Romans 8: 28
This is one of the favorite promises of all Bible-loving Christians.
It has been a comfort to thousands in times of perplexity and testing.
Probably most Christians can quote the first half of this verse from memory.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God."
Few statements of Scripture are more familiar than this, or more full of comfort.
This verse gathers the soft harmonies of a long paragraph, which is rich in music.
It is the kind of music, which seeks to interpret the mystery of suffering in the experience of God's children.
The music began with a glorious crescendo as it foretold the final and certain triumph through Christ:
"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy
to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
But the soaring strain of those words had died away and a deeper cord was struck
as he turned to the sufferings of the universe:
"We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." (8: 22)
This was the more subdued tone which accompanied the cry of pain from the ends of the world,
and what we know in this respect suggest something else which we do not know:
"For we know not how to pray as we ought." (8: 26)
But the sons of God are never without a refrain of comfort.
All our adversities are only a prelude to the coming glory.
They are comparatively insignificant.
They call the power of hope into buoyant activity, and they lead to the intervention of the Spirit Himself.
The ear of faith can catch the sound of a controlling harmony and the final key is one of lofty triumph:
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God." (8: 28)
Against a dark background of present suffering, Paul has been depicting the future glory of believers.
He has been encouraging them to be patient in their suffering
because of the surpassing greatness of the coming glory.
Here, then, is a further consolation.
Christians are often in sorrows, sufferings, and trials.
This is not in itself joyous, but grievous.
But from another point of view, it is a matter of joy.
Though afflictions are grievous, God makes them useful.
"All things" that happened to the Christian, are overruled by God for our good.
Having previously spoken of the various sources of consolation, and, in the two preceding verses,
of the Spirit helping our infirmities, and dictating those prayers, which are heard of God,
Paul now presents another objection.
If God hears our sighs and groanings, why are not we delivered from our afflictions and troubles?
In answer, Paul tells us here that afflictions are salutary and profitable;
so that, although they are not removed, God changes their natural tendency,
and makes them work for our good.
But in order that none of us should be led into a carnal security, Paul adds, that those for whom
"All things work together for good to those who love God,
and those who are called for his purpose."
This is not only true in itself, but it is here asserted to be a truth known to believers.
So, Paul adds two further reasons for patience:
The help being given by the Spirit in prayer.
And the knowledge of the loving purposes of God.
Nothing is more necessary for us as Christians than to be persuaded of the happiness
and privileges of our condition, that we may be able to serve God with cheerfulness and freedom of spirit
instead of having a critical and fault finding spirit, and to pass through the troubles and difficulties of the world
because of this knowledge: "We know..."
Paul comes back to the topic that he introduced in the 18th verse and to the sufferings of the present time.
And after he contrasted them with the glory and the enlargement of our future prospects,
and having adverted not merely to the hope that will be realized to us,
but also to the help that is administered now.
As a last argument for reconciling his disciples to all the adversities of their earthly condition,
Paul affirms that they all work together for their good.
He affirms that even the crosses and disasters of life are so many blessings in disguise,
and that the divine purposes of God are always at work for the accomplishment
of a great and beneficent purpose towards them and to all of us as Christians.
This brings us to the conclusion and the climax.
In the last 12 verses of the chapter (28-39), Paul rises to sublime heights unequaled anywhere in the New Testament.
Paul sweeps over the whole council of God, from an eternity that is past to an eternity that is yet to come,
from the divine foreknowledge and predestination to the divine love
from which absolutely nothing whatsoever is able to separate us.
The burden of Paul's climax is the unchangeable, irresistible, invincible purpose of God,
and by this purpose and in it, the eternal security of the people of God.
These tremendous truths, far too great for our puny minds to absorb,
Paul expresses first in a series of five undeniable affirmations,
and then in a series of five unanswerable questions,
in which he challenges anybody to contradict the affirmations, which he has just made.
With what ease the writers of the Bible give expression to the mightiest and most astonishing statements.
The anguish of man's inner and deeper experience, are all painfully vivid to Paul's eye.
Nevertheless, in the midst of "tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword,"
Paul is bold to assert: "We know that all things..." (Verse 28)
How many of us can join in this language in the face of this world's sin and woe?
There may be some who are able contentedly to meet the dark mysteries of Providence with,
"Whatever is best."
This could be a conviction that grew up out of the reverent trust and experience of their childhood.
But sooner or later, with the continual tide of trial and testing that background will be disturbed,
and we will pray for the certainty and conviction that Paul proclaims: "And we know that all things..."
Paul's knowledge was confirmed by ample conviction and experience
as he was disciplined by trial and purified by affliction.
It turned Paul's sighing into singing.
It was a practical embracing of this truth, which enabled him and Silas to sing at midnight
in a dungeon with bleeding backs.
To Paul it mattered little what his physical conditions were,
so long as he knew he loved God and was called according to His purpose.
This sentence, interpreted in its context can bring comfort and cheer
to the Christian in times of testing and trial.
With Paul it was a matter of profound conviction: "And we know..."
There was no room for question.
Paul had unwavering confidence in the overruling providence of his God.
He truly believed that "God makes everything turn out for the best."
For Paul this conviction rendered complaining unthinkable since God plans every event of life.
We know -- not just conjecture or an opinion.
It is a declaration of absolute certainty.
We have the promise of a God who cannot lie.
We have the power of a God who can do all things to accomplish His promise.
We know -- not some concrete, visible, carnal thing.
If that were the object of our knowledge, God would not be God.
Men do not force their way into His kingdom; nor is it projected into this world.
The man of this world knows only the groaning of creation and his own groaning. (8: 22, 23)
We know -- not by a human guess, but upon sure and certain grounds.
We know this by revelation -- flesh and blood cannot tell us this great truth.
We know it because God has said it.
So, "We know," means to know by the knowledge of faith God gives us,
and not by mere intellectual investigation.
We know it because God has said it, and because saints of God have testified of it
from Joseph all the way to Paul and to us.
Paul had proposed various considerations, and now, he adds, "We know."
This is a knowledge, which God places in our hearts and affections producing in us confidence in its truth.
It is a knowledge of faith, which implies certainty and self application,
by which the believer not only knows but applies the promises of God,
and is able to say, "This promise is mine. It belongs to me."
This promise is mine!!
Why is it that so many believers experience so little of this consolation in their afflictions?
Could it be because they have little (or none) of that knowledge of which Paul speaks when he says,
"We know that all things..."
Carnal affections, the love of the world, and the indulgence of the flesh,
prevent this consideration from being deeply impressed on their minds.
They also darken their understandings, so as not to allow the knowledge of God to enter their hearts.
But in proportion as their hearts are purified from these afflictions, in the same degree,
it is confirmed in their minds, that "All things..."
Despite our infirmities we need neither to fear nor to be discouraged.
More than this, we need not be dismayed or depressed in regard to anything
that may happen to us in the course of our lives.
According to an eternal purpose God has already given us the highest gift, and He will add all others,
as they are needed.
So, the eternal goal will certainly be reached.
The words of this great verse ring out as the ultimate inference,
which Paul drew from all that he has said about the fact of trial and the triumph of faith.
Adversity may be real and profound, but God will bend it for our good.
This is the fact, which we must grasp with the strength of childlike simplicity, and be content.
God holds the key of all the unknown, and that should make our faith, glad.
There is much that we do not know, but this we know as a fact that admits no doubt:
our life is in the hands of God who will guide and control all its issues for His glory.
William Cowper, the great hymn writer, after his attempt at suicide had been frustrated,
returned home and wrote:
"God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps on the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will."
"Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take!
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessing on your head.
Judge not the hand by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace,
Behind a frowning Providence,
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain."
Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White