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35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

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35. Who shall separate us, etc. The conviction of safety is now more widely extended, even to lower things; for he who is persuaded of God’s kindness towards him, is able to stand firm in the heaviest afflictions. These usually harass men in no small degree, and for various reasons, — because they interpret them as tokens of God’s wrath, or think themselves to be forsaken by God, or see no end to them, or neglect to meditate on a better life, or for other similar reasons; but when the mind is purged from such mistakes, it becomes calm, and quietly rests. But the import of the words is, — That whatever happens, we ought to stand firm in this faith, — that God, who once in his love embraced us, never ceases to care for us. For he does not simply say that there is nothing which can tear God away from his love to us; but he means, that the knowledge and lively sense of the love which he testifies to us is so vigorous in our hearts, that it always shines in the darkness of afflictions: for as clouds, though they obscure the clear brightness of the sun, do not yet wholly deprive us of its light; so God, in adversities, sends forth through the darkness the rays of his favor, lest temptations should overwhelm us with despair; nay, our faith, supported by God’s promises as by wings, makes its way upward to heaven through all the intervening obstacles. It is indeed true, that adversities are tokens of God’s wrath, when viewed in themselves; but when pardon and reconciliation precede, we ought to be assured that God, though he chastises us, yet never forgets his mercy: he indeed thus reminds us of what we have deserved; but he no less testifies, that our salvation is an object of his care, while he leads us to repentance.

But he calls it the love of Christ, and for this reason, — because the Father has in a manner opened his compassions to us in him. As then the love of God is not to be sought out of Christ, Paul rightly directs to him our attention, so that our faith may behold, in the rays of Christ’s favor, the serene countenance of the Father. The meaning is, — that in no adversities ought our confidence to be shaken as to this truth — that when God is propitious, nothing can be adverse to us. Some take this love in a passive sense, for that by which he is loved by us, as though Paul would have us armed with invincible courage 275275     According to Poole, several of the Fathers entertained this opinion, such as Origen, Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Ambrose: but even Hammond and Grotius, great admirers of the Fathers, regard this love as that of God or of Christ to us. Wolfius says, that all the Lutheran divines give this exposition. It is indeed impossible rightly to view the whole passage without seeing that this explanation is the true one. In verse 32, it is incontestably evident that God’s love to us is what is spoken of: then in verse 37, it is expressly said, “through him who loved us;” and the last verse seems sufficient to remove every possible doubt. The difficulty of Barnes, in thinking it “not conceivable how afflictions should have any tendency to alienate Christ’s love from us,” arises from a misconception: for when we speak of not being separated from the love of Christ, the obvious meaning is, that nothing can separate us from participating in the effects of his love, that He, on account of his love, will sustain us under the greatest trials, and make “us more than conquerors.” The substance of what is here said, is contained in the last clause of Romans 8:32, — “How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” It was the assurance of this truth that the Apostle obviously intended to convey. — Ed. but this comment may be easily disproved by the whole tenor of Paul’s reasoning; and Paul himself will presently remove all doubt by defining more clearly what this love is.

Tribulation, or distress, or persecution? etc. The pronoun masculine which he used at the beginning of the verse, contains a hidden power: for when he might have adopted the neuter gender and said — “What shall separate us?” etc., he preferred ascribing personality to things without life, and for this end, — that he might send forth with us into the contest as many champions as there are of temptations to try our faith.

But these three things have this difference: tribulation includes every kind of trouble or evil; distress is an inward feeling, when difficulties reduce us to such an extremity, so that we know not what course to pursue. Such was the anxiety of Abraham and of Lot, when one was constrained to expose his wife to the danger of prostitution, and the other, his daughters; for being brought to straits and being perplexed, they found no way of escape. Persecution properly denotes the tyrannical violence by which the children of God were undeservedly harassed by the ungodly. Now though Paul denies in 2 Corinthians 4:8, that the children of God are reduced to straits, στενοχωρεῖσθαι, he does not yet disagree with himself; for he does not simply make them to be exempt from anxious solicitude, but he means that they are delivered from it, as also the examples of Abraham and Lot testify.




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