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Hebrews chargeth us to consider one another, eis wapožvoμòv ἀγάπης, καὶ καλῶν ἔργων, so as to provoke one another (or by mutual emulation to sharpen one another) to charity and good works.
4. Examples do work on modesty, that preserver and guardian of virtue, as Cicero calls it.* For every good action of another doth upbraid, reproach, and shame him, who acteth not conformably thereto. Can we without a trembling heart, and blushing forehead, view the practices of the ancient saints, if ours be altogether unlike them? If they, to please God and secure their salvation, did undergo such prodigious pains in assiduous devotions, abstinences, watchings, and we contrariwise are extremely sluggish, cold, and negligent in the performance of our ordinary duties; if they willingly renounced all sensual complacencies, and we either cherish ourselves in a soft delicacy of life, or wallow in a profane dissolution of manners; if they, to free themselves from distracting cares, voluntarily disburdened themselves of all needless incumbrances, and we are wholly busy in heaping up wealth, and driving on worldly interests; if they gladly embraced and endured the sharpest afflictions, and we are terrified by the thought, are overwhelmed by the sense of the least disappointment, or distasteful occurrence; how can we without extreme regret of mind, and confusion of face, consider their practice, or compare it with ours? It is a profligate impudence of him that can daily hear and read the stories of their doings, without being deeply sensible, and ashamed at the dissonance appearing between their course of life and his.
5. Example awakens that curiosity which is natural to us, and of no mean efficacy on our actions. For whatever we see done, we are apt to be inquisitive concerning it; why and to what purpose it is done, what the grounds are, and what the fruits of the performance; especially if the matter seem considerably important, and the action proceedeth from a person deserving respect; whereof having passed some competent judgment, we are by the same instinct of curiosity farther trans
* Custos omnium virtutum, dedecus fugiens, laudemque maxime consequens verecundia est.-Cic. Part. Rhet.
ported into a desire of discerning by our trial and experience whether the event correspondeth to our expectation; so are we easily induced to imitate the actions of others. By which means as vice ordinarily is conceived and propagated, (men by a preposterous and perverse curiosity being inveigled to try what they see others affect or enjoy,) so may virtue by the same means be engendered and nourished; the general ways of producing and maintaining those contrary habits being alike. As therefore it is a great blemish and reproach to human nature, that,
Turpibus et pravis omnes sumus
we, as the satirist truly observeth of us, 'have a great proclivity to follow naughty examples;' so there is from hence some amends, that we have also some inclination to imitate good and worthy precedents; the which is somewhat more strong and vigorous, because countenanced and encouraged by the approbation of reason, our most noble faculty.
6. Examples also do please the mind and fancy in contemplation of them, thence drawing a considerable influence on practice. No kind of studious entertainment doth so generally delight as history, or the tradition of remarkable examples: even those who have an abhorrency or indisposition toward other studies, (who have no genius to apprehend the more intricate subtleties of science, nor the patience to pursue rational consequences,) are yet often much taken with historical narrations; these striking them with a delectable variety of accidents, with circumstantial descriptions, and sensible representations of objects, do greatly affect and delight their fancies; especially the relation of notable adventures and rare accidents is wont to be attended with great pleasure and satisfaction. And such are those, which present to us the lives and examples of holy men, abounding with wonders of providence and grace: no attempts so gallant, no exploits so illustrious, as those which have been achieved by the faith and patience, by the prudence and courage of the ancient saints; they do far surpass the most famous achievements of Pagan heroes. It was, I dare say, more wonderful that Abraham with his retinue of
household servants should vanquish four potent and victorious kings; and that Gideon with three hundred unarmed men should discomfit a vastly numerous host, than that Alexander with a well-appointed army of stout and expert soldiers should overturn the Persian empire. The siege of Jericho is so far more remarkable than those most famous ones of Numantia and Saguntus, as it is more strange that the blast of trumpets and the noise of people shouting should demolish walls, than the shaking them with rams, or discharging massy stones against them. And he that carefully will compare the deeds of Sampson and Hercules, shall find that one true exploit performed by the former doth much in force and strangeness surmount the twelve fabulous labors of the other: no triumphs indeed are comparable to those of piety; no trophies are so magnificent and durable, as those which victorious faith erecteth : that history therefore which reports the res gestæ, the acts and sufferings of most pious men, must in reason be esteemed not only the most useful, but also the most pleasant; yielding the sweetest entertainment to well-disposed minds; wherein we see virtue expressed, not in bare idea only, but in actual life, strength, motion; in all its beauty and ornaments: than which no spectacle can be more stately; no object more grateful can be presented to the discerning eye of reason.
7. We may farthermore consider that God hath provided and recommended to us one example, as a perfect standard of good practice; the example of our Lord: the which declareth the use and efficacy of good example, as one principal instrument of piety. That indeed is the most universal, absolute, and assured pattern; yet doth it not supersede the use of other examples: not only the valor and conduct of the general, but those of inferior officers, yea, the resolution of common soldiers, do serve to animate their fellows. The stars have their season to guide us, as well as the sun; especially when our eyes are so weak, as hardly to bear the day. Even, considering our infirmity, inferior examples by their imperfection sometime have a peculiar advantage. Our Lord's most imitable practice did proceed from an immense virtue of divine grace, which we cannot arrive to; it in itself is so perfect and high, that we may not ever reach it; looking on it may therefore sometimes dazzle
and discourage our weakness: but other good men had assistances in measure, such as we may hope to approach unto; they were subject to the difficulties which we feel; they were exposed to the perils of falling, which we fear: we may therefore hope to march on in a reasonable distance after them; we may, by help of the same grace, come near in transcribing their less exact copy.
To conclude: Since on so many accounts we are obliged to follow good examples; since they are of so great use toward our proceeding in the way to happiness; thence they conduce to the clear instruction of our understanding, to the forcibly inclining our reason, to the vehement excitement of our passions, to the delightfully affecting our imagination in subserviency to good practice; let us make that due and profitable use of them, which we should and may do. Let us, with diligent attention perusing the sacred history, meditate on the lives of holy men therein propounded as patterns of a persevering faith in God, and conscionable obedience to his commandments. Let the light of their exemplary practice in all kind of piety and virtue continually shine on our souls, to direct our minds, to inflame our affections, to quicken our resolutions, to detect the errors and correct the faults of our lives, that we, imitating their virtuous and pious conversation, may partake of those comfortable rewards, of that joy and bliss whereof they rest possessed. The which God Almighty, and our blessed Saviour, the author and finisher of our faith, by his gracious aid and blessing grant. unto us; to whom be all glory and praise for ever and ever. Amen.
SUMMARY OF SERMON XXXV.
1 JOHN, CHAP. II.-VERSE 6.
MEANING of the expressions to abide in Christ, to put on Christ, &c., explained, as not denoting any physical inherence, or essential conjunction with Christ, but only a mutual relation arising from our profession as his disciples, &c.: so that it is the duty of every one professing Christianity, to conform his life to the pattern of Christ's life, and to follow his example.
I. For illustration and confirmation of which point, it may be observed that the holy Apostles do on all occasions assume this supposition, when they would persuade their followers to the practice of any virtue, or performance of any duty. Instances of this quoted. And their authority may be backed and enforced by several reasons.
II. The doing so hath a reasonableness and decency grounded on our relations to Christ. It is fit and comely that the manners of the disciple should be regulated by those of his master.
III. The following Christ's example is requisite to demonstrate the sincerity of our faith, love, and reverence to him. It is the most natural way of testifying affection, to imitate the manners of those who are the objects of it.
IV. By pretending to be Christians, we acknowlege the transcendent goodness, worth, and excellency of our Saviour. All who would require exquisite skill in any art or faculty, think it best to imitate the best masters therein in like manner reason requires, if we would live well and happily, that we should conform our practice to that most perfect mirror of all virtue.
V. The practice of our Saviour thoroughly agrees with his