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The Poverty of Heavenly Traders

{Since the Heavenly Trade Is the Best Trade…

Cause for Lamentation, Repentance, and Labor

Symptoms of the Decay of the Heavenly Trade

The Poverty of Heavenly Traders}

The poverty of traders plainly shows that business is not good. When a business does not support its proprietor, but the proprietor becomes poorer, then clearly business is not good. “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4 NASB). When business is good, business owners usually thrive and live well. But when they become poor, it is clear that their business is in decline. In like manner, when heavenly traders pursue a good trade for Heaven, they quickly grow rich toward God and in their own souls. Wisdom’s wares are soul-enriching wares. “My fruit is better than gold, yes, than fine gold, And my revenue than choice silver” (Proverbs 8:19 NKJV). People deem those who have much gold and silver to be rich,289 but wisdom’s fruit is better than gold and therefore is necessarily enriching. Those who have wisdom’s gold cannot be poor. This is why Christ counsels the Laodiceans to buy refined gold from Him so that they might be rich (Revelation 3:18).290 But, alas, how spiritually poor people generally are today! “Therefore I said, ‘Surely these are poor. They are foolish; For they do not know the way of the Lord, The judgment of their God’” (Jeremiah 5:4 NKJV). When people are unacquainted with the way of God, walk far from Christianity, and lose their strict and close walk with God, they soon become poor and foolish. And this is the case of many people everywhere. They allow themselves carnal liberty and indulge in a freedom to walk according to what they see with their eyes and not by God’s rules. And, where this is, there is soul poverty, which is too visible in most people today. Christian, just observe your own heart and others’ and you will find that this spiritual poverty abounds everywhere. Under the best of means, spiritual thriving is small. The choicest privileges do little more than keep up a name that they are alive (Revelation 3:1),291 and put little life into the soul. A show of Christianity and a mere skeleton of profession is the common fruit of ordinances in most places and all the while the vitals of Christianity are decaying. Decreases in grace appear every day and a visible alteration in the whole frame and internal vigor of the soul is apparent; faith, love, humility, patience, self-denial, and every grace become weaker every day. Former days are better than now (Ecclesiastes 7:10).292 Speak, Christian! Are not matters worse with your soul than they were? Are there not declines in every part?

There was a time when your mind received divine light; the candle of the Lord shone in your dwelling. Your eye was quick to discern good and evil. At one time you could see an excellence in the knowledge of Christ. Oh, how precious were sermons! Privileges [of church membership (?)]293 were to you the opening of jewel boxes and the opening of hidden glory. You dwelt in the land of visions (Ezekiel 40:2)294 and new discoveries of light and grace came to you in your affectionate attendance on God. But now it is not so; your candle burns dimly and your right eye is darkened.295 You see little beauty in grace or desirableness in truth. Things that were under your feet the other day that seemed to be nothing compared with Christ now seem, through the magnifying glass of your deceived mind, great and lovely.

Formerly, your affections were warm and lively after God, His Word, and His ways. Oh, how precious were His appointed feasts and His Tabernacles lovely.296 You could delight in approaching God and talk of a blessedness in His presence. Oh, the pleasure, sweetness and joy that your heart found in your prayer closet, in spiritual conversation, duties, and public ordinances. You could weep over sin, wet your prayers with tears, find you heart burn within you while Christ was speaking, and melt under the warm beams of divine love.297 But, alas, now it is not so. Now, while you are speaking to God in prayer or God is speaking to you in His Word, your affections are dead and your heart is cold as a stone. You find no more taste in ordinances, duties, or Christian conversation than in the white of an egg (Job 6:6).298 You do not find the same delight in God that you did in the past and the night of your pleasure has turned into fear for you (Isaiah 21:4).299 This is soul poverty.

Again, there was a time when your will was like the great wheel in the clock.300 Your will could move regularly after God. You could choose God for your chief portion and Christ for your only treasure. You preferred a portion in Him above ten thousand worlds. You could chose communion with God before your food and drink and one hour’s fellowship with Christ beyond all the delights on earth. You could choose the things that please God and deny your own pleasure in order to obey Him. Formerly, you could stick to these choices and find the purpose of your heart clinging to God (Acts 11:23).301 You could make a resolution once, then keep your resolutions. It was easier to take your heart out of your body than to persuade you to part with Christ, His presence, or His ways. But now your will is only with difficulty drawn to pure and constant enjoyment of God in His way. Oh, how difficult a thing it is to persuade your will to let go of all for Christ, to leave everything to attend on God, to part with the world and self so as to wait on God, or to throw all overboard to take in Christ! How hard it is now to be content that Christ will have command of your soul and have control of your dearest interests. Now you find yourself unable to keep your heart in order for one hour or to carry out the purposes of your soul for God and godliness. You make resolutions, but change them every day. You vow, then break your vows continually. There is no steadfastness in your spirit. This also shows your soul poverty.

There was also a time when your conscience was tender; your heart could smite you for the least sin. Your conscience could hold you to the greatest duty and bind you to good behavior. You could not go against the light and checks of your regulated conscience, not even to gain the whole world. But now it is dead and quiet. it can bear the sharpest strokes of the two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12)302 and not feel it or bleed. It makes little or no complaint about sins against knowledge and mercy. Sins that were previously troublesome to your conscience now pass it easily. It can digest threatenings and terrors with little trouble and sleep while the arrows of the Lord’s wrath fly about its ears. Your conscience can let go of mercies heedlessly and allow truths to pass by with no consideration of them. This is soul poverty.

This you can say also: there was formerly activity in your soul for God, and the mainspring of your heart was strong and it set every wheel in motion.303 You could run and not be weary, walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31).304 No Christian duty was tiresome to you and no command of God was burdensome to you (1 John 5:3).305 No journeys seemed long that led to God and no sermons were tedious that spoke of God. Your spirit was all life when in holy company306 and work. If anyone said, “Come let us go up to the mountain of the house of the Lord” (Zechariah 8:21),307 you would say, “I will go also.” If God said, “Seek my face,” you replied, “I will seek Your face” (Psalm 27:8).308 But now a languor is on you and slothfulness is on your whole soul. You are soon weary of well-doing and cannot continue with God in spite of conflicts and difficulties as was true before. You are not diligent to prepare your food in summer (Proverbs 30:25),309 nor do you lay in provisions for a winter of spiritual need. You turn on your bed like a door on its hinges (Proverbs 26:14),310 and you put little labor into the care of your heart and way of life. You lose many opportunities and advantages for your soul due to your deadness and disinclination to good works. Is this not evidence that your soul is languishing and in poverty?

There are [moral] decays and poverty in your life, as well as in your spirit. How unprofitable is your way of life now compared to what it was? There was a time when your bow remained strong (Genesis 49:24)311 and your lips spread knowledge (Proverbs 15:7).312 You left good things behind you for others as you went your way. It was good to be in your company; few went from you that were not bettered by it.

But alas, how dwindled is your light. How barren and sapless is your way of life. Your company is not desirable and your conversations of little value. Your words eat flesh, sear like a hot iron, and deaden those who hear it. Your breath freezes all that come near to it, so unprofitable a burden is your company. Said Mr. Sedgwick: “We turn all religion into a discourse, censure, or dispute. We can eat, and drink, and talk; and sin as freely.” This is a sad case indeed and it demonstrates great decays of godliness when people become poorer and more impotent in their souls.

289Ashwood wrote when money was really money; it had intrinsic value.

290I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Revelation 3:18 ESV).

291To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead’” (Revelation 3:1 NASB).

292Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Ecclesiastes 7:10 ESV). Matthew Henry notes that we cannot be sure that former times were really better, and that all things are in God’s providence. But Ashwood speaks of personally observable changes in a relatively short time, not of the distant past.

293Ashwood does not specify what kind of privileges he meant. The editor filled in according to the context and other places in Ashwood’s book.

294In visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south” (Ezekiel 40:2 ESV).

295When a person first closes with Christ, the Holy Spirit opens the Scriptures to him or her. The Scriptures and sound teaching are fresh, new, and exciting. After all, many people are fond of learning new things. But as time goes on, the excitement fades. We must all beware of falling away from Christ when the side benefits of Christianity are no longer as great as previously.

296These are references to the Old Testament ceremonies that foreshadowed the more spiritual New Testament Christian life, and more than that, Heaven to come.

297Some care is needed here. Emotions or affections can provide useful information but must be interpreted rightly. Unfortunately, we do live in a fallen world and a curse is on all our work; even prayer and Bible reading and study are affected; what should always be a delightful work can contain toil. Humans are also naturally averse to daily tasks and chores. Thus, when delight fails, obedient duty must prevail.

298Can something tasteless be eaten without salt, Or is there any taste in the white of an egg?” (Job 6:6 NASB). There are considerable differences in people’s reactions and taste sensitivity to egg whites. Some find them extremely bland. Chicken breeds may make a difference also.

299My heart wavered, fearfulness frightened me; The night for which I longed He turned into fear for me” (Isaiah 21:4 NKJV). Ashwood seems to be referring to fears that would be calmed by trust in God; in the absence of that peace from God, worldly fears cause sleepless nights.

300There were different designs, but commonly, the great wheel was powered by the mainspring, and the movement of the great wheel was regulated by the escapement, which was connected to the pendulum.

301When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” (Acts 11:23 ESV).

302For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 NASB).

303This reference is to a mainspring-powered clock, an invention dating from the early fourteenth century.

304But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31 NKJV).

305For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3 NASB).

306In this book, company always refers to companions, never to a business concern.

307The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going’” (Zechariah 8:21 ESV).

308When You said,Seek My face,’ My heart said to You, ‘Your face, Lord, I will seek’” (Psalm 27:8 NKJV).

309The ants are not a strong people, But they prepare their food in the summer” (Proverbs 30:25 NASB).

310As a door turns on its hinges, So does the lazy man on his bed” (Proverbs 26:14 NKJV).

311Yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel)” (Genesis 49:24 ESV).

312The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools” (Proverbs 15:7 ESV).

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