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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Romans 8



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The Apostle has now again reached a climax in his argument similar to that in the opening of Romans 5. His subject is once more the blissful condition of the Christian who has made full use of the means of grace offered to him. This is now worked out at length and in detail. The eighth chapter may, in fact, be described as not only the climax of a particular argument, but also as the climax—the broad extended summit, as it were—of the Epistle. It differs from the first section of Romans 5 in this, that while both describe the condition of the regenerate Christian, and both cover the whole range of time from the first admission to the Christian communion down to the ultimate and assured enjoyment of Christian immortality, Romans 5 lays stress chiefly on the initial and final moments of this period, whereas Romans 8 emphasises rather the whole intermediate process. In technical language the one turns chiefly upon justification, the other upon sanctification. The connecting-link between the two is the doctrine of Hope. The sense of justification wrought for us by Christ gives rise to hope; the sense of sonship and communion with Christ, carrying with it the assurance of final redemption, also gives rise to hope. It may be said that Faith is also a connecting-link; because faith in the death of Christ is the same apprehensive faculty which later brings home the sense of communion with Christ to the believer. A further link is suggested in the words of Romans 5:5, “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” There it is the consciousness of justifying love which is so diffused, but the doctrine of the special agency exercised by the Holy Ghost is largely expanded in Romans 8.

This chapter carries us into the inmost circle and heart of Christianity; it treats of that peculiar state of beatitude, of refined and chastened joy for which no form of Secularism is able to provide even the remotest equivalent.

Verse 1

(1) Therefore.—The Apostle had already, at the end of the last chapter, “touched the confines” of that state of deliverance and of liberty which he is now going on to describe. The opening of this chapter is, therefore, connected in form with the close of the last. The intervention of Christ puts an end to the struggle waged within the soul. There is therefore no condemnation, &c.

Condemnation.—The condemnation which in the present and final judgment of God impends over the sinner, is removed by the intervention of Christ, and by the union of the believer with Him. By that union the power and empire of sin are thrown off and destroyed. (Comp. Romans 8:3.) There is a certain play on the word “condemn.” By “condemning” the law of sin, Christ removed “condemnation” from the sinner. He removed it objectively, or in the nature of things, and this removal is completed subjectively in the individual through that bond of mystical and moral attachment which makes what Christ has done his own act and deed.

To them which are in Christ Jesus.—Those “who live and move and have their (spiritual) being” in Christ. To “have the Spirit of Christ” is a converse expression for the same idea. In the one case the believer is regarded as reaching upwards, as it were, through faith, and so incorporating and uniting himself with the Spirit of Christ; in the other case, the Spirit of Christ reaches downwards and infuses itself into the believer. This is the peculiar mysticism of the Apostle.

Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.—These words are wanting in the foremost representatives of every group of authorities (except, perhaps, those which belong to the region of Syria), and must certainly be omitted. They have been brought in here from Romans 8:4.

Verses 1-11

(1-11) A result is thus attained which the law of Moses could not accomplish, but which is accomplished in the gospel. The Christian is entirely freed from the law of sin and death, and from the condemnation that it entails. But he is so upon the condition that this freedom is for him a reality—that it really proceeds from the indwelling Spirit of Christ.

Verse 2

(2) A statement of the great antithesis, of which the rest of the section is a development, between the law of the Spirit of life and the law of sin and of death.

The law of the Spirit of life.—A phrase defining more fully the mode in which the union with Christ becomes operative in the believer. It begins by imparting to him the Spirit of Christ; this Spirit creates within him a law; and the result of that law is life—that perfect spiritual vitality which includes within itself the pledge of immortality.

The Spirit.—That is, the Spirit of Christ, as in Romans 8:9, which is hardly as yet conceived of as a distinct personality, but representing the continued action and influence which the ascended Saviour exercises upon the believer.

In Christ Jesus.—These words are best taken with “hath made” (rather, made, when it was imparted to me) “me free.” The law of the Spirit of life, in Christ (i.e., operating through my union with Christ), made me free from the law of sin and of death.

From the law of sin and death.—The direct contrast to the foregoing. Not here the law of Moses, but the power of sin, the corrupt element in our nature, acting upon the soul, and itself erecting a kind of law, saying, “Thou shalt,” where the law of God says “Thou shalt not;” and “Thou shalt not,” where the law of God says “Thou shalt.” The effect of this reign of sin is death—spiritual death—bearing in itself the pledge of eternal death.

Verse 3

(3) How was I freed? Thus. Precisely on that very point where the law of Moses showed its impotence—viz., in the attempt to get rid of sin, which it failed to do because of the counteracting influence of the flesh—precisely on this very point God interposed by sending His Son in a body of flesh similar to that in which sin resides, and as an offering to expiate human sin, and so dethroned and got rid of sin in the flesh which He had assumed. The flesh, the scene of its former triumphs, became now the scene of its defeat and expulsion.

What the law could not do.—Literally, the impossible thing of the Law—i.e., “that which was impossible to the Law.” The construction is what is called a nominativus pendens. The phrase thus inserted at the beginning of the sentence characterises what follows. God did what the Law could not do—viz., condemned sin.

In that it was weak through the flesh.—There was one constant impediment in the way of the success of the Law, that it had to be carried out by human agents, beset by human frailty, a frailty naturally consequent upon that physical organisation with which man is endowed. Temptation and sin have their roots in the physical part of human nature, and they were too strong for the purely moral influence of the Law. The Law was limited in its operations by them, and failed to overcome them.

In the likeness of sinful flesh—i.e., in the flesh, but not in sinful flesh. With a human body which was so far like the physical organisation of the rest of mankind, but yet which was not in Him, as in other men, the seat of sin; at once like and unlike.

And for sin.—This is the phrase which is used constantly in the LXX. (“more than fifty times in the Book of Leviticus alone”—Vaughan) for the “sin-offering.” The essence of the original sin-offering was that it was accepted by an act of grace on the part of God, instead of the personal punishment of the offender. The exact nature of this “instead” appears to be left an open question in Scripture, and its further definition—if it is to be defined—belongs to the sphere of dogmatics rather than of exegesis. It must only be remembered that St. Paul uses, in regard to the sacrifice of Christ, similar language to that which is used in the Old Testament of this particular class of sacrifice, the sin-offering.

Condemned sin.—The meaning of this expression is brought out by the context. It is that which the Law was hindered from doing by the hold which sin had upon the flesh. That hold is made to cease through the participation of the believer in the death of Christ. Sin is, as it were, brought into court, and the cause given against it. It loses all its rights and claims over its victim. It is dispossessed as one who is dispossessed of a property.

In the flesh.—In that same sphere, the flesh, in which sin had hitherto had the mastery, it now stood condemned and worsted; it was unable to exercise its old sway any longer.

Verse 3-4

Law or Love

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.—Romans 8:3-4.

1. The passage with which the previous chapter closes is one of the most interesting perhaps that St. Paul ever wrote, because, in describing there his own feelings and experiences, he has depicted so faithfully, so graphically, the feelings and experiences of all earnest souls. The passage reveals pathetic secrets of theirs, arrests them with a vivid portrayal of themselves. “What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. To will is present with me, but how to perform I find not, for the good that I would, I do not, and the evil that I would not, I do. I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see a different law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin that is in my members.” What heart is there in which these words are not more or less echoed? Have we not known what it is, while perceiving and admiring the right, to be baffled by contrary impulses in our wish and purpose to practize it? We have seen its Divine claim and majesty, and have meant, have craved and struggled to respond to it, yet could not, held down and overborne by the weight of something lower belonging to us.

As one whose footsteps halt,

Toiling in immeasurable sand.

And o’er a weary, sultry land,

Far beneath a blazing vault,

Sown in a wrinkle of the monstrous hill,

The city sparkles like a grain of salt.

2. The question is how to be delivered from the thraldom of moral evil. Man is in contact with law, the transgression of which recoils upon him at every step. He does not need to be for ever told of it. The question is how to take his feet from the toils; how to get the desire and the power to love and obey; how to silence that conflict between the conscience and the lower desires which makes the soul a house divided against itself. Here is man loaded down with his passions, coming into the world with heavy tendencies on the animal side, depraved, inheriting the sinful blood of generation upon generation, exposed to all evil and overborne by temptation, ignorant, weak, fallible, limited in his powers, finding causes for his sinfulness which inhere in the very structure of his body and his mind, how shall he keep the moral law? How shall he get the desire to keep it? To do that which is right, says Paul, is with me, but “how to perform” that which I would, that is the difficulty. Who shall deliver me from the body of this death—who shall deliver me from this spiritual deadness of the soul, this corruption of the affections, this impotence of the will, this unwillingness to love and obey? That is the need of men in temptation. That is the cry of every heart who ever made a struggle to lead a clean and noble life. The law man knows; and all religious teachers take care that he shall continue to understand it, and that he shall not forget it. But this is not the main trouble, the trouble is how to get the willingness, the desire to obey the law. Well, Paul answers that question. The Gospel is the answer to it. While men are still without moral strength, Christ dies for the ungodly. The power of the new life in Christ Jesus delivers us from the old power of sin and death. If Christ be in us, the flesh is dead in respect of sin, the spirit is alive in respect of rectitude and obedience. Christ creates the motive of love.

3. The text would be unintelligible unless we observed its antithetical setting. It is a contrast between law and love as redemptive forces in human life. Paul does not discuss it with the philosopher’s pleasure in abstract reasoning. He is dealing with facts. Law was a fact. Love was a fact. In times past God had sought to govern the world by law. Now, through Jesus Christ, God was seeking to rule life by love. Which was the successful redemptive principle? On this point Paul’s mind was absolutely convinced. Law is powerless, helpless, impotent. Love is infinitely capable and eternally omnipotent. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh,” God has achieved by “sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,” and He, being “an offering for sin, condemned sin in the flesh,” and, because of that, the end of the law is attained, “the ordinance of the law” is now “fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.”

The text contains the following statements:—

1. The Law could not free us from sin and death,—its failure being due to the weakness of the flesh.

2. God sent His own Son

(1) in the likeness of sinful flesh;

(2) and (as an offering) for sin.

(3.) He thus condemned sin in the flesh.

(1) In order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us.

(2) Who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit.


The Failure of the Law

i. The Fact of the Failure

1. What is it that the Law could not do? It could not condemn sin in the flesh in such a way as to ensure that the righteousness of the law shall be fulfilled in us. The law demands righteousness: the law condemns sin. But the law cannot secure the fulfilment of the demand which it makes upon us; it cannot accomplish the destruction of the sin which it condemns; in other words, it cannot condemn sin effectually. It has indeed a terrible power to condemn; it can, it does, condemn the sinner most effectually, so as to secure his destruction; but it cannot effectually condemn the sin rooted in the flesh, so as to effect its destruction.

2. What is needed is that the sinner should be brought heartily to renounce the service of sin, and heartily to embrace the service of God, that, in the words of the Apostle himself, he should become “dead to sin” and “alive unto God.” The sinner must be brought into thorough, hearty agreement with God’s opposition to sin; and the law cannot produce such a change of heart as this: it may prevent the man from committing overt acts of sin, but that is a very different thing from destroying the love of sin itself, and inspiring a heart-hatred of the abominable thing which God hates. That the law could not do this for him, Paul had learned from his own experience. So long as he remained a stranger to God’s saving grace, the law, far from delivering him from the dominion of sin, only roused to greater activity the evil principles that were within him. He had to learn, by passing through struggles of the most painful kind, that it is not to the law that we must look for deliverance from the ruling power of sin.

The makers of our human laws know that they are weak. They know that while they promulgate their regulations they cannot reckon on obedience. We have laws against gambling, but gambling still goes on. We have a great body of laws to regulate the drink traffic, but you cannot pick up the newspapers without reading of the prosecution of some offender, or of some crime for which some one should be punished. It is because we know the law is weak that we engage inspectors and policemen. We build prisons, and penitentiaries, and reformatories, and keep them up at great expense, because we know that, while the laws are known, the simple knowledge is no guarantee of obedience.1 [Note: J. G. Bowran.]

3. But, even though the law is weak, it cannot be said to be useless. It serves other and necessary purposes. The Apostle recognizes that. “Through the law cometh the knowledge of sin.” “Where there is no law neither is there transgression.” “Sin is not imputed where there is no law.” “Howbeit, I had not known sin except through the law.” It is by the law that we have the knowledge of sin. If we crossed the field and never saw the signboard, while we should be actual transgressors, there would be no guilt in the trespass. If, however, we saw the signboard, and sinned against knowledge, we should be verily guilty. And so, God, by the promulgation of His law, has created a conscience of sin, even as the State, by the announcement of its laws, has created a national sense of sin. The law, then, is necessary as an educational factor. It is the “schoolmaster.” But, as the pedagogue cannot manufacture geniuses, so the law cannot make saints.

If not with hope of life,

Begin with fear of death:

Strive the tremendous lifelong strife

Breath after breath.

Bleed on beneath the rod;

Weep on until thou see;

Turn fear and hope to love of God

Who loveth thee.

Turn all to love, poor soul;

Be love thy watch and ward;

Be love thy starting-point, thy goal,

And thy reward.1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]

ii. The Cause of the Failure

1. It is natural enough that we should think in the first instance of the law as the agency fitted to bring about the desired result. What can be needed to secure men’s fulfilling the righteousness of the law but just that they should have its most reasonable requirements set plainly before them, clothed with the august authority of God Himself? It might seem as if the law coming to men thus, having its claims enforced, moreover, by the promise of reward in the case of obedience, and by the threat of punishment in the case of disobedience, were the very agency fitted to secure the object desired, did not experience prove that it is utterly powerless to accomplish it. That the powers of the law might be fully tested, it was solemnly promulgated at Mount Sinai, in the hearing of all Israel, amidst the most overwhelming manifestations of the Divine majesty and glory. But even when thus proclaimed in the most impressive manner by God Himself, it failed to secure the fulfilment of its just requirements. And what was it that rendered the law powerless? It was weak, the Apostle says, “through the flesh.”

2. The law is good in itself, but it has to work through the sinful nature. The only powers to which it can appeal are those which are already in rebellion. A discrowned king whose only forces to conquer his rebellious subjects are the rebels themselves is not likely to regain his crown. Because law brings no new element into our humanity, its appeal to our humanity has little more effect than that of the wind whistling through an archway. It appeals to conscience and reason by a plain declaration of what is right; to will and understanding by an exhibition of authority; to fears and prudence by plainly setting forth consequences. But what is to be done with men who know what is right but have no wish to do it, who believe that they ought but will not, who know the consequences but “choose rather the pleasures of sin for a season,” and shuffle the future out of their minds altogether?

This is the essential weakness of all law. The tyrant is not afraid so long as there is no one threatening his reign but the unarmed herald of a discrowned king. His citadel will not surrender to the blast of the trumpet blown from Sinai.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

3. The weakness of the law is accentuated when we think of its penal aspects. Even when the law rebounds upon the offender it seldom reclaims and improves. It is punitive and not remedial. You may send a man to the tread-mill, but as he performs the revolutions he may be evolving fresh schemes of crime. You may keep the thief in solitary confinement, hoping to silence him into honesty, but the probability is that he is worse on the day of his liberation than on the day of his apprehension. Of law, both Divine and human, the Apostle’s analysis is correct. It is weak, and weak through the flesh. Its chief design it cannot accomplish. It cannot secure compliance.

It is the universal experience that human nature rebels against the severities of repression. Is not that what Paul means when he says: “For I had not known coveting except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet; but sin, finding occasion, wrought in me through the commandment all manner of coveting.” There is a strange perversity in the flesh. There is nothing so tempting to us as the thing prohibited. We see the signboard: “No road this way. Trespassers will be prosecuted,” and through love of rebellion we select the prohibited path. The railway companies demand that every passenger shall have either a pass or a ticket, but, through sheer love of duping the law, men attempt the journey free of cost. The father who plays the despot in his family will create a household of rebels. The State where anarchy is rife is the State where tyrants rule.1 [Note: J. G. Bowran.]

4. This is the Gospel, or, one may say, this is the essence of the Gospel, that Christianity is not simply a new and more impressive declaration that men are sinners, but a new power, greater than the world has ever known before, to help men out of the snares of sin, that they may be sinners no longer. For a long time now men have been told they are sinners. For six thousand years man has heard thundered in his ears the lesson of the law. It has been driven in upon his thoughts by all the penal inflictions of the Divine judgment; by the fires that rained ruin on the cities of the plain; by the waters that overswept the world in the days of Noah; by the handwriting on the wall that doomed the proud city of Babylon; by the sword and fire that fell on sacred Jerusalem; by the decay of Rome, sapped and undermined by its own vices; by all the records of the woe that has fallen on wicked men since time began. Men know that fire burns and that water drowns; so they know also that selfishness withers, that intemperance ruins, that ambition overleaps itself and falls on the other side, that avarice belittles the mind, and licentiousness blasts the body and the soul; men know, on the other hand, that virtue brings happiness and that uprightness brings peace. Men know this. But that is not the point. The point is to get a working motive that will lead them to act upon this knowledge.

“One may deal with things without love, one may cut down trees, make bricks, and hammer iron without love, but one cannot deal with men without love.”2 [Note: Leo Tolstoi.]

Paracelsus believed that knowledge is power, and it was that that kindled and kept alive for a time his transcendent ambition. And when he was defeated, when his mistake had become clear to him, it was natural that he should say:

What wonder if I saw no way to shun

Despair? The power I sought for man, seemed God’s.

But he had learned a deeper lesson than that. He had come to see that there is a force surpassing in its majesty and might any that could possibly accrue from the acquisition of boundless stores of learning:

I saw Aprile—my Aprile there!

And as the poor melodious wretch disburthened

His heart, and moaned his weakness in my ear,

I learned my own deep error; love’s undoing

Taught me the worth of love in man’s estate,

And what proportion love should hold with power

In his right constitution; love preceding

Power, and with much power, always much more love;

Love still too straitened in his present means,

And earnest for new power to set love free.1 [Note: J. Flew, Studies in Browning, 146.]


The Method of Love

i. God sent His own Son

1. The words imply that the Divine Sonship of Jesus was not a relationship built up in the course of His life upon earth by acts of obedience and spiritual fellowship. A king can only send as his messenger and representative one who has already grown into such ripe wisdom and proved loyalty that he can fulfil the trust imposed upon him. To be sent implies an antecedent character and personality which qualify for the special mission.

We cannot feel the power of God’s condemnation of sin by the Cross till we have a just conception and realization of the truth of the person of Him who endured the Cross and despized the shame. Then the thought becomes overwhelming. Whether God has any other way by which He can more forcibly and solemnly express His sense of the evil and demerit of sin to others of His creatures, we do not know; but we can conceive of no way in which He could have more forcibly and solemnly expressed it to us than the way He has chosen—through the voluntary death of His own Divine Son on the malefactor’s cross.

2. God sent Him. For the condemnation of sin by Christ God owed to Himself as the righteous God who hates sin; and He owed it also to us, whom He is anxious to save from sin; and instead of dispensing with it in the fulness of His Fatherhood, as some would tell us, His Fatherhood made it the more obligatory. The doctrine of the Fatherhood of God can in no way conflict with the true doctrine of the Atonement, but confirms it; for the true father must ever have a regard to what may affect the welfare of his children; and what could have more to do with our welfare than the conveyance to us of the heavenly Father’s own sense and estimate of sin?

There was more fatherhood in the Cross (where holiness met guilt) than in the prodigal’s father (where love met shame). There was more fatherhood for our souls in the desertion of the Cross than in that which melts our hearts in the prodigal’s embrace. It is not a father’s sensitive love only that we have wounded, but His holy law. Man is not a mere runaway, but a rebel; not a pitiful coward, but a bold and bitter mutineer. Does not Kant confess as a moralist the radical evil in man, and Carlyle speak of his “infinite damnability”?1 [Note: P. T. Forsyth, The Holy Father and the Living Christ, 27.]

ii. In the Likeness of Sinful Flesh

Christ was sent “in likeness of sinful flesh,” not as if He had taken on Him the “likeness of flesh” in the sense of a semblance of body instead of its reality: but St. Paul means us to understand likeness to the flesh which sinned, because the flesh of Christ, which committed no sin itself, was like that which had sinned—like it in its nature, but not in the corruption it received from Adam: whence we also affirm that there was in Christ the same flesh as that whose nature in man is sinful.2 [Note: Tertullian.]

1. The phrase, “the likeness of the flesh of sin,” implies the real humanity of Jesus, and His perfect sinlessness; and suggests the first way in which He condemns sin in the flesh. In His life He repeats the law in a higher fashion. What the one spoke in words the other realized in “loveliness of perfect deeds”; and all men own that example is the mightiest preacher of righteousness, and that active goodness draws to itself reverence and sways men to imitate. But His life lived in human nature gives a new hope of the possibilities of that nature even in us. The dream of perfect beauty “in the flesh” has been realized. What the Man Christ Jesus was, He was that we may become. In the very flesh in which the tyrant rules, Jesus shows the possibility and the loveliness of a holy life.

St. Paul speaks of Christ as having been “God’s own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh”—that is, here was a man with a nature like ours, including flesh like ours, the very flesh which in us is always bringing forth sin, always causing us to fail and fall short, in spite of our truer vision and aspiration, and the hindering, defiling influence of which we often deplore as irresistible and not to be prevailed against; and this man was “God’s own Son” in the flesh, without spot and blameless, exhibiting in it a sustained perfection of filial obedience.1 [Note: S. A. Tipple.]

2. That the Son of God had to take upon Himself the likeness of sinful flesh was perhaps the bitterest and most agonizing humiliation of His earthly lot. The fact that He received at birth a body susceptible to pain, frailty, privation, with a sentence of death written upon its constituents, was not the saddest part of His destiny. If one of our children were to show constitutional symptoms, marking him out for a career of weakness and long-dragging pain, it would trouble us less than if, through some inexplicable cause, he were to resemble in features a notorious criminal, or carry to the grave a birthmark linking him with some scene of infamy and shame. Upon the form assumed by Him, who was the express image of His Father’s glory, the likeness of a criminal race was stamped. The spirit and character of Jesus could not fail to refine and beautify the flesh with which He was invested, and painters are true to the genius of the Gospel when they idealize His features into celestial charm. But the Eternal Father could not forget that it was into the likeness of sinful flesh the Son entered through His birth on earth, a likeness in which traits sacred and Divine were curiously mixed with the lineaments we associate with moral deformity and transgression; nor could the Son Himself forget this burning humiliation through which He must pass in His work of saving men.

A missionary traveller in inland China once had to reach a ferry by taking off shoes and socks and traversing a muddy pathway from which the flood had only just retired. After walking a few paces he noticed a poor unsightly leper, a few yards ahead, slowly moving to the same point. The marks of his disfigured feet were imprinted in the mud, and it caused a shudder as the missionary found himself treading, with bare feet, in the steps of a loathsome beggar. The contact was indirect, and perhaps there was no risk, but the sickening association haunted his imagination for days. If the identification had been more intimate, and the white man had been compelled to shelter in the sufferer’s grass-hut, to share the same couch, to wear his contaminated raiment, it might have maddened an over-sensitive brain.1 [Note: T. G. Selby.]

A well-known American story by Wendell Holmes, in which romance and scientific speculation are curiously blended, deals with the problem of prenatal inoculation by snake-bite. The mother of Elsie Venner, into whose blood the poison of the rattlesnake has entered, dies in giving birth to her baby girl. The child grows up with eccentricities bordering on insanity, and becomes an object of dread to neighbours and school-companions. She is gifted with a curious power of fascination, and is able to dominate those upon whom she fixes her weird and glittering eyes. Her movements are serpentine, and she shows a special fondness for snake-like trinkets of gold. Sometimes she secludes herself in a mountain cave haunted by the creatures of whom before her birth she was an unconscious victim. All her gestures are suggestive of this tragic misfortune known only to her father and her negro nurse. Before she dies, her nature is softened and beautifully humanized. If such an incident were possible, of course the law of moral responsibility could cover only one half of her life. But that question apart, what a distress to the father to find his child shunned and abhorred, although he himself might know the secret of her birth and have faith in the complete innocence of her deepest nature. The assimilation of the child for a time to a lower and a dreaded type of life—a type that has been an age-long symbol of malignant and deadly temper—must surely have been a tragedy of the deepest and most mysterious distress.

iii. And for Sin

The phrase may be rendered (as in the Revised Version) “as an offering for sin,” since it is the usual equivalent in the Greek New Testament for a sin-offering. But the context demands a wider reference, since it includes, along with the expiation, the practical condemnation and destruction of sin. Christ has come “for sin.” That is to say, His incarnation and death had relation to, and had it for their object to remove, human sin. He comes to blot out the evil, to bring God’s pardon. The recognition of His sacrifice supplies the adequate motive to copy His example, and they who see in His death God’s sacrifice for man’s sin cannot but yield themselves to Him, and find in obedience a delight. Love kindled at His love makes likeness and transmutes the outward law into an inward “spirit of life in Christ Jesus.”

It is of great importance that you see the sacrificial character of Christ’s condemnation of sin in the flesh—that besides seeing that Christ clearly declared the flesh to be evil, and, in so declaring, did manifest God’s righteous condemnation of sin, and completed this testimony in giving Himself to die, you must also see that He did this as a sacrifice for sin. If not done as a sacrifice, the fact itself would merely leave us where we were. It would shed light on the evil of our state, but would not grant us deliverance from evil. But when we see Christ doing this as a sacrifice for sin—when we see Him coming into our nature, and taking it up, and presenting it holy to God, and doing this as a sacrifice for sin—then our thoughts are turned to the history of sin, and to the fact that He is not the only being who has this flesh. Our thoughts are turned to the whole human race; and we are taught concerning them that this deed has reference to them, and that it was not for a mere display of the power of the Son of God, taking an unclean thing and making it clean, that Christ came and took our flesh, but that He came with reference to those who were dwelling in this flesh, and for them shed His blood.1 [Note: J. M‘Leod Campbell.]


The Success of Love

i. He condemned Sin in the Flesh

He condemned sin in the flesh, in which sin exercises its usurped dominion. And how did God condemn sin in the flesh, i.e. in human nature generally? (1) By exhibiting in the person of His Incarnate Son the same flesh in substance, but free from sin, He proved that sin was in the flesh only as an unnatural and usurping tyrant. Thus the manifestation of Christ in sinless humanity at once condemned sin in principle. But (2) God condemned sin practically and effectually by destroying its power and casting it out; and this is the sense especially required by the context. The law could condemn sin only in word, and could not make its condemnation effectual. Christ, coming “for sin,” not only made atonement for it by His Death, but, uniting man to Himself “in newness of life,” gave actual effect to the condemnation of sin by destroying its dominion “in the flesh” through the life-giving sanctifying power of His Spirit.

1. God’s condemnation of sin, understood in this light, comes to us, indeed, in other ways than through the death of Christ. It comes in the constitution of nature, in which, binding sin and misery together in a nexus more firm than iron, and which no power of man can dissolve, He has revealed from heaven, for all the ages of time, His wrath “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” It comes through the conscience, that sensitive magnet in man’s soul which ever points (very feebly indeed in many) to the pole of God’s own righteousness, and which, until utterly darkened and perverted by sin, ever condemns sin. It comes through His revealed law, whose very office it is to condemn sin, and in every denunciation of sin in His written Word. But at last it came in another and entirely different way—through the suffering and death of the righteous Christ, God’s own Divine Son. And it was evidently in this new way of declaring the mind or judgment of God against sin that Christ could do what the law was impotent to accomplish.

2. God condemned sin by allowing it to condemn itself. Just as some atrocious act of wrong, of violence, or of shame condemns crime, in the eyes of men, by showing them what crime can do, so He allowed sin to condemn itself by showing for ever what sin can do. It could reject and cast out the Divine Christ, the Holy One of God, and nail Him to a malefactor’s cross. And this itself proclaimed, and proclaimed for ever, sin’s need of atonement. But this was not the only way in which our Lord condemned sin by His death. He became “obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the Cross,” which marks the extent of His obedience. His act of obedience even unto death, yea, the death of the Cross, must have been, therefore, an act of obedience to God. And why did God require this act of obedience? The only answer is that of the Apostle: to “show his righteousness”; to “condemn sin in the flesh” (by Christ’s dying a sacrifice for sin in the flesh); to condemn it, not by a blind act of suffering and death, but through the mind and will of His own Son expressing themselves through voluntary suffering and death.

3. By the Death of Christ upon the Cross, a death endured in His human nature, He once and for ever broke off all contact with Sin, which could touch Him only through that nature. Henceforth Sin can lay no claim against Him. Neither can it lay any claim against the believer; for the believer also has died with Christ. Henceforth when Sin comes to prosecute its claim, it is cast in its suit and its former victim is acquitted. The one culminating and decisive act by which this state of things was brought about is the Death of Christ, to which all the subsequent immunity of Christians is to be referred.

Sin in the flesh was tolerated and condoned before Jesus came down to live His sinless life amongst men. It was accepted everywhere as a necessity inherent in the visible organic framework of things. It is interesting to think that the old tradition which makes a Persian king one of the Magi lends itself to an instructive interpretation, because the religion of the ancient Persians held that matter was inherently evil and could never by any possibility become good. The Babe before whom he bowed was to prove in His personal history and example that it was not so.

Men often go on sinning, avowing that sin is no sin, for want of hope. They accept it as part of the inevitable order when no remedy appears. It is despondency which marks out much of our social wreckage as irretrievably derelict. Many unhappy beings around us have given up the fight and see no encouragement to attempt better things. They justify themselves in wrong-doing and invert all ethical classifications, because it seems no longer possible, at least for such as they are, to reap the rewards of virtue. The new voice of hope which speaks in the heart, the voice of the Incarnate and sin-atoning Saviour, is a sentence of death upon the evil which has so long been rampant in the flesh. God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh wrote a sentence of final condemnation upon sin in the flesh. Through our union with the Redeeming Head, sin in us is sentenced to its final overthrow.

ii. That the Requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us

That unreserved consent of Christ to the full demands of the law which gave His death its atoning value and efficacy was not an act of merely negative value—valuable, that is to say, in the way of annulling and abolishing the evil which sin had wrought. It was at the same time an act of the highest positive worth, the one transcendent act in which the entire moral force of the new spiritual humanity concentrates and embodies itself, the absolute perfection of righteousuess. And this righteousness of God is revealed to faith; by faith we appropriate it and make it in very truth our own.

1. The one righteous demand of the law, which includes all its other demands, is holy obedience inspired by the love of God (Luke 10:27). That this “righteous demand of the law might be fulfilled in us,” was the great final cause of God’s sending His Son into the world.

2. Christ came not to insist upon a lower code of morals. It is His will not that we should be less holy, but that we should be holy as God is holy, and perfect as He is perfect. At the outset of His public ministry, He announced that not one jot or tittle of the law should pass away, but that its commandments should be obeyed far more perfectly than ever before, by conformity to its spirit rather than by dull and superficial obedience to its external demands. Only in this way would the righteousness of the law be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit.

Love makes obedience natural and inevitable. So Jesus taught. “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments.” “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.” “If a man love me, he will keep my word.” Paul expresses it thus: “Love, therefore, is the fulfilment of the law.” It is only to the loveless heart that the law is irksome. Obedience is a pleasure when we love. The man who loves God does not need to have the decalogue read every day. Because love is in his heart, he simply cannot break the commandments. He will obey them all, not by mere compliance with the negative restrictions, but by loving fidelity to their spiritual intent. The home where love is has no need for domestic legislation. The father’s word is law. The mother’s wish is a command.

iii. Who walk not after the Flesh, but after the Spirit

This clause defines the character of those in whom the righteous requirement of the law is to be fulfilled; namely, such as “walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.” They “walk not after the flesh”—the flesh with its affections and lusts rebels against the law—“but after the spirit.”

1. By the entrance of the Spirit of holiness into a human spirit, the usurper is driven from the central fortress: and though he may linger in the outworks and keep up a guerilla warfare, that is all he can do. We never truly apprehend Christ’s gift to man until we recognize that He not merely “died for our sins,” but lives to impart the principle of holiness in the gift of His Spirit. The dominion of that imparted Spirit is gradual and progressive. The Canaanite may still be in the land, but a growing power, working in and through us, is warring against all in us that still owns allegiance to that alien power, and there can be no end to the victorious struggle until the whole body, soul, and spirit be entirely under the influence of the Spirit that dwells in us, and nothing shall hurt or destroy in what shall then be all God’s holy mountain.

2. We are brought into sympathy with the Law, because we are brought into grateful and loving sympathy with the great Lawgiver. When He could not by His commandments overcome the evil that was in us, He has by the power of His love, revealed in His long-suffering patience and boundless sacrifice, brought us into willing subjection to Himself, the subjection of a grateful love that will withhold nothing from Him, but will gladly give up everything for His sake. It is not the power of authority, but that of a transforming love, that brings into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. The devil rises up within us when it is mere force that speaks to us, but when love speaks in infinite sacrifice we are shamed out of all our indifference, and conquered in all our rebellion. The mind which was also in Christ Jesus takes possession of us, imparting new desires and new motives, so that all resistance is gone, and obedience becomes a joy and duty a privilege. This is true to the extent that we are the recipients of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though rich, yet for our sakes became poor.

As the waxing moon can take

The tidal waters in her wake

And lead them round and round to break

Obedient to her drawings dim;

So may the movements of His mind,

The first Great Father of mankind,

Affect with answering movements blind,

And draw the souls that breathe by Him.1 [Note: Jean Ingelow.]

Law or Love


Alford (H.), Sermons on Christian Doctrine, 42.

Burrell (D. J.), The Wondrous Cross, 95.

Campbell (J. M‘Leod), Sermons and Lectures, i. 326, 355.

Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women, and Children, iv. 118.

Hutcheson (J. T.), A View of the Atonement, 130.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions of Holy Scripture: Romans, 130.

Mitchell (R. A.), Sin Condemned by the Mission of the Song of Solomon , 1.

Robertson (J.), Sermons and Expositions, 204.

Selby (T. G.), The Strenuous Gospel, 64.

Thomas (J.), The Dynamic of the Cross, 161.

Tipple (S. A.), Sunday Mornings at Norwood, 22.

Biblical World, iii. 299.

Christian World Pulpit, xi. 266 (Beecher); xxxiv. 246 (Emerson); lxii. 52 (Bowran).

Verse 4

(4) The consequence of this was a great change. Hitherto the Law could not be kept because of the antagonistic influence of the flesh; henceforth it may be kept for the reason that this influence has ceased and that its place is taken by the influence of the Spirit.

The righteousness.—The just requirement of the Law, its due and rightful claims.

Might be fulfilled in us.—That we might be examples of its fulfilment.

Who walk not after the flesh.—Who direct our conduct not as the flesh would guide us. but according to the dictates and guidance of the Spirit—i.e., the indwelling Spirit of Christ, as in Romans 8:2.

Verse 5

(5) They that are . . .—Those who not only walk (direct their conduct) according to the promptings of the flesh, but who are in themselves and in the whole bent of their dispositions the slaves of these promptings.

Do mind the things of the flesh.—Their whole mental and moral activity is set upon nothing else but the gratification of these cravings of sense. The phrase “who mind” is not confined to the exercise of the intellect, but includes the affections; in fact it includes all those lesser motives, thoughts, and desires which are involved in carrying out any great principle of action—whether it be selfish and “carnal” or spiritual.

Verses 5-8

(5-8) Further description of the antithesis between flesh and spirit in regard to (1) their object, Romans 8:5; (2) their nature, Romans 8:7-8; (3) their end, Romans 8:6.

Verse 6

(6) Translate, For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. To think of nothing but the gratification of the senses, is in itself death—that dead condition of the soul which issues in eternal death; and, on the other hand, to have the thoughts and affections governed solely by the Spirit, brings with it that healthful, vital harmony of all the functions of the soul which is a sure pledge and foretaste of a blissful immortality. Death and life are here, as elsewhere, most frequently in St. Paul, neither spiritual death and life alone, nor eternal death and life alone, but both combined. The Apostle does not here draw any distinction between the two things.

Verse 7

(7) The carnal mind is death—because it implies enmity with God, and enmity with God is death.

Verse 8

(8) So then . . .—Rather, and. Neither can it be expected that those who are absorbed in the things of sense should be able to please God.

Verse 9

(9) Such is not your case—if at least the Spirit of God and of Christ dwells in you, as it should in every Christian.

The Spirit of God . . . the Spirit of Christ.—It is to be observed that these two terms are used as convertible. The Spirit of Christ is indeed the presence of Christ Himself in the soul. (Comp. John 14:16; John 14:18; John 14:20, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever. . . . I will not leave you comfortless (orphans): I will come to you. . . . At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you.”)

Dwell in you.—This expression is the complement of the other “to be in the Spirit,” “to be in Christ.” It denotes the closest possible contact and influence of spirit upon spirit. No mysticism, however vivid and intense, can really go beyond this without infringing the bounds of personality, and contradicting the direct testimony of consciousness.

Verse 10

(10) The results of the presence of Christ in the soul.

The body is dead because of sin.—Here the word is evidently used of physical death. The doom entailed by sin still, indeed, attaches to the body—but only to the body. The body, indeed, must die, but there the hold of sin upon the Christian ends; it cannot touch him farther.

The Spirit is life because of righteousness.—But turn to another side of human nature; take it in its highest part and faculty—the spirit. That is full of vitality because it is full of righteousness, first imputed and then real. Life and righteousness are correlative terms, the one involving the other.

Verse 11

(11) And this vitality extends beyond the grave. It will even react upon that material body which had just been spoken of as given over to death. Die it must; but the same Spirit to which the soul owes its life will also reinfuse life into the dead body, just as the body of Christ of Himself was raised from the dead.

By his Spirit . . .—The balance of authority is in favour of the reading, “because of His Spirit” (as in margin); the other is an Alexandrian correction. It cannot be thought that God would leave in the grave that body in which His own Spirit has dwelt, i.e., has been with not only in close but permanent contact, though the psychological question was, of course, not present to the mind of the Apostle.

Verse 12

(12) We are debtors.—We are under an obligation. Observe that in the lively sequence of thought the second clause of the antithesis is suppressed, “We are under an obligation, not to the flesh (but to the Spirit).”

Verses 12-17

(12-17) These verses form a hortatory application of the foregoing, with further development of the idea to live after and in the Spirit.

Verse 13

(13) If ye through the Spirit . . .—If under the influence of the Spirit you reduce to a condition of deadness and atrophy all those practices to which the impulses of your material nature would prompt you.

Verse 14

The Leading of the Spirit

As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.—Romans 8:14.

1. These words constitute the classical passage in the New Testament on the great subject of the “leading of the Holy Spirit.” They stand, indeed, almost without strict parallel in the New Testament. We read, no doubt, in that great discourse of our Lord’s which John has preserved for us, in which, as He was about to leave His disciples, He comforts their hearts with the promise of the Spirit, that “when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth.” But this “guidance into truth” by the Holy Spirit is something very different from the “leading of the Spirit” spoken of in our present text; and it is appropriately expressed by a different term. We read also in Luke’s account of our Lord’s temptation that He was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness during forty days, being tempted of the devil,” where our own term is used. But though undoubtedly this passage throws light upon the mode of the Spirit’s operation described in our text, it can scarcely be looked upon as a parallel passage to it. The only other passage, indeed, which speaks distinctly of the “leading of the Spirit” in the sense of our text is Galatians 5:18, where in a context very closely similar Paul again employs the phrase: “But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” It is from these two passages primarily that we must obtain our conception of what the Scriptures mean by “the leading of the Holy Spirit.”

2. There is certainly abundant reason why we should seek to learn what the Scriptures mean by “spiritual leading.” There are few subjects so intimately related to the Christian life of which Christians appear to have formed, in general, conceptions so inadequate, where they are not even positively erroneous. The sober-minded seem often to look upon it as a mystery into which it would be well not to inquire too closely. The consequence is that the very phrase, “the leading of the Spirit,” has come to bear, to many, a flavour of fanaticism.


The Leading of the Spirit belongs to, and characterizes, the Sons of God

1. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God,” says the Apostle, “these are sons of God.” We have here in effect a definition of the sons of God. The primary purpose of the sentence is not, indeed, to give this definition. But the statement is so framed as to equate its two members, and even to throw a stress upon the coextensiveness of the two designations. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these, and these only, are sons of God.” Thus the leading of the Spirit is presented as the very characteristic of the children of God. This is what differentiates them from all others. All who are led by the Spirit of God are thereby constituted the sons of God; and none can claim the high title of sons of God who are not led by the Spirit of God.

When we consider this Divine work within our souls with reference to the end of the whole process we call it sanctification; when we consider it with reference to the process itself, as we struggle on day by day in the somewhat devious and always thorny pathway of life, we call it spiritual leading. Thus the “leading of the Holy Spirit” is revealed to us as simply a synonym for sanctification when looked at from the point of view of the, pathway itself, through which we are led by the Spirit as we more and more advance towards that conformity to the image of His Son which God has placed before us as our great goal.1 [Note: B. B. Warfield.]

2. This leading of the Spirit is not some peculiar gift reserved for special sanctity and granted as the reward of high merit alone. It is the common gift poured out on all God’s children to meet their common need, and it is the evidence, therefore, of their common weakness and their common unworthiness. It is not the reward of special spiritual attainment; it is the condition of all spiritual attainment. In its absence we should remain hopelessly the children of the devil; by its presence alone are we constituted the children of God. It is only because of the Spirit of God shed abroad in our hearts that we are able to cry, Abba, Father.

Defining as they do, generally and without exception, all the sons of God, the words cannot point to any exceptional or what we commonly know as miraculous agency. The influence exerted must be normal and ordinary. That is, at least, if the sons of God are, as we know they are, to be moving about in the world, performing the ordinary duties of life like other men. The influence of the Divine Spirit must not be expected and will not show itself in lifting them out of common life, but in leading them in it, however this latter term is to be understood. And such a consideration will necessarily imply much more. Common life proceeds on common rules. God has just as much bound together seed-time and harvest, means and result, in the life of men as in the life of nature. And it is in, not out of, this chain of connected action, that we may look for the leading of God’s Spirit in man, just as it is in this same chain that we expect His working in nature.1 [Note: H. Alford.]

How can a privilege which is open to all lead any man to think that he is better than his neighbour? Men do not give themselves airs because the sun shines on their heads, and the scent of the sea and the forest mixes itself with the blood, and flowers blow about their pathway, and the blue quivers with lark-songs. They never grow arrogant through that which they possess in common with their fellows, even should many in the crowd be unmusical and inartistic and indifferent to the exhilarations of nature. And those who realize that this privilege rests upon grace, and is enjoyed through faith alone, cannot possibly be under any special temptation to become proud.2 [Note: T. G. Selby.]

Do not proudly elevate your head through the charms of your voice,

For reeds and silken cords are also endowed with speech.

Attach not so much dignity and excellence to your sight,

For the sparrow can discern at a distance of twenty parasangs.

Boast not so loudly of your powers of hearing,

For the hare is sensible of sound at ten leagues’ distance.

Oh, weak man! speak not so much of your perception of smell,

For a mouse can smell at a bow-shot distance.3 [Note: Mirkhond, in Field’s Little Book of Eastern Wisdom, 25.]

3. As the sons of God are characterized by the leading of the Spirit, so at the same time the leading of the Spirit produces certain broad results in them, so that in the sons of God we discern (1) life in God, (2) union with God, (3) likeness to God.

(1) Life in God. To be a son is to be a partaker of the immortal life of God. Paul speaks of the immortal God. To be a son is to participate in His eternal life. The Spirit that leads is in him whom He leads “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Sonship holds in it a growing conviction, a consciousness of life eternal. In the course of years it becomes a main factor of thought, faith, and feeling; indeed, it becomes a fixed, unfluctuating part of consciousness. It never suggests a doubt, a question, but settles down immovably among the certainties: an intuition of God’s indwelling Spirit. Thus it comes to pass, as Channing finely argues, that our strongest proofs of immortality are not the analogies of nature, not the reasonings and deductions of intellect, but the possession of Divine purity, truth, and love. These give vitality to hope, and to faith the full force of a realization. He who has hold of, and grows up into, these, is not left to the doubtful determinings of the logical understanding; he has a surer token, he has got the eternal life itself. He knows. He has Christ in him, the hope of glory. He is an heir of God, a Joint heir with Jesus Christ. To be led by the Spirit, is to enter and grow in the life of God, and so become a being after God’s own kind. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are sons of God.

(2) Union with God. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” That reveals the secret of true communion and intercourse with God. That shows the root of it. It is more than an emotion or a feeling, more than a happy mood; it is a life principle, deep, pure, strong and eternal; and happy feelings, pleasures of emotion, are but one form in which it may declare itself. It is really a community of life which identifies the human soul with God in His mind, will, and character.

(3) Likeness to God. This is the final result of the leading of the Spirit of God. The man is broken off from fleshly and devilish affinities, and enters into moral affinity with God. He and God are like-minded. The similitude is not of form, but of character. The likeness is inward, spiritual. It is a disposition revealing itself in tastes and tempers and deeds. We sometimes say of a lad, “He is his father’s son; he is his father over again.” We mean, generally, more than appearance. We point to a likeness more essential. We mean he is of his father’s spirit—has his habits and tendencies. In this moral or intellectual sense a lad very often is not his father’s son; he is sometimes his mother’s. In association with this fact we at once call to mind other words of the Lord Jesus; they are these—“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

There is a law of unconscious assimilation. We become like those with whom we go. Without being conscious of it, we take on the characteristics of those with whom we live. I remember one time my brother returned home for a visit after a prolonged absence. As we were walking down the street together he said to me, “You have been going with Denning a good deal”—a mutual friend of ours. Surprised, I said, “How do you know I have?” He said, “You walk just like him.” What my brother had said was strictly true, though he did not know it. Our friend had a very decided way of walking. As a matter of fact, we had been walking home from the Young Men’s Christian Association three or four nights every week. And unconsciously I had grown to imitate his way of walking.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Service, 20.]


The Leading of the Spirit is Controlling and Continuous

i. It is controlling

1. One is not led, in the sense of our text, when he is merely directed in the way he should go, guided, as we may say, by one who points out the path and leads only by going before in it; or when he is merely upheld while he himself finds or directs himself to the goal. The Greek language possesses words which precisely express these ideas, but the Apostle passes over these and selects a term which expresses determining control over our actions.

Our Lord promised His disciples that when the Spirit of Truth should come, He should guide them into all the truth. Here a term is employed which does not express controlling leading, but what we may perhaps call suggestive leading. It is used frequently in the Greek Old Testament of God’s guidance of His people, and once, at least, of the Holy Spirit: “Teach us to do thy will, for thou art my God; let thy good Spirit guide us in the land of uprightness.” But the term which Paul employs in our text is a much stronger one than this. It is not the proper word to use of a guide who goes before and shows the way, or even of a commanding general who leads an army. It has stamped upon it rather the conception of the exertion of a power of control over the actions of its subject, which the strength of the led one is insufficient to withstand. This is the proper word to use, for example, when speaking of leading animals, as when our Lord sent His disciples to find the ass and her colt and commanded them “to loose them and lead them to him” (Matthew 21:2); or as when Isaiah declares in the Scripture which was being read by the Eunuch of Ethiopia whom Philip was sent to meet in the desert, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter.” It is applied to the conveying of sick folk—as men who are not in a condition to control their own movements; as, for example, when the good Samaritan set the wounded traveller on his own beast and led him to an inn and took care of him (Luke 10:34); or when Christ commanded the blind man of Jericho “to be led unto him” (Luke 18:40). It is most commonly used of the enforced movements of prisoners; as when we are told that they led Jesus to Caiaphas to the palace (John 18:28); or when we are told that they seized Stephen and led him into the council (Acts 6:12); or that Paul was provided with letters to Damascus unto the synagogues, “that if he found any that were of the Way, he might lead them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2). In a word, though the term may, of course, sometimes be used when the idea of force retires somewhat into the background, and is commonly so used when it is transferred from external compulsion to internal influence—as, for example, when we are told that Barnabas took Paul and led him to the apostles (Acts 9:27), and that Andrew led Simon unto Jesus (John 1:42)—yet the proper meaning of the word includes the idea of control, and the implication of prevailing determination of action never wholly leaves it.1 [Note: B. B. Warfield.]

Every spark of light in the soul is kindled by the Holy Spirit. Every movement of the divine life in a man is His. Every heavenward desire, every yearning of the love of Christ, every keen spiritual judgment cutting through the fallacies and self-seeking evasions of the world, is from Him and by Him. I cannot stir a step in my spiritual life without Him. I cannot turn my eye of faith to Christ an instant without Him. Every sweet consolation poured out on my soul is His. Every testimony to a man’s place in God’s family is from His gentle voice, whispering in the waste places of his heart, bearing witness with his spirit that he is one of the sons of God. Every flower that blooms in man He has tended and cherished: every fruit of holiness, He set it, and watched it, and guarded it from blight and frost, and gave it its consistence and its bloom: the blade, and the ear, and the full corn in the ear, in nature and in grace, alike are His: His, according to His own laws and procedure, but no less His throughout, and His entirely.2 [Note: H. Alford.]

2. It is to be observed, however, on the other hand, that although Paul uses a term here which emphasizes the controlling influence of the Spirit of God over the activities of God’s children, he does not represent the action of the Spirit as a substitute for their activities. If one is not led, in the sense of our text, when one is merely guided, it is equally true that one is not led when one is carried. The animal that is led by the attendant, the blind man that is led to Christ, the prisoner that is led to jail—each is indeed under the control of his leader, who alone determines the goal and the pathway; but each also proceeds on that pathway and to that goal by virtue of his own powers of locomotion. There was a word lying at the Apostle’s hand by which he could have expressed the idea that God’s children are borne by the Spirit’s power to their appointed goal of holiness, apart from any activities of their own, had he elected to do so. It is employed by Peter when he would inform us how God gave His message of old to His prophets. “For no prophecy,” he tells us, “ever came by the will of man: but men spoke from God, being borne by the Holy Ghost.”

There is a difference between the Spirit’s action in dealing with the prophet of God in imparting through him God’s message to men and the action of the same Spirit in dealing with the children of God in bringing them into their proper holiness of life. The prophet is “borne” of the Spirit; the child of God is “led.” The prophet’s attitude in receiving a revelation from God is passive, purely receptive; he has no part in it, adds nothing to it, is only the organ through which the Spirit delivers it to men; he is taken up by the Spirit, as it were, and borne along by Him by virtue of the power that resides in the Spirit, which is natural to Him, and which, in its exercise, supersedes the natural activities of the man. Such is the import of the term used by Peter to express it. On the other hand, the son of God is not purely passive in the hands of the sanctifying Spirit; he is not borne, but led—that is, his own efforts enter into the progress made under the controlling direction of the Spirit; he supplies, in fact, the force exerted in attaining the progress, while yet the controlling Spirit supplies the entire directing impulse.1 [Note: B. B. Warfield.]

“Led.” That word is the key to God’s method of grace. The Spirit comes and gives facility in action. He does not supersede or compel it. He comes to the human soul to sustain it in right conditions and habits. He dwells there—as a generator of forces, not as a tyrant to overbear it in the way of power.2 [Note: W. Hubbard.]

That God leads us, and does not drive, is the answer to many of the questions that have been put to me. Why are there sin and evil in the world? What was the necessity for the Incarnation? Why the astounding miracle of the Atonement? What is the good of the Church? The answer to every one of these questions is that God leads and does not drive. I remember so well in the old East End days, when the young men of the boating club connected with the Oxford House came to ask about their rowing on Sunday morning, and I explained to them that I could not remain their president if their club races were held on Sunday morning; that it was impossible for me to commit myself to the principle that Sunday morning was the time for a boat-race, but that I had no right, as president or head of Oxford House, to dictate to them as individuals what they should do, for I lived down there to try and lead them to better ways of spending Sunday morning; and the deputation, with that perfect frankness and trust which they always gave me, looked up and said: “We quite understand, Mr. Ingram: you have come down here to lead us, and not to drive us.”3 [Note: Bishop A. F. W. Ingram.]

ii. It is continuous

1. The spiritual leading of which Paul speaks is not something sporadic, given only on occasion of some special need of supernatural direction, but something continuous, affecting all the operations of a Christian man’s activities throughout every moment of his life. It has but one end in view, the saving from sin, the leading into holiness; but it affects every single activity of every kind—physical, intellectual, and spiritual—bending it towards that end. Since it is nothing other than the power of God unto salvation, it must needs abide with the sinner, work constantly upon him, enter into all his acts, condition all his doings, and lead him thus steadily onward towards the one great goal.

He leads us on

By paths we did not know,

Upward He leads us, though our steps be slow;

Though oft we faint and falter on the way,

Though storms and darkness oft obscure the day,

Yet, when the clouds are gone,

We know He leads us on.

He leads us on

Through all the unquiet years;

Past all our dreamland hopes, and doubts, and fears

He guides our steps. Through all the tangled maze

Of losses, sorrows, and o’erclouded days

We know His will is done;

And still He leads us on.

And He, at last,

After the weary strife,

After the restless fever we call life,

After the dreariness, the aching pain,

The wayward struggles, which have proved in vain,

After our toils are past—

Will give us rest at last.1 [Note: Jane Borthwick.]

2. It is impossible, in tracing the Spirit’s work, to keep separate the various conventionally named parts of a man’s inward being in which that work is carried on. Man is one in himself, though manifold in powers and in phases of that one being. Great fault and great confusion have been occasioned in these things, by regarding men’s spirits as if they were compounded of various detached portions, and regions fenced off from one another. We speak of the judgment, the memory, the affections, the imagination, as if they were distinct members of the soul, as the hand and foot and head are of the body. We are in some measure obliged so to speak, from the very imperfection of our thought and language. But we must never forget, that it is one and the same spirit—one and the same man, that judges and remembers and loves and fears and imagines.

(1) The first step of the Spirit’s ordinary work of guidance takes place in that part of man’s spiritual being which we know as his understanding. It is a guidance of information. It is expressed by our Lord in these words: “He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you.” It is revelation of facts regarding Christ and His work. Let us trace it and observe its laws. It is carried on in appointed association with ordinary means and sources of knowledge. The Spirit of God does not reveal Christ and the things of Christ to a heathen who never has heard of Christ. “How can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” is the Apostle’s question, even in his own day of miraculous agency. God is pleased then that this part of His work should be subserved and conditioned by the making known to men of the facts of the Gospel. On this His appointment, the duty of preaching, the duty of dispersing the Scriptures, the duty of teaching and informing the young, are founded.

Whenever the Spirit is followed, the soul sees. The mark aimed at has been espied. All is not taken fully in at the first, nor ever, but there is sight and a seeing. Could you stand on the highest peak of the highest mountain, you could not see all the world; on the other hand, looking out of your cottage window, you see enough to call you forth to research and labour. It is not a blind going. The way of your steps is discovered. True, the Spirit will often have to lead you “as one who is blind,” taking you gently by the hand, holding you up, and guarding you; but you follow because you have learned to know and hearken to His voice, and because you have found safety, strength, and wisdom in heeding Him, and are sure of the end.1 [Note: W. Hubbard.]

Step softly, under snow or rain,

To find the place where men can pray;

The way is all so very plain,

That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore

On tortured puzzles from our youth.

We know all labyrinthine lore,

We are the three Wise Men of yore,

And we know all things but the truth.

Go humbly … it has hailed and snowed …

With voices low and lanterns lit,

So very simple is the road,

That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,

And blinding white the breaking day,

We walk bewildered in the light,

For something is too large for sight,

And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun

(… We need but walk a little way …

We need but see a latch undone …),

The Child that played with moon and sun

Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,

The old strange house that is our own,

Where tricks of words are never said,

And Mercy is as plain as bread,

And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly; humble are the skies,

And low and large and fierce the Star,

So very near the Manger lies,

That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes

To roar to the resounding plain,

And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,

For God Himself is born again;

And we are little children walking

Through the snow and rain.1 [Note: G. K. Chesterton.]

(2) From the understanding the guidance of the Spirit goes to the will. The same Spirit which revealed to the eye of the mind the facts of Christ’s work in their vital significance now turns that eye inward on its own region of life and responsibility. In our Lord’s description of the Spirit’s convicting work in the world, namely, the convincing of sin, the action on the conscience is placed first (knowledge of the facts of redemption being presupposed), because the very bringing home of these facts to the inner being is necessarily the conviction of sin.

It is by our will that we are to be proved and judged. In the midst of all this growing, overwhelming light, the will may remain stubborn and rebellious. Faults in childhood growing into the sins of boyhood, hardening into the entanglements and obstinacy of manhood, establish a deliberate resistance in the will against the light of the Spirit. We often see the most promising forms of character slowly fading off. For a time there is a kind of negative declension. No marked and active faults appear; but nothing is advancing towards holiness and the mind of Christ. They seem for awhile to stand still, as we see in an arrow’s flight a momentary pause before it begins to descend. So they never go beyond a certain point; then for awhile they hang in suspense—then slowly fall. Then some one sin appears, long nourished in secret, now at last revealed; some one parasite, which has clung about them, and slowly confirmed its grasp around the whole strength and stature of their character. And this one sin gives the fatal wound to their spiritual life.1 [Note: H. E. Manning.]

Seventeen beautiful Easter lilies were planted in a garden, and in due time sixteen of them sprung up with all their beauty; but the one which had been planted near the hedgerow never seemed to make any progress whatever; it was carefully tended, watched, and watered day by day, and yet it never grew. At last the gardener dug it up, and then he found out the cause. In the hedge had been planted a clematis, and it had thrust its silken roots through the earth, wanting something to take hold of, and, feeling the lily bulb, had twined around it, until by degrees it had strangled it; and the lily which grew above the earth was never more than a poor, puny thing.2 [Note: A. C. Price.]

(3) Lastly, comes the quickening of the affections. All men are ruled by either love or fear: there is no intermediate state. “Perfect love casteth out fear,” and a ruling fear casteth out love. They may be mingled for awhile; but one or the other must bear rule and sway at last. And this is a sure criterion. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” He would have from us the service of sons, loving, glad, and grateful, without stint or measure; not saying, How much must I do? but How much may I, how much can I do? How much time, substance, Service, or thought can I give to Him?

Love is the key of life and death,

Of hidden heavenly mystery:

Of all Christ is, of all He saith,

Love is the key.

As three times to His Saint He saith,

He saith to me, He saith to thee,

Breathing His Grace-conferring Breath:

“Lovest thou Me?”

Ah, Lord, I have such feeble faith,

Such feeble hope to comfort me:

But love it is, is strong as death,

And I love Thee.1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]


The Leading of the Spirit is Deliverance from Sin, but not Escape from Sorrow

1. The end in view in the spiritual leading of which Paul speaks is not to enable us to escape the difficulties, dangers, trials, or sufferings of this life, but specifically to enable us to conquer sin. Let us not forget, indeed, the reality of providential guidance, or imagine that God’s greatness makes Him careless of the least concerns of His children. But let us much more not forget that the great evil under which we are suffering is sin, and that the great promise which has been given us is that we shall not be left to wander, self-directed, in the paths of sin into which our feet have strayed, but that the Spirit of holiness shall dwell within us, breaking our bondage and leading us into that other pathway of good works, which God has afore prepared that we should walk in them.

Our proper road may run up rugged steeps, and down sharp and dangerous descents. Our education may of necessity demand burdens, toil, and sorrow. Our vocation may be as that of a soldier. Be it so, enough that He leads. In following Him, strife there will be; but in the striving we shall have joy, for He will be with us. His leading is not hardship, though hardship may meet us in the following. But hardships thicken with the years—hardships which we cannot cope with, if we follow not. The soldier follows with high courage the captain in whom he confides. The patriot rushes to the war for liberty and home. He will have privations and wounds. But he would be ashamed to stay behind. He could not if he would. He goes, thinking neither of work nor of pay. To save his country is for him reward and glory. So the soul that follows the Spirit may have to endure the hardship of war; but there is the enthusiasm of the conflict, and presently the joy of sacred victory. “To be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

In pastures green? Not always; sometimes He

Who knoweth best, in kindness leadeth me

By weary ways, where heavy shadows be.

And by still waters? No, not always so;

Oft-times the heavy tempests round me blow,

And o’er my soul the waves and billows go.

But when the storm is loudest, and I cry

Aloud for help, the Master standeth by

And whispers to my soul, “Lo, it is I.”

Above the tempest wild I hear Him say,

“Beyond this darkness lies the perfect day,

In every path of thine I lead the way.”

So, whether on the hill-tops high and fair

I dwell, or in the sunless valleys where

The shadows lie—what matter? He is there.1 [Note: Henry H. Barry.]

2. Yet the good man may, by virtue of his very goodness, be saved from many of the sufferings of this life and from many of the failures of this life. How many of the evils and trials of life are rooted in specific sins, we can never know. How often even failure in business may be traced directly to lack of business integrity rather than to pressure of circumstances or business incompetency, is mercifully hidden from us.

3. And the leading of the Spirit establishes that intimacy, confidence, and affection which are so necessary to right training. We cannot love God if He is only an instigator of providential pain and scourging in our lives. We must have the compensating kiss of a felt forgiveness upon our cheeks and the tender whisper of assurance in our souls.

Mencius, the Chinese sage, who is honoured second only to Confucius himself, says: “The ancients exchanged children with each other, for the purpose of training them in letters and deportment. They were afraid lest the punishments necessary in the course of education should injure the sacred bond of affection between parent and child.” No very great harm was assumed to be done if the lad looked upon the neighbour who taught him his hornbook as a natural enemy. We smile and think the danger hypothetical, and the Chinese care for the filial sentiment over-fastidious. But if no word of love ever crossed a father’s lips, and parents tried to make themselves into sphinxes of imperturbable reserve, the danger might be very real indeed.1 [Note: T. G. Selby.]

One of George Eliot’s most skilful books deals with the fortunes of a young man who for many years had been left in entire ignorance of his parentage. When a mere infant, Daniel Deronda was placed by his Jewish mother, afterwards known as the Princess Halm-Eberstein, in the care of Sir Hugo Mallinger, with the instruction that he should be allowed to know nothing whatever of his Jewish birth and blood. At times he thought this English gentleman, who had inspired within him not a little affection, must surely be his own father. He scanned the family portraits to see if he could solve the riddle, but no reflex of these features appeared in his own. When he went to Eton, one of the boys “talked about home and parents to Daniel, and seemed to expect a like expansiveness in return.” “To speak of these things was like falling flakes of fire to the imagination.” One day, when Sir Hugo asked him if he would like to be a great singer, he gave up the cherished thought that this indulgent but mysterious guardian could be his father; for no English gentleman, he reasoned, would think of allowing his own boy to follow the career of a professional singer. Now this atmosphere of secrecy in which he had been brought up was cruel, and might have been attended with grave disaster to his disposition and character, for the lad scarcely knew upon whom to bestow his pent-up affection. The delineation is not intended as a study in the growth of character, but to show probably that not a few of the sentiments of Jewish life and religion are in the blood, however little a young Jew may be told about his own ancestry and family connexions. When, after the lapse of years, Deronda had an interview with his mother, we are told that it seemed as if he were “in the presence of a mysterious Fate, rather than the longed-for mother,” and he did not hesitate to say, “I have always been rebelling against the secrecy that looked like shame.”1 [Note: T. G. Selby.]

I do not ask, O Lord, that life may be

A pleasant road;

I do not ask that Thou would’st take from me

Aught of its load;

I do not ask that flowers should always spring

Beneath my feet;

I know too well the poison and the sting

Of things too sweet.

For one thing only, Lord, dear Lord, I plead;

Lead me aright—

Though strength should falter, and though heart should bleed—

Through peace to light.

I do not ask, O Lord, that Thou should’st shed

Full radiance here;

Give but a ray of peace, that I may tread

Without a fear.

I do not ask my cross to understand,

My way to see—

Better in darkness just to feel Thy hand,

And follow Thee.

Joy is like restless day; but peace divine

Like quiet night;

Lead me, O Lord—till perfect day shall shine,

Through peace to light.2 [Note: Adelaide Anne Procter.]


A Great Consolation

What a strong consolation for us is found in this gracious assurance—poor, weak children of men as we are! To our frightened ears the text may come at first with the solemnity of a warning: As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these, and these only, are sons of God. Is there not a declaration here that we are not God’s children unless we are led by God’s Spirit? Knowing ourselves, and contemplating the course of our lives and the character of our ambitions, dare we claim to be led by the Spirit of God? Is this life—this life that I am living in the flesh—is this the product of the Spirit’s leading? Shall not despair close in upon me as I pass the dreadful judgment on myself that I am not led by God’s Spirit, and that I am, therefore, not one of His sons? Let us hasten to remind ourselves, then, that such is not the purport nor the purpose of the text. It stands here not in order to drive us to despair because we see we have sin within us, but to kindle within us a great fire of hope and confidence because we perceive we have the Holy Spirit within us. Paul does not forget the sin within us. Who has painted it and its baleful power with more vigorous touch? But neither would he have us forget that we have the Holy Spirit within us, and what that blessed fact, above all blessed facts, means. He would not have us reason that because sin is in us we cannot be God’s children, but in happy contradiction to this, that because the Holy Spirit is in us we cannot but be God’s children. Sin is great and powerful; it is too great and too powerful for us; but the Holy Spirit is greater and more powerful than even sin. The discovery of sin in us might bring us to despair did not Paul discern the Holy Spirit in us—who is greater than sin—to quicken our hope.

In this assurance we shall no longer beat our disheartened way through life in dumb despondency, and find expression for our passionate but hopeless longings only in the wail of the dreary poet of pessimism—

But if from boundless spaces no answering voice shall start,

Except the barren echo of our ever yearning heart—

Farewell, then, empty deserts, where beat our aimless wings,

Farewell, then, dream sublime of uncompassable things.

We are not, indeed, relieved from the necessity for healthful effort, but we can no longer speak of “vain hopes.” The way may be hard, but we can no longer talk of “the unfruitful road which bruises our naked feet.” Strenuous endeavour may be required of us, but we can no longer feel that we are “beating aimless wings,” and can expect no further response from the infinite expanse than “a sterile echo of our own eternal longings.” No, no—the language of despair falls at once from off our souls. Henceforth our accents will be borrowed rather from a nobler “poet of faith,” and the blessing of Asher will seem to be spoken to us also—

Thy shoes shall be iron and brass;

And as thy days, so shall thy strength be.

There is none like unto God, O Jeshurun,

Who rideth upon the heaven for thy help,

And in his excellency on the skies.

The eternal God is thy dwelling-place,

And underneath are the everlasting arms.

The Leading of the Spirit


Alford (H.), Quebec Chapel Sermons, iii. 309.

Atkin (J. W.), The Paraklete, 42.

Baillie (D.), The Love of God, 49.

Butcher (C. H.), The Sound of a Voice that is Still, 141.

Gibbons (J. C.), Discourses and Sermons, 363.

Grimley (H. N.), Tremadoc Sermons, 183.

Hare (A. W.), Sermons to a Country Congregation, i. 77.

Harper (F.), A Year with Christ, 126.

Hodge (C.), Princeton Sermons, 81.

Huntington (F. D.), Christ and the Christian Year, i. 384.

Hutchings (W. H.), Sermon-Sketches, i. 150.

Ingram (A. F. W.), A Mission of the Spirit, 72.

Johnstone (V. L.), Sonship, 71.

Manning (H. E.), Sermons, iv. 27.

Mortimer (A. G.), Studies in Holy Scripture, 135.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, x. 393.

Rees (J. S.), Sermons from a Little Known Pulpit, 67.

Selby (T. G.), The Holy Spirit and Christian Privilege, 125.

Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 46.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxi. (1875), No. 1220.

Tholuck (A.), Hours of Christian Devotion, 260.

Warfield (B. B.), The Power of God unto Salvation, 151.

Christian World Pulpit, x. 65 (Hubbard), xliv. 72 (Sinclair).

Churchman’s Pulpit, (Whit-Sunday) ix. 105 (Grimley); (Eighth Sunday after Trinity) xi. 31 (Edmunds).

Verses 14-17

(14-17) This life in the Spirit implies a special relation to God—that of sons. I say of sons; for when you first received the Holy Ghost it was no spirit of bondage and reign of terror to which you were admitted, but rather the closest filial relation to God. This filial relation is attested by the Divine Spirit endorsing the evidence of our own consciousness, and it includes all that such a relation would naturally include—sonship, heirship, nay, a joint-heirship in the glory of Christ, who is Himself pre-eminently the Son.

This idea of “sonship” is also worked out in the Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 3:25; Galatians 4:1-7). It is the Christian transformation of the old theocratic idea. The Israelite, quâ Israelite, had stood in this special relation to God; now it is open to the spiritual Israel of whatever race they may be. The idea itself, too, is largely widened and deepened by the additional doctrines of the continued agency of the Spirit and of the Messiahship of Jesus. The sense of sonship is awakened and kept alive by the Spirit; and of all those in whom it is found, the Messiah Himself stands at the head, ensuring for them a share in His own glory.

Verse 15

(15) Spirit of bondage.—The Greek corresponds very nearly to what we should naturally understand by the English phrase, “such a spirit as would be found in slaves.” The word “spirit” varies much in meaning in these verses. Here it is the “dominant habit or frame of mind;” in the next verse it is used both for the Spirit of God and the spirit of man.

Again to fear.—So as to take you back under the old terrorism of the Law. The Law, if it contained promises, was still more essentially a system of threats; for the threats took effect, while the promises remained ineffectual, because the Law could not be fulfilled.

Spirit of adoption.—That spirit which is characteristic of those who are taken to be sons, who, like the Christian at his baptism, are admitted into this relation of sonship.

Whereby we cry.—The intensity of the Apostle’s feeling comes out in this simple definition. Instead of any more formal elaboration of his meaning, he says the Spirit of adoption is that which prompts the impassioned cry, “Abba, Father.”

Abba, Father.—“Abba” is the Aramaic equivalent for father. The repetition is one of endearment and entreaty, taken from the natural impulse of children to repeat a beloved name in different forms. Comp. Newton’s hymn—

“Jesus, my Shepherd, Husband, Friend,

My Prophet, Priest, and King,” &c.

Verse 16

(16) The Spirit itself beareth witness.—What is the nature of this concurrent testimony? It would seem to be something of this kind. The self-consciousness of the believer assures him of his sonship. The relation in which he feels that he stands to God he knows to be that of a son. But, besides this he is aware of an eternal objective cause for this feeling. That cause is the influence of the Holy Spirit.

This passage makes it clear that the Apostle, in spite of the strongly mystic tone of his language elsewhere, never confuses the human and the divine.

Verse 17

(17) One characteristic of the son is that he is his father’s heir. So it is with the Christian. He, too, has an inheritance—an inheritance of glory which he will share with Christ. But he must not be surprised if, before sharing the glory, he also shares the sufferings.

Suffer with him.—All who suffer for the sake of the gospel are regarded as suffering with Christ. They “drink of the cup” that He drank of (Matthew 20:22-23). (Comp. 2 Corinthians 1:5; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24.)

Verse 18

(18) Revealed in us.—Upon us—i.e., reaching to us, and illumining and transfiguring us. The Coming of Christ is always thus conceived of as a visible manifestation of glory in those who take part in it.

Verses 18-25

(18-25) The mention of “suffering” and of “glory” recalls the Apostle to a sense of his own position—what he had to go through, and what was the hope that he had to animate and encourage him. A vivid impression of the stormy life of the Apostle at this period is given by Acts 19:23-41; 2 Corinthians 6:4-5; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. But he counted it as nothing (Philippians 3:8) as compared with his triumphant out-look into the future. Here, then, there follows a statement of the nature of the Christian’s hope viewed, not only as it affects the individual, but also in its cosmical aspect.

Verse 19

(19) Nor is ours a merely isolated hope; we have our place—

“Mid onward sloping motions infinite,

Making for one sure goal.”

The whole creation is looking earnestly and intently for the same manifestation of glory as ourselves.

Earnest expectation—A single word in the Greek, and a very striking one. It means, literally, a straining forward with outstretched head, just as we might imagine the crowds outside a race-course straining over the ropes to catch a sight of the runners; an eager, intent expectation. The same word is used once again in the New Testament (Philippians 1:20).

Creature.—Creation, the whole world of nature, animate and inanimate.

Waiteth for.—Another strong word, “waits with concentrated longing and expectancy.”

Manifestation.—Translate rather by the ordinary word, revelation, as in the last verse (“glory which shall be revealed”). The Parusia, or Coming of Christ, is to be accompanied by an appearance of the redeemed in glorified form.

Verse 20

(20) For the creature.—The Apostle gives the reason for this earnest expectation in the present state of nature; pointing out what creation is. If creation were perfect, and were fulfilling the noblest possible purpose, there would be no cause for looking forward hopefully to the future.

Was made subject to vanity.—“Vanity” = “emptiness” or “nothingness.” Creation is fulfilling an unworthy instead of a worthy and noble end. (Comp. Genesis 3:17-18.) It was made subject to this “not willingly,” i.e., by its own act or with its own concurrence, but “by reason of Him who hath subjected the same,” i.e., in pursuance of the sovereign purpose and counsel of God. The one thing which takes out the sting from this impoverished and degraded condition is Hope.

It is needless to say that this is not Darwinism, but it is easily reconcilable with evolution. Indeed, such a theory seems to give it additional force and emphasis. It helps to bring out both the present “vanity” and hope for the future, and to show both as parts of one “increasing purpose” widening through the ages. “Allowing for irregularities and fluctuations, on the whole, higher and higher forms of life have appeared. There has been unquestionably an enormous advance between the times of the Eozoon Canadense and our own. And, further, we have to notice that a new kind of progress, of far greater intrinsic importance than mere physical improvement, has of late appeared. I mean intellectual and moral progress, as it is seen in man. . . . And this progress, I would say, is most important in our argument as to the character of God, for it is full of promise of far better things than this sad world has ever seen. It points most decidedly to a supremacy of the power for good, and a great hope of final happiness for our race.” (Rev. S. T. Gibson, Religion and Science, p. 34.)

Verse 21

(21) Because the creature.—The reason for the hope which survives through the degradation of nature; what creation is to be.

Because.—Perhaps rather “that,” to be joined on to the end of the last verse, “in hope that creation, also,” &c. So Meyer and Ellicott.

Delivered from the bondage of corruption.—The state of decay and ruin into which the world by nature has fallen, is regarded as a servitude opposed to the state of liberty into which it will be ushered at the Coming of Christ.

Glorious liberty of the children of God.—Translate rather, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God—i.e., into the state of liberty or emancipation which will attend the appearance of the Messiah and His redeemed. Their state will be one of liberty, and in that liberty the whole creation hopes to share.

Verse 22

(22) Groaneth and travaileth.—In view of the physical evil and misery prevalent in the world, the Apostle attributes a human consciousness of pain to the rest of creation. It groans and travails together, i.e., every member of it in common with its kind. The idea of travailing, as in childbirth, has reference to the future prospect of joyful delivery. (Comp. John 16:21.)

Until now.—This consciousness of pain and imperfection has been continuous and unbroken (nor will it cease until an end is put to it by the Coming of Christ.)

Verse 23

(23) Nor is it only the rest of creation that groans. We Christians, too, though we possess the firstfruits of the Spirit, nevertheless inwardly groan, sighing for the time when our adoption as the sons of God will be complete, and even our mortal bodies will be transfigured.

Which have the firstfruits of the Spirit.—Though we have received the first partial outpouring of the Spirit, as opposed to the plenitude of glory in store for us.

The adoption.—The Christian who has received the gift of the Spirit is already an adopted child of God. (See Romans 8:15-16.) But this adoption still has to be ratified and perfected, which will not be until the Coming of Christ.

The redemption of our body.—One sign of the imperfect sonship of the Christian is that mortal and corruptible body in which the better and heavenly part of him is imprisoned. That, too, shall be transformed and glorified, and cleared from all the defect of its earthly condition. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 15:49-53; 2 Corinthians 5:1 et sea.; Philippians 3:21.)

Verse 24

(24) Why do I say that we “wait for the adoption?” Because hope in the future is of the very essence of the Christian’s life. It was by hope that he was saved. Hope, at the time when he first believed, made him realise his salvation, though it is still in the future. This is, indeed, implied in the very nature of hope. Its proper object is that which is future and unseen.

By hope.—It is usually faith rather than hope that is represented as the means or instrument of salvation. Nor can it quite rightly be said that hope is an aspect of faith, because faith and hope are expressly distinguished and placed as co-ordinate with each other in 1 Corinthians 13:13 : “and now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three.” Hope is rather a secondary cause of salvation, because it sets salvation vividly before the believer, and so makes him strive to obtain it.

It must not, however, be overlooked that the phrase translated “by hope,” may be taken, rather to mean “with” or “in hope.” It will then serve to limit the idea of salvation. We were saved, indeed, in an inchoate and imperfect manner, but our full salvation is still a subject for hope, and therefore it is not past but still in the future.

Verse 24-25

The Saving Grace of Hope

For by hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.—Romans 8:24-25.

As compared with the importance and urgency claimed for faith on the one hand, and for love on the other, in the New Testament, it might almost seem as if hope is scarcely regarded as a duty, or as one of the distinguishing marks of the Christian character. Indeed, it would be difficult to show from the Gospels alone that our Lord Himself attached any importance to hope as a frame of mind to be cultivated; or that He ever enjoined or required it of His disciples, as He so very obviously and even urgently demanded of them an almost unbounded faith. It would not be too much to affirm that, according to the record, we have no positive knowledge that the word “hope” ever proceeded from the Saviour’s lips, or had any place among those many parables and Divine precepts which we associate directly with His earthly life. “O woman, great is thy faith”; “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel”; “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace”—these are among the gracious and encouraging words which we are accustomed to consider as among the most vital and characteristic sayings of Jesus. We have to come to St. Paul to learn, for the first time, that “we are saved by hope.”

And yet the whole life on earth of Jesus, the very temper and disposition of our Lord, as we read of Him in the Gospels; His absolute reliance upon and confidence in His Father; the habitual sunny outlook, as it were, the glad and gracious confidence of the Son of Man amid the despairing and the sinful, and even when, as we know, He Himself had not where to lay His head; the entire absence of all fretfulness and complaining, of all bitterness, of all that in these modern days we call pessimism or cynicism, and in ordinary life down-heartedness or discouragement; the habitual cheerfulness, in short, of the Son of Man, even under what seem the most distressing conditions, till, at the last, He gives Himself up to God, fainting and tortured on the cross, with “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”—surely never before, and never since then, has such a lesson of hopefulness been read to the world; such a truly Divine example of a human being, as St. Paul says, “saved by hope.” And it is the very same lesson in life and in death—often too, as in the supreme case of our Lord, acted but unspoken, a lifelong “song without words”—the lesson of hope arising out of faith, that has been taught us ever since, by every one of those apostles, prophets, and martyrs, who have followed in the steps of the Divine Lord and Master, who came not to enjoy but to suffer, not to be ministered unto but to minister, not to rule but to serve, and so to “give his life a ransom for many.”


Salvation in Hope

If we were to seek to illustrate what seems to be the plain meaning of the text, we might take the case of a sailor, washed overboard and in imminent peril of drowning. He feels his strength ebbing, and is on the point of giving up, when the flash of a boat’s lantern and a hail give him fresh hope, so that, hope lending him vigour, he battles on until he is picked up by his rescuers. Of such a one we may say that he was saved by hope. Had hope not inspired him with fresh strength he would have been lost. Or, again, we may, as an illustration of this meaning of the text, remember how, within limits, patients tend to die or to recover according as they are despondent or hopeful. Such things, then, illustrate what seems to be the plain meaning of the text; and what they suggest is in fact true.

But the meaning thus suggested for our text, though true in fact, is not its real meaning. A better though a less simple translation is, “We were saved in hope.” The text does not tell us by what we were saved. It tells us of something involved in the salvation. Salvation has hope in the heart of it. It is not exhausted in the initial experiences. It is fraught with happy consequences, the hope of which characterizes all those who have been saved. There is an experience, salvation, and something involved in it, hope.

The older commentators for the most part took the dative here as the dative of the instrument, “by hope were we saved.” Most moderns take it as the dative of the manner, “in hope were we saved,” the main ground being that it is more in accordance with the teaching of St. Paul to say that we were saved by faith, or from another point of view—looking at salvation from the side of God—by grace (both terms are found in Ephesians 2:8) than by hope.1 [Note: Sanday and Headlam, Romans.]

i. Hopefulness

Hopefulness is in a very real sense the keynote of all Christian aspiration; the one ever-present distinction of the Christian religion and life from all that ever went before it (with one notable exception), and from much that has obtruded itself as “philosophy,” even in these latter days.

1. We know how in pre-Christian times that vast Oriental system of Buddhism (which still counts more adherents, probably, than any other), even with many admirable moralities set forth in the way of precept, was pervaded throughout by a kind of philosophic pessimism; a hopelessness, in fact, which Schopenhauer in these latter days has only adopted and rendered into more modern terms of expression. The world is, at the best, according to that great Oriental philosophy, an illusion; at the worst, and as tested by human experience, a passing show of misery, disappointment, and vexation. It had been better for all of us not to have been born. Best now, for all of us, simply to cease to be. The only beatitude is Nirvana.

2. The pagan idolatries, into the midst of which Christianity was launched at the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, had no such definite incarnation in a single historic figure, nor perhaps any such definite philosophical outcome, as in the case of the religion of the Buddha. But in a pregnant word of St. Paul, addressed to those who had been “Gentiles in the flesh,” and who, under his teaching, had accepted Christ as their Lord, we find a most striking appeal to their own inward consciousness of the change that had been wrought in their spiritual state. “Wherefore remember,” he says, “that ye were at that time (i.e. before their conversion) strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12, R.V.).

3. But St. Paul could even have added to the force of such an argument had he been able to extend it to this present hour, through all the horrors of the destruction of Jerusalem, the abominable persecutions of the Middle Ages, and the long endurance under injustice, confiscation, and proscription (even, alas! and mostly, by professing Christians) of which the Jewish communities scattered throughout the world have been, and are even now, the object. For the Jew, even in his worst national aberrations in the earlier days, and still more in the long years of exile and persecution, and more than ever in St. Paul’s time under the dominion of Rome, had maintained, as his most prominent and unique national characteristic, an undying inextinguishable hope as to the future of his race and country; a hope founded on faith in the one unchanging Jehovah, who had of old chosen and set apart Israel out of all the nations, and never would desert the people of His choice. This, indeed, is the very point of the Apostle’s appeal to the Gentile converts in the Epistle to the Ephesians: they were, he says, “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,” and therefore “having no hope, and without God in the world.”

Hope was the very life of Israel. “Our fathers trusted in thee.” “The Lord will be the hope of his people,” “the confidence of all the ends of the earth.” And, if the old fire of hope burned low in the ages of Pharisaic formalism, it blazed out again more brightly than ever when Christ our Lord brought life and immortality to light. Christ in us is the hope of glory, the one living power that could overcome the disgust and loathing of that hard old pagan world where hope was lost. And if its brightness was dimmed again in the dark times of Christian Pharisaism, it was never quite extinguished. Beyond the Dies irae rose Jerusalem the golden.1 [Note: H. M. Gwatkin.]

ii. The Christian Hope

1. The Christian hope is not identical with hopefulness. We shall not understand how we are “saved in hope” unless we have a clear idea of the hope of which St. Paul speaks in the text. In so far as it is an act of the mind merely, it does not differ from the hope with which we are all familiar in daily life. Everybody remembers Lord Byron’s words to Hope:—

Be thou the rainbow to the storms of life!

The evening beam that smiles the clouds away,

And tints to-morrow with prophetic ray!

Without hope endeavour would languish. No room would be left for design, or for rational enterprise of any kind. Life would become mere lazy, unconcerned trifling. Everybody feels this, and admits the power which that act of the mind, called by us hope, exercises in and upon our lives. But, though the hope of the text, in so far as it is a mere act of the mind, does not differ from natural hope, in other respects it does differ from it very widely.

As faith is the special counter-agent of materialism, so the counter-agent of pessimism is hope. Like faith, this has a natural basis, which is commonest and strongest in the young. But this natural hopefulness, which varies with temperament, can be confirmed into Christian hope only “by the power of the Holy Ghost.” For the mere natural hopefulness of a sanguine disposition fades when the troubles of life thicken with advancing years, as “the clouds return after the rain.” But “tribulation,” says St. Paul, “worketh patience; and patience, probation; and probation, hope.”1 [Note: J. R. Illingworth, Christian Character, 73.]

2. The importance of the Christian hope may be experienced—

(1) In our daily life.—There is the conflict with sin, in which we often seem to gain no ground, the same temptations recurring year after year with wearisome identity, or disappearing, when resisted, only to reappear in a new form, while our efforts after virtue seem daily to be renewed only that in like manner they may be daily disappointed. And in this long struggle with discouragement, hope is the sole secret of our success, for it is the one thing that enables us to rise after every fall, to take new heart after every failure, resolute to die fighting, rather than accept defeat.

Say not, the struggle nought availeth,

The labour and the wounds are vain,

The enemy faints not, nor faileth,

And as things have been they remain.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,

Seem here no painful inch to gain,

Far back, through creeks and inlets making,

Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

But though Watts calls his tremendous reality Hope, we may call it many other things. Call it faith, call it vitality, call it the will to live, call it the religion of to-morrow morning, call it the immortality of man, call it self-love and vanity; it is the thing that explains why man survives all things and why there is no such thing as a pessimist. If there be anywhere a man who has really lost it, his face out of a whole crowd of men will strike us like a blow. He may hang himself or become Prime Minister; it matters nothing. The man is dead.1 [Note: Chesterton, Watts, 103.]

(2) In old age.—The decrease of capacity, the increase of infirmity, the prospect of the end, oppress the ageing man with gloom, and tempt him cynically to sadden others with the shadow of his own distress. But if we contrast Matthew Arnold’s melancholy picture of old age with the stirring trumpet-tones of Browning’s “Rabbi ben Ezra,” we see, in sharp contrast, how Christian hope has changed all this:

Grow old along with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made:

Our times are in His hand

Who saith, “A whole I planned,

Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

(3) In the last hours.—This is the climax of our Christian hope: “The righteous hath hope in his death.” “Death,” said Aristotle, “is of all things the most terrible, for it is an end.” And it is precisely because to the Christian it is not an end that his conduct is so different from that of the Greek—a contrast well drawn out by Browning in his “Old Pictures at Florence.” For the Greek and all who think with him must seek their full development in this world; whereas, in the Christian view “man has for ever,” he can afford to wait, and his whole life is conditioned by this fact. Hence his hope culminates in death, as being but the entrance to the life immortal; he dies looking forward and not backward, and therefore progressive to the very end; for hope is the mainspring of progress, and “the righteous hath hope in his death.”

Over the grave of the first Bishop of Manchester is inscribed the one Greek word which in our English Bible is translated “The trumpet shall sound”—a word which carries our minds forward to the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ, and utters forth the note of expectancy in the place where all hopes might seem to have died. Contrast with this Christian inscription what has been found written over the grave of a priest of the religion of pagan Rome in its decay. “He gave to his devotees,”—such is the praise ascribed by the priest to the god he worshipped—“he gave to his devotees kisses and pleasures and fun.”1 [Note: P. J. Maclagan.]

I often examine, with peculiar interest, the hymn-book we use at Carr’s Lane. It was compiled by Dr. Dale. Nowhere else can I find the broad perspective of his theology and his primary helpmeets in the devotional life as I find them there. And is it altogether unsuggestive that under the heading of “Heaven” is to be found one of the largest sections of the book? A greater space is given to “Heaven” than is given to “Christian Duty.” Is it not significant of what a great man of affairs found needful for the enkindling and sustenance of a courageous hope? And among the hymns are many which have helped to nourish the sunny endeavours of a countless host.2 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]

Into the dusk of the East,

Grey with the coming of night,

This we may know at least—

After the night comes light!

Over the mariners’ graves,

Grim in the depths below,

Buoyantly breasting the waves,

Into the East we go.

On to a distant strand,

Wonderful, far, unseen,

On to a stranger land,

Skimming the seas between;

On through the days and nights,

Hope in each sailor’s breast,

On till the harbour lights

Flash on the shores of rest!

3. Now it is obvious that when St. Paul says “We were saved in hope,” he is not regarding hope as an unstable or uncertain thing, nor is he regarding it as a quality which we may either take or leave according to our several liking. Far from this, we shall see, if we read the passage aright, that St. Paul is regarding hope as permanent and certain, and as an essential characteristic of the salvation which has already been begun in us; or, to put it more exactly, that very salvation itself is enshrined in hope. But it is noticeable that certain errors with regard to hope are constantly made. Let us see how these errors arise and how St. Paul’s teaching refutes them.

(1) Hope is commonly conceived of as if there were the idea of uncertainty implied in it—as if to say, I hope for a thing, were to say, I look for it doubtfully—I expect it in a measure, but I am not sure of it. But it is not so. The Apostle says: “For we are saved in hope: but hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” Here he puts hope and present vision in contrast; it is not certainty and uncertainty that he is contrasting, but things seen and things not seen; and that there is no idea of uncertainty is plain from the 25th verse, “If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it,” expressing the peaceful, calm security in which the thing is looked for. Not the slightest indication is there here of any uncertainty involved in the expression “hope.” All that the Apostle conceived to be meant by it was the expectation of a future thing. Now, this being so, it is evident that a serious error is made, the moment we conceive of hope as involving in it uncertainty.

Every human hope is necessarily uncertain, because of the uncertainty of every thing under the sun, the uncertainty of our own life, the uncertainty, in fact, of every thing around us. No wonder that people accustomed thus to see hope doubtfully applied should have associated uncertainty with these words; but observe that the uncertainty is in that on which the hope rests; and, therefore, if a man gets a sure ground on which to judge, there is no need of uncertainty. Faith and hope, in religion, have a reference to the words of God, and these are sure and steadfast; there is, therefore, no reason why they should be uncertain things here. Introduce God as the teller, as the promiser, as the speaker, upon whose testimony our faith goes forth, upon whose promise our hope rests, and then all apology for uncertainty is removed.1 [Note: J. M‘Leod Campbell.]

What can we do, o’er whom the unbeholden

Hangs in a night with which we cannot cope?

What but look sunward, and with faces golden

Speak to each other softly of a hope?

Can it be true, the grace he is declaring?

Oh let us trust him, for his words are fair!

Man, what is this, and why art thou despairing?

God shall forgive thee all but thy despair.2 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, Saint Paul.]

(2) Hope has a reference to a future thing, not a reference to a present or a past thing, and it is confounding the objects of faith and the objects of hope to make that which Christ has done for us an object of hope, or to say that we hope that Christ died for us, or that we have an interest in His blood. What, then, is the object of hope? Just that which God is yet to do. The Gospel reveals God as the Governor of the universe, and sets forth the plan of His government; it makes us acquainted with what He has done, with what He is doing, and with what He has yet to do. The object of Christian hope is what God has yet to do. There is a personality, a reference to one’s own self, involved in it; but while this is the case, it is this great plan of God that is the direct object of hope, and the personality is just something arising out of what it tells us. We can find no words more definite than St. Paul’s own words in the context of our text, as showing what is the great object of hope. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.”

(3) Hope is not to be regarded as an unnecessary grace. St. Paul says that there are three things which abide—three things, that is, which last under all the changes of fashion and of custom, and of the varying schemes of different generations—three things which remain as the abiding strands of the human character—and of those the first is faith and the second is hope. Now when we turn to consider hope we are brought face to face with this—that hope suffers from not being taken seriously, as faith is. Even those who feel most their lack of faith know that faith is essential; they know that “without faith it is impossible to please God,” and that those who come to God “must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” But with hope it is all different. We look upon hope, do we not, as a kind of beautiful fairy queen; and where hope is so beautiful we are apt to think she can do no useful work. She is like a beautiful woman whom people think to be above doing strong and useful work; but those who know her best, those who have seen the most tragic sides of life, know that although she is bright and beautiful on the bridal morning as the young couple come forth, and think that they are going to tread a path of flowers, yet it is on the tragic side of life that hope is at her best.

’Twas August, and the fierce sun overhead

Smote on the squalid streets of Bethnal Green,

And the pale weaver, through his windows seen

In Spitalfields, look’d thrice dispirited.

I met a preacher there I knew, and said:

“Ill and o’erworked, how fare you in this scene?”—

“Bravely!” said he; “for I of late have been

Much cheer’d with thoughts of Christ, the living Bread.”

O human soul! as long as thou canst so

Set up a mark of everlasting light,

Above the howling senses’ ebb and flow,

To cheer thee, and to right thee if thou roam—

Not with lost toil thou labourest through the night!

Thou mak’st the heaven thou hop’st indeed thy home.

Thus Matthew Arnold. But what did he mean? He meant that Hope, the beautiful queen we think her, too beautiful to soil her hands or mar her face with work, goes up and down the slums of East London with the worker as he toils on through all his difficulties, and that from the worst disappointment he is saved in Hope.

A young man is working in his study. All the glamour of scientific discovery is sweeping over him, and his one great thought is to follow and back up his great master, Darwin. He is studying science, and he makes some of the most original experiments that have ever been made. But the exclusive use of the analytical reason, as in the case of his master, Darwin, clouds his faith. The boyish essay on Prayer is withdrawn from publication, and for years there rests upon his mind a cloud of awful doubt. But he had in his study, at his work, as his constant companion, something that never left him, something that always told him that truth could be learned, that some day his boyish faith would come back to him, something that kept him perfectly honest, perfectly sincere, perfectly true to himself through it all, and that thing was Hope. And when only a week before he died he walked up the Latin Chapel at Oxford, and as a firm believer received the Holy Communion in full possession of his magnificent faculties, it was Hope that walked in front of him, very reverently, having done her work. George Romanes was saved in Hope. It is a calumny, then, on Hope to look on her as a merely beautiful fairy queen. Hope is a nurse, Hope is a worker, Hope is a most delightful and sustaining intellectual friend.1 [Note: Bishop Winnington Ingram.]

iii. The Power of Hope

St. Paul places hope as the second of the Christian graces. It is a tremendous thing to be placed between faith and love. What is the magic power of hope which places her in such a position in the Christian life?

1. The first thing which we notice about hope—and it wants watching to find out the peculiar magic of its power—is that it purifies the human character. “Every man that hath this hope in him,” says St. John, “purifieth himself, even as Christ is pure.” It would be weary dismal work indeed to mark, year after year, our little growth, our frequent failure; to find the same temptations still assaulting us, the same meanness or vanity or envy lurking in our hearts. At times, it may be, we have been half inclined to put up with a lower standard, and to come to terms with our sins; to acquiesce in their occupying some portion of God’s territory. But of His mercy, we are saved by hope. We renew the experience of the Psalmist, “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” To see His goodness; yes, and to be like Him. For we shall see Him as He is. There is the hope which from the triumph of the risen Saviour breaks out upon our souls even in the darkest moments of their self-reproach; we are not fighting only to make the best we can out of fifty or sixty years. We could hardly bear to think what we have wasted and misspent if that were all; we could hardly hold on with the knowledge of the failures that we are. What changes everything for us is that through the often baffled hopes, through the fearful resolutions of our faltering hearts, there comes the thrill of that surpassing, saving hope that by His grace we shall one day be brought where sorrow and sighing flee away; where there shall be no more curse, and no more failure; where the storm of temptation shall be utterly forgotten in the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding.”

Lord, many times I am aweary quite

Of mine own self, my sin, my vanity—

Yet be not Thou, or I am lost outright,

Weary of me.

2. But not only has hope this purifying power, not only will it make us believe that we are meant to live with angels and not herd with animals, not only will it lift a man into a different state of mind altogether, and purify his character, but hope is also the strongest influence that we can exert over other people.

If you have read a little story for children called Little Lord Fauntleroy you have read a magnificent account of the influence of hope on others. You remember how the little lad goes to stay with his grandfather, and that grandfather is one of the most selfish, one of the meanest and most unkind of old men that have ever lived. But the boy believes in him. The boy, only about fourteen, keeps saying to his grandfather, “Oh, grandfather, how they must love you; you are so generous, you are so kind, you are so considerate to every one you meet.” And the lesson of that beautiful story is the influence of hope on character. The old gentleman cannot withstand the belief of his boy; and he grows to be the unselfish generous man that the boy thought him.

3. Hope is the greatest inspirer of corporate work. And here we have to beware of a travesty of hope. Those who serve on boards and committees know that we do not believe very much in the merely sanguine man—the man who has always got a scheme which he thinks perfectly infallible, which he carries through in spite of all advice, and who, by his glib tongue and power of talk, sometimes drags the committee or board into miserable disaster. Now in our proper fear of the merely sanguine man do not let us despise the hopeful man. So far from hope being a hindrance upon boards or committees, social settlements, or any other corporate work, hope is the inspirer that keeps them going. You have sometimes seen the summer breeze sway down the cornstalks in a great field; they all bow beneath its magic power; that is how souls are bowed down by the influence of hope. One hopeful man will save a garrison; one hopeful woman will inspire a parish.

The men of hope carry forward their fellows, as Matthew Arnold has well described, in words that gain impressiveness from their contrast to his own prevailing sadness—

Beacons of hope, ye appear!

Languor is not in your heart,

Weakness is not in your word,

Weariness not on your brow.

Ye alight in our van! at your voice,

Panic, despair, flee away.

Ye move through the ranks, recall

The stragglers, refresh the outworn,

Praise, re-inspire the brave.

Order, courage, return;

Eyes rekindling, and prayers,

Follow your steps as ye go.

Ye fill up the gaps in our files,

Strengthen the wavering line,

Stablish, continue our march,

On, to the bound of the waste,

On, to the City of God.

iv. The Sphere of Hope

1. “Hope that is seen is not hope.” The whole point of St. Paul’s argument in these two verses is that the attitude of hope, so distinctive of the Christian, implies that there is more in store for him than anything that is his already. And not only is this principle true with regard to the future life and things unseen, but it is supremely true with regard to a building up of character. For to whatever height of excellence men may attain, they will always see above them a vantage-ground which invites fresh effort.

The sphere of hope is “things not seen.” “Hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” Therefore a Christian’s real possession is not what he sees. Suppose God prospers him in this world and he has riches; let him be grateful, but let him confess that those are not his treasures. One hour with the Lord Jesus Christ will bring more satisfaction to the believer than the largest measure of wealth. Although he may have prospered in this world, the saint will ridicule the idea of making the world his portion. A thousand worlds with all the joy which they could yield are as nothing compared with our appointed inheritance. Our hope does not deal with trifles; she leaves the mice of the barn to the owls, and soars on eagle wings where nobler joys await her.

2. Now the greater part of our salvation belongs to the “things not seen.” “If, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Our salvation is partly of the past, but more of the future. For with God there are no unfinished beginnings, no inadequate completions. He is not like the foolish builder, who, without counting the cost, lays foundations wide and deep, and cannot complete the stately tower for which the foundations were planned. When God has appointed Jesus Christ as the chief corner-stone, what will the superstructure be? We may meanwhile obscure the magnificence of His plan by the foolishness of our building. But though it be by the destruction of our work, His spiritual house shall be completed, of which apostles and prophets are the foundation, and victorious martyrs the pillars, and every stone a blameless saint. All this was before St. Paul’s mind when he wrote, “in hope were we saved.”

In ancient times when God delivered His people from the bondage of Egypt, what pledge did He give them? “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I WILL BE hath sent me unto you.” “I WILL BE,” that is the name by which God would be known. “I will be” what? It was for hope to fill it up. The promise was magnificent by its very vagueness. The children of Israel could fill it up in part by what they knew of God. “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” The promise of the name means that, and goes beyond it. The name is not “I AM,” a revelation of the self-sufficiency of God. It is “I WILL BE,” a promise of God’s inexhaustible sufficiency through the future for all His people’s need. And so it is now. This God of the “will be” of the future, is the God of our salvation.1 [Note: P. J. Maclagan.]

Something I may not win attracts me ever—

Something elusive, yet supremely fair;

Thrills me with gladness, yet contents me never,

Fills me with sadness, yet forbids despair.

It blossoms just beyond the paths I follow,

It shines beyond the farthest stars I see;

It echoes faint from ocean caverns hollow,

And from the land of dreams it beckons me.

It calls, and all my best, with joyful feeling,

Essays to reach it as I make reply;

I feel its sweetness o’er my spirit stealing,

Yet know ere I attain it I must die.


Waiting with Patience

1. What are we waiting for?—The first thing the Apostle mentions with respect to the goal of our Christian hope is that all things and all life shall be set in their proper places once for all. “Waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.” The sons of God are hidden now, and the throne of glory has not been unveiled. Things are not in their right places. The light has been put under a bushel; the sun has been obscured. The true order of things has not been set in the light of heaven.

The whole passage preceding the text deals with the goal of our hope. There is one point, however, on which it is of utmost importance that we should be clear and allow no misconception to arise. St. Paul says we are “waiting for our adoption—the redemption of our body.” Now by this word “adoption” he does not mean our acceptance as the sons of God; nor does the “redemption” mean atonement through the precious blood of Christ; for both these are complete already. But they both mean the final deliverance of the children of God at the second coming of our blessed Saviour, when all God’s people shall be set free from every impediment, and, as adopted children, or as a chosen bride, shall be presented spotless, in perfect freedom before the throne of the Lord.

The traveller in an unknown land, who wishes to explore it, to know how it lies, what it contains, how far its forests and its plains extend, looks out for some mountain from the elevation of which he can best survey it. He climbs to one height, and it takes him clear of the wood, showing how the forest in the distance is bounded by a low range of hills. If he climbs to a higher point, he hopes to see what lies beyond that range. Patiently he toils up the slope, until he gains the desired outlook and beyond the low hills he sees a vast and verdant plain, through which a river flows shining in the sun. But still on the utmost verge his view is restricted by sloping downs, which seem to indicate the presence of the sea beyond. If he can climb to the summit, he hopes to see what now he surmises. In patience, then, he toils upward once more, hour after hour, until, standing on the mountain top, he sees all round the mighty expanse. The forest lies beneath, a dark olive patch; the low hills seem hardly distinguishable from the surrounding plain; the great river is a thin silver streak; and beyond lie stretches of moorland, valley, and grassy downs; and farther still, lies the open sea, like a polished shield, extending far away, until lost on the horizon. At each point, his hope of what he wished to see became reality; it was no longer hope; for what a man sees is not hope, but knowledge. But hope of wider knowledge spurred him on, and, in patience, he plodded upwards, waiting until the object of his new hope was reached. Then all that he had thought and surmised, all that he had toiled for, was accomplished.1 [Note: J. E. Manning.]

2. What is the value for the present life of this hopeful waiting?—“If we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” There are three tests of the value of a truth for this life. One is the bearing of its burdens; another is victory over our sins; the third is service for the Kingdom of God. Apply these three tests, and bring the Christian hope to bear upon them. Who can bear his burdens, the burdens of this lower life, its weariness, its monotony, its pain, its sorrows—who can bear them like the man who believes in the coming liberty of the glory of the children of God? “I reckon,” said the Apostle, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” That faith makes every burden light. If we have that hope, we will bear our cross with a glad heart, and we will sing while bearing it: “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” And the weight of sorrow shall pass away for ever. And who will fight for purity in his own life and spirit like the man who believes that purity is ordained to determine the destiny of every created thing, like the man who believes that purity means ultimately unfathomable glory? That hope of glory will condemn the impure heart, will burn like a blazing fire in the bones of the man who does not keep his garments white. And the man with this hope will work with the most glowing enthusiasm. Who can work with such greatness of purpose, and might of heart, and strength of arm, as the man who believes in this glorious unfolding, who believes that man is destined for this wonderful central position in God’s new creation, and that this earth of ours, these men and women we see around us, may be sons of God, the dazzling centre of a new creation in a world of everlasting glory? And so this hope fills us with inspiration. For the way is bright before us, and vast shall be the unfoldings of the future.

There is a fine story told of Carlyle,—one welcomes anything about that great genius which tends to show him sympathetic with the Christian attitude, inclined towards the Christian faith. He was walking with the late Bishop Wilberforce in the grounds of a country mansion, and speaking of the death of Sterling, the associate and friend of both. “Bishop,” Carlyle said suddenly, “have you a creed?” “Yes,” was the answer of the other—fine in its own way too—“and what is more, the older I grow, the firmer that creed becomes under my feet. There is only one thing that staggers me.” “What is that?” asked Carlyle. “The slow progress that creed seems to make in the world.” Carlyle remained silent for a second or two, and then said slowly and seriously, “Ah! but if you have a creed, you can afford to wait!”1 [Note: W. A. Gray.]

As the bird trims her to the gale,

I trim myself to the storm of time,

I man the rudder, reef the sail,

Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime:

“Lowly faithful, banish fear,

Eight onward drive unharmed;

The port, well worth the cruise, is near,

And every wave is charmed.”2 [Note: Emerson.]

Verse 25

(25) If salvation were something that could be seen, something that could be grasped by sight, then there would be no room for hope. As it is we do not see it; we do hope for it; and, therefore, we patiently endure the sufferings that lie upon the road to it.

Verse 26

(26) Likewise.—While on the one hand the prospect of salvation sustains him, so on the other hand the Divine Spirit interposes to aid him. The one source of encouragement is human (his own human consciousness of the certainty of salvation), the other is divine.

Infirmities.—The correct reading is the singular, “infirmity.” Without this assistance we might be too weak to endure, but the Spirit helps and strengthens our weakness by inspiring our prayers.

With groanings which cannot be uttered.—When the Christian’s prayers are too deep and too intense for words, when they are rather a sigh heaved from the heart than any formal utterance, then we may know that they are prompted by the Spirit Himself. It is He who is praying to God for us.

Verse 26-27

(26, 27) A second reason for the patience of the Christian under suffering. The Spirit helps his weakness and joins in his prayers.

Verse 27

(27) God recognises the voice of His own Spirit, because the prayers that the Spirit prompts are in strict accordance with His will.

What is the mind of the Spirit.—What are the thoughts of the Spirit, and therefore what is the echo of those thoughts in the prayers that are offered to Him.

Verse 28

(28) All things.—Persecution and suffering included.

Work together.—Contribute.

There is a rather remarkable reading here, found in the Vatican and Alexandrian MSS., and in Origen, inserting “God” as the subject of the verb, and making “all things” the object. “God works all things with,” or “co-operates in all things.” This reading is very early, if not original.

To them who are the called.—Further description of those “who love God.” They have also, as in His eternal counsels He had designed it should be, obeyed the call given to them in the preaching of the gospel, and definitely enrolled themselves in the kingdom of the Messiah.

Verses 28-30

(28-30) These verses contain a third reason for the patience of the Christian. He knows that whatever happens, all things are really working together for good to him.

Verse 29-30

(29, 30) For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate.—The process already summed up under these two phrases is now resolved more fully and exactly into its parts, with the inference suggested that to those who are under the divine guidance at every step in their career nothing can act but for good. The two phrases indicate two distinct steps. God, in His infinite foreknowledge, knew that certain persons would submit to be conformed to the image of His Son, and he predestined them for this.

When we argue deductively from the omniscience and omnipotence of God, human free-will seems to be obliterated. On the other hand, when we argue deductively from human free-will, the divine foreknowledge and power to determine action seem to be excluded. And yet both truths must be received without detriment to each other. We neither know strictly what God’s omnipotence and omniscience are (according to a more exact use of language, we ought to say, perhaps, “perfect power and knowledge”—power and knowledge such as would belong to what we are incapable of conceiving, a perfect Being), nor do we know what human free-will is in itself. It is a necessary postulate if there is to be any synthesis of human life at all; for without it there can be no distinction between good and bad at all. But we do not really know more than that it is that hypothetical faculty in man by virtue of which he is a responsible agent.

To be conformed . . .—The final cause of the whole of this divine process is that the Christian may be conformed to the image of Christ—that he may be like him not merely in spirit, but also in that glorified body, which is to be the copy of the Redeemer’s (Philippians 3:21), and so be a fit attendant upon Him in His Messianic kingdom.

Firstborn among many brethren.—The Messianic kingdom is here conceived of rather as a family. In this family Christ has the rights of primogeniture, but all Christians are His brethren; and the object of His mission and of the great scheme of salvation (in all its stages—foreknowledge, calling, justification, &c.) is to make men sufficiently like Him to be His brethren, and so to fill up the number of the Christian family. The word “firstborn” occurs in a similar connection in Colossians 1:15, “firstborn of every creature” (or rather, of all creation), and in Hebrews 1:6, “When he bringeth in the first-begotten (firstborn) into the world.” It implies two things—(1) priority in point of time, or in other words the pre-existence of the Son as the Divine Word; and (2) supremacy or sovereignty as the Messiah. The Messianic use of the word is based upon Psalms 89:27, “Also I will make him my first-born, higher than the kings of the earth.”

Among many brethren.—Comp. Hebrews 2:11 et seq., “He is not ashamed to call them brethren,” &c. There is a stress on “many.” The object of the Christian scheme is that Christ may not stand alone in the isolated glory of His pre-existence, but that He may be surrounded by a numerous brotherhood fashioned after His likeness as He is in the likeness of God.

Verse 30

(30) Predestinate.—This is the term which seems most to interfere with human free-will. Foreknowledge does not interfere with free-will, because the foreknowledge, though prior in point of time, is posterior in the order of causation to the act of choice. A man does not choose a certain action because it is foreknown, but it is foreknown because he will choose it. Predestination (the word is not inadequately translated) appears to involve a more rigorous necessity. All we can say is that it must not be interpreted in any sense that excludes free-will. Free-will is a postulate on which all the superstructure of morals and religion must rest. The religious mind, looking back over the course by which it has been brought, sees in it predominating the hand of God; but however large the divine element in salvation may be, it must in the end be apprehended by faith, which is an act of free-will. And the subsequent actions of which faith is the moving cause, though done under a co-operating divine influence, yet belong to the sphere of human freedom. (See Note on Romans 2:6.) It should be remembered that St. Paul is not now writing in the calm temper of philosophical analysis, but in an intense access of religious emotion, and therefore he does not stay to put in all the qualifying clauses that philosophy might require. It is well for mankind that he has done so. In all great and creative religious minds the consciousness of free-will has retired into the background.

Called.—By presenting to them the gospel, directly or indirectly, through the preaching of Christ and His Apostles.

Justified.—In the Pauline sense, as in Romans 3:24, et al.

Glorified.—Strictly, the glorifying of the Christian awaits him in the future, but the Apostle regards all these different acts as focused together as it were on a single point in the past. Glorification is involved in justification.

Verses 31-39

(31-39) Now follows the sublime and triumphant conclusion from the foregoing—expressed with passionate energy and with the most intense consciousness of the reality of a Christian belief in penetrating and sustaining the mind in all outward trials, however severe.

Erasmus remarks on this, that “Cicero never said anything grander.” It is needless to add that, setting aside other considerations, Cicero was not for a moment comparable in spiritual intensity, and therefore in true eloquence, to St. Paul.

Verse 32

The Inclusive Gift

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all. how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?—Romans 8:32.

1. The chapter from which these words are taken is full of encouragement and comfort. The Apostle’s object, at least in the latter part of it, is to point out the peculiar privileges of believers, and the certainty of the foundation on which their hopes and prospects rest.

2. St. Paul seems to have in mind especially the outward condition of believers, as if the meanness of their external condition, and the peculiar trials and afflictions to which they are often exposed, might be looked upon as an objection to the truth and reality of those spiritual privileges of which he has shown that they were possessed, and as inconsistent with the special love and favour which God has been said to bear to them. In opposition to this notion, the Apostle shows, with conclusive reasoning and impressive eloquence, that everything connected with even their outward condition is the result of God’s sovereign and gracious appointment. The whole of their history, and everything connected with them, composes a great scheme, originating in infinite love, arranged from eternity by infinite wisdom and executed in time by infinite power; and their various trials and afflictions, however numerous and remarkable, instead of being inconsistent with God’s special love to them in Christ, are just proofs or expressions of it. For they are the means which infinite wisdom had selected as the best fitted, and which infinite power would certainly overrule, to promote the great object which God has in view in all His dealings with them, the bringing of them to that incorruptible and unfading inheritance which He has prepared for them that love Him.


The Gift of His own Son

“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.”

1. “Spared not.”—In this word we have an allusion to, if not a distinct quotation from, the narrative in Genesis, of Abraham’s offering up of Isaac. The same word which is employed in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, to translate the Hebrew word rendered in our Bible as “withheld,” is employed here by the Apostle and rendered “spared not.” And there is evidently floating before his mind the thought that, in some profound and real sense, there is an analogy between that wondrous and faithful act of giving up, and the transcendent and stupendous gift to the world, from God, of His Son.

The analogy seems to suggest to us, strange as it may be, and remote from the cold and abstract ideas of the Divine nature which it is thought to be philosophical to cherish, that something corresponding to the pain and loss that shadowed the patriarch’s heart passed across the Divine mind when the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Not merely to give, but to give up, is the highest crown and glory of love, as we know it. And who shall venture to say that we so fully apprehend the Divine nature as to be warranted in declaring that some analogy to that is impossible for Him? Our language is, “I will not offer unto God that which doth cost me nothing.” Let us bow in silence before the dim intimation that seems to flicker out of the words of the text, that so He says to us, “I will not offer unto you that which doth cost me nothing.” “He spared not his own Son”—withheld Him not from us.

While we must be careful to exclude from the idea conveyed by the language of the text anything like a struggle or conflict between opposite principles and feelings existing in the Divine mind, we are entitled, and even expected, to view the act of God in giving up His own Son with feelings substantially the same in kind as those with which we would contemplate an act of heroic self-denial, or of generous sacrifice, performed by one of our fellow-men for the advancement of our happiness.1 [Note: W. Cunningham.]

There is a story of a poor family in Germany who were ready to perish in a time of famine. The husband proposed to the wife to sell one of their children for bread. At length she consented. But the difficulty arose—which of them should it be? The eldest was named. This was their first-born, and the beginning of their strength. The second was named. He was the living image of the father. The third was named. In him the features of the mother breathed. The last was named. He was their youngest, the child of their old age. They agreed to starve together rather than sacrifice one.

2. “His own Son.”—The reality of the surrender is emphasized by the closeness of the bond which, in the mysterious eternity, knits together the Father and the Son. As with Abraham, so in this lofty example of which Abraham and Isaac were but as dim wavering reflections in water, the Son is His own Son. The force of the analogy and the emphasis of that word, which is even more emphatic in the Greek than in the English, “his own Son,” point to a community of nature, to a uniqueness and singleness of relation, to a closeness of intimacy, to which no other is a parallel. And so we have to estimate the measure of the surrender by the tenderness and awfulness of the bond. “Having yet therefore one Son, his well-beloved, he sent him.”

3. “Delivered him up.”—The greatness of the surrender is made more emphatic by the contemplation of it in its negative and positive aspect, in the two successive clauses. “He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up,” an absolute, positive giving of Him over to the humiliation of the life and to the mystery of the death.

(1) He delivered Him up to Suffering.—If it behoved Christ to become man, He might have been spared the trials that are generally the lot of men, trials which they very rightly deserve because of their sins. Let the one sinless Man be spared the sufferings that sinners meet with as their due. But no! Very few, if any, are the sufferings incident to human life that Jesus was exempted from. He was not spared the endurance of poverty. Into poverty He was born, in poverty He lived, and in poverty He died. Poorer than the foxes that had holes, and the birds of the air that had nests, He often had not where to lay His head.

(2) He delivered Him up to Temptation.—He was in all points tempted like as we are. Tempted to distrust God, tempted to presumption, tempted to worldliness. And very bitter enmity was His portion. Perhaps few have been more utterly detested than He was while in the world. It is true that for a time He was popular with the multitude, but, it would seem, only so long as they thought He would provide them with loaves and fishes. But the hatred that assailed Him was intense: it expressed itself in many vile and abusive epithets, in many false accusations, in many attempts, public and private, to take away His life.

(3) He delivered Him up to Ingratitude.—“Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” That was only one instance out of multitudes in which those whom He benefited showed their utter unthankfulness. His own brethren did not believe in Him, but said that He was mad, and would have kept Him under restraint like a lunatic.

(4) He delivered Him up to Death.—He was spared nothing that could make His sufferings terrible: the treachery of Judas; the cowardice of the other Apostles; the barbarous, brutal treatment to which He was subjected by Herod, and by the soldiers under Pontius Pilate. Of all the deaths that man could die, there was none more torturing than the death of the cross, and there was none so degrading; He was not spared that. And to make it all the worse, to add to the contempt and shame, He was crucified between two thieves. Amply true are the Apostle’s words, “God spared not his own Son.”

Enough, my muse, of earthly things,

And inspirations but of wind;

Take up thy lute, and to it bind

Loud and everlasting strings,

And on them play, and to them sing,

The happy mournful stories,

The lamentable glories

Of the great crucified King!

Mountainous heap of wonders! which dost rise

Till earth thou joinest with the skies!

Too large at bottom, and at top too high,

To be half seen by mortal eye;

How shall I grasp this boundless thing?

What shall I play? What shall I sing?

I’ll sing the mighty riddle of mysterious love,

Which neither wretched man below, nor blessed spirits above

With all their comments can explain,

How all the whole world’s life to die did not disdain!

I’ll sing the searchless depths of the compassion divine,

The depths unfathomed yet

By reason’s plummet, and the line of wit;

Too light the plummet, and too short the line;

How the eternal Father did bestow

His own eternal Son as ransom for His foe;

I’ll sing aloud that all the world may hear

The triumph of the buried Conqueror;

How hell was by its prisoner captive led,

And the great slayer, Death, slain by the dead.

Methinks I hear of murdered men the voice

Mixed with the murderers’ confused noise,

Sound from the top of Calvary;

My greedy eyes fly up the hill, and see

Who ’tis hangs there, the midmost of the three;

O! how unlike the others He;

Look! how He bends His gentle head with blessings from the tree,

His gracious hands, ne’er stretched but to do good,

Are nailed to the infamous wood!

And sinful man does fondly bind

The arms which He extends to embrace all human kind.1 [Note: Abraham Cowley.]

4. “For us all.”—He delivered Him up for us all. There was a national election of the Jew in which the Gentile had no part; but the drift of the Apostle’s argument is that the highest blessing and the fulness of that blessing are for Jew and Gentile alike. The Gospel is catholic; it knows nothing of national predestination and privilege. If God gave His Son for us all, He will not distribute unequally the blessings which flow from that unspeakable gift. Whatever were the national and temporal blessings of the Jew, the Greek and barbarian shall equally share with him in the sovereign gifts of grace. And so the gifts of grace are not given unequally among the various classes of society. “The same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.” It is for the Christian Church to do its utmost to put all nations in possession of their spiritual inheritance.

Soul, which to hell wast thrall,

He, He for thine offence

Did suffer death, who could not die at all.

O sovereign excellence!

O life of all that lives!

Eternal bounty, which all goodness gives!

How could Death mount so high?

No wit this point can reach;

Faith only doth us teach,

For us He died, at all who could not die.1 [Note: William Drummond.]


With Him all Things

“How shall he not also with him freely give us all things?”

After the gift of Jesus Christ, every other gift is comparatively a small matter. Abraham did not spare his son Isaac, but delivered him up to God. In his mind, in his heart, he surrendered him as truly as if he had slain him and burned him on the altar. And after that proof of love to God, do you suppose Abraham possessed anything that he would have been unwilling to give? If God had asked his flocks and his herds, his silver and his gold, we may well suppose that Abraham would have given all without a murmur. And God having given us Christ, we cannot imagine Him unwilling to bestow any favour that would really be a favour.

He will give all things for these reasons—

(1) The greater gift implies the less. We do not expect that a man who hands over a million pounds to another, to help him, will stick at a farthing afterwards. If you give a diamond you may well give a box to keep it in. In God’s gift the lesser will follow the lead of the greater; and whatsoever a man can want, it is a smaller thing for Him to bestow, than was the gift of His Son.

Southey told an anecdote of Sir Massey Lopes, which is a good story of a miser. A man came to him and told him he was in great distress, and £200 would save him. He gave him a draft for the money. “Now,” says he, “what will you do with this?” “Go to the bankers and get it cashed.” “Stop,” said he, “I will cash it.” So he gave him the money, but first calculated and deducted the discount.1 [Note: Greville Memoirs, ii. 61.]

There is a beautiful contrast between the manners of giving the two sets of gifts implied in the words of the original, perhaps scarcely capable of being reproduced in any translation. The expression that is rendered, “freely give,” implies that there is a grace and a pleasantness in the act of bestowal. God gave in Christ what we may reverently say it was something like pain to give. Will He not give the lesser gifts, whatever they may be, which it is the joy of His heart to communicate? The greater implies the less.2 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

(2) This one great gift draws all other gifts after it, because the purpose of the greater gift cannot be attained without the bestowment of the lesser. He does not begin to build and then find Himself unable to finish; He does not miscalculate His resources, or stultify Himself by commencing upon a large scale and then have to stop short before the purpose with which He began is accomplished. Men build great palaces and are bankrupt before the roof is put on. God lays His plans with the knowledge of His powers, and having first of all bestowed this large gift, is not going to have it bestowed in vain for want of some smaller ones to follow it up.

Men are fond of distinguishing between general and particular providences. They are willing to acknowledge the finger of God in some striking event, or in the swift flashing out of God’s sword of justice. They do not hesitate to admit that life as a whole is under God’s direction; but they hesitate to say that He is concerned with its ordinary commonplaces, valueless as the sparrow’s fall, slight as the hair of the head. Miles if you like; but not steps. But love refuses to believe this teaching. It looks on it as practical atheism. It feels that God cannot afford to let the thread of its life pass from His hands for a single moment.3 [Note: F. B. Meyer.]

(3) This great blessing draws after it, by necessary consequence, all other lesser and secondary gifts, inasmuch as, in a very real sense, everything is included and possessed in Christ when we receive Him. “With him,” says St. Paul, as if that gift laid in a man’s heart actually enclosed within it, and had for its indispensable accompaniment, the possession of every smaller thing that a man can need. Jesus Christ is, as it were a great Cornucopia, a horn of abundance, out of which will pour, with magic affluence, all manner of supplies according as we require.

O world, great world, now thou art all my own,

In the deep silence of my soul I stay

The current of thy life, though the wild day

Surges around me, I am all alone;—

Millions of voices rise, yet my weak tone

Is heard by Him who is the Light, the Way,

All Life, all Truth, the centre of Love’s ray;

Clamour, O Earth, the Great God hears my moan!

Prayer is the talisman that gives us all,

We conquer God by force of His own love,

He gives us all; when prostrate we implore—

The Saints must listen; prayers pierce Heaven’s wall;

The humblest soul on earth, when mindful of

Christ’s promise, is the greatest conqueror.1 [Note: Maurice Francis Egan.]

1. All things.—All things are ours in Christ. All things necessary to our salvation from sin, to the purification of our nature, to the safety of our spirit amid infinite besetments, to the fulness of our joy, to our present and everlasting triumph, all are guaranteed in our Divine Redeemer. All other gifts are assured in the accomplished gift of Calvary. He who spared not His own Son will not withhold anything that is necessary for the completion of the gracious design. He who has laid the foundation at such amazing cost will not spare to complete the edifice.

(1) Whatever is necessary for our justification will be given. How vain are all our misgivings in the presence of the infinite sacrifice! Our sins are crimson in colour, colossal in magnitude, countless in number; yet let us once appreciate the merit and mercy of Calvary, and we know the peace of God which passeth understanding. Our city rivers are foul enough; but the Atlantic Ocean receives them into her emerald depths, purifies them from pollution, and imparts to them a strange splendour and song. Our city smoke belches forth by day and night, threatening to darken and defile the very heavens; but the ampler air refines the base vapours, they leave no shadow or spot, and lose themselves in the lights and colours and mysteries of the firmament. So are our sins swallowed up in the redeeming love, to be remembered against us no more. “It is God that justifieth; who is he that shall condemn? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”

(2) Whatever is necessary for our sanctification is sure. Great as is the task of perfecting a nature that has gone so utterly to the bad as ours, it is nevertheless gloriously possible in the infinite affluence of our ascended Lord. He now exerts the fulness of the Spirit, and saves to the uttermost all who come to Him. The doctrine of the perfectibility of human nature, apart from evangelical grace, is a dream of dreams, the most hopeless of ideals, the wildest of fictions, a mocking and cruel apocalypse of the bible of philosophy. But the perfectibility of man in the power of Him who has received the Spirit without measure is a doctrine we may welcome without doubt or fear.

(3) Whatever is necessary for our eternal life and glory is also freely given. Christ has obtained eternal redemption for us. Everything for the life that now is, everything for the life that is to come, is richly ours in our crucified and ascended Lord. The greatest possible act of God’s love is the giving up of His Son; in that whatever else can be wished for lies enclosed.

This is a democratic age—the people everywhere claim a full share in everything. After ages of slavery and feudalism, of monopoly and exclusion, the multitude are awaking to a sense of larger right and privilege. They claim their full share in the authority of the sceptre, in the distribution of wealth, in the spoils of knowledge, in the flowers of pleasure. Our day may in some wise remind us of the apostolic age, when narrow privilege gave way to cosmopolitan rights and gifts. But is the claim for right and privilege to go no farther than material things and political influence? Alas, if it stops there! The best things of all, the heavenly things, belong equally to all, and they must not be forgotten. In the faith of Christ we find peace of mind, purity of heart, strength to live nobly, victory over all things mean and base, patience, charity, humility, kindness, peace, and abounding hope; these are the gifts most earnestly to be coveted, the gifts without which other blessings are vain. What a glorious day will dawn when the democracy awake to their rights and privileges in the Kingdom of God—when they clamour for the sceptre of self-government, when they solicit the wisdom that is more precious than rubies, when they array themselves in white raiment, when they agitate for the inner riches of love and light, of pureness and strength, which are the true riches! The rarest prizes are still largely unclaimed. The city of God awaits the democracy; its liberties and riches, its glories and joys, are theirs.1 [Note: W. L. “Watkinson.]

2. Freely.—He will give all things freely. He gave us His dear Son freely. He did not even wait to be asked to deliver Him up for us all. The gift of Christ was no answer to prayer. It was the purely spontaneous bounty of God. Nowhere in Scripture can we discern the slightest reluctance or hesitation on God’s part as to the bestowment of that gift, great as was the suffering which it cost the Giver as well as the Gift. It was not to a world all penitent and in tears, prostrate at His throne in anguish and despair, that God gave His well-beloved Son; but to a world still at enmity against Him, still disobedient, impenitent, hard-hearted. And yet He gave Him freely. And therefore we surely may not, must not, think of any unwillingness on God’s part to give these other gifts. Freely? Yes, of course. Whatever God gives, He gives freely. He loveth a cheerful giver, for He is Himself a cheerful giver. And there is not a gift of grace, there is not a gift that concerns us, whether for time or for eternity, that He will not freely give with Christ to all who ask Him.

There are some hearts like wells, green-mossed and deep

As ever summer saw,

And cool their water is, yea, cool and sweet;

But you must come to draw.

They hoard not, yet they rest in calm content,

And not unsought will give;

They can be quiet with their wealth unspent,

So self-contained they live.

And there are some like springs, that bubbling burst

To follow dusty ways,

And run with offered cup to quench his thirst

Where the tired traveller strays;

That never ask the meadows if they want

What is their joy to give;

Unasked, their lives to other life they grant,

So self-bestowed they live.

And One is like the ocean, deep and wide,

Wherein all waters fall;

That girdles the broad earth, and draws the tide,

Feeding and bearing all.

That breeds the mists, that sends the clouds abroad,

That takes again to give;—

Even the great and loving heart of God,

Whereby all love doth live.

The vital things of nature, the manifold riches of sea and shore, of earth and sky, are free gifts. We often reason as if we had paid handsomely for all things, and then grumble as if we had got short measure; but it is the greatest possible blunder. If we reject free gifts, we must send back every beam of the sun, every drop of rain and flake of snow, every green leaf, every spray of blossom, every purple cluster, every golden sheaf. Neither does God sell His glorious gifts of intellect. There was no king’s ransom ready in the house where Shakespeare was born. All may see that Heaven does not dispense its most splendid talents where wealth is, or greatness; the immortal painter, singer, or inventor is born in attic, cellar, or cottage into which no other royalty ever looked. And God does not sell anything that belongs to the realm of the soul. The principle of barter has no place in the highest world. If we thought to purchase the noblest things with silver or gold, with gifts or sacrifices, we are sternly reproved: “Thy money,” thy goods, thy goodness, “perish with thee.” And as it is not God’s way to sell His glorious things to pride and greatness, we certainly have no ability to buy them. All is, must be, free.

When in the days of your youth the infinite passion, for the first time, lit up its glow in you, was there anything that you could do for the maiden of your heart that you would not do? Was there anything that you esteemed too precious for the creature to whom you had given your heart? In giving where you had given your heart, your whole nature was in force, and was one pleasure. That is the basis of the “freely.”1 [Note: John Pulsford.]

3. With Him.—The expression “all things,” unlimited as it is in the letter, must be limited in the spirit. Than the idea of God giving us all things that we might wish and ask for there could be nothing more perilous, more certain to prove destructive. What would become of us if God were in this unqualified manner to give us all things? There are in the text two words that are very important. They are the words “with him,”—“shall he not also with him freely give us all things?” The “all things” that He will give us are all things with Christ, and the expression suggests a certain relationship of congruity or fitness. Suppose a man makes his son a present of a microscope, the probability is that he will, with the instrument, give him all the apparatus necessary for making full use of the instrument. Or if he gave his son a house, he might, perhaps, with the house give him the furniture suitable for it, that so he might with comfort live in the house that was given him. And God will give us, and freely give us, all things with Christ, all things that are connected with the gift of Christ, all things that will make the gift of Christ of practical service to us. So all things with Christ are all things that stand related to Christ, and to the purpose which God in the gift of Christ has in view.

I would be quiet, Lord,

Nor tease, nor fret;

Not one small need of mine

Wilt Thou forget.

I am not wise to know

What most I need;

I dare not cry too loud,

Lest Thou shouldst heed;

Lest Thou at length shouldst say,

“Child, have thy will;

As thou hast chosen, lo!

Thy cup I fill!”

What I most crave, perchance

Thou wilt withhold;

As we from hands unmeet

Keep pearls, or gold;

As we, when childish hands

Would play with fire,

Withhold the burning goal

Of their desire.

Yet choose Thou for me—Thou

Who knowest best;

This one short prayer of mine

Holds all the rest!1 [Note: Julia C. R. Dorr.]

“With Him,” observe; not without Him. It may be that, without Christ, God will in His providence give us many things, and many good things too. He may give us health, He may give us riches, He may give us much worldly comfort and prosperity. But these His best gifts, really far the best, the gifts of His grace, in forgiveness, holiness, life eternal, He gives only with Christ, only to those who in faith and thankfulness accept Christ.

There is often a strange coldness and unbelief in men when precious things are pressed upon them. One of our later poets has noticed this blindness and insensibility:

A dog will take

The bone you throw to him; a mortal stares

In obstinate hostility if one,

Longing to swell the number of his joys,

From laden hand beseech him to be blest.

Teach men to suffer, and the slaves are apt;

Give them fresh hope, entreat them to delight,

They grow as stubbornly insensible

As miser to a beggar’s eloquence,

Clutching their clownish imbecility

As the gods grudged them that.

But surely this unwillingness to accept high blessing brought to our very doors finds its last and strangest expression in the insensibility of men to the gift of God in Christ! Let us thankfully, exultantly, promptly, open our heart to the full noon of spiritual blessing which shines upon us in the Son of God.

Earth gets its price for what Earth gives us;

The beggar is taxed for a corner to die in,

The priest hath his fee who comes and shrives us,

We bargain for the graves we lie in;

At the devil’s booth are all things sold,

Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold;

For a cap and bells our lives we pay,

Bubbles we buy with a whole soul’s tasking;

’Tis heaven alone that is given away,

’Tie only God may be had for the asking.2 [Note: Lowell.]

The Inclusive Gift


Brown (H. S.), Manliness and other Sermons, 346.

Cunningham (W.), Sermons, 174.

Faithful (R. C.), My Place in the World, 90.

Hoare (E.), Fruitful or Fruitless, 143.

Jay (W.) Short Discourses, ii. 253.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Romans, 191.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, xi. 57.

Smellie (A.), In the Hour of Silence, 251.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Christ in the Old Testament, 47.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xv. (1869), No. 255; lvi. (1910), No. 3204.

Spurgeon (C. H.), (Mrs.), Carillon of Bells, 1.

Watkinson (W. L.), Studies in Christian Character, ii. 7.

Christian World Pulpit, xvii. 296 (Pulsford).

Verse 33-34

(33, 34) Who shall lay any thing . . .?—The punctuation and arrangement of these clauses are somewhat difficult. It seems best on the whole to connect together the two clauses at the end of Romans 8:33, and beginning of Romans 8:34. The whole passage to the end of the chapter will then form a continuous proof of the certainty that all things shall be freely given to the Christian. Nothing can frustrate this: either on the side of God, for when He justifies none can condemn; or on the side of Christy whose death, and resurrection, and ascension, and intercession are pledges that nothing can separate us from His love.

What have we to fear? When God pronounces our acquittal there is none who can pronounce our condemnation. Literally, God is He who justifies, who then can condemn? And answering to this in the next verse we have, Christ is He that died, &c. This is the two-fold answer to the question, “Who shall come forward to accuse God’s elect?” It is a conclusive reply to this to state the relation in which the accused stand to God and to Christ.

God’s elect.—Christians as such with especial reference to the process which the Apostle has been describing in Romans 8:29-30.

Verse 34

(34) It is Christ . . .—The remainder of this verse is to be closely connected with the opening of the next. “He that died, rose, &c., is Christ: who then shall separate us from His love?” The two questions, “Who is he that condemneth?” and “Who shall separate us?” are really parts of the reply to the main question thrown into an interrogative form. At another moment the sentence would probably have been differently cast, but the Apostle’s mind is in an attitude of challenge.

Yea rather.—Yea more. The pledges that Christ has given us of His love did not end, but only began with His death.

Verse 35

(35) The love of Christ.—That is to say, the love which Christ has for us, not that which we have for Christ.

Shall tribulation?—Comp. 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 11:23. The Apostle is speaking from his own actual experience.

Verse 36

(36) For thy sake we are killed.—The quotation is taken from Psalms 44:22, which was apparently written at some period of great national distress, at what precise period the data do not enable us to say, but probably not earlier than Josiah. The sufferings of God’s people at all times are typical of each other. There is the further reason for the application in the text that the Psalm does not lay stress upon the guilt of the people, but regards their sufferings as undergone in the cause of the theocracy. At the same time, the tone of the Psalmist wants the exulting and triumphant confidence of the Apostle.

Verse 37

(37) Nay.—Yet, or But. So far from being vanquished, we are conquerors: when we are weak then are we strong.

Verse 38

(38) Neither death, nor life . . .—The enumeration that follows is intended to include (poetically rather than logically) every possible category of being, especially those unseen powers of evil against which the warfare of the Christian was more particularly directed.

Nor principalities.—Comp. Ephesians 6:12, “We wrestle . . . against principalities, against powers;” terms belonging to the Jewish enumeration of angels. The critical evidence is however absolutely decisive in separating “powers” from “principalities” in this instance and placing it after “things present, nor things to come.” It would be better therefore to take it in a wider sense: “Agencies of every kind, personal or impersonal.”

Verse 38-39

An Inseparable Love

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 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.—Romans 8:38-39.

1. We always think of this chapter as St. Paul’s finest composition, and perhaps the most precious legacy which he bequeathed to the Church. It is a noble piece of literary work, full of choice language and deep philosophic thought. As a picture of the Christian life and its possessions and hopes, it reaches a sublime elevation which is nowhere else attained except in the lofty sayings of Jesus. And the best of it is kept to the last. The climax and peroration are where they ought to be. They form the grand Hallelujah Chorus which brings the oratorio to a close.

A great French critic remarks upon St. Paul’s indifference to style, the rough, rugged sentences of the Apostle, with their abrupt transitions, their lack of grace and finish, falling gratingly on the Frenchman’s sensitive ear. And no reader of St. Paul’s writings will challenge the truth of this criticism, for there is absolutely nothing of the conscious rhetorician about him; he is too intent upon pouring out his mind and heart, too eager to get into direct, living contact with men, to think of elegance of style. But, now and again, when he becomes impassioned, when in the progress of argument or exhortation some of the grander truths of life, or some of its vivifying hopes, come pressing upon him, then the preacher, the expounder, the controversialist, the counsellor, the pastor, becomes a seer. Brain and heart getting on fire, the thoughts that come, come molten, and fashion themselves naturally, without any need of art, into forms of beauty; and so we have his hymn to Charity, his ode to Immortality, and here his pæan to Love Divine.

2. These rapturous words are the climax of the Apostle’s long demonstration that the Gospel is the revelation of “the righteousness which is of God by faith,” and is thereby “the power of God unto salvation.” What a contrast there is between the beginning and the end of this argument! It started with sombre, sad words about man’s sinfulness and aversion from the knowledge of God. It closes with this sunny outburst of triumph. Like some stream rising among black and barren cliffs, or melancholy moorlands, and foaming through narrow rifts in gloomy ravines, it reaches at last fertile lands, and flows calm, the sunlight dancing on its broad surface, till it loses itself at last in the unfathomable ocean of the love of God.

What we have before us is, first of all, love—a love which brings us into indissoluble union with God in Christ; it is called “the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Next, we have a rapid list of the forces in the universe which might be conceived capable of separating us from that love. And then we have the persuasion which prevails above them all. The persuasion is mentioned first, but it may be taken last, as it closes the great argument.

A Love that will not let go.

Powers that are Powerless.

A Persuasion that Prevails.


A Love that will not let go

i. The Love of God

“Who shall separate us from the love of God?”

1. “The love of God” may mean our love to God or God’s love to us: which does St. Paul mean? He certainly means God’s love to us: “Who shall separate us from the love of God?” In the argument of this Epistle the reality of God’s love is confidently assumed. St. Paul was no shallow optimist, easily contented with the colour and glitter of the surface of things; he recognized as frankly and vividly as any pessimist can do the dark enigmas of nature and life; yet, notwithstanding this recognition, the fact of God’s love is the fundamental article of his creed. Whatever may perplex him, he never suspects that the cosmic trouble may arise in some defect of this love; in his conviction it is the primary, central truth of the universe.

Readers of Matthew Arnold will remember that in his essay on St. Paul he interprets our text as if the Apostle were exulting in his own love of God instead of God’s love of him; exulting in a love proceeding from himself instead of a love which found him and carried him away with it. It shows almost as strange a lack of insight as does the same writer’s conception of the God of Israel as an impersonal force. The secret of St. Paul’s calm outlook and triumphant hope, the power that enabled him to rise above all evil and fear of evil was, most assuredly, not his own love of God, but God’s love of him. The great saints of the Church have never thought much of their own love of God. It is His love of them and their fellows—a love greater than their hearts—that possessed them. “I think I am the poorest wretch that lives,” said the dying Cromwell; “but I love God, or rather (correcting myself) I am loved of God.”

I love; but ah! the whole

Of love is but my answer, Lord, to Thee.

Lord Thou wert long beforehand with my soul,

Always Thou lovedst me.

In his Reminiscences of Frederick Denison Maurice the late Mr. Haweis relates this incident: “I remember asking him one day, ‘How are we to know when we have got hold of God? because sometimes we seem to have got a real hold of Him, whilst at other times we can realize nothing.’ He looked at me with those eyes which so often seemed to be looking into an eternity beyond, whilst he said in his deep and tremulously earnest voice, ‘You have not got hold of God, but He has got hold of you.’”

Niagara stopped once! Owing to an ice dam thrown across the river the waters failed, the rainbow melted, the vast music was hushed. But there has been no moment in which the love of God has failed toward the rational universe, when its eternal music has been broken, or the rainbow has ceased to span the throne. There never will be such a moment. The crystal tide flows richly, and flows for ever.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson]

Let me no more my comfort draw

From my frail hold of Thee;

In this alone rejoice with awe,—

Thy mighty grasp of me.

Thy purpose of eternal good

Let me but surely know;

On this I’ll lean, let changing mood

And feeling come and go:

Glad when Thy sunshine fills my soul,

Nor lorn when clouds o’ercast,

Since Thou within Thy sure control

Of love dost hold me fast.

2. But the love of God to us carries with it our love to God. Without a response to God’s love how can we be persuaded of it? As God’s love to us is rich and everlasting, surviving all variations of time and circumstance, we will respond to His love with a love as like His own as it is possible for the creature to give. Mutuality is of the essence of love. We have thinkers who recommend the substitution of nature for God. They assure us that when we properly know the universe we can regard it with awe and fear, with admiration and love. Nature is infinitely interesting, infinitely beautiful; there is food for contemplation which never runs short; it gives continually exquisite pleasure, and the arresting and absorbing spectacle, so fascinating by its variety, is at the same time overwhelming by its greatness and glory. But reciprocity is surely of the essence of love; and however we admire, love, and praise the creation, it cannot return our affection. We smile upon it, yet there is no answering flash; we extol it, but find no sympathetic response; appreciation passes into adoration, and still our worship is unrequited. We see the folly of falling in love with a statue, notwithstanding its beauty; and nature is that statue. “They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not; they have ears, but they hear not; noses have they, but they smell not; neither speak they through their throat.” In nature-worship, as in all idol-worship, mutuality is not possible; all thought and feeling, confidence and sacrifice are on one side. But with God in Christ fellowship becomes a fact. He declares His love to the race most convincingly, and we love Him because He first loved us. He stretches forth His hand out of heaven, we clasp it; henceforth we are inseparable, no fortune or misfortune can unclench the grip. The love of the Eternal is one link of gold, our love to Him is another, and together they bind us to His throne for ever.

For though “The love of God is broader than

The measure of man’s mind,” yet all in vain

The broad sun shines apace for him who hath

No window to his house; and human love

Must make an eastern outlook for the soul

Ere it can see the dawn. He cannot dream

Of oceans who hath never seen a pool.1 [Note: Anna Bunston, The Porch of Paradise, 8.]

Cynics speak scornfully of love; yet we may remember that it is the sublime element in our nature which most clearly reflects the Divine and Eternal. It sets at naught all the categories of time and sense, and identifies us with the infinite and timeless. It is indifferent to environment. It does not rise and fall with the fortune of the beloved, as the quicksilver in the glass responds to the weather; it is delightfully unconscious of secular vicissitude. It is unaffected by distance:

Mountains rise and oceans roll

To sever us in vain.

Duration does not weaken it. On receipt of his mother’s portrait Cowper wrote: “It is fifty-two years since I saw her last, but I have never ceased to love her.” Fifty-two centuries would not have chilled his affection. Death does not quench love. In Pompeii they showed me the bone of a human finger with the ring still upon it: fine symbol of the immortality of love and loyalty!

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

ii. In Christ Jesus

“Which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

1. St. Paul does not find the proof of God’s love and the justification of ours in nature, history, or life. The love of God in creation is in eclipse, or at least in partial eclipse; and if we are to construe the Divine character from the facts of nature, we must hesitate and fear. The light is not clear, and thinkers are sorely puzzled. Here, then, comes in the mission of the Christian Church—to affirm the love of God in Christ Jesus to all mankind. The justification of an absolute confidence in God’s unfailing love is found not in the sphere of nature, but in the sphere of redemption. The austere science of our day has put entirely out of court the rosy philosophy of the old deism. It annihilates sentiment; it will have none of it. If men are now to admire, reverence, and love God, they must find another basis than nature for their worship. There is none other except redemption; more than ever is the world shut up to that glorious fact. It is enough. Here the eternal love blazes out with irresistible demonstration. We cannot deny it, we cannot doubt it. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.” “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.”

To-day two great schools of scientists seriously differ in their interpretation of the world. One holds that nature knows only force, selfishness, and violence; whilst the other, recognizing the large play of egotism and violence in the evolution of things, discerns that sympathy and sacrifice are prominent facts of the physical universe; the first denies love, the second acknowledges it. The contention between the philosophers will go on interminably, for really they are occupied with the diverse aspects of a paradoxical world, the moral of their controversy being that love is not absent in the creation, but revealed only partially, faintly, fitfully. In many creatures the evidences of love are conspicuous, in others there seems a denial of it. The delightful element is unmistakable in doves, butterflies, nightingales, and a thousand more lovely things; it is painfully lacking in hawks, sharks, crocodiles, rattlesnakes, and microbes. But men do not argue at noon whether the sun shines or not; and in the presence of Calvary there is an end of all strife touching the nature of God and the design of His government. Naturalism may doubt God’s love, may deny it, but at the Cross we no longer guess and fear. He who died for us loves us, whatever enigmas may mock. We see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ—the face marred more than any man’s. What shall separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord?1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]

What is it to the circling hours,

The life they take or bring?

What is it to the winds and showers?

They know not anything.

But somehow, ere I am aware,

There comes a hush and thrill,

For all the sunshine and the air

A Presence seems to fill;

And from the sudden-opening sky,

A low Voice seems to say,

“I am the Resurrection, I

The Life, the Truth, the Way.

This Nature, which you idly blame,

Is but the robe I wear;

From Me the human spirit came,

And all its griefs I bear.

The smile whose light thou canst not see,

The grace that left thy side,

Though vanished from the earth, with Me

For ever they abide.”

With Him I cannot be at strife;

Then will I kneel and say,

“In love He gave me that sweet life,

In love He took away.

And love’s unfailing life, in Him,

Outlasts this arching sky;

For worlds may waste and suns grow dim,

But love can never die.”

2. God’s love is illimitable, all-pervasive, eternal; yes, but it is 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. It is not, as some representations would make it, a vague, half-nebulous light diffused through space as in a chaotic, half-made universe; but all is gathered in that great Light which rules the day—even in Him who said: “I am the Light of 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 who are in the house.

The love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord is the heart of the Christian Gospel. It was what won the world at the beginning to the Christian obedience, and it is what holds the world now and will hold it as long as there are sins to be forgiven and hearts hungering for reconciliation with God. It is independent of much knowledge which may be discredited, and of much opinion which may become a fashion of the past. Whatever else which passes for Christianity and is supposed in some way to uphold it may decrease and disappear, this will increase and rise with purer and greater brightness upon the world. Every one of our intellectual conceptions of the mystery of the Godhead, of the Incarnation and the Atonement, may undergo a change, but the love which spoke, and acted, and lived in Jesus Christ will always touch the human heart with the deepest conviction and assurance of the love of God, and be the revelation and symbol of the Divine disposition towards the children of men.

Ideas and ideals do not manifest the love of God to men—only what God has done shows that.1 [Note: Life of Principal Rainy, ii. 137.]

3. If we would know God and love Him, we must find Him in Christ, in that Perfect Man—so strong and yet so gentle, so true, yet so tender—who moves before us in the Gospels. Is it difficult to love Him? It is not difficult to admire and praise Him. There is hardly a man in Christendom who does not do that. Even those who reject His claim to be one with the Father, even those who hold the Gospel to be but a late and imperfect tradition overlaid with many incredible fables, even those whose keen eyes detect flaws in His character and teaching—even these admit that no man ever lived or spake like Him, that He is beyond all rivalry, the wisest and best of the sons of men. It is easy, then, to admire and praise Christ; but to love Him is not so easy; for that takes faith.

“God so loved the world”—not merely so much, but in such a fashion—“that”—that what? Many people would leap at once from the first to the last clause of the verse, and regard eternal life for all and sundry as the only adequate expression of the universal love of God. Not so does Christ speak. Between I that universal love and its ultimate purpose and desire for every man He inserts two conditions, one on God’s part, one on man’s God’s love reaches its end, namely, the bestowal of eternal life, by means of a Divine act and a human response. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” So all the universal love of God for you and me and for all our brethren is “in Christ Jesus our Lord,” and faith in Him unites us to it by bonds which no foe can break, no shock of change can snap, no time can rot, no distance can stretch to breaking.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

4. As we look at the love of God in Christ what do we find to be its most striking characteristics?

(1) It was a universal love, including all, even the most unworthy, in its embrace. It was not arrested by the prejudices of His time, nor did it even acknowledge their presence. It was not obsequious to the Pharisees, and cold or suspicious to the publicans. None of the numerous parties which were then struggling for ascendancy in Judea established the slightest preference to His regard. None could allege that by His partiality for others He displayed a proportionate indifference to them. Even that deep and almost impassable gulf between Gentile and Jew closed up before Him. In Him love placed itself at the disposal of every man without being deterred even by his sin. Indeed, the greater the sin the more earnestly it strove for a hearing. But its purpose was always the same—to save us from what it knew to be our deadliest foe, and to win us to the cause of holiness and truth. And it never despaired even of the most abandoned, or allowed him to go on to destruction because it was impotent to help him.

(2) Another characteristic of the love of God in Christ is that it issued in the most perfect act of self-sacrifice. It is often said that love sets no limits to itself, and this is true. It is the complete negation of selfishness. When it works it imposes no restraints upon its efforts, for their cessation would mean its own cessation also. When it forgives it forgives till seventy times seven, and then starts afresh. When it suffers there is no point at which it stops and refuses to go further, for that would be to acknowledge its own exhaustion. Now, in Christ Jesus we see this love as it never had been seen on earth before. In Him it shrank from no labour or humiliation. It carried Him from the cradle to the cross without ever pausing or hesitating on the way. He left nothing undone which might accomplish its purpose, and when the supreme act of obedience was demanded He did not shrink. “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” Among His last words was a prayer for His murderers: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” So “he loved us and gave himself for us.” “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

(3) Another characteristic of the love of God in Christ is that it invests us with all it has. It not only spares nothing in effecting our salvation from sin, but it enriches us with its whole possession. It is too frequently conceived as having exhausted itself in the great act of atonement, so that no surplus survives for further use, or as though it had then completed its work and remains henceforth in a state of quiescence. But Christ gave Himself for us that He might be able to give Himself to us—always the last ambition of love, short of which it never rests. Hence He prayed for His disciples: that the love wherewith His Father loved Him might be in them, and He in them. And St. Paul prays that our knowledge of the love of Christ may lead to our being “filled with all the fulness of God.”

(4) And, lastly, it follows from all this that the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord is a love which clings inseparably to its object. Whoever gives himself wholly to another with a perfect knowledge and understanding of what he is, can have no conceivable reason for finally renouncing him. Nothing in his own nature can urge him to do so, for this is precluded by the very fact of his self-surrender; and nothing in the person for whom that surrender has been made, for that has already been considered and overcome. So it is with the love of Christ. If it had stopped at any point short of a complete sacrifice of Himself, then it might, so to speak, have retraced its steps. It would not have been irretrievably committed. But Christ has committed Himself. He is pledged to go the whole length which our complete salvation requires. So that there can be nothing in Him which at any moment can move Him to let us go. He has left Himself no place of repentance.

Passing the prison of one of our large cities early in the morning, I once saw what seemed to be a mother in a humble cart from a distant village, waiting at the entrance, for the release, perhaps of her son, that day from his term of bondage. There were the vacant seat beside her, the little basket of dainty food, change of outer garments, and her tearful, eager glances at the door, all telling, very affectingly, to how much love the prisoner was about to be liberated, and how readily he would be transported to his far-off home. There was only a step for him from exile and shame to the parent’s resources, the parent’s dwelling, the parent’s arms, the parent’s joy—all these anxiously waiting for the moment of his discharge.1 [Note: Charles New.]

A poor lad once, and a lad so trim—

A poor lad once, and a lad so trim,

Gave his love to her that loved not him.

“And,” says she, “fetch me to-night, you rogue,

Your mother’s heart to feed my dog!”

To his mother’s house went that young man—

To his mother’s house went that young man,

Killed her, and took the heart and ran,

And as he was running, look you, he fell—

And as he was running, look you, he fell.

And the heart rolled on the ground as well.

And the lad as the heart was a-rolling heard—

And the lad as the heart was a-rolling heard

That the heart was speaking, and this was the word:

The heart was weeping and crying so small—

The heart was weeping and crying so small,

“Are you hurt, my child, are you hurt at all?”2 [Note: Jean Richepin, A Mother’s Heart.]


Powers that are Powerless

“Who” or “What,” demands the Apostle, “shall separate us from the love of Christ?” And in his reply he gives us two catalogues of the various powers and influences which we fear as likely to weaken or to alienate our love from Him in whose love we live. In his first catalogue he enumerates “tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, sword”; in his second catalogue he enumerates “death, life, angels, principalities, powers, things present and things to come, height and depth.” As we follow and consider his words, the first catalogue presents no difficulty to our thoughts; we feel, we acknowledge, that the rigours of pain, want, hunger, danger have often strangled love; we forbode that, were we long exposed to them, our love might die. But the second catalogue is more difficult. We ask, for instance, How should “height” or “depth”; or, again, How should “angels” separate us from the love of Christ? And it is not until we perceive that St. Paul is indulging in one of those passionate and rhetorical outbursts which are characteristic of his style that his words shoot into light. But then, when we seize this clue and follow it, we understand that, in the rapture and exaltation of his spirit, he defies all heaven and earth to extinguish, or even to lessen, his love for Christ, or Christ’s love for him; the very “angels and principalities” of heaven, supposing them capable of the endeavour, could not shake him from his rest; nor all the “powers” of hell—no vicissitudes of time, whether “present” or “to come”; nor aught within the bounds, the “heights and depths,” of space. Strong in the love of Christ, he is more than conqueror over them all.

Observe the difference in order between the Authorized and Revised Versions. There is overwhelming manuscript authority for placing “powers” after “things to come.” We naturally expect them to be associated with “principalities,” as in 1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 1:21. It is possible that in one of the earliest copies the word may have been accidentally omitted, and then added in the margin and reinserted at the wrong place. But it is perhaps more probable that in the rush of impassioned thought St. Paul inserts the words as they come, and that thus “nor powers” may be slightly belated. When not critically controlled, the order of association is a very subtle thing.1 [Note: Sanday and Headlam, Romans, 223.]

The possible enemies may be taken in four groups—(1) those of our own Experience, gathered under the two comprehensive words death and life; (2) those of the world of Spirits, called angels, principalities, powers; (3) those of Time, “things present and things to come”; and (4) those of Space, “nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation.”

i. Our own Experience

“Neither death, nor life.”

1. Death! What a crude fact it is, driving its iron wedge into the limits of this strange, mysterious life of ours; and the whole question of immortality comes quivering up into consciousness with such a sentence as this. Death, that seems to end things, but leaves us so far apart from our beloved! Shall death end thought also, and shall the dream that has been so fair—that beyond the world there lived a Heart that cared for us—vanish into thick darkness and leave us utterly alone? Death shall not separate us from the love of God; death is but a moment in life, an incident in a soul’s career; and if God has loved us once He will love us for evermore, and on beyond the boundaries of the world God’s love waits to be gracious. Death need make no man afraid who has believed in the love of God.

That men fear death, as likely to separate them from the love of God, to impair their union with Him, or, perchance, to put them beyond His reach, is beyond a doubt. There is nothing that most men fear so much as death; nothing, alas, that most Christians fear so much. We have an instinctive and natural dread of it, which even faith finds it hard to conquer, and to which our imperfect faith often lends an additional force. It is not only the darkness and decay of the tomb that we dread; it is also the judgment which lies beyond the tomb. It is not only that we are loth to part with those whom we love; we also fear, lest, in the pangs of death, we should relax the grasp of faith. And, hence, in the Service for the Dead, we use a prayer than which few are more pathetic: “O Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy Judge eternal, suffer us not at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from Thee.” A most pathetic, and yet, as we often mean it, a most un-Christian prayer! For what we too commonly imply by it is that if, amid the pangs of dissolution and the darkness of death, we should cease to see God by faith and to put our trust in Him, He will forsake us; that if, oppressed by mortal weakness, we loosen our hold upon Him, He will let us fall; that at the very crisis, and in the very circumstance, in which an earthly friend would strengthen his comforting grasp on us, our heavenly Friend will relax His grasp and let us drop into the darkness which waits to devour us up Whereas Christ has taught us that God’s help is nearest when we most need His help, that He perfects His strength in our weakness, that our redemption from all evil depends, not on our fluctuating sense of His Presence, or on our imperfect love for Him, but on His being with us although we know it not, and His eternal unbounded love for us.1 [Note: Samuel Cox.]

2. It is a great thing to be persuaded that this power we call death, which has been so feared and fought against, cannot sever the ties which unite us to God. It seems to separate the children of men from so much. Every day we see it in its own ancient and awful way invading human homes, breaking up circles of friendship, and laying its touch upon the dearest attachments. But let us not make too much of the isolating power of death even from this point of view. There is a love between soul and soul which death cannot destroy—a love that loves on though the outward presence has vanished, and is often conscious of even a closer communion than when each could only half express itself through the poor medium of the body. Death means invisibility, but not the loss or destruction of love; not separation, perhaps not even distance. And how much more must it be true of God that death cannot divide us from Him, cannot pluck us out of His hands, cannot crush us out of existence? To be loved by God is to be preserved and cherished. We are His children, therefore we must live on with Him and be cared for by Him.

To God death and the hereafter are not the mysteries and barriers they are to us. Those who die to us live to Him. They are in His care wherever they are. They have not passed from His sight because they have passed from our sight—gone beyond the range of our eye and ear. The mere passage from the seen to the unseen cannot touch His influence, His love to them, His power to help them and to hold communion with them. Death can have no manner of dominion over the Love that gave us their love, and gave it, not that it might perish, but for everlasting life.2 [Note: J. Hunter.]

I thought the road would be hard and bare,

But lo! flowers,

Springing flowers,

Bright flowers blossoming everywhere!

The night, I feared, would be dark and drear,

But lo! stars,

Golden stars,

Glorious, glowing stars are here!

And my shrinking heart, set free from dread,

Sees Love

(Lo! it is Love.)

God’s love crowning with Death my head!1 [Note: Margaret Blaikie, Songs by the Way, 56.]

It happened in 1901—if I may introduce a personal illustration—that my only child fell ill, and for a time, as it seemed, dangerously ill. One day she fell into a troubled sleep, in which it was evident that her dreams were disquiet. She tossed about and cried aloud. Her mother bent over her, touched her, and she awoke. The eyes of the little sufferer opened. She looked up at her mother’s face, and oh! what a change passed over her own; and she said, “Oh, mother dear, I have been dreaming such dreadful things. I dreamt that I was far away in a dark place, and that I called and called and you could not hear, and did not answer. And then you touched me, and I opened my eyes, and there you were.” The language of the child reminded me of the language of a saint, one of the greatest that ever lived, in a prayer addressed to the King of kings and Lord of lords: “We sleep, o our Father, on Thy tender and paternal bosom, and in our sleep we sometimes dream that all is wrong, only to wake and find that all is right.”2 [Note: R. J. Campbell.]

The truest and tenderest earthly love says to its beloved, what is said on Charles Kingsley’s tombstone in Eversley Churchyard: Amavimus, amamus, amabimus.

Even for the dead I will not bind

My soul to grief; death cannot long divide,

For is it not as if the rose that climbed

My garden-wall had bloomed the other side?

3. Nor life.—We know death—that black cloud which is ever travelling towards us across the waste and will presently touch us with its cold shadow. St. Paul bids it come. Ay, and life too. His defiance rises from death to life; for life, did we but realize it, is a worse enemy than death—more perilous, more mysterious, more awful.

Many there be that seek Thy face

To meet the hour of parting breath;

But ’tis for life I need Thy grace:

Life is more solemn still than death.

What dread chances it holds! what appalling chances of disaster, of suffering, of shame! Who can forecast what may be on the morrow? Perhaps poverty, or disease, or insanity, or—worse than all—disgrace. Many a man has succumbed to a sudden temptation, and, in one passionate moment, has defamed the honour of his blameless years. Surely life is more terrible than death, and it is nothing less than a deliverance and a triumph when a wayfarer arrives at his journey’s end and is laid to rest without reproach.

Out of the sleep of earth, with visions rife

I woke in death’s clear morning, full of life:

And said to God, whose smile made all things bright,

“That was an awful dream I had last night.”

4. Not a few honest and devout souls in these days are compelled by their experience to interpret “life” in our text as including intellectual perplexities and doubts, suspensions of judgment on important matters of faith, uncertainties, even positive disbelief in things once surely believed among us. Growing knowledge in many directions, physical discovery, the advance of philosophical thought, the new study of comparative religion, the more purely critical study and interpretation of our sacred religious literature—these and other causes are operating to unsettle and change traditional ways of thinking about many things and to make ancient symbols fade and fail. Let us not be anxious or fearful. The mind must obey its laws; and to feel and obey the sacred claims of truth is to love God with the mind. The truth of things is also the thought of God in things.

(1) Realizing the love of God in Jesus Christ, we more than triumph over all the mystery of life. The natural tendency of the painful things of human life is to induce a depressed mood, to render us sceptical towards the greatest truths. Many are not affected by the dark aspects of nature and history: they give these no place in their thought; they never brood over them, wondering what they mean; thoughtless and shallow, they eat and drink and sleep. It is very different with others. They cannot rest because of the suffering and sorrow of the world, and the natural action of such brooding is to work havoc in the soul. Reason fails to solve the cruel problems; then scepticism sets in, and despair by scepticism. But so long as I can say “He loved me and gave himself for me,” I am immune from the baneful power of mystery and intellectual bewilderment: the darkness emphasized by science and felt by us all cannot blind and destroy me. He who has saved me from death in His own death will one day clear up these painful puzzles; they are incidental and temporary. Love in the heart means light in the eye. Believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things, I keep my hold on the eternal truths which ensure eternal life.

In the sunless deeps are animals with eyes of extraordinary size. And the marvellous thing is that these particular creatures have in a high degree the power of manufacturing their own light, and the economizing of the delicate phosphorescence has developed in them eyes of remarkable magnitude and power. With their self-created luminousness these abyssal fish withstand the blackness of their environment, and indirectly the darkness has secured for them eyes far more splendid than those of their shallow-water relatives. Thus is it in the abyss in which we live, and which proves to so many a gulf of dark despair. There are thousands of noble men and women with splendid eyes. They see God as clearly as any angel in heaven can see Him; they behold His government over them causing all things to work together for their good; they view the golden consummation to which the universe tends. The very darkness that presses upon them has taught them the secret of making light in themselves, and it has developed in them a power of vision that pierces to the heart of things.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]

What, then, is to be done in this rickety, crazy world, so mad, so tumultuous, so vexatious in its moral mysteries? This brings us right away to Bethlehem, to Calvary, to the Christ. I grow in the conviction that nothing can reconcile all mysteries and contradictions, and illuminate all perplexing darkness, but the light which streams from the priesthood of Him whom I worship as God the Son. He keeps the world alive; inquire more deeply into that suggestion, and find how large and true it is. Christ is the life of the world and the light of the world, and though He be statistically outnumbered, He is influentially supreme.1 [Note: Joseph Parker, Well Begun, 169.]

O Thou, in all Thy might so far,

In all Thy love so near,

Beyond the range of sun and star,

And yet beside us here,—

What heart can comprehend Thy name,

Or, searching, find Thee out,

Who art within, a quickening Flame,

A Presence round about?

Yet though I know Thee but in part,

I ask not, Lord, for more;

Enough for me to know Thou art,

To love Thee and adore.

O sweeter than aught else besides,

The tender mystery

That like a veil of shadow hides

The Light I may not see!

And dearer than all things I know

Is childlike faith to me,

That makes the darkest way I go

An open path to Thee.2 [Note: Frederick Lucian Hosmer.]

(2) In the consciousness of the Divine love we more than triumph over all the suffering of life. The sorrow of life does not harm. Conquerors are often much the worse for the battle. A victorious fleet is a shattered fleet, often scarcely able to find a spar on which to hang the flag of victory; a triumphant army is a stricken host that moves spectators to tears; a conquering athlete is a ghastly sight. But the Apostle intimates that this stern fight unto death shall inflict upon us no serious and abiding wound. If we could for a moment transcend carnal limits and peep into glory, we should see that our glorified ancestry are not one whit the worse for their life of hardship and martyrdom, They suffered great tribulation, but they have survived all without a scar.

Not long ago I visited a flower-show, and, following the crowd, found myself amid a delightful host of orchids. It is needless to say what wonderful shapes and colours were displayed; masters of language need the wealth of poetry to describe the grace and magnificence which they unfold; they epitomize the perfection of the world. They are strangely privileged plants, gorgeous children of the sun, and they show what can be done under blue skies in depths of safety, in balmy air, with brilliant light. But before leaving the exhibition I wandered into another department, where the Alpine plants were being exhibited. Not expecting much this time, I was surprised and delighted by triumphs of form and colour. They did not suffer in comparison with the tropical blooms. Delicate, curiously beautiful, inexpressibly elegant, vivid in colour, of manifold dyes, perfumed with subtle scents of sweetness, they charmed and dazzled eyes that had just been satiated by the butterfly colours of Eastern beauties. And the Alpine gems owed all that they were to what they had suffered. Their sparkle is the gleam of the ice-age; their whiteness that of the eternal snows on whose border they sprang; they caught their royal blue whilst dizzy peaks thrust them into the awful sky; they are so firm because the rock on which they grew has got into them; they are so sensitive because they trembled so long on the precipice. They are the children of night and winter, the nurslings of blizzards; cataracts, glaciers, and avalanches perfected their beauty. In a vast, savage, elemental war they won the glory which makes them worthy to stand by the picked blooms painted by all the art of perpetual summer. Thus the sanctified sternness of human life blossoms in great, pure, beautiful souls which adorn heaven itself.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]

Thou hast visited me with Thy storms,

And the vials of Thy sore displeasure

Thou hast poured on my head, like a bitter draught

Poured forth without stint or measure;

Thou hast bruised me as flax is bruised;

Made me clay in the potter’s wheel;

Thou has hardened Thy face like steel,

And cast down my soul to the ground;

Burnt my life in the furnace of fire, like dross,

And left me in prison where souls are bound:

Yet my gain is more than my loss.

What if Thou hadst led my soul

To the pastures where dull souls feed;

And set my steps in smooth paths, far away

From the rocks where men struggle and bleed;

Penned me in low, fat plains,

Where the air is as still as death,

And Thy great winds are sunk to a breath,

And Thy torrents a crawling stream,

And the thick steam of wealth goes up day and night,

Till Thy sun gives a veiled light,

And heaven shows like a vanished dream!

What if Thou hadst set my feet

With the rich in a gilded room;

And made me to sit where the scorners sit,

Scoffing at death and doom!

What if I had hardened my heart

With dark counsels line upon line;

And blunted my soul with meat and with wine,

Till my ears had grown deaf to the bitter cry

Of the halt and the weak and the impotent;

Nor hearkened, lapt in a dull content,

To the groanings of those who die!

My being had waxed dull and dead

With the lusts of a gross desire;

But now Thou hast purged me throughly, and burnt

My shame with a living fire.

So burn me, and purge my will

Till no vestige of self remain,

And I stand out renewed without spot or stain.

Then let Thy flaming angel at last

Smite from me all that has been before;

And sink me, freed from the load of the past,

In Thy dark depths evermore.1 [Note: Sir Lewis Morris, From the Desert.]

ii. The World of Spirits

“Nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers.”

“Nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers;” this is a Jewish phrase for the spiritual hierarchy. The modern equivalent is the unseen forces which encompass us, those mysterious powers and operations which act upon our lives, and compel them to unthought-of issues. They lie without us, mysterious, incalculable, uncontrollable, invading us unexpectedly, shaping our experience, and determining our destiny. We never know what they will be doing with us.

This second set of enemies is still more mysterious and strong. The experiences of this world shall not separate us, but what is there beyond this world? What is that unseen which lingers near us and sometimes almost breaks through into sight—angels, principalities, and powers? There have been different views of what this means.

(1) It is important, says Maclaren, to observe that this expression, when used without any qualifying adjective, seems uniformly to mean good angels, the hierarchy of blessed spirits before the throne. So that there is no reference to “spiritual wickedness in high places” striving to draw men away from God. The supposition which the Apostle makes is, indeed, an impossible one—that these ministering spirits, who are sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation, 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. St. Paul knows it to be an impossible supposition, and its very impossibility gives energy to his conclusion, just as when in the same fashion he makes the other equally impossible supposition about an angel from heaven preaching another gospel than that which he had preached to them.

(2) On the other hand, Kelman says: If we study the thought of St. Paul’s day we shall find a very orderly and detailed system of demonology, in which they conceived a brood of evil spirits who tempt the souls of men. There are those who still hold that view, and there are those who take other views of such matters. You may call it that, or you may call it nerves, or you may call it any name you please; the difficulty is not in what you call it, but in what you find it to be in your daily experience. And whatever may be the ultimate explanation of these things, this remains true, that some day we waken with our whole heart set upon doing the will of God and pleasing Him, and before the day is half-done some power from without or from within in this strange mechanism of body and spirit in which we live, some power like a great evil hand, has laid hold upon our life and broken it across, and everything has gone wrong with us, and we. try in vain to right it. The day is handed over to the powers, of darkness. And if there is anything in our experience which makes it difficult to remember and believe in the love of God, it is just such a thing as this. In any sort of bitterness, so long as it be a smooth-flowing experience, we can continue to believe; but when this sort of thing happens, God has gone from heaven, and all things are left the sport of evil power. But we are in His universe, and these are but the hounds of God that He holds in the leash in His hand and will not let too far upon the souls He loves. That also is part of the great love of God, and His love has not been defeated by angels, or principalities, or powers. He loves us still through the worst day of it all.

Lord, whomsoever Thou shalt send to me,

Let that same be

Mine Angel predilect;

Veiled or unveiled, benignant or austere,

Aloof or near;

Thine, therefore mine, elect.

So may my soul nurse patience day by day,

Watch on and pray

Obedient and at peace;

Living a lonely life in hope, in faith;

Loving till death,

When life, not love, shall cease.

… Lo, thou mine Angel with transfigured face

Brimful of grace,

Brimful of love for me!

Did I misdoubt thee all that weary while,

Thee with a smile

For me as I for thee?1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]

iii. Time

“Nor things present, nor things to come.”

1. “Nor things present, nor things to come” is the Apostle’s next class of powers impotent to disunite us from the love of God. The rhythmical arrangement of the text deserves to be noticed, not only as bearing on its music and rhetorical flow, but as affecting its force. We have first a pair of opposites, and then a triplet: “death, nor life”; “angels, nor principalities, nor powers.” We I have again a pair of opposites: “things present, nor things to come”; again followed by a triplet: “height, nor depth, nor any other creature.” 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.

2. Men believe in the gay dawning of youth, and in the brilliant days when all things are fair, and the longest day is never too long, nor the hardest work too hard, and all things appear in the charm of life in which we began it. But how much disillusion comes, and the grey skies succeed the blue, and hopes do not fulfil themselves, and life is not what it seemed to promise! Then shall we have to give the venture up at the last, clinging to spar after spar of our wrecked ship, until at last it is altogether water-logged and sinks, and we are like to perish. When will the day come that the love of God also will die out, and we shall be left loveless in this ghastly universe? That day will never come.

Fly, envious Time, till thou run out thy race,

Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,

Whose speed is but the heavy Plummet’s pace;

And glut thyself with what thy womb devours,

Which is no more than what is false and vain,

And merely mortal dross;

So little is our loss,

So little is thy gain.

For when as each thing bad thou hast entomb’d,

And last of all, thy greedy self consumed,

Then long Eternity shall greet our bliss

With an individual kiss;

And Joy shall overtake us as a flood:

When every thing that is sincerely good

And perfectly divine,

With Truth, and Peace, and Love, shall ever shine

About the supreme Throne

Of Him, t’whose happy-making sight alone,

When once our heav’nly-guided soul shall climb,

Then, all this Earthy grossness quit,

Attir’d with Stars, we shall for ever sit,

Triumphing over Death and Chance, and thee O Time.1 [Note: Milton.]

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 to the verbal revelation was that symbol of the Bush, burning and unconsumed, which is so often misunderstood. It appears wholly contrary to the usage of Scriptural visions, which are ever wont to express in material form the same truth which accompanies them in words, that the meaning of that vision should be, as it is frequently taken as being, the continuance of Israel, unharmed by the fiery furnace of persecution. Not the continuance of Israel, but the eternity of Israel’s God is the teaching of that flaming wonder. The Burning Bush and the Name of the Lord proclaimed the same great truth of self-derived, self-determined, timeless, undecaying Being. And what better symbol than the bush burning, and yet not burning out, could be found of that God in whose life there is no tendency to death, whose work digs no pit of weariness into which it falls, who gives and is none the poorer, who fears no exhaustion in His spending, no extinction in His continual shining? And this eternity of Being is no mere metaphysical abstraction. It is eternity of love, for God is love. That great stream, the pouring out of His own very inmost Being, knows no pause; nor does the deep fountain from which it flows ever sink one hair’s-breadth in its pure basin.2 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

iv. Space

“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature.”

1. While our Revisers had the courage of their scholarship in dealing with Romans 8:19-21, that courage seems to have failed them in dealing with this 39th verse, where the same Greek word is used, and where therefore it should, by their own rule, be rendered by the same English word. Instead of putting “nor any other creation” into the text, they have banished the word “creation” into the margin, and retained the word “creature” in the text, although every one must admit that between a single creature and a whole creation there is a considerable, even an enormous, difference.

There may yet, says the Apostle, be some fresh transformations. I know not what new environment may yet confront me, what strange world, what undreamed-of surroundings, what play of forces more dread and solemn than I have hitherto experienced; but I fear not even that. For there is nothing here, nothing there, nothing anywhere about which I need to fret or trouble; because, wherever I may be and whatever may happen, I shall have the love of God for my comrade and my portion.

2. 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. Up or down, it is all the same. 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. “Thou God seest me” may be a stern word, if the God who sees be but a mighty Maker or a righteous Judge. As reasonably might we expect a prisoner in his solitary cell to be glad when he thinks that the jailer’s eye is on him from some unseen spy-hole in the wall as expect any thought of God but one to make a man read that grand 139th Psalm with joy: “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there.” So may a man say shudderingly to himself, and tremble as he asks in vain, “Whither shall I flee from thy presence?” But how different it all is when we can cast over the marble whiteness of that solemn thought the warm hue of life, and change the form of our words into this of our text: “Nor height, nor depth, shall be able to separate us from the love of God.”

Love which, on earth, amid all the shows of it,

Has ever been seen the sole good of life in it,

The love, ever growing there, spite of the strife in it,

Shall arise, made perfect, from death’s repose of it.

And I shall behold Thee, face to face,

O God, and in Thy light retrace

How in all I loved here, still wast Thou!

Whom pressing to, then, as I fain would now,

I shall find as able to satiate

The love, Thy gift, as my spirit’s wonder

Thou art able to quicken and sublimate

With this sky of Thine, that I now walk under,

And glory in Thee for, as I gaze

Thus, thus! Oh, let men keep their ways

Of seeking Thee in a narrow shrine—

Be this my way! And this is mine!1 [Note: Browning, Christmas Eve.]


A Persuasion that Prevails

“I am persuaded.”

1. “I am persuaded,” says the Apostle, and this is one of his great phrases. Wherever it occurs, it expresses, not merely an assured faith, a strong conviction, but a faith in something which is not obvious or indisputable, and a conviction which has been reached after many a doubt and many a struggle, after much questioning and long groping in the darkness. The Apostle has had to feel his way through the tangle out into the open. And thus, when he says “I am persuaded,” he is proclaiming a conviction which has satisfied his deepest need.

The assurance came to him, as it comes to every man who makes the glad discovery, out of his experience. He looked back along the road which he had travelled blindly, with bleeding feet and a troubled heart, and he saw that an unseen hand had been guiding him and shaping his lot and making all things work together for his good. And thus he was “persuaded.” This is the surest, if indeed it is not the only, evidence of God. It is not the teleological or ontological argument that has compelled my faith. No, it is this—that I have found God in my life, and have seen there the operation of His grace and goodness, His wisdom and strength. I recognize, as I look back, that, when I thought I was wandering alone in the darkness, He was leading me all the time, and the experiences which were so painful and distressing at the moment have proved the most precious of all and have brought me enlargement and enrichment.

2. It is a great thing to be able to use such words as these with regard to the supreme verities. It is like having one’s house built upon a rock instead of upon the shifting sand. It is like having one’s course clearly marked upon the chart, and one’s rudder and compass in perfect order, as compared with the man who has neither chart nor compass, and simply drifts. This explains why, on the scientific side of life, men in this age are so strong, and on the religious side so weak; they are sure of their science; they are not sure, or at least not so sure, of their religion. Agnostics, that is what so many call themselves to-day—not atheists, not infidels. Few say there is no God. What they say is, “We do not know”; and the uncertainty paralyses religious, action. “I am persuaded,” wrote the Apostle, and, being persuaded himself, he has persuaded millions more; for your convinced men, the men certain of their ground, the men who can ring out, “It is so,” “I know,” “I do verily believe”—these are the strong men, the men who do most work, the men of widest, most potent influence. For the masses are always attracted by confidence, and will embrace the wildest superstition, embark on the most Quixotic enterprise, if one who has absolute faith in his cause leads the way; while what is in itself an unquestionable truth will hardly touch them if it is advanced with hesitancy or faltering. It is the men who, like St. Paul, can say, “I am persuaded,” “I know whom I have believed,” or, like Luther, “Ich kann nicht anders,” “I cannot do otherwise,” that move the world; for if doubt is contagious, thank God faith is contagious too.

It is still the evident and immediate duty of many people living in Christian lands to set themselves at once to know God as He has been revealed to the world by Jesus Christ. To know Him is to have an untroubled and unlimited confidence in Him, and their want of confidence shows that they do not know Him. Right knowledge of God is everything for strength and peace. It is told of one of our Scottish martyrs, that, looking up to the hills of his native Nithsdale, he cried out, “I could pass through these mountains were they clothed in flame if I could only be sure that God loves me.”1 [Note: J. Hunter.]

One Sunday night, as I was preaching in my own place, I had finished the sermon, as I thought, with the declaration of the sufficiency of Christ. I had closed the sermon, and had passed down to the vestry, when a plain working man followed me in. He said, “Did you finish your sermon just now?” I said, “Yes, I think so; I meant to.” “I think,” he said, “there is something you did not say; you spoke about the forgiveness of sins, and the sufficiency of Christ, and the love of God in Redemption; but there is something else you did not say, and it is a part I never like to be left out.” I said, “What is it?” “Why,” he said, “years ago I was brought to Christ; and a terrible load I took to Him. I placed it down at the Cross, and I thought all was right. But the next morning my skies were grey. The next day I was beaten in the Valley of Humiliation fighting with Apollyon. He won. My temptation was too strong, I failed and I fell, I failed again, till everybody ceased to believe in me; and I ceased to believe in myself, and held myself in contempt. At last, one day, in desperation, I raised my hands to heaven and said, ‘Lord Jesus, I claim Thy promise, I claim Thy power, look at me to-night.’” The man, continuing, said, “For five years He has kept me as I am, and I am amongst the living to praise Him. Preach, I beseech you, next time you approach this subject, preach that Christ is able to save to the uttermost. The Saviour can battle with temptation, and make us sufficient, every time the assault comes, to win the victory for the glory of God.”1 [Note: R. J. Campbell.]

The motto of the order of knighthood called St. Patrick is “Quis separabit”: “Who shall separate?”

Yea, of this I am persuaded—

Neither Death, nor Life, nor Angels—

No, not the Celestial Hierarchy,

Not “they that excel in strength”—

Nor the present world, nor the world to come;

Nor the height of Heaven,

Nor the abyss of Hades,

Nor aught else in God’s creation,

Shall avail to sever us from the love of God,

The love incarnated in the Messiah, in Jesus,

Our Lord—ours!2 [Note: A. S. Way.]

An Inseparable Love


Burder (H. F.), Sermons, 462.

Campbell (D.), The Roll-Call of Faith, 11.

Cox (S.), Expository Essays, 189.

Cox (S.), Expositions, i. 91.

Garratt (S.), A Pastor’s Farewell, 194.

Greenhough (J. G.), The Mind of Christ in St. Paul. 47.

Hunter (J.), De Profundis Clamavi, 171.

Iverach (J.), The Other Side of Greatness, 170.

Kelman (J.), Ephemera Eternitatis, 319.

Maclaren (A.), The Secret of Power, 145.

Mills (B. F.), God’s World, 51.

Moinet (C.), The “Good Cheer” of Jesus Christ, 19.

New (C.), Sermons Preached in Hastings, 234.

Paget (F.), The Redemption of War, 65.

Parker (J.), Studies in Texts, i. 149.

Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 165.

Smith (D.), Man’s Need of God, 257.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xlii. (1896), No. 2492.

Temple (F.), Sermons in Rugby, i. 12.

Thomas (J.), Concerning the King, 217.

Watkinson (W. L.), The Supreme Conquest, 1.

Cambridge Review, i. No. 4 (Hessey).

Christian World Pulpit, lvii. 388 (Kelman).

Church Pulpit Year Book, iii. 153.

Churchman’s Pulpit: Easter Day and Season, vii. 332 (Temple).

Expositor, 1st Ser., iii. 119 (Cox).

Verse 39

(39) Nor height, nor depth.—No remoteness in space. (Comp. Psalms 139:8 et seq. “If I ascend up into heaven,” &c.)

Any other creature.—Any other created thing.

The love of God.—It is to be observed that for the shorter phrase, “the love of Christ,” the Apostle now substitutes the fuller but, as it would seem, equivalent phrase, “the love of God in Christ.”


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Romans 8:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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