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SERM. sense, having the parts orderly disposed and comXXXIV.
pletely 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 colours 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 authorize their doctrine: politics and civil prudence is more easily and sweetly drawn out of good history, than out of books
de Republica. Artificers describe models, and set SERM. patterns before their disciples, with greater success,
XXXIV. 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 upon 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
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 ito: for instance, if we desire to know what faith is, and how we should rely upon the divine Providence, let us propose to
Xen. ’Arquv. 4. It was Xenophon's observation, grounded upon his own experience, that the memory of Socrates' conversation did greatly profit his acquaintance. Το μεμνήσθαι μή παρόντος οι μικρά ωφελεί τους ειωθότας αυτό συνείναι. And Seneca saith, that the crowd of philosophers, which followed the same wise man, derived more of their ethics from his manners than his words : plus ex moribus, quam ex verbis Socratis traxit. Sen. Ep. 11. And he that shall reflect upon the story concerning his behaviour, when he was by malicious envy persecuted to death, may perhaps be more edified thereby, than by all his subtle discourses about death, and the soul's state after it.
SERM. our consideration the practice of Abraham; wherein XXXIV.
we may see the father of the faithful leaving a most pleasant country, the place of his nativity, and questionless most dear unto him under that notion ; deserting his home and fixed habitation, his estate and patrimony, his kindred and acquaintance, to wander he knew not where in unknown lands, with all his family, leading an uncertain and ambulatory life in tents, sojourning and shifting among strange people, devoid of piety and civility, (among Canaanites and Egyptians,) upon a bare confidence in the Divine protection and guidance: we may see him, aged ninety-nine years, sensible of his own natural impotence, and an equal incapacity in his consort as to such purposes, yet with a steady belief assuring himself, that from those dead stocks a numerous progeny should spring, and that he, who by all power of nature was unable to beget one child, should, by virtue of God's omnipotent word, become the father of a mighty nation : we may see him upon the first summons of the Divine command, without scruple or hesitancy, readily and cheerfully yielding up his only son (the sole ground of his hope and prop of his family, to whose very person the promise of multiplication was affixed) to be sacrificed and slain; not objecting to his own reason the palpable inconsistency of counsels so repugnant, nor anxiously labouring to reconcile the seeming contrariety between the Divine promises and commands; but resolved as it were (with an implicit faith in God) to believe things incredible, and to rely upon events impossible: contemplating these things, let us say what discourse could so livelily describe the nature of true faith, as this illustrious precedent doth.
Again, he that would learn how to demean him- SERM. self in resisting the assaults of temptation, let him XXXIV. consider that one carriage of Joseph; of him, together withstanding the courtships of an attractive beauty, and rejecting the solicitations of an imperious mistress, advantaged by opportunities of privacy and solitude; when the refusal was attended with extreme danger, and all the mischiefs which the disdain of a furious lust disappointed, of an outrageous jealousy provoked, of a loving master's confidence abused, could produce; and all this by one of meanest condition, in a strange place, where no intercession, favour, or patronage of friends could be had, no equal examination of his cause might be expected; of him doing this, merely upon principles of conscience, and out of fear of God; (saying, How can I do this great evil, and sin against God?) and he that considers this example, how can he be ignorant of his duty in the like case ?
Again, would we learn wisdom, constancy, and resolution in the conduct of honest and worthy designs, let us set before our eyes the pattern of Moses, and therein take notice, how he, obeying Divine instinct and direction, having embraced that noble purpose of rescuing his countrymen from the Egyptian bondage, of settling them in a method of happy policy, and of bringing them into the promised land of their enjoyment, did behaye himself in the execution thereof; with how indefatigable industry he solicited their cause with a fickle and deceitful, stupid and hard-hearted king; enduring frequent disappointments and repulses, together with furious storms of anger, and most terrible menaces from him : how having there surmounted all obstacles,
SERM. and effectually enlarged the people from their reXXXIV. straint in Egypt, he led them on foot through a val
ley, encompassed with mountains of sea ; and after that undertook a tedious march (a march of forty years) through a wild, barren, and dry solitude, (where no water was, but such as issued from the stony bowels of a rock; no food, or means of subsistence, but such as was supplied by the miraculous purveyance of Heaven,) in the meanwhile resisting the continual invasions of open enemies, in great numbers with armed violence striving to obstruct his passage, and defeat his purpose ; having also (which was more) his patience constantly exercised in supporting the froward perverseness of a most incredulous and intractable people, which took all occasions of complaint and mutiny against him; in contesting with the factious rivality of envious nobles, who repined at his successes, and maligned his authority among them ; in bearing the indiscreet and untoward prevarications of his own most intimate friends and nearest relations, complying with the wicked humours and desires of the people; in sustaining many other perplexities and crosses ; all which notwithstanding, he with insuperable resolution happily achieved his glorious undertaking: and will not this example, attentively regarded, beyond the power of any other means or method, explain to us the way of industry, courage, and perseverance in good and worthy, though high and difficult enterprises ?
One instance more, and that of all most pertinent to our occasion : Would you be instructed how faithfully to discharge the ministerial, or any other office ? With a steadfast attention then behold the