From a Sermon of the Author's on the Fourth Sunday after Trinity, 1854.
On Rom. vm. 18-23.
Whence comes it, then, that our joy in nature, and the joy of nature herself, is changed from time to time into mourning? The answer to this question stands in the closest connection with the state of our own soul and of our own body. It is therefore sufficiently within our reach; but by our own reason we do not discover it, and in the wisdom of this world we shall seek for it in vain. Whence comes it, then, that the body of man, made in God's image, becomes at last a corrupting carcase, as do the bodies of unreasoning brutes? Whence comes it that heat and cold, moisture and drought, wind and weather, continually shake and wear it, as if it were a ruinous house? Whence comes it that, even before it is deprived of soul, it is a habitation for worms? Whence the sicknesses numberless, deformities and imperfections? whence that life, which, even in "the case of people in health, is more or less unsound, with its seeds of death developing themselves more tardily or rapidly? Ask one day the wisdom of this world. It will give you the absolutely comfortless disclosure: The constitution of man, and his relation to the whole of nature, is the cause of these results. And truly it is so; but was it so originally, and is it therefore to continue so for ever? To these questions natural wisdom either answers not at all, and lets the enigma stand; or it answers yes, and so makes the enigma more enigmatical still. But the Holy Scripture teaches us to understand the present in the light of the past and of the future; and perhaps no passage is so specially instructive in this respect as Rom. viii. 18-24.
When a creature wishes to be emancipated from that which God has imprinted upon it, there must, in respect of that which is thus imprinted, have preceded a terrible change; and when even those who, according to their inner man, know and feel themselves redeemed, nevertheless, as the apostle says, wait with sighing and longing for the redemption of their body, the human body must have come into a condition which is the most lamentable disfigurement and perversion of the primitive one. Thus it must be; and when we look back to man's creation, thus also we actually find it. You have perchance seen statues hewn out of stone—human forms wrought by human skill— which, by the perfect symmetry and by the majestic beauty of their outlines, filled you with amazement. If even human skill can produce that which is thus glorious, how glorious must that have been which God's omnipotence produced, when, according to His eternal counsel, He went about to lay the foundation of humanity; when He, as the Scripture narrates, formed man out of the dust of the ground! (Gen. ii. 7.) In the creation of the beasts He had said, u Let the earth bring forth living creatures ;" but in the creation of man He did not say, "Let the earth bring forth man." Men did not come into existence by such a creative command; but God Himself laid hands to the work (to speak humanly), and formed the body of the one first man out of the earth, moistened by the primal dew of the delightsome land of Eden. Loed! how this was done we know not: for Thou art not a man, to have clone it with hands, and God the Son had not yet become man. Thine invisible omnipotence it was, which in a manner inconceivable to us formed the dust of the garden of Eden into the body of Adam; Thine omnipotence,—which also will form the dust of the graves one day into bodies for those who shall rise again. It was an act of Thine own love, according to the plan of Thine eternal wisdom, and in the power of Thine omnipotence. And when the human body was formed, then the Lord God breathed into it the created, but God-like and God-related, breath of life; and proceeding from it, the soul pervaded the frame of the body, and subjected to itself the powers that move therein. Thus originated man. His God-like spirit lived and
moved in the God of its original source, and thence by the soul ruled over the divine image of the earthly body. He ruled therein as a king on his throne, and was appointed from this throne to govern the creatures around him. The whole condition of his being was peace, and all creatures around him were with him in peace; and their progress to glory depended on the fact that their king continued in the holiness imprinted on him. For bodily he belonged to them, and spiritually, to the heavenly spirits. Thus he stood there as the link of two worlds,—for heaven and earth might claim him for their own,—an object of wonder to heavenly angels, and a delight to heavenly wisdom, but moreover envied by Satan, who succeeded in ruining him.
What became of man when he broke up his fellowship with God by disobedience, our text does not actually say; but it suggests what was the result to the unreasoning creature. It became subject, it says, to vanity, to the service of perishing nature, on account of Him who hath subjected it. It is God who, on account of man, has inflicted a curse on the ground.. The field is meant, first of all, where now to man's careful sowing are opposed weeds which threaten it with suffocation, and wildness, and all kinds of risks, which often, even at the end, bring to nothing the hope of the harvest. The apostle says to us, moreover, that that curse extended over all creation for the sake of man; and that vanity and corruption, to which it is now subjected, are the result of man's fall. What consequences the fall had for man himself, may be gathered from this. The light of the spirit is quenched; and in the place of the glorification of the body by the spirit^ has now appeared the reverse of glorification : the body of man has become a body of death, and nakedness is thenceforward a shame. Man, who was summoned to dominion over the earth, is now no longer endowed witli power over himself. The peace of the spirit, the soul, and the body, has been changed into confused discord. The soul has choked the image of God in the spirit, and disordered the body by its lust; and the body also entices the soul against its will. In one word, man has fallen away from the love of God. He has aroused the anger of God by sin, and that has now taken entire possession of him and of nature. For the comprehension of the whole of nature with man—for the glorification of both— had fallen out to the corruption of both. God's plan was hindered, God's good-will was made of no effect; therefore God's wrath kindled in the entire circumference whose centre was man. But the apostle says—in hope. If that has' reference to the creation, it is also true of man; for the creation is just on that account not without hope, because man is not without hope. With the wrath of God arose, at the same time, the grace of God, and opposed itself to the wrath. That humanity still subsists—that the creation which pertains to it still subsists—that they still subsist, not without an evening glow of their original beauty,—this is God's grace. God promised to humanity to overcome the wicked one. The overcomer of the evil one is Jesus. Therefore I rejoice always when I find the cross, which stands on our altars, also planted upon the hills, or anywhere else under the open heaven. For the cross is not only the standard of redemption for us men, but also for all creatures that surround us. The blood which flowed down therefrom, not only extinguished the anger upon us sinners, but has also broken the power of the curse upon the earth. "When thou, then, standing on the mountain top, kindled with the view which is presented around, criest out, How marvellous is God's earth!—do not forget only how infinitely more marvellous it will be, when it has wholly become the reflection of God's love, which the crucified One has won back again for us.
Our body, and with it the creation, are to become spiritual, free, and glorious. For the painful expectation of creation, says the apostle, waiteth for the revelation of the children of God. Revelation is a turning out of that which is within, that the external may be like to the internal. Revelation of the children of God is an unveiling of their sonship, which now is veiled by our fleshly body; an unveiling of this, so that it appears in the body—which itself has become spiritual—visibly to all creatures. And further, the apostle says that the creature shall be delivered from the bondage of the perishing being, into the glorious liberty of the children of God. In what this glorious liberty consists, is indicated in the closing words of our text; it consists in the redemption of our body from sin and death. For sinlessness, that is liberty; and immortality, that is glory! Our worthless bodies, says the apostle in another place, shall be like to the glorious body of Christ. For, for that purpose did the Son of God become man, that He might descend into the abyss of misery, into which our spirit and soul and body have come by sin, and that He might wrest them free from the dominion of darkness, and that He might lead them up with Himself, by His reconciling suffering and death, to a glorious liberty. The body in which He arose from the dead, is the same in which He had been crucified; but it is, nevertheless, another. For, of the Lord in the days of His flesh, the contrite Israel confesses, He had no form nor comeliness; He was the most despised and the most rejected of all men, full of pains and sickness; He was so despised, that men hid their faces from Him; therefore we esteemed Him of no account (Isa. liii. 2,3). But when He appeared to Saul the persecutor, on the way to Damascus, light from heaven shone around him (Acts ix. 3). And when John received his revelation, he saw His eyes as flames of fire, His feet as brass that glows in the furnace, His countenance lightening like the sun. In this glorified body of the God-man, we have the type of that of which our bodies shall be representations. For the righteous, says He Himself, shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt. xiii. 43). It is sown, says our apostle (1 Cor. xv. 42-44), corruptible, and shall arise incorruptible; it is sown in dishonour, and shall arise in glory; it is sown in weakness, and shall arise in power; it is sown a natural body, and shall arise a spiritual body. And this great Easter of humanity, wherewith its redemption is completed, is also the Easter of all creation. But before the Easter comes, the Good Friday and the Sabbath of the tomb must be undergone.
The redemption has already begun. But it has begun from within, not from without. For, as a tree does not begin to grow from its crown, but from the seed that lies in the concealment of the earth; so also is the new life in Christ. It began with the fact that, as our text expresses it, the first-fruits of the Spirit are given to us. For as the creation of the world began with the Spirit of God brooding upon the waters of the yet unformed mass, so also the new creation of man. We are flesh, born of flesh. Our whole natural being, the invisible as well as the visible, is a mass of corruption. But God hath taken pity upon us. We are all washed. There has passed over us the gracious water of life, the bath of regeneration, and of the renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He hath shed upon us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Whether ye allow this Spirit to work in you or not, ye have all received Him, and He is near to you all by the power of the holy baptism. But those who allow it to produce an effect on them, experience it in themselves as the spirit of adoption, which cries in us, Abba, dear Father; and as the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which makes us free from the law of sin and death. And yet wo still groan, longing after the adoption, and waiting for the redemption of our body. Even we, says the apostle, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan. For we are God's children—are delivered by the Holy Spirit from the law of sin and death; but it is not yet abolished in us—we still bear it about with us in our sinful dying body: we are endued with power to gain the victory over sin, but yet we conquer not without daily bitter and hard struggle. When we would labour in the Lord's service, we feel the leaden weight of this body, and the shadow that it casts upon our devotion; and when we strongly purpose in God to tread it under foot, and to crucify it with its affections and lusts, it has nevertheless again entered us before we are aware of it, with its sensual fantasies: we strive, and strive, and become weary even unto death, and weary of life. We hate sin—we desire to be rid of this bondage—we lift ourselves up with ever newly collected powrer, and soar upwards with wings as eagles; but we soon sink, as if drawn back again to the- earth with the power of magic. We cannot otherwise rejoice in our adoption, than when we hide ourselves in faith in God's free undeserved grace, and retreat into the innermost sanctuary of our heart, where God's Spirit has restored again the image of God in us: for in our soul and our body burns an unblessed fire; and if thou, O Christian, thou child of God, dost not daily extinguish this fire with tears of repentance, and with the blood of the Lord Jesus, it becomes a larger burning that consumes thee, and at length it becomes a fire of hell. And to these experiences of sorrows that we ourselves undergo in ourselves, and besides, the sufferings of this time which come from without,— the sorrow at the want of faith—the lukewarmness, the lovelessness which surround us—the conditions of life often so perilous and yet so unchangeable, within which we are imprisoned—the wounds which the death of our loves rends in our heart—the isolation into which we are thrown by the loss or the want of faithful friends—the frequent frustration of our purest designs, and the disappointment of our most well-founded hopes; and— shall I go on? It would be a long catalogue. The apostle is thinking chiefly of ignominy and persecution for Christ's sake. Of these we suffer now little or nothing. But these sufferings also will, as in the first centuries, break out again over the church of Christ; and if our Christianity were less conformed to the world, we should even now experience sufficient preludes of them. This is the state of things in us; this is the state of things around us: therefore we groan, even we who have the first-fruits of the Spirit; and we groan, as our text says, within ourselves; that is, we groan in the very depth of our inward nature—we groan from our deepest heart. For I ask all of you who have found the one pearl of great price, Where, then, have ye this pearl of great price? Must ye not say with the apostle (2 Cor. iv. 7), We have such a treasure in earthen vessels? The pearl is enclosed in a coarse hard shell, and this shell has grown into a ledge of rocks, and the waves of the sea wash over it. Therefore we groan within ourselves, desiring that the Lord would bring up this pearl from the sea of this world, and that He would break it off from the rock of the bondage of sin and death, and that He would shatter the coarse hard shell of our body, and set this pearl free.
And we do not groan alone. Since God laid the earth under the curse in consequence of the fall of man, the whole creation longs with us, and is still continually in pain, as the apostle says—that is to say, from that time even to this present day. It groans with us, and, as the apostle in the original text suggestively allegorizes it, it is in pangs as a travailing woman; and as one who longingly expects a messenger from a distance, lifts up his head with outstretched neck, as though he could draw the person waited for towards him, so is the creation around us in the state of strained expectation. And what is the message that it awaits? It is the revelation of the sons of God. To many of you this will sound altogether strange. But the apostle does not think that he is saying an unfamiliar thing to the Roman Christians; u for we know," says he, associating himself with them, "that the whole creation longs with us, and is in pain still continually." Let me render the matter plain by a simile. When the sun shines, it is the delight of creation—it is the condition of its growth and increase. Now, conceive for a moment that the sun in heaven should be extinguished: it would not only become night for ever; all creature life, moreover, would pine away, and finally perish. In a similar relation to creation to that of the sun, but an incomparably richer one in attraction and influence, man was placed; his spirit, the lamp of God in him, was destined to become the light of glorification for all the creatures that surrounded him. But this light is quenched by sin. A profound change resulted then in all creatures: the sun of heaven still shines on them, but the sun of the Spirit has passed away from them. Now indeed, God, who bade the light to shine forth out of the darkness, has given again a bright light to shine into our hearts (2 Cor. iv. 6); but this bright shining is still invisible to creation, for it is concealed by our flesh, as the sun behind thick clouds. When one day this clear effulgence shall also be revealed in our bodies, and the glorious liberty of the children of God shall be discernible therein as in a crystal mirror, then will the whole creation rejoice in the light of its King-man; and it is just that after which it longs. It is no longing with consciousness, but it is yet a longing; and the object of its ardent craving is that which is named by the apostle. All the tortures which men inflict upon brutes—all the tortures under which brutes mutually tear and rend one another —all the sufferings of their ceasing to be—express themselves in cries of pain, which, rightly understood, are at the same time, cries of longing; and all the forcible destruction of the vegetable world that was intended to be serviceable to man by its fruit, gives the impression of this craving; and all the discord, all the disturbance of the elements, is, as it were, the birthpangs of this craving. And it is not therefore to continue. Throughout the whole of Scripture is promulgated the Evangel of redemption and glorification even to the unintelligent creation. When God redeems His people, then, as Isaiah prophesies (xxxv. 1), the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them, and the plain shall rejoice and shall blossom as the lilies: then nature, as all the prophets foretell, shall put on her blissful festal attire; and as it has been compelled to share in the sorrows of men, it shall also be a participator in their glory.
The apostle intimates to us how glorious it will be when this groaning and longing is stilled, when he says that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. When grief and necessity are gnawing thee in body and soul here below—when sickness and disease weigh down thy spirit—when all kinds of affliction assail thee,—consider, if in one scale were placed this present temporal sorrow and suffering, and in the other, the future eternal glory, how infinitely more important thou wouldest find the latter than the former! When the Lord shall deliver the captives of Zion, then shall we be like unto them that dream. As a dream of the night which we can hardly remember, as a little cloud that vanishes before the sun, so all that we have endured in this world will be cast behind us. How soon thou forgettest the sickness that has been overcome, when thou once once more feelest thyself sound in body; and how frequently sayest thou in such a case, that until now thou hast not known rightly how to value the blessing of health! How completely, then, will all temporal pain shrink together in thy remembrance,. and how well shalt thou then feel thyself, when this thy body shall have become an external manifestation, a glorious vessel, and a free instrument (freed from sin and all its consequences) of thy inward spiritual life; and when even all possibility of disease, and of disaster, and of pain, all possibility of temptation to sin, and of abuse to sin, and of disfigurement by sin, is taken from it! As those who are set free from a dungeon, we shall then rejoice with the Psalmist (Ps. cxxiv. 7): Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we are delivered. If we look, then, above us and around us, we see ourselves surrounded by a new heaven and a new earth. It is the same heaven and the same earth, but they are nevertheless different, as it is the same body which enclothes us, and yet another. The whole world appears to u> now as a new creation of divine love. Hitherto wrath and grace reigned in the world; now the wrath is extinguished—the blood of Jesus Christ has quenched it: the wrath is extinct, the grace has completed its work, and love reigns. The groaning of creation has vanished in delight, and its throes in exultation, and its expectation in satisfaction, and its corruption in glory, and its bondage in triumph: humanity, believing in Christ, is now glorified into the image of the glorified God-man, and all the visible creation is glorified into the image of the glorified humanity. There is peace between God and man, peace between man's body and spirit, peace between humanity and creation, peace between all creatures. The blood of Jesus Christ has made peace; through Him, God hath reconciled all to Himself, whether it be on earth or in heaven.
But this is not true without exception of all men. Only that which in this temporal world groaneth and longeth shall rejoice; only those who weep shall laugh; only they who mourn in Zion, as Isaiah predicts (lxi. 3), shall receive beauty for ashe?, and the oil of joy for mourning, and beautiful garments for a spirit of heaviness; and only those who in this world of time possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, shall experience the glorification of their body, and the joy at the glorification of nature,— only such as even now have the Spirit which gives them witness that they are God's children, which cries in them, Abba, dear Father! The apostle, indeed, calls the fulfilment after which all creation longs with us, the revelation of the children of God, the perfect realization of their divine and glorious freedom. How can he who is no child of God be revealed as a child of God; and how can he who so loves the bondage of this perishing worldly life, that he would gladly enjoy it for ever, have the glorious freedom of the children of God obtruded upon him! To you whose god is your belly, how is the body of glorification fitted for you? What advantage is it to you, who have yielded your members as instruments of unrighteousness? Ye also shall not remain without bodies—ye also shall arise; but in your body shall be manifest what is in you,—not God's image, which was quenched in you, and has remained quenched because ye have resisted the restoring grace of God, but the form of the brutes, after whose manner ye have been enslaved to vice, and the form of the devil, whose serpent-seed ye have cherished and fostered within you. For when the mighty call of God's Son, the first-born from the dead, goes forth to those who thus lie in the graves, then, as in the Old Testament God's angel said to Daniel (xii. 2), shall the many who sleep under the earth awake, some to everlasting life, some to everlasting disgrace and shame.