But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it to good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
The sound of the words is comforting. They were spoken by a brother to his brethren, in reference to events long past, yet still vivid and present to memory and to conscience. No sorrow, and no sin, ever quite dies. No lapse of time, no length of experience, no depth of repentance, can absolutely divide the one life into two, while the person is the same, or cut off the thing that was from the thing that is. But there may come a time when even suffering — in a certain sense, when even sin — may be regarded in a light subdued and softened; when the bitterest trial of the whole life, however mingled and entangled (as most of life's bitterest trials are) with human unkindness and human sin, shall be seen to have had in it a kind as well as a cruel intention; when the old man, or the dying man, shall be able to distinguish in the retrospect between man's part in it and God's; saying, with the noble-hearted and saintly man who speaks in the text, "As for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good." The mind is staggered and astounded by the sight of the prevalence of suffering amongst beings altogether or comparatively innocent of sin. The lower you descend in the scale of being, the more unaccountable does this suffering appear to you. That a wicked man should find misery in his wickedness; that, even as the vultures gather to the carcase, so sorrow and trouble should fasten upon the evil-doer — this is to be expected, if the rule is the rule of justice. It is more difficult to understand why this punishment should extend itself to persons not implicated in the particular ill-doing; why, for example, a profligate spendthrift son should be allowed to ruin his father, or why the sins of a drunken dissolute rather should be visited upon his children (as they often are seen to be) to the third and fourth generation. Still, in these cases, as none can plead absolute innocence, a perfectly upright nature and an entirely sinless life, it seems not wholly iniquitous that there should not be an exact discrimination, in effects and consequences, between the particular sin and the general. It is when we see the overflowing of that misery which is engendered of sin upon whole classes and departments of being which have never sinned and never fallen; when we see the animal world laid under the power, and subjected to the uncontrolled tyranny, of a race called rational, but employing reason, largely or chiefly, in ingenuity of sinning it is then that the heart revolts against the order of things established, and finds it most of all difficult to understand in what possible sense the text can have an application here, "But God meant it unto good." Now, the difficulty, though it must ever press, and press heavily, upon thoughtful men, is evidently much lightened by the suggestions of revelation, as to a coming time of refreshing and restoration, when these innocent ones shall cease to suffer, and the whole creation, now "groaning and travailing," shall be delivered, as St. Paul writes, evidently (to careful students of the passage) with reference not only or chiefly to the human creation, "into the glorious liberty," into the liberty belonging to and accompanying the glory, "of the children of God." There may be much that is unexplained — a dark fringe and border of mystery must ever lie around each revelation of the unseen — still, in so far as there is revelation, there is light and there is reconciliation. With it we can believe at least that all shall be well; we can wait, without credulity, for the key and for the lamp; we can expect, and not irrationally, a day, near or far off, when the text shall receive, in this connection, its warrant and its demonstration, "But God meant it unto good." There are two thoughts, besides that of the glorious rest reserved for God's people, which bring with them, wherever they are entertained, harmony and reconciliation at once.
1. One of these is the length of the Divine vision. "A thousand years are with the Lord as one day." "He sees," it is written again, "the end from the beginning." "God meant it unto good" — yea, the loftiest good and the most durable of all — if He taught one soul, by the unroofing or the unbuilding of its home here, the comparative, the superlative importance of a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. If when He severed from you, by death or banishment or (sadder still) alienation, that friend who was your life, He thus made you look onward towards heaven, or upward towards Himself; if He strongly, sharply, roughly, rudely rebuked your tendency to make man your trust, and to hew out for yourself broken cisterns which can hold no living water — was it not unto good? Or if, by a more conspicuous visitation of one of His four sore judgments, He should at last teach a frivolous though gallant nation that by Him alone counsels are established, by Him alone republics, like kings, govern, and that without Him there is neither strength nor permanence, was not this too "meant unto good"? Learn of God the length of His vision; learn not to weigh with the light weights and false balances of time, but with that " shekel of the sanctuary" which is the recollection of eternity, and you will find no cause to impugn God's wisdom or God's justice in the arrangements of His providence, whether as concerning men or nations. You will say, "He hath done all things well"; and even when He seems to provoke the prophet's question, "Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" you will be able also to answer it in the end, out of a full heart and a firm conviction, "But He meant it unto good."
2. The other thought which suggests itself as tending powerfully towards the justification of the ways of God is that of the largeness of the Divine view. It differs in some respects from the former, as the breadth differs from the length of the vision. It has special reference to those dealings in which sin is concerned. No reflection, because no revelation, reconciles the true heart to the existence of evil. That mystery lies still in its darkness. We fret and we struggle against it in vain. But that mystery is not one of God's mysteries. God's secrets are always secret's told. You will find no instance in Scripture of the term "mystery" applied to things incomprehensible. God's mysteries, indicoverable to human search, are apprehensible, when revealed, to human faith. The existence of evil is no mystery, because it is a fact; the origin of evil is no mystery, in God's sense, because it is not revealed. But, evil being recognized as a fact and unexplained as a secret, the question which remains is all-practical, and the text forces it upon our attention — Is there any sense in which God has to do with it? any sense in which God, in His mercy and compassion, deigns to use it as His instrument "unto good"? Does He merely threaten it with judgment present and to come? Or does He, as the text seems to say, coerce and even rule it for the welfare of His children? We would tread warily on this perilous ground; yet firmly too, under the guidance of the Holy One. We say that even sin is made, in some sense, to confess and to glorify God. The sin of these men addressed in the text was made to save life. The sin of the murderers of the great Antitype of this saint was made to save souls. Yes, we cannot evade the conclusion, "As for you, ye thought evil, but God meant it unto good." And it gives a very magnificent, however incomplete, conception of the greatness and goodness of God, that He forces even this inexplicable, this adverse existence, this sin which He hates, into subserviency to the good of His redeemed.
Parallel VersesKJV: But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.