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THE EPISTLE DEDICATORY.
To the Religious and Honourable Lady, Letitia Popham, wife to Colonel Alexander Popham.
MADAM,—It is a lovely conjunction when goodness and greatness meet together. Persons of estate and respect in the world have more temptations and hindrances than others, but greater obligations to own God. The great landlord of the world expecteth a rent from every country cottage, but a large revenue from great houses. Now usually it falleth out so that they that hold the greatest farms pay the least rent.11 ‘Qui majores terras possident, minores census solvunt.’—Parisienis. Never is the Lord more neglected and dishonoured than in great men’s houses, in the very face of all his bounty. If religion chance to get in there, it is soon worn out again. Though vices live long in a family, and run in a blood from father to son, yet it is a rare case to see strictness of religion carried on for three or four descents. It was the honour of Abraham’s house that from father to son for a long while they were ‘heirs of the same promise,’ Heb. xi. 9; but where is there such a succession to be found in the houses of our gentry? The father, perchance, professeth godliness (for οὐ πολλοὶ, saith the apostle, 1 Cor. i. 26, ‘not many noble,’ &c., there are a few—he doth not say there are none), and a carnal son cometh and turneth all out of doors, as if he were ashamed of his father’s God. The causes of this mischief may be supposed to be these:—(1.) Plenty ill governed disposeth to vice and sin, as a rank soil is apt to breed weeds. (2.) Brave spirits (as the world counteth them) think strictness inglorious,’22 ‘Coguntur esse mali ne viles habeantur.’—Salvian. and the power of religion a base thing, that taketh off from their grandeur and esteem. A loose owning of Christianity is honourable, since the kings of the earth have counted it one of the fairest flowers of their crowns to be styled the ‘Catholic King,’ the ‘most Christian King,’ the ‘Defender of the Faith,’ &c. But a true submission to the power of it is made a scorn, as being contrary to that liberty of fashions, vanity of compliment, and some Gentile customs, which, in a fond compliance with the humour of the age, they are loath to part with. It were a rude zeal to deny them honest civilities, but certain customs and modes there are inconsistent with the severity of religion, which, 4rather than men will part with, they will even break with God himself. (3.) The marriage of children into carnal families, wherein they consult rather with the greatness of their house than the continuing of Christ’s interest in their line and posterity. How careful are they that they should match in their own rank for blood and estate! Should they not be as careful for religion also? But even good people give a suspicion sometimes that they do not believe what they do profess. That this is the ready way to undo all that hath been set on foot for God, is evident by scripture and experience. See Gen. vi. 1-3; Ps. cvi. 38; Neh. xiii. 25, 26. In scripture, we read of Jehoram, who is said to ‘walk in the way of the kings of Israel, for the daughter of Ahab was his wife,’ 2 Kings viii. 18; and in ecclesiastical history, of Valens the emperor, who, by marrying with an Arian lady, was himself ensnared in that wicked opinion.
All this is spoken, madam, to quicken you to the greater care in your relations, that you may settle a standing interest for Jesus Christ so hopefully already begun in your house and family. It will not be pleasing to you that I should publish upon the house-top what God hath done for you, or enabled you to do for him. Go on still, and be faithful. There are few that I know in the world who have more cause to honour God than you have.
That I have inscribed this Commentary to your name will not seem strange to those that know my great obligations to yourself and your worthy husband, and your interest in that beloved place33 Stoke Newington. and people among whom I have had so many sweet opportunities of enjoying, and, I hope, of glorifying God, and from whom I should never have removed but upon those weighty causes and considerations which did even rend me from them. And though I am now transplanted, and owe very much service and respect elsewhere, yet that noble lord44 The Right Honourable William Earl of Bedford. that gave me the call will allow me full time and leave to pay my old debts, that afterward I may be the more in a capacity publicly to express my gratitude to himself.
If any should be so foolish as to object the unsuitableness of dedicating a comment on the scripture to one of your sex (as it seemeth some did to Jerome55 Hieron. Epist. 140.), I shall not plead that two of the books of scripture are named from women, Ruth and Esther, that an epistle which maketh up a part of the canon is inscribed to an ‘elect lady,’ that if this be a fault, others have faulted in like kind before me;66 Hieron. to Celantia, Asella, &c. but only that this is a practical commentary, and surely in matters of practice (which is every Christian’s common interest) your sex hath a full share. Though your course of life be more private and confined, yet you have your service. The scriptures speak of the woman’s gaining upon the husband, 1 Peter iii. 1; seasoning the children, Prov. xxxi. 1, 2 Tim. i. 5; encouraging the servants in a way of godliness, especially of their own sex; it is said, Esther iv. 16, ‘I also and my maidens will fast likewise.’ These maidens were either Jews, and then it showeth what servants should be taken into a nearer attendance, such as savour of religion (see Ps. ci. 6), or else, which is more probable, such as she had instructed in the true religion, for these maidens 5were appointed her by the eunuch, and were before instructed in court fashions, Esther ii. 9; but that did not satisfy. She taketh time to instruct them in the knowledge of the true God, and it seemeth in her apartment had many opportunities of religious commerce with them in the worship of God. Madam, how far you practise these duties it is not necessary that I should tell the world. Persevere with cheer fulness, and in due time you shall reap if you faint not. The good Lord shed abroad the comforts and graces of his Spirit more abundantly into your heart, which is the unfeigned desire of him who is, madam, your most obliged and respectively77 That is, “respectfully.”—Ed. observant,
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