All Things for Good – A Review by Brian Garrard
In 1662, Thomas Watson was ejected from the Church of England along with 2000 other ministers of the gospel. As a result he and they faced many difficulties, hardships and trials. However, it is noteworthy that in the following year Watson published the volume mentioned above under the original title, A Divine Cordial.1In it, he sought to answer the question often raised, ‘Why do the Lord’s people suffer and endure hard providences?’ This preacher and writer, well-loved in his day, still provides many biblical answers to this perplexity. Believers often have their inward comforts troubled and disturbed, but the cure to this is found in Romans 8:28, ‘“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’ A gracious privilege, certainty and assurance can be granted to Christian believers, for the text says, ‘“and we know . . .’ Therefore, ‘it is not a matter wavering or doubtful . . . We have arrived at a holy confidence. We have both the Spirit of God, and our own experience, setting seal to it . . . Let us then not rest in scepticism or doubts, but labour to come to a certainty in the things of religion’ (pages 9-11).
The book is divided into nine chapters, with the first three dealing directly with the theme ‘all things work together for good.’ Chapter 1 (pages 13-24) is entitled, ‘The best things work for good to the godly,’ but the question may be asked, ‘What are the best things?’ To this Watson provides some answers by saying that amongst them are God’s attributes and wisdom, promises and power, plus his goodness and mercies. Are not these sufficient? They may be, but to them is added the Spirit’s graces that work in the souls of believers, the ministry of angels, the fellowship of other saints and the intercession of Christ. Last of all, the prayers of Christians work for the good of the godly, especially when they ‘pray for all the members of the body mystical, and their prayers prevail much’ (page 23). Here is a list to strengthen faith and stir up every heart that is about to give in!
Yet that is not all, for in Chapter Two Watson contends that ‘the worst things work for good to the godly’ (pages 25-51). He explains that although they are the fruit of the curse and naturally evil, God wisely overrules, disposes and sanctifies them. As a result they become, in a sense, morally good in their effects towards the godly. Among the ‘worst things, there are four sad evils [that] work for good to them that love God’ (page 25) and they are listed: the evils of affliction, temptation, desertion and even sin. As to the latter, Watson writes, ‘Sin in its own nature is damnable, but God in his infinite wisdom overrules it, and causes good to arise from that which seems most to oppose it. Indeed, it is a matter of wonder that any honey should come out of this lion’ (page 44). How can sin work for good to the godly? Amongst other things, the author argues that it produces holy sorrow and prayer, love, grace and a greater opposition to sin. Sin has the effect of also causing believers to prize Christ more, search the heart and abase self, etc. Watson stresses again that there is not the ‘least good in sin . . . (it) is worse than hell, but yet God, by his mighty overruling power, makes sin in the issue turn to the good of his people’ (page 48). All the same, do not let this truth cause you to make light of sin (page 51) for it is still a great evil to overcome.
Coming to Chapter Three, the author addresses the question why all things work for good to God’s people. The answer lies in the covenant God has made with his saints (Jer. 32:38). They are of ‘near and dear interest’ to him and by ‘virtue of this compact, all things do, and must, work for good to them’ (page 52). From this unchangeable fact Watson draws out nearly ten pages of application or ‘Inferences.’ The first declares that God works for good by his providence, foreknowing, determining and directing all things. ‘Learn,’ he writes, ‘to adore providence’ and then later, ‘observe the happy condition of every child of God. All things work for his good, the best and worst things’ (page 56).
Coming to the next three chapters (four, five and six) Watson places his emphasis on love to God. ‘All things work together for good to them that love God.’ Those who despise and hate God have no part in this blessing and privilege; it is reserved only for his saints. In Chapter Four the nature, grounds and kinds of love to God are explained along with the properties and degrees of it. Believers are to love him for himself and not adopt a mercenary kind of love. Turning to Chapter Five, Watson lists fourteen tests by which a believer may know if they truly love God or not. These fruits or ‘signs’ are not optional, as a perusal of them would reveal. In loving God the Christian fears to sin, hates it, and all the while loves what God loves and also loves his Word, his day, his laws, and his image as revealed in fellow-believers (pages 74-87). Chapter Six, entitled ‘An exhortation to love God’ provides twenty motives for doing so (pages 8 8-99). The very first sets the foundation for all the rest. Without love, ‘all our religion is vain. It is not duty, but love to duty, God looks at. It is not how much we do, but how much we love . . . Duties not mingled with love are as burdensome to God as they are to us . . . to do duty without love, is not sacrifice, but penance’ (page 88). How is it possible to love God? Study all there is to know of him, especially his perfections. ‘Labour for an interest in God; that pronoun “my” is a sweet lodestone to love.’ Ask for a heart to love God, Watson exhorts, and then be diligent to preserve this love (pages 98-103).
All Things for Good wisely avoids careless exposition of Romans 8:28. It keeps clear of worldly sentimentality and fatalism that proclaims a kind of optimism for everyone and everything. All things work for good to lovers of God only, Watson makes clear, and also those who are the called according to God’s purpose. It is this last truth that occupies the author for the final chapters of the book (Seven to Nine). The doctrine of Effectual Calling is carefully expounded (Chapter Seven) with a distinction made between the outward and inward call. In order to love God it is first necessary to be drawn by him into a state of grace and salvation (page 104). As with the rest of the book, practical application runs side by side with doctrine. This is particularly so on pages 113-118, where we are exhorted to make our calling sure (2 Pet. 1:10). The theme is continued in Chapter Eight where Watson urges admiration and praise for God’s grace in calling us. In addition, we are to pity those who are not yet believers. Do not neglect the state of your own heart either but ‘honour your high calling’ (Eph.s 4:1) by pleasing the Lord in every aspect of your life (pages 119-123).
The final chapter provides a brief exposition of the last phrase in the text, ‘called according to his purpose.’ Yet, for all its brevity, there is important material here that must not be overlooked. God’s purpose or decree is the cause of salvation and the very ground and origin of effectual calling. Therefore salvation must not be ascribed to human merit but to God’s good pleasure and purpose. It is this very purpose and decree that also become the grounds of Christian assurance (pages 126, 127). It is fashionable today to criticise Puritan authors but this ought not to deter you from reading them. Just one hour spent will repay you with countless blessings. This is particularly true of Watson and this little pearl of a book. Absorb the truths found here and your soul will be the better spiritually, forever.
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