by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
"We know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body"(Rom. 8:22, 23).
Dear friends, the more I have read this text, the more I am convinced that this is one of the things in Paul's Epistles to which Peter referred when he said, "Wherein are some things hard to be understood." However, we have often found that the nuts which are hardest to crack have the sweetest kernels. May it be so today; if the Spirit of God shall fulfil His gracious promise to "lead us into all truth."
The whole creation is fair and beautiful even in its present condition. Climbing the lofty Alps, or wandering through a charming valley, skimming the blue sea, or traversing the verdant forest, we have felt that this world, however desecrated by sin, was evidently built to be a temple of God, and the grandeur and the glory of it plainly declare that "the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof."
Yet obviously it is not as it was when it came from the Maker's hand. This is not the world which God pronounced to be "very good." We hear of tornadoes, of earthquakes, of tempests, of volcanoes, of avalanches. There is sorrow on the sea and misery on the land; and into the highest palaces as well as the poorest cottages, death shoots his arrows. It is a sad, sad world. The curse has fallen on it since the Fall, and it brings forth thorns and thistles.
Earth wears upon her brow, like Cain of old, the brand of transgression. If it were always to be so; if there were no future to this world as well as to ourselves, we might be glad to escape from it, counting it to be nothing better than a huge penal colony, from which it would be a thousand mercies for both body and soul to be emancipated.
At this present time, the groaning and travailing which are general throughout creation, are deeply felt among the sons of men. There is a general wail among nations and peoples. You can hear it in the streets of the city.
The Apostle tells us that not only is there a groan from creation, but this is shared by God's people. We shall notice first, whereunto the saints have already attained; secondly, wherein we are deficient; and thirdly, what is the state of mind of the saints in regard to the situation.
We were once subject to the universal curse, "heirs of wrath, even as others." But now we are no longer treated as criminals condemned, but as children and heirs of God. We have received a divine life, by which we are made partakers of the divine nature, having "escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust." God dwells in us, and we are one with Christ. We have at this present moment priceless things which distinguish us as believers in Christ from all the rest of God's creatures. "We have," says the text: we know we have. Believing in Jesus, we speak confidently.
True, many things are yet in the future, but even at this present moment, we have already in our possession a divine heritage which is the beginning of our eternal portion. This is called "the first-fruits of the Spirit." We have repentance, that wonderful gem. We have faith, that priceless, precious jewel. We have hope, which sparkles, a hope most sure and steadfast. We have love, which sweetens all the rest. We have that work of the Spirit within our souls, which always comes before admittance into glory. We are already made "new creatures in Christ Jesus," by the effectual working of the mighty power of the Holy Ghost. As the wave-sheaf was the first of the harvest, so the spiritual life which we have, and all the graces which adorn that life, are the first gifts, the first operations of the Spirit of God in our souls. We have this.
The first-fruits were always the pledge of the harvest. As soon as the Israelite had plucked the first handful of ripe ears, he looked forward with glad anticipation to the time when the harvest-home should be shouted at the door of the barn. So, if you have the Spirit of God in your soul, you may rejoice over it as the pledge and token of the fullness of bliss and perfection "which God hath prepared for them that love him."
Furthermore, the first fruits were always holy to the Lord, and surely our new nature must be regarded as a consecrated thing. As it is Christ's image and Christ's creation, so it is for Christ's glory alone.
Brethren, the work of the Spirit is called "first-fruits," because the first-fruits were not the harvest. They only whetted the appetite for the harvest. So, when we get the first works of the Spirit of God, we are not to say, "I have attained, I am already perfect, there is nothing further for me to do, or to desire." What we have received is a very gracious pledge, but far short of the harvest. So, you see, beloved, that because we have the "first-fruits of the Spirit," for that very reason, if for no other, we cannot help but groan for that blissful period which is called "the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body."
We are deficient in those things for which we groan and wait. And these appear to be four at least:
First, this body of ours is not delivered. As soon as a man believes in Christ, sin has no more dominion over him, and the law hath no further claims against him. His soul is translated from death unto life, but the body-this poor flesh and blood-remains just as subject to sickness as before; pain thrills quite as sharply through the heart of the saint as the sinner; and saints are no more likely to enjoy bodily health than sinners. We still grow old. Our bodies are still natural bodies.
The soul is like an eagle, which is prevented by the body from mounting. Moreover, the appetites of the body have a natural affinity to that which is sinful. The body still lingers in the realm of bondage. And this is a cause of our groaning. Will it ever be set free? This is the Christian's brightest hope. Many believers make a mistake when they long to die and long for heaven. A disembodied spirit never can be perfect until it is reunited to its body. God made man not pure spirit, but body and spirit, and the spirit alone will never be content until it sees its corporeal frame raised to its own condition of holiness and glory.
The Apostle tells us that "they (the saints in heaven) without us cannot be made perfect"-that is, until our bodies are raised, theirs cannot be raised, until we get our adoption day, neither can they get theirs. They await the happy day when the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For it is true, beloved: the bodies that have mouldered into dust will rise again, and you and I, though the worm devour this body, shall in our flesh behold our God. Well may those who believe in this precious doctrine groan after it as they wait for it.
Again, saints are deficient in the manifestation of our adoption. Indeed, those of the world often seem fairer than God's children. Why is this? The adoption is not manifested yet, the children are not yet openly declared. "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be." We do not yet have royal robes. We are wearing in this flesh and blood just what we wore as the sons of Adam. Like a bride sighing for the day of her marriage, we are waiting till we shall put on our proper garments, and shall be manifested as the children of God.
A third thing in which we are deficient is the glorious liberty of the children of God. The whole creation is said to be groaning for its share in that freedom. You and I are also groaning for it. "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." But our liberty is incomplete. Our spirits have liberty to sit in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus; but our bodies can only roam about this narrow cell of earth. How shall the heir of God be content till he rests on his Father's bosom, and is filled with all the fullness of God?
Evidently we are exotics here. Ungodly men prosper well enough in this world. It is their native soil. But the Christian needs the hothouse of grace to keep himself alive at all. Now, God will one day change our bodies and make them fit for our souls, and then He will change this world itself. We look for new heavens and a new earth wherein righteousness dwells; and a time when the lion shall eat straw like an ox, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. We expect to see the New Jerusalem descend out of heaven from God. Perhaps, after those great fires of which Peter speaks when he says, "the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat," earth will be renewed in more than pristine loveliness. We may well groan for its realization
Even those in heaven do not yet have their full reward. They are waiting till their Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the trump of the archangel, and the voice of God. Then shall the righteous be divided from the wicked; and then-the Prince at their head-the whole of the blood-washed, white-robed host, shall march up to their crowns and to their thrones, to reign for ever and ever! After this consummation the believing heart is panting, groaning, and sighing.
A Christian's experience is like a rainbow, a garment of many colors. He is sometimes in the light and sometimes in the dark. The text says, "We groan within ourselves." Our sighs are sacred things; these griefs are too hallowed for us to tell abroad. We keep our longings to our Lord alone. It appears from the text that there are no exceptions; to a greater or less extent, we all have an earnest inward groaning towards the redemption of our body.
The Apostle then says, we are "waiting." We are not to wait petulantly, like Jonah or Elijah, when they said, "Let me die." Nor are we to rest till the end of the day because we are tired of work. Nor are we to wish to escape from our present pains and sufferings until the will of the Lord is done. We are to groan after perfection, but we are to wait patiently for it, knowing that what the Lord appoints is best. Too, waiting implies being ready. We are to stand at the door expecting the Beloved to open it and take us away to Himself.
Here is a test for us all: You may judge a man by what he groans after. Some men groan after wealth. Some groan continually under the troubles of life; there is no virtue in that. Some men groan because of their great losses or sufferings; this may be nothing but a rebellious smarting under the rod, and if so, no blessing will come of it. But the man that yearns after more holiness, the man that sighs after God, the man that groans after perfection, the man that is discontented with his sinful self, the man that feels he cannot be easy till he is made like Christ-that is the man who is blessed indeed. May God help you and me to groan all our days with that kind of groaning.
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Abridged from a sermon delivered January 5th, 1868, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle
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Thanks to Spurgeon Ministries
Bath Road Baptist Church
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1891) was the son and grandson of preachers. He was converted at age 15 when he was admonished by a Primitive Methodist layman to "Look to Jesus!" He began preaching at a Baptist chapel in Cambridge the next year, and at age 20 he was called to the New Park Street Church in London. In 1861 the Metropolitan Tabernacle, seating 6,000, was built to accommodate the congregation. Spurgeon was widely acknowledged as "the prince of preachers," though he himself wished only to be a "John Ploughman," keeping his hand to the plow and plowing a straight furrow. His books of sermons and devotions are still very much in demand.
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