All Things for Good by Thomas Watson“God does not deal alike with all; He has trials for the strong and cordials for the weak…If God does not give you that which you like, He will give you that which you need.”
With a full-time, M-F job, I really value my Saturdays to get stuff done. Today was one of those Saturdays for which I had plans that included helping my husband paint a bedroom and running three miles. But as the saying goes, “Man proposes, but God disposes,” and I somehow managed to throw my back out early in the day such that I realized I wasn’t going to be able to do some of the things I intended to. But it occurred to me that instead I could write and publish a review this weekend, which I’ve been wanting to do for a while, so apparently “everything happens for a purpose,”as they say. That brings me to the book I want to commend to you, All Things for Good (1663) by the Puritan pastor Thomas Watson. Watson introduces his book with these words:
Dejection in the godly arises from a double spring; either because their inward comforts are darkened, or their outward comforts are disturbed…To know that nothing hurts the godly is a matter of comfort; but to be assured that ALL things which fall out shall cooperate for their good, that their crosses shall be turned into blessings, that showers of affliction water the withering root of their grace and make it flourish more; this may fill their hearts with joy till they run over.
The title is taken from the familiar verse, Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” A favorite verse of many, Watson breaks it down to its basic parts and discusses the meaning and application of each. Pointing out that this verse speaks with confidence as the Apostle Paul states that we know this, he starts out by looking at the What in the verse — what things work together for good? Well, first of all, the Best Things work for good to the godly, and secondly, the Worst Things work for good to the godly.
So what are the best things that Watson declares work for good to the believer? Among others things:
- God’s attributes, specifically his power, wisdom, and goodness
- God’s promises
- God’s mercies
- Christ’s intercession
- Spiritual mercies (or the means of grace)
- The communion (or fellowship) and prayers of fellow believers
- The angels
I don’t think anyone could argue that God uses all of these things in our life for our good. So how does He use these things to our benefit?
- To strengthen our faith
- To make us fruitful
- To make us thankful
- To make us humble
- To give us comfort, courage, joy, and hope
But now we come to the chapter on how God uses the worst things for good to the believer. It should come as no surprise that this chapter is more than twice as long as the previous one. Because let’s be honest — isn’t this the question that everybody wants to know, both Christians and non-Christians alike? Haven’t we all asked at some point in our life,
How could God allow this to happen?
Why is God doing this to me?
What is God trying to teach me through this trial?
Watson identifies four “bad” things that God works out for the good of those who love him:
- Affliction; see Ps. 119:71
- Temptation; see 2 Cor. 12:7-8
- Desertion; see Song of Sol. 5:6
- Sin; Rom. 7:24
I don’t think it’s necessary to define affliction. This term covers a lot of areas, and we’ve all experienced it in one way or another in our lives. Illness. Pain. Death of a Loved One. Divorce. Unemployment. Financial Loss. Betrayal. Tragedy. Failure. Some of the ways you’ve hopefully noticed that God will use these in the lives of his children include:
- It causes us to depend on Him
- It increases our faith
- It brings out sin in our life
- It conforms us into the image of Christ
- It provides an opportunity to receive comfort
- It loosens our hearts from this world
In looking at the aspect of temptation, Watson briefly describes some of the methods Satan uses to tempt believers, then considers ways that God overrules the evil of temptation and uses it for our good. For example, temptation in our life:
- Drives us to prayer. Anything that brings us to our knees before God is for our good. (2 Cor. 12:8)
- Abates pride and keeps us humble and dependent on God (2 Cor. 12:7)
- Exposes sin in the heart, bringing impurities to the surface that may have been lying deep within (Ps. 139:23-24)
- Tests/tries the heart, just as God allowed Job to be tested, not to see if he would fall, but to prove that he would endure (I Cor. 10:13)
- Causes us to depend on Christ (Heb. 2:18)
- Strengthens and gives us courage to withstand and overcome future temptations
- Equips us to be able to help, strengthen, and comfort others in a similar situation (2 Cor. 1:4)
Even when a believer gives in to temptation and falls, God will use it for his good, as He will grant him sorrow for his sin and repentance of it, and then cause him to be less careless or prideful and more watchful. Watson explains using one of his wonderful metaphors:
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… 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.
Next, Watson addresses the issue of desertion, and here he speaks not merely of earthly desertion by friends or loved ones, but by God Himself. Now we know that Jesus promised never to leave or forsake his followers (Heb. 13:5). But friend, have you ever felt that God had abandoned or deserted you? The Puritans referred to times like this as the “dark night of the soul”. If you are a child loved by God, be assured that it’s only a temporary state (2 Cor. 4:16-18). In fact, we may find comfort knowing that only a true child of God can experience this. Watson observes,
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. You fear you are not God’s child because you are deserted. The Lord cannot be said to withdraw His love from the wicked, because they never had it. The being deserted, evidences you to be a child of God. How could you complain that God has estranged Himself, if you had not sometimes received smiles and tokens of love from Him?
God may use a time of desertion, a withdrawal of His sensed presence or favor, to cure us of spiritual laziness or our love of the world. Desertion can give us a greater appreciation and love for our fellowship with the Lord. It will cause us to seek after God and to long more for heaven. It also gives us a small taste of the anguish that Christ experienced on the cross when He was deserted by His Father.
Now Watson speaks to the idea of sin, and some will ask, “Wait, how can sin work for my good??” He clarifies by stating that while sin can be used by God for our good, we are not to take this to mean that sin itself is good. As he explains,
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 over ruling power, makes sin in the issue turn to the good of His people.
So let’s briefly look at a few ways that sin, both the sin of others and one’s own sin, can actually be used by God for our good. Here is some of the good that can come from observing and experiencing sin:
- It produces a holy sorrow over it.
- It causes us to pray against and oppose it.
- It causes us to love holiness and strive more diligently for it.
- It shows us what we once were, in fact what we would be were it not for the grace of God.
- The sins of others bring an opportunity to do good, to show love, to extend grace, and to turn others to the only Savior of sinners.
As we have observed before with the other “evils,” the presence of sin in this life gives us a greater longing to be free from this world. Sin in ourselves humbles us, causes us to search our hearts, to be more alert and more diligent to mortify sin, and causes us to flee to Christ and to love Him more for His death and victory over sin on our behalf. Watson warns again that this does not mean we should ever glory in our sin or take it lightly.
The next chapter answers the question “Why do all things work together for good?” It often puzzles me when I hear unsaved, even nonreligious, people say “Everything happens for a reason,” or “Things always work out.” I want to ask, “Why? How do you know?” To say this is to imply that there is an intelligent, sovereign Being that is causing things to happen. Things don’t “just happen” to work out for a purpose – God causes them to do so (Ps. 103:19).
So the answer to the “Why” question is in reality a Who. It’s because God has promised, “They shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Jer. 32:38). If He is your God, then He’s also your Physician, your Father, your Husband, your Friend, and your Head. If He is your God, and you are His child, then there is nothing but good in store for you! (Job. 22:21) Shouldn’t this truth give us reason to be content, thankful, and hopeful in all things, not matter how difficult or uncomfortable it may seem at the moment? Shouldn’t we strive to praise and glorify Him no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in?
Here Watson looks to the next part of our verse, which qualifies the first part: “to those who love God.” He reminds us that God works all things for good to a specific class of people. He states, “Despisers and haters of God have no lot or part in this privilege. It is children’s bread, it belongs only to them that love God.” And let’s not forget this blessed truth: if you do love God, it’s only because He loved you first! (I John 4:19) Watson then proceeds to define and describe what this love for God should look like and gives a word of reproof to those who cannot say they are lovers of God.
The book finishes with an exhortation to the Christian to examine his or her own love for God. We each must admit that we don’t love God as much as we should or wish we did. Which of us can honestly say that we always love God, “with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind?” (Mark 12:30) Does this even concern us? Do we love what God loves, and hate what He hates? Do we have thoughts of Him in all that we do? Do we take delight in serving and obeying Him? Do we love Him more than the world? Watson makes the following points regarding loving the world:
If you do not love God, you will love something else, either the world or sin; and are those worthy of your love? Is it not better to love God than these? If you set your love on worldly things, they will not satisfy. You may love worldly things, but they cannot love you in return. You may over-love the creature. You may love wine too much, and silver too much; but you cannot love God too much. If it were possible to exceed, excess here were a virtue; but it is our sin that we cannot love God enough.
He lists a series of helpful signs to assess your love for God and gives a final word of warning with symptoms that your love for God may be waning or growing cold, followed by suggestions for increasing your love for God.
In All Things for Good, Thomas Watson addresses his readers in a pastoral way, out of concern for their spiritual well-being. Like a doctor, he starts by presenting a picture of the healthy state of the Christian to encourage their hearts. He offers a checklist to help the reader maintain and improve in their spiritual health. He then provides some warning signs or symptoms that may indicate a problem, followed by a course of action to remedy the problem.
Finally, let’s never forget that it is not our effort or our love to God that will keep us saved and in a healthy relationship with Him. If you are one of “the called according to His purpose,” that this verse speaks of, then your salvation is His doing from beginning to end. His purpose is to conform you to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) and to sanctify you so that He may present you blameless on that final day (Eph. 5:26-27). So He IS working ALL things out for your good, and for His glory!
All Things for Good is a book I’ve included on my list of non-fiction books I feel every Christian should read, and is one of many classic Puritan works included in the wonderful Puritan Paperback series published by The Banner of Truth. Other books in this series that I have reviewed include The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, The Mortification of Sin, Prayer, and The Godly Man’s Picture.
- Read All Things for Good online (www.eternallifeministries.org)
- Biography of Thomas Watson (thomaswatsonquotes.com)
- Good quotes from All Things for Good (thomaswatsonquotes.com)
- Other books by Thomas Watson (banneroftruth.org)
- The Sermons of Thomas Watson (www.reformedsermonarchives.com)
- 8 Ways God Works Suffering for our Good (www.challies.com)