Inferences from the proposition that all things work for the good of the saints.…
(4) Notice the miserable condition of wicked men. To them that are godly, evil things work for good; to them that are evil, good things work for hurt.
(a) Temporal good things work for hurt to the wicked. Riches and prosperity are not benefits but snares, as Seneca speaks. Worldly things are given to the wicked, as Michal was given to David, for a snare (1 Sam. 18.21). The vulture is said to draw sickness from a perfume: so do the wicked from the sweet perfume of prosperity. Their mercies are like poisoned bread given to dogs; their tables are sumptuously spread, but there is a hook under the bait: ‘Let their table become a snare’ (Psalm 69.22). All their enjoyments are like Israel’s quails, which were sauced with the wrath of God (Numb. 11.33). Pride and luxury are the twins of prosperity. ‘Thou art waxen fat’ (Deut. 32.15). Then he forsook God. Riches are not only like the spider’s web, unprofitable, but like the cockatrice’s egg, pernicious. ‘Riches kept for the hurt of the owner’ (Eccles. 5.13). The common mercies wicked men have, are not lodestones to draw them nearer to God, but millstones to sink them deeper in hell (1 Tim. 6.9). Their delicious dainties are like Haman’s banquet; after all their lordly feasting, death will bring in the bill, and they must pay it in hell.
(b) Spiritual good things work for hurt to the wicked. From the flower of heavenly blessings they suck poison.
The ministers of God work for their hurt. 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. They who come with the word of life in their mouths, yet to many are a savour of death. ‘Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy’ (Isa. 6.10). The prophet was sent upon a sad message, to preach their funeral sermon. Wicked men are worse for preaching. ‘They hate him that rebuketh in the gate’ (Amos 5.10). Sinners grow more resolved in sin; let God say what He will, they will do what they list. ‘As for the word which thou hast spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee’ (Jer. 44.16). 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 their hurt. ‘The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord’ (Prov. 15.8). A wicked man is in a great strait: if he prays not, he sins; if he prays, he sins, ‘Let his prayer become sin’ (Psalm 109.7). 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; his duties are tainted with atheism, fly-blown with hypocrisy. God abhors them.
The Lord’s Supper works for their hurt. ‘Ye cannot eat of the Lord’s table and the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? (1 Cor. 10.21, 22). Some professors kept their idol-feasts, yet would come to the Lord’s table. The apostle says. ‘Do you provoke the Lord to wrath? Profane persons feast with their sins; yet will come to feast at the Lord’s table. This is to provoke God. To a sinner there is death in the cup, he ‘eats and drinks his own damnation’ (1 Cor. 11.29). Thus the Lord’s Supper works for hurt to impenitent sinners. After the sop, the devil enters.
Christ Himself works for hurt to desperate sinners. He is ‘a stone of stumbling, and rock of offence’ (1 Pet. 2.8). He is so, through the depravity of men’s hearts; 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. Jesus Christ is set for the fall, as the rising, of many (Luke 2.34). Sinners stumble at a Saviour, and pluck death from the tree of life. As chemical oils recover 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.
(5) See here the wisdom of God, who can make the worst things imaginable turn to the good of the saints. He can by a divine chemistry extract gold out of dross. ‘Oh the depth of the wisdom of God!’ (Rom. 11.33). It is God’s great design to set forth the wonder of His wisdom. The Lord made Joseph’s prison a step to preferment. There was no way for Jonah to be saved, but by being swallowed up. God suffered the Egyptians to hate Israel (Psalm 106.41), and this was the means of their deliverance. The apostle Paul was bound with a chain, and that chain which did bind him was the means of enlarging the gospel (Phil. 1.12). God enriches by impoverishing; He causes the augmentation of grace by the diminution of an estate. When the creature goes further from us, it is that Christ may come nearer to us. God works strangely. He brings order out of confusion, harmony out of discord. He frequently makes use of unjust men to do that which is just. ‘He is wise in heart’ (Job 9.4). He can reap His glory out of men’s fury (Psalm 76.10). Either the wicked shall not do the hurt that they intend, or they shall do the good which they do not intend. God often helps when there is least hope, and saves His people in that way which they think will destroy. He made use of the high-priest’s malice and Judas’ treason to redeem the world. Through indiscreet passion, we are apt to find fault with things that happen; which is as if an illiterate man should censure philosophy, or a blind man find fault with the work in a landscape. ‘Vain man would he wise’ (Job 11.12). Silly animals will be taxing Providence, and calling the wisdom of God to the bar of reason. God’s ways are ‘past finding out’ (Rom. 11.33). They are rather to be admired than fathomed. There is never a providence of God, but has either a mercy or a wonder in it. How stupendous and infinite is that wisdom, that makes the most adverse dispensations work for the good of His children!
(To be continued…)