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any person, or family, expect that God should prosper them in the way they go, who will not so much as ask his protection and blessing. One may say, that such persons, such families, cannot prosper, or if they do for a while, it will be to their greater loss and sorrow.
Lastly; It is in great mercy to us, that God very often denies success to our labours. If, for instance, we are in a bad way, good success would but harden us, and encourage us to go on in sin; would but make us more wicked, and hasten our destruction. God is therefore undoubtedly merciful in hindering our succeeding in any evil way whatever. And if we are in a good way, and are in danger of abusing the favour of God, (which he only knows,) it must be owned to be the greatest goodness in him to disappoint us; neither to hear our prayers for success, nor to prosper our labours.
For most certainly it had been better for millions of people, who are gone to give an account to God for the evil use they made of his favours, if he had withholden them; if all their endeavours had been blasted with ill success; if they had wanted that abundance which they made so ill use of; if they had lived and died as poor and miserable in the eye of the world as Lazarus. And they And they will, in the words of a Christian poet,
Bless their poverty, who had
No reckonings to make when they are dead.
Ye ask, (saith St. James,) and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. lusts. And is it not a mercy not to be
heard, when men make such petitions? And does not God indeed answer our daily prayers, Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, when he denies us success in such things as he sees would really hurt us, and hinder our salvation?
The Wise Man's advice* would now seem very strange to most ears; Labour not to be rich; cease from thine own wisdom-for that will suggest to thee that riches are a mighty blessing; but, adds he, they will deceive thee at last: For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle towards heaven. And is not God kind to those whose wishes for riches and abundance he denies, and so prevents the greatest vexation which men suffer in being deprived of them?
But then if we consider what our Lord has made known to us, That riches are a mighty hindrance in our way to heaven; that it is the hardest thing in the world to have them, and not to trust in them; that they who receive all the good things in this world which their riches afford them will be tormented in the next. Whoever considers this, will be convinced, sure, that God is indeed merciful to all those to whom he denies that success which would be their everlasting ruin.
After all, as it is the most difficult thing in the world to persuade even the best Christians to believe this; and as there is scarce one in a thousand who will be convinced that there is so much danger as God has declared in having
• Prov. xxiii. 4.
our wishes for abundance fulfilled, God is therefore forced to disappoint those who fear him, and for whom he has greater mercies in store; and a time will come, when they shall see and confess the kindness of God, in denying them that success in all things which they so passionately desired and laboured for.
But are we not, therefore, to labour and pray for success upon our honest endeavours? Are we not to be careful in our business, and diligent in our callings? Yes; most certainly: God, from the creation, designed man for business; he put Adam into the garden of Eden, to dress and to keep it. And though we are taught to pray for our daily bread, yet every man is bound to do something towards obtaining it, or else he may starve, and ought to do so. If any man (saith the apostle) will not work, will not take some pains in his generation, neither ought he to eat.
And this will bring us, in the second place, to consider what are the most proper means to prevail with God so to bless our endeavours, as that they may prosper; and that we may be able to give a comfortable account of our time and labours to our great Master.
Our first care then must be, That whatever business we undertake be just; that it be in the way of our duty; that it be reasonable, and like to end well: for a man can expect no blessing of God, no good issue, if his aims are unlawful, if he is out of the way of his calling, or if he undertakes things at random, and without good grounds.
Our next care must be, that we undertake and pursue the works of our calling with a conscientious regard to God and to his laws; without which, we have no reason to expect his blessing, either upon our endeavours, or upon the fruit of our labours. At thy word (saith St. Peter) I will let down the net. So ought every Christian to say, At thy word, and because thou hast commanded me, I will be true and just in all my dealings; at thy word, and because I cannot hope to prosper without thy blessing, I will use no deceitful ways to increase my substance; I will be ruled by thy word, and not by my own corrupt desires, or by the practice or customs of an evil world; at thy will and word I will act, and at thy word I will forbear.
The apostle therefore justly rebukes those who are so foolish and wicked as to lay down projects of what they will do hereafter, without ever saying, if the Lord will-we will do this or that. And God himself threatens those with disappointment and bad success in all their undertakings, who trust in an arm of flesh, and neglect to call upon him for a blessing upon their labours.
As therefore we hope for his blessing, let us take the apostle's advice,* In every thing, in all the affairs of life, let your requests be made known unto God; that is, pray unto him, that whatever business you go about may be for his glory and your advantage; that he would direct you both in the choice of what is good, and in the way of doing it; ever remembering, that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.
• Phil. iv. 6.
By doing this, we consecrate all our labours to God; and without doing so, all that we do is profane; for it is doing it on presumption that we need not his help, his guidance, and blessing; but that we can do without them.
Lastly; As we hope to prosper in all our ways, we must shew that our dependence is upon God's blessing, not only by our words, but by our deeds; that is, by assigning a portion of our time, and of our labours, to his service: these being the only public acknowledgments that men can make of their dependence upon God, such as they can be sure will be accepted. For let a man spend never so much time in his private devotions, if notwithstanding he neglect to keep holy the Lord's day; and let a man be never so liberal to the poor, yet if he refuse to give the tenth to God, (for it is to God, and for his service it is given,) he has no testimony of his dependence upon God to shew; or that he owns that it is to the goodness of God that he is indebted for all his time, for the fruits of the earth, and the blessings of the seas.
This was what God required of his own people; and when once they began to think these proportions of their time and labours too much for God, they then found, by experience, that it was not time and labour that made men happy and prosperous, but the blessing of God upon such as obeyed his commands.
It is for this reason that Christians, as well as the Jews, are obliged to set apart one day in seven to think upon God, and to serve him, as one great means of obtaining and securing his