Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril…
I. THE VICTORIES ALREADY WON by those who have been possessed by the love of Jesus.
1. "Tribulation," in the Latin, signifies threshing, and God's people are often beaten with the heavy flail of trouble; but they are more than conquerors, since they lose nothing but their straw and chaff. The Greek, however, suggests pressure from without. It is used in the case of persons who are bearing heavy burdens, and are heavily pressed upon. Now, there are very few who do not meet with outward pressure, either from sickness, poverty, or bereavement; but under all believers have been sustained. It is said of the palm-tree that the more weights they hang upon it the more straight and lofty it is; and it is so with the Christian.
2. "Distress." The Greek refers to mental grief. "Straitness of place" is something like the word. We sometimes get into a position in which we feel as if we could not move; the way is shut up; and our mind is distracted; we cannot calm and steady ourselves. Well, now, if you are a genuine Christian, you will be more than a conqueror over mental distress. Jesus shall say, as He walks the tempest of your soul, "It is I, be not afraid."
3. "Persecution." This in all its forms has fallen upon the Church, and up to this moment it has never achieved a triumph, but it has cleared it of hypocrisy; when cast into the fire the pure gold lost nothing but its dross, which it might well be glad to lose.
4. "Famine." We are not so exposed to this as they were in Paul's time, who suffered the loss of all their goods, and consequently did not know where to find food for their bodies. No doubt there are some now who by their conscientious convictions are reduced to famine. But Christians bear even this sooner than sell their conscience and stain their love to Christ.
5. "Nakedness." Another terrible form of poverty.
6. "Peril" — i.e., constant exposure to sudden death. 7, "The sword" — one cruel form of death as a picture of the whole. The noble army of martyrs have given their necks to the sword as cheerfully as the bride upon the marriage day gives her baud to the bridegroom. At this day you are not, the most of you, called to all this, but if ye were, my Lord would give you grace to bear the test. Your danger is lest you grow rich, become proud, and conform to the world, and lose your faith. If you cannot be torn in pieces by the roaring lion, you may be hugged to death by the bear. I fear that the Church is far more likely to lose her integrity in these soft and silken days than she was in those rough times. Are there not professors whose methods of trade are just as vicious as those of the most tricky?
II. THE LAURELS OF THE FIGHT. The words "more than conquerors" might be rendered "more exceeding conquerors." The Vulgate has a word which means "over over-comers," over and above conquering. For a Christian to be a conqueror is a great thing: how can he he more than a conqueror? Because —
1. The power by which he overcomes is nobler far. Here is a champion just come from the Greek games, Why! the man's muscles are like steel, and you say to him, "I do not wonder that you beat and bruised your foe; if I had set up a machine made of steel it could have done the same." Where is the glory? One big brute has beaten another big brute, that is all. Dogs and bulls and game-cocks have endured as much, and perhaps more. Now, see the Christian champion. He is a simple, unlettered person, who just knows that Christ came into the world to save sinners; yet he has won the victory over philosophers. He has been tempted and tried; he was very weak, yet somehow he has conquered. This is victory indeed when the base things of this world overthrow the mighty.
2. The conqueror fights with some selfish motive, even when the motive is patriotism. But the Christian fights neither for any set of men nor for himself: in contending for truth he contends for all men, but especially for God; and in suffering for the right he suffers with no prospect of earthly gain.
3. The Christian loses nothing even by the fight itself. In most wars the gain seldom makes any recompense for the effusion of blood; but the Christian's faith, when tried, grows stronger; his patience, when tempted, becomes more patient.
4. Most conquerors have to struggle and agonise to win the conquest, but Christians, when their love to Christ is strong, have found it even easy to overcome suffering for the Lord. Look at Blandina, enveloped in a net, tossed upon the horns of bulls, and then made to sit in a red hot iron chair to die, and yet unconquered to the close. Indeed, the tormentors were tormented to think they could not conquer timid women and children. I saw upon the lake of Orta, in northern Italy, on some Roman holy day, a number of boats coming from all quarters of the lake towards the church upon the central islet of the lake, and it was beautiful to hear the plash of the oars and the sound of song; and the rowers never missed a stroke because they sang, neither was the song marred because of the plash of the oars, but on they came, singing and rowing: and so has it been with the Church of God. That oar of obedience, and that other oar of suffering — the Church has learned to ply both of these, and to sing as she rows, "Thanks be unto God, who always maketh us to triumph in every place!"
5. They have conquered their enemies by doing them good. "The Church has been the anvil, but she has broken many hammers." All true believers are far more glorious than the Roman conqueror. What flowers are they which angels strew in the path of the blessed? What songs are those which rise from yonder halls of Zion, conjubilant with song as the saints pass along to their everlasting habitations?
III. THE PERSONS THAT HAVE CONQUERED. Men who believed in Christ's love to them, and who were possessed with love to Christ. This is their sole distinction. The poorest have been as brave as the wealthy; the learned have died gloriously, but the unlearned have almost stolen the palm. There is room for all who love the Lord in this fight, and there are crowns for each.
IV. THE POWER WHICH SUSTAINED THESE MORE THAN CONQUERORS. It was "through Him that loved us." Much depends upon the leader. Christ showed them how to conquer by enduring and conquering as their example. They triumphed through Christ as their Teacher, for His doctrines strengthened their minds, but, above all, because Christ was with them. The name by which the apostle called our Lord is the key to the text, "Through Him that loved us." They knew that He loved them, and that if they suffered for His sake, it was His love which let them suffer for their ultimate gain, and for His permanent honour.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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?