« PreviousContinue »
which the subsistence of man and beast depends, were in danger of being interrupted, and might have failed in their expected returns.
Look again at the actual state of the surface of this globe, as subjected to the dominion of man. He was bid to subdue and replenish it: but see to this present hour its fairest parts lying desolate - the most valuable productions useless and waste; the “ rain falling upon the land which no man inhabiteth;" extensive continents —" the habitation of dragons — the joy of wild asses.” See, too, whole races of men pining in want and in squalid misery, appearing scarcely human; where, had but the gifts of nature been applied to their destined end, they might have enjoyed themselves as in a paradise. Think, moreover, of the human intellect uncultivated - man, created in the image of God, become .
'an ignorant hind'-a prowling savage, in the wilds of America and Africa - a ferocious cannibal in the islands of the southern ocean.
What is worse, see the good things of nature, where they are enjoyed in the greatest perfection, and where the intellect of man is most cultivated; used to the dishonour of God, and become a snare, and an occasion of misery to man! See the fine powers of reason and imagination employed to counteract the mercies of God, and to establish more firmly the empire of sin ! Surely this is that part of the subjugation to vanity, of which the creation, if it had a voice, would most loudly complain, and from which it would ask most earnestly for deliverance.
The abuse, however, is permitted but for a season. The apostle, still personifying the creation, says it is “ subjected in hope.” It has the expectation that it
shall not always remain in this debased state, but shall one day be delivered from this subjection to the vain purposes of its degenerate master. It cherishes the hope of better times, and of being used to more noble and more suitable purposes. And it is no less extraordinary than true, that in every age of the world it has been the constant belief and expectation of mankind, that nature is not now in that state of perfection in which it once was; but that that primeval state of things, that “ golden age,” will at some distant period be again restored.
In the narrative of the sacred page we perceive the grounds of this tradition. Prophecy announces that the common expectation of mankind will not be disappointed. I
22. “ For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now,” or “travaileth in pain to this present [hour.)”
Employing still the metaphorical language which he had adopted, St. Paul represents creation distressed at its present slavery and abuse, and big with expectation of this great event, as groaning like a woman labouring with child. So that imagination may hear in the jarring elements, in the raging storm, in the bursting volcano, or in the more tremendous earthquake, the convulsive throes, as it were, of an agonizing mother. Thus the fabric of universal nature echoes in loud responses the daily prayer of the church, “ Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven." ,
23. “ 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;" (or, “ even we ourselves within ourselves do groan, earnestly desiring the adoption — the redemption of our body.*"]
The adoption means here the public manifestation of the children of God at the resurrection; the apostle's styling it “ the redemption of the body,” clearly connects the event which the whole creation is longing for, together with the saints themselves, with that resurrection or change of the mortal and corruptible part of the saints, which was the immediate subject of the last passage we considered : and we may compare with this, instead of quoting them separately, the following passages. In his epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul, speaking of the Holy Ghost, as given to the church, calls him “ The earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession;" or, purchased people, as some render it. · And again, chapter iv. 30, “ Grieve not the Holy Spirit, by which ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” And compare, too, St. Paul's emphatical mention of the resurrection of the dead, Phil. iii. 11, “ That by any means I might attain the resurrection from the dead.” But to return.
Not only the powers of nature and the various parts of the creation are anxiously waiting for deliverance; but even the people of God themselves, though in part they participate in the glorious liberty of the children of God, having received the Spirit of adoption, yet even they do groan within themselves for this same event; because the influence and indwelling of the Spirit, which they now feel, though it enables them to rejoice in hope, is but“ a first fruits," “ an earnest;" the adoption, in its full sense,
* Compare Ephes. iv. 30, &c.
they possess not yet. It is at present a secret whispered in their hearts by the Holy Ghost; but their manifestation in the character of the sons of God is yet an object of “ hope that is not seen.” In secret the believer rejoices in his high birth ; but he waits for this great revolution of nature before he expects to receive its honours. It is “ the grace to be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Our “ life is hid with Christ in God; and when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.”*
The Eleventh Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. St. Paul's account of the rejection and future restoration of Israel, in the eleventh chapter of this same Epistle, must not be entirely passed over. He tells us that this rejection of the natural descendents of the patriarchs was neither to be total nor final : that in every period of their abandonment, there would be a reserve of a part; and, at a future period, a resumption of the general body. In the twelfth verse,
“ Now, if the fall of them was," – or, “ And if their failure was—to be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fulness," — “ how much more was their fulness to be!"
The apostle speaks as having the prophecies he had just quoted in his view. Did the prophecy speak of their
See Lectures on the Epiştle to the Romans.
failure as an event propitious to the Gentile world ? So did it speak of the restoration of the Jews, when their fulness should come in, as being, to this same world, a season of still greater good! At the first, the Gentiles, in the abandonment of the Jews, were to be so far favoured as to “provoke Israel to jealousy;" but afterwards, when he should " be merciful to his land and his people," and " have avenged their injuries,” the Song of Remembrance, to which he refers, exclaims, “ Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people,” which clearly intimated that they would be no less sharers in this great and glorious dispensation than the Israelites themselves.
This St. Paul explains in the fifteenth verse, “ For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead ?” Thus it must be the apostle means to point out, according to the sure word of prophecy: and the comparison of the ancient oracles on this subject leads to the conclusion, that, by “ life from the dead," the apostle means the resurrection of the dead, literally; and that this “ first and blessed resurrection,” the great event for which all nature and nations long, is intimately connected with the restoration of Israel: that the same Redeemer who comes to Zion to turn away iniquity from Jacob, comes, at the same time, to raise the dead that sleep in him, and to gather together all his elect, and establish the glorious promised kingdom, which will be "riches," indeed, unto the world.
Again; the apostle says, verse the twenty-fifth :
“ For I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in."