June 24, 2024

All Things Work Together

Sinclair Ferguson
All Things Work Together

In painful circumstances, we sometimes ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Today, Sinclair Ferguson reflects on the comfort of God’s providence and His promise to work all things together for the good of His people.


It’s a very interesting experience making podcasts, sitting with Ligonier’s sound engineers and my producer and helpful people making all the technical things work, and the production quality meeting the appropriate standards, and then wondering if anyone is actually going to be listening when the podcasts air. But if we are listening as Christians, it’s really a heartwarming thing to remember, as we sometimes think, that the same Spirit of the Lord Jesus indwells every single one of us. We were thinking about that last week, and it reminds us that we are bound together with every other Christian, even if we never meet each other. And so, we are indeed, as Paul says, “One in the Spirit.”

And we experience that in remarkable ways. Remember how Paul writes to the Corinthians that they’re to do something when his spirit is with them. And he doesn’t mean anything spooky, but he means that they’re so bound together in the one body by the Holy Spirit that he wants to share in what they’re going to do. And later on, you remember in 1 Corinthians, he says that when one member suffers, the whole body suffers because we are all indwelt in the same way by the same Spirit.

Now, what’s the point here? It’s this: we share in each other’s lives in the fellowship of Jesus Christ, and the Lord is working in our lives to make us more like Christ, but we need to remember for all that unity that we share, the Lord doesn’t work in the same way, at the same time in every single one of us. He paints on the canvas of our lives with many different colors and shades. And the colors He’s painting into your life just now, well, they may be very bright, but the shade He’s using in someone else’s life may be very dark, even black. Yes, He’s bringing all of us to glory and He will do that, but He polishes our graces in very different ways. And so sometimes we find ourselves asking the question, Why is this happening to me? And that’s what I want to reflect on with you this week.

Another word for it would be providence, wouldn’t it? The providence of God. During the rest of the week, I want to reflect on one of the great illustrations of providence in Scripture, but first of all, today a question: What do we mean by providence?

Well, here’s a wonderful answer from the Heidelberg Catechism written in 1563:

God’s providence is
his almighty and ever present power,
whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds
and earth
and all creatures,
and so governs them that
leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and barren years,
food and drink,
health and sickness,
riches and poverty—
indeed, all things, come to us
not by chance
but by his fatherly hand. (Q&A 27)

That’s a beautiful statement of providence, isn’t it? And I suspect it may remind you of the wonderful first question and answer in the same Heidelberg Catechism:

What is your only comfort in life and death?

That I am not my own,
but belong—with body and soul, both in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from all the power of the devil.

And then this:

He also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father,
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, all things must have worked together for my salvation.

That’s why we love Romans 8:28, isn’t it, with its teaching that all things work together for our good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. We know Paul isn’t saying, “Everything will work themselves out okay for everybody.” No, he’s saying that despite everything, God will work together all the varied pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of our lives as believers, in order to do us ultimate good—namely, to fulfill His purpose in our lives.

We mustn’t think that we are left to define what that “good” is because Paul goes on to define it himself. He says in the very next verse, God’s purpose is to conform us to the image of His Son, to make us like the Lord Jesus. And that’s the goal He has in every step He takes in His providence in our lives.

But I think it’s important to remember the words of the, yes, admittedly, somewhat melancholy-spirited Asaph in Psalm 77:19, as he reflected on God’s ways with His people in His providence, he wrote:

Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.

That’s the challenge to faith, isn’t it? God is working providentially in our lives, but we are not always able to see His footprints. Sometimes it feels we are in the storm, and we’ve no idea what direction He’s taking. That’s why William Cowper wrote:

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

But then William Cowper, who knew a great deal of pain and struggle in his life, and must often have asked, “God, why is this happening to me?” goes on to say:

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with blessings, and shall break
With blessings on your head.

We ought to think more about that, and we’re going to think more about that this week, and I hope you’ll join me tomorrow as we do.