The Great Comfort of Believers
by Ralph Erskine
"We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, and are the called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).
This text is one of the pearls of the eighth chapter of Romans and it contains a sum of the believer's comforts.
There are two things especially that hinder the comfort and consolation of a Christian: sin, the head of the serpent; and affliction, the tail of the serpent. Against these the Apostle brings a sovereign remedy, taken from the providence of God, who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that nothing shall hinder, but rather everything shall promote a Christian's spiritual good and eternal happiness.
A Catalog of Good Things
Bearing always in mind that "all things work together for good" only for those who love God and are called according to His purpose, I offer this catalog of good things:
To begin with the best, God Himself
, is the chief good: He works for the good of His children. He that made all things, and orders all things, and governs all things, and to whom all things are nothing, and by whom all things subsist and move; if He work for their good, all things must do so, according as He orders them.
All the attributes of God
work for their good; His wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, faithfulness: His infinity, eternity, and unchangeableness. "My grace shall be sufficient for thee"
-My wisdom shall be sufficient for your direction: My power, for your protection; My holiness, for your sanctification; My justification (upon the footing of a justice-satisfying sacrifice); My mercy, for your commiseration; My truth and faithfulness, for your consolation; My unchangeableness, for your security and confirmation; and My eternal being for your eternal blessedness.
And as all the attributes of God work for his people's good, so do all His works. His great end in making the world, was for the glory of His Name and the good of His elect. He made heaven for their final habitation, and earth for their accommodation by the way. Hence not only are they heirs of heaven but of the earth also; "Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth"
So also do all His words
work for their good; both law and gospel: the law is their schoolmaster to lead them to Christ, by showing them their sin and misery; the gospel is the glass wherein they see the glory of Christ, and of God in Him, to their transformation (2 Cor. 3:18). In short, all the threatenings of the Word, are for their motivation; all the promises, for their consolation; all the precepts, for their direction; all the doctrines of it for their information; and all the parts of it, even every thing in it, for their edification.
All the thoughts and purposes
of God work for their good. "I know the thoughts which I think towards you, thoughts of good, and not of evil
" (Jer. 29:11). As they are called according to His purpose: so they are justified, sanctified, and saved according to His purpose, and will be glorified to eternity, according to His purpose.
Then, Christ, and all that pertains to Him, work for their good; for, "He is made of God to them, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,"
(1 Cor. 1:30). All that Christ did in the flesh; all that He suffered; all that He has done from eternity, and in time; all that He is doing in heaven; and all that He will do at the great day, work for their good. He lived for their sakes, and died for their sins, and rose for their justification.
All His offices
work for their good: as a Prophet, He is the wisdom of God, for their illumination; as a Priest, the righteousness of God, for their justification; and as a King, the power of God, for their sanctification. We could also speak of all things that belong to His person and His redemption; His authority and ability to save; His fullness to supply; His fitness to redeem; His sweetness to endear, and His brightness to display all the glorious perfections of God! See Col. 2:9; John 1:14,16.
Again, the Spirit and all His fullness
work for their good; and His operations and influences, (John 16:8); all His fruits and graces spoken of (Gal. 5:22)-all the sanctifying operations of the Spirit; all His comforting operations; all His enlightening, quickening, strengthening, enlarging, and sealing operations. The Spirit works for their good as He is a Spirit of faith, a Spirit of repentance, a Spirit of love, and power, and of a sound mind; as he is a Spirit of prayer, grace, and supplication: helping our infirmities, and teaching us to pray with groanings which cannot be uttered.
The everlasting Covenant,
and all the blessings of it, work for their good. The fullness of the covenant brings good news of supply to them, however poor and empty they are. The freeness of the covenant brings good news of salvation to them, however guilty and unworthy they are in themselves. The stability of the covenant brings good news of perseverance to them, however unstable they are in themselves. The blood of the covenant, which is the everlasting righteousness of Christ, brings the good news of all spiritual blessings bought with His blood, "In whom all the promises are Yea and Amen."
All divine providences
work for their good; "His eyes run to and fro, throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in their behalf"
(2 Chron. 16:9). All the great deliverances wrought for the church and people of God, in all ages, all work for the good of His people, to encourage their faith, and prompt their confidence in the Lord.
All divine ordinances
work for their good. The gospel sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper-the one a seal of their incorporation into Christ, and the other a seal of their confirmation-are designed for perfecting the saints, and edifying the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). All the gifts and graces, not only of ministers, but of private Christians, work for their good, as well as their own gifts and graces (Heb. 10:24,25).
All the prayers
of the saints work for their good; as their fervent prayers avail much, so it is a great comfort to have numerous prayers going up for them, when they themselves are in distress, or out of tune, or unfit for this exercise.
In a word, all the mercies of God, temporal and spiritual, work for their good; for the goodness of God leads them to repentance: and all the works of the godly work for the good of believers, their good works, and good example, serving for their motivation and imitation.
A Catalog of Evils That Work for Good
includes many things that cannot be called "good." But these, too, must work for the true believer's good, if God's Word is true. Therefore, let us examine these things also:
To begin with the worst; sin itself
works for good for lovers of God. Though it works death and damnation, yet, if we look on it as overruled by infinite wisdom, and tempered by Christ, who is the wisdom of God and the power of God, it works for good; even as a skilful physician tempers poison, and makes it medicinal. In this way, sin itself will work for good to them that love God.
The sin of the first Adam made way for the righteousness of the second Adam; thus the greatest evil wrought for the greatest good. It is part of the wisdom of God in a mystery, that He can bring good out of evil, light out of darkness, and life out of death.
The principal good that all things work for them that love God, is to make them hate sin. Only corrupt nature can abuse this doctrine, for wherever true grace is, it will make the sweetest use, to the encouragement of holiness, and the discouragement of sin. When God so wisely orders that His people get good occasionally of their sins and falls, it is because sin thereby becomes more bitter to them, and Christ more precious, and themselves more humble and watchful. Then nothing in the world puts a sharper edge upon their hatred and opposition to sin than this. In this respect we may say, better is the sin that makes us humble and watchful, than the duty that makes us proud and secure. But, to go on in sin because God can bring good out of it, is wicked and atheistic.
Satan, and all his temptations
and suggestions, work together for good to God's children; for, "God knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation"
(2 Pet. 2:9). God would never have let the serpent bite their heel, if he had not designed to break his head, and to bruise him under their feet. All that the devil and his instruments can do, will work for their good. They may plot, contrive, reproach, persecute, imprison, banish, yea, and take away our lives, and yet all shall work for good; because "the Son of God is manifested to destroy the works of the devil."
All their lacks and weaknesses work for their good (2 Cor. 12:9). From their lacks, God takes occasion to magnify His sufficiency; and from their weakness to magnify His power. "My grace shall be sufficient for thee, and my strength shall be perfected in thy weakness. Most gladly therefore,"
says the Apostle, "will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
All their inward trials
work for their good, even those that result from the Lord's hiding and withdrawing Himself; whether in withholding the influence of His Spirit: or by denying the light of His countenance (Isa. 54:7,8). He frowns a little that His after-smiles may do them the more good when they get them. "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee" (Isa. 49:15).
All their outward trials
and afflictions work for their good; whether those that are punitive for correcting their faults; or those that are to give evidence of their graces. At the last they will still have occasion to say with David, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted"
(Ps. 119:7). It is as good for a child of God to be punished, as it is for a young tree to be pruned (John 15:2); yea, the pressure of affliction may press out the fragrant smell of their graces.
All their sufferings
, for the cause of Christ, work for good (Phil. 1:12,19). This turns to the furtherance of the gospel, and to their salvation. They need not grudge any reproach or persecution they meet with for the truths of the gospel, and for their love to Christ; nor any loss they sustain, of name, credit, or profit, in this cause, for it is to be repaid; even here a hundred-fold, and hereafter a thousand thousand-fold. The Apostle seems especially to emphasize this in verses 17 and 18: "If we suffer with him, we shall also be glorified together,"
and, "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us."
However, while this point is stressed, nothing else is excluded; for "All things shall work together for their good."
All things in the world, good or bad, shall work for their good; all things past, present, or to come; the past decrees of God, the present dispensations of God, and the future accomplishment of the purposes of God. All things in heaven, earth, and hell; all the mercies of heaven, all the malignities of earth, and all the malice of hell, shall work for their good.
Let Joseph's brethren, moved with envy, cast him into a pit, or sell him into Egypt; let Potiphar thrust him into a filthy prison; yet the wisdom of God comes into the game, and turns all about to a glorious and beautiful result, to the exaltation of Joseph, and the preservation of thousands alive in famine. What though Mordecai suffer, and Haman reign and insult for a while? Infinite Wisdom holds the balance of providence in her hand, and will soon turn the scale. ___________ About the Author
Ralph Erskine (1685-1752) was a son of Henry Erskine, and like both his father and his older brother, Ebenezer Erskine, was a Scottish Puritan preacher. Much of his preaching and pastoral work was at Dunfermline Abbey (which dates back to 1126 A.D.), until he was deposed from the church in 1740 for his Seceder tendencies. He then threw in his lot with his brother, who founded the Seceder movement. Besides being a devoted shepherd to his flock, Erskine was also a scholar and a theologian of considerable ability. He followed in the tradition of Matthew Henry, Owen, Manton, Flavel, and Boston, but far and away his favorite studies were in the Word of God. Erskine was an emphatic believer in the sovereignty of God, as may be seen from this sermon extract. Prior to his deposition from Dunfermline Abbey, his followers had begun to build a new church for him. This building was replaced by a larger church in 1800, which is still in use.