John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

38 (Romans 8:38)

Verse 38

38.He is now carried away into hyperbolic expressions, that he might confirm us more fully in those things which are to be experienced. Whatever, he says, there is in life or in death, which seems capable of tearing us away from God, shall effect nothing; nay, the very angels, were they to attempt to overturn this foundation, shall do us no harm. It is no objection, that angels are ministering spirits, appointed for the salvation of the elect, (Hebrews 1:14 :) for Paul reasons here on what is impossible, as he does in Galatians 1:8; and we may hence observe, that all things ought to be deemed of no worth, compared with the glory of God, since it is lawful to dishonor even angels in vindicating his truth. (279) Angels are also meant by principalities and powers, (280) and they are so called, because they are the primary instruments of the Divine power: and these two words were added, that if the word angels sounded too insignificant, something more might be expressed. But you would, perhaps, prefer this meaning, “Nor angels, and whatever powers there may be;” which is a mode of speaking that is used, when we refer to things unknown to us, and exceeding our capacities.

Nor present things, nor future things, etc. Though he speaks hyperbolically, yet he declares, that by no length of time can it be effected, that we should be separated from the Lord’s favor: and it was needful to add this; for we have not only to struggle with the sorrow which we feel from present evils, but also with the fear and the anxiety with which impending dangers may harass us. (281) The meaning then is, — that we ought not to fear, lest the continuance of evils, however long, should obliterate the faith of adoption.

This declaration is clearly against the schoolmen, who idly talk and say, that no one is certain of final perseverance, except through the gift of special revelation, which they make to be very rare. By such a dogma the whole faith is destroyed, which is certainly nothing, except it extends to death and beyond death. But we, on the contrary, ought to feel confident, that he who has begun in us a good work, will carry it on until the day of the Lord Jesus. (282)

That the words are to be thus taken seems probable from the gradation evident in the passage. In the first catalogue in Romans 8:35, he mentions the evils arising from this world, its trials and its persecutions, and those ending in death. In the second, after repeating the utmost length to which worldly persecutors can go, “death or life,” he ascends the invisible world, and mentions angels, then their combined powers, then the powers which do and may exist, then both heaven and hell, and, that he might include everything, except the uncreated God himself, he finishes with the words, “nor any created thing.”

The whole passage is sublime in an extraordinary degree. The contrast is the grandest that can be conceived. Here is the Christian, all weakness in himself, despised and trampled under foot by the world, triumphing over all existing, and all possible, and even impossible evils and opposition, having only this as his stay and support — that the God who has loved him, will never cease to love, keep, and defend him; yea, were everything created, everything except God himself, leagued against him and attempting his ruin. — Ed.

- John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible