NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson LI)
Early church preacher Chrysostom talked about our willingness to suffer for Christ’s sake. He points out that although Paul suffered everything for the Master, he didn’t do it in order to try and earn a special place in the kingdom of God nor for any high honor. It was all because of his great love for the Messiah.1 But the problem with many believers today is that when they do follow Christ they want to drag along all the things of the world with them. Chrysostom says it reminds him of swine who like to walk and roll around in the mud on their way to the feeding trough. Yet, even for people like that, God was willing to give His Son for their salvation!2 And about 100 years later another early church scholar makes the point that nothing will ever separate us from the rock of true faith on which we firmly stand. It is upon this rock that believers get to prove who they genuinely are and what they really can do for the One who redeemed them. The person in union with the Truth knows what’s best for them, even if everyone else thinks that they have gone out of their mind3.4
John Calvin ends his commentary on this chapter by saying that the assurances given here by Paul are totally dependent upon Christ as our bond, for He is God’s beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. As Calvin sees it, since we are united with God through Christ, we may rest assured that God’s changeless and endless kindness will never fail. For with Christ living in us, to lose us is to lose Christ. Calvin hears Paul speaking at this juncture more distinctly than ever before, as he declares that the fountain of love is in the Father, and that it flows to us through Christ.5
Wesleyan theologian Adam Clarke has a lengthy summary at the end of this chapter in his commentary. It is too extensive to reproduce here. But one important point he makes is that the true followers of Christ will never be forsaken by Him. And His church, which is founded on the rock, can never be shaken down by the tempests of persecution. He also points to the doctrine of the necessity of personal holiness that is laid down at the beginning of this chapter. He then goes on to note that not only with the creature (mankind) being restored to a perfect state of happiness, all creation will be relieved of the burden it has struggled under since Adam sinned. He also makes it clear that the doctrine of predestination should not be applied to individuals but to the whole world. And finally, Clarke cautions everyone who hears and receives the Gospel to guard it with great care. For him, the worst thing that can happen is when the grace of God is poured out in vain on an unresponsive sinner. That’s why every person who professes to be a child of God should be jealous of what they possess and should not fool around and end up losing something of eternal value. And should any person neglect for a moment so great a salvation, their escape would be impossible.6 Who would be so foolish as to subject themselves to such severe eternal punishment?7
Robert Haldane makes an excellent point here about this love from which we can never be separated. He starts by saying that God’s love flows to the believer entirely through Jesus Christ. That’s why John tells us how God loved the world so much that He was willing to give His only Son to die and save them.8 Too often, people think of God as a benevolent deity. So they try their best to flatter Him by telling Him how great and generous He is. But God went way beyond merely distributing favors on those who praise Him best. Instead He provides more than a momentary blessing to take one’s mind off their troubles. He wanted an eternal blessing so He had His Son make atonement for their sins so He could forgive them and set them free from sin’s bondage. That’s why those who rejoice in the Lord’s goodness are rejoicing because of His saving grace. Consequently, there is now no other name under heaven by which a sinner can be saved. Haldane notes, that just as there was no other protection for the children of Israel in Egypt from death by the destroying angel except in those houses sprinkled with the blood of the paschal lamb. Likewise, none will be saved in the day of judgment and revelation of the righteous by God except those to whom the blood of Christ’s atonement has been applied.
But Haldane has something further to say on this subject. He calls Paul’s line of thinking in this discourse, remarkable. First, he challenges everyone, and defies them to answer this question: “If God is for us believers, then who can be against us?” Then, he lays out the fact that neither good things nor bad things coming our way should trouble us. That’s because if God did not spare His only Son but offered Him up as a sacrifice. So would He then turn around and not give us blessings of far less value? Furthermore, even when we make mistakes because of something inside our hearts or something that we reach for, God will not forsake us. When we fall short of what He wants from us because of something inside, Paul says that God still has what His Son did as a reason to forgive us. So who could then come around and say we are still guilty and need to be punished? It was Christ, the Son of God who died so that we could be forgiven. And it is He who stands now at the right hand of the Father to ensure our salvation.
Also, if it involves something outside us that causes us to stumble and fall, God is understanding. Whether these come as our faith is being tested, or our being in distress, or under persecution, or going through hard times, or being forsaken by our family and friends, or our lives being put in danger, even under assault. Paul said that in the midst of all these things we will still come out victorious with help from Him who loved us so much. After presenting all of these reasons why we should not panic or be afraid when they come our way, Paul then lists them so we all know what he’s talking about. For Haldane, every believer should have peace and assurance that Paul is not describing the believer’s possible defeat, but this is a description of the eventual victory and triumph of faith.9
Albert Barnes also sums up what he feels Paul has established in this chapter and how all of it can only be found in Christ Jesus. Barnes writes that Christ is the One who holds it together. That’s what makes it work for the believer. Since He is our constant Mediator, He can secure the blessed assurance of those who really love Him, just by His divine influence on everything. Is that not what He did to the roaring winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee?10 True agape love does not exist outside that produced by the work of Christ. There is no one who can truly say they love the Father, unless they also love His Son. Barnes says that there is perhaps no other chapter in the Bible so interesting and consoling to the Christian as this eighth chapter of Romans. As Barnes sees it, we need to be reminded that it proves we have a blessed and comforting hope which nothing else can produce, and which nothing can destroy. By being safe in the arms of our Good Shepherd, we can unconditionally commit to following Him, whether it leads through persecutions, or trials, or sickness, or to a martyr‘s grave. The day of triumph will come when our adoption is eternally complete as the entire redemption of our soul and body come to pass.11
In Charles Hodge’s assessment of what Paul said in this chapter, he exclaims how what we read here is so wonderful and glorious because it shows us how firm and unchanging the Gospel is. What makes it so wonderful is that those who are in Christ Jesus are as secure as God’s love for them. They know they are in good hands because Christ is constantly making intercession for them. They are surrounded by a hedge of mercy. They are enclosed in the ageless arms of everlasting love. Hodge then quotes Jude with this benediction: “Now unto Him, that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy; to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen!12”13
Charles Spurgeon wraps up his treatment of this chapter by pointing out that the Apostle Paul has summoned all our foes, and set them in battle array against us, and when he has added up the total of all their legions, he says that he is persuaded that they shall not be able to give us the mark that would separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. So let us march forward into the future, however dark it may seem, with this confidence, that one thing we know for sure, – the love of Christ will never let us go, and by His grace we will be able to hold tightly to Him. In a spiritual sense, we are part of His bride and our union will never be broken.14
Frédéric Godet remarks that he can find nowhere else where Paul displayed his feelings in such an overflowing measure, while at the same time keeping his line of thinking unbroken. For Godet, this last passage sums up all that Paul has been trying to say so far in this Epistle. By doing so, Paul guides us to the end of this chapter now knowing much better how our salvation was a divine work of God. It is a work of grace that is complete, assured, and founded on faith alone. It is something that can touch us anew each time we need it for any reason. In Godet’s way of thinking, Christ lets us stop now and then to contemplate what we’ve been through and what lies ahead. Then, after a moment of reflection and rest, He takes us by the hand to guide us to the stage where, in God’s time, He will reveal all of His children for the entire world to see their glory. Oh what a day that will be!15
John Stott also shares his thoughts on how our confidence is not dependent solely on our love for Him, which can be feeble, frightful, and faltering. Rather, it is His love for us, which is steadfast, sure, and stubborn. In Stott’s estimation, “The Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints,”16 needs to be renamed: “The Doctrine of the Perseverance of God with the Saints.” Stott concludes by quoting from an old hymn:17
Let me no more my comfort draw
From my frail grasp of Thee;
In this alone rejoice with awe,
What a wonderful conclusion to a chapter that presents us with a glorious display of God’s divine grace and sustaining power, and of the promised provisions which God has promised to His people as a way of giving them courage in the time of trouble and persecution. Bible scholar Matthew Henry was born shortly after the Pilgrims left England to come to the new world. He often spoke eloquently about how the display of God’s free love in giving the world His only Son as a gift to be their atonement on the cross for the sin of all mankind outshines anything and everything in heaven and on earth. This adds to the glory of all that follows the believer’s union with Him as they love and serve Him with all their heart, soul, and body. This is followed by the victor’s crown He has prepared for them in a kingdom like no other that will come down from heaven to earth and reign for a thousand years. There may be some who will try bringing in full force all the accusations they can find against those who have been chosen. But since God is the One who justifies, that answers it all.20
I like the way Puritan preacher Charles Simeon wraps up this chapter. For him, there is nothing that be conceived in the mind of man that is more delightful than to possess an assured hope of eternal happiness and glory. That’s why it should never be abused by thoughts of insecurity and doubt. If we truly believe and profess that nothing shall ever separate us from the love of God, let us make sure that we do nothing to separate ourselves from it. Do not let not the temptations of Satan, or the persecutions of men, nor the comforts of life, or the terrors of death, let nothing felt at present, or feared in the future, let nothing in the whole creation draw us aside from the path of duty, or retard our progress toward our divine destiny of life forever and ever in the presence of our loving and forgiving God21.22
THE END OF CHAPTER EIGHT
1 See Acts of the Apostles 20:24; Philippians 3:8
2 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 15
3 See 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
4 Pseudo-Dionysius: The Divine Names 7.4
5 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Hebrews 2:3
7 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 165-170
8 John 3:16
9 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. pp. 427-428
10 Mark 4:39
11 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Jude 1:24-25
13 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 455
14 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 One of the most thorough statements and defenses of this doctrine is given by D. M. Loyd-Jones in his exposition of Romans 8:17-39 entitles The Final Perseverance of the Saints (Banner of Truth, 1975
17 See Sursum Corda: a book of praise, Editors: E. H. Johnson, E. E. Ayres, American Baptist Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1898, p. 601
18 Lyrics from the hymn “From Noon of Joy to Night of Doubt,” by John Campbell Shairp, 1871, Stanza 2
19 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Matthew Henry: Concise Commentary on the Bible, verses 32-39
21 Jude 1:20-22
22 Charles Simeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.