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THE MERCIFUL PURPOSE OF GOD TOWARDS HIS PEOPLE.
ROMANs viii. 28–30.
28. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Many things may befal the Christian, which seem very inconsistent with his welfare, very unlike what was to be expected by those who enjoy divine favour. How often, for instance, must it have been necessary for St. Paul to call in the aid of the truth here stated to his own comfort, whilst he was permitted to lie bound in prison two whole years at Jerusalem, and thus cut off from all opportunities of usefulness!" It required strong faith to bear up against such circumstances: strong conviction that he who orders all things, orders all things with a view to the good of his people.
Paul, therefore, meets any doubts that might occur, and prevents the despondency which trials and reverses might sometimes occasion. We have not only the comfort of knowing, what he had before affirmed, that “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities,” and “maketh intercession for us:” but we have also the encouraging assurance, that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to his purpose. According to his original purpose, he has determined that there shall be a people devoted to him; here on earth living in his faith and fear and love, and hereafter to be received to his glory. And they to whom Paul wrote, had been called according to that purpose. They were foreknown and predestined from the beginning:—for “known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world.” Whatever was now taking place respecting them was part of a design; their call to God's service, their probation in his service, and their final glorification. Therefore tribulations, or persecutions, instead of injuring them, should serve as means towards their final salvation. God had a purpose, a design respecting them which should not be frustrated. All the difficulties and trials which they may be appointed to undergo, shall contribute to accomplish that design. 29. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren.
1 Acts xxiv. 26, 27.
It was no chance, no contingency, which had brought them to their present state. All its steps were ordained. They who were now the called, were those whom God had from the first foreknown. As he foreknew those, who became the disciples of Paul at Corinth, and formed the Christian church in that city. God had detained Paul there, when otherwise he might have removed to a place which seemed more promising: the Lord spake to Paul by a vision, “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I have much people in this city.” As he “knows them that are his,” when their hearts are turned towards him: so he foreknows them that will be his, when their hearts yet appear to be far from him. He foreknew the ready faith of Lydia and the rest of the Philippian church, when he directed Paul's course from Bithynia to Macedonia.” The end, and the means to accomplish that end, were alike providentially designed. And a part of these means, are the circumstances, of whatever kind, which the people of God pass through. They must be endued with a certain character; the character of Christ. They must be conformed to his image. And therefore they must be placed in the circumstances by which that character is produced and exercised. He had been “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” As the prophet said, “We did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” It might be that such should be the appointed lot of some of those whom he was bringing to glory: that in this sense as well as in others, he might be the first born among many brethren, who should, like him, be “made perfect through sufferings.” These, therefore, must be prepared, if need be, “to suffer with him, that they might be also glorified together.” God's purpose might be thus, and only thus, fulfilled. The same foreknowledge and wisdom would order and direct the whole. But perhaps the afflicted Christian may want a proof of this. Like Hezekiah of old, he may doubt of God's merciful intentions towards him ; and as that king said, “What shall be the sign that the Lord shall heal me?” the sufferer may be disposed to ask, How shall I know that the Lord has a favour unto me, and out of very faithfulness causes me to linger in affliction This proof is given, in his present state and condition: in what God has already done."
* Acts xviii. 10.
30. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, then he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
God has already made him to differ from others, in “calling him to repentance and the knowledge of the truth.” He has not been left in darkness, but the light of the Gospel has been manifested to him. Neither has he been permitted to close his eyes against the light, and choose to abide in darkness. The Lord has opened his heart, to attend unto the things spoken by his messengers. He has been called, and he has obeyed the calling: and therefore has this proof that “God has predestinated him unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” Why should he not trust that the mercy which has brought him thus far, will accompany him unto the end ? For all things are in due order. The ultimate glory which God designs for his people, is already theirs in his will and purpose: but it can only be granted them in his appointed way. It can only 0 2 Kings xx. 8. 7 Eacec Toda juv exaptoev : un rolvvy duptsa\\e rept Twy
pex\ovrov.–Chrysos. 8 Eph. i. 5.
come to them through the Son; and that the Son may bestow it, he must be believed in: and that he may be believed in, he must be made known; set forth as “the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him.” This due order had been observed, and all these things had met together in the case of those to whom Paul was writing, and whom he encourages under trials, and the prospect of trials, by assurance of future glory. The favour of God had taken its regular course. For whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified. These had been already called, and having embraced the truth, were also justified. And they who have been thus called by the Spirit of God working in due season to “redemption through Christ Jesus,” are those whom he has predestinated to everlasting salvation:9 those who in his purpose and design are already glorified. Just as Joseph when carried down to Egypt as a slave, or when lying for years in the prison to which he had been condemned, was in the purpose and foreknowledge of God “governor over all the land of Egypt.”
It is a natural question arising from these words, Are we among that blessed company here spoken of, whom God has predestinated to everlasting glory? No special revelation is given to tell us this. The first token of divine favour belongs to us. God has already granted us an “advantage great every way:” we have been planted in a christian land, and by baptism enrolled amongst his family. This indeed is
9 Art. xvii. K