“For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who has subjected the same in hope.” Romans 8:20
The vanity here referred to is opposed to the state of glory in anticipation, and therefore expresses the condition of corruption and trial in the midst of which the renewed creature dwells, and to the assaults of which it is incessantly exposed. The world through which the Christian is passing to his rest may be emphatically called a state of vanity. How perpetually and forcibly are we reminded of the king of Israel’s exclamation, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” “Surely every man walks in a vain show.”
His origin, the earth; his birth, degenerate; his rank, a bauble; his wealth, but glittering dust; his pomp, an empty pageant; his beauty, a fading flower; his pursuits, an infant’s play; his honors, vexations of spirit; his joys, fleeting as a cloud; his life, transient as a vapor; his final home, a grave. Surely “man at his best state is altogether vanity.” And what is his religion but vanity?—his native holiness, a vain conceit; his natural light, Egyptian darkness; his human wisdom, egregious folly; his religious forms, and rites, and duties, “a vain show in the flesh;” his most gorgeous righteousness, “filthy rags.”
In the impressive language of Scripture, of him it may be said, “That man’s religion is vain.” “Lord, what is man, that you take knowledge of him! or the son of man, that you make account of him!”
Truly “vanity” is inscribed in legible characters on each created good. How, then, can the renewed creature escape its influence? He is “subject to vanity,” Dazzled by its glare, captivated by its fascinations, ensnared by its promises, he is often the victim of its power. But it is not a voluntary subjection on the part of the renewed creature. “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly.” It is not with him a condition of choice. He loves it not, he prefers it not, he glories not in it. From it he would sincerely be freed; beyond it he would gladly soar. “For we who are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened.”
His prayer is, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken me in Your way.” He pants for a holier and a happier state—a state more congenial with his renewed nature. Like the Israelites under the Egyptian bondage, he is a most unwilling servant, groaning beneath his galling yoke, and sighing for the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Ah, yes! God has given you another will, O renewed creature! and your present subjection to this poor, vain world is an involuntary subjection of the divine nature within you. Why God should have subjected the renewed creature to vanity does not appear; we well know that He could have transferred us to heaven, the moment that He renewed us on earth. But may we not infer that in sending His people into the world, after He had called them by His grace, and; in a sense, taken them out of it—that in subjecting them for so many years to this state of vanity—He has best consulted His own glory and their good?
The school of their heavenly teaching, the scene of their earthly toil, and the theater of their spiritual conflict they are kept in this world for a season; “made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who has subjected the same in hope.”