The Groans and Hopes of Creation
"The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility, 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." Romans 8:19-22
In the preceding context, the Apostle was speaking of the glory in reserve for believers, and which would more than compensate for present suffering. He proceeds to unfold, in the verses of our text, the cheering truth, that this coming immunity from degradation and bondage is to be shared by the inanimate creation — that the material world, too, is to enjoy a bright golden age and era all its own. It has been partaker with the sons of God in their tribulation — it shall be made to participate in "the glorious freedom of the children of God."
There are three topics here brought before us:
1. The original condition of creation;
II. Its present state; and
III. Its future prospects.
Let us briefly consider these in succession:
I. We have the ORIGINAL CONDITION of the creation.It is here affirmed the creation was "made subject to futility — not by its own choice." This implies, not only a time when it was not under such subjection, but that, by some sudden and involuntary calamity, a heavy yoke was put upon it. We know that such was truly the case — when it had no vestiges of such a curse or blight. It was morally, as well as materially, fair and lovely — a bright image and reflection of Paradise above. The morning stars sang together in jubilant strains over its birth, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. It bears still, on every side, manifold and conspicuous traces of primeval loveliness, beauty, and honor.
As many an old ruin in this city and land of hoary memories — temples and towers and colonnades crumbled with the decay of ages — as these dismantled and shattered wrecks give evidence of former glory — so is there abundance left in this temple of Nature to tell what it must have been when fresh from the hand of its Almighty Sculptor, and when over its virgin portico was written "Holiness to the Lord."
Who that looks around on its valleys find plains and rivers, its harvests of golden grain, its groves of choral song, the sun lighting it up by day, the moon hanging over it its silver lamp by night — but must pronounce it a glorious shrine and sanctuary for Deity — a befitting palace for God? Yes, and if man had remained intact in his allegiance, retaining the moral image of his Maker, fulfilling his destiny as the high priest in this sublime sanctuary, then could we have said with the Psalmist, "In His temple everyone (yes, and everything) speaks of His glory."
II. But this leads me to note — the PRESENT CONDITION of our world."The creation was subjected to futility;" it "groans and travails in pain."
By an act in which creation had no part, sin entered. A withering blight has passed over it. The ground has been cursed, but for the unceasing toil of man, to perpetual sterility. The thorn and the thistle are the constant remembrancers of doom. "Wherever," to borrow the words of another, "the civilizing arts of life are lacking, Nature falls back into arid wastes, wintry desolations, and sends forth pestilence with all its train of diseases — from vegetation gone to decay, to stagnant waters exhaling pollution."
The word "futility," in the 20th verse, signifies the same thing as that rendered "corruption" in verse 21st. It means that the creation was alienated from its original design by the introduction of evil. This old Bible, which so many in these days venture to pronounce effete, arraigning the truth of its accuracy, is in reality the only interpreter of otherwise baffling moral mysteries. That discredited word, "the Fall," is the only solvent of the mournful problem. Earth is doomed to servitude "by reason of Him who has subjected it." "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death has passed over all men, for that all have sinned."
This habitation of ours, originally made a storehouse and theater for Jehovah's glory, bears only too faithfully and vividly, the impress of misery and degradation. Much of it is prostituted to minister to the vilest passions of man. Its affluence is poured into the lap of the unthankful, often to subserve the lust of avarice or pride or ambition. The depths of the earth have been ransacked — its mines dug, its ores extracted — for the human race, accomplishing mutual destruction. Spots stud its surface fearfully memorable (where more memorable than in this sunny land and queen of cities?) as the scenes of carnage. The very monuments and memorials, reared to perpetuate the glories of conquest — arch and pillar and statue — are the humiliating vouchers of earth being "subject to futility."
Look at the seas which begirt her continents, intended by a gracious and bountiful God to be the highway of the nations, the medium of wafting the products of one climate to another. Hundreds of navies freighted with the instruments of death have floated on their bosom. Skeleton hands, still grasping the cold steel, are lying deep down in their unfathomed caves; while angry surges and fierce tempests sweep their surface, and carry the tidings of wailing and widowhood to bereft hearts and lonely dwellings.
What shall we say, still further, of the base affront which this same bounteous and beauteous creation is compelled to offer to its God? Its very products are foully utilized to dishonor Him; its stocks and stones are converted into objects of idolatrous adoration; its soil is soaked with the blood of victims sacrificed in honor of dumb idols — men worshiping and serving the creation more than the Creator!
Look at India, with its 330 million of deities, belying by its deeds of darkness, the proud name of "climates of the sun," its barbaric pearl and gold showered at the feet of incarnations of lust; its sky polluted with the smoke of foul incense; the air of Heaven, the emblem of purity, mingled with frantic shouts over rites of iniquity. Among ourselves, too, that air often burdened with the curse and the blasphemy.
Go where we may, whether in the realms of heathendom or lands boasting a nobler birthright — the very sun and moon which shone on the world which, fresh from its Maker's hands, was pronounced very good — now gaze ashamed on vile scenes of guilt and crime. They light up with an unwilling radiance the home of rebels.
Nor is this universal subjection to futility confined to the human race alone. The lower animals — the dumb creation — have shared in it. They are too often the victims of man's oppression and cruelty — the companions of his toil abused as his drudges. Thus, field and street, camp and battle-ground, jungle and forest, resound with fresh proclamations and attestations that earth is under "the bondage of corruption."
Then, turn to another and direr phase. Need I speak of the memorials which meet us on every side, more peculiarly specified in the verse of the Apostle just quoted?
Sin, which has effected so fearful a subjection, has carried, above all, mortality in its train. The worlds surface is crowded with sepulchers — one vast Necropolis — one long Appian Way to the gates of the city of Death. A prophet's "Valley of Vision," it may be culled, more a mausoleum for the departed — than a home for the living. Significant was the Seer's threefold cry, "O Earth! Earth! Earth!" From earth we spring — of earth we are made — and to earth we shall return.
Yes, creature of God, in the midst of all your pride of life, your gilded pageantry, you are, after all, but a piece of painted dust! The fall of the great capitals of antiquity is humiliating and saddening enough: but what vanity is equal to yours? "As for man, his days are as grass." Ah, every old monument and catacomb around us here, every gravestone in our home cemeteries, every nodding plume of death in our home streets, is a silent preacher that "creation has been made subject to futility."
But, blessed be God! for fallen man and His fallen abode, there are bright and cheering anticipations, I proceed now to speak —
III. Of the PROSPECTS of Creation— its final restoration, "The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God."
It is like a sunbeam lighting on a waste of waters, or coming forth from a storm-wreathed sky. Rather, it recalls the silver trumpet of jubilee sounding the year of release. "Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound."
There is a day coming when a world now subject to futility, shall be made to fulfill its high original destiny in showing forth God's glory — and when man and his dwelling shall be alike baptized in a new element of love. A period will be entered on whose characteristic shall be "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit;" and when, instead of clouds of unhallowed incense rising from ten thousand Baal-shrines, "incense and a pure offering shall ascend" to the God of Christianity "from the rising to the setting sun."
The Psalmist, in announcing this happy reign, tells us how joyfully it will be welcomed by a groaning and travailing creation, as if all Nature waited in anxious suspense for its arrival. Now, this world is like an instrument all unstrung and tuneless; then, it will be an Aeolian harp warbling its restored harmonies — sweet music from every breath that passes over it. "The Lord," says he, "shall judge the people righteously. Let the heavens rejoice; let the earth be glad; let the sea roar and the fullness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein. Then shall all the trees of the forest rejoice before the Lord."
Let the prophet Isaiah announce the advent of the same glorious period. He makes material things, vocal; he puts a tongue of rapture into hill and wood and forest, "The mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn, shall come up the fir-tree; and instead of the brier, shall come up the myrtle-tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." "Sing, O heavens, and be joyful, O earth, and break forth into singing, O mountains, for the Lord has comforted His people, and will have mercy upon His afflicted."
Yes, brethren, then will the summons addressed three thousand years ago to universal Nature, to rise and do homage to its Maker, be joyously responded to, "Praise the LORD, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and maidens, old men and children. Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens!" Psalm 148:1-13
And although on this we have no time to enter, let me ask, in a passing sentence, whence are all these glowing hopes and anticipations derived? By whom has this new charter been procured and ratified? We must connect Creation with Redemption. "Behold!" says Christ, "I make all things new!" "We, according to His promise (the promise purchased and sealed on Calvary), look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness."
Let me, in conclusion, draw one great practical lesson. While we look forward with joyful hearts to creation's second birth — its new-born liberty — let us seek to know the true nature of the emancipation for which she sighs. As sin was the essence of the curse — so deliverance from sin is the essence of the freedom. In other respects, we have seen that creation requires no deliverance. Its original paradisiac condition was fit for Heaven. We would assuredly ask — for a promised period of millennial bliss — no lovelier landscapes, no sunnier skies, no brighter firmament than in this gifted land of our present sojourn. We would ask no softer music than is warbled in grove and woodland in our own favored country, or by the stream which there sings its way through copse and dell to its ocean home. Only get sin expelled; and with sea, air, earth, and heavens remaining as they are, this Paradise lost becomes in a moment Paradise regained.
Emancipation from sin is the secret and condition of her liberty. O seek to get that expelled — seek to get an empire of purity and peace established in your own hearts — an empire consisting in the supremacy of holy affections and heavenly dispositions — making God's love the master principle of your souls — and the glory of God the main end of your being. If we would now taste the essence of the bliss of a millennial day of glory, let us seek to feel and to manifest the regenerating influence of Christ's glorious Gospel. By even now having our citizenship in Heaven — living under the sovereignty of that lofty motive, to walk and act so as to please God — we shall be advancing ever nearer and nearer the period when "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea!" Isaiah 11:6-9
Be assured, no other theories of human freedom will be a panacea for creation's wrongs. No other balsam will heal the wounds of bleeding humanity. No other expedient will hush the trumpet of war and banish wasting and destruction from earth's borders. A philosophy, falsely so called, may think otherwise. The Secularist may propound his vain theories. He may talk of the equality of rights, the demolition of classes, the subversion of governments, the annihilation of creeds. This he may glory in, as the high road to the halcyon reign of unbounded liberty.
Alas! poor dreamers! An older authority they affect to despise, thus solves the problem, and with its words of truth and soberness stomps folly on their vain imaginings, "What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don't they come from the evil desires at war within you?" Yes; hushed first must be the war within — before we can stop the war without. We must be reconciled to God — before we can be reconciled to one another. The power of Gospel truth and Gospel principle must first transform the heart of man — and then, but not until then, shall the trumpet of battle be hung mute in the hall, and the art of war be studied no more.
The creation, the creature is "subject to vanity!" Vanity — Yes, God is now writing that word on the wrecks of commerce, and the collapse of earthly treasure. He is writing it on what we thought towers of strength, which have turned into air-castles; glittering heaps of plenty, which have vanished like the baubles of an hour! Says one who was no stranger to altered times and fluctuating fortunes, "How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek lies?" Men and brethren, as we see others reaping the whirlwind — are we still to persist in sowing to the wind? Are we still to walk in the vain show, or are we to make the surer investment for eternity, and to lay up the better riches of Heaven? "The gold of that land is good!"
We have been listening to the clank of the chain which proclaims the world's unwilling bondage. But the man who is united by faith to the world's Great Deliverer and Emancipator can even now exult in the liberty of the text. No liberty is worth the name, but this. No possession is worth garnering, but this. But with this blessed possession and glorious heritage, he will be able to rise above all adverse circumstances.
A Christian merchant, conscious of clean hands and a pure heart, actuated by lofty integrity in all his doings, has been plunged into great financial reverses. By no crime, but by misfortune, he feels himself hurled down from the pinnacles of earthly prosperity. The fabric he had taken a lifetime to rear, is crumbling in ruins. Tidings of disaster have come from afar on the lightning-wires. His ships have foundered at sea; his goods are rotting in their store; his workmen are gathered in silent groups around the factory doors; his worldly trade is ruined, his worldly credit gone. "But he shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord."
"The world passes away and the lust thereof, but he who does the will of God abides forever!"
O magnificent reversion, which no crash of earth's precarious fortunes can impoverish or destroy: "The glorious freedom of the children of God!"