II. Such is the magnitude of the glory to be revealed in us at the resurrection, that its influence extends to the whole creation. This I take to be generally expressed in the 19th verse: “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” That which follows, in verses 20–22, explains and accounts for it, by showing how the creatures were brought into a state of bondage by the sin of man, and how they shall be liberated from it when he is liberated: “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”
The “creature”—the “whole creation”—and “every creature,” are the same thing, and denote, I apprehend, not man, but every creature around him which has been brought under the influence of his revolt. As when Achan sinned, all that pertained to him suffered; so when our first parents sinned, the whole creation, in so far as it was connected with man, partook of the effects. This appears to be meant by the creatures being “made subject to vanity,” and coming under “the bondage of corruption.”
The creation was brought into this state of bondage, “not willingly,” as was the case with man, but by the sovereign will of the Creator. He could have stopped the machinery of the material world, and at once have put an end to the rebellion; but he thought fit to order the laws of nature to keep their course; and as to the abuse that man would make of them, he should be called to account for that another day.
The bondage of the creatures, however, was not to be perpetual: he who subjected them to it subjected them “in hope, because the creature itself also,” as well as the sons of God, shall be delivered from its thraldom, and, as it were, participate with them in their glorious liberty. The redemption of our bodies will be the signal of its emancipation from under the effects of sin, and the birth-day, as it were, of a new creation. As by man’s apostacy every thing connected with him became, in some way, subservient to evil; so, by the deliverance of the sons of God at the resurrection, they shall be delivered from this servitude, and the whole creation, according to the natural order of things, shall serve and praise the Lord.
But we must inquire more particularly into this “bondage” of the creatures, and into their deliverance from it.
It is true that the ground was literally cursed for man’s sake, so as spontaneously to bring forth briers and thorns, rather than fruits; the animals also have literally been subjected to great misery and cruelty: but it is not of a literal bondage, I conceive, that the apostle speaks; nor of a literal deliverence, as some have imagined, by the resurrection of animals; nor of a literal groaning after it. The whole appears to be what rhetoricians call a prosopopœia, or a figure of speech in which sentiments and language are given to things as though they were persons. Thus, on the invasion of Sennacherib, the earth is said to mourn and Lebanon to be ashamed; and thus, at the coming of the Messiah, the heavens are called upon to rejoice, and the earth to be glad, the sea to roar, the floods to clap their hands, and the trees of the wood to rejoice.
When God created the heavens and the earth, every thing was made according to its nature and capacity to show forth his glory. Thus “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handy work. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.” Thus also heaven and earth are called upon to praise their Maker: “Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heaven of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens.—Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons and all deeps: fire and hail; snow and vapour: stormy wind fulfilling his word; mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars; beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl.” Such was the natural order of things established by the Creator: every thing, consciously or unconsciously, furnished its tribute of praise to Him who is over all blessed for ever.
But, by the entrance of sin into the world, the creatures became subservient to it; as, when a rebellion breaks out in an empire, the resources of the country being seized by the rebels are turned to the support of their cause, and against their rightful owner; so every thing which God had created for the accommodation of man, or in any way rendered subservient to his comfort, was turned aside from its original design, and perverted to the purposes of corruption. The Lord complains of the corn, and wine, and oil, and flax, and wool, which he had given to Israel, being prostituted to Baal; and threatens to recover them. Who can count the sacrifices and offerings which have been made of God’s creatures to Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Bacchus, and other abominations of the West; or to Bramah, Vishnu, Seeb, Dhoorga, Juggernaut, and other abominations of the East? And though gross idolatry has in many nations been dispelled by the light of the gospel, yet still the bounties of Providence furnished for the accommodation of man are made to serve his lusts. The sun cannot emit his illuminating and fructifying beams but to furnish food for the corrupt propensities of man. The clouds cannot pour down their showers, but the effects of them are made subservient to sin. Rich soils and fruitful seasons become the hotbeds of vice, on which, as in Sodom, men become ripe for destruction at an earlier period than ordinary.
The creatures have not only been subjected to the vanity of serving the idols and lusts of men, but have themselves been turned into gods, and worshipped to the exclusion of the Creator, who is blessed for ever! There is scarcely a creature in heaven or on earth but what has been thus drawn into the service of corruption. Not only the sun, and moon, and stars; but gold, and silver, and brass, and wood, and stone, and birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things! And though the light of the gospel has driven this species of stupidity out of Europe, (which the science of Greece and Rome did not so much as diminish,) yet it is in no want of advocates among her degenerate sons. And they that would be ashamed to plead the cause of gross idolatry, yet in a manner idolize the works of God, by opposing them to his word. The sweet singer of Israel, after celebrating the former, held up the latter as greatly exceeding them. With him the light of nature and that of revelation were in harmony; but unbelievers place them at variance. Nature with them occupies the place of God, and the light imparted by it is admired at the expense of his word. They have no objection to acknowledge a Supreme Being as the author of the machinery of nature, provided he would give up his moral government over them; but the Scriptures are full of hard sayings which they cannot hear! The works of God are silent preachers: in their mouth there is no reproof but what a hard heart can misconstrue into the approbation of the Creator, understanding his bounties as rewards conferred on his virtuous creatures: this, therefore, is the only preaching which many will hear.
In these and a thousand other ways the creatures of God have been subjected to vanity. Had they been possessed of intelligence, they would from the first have risen up against us, rather than have submitted to such bondage. Yes; rather than have been thus forced into the service of sin by the rebel man, they would have conspired together to destroy him from the face of the earth. The sun would have scorched him; the moon with her sickly rays would have smitten him; the stars in their courses would have fought against him; air, earth, fire, water, birds, beasts, and even the stones, would have conspired to rid creation of the being, who, by rebelling against the Creator, had filled it with disorder and misery. And though the creatures are not possessed of intelligence, yet, from a kind of instinctive tendency to vindicate the cause of God and righteousness, they are naturally at war with rebellious man. Were it not so, there would be no need of a covenant to be made on our behalf with the beasts of the field, the fowls of heaven, the creeping things of the ground, and even with the stones.
God in his infinite wisdom saw fit to subject the creatures to this vanity for a season, contrary as it was to their nature; but it is only for a season, and therefore is said to be in hope; in the end they that have abused them will, except they repent, be punished, and they themselves be liberated from their hateful yoke. Thus for a season he subjected the seed of Abraham his own servants to serve the Egyptians; but “that nation,” says he, “whom they shall serve will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance.”
The time fixed for the deliverance of the creatures from the bondage of corruption is that of “the manifestation of the sons of God.” Hence they are in a manner identified with them: “The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God;” looking for it as for their own deliverence. The redemption of our bodies from the grave will be the destruction of the last enemy, or, in respect of believers, the termination of the effects of sin; and as the thraldom of the creatures commenced with the commencement of sin, it is fit that it should terminate with its termination. Thus our resurrection will be the signal of emancipation to the creatures, and their emancipation will magnify the glory that shall be revealed in us. Heaven, earth, and seas, and all that in them is, will no longer be worshipped in the place of God, nor compelled to minister to his enemies; but in that renovated state, “wherein dwelleth righteousness,” shall exist but to praise and glorify their Creator.
Excerpt from: “The Magnitude of the Heavenly Inheritance,” Sermon XXVI, in Sermons and Sketches.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 335–337). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.