Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? - I do think that this question has been generally misunderstood. The apostle is referring to the persecutions and tribulations to which genuine Christians were exposed through their attachment to Christ, and the gracious provision God had made for their support and final salvation. As in this provision God had shown his infinite love to them in providing Jesus Christ as their sin-offering, and Jesus Christ had shown his love in suffering death upon the cross for them; so, here, he speaks of the love of the followers of God to that Christ who had first loved them. Therefore the question is not, Who shall separate the love of Christ from us? or prevent Christ from loving us? but, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Who or what shall be able to remove our affection from him? And the questions that immediately follow show that this is the sense of the passage; for the tribulation, distress, etc., which he enumerates, are things by which they might be affected, but by which Christ could not be affected; and, consequently, the question most evidently refers to their love to him who had first loved them, and, while it affords a strong presumption of their perseverance, furnishes a most powerful argument against apostasy.
Shall tribulation? - Θλιψις, grievous affliction, or distress of any kind; from θλιβω, to compress, oppress, straiten, etc.; any thing by which a man is rendered miserable.
Or distress? - Στενοχωρια, a word of nearly the same import with the former, but more intense in its signification. It signifies straitness, being hemmed in on every side, without the possibility of getting out or escaping; from στενος, strait or narrow, and χωρος, a place.
Or persecution? - Διωγμος, from διωκω, to pursue, press upon, prosecute, signifies such pursuing as an enemy uses in order to overtake the object of his malice, that he may destroy him.
Or famine? - Λιμος, from λειπω, to fail; the total want of bread, and all the necessaries of life.
Or nakedness? - Γυμνοτης, being absolutely without clothing; forcibly expressed by the derivation of the word γυια μονα εχων, having one's limbs only, being totally unclothed.
Or peril? - Κινδυνος, a state of extreme and continued danger, perplexing and distressing with grievous forebodings and alarms; derived from κινει τας οδυνας, it excites anguish; because much evil is felt, and much more feared.
Or sword? - Μαχαιρα, slaughter; the total destruction of life, and especially beheading, and such like, done by the order of the civil magistrate; for the word is used in this epistle, Romans 13:4, to signify the authority and power which he has of judicially terminating life; i.e. of inflicting capital punishment.
Who shall separate us - That is, finally or entirely separate us. This is a new argument of the apostle, showing his strong confidence in the safety of the Christian.
From the love of Christ - This expression is ambiguous; and may mean either our love to Christ or his love to us. I understand it in the former sense, and suppose it means, “Who shall cause us to cease to love the Saviour?” In other words, the love which Christians have for their Redeemer is so strong, that it will surmount and survive all opposition and all trials. The reason for so understanding the expression is, that it is not conceivable how afflictions, etc. should have any tendency to alienate Christ‘s love “from us;” but their supposed tendency to alienate “our love” from him might be very strong. They are endured in his cause. They are caused, in a good degree, by professed attachment to him. The persecutions and trials to which Christians are exposed on account of their professed attachment to him, might be supposed to make them weary of a service that involved so many trials. But no, says the apostle. Our love for him is so strong that we are willing to bear all; and nothing that these foes of our peace can do, can alienate us from him and from his cause. The argument, therefore, is drawn from the strong love of a Christian to his Saviour; and from the assurance that nothing would be able to separate him from that love.
On the other hand, it is alleged that “the object of the apostle is to assure us, not so immediately of our love to God, as of his love to us, by directing our attention to his predestinating, calling, justifying, and glorifying us, and not sparing his own Son, but delivering him up for us; that in addition to this it contributes more to our consolation, to have our minds fixed upon God‘s love to us, than upon our love to him, which is subject to so many failings and infirmities.” Haldane.
Indeed the whole of this passage proceeds, in its triumphing strain, on the ground of what God and Christ have done “for us,” and not on the ground of anything belonging to us. It is therefore improbable, that the apostle, in the midst of such a strain, should introduce the love of the creature to God, as a just reason for such unparalleled confidence. It is more natural to the Christian to triumph in the love of Christ to him, than in any return he can make. He can glory in the strength of the former, while he mourns over the weakness of the latter. As to the objection that afflictions can have no tendency to alienate Christ‘s love, these are the “very things” that alienate people from us. There are persons who are called “summer friends” because they desert us in the winter of adversity. But the love of Christ is greatly exalted by the fact, that none of all possible adverse circumstances, of which the apostle enumerates not a few, shall ever change his love.
Shall tribulation - θλίψις thlipsisNote, Romans 2:9. The word properly refers to pressure from without; affliction arising from external causes. It means, however, not infrequently, trial of any kind.
Or distress - στενοχωρία stenochōriaThis word properly means “narrowness of place;” and then, great anxiety and distress of mind, such as arises when a man does not know where to turn himself or what to do for relief. It refers, therefore, to distress or anxiety “of mind,” such as the early Christians were often subject to from their trials and persecutions; 2 Corinthians 7:5,” Without were fightings, “within were fears;” see the note at Romans 2:9.
Or persecutions - Note, Matthew 5:11. To these the early Christians were constantly exposed.
Or famine - To this they were also exposed as the natural result of being driven from home, and of being often compelled to wander amidst strangers, and in deserts and desolate places.
Or peril - Danger of any kind.
Or sword - The sword of persecution; the danger of their lives to which they were constantly exposed. As all these things happened to them in consequence of their professed attachment to Christ, it might be supposed that they would tend to alienate their minds from him. But the apostle was assured that they had not this power, but that their love to the Saviour was so strong as to overcome all, and to bind them unalterably to his cause in the midst of the deepest trials. The fact is, that the more painful the trials to which they are exposed on his account, the more strong and unwavering is their love to him, and their confidence in his ability to save.
What will the human agent do to have the privilege of cooperating with God? Will he forsake all that he has rather than forsake Christ? ... Will he suffer persecution for the truth's sake? Reproach and persecution have separated many souls from heaven, but never a soul from the love of Christ. Never yet did persecution drive the soul who was indeed a lover of Jesus Christ away from Him. The love of Jesus in the soul is all-absorbing, for that great love wherewith God hath loved us, revealed in giving Christ to us, is beyond a parallel. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” ... TMK 275.2Read in context »
No amount of tribulation can separate us from Christ. If He leads us to Rephidim, it is because He sees that it is for our good and for His name's glory. If we will look to Him in trusting faith, He will, in His own time, turn the bitterness of Marah into sweetness. He can open the flinty rock, and cause cooling streams to flow forth. Then shall we not lift our voices in praise and thanksgiving for past mercies, and go forward with full assurance that He is an ever-present help in time of trouble?—The Signs of the Times, September 17, 1896. RC 354.6Read in context »
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Romans 8:35. OHC 320.1
How precious in time of need is the assurance of union with Jesus! ... We can say. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation?”—No, for this makes us feel that Christ alone is our refuge, and we flee to Him for shelter. “Or distress?”—No, for He is our consolation. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort: who comforteth us in all our tribulation....” 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4. OHC 320.2Read in context »
Can we not stand in God, let our surroundings be ever so unpleasant and discouraging? “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. 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.” 2T 517.1
Many ministers have not an undivided interest in the work of God. They have invested but little in His cause, and because they have taken so little stock in the advancement of the truth they are easily tempted in regard to it and moved from it. They are not established, strengthened, settled. He who understands well his own character, who is acquainted with the sin which most easily besets him, and the temptations that will be most likely to overcome him, should not expose himself needlessly and invite temptation by placing himself upon the enemy's ground. If duty calls him where circumstances are not favorable, he will have special help from God, and thus go fully girded for a conflict with the enemy. Self-knowledge will save many from falling into grievous temptations, and prevent many an inglorious defeat. In order to become acquainted with ourselves, it is essential that we faithfully investigate the motives and principles of our conduct, comparing our actions with the standard of duty revealed in God's word. Ministers should encourage and cultivate benevolence. 2T 517.2
I was shown that some who have been engaged in our office of publication, in our Health Institute, and in the ministry have labored simply for wages. There are exceptions; not all are guilty in this respect, but few have seemed to realize that they must give an account of their stewardship. Means that had been consecrated to God to advance His cause has been squandered. Families in poverty, who had experienced the sanctifying influences of the truth and who therefore prized it and felt grateful to God for it, have thought that they could and should deprive themselves of even the necessaries of life in order to bring in their offerings to the treasury of the Lord. Some have deprived themselves of articles of clothing which they really needed to make them comfortable. Others have sold their only cow and have dedicated to God the means thus received. In the sincerity of their souls, with many tears of gratitude because it was their privilege to do this for the cause of God, they have bowed before the Lord with their offering and have invoked His blessing upon it as they sent it forth, praying that it might be the means of bringing the knowledge of the truth to souls in darkness. The means thus dedicated has not always been appropriated as the self-sacrificing donors designed. Covetous, selfish men, having no spirit of self-denial or self-sacrifice themselves, have handled unfaithfully means thus brought into the treasury; and they have robbed the treasury of God by receiving means which they had not justly earned. Their unconsecrated, reckless management has squandered and scattered means that had been consecrated to God with prayers and tears. 2T 518.1Read in context »