All Things Working for Good
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28
What a glorious Being must our God be, who from the direst evil can educe the greatest good! Having, by an exercise of the most divine power, and by an act of the most stupendous grace, "turned the curse into a blessing," he is still in the exercise of the same divine and beneficent power, employed in overruling the daily consequences of man's original woe for the greater promotion of his present happiness. The interesting passage now about to engage our thought, seems an amplification of a truth the inspired writer had previously advanced- that, though this were the suffering state of the Church of God, yet was it a palmy state; for, from those very sufferings were extracted some of the richest blessings of the Christian- that, by the active combination of all the events of his history, there is working out a great and a present good. The leading point that arrests the eye in this remarkable verse is the beautiful portrait which it sketches of the believer's character. Let this be our first feature of contemplation.
"Those who love God." Surely it is no small mercy belonging to the Church of Christ, that, composed as it is of all people and tongues, its members "strangers scattered abroad," and its essential unity deeply obscured, and its spiritual beauty sadly disfigured by the numerous divisions which mar and weaken the body of Christ, there yet is an identity of character in all, by which they are not only known to God, but are recognized by each other as members of the one family- or "those who love God."
Love to God, then, is the grand distinctive feature of the true Christian. The reverse marks all the unregenerate. Harmonious as their nature, their creed, their church, may be, no love to God is their binding, assimilating feature, their broad distinctive character. But the saints are those who love God. Their creeds may differ in minor shades, their ecclesiastical relations may vary in outward forms- as rays of light, the remoter their distances from the center, the more widely they diverge from each other. Yet in this one particular there is an essential unity of character, and a perfect assimilation of spirit. They love one God and Father; and this truth- like those sundered rays of light returning to the sun, approximate to each other- forms the great assimilating principle by which all who hold the Head, and love the same Savior, are drawn to one center, and in which they all harmonize and unite. The regeneration through which they have passed has effected this great change. Once they were the children of wrath, even as others, at enmity with God. Ah! is not this a heart-affecting thought? But now they love him. The Spirit has supplanted the old principle of enmity by the new principle of love. They love him as revealed in Christ, and they love him for the gift of the Revealer- the visible image of the invisible God. Who, as he has surveyed the glory and realized the preciousness of the Savior, has not felt in his bosom the kindling of a fervent love to him who, when he had no greater gift, commended his love to us by the gift of his dear Son?
They love him, too, in his paternal character. Standing to them in so close and endearing a relation, they address him as a Father, they confide in him as a Father- they obey him as a Father. The Spirit of adoption takes captive their hearts, and they love God with a child's fervent, adoring, confiding affection. They love God, too, for all his conduct. It varies, but each variation awakens the deep and holy response of love. They love him for the wisdom, the faithfulness, the holiness of his procedure- for what he withholds, as for what he grants when he rebukes, as when he approves. For his frown, they know it to be a Father's frown; for his smile, they feel it to be a Father's smile. They love him for the rod that disciplines as for the scepter that governs- for the wound that bleeds, as for the balm that heals. There is nothing in God, and there is nothing from God, for which the saints do not love him. Of one truth- the source of this feeling- let us not lose sight: "We love him because he first loved us." Thus the motive of love to God as much springs from him, as the power to love him.
"Who are the called according to his purpose." Another characteristic of the children of God is this. The calling here referred to, is that inward, effectual calling of which the same apostle speaks in another place. "Among whom are you also the called of Jesus Christ: to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints." Oh what a glorious vocation is this! To have heard the Holy Spirit's divine yet gentle voice in the deep recesses of the soul- to have felt the drawings of the Savior's love upon the heart- to have listened to a Father's persuasive assurance of a love that has forgotten all our enmity, forgiven all our rebellion, and that remembers only the kindness of our youth, and the love of our espousals- called to be saints, God's holy ones- called to be sons, the Father's adopted ones- Oh this were a vocation worthy indeed of God, and demanding in return our supremest, deepest affection!
The principle upon which this call proceeds is said to be, "according to his purpose." Thus it is a calling over which we have no control, either in originating or frustrating it, and therefore there is no ground of self-boasting. "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will." It excludes all idea of merit on the part of the called. "Who has saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." Oh, yield your heart to the full belief and holy influence of thus truth. Does it clash with your creed?- then your creed is defective. Does it awaken the opposition of your heart?- then your heart is not right. Are you really among the "called of God?"- then ascribe it to his eternal purpose, and believe that you have no ground of boasting, in the possession of a favor so distinguished, but in the sovereign will and most free grace of the holy Lord God who has called you. Has this call reached you, my reader? Ministers have called you- the Gospel has called you- providences have called you- conscience has called you- but has the Spirit called you with an inward and effectual vocation? Have you been called, spiritually called, from darkness to light- from death to life- from sin to holiness- from the world to Christ- from self to God? Examine your heart and ascertain. Oh, it is a matter of the greatest consequence, that you know that you are truly converted, that you are called of God. Has the thrilling, life-inspiring music of that call sounded and reverberated through all the chambers of your soul?
We now come to consider the exalted privilege which appertains to this holy character of those who love God, and who are the called according to his purpose. "All things work together for good." The comprehensiveness of this privilege is boundless. "All things" under the righteous government of God must necessarily be a working out of good. "You are good, and do good." In him there is no evil, and consequently nothing can proceed from him that tends to evil. But lest the great scope of this subject should lead us from the point directly before us, we confine our illustration of this truth to the experience of the individual Christian. Here it is palpably clear and emphatically true that all that occurs in the Lord's government of his people conspires for, and works out, and results in, their highest happiness, their greatest good. The passage supposes something antagonistic to the well-being of the believer in God's conduct at times. He would appear to place himself in an attitude of hostility to those who love him, to stand in their path as with a drawn sword in his hand. And yet, to no single truth does the Church bear a stronger testimony than to this, that the darkest epochs of her history have ever been those from which her brightest luster has arisen; and that those very elements which wore an aspect so portentous and threatening, by a mutual and concurrent influence, under the guiding hand of God, have evolved purposes and plans, have developed thoughts and feelings, and have terminated in results and ends, all seeking and advancing the best welfare, the highest good, of the Church of Christ. But let us pass within the individual circle of the church. Shall we take the gloomiest and most painful circumstances in the history of the child of God?
The word declares that these identical circumstances, without a solitary exception, are all conspiring, and all working together, for his real and permanent good. As an illustration of this, take tribulation as the starting-point. Thus says the Apostle. "We rejoice in tribulation, knowing that tribulation works patience"- the grace that shines with such surpassing luster in the furnace; "and patience experience"- apart from which all religious profession is vain; "and experience hope"- the polestar of the believer voyaging homeward; "and hope makes not ashamed"- but confirms and realizes all that it expected. And yet, from where this flow of precious blessing- serene patience, vital experience, and beaming hope?- all flow from the somber cloud of tribulation! That tribulation was, perhaps, of the most mysterious character- of the most humiliating nature- of the most overpowering force- yet behold the blessings it flung from its dark bosom! Who with a finite prescience could have predicted, still less have commanded, that from a bud so bitter and unsightly, a flower so sweet and fair should have blown? that a cloud so dark and foreboding should have unbosomed a blessing so brilliant and so precious?
The Bible is rich in its illustrations of this principle of the Divine government. Take for example the case of Jacob. Heavy and lowering was the cloud now settling upon his tabernacle. Severe was the test, and fearful the trembling of his faith. His feet were almost gone. The sad recollection of his bereavement still hovered like clinging shadows around his memory; gaunt famine stared him in the face; and a messenger with tidings of yet heavier woe lingered upon the threshold of his door. And when those tidings broke upon his ear, how touching the expression of his grief! "You have deprived me of my children! Joseph has disappeared, Simeon is gone, and now you want to take Benjamin, too. Everything is going against me!" Genesis 42:36. But lo! the circumstances which to the dim eye of his faith wore a hue so somber, and an aspect so alarming, were at that moment developing and perfecting the events which were to smooth his passage to the grave, and shed around the evening of his life, the halo of a glorious and a cloudless sunset. All things were working together for his good!
Joseph, too, reviewing the past of his chequered and mysterious history, arrives at the same conclusion, and confirms the same truth. Seeking to tranquilize his self-condemning brothers, he says, "But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save many people alive." The envy of his brethren, his being sold as a slave, his imprisonment, were all working out God's purpose and plan of wisdom and love. And yet, who could have foreseen and predicted, that from those untoward events; the exaltation, power, and wealth of Joseph would spring? Yet all things were working together for good. Thus is it, too, in the history of the Lord's loving corrections. They are all the unfoldings of a design, parts of a perfect whole. From these dealings, sometimes so heart-crushing, what signal blessings flow! "You have chastised me, and I was chastised." And what was the result? It awoke from Ephraim this precious acknowledgment and prayer: "Surely after I was turned, I repented; and after I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yes, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth." Oh, who can compute the good, the real, the permanent good that results from the trying dispensations of God?- from the corrections of a Father's love? The things that appear to militate against the believer, unfolding their heaven-sent mission, turn out rather for the furtherance of his best welfare and his highest interest.
But observe the unity of operation. They "work together," not singly and separately, but conjointly, as adjunct causes and mutual helps. Therefore it is that we often mark a plurality of trial in the calamity which befalls the Christian. Seldom does affliction come solitary and alone- the gentle wavelet upon the surface forebodes the agitation of the waters and is often the precursor of the mountain billow, and the billow in its turn is often the herald of the huge waterspout. Storm rises upon storm, cloud on cloud. One messenger of woe is quickly succeeded by another, burdened with tidings of yet heavier sorrow. Trace the wisdom, nor the wisdom only, but the love of your God, O child of suffering, in ordaining your path to heaven through "much tribulation," and in weaving around you many trials. Single and alone, the good they are charged to convey were but partially accomplished, and the evil they were designed to meet but imperfectly cured. It is the compounding of the ingredients in the recipe that constitutes its sanative power. Extract any one ingredient, and you impair the others and destroy the whole. We may not understand the chemistry of the process; we do not see how one element acts upon the properties of the others, nor how, by the combination of all, the cure is effected. Yet, confiding in the skill of the compounder, and submitting our reason to our faith, we take the remedy and receive the benefit. So, with the Divine dispensations, they work, but "work together." How assuredly would the curative process of trial be impaired, if but one of the several sent were lacking! How would the adjustment, harmony, and symmetry of God's arrangement be destroyed, if one dark dispensation were lacking of, perhaps, the many which hang upon our horizon! It is the combination of sound, the harmony of many, and often discordant notes, that constitute music. Oh, how imperfectly are we aware, not of the necessity of trial only, but of a plurality of trial, in order to wake from our lips the sweetest, loftiest anthem of praise and thanksgiving to God! Thus it is that the most deeply tried believers are the most skillful and the most melodious choristers in God's church. They sing the sweetest on earth, and they sing the loudest in heaven, who are passing through, and who have come out of, "great tribulation."
Then, Christian, count it all joy when you fall into diverse trials; do not be terrified if wave responds to wave- if cloud caps cloud- if storm rises on storm- if your Joseph has been taken, and now your Benjamin be demanded. The greater the accumulation of trial, the richer the freight it bears. Then it is that the interposition, the wisdom, and love of our God appear the most conspicuous and wonderful. Having delivered us out of six troubles, we see him hastening to our rescue in the seventh. Then it is, the experience of the sweet singer of Israel awakes an echo in our heart: "He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters." It has been well observed, "The mechanism of providence is made up of so many parts" as often to baffle the comprehension of man; yet all is clear to the eye and under the sovereign hand of Him who works it; and when we are lost in the bewilderments of a history that we cannot scan; when we are entangled among the mazes of a labyrinth that we cannot understand, it is well to be told that all is ordered, and that all works for good."
And let us not forget that it is a present working. It says not that all things have worked together for good, though this is most true. It says not that all things shall work together for good, though this is equally certain. But it says that all things do now work together for good. It is not a past, nor a future, but a present process. They are always working for good. The operation may be as invisible and noiseless as the leaven fermenting in the bread, and yet not less certain and effectual. The kingdom of God comes not into our souls with observation, nor does it grow in our souls with observation. And whether the good thus borne upon the raven-wing of trial, thus embosomed in the lowering cloud of some crushing providence, be immediate or remote, it matters little; sooner or later it will accomplish its benevolent and heaven-sent mission, and then trial will expand its dark pinions and fly away; and sorrow will roll up its somber drapery and disappear. The painful and inexplicable dispensations, which at the present moment may be thickening and deepening around your path, are but so many problems in God's government, which he is working out to their certain, satisfactory, and happy results.
Safely, then, may the Apostle rest his appeal with us: "We know that all things work together for good." We know it, because God has said it. We know it, because others have testified to it. Best of all, we know it, because we have experienced it ourselves. We can set our seal to the truth that all things under the government of an infinitely great, all-wise, righteous, and beneficent Lord God, both in the world, and in the church, and in the history of each member of the church, work together for good. What that good may be, the shape it may assume, the complexion it may wear, the end to which it may be subservient, we cannot tell. To our dim view it may appear an evil, but to God's far- seeing eye it is a positive good. His glory is secured by it, and, that end accomplished, we are sure it must be good. Oh, truth most divine! Oh, words most consolatory! How many whose eye traces this page, it may be whose tears bedew it, whose sighs breathe over it, whose prayers hallow it, may be wading in deep waters, may be drinking bitter cups, and are ready to exclaim- "All these things are against me!" Oh no, beloved of God, all these things are for you! "The Lord sits upon the flood." "The voice of the Lord is upon the waters." "He makes the clouds his chariot." Do not be, then, afraid! Christ restrains the flood upon whose heaving bosom he serenely sits. Christ controls the waters, whose sounding waves obey the mandate of his voice. Christ's cloudy chariot is paved with love. Then, fear not! Your Father grasps the helm of your storm tossed bark, and through cloud and tempest will steer it safely to the port of endless rest. "There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rides upon the heavens in your help, and in his excellency on the sky. The Eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms."
Again learn instruction from analogy. All the beauty, and fragrance, and music of nature, spring from a union and blending of opposites. So is it in that kingdom which is within you. The beauty of holiness with which God adorns you- the perfume of grace which he flings around you- the melody of praise which he wakes from your lips- are the result of "all things" in your history conspiring, combining, and working together for your good.
"Love you your sorrow? Grief shall bring
Its own excuse in after years.
The rainbow- see how fair a thing
God has built up from tears!"
Oh, calmly stay your faith, then, on this divinely assured truth, that "all things work together for good to those who love God." Will it not be a good, if your present adversity results in the dethronement of some worshiped idol- in the endearing of Christ to your soul- in the closer conformity of your mind to God's image- in the purification of your heart in your more thorough fitness for heaven? Will it not be a real good if it terminate in a revival of God's work within you- in stirring you up to more prayer- in enlarging your heart to all that love the same Savior- in stimulating you to increased activity for the conversion of sinners, for the diffusion of the truth, and for the glory of God? Oh yes! good, real good, permanent good must result from all the Divine dispensations in your history. Bitter repentance shall end in the experienced sweetness of Christ's love. The festering wound shall but elicit the healing balm. The overpowering burden shall but bring you to the tranquil rest. The storm shall but quicken your footsteps to the Hiding place. The north wind and the south wind shall breathe together over your garden, and the spices shall flow out. In a little while- oh, how soon!- you shall pass away from earth to heaven, and in its clearer, serener light shall read the truth, often read with tears before, "All things work together for good to those who love God."
"Oh, what a load of struggle and distress
Falls off before the Cross! The Feverish care;
The wish that we were other than we are
The sick regrets; the yearnings numberless;
The thought, 'This might have been,' so apt to press
On the reluctant soul! even past despair,
Past sin itself- all- all is turned to fair,
Ay, to a scheme of ordered happiness,
So soon as we love God, or rather, know
That God loves us! Accepting the great pledge
Of His concern for all our wants and woe,
We cease to tremble upon danger's edge,
While varying troubles form and burst anew,
Safe in a Father's arms, we smile as infants do!"