I beseech you, be followers of me: or, I exhort you, be imitators of me.

ST. PAUL, by an impartial reflexion on his heart and life, being well assured that he by the divine Spirit was enlightened with a certain knowlege of all necessary truth, and endued with plentiful measures of divine grace; being conscious of a sincere zeal in himself to honor God and benefit men; being satisfied that with integrity he did suit his conversation to the dictates of a good conscience, to the sure rule of God's law, and to the perfect example of his Lord; that his intentions were pure and right, his actions warrantable, and the tenor of his life conspicuously blameless, doth on all occasions (not out of any selfconceitedness, arrogance, or ostentation, from which he, by frequent acknowlegement of his own defects and his miscarriages, and by ascribing all the good he had, or did, to the grace and mercy of God, doth sufficiently clear himself; but from an earnest desire to glorify God, and edify his disciples) describe and set forth his own practice, proposing it as a rule, pressing it on them as an argument, an encouragement, an obligation to the performance of several duties. So by it he directeth and urgeth the Ephesians to a charitable compliance, or complaisance; a sweet and inoffensive demeanor toward other: Give no offence,' saith he, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: even as I please


all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved: be ye followers of me:' so he guides and provokes the Philippians to endeavors of proficiency in grace, and the study of Christian perfection: 'Nevertheless,' saith he to them, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing: brethren, be ye followers together of me, and mark such as walk so, as ye have us for an ensample.' By the like instance and argument, he moveth the Thessalonians to a sober and orderly conversation, to industry in their calling, to self-denial, and a generous disregard of private interest: For yourselves,' saith he,,' know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labor and travail day and night, that we might not be chargeable to any of you; not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an example to you to follow us.' The same persons he commendeth, as having by this means been induced to a patient constancy in faith and good works: 'Ye know,' saith he, 'what manner' of men we were among you for your sake, and ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction.' The practice of all virtue and goodness he also thus recommendeth under this rule and obligation: Those things, which ye have learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you.' Thus in our text (referring it to the context) he urgeth the Christians, his disciples at Corinth, to fidelity and diligence in the charges and affairs committed to them, to humility, patience, and charity; wherein he declareth himself to have set before them an evident and exact pattern. Which practice of St. Paul doth chiefly teach us two things; that we be careful to give, and that we be ready to follow good example: the latter of which duties more directly and immediately agreeth to the intent of this place; and it therefore I shall only now insist on the subject and scope of my discourse shall be to show that it is our duty and concernment to regard the practices of good men, and to follow their example. To which purpose we may observe,


I. That it is the manner of the Apostles on all occasions to inculcate this duty: we heard St. Paul: hear St. James:


'Take,' saith he, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction: Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy' and the Apostle to the Hebrews: We desire,' saith he, 'that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end; that ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises' and again, Wherefore, seeing we are also compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.' And St. Peter: Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him Lord.' And wherever the eminent deeds of holy men are mentioned, it is done with an intimation at least, or tacit supposition, that we are obliged to follow their example.

[ocr errors]

II. We may consider that to this end (that we might have worthy patterns to imitate) the goodness of God hath raised up in all ages such excellent persons, furnishing them with rare endowments, and with continual influences of his grace assisting them, to this purpose, that they might not only instruct us with wholesome doctrine, but lead us also by good example in the paths of righteousness. For certainly what St. Paul saith concerning the sins and punishments of bad men, is no less applicable to the virtuous deeds and happy examples of good men: All these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the world are come.'

III. They are written for our admonition :' it was a special design of God's providence in recording and recommending to our regard the divine histories. They were not framed as monuments of a fruitless memory and fame to them; they were not proposed to us as entertainments of our curiosity, as objects of wonder, as matters of idle discourse; that unconcernedly we should gaze on them, or talk about them, as children look on fine gays but they are set before us as copies to transcribe, as lights to guide us in our way to happiness. So that if we will not ingratefully frustrate the intentions of divine Provi

dence for our good, we must dispose ourselves to imitate those illustrious patterns of virtue and piety.

IV. We may farther consider that, in the nature of the thing itself, good example is of singular advantage to us, as being apt to have a mighty virtue, efficacy, and influence on our practice which consideration should much engage us to regard it, applying it as an instrument of making ourselves good, and consequently of becoming happy. Good example is, as I say, of exceeding advantage to practice on many accounts.


1. Examples do more compendiously, easily, and pleasantly inform our minds, and direct our practice, than precepts, or any other way or instrument of discipline. Precepts are delivered in an universal and abstracted manner, naked, and void of all circumstantial attire, without any intervention, assistance, or suffrage of sense; and consequently can have no vehement operation on the fancy, and soon do fly the memory; like flashes of lightning, too subtle to make any great impression, or to leave any remarkable footsteps, on what they encounter; they must be expressed in nice terms, and digested in exact method; they are various, and in many disjointed pieces conspire to make up an intire body of direction: they do also admit of divers cases, and require many exceptions, or restrictions, which to apprehend distinctly, and retain long in memory, needs a tedious labor, and continual attention of mind, together with a piercing and steady judgment. But good example, with less trouble, more speed, and greater efficacy, causes us to comprehend the business, representing it like a picture exposed to sense, having the parts orderly disposed and completely united, suitably clothed and dressed up in its circumstances; contained in a narrow compass, and perceptible by one glance, so easily insinuating itself into the fancy, and durably resting therein in it you see at once described the thing done, the quality of the actor, the manner of doing, the minute seasons, measures, and adjuncts of the action; with all which you might not perhaps by numerous rules be acquainted; and this in the most facile, familiar, and delightful way of instruction, which is by experience, history, and observation of sensible events. A system of precepts, though exquisitely compacted, is, in comparison, but a skeleton, a dry, meagre,


lifeless bulk, exhibiting nothing of person, place, time, manner, degree, wherein chiefly the flesh and blood, the colors and graces, the life and soul of things do consist; whereby they please, affect, and move us: but example imparts thereto a goodly corpulency, a life, a motion; renders it conspicuous, specious, and active, transforming its notional universality into the reality of singular subsistence. This discourse is verified by various experience; for we find all masters of art and science explicating, illustrating, and confirming their general rules and precepts by particular examples. Mathematicians demonstrate their theorems by schemes and diagrams, which, in effect, are but sensible instances; orators back their enthymemes (or rational argumentations) with inductions, (or singular examples ;) philosophers allege the practice of Socrates, Zeno, and the like persons of famous wisdom and virtue, to authorise their doctrine; politics and civil prudence is more easily and sweetly drawu out of good history, than out of books de Republica. Artificers describe models, and set patterns before their disciples, with greater success, than if they should deliver accurate rules and precepts to them. For who would not more readily learn to build, by viewing carefully the parts and frame of a well contrived structure, than by a studious inquiry into the rules of architecture; or to draw by setting a good picture before him, than by merely speculating on the laws of perspective; or to write fairly and expeditely, by imitating one good copy, than by hearkening to a thousand oral prescriptions; the understanding of which, and faculty of applying them to practice, may prove more difficult and tedious, than the whole practice itself as directed by a copy? Neither is the case much different in moral concernments; one good example may represent more fully and clearly to us the nature of a virtue, than any verbose description thereof can do: in sooner time, and with greater ease, we may learn our duty by regarding the deportment of some excellent person, than by attending to many philosophical discourses concerning it for

* Xen. 'Aжоμν. 4. It was Xenophon's observation, grounded on his own experience, that the memory of Socrates's conversation did greatly profit his acquaintance. Τὸ μεμνῆσθαι μὴ παρόντος οὐ μικρὰ ὠφε

« VorigeDoorgaan »