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2. Transitive; as expressing action with reference to effect, as when we say, atò xt10Euş zoguov, from the creation of the world; and,
3. Passive; as expressing the effect of action.
It is obvious, that it is only in the latter of these three senses in which the word can be here used. But this meaning is itself generic; and by the authorized use of language the word may be taken in a restricted sense. The question arises, therefore, whether it is used here in its full or in a specific import? According to well settled principles of interpretation, this question can be determined only by a reference to the context. Does the context, then, require any restriction to be put on the sense of the word as here used ? and if any, what?
This will be readily determined, by considering what is here predicated of the term. We find, accordingly, there are predicated of it,
1. Earnest expectations, verse 19. 2. Subjection to vanity, verse 20.
3. Possibility of redemption from the bondage of corruption, verse 21.
4. Feeling or expressing distress at its present condition, verse 22; and,
5. It is used as generic, of believers.
We are necessitated to give the word an import, that is consistent with all these assertions; and we are prohibited by an acknowledged law of interpretation from restricting its meaning farther than to make it reconcilable with the context. If these premises be admitted, it will follow, First, that the word cannot here include all created existence; angels, at least, must be excluded, the opinion of some crities to the contrary notwithstanding. For with what truth or propriety can it be said, that angels are “subject to vanity;" that angels “groan and travail in pain ?" Secondly, The notion of the visible universe generally, including man, as given it by some critics, is too generic to be reconcilable with what we have seen to be predicated of the term. For how can the inanimate creation be said to exercise those various feelings and desires which are here affirmed of the “creature ?"
We are aware, that this notion is defended on the ground, that the apostle is here employing “a bold prosopopeia."* But if the writer employs a figure of speech, he gives no warrant thereby to the interpreters of his language to pass over it as wholly void
* Vide Doddridge's Family Expositor. Flatt et al. ad. h. I.
of meaning. Surely, if he is at the pains of searching out a figure to express his meaning; or if the vivid perceptions he had of his subject forced him out of the region of literal expression into that of figures and images, he had some idea to convey; there was some truth present to his mind which he meant to shadow forth. But we ask, What possible idea, on this supposition, can be given to the expression, that the senseless, inanimate matter “shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God?" We could, with comparative ease get over the serious difficulty of supposing, that the apostle had in his mind an agitated theory respecting the future exalted condition of the brute animate creation, which he here would impiously sanction as correct; a difficulty by the way which seems to have somewhat staggered the minds of this class of interpreters and led them to blink the question respecting the truth of this theory so clearly involved in their view of the passage ;* but in what possible sense can such a redemption, such a deliverance be predicated of the inanimate senseless universe ? The apostle meant something, though using “a bold PROSOPOPEIA.” What could he have meant when using such glowing language about the final exaltation of senseless matter “ to the glorious liberty of the sons of God?" We can see no possible meaning in the language on this view, and hence feel ourselves constrained to reject it, as giving to the term too generic a sense.
The next more specific sense which has been affixed to the term, is the material creation generally, animate and inanimate. This differs from the preceding only in being more specific, as that included rational as well as irrational existence. It is obviously obnoxious to the same difficulties, and needs therefore little further consideration. It is, however, adopted by many critics of great name. In support of their opinion they alledge the general use of the word itself. But from a careful examination of the passages quoted, we find, either, that the term signifies the whole creation generally, rational and irrational, or that the context most clearly points out how far the restriction upon the proper meaning of the word should extend. The passages cited are Book of Wisdom, v:17; ix: 2; Judith ix: 12; xvi:
* Vide, e. g. Calvin, et. Flatt ad. loc.
+ Vide Stuart's Commentary on Romans, p. 333, for a list of these. It ought, perhaps, to be noted here, however, that in making out this list the author has confounded the two last mentioned senses, classing with those who suppose, that the material creation only is intended, critics who understand by the term the whole visible creation, rational and irrational.
14; and 1 Tim. iv: 4. They further urge, that the context allows this interpretation, on the ground of a supposed personification of inanimate nature; a supposition which we have already had occasion to notice. They appeal, moreover, to the doctrines about a future renovation of the material creation, which they suppose the scriptures to inculcate, as falling in with and supporting their view. But here they assume, that these passages, as 2 Peter iii: 10–13; Rev. xxi: 1, &c., are to be taken in their literal sense ; while, even if we admit their interpretation of these prophecies to be correct, it would not, obviously, tend much to establish their view. All that can be made from it is, that their exposition of the passage in hand may or may not be correct, if this theory of a literal new creation be sound. All the other considerations urged in favor of this interpretation as the supposed antithesis in the expression, aùth x tiois, the creature itself, which, it appears to us, is merely a mode of expression designed to render xilois, the creature, emphatic, and the universality of idea conveyed in nàoa 'n xilois, the whole creation, together with what is predicated of xilois, in verses 20 and 21, “vanity” and “bondage of corruption,” which last considerations favor, to say the least, as much the view we have given, as the one before us,—are plainly indecisive, and can weigh but little against the difficulties that attend this exposition.
The other meanings, still more specific than the one which we have assigned to the word in our running commentary, such as unconverted men, unconverted Jews, or heathen, christians generally, and Jewish or Gentile believers in particular,— which severally have received the support of different interpreters, are more specific than the context requires, and therefore are to be rejected on the principle which we have laid down, that a term, generic in its proper and natural import, should not be restricted beyond the clear necessities of the case. We deem it unnecessary, therefore, to occupy time in a further consideration of them.
We advance, then, the position, that the idea of mankind, the human race generally, is the true idea conveyed by the term in this position. With this understanding of the term, everything appears to us, at least, clear of difficulty. The only serious argument which can be urged against this interpretation, is, that it seems to teach what is untrue respecting the anxious longings of the race at large for the revelation of the sons of God. But, we ask, Is it not the characteristic of men, as a race, that when contemplating the evils of this present mortal condition, they do
sigh and long for a time when all the mysteries of this life shall be unfolded, all these seeming contradictions explained and reconciled? Have we not in our introductory remarks expressed truly the feelings of the race generally on this subject? If to any portion of the human race such language seems unsuitable, it must certainly be the pagan world. Yet hear that oracle of heathenism, the chief of Roman orators and philosophers, when rising from the dejection and sadness which the death of an accomplished and beloved daughter had occasioned, he comforts himself with views of the nature of man, and of his relations to the present and the future life, worthy of an enlightened christian mind.
'Indeed I know not who they are for whom it is better to be born. For what do we discover grateful or cheering when entering upon miseries and cares? With what are we not rather shocked and grieved? Which that first crying and wailing of new-born infants abundantly shows. For this is the appointment of kind maternal nature, who utters nothing unmeaning, who rather in all she does ever gives forth wonderful lessons of piety, or justice, or prudence. From this we perceive, that it is far best not to be born, nor strike on these rocks of life; and next to this, if born, to die as soon as possible, and escape as it were from the furnace of fortune.
Wherefore, if death brings an end to sorrow, and the beginning of a more secure, a better life; if it averts future, and heals present evils; if it leads us forth from our many exposures to diseases, troubles, afflictions, why should we so much murmur at it, or derive from it sorrow, when we ought rather to draw from it consolation and joy? * For it is certain, that not a place of abode but merely a temporary halting place has been allowed us here; on leaving which we ought to set forth with eager minds, as if from an inn full of troubles and inconveniencies, and fly away with most joyful spirits to the future life, as to our native land.
The body, indeed, may well be mortal; since it has derived its origin from the earth, to the mutability of which it is subjected by nature, and should go back to it, when the course of life is finished. But the mind, as it proceeded forth from God, longs after heaven itself; for it ever desires to return whence it originated. The earth, if desired at all, must be by the body alone; but by spirits, the eternal rest of heaven must be sought; that is their proper home. For there is nothing in the constitution of spirits which has originated from earth or has been formed from it; nothing, even, of water, air, or fire. For in these elements there is nothing which has the power of memory, thought, or feeling, that it can retain the past, foresee the future, and comprehend the present. These attributes, are exclusively divine. It can never be discovered whence they could come to man unless from God. There is, therefore, a peculiar nature and power to spirit, distinct from these common and familiar elements. So whatever that is which knows, which wills, which grows, is heavenly and divine, VOL. X.
and for that reason it is necessary, that it should be eternal.' Ciceronis, Consolatio. Opera Omnia, ed. Bost. vol. xvii. pp. 289, 292, 335.
Surely, if paganism could give utterance to such thoughts and such feelings, it were no unpardonable license in the apostle to represent the race generally as "waiting for the revelation of the sons of God;" as "groaning and travailing in pain together." We ask our readers to ponder these expressions of this bereaved but comforted pagan father, and then decide whether it is unsuitable to ascribe to the human race generally such desires for the day when these mysteries of this present existence shall be unraveled, and all its sorrows and miseries healed and passed away. “The spirit longs after heaven;" animus coelum ipsum appetit. “Spirits must seek the eternal rest of heaven, that is their own proper home ;” animus aeterna coeli sedes quaerenda, eaque propria illorum patria.
Although the particular meaning we have attached to this word is not essential to the general view we have taken of the passage, since the interpretation given by some of the visible creation generally, rational and irrational, harmonizes with it, we yet consider it the true meaning of the word as used in this connection, and think we have sufficiently defended our position.
We shall briefly touch on the remaining expressions requiring notice.
funerdyn, was subjected. This word, taken in connection with the next following our éxowna, not willingly gives force and emphasis to the thought conveyed that the union of the “creature” with “vanity” is a forced, unnatural union-against all the inclinations and tendencies of the creature.
tñ uatarómı, to vanity. The apostle has seized upon a single feature of the present state as representative and illustrative of its whole character. It is a state of vanity, where reigns disappointment—where nothing satisfies. Hence, impliedly, the state to which the creature is subjected is one of imperfection, frailty, corruption. We see no reason for extending its meaning so as to include moral imperfection or sin, and feel constrained to give it its ordinary import. Compare Ps. 39:5, 62:9; Eccl. 1: 2.
TÒN 'vrotá Earta, him who subjected. This obviously refers to the Creator. The notion of some, that it refers to Adam or Satan has no sufficient support.
Er zid, in hope. The only question that can arise as to the form of this expression is, whether it denotes the motive or design of the Creator in subjecting men to vanity, or merely describes the state to which man is thus reduced. The latter