Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? “Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!”

– Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Horrors of horrors! What heresy is this? Have I fallen into the lies of the Prosperity Gospellers? Stay your wrath and hear me out as I make my case:

In addition, there are promises of temporal help in this mortal life, as in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” Matthew 10:30: “All the hairs of your head are numbered.” And St Paul says, 1 Timothy 4:8, “Godliness is of value to all, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Why God also gave temporal promises is worth considering, and there are at least four reasons:

First: For the knowledge of God and of creation, that is, that we might think of God and remember that he creates and maintains everything, and also that the distribution of temporal goods happens with his counsel, not as Epicurus imagines, without God’s counsel. Here one is to note the passages about creation and distribution, as in Deuteronomy 30:20, “God is your life and the length of your days”; Psalms 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain”; and in Proverbs 10:22, “The blessing of the Lord makes rich.” And from this one should learn this important wisdom and rule, that human counsel, work, cunning and strength alone, without God’s support and help, cannot be fruitful. Pompey thought he was so strong that he could always triumph, but nevertheless he did not triumph, because triumph is of God. Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.”

The second reason why temporal blessings are given and promises announced is this: Maintenance of the Church in this mortal life; for it is God’s order and will that his eternal Church be gathered in this mortal life only through the office of preaching. If people are to preach and learn now; they must live, and this requires food, drink, health, and shelter, for as the Psalmist says, “The dead cannot praise God” [Ps. 115:17]. In order that a Church can be and live, God makes the earth fruitful, gives us, as his children, food and drink; gives government and shelter, and comforts us; and proclaims the promise of these temporal goods that we may know that he will sustain the Church and for this end will give life, health, nourishment, shelter, and government. The Lord Christ speaks about this in Matthew 6:32, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”

The third reason is that God wants us to exercise faith, invocation, and thanksgiving through temporal aid, so that the light in our hearts concerning God’s works, presence, and fatherly will may become ever stronger. Thus he speaks in Psalm [51], “Call on me in time of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you shall praise me.” This commandment we are to note carefully and to exercise daily, and with it consider the purpose of this invocation and thanksgiving, namely that in our hearts God may so much more be known, honoured, and loved.

The fourth reason is that the temporal promises are a reminder of the Lord Christ, and the eternal promise, and here two things obtain. First, all temporal goods are given and promised for the sake of the Lord Christ; the eternal Father himself gathers his Church out of love for his Son, but because the Church must have its beginning in this life, God gives us physical goods, which are necessary for us in this weak life. As St Paul says, 2 Corinthians 1, all promises are proclaimed and given to us for the sake of the Son.

Who do you think said this? Joel Osteen? Benny Hinn? Kong Hee?

Nope, it is in fact Philip Melanchthon from his Loci Communes of 1555.

Yes, we should criticise their simony whereby Prosperity Gospel pastors enrich themselves at the expense of their people, we should fumigate against their more crude materialistic instincts for bigger cars and houses.

But for God’s sake man, there is a reason why the swarms of people who populate City Harvest and or flock to the Prosperity Gospel are mainly from the lower economic classes. There are some entirely valid and real concerns of these people which the “purer” Reformed churches do not often address. They are worried about paying their bills, job security, putting food on the table, etc. Are they to be censured for believing that God is not only concerned with their morality but their economic well being or financial security as well? Is it so wrong to believe, along with Luther, that God the Father does provide me with meat and housing? God is not merely a moral policeman of the world but also the provider of our material goods. Frankly, some of the criticisms of the prosperity gospel does border on a denial of divine providence.

I guess this is why nowadays I’m a little kinder and not so hard on the Pentecostals or charismatics or prosperity Gospel. As valid as much our criticisms of their simony and exaggerations maybe, but at the root of their Gospel remains a core truth and real existential concern, and until we address that, we might want to “check our privilege” as well as our mouths.

For a much more indepth discussion see here.

5 thought on “God’s Promises of Material Blessings”
  1. Good challenge for us as the church to “get it right” in our preaching and teaching… great quote from Melanchthon…. but First Article trust is one thing… the big no-no that has always been impressed upon my seminary mind has to do with the linking of riches to the DEGREE OF FAITH… “If you have no riches that must mean that you have a very weak faith” kind of thinking and preaching… “Just believe – and God will give you your heart’s desires!!!”

    1. You have a point there, the Gospel promise of God’s care for our material well being can very easily be subverted into a new law which condemns us for our lack of faith. I guess in this case, as in all cases, we are in need of the discernment to rightly distinguish law from Gospel.

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