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THE POWER OF EXAMPLE.
BY REV. G. K. SHAW, DIXFIELD.
MATHEW V: 16.
"LET YOUR LIGHT SO SHINE BEFORE MEN, TIMAT THEY MAY SEE YOUR GOOD WORKS, AND GLORIFY FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN."
THIS is the advice of the Savior of the world, the great moral sun that is to illuminate the whole moral universe, giving "the light of the knowledge of God."
As the sun, when he retires from the horizon, is succeeded by the planets and the stars which irradiate the heavens he has quitted, with a lustre though more feeble, yet such as shows they partake of his brightness
and supply his place; so when He, who is emphatically styled THE SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, was about to leave this earth, he promised that the faithful should arise in his stead, to enlighten the world in the knowledge of his truth, and diffuse its salutary influence through every region and every age.
When, at the first creation, God said, 66 LET THERE BE LIGHT, AND THERE WAS LIGHT," it was to the end that darkness might be dispersed, and his works become visible, and his perfections manifest; and, when, at the second creation, our Lord Jesus Christ says, "LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE BEFORE MEN," he intends that those whom he had just called "the light of the world," should endeavor to dissipate the moral darkness of mankind, by instructing them in the doctrine of his gospel, and by displaying the happy effects of his religion, in the purity of their lives, and the lustre of their virtues.
There is great propriety and beauty in the metaphor which he here used. Nothing is more apt to attract the eyes, and enliven the countenance, than light, especially that which shines in a dark place. So nothing can more excite the observation, engage the attention, or gladden the hearts of beholders, than a
fair, bright and excellent character appearing in the midst of a dissolute and corrupt generation. And, as all luminous bodies, in proportion to the degree of their own brightuess, diffuse their light around them, and at a distance enlighten other bodies; so, in a moral and religious sense, a good example is a light shining in darkness, spreading its influence every way, diffusing instruction and knowledge; motives to reformation, and encouragements to virtue.*
There is observable in human nature, a peculiar proneness to imitation. Hence, the early formation of our habits. In infancy, we catch the ideas and conform to the manners of our parents and acquaintance. As we progress in life, we learn to follow and copy those whom we respect as superiors, venerate as instructors, or love as friends. We assimulate to our associates, imbibe their opinions, and imitate their conduct; we even take their mode of speech and tone of voice. Indeed, example has a kind of facination or
* Cicero observes, that the reason why we are formed, pleased and able to admire the beauty and regularity of the heavenly bodies, was to admonish us to imitate their constancy and order, in the noble beauty of a worthy behavior.
charm which it is almost impossible to resist. It carries with it both instruction and encouragement. How important, then, that our examples should be such as are worthy of imitation! It works, though gradually and imperceptibly, yet more powerfully and successfully than we are aware of; like light, silent in it's operations, but wonderful in its effects. It has an eloquence which reaches the heart. No language is more persuasive or instructive. It admonishes without exciting resentment, and corrects without giving offence, and thus possesses all the utility without the formality of reproof.
As a good picture strikes us more forcibly, and gives a more adequate, lively, and impressive idea of the object represented by it, than any description by words could do; so goodness or excellency of any kind represented by precepts, does not so powerfully move the affections as when we see it deliniated in the life. Nor is there anything which can so effectually recommend any system, and render it worthy of all acceptation, exclusive of its own intrinsic worth, as its beneficial and hapyy eflects made visible in the character of its advocates. These These carry with them undeniable evidence of the value of
those principles from whence they flow, and whose tendency is thus conspicuously good.
In farther discoursing on the passages under consideration, I propose to show, in the first place, to my hearers in general, the importance of a good example, as exhibiting and vindicating the principles of Christianity; and, secondly, apply the subject, by urging a course of conduct that shall promote the best interest of the cause we love, and reflect lustre and honor upon the denomination to which we belong.
I. It is the peculiar honor and glory of Christianity, in its first promulgation, that the behavior of its professors was agreeable to the admirable precepts they inculcated; that the integrity of their morals was answerable to the purity of their faith; and that the goodness of their example, and the holiness of their conversation, the irreproachableness of their conduct, and the amiableness of their manners, adorned the doctrine they taught, and gave it peculiar lustre in the eyes of the world. Prophecies had foretold its intent, and miracles announced its divinity; but the life of its Author, devoted to acts of kindness and benevolence, and the life of its followers exhibited the religion in its genuine influence,