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apostles were, or as the church of Rome fancies those to be, to whom it vouchsafes a room in the roll of saints. Do you not know that holiness is the only via regia, this following of good, that path wherein all the children of God must walk, one following after another, each striving to equal, and, if they could, to outstrip even those they look on as most advanced in it? This is, amongst many other, a misconceit in the Romish church, that they seem to make holiness a kind of impropriate good, that the common sort can have little share in; almost all piety being shut up within cloister-walls, as its only fit dwelling. Yet it hath not liked their lodging, it seems, but is flown over the walls away from them; for there is little of it even there to be found; but, however, their opinion of it places it there, as having little to do abroad in the world.
Whereas the truth is, that all christians have this for their common task, though some are under more peculiar obligations to study this one copy. Look on the rule of holiness, and be followers of it, and followers or imitators one of another, so far as their carriage agrees with that primitive copy, as writ after it; Be ye followers of me, pintai, says the apostle even to the meanest christians amongst those he wrote to, but thus, as I am of Christ.
Is it thus with us? Are we zealous and emulous followers of that which is good, exciting each other by our example to a holy and christian conversation, provoking one another (so the apostle's word is) to love and to good works? Or, are not the most, mutual corrupters of each other, and of the places and societies where they live; some leading, and others following, in their ungodliness? Not regarding the course of those that are most desirous to walk holily, or, if at all, doing it with a corrupt and evil eye; not to study and follow what is good in them, their way of holiness, but to espy any the least wrong step, to take exact notice of any imper
d Heb. x. 24.
e 1 Cor. xi. 1.
fection, and sometimes only charged on them by malignant falsehood? and by this, either to reproach religion, or to hearten or harden themselves in their irreligion and ungodliness, seeking warrant for their own willing licentiousness in the unwilling failings of God's children?
And, in their converse with such as themselves, they are following their profane way, and flattering and blessing one another in it. "What need we be so precise? and, if I should not do as others, they would laugh at me, I should pass for a fool." Well, thou wilt be a fool in the most wretched kind, rather than be accounted one by such as are fools, and know not at all wherein true wisdom consists.
Thus are the most carried with the stream of this wicked world, their own inward corruption easily agreeing and suiti g with it; every man, as a drop, falling into a torrent, and easily made one, and running along with it into that dead sea where it empties itself.
But those, whom the Lord hath a purpose to sever and save, he carries in a contrary course, even to that violent stream; and these are the students of holi ness, the followers of good; that bend their endeavours thus, and look on all sides diligently, on what may animate and advance them; on the example of the saints in former times, and on the good they espy in those that live together with them; and, above all, studying that perfect rule in the scriptures, and that highest and first pattern, there so often set before them, even the author of that rule, the Lord himself; studying to be holy as he is holy, to be bountiful and merciful as their heavenly Father'; and in all labouring to be, as the apostle exhorts, followers of God as dear children. As children that are beloved of their father, and do love and reverence him; who therefore will be ambitious to be like him, and particularly aim at the following any
ε Τέλος ἀνθρώπε ὁμοίωσις θέῳ. Pyth.
virtues or excellency in him: now, thus it is most reasonable in the children of God, their Father being the highest and best of all excellency and perfection.
But this excellent pattern is drawn down nearer their view in the Son Jesus Christ; where we have that highest example made low, and yet losing nothing of its perfection. So that we may study God in man, and read all our lesson, without any blot, even in our own nature. And this is truly the only way to be the best proficients in this following and imitating of all good. In him we may learn all, even those lessons that men most despise; God teaching them, by acting them, and calling us to follow; Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart. But this is too large a subject. Would you advance in all grace? study Christ much, and you shall find not only the pattern in him, but strength and skill from him to follow it.
2. The advantage; Who is he that will harm you?
The very name of it says so much; a good, worthy the following for itself: But there is this further to persuade it, that, besides higher benefit, it oftentimes cuts off the occasions of present evils and disturbances, that otherwise are incident to men. Who is he? Men, even evil men, will often be overcome by our blameless and harmless behaviour.
1. In the life of a godly man, taken together in the whole body and frame of it, there is a grave beauty or comeliness, that oftentimes forces some kind of reverence and respect to it, even in ungodly minds.
2. Though a natural man cannot love them spiritually, as graces of the Spirit of God; (for so only the partakers of them are lovers of them;) yet he may have, and usually hath, a natural liking and esteem of some kind of virtues which are in a christian, and are not, in their right nature, in any other to be found; though a moralist may have somewhat
Matt. xi. 29.
like them, meekness, and patience, and charity, and fidelity, &c.
3. These, and other such like graces, do make a christian life so inoffensive and calm, that, except where the matter of their God or religion is made the crime, malice itself can scarce tell where to fasten its teeth or lay hold, or hath nothing to pull by, though it would; yea, oftentimes, for want of work or occasions, it will fall asleep for a while; whereas ungodliness and iniquity, sometimes by breaking out into notorious crimes, draws out the sword of civil justice, and where it rises not so high, yet it involves men in frequent contentions and quarrels ". How often are the lusts, and pride, and covetousness of men, paid with dangers, and troubles, and vexations, that, besides what is abiding them hereafter, do even in this present life spring out of them? Now, these the godly escape, by their just, and mild, and humble carriage. Whence so many jars and strifes amongst the greatest part, but from their unchristian hearts and lives, from their lusts that war in their members'? their self-love and unmortified passions? One will abate nothing of his will, nor the other of his. Thus, where pride and passion meet on both sides, it cannot be but a fire will be kindled; when hard flints strike together, the sparks will fly about; but a soft mild spirit is a great preserver of its own peace, kills the power of contest; as woolpacks, or such like soft matter, most deaden the force of bullets. A soft answer turns away wrath, says Solomon, beats it off, breaks the bone, as he says; the very strength of it, as the bones are in the body.
And thus we find it, they that think themselves high spirited, and will bear least, as they speak, are often, even by that, forced to bow most, or to burst under it; while humility and meekness escape many a burden, and many a blow, always keeping peace within, and often without too.
Reflexion 1. If this were duly considered, might h Prov. xxiii. 29.
i Jam. iv. 1.
* Prov. xv. 1.
it not do somewhat to induce your minds to love the way of religion, for that it would so much abate the turbulency and unquietness that abounds in the lives of men; a great part whereof the most do procure by the earthliness and distemper of their own carnal minds, and the disorder in their ways that arises thence.
2. You, whose hearts are set towards God, and your feet entered into his ways, I hope will find no reason for a change, but many reasons to commend and endear that way to you every day more than another; and, amongst the rest, even this, that, in them, you escape many, even present mischiefs, that you see the ways of the world are full of. And, if you will be careful to ply your rule and study your copy better, you shall find it more so. The more you follow that which is good, the more shall you avoid a number of outward evils, that are ordinarily drawn on upon men by their own enormities and passions. Keep as close as you can to the genuine, even track of a christian walk; and labour for a prudent and meek behaviour, adorning your holy profession, and this shall adorn you, and sometimes gain those that are without'; yea, even your enemies shall be constrained to approve it.
It is known how much the spotless lives and patient sufferings of the primitive christians did sometimes work upon their beholders, yea, on their persecutors; and persuaded some that would not share with them in their religion, yet to speak and write for them.
Seeing, then, that reason and experience do jointly aver it, that the lives of men, conversant together, have generally a great influence one upon another; for, example is an animated or living rule, and is both the shortest and most powerful way of teaching: let me graft an exhortation or two, on this obvious remark.
1. Whosoever are in an exemplary or leading place in relation to others, be it many or few, be ye
11 Cor. xi. 21.