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perity to such graceless souls? When God rains snares upon the wicked; when the affluence of this world is abused to satisfy their vicious desires, it is 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, and boldly vicious, yet are corrupted, and insensibly destroyed by it. They overvalue 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 the 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: whereas 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 an 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 the divine goodness: and incogitant practical atheism, is as destructive as absolute and speculative. And how many by the deceitfulness of riches, are apt to imagine, that they possess with dominion what they receive in
trust: they might 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.
It is 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, and humbly recommended to the divine blessing, from one who most unfeignedly desires the salvation of men's souls.
PROV. 1. 32.
IN the former verses, 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 ye simple ones will ye love simplicity? and fools hate knowledge?" Thus it is said of our Saviour, the incarnate wisdom of God, Mark 3. 5. " that he looked on the pharisees with anger, being grieved at the hardness of their hearts." We have also expressed, an earnest desire of their conversion, "turn ye at my reproof." And that is seconded by a gracious promise, "I will pour out my Spirit upon you," to illuminate and conduct you in the way of life. 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: "be
cause I have called, and ye refused, I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; I will also laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh: when your fear cometh as a whirlwind, when distress and anguish cometh upon you, then shall they call on 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." Vers. 24, 26, 27, 28, 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."
The title of fool, is the usual, character of the sinner in the language of Wisdom; and it is with great reason and congruity attributed to him, in opposition to prudence, 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 it is the effect of folly, not to foresee 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 woful, that loses the one, and exposes to the other. And this is justly charged upon every wilful 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.