In the preceding strains of this Song of Songs, we have
been listening to deep-sea music. Now the billows are resonant on the
"Christ Jesus our Lord." These are the four words
which end our chapter, the closing note of Paul's Golden Canticle; a
reigning Christ in the midst of His ransomed Church--"Hallelujah…He shall
reign forever and ever."
"Christ Jesus our Lord!"--Befitting finale for the
Song of the Redeemed on earth--befitting refrain for the Anthem of the
Church glorified--"Strong Son of God, Immortal Love!"
The "No condemnation in Christ," has now reached
its climax in "No separation from Christ." With these concluding
strains, the outcome of all that have preceded, he defies the confederate
forces of the material and spiritual Creation--the foes of "a present evil
world,"--the principalities and powers of heaven and hell; the heights
above, the depths beneath--all space, all time, all eternity, to hush that
everlasting chorus and separate from that everlasting love!
"In Christ Jesus." "Is this," says Leighton, "he that
so lately cried out, 'O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?' who
now triumphs 'O happy man, who shall separate me from the love of Christ?'
Now he has found a deliverer to whom he is forever united. So vast a
difference is there between a Christian taken in himself and in
Christ." The author of The Christian Year--adopting the figure of our
volume, thus appropriately sings of the Apostle ever after the hour of his
"From then, each mild and winning note
(Like pulses that round harp-strings float
When the full strain is over),
Left lingering in his inward ear
Music that taught as death drew near,
Love's lesson, more and more."
Let us give the words now to be considered in full.
"For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor
angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to
come; 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" (v.
These successive clauses, to vary the metaphor, are like
so many perches in the writer's upward flight, as with the eagle-wing of his
brother Apostle of love he soars to the seventh heaven, and sinks into the
clefts of the true Rock for ever!
"Christ Jesus our Lord." Yes, but neither may the
terminating words be dissevered from those which precede them. It is the
combination which makes a full Gospel-harmony. They form a divine epigram of
comfort and consolation--"the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our
Lord." The love of the Father is here co-ordinated with the love of the
Son. It is the apostolic echo of the Great Master's own saying--the saying
which of all He uttered was most descriptive of His mission; the saying
which perhaps of all He uttered we would be the most loath to part
with--"God so loved the world, as to give His only Begotten Son."
We have presented to us in this brief sentence of our
concluding meditation not only the stream of Salvation in Christ, but we are
conducted to the fountainhead in the Infinite love and sovereign grace of
the First Person in the Blessed Trinity. In the original that love is
emphasized--the special love. In the previous portion of his Epistle,
what we may call its forensic or dialectic chapters, Paul had of necessity
to vindicate the character of God in His dealings with sinners, as the
Righteous, the Holy, the Just--the Moral Governor, whose laws dare not be
violated with impunity. But here, after the sublime unfolding of Redemption,
he singles out, for his terminating note of triumph, the attribute which
spans the life of every believer like a divine rainbow, from his
predestination to his glorification. He had immediately before sounded the
defiant note--"Who shall separate?" There seems to be a momentary hush. He
waits, so to speak, to hear if a response be given. There is no reply. The
silence is broken by an answer from his own lips. The answer declares
separation to be impossible--that nothing can frustrate God's purpose, or
alter His affection for His Church and people. With Him, in the outgoings of
that love, "tomorrow will be as today, and much more abundant." The flower
of grace, here often battered with wind and rain, shall never cease to bloom
in heaven. The great ocean-tide will then roll on without ebb "through the
ages of the ages."
But let us enter the arena and listen to our
Apostle-herald as he sounds his challenges, and utters his assertions, in
"DEATH shall not separate." Alas, in one sense, too
sadly, too truly, Death does separate. Too sadly, too truly, is Death
the severer of bonds. The very name is allied and associated with pain,
suffering, dissolution. There is one inscription common to all ages and
generations--"They were not allowed to continue by reason of death." The
world is full, day by day, of aching hearts. Long and loud is the wailing
strain--the dirge over buried love! Those are not to be credited with
sincerity, or with the tenderest instincts of humanity, who affect to speak
lightly of such severances. The cold icy river seems to cut us off at once
from the land of love--the love of earth and the love of heaven. But, in
another and elevated sense, the sense inspired by gospel faith, there is no
absolute separation in the case of those united to Christ. Our life is "hid
with Christ in God." "It is He alone," says Pere Didon, at the close of the
Introduction to his great Work, "who pours into the soul a divine life which
no pain can overwhelm, which trial only strengthens, and which can despise
death, because it permits us to face it with the fullness of immortal hope."
To the true Believer, the Gate of Death is the Gate to
the second Paradise. It is the Exodus of the Soul from its bondage--the
entrance into the beatific vision--the fullness of God. Death is pictured to
our thoughts under the Bible figure of a lonely Valley. Nor is it strange
that the idea of solitude and solitariness should be blended with the
emblem. But there can be no real solitude to him who can sing at his
death bed--"YOU are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me."
In the words of a sainted and saintly writer "Death is a leap into the arms
of Infinite love." So far from being the separator from God, it is the
"Beautiful Angel" who leads home to Himself. Then shall come to pass the
saying that is written--"Death is swallowed up in Victory." "Right dear in
the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Ps. 116;15, Prayer Book
"LIFE shall not separate." Life, with its vivid
realities and engrossing interests, and enthralling fascinations on the one
hand; Life with its depressing cares and anxious struggles--its gnawing
heartaches and bitter bereavements on the other; Life with its April day of
fitful alternation--cloud and sunshine, shall not blur the "Summer of the
Soul" and dim the divine--the Eternal sunshine. The Christian engaged in its
urgent duties--grappling with its stern difficulties and fiery trials,
feeling that he is "appointed thereunto," has truly his citizenship in
heaven. His heart and home are in one sense on earth; in an equally
truthful, more exalted sense, he can sing as the chartered citizen of
glory--"Who has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly
places in Christ." "Whether we live we live unto the Lord; or whether we die
we die unto the Lord; whether we live therefore or die we are the Lord's"
"ANGELS, PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS shall not separate."
Not Angels--the living creatures with whom alike poetry and Scripture
have made this earth to teem "both while we sleep and while we wake." It is
the most impossible of impossible things, that a loyal heaven shall conspire
in strange league of hostility against the children of the kingdom. The
Apostle here makes the unlikeliest of suppositions, simply to strengthen the
believer's confidence. Not demons--not the host of heaven and hell
combined in gigantic conspiracy against the believer's peace. Persecutors
and persecutions--the base abettors of cruelty and wrong-doing
who did their utmost in the Apostle's time, and would do their utmost still,
to deflect from the path of allegiance to the Gospel; tempting to abjure
faith, instilling doubts, and lording it over conscience. These are the
"Spiritual 'wickednesses' in high places," led on by Apollyon "the
Destroyer." But God's true people will be fortified against their combined
assaults by the same Power that is pledged for their salvation. "I saw Satan
fall as lightning from heaven" (Luke 10;18).
"THINGS PRESENT AND THINGS TO COME shall not separate."
The Apostle comes down again from the ideal to the actual--from a
hypothetical impossibility to life's realities. This world of change has its
blighted hopes and frustrated schemes--"things present"; the
future--that unrevealed future has, with many, its pale and ghastly
shadows--the ghosts of dreaded evil--"the fear of the fearful"--"things
to come." But one divine assurance there is, beyond vacillation. No time
with its ages and millenniums and cycles can affect or diminish the love in
the heart of God. All else may and must change; but "He is faithful."
"NOR HEIGHT, NOR DEPTH, NOR ANY OTHER CREATURE can
separate." As all time and all eternity are challenged, so is all space.
The herald roams creation; he roams the universe. Mountain might be piled on
mountain, planet might be added to planet, star conjoined to star, if a
barrier could thus be reared between the soul and God. Or, take a different
supposition. Our own earth, by some strange erratic impulse or some
diabolical plot, might be sent wandering into the depths of the infinite to
accomplish separation and isolation from its divine Creator. But each of its
redeemed inhabitants, conscious of the same unchanging love, could utter the
challenge--"If I ascend up into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in
Sheol, behold You are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in
the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Your hand lead me and Your
right hand shall hold me" (Ps. 139;8, 9, 10). I defy all time, all place,
all space, all possible combinations and contingencies; all heights of
prosperity, all depths of adversity; the giddy eminences of rank and power,
the extremes of poverty and need--the roll and revolution of ages, when
"time shall be no longer"--to separate me from the love of God which is
in Christ Jesus my Lord!
"Led by paths we cannot see,
Unto heights no guess can measure,
Draw we nearer Thee!
Nearer You through every aeon,
Every universe of Thine;
Man and seraph swell one paean,
Harmonizing chords divine.
O, from You no power can sever;
Through death's valley Your face to see;
Saved, forever and forever,
Drawing nearer Thee."
And all this of which we have now been speaking was no
occasional confidence of Paul. (Latin Vulgate "I am certain"). Here is what
theologians call "the assurance of faith" in its noblest form. No wavering
or incertitude. A triumphant testimony. It is as if, after the many gracious
assertions of the chapter--the successive clauses, comprehensively setting
forth the believer's creed--some had ventured to interpose and say--"All
this is abstract truth cogently stated in logical and dogmatic shape. But it
may be purely conjectural. Who can bear personal witness to the reality, the
inner experiences?" "I," replies the Apostle, as if putting his own seal and
endorsement to every foregoing proposition--"I am persuaded!" It recalls a
similar personal attestation in the Old Testament Scriptures. We find this
glowing delineation of the believer's happiness and peace--his abiding
strength and joy, in one of the most beautiful of the Psalms--"The righteous
shall flourish like the palm-tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts
of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age, they shall be fat
and flourishing; to show that the Lord is upright." But, as if some one,
here too, had ventured the question--who can bear individual testimony that
all this is true?--"I" replies the Psalmist, "He is MY Rock, and
there is no unrighteousness in Him" (Ps. 92;12-15). Both Old and New
Testament saints, "chief musicians"--could say and sing with the assured
confidence of another sacred writer--"We have known and believed the love
which God has to us" (1 John 4;16).
Let us close with TWO PRACTICAL THOUGHTS.
(1) We are occasionally in these modern times confronted
in print and in speech with the cynical query--"Is life worth living?" This
Song of Songs, in its varied notes and harmonies, supplies surely an amply
sufficient answer. Not indeed an answer to those whose hopes and aspirations
are bounded by time--those who are of the earth, earthy. The chapter to such
has but one solemn word in reply--"The carnal mind is enmity against God;
for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then
those who are in the flesh cannot please God." But to all who can, in
some feeble measure, claim a saving interest in the Gospel Repertory of
faith and love, hope and promise, which this Great Canticle so abundantly
supplies--to all who have listened to the divine absolution--"no
condemnation,"--to all who have been brought under the regenerating
influences of the Holy Spirit, and quickened, through Him, to a life of
righteousness--to all who have the happy consciousness of being "heirs of
God"--ushered into "the liberty of the glory of His children;"--who, it may
be amid manifold outward trials, have been able to grasp the assurance, that
all things are working together for their spiritual good; and that the
sufferings of the present time are utterly insignificant compared with the
glory yet to be revealed--put to them also the question, "Is life worth
living?" Conscious of the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, the reply
will be instantaneous--"He asked life of You, and You gave it to him, even
length of days forever and ever" (Ps. 21;4).
(2) Seek, reader, as the final lesson of the chapter--the
golden note of this Song of Songs--to live now under the influence of that
changeless love of God manifested in Christ. Make it the dominating
power--the impelling force of your new nature. Let these be your sacred
mottoes and watchwords--"I am not my own, I am bought with a price." "The
love of Christ constrains me." "I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me…I
live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me."
There is a tradition regarding Ignatius of Antioch, that
when the sword of the executioner had hewn his heart in pieces, each
separate fragment had the name of "Jesus" upon it in glowing letters. The
myth might well be a reality in the case of every true believer. We have
spoken indeed in the earliest part of the volume, of faltering purposes and
unreached ideals--the presence and power of two antagonistic principles.
"These are contrary the one to the other, so that you cannot do the things
that you would." Jubilant songs are alternated with plaintive dirge-notes.
But if it be your constant and growing aim to "keep yourself in the love of
God,"--to have your will concurrent with the divine, setting Christ ever
before you as your great Example and Pattern, you may rely on the promised
aids of the Spirit to strengthen your purposes and help your infirmities.
The prophetic strains of the dying Jacob regarding one of the Palestine
tribes will, in a figurative sense, be true of every believing
Israelite--"Gad, a troop shall overcome him, but he shall overcome at the
last" (Gen. 49;19).
Afflictions you must have. Storm and cloud will appear
suddenly in brightest skies; whatever else may be escaped, there is the
terminating encounter of the pilgrimage--the last fight of all; and "there
is no discharge in that war." But above tempest and din of battle, that
ancient Rock of Ages is still the same. A million of suns have risen and set
on a world seething with change. But HE remains. The Immutable cannot alter.
The deathless love of God in Christ is a wondrous crown to halo the brow of
every pilgrim. It is told, if I may employ the words of a distinguished
Divine, only substituting one quoted verse for another, "that when Bishop
Butler drew near his end, he asked his chaplain if he also heard the music
which filled his own heart. The music was not unreal, because the untrained
ear could not catch its harmonies. And it may be that if our whole being is
henceforth set heavenwards, we shall hear when we are crossing to waste
places, as it seems in loneliness and sorrow and inward conflict, the great
hosts by whom we are encompassed taking up our human psalm."--(our Song of
Songs) and saying…"who shall separate from the love of Christ?" "HE
has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you." Or, as these words have
been paraphrased to impart the energy of the original--"Never, no NEVER, no
NEVER!" That love is guaranteed by divine oath and promise. To the challenge
"Shall anything separate?" the reply, the symphonies of the blest--will go
echoing down the ages--"Never! no NEVER! no NEVER!" The Miserere is
heard no more; the Te Deum is the Song and the ascription of
Let, then, one mighty orchestra be summoned in--a fervent
impassioned song; not in its pagan, but in its divine Christian sense--this
closing Hallelujah--the Hosanna of Immortal love. In appropriate words from
Dante "Let the earth for once hear the music of heaven." Let the myriads of
Redeemed below, unite with the Ransomed above. Let ministering seraphim and
burning cherubim combine with "the glorious company of the Apostles, the
goodly fellowship of prophets, the noble army of martyrs, the holy Church
throughout all the world,"--and let this be the ever-deepening chorus--"WHO
SHALL SEPARATE?" Let the notes ripple on forever.
"Hallelujahs, full and swelling,
Rise around His throne of might,
All our highest laud excelling,
Holy and immortal, dwelling
In the unapproached light.
As the sound of many waters
Let the full Amen arise;
Hallelujah! ceasing never,
Sounding through the great forever,
Linking all its harmonies."
Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and
to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding
joy, the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and
power, both now and ever, AMEN.