One thing I love about Puritan writers is the way they earnestly press biblical truths into their hearts and minds. Thomas Watson’s book All Things For Good, first published in 1663, is an 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)
Many of us are familiar with this verse, and may even have it memorised. But have you really meditated on it? Have you thought deeply and carefully about it, so that it takes root in your heart and bears fruit in your life? Watson has done this brilliantly in his book.
He takes one verse and turns it into a 128-page book, looking at it from every angle and digging in with questions like:
- What are “all things”—does this mean the bad as well as the good?
- What does it mean to love God?
- How do we know if we’re called?
This little book taught me so much about hope and suffering. If we really comprehend Romans 8:28—as Watson equips us to do—we will find fountains of joy that we can’t tap into by just reading the verse once.
The glory of suffering
The first two chapters examine how everything works for good for Christians. This includes God’s attributes and promises, and the fellowship of other Christians; as well as affliction and sin.
I was especially challenged by Watson’s exploration of how our suffering is beneficial for us. Where are my priorities, truly? Do I aim to be comfortable, or to know God? Watson writes:
Who would not be willing to have a bone out of joint, so that he might have a sight of God?
We see God more clearly, and know him better, through afflictions. This is our highest good, not just the silver lining of a bad situation.
Call to thanksgiving
Chapter 3 explains why all things work for good, expounding on how God relates to us as our physician, father, husband, friend, and head. God’s care for sinners should make us abound with thanksgiving.
We meet many Christians who have tears in their eyes, and complaints in their mouths; but there are few with their harps in their hands, who praise God in affliction.
If I’m honest, I tend to be the former more often than the latter. I constantly need the reminder of Romans 8:28, so that I remember God’s glorious promises and praise him for them.
Chapters 4 to 6 explore loving God: Why? How? What does this look like? One of my key takeaways is that “We cannot love that which we do not know.” We must labour over the Scriptures, where we learn about God, if we want to love him better.
Watson considers how we know whether we really love God, and gives us some concrete signs:
- We desire to commune with him (yet my heart is so often cold towards Bible reading and prayer!)
- We hate sin in our own lives.
- We love what God loves, including other Christians (even when they’re sinful or different or difficult).
- We obey him (no matter how much it chafes against our modern belief in individual freedom).
He then gives advice on how to maintain and improve our love for God.
Watch your hearts every day. Take notice of the first declinings in grace. Observe yourselves when you begin to grow dull and listless, and use all means for quickening. Be much in prayer, meditation, and holy conference. When the fire is going out you throw on fuel: so when the flame of your love is going out, make use of ordinances and gospel promises, as fuel to keep the fire your love burning.
Called for a purpose
In the final section, chapters 7 to 9, Watson discusses the doctrine of election (what it means to be “called according to his purpose”). He exhorts us to live in light of our calling. Once again I was challenged by the requirement of thanksgiving. Watson writes:
Who should be cheerful, if not the people of God? They are no sooner born of the Spirit, but they are heirs to a crown. God is their portion, and heaven is their mansion, and shall they not rejoice?
All through his book, Thomas Watson exhorts us to joy. When we truly understand and believe Romans 8:28, what other response could we have?
Like the other Puritans, Watson models the value of meditation on Scripture, so that it moves from our minds to our hearts. I encourage you to buy the book and let Watson teach you how to do this. Every paragraph is packed with precious pearls, so read it slowly and prayerfully. And be encouraged by God’s glorious promises:
Here is a sovereign elixir of unspeakable comfort to those who are the called of God. Their salvation rests upon God’s purpose…Our graces are imperfect, our comforts ebb and flow, but God’s foundation standeth sure. They who are built upon this rock of God’s eternal purpose, need not fear falling away; neither the power of man, nor the violence of temptation, shall ever be able to overturn them.
You can buy ‘All Things For Good’ from Reformers Bookshop here.