The Apostle, in the verse preceding, had unfolded a mighty--may we not rather say the mightiest agency in the spiritual life of the believer--the work and "intercession" of the Third Person in the blessed Trinity. We found the Spirit of truth specially revealed as the "Helper of infirmities,"--acting, not as we do often, blindly, erroneously, with wayward capricious impulses, but "according to the will of God."

In the present note of his Song, Paul prolongs and deepens the cadence. It is a Lullaby by which, with "mother-love," God hushes His children to rest. It is not in one thing but in "all things" we are called to own and recognize the gracious influence which the Searcher of hearts--who "knows what is the mind of the Spirit"--exercises on His Church and people.

"For we know that all things work together for good to those who love God; to those who are the called according to His purpose" (v. 28).

Though it be "all things," whether prosperous or adverse, joyous or sorrowful, which combine and co-operate for our present and everlasting well-being; it is doubtless the season and discipline of affliction which are here mainly adverted to. "All things,"--"all for good." It is a luminous rainbow set in the cloud with its full complement of prismatic colors. He had in a preceding verse spoken of sonship, and the wealth of glory associated with it. He would wish to assure his readers in every age, that afflictions were not incompatible with so lofty a heritage. He would enforce and strengthen his recent affirmation--"The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed." All events are under God's sovereign control, from the fall of the sparrow to the fall of an empire--but very specially does His supervision extend to the kingdom of grace and those who are its subjects and residents. We have already, more than once, mentioned the surmise, that at the very time these words were written--the gardens of the Quirinal may have been the scene of the infernal orgies of Nero. If so, whether the torments had already been undergone, or were only too surely in prospect, the utterance of our verse would prove a wonderful key-note of comfort to the martyr's death-Song. We can only think of the possibility of anguished sufferers seeking to support and cheer each other with the strain.

Let us proceed now to speak of these suffering children of the Kingdom. Their special CHARACTER and their special PRIVILEGE are conjointly described.

(1) One notable and distinguishing characteristic is, that they "Love God." As Dean Alford remarks, "This is a stronger designation of believers than any yet used in the chapter." It is indeed a brief but most perfect portraiture of the divine family--we may add, a beautiful description of true religion.

How often is this latter travestied and misrepresented by selfish theories; as if it consisted in a life-long requirement to follow what is right, and to hate what is sinful. By doing so to escape future retribution, and be recompensed at last with some indefinite rewards in heaven. How much more blessed and elevating the Apostle's definition of believers in the present verse--"Those who love God." Loving Him for the sake of His own perfect and supreme loveliness; loving Him on account of the love He has lavished on the unworthy and undeserving; the love with which He loved me before I loved Him--the love which loved me when an enemy! What can stay the enmity, and evoke the responsive affection of the human spirit like this? The mother's heart may be found so dead to feeling as to thrill with no gratitude towards the man who at the risk of life plunged into the seething flood and laid her rescued child at her feet. The slave's heart may be found so dead to feeling as not to love the master who has struck off his fetters and set him free. But the soul to which has been revealed, in all its wondrous reality, the love of God in Christ, cannot, dare not, resist the impulse to love the Divine Being who has first loved, and so loved. Conscious in some feeble measure of its length and breadth and depth and height, in answer to the question, "Do you love Me?" the recipient of "Love so amazing, so divine," can say, amid felt frailties and mournful shortcomings--"Lord, You know all things, You know that I love You!" As the rays of the sun falling on a polished mirror are returned again to the fountain of light, so God's love falling on the soul takes the love it has enkindled back to the Great Fountain of Love. Religion is thus restored to its proper place, as essentially a thing of the heart, inward, subjective. No outward church or organization can make a Christian, except in name. You may try, by external appliances or artificial devices, to induce a man to love God; just as it has been said, you may tie branches or fruit on a living tree and give for a while the semblance of life; but it is the semblance only. There is no vital union with the stem--the energizing principle, permeating every fiber, is lacking--"The love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us." His true children love Him, because His own ineffable love has vitalized, influenced, interpenetrated their whole being.

To use a different figure and illustration regarding them--we see in vigorous action, not the centrifugal force of many harsh theological creeds and systems, where Deity is fled from, evaded, dreaded; but rather the centripetal force, drawing souls to the Parent Orb, as the Sun does erratic planets and satellites, by the gravitation power of love. "God is love, and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him."

(2) The second characteristic of believers here described is, that they are "the called according to His Purpose."

On this, however, I shall not now enlarge, as it will come to be considered more appropriately and in order, where the theme is reverted to by the Apostle in the subsequent context; one of the links in a golden chain of blessings. Enough to remark that it is an additional reason--indeed the initiatory reason for believers' love to God, that they are the objects and recipients of His free, sovereign, unmerited goodness. "It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy." We might, moreover, write pages of comment, but nothing could be so pertinent and comprehensive as the words of Paul in the last of his pastoral epistles--"Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2 Tim. 1;9). Being thus "called according to His purpose," nothing can thwart or nullify that divine decree--nothing dispossess us of our patrimony as "joint-heirs with Christ." In one word--salvation is secure.

We pass now, from the twofold character and description of believers, to the assurance of an inestimable PRIVILEGE. "And we know that all things work together for good."

The phraseology of this verse always strikes us as being alike natural and peculiar. It is one of the Apostle's personal avowals--an article in his own individual creed--at all events, he includes himself in the assertion. But how does he formulate the privilege so claimed? Specially observe, he does not say "we see," but "we know." Had he adopted the former expression, he would have averred what was not the case. He would have contradicted himself. Inasmuch as he elsewhere distinctly states--to take one of several similar assertions--"Now we see through a glass darkly." And in this he only anticipates the honest, heartfelt experience of every Christian. We often see things apparently not working for good--no, rather, working the opposite; startling irregularities in God's providential dealings--the saying of the Patriarch--the rash saying, but which to us seems at the time a true one--"All these things are against me." We discern no "bright light in the clouds." Often all is blurred and murky and fog-like, not infrequently in apparent infringement of goodness and wisdom and righteousness. We impeach the divine rectitude, and question the dealings of the Supreme Disposer. But how so? Simply because we are faithless, and blind ourselves to the ulterior purposes of the Almighty. We are hasty and premature in our judgments. We have not, to use the phrase of a preceding verse, "the patience to wait" the final outcome of the great drama, the "needs be," that will sooner or later be made manifest.

To take a purely secular illustration which occurs at random. Go back to ancient Greece or Italy. Take your stand under the slopes of Pentelicus, or the ridges of the Apennine Carrara. In both cases, why these unsightly gashes in the fair mountain forms? Why these blocks rudely dislodged from where they have rested undisturbed since the last upheaval long ages ago of earth's surface; yokes of patient oxen dragging them within city walls to the studios of Athenian and Tuscan sculptors? Suspend your verdict until after years of toil, Phidias has chiseled his Pentelican into the richly ornamented Parthenon--or until Michael Angelo has wrought out his Florentine "Night and Morning," or the Pieta of Peter's. The insensate blocks have been transfigured into breathing forms which have educated the world and proved the pride and despair of the ages. The result was doubtless what few of their contemporaries or fellow-citizens could comprehend at the time. But the great artists themselves were confident. They saw, underneath these cumbrous masses of stone or marble, shapes of angels and heroes; and were content to wait until genius and its cunning tools had worked them out.

Or, take a Gospel memory. Go to the village on the slopes of Olivet which had for days been darkened by the shadow of death. A beloved brother has been mysteriously removed. Two lone sisters are left in a paroxysm of grief--and the saddest element in their trial is--that "the Master" is absent. That long descent to the Jordan, and farther still, some of the hills of Peraea, separate them from the only Being in the wide world who could have stemmed their pulsing tide of grief, and averted the terrible catastrophe to home and heart. The wild soliloquy during the long hours is ever on their lips--If HE had only been here, our brother would not have not died! Perhaps, stranger still, when they sent a messenger with speed down these Judean passes and across Jordan to acquaint the absent Savior with the bereavement; instead of, at once, in responsive sympathy obeying their summons and hastening to their support--the narrative gives this unexpected extinguisher to their hopes--"When He had heard, therefore, that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place where He was!" Who could dare say, on the first reading of that poignant Gospel episode--that "all these things were for good"? They seemed the terrible reverse--a very mockery of their dearest hopes and prayers; "Why is He so long in coming?--Why tarry the wheels of His chariot?" Wait the sequel. "At evening time there shall be light." The hour, long delayed, arrives at last, when they rejoice over a restored brother, and a present Master and Friend. The Sun that had for days waded through clouds, sets in crimson and gold on that home of Bethany.

Do we duly consider, in rehearsing this touching narrative, what the Church--what individual believers--above all, what sorrowing ones would have lost, but for that episode of tarrying love--that strange frustration of hope during these two mysterious days, when the ear of mercy seemed heavy that it could not hear? What lessons of trust and patience and submission would have been forfeited, had there not been preserved to us these shadows in the divine picture, all needed to bring out in bold relief its wonderful lights? If Martha--with her rash, outspoken, impulsive nature, ventured in the climax of her grief and despair to upbraid her Lord for His absence--so unlike Himself--His past kindnesses--when trial afterwards overtook her, as doubtless in many forms it did--we think these memories of the absence, and the lingering beyond Jordan, would put a different soliloquy in her lips--could it fail to be this--"And we know that all things work together for good!"

Yes, we may well trust our loving Father-God and gracious Savior, when we fail to trace their dealings with us. All things "work together." The Song is made up of separate parts, combined tones. It is a piece of "concerted music." The shuttles are here and there weaving their dark threads; but it will only be, by contrast of color, for the perfecting of the pattern. Each thread is needful--the black and somber as well as the bright.

Perhaps the time of all others when we most fail to understand the mysteries of the divine dealings with us, is that very hour we have just described in the experience of the family of Bethany--an hour sadly familiar to most, if not to all--the hour when lives that have made our own hearts glad and the world beautiful--angel-faces and angel-hearts have vanished--when the shuttles of life we have spoken of have been mysteriously arrested and stilled--leaving a blurred tapestry--an unfinished web. It is Heaven and the Great Beyond which can alone suggest and supply the true solution. The pattern left uncompleted here, will be finished there. "Good"--the good of our verse "will be the final goal of all apparent bad"--
"'And now I will weave my web,' she said,
As she turned to her loom before set of sun,
And laid her hand on the shining threads
To set them in order, one by one.
She dropped the shuttle; the loom stood still;
The weaver slept in the twilight grey;
Dear heart--she will weave her beautiful web
In the golden light of a longer day!"

Meanwhile, it is not death but life that concerns us. In its manifold and complex phases--in all its changes and chances, let us feel that we are protected by "the wings of God." And even if it be the shadow of His wings--under these let us take our refuge, until earth's calamities be overpast.

"I have reared in shadow my flower of love,
It has bloomed, O Father, by night to Thee;
It has oped its petals to hopes above,
To a day it could not see,

And in time to come I shall fear no foe,
Though the sky be dark and the air be chill,
For I know that the flower of love can glow
When the sun has set on the hill."

There is a gracious discipline underlying what is outwardly adverse; and an enlarged and deepening experience will teach us so. Paul seems as if he could have written his present words with even greater confidence in a future year. He could emphasize them with the advance of his life. We all remember how, when his dearest aspirations seemed crossed and baffled--when chained to a soldier of the imperial barracks or within the gloomy walls of the State prison, he could say with buoyant confidence--"The things that have happened unto me have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the Gospel." If we may quote the words of one in many ways a contrast to our Apostle, yet who has left his name in the present age--"As to the very trial itself," says Newman, "there is nothing in any way to fear. 'All things work together for good to those who love God.' I am firmly and rootedly persuaded of this. Everything that happens to them is most certainly the very best, in every light, that could by any possibility have happened. God will give good…I have nothing to apprehend. This is indeed a privilege, for it takes away all care as to the future."

Can we, by anticipation--or rather with something of the faith that Paul had, feel the same, and say the same? Reverting to our sculpture illustration, can we adopt our Apostle's words elsewhere--"Now He who has wrought (chiseled, polished) us for the self-same thing is God" (2 Cor. 5;5). And if it be some very exceptional and mysterious trial, can we add with him--continuing the same figure--"Our light affliction…WORKS for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory"? Let us accept with unmurmuring lips the dealings of the Divine Chastener, whatever these may be. He will not impose upon us burdens that we are unable to carry. It is His own gracious promise, "I will correct you in measure" (Jer. 30;11.) "For all there were so many, yet was not the net broken." The hour assuredly is coming, when whatever befalls us will be seen to be not only for the best, but the best; the retrospect of life a retrospect of love--every tongue of His ransomed Church brought to confess--"He has done ALL THINGS well." The remembrance of the crucible will only be the removal of the dross and alloy, and the transforming into pure gold.

In closing, let us emphasize the lesson of the present meditation--that of simple, unhesitating, unfaltering TRUST.

"Trust Him when dark doubts assail you;
Trust Him when your strength is small;
Trust Him, when to simply trust Him,
Seems the hardest thing of all!"

Trust Him in great things, trust Him in little things. Trust Him in the battle of life, whether for yourself, or for those near and dear to you whom you have seen, it may be with tremulous misgivings, going down into the fray. Augustine's mother, that never-to-be-forgotten night, when, first in the chapel of the Martyr Cyprian, and then by the seashore, she made the lonely hours echo with her doleful lamentations, could never believe that God was making things combine for good, when her beloved but wayward son had eluded her watch, and, aided by prosperous breezes, taken ship to Rome. She could only conjure up the fierce temptations that would assail an impressionable and still vacillating nature, in the great Babylon. When nothing else could avail her, prayer remained. But these prayers were answered in a way undreamt of. The day came when mother and son together could take down the harp from the willows and adore the same Providence which, three centuries previously, had permitted a fanatic Pharisee to pass through the northern gate of Jerusalem and to "journey towards Damascus." In both cases, the fiery ardent souls--"the called according to God's purpose"--were translated, by reason of those very journeyings, out of the kingdom of darkness, and flooded with "a light above the brightness of the sun."

"Know well, my soul, God's hand controls
Whatever you may fear;
Round Him in calmest music rolls
Whatever you may hear.

That cloud itself which now before you
Lies dark in view,
Shall with beams of light from the inner glory
Be stricken through."

Trust Him in DEATH! As in life the promise of our present meditation has been again and again realized--so also and conspicuously so at life's close. It has formed the "Swan-Song"--the departing cadence of not a few, before joining the minstrelsy of the skies. The last words of Chrysostom were these--as if catching inspiration from the Apostle's saying--"Glory to God for ALL THINGS." The same occupied the closing thoughts of the Scottish Reformer John Knox. "When his sight failed him," his biographer relates, "he called for the large Bible; caused one of his family to put his finger on the 28th verse of the eighth chapter of Romans, and told those who not only he died in the faith of what was in the chapter, but firmly believed that all things, and death itself, should work together for his good; and in a little he slept in Jesus."

Shall it be so, reader, with you and me? Shall this sweet snatch of harmony in Paul's Song of Songs, ever consoling--ever precious as we have described it in seasons of mystery and darkness--an anodyne amid the present fret and fever of the world, be at last a soothing strain and monotone hushing to rest in the hour of departure?--"All things"…and "All things for good!"--"So He Gives His Beloved Sleep."

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