If there is one promise in scripture which throughout all time given hope to the saints it is likely to be Romans 8:28:
‘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.’
It is for this reason that Thomas Watson’s work ‘All things for Good’ based on this text was originally published in 1663 named ‘A Divine Cordial’. The book is exactly that: A divine cordial. It has a medicinal affect on spiritual health. It sooths anxiety, it arouses affection towards God, it comforts the soul, it seeks to crucify unbelief, and it strengths the root of faith in the precious doctrine of God’s sovereignty.
Watson in the preface explains his intent: 'To know that nothing hurts the godly, is a matter of comfort; but to be assured that all things which fall out shall co-operate 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 till they run over.'
Watson is concerned with our joy. He wants us to see God. To see God’s love in ordering all events to bring us closer to Him- the source of goodness. Watson wants us to attack every doubt which claims ‘God is not for you’ and replace it with God’s promises. Promises like: ‘Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.’ (Psalm 34:19) and “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12).
God is for us. This is the premise of the book. He works all things (recessions, deaths, persecution, unemployment, discouragement, traffic lights and bad postal services-even sin!) for our good. Watson writes: 'All the various dealings of God with His children do by a special providence turn to their good'. But how so we know that they work for our good? This knowing is experience more than intellect. Knowing that God is for us is not a deduction processed by our minds but a compulsion we feel. 'The Spirit of God imprints heavenly truths upon the heart as with the point of a diamond…The Lord does not leave His people at uncertainties in matters of salvation. The apostle says, ‘We know’. We have arrived at holy confidence. We have both the Spirit of God, and our own experience, setting seal to it.’ (pg10)
Watson adopts a typical puritan manner when writing about the text. It’s systematic, clear, structured and more importantly: thorough. The book is relatively short but very comprehensive; he deals with text as puritans do.
‘The best things work for good to the godly’ is the title of the first chapter. Watson spells out the most treasured spiritual realities and duties to convince his reader. God is good and He works for our good. He’s the Father and master of perfect giving and good gifts (James 1:17). The promises of God work for our good. John 10:29 ‘My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.’ Watson argues the promises of God are ‘food for faith’ and ‘springs of joy’ (pg 17). ‘There is more in the promises to comfort than in the world to perplex.’ The graces of the Spirit work for our good. Grace makes the soul elegant and beautiful. The virtuous wife will do her husband good all the days of her life (Prov 31:12). The angels work for our good. They are ‘ministering Spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation’ (Heb1:14). Fellowship, the intercession of Christ, and the payers of the saints- all these things work for our good!! J
Chapter two examines how the worst things work for our good. Affliction works for our good: '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.' (pg 27). Afflictions give happiness in God: ‘The saints in affliction have had such sweet raptures of joy, that they thought themselves in the borders of the heavenly Canaan.’ (pg 30).
Temptation works for our good. Watson quotes Luther who said ‘there are three things that make a Christian – prayer, meditation, and temptation.’ Temptations stirs up Christians to desire Heaven as Heaven is a place without temptation. Temptation helps us to fear 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 thee hence Satan.’ (pg35)
There are times in the Christian life when God is distant from us. ‘When God withholds the sweet manifestations of His favour, He does not look with such a pleasant aspect, but veils His face, and seems to be quite gone from the soul.’ (pg 39) It is at these times when you pray and you can’t feel anything. Or you commit sin and can’t feel the conviction. It’s those times when the heart goes cold that are the most treacherous to our own spiritual life. Although these moments are dangerous they do work for our good. The times of loneliness work for our good in that, we identify ourselves as a child of God. When you start to look into your soul and say ‘I can’t see the Spirit’s working and power’ it evidences that once you had the Spirit’s working and power.
Desertion helps a Christian to seek God with more passion. When it feels like God is hiding His face, you beg to see it even more. You crave it and pray until you see Him again. ‘Desertion works for good, as it prepares the saints for future comfort. The nipping frosts prepare for spring flowers. It’s God’s way first to cast down, then to comfort.’ (pg 43)
The fourth point made in this chapter is that ultimate evil of sin works for our good. Sin produces godly sorrow. Psalm 119:136 ‘Rivers of water run down from my eyes, because men do not keep Your law.’ Watson writes: ‘The sins of others work for good, as they make us more earnest in working for our own salvation. When we see wicked men take such pains for hell, this makes us more industrious for heaven.’ (pg 46).
The ultimate proof that sin works for our good is seen in Christ. It was Christ crucified that cleanses our sin. For us to come to God, Jesus had to die. And for Jesus to die there had to be death. For death to exist there had to be sin. Christ was crucified because the Romans committed the greatest sin- the nailing of the son of God to a tree. Sin works for our good. God commanded evil to exist for our everlasting joy and His eternal glory. Within the time line of history and the context of every event sin makes God look good.
In the words of Augustine: ‘God would never have ordained evil if he could not bring good out of it.’
In the following chapters Watson continues to exposit the verse by examining the two qualifications for the privilege of the verse. If all things work together for good to a certain person, this person must also love God and be called according to God’s person.
Watson defines love as ‘an expansion of soul, or the inflaming of the affections, by which a Christian breathes after God as the supreme and sovereign good.’ (pg 66). Love is breathing after God. It should be a normal natural exercise that people constantly engage themselves in. Instead what do we do? We hate him, naturally. Sinners are suffocating themselves from life if they don’t love God.
Love for God needs to be a passionate love. We need to love all of God with all that we can. ‘God, who is the chief of our happiness, must have the chief of our affections. The creature may have the milk of our love but God must have the cream.’ (pg 71)
Watson then devotes a chapter to writing about the tests of love. How do we know we love God? How can detect our love for God? His tests are as follows:
A fruit of love is the musing mind upon God
A fruit of love is desire of communion
A fruit of love is grief (for sin)
A fruit of love is magnanimity (14C word which denotes a greatness of soul, heart and mind. A sort of courage and zeal that sustains someone with peace during trouble)
A fruit of love is sensitivity
A fruit of love is hatred against sin
A fruit of loving is crucifixion
A fruit of love is fear
A fruit of love is loving what God loves
A fruit of love is the entertaining of good thoughts abut God
A fruit of love is obedience
A fruit of love is the desire to exalt God in the eyes of others
A fruit of love is to long for Christ’s appearing
A fruit of love is humility
Watson continues on to give twenty reasons why we should love God. Twenty!
Here are a few:
‘4) God is the most adequate and complete object of our love. All the excellencies that lie scattered in the creatures are united to Him. He is wisdom, beauty love, yea the very essence of goodness.’ (pg 89)
8) Love to God is the best self-love. It is self-love to get the soul saved; by loving God, we forward our own salvation. (pg 91)
‘14) Love to God will never let sin thrive in the heart’ (pg 96)
Effectual calling is the second qualification. This calling is a double calling and is received by every Christians. There is an outward call. That is hearing the gospel. Hearing about Jesus. Hearing that God is angry with you in your sin and yet is offering you love and acceptance through Jesus. The gospel is the objective work of what Christ did on the cross. It’s an offer and an invitation. It’s the expression of God’s heart to a broken generation: ‘We implore you on Christ’s behalf be reconciled to God!’ (2 Cor 5:20).
The inward call is something different. The inward call is the sensing of God for the first time in your soul. He says ‘Live!’ and you are born. Then you respond by receiving Christ as wonderfully attractive and needed. Both of these calls are needed for salvation. The inward call is irresistible. We didn’t ask to be born. In the same we didn’t ask to be born-again. God does it and then we respond. It’s not that we ask God to start working in us and then he takes up the offer. He starts working in us while we are dead in sin. The Spirit makes us alive. The Spirit gives life!!
‘Take notice what a mighty power God puts forth in calling sinners! God does so call as to draw (John 6:44)… A man can no more convert himself than a dead man can raise himself. It is called a creation (Col 3:10). To create is above the power of nature.’ (pg 113)
The last part of the text is ‘according to His purpose’ (Rom 8:28). God does it because He wants to. The pleasure of God in His own will is the ground of the text. It is God’s pleasure to save some and not others. That’s a serious statement. It exalts God and offends men. Watson isn’t afraid to say what the text really means, he writes:
‘If it be God’s purpose that saves, then it is not free-will. Pelagians are strenuous asserters of free-will. They tell us that a man has an innate power to effect his own conversion but this text confutes it. Our calling is ‘according to God’s purpose.’… All depends upon the purpose of God. When the prisoner is cast at the bar [convicted in a court of law], there is no saving him, unless the king has a purpose to save him. God’s purpose is His prerogative royal.’ (pg 125)
‘All things for good’ is a great read. It’s an easy introduction to the Puritan mindset and literature. But most of all it’s a book of humbling comfort. Comfort because our God is large enough to order everything for our benefit and humbling because we don’t deserve that. We deserve Hell not blessing. All things work for our good. Nothing is a threat anymore to our eternal well-being. Even the sin rooted deep in us that we lust after every day works for our good. Praise God!