The Attitude of Creation
James Smith, 1862
"For the earnest expectation of the creature waits for the manifestation of the sons of God." Romans 8:19
Although the Church and the World are distinct—yet the one very much influences the other; for believers cannot see even the lower creation suffer without sympathy and concern. In consequence of sin, both the world and the Church suffer; and until sin is completely gotten rid of, even creation will not cease to sigh and groan. But the word of God presents a glorious future, towards which the Lord's people look, and for which even creation is represented as longing: "For the earnest expectation of the creature waits for the manifestation of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19).
What Is Intended by "The Creature?"
Not men in general, though the gospel is to be preached to them; for to many it will not be a savor of life unto life—but a savor of death unto death. Nor is there anything like such an expectation in them.
Nor the Gentiles as distinct from the Jews; for Paul was a Jew writing to Gentiles, and recognizing them as all one in Christ, and fellow-heirs of the same grace.
Nor angels; for the following verses will in no sense apply to them.
Nor devils; for to them no promise is made, in them no hope is excited, for them no deliverance will be proclaimed.
Nor even believers; for the apostle distinguishes between the creature and them when he says, "And not only it—but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body."
The word translated "creature" in this 19th verse is translated "creation" in the 22nd verse, and should have been so translated in each verse. And then, if we did not seek to be wise above what is written—if not cramped and fettered by some system—if prepared to receive just what God testifies—the meaning is plain. "Creation" here means the same as creation elsewhere. We read, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." The earth, with the skies spread around it, was intended for the residence of man. It was fitted up and prepared for his reception. Eden was a kind of palace for the residence of the monarch, to whom was given dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.
But man sinned, and God pronounced a curse upon creation as the result; so that it is not now by any means—what it originally was.
Its very position appears to have been changed; for Peter tells us, "that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also, the world of that time was deluged and destroyed." Does Peter expect any change to be wrought in creation as it appears now? Hear him: "the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness!"
Paul personifies creation (which is often done in the Scriptures), and ascribes to it emotions and passions peculiar to men; and therefore he speaks of its "earnest expectation" and "waiting." David did so before: "Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth!" Creation, suffering in the Lord's absence, is called upon to rejoice in the prospect of the Lord's coming.
Again: "Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the earth and all living things join in. Let the rivers clap their hands in glee! Let the hills sing out their songs of joy before the Lord! For the Lord is coming to judge the earth!"
Once more: "Praise the Lord from the earth, you creatures of the ocean depths, fire and hail, snow and clouds, wind and weather that obey him, mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all livestock, small scurrying animals and birds!"
So also the prophet: "Join in the chorus, you desert towns; let the villages of Kedar rejoice!" Again: "The mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands!"
After such language as this from the pen of inspiration,
shall we take language in a non-natural sense, because we read of "the
earnest expectation of the creation" or of its "waiting for the
manifestation of the sons of God?" Let us notice,
The Attitude of the Creation.It is not at rest, or in repose, or rejoicing; but it is looking forward, with outstretched neck, for a blessed time which is coming. It is earnestly expecting a great and glorious change. Like the mother of Sisera, it is looking and anticipating the return of the Conqueror. It is waiting, as if patience were added to hope; as if, like Job, it were saying, "All the days of my appointed time I will wait—until my change comes!"
What is it waiting for? "The manifestation of the sons of God." Then they are now hidden, or pretty much concealed. This is true of their persons; as John said, "The world knows us not." Therefore Malachi predicted, "Then you shall return—and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him who serves God, and him who serves him not." Looking forward to the day of the Lord's coming, we may say with Moses, "Tomorrow the Lord will show who are his, and who are holy, and will cause him to come near unto him."
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right—and the goats on his left." Here is the separation, and the manifestation of the sons of God.
The life they live now is a hidden life: "Your life is hid with Christ in God." "I live; yet not I—but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith in the Son of God." Externally they are often poor, debased, and despised; yet James asks, "Has not God chosen the poor of this world—to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?" They are considered anything but reputable, at times: "When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world!"
But for them Paul prayed: "We constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."
So also many of their privileges are hidden. "The King's daughter is all glorious within;" her glory is not now seen by those around her. Her peace is unspeakable, and passes all understanding; but it lies hidden in the heart. They eat of the hidden manna, and have the white stone, in which a new name is written—which no man knows, but he who receives it. They dwell in the secret place of the Most High; and, as Job said, the secret of God is in their tabernacle.
They cannot tell to, or make the world understand—all that they possess or enjoy. Indeed, they know but in part themselves; as it is written, "For we know in part—but when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part shall be done away."
But though hidden, concealed, or unknown now—they will be revealed or manifested when Jesus comes to receive them unto himself! Of our heavenly Father we read, "He shall send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets."
Therefore, as Peter says, we should "look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him."
"Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father."
How will they be manifested? "He who overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white clothing; and I will not blot his name out of the book of life—but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." Here are the white robes of victory, and the public confession.
Again: "Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word: Your brothers who hate you, and exclude you because of my name, have said, 'Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy!' Yet they will be put to shame." Here is fullness of joy, and realization of their hope.
"They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed!" Here they are a glory to Jesus, in consequence of their purity, splendor, and magnificence; and their beauty, grandeur, and glory, will fill all who behold them with admiration of the grace, goodness, and power of the Savior.
They will be separated from all others; they will be
perfect in body and soul; and they will appear like Jesus, so that
every eye will recognize at once their relation to God, their interest in
God, and their joint heirship with the only-begotten Son of God.
Creation will be changed.This was anticipated, as we read, "In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end!" They have been changed for the worse, in consequence of the first Adam's sin; they shall be changed again for the better, in consequence of the second Adam's righteousness.
They will be changed by fire, as Peter has testified—refined and purified, not destroyed or annihilated. The old materials, like the well-purified metal, will be re-molded and re-fashioned, and become a worthy residence for Jesus and his beloved bride—a fit theater to display all Jehovah's glory, and disclose all his wondrous purposes.
The change predicted ought to be looked for and expected. If creation is represented as earnestly looking for and desiring the manifestation of the sons of God—then how much more earnestly should the sons of God themselves hope for and desire it!
Like the spouse of old, we should cry out, "Hurry to me, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices!" As that light, swift, and agile creature, leaps and bounds from hill to hill, from crag to crag, almost as if possessed of wings; so, O Lord, do you cut short the hours of your delay, and come with all possible speed!
Our posture should be that of looking for the blessed hope, even the glorious appearing of the great God our Savior; seeing there is laid up for us crowns of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give unto us at that day, even unto all who love his appearing.
NOW is our time of trial. We groan in this tabernacle; we cry, "Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!" Yet we endeavor patiently to wait, having turned, as the Thessalonians, to wait for God's Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come! We expect and desire deliverance; for "our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body!" As Paul said, "We are willing rather to be absent from the body—and to be present with the Lord."
Let us often direct our attention to the excellency of our hopes. We expect our sonship to be clearly and gloriously manifested. We expect creation to be renewed; for Jesus will sit upon his throne, creating all things new! We expect the tabernacle of God to be with men, and that he will dwell among them. Then his glory will be displayed, his wisdom will be magnified, and his grace will shine forth in unequaled luster. There will be no more curse, neither sorrow, nor crying—for the former things will have passed away!
The voice of nature is in harmony with the voice of grace. Nature suffers, nature cries; but nature hopes. Just so, the believer suffers, the believer cries, and the believer hopes. This harmony, which is now partial and imperfect, will by-and-by be perfect and complete. Earth will be in full harmony with heaven. The two worlds will be united. The heavens will hear the earth, and the earth will hear the heavens. All that separates the Lord's people, or divides their affections from each other—will be done away. There will be one flock and one Shepherd—one Lord, and his name one.
Gracious Lord, as the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God—so may we in earnest expectation wait for the revelation of your Son from heaven; and, in the prospect, be enabled to say with Paul, "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain!"