For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Paradise regained in this life is not a sorrowless and painless condition. The sons of God are chastened. They know what suffering is. And there is here the great religious evidence. When the world sees men and women composed and even cheerful amid untold tribulation, then it sees a reality in religion. Job, for instance, was an evidence for the reality of religion that, even Satan himself could not gainsay or deny. How is it that the Christian spirit can assert its supremacy amid suffering of the most intense character? It is because it is enabled to keep its eye on the hidden good, and bless God for it. And so in this section we have the spirit of the apostle asserting itself upon this important subject.
I. THERE IS THE CONTRAST BETWEEN PRESENT SUFFERINGS AND THE PERFECTED SANCTIFICATION. (Ver. 18.) God's end in his dispensations is to create a glory in us of an eternal character - the glory of sanctification when it comes in fulness. We may see the price we pay in the stanzas of the poetess.
"Through long days did Anguish,
And sad nights did Pain,
Forge my shield, Endurance,
Bright and free from stain!
"Doubt, in misty caverns,
Mid dark horrors sought,
Till my peerless jewel,
Faith, to me she brought,
"Sorrow that I wearied
Should remain so long,
Wreathed my starry glory
The bright crown of Song.
"Strife that racked my spirit
Without hope or rest,
Left the blooming flower,
Patience, in my breast."
(Miss Procter's 'Legends and Lyrics.') Now, when we look at what is paid and what is bought, we must admit that the bargain is a good one, for the glory of sanctification is weighty and eternal. "The light affliction," says the apostle elsewhere, "which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).
II. IN SUFFERING WE ARE IN FELLOWSHIP WITH THE WHOLE CREATION. (Vers. 19-22.) When we look into the Book of Job we see that the man of God is a special sufferer. But God points out in the sequel of the book that the perplexity in Job's experience is matched by the perplexity which pervades all nature. So is it with suffering. We may see it all through nature. Suffering human nature is only in line with suffering nature. And here we have to remark that:
1. The study of nature shows long progress through suffering towards higher forms. This is the lesson of evolution so far as it is a truth. The "struggle for existence" is painful progress towards more perfect forms. It may seem to our philosophic laureate a mystery that nature should be "so careful of the type," and "so careless of the single life;" nay, he goes on to see that she lets "a thousand types" go, and seems to care for nothing. But if we take the great procession as a whole, we may see that it embodies progress through pain to more perfect form. The groaning creation thus sheds light on sanctification through suffering and pain.
2. Out of the present is to be born a new state of things in which nature shall share in the restoration of the sons of God. The very word "nature," which signifies "something about to be born," is a prophecy similar to what the apostle here gives. If Nature, without any moral fault, has been subjected to vanity; if it has, without consent on her part, been made the painful illustration of moral and spiritual truth; then we may expect a just Governor like God to give Nature compensation, and allow her to share in the glorious liberty of his children. It is surely significant that that manly Christian, Frank Buckland, when he was dying, said, "I am going a long journey where I think I shall see a great many curious animals. This journey I must go alone." As animals were saved in the ark with Noah, and in Nineveh with the penitent Ninevites, is it not reasonable to suppose that they shall have some share in the regeneration of all things?
III. MAN AS THE SOUL OF THE WORLD INTERPRETS THE TRAVAIL OF THE CREATION. (Vers. 23-27.) And here we cannot do better than take up the points as St. Paul gives them.
1. Man's aspiration about the body. (Ver. 23.) For the body is to be redeemed, not discarded. It is this "hope" which saves us in our present distresses (ver. 24). If we had not this hope, we should inevitably despair. And along with hope comes patience, so that "the patience of hope" becomes the attitude of all faithful souls. Then:
2. The Holy Spirit endorses our groaning after the better bodies. (Ver. 26.) Prayer is not all articulate. A groan, a sigh, a tear, may have all the elements of prayer addressed to the heart of the Most High. Now, some saints have had such suffering communicated to them as compelled them to groan with desire after a better, because promised condition. These groans, that are too deep to be articulate, are Spirit-prompted. He pressed from tried spirits these unutterable longings.
3. God, the Heart-searcher, responds to these unutterable groans. (Ver. 27.) We have here the whole philosophy of prayer. It is the inspired expression, articulately or otherwise, of what is agreeable to the Divine will, and the Heart-searcher recognizes in the prompted prayer the return to him of his own will, and so can answer it.
IV. THIS IS THE BEST POSSIBLE WORLD FOR ONE WHO LOVES GOD. (Ver. 28.) There is a certain idealism which inspires us all. According to our inward state is our outward world. "'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus." Consequently, if we have learned to love God, we take all things as animated by a Divine purpose of good to us. Suffering may come, but it comes to sanctify. Faith thus becomes optimistic. It lifts up its head, knowing that its redemption draweth nigh. It refuses to be pessimistic. In spite of all drawbacks, the glory of sanctification is on its way. And so those who have been called by a loving God to the exercise of love, find as they look about them that all things are co-operating for God's holy end of making his children holier and fitter for his fellowship. We could not be better situated than we are for sanctification. A poet on the subject "It is well" has thus written Ñ
"So they said, who saw the wonders
Of Messiah's power and love;
So they sing, who see his glory
In the Father's house above:
Ever reading in each record
Of the strangely varied past,
All was well which God appointed,
All has wrought for good at last.'
"And thus, while years are fleeting,
Though our joys are with them gone,
In thy changeless love rejoicing
We shall journey calmly on;
Till at last, all sorrow over,
Each our tale of grace shall tell,
In the heavenly chorus joining:
Lord, thou hast done all things well!'"
(Cf. Randolph's 'Changed Cross, and other Poems,')
V. CONFORMITY TO CHRIST'S GLORIOUS IMAGE IS WHAT GOD HAS IN VIEW FOR THOSE HE CALLS. (Vers. 29, 30.) The gospel is God's plan for securing a multitude of children who shall all become Christ-like. He sent his only Child, "the only begotten Son," into the world to secure many brethren, and be the Firstborn among them. No narrow jealousies here! In the holiest sense it is true regarding God's family that "the more' there are in it, "the merrier" will all be. Now, God's purpose, foreknowledge, and predestination are robbed of every repulsive feature, when we bear in mind that individuals are not predestinated to salvation without regard to their moral state. They are predestinated to become Christ-like. Men may reject the call of God to Christ-likeness, but his purpose is not nullified by such wickedness. His purpose was pure in calling them, even though they reject the call. And so it is in the light of this holy purpose to make men Christ-like that we are to regard the predestination, and the call, and the justification, and the glorification. The glory when reached, the glory of Christ-likeness, sheds its heavenly halo over all. May we all reach that paradise of experience, likeness to our blessed Lord! - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.