A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, January 5, 1868, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
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, to wit, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:22,23)
1. My venerable friend, who, on the first Sunday of the year, always sends me a text to preach from, has on this occasion selected one which it is very far from easy to handle. The more I have read it, the more certainly I have come to the conclusion that this is one of the things in Paul’s epistles to which Peter referred when he said, “In which are some things hard to be understood.” However, dear friends, we have often found that the nuts which are hardest to crack have the sweetest kernels, and when the bone seems as if it could never be broken, the richest marrow has been found within. So it may by possibility be this morning; so it will be if the Spirit of God shall be our instructor, and fulfil his gracious promise to “lead us into all truth.”
2. The whole creation is fair and beautiful even in its present condition. I have no sympathy for those who cannot enjoy the beauties of nature. Climbing the lofty Alps, or wandering through the 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 its fulness.” Like the marvellous structures of Palmyra of Baalbek, in the middle east, the earth in ruins reveals a magnificence which betokens a royal founder, and an extraordinary purpose. Creation glows with a thousand beauties, even in its present fallen condition; yet clearly enough it is not as when it came from the Maker’s hand—the slime of the serpent is on it all—this is not the world which God pronounced to be “very good.” We hear of tornadoes, of earthquakes, of tempests, of volcanoes, of avalanches, and of the sea which devours its thousands: there is sorrow on the sea, and there is misery on the land; and into the highest palaces as well as the poorest cottages, death, the insatiable, is shooting his arrows, while his quiver is still full to bursting with future woes. It is a sad, sad world. The curse has fallen on it since the fall, and it brings forth thorns and thistles not from its soil alone, but from all that comes from it. Earth wears upon her brow, like Cain of old, the brand of transgression. It would be sad 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. The dreariest thing you can read is the newspaper. I heard of one who sat up at the end of last year to groan last year out; it was poorly done, but in truth it was a year of groaning, and the present one opens with turbulence and distress. We heard of abundant harvests, but we soon discovered that they were all a dream, and that there would be scarcity in the worker’s cottage. And now, what with strifes between employees and employers, which are driving business from England, and what with political convulsions, which unhinge everything, the vessel of the state is drifting quickly into the shallows. May God in mercy put his hand to the helm of the ship, and steer her safely. There is a general wail among nations and people. You can hear it in the streets of the city. The Lord reigns, or we might lament very bitterly.
3. The apostle tells us that not only is there a groan from creation, but this is shared in by God’s people. We shall notice in our text, first, to what the saints have already attained; secondly, in what we are deficient; and thirdly, what is the state of mind of the saints in regard to the entire matter.
4. I. TO WHAT THE SAINTS HAVE ATTAINED.
5. We were once an undistinguished part of the creation, subject to the same curse as the rest of the world, “heirs of wrath, even as others.” But distinguishing grace has made a difference where no difference naturally was; we are now no longer treated as condemned criminals, 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.” The Spirit of God has come to us so that our “bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit.” God dwells in us, and we are one with Christ. We have at this present moment in us certain priceless things which distinguish us as believers in Christ from all the rest of God’s creatures. “We have,” says the text, not “we hope and trust sometimes we have,” nor yet “possibly we may have,” but “we have, we know we have, we are sure we have.” Believing in Jesus, we speak confidently, we have unspeakable blessings given to us by the Father of spirits. Not we shall have, but we have. Truly, many things are still in the future, but even at this present moment, we have obtained an inheritance; 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,” by which I understand the first works of the Spirit in our souls. Brethren, we have repentance, that gem of the first water. 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 God the Holy Spirit. This is called the firstfruit because it comes first. Just 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.
6. It is called “first fruits,” again, because the first fruits were always the pledge of the harvest. As soon as the Israelite had plucked the first handful of ripe ears, they were to him so many proofs that the harvest was already come. He looked forward with glad anticipation to the time when the wagon should creak beneath the sheaves, and when the harvest home should be shouted at the door of the barn. So, brethren, when God gives us “Faith, hope, charity—these three,” when he gives us “whatever things are pure, lovely, and of good report,” as the work of the Holy Spirit, these are to us the prognostications of the coming glory. If you have the Spirit of God in your soul, you may rejoice over it as the pledge and token of the fulness of bliss and perfection “which God has prepared for those who love him.”
7. It is called “first fruits,” again, because these were always holy to the Lord. The first ears of grain were offered to the Most High, and surely our new nature, with all its powers, must be regarded by us as a consecrated thing. The new life which God has given to us is not ours that we should ascribe its excellence to our own merit: the new nature is Christ’s particularly; just as it is Christ’s image and Christ’s creation, so it is for Christ’s glory alone. We must keep separate that secret from all earthly things; we must watch that treasure which he has committed to us both night and day against those profane intruders who would defile the consecrated ground. We would stand upon our watchtower and cry aloud to the Strong for strength, so that the adversary may be repelled and that the sacred castle of our heart may be for the habitation of Jesus, and Jesus alone. We have a sacred secret which belongs to Jesus, as the first fruits belong to Jehovah.
8. Brethren, the work of the Spirit is called “first fruits,” because the first fruits were not the harvest. No Jew was ever content—with the first fruits. He was content with them for what they were, but the first fruits stimulated his desire for the harvest. If he had taken the first fruits home, and said, “I have all I can want,” and had rested satisfied month after month, he would have given proof of madness, for the firstfruit only whets the appetite—it only stirs up the desire, it never was meant to satisfy. 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.” Indeed, my brethren, all that the most advanced of God’s people know as yet, should only excite in them an insatiable thirst after more. My brother with great experience, my sister with intimate acquaintance with Christ, you have not yet known the harvest, you have only reaped the first handful of grain. Open your mouth wide, and God will fill it! Enlarge your expectations—seek great things from the God of heaven—and he will give them to you; but by no means fold your arms in sloth, and sit down upon the bed of carnal security. Forget the steps you have already trodden, and reach forward towards what is before, looking to Jesus.
Even this first point of what the saint has attained will help us to
understand why it is that he groans. Did I not say that we have not
received our entire portion, and that what we have received is to the
whole no more than one handful of wheat is to the whole harvest, a
very gracious pledge, but nothing more? This is why we groan. Having
received something, we desire more. Having reaped handfuls, we long
for sheaves. For this very reason, that we are saved, we groan for
something beyond. Did you hear that groan just now? It is a traveller
lost in the deep snow on the mountain pass. No one has come to rescue
him, and indeed he has fallen into a place from which escape is
impossible. The snow is numbing his limbs, and his soul is breathed
out with many a groan. Keep that groan in your ear, for I want you to
hear another. The traveller has reached the hospice. He has been
charitably received, he has been warmed at the fire, he has received
abundant provision, he is warmly clothed. There is no fear of
tempest, that grand old hospice has withstood many a thundering
storm. The man is perfectly safe, and quite content, so far as that
goes, and exceedingly grateful to think that he has been rescued; but
yet I hear him groan because he has a wife and children down in
that plain, and the snow is lying too deep for travelling, and the
wind is howling, and the blinding snowflakes are falling so thickly
that he cannot pursue his journey. Ask him whether he is happy and
content. He says, “Yes, I am happy and grateful. I have been saved
from the snow. I do not wish for anything more than I have here, I am
perfectly satisfied, as far as this goes, but I long to look upon my
household, and to be once more in my own sweet home, and until I
reach it, I shall not cease to groan.” Now, the first groan which you
heard was deep and dreadful, as though it were fetched from the abyss
of hell; that is the groan of the ungodly man as he perishes, and
leaves all his dear delights; but the second groan is so softened and
sweetened, that it is rather the note of desire than of distress.
Such is the groan of the believer, who, although rescued and brought
into the hospice of divine mercy, is longing to see his Father’s face
without a veil between, and to be united with the happy family on the
other side of the Jordan, where they rejoice for evermore. In the
first crusade when the soldiers of Godfrey of Bouillon came within
sight of Jerusalem, it is said they shouted for joy at the sight of
the holy city. For that very reason they began to groan. Do you ask
why? It was because they longed to enter it. Having once looked upon
the city of David, they longed to carry the holy city by storm, to
overthrow the Moslem crescent, and place the cross in its place. He
who has never seen the New Jerusalem, has never clapped his hands
with holy ecstasy, he has never sighed with the unutterable longing
which is expressed in words like these—
Oh my sweet borne, Jerusalem,
Would God I were in thee!
Would God my woes were at an end,
Thy joys that I might see!
Take another example to illustrate that the obtaining of something makes us groan after more. An exile, far away from his native country, has been long forgotten, but suddenly a vessel brings him the pardon from his monarch, and presents from his friends who still remembered him. As he looks at each of these love tokens, and as he reads the words of his reconciled prince, he asks “When will the vessel sail to take me back to my native shore?” If the vessel tarries, he groans over the delay; and if the voyage is tedious, and adverse winds blow back the barque from the white cliffs of Albion, his thirst for his own sweet land compels him to groan. So it is with your children when they look forward to their holidays; they are not unhappy or dissatisfied with the school, but still they long to be at home. Do you not remember how, in your schoolboy days, you used to make a little almanac with a square for every day, and how you always crossed off the day as soon as it began, as though you would try and make the time from your joy as short as possible? You groaned for it, not with the unhappy groan of one who is about to perish, but with the groan of one who, having tasted of the sweets of home, is not content until he shall be again indulged with the fulness of them. 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.”
10. II. Our second point rises before us—IN WHAT ARE BELIEVERS DEFICIENT? We are deficient in those things for which we groan and wait. And these appear to be four at least.
11. The first is, that this body of ours is not delivered. Brethren, as soon as a man believes in Christ, he is no longer under the curse of the law. Concerning his spirit, sin has no more dominion over him, and the law has no further claims against him. His soul is translated from death to life, but the body, this poor flesh and blood, does it not remain as before? Not in one sense, for the members of our body, which were instruments of unrighteousness, become by sanctification, the instruments of righteousness to the glory of God; and the body which was once a workshop for Satan, becomes a temple for the Holy Spirit, in which he dwells; but we are all perfectly aware that the grace of God makes no change in the body in other respects. It is just as subject to sickness as before, pain throbs quite as sharply through the heart of the saint as the sinner, and he who lives near to God, is no more likely to enjoy bodily health than he who lives at a distance from him. The greatest piety cannot preserve a man from growing old, and although in grace, he may be “like a young cedar, fresh and green,” yet the body will have its grey hairs, and the strong man will be brought to totter on the staff. The body is still subject to the evils which Paul mentions, when he says about it that it is subject to corruption, to dishonour, to weakness, and is still a natural body.
Nor is this a little matter, for the body has a depressing effect
upon the soul. A man may be full of faith and joy spiritually, but I
will defy him under some forms of disease to feel as he wishes. The
soul is like an eagle, to which the body acts as a chain, which
prevents its mounting. Moreover, the appetites of the body have a
natural affinity to what is sinful. The natural desires of the human
body are not in themselves sinful, but through the degeneracy of our
nature, they very readily lead us into sin, and through the
corruption which is in us, even the natural desires of the body
become a very great source of temptation. The body is redeemed with
the precious blood of Christ, it is redeemed by price, but it has not
as yet been redeemed by power. It still lingers in the realm of
bondage, and is not brought into the glorious liberty of the children
of God. Now this is the cause of our groaning and mourning, for the
soul is so married to the body that when it is itself delivered from
condemnation, it sighs to think that its poor friend, the body,
should still be under the yoke. If you were a free man, and had
married a wife, a slave, you could not feel perfectly content, but
the more you enjoyed the sweets of freedom yourself, the more you
would pine that she should still be in slavery. So it is with the
Spirit, it is free from corruption and death; but the poor body is
still under the bondage of corruption, and therefore the soul groans
until the body itself shall be set free. Will it ever be set free? Oh
my beloved, do not ask the question. This is the Christian’s
brightest hope. Many believers make a mistake when they long to die
and long for heaven. Those things may be desirable, but they are not
the ultimate for the saints. The saints in heaven are perfectly free
from sin, and, as far as they are capable of it, they are perfectly
happy; but a disembodied spirit never can be perfect until it is
reunited to its body. God made man not a 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.
Do not think that our longings here below are not shared in by the
saints in heaven. They do not groan, as far as any pain can be, but
they long with greater intensity than you and I long, for the
“adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body.” People have said
there is no faith in heaven, and no hope; they do not know what they
are saying—in heaven it is that faith and hope have their fullest
sway and their brightest sphere, for glorified saints believe in
God’s promise, and hope for the resurrection of the body. The apostle
tells us that “without us they cannot be made perfect”; that is,
until our bodies are raised, theirs cannot be raised, until we have
our adoption day, neither can they have theirs. The Spirit says
“Come,” and the bride says “Come”—not the bride on earth only, but
the bride in heaven says the same, wishing the happy day to speed on
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, the body which
has been destroyed by the worm shall rise up into a nobler being, and
you and I, although the worm devours this body, shall in our flesh
see our God.
These eyes shall see him in that day,
The God that died for me;
And all my rising bones shall say,
“Lord, who is like to thee?”
13. Thus we are sighing that our entire manhood, in its trinity of spirit, soul, and body, may be set free from the last vestige of the fall; we long to put off corruption, weakness, and dishonour, and to wrap ourselves in incorruption, in immortality, in glory, in the spiritual body which the Lord Jesus Christ will bestow upon all his people. You can understand in this sense why it is that we groan, for if this body really is still, though redeemed, a captive, and if it is one day to be completely free, and to rise to amazing glory, well may those who believe in this precious doctrine groan after it as they wait for it.
14. But, again, there is another point in which the saint is deficient as yet, namely, in the public declaration of our adoption. You observe the text speaks of waiting for the adoption; and another text further back, explains what that means, waiting for the unveiling of the children of God. In this world, saints are God’s children, but you cannot see that they are so, except by certain moral characteristics. That man is God’s child, but although he is a prince of the royal blood, his garments are those of toil, the smock frock or the fustian jacket. That woman is one of the daughters of the King, but see how pale she is! what furrows are upon her brow! Many of the daughters of pleasure are far more fair than she is! Why is this? The adoption is not revealed yet, the children are not yet publicly declared. Among the Romans a man might adopt a child, and that child might be treated as his for a long time; but there was a second adoption in public, when the child was brought before the constituted authorities, and in the presence of spectators its ordinary garments which he had worn before were taken off, and the father who took him to be his child put on garments suitable to the condition of life in which he was to live. “Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be.” We have not yet the royal robes which become the princes of the blood; we are wearing in this flesh and blood just what we wore as the sons of Adam; but we know that when he shall appear who is the “firstborn among many brethren,” we shall be like him; that is, God will dress us all as he dresses his eldest son—“We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Can you not imagine that a child taken from the lowest ranks of society, who is adopted by a Roman senator, will be saying to himself “I wish the day would come when I shall be publicly revealed as the child of my new father. Then, I shall take off these plebeian garments, and be robed as becomes my senatorial rank.” Happy in what he has received, for that very reason he groans to get the fulness of what is promised to him. So it is with us today. We are waiting until we shall put on our proper garments, and shall be revealed as the children of God. You are young princes, and you have not yet been crowned. You are young brides, and the marriage day is not come, and by the love your spouse bears for you, you are led to long and to sigh for the marriage day. Your very happiness makes you groan; your joy, like a swollen spring, longs to leap up like some Iceland geyser, climbing to the skies. It heaves and groans within your heart for lack of space and room by which to reveal itself to men.
15. There is a third thing in which we are deficient, namely, liberty, 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. Brethren, we are free! “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” But our liberty is incomplete. When Napoleon was on the island of St. Helena, he was watched by many guards, but after many complaints, he enjoyed comparative liberty, and walked alone. Yet, what kind of liberty was it? Liberty to walk around the rock of St. Helena, nothing more. You and I are free, but what is our liberty? Concerning our spirits, we have liberty to soar into the third heaven, and sit in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus; but concerning our bodies, we can only roam about this narrow cell of earth, and feel that it is not the place for us. Napoleon had been used to gilded halls, and all the pomp and glory of imperial state, and it was hard to be reduced to a handful of servants. Just so, we are kings—we are of the imperial blood; but we do not have our proper state and becoming dignities—we do not have our royalties here. We go to our lowly homes; we meet with our brothers and sisters here in their earth built temples; and we are content, as far as these things go, still, how can kings be content until they mount their thrones? How can a heavenly one be content until he ascends to the heavenlies? How shall a celestial spirit be satisfied until it sees celestial things? How shall the heir of God be content until he rests on his Father’s bosom, and is filled with all the fulness of God?
I wish you now to observe that we are linked with the creation. Adam
in this world was in liberty, perfect liberty; nothing confined him;
paradise was exactly suited to be his home. There were no wild beasts
to tear him, no rough winds to cause him injury, no blighting heats
to bring him harm; but in this present world everything is contrary
to us. Evidently we are exotica here. Ungodly men prosper well enough
in this world, they root themselves, and spread themselves like green
bay trees: it is their native soil; but the Christian needs the
hothouse of grace to keep himself alive at all—and out in the world
he is like some strange foreign bird, native of a warm and sultry
clime, that being let loose here under our wintry skies is ready to
perish. Now, God will one day change our bodies and make them fit for
our souls, and then he will change this world itself. I must not
speculate, for I know nothing about it; but it is no speculation to
say that we look for new heavens and a new earth in which dwell
righteousness; and that there will come a time when the lion shall
eat straw like an ox, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. We
expect to see this world that is now so full of sin as to be an
Aceldama, a field of blood, (Acts 1:19) turned into a paradise, a
garden of God. We believe that the tabernacle of God will be among
men, that he will dwell among them, and they shall see his face, and
his name shall be on their foreheads. We expect to see the New
Jerusalem descend out of heaven from God. In this very place, where
sin has triumphed, we expect that grace will much more abound.
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. Perhaps since matter may not be annihilated, and probably
cannot be, but will be as immortal as spirit, this very world will
become the place of an eternal jubilee, from which perpetual
hallelujahs shall go up to the throne of God. If such is the bright
hope that cheers us, we may well groan for its realisation, crying
Oh long expected day, begin;
Dawn on these realms of woe and sin.
17. I shall not enlarge further, except to say that our glory is not yet revealed, and that is another subject of sighing. “The glorious liberty” may be translated, “The liberty of glory.” Brethren, we are like warriors fighting for the victory; we do not share as yet in the shout of those who triumph. Even up in heaven they do not have their full reward. When a Roman general came home from the wars, he entered Rome by stealth, and slept at night, and tarried by day, perhaps for a week or two, among his friends. He went through the streets, and people whispered, “That is the general, the valiant one,” but he was not publicly acknowledged. But, on a certain set day, the gates were thrown wide open, and the general, victorious from the wars in Africa or Asia, with his snow white horses bearing the trophies of his many battles, rode through the streets, which were strewn with roses, while the music sounded, and the multitudes, with glad acclaim, accompanied him to the Capitol. That was his triumphant entry. Those in heaven, have, as it were, stolen there. They are blessed, but they have not had their public entrance. They are waiting until their Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the trump of the archangel, and the voice of God; then their bodies shall rise, then the world shall be judged; then the righteous shall be divided from the wicked; and then, streaming up in marvellous procession, leading captives captive for the last time, the Prince at their head, all of the blood washed host, wearing their white robes, and bearing their palm branches of victory, shall march up to their crowns and to their thrones, to reign for ever and ever! The believing heart is panting, groaning, and sighing after this consummation.
18. Now, I think I hear someone say, “You see these godly people who profess to be so happy and so safe, they still groan, and they are obliged to confess it.” Yes, that is quite true, and it would be a great mercy for you if you knew how to groan in the same way. If you were half as happy as a groaning saint is, you might be content to groan on for ever. I showed you, just now, the difference between a groan and a groan. I will show you yet again. Go into that house. Listen at that door on the left, there is a deep, hollow, awful groan. Go to the next house, and hear another groan. It seems to be, as far as we can judge, much more painful than the first, and has an anguish in it of the severest kind. How are we to judge between them? We will come again in a few days: as we are entering the first house we see weeping faces and flowing tears, a coffin, and a hearse. Ah, it was the groan of death! We will go into the next. Ah, what is this? Here is a smiling cherub, a father with a glad face: if you may venture to look at the mother, see how her face smiles for joy that a man is born into the world to cheer a happy and rejoicing family. There is all the difference between the groan of death and the groan of life. Now, the apostle sets the whole matter before us when he said, “The whole creation groans,” and you know what comes after that, “travails.” There is a result to come of it of the best kind. We are panting, longing after something greater, better, nobler, and it is coming. It is not the pain of death we feel, but the pain of life. We are thankful to have such a groaning.
The other night, just before Christmas, two men who were working very
late, were groaning in two very different ways, one of them saying,
“Ah, there is a poor Christmas day in store for me, my house is full
of misery.” He had been a drunkard, a spendthrift, and did not have a
penny to bless himself with, and his home had become a little hell;
he was groaning at the thought of going home to such a scene of
quarrelling and distress. Now, his fellow workman, who worked beside
him, since it was getting very late, wished that he was home, and
therefore groaned. A shopmate asked, “What is the matter?” “Oh, I
want to get home to my dear wife and children. I have such a happy
home, I do not like to be away.” The other might have said, “Ah, you
pretend to be a happy man, and here you are groaning.” “Yes,” he
could say, “and a blessed thing it would be for you if you had the
same thing to groan about that I have.” So the Christian has a good
Father, a blessed, eternal home, and groans to get to it; but, ah!
there is more joy even in the groan of a Christian after heaven, than
in all the mirth and merriment, and dancing, and lewdness of the
ungodly when their mirth is at its greatest height. We are like the
dove that flutters, and is weary, but thank God, we have an ark to go
to. We are like Israel in the wilderness, and are footsore, but
blessed be God, we are on the way to Canaan. We are like Jacob
looking at the wagons, and the more we look at the wagons, the more
we long to see Joseph’s face; but our groaning after Jesus is a
blessed groan, for
’Tis heaven on earth, ’tis heaven above,
To see his face, and taste his love.
20. III. Now I shall conclude with WHAT OUR STATE OF MIND IS.
21. A Christian’s experience is like a rainbow, made up of drops of the grief’s of earth, and beams of the bliss of heaven. It is a checkered scene, a garment of many colours. He is sometimes in the light and sometimes in the dark. The text says, “we groan.” I have told you what that groan is, I need not explain it further. But it is added, “We groan within ourselves.” It is not the hypocrite’s groan, when he goes mourning everywhere, wanting to make people believe that he is a saint because he is wretched. We groan within ourselves. Our sighs are sacred things; these grief’s and sighs are too hallowed for us to tell abroad in the streets. We keep our longings to our Lord, and to our Lord alone. We groan within ourselves. It appears from the text that this groaning is universal among the saints: there are no exceptions; to a greater or lesser extent we all feel it. He that is most endowed with worldly goods, and he who has the fewest; he who is blessed in health, and he who is racked with sickness; we all have in our measure an earnest inward groaning towards the redemption of our body.
22. Then the apostle says we are “waiting,” by which I understand that we are not to be petulant, like Jonah or Elijah, when they said, “Let me die,” nor are we to sit still and look for the end of the day because we are tired of work; nor are we to become impatient, and 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. Waiting implies being ready. We are to stand at the door expecting the Beloved to open it and take us away to himself.
23. In the next verse we are described as “hoping.” We are saved by hope. The believer continues to hope for the time when death and sin shall no more annoy his body; when, as his soul has been purified, so shall his body be, and his prayer shall be heard, that the Lord would sanctify him completely, body, soul, and spirit.
Now, beloved, the practical use to which I put this, I am afraid
somewhat discursive, discourse of this morning is just this. Here is
a test for us all. You may judge a man by what he groans after. Some
men groan after wealth, they worship Mammon. Some groan continually
under the troubles of life; they are merely impatient—there is no
virtue in that. Some men groan because of their great losses or
sufferings; well, this may be nothing but a rebellious smarting under
the rod, and if so, no blessing will come of it. But the man who
yearns after more holiness, the man who sighs after God, the man who
groans after perfection, the man who is discontented with his sinful
self, the man who feels he cannot rest easy until he is made like
Christ, that is the man who is blessed indeed. May God help you, and
help me, to groan all our days with that kind of groaning. I have
said before, there is heaven in it, and although the word sounds like
sorrow, there is a depth of joy concealed within,
Lord, let me weep for nought but sin,
And after none but thee;
And then I would, oh that I might,
A constant weeper be.
25. I do not know a more beautiful sight to be seen on earth than a man who has served his Lord many years, and who, having grown grey in service, feels that, in the order of nature, he must soon be called home. He is rejoicing in the first fruits of the Spirit which he has obtained, but he is panting after the full harvest of the Spirit which is guaranteed to him. I think I see him sitting on a jutting crag by the edge of Jordan, listening to the harpers on the other side, and waiting until the pitcher shall be broken at the cistern, and the wheel at the fountain, and the spirit shall depart to God who made it. A wife waiting for her husband’s footsteps; a child waiting in the darkness of the night until its mother comes to give it the evening’s kiss, are portraits of our waiting. It is a pleasant and precious thing so to wait and so to hope.
I fear that some of you, seeing you have never come and put your trust
in Christ, will have to say, when your time comes to die, what Wolsey
is said to have declared, with only one word of alteration:—
Oh Cromwell, Cromwell!
Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served the world, he would not, in mine age,
Have left me naked to mine enemies.
27. Oh, before those days fully come, quit the service of the master who never can reward you except with death! Wrap your arms around the cross of Christ, and surrender your heart to God, and then, come what may, I am persuaded that “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come. Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” While you shall for awhile sigh for more of heaven, you shall soon come to the abodes of blessedness where sighing and sorrow shall flee away.
28. May the Lord bless this assembly, for Christ’s sake. AMEN.
[Portion of Scripture Read Before Sermon—Romans 8]