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PHILIPPIANS iii. 17.
Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk
so, as ye have us for an ensample.
The apostle in the foregoing part of the chapter, had been telling how he counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, and in the text he urges that his example should be followed.
He does this in two ways.
1. He exhorts the Philippian Christians to follow his example. “Brethren, be followers together of me.” He exhorts them to be followers of him together; that is, that they should all follow his example with one heart and soul, all agreeing in it and that all, as much as in them lay, should help and assist each other in it.
2. That they should take particular notice of others, that did so, and put peculiar honour on them ; which is implied in the expression in the latter part of the verse, “mark them, which walk so as ye have us for an ensample."
Doctrine. We ought to follow the good examples of the apostle Paul. We are to consider, that the apostle did not say this of himself from an ambitious spirit, from a desire of being set up as a pattern, and eyed and imitated as an example to other Christians. His writings are not of any private interpretation, but he spake as he was moved by the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost directed that the good examples of the apostle Paul should be noticed by other Christians, and imitated. And we are also to consider, that this is not a command to the Philippians only, to whom the cpistle was more immediately directed, but to all those, for whose use this epistle was written, for all Christians to the end of the world. For though God so ordered it, that the epistles of the apostles were mostly written on particular occasions and directed to particular churches, yet they were written to be of universal use. And those occasions were so ordered in the wisdom of divine providence that they are a part of that infallible rule of faith and manners, which God has given to the Christian church to be their rule in
And the precepts, that we find in those cpistles are no more to be regarded as precepts intended only for those to whom the epistle was sent, than the ten commandments, that were spoken from Mount Sinai to the children of Israel, are to be regarded as commands intended only for that people. And when we are directed to follow the good examples of the apostle Paul by the Holy Ghost, it is not merely as we are to imitate whatever we see, that is good in any one, let him be who he may. But there are spiritual obligations, that lie on Christians to follow the good examples of this great apostle. And it hath pleased the Holy Ghost in an especial manner to set up the apostle Paul, not only as a teacher of the Christian church, but as a pattern to other Christians. The greatest example of all, that is set before us in the scripture to imitate, is the example of Jesus Christ, which he set us in his human nature, and when in his state of humiliation. This is presented to us not only as a great pattern, but as a perfect rule. And the example of no man is set forth, as our rule, but the example of Christ. We are commanded to follow the examples which God himself set us, or the acts of the divine nature. Ephesians v. 1. “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children." And Matthew v. 48. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father, which is in heaven is perfect.” But the example of Christ Jesus, when on earth, is more especially our pattern. For, though the acts of the divine nature have the highest possible perfection, and though his inimitable perfection is our best example, yet God is so much above us, his nature so infinitely different from ours, that it is not possible that his acts should be so accommodated to our nature and circumstances, as to be an example of so great and general use, as the perfect example in our nature which Christ has set us. Christ, though a divine person, was man, as we are men; and not only so, but he was, in many respects, a partaker of our circumstances. He dwelt among men. He depended on food and raiment, and such outward supports of life, as we do. He was subject to tbe changes of time, and the afflictions and calamities of this evil world, and to abuse from men's corruptions, and to temptations from Satan, as we are; was subject to the same law and rule that we are, used the same ordinances, and had many of our trials, and greater trials than we. So that Christ's example is the example, that is chiefly offered in scripture for our imitation. But yet the example of some that are fallen creatures, as we are, may in some respects be more accommodated to our circunstances, and more fitted for our instructions, than the erample of Jesus Christ. For though he became man as we are, and was like us, and was in our circumstances in so many re
spects, yet in other things there was a vast difference. He was the head of the church, and we are the members. He is Lord of all, we are his subjects and disciples. And we need an example, that shall teach and direct us how to behave towards Christ our Lord and head. And this we may have better in some, that have Christ for their Lord as well as we, than in Christ himself. But the greatest difference lies in this, that Christ had no sin, and we all are sinful creatures, all carry about with us a body of sin and death. It is said that Christ was made like to us in all things, sin only excepted. But this was excepted, and therefore there were many things required of us, of which Christ could not give us an example. Such as repentance for sin, brokenness of spirit for sin, mortification of lust, wurring against sin. And the excellent example of some, that are naturally as sinful as we, has this advantage ; that we may regard it as the example of those, who were naturally every way in our circumstances, and laboured under the same natural difficulties, and the same opposition of heart to that which is good, as ourselves; which tends to engage us to give more heed to their example, and the more to encourage and animate us to strive to follow it. And therefore we find that the scripture does not only recommend the example of Christ, but does also exhibit some mere men, that are of like passions with ourselves, as patterns for us to follow. So it exhibits the eminent saints of the old testament, of whom we read in the scripture, that they inherit the promises. Hebrews vi. 12. “That ye be not slothful, but followers of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises." In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, a great number of eminent saints are mentioned as patterns for us to follow. Abraham is, in a particular manner, set forth as an example in his faith, and as the pattern of believers.
Romans iv. 12. “And the father of circumcision to them, that are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had, being yet uncircumcised." And so the prophets of the old testament are also recoinmended as patterns.
James v. 10. “ Take my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. And 60 eminently holy men under the new testament, apostles and others, that God sent forth to preach the gospel, are also examples for Christians to follow. Hebrews xii. 7. “Remember them, that have the rule over you, who have spoken to you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation." But of all mere men, no one is so often particularly set forth in the scripture, as a pattern for Christians to follow, as the apostle Paul. Our observing his holy conversaVOL. VIII.
tion as our example, is not only insisted on in the text, but also 1 Corinthians iv. 16. “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me." And xi. 1. “Be ye followers of me as I also am of Christ." And 1 Thessalonians, i. 6. Where the apostle commends the Christian Thessalonians for imitating his example ; " and ye became followers of us." And 2 Thessalonians iii. 7, he insists on this as their duty. “For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us."
For the more full treatment of this subject I shall,
1. Particularly mention many of the good examples of the apostle Paul, that we ought to imitate. Which I shall treat of not merely as a doctrine, but also in the way of application.
Il. I shall show under what strict obligation we are to follow the good examples of this apostle.
I. I shall particularly mention many of those good examples of the apostle Paul, that we ought to imitate. And that I may be more distinct, I shall,
1. Mention those things, that respect his watchfulness for the good of his own soul.
2. Those virtues in him, that more immediately respected God and Christ.
3. Those that more immediately respect men.
4. Those, that were exercised in his behaviour, both towards God and men.
1. We ought to follow the good example, that the apostle Paul has set us in his seeking the good of his own soul.
First. We should follow him in his earnestness in seeking his own salvation. He was not careless and indifferent in this matter; but the kingdom of heaven suffered violence from him. He did not halt between two opinions, or seek with a wavering, unsteady mind, but with the most full determination and strong resolution. He resolved, if it could by any means be possible, that he would attain to the resurrection of the dead. He does not say that he was determined to attain it, if he could, by means that were not very costly or difficult, or by labouring for it a little time, or only now and then, 'or without any great degree of suffering, or without great loss in his temporal interest. But if by any means he could do it, he would, lei the means be easy or difficult. Let it be a short labour and trial, or a long one; let the cross be light or heavy; it was all one to his resolution. Let the requisite means be what they would, if it were possible, he would obtain it. He did not hesitate at worldly losses, for he tells us that he readily suffered the loss of all things, that he night win Christ, and be found in him, and in his righteousness. Philippians iii. 8, 9. It was not with him as it was with the young man, that came kneeling to Christ to inquire of him what he should do
to inherit eternal life, and when Christ said, Go and sell all that thou hast and give to the poor, he went away sorrowful. He was not willing to part with all. If Christ had bid him sell half, it may be he would have complied with it. He had a great desire to secure salvation. But the apostle Paul did not content himself with wishing. He was resolved, if it were possible, that he would obtain it. And when it was needful that he should lose worldly good, or when any great suffering was in his way, it was no cause of hesitation to him. He had been in very comfortable and honourable circumstances among the Jews. He had received the best education, that was to be had among them, being brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and was regarded as a very learned young man. His own nation, the Jews, had a high esteem of him, and he was esteemed for his moral and religious qualifications among them. But when he could not hold the outward benefit of these things and win Christ, he despised them totally, he parted with all his credit and honour. He made nothing of them, that he might win Christ. And instead of being honoured and loved and living in credit, as before among his own nation, be made himself the object of their universal hatred. He lost all, and the Jews hated him, and persecuted him every where. And when great sufferings were in the way, he willingly made himself conformable to Christ's death, that he might have a part in his resurrection. He parted with his honour, his ease, his former friends and former acquaintance, his worldly goods and every thing else, and plunged himself into a state of extreme labour, contempt and suffering; and in this way he sought the kingdom of heaven. He acted in this matter very much as one, that is running a race for some great prize, who makes running his great and only business, till he has reached the end of the race and strains every nerve and sinew, and suffers nothing to divert him, and will not stand to listen to what any one says to him, but presses forward. Or as a man that is engaged in batile, sword in hand, with strong and violent enemies, that seek his life, who exerts himself to his utmost, as for his life. 1 Corinthians ix. 26. “ I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” When fleshly appetites stood in the way, however importunate they were, he utterly denied them and renounced them; they were no impediment in the way of his thorough pursuit of salvation. He would not be subject to the appetites of his body, but made them subject to his soul. 1 Corinthians ix. 27.
I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.” Probably there never was a soldier, when he bore his part in storming a city, that acted with greater resolution and violence, as it were forcing his way through all that opposed him, than the apostle Paul in seeking the kingdom of heaven. We have not only his