An Address to the Young Women’s Christian Association, at Plymouth, September, 1878.
Every year, I might almost say every day that I live, I seem to see more clearly how all the rest and gladness and power of our Christian life hinges on one thing ; and that is,—taking God at His word, believing that He really means exactly what He says, and accepting the very words in which He reveals His goodness and grace, without substituting others or altering the precise moods and tenses which He has seen fit to use. Now scarcely any word is so often altered by His dear children, (let alone outsiders,) as the word "all." Satan can't bear it. He always meets it with a "Yea, hath God said all?" It is surprising what a number of substitutionary words he has ready to suggest—"some," "a few," "certain things," and perhaps his favourite is "all—except." Now to whom shall we listen to-day, as we think over a few of the passages where God says "All things"? Will you listen to His word, or will you accept the devil's "all—except"? This is what I want this afternoon,—that we should every one of us simply take God's words about "all things," and my prayer is that the Holy Spirit may apply at least some one of the passages to every heart, and let it ring on a powerful chime of encouragement or comfort as may be needed, through many days to come. I don't think it very much matters what I say about the texts, they themselves are the message.
In seeking out what God has said about "all things," the texts found seem to group themselves into four sets.
I. All things are of God.
II. All things are by Jesus Christ.
III. All things are for your sakes.
IV. All things are yours.
Here we seem to have a grand foundation laid in the past, and a most beautiful and perfect daily building upon it in the present.
1. Look back for a moment at the foundation, it is very strengthening to do so. Recollect how the great plan of our salvation, yours and mine, was "of God." The great promise of eternal life was "of God," given by Him before the world began, when we were not there to receive it, and therefore given to Jesus to hold for us. Search out, (from memory, or with concordance,) what God did for us before the foundation of the world, how He chose us in Christ, wrote our names in the Lamb's book of life, provided our redemption, and prepared the kingdom for us—think of all this being "of God," and seal it with the words "I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it" (Eccles. iii. 14). What He hath done cannot be reversed, what is of Him cannot come to naught. Now just let us take the strong consolation of this. For this is the foundation of Christ's promise, "My sheep shall never perish," —for "salvation is of the Lord " (Jonah ii. 9).
2. But many of us have learnt the blessedness of seeing that all this is "of God," who do not quite take the comfort of the daily building upon It.
Now here comes in the splendid fact of the literality of "all things," with no added "except." For see Rom. xi. 36, John xvii. 1, I Chron. xxix. 14. Just look at it! Positively "all things!" All that surrounds our lives and position, all that affects our work, our health, all that moulds our characters, all that is, and all that comes to His children, is "of God" and cometh "of God" to us. Of course the objection arises,—But what of things which really don't seem to be "of God" at all? Some one has beautifully said that though a wrong or injurious word or action may not be God's will for the person who says or does it, by the time it reaches me it is God's will for me, and is "of God" to me. Take as instances I Kings xii: 24; it seemed a sad and distressing thing that Rehoboam should so act as to divide the kingdom, but God says "this thing is from Me." He had His own purposes to fulfil by it. Then Gen. xlv. 8, and 9. Don't you think it would have been terribly hard for you, if you had been Joseph's sister, to believe beforehand that his being sold was "of God"? Yet, when God has once for all told us that "all things are of Him," why should we not believe at once, instead of feeling all the misery of first doubting and then being ever so sorry that we did doubt, when after a while we see that it was of God! Now to be practical: just use this thought. The very next time something turns up which seems all wrong and disappointing, say "all things are of God," therefore this thing is "of God." Of Whom? God, the Father —of whom are all things (1 Cor. viii. 6). Some of us know the force of that word by possession, and some by loss. The Father that pitieth, knoweth, careth for you, loveth you—the God whom Jesus called "My Father and your Father!" He knows the "sorrows, the way that you take, the works (for He hath prepared them for us, and has wrought them in us); He knows all things, and all these things are "of Him." Now if there were no more, is it not enough that "all things are of God!"
But how are all things of God? We can't grasp a mere passive being, we crave a personal agent. Here it is. "One Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things " (1 Cor. viii. 6, Heb. ii. 10). The Father has appointed and exalted Him to this. Did you ever think of the immense comfort it is to know that God has given Him to be (1) Head over all things to His church, that it is to you and me,—the things that we can't manage, can't bring about, can't control,—the persons or circumstances, which seem altogether beyond our reach to bend, Jesus is over them all, given to us to be not only our Head, but Head over all things! What rest it is to know this! Then all things are put under His (2) feet. No matter that we see not yet "Thou hast put," the two can't be separated: Satan is under His feet with a bruised head; the world is under His feet (wonderful footstool that!); and we, if in Christ, joined to Him, must have all these things under our feet too. Then God has given all things into His (3) hand (John iii. 35). Jesus knows it, He knew it even before He went forth to the great conflict (John xiii. 3). All His saints are in Thy hand (Deut. xxxiii. 3), our works (Eccles. ix. i), and our times (Ps. xxxi. 15).
Now with our Lord Jesus Christ given to be Head over all things, having all things put under His feet, and all things given into His hand, what in the world have we to fear! Somebody met this the other day with "nothing, except myself!" And God meets this "except" with another "all things." He tells us of the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, being able to subdue all things unto Himself. Then He must be able to subdue myself unto Himself. "But I don't find that He has done so!" And why not? "Because of your unbelief." As God has appointed faith as the means and the measure of our reception of His promises, is it any wonder that, when we don't, and won't, and don't even want to, believe a given promise, we don't find it fulfilled? Of course not! Here we have come to a most practical and closely touching test of taking God at His word. I put it to you, dear friends, solemnly. God says Jesus is able to subdue all things unto Himself. At this moment the devil is whispering at the hearts of some of you,—"Yes, hath God said all things? it only means able to subdue all things except." And some of you are adding to the word, and saying,—Yes, except my will, or except my wandering thoughts, or except my sinful nature, or except my forgctfulness, or something! Face it! Which is it to be? God says "all things." Satan says "all things except." Believing God's bare word, no matter how unlikely it seems, you shall find strength, freedom, yes, such a blessing as only He can give. Believing Satan, you shall just go on without all this, you shall go on doubting His power, and calling your doubt humility; and more than this, you shall go on sinning against God, the great monster sin of unbelief. It is no light thing to come face to face with any one of God's promises, and to turn away from it with a devil-breathed "Except."
Shall I go on now to think of what Jesus actually is doing? The great covenant is ordered in all things by God, but the agent of that covenant is Jesus Christ. As He has already fulfilled its conditions, so He is now carrying out its provisions. God is supplying all our need by Jesus Christ, just as much as He created all things by Him. And as Jesus is now upholding all by the word of His power, so He is upholding us from moment to moment. Must be! for unless we were annihilated we must be among the "all things." But still He loves to be inquired of, and so we pray (Ps. cxix. 116) "Uphold me according to Thy word," and "hold Thou me up," and how do you sometimes finish it up? "Hold Thou me up, and I know I shall fall to-day, notwithstanding!" Have you not had that ending pretty often in your hearts? Only you did not put it in so many words. Now trust that glorious Arm, trust that mighty Hand, that pierced Hand, and say, looking up to Jesus, "and I shall be safe!" Leaning on that Arm, letting ourselves rest in the hollow of that Hand, we shall be at leisure, so to speak, to look around, and watch the goings of our King, and to see the wonderful things He is doing in the world, in His church, in our lives, and I am not afraid to add, even in our hearts. Then, inevitably, we shall burst out into praise, and say "He hath done all things well" (Mark vii. 37), while we wonder every one at all things which Jesus does (Luke ix. 43).
This leads us to what seems to me the central thought and greatest passage of all, Col. i. 16-18. Here we see God s great object in doing all things by Jesus Christ, "that in all things He might have the preeminence." Now it is very easy to concede this as a grand general truth, and to see how it applies to creation, providence, and redemption. But remember that "all things" includes every little detail of our lives and service. Has Jesus Christ really and truly the preeminence in all things here? The word implies coming first and being first. Does He really come first in our plans? I don't mean ultimately and nominally; but, oh, you know the difference! is Jesus just really the first thought, the first consideration? Especially in routine work, things that come round every week, has He this real coming first? In our homes has He the preeminence? are they really ordered not merely as if Jesus were the chief guest, but ordered so because He is the chief and always abiding Guest? Has He the preeminence always? Has He now, at this very moment? Is Jesus, our own dear Lord, really preeminent? Did you come to meet Him? Are you looking for His message only? That in all things He! Himself! Who else is worthy? It is His right. Once touch on His name, and one has no words. One wants so very much that He should have it. He whom we do love, He who so loves us. Well, has He? Some, thing or some one must have it, must come first. If He doesn't come first, something else does, and that won't do! No matter how dear a cause may be, that must not have it. There is wrong done to our Master if any cause, any denominational interest, any personal feeling, any prejudice, has for even one single five minutes the preeminence in our consideration or motive. Go deeper still, what if self has the preeminence! One almost writhes with shame that it should ever be so; yet probably many hearts go with mine in bitter self accusation that it has been so. Just to think that whenever either self or anything else comes first, Jesus does not., and we are at that moment in actual, even if unconscious or rather unrecognised, rebellion against God's great purpose that His dear Son should have the preeminence! Why, it is actually the sin of the fallen angels! And perhaps we have never seen it to be sin at all! Now let us bring it to the fountain opened, and now let us entieat Him so entirely to reign over us and in us, that henceforth in all things He may really have the preeminence!
"All things are for your sakes" (2 Cor. iv. 15). Connect this with Prov. xvi. 4, "the Lord hath made all things for Himself," and we get a wonderful view of the love of God and unity of interest with Him. Another parallel pair is Rom. viii. 28 with Eph. i. II. No wonder that all things work together for good when He worketh all things after the counsel of His will! For the will is the very centre point of conscious being; and as the nature is, so is the will. Now if God's nature is revealed to be Love, His will must be all love too. So when we are told that He worketh all things after the counsel of His will, that is the same as saying He worketh according to His love,—"the great love wherewith He loveth us."
Can love work willingly anything but good to its object? So, too, if He has made all things for Himself, love is the link which leads to the more wonderful declaration, "all things are for your sakes." Look out on creation,—stars by night, all that light reveals by day, —not only that your Father made them all, but all for your sakes. Look at wonders of natural history, and science, some of us have keen enjoyment in these. Recollect not only that they are the wonderful works and laws and embodied thoughts of your Father, but all for your sakes. Look at the strange entangled mazes (as they seem to us, being the wrong side of the tapestry,) of His government of the world, His ways with man in history, His singular present overrulings and developing; of things,—all for your sakes. Look nearer at the surroundings of our own lives, things great and small affecting us, all for your sakes. Again, are you prepared actually to believe this? Perhaps you can accept the great facts that God made the world and governs the world all for His children's sakes, and yet do not practically believe that the things quite close to you every day, this day, are all for your sakes. You don't like some of these things, yet they are for your sakes. They are so arranged as to turn out for the very best for you. We talk of killing two birds with one stone, and think it clever to manage it. Think of the incomprehensible wisdom which fits all things into your single life so that all shall work together for good, and then that these "all things" are also and at the same time fitted all round into the lives of all His children with which they come in contact. "Ordered in all things." Do you think you could improve upon this ordering? Would you like to have a try at it, just for yourself only, and just for one day? Ah, would you dare it? What a terrible mess we should make if He left us to it, or if He entrusted us to order a little bit of the lives of those dear ones about whom we are so trustless!
Well then, if you would not dare to take the reins, why not leave them where they are, in His own hand? Is it not senseless, when one comes to think of it, let alone wrong, to fidget and worry about any one thing at all, when He says His covenant is ordered in all things and sure, and that all things are for your sakes? We do specially want to remember here that all things means all things, because when the things present are sorrowful, and faith-testing, and painful, and perplexing, we begin again with that dreadful word "except." Are some of us face to face with some of these things now? What shall we then say to these things? What have others said? Take three instances. Gen. xlii. 36: Jacob said, "All these things are against me." Were they? How tremendously he was mistaken! But he had not the clear promises we have. Hezekiah (Isa. xxxviii. 16) got a great deal farther. He said: "By these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit." "These things" meant for him going down to the gates of the grave, and being well-nigh cut off with pining sickness. Yet that which was almost death to the body was life to the spirit. Have not some of us found it so? I have, and many others. I won't ask others to take our word about it, but I do ask them to take this inspired word about it, and to trust and not be afraid if such things come to you. It is worth suffering to prove it. But St. Paul got farther still (Rom. viii. 37): "In all these things we are more than conquerors," etc. What things? We can't write out quite such a serious list as he did of things which seem to be against as.
He not only makes all things work together for good, but does more: "performeth all things for me." And if we did but open our eyes and notice, we should see Him at work for us. Every day is full of miracles when the Holy Spirit really opens our eyes to see God working them, and I often think it is the very little things which most magnify His lovingkindness. We talk about the telescope of faith, but I think we want even more the microscope of watchful and grateful love. Apply this to the little bits of our daily lives, in the light of the Spirit, and how wonderfully they come out! We see these little things in their true greatness, and in the beauty of their fitness as parts of His own perfect plan of our lives, which He is working out for us hour by hour. Don't wait for to-morrow; take this day, the morning hours past, the evening ones to come; and apply this microscope, and see if you don't find you are walking in the midst of miracles of love, and that all things are for your sakes.
But there is a step beyond even this: "All things are yours." Here it seems as if we want increase of faith, not only as to willingness and energy, but as to actual capacity to take it in. It seems more than we can grasp, we are narrow-necked bottles set under a very Niagara of grace and blessing. One really can only look at what He says about it, and bow one's head and say, "what shall I render?" And the only true answer is, "I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord" (Ps. cxvi. 13). What does He say? (Prov. xxviii. 10.) "The upright shall have good things in possession" not in possibility or even in promise. Then we find one bearing witness to it and saying 2 Cor. vi. 10; then we have it in parable (Luke xv. 31); then explicitly and in detail (2 Pet. i. 3); then we hear of some one who had claimed and received it (1 Cor. i. 5); then we find the splendid proof that God means what He says about it (Rom. viii. 32); then we have it set forth so positively that there is no room left, it would seem, for any Satanic "except" (2 Cor. ix. 8); and then it is summed up in these grand words which we are now looking at (1 Cor. iii. 21). Can you take that in? See what God has given you! Have you ever really said ''thank you" for it? Oh give unto God the glory due unto His name, and may He give us ''that due sense of all His mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful." If He has given us all things, have we any business to live as spiritual paupers? Half the reason why we don't praise Him as we ought is because we don't really believe what great things He has given us. Oh "consider what great things He hath done for you" (1 Sam. xii. 24). Let us ask Him for much more of His Holy Spirit, that we may know the things that are freely given to us of God (1 Cor. ii. 12). And then, in proportion as we know these things, and most of all, in proportion as we know God's greatest gift, Jesus Himself, we shall say, "Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil. iii. 8).
"All things are yours." "Perhaps so," says Satan, "but that means only spiritual things, and has nothing to do with these temporal things which are pressing you!" Is this the special trouble of any here? Money matters do come awkward sometimes!
Again we are met with an "all things ": "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. vi. 33). All these things, food and clothing, etc. No doubt some of us could bear witness to how really curiously God has fulfilled this, adding to the first sought grace of His kingdom just the thing that we didn't quite see our way to, as to some needed supply of dress, change of air, or other of "these things." Why should one ever have an anxious thought in this direction, when He has downright forbidden it on the one hand, "take no thought," etc., and when He so tenderly says ''your Father knoweth," on the other!
Great gifts and privileges are always linked with duties and precepts, so we will just glance at a few. Here are our marching orders.
All things are of God; therefore, "let all your things be done with charity" (1 Cor. xvi. 14); and also, "all things without murmurings," etc. (Phil. ii. 14.) "All things are by Jesus Christ;" therefore, let us seek to ''adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things" (Tit. ii. 10); "in all things showing thyself a pattern of good works" (ver. 7). All things are for your sakes, and all things are yours; therefore, let us be "giving thanks always for all things" (Eph. v. 20). Thus we shall "grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ" (Eph. iv. 15); "being obedient in all things" (2 Cor. ii. 9). Then we may tell Him all things (Mark vi. 30), and rest in His omniscience and omnipotence, for "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb. iv. 13), and with Him "all things are possible " (Matt. xix. 26).
My wish for you is that in your hearts and homes, service and rest, God "in all things " may be glorified through Jesus Christ.—F. R. H.
Memorials of F. R. H., (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1881), pp. 324 -335.