( c ) The blessed condition and assured hope of such as are in Christ Jesus. The summary of the contents of this chapter, which follows the Exposition, may be referred to in the first place by the student, so as to assist comprehension of the line of thought.
For the creature (or, creation , as before) was subjected to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who subjected it in hope. Because (or, that; i.e. in hope that ) the creature (or, creation ) also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God . The aorist ὑπετάγη ("was subjected") seems to imply that the present "vanity" and "bondage of corruption" were not inherent in the original Creation, or of necessity to last for ever. Thus the assertions of Genesis 1:1-31 : and 31, stand unshaken, viz. that in the beginning God created all things, and that all at first was "very good." The ideas, resorted to in order to account for existing evil, of matter ( ὕλη ) being essentially evil, and of a δημιουργός , other than the Supreme God, having made the world, are alike precluded. It might serve as an answer to the argument of Lucretius against a Divine origin of things-
" Nequaquam nobis divinius esse paratam
Naturam rerum, tanta star praedita culpa "
Why the "creature" was thus "subjected" is not here explained. No solution of the old insoluble problem of τοθὲν τὸ κακὸν is given. All that is, or could be, said is that it was διὰ τὸν ὑποτάξαντα , meaning God. It was his will that it should be so; this is all we know; except that we find the beginning of evil, so far as it affects man, attributed in Scripture to human sin. But he so subjected his creation in hope. This expression may refer to the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 , or to the never-dying hope in the human heart; to either or to both. The latter idea is expressed in the myth of Pandora's box. Further, the creature is said to have been so subjected "not willingly" ( οὐχ ἑκοῦσα ) . No sentient beings acquiesce in suffering; they resent evil, and would fain flee from it. Man especially unwillingly submits to his present bondage. When in Genesis 3:21 the hope is expressed of the creature (or creation) itself being eventually freed from the present bondage of corruption, it may be that the human part of creation only is in the writer's eye; but it may be also (there being still no expressed limitation of the word κτίσις ) that he conceives a final emancipation of the whole creation from evil (cf. Ephesians 1:10 ; 1 Corinthians 15:23-27 ; 2 Peter 3:13 ). But if so, it is not said that the peculiar glory of the sons of God will extend to all creation, but only that all will be freed into the freedom of their glory; which may mean that the day of the revelation of the sons of God in glory will bring with it a general emancipation of all creation from its present bondage. Such a great final hope finds expression in the verse—
"That God, which ever lives and loves,
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off Divine event,
To which the whole creation moves."
The present condition of things is in Genesis 3:20 denoted by ματαιότης , and in Genesis 3:21 by τῆς δουλειάς τῆς φθορᾶς . The first of these words is the equivalent in the LXX . of the Hebrew לכֶהֶ , which means properly "breath," or "vapour," and is used metaphorically for anything frail, fruitless, evanescent, vain. It is often applied to idols, and it is the word in Ecclesiastes where it is said that "all is vanity" (cf. also Psalms 39:5 , Psalms 39:6 ). It seems here to denote the frailty, incompleteness, transitoriness, to which all things are now subject. " ΄αταιότης sonat frustatio, quod creatura interim non assequatur quod utcunque contendit efficere" (Erasmus). φθορᾶς intimates corruption and decay.
And, after all, these present drawbacks are but our inevitable share in the condition of imperfection under which all creation, as we see it now, is labouring. The whole world presents to us the picture of an ideal not realized, but ever yearned for. All we can say about it is that it has pleased God to subject it for a time to vanity and the bondage of corruption, but so as to leave hope alive.
The privileges and responsibilities of the children of God.
The apostle in these verses makes a high claim for believers—the claim of being children of God. In this eighth chapter he unfolds, as in a panoramic view, the whole plan of salvation. He begins with the idea that those who are in Christ Jesus are delivered from condemnation. But salvation is something more than that. It means sonship also. And step by step, verse by verse, the apostle advances, at each step unfolding some fresh view of the Christian's privileges, till at last, as he surveys the whole field of sin and sorrow, of joy and suffering, of trials and temptations, of time and eternity, he grows stronger in the confidence of his sonship, and exclaims, "For! am persuaded, that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
I. THE PRIVILEGES OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD .
1. God is their Father. They can say that in a special and spiritual sense. In one sense all human beings are the offspring of God. We are all the creatures of his hand, and are dependent continually upon his bountiful care. But sin has come in and separated us from him. It has made us prone to disobey rather than to fulfil our Father's commands. Jesus came into this world that he might bring us back again into the relationship of God's spiritual children. He became a child of humanity that we might become children of God. He became "sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." All who believe on him are born again. They are by creation God's children; now they are his by a spiritual birth. Now they receive "the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father" ( Romans 8:15 ). Oh, the greatness of our heavenly Father's love! He has not cast us off. He has sent his own Son to bring us back, to restore his image in our hearts, and by-and-by to have us sit down with him in his everlasting kingdom.
2. Jesus Christ is their elder Brother. "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" ( Romans 8:17 ). The inheritance which Christ has we have, if by receiving him we become children of God. It is almost too great a privilege to conceive, but it is plainly revealed to us by God. If we are Christ's, all things are ours; for we are Christ's, and Christ is God's. Christ's own prayer was, "Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me be with me where I am." And then there is a family likeness between the children of God by adoption and their elder Brother. If children of some humble rank were adopted into a noble or royal family, there would be a great dissimilarity between them and the children of that family. There would not be community of feeling. It seems a wonderful thing that we, poor, weak, sinful creatures, should be adopted into the family of God, and made the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. How can there be any likeness between us and him? But God has provided for this. Those are remarkable words, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the Firstborn among many brethren" ( Romans 8:29 ). Thus God has provided that as we are to be the brethren of Christ, we shall be like him. "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: for we shall see him as he is." This likeness to Christ is a gradual growth. It is the development of the Christian character. It is not in the infant lying in the cradle that much likeness to its parent can be detected. But as the body matures, as the features become more marked, as the individuality of character begins to show itself, then we see the likeness, and we say, He is his father's son, She is her mother's daughter. Those beautiful statues of the Louvre or of Florence, which are the admiration of the world, did not spring by magic from the sculptor's hands. He had his ideal. He had his plan. With that ideal before him, he took the rough material, and on it he gradually worked out his plans. He first modelled his figure in clay, and then took the rough, shapeless mass of marble, in which no one could see any traces of the future statue's loveliness or symmetry of form. But the sculptor's love for his work, the skill of his hand, the patience and perseverance of his mind, the hammer and chisel which he wielded, slowly but surely accomplished his purpose, until at last the statue stood forth in all its beauty. So God has his ideal for the Christian—likeness to Christ, the image of his Son. He has his plan, the plan of redemption, of sanctification. With that ideal before him he takes our human nature, and, by the slow and sometimes painful discipline of Christian experience, he develops the Christian character, until at last the believer is found meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light.
3. The Spirit of God is their Helper. There are three ways mentioned by the apostle in which the Spirit helps us.
4. Heaven is their home. "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" ( Romans 8:18 ). While enjoying the fellowship of our earthly homes, let us think of the better home on high, the only home that shall never be broken up.
II. THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD . They are summed up in the apostle's brief words, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh" ( Romans 8:12 ). "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" ( Romans 8:13 ). We are to remember that we are debtors. We are to reflect how much we owe. We are to realize God's claims upon us. We are to think of the claims of that heavenly Father who has condescended to adopt us as his children, and who is constantly caring for us. We are to think of the claims of that loving Saviour who gave himself for us. We are to think of the claims of that Spirit who has quickened us from the dead, who has been enlightening our minds, and who is renewing us after the image of God.
"All that I am, e'en here on earth,
All that I hope to be
When Jesus comes, and glory dawns,
I owe it, Lord, to thee."
The redemption of the creation
"If so be that we suffer with him." Then we do suffer? Yes, even as he did. For ours is a redemptive history, and redemption is not without pain. But the future—oh, how the glory eclipses all the momentary trial! So was it with himself. "For the joy that was set before him," he "endured the cross, despising the shame" ( Hebrews 12:2 ). And so shall it be with us. We may well join the apostle in his triumphant outburst of hope, "For I reckon," etc. Ours is the hope of an immortal glory; nay, the hope is the hope of the world: "the earnest expectation of the creation," etc. So, then, we have for our consideration—the present pains, the future glory.
I. THE PRESENT PAINS .
1. Of the creation. This expression must not be toned down. It refers to all the creation, outside of man himself, with which man has to do; our "world," which is connected by a mysterious solidarity with ourselves, sorrowing in our sorrow, rejoicing in our joy. Once? It was "very good;" all was harmony, beauty, peace. We may not tell what were the joys of the early creation, but it was the garden of the Lord, the paradise of man. The ravages of the storm, the desolations of the wilderness, were then unknown; the creatures preyed not one upon another then; love, liberty, and life were all in all. But man's fall drew a shadow-oh, how dark!—across the beauty; and for love, liberty, and life, there were then strife, bondage, death! "The creation was subjected to vanity;" yes, cursed was the world for man's sake. And now? Look around you: "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together." The earthquake and storm, the arid desert and dreary seas, the inhospitable clime, the unfriendly skies, the blighted harvests—the shadow of the cross! And the ravages of the animal world: destruction, pain, death. And at last? "The fashion of this world passeth away!"
2. Of ourselves. The nature-part of us is likewise " subject to vanity:" we groan. Disease, death—of our own frame and organic life; of our relationships. Oh, how we are mocked: dust, dust, dust!
II. THE FUTURE GLORY .
1. Of ourselves. We are God's children by faith in Christ; his adopted ones. But though the adoption is real, it is not yet manifest to the universe. No, nor to ourselves in its fulness. As though a beggar-child were adopted by a king, but for a while must still appear in beggar-garments. Oh, it shall not be always so! The beggar-garments shall be cast away, and the royal robe assumed; our sonship shall be made manifest to all: we wait "for the redemption of our body." Yes, God's purposes shall be accomplished; in the resurrection of the Son they are pledged to fulfilment; the body of our humiliation shall be made like to the body of his glory, and "then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory."
2. Of the creation. But if we wait, and wait in hope, so does our creation wait, groan, yearn for the revealing of the sons of God. The ἀποκαραδοκία ! The decay and death not intrinsically pertaining to it; no, not if God's world. The vanity to which it was subjected, the mockery of aim, the frustration of purpose, this was all "in hope." And as by man came the curse, by man comes the blessing. Bondage, corruption, through the sin? Yes; and liberty, glory, through the great redemption! Whatever of evil was done, shall be undone; the blot shall be wiped away; the shadow shall pass that the eternal light may shine. And all our relationships with the world, and with one another, these shall be remade then; delivered, glorified! Oh, how the heart has bled—bled because of the frustrations and rendings of this world. Oh, how the heart shall bound—bound with the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ; a gospel, not in word only, but in power, delivering power that shall work its deliverance on man's whole nature, all man's relationships, man's whole world!
Shall ours, then, not be the patience—"we wait for it "? Yes for he giveth grace. But shall we not know something of the triumph too? Shall we not grasp the future, and almost live in it as though the present were not? Yes; for ourselves, for our dear ones, for our dear world, "I reckon" etc.—T.F.L.
Salvation in spite of suffering.
"Paradise regained" in this life is not a sorrowless and painless condition. The sons of God are chastened. They know what suffering is. And there is here the great religious evidence. When the world sees men and women composed and even cheerful amid untold tribulation, then it sees a reality in religion. Job, for instance, was an evidence for the reality of religion that, even Satan himself could not gainsay or deny. How is it that the Christian spirit can assert its supremacy amid suffering of the most intense character? It is because it is enabled to keep its eye on the hidden good, and bless God for it. And so in this section we have the spirit of the apostle asserting itself upon this important subject.
I. THERE IS THE CONTRAST BETWEEN PRESENT SUFFERINGS AND THE PERFECTED SANCTIFICATION . (Verse 18.) God's end in his dispensations is to create a glory in us of an eternal character—the glory of sanctification when it comes in fulness. We may see the price we pay in the stanzas of the poetess.
"Through long days did Anguish,
And sad nights did Pain,
Forge my shield, Endurance,
Bright and free from stain!
"Doubt, in misty caverns,
'Mid dark horrors sought,
Till my peerless jewel,
Faith, to me she brought,
"Sorrow that I wearied
Should remain so long,
Wreathed my starry glory
The bright crown of Song.
"Strife that racked my spirit
Without hope or rest,
Left the blooming flower,
Patience, in my breast."
(Miss Procter's 'Legends and Lyrics.')
Now, when we look at what is paid and what is bought, we must admit that the bargain is a good one, for the glory of sanctification is weighty and eternal. "The light affliction," says the apostle elsewhere, "which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory ( 2 Corinthians 4:17 ).
II. IN SUFFERING WE ARE IN FELLOWSHIP WITH THE WHOLE CREATION . (Verses 19-22.) When we look into the Book of Job we see that the man of God is a special sufferer. But God points out in the sequel of the book that the perplexity in Job's experience is matched by the perplexity which pervades all nature. So is it with suffering. We may see it all through nature. Suffering human nature is only in line with suffering nature. And here we have to remark that:
1. The study of nature shows long progress through suffering towards higher forms. This is the lesson of evolution so far as it is a truth. The "struggle for existence" is painful progress towards more perfect forms. It may seem to our philosophic laureate a mystery that nature should be "so careful of the type," and "so careless of the single life;" nay, he goes on to see that she lets "a thousand types" go, and seems to care for nothing. £ But if we take the great procession as a whole, we may see that it embodies progress through pain to more perfect form. The groaning creation thus sheds light on sanctification through suffering and pain.
2. Out of the present is to be born a new state of things in which nature shall share in the restoration of the sons of God. The very word "nature," which signifies "something about to be born," is a prophecy similar to what the apostle here gives. If Nature, without any moral fault, has been subjected to vanity; if it has, without consent on her part, been made the painful illustration of moral and spiritual truth; then we may expect a just Governor like God to give Nature compensation, and allow her to share in the glorious liberty of his children. £ It is surely significant that that manly Christian, Frank Buckland, when he was dying, said, "I am going a long journey where I think I shall see a great many curious animals. This journey I must go alone." £ As animals were saved in the ark with Noah, and in Nineveh with the penitent Ninevites, is it not reasonable to suppose that they shall have some share in the regeneration of all things?
III. MAN AS THE SOUL OF THE WORLD INTERPRETS THE TRAVAIL OF THE CREATION . (Verses 23-27.) And here we cannot do better than take up the points as St. Paul gives them.
1. Man's aspiration about the body. (Verse 23.) For the body is to be redeemed, not discarded. It is this "hope" which saves us in our present distresses (verse 24). £ If we had not this hope, we should inevitably despair. And along with hope comes patience, so that "the patience of hope" becomes the attitude of all faithful souls. £ Then:
2. The Holy Spirit endorses our groaning after the better bodies. (Verse 26.) Prayer is not all articulate. A groan, a sigh, a tear, may have all the elements of prayer addressed to the heart of the Most High. Now, some saints have had such suffering communicated to them as compelled them to groan with desire after a better, because promised condition. These groans, that are too deep to be articulate, are Spirit-prompted. He pressed from tried spirits these unutterable longings.
3. God, the Heart-searcher, responds to these unutterable groans. (Verse 27.) We have here the whole philosophy of prayer. It is the inspired expression, articulately or otherwise, of what is agreeable to the Divine will, and the Heart-searcher recognizes in the prompted prayer the return to him of his own will, and so can answer it. £
IV. THIS IS THE BEST POSSIBLE WORLD FOR ONE WHO LOVES GOD . (Verse 28.) There is a certain idealism which inspires us all. According to our inward state is our outward world. "'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus." Consequently, if we have learned to love God, we take all things as animated by a Divine purpose of good to us. Suffering may come, but it comes to sanctify. Faith thus becomes optimistic. It lifts up its head, knowing that its redemption draweth nigh. It refuses to be pessimistic. In spite of all drawbacks, the glory of sanctification is on its way. And so those who have been called by a loving God to the exercise of love, find as they look about them that all things are co-operating for God's holy end of making his children holier and fitter for his fellowship. We could not be better situated than we are for sanctification. A poet on the subject "It is well" has thus written—
''So they said, who saw the wonders
Of Messiah's power and love;
So they sing, who see his glory
In the Father's house above:
Ever reading in each record
Of the strangely varied past,
'All was well which God appointed,
All has wrought for good at last.'
"And thus, while years are fleeting,
Though our joys are with them gone,
In thy changeless love rejoicing
We shall journey calmly on;
Till at last, all sorrow over,
Each our tale of grace shall tell,
In the heavenly chorus joining:
'Lord, thou hast done all things well!'"
(Cf. Randolph's 'Changed Cross, and other Poems,')
V. CONFORMITY TO CHRIST 'S GLORIOUS IMAGE IS WHAT GOD HAS IN VIEW FOR THOSE HE CALLS . (Verses 29, 30.) The gospel is God's plan for securing a multitude of children who shall all become Christ-like. He sent his only Child, "the only begotten Son," into the world to secure many brethren, and be the Firstborn among them. No narrow jealousies here! In the holiest sense it is true regarding God's family that "the more' there are in it, "the merrier" will all be. Now, God's purpose, foreknowledge, and predestination are robbed of every repulsive feature, when we bear in mind that individuals are not predestinated to salvation without regard to their moral state. They are predestinated to become Christ-like. Men may reject the call of God to Christ-likeness, but his purpose is not nullified by such wickedness. His purpose was pure in calling them, even though they reject the call. And so it is in the light of this holy purpose to make men Christ-like that we are to regard the predestination, and the call, and the justification, and the glorification. The glory when reached, the glory of Christ-likeness, sheds its heavenly halo over all. May we all reach that paradise of experience, likeness to our blessed Lord!—R.M.E.