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This is the only passage in the epistle to the Romans that speaks of the purposes and counsels of God. The epistle takes up the responsibility of man, shewing how grace has met it in the cross of Christ, and ends with exhortations founded upon this. Man is looked at as alive here on the earth, though justified, with Christ his life, and so dead to sin, and hence exhorted to yield himself to God as free. But in this one passage, which closes the doctrinal part of the epistle, the apostle gives us God’s purposes.
In the previous part of the chapter he speaks of “no condemnation,” of that which has been wrought out for us through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. For it is not merely forgiveness and the clearing us of all our sins, it is positive deliverance from the power of sin in our Adam standing; it is not merely that which met the righteous judgment of God, but that which delivers us and brings us in Christ into a new place. And to this is added the presence of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, who first “bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God”; and, secondly, “helps” us as we pass along the road, “making intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
We are not in the flesh as to our standing before God, but our bodies are yet under the effect of sin, and being in the body “we groan within ourselves.” Everything around us is in a state of confusion and corruption; we are redeemed in the midst of it, but we wait for the adoption, the redemption of the body.
The Christian, having thus the redemption of his sins, and the earnest and comfort of the Spirit, goes on to learn that God is for him. We do not know what to pray for as we ought. We have spiritual desires of good, and the sense of evil around us, though our intelligence is not clear enough; but He makes intercession in us according to God. We do not know what is the best thing to ask for: some things cannot be remedied till the Lord come; but, whilst we do not know what to ask for, we do know that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” On this we can reckon with unfailing assurance.
Job is a wonderful book in this way. There we are given to see how these divine dealings are carried on. The throne of God is set up, and the sons of God come in before Him, and Satan goes in too. Then come God’s thoughts about His servant; “for the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” But we must wait God’s time, and then we see “the end of the Lord,” for God was looking on all the while.
It began, note, with God. He says to Satan, “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in all the earth, a perfect and an upright man?” God had considered him. Satan says, Well, You have made a hedge about him, so why should he not fear You? Then God lets Satan loose at him. He lets him take all that he has, his servants are killed, his children too afterwards, his fortune gone; and Job says, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Then Satan says, Skin for skin, a man will give anything he has for his life! Then God says, You can have his body, but not his life. So Satan smites him with sore boils, so that he becomes both wretched, and the derision of his neighbours. His wife wants him to curse God and die, but in all this Job sins not; he has “received good at the hands of the Lord and shall not he receive evil?” So that I get this fact: all that Satan did against Job entirely failed, save that it entirely cleared him from Satan’s accusation and the charge of hypocrisy. All that Satan could do he did, but could do no more than he was allowed to do.
But now we see how God was watching over Job. Job was full of himself. He was doing blessedly, but he was thinking of it too. Supposing God had stopped short here, what would have been the effect of it? Why Job would have said: Well, I was gracious in prosperity, and now I have been patient in adversity; and he would have been worse than ever. God had justified him from Satan’s accusations, and his suffering had only prepared the way for closer dealings of God.
Job’s friends come and tell him that he must be a wicked man, or such things would not have befallen him; that this world was an adequate witness of the government of God. Whether his pride was hurt by his friends, or whether it was their sympathy broke down his spirit, as sympathy often does, I cannot say; but now Job broke down, utterly, and cursed the day when he was born. It brought the flesh out. The loss of the cattle and all that, had been nothing, but now the latent evil is laid bare. Still his faith recognises the good in God, though his flesh breaks sadly out. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” So he says, If I could find God, He would not be like you. But his friends’ work was done now.
Then Elihu comes and takes the ground of special providence in God’s dealings with His people. He says, Take heed lest God does not take you away with a stroke. But when God comes in, Job says, not “when the eye saw me, it blessed me,” but, “now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and I repent in dust and ashes.” He knows himself in God’s sight. And all that Satan has done was merely as the instrument preparing for the work that God was going to do.
Thus we get an exhibition of God’s ways. This world is not now an adequate witness of God’s government. On great occasions it may be sometimes seen, and indeed, if we have eyes, in small. At the flood it was; and at the destruction of Jerusalem Israel was made to taste it. But, even now, God has the upper hand, and makes everything work together for good. In the book of Job we are let behind the scenes. We see God teaching the man’s own heart what was in it, giving him to feel his utter nothingness, and outward blessing followed. For such was the character of blessing as known in that day in the way of government.
The apostle looks beyond all this discipline—beyond the ways of God on the road, which are only the instruments to work out His purpose. It is Satan’s world in a certain sense, though he cannot take things out of God’s hand. He could go to the Chaldeans and say, Take the cattle; and how little they knew they were doing God’s will all the time, and that the hand of God was in it! They are all the ways of God with a view to His purpose, making everything work together for good, “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.” That is His purpose, and we are even now nigh enough to see and trace His hand— anyhow we shall see it soon, if we do not now.
He goes through the whole course of God’s sovereign purpose till it lands us in the glory. It is well to notice that predestination is always to something; it is not the persons merely, but He has predestinated them to something. Then He closes it all in with, “What shall we say to these things? If God be for us who can be against us? “Not only am I cleansed so that I can stand before God, but I get this immense truth— God is for me. As, by Christ, I believe in God, my heart knows that God is for me in everything; “He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous.” The heart, in looking at God, can say as to every circumstance of the way, “God is for me.” I may not always like what He does, but He is always for me. “Not a sparrow falleth to the ground,” not without God merely, but “without your Father.”
Job says, “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” and it is lovely to see his patience and submission. But the apostle goes farther. It is another thing to “glory in tribulation.” It is one thing to say, He is wise and good, and another to say, He is for me.
Another point, too, I would notice. When the Holy Ghost reasons with man, He does not reason from what man is for God, but from what God is to man. Souls reason from what they are in themselves as to whether God can accept them. No, I say, He cannot accept you thus; you are looking for righteousness in yourself as a ground of acceptance with Him. You cannot get peace whilst reasoning in that way, and I should be very sorry if you could. But “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He loved us from no motive at all but what was found in His own grace. We do not know Him. The prodigal did not know his father till his father was on his neck kissing him. He was reasoning from what he was, and not from what his father was, as to how he would receive him.
The Holy Ghost always reasons down from what God is, and this produces a total change in my soul. It is not that I abhor my sins; indeed I may have been walking very well; but it is “I abhor myself.” This is how the Holy Ghost reasons; He shews us what we are, and that is one reason why He often seems to be very hard and does not give peace to the soul, as we are not relieved till we experimentally, from our hearts, acknowledge what we are. As in the case of the Syro-Phenician woman, the Lord does not seem to listen, and so He goes on until she owns that she has no title to anything, that she has no more claim through promise than through righteousness, till she only pleads that there is enough goodness in God to give her what she has no right to; and Christ cannot say that there is not.
Until the soul comes to that point He does not give it peace— He could not; it would be but healing the wound slightly. The soul has to go on until it finds there is nothing to rest on but the abstract goodness of God; and then “If God be for us, who can be against us?” There are three things here in which He is for us: God is for us in giving; He has given the very best thing, Him who is one with Himself, His Son. If God has given His Son, surely He will give everything else. Of course He will! It is reasoning down from what God is and what God has done. I ask, Will He give me all I want? Yes, indeed; and not only all I want, but He will set me in the glory, and I certainly shall not want anything there. This is the giving part. If He have given His Son, He will certainly give less things.
Well, but what about my sins? This is the very place I learn how great the love is; where I get the answer, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” Why, it goes up to God in justifying. It is not we are justified in His sight, but He justifies. Little matter who condemns if God justify. If I look at my sins I get this great truth, that “God is for me.” It is through the work of Christ I am justified, but here God is looked at as the source of it all.
It is just as in Zechariah, when Joshua stood clothed in filthy garments. Satan accuses him, and what has he to say for himself? Nothing. And who takes up his cause? The Lord Himself! And can Satan begin again after that, or put the brand in the fire which God has plucked out? God takes away the filthy garments; He replies to Satan and puts him to silence as the accuser, and that too when Israel were wretched sinners, just come out of Babylon. He says, Give him a change of garments. And so He is ever about our sins. He is first for us in giving, and then in justifying. He does not leave us in our filthy garments.
“Who is he that condemneth?” ought to be in the previous verse.
Then arises the third point: shall anything separate us from this divine love? “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God.” He does not say God; we find God again lower down, but here it is Christ; and see how gracious this is. I get the love of One who has gone into all the difficulties, all the sorrows of the way. We do not know much of them, but still there are trials, and what do we get in them? Divine love. Christ has tasted it all. God is for us in them. “It is Christ that died.” He has been down even into death, so I need not be afraid of that. Oh, but then He is so high up now! Well, if He be, “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” He went through all these things that try and test the heart down here, and up there He lives for us. So “who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
It does not say from Christ, but from His love. We certainly never shall be separated from Christ, but the point here is, that no circumstances by the way can separate us from His love. There are none that He has not been through. Perfect isolation in this world is perhaps the most trying thing a man can go through. Christ was absolutely isolated. As regards comforters here He had not one. At the very table where He told of one going to betray Him, they disputed who should be the greatest! The Holy God looks down upon us, and, in His love, counts the very hairs of our head as a Father; but here it is the love of Christ in that He has gone through the sorrows.
“Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution?” More perhaps than cares; it is the cross that answers to the crown. “Or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, for thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” So the apostle had the thorn in the flesh—that which to human eyes, and to his own, was a great hindrance to his preaching, making him awkward in his ministry; but he gloried in it. The me was put down, and it paved the way for the power of Christ. It was not that he did not feel it, but he says, “I glory in infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me”; and in Romans 5, “We glory in tribulations.” I have the key to it all in knowing that God is for me and that “He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous”; so I can glory in it. It is more than submission. It is the apprehension of the ways of God through this world, and the knowledge that there is a perpetual care over us making everything work together for our good. Let Him work, though in trial; He wants to do me good in my latter end.
“For I 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.” No suffering that can come to me through a creature can separate me from this love which is in God. It is a love which is divine in its nature, and which comes down into all my circumstances. God is thinking of me in the trial; He knows beforehand all about it. He did not pray that Satan might not sift Peter, but that Peter’s faith might not fail. He had to be sifted. Why so? Because there was confidence in himself, and this must be broken down. But then there was the danger that he might despair, and go out and hang himself like Judas, and so the Lord prays for him. He must be sifted, like you and me, but it must be under God’s eye that he may learn the perfect character of God’s love to him in it all.
God is then for us in giving, for us in justifying, for us in caring for us in everything; even as with the children of Israel, He took care of their very clothes as they passed through the wilderness. God is for us through everything. If death stare me in the face, well, Christ went through it. If evil powers be against me, well, I have a love with me that has been tried, and destroyed that power. I learn in these very things the perfectness of the love of God. It comes out in the minutest circumstances, in every little detail. I come up boldly to this truth, that “If God be for us, who can be against us?” There is nothing that can make me say, I do not know whether He be for me or not. If it be difficulties and trials, I say, Well, it just shews what pains God is taking with me.
And now, beloved friends, have you got to thus thinking of God? It may not be very pleasant, but certainly not a single thing can happen to me that is not the very best thing that God can do for me. Submission is all right, but it is “In everything give thanks.” Can you do that? Are you near enough to God to give thanks to Him for everything? Our wills must be broken (that is quite true); but our hearts meanwhile give thanks. We shall feel the sorrow; God does not mean that we should not; it is not insensibility; but I get this blessed truth, that He who works all things according to the counsel of His own will is the One who is for me. Then I can so trust His love, my will being broken, that I can not only bow but give thanks.
The Lord give us so to know Him that we can say, I am but a poor vile sinner, but I have learned this, that God is for me. Amen.