CHAP. I. Of Examples of Godly men, and how far they should prevail with us: Opened in Six Particulars.
SOme reade this Particle [For] [But:] But our Conversation is in Heaven. Our Conversati∣on is not as theirs: Certainly the Apostle doth intend this, to make a distinction from, or a difference between the Saints waies, and the waies of those that were Enemies to the Crosse of Christ: They mind Earthly things: But our Conversation is in Heaven: But because of the particle, [For] our Conversation; therefore I think that it hath refe∣rence Page 92 unto the 17 verse, for the 18. and 19. verses are in a pa∣renthesis, and therefore if you would know the scope of the Apostle in it, and what this hath relation to; (for) it is in the 17. verse, Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as you have us for an ensample; for our Conversation is in Heaven, to it is to follow: he made a little degression when he said, Make us your example; then he speaks of others, but many there are that walk thus and thus, and are enemies to the cross of Christ, Whose belly is their god, whose glory is their shame, whose end is destruction, who mind earthly things; But our (or, for our) Conversation is in Heaven. As if he should say, Take heed of following of those whose belly is their god, who mind earth∣ly things, for their end is destruction; but rather follow those whose Conversation is in Heaven, for their end is, salvation: that's the scope of the words. Now then from the scope and the coherance of them, follow us for an example, For our Con∣versation is in Heaven; so they are to be joyn'd together: from whence (first) before we come to speak of this Heavenly Con∣versation that the Apostle mentions, we have this point, That the Examples of men whose Conversations are heavenly, are to be follow∣ed. Follow us as an example, for our Conversation is in Hea∣ven. They are guided by the spirit of God, and the end of their Conversation is good, and therefore 'tis safe to be fol∣lowed. In Prov. 2. 20. there the Wise man speaks of an argu∣ment, Why we should imbrace wisdom, because that would teach you to walk in the way of good men, and to keep the paths of the Righteous. We should observe the way of good men, & keep the paths of the righteous. It's true, that the examples of the best men, though never so holy, are not a sufficient rule for any action, If a man or woman doth any thing, though it be ne∣ver so good, meerly upon the example of another man, yet this that they do will prove sin to them: I say, though the thing be good & thou doest it upon the example of other good men, yet if that be al thy rule, the action wil be sin to thee; for that is the rule of Christ to us, Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Now no example can be a ground sufficient for faith; therefore, example alone is not a good rule. Yea, and somtimes we know Page 93 that Satan himself may transform himself into an Angel of light: and may for the prevailing of some evil make a great shew of some holiness: and so, many grosse Hypo∣crites for a time have had much seeming holiness in their lives: and therefore it must be taken for a certain truth that the examples of men never so holy are not a sufficient rule. But yet thus far examples of men that are holy should prevail with us.
First, They should prevail with us more than other ex∣amples, than examples of the most learned men; let men be never so great Rabbies, the example of one holy man whose Conversation is in Heaven, should be more to us than the example of many Scholers. For many men that are learned may be very corrupt, they may go against their own consciences; as certainly many do.
1. It should prevail against the example of great rich men, who have goods laid up for many yeers: you should ra∣ther follow the example of those that appear to be holy, than the example of the richest and greatest in the places where you live.
2. It should be more than the example of the Multitude, Joel, 3. 14. you have a notable Scripture there against following of Multitudes of men, you may see there that multitudes go to destruction; Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision.
3. It should be more than the example of those that are meerly related unto us: as children should rather look at the example of godly men and women though they be strangers, than of Father or Mother, or Uncle or Aunt, or the neerest kindred, though their examples be not rules for our faith, yet they should be more than the ex∣amples of any others.
Secondly, Though they should not be rules or grounds of faith, yet they should be enough to take off prejudices that come from accusations of men. If men will accuse the waies of god∣liness, and if there be any prejudices taken up against the paths of Sion without ground, the example of godly men Page 94 should be enough to make us stand out against them; it may be you hear many crying out bitterly against such a way of Worship, and many false aspersions are cast upon it, because it is not a National way of Worship, for few there be that follow it. Now do but observe what man∣ner of persons do worship God in that way which some cal Heresie, are they not of holy and blameless Conversations according to the Gospel, the strictest Puritans? Now though you must not do as they do meerly from their ex∣ample, yet their example should have a great deal of po∣wer and influence upon you to take off prejudices, and an∣swer accusations, and to calm and sweeten your angry and bitter spirits.
Thirdly, Examples though not sufficient ground and rule for faith, yet they should be enough to make us to enquire after those waies, and to examine and try, whether they have any footing in the Word, because the followers of them, are very upright and circumspect in their way. Let me at least enquire after these waies, let me examine them by the light of the Gospel, surely there is some probability that these waies are the very paths of Sion, and lead to the gate of Heaven, because the Professors of them are such friends of Jesus Christ; It's likely that these men should know the mind of God that do converse with God most, that lie in his bosom, as the beloved Disciple in Christs: Is it not more likely that a man that is a familier friend, and con∣verses daily with such an one that this man should know his secrets, his will rather than a stranger? so all men in the world are strangers to God, but only the Saints: they converse with God, they are the men of his Counsel, and his heart, and therefore of all men in the world it's most likely that they should have all the Wils of God revealed unto them: All Learning and Natural wisdom cannot shew the mind of God so much as converse with God, and an holy humble familiaritie with him; God loves to open his bosom to his hidden ones, to reveal his mind to them; and therefore when we see men that are godly whose Con∣versation Page 95 is in Heaven, that they walked in such and such waies, it should make us to think it is like there is, more good in these waies than I am aware of at the present, it's like that such men as God smiles upon, that they should know the mind of God more than other men: therefore though I will not presently conclude it's the mind of God, and do it meerly because they do it, yet I'le examine and search whether it be not the mind of God or no according to the Scriptures.
Fourthly, The example of godly men should prevail thus far, to make us to take heed that we do not oppose those waies except we have very cleer ground to the con∣trary: then we may oppose them as Paul opposed Peter, and resisted him to the face, because he did not go in a right way: let men be never so holy and godly, yet they may be opposed in their way; If upon any examination you see cleerly this is not the way of God, I find it to be otherwise, not others think it's not the way of God, and such and such are of a contrary mind; No, but I have been exami∣ning it by the Word of God, and laying the rule to my conscience, and my conscience to that, and I find it to be disagreeing to the mind of God, then ye may speak or write against it, but do it not otherwise. If ye see men holy, men whose Conversations be in Heaven, don't op∣pose it because men do, be sure your ground be good, and you be cleer in it if you do oppose it, otherwise you may be in danger of fighting against God when you oppose them: therefore make so much use of the example of god∣ly, holy men, as not to oppose the way but upon cleer Scripture-evidence to the contrary.
Fiftly, The example of godly men should prevail thus far with us, As to prepare us to let in any truth that they do pro∣fess and practice. When we come to examine what is in the waies of God, and Heaven, in our examination, come with prepared hearts to let in the Truths God shall reveal unto us, the rather because we see such holy & godly men have imbraced those truths before us; when precious Gos∣pel-Truths Page 96 are delivered to us by the hands of the servants of Jesus Christ, then those very Truths in our eye are like apples of gold in pictures of silver, as beautiful as golden fruit in silver dishes.
Sixtly, The example of godly men should prevail thus far, as after we have examined, and found their way to be according to the Truth indeed, then their example should confirm us in the Truth: should help to settle us more in the Truth, should comfort and encourage us in such and such holy courses; because we find not only that we are con∣vinc'd of it, and we see it to be the way of God, and have experience of it, but others see it and they are convinc'd of it, others that are so godly they find much communion with God in it; now this should mightily strengthen and further us in that we go on in the same way that the Saints of God go on in: And indeed, it should be a very great grief to any godly man, that he should differ from other godly men, though it cannot be but that we should differ sometimes, because we are imperfect here, yea, and some∣times a weak Christian knows that which a strong Christi∣an may be ignorant of, (I say) it fals out so sometimes, that God in some things reveals himself to those that are weak and hides himself from those that are strong; so that here in this world it cannot otherwise be expected for the present, till the time that the New Jerusalem shall be let down from God out of Heaven, and then the Saints will be all of one mind and walk all in one way, but till then there cannot be expected but that there should be dif∣ferent waies of the Saints; but yet I say it should be a very great heart-trouble to godly men to see that they are neces∣sitated to go in different waies from other godly men: and on the other side a great encouragment and strengthening when the Saints go on in one way together with their faces towards heaven.