THE WORST THINGS WORK FOR GOOD 
TO THE GODLY
A minimally edited excerpt from Thomas Watson’s All Things For Good,
(BOT, 1986 [first published in 1663 as
 A Divine Cordial], 25–51)
Part 2 of 2


Last Sabbath, we reproduced the first part of this excellent treatise, in which we saw that the evils of affliction and temptation work out, under God’s sovereign superintendence, for good to the godly. In this concluding part of the study, we see temporary spiritual desertion and even sin work out ultimately for good for those who love the Lord.


The Evil of Desertion Works
for Good to the Godly


The evil of desertion works for good. The spouse complains of desertion. “My beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone” (Song 5:6). There is a twofold withdrawing; either in regard of grace, when God suspends the influence of His Spirit, and withholds the lively actings of grace. If the Spirit be gone, grace freezes into a chillness and indolence. Or, a withdrawing in regard of comfort. When God withholds the sweet manifestations of His favour, He does not look with such a pleasant aspect, but veils His face, and seems to be quite gone from the soul.


God is just in all His withdrawings. We desert Him before He deserts us. We desert God when we leave off close communion with Him, when we desert His truths and dare not appear for Him, when we leave the guidance and conduct of His Word and follow the deceitful light of our own corrupt affections and passions. We usually desert God first; therefore we have none to blame but ourselves.


Desertion is very sad, for as when the light is withdrawn, darkness follows in the air, so when God withdraws, there is darkness and sorrow in the soul. Desertion is an agony of conscience. God holds the soul over hell. “The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinks up my spirit” (Job 6:4). It was a custom among the Persians in their wars to dip their arrows in the poison of serpents to make them more deadly. Thus did God shoot the poisoned arrow of desertion into Job, under the wounds of which his spirit lay bleeding. In times of desertion the people of God are apt to be dejected. They dispute against themselves, and think that God has quite cast them off. Therefore I shall prescribe some comfort to the deserted soul. The mariner, when he has no star to guide him, yet he has light in his lantern, which is some help to him to see his compass; so, I shall lay down four consolations, which are as the mariner’s lantern, to give some light when the poor soul is sailing in the dark of desertion, and wants the bright morning star.


(1) None but the godly are capable of desertion. 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?


(2) There may be the seed of grace, where there is not the flower of joy. The earth may want a crop of corn, yet may have a mine of gold within. A Christian may have grace within, though the sweet fruit of joy does not grow. Vessels at sea, that are richly fraught with jewels and spices, may be in the dark and tossed in the storm. A soul enriched with the treasures of grace, may yet be in the dark of desertion, and so tossed as to think it shall be cast away in the storm. David, in a state of dejection, prays, “Take not thy holy spirit from me” (Ps 51:11). He does not pray, says Augustine, “Lord, give me thy Spirit,” but “Take not away thy Spirit,” so that still he had the Spirit of God remaining in him.


(3) These desertions are but for a time. Christ may withdraw, and leave the soul awhile, but He will come again. “In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee” (Isa 54:8). When it is dead low water, the tide will come in again. “I will not… be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made” (Isa 57:16). The tender mother sets down her child in anger, but she will take it up again into her arms, and kiss it. God may put away the soul in anger, but He will take it up again into His dear embraces, and display the banner of love over it.


(4) These desertions work for good to the godly.


a) Desertion cures the soul of sloth. We find the spouse fallen upon the bed of sloth: “I sleep” (Song 5:2). And presently Christ was gone. “My beloved had withdrawn himself” (Song 5:6). Who will speak to one that is drowsy?


b) Desertion cures inordinate affection to the world. “Love not the world” (1 Jn 2:15). We may hold the world as a posy in our hand, but it must not lie too near our heart. We may use it as an inn where we take a meal, but it must not be our home. Perhaps these secular things steal away the heart too much. Good men are sometimes sick with a surfeit, and drunk with the luscious delights of prosperity: and having spotted their silver wings of grace, and much defaced God’s image by rubbing it against the earth, the Lord, to recover them of this, hides His face in a cloud. This eclipse has good effects; it darkens all the glory of the world, and causes it to disappear.


c) Desertion works for good, as it makes the saints prize God’s countenance more than ever. “Thy lovingkindness is better than life” (Ps 63:3). Yet the commonness of this mercy lessens it in our esteem. When pearls grew common at Rome, they began to be slighted. God has no better way to make us value His love, than by withdrawing it awhile. If the sun shone but once a year, how would it be prized! When the soul has been long benighted with desertion, oh how welcome now is the return of the Sun of righteousness!


d) Desertion works for good, as it is the means of embittering sin to us. Can there be a greater misery than to have God’s displeasure? What makes hell, but the hiding of God’s face? And what makes God hide His face, but sin? “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him” (Jn 20:13). So, our sins have taken away the Lord, and we know not where He is laid. The favour of God is the best jewel; it can sweeten a prison, and unsting death. Oh, how odious then is that sin, which robs us of our best jewel! Sin made God desert His temple (Ezk 8:6). Sin causes Him to appear as an enemy, and dress Himself in armour. This makes the soul pursue sin with a holy malice, and seek to be avenged of it. The deserted soul gives sin gall and vinegar to drink, and, with the spear of mortification, lets out the heart-blood of it.


e) Desertion works for good, as it sets the soul to weeping for the loss of God. When the sun is gone, the dew falls; and when God is gone, tears drop from the eyes. How Micah was troubled when he had lost his gods! “Ye have taken away my gods,… and what have I more?” (Jdg 18:24). So when God is gone, what have we more? It is not the harp and viol that can comfort when God is gone. Though it be sad to want God’s presence, yet it is good to lament His absence.


f) Desertion sets the soul to seeking after God. When Christ was departed, the spouse pursues after Him, she seeks Him in the streets of the city (Song 3:2). And not having found Him, she makes a hue and cry after Him: “Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?” (Song 3:3). The deserted soul sends up whole volleys of sighs and groans. It knocks at heaven’s gate by prayer, it can have no rest till the golden beams of God’s face shine.


g) Desertion puts the Christian upon inquiry. He inquires the cause of God’s departure. What is the accursed thing that has made God angry? Perhaps pride, perhaps surfeit on ordinances, perhaps worldliness. “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth…; I hid me” (Isa 57:17). Perhaps there is some secret sin allowed. A stone in the pipe hinders the current of water; so, sin lived in, hinders the sweet current of God’s love. Thus conscience, as a bloodhound, having found out sin and overtaken it, this Achan is stoned to death.


h) Desertion works for good, as it gives us a sight of what Jesus Christ suffered for us. If the sipping of the cup be so bitter, how bitter was that which Christ drank upon the cross? He drank a cup of deadly poison, which made Him cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). None can so appreciate Christ’s sufferings, none can be so fired with love to Christ, as those who have been humbled by desertion, and have been held over the flames of hell for a time.


i) Desertion works for good, as it prepares the saints for future comfort. The nipping frosts prepare for spring flowers. It is God’s way, first to cast down, then to comfort (2 Cor 7:6). When our Saviour had been fasting, then came the angels and ministered to Him. When the Lord has kept His people long fasting, then He sends the Comforter, and feeds them with the hidden manna. “Light is sown for the righteous” (Ps 97:11). The saints’ comforts may be hidden like seed under ground, but the seed is ripening, and will increase, and flourish into a crop.


j) These desertions work for good, as they will make heaven the sweeter to us. Here our comforts are like the moon, sometimes they are in the full, sometimes in the wane. God shows Himself to us awhile, and then retires from us. How will this set off heaven the more, and make it more delightful and ravishing, when we shall have a constant aspect of love from God (1 Thes 4:17).


Thus we see desertions work for good. The Lord brings us into the deep of desertion, that He may not bring us into the deep of damnation. He puts us into a seeming hell, that He may keep us from a real hell. God is fitting us for that time when we shall enjoy His smiles for ever, when there shall be neither clouds in His face or sun setting, when Christ shall come and stay with His spouse, and the spouse shall never say again, “My beloved hath withdrawn himself.”


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 sojourn in Mesech” (Ps 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 waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law” (Ps 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” (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” (Mk 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” (Ps 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 of 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” (Ps 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 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 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 (Jer 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.” (Lk 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 acknowledgement 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 unto prayer” (Ps 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” (Dan 12:31. Not as lamps or tapers, 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 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 overruling 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. The Apostle Paul’s afflictions (pardon the expression) were but a 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?” (Rom 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” (Rom 7:25). Christ’s blood saves from sin, and is the sacred ointment which kids this quicksilver.


c) This sense of sin works for good, as it is an occasion of putting the soul upon six especial duties:


(i) 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.


(ii) The inherence 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 (Deut 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.”


(iii) Sin puts a child of God on self-judging; he passes a sentence upon himself. “I am more brutish than any man” (Prov 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 Cor 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.”


(iv) 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 under; though he cannot quite overcome, yet he is overcoming. “To him that overcometh” (Rev 2:7).


(v) 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.


(vi) 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 (Ps 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 (Ps 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 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.


28 April 2002

Part 1 of 2