For the earnest expectation of the creature waits for the manifestation of the sons of God.…
See how all things testify to the Christian's hope.
I. See THE CREATION itself restless with an otherwise inexplicable longing. It is not often that we have indications in Paul's writings either of a painter's eye or a poet's fancy. We rather conceive of him as one to whom scenery and history, time and space were something less than indifferent. Here, however, we see that he has observed nature — yes, as only poets read her. Paul has seen nature's imploring look, and heard her complaining voice, and felt her yearning thought, and sympathised with her confession — of waste, as she brings one seed and one blossom to perfection out of ten thousand — of discord, as she is made to launch her thunderbolts, and to lift her waves, and to let loose her hurricanes — of cruelty, in her ruthless laws of consequence, and which take no account of innocence or penitence. St. Paul is not satisfied with lovely landscapes. He is no tourist of pleasure or fancy. He looks within and beneath, and feels that beauty might be more beautiful, and life more vital, and strength yet more robust, and that in all actual being there is a possible being more satisfactory; so that he must write nature an expectant, not an inheritor — he must claim her testimony as on the side of that gospel which makes hope, not contentment, the attribute of God's creature.
1. See the very face of nature scarred with tokens of conflict. How unmelodious and often barbarous are the agencies of nature as she heaves in elemental agonies. Is this quite the scene which God pronounced to be very good? Hear the cry of the brute world, itself the prey of man, and, in turn, its own tyrant and murderer.
2. Mark the unrest of a humanity which prides itself upon its position at the top of God's handiwork, as it pours the waters of an inexhaustible ambition into the sieve of a perpetual disappointment. Listen to that sigh of thankless satiety which echoes from the pampered child of fashion to that other sigh from the heart of the sorrow-laden. See that fever-stricken village, that battlefield. Is not the creation making confession, in all these manifold utterances, of a condition neither original nor final? Is not the creation travailing as in birth-pangs with a mysterious and compensating future? Can it be that God, the good and the great One, can suffer these blots and stains upon His own work to continue thus for ever? If God be, and be God, every symptom of ruin is a prophecy of reconstruction. Very mysterious, this subjection of the creature to vanity, to the dominion of disappointment, of dissolution, of decay! The word and the thought fills one book of the Old Testament, as it is here summarised in one chapter of the New. And you will see, if you study that Book of Ecclesiastes, how comprehensive is the word here before us. It is the perpetual filling of that which is never full, the ceaseless round of a monotony which has no harmony and no melody. St. Paul instructs us how to deduce a positive from all these negatives. He claims this vanity as an evidence for hope — as a witness to the necessity of the reconstruction which Christ promises to us in His gospel.
II. He who thus read "vanity" as the legend of nature; he who saw even here the record of a fall mysteriously interwoven with the condition of creation incapable of sinning, now calls as his involuntary witness to the Christian expectation THE LIFE OF MAN AS LIVED OUTSIDE CHRISTIANITY.
1. It was with a pitying and compassionate eye that St. Paul looked upon humanity. Could he gaze unmoved upon this great, swarming population "looking for so much, bringing in so little," earning its wages only "to put them into a bag with holes"? St. Paul saw this great busy earth subjected to vanity by reason of sin; he saw how each generation, each life, sets out, as though it were the only one, full of confidence, full of conceit, on its little race of ambition, passion, interest, only to say at evening, "Vanity of vanities." "Not willingly," he says. It would not have it so. Not of its free will does it find every effort defeated, or the successful effort turned into bitterness.
2. St. Paul calls this vanity as a witness to the hope. He says, Could these things be if there were no hereafter? Is not this nothingness, this bondage of corruption, proof enough of the true character of this present as a mere birth-pang of the true, the satisfying, the everlasting? Is there not, indeed, in all men, an inward witness to this hope? Who does not wish to leave something, some one behind him? Who has not some vision of a perfection, if not for himself, then for the race? Who that is engaged in business, or philanthropy, who that has framed for himself any idea of a religion, of a God, has not done so in an expectation? These experiences of vanity are the birth-pangs of glory. God has written vanity upon the present that every eye may be directed towards a dawn, of which the only visible streak is the instinct of the longing. Cherish that longing, for it is your hope. Base and dastardly is that contentment which would call darkness light and shadow substance. This is the great lie, against which God in nature, in providence, in conscience is waging perpetual warfare. Say to yourself till you feel it, "I am here, subject to vanity; if I pitch my tent here, if I choose the thing that is seen, then I am a part of the vanity." Let me be true at all risks — true to the inward voice which says, "Be thou a stranger and a sojourner here, and then thou hast a home, and a city, and an immortality beyond." How magnificent the thought — "The creature itself also shall be emancipated." "I saw new heavens and a new earth." "Times of refreshing shall come." The Spirit of God shall move again upon the face of a second chaos, and shape a new universe out of the confusion of this subjugation. Let us not refuse a hope for which every voice within, around, and above us cries aloud.
III. There is A PART, EVEN OF THE CHRISTIAN, which St. Paul places side by side with nature and humanity as a witness. "We groan within ourselves, waiting." There is a redeemed part within us, and there is an unredeemed. "The Spirit of life in Jesus Christ hath made me free from the law of sin and death." But what then? That very emancipation makes the remaining fetter gall and fret and wound more than before. The body, which is the outlet and the inlet of all temptation, is still unrenewed, over-ruled, consecrated, but not yet transformed. Therefore I, as a Christian man, am a witness to the great hope. I could not live thus for ever. I could not go to heaven thus. Nay, the more I know of the spiritual life, and the more sensitive I become to the thing which God hates, and the more I acquire the mastery over sin and corruption, so much the more do I become aware of the burden which I carry everywhere in this body. So much the more am I a witness to the necessity of a death and a resurrection. So much the more do I, in this body, groan being burdened, having a desire for the heaven of God's saints.
Parallel VersesKJV: For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
WEB: For the creation waits with eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.