NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XLVIII)
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster explains what he feels Paul is saying here. For him, Paul is simply asking if there is anyone or anything that can pull us away from the love of Christ, the one who gave us such a wonderful gift as salvation and eternal life? No torments as those listed should ever override the love that a mature Christian has for their Savior.1 And Chrysostom says that even though it may look easy to compose a list like this one, each word contains thousands of lines of adversity. Tribulation, for instance, includes prisons and chains, defamation and rejection, and all other such hardships. A single word can define oceans of danger and reveals to us all the obstacles believers will encounter in this life.2
These thoughts and insights are followed by what Augustine has to say about Paul exhorting his hearers not to be heartbroken by persecution. When it does, perhaps they were living according to the philosophy of the world.3 Pelagius also has some thoughts on this. He questions how, after receiving so many splendid benefits and promises from our Lord, any hardship could be so heavy as to tear us away from our love for Christ? And by saying “us,” Paul indicates that we should all become known as the sort of Christians that even dangers cannot separate us from Christ.4 And then we have a word from early church scholar Caesarius. As he sees it, faithful believers are not separated from Christ even by torture. Only the lukewarm and careless ones, however, are in danger of being separated from Him by their own carelessness. For some, even the slightest embarrassment causes them to immediately feel offended, and then they dare to murmur against God and return to their godless, detestable ways.5
Martin Luther answers Paul’s question of who can separate us from God’s love by saying emphatically that no one can accuse those whom God has called, redeemed, chosen, sanctified, and empowered of not being God’s legal heirs. Luther says there is absolutely no one! For it is God who justifies such selection and election of those who He declares to be right in His eyes. In the same way, no one can say we are still under the condemnation of the Law’s death sentence because Christ is now our Mediator and Chief Shepherd who died for His sheep, rose up from the grave because death could not swallow Him. As such, He is our personal representative at the right hand of God because He has been anointed as our High Priest by whose blood our sins were atoned for.6
Fellow Reformer John Calvin says that whatever happens, we must stand firm on this truth: that God, who once in His love embraced us, never ceases to treasure us as His priceless possession. Paul does not simply say that there is nothing which can tear God away from His love for us; but he means, that the knowledge and lively sense of the love which God has given us is so vigorous in our hearts, that it always shines in the darkness of afflictions. Calvin then uses “clouds” as an illustration when pointing out that although they may obscure the sun for awhile, they do not totally deprive us of its light. In the same way, God, even in times when the dark clouds of adversity cover us, He sends the bright rays of His favor through the darkness. He does not want worries and anxiety to overwhelm us with despair. In fact, our faith, when supported by God’s promises, become like wings that allow us to mount up as eagles so we can fly high above all the intervening obstacles blocking our way.7 Even during those times when God disciplines us, we must never forget His mercy is constant and everlasting.8 That’s because we receive a fresh delivery every morning.9 Calvin says, that whenever we are reminded of what we really deserve, God also reminds us why we are the object of His lovingkindness, while He leads us to repentance, and that’s because He paid our ransom and we are His.10
Adam Clarke puts the focus on those things that Paul is thinking of as threats to Christ’s love for us and our love for Christ. He writes that the Apostle Paul is referring to the persecutions and hardships which often come to Christians who stand up and declare their unwavering loyalty to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But they need not fear because God will graciously provide for their support and final salvation. And in so doing, God expressed His infinite love for them by providing His only Son, Jesus Christ, as a sin-offering in their place. Then Jesus Christ showed His unconditional love by suffering death upon the cross for them. That’s why Paul brings up the love the followers should have for the one who first loved them. For Clarke, 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? In other words, who or what has the power to remove His affection for us?11
Robert Haldane writes that in contemplating those glorious truths and Divine consolations which the Apostle had been unfolding in this chapter, we see that he had demanded, Who shall accuse, who shall condemn, God’s elect people? Now here he triumphantly asks, Who shall separate them from the love of Christ? Having already pointed out how believers should deal with fears of behavior that come from within, he now strengthens their resolve against fears that come from without. This is the proper order to put them in because internal fears and misgivings are more formidable than external attacks. So, until a believer can overcome the inner misgivings of their relationship with God, they will not be prepared to withstand the external onslaught. Haldane notes that although the people of God are often exposed to all the turmoils that Paul enumerates, none of these will be able to separate them from the love Christ has for them.12
Albert Barnes also concentrates on how love is affected. But for him what Paul says here is somewhat ambiguous. It can either mean, “our love for Christ,” or “His love for us.” Barnes says he understands that it is supposed to search for an answer to this: Who can do anything to cause us to stop loving our Savior who never stops loving us? In other words, the love which Christians should have for their Redeemer must be so strong that it will withstand and survive all opposition and persecution, knowing that He will never leave or forsake them. The reason it should be understood this way is because it is not conceivable that hardships and difficulties should in any way alienate Christ‘s love for us. We should be willing to endure to the end. That is where salvation is assured.13
We know that such trials and adversities are often caused by a believer’s open profession of faith and their close attachment to Him and His Word. When such persecutions and trials come, it is often for the sake of making them weary of their service and dedication to His cause. Those who persecute want these Christians who are sold out to Christ to stop spreading the nonsense about some Kingdom of God. But the Apostle says, that will never happen! Their love for Him is so strong that they are willing to go through anything for His sake. Nothing these people can do that will destroy the peace believer’s have in their hearts for the one who gave His all for them. Therefore, Barnes sees that the argument involves the strong love of a believer to their Savior; and from the assurance that nothing will be able to keep them from their love for each other.14
Charles Hodge, sees it differently than Barnes. For him, the love Paul is talking about is clearly Christ’s love towards us, and not ours towards Him. He believes Paul is speaking about the great love God showed for us through the gift of His Son. Also, the love Christ has for us was exhibited in His dying, rising to life again, and now interceding for us before the Father. Not only that, but this great and abiding love is unending and unchangeable. After all, the Apostle’s objective in this chapter is to comfort and confirm the confidence of believers. Some have interpreted what Paul said as grounds for us to have faith that under no circumstances will we ever stop loving our Lord. Hodge says that such interpretation does not fit what Paul is saying. There is no reason for our having to submit any evidence that we will never forsake Christ, just to prove that we are really His followers. The strongest need for assurance is to be convinced that His love for us will never change.
Hodge then contends that if our hope of God’s mercy and love is founded only on our goodness or attractiveness, it is a false hope. We must believe that His love is gratuitous, mysterious, without any known or conceivable cause, certainly without thinking that it’s because we looked so good to Him. In short, the only thing that comes close to God’s love for His children is that which is analogous to the love parents have for a disabled or deformed child. Hodge notes that a father’s or mother’s love is often independent of the attractiveness of its object. In fact, they love them in spite of any deformity.15 Hodge goes on to say that verse 39 requires this interpretation, for there Paul expresses the same sentiment in language which cannot be misunderstood.
Frédéric Godet agrees with Hodge that the love of Christ, from which nothing will separate us, is not the love which we have for Him; for we are not separated from our own personal feeling. It is, therefore, the love He has for us.16 This interpretation is based upon this evidence: God’s love for us was expressed before we ever knew Him, let alone loved Him.17 He gave His only Son to prove that love for us. His Son gave up what He had in heaven to become one of us.18 Christ was persecuted, suffered, and was crucified to show that love for us. After His resurrection and before His ascension He promised to prepare a place for us so that when He returns He can take us with Him to our eternal abode. So the question is, what have we done for God and His Son to prove that nothing will separate our love for them? Charles Ellicott also agrees that Paul is referring to the love which Christ has for us, not that which we have for Christ.19
Jewish Bible scholar David Stern offers these thoughts on God’s blessed assurance: He points to the chain of assurances provided in verses 28–39. This gives Paul enough confidence to put his own argument under the microscope. That is if God is for us, who can possibly be against us? Certainly not God (verses 31–33). Also not his Son, the Messiah Yeshua (verses 34–37). In fact, there is no one or no thing that can be found, nothing (verses 35, 38–39), that will be able to separate us from God’s love which comes to us through the Messiah Yeshua our Lord. One thing is for certain, if we, Yeshua’s followers, are seen as sheep who are vulnerable to being attacked and killed by the wild animals of trouble, hardship, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, and war (verse 35), our Lord as well was “led like a sheep to the slaughter.”20 The Psalm quoted in this verse, speaks of Israel as oppressed by enemies and scattered among the nations, yet faithful to God’s covenant. The Psalmist prays for God’s deliverance and acknowledges the futility of self-effort, “I don’t rely on my bow, nor can my sword give me victory.”21 In quoting one verse Paul implicitly applies the entire Psalm to those who have come to trust in the Gospel, thus expanding on what he wrote in verse 18 above.22
1 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 15
3 Augustine: On Romans 57
4 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Caesarius of Arles: Sermon 54.2
6 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 133
7 Isaiah 40:31
8 Psalm 100:5
9 Lamentations 3:22-23
10 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 163-164
12 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 417
13 Matthew 24:13
14 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.,
15 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 450
16 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 See 5:8
18 Philippians 2:6