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(2.) 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. 2. 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 his 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 ye to it.” 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 the 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 whilst prosperous, are under their dominion,
(3.) 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; the 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, can not 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 gain the whole world and lose his own soul ?” But how few in hearing them, have found their souls that were lost in the corrupting vanities of this world? The most seen not to know they have immortal souls, whilst they live as if they had none. The reason is, they will not consider duly their invaluable worth, and the woful 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 reflections 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.
Secondly. 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 shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart, and suffer sin to lie upon him” 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 levelled 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 or friend supplies the duty of conscience. And (in this sense) “ woe be to him that is alone!" that wants 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 thy flesh and thy 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?” Prov. 5. 11, 12, 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, till 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 that 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 was an humble suppliant in his distress : « and Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto 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.” Exod. 9. 27, 28. This is set forth in a true and lively comparison by the prophet Jeremy : « as a wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffs up the wind at her pleasure : “ in her occasion, who can turn her away?" Jer. 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 :" it is in vain to pursue her then, but when she is bagged and heavy, 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.
7. Prosperity renders men averse to suffering for the sake of Christ, when they are called to give 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, and inconsistent with our duty to him.
" Then said Jesus to his disciples, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up
lis and follow me.” Mat. 6. 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 : 1 Cor. 1. 23. 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 carnał eyes, by the overshadowing train of his afflictions. And the “ cross of Christ," Gal. 5. Il. that 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, than that it was purchased by our Saviour's. The mind more willingly assents to the reasons of his sufferings, than 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 are 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.
.(1.) The living in pleasures and soft delicaey, enervates the masculine vigour of the spirit, and damps resolation, 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 secret sudden 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 to retire : like some, that apprehensive of the rising winds, will not venture any further in a boat, than that one oar may be on the shore, whilst the other strikes in the water. The timorous, when afflictions attend tire faithful profession of the gospel, usually are treacherous to God, to their souls, and to the truth. 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 : and by revolting from his service, they occasion such dishonourable unworthy conceptions of him, as if he were regardless of his suffering servants, and would not gloriously reward those who are faithful to the death, the seal of their loyalty and perseverance : 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, doth 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, that the professors of it do not think 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 cold pale ashes of distrustful fears, without any divine light or heat.
(2.) Prosperity makes men unthoughtful and careless of evils that may happen. “I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved.” Carnal joy, (the affection 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 lightening 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