Beloved, I pray that in every way you may prosper and enjoy good health, as your soul also prospers.
I. THE APOSTLE PRAYS THAT HIS FRIEND GAIUS MAY HAVE TEMPORAL PROSPERITY AND PHYSICAL HEALTH. From the expression of this desire in so brief a letter, we may infer that St. John regarded these things as of great importance.
1. Secular prosperity is desirable. Non-success in business is to be deprecated. For our own sake, for the sake of our families, and for the sake of our usefulness, prosperity in temporal things is desirable. Wealth is a wonderful power; and in the hands of a wise man it is a great boon both to himself and to others.
2. Physical health is desirable. Health of body, for many obvious reasons, is one of God's best gifts to man. It is important also for other reasons which are not obvious to all. The state of the body exercises a great influence upon the mind and soul. It is the organ and agent of both; and, if it be unhealthy, our impressions of the outward will be untrue, and our influence upon the outward will be limited and feeble. Our spiritual feelings and expressions are considerably toned and coloured by our physical condition.
II. THE APOSTLE INDICATES THE REMARKABLE SPIRITUAL PROSPERITY OF HIS FRIEND CAIUS. This is clear from his making his spiritual prosperity the measure of the desired bodily health and temporal prosperity. The next verse also contributes evidence of this prosperity of soul. It was seen in his growing acquaintance with the truth and his growing conformity to the truth. "Brethren... bare witness unto thy truth, even as thou walkest in truth." Perhaps Gaius himself needed this assurance of his spiritual prosperity. "The words of the apostle seem to imply," says Dr. Binney," that the health of Gains was somewhat enfeebled. This might affect his feelings, and render the actual prosperity of his soul, while visible to others, unperceived by himself; his excellence was obvious to all who knew him, though bodily infirmity or mental depression concealed the truth from his own consciousness. On this account he was addressed by John in the words of encouragement - words delicately but strongly conveying the apostle's confidence in his spiritual state, and assuring him, at the same time, of his constantly sharing in his supplications and prayers." This spiritual prosperity is more important than material progress and success.
III. THE APOSTLE MAKES THE PROSPERITY OF HIS SOUL THE MEASURE OF THE PHYSICAL HEALTH AND SECULAR PROSPERITY DESIRED FOR GAIUS. This is profoundly significant. Unless our spiritual prosperity be at least commensurate with our temporal prosperity, the latter ceases to be a blessing. All the worldly wealth which a man possesses which is more than proportionate to the wealth of his soul, he will do well to get rid of at once, or by Divine grace bring the wealth of his soul into proportion with it. Without this correspondence we cannot use wealth aright, riches will injure us, the material will crush the spiritual in us. When outward riches are more than proportionate to his godliness and grace, they are a curse to their possessor. But when there is a proportion between the two, wealth is a blessing worthy an apostle's prayer. What astounding revolutions would take place if this prayer were universally realized! What transformations in health! Many now hale and strong would become weak and sickly. Many now diseased and feeble would become sound and vigorous. What transformations in circumstances! Many pampered sons and daughters of riches and luxury would come to poverty and want. Many of the indigent would pass from the abode of penury to the palace of ease and plenty. "A terrible wish this," says Binney, "if it were offered for and were to take effect upon many a professor: it would blast them in body and ruin them in circumstances; it would render them, like the Church that thought itself rich and increased in goods, ' poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked.'" Shah I offer this prayer for you? If this prayer were realized, the physical would bear the true proportion to the spiritual, and the temporal to the eternal. Learn how far secular wealth is desirable. - W.J.
Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.I. DEPRIVATION. Gaius was deprived of physical health. John's prayer for him implies that his affliction was severe, that it was not a mere passing ailment. For the present affliction is not "joyous," but "grievous "; and pain is felt as keenly by the sensitive nerves of the pious as by the most abandoned of mankind. And there is an element in affliction that pains the good man that the godless know nothing about. The fact that the state of his bodily health prevents him from carrying out certain purposes for the benefit of his fellow-men is a severe and painful trial to him. The afflicted are not able to meet with their brethren in their public gatherings. This is a serious loss to them. However anxious Gaius might have been to assist in the world's work, the probability is that the state of his health precluded the possibility of his doing so. And yet there was one very important thing he could do — he could endure affliction patiently. That is no little matter. To suffer affliction, showing an example of submission, of meekness and sweetness of temper, is one of the highest and noblest services God has given His truest children to do.
II. COMPENSATION. Though his body was afflicted, his soul was in health and prospered. His soul grew strong and flourished on truth. Such men are invaluable blessings to their age; they are the pillars upon whom the moral fabric of their time rests. Their integrity, their transparent honesty, their pure motives, and their faithfulness in all they attempt to do, is what makes the world what it is — a place worth living in. A soul that has some truth has the germs of spiritual health; a soul that is filled with truth is vigorous and will grow apace. "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," free from all that hinders the development of the spirit's life. So thoroughly was Gaius possessed of the truth, that he walked in it; it was the potent principle that guided his whole conduct in his relation to men and God. He would not swerve the slightest degree to the right or to the left from its dictates. The vessel that is to arrive at the "desired haven" must not be allowed to run out of the lines of the compass. Gaius "walked in the truth," as the only path that leads to the home on high. The truth as it is in Jesus saves the soul. Further, Gaius possessed charity. "Brethren and strangers.., bear witness to thy charity before the Church." In his case, love was not a weak sentiment, an effervescence merely, but a strong and rational passion of the soul. He was not content to love in "word or in tongue" only, he showed his love in kind deeds. He was not a little fragment of human nature, like a diminutive island in mid -ocean cut off from the rest of the earth; but a noble part of the great whole of mankind, and a model member of the universal Church of the living God.
III. COMPASSION. John felt keenly for Gaius in his affliction. Genuine brotherly sympathy, which is the utterance of a warm and true heart, is like rich and copious showers of rain that fall upon the scorched and chapped earth, and seem to hasten to run into the many crevices to soften the divided parts and to bring them together again that the many-pieced earth might be healed. Observe, John's sympathy in this instance took the form of a prayer; he prayed that Gaius might prosper and be in health, even as his soul prospered. The measure of physical health he desired for him was the measure of spiritual health which he then enjoyed. If this were the rule for prayer, how poor, and frail, and sickly would the health of the great majority of mankind be! "What is the value of this estate?" said a gentleman to another with whom he was riding, as they passed a fine mansion and through rich fields. "I don't know what it is valued at; I know what it cost its late possessor." "How much?" "His soul." A solemn pause followed this brief answer. The late possessor referred to was the son of a pious man who supported his family by the labour of his hands. The son early obtained a subordinate position in a mercantile establishment in this city. He was then a professor of religion. He continued to maintain a reputable profession until he became a partner in the concern. He then gave increasing attention to business, and less to religion. Just before he died, he said, "My prosperity has been my ruin." Many may wonder why they are kept so poor here; they don't seem to know that spiritual wealth is essential to the wise and safe handling of material riches.
(D. Rhys Jenkins.)I. PROSPERITY OF SOUL IS THE CHIEF AND MOST VALUABLE PROSPERITY. Sin is the disease of the soul; and when the power of it is subdued, and the principles and habits of holiness implanted and cherished, by the Divine and almighty Physician, then the health of the soul is restored and it becomes prosperous. It is in some measure healthful and prosperous when it is filled with useful knowledge; when it is able to discern those things that differ; and hath a clear understanding of the Divine will, and the various motives by which obedience to it is enforced. But knowledge is only the foundation of religion. Health of soul chiefly consists in piety and righteousness; in an ardent love to God, a high delight in the exercises of devotion; in a sincere faith in Jesus Christ, and a regular and circumspect conversation, founded upon the principles, and conducted by the rules, of His gospel.
II. A PERSON MAY HAVE A PROSPEROUS SOUL, AND YET WANT EXTERNAL PROSPERITY. Their souls are ill lodged; and the tabernacles in which they dwell do not appear to suit the dignity and worth of the inhabitants. This is sometimes owing to disorders conveyed to them from their parents. It is frequently owing to the ill-judged indulgence of their parents. "Many" (as Mr. Baxter observes, who was himself an instance of it) "struggle all their days with pain and sickness, through the folly of their mothers; who breed them up delicately, and deny them nothing which they like and crave, how injurious soever to their health." Sometimes they are made to "possess the iniquities of their youth"; particularly impurity, intemperance, idleness, or ungoverned passions. In many cases the immediate hand of God is to be acknowledged in the weaknesses and languors of our frame. He exerciseth His servants with this painful discipline, to make their hearts better, to quicken their diligence and excite their sympathy and concern for the good of others.
III. WE MAY VERY PROPERLY WISH AND PRAY THAT OUR FRIENDS MAY ENJOY TEMPORAL PROSPERITY, ESPECIALLY HEALTH. Much of the comfort of life depends upon health. Where that is enjoyed, we can discharge those active services which our several relations and connections demand, and can enjoy the bounties of providence with relish and pleasure. If an instrument be out of tune, the most skilful hand can produce no harmony. If the body be disordered by pain and sickness, the soul cannot act by it with ease, freedom, and cheerfulness. It needs great strength and prosperity of soul to behave well, amidst wearisome days and nights, and months of vanity. Therefore it is reasonable and proper that we should pray to that God who raised this curious frame and hath all nature under His control, that we may prosper and be in health. And if we hope for His interposition, it should be our care to avoid everything that would injure the health, and to take proper methods to restore and confirm it, when it is impaired.
IV. IT IS HAPPY FOR OUR FRIENDS WHEN WE CAN WISH THEM TO BE AS PROSPEROUS AND HEALTHFUL AS THEY ARE GOOD. Application:
1. To those who have no prosperity, neither temporal nor spiritual.
2. To those who have temporal, but no spiritual prosperity.
3. To those whose souls prosper, but they want temporal prosperity; who, like Gaius, have sickly constitutions, but healthy souls. The instance in the text shows how unreasonable it is to conclude that your souls do not prosper, because the outward man doth not.
(J. Orton, D. D.)I. THE CHARACTER OF GAIUS.
1. The indwelling of the truth of God. He walked in the truth — he was a fellow-helper of the truth — he was beloved for the truth's sake. By the indwelling of God's truth, living principles are implanted in the soul. They are a fountain spring, whence well forth love, benevolence, active well-doing, and the end is eternal life and glory.
2. The external manifestation of his piety. The truth moulded and shaped his outer life. His daily actions bore its holy impress. His creed was not one thing, and his walk another. As a citizen of the world, and as a member of Christ's Church, his entire conduct was influenced by what he believed and professed.
3. The fidelity that characterised him. He acted as a good steward of God's bounty.
4. The brotherly love he displayed. To this his brethren in the Church, and the strangers that visited the place bore testimony.
II. HIS SPIRITUAL PROSPERITY.
1. Pre-eminent soul-prosperity. This is by no means a common condition among the people of God — to be more prosperous in spiritual interests than in other interests.
2. The living embodiment of truth. The indwelling truth came forth in embodied action. If we are rooted and grounded in doctrinal truth by the Holy Spirit, we shall give a living manifestation of that in our practical godliness.
3. Devotional solitude combined with energetic action. The prosperous Christian lives much alone with God. But he has also much to do with society. His field of labour is the world.
4. Largeness of heart. With many self is first and last, all and in all. Spiritual prosperity to such is a thing unknown.
5. Deep humility of soul. It has been well said that a haughty, self-sufficient professor is a doubtful character; and that high minds are like high hills, blasted and barren. We may say, then, that lowly minds are like well-watered, fruitful valleys.
III. THE BEARING OF THIS SUBJECT ON OUR CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. The great want of the Church of Christ is soul-prosperity.
2. Individual solicitude is requisite in order to meet that want.
I. THE PERSON WHO OFFERS THIS PRAYER — it is the Apostle John. We know from all his writings that he was eminently affectionate. Whilst his heart abounded in affection, he was still most discriminating in his views. Probably there is no portion of the New Testament which contains severer tests of Christian character than are to be found in the three short Epistles of John. They are very spiritual, and they enter very largely into the inward workings of the grace of God upon the heart. He manifested throughout his long and eventful life the greatest solicitude for those who were converted under his ministry.
II. THE PERSON FOR WHOM THE PRAYER WAS OFFERED — "it is for the well-beloved Gaius.
1. First, his character. It is very excellent, and caused him to be much loved by all lovers of good men. Two ingredients, however, are particularly named as forming his character. These are his piety and his benevolence: With this union of piety towards God and good-will towards men his soul prospered. A plant is said to thrive and prosper when it brings forth fruit, a field when it abounds with precious grain, a human body when it is healthy and vigorous and active. So a soul prospers when it abounds in the love of the truth, in the love of those who hold the truth, and yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness richly, in large measure, and in a corresponding practice.
2. But notice his condition. From the language of the text it is gathered that he was a man of feeble health. The particular Greek word used encourages this idea. Whether it was a permanent weakness of constitution or an occasional fit of illness, we cannot tell, though it is obvious from the prayer of the apostle, that he might be in health, but that he was at that time an invalid. From the prayer that he might prosper, there is reason to suppose that Gaius had suffered in his worldly property, was somewhat reduced in circumstances. Some are of opinion that he suffered from persecution, and that by the violence of wicked men his property was wrenched away from him. There is much plausibility in this supposition. Others, however, think, that by reason of his great liberality to the saints he had actually impoverished himself. This opinion is strengthened by the account we have in the Acts of the Apostles of the liberality of the early Christians. At any rate the situation of this Gaius was such as to call for the prayer of the Apostle John that he might again be prospered.
III. THE PRAYER OFFERED IN BEHALF OF GAIUS. It is very short, but it is very comprehensive. It is that in all things he may be prospered, and be in health. Thus we see that it is proper to pray for temporal blessings. Beside this, a special promise is made to the diligent. Yet of all mere temporal blessings, health stands as that most valuable; for without it, we can neither labour for God, nor enjoy the good with which he favours us. But this prayer, whilst it is concerned about temporal prosperity, contains one peculiarity; it is — that this prosperity and this health may be in proportion to the prosperity of the soul. Oh! what an exaltation this gives to spiritual things above all temporal affairs! Here is the revelation of wisdom — that the spiritual state of the soul is the proper rule of prayer, and that it is the just standard of desire for health and prosperity. This is a rule most sifting in its operation, a rule that tries to the very uttermost the spirit of prayer as well as the confidence of our hearts in God.
1. Now, in reviewing this subject, we learn in the first place, how careful men would be if this rule of praying was their constant, honest practice — if every one in the retirement of the closet should put up this prayer — "O Lord God, grant me this day health of body equal to the health of my soul. O Lord God, grant that I may prosper in my business, exactly as my soul prospers."
2. Secondly, how fearful a thing it is by the loss of piety to convert property from being a means of grace to become a source of danger and ruin! If all Christians would live in the spirit of this prayer, how every interest of religion would prosper! Again, true piety will seek the prosperity of the soul above all things.
3. And now, finally, we learn that the injury of riches is in the motive for which we desire them. If for their own sake we desire them, for the purpose of accumulation, then this is mammon worship. Again, if we desire them for the power, or for the gratification which they afford us, then this is mere selfishness. If, on the other hand, it is to do good, this induces benevolence.
(W. Patten, D. D.)I. IT IS A LAW OF LIFE THAT HEALTH IS ESSENTIAL TO PERFECT ENJOYMENT.
II. PERFECT SOUL HEALTH IS THE BEST SAFEGUARD AGAINST THE FORCE OF TEMPTATION. It is becoming more and more acknowledged that bodily disease is due not so much to outward causes as to predisposing causes. It arises not so much from the presence of disease germs without, but susceptibility of tissue that provides soil for their ready growth. When the seeds of disease are already in the body, outward causes may soon provoke their development. Is it not so with the soul's life? When the pulse of the soul is feeble and the moral tone low, a man soon succumbs to moral taint.
III. PERFECT SOUL HEALTH IS ESSENTIAL TO TRUE SPIRITUAL GROWTH. "Dwarfs are much more common in the spiritual than in the physical sphere." Many Christians remain at the earliest stage of the Christian life. They are ever in religious childhood.
IV. THE MEANS TO BE EMPLOYED FOR THE MAINTENANCE OF SPIRITUAL HEALTH. It is a sine qua non that a healthy Christian breathes pure air. When a diver goes down into the sea he takes full care to be supplied with a sufficient amount of pure air from above. Our daily duties may bring us into surroundings very uncongenial to the religious life. We have no right, however, to involve ourselves in any situation or engage in any pursuit where the atmosphere of prayer cannot reach us. No one expects to nourish and build up a robust physical frame on mere condiments and confectionery. The result would soon become apparent in impoverished blood and feeble pulse. Aye, and men cannot nourish their souls on daily newspapers and exciting novels. An old writer says: "Thou canst not read the Scriptures too much, and what thou readest thou canst not read too well, and what thou readest well thou canst not too well understand, and what thou understandest well thou canst not too well teach, and what thou teachest well thou canst not too well live." Food may be received into the system, but the body is not nourished and strengthened unless its various faculties are brought into suitable exercise. Half the worries and vexations which afflict many Christians would disappear if they were more active for their master, "working with both hands earnestly" for His cause.
(J. G. Greaves.)I. A SUPPOSITION MADE, that the soul of him in regard to whom the wish is expressed is prospering.
1. He knew the truth, and knew it well. Every one who desires to be blessed with soul prosperity must be intimately acquainted with it likewise. "The truth" is the great revelation of the gospel concerning the way of salvation by Christ crucified for sinners. This is the great ocean, to which all other truths are but tributary streams, and from whose bosom all the showers of blessings that fall on the moral wilderness of human life and refresh it, derive their origin. Were this truth unknown, what mysteries would encompass us! What unanswerable questions would start up before us! In what uncertainty would we live, in what fear would we die!
2. Gaius believed the truth, and every one who desires soul prosperity must believe it too. Those who content themselves with a mere speculative acquaintance with Divine truth, resemble those who would sit down to a feast, but leave the food untasted before them. And what a vain thing it is to speak about the truth, to profess it, to argue for it, to recommend it, if all the while we never recollect that it is our duty to believe it!
3. Gaius walked in the truth, — that is, he lived in a manner that was consistent with the principles of the gospel; and every one who would attain soul prosperity must do so likewise. Now, if we believe this truth, we cannot but walk in it, and love God as our best friend, and we will feel that He is entitled to all the service that we are able to render; for we are not our own, but are bought with the mighty price of the blood of His Son. Again, the truth of the gospel tells us that sin is a most abominable and dangerous thing, and that holiness is a most excellent and becoming thing; and we must walk in this truth by showing that we really believe it, in our avoidance of sin, and our practice of "whatsoever things are just, and honest, and true, and lovely, and of good report." In the same way we must walk in the truth by showing our faith in every department of revelation, by bringing it into our practice.
4. Gaius loved the truth; and without love to the truth it is impossible to obtain prosperity of soul. If we believe the truth we cannot but love it, because it is so glorious in itself and so suitable to us; and if we walk in the truth, we must love it more and more, as we discover by increasing experience new beauties and excellences.
II. NOTICE THE WISH ITSELF: "I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper, and be in health."
1. The apostle here expresses a wish for the worldly prosperity of Gaius. Affliction, then, is not a blessing in itself; nor is worldly prosperity in itself an evil. What the apostle would have called prosperity, in a worldly point of view, would likely have consisted of the two following particulars: first, such an amount of the good things of this world as will preserve us from the oppressive cares of poverty on the one hand, and those almost equally great, and more dangerous, though less unpleasant ones, which must always accompany inordinate wealth. The second element of prosperity which the good man would desire would probably be a tranquil, easy flow of his affairs, without great difficulties, great successes, or great reverses. And such a prosperity as this is what we may wish for ourselves and for our friends.
2. The apostle expresses a wish for the bodily health of his friend. This is necessary to complete the idea of worldly comfort; for without this, all that rank is able to command or wealth to procure will be little enjoyed. To care for the health of the body is a duty; for God has not made so fine a piece of workmanship to be carelessly destroyed. Man is a compound being, consisting of two parts — soul and body; and if it be a duty to care for the one, it is as certainly a duty to care for the other, though certainly it is a duty of far inferior importance, and one of whose neglect there is much less risk of complaining.
III. THE LIMIT APPENDED: "I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth."
1. When we wish for our friends' prosperity and health, the limit "as thy soul prospereth" is necessary for their own good. If we wish for worldly prosperity to a bad man, we wish in general for what will harden his heart, and turn his mind more effectually away from God. But for one whose soul is really prospering, health and prosperity are good things. We may be certain that whatever the wealth or influence of a truly good man, whose religion is prosperous, will enable him to do, he will lend it all to what, in doing good to others, will do good to himself.
2. But if soul prosperity is necessary to render them safe to the individual himself, it is equally necessary to render his health and prosperity a blessing to others.
I. OF WHAT IN THE LANGUAGE OF THE WORLD IS COMMONLY DESIGNATED PROSPERITY, PERHAPS THE TWO MAIN ELEMENTS ARE WEALTH AND POWER. Now there are in the spiritual condition of man elements analogous to these, of which his inward prosperity may be said to consist.
1. There is, it will need very little reflection to perceive, a wealth which may be predicated of the inward as well as of the outward life. Money, property, worldly goods, are not more real possessions than thought, knowledge, wisdom. Nor are the outward comforts and luxuries, the gratifications of sense and appetite that may be procured by the former, more literally a man's own, what belongs to him, what makes him richer, than are warm affections, a fertile imagination, a memory stored with information, and, above all, a heart full of God's grace. The common phraseology of life recognises this fact, when we speak, for instance, of "a richly-furnished mind," a mind "rich in intellectual resources," "a rich vein of thought," "an ample fund of information," and the like. Nor let it be said that this is merely the language of metaphor. Take two men, one in comparatively straitened circumstances, yet possessed of great mental abilities and attainments — the other, overflowing with money, yet narrow-souled and ignorant; you would not hesitate to say which is really the richer of the two. And if this be true of mere intellect, if even secular knowledge constitute a wealth more valuable than any outward possession, surely not less true must the same thought be when applied to that wisdom which maketh wise unto salvation. Surely that man is indeed the richest, who bears within his bosom the treasure of a soul at peace with God, and safe for all eternity! For money, property, every worldly possession, is out of the man. It does not come into the soul. It can be separated from him. It is but an accident, not an essential property of his being. But knowledge, faith, spiritual-mindedness, love to Christ, these are a sort of wealth that go into and become transfused through the very essence of the man. Yours, too, is the only unvarying wealth. A soul, on which the image of Christ is impressed, is a thing precious everywhere, and for ever; it has not, like man's wealth, a different value in different countries and at different times; it will pass current everywhere — it is free of the universe. Yours, finally, is the only lasting wealth. The time will come when the richest must abandon his wealth for ever. The only thing you shall be able to keep, is that which you have stored up in the soul itself. That alone will go out with the soul into eternity.
2. The other element, commonly included in the idea of "prosperity," is power. He is universally esteemed a prosperous man in his outward circumstances who is advancing or has risen from comparative lowliness and obscurity to a position of eminence and influence in society. Now, to this also there is a parallel in the inward life. We may be inwardly as well as outwardly powerful. In the little world within the breast there are stations of rank, dominion, authority, to which we may aspire, or from which we may fall. There is a real subjection, degradation, slavery of spirit, to which we may be reduced; there is a real power, freedom, emancipation, to which we may attain. It is not a mere metaphor, for instance, when, in common language, we say that the profligate man is "the slave of his appetites."
II. THE REASONS FOR WHICH THIS SOUL-PROSPERITY SHOULD BE REGARDED IN OUR DESIRES AS THE STANDARD OR MEASURE OF OUTWARD PROSPERITY.
1. Can it be doubtful to any one that wealth, power, prosperity, are no blessings where God's grace has not come before them? — that it is not good to be happy if first we are not holy? The rich, gay, happy, outward life, and the dark moral antithesis within! It is good to be gay, where the gaiety is real. But it is not good, it is not seemly, it is, sooth to say, the sorrowfullest thing under heaven, to be gay where there is every reason to be sad. Right pleasant, too, it is to behold the ruddy hue on the cheek, and the bright sparkle in the eye of health. But have you never felt that no sight is so truly melancholy as the unnatural brightness in the eye, or the glow that often gathers on consumption's cheek, the more beautiful as the end draweth near? And yet, sad though these contrasts are, there is something more truly pitiful, there is a more awful, because a moral sadness, in the sight which the minions of outward prosperity, of worldly comfort and happiness, not seldom present to a thoughtful observer's eye. Looking on an irreligious man's life, mindful how rapidly the stream of time is bearing him onward to the unseen, does there not force itself on the mind a sense of something horribly incongruous in all this gaiety, as were the mirth of men in a sinking ship, or wild shouts of laughter from some crew hurrying onward to the torrent's brink!
2. Outward prosperity is not desirable for a man's own sake, if unaccompanied by inward, because of the bad moral influence which it has on his own character. For an irreligious man, nothing is more to be deprecated than an uninterrupted flow of worldly good. Only in proportion as the dew of God's hidden grace is descending on the heart, can it be safe for a man to be exposed to the hot sun of worldly prosperity; and if that secret element of strength and fertility be not continually supplied, the scorching heat must speedily wither up, in the spiritual soil, every green and beautiful thing.
3. It is not only for a man's own good, but also for the good of others, that he should prosper outwardly only in the measure in which his soul prospereth. For, obviously, wealth, power, influence, all outward advantages, are just so many means of doing good or evil put into a man's hands; and whether such advantages shall be for the benefit or injury of mankind, depends on the inward character of him to whom they are intrusted. Mankind are losers when a selfish man prospers; they are gainers by the prosperity of the generous and liberal-minded. The latter receive the blessings of God's providence as the sun receives light, to brighten .and gladden the world, or as the healthy plant the influences of nature, to scatter them abroad in fertility and fragrance again. The former, on the contrary, like an excrescence on the fruit-tree absorbing the moisture that might have gone to produce leaves and fruit, receive any blessing at God's hand only to retain or abuse it; or, like a rank weed, draw in the genial influences of the soil and atmosphere of life only to poison all the air around them.
(J. Caird, D. D.)
1. Let us look, then, at the benevolence of this wish. Christianity is a system of benevolence, nay, not of benevolence only, or of good wishes, but of good deeds. Every line that is written in the gospel is charged with love.
2. In the second place, notice in this wish of the aged John the fact that his benevolent wish goes beyond the year that passeth by; and he wishes him not only prosperity of body, but health and prosperity of soul. He wishes him not simply a happy new year, but a happy eternity. "I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." And that wish that looks on man and regards him as the subject simply of this world, is a very imperfect one. It is the least worthy of a Christian.
3. Now notice in the next place the comprehensiveness of this wish.
4. But note again the discriminating character of this wish. "Beloved, I wish that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." In other words, if I translate it into common phraseology, it is — Gaius, I am anxious for your health; I am desirous that you should be a rich man, and a great man, a healthy man and a happy man, but I am desirous still more that your soul may be right in its relationship to God. Such is the wish of John as expressed to Gaius; and nothing can be more reasonable than this.
5. Thus we see in this prayer of John, not only benevolence, but comprehensiveness and discrimination; we see in it also intensity. It is no bare expression — a wish with the lip, that has no counterpart in the heart. In Scripture there is courtesy, but it is the courtesy of Christianity. But what is this prosperity of soul that is spoken of? I am sure you will concur with me when I say that it must be preceded by a state of acceptance with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Not only a change of state, which is justification, but a change of nature, which is regeneration.Having noticed, then, these two as preliminary to the soul's health, let us notice what are some of the signs and features of real health of soul.
1. I would say, first of all, that a growing, deepening sense of unworthiness in the sight of God is one of the best and most unequivocal signs of a state of grace and healthiness of soul.
2. Another sign is a clearer apprehension of the suitableness and sufficiency of Christ as our Saviour.
3. Another sign of this soul health is greater teachableness.
4. Another sign of this spiritual health will be greater delight in hearing the gospel.
5. Another evidence of this soul-prosperity is less bondage to the world. Just as a Christian grows in true spiritual prosperity will he have less care about what men say of him, and more anxiety that God should think well of him.
6. Another sign of this true spiritual prosperity and progress is more entire acquiescence in God's will. The number and the frequency of your waverings is evidence that you are far from spiritual truth.
(J. Cumming, D. D.)
I. Let me say, first, that when we talk of prosperity, every man, as its first condition, asks that he may be SAFE AND FREE. If I cannot sit at ease in my own home, if I dare not sleep without a guard at my chamber-door, if I crouch and watch in my lair, no man in his senses would think of calling me happy and prosperous. A kingdom would be a poor bribe for which to accept a life like that. Now we do but say the simple truth when we declare that the servant of God is the only safe man in the world. Others may have a bold step and a proud look; they may feel secure because they walk with the crowd, and may take the fool's course of living in the present, without care for the future; but there is no escape from the sweeping declarations of Scripture as to our death in sin and our life in Christ, no reversal of the sentence which leaves every impenitent, unsanctified man without hope.
II. Let me speak of another thing which enters largely into the common notion of prosperity — BODILY HEALTH AND EASE. Our common greetings take this direction. Ailments are a serious kind of drawback to men's happiness. Yet what a plague lieth on men's souls, and few apprehend the half of its malignity and danger!
III. Another element of prosperity is SUCCESS; advancement, I mean, as distinct from mere possession.
IV. One more particular I must mention, which most men deem a prime requisite for a prosperous or happy life — FRIENDS.
(J. H. Gurney, M. A.)
I. Let us examine, first, what may be at this moment THE SICKNESS OF THE SOUL TO WHICH YOU ARE SUBJECT, and from which you may now be suffering. It may be that your soul looks better, healthier, than ever it did in your life. But inwardly you are getting weaker and weaker; you do not know it — you scarcely feel it. You think that all is right; that you will be better to-morrow: that's consumption! Or, you have no religious feelings at all; you are neither happy nor unhappy. Your vital power is passing away, but you do not know that it is decreasing — you do not care about it: that is paralysis, creeping paralysis! Or, on the contrary, you are very excited; you talk very much about religion, often very foolishly, very wildly. Your words are extravagant; you cannot restrain yourself; it is all high-flown: that's fever! Or you have run down to the opposite extreme; every feather is a burden, every shadow distresses you. You are miserable. That's inanition or melancholia! It is a heart disease. Or your soul generally seems right. But there is one very sore, bad place, and you cannot get rid of it — it grows: that's ulcer — perhaps cancer! Or, worse still, some immorality is vitiating your soul. An allowed sin is sapping everything that is good: that's poison — poison of the blood! Or every thing that is good and true in you is dying — dying slowly, surely. There is no pain now; there is no pain: that's mortification: that's death!
II. But now the question is, WHAT IS THE REMEDY? What are the secrets of the recovery of the spiritual life to a diseased soul?
1. The first and all-important and sure remedy is to go at once to the Good and Great Physician Himself; He can and He will cure all.
2. Then go and do exactly according to His orders.
3. Next bathe yourself in blood. He will show you the fountain, and Himself will do the washing.
4. Take the medicines which He prescribes. They will, perhaps, be bitter, very bitter: penitence, tears, losses, afflictions, severe self-discipline — it may be amputation! But there will be something very sweet to take away the bitterness and lull all the pain!
III. But now let me suppose, that you are "in health," that "your soul prospers," or, as the word is in the original, more literally, that "your soul is in a good way" — WHAT SHALL YOU DO TO KEEP WELL?
1. First, keep very near to the Good Physician to whom you owe your recovery, and consult Him very often, and wait for His answer.
2. Then, use His prescription, for He is the Counsellor to the soul, always ready to listen patiently; He knows the exact treatment your constitution requires, and His remedies are infallible.
3. Then, you must never forget two things: one, the fact that you have a soul, and the other, that your soul is a very delicate thing, easily and immediately affected by all outward things, and has a great tendency to relapses.
4. Fourthly, you must be very careful of the atmosphere in which you live; see that it be a pure atmosphere, free from all impurities!
5. Your soul must never omit its daily exercises: some good work which you have in hand for God, some labour of love.
(J. Vaughan, M. A.)I. WE WILL EXAMINE THE WORDS OF THE TEXT.
1. "I wish"; more correctly, "I pray." Prayer is a wish sanctified. Turn your wishes into prayers.
2. "That thou mayest prosper." We may ask for prosperity for our friends; especially if, like Gaius, they serve God and His cause with their substance.
3. "And be in health." This is necessary to the enjoyment of prosperity. What would all else be without it?
4. "Even as thy soul prospereth." We are startled at this wish: the spiritual health of Gaius is made the standard of his outward prosperity! Dare we pray thus for many of our friends? Dare we pray thus for ourselves? What would be the result if such a prayer were answered?
II. WE WILL MENTION THE SYMPTOMS OF ILL-HEALTH.
1. A low temperature. Lukewarmness is an ill sign. In business, such a man will make but little way; in religion, none at all.
2. A contracted heart. If we do not love the brethren, there is something wrong with us.
3. A failing appetite as to spiritual food.
4. A difficulty in breathing. When prayer is an irksome duty, everything is wrong with us.
5. A general lethargy: unwillingness for holy service, want of heart, etc.
6. An ungovernable craving for unhealthy things.
III. WE WILL SUGGEST MEANS OF RECOVERY.
1. Seek good food. Study the Word.
2. Breathe freely. Do not restrain prayer.
3. Exercise yourself unto godliness. Labour for God.
4. Return to your native air: breathe the atmosphere of Calvary.
5. Live by the sea. Dwell near to God's all-sufficiency.
6. If these things fail, here is an old prescription: "Carnis et Sanguinis Christi. This taken several times a day, in a draught of the tears of repentance, is a sure cure.
IV. WE WILL CONCLUDE WITH AN EXHORTATION.
1. Brother Christian, is it a small matter to be weak and feeble? Thou needest all thy vigour. Go to Calvary, and recruit thyself.
2. Sinner, thou art dead, but life and health are in Christ!
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(J. L. Burrows, D. D.)
1. Has your soul prospered under the preaching of the truth? Has this, or any other pulpit, been of any real assistance and service to your spiritual life this past year? And, if so, in what has your soul's prosperity manifested itself? And if you have experienced no such prosperity, why not?
2. But in these days, you are not independent of the pulpit, indeed, but you are not so wholly dependent on it, and instructed by it, as many men are. You have money to buy books and you have time to read books. A man is known by his books. A man cannot always choose his minister. But he can always choose his books. Now, honestly, do the books about God, and about the soul and God, make you uncomfortable? As a matter of fact, do you ever open, and of your own accord and liking, such a book from one year's end to the other?
3. But I may be a great authority on the best books; I may be a great collector and devourer of devotional books; and yet, all the time, I may be an utterly unspiritual and undevotional man myself. Philo for this twenty years has been collecting and reading all the spiritual books he can hear of. Philo will ride you forty miles in winter to have a conversation about spiritual books, or to see a collection larger than his own. But Philo never thinks how wonderful it is that a man who knows regeneration to be the whole world should yet content himself with books upon the new birth, instead of being born again himself. For all that is changed in Philo is his taste for books. He is no more dead to the world: no more delivered from himself: as unwilling to enter into war with himself, and to deny his appetites, as he was twenty years ago. Yet all is well with Philo: he has no suspicion of himself. Have you been any better of what you have heard about prayer this last year? I tell you you are cutting your own throat if you come and sit and consent to sermon after sermon on secret and spiritual prayer, and still remain the same prayerless and unspiritual man you have all your life been.
4. Socrates, the wisest of the Greeks, was wont to insist that a life without constant cross-examination was no true life at all. "Know thyself," was the holiest and most urgent of the holy texts of his god to Socrates. But a greater than Socrates has preached to us, and on still holier and still more heart-searching texts. How does His dialectic prosper in your souls? To put it in the most elementary and superficial way: Do you know as much as your one besetting sin, and what it really is? Do you know about yourself what all your friends see in you with such pain and shame? and what all your enemies rejoice over and laugh at? Has Christ's cross-examination taken you down at all among the motives that move you in all you think, and say, and do? Is the holy and spiritual law of God at all within your heart?
5. Once more: Take from among a thousand things that might be set forth as sure tests of soul-prosperity — take the forgiveness of injuries. This is perhaps the very last grace to which even gracious men, and men prospering in grace, ever attain to. Caesar forgot nothing but injuries. How do you stand in this all-important obedience?
6. Just one more test of your prosperity. The "taming of the tongue," as our Lord's brother calls it. If you are prospering with that great task, then you are well on to being a "perfect man" as James has it. All the roads in the old world led to Rome. And all the prosperities of the soul point to prayer. What a year! and the beginning of what prosperity! it would be to you, if you discovered for yourself, this year, something of the power, and the joy, and the sweetness of secret prayer.
(A. Whyte, D. D.)
(K. Braune, D. D.)
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