IN LIFE, AT DEATH, PERSUADED
Mr. Ernest Roe
January 29, 1967
“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 ” Romans 8, 38/39.
Some of you. will remember that last Sabbath we referred to a man who was ill, visited by a religious person, who asked the sick me what Persuasion he belonged to, meaning, of course, what Denomination, and the man answered that he belonged to that persuasion spoken of by the Apostle Paul in the 8th Romans. Would you believe that, on and off ever since, that has been humming and buzzing about one’s soul? What a beautiful persuasion this is, to be sure, and the result is that we are here now to try and speak to you a little about it. No-one has the mind nor has anyone the grace that is needed fully to expound these beautiful words.
I want to call your attention, first of all, to three important truths that are most intimately wrapped up in the two verses as a whole. One is thisÂ—that you and I cannot possibly state this truth in too extravagant a term. Now, does it not sound a little extravagant “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?” It may sound so but it is not. The fact of the matter is that the Apostle Paul, though an inspired man (and by that I really mean God was teaching him, God was communicating to him at the time that he wrote these words) just could not find language adequate enough to express the fullness of “the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We may, in preaching or in writing, pile up metaphor upon metaphor, argument upon argument, but we shall never overdo it, never overstate the truth. Every figure of speech you may use, all the most beautiful sentiments you might pile up together and write or state, cannot even touch the fringe of the subject. No. No words of man can ever overstate “the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” May that simple thought stay with you and me the rest of our lives.
The next thing I want to look at is thisÂ—that the weakest believer shall share in the reality of these words. By the weakest believer I mean such a character as is described in the previous chapter, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing”. Are you as bad as that then, as weak as that? “For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am!” Ah! but he did not stop there, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7, 18/25). This is the same character, writing those words, not out of a book, but out of his own heart’s daily experience, frustrated by sin, knocked down by sin time and again, the sin not of another, but of his own heart, taking him into captivity to the law of sin, so that the law of sin for the period was master of him. That is the man, that is the woman who shall share in my text, for it is the same person speaking here and about the same character. Nothing shall separate such a one from “the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We are often complaining, and can never complain too much, of the innate depravity of our heart, but do not forget, please, you will never conquer it, nor I, and that there is no remedy for it, but “the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”, so that the weakest man that finds sin too hard for him, takes him captive, makes him do what he would not do and what he hates to do, that is the man, that is the woman that shall share in this beautiful climax of the Apostle.
Then there is thisÂ—that Gospel facts are all centred in Jesus ChristÂ—”In Christ Jesus our Lord.” Oh ! how I wish I could preach this. The love of God is not toward you and me without Jesus Christ, and that is a lesson you and I need to go through “His college” to learn. Do not think me unkind. Listen to this. If I mistake not, you and I are often talking withinÂ—”Now, how can God love me?” Well, He cannot love anyone apart from Jesus Christ. I would speak very reverently about what God cannot do. It is rather a strange expression to use about God, but, in the sense in which I am using it, I think it is right. Can the holy God love you, me, sinners, apart from Jesus Christ? It is just impossible. God never did, and I think I may say, God never will, because it is morally impossible that He should, consistent with His Own honour, love a man or a woman that is a sinner outside Jesus Christ. Hence again and again you will find, as in Ephesians 3, the grand climax of the love of God to a sinner always comes to one point, “In Christ Jesus our Lord.” Why did He in the first case put the souls of His elect people into the hands of Jesus Christ? Just because He loved them in Jesus Christ. Why does He bring them into this world as creatures to be born? Because they must be born and nothing shall prevent their natural birth because of His love to them in Jesus Christ. Why does He forbear with them in their wanderings in iniquity and transgression until the time comes for them to be called? Because He loved them in Jesus Christ.
“He saw me ruined in the fall
Yet loved me notwithstanding all.”
But He loved me, not only as I was a creature, but as I was a creature in union with His Own Son. He made the union, put me into union with Christ.
This is a great point of theology. It is a greater point of experimental theology. If you and I only really looked at this rightly and believed it firmly, we should lose nine-tenths of our bondage, fear and doubt straight awayÂ—we should! Why do you and I fear and doubt God? God knows we do. Why do we? You know the answer. It all comes down to this my sins, they are too big; they are too provoking and too frequently repeated; sins against infinite kindness, tender mercies in providence, it is not likely that God can forgive them. So we argue, all the time looking at ourselves out of, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ and, as long as we do that, so long shall we be kept in bondage, fear and dread. We shall never walk at liberty, because we are not looking at the real Gospel, the real Gospel of the grace and love of God as centring in Jesus Christ. To view it perfectly correctly, God looks at you in the Person of the Beloved, and we are told “He hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1, 6). What are we doing? We are trying to translate that language into a language of our own. accepted in my experience, accepted in spite of all I feel. It is self that has to be taken right away, Christ only is to fill the horizon of the guilty, the filthy, the leprous, the helpless. Is this too big a Gospel for you and me? I hope not. I hope we are bankrupt enough, bad enough to receive it in the love of it. Well, it is all in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There is a hymn in Gadsby’s Selection (405), that has been on my mind during the last week and it is this:
“Twixt Jesus and the chosen race,
Subsists a bond of sovereign grace,
That hell, with its infernal train,
Shall ne’er dissolve nor rend in twain !
This sacred bond shall never break,
Though earth should to her centre shake;
Rest- doubting saint, assured of this.
For God has pledged His holiness.
He swore but once; the deed was done;
‘Twas settled by the great Three-One;
Christ was appointed to redeem
All that His Father loved in Him.
Hail, sacred union, firm and strong!
How great the grace! how sweet the song!
That worms of earth should ever be
One with incarnate Deity!
One in the tomb; one when He rose;
One when He triumphed o’er His foes;
One when in heaven He took His seat,
While seraphs sang all hell’s defeat.
This sacred tie forbids their fears,
For all He is or has is theirs;
With Him, their Head, they stand or fall
Their life, their Surety, and their All.”
What do you think of that? That came from the hand of an old dockyard labourer, John Kent, who had no education, but wasn’t he educated in the school of grace? Well now, that is the Gospel in a nutshell. Beautiful union, and that is the secret of it all, not what I feel though I want to feel, not what I even have in my heart’s experience, though I want to have it but this. He and I One, that is the grand secret. All “in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Now, proceeding, we notice, there is no separation from this union with regard to certain particulars. “I am persuaded that neither death”. Death does touch every other union. No union can be made between mortals on this earth but what death will break it. The marriage tie is as long as we live “Till death do us part” and it will part. It has no mercy in that respect. It breaks the closest links and, as we know, time is a wonderful healerÂ—you can even see that time wipes away a large degree of the ache and the pain and sorrow that death can make in bereaving conditionsÂ—but it cannot touch this, no. The dear soul by the Holy Ghost united to Christ, death cannot touch it. There is the pain of death, the sufferings preceding death (in some cases of course it is not so, but as a rule there is something of that kind) but nothing affects this, and do you know why? Our Lord in His remarkable intercessory prayer said to His Father “Thou hast loved them as Thou hast loved Me” (John 17, 23). If you can believe it true of you, you are a favoured creature indeed. He loved you (the Father did) even as He loves His Son. If Jesus Christ had not said it we should have said it was blasphemy, should we not? But He did say it, and I think He explains that little word “as” in the next verse, for it reads “Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world.” I think that is the key to the interpretation of that little two-lettered word ‘as.’ “Thou lovedst them as Thou hast loved Me. Thou lovedst Me from eternity unto eternity, there shall be no break, no change, no decay in Thy love to Me as Thine Only Begotten Son and there shall be no break, no change, no decay in Thy love to them.” Ah ! that is the grand secret of your getting to heaven, friend. You may be blessed (I hope you will be) with the clearest of evidences, the most settled assurance, not a doubt left in your conscienceÂ—I hope you will die waving your hands triumphantly with hallelujahs coming out of your mouthÂ—but it will not be that that will take you to heaven, it will be the love of God in Christ Jesus loving from beginning to end. The blessed experiences of the liberty, of the pardon, of the peace, of the triumph, they are the fruit of that love, so that death cannot touch this.
“Nor life”. Well, what is life, as a rule to God’s people? What do we read? Tribulation, pressure of a varied kind that is bound to come upon you, distress, such agitation and disturbance of mind that you really do not know what to do when, literally, it is true, you are at your wits’ end; you can neither look up nor down or look out, you are just bewildered. It cannot separate you from the “love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Persecution? Well, you will meet with that in this life. You cannot get through without it, if you belong to God.” Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you, falsely, for My sake.” You see the Apostle gathers all these things together and says ” Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? ” Shall any of these things separate, or all of them put together do it ? No, nothing shall separate us.
“Nor angels.” Now, they have tremendous power. There is proof of that by what they did in the Old Testament times in smiting people dead, but supposing it means here the evil angels, for you can hardly conceive that a good angel would have antipathy against the people of God. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation?” So it would look to me as if it can only be the fallen angels that the Apostle has in mind here. Now they can do much when allowed. Do you remember reading about “the messenger of Satan”? Satan had a hand in that “thorn in the flesh” but not without God’s Divine permission and overruling. It was Satan that had a hand in smiting Job for he would have smitten Job to hell if he could have doneÂ—it was not because he had not enmity enough against Job, but it was because God had him on His chain “Thus far shalt thou go and no further.” Did not Christ speak the same truth when He speaks of the daughter of Abraham being bound these 18 years? By whom? Satan. Not that Satan has the liberty to do just as he chooses, but God can use him to smite His people with bodily affliction as Paul knew by his thorn in the flesh, but he could not separate him from “the love of God which was in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is the beautiful point of it.
“Nor principalities, nor powers.” Put these both together. Supposing it means ecclesiastical powers or civil powersÂ—well they have had a great deal of power in separating godly ministers from their flocks, as witness the persecution in the Scotch covenanting period, and also in Bunyan’s time. Many a child of God has had his heart broken with grief by reason of the liberty that God in His sovereignty gave to ecclesiastical and civil rulers in those days. They could separate the man from his pulpit and from his ministry, but they could not separate him from Christ. There is a limit put to it, and I do not know what “principalities and powers” may mean in days to comeÂ—the rate England is travelling and the road it is going downÂ—well, I forbear. God grant that what I fear may never come to pass. But, whatever does happen, there is the limit, for God holds the reins.
“Nor things present, nor things to come.” “Things present.” What have you got present? What is your present load this afternoon that is nagging, eating, worrying, fretting, fuming you, making you feel all on tenterhooks, full of misgivings and fears that a mortal soul can hold? Many things can happen but this one thing cannot, you cannot be parted from Christ. You may fear it, things may look like it in your apprehension, but in reality, never.
“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature.” Supposing you were to get to the height of popularity and prosperity (and that in quite a normal way). Daniel got up high, did he not? I should think he did. He was made the chief prince of the Babylonian Empire. You could call him Prime Minister, Daniel. It did not turn his head though, not a bit. The higher you get in this life the more danger there is. Oh it is not ease; it is not peace, far from it. The child of God that is lifted high, like Daniel was, is in a most dangerous position from that very height. God caused a turn of the wheel to take place in Daniel’s experience, for his prosperity was the means of producing envy and jealousy in other people. It always does that. If God shall put you up “six-pennyworth of coppers higher than someone else”Â—someone else will shoot at you. Jealousy and envy is bound to come, and it came in Daniel’s path, and they said “Now, we must do something with this man; he is too high. We are going to pull him down. Now how can we do it? “They came to the conclusion there was only one way to do it, and that was to find fault with him to the Ruler about his religion. It was a good thing for Daniel that was the only ground of their complaint. The ground of their complaint was that he prayed to the God of heaven, and so they informed against him and you know how Darius had him put into the den of lions and what followed. They could not touch him. “My God has sent His angel,” says Daniel. “He has shut their mouths,” and Darius had to admit there was no God like unto that God. (Dan. 6, 25/28). So you see, whatever height of popularity or prosperity you may go to or depth of suffering you may come intoÂ—Prime Minister of State today, in the lions’ den tomorrowÂ—yet, nothing shall separate from the love of God.
Just as if the Apostle had not gone into details enough, he uses another expression that is very great “Nor any other creature”, nor any created thing, whatever it may be, human, inhuman, anything whatever, he makes a clean sweep, he marshals every possible enemy that could be that could attempt it, but they cannot do it. They shall never “be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Now, why is all this? Because there is a Divine purpose running underneath it all. That Divine purpose we have here. “Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” The purpose of predestination starts it and glorification terminates it, and all in betweenÂ—wellÂ—it is bound to work together for good.
Then, secondly, it is secured because here is where the death and resurrection of Christ comes in, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” Who can part them on the ground of an accusation that can be well founded? No-one. Why not? Well it is just “God Himself that justifieth” says Paul, and that is a text that wants looking at. I tell you, friends, we have not begun to preach yet. We never shall preach while we are here. We are only fumbling about the fringes of the subject. Look at this. “It is Son that justifieth.” God Himself comes into the court of Divine law. Here is the criminal, here is Moses, the Law, here are witnesses, endless, who can testify against the man in the dock. He himself testifies against himself too. He admits everything! No indictment that is brought against him does he deny. He accepts it, and yet, in spite of all this, what do you think happens? The righteous Judge of the Court says “Let him go. He is a righteous man.” How can that be? “Ah! there is the righteousness of My Son.” It is in Christ Jesus Who is made his righteousness and his holiness and his redemption and his All. “I acquit him. No-one else can condemn him, no-one.” There is no separation.
Then, finally, there is Paul’s great prayer in Ephesians 3. What a prayer! “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and then he proceeds in that greatest of all recorded prayers (except John 17 which is something more than a prayer, uttered by Someone more than a man, even God). But, taking Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 as the first and the last word in the matter of a Christian prayer, it swallows up everything. “To know the love of Christ which passeth (or surpasseth) knowledge.” You do know a little of it, but it goes right beyond what you know. That is the meaning of it, surpasses all that you know. It surpasses all that Paul himself knew of it, and I should think he knew as much of it, if not more, than any ordinary man ever did this side of heaven, yet it was too much for him. He kept on praying that he might comprehend this wondrous love, and then he ends that beautiful prayer, speaking of the fact that Christ shall be the Centre of the attraction and the glory. He shall be the Centre in the Church. “Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus world without end” Â“Unto the age of the ages for ever and ever.” Christ is to have the glory in union with the Father and with the Holy Ghost. And why? Because of His love!
This sermon was the last which Mr. Roe preached. This afternoon service on January 29th, 1967, was the one referred to in the foreword.