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.
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
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
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
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.