( c ) The blessed condition and assured hope of such as are in Christ Jesus. The summary of the contents of this chapter, which follows the Exposition, may be referred to in the first place by the student, so as to assist comprehension of the line of thought.
And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, to them that are called according to his purpose . A still further reason for endurance. Not only do these inspired groanings strengthen our hope of deliverance; nay, also we know (whether from God's Word, or inspired conviction, or experience of their effects) that these very trials that seem to hinder us are so overruled as to further the consummation to them that love God (cf. above, Romans 5:3 , etc.); and at the end of the verse there is added, as introducing a still further ground of assurance, τοῖς κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοῖς ; the significance of which expression is shown in the following versos, which carry out the thought of it.
We know, too, that all things, even all these present trials, far from harming us, work together for good to them that love God, being called according to his purpose.
Perplexity and mystery are part of the experience to be shared by all reflecting men. The world, and especially human life, furnish enigmas which the understanding cannot solve, which can only be dealt with by the higher principle of faith. The groans of creation mingle with the groans of men, and the discerning mind detects also the groaning of the Spirit. But, above all, is a harmony which overcomes and silences earth's discords. The apostle heard this harmony, and summoned his disciples to recognize the operations of that providence which constrains all things to work together for good.
I. THE PRINCIPLE PROPOUNDED .
1. There is purpose in all things. Modern teleology lays less stress upon the traces of intention and design in individual instances, in organs and organisms, than upon the striking evidence of purpose manifest upon the largest scale, in the vast arrangements and adaptations, in the wonderful chemical and mathematical laws which pervade the whole universe. The more the universe, as accessible to our observation, is studied, the more will it appear a system. Signs of order, of adaptation, of prearrangement, are obvious to every careful student. There is nothing too great, nothing too small, to illustrate the presence of mind. Human life is not exempt from the tokens of Divine foresight and adaptation.
"There's a Divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will."
It is a mistake to suppose that the establishment of the reign of law, of physical causation, conflicts with the operation of purpose; that evolution and design are in any way opposed.
2. The purpose which may be detected in all things is a good purpose. A moral aim is discoverable throughout the universe, and emphatically in human life. All things work together, not indeed for the promotion of pleasure, but for moral good—the highest and worthiest of all aims. This conviction is the key to many difficulties by which observant and reflecting minds have been distressed.
3. This moral purpose is secured so far as spiritual beings voluntarily conform to God's will. As a matter of fact, the order of things does not actually secure the good of all beings; many will not receive the benefits which nature and life are intended to convey. But Christians who love God, and who respond to his call in Christ's gospel, do really reap advantages to which others are strangers. These are the obedient, who are attentive to the Divine summons and accomplish the Divine purpose. For these all circumstances are ordained and overruled, that they may minister to the true well-being of God's people.
II. THE WORKING OF THE PRINCIPLE ILLUSTRATED .
1. Men's circumstances may contribute to their true well-being. Thus poverty may be as spiritually serviceable to those who experience it as competence or wealth; obscurity as honour, etc.
2. Men's own more personal experience is also overruled by God's providence for their highest good. Thus even doubts of intellect, and sorrows of heart—two of the most painful forms of moral discipline—are both, as a matter of fact, caused to subserve purposes of supreme value in the development of character and in the acquisition of influence.
III. PRACTICAL LESSONS DRAWN FROM A CONSIDERATION OF THIS PRINCIPLE .
1. The Christian may learn to avoid murmuring, when he remembers that even untoward circumstances are intended to work out his highest good. Such a conviction casts a new light upon daily experiences; and what otherwise might be regarded as annoyances, calling forth resentment, are now looked upon as ministrations of Divine love and mercy.
2. The Christian may seek to profit by all God's providential dealings. It is the spirit in which these are received which determines whether or not they shall be means of blessing; and the proper spirit is one of submission and teachableness.
3. The Christian will cherish the expectation that the day will come when, looking back upon the path by which he has been led, and the discipline through which he has passed, he shall be able gratefully to acknowledge that God "hath done all things well."
The privileges and responsibilities of the children of God.
The apostle in these verses makes a high claim for believers—the claim of being children of God. In this eighth chapter he unfolds, as in a panoramic view, the whole plan of salvation. He begins with the idea that those who are in Christ Jesus are delivered from condemnation. But salvation is something more than that. It means sonship also. And step by step, verse by verse, the apostle advances, at each step unfolding some fresh view of the Christian's privileges, till at last, as he surveys the whole field of sin and sorrow, of joy and suffering, of trials and temptations, of time and eternity, he grows stronger in the confidence of his sonship, and exclaims, "For! am persuaded, that neither death nor life, nor angels, 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."
I. THE PRIVILEGES OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD .
1. God is their Father. They can say that in a special and spiritual sense. In one sense all human beings are the offspring of God. We are all the creatures of his hand, and are dependent continually upon his bountiful care. But sin has come in and separated us from him. It has made us prone to disobey rather than to fulfil our Father's commands. Jesus came into this world that he might bring us back again into the relationship of God's spiritual children. He became a child of humanity that we might become children of God. He became "sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." All who believe on him are born again. They are by creation God's children; now they are his by a spiritual birth. Now they receive "the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father" ( Romans 8:15 ). Oh, the greatness of our heavenly Father's love! He has not cast us off. He has sent his own Son to bring us back, to restore his image in our hearts, and by-and-by to have us sit down with him in his everlasting kingdom.
2. Jesus Christ is their elder Brother. "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" ( Romans 8:17 ). The inheritance which Christ has we have, if by receiving him we become children of God. It is almost too great a privilege to conceive, but it is plainly revealed to us by God. If we are Christ's, all things are ours; for we are Christ's, and Christ is God's. Christ's own prayer was, "Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me be with me where I am." And then there is a family likeness between the children of God by adoption and their elder Brother. If children of some humble rank were adopted into a noble or royal family, there would be a great dissimilarity between them and the children of that family. There would not be community of feeling. It seems a wonderful thing that we, poor, weak, sinful creatures, should be adopted into the family of God, and made the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. How can there be any likeness between us and him? But God has provided for this. Those are remarkable words, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the Firstborn among many brethren" ( Romans 8:29 ). Thus God has provided that as we are to be the brethren of Christ, we shall be like him. "Beloved , now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him: for we shall see him as he is." This likeness to Christ is a gradual growth. It is the development of the Christian character. It is not in the infant lying in the cradle that much likeness to its parent can be detected. But as the body matures, as the features become more marked, as the individuality of character begins to show itself, then we see the likeness, and we say, He is his father's son, She is her mother's daughter. Those beautiful statues of the Louvre or of Florence, which are the admiration of the world, did not spring by magic from the sculptor's hands. He had his ideal. He had his plan. With that ideal before him, he took the rough material, and on it he gradually worked out his plans. He first modelled his figure in clay, and then took the rough, shapeless mass of marble, in which no one could see any traces of the future statue's loveliness or symmetry of form. But the sculptor's love for his work, the skill of his hand, the patience and perseverance of his mind, the hammer and chisel which he wielded, slowly but surely accomplished his purpose, until at last the statue stood forth in all its beauty. So God has his ideal for the Christian—likeness to Christ, the image of his Son. He has his plan, the plan of redemption, of sanctification. With that ideal before him he takes our human nature, and, by the slow and sometimes painful discipline of Christian experience, he develops the Christian character, until at last the believer is found meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light.
3. The Spirit of God is their Helper. There are three ways mentioned by the apostle in which the Spirit helps us.
4. Heaven is their home. "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" ( Romans 8:18 ). While enjoying the fellowship of our earthly homes, let us think of the better home on high, the only home that shall never be broken up.
II. THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD . They are summed up in the apostle's brief words, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh" ( Romans 8:12 ). "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" ( Romans 8:13 ). We are to remember that we are debtors. We are to reflect how much we owe. We are to realize God's claims upon us. We are to think of the claims of that heavenly Father who has condescended to adopt us as his children, and who is constantly caring for us. We are to think of the claims of that loving Saviour who gave himself for us. We are to think of the claims of that Spirit who has quickened us from the dead, who has been enlightening our minds, and who is renewing us after the image of God.
"All that I am, e'en here on earth,
All that I hope to be
When Jesus comes, and glory dawns,
I owe it, Lord, to thee."
God's mingled providences.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God." This was a remarkable statement for the Apostle Paul to make, especially when we consider how much he had suffered because of his love to God and his truth. He had been imprisoned, he had been stoned, he had been beaten with stripes; and yet, after all this, he is able to say that "all things work together for good to them that love God." Some might be disposed to doubt such a statement with regard to the experience even of the Christian. Yet many others besides Paul have borne similar testimony. David said, "I have been young, and now am old; yet never have I seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread" ( Psalms 37:25 ). And again, "Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept thy Word It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes" ( Psalms 119:67 , Psalms 119:71 ).
I. THERE IS GOOD IN ALL THE PROVIDENCES OF GOD . Many persons think there is good only in those things that give pleasure or delight to body or mind. They will admit that there is good in health and prosperity, But they find it hard to see what good there can be in sickness, in adversity, in poverty, or in sorrow. The apostle takes a wider view of life's experiences. He holds that " all things work together for good." He could appreciate the joys of life, but he felt that there was a wise purpose and blessing in life's sorrows and trials also. Our human nature is in itself unholy, alienated from God, easily absorbed by the influences of this present world, and easily led away by temptation and sin. What a proof of the ungodliness of man's nature is afforded by the fact that many are as little affected by the most certain and most important religious truths, which they profess to believe in, as if they did not believe them at all! There are no truths more universally admitted than the existence and moral government of God, the certainty of death and of a future state of rewards and punishments. Yet how many do we see around us whose character and conduct afford almost no evidence that they believe in these truths at all! How, then, are men to be roused from their indifference? How are they to be led to think seriously of their own souls and that eternity that awaits them? Some might be disposed to answer—By what we ordinarily call exhibitions of God's love and goodness. But we are having exhibitions of God's love and goodness supplied to us every day in our daily food, in health and strength, and all the other blessings and comforts which we enjoy. Yet these, instead of making men think of eternity, seem to make them think more of this present world. God's goodness, instead of leading them to repentance, hardens their hearts. The discipline and awakening of suffering and trial are needed. These trials, breaking in upon the routine of our daily business and enjoyments, help to withdraw our desires from the things of this perishing world, and to fix them upon a more enduring substance. They remind us that this is not our rest; that we are entirely dependent upon a power that is above us for all our happiness and comforts; and that there is indeed a God that judgeth in the earth. There is nothing more calculated to show a man his own weakness and his dependence upon a higher Power, and to lead him to reflect seriously upon his future prospects, than to find himself, in the midst of important and perhaps pressing duties, suddenly laid aside, stretched upon a bed of sickness, racked, it may be, with pain, and unable to do anything for himself. In such circumstances we must feel that "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." There are many Christians everywhere who, with feelings of deep humility and gratitude, are ready to acknowledge that they never had any serious thought of eternity, that they never knew the power of the love of Christ, and that they were never led to seek him as their Saviour, until the day of adversity made them consider; until they were stripped of their dearest possessions; until they were warned by the sudden death of some one who was dear to them; or until they themselves were laid upon a bed of sickness, and brought nigh unto the gates of death. "Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with men, to bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living" ( Job 33:29 , Job 33:30 ). And through all the Christian life, how many times we have to thank God for the discipline of trial! Our trials have often proved to be our greatest blessings (see also on Romans 5:3-6 ).
II. WHO ARE THOSE THAT EXPERIENCE THIS GOOD IN ALL GOD 'S PROVIDENCES ? "All things work together for good to them that love God. " It is not all men, therefore, who are entitled to such a happy way of looking at the events of life. There are many in whose case everything that God gives them seems to be turned into evil. Not merely the trials which harden their hearts, but also his blessings which they abuse and are ungrateful for, and the life he gives them, which they misspend. The more they have prospered, the more they have forgotten God. Those things that might be a blessing if rightly used, become their greatest curse. Love to God is the quality that makes all life happy and blessed. Love to God sweetens every bitter cup, and lightens every heavy burden. For if we love him, we must know him, we must trust him. That is the threefold cord that binds the Christian unto God, and that keeps him safe in all the changes and circumstances of life. In order to love God, we must know him and trust him. This knowledge and this trust can only come by the study of God's Word. This love can only come from a heart that has experienced the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. The natural man is enmity against God. Cultivate the love of God if you would have light for the dark places of life, if you would have strength for its hours of weakness, and comfort for its hours of trial and sorrow. Then you will experience that "all things work together for good to them that love God."—C.H.I.
God's purpose in Christ.
The apostle has indicated the hope of the future glory, in comparison with which all suffering now is as nought. He has also shown how, this hope is no vain imagining of a diseased mind, but the inspiration of God's Spirit. And now he goes on to show that, since this divinely inspired hope corresponds with the great purpose of God concerning us, all things which enter into God's plan for our governance, including apparently evil things which are suffered by him to befall us, must ultimately subserve his purpose and be for the fulfilling of our hope. All this, assuming that we "love God;" thus any carelessness or sin of ours is utterly excluded from the reckoning. It is, indeed, this inward principle of love which transmutes the evil into good, and prepares for the final glorifying. We have, then—the purpose; the process.
I. THE PURPOSE . God's purpose concerning man dates back to the eternal past, for to God's mind all things are ever present. But, objectively, it dates back to the wreck of the primal purpose in man's transgression and death. On the first purpose a second purpose was built; out of the wreck of the old race a new race should be formed.
1. The Firstborn. Since the first man had betrayed his trust, and become the progenitor of a fallen race, there should be a second Man, the Lord from heaven. He should be God's own Son, for the redemption-work was one which needed the powers of Divinity; he should be man's Son also, one in whom the nature of the race might be concentrated, who might therefore redeem men, as God, but through the medium of a true humanity. He should humble himself, be shorn of his splendour, suffer and die, being baptized with blood for the remission of our sins; he should also, "dying, draw the sting of death," and, rising as the Firstfruits of a justified race, pass into the heavens as our Forerunner. Being perfect in all things as Son of man, obedient to the Father, and having performed a perfect work, he should enter perfected into life, glorified with the glory which he had with the Father before the world was.
2. The many brethren. Such was God's purpose in his Son. But, glorifying his Son, he should also "bring many sons unto glory" ( Hebrews 2:10 ); for the Son, "having been made perfect," should become "unto all them that obey him the Author of eternal salvation" ( Hebrews 5:9 ). For them he suffered, and therefore they also must suffer, "becoming conformed unto his death" ( Philippians 3:10 ); but, just as he passed through death unto life, so they also, dying with him, should with him "attain unto the resurrection from the dead" ( Philippians 3:11 ). "Conformed to the image of his Son:" yes, this was God's purpose in Christ for man, the inward conformation of consummate holiness, and the outward conformation of consummate happiness.
II. THE PROCESS . Those, then, who by their own free choice should become Christ's people—for all others are here left out of account—were foreknown and foreordained by God, "according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus," as sharers together with him in the perfect adoption of sons of God. Now, such a purpose, formed by God, and formed m the eternal past—such a purpose concerning believers and faithful ones (for, as above, all possible misuse of freedom on the part of man, whether for rejecting. God's grace, or for casting away a grace received, is here warred, and it is assumed that the purpose formed by God is embraced and adhered to by man)—such a purpose cannot fail of its result, but the process of God's working must issue in its complete accomplishment.
1. Called. The summons in accordance with the purpose. God calls his people, by the outward Word, by the inward Spirit; or, in other words, invites them, summons them, to enter into life. Can his Word be broken? Can his Spirit deceive? He means what he says, and, responding to his call, his people have a guarantee which is more sure than the pillars of the universe ( Matthew 24:35 ).
2. Justified. The virtual instatement in accordance with the purpose. Calling them, he justifies them. There is a Name which destroys all guilt, and acquits for ever, and upon them this Name is named. They are "in Christ Jesus," and "there is therefore now no condemnation." From darkness into light; from death unto life. And the justification is the pledge and beginning of all blessings in Christ that shall tend to the consummation of the life. It carries with it the regeneration of our nature; it supplies the power that shall issue in our complete sanctification; and it points unfalteringly through all the tears and darknesses of the intermediate discipline to "the revealing of the sons of God."
3. Glorified. The actual instatement in accordance with the purpose. This "revealing of the sons of God" is so assured to us, that it is spoken of here as though already an accomplished fact. Yes, all things must be made consistent and harmonious at last; the discord must be done away; the blessedness of the saved spirit must be wedded to the blessedness of a saved world, and so "all things be made new." Such shall be the culmination of the process by which God's purpose shall be fulfilled. The lesson insisted on is this: God will let nothing thwart him. Only love him, throw yourself into the current of his good purpose, and all things shall be made good to you. Opposition there may be, affliction there may be; but God in Christ shall triumph—triumph in you. The very hindrances shall become helps, the enemies unwitting friends. Yes, "we know that all things," etc.—T.F.L.
Salvation in spite of suffering.
"Paradise regained" in this life is not a sorrowless and painless condition. The sons of God are chastened. They know what suffering is. And there is here the great religious evidence. When the world sees men and women composed and even cheerful amid untold tribulation, then it sees a reality in religion. Job, for instance, was an evidence for the reality of religion that, even Satan himself could not gainsay or deny. How is it that the Christian spirit can assert its supremacy amid suffering of the most intense character? It is because it is enabled to keep its eye on the hidden good, and bless God for it. And so in this section we have the spirit of the apostle asserting itself upon this important subject.
I. THERE IS THE CONTRAST BETWEEN PRESENT SUFFERINGS AND THE PERFECTED SANCTIFICATION . (Verse 18.) God's end in his dispensations is to create a glory in us of an eternal character—the glory of sanctification when it comes in fulness. We may see the price we pay in the stanzas of the poetess.
"Through long days did Anguish,
And sad nights did Pain,
Forge my shield, Endurance,
Bright and free from stain!
"Doubt, in misty caverns,
'Mid dark horrors sought,
Till my peerless jewel,
Faith, to me she brought,
"Sorrow that I wearied
Should remain so long,
Wreathed my starry glory
The bright crown of Song.
"Strife that racked my spirit
Without hope or rest,
Left the blooming flower,
Patience, in my breast."
(Miss Procter's 'Legends and Lyrics.')
Now, when we look at what is paid and what is bought, we must admit that the bargain is a good one, for the glory of sanctification is weighty and eternal. "The light affliction," says the apostle elsewhere, "which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory ( 2 Corinthians 4:17 ).
II. IN SUFFERING WE ARE IN FELLOWSHIP WITH THE WHOLE CREATION . (Verses 19-22.) When we look into the Book of Job we see that the man of God is a special sufferer. But God points out in the sequel of the book that the perplexity in Job's experience is matched by the perplexity which pervades all nature. So is it with suffering. We may see it all through nature. Suffering human nature is only in line with suffering nature. And here we have to remark that:
1. The study of nature shows long progress through suffering towards higher forms. This is the lesson of evolution so far as it is a truth. The "struggle for existence" is painful progress towards more perfect forms. It may seem to our philosophic laureate a mystery that nature should be "so careful of the type," and "so careless of the single life;" nay, he goes on to see that she lets "a thousand types" go, and seems to care for nothing. £ But if we take the great procession as a whole, we may see that it embodies progress through pain to more perfect form. The groaning creation thus sheds light on sanctification through suffering and pain.
2. Out of the present is to be born a new state of things in which nature shall share in the restoration of the sons of God. The very word "nature," which signifies "something about to be born," is a prophecy similar to what the apostle here gives. If Nature, without any moral fault, has been subjected to vanity; if it has, without consent on her part, been made the painful illustration of moral and spiritual truth; then we may expect a just Governor like God to give Nature compensation, and allow her to share in the glorious liberty of his children. £ It is surely significant that that manly Christian, Frank Buckland, when he was dying, said, "I am going a long journey where I think I shall see a great many curious animals. This journey I must go alone." £ As animals were saved in the ark with Noah, and in Nineveh with the penitent Ninevites, is it not reasonable to suppose that they shall have some share in the regeneration of all things?
III. MAN AS THE SOUL OF THE WORLD INTERPRETS THE TRAVAIL OF THE CREATION . (Verses 23-27.) And here we cannot do better than take up the points as St. Paul gives them.
1. Man's aspiration about the body. (Verse 23.) For the body is to be redeemed, not discarded. It is this "hope" which saves us in our present distresses (verse 24). £ If we had not this hope, we should inevitably despair. And along with hope comes patience, so that "the patience of hope" becomes the attitude of all faithful souls. £ Then:
2. The Holy Spirit endorses our groaning after the better bodies. (Verse 26.) Prayer is not all articulate. A groan, a sigh, a tear, may have all the elements of prayer addressed to the heart of the Most High. Now, some saints have had such suffering communicated to them as compelled them to groan with desire after a better, because promised condition. These groans, that are too deep to be articulate, are Spirit-prompted. He pressed from tried spirits these unutterable longings.
3. God, the Heart-searcher, responds to these unutterable groans. (Verse 27.) We have here the whole philosophy of prayer. It is the inspired expression, articulately or otherwise, of what is agreeable to the Divine will, and the Heart-searcher recognizes in the prompted prayer the return to him of his own will, and so can answer it. £
IV. THIS IS THE BEST POSSIBLE WORLD FOR ONE WHO LOVES GOD . (Verse 28.) There is a certain idealism which inspires us all. According to our inward state is our outward world. "'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus." Consequently, if we have learned to love God, we take all things as animated by a Divine purpose of good to us. Suffering may come, but it comes to sanctify. Faith thus becomes optimistic. It lifts up its head, knowing that its redemption draweth nigh. It refuses to be pessimistic. In spite of all drawbacks, the glory of sanctification is on its way. And so those who have been called by a loving God to the exercise of love, find as they look about them that all things are co-operating for God's holy end of making his children holier and fitter for his fellowship. We could not be better situated than we are for sanctification. A poet on the subject "It is well" has thus written—
''So they said, who saw the wonders
Of Messiah's power and love;
So they sing, who see his glory
In the Father's house above:
Ever reading in each record
Of the strangely varied past,
'All was well which God appointed,
All has wrought for good at last.'
"And thus, while years are fleeting,
Though our joys are with them gone,
In thy changeless love rejoicing
We shall journey calmly on;
Till at last, all sorrow over,
Each our tale of grace shall tell,
In the heavenly chorus joining:
'Lord, thou hast done all things well!'"
(Cf. Randolph's 'Changed Cross, and other Poems,')
V. CONFORMITY TO CHRIST 'S GLORIOUS IMAGE IS WHAT GOD HAS IN VIEW FOR THOSE HE CALLS . (Verses 29, 30.) The gospel is God's plan for securing a multitude of children who shall all become Christ-like. He sent his only Child, "the only begotten Son," into the world to secure many brethren, and be the Firstborn among them. No narrow jealousies here! In the holiest sense it is true regarding God's family that "the more' there are in it, "the merrier" will all be. Now, God's purpose, foreknowledge, and predestination are robbed of every repulsive feature, when we bear in mind that individuals are not predestinated to salvation without regard to their moral state. They are predestinated to become Christ-like. Men may reject the call of God to Christ-likeness, but his purpose is not nullified by such wickedness. His purpose was pure in calling them, even though they reject the call. And so it is in the light of this holy purpose to make men Christ-like that we are to regard the predestination, and the call, and the justification, and the glorification. The glory when reached, the glory of Christ-likeness, sheds its heavenly halo over all. May we all reach that paradise of experience, likeness to our blessed Lord!—R.M.E.