Take, my brothers, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.
Man is so formed by nature that examples, whether good or bad, have a great influence upon him. The bad, indeed, have more power to corrupt than the good to reform the world: nevertheless, upon all who are well disposed, good examples are not without a considerable effect. Good examples in general tend to establish us in the belief of the infinite advantages of true religion, which appears with most convincing evidence when, in the lives and actions of those who profess it, we behold a lovely counterpart of its Divine doctrines and admirable precepts. The cause is known by its effects, the fountain by its streams. Good examples are further advantageous as they are corrective: they strongly operate upon the principles of an ingenuous shame, and therefore contribute to reform the vicious and to improve the virtuous. We may also observe that such good and amiable models are powerfully attractive. Their lustre is truly bright, their beauty truly alluring: they seize on our esteem, steal our affections, and so insinuate themselves into the soul as by insensible degrees to transform it into their own likeness. When the sincere follower of Christ contemplates the illustrious patterns held up to him in Scripture, he will naturally be led to reflect that he is not single in the difficulties of the human race. Through the Divine blessing and assistance he will determine to tread the same path, and, like them, despise the allurements and terrors of the world. It is highly useful to attend not only to the patterns proposed in Scripture, but also to all those good examples which through any other means fall within the sphere of our knowledge; more particularly of such persons as have been persecuted for righteousness' sake, and have with heroic fortitude borne witness to the truth in the face of sufferings and death. If we have borne any particular relation to persons eminent for piety and virtue, their examples ought to be peculiarly beneficial to us. It may be presumed that, by our greater affection for such endeared friends, we shall be better prepared to receive the influence of their good examples. If we have had the benefit of their instructions and reproofs, of their admonitions, prayers and counsels, we shall be the more inexcusable if we are not disposed to resemble them. Eminent examples of piety and virtue, whether near or more remote, are like lights set up in the world for the direction of mankind in general, and for the comfort of the good: some of these, like the luminaries of heaven, extend their influence to all nations and times. In order to induce us to imitate those excellent examples which are held forth to us in Scripture, or which by any other means come within the circle of our knowledge, let us attend to the following encouraging considerations.
1. We serve the same God and Father. He is as deserving of the zeal and fidelity of His servants now as ever, has the same blessings treasured up in Himself, the same power in heaven, and the same care of His people here on earth. If we cultivate repentance and faith, piety and virtue, we have the same hopes of acquiring His favour, for He is "no respecter of persons."
2. Another encouraging circumstance is that we profess the same doctrine in general even with those who lived before the time of Christ.
3. Again, we are blessed with the same assistance, we are favoured with the same outward means and institutions, we are blessed with the public worship of God, the benefit of prayer, of the preaching His Word, and of the administration of the sacraments; we have moral and religious treatises in abundance, doctrinal, practical and devotional. Nor is there any want of internal assistance and consolation that either our own weakness, the irregularity of our passions, or the temptations with which we are encompassed, may render necessary to encourage us in our Christian course.
4. To conclude all, let it be considered that we have the promise and expectation of the same reward with them. Attentively, therefore, let us eye all the good examples with which we are acquainted that we may catch a portion of that heavenly ardour which animated them.
(B. C. Sowden.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.