Date: January 29, 1931
All things work together for good to them that love God. – Romans 8:28
HOW does it happen that two boys, born and reared under much the same surroundings and with equal opportunities, grow up into such varied and conflicting careers that, while one disappears in the battle of life as an abject failure, the other attains to the heights of human preeminence? Why is it that of two marriages solemnized on the same day and in the same place the one turns out to be a veritable caricature of wedded bliss and happiness while the other develops into a rich and beautiful union? Why is it, as the present industrial crisis so frequently and so forcefully reminds us, that, on the one hand, there are families with unemployed fathers and brothers, with cold and cheerless rooms, empty pantries and pocketbooks, and a dismal outlook on an uncertain future, while, on the other hand, there are households that have prospered even in this depression, that seem to be lifted up above the possibility of sorrow and sickness, that enjoy everything which the overflowing cup of life contains, apparently without any trace of bitterness or disappointment? What, in short, is the force and power that rules and directs the destiny of a human life? And where, in the midst of the ebb and flow of life’s ceaseless tides, can you and I find a definite and convincing solution to this mystery of life, a positive assurance midst the engulfing sorrows of our daily existence?
These, of course, are age-old questions; they form the theme of the oldest epic poem known to men, written thousands of years ago, in cuneiform characters pressed into Mesopotamian clay. But they are ever-present questions, asked by many of you, who, as you tell us in your letters, have been shut-ins for more than forty years, who are so completely paralyzed that you can move only your fingers, or who desperately bemoan the tragedy that the wage earners in your family have been without employment so long that you simply cannot make both ends meet.
They are questions, too, which men have tried to answer in their own way, for instance, by magnifying their own importance and by holding up man as the shaper of his own destiny, the creator of his own career. And in a certain sense a man can shape and mold his course of life. The suicide who places an automatic revolver at the temple of his head and literally blasts out his brains has certainly himself cut off his career. The young man who, with careless disregard of the requirements of chastity and health, sows his wild oats and reaps a harvest of ruin can blame no one but himself for the tragic course that his life has taken. The husband and wife who want to have a happy home, but who persistently refuse to apply the fine spiritual principles and the foundation truths of family felicity laid down in the Bible, without which there can be no such happiness, are individually responsible for steering the craft of their wedded bliss off the charted course and upon the rocks of matrimonial shipwreck. Yes, we can mold our lives by forming for ourselves such ill-shaped and tragic developments that we live in a succession of great and increasing sorrows.
THE FOLLY OF FATALISM.
But, as the Scriptures assure us, we alone cannot work out a constructive program of life. It is true, we hear much of self-made men in our materialistic age. Yet the world has never seen the man who made himself and who, unaided, reached the lofty pinnacles of success. In the struggle of life the best efforts of splendid, honest plodders often remain unrewarded, while there are scintillating stars in the firmament of earthly greatness that have attained to their brightness with little or no exertion. When men are unable to say whether they will be alive tomorrow; when some meet success without any appreciable effort or accomplishment on their part, while others are doomed to failure in spite of most persistent and painstaking efforts; when some of the most trivial things in life, like the cackling of the geese that saved Rome or the flight of the land birds that quelled the mutiny on Columbus’s ship of discovery, involve the most vital consequences,—there is no room for reasonable doubt that no man controls his own destiny in a constructive way.
So men have gone to another extreme and have adopted the opposite and contradictory theory that man is in no wise concerned in the shaping of his life, but that there is a power and an inexorable force called Fate which in a despotic manner regulates man’s life and in an unexplainable way leads men on blindly to their inevitable lot. Nothing that you or I can do, according to this theory, can change the course of our careers; we are helpless tools in the hands of a power that is both unexplainable and tyrannical,—mere pawns on the board of life, puppets that are jerked about by a combination of unalterable and unsympathetic circumstances.
Now, we can understand in a measure why Mohammedans, with the irrational and superstitious background of their religious delusions, can believe in the iron rule of brutal fate. We can comprehend how heathen millions have drugged themselves into despondency and resigned themselves into an inevitable pessimism. But how can people who live in this modern and enlightened age of Gospel dissemination subscribe to this pernicious doctrine? How can they tell us that everything you and I do is cut out for us by irresistible and stern necessity, so that the thief himself is not responsible for his thievery, the adulterer for his adultery, the murderer for his murder? How can people today believe that man is but a human robot, whose hands and feet move almost mechanically at the impulse of a tyrannical fate? How can they surrender to this hopelessness when the one power which can help us solve this mystery of life, the sacred revelation of God, the All-knowing and Infallible, tells us that there is a divine solution to this age-old question, a far better philosophy of life than this doctrine of determinism and despair, which makes man a mere mechanical toy, wound up by an unseen hand, played with until its spring breaks and then cast into discard?
THE LOVE OF A GUIDING PROVIDENCE.
I thank God tonight that I have the privilege of standing here in St. Louis and sending out into the nation, yes, far beyond its confines, the happy message that, as soon as we know Jesus Christ as our own, loving, divine Savior, we have a cheering and comforting truth for life and death, a strengthening and ennobling power, offering the plain and direct assurance that you and I are not the weavers of our life’s design nor the passing victims of an unrelenting fate, but that above all this the destiny of every child of God is guarded, protected, and blessed by the almighty ruling of a divine and loving Providence. Casting aside all the delusions of pagan and modern unbelief, the Bible, the errorless truth, tells us, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” These blessed words of golden comfort, and these alone, are the only words men have ever heard that can answer fully and assuredly this mystery of human destiny.
Note that this promise is held out “to them that love God,” that means, to those who first of all hate sin, sin which has engulfed human existence in indescribable woes and made men suffer horror and misery and anguish beyond computation, sin that abounds in your life and mine and that leaves its blighting marks of sickness and death, of sorrow and tribulation, in their various kinds and degrees. As long as you love sin, and as long as your deep-rooted affections still cling to the world with its “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life,” you cannot love God, and you cannot be sure of anything but the consuming wrath of God. But whenever a sin-laden soul looks up to the Cross and realizes that his own sins were brutal and black enough to nail Jesus to that accursed tree and that sin is nothing trivial, nothing that can be laughed away or forgotten; whenever a sin-troubled mortal beholds those wide-outstretched arms that would embrace him just as he is, without any stipulations or conditions, without the payment or performance of any contribution of any kind; whenever a sin-sick soul humbly and contritely accepts these glad tidings, “The Son of Man is come to save that which was lost,” believes His holy assurance, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out”; whenever anyone comes to Christ and is saved and thus learns to love God, he is made the beneficiary of the wonderful promise of our text.
Listen to the universal sweep of this all-embracing assurance, “ALL things work together for good to them that love God.” This means that nothing simply “happens” in the life of a Christian, but that the same God who rules the destinies of the nations also governs our individual lives with loving guidance and merciful foresight. He who “upholds all things by the word of His power,” in whom “we live and move and have our being,” He tells you that you are so precious in His sight that the very hairs of your head—as trifling as one of the hundred and twenty-five thousand hairs on the average head may seem—are all numbered and guarded. He who “giveth to all life, breath, and all things,” so that you and I can trace our origin directly to the creative hand of a merciful God and not to the grinning gorilla of fatalistic, accidental evolution; He who promises by His own holy name, “The mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from thee,” tells you that His care for the affairs of His children is so comprehensive and minute that the very sparrows that perch unnoticed on the telegraph wires do not fall to the ground without His will and knowledge and that therefore you, with your immortal soul, to save which Jesus shed His precious blood, are of such vital importance in the eyes of God that, if you will only believe this, everything that happens to you as His child works together for good.
Now remember that God does not promise His children that nothing but good will be showered upon them. Who would not be a Christian today if Christianity could present a charm against tears and sorrows and disappointments? Who of the tens of millions of people in this country that have never thought enough about the Christian Church to join it would not hurry to acknowledge Jesus if He would promise them nothing but the pleasant and attractive things in life? But the rule of the Kingdom is, “From cross to crown,” and sometimes it seems that those who have pledged themselves to Christ suffer an overwhelming share of life’s sorrows, fulfilling the prophecy of St. Paul, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” But though they suffer much or little, here is the never failing promise, “All things work together for good to them that love God.”
All eventualities in a Christian’s life are part of a harmonious whole in which every occurrence, no matter how hard and bitter and heart-breaking, leads up to the sublime climax of our salvation. Just as a surgeon cauterizes a wound, cuts away proud flesh, and adopts other similar painful procedures in his alleviative process of healing, so the fires of affliction and the incisions of misfortune often are but disguised blessings, which clear the way for better and happier things; so in your regenerated life everything works together, cooperates, for greater good and more bounteous blessings.
You may not be able to explain God’s dealings with you as helpful and constructive and as working together for good; for God’s ways are not our ways. He Himself tells us, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Even Christ, when nailed to the cross, asked in His human limitations, “Why?” And we who look out upon life through a clouded glass and through the hazy shadows of human short-sightedness are the more prone to question God’s direction of our life. A young man is snatched out of the land of the living in the very prime of a promising life, and we ask, “Why?” An aged sufferer, weary of this earth, lingers on in a bed of pain and agony, and we ask, “Why?” A tornado wreaks its devastating havoc on a community, leaving the piteous groans of suffering and anguish in its wake; we ask, “Why?” A ship crashes into an iceberg on the high seas, and hundreds sink into a watery grave; we ask, “Why?” And to all of His children who suffer under the long list of other sorrows with which human existence must contend, God says, “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” When envious brothers took the lad Joseph and sold him into Midianite slavery, he, too, doubtless asked why God permitted a calamity of such proportions to overwhelm him. But when in the zenith of his power, as food administrator of Egypt and the recipient of the homage of uncounted millions, he looked back over his life and discerned the hand of God in every epoch of his career, he told his brothers, “Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good.” And similarly, if you and I could have the power to perceive the ways of God with us, unsearchable and past finding out as they are, we should recognize, for example, that the money which some of us lost in bad investments or bank failures may have been lost in order to prevent us from using it for unworthy and destructive purposes; that the sickness which we have suffered may have come from the beneficent mercy of God to give us occasion to reflect upon our lives and the course to which they were directed; that the son or daughter whose death we could not explain may have been spared the anguish of tragedies in later life; that the unemployment and disappointments which confront us may be designed to strengthen our character; and that literally all things, even such calamities and misfortunes, work together, in blessed cooperation, for good.
But this good, this blessing of Christian conviction, extends beyond this world and finds its highest fulfillment in the next. “The sufferings of this present time,” the unfailing promise of God assures us, “are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” There is a divine law of compensation, which teaches us that they who sow in tears, in the sorrow of earthly suffering, shall reap in joy, in the unspeakable bliss of the heavenly home. To all of you tonight to whom life has held out little lasting happiness; to you who, like begging Lazarus, look on, sick and sore and hungry, as wealth parades in purple and fine linen to its sumptuous fare, to you comes the comfort and assurance that just as Lazarus, who received evil during his lifetime, was comforted after death in the blessings of a tearless, sorrowless eternity, so you, too, through Christ can bow your heads before God and declare, “Thy will be done,” “Thou doest all things well”; for you will experience the full blessing of the promise that “all things work together for good to them that love God.”
So let me ask you the question of supreme importance, “Do you love God?” Have you found the love of Him who “so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” and have you given your heart and life back to God in grateful devotion? Have you come to the Cross to find life in Him who there found death for you? Have you learned to know and trust and believe in Jesus Christ as God’s complete answer to every need of every sinful heart? Oh, as you hear these words of invitation, may those of you who have never tasted the happiness of confessing Christ come to Him with repentant and believing hearts ere this day of grace closes and hear this benediction of His Savior-love come across a sin-torn world into the quiet of your ransomed soul, “Let not your heart be troubled.” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.