What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
St. Paul was no narrow dogmatist. He was a man of profound sympathy and charity even for those from whom he differed. Yet there are some strong assertions in his writings. Nowadays it is almost considered a virtue to be in doubt, and a rash presumption to be sure of anything. In the revolt from superstition, men have gone into an unbelief that almost amounts to a superstition in itself. There was no superstition about St. Paul. He was a man of thoughtful mind, of wise judgment. But he did not think it either presumption or dogmatism to be firmly persuaded and convinced of certain things. It is no dogmatism to assert that the sun is shining, when its warm bright rays are flashing down upon us and around us. It is no dogmatism to assert the existence of frost, when the earth grows hard beneath its grasp, and we feel its icy breath upon our faces and in our throats. With all the uncertainties and unrealities of life, there is such a thing as certainty and truth. To St. Paul the love of Christ was such a certainty. He had felt it, not as the frost, but as the warm sunshine in his heart. He had yielded himself to its influence, till it became to him what the steam is to the steam-engine, till he could say, "The love of Christ constraineth me;" or again, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." There are few finer or more complete pictures of that love and its power than this eighth chapter of Romans presents to us. Here St. Paul shows us the Christian, under the influence of that love, gaining the victory over sin and temptation, glorying in tribulation, receiving the Spirit of adoption, standing fearlessly before the judgment-seat in the irresistible conviction that he is a child of God, shielded and strengthened by the love of Christ; and, as he gazes from point to point, from time to eternity, and sees the Christian secure and safe at every point, his conviction, his rapture, increase in intensity till they carry him away in that grand outburst, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?... For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Here are the uncertainties and the certainties of life contrasted.
I. THE UNCERTAINTIES OF A NEW YEAR.
1. The new year may be a time of prosperity. If it is God's will to give us worldly prosperity and wealth, let us pray for grace and wisdom to use them aright. Prosperity has its dangers. It comes in as a separating barrier between the soul and God. Our Saviour, in one of his parables, speaks of the deceitfulness of riches, and tells us that, along with the cares of this world, it is like thorns that choke the good seed of Divine truth, so that it becomes unfruitful. Let not riches "separate us from the love of Christ."
2. The new year may be a time of trial. St. Paul felt convinced that no trials could separate him from that wondrous love. "Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (vers. 35, 37). No trial, or the prospect of it, brings dismay or terror to the apostle's heart.
"Come one, come all! this rock shall fly
From its firm base as soon as I." Conquerors! Yes, and more than conquerors of our trials! We do more than vanquish them. We turn them, or rather the love of Christ turns them for us, into our friends. So Paul found it in his experience. So did many a child of God. Martin Luther was sent to prison in the Wartburg, apparently a heavy blow to himself and his friends, and the cause of the Reformation. But the love of Christ was stronger than the castle walls. They could not keep Christ out. Luther was more than conqueror. He not only endured his imprisonment, but while he was a prisoner he translated the Scriptures into that great German version of his, and wrote besides some of his great commentaries. The walls of Bedford Jail could not separate John Bunyan from the love of Christ, and during his imprisonment for conscience' sake he wrote that matchless allegory, 'The Pilgrim's Progress.' Samuel Rutherford, a prisoner in Aberdeen Castle, wrote his beautiful 'Letters,' of which Richard Baxter said that, after the Bible, such a book the world never saw. All of these were more than conquerors through him that loved them. Whatever trials we may meet with, there is the great certainty of the love of Christ. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? If God be for us, who can be against us?" (ver. 31). We may lose our earthly friends, but Jesus remains - the Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
3. The new year may be to some of us a year of death. Philip Henry, father of Matthew Henry the commentator, used frequently to pray this prayer, "Fit us to leave or to be left." Whatever uncertainty we may feel about the earthly lot that is in store for us, whether our days may be many or few, let us make sure that we are clinging to the cross of Jesus, and then we have a safety and a security which no trials can ever shake.
II. THE CERTAINTIES OF A NEW YEAR. While there is much that is uncertain about each new year, there is much also that we may with confidence expect.
1. The new year will be a time of opportunities. This is as certain as that the sun will shine, and the seasons come, and the ocean ebb and flow. Every day will bring to each of us its opportunities. Opportunities save souls. John Williams, a careless young man, was persuaded by a friend to go one sabbath evening to a place of worship, and there he heard a sermon on the words, "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" That opportunity, availed of, saved his soul and led him to decide for Christ, and he became the famous missionary and martyr of Erromanga. Had he refused that invitation, rejected that opportunity, a similar opportunity might never have returned. Opportunities test character. Some one has said that "opportunities are importunities." Every opportunity appeals to us. It appeals to us to avail ourselves of it, to show what side we are on, to make our choice for time and eternity. Abraham had his opportunity when the call came to him to leave his father's house, and he used it well. It showed him to be a man of faith, a man who would do God's bidding at any cost. Joseph, Joshua, Daniel - each of these had his opportunity, and well he used it. Herod had his opportunity, and seemed to be impressed by the preaching of John the Baptist, for "he did many things, and heard him gladly;" but when the critical and testing opportunity came of making his choice, of choosing good rather than evil, he lost it. So it was with Felix and Agrippa. But let our life be dominated by the constraining influence of the love of Christ, and then the opportunities which the passing hours are sure to bring will only show more and more clearly that we are on the Lord's side.
2. The new year will be a time of duties. It is well to begin the year with a high sense of our obligations and responsibilities. Duties are a certainty which every day brings with it. There are the duties of daffy prayer and daily thanksgiving to God; the duties of parents to their children, of employers to their servants, of all Christians to those who are around them. Here, again, let every duty be discharged in the spirit of love to Christ, and there will be no uncertainty about our faithfulness. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" - C.H.I.
Parallel VersesKJV: What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?