A Divine Cordial
by Thomas Watson, 1663
"And we know that all things work together for good to
those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
There are two things, which I have always looked upon as difficult. The one
is—to make the wicked sad; the other is—to make the godly
joyful. Dejection in the godly arises from a double spring: either because
their inward comforts are darkened, or their outward comforts are disturbed.
To cure both these troubles, I have put forth this ensuing treatise, hoping,
by the blessing of God, that it will buoy up their desponding hearts, and
make them look with a more pleasant aspect. I would prescribe them to take,
now and then, a little of this Cordial: "all things work together for good
to those who love God." To know that nothing hurts the godly, is a matter of
comfort; but to be assured that all things which fall out shall cooperate
for their good, that their crosses shall be turned into blessings,
that showers of affliction water the withering root of their grace
and make it flourish more—this may fill their hearts with joy until they run
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
If the whole Scripture be the feast for the soul (as
Ambrose says)—then Romans 8 may be a dish at that feast, and with its sweet
variety may very much refresh and animate the hearts of Gods people. In the
preceding verses the apostle had been wading through the great doctrines of
justification and adoption, mysteries so arduous and profound, that without
the help and conduct of the Spirit, he might soon have waded beyond his
depth. In this verse the apostle touches upon that pleasant string of
consolation, "we know that all things work together for good, to those who
love God." Not a word but is weighty; therefore I shall gather up every
filing of this gold, that nothing will be lost.
In the text there are three general branches.
First, a glorious privilege. All things work for good.
Second, the people interested in this privilege. They are
doubly specified. They are lovers of God, they are
Third, the origin and spring of this effectual calling,
set down in these words, "according to His purpose."
I. First, the glorious PRIVILEGE. Here are two
things to be considered:
1. The certainty of the privilege—"We know."
2. The excellency of the privilege—"All things work
together for good."
1. The CERTAINLY of the privilege: "We know."
It is not a matter wavering or doubt. The apostle does not say, "We hope,
or conjecture." "We know that all things work for good." Hence
observe that the truths of the gospel are evident and infallible.
A Christian may come not merely to a vague opinion, but
to a certainty of what he holds. As axioms and aphorisms are evident to
reason, so the truths of true religion are evident to faith. "We know," says
the apostle. Though a Christian has not a perfect knowledge of the
mysteries of the gospel—yet he has a certain knowledge. "We see
through a glass darkly" (1 Cor. x3:12), therefore we have not perfection
of knowledge; but "we behold with open face" (2 Cor. 3:18), therefore we
have certainty. The Spirit of God imprints heavenly truths upon the
heart, as with the point of a diamond. A Christian may know infallibly that
there is an evil in sin, and a beauty in holiness. He may know that he is in
the state of grace. "We know that we have passed from death to life" (1 John
He may know that he shall go to heaven. "We know that if
our earthly tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house
not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 5:1). The Lord does not
leave His people at uncertainties in matters of salvation. The apostle says,
"We know. We have arrived at a holy confidence. We have both the Spirit of
God, and our own experience, setting seal to it."
Let us then not rest in skepticism or doubts—but labor to
come to a certainty in the things of religion. As that martyr woman said, "I
cannot dispute for Christ—but I can burn for Christ." God
knows whether we may be called forth to be witnesses to His truth; therefore
it concerns us to be well-grounded and confirmed in it. If we are
doubting Christians, we shall be wavering Christians. Whence is
apostasy, but from incredulity? Men first question the truth, and
then fall from the truth. Oh, beg the Spirit of God, not only to
anoint you, but to seal you (2 Cor. 1:22).
2. The EXCELLENCY of the privilege. "All
things work together for good."
This is as Jacob's staff in the hand of faith, with which
we may walk cheerfully to the mount of God! What will satisfy or make us
content, if this will not? All things work together for good. This
expression "work together" refers to medicine. Several poisonous ingredients
put together, being tempered by the skill of the apothecary, make a
sovereign medicine, and work together for the good of the patient. So all
God's providences being divinely tempered and sanctified, do work together
for the best to the saints. He who loves God and is called according to His
purpose, may rest assured that everything in the world shall be for his
good. This is a Christian's cordial, which may warm him—and make him like
Jonathan who, when he had tasted the honey at the end of the rod, "his eyes
were enlightened" (1 Sam. xiv. 27). Why should a Christian destroy himself?
Why should he kill himself with care, when all things shall sweetly concur,
yes, conspire for his good? The result of the text is this—all the various
dealings of God with His children, do by a special providence turn to their
good. "All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his
covenant" (Psalm 25:10). If every path has mercy in it, then it works for
We shall consider, first, WHAT things work for good to
the godly; and here we shall show that both the best things and
the worst things work for their good. We begin with the best things.
The BEST things work for good to the godly
1. God's attributes work for good to the godly.
(1). God's POWER works for good. It is a
glorious power (Col. 1:11), and it is engaged for the good of the elect.
God's power works for good, in
supporting us in TROUBLE. "Underneath are the everlasting
arms" (Deut. 33:27). What upheld Daniel in the lion's den? What upheld Jonah
in the whale's belly? What upheld the three Hebrews in the furnace? Only the
power of God! Is it not strange to see a bruised reed grow and
flourish? How is a weak Christian able, not only to endure affliction—but to
rejoice in it? He is upheld by the arms of the Almighty. "My strength is
made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).
The power of God works for us by
supplying our NEEDS. God creates comforts, when means fail. He
who brought food to the prophet Elijah by ravens, will bring sustenance to
His people. God can preserve the "oil in the cruse" (1 Kings x7:14). The
Lord made the sun on Ahaz's dial go ten degrees backward: so when our
outward comforts are declining, and the sun is almost setting, God often
causes a revival, and brings the sun many degrees backward.
The power of God subdues our
CORRUPTIONS. "He will subdue our iniquities" (Micah 7:19). Is
your sin strong? God is powerful, He will break the head of this leviathan.
Is your heart hard? God will dissolve that stone in Christ's blood. "The
Almighty makes my heart soft" (Job 23:16). When we say as Jehoshaphat, "We
have no might against this great army"; the Lord goes up with us, and helps
us to fight our battles. He strikes off the heads of those goliath lusts
which are too strong for us!
The power of God conquers our
ENEMIES. He stains the pride, and breaks the confidence of
adversaries. "You shall break them with a rod of iron" (Psalm 2:9). There is
rage in the enemy, and malice in the devil—but
omnipotence in God. How easily can He rout all the forces of the wicked!
"It is nothing for you, Lord, to help" (2 Chr. xiv. 11). God's power is on
the side of His church. "Happy are you, O Israel, O people saved by the
Lord, who is the shield of your help, and the sword of your excellency"
(2). The WISDOM of God works for good. God's
wisdom is our oracle to instruct us. As He is the mighty God, so also the
Counselor (Isaiah 9:6). We are oftentimes in the dark, and, in intricate and
doubtful matters, know not which way to take; here God comes in with light.
"I will guide you with my eye" (Psalm. 32:8). "Eye," there, is put for God's
wisdom. Why is it, that the saints can see further than the most
quick-sighted politicians? They foresee the evil, and hide themselves; they
see Satan's sophisms. God's wisdom is the pillar of fire to go before, and
(3). The GOODNESS of God works for good to the godly.
God's goodness is a means to make us good. "The goodness of God leads
to repentance" (Romans 2:4). The goodness of God is a spiritual sunbeam to
melt the heart into tears. "Oh," says the soul, "has God been so good to me?
Has He reprieved me so long from hell, and shall I grieve His Spirit any
more? Shall I sin against God's goodness?"
The goodness of God works for good, as it ushers in all
blessings. The favors we receive, are the silver streams which flow from the
fountain of God's goodness. This divine attribute of goodness brings in two
sorts of blessings. Common blessings: all partake of these, the bad
as well as the good; this sweet dew falls upon the thistle as well as the
rose. Crowning blessings: these only the godly partake of. "Who
crowns us with loving-kindness" (Psalm 103. 4). Thus the blessed attributes
of God work for good to the saints.
2. The PROMISES of God work for good to the godly.
The promises are God's bank notes. The promises are the
milk of the gospel; and is not the milk for the good of the infant? They are
called "precious promises" (2 Pet. 1:4). They are as cordials to a soul that
is ready to faint. The promises are full of virtue.
Are we under the guilt of sin? There is a
promise, "The Lord is merciful and gracious" (Exod. 34:6), where God as it
were puts on His glorious embroidery, and holds out the golden scepter, to
encourage poor trembling sinners to come to Him. "The Lord is merciful and
gracious." God is more willing to pardon—than to punish. Mercy
does more multiply in Him, than sin in us. Mercy is His nature. The bee
naturally gives honey; it stings only when it is provoked. "But," says the
guilty sinner, "I cannot deserve mercy." Yet He is gracious: He shows mercy,
not because we deserve mercy—but because He delights in mercy. But what is
that to me? Perhaps my name is not in the pardon. "He keeps mercy for
thousands!" The treasury of mercy is not exhausted. God has treasures lying
by, and why should not you come in for a child's part?
Are we under the defilement of sin? There is a
promise working for good. "I will heal their backslidings" (Hos. 14:4). God
will not only bestow mercy—but grace. And He has made a promise of sending
His Spirit (Isaiah 44:3), which for His sanctifying nature, is in Scripture
compared sometimes to water—which cleanses the vessel; sometimes to
the fan—which winnows corn, and purifies the air; sometimes to
fire—which refines metals. Thus the Spirit of God shall cleanse and
consecrate the soul, making it partake of the divine nature.
Are we in great trouble? There is a promise
which works for our good, "I will be with him in trouble" (Psalm 91. 15).
God does not bring His people into troubles, and leave them there. He will
stand by them; He will hold their heads and hearts when they are fainting.
And there is another promise, "He is their strength in the time of trouble"
(Psalm 37:39). "Oh," says the soul, "I shall faint in the day of trial." But
God will be the strength of our hearts; He will join His forces with us.
Either He will make His hand lighter—or our faith stronger!
Do we fear outward needs? There is a promise.
"Those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing" (Psalm 34:10). If it
is good for us, we shall have it; if it is not good for us, then the
withholding of it is good. "I will bless your bread and your water" (Exod.
33:25). This blessing falls as the honey dew upon the leaf; it sweetens that
little we possess. Let me lack the venison, so I may have the blessing. But
I fear I shall not get a livelihood? Peruse that Scripture, "I have been
young, and now am old—yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his
seed begging bread" (Psalm 37:25). How must we understand this? David speaks
it as his own observation; he never beheld such an eclipse, he never saw a
godly man brought so low that he had not a bit of bread to put in his mouth.
David never saw the righteous and their seed lacking. Though the Lord might
try godly parents a while by need—yet not their seed too; the seed of the
godly shall be provided for. David never saw the righteous begging bread,
and forsaken. Though he might be reduced to great straits—yet not forsaken;
still he is an heir of heaven, and God loves him.
Question. How do the promises work for good?
Answer. They are food for faith; and that which
strengthens faith works for good. The promises are the milk of faith; faith
sucks nourishment from them, as the child from the breast. "Jacob feared
exceedingly" (Gen. 32:7). His spirits were ready to faint; now he goes to
the promise, "Lord, you have said you will do me good" (Gen. 32:12). This
promise was his food. He got so much strength from this promise, that he was
able to wrestle with the Lord all night in prayer, and would not let Him go
until He had blessed him.
The promises also are springs of joy. There is
more in the promises to comfort—than in the world to perplex. Ursin was
comforted by that promise: "No man shall pluck them out of my Father's
hands" (John 10:29). The promises are cordials in a fainting fit. "Unless
your word had been my delight, I had perished in my affliction" (Psalm
119:92). The promises are as cork to the net, to bear up the heart from
sinking in the deep waters of distress!
3. The MERCIES of God world for good to the godly.
The mercies of God humble. "Then King David went
in and sat before the Lord and prayed, "Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what
is my family, that you have brought me this far?" (2 Sam. 7:18). Lord, why
is such honor conferred upon me, that I should be king? That I who
followed the sheep, should be king over Your people? So says a gracious
heart, "Lord, who am I, that it should be better with me than others?
That I should drink of the fruit of the vine, when others drink, not
only a cup of wormwood—but a cup of blood (or suffering to death). Who am
I, that I should have those mercies which others lack, who are better
than I? Lord, why is it, that with all my unworthiness, a fresh tide of
mercy comes in every day?" The mercies of God make a sinner proud—but a
The mercies of God have a melting influence upon
the soul; they dissolve it in love to God. God's judgments make us fear
Him—but His mercies make us love Him. How was Saul wrought upon by kindness!
David had him at the advantage, and might have cut off, not only the skirt
of his robe—but his head; yet he spares his life. This kindness melted
Saul's heart. "Is this your voice, my son David? and Saul lifted up his
voice, and wept" (1 Sam. 24:16). Such a melting influence has God's mercy;
it makes the eyes drop with tears of love.
The mercies of God make the heart fruitful. When
you lay out more cost upon a field, it bears a better crop. A gracious soul
honors the Lord with his substance. He does not do with his mercies, as
Israel with their jewels and ear rings, make a golden calf; but, as Solomon
did with the money thrown into the treasury, build a temple for the Lord.
The golden showers of Gods' mercy, cause fertility.
The mercies of God make the heart thankful. "What
shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me? I will take
the cup of salvation" (Psalm 116:12, 13). David alludes to the people of
Israel, who at their peace offerings used to take a cup in their hands, and
give thanks to God for deliverances. Every mercy is an gift of free grace;
and this enlarges the soul in gratitude. A godly Christian is not a grave to
bury God's mercies—but a temple to sing His praises. "If every bird in its
kind," as Ambrose says, "chirps forth thankfulness to its Maker, much more
will a sincere Christian, whose life is enriched and perfumed with mercy."
The mercies of God quicken. As they are loadstones
to love, so they are whetstones to obedience. "I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living" (Psalm 116. 9). He who takes a review of his
blessings, looks upon himself as a person engaged for God. He argues from
the sweetness of mercy—to the swiftness of duty. He spends and
is spent for Christ; he dedicates himself to God. Among the Romans, when one
had redeemed another, he was afterwards to serve him. A soul encompassed
with mercy, is zealously active in God's service.
The mercies of God work compassion to others. A
Christian is a temporal Savior. He feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and
visits the widow and orphan in their distress; among them he sows the golden
seeds of his charity. "A godly man shows favor, and lends" (Psalm 112. 5).
Charity drops from him freely, as myrrh from the tree. Thus to the godly,
the mercies of God work for good; they are wings to lift them up to heaven.
SPIRITUAL mercies also work for good.
The word preached works for good. It is a savor of
life, it is a soul transforming word, it assimilates the heart into Christ's
likeness; it produces assurance. "Our gospel came to you not in word
only—but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance" (1 Thess.
1:5). It is the chariot of salvation.
Prayer works for good. Prayer is the bellows of the
affections; it blows up holy desires and ardours of soul. Prayer has power
with God. "Command me" (Isaiah 14:11). Prayer is a key which unlocks the
treasury of God's mercy. Prayer keeps the heart open to God—and shut to sin.
Prayer assuages the swellings of lust. It was Luther's counsel to a friend,
when he perceived a temptation begin to arise, to betake himself to prayer.
Prayer is the Christian's gun, which he discharges against his enemies.
Prayer is the sovereign medicine of the soul. Prayer sanctifies every mercy
(1 Tim. 4:5). Prayer is the dispeller of sorrow—by venting the grief it,
eases the heart. When Hannah had prayed, "she went away, and was no more
sad" (1 Sam. 1:18). And if it has these rare effects, then it works for
The Lord's Supper works for good. It is an emblem
of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9), and a pledge of that
communion we shall have with Christ in glory. It is a feast of fat things;
it gives us bread from Heaven, such as preserves life, and prevents death.
It has glorious effects in the hearts of the godly. It quickens their
affections, strengthens their graces, mortifies their corruptions, revives
their hopes, and increases their joy. Luther says, "It is as great a work to
comfort a dejected soul, as to raise the dead to life"; yet this may and
sometimes is done to the souls of the godly in the blessed supper.
4. The GRACES of the Spirit work for good.
Grace is to the soul, as light to the eye, as health to
the body. Grace does to the soul, as a virtuous wife to her husband, "She
will do him good all the days of her life" (Proverbs 31:12). How
incomparably useful are the graces! Faith and fear go hand in hand. Faith
keeps the heart cheerful, fear keeps the heart serious. Faith keeps
the heart from sinking in despair, fear keeps it from floating in
presumption. All the graces display themselves in their beauty: hope is "the
helmet" (1 Thess. 5:8), meekness "the ornament" (1 Pet. 3:4), love "the bond
of perfectness" (Col. 3:14). The saints' graces are weapons to defend them,
wings to elevate them, jewels to enrich them, spices to perfume them, stars
to adorn them, cordials to refresh them. And does not all this work for
good? The graces are our evidences for heaven. Is it not good to have our
evidences at the hour of death?
5. The ANGELS work for the good of the Saints.
The good angels are ready to do all offices of love to
the people of God. "Are not all angels ministering spirits, sent to serve
those who will inherit salvation?" (Heb. 1:14). Some of the fathers were of
opinion that every believer has his guardian angel. This subject needs no
hot debate. It may suffice us to know the whole hierarchy of angels is
employed for the good of the saints.
The good angels do service to the saints in life.
The angel comforted the virgin Mary (Luke 1:28). The angels stopped the
mouths of the lions—that they could not hurt Daniel (Dan. 6:22). A Christian
has an invisible guard of angels about him. "He shall give his angels charge
over you, to keep you in all your ways" (Psalm 91. 11). The angels are of
the saints' life guard, yes, the chief of the angels: "Are they not all
ministering spirits?" The highest angels take care of the lowest saints.
The holy angels do service at death. The angels
are about the saints' sick beds to comfort them. As God comforts by His
Spirit, so by His angels. Christ in His agony was refreshed by an angel
(Luke xx2:43); so are believers in the agony of death: and when the saints'
breath expires, their souls are carried up to heaven by a convoy of angels
The holy angels also do service at the day of judgment.
The angels shall open the saints' graves, and shall conduct them into the
presence of Christ, when they shall be made like His glorious body. "He
shall send his angels, and they shall gather together his elect from the
four winds, from the one end of heaven to the other" (Matt. 26:31). The
angels at the day of judgment shall rid the godly of all their enemies. Here
the saints are plagued with enemies. "They are my adversaries, because I
follow that which is good" (Psalm 38:20). Well, the angels will shortly give
God's people a writ of ease, and set them free from all their enemies: "The
tares are the children of the wicked one, the harvest is the end of the
world, the reapers are the angels; as therefore the tares are gathered and
burnt in the fire, so shall it be in the end of the world: the Son of man
shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all
things which offend, and them which do iniquity, and cast them into a
furnace of fire" (Matt. 13:38 42). At the day of judgment the angels of God
will take the wicked, which are the tares, and will bundle them up, and
throw them into hell furnace, and then the godly will not be troubled with
enemies any more: thus the good angels work for good.
See here the honor and dignity of a believer. He has
God's name written upon him (Rev. 3:12), the Holy Spirit dwelling in him (2
Tim. 1:14), and a guard of angels attending him!
6. The Communion of Saints works for good.
"We are helpers of your joy" (2 Cor. 1:24). One Christian
conversing with another is a means to confirm him. As the stones in an arch
help to strengthen one another, one Christian by imparting his experience,
heats and quickens another. "Let us provoke one another to love, and to good
works" (Heb. 10:24). How does grace flourish by holy conference! A Christian
by good discourse drops that oil upon another, which makes the lamp of his
faith burn the brighter.
7. Christ's intercession works for good.
Christ is in heaven, as Aaron with his golden plate upon
his forehead, and his precious incense; and He prays for all believers as
well as He did for the apostles. "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray
also for those who will believe in me" (John 17:20). When a Christian is
weak, and can hardly pray for himself, Jesus Christ is praying for him; and
He prays for three things.
First, that the saints may be kept from sin (John 17:15).
"I pray that you should keep them from the evil." We live in the world as in
a pest-house; Christ prays that His saints may not be infected with the
contagious evil of the times.
Second, for His people's progress in holiness. "Sanctify
them" (John 17:17). Let them have constant supplies of the Spirit, and be
anointed with fresh oil.
Third, for their glorification "Father, I will that those
which you have given me, be with me where I am" (John 17:24). Christ is not
content until the saints are in His arms. This prayer, which He made on
earth, is the copy and pattern of His prayer in heaven. What a comfort is
this—when Satan is tempting, Christ is praying! This works for good.
Christ's prayer takes away the sins of our prayers. As a
child who present his father with a posy, goes into the garden, and there
gathers some flowers and some weeds together—but coming to his mother, she
picks out the weeds and binds the flowers, and so it is presented to the
father. Just so—when we have put up our prayers, Christ comes, and picks
away the weeds, the sin of our prayer, and presents nothing but flowers to
His Father, which are a sweet smelling savor.
8. The prayers of Saints work for good to the godly.
The saints pray for all the members of the mystical body,
their prayers prevail much. They prevail for recovery from sickness "Your
prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up" (James
5:15). They prevail for victory over enemies. "Lift up your prayer for the
remnant that is left" (Isaiah 37:4). That night the angel of the Lord went
out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian troops" (Isaiah 37:36).
They prevail for deliverance out of prison. "But while Peter was in prison,
the church prayed very earnestly for him. The night before Peter was to be
placed on trial, he was asleep, chained between two soldiers, with others
standing guard at the prison gate. Suddenly, there was a bright light in the
cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel tapped him on
the side to awaken him and said, "Quick! Get up!" And the chains fell off
his wrists." (Acts 12:5-7). The angel fetched Peter out of prison—but
it was prayer which fetched the angel. They prevail for forgiveness
of sin. "My servant Job shall pray for you, for him will I accept" (Job
Thus the prayers of the saints work for good to the
mystical body. And this is no small privilege to a child of God, that he has
a constant trade of prayer driven for him. When he comes into any place, he
may say, "I have some prayer here, nay, all the world over I have a stock of
prayer going for me. When I am indisposed, and out of tune, others are
praying for me, who are quick and lively." Thus the best things work
for good to the people of God.
The WORST things work for good to the godly
Do not mistake me, I do not say that of their own nature,
the worst things are good, for they are a fruit of the curse. But though
they are naturally evil—yet the wise overruling hand of God disposing and
sanctifying them—they are morally good. As the elements, though of contrary
qualities—yet God has so tempered them, that they all work in a harmonious
manner for the good of the universe. Or as in a watch, the wheels seem to
move contrary one to another—but all carry on the motions of the watch: so
things that seem to move cross to the godly—yet by the wonderful providence
of God, work for their good. Among these worst things, there are four sad
evils which work for good to those who love God.
1. The evil of AFFLICTION works for good, to the godly.
It is one heart-quieting consideration in all the
afflictions which befall us—that God has a special hand in them: "The
Almighty has afflicted me" (Ruth 1:21). Instruments can no more stir until
God gives them a commission, than the axe can cut, by itself, without a
hand. Job eyed God in his affliction: therefore, as Augustine observes, he
does not say, "The Lord gave—and the devil took away," but, "The Lord has
taken away." Whoever brings an affliction to us, it is God who sends it.
Another heart quieting consideration is—that afflictions
work for good. "I have sent them into captivity for their own good." (Jer.
24:6). Judah's captivity in Babylon was for their good. "It is good for me
that I have been afflicted" (Psalm 119:71). This text, like Moses' tree cast
into the bitter waters of affliction, may make them sweet and wholesome to
drink. Afflictions to the godly are medicinal. Out of the most
poisonous drugs God extracts our salvation. Afflictions are as needful as
ordinances (1 Peter 1:6). No vessel can be made of gold without fire; so it
is impossible that we should be made vessels of honor, unless we are melted
and refined in the furnace of affliction. "All the paths of the Lord are
mercy and truth" (Psalm 35:10). As the painter intermixes bright colors with
dark shadows; so the wise God mixes mercy with judgment. Those afflictive
providences which seem to be harmful, are beneficial. Let us take some
instances in Scripture.
Joseph's brethren throw him into a pit; afterwards
they sell him; then he is cast into prison; yet all this did work for his
good. His abasement made way for his advancement, he was made
the second man in the kingdom. "You thought evil against me—but God meant it
for good" (Gen. 50:20).
Jacob wrestled with the angel, and the hollow of
Jacob's thigh was put out of joint. This was sad; but God turned it to good,
for there he saw God's face, and there the Lord blessed him. "Jacob called
the name of the place Peniel, for I have seen God face to face" (Gen.
32:30). Who would not be willing to have a bone out of joint, so that he
might have a sight of God?
King Manasseh was bound in chains. This was sad to
see—a crown of gold changed into fetters. But it wrought for his good, for,
"So the Lord sent the Assyrian armies, and they took Manasseh prisoner. They
put a ring through his nose, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to
Babylon. But while in deep distress, Manasseh sought the Lord his God
and cried out humbly to the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed, the
Lord listened to him and was moved by his request for help." (2 Chron.
33:11-13). He was more indebted to his iron chain—than to his golden crown.
The one made him proud—the other made him humble.
Job was a spectacle of misery; he lost all that he
ever had; he abounded only in boils and ulcers. This was sad; but it wrought
for his good, his grace was proved and improved. God gave a testimony from
heaven of his integrity, and did compensate his loss by giving him twice as
much as ever he had before (Job 13:10).
Paul was smitten with blindness. This was
uncomfortable—but it turned to his good. God did by that blindness, make way
for the light of grace to shine into his soul; it was the beginning of a
happy conversion (Acts 9:6).
As the hard frosts in winter bring on the flowers in the
spring; as the night ushers in the morning star: so the evils of affliction
produce much good to those who love God. But we are ready to question the
truth of this, and say, as Mary did to the angel, "How can this be?"
Therefore I shall show you several ways how affliction works for good.
(1). Affliction works for good, as it is our preacher and
teacher—"Hear the rod" (Micah 6:9). Luther said that he could
never rightly understand some of the Psalms—until he was in affliction.
Affliction teaches what sin is. In the word
preached, we hear what a dreadful thing sin is, that it is both defiling and
damning—but we fear it no more than a painted lion; therefore God
lets loose affliction—and then we feel sin bitter in the fruit of it. A sick
bed often teaches more than a sermon. We can best see the ugly visage of
sin in the looking-glass of affliction!
Affliction teaches us to know ourselves. In
prosperity we are for the most part strangers to ourselves. God afflicts
us—that we may better know ourselves. We see that corruption in our hearts,
in the time of affliction, which we would not believe was there. Water in
the glass looks clear—but set it on the fire, and the scum boils up. In
prosperity, a man seems to be humble and thankful, the water looks clear;
but set this man a little on the fire of affliction, and the scum
boils up—much impatience and unbelief appear. "Oh," says a Christian, "I
never thought I had such a bad heart, as now I see I have! I never thought
my corruptions had been so strong, and my graces so weak."
(2). Afflictions work for good, as they are the means of
making the heart more upright. In prosperity the heart is apt to
be divided (Hos. 10:2). The heart cleaves partly to God—and partly to the
world. It is like a needle between two loadstones: God draws, and the world
draws. Now God takes away the world—that the heart may cleave more to Him in
sincerity. Correction is a setting the heart right and straight. As we
sometimes hold a crooked rod over the fire to straighten it; so God holds us
over the fire of affliction to make us more straight and upright. Oh, how
good it is, when sin has bent the soul awry from God, that affliction should
straighten it again!
(3). Afflictions work for good, as they conform us to
Christ. God's rod is a pencil to draw Christ's image more lively
upon us. It is good that there should be symmetry and proportion between the
Head and the members. Would we be parts of Christ's mystical body, and not
like Him? His life, as Calvin says, was a series of sufferings, "a man of
sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). He wept, and bled. Was
His head crowned with thorns, and do we think to be crowned with roses? It
is good to be like Christ, though it be by sufferings. Jesus Christ drank a
bitter cup, it made Him sweat drops of blood to think of it; and, though He
drank the poison in the cup (the wrath of God) yet there is some
wormwood in the cup left, which the saints must drink: only here is the
difference between Christ's sufferings and ours; His were atoning, ours are
(4). Afflictions work for good to the godly, as they are
destructive to sin. Sin is the mother, affliction is the
daughter; the daughter helps to destroy the mother. Sin is like the tree
which breeds the worm, and affliction is like the worm that eats the tree.
There is much corruption in the best heart: affliction does by degrees work
it out, as the fire works out the dross from the gold, "The Lord did this to
purge away his sin" (Isaiah 37:9). What if we have more of the rough file—if
we have less rust! Afflictions carry away nothing but the dross of sin. If a
physician should say to a patient, "Your body is distempered, and full of
bad humours, which must be cleared out, or you will die. But I will
prescribe physic which, though it may make you sick—yet it will carry away
the dregs of your disease, and save your life." Would not this be for the
good of the patient? Afflictions are the medicine which God uses to carry
off our spiritual diseases; they cure the swelling of pride, the fever of
lust, the cancer of covetousness. Do they not then work for good?
(5). Afflictions work for good, as they are the means of
loosening our hearts from the world. When you dig away the
earth from the root of a tree, it is to loosen the tree from the earth.
Just so, God digs away our earthly comforts to loosen our hearts from the
earth. A thorn grows up with every flower. God would have the
world hang as a loose tooth which, being twitched away does not much trouble
us. Is it not good to be weaned? The oldest saints need it. Why does the
Lord break the conduit pipe—but that we may go to Him, in whom are "all our
fresh springs" (Psalm 87:7).
(6). Afflictions work for good, as they make way for
comfort. "In the valley of Achor, is a door of hope" (Hos.
2:15) Achor signifies trouble. God sweetens outward pain with inward
peace. "Your sorrow shall he turned into joy" (John 16:20). Here is the
water turned into wine. After a bitter pill, God gives sugar. Paul had his
prison songs. God's rod has honey at the end of it. The saints
in affliction have had such sweet raptures of joy, that they thought
themselves in the borders of the heavenly Canaan.
(7). Afflictions work for good, as they are a magnifying
of us. "What is man, that you should magnify him, and that you
should visit him every morning?" (Job 7:17). God does by affliction magnify
us three ways.
(1st.) In that He will condescend so low as to take
notice of us. It is an honor that God will mind dust and ashes. It is a
magnifying of us, that God thinks us worthy to be smitten. God's not
striking is a slighting: "Why should you be stricken any more?" (Isaiah
1:5). If you will go on in sin, take your course—sin yourselves into hell.
(2nd.) Afflictions also magnify us, as they are ensigns
of glory, signs of sonship. "If you endure chastening, God deals with you as
with sons" (Heb. 12:7). Every print of the rod, is a badge of honor.
(3rd.) Afflictions tend to the magnifying of the saints,
as they make them renowned in the world. Soldiers have never been so admired
for their victories, as the saints have been for their sufferings. The zeal
and constancy of the martyrs in their trials have rendered them famous to
posterity. How eminent was Job for his patience! God leaves his name upon
record: "You have heard of the patience of Job" (James 5:11). Job the
sufferer, was more renowned than Alexander the conqueror.
(8.) Afflictions work for good, as they are the means of
making us happy. "Happy is the man whom God corrects" (Job 5:17).
What politician or moralist ever placed happiness in afflictions? Job does.
"Happy is the man whom God corrects."
It may be said, How do afflictions make us happy? We
reply that, being sanctified, they bring us nearer to God. The moon in the
full is furthest off from the sun: so are many further off from God in the
full moon of prosperity; afflictions bring them nearer to God. The magnet
of mercy does not draw us so near to God as the cords of affliction.
When Absalom set Joab's corn on fire, then he came running to Absalom (2
Sam. 16:30). When God sets our worldly comforts on fire, then we run to Him,
and make our peace with Him. When the prodigal was pinched with need, then
he returned home to his father (Luke 15:13). When the dove could not find
any rest for the sole of her foot, then she flew to the ark. When God brings
a deluge of affliction upon us, then we fly to the ark, Christ. Thus
affliction makes us happy, in bringing us nearer to God. Faith can make use
of the waters of affliction, to swim faster to Christ.
(9). Afflictions work for good, as they put to silence
the wicked. How ready are they to asperse and calumniate the
godly, that they serve God only for self-interest. Therefore God will have
His people endure sufferings for religion, that He may put a padlock on the
lying lips of wicked men. When the atheists of the world see that God has a
people, who serve Him not for a livery—but for love, this stops their
mouths. The devil accused Job of hypocrisy, that he was a mercenary man, all
his religion was made up of ends of gold and silver. "Does Job serve God for
naught? Have not you made a hedge about him?" Etc. "Well," says God, "put
forth your hand, touch his estate" (Job 1:9). The devil had no sooner
received a commission—but he falls a breaking down Job's hedge; but still
Job worships God (Job 1:20), and professes his faith in Him. "Though he
slays me—yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15). This silenced the devil
himself. How it strikes a damp into wicked men, when they see that the godly
will keep close to God in a suffering condition, and that, when they lose
all, they yet will hold fast their integrity.
(10). Afflictions work for good, as they make way for
glory (2 Cor. 4:17). Not that they merit glory—but they prepare
for it. As ploughing prepares the earth for a crop, so afflictions prepare
and make us meet for glory. The painter lays his gold upon dark colors—so
God first lays the dark colors of affliction, and then He lays the golden
color of glory. The vessel is first seasoned before wine is poured into it:
the vessels of mercy are first seasoned with affliction, and then the wine
of glory is poured in. Thus we see afflictions are not harmful—but
beneficial, to the saints. We should not so much look at the evil of
affliction, as the good; not so much at the dark side of the cloud, as the
light. The worst that God does to His children, is to whip them to
2. The evil of TEMPTATION is overruled for good to the
The evil of temptation works for good. Satan is called
the tempter (Mark 4:15). He is ever lying in ambush, he is continually at
work with one saint or another. The devil has his circuit that he walks
every day: he is not yet fully cast into prison—but, like a prisoner that
goes under bail, he walks about to tempt the saints. This is a great
molestation to a child of God. Now concerning Satan's temptations; there are
three things to be considered:
(1). His method in tempting.
(2). The extent of his power.
(3). These temptations are overruled for good.
(1). Satan's METHOD in tempting. Here take
notice of two things. His violence in tempting; and so he is the
red dragon. He labors to storm the castle of the heart, he throws in
thoughts of blasphemy, he tempts to deny God. These are the fiery darts
which he shoots, by which he would inflame the passions. Also, notice his
subtlety in tempting; and so he is the old serpent. There are
five chief subtleties the devil uses.
(1.) He observes the temperament and constitution—he lays
suitable baits of temptation. Like the farmer, he knows what
grain is best for the soil. Satan will not tempt contrary to the natural
disposition and temperament. This is his policy—he makes the wind and tide
go together; that way the natural tide of the heart runs, that way the wind
of temptation blows. Though the devil cannot know men's thoughts—yet he
knows their temperament, and accordingly he lays his baits. He tempts the
ambitious man with a crown, the lustful man with beauty.
(2.) Satan observes the fittest time to tempt—as a
cunning angler casts in his angle when the fish will bite best.
Satan's time of tempting is usually after an ordinance—and the reason is, he
thinks he shall find us most secure. When we have been at solemn duties, we
are apt to think all is done, and we grow remiss, and leave off that zeal
and strictness as before; just as a soldier, who after a battle leaves off
his armor, not once dreaming of an enemy. Satan watches his time, and, when
we least suspect, then he throws in a temptation.
(3.) He makes use of near relations; the devil tempts by
a proxy. Thus he handed over a temptation to Job by his wife. Are
you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die!" (Job 2:9).
A wife in the bosom may be the devil's instrument to tempt to sin.
(4.) Satan tempts to evil by those who are good; thus he
gives poison in a golden cup. He tempted Christ by Peter. Peter
dissuades him from suffering. "Master, pity Yourself!" Who would have
thought to have found the tempter in the mouth of an apostle?
(5.) Satan tempts to sin under a pretense of religion.
He is most to be feared when he transforms himself into an angel of light.
He came to Christ with Scripture in his mouth: "It is written." The devil
baits his hook with religion. He tempts many a man to covetousness and
extortion under a pretense of providing for his family; he tempts some to do
away with themselves, that they may live no longer to sin against God; and
so he draws them into sin, under a pretense of avoiding sin. These are his
subtle stratagems in tempting.
(2). The extent of his POWER; how far Satan's
power in tempting reaches.
(1.) He can propose the object; as he set a wedge of gold
(2.) He can poison the imagination, and instill evil
thoughts into the mind. As the Holy Spirit casts in good
suggestions, so the devil casts in bad ones. He put it into Judas' heart to
betray Christ (John 13:2).
(3.) Satan can excite and irritate the corruption within,
and work some kind of inclinableness in the heart to embrace a temptation.
Though it is true Satan cannot force the will to yield consent—yet he being
a cunning suitor, by his continual solicitation, may provoke to evil. Thus
he provoked David to number the people (1 Chron. 21:1). The devil may, by
his subtle arguments, dispute us into sin.
(3). These temptations are overruled for good to the
children of God. A tree that is shaken by the wind is more
settled and rooted. Just so, the blowing of a temptation does but settle a
Christian the more in grace. Temptations are overruled for good in eight
(1.) Temptation sends the soul to prayer. The
more furiously Satan tempts, the more fervently the saint
prays. The deer being shot with the dart, runs faster to the water. When
Satan shoots his fiery darts at the soul, it then runs faster to the throne
of grace. When Paul had the messenger of Satan to buffet him, he says, "For
this I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me" (2 Cor.
12:8). Temptation is a medicine for carnal security. That which makes us
pray more, works for good.
(2.) Temptation to sin, is a means to keep from the
perpetration of sin. The more a child of God is tempted, the more
he fights against the temptation. The more Satan tempts to blasphemy, the
more a saint trembles at such thoughts, and says, "Get you hence, Satan."
When Joseph's mistress tempted him to folly, the stronger her temptation
was, the stronger was his opposition. That temptation which the devil uses
as a spur to sin, God makes a bridle to keep back a Christian from it.
(3.) Temptation works for good, as it abates the swelling
of pride. "Lest I should be exalted above measure, there was
given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me" (2 Cor.
12:7). The thorn in the flesh was to puncture the puffing up of pride.
Better is that temptation which humbles me—than that duty which makes me
proud. Rather than a Christian shall be haughty minded, God will let him
fall into the devil's hands awhile, to be cured of his swelling pride.
(4.) Temptation works for good, as it is a touchstone to
try what is in the heart. The devil tempts, that he may deceive;
but God allows us to be tempted, to try us. Temptation is a trial of our
sincerity. It argues that our heart is chaste and loyal to Christ, when we
can look a temptation in the face, and turn our back upon it. Also it is a
trial of our courage. "Ephraim is a silly dove, without heart" (Hosea 8:11).
So it may be said of many, they are without a heart; they have no heart to
resist temptation. No sooner does Satan come with his bait—but they yield;
like a coward who, as soon as the thief approaches, gives him his purse. But
he is the valorous Christian, who brandishes the sword of the Spirit against
Satan, and will rather die than yield. The courage of the Romans was never
more seen than when they were assaulted by the Carthaginians: the valor and
courage of a saint is never more seen than on a battlefield, when he is
fighting the red dragon, and by the power of faith puts the devil to flight.
That grace is tried gold, which can stand in the fiery trial, and
withstand Satan's fiery darts!
(5.) Temptations work for good, as God makes those who
are tempted, fit to comfort others in the same distress. A
Christian must himself be under the buffetings of Satan, before he can speak
a word in due season to him that is weary. Paul was versed in temptations.
"We are not ignorant of his devices" (2 Cor. 2:11). Thus he was able to
acquaint others with Satan's cursed wiles (1 Cor. 10:13). A man that has
ridden over a place where there are bogs and quicksands, is the fittest to
guide others through that dangerous way. He who has felt the claws of the
roaring lion, and has lain bleeding under those wounds, is the fittest man
to deal with one who is tempted. None can better discover Satan's subtle
devices, than those who have been long in the fencing school of temptation.
(6.) Temptations work for good, as they stir up fatherly
compassion in God, to those who are tempted. The child who is
sick and bruised is most looked after. When a saint lies under the bruising
of temptations, Christ prays, and God the Father pities. When Satan puts the
soul into a fever, God comes with a cordial; which made Luther say, that
temptations are Christ's embraces, because He then most sweetly manifests
Himself to the soul.
(7.) Temptations work for good, as they make the saints
long more for heaven. There they shall be out of gunshot; heaven
is a place of rest, no bullets of temptation fly there. The eagle which
soars aloft in the air, and sits upon high trees—is not troubled with the
stinging of the serpent. Just so, when believers are ascended to heaven,
they shall not be molested by the old serpent, the devil. In this life, when
one temptation is over, another comes. This makes God's people wish for
death—to call them off the battlefield where the bullets fly so quick—and to
receive a victorious crown, where neither the drum nor cannon—but the harp
and violin, shall be eternally sounding.
(8.) Temptations work for good, as they engage the
strength of Christ. Christ is our Friend, and when we are
tempted, He sets all His power working for us. "Since he himself has gone
through suffering and temptation, he is able to help us when we are being
tempted" (Heb. 2:18). If a poor soul was to fight alone with the Goliath of
hell, he would be sure to be vanquished—but Jesus Christ brings in His
auxiliary forces, He gives fresh supplies of grace. "We are more than
conquerors through him who loved us!" (Romans 8:37). Thus the evil of
temptation is overruled for good.
Question. But sometimes Satan foils a child of God.
How does this work for good?
Answer. I grant that, through the suspension of
divine grace, and the fury of a temptation, a saint may be overcome; yet
this foiling by a temptation shall be overruled for good. By this foil God
makes way for the augmentation of grace. Peter was tempted to
self-confidence, he presumed upon his own strength; and Christ let him fall.
But this wrought for his good, it cost him many a tear. "He went out, and
wept bitterly" (Matt. 26:75). And now he grows less self-reliant. He dared
not say he loved Christ more than the other apostles. "Do you love me more
than these?" (John 21:15). He dared not say so—his fall into sin broke the
neck of his pride!
The foiling by a temptation causes more circumspection
and watchfulness in a child of God. Though Satan did before decoy him into
sin—yet for the future he will be the more cautious. He will have a care of
coming within the lion's chain any more. He is more vigilant and fearful of
the occasions of sin. He never goes out without his spiritual armor, and he
girds on his armor by prayer. He knows he walks on slippery ground,
therefore he looks wisely to his steps. He keeps close sentinel in his soul,
and when he spies the devil coming, he grasps his spiritual weapons, and
displays the shield of faith (Eph. 6:16). This is all the hurt the devil
does when he foils a saint by temptation—he cures him of his careless
neglect; he makes him watch and pray more. When wild beasts get over the
hedge and damage the grain, a man will make his fence the stronger. Just so,
when the devil gets over the hedge by a temptation, a Christian will be sure
to mend his fence; he will become more fearful of sin, and careful of duty.
Thus the being worsted by temptation works for good.
Objection. But if being foiled works for good, this
may make Christians careless whether they are overcome by temptations or
Answer. There is a great deal of difference between
falling into a temptation, and running into a temptation. The
falling into a temptation shall work for good, not the running
into it. He who falls into a river is fit for help and pity—but he who
desperately runs into it, is guilty of his own death. It is madness running
into a lion's den. He who runs himself into a temptation is like king
Saul—who fell upon his own sword.
From all that has been said, see how God disappoints the
old serpent, making his temptations turn to the good of His people. Surely
if the devil knew how much benefit accrues to the saints by temptation, he
would forbear to tempt. Luther once said, "There are three things which make
a godly man—prayer, meditation, and temptation." Paul, in his voyage to
Rome, met with a contrary wind (Acts 27:4). So the wind of temptation is a
contrary wind to that of the Spirit; but God makes use of this cross wind,
to blow the saints to heaven!
3. The evil of DESERTION works for good to the godly.
The evil of desertion works for good. The spouse
complains of desertion. "My beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone!"
(Cant. 5:6). There is a twofold withdrawing; either in regard of grace,
when God suspends the influence of His Spirit, and withholds the lively
actings of grace. If the Spirit is gone, grace freezes into a chillness and
indolence. Or, a withdrawing in regard of comfort. When God withholds
the sweet manifestations of His favor, He does not look with such a pleasant
aspect—but veils His face, and seems to be quite gone from the soul.
God is just in all His withdrawings. We desert Him
before He deserts us. We desert God—when we leave off close communion with
Him; when we desert His truths and dare not appear for Him; when we leave
the guidance and conduct of His word, and follow the deceitful light of our
own corrupt affections and passions. We desert God first; therefore we have
none to blame but ourselves.
Desertion is very sad, for as when the light is
withdrawn, darkness follows in the air—so when God withdraws, there is
darkness and sorrow in the soul. Desertion is an agony of conscience. God
holds the soul over hell. "The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the
poison whereof drinks up my spirits" (Job 6:4). It was a custom among the
Persians in their wars, to dip their arrows in the poison of serpents to
make them more deadly. Thus did God shoot the poisoned arrow of desertion
into Job, under the wounds of which his spirit lay bleeding. In times of
desertion the people of God are apt to be dejected. They dispute against
themselves, and think that God has quite cast them off. Therefore I shall
prescribe some comfort to the deserted soul.
The mariner, when he has no star to guide him—yet he has
light in his lantern, which is some help to him to see his compass; so, I
shall lay down four consolations, which are as the mariner's lantern,
to give some light when the poor soul is sailing in the darkness of
desertion, and needs the bright morning star.
(1). None but the godly are capable of desertion.
Wicked men do not know what God's love means—nor what it is to lack
it. They know what it is to lack health, friends, trade—but not what it is
to lack God's favor. You fear that you are not God's child because you are
deserted. The Lord cannot be said to withdraw His love from the wicked,
because they never had it. The being deserted, evidences you to be a child
of God. How could you complain that God has estranged Himself, if you had
not sometimes received smiles and tokens of love from Him?
(2). There may be the seed of grace, where there
is not the flower of joy. The earth may lack a crop of
grain—yet may have a mine of gold within! A Christian may have
grace within, though the sweet fruit of joy does not grow. Vessels at sea,
which are richly fraught with jewels and spices, may be in the dark and
tossed in the storm. A soul enriched with the treasures of grace, may yet be
in the dark of desertion, and so tossed as to think it shall be cast away in
the storm! David, in a state of dejection, prays, "Take not your Holy Spirit
from me" (Psalm 51:11). He does not pray, says Augustine, "Lord, give me
your Spirit"—but "Take not away your Spirit", so that still he had the
Spirit of God remaining in him.
(3). These desertions are but for a time.
Christ may withdraw, and leave the soul awhile—but He will come again. "In a
little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment—but with everlasting
kindness will I have mercy on you" (Isaiah 64:8). When it is low water—the
tide will come in again. "I will not always show my anger." (Isaiah 57:16).
The tender mother sets down her child in anger—but she will
take it up again into her arms, and kiss it. God may put away the soul in
anger—but He will take it up again into His dear embraces, and display His
banner of love over it.
(4). These desertions work for good to the godly.
Desertion cures the soul of sloth. We find the
spouse fallen upon the bed of sloth: "I sleep" (Cant. 5:2). And presently
Christ was gone. "My beloved had withdrawn himself" (Cant. 5:6). Who will
speak to one that is drowsy?
Desertion cures inordinate affection to the world.
"Love not the world" (1 John 2:15). We may hold the world as a posy
in our hand—but it must not lie too near our heart! We may use
it as an inn where we take a meal—but it must not be our home.
Perhaps these secular things steal away the heart too much. Godly men are
sometimes weighed down with an overabundance of temporal things, and drunk
with the luscious delights of prosperity. And having spotted their silver
wings of grace, and much defaced God's image by rubbing it against
the earth—the Lord, to recover them of this, hides His face in a
cloud. This eclipse has good effects—it darkens all the glory of the world,
and causes it to disappear.
Desertion works for good, as it makes the saints prize
God's countenance more than ever. "Your loving-kindness is better
than life" (Psalm 63:3). Yet the commonness of this mercy lessens it
in our esteem. When pearls grew common at Rome, they began to be
slighted. God has no better way to make us value His love, than by
withdrawing it awhile. If the sun shone but once a year, how would it be
prized! When the soul has been long benighted with desertion, oh how welcome
now is the return of the Sun of righteousness!
Desertion works for good, as it is the means of
embittering sin to us. Can there be a greater misery than to have
God's displeasure? What makes hell—but the hiding of God's face? And what
makes God hide His face—but sin? "They have taken away my Lord, and I know
not where they have laid him" (John 20:13). So, our sins have taken away the
Lord, and we know not where He is laid. The favor of God is the best jewel;
it can sweeten a prison, and unsting death. Oh, how odious then is that sin,
which robs us of our best jewel! Sin made God desert His temple (Ezek. 8:6).
Sin causes Him to appear as an enemy, and dress Himself in armor. This makes
the soul pursue sin with a holy malice, and seek to be avenged on it! The
deserted soul gives sin gall and vinegar to drink, and, with the spear of
mortification, lets out the heart-blood of it!
Desertion works for good, as it sets the soul to weeping
for the loss of God. When the sun is gone, the dew falls;
and when God is gone, tears drop from the eyes. How Micah was
troubled when he had lost his gods! "You've taken away all my gods—and I
have nothing left!" (Judges 18:24). So when God is gone, what more do we
have left? It is not the harp and violin, which can comfort—when God is
gone. Though it is sad to lack God's presence—yet it is good to
lament His absence.
Desertion sets the soul to seeking after God.
When Christ was departed, the spouse pursues after Him, she "searched for
him in all its streets and squares" (Cant. 3:2). And not having found Him,
she makes a cry after Him, "Have you seen him anywhere, this one I love so
much?" (Cant. 3:3). The deserted soul sends up whole volleys of sighs and
groans. It knocks at heaven's gate by prayer—it can have no rest until the
golden beams of God's face shine!
Desertion puts the Christian upon inquiry. He
inquires the cause of God's departure. What is the accursed thing
which has made God angry? Perhaps pride, perhaps sloth,
perhaps worldliness. "I was angry and punished these greedy
people. I withdrew myself from them" (Isaiah 57:17). Perhaps
there is some secret sin allowed. A stone in the pipe hinders the current of
water; so, sin lived in, hinders the sweet current of God's love. Thus
conscience, as a bloodhound, having found out sin and overtaken it—this
Achan is stoned to death!
Desertion works for good, as it gives us a sight of what
Jesus Christ suffered for us. If the sipping of the cup is
so bitter, how bitter was that full cup which Christ drank to the
dregs upon the cross? He drank a cup of deadly poison, which made Him cry
out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt. 22:46). None can so
appreciate Christ's sufferings, none can be so fired with love to Christ—as
those who have been humbled by desertion, and have been held over the flames
of hell for a time.
Desertion works for good, as it prepares the saints for
future comfort. The nipping frosts prepare for spring flowers. It
is God's way, first to cast down, then to comfort (2 Cor.
7:6). When our Savior had been fasting—then the angels came and ministered
to Him. When the Lord has kept His people long fasting—then He sends the
Comforter, and feeds them with the hidden manna. "Light is sown for the
righteous" (Psalm 97:11.) The saints' comforts may be hidden like seed under
ground—but the seed is ripening, and will increase, and
flourish into a crop!
These desertions work for good, as they will make heaven
the sweeter to us. Here on earth, our comforts are like the moon,
sometimes they are in the full, sometimes in the wane. God shows Himself to
us awhile, and then retires from us. How will this set off heaven the more,
and make it more delightful and ravishing, when we shall have a constant
aspect of love from God! (1 Thess. 4:17).
Thus we see desertions work for good. The Lord brings us
into the deep of desertion—that He may not bring us into the deep of
damnation! He puts us into a seeming hell—that He may keep us
from a real hell. God is fitting us for that time when we shall enjoy
His smiles forever, when there shall be neither clouds in His face or sun
setting, when Christ shall come and stay with His spouse, and the spouse
shall never say again, "My beloved has withdrawn himself!"
4. The evil of SIN works for good to the godly.
Sin in its own nature, is damnable—but God in His
infinite wisdom overrules it, and causes good to arise from that which seems
most to oppose it. Indeed, it is a matter of wonder, that any honey
should come out of this lion! We may understand it in a double sense.
(1). The sins of OTHERS are overruled for good to the
godly. It is no small trouble to a gracious heart to live among
the wicked. "Woe is me—that I dwell in Mesech" (Psalm 120:5). Yet even this
the Lord turns to good. For,
(1.) The sins of others work for good to the godly—as
they produce holy sorrow. God's people weep for what they cannot
reform. "Rivers of tears run down my eyes, because they keep not your law"
(Psalm 119. 136). David was a mourner for the sins of the times; his
heart was turned into a spring—and his eyes into rivers! Wicked
men make merry with sin. "When you do evil, then you rejoice" (Jer. 11:15).
But the godly are weeping doves; they grieve for the oaths and blasphemies
of the age. The sins of others, like spears, pierce their souls!
This grieving for the sins of others is good. It shows a
childlike heart, to resent with sorrow the injuries done to our heavenly
Father. It also shows a Christ-like heart. "He was grieved for the hardness
of their hearts" (Mark 3:5). The Lord takes special notice of these tears.
He likes it well—that we should weep when His glory suffers. It argues more
grace to grieve for the sins of others, than for our own. We may grieve for
our own sins—out of fear of hell; but to grieve for the sins of
others—is from a principle of love to God. These tears drop as water
from roses—they are sweet and fragrant, and God puts them in His bottle!
"You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your
bottle. You have recorded each one in your book!" (Psalm 56:8)
(2.) The sins of others work for good to the godly—as
they set them the more a praying against sin. If there were not
such a spirit of wickedness abroad, perhaps there would not be such a
spirit of prayer. Crying sins cause crying prayers! The
people of God pray against the iniquity of the times—that God will give a
check to sin, that He will put sin to the blush. If they cannot pray down
sin, they pray against it; and this God takes kindly. These
prayers shall both be recorded and rewarded. Though we do not prevail
in prayer, we shall not lose our prayers. "My prayer returned into my
own bosom" (Psalm 35:13).
(3.) The sins of others work for good—as they make us the
more in love with grace. The sins of others are a foil to
set off the luster of grace the more. One contrary sets off another:
deformity sets off beauty. The sins of the wicked do much disfigure them.
Pride is a disfiguring sin; now the beholding another's pride makes us
the more in love with humility! Malice is a disfiguring sin, it is
the devil's picture; the more of this we see in others the more we love
meekness and charity. Drunkenness is a disfiguring sin, it turns men
into beasts, it deprives of the use of reason; the more intemperate we see
others, the more we must love sobriety. The black face of sin, sets
off the beauty of holiness so much the more.
(4.) The sins of others work for good—as they work in us
the stronger opposition against sin. "The wicked have broken your
law; therefore I love your commandments" (Psalm 119:126, 127). David would
never have loved God's law so much, if the wicked had not set themselves so
much against it. The more violent others are against the truth, the
more valiant the saints are for it. Living fish swim against
the stream. Just so, the more the tide of sin comes in, the more the godly
swim against it! The impieties of the times provoke holy passions
in the saints! That anger is without sin—which is against
sin. The sins of others are as a whetstone to set the sharper edge upon us;
they whet our zeal and indignation against sin the more!
(5.) The sins of others work for good—as they make us
more earnest in working out our salvation. When we see wicked men
take such pains for hell—this makes us more industrious for heaven.
The wicked have nothing to encourage them—yet they sin. They venture shame
and disgrace, they break through all opposition. Scripture is against them,
and conscience is against them, there is a flaming sword in the way—yet they
sin. Godly hearts, seeing the wicked thus mad for the forbidden fruit,
and wearing out themselves in the devil's service—are the more emboldened
and quickened in the ways of God. They will take heaven as it were, by
storm. The wicked are like camels—running after sin (Jer. 2:23). And
do we creep like snails in piety? Shall impure sinners do the devil
more service—than we do Christ? Shall they make more haste to go to the
prison of hell—than we do to the kingdom of heaven? Are they never weary of
sinning—and are we weary of praying? Have we not a better
Master than they? Are not the paths of virtue pleasant? Is not
there joy in the way of duty, and heaven at the end? The
activity of the sons of Belial in sin—this is a spur to the godly to make
them mend their pace, and run the faster to heaven!
(6.) The sins of others work for good—as they are
looking-glasses in which we may see our own hearts. Do we see a
heinous, impious wretch? Behold a picture of our own hearts! Such would we
be—if God left us! What is in wicked men's practice—is in our
nature. Sin in the wicked is like fire which flames and blazes forth;
sin in the godly is like fire in the embers. Christian, though you do
not break forth into a flame of scandalous sin—yet you have no cause to
boast, for there is as much sin in the embers of your nature. You have the
root of all sin in you, and would bear as hellish fruit as any ungodly
wretch—if God did not either curb you by His power, or change you by His
(7.) The sins of others work for good—as they are the
means of making the people of God more thankful. When you see
another infected with the plague, how thankful are you that God has
preserved you from it! It is a good use that may be made of the sins of
others—to make us more thankful. Why might not God have left us to the same
excess of wickedness? Think with yourself, O Christian—why should God be
more merciful to you than to another? Why should He snatch you, as brand
plucked out of the fire—and not him? How may this make you to adore free
grace! What the Pharisee said boastingly, we may say thankfully, "God, I
thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers, etc."
If we are not as wicked as others—we should adore the
riches of free-grace! Every time we see men hastening on in sin—we are to
thank God that we are not such. If we see a crazy person—we thank God that
it is not so with us. Much more when we see others under the power of
Satan—how thankful we should be, that this is no longer our condition! "For
we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, captives of various
passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one
another." Titus 3:3
(8.) The sins of others work for good—as they are means
of making God's people better. Christian, God can make you a
gainer by another's sin. The more unholy others are—the more holy you should
be. The more a wicked man gives himself to sin—the more a godly man gives
himself to prayer. "But I give myself to prayer" (Psalm 109:4).
(9.) The sins of others work for good—as they give an
occasion to us of doing good. Were there no sinners, we could not
be in such a capacity for service. The godly are often the means of
converting the wicked; their prudent advice and pious example is a lure
and a bait to draw sinners to the embracing of the gospel. The
disease of the patient, works for the good of the physician;
by healing the patient, the physician enriches himself. Just so, by
converting sinners from the error of their way, our crown comes to be
enlarged. "Those who turn many to righteousness, shall shine as the stars
forever and ever" (Dan. 12:31). Not as lamps or candles—but
as the stars forever! Thus we see the sins of others are overruled
for our good.
(2). The sense of their OWN sinfulness, will be overruled
for the good of the godly. Thus our own sins shall work for good.
This must be understood carefully, when I say the sins of the godly work for
good—not that there is the least good in sin. Sin is like poison, which
corrupts the blood, and infects the heart; and, without a sovereign
antidote, sin always brings death. Such is the venomous nature of sin—it is
deadly and damning. Sin is worse than hell. But yet God, by
His mighty over ruling power, makes sin in the outcome turn to the good of
His people. Hence that golden saying of Augustine, "God would never permit
evil—if He could not bring good out of evil." The feeling of sinfulness in
the saints, works for good several ways.
(1.) Sin makes them weary of this life. That
sin is in the godly—is sad; but that it is their burden—is
good. Paul's afflictions (pardon the expression) were but child's
play to him—in comparison of his sin. He rejoiced in tribulation
(2 Cor. 7:4). But how did this bird of paradise weep and bemoan himself
under his sins! "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans
8:24). A believer carries his sins as a prisoner his shackles;
oh, how does he long for the day of release! This sense of sin is good.
(2.) This indwelling of corruption, makes the
saints prize Christ more. He who feels his sin, as a sick man
feels his sickness—how welcome is Christ the physician to him! He who feels
himself stung with sin—how precious is the brazen serpent to him! When Paul
had bemoaned his body of death—how thankful was he for Christ! "I thank God
through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 8:25). Christ's blood saves
from sin, and is the sacred ointment which kills this deadly disease
(3.) This sense of sin works for good, as it is an
occasion of putting the soul upon six special duties:
(a) Sin puts the soul upon self-searching. A child of
God being conscious of sin, takes the candle and lantern of the Word, and
searches into his heart. He desires to know the worst of himself; as a man
who is diseased in body, desires to know the worst of his disease. Though
our joy lies in the knowledge of our graces—yet there is some benefit
in the knowledge of our corruptions. Therefore Job prays, "Reveal to
me my transgression and sin" (Job 13:23). It is good to know our sins—that
we may not flatter ourselves, or take our condition to be better than it is.
It is good to find out our sins—lest they find us out!
(b) Sin puts a child of God upon self-abasing. Sin is
left in a godly man—as a cancer in the breast, or a hunch upon the back—to
keep him from being proud. Gravel and dirt are good to ballast a
ship, and keep it from overturning; the sense of sin helps to ballast the
soul, that it be not overturned with pride. We read of the "spots of God's
children" (Deut. 32:5). When a godly man beholds his face in the
looking-glass of Scripture, and sees the spots of pride, lust and hypocrisy.
They are humbling spots—and make the plumes of pride fall off! It is
a good use that may be made even of our sins, when they occasion low
thoughts of ourselves. Better is that sin which humbles me—than that duty
which makes me proud! Holy Bradford uttered these words of himself, "I am
but a painted hypocrite"; and Hooper said, "Lord, I am hell—and You are
(c) Sin puts a child of God on self-judging. He
passes a sentence upon himself. ''I am more brutish than any man" (Proverbs
30:2). It is dangerous to judge others—but it is good to judge
ourselves. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment"
(1 Cor. 11:31). When a man has judged himself, Satan is put out of office.
When Satan lays anything to a saint's charge, he is able to retort and say,
"It is true, Satan, I am guilty of these sins; but I have judged
myself already for them; and having condemned myself in the lower court of
conscience, God will acquit me in the upper court of heaven."
(d) Sin puts a child of God upon self-conflicting.
Spiritual self conflicts with carnal self. "The spirit lusts against the
flesh" (Gal. 5:17). Our life is a wayfaring life—and a war-faring life.
There is a duel fought every day between the two seeds. A believer will not
let sin have peaceable possession. If he cannot keep sin out, he will
keep sin down; though he cannot quite overcome—yet he is overcoming.
"To him who is overcoming" (Rev. 2:7).
(e) Sin puts a child of God upon self-observing. He
knows sin is a bosom traitor, therefore he carefully observes himself. A
subtle and deceitful heart, needs a watchful eye. The heart is like a castle
which is continually in danger to be assaulted; this makes a child of God to
be always a sentinel, and keep a guard over his heart. A believer has a
strict eye over himself, lest he fall in to any scandalous sin—and so open a
sluice to let all his comfort run out.
(f) Sin puts the soul upon self-reforming. A child of
God does not only find out sin—but drives out sin! One foot he
sets upon the neck of his sins—and the other foot he "turns to God's
testimonies" (Psalm 119. 59). Thus the sins of the godly work for good. God
makes the saints' maladies—their medicines.
But let none abuse this doctrine. I do not say that sin
works for good to an impenitent person. No, it works for his
damnation! Sin only works for good to those who love God; and for you who
are godly, I know you will not draw a wrong conclusion from this—either to
make light of sin, or to make bold with sin. If you should do
so, God will make it cost you dearly! Remember David. He ventured
presumptuously on sin, and what did he get? He lost his peace, he felt the
terrors of the Almighty in his soul, though he had all helps to
cheerfulness. He was a king; he had skill in music; yet nothing could
administer comfort to him; he complains of his "broken bones" (Psalm 51:8).
And though he did at last come out of that dark cloud—yet perhaps he
never recovered his full joy to his dying day. If any of God's people
should be tampering with sin, because God can turn it to good; though the
Lord does not damn them—He may send them to hell in this life. He may
put them into such bitter agonies and soul convulsions, as may fill them
full of horror, and make them draw near to despair. Let this be a flaming
sword to keep them from coming near the forbidden tree!
And thus have I shown, that both the best things
and the worst things, by the overruling hand of the great God—do work
together for the good of the saints.
Again, I say—think not lightly of sin!
WHY all things work for good
1. The grand reason why all things work for good, is the
near and dear interest which God has in His people. The Lord has
made a covenant with them. "They shall be my people, and I will be their
God" (Jer. 32:38). By virtue of this compact, all things do, and
must work, for good to them. "I am God, even your God" (Psalm 50:7).
This word, 'Your God,' is the sweetest word in the Bible, it implies the
best relations; and it is impossible there should be these relations between
God and His people, and everything not work for their good. This expression,
'I am your God,' implies,
(1). The relation of a PHYSICIAN. 'I am your
Physician.' God is a skillful Physician. He knows what is best. God observes
the different temperaments of men, and knows what will work most
effectually. Some are of a more sweet disposition, and are drawn by mercy.
Others are more rugged and knotty pieces; these God deals with in a more
forcible way. Some things are kept in sugar, others are kept in
brine. God does not deal alike with all; He has trials for the strong
and cordials for the weak. God is a faithful Physician, and therefore will
turn all to the best. If God does not give you that which you like—He will
give you that which you need. A physician does not so much study to
please the taste of the patient—as to cure his disease. We
complain that very sore trials lie upon us; let us remember God is our
Physician, therefore He labors rather to heal us—than humor
us. God's dealings with His children, though they are sharp—yet they
are safe, and in order to cure; "that he might do you good in the
latter end" (Deut. 8:16).
(2). This word, 'your God', implies the relation of a
FATHER. A father loves his child; therefore whether it be a smile
or a stroke, it is for the good of the child. I am your God, your Father,
therefore all I do is for your good. "As a man chastens his son, so the Lord
your God chastens you" (Deut. 8:5). God's chastening is not to destroy—but
to reform. God cannot hurt His children, for He is a tender hearted
Father, "Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who
fear him" (Psalm 103. 13). Will a father seek the ruin of his child, the
child that came from himself, that bears his image? All his care and skill
is for his child. Whom does he settle the inheritance upon—but his child?
God is the tender hearted "Father of mercies" (2 Cor. 1:3). He begets all
the mercies and kindnesses in the creatures.
God is an everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6). He was our
Father from eternity; before we were children, God was our Father, and He
will be our Father to all eternity. A father provides for his child while he
lives; but the father dies, and then the child may be exposed to injury. But
God never ceases to be a Father! You who are a believer, have a Father who
never dies; and if God is your father, you can never be undone. All things
must needs work for your good.
(3). This word, 'your God,' implies the relation of a
HUSBAND. This is a near and sweet relation. The husband seeks the
good of his spouse—not to destroy his wife. "No man ever yet hated his own
flesh," (Ephes. 5:29). There is a marriage relation between God and His
people. "Your Maker is your Husband" (Isaiah 54:5). God entirely loves His
people. He engraves them upon the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16). He sets
them as a seal upon His breast (Cant. 8:6). He will give kingdoms for their
ransom (Isaiah 43:3). This shows how near they lie to His heart. If He is a
Husband whose heart is full of love, then He will seek the good of His
spouse. Either He will shield off an injury—or will turn it to the best.
(4). This word, 'your God,' implies the relation of a
FRIEND. "This is my friend" (Cant. 5:16). "A friend is," as
Augustine says, "half one's self." He is studious and desirous how he may do
his friend good; he promotes his welfare as his own. Jonathan ventured the
king's displeasure for his friend David (1 Sam. 19:4). God is our Friend,
therefore He will turn all things to our good. There are false friends;
Christ was betrayed by a friend. But God is the best Friend.
He is a faithful
Friend. "Know therefore that the Lord your God, he is God—the faithful God"
(Deut. 7:9). He is faithful in His love. He gave His very heart to
us, when He gave the Son out of His bosom. Here was a pattern of love
without a parallel. He is faithful in His promises. "God, who cannot
lie, has promised" (Titus 1:2). He may change His promise—but cannot break
it. He is faithful in His dealings; when He is afflicting He is
faithful. "In faithfulness you have afflicted me" (Psalm 119:75). He is
sifting and refining us as silver (Psalm 66:10).
God is an immutable
Friend. "I will never leave you, nor forsake you" (Heb. 13:5). Friends often
fail at a pinch. Many deal with their friends as women do with flowers;
while they are fresh—they put them in their bosoms; but when they begin to
wither—they throw them away. Or as the traveler does with the sun-dial; if
the sun shines upon the dial, the traveler will step out of the road, and
look upon the dial. But if the sun does not shine upon it, he will ride by,
and never take any notice of it. So, if prosperity shines on men, then
friends will look upon them; but if there is a cloud of adversity on them,
they will not come near them. But God is a Friend forever; He has said, "I
will never leave you." Though David walked in the shadow of death, he knew
he had a Friend by him. "I will fear no evil, for you are with me" (Psalm
23:4). God never takes off His love wholly from His people. "He loved them
unto the end" (John 13:1). God being such a Friend, will make all things
work for our good. There is no friend but will seek the good of his friend.
(5). This word, 'your God,' implies yet a nearer
relation, the relation between the Head and the members. There is
a mystical union between Christ and the saints. He is called, "the Head of
the church" (Eph. 5:23). Does not the head consult for the good of the body?
The head guides the body, it sympathizes with it. The head is the fountain
of spirits, it sends forth influence and comfort into the body. All the
parts of the head are placed for the good of the body. The eye is set
as it were in the watchtower, it stands sentinel to spy any danger that may
come to the body, and prevent it. The tongue is both a taster and an
orator. If the body be a microcosm, or little world, the head is the sun in
this world, from which proceeds the light of reason. The head is placed for
the good of the body. Christ and the saints make one body mystical. Our Head
is in heaven, and surely He will not allow His body to be hurt—but will work
for the safety of it, and make all things work for the good of the body
2. Inferences from the proposition that all things work
for the good of the saints.
(1). If all things work for good, hence learn that there
is a providence. Things do not work by themselves—but God sets
them working for good. God is the great Disposer of all events and issues,
He sets everything working. "His kingdom rules over all" (Psalm 103:19). It
is meant of His providential kingdom. Things in the world are not governed
by second causes, by the counsels of men, by the stars and planets—but by
divine providence. Providence is the queen and governess of the world. There
are three things in providence: God's foreknowing, God's
determining, and God's directing all things to their proper
outcomes. Whatever things do work in the world, God sets them a working. We
read in the first chapter of Ezekiel, of wheels, and eyes in the wheels, and
the moving of the wheels. The wheels are the whole universe, the eyes in the
wheels are God's providence, the moving of the wheels is the hand of
Providence, turning all things here below. That which is by some called
chance is nothing else but the result of God's providence.
Learn to adore providence. Providence has an influence
upon all things here below. God's providence mingles the ingredients, and
makes up the whole compound.
(2). Observe the happy condition of every child of God.
All things work for his good—the best and worst
things. "Unto the upright arises light in darkness" (Psalm 112:4). The
most dark cloudy providences of God, have some sunshine in them. What a
blessed condition is a true believer in! When he dies, he goes to
God; and while he lives, everything shall do him good. Affliction is
for his good. What hurt does the fire to the gold? It only purifies it. What
hurt does the winnowing fan do to the grain? It only separates the chaff
from it. God never uses His staff—but to beat out the dust.
Affliction does that which the Word many times will not, it "opens the ear
to discipline" (Job 36:10). When God lays men upon their backs—then
they look up to heaven! God's smiting His people is like the musician's
striking upon the violin, which makes it put forth a melodious sound. How
much good comes to the saints by affliction! Like bruised flowers—when they
are pounded and broken—they send forth their sweetest smell.
Affliction is a bitter root—but it bears sweet
fruit. "It yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness" (Heb. 12:11).
Affliction is the highway to heaven; though it be flinty and thorny—yet it
is the best way. Poverty shall starve our sins; sickness shall
make grace more helpful (2 Cor. 4:16). Reproach shall cause "the
Spirit of God and of glory to rest upon us" (1 Pet. 4:14). Death
shall stop the bottle of tears—and open the gate of Paradise! A believer's
dying day is his ascension day to glory. Hence it is, the saints have put
their afflictions, in the inventory of their riches (Heb.
11:26). A child of God say, "If I had not been afflicted, I would have been
destroyed; if my health and estate had not been lost—my soul
had been lost."
(3). See then what an encouragement there is to become
godly. All things shall work for good. Oh, that this may induce
men to fall in love with piety! Can there be a greater loadstone to piety?
Can anything more prevail with us to be good, than this—that all things
shall work for our good? Piety is the true magic stone which turns
everything into gold. Take the sourest part of religion, the suffering part,
and there is comfort in it. God sweetens suffering with joy; He candies our
wormwood with sugar. Oh, how may this bribe us to godliness! "Acquaint now
yourself with God, and be at peace; thereby good shall come unto you" (Job
22:21). No man did ever come off a loser by his acquaintance with God. By
this, good shall come unto you, abundance of good, the sweet distillations
of grace, the hidden manna, yes, everything shall work for good. Oh, then
get acquaintance with God, espouse His interest.
(4). Notice the miserable condition of wicked men.
To those who are godly—evil things work for good; to those who are
evil—good things work for hurt.
(1.) Temporal good things work for hurt to the
wicked. Riches and prosperity are not benefits, but snares to
them. Worldly things are given to the wicked, as Michal was given to David,
for a snare (1 Sam. 18:21). The vulture is said to draw sickness from a
perfume; so do the wicked get hurt from the sweet perfume of prosperity.
Their mercies are like poisoned bread; their tables are sumptuously
spread—but there is a hook under the bait! "Let their table become a snare"
(Psalm 69:22). All their enjoyments are like Israel's quail—which were
sauced with the wrath of God (Numb. 11:33). Pride and luxury are the twin
offspring of prosperity. "You are waxen fat" (Deut. 32:15). Then he forsook
God. Riches are not only like the spider's web, unprofitable—but like the
cockatrice's egg, pernicious. "Riches kept for the hurt of the owner"
(Eccles. 5:13). The common mercies wicked men have, are not loadstones to
draw them nearer to God—but millstones to sink them deeper in hell (1 Tim.
6:9). Their delicious dainties are like Haman's banquet; after all their
lordly feasting, death will bring in the bill, and they must pay it in hell.
(2.) Spiritual good things work for hurt to the
wicked. From the flower of heavenly blessings—they suck poison!
The ministers of God work for their hurt. The same
wind that blows one ship to the haven, blows another ship upon a rock. The
same breath in the ministry that blows a godly man to heaven, blows a
profane sinner to hell. They who come with the word of life in their
mouths—yet to many are a savor of death. "Make the heart of this people fat,
and their ears heavy" (Isaiah 6:10). The prophet was sent upon a sad
message, to preach their funeral sermon. Wicked men are worse for preaching.
"They hate him who rebukes" (Amos 5:10). Sinners grow more resolved in sin;
let God say what He will, they will do what they desire. "As for the word
which you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord—we will not hearken unto
you!" (Jer. 44:16). The word preached is not healing—but hardening.
And how dreadful is this for men to be sunk to hell with sermons!
Prayer works for their hurt. "The sacrifice of the
wicked is an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 15:8). A wicked man is in a
great strait: if he prays not—he sins; if he prays—he sins. "Let his prayer
become sin" (Psalm 109:7). It were a sad judgment if all the food a man ate,
should breed diseases in the body. And so it is with a wicked man. That
prayer which should do him good, works for his hurt; he prays against sin,
and sins against his prayer; his duties are tainted with atheism, and
flyblown with hypocrisy. God abhors them! "The plowing of the wicked,
is sin." (Proverbs 21:4)
The Lord's Supper works for their hurt. "You
cannot eat of the Lord's table—and the table of devils. Do we provoke the
Lord to jealousy?" (1 Cor. 10:21, 22). Some professors kept their
idol-feasts—yet would come to the Lord's table. The apostle says, "Do you
provoke the Lord to wrath?" Profane people feast with their sins; yet will
come to feast at the Lord's table. This is to provoke God to wrath. To a
sinner there is death in the cup, he "eats and drinks his own damnation" (1
Cor. 11:29). Thus the Lord's Supper works for hurt to impenitent sinners.
After the sop—the devil enters!
Christ Himself works for hurt to desperate sinners.
He is "a stone of stumbling, and rock of offence" (1 Pet. 2:8). He is so,
through the depravity of men's hearts; for instead of believing in Him, they
are offended at Him. The sun, though in its own nature pure and pleasant—yet
it is hurtful to sore eyes. Jesus Christ is set for the fall, as the
rising, of many (Luke 2:34). Sinners stumble at a Savior, and pluck
death from the tree of life! As strong medicines recover some
patients—but destroy others, so the blood of Christ, though to some it is
medicine, to others it is condemnation. Here is the unparalleled misery of
such as live and die in sin. The best things work for their hurt; cordials
(5). See here the wisdom of God, who can make the worst
things imaginable, turn to the good of the saints. He can by a
divine chemistry extract gold out of dross. "Oh the depth of the wisdom of
God!" (Romans 11:33). It is God's great design to set forth the wonder of
His wisdom. The Lord made Joseph's prison a step to advancement. There was
no way for Jonah to be saved—but by being swallowed alive by the fish. God
allowed the Egyptians to hate Israel (Psalm 106:41), and this was the means
of their deliverance. Paul was bound with a chain, and that chain which did
bind him was the means of enlarging the gospel (Phil. 1:12). God enriches by
impoverishing; He causes the augmentation of grace by the diminution of an
estate. When the creature goes further from us, it is that Christ may come
nearer to us. God works strangely. He brings order out of confusion, and
harmony out of discord. He frequently makes use of unjust men to do that
which is just.
"He is wise in heart" (Job. 9:4). He can reap His glory
out of men's fury (Psalm 86:10). Either the wicked shall not do the hurt
that they intend—or they shall do the good which they do not
intend. God often helps when there is least hope, and saves His people in
that way which they think will destroy. He made use of the high priest's
malice and Judas' treason—to redeem the world. Through indiscreet passion,
we are apt to find fault with things that happen: which is as if an
illiterate man should censure learning, or a blind man find fault with the
work in a landscape. "Vain man would be wise" (Job 11:12). Silly men will be
taxing Providence, and calling the wisdom of God to the bar of human reason.
God's ways are "past finding out" (Romans 9:33). They are rather to be
admired than fathomed. There is never a providence of God—but has either a
mercy, or a wonder in it. How stupendous and infinite is that wisdom, that
makes the most adverse dispensations work for the good of His children!
(6). Learn how little cause we have then to be
discontented at outward trials and troubles! What! Discontented
at that which shall do us good! All things shall work for good. There are no
sins God's people are more subject to, than unbelief and
impatience. They are ready either to faint through unbelief, or
to fret through impatience. When men fly out against God by
discontent and impatience, it is a sign they do not believe this
text. Discontent is an ungrateful sin, because we have more mercies
than afflictions; and it is an irrational sin, because afflictions
work for good. Discontent is a sin which puts us upon sin. "Fret not
yourself to do evil" (Psalm 37:8). He who frets will be ready to do evil:
fretting Jonah was sinning Jonah (Jonah 4:9). The devil blows the coals of
passion and discontent, and then warms himself at the fire. Oh, let us not
nourish this angry viper in our bosom! Let this text produce patience, "All
things work for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28). Shall we be
discontented at that which works for our good? If one friend should throw a
bag of money at another, and in throwing it, should graze his head—he would
not be troubled much, seeing by this means he had got a bag of money. Just
so, the Lord may bruise us by afflictions—but it is to enrich us. These
light afflictions work for us an eternal weight of glory—and shall we be
(7). See here that Scripture fulfilled, "God is good to
Israel" (Psalm 73:1). When we look upon adverse providences, and
see the Lord covering His people with ashes, and "making them drunk with
wormwood" (Lam. 3:15), we may be ready to call in question the love of God,
and to say that He deals harshly with His people. Yet God is good to His
people, because He makes all things work for good. Is not He a good God—who
turns all to good? He works out sin, and works in grace; is not this good?
"We are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the
world" (1 Cor. 11:32). The depth of affliction—is to save us from the
depth of damnation! Let us always justify God; when our outward
condition is ever so bad, let us say, "Yet God is good."
(8). See what cause the saints have to be frequent in the
work of thanksgiving. In this, Christians are defective, though
they are much in supplication—yet little in thanksgiving. The
apostle says, "In everything giving thanks" (Thess. 5:18). Why so? Because
God makes everything work for our good. We thank the physician, though he
gives us a bitter medicine which makes us sick, because it is to make us
well. We thank any man who does us a good turn; and shall we not be thankful
to God, who makes everything work for good to us? God loves a thankful
Christian. Job thanked God when He took all away: "The Lord has taken
away—blessed be the name of the Lord!" (Job 1:21). Many will thank God when
He gives; Job thanks Him when He takes away, because he knew God would work
good out of it. We read of saints with harps in their hands (Rev.
14:2), an emblem of praise. We meet many Christians who have tears in
their eyes, and complaints in their mouths. But there are few with
their harps in their hands, who praise God in affliction. To be thankful
in affliction is a work peculiar to a saint. Every bird can sing in
spring—but some birds will sing in the dead of winter. Everyone, almost, can
be thankful in prosperity—but a true saint can be thankful in adversity. A
godly Christian will bless God, not only at sun-rise—but at sun-set. Well
may we, in the worst which befalls us, have a psalm of thankfulness, because
all things work for good. Oh, be much in blessing of God. We will thank Him
who befriends us—and makes all things work out to our good.
(9). Think—if the worst things work for good to a
believer, what shall the best things—Christ, and heaven!
How much more shall these work for good! If the cross has so much
good in it—what has the crown! If such precious clusters grow in
Golgotha—how delicious is that fruit which grows in Canaan! If
there is any sweetness in the bitter waters of Marah— what is there
in the sweet wine of Paradise! If God's rod has honey at the
end of it—what has His golden scepter! If the bread of affliction
tastes so savory—then how savory is His manna! What is the
heavenly ambrosia? If God's blow and stroke work for good—what
shall the smiles of His face do! If temptations and sufferings
have matter of joy in them—what shall glory have! If there is so much
good out of evil—how great is that good where there shall be no evil? If
God's chastening mercies are so great—what will His crowning
mercies be? "Therefore comfort one another with these words."
(10). Consider, that if God makes all things to turn to
our good—how right is it that we should make all things tend to His glory!
"Do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). The angels
glorify God, they sing divine anthems of praise. How then ought redeemed man
to glorify Him, for whom God has done more than for angels! He has dignified
us above them in uniting our nature with the Godhead. Christ has died for
us—and not the angels. The Lord has given us, not only out of the common
stock of His bounty—but He has enriched us with covenant blessings. He has
bestowed upon us His Spirit. He studies our welfare, He makes everything
work for our good. Free grace has laid a plan for our salvation! If God
seeks our good—shall we not seek His glory?
Question. How can we be said properly to glorify God.
He is infinite in His perfections, and can receive no augmentation from us?
Answer. It is true that in a strict sense we
cannot bring glory to God—but in an evangelical sense we may. When we
do what in us lies to lift up God's name in the world, and to cause others
to have high reverential thoughts of God—this the Lord interprets a
glorifying of Him. Likewise, a man is said to dishonor God—when he
causes the name of God to be evil spoken of.
We are said to advance God's glory in three ways:
(1.) We glorify God—when we aim at His glory—when we make
Him the first in our thoughts, and the end of our life. As all
the rivers run into the sea, and all the lines meet in the center—so all our
actions should terminate and center in God!
(2.) We advance God's glory—by being fruitful in grace.
"Herein is my Father glorified—that you bring forth much fruit" (John 15:8).
Barrenness reflects dishonor upon God. We glorify God when we grow in
beauty as the lily, in tallness as the cedar, in fruitfulness
as the vine.
(3.) We glorify God—when we give the praise and glory of
all we do unto God. It was an excellent and humble speech of a king of
Sweden; he feared lest the people's ascribing that glory to him which was
due to God, should cause him to be removed before the work was done. When
the silk worm weaves her curious work, she hides herself under the silk—and
is not seen. When we have done our best, we must vanish away in our own
thoughts—and transfer the glory of all to God. The apostle Paul said, "I
labored more abundantly than them all" (1 Cor. 15:10). One would think this
speech savored of pride; but the apostle pulls off the crown from his own
head, and sets it upon the head of free grace, "Yet not I—but the grace of
God which was with me!" Constantine used to write the name of Christ over
the door, so should we over our duties. "Therefore, whether you eat or
drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God's glory." 1 Corinthians
Thus let us endeavor to make the name of God glorious and
renowned. If God seeks our good—let us seek His glory. If He makes all
things tend to our edification—let us make all things tend to His
exaltation. So much for the privilege mentioned in the text.
I proceed to the second general branch of the text—the
PEOPLE interested in this privilege.