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THE

FOOL'S PROSPERITY;

A SERMON

PREACHED AT COVENT GARDEN:

PUBLISHED UPON OCCASION OF SOME OFFENCE AND

MISREPORTS.

THE

FOOL'S PROSPERITY.

PROV. i. 32, 33.

For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto me, shall be quiet from fear of evil.

The bounteous offers and vehement exhortations of Christ, here in this chapter, were accompanied with a foresight and prediction of their rejection, by many: yet doth not that prevent the offers and exhortations; but occasion the prediction of the calamity of the refusers. God will not go out of his way,

because the ungodly will not walk with him. He will do the part of a righteous Governor, though he foresee that men will not do the part of obedient subjects. But his primary end shall be attained upon the righteous, in the successes of his grace, as his secondary end shall be upon the disobedient, in the honour of his vindictive justice. This is the sense of the words which I have now read to you. Which, 1. Describe the ungodly. 1. By their present way of sin. 2. And by their future state of misery. Their sin is described by: 1. The occasion. 2. The act. 3. The habit. Prosperity and ease is the occasion : turning away from God, and rejecting his counsel, is the act; and folly, or simplicity, is part of the habit. Simplicity is here taken for sinful foolishness, and not, as it is often, for commendable sincerity. Whether you read it, the turning away, or the ease, of the simple, it is all one as to the scope that I shall now make of it, both being included as to the sense in the other words. Folly is mentioned both as the cause of their abuse of prosperity, and as the effect of prosperity so abused. Because they are fools, they turn God's mercies to their own destruction: and because they prosper, they are confirmed in their folly.

2. The words describe the godly. 1. By their obedience ;

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they “ hearken unto Christ." 2. By their privilege or reward ; they " shall dwell safely, and be quiet from fear of evil.” We shall begin with the first, and show you, 1. That it is

, so, that“ the prosperity of fools destroyeth them.” 2. How folly

" and prosperity concur to their destruction; or how prosperity befooleth and destroyeth them. 3. How we should all improve this truth to our best advantage.

1. Scripture and experience concur in proving the truth of the conclusion.

1. Though God tell us in his word of a difficulty that all

, must conquer that will be saved, yet it is a greater, extraordinary difficulty that he tells us of, as to the rich and prosperous in the world; such a difficulty as is pathetically expressed by this interrogation, (Luke xviii. 24;) “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” Such a difficulty as is expressed by his proverbial comparison ; (v. 25 ;) “ For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Such a difficulty as cast the hearers into admiration, and made them ask, (v. 26,) “Who then can be saved?” Such a difficulty as is to man an impossibility, (v. 27,) and leaves only this hope that, “ Things are possible to God, that are impossible to man.”

2. And though it is said of men indefinitely that it is but few that shall be saved ; yet is it noted of the rich and prosperous that it is few of them among those few, or few in comparison of other sorts of men, that shall be saved ; (Job vii. 48 ;) Have

any

of the Rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him ?” (1 Cor. i. 26 ;) “ For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the Aesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen; yea, and things that are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in his preserice.” And therefore Scripture speaketh in such general language, as if salvation had been almost appropriated to the poor, and the rich had been excluded, because of the rarity of their salvation ; (Luke vi. 24, 25 ;) “ But wo unto you that are rich ! for

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wo unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger: wo unto you that laugh now ! for ye shall mourn and weep.” (Jam. VOL. XVII,

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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 you 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 Ixxiii.; 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 heavenly 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 reli- . gion, 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 company 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 anong 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 ránk. 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 į po. verty, or want of a voluble tongue, or the inixtures 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

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