Nature and Grace Groaning
James Smith, 1862
"For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only they—but ourselves also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, namely, the redemption of our body!" Romans 8:22, 23
No part of the earth is without the effects of the curse. All creation more or less suffers. Nor does the grace of God free us from suffering—but very often increases it. It sanctifies our sufferings, and turns the curse into a blessing.
Look wherever we will—we see the disorder introduced by sin. Listen in whatever direction you choose—and you will hear the discord produced by sin. "For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only they—but ourselves also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, namely, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:22, 23).
The State of Creation.It is groaning, like a man under a heavy burden, or some one in deep affliction. "The field is wasted, the land mourns." "The beasts of the field cry unto you." "How do the beasts groan!" Everything seems to be painfully affected, and, as Solomon says, "full of labor,"—the sun, the wind, the rain.
"All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing." The very clouds are represented as weary: "Also by watering he wearies the thick cloud; he scatters his bright cloud." All is more or less in pain in consequence of man's sin—the whole earth is uneasy—and groans. "They have made it desolate; and being desolate, it mourns unto me." It is in pain—as a travailing woman, travailing for life, not death. And as in the case of the mother, so is it with the earth, as our Lord says: "A woman when she is in travail—has sorrow."
So creation at present groans and travails in pain together, and has continued to do so since the day that Adam fell. The groans of creation seem to upbraid us—for we are the cause of them. They should awaken us to a sense of our sin and guilt. They teach us the evil of sin, the vanity of earthly things, and our need of patience. Has creation been suffering and groaning for nearly six thousand years—all because of man's sin; and shall we be impatient if called to suffer for a short time for our own sin—especially when we know that our case is not singular, that we do not suffer alone—but that the same afflictions are accomplished in our brethren which are in the world?
We have need to exercise patience, repentance toward God,
and hope in the midst of sorrow. Creation has suffered long, in hope of the
deliverance promised—and much more should we. The groans of creation seem to
accuse us of cruelty—because we caused them! They seem to complain
of us—because we show so little sympathy. We live in a groaning
world—a world that travails in pain, a world that looks forward to a
glorious deliverance! Let us, therefore, walk wisely, humbly, and hopefully
too—expecting the blessed hope.
The State of God's People.Not only they—but as creation groans and wails—so also do we. Yes, we "who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, namely, the redemption of our body." Notice the description of the persons, "we who have the first fruits of the Spirit." Under the law—the first fruits were the Lord's; he claimed them; they were presented unto him, and accepted by him. Under the gospel—the saints are God's first fruits; he claims them, accepts them, and will have them as his own.
But here, Jesus having died, as a grain of wheat fallen into the ground—the Holy Spirit is given as the first fruits of his redemption, to quicken his people, and ripen the glorious harvest. We have the Spirit, which is the first fruits of the Savior's accepted work. We have the first fruits of the Spirit, which he imparts to, or produces in, all believers. We have his graces and his comforts.
We have hisgraces. He has given us the grace of LIFE, or imparted to us a new, divine, and never-dying life—a life superior to that which Adam lost, superior to that which the angels in glory possess—a life which hungers and thirsts after righteousness, and which cannot be satisfied, until all within and without is perfectly holy! This is a life which came from Jesus, leads to Jesus, and will ultimately conform us to the image of Jesus.
He has given us the grace of FAITH, by which we receive God's word, apply to the Lord Jesus Christ, and rest upon his finished work—by which we believe the whole of God's revelation, are fully persuaded of the truth of the prophetic word, and confidently expect him to make good every promise which he has given.
He has given us the grace of PEACE, even reconciliation to God, and that holy tranquility of mind which springs from it. We have peace with God. We feel peaceful in the prospect of all that is before us. We are peaceably disposed always and everywhere. Peace keeps our hearts, pervades our souls, and rules in our bosoms.
We have the grace of JOY, which makes us happy amidst all our tribulations, lifting us up above the sorrows and sadness of time. We joy in God. We rejoice in the midst of sorrow. We triumph in Christ.
We have the grace of LOVE, of love to God as our Father, to Jesus as our Savior, and to the saints as our brethren and fellow-heirs. We love God, because he first loved us. We love Jesus, because he laid down his life for us. We love the saints because they belong to Christ, and also because they resemble Christ.
We have the grace of HOPE, which is a lively and vigorous expectation of all the great and good things which God has promised, especially of being with Christ and like Christ forever!
Indeed all the fruits of the Spirit in greater or less degree—are possessed, enjoyed, and exhibited in true believers; as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.
We have hiscomforts too; which comforts are a pledge of our inheritance, and assure us that we shall possess the whole, when life and its trials are ended. They are also foretastes of celestial happiness, being the same in kind—but not in degree. In hallowed fellowship with God, we are sometimes lifted out of ourselves, and are raised above everything earthly; we are filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory. These comforts are to us, what the cluster of grapes from Eshcol was to the people of Israel in the wilderness—both a pledge and foretaste of the glorious fruits of the promised land!
Let us now glance at the representation of experience: "We GROAN within ourselves." We groan over the sin that dwells in us, and the misery experienced by us. Our misery arises from the conflict within: between light and darkness, grace and corruption, the law of the mind and the law in the members, between the flesh and the Spirit. Our misery also arises from the temptations, insinuations, and devices of Satan: which things trouble, depress and often cast us down. Then there are persecutions from the ungodly: these are not violent, as formerly—but very often they are harassing enough. Besides which there are the afflictions of mind and body which spring from disease and other causes.
These things, combined or separately, make us cry out with David, "My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly. I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my groaning is not hidden from you" Psalm 38:4-9. Or with Paul, "Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death!" "We who are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened."
We are waiting also for "the adoption, namely, the redemption of our BODY." We expect the resurrection of the body—in glory, in power, and glorious. Then it will be a fit and suitable residence for the soul in its perfect and glorified state. For this we wait in hope; for this we look with submission; to this we shall be introduced, and perhaps soon!
The lost sinner is the enemy of creation. Earth fares ill on his account. Because of his misconduct and criminality—the earth mourns, the whole creation groans. Believers are more sensitive than others. Grace softens and refines our nature. The stony heart is removed—and the heart of flesh is imparted; in consequence of which true Christians suffer more than others. "In this tabernacle we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven."
ADOPTION may be viewed in a threefold light:
In the light of election, when it is a secret in God's bosom. He chose whom he would adopt, and predestined them to this privilege—but no one knew it but himself.
In the light of regeneration, when it is made known to us—but remains a secret to all others.
In the light of the resurrection, when it shall be revealed to all.
In election, God wrote our names in his book of life, which is his family register.
In regeneration, he gave us a new nature, sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, and put us among his children.
In the resurrection, he will openly acknowledge us as his children, and place us before his face forever.
The reception of the first fruits of the Spirit is
an invaluable blessing:
It confirms our faith, and strengthens our belief in the testimony of Scripture.
It teaches us the excellency and blessedness of the promised inheritance.
It clears our title to the heavenly mansions and all the glories of the adoption.
It prepares for the enjoyment of what God has provided for us, and stimulates us to run the race which is set before us with confidence and courage.
Redemption is a complete deliverance. It is not only the rescue of the soul from the power of sin, the curse of the law, and the second death—but it includes the complete deliverance of the body from all disease, corruption, and pollution. It is called a redemption, because at a great price, and by the exertion of almighty power, the body comes forth from the grave, as a prisoner from his dungeon, into the light and liberty of resurrection glory. Then death shall be swallowed up in victory, and we shall be fully and forever recognized as the children of God, being the children of the resurrection!
To this blessedness the Holy Spirit seals us. "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption." This sealing is putting God's mark upon us, by which we are declared to be his own. It is putting God's seal upon us, by which we are rendered safe and secure—for no man can break God's seal.
Oh, the wonders of God's ways! The law introduced grace, and grace introduces glory. It was an dreadful day when God spoke from Sinai; it was a solemn day when God incarnate laid down his life on Calvary; and it will be a glorious day when he shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied!
The law drove us from self;
the Holy Spirit led us to Christ; and
Christ will present us to his Father faultless and spotless in everlasting glory!
Praise, everlasting praise—to the God of grace, the God of glory!