“And not only they, (the creatures,) but ourselves also,—even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”
By “we ourselves” I understand the apostle to mean, not believers in general, but those believers in his own times, who, with himself, possessed so large a measure of grace and peace as habitually to rejoice in the Lord. If we read the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, we shall perceive a mighty tide of joy in the minds of these Christians: “And they continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people.” They did not merely rejoice notwithstanding the persecutions which they met with, but in them: “They departed from the presence of the council (where they had been beaten) rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” These good men seem to have found heaven upon earth. They had “the first-fruits of the Spirit,” or those rich communications of the Holy Spirit which, as the first-fruits under the law were the best of the kind, showed what might be expected under the gospel dispensation. The Holy Spirit was imparted to them, not only in a greater degree than usual, but under the peculiar character of the “Spirit of adoption,” by which they were admitted to near communion with God, as children with a father. Nor was this confined to the day of Pentecost, and the times immediately succeeding: forty years after this, Peter could say of the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet, believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory;” and this, too, at a time when the fiery trial of persecution was coming or come upon them.
But, notwithstanding the spiritual enjoyment possessed by these Christians, they looked forward with earnest desire for the coming of the day of God; not only as those who hastened towards it, but by their hopes and prayers would seem to hasten its approach. Such are the accounts given of them in the New Testament; “Ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”—“He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly; Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
The enjoyments of the first Christians, instead of abating their desire for the coming of their Lord, appear to have heightened it. The more they possessed of the first-fruits, the more they desired the lump. The fruits of Canaan, brought into the wilderness, were not designed to satisfy Israel, but rather to excite them to go up and possess the land.
It is this ardent desire that is expressed by the terms “groaning within ourselves.” The groaning of the creation was in a figure, but this is real. These are those “groanings which cannot be uttered,” (verse 26,) and which the Spirit of God excited in the way of hope, and patience, and prayer.
The terms by which the resurrection of believers is expressed, namely, “the adoption,” and “the redemption of our body,” serve to heighten our ideas of the glorious event. It is observable that the apostle, throughout this description, makes use of what may be called old terms in a new sense. “The glorious liberty of the children of God” was, as we have seen, enjoyed by them, in one sense, from the day that they believed in Jesus; but, in describing this event, a new sense is put upon the same words. The idea of adoption also had long been familiarized to Christians by the apostolic writings; but, as used here, it has a new meaning attached to it. From the day they received the Saviour, they received power to become the sons of God; the Lord Almighty, as by a judicial act and deed, put them among his children; but still, the body being doomed to die because of sin, till this dishonour is wiped away there is something wanting to complete the execution of the deed. Our vile body must be changed, and fashioned like unto Christ’s glorious body, ere we can be actually and fully introduced into the heavenly family. We must put on immortality, before we shall be fit company for immortals. We must be made equal to the angels, ere we can associate with angels. Finally, To be completely “the children of God,” we must be “the children of the resurrection.”
The disparity between Old and New Testament believers was such, that the former were represented as children in a state of minority, kept under tutors and governors till the time appointed of the Father; while the latter are supposed to be come to the possession of their inheritance (Gal. 4:1–6): how much greater, then, must be the disparity between believers in a mortal and in an immortal state! both are adopted into the family of God; but the one in a much higher sense than the other.
Similar observations might be made on the term redemption, as here applied to the resurrection of the body. This term was familiarized to Christians by the apostolic writings. They had “redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins;” but here the word is used in a new sense, denoting the last act of deliverance, even that of the body, from under the thraldom of death and the imprisonment of the grave. It is in reference to this last act of deliverance that Christ is said to be “made unto us—redemption.” The redemption of our souls by his blood preceded his being made unto us wisdom, or righteousness, or sanctification; but the redemption of our body, as being the last act of deliverance, succeeds them. The body is a part of Christ’s purchase as really as the soul. It is on this principle that the Corinthians were dissuaded from polluting it by fornication: “Ye are not your own, but bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” The resurrection of the body, therefore, is the recovery of the last part of the Redeemer’s purchase, signified by that expressive sentence, so often repeated, “I will raise it up at the last day.”
This is the glory which shall be revealed in us, with which the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared: this is the great crisis of creation, to which all that precedes it tends, as to its last end; and the result to which believers, who have possessed the richest communications of grace in this life, look with earnest expectation.
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. 339–341). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.