"Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God. Selah" (Ps. 87:3).
"But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect." (Heb. 12:22,23).
"Unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever." (Eph. 3:21)
"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward. For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. 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. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." (Rom. 8:18-22).
"There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body... Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" (1 Cor. 15:40-44; 50-55).
"When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory." (Col. 3:4).
"That he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Eph. 5:27).
We have been engaged with glory in the church and in Christ Jesus. In chapter five it was God’s initiations in glory. Chapter six was glory in hidden operation. Now it is glory in final manifestation. The passages which we have read all have to do with that. It is a little difficult to know what passages to use and what to leave out. There are many others that will have occurred to you in this connection.
The Creation Subjected to Vanity
Now we have first of all to get down to this statement of the apostle in Romans 8. He makes this statement that God, in a sovereign act, at some point subjected the creation to vanity. “The creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will” (v. 20). God was working contrary to and against what the creation wanted and desired, “not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope...”. But the statement is that God sovereignly acted to subject the creation to vanity. The word ‘vanity’ as we in modern English usage employ it, hardly conveys the meaning of the original word, which would be more properly expressed in the word ‘disappointment’, and there is always an atmosphere around a word like that in the original - not just the disappointment, but it is the misery which accompanies the disappointment. So it is disappointing misery that is really the force of this word. God deliberately subjected the creation to disappointing misery. It had a purpose in its existence. It ceased to answer to that purpose, that appointment, which was to express God’s nature, for it is in the expression of His nature that the glory of God, is found. When God has what is just according to the very essence of His being, what His very nature and being must have, when He has that fully satisfied, that is glory. And the creation ceased to move in accordance with its appointment to express the nature of God for His satisfaction and thus exist for His glory. So God imposed this embargo upon it, and put disappointment in the place of appointment as an active operative force right into the very creation, a force of disappointment, appointment not only missed but impossible of realization in its existing state.
Little argument is needed to prove that disappointment rests upon this whole creation. The further the creation goes, the larger the disappointment, the more acute, the more terrible and the greater the misery. Is that true? I think we have enough evidence of that. But the first thing, then, is this sovereign act of God to bring the creation into that place of disappointment and consequent misery.
A Work Going On in the Groaning Creation
Then the second thing that the apostle says here is that there is a work going on even in the groaning creation. First of all, the creation itself “groans and travails”. Then there is something to be brought forth, there is something going on, something causing all the trouble, which is accountable for this state of things. I do not think that we have fastened sufficiently upon this, that the state of things in the creation, in the world, which is so full of anguish, disappointment and misery indicates that there is something coming. Those very groanings and travailings are prophecies that something is coming. “The whole creation groans and travails.”
“We Ourselves Groan”
And then the apostle says with that “ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves.” “The first-fruits of the Spirit”; this is another kind of groaning, this is the groaning inside the inside of creation. The creation is not groaning in the same sense as we are groaning. The creation is not groaning unto that for which we are groaning. It has not the first-fruits of the Spirit. We have. What are these first-fruits of the Spirit? Well, the very chapter from which these words are taken indicates what the first-fruits of the Spirit are.
The First-fruits of the Spirit
“...The Spirit of God dwells in you. But if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (v. 9). Well, we have the first-fruits of the Spirit; firstly, the Spirit dwells with us. Then “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (v. 14). First-fruits of the Spirit - those in whom the Spirit dwells are being led by the Spirit. Then “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him” (vv. 16,17). The Spirit bears witness that we are children of God. First-fruits of the Spirit - indwelling, leading, bearing witness. We, who have those first-fruits find ourselves by those very things, by the very indwelling of the Spirit, the leading of the Spirit, the witness of the Spirit that we are children of God; by those very things we find ourselves groaning. What for? We have the first-fruits of the Spirit. They are not all the fruits of the Spirit. They are only a kind of indication of something more, something fuller, something larger, and, by the operation of the Spirit in us, a divine discontent with our spiritual state is produced; or, to put it the other way, a divine longing and craving for something more is created. First-fruits point to the full harvest and indicate that there is much more to be. What is it? Well, the first-fruits point to the end of the Spirit’s work - “that we may be... glorified with Him”.
Now the apostle turns over to the creation itself, and says that the whole creation is in a state of dependence on what is going on by the operation of the Spirit in us. “The creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (v.19). The creation groans and travails, waiting for the revealing of the sons of God, waiting until the Spirit has done His work and brought forth something glorious in terms of sonship to the satisfaction of God.
The Creation to be Delivered from Bondage
And when God has got that out of the creation, the apostle then follows on and says, “the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God”, the glory and the liberty, the release, of the sons of God. Bondage in the creation, bondage in us all, pointing towards a glorious manifestation, a manifestation in glory, and then, when the creation’s appointment shall be realized, the whole creation shall be delivered, God will have got His end. “The earnest expectation of the creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” A very strong word is used there: “Earnest expectation” - it is a picture of someone poised, outstretched, looking forward, looking on, scanning the horizon as though everything depended upon what will appear there. The eyes, attention, the whole being focused upon that horizon, looking for that appearing, that something that is coming, and the apostle uses that very word picture and says that the creation is like that - earnest expectation, poised, stretched out, focused, looking for the manifestation of the sons of God, because its very release and liberation depends upon that manifestation.
The Manifestation of Glory
Thus we are led to the manifestation itself, the manifestation of glory ultimately and finally. But pause a moment with the word ‘manifestation’. It is not the creation of the glory, it is the manifestation. That is, something is already going on, something exists already, something is already at work. That takes us back to the previous chapter - the mighty work of grace, glory in terms of grace. “Unto the glory of His grace”. A work is going on by the Spirit inside of us, changing us, transforming us, making us to partake of Christ’s likeness, His divine nature, and to express it under trial, affliction, adversity, suffering - yes, all that grace in terms of glory and glory in terms of grace, that is going on. The glory exists in a hidden way. Every victory of the grace of God in us is to His glory, His glory in essence going on in us. And then what is hidden, has been going on secretly, all that formation of the Spirit, all that transformation of the Spirit, all that deep work of the Spirit, all that constituted after Christ by the Spirit comes to full manifestation, the manifestation in glory.
When the Manifestation will be
When will that be? Well, if it is glory in the church, if it is the elect, foreknown, chosen in Christ, foreordained, if it is those sons whom He chose in Christ before the world was, the manifestation of the glory must await and synchronize with the completing of the number of the elect, the bringing in of the last member of that church. It is in relation to that that the coming of Christ is said to stand. There is such a thing as cooperating with the manifestation. There is such a thing as hastening unto that day. While, of course, that is a matter of our own spiritual progress, it is also very definitely a matter of our cooperation with the Holy Spirit to get the number of the elect made up. God only knows who they are, we do not; hence the need for being led of the Spirit, as Philip was led to the desert to find one man, a very strategic man. You might decide to go somewhere and have a whole crowd, and because it is out of time or for some other reason, you might not get one of the elect in your efforts. If the Holy Spirit really leads you, you may always be sure that He is after the elect. He knows where the elect are. But, details for the moment aside, the point is, herein lies the call and the urgency for being about this business of the Spirit, with Him finding the elect, and making up its number, for the glory waits for that, the manifestation of the sons.
I think there is very much more in that phrase, “the manifestation of the sons”, than I have indicated. I am trying to be very simple. The sons were all known and chosen before the world was, but He never told us who they are, He never told anybody who they are. He only knows. It is God’s secret, He knows who comprise His church. Those who comprise His church are not the only ones who are going to be saved eventually, but He alone knows who they are. But when the manifestation comes, it will be a disclosure of what He has known all along. From all eternity He has known His secret, His elect, His chosen, and they will be manifested. Of course, that involves many difficult matters.
To keep to our simple point that, in the first place, the manifestation of the sons awaits the securing of the sons. There should be a sense of serious responsibility that, so far as we are concerned, we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in getting in the last member of the elect. We should be reaching out if perhaps one chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world might be within the compass of the Holy Spirit’s operations through us. There should be laid upon our hearts a new impetus for reaching out to the unsaved, to those who are not yet gathered in, not just to have people saved from hell, but for the satisfaction of God and bringing about the release of the creation by the manifestation of those sons.
In the next place, the manifestation of the sons will be when the work of grace is completed in us. I like to think of the church as a whole in this connection. I do not know what you are going to say to my doctrine now. I am going to get myself into trouble, I think. However, I will risk it. I cannot take all the suffering that there is and all the adversity and all the trial, therefore I cannot swallow up all the grace of God. But you may suffer with me, we may share it, and you may add something to me by your suffering, and I may add something to you, and we may all be adding something to one another by our mutual sufferings. Oh brother, you are suffering, but you are not suffering alone. You are suffering for my good, I am suffering for your good, and you are going to share in my sufferings and I in yours to make up the sum of the perfecting, not only of individuals but of individuals as parts of a whole. It is the church that is going to be perfected. I need your sufferings to help mine. I need your grace in suffering to go with mine, and you need mine. It is the church that has to come to perfection, and no one member can have all the glory, therefore no one member can have all the suffering. It is a mutuality, a partnership in suffering, a togetherness, so that it shall be a togetherness in glory. We shall be together glorified. It is the perfecting of grace in the church. Oh, what a lot I would have to go through if all the grace of God was going to be perfect in me as an individual. I could not stand up to it. It is far too big a requirement to say that God’s grace is going to be exhausted in me. Oh, how great His grace is! It would cost too much for me to know it all. We are altogether in this, we are dividing this between us, the perfecting of grace in the Body, in a company that satisfies God.
May that not be the explanation of the intensifying tribulations at the end? Why should tribulations intensify and increase at the end? Why should those terrible things be found in the book of the Revelation about the enemy overcoming the saints for a time? But that is not the end. Yes, the end sees much tribulation, increasing tribulation, but increasing grace, increasing triumph, increasing glory. And so the glory will be manifested when there is a sufficient number of the elect, if I may put it that way, knowing the grace of God to the most perfect measure possible.
The Glory of His Appearing
Then, of course, the event. I do not believe that the Lord’s coming is just some isolated and unrelated incident, something just as an event in a divine programme. It is bound up with the very things that we have been saying. The Lord’s coming does depend upon the elect being completed. It does depend upon a work of grace having been done which makes it possible for glory to be manifested because it is a ground that can be glorified. Glory is not going to be willy-nilly. It makes its demands. But then the Lord’s coming is a coming. It is the coming of the Lord, and we find so much about the glory connected with His appearing.
And you notice the coming of the Lord has two aspects. The first is His appearing. It is an appearing in glory. He Himself raised the question: What if ye shall see the Son of Man coming in the glory of His Father with His angels? Glory in His appearing.
Glory in Rapture
But the other side here is glory in rapture. His appearing is one side; our being raptured at His appearing is the other side. “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51), whether we are here or raised. That is rapture at His appearing, and then within the appearing are all those other blessed consummations. It is a consummation of the consummations. That wonderful passage we read from 1 Corinthians 15 - the glories in resurrection. “One glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars... so also is the resurrection of the dead.” This resurrection is glory, and the apostle there focuses it, upon the body, of course, and I for one do not mind that. But “glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God”, and one of the glories is a very welcome glory, this corruption putting on incorruption, this mortal putting on immortality; this natural body going, this soulical body going and that spiritual body coming. I like the apostle’s phrase about that in another place: “We have a building from God, a house not made with hands” (2 Cor. 5:1). You cannot make a spiritual thing with hands, and you cannot therefore tear a spiritual thing to pieces with hands. It is “eternal, in the heavens”, “not made with hands”. It is one of the glories of His appearing and of our being changed, that all that we know now in the body of affliction and suffering and weakness and limitation, all that comes to us by way of this broken-down humanity, will pass out at His appearing, and that body of glory will come, which will have none of this. “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). We have often quoted those words, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57) as though that applies to our spiritual life here and now. Well, all right, use it as you like, but in the actual usage, it does not apply to our spiritual life. It applies to our bodies. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory” over death in our bodies at His appearing. Victory over death. Oh, death works in these mortal frames. What it brings upon us of suffering and limitation! How we groan to overcome all these workings of death. The apostle says, “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” We are raised now incorruptible! Thanks be unto God Who gives us the victory! It is bodily victory that is referred to.
We could dwell upon these things much longer but we will not. We simply bring into view that “glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God”, and these are some of the glories. The end is glory. God is going to conform everything to His beginnings. He began in glory. The day we came to know the Lord, glory broke out within us. The glory has passed into secret, hidden working in terms of grace through the years of our Christian life. It is going to break out again, not as in its original limitation, but in its final fulness, all the work of grace completed and glory fully manifested at last.
Let us finish with one inclusive thought: we are called unto glory. What is your trouble just now? What is the matter with us? We think it is going to be anything but glory. What miserable things we are, how frequently we show weaknesses and failures and all that! We are called unto glory and we will never come unto glory because we have virtues and values of our own. It will be through His grace, and I believe that - if I may put it this way - the people who will have the greatest measure of glory in the end will be those who needed the greatest measure of grace, and knew it. There is hope for us then, if that is true. Let us hold on to that and believe it. The end is glory. God has fixed it to be so.