“The Divine Cordial” – A Fresh Look at Romans 8:28
By Richard Allen – September 12, 2022
How often have we all heard these words at the end of a fairy tale, or a childhood story: “And they all lived happily ever after.” While it sounds great – especially to a child, there is a surface level fallacy that we quickly figure out, just by growing up. As the picture of Snow White and her Prince Charming at the top depicts: Life is anything but perfect, even if all goes well and we find and marry the perfect beloved. For the starry-eyed princess there will be diapers to change, whiny children and the daily grind of housework. And for her devoted prince, a 9 to 5 job awaits him where he’ll earn “their daily bread” by the “sweat of his brow” and come home to a weary wife, not a passionate embrace. In reality, we know things seldom go according to plan. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Jesus’ words couldn’t be clearer: Real peace is “only to be found in Him.” This world only promises trouble. So this week’s Blog will focus on a few lessons from life, especially considering the troubles looming all around us. In the end, I hope to ground the people of God in gospel truth – and to provide Biblical comfort from Romans 8:28, that wonderful verse in the Bible that has often been called The Divine Cordial:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Just to clarify, I’m not encouraging anyone to use an alcoholic “liqueur.” There is another meaning for “Cordial” that prompted the Puritan, Thomas Watson, to write a book about Romans 8:28 called the “The Divine Cordial.” The word is also used for a medicine that brings relief. In fact, in describing this passage many years ago, one preacher referred to this verse as a: “A Soft Pillow for a Weary Head, and A Troubled Heart!” Most important for us this week is that we understand the trials in life – while not good in and of themselves, God providentially uses them to teach us four important lessons. These lessons apply to life, to ourselves and to His care for us. Here are the four lessons: 1.) Life isn’t fair. 2.) We are not entitled to only experience good things. 3.) God loves us and uses our experiences in life to conform us to His Son’s image and lastly 4.) He does all of these, using each trial and temptation as well as our sins and failures. While this might sound confusing, I’m hoping to make some sense of it all, and help the People of God “count our trials as all joy” (James 1:2-4), giving God the glory in the process!
I think that for many Christians, there is some confusion about how God works “ALL THINGS” for our ultimate good. Many Christians are convinced that as long as we are “obedient to the will of God,” He will work all things out for our good and His Glory. This is only partially true. Where we struggle, is grasping that our acts of obedience along with our disobedience and sinful failures are part of His Sovereign plan as well. If anything is outside His plan, He’s not in control! Many Christians, including myself as a young believer, are victims of what I call Job’s Theory, that is: “We believe that if we’re obedient and seek God’s perfect will, He will put a hedge of protection around us and keep us from serious harm and trials.” I also believed that if you purposely sinned and behaved immorally, God would let you fall victim of your own folly or actively bring chastening down on you. Job had taught what he believed to be truth to others of which his three friends were quick to remind him, drawing the obvious conclusion: Job, you’re suffering horrible calamities, you’ve lost your possessions, your children and even your health. Therefore, YOU MUST HAVE SINNED for God to be punishing you!
What Job didn’t know was, there was another reason for suffering that had nothing to do with our “suffering the just desert of our own sinful behavior.” Jesus’ disciples were also confused by the cause for the man in John Chapter nine being born blind, implying that the cause had to be the man’s own sin or his parents’ sinful actions. What they didn’t understand was, there was another cause for the sufferings and trials in life: To bring Glory to God:
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’ ” (John 9:1-3).
As a young believer I wrongly thought that Romans 8:28 taught that God was going to make “EVERYTHING TURN OUT OK.” I also misunderstood 1 Corinthians 10:13 that “God would not let us be tempted beyond our own abilities, but with every trial He would provide a way of escape.” Like many people, I left off the last part of that verse: “That we might endure it,” believing that I’d miraculously be given a lifeline at the last minute, and be pulled to safety! Don’t get me wrong, I never thought that life would be perfect or without trials. I just didn’t think that I’d live through any major struggles. I believed by living a mostly good (not perfect) Christian life, I’d be immune from the painful consequences that sinful people often incur, like being arrested for armed robbery, or causing a broken marriage by infidelity. I soon learned that Life isn’t Fair! Both the just and the unjust go through tough times for a variety of reasons (Matthew 5:45).
By studying the Book of Job I finally learned that I had a faulty understanding of the Scriptures. God’s people are not immune from the normal calamities in life (disease, wayward children, bankruptcy, death of a loved one, divorce) nor are we immune from the consequences of our failures and sins (being fired, arrested or suffering for immoral choices). While it’s easier for Christians to accept suffering when we’re being persecuted for righteous behavior, or misunderstood and hated for our faithfulness to Jesus, it’s much harder to see how God uses even our Sins, Failures, Weaknesses along with our Flat-out Disobedience to His Glory! If this were not true, David’s, Jacob’s and Peter’s experiences make no Biblical sense at all!
As a young Christian, I not only had a wrong idea about “God’s Hedge of Protection,” but also how God was using Trials in life to conform me to Christ. For years, I had this mistaken idea that as long as my sin was not a willful sin (that is – a sin not deliberately committed, but rather accidently fallen into), God could use that Trial to teach me, and make me more like Christ. I somehow believed that only faithful believers were “entitled to things working out well.” As long as my sins were not willful, He’d bless and forgive me. I knew I could be forgiven if I deliberately sinned, but God would likely have to punish and provide severe discipline. It was trials caused by sinning in ignorance, or suffering for Christ that He would use to teach me and make me holy. But as I’ve learned from Scripture, this too was wrong, just another version of Job’s Theory.
There are several examples from Scripture that I might use, but King David is one that is most easily unpacked. David, a man of many passions, valiantly fought Goliath and defended Israel from her enemies (1 Samuel 17). But later his anger was so enraged at Nabal (1 Samuel 25) that he almost had Nabal’s household slaughtered for failing to feed his band of men in the wilderness of Paran. But David was stopped by Nabal’s wife - his own future wife, Abigail. This same David brought up the Ark of the Covenant, dancing before the Lord in Triumph (2 Samuel 6), then later stood on his roof at the time that “kings should go off to war,” and fell into temptation and serious sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). Like David’s, our lives are enigmas, triumphing in obedience one minute, then falling into sin the next. I don’t think anyone reading the story of David and Bathsheba would pretend that David’s Adultery (violating the 7th Commandment) and Murder (violating the 6th Commandment),were not willful! While I’m sure that we sometimes unintentionally fall into grievous sins in life, MOST OF MY SINS ARE WILLFULL! If God can only use the sins I commit in ignorance to “WORK ALL THINGS TOGETHER FOR MY GOOD,” speaking for myself alone: He won’t have much to work with!
But there is a big ‘reveal’ if you flash forward one chapter to 1 Samuel 12. There you will see this same David and Bathsheba, having been exposed by Nathan the prophet, and shamed for their Adultery and Murder – now a year later, holding their newborn son, Solomon. The Spirit provides us with one of the biggest paradoxes in Scripture:
“Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him (Solomon) and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah (beloved of the Lord), because of the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:24-25).
Let’s get this straight. After sleeping with a married woman (Bathsheba), and having her husband murdered (Uriah the Hittite), this woman gives David a son, Solomon. And not just any son – this son is the “covenant bearer” whom God had promised to David (2 Samuel 7:12). THIS IS WHAT ROMAN’S 8:28 REALLY MEANS – GOD USES ALL THINGS, AND EVEN OUR WORST FAILURES ARE OVERRULED FOR HIS PURPOSE AND GLORY – AS WELL AS OUR ULTIMATE GOOD! David is complete proof of this Biblical truth. Scripture does differentiate “suffering for Christ’s sake” and “suffering the folly for our own sinful behavior” as Peter admonishes us all, 1 Peter 4:15: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.” But David himself was a murderer – he ordered Uriah’s death, and a thief according to the prophet Nathan – he stole his poor neighbor’s lamb (Bathsheba). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way saying: “Let us sin that good may come” (Romans 3:8). But what I am saying is: As Children of God, even our wrong-doing is part of God’s plan to chasten and make us like Christ! Romans 8:28 neither approves living in pursuit of sin, nor does it crush our failure to live up to perfect obedience before God.
In the end it proves that our “Living happily ever after” – despite being chastised by the Lord for our failures is guaranteed. We will live happily ever after because of what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us on the cross!
Soli Deo Gloria!