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THE DANGER OF PROSPERITY
Deuteronomy 6:10-12. It shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee goodly cities which thou buildedst not, and houses full of good things which thou filledst not, and wells digged which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive-trees which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
WE cannot but notice in this passage the confidence with which Moses assured the Israelites respecting their ultimate success in reference to their occupation of the land of Canaan. They had not yet passed over Jordan; yet does he speak to them as if they were in full possession of the land: so certain was it that God would fulfil to them all the promises which he had made unto their fathers. At the same time, we cannot but be struck with the intimation which is here given of man’s proneness to ingratitude, and of the tendency of prosperity to deaden all the finer feelings of the soul. The caution which he gives them will lead me to set before you,
The natural ingratitude of man—
This will be found uniformly operating,
In relation to all his temporal concerns—
[We are struck with the peculiar goodness of God to Israel, in putting them into possession of so many blessings, for which they had never laboured. But, in truth, this was only an example of what he has done for man from the beginning of the world. Adam, when formed in Paradise, found every comfort prepared to his hand — — — And thus it is with every child that is born into the world. Every thing, according to his situation in life, is provided for his accommodation; and he has the full benefit of the labours of others, to which, of course, he has never contributed in the smallest particular. And through the whole of our lives we enjoy the same advantages; God having so ordained, that every man, in seeking his own welfare, shall contribute to the welfare of those around him. One man “builds houses;” another “fills them with good things;” another “digs wells;” another plants trees of different descriptions; and all, in following their respective occupations, provide accommodations for others, which it would have been impossible for them ever to have enjoyed, but for this ordination of God, who has made private interest the means of advancing the public welfare. The only difference between the Israelites and us, in this respect, is, that what they gained by a bloody extermination of the inhabitants, we enjoy in a sweet and peaceful participation with the lawful owners.
Now, of course, it may well be expected that we should trace all these blessings to their proper source, and be filled with thankfulness to God, as the author and giver of them all. But the evil against which the Israelites were cautioned, is realized amongst us, to a great extent: we rest in the gift, and forget the Giver. In as far as we have any thing to do in providing these things for ourselves, we run into the very same error against which they were cautioned; ascribing the attainment of them to our own skill or prowess, instead of regarding them altogether as the gift of God [Note: Deuteronomy 8:17-18.]. In this we do not merely resemble the beasts, but actually degrade ourselves below them: for “the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; whilst we neither know, nor consider,” nor regard, our adorable Benefactor [Note: Isa 1:2-3 with Jeremiah 2:32.].]
In relation even to the concerns of his soul—
[The deliverance of Israel from Egypt was typical of our deliverance from a far sorer bondage. But is it possible that we should ever be unmindful of that? Suppose it possible for man’s ingratitude to extend to all that Israel experienced in Egypt, in the wilderness, and in Canaan; is it possible that his depravity should be so great as to render him forgetful of all the blessings of redemption? Can it be, that man should forget what his incarnate God has done for him, in relinquishing all the glory of heaven, and assuming our fallen nature, and bearing our sins in his own body on the tree, that he might deliver us from the bondage of corruption, and bring us to the everlasting possession of an heavenly inheritance? Yes: it is not only possible, but certain, that men are as unmindful of this as they are of their obligations for temporal blessings: yea, it is a fact, that many are far more thankful for their temporal mercies, than for this, which infinitely exceeds them all. And to what shall we compare their guilt in this respect? It has been seen that their ingratitude for temporal blessings reduces them below the beasts: and I am not sure that their ingratitude for spiritual benefits does not reduce them below the fallen angels themselves: for, whatever the guilt of those unhappy spirits may be, this we know at least, that they have never poured contempt on One who had assumed their nature, and borne their iniquities, to deliver them. This is a depravity peculiar to man: and this is a depravity that has pervaded every child of man. And to what an awful extent it has prevailed in all of us, let the conscience of every one amongst us bear witness. The character of us all is but too justly depicted in these words; “When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful [Note: Romans 1:21.].”]
This increases, rather than diminishes, through the abundance of his mercies; as will be seen, whilst we point out,
The general effect of prosperity upon him—
The proper intent of God’s mercies is, to fill us with humility and thankfulness before him: but, through the corruption of our nature, success,
Inflates those with pride whom it should humble—
[This was its sad effect on Israel: who, as the prophet complains, “sacrificed to their own net, and burned incense to their own drag [Note: Habakkuk 1:16.].” And if we examine the general effect of prosperity amongst ourselves, we shall find, that success in business, and acquisition of honour, and elevation in society, are for the most part the fruitful parents of pride and arrogance and self-conceit. See how the purse-proud tradesman swells by reason of his wealth, as though he had been the author of his own success [Note: Compare Deu 8:17-18 before cited, with 1 Timothy 6:17.]; and how all his former servility is turned into a conceit of his own dignity, and a magisterial oppression of those below him [Note: Perhaps there exists not on earth, a stricter parallel between the Jews and us, than in the case of those who are elected Fellows in any of the Colleges of our Universities. Let the text be read in that view, and there will be found in it much profitable instruction to persons so circumstanced.]! — — — Yes, in truth, that saying is too often realized in every rank of the community, “Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked [Note: Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:18.].”
But can this ever be the effect of spiritual advancement? Of real piety it cannot: but of what assumes the shape of real piety, it may. Professors of religion, when they have acquired somewhat of a clearer knowledge of divine truth, are very apt to be puffed up with it, and to “become, in their own conceit, wiser than their teachers.” Hence it is, that so many set up for “teachers, whilst yet they understand not what they say, nor whereof they affirm:” and many, because they have some faint conception of what is spiritual, pour contempt on others as altogether carnal. To all such conceited professors I would say, “Be not high-minded, but fear:” “let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”]
Lulls into security those whom it should quicken—
[The effect of affluence, especially of that which has been acquired by labour, is, to diminish the industry that has obtained it, and to reduce its possessor to the state of the rich fool in the Gospel: “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, and be merry [Note: Luke 12:16-21.].” Indeed, ease is looked upon as the reward of industry; and the prospect of it is man’s greatest incentive to diligence. But success, instead of weakening, should rather operate to augment our efforts for further success: not from a covetous desire of advancement, but from a desire to enlarge our means of doing good. Wealth, with all its attendant influence, should be regarded as a talent, not to be hidden in a napkin, but to be improved for God.
And what should be the effect of increased views of divine truth, and of augmented confidence in God? Should not these things quicken us, and every communication of grace to our souls, stimulate us to activity in the service of the Lord? I say, then, let none of you, because of your prosperity, be “settled on your lees;” but let every blessing, whether temporal or spiritual, be employed as a motive for exertion, and as a means of honouring your heavenly Benefactor.]
Let me now address,
Those who have risen in the world—
[The example of David is that which you should follow. He, when assured by God that his kingdom should be established in his house to his latest posterity, “went in, and sat before the Lord, and said, Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto [Note: 2 Samuel 7:18.]?” Thus let your success operate on you. See the hand of God in it all; and acknowledge your own unworthiness; and adore that grace that has made you to differ from so many whose prospects were once equal to your own. And never forget, that prosperity is a snare which ruins thousands [Note: Proverbs 1:22.]; and that, if it makes your situation easier in this world, it obstructs your progress, even like clods of “clay upon your feet,” to the world above [Note: Compare Hab 2:6 with Heb 12:1 and Matthew 19:23-24.].]
Those who, by reason of adverse circumstances, have been reduced—
[How often has that which never could be effected by prosperity been produced by adversity. In prosperity, for the most part, we forget God; but “in the time of adversity we consider.” “In their affliction,” said God of his people of old, “they will seek me early:” “they will pour out a prayer, when my chastening is upon them.” And have you found it thus with you? Then, however painful your afflictions may have been, they call rather for congratulation than condolence. The prosperity of the soul is that which alone is of any real value. Look to it then, that, in whatever ye decay, ye grow in grace: and know, that if only ye keep your eyes fixed, not on things visible and temporal, but on those which are invisible and eternal, “your light afflictions, which are but for a moment, shall work for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 6". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13