Book Review: All Things for Good, by Thomas Watson
Thomas Watson, All Things for Good. Orig. pub. 1663. Reprint; Banner of Truth, 1986. 128 pp. $8.00.
A mother thrust into single parenthood because of a tragic car accident. A father loses his job. A son or daughter diagnosed with cancer. A tornado eats a city. Yet another school shooting occurs.
All of these circumstances stir us to ask: Where is God in the midst of suffering? Why does he permit affliction? Why do I struggle with sin?
If you’re looking for help with these questions, I recommend Thomas Watson’s All Things for Good. Thomas Watson, a man acquainted with affliction, lost four children in their youth and wrote this book one year after the Act of Uniformity ejected 2,000 pastors from their pulpits, himself included.
All Things for Good is a rigorous exposition of Romans 8:28, “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” (KJV). Watson treats this passage over a series of nine chapters.
Chapters 1-3 focus on the verse’s first part, covering how the best things work, how the worst things work, and why all things work for good. Chapters 4-6 explore the significance of “to them that love God,” examining love itself, the tests of love, and concluding with an exhortation to love. Chapters 7-8 attend to effectual calling, and chapter 9 concludes this discussion by looking at God’s purpose for all good things.
This book merits unhurried and attentive reading; I did not turn a page without stopping to reflect. Watson is rightly regarded as one of the most vivid and engaging Puritan writers, as you will discover. While the style of All Things For Good is impressive, the argument is sublime. Watson exhaustively examines each section of this verse.
CAN ALL THINGS REALLY WORK FOR GOOD?
But can all things really work for good? We can’t help but pose this question, and Watson is faithful to deliver a response. Whether it is the best things or the worst things, Watson demonstrates that all events are “cordials”—that is, medicine—for the godly. Some cordials are sweet, others bitter, but all serve to strengthen, heal, and preserve the godly.
God’s attributes, promises, mercies, and graces bring good to the godly. Angels, our fellow saints, Christ’s intercession, and our own prayers all are conduits of good for the godly. Likewise, the evils of affliction, temptation, desertion, and sin serve to work good, but only for the godly. I found Watson’s discourse on desertion opportune. He says:
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 to 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. (39)
The question isn’t whether you have deserted God, but when last did you desert him? And when have you last felt his desertion? This section will surely guide you through the desertions of God.
WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
“What’s love got to do with it?” is more than a clichéd line from the ‘80’s. As Watson puts it, “Love is an expansion of the soul, or the inflaming of the affections, by which a Christian breathes after God as the supreme and sovereign good” (66). The good that comes from God is only for those who love him. His good is bread for children and not for despisers and haters of God.
Thus, Watson intentionally outlines the grounds, kinds, properties, and degrees of love. Lovers of God must be familiar with love and study it well. We cannot know or express what has gone unstudied.
Moreover, All Things for Good presents the fruits of love. This may well be the crowning aspect of this work. Fourteen tests of love are listed. I cannot list or address them all, but here are five of my favorites: magnanimity, crucifixion, hatred of sin, entertaining good thoughts of God, and endeavoring to make him appear glorious in others’ eyes.
Finally, Watson explains love in light of effectual calling. We cannot contrive love from ourselves; love is a grace from God. “All the strength in men or angels cannot make the heart love God. Ordinances will not do it of themselves, nor judgments; it is only the almighty and invincible power of the Spirit of God that can infuse love into the soul” (88).
WHY IS CALLING SO SIGNIFICANT?
For all things to work for good, one must be godly; to be godly, one must possess a God-instilled love; to possess this love, one must be called. Calling is the quintessential prerequisite for all things to be good. I love how Watson puts this in his comment on the word order of Romans 8:28: “Love is first named, but not first wrought; we must be called of God, before we can love God” (104).
Watson presents calling as both outward and inward. When the gospel is preached people are outwardly called, but not all these are chosen. It is when God overpowers the hearer, the Holy Spirit regenerates the soul, and the will embraces Christ that an inward, effectual call takes place. All Things For Good presents our deplorable state prior to calling, the means, the method, the properties, and then the end to which God is honored by an effectual calling.
A HEALING PROMISE
When we face pain, suffering, God’s desertion, or rod of correction, we wonder, “Does God love me? Am I one of his?” All Things For Good was written nearly four centuries ago, but remains as relevant as if it were written yesterday. You will find in this book “a sovereign elixer of unspeakable comfort” (126). Drink deeply this elixer. Experience the healing promise that God causes all things to work for good for those who love him.