Those two words supply an example of something to which we allude in these pages every once in a while, and which requires to be frequently emphasized in this age of shallowness; namely, the danger there is of being misled by the sound of certain expressions in the Scriptures through failing to ascertain their real sense.
Among professing Christians, there are not a few superficial people who imagine that the bare quoting of a verse is sufficient to prove their point and silence an opponent, whether that verse be relevant or not, whether the letter of it accords with, or contradicts other passages.
There are others who, in a mistaken zeal for the integrity and authority of the Word, suppose it would be a perversion or denial of it, to place a different meaning upon what appears to be its obvious signification. Luther's tenacious insistence that Christ's words concerning the sacramental bread, "this is my body"—must be understood literally, is a case in point. In like manner, it is supposed that when a verse says "all men" or "all things," that "it means what it says" and is to be understood universally.
"Behold, I have told you all things ahead of time" (Mark 13:23): surely it is obvious that those words are not to be taken without any limitation.
"Come, see a man, who told me all things I ever did" (John 4:29) is not to be understood absolutely.
"All things are lawful unto me" (1 Corinthians 6:12) would flatly contradict many passages if it were regarded without any qualification.
When the apostle said, "I am made all things to all men" (1 Corinthians 9:22), his words must be explained in the light of what immediately precedes.
"But you have an unction from the Holy One, and you know all things" (1 John 2:20) surely does not mean we know everything knowable; for if it did, it would be affirming that those Christians were omniscient.
The words "all things," like all others in Scripture, require interpreting!
"With God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). Doubtless, it will appear to some of our readers that we rob the statement of much of its preciousness, if we affirm that it cannot be taken without any limitation, yet such is the case! God Himself has plainly told us in His Word that there are some things which He cannot do. "God cannot be tempted with evil" (James 1:13), He "cannot deny" Himself (2 Timothy 2:13), He "cannot lie" (Titus 1:2), and thankful we are that He cannot. That He is unable to do so, only demonstrates His ineffable holiness and absolute perfection.
"With God all things are possible." Is this the same as "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14). No, it is not. Nothing can baffle His wisdom, nothing can impede His power, nothing can prevent the outworking of His eternal purpose. The context is speaking of the difficulty of a rich man entering the kingdom. But God can change the heart of a miser, incline the will of the covetous. No sinner is beyond the reach of His grace.
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28). That too must be understood in the light of its context. From verse 16 to the end of the chapter, Paul showed that the afflictions to which the saints are exposed in this life, are in no way incompatible with the favor of God unto them. Their sufferings bring them into fellowship with Christ (Romans 8:17). There is no proportion between their afflictions—and their future glory (Romans 8:18-25). Suitable aids are furnished them (Romans 8:26-27). They contribute to our weal. They do not and cannot separate from the love of God (Romans 8:29-39). Thus the "all things" has reference to the "sufferings of this present time" (Romans 8:18).
"God has not made a promise that all the sins of believers shall work for their good" (Thomas Manton, 1620-1677), to have done so had opened a wide door for carelessness and presumption. Such would be contrary to the analogy of the Word, where threatenings are uniformly made against sin. It would be opposed to the qualification here: "love to God" is our duty and is exercised in obedience and not in sinning. As a fact, the sins of believers are not always overruled for "good" (Jeremiah 5:25; 1 Corinthians 3:15).
"He who spared not his own Son—but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). God has not only given His own Son for His people to discharge their obligations, but He has also given Him to them (as the "with him" clearly implies) to enrich them. They are made partakers of His life (Colossians 3:4), of His righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6, Romans 5:19), of His Spirit (Romans 8:9). Christians are "accepted in the beloved" (Ephesians 1:6) and have been given Christ's own status and standing before God (1 John 4:17). Christ is the "appointed heir of all things" (Hebrews 1:2) and believers are "joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17). God has given Christ to us as a "Covenant," as a "head" of influence, as our great High Priest. Christ is both the security and the channel of every mercy: God supplies our every need "according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19). The "all things" of Romans 8:32 is the "all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). Of Christ's fullness "have all we received, and grace for grace" (John 1:16). We shall yet share His "glory" (John 17:24).
"For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And you are Christ's" (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). The Corinthians had yielded to a narrow and sectarian spirit and were pitting one apostle against another, when in reality, their respective ministries were designed for the good of all God's people alike (Ephesians 4:11-13): the epistles of Peter are as truly the property of the Gentile saints—as those of Paul's belong to Hebrew believers. From that, the apostle proceeds to make a larger inventory of the Christian's riches. Not only are all ordinances and the ministries of all God's servants the common property of His whole family—but so is "the world," for it exists for their sakes (2 Corinthians 4:15) and is to be "used"—though not "abused"—by them (1 Corinthians 7:31).
"Life" is theirs, in contrast from the unregenerate who merely exist (1 Timothy 5:6). "Death" is theirs, for it gives entrance into unclouded bliss. "Things present, or things to come" (1 Corinthians 3:22) are theirs (1 Timothy 4:8). "For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:36).
This is one of the few passages where "all things" is to be understood without any restriction. That is not an arbitrary assertion of ours—but one required by the general tenor of Scripture, and by the immediate context.
In Romans 9-11, God is set forth as the sovereign Determiner of all creatures and events, and the supreme Disposer of them, who "works all things after the counsel of his own will" (Ephesians 1:11). Everything that happens in the universe is of God's ordination, is through His operation, and is unto His glory in its termination. As Creator, God is the originating cause of all creatures; as Provider, God is their sustaining cause; as Governor, God is the determining cause of their end.
"Be obedient in all things" (2 Corinthians 2:9): do not pick and choose between God's commandments, but "have respect unto all Your commandments" (Psalm 119:6).
"Grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ" (Ephesians 4:15). Be symmetrical Christians, flourishing in every grace—in knowledge, faith, love, humility, meekness, patience, self-denial, gentleness, temperance.
"Giving thanks always for all things unto God" (Ephesians 5:20): happily recognize and gratefully acknowledge that the very things which cross our wills, and which nature dislikes, are appointed by unerring Wisdom and infinite Love.
"I can do all things [appointed by God] through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). That is, His grace is sufficient for every need.
How much confusion is avoided, how many erroneous understandings obviated, if we only go to the trouble of ascertaining the subject under discussion, attend carefully to the context, and, especially, compare one part of Scripture with another.
To cite only one more case in point: "Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24). They are sadly mistaken who suppose that promise has no restrictions: it must be qualified by James 1:6-7; 4:3; 1 John 3:22, 5:14