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Seven Letters written by Bishop Leighton on
First Epistle General of St. Peter.
CHAPTER iii. VERSE 13.
And who is he that will harm you, if you be followers of that which is good?
HIS the apostle adds, as a further reason of the safety and happiness of that way he points out, from its own nature. There is something even intrinsical in a meek, and μpright, and holy carriage, that is apt, in part, to free a man from many evils and mischiefs that the ungodly are exposed to, and do naturally draw upon themselves. Your spotless and harmless deportment will much bind up the hands even of your enemies, and sometimes, possibly, somewhat allay and cool the malice of their hearts, t t they cannot so rage against you as otherwise they might. It will be somewhat strange and monstrous to rage against the innocent; Who is he that will harm you? &c. Here are two things, 1. The carriage. 2. The advantage of it.
1. Their carriage expressed, followers, &c. Or, as the word is, Imitators of that which is good.
There is an imitation of men that is impious and wicked, taking the copy of their sins; again, an imitation, that, though not so grossly evil, yet is poor and servile, being in mean things, yea sometimes deVOL. II.
scending to imitate the very imperfections of others, as fancying some comeliness in them; as some of Basil's scholars, that imitated his slow speaking, which he had a little in the extreme, and could not help : but this is always laudable, and worthy of the best minds, to be imitators of that which is good, wheresoever they find it. For that stays not in any man's person, as the ultimate pattern, but arises to the highest grace, being man's nearest likeness to God, his image and resemblance; and so, following the example of the saints in holiness, we look higher than them, and consider them as receivers, but God as the first owner and dispenser of grace, bearing his stamp and superscription, and belonging peculiarly to him, in what hand soever it be found, as carrying the mark of no other owner, but his only.
The word of God hath our copy in its perfection, and very legible and clear; and so the imitation of good, in the complete rule of it, is the regulating our ways by the word: but, even there we find, besides general rules, the particular tracks of life of divers eminent holy persons, and those on purpose set before us, that we may know holiness not to be an idle imaginary thing, but that men have really been holy; though not altogether sinless, yet holy and spiritual in some good measure; that there have been those who have "shined as lights amidst a perverse generation," as greater stars in a dark night, and yet men, as St. James says of Elias, like us in nature,
oralesg, and the frailty of it; subject to like passions as we are. Why may we not then aspire to be holy, as they were, and attain to it, although we should fall short of the degree? Yet not stopping at a small measure, but running further, pressing still forward toward the mark"; following them in the way they went, though at a distance; not reaching them, and yet walking, yea, running after them as fast as we can not judging of holiness by our own sloth and natural averseness, taking it for a singularity fit only for rare extraordinary persons, such as prophets and
a James v. 17.
bPhil. iii. 14.