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is in the throne, when prosperity with its gaudy allurements is esteemed as our happiness, and adversity is abhorred as the worst misery. The wise man instructed by dear experience, tells us, “it is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting : for that is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance, the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Eccles. 7. 2, 3, 4. Prosperity irritates and fortifies the sensual vile affections, the pleasing of which is fatal to the * soul. As it is observed by the natural historian, that the sparkling colour and delicious relish of wine, tempts men to drinking without thirst, and from intemperance, innumerable diseases flow.
Prosperity diverts the mind from considering the things that belong to our eternal peace, and the will from consenting to them. The thoughts are so scattered abroad, that few are left at home, duly to ponder the miserable effects of sin. Now in this the rules of natural and spiritual medicine agree, that one extreme is to be cured by another. The devil cruelly destroys the souls of men by the pleasures of sin ; † and God, the wise and compassionate physician, recovers them by bitter sorrows, the most congruous and powerful means for that blessed effect.
Affliction makes us retire within our hearts, and shuts out the noisy throng of worldly distracting objects; and then truth and conscience, that were under unrighteous restraints, will break the fetters, and speak loudly and terribly to the sinner. Affliction fixes the mind upon those objects, that duly considered, are able to terrify the most determined and resolved sinner. There is no man so prodigiously bad, so perfectly a brute, but has at times some twinges of conscience, some workings in his spirit, some desires of salvation. Even Balaam, who in the judgment of the angel was more stupid than the ass he rode on, yet had some springings in his heart towards heaven; “O that I might die the death of the righteous, and my last end may be like his :"
* Vigo debimus quod etiam non sitieptes bibimus. Plin.
† Nemo venenum temperat felle & elleboro, sed conditis pulmentis id mali injicit. Ita diabolus letale quod conficit, rebus gratissimis & acceptissimis imbuit. Tert.
but these are fleeting and variable, and so weak in comparison of the opposite desires of the flesh, while prosperity continues, that they prove abortive. Now affliction deadens the flaming edge of the affection to vanity. When the sinner feels the truth of the divine threatening, then he is effectually convinced of the evil of sin, and understands, by the beginning of sorrows here, what the issues will be hereafter, and retracts his foolish choice. In the time of affliction, « our sins find us out;" and it is most likely we shall then find our sins out, and with repenting tears acknowledge them, and with hatred renounce them.
Now the consideration of the designed benefit by afflictions, should reconcile them to our wills, and persuade us, with patience and thankfulness, to accept of them as the testimonies of God's peculiar favour. Our Saviour declares, “ as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous and repent.” Rev. 3. God is often most angry, when he makes no sensible discovery that he is so: thus he threatens the rebellious Jews, “ I will make my fury towards thee to rest, and my jealousy shall depart from thee, and I will be quiet, and will be no more angry:" Ezek. 16. 42. implying a final divorce, a leaving them to their impure idolatries, without more correction. If there be such a hardness of heart as the fire cannot melt, such a rust that the fire cannot purify, God will not waste his judgments on such desperate sinners. He withdraws his chastising hand, as hopeless of their amendment, and that desertion is a fatal signature of reprobation. And on the contrary, many times God's love is most tender and compassionate to us, when to sense there is the least evidence of it. Even the heathens, * in the twilight, between the darkness of idolatry, and the light of nature, discovered that afflictions were the privilege of those that are singularly beloved of God. And christians have a more sure word for their instruction, “whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourgeth every son whom he receives.” Heb. 12. There is not a stronger evidence of his fatherly wise love, than the discipline of the rod; and the afflicted returning sinner may, with an adoptive assurance come to the throne of grace. By afflictions the world is less enticing and hurtful to us, and heaven is more amiable and desirable: the things that are seen, are vilified and distasted ;
+ Senec. de providentia,
and invisible things are sought with our highest esteem and respect, and zealous endeavours. Those lusts that spring, and grow, and flourish in prosperity, are blasted and wither, and die in adversity. * Those who forget God when prosperous in the world, are taught by the voice of the rod to adore his majesty, obey his laws, imitate his holiness, and humbly to accept of his mercy. By afflictions the sensual appetites are subdued, and brought into order ; a low state, is a protection from many strong and destructive temptations. † Sickness that brings near the grave, and makes us feel how frail we are, renders the world despicable, that by their lusts so powerfully infatuates men to their ruin. Sanctified affliction, is a happy preparative for the fulness of joy in the blessed presence of God. The first to whom our Saviour promised the rest and joy of paradise, was the companion of his cross.
Let us therefore, with free judgments, and sincere affections, make an estimate of all sensible things, not judge ourselves to be in the favour of God, by the good things received here, nor under his wrath by evil : let us not be surprised at the prosperity of the wicked, nor shaken at the afflictions of the godly, but regulate our thoughts by the unerring wisdom of God, so clearly revealed in his word. I He is propitious, when he denies or takes from us those temporal enjoyments that we are apt to abuse; and severe when he bestows them, and seems to indulge men's carnal affections. It is but a little while, and the pleasures of sinners; and the afflictions of the saints, will end in a state directly contrary to what is enjoyed or suffered here. “ With God a thousand years are but as one day:" the world is not of a week's standing in the divine account: he measures all things by eternity: the vessels of mercy are by sanctified afflictions made fit for eternal glory. “The vessels of wrath are by the abuse of his bounty and patience, fitted for eternal destruction."
In the last place, From hence we should be warned to be always circumspect to avoid the evils that usually attend prosperity,
Inter adversa inelior. Tacit.
+ Optimos nos esse dum infirmi sumus.
Plin, lib. 3.
Propitius Deus cum male amamus, negat quod amamus: iratus autem dat amanti quod male amat. Aug.
to improve it to our eternal advantage. Prosperity is not like an infected garment, that transfuses a contagious malignity into every one that wears it. A person that is rich and honourable, and in power, may not only be a saint, but the more a saint by his dedicating and employing the gifts of God to his glory, and the public good. It is a point of high and holy wisdom, and only taught in the school of heaven, how to manage the opposite states of the present life, so as not to be vainly swelling in pros. perity, nor broken and flagging in adversity, but to preserve an equanimity, a constant and composed mind, the blessed imitation of the divine unchangeableness. St. Paul saith, without vain arrogance, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where, and in all things I am instructed, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Phil. 4. 12. It was a secret of spirit, not learned from men, but from the holy Spirit of God. In some respects it is a more difficult exercise to manage prosperity than adversity. Many are like Hannibal, victorious in arms, whilst conflicting with adversity, and vanquished by enticing pleasures. It is observed of the lamps in some of the Roman tombs, that have burnt for many ages, and are bright whilst kept close, that as soon as they are opened to the air, a breath of wind extinguishes them : thus the virtues of some shine in a low retired condition, when there are no temptations, no occasion of quenching them but when brought forth into the open world, and should appear in conspicuous operations, their virtues are of so weak and consumptive a spirit, that, the light expires and dies. Even, the piety of David was chilled by prosperity. It is said, with an emphasis, concerning Jehoshaphat, that he “ walked in the first ways of his father David :". 2 Chron. 17. 3. intimating that his religion was not so exact when he was in the throne, as in his banishment. io
It is equally excellent as difficult. To be holy and heavenly in the midst of sensual tempting objects, is the clearest discovery of the truth and power of divine grace, of the piety, ingenuity, and generosity of the christian spirit. Humility and modesty in a low condition,' are not so praise-worthy, as the absence of them is odious: but humility in a state of honour, is more illustrious than the splendour of external dignity. Temperance in a cottage, where are only supplies of hunger and thirst, seems
rather the effect of necessity, than of wise choice: but to be temperate when abundance and variety tempt the sensual appetites, when the sparkling colour and delicious relish of the purest wines tempt the fancy and the palate, is virtue in height and excellency. To be pious, and weaned from the world in afflictions, is no wonder ; but in prosperity and power to be serious in religion, and despise the splendid vanities of the world, is virtue of a superior order. * What is observed of the perfuming gums of Arabia the happy, is applicable in this matter : those that distil freely from the tree, excel in purity, in fragrancy, and value, what comes from it when the bark of it is cut. Thus obedience that comes from the heart in love with God for his benefits, is more valuable and precious than what is the effect of compulsion, that comes from the heart wounded with terrors in adversity.
I shall add farther, the using prosperity aright is most comfortable. The love of God can sweeten afflictions, and make a dinner of green herbs as savoury as if they grew in paradise : and it gives a quick and high taste to all our temporal blessings. When his love is conveyed and sealed to us by the gifts of his providence, we have the purest enjoyment of them. Now when prosperity is made subservient to his glory, when it endears obedience to us, we have an infallible testimony it is from his special favour to us.
The rules how to manage prosperity for our everlasting good, are,
1. Let us preserve an humble sense of our original meanness, continual frailty, and sinful unworthiness in the midst of prosperity. Men are apt to be high-minded, and to cherish undue conceptions of their worth when raised in the world : as if they were not as inferior to the majesty of God, and as liable to his impartial justice as others: they lose the knowledge of themselves in a mist of vanity. This provokes “ the high and holy One that inhabits eternity,” to blast them in their most flourishing and secure state, and convince them how deceitful and insufficient the grounds of their pride are. “ He puts them in fear, that they may know themselves to be but men.” Psal. 9. There
* Sponte manans pretiosior sudor est, elicitus corticis vulnere vilior ja