My honored Friend
Mr. Jeremy Holwey,
Merchant in Bristol15
Both equity and interest [personal involvement] give you a particular claim to this offspring of my weak labor. It was born in your house and drew its first breath in your famous city. It was when I was with you that I had the occasion and your practical encouragement to write on this subject. While under your roof for several weeks, I enjoyed the advantage of your conversation and beheld, in your speech and way of life, a fair display of this heavenly trade.16 This encouraged my hopes that a writing of this nature might uncover or help to make more such traders in your renowned city, noted for its commerce. Among its many ornaments, it is a place made happy by the enjoyment of the Gospel and lovers of truth and peace. It is Christianity17 that is the honor and prosperity of a people. It lays the foundations with Agates,18 and makes their borders of pleasant stones (Isaiah 54:12).19 It is like the crown of Solomon with which his mother crowned him in the day of his wedding, the day of the gladness of his heart (Song of Solomon 3:11).20 This gives them peace within their walls and prosperity within their palaces (Psalm 122:7).21 Christianity brings down a blessing on their basket and stores and fills their rooms with all precious and pleasant riches (Proverbs 24:4).22
And decay in this heavenly trade is undoubtedly one reason for decline, waste, or failure in earthly commerce. There is no better way for people to thrive in their own concerns than to be faithful to God’s concerns. [As an illustration,] it was said of Julius Caesar that by setting up Pompey’s statue,23 he enhanced his own reputation. Likewise, a decay of godliness brings ruin on people’s earthly commerce. “Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment, because he was determined to go after filth. But I am like a moth to Ephraim, and like dry rot to the house of Judah” (Hosea 5:11–12 ESV). Gregory gives this reason why Dives24 was tormented in his tongue: he talked much of religion, but practiced little of it. He loved the words of the law, but not its works. We live in an age of much talking of God, but of little walking with God. People’s tongues are full of Heaven, but their hearts and feet are sunk into the world and are full of pride, vanity, and deceit. It was said of Diogenes Synopensis,25 that in opinion he was a Stoic, but an Epicurean in way of life. Sadly and likewise, many professors26 [of Christianity] today profess strict principles but live loose lives. They merely converse about Heaven, but trade for earth.
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!” (Ephesians 4:20 ESV), and “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12 NKJV). You are devoted to the Lord and make your earthly interests subservient to the things above. You have zeal, courage, and constancy in the way of God, and natural care for the things of His glory. These show you to be a trader of another country, whose work and wages are from above. And certainly, whatever people think, walking with God in His commands with a conscientious care in everything to please Him will one day be seen to be the greatest investment, even in the eyes of those who now despise it. However now clothed with malicious slander and scorn by people, there is nothing in the ways of God of which people have reason to be ashamed. Nor can those who walk in the ways of God in truth be deprived of any real part of their heavenly investment by even the utmost severity of those who would run them down. And even if there were no other argument by which to persuade people to the choice and pursuit of godliness, this would be sufficient: that gracious27 souls find comfort from reflecting on their uprightness; this comfort bears them up under the greatest sufferings. Their sincerity gives them serenity, peace, and sweet, quiet submission of spirit, even under the most dreadful circumstances that divine pleasure may allot to them here on earth. Godliness necessarily sets Christianity above all other possessions. Even the enemies of Christianity, if they would be rational, would judge that the “worst” things of holiness, even when believers28 are under the saddest circumstances, are to be chosen and preferred by them above the best things of the world. Indeed, they are thought a good bargain even when purchased with their greatest sufferings. Those who know the usefulness of earthly comforts and have the least reason to be wasteful of them will not lightly expose themselves and their dearest concerns in the world to ruin, but only for what they are persuaded is far better (Hebrews 10:34).29 It cannot be thought to be obstinacy or hypocrisy in those who know their own hearts and the terrors of the Lord (Isaiah 2:10–22; 2 Corinthians 5:11)30 to persist in those ways that could cost them their earthly all, because if they were to be false and disobedient to God they would be open to divine wrath. Certainly, if prejudice and emotion did not blind people’s eyes, the calm use of their own knowledge and reason would restrain them from such an uncharitable censure of those who desire to fear God. This is true even though in some ways they walk differently from the common understanding as they labor to approve their integrity to God and people and to be found faithful to the measure of light that they have received.
But it is possible that this book may not come into the hands of very many of the ungodly or be read by them for very long. My hopes, at least my desires, are that it may be well received by and benefit those who profess better things. The Lord sometimes uses clay and spittle (John 9:6),31 and goat’s hair (Exodus 26:7),32 and counts the things that are not as if they were.33 Thus, if it will please the Lord to make this book of any service to yourself and family, and to those who profess His Name in your city—for whom I have so high respect in the Lord—it will abundantly compensate my labor. It will also fulfill the intent of him who is, and desires to approve himself:
Your servant in Christ Jesus,
15Epistles dedicatory addressed to third parties were a common feature in mid seventeenth-century books, and were rare in the prior and succeeding centuries.
16The editor has chosen in this place to keep Ashwood’s term trade in keeping with the title of his book. On the other hand, in modern use, trade tends to refer only to skilled or semi-skilled jobs; the editor has thus usually translated trade as commerce or a similar term when referring to earthly commerce of any kind. Commerce, as used here, includes all commercial activity, including working for a paycheck and investing.
17Ashwood has religion, a term that in his time usually referred to Christianity. Only rarely did it mean pagan religions, which were more commonly referred to as paganism or heathenism or other similar words. The editor has translated similarly in the entire book where the context demands it.
18Agate is a semi-precious stone. An agate was included in the stones on the breastplate worn by the Levitical high priest (Exodus 28:19) and may have been the stone indicated as being the third stone adorning the foundations of the city that came down from Heaven in Revelation 21:19. (It can be difficult to ascertain precisely what minerals are meant in various Bible passages.)
19“I will make your pinnacles of agate…” (Isaiah 54:12 ESV). The Hebrew כַּדְכּד [kad-kobe´] may also be translated ruby or jasper.
20“Go forth, O daughters of Zion, And see King Solomon with the crown With which his mother crowned him On the day of his wedding, The day of the gladness of his heart” (Song of Solomon 3:11 NKJV).
21“Peace be within your walls, Prosperity within your palaces” (Psalm 122:7 NKJV).
22“And by knowledge the rooms are filled With all precious and pleasant riches” (Proverbs 24:4 NASB).
23There was a large statue of Pompey in the Curia of Pompey that was later destroyed by Augustus Caesar around 44 BC. But it is not likely that this statue is the one to which Ashwood refers. The editor is unable to find a historical reference for Ashwood’s remark. (Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus had formed what is known as the First Triumvirate about 60 BC.)
24Dives: The word does not appear in Scripture, but is a popular name for the rich man in our Lord Jesus Christ’s parable in Luke 16:19–31. In Latin, dives means rich, hence the origin of the name.
25One source suggests that this is another name for Diogenes the Cynic, popularly famed for using a lantern to “look for an honest man,” but this is questionable as history records that Diogenes lived rather austerely. Diogenes’s version of Cynicism is believed to be the foundation of the philosophy of Stoicism.
26professor: one who professes—that is, makes an open declaration of—a belief or belief system. Used alone in Ashwood’s time, the term referred to one who professes to be a Christian.
27gracious: in this context, God’s special grace that is given by the Holy Spirit, making a person born again (or born from above), which special grace continues to sanctify a person throughout life. Thus, gracious is also frequently used to mean filled with God’s special grace. It is this special grace alone, and not anything inherent or infused into the believer, that God gives and uses to give power against sin and for holy living.
28believer: in this context, one who has saving belief in Jesus Christ.
29“For you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven” (Hebrews 10:34 NKJV).
30“Enter into the rock and hide in the dust from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendor of his majesty. The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low; against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan; against all the lofty mountains, and against all the uplifted hills; against every high tower, and against every fortified wall; against all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful craft. And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. And the idols shall utterly pass away. And people shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. In that day mankind will cast away their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, to the moles and to the bats, to enter the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs, from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:10–22 ESV). “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences” (2 Corinthians 5:11 NKJV).
31“When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes” (John 9:6 NASB).
32“Then you shall make curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle; you shall make eleven curtains in all” (Exodus 26:7 NASB).
33“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:28 ESV). Also, because Christ’s atonement covers believers’ sin, imperfections and failures in duties, our Heavenly Father graciously counts that which is missing as if it were present.