With the last verses, we might have been led to conclude, that the Apostle would terminate his theme. Farther, it would almost seem he could not go. He has attained with "glorification" the height of his high argument; the gates of glory are reached, and his Master's words are ringing in his ear, "Enter into the joy of your Lord."
But he appends to his dissertation a triumphant postscript; or, rather, he breaks forth into a lofty rhetorical speech. With the last of the successive links of the chain of salvation in his hands, the language of the hitherto logical reasoner expands into an oratorical conclusion. Calm, passionless, philosophic, his didactic prose blossoms into poetry, and that too in "the white heat of intensity." With four interrogations he winds up the long thesis—with four choral strains he terminates the sustained Song. That Song is now in its full flood—
"What shall we then say to these things?"
"Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?"
"Who is he that condemns?"
"Who shall separate us front the love of Christ?"
We shall now confine ourselves to the first three.
"What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." (v. 31-34). Many of the truths here enumerated having been already considered at some length, we shall only lightly evoke the slumbering tones. We offer little more than a few suggestions to aid and stimulate reflection.
His first query is, "What shall we then say to these things?" "These things." He takes a hurried yet comprehensive retrospect of the preceding clauses of the chapter. The keynote "no condemnation;"—the deliverance in and from the law of sin and death—the provided righteousness of the Great Surety—the gift of the indwelling Spirit—the privilege of adoption, and the consequent heritage of God's children—the needful discipline of suffering (that strange anomaly in the world)—the groans of a travailing creation—the mystery of pain and trouble—the "subjection to vanity," leading up to the final consummation in "the liberty of the glory of the sons of God." Meanwhile, believers are fenced and safeguarded by the assurance that all things are working together for their good.
"What shall we say" to that wondrous catalogue of covenant and covenanted blessings? Surely if that Omnipotent Father, the Head—the Originator of Redemption—pledges His own name and oath and promise that He is "with us and for us," we may well utter the challenge which our Apostle makes in the first of the present verses and expands in a succeeding one—Who in earth, in heaven, in hell, can be against us? He makes no concealment that there are many against us; yes, a battalion of spiritual foes, under the comprehensive trinity of forces, "the world, the flesh, and the devil." But if the enemy is legion, numerically strong and formidable, the believer has ONE on his side (One, alone—but though alone, Omnipotent). "God is for us." "This conclusion of the chapter," a writer well remarks, "is a recapitulation of all the Apostle's former arguments, or rather the reduction of them to one, which comprehends them all—"God is for us." (Dr. Hodge.)
"We have no might," he seems to say, "against this great multitude, neither know we what to do, but our eyes are upon You." "God is for us." It is this assurance which has formed the strength and inspiration of His most favored people in all ages of the Church. "God is for us" emblazoned on their shields, they could inscribe underneath, "Though an army should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident."
Take one or two examples.
"What am I?" was the exclamation of Moses, overpowered by the thought of the vast army of insubordinate slaves he had to lead through the desert, and feelingly alive to his own incapacity for the onerous task. Jehovah revealed Himself as the Great "I AM," with the all-sufficient guarantee, "Certainly I will be with you" (Ex. 3;12). Joshua stands faint and discouraged before the walls of the greatest of the Canaanite fenced cities but the same Angel-Jehovah appears with "a sword drawn in his hand"—the assured emblem and pledge of victory; renewing a previous guarantee, "The Lord your God is with you wherever you go." The royal Psalmist, at a time of imminent peril—one of the many crisis-hours of his life, "when the Philistines took him in Gath," recorded, in the retrospect, the brief assurance—a star-gleam in the night of darkness—"This I know—that God is for me" (Ps. 56;9). Hezekiah trembled, as well he might, when the thundering legions of Sennacherib threatened his kingdom and capital; but there was One, mightier than that "Cedar of Lebanon," under whose divine shadow he took refuge. The central stanza in the battle-hymn of deliverance written on that momentous crisis was this—"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God." When one of the cities of northern Palestine was hemmed in by the victorious army of the King of Syria, the eyes of the panic-stricken servant of Elisha were opened in the dawn of morning to behold the mountain near by, covered with horses and chariots of fire—a visible confirmation of the pacifying assurance already given him by his master—"Fear not; for those who be with us are more than those who be with them." A Greater Master, in a later age, came to His own tempest-tossed disciples, and hushed their misgivings with the reassuring word—"Fear not, it is I; be not afraid." Paul himself, in many a personal experience, could testify to the same truth, that with God for him, no one could be against him. Take his final testimony, though more than once already referred to, when as a lonely prisoner, deserted by the friends who had smiled on him in prosperity, he was immured in the Roman dungeon—"All men forsook me;" "Nevertheless the Lord stood with me and strengthened me,…and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion."
It would be easy to add corroborative testimony from eminent Christians in modern times. Let two be recalled. It was one of the three last memorable sayings of John Wesley on his deathbed, but it was repeated twice over, and is fittingly inscribed on his monument in Westminster Abbey—"The best of all is, that God is with us." They formed the favorite motto-words of Bersier, the most distinguished orator of the French Protestant Church. They may be seen accompanying his signature—"If God is for us, who can be against us?"
"If God is for us, who can be against us?
Upon my lips He puts a conqueror's Song,
Uplifts the veil between me and His glory,
And bids me see a bright celestial throng.
"I can do all things" is the Song of triumph
Of Faith's glad household in their service free;
My feeble hands have clasped Omnipotence;
I can do all in Christ which strengthens me."
We pass to the next clause. May we venture to trace or suggest its connection with the previous?
The thought might obtrude itself—May not God, despite of all these abstract assertions, backed and countersigned by so many attestations of His fidelity to His promises, grow weary of His people? May He not, absolute in power and volition, come in time to feel that those who resist His will—who attempt to baffle His purposes and distrust His Word, are unworthy of such lavish devotion and unceasing love? The surmise may occur, with other reference than to the Jewish race—"Will God cast off His people whom He has foreknown?" The Apostle cites one unanswerable reply; with it every reclaiming voice may well be stopped. "He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" Here, in order to give emphasis to his assertion, Paul employs a peculiar mode of expression. In several passages of the New Testament we find used the "a fortiori argument," a method well known in the schools; where one fact or conclusion is strengthened by a preliminary statement—a minor proposition or premiss establishes the major. In the case of our Apostle himself, we require not to go beyond the present Epistle. "For if through the offence of one many died, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one Man, Jesus Christ, has abounded unto many" (Rom. 5;15). "For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (v. 10). Take a similar example from the unknown author of the Epistle to the Hebrews—"For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh; How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb. 9;13, 14). While a still more familiar employment of the same argument is furnished from the words of our Redeemer Himself; "If you then being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?" (Matt. 7;11).
The process of reasoning in the present case is reversed. Though the Apostle takes the one clause to strengthen and enforce the other, he argues, not from the minor to the major, but from the greater to the less. He speaks of the mightiest gift which Omnipotence could bestow—the gift of His own dear Son, as the pledge of all other blessings. If we may paraphrase the words—although to do so is only to spoil their terse and pithy power and beauty—'Hush any such surmise regarding God's non-fulfillment or forgetfulness of His eternal decree with reference to the fallen. How dare the thought be entertained? He, who in the plenitude of His sovereign grace and boundless compassion spared not His own, His only Son, but gave Him up to a life of suffering and a death of shame, has in that unparalleled deed of sacrifice, given the indestructible assurance that He will, with Him also, carry on to its completion the stupendous plan of a world's redemption. We have, in Gethsemane's garden and Calvary's cross, the blessed impossibility of His withholding any lesser blessing. After the gift of Christ we can fear nothing; we can expect everything—all things which sovereign power can bestow. Redemption is unassailable. The tenderest earthly love may fail—brother may be estranged from brother—sister from sister—friend from friend. Even a mother's love, earth's tenderest type of yearning affection, may fail. "Yes—they may forget, yet will I not forget you" (Isa. 49;15). I have spared not my Son to die for sinners. With that one argument every mouth must be stopped. I, the Author, cannot fail to be the Finisher. I am unable to give you a greater or diviner proof that "I have loved you with an everlasting love." You may without fear or apprehension, risk your safety on this one peerless thought. Can I, could I, the Omnipotent Jehovah, possibly come short in purposes of mercy, after giving the most fearful summons which ever broke the trance of eternity—"Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd and against the man who is my fellow; smite the Shepherd"?' (Zech. 13;7).
We come to the second challenge and interrogation. The preceding one was personal and relative. It was a question addressed to believers and in which Paul included himself—"What shall WE say then to these things?"—'We (if we may again expand his words), who have tasted and seen that the Lord is gracious; we, who are the partakers of these present privileges and heirs of that heavenly heritage.' But in the succeeding query he challenges a different auditory, made up of legion foes. The first interrogation is that of a father gathering his family round him and asking them to unite in the glad attestation of a common experience—the conscious avowal of immunity from all real evil, and the possession of all real good. Now, he is like a man seated on a rock-summit, the wild waves surging at its base. Billow after billow rushes on. But they are beaten back confounded, and scattered in a shower of harmless spray. Paul sees an ocean of such moral and spiritual breakers, each, as it recoils, gathering afresh the spent forces for a new assault. He himself, personating the Church and believers in every age, reiterates the challenge—'Who among you, you spiritual powers of evil—mighty phalanx though you be, can "lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?"'
He prolongs the defiant challenge. "It is God who justifies; who is he that condemns?" The spiritual cast-away who has fled to the Rock may at times be the prey of unworthy fear, and tremble for his safety. But the Rock itself is immovable—it is the Rock of Ages.
There is a four-fold answer and rebuke to any such charges—a four-fold armor for the spiritual warrior in an otherwise unequal conflict—a four-fold ground of triumph and safety. "Who shall condemn?" "Who shall separate?" None. For
"Christ has died."
"Christ has risen."
"Christ is at the right hand of God."
"Christ makes intercession for us."
A famous historical "Quadrilateral" no longer exists—a single campaign demolished it—erased it from the map of Europe. But here is a defenced city "which lies four-square." Salvation, the salvation of God's dear Son, has He "appointed for walls and bulwarks." Or, adhering to our figure, it is a symphony in the midst of the Song, in four parts.
(1) None can condemn; for "it is Christ who DIED." He reverts to the foundation truth of all, without which not one of the privileges enumerated in the previous context could have been ours. Every spiritual blessing emanates from, and revolves around the Cross! Hear how the Apostle commences that other chapter which alone is parallel to the present in power, beauty, and comfort (1 Cor. 15;3). "For I delivered unto you, first of all, that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." All that mystery of suffering connected with the typical sacrifices of the ancient dispensation has its explanation in Him, who is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." On that ever memorable evening when the orphaned disciples met in the twilight of the upper chamber, what was the special revelation which dispersed their fears, imparted peace and joy, and assured triumph? It was the sight of Him who DIED for them—the sight of the Crucified. For it was after He had pointed to the signs of death on His own glorified body; it was after He had "shown them His hands and His side," we read—"Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord;"—"Christ crucified, the power of God unto salvation."
(2) None can condemn—for Christ has RISEN. "Yes rather, that is, risen again." In one very emphatic sense no utterance that ever ascended from earth to heaven can compare in its momentousness with the one solitary cry—the shout of triumph waited for by all time, and which is to go echoing on through eternity—"It is finished!" But if I would have this great fact corroborated and confirmed, I must go in the dim dawn of that Jerusalem morning, to the empty sepulcher, and hear the angel-message, "He is not here, He is risen." If God the eternal Father had not accepted the work of His Son; or, had one sin laid to the charge of His elect been unatoned for, the overlying stone would still have been there—the weeping watchers would have been weeping still. Not the angels of hope, but gloomy warders would have wailed their dirge of despair over a world unredeemed. In the citadel of Christianity the Resurrection of Jesus is the key of the position—that lost, all is lost. "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, you are yet in your sins. But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first-fruits of those who slept. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15;17, 20, 22). He has burst the bands of death, and triumphed over principalities and powers. Every true believer can respond to the beauty of the vision in the greatest poem of Germany, when the despondent hero awakes to life, hope, and joy, as he listens on Easter morn to the bells of the adjacent cathedral mingling their chimes with a choir of voices—"The Lord is risen!" "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4;25).
Note, yet once more the emphatic word, "Yes, rather, who is risen again." It was not a dead, but a living Christ that was the central article in the creed of the early Church. The dead Christ who has been made so familiar to us by the great mediaeval painters, was a thought repellent to the faith of these earlier ages. The crucifixion and its accessories which became so painfully realistic in future centuries, and perpetuated in revolting form in Continental way-side shrines, was absolutely unknown in the etchings and mosaics of the Catacombs. The Crucifix is unrecognized before the sixth century. Its more extended form in the delineation of the great hour of agony, had not existence before the ninth. Not "Jesus dead," but "Jesus lives," was the key-note of homily, creed, and Song. They celebrated, not the triumph of, but the glorious victory over, "the last enemy."
(3) None can condemn, for Christ "is even at THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD." Resurrection was the pledge on earth of completed atonement. Entrance within the gates of glory furnished the assurance that Jesus not only had "overcome the sharpness of death," but that He had "opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers." In the majesty of His ascension glory, the roll of Providence in which was inscribed the destinies of His Church is confided to His keeping. All power is committed unto Him, both in heaven and in earth. "He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet." As in the case of His beloved Apostle in Patmos, He lays on each ransomed head His right hand—the hand of power—saying "fear not; I am He who lives and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore."
(4) None can condemn. For as the concluding ground of confidence and joy, "He also MAKES INTERCESSION for us." The type of the old economy is complete. The great High Priest has entered into the Holiest of all—the Mighty Pleader in behalf of His Church, bearing on His breastplate the names of His Covenant people. The worshipers of Israel, on the day of their greatest ceremonial, crowded the outer courts of the Temple, listening in profound reverence for the sound of the golden bells on the fringe of the High Priest's official garments. The chime of these formed the sure evidence that he was engaged ministering before the mercy-seat, proceeding with, and perfecting the great Oblation as the nation's Representative. We may spiritually do the same. The ear of faith may listen to the voice and intercession of Him who ever lives and ever loves—Who has "entered, not into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Heb. 9;24).
These are cursory thoughts that might well be expanded into a volume—for they are in truth an epitome of the work of Redemption. But to enlarge would be out of place here. They form a four-fold chain, whose links cannot be broken. They give the Apostle's triumphant answer to every doubt and cavil as to the fidelity of God to His promises. Every impeachment of His love is silenced. Heart and lip are attuned to the patriarch's Song, as he rushes into the divine Rock-cleft from the gathering storm—"Though He slays me, yet will I trust in Him." For, be it observed, in closing, that in answer to suggested questionings, it is on the divine side, and the divine side alone, the believer in these verses takes his stand. He fetches his arguments for present peace and final safety from what God and Christ have done for him. He pleads not a word of his own; no weapons are taken from the armory of earth; they are all fetched from that of heaven; they are God's decrees, God's purposes, God's gift. It is Christ the Surety-substitute responsive to His Father's will. It is His doing, His dying, His rising, His session at the right hand of the Majesty on high. He is "the Prince who has power with God and prevails." Faith can rest with the greater confidence in her triple challenge—
God justifies—who shall lay anything to our charge?
Christ died—who shall condemn?
Christ lives—who shall separate?
"Believe, O man," says Clement of Alexandria in one of his glowing utterances, "in Him who suffered and was adored, the living God. Believe and your soul shall receive life…in Him, the Bearer of peace, the Reconciler, the Word—our Savior; a Fountain giving life and peace poured out over all the face of the earth; through whom, so to speak, the universe has become a seed of blessings." Jesus with us and for us! then perish every desponding thought! Heart and flesh may faint and fail, but He, a loving changeless Savior, is the strength of our heart and our portion forever.
Let these concluding cadences in this Song of Songs inspire us with the music of His own last words when about to ascend to His Father's presence, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Let us bow at His feet and exclaim—"This God shall be our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even unto death."