What is that Good that All Things shall Work For? (Romans 8:28)
by Ralph Erskine
In order that they who love God may know what they are to look for, we shall take both a negative and positive view of the matter.
First, let us view it negatively. They are not to expect that all things that befall them, shall work for their temporal good and prosperity in the world. Sometimes, indeed, this good takes place, as Joseph said to his brethren, Genesis 50:20, “Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good.” And as it was with the Israelites, Exodus 1:12, “The more the Egyptians afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew.” Of this good the text may be understood; but it is not always to be expected; because, external prosperity is not always good for the people of God. Neither are they to expect that all things should work to this good of absolute exemption from the inbeing of sin, while they are here. God sees it good and fit that they live by faith, in the daily improvement of Christ, for purging away their sin. Nor are they to expect that all things shall work for their absolute freedom from losses and crosses in the world; because it is not good for us to be without them, and they are part, of these things that work for their good. Nor are they to expect that every thing should work for the good that they have in view; but for the good that God hath in view, whose thoughts are infinitely higher than our thoughts.
But then, seconddly, Let us consider the point positively. They may expect that all things shall work together for their spiritual good and eternal welfare. We would incline to branch this out in a few particulars.
1. All things shall work together for furthering their knowledge of, and acquaintance with God in Christ: and surely this is a notable good! “This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ; whom thou hast sent,” John 17:3. Now, all things shall contribute to make the saints know more and more of the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world unto our glory; “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world to our glory, 1Corinthians 2:7. And to make all men see, what is the fellowship of the mystery, which, from the beginning of the world, hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ; to the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers, in heavenly places, might be known, by the church, the manifold wisdom of God, Ephesians 3:9-10. That, with the apostle, Romans 11:33, they may stand at the side of this ocean, and cry out, “O! the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” And that, by all things, they may come to know more of the power, holiness, justice, truth, goodness, and glory of God in Christ. We use to say,” Experience teaches fools.” Surely there is not an experienced saint, but will find, that by all the good things and bad things he hath been trusted with, by all the various vicissitudes and changes of providence, he hath come to see more of God than he saw before.
2. All things shall work together for their participation of the image of God, in a greater degree; and surely this is good; and it is brought about by the promises of God, 2 Peter 1:4. By those we are said to be partakers of the divine nature: and also, by the providences of God, particularly trying ones; “He chastens us for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness,” Hebrews 12:10.
3. All things shall work for their further purification: they shall purge out some particular lust and corruption; “By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit, to take away his sin;” Isaiah 27:9. This is a desirable good, whatever be the dispensation that contributes to that end.
4. All things shall work together for furthering their communion and fellowship with him; whatever they have heard, or seen, or felt of the word of God, or of the rod of God, contributes to this good end—”Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Christ Jesus,” 1 John 1:3. We can go to God boldly by the blood of Jesus; and communicate the very secret of our souls to him, and find him communicating the secrets of his covenant to us.
5. All things work together for their further humiliation; and this is good indeed; “He led thee through the great and terrible wilderness, wherein there were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought; wherein there was no water;” there is a sum of the evil things that befell them; but it follows, “He brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; he fed you in the wilderness with manna, that your fathers knew not:” there is a sum of the good things that befell them; well, but what was the end and design of all these things? Why, it follows, “That he might humble thee, and prove thee, to do thee good in thy latter end,” Deuteronomy 8:15-16. It is good to be humbled and have low thoughts of ourselves; we are apt to say in prosperity, Our mountain stands strong, and we shall never be moved; we think, with Peter, that we are able to suffer with Christ, and to do great things for him: or with Zebedee’s children, that we are able to reign with Christ: but we need to be humbled and proved, that we may know what we are.
6. All things work together for their further consolation; and this is a desirable good; God doth, with all that befalls them, convey some joys and comforts of his Spirit, whether he bring them to the mountain or to the wilderness: this good end shall be reached in the Lord’s time. When he brings them to his holy mountain, then he makes them joyful in his house of prayer, Isaiah 56:7. When he brings them to the wilderness, then he speaks comfortably to them, Hosea 2:4. Yea, he even gives them the valley of Achor for a door of hope, and makes them sing there; and as their sufferings abound, makes their consolation abound, 2 Corinthians 1:4-5.
7. All things work together for their good, even for furthering their life of faith, that they may know more what it is to live by faith on the Son of God, Galatians 2:20. If sensible enjoyment were always allowed to believers here, in their present circumstances, they would be ready to surfeit on their provision; therefore, with their sweet meals, the Lord orders some sour sauce for helping their digestion, in order that they may live, not by sense, but by faith; in prosperity we talk of living by faith, and darken counsel many times with words without knowledge; but in adversity, we come to have the practical knowledge of what it is to live by faith. And indeed that is a happy and blessed dispensation that tends to the rooting of a soul further in a crucified Christ, and to a living upon a promise, when there is no visible prop in all the world to lean to; this is clearly believing.
8. All things work together for furthering their submission to the will of God, and holy contentment in every case, that they may learn with Paul, Philippians 4:11-12, in every state to be content; and know how to be abased, and how to abound; and to say, “I can do all things through Christ strengthening me.” I can welcome reproach, as well as honour and esteem; a prison as well as a palace, a hard stone for my bolster-piece, as well as a soft pillow; though I praise, as well as others, and bless the Lord for comfortable accommodations and favourable dispensations, when God allows them; yet, if he deny them, I am content: “Shall we receive good things at the hand of the Lord, and not receive evil?” O sirs, how good is it to get this disposition wrought?
9. All things work together for furthering their spirituality, for weaning their hearts from the world, and elevating their affections heavenwards, so as they may have less of the spirit of the world, and more of the Spirit of Christ dwelling in their hearts: 1 Peter 4:12 “Think not strange concerning the fiery trial, which shall try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.” Even the glorious Spirit of God, comforting and supporting you with the hope of the glory to be revealed. O! what a good thing is this to have the good Spirit of God, the glorious Spirit of God? Though a spirit of reproach be without you; yet the Spirit of glory and triumph within will make amends. And, O what a good work is it, when all things work for putting out a base, carnal, worldly spirit, and for bringing in more of a glorious and heavenly Spirit?
10. All things work together for furthering their preparation for heaven; nothing shall hinder, but rather further their course towards heaven. As all trying dispensations of providence work for their having more of the Spirit, of which our apostle speaks in the preceding context; so, they work for hastening their progress towards heaven, and can be no hindrance but a furtherance to it; as appears from the apostle’s triumphant language in the following context, towards the close of the chapter, ver. 35-39, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us; for I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angel, 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.” Man’s frowns may occasion God’s smiles; losses of worldly goods may make up your heavenly treasures; “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us, a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” 2 Corinthians 4:17.
In a word, as there would be no end of speaking of all things that work together for good to them; so, there is no end of speaking of all the good which all things work in their behalf. The God that hath all things at his command sets all things a-working for them; and makes even the worst things contribute to the best advantage. Herod and Pilate, Jews and Gentiles, combined to crucify Christ, “The Lord of glory,” Acts 2:23. Here is the worst thing that ever was done; but, behold the act of free grace and deep wisdom in God! that made this work to be the greatest good that ever was. We have a sample of all other things working for good to God’s people, even the rage and fury of men and devils, contrary to their designs, working for their happiness; and death itself, contrary to its nature, working for their eternal life.