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John Flavel :: First Season - How to Keep the Heart Humble in Prosperity

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A Saint Indeed by John Flavel

Twelve Particular Seasons, which Especially Call for this Diligence in Keeping the Heart

First Season - How to Keep the Heart Humble in Prosperity

First Season, “Is the time of prosperity, when providence smiles upon us, and dandles us upon its knee. Now Christian, keep thy heart with all diligence; for now it will be exceeding apt to grow secure, proud, and earthly, rara virtus est humilitas honorata, (saith Bernard) to see a man humble in prosperity, is one of the greatest rarities in the world. Even a good Hezekiah could not hide a vain-glorious temper under this temptation, and hence that caution to Israel: And it shall be when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware to thy fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities which thou buildest not, and houses full of all good things which thou filledst not…Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, Deuteronomy 6:10-12. And indeed so it fell out, for Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked, Deuteronomy 32:15.

Now then, the first case will be this, viz:

Case 1. How a Christian may keep his heart from pride and carnal security, under the smiles of providence, and confluence of creature-comforts.

There are seven choice helps to secure the heart from the dangerous snares of prosperity; the first is this,

1. To consider the dangerous ensnaring temptations attending a pleasant and prosperous condition; few, yea, very few of those that live in the pleasures and prosperity of this world, escape everlasting perdition. It is easier (saith Christ) for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 19:24; and, not many mighty, not many noble are called, 1 Corinthians 1:26. It might justly make us tremble when the scripture tells us in general, that few shall be saved; much more when it tells us, of that rank and sort of which we are, but few shall be saved. When Joshua called all the tribes of Israel to lot upon them for the discovery of Achan, doubtless Achan feared; when the tribe of Judah was taken, his fear increased; but when the family of the Zarhites was taken, it was time then to tremble. So when the scripture comes so near as to tell us that of such a sort of men very few shall escape, it is time to look about; Miror si potest servari aliquis rectorum, saith Chrysostom; I should wonder if any of the rulers be saved. O how many have been coached to hell in the chariots of earthly pleasures, while others have been whipped to heaven by the rod of affliction! how few, like the daughter of Tyre, come to Christ with a gift! how few among the rich entreat his favour!

2. It may yet keep us more humble and watchful in prosperity, if we consider that among Christians many have been much the worse for it. How good had it been for some of them, if they had never known prosperity! When they were in a low condition, how humble, spiritual, and heavenly, were they! but when advanced, what an apparent alteration hath been upon their spirits! It was so with Israel, when they were in a low condition in the wilderness; then Israel was holiness to the Lord, Jeremiah 2:3, but when they came into Canaan, and were fed in a fat pasture, then we are lords, we will come no more unto thee, Jeremiah 2:31. Outward gains are ordinarily attended with inward losses; as in a low condition their civil employments were wont to have a tang and savour of their duties; so in an exalted condition their duties commonly have a tang of the world. He, indeed, is rich in grace, whose graces are not hindered by his riches; there are but few Jehosaphats in the world, of whom it is said, He had silver and gold in abundance, and his heart was lifted up in the way of God’s commands, 2 Chronicles 17:5-6. Will not this keep thy heart humble in prosperity, to think how dear many godly men have paid for their riches, that through them they have lost that which all the world cannot purchase? Then, in the next place,

3. Keep down thy vain heart by this consideration, that God values no man a jot the more for these things. God values no man by outward excellencies, but by inward graces; they are the internal ornaments of the spirit, which are of great price in God’s eyes, 1 Peter 3:4. He despises all worldly glory, and accepts no man’s person; but in every nation, he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him, Acts 10:35. Indeed, if the judgment of God went by the same rule that man’s doth, we might value ourselves by these things, and stand upon them: but, as one said (when dying) I shall not appear before God as a doctor, but as a man; tantus quisquis est, quantus est apud Deum. So much every man is, and no more, as he is in the judgment of God. Doth thy heart yet swell? And will neither of the former considerations keep it humble?

4. Then fourthly, Consider how bitterly many persons have bewailed their folly when they came to die, that ever they set their hearts upon these things, and heartily wish that they had never known them—What a sad story was that of Pius Quintus, who dying, cried out despairingly, When I was in a low condition, I had some hopes of salvation; but when I was advanced to be a cardinal, I greatly doubted it; but since I came to the Popedom, I have no hope at all. Mr. Spencer also tells us a real, but sad story, of a rich oppressor, who had scraped up a great estate for his only son; when he came to die, he called his son to him and said, Son, do you indeed love me? The son answered, that nature, besides his paternal indulgence, obliged him to that. Then, said the father, express it by this; hold thy finger in the candle as long as I am saying a pater noster: The son attempted, but could not endure it. Upon that, the father broke out into these expressions, thou canst not suffer the burning of thy finger for me, but to get this wealth, I have hazarded my soul for thee, and must burn body and soul in hell for thy sake: thy pains would have been but for a moment, but mine will be unquenchable fire.

5. The heart may be kept humble, by considering of what a clogging nature earthly things are to a soul heartily engaged in the way to heaven; they shut out much of heaven from us at present, though they may not shut us out of heaven at last. If thou consider thyself under the notion of a stranger in this world, travelling for heaven, and seeking a better country, thou hast then as much reason to be taken and delighted with these things, as a weary horse hath with a heavy load: there was a serious truth in that atheistical scoff of Julian, when he took away the Christians’ estates, and told them, it was to make them fitter for the kingdom of heaven.

6. Is thy spirit, for all this, flatulent and loft y? Then urge upon it the consideration of that awful day of reckoning, wherein, according to our receipts of mercies, shall be our accounts for them: and methinks this should awe and humble the vainest heart that ever was in the breast of a saint. Know for certain, that the Lord records all the mercies that ever he gave thee, from the beginning to the end of thy life. Remember, O my people, from Shittim unto Gilgal…. Micah 6:4-5. Yea, they are exactly numbered and recorded, in order to an account; and thy account will be suitable. To whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required, Luke 12:48. You are but stewards, and your Lord will come to take an account of you; and what a great account have you to make, who have much of this world in your hands? What swift witnesses will your mercies be against you, if this be the best fruits of them?

7. It is a very humbling consideration, That the mercies of God should work otherwise upon my spirit, than they used to do upon the spirits of others, to whom they come as sanctified mercies from the love of God. Ah Lord! what a sad condition is this! Enough to lay me in the dust, when I consider,

First. That their mercies have greatly humbled them; the higher God has raised them, the lower they have laid themselves before God. Thus did Jacob, when God had given him much substance. And Jacob said, I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, and all the truth which thou hast shewed thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now am become two bands, Genesis 32:10. And thus it was with holy David, 2 Samuel 7:18. When God had confirmed the promise to him, to build him a house, and not reject him as he did Saul, he goes in before the Lord, and saith, who am I? and what is my father’s house that thou hast brought me hitherto? And so indeed God required, Deuteronomy 26:5, when Israel was to bring to God the first fruits of Canaan, they were to say, a Syrian ready to perish was my father…. Do others raise God the higher for his raising them? And the more God raises me, the more shall I abase him and exalt myself? O what a sad thing is this!

Second. Others have freely ascribed the glory of all their enjoyments to God, and magnified not themselves, but him, for their mercies: so David, 2 Samuel 7:26. Let thy name be magnified, and the house of thy servant be established. He doth not fly upon the mercy, and suck out the sweetness of it, looking no farther than his own comfort; no, he cares for no mercy except God be magnified in it. So, Psalms 18:2, when God had delivered him from all his enemies, The Lord (saith he) is my strength and my rock, he is become my salvation. They did not put the crown upon their own heads, as I do.

Third. The mercies of God have been melting mercies unto others, melting their souls in love to the God of their mercies. So Hannah, 1 Samuel 2:1, when she received the mercy of a son, my soul (saith she) rejoiceth in the Lord; not in the mercy, but in the God of the mercy. And so Mary, My soul doth magnify the Lord, my spirit rejoiceth in God my Saviour, Luke 1:46. The word signifies to make more room for God; their hearts were not contracted, but the more enlarged to God.

Fourth. The mercies of God have been mighty restraints to keep others from sin. So Ezra 9:13, Seeing thou, our God, hast given us such a deliverance as this, should we again break thy commandments? Ingenuous souls have felt the force of the obligations of love and mercy upon them.

Fifth. To conclude, the mercies of God to others have been as oil to the wheels of their obedience, and made them fitter for services, 2 Chronicles 17:5. Now if mercies work contrarily upon my heart, what cause have I to be afraid that they come not to me in love? I tell you, this is enough to damp the spirit of any saint, to see what sweet effects mercies they have had on others, and what sad effects on him.

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The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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