Dear Brother Beebe: Will you please give us your views on 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,” particularly the him who hath subjected the same, &c. As there are various and conflicting opinions among brethren on the subject, I would be glad to see an exposition from you, if convenient, and oblige, your brother in gospel bonds,
JOHN R. MARTIN.
Franklin, Va. March 9, 1861.
Reply: The text on which Elder Martin desires an exposition, is one on which we have been greatly perplexed, and we confess our mind has been somewhat vacillating for years. We have read the views of able brethren, and they have seemed to us plausible and satisfactory for a time, but some difficulties have been suggested, which have, from time to time, confused our mind in regard to the creature intended by the apostle. We have felt, and still feel reluctant to attempt a solution of the subject. We have not sufficient confidence in our own understanding of the subject, to willingly oppose any views we have to the views which have been expressed by others. Still, as brother Martin desires our views, he will receive them only as our views; and from our personal acquaintance we feel sure he will only indorse them so far as he feels satisfied they are sustained by the Scriptures. The particular point on which brother Martin desires our views, seems far more clear to us than some others which are involved in the text. We are satisfied that he who has subjected our vanity in hope is Christ. But who is the creature? When and how was he made subject to vanity? And what vanity was he made subject to? And in what sense was it by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope? And what is the hope in which it is subjected? All these questions, to our limited mind, are involved in more or less obscurity; and we now approach them in much weakness and in fear and trembling, lest we should darken counsel by words without sufficient knowledge. The preceding chapters show that Paul was speaking to and of christians, as complicated beings, brought into manifestation by a first and second birth, a natural and spiritual birth, and possessing two elements distinct in origin, nature and propensity, and yet identified as one person or individual. These two are in the context called flesh and Spirit. The one is dead because of sin; the other is alive because of righteousness. With the one we serve the law of God, and aspire after holiness; with the other we serve the law of sin, and do the things which we would not. Both of these elements are creatures, that is, they are not self-existent. Whatever is created is a creature, whether it be spiritual or temporal, animate or inanimate, but which of these, the old man or the new man, the spiritual or natural creature, was made subject to vanity? That the new man is in conflict with the flesh, annoyed, perplexed, troubled and wearied by the corruptions of the carnal, depraved and wicked propensities of his fleshly nature, is apparent to all christians; but is it true that the new man is subject to them? The christian who is an identity, and who possesses both the flesh and the Spirit, is alternately subject to some extent to each of them. If he lives after the one he shall die; if after the other he shall live. The one christian possesses both, and is subjected to the one or the other; but the two elements are essentially different, and opposite as sin and holiness, as life and death.
Our present impression is that the creature in our text is the christian, as personally including the two elements of which in his present state he is composed. Whether we be correct in this position or not, it is certain that the christian as such is subject to vanity, and that he is not so, willingly, or with his consent and acquiescence, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. There are creatures of God who are not subject to vanity. The holy angels, for instance, who surround the throne of God. And had it been the divine pleasure, we cannot doubt the power of God to have placed all his children as remotely from vanity, as the angels in glory. But God has chosen us in a furnace of affliction. It is his all-wise and righteous purpose, that in this world his people shall have tribulation; for their tribulations are necessary to work patience, and experience and hope that maketh not ashamed. By vanity, the things of this world are intended. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, saith the preacher; but of them, more especially the trials, tribulations, persecutions, suffering and the mortality of our bodies, from the connection, seems intended. This world, to the christian, is like Bunyan’s Vanity Fair, on a large scale. The young child of grace, in his early joys, feels like cutting loose, flying away to the arms and bosom of the Redeemer; he would not remain in the flesh,or live always, but aspires to better joys on high. But the trial of his faith requires that he shall wait all the days of his appointed time, till his change shall come. Describing this vanity, in the context, Paul shows its universal effect on the whole creation, which groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. 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. The vanity in which the saints participate, makes the whole creation to groan and travail in pain. And we who have received, in the new and spiritual birth, the spirit of adoption, as the first fruits of the Spirit in us, which is to be followed by the fulfillment of the promise in the eleventh verse of this chapter, even we, with this spirit in us whereby we are sealed as children of God, joint-heirs with Christ, with the certain pledge that even these vile bodies shall hereafter be changed and fashioned and made like the glorious body of Christ, even we do groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit: the redemption of our body. And this adoption of which we have now the sealing witness, namely, the spirit of it, will be the deliverance of the creature from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. And Paul, who was a good reckoner, reckons that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us; for the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God; for the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. But how is all this subjected in hope, and by whom? Christ took part of the same flesh which his children are partakers of, that through death he might destroy death, and deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage. He was made under the law to redeem them that are under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the spirit into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Now read the sixteenth and seventeenth verses of this eighth chapter. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ: if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. Unto the saints it is given, on the behalf of Christ, not only that they should believe on him, but also that they should suffer for his sake. Whom he (God) did foreknow, them he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren. How could we be thus conformed if we do not suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together? If he was a sufferer while here in the flesh, and we are predestinated to be conformed to his image in suffering with him here, and being glorified together hereafter, then do we not clearly see that our subjection to vanity (suffering) is by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope? Well might Paul with this view of the subject, according to his mode of reckoning, say to the Philippians, iii. 8-11, Yea, doubtless, I count all things but loss (vanity) for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith; that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made comformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. No afflictions for the present seemeth joyous, but grievous, still, regarding them as the certain and infallible evidences that we shall be glorified together with our divine Lord, do we not desire, with Paul, to know the fellowship of his sufferings? All these sufferings, vanities and all things are subjected in hope by our glorious Redeemer, for whose sake we count all things but vanity. In themselves, these vanities are trying, distressing, appalling, and some of them exceedingly terrifying to christians; but when we are taught by the Spirit to reckon them all up, as Paul did, with him we say they are light and momentary; but they work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we look not on the things which are seen, (vanities) but on the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. All things, then, which christians encounter here, are brought in subjection to Christ, and by him ruled for the good of his people, “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” This is a perfect subjection of them all, in hope to the christian. In view of the subjection of all things, by and under Christ, in which nothing is excepted but him who hath put all things under him, even the last enemy which shall be destroyed is death. What immortal hope looms up before the suffering saints, a hope both sure and steadfast, entering within the veil, hope full of immortality; hope that maketh not ashamed.
“A hope so much divine,
May trials well endure.”
A hope which defies the chilling damps of death, and the dreary chambers of the tomb. In defiance of the raging powers of hell, we may challenge the powers of unbelief to say, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulations, or distress, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed, (or subject to vanity) all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things (vanities) we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us: For 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.
This is truly a great and blessed hope to those who have the first fruits of the Spirit; though still they may groan within themselves, waiting for the adoption; for being sealed with the spirit of adoption, the redemption, or deliverance of their mortal body is perfectly secure. “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead, dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”
The hope in which this is subjected, is the hope of the resurrection of the dead, for which Paul was a prisoner, the hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began; the hope that all our conflicts will soon be over, that these mortals shall put on immortality, that death shall be swallowed up of victory, and we shall swell the exalted notes, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Even now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept, and in his resurrection he hath brought life and immortality to light. Those sealed bodies of all his saints in his perfect image, shall as certainly be presented before the glory of the Father, as it is certain that they have received the sealing of the spirit of adoption, and that Christ has arisen from the dead. Then let the inspired writer pronounce on all the things of earth, vanity of vanities. We shall be subject to them but little longer, and for that little moment they shall work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
April 1, 1861.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 475 - 481