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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles

Chapter 49 - Romans 8:19-23 - Creation's Groans and Hopes Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles by Bonar, Horatius


When the night is darkest, and the stars are hidden, and the clouds are black, then we think most of the clear fair day, and long for its dawn. When the storm is roughest, with the waves and wind roaring round the labouring vessel, then we are troubled, and look eagerly out for the glad and sunny calm. When winter binds earth in its chain of frost, and wraps it in snow and ice, then we begin to ask for spring, with its flowers, and songs, and verdure. So with the saint, as represented by the apostle here. This is night, and storm, and winter to him; he is ever thinking of the day, and the calm, and the spring. Like one sitting amid the ruins of the earthly Jerusalem, lie sighs for the glory of the heavenly city.


"From banishment she more and more,

Desires to see her country dear;

She sits and sends her sighs before,

Her joys and treasures all be there.—(Old Hymn.)


The weariness, and conflict, and sufferings of this present life, call up in the apostle the wonderful thoughts contained in these verses relating to creation and to the Church of God, to the wretchedness of this evil world and groaning earth, and the perfection of that world that is to come,—that new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. We thus interpret the whole passage, beginning, as it ought, at the middle of the seventeenth verse:—"If indeed we suffer together, it is that we may be also glorified together; for I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory about to be revealed in us, (which reaches towards us, έις). For the earnest expectation of creation waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God; for creation was subjected to vanity, not willingly, but on account of the subjecter (God), who (for His own purposes), hath subjected it in hope, because creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of the corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans together and travails together until now. And not creation only, but we ourselves also, (although) possessing the first fruit of the Spirit, (the Spirit as a first fruit), even we groan in ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body; for (moreover) by this hope we are saved; (the things of this hope are no doubt unseen, otherwise it would not be hope) but a hope that is seen is not a hope. But if we do not see, and yet hope, then we wait in patience."

Such is the meaning of the passage; let us now learn in detail what the apostle reveals as to creation, and as to the church.

I. Creation. Here (as in Matthew 10:6, "from the beginning of the creation,") (the word signifies "the earth and the fullness thereof" (1 Corinthians 10: 26), or that which the Holy Spirit describes in the first chapter of Genesis, and pronounced "good" and "very good." For matter (no less than spirit) is God's handiwork, and therefore precious in His sight. Let us read and understand Genesis 1; Psalms 8:19, 148:; Proverbs 8.

(1.) Its subjection to vanity. Vanity means that which is vanishing, liable to change and decay, "vanity of vanities." It means evil in opposition to good, emptiness in contrast with fullness. This material creation was made "good" and stable; but man's sin let in evil upon it, brought on it the curse, made it crumble down and wither, till it not only decays and waxes old, but is ready to vanish away. To this vanity the Creator has subjected it, in consequence of its connection with man: "Cursed is the ground for thy sake" (Genesis 3:17). This passage in Genesis contains the act or sentence of subjection, as putting it under the power of "vanity,"—decay, corruption, disease, death. Not its own sin but man's was the cause: "for thy sake."[8]

(2.) Its earnest expectation. The word signifies the eagerness expressed by the head bent forward and the neck outstretched—intense and anxious longing. Such is the feeling figuratively ascribed to creation, as in Psalm 96:2, when it is called on to be glad, and rejoice, and clap hands, in expectation of its coming Deliverer and King. This, then, is creation's attitude as seen and interpreted by God. He looks down on creation, and regards it as expecting, waiting, watching, longing, just as He is said to hear the cry of the young lions for food.

(3.) Its groans and travail-pangs. It is hike a sick man racked with pain, and crying out for relief; it is as a woman in labour, suffering the pains of childbirth, and longing for the moment when she shall be delivered. All nature sighs as if conscious of imperfection, as if bowed down under the curse. Blight, decay, death, storms, earthquakes, lightnings, are all the groans of creation, and perhaps still more, the sufferings of the beasts of the field, and fowls of the air; for their case seems unspeakably sad, suffering at the hands of man in a thousand ways not by any fault of their own. Perhaps also the labour pangs of earth may not simply be to shake of the corruption with its bondage; but especially to be delivered of the millions and millions of bodies which it contains. Does it not travail in pain to be delivered of the dust of the saints which it has carried in its womb for ages? and of earth also shall it not be said, "in the beauties of holiness from (more than) the womb of the morning thou hast the dew of thy youth (Psalm 110:3)?"

(4.) Its deliverance. This is the day of creation's bondage, in which corruption (the corruption or old curse) holds it; the day of its liberty,—"the liberty of the glory,"—is coming, the "times of the restitution of all things;" the revocation of the curse; the bestowal of the long deferred blessing; the renewal of "the heavens and earth which are now." Creation is represented as knowing this its glorious destiny, and looking forward to it, as simultaneous with the manifestation of the sons of God, the day when these sons shall shine forth in the kingdom of their Father; for, "when He who is our life shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory."

Thus all creation looks forward to its perfection, groaning under imperfection; anticipating the "new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." Bright hope! Sweet consolation to us when moving about each day amid the vanity of a sin-laden earth, and listening to its groans and pangs! Rest for a weary world, tarry not! Earth's days of weariness are now drawing to a close. These long ages of suffering and vanity have surely been enough to demonstrate the exceeding sinfulness of sin.

II. The church. It is described as "we who have the first fruits of the Spirit,"—as "the sons of God." It is composed of the redeemed from among men from him by whom the curse and the vanity were brought in, to the last of His redeemed sons; a glorious church,—whose members are "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ,"—"the general assembly and church of the firstborn,"—God's kings and priests, prepared for His everlasting kingdom.

What, then, says the apostle here of this church—of its present and its future.


(1.) Its sufferings. He calls them the sufferings of this present time; sufferings with Christ, as well as sufferings for Christ. There are fightings without, and fears within; enemies all around; tribulation on every hand,—in body, and soul, and spirit; weary limbs, weeping eyes, drooping hands, feeble knees, fainting spirits, aching heads, broken hearts: even when outward persecution assails not. "Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God." "I fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ."

(2.) Its groans. "We ourselves groan within ourselves," sometimes articulately, and sometimes with the groanings that cannot be uttered. As Jeremiah says, "Our sighs are many, and our heart is faint." The church's groans are in unison and sympathy with a groaning creation. An absent King, a present usurper, a cursed soil, overflowing evil, disease, sorrow, death: these make it groan even in the midst of its "joy unspeakable."

(3.) Its waiting. "Waiting,"—"patient waiting,"—"hoping,"—this is the church's attitude, in harmony with creation. The feeling and attitude of the church intimates that the inheritance is yet to come. "Not now, not yet; but soon and surely; therefore we wait," may be said to be its language. It waits now, in accordance with the saints of all ages past, for deliverance from the bondage of the corruption, and for the liberty of the glory, for the reversal of all the evil which the first Adam introduced, and for the in bringing of all the good and the glory which the second Adam has purchased.

(4.) Its adoption. "Even now are we the sons of God;" we have already received the Spirit of adoption, crying, Abba, Father. But as it was resurrection that manifested (Romans 1:4) Christ's own Sonship (though He was the eternal Son), so by resurrection is our sonship or adoption to be manifested. The day of adoption is here called the day of the redemption of the body. For this fullness of divine, and visible, and proclaimed adoption, we wait in hope and patience.

(5.) Its manifestation. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." As Christ is hidden, so are we just now. We are sons, and kings, and heirs, in disguise. But the day of revelation comes; "when He who is our life shall appear, we shall appear with Him in glory." If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him. The day of His recognition and crowning shall be ours also.

(6.) Its liberty. In one sense we are free, Christ bath made us free. In another, we are sharers of the bondage of the corruption; we groan within ourselves; we cry, O, wretched men, who shall deliver us; we are carnal, sold under sin. The day of full freedom is at hand, eternal and glorious.

(7.) Its glory. This is "the glory to be revealed;" it is the day of the glory for heaven and earth, of which it is said, "The wise shall inherit glory,"—Christ's glory, the church's glory, creation's glory,—glory such as that described in the two last chapters of Revelation, an exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

See then,—

1. The power and poison of sin. It was one sin that ruined man, and marred creation, and introduced death. The effects of that one sin are still felt; they have lasted nearly six thousand years, and are as terrible as ever. What must sin be!

2. The completeness of the deliverance. Not man only, but man's earth, shares this; not man's soul alone, but man's body too; it will be the undoing of the wrongs, and sorrows, and groans, of ages. The second Adam's triumph will be complete. His blood will not only give white raiment to His saints, but will wash creation white.

3. The unbelieving man's loss. He loses his soul; he loses heaven, and God, and glory, and the resurrection unto life; the incorruptible inheritance; the blessedness of the eternal rest, and the liberty of the glory, the joy and brightness of the manifestations of the sons of God.