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Commentary On Romans by Jean Calvin

Romans 8:23-25

23. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

23. Non solum autem, sed ipsi quoque qui primordia Spiritus habemus; nos inquam ipsi in nobis ipsis gemimus, adoptionem expectantes, redemptionem corporis nostri.

24. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?

24. Spe enim salvi facti sumus, spes vero quæ conspicitur, non est spes; quod enim conspicit quis, quomodo etiam speret?

25. But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it

25. Si ergo non quod non conspicimus, speramus, per patientiam expectamus.

23. And not only so, etc. There are those who think that the Apostle intended here to exalt the dignity of our future blessedness, and by this proof, because all things look for it with ardent desire; not only the irrational parts of creation, but we also who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God. This view is indeed capable of being defended, but there seems to me to be a comparison here between the greater and the less; as though he said, |The excellency of our glory is of such importance even to the very elements, which are destitute of mind and reason, that they burn with a certain kind of desire for it; how much more it behoves us, who have been illuminated by the Spirit of God, to aspire and strive with firmness of hope and with ardour of desire, after the attainment of so great a benefit.| And he requires that there should be a feeling of two kinds in the faithful: that being burdened with the sense of their present misery, they are to groan; and that notwithstanding they are to wait patiently for their deliverance; for he would have them to be raised up with the expectation of their future blessedness, and by an elevation of mind to overcome all their present miseries, while they consider not what they are now, but what they are to be.

Who have the beginnings, etc. Some render the word first-fruits, (primitias,) and as meaning a rare and uncommon excellency; but of this view I by no means approve. To avoid, therefore, any ambiguity, I have rendered the word beginnings, (primordia, the elements,) for I do not apply the expression, as they do, to the Apostles only, but to all the faithful who in this world are besprinkled only with a few drops by the Spirit; and indeed when they make the greatest proficiency, being endued with a considerable measure of it, they are still far off from perfection. These, then, in the view of the Apostle, are beginnings or first-fruits, to which is opposed the complete ingathering; for as we are not yet endued with fullness, it is no wonder that we feel disquietude. By repeating ourselves and adding in ourselves, he renders the sentence more emphatical, and expresses a more ardent desire, nor does he call it only a desire, but groaning: for in groaning there is a deep feeling of misery.

Waiting for the adoption, etc. Improperly indeed, but not without the best reason, is adoption employed here to designate the fruition of the inheritance to which we are adopted; for Paul means this, that the eternal decree of God, by which he has chosen us to himself as sons before the foundation of the world, of which he testifies to us in the gospel, the assurance of which he seals on our hearts by his Spirit, would be void, except the promised resurrection were certain, which is its consummation. For to what end is God our Father, except he receives us after we have finished our earthly pilgrimage into his celestial inheritance? To the same purpose is what he immediately subjoins, the redemption of the body. For the price of our redemption was in such a way paid by Christ, that death should notwithstanding hold us tied by its chains, yea, that we should carry it within us; it hence follows, that the sacrifice of the death of Christ would be in vain and fruitless, except its fruit appeared in our heavenly renovation.

24. For by hope, etc. Paul strengthens his exhortation by another argument; for our salvation cannot be separated from some kind of death, and this he proves by the nature of hope. Since hope extends to things not yet obtained, and represents to our minds the form of things hidden and far remote, whatever is either openly seen or really possessed, is not an object of hope. But Paul takes it as granted, and what cannot be denied, that as long as we are in the world, salvation is what is hoped for; it hence follows, that it is laid up with God far beyond what we can see. By saying, that hope is not what is seen, he uses a concise expression, but the meaning is not obscure; for he means simply to teach us, that since hope regards some future and not present good, it can never be connected with what we have in possession. If then it be grievous to any to groan, they necessarily subvert the order laid down by God, who does not call his people to victory before he exercises them in the warfare of patience. But since it has pleased God to lay up our salvation, as it were, in his closed bosom, it is expedient for us to toil on earth, to be oppressed, to mourn, to be afflicted, yea, to lie down as half-dead and to be like the dead; for they who seek a visible salvation reject it, as they renounce hope which has been appointed by God as its guardian.

25. If then what we see not, etc. This is an argument derived from what the antecedent implies; for patience necessarily follows hope. For when it is grievous to be without the good you may desire, unless you sustain and comfort yourselves with patience, you must necessarily faint through despair. Hope then ever draws patience with it. Thus it is a most apt conclusion -- that whatever the gospel promises respecting the glory of the resurrection, vanishes away, except we spend our present life in patiently bearing the cross and tribulations. For if life be invisible, we must have death before our eyes: if glory be invisible, then our present state is that of degradation. And hence if you wish to include in a few words the meaning of the whole passage, arrange Paul's arguments in this way, |To all the godly there is salvation laid up in hope; it is the character of hope to look forward to future and absent benefits: then the salvation of the faithful is not visible. Now hope is not otherwise sustained than by patience; then the salvation of the faithful is not to be consummated except by patience.|

It may be added, that we have here a remarkable passage, which shows, that patience is an inseparable companion of faith; and the reason of this is evident, for when we console ourselves with the hope of a better condition, the feeling of our present miseries is softened and mitigated, so that they are borne with less difficulty.

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