In my examinations of the controversy over the predestination of all things (i.e. absolutism) versus the modern system of conditionalism, one of the more visible points of difference is on the interpretation of Romans 8:28. Quotations on this passage are much more numerous than they are on the topics of gospel means, perseverance, or other points pivotal in the discussion as to who are the real “Old” Baptists. I have in my possession dozens of citations from the 19th century in which the author placed no limit on the working together of all things for the good of the elect. It is so astounding to see the stark contrast between this “old” original position and the prevailing one today of limiting Romans 8:28 to being only “some things” or “five things” working together for our good, that the honest reader cannot help but suspect that something happened to create this shift in thinking, which a study of the late 19th and early 20th centuries will confirm.
It has already been stated on this blog that John Gill is generally held in high esteem by those claiming to be Old or Primitive Baptists. Another name, perhaps to a less degree, who meets with general approval is that of J.C. Philpot. In fact, my former pastor had a book of his sermons which he loaned me.
How did these men handle this lovely passage in Romans 8? Did they limit it?
Well, let us see. Any emphasis is my own.
Dr. Gill comments on the passage:
“…by "all things" may be meant, all beings good and bad: all good beings eternal or created: eternal, as Jehovah the Father, all his perfections, purposes, promises, provisions, and performances; Jehovah the Son, as the mighty God, and as Mediator, all that he is in himself, all that he has in himself, all that he has done, or is doing, all his titles, characters, and relations; Jehovah the Spirit, in his person, offices, and operations; these all have worked together in the council of peace, in the covenant of grace, and in redemption; and they do work together in sanctification, and so they will in glorification, and that for the good of the saints: all created ones, as good angels, good magistrates, good ministers of the Gospel: all evil beings, as devils, persecuting magistrates, heretics, and false teachers: all things, good and bad: all good things, outward peace and prosperity, external gifts, the ministry of the word, the administration of ordinances, church censures, admonitions, and excommunications; all evil things, sin the evil of evils: original sin, or the fall of Adam, which contains all other sins in it, was attended with aggravating circumstances, and followed with dismal consequences, yet has been overruled for good; hereby a Saviour became necessary, who was sent, came, and wrought out salvation; has brought in a better righteousness than Adam lost; entitled his people to a better life than his was, and makes them partakers of the riches both of grace and glory: actual sin, inward or outward; indwelling sin; which is made use of, when discovered, to abate pride, to lead to an entire dependence on Christ, to teach saints to be less censorious, to depend on the power and grace of God to keep them, and to wean them from this world, and to make them desirous of another, where they shall be free from it; outward sins, of others, or their own; the sins of others, of wicked men, which observed, raise an indignation in the saints against sin, and a concern for God's glory, and to look into their own hearts and ways, and admire the grace of God to them, that this is not their case; of good men, which are recorded, and may be observed, not for example and encouragement in sin, but for admonition, and to encourage faith and hope under a sense of it; of their own, for humiliation, which issues in weakening the power of sin in themselves, and the strengthening of the graces of others: but from all this it does not follow, that God is the author of sin, only that he overrules it to wise and gracious purposes; nor should any take encouragement to sin, to do evil that good may come; nor is sin itself a real good; nor is it to be said that it does no hurt; for though it cannot hinder the everlasting salvation of God's people, it does a great deal of hurt to their peace and comfort; and that it is made to work in any form or shape for good, is not owing to its own nature and influence, which is malignant enough, but to the unbounded power and unsearchable wisdom of God: all evils or afflictions, spiritual and temporal, work together for good; all spiritual ones, such as the temptations of Satan, which are made useful for humiliation, for the trial of grace, to show us our weakness, our need of Christ, and to conform us to him, and also to excite to prayer and watchfulness; the hidings of God's face, which make his presence the more prized when enjoyed, and the more desirable. Temporal afflictions, afflictions in body, name, or estate, nay even death itself, all work together for the good of God's people.”
Clearly Dr. Gill had no problem in understanding the truth behind this passage. Nor did he feel that such made God the author of sin, a common objection to those who disagree.
J.C. Philpot states:
To look at all our varied circumstances; and then to believe that if we are the lovers of God, all things we experience are working together for our spiritual good, what a view does it give us of the wisdom, grace, and power of a wonder-working God! And we are to measure this good, not by what the creature thinks, but by what God Himself has declared to be good in His Word, and what we have felt to be good in our soul’s experience. Have your trials humbled you, made you meek and lowly? They have done you good. Have they stirred up a spirit of prayer in your bosom, made you sigh, cry, and groan for the Lord to appear, visit, or bless your soul? They have done you good. Have they opened up those parts of God’s Word which are full of mercy and comfort to His afflicted people? Have they stripped off the covering that is too narrow? Have they made you more sincere, more earnest, more spiritual, more Heavenly-minded, more convinced that the Lord Jesus can alone comfort and bless your soul? They have done you good. Have they been the means in God’s hand of giving you a lift in hearing the preached word, of opening your ears to hear none but the true servants of God, those who enter into a tried path, and describe a gracious experience? Have they made the Bible more precious to you, the promises more sweet, the dealings of God with your soul more prized? They have done you good (1802-1869).”
This is a comforting thought from the great experimental preacher. It is most unfortunate that this comfort is being deprived by those who will not allow the scope of all things to be what the Holy Spirit intended, all because of a previous commitment to conditionalism.