By Thomas Watson
1. God’s attributes work for good to the godly.
(1) God’s power works for good. It is a glorious power (Colossians 1:11) and it is engaged for the good of the elect.
God’s power works for good in supporting us in trouble. “Underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 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! 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 Corinthians 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 the sun is almost setting, God often causes a revival and brings the sun many degrees backward.
The power of God subdues our corruptions. “He will subdue our iniquities” (Micah 7:19). Is your sin strong? God is powerful; He will break the head of this leviathan. Is your heart hard? God will dissolve that stone in Christ’s blood. “The Almighty 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 of 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 Chronicles 14:11). God’s power is on the side of His “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 is He the Counselor (Isaiah 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” (Psalm 32:8). “Eye,” there, is put for God’s wisdom. Why 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” (Romans 2:4). The goodness of God is a spiritual sunbeam to melt the heart into tears. Oh, says the soul, has God been so good to me? Has He reprieved me so long 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 favors we receive are the silver streams which flow from the fountain of God’s goodness. This divine attribute of goodness brings in two sorts of blessings. Common blessings: all partake of these, the bad as well as the good. This sweet dew falls upon the thistle as well as the rose. Crowning blessings: these only the godly partake of. “Who crowneth us with loving-kindness” (Psalm 103:4). Thus the blessed attributes of God work for good to the saints.
2. The promises of God work for good to the godly.
The promises are 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 and gracious” (Exodus 24:6), where God as it were puts on His glorious embroidery and holds out the golden scepter to encourage poor trembling sinners to come to Him. “The Lord, merciful.” Mercy is His nature. The bee naturally gives honey; it stings only when it is provoked. “But,” says the guilty sinner, “I cannot deserve mercy.” Yet He is gracious; He shows mercy, not because we deserve mercy, but because He delights in mercy. But what is that to me? Perhaps my name is not in the pardon. “He keeps mercy for thousands;” the treasurer of mercy is not exhausted. God has treasures lying by, and why should not you come in for a child’s part?
Are we under the defilement of sin? There is a promise working for good. “I will heal their backslidings” (Hosea 14:4). God will not only bestow mercy, but grace. And He has made a promise of sending His Spirit (Isaiah 44:3), which for 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 will the Spirit of God cleanse and consecrate the soul, making it partake of the divine nature.
Are we in great trouble? There is a promise that works for our good, “I will be with him in trouble” (Psalm 91:15). God does not bring His people into troubles and leave them there. He will stand by them; He will hold their heads and hearts when they are fainting. And there is another promise, “He is their strength in the time of trouble” (Psalm 37:39). “Oh,” says the soul, “I shall faint in the day of trial.” But God will be the strength of our hearts; He will join His forces with us. Either He will make His hand lighter, or our faith stronger.
Do we fear outward wants? There is a promise. “They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing” (Psalm 34:10). If it is good for us, we shall have it; if it is not good for us, then the withholding of it is good. “I will bless thy bread and thy water” (Exodus 23:25). This blessing falls as the honey-dew upon the leaf; it sweetens that little we possess. Let me be without the venison, so I may have the blessing. But I fear I shall not get a livelihood? Peruse that Scripture, “I have been young, and now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:25). How must we understand this? David speaks it as his own observation; he never beheld such an eclipse, he never saw a godly man brought so low that he had not a bit of bread to put in his mouth. David never saw the righteous and their seed lacking. Though the Lord might try godly parents a while by want, yet not their seed too; the seed of the godly shall be provided for. David never saw the righteous begging bread, and forsaken. Though he might be reduced to great straits, yet not forsaken; still he is an heir of heaven, and God loves him.
Question: How do the promises work for good?
Answer: They are food for faith; and that which strengthens faith works for good. The promises are the milk of faith; faith sucks nourishment from them, as the child from the breast. “Jacob feared exceedingly” (Genesis 32:7). His spirits were ready to faint; now he goes to the promise, “Lord, thou hast said that thou wilt do me good” (Genesis 32:12). This promise was his food.
The promises also are springs of joy. There is more in the promises to comfort than in the world to perplex. [Many have been] comforted by that promise: “No man shall pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29). The promises are cordials in a fainting-fit. “Unless thy word had been my delights, I had perished in my affliction” (Psalm 119:92). The promises are as cork to the net, to bear up the heart from sinking in the deep waters of distress.
3. The mercies of God work for good to the godly.
The mercies of God humble us. “Then went King David, and sat before the Lord, and said, Who am I, Oh Lord God, and what is my father’s house, that thou hast brought me hitherto” (2 Sam. 7:18). Lord, why is such honor conferred upon me, that I should be king? That I who followed the sheep, should go in and out before Thy people?” So says 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 (suffering to death). What am I, that I should have those mercies which others want, who are better than I? Lord, why 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 lifted up his voice, and wept” (I Sam. 24:16). Such a melting influence has God’s mercy; it makes the eyes drop with tears of love.
The mercies of God make the heart fruitful. When you lay out more cost upon a field, it bears a better crop. A gracious soul honors the Lord with his substance.
The mercies of God make the heart thankful. “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me? I will take the cup of salvation” (Psalm 116:12-13). Every mercy is an alm 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 lodestones to love, so they are whetstones to obedience. “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 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 been redeemed by 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 sows the golden seeds of his charity. “A good man sheweth favor, and lendeth” (Psalm 112:5). Charity drops from him freely, as myrrh from the tree. Thus to the godly, the mercies of God work for good; they are wings to lift them up to heaven.
Spiritual mercies also work for good. The Word preached works for good. It is a savor of life, it is a soul-transforming Word, it assimilates the heart into Christ”s likeness; it produces assurance. “Our gospel came to you not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and m much assurance” (I Thessalonians 1:5). It is the chariot of salvation.
Prayer works for good. Prayer is the bellows of the affections; it blows up holy desires and ardors of soul. 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 heart and the swellings of lust. It was Luther’s counsel to a friend, when he perceived a temptation begin to arise, to betake himself to prayer. Prayer is the Christian’s gun, which he discharges against his enemies. Prayer is the sovereign medicine of the soul. Prayer sanctifies every mercy (I Timothy 4:5). It is the dispeller of sorrow: by venting the grief it eases the heart. When Hannah had prayed, “she went away, and was no more sad” (I Samuel 1:18). And if it has these rare effects, then it works for good.
4. The graces of the Spirit work for good.
Grace is to the soul, as light to the eye, as health to the body. Grace does to the soul, as a virtuous wife to her husband, “She will do him good all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:12). How incomparably useful are the graces! Faith and fear go hand in hand. Faith keeps the heart cheerful, fear keeps the heart serious. Faith keeps the heart from sinking in despair; fear keeps it from floating in presumption. All the graces display themselves in their beauty: hope is “the helmet” (I Thess. 5:8), meekness “the ornament” (I Pet. 3:4), love “the bound of perfectness” (Colossians 3:14). The saints’ graces are weapons to defend them, wings to elevate them, jewels to enrich them, spices to perfume them, stars to adorn them, cordials to refresh them. And does not all this work for good? The graces are our evidences for heaven. Is it not good to have our evidences at the hour of death?
5. The Angels work for the good of the Saints.
The good angels are ready to do all offices of love to the people of God. “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). It may suffice us to know that the whole hierarchy of angels is employed for the good of the saints.
The good angels do service to the saints in life. An angel comforted the virgin Mary (Luke 1:28).
6. The Communion of Saints works for good.
“We are helpers of your joy” (2 Corinthians. 1:24). One Christian conversing with another is a means to confirm him. As the stones in an arch help to strengthen one another, one Christian by imparting his experience, heats and quickens another. “Let us provoke one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24).
7. Christ’s Intercession works for good.
Christ is in heaven, as Aaron with his golden plate upon his forehead, and his precious incense; and He prays for all believers as well as He did for the apostles. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for all them that shall believe on 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, says 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 savor.
8. The Prayers of Saints work for good to the godly.
The saints pray for all the members of the body, and their prayers prevail much.
“The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up” (James 5:15).
They prevail for victory over enemies. “Lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left” (Isaiah 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” (Isaiah 37:36).
They prevail 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.
They prevail 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. And this is no small privilege to a child of God that he has a constant trade of prayer driven for him. When he comes into any place, he may say, “I have some prayer here, nay, all the world over I have a stock of prayer going for me. When I am indisposed, and out of tune, others are praying for me, who are quick and lively.” Thus the best things work for good to the people of God.