And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28 ASV
“All things” includes all sufferings, sorrows, infirmities, and everything else of a discouraging and calamitous nature which might befall God’s child on earth.
“For good” cannot mean earthly prosperity, success, bodily health, or any other purely mortal benefit, but is rather a reference to the eternal felicity of the soul.
This is true because God is able to overrule every earthly circumstance in such a manner as to compel its contribution to the eternal redemption that awaits the children of God.
No universal optimism is meant – (such as) everything will turn out all right for everybody in any case. There stands here the significant limitation, “to them that love God.
Work together for good … speaks of a situation in which God is surely at work on the Christian’s behalf, but it also speaks’ of a situation in which the saved person’s reaction to life’s woes is a controlled response.
The reaction of the child of God, or his response, to the ills of mortal life must be one of patience, submission, humility, prayer, love, hope, and faith.
Even adversity of the severest kind must be made to yield its precious fruit in the heart of the Christian.
Them that love God … identifies the persons who shall receive the blessing of having all things work together for good on their behalf, this identification being further pinpointed by the last clause, “them that are called according to his purpose.”
Who are the people who love God?
If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments. … He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me (John 14:15,21).
Christ’s apostles stressed the same truth:
This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments (1 John 5:3).
This is love, that we should walk after his commandments (2 John 1:1:6).
These great teachings point toward God, upward and heavenward, and are like massive mountain peaks reaching up into the clouds, the summits of which extend far beyond the boundaries of human vision.
Despite this, the foothills reached by our understanding afford beautiful and breathtaking vistas of these “deep things of the Spirit of God.
“Those who are called” is simply another mode of designating the saved. It and the expression “those that love God’ are descriptive, not of different persons, but of the same.
The two clauses also express important facts in their lives.
Of deep interest is the “calling” mentioned here.
Who are the called, and how does the calling occur?
Paul gave the answer thus: “Whereunto (unto which salvation) he called you through the gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:14).
Called according to his purpose … means to be called “in one body (the church)” (Colossians 3:15), and that “through the church” there might be made known “the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10,11).
This, properly understood, eliminates the widespread misunderstanding with regard to God’s calling of the redeemed. Paul here did not speak of individuals as such, but of the whole body of the saved.
That body, composed of the whole number of the redeemed, is indeed called and foreordained to eternal glory; but of an individual person, it must be said that he is called from before all time and predestinated to everlasting life, only if his affirmative response to the divine call has brought him into union with Christ, and if he so continues.
“Purpose” here is translated from a Greek term [PROTHESIS], meaning God’s placing all future events before his mind so as distinctly to see them.
Thus, the germ of foreknowledge is found in the very first word of Paul’s revelation on this tremendous subject.
God’s eternal purpose of gathering the saved of all ages into one body “in Christ” was a design “which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7), which must be identified with “the mystery of God.”
A careful study of the passages here cited shows that in all of the “mystery” passages Paul was speaking of “the wisdom of God” and of his “eternal purpose” of uniting all people in Christ through the church which is his body.
We now have but little difficulty explaining the clause “called according to his purpose.”
In the [PROTHESIS] all things pertaining to man’s redemption were set before God, and among them his predetermination that man should be called by the gospel, “to which salvation he called you by our gospel.”
It is therefore not to be called by some secret impulse of the Holy Spirit; neither is it to be called “effectually,” or “ineffectually,” as the schoolmen phrase it.
This call we are absolutely free to accept or reject; and, accordingly, as we do this or that, we shall be saved or lost.