Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril…
1. The apostle had passed through experiences varied and trying enough to entitle him to make this inquiry. He knew what he was talking about. It is not the unchastened enthusiasm of a recruit, but the sober declaration of a veteran that is before us — a No which has an unconquerable human soul in it! History has sufficiently answered this inquiry from one side of Christian experience. Set it down as a fact that terror has failed. The scaffold, the rack, the stake, the dungeon, have fairly been worsted in this great fight. Enemies have killed the body, but the principle of truth lives; they have slain Christians, but Christianity is conqueror.
2. But has the apostle covered the whole ground? Does he exhaust the whole possibility of Christian trial? I think not. It is instructive to mark the development of the antagonisms to Christianity. In the text we have nothing but the roughest and vulgarest of opposition, yet the most natural. The fist, the thumb-screw, the scourge, are what we think of at the beginning: first, that which is natural, afterwards that which is spiritual. The opposition does not end where the cruelty ends. We have thought that now the day of persecution has gone. I propose to substitute, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall flattery, or ease, or luxury? shall selfishness or gentility, or the praise of men?" The apostles were not tried upon these points. They were only out in the rough weather: they knew not the warmth of flattery or the power of the soft tongue. They fought their battle to the point of triumph; how are we going to fight ours? They conquered the stake: can we throw off the silken cords?
3. Paul himself gave an answer to the inquiry at a later date: "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world." When he wrote this epistle no answer came back upon him. But when he became an older man he saw further into the subtle play of the devil, and lived to see that love of the present world had done what tribulation, distress, etc., had failed to do! See the beginning of the mischief! Demas was separated from his nominal love of Christ, not by the sword, but by a bribe. "If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him." "No man can serve two masters." "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon!" Yet men are still tempted to believe that somehow, having two hands, they can carry two worlds, and having two feet, they can walk upon two paths. Go to a Christian man and say, "If you do not surrender your religious convictions you shall be burnt in the public market-place as a common felon," and if there is one spark of real manhood in his nature he will say, "So be it! in the sufficiency of Divine grace I am ready." Go to that self-same man in a neighbourly way and show him how a certain thing in trade can be done so as to put him into the possession of considerable resources — with which he can afterwards do good. Possibly you may succeed! When you threatened him with the stake, he spat upon your fire; when you tempted him with a bribe, he said, "I will think about it." Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Not Nero; but "a friend in the trade!" Men are separated from the love of Christ in the name of wife and children. If thou wast a single man, and thy universe bounded by a carpet-bag, how virtuous and honourable thou wouldst be! You say to God in effect, "The woman that Thou gavest to be with me, and the children of whom I am the father — these are my tempters." Has it come to this, that a man may not slay himself alone, but that he must do it in the name which should be dearest to him, and make his very children a weight about his neck that shall drag him to the depths of perdition? If you go to a Christian preacher and say to him, "If you don't cease to preach you shall be thrown to the lions," if he has one spark of manhood left in him, he will declare his readiness to suffer in the name of Christ. The best memories will crowd upon him; he will think of that wondrous climax — "Who through faith... stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire," etc. When is the apostle going to finish that, and say, "Refused the bribe; and as utterly defied the subtlety as the violence of the enemy"? The apostle exclaimed to Timothy, "Endure afflictions!" What have we to say to young preachers now? Endure prosperity! It never occurred to Paul to say to Timothy, "Now be on thy guard against flattery and merely outward success." When he charged those who were following him in the good cause, he said, "Fight the good fight, endure hardness." All his talk ran along the line of his own experience, as if it never occurred to him that in the ages to come all the violent attacks would be laid aside and the enemy would betake himself to a more subtle course of assault upon the citadel of faith!
4. Turning this matter over carefully, I have seen how possible it might be for certain constitutions and temperaments really to be terrified from the open and distinct avowal of faith; yet right down in their hearts really to be loving Jesus all the time. But a man led away from the truth by a bribe, a soul to whom prosperity was shown as a lure — that is the meanest, basest cowardice! If the man who shrank from martyrdom may escape, what escape can there be for the man who took forbidden fruit, did things in secret which he was ashamed of in public, and who was separated from the love of Christ, not nominally and professionally, but who had his heart eaten out of him by some invisible and voracious foe? Separated from the love of Christ! What by? By the stroke of a feather! by a whispered temptation! by a mouthful of poisoned honey! The apostles gave the right answers to violence — what reply shall we make to subtlety?
(J. Parker, 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?