Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril…
This chapter is like a stream that gathers strength and volume as it flows. Beginning with the Christian's state as one of freedom from condemnation, it ends by placing him on the summit of victory, radiant with the love of God. It is a chapter full of Christ. Christ in humiliation and triumph; Christ as the Sacrifice in whom sin was condemned, and, as the risen Redeemer, the Firstborn of many brethren; Christ as the present Strength of his people by his indwelling Spirit, and, as seated upon the throne, the perfect Son of God, to whose lineage all the sons are to be conformed. The earnest rhetoric of the apostle leads him to summon all adversaries to the bar, and challenge them to prove their ability to upset his reasonings and destroy the hopes of the followers of Christ. Who or what shall sever the tie that binds them to their Lord?
I. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CHALLENGE. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" The passage requires us to understand the expression as referring rather to Christ's love for us than to our response to his love. See the parallelism with ver. 37, "through him that loved us." And ver. 39 speaks of "the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." This interpretation loses no shade of meaning, since Christ's affection involves our love in return, as its natural outcome. The expression is, in truth, a description of our religion. To be severed from Christ's love means utter loss.
1. Christianity is founded upon the love of Christ. This looked down pityingly upon our dark and helpless world. It shone through all the symbols of the Law, pointing the worshippers to the coming Saviour. It nerved him to endure his anguish in the garden and on the cross. It has provided for man a day of grace, and the endowment of the Spirit to renew and sanctify.
2. The new life is dependent on the continued manifestation of this love. Remove the sunlight, and the plant sickens and dies. Let the supply of the air above be stopped, and the diver cannot breathe. Without the love of Christ operating on the heart, the sweetest ordinances lose their savour, communion by reading and prayer is eclipsed, no rainbow brightens the tears of penitence. The love of Christ shed abroad is the root of obedience. From it we draw our most influential motives to holiness and service. The lustre of our deeds is marred unless encircled by this golden band.
3. The love of Christ is the love of God herein revealed. Christ is the Horn of plenty by which the Father would pour into the lap of his children all good things. To be sundered from this love must signify, therefore, our estrangement from all that lifts us heavenward. Could this happen, Christianity were stilled into a frozen sea, the ripples and waves remaining in form, but not in motion and might - a waste of desert ice. The query is not merely oratorical. Endeavours to intercept the love of Christ are reiterated and prolonged. The words that follow are not empty terms, not visions of the night, but stern foes, combatants to be encountered by day.
II. THE CONFIDENT REPLY. The apostle answers his own query. Look at the particular things enumerated, and then appreciate the apostolic assurance.
1. The trials of life cannot defeat the purposes, of Christ's love. "Tribulation, anguish, famine, nakedness," though they may becloud our path and awaken a bitter cry, yet, instead of being regarded as indications of abandonment, are rather signs of the providential discipline which perfects sanctification. The good Shepherd is moved to greater compassion at the sight of the wounds of his flock.
2. The hostility of an unbelieving world cannot dissolve this union. "Persecution, peril, and the sword" do but liken the servant to the Master. Piety has thriven most in days of ridicule and torment. Christian heroism cheerfully underwent the loss of goods, stripes, and imprisonment; it converted jails into holy fanes resounding with praise and prayer. "In that he suffered being tempted," he has proved himself "able to succour those that are tempted."
3. The apostle advances in his enumeration. Neither "death," however grim its aspect, nor "life," with its snares and bewitchments, its competitions, its trifles, can succeed in detaching the pilgrim from the protecting love of his Guide. Nor can the ranged battalions of evil win the victory. Christ triumphed over them, and conquers still.
4. So finally the apostle sums up in the emphatic comprehensive assertion that neither the forces of time, "things present and to come," nor the forces of space, "height and depth," bewildering the imagination or depressing the soul, no, "nor any other created thing," above or below, personal or impersonal, animate or inanimate, known or unknown, shall defeat the loving purpose of Christ in the salvation of his people. "Many waters cannot drown his love, nor the floods quench it."
III. THIS CONFIDENCE JUSTIFIABLE.
1. The dignity of Christ's Person and the perfection of his character forbid fear. His love falters not, is not fickle; it waxes, but never wanes. He does not undertake what he cannot accomplish, nor begin what is beyond his power to finish. The foes to our salvation were foreseen and measured from the first. To doubt it is to dishonour him.
2. The whole trend of the redemptive scheme is against any supposition of abandonment by Christ. How infinite the price already paid! How steadily and surely the great design of salvation has marched through the ages, developing ever deeper wisdom and unfailing resources! We might wonder that man had not been left to himself in his rebellion and a new race created; but man's elevation having been promised and begun, every indication points to the ultimate fulfilment of our purest and brightest hopes.
3. Innumerable biographies confirm the apostle's declaration. May our life add another testimony! Look at the forces opposed to our steadfastness, and then, like Peter, we lose heart and begin to sink. Fix the gaze upon Christ, and our cheerful courage, our triumphant conviction of his unshakable love, will of itself lend such vigour to our loyalty that every apprehension of disaster shall vanish. - S.R.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?