The Worldly Middle - by Dr. John OakesArticles on Christian Stewardship
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I have words to say namely, the poor, the rich, and those of you that are in a middle estate between both; and this by way of counsel and advice to you all.
1. One word to the poor.
2. Two words to the rich.
3. Three words to you that are in a middle condition betwixt both.
1. One word to the poor.—And this shall be a counseling, comforting, encouraging word. I will not now inquire, how poverty came upon you; whether it be the gift of God, —I mean, whether it came more immediately from the hand of Divine Providence,—or whether it be the effect and result of your own lusts,—of your profuseness and prodigality, of your sloth and idleness, of your gluttony and drunkenness. I will not inquire this at present, but leave it to yourselves to consider; only take it for granted, that poor, very poor you are, and, may be, upon this account despicable in the eyes of others, and miserable in your own. Now, my friends, that which I have to say to you in short is this: Be persuaded that the greatest misery of your present condition is, not (as possibly some of you may be apt to imagine,) that this your condition is pinching hard, and puffs heavy upon your fleshly part, and that, by reason of your poverty, you are the objects of scorn and derision in the world; but, indeed, the greatness of your misery, and the sadness of your condition, lies in this,— that it lays you open (without preventing grace) to many strong temptations to dishonour and neglect God and Christ and your soul, and so makes way for your being miserable in both worlds. May you but obtain wisdom from God to hearken to his calls, to hear his counsels, and accept of the gracious proffers of Christ and salvation by and through him, which proffers are made as freely to you as to any in the world! And then, admit your poverty to be continued, nay, increased upon you; yet it will be but for a very little ‘while; and thou, who with Lazarus art forced to lie at the rich man’s gate, and glad when thou canst get but the crumbs and fragments that come from his table, shalt be taken into Abraham’s bosom, (Luke xvi. 20—22,) and sit down at the right hand of God, where “rivers of pleasures for evermore;” (Psalm xvi. 11 ; xxxvi. 8) “Thou shalt “hunger no more, neither thirst any more ; neither the sun light on thee, nor any heat; but “the Lamb shall feed; and shall lead you unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from your eyes.” (Rev. vii. 16, 17.) For Lord’s sake, think of this. Things here below are but “for a little season,” (2 Cor. iv. 18,) whether they be good or evil and therefore not worth the minding, in comparison with “eternal things which are just before you.”
2. Two words to you that are rich.—And,
(1.) The first shall be that which you find, 1 Tim. vi. 17 : “( them that are rich in this world, that they be not high minded nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth richly all things to enjoy.” You have little reason to set a estimate upon yourselves, because God by the bounty of his providence hath lifted you up above your brethren; either if you consider who it is that hath “made you to differ,” and that you have nothing but what you have received, as the apostle upon another account expresseth it; (1 Cor. vii. 4) and received it, not as an absolute proprietor, to do -with what you have what you list; but, as God’s steward, to be laid out in the service of your Lord, who will shortly call you to a strict account, and will say, ” Give an account of thy stewardship ; for thou mayest be no longer steward;” (Luke xvi. 2) and that, the more you have, the greater is your debt, and the greater account you have to make. But that is not all: your riches and honours, which you are so apt to admire and dote upon, if God give you not great wisdom in the management of them, there will be sad riches, as they will be temptations to you to forget both God and yourselves, and render your salvation more hazardous, as you have heard. And if they should in this sense be for your hurt, you will shortly wish you had rather have been amongst the number of those that beg their bread at your door, than thus, as you do, coach it up and down, and lie upon your beds of ivory, and drink wine in bowls, and health and carouse it with your huffing companions. Read James v. 1—3: “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.” You that “trust” and pride yourselves in your “uncertain riches,” and live in the neglect of God and your souls, apply this to yourselves ; for it belongs to you.
(2.) A second word to you that are rich shall be that of Solomon: ” Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first-fruits of all thine increase.” (Prov. iii. 9.) Let it not offend your worships, that I become a humble monitor to you on this account. It is true, I have pointed at some of the inconveniences and evils that do attend, and are incident unto, your high condition; and upon an impartial view, I question not but you will find many more: but yet I must tell you that these are not inseparable concomitants. If God gives you his grace, and once brings you to submit to the conduct of his Spirit, (without which you are undone,) your riches may be so far from being hindrances, that they may become excellent helps and advantages in your way heavenward. O, if God gives you but hearts, how many opportunities may you enjoy for the good of your souls, that others cannot! Nay, how much good may you be instrumental to do to the souls and bodies of others! What influence may your examples of piety have upon others in the places where you live! How may you, even by your riches and greatness, be ” a terror unto evil-doers,” and a ” praise to them that do well!” (Rom. xiii. 3 ; 1 Peter ii. 14.) Rich and great men, if they be good and gracious, and lay out themselves for God and the good of others, are great blessings of the age. The Lord increase them!
3. Lastly. I have three words to you that are in a middle worldly condition.—-You have heard that your condition upon many accounts is the most eligible. Then I infer :—
(1.) See what interpretation you are to make of those providences that have put a check to your endeavors and graspings at great things in the world, and that you have greater reason to take this more kindly from the hand of God than you are aware of.—My beloved, I have known some that, through an overvaluing of things here below, have been reaching after great matters; and God, in the way of his providence, hath seemed to concur with their ambitious desires, placing them under such circumstances, giving them such a commodious seat, such a promising trade, that they have had a prospect of huge matters in the world, and have reckoned themselves, and said, “Well, in a few years I question not but I shall be a man,” as they sometimes phrase it: but, all on a sudden, some accident or other happens, that blasts all their hopes, and makes them take down their wide sails, that stood ready spread to receive a prosperous gale; and they are fixed, possibly, in a middle state,—neither very poor, nor ever likely to be very rich. And, O how hardly are such disappointments borne! much ado to comport with patience with such providences. Now do but consider what you have heard, and you will find that God was kinder to you than you were to yourselves. Are you sure that if you had not been stopped in your pursuit, it might not have been much, very much to your spiritual and eternal detriment?
(2.) Hence learn to be wiser for the time to come; moderate your affections to the things of this world.—” Seekest thou great thing for thyself? Seek them not.” (Jer. xlv. 5.) If God, in the way of thy calling and honest industry, bless thee in “thy basket and thy, store,” bless God for it, and, as you but now heard, labour to; honour God with what thou hast; but covet not inordinately the— things: “Be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Heb. xiii. 5.) |
(3.) Seeing Providence hath placed you in that condition that is truly most eligible, labour to answer if, and evidence it to so, by your proficiency and progress in holiness and godliness.-suppose thee at present to be in the way of life : if you be n( whatever your condition is, whether in a poor, rich, or middle estate let me say to thee, as the angel said to Lot, “Escape for thy life! look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain,” the Rock Christ Jesus, “lest thou be consumed (Gen. xix. 17.).” But, if thou art got into Christ, then let us say, “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in hi) rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” (Col. i 6, 7.) And remember, thou in thy condition hast fewer hindrances and temptations, and more helps and advantages, from the worldly condition that God hath set thee in. Up, and be doing; the Lord be with thee!
John Oakes, Puritan Sermons, Sermon 17 “Wherein is a middle worldly condition most eligible?” (Prov. 30:8-9) (Pages 414-416)