A posing question, put by the wise man, viz. Solomon, to the wisest men concerning making a judgment of the temporal conditions : wherein you have the ignorance of man (in knowing, what is good, or evil, for man in this life) discovered, together, with the mistakes that flow from it : and the great question resolved, viz. whether the knowledg of, what is good for a man in this life, be so hid from man, that no man can attain it
Baxter, Benjamin, Preacher of the Gospel., Baxter, Richard, 1615-1691.
Page  47

CHAP. V.

The Second Question.

IF a Man know not, What is good for a man in this Life; Is it then Lawfull for a man to pray for the things of this Life, viz. Riches, &c? Since he knoweth not, but they may be Hurtful for him. His prosperity may be his Ruine, his Table may be his Snare; and that which he thought was for his Welfare, may become his Trap. To this Question I shall give an Answer

  • 1. In General.
  • 2. More Particular.

I. In General, I Answer thus: That it is Law∣ful to pray for the things of this Life; although we know not, whether they are good for Man in this Life. There are these Arguments to make it good.

1. Riches, and Health, and the Comforts of this Life, are in themselves Blessings of God. They flow from Him, who is the Fountain of Good; and are, in themselves, Streams that issue from that Fountain, and speak His Goodnesse. They are some of those things, by which, He that is Good (as the Psalmist speaks) doth good to his Creatures. Acts 14. 17. God left not Himself without Witness, in that he did Good, and gave them Rain, and Fruit∣ful Seasons; filling their hearts with Joy and Glad∣ness. So, upon that account, they may be pray'd for.

2. The things of this Life may be prayed for, Page  48 In that our Saviour hath taught us to pray for our Daily Bread. Where, by Bread, is meant all those Good things that are necessary for this Life. Bread is there a Comprehensive word, being the Staff of Life; And so call'd the Staff of Bread. And by a Synechodoche it is put for All, both Necessary and Comfortable supports of mans Life. Now, being to pray for our Daily Bread, we may pray for what is Necessary and Comfortable for Life.

3. Outward Good things are necessary for our Uses, and for our Well-being in this World. Mat. 6. 32. Your Heavenly Father knoweth, that you have need of all these things. In Prayer, there is a making known of our Needs and Wants to God; not only Spiritual, but Temporal too; not only those that relate to our Souls, but also to our Bodies. The Apostle bids us, Phil. 4. 6. In nothing be careful, but let your Wants be made known to God. Then no doubt, but we may Lawfully pray for all Comfor∣table, and Suitable supplies to our Wants.

4. These Outward things do not of themselves Hurt. Of themselves they make none Evil. Out∣ward things are to Men, as they are to Them. It is not from the things Themselves, but from Lusts within that they become Evil. The Poyson is not in the Flower, but in the nature of the Spider: So the Evil of Outward things, is not in the things Themselves, but from our Lusts, that turn them into Evil. It is not mens Possessions, but mens Corrupti∣ons that make them to become Evil to them. When a mans Table comes to be his Snare, the Creatures are not to be blamed, but a mans own Lusts. The Apostle, 2 Pet. 1. 4. speaks of the Corrupti∣ons Page  49 that are in the world through Lust. The World, and the things of the world are the Object; but the Cause why they become Evil to us, is Lust. The Fault, why men are Covetous, or Sensual, or Effeminate, is not in Gold, or Wine, or Women; but in Mens Sensual Affections, and naughty Dis∣positions. So it is Observable, when St. John, 1 John 2. 16. doth Sum up, what of the World is opposite to the Love of God, He doth not name the Objects, but the Lusts. He doth not say, What ever is in the World is Pleasure, or Honour, or Profit; but he names, The Lusts of the Eye, The Lusts of the Flesh, and the Pride of Life; And these are not of the Father, but are of the World. (i. e.) These are not of God, as Riches, and Honour, and outward things are; but of that world, that man hath made within himself, by his own Cor∣rupt desires, and Sensual Lusts and Affections. By this you see, The Evil is not in the things them∣selves, but in our selves; We find, they are such things as are Consistent with Grace and Holinesse. We read of Abrahams and Jobs Wealth and Riches. St. Austin, speaking of these Worldly things saith, Dantur bonis ne putentur mala, dantur malis ne pu∣tentur summa bona. It is a certain Truth, That God never giveth any thing in it self Evil, to those that are Good; so, neither doth he give the chief∣est good Things, to those that are Evil. So that when these things become Evil to men, it is from a mans own Corruptions. When men make these things, the Bellows of Pride, the Fewel of Un∣cleanness, the Instruments of Revenge; This is not from themselves, but mans making use of them for such ends, for which they were not Ordained. Page  50 So when the Gospel calls upon us, to Renounce the World, The meaning is not, That we should cast the things of the World out of our Possession, but out of our Affection. To be Rich, is not In∣consistent with Religion, it is mans abusing of Riches, &c. that makes them Evil to us.

5. The things of this life, may be helps to Christians, to further them in doing good: though they be seeming hindrances; yet, by a wise Im∣provement, they may become great Advantages, for the performing of Works both of Piety and Charity. If a man have but the Art, of placing these things aright, They may help a man toward Heaven. As we see it is with a Trunk of Mony; Let a man put it upon his Head, it boweth him down; But let him put it under his Feet, it lifteth him up. 'Tis the Apostle's Command, in 1 Tim. 6. 18. to those that are Rich, that they be Rich in Good Works; Letting them know, That they have an opportunity put into their hands, of doing good with their Wealth. See what our Saviour saith, Luke 16. 9. Make you Friends of the Vnrighteous Mammon. But, why doth our Saviour call it, The unrighteous Mammon? Not because Riches are so in themselves, but because of mens either Evil getting, or using of them. q. d. Things that many men abuse, and so make them the Riches of Ini∣quity; may be so imployed, as to be helps to fur∣ther good. And therefore, it was a hard saying, and Censure of a Father (although I confess it is some∣times true) Omnis Dives aut iniquus, aut iniqui Haeres, Every Rich man is either an Oppressor, or the Son of an Oppressor.

6. Wealth and Riches, and the Things of this Page  51 Life, are the things that come within a Promise. It is said of him that feareth the Lord, Psal. 112. That Wealth and Riches shall be in his House (i. e.) when God seeth it good for him. For all Temporal Promises must be understood with an Exception. The Rule is this, concerning such Promises, That they do not Intimate what ever shall be, but what ever befalleth a Godly man shall be a Blessing. The Fruit of a Promise, shall not be the Fruit of a loser Providence; but to a Godly man, they are the Fruits of a Promise, and therefore may be prayed for.

Thus for the Answer in General.

II. The Particular Answer is this. Though we said, and have shewed, that it is lawful to pray for outward things, yet it must have its Rules and Li∣mitations, and that upon this Ground, That we know not what is good for a man in this life. Con∣cerning praying for outward things, we must know this, they must not be prayed for;

  • 1. Absolutely.
  • 2. Ultimately.

1. Absolutely. In praying for outward things, we must not pray for them, but with a Submission to the Will of God. In praying for them, we must take need of making our wills a Law to God's. For, as I shewed you before, That the Evils of this life, are not Evils to be absolutely prayed against; so neither are the things of this life, absolutely to be prayed for. Then it is Right, if, when you are beg∣ging of them, you can find in your heart to be without them, if God will have if so. As for those Good things that relate to another Life, they are Page  52 to be absolutely prayed for; but, for the things of this life, we are not to do so; we must not so de∣sire them, as not content to be denyed. This was Rachels sin, in her desire of children, Give me Chil∣dren or else I dye. She would have no Nay, but she must have children, and she payed dear for it, for she died in Child-bearing; she would die if she had not children, and she died in bringing forth a child, whom she called Benoni. Thus Israel would have no Nay, but they must have a King. And thus the hearts of many, are so set upon the things of this life, that they cannot brook a denial of them; and think God doth not love them, if He do not grant those Requests they make for them.

2. In praying for outward things, as you may not pray for them Absolutely, so you are not to pray and seek for them, Ultimately, but to make them Subordinate to Gods Glory. It is lawful to pray for Health, and Wealth, and the good things of this Life; but it is to be done, with a respect to the Glory of God, that we may be enabled the better, to Serve and Honour Him with them; and not that our sensual desires, and sinful lusts, may be satisfied, Jam. 4. 3. The Apostle telleth us, of some that did Ask; but he telleth us, that their End was not right; for they did ask, that they might con∣sume it upon their Lusts. This asking is Evil and Unlawful. How many are there, that would have God bestow that upon them, that they would be∣stow upon their Lusts, as Health, and long Life; that they may live the more Pleasantly, Wealth, that they may fare Deliciously every day; Great Estates, that they may Raise Themselves and Fa∣milies, that they may be some-body in the world, Page  53 and may lord it over others. It is not right, when men desire outward things, that they may live more comfortably, and not Serve God more chear∣fully.

Quest. But some may Ask, How may I know, in praying for the things of this Life, that I have a respect to Gods Glory; since the Heart of man is so Deceitful?

Answ. By these things, it may be known.

1. He that makes Gods Glory his End, in seek∣ing these things, is as much in begging Grace to Use them for God, as he is to have them. Where the desires of a man, after these things, are right, they are not single desires after the things themselves, but conjoyned and coupled with desires of Grace; whereby he may be in∣abled to serve and honour God with them. This is his most earnest Request, That, if God put any such price into his Hand, he would give him a Heart to make use of it for his Glory. Prov. 3. 9. Honour God with thy Substance. So, this is the great Request of those that eye the Glory of God, in their begging the things of this life; That, if God see it good to bestow those things on them, that he would give them to honour Him with their Riches, with their Health, and with all their Worldly Enjoyments. When it is otherwise, our praying for them is not right. There are many that only look after the things themselves, but never begg for Grace, by which they should make a right Improvement of them. Then it is right, when a man desireth rather to be denied the Things themselves, than Grace to use them; when he can say, Lord give me not Riches, give me not Ho∣nour, Page  54 give me not Worldly Possessions, if thou do not withall give me a Heart to use them to thy Glory.

2. This speaketh it, When a man can take a Denial, and be content to go Without them, when God will have it so. This sheweth man's respecting the Glory of God, above the things themselves. Such an one sits down contented, when God is pleased to cross his desires, and to deny him his requests: When he beggeth Health, and Wealth, and the good things of this life, and is denied; he layeth his hand upon his mouth, and concludeth, that, God did not see those things to make for his Glory, nor for the good of him that begged them. We read of Balaam, Num. 22. when he was sent for by Balak, that he gave out, he would not eye the offers that Balak made him, but only the Com∣mand of God. Yet, when he was told, He should not go, he enquires again, and again, till at last God bid him go; which shews, he eyed more the Promotion and Advancement he expected from Balak, then the Command of God. So some, in seeking the things of this life, are so impatient, that, though the Lord have denied them once, and again, yet they will be asking them again; It is good for men to do so, in seeking after the things of another life, but not in seeking after the things of this life.

3. This speaketh it, When, in praying for the things of this Life, he prayes only for such a mea∣sure and proportion of them, as may least expose him to sin. By this, a man shews, in seeking of them, he hath en eye to the Honour and Glory of God. Such an one seeks not great things for himself, but only what is convenient. It was Agur's prayer, Page  55Prov. 30. 8. That God would feed him with food con∣venient. If you ask, why he prayed for convenient Food, and a convenient Estate, the Reason was this, Because he saw danger in extreams; in Pover∣ty on the one hand, and Riches on the other. He saw, To be very Rich, or very Poor, was very dangerous, and would put under great Tempta∣tions. q. d. Lord I would not be Rich, because it is hard to be Rich and Good; and I would not be poor, because it is hard to be poor, and not to sin. Therefore he prayeth for such an Estate as did best suite with holiness, and would least expose him, to temptations unto sin; this speaks his eying the Glory of God. He prayeth against Riches, and abun∣dance, but it is not upon this account, because they may make a man envyed, or cause cares and troubles, for he that encreaseth Riches, increaseth them: But it is purely upon another account, (viz) the Glory of God, as appears by his Reason given, vers. 9. Lest I be full and forget Thee, and say, Who is the Lord? Which shews, that it was Gods Honour and Glory, that he did Respect. So when he prayeth against Poverty, he doth not make this his Reason, lest I be despised and trod∣den under foot, but, lest the Name of my God be taken in Vain. So that what he prayed for, was in Relation to Gods Glory. So it is with him that eyes the Glory of God, in seeking the things of this life; he seeks not great things for himself, but only what is proportionable and convenient. He knows, A shoo too big for his foot, may hinder him in going, as well as a shoo that is too little: A Staff, you know, is a help to a man when he walketh; but a bundle of Staves, both hinder and Page  56 burden. It is good for men, in seeking the things of this life, to seek only what is fit and convenient, that they may be the better fitted to be serviceable to their God, and to run the Race that is set before them. Suppose a man were to run a Race, and many Suites were laid before him to take his choice, some of cloth of Gold, &c. he would not choose the most Gorgious, but the most Convenient, lest otherways he lose the Race.

Quest. Some may Ask, What is a convenient Estate?

Answer:

  • 1. That which Nature requireth. Nature is content with a little. It was the Say∣ing of a Wise man, He that liveth accor∣ding to Nature, will find a little, Enough; and He that liveth according to Opinion, will never have Enough. And it was the Say∣ing of a Gracious man, Having Food and Rayment, let us therewith be Content.
  • 2. That is Convenient, that is suitable to the Estate wherein God hath put us. Some need not so much as others do; and it is their Happiness, if they knew it; as it is for a man to see without Spectacles, and to walk without Crutches. It was the saying of Socrates, when he saw great Riches carried through a Town, How happy am I, that I can live without all this?
  • 3. That is Convenient, that is requisite for the comfortable Maintenance of our Fa∣milies. The Apostle saith, He that Pro∣videth not for his own House, is worse than an Infidel. Yet Solomon saith, There was a Page  57 man, That had neither Son, nor Brother, and yet there was no end of his Labours.

4. This speaketh our respecting Gods Glory, in our seeking the things of this life, Our using the Things for God, when he hath bestowed them on us, and hath granted us our desire. Do you not spend them upon your Lusts? Do you not say to the Wedge of Gold, Thou art my Confidence? Do you not make them the Fuel for Lusts, and In∣struments of Revenge? You may know, what your Hearts were in Desiring them, by the Use you afterwards make of them. Remember, Lust is an earnest Craver; and will pretend, That what it beggs, is for God, till it hath what it desireth. It is good for Christians then, to put the Question to themselves, What God hath the more from them, for that they have received from Him?

To close up the Answer to this Question; Let me tell you, Although it be lawful to pray for the things of this life; yet not Principally and Primarily, but with respect to the Inferiority of their Nature and Uses. Remember still, These are not the Cheif things to be sought after. Mat. 6. 33. Seek first the Kingdom of God, &c. We ought, in our Prayers, to give the precedency, and pre∣eminence to Spiritual good things. Heavenly things are to be preferred before Earthly; and we are to place them in our Prayers, as God hath placed them. Though we may Lawfully pray for the things of this life, yet we pray Unlawfully, when we are more earnest for them, than for the things that relate to another life. God took it well from Solomon, when he was left to his choice, Page  58 and bid to ask what he would, he only asked Wisdom. He did not ask Riches, nor Long Life, nor the Life of his Enemies. Yet God gave him Those. The way to have the things of this World, is, chiefly to seek after the things of another World. These things you may pray for Absolutely, viz. Grace, and an Interest in Christ, and Pardon of Sin, and all Soul-Mercies; and all the Good things that relate to another life. We read of some, in Hos. 7. 14. that howled upon their Beds, for Corn and Wine. Those were the things they only sought after; and their Prayers was but a brutish Crie, compared to the howling of a Dog. A gracious Soul pants after the things of another Life, when o∣thers pant only after the things of this Life. The Prophet speaks of such, Amos 2. 7. who pant after the Dust of the Earth: But David's Soul panted after God, Psal. 42. 1. So panteth my Soul after Thee, O God. Then it is Right, when we pray for the things of this Life, with a serious consideration of their Lowness, and Baseness, and Inferiority, being compared with the things of Eternity, and another Life.

Thus for the second Question.

The Third Question, is This:

WHether our being Ignorant of What is good for us in this Life, doth not warrant to ad∣venture on, and undertake things (as we say) Hand Over-head, or at all Adventure; without Page  59 Circumspection, Consideration, prudential Fore∣sight, or providential Care. As in the business of Marriage, and of managing all our businesses and affairs in this Life. Some may say, I see I know not what is good for me in this life: And therefore, the thing I am about, notwithstanding all my Prudence, and Care, and Circumspection, may (for ought I know) be for Evil to me; and, without all this Care and Circumspection, may be for Good to me. So the Question is, Whether this Truth doth not destroy all Prudential and Providential care about the management of the Affairs of this Life.

Answer. No such matter: It makes nothing a∣gainst that. And that, we shall shew in these fol∣lowing Propositions; which I shall briefly name.

  • 1. Divine Providence doth not destroy Humane Prudence; Which is so much commended by Solomon, in his Book of the Proverbs.
  • 2. Gods Providence doth sometimes make up mans Improvidence. But that is no warrant at all, for a man therefore to be Improvident.
  • 3. It is a Tempting of God, when we neg∣lect the Means, for bringing to passe the End.
  • 4. It is creating Crosses to our selves; and, for which we must only thank our selves. We are not called to bear Crosses of our own making, but of God's send∣ing.
  • 5. It is made one of the Characters of a Page  60 Righteous man, That he guides his Affairs with Discretion, Psal. 112. 5.
  • 6. There is almost a whole Chapter spent in the Commendation of a Virtuous Woman's Prudential and Providential care in providing for her Husband, Chil∣dren, and Family; as you may see, Prov. 31.
  • 7. Such a Conclusion would justifie that prophane Saying of some, That if they are Ordained to be saved, they shall be Sa∣ved, let them live as they list. These se∣parate between the Means and the End. When as God hath appointed the Means as well as the End. So do such, in re∣spect of the Affairs of this Life; that lay aside Prudence, And say, If God see it good for me, it shall be Good.

Thus for the Third Question.