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.
~ Romans 8:28
But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
~ Genesis 50:20
Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; 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. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.
~ Deuteronomy 8:16, Jeremiah 24:5-7
For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
~ 2 Corinthians 4:15-17, Hebrews 12:-10
All Things For Good, by Thomas Watson. This is an excerpt from the text.
4. The evil of sin works for good to the godly.
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! We may understand it in a double sense.
(1). The sins of others are overruled for good to the godly. It is no small trouble to a gracious heart to live among the wicked. “Woe is me—that I dwell in Mesech” (Psalm 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 my eyes, because they keep not your law” (Psalm 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 you do evil, then you rejoice” (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 shows 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 roses—they are sweet and fragrant, and God puts them in His bottle! “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book!” (Psalm 56:8)
(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 both be recorded and rewarded. Though we do not prevail in prayer, we shall not lose our prayers. “My prayer returned into my own bosom” (Psalm 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 luster 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 broken your law; therefore I love your commandments” (Psalm 119:126, 127). David would never have 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. Just so, 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 asa 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 like camels—running after sin (Jer. 2:23). And do we creep like snails in piety? Shall impure sinners do the devil more service—than we do Christ? Shall they make more haste to go to the prison of hell—than we do to the kingdom of heaven? 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—this 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 looking- glasses in which we may see our own hearts. Do we see a heinous, impious wretch? Behold a picture of our own hearts! Such would we be— if God left us! What is in wicked men’s practice—is in our nature. Sin in the wicked is like fire which flames and blazes forth; sin in the godly is like fire in the embers. Christian, though you do not break forth into a flame of scandalous sin—yet you have no cause to boast, for there is as much sin in the embers of your nature. You have the root of all sin in you, and would bear as hellish fruit as any ungodly wretch—if God did not either curb you by His power, or change you 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 wickedness? Think with yourself, O Christian—why should God be more merciful to you than to another? Why should He snatch you, as brand plucked out of the fire—and not him? How may this make you to adore free grace! What the Pharisee said boastingly, we may say thankfully, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers, etc.” (Luke 18:11).
If we are not as wicked as others—we should adore the riches of free- grace! Every time we see men hastening on in sin—we are to thank God that we are not such. If we see a crazy person—we thank God that it is not so with us. Much more when we see others under the power of Satan— how thankful we should be, that this is no longer our condition! “For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, captives of various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another.” Titus 3:3
(8.) The sins of others work for good—as they are means of making God’s people better. Christian, God can make you a gainer by another’s sin. The more unholy others are—the more holy you should be. The more a wicked man gives himself to sin—the more a godly man gives himself to prayer. “But I give myself to prayer” (Psalm 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 healing the patient, the physician enriches himself. Just so, by converting sinners from the error of their way, our crown comes to be enlarged. “Those who turn many to righteousness, shall shine as the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:31). Not as lamps or candles—but as the stars forever! Thus we see the sins of others are overruled for our good.
(2). The sense of their own sinfulness, will be overruled for the good of the godly. Thus our own sins shall work for good. This must be understood carefully, 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, and infects the heart; and, without a sovereign antidote, sin always 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 outcome turn to the good of His people. Hence that golden saying of Augustine, “God would never permit evil—if He could not bring good out of evil.” The feeling of 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 their burden—is good. Paul’s afflictions (pardon the expression) were but child’s 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?” (Romans 8:24). A believer carries his sins as a prisoner his shackles; oh, how does he long for the day of release! This sense of sin is good.
(2.) This indwelling of corruption, makes the saints prize Christ more. He who feels his sin, as a sick man feels his sickness—how welcome is Christ the physician to him! He who feels himself stung with sin—how precious is the brazen serpent to him! When Paul had bemoaned his body of death—how thankful was he for Christ! “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 8:25). Christ’s blood saves from sin, and is the sacred ointment which kills this deadly disease of sin.
(3.) This sense of sin works for good, as it is an occasion of putting the soul upon six special duties:
(a) Sin puts the soul upon self-searching. A child of God being conscious 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 diseased 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, “Reveal to me my transgression and sin” (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!
(b) 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 pride. We read of the “spots of God’s children” (Deut. 32:5). When a godly man beholds his face in the looking-glass of Scripture, and sees the spots of pride, lust and hypocrisy. They are humbling spots—and make the plumes of pride fall off! 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 but a painted hypocrite”; and Hooper said, “Lord, I am hell—and You are heaven.”
(c) Sin puts a child of God on self-judging. He passes a sentence upon himself. ”I am more brutish than any man” (Proverbs 30:2). It is dangerous to judge others—but it is good to judge ourselves. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment” (1 Cor. 11:31). When a man has judged himself, Satan is put out of office. When Satan lays anything 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.”
(d) 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 war-faring 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 down; though he cannot quite overcome—yet he is overcoming. “To him who is overcoming” (Rev. 2:7).
(e) Sin puts a child of God upon self-observing. He knows sin is a bosom traitor, therefore he carefully observes himself. A subtle and deceitful heart, needs a watchful eye. The heart is like a castle which is continually in danger to be assaulted; this makes a child of God to be always a sentinel, and keep a guard over his heart. A believer has a strict eye over himself, lest he fall in to any scandalous sin—and so open a sluice to let all his comfort run out.
(f) Sin puts the soul upon self-reforming. A child of God does not only find out sin—but drives out sin! One foot he sets upon the neck of his sins—and the other foot he “turns to God’s testimonies” (Psalm 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! Sin only works for good to those who love God; and for you who 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 dearly! Remember David. He ventured presumptuously on sin, and what did he get? 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” (Psalm 51:8). And though he did at last come out of that dark cloud—yet perhaps 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 does 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 near to despair. Let this be a flaming sword to keep them from coming near the forbidden tree!
And thus have I shown, that both the best things and the worst things, by the overruling hand of the great God—do work together for the good of the saints.
Again, I say—think not lightly of sin!