The teaching of good judgment and knowledge will lead us to deprecate, instead of desiring, a prosperous state. But should the Christian, by the appointment of God, be thrown into the seductive atmosphere, he will feel the prayer that is so often put into his lips, most peculiarly expressive of his need, "In all time of our wealth—Good Lord, deliver us!" (Litany.) A time of wealth is indeed a time of special need. It is hard to restrain the flesh, when so many are the baits for its indulgence. Such mighty power is here given to the enemy, while our perception of his power is fearfully weakened! Many and affecting instances are recorded of the hardening of the heart even of the Lord's people, in the deadening influence of a proud and worldly spirit. But the fate of the ungodly is written as with a sunbeam for our warning, "When Jeshurun waxed fat, he kicked—I spoke to you in your prosperity; but you said, I will not hear." But how awful will be the period, when the question shall speak to the conscience with all the poignancy of self-conviction, "What fruit had you then in those things whereof you are now ashamed?" What is the end of this flowery path? "Death!" "Surely You set them in slippery places: You cast them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors" "the prosperity of fools shall destroy them."
Our Savior's allotment for His people, "In the world you shall have tribulation"—marks not less His wisdom than His love. This is the gracious rod, by which He scourges back His prodigal children to Himself. This is the wise discipline, by which He preserves them from the poisoned sweetness of carnal allurements, and keeps their hearts in a simple direction towards Himself, as the well-spring of their everlasting joy. With all of them this one method has been pursued. All have been taught in one school. All have known the power of affliction in some of its varied forms of inward conflict or outward trouble. All have found a time of affliction a time of love. All have given proof, that the pains bestowed upon them have not been in vain. Thus did Manasseh in affliction beseech "the Lord, and humble himself greatly before the Lord God of his fathers." Thus also in afflictions the Lord "heard Ephraim bemoaning himself;" and beheld Israel "seeking Him early," and the forlorn wandering child casting a wishful, penitent look towards his Father's house, as if the pleasures that had enticed his heart from home, were now embittered to the soul.
And thus the Christian can give some account of the means, by which his Father is leading and preparing him for heaven. Perhaps he did not at first see the reason. It was matter of faith, not of consciousness. But in looking back, how clear the path, how valuable the benefit, Before I was afflicted, I went astray: but now have I kept Your word. 'I never prized it before. I could indeed scarcely be said to know it. I never understood its comfort, until affliction expounded it to me. I never until now saw its suitableness to my case.' But what an heightened aggravation of guilt, when these especial mercies fail of their gracious end—when vanity, worldliness, and sin still reign with uncontrolled sway! Ah! when sinners are unhumbled "under the mighty hand of God"—when they are afflicted, and not purged by affliction—when it is said of them, "They received not correction"—it seems the forerunner of that tremendous judgment, "Why should you be stricken any more?"
Heavenly Father! keep Your poor, weak, erring child from this fearful doom. Let not that measure of prosperity, which You may be pleased to give, prove my curse. But especially let every cross, every affliction which You are pleased to mingle in my cup, conform me more to my Savior's image, restrain my heart from its daily wanderings, endear Your holy ways and word to my soul, and give me sweeter anticipations of that blessed home, where I shall never wander more, but find my eternal happiness in keeping Your word.
"Before I was afflicted I went astray." Partly, perhaps, through the absence of trial. Often our trials act as a thorn-hedge to keep us in the good pasture; but our prosperity is a gap through which we go astray. If any of us remember a time in which we had no trouble, we also probably recollect that then grace was low, and temptation was strong. It may be that some believer cries, "Oh that it were with me as in those summer days before I was afflicted!" Such a sigh is most unwise, and arises from a carnal love of ease: the spiritual man who prizes growth in grace will bless God that those dangerous days are over, and that if the weather be more stormy it is also more healthy. It is well when the mind is open and candid, as in this instance: perhaps David would never have known and confessed his own strayings if he had not smarted under the rod. Let us join in his humble acknowledgments, for doubtless we have imitated him in his strayings. Why is it that a little ease works in us so much disease? Can we never rest without rusting? Never be filled without waxing fat? Never rise as to one world without going down as to another? What weak creatures we are to be unable to bear a little pleasure! What base hearts are those which turn the abundance of God's goodness into an occasion for sin!
"But now have I kept your word." Grace is in that heart which profits by its chastening. It is of no use to plough barren soil When there is no spiritual life, affliction works no spiritual benefit; but where the heart is sound, trouble awakens conscience, wandering is confessed, the soul becomes again obedient to the command, and continues to be so. Whipping will not turn a rebel into a child; but to the true child a touch of the rod is a sure corrective. In the Psalmist's case the medicine of affliction worked a change—"but"; an immediate change—"now"; a lasting change—"have I"; an inward change—"have I kept"; a change Godward—"your word." Before his trouble he wandered, but after it he kept within the hedge of the word, and found good pasture for his soul: the trial tethered him to his proper place; it kept him, and then he kept God's word. Sweet are the uses of adversity, and this is one of them: it puts a bridle upon transgression, and furnishes a spur for holiness.