A Classic Study:

The Danger of Prosperity

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A Classic Study by William Bates (1635–1699)


[Here we continue a study by the eminent English Puritan William Bates, concerning the danger of prosperity. In this issue, Mr. Bates is continuing to enumerate some rules on how to properly manage prosperity.]—Ed.


The Danger of Prosperity, pt. 12


The prosperity of fools shall destroy them. (Prov. 1:32, AV). 


5.  A moderate use of worldly things is an excellent preservative from the evil of adhering to them.  It is a divine blessing to partake of the gifts of God with contentment and tranquility, and especially it is sweet to taste His love in them.  God gives to a man that which is good in His sight, such as wisdom, knowledge, and joy.  But the flesh is the devil’s solicitor, and persuades men with a freer fancy, and looser affections, to enjoy the world more than is consistent with the prosperity of their souls.  When Diogenes observed with the many sick and languishing persons, the hydropick, consumption, and other diseases, which people brought to the temple of Asculapius for recovery, and that after their sacrifices they made a luxurious feast, he cried out, ‘Is this the way to recover health?’ If you were sound, it is the speedy and effectual way to bring diseases, and being diseased, to bring death to you.  It is applicable in the higher sense: the intemperate use of sensual delights, weakens the life and vigor of the soul in a saint, and certainly brings death to diseased souls, who habitually indulge their corrupt affections.  The apostle says of the licentious woman, “She that lives in pleasure is dead while she lives” (I Tim. 5:6): An allusion to a torch that is consumed by its own flames.  Sensual lusts are cherished and pampered by prosperity, and the carnal heart overrules the whole man.  Our Savior charges His disciples to beware surfeiting and drunkenness.  The indulging of lower appetites is natural to men, but chiefly incident to those in prosperity.  The great care of such should be to use worldly things with that modesty and measure that the divine part of the soul may be untainted by them: that it may neither over value nor over delight in them.  The first degeneracy of man is by sensual satisfaction.  This expelled him from paradise, and keeps him out ever since.  The excess of pleasures darken the mind, stupefy the conscience, extinguish the radiance and vigor of the Spirit.  Wine and women take away the heart.  The apostle speaks of those who are abandoned to pleasures, who are past feeling, without a quick and tender sense of their sin and danger.  That we may not in an unlawful degree use lawful things, we should always be ordered by the principles of fear and restraint, not indulging ourselves to the utmost of what may seem allowed. For, to be upon the confines of sin, exposes us to be easily overthrown the next gust of temptation.  It is a divine command that Christians should rejoice, as though they rejoiced not, and as though they possessed not, and use the world as not abusing it.  A Christian should converse with the world as a carnal person converses with heaven: he prays for spiritual blessings with that coldness, as if he had no desire to be saved. Such an indifference of the Spirit in outward enjoyments is our duty and safety.  It is a prodigious disorder, and the great cause of the sins and miseries of men, that their affections are lavishly wasted upon their trifles.  Their love, desires, and delights are let forth in their full vigor to the honors, riches, and pleasures of this world, but are wretchedly remiss to spiritual and eternal things.  They would enjoy the world as their heaven and felicity, and use God for their necessity.  And thus by embracing vanishing shadows, they lose the most substantial and durable good.  It is a point of great wisdom to consider the several respects of temporal things, as they respect our sensitive part, and the present life, and as they respect our souls and the future state, and to use them, that the outward man may be a more active and ready instrument of the soul in working out our own salvations. 

6. Let the favor of God, and communion with Him be most precious and joyful to us in the midst of prosperity.  The highest esteem and most ravishing apprehensions of God, the dearest delight in Him, as the most excellent suitable good, and in whom the soul has the most intimate propriety, is the honor due to His incomparable perfection.  The holy Psalmist often declares His transcendent valuation, and enflamed affection towards God: “How precious are Thy thoughts unto me O God! How great is the sum of them? If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand; when I awake I am still with thee” (Ps. 159:17,19), as if he breathed not oftener than he thought of God with reverence and complacency.  Thus also he despises all that carnal men pursue with violent desires, in comparison of God’s favor, “There be many that say, ‘Who will show us any good?’” (Ps. 4:6), that is, a sensual good, for nothing is pleasant to them, but what appears in a fleshly fashion. “Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us.  You have put gladness upon my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased” (Psalm 4:6-7).  The carnal man, who is a stranger to spiritual joys, has a sweeter relish of carnal things, than a saint that has a new nature, which deadens the appetite to dreggy delights: And in the vintage and harvest, there is a spring tide of carnal joy. Yet David feels a more inward joy and cordial contentment in the fruition of God’s favor, than a natural man has in the flower of his worldly felicity.  Nay, he prizes the favor of God before life itself, which is our most precious possession in this world:  “Thy loving kindness is better than life, therefore my lips shall praise Thee” (Psalm 63).  Communion with God is the beginning of heaven, and differs from the fullness of joy that is in the divine presence above, only in the degrees and manner of fruition, just as the blushes of the morning are the same light with the glorious brightness of the sun at noon day.  The natural man is averse from this heavenly duty, and most in prosperity.  It is the observation of holy Job: “They spend their days in wealth;... therefore they say to the Almighty, depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways” (Job 21:13,14).  It is the malignant property of worldly things to deface the notions, and cause a disrelish of sublime and spiritual things.  The objects that pleasantly affect the carnal faculties, draw the soul from God.  This is the principal and universal temptation of the present world, by the corruption of our hearts, and never so dangerous as in our prosperity.  It is a rule in building, that chief care must be taken for the contriving of windows, for the transmission of a liberal light to refresh the inhabitants.  Now, to build in a plain where the heavens are open on all sides, and the pure light shines, it is easy to make the house convenient: But to raise a luminous fabric in a city thick set with houses, and strained for room, requires art, and the building must be higher. Thus, a person that is surrounded with honors, riches and pleasures of the world, which are so apt to darken the soul and exclude the influences of heaven, has need of holy skill to preserve a free communication with God, and to be always receptive of His grace.  Then holy duties should be frequent and fervent, wherein the soul ascends to God by raised desires, and God descends into the soul, by the operations of His sanctifying and comforting spirit.  And as we see in nature, the flowers of every kind open their leaves to rising sun, to be revived with his vital heat; so we should every day open our hearts to God in prayer and praises.  And since all His mercies invite and conduct us to the blessed author, and temporal benefits are sensible arguments of His love, those who most richly enjoy them are obliged infinitely more to value and delight in the giver, than in the gifts themselves.   If the heart be set upon riches, which it is very apt to be when they increase, or upon pleasures, God is neglected and vilified.  And though many are not openly vicious and profane, yet so pleasantly the things of the world insinuate into their affections, that they cannot taste how good the Lord is (a sad indication of their unregenerate state), for the divine nature in a saint inclines him to God as his supreme good, his only treasure and exceeding joy; and as soon as he begins to breathe the life of holiness, he dies to the vanities of the world.  And when prosperity alienates the heart from God, it is surely as destructive, as when it draws forth the sensual appetites into exorbitant and foul actions.  A consumption kills as surely as a calenture.  Those who abuse the favors of God to impiety and luxury, throw themselves headlong into the bottomless pit, and those who in their abundance are remiss and cold towards God, gradually descend thither.  For God will not be our joy forever in heaven, if He be not our exceeding joy upon the Earth. 

But when in the midst of prosperity, the soul is filled with a noble admiration of the divine excellencies, when it tastes incomparably more sweetness in the love of God, from whence outward blessings are derived, than in the things themselves, when the chief joy arises from the contemplation of his favor in Christ, whereby we are pardoned and preferred to be His brethren, co-heirs with Him of the immortal and undefiled inheritance, then we know how to abound.  Our Savior commands His disciples not to rejoice that Spirits were subject to them, though an admirable testimony of His favor, but that their names were written in heaven.  Much less should this perishing world be the matter of our joy, in comparison of our title and the blessed hope of heaven.  Spiritual joy purifies and fortifies the soul against the ensnaring and corrupting allurements of the world.  “The joy of the Lord is their strength” (Neh. 8:10), that of which He is the author and object, is both productive and preservative of the vigor of the soul, to resist the charms of the world.  It is said of Orpheus, when he passed by the Sirens, who by their charming voices subdued men to sleep and then destroyed them, that he played on his harp and his harp, and the sweet sound, made him despise their singing, and prevented the danger.  The fable is fitly moralized: Joy in the Lord, as our portion, and that infinity sweetness that is in communion with Him, makes such an impression upon the soul, that the ensnaring and destructive pleasures of the world are abhorred in comparison with them.  That firm peace and pure joy passes the understanding, our most comprehensive faculty; whereas all the pleasures of the world do not satisfy our senses.