"For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. . . . And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints, according to the will of God."—Rom. viii. 22-27.
It is not an accident that the Cross is the badge of discipleship and, to a large extent, the centre of our fellowship. The Cross is the culmination of the divine revelation, and is also the example of what is manifestly a divine principle of government in redemption and in perfecting. And this is claimed by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews to be becoming and worthy of the government of our God. To us it is the burden of our faith; it is the perplexity of our reason; but the writer to the Hebrews says "it became Him." It was worthy of Him "in bringing many sons unto glory to make the Captain of our salvation perfect through suffering." What to us is the burden of our faith and the burden of our reason is claimed to be acceptable to, and not unworthy of, our God.
Every man who has thought earnestly, and every man who has entered into the fellowship of redeeming service, has felt the burden and the mystery of the pain and anguish that are everywhere in the world. Perhaps the most striking feature of our own time is the deep, ingrained consciousness of the world's suffering. The heart is made sensitive to the moan and sorrow of the world. And politics have received a new inspiration in that, having turned away from that which is purely technical and mechanical, it has set itself to a social mission of deliverance and redemption. And the Church of Jesus Christ has been baptized with a deeper and fuller baptism into the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, and has come to know, as perhaps we have never known, the burden of the world's sorrow and the mystery of the world's pain. Perhaps what I have read to you gives to you the clearest and fullest hint we find in the Scripture as to the explanation of the mystery. I need not stop to speak to you of the mystery of the groaning of creation, except to say this—that in the interpretation of creation's groan Nature is inseparably linked with man's character. Whatever Science may have to say about it, in its beginnings, the Scriptures have no hesitation in linking man's curse and Nature's anguish; and you find that as man is redeemed and comes to a fuller knowledge of life and truth and God, Nature becomes responsive, and the redemption of Nature is waiting for the revelation of the sons of God. And you will never have a perfect world except by the perfecting of humanity. The final consummation, of course, is in the final revelation, but the unfolding of the principle is for present application, and the emphasis is not upon condition, but upon character. The redemption of the world about us is not so much a matter of machinery as moral quality. In the last analysis environment is the shadow of character, and the surest way in which to change the conditions in which men live is to concentrate upon the moral quality of the man who makes the conditions; and there will never be a final perfecting of Nature and a consummation of the process of Nature's deliverance until we have the perfect revelation of the sons of God. In all our enthusiasm for the externals of life this is a principle which should ever be remembered. Creation groans, and the groan fills us with anguish and distress, but the only way in which Creation can find its culmination, its liberty, its freedom, its perfecting, is in the perfecting of character, and the revelation of the sons of God. The word that is used for this "groan" is a word that is full of hope. It is not the groan of death, but the groan of imprisoned life. You go to one house and you hear the groaning of pain and sorrow, and in another house you hear a similar groaning so far as the outward sign of sorrow and anguish are concerned. But there is a great difference between the two groans. You visit the same houses within a day or two, and you find in one a coffin, and in the other a cradle. In one it is the groan of death; in the other the groan of travail: in the one it is the dying, expiring moan; in the other it is the bursting forth of imprisoned life. And nature everywhere gives you the impression of having reserves of blessing and enrichment that she is burdened and groaning to bring forth unto man's blessing and enrichment. And so "Creation groaneth" with the birth-pangs of a richer and fuller and diviner life.
Passing to what has more to do with our own spiritual life and work as Churches, it is significant that we, who have received the firstfruits of the Spirit, also "groan within ourselves." It is not true of every man that he groans; some men grunt. It is only the man that has felt within himself the quickening of a new life that knows anything of the groan of travail. The curse of much of our religion is that we are content with the commonplace, and the mediocre, and the ordinary. It is only the man who has seen the vision and felt the throb of a new life within him in the gift of the Spirit who is conscious that, somehow, all the avenues through which life has to find expression are inadequate. Every man who is seeking to serve God and bless his fellows is impressed from time to time that life is, after all, largely but a groan. A groan is a yearning of anguish in the soul that is too big for human speech; it is not simply a consciousness of pain, but a longing to burst forth into fuller expression. And every man who looks back upon his life sees how limited, and cramped, and inadequate, and imperfect is the outward expression of the inward life. Oh! who does not know the difference between life as he sees it upon the mountain-top of communion, and as he lives it in the commonplace of his daily service? Who is not conscious of the great gulf between what a man hopes and prays he might be in his best hours of vision, and the halting, blundering, faltering expression as he comes to try and translate his ideals into the actualities of common life and experience. Man groans. God sees the inner life, and will judge thereby. The manifestation of that life is yet to be, but in the meantime one of the great sorrows of man's life is that he finds it so utterly impossible to give adequate expression to all he hopes and desires and prays to be. And the Church of Jesus Christ is a community of yearning and groaning people. The Church is conscious within itself of an enormous experience of a life for which, somehow, it never finds adequate and complete expression. It takes upon itself the burden and sorrow of the world's sin, is called into fellowship with Christ's saving and redeeming purpose; and we are conscious that we are in the midst of a community to save it for God, to transform its conditions into those of the Kingdom of Heaven; and although we labour and toil, how utterly inadequate the result seems to be!" The whole creation groaneth," and the Church of God groaneth with a sense of burdened and imprisoned life, conscious of the inadequateness of the avenues through which her energies are to find expression, waiting for the larger and more perfect and complete material instrument through which she can find opportunity to render her service unto her Lord.
This is not an age, perhaps, in which groaning is as much understood in things spiritual as in the days that are past. But the Church that has no anguish of soul for the lost, that has no Gethsemane, that has no fellowship with the travail of Jesus Christ in the redemption of the world has failed to understand and realize the highest purpose for which she was called to the fellowship of her Master and Lord. It is only as she knows the fellowship of His sufferings that she becomes adequate to the ministry of redemption.
More striking still is this statement that God in the Spirit groans with it. Our God is the God of a broken heart. Our Master and our Lord poured forth His soul unto death, and even now travails in birth for the salvation of those for whom Christ died; and the Spirit has, in the Church, which is His Body, the anguish of imprisoned life. Before the Son could come into this world a Body was prepared for Him by the Spirit, and before the Son could leave the world He had to prepare a Body for the Spirit; and He could not come until Jesus had gathered out of the community those who should be prepared and fitted for the coming of the Holy Ghost. And the Church is the Body of Christ, and the Body of Christ is possessed by the Spirit of Christ, and the Spirit of Christ cannot save the world and fulfill the ministry of the Son in the world for which He died, except in so far as it can find an adequate co-operation in the Church of Jesus Christ. In my early days I used to wonder why God did not convert the world quicker; I used to wonder why God did not hurry up. If He had committed the business of saving the world to an American Syndicate it would have gone on at a more rapid rate! And one wonders why the greater part of the world's population has never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is because God the Spirit cannot go one step faster than the Church is prepared to follow. The whole work of God is conditioned and dependent upon human co-operation. We are as essential and necessary for the saving of the world as God is to us for the salvation of our souls. We are the Body of Christ, and Jesus Christ cannot do His work in the world except through the Body for which He gave His life. And, oh! I think sometimes, until it comes almost to be an agony of my soul, of the throbbing, yearning, groaning anguish of God the Spirit in the imprisoned mind, and the curtailment of His purposes in the saving of man. And the Spirit groans with us, groans for the larger opportunity of manifestation, for the readier response to His purposes; groans for a Church that shall be completely and absolutely resigned unto all the purposes of His gracious will.
The "groan" is a promise. We are in travail and in pain until now. "Creation groaneth," and the saints groan, and God the Spirit groans, but the groan is the groan of birth pangs and not of an expiring life. And this world is going to be transformed so that the days upon earth shall be as the days in heaven.
Jesus Christ is not going to lose; the devil is not going to have it all his own way to the finish. He who has exalted Jesus Christ, and given Him "a Name above every name," has sworn by Himself that "He shall have the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. Unto that Name every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth and things under the earth; and that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
However mighty the hosts that are arrayed against us, the God that is with us will break them into pieces " like a potter's vessel." The day will come when He will rule with a rod of iron, and the forces of iniquity shall be scattered, and the wrongs of unrighteousness shall be brought to nought; and that is my confidence. What chance is there of destroying the strongholds of the devil unless God be with us? and our hope, confidence, and assurance is that God will arise in His majesty and might, and every force that lifts up its hand against His Son shall be utterly destroyed; and the Church shall come into her own, and the Spirit of the living God shall accomplish His purpose. And my comfort and hope and admonition to my soul is in the order that is indicated. Creation is to find its salvation, its ultimate redemption through character; the Church is to find her triumph through the energy and groaning of the Holy Spirit within her, and the Holy Spirit is to fulfill the purpose of Jesus Christ in dying and rising again through the groaning of the saints "in whom He maketh intercession according to the will of God." And until this consummation comes we are to be watchful and prayerful; we are to groan, and we have to groan within ourselves. We have not to do our groaning out before the world, in the presence of the people. The proper place for a saint to groan is before God, and not before any one else. Don't go through the world groaning; let your groaning be in secret.
Let your vision of dolour, and tears, and sorrow, and anguish, and heart-break be in solitary places, where God comes down your soul to meet. And the man who does this will fight with an invincible weapon in the field of battle. The Church that can weep and pray, and has soul-anguish—that is the Church that is going to help God to save the world. And the trouble with many of our Churches is that there is not much groaning. In no part of our life is the groaning of the Spirit and of the saint so manifest as in the life of prayer. I have often been impressed with the ease and majesty with which Jesus Christ wrought His miracles. He did wonderful things, and never took his coat off to a single job that he undertook. He stilled storms, cast out devils, raised the dead, and I never read that He sweat over a single miracle that He wrought. But I do read this: " It came to pass as He prayed He sweat great drops of blood." And only as we are lifted into fellowship with His soul are we fitted for the best and the holy work into which we are called.
We need many things in this country, but most of all we need a revival of spiritual religion; and you will never get it until the Church gets down to business, and is baptized with the baptism wherewith Jesus Christ was baptized. There are some Churches in which conversions would be a calamity. God is not going to bring new-born souls into the world to put them at the breast of a corpse. When God brings in children He wants mothers. There are no nurses like mothers; and it is only the Church that travails that brings forth children; and our work in the outer world will be mightier if we are more constant in prayer, if we have our agonies in secret. And if God should permit us to be baptized into the mystery of the fellowship of His pain, then will be hastened the coming of His kingdom. And I pray that, while we are called into the active service, and are privileged to fight—and we fight with all our might—above everything else He will give unto us this distinction—to be counted worthy to know the fellowship of His sufferings in the redeeming and saving of the world.—Samuel Chadwick
From the Free Church Year Book; National Council of the Evangelical Free Churches, 1908 pp 131-136