with the promised glory, or give them the deliverance of the body from its slavery to death and putrefaction. And even if it did remove the creature's woe, it would not fulfil the figure presented in the passage before us; for if the burthen of creation were removed by the effects of the gospel, it would be like a load taken from off a weary porter's shoulder, ounce by ounce, gradually diminishing till all was gone. But the figure of child-birth represents it as gradually becoming heavier and heavier, and at the height and crisis of the struggle, suddenly removed. Nor would it account for the character of the burthen borne by creation. The burthen of pregnancy is a beloved burthen; but that which the gospel would remove is only hateful.
Even were the gospel to prevail everywhere, as many are fond to assert, these conclusions would be true. But it will not. The Scriptures of the New Testament everywhere teach, that though its offers were to be widely extended, and its aspect is universal, it will not be universally received. What is the brief sentence that sums up the whole history of our dispensation [this evil age], more than once on the Saviour's lips? "Many are called but few chosen!" Nay, and there is now at hand, (what but few are ready for) a general apostasy from Christianity, instead of a general conversion to it! 2 Thess. 2; 1Thess. 4.
But (that I may not go too far astray from the tract of my present subject,) mark the very words of the text. What saith Paul? "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." The gospel had then been abroad thirty years in the fullness of its blessing, and "from Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum (Paul) had fully preached the gospel of Christ," and yet he utters no word of any check given then, or afterwards to be given by the gospel, to the groan and travail of nature without that wide space, and up to that very time. Much more then may we say of nature, that it "groaneth and travaileth in pain together EVEN UNTIL NOW."
But the Apostle saw a hope for it signal and blessed, in an event - not of nature - not of the course of events now following their career - but in the miraculous return of Jesus, and his manifestation of himself with all³ his saints in their full glory, as risen from the dead. This is the hope for which creation tarries; this the birth for which it looks; this the travail wherewith it travails. In that word I see a decisive proof of millennial glory, a decisive denial to modern belief. This groaning of nature, which is heard in the sighing of its tempests, the howling of its stormy, wrecking breakers, in the lowing of its slaughtered herds, and the moans of its dying tribes, what is its character to the ear of faith? Is it the roar of the wind, and the rush of the wave grappling the groaning vessel, to bury it in the sea depths? Is it the feverish tossing and moaning of the dying man upon his bed, as he waxes fainter and fainter, and halts down the valley of corruption? No: it is the pain, struggling and suffering, but, pain with hope. It is the pangs of the mother, who suffers sorely indeed, but not unto death; whose pains indeed accumulate and sharpen hour by hour, but only for awhile; and whose eye is about to glisten above her new-born infant. The world is suffering the pangs of birth, not the pangs of death! A new order of things - of joy and not of grief; of preservation and of glory, not of destruction and desolation - is about to arise.
Here then choose ye! If received opinion is to be our guide, then there remains no hope for this fallen creation. It is looking onward sorrowfully and groaning to that dismal period, more awful than the doom of Sodom - more terrible than the wild howling of the flood, and its career of destruction - when fierce in anger, the Saviour-Judge will come, in cloud and storm, and burn up the recreant earth; and all its animated tribes, except man, will be consumed in one general blaze! But can the creature desire to be burnt up? Does it any more expect and long for future destruction than for present pain? Or were it any exhibition of the mercy of God? Destruction comes from his wrath, and is the testimony of his sore displeasure. To reduce creation to nothing by his fervent heat, were to fasten the yoke of corruption about the neck of its animated tribes forever. And how were the redemption of the saints any specimen or picture of the redemption in store for the creature? Are the sons of God to be burnt up or annihilated? Then neither are its now suffering tribes! The Lord loves the creatures of his hand as truly as man. At the flood he spared a remnant in the ark; and with the living creatures of the world he entered into covenant, when he accepted the burnt-sacrifice of Noah. How much more then shall the better sacrifice of the Lamb of God draw down, on the whole creation, the blessings of that new covenant, with whose glories the prophets are teeming! Yes! if you will believe Paul the inspired - before the hour of the world's burning, there is a period when all creation shall rejoice.
If you will trust the [Holy] Spirit speaking by him, as surely as we shall overcome the grave, and enter on our immortal course in the full freedom of bodies ransomed from the slavery of corruption, even so shall the creature that has suffered with us, with us partake in the glory of immortality.
suddenly as the Saviour's appearing, will the
glory of the redeemed come. In a moment, in
the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump will the dead saints rise
incorruptible, and we, the living saints, shall be caught up and changed.
And with our sudden glory, a new day will dawn in the renewed world. Before its brightness the earth is to break
forth into joy, and the heavens to burst out with song. The forests are
to clap their hands in loud rejoicing; the waves of the sea to roar in glad
acclaim. The sun is to shine with seven-fold lustre, the moon with the
light of the sun; as before that day, blackness covered the one, and blood
mantled the other. In the parched desert are streams to leap forth; in
the burning sand, groves of stately trees are to spring and spread their
shade. And the animals, tamed anew by the creator's hand, will put on the
will enter into that day of glory? Who will see that glory of Christ's kingdom
long expected, long foretold? He only who is born
again; for "except a man be born again, he cannot
Ή The words, "which we have not now", may imply to some that no Christian today has these miraculous gifts! If this were true, then why are we encouraged, by the same Apostle, to "desire spiritual gifts"? (1 Cor.14:1) "All these", says Paul, referring to:- (1) "the word of wisdom"; (2) "word of knowledge"; (3) "gifts of healing"; (4) "the working of miracles"; (5) "prophecy"; (6) "discerning of spirits"; (7) "divers kinds of tongues,"- ("the ability to speak in different kinds of languages", N. I. V.); (8) "the interpretation of tongues": "worketh that one and selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will," (1 Cor. 12: 1-11). Where in Scripture is there mention of the Holy Spirit's desire to withhold these miraculous powers to regenerate believers today? I can find none!
² "The soul is in custody in Hades, the body in the prison of the grave."
This comment is, in my opinion, excellent! This is what Holy Scripture teaches, but how many of evangelical Christians today believe it? Very few it appears! With them the time of Death is the time of Resurrection! This is one very important point, where the writings of Govett, Lang, Pember, Panton and many others, put their "finger unerringly" on a major flaw in modern post-Reformation Protestantism. A rejection and disbelief of these doctrines, - (that is, the Doctrine of the Intermediate State of the Dead, and the prerequisite necessity of Resurrection or Rapture, before it is possible for one to enter into the coming Kingdom, Heaven and the Eternal State in a new heaven and a new earth), - are responsible for the veiling of many Scriptural truths unable to be fully understood today by the majority of the redeemed people of God.
³ The words, "With all His saints in full glory", are misleading in this context, unless the reader understands the word "all" to be limited; and not meaning every saint. If the first resurrection includes all of the redeemed, then what resurrection was the Apostle Paul seeking to "attain" unto? (Phil. 3: 11, A. V.) "If (some) how I may attain to the out-resurrection (out) from the dead" (Greek). "Not as though I had already attained" (gained by effort) etc. And again:- "Others were tortured" - (Greek, "beaten to death") - "not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection," (Heb. 11: 35). And again:- "They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain [attain] that world ('age'), and the resurrection from the dead" (Greek, " and of the resurrection out of the dead"), Luke 20: 35. It is a select resurrection of Reward for regenerate believers who are "accounted worthy".]