"For the creation was
subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him
who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be
delivered from the
bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the
children of God" (Romans 8:20,21).
creation was subjected to vanity... in hope...' It is impressive
that, although the writer of this letter set out, in the first
instance, to reveal a state of utter hopelessness, which he very
thoroughly does in the first chapters, the letter itself is
strewn with this word hope. Beginning
with Abraham, it says: 'Who... against hope, hopefully believed'
(4:18); again, 'we rejoice in hope of the glory of God' (5:2);
'patience worketh experience, and experience hope; and hope
maketh not ashamed' (5:4,5) 'the creation was subjected... in
hope...' (8:20); 'rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation;
continuing instant in prayer' (12:12); 'that through patience...
we might have hope...' (15:4); 'Now, the God of hope fill you...
that ye may abound in hope...' (15:13). The letter abounds with
this word hope, although it set out to show how hopeless
everything really was.
here is this statement: 'The creation was subjected to vanity'.
If you like to change the word there, you would be quite right in
changing it to 'hopelessness' - 'the creation was subjected to
hopelessness'. A later version puts the word 'futility' there,
which I think is a very good translation: 'the creation was
subjected to futility... in hope...'; 'to hopelessness... in
hope'; 'to vanity... in hope'. A deliberate act of God is this.
We will gather it all up in this way: The Law of Vanity, or
Futility; the Law of Hope; the Way and the End of Hope.
The Law of Futility
did God deliberately act - for it says '...by reason of Him
who subjected it...' - why did God deliberately act
to bring the whole creation under this law and reign of futility?
I am not staying to enlarge upon the fact of futility or vanity;
we may say something about it as we go on. But it is the fact
that it is an established law; it is something in the very
constitution of things, this something called 'vanity' or
'futility'. Why did God establish that law?
(a) God's Purpose for Himself
His act related to three things. Firstly, it related to God's
purpose for Himself: for He created all things for Himself, and,
in creating all things, He had a personal object in view. All
things were to derive their value and benefit from His having
what His heart was set upon - it is always like that. God, then,
had in view something for Himself, and that something was to have
a place for Himself in honour, in pleasure, and in complete
satisfaction. The Bible gathers itself entirely around that one,
primary, supreme thought - God having a place for Himself in His
creation, amongst men: a place where He can come; where He can
walk; where He can talk; where He can be received with pleasure,
and acknowledged with the heart; where, without grief, without
restraint, without reserve, He can just be free to dwell with
men. He made all things for that. And when He had made all
things, and pronounced them very good, God walked in the garden,
in the cool of the day, and we are led to believe that He came to
converse, to have fellowship, to enjoy Himself, to find His
pleasure there. 'The Lord God planted a garden...', and did not
leave it, but came to it, to the man in it, for fellowship. That
runs through the whole Bible.
you see what happened. God's place was given to another - a rival
and a rebel. Man gave God's place to another, and God withdrew.
And because that thought of God, that purpose of God, that He
should have a place for Himself, as the all-governing thing in
this whole creation and universe, was set aside, God said: The
very object of the creation has been removed, has been ruled out,
has been violated; the whole creation must be subjected to
futility. It is the natural, the logical outworking: when purpose
ceases, that is futility; when governing purpose is set aside,
what is it but vanity? God moves in purpose, firstly for Himself,
to have a place. When He no longer finds His pleasure and His
satisfaction, a state of vanity and futility enters in; nothing
goes right, nothing realises its destiny and its calling.
(b) God's Purpose for Man
God created man, He had a great purpose for him. That purpose was
not realised when the man first came from the hand of God: that
was only setting him on a course, in the way of Divine purpose.
If you ask what that was - and still is - it can be summarised
from what we have now in the Bible, and particularly in the New
Testament, like this. God intended that the man should graduate
from the stage and the state in which he was made, into something
else, into something more. God made him what the New Testament
calls 'the natural man'. Paul says: '...first that which is
natural' (1 Cor. 15:46), and there is nothing wrong about that.
The word, as you know, in the original, is 'soulish', 'soulical',
'of the soul' - he was made like that.
God's intention for that man was that he should become a
'spiritual' man. The New Testament draws that great distinction
between the 'natural' and the 'spiritual'. The 'natural' is that
in which we are born; the 'spiritual' is that into which we are
born again. And God intended that there should be this graduation
from the 'natural' to the 'spiritual', that the man should become
a 'spiritual' being (with all that we understand from the New
Testament that that means): beginning in his own spirit, growing
up into spiritual maturity, and consummated with a spiritual
body, 'like unto the body of His glory' (Phil. 3:21). 'Not that
which is spiritual is first', says Paul, 'but that which is
natural, then that which is spiritual'. That is the order. But
man cut short his own intended way, and he remained just a 'soul'
man, a 'natural' man - that is how we find him, and ourselves -
and did not go on to full growth, to become a spiritual being.
And so God says: 'Man has defeated the very purpose for which I
have created him. He has turned aside' (there are many ways in
which the Bible speaks of this arrest); 'he is less than I
intended him to be.' God said therefore: 'Therefore, futility!'
away from the story, is it not true in experience, right up to
date, that if you and I, as the Lord's people, live on the
natural basis, there is frustration and futility? It is only as
we emerge (if I may put it that way), and become more and more
spiritual, that the seal of God is upon us, that the pleasure of
God is found in us. He is saying, It is very good; I can
accompany that; I can associate Myself with that; I can go on
with that. Spiritual men, spiritual women, are those to whom the
Lord can commit Himself, with whom He can speak, commune, and
have fellowship. The purpose of God lies there, and
if it is in any way arrested, or
diverted, or violated, it is futility. It is the tragic story of
much in Christianity, in what is called the Church, and in
Christian lives - futility, vanity, confusion, not arriving, held
up, waiting for something. And there is a good deal of groaning
in this creation, for something that is not, that we know ought
(c) God's Purpose in Creation
the next place, this law of futility related to God's purpose in
the creation. He created it for Himself, as His own dwelling; He
created man, to be a man after His own heart - a spiritual man;
for 'God is Spirit, and they that worship must worship in
spirit.' God created the creation with an object in view. What
was it? It was for the fulness of His Son, in whom, through whom,
and unto whom He created all things. And we are told, through the
apostle, that the end, the goal, in view is that He should
'gather together all things in one' in Christ, and that He 'whom
He appointed heir of all things' should fill all things - Christ,
the heir of the creation, in which He was to find His fulness,
and express His fulness. Well, the rival knew something about
that, apparently, and stole the place of God's Son, and tried to
steal God's Son's inheritance. He has become the 'Prince of this
world', the 'god of this age', taking what belongs to the Lord
Jesus. There is much about this in the New Testament. But God has
not let go His intention. He holds to it, and the time will come
when 'the kingdoms of this world shall become the Kingdom of our
God and of His Christ', and He shall fill all things. But, until
then, everything is in chaos, in confusion, in futility, in
vanity; and it is only as Christ comes into His place that the
law of vanity is removed, and there is release and liberty - the
liberty of sons.
The Law of Hope
the law of Vanity, of Futility, is in the very constitution of
things, it is equally true that there is in the constitution of
things the Law of Hope. 'The whole creation groaneth and
travaileth' - in despair? No, waiting; waiting! And the word
there is a strong word; it is a picture
word of someone stretched out eagerly in anticipation, for 'the
creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of
corruption.' 'The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain
until now', waiting, stretched out, eagerly anticipating. The
creation has a consciousness - it may be a dull consciousness -
but it has a consciousness, in every part, that something is
wrong; this is not what it exists for; there is something better
than this! God is blamed, of course, by many. Nevertheless, there
is this sense that things ought to be different. And it looks for
that difference; it waits for that difference.
law of hope is in the constitution, everywhere. No one is
naturally ready to surrender to the situation. Whenever a person
gets to the point where they surrender to the situation
absolutely, they take their own lives; it is an end of all things;
they cut themselves off. But, normally, no one is prepared to
accept this state of things; they will strive against it, work
against it, groan against it. There is something of hope in the
very nature of things.
what this passage says is that this law of hope, by the ordaining
of God, governs the very judgments of God. He subjected it in
hope. It was a judgment, a pronouncement; it was a
terrible thing that the whole creation should come into this
state of futility: 'thorns and briars shall it bring forth'
everything to make life hard and difficult. Yet it says, He did
it in hope. All the judgments of God
upon the creation were in hope, and are in hope. If the Lord has
to pronounce futility upon something - that is, to say, Now, we
are not going on; I am not going on with you; bringing in
confusion and arrest and frustration - is it because He is making
a full end? No, there is something there which is out of line
with the purpose for which He brought that into being. It is not
in a straight line with that. Therefore we must be brought to
realise that there has to be a fundamental adjustment to God's
intention. And therein lies the hope. God has done it in order,
not to destroy and finalise, but to secure the thing which He
ever had in mind. God is working on positive lines always, with
hope. 'Subjected... in hope!'
supreme example and demonstration of this, of course, is the
Cross of the Lord Jesus. It includes the whole thing. Yes, see
Him, and hear Him. It is a picture and a cry of utter
hopelessness: 'My God... Thou hast forsaken Me. Why?' There is no
hope, because He gathered up this whole hopelessness in the
creation into His own Person; took it to the Cross, received
God's full and final judgment: No way through for that creation;
no way through for that kind of man. The door is closed. But -
'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who
according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a
living hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead'
(1 Pet. 1:3). Yes, it is a picture of despair, and a cry of
despair, but it is in hope, in hope.
Lord Jesus, before He went to the Cross, knew what it was going
to mean - that is the meaning of the broken heart; that is the
meaning of the terrible cry, and the sweat like drops of blood -
He knew what He had got to face of forsakenness on the part of
the Father; He knew. But while He was moving toward that, and
fighting His way into and through that, He was always speaking
about the beyond. 'I will come again'; 'the third day He shall
rise again'. Terrible despair, but in hope; terrible
judgment, but in hope! The resurrection
of the Lord Jesus is the great proof that the very worst judgment
that God can bring to man, in this life, is intended to be with
hope, and not to annihilate him and destroy him.
The Way and the End of Hope
close this brief survey with a reminder of the Way and the End of
Hope. You see the immediate context of our verses: "I reckon
that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be
compared with the glory that shall be revealed to us-ward"
(Rom. 8:18). Suffering - what is it for? It is just to dispose of
this false thing that has come in. Suffering is to dispose of a
false state, a false condition, a false position, that has come
in. Everything is false, you see; it is not what God intended. It
was a lie, an untruth, a falsehood, that brought about all the
vanity and the judgment. It is a false world, a false creation
now. The suffering that the Lord brings into our lives has this
one object - to dispose of that which is false in us, and to make
way for that which is true in Christ, who is the Truth. We are
not the truth, and this creation is not the truth, but Christ is
the Truth, and the false has to be disposed of, removed, and it
is only done by suffering.
selfhood is the root and spring of all the trouble, is it not? By
the suffering or the discipline under the Lord's hand, the
selfhood is set aside, and the way is made for Christ. Through
suffering, the virtues of the Lord Jesus are inculcated in the
believer and in the Church. It is the only way. We only learn
patience through demand for it - and what demand! We only learn
faith by having to have faith. And all the virtues of the Lord
Jesus - meekness, and all the others - are only inculcated in us
through suffering. The sufferings of this present time - what is
the goal? Well, the original purpose is still the goal. It is a
humanity conformed to the image of God's Son, a world cleansed
and purged by fire from all this falsehood, and ground of vanity
and futility, and then peopled and filled with those who are an
expression of the Son of God - conformed to His image.
Lord has to pronounce vanity upon all else, or there would be no
going for His object at all. And as we go on with the Lord, the
one thing that we become more and more aware of is that there is
nothing else but the Lord. We are losing all hope in
every other direction, all expectation; it must be the Lord, just
the Lord! And our hearts, through disillusionment, through
disappointment in many directions, through much that we shall
just have to call 'vanity', futility - our hearts are being drawn
to the Lord as our only object, our only goal, our only hope. So
it becomes true: "He is thy life, and the length of thy
days" (Deut. 30:20). Towards that the law of vanity works,
and therefore it is 'in hope'.
First published in "A Witness and A
Testimony" magazine, May-June 1961, Vol 39-3