Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
NUMBER 35, PAGE 3a-5a

All Things Work Together For Good

Cecil B. Douthitt, Fort Smith, Arkansas

Rom. 8:28 contains one of the most precious promises in all the Bible.

"And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose."

An accurate understanding and an unwavering faith in this verse can bring peace and tranquillity of soul to the troubled hearts of the people to whom the promise is made. It has given courage to the faint-hearted, joy and cheerfulness to the afflicted, hope and strength to the weary. It has led many to press on "toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus".

The terms, "all things", are used sometimes in the Bible in a limited or relative sense. In I Cor. 15:27, Paul explains that the terms may be used in a restricted sense: "But when he saith, All things are put in subjection, it is evident that he is excepted who did subject all things unto him". Thus it is clear that the use of the words "all things" did not mean everything in the universe, for the Father was not put in subjection unto the Son.

Another example of the limited use of the expression, "all things", appears in Phil. 4:13. "I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me". Things "in him" — in Christ — were the things that he could do; that is, the things the Lord authorized or wanted him to do. Another example is found in I Cor. 6:12. "All things are lawful for me; but not all things are expedient".

It was neither right nor lawful for Paul to do a lawful thing when it was expedient for him not. to do that lawful thing. Expediency took precedence over lawful things. The New Testament also uses the words "all things" in an unrestricted, universal, all inclusive sense; as in Heb. 4:13. "But all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do". Nothing is hidden from the eyes of God. "God . . . knoweth all things." (I John 3:20.) Here "all things" is used again in an unlimited sense. God knows everything in the universe.

The "all things" of Rom. 8:28 means everything; the terms are used here in an unrestricted sense as shown by the context, as corroborated by many other passages of scripture and as demonstrated in the lives of many who love God and are called according to his purpose. We know that some believe the passage means only that God has made every provision for man's redemption; but we believe the passage can not be so restricted.

God makes some things work together for good even to the "unjust". He makes the sunshine, the shower of rain and the soil and many other things work together for their good, as well as for the good of the "just". But he over-rules and makes "all things" work together for the good of the obedient believer.

Joseph's brothers committed a cruel crime against him and their father, when they sold Joseph into Egypt, and deceived their father. Potiphar's wife sinned against Joseph and against high heaven when she lied on him and had him put in prison. But God over-ruled all these and a thousand other things and made them work together for the good of his people and for the accomplishing of his purpose. Joseph said unto his brothers, "And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive" (Gen. 50:20). Joseph did not understand that all his afflictions would work together with other things for his good, but he learned later that they did. (Gen. 50:20.)

The context of Rom. 8:28 shows quite clearly that their afflictions and even the sins of their persecutors will become contributing factors to their good here and hereafter, just as all the bad things that had happened unto Paul were made by the God of the universe to contribute to the "progress of the gospel". (Phil. 1:12.) In the 18th verse of Rom. 8, Paul begins a discussion of the "sufferings" of the people of God, in which he states that "all things" work together for their good; then states a conclusion in the form of two questions: verse 31, "What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?" If we are on God's side, everything that occurs while we are on his side, will work together with all other things for our good. A great many people and things could successfully be against us, even though God is for us, if he did not make "all things" work together for our good.

Even the cruel and sinful deed of crucifying the Christ meant reconciliation and forgiveness.

"Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations (trials); knowing that the proving of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4.)

Poverty, persecution, affliction and many other things that make us sad may develop within us certain qualities of soul which make us more like Christ, more useful in his service and better fit us for his eternal presence. When this is done, our troubles and tribulations and sorrows have worked together for our good. Anything that makes one a better and a more useful servant in the Master's vineyard is for good, and is worth everything it costs, regardless of the price in money, toil, pain and sacrifice.

About 25 years ago at the end of the third in a series of Sunday morning sermons on this glorious promise of God in Rom. 8:28, a young lady about twenty-two or twenty-three years old came forward during the invitation, confessed her faith in Christ and was baptized the same hour. She was a stranger to me. The congregation was large and I did not remember ever having seen her before. A few days afterward, my wife and I called at her house to learn more about her and to become better acquainted, as was our custom, with all new converts whom we did not already know very well.

She told us that none of her relatives had ever been a member of the church before her. When I asked her how she came in contact with the church, she told to us a story I shall never forget:

Her two year old baby girl had died only two months before. She and her young husband were heart-broken. They thought that they just knew that every spark of hope and ever" vestige of joy and happiness had fled, never to return. She looked about and saw other families of four or five children, and all alive and happy, while the only one she ever had was buried out of her sight forever. She felt that God had been unfair to her in letting her little girl die. At night she could not sleep, and in the day she could not think of anything but her baby lying out there in the cold, damp ground; but she finally came to a realization of the fact that she could not go on that way and live; that she must do something to get her mind off of her sorrow.

Therefore, one Sunday morning she dressed in her best clothes and went out for a walk in the hope that something she might see would help her to think about something other than her dead baby. By mere chance she came by our meeting house, and without any previous thought or intention whatever, turned into the building as the crowd was gathering, and sat down on the back seat.

On that Sunday the series of sermons on Rom. 8:28 began. When I said that the "all things" in the passage was used in an unlimited sense, she said to herself that not even God Almighty could ever over-rule the death of her baby to the good of anybody.

But she wanted to hear more on the subject, and came back the next Sunday, and the next. On this third Sunday of her coming, she was baptized.

She was convinced that even the death of her child had already contributed to her good. She concluded that if her baby had not died, and if she had not been in such deep sorrow, she would not have been out walking that Sunday morning, and may never have come in contact with the church of the Lord. She knew, too, if her child had lived to womanhood, there was the possibility of her being lost. But since she had died in infancy before she ever knew sin of any kind, she knew her little daughter was eternally safe.

She did not think that God had killed the baby to make the mother a Christian, she knew better than that. But since she had suffered the loss of her child, she now believed that the omnipotent and merciful Father could and did over-rule her loss to her good.

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines, With 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 blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord 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.

— William Cowper To whom is this precious and exceedingly great promise made? For whom do all things work together for good? These questions are answered, and the people described in the same verse — Rom. 8:28. The promise is made "to them that love God" — "to them that are called according to his purpose".

Our love for God is connected inseparably with obedience. "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." (I John 5:3.) "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me". (John 14:21.)

A part of God's eternal purpose in calling us is that we may be "conformed to the image of his Son." (Rom. 8:29.)

Therefore, it necessarily follows that when we sin we are lacking in our love for God, and are not living according to the purpose for which he called us. The Lord does not promise to make "all things" work together for our good, while in that condition, because in that state we are not the kind of character to whom the promise is made. We are not on the Lord's side when we are sinning; the Lord is not for us in our sins, and many things can be "against us" (Rom. 8:31).

This should prevent any one from saying, "If all things work together for our good, then our own sins must do it". No, "our own sins" keep us from being the recipients of this great promise. He promises to over-rule the sins of the disobedient for the good of those who do love him and live according to his purpose, but he does not promise to make anything work for the spiritual good of the disobedient.

In Paul's discussion of the abundance of God's grace, he said, "But where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly" (Rom. 5:20). This and other things that he said about the grace, goodness and love of God might cause some to jump to the erroneous conclusion that their own sins would only enlarge the grace of God, and therefore, good would come of their evil. Paul anticipated such false reasoning, and dealt it a death blow in advance. He said, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?" (Rom. 6:1,2.) He proceeded to tell them they had been baptized to live a new life, and that sin should no longer have dominion over them, and they should live no longer therein. He put this emphatic question to them: "Know ye not, that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" (Rom. 6:16.)

In the light of this inspired warning, how can any man conclude that he can continue in sin, and still be the kind of person to whom all things work together for good? "For the wages of sin is death" to those who commit it. (Rom. 6:23.) But "to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose".

If you think you know of some things that do not work together for the good of the beneficiaries of this wonderful promise, a prayerful study of the following passages will help you.

1. Grievous chastening, Heb. 12:7-11.

2. Grief in manifold trials, I Peter 1:6, 7.

3. Bonds and prison, Phil. 1:12-14.

4. Trials that test and develop noble qualities of soul, James 1:2-4.

5. Reproach and persecution, Matt. 5:11,12.

6. Fiery trials and suffering, I Peter 4:12-16.

God uses extreme opposites "His wonders to perform". Light and darkness work together to produce the most beautiful color in the flower. The extreme cold of the winter and the heat of the summer make the giant oak. It takes the snow and cold rain of the winter and the warm sunshine of spring and summer to make an abundant wheat harvest. These things work "together", not separately. A little baking soda, or plain flour, or table salt, is not very palatable when taken alone. But a good cook can take all these and a few other ingredients and make them all work together, and a most delicious cake is the result.

If we love God and live according to his purpose, both the bitter and the sweet of our lives will be woven by the hand of God into "beautiful robes of white."