There are few promises in the Bible sweeter than this: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This is a promise of great blessing, but it is not a promise that extends to all humanity. Rather, it comes with conditions. All things work together for good to those who a) love God and b) are called according to his purpose. So what of those who do not love God and are not called according to his purpose? We must expect that for these, all things will not work together for good; in fact, all things will ultimately work together for their harm.
In his book All Things for Good (also known as A Divine Cordial) Thomas Watson focuses on God’s great blessing of worship—the God of all the universe allows and invites mere human beings to worship him!—to show how even something so good will work to the harm of those who neither know nor love God.
All Things for Harm
The ministers of God work for the hurt of those who do not love God. God’s faithful preachers summon people to repent in Christ and believe for the forgiveness of their sins. God’s people respond in repentance and faith. But “the same wind that blows one ship to the haven, blows another ship upon a rock. The same breath in the ministry that blows a godly man to heaven, blows a profane sinner to hell.” Those who reject God further their condemnation by refusing to heed the call of the gospel. For these, “the word preached is not healing, but hardening. And how dreadful is this for men to be sunk to hell with sermons!”
Prayer works for the hurt of those who do not love God. What a privilege it is for Christians to be able to speak to God, knowing that he loves to hear his people and answer their prayers. But what an abomination it is when those who hate God petition him as if they are his children. The unbeliever sins by his prayerlessness, for all men should cry out to God, but he also sins through his prayers, for he rejects the true and holy God and prays to a God of his imagination. He petitions God even though he will not submit to God. “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD,” and so too the prayer of the wicked (Proverbs 15:8). “It were a sad judgment if all the food a man did eat should turn to ill humours, and breed diseases in the body: so it is with a wicked man. That prayer which should do him good, works for his hurt; he prays against sin, and sins against his prayer.”
The Lord’s Supper works for the hurt of those who do not love God. The Bible contains the most serious and sober warnings for those who participate in the Lord’s Supper but do not love the Lord of the supper. Where Christians eat and drink life and grace, unbelievers eat and drink divine judgment and wrath upon themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29). “Some professors kept their idol-feasts, yet would come to the Lord’s table. Profane persons feast with their sins; yet will come to feast at the Lord’s table. This is to provoke God.” In this way the Lord’s Supper, which is so good and so important to God’s people, harms those who are not God’s people.
Christ works for the hurt of those who do not love God. Even Christ, who is so good and so wonderful, works for hurt to those who sin against him, for he is “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:8). This reflects no fault in him, but great fault in the hearts of those who reject him “for instead of believing in Him, they are offended at Him. The sun, though in its own nature pure and pleasant, yet it is hurtful to sore eyes.” Says Watson, “sinners stumble at a Saviour, and pluck death from the tree of life. As [medications heal] some patients, but destroy others; so the blood of Christ, though to some it is medicine, to others it is condemnation. Here is the unparalleled misery of such as live and die in sin. The best things work for their hurt; cordials themselves, kill.”
If you are reading All Things for Good with me, please finish up the book for next week (from chapter 6 to chapter 9—I told you we’d be reading at a brisk pace!). In the meantime, why don’t you drop by Facebook and provide some of your thoughts on this week’s reading. I’ll see you there!