( 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.
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for what we should pray for as we ought we know not: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because (or, that ) he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God . Here, then, is a further source of help and comfort to Christians under present trials. Of themselves they know not what relief to crave. St. Paul himself knew not what to pray for as he ought, when he asked for removal of his thorn in the flesh; if left to themselves, their long waiting and their manifold perplexities might damp their hope; but a Helper beyond themselves comes in to succour them, viz. the Holy Spirit himself, who intercedes ( ὑπερεντυγχάνει ) for them. But how? Not as the Son intercedes for them, apart from themselves, at the mercy-seat; but within themselves, by inspiring them with these unutterable (or, unuttered ) groanings; and they are conscious that such deep and intense yearnings are from the Divine Spirit moving them, and teaching them to pray. They may not still be able to put their requests of God into definite form, or even express them in words; but they know that God knows the meaning of what his own Spirit has inspired. This is a deep and pregnant thought. Even apart from the peculiar faith and inspiration of the gospel, the internal consciousness of the human soul, with its yearnings after something as yet unrealized, affords one of the most cogent evidences of a life to come to those who feel such yearnings. For ideals seem to postulate corresponding realities; instinctive longings seem to postulate fulfilment. Else were human nature a strange riddle indeed. But Christian faith vivifies the ideal, and intensifies the longing; and thus the prophecy of internal consciousness acquires a new force to the Christian believer; and this all the more from his being convinced that the quickening of spiritual life of which he is conscious is Divine. The psalmist of old, when he sang, "As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God," felt in these ardent though inarticulate pantings a presage of fulfilment of his "hope in God." So the devout Christian; and all the more in proportion to the intenseness and definiteness of his yearnings, and his conviction that they are from God.
And if our trials are great, and we know not ourselves what relief to pray for, we have the comfort of believing that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us within ourselves by inspiring all these unutterable yearnings, which he that searcheth the heart knows the meaning of, and will answer according to the mind of the Spirit who inspired them.
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."
Helping our infirmity.
In the previous verses the twofold "groaning" has been set forth—of nature as subjected to vanity, and of redeemed man as still sharing the heritage of vanity in himself and in his relation to the world around. "We hope for that we see not:" and this hope, though it be of the character of patient waiting, is yet also of the character of intense desire. But are our desires merely vague, unauthorized wishes for some fancied good, which God may not be purposed ever to grant? Nay; for what might be otherwise but the vague wishes of our burdened hearts are intensified and authorized by the spiritual life which is in us—are, indeed, the promptings, the groanings, of that very Spirit of God who is the Author and Sustainer of our spiritual life. And as such they are according to God's will, and, being according to his will, are the sure pledge of their own realization. The general truth here set forth is that, in all our times of weakness in this mortal life, when we are ready to faint, the Spirit sustains us; the special application of the truth is that, when "in praying we cannot express to God what the blessing is which would allay the distress of our heart" (Godet), the Spirit of God inspires us with holy aspirations, which are not indeed to be formulated in human words, seeing that they are touched with something of the infinite, but which react in comfort on the heart, as conveying in themselves an assurance that the almost infinite craving shall be infinitely satisfied.
I. OUR INFIRMITY .
1. In this life of trial, in which evil is so largely mingled with good, and in which, therefore, as regards our perfect redemption, we have to "hope for that which we see not," we are called to exercise both a passive and an active waiting.
2. And this general infirmity manifests itself specially in our inability to pray aright for the good which we confusedly desire. Oh, who has not proved this? The evils and mysteries of life almost daze our spirits; we strive in vain with our vision to pierce the impenetrable darkness. "Who shall show us any good?" So, coming before God, we do not find our accustomed relief: "we know not how to pray as we ought."
II. OUR HELP .
1. Amid all our weakness, however manifesting itself, the Spirit helps us. He gives us the patience to wait, and the strength to bear the burden and to do the work. Yes, that which of all things else is hardest, "to labour and to wait," earnestly to pursue our appointed task in spite of the mystery and distress of life, that is made possible by the good Spirit's help. Nay, even more, an inspiration comes from him which makes us zealous for the extension of his kingdom, and we urge our way with strength renewed; for our way is his way, and it tends to the accomplishment of his perfect will.
2. But especially, as these verses teach us, the Spirit helpeth our infirmity when "we know not how to pray as we ought" Oppressed by the mystery of life, torn by its cruel-seeming evils, knowing that these things ought not so to be, that they will not so be in a perfect state, we yet can scarcely realize our own desires, and cannot pray for the things we need. Then comes the inspiration from on high, and our heart goes forth towards God in aspirations prompted, and therefore warranted, by God. And the very desire, so born, gives rest. We may not know its full meaning; we are but partly conscious of our true need as regards that future for which we sigh. And therefore we may certainly not articulate all our desire in syllables of human speech to God: the groanings "cannot be uttered." But they are heard; they are understood; they shall be answered. For the Spirit that is in us is the Spirit who "searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" ( 1 Corinthians 2:10 ); and he therefore "maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God." Oh, what a pledge is here of our sure fruition of all good! We do not vainly and wrongly sigh for the perfectness of the new world; God himself sighs in us, with us, for this consummation. There is truly a groaning in nature itself for deliverance; there is a groaning in ourselves for "the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body;" and there is a groaning, in and with ours, of God's Spirit likewise, for the doing away of all contradictions such as now are, and the ushering in of the day of God, the perfect day. Here, then, is the law of a spiritual instinct, which, like all true instinct, however vaguely it may be conscious of its exact purport, is yet the pledge of its own realization.
Let us, then, not be ashamed to hope, to intensely hope, for that we see not, for the hope is heaven-born. But because of the very divineness of the hope itself, and the consequent certainty of realization, let us with patience wait for it.—T.F.L.
One reason for the lasting power of the Bible is its wide-ranging view of life. It runs through the whole gamut of feeling, touches every state. In this passage the apostle has brought heaven and earth together—has shown that creation is a unity waiting for a glorious consummation. He gives us truth fit to be "the master-light of all our Christian seeing, the guardian light of all our doing."
I. OUR HUMAN WEAKNESS . "Infirmity" suggests not so much the feebleness of the babe from a want of development, as the prostration of illness through the inroad of disease. Sin wastes the constitution, and we perceive our weakness when we proceed to act. This is the first stage of enlightenment, to be made conscious of helplessness. Ours is a condition of sighing. Like the rest of creation, Christians "groan within" themselves. They are subject to vanity, corruption, and sorrow. Afflictions deceive, comforts disappoint. At Marah the waters are bitter, and at Nineveh the gourd of one day withers the next. With what pain is thought exercised! Sin weighs us down; a cloud of passion obscures the Saviour's love; we toil, and "catch nothing." Deliverance is our cry. We stretch the head and crane the neck to hail the day of redemption. "We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened." A notable instance of weakness is furnished by our prayers. We are ignorant of the fit requests to make, and the proper manner in which to present them. There is a danger of our asking unwisely, too impetuously, for a hurtful gratification. The most needful object, what "we ought" to supplicate, we are not earnest enough about; we scarce know what it is. We look through eyes of flesh, and our vision is limited. We dislike a burden and all suffering. Like Paul, we have "thrice besought the Lord" to remove what is designed for beneficial discipline. Like sufferers under the surgeon's knife, we long for present ease rather than the removal of the real cause of disorder. Amid the whirl of life "bound to its wheel," we are liable to "mistake its end;" would fain arrest the machinery ere the clay is sufficiently impressed to make a "vessel meet for the Master's use."
II. THE DIVINE PROVISION . Help is afforded us by the Spirit of God. The very sense of dissatisfaction is a sign of the indwelling Spirit. The world wonders at the lamentation so frequent in religious biography. But to be quite content arbores deadness of soul. To deem one's self perfectly wise is a sure token of self-deceit. The Spirit breaks up the deeps of an undisturbed monotony. The Emperor Augustus desired to see the wonderful couch on which a man slept serenely in spite of his heavy indebtedness. The groaning of the Christian is an advance upon that of the natural creation. It is not merely bewailing and murmuring; it is for spiritual reasons. He is made aware of his Divine sonship, and has to reconcile his confidence in the Father with his present irksome bondage. Creation longs for development; the Christian feels his sinfulness and sighs for salvation. His groaning proves a longing for infinitude; that he was made for God, and nothing less can satisfy. Like the hart chased by pursuers, till big tears are rolling from the eyes and the moisture is black upon its sides, so the Christian "thirsts for the living God." For him, to cease to aspire is to die, as the cessation of activity in extreme cold means a fatal rest. The unwilling bondage is an "incipient liberty." This groaning is an intercession of the Spirit, an utterance too big for words, a powerful plea with God. We have the advocacy of Christ without us, and the intercession of the Holy Spirit within. "I will send you another Advocate." Such an advocacy assures us of good. The Spirit is "the Firstfruits," and the golden harvest shall surely follow to the garner. These yearnings are the earnest of the fulfilment of our largest hopes, a pledge that the Father does not mean us always to remain down-trodden and stained and imperfect in knowledge. How great the encouragement to pray ! Even though we are uncertain what exactly we want, our vague aspirations are not useless. We are lifted higher by them. Prayer is God's law, though how it acts on God we cannot tell. We know that in the human sphere a father exerts his power of loving aid when his child cries in trouble. And God reads the mind of his own Spirit, urging us to pour out our hearts before his throne of grace. We may pray, then, even though we realize our inability to express our needs. We can interpret the dumb animal's pleading look, or the babe's expression of suffering; we project our spirit to them, and by sympathy understand their wants. And our broken utterances, or the stereotyped phrases of the Liturgy, are multiplied by the Spirit into a mighty intercession on our behalf. Though we fear lest we ask amiss, God will understand aright, nor grant an injurious boon. The direction of the Spirit's longing stimulated within us is ever in accordance with the judgment of the All-wise.—S.R.A.
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.