“Is He – quite safe?
“Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.
But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
I lived many, many years as a regenerated Christian without understanding or embracing the sovereignty of God in all things. I thought I believed that God was sovereign, but when put to the test in the arena of salvation or the evil found in the world, I delicately tried to distance God from those things. But the Holy Spirit slowly but surely has unveiled my eyes to see his glory in his sovereignty over all things.
Recently, I feel that God is using a mix of resources to impress upon me that not only is God sovereign in all things, but that he uses his sovereignty to bring me, his child, only good. Reading John Piper‘s Desiring God was a first exposure, but more recently, a couple Puritan authors have been preaching to me: Jeremiah Burroughs in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment and Thomas Watson in All Things for Good.
Both books are distinct in their content, but they overlap as they disciple me to consider that my entire life is in God’s care and all of that care is good. When we murmur, complain or covet, we essentially accuse God, as another author has put it, of “a failure to reign well over the events of our lives.” Burroughs presses the point by identifying a murmuring, fretting spirit as an “inflammation of the heart” and claims it “a greater evil than any affliction” we incur. To this argument, he makes much of God’s responses to the complaining Israelites of the Exodus. Both authors affirm – all of God’s plans for me (the easy and the hard) are working for my good.
Watson bases his book on the familiar Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” He would remind us, though, that this promise is “children’s bread; it belongs only to them that love God.” The “despisers and haters of God have no lot or part in this privilege.”
So, if the promise of Romans 8:28 is one on which the child of God can depend, what does this mean for us? I’m glad you asked, because Thomas Watson has an answer for you.
[Caveat – the Puritans, it would seem, were much more direct and un-nuanced than we are today. They also used certain words a bit differently than we do. Though, I do not disagree with Watson, I might have found a more delicate way to say a few of these things.]
Ten inferences that can be made by the proposition
that all things work for the good of the saints?
1. There is a providence which governs our lives. Things do not work of themselves, but God sets them working for good. “His kingdom ruleth over all” (Ps. 103:19). There are three parts to providence: God’s foreknowing, God’s determining, and God’s directing all things to their periods and events. That which is by some called chance is nothing else but the result of providence.
2. Every child of God finds himself in a happy condition when all things work for his good, the “best and worst” things (i.e. the easy and the hard things). What a blessed condition is that of a true believer! When he dies he goes to God, and while he lives, everything shall do him good – even affliction, which does what the Word many times will not, it “opens the ear to discipline “ (Job 36:10) and also yields the sweet fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:11).
3. There is an encouragement here to become godly when all things work for our good. No man did ever come off a loser by his acquaintance with God.
4. The condition of the “wicked” (i.e. the unregenerate) is miserable. To them, good things work for hurt until they yield their sins to the effective work of Christ on the cross.
a. Temporal good things work for hurt to the wicked. Riches and prosperity are not benefits but snares. Pride and luxury are the twins of prosperity which lead the wicked to forsake God. The common mercies wicked men have are not lodestones to draw them nearer to God, but millstones to sink them deeper in hell (1 Tim. 6:9).
b. Spiritual good things work for hurt to the wicked:
(1) The ministers of God work for their hurt. The same breath in the ministry that blow a godly man to heaven, blow a profane sinner to hell. Wicked men are worse for preaching. Sinners grow more resolved in sin; let God say what He will, they will do what they wish. The word preached is not healing, but hardening. And how dreadful is this for me to be sunk to hell with sermons!
(2) Prayer works for their hurt. “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord” (Pr. 15:8). A wicked man is in a great strait: if he prays not, he sins; if he prays, he sins. His duties (of prayer) are tainted with atheism, fly-blown with hypocrisy; God abhors them.
(3) The Lord’s Supper works for their hurt. Profane persons feast with their sins; yet will come to feast at the Lord’s Table. This is to provoke God. To a sinner there is death in the cup; he “eats and drinks his own damnation” (1 Cor. 11:29).
(4) Christ Himself works for hurt as He is a “stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (1 Pet. 2:8). Instead of believing in him, they are offended by him. Sinners stumble at a Savior and pluck death from the tree of life. The blood of Christ, though to some it is a medicine, to others it is condemnation.
5. The wisdom of God is revealed as He makes the worst things imaginable turn to the good of the saints. He enriches by impoverishing; He causes the augmentation of grace by the diminution of an estate. When creature comforts go further from us, it is that Christ may come nearer to us. He frequently makes use of unjust men to do that which is just. He made use of the high-priest’s malice and Judas’ treason to redeem the world. There is never a providence of God, but has either a mercy or a wonder in it.
6. We have little cause to be discontented at outward trials and emergencies. 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. Discontent is an ungrateful sin because we have more mercies than afflictions, and it is an irrational sin because afflictions work for good.
7. The Scripture “God is good to Israel” (Ps. 73:1) is fulfilled for us included in the promises of Abraham (Romans 9:6-8). When we look upon adverse providences we may be ready to call in question the love of God and to say that He deals hardly with his people. But, oh no, yet God is good to Israel because He makes all things work for good. He works out sin and works in grace, is not this good? Let us always justify God; when our outward condition is ever so bad, let us say, “Yet God is good.”
8. The saints have cause to be frequent in the work of thanksgiving. Why so? Because God makes everything work for our good. Many will thank God when He gives; Job thanked him when He took away because he knew God would work good out of it. “The Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). To be thankful in affliction is a work peculiar to a saint – a true saint can be thankful in adversity.
9. Think, if the worst things work for good to a believer, what shall the best things work for us, namely Christ and heaven?! We may comfort one another with these thoughts: If the cross has so much good in it, what has the crown which we await? 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 God’s chastening mercies are so great, what will his crowing mercies be?
10. If God makes all things to turn to our good, consider how right it is that we should make all things tend to his glory. “Do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Consider all that God has done for our good: He has dignified mankind by uniting our nature with the Godhead; He has laid a plan for our salvation; Christ has died for us; He has bestowed upon us his Spirit; He has enriched us with covenant blessings; He seeks our good and makes everything work for our good. Shall we not seek his glory?