Puritan Board Graduate
A Divine Cordial, part 2
The Worst Things Work for Good to the Godly
DO not mistake me, I do not say that of their own nature the worst things are good, for they are a fruit of the curse; but though they are naturally evil, yet the wise overruling hand of God disposing and sanctifying them, they are morally good. As the elements, though of contrary qualities, yet God has so tempered them, that they all work in a harmonious manner for the good of the universe. Or as in a watch, the wheels seem to move contrary one to another, but all carry on the motions of the watch: so things that seem to move cross to the godly, yet by the wonderful providence of God work for their good. Among these worst things, there are four sad evils that work for good to them that love God.
1. The evil of affliction works for good to the godly.
It is one heart-quieting consideration in all the afflictions that befall us, that God has a special hand in them: " The Almighty hath addicted me " (Ruth i. 21). Instruments can no more stir till God gives them a commission, than the axe can cut of itself without a hand. Job eyed God in his affliction: therefore, as Augustine observes, he does not say, " The Lord gave, and the devil took away, " but, " The Lord hath taken away. " Whoever brings an affliction to us, it is God that sends it.
Another heart quieting consideration is, that afflictions work for good. " Like these good pips, 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 " (Jer. xxiv. 5). Judah's captivity in Babylon was for their good. " It is good for me that I have been afflicted " (Psalm cxix. 71). This text, like Moses' tree cast into the bitter waters of affliction, may make them sweet and wholesome to drink. Afflictions to the godly are medicinal. Out of the most poisonous drugs God extracts our salvation. Afflictions are as needful as ordinances (I Peter i. 6). No vessel can be made of gold without fire; so it is impossible that we should be made vessels of honour, unless we are melted and refined in the furnace of affliction. " All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth " (Psalm xxv. 10). As the painter intermixes bright colours with dark shadows; so the wise God mixes mercy with judgment. Those afflictive providences which seem to be prejudicial, are beneficial. Let us take some instances in Scripture. Joseph's brethren throw him into a pit; afterwards they sell him; then he is cast into prison; yet all this did work for his good. His abasement made way for his advancement, he was made the second man in the kingdom. " Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it for good " (Gen. l. 20). Jacob wrestled with the angel, and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint. This was sad; but God turned it to good, for there he saw God's face, and there the Lord blessed him. " Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, for I have seen God face to face " (Gen. xxxii. 30). Who would not be willing to have a bone out of joint, so that he might have a sight of God?
King Manasseh was bound in chains. This was sad to see a crown of gold changed into fetters; but it wrought for his good, for, " When he was in affliction he besought the Lord, and humbled himself greatly, and the Lord was entreated of him " (2 Chron. xxxiii. 11, 12). He was more beholden to his iron chain, than to his golden crown; the one made him proud, the other made him humble.
Job was a spectacle of misery; he lost all that ever he had; he abounded only in boils and ulcers. This was sad; but it wrought for his good, his grace was proved and improved. God gave a testimony from heaven of his integrity, and did compensate his loss by giving him twice as much as ever he had before (Job xiii. 10).
Paul was smitten with blindness. This was uncomfortable, but it turned to his good. God did by that blindness make way for the light of grace to shine into his soul; it was the beginning of a happy conversion (Acts ix. 6).
As the hard frosts in winter bring on the flowers in the spring, as the night ushers in the morning star: so the evils of affliction produce much good to those that love God. But we are ready to question the truth of this, and say, as Mary did to the angel, " How can this be? " Therefore I shall show you several ways how affliction works for good.
(1). As it is our preacher and tutor Hear ye the rod " (Mic. vi. 9). Luther said that he could never rightly understand some of the Psalms, till he was in affliction. Affliction teaches what sin is. In the word preached, we hear what a dreadful thing sin is, that it is both defiling and damning, but we fear it no more than a painted lion; therefore God lets loose affliction, and then we feel sin bitter in the fruit of it. A sick bed often teaches more than a sermon. We can best see the ugly visage of sin in the glass of affliction. Affliction teaches us to know ourselves. In prosperity we are for the most part strangers to ourselves. God makes us know affliction, that we may better know ourselves. We see that corruption in our hearts in the time of affliction, which we would not believe was there. Water in the glass looks clear, but set it on the fire, and the scum boils up. In prosperity, a man seems to be humble and thankful, the water looks clear; but set this man a little on the fire of affliction, and the scum boils up ñ much impatience and unbelief appear. " Oh, " says a Christian, " I never thought I had such a bad heart, as now I see I have: I never thought my corruptions had been so strong, and my graces so weak. "
(2). Afflictions work for good, as they are the means of making the heart more upright. In prosperity the heart is apt to be divided (Hos. x. 2). The heart cleaves partly to God, and partly to the world. It is like a needle between two loadstones: God draws, and the world draws. Now God takes away the world, that the heart may cleave more to Him in sincerity. Correction is a setting the heart right and straight. As we sometimes hold a crooked rod over the fire to straighten it; so God holds us over the fire of affliction to make us more straight and upright. Oh, how good it is, when sin has bent the soul awry from God, that affliction should straighten it again!
(3). Afflictions work for good, as they conform us to Christ. God's rod is a pencil to draw Christ's image more lively upon us. It is good that there should be symmetry and proportion between the Head and the members. Would we be parts of Christ's mystical body, and not like Him? His life, as Calvin says, was a series of sufferings, " a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief " (Isa. liii. 3). He wept, and bled. Was His head crowned with thorns, and do we think to be crowned with roses? It is good to be like Christ, though it be by sufferings. Jesus Christ drank a bitter cup, it made Him sweat drops of blood to think of it; and, though it be true He drank the poison in the cup (the wrath of God) yet there is some wormwood in the cup left, which the saints must drink: only here is the difference between Christ's sufferings and ours; His were satisfactory, ours are only castigatory.
(4). Afflictions work for good to the godly, as they are destructive to sin. Sin is the mother, affliction is the daughter; the daughter helps to destroy the mother. Sin is like the tree that breeds the worm, and affliction is like the worm that eats the tree. There is much corruption in the best heart: affliction does by degrees work it out, as the fire works out the dross from the gold, " This is all the fruit, to take away his sin " (Isa. xxvii. 9). What if we have more of the rough file, if we have less rust! Afflictions carry away nothing but the dross of sin. If a physician should say to a patient, " Your body is distempered, and full of bad humours, which must be cleared out, or you die; but I will prescribe physic which, though it may make you sick, yet it will carry away the dregs of your disease, and save your life " : would not this be for the good of the patient? Afflictions are the medicine which God uses to carry off our spiritual diseases; they cure the timpani of pride, the fever of lust, the dropsy of covetousness. Do they not then work for good?
(5). Afflictions work for good, as they are the means of loosening our hearts from the world. When you dig away the earth from the root of a tree, it is to loosen the tree from the earth: so God digs away our earthly comforts to loosen our hearts from the earth. A thorn grows up with every flower. God would have the world hang as a loose tooth which, being twitched away does not much trouble us. Is it not good to be weaned? The oldest saints need it. Why does the Lord break the conduit pipe, but that we may go to Him, in whom are " all our fresh springs " (Psalm lxxxvii. 7).
(6). Afflictions work for good, as they make way for comfort. " In the valley of Achor is a door of hope " (Hos. ii. 15). Achor signifies trouble. God sweetens outward pain with inward peace. " Your sorrow shall he turned into joy'' (John xvi. 20). Here is the water turned into wine. After a bitter pill, God gives sugar. Paul had his prison songs. God's rod has honey at the end of it. The saints in affliction have had such sweet raptures of joy, that they thought themselves in the borders of the heavenly Canaan.
(7). Afflictions work for good, as they are a magnifying of us. " What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him, and that thou shouldest visit him every morning? " (Job vii. 17). God does by affliction magnify us three ways. (1st.) In that He will condescend so low as to take notice of us. It is an honour that God will mind dust and ashes. It is a magnifying of us, that God thinks us worthy to be smitten. God's not striking is a slighting: " Why should ye be stricken any more? " (Isa. i. 5). If you will go on in sin, take your course, sin yourselves into hell. (2nd.) Afflictions also magnify us, as they are ensigns of glory, signs of sonship. " If you endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons " (Heb. xii. 7). Every print of the rod is a badge of honour. (3rd.) Afflictions tend to the magnifying of the saints, as they make them renowned in the world. Soldiers have never been so admired for their victories, as the saints have been for their sufferings. The zeal and constancy of the martyrs in their trials have rendered them famous to posterity. How eminent was Job for his patience! God leaves his name upon record: " Ye have heard of the patience of Job " (James v. 11). Job the sufferer was more renowned than Alexander the conqueror.
(8.) Afflictions work for good, as they are the means of making us happy. " Happy is the man whom God correcteth " (Job v. 17). What politician or moralist ever placed happiness in the cross? Job does. " Happy is the man whom God correcteth. "
It may be said, How do afflictions make us happy? We reply that, being sanctified, they bring us nearer to God. The moon in the full is furthest off from the sun: so are many further off from God in the full moon of prosperity; afflictions bring them nearer to God. The magnet of mercy does not draw us so near to God as the cords of affliction. When Absalom set Joab's corn on fire, then he came running to Absalom (2 Sam. xiv. 30). When God sets our worldly comforts on fire, then we run to Him, and make our peace with Him. When the prodigal was pinched with want, then he returned home to his father (Luke xv. 13). When the dove could not find any rest for the sole of her foot, then she flew to the ark. When God brings a deluge of affliction upon us, then we fly to the ark of Christ. Thus affliction makes us happy, in bringing us nearer to God. Faith can make use of the waters of affliction, to swim faster to Christ.
(9). Afflictions work for good, as they put to silence the wicked. How ready are they to asperse and calumniate the godly, that they serve God only for self interest. Therefore God will have His people endure sufferings for religion, that He may put a padlock on the lying lips of wicked men. When the atheists of the world see that God has a people, who serve Him not for a livery, but for love, this stops their mouths. The devil accused Job of hypocrisy, that he was a mercenary man, all his religion was made up of ends of gold and silver. " Doth Job serve God for naught? Hast not thou made a hedge about him? " Etc. " Well, " says God, " put forth thy hand, touch his estate " (Job i. 9). The devil had no sooner received a commission, but he falls a breaking down Job's hedge; but still Job worships God (Job. i. 20), and professes his faith in Him. " Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him " (Job. xiii. 15). This silenced the devil himself. How it strikes a damp into wicked men, when they see that the godly will keep close to God in a suffering condition, and that, when they lose all, they yet will hold fast their integrity.
(10). Afflictions work for good, as they make way for glory (2 Cor. iv. 17). Not that they merit glory, but they prepare for it. As ploughing prepares the earth for a crop, so afflictions prepare and make us meet for glory. The painter lays his gold upon dark colours, so God first lays the dark colours of affliction, and then He lays the golden colour of glory. The vessel is first seasoned before wine is poured into it: the vessels of mercy are first seasoned with affliction, and then the wine of glory is poured in. Thus we see afflictions are not prejudicial, but beneficial, to the saints. We should not so much look at the evil of affliction, as the good; not so much at the dark side of the cloud, as the light. The worst that God does to His children is to whip them to heaven.
2. The evil of temptation is overruled for good to the godly.
The evil of temptation works for good. Satan is called the tempter (Mark iv. 15). He is ever lying in ambush, he is continually at work with one saint or another. The devil has his circuit that he walks every day: he is not yet fully cast into prison, but, like a prisoner that goes under bail, he walks about to tempt the saints. This is a great molestation to a child of God. Now concerning Satan's temptations; there are three things to be considered. (1). His method in tempting. (2). The extent of his power. (3). These temptations are overruled for good.
(1). Satan's method in tempting. Here take notice of two things. His violence in tempting; and so he is the red dragon. He labours to storm the castle of the heart, he throws in thoughts of blasphemy, he tempts to deny God: these are the fiery darts he shoots, by which he would inflame the passions. Also, his subtlety in tempting; and so he is the old serpent. There are five chief subtleties the devil uses.
(i.) He observes the temperament and constitution: he lays suitable baits of temptation. Like the farmer, he knows what grain is best for the soil. Satan will not tempt contrary to the natural disposition and temperament. This is his policy, he makes the wind and tide go together; that way the natural tide of the heart runs, that way the wind of temptation blows. Though the devil cannot know men's thoughts, yet he knows their temperament, and accordingly he lays his baits. He tempts the ambitious man with a crown, the sanguine man with beauty.
(ii.) Satan observes the fittest time to tempt in as a cunning angler casts in his angle when the fish will bite best. Satan's time of tempting is usually after an ordinance: and the reason is, he thinks he shall find us most secure. When we have been at solemn duties, we are apt to think all is done, and we grow remiss, and leave off that zeal and strictness as before; just as a soldier, who after a battle leaves off his armour, not once dreaming of an enemy. Satan watches his time, and, when we least suspect, then he throws in a temptation.
(iii.) He makes use of near relations; the devil tempts by a proxy. Thus he handed over a temptation to Job by his wife. " Dost thou still retain thy integrity? " (Job ii. 9). A wife in the bosom may be the devil's instrument to tempt to sin.
(iv.) Satan tempts to evil by them that are good, thus he gives poison in a golden cup. He tempted Christ by Peter. Peter dissuades him from suffering. Master, pity Thyself. Who would have thought to have found the tempter in the mouth of an apostle?
(v.) Satan tempts to sin under a pretence of religion. He is most to be feared when he transforms himself into an angel of light. He came to Christ with Scripture in his mouth: " It is written. " The devil baits his hook with religion. He tempts many a man to covetousness and extortion under a pretence of providing for his family, he tempts some to do away with themselves, that they may live no longer to sin against God; and so he draws them into sin, under a pretence of avoiding sin. These are his subtle stratagems in tempting.
(2). The extent of his power; how far Satan's power in tempting reaches.
(i.) He can propose the object; as he set a wedge of gold before Achan.
(ii.) He can poison the fancy, and instill evil thoughts into the mind. As the Holy Ghost casts in good suggestions, so the devil casts in bad ones. He put it into Judas' heart to betray Christ (John xiii. 2).
(iii.) Satan can excite and irritate the corruption within, and work some kind of inclinableness in the heart to embrace a temptation. Though it is true Satan cannot force the will to yield consent, yet he being an earnest suitor, by his continual solicitation, may provoke to evil. Thus he provoked David to number the people (I Chron. xxi. 1). The devil may, by his subtle arguments, dispute us into sin.
(3). These temptations are overruled for good to the children of God. A tree that is shaken by the wind is more settled and rooted; so, the blowing of a temptation does but settle a Christian the more in grace. Temptations are overruled for good eight ways:
(i.) Temptation sends the soul to prayer. The more furiously Satan tempts, the more fervently the saint prays. The deer being shot with the dart, runs faster to the water. When Satan shoots his fiery darts at the soul, it then runs faster to the throne of grace. When Paul had the messenger of Satan to buffet him, he says, " For this I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me " (2 Cor. xii. 8). Temptation is a medicine for security. That which makes us pray more, works for good.
(ii.) Temptation to sin, is a means to keep from the perpetration of sin. The more a child of God is tempted, the more he fights against the temptation. The more Satan tempts to blasphemy, the more a saint trembles at such thoughts, and says, " Get thee hence, Satan. " When Joseph's mistress tempted him to folly, the stronger her temptation was, the stronger was his opposition. That temptation which the devil uses as a spur to sin, God makes a bridle to keep back a Christian from it.
(iii.) Temptation works for good, as it abates the swelling of pride. " Lest I should be exalted above measure, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me " (2 Cor. xii. 7). The thorn in the flesh was to puncture the puffing up of pride. Better is that temptation which humbles me, than that duty which makes me proud. Rather than a Christian shall be haughty minded, God will let him fall into the devil's hands awhile, to be cured of his imposthume.
(iv.) Temptation works for good, as it is a touchstone to try what is in the heart. The devil tempts, that he may deceive; but God suffers us to be tempted, to try us. Temptation is a trial of our sincerity. It argues that our heart is chaste and loyal to Christ, when we can look a temptation in the face, and turn our back upon it. Also it is a trial of our courage. " Ephraim is a silly dove, without heart " (Hosea vii. 11). So it may be said of many, they are without a heart; they have no heart to resist temptation. No sooner does Satan come, but they yield; like a coward who, as soon as the thief approaches, gives him his purse. But he is the valorous Christian, that brandishes the sword of the Spirit against Satan, and will rather die than yield. The courage of the Romans was never more seen than when they were assaulted by the Carthaginians: the valour and puissance of a saint is never more seen than on a battlefield, when he is fighting the red dragon, and by the power of faith puts the devil to flight. That grace is tried gold, which can stand in the fiery trial, and withstand fiery darts.
(v.) Temptations work for good, as God makes those who are tempted, fit to comfort others in the same distress. A Christian must himself be under the buffetings of Satan, before he can speak a word in due season to him that is weary. St. Paul was versed in temptations. " We are not ignorant of his devices " (2 Cor. ii. 11). Thus he was able to acquaint others with Satan's cursed wiles (1 Cor. x. 13). A man that has ridden over a place where there are bogs and quicksands, is the fittest to guide others through that dangerous way. He that has felt the claws of the roaring lion, and has lain bleeding under those wounds, is the fittest man to deal with one that is tempted. None can better discover Satan's sleights and policies, than those who have been long in the fencing school of temptation.
(vi.) Temptations work for good, as they stir up paternal compassion in God to them who are tempted. The child who is sick and bruised is most looked after. When a saint lies under the bruising of temptations, Christ prays, and God the Father pities. When Satan puts the soul into a fever, God comes with a cordial; which made Luther say, that temptations are Christ's embraces, because He then most sweetly manifests Himself to the soul.
(vii.) Temptations work for good, as they make the saints long more for heaven. There they shall be out of gunshot; heaven is a place of rest, no bullets of temptation fly there. The eagle that soars aloft in the air, and sits upon high trees, is not troubled with the stinging of the serpent: so when believers are ascended to heaven, they shall not be molested with the old serpent. In this life, when one temptation is over, another comes. This is to make God's people wish for death to sound a retreat, and call them off the field where the bullets fly so quick, to receive a victorious crown, where not the drum or cannon, but the harp and viol, shall be ever sounding.
(viii.) Temptations work for good, as they engage the strength of Christ. Christ is our Friend, and when we are tempted, He sets all His power working for us. " For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted " (Heb. ii. 18). If a poor soul was to fight alone with the Goliath of hell, he would be sure to be vanquished, but Jesus Christ brings in His auxiliary forces, He gives fresh supplies of grace. " And through him we are more than conquerors,' (Rom. viii. 37). Thus the evil of temptation is overruled for good.