As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. ~ Revelation 3:19, James 1:3-4
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; For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
~ Deuteronomy 8:16, 2 Corinthians 4:17, Romans 5:3-4
All Things for Good, by Thomas Watson. An excerpt from his work, The Divine Cordial.
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
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,
(a) 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’ (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 thou doest evil, then thou rejoicest’ (Jeremiah 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 the roses, they are sweet and fragrant, and God puts them in His bottle.
(b) 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 mine own bosom’ (Psalm 35:13).
(c) 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.
(d) 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’ (Psalm 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 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.
(e) 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 (Jeremiah 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.
(f) 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 you do not break forth into a flame of scandal, yet you have no cause to boast, for there is much sin raked up in the embers of your nature. You have the root of bitterness in you, and would bear as hellish fruit as any, if God did not either curb you by His power, or change you by His grace.
(g) 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 yourself, O Christian, why should God be more propitious to you than to another? Why should He take you out of the wild olive of nature, and not him? How may this make you 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, etc.’ (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 frenzied 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.
(h) 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).
(i) 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’ (Daniel 12:3). Not as lamps or tapers, but as the stars for ever. 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 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 over ruling power, makes sin in the issue 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.
(a) 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 Corinthians 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 7:24). 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.
(b) 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’ (Romans 7:25). Christ’s blood saves from sin, and is the sacred ointment which kills this quicksilver.
(c) 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 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, ‘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’ (Deuteronomy 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’ (Proverbs 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 Corinthians 11:31). When a man has judged himself, Satan is put out of office. When he 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.’
(4) Sin puts a child of God upon self-conflicting. Spiritual-self conflicts with carnal-self. ‘The spirit lusts against the flesh’ (Galatians 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 under; though he cannot quite overcome, yet he is overcoming. ‘To him that is overcoming’ (Revelation 2:7).
(5) Sin puts a child of God upon self-observing. He knows sin is a bosom-traitor, therefore he carefully 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 a sentinel, and keep a guard about his heart. A believer has a strict eye over himself, lest he fall in to 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 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, 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 wilt make it cost you dear. 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 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 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 nigh 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.
To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song upon Alamoth. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
~ Psalm 46:1-2
Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
~ 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 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. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
~ Hebrews 12:6-12
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
~ 1 Peter 1:7-8
And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.
~ Zechariah 13:9