God’s Providential Care
October 24th, 1954
GOD’S PROVIDENTIAL CARE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-24-54 10:50 a.m.
These last several Sundays, if you’ve been in attendance upon the services or have listened over the radio to the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, the pastor has been preaching through the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans: one of the great, great chapters in the Word of God. And last Sunday evening, we closed with the twenty-seventh verse.
Today at this noon hour, the sermon is in the twenty-eighth verse. And tonight, we begin at the twenty-ninth verse and conclude the chapter preaching tonight upon the elective purposes of God: the predestination of God, the calling and the choice of God, the eternal assurance and keeping of God. Today, this noon hour, the sermon is encompassed in one verse. Romans 8:28: “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.”
And as the eighth of Romans is one of the great, great chapters in God’s Book, so the twenty-eighth verse of the eighth of Romans is a foundation stone – a stratum, a ledge, a rock – upon which any Christian can build his life, face any future, confront any destiny.
“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” [Romans 8:28]. And he writes that with such assurance. And we know in the first Christian century the whole civilized world was afflicted by the sophists. They were so-called learned philosophers who had been initiated into the mysteries of all knowledge. And sometimes in Greek literature you’ll find them called the Gnostics – “the knowing ones.” The Gnostics: they knew everything; and of course, you had an opposite in the first Christian century. You had the “agnostics” who said they didn’t know anything – they knew nothing.
Paul is a Christian Gnostic. “We know; we know.” Out of deep and never-to-be-forgotten experiences that were pressed into his life, he sometimes writes with such tremendous and everlasting assurance: “I know.” Second Timothy 1:12: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded He’s able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”
Like Job, “I know my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the earth – I know” [from Job 19:25]. In the Second Corinthian letter, the fifth chapter and the first verse, Paul writes again, “We know.” “We know that if the earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” [2 Corinthians 5:1].
He writes again typically in the Philippian letter, the first chapter and the nineteenth verse, talking about his imprisonment: “For I know that this shall turn out for my salvation through your prayers, and through the supply of the Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus” [Philippians 1:19].
And so he writes here another one of those Christian Gnosticisms: We know. “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God” [Romans 8:28].
Well, Paul, I think I could see and go along if you had written there, “We know that most things, some things, work together for good to them that love God.” But oh, how you stagger and stumble at a text when the inspired apostle, writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit says, “We know that all things, all things, work together for good to them that love God” – not just the pleasant things, and the happy things, and the easy things, and the joyful things, but the hard things and the bitter things and the sorrowful things: “All things work together for good to them that love God” [from Romans 8:28].
Mystery may engulf us, enemies may assail us, friends may desert us, Satan may buffet us, sorrows may overwhelm us, poverty may threaten us, sickness may weaken us, despair may overtake us, dark clouds may swallow us up, but Paul says in this text that all things – those things and a thousand other unnamable things – they all work together for good to them that love God.
Well, let me look at my text more closely. This is one of those verses that would bear the most earnest, minute scrutiny. “We know that all things work together for good.” Well, he didn’t say that all things were good. He says, “We know that all things work together” – eisagathon, reaching out toward an ultimate and a final good. May not be good in itself. Certainly we may not be able to explain or to understand, but the Apostle says that all of these things conspire together, work together toward a great, consummating and ultimate and final good. Like the Lord Jesus said to Simon Peter when Simon objected to what Christ was doing, the Lord said, “What I do thou mayest not understand now; but thou shalt understand hereafter” [John 13:7]. There is an ultimate, there is a final – in the great denouement, the unraveling of all of the strands of our life, ultimately whatever comes, whatever happens to those that love God, it is for good.
He did not say, “We know that all things work together for the riches and the prosperity of God’s children.” It may be best that we remain poor. Not many people are able to sustain the temptation of wealth, of riches, of affluence. Not many rich people, not many – – thank God for some, and some in this glorious church, thank God for some – – but most, most of those who are blessed with a super abundance of the possessions of this life turn away from the humble devotion and consecrated ministry and service of Christ.
If I were going to a cocktail party, among whom would you think I’d try to find it? Well, if I were looking for an old bum I might sit down by him with his beer. But if I were looking for a swanky cocktail party and all that goes with it, I’d ask for an invitation among the elite and the well-to-do of the city of Dallas and everybody else’s city. It may be good for us. It may be best for us that God keeps us poor. He didn’t say that all things work together for our riches and our affluence. He doesn’t say here, “All things work together for our health, and strength of life, and energy of days.” Maybe it is best for us that we know illness and infirmity, weakness and decrepitude. Maybe it is best.
As I went around with our missionary doctor in Nigeria, West Africa – made a great circle through that vast part of the Dark Continent – made a big circle visiting what he calls his “clan settlements” where, in the parts of Africa in those districts, they’d gather together all the lepers and he’d minister to them making regular tours – our missionary doctor. We sent him out. We bought the medicine. We bought the little car that he travels in. We did it – our Baptist people, our missionary-hearted people. I went around with him in his little car. We visited all of those clan settlements.
As we went around, I listened to him as he talked. And he told of a time when they brought gifts to a clan settlement. They said they were doing it – the missionary did – they were doing it because of the love of God and “because God had been so good to us and had blessed us, and this is our way of thanking God.”
And he happened to think and said, “Would any of you like to stand up and thank God for something good He’s done for you?”
And the missionary physician said, “You thank God that you are a leper?”
“Yes, ” replied the Negro. “I am thanking God today that I’m a leper. For, ” he said, “when I was well and when I was strong, I was a heathen and didn’t know God. When I became a leper I was cast out, and the Christian missionary picked me up and brought me here to this clan settlement. And here I have been taught the faith of the Lord Jesus, and I became a Christian here. Had I remained well, ” he said, “I would have still been a heathen. Now that I’m a leper, I have found the Lord.” And he added, “I’d rather be a leper and have Christ than to be strong and well and be a heathen.” He didn’t say, “All things work together for good, to them that are strong and that are well.” Sometimes our illnesses bring to us our highest and sweetest blessings.
I talked to a man – he may be listening to me – I talked to a man one time who thanked God that he lost one of his legs. He said, “When I had two legs, I never had time for God. But in the long illness by which one was lost and amputated, I found the Lord, and I am grateful that I have just one leg. Had I had two legs, I might have been lost and never found God.” No, he doesn’t say all things work together for our health and the strength of our bodies. He doesn’t say that all things work together for our popularity, and our acclaim, and our applause. He didn’t say all things work together for our ease, and for the comforts of life, and for the love of all of the people who know us.
I wish he did, and I wish it worked that way, but it doesn’t. Of those twelve disciples of the Lord Jesus, one of them died a natural death – just one, John. All the rest of them were stoned, or boiled in oil, or crucified upside down, or slain with the sword.
And you could write the whole story of the Christian church in the blood of the martyrs: burned at the stake, tortured at the rack, rotted in a dungeon, died in starvation and privation and exposure. He doesn’t say all things work together for the comfort, and the ease, and the popularity, and the acclaim of those that love God.
Nor does he say one other thing: he does not say that all things work together for good to them that just love the world. He doesn’t say it works together for good for everybody. He says these things conspire together – whatever comes in life – they work for good “to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” [Romans 8:28].
The man who is in the will and in the purpose of God, the man who is on God’s side, the man whose heart is with Christ, to that man in God’s plan and in God’s purpose and in God’s infinite love, whatever comes, whatever happens works together – conspires together – reaches out toward the thing that is blessedly, marvelously good.
The man who is not in the love of God and in the purpose of God, everything’s against him. God’s against him, heaven’s against him, life is against him, death is against him – everything is against him. Over there in the Book of Judges, it says of Sisera who was warring against the children of Israel, “. . . the stars in their courses fought against Sisera” [Judges 5:20]. So with any man outside of the will of God and outside of the purpose of God: everything you do will curse, and damn, and destroy, and ruin. Outside of the will of God, nothing works together for good!
Outside of God’s will, a man’s house falls down. However he tries to build it up, he’s building on the sand and the wind of fortune and time and tide will blow it down. Outside of God, the kingdom perishes. That’s the reason that ultimately Russia and the Soviet satellites and all of their preachments will absolutely and finally and irrevocably and certainly fail. They leave God out and they will die as a nation, and as a kingdom, and as a philosophy, and as a faith, and as a life, and as a way.
And outside of God, our lives perish [Romans 6:23]. There’s nothing balanced in it. It’s all out of kilter; it’s all out of joint. That’s the reason that Emerson’s “Compensation” has a fatal flaw in it. Emerson wrote in his “Compensation”:
A certain compensation balances every gift and every defect.
Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good.
For everything you’ve missed, you’ve gained something else.
For everything you gain, you lose something.
The dice of God are always loaded.
The world looks like a multiplication table, or a mathematical equation, which, turn it how you will, balances itself.
[from “Compensation, ” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841, repr. 1847]
His thesis is that all of the paths, and ways, and turns, and fortunes, and vicissitudes of life somehow all come out just so. No matter how it’s turned, it always balances itself. An Irishman said when he read that and saw how pat Emerson made it, an Irishman said, “If you have one leg shorter than the other, the other’s longer” – balances itself. But it doesn’t. But it doesn’t. It’s out of kilter; it’s out of balance. It’s out of norm; it’s out of plumb. It’s built wrong; it’s built crooked. Without God, everything conspires against you. He never said we know that all things work together for everybody for good. They don’t! But “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” [Romans 8:28].
To the Christian, to the man who has given his heart to God, to the man in the will and in the purpose of Christ – to that man, there is nothing happens that is fortuitous or opportunistic. There’s no accidents in the life of the Christian, the child of God. Things don’t just happen; they come to pass. “The steps of the redeemed are ordered of the Lord” [Psalm 37:23]. And in the life of the child of God, everything that happens has its place. It fits into a mosaic, a pattern, that is known to God.
Every trial, every sorrow, every heartache, every bitter day, every sorrowful and tragic hour – the things that are high, the things that are low, the things that are there, the things that are here – whatever it is in the child’s life, in God’s child’s life, it’s according to an infinite purpose and an all-wise, all-good plan. It’s for good to them “that love God.” It’s for good to them “who are called according to the purpose of God” [Romans 8:28].
In the life of the apostle Paul, there was so much that was unpleasant and unhappy. He had a “thorn in the flesh” [2 Corinthians 12:7], an infirmity of the body. In the second Corinthian letter, he starts off in his first chapter saying that he was nigh unto death and despaired even to live [2 Corinthians 1:8-9]. He was sick. He had a weakness in his body. I do not know what. He called it a “thorn in the flesh.” He was stoned and beat; he was imprisoned [2 Corinthians 11:23-24]. Hardly anything tragic and sorrowful that could overwhelm a man but that you’ll find it in the life of the apostle Paul [2 Corinthians 11:26-28].
And the mystery that he couldn’t understand: “the unfathomable depths of the riches of God in Christ Jesus” [Romans 11:33]never get a hold of it, never quite understand it, never encompass, never put his arms around it, and yet, a sublime trust in it. The sovereignty of God is not a dim hope: it is a marvelous, incomparably glorious assurance. This thing is ordered of God; it’s in His hands. It comes to pass according to what God allows and what God says and what God determines. We cast ourselves upon the providential care of the Almighty.
In the days of the covered wagon trains coming out to the West – and out to the West coming to Texas then further to the Pacific – in those days of the covered wagon when our forefathers came to this glorious country, in those days, they sent their scouts ahead, the riders ahead. And the rider ahead would look out for the Indian, and he’d look out for the savage, and he’d look out for a place for the camp of the night. And he’d look out for water and provender for the cattle and the horses. That’s God taking care of His children today. In the providential care of the Almighty, out there ahead of us – next year, ten years from now, as long as we live and for the eternity to come – there is a care, a providing care, a searching care, a keeping care, a guiding care of God that always goes ahead, goes ahead. “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” [Romans 8:28].
Now what things happen to us come in many, many different ways. Sometimes, the thing that happens to God’s children happens because the Lord is chastening us:
My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord,
nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him:
For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?
But if you be without chastisement, whereof all of us are partakers,
then are ye illegitimate, and not sons.
Sometimes the things that overwhelm us are the chastening of the Lord:
If My children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgments;
Break My statutes . . .
Then will I visit their transgression with a rod, and their iniquity with stripes.
Sometimes the Lord chastens His children [Proverbs 3:11-12]. Make a bed and you have to lie in it. You made a choice; the rest of your life, you repent at leisure. Sometimes the things that overwhelm us are the chastening of the Lord.
Some of you who are Christians tell me, “Don’t you look around and see people out there in the world who violate every good thing of God and seemingly are unscathed? Don’t you wonder?” Well the reason for it is an obvious thing: they don’t belong to God. Did you enter into that, and share that, and live that way, the Lord would chasten you. He’d spank you every day of your life. He’d whip you and scourge you with scorpions and whips. Why? Because you belong to God! You’re His child. You’re His son. And sometimes the things that overwhelm us are things of the whip and the scourge: chastisement.
You had a good father or a good mother as you grew up; they corrected you and chastened you. Did you spared the rod, God’s Book says, you spoil your child [from Proverbs 13:24]. Discipline is a vital part of the upbringing of any son.
Then sometimes things overwhelm us because the Lord is trying us, molding us and making us. I think it a strange thing when Simon Peter begins his letter and when James begins his letter: both of them start it alike. James says: “Count it all joy” – gladness – “when you fall into trial” [James 1:2]. Simon Peter starts the same thing: “The trial of your faith is precious, though it be tried by fire” [from 1 Peter 1:7]. What they mean is “the gold in the fire is purified” [Revelation 3:18]. The diamond in the grinding is made beautiful. The vine has to be pruned to bear fruit [John 15:2].
No such thing as a Christian with great character brought up at ease and in comfort, but the Lord tries His children. It’s a shapeless mass of clay until God molds it. So the Lord molds our lives [Job 23:10]. Oh, the things – the things that happen and overwhelm us; no. But anyway, please, but there it is, and it’s of God. It’s from the hands of the Lord, and it is for our good. Whatever it is, it’s for our good.
I read this week there was a father who had a boy. And when the little fellow was born into the world – – if you have children, can you remember that almost breathless, breathless moment when you look upon the child? In the prayer to God, “O God, that the child might be perfectly formed: eyes that see, a face without mark, the body with its limbs.” How many times do you think about that when the child is born? How will it be?
When this child was born, the child was born with a foot all deformed and misshapen to be a cripple all the days of his life. When the child was eight years old, the finest surgeons in the land, they operated on that foot and in despair said, “He’s to be a cripple all of his life. We cannot help.” But that father, doting on that little boy, loving that child, the father studied that foot and he studied ligaments, and bones, and muscles. He did it himself.
And finally, he called on a surgeon to cut just here and to cut just there. And then he made the funniest kind of a box. And in that box, he put iron screws and iron bolts and felt taps. And he took that lad and after the operation put his foot in that strange looking box, tightened the screws and tightened the bolts.
The little boy for weeks and for months cried piteously because his foot hurt in the box. The father would come home, the little boy would cry, “Dad, I don’t mind be a cripple. I can bear it no longer the pain all the day and the pain all the night!” Father would pick up his boy and tighten the screw and tighten the bolt. And the boy would cry, and the father mingled his tears with his boy as he tightened the screw and as he tightened the bolt.
But one day, but one glorious day, the father untightened the bolts and untightened the screw, took off the box, and said, “Son, son, stand up! Stand up! Stand up.” And for the first time in the little boy’s life, he stood up, and his foot was whole and well and straight.
That boy is now an old grey-headed man and that father is in Glory. And I read this week that that old grey-headed man makes his regular pilgrimage to the grave of his father and there bedews the ground with his tears in gratitude for what his father had done for him when he tightened the bolt and tightened the screw and kept his foot in the box.
That’s what he meant. That’s what he said. We know, out of the deep, everlasting and eternal persuasions in God, we know that all things work together for good to them that look to God, that trust in God, that love God, to them who are in the purpose of His infinite and all-wise plan [Romans 8:28]. Dear people, that’s one reason why I’m glad I’m a Christian. Don’t understand and don’t propose but in the infinite plan of God it reaches out and up and on to an infinite purpose, and it’s enough that He knows what it is. His will be done [Luke 22:42].
All right, may we sing our song? Now while we sing, the pastor is here at the front and our people, all of our people, in this moment of appeal, prayerfully singing this song of invitation. Born on the wings of the Spirit, it’s to your heart. Today, today, if you hear His voice, today, will you come? “Here I am, pastor, and here I come. I give you my hand, pastor, my hand. My heart have I given to God, trusting Him, looking to Him.” Or into the fellowship of His church, a family you or one somebody you, while we sing, while we make appeal today, would you come and stand by me as we sing, standing together?