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Words: John Willard Peterson (b. Nov. 1, 1921; d. Sept. 20, 2006)
Music: Ortonville, by Thomas Hastings (b. Oct. 15, 1784; d. May 15, 1872)
Note: John Peterson was perhaps the major sacred music composer of the twentieth century. You can see a short biography on the Wordwise Hymns link. He was as adept at writing clear, biblical lyrics as he was in composing melodious and singable tunes.
In 1961, Peterson published a hymn that is basically a meditation on Romans 8:28. It begins with a reference to the text.
All things work out for God, we know–
Such is God’s great design;
He orders all our steps below
For purposes divine.
Recently I talked with a senior citizen, asking her how she was doing. “I feel really good today, she said. Of course, my father once had a horse that was in the pink of condition–and the next day it fell down dead!” Likely my friend was joking. But it did remind me of the many things in life that are uncertain or doubtful. For many things we have no real guarantees.
Yes, it’s necessary to make some plans for future events and circumstances, whether we are looking forward to a picnic on the week-end, or preparing for our years of retirement in the more distant future. But we mustn’t treat our plans, as if they were absolute certainties. The Apostle James warns against that.
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit;’ whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow” (Jas. 4:13-14).
The Lord Jesus told a parable about an arrogant farmer whose growing wealth gave him a false sense of security. Things were going well, and he thought he could see a golden future ahead. One day he said to himself, “You have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” But it was not to be. “God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you’ (Lk. 12:19-20).
And there is the key–in Peterson’s words, “God’s great design.” Almighty God on His throne rules over all things, including what will come tomorrow (Ps. 24:1). In recognition of this, James counsels us, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’” (Jas. 4:15). The sovereignty of God calls for us to make our plans tentatively and provisionally. To plan well and wisely, but not to assume that we can unfailingly prophesy future events.
But there is another side to this. The fact that God is in control, and that He knows the future, can give assurance where our own limited foresight cannot. The Bible says, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). And there are three important parts to that verse. Taking them in reverse order, they tell us:
1) The Subjects of the Promise. It is for those who love God, and are ones He has called into a personal relationship with Himself. The calling of Romans 8:28 is God’s part; the loving of God is our response. In short, these are Christians, ones who’ve become the children of God through faith in Christ (Jn. 1:12-13).
2) The Substance of the Promise. It’s God’s pledge to us that He will take everything that happens to us, everything that touches our lives, and turn it to His good purpose and our blessing. Nothing is outside the sphere of this. It includes the difficult and painful things as well as pleasant ones. And as the third stanza of the hymn puts it, “Mortals are immortal here until their work is done.”
3) The Certainty of the Promise. This is something “we know,” on the basis of God’s faithful Word. There is no “I think so…maybe” here. How do we know? Because God has promised it. He is a God of truth, and if He says it, He will do it.
We may not see how certain experiences can result in our good, but that is not the issue. They will. And the “good” that is assured is further explained in the next verse in Romans. It’s that Christians “be conformed to the image of His Son” (vs. 29). All that the Lord allows to touch our lives is designed to further that goal.
What is so often unclear to us now will possibly be revealed when we get to heaven. Whether it is nor not, we’ll be satisfied that God knew best, in “all things.” In the words of the hymn, “In heaven’s clearer light I’ll see all things worked out for good.”
1) Is there something in your life that you are struggling to trust God with, as He works all things for good?
2) Will you trust Him today to continue that work?