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ii. 5, 6.) “ 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? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw
before the judgment seats? Do they not blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called ?" And therefore when Christ would describe a wicked, miserable man, he doeth it in these words, (Luke xvi. 19, “ There was a certain rich man which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day.” And, (Luke xii. 16, 19;) “ The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully," &c. And when he would describe a godly, happy man, he doeth it under the name of Lazarus. (Luke xvi. 20.) Judge now by the success, as it is discovered in the Scripture, what good prosperity doth to fools,
I might turn you to David's observations in Psalm xxxvii. and lxxiii.; and mind you why it is that Christ himself went before us in a state of chosen poverty ; (2 Cor. viii. 9 ;) and why his disciples followed him in this tract; and why he called them so much to deny and forsake the riches of the world, and tried them so oft by selling all, and following him in hopes of a hea. venly reward. But the point is evident in what is said in my text, and these annexed testimonies,
2. But yet to make you more apprehensive of it, I shall adjoin the testimony of experience: and tell me whether prosperity be not the destruction of fools, when you have noted the fruits of it in these few observations.
1. Where do you find less serious care and labour for salvation than among the prosperous great ones of the world? What abundance of them are dead-hearted, senseless, disregarders of everlasting things! What abundance of them are of no religion, but the custom of their country and the will of their superiors, which are their Bible, their law and gospel, and their creed! What abundance of them are addicted to that worship which Christ pronounceth vain, which is measured by the traditions of men, and consisteth merely in ceremonious shows ! How few of them are acquainted with the spiritual worship of that God who, being a Spirit, can accept no worship but what is spiritual. Alas! poor souls, they drown their reason in sensuality, and are fed as for the slaughter, and think not seriously whither they are going till prosperity hath ceased to deceive them, and Satan is content to let them see that they have lost and he hath won the game. They are of the religion described by the apostle, (1 Tim. vi, 5,) that taketh gain for godliness; but if godliness must go for gain, they will have none. To oppress their tenants, and devour widows' houses, and cloak it with a long pharisaical lip-service, or wipe their mouths with some customary complimentary prayers, and offer God to be a sharer in the prey, this is the commonest religion of the rich. But they cannot endure to be so pure as to devote themselves to God in that pure and undefiled religion which visiteth the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and keepeth men unspotted from the world. (James i. 27.) What houses or com-. pany can you go into, where religion is more bitterly derided, more proudly vilified, more slanderously reproached, or more ingeniously abused and opposed, than among the rich and fullfed worldlings?
And if there be here and there a person fearing God among them, he passeth for a rarity or wonder. And a little religion goes a great way, and is applauded and admired as eminent sanctity, in persons of the higher rank. If a poor man or woman dwell, as it were, in heaven, and walk with God, and think, and speak, and live by rule, it is scarce regarded ; poverty, or want of a voluble tongue, or the mixtures of unavoidable frailties, or some imprudent passages that come from the want of a more polishing culture and education, doth make their piety but matter of jesting and reproach to the Dives of the world; but if a lord, or knight, or lady, have but half their piety, humility, and obedience to God, how excellent are they in their orb! Nay, if they do but countenance religion, and befriend the servants of the Lord, and observe a course of cold performances, with the mixture of such sins for which a poor man should be almost excommunicate, what excellent religious persons are they esteemed ?
2. What families are worse ordered, and have less of serious piety, than the rich? If our splendid gallants should be desired to call their families constantly to prayer; to instruct them all in the matters of salvation; to teach them the word of God with that diligence as is commanded, Deut. vi. 11, and to help them all in their preparations for death and judgment; to catechise them, and take an account of their proficiency, to curb profaneness and excess; and to say, with Joshua, (xxiv. 15,) “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord;" how strange and precise a course would it seem to them! Should they purge their families of ungodly servants, and imitate David, (Psalm ci,) that would not let the wicked dwell in his sight; should they spend the Lord's days in as serious endeavours for the spiritual benefit of their families and themselves, as poor men do that fear the Lord, what wonders of piety would they seem!
3. In their entertainments, visitations, and converse, how rare is serious, holy conference among them! How seldom do you hear them remembering their guests and companions of the presence of the Holy God, of the necessity of renewing, confirming, and assisting grace; of the riches of Christ revealed in the gospel ; of the endless life of joy or misery which is at hand. How seldom do you hear them seriously assisting each other in the examining of their hearts, and making their calling and election sure, and preparing for the day of death and judgment! A word or two in private with some zealous minister or friend, is almost all the pious conference that shall be heard from some of the better sort of them. Should they discourse as seriously of the life to come, and the preparation necessary thereto, as they do about the matters of this life, they would mar the mirth and damp the pleasure of the company, and be taken for self-conceited hypocrites, or men of an unnecessary strictness and austerity, inconsistent with the jocund lepidity and sensual kind of delight wherewith they expect to be entertained. The honest, heart-warming, heavenly discourse that is usual among poor serious Christians, would seem, at the tables of most of our great ones, but an unseasonable interruption of their more natural and acceptable kind of converse.
4. What men do more carelessly cast away their precious time than these Dives do? They think they have a license to be idle and unprofitable, because they are rich; that is, to abuse or hide their talents, because they have more than other men ; forgetting that, to whom much is given, of them shall much be required. Because they have no poverty or family necessities to constrain them to a laborious life, they think they may lawfully take their ease, and live as drones on other men's labours, as if they owed nothing to God or the commonwealth, but all to their own flesh. Their morning hours, which are most seasonable for meditation, and holy addresses unto God, and the works of their calling, are, perhaps, consumed in excess of sleep: the next are wasted in long attiring and curious adorning of their flesh; from thence they pass to vain discourse, to needless recreations, to eating and drinking, and so to their vain talk and recreations again, and thence to the replenishing of their bellies, and so to sleep : and thus the words of the fool, that Christ describeth in Luke xii. 19, are turned by them into deeds, and it is the language of their sensual lives; “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years ; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” Sleeping and sporting, and jesting, and idle talking, and eating and drinking, and dressing and undressing, with worldly cares and passions intermixed, are the very business and employment of their lives. Thus contemptuously do they waste their precious hours, while God stands by, and time makes haste, and death draws near, and their miserable souls are unprepared, and heaven or hell are hard at hand; and this is all the time of preparation that ever shall be allowed them. O do but look on these distracted, piteous souls that have but a short, uncertain life to provide for a life that hath no end, and see how they forget or senselessly remember the matters of infinite concernment! See how they trifle away that time that never will return! How they sport and prate away those hours which shortly they would recal, were it possible, with the loudest cries, or recover with the dearest price! When they know not but, in a laughter, or a merry jest, their breath may be stopped by an arrest from heaven; or justice may surprise their miserable, unready souls with the cards in their hands, or the cup at their mouths, when they have not the least assurance of being out of hell an hour, and yet can sell this time for nothing, and basely cast it away on toys, which is all that ever they shall have to prevent everlasting misery, or to procure everlasting joy. Stand by a while, and hearken to the discourse of sensual gallants, and mark how days and weeks are spent, and then tell whether the prosperity of such fools be not made the occasion of befooling and destroying them?
5. What men in the world do live so sensual a life as rich and prosperous worldlings live? the difference between the sanctified and the unsanctified, the children of God and of the devil, is, that one of them liveth after the Spirit, and the other liveth after the flesh, as in Romans viii. to ver. 14, you may read at large. And how few of these Dives do think the damning sin of flesh-pleasing to be any sin in them at all? If they do not eat till they are sick, or drink till they are drunk, their consciences scarce control them in their voluptuousness : they never well understood the meaning of such passages as these ; (Rom. xiii. 14;) “Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the (desires or) lusts thereof.” (Rom. viii. 13.) “If ye live after the flesh ye shall die.” (1 Cor. ix. 27.) “I keep under my body and bring it into subjection,” &c. They understand not how far the flesh is their enemy; or else (as they have verbally renounced it) they would use it as an enemy.
6. In their prosperity these fools have not the wit to love or bear the means of their preservation or recovery. They have the sorest maladies, and are most impatient of the remedies. They are in the stream of temptations, and have greater need of help than others; and yet there is none that reject it with more contempt and pride. Plain-dealing preachers, which honest humble souls delight in, do seem intolerable saucy fellows to these sons of pride. If we tell them but of the sin that God hath most plainly condemned in his word, or of the judgment which he hath there denounced, and make the most prudent and modest application of it unto them, we seem to wrong them, and stir up their pride and enmity against us, and provoke them to slanderous recriminations, or revenge. It troubles them not to commit it, or to keep it, but to hear of it; and they take us to be more faulty for adınonishing them of it, than themselves for being guilty of it. Though we are by office the mes-, sengers of Christ, that will tell them of it shortly to their faces, and fear not the proudest son of Belial, yet are they too stout to be admonished by such as we, but reject our message with hatred and disdain. And, indeed, it is a wonder of mercy that the prevalency of this impatient guilt and malice hath not, ere this, turned plain and faithful preaching into some toothless formalities, or homilies, and silenced the preachers for the security of the offenders; and expelled the physicians lest they displease the sick. The Lord still prevent it. If we tell them with the greatest caution but of the necessary truths, without which a sinful soul is never like to be humbled or saved, we are taken to be turbulent, and injurious to the ease or honour of these auditors. They must hear of the necessity of regeneration and holiness, and of the weight and worth of things eternal, and yet they cannot bear to hear it. They must leave heartsearching and heart-breaking truths, in a searching, awakening manner, brought home to them, if ever they will be saved by them; but they cannot endure it. The surgeon is intolerable that would search their sores ; and yet there is no other way to heal them. Alas! the heart of man is so hard, that all the skill and industry of the preacher can scarce sufficiently sharpen and set home the truth that it may enter; but nothing that is sharp can be endured by these tender souls. Such language as Christ