To the Worshipful John Upton of Lupton, Esq. and the most accomplished and virtuous Lady, his dear Consort, the Author wishes Grace, Mercy, and Peace.
Honoured and worthy Friends.
It was a comfortable expression, which Ambrose used in his funeral orations at the death of Theodosius; "what though he were gone, yet he was not wholly gone; for he had left Honorius, with others of his children, behind him, in whom Theodosius still lived." Your renowned and worthy ancestors are gone, yet (blessed be God) they are not wholly gone; whilst the prudence, piety, and publicness of their spirits, still live and flourish in you, the top branch of a renowned and religious Family. It is a great truth, which Philo Jude us recommends to the observation of all posterity, "That it is not a natural descent from the most honourable and illustrious progenitors, nor the greatest affluence of riches and pleasures that makes a man either honourable or happy; but the habitation of God in his soul, as in his temple, tho' (saith he) those that never tasted religion, nor have seen its glory, will not credit this assertion." "The soul which is filled with God, (saith Plotinus) and brings forth the beautiful fruits of righteousness, this is the truly noble soul:" Our new birth makes us more honourable than our natural birth, let our birth-right dignities be what they will. The children of nobles are, by nature, the children of wrath, even as others: Omnis Sanguis concolor, all blood is of one colour: it is all tainted in Adam, and mingled together in his posterity. "There is no king, saith Seneca, which rose not from a servant; there is no servant which rose not from a king: these things have been blended, and jumbled to and fro in a long issue of changes, ever directed by an all wise Providence.
But though the privileges of natural birth signify nothing as to eternal salvation, yet in civil and political respects and considerations, those that by birth, education, or estate, possess an higher station in the world, differ from the vulgar, as stars of greater magnitude and lustre: their interest and influence are great in these things, and the welfare of kingdoms greatly depends upon them.
It is therefore a great design of the enemy of mankind, to corrupt persons of eminent rank and quality both in religion and morality; and by their influence and example, to infect and poison the whole body politic; and his success herein deserves to be greatly lamented and bewailed. Persons of eminency are more especially obliged to shun base and sordid actions. Hierom professed he saw nothing desirable in nobility, except this, that such persons are bound by a certain kind of necessity, not to degenerate from the probity, or stain the glory of their ancestors. But alas! how many in our times have not only exposed Christianity to contempt, but obscured the glory of their own families, and the kingdom in which they had their birth and breeding; so that if you will take right marks of your way to heaven you will have little direction from those of your own rank. As mariners take their direction at sea, by looking up to the heavens, so must you. In this general corruption it is very hard to escape infection; many (as Salvian complained) are compelled to be evil, lest they should be accounted vile, and incur the offence of God, to avoid the slights and censures of men. Although there is no more reason why they should be offended at the rational and religious pleasures you and other pious gentlemen take in the ways of godliness, than there is, that you should envy the sinful pleasures they take in the ways of wickedness. It was an excellent apology that Tertullian made for the Christians of his time, against the Gentiles "Wherein (saith he) do we offend you, if we believe there are other pleasures? if we will not partake with you in your delights, it is only for our own injury: we reject your pleasures, and you are not delighted with ours."
But by how much the infection spreads and prevails among those of your order, by so much the more we have reason to value you, and all those that remain sound and untainted, both in religion and morality, as persons worthy of singular respect and honour: and blessed be God there is yet a number of such left.
Sir, It was a special happiness, which Chrysostom earnestly recommended to persons of quality, that they would so order their conversations, that their parents might rather glory in them, than they in their parents; "Otherwise (saith he) it is better to rise to honour from a contemptible parent, than to be contemptible from an honourable parent; but blessed be God, you and your worthy ancestors reflect honour upon each other.
Had God suffered you to degenerate, as many do, it would have been but a poor consolation to have said, My progenitors were men of honour, the love and delight of their country. This, as one excellently expresseth it, would be the same thing, as if one that is blind himself, should boast what a sharp and piercing sight his father had or one that is lame himself, should glory in those feats of activity his grandfather performed; but God (to whose bounty therefore you are doubly obliged) has made you the inheritor of their virtues, as well as of their lands, and therein fulfilled many thousand prayers, which have been poured out to God upon your account. But I must forbear, lest I provoke others to envy, and draw upon myself the suspicion of flattery. What has been already said may serve far a sufficient reason of this dedication. I know the agreeableness of such discourses to the pious dispositions of your souls, is of itself sufficient to make it welcome to you. It is a treatise of Christ, yea, of the Method of Grace, in the application of Christ; than which no subject can be more necessary to study, or sweet to experience. All goodness is attractive, how powerfully attractive then must Jesus Christ be, who is the ocean of all goodness, from whom all streams of goodness are derived, and into whom they all empty themselves? If Pindarus could say of the lovely Theoxenus, that whosoever saw that august and comely face of his, and was not surprised with amazement, and inflamed with love, must have an heart of adamant or brass; what then shall we resemble that man's heart unto, that has no ferverous affections kindled in it by the incomparable beauty of Christ! a beauty, which excels in lustre and brightness, that visible light which so dazzles our eyes, as that light does darkness itself; as Plato speaks of the divine light Christ is "huperkallontos kalos", inexpressible beauty, and all other beauties are but "eikon, kai skia", an image, nay, a shadow of his beauty. How was holy Ignatius ravished with desires after Christ, when he cried out, O how I long to be thrown into the jaws of those lions, which I hear roaring for me! and if they will not dispatch me the sooner, "kai orostiasomai" I will enforce them to it by violence, that I may enjoy the sight of my blessed Jesus. O my heart, (saith another, how is it thou art not drawn up by the very root, by thy desires after Christ? The necessity, and the trial of our union with, and interest in, this lovely LORD JESUS, the main subject of this discourse. Without the personal application of Christ by faith, our hopes of heaven are but deluding dreams, Heb. 3: 11. "I sware in my wrath, "ei eiseleusontai", if they shall enter into my rest:" What then? Nay, there is all: but it is a dreadful Aposiopesis (as one calls it) such a pause as may justly shake every vein of the unbeliever's heart: If they shall enter: as if he had said, If ever they come into my glory, then say, I am no God, for I have sworn the contrary.
I will not be tiresome, but conclude all in a few requests to you and to God for you both. That which I request of you is,
(1.) That you will search and try your own hearts by these truths, especially now, when so great trials are like to be made of every man's root and foundation in religion. Account that your first work, which Bellarmine calls "the first error of Protestants", to make sure your interest in Christ; every thing is as its foundation is: a true diamond will endure the smartest stroke of the hammer, but a false one will fly.
(2.) That you be humble under all that dignity and honour, which God has put upon you; be ye clothed with humility. It was the glory of the primitive Christians, that they did not speak but live great things: humility will be the lustre of your other excellencies: estates and honours are but appendants and fine trappings, which add not any real worth, yet how are some vain minds puffed up with these things! But ye have not so learned Christ.
(3.) That you steadily persevere in those good ways of God, in which you have walked, and beware of heart, or life-apostasy. You expect happiness whilst God is in heaven, and God expects holiness from you whilst you are on earth. It was an excellent truth which Tossanus recommended to his posterity in his last will and testament, from his own experience: "I beseech you, (smith he) my dear children and kindred, that you never be ashamed of the truths of the gospel, either by reason of scandals in the church, or persecutions upon it: truth may labour for a time, but cannot be conquered, and I have often found God to be wonderfully present with them that walk before him in truth, though for a time they may be oppressed with troubles and calumnies."
(4.) Lastly, that you keep a strict and constant watch over your own hearts, lest they be ensnared by the tempting, charming, and dangerous snares attending a full and easy condition in the world. There are temptations suited to all conditions. Those that are poor and low in estate and reputation, are tempted to cozen, cheat, lie, and flatter, and all to get up to the mount of riches and honours; but those that were born upon that mount, though they be more free from those temptations, yet lie exposed to others no less dangerous, and therefore we find, "Not many mighty, not many noble are called," 1 Cor. 1: 26. Many great and stately ships, which spread much sail, and draw much water, perish in the storms, when small barks creep along the shore under the wind, and get safe into their port. Never aim at an higher station in this world than that you are in: Some have wished in their dying hour, they had been lower, but no wise man ever wished himself at the top at honour, at the brink of eternity.
I will conclude all with this hearty wish for you, that as God has set you in a capacity of much service for him in your generation, so your hearts may be enlarged for God accordingly, and that you may be very instrumental for his glory on earth, and may go safe, but late to heaven. That the blessings of heaven may be multiplied upon you both, and your hopeful springing branches: and that you may live to see your children's children, and peace upon Israel. In a word, that God will follow these truths in your hands with the blessing of his Spirit; and that the manifold infirmities of him that ministers them, may be no prejudice or bar to their success with you, or any into whose hands they shall come; which is the hearty desire of