THo the smalness of this Tract will scarce justifie the solemnity of a Preface; yet remembring 'tis design'd for those who are accustomed to Ceremonious Addresses, I think it not best to approch them too abruptly. And indeed besides the Civility, there seems som use of it in order to my design. To advise, or reprove, is so ungrateful an Office, that he that undertakes it, had need use all previous arts to vindicate the sincerity of his purpose, and to convince the person admonished, that 'tis neither spleen nor prejudice, but the most real exuberant kindness which promts him to inflict those wounds of a friend, Prov. 27. 6. and that he is never less an enemy, then when he thus tells them the truth, Gal. 4. 16: Therefore, tho they may in the ensuing leaves meet with som things which may have a shew of severity, yet let me assure my Reader, they have indeed a design of the greatest service, by correcting the extravagance of som, to rescu the whole Sex, as from the contagion of the example, so from the community of the blame. For such is either the inadvertence, or malice of a great part of mankind, that (against all Rules of Discourse) they deduce Generals from Particulars, make every woman so far an Eve, that her depravation shall forfeit her whole kind; and because there are foolish and scandalous women, will scarce allow there are any other.
The truth is, the Error seems in many men to be affected; they propose to themselves unworthy ends on women, and make all their observations wholly in order to those. He that is upon a base pursuit, takes particular notice of all that he thinks for his turn; the rest fall not within his Sphere: and 'tis too probable he is so abundantly supplied for that absolute consideration, that he never descends to the comparative. Nay, perhaps there may be a yet deeper original of the scandal: the world is much governed by estimation; and as applause encourages & exalts, so a universal contemt debases & dejects the Spirit. If it can once pass into a Maxim, that women are such silly or vicious creatures, it may put fair for the making them so indeed. Themselves may imbibe the common opinion, charge all their personal faults on their Sex, think that they do but their kind, when indeed they most contradict it, and no more aspire to any thing worthy, then a man can pretend to the excellencies of an Angel. And indeed this seems to be the practical inference of som women, who could hardly have descended to such dishonors, had they not before bin as vile in their own eies, as they have afterwards rendred themselves in others.
It may therefore upon this account be a necessary Charity to the Sex, to acquaint them with their own valu, animate them to som higher thoughts of themselves; not to yield their suffrage to those injurious estimates the World hath made of them, and from a supposed incapacity of nobler things to neglect the pursuit of them; from which God and Nature have no more precluded the Feminine, then the Masculine part of mankind.
In reference to secular Considerations, their advantages are most important; Women have a very powerful Influence upon all sorts of Transactions in the World: the engaging of the Delilah, and plowing with the Heifer, Judg: 14. & 16. being ever the surest way to undermine the Counsels, and master the force of the Stoutest Samson. And accordingly, Histories of all kinds assure us, that Gyneceum has still had a Rival suffrage with the Senate. I might urge the more regular Powers which appertain unto that Sex; that all mankind is the Pupil and Disciple of Female Institution: the Daughters till they write women, and the Sons till the first seven years be past; the time when the mind is most ductile, and prepar'd to receive impression, being wholly in the Care and Conduct of the Mother. And whereas is observ'd by Aristotle in his Politics, (and is a proof of his being as wise, as he was a learned man) that the Estate of Republics entirely hangs on private families, the little Monarchies both composing & giving law unto the great; 'tis evident that the disposal of Families and all Domestic concerns therein lies chiefly on the Wife; whence the same Aristotle declares, that the Spartans notwithstanding their ready address to Empire by their great frugality, industry, and military virtue, could have but half a happiness, as failing on the part of their Wives. But waving these reflexions I shall fix only on the personal accomplishments of the Sex, and peculiarly that which is the most principal endowment of the rational nature, I mean their understanding. Where first it will be a little hard to pronounce, that they are naturally inferior to men; when 'tis considered how much of extrinsic weight is put in the ballance to turn it on the mens side. Men have their parts cultivated and improved by Education, refined and subtilized by Learning and Arts, are like an inclosed piece of a Common, which by industry and husbandry becomes a different thing from the rest, tho the natural turf own'd no such inequality. And truly had women the same advantage, I dare not say but they would make as good returns of it; som of those few that have bin tryed, have bin eminent in several parts of Learning. To omit the modern instances, Theano after the death of Pythagoras kept up his School; Socrates confesses himself to have bin instructed not only in Rhetoric by Aspatia, but even in the highest Points of Philosophy by Diotime: the Roman Story enforms us of the deep wisdom of Tanaquil, Cornelia, Livia, to pass by others. And were we sure they would have ballast to their sails, have humility enough to poize them against the vanity of Learning, I see not why they might not more frequently be intrusted with it; for if they could be secured against this weed, doubtless the soil is rich enough to bear a good crop. But not to oppose a received opinion, let it be admitted, that in respect of their intellects they are below men; yet sure in the sublimest part of humanity, they are their equals: they have souls of as divine an Original, as endless a Duration, and as capable of infinit Beatitude. That spiritual Essence, that ray of Divinity owns no distinction of Sexes; so that in this sense also that Aphorism of the Apostle holds good; there is neither Male nor Female, but all are one, Gal. 3. 28. And sure this is the one transcendent Excellency of Human Nature. For alas, what valu can comparatively be set upon all other Qualifications, which will finally-leave us but like the Beasts that perish. And this as it is the highest pitch of their worth, so it is the safest subject of their Contemplations: other Knowledg, as the Apostle speaks, 1 Cor. 8. 1. may puff-up, this only will edify.
As therefore when we would pride our selves, we use not to boast our meaner, but our best qualities: so let me solicit Ladies to be so just to themselves, as not to take their own mesures by any thing below this. Why should they take so low a level of Greatness, as to valu themselves upon a title which is but a bigger blast of air, when they may derive their descent from above the Stars, claim cognation with Divinity? Why should they dote on the fictitious image, of a perhaps more fictitious beauty, which their glass presents them, when they need but look inward to see an infinitely fairer Idea, an emanation of the eternal Brightness? Indeed did they make a just estimate of themselves in this respect, it would overwhelm the vanity of those inferior things wherein they now have such complacency, nor would they suffer their nobler part to be affronted by the unequal competition of their meaner.
But there is also another consequent which would flow from that esteem; they would solicitously preserve what they so highly prize, it being natural for us to proportion our care to our valu. They would be jealously vigilant against every thing, that might eclipse the radiancy or contaminate the purity of their souls. 'Twas the advice of a Heathen moralist, Revere thy self; and 'twas very wholesom counsel: for next our due veneration to God, a reverence to our selves is the most severe controller of all exorbitancies. How can a soul that remembers its celestial extraction, wallow it self in the mire, stoop to any sordid degenerus practices? 'Tis said of Themistocles, that seeing once a rich booty about the dead corpses of his enemies, he touched it not, but pointing to another, said, Take thou that, for thou art not Themistocles. If then a little military fame could so elevate his thoughts, tis a shame that any who carry an immortal spirit about them, should not be raised above all the contemtible baits of this sublunary World. Why should they not with the like disdain turn over all sensual inordinacies to meer Animals, and creatures that have no higher principle then that of Sense, whilst themselves soar up to those more sublimated plesures, which are at God's Right Hand for evermore, Psal. 16. 12.
We may therefore conclude, that what ever vicious impotence Women are under, it is acquired, not natural; nor derived from any illiberality of God's, but from the managery of his bounty. He has placed within them a pillar of Cloud and Fire, sufficient to shelter and conduct them through all the storms, all the intricacies that can occur in their journy to Canaan; if they will forget that more intrinsic part of their being, live as if they were all body, reject the Manna, and rave after the Quails, that destruction which will thereby be induced they must own to spring from themselves. Let them not charge God foolishly, or think that by making them women, he necessitated them to be proud, or wanton, vain, or peevish; since 'tis manifest he made them to better purposes, was not partial to the other Sex, but that having, as the Prophet speaks, abundance of spirit, Mal. 2. he equally dispenc'd it, and gave the feeblest woman as large and capacious a soul as that of the Greatest Hero.
Nay give me leave to say farther, that as to an Eternal well being, he seems to have placed them in more advantagious circumstances then he has don men. He has implanted in them som native propensions, which (as I shall hereafter have occasion to observe) do much facilitate the operations of Grace upon them. Besides, there are many temtations to which men are exposed that are out of their road. How hard is it for a man to converse in the World, but he shall be importun'd to debauchery and excess, must forfeit his sobriety to maintain the reputation of a sociable Person? Again, how liable are they by a promiscuous conversation among variety of humors, to meet with affronts, which the Maxims of Honor will tell them, must (in spight of all Christ's interdicts) be reveng'd? And this engages them in Quarrels, somtimes in Murders. Now none of these are incident to women: they must in these and som other instances attaque temtation, violently ravish guilt, and abandon their Sex, the whole Economy of their state, e're they can divest themselves of their innocency. So that God seems in many particulars to have closelier fenced them in, and not left them to those wilder excursions, for which the customary liberties of the other Sex afford a more open way. In short, they have so many advantages towards Vertu, that tho the Philosopher made it one of his solemn acknowledgments to God, that he had made him a man, and not a woman: yet I think Christian women have now reason enough to invert that form, and to thank God that he made them women, and not men.
But we know advantages which are only in speculation, are lookt on with som diffidence, till there have bin som practical experiment made of them; I shall therefore evidence the problem by demonstration, and instance; desiring my Readers to mesure the possibilities of their arriving to eminent degrees of Vertu and Piety, by what others have attained to. I shall not fetch examples of Morality from Heathen Women, because I am now upon a higher strain; (yet many such might be brought to the reproach of many Women, who pretending to more, fall infinitly short of that:) 'tis Christian Vertu that I am now recommending, and which has bin eminently exemplified in many of their Sex. How many Women do we read of in the Gospel, who in all the duties of assiduous attendance on Christ, liberalities of love and respect, nay even in zeal and courage, surpassed even the Apostles themselves? We find his Cross surrounded, his Passion celebrated by the avowed tears and lamentations of devout Women, when the most sanguine of his Disciples had denied, yea forswore, and all had forsaken him. Nay, even Death it self could not extinguish their love; we find the devout Maries designing a laborious, chargeable, and perhaps hazardous respect to his Corps. And accordingly 'tis a memorable attestation Christ gives to their Piety, by making them the first Witnesses of his Resurrection, the prime Evangelists to Proclaim those glad Tidings; and as a Learned man speaks, Apostles to the Apostles. Nor is the devotion of that Sex to be found only in the sacred Records; the Primitive times have left us many Memorials of the like, and the Martyrologies are full of Female sufferers of all Ages and conditions, who by the fervor of their Zeal had overcome the timorousness of their Nature, and wearied the cruelty of their Persecutors. And as Women help to augment the number of Martyrs, so did they of Confessors also, in a stout owning, & diligent practice of Christianity. Queens and Empresses knew then no Title so Glorious as that of a nursing Mother to the Church, have often exchanged their Palaces for little Cells and Oratories, and valued not their own Diadems in comparison with their Savior's Crown of Thorns. And tho by a perpetual declination from that pristine Zeal, the instances have in every Age grown less numerous, yet none has wanted som very illustrious Examples. Nay even in our dregs of time, in this common decay of all good, there are, I doubt not, many who (according to their opportunities) transcribe the former Copies, live like People that know they must live hereafter, and present us yet with som specimen of ancient Vertue. Nay, to speak an impartial Truth, 'tis not to be denied, but the reputation of Religion is more kept up by women then men; many of the one countenancing it by their Practice, whereas more of the other do not only neglect, but decry it. And now since Women are compassed about with so great a cloud of Witnesses, who by doing the thing, give the surest evidence that 'tis not unfeasible, why should any plead an impossibility?
In matters of Vanity and Pomp they they are not so easily disheartened, no pattern of that kind can be set which will not be industriously imitated; nay in the greatest inequality of materials for it. Why then should their emulation leave them where only it could do them good? How comes it, that of those who have equal Principles of a spiritual Being, som live according to the Dignity of it; and others who see them do so, do yet live as if they assented to that Philosophers Paradox, who said, Women had no souls; or at least were of the Pythagorian Sect, and lookt upon themselves only as the Jails and Prisons of former offending Spirits, which they resolved to fit for a yet viler transmigration; give them the appetites of Beasts before they assume the Bodies? This is indeed an unlucky Humility, that those who in all other instances are apt to overween, should here sink so much below themselves. And I hope 'twill not appear an uncivil address, to perswade them to a juster estimate of their own worth. And if what has bin said to that end may have any effect, I shall not desire a better Preparative to the ensuing Tract; since she that duly considers her own capacity of Eternal Bliss, and withal, the possibility of as Endless a Misery, according as she performs or neglects the several Parts of Duty, will sure need no other incentive to the diligent Pursuit of it.