Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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The Hope of Creation

Rev. Cornelius Hanko (no date given)


For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:19-23).

Romans 8 is often referred to as Paul’s "Song of Victory," which reaches its climax in that jubilant conclusion: "We are more than conquerors through him that loved us."

Throughout this chapter the apostle is comparing the present sufferings of the people of God with the glory that awaits them hereafter. These sufferings are certainly severe and trying. There are physical sufferings of all sorts, soul-suffering, seeing others suffer, loss of dear ones, etc. And there are the spiritual struggles in our sinful flesh. Often we must suffer for Christ’s sake. Over against all these sufferings Paul places the future glory of the saints. We suffer with Christ now, so that we may be glorified with Him in His glory. Therefore all the sufferings of this present time cannot begin to compare with the glory that so far outweighs them in the world to come.

It is this thought that is being carried on in our text. You notice that our text begins with the preposition "for." "For," the apostle says, our future glory is awaiting us. It is certain. Its splendour exceeds our fondest imagination. In the words of our text Paul points to all creation, as it groans and suffers in bitter agony through what seems to be a long, even prolonged, age, always groaning, and yet never giving up. For creation is waiting, is even expecting, the manifestation of the eternal liberty of the sons of God.

Really that is a most amazing revelation that we have in these verses of our text. It is true, of course that the irrational and mute creature is not aware of the revelation of Scripture, of the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells. But on the other hand, we may not take this as mere poetic license, mere symbolism, that might even verge on fantasy. No, Paul is writing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He is speaking facts, divine, eternal, spiritual facts. He is doing this to spur us on to be patient in suffering, to await with eager expectation the glory that will be revealed to us.

May God’s Spirit guide us as we consider

The Hope of Creation
I. Its Present Groaning
II. Its Obvious Hope
III. Its Assurance (or Pledge) For Us


I. Its Present Groaning

Our text speaks of the "earnest expectation of the creature." Literally this means that the creature or creation stands with craned neck, with uplifted head, and with an eager eye and attentive ear in longing expectation. The idea is that the creation is looking for something, even waiting for something in eager expectation. The creation does this, not just once, or occasionally, but continuously, year after year, century after century, as long as the world has been, and as long as the world will continue, even to the end. The creation is eagerly, even anxiously awaiting the manifestation of our salvation.

This, of course, is figurative language, a personification of the creature or creation. This is not exactly strange to us, since Scripture uses this kind of speech more often. In Psalm 104:21 we read, "The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God." Verse 27 states. "These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season."

Even more clearly this language is used in Isaiah 55:12: "… the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." Or in Isaiah 35:1-2: "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice even with joy and singing ..."

The question immediately arises, what is meant by "the creature," which is also referred to as "the whole creation?" We certainly must take this in its broadest sense, limiting it only in as far as the text itself limits this whole creation. In the first place, it is evident that the angels in heaven are not included. Our text speaks plainly of the earthly part of the universe—that part that is subject to corruption and groans in pain. This excludes the angels. Secondly, the believers are excluded, for they are mentioned in verse 23 separately. There Paul says, "And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body." Thirdly, the entire realm of Satan and his host is excluded. They certainly do not have any hope whatever, for they are bound in chains unto eternal perdition. Finally, the world of wicked men must be excluded, for Scripture describes them as hopelessly lost in sin, under condemnation, like a stormy sea casting up slime and mud.

Therefore, what we have here is the irrational, often called "brute" creation. The whole creation is meant apart from the rational, moral creature. Included are the starry heavens, the atmosphere, with clouds and sunshine, the winds and rain. Also included is the animal world, domestic animals—horses, cows, chickens—and the wild animals—the beasts of the field, lions, deer, etc. Moreover, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea must be included. Besides that, the crops that supply food for man and beast, the trees and plants and flowers that cover the earth. Every creature that moves upon the face of the earth is included, as well as hills, valleys, mountains, lakes, rivers, oceans—the whole universe, apart from men, angels and devils.

These all groan and travail as in pain, we are told. Any child of God can readily recognise that groaning. For example, think of the eruption of volcanoes spewing forth lava that carries death with it. Or think of the hurricanes that bring millions of dollars worth of damage and even take human lives. Think of the raging storms, the lightening that strikes forests and wipes away acres of trees and vegetation. When summer ends, the trees will begin to lose their leaves, soon the bare branches and the frozen earth will speak to us of death. Time like an ever-rolling stream carries its victims with it, for all creation groans under the agony of death.

The apostle gives us a twofold reason for all this groaning. First of all, the creature is subject to bondage. The whole creation is in chains, as it were, bound, enslaved. No power of creation itself, or of man has been able to deliver it.

This bondage, we are told, is the bondage of corruption. Death reigns. All things perish. The animals become sick and die, just as man does. The heat of the sun burns and destroys. Rains and floods wipe out large areas of vegetation. Think of the devastation of hurricanes, tornadoes, and even earthquakes. The fish of the seas and the birds of the air die. Streams become contaminated and polluted, even rivers, lakes and oceans carry the scum of death. Death reigns wherever we turn.

In the second place, all these creatures are subject to vanity. Vanity is emptiness, futility, like running a treadmill and getting nowhere. Solomon speaks of this in Ecclesiastes. The waters run to the seas and return. Day follows night, and night follows day in an endless succession. The wind blows from the north and returns to the south, goes back and forth, back and forth consistently shifting and changing. There is monotony, but also a futility about it all that grows wearisome. It all ends in the final conflagration when an intense heat and roaring fire consume all this present creation.

What brings this all about? How come there is this emptiness, this corruption? Our text tells us, that the creature is not subject to vanity willingly, that is, it did not bring it on itself. Of man we can say, we brought it on ourselves. No, the creature is as it were the innocent victim of man’s doings.

Yet that is not the point of view of our text. Our text tells us, that God brought this about. It is "by reason of Him who has subjected it." The implication of the text is that at a moment of time God subjected the creature to vanity. You and I know when that moment of time took place. It was in paradise by the wilful disobedience of our first parents Adam and Eve. The king of the earthly creation fell and his kingdom fell with him. The curse came not only upon the king, but also upon his kingdom, the entire earthly creation under which the creature groans even until now.

That even until now is most significant. Forest fires destroy acres of trees, yet in a comparatively short time the forest is restored. Floods and famines devastate land and beasts, yet there is always a recovery. Sickness and diseases ravage the animal and plant world, yet the creature somehow survives. In fact, winter follows autumn, and just as surely spring with its awakening follows the winter. There is even something wonderful about the way the trees shed their leaves. In bright red, golden, yellow splendour the leaves die, speaking of the hope that never dies.

"Why?" we ask. Why has not the creature given up long ago in weariness and despair? Why has the vanity, the emptiness of it all, not caused it to perish? Or, to put it differently, why does God still uphold and govern the brute creature throughout the centuries, even until now?


II. Its Obvious Hope

The obvious answer is that the creature groans in hope. Those two words in our text speak volumes. God hath subjected the same in hope. This is God’s work. God has subjected the creature to vanity and to corruption, yet not without His own good, eternal and sovereign purpose. God placed in the creature persistence, a determination, as it were, not to give up. God in His providence causes all things to exist and to happen day by day as they are.

This is expressed even more emphatically in verse 22, where we read that the whole creation groans in travail. Travail, you know, is a distinctive kind of suffering. For one thing, it is extremely painful. The term is always used in Scripture to designate severe agony and distress. But, more than that, travail expresses suffering in hope. When a person is suffering from terminal cancer the suffering also is very severe, but the only possible outcome is death. Travail, on the other hand, produces life. A child is born, and for the joy that a child is born, all the pain is soon forgotten. That is the idea here. The whole creature groans in expectancy, expecting to produce life.

That expectancy, we read, is twofold. First of all, the creature expects the "manifestation of the sons of God." In a sense it can well be said that at present the sons of God still remain hidden. The full adoption and sonship is not yet manifested.

First, the children of God are still imperfect. They are saints in Christ Jesus, yet sinful saints. They themselves realise that they have but a small beginning of the new obedience. Second, they are still in a mortal body. In that respect their outward appearance is no different from that of the world. They still are bound to this earthly house of our present tabernacle in which we groan, longing to be delivered. In the third place, the people of God are the minority, even the despised minority, in the world, hated and persecuted for righteousness sake.

The promise of God is that our sonship will be fully manifested in the day of Christ Jesus. In that day we will be vindicated before the eyes of the whole world. Moreover, we will be delivered from this body of sin and death, to receive a new heavenly body, like unto the glorious body of Jesus Christ. And finally, we cherish the hope that we shall be like God. It is not yet manifest what we shall be, but this we know that we shall be like God, sons in His communion of life. All the creatures are waiting for that.

But in the second place, all the creatures are waiting to share this liberty with us. Verse 21 says, "Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."

John 3:16 tells us that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." That world does not include the reprobate wicked, but it does include the entire organic creation. The tree of God’s election is saved. The dead branches are broken off. The whole creation is redeemed and will be glad.

All things continue to exist only because they are waiting for our salvation in the new heavens and the new earth. For these things will be consumed as by fire, in order that our God may make all things new in Christ Jesus.


III. Its Assurance (or Pledge) For Us

That, our text tells us, is a pledge, an assurance of our perfect salvation. First of all, there is a speech of God in all the groanings we hear round about us. As I said at the beginning, the creature does not consciously, knowingly, look forward to the coming of Christ as our glorification. But, on the other hand, neither is it true that this is mere poetic, imaginative language. It certainly must not be brushed aside as such. This is very real. God speaks to us. He wants us to read His handwriting in creation. He wants us to hear His voice when He speaks in the rattling thunder and in the still, small breezes.

Moreover, we must understand what God is saying to us. First of all, we are urged to bear the sufferings in our own lives with patience. So often it would seem as if our load is heavier than we can bear, as one affliction follows upon another. Yet, this is all a part of the universal plan of the living God. Even as God upholds and governs the groaning creation all these centuries, He upholds and even cares much more for us. The struggling sparrow on the housetop is His concern. Are not you much more His concern? Besides, it must all work together for good, for all things are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. God is working your salvation through all the happenings from day to day.

In the second place, your salvation is certain. Our God is eternally wise, powerful and good. He never does anything uselessly or in vain. The very fact that the sun rises each morning, that a new day is born, that the days of the years continue one after the other, only proves that God is busy working out your salvation for you. The creature would have given up long ago in its futility, given up in total despair. It would have perished long ago. In fact, the end of the world would have come already immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve in paradise, if it were not for the fact that God’s church must be saved through trials and tribulations. When the last elect is prepared for glory, this world will give up its weary struggle to survive, for it will have served God’s purpose. Then Christ will come to make all things new.

Finally, this salvation will certainly be glorious, defying and surpassing our fondest imagination. Surely the half has not been told us. We can only marvel that all things continue to exist, that history takes its course, that time rolls on from year to year throughout the ages, always in misery, always groaning, dying, yet never dead. The reason is that all things must work together to bring the church, even you and me into glory. It is a glory worth hoping for, worth waiting for. You can be sure. Amen.

The life of Rev. Cornelius Hanko, the author of these devotional sermons on Romans 8, is covered in his memoirs, Less Than the Least.