Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril…
We begin with the general proposition, "Who shall separate us?" etc. And for the love of Christ it may be taken either actively or passively; actively for our love of Him, or passively for His love of us, which latter acceptation of it seems to be that which is here chiefly intended. First of all, let us look upon it in the thing itself. Who or what shall take off the love of Christ from us? That is, indeed, nothing at all. First, no persons shall be able to do it, whether Satan or wicked men. These they do now and then attempt it: as they are out of God's love themselves, so they would fain make others so too. First, not by means of accusation: accusation is an expedient way to take off affection. It was the course which Ziba took with Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, in reference to David. And it is the course which the devil and his instruments take with those which are faithful in reference to God. Satan he is the accuser of the brethren. Secondly, as not by accusation, so neither by temptation. Again, as no enemy or person, so further no state or condition. That there is no condition, though never so forlorn, that can make God to forsake His people. Now there is a various account which may be given hereof unto us. Ye may take it in these following particulars: — First, from God's unchangeableness, and the immutability of His own nature considered in Himself (2 Timothy 2:13; James 1:17; John 13:1; Jeremiah 31:3; Isaiah 54:8). Secondly, there is nothing which can separate the love of God from His children, or which can separate His children from His love, because this love of His it is not founded in anything in themselves. If the Lord did therefore love His people because they were thus and thus accommodated with riches, or honours, or strength, or any such accomplishment, He would then also cease to love them when that these were taken away from them. Thirdly, God's love is immovable as to anything which may happen unto us, because it was pitched upon us before we were, or had any being. That love which is from eternity in its original. Fourthly and lastly, there is no removal or taking off of the love of God from His people, in regard of the conveyance of it to them and the person in whom it is laid; and that is in His Son Jesus Christ — "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" The love which God bears to a Christian it is a love of covenant; and this covenant made in Christ. The second is as to the discovery or manifestation of this His love — "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" — that is, what shall be a sufficient argument to persuade us that Christ does not love us? The afflictions of God's children are no arguments for the separation of God's love. First, because they are all dispensed out of the principles of love; that cannot be an argument to prove the want of love which is an argument rather to prove the truth of love, His love unto them. "As many as I love, I rebuke," etc. Secondly, it cannot be that affliction should be a withdrawing of God's affection, because He never shows more affection than He does in such a condition. Thirdly, these outward afflictions are no good argument for the separation of God's love, because the love of God reaches farther than these things here below. It is not limited or confined to this present life. Times of separation in other respects, yet they cannot be separating in this. They may separate a minister from his people; they may separate a husband from his wife; they may separate a father from his children; they may separate the soul from its body. Oh, but they cannot separate a Christian or true believer from Christ, nor from the love of God to him in Christ. And so now I have done with the first general part of the text which is this question or challenge, as it is considerable in the general proposition, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" The second is the particular specification of evils themselves, which are seven in number: "Shall tribulation or distress?" etc. The first which is here presented is tribulation. The word in the Greek signifies to press, or pinch, or vex; and the word in the Latin signifies a threshing instrument or flail, wherewith the corn uses to be broken or beaten out; both of them do serve to set forth to us the nature of this present evil. First, I say, this evil of tribulation, it is such as is incident even to the saints and servants of God; they are such as are liable to great pains and griefs of body. St. Paul he had his tribulation, his thorn in the flesh, etc. And so it is with many others, etc. The apostle here instances in this as a principal evil, as that which is more general and which few escape. As for some other particulars which we find here mentioned in the text, they are such as all do not taste of. But yet even this in the next place shall not separate them from the love of God in Christ; a child of God is most dear to Him, even under tribulation itself. The second particular evil is distress: shall distress? The Greek word signifies properly straitness of place, when a man is so hampered as that he knows not which way to move, as it is with those who are shut up in some close and strait prison, or are in some violent throng and crowd. Now, this is another evil which God's people are also liable unto, as to great and strong pressures of body, so to be in many sad distractions of spirit, to be in distress. It has been the lot sometimes of those who have been the dearest servants of God. This is an evil somewhat further and heavier than the former, which we spake of before; anguish of spirit is somewhat more than pressure of body, and which many times has a great influence upon it, A Christian is never brought into those exigencies and straits and extremities but he has still a God to go to, into whose bosom he may comfortably empty and unload himself, and find satisfaction in all his distresses. The third is persecution: shall persecution? which signifies properly a driving from place to place. When men are forced and constrained to leave their home and proper habitations, and to fly into other places and countries. It may separate us from our houses, these poor cottages of clay, but it cannot separate us from God, who is our abode and dwelling-place in all generations, nor deprive us of our everlasting habitation. The fourth thing here instanced in is famine. This is another great affliction which God's people are subject unto here in this life. It is a wonderful thing to consider what strange kind of ways and means God has been pleased to provide for His servants in this particular. The fifth particular evil is nakedness. This is another trial of the saints, and the evil of it consists in two particulars. The one is as it is matter of shame, and the other as it is matter of danger, and hazard of life itself. Well, but this nakedness or stripping of apparel cannot strip the children of God of His love and favour in Christ, which shall still compass them about as a garment. The sixth here instanced in is peril, whereby we are to understand any danger or hazard of life in any kind whatsoever. Danger and fear of evil is many times a greater evil than the evil itself; and we know what difficulties and adventures it has sometimes put men upon. There are seasons and times of peril which God's children are exposed unto; but God does not leave them at such times, nor withdraw His love from them; in the world sometimes it is otherwise. There are many that will own their friends in times of safety, which yet will not know them in times of danger. The seventh and last is sword, whereby we are to understand all kind of violent death whatsoever.
(Thomas Horton, D.D.)
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?