shewing that the best things work for good to the godly
First. What things work for good to their; and here we shall shew that both the best things and the worst things work for their good.
I. God's attributes work for their good
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. The power of God works for good, by supporting us in trouble,—by supplying our wants,—by subduing our corruptions,—and by conquering our enemies.
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? Jonah in the whale's belly? 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 wants. God creates comforts when means fail. He that brought food to the prophet Elijah by ravens, will bring sustenance to his people. God can preserve the "oil in the cruse." 1 Kings 17:14. The Lord made the sun on Ahaz's dial go ten degrees backward: so when our outward comforts are declining, and it is almost sun-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 thy sin strong? God is powerful, he will break the head of this leviathan. Is thy heart hard? God will dissolve that stone, in Christ's blood. "The Almighty maketh 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, a adversaries. "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron," Psalm 2:9. There is rage in the enemy, malice in the devil, but power in God. How easily can he rout all the forces of the wicked! "It is nothing for thee, Lord, to help." 2 Chr. 14:11. God's power is on the side of his church. "Happy art thou, O Israel, O people saved by the Lord, who is the shield of thy help, and the sword of thy excellency." Deut. 33:29.
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 Counsellor. Isa. 9:6. We are oftentimes in the dark, and, in matters intricate and doubtful know not which way to take; here God comes in with light. "I will guide thee with mine eye." Psa. 32:8. "Eye," there, is put for God's wisdom. Whence is it 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 guide them.
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 leadeth to repentance." Rom. 2:4. The goodness of God is a spiritual sun-beam to melt the heart into tears. Oh, saith the soul, hath God been so good to me? hath he reprieved me so long from hell, and shall I grieve his Spirit any more? shall I sin against goodness?
The goodness of God works for good, as it ushers in all blessings. The favours 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. And crowning blessings. These only the godly partake of. "Who crowneth us with loving-kindness." Psalm 103:4. Thus the blessed attributes of God, work for good to the saints.
II. The promises of God work for good
The promises are notes of God's hand; is it not good to have security? 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 merciful, gracious." Exod. 34:6. Where God doth as it were put on his glorious embroidery, and hold out the golden sceptre, to encourage poor trembling sinners to come to him. "The Lord, merciful." God is more willing to pardon, than to punish; mercy doth 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, saith 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 exchequer of mercy is not exhausted: God hath treasures lying by, and why mayest not thou 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 hath made a promise of "sending his Spirit;" Isa. 44:3. which for its 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 works for our good, "I will be with him in trouble." Psalm 91:15. God doth not use to 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 saith 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 wants?—there is a promise. "They that seek the Lord, shall not want any good thing." Psal. 34:10. If it be good for us, we shall have it; if it be not good for us, then the withholding of it is good. "I will bless thy bread and thy water." Exod. 23:25. This blessing falls as the honey-dew upon the leaf, it sweetens that little we possess. Let me want 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." Psal. 37:25. How must we understand this? 1. 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. 2. David never saw the righteous and their seed lacking. Though the Lord might try godly parents a while by want, yet not their seed too: the seed of the godly shall be provided for. 3. 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.
Quest. How do the promises work for good?
Ans. 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 promised. "Lord, thou hast said thou wilt 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 till 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 thy word had been my delight, I had perished in my affliction." Psal. 119:92. The promises are as cork to the net, to bear up the heart from sinking in the deep waters of distress.
III. The mercies of God work for good to the godly
The mercies of God humble.—"Then went king David, and sat before the Lord, and said, Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my father's house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?" 2 Sam. 7:18. Lord, whence is such honour conferred upon me, that I should be king? that I who followed the sheep, should go in and out before thy people? So saith a gracious heart, Lord, what 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.) What am I, that I should have those mercies, which others want, who are better than I? Lord, whence is it, that notwithstanding all my unworthiness, a fresh tide of mercy comes in every day? The mercies of God make a sinner proud, but a saint humble.
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, 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 thy voice, my son David? and Saul lift up his voice, and wept." 1 Sam. 24:16. Such a melting influence hath 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 honours 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 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." Psal. 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 alms of free grace; and this enlarges the soul in gratitude. A good 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 an ingenuous 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." Psal. 116:9. He that 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 saviour; 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 good man sheweth favour, and lendeth." Psal. 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 savour 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 Ghost, and in much assurance. 1 Thess. 1:5. It is the chariot of salvation.
Prayer works for good.—Prayer is the bellows of the affection, it blows up holy desires and ardours of soul: prayer hath power with God, "Command ye me." Isa. 45:11. It is a key that unlocks the treasury of God's mercy. Prayer keeps the heart open to God, and shut to sin; it assuages the intemperate heats and 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. It is the dispeller of sorrow: by venting the grief, it easeth 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 good.
The Lord's Supper works for good: it is an emblem of the marriage-supper of the Lamb," Rev. 19:9. and an earnest 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 saith, "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.
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." Prov. 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?
V. The creatures of God work for good to the godly.—Creatures inanimate, "The stars in their courses fought against Sisera." Judg. 5:20. The stars as the host of God gathered in a batalion, and by their influences (as some suppose) raising terrible tempests, did as it were conspire the ruin of Sisera and his army. And creatures animate. The angels, those noble citizens and princes of heaven, work for the good of the saints. The good angels, are ready to do all offices of love to the people of God, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" Heb. 1:14. Some of the fathers were of opinion, that every believer hath his guardian angel: this subject needs no hot debate, it may suffice that we 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 did comfort 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 thee, to keep thee in all thy ways," Psal. 91:11. The angels are of the saints' life-guard, yea, the chief of the angels: "Are they not all ministering spirits?" The highest angels take care of the lowest saints.
The good 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 22:43. 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. Luke 16:22.
The good 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. 24:31. The angels at the day of judgment shall rid the godly of all their enemies. Here the saints are plagued with enemies. "They are mine adversaries, because I follow the thing that is good." Psal. 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," &c. 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 honour and dignity of a believer, he hath "God's name" written upon him, Rev. 3:12. the Holy Ghost dwelling in him, 2 Tim. 1:14. and a guard of angels attending him.
VI. The communion of saints works for good. "We are helpers of your joy." 2 Corin. 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 doth heat and quicken another. "Let us provoke one another to love, and to good works," Heb. 10:24. How doth 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.
VII. 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. "Neither pray I for these alone, but for all them that shall 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 thou shouldest 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 thou hast given me, be with me where I am," John 17:24. Christ is not content till 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, saith Ambrose, that is willing to 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. Thus 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 savour.
VIII. The joint stock of the prayers of saints works for good to the godly.—The saints pray for all the members of the body mystical; their prayers prevail much. 1. They prevail for recovery from sickness, "The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up," James 5:15. 2. For victory over enemies, "Lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left," Isa. 37:4. "Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote, in the camp of the Assyrians, an hundred and fourscore and five thousand," Isa. 37:36. 3. For deliverance out of prison, "Prayer was made without ceasing, of the church, unto God for him. And behold the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison, and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, and his chains fell off." Acts 12:5–7. The angel fetched Peter out of prison, but it was prayer fetched the angel. 4. For forgiveness of sin, "My servant Job shall pray for you, for him will I accept." Job 42:8. Thus the prayers of the saints work for good to the body mystical. And this is no small privilege to a child of God, that he hath 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.
shewing that the worst things work for good to the godly
Mistake me not, I do not say that of their own nature they are good, for they are a fruit of the curse; but though they are naturally evil, yet the wise over-ruling hand of God disposing and sanctifying them, they are morally good. As the elements, though of contrary qualities, yet God hath 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 work for good to them that love God.
I. The evil of affliction works for good to the godly
It is one heart-quieting consideration, in all the afflictions that befall us, that God hath a special hand in them: "The Almighty hath afflicted me." Ruth. 1:21. Instruments can no more stir till God gives them a commission, than the axe can cut of itself, without a hand. Job eyed God in his affliction: therefore, as Augustin observes, he doth not say, The Lord gave, and the devil took away: but, The Lord hath taken away. Whoever brings an affliction to us, it is God that sends it.
Another heart-quieting consideration, is, that afflictions work for good. "Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans, for their good," Jer. 24:5. Judah's captivity in Babylon was for their good. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted." Psal. 119:71. This text, like Moses's 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 Pet. 1:6. No vessel can be made of gold without fire; so it is impossible that we should be made vessels of honour, unless we are melted and refined in the furnace of affliction. "All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth." Psal. 25:10. As the painter intermixes bright colours with dark shadows; so doth the wise God mix mercy with judgment. Those afflictive providences which seem to be prejudicial, 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. "Ye 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 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, "When he was in affliction he besought the Lord, and humbled himself greatly, and the Lord was entreated of him." 2 Chron. 33:11, 12. He was more beholden 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 ever he 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 42:10.
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 that 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. As it is our preacher and tutor;—"Hear ye the rod." Mic. 6:9. Luther said, he could never rightly understand some of the Psalms, till he was in affliction. Affliction teaches two things. 1. 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 glass of affliction. 2. Affliction teaches us to know ourselves. In prosperity we are for the most part strangers to ourselves; God makes us know affliction, 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 appeareth. Oh, saith 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." Isa. 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 it be true, 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 this difference between Christ's sufferings and ours; his were satisfactory, ours are only castigatory.
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 that 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, "This is all the fruit, to take away his sin." Isa. 27:9. 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 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 useth to carry off our spiritual distempers; they cure the tympany of pride, the fever of lust, the dropsy 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; 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 be 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 thou shouldest magnify him, and that thou shouldest 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 honour 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 ye be stricken any more?" Isa. 1:5. If you will go on in sin, take your course, sin yourselves into hell. 2dly. Afflictions also magnify us, as they are ensigns of glory, signs of sonship. "If you endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons." Heb. 12:7. Every print of the rod is a badge of honour.
Again: Afflictions do really 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: "Ye 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 correcteth." Job 5:17. What politician or moralist ever placed happiness in the cross? Job doth. "Happy is the man whom God correcteth." Job 5:17.
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 loadstone of mercy doth 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. 14:30. 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 want, 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 of 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 hath 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. "Doth Job serve God for naught? Hast not thou made a hedge about him?" &c. "Well," saith God, "put forth thy 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, Chap. 1:20. and professes his faith in him. "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Chap. 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 colours: so, God first lays the dark colours of affliction, and then he lays the golden colour 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 prejudicial, 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 heaven.
II. The evil of temptation is overruled for good to the godly
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 hath 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.
I. His method in tempting
II. The extent of his power.
III. That these temptations are overruled for good.
I. Satan's method in tempting.—Here take notice of two things. His violence in tempting, and so he is the red dragon. He labours to storm the castle of the heart, he throws in thoughts of plasphemy, he tempts to deny God; these are the fiery darts he shoots, whereby he would inflame the passions. Also, his subtlety in tempting; and so he is the old serpent.
There are five chief subtleties the devil useth.
1. He observes the temper and constitution; he lays suitable baits of temptation. Like the husbandman, he knows what grain is proper 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 temper, and accordingly he lays his baits. He tempts the ambitious man with a crown, the sanguine man with beauty.
2. Satan observes the fittest time to tempt in; 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, because then 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 armour, 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, "Dost thou still retain thy integrity?" Job 2:9. A wife in the bosom may be the devil's instrument to tempt to sin.
4. Satan tempts to evil by them that are good; thus he gives poison in a golden cup. He tempted Christ by Peter. Peter dissuades him from suffering. Master, pity thyself. Who would have thought to have found the tempter in the mouth of an apostle?
5. Satan tempts to sin, under a pretence 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 pretence of providing for his family; he tempts some to make away with themselves, that they may live no longer to sin against God; and so he draws them into sin, under a pretence of avoiding sin. These are his subtle stratagems in tempting.
II. 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 before Achan.
2. He can poison the fancy, and instil evil thoughts into the mind. As the Holy Ghost casts in good motions, so the devil casts in bad ones; he put it into Judas's 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 an earnest 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.
III. That these temptations are overruled for good to the children of God.—A tree that is shaken by the wind is more settled and rooted; so, the blowing of a temptation doth but settle a Christian the more in grace. Temptations are overruled for good eight ways:
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 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 saith, Avaunt, 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 imposthume.
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 suffers 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 7:11. So it may be said of many, they are without a heart; they have no heart to resist temptation; no sooner doth Satan come, but they yield; like a coward, who, as soon as the thief approaches, gives him his purse. But he is the valorous christian, that 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 valour and puissance of a saint is never more seen, than in a field-battle, 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 m the fiery trial, and withstand 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. St. 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 that has felt the claws of the roaring lion, and has lain bleeding under those wounds, is the fittest man to deal with one that is tempted. None can better discover Satan's sleights and policies, than those who have been long in the fencing-school of temptation.
6. Temptations work for good, as they stir up paternal compassion in God to them 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 that soars aloft in the air, and sits upon high trees, is not troubled with the stinging of the serpent: so when believers are ascended to heaven, they shall not be molested with the old serpent. In this life, when one temptation is over, another comes; this is to make God's people wish for death to sound a retreat, and call them off the field where the bullets fly so quick, to receive a victorious crown, where, not the drum or cannon, but the harp and viol, shall be ever 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 on work for us. "For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are 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. "And in him we are more than conquerors." Rom. 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 when he would needs stand alone, 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 more modest, he durst not say he loved Christ more than the other apostles. "Lovest thou me more than these?" John 21:15. He durst not say so, his fall 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 shy and fearful of the occasions of sin; he never goes abroad without his spiritual armour, and he girds on his armour 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 stands to his arms, and displays the skill of faith. Eph. 6:16. This is all the hurt the devil doeth; 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 hurt the corn, a man will make his fence the stronger: 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 no.
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 that falls into a river is capable of help and pity, but he that desperately turns into it, is guilty of his own death. It is madness running into a lion's den. He that runs himself into a temptation, is like 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 did the devil know how much benefit accrues to the saints by temptation, he would forbear to tempt. Luther once said, There are three things make a christian—prayer, meditation, and temptation. St. 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.
III. 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 two-fold withdrawing; either, 1. In regard of grace, when God suspends the influence of his Spirit, and withholds the lively actings of grace—if the Spirit be gone, grace freezes into a chillness and indolence. Or, 2. A withdrawing in regard of comfort; 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.
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 usually 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 whereof, 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 hath quite cast them off; therefore I shall prescribe some comfort to the deserted soul. The mariner, when he hath no star to guide him, yet he hath 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 dark of desertion, and wants the bright morning star.
1. None but the godly are capable of desertion.—Wicked men know not what God's love means, nor what it is to want it; they know what it is to want health, friends, trade, but not what it is to want God's favour. Thou fearest thou art not God's child, because thou art deserted. The Lord cannot be said to withdraw his love from the wicked, because they never had it. The being deserted, evidences thee to be a child of God. How couldest thou complain that God has estranged himself, if thou hadst 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 want a crop of corn, 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, that 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 away thy Holy Spirit from me," Psal. 51:11. He does not pray, saith Augustin, Lord, give me thy Spirit—but, take not away thy 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 thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee." Isa. 54:8. When it is dead low water, the tide will come in again. "I will not be always wroth, for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made." Isa. 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 the 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 bait, but it must not be our home. Perhaps these secular things steal away the heart too much. Good men are sometimes sick with a surfeit, 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 hath 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.—"Thy loving-kindness is better than life." Psal. 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 hath 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 imbittering 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 favour 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 armour. This makes the soul pursue sin with a holy malice, and seek to be avenged of 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 a 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 was Micah troubled when he had lost his gods! "Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more?" Judges 18:24. So when God is gone, what have we more? It is not the harp and viol can comfort, when God is gone. Though it be sad to want God's presence, yet it is good to lament his absence.
Desertion sets the soul a seeking after God.—When Christ was stept aside, the spouse pursues after him, she seeks him "in the streets of the city." Cant. 3:2. And not having found him, she makes a hue-and-cry after him. "Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?" 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 till 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 that hath made God angry? Perhaps pride, perhaps surfeit on ordinances, perhaps worldliness. "For the iniquity of his covetousness, was I wroth; I hid me." 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 be so bitter, how bitter was that which Christ drank upon the cross? He drank a cup of deadly poison, which made him cry out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Matt. 27:46. None can be so sensible of 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 Saviour had been fasting, then came the angels and ministered to him. When the Lord hath kept his people long fasting, then he sends the Comforter, and feeds them with the bidden manna. "Light is sown for the righteous." Psal. 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 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 for ever; 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 more, 'My beloved hath withdrawn himself."
IV. Shewing that God brings good out of evil to the godly
Sin in its own nature is damnable, but God in his infinite wisdom over-rules 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.
I. The sins of others are over-ruled for good to the godly. It is no small trouble to a gracious heart to live among the wicked. "Wo is me, that I dwell in Mesech." Psal. 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 mine eyes, because they keep not thy law." Psal. 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 thou doest evil, then thou rejoicest." 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 shews 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 the roses, they are sweet and fragrant, and God puts them in his bottle.
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 be both recorded and rewarded. Though we do not prevail in prayer, we shall not lose our prayers. "My prayer returned into mine own bosom." Psal. 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 lustre, 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 made void thy law; therefore I love thy commandments." Ps. 119:126, 127. David had never 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; 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 swift dromedaries in sin. Jer. 2:23. And do we creep like snails in religion? Shall impure sinners do the devil more service than we do Christ? Shall they make more haste to a prison, than we do to a kingdom? 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, 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 glasses in which we may see our own hearts.—Do we see a flagitious, impious sinner? Behold a picture of our hearts. Such should we be, if God did leave us; what is in other men's practice, is in our nature. Sin in the wicked is like fire on a beacon, that flames and blazes forth; sin in the godly is like fire in the embers. Christian, though thou dost not break forth into a flame of scandal, yet thou hast no cause to boast, for there is much sin raked up in the embers of thy nature. Thou hast the root of bitterness in thee, and wouldst bear as hellish fruit as any, if God did not either curb thee by his power, or change thee by his grace.
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 riot? Think with thyself, O christian, why should God be more propitious to thee, than to another? why should he take thee out of the wild olive of nature, and not him? How may this make thee to adore free grace. What the Pharisee said boastingly, we may say thankfully, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers," &c. Luke 18:11.—So we should adore the riches of grace, that we are not as others, drunkards, swearers, sabbath-breakers. Every time we see men hasting on in sin, we are to bless God we are not such. If we see a frantic person, we bless God it is not so with us; much more when we see others under the power of Satan, we should make our thankful acknowledgment that it is not our condition. Let us not think lightly of sin.
8. The sins of others work for good, as they are means of making God's people better.—Christian, God can make thee a gainer by another's sin: the more unholy others are, be thou the more holy. The more a wicked man gives himself to sin, the more a godly man gives himself to prayer. "But I give myself to prayer." Psal. 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 emptying the patient of noxious humours, the physician enriches himself: so, by converting sinners from the error of their way, our crown comes to be enlarged. "They that turn many to righteousness, shall shine as the stars for ever and ever." Dan. 12:3. Not as lamps or tapers, but as the stars for ever.—Thus we see the sins of others are over-ruled for our good.
II. The sense of their own sinfulness will be over-ruled for the good of the godly.
Thus our own sins shall work for good. This must be understood warily, 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, infects the heart, and, without a sovereign antidote, 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 overruling power, makes sin in the issue turn to the good of his people: hence that golden saying of Augustin, 'God would never permit evil, if he could not bring good out of evil.' The feeling for 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 a burden, is good. St. Paul's afflictions, (pardon the expression) were but a 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?" Rom. 7:24. A believer carries his sins, as a prisoner his shackles; oh how does he long for a gaol-delivery! This sensibility of sin is good.
2. This in-being of corruption makes the saints prize Christ more.—He that feels his sin, as a sick man feels his sickness, how welcome is Christ the physician to him! He that feels himself stung with sin, how precious is the brazen serpent to him! When Paul had cried out of a body of death, how thankful was he for Christ! "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Rom. 7:25 Christ's blood saves from sin, and is the sacred ointment which kills this quicksilver.
3. This sense of sin works for good, as it is an occasion of putting the soul upon six especial duties.—
(1.) It puts the soul upon self-searching.—A child of God being conscious to himself 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 distempered 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, "Make me to know my transgressions." 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.
(2.) The inherency of 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 vain-glory. We read of the "spots of God's children." Deut. 32:5. When a godly man beholds his face in the glass of scripture, and sees the spots of infidelity and hypocrisy, this makes the plumes of pride fall; they are humbling spots. 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 a painted hypocrite;' and Hooper said, 'Lord I am hell, and thou art heaven.'
(3.) Sin puts a child of God on self-judging;—he passes a sentence upon himself. "I am more brutish than any man." Prov. 30:2. It is dangerous to judge others, but it is good to judge ourselves. "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." 1 Cor. 11:31. When a man has judged himself, Satan is put out of office: when he lays any thing 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.
(4.) 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 warfaring 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 under: though he cannot quite overcome, yet he is overcoming. "To him that is overcoming." Rev. 2:7.
(5.) Sin puts a child of God upon self-observing—he knows sin is a bosom-traitor, therefore he narrowly observes himself. A subtle heart needs a watchful eye. The heart is like a castle that is in danger every hour to be assaulted; this makes a child of God to be always as a sentinel, and keep a guard about his heart. A believer hath a strict eye over himself, lest he fall into any scandalous enormity, and so open a sluice to let all his comfort run out.
(6.) Sin puts the soul upon self-reforming.—A child of God does not only find out sin, but drive out sin. One foot he sets upon the neck of his sins, and the other foot he "turns to God's testimonies." Psal. 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; but it works for good to them that love God: and for you that 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 dear. Remember David. He ventured presumptuously on sin, and what got he? 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." Psal. 51:8. And though he did at last come out of that dark cloud, yet some divines are of opinion that 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 doth 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 nigh to despair. Let this be a flaming sword, to keep them from coming near the forbidden tree.
And thus have I shewn, that both the best things and the worst things, by the over-ruling hand of the great God, do work together for the good of the saints.
Again, I say, Think not lightly of sin.
shewing the reason of the proposition, and the inferences to be drawn from it
The grand reason why all things shall work for good, is the near and dear interest which God hath in his people. The Lord hath 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 thy God." Psal. 50:7. This word, 'Thy 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 every thing not work for their good. This expression, 'I am thy God,' implies,
I. The relation of a physician; I am thy physician.—God is a skilful physician. He knows what is best. God observes the several tempers 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, some in brine. God doth not deal alike with all, he hath trials for the strong, and cordials for the weak. 2. God is a faithful physician, and therefore will turn all to the best. If God does not give thee that which thou likest, he will give thee that which thou needest. A physician does not so much study to please the taste of the patient, as to cure his distemper. We complain that very sore trials lie upon us; let us remember God is our physician, therefore he labours rather to heal us, than humour us. God's dealings with his children, though they are sharp, yet they are safe, and in order to cure; "that he might do thee good in the latter end." Deut. 8:16.
II. This word, 'thy 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 thy God, thy father, therefore all I do is for thy good. "As a man chastens his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee." 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 pitieth them that fear him." Psal. 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 contrivance is for his child: whom doth 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 kindness in the creatures.
"God is an everlasting Father." Isa. 9:6. He was our Father from eternity: before we were children, God was our Father, and he will be our Father to 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; thou that art a believer, hast a Father that never dies; and if God be thy father, thou canst never be undone, all things must needs work for thy good.
III. This word, 'thy God,' imports the relation of a husband. This is a near and sweet relation. The husband seeks the good of his spouse; he were unnatural, that should go about to destroy his wife. "Did ever any man hate his own flesh?" Ephes. 5:29. There is a marriage relation between God and his people. "Thy Maker is thy Husband." Isa. 54:5. God entirely loves his people. "He engraves them upon the palms of his hands." Isa. 49:16. "He sets them as a seal upon his breast." Cant. 8:6. "He will give kingdoms for their ransom." Isa. 43:3. Which shows how near they lie to his heart. If he be 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.
IV. This word, "thy God," implies the relation of a friend.—"This is my friend." Cant. 5:16. A friend is, as Augustin says, half one's self; he is studious and inquisitive 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 thy 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, that cannot lie, hath 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 hast thou afflicted me." Psal. 119:75. He is sifting and refining us as silver. Psal. 66:10.
God is an immutable friend.—"I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." 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 traveller does with the sun-dial; if the sun shines upon the dial, the traveller 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 shine on men, then friends will look upon them; but if there be a cloud of adversity on them, they will not come near them: but God is a friend for ever; he hath said, I will never leave thee. Though David walked in the shadow of death, he knew he had a friend by him. "I will fear no evil, for thou art with me." Psal. 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.
V. This word, "thy God," imports 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, it 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 watch-tower, 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 whence 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 suffer his body to be hurt, but will consult for the safety of it, and make all things work for the good of the body mystical.
The following inferences may be drawn from the proposition, that all things work for the good of the saints
I. If all things work for good, hence learn, that there is a providence. Things do not work of themselves, but God sets them working for good. God is the great disposer of all events and issues, he sets every thing working. "His kingdom ruleth over all." Psal. 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. 1. God's foreknowing; 2. God's determining; 3. God's directing all things to their periods and events. Whatever things do work in the world, God sets them a working. We read in the first 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 providence.
Learn to adore providence. Providence hath an influence upon all things here below; it is this that mingles the ingredients, and makes up the whole compound.
II. Observe the happy condition of every child of God;—all things work for his good, the best and worst things. "Unto the upright ariseth light in darkness." Psal. 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, every thing 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 fan to the corn? it only separates the chaff from it. What hurt do leeches to the body? they only suck out the bad blood. 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! when they are pounded and broken, they send forth their sweetest smell. Affliction is a bitter root, but it bears sweet fruit. "It yieldeth 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 healthful. 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. Themistocles being banished from his own country, grew afterwards in favour with the king of Egypt, whereupon he said, "I had perished, if I had not perished." So may a child of God say, If I had not been afflicted, I had been destroyed; if my health and estate had not been lost, my soul had been lost.
III. See then what an encouragement here is to become godly. All things shall work for good. O that this may induce the world to fall in love with religion. Can there be a greater loadstone to piety? Can any thing more prevail with us to be good, than this; all things shall work for our good? Religion is the true philosopher's stone, that turns every thing 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 thyself with God, and be at peace, so good shall come unto thee." Job 22:21. No man did ever come off a loser by his acquaintance with God: thereby good shall come unto thee, abundance of good, the sweet distillations of grace, the hidden manna, yea, every thing shall work for good: O then get acquaintance with God, espouse his interest.
IV. Notice the miserable condition of wicked men: to them that are godly, evil things work for good; to them that are evil, good things work for hurt.
1. Temporal good things work for hurt to the wicked. Riches and prosperity: they are not benefits, but snares, as Seneca speaks. 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 from the sweet perfume of prosperity. Their mercies are like poisoned bread given to dogs: their tables are sumptuously spread, but there is a hook under the bait: "Let their table become a snare." Psal. 69:22. All their enjoyments are like Israel's quails, which were sauced with the wrath of God. Numb. 11:33. Pride and luxury are the twins of prosperity. "Thou art 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 fare, death will bring in the reckoning, 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 savour of death. "Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy." Isa. 6:10. The prophet was sent upon a sad message, to preach their funeral sermon. Wicked men are worse for preaching. "They hate him that rebuketh in the gate." Amos. 5:10. Sinners grow more resolved in sin; let God say what he will, they will do what they list. "As for the word which thou hast spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee." 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." Prov. 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 meat a man did eat should turn to ill humours, and breed diseases in the body: 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, fly-blown with hypocrisy, God abhors them.
The Lord's supper works for their hurt. "Ye 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 saith, "Do you provoke the Lord to wrath?" 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. 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 as well for the fall, as the rising, of many. Luke 2:34. Sinners stumble at a Saviour, and pluck death from the tree of life. As chemical oils 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 themselves, kill.
V. 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!" Rom. 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 preferment. There was no way for Jonah to be saved, but by being swallowed up. God suffered the Egyptians to hate Israel, Psal. 106:41. and this was the means of their deliverance. St. 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, harmony out of discord; he makes use many times 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, Psal. 76:10. 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's 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 philosophy, or a blind man find fault with the work in a landscape. "Vain man would be wise." Job 11:12. Silly animals will be taxing Providence, and calling the wisdom of God to the bar of reason. God's ways are "past finding out." Rom. 11:33. 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 cross dispensations work for the good of his children!
VI. Learn how little cause we have then to be discontented at outward trials and emergencies! 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, eithe 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 thyself to do evil." Psal. 37:8. He that frets will be ready to do evil: fretting Jonah, was sinning. Jonah 4:9. The devil blows the coals of passion and discontent, and then warms himself at the fire. O let us not nourish this angry viper in our breast. Let this text produce patience, "All things shall work for good to them that love God." Rom. 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. So the Lord may bruise us by afflictions, but it is to enrich us; these afflictions work for us a weight of glory; and shall we be discontented?
VII. See here that scripture fulfilled, "God is good to Israel." Psal. 73:1. When we look upon cross 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 dealt hardly with his people. But, O no, yet God is good to Israel, 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.
VIII. See what cause the saints have to be frequent in the work of thanksgiving. Christians herein are defective; though they are much in supplication, yet little in gratulation. The apostle saith, "In every thing giving thanks." Thess. 5:18. Why so? because God makes every thing 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 that does us a good turn; and shall not we be thankful to God, who makes every thing work for good to us? God loves a thankful christian. Job thanked God when he took all away: "The Lord hath 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. Every one almost can be thankful in prosperity, but a true saint can be thankful in adversity. A good christian will bless God, not only at the sun-rising, but at the sun-setting. Well may we, in the worst that befals us, have a psalm of thankfulness, because all things work for good. O be much in blessing of God: we will thank him that doth befriend us.
IX. 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 hath so much good in it, what hath the crown! If such precious clusters grow in Golgotha, how delicious is that fruit which grows in Canaan! If there be any sweetness in the waters of Marah, what is there in the wine of Paradise! If God's rod hath honey at the end of it, what hath his golden sceptre! If the bread of affliction tastes so savoury, what is 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 be so much good out of evil, what then is that good where there shall be no evil! If God's chastening mercies are so great, what will his crowning mercies be! Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
X. 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 man to glorify him, for whom God hath done more than for angels! He hath dignified us above them in uniting our nature with the Godhead. Christ hath died for us, and not the angels: the Lord hath given us, not only out of the common stock of his bounty, but he hath enriched us with covenant blessings, he hath bestowed upon us his Spirit. He studies our welfare, he makes every thing work for our good: free-grace hath laid a plan for our salvation. If God seeks our good, shall not we 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; as a man is said to dishonour God, when he causeth the name of God to be evil spoken of.
We are said to advance God's glory in three ways: 1. When we aim at his glory; when we make him the first in our thoughts, and the last in our end. As all the rivers run into the sea, and all the lines meet in the centre, so all our actions terminate and centre in God. 2. We advance God's glory by being fruitful in grace. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bring forth much fruit." John 15:8. Barrenness reflects dishonour upon God: then we glorify God, when we grow in fairness 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 laboured more abundantly than they all." 1 Cor. 15:10. One would think this speech savoured 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.
Thus let us endeavour to make the name of God glorious and renowned. If God seek our good, let us seek his glory; if he make all things tend to our edification, let us make all things tend to his exaltation. So much for the privilege mentioned in the text.
Watson, T. (1846). A Divine Cordial; The Saint's Spiritual Delight; The Holy Eucharist; and Other Treatises (pp. 71–142). The Religious Tract Society.
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