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ON THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD EXAMPLE IN THE GREAT.
JOHN VII. 48.
Have any of the Rulers, or of the Pharisees, believed on him?
THE success of our blessed Lord's preaching had begun to appear, and his miracles of love had impressed the minds of the people with reverence, when the chief priests, the scribes, and Pharisees, who were all interested in their endeavours to suppress Christianity, attempted to prove from the law and the prophets, that it was impossible for Jesus to be the promised Messiah. For want of better arguments, the
place of his nativity, and the condition of his parents, were made particular objections to the authenticity of his mission. But still " many of the people," we read, "believed on him," and said, with rational admiration, "When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done ?"
Finding it impossible, therefore, to silence the approbation of some, and to alienate the affections of others, they availed themselves of their power, and sent officers to apprehend him; but these, instead of executing their commission, returned to their employers, awed into reverence by the gracious words which they heard him utter, and declaring that "Never man spake like this man." The Pharisees, with some indignation, exclaimed, "Are YE also deceived?" adding, in the words of the text, "Have any of the Rulers, or of the Pharisees, believed on him?" By which they wished to intimate, that the common people were wholly incompetent to judge of the Messiah's character and office; that they ought to look up to their superiors only for instruction; and that nothing should be deemed worthy of imitation, or belief, but what had been previously sanctioned by their example.
These men, we may remark, had accurately observed the manners of the world, and seem to have been well acquainted with the human heart. They knew the influence which wealth and honors, power, and high station, have on the opinions, principles, and conduct of the multitude, and therefore they had recourse to it on the present occasion. It was an appeal that flattered the vanity of some, and applied to the humility of others. The careless and the ignorant heard it with silent submission; and the numerous slaves of fashion, we may suppose, acquiesced with pleasure. Thus, were the painful emotions of shame and fear, the weight of interest and popularity, all opposed, in the minds of many, against that divine system of grace and truth, which the Son of God came on earth to establish.
In some, indeed, these worldly motives overpowered conviction, and seemed to stifle the voice of conscience; for we find, that " many who believed on him did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue:" but the splendor of the holy Gospel soon broke through the clouds of prejudice, and the darkness of error, as the sun dispels the morning mists.
Such, however, was the influence of example among the Jews, that it deprived many of the benefits and blessings of the Messiah's kingdom; and has confirmed their wretched descendants in such obstinate ignorance and error, that we may truly say of them, in the words of the prophet, "They have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not."
In discoursing, therefore, on the words of the text, it may not be unprofitable to consider the importance of good example in superiors, and to mention some of the many motives that should enforce it.
One of the strongest principles in human nature, and that which discovers itself sooner than any other, perhaps, is imitation. We see the infant, before it can well acquire ideas, laboring to form its accents after the nurse, and desirous of mimicking the little gestures, and amusing habits, which it is taught. It catches instinctively the smile from its mother's eyes, and learns to counterfeit expressions of grief and fear, almost before we can suppose it feels either.
As we grow up, the process of education, as far as it relates to the acquiring of good habits, and the avoiding of bad ones, is little more than
the imitation of such successive actions, and examples, as might happen to be placed before us. It is not till the mind acquires a degree of strength sufficient to give it an individual character, and to render it, in some measure, independent, that we form principles of conduct, which may be called our own, and act from any internal sense of duty. The grand difference, therefore, among children seems to be, (independently of their intellectual powers) that some have a greater aptitude, or original proneness to evil, than others. The dispositions of some admit the wholesome precepts of virtue, and of knowledge, as the good ground receives and fosters the seed which is congenial to it; in the untractable bosoms of others, nothing seems to grow up to perfection, and all discipline and culture are, in a great measure, lost. But yet the influence of example still remains; and so powerful are its effects, that were the wicked and abandoned for a sufficient time secluded entirely, (but more especially when young,) from scenes of idleness and vice, impiety and profaneness; were they no longer to mix with reprobate companions, but to associate with the virtuous and sober;-there is reason to believe that they would become, in the language or