But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this. When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever:
~ Deuteronomy 32:15, Psalm 69:22, Psalm 92:6-7
Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will send unto him wanderers, that shall cause him to wander, and shall empty his vessels, and break their bottles.
~ Jeremiah 48:11-12
And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
~ Luke 12:16-21
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
~ Luke 16:19-20, Luke 16:23-25
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
~ Revelation 3:17
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
~ James 5:1-6
There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.
~ Proverbs 13:7
Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
~ James 2:5
The Danger of Prosperity, by William Bates.
For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.
~ Proverbs 1:32
The experience of all Ages has verified, that none are exposed to more dangerous trials than the prosperous in this world. The great tempter has found the temptations of prosperity so insinuative and prevailing with men, that he attempted to tempt our blessed Saviour with them; expecting by the pleasant prospect of the kingdoms of the world, and their glory, to have fastened an impression upon His spirit, and tainted His inviolable purity. But he found nothing in our Saviour, not the least irregular inclination to his allurements; and could work nothing upon him. ’Tis otherwise with men born of the flesh, in whom there is a carnal heart (the centre of apostasy and corruption) that is easily enticed and overcome by charming complacencies. Prosperity is a dignified poison, pleasant to the unwary sense, but deadly in the operation; and the more pernicious in the effects, because less dangerous in the opinions of men. The temptations of prosperity are so frequent and favoured by us, that they give vigour to the inward enemy, the sensual affections, and boldness to the malicious tempter. They foment the carnal appetites that defile and debase the soul; and are more rebellious and exorbitant the more they are gratified.
Prosperity is the strongest obstacle against the conversion and reformation of sinners. While they are plying their various pleasures, they have neither will nor leisure to advert to the voice of conscience, so reproachful and clinging to them. And many times prosperity stupefies conscience, that men are fearless of divine judgment, involved in sensual security. They will not reverence and obey God’s authority, till they feel His power; they abuse His blessings to pride and vanity, idleness, and luxury, and are hardened in their impenitence, dyed with the deepest tincture of ingratitude: they drive on through a course of sin, till death puts a period to their lusts. How destructive, how penal is prosperity to such graceless souls! When God rains snares upon the wicked; when the affluence of this world is abused to satisfy their vicious desires, ’tis a sad forerunner of the shower of fire and brimstone, and the horrible tempest that shall overwhelm them at last.
Others in prosperity are not openly profane or boldly vicious, yet are corrupted and insensibly destroyed by it. They over-value and over-delight in the good things of this world, and please themselves in an opinionative felicity in their present state. They enjoy the world with more appearance of reason, and less sensuality than the riotous and luxurious; but their conversation with so many charming objects, alienates them from God. They do not sanctify Him in their hearts, placing their highest esteem upon His most amiable excellencies, and their dearest delight in communion with Him. They look upon religion as a sour severity and count nothing delightful, but what is suitable to fleshly affections. A deceit like that of a sick person who, feeling no pleasure, but in the easy intervals between his fits and the remission of his distemper, should imagine that if he were freed from his disease, he should lose all pleasure, though the delights of health are more full and durable. The angels are incapable of sensual pleasures; their happiness arises from the perfection of good, not the allays of evil. The beasts are only capable of sensual pleasures, the remedies of natural evils, hunger, thirst, weariness, or accidental evils, diseases, and pains: and many are so sottishly deceived, as to prefer brutish pleasures that affect the senses, before angelical joys that arise from the fruition of God’s favour and obedience to His laws. This is a sad symptom of an unrenewed heart, and a heavy presage of future misery; for God will not be our everlasting joy in heaven, if He be not our exceeding joy upon the earth.
Others surrounded with riches and honours are neither thankful to their divine benefactor, nor careful to employ their prosperity and power for His glory. The law of mercy requires a solemn affectionate recognition of God’s benefits, but the current of prosperity drowns their sense of divine goodness. And incogitant practical atheism is as destructive as absolute and speculative. How many by the deceitfulness of riches are apt to imagine that they possess with dominion what they receive in trust: they could be rich in good works and, if their hearts were according to their ability, be fruitful as paradise, but are as barren as the sands of Africa. They are in a mighty debt for so many received blessings, for which their account will be heavy and undoing with the highest Lord. These, and many other considerations, make it evident how dangerous prosperity is to the most that enjoy it here. ’Tis therefore a point of high and holy wisdom how to manage prosperity so as to avoid the impendent evils that usually follow it, and to improve it for our eternal advantage. This is the design of the present treatise.
The Danger of Prosperity
The prosperity of fools shall destroy them.
~ Prov. 1:32b
In the verses that precede this one in Proverbs, the divine wisdom is introduced in a very elegant and pathetical manner, reclaiming men from their miserable errors, to partake of light and felicity. The address is directed to them with upbraidings and indignation at their folly, and with tender compassion for their ruin. “How long you simple fools will you love simplicity… and fools hate knowledge?” (Prov. 1:22). ’Tis said of our Saviour, the incarnate wisdom of God, that He looked on the Pharisees with anger, being grieved at the hardness of their hearts. He did also express an earnest desire of their conversion. So also, divine wisdom says: “Turn ye at my reproof” (Prov. 1:23). And that is seconded by a gracious promise: “I will pour out my Spirit to you, to illuminate and conduct you in the way of Life” (Prov. 1:23). But for their stupid obstinacy in despising the counsel, and rejecting the reproofs of wisdom, they are surprised with utter destruction. This is described with that train of killing circumstances, that are the most forcible excitations timely to prevent that evil, which neglected, will be remediless: “Because I have called, and you refused, I have stretched out my hand, and no Man regarded; I will also laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear comes: When your fear comes as a whirlwind, when distress and anguish comes to you, then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and despised the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:24- 29). In their distress they supplicate for mercy; but as they were unchanged, notwithstanding all the gracious calls of God to repentance, so He is not moved by all their mournful entreaties and takes pleasure in His righteous judgments upon them. Their final ruin is resolved into its proper cause; the wilful hardness of sinners, and the abuse of those mercies that should have melted them into a compliance with the divine giver of them. “For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the lord. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them; and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them” (Prov. 1:29, 32).
The title of fool is the usual character of the sinner in the language of wisdom; and ’tis with great reason and congruity attributed to him, in opposition to the universal virtue and supreme director of human life. For as by prudence a man so governs himself, and regulates his actions as to avoid impendent evils, and to obtain that good that is suitable to his necessities: so tis the effect of folly, not to foresee the evils to prevent them, and to neglect the season of obtaining what is good. And by how much the good is more valuable and desirable, and the evil is more pernicious and threatening? In proportion, the folly is more unpardonable and woeful, that loses the one, and exposes the other. And this is justly charged upon every impenitent sinner.
Prosperity comprehends all things in the order of nature that are so much admired and desired by worldly men: riches, honours, pleasures, health, strength, peace, plenty, and the abundant variety of what is grateful to the carnal mind and appetites. These blessings of God, abused and perverted by the folly of men, are turned into weapons of unrighteousness, to offend God, and wound their souls to everlasting death. The point I shall insist on, is this: Prosperity abused, is fatal and destructive to foolish sinners. In the treating on this argument, I will, 1. Show how prosperity is destructive to the wicked. 2. That ’tis folly and madness above all wonder, when sinners abuse the blessings of God to their destruction. 3. How just, and certain, and heavy their destruction will be.
The point I shall insist on, is this; Prosperity abused, is fatal and destructive to foolish sinners.
In the treating on this argument, I will, 1. Show how prosperity is destructive to the wicked. 2. That ’tis folly and madness above all wonder, when sinners abuse the blessings of God to their destruction. 3. How just, and certain, and heavy their destruction will be.
I. I will show how prosperity is destructive to the wicked. In order to the explicating of this head, some things are to be promised:
1. This great world, with all the parts and creatures of which ’tis composed, has an inherent goodness and perfection convenient to the end for which ’twas formed by the Creator, and that was to be useful and comfortable to man in the service of God. There is no pestilence and contagion in the nature of things that are pleasing to our faculties: They are dangerous, not as made by God, but as managed by Satan. They do not pervert the minds of men from any noxious inherent qualities, but as they are corrupted by concupiscence. Upon this account, St. John dehorting Christians from the love of the world as inconsistent with the love of God, gives this reason of it, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the eyes, and the pride of Life, is not of the Father, but is of the World” (I John 2:16). He signifies the objects, riches, honours, and pleasures, by the vicious affections, that make them deadly to men. The poison is not in the Flower but in the Spider. And the Apostle speaking of the purifying Virtue of the Gospel says, “That exceeding great and precious promises are given to us, that by these we may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (II Pet. 2:4). This is evident by visible experience: for many holy men have enjoyed temporal blessings without the offence of God; and have been more holy and heavenly in themselves, more beneficial and good to others by mercies: while the sensual, like the ocean that changes the sweet showers of heaven into salt quality, turn the divine blessings into provisions for their brutish lusts. It appears therefore that this contrariety of effects is not to be attributed to the quality of worldly things that is always uniform and alike, but to the different dispositions of the persons that use them. As the same good is healthful or hurtful, as the stomach is clear or foul that receives it: in some it renews the blood and spirits, strengthens and preserves life; in others it increases the sickly matter, feeds the disease, and brings death more painfully and specially.
2. The primary design of God in His most free and rich benefits, is to endear Himself to us, and bind us to His service: for they are the most proper and convincing expressions of His Love and Goodness, and powerful motives and pervasives to a grateful correspondence of love and obedience. “I drew them” says God, “with the cords of a man and with Bands of Love” (Hos. 11:4). Goodness duly considered, engages to please the Benefactor. ’Tis therefore said by St. Paul, that the goodness of God leads sinners to repentance (see Rom. 2). ’Tis the most natural unconstrained consequence that the mind can regularly infer from His clemency and bounty. The hearts of men should be melted in tender resentments of their unworthy conversation towards Him, and encouraged to return to their duty, since He will graciously receive those who unfeignedly repent of their sins: But the event does not usually answer God’s aim. Men are hardened in sin by His mercies.
3. When the wicked abuse God’s blessings, defeat His kindness, and frustrate the excellent ends of it, He most righteously and severely continues their prosperity. That ferments their lusts, and renders them more wilful and incorrigible, and the more guilty of their own damnation. What was said by Simeon, concerning the most glorious Gift of God, our Saviour, is applicable in this case; “Behold, this Child is set for the fall of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be spoken against.” (Luke 2:34). When the riches of grace, offered in the Gospel, are despised and neglected, the blessed Saviour of souls is most justly ordained to be the occasion of the sorer punishment. So when the common benefits and mercies of God are ungratefully perverted by men, to the dishonour of the Giver, they are by Divine determination ordered, for the aggravating of their sins and sentence. Prosperity is a fatal ambush for their surprizal and ruin, according to that heavy imprecation of the Psalmist, “Let their table become a snare to them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap, an occasion of their falling” (Ps. 69:22). This judgment proceeds from the most terrible and inexorable displeasures: ’tis better and more eligible to encounter all the storms of a raging world, than to enjoy the claim and security of a prosperous sinner. For the more afflicted we are by men, the more earnest are our addresses to God’s prosperous throne, to incline His mercy to regard and relieve us. But for a sinner, the more full fruition he has of the world, the more he forsakes and provokes God, and the more he is abandoned to his worst enemies, his lusts, and Satan. This will be amplified more in the following parts of the discourse.
This being premised, we come to show how prosperity abused is destructive to sinners, both meritorously as it induces a deadly guilt, and makes them obnoxious to the revenging wrath of God; and effectively as ’tis opposite to felicity and perfection of man, that consists in the renovation of the image of God in the soul, and in joyful communion with Him forever. This will appear by the following considerations.
1. Prosperity is the continual incentive of the vicious affections, “the fleshly lusts that war against the soul” (I Pet. 2:11), which deprive it of its beauty, order, freedom, and felicity. Man consists of flesh and spirit: by the one he communicates in nature with beasts; by the other he confines with the angels. By the original law of union, the body was subject to the soul; and though taken from the earth, did not oppress it, and hinder its heavenly flight: The flesh did not lust against the spirit, nor the spirit against the flesh. But as the motion of the two eyes in the head is always uniform, and directed the same way, so reason and sense accorded. The appetites were regular and concentric with the mind. Upon this established order, the internal peace and holiness of man depends. But by the rebellious sin of Adam, the soul lost its regal power and freedom: and as in the first temptation the soul infected the body, so now the body infects the soul. The carnal appetite, the spring of lust and anger (that infernal pair that reigns so universally) over-rules the rational will, and gives law to men.
The love of sensual pleasures is natural to men; and as temptations are more charming and increased, ’tis more predominant. The sense, the fancy and the passions are in a conspiracy against the soul; and there is a continual circulation in their working, they excite one another. By the senses, pleasing things obtain an easy entrance into the fancy; and fancy has a strange power to charm or terrify by false representations; it amplifies the evil, and heightens the seeming good of things; and by the inspiration of fancy, the passions are moved, and the passions being altered, bribe and seduce the mind, and draw the consent of the will by the actual pleasure that is mixed in the gratifying of them. And as Adam lost his innocence and paradise by his compliance with the blandishments of his wife; so the soul loses its purity and happiness by yielding to the desires of the flesh that is in conjunction with it. For this reason, man in his fallen state is called flesh, as if there were no other principle in his nature, and of his operations. The spiritual and more noble faculties, that were made for delightful communion with God, are sunk into carnality. The description of men in their natural state, by the apostle, is a full proof of this: “We all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the Flesh, and of the Mind” (Eph. 2:3). ’Tis observable that the lusts of the flesh, that spring from the sensual part, are drawn forth into act by the concurrent wills of the flesh, and of the mind. The nobler faculties, the understanding and will are depraved, and freely indulge the carnal appetites in their pursuit of pleasures. Prodigious degeneracy of the reasonable creature! Of this we have a resemblance in the marvellous transforming power of nature. If a branch be grafted into a tree of another kind, the fruit that grows on it will not be according to the nature of the stock, but of the graft that overrules the sap, and turns it to its own quality. Thus the beast is grafted into the man, and the intellectual powers are corrupted and carnal. The mind is employed to disguise the ignominy and guilt that attend the lusts of the flesh; and the will consents to a submission to those ignorable and unruly appetites. Man has only this privilege, that he is a more ingenious brute to make provision for his sensual desires, and to accomplish them.
Now in prosperity, when the senses are entertained with a variety of alluring objects, the fancy is more predominant and contagious: it has more force, vivacity, and extent, the more ’tis conversant about sensible things: and a polluted imagination is the most active and general principle of corrupting the heart: for the mind transcribes a copy of what is written in the fancy, and presents it with a false gloss to the will, that is ready to choose what brings actual pleasure. And the sensitive affections are excited by the fancy, so that the presence of a suitable object, foments the warmth into heat, and turns the heat into fire, and the fire into flame. And the more carnal affections are indulged, the more they are enlarged, the more importunate and head-strong they become; and the soul is utterly disabled from recovering itself from the besotted vile prostitution, to the ignoble and unruly appetites. Millions would have been less guilty and defiled, and less miserable forever, if they had not been surrounded by pleasant temptations and entanglements of iniquity.
2. Prosperity occasionally incenses the irascible appetite: for the usual incentives of anger are the crossing of desires, and contempt; and the stronger the desires, the more impatient they are to be controlled; and in proportion to the height of mind, is the indignation for any contempt that is offered. Now prosperity makes the carnal desires more exorbitant, and consequently raging when frustrated. Violent burning desires, when controlled, provoke violent burning anger: and anger inflamed, extinguishes the calm light of reason, becomes blind and furious in revenging apprehended injuries. ’Tis the inquiry joined with conviction, according to St. James, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not from your lusts what war in your members?” (James 4:1). The voluptuous, ambitious, covetous passions when disappointed, are the common and natural causes of all the bloody disorders in the world.
The other cause of anger, is contempt, either real or supposed; and that is more provoking to those who, raised by prosperity, look with a distance of mind upon others below them. Prosperity in any kind, swells men with a vain opinion of their worth and dignity; and makes them insolent and intolerable. There is a strange distemper of the eyes in some persons, wherever they look, their own image visibly encounters them. The reason of it is assigned by an inquiring philosopher, that the visive faculty has not spirits and vigour to penetrate through the air to see other things, and the air as a glass makes the reflection of their own image. Thus one of a shallow and weak understanding, is continually representing to himself his own conceited excellencies. And prosperity increases their esteem of themselves unmeasurable above their just value. ’Tis like a concave glass that breaks the rays, and dilates the visive angle; and by a natural enchantment, makes an exorbitant figure, a dwarf to appear a giant.
Now as pride is the usual concomitant of prosperity, so there is no passion so inseparable from pride, and so proper to it, as anger. “By pride comes contention” (Prov. 13:10), ’tis the observation of the wisest man, confirmed by universal experience. Pride makes men impetious and impatient, boisterous and stormy against all that offend them. Pride, anger and revenge, like serpents, twine and wreath about one another. Pride interprets an offence as a high contempt, and raises anger, and anger provoked, takes proportionable revenge, to the conceived injury. We have a tragic instance of this recorded in scripture (see II Kings 8:12–13). Hazael when foretold by the mourning prophet, that he would stain himself with the innocent blood of the Israelites, “slay their young men with the sword, and dash their children, and rip up their women with child”. He startled at it as an execrable cruelty. And Hazael said, “But what, is thy servant a dog that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, ‘The Lord has showed me, that you shall be kind over Syria’”. When advanced to empire, he divested humanity. Pride armed with power is furious at opposition; and the flaming passion, like a frightful comet, presages and produces terrible effects. Thus ’tis evident how the lusts of the flesh are fomented by prosperity.
Prosperity inclines sinners to an impious neglect of God, which is a sin of the highest nature, and prolific of innumerable evils. All sin is an irregularity, either in the excess or the defective extreme, either in overvaluing and loving the creature, or in the disesteem and indifference to the Creator. Prosperity increases the aversion of the carnal heart from God, in the same degrees as it strengthens the prosperity to the world. For the opening of this, it will be necessary to consider the essential and eternal respects due from the reasonable Creature to God. And they are four comprehensive of all the rest.
1. A solemn thankful recognition of him as the author of our brings, and all the comforts we enjoy.
2. Supreme love to Him.
3. A humble fear of his displeasure.
4. Entire obedience to His will.
As in this regular universe, every kind of being has its proper end; so it cannot be denied, without the most evident absurdity, that God in all these respects is the chief end of man.
1. A solemn thankful recognition of God, as the Author of our beings, and all our comforts, is continually due to Him. The neglect of this is so contumelious to the majesty and glory of God, and so contrary to those most binding obligations to His mercy and goodness, that ’tis an offence infinitely provoking. In every transgression, the authority of the Lawgiver is despised; but this immediately reflects dishonour upon the Deity. As a common felony is a breach of the King’s laws, but treason not only violates His laws, but strikes immediately at His person and dignity.
Now, prosperity inclines sensual persons to this wretched neglect of God. The world, with all its desirable things, has the dominion and full possession of the understandings, memories, and hearts of men. ’Tis the character of a wicked person, but most proper to him in his prosperity, God is not in all his thoughts. Of this impiety there are several degrees: the highest is explicit atheism, a disbelief of God and His providence, of His being, and bounty; and this is sometimes occasioned by plentiful prosperity. And the consequences are, pride that blasts the mind, as it were, with lightning, and confidence in the things of this world. Of this we have astonishing instances in the Scripture. Nebuchadnezzar transported in a vain-glorious flush of joy, at the view of his magnificent works, breaks forth in those lofty insolent expressions: “Is not this great Babel that I have built, for the house of my kingdom, by the might of my power, and the honour of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30), as if he had been raised by his own power, and did not own his greatness to the King of Heaven. This ’tis charged against the prince of Tyrus: “Thy heart is lifted up because of thy riches; and you have said, ‘I am a God and sit in the seat of God’; and you set thine heart as the Heart of God” (Ezek. 28:2). He presumed that his throne for glory and stability was like the divine kingdom that cannot be shaken, and forgot that he was a frail man in a mutable world. Plentiful prosperity is so strong a temptation to atheism, that a wise and holy saint earnestly deprecated it as a pernicious snare: “Give me not riches, lest I befall and deny thee, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” (see Prov. 30:8,9). The carnal heart, in the full fruition of the world, is apt to ascribe all to the course of nature, or to humane contrivance and endeavours, without any serious acknowledgment of the divine liberality and beneficence. Prodigious ingratitude and equal folly! As if one should imagine that a fountain of water had not its original from the sea, but from the marble stones, through which it immediately and visibly springs. Or as if it were requisite the hand of the giver should be as visible as his gifts.
Now although few arrive to this height of impiety in actual thoughts and open words; yet prosperous sinners are always guilty of an interpretative and virtual denial of God: they have not a solemn grateful remembrance of their benefactor and His benefits, and a due sense of their dependence upon Him. It was the wise and holy counsel of Moses to Israel, when they should be possessed of Canaan, a place full of delight and profit, “When you shall have eaten, and are full, then beware lest you forget the Lord” (Deut. 6:12). The caution so enforced, intimates a sinful disposition in the carnal heart, in prosperity to neglect God. There may be a notional remembrance of Him in the mind, a naked ascription of all good things to His providence, a complemental visit in exterior worship; yet without an inward cordial sense of our dear obligations for His most free favours. The apostle charges the rich in this world, not to trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God. So foolishly are men prone to depend for protection, reputation, and provision of all things upon their estates, as if they were inconsumable, and neglect God their rock, who is the alone sufficient foundation of all our hopes and comfort.
2. Supreme love to God is an indispensable duty from men upon the account of His most amiable excellencies and benefits. “You shall love the Lord with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength, and with the thy mind; this is the first and great commandment” (Luke 10:27), and consequently a coldness and indifference to God, much more a strong aversion from Him, is a sin of the most heinous nature. Now, prosperity has a special malignity to disincline the heart from God. The supreme love of God includes an act of the understanding, a transcendent esteem of His favour: “Thy loving kindness is better than life” (Ps. 63;3). It inspires the soul with ardent desires after Him: “My soul follows hard after Thee” (Ps. 63:8); it produces the most joyful satisfaction in communion with Him. The thoughts of God are unspeakably precious and sweet; the ordinances, the blessed means of conveying His grace, are highly valued; and sin that displeases and separates from God is hated as the greatest evil. Now, the soul must be refined to a heavenly temper, to some degrees of angelical purity, before ’tis capable of light to see spiritual excellencies, and love to enjoy them. And if the soul does not make the body heavenly and spiritual, the body will make the soul earthly and fleshly. From hence it is that the affluence of things pleasing to the senses, fastens the carnal heart to the world as its happiness and heaven: it darkens the mind, and vitiates the affections, that the soul can neither taste nor see how good the Lord is. ’Tis the universal character of men in the carnal state; they are lovers of pleasure, more than lovers of God. And a remiss degree of love is comparative hatred: a sin of astonishing guilt, and not less odious to God, and damning in its nature, tho’ little observed and resented by carnal men. For the highest dishonour of God is complicated with disobedience in it. A sin that deserves and inflicts the sorest punishment; for God alone, whose goodness is infinite, can make us perfectly and eternally happy; and the spiritual separation from Him is such an invaluable loss that, when truly understood, is the foundation of the heaviest sorrow.
3. The fear of God is a most distant affection from the heart of the foolish sinner in his prosperity. The fear, reverence, and the awful esteem of God, that proceeds from the reflection upon His glorious greatness, is a grace that remains in heaven: the angels in all their bright degrees of excellence cover their faces before His throne. The fear of circumspection that restrains from displeasing Him upon the account of His justice and power, is a proper affection to men in the present state. The blessed in heaven are above this fear, being confirmed in a state of unchangeable perfection and felicity. The damned in hell are below this fear, in that no chance can make their condition worse: but ’tis most useful and congruous in this middle state. This fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, the first and chiefest part of it in respect of order and dignity. For the true notion of wisdom, consists in the foresight of evils, in the choice and use of effectual means to avoid it, and it is the best wisdom that avoids the greatest danger. This fear is the principle of conversion from sin to holiness; exciting us to make God our friend, who is so dreadful an adversary, so holy and just, that He will not connive at sin, and spare the guilty and impenitent; and so powerful, that with one stroke He can utterly destroy His most stubborn enemies. Carnal security is directly opposite to this fear of God, and nothing does more harden and fortify men in security, than a prosperous state. The voluptuous and sensual are without apprehension of danger, till imminent and in their view. “Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God” (Ps. 55:19). Uninterrupted prosperity tempts them to atheistical security. The long enjoyment of plenty, and ease, and peace, renders men constantly secure and fearless, as if the tenor of their prosperity were invariable, and no evil could disturb it; or at least they will set back the expectation of evil at a great distance, like those profane scorners mentioned by the prophet: “They say, the vision he sees is for many days to come, he prophesies of the times afar off” (Ezek. 12:27), and with a brutish stupidity, slight the divine threatenings. And from hence it follows, that none are so rebelliously and boldly disobedient as the prosperous sinner, which is the fourth thing to be considered:
4. Entire obedience is due to the Supreme lawgiver, who is able to save and destroy forever. Yet He is mercifully inclined to pardon the infirmities of men, and greater sins, retracted by repentance. There are sins of ignorance, when a man dashes blindfold against the law; and of sudden corruption, when there in no time to deliberate and for recollection; and the best are not exempted here from sins of this nature. These are sins of deadly malignity, when men are careless of God’s commands, and indulge their lusts, though not without some remorse. But the prosperous sinner is usually most presumptuous. He sins with a high hand, and incurs a greater guilt, and shall be exposed to greater punishment. When the fear of God is extinguished, luxury takes the reins, and breaks through the hedge of the Law, without feeling the wounding thorns, the fearful threatenings in it; and drives on through all the degrees of sin. ’Tis the aggravation of the Israelites ingratitude: Jesurun waxed fat, and kicked, and lightly esteemed the rock of his salvation. They were like beasts high fed, that became fierce and untractable, and would endure no yoke upon them. The prosperous sinner securely despises the commands of God, and by an implicit blasphemy dares His offended omnipotence, as if he were stronger than the Lord. He concludes his safety from his present success, and says in his heart, “I shall have peace, tho’ I walk in the imagination of mine heart and add sin to sin. The Lord will not spare him, but the anger of the Lord shall smoke against that man to his destruction” (Deut. 29:19,20).
3. Prosperity exposes dangerously to the tempting power of Satan, whose subtlety, malice, and diligence is always exercised in training men to perdition. His destructive power cannot make immediate impressions on the soul, but he tempts by objects without, and the affections within; with the world and the flesh that are in combination with him. He is accordingly styled, the god of this world, as he reigns in the men of the world, by using the things of the world, to obtain and establish his kingdom. He blinds their eyes by glittering temptations, deceives and surprises them by his fallacies. And although it is difficult to conceive and unfold his infernal agency, and pernicious operations; and it is certain he cannot make a forcible entry into the soul, and tempt with prevalence and success, without the consent of the will, yet we are told that he is a prime mover in the sins of men. He entered into Judas, and by putting a lustre on the silver, exciting his covetous desires, prevailed with him to betray the Lord of Glory. “He works powerfully in the children of disobedience” (Eph 2:2). They are as it were possessed and acted by his strong inclinations. They are said to “be taken captive by him at his will” (2Tim 2:1). It is an allusion to the catching of beasts, when by the address and craft of the hunters, they are drawn or urged into the toil prepared for them. Now, prosperity furnishes him with the materials whereof he weaves the most fatal snares: for his strength and art to destroy principally lie in the specious representations, and fallacious promises of happiness in the enjoyment or worldly things. This will appear, by considering that:
A. Pleasant temptations are most apt to seduce the souls of men to ruin. As is sowing the earth, when there is a congruity between the soil and the seed, it is nourished and springs up a plentiful harvest, so when temptations are suitable to the heart, they are entertained with complacency, and are productive of actual sins. “Every man is tempted by Satan when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed” (the sensual appetite is drawn forth by things grateful to it) “…Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin; and sin, when it is finished brings forth death” (James 1:14). When the appetite has obtained the consent of the will, the complete act of sin follows; and sin habitually indulged, ends in death.
Some temptations of Satan are of such terrible to human nature, that the soul initially resists them, until by violence and restless importunity, resistance is overcome. By the attractiveness of pleasure, Satan easily prevails. As in cutting of timber, if one strikes cross the grain, there is strong resistance; but if the blow follows the vein of the wood, it easily cleaves asunder. The temptations of riches, honour, and pleasures are so delightful, that the devil commands or persuades men to a compliance with them.
Besides, his malice in pleasant temptations is less discernable; and consequently men do not by circumspection, and prayer for divine grace, preserve themselves from the mischief of them. If we are fiercely assaulted by unnatural temptations that cause extraordinary agonies of the spirit; we seek supernatural assistance, and fortify ourselves with holy resolutions against the open enemy. But by the pleasures of sin, he insinuates into men’s hearts, and feeds the deadly disease so gratefully, that they discover not their danger until past recovery. Therefore he destroys more by his serpentine suggestions, by winning charms, then by fiery rage. Indeed, he is never more a devil, than when he deceives; and we are divinely warned of his guile, devices, and wiles, that we may not be surprised and ruined by our invisible adversary.
B. Plentiful prosperity affords variety of temptations, which he makes use of to prevent the satiety and dislike that the same repeated temptations would cause. Since man was divided from God, the true centre of the soul, he breaks into a thousand irregular desires; and in the apostle’s phrase, “serves divers lusts and pleasures” (see Titus 3:3), and the vanities of the world do rather cloy than satisfy; that which brings transporting joy at first, by continuance becomes nauseous and insipid. Now, the tempter, with the abundance of prosperity, so orders his temptations, as to take off the weariness of one pleasure by another, and keeps his slaves in the magical circle of variety. As a rich epicure provides a universe of luxury, commands the four elements to make a show, the earth, the air, the water, of their treasures, and the fire of its art to dress them, thereby to excite the languishing appetite, to give a relish of intemperance, and satisfy the greedy eye, as well as the blind belly. Thus Satan, the architect of pleasure, brings out of his storehouse several kinds of delightful temptations, to reenflame the carnal appetite when sated: without variety desire often fails the man, and pleasure sails the desire. Voluptuaries are dissolved in the changing streams of pleasure.
C. Idleness, that is often the concomitant of prosperity, gives him a tempting opportunity, and makes men more receptive of his temptations. The sin and destruction of Sodom was from hence. “This was the iniquity of Sodom, Pride, fullness of bread, and idleness was in her, and her daughters” (Ezek. 16:49). The idle person beckons the tempter to do his office. When the house is empty, the mind is not exercised with better employments, and the heart is loose and unguarded, the tempter is invited to take possession.
Idleness is directly opposite to life, as well as felicity. To live, is to be in action. Inanimate things are only bound with a dead rest. And among inanimate bodies as they ascend in perfection, they are more active. The heavens that excel in situation and qualities, things that are without life, are in continual motion. And man’s felicity consists in the most perfect actions of the most perfect life: in the vision and enjoyment of the blessed God. Now man, naturally being averse from a state contrary to life and felicity, if he is not employed in business becoming the reasonable immortal soul, rather than languishing in idleness, is active “in making provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (see Rom. 13:14). Time is tedious, and that it may pass away pleasantly, men seek for diversions that are usually either sinful in their own nature, or connected with sins.
Lawful employment is a double security against temptations. It is partly divine, as it entitles us to God’s providence over us. For while we are obeying His command, we are encouraged by His promise, “that He will keep us in all our ways” (see Ps. 91:11); either by preventing temptations, or by affording us assistance to vanquish them. It is partly natural, for while we are diligently exercised in a lawful calling, the mind is not at leisure to attend the temptation, and the senses do not so easily admit those objects that betray the soul. And it is observable, that God, who is merciful in His chastisements, orders that fallen man should obtain the fruits of the earth to support his life by the sweat of his brows, that his incessant labour might preserve him from idleness, for idleness, to corrupt nature, is the seminary of so many vile lusts.
D. As the temptations of prosperity make men an easy prey to Satan, so they keep them in the most perfect and miserable bondage under his power. When he has taken hold of their affections, “he leads them captive at his will” (see II Tim. 2:26). They are freely drawn by the pleasing force of his temptations: They are voluntary slaves, and in love with their captivity. It was the cruel and crafty advice offered to the Athenians, to keep the subdued inhabitants of Egina from rebelling, to cut off their thumbs, that they might be incapable to manage a spear, and by war obtain a victorious rescue from their tyranny, but be fit to pull the oar in the galleys. It is an emblem of Satan’s dealing with his slaves; for by the pleasures of sin, their hearts are weak, disabled from vigorous and holy resolutions to resist his power; they cannot make use of the armour of God for their defence: and their lusts are strong, they are patient of his drudgery, constant at the oar, and faithful to their chains. And from hence it is evident that men are never more dangerously under the destructive power of Satan than when they enjoy prosperity.
E. Prosperity is destructive to many in that it affords them advantages to corrupt others, and reciprocally exposes them to be corrupted by others. Persons in dignity, wealth, and power, when depraved in their inclinations and actions, are like public fountains poisoned, that convey a spreading ruin abroad. Their evil example has a pernicious influence, and more commanding efficacy as a rule, than their laws they ordain as rulers. The manners of princes are as current as their money, that being stamped with their image and superscription, though the metal be base, passes freely among the people. The reason of it is evident, for without the restraints of shame and fear, the sensual passions are riotous and licentious.
Shame is a displeasure at evils that are attended with dishonour and infamy, especially at sinful evils that are so shameful in their own nature, that the most sordid things in comparison are less ignominious. Now, foul vices when practiced by men of conspicuous eminence, do not seem with that turpitude and deformity as is inherent in their nature. They are like a muddy vapour drawn up by the sun, and enameled with the rays of light, appears amiable to the eye, not dreggy and foul as it is in itself. Innumerable miscarry by the vicious examples of persons in honour; for when sins are gilded over with creditableness, many think it necessary to be unholy, or even truly vile, that they may be fashionably noble. And when those that are in power abuse it, as a privilege for licentiousness in sin, inferiors are viciously bold, expecting facility and indulgence in the pardoning those faults of which their superiors are guilty: And those who do not fear to be punished, do not fear to sin. Thus among the heathens, lasciviousness was lawful, because they ascribed their vicious passions to their supposed deities, and did not fear their revenging justice for what was practiced by them.
Also, prosperity exposes the rich and great to be more corrupted by others. Servile spirits will be cruelly obsequious to the humours and lusts of those upon whom they depend, and the ready instruments of accomplishing their irregular desires. It is their interest to please them, from whom they receive favours and benefits. And how few have so firm a virtue, as to break the twisted temptations of pleasure and profit? The rich and great in the world are usually attended with a train of dependents, or vicious associates, whose compliance is very influential to harden a vicious disposition into a corrupt habit. These are underworkers to Satan, the master tempter, and feed the double element of infernal fire, lust and rage, in the breasts of those with whom they converse. It is the peculiar misery of men in a high and flourishing condition, that they have many flatterers, and few friends. Few or none dare faithfully represent their sins and danger, lest the sight of their guilt in its true reflections should offend them. As love is blind to others, so especially to one’s self; and mercenary wretches, by the most vile flattery, endeavour to make them believe of themselves, what is pleasing to them to believe. Such, to ingratiate, will commend the mere shadows of virtue, as substantial virtue; and excuse real gross vices, as but the shadows of vice. By deceitful arts they colour and conceal the native ugliness of sin, under a thin appearance and name of virtue. The arrogant and revengeful, they call generous; the covetous, frugal; the lascivious, gentle; the prodigal, magnificent; the malicious, wary and cautious; the brutish and secure, courageous. The conversation of such is infinitely dangerous and corrupting: for under the disguise of friendship they are the most deadly enemies. What greater danger of being poisoned can there be, than when by art the taste of poison is taken away from the poison, and there is no suspicion of the traitor that gives it? Thus it is further evident, that prosperity is very dangerous to the souls of men.
4. The prosperity of sinners usually renders the means of grace (which should reclaim and reform them) ineffectual, and consequently their destruction is remediless. The means of grace are internal or external: internal, in the motions of the Holy Spirit, and the convictions and excitations of conscience; external, in the ministry of the word, and the counsels of faithful friends; all of which are usually made frustrate and inefficacious by the vices and lusts of the prosperous. This occurs in the following ways:
a. Prosperity makes sinners more incapable of receiving the heavenly impressions of the Spirit, and obstinate in resisting his gracious working. The flesh and the Spirit are contrary (see Gal. 5:17), and accordingly as the carnal appetite has dominion and overrules in men, such is their opposition to his restraints from evil, or his motions to what is whole and good. The sensual have not the Spirit (see Jude 19). They wilfully refuse to give admission to Him, when by inward impulses He solicits them; and they have a stubborn and active contrariety to His attributes and gracious operations.
He is styled “The Spirit of power, and love, and a sound mind” (II Tim. 1:7). He communicates a sacred sovereign virtue to the soul, whereby the irregular passions are reduced to the obedience of the sanctified mind, and the reigning power of sin is dissolved. He is a free spirit, and restores the soul to true and perfect liberty, by enlarging the will, and making it commensurate with the divine will: and from hence it is the inseparable character of a converted person, he is willing to do what God will have him do, and to be what God will have him be. But sensual persons, by the pleasant infusions of fervidity from the tempter, and carnal objects, have lost their power and desire of spiritual liberty, and resist the Holy Spirit when He offers to break the bands of their lusts. The Spirit in converting the soul, inspires it with heavenly love to God for the ever-satisfying beauty of His perfections; and from love proceeds intellectual delight in communion with Him, in affectionate ascents to Him, and His gracious descents to the soul. But the sensual are fastened in the mire of their sordid pleasures, and can take no heavenly flight, and relish no divine comforts. The Spirit produces a sound mind, to judge sincerely of things as they are. And from hence the corrupting vanities of the world lose their attractive charms, and eternal things appear in their reality and excellency, and are chosen and sought with persevering diligence. But the sensual heart is a perpetual furnace, whose smoke darkens the mind, that it cannot discover sublime and heavenly excellencies; and whose impure heart fires the will, that it is earnest in the pursuit of fleshly pleasures.
Briefly, nothing does more quench the Spirit in His illuminating, quickening, and attractive operations, than sensuality: and nothing more heightens sensuality, and increases the averseness of carnal men to the holy Law of God, and makes their conversion more difficult than prosperity. Indeed, the Spirit of God can by effectual grace convert the most unprepared habituate sinner, the most obstinate enemy of holiness. He can melt the most rocky stubborn heart, into a holy softness and compliance with its duty, for creating power is of infallible efficacy. There are some objects and miracles of divine grace that are the everlasting monuments of its glorious power in subduing the most fierce violence of reactive to the extent of their power. The winds blow with all their force, and the sun enlightens the air with all its lustre.
However, the Holy Spirit is an intelligent and voluntary agent, whose power in working is regulated by His will, and directed by His wisdom. There are some things repugnant to the divine attributes, that it is impossible God should do them: the apostle saith, that God cannot lie, for it is contrary to his truth, one of His essential perfections. And it is impossible that He should do anything unbecoming His wisdom. He threatened the sensual world, “My Spirit shall not always strive with Man, for he is flesh” (Gen. 6:3); that is, corrupt and indulgent to his fleshly appetites, and always opposing and controlling the pure motions of the Spirit. We read that our Saviour “could do no mighty works in his own country because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5): Not as if their infidelity abated His divine power, but they were unprepared to receive benefit by them, his miracles would have been cast away upon such unconvincable persons. Who will sow the barren sands, or water dead plants, or give a rich cordial to a furious patient that will spill it on the ground? And it is an act of justice to deprive sinners of those inspirations which they have so long resisted. Those who are tender and tractable, and unfeignedly resign up themselves to His conduct in the ways of life, shall receive more powerful influences to perfect the blessed work begun in them: “He will give more grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5). But those who are so far from valuing His graces and comforts, that should be received with the highest respect, that they ungratefully despise them, and rebel against His motions and counsels, He righteously deserts. Stephen in his charge against the Jews to complete the aggravation of their sins, reproaches them; “You stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart, and ears, you always resisted the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). The obstinate sinner rebels against His authority, and condemns His mercy. The tempter with his charms is presently entertained, as the devils easily entered into the swine; but the Holy Spirit with His gracious offers is rejected. Wretched indignity! Rather to obey a slave and an enemy, than the lawful sovereign.
The saints grieve the Spirit of God by a wilful neglect of His assisting grace, and fall into presumptuous sins. And as grief, when it is oppressing, causes the spirits to retire to the heart, and nature is as it were shut up in its springs, and obstructs them from communicating agility and vivacity in the ordinary operations of the senses: thus the Holy Spirit when grieved withdraws, and there follows a disconsolate eclipse and interruption of His reviving quickening presence. But the indulgent, habituate sinners, provoke Him finally to leave them to their own lusts. It is true, His deserting them is usually gradual, as in a consumptive person the stomach, the colour, the strength decline by degrees, till nature sinks irrecoverably under the disease; so the motions of the Spirit in those who have often repelled them, are not so frequent and vigorous as before; His aftercalls are weaker, wasting, and dying every day, till His total withdrawing from them. How fearful and hopeless is the state of such a sinner? This spiritual judgment always proceeds from inexorable severity, and ends in the eternal ruin of sinners. For without the Spirit’s supernatural working, they can never be renewed to repentance, never reconciled to God. They may for a time live in a voluptuous course, or follow the business of the world; and a little breath may separate between them and hell, but they shall at last die in their sins, in an unpardonable state forever. It is said of the Jews, “They rebelled and vexed His Holy Spirit, therefore He turned to be their enemy, and fought against them” (Isa. 63:10).
b. The convictions and excitations of conscience are prevented, or made ineffectual by the prosperity of sinners. Conscience is the applicative mind that respects practice; it directs in our duty, both by inhibitions from what is evil, and by instigations to what is good; and by comparing our actions with rule, testifies our innocence or guilt, and approves or condemns us.
This intellectual ray was planted in us by the wise God in our creation, and extended to the divine law, the object and end of it, to keep us to our duty. And since our revolt, it is sanctified as the vital principle of conversion to God, the powerful means of rescuing the lapsed soul from its prostitution to the flesh, and recovering it to a temper of purity becoming its original excellence, and the relation to the Father of spirits. It is true, the law of God is the primary rule of our duty, and the Holy Spirit is the efficient of our renovation; but the enlightened conscience is the immediate rule, and the immediate mover of us to return to our duty. And if conscience, which is the eye of the soul, be covered with a film of ignorance, if it be blurred with the false glitterings of the world, if it totally neglects its office, or makes but a cold application of saving terrors that may control the licentious appetites, if it be disregarded, when it suggests and excites to our duty, the sinner is hardened and settled in his lost state. Now, prosperity ferments the sensual afflictions, that obscure the light of conscience, that corrupt its judgment, that smother and suppress its dictates, or despise and slight them, so that it is powerless, though constituted God’s deputy to order our lives.
Affected ignorance is the usual concomitant of sensual lusts: for the enlightened conscience will convince, and condemn men for their pollutions, and force them here to feel the beginning of sorrows, and thereby make them apprehensive what the issues and consummation will be hereafter, and this will cast an aspersion of bitterness upon their sweet sins, and lessen the full pleasure of them. From hence our Saviour tell us, “Everyone that loves to do evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (John 3:20); that is, by the instructed and awakened conscience. Men love darkness to cover their nakedness and foul deformity. They are averse from knowing their duty, and will not search, lest they should discover such terrible truths that cross their sensual humour. The apostle foretells (in 2 Peter 3:5) that, “scoffers should come in the last days, who are willingly ignorant” of the beginning and end of the world, as if there were no Divine Maker of all things, who has the power to destroy them, and consequently no judge to whom men must be accountable for their disobedience to His laws: The assent to the most evident absurdity, that all things were and shall continue in the same tenor: and the cause of their willing ignorance is insinuated in the character that describes them, that they might walk after their own lusts, more securely, freely, and joyfully.
Sensual lusts do not only hinder men’s search after knowledge, but obscure the light of conscience, and corrupt his judgment. There is such an intimate communion between the soul and body, that interchangeably they corrupt one another: the sins of the flesh sink into the spirit, and corrupt the moral principals, from whence the sensible conscience springs of good and evil. And the sins of the spirit, infidelity, incogitancy, error, security, break out in the deeds of the body, and make the flesh more outrageous in its desires. Paul declares that “unto the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled” (Titus 1:15). A purged heart is requisite for a clear mind; but where lust dwells, it taints and perverts the practical judgment, from whence so many disorders follow in life. The natural conscience in many cases, in its simple judgment of things, sincerely declares what is to be done, and what to be avoided; but when compounded and stained with a tincture of sensuality, it judges according to the desires. The rebellious Israelites in the wilderness are described, “It is a people that do err in their hearts” (Psalms 57:10): The heart was the erroneous fountain of all their miscarriages, and forty years instruction could do them no good. Those who are given up to carnal delights, and are in a confederacy with the gross senses, even their directive and judging faculty is carnal in its apprehensions. A reprobate mind, and vile affections, are naturally and judicially the cause and effect of one another. Even natural truths that are plain and bright are strangely darkened through the perverseness and crookedness of men’s hearts, as is the essential distinction between moral good and evil, between virtue and vice, and the belief of a judgment to come (that is inseparably connected with it). Men wish according to their carnal interest; and what they wish, they would fain believe; and as when there was “no king in Israel, everyone did what was good in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6), so if there were no after-reckoning, men would without the check of conscience, follow the wills of the flesh. Therefore they are atheists in desire, and if not seared by the pangs of a throbbing conscience, will be so in their thoughts.
The heathens cancelled the law of nature, and transgressed all the rules of duty and decorum; they securely indulged those lusts that are a derogation and debasement to the reasonable creature, and make men below men. The reason of this prodigious degeneracy was, their manners corrupted their minds. Paul charges the Ephesians, not to “walk as the other gentiles, in the vanity of their minds, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who being, past feeling, have given themselves over to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19). A dead conscience, and a dissolute life, are inseparable. And how many that are surrounded with the celestial beams of the gospel, are as impure and impenitent, as those in the black night of paganism? They stand at the entrance of the bottomless pit, yet do not smell the brimstone that enrages the fire there: the flames of their lusts, have seared their consciences to a desperate degree of hardness and insensibility. Of such the apostle speaks, “But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things they understand not, and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; and shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time; spots they are, and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceptions, while they feast with you” (2 Peter 2:12-13). They violated all the prescriptions and restraints of the natural reason, they had lost all the ingenuous bashfulness of the humane nature, and pleased themselves in their false licentious principles, whereby they endeavoured to justify their actions, and set a superficial gloss upon their foul deformities.
Now, a seduced and seducing mind, make the conversion of a sinner most difficult. While the judgment condemns what the affections approve, men are not so invincibly and irrecoverably lost; the enlightened conscience is an earnest of their return to their duty. But when the Spirit is deceived, the flesh always prevails; and men are most dissolute, corrupt, and desperately wicked. Our Saviour says, “If the light that is in us be darkness, how great is that darkness?” (Matt. 6:23). How disorderly and ruinous will the course be? “If the salt has lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?” (Matt. 5:13). If the conscience, that should be as salt to preserve the soul from tainting pleasure, be corrupted, wherewith can it be restored?
Fleshly lusts smother and suppress the dictates and testimony of the enlightened conscience, so that they are not influential upon the life. The dictates of conscience are in a direct line, instructing and advising men in their duty: the testimony is by reflection upon their errors from the divine rule, and condemning them for their guilt.
Through prosperity, the dictates of the enlightened conscience are suppressed. It is the observation of the philosopher, concerning sensual persons, that they have reason in the faculty and habit, but not in the use and exercise. The practical understanding declares our duty, that it is absolutely necessary to obey God; and men assent to it in general: but when this principle is to be applied to practice in particulars that are ungrateful to the corrupt will, lust draws a veil over it, that it may not appear to check the sensual inclinations. While the mind, seduced by the senses, is intent upon the pleasing object, it does not actually and strongly consider the divine command; and conscience is brought under the control of the impetuous passions. The light of reason, as well as of divine revelation, discovers that the blessed beginning, and the happy end of man, is to be like God, and to enjoy His love; but when there is a competition between His favour, and the things of the world, the carnal heart suppresses the dictates of the mind, and makes a blindfold choice of things present and sensible, as if man were all earth, and there were no spark of heaven within him.
The heathens are charged by Paul that “they hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). The notion of God as the supreme lawgiver, and to be obeyed according to His law impressed upon conscience, was a natural truth, and should have reigned in their hearts and lives; but they would not suffer it to exert its power in ordering their actions.
The testimony of conscience is suppressed and neglected by the prosperous sinner. If conscience be in some degree righteous, and faithful in its office, and “reproves him, and sets his sins in order before his eyes” (Ps. 50:21); he will not regard its earnest warnings. He is as unwilling to hear that sincere witness in his bosom, as Ahab was the inflexible prophet Micaiah; of whom he said, “I hate him, for he does not prophesy good of me, but evil” (I Kings 22:8). Prosperity affords many diversions, whereby the sinner shifts off conversing with the conscience, and remains engaged in his sinful state. “I hearkened, and heard”, said the prophet Jeremiah, “but they spoke not aright; no man repented of his wickedness, saying ‘What have I done?’” (Jer. 8:6). What foul, ignominious acts, how defiling and debasing of my soul, how offensive to the pure eyes of God, who is so glorious in majesty, and dreadful in power? Such a sight of sin would make the conscience boil, and chill the passions, and urge sinners to return to their duty. But while they prosper, they are obstinate in rebellion; “every one turned to his course, as the horse rushes into the battle” (Jer. 8:6). As the horse when enflamed, by the noise and other accidents of war, furiously rushes to his own destruction; thus sinners when they encounter alluring objects that divert the mind from serious consideration, either they do not discern, or will not observe the dangers before them, and with as little consideration, and as much fierceness as the beasts venture upon their own destruction. Conversion is the product of the most serious and sad thoughts, from which a prosperous sinner is most averse.
2. The external means for converting sinners, are usually ineffectual upon them while they enjoy prosperity.
“The Gospel is the Power of God to salvation to them that believe” (Rom. 1:16), and the preaching of it is, by divine institution, the ordinary means of conversion. God could, by the immediate illumination of the mind, and influence upon the will and affections, convert sinners from the errors of their ways; but His wisdom and condescending goodness makes use of the ministry of men to convey the word of truth and life to the world. This way is very contagious, both to the compounded nature of man, by the senses to work upon the soul, and to the native freedom of his will: For though the supernatural agent infallibly changes the heart, yet the instrument can only direct and persuade men, as those who are endowed with intellectual and elective faculties; and thus the efficacy of divine grace is insinuated in a way suitable to the reasonable nature. The ministers are styled the light of the world, to discover to men their undone condition by sin, and to point out the way to their everlasting peace. Our blessed Redeemer saves the lost remnant of mankind by the sacred ministry; and where there are no Evangelical preachers sent, or only a doleful succession of blind guides—what Tertullian says of Scythia, a country that by the extremity of the cold is hard and dry, and perpetually barren—the hearts of men are frozen to their sins, there is no melting in the tears of true repentance, no holy heat, only their brutish lusts are ardent and active. But where the ambassadors of Christ are faithful and zealous to induce sinners to break off their sins by repentance, and to be reconciled to God, there are none more incapable of the sanctifying power of the gospel, than sinners in prosperity.
Pride, which is the vice of prosperity, makes them fierce and stubborn against the holy and strict rules of the word. “We will not hearken to Thee, but will certainly do whatsoever goes out of our own mouth” (Isaiah 44:16-17). If a faithful minister points out the inside of their foul souls, their uncomely passions are raised against him. If he recommends the earnest study of holiness, and godliness, they entertain his counsels with derision and disdain. Those to whom the dearest and most affectionate honour is due, being spiritual fathers and physicians, are despised in their persons and office, by fools in their prosperity. They condemn what they do not understand, and affect not to understand what condemns them. They hear sermons to censure, and censure that they may not be troubled by them. What hope is there of reducing haughty scorners to the obedience of the gospel? Even the miracles and ministry of our Saviour were without success upon the Pharisees, who “heard and derided Him” (see Luke 16:14). If such are convinced in their minds, and not disarmed of their pride and self-will, they refuse to yield themselves to the Lord. Meekness is a requisite qualification for receiving the Word. We are directed to “lay aside all filthiness, and superfluity of naughtiness; and with meekness to receive the engrafted word, that is able to save our souls” (James 1:21). We are prepared for Divine grace, by a serious sense of our want for it, and earnest desire to obtain it. “He fills the hungry with good things and the rich He sends empty away” (Luke 1:53). None are so insensible of their spiritual wants, and averse from the humble acknowledgement of them, as the prosperous sinner; and none more unlikely to obtain spiritual riches.
Infidelity that is occasioned and confirmed by prosperity in sin, renders the gospel ineffectual to the salvation of men. “The word preached did not profit the Jews, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it” (Heb. 4:12). A steadfast belief of divine revelations is the principle of obedience: without it, motives of the highest strain are ineffectual. Eternal things are not within the prospect of sense, and though set forth with the clearest evidence of reason, and enforced with the greatest earnestness of affection, yet the sons of darkness sleep profoundly in their sins. If heaven with its joys and glory be revealed in the most affecting manner, it has no more efficacy to move them, than charming music to awaken one out of a lethargy: only violent remedies, bleeding, scarifying, and burning, are proper and powerful for recovery. If they are warned, that the everlasting King will shortly open the clouds, and come with terrible majesty to the universal judgment, and require an account for His abused mercies: their hearts are apt to reply, as the priests did to Judas, “What is that to us? See you to it” (Matt. 27:4). The terrors of the Lord no more affect them than thunder does the deaf, or lightning the blind. In short, though charged and adjured by all the threatenings of the law and neglected gospel, though entreated by all the precious promises of mercy, they continue hardened in their voluptuous sins. They despise the eternal rewards of holiness and wickedness, as incredible and impertinent, and ministers as men of vain talk and imaginations. For the infidel senses are not affected with things future, and sinners while prosperous, are under their dominion.
Suppose in preaching the word, a sharp ray of truth darts through the deep and settled darkness of the heart, yet it is soon damped and without saving effect upon sinners in their prosperity. They may be terrified but are not subdued by the armour of Light; for they presently take sanctuary in the world to escape the strokes of it. The carnal passions dare not appear before such objects as awaken the conscience; the senses strongly apply the mind to things that touch them; the fancy is the spring of distraction in the thoughts, and these reign in their full power in prosperous sinners, so that they do not by serious consideration apply things of eternal consequence to themselves. The heart of man with difficulty changes its end; though outward actions may be suspended or overruled for a time, but the love that is natural and predominant in the heart to the present world, cannot be purified and raised to heaven, without the divine efficacy of the word applied by most solemn and frequent thoughts. How plain and convincing are the words of our Saviour; “What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). But how few in hearing them, have found their souls that were lost in the corrupting vanities of this world? The most seem not to know they have immortal souls, while they live as if they had none. The reason is, they will not consider duly their invaluable worth, and the woeful folly in neglecting them. When the bird often straggles from the nest, the eggs are chilled and unprolific, for want of its warming incubation. Divine truths are without life and vigour, when they only lie in the memory, without serious and frequent revelations on them. Many are enlightened, but not affected; or affected, but not resolved; or resolved, but their resolutions are not prevailing and permanent, because the word does not sink into their minds, by deep consideration.
The other external means of recovering a sinner from the snares of death, is private admonition, either authoritative, or merely charitative, by showing him his sins, and the fearful consequences that attend them. The neglect of this duty, is a sign and effect of the greatest hatred, as the command of it implies, “Thou shall not hate thy brother in thy heart, and suffer sin to lie upon him” (Lev. 19:17). The performance of it, with prudence and meekness, with dear and earnest love, has a special advantage and efficacy, being directly applied to the person whose soul is concerned. The reproofs of a preacher are leveled in common against the sins of men, but not applied in particular to every sinner. It is the office of conscience, to bring home to every man’s bosom, what is proper to his case; and singularly to observe in himself, what is spoken in the general. But in private admonition, the superior of a friend supplies the duty of conscience. And (in this sense) “woe be to him that is alone” (Eccl. 4:10), that lacks a faithful friend to supply the duty of conscience, either to preserve him from falling into sin, or to raise him when down. Now, a prosperous sinner is most unlikely to receive the benefit designed by admonition. If the patient does not assist the cure, by receiving holy counsels with humility, respect, and thankfulness, they prove ineffectual, and much more if they be rejected with averseness and contempt. When a superior (like a father that holds a child over a pit, to make him fear where there is danger) with solemnity admonishes him of his guilt and approaching judgments, he is apt to slight his person as censorious, and his admonition as impertinent. When a friend by faithful reproof endeavours to save his soul from sin and hell, he entertains his reproof with scorn, or with conviction and indignation. Thus the wise observer of men declares the careless wretched disposition of sinners in their prosperity, by their sorrowful reflections in adversity: “Thou shalt mourn at the last, when your flesh and your body are consumed and say, ‘How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof? And have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me?’” (Proverbs 5:11-13). Instruction to prevent sin, reproof to correct sin, were disregarded with an implicit hatred, or rejected with absolute and express hatred.
To conclude this part of the argument: experience sadly proves that sinners are never reclaimed from their stubborn folly but by sharp afflictions. They will not believe the evil of sin, until by a real and sensible conviction they take a measure of the evil they have done, by the evil they suffer. Affliction tames the stubborn heart, and makes it humble and relenting. Even Pharaoh, who was a bold atheist in his prosperity, and stood upon high terms with Moses saying, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?”, yet later was an humble suppliant in his distress: “And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘I have sinned: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. Entreat the Lord that there be no more mighty thunderings, and hail’” (Exodus 9:27-28). This is set forth in a true and lively comparison by the prophet Jeremiah: “As a wild donkey used to the wilderness, that snuffs up the wind at her pleasure: in her occasion, who can turn her away?” (Jeremiah 2:24). When fired with lust, she ranges about swiftly, without a rider to guide, and curb to restrain her. “All they that seek her, will not weary themselves; but in her month they shall find her” (Jer. 2:24): It is in vain to pursue her then, but when she is bagged and heave, they will tame her. Thus when sinners are prosperous, the call of God, and conscience, and of teachers, do not stop them in their voluptuous course, but affliction confines and reduces them to obedience.
3. Prosperity renders men averse from suffering for the sake of Christ, when they are called to testimony to His truth, and support His cause. Self-denial, with respect to the present life, and all the ornaments, comforts, and endearments of it, is absolutely necessary by the law of Christianity, when the preserving of it is contrary to the glory of Christ. “Then said Jesus to his disciples, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matt. 16:24). The cross implies all kinds and degrees of suffering, from the least afflicting evil, to death with ignominy and torment. And how just is it, if we expect to be glorified by His sufferings that we should willingly suffer for His Glory. At the first preaching of the gospel, many were “offended at the cross of Christ”: they esteemed it folly to expect eternal life from one that was put to death, and that He should bring them to the highest glory, who suffered in the lowest weakness. Our Saviour was concealed from their carnal eyes by the overshadowing train of His afflictions. And the cross of Christ, which is to be voluntarily and obediently taken up by His disciples, is a greater offence to the World, than that to which He was nailed. It is a harder lesson that we must obtain glory by our own sufferings, that of ours: In the first, it only encounters with false prejudices, and vain shadows that darken that mighty mystery; but in the second, it must overcome the natural love of this life, and the pleasures of it, which is so predominant in men. The alliance to the body, and the allurements of the world, are the causes of forsaking religion, when the owning of it will cost us dear. And those who enjoy prosperity, are most easily terrified from their duty to Christ; the account of which is open to reason, both from some general considerations, and from special, that respect sufferings for religion. The general considerations are two:
a. The living in pleasures and soft delicacy, enervates the masculine vigour of the Spirit, and damps resolution, that it presently faints when assaulted with difficulties. The spirit of a man, encouraged by just and wise and generous reasons, will stand firmly under heavy troubles: But fear breaks the native strength of mind, and like a sudden secret palsy, that slackens the nerves, and loosens the joints, causes a trembling and incapacity of bearing evils. The least glimpse of danger, makes the fearful retire: like some, who are apprehensive of the rising winds, will not venture any further in a boat than that one oar may be on the shore, while the other strikes in the water. The timorous, when afflictions attend the faithful profession of the gospel, usually are treacherous to God, to their souls, and to the truth. They are treacherous to God (whose servants they are by the dearest titles) by contradicting their duty, which is to suffer cheerfully for His Gospel and His glory when called forth. They are treacherous to their souls, by preferring the interest of the perishing flesh, before the happiness of the immortal part. They betray the truth, by exposing it to a suspicion of falsehood: for as the confirming religion by sufferings does most effectually recommend it to the belief and affections of others; so the denial of it, or the withdrawing our testimony in times of danger, will incline others to judge that it is not the truth, or at least of no great moment, since the professors of it do not think it worth their suffering. How many faint-hearted persons have thus betrayed the son of God again, and their consciences, and their religion? Their faith that sparkled in prosperous times, when troubles come is a quenched coal, raked up in the pale ashes of distrustful fears, without any divine light or heat.
b. Prosperity makes men unthoughtful and careless of evils that may happen. “I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved’” (Ps. 30:6). Carnal joy (the affliction of prosperity) and folly are nearly allied, and flatter men as if their ease and calm would never be disturbed: and by supine negligence, they are unprovided for the encountering with evils. According to our circumspection in prosperity, such is our courage in adversity; and by how much the less affliction is expected, so much the more are we perplexed when it seizes upon us. The last day that shall strangely surprise the world in its deep security, is compared to lightning for its suddenness and terror. Our Saviour therefore plainly has foretold, that the cross is the appendix of the gospel, that it is the property of error to persecute, and the lot of truth to be persecuted: He counsels His disciples to imitate a wise builder, that computes the expense before he begins the fabric, lest having laid the foundation, and not being able to finish it, he be exposed to the just censure of folly. So Christians are to forecast the injuries and troubles they are likely to suffer for religion, lest when the tempest threatens, they shamefully desert it. And how heavy will their doom be? “The fearful”, that are not storm-proof and the liars, that openly renounce what they believe, and process what they do not believe “shall be with infidels, idolaters, and murderers, cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:8).
The special reasons why prosperity makes men so disposed to quit the truth in times of danger are because it weakens the principles from whence Christian magnanimity springs; and those are unfeigned faith and divine love. As in natural things, the formative virtue determines the matter to such a being and disposes to such operations in proportion to the principles from which it results: So in moral things, the soul is disposed and regulated in its actings correspondingly to its principles, and is either carnal or spiritual. The universal principle of carnal persons is to be happy here: their eyes are ever engaged upon, and their desires ever thirsting after sensual satisfaction: “Who will show us any good?” (Ps. 4:6). And by consequence their main care is to obtain and secure temporal things, the materials of their happiness. The supernatural principle of a saint is to please God, and enjoy His favour. As men believe they love, and as they love they live.
Unfeigned faith of the rewards of the gospel, is necessary to keep a Christian steady in his course, through all the storms and tides of this mutable world. “It is a faithful saying, ‘If we die with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him’” (II Tim. 2:12). The apostle usually prefaces with that strong assurance, “It is a faithful saying”, when the truth is of eminent importance, and contrary to the sentiments of carnal nature, “If we die with Him, we shall also live with Him”. Our Saviour dedicated martyrdom in His own person: His death was a ransom for us to God, and a sealing testimony of the gospel to men: “He witnessed before Pontius Pilate a good confession” (I Tim. 6:13). The terror of the Roman tribunal, nor the rage of the Jews, could not make Him retract the divine truth which He had so often declared, that He was the Son of God, come from heaven to save the world: and when the cross with its infamy and horror was in His view, He avowed His heavenly kingdom. And all those “who suffer with Him”, for His truth, and in conformity to His pattern, with His meekness and patience, His charity and constancy, shall reign with Him. And what is more powerful for the consolation and establishment of Christians, than that their sufferings for Christ shall end in glory. “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4).
The heathens despised the hopes of Christians as wretched illusions, and with impious scorn upbraided them for their constancy under persecutions. Unbelief is blind and cannot see beyond this world to the eternal state. But faith is the blessed redeemer, opens a prospect into the world to come, so full of glory, that no person that has an understanding and will to discourse and choose, if he steadfastly believes it, but must despise all the evils that the wit and strength of persecutors can inflict in comparison of it. “I reckon”, says the Apostle, “that the sufferings of the present life”, in all their kinds and degrees, “are not to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed” (Rom. 8:18). Enlightened Christians esteemed their sufferings for the cause of God, not arguments of His weakness, but His wisdom, to exercise and try their loyalty and cordial obedience before He rewarded them; and had reason to admire His providence, not to suspect His power and love. They knew that the power of tyrants could only reach the body, the vile, frail, and mortal part of man; but the precious soul was entirely exempted from their rage; and faith assured them of a glorious resurrection after death. The body of a martyr shall be revived as a phoenix out of its ashes; when the body of a persecutor shall be quickened, as a serpent out of a dunghill, the one to be glorified, the other tormented forever. The belief of this made them extremely valiant in the face of all their threatening cruel enemies. But “the evil heart of unbelief, causes a departure from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). He that suspects God’s fidelity in His promises, will suspend his own: nature will shrink at the first sight of imminent dangers. An infidel, that lives as if he were all body, and no immortal soul, judges the loss of the present life, and the comforts of it, as his utter undoing and total perishing. He has an appearance of reason to secure his present possessions, whatever becomes of religion; for he expects no future good that will infinitely more than countervail his present loss: and that prosperity inclines men to atheism and infidelity, has been proved before.
The love of God inspires believers with a heavenly fortitude, to endure the worse evils that may befall them for His sake. “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18), keeps its supremacy inviolate in the midst of the greatest dangers. Love is an active invincible affection, “as strong as death” (Song of Solomon 8:6), that none can vanquish. The love of God is a never-dying flame in the hearts of the saints, because it depends upon the unchangeable love of God to them. “We love Him, because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). Love esteems God as the greatest reward. A saint does not so much love God for heaven (though a place of inconceivable glory) as heaven for God, because He there reveals His perfections to His people. This holy love makes the Christians faithful and obsequious to Christ, and to prefer His honour incomparably before the present world. The martyrs of the divine courage were animated by this holy affection: they “loved not their lives unto the death” (Rev. 12:11), but cheerfully offered them as a sacrifice to His praise. Love kindled in them a sacred vehemence, in despising all the glittering temptations of the world. Love inspired them with a victorious patience, to blunt the edge of cruelty. They never repented the choice of His religion, but rejoiced when His glory was set forth by their ignominy, and when their love to Christ appeared in its radiancy and vigour through their sufferings. Live is the principle of constancy, by which religion reigns on earth, and is crowned in heaven.
On the contrary, when riches, honours, and pleasures, are the idols of men’s heads and hearts, the chief objects of their esteem and affections, they will sacrifice their souls rather than lose the world, their dear felicity. Therefore, John earnestly dehorts Christians, “Love not the World, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15): they are utterly inconsistent; partly because the heart cannot be entirely set upon contrary objects, and partly because love to the one requires what is directly contrary to love to the other. From hence James vehemently upbraids carnal professors, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). The Lord is the powerful star, whose aspect he regards, and though with the dishonour and displeasure of God, he will by irreligious compliance secure his temporal interests. The pure refined truth of the Gospel that has passed the fiery trial, he will corrupt and debase by carnal temperaments. The precious truth so dearly bought by the blood of martyrs, he will vilely sell for the things of this world. He will by degrees turn persecutor of those who steadfastly own the truth. The love of the world so strangely enchants and infects the mind, that a false religion which a man did abhor from, yet when recommended by secular advantages, will appear tolerable, then eligible, then necessary; and consequently the divine truth must be suppressed that contradicts it.
There are such frequent examples of this in every age, that to insist upon many particular instances, were to tell great numbers of the dead to prove that men are mortal. The young man that so earnestly addressed himself to Christ for his direction how to obtain eternal life, when commanded to “give all his estate to the poor, and to follow Christ” (see Matt. 19:21): He would not gain at so dear a rate celestial treasures, but went away sorrowful. Whereupon our Saviour declared with solemnity to His disciples, “Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven” (see Matt. 19:23). We read of two tribes of the Israelites, that chose their inheritance of this side of Jordan, and would not have a share in the land of Canaan: thus the earthly-minded prefer the present world, the object of their choice and love, before the heavenly Canaan. The ecclesiastical historian relates, that in the time of persecution by Decius, the rich men among the Christians, were most easily and miserably soiled: the love of the world was a dangerous earnest in their hearts, of their revolting back to pagan idolatry, and the bondage of Satan. And in the time of the Aryan persecution, how many who by their titles of office were specially obliged to be valiant for the truth and to contend earnestly for the faith; yet did accommodate their profession to their aspiring ambition and greedy avarice? The standard of their religion was the pitch of the state: they had a political faith, and appeared either orthodox or Aryan, as the public favour shined upon truth or heresy. They robbed our Saviour of the honour of His deity rather than part with their believed dignities and riches.
So powerful are worldly ties in those who mind earthly things. Great force is requisite to pluck up a tree that has its roots spread and deeply fastened in the earth; and it cannot be so entirely separated, but that part of the roots will be broken: thus when the affections are deeply set in the world, and by pleasures and riches fastened to it, how hardy is it rent from it! Every fibre of the heart is broken with sorrow, like Lot’s wife, when by an angel forced out of Sodom, yet cast a lingering affectionate look after it, and was turned into a pillar of salt. The separation is as bitter as the possession is sweet: and none are more unwillingly divorced from the world than those who enjoy the confluence of earthly happiness. Not when secular interest outweighs duty, when apparent danger induces to dent the truth of Christ; how terrible and unavoidable will be the punishment of that disloyalty? Our Saviour’s threatening is universal: “Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33). A most righteous and dreadful retribution: they denied Him as their Lord, and He denies them as His servants. They usurped the title of Christians, the relation of His disciples, and in the last day He will publicly disown them. When that sad sentence shall come from their judge, “Depart you cursed, I know you not,” what confusion, what anguish will seize upon them! They shall be banished from His glorious kingdom, excommunicated from His blessed society, and tormented with the rebellious angels forever. It is true, this universal and peremptory threatening, must be understood with an exception of those who after their falling away are restored by repentance. Sometimes a Christian that has deliberately and entirely devoted himself to Christ, that has sincerely resolved rather to part with his life, than that for which life is worth the enjoying; yet by strong temptations has been fainthearted and denied the truth: Like one that disannuls in the height of a fever, the will be made in his composed mind: But afterwards such have resumed new courage, and have, by enduring the sharpest sufferings, confirmed the truth, and ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot.
Lastly, the prosperity of sinners is the great temptation to delay repentance till their state is desperate. Nothing fills hell with so many lost souls, as the putting off repentance till hereafter. How many diseases would be cured in time, if they threatened present death? But their malignity being of a slow operation, they are despised as not worth the trouble of a cure until they are desperate. It is in spiritual diseases, as it is in those of the body: For sin that is a sickness unto death, might be prevented by speedy repentance; but many, not apprehending present danger, neglect the present remedy until they are ruined. “Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb. 3:15). The command respects the season as well as the duty. As our obedience must be entire without reserve, so it must be present without delay, even in our early age, and continued in the whole tenor of our life. The worm of conscience sometimes nips security, and there is a strange union of contrarieties in the breast of a sinner, that makes him inexcusable and uncurable. He complains of the bondage to his lusts, yet he takes pleasure of it; he is convinced it will be destructive, yet voluntarily continues in that sweet captivity. If conscience be troublesome, he pacifies it with an intention to reform hereafter, and thinks that a future repentance will be sufficient to prepare for a future judgment. And none are so easily and willingly deceived to their everlasting ruin by this pretence, as those who enjoy the present world. Prosperity makes them forgetful of the grave, and human vicissitudes, and hardens them in deep security. It was the divine prayer of Moses, “So teach us to number our days, as to apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Ps. 90:12), implying that the great cause of men’s destructive folly, is from not reflecting upon the shortness and uncertainty of their time here. Death is certain to the old, and life uncertain to the young. There are many back doors to the grave, and men are led surprisingly thither. The time of their residence here is fixed by the divine determination, and concealed from their eyes. How many in their youth and prosperity have presumed upon a long life, yet unexpectedly have returned to their Earth; as a wall covered with ivy, that falls on a sudden with its green ornaments, by its weight and weakness. The hour of death, is the hour of men’s destiny forever. There is no space of repentance in the interval between death and judgment; but the soul immediately after its departure, receives a decisive irrevocable doom, that is in part executed, and shall be public and entirely executed at the last day. Yet men boldly venture to continue in their pleasant sins, upon the forlorn hope of a season to repent hereafter. Astonishing enormous folly! As if they were assured of time, and the divine grace. And thus it is full proved how fatal and destructive prosperity is to the wicked.