William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

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.

1st, 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, Gen.
50:20, "Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good." And as it was
with the Israelites, Exod. 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,
2dly, 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, 1 Cor. 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, Eph. 3:9, 10. That, with the apostle, Rom. 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 trysted 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 Pet. 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," Heb.

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;" Isa. 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," Deut. 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 Zebdee'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,
Isa. 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 Cor. 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,
Gal. 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, Phil. 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 Pet. 4:147 "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 hinderance 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 Cor. 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.


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