A Classic Study by John Flavel (1628–1691)
Trade Winds to Heaven
Ships make much way when they a trade-wind get:
With such a wind the saints have ever met.
Though in most parts of the world the winds are variable, and sometimes blow from every part of the compass (by reason whereof sailing is slow and dangerous), yet about the Equinoctial, seamen meet with a trade-wind blowing, for the most part, one way, and there they sail jocund before it, and scarce need to lower a topsail for some hundreds of leagues.
Although the people of God meet with many seeming rubs and setbacks in their way to heaven, which are like contrary winds to a ship, yet they are, from the day of their conversion to the day of their complete salvation, never out of a trade-wind’s way to heaven: "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). This is a most precious scripture, pregnant with its consolation to all believers in all conditions, a pillar of comfort to all distressed saints. Let us look a little nearer to it:
"We know" – Mark the certainty and evidence of the proposition, which is not built upon a guess or remote probability, but upon the knowledge of the saints. We "know" it, and that partly by Divine revelation (God has told us so), and partly by our own experience (we find it so).
"…that all things" – Not only things that lie in a natural and direct tendency to our good (as ordinances, promises, blessings, etc.), but even such things as have no natural fitness and tendency to such an end (as afflictions, temptations, corruptions, desertions, etc.): all these help onward. They…
"…work together" – Not all of them directly, and of their own nature and inclination; but by being overruled and determined to such an issue by the gracious hand of God. Nor yet do they work out such goods to the saints singly and apart, but as adjuvant causes or helps, standing under, and working in subordination to the supreme and principal cause of their happiness.
Now, the most seeming opposite things, yea, sin in itself, which in its own nature is really opposite to their good, yet eventually contributes to it. Afflictions and desertions seem to work against us, but being once put into the rank and order of causes, they work together with such blessed instruments, as word and prayer to an happy issue. And though the faces of these things that so agree and work together look contrary ways, yet there are, as it were, secret chains and connections of providence betwixt them to unite them in their issue. There may be many instruments employed about one work, and yet not communicate counsels or hold intelligence with each other. Joseph’s brethren, the Midianites, Potiphar, etc., knew not one another’s mind, nor aimed at one end (much less the end that God brought about by them). One acts out of revenge, another for gain, a third out of policy: yet all meet together at last in that issue God had designed to bring about by them, even Joseph’s advancement. Even so it is here, Christian, there are more instruments at work for thine eternal good than thou art aware of.
Cheer up then, O my soul, and lean upon this pillar of comfort in all distresses. Here is a promise for me (if I am a called one) that, like the philosopher’s stone, turns all into gold it toucheth. This promise is my security; however things go in the world, my God "will do me no hurt" (Jer. 25:6). Nay, He will do me good by every dispensation. O that I had but an heart to make all things work for His glory, who thus causeth every thing to work for my good. My God, dost Thou turn every thing to my advantage? O let me return all the Thy praise; and if by every thing, Thou work my eternal good, then let me in everything give thanks.
But ah! How foolish and ignorant have I been? Even as a beast before Thee. How hath my heart been disquieted, and apt to repine at Thy dispensations, when they have crossed my will? Not considering that my God faithfully pursues my good, even in those things that cross, as well as in that which pleases me.
Blessed Lord! What a blessed condition are all Thy people in, who are within the line of this promise! All things friendly and beneficial to them: friends helpful, enemies helpful, everything conspiring, and conducing to their happiness. With others it is not so: Nothing works for their good. Nay, everything works against it: their very mercies are snares, and their properity destroys them (see Prov. 1:32). Even the blessed gospel itself is a savour of death to them. When evil befalls them, "it is only an evil" (Ezek. 7:5), that is, not turned into good to them; and as their evils are not turned into good, so all their good is turned into evil. As this promise hath an influence into all that concerns the people of God, so the curse hath an influence into all the enjoyments of the wicked. O my soul, bless the Lord, who hath cast thy lot into such a pleasant place, and given thee such a glorious heritage, as this promise is.