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JOHN xiii. 15.
I have given you an Example, that ye fhould do as I have done unto you.
AVING, in fome former Difcourfes, laid before you fundry Obfervations tending to fhew Chrift's great Excellency as a Teacher, I propose, next, to confider him as having exhibited a bright Example for our Imitation: And indeed the guiding Men by Example, as well as Precept, neceffarily entereth into the Character of a good and perfect Teacher. Both thefe concur in our Lord Jefus Chrift, in the highest Degree of Eminency. As
none was ever equal to him in the Excellency of his Doctrines and Inftructions, fonone ever equalled him in the Purity, Beauty, and Perfection of his Example. As never Man Spake, so never Man lived and acted, like him. I had Occafion to take fome Notice of his Example before, as giving an Authority to what he taught; but it well deferveth a diftinct and particular Confideration, fince it is of excellent Ufe, and of great Importance.
To introduce what I fhall offer on this Subject, I have chofen these remarkable Words of our Saviour to his Difciples: I have given you an Example, that ye should do as I have done unto you. They were spoken on a particular Occafion, and have a fpecial Reference to that admirable Pattern of Humility and Condefcenfion, which he had juft fet before them in washing his Difciples Feet; but they are equally applicable to the Whole of the Example he hath given us in his holy Life and Converfation here on Earth, which we are indifpenfably obliged to imitate.
Before we enter on a particular Confideration of our Saviour's Example, it may be proper to premife fome general Obfervations, which will tend to prepare our Way for what fhall be farther offered on this Subject.
And, First, It was highly becoming the Divine Wisdom and Goodness, in order to the Reformation of Mankind, not only to give us pure and holy Laws, for the Rule of our Duty, but to provide an excellent Example for our Imitation. Any one that hath made juft Reflections upon human Nature must be fenfible, that Examples have ufually a great Influence upon Mankind. Mere Precepts, however excellent in themselves, often seem dry and barren Things; but there is fomething peculiarly ftriking in good Examples. Thefe have attractive Force, and tend mightily to recommend the Precepts, which appear more lovely, and are more apt to fix and engage our Views, when wrought into an excellent Character, than when barely written in a Book. Since therefore it hath pleafed God to grant us admirable Laws and Precepts, for directing us in every Part of our Duty; it was alfo a Defign worthy of his great Wifdom and Love to Mankind to order it fo that there fhould be a lovely Example fet before us, in which thofe Laws fhould be beautifully exemplified.
Secondly, It was proper that the Example, defigned by God for the univerfal Imitation of Mankind, fhould be perfect and Spotless, without the leaft Stain or Defect. As the Law that is fet before us, in the Name
Name of God, as the Rule of our Duty, is perfect, so as not to direct us in any Inftance to a wrong Course of Acting; so the Example, which is propofed to us as a Pattern, fhould be complete in all it's Parts. The Examples of the best and holiest of mere Men, of the Patriarchs, Prophets, Apoftles, and other good Men of old, though they may be of fignal Use, yet are not fufficient to answer the Intention, because there is none of them but what is chargeable with fome Defects, and in fome Inftances proper rather for our Warning than our Imitation; and therefore to imitate. them, without Reserve, might sometimes lead us aftray into a wrong Way of Acting. There was wanting therefore an Example. abfolute in all Refpects, and which was free from all Defects; a complete Pattern of moral Excellence: For though, as we are imperfect Creatures, we may feem incapable, in this prefent State, of coming up to fuch exalted Degrees of Goodness and Purity as might be expected in a perfect Example; yet the having fuch an Example fet before us would be of great Ufe, as it would tend to kindle in us a noble and generous Ambition, and would put us upon going on towards Perfection, that we might approach still nearer and nearer to fo illuftrious a Pattern. Now fuch an Example is only to be found in our
Lord Jefus Chrift. Never could it be said of any other in human Flesh, what St. Peter justly faith of him, that he did no Sin, neither was Guile found in his Mouth. I Pet. ii. 22. Or, as St. Paul expreffeth it, he knew no Sin. 2 Cor. v. 21. The Apostle John declares, that, if we say that we have no Sin, we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not in us. 1 John i. 8. Yet fpeaking of our Lord Jefus Chrift, he saith, Ye know that he was manifefted to take away our Sins; and in him is no Sin. 1 John iii. 5. Never, in any fingle Inftance, through the Whole of his facred Life, did he deviate from the Rule of Duty; His own Practice was perfect as the Divine Law; a living Transcript of it's Purity, Beauty, and Excellence. It was a fine Thought of one of the Ancients, that, if Virtue could appear in a visible Form, it would discover fuch a Dignity and Beauty as would charm all that beheld it: And, in our Lord Jefus Chrift, is this Suppofition verified. In him Virtue and Goodness is made visible to our Eyes, and appears in it's own genuine Charms and lovely Form; and therefore, if looked upon with a believing Eye, could scarce fail to engage the Efteem and Admiration of Mankind.
Thirdly, It was proper that the Example, defigned for the Imitation of Mankind,