For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
(1) Israel had been scattered (ver. 11).
(2) The people had been defeated in arms (ver. 10).
(3) They were a reproach and a byword among the nations (vers. 13, 14).
(4) They were sold into slavery (ver. 12).
(5) They were "counted as sheep for the slaughter" (vers. 11, 22).
(6) All this had happened to them, although they had not departed from their God; and although this had happened, still they were not departing from him (vers. 17, 18).
(7) So far from this, they were even slain for their fidelity to truth and to God. "For thy sake we are killed all the day long" (ver. 22). It is not easy to find a period in the national life when the whole of these seven, data can be verified. By one consideration or other, we are almost driven forward to the time of the Maccabees, between B.C. 200 and B.C. 160 (2 Macc. 5:11-23). Mr. Walford says, "That fierce and idolatrous prince Antiochus Epiphanes, the King of Syria, was actuated by an inveterate hatred to the laws and religion of the Jews; and he employed the utmost efforts of his policy and power to induce them to apostatize. Under the severest penalties, he prohibited the worship of Jehovah, the celebration of the sabbath, and other religious festivals, the practice of circumcision, and the whole of the precepts of the Mosaic Law. Notwithstanding this dreadful persecution, the greater part of the people steadily adhered to the Divine institutions, and refused to comply with the idolatrous acts to which their tormentors would have compelled them, though they suffered the most dreadful tortures for their noncompliance with the injunctions of their formidable adversaries." To this period alone do we feel warranted in referring this psalm. There are two objections which have been made thereto. One, that the canon of Old Testament Scripture was finally closed long before. But such does not appear to have been the case. Another, that at the time of the Maccabees the hope of a resurrection buoyed up the sufferers to an extent of which this psalm gives no trace whatever (2 Macc. 7:6-17). But though this may have some weight, yet we must be careful not to lay too much stress on what the psalm does not contain. In all probability the survivors were more broken in spirit than such as were appointed unto death. Anyway, it is fairly clear that in the period to which we now refer, each one of the seven data above named can be verified with tolerable ease. But this cannot be said of either of the other periods to which the plaint of this psalm has been assigned. These are:
1. The time of David. (So Hengstenberg, Delitzsch, Moll, Fausset, et al.) But in David's time we cannot verify either the first, second, third, or seventh of the above data. As Calvin remarks, the Church and nation, as a whole, were prosperous and victorious in David's time.
2. Other periods assigned have been - the time of the Exile (Geikie); the times of Jchoiachin and Zedekiah (Baur, De Wette, and Tholuck); the times of Josiah and Jehoiakim (Barnes); the last days of the Persian dynasty (Ewald); but of one and all of these it may be said that they fail to meet the conditions of data 6 and 7. For the Chronicler expressly declares that the troubles of those periods came upon Israel in consequence of the peoples' unfaithfulness to their covenant and their God. Consequently, until further light is thrown on the subject, we adhere to the Maccabean period as that which most nearly fulfils the conditions to which reference is made. Another question is this - Is the Church's strong assertion of national integrity to God justifiable? Some say, Yes (so Moll, Delitzsch). Some, No (so Perowne). But it is only fair to the writer to suppose him to refer simply to the occasion that drew forth the complaint; he cannot mean that all the nation had been always and uniformly faithful. His intention evidently is this - that there was at that time no defection from God on the part of the people to account for the specific persecution over which he mourns. And since this is the case, he feels he may appeal to God to fulfil his own promise, and to save them for his mercies' sake. We are not prepared to question the propriety of this. All depends on the spirit in which it was said. We well remember that, in the late American War, a noted and eloquent abolitionist went so far as to maintain that the North must win, because God was God! At the same time, there is no doubt that the complaint, the appeal, and the whole tone of the psalm bear traces of a partial revelation, and consequently of an imperfectly developed faith. We have but to pass over the line that divides the two dispensations, to plant ourselves in the middle of the first Christian century, and there we find that Christians were having, and were likely to have, a struggle as hard and fierce as that of the Hebrews of old. So much so that one of their number adopts as his own the most touching words in the whole psalm, "For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter." And yet there is neither moan nor sigh, no, not a tear; rather, a song of gladness, "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us!" (Romans 8:36, 37). Whence the contrast between the Hebrews sigh and the Christians song whilst in the midst of persecution and death!
I. IN THE HEBREW DISPENSATION GOD SPAKE THROUGH PROPHETS; IN THE CHRISTIAN GOD HAS SPOKEN IN HIS SON. (Hebrews 1:1.) The great Transfiguration scene sets this forth in marvellous clearness. Moses and Elias vanish from sight, and the favoured three are left with Jesus only; in him believers saw the incarnate Son of God, the Father's express Image, who brought with him, in peerless union, the tenderness and sympathy of the brother-man, with the majesty and might of the infinite and eternal God. Hence the figure in the background of Hebrew thought was vastly different from that in the background of Christian thought; the former commanded reverential heed, as a Messenger from heaven; the latter, unbounded love and entire consecration, as Saviour and Lord of all!
II. THE STORY OF THE REDEMPTION WITH WHICH ISRAEL'S NATIONAL LIFE OPENED IS FAR OUTDONE BY THE HISTORY OF THE REDEMPTION BROUGHT IN BY JESUS CHRIST. It was with a glow of pride and thankfulness that the Hebrew singer recounted the deliverance from Egypt, and the entrance to Canaan's land (see also Psalm 78., 105., 106., 107.). But how vastly is all this surpassed both in tenderness and in grandeur, by such words as these! - "He loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20); "Having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." The words fell with force and beauty on the ears of Old Testament saints, "I gave Egypt for thy ransom; Ethiopia and Seba for thee;" but how much greater the charm on Christian ears of the words, "He gave himself" (Isaiah 43:3, 4; Galatians 2:20)!
God, in the Person of his Son, Has all his mightiest works outdone." III. THE HEBREW CHURCH, TERRITORIAL AND NATIONAL, HAS GIVEN PLACE TO THE CHURCH OF GOD, made up of men gathered from every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongue. The Church's "land" now can never be invaded. We can never sigh, "The heathen are come into thine inheritance." That is impossible. The entrance into Christ's Church is not decided by rites nor by birth, save by the new birth of the Holy Ghost. Neither features nor racial marks form any sign of this new brotherhood. "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (Galatians 6:15). IV. THE HATRED OF THE JEW BY THE GENTILE IS SUCCEEDED BY THE WORLD'S HATRED OF THE CHURCH. Where religion is or has been regarded as a piece of statecraft, whether among pagans, Papists, or Protestants, divergence from the rites appointed by state or Church has been punished with fire and sword. And the Antiochian persecution in the time of the Maccabees had its parallel in the Diocletian persecution in the Christian era. And although in our own land such treatment is not permitted, yet there is, though largely unseen to the public eye, a fierce hatred by the ungodly of pure and undefiled religion; and many and many a faithful soldier of the cross has to endure petty insult, abuse, and scorn, to an extent known only to himself and his Lord. V. THE HATRED OF THE WORLD, WHICH WAS THE HEBREWS' DREAD, IS NOW THE CHRISTIAN'S BADGE OF HONOUR. It was SO with the apostles (Acts 5:41; Galatians 6:17). It was so with private Christians in apostolic times (1 Peter 4:13-16). In enduring persecution in the early Christian centuries, believers so regarded it. And even now we have to remember the Master's words in John 15:18-21. The ancient Hebrews could not bear the scorn of their foes; Christians regard it as "the fellowship of Christ's sufferings," and delighted in the words, 2 Corinthians 4:10, 11. VI. IN THE MIDST OF FIERCEST PERSECUTION, CHRISTIANS HAVE REALIZED THE CHANGELESSNESS OF DIVINE LOVE; even when they were "counted as sheep for the slaughter." Where we have from the Hebrews a groan, we have from the Christians a song (Romans 8:35, 36; Stephen, Acts 6:15 and Acts 7:55-60; Matthew 5:12; Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 1:29; Hebrews 10:3, 4; James 1:2; 1 Peter 4:13, 16). Believers knew that nothing could ever separate them from Divine love; and that the stroke that closed the life below set them free for the higher life "with Christ, which was very far better." VII. HENCE CHRISTIANS SAW, WITH A CLEARNESS TO WHICH HEBREW SAINTS COULD NOT ATTAIN, THAT THE CHURCH EXISTS IN TWO WORLDS. So our Lord has taught in Matthew 16:18 (Revised Version); Revelation 1:18. And the disclosure of this became even clearer through the visions granted to the seer in Patmos, when (Revelation 7.) he saw one part of the Church, below, sealed in the great tribulation, and another part of the Church, above, caught up out of it. Knowing this, as the early Christians did, they knew also that the rage and hate of the enemy could in no wise really harm the Church, since their Lord was building it up in the realm above by the incoming of saints passing up from below. Hence even the slaughter of the people of God was but as a chariot of fire conducting them to the region where "they cannot die any more." VIII. THU, INSTEAD OF AN AGONIZING CRY TO GOD TO INTERPOSE, THERE IS A PEAL OF TRIUMPH THAT NO INTERPOSITION IS NEEDED. "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." More than conquerors! What a grand and noble defiance of the enemy is there here! And how richly glorious is this proof of the development of the Divine intent to reveal his love more fully as the ages rolled on! Note: If an expositor unfolds Psalm 44. historically only, he must transfer himself to the ancient times; but if he will deal with that psalm from a Christian standpoint, he will have a glorious field for expansion in contrasting the piteous wail of Psalm 44:22 with the gladsomeness with which the very same words are quoted and applied in the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Blessed be God that we live in the days of Christ's fulness of light and life! Amen. - C.
III. THE HEBREW CHURCH, TERRITORIAL AND NATIONAL, HAS GIVEN PLACE TO THE CHURCH OF GOD, made up of men gathered from every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongue. The Church's "land" now can never be invaded. We can never sigh, "The heathen are come into thine inheritance." That is impossible. The entrance into Christ's Church is not decided by rites nor by birth, save by the new birth of the Holy Ghost. Neither features nor racial marks form any sign of this new brotherhood. "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (Galatians 6:15).
IV. THE HATRED OF THE JEW BY THE GENTILE IS SUCCEEDED BY THE WORLD'S HATRED OF THE CHURCH. Where religion is or has been regarded as a piece of statecraft, whether among pagans, Papists, or Protestants, divergence from the rites appointed by state or Church has been punished with fire and sword. And the Antiochian persecution in the time of the Maccabees had its parallel in the Diocletian persecution in the Christian era. And although in our own land such treatment is not permitted, yet there is, though largely unseen to the public eye, a fierce hatred by the ungodly of pure and undefiled religion; and many and many a faithful soldier of the cross has to endure petty insult, abuse, and scorn, to an extent known only to himself and his Lord.
V. THE HATRED OF THE WORLD, WHICH WAS THE HEBREWS' DREAD, IS NOW THE CHRISTIAN'S BADGE OF HONOUR. It was SO with the apostles (Acts 5:41; Galatians 6:17). It was so with private Christians in apostolic times (1 Peter 4:13-16). In enduring persecution in the early Christian centuries, believers so regarded it. And even now we have to remember the Master's words in John 15:18-21. The ancient Hebrews could not bear the scorn of their foes; Christians regard it as "the fellowship of Christ's sufferings," and delighted in the words, 2 Corinthians 4:10, 11.
VI. IN THE MIDST OF FIERCEST PERSECUTION, CHRISTIANS HAVE REALIZED THE CHANGELESSNESS OF DIVINE LOVE; even when they were "counted as sheep for the slaughter." Where we have from the Hebrews a groan, we have from the Christians a song (Romans 8:35, 36; Stephen, Acts 6:15 and Acts 7:55-60; Matthew 5:12; Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 1:29; Hebrews 10:3, 4; James 1:2; 1 Peter 4:13, 16). Believers knew that nothing could ever separate them from Divine love; and that the stroke that closed the life below set them free for the higher life "with Christ, which was very far better."
VII. HENCE CHRISTIANS SAW, WITH A CLEARNESS TO WHICH HEBREW SAINTS COULD NOT ATTAIN, THAT THE CHURCH EXISTS IN TWO WORLDS. So our Lord has taught in Matthew 16:18 (Revised Version); Revelation 1:18. And the disclosure of this became even clearer through the visions granted to the seer in Patmos, when (Revelation 7.) he saw one part of the Church, below, sealed in the great tribulation, and another part of the Church, above, caught up out of it. Knowing this, as the early Christians did, they knew also that the rage and hate of the enemy could in no wise really harm the Church, since their Lord was building it up in the realm above by the incoming of saints passing up from below. Hence even the slaughter of the people of God was but as a chariot of fire conducting them to the region where "they cannot die any more."
VIII. THU, INSTEAD OF AN AGONIZING CRY TO GOD TO INTERPOSE, THERE IS A PEAL OF TRIUMPH THAT NO INTERPOSITION IS NEEDED. "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." More than conquerors! What a grand and noble defiance of the enemy is there here! And how richly glorious is this proof of the development of the Divine intent to reveal his love more fully as the ages rolled on! Note: If an expositor unfolds Psalm 44. historically only, he must transfer himself to the ancient times; but if he will deal with that psalm from a Christian standpoint, he will have a glorious field for expansion in contrasting the piteous wail of Psalm 44:22 with the gladsomeness with which the very same words are quoted and applied in the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Blessed be God that we live in the days of Christ's fulness of light and life! Amen. - C.
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life... shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus
I. UNAFFECTED BY THE EXTREMEST CHANGES OF OUR CONDITION.
1. The apostle begins his catalogue of vanquished foes by a pair of opposites, "neither death nor life," which cover the whole ground, and represent the extremes of change which can befall us. If these two stations, so far from each other, are equally near to God's love, then no intermediate point can be far from it. "Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord." His love to us makes no account of that mightiest of changes. How should it be affected by slighter ones? The distance of a star is measured by the apparent change in its position, as seen from different points of the earth's surface or orbit. But this great light stands steadfast in our heaven, nor moves a hair's breadth, nor pours a feebler ray on us, whether we look up to it from the midsummer of busy life, or from the midwinter of death.
2. Of course the confidence of immortality is implied in this thought. Death does not affect the essential vitality of the soul; so it does not affect the outflow of God's love to that soul. It is a change of condition and circumstance, and no more.
3. How this thought contrasts with the saddest aspect of the power of death! Death unclasps our hands from the closest, dearest grasp, parts soul and body, loosens every bond of society; but there is one bond which his "abhorred shears" cannot cut. Their edge is turned on it. One Hand holds us in a grasp which the fleshless fingers of death in vain strive to loosen. The separator becomes the uniter; he rends us apart from the world that he may "bring us to God." The love filtered by drops on us in life is poured upon us in a flood in death!
II. UNDIVERTED FROM US BY ANY OTHER ORDER OF BEINGS. "Nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers." The supposition which is, indeed, an impossible one, that these ministering spirits should so forget their mission and contradict their nature as to seek to bar us out from the love which it is their chiefest joy to bring to us; and its very impossibility gives energy to his conclusion (see also Galatians 1:8), preaching another gospel than that which he had preached to them. The general thought implies —
1. The utter powerlessness of any third party in regard to the relations between our souls and God. We have to do with Him alone. These two, God and the soul, have to "transact," as if there were no other beings in the universe.(1) Angels, principalities, etc., may behold with sympathetic joy, and minister blessing in many ways; but the decisive act of union between God and the soul they can neither effect nor prevent.(2) And as for them, so for men around us; the limits of their power to harm us are soon set. They may shut us out from human love by calumnies, and annoy us in a thousand ways; they may build a wall around us, and imprison us from many a joy and fair prospect: but they cannot put a roof on it to keep out the sweet influences from above, or hinder us from looking up to the heavens. Nobody can come between us and God but ourselves.
2. These blessed spirits do not absorb and intercept His love. The planet nearest the sun is saturated with fiery brightness, but the rays pass on to each of the sister spheres in its turn, and travel away outwards to where the remotest of them all rolls in its far-off orbit. Like that poor woman who could lay her fingers on the hem of Christ's garment, notwithstanding the thronging multitude, we can reach our hands through all the crowd, or rather He reaches His strong hand to us and heals and blesses us. All the guests are fed full at that great table. One's gain is not another's loss. The multitudes sit on the green grass, and the last man of the last fifty gets as much as the first; and more remains than fed them all. This healing fountain is not exhausted of its curative power by the early comers.
III. RAISED ABOVE THE POWER OF TIME. "Nor things present, nor things to come." We had first a pair of opposites, and then a triplet; now again a pair of opposites, again followed by a triplet. The effect of this is to divide the whole into two, and to throw the first and second classes more closely together, as also the third and fourth. Time and space, these two mysterious ideas, which work so fatally on all human love, are powerless here.
1. The great revelation of God, on which the whole of Judaism was built, was that made to Moses of the name "I am that I am." And parallel was that symbol of the bush, which signified not the continuance of Israel, unharmed by the fiery furnace of persecution, but the eternity of Israel's God. Both proclaimed the same great truth of self-derived, self-determined, timeless, undecaying being.
2. And this eternity of being is no mere metaphysical abstraction. It is eternity of love, for God is love. We know of earthly loves which cannot die, and we have to thank God for such instances of love stronger than death, which make it easier for us to believe in the unchanging duration of His. But we know, too, of love that can change, and we know that all love must part. How blessed then to know of a love which cannot change or die! The past, the present and the future are all the same to Him. The whole of what He has been to any past, He is to us to-day.
3. So we may bring the blessedness of all the past into the present, and calmly face the misty future, sure that it cannot rob us of His love. Looking on all the flow of ceaseless change of earthly affection, we can lift up with gladness, heightened by the contrast, the triumphant song of the ancient Church, "Oh, give thanks unto the Lord: for He is good: because His mercy endureth for ever!"
IV. PRESENT EVERYWHERE. The apostle ends with, "nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature," as if he had got impatient of the enumeration of impotencies, and having named the outside boundaries in space, flings, as it were, with one rapid toss, into that large room the whole that it can contain, and triumphs over it all. As the former clause proclaimed the powerlessness of time, so this proclaims the powerlessness of that other great mystery of creatural life which we call space. Height or depth, it matters not. That diffusive love diffuses itself equally in all directions. The distance from the centre is equal to Zenith or to Nadir. Here we have the same process applied to that idea of omnipresence as was applied in the former clause to the idea of eternity. That thought, so hard to grasp with vividness, and not altogether a glad one to a sinful soul, is all softened and glorified, as some solemn Alpine cliff of bare rock is when the tender morning light glows on it, when it is thought of as the omnipresence of love. "Then, God, seest me," may be a stern word, if the God who sees be but a mighty Maker or a righteous Judge. But how different it all is when we can east over the marble whiteness of that solemn thought the warm hue of life. In that great ocean of the Divine love we live and move and have our being, floating in it like some sea flower which spreads its filmy beauty and waves its long tresses in the depths of mid-ocean. The sound of its waters is ever in our ears, and above, beneath, around us, its mighty currents run evermore. We need not fear the omnipresence of love, nor the omniscience which knows us altogether, and loves us even as it knows. Rather we shall be glad that we are ever in His presence.Conclusion:
1. The recognition of this triumphant sovereignty of love over all these real and supposed antagonists makes us, too, lords over them, and delivers us from the temptations which some of them present us to separate ourselves from the love of God. They all become our servants and helpers, uniting us to that love. So we are set free from the dread of death and from the distractions incident to life. So we are delivered from superstitious dread of an unseen world, and from craven fear of men. So we are emancipated from absorption in the present and from careful thought for the future. So we are at home everywhere, and every corner of the universe is to us one of the many mansions of our Father's house. "All things are yours .... and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's."
2. But remember that this love of God is "in Christ Jesus our Lord." Love illimitable, all-pervasive, eternal; yes, but a love which has a channel and a course, love which has a method and a process by which it pours itself over the world. In Christ the love of God is all centred and embodied, that it may be imparted to all sinful and hungry hearts, even as burning coals are gathered on a hearth that they may give warmth to all that are in the house.
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)
1. By the inward persuasion of the Holy Ghost in our own consciences.
2. We come to be assured of our condition, from the reflection of conscience itself, our rejoicing is this (2 Corinthians 1:12; 1 John 3:21). The second is the matter of it, or thing itself protested; and that is much one with that which he had before harped upon, "That nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ." Now this again is here laid down in these two verses together, two manner of ways. First, by an enumeration or induction of the several particulars; and secondly, by a winding-up of all together in one general conclusion. First, death shall not do it; death, it makes a great separation, it separates the soul from the body, two friends which have been a great while joined together, and it separates a man from the world. Oh! but for all this it does not separate a believer from Christ. First, for the souls of God's children; these are not separated from Him by death. Not separated? Nay, they are so much the more conjoined. St. Paul desired to be dissolved, that he might be with Christ (Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:6, 8). And so likewise for the bodies of Christians; these they are not separated from Christ neither, even when they lie in the grave, they are very accountable in the eyes of God, and He has a special care of them and regard unto them. The very dust of God's people is precious, and their very bones are numbered by Him. No, nor secondly again by life; that is another part of this link. Life, it shall not prove hurtful or prejudicial to the people of God. First, not the good of life — I mean the outward good, and comfortableness of it. There is a great deal of hazard and danger in this. First, as it is an occasion to make men to be so much the more in love with the world. But God's children are delivered from it, as having their affections weaned in them. A second evil of life in the prosperous part of it is, that it makes a man to defer his repentance and conversion to God. Thirdly, life is thus far dangerous, as it keeps a man from suffering for Christ; the more that any man has to lose, the less commonly is he willing to it. So again, as to the evils of life, ye may take it there also, that life in this sense is not prejudicial to God's servants, but sanctified to them. First, as it is a time of sinning, for so this present life is, and therein irksome to God's children. Secondly, as it is a time of misery. And thirdly, as the time of deferring of their reward; as long as God's children live they are kept out of their inheritance. Thus we see how God's children have an interest in life and death both, as making for their advantage, and it does belong unto them, as it is elsewhere expressed (Romans 14:8). The second is, "Nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers." First, not the good angels. Why? Whoever suspected them? What need was there for the apostle to put in that? I answer upon a double account. First, by way of supposition. The apostle seems to argue here, as he does also in another place, "Though we, or an angel from heaven," etc. (Galatians 1:8). Not as if they were likely to endeavour it, but if they should do it, it would be to no purpose, for they should never effect it. The good angels may be conceived to be possibly prejudicial to the saints and servants of God ministerially, and in reference to their office; and that is, by the withdrawing of their help to us, or as being instruments of inflicting punishment and vengeance upon us; but thus now they are not to God's elect, for they are still active for them to good upon all occasions. We may understand it of the devils. Thus (Revelation 12:8) it is said that Michael and his angels fought, and the dragon and his angels. It is most certain that the devil, that is, the chief and principal of them, hath very great power for a while permitted unto him, as to the trouble of God's servants. I will instance in one particular amongst the rest, and that is his casting of evil and troublesome fancies and conceits into the mind, and that sometimes with that force and violence, as that the mind shall not be able to resist them or keep them out. These are those kind of thoughts wherewith the devil does oftentimes disturb and perplex the minds of Christians; but that these are no way prejudicial to them in matter of guilt, or arguments for the questions of God's love, or real ground of disquieting to them, will appear unto us upon these considerations. First, from their manner of acting and proceeding in the soul itself, wherein there is neither assent nor consent given unto them, but only a bare apprehension of them. Secondly, this may also appear from the suddenness and quickness of them; for they are commonly darted into the mind without any connection or dependence, whereas a man's own proper thoughts are with more leisure, and deliberation, and subordination of one thing to another. Thirdly, from the frequency and multiplicity of them, together with their unseasonableness; for they may be a thousand times in a day passing as lightning into an house from one end of it to another, and in continual motion. Fourthly, from the quality and condition of them, as being contrary to the very light of nature, and the habitual frame and disposition of the soul, which of itself is considerable in it. The main ground and foundation of this restrainedness of Satan's power is intimated to us in the text, and that is in reference to Christ; it is the love of God in Him, and therefore Satan cannot separate us from it; and Christ is considerable of us under a double notion, of an head, and of an advocate. The third is neither things present nor things to come. These shall not be able neither to separate us from God's love in Christ. First, not things present; they shall not be able to do it, whether we take it in good things or in evil. This is a point very satisfactory in the worst times that are. No, nor yet, secondly, "Things to come," These shall not do it neither. "Things to come" — they are such things as are hid from men's discerning, and they know not what to make of them; yea, but thus far they are certain, as they shall make for the good of God's people; and therefore in the place before cited (1 Corinthians 3:22), as things present are made a part of their portion, and said to be theirs; so are things to come likewise. And so indeed upon the point, all things in the full latitude and extent of being. If we speak of things to come, but as to this life, and as taken under the notion of uncertainty, God's children are not at a loss here, but upon very good terms; but then if we speak of things to come as to the life following, and as under the notion of certainty, here they are infinitely and transcendently glorious. "Things to come" — these are the greatest interest and concernment of believers, and such as above all others they do most reckon and depend upon. It is the great disadvantage and prejudices of men of the world that their happiness it is confined to things present.
(Thomas Horton, D. D.)
I. THIS CROWNING LOVE OF GOD IS MADE KNOWN TO US IN THE BIBLE. The sea swelling with its tides, this great earth revolving on its axis, and rushing forward in its orbit the systems of worlds, all speak of the power of God. That He is a God of beauty we read in the leaf, the flower, the sea shell. But we do not find out from nature that God loves. When we understand this love of God, then are we ready to understand redemption.
II. THIS LOVE FASTENS ITSELF UPON HUMAN BEINGS. Compared with the mighty forces of nature, how weak we are; compared with eternity, how brief is life. What is man that God should observe him, and, much less, love him? Then we are so severed from God in capacity of mind, and so impure. We can readily believe that God loves the Church, or this and that eminent Christian, or the martyrs, but we doubt concerning ourselves. So many a Christian walks this world with timid apprehensions instead of the assurance of one who walks a world he knows his Father rules. If he realised that God loved him, then would he be joyous and triumphant — be strong for any service.
III. THE ETERNITY OF THIS LOVE. We feel at times that God loves us. But is this love eternal or fleeting? Is it fastened upon our personality, or upon our changing disposition? If we have been deceived in the character of one we love, or if that character has undergone a change, our love changes. Now if there is a radical change or degradation of character, God's love may change; but aside from such change, it is not possible that anything can produce a change in the love of God. The assurance of this is the wine of life, poured from the chalice in God's hand, into our fainting hearts.
1. Death cannot separate from the love of God. We go with a friend up to the last moment on earth. We see the mind still active, the memory clear, the noble impulses of the soul still predominant. Do you suppose that he who built the cathedral is ended while the work of his hand calls forth the admiration of mankind? We have the assurance in the resurrection of Christ, that death does not destroy the soul. Rather it sets the soul free from the lassitude and inactiveness of the body. The body hampers and manacles the soul. Now, can you conceive that death, which so adds to the spirit, can separate from the love of God? Death does not affect our love for our departed friends, save to augment it. How much more will it but augment the love of God.
2. But may not life? Life may reach its fourscore years and work many changes. The vigour is gone, and the beauty; decrepitude has come. But what is life to eternity? A dewdrop to the ocean; less than a single modest daisy to the innumerable worlds above. Shall the decrepitude of this brief life stand against an eternity without decrepitude? No changes wrought in the circumstances of life can affect the love of God. These are as nothing to the God of infinite resources. To Him, what matters it whether we dwell in a palace or a cottage? The favour is rather on the side of those who are in adverse circumstances. We love these who struggle more than those who enjoy; those who suffer patiently more than those who reign in royal splendour. Christ, when in the world, did not take His apostles from among the rulers; He made His abode with the poor rather than the rich. No; life cannot bring from the love of God, but rather brings us nearer because of its trials, temptations, and weaknesses.
3. But may not other powers? There are mighty ones above. May not these absorb the love of God? No; He takes care of the least as of the greatest. No star staggers in its course and halts to be caught in the grasp of God and held in its place. All the universe goes on evenly, quietly, surely. His love cannot be exhausted any more than His power. Weakness makes more certain this love. He sees us struggling against temptation which angels cannot experience, Nay, more, this love came to us through Jesus, His only Son.
4. May not time produce this separation? In the unrolling cycles, may not changes be wrought, powers developed, etc.? No; here come in the unchanging nature and the eternity of God. The same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Yesterday just gone, to-day which is here, and for ever — oh, what a launch of thought!
5. May not space cause this separation? When we think of the vast distances in the universe; that the diameter of this system is seven hundred million miles; that astronomers, by an approximate parallax, show us that yonder star is so far away that it would take its light, travelling twelve millions of miles a minute, seventy-two years to reach us; that the unresolved nebula is so far away that its light would not reach us for seven hundred thousand years. When we think of these vast spaces, have we not reason to be fearful that there may be something in them that can separate us from God's love? No, God is everywhere Master.Conclusion:
1. What a terrific power is sin, since it can separate us from this love of God! More powerful than life or death, than all the universe.
2. What a privilege is this of the Christian to be safe in the love of God beyond all power of harm, to have a portion with God for ever.
(R. S. Storrs, D.D.)Ecclesiastes 12:5. And so for abasement and lowness of condition; he does not suffer from that neither, as St. Paul says of himself in another place: "He knows how to abound, and he knows to be abased; to be full, and to be hungry; to abound, and to suffer need." There is a depth of affliction as well as an height of prosperity. And so for all other kinds and conditions of abasements of reproach, and contempt, and ignominy, which is cast upon them; these things they are digested by them. He that is low in his own eyes he can be content to be low in another's. Secondly, not the height of spiritual enlargement, nor the depth of spiritual desertions. Spiritual enlargement, it is an height, and a very great one. Neither is the doctrine of assurance a doctrine of pride; neither is the state of assurance a state of pride. So again, as to spiritual desertions; the depth of that shall not hinder neither. This in Scripture is sometimes called a depth, as in Psalm 130:1. Thirdly, take this height and depth here spoken of, as to the mysteries, whether of faith or providence, and ye shall find that neither these shall prove any disparagement to God's servants. Lastly, neither height nor depth; that is, neither things above nor things below. It is a large and comprehensive expression which the Scripture uses in suchlike cases, when it will take in all, and so speak of anything, as to leave nothing out. Yet if we will take it more restrainedly and particularly, we may take it thus. First, take it as to the influences of Heaven. These are such as many people, especially now at this time, have a great regard unto, and that a great deal more than to other things which are more to be regarded. But those which are the servants of God are above all these heights. Those who are the children of God, and careful to walk in His fear, they shall not need to be "dismayed at the signs of heaven" (Jeremiah 10:2). And so likewise we may take it as to the earth and the depths thereof. How many dangers are we here incident to, and yet graciously preserved from them? Now while the apostle is thus curious in this exact enumeration of particulars, and such as are so full and comprehensive, there are two things which we may gather from it: First, the weakness of our faith, especially in times of temptation, which the Spirit of God is fain to provide for, by such a complete dealing with us. Secondly, it shows the certainty of our own salvation. Seeing none of these things fore-mentioned are able to hinder us, we may from hence take notice of the sureness of the thing itself against all opposition. The second is, the general conclusion or main doctrine itself, and that is, "that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus." Wherein again we have two branches more: First, the firmness or immovableness of God's affection. That nothing whatsoever shall be able to separate us from it. This is agreeable to the whole current of Scripture (Psalm 125:1; Hebrews 12:28). Now the firmness and stability of God's people, in regard of their spiritual estate, may be thus surrendered: First, from the promise of God; it is a part of His gracious covenant with them. Secondly, the strength and power of Christ, that does likewise lay a ground for this truth; there His ability joined to God's faithfulness, and the power of God joined to the truth of God (Hebrews 7:25). Thirdly, it may be further evinced from the nature of saving grace itself, and the work of regeneration, which is a constant and abiding principle, and so is signified to us to be in 1 John 3:9. Take anything else in the world, besides true grace indeed, and ye shall find an uncertainty in it; let it be education, or custom, or natural conscience, or the credit of religion; none of these things are sure to hold or to continue long. But now for the power of godliness, and a true gracious heart in good earnest, it is such as is lasting and remaining. Fourthly, a Christian's unmovableness is confirmed from the intercession of Christ. Whatever it is that Christ asks in the behalf of believers, it is most undoubtedly granted unto them. Fifthly, from the nature of election, which is a firm, and unchangeable decree; thus in ver. 33 of this present chapter, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" And so much may suffice to have spoken of the first particular in this second general, which is the firmness or immovableness of God's affection considered in itself; that nothing is able to separate true Christians and believers from His love. The second is the ground or conveyance of this affection, and that is expressed in these words — "Which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." First, He is the conveyance of His Father's love unto us, by virtue of that near union and relation which we have to Him; forasmuch as we are very members incorporate into Him, and made one with Him. Secondly, Christ is also the conveyance of the Father's love to us meritoriously, and by way of procurement; Christ has obtained of God the Father to love us together with Himself.
(Thomas Horton, D.D.)
I. THE CONSTANCY OF THE LOVE OF GOD TO THEM THAT ARE IN CHRIST JESUS.
1. We are the objects of God's love. Now, it is the very nature of love, in its truer and more noble forms, to be constant. "Love is strong as death. Many waters cannot quench love," etc. Love is not mere transient sentiment; it is a passion which moves with innate energy; of all moral forces the strongest. You may torture and slay a man, but you cannot coerce his affections. Formidable difficulties may oppose his love in its course, but love will surmount them or perish in the attempt. There may be unworthiness on the part of its objects, but even then how often have we seen a mother's, a wife's, a daughter's love burn as brightly as ever. Love can accomplish what no mechanical or physical force can. There is truth in the quaint old fable, which represents a traveller pursuing his way with a mantle round his shoulders. The sun and the wind contested as to which was strong enough to compel the wayfarer to abandon his cherished covering. First, Boreas blew his fiercest blast, but the harder he blew, the faster did the traveller bind and clasp his cloak. Then Sol began to pour upon his head his melting beams. In a little while our hero freely surrendered; the oppressive garment was unwrapped, and loosened, and thrown open, and finally flung away altogether. The wind represents physical force, and the sun the energy of love. Well, now, God loves us; and we may at least be sure of this, that God's love is a nobler affection than any human love whatever (Isaiah 49:15; Jeremiah 31:3).
2. This love is God's love. If it were the love of a creature, mighty and good, we might fairly put confidence in its stability; but now we see it to be that of the Creator. If He loves us, who can separate us from His love? Look at —(1) The power of the Almighty. There may be angels, men, heights, depths, things present and things to come; but all are equally powerless against the Omnipotent. None can injure whom He defends; none can impoverish whom He enriches.(2) The sovereignty of His will (Malachi 3:6). God knew everything about us before He set His love upon us. He has nothing further to learn concerning us. We cannot surprise Him by new revelations of character. He elected us as objects of His love while we were yet sinners. All being known to Him, and all being in His hands, surely it is impossible that if He once resolved to love us, He could ever be moved from that love.
3. God's love is in Christ Jesus our Lord. In other words, it is a love whose outflow and development are based upon the redeeming work of Christ, and whose constancy, therefore, is guaranteed and assured by all the value and validity which attach to that work.
II. THE CREATURES PRESUMABLY HOSTILE TO THE SAINTS.
1. "Death," whether natural or by violence, may sever us from many comforts and companions, but not from Jesus or His love. On the contrary, death brings us nearer to Christ than we were before. When we die, we go to be with Jesus, which is far better. Death, then, is an enemy converted into a friend.
2. "Life." It is often a more perilous thing to live than to die. But let us not fear life. If for us to die would be gain, for us to live is Christ.
3. "Angels, nor principalities, nor powers." We conceive of the angels as divided into ranks; some being higher and more powerful than the rest. But whether they are the ordinary angels, or whether they be the captains and chieftains, subordinate or supreme, of the angelic creation, all alike are powerless to intercept God's love. But suppose it possible that all the angels, good and bad together, were to be in league against us; suppose that the malice of the one class were to be combined with the majesty of the other, we should still be secure, invulnerable, inviolable, and nothing they could do should separate us from the love of God.
4. "Things present." Things visible are all our present surroundings of difficulty and circumstances of trial. These are enumerated, in some measure, in the former verses; but God loves us through them all. He will not suffer us to be tempted beyond our power of endurance, but does with every exigency open a door for our escape.
5. "Things to come." We often forebode evil, and dread the future. But things to come are known to God; and whatever may betide, He will stand by us to the last. As our days, our strength shall be.
6. "Height" and "depth." Whatever high thing there is, or whatever low thing, it need not alarm, as it cannot over. power us. It may be worldly honour or abasement, but still we need not fear them. Neither the luxurious blandishments of affluence, nor the humiliating straitnesses of penury, shall separate us from God or destroy our interest in His love.
7. "Any other creature." There, I have mentioned everything I could think of, and if I have omitted anything there is nothing to fear.
(T. G. Horton.)
(J. Hamilton, D.D.)
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