For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
~ Romans 8:20
Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in travail.
~ Psalm 48:6
They have made it desolate, and being desolate it mourneth unto me; the whole land is made desolate, because no man layeth it to heart.
~ Jeremiah 12:11
A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.
~ John 16:21
And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
~ Revelation 12:2
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
~ Mark 16:15
If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;
~ Colossians 1:23
Creation Groans: Considered and Improved, by Thomas Boston. January, 1716.
Rom. viii. 22,
For we know that the whole creation groaneth, and travelleth in pain together until now.
If we look abroad into the world, we cannot miss to perceive it in a feverish condition; the whole head sick, the whole heart faint; good men and God’s good creatures also groaning under a weight of misery. If we look above us into heaven, we cannot but see that it is an holy God who has cast them into, and keeps them in this miserable condition. But withal we may conclude, that it shall not be always so; this fever of the creation will have a cool. A gracious God will not suffer it always to be ill with good men and his good creatures. Therefore the apostle, ver. 18 of the chapter before us, taking a view of the suffering lot of the saints, of which himself bad a large share, by faith looks through the cloud of miseries into which the saints are now wrapt up, and beholds a glory that is to be revealed in them, a lightsome day that shall succeed this dark night, when all the clouds shall be scattered, never more to gather. He confirms the revelation of that glory from two considerations. 1. The creatures, ver. 19, with earnest expectation wait for it. 2. The saints, ver. 23, anxiously look and long for it. And neither of these can be in vain, for they are of God’s implanting; and justice stands not against the satisfying of these appetites raised by the sanctifying Spirit in the saints, and by the creating hand in the creatures.
As to the first of these, the apostle, 1. Asserts that longing of the creatures for the revelation of that glory in the saints, ver. 19. 2. He shews the misery they are under, from which they are so anxious to be delivered, vanity, ver. 20; corruption, ver. 21. 3. That their deliverance is connected with, and must be suspended till the revelation of that glory in the saints, ver. 21. 4. He shews how uneasy they are in the meantime, ver. 22.—Thus much for the connection.
In the words of the text, we have,
1. The party whose uneasiness is here taken notice of: ” The whole creation,” or every creature in heaven and on earth, is uneasy. Yet this phrase is not so universal, but that it admits of some exceptions, as Mark xvi. 15, ” And he said unto them. Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature;” yet not to the angels, glorified saints, devils, &c. The limitation is every creature made for the use of man, in heaven or on earth, which, because of their relation to him, were made subject to vanity on occasion of his sin. This shews a good reason for that phrase, Mark xvi. 15, “Preach the gospel to every creature;” that is, the gospel, which is gospel or good tidings to every creature; for not only man, but the creatures that were sunk in misery with him, shall have the advantage of it. As they smarted by the first Adam’s sinning, they shall be restored by virtue of the second Adam’s suffering. Acts iii. 21, ” “Whom the heavens must receive, until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” So here are to be excepted, (1.) The angels, for as they were not made for man, so they are already perfectly happy, as the courtiers of the great King, who stand before the throne continually, as is signified by that phrase, Matth. xviii. 10, ” That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
(2.) The devils. For though they be most uneasy, and carry their hell about with them, 2 Pet. ii. 4, ” For God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;” yet as they “were not made for man, so man did not make them miserable, but they made man so. Besides, the creature here was subjected in hope, ver. 20; but the case of devils is absolutely hopeless; for them there is no Saviour, and to them there is no promise.
(3.) Men themselves. For as, 1 Cor. xv. 27, ” But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest, that He is excepted who did put all things under him;” so when it is said, ” the whole creation groaneth,” so it is manifest he is excepted, who was the cause of the groaning of them all. The reprobate, some of them are in hell already, others are posting on, both groaning, but in vastly different degrees. Yet they are not meant here, for their groans shall never have an end. But all the effects of the curse that are to be found in the universe this day, shall with them be swept out of the world into the lake at the great day, there to be settled on them as their proper base: Rev. xx. 14, ” And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”
(4.) The elect. Some of them are in heaven, and groan no more. The unconverted elect groan under outward miseries; but they are not meant here, for, being immersed in wickedness with the rest of the world, they are far from the earnest expectation which the creatures here have, ver. 19. Believers groan most sensibly, but they must also be excepted here, as being opposed to this creation or creature. Yer. 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.”
Now, these being excepted, it remains, that by the whole creation we understand all the rest of the creatures made at first for the use of man. They are all uneasy. The visible heavens were made the roof of his house, the earth his floor; the sun, moon, and stars, were made to be his lights, the air to breathe in, the wind to refresh him; the various produce of the earth to afford him necessaries, conveniences, and delights. He was lord of sea and land. Fishes, fowls, and beasts of the earth, were all at his command. While he stood, they were all of them most easy in his service. But now that matters are reversed with him, their situation is also reversed; none of them failed to share in his misery. For though vanity, corruption, and misery, first sprang up in the man, they did not halt there, but spread over the face of the whole earth, diffused themselves over the brinish waters of the sea, and ascended through the air to the very glorious lights in heaven.—In the words of the text we have,
2. The agony that the whole creation or creatures are in,—a great agony. It is expressed two ways, both metaphorical.
(1.) They groan. This is a metaphor, taken from a man, with a heavy burden on his back, which so straitens him, that he cannot freely draw his breath; and when he gets it, it is a groan. So there is a heavy weight lying on the whole creation, that makes it groan or, in other words, creatures got their death wounds that day Adam got his, and so they are groaning still with the groans of a deadly wounded man. His sin stung them to the heart, and so they groan. The weight they are lying under is the weight of the curse, which binds vanity and corruption on them by virtue of the sin of man: Gen.iii.17, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” A weight under which, though stupid impenitent man groans not to God, yet his very beasts, and the very earth on which he walks, do.
(2.) They “travail in pain.” A metaphor taken from a woman bringing for the child.. The pains of child-birth are exquisite pains, and put the patient both to groans and strong cries. And into this condition is the whole creation brought by man’s sin. They are in pangs, and they cry out of their pangs. But though birth-pains are sore pains, yet they are hopeful. There is thus some hope that the creature will be delivered. They are travailing in pain with the hinds, to cast out their sorrows, Job xxxix. 3. They have conceived vanity and misery, and they have gone long with it, and they are travailing in pain to be delivered of the unhappy birth. They groan and also they travail. One that has too heavy a burden on his back, groans continually while it is on. But blessed be the holy and wise God, that has made the pains of travail intermitting now and then a shower. So the creatures have their ordinary pains that are never off them. But sometimes, as at this day, they have extraordinary, and as it were travailing-pains, which will off again? though they will return: Joel i. 18,”How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture: yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.”—In our text we have,
3. The mournful concert they make: they groan together and travail together. Not together with us, ver. 23, but together among themselves. Before sin entered into the world, they all looked blythe, and as it were sung together: but now they have changed their tune, and groan together. The beasts and the fowls groan from the earth, and the very heavens echo back to them the same strain. So many creatures as there are, so many groaners, each of —them with their mournful note, “We have,
4. How long they have sung to the melancholy tune: ” Until now.” They began at Adam’s fall, and they have groaned ever since, and travailed on till the apostles’ days, but they had not done with it then. Nay, they have groaned and travailed till now in onr days, long five thousand seven hundred years, and yet their burden is not off their backs, nor have they yet got their sorrows cast out. And how long it may be to their delivery, we know not. But one thing we know, it will never be till the world end by the general conflagration, when the new heavens and the new earth may rise, like the phoenix, out of their own ashes.—We have,
Lastly, The auditory that listens to the mournful concert: We, ” We know,” &c. ” We believers, we serious Christians, hear and certainly know the mournful ditty.” Can the shepherd who is sent to notice the sheep, not observe when they make their moan for lack of their food, especially when the whole flock is crying together? Were all the men of a city groaning of their wounds, and all the women travailing in pains together, that person must be deaf that would not hear the sound, and he must have an heart of adamant that would not be affected. But the whole creation, above us and about us, are groaning and travailing together, and that for our sakes yet a sinful generation has no ears to hear, no heart to be; affected with it, and with sin which is the cause. But serious Christians, awake to it, cannot miss to hear, and their ears affect their hearts. Ton will observe, that they hear it distinctly, not confusedly, as we apprehend sometimes we hear a thing, which we are not sure whether it be a real voice, or only an illusion of the fancy. We know, says the apostle, we are sure, it is no fancy. Some creatures have a voice that every body can hear. But there is no creature so mute, but a serious Christian, whose senses are exercised, can discern its voice. David could hear the silent heavens, day and night, and also know their meaning. Psalm xix. 1, 2; and verse 3, ” There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.” that we could hear their voice this day ! and that their groans and cries might pierce our hearts for sin.
This subject is highly important.—There is contained in it the three following doctrines, which in their order we propose to consider.
Doct, I. That the whole creation, made for the use of man, groans under the sin of man.
Doct, II. That the creatures’ pains, under the sin of man, are travailing pains, sore indeed, but hopeful, they will in due season be delivered from them.
Doct. III. That the whole creation makes a mournful concert in the ears of serious Christians, by their groans under man’s sin.
“We begin with
Doct, I. That the whole creation made for the use of man, groaneth under the sin of man.
What is to be offered on this doctrine shall be comprehended under the three following heads of discourse.
I. In what respects the creation, or creatures are said to groan; for many of them, as the earth, &c. are properly incapable of groaning.
II. What distresses the creatures so much, that they groan?
What has man’s sin done to them, to make them groan under it? III. How, and by what right, can the harmless creatures be made to groan for our sake? They have not sinned. True, these poor sheep what have they done?
IV. I shall add a practical improvement of the subject.
I am, then, to shew in what respects the creation, or the creatures are said to groan, for many of them, as the earth, &c. are properly incapable of groaning.—Here I observe,
1. That the sensible part of the creation really groans, each after its kind: Joel i. 18, ” How do the beasts groan? the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.” The beasts, the birds, all that can groan, do groan. And these may be admitted as the mouth of the rest; they groan out their own misery, and the misery of their mate-fellows, that are in the same condemnation with them, while they stand about, as it were, looking on, like a company of foreigners, one of whom only being capable of speaking our language, speaks for the rest.
2. The whole creation appears in a mournful mood and groaning posture. The sun, the eye of the world, has often a veil drawn over it for many days; and he with the rest of the lights of heaven are covered with blackness, like mourners. The earth, trees and plants upon it, lay aside their ornaments, and every head among them is bald; because man, whom they were appointed to serve, is slain by the great murderer, the devil; therefore all his servants are gone into mourning.
3. The whole creation, if they could, would groan, for they have good reason, as we will see afterwards. As our Lord says, Luke X. 40, ” If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” The pressure they are under would make them groan, if they had sense or reason to understand it. It is God’s goodness to man that his sense of hearing is not more quick than it is, otherwise he could never have rest, there being always some noise in the world. And it is well for man that the creatures cannot represent their misery as it deserves, otherwise they would deafen him with their complaints, and make him continually uneasy with their groans.
4. The Spirit of God is grieved, and groaneth (so to speak) in the creatures. God is every where present, quickening, influencing, preserving, and governing all the creatures, according to their several natures: Acts xvii. 25, ” Seeing he giveth to all, life, and breath, and all things:” Heb. i. 3, ” Upholding all things by the word of his power.” The sun cannot shine without him; nor the earth produce its fruits, nor its fruits be serviceable to man, without him. Whatever is profitable or pleasant in the creatures, is but some drops of the divine goodness distilled into them, for his glory and man’s good, Hence it is evident, that the abuse done to the creatures riseth to God himself. As if a mother having suitably sweetened the meat to a child, he should, after all, throw it away, his doing so is a wrong to her as well as the abused creature. Therefore, the abusing of God’s works is forbidden in the third commandment, under the notion of taking God’s name in vain. For the creature’s goodness is in effect God’s goodness: ” For there is none good but one, that is, God,” Matth. xix. 17. And therefore (with reverence be it spoken) God groans from the creatures against sinners: Amos ii. 13, “Behold, (says God), I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves.” And as the Lord from heaven cried to Saul, Acts ix. 4, ” Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” so, if men had ears, to hear, the drunkard, for instance, might hear God, from the creature, saying, ” Man, why abusest thou me?” &c.
Lastly, Serious Christians groan in behalf of the creatures. Man was made to be the mouth of the creatures, to speak out what they could not: for which cause God gave him a tongue and speech, therefore called his glory. “When sin entered, man’s mouth was closed in that respect. “When grace comes into the soul, the Lord says, ” Ephphatha,” that is, ” be opened,” Mark vii. 34. So man becomes the mouth of the creation again. Psalm xix. 1. Thus believers, seeing the reason the creatures have to groan, groan out their case for them, acknowledging, before God and the world, the misery and hard case they are brought into by man’s sin.
II, We come now to inquire, what distresses the creatures so much, that they groan? What has man’s sin done to them, to make them groan under it?
Why, truly, they got a large share of the curse to bear for man’s sake: Gen. iii. 17, ” Cursed,” said God to Adam, ” is the ground for thy sake.” The curse coming upon man is also felt upon the earth. “Wherefore, bat because of its relation to man? It bears him, and feeds him. And if so, that curse would spread to the visible heavens that cover him, and afford him light, and that nourish the earth which nourishes him. If this be not enough, remember they are all to go to the fire together at length; and surely that makes it. So thus man’s sin, as brimstone, is scattered on his habitation: 2 Pet. iii. 10, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat: the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burnt up.” Verse 11, “Seeing then, all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought we to be, in all holy conversation and godliness?”
This curse has subjected the creature to vanity. It has squeezed much of the fat out of it that was put into it at the creation; and from a full ear has brought it to an empty husk. And it is thereby also in bondage to corruption. It is made a stage of sin, a scene of misery, and liable to destruction as such. But to come to particulars.
1. The whole creation, by man’s sin, has fallen far short of its beneficial and nutritive quality, in comparison of what it originally was at its creation. Man has not that benefit of the creatures for which they were appointed at first. While he stood, such sap and nourishment was in them, that could have afforded him all things for necessity, convenience, and delight, without toil. But sin gave them such a shock, that much of that sap is shaken out of them, and so man must now wring hard to get but a very little nourishment from them. This makes so much barrenness in the earth, which so meanly rewards all the toil of the husbandman. It brings forth thorns and thistles plentifully, under the influence of that curse, while it makes a very sober increase otherwise. And what is the procuring cause of all this but sin? Psalm cvii. 34, ” He turneth a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein.” “We see how it is bound up, that the beasts of the field cannot get their food. And if the influences of the heavens were not restrained, it would not be so; the earth would not be iron, if the heavens were not brass. Under this vanity the whole creation groaneth.
2. The whole creation, by man’s sin, has come far short of its ultimate end, the honour and glory of God. God’s revenue of glory from the creature is mightily diminished by the sin of man. The whole creation was made to be a book, wherein men might read the name of God; a stringed instruments by which men were to praise him; a looking-glass, in which to behold his glory. But, alas ! sin has drawn a veil over our eyes. Men may say they are unlearned* and cannot read more than what may make them inexcusable: ” For the invisible things of God, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse,” Rom. i. 20. The book is as it were sealed. They have lost the art of praising; hence the instrument is hung by, being to little purpose in the possession of such persons. They care not for beholding his glory, therefore the looking-glass is overlooked, and very little use is made of it. Under this vanity they groan also.
3. The nature of the whole creation is in some sort altered. When God looked on his creatures, he saw that they were very good, Gen. i. 31. And that is a sad alteration that makes them groan. Sin has cast the whole creation into a feverish disorder. There is an evil which accompanies them now, that they long to be rid of. Man complains and groans under the evil of the creatures, and they complain and groan under him. The transgression of man is heavy on the earth, and the case of the earth bound up from his service is heavy upon him. Where is the creature that has no evil about it now? The sun sometimes scorches man, and burns up the fruits of the ground; at other times his absence makes the earth as iron, that he cannot stand before the cold. The air often sickens and kills him. The distempered winds often sink him in the sea, out of the earth, where he is to get his meat, sometimes he meets with poisonous herbs. What is the cause of all this? Impute it not to the creatures as they came from the creating hand of God, but to the fall of man, whom nothing could have hurt, had he stood in his integrity.
4. The creature has fallen into the hands of God’s enemies, and is forced to serve them. When man stood, all the creatures were at his beck, and were ready to come to him at his call. But when he left God, all the creatures would have left him, the sun would have shined no more on him, the air would have refused his breathing in it, the earth would not have fed nor carried him more, if God had not subjected them anew to him; Rom. viii. 20, ” For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope.” We see how far some of them have gone in renouncing their service to him, Job xxxix. 7, 8. And ver. 9, ” Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?” And they would all have left their service, as a faithful servant will leave his master, when he goes out in rebellion against his sovereign, but that they were forced to go along; and therefore they groan.
5. They are used by sinners to ends for which God never made them. They suffer violence, they are abused, and therefore they groan. God made them for his honour, men abuse them to his dishonour. Never did a beast speak but once, Balaam’s ass. Num. xxii. 28, 30, and that was a complaint on man for abusing it to an end for which God never made it. The dumb ass rebuked the madness of the prophet, that would have it to carry him in a way God forbade him to go, and where the angel stood to oppose him. And, could the creature speak to us, we would hear many complaints that way. God gave the creatures to be servants to man, but man has sold them for slaves to his lusts; and who would not groan to be so maltreated? There are two things which make hard service:
(1.) Labour in vain, continual toil, and yet no profit by it. The creatures have no intermission in their service: Eccl. i. 5, 8, ” All things are full of labour.” But O, where is the profit of it all? The sun riseth, and runs his race every day, and never resteth. But what is the issue? If it were to let men see to read God’s word, to behold and admire his works, to perform acts of piety, to accomplish substantial good, all the toil would never be grudged by the creatures. But, alas ! here is the case, for the most part men see to sin more by it, the worldling, the drunkard, &c. to pursue their lusts by it. The night waits on in its turn, and the thief, the adulterer, and the like, get their lusts fulfilled with it. The air waits about us continually, and the swearer gets sworn by it, the liar lied by it, and the like. The earth and sea wait on us with their produce; and people get their sensuality, their vanity, pride, and the like, nourished by it. “What wonder they groan, to be brought to this pass? Sun, moon, air, earth, and sea, are groaning for this as they can. If our very meat and drink could groan, they would groan in the dish, cup, throat, and belly of the drunkard, glutton, sensualist, yea, of every one with whom they are not employed to nourish the body for the Lord and his service, but for the world, &c.—There is,
(2.) Hard labour, and much loss by it. We have both these: Hab. ii. 13, ” Behold, is it not of the Lord of hosts, that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?” The creatures not only toil for vanity, but as it were in the fire, where they smart for their pains. The covetous oppressor’s money kept from the labourer, groans in the corner of your chest, and cries, ” Behold the hire of the labourers which have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth, and the cries of them that have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth,” James v. 4. ” Why do ye lock me up here, where a heavy curse lies upon me? why wilt thou not let me away to the labourer?” The oppressor builds his house by blood and oppression, and the very stones and timber cry out, ” Why have ye laid me here, where the curse of God will not let me rest?” Hab. ii. 11. If a master should force his servant into the king’s throne, and force the crown on his head, and the sceptre into his hand, how would he groan to think that he is abused, and that his life must go for it too. Ah ! is it any wonder that the beasts, the pastures of the wilderness, groan this day, who have so often been set in God’s throne, the heart; have had room with him, yea, more room than him, nay, many times the only room there? ! would they not cry, if they could speak, ” Why get we the first thoughts in the morning, and the last at night? Why set you that love, joy, delight, and trust in us, that you ought to place in God? let us out of this dangerous place, let us out of your hearts, that is a dangerous place to us,” Ezek. xxiv. 25, 26.—I only add…
6. And last reason of their groaning, that the creatures partake with man in his miseries.—Though they do not sin with him, yet they suffer with him. They that have life, live groaning with him. They are liable to sickness, pains, and sores, as well as he; for not a few of the troops of diseases billeted on man, were quartered also on them. Sinful man’s neighbourhood infected them; they die groaning with him. In the deluge they perished with him, except a few preserved in the ark, as living in the same element with him. The beasts in Sodom were destroyed with fire and brimstone, with the men. In the plagues of Egypt, the cattle smarted together with the owners, also their fields, vines, sycamores, &c. The inanimate creatures suffer with him also. He sins, and the very earth is laid in bonds for him; but groan as it will in that case, he cannot loose them: Job xxxviii. 31, “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?” Their iron bands he cannot break: Deut, xxviii. 23, ” And the heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron.” The very waters are straitly bound up on his account: Job xxxvii. 10 ” By the breath of God frost is given; and the breadth of the waters is straitened.” Nay, they are muffled up with a weight above them, like a stone under ground; for as swift as they rise to go, and as nimble as they run, they are catched and held fast, like a wild beast, in God’s trap. This is the true sense of Job, in the Hebrew, chap, xxxviii. 30, ” The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.” Nay, the very heavens are in bonds too, Deut, xxviii. 23. And they cry out in their bands, Hos. ii. 21, ” I will hear, saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth.”