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and pleasant path of diversion, to endless ruin. Thus it appears from universal observation and experience, that example has a great and constant influence over mankind, in all their diversions and employments, through every stage and condition of life, from the cradle to the grave.
It now only remains to improve the subject.
1. We learn from the great influence of example, why parents are so successful in the education of their children. They naturally have a strong and tender affection for their offspring, which is a powerful motive to promote their reputation and happiness. But though they generally endeavor to instruct and restrain them, both by precept and penalty, yet they often find, to their sorrow, that their well-meant endeavors fail of answering their ardent wishes. And this is frequently a matter of their astonishment, as well as of their grief. But if they would only reflect on their own example, which they have set before their children, they might, in many cases, easily discover the principal cause of their great disappointment. They often defeat their own instructions and corrections by their own examples. Example has a more constant and controlling influence over the minds of children, than any precepts or penalties. If parents neglect to govern their own tongues, children will neglect to govern theirs. If parents neglect to govern their own tempers, children will neglect to govern theirs. If parents neglect to treat their superiors, inferiors, and equals, with proper respect, children will follow their ill example. If parents disregard and violate the Sabbath, children will do the same. If parents are prayerless, so will the children be. If parents are worldly-minded, children will imbibe the same spirit. If parents trample on the laws of the land, children will be unwholesome members of society. If parents are given to vanity, children will become still more vain in their feelings and appearance. In short, children will be more influenced by the example of their parents, than by all their instructions and restraints. It is the want of good example more than any thing else, which so often defeats parental instructions. If parents, therefore, would enforce their good instructions, by their good examples, they would happily succeed in the education of their children, and train them up in the way in which they should go, and from which they would never depart.
2. From the great influence of example, we learn why executive officers so often fail in the discharge of their trusts. There is a great and visible neglect of putting into execution the laws of the land. It is true, the laws respecting property are strictly executed; but the laws against vice are allowed to
sleep in silence. Executive officers have the same authority, and are bound by the same solemn obligation, to execute the laws against immorality, as those against fraud and injustice. Why then do they neglect to execute the former, rather than the latter? The cause is obvious. The voice of example commands them to defend men's lives and properties; but the same formidable voice forbids them to suppress their fashionable vices.
But besides the general example in favor of vice, there is the particular example of negligent officers, which those who wish to execute the laws are afraid to resist. And hence they cast the blame of their own negligence upon the negligence of others. They say, it is impossible for a few to suppress the prevalence of vice, when the most, in number and influence, neglect the duties of their office. The truth of this assertion cannot be denied. For judges, justices, sheriffs, constables, and tithingmen, are become extremely negligent in the discharge of their respective trusts. They not only neglect to execute, but personally violate the laws of the land. And their own example, as well as the example of the people, forbids them to execute those laws which condemn their own evil conduct. This general example of rulers and of people is the greatest obstacle in the way of executing the laws against open immoralities, and is the only excuse which executive officers can plead for the neglect of their duty. But will God, whose ministers they are, allow the validity of their excuse? Will that which increases, lessen their obligations to fidelity? Will the crying vices of the times stifle the accusing voice of conscience ? Will their being highly esteemed among men prevent their being an abomination in the sight of God?
Or will the dreadful fruits of their negligence, hereafter yield them the least consolation? If executive officers cannot render a better reason for their negligence than the force of bad example, they may be assured that their negligence will be bitter in the latter end, and their elevation in this life will terminate in shame and contempt in the life to come. Be wise, ye judges and rulers, and fulfil your sacred trusts, or ye will finally fall under the condemnation and wrath of the Judge of all the earth.
3. We learn from the great influence of example, why it is so difficult for any not to deviate from the path of virtue. Example leads many great, and good, and strong men astray. Those who are sober, virtuous, and even pious, are often overcome, by the force of example, to say and do things which they resolve not to say and do in their calm and retired hours. Joseph did not allow himself in profaneness, yet it seems the
example of courtiers sometimes led him to use profane oaths. Solomon was a wise and good man, but example led him astray. The patriarchs and many of the kings of Israel were good men, but example betrayed them into polygamy. The common people in Israel were generally inclined to obey the commands of God externally, but the example of their kings, and of neighboring nations, often seduced them to the worship of idols. It was example which led many of the common people to despise and reject the Saviour. “ Have any of the rulers or of the pharisees believed on him?” was the question they asked; and the answer determined their conduct, because they were unable to resist the force of example. Why do so many sober, and even pious men, indulge themselves in vain and unprofitable conversation on the Sabbath? Is it not chiefly owing to the example of the company into which they unhappily fall? Why do so many temperate men, on public days, sit and drink with the intemperate? Is it not to be imputed to the alluring force of example? Or why do christians in general so often symbolize with the world? Is it not because the strength of example surpasses the strength of their virtue?. The propensity to follow bad examples is the greatest weakness that the strongest and best of men find about them. Were it not for this weakness, there would be many more shining characters in the world in general, and in this place in particular.
4. We learn from the great influence of example the importance of avoiding bad company. It is the example of the vicious which renders their company dangerous. Those who mean to conduct well themselves might safely frequent the worst of company, if they had only strength of virtue to resist the power of example. But none have this strength of virtue, and therefore none can safely frequent the company of the vicious. Example has a most secret and insinuating influence. Milton ingeniously conjectures that Satan employed this artful method to seduce our first parents. It is certain, however, that their posterity are extremely subject to the secret and delusive power of example. A looseness of thought, a looseness of speech, a looseness of conduct, in others, very insensibly warps our sentiments and corrupts our hearts. We are always apt to imagine, that we may safely conform to our company, with a little reserve, or some small restrictions. When we observe others say and do certain things, without any apprehension of guilt, we are ready to ask, why is it wrong, or why is it improper, for us to say and do the same? So the child argues; so the youth; and even so the man of gray hairs. Such thoughts of foolishness are sin. And there is no way to avoid them, but to avoid bad company.
5. We learn from the great influence of example, that no man can live in the world, without doing either good or hurt to others, as well as to himself. Many vicious persons neither lie, nor cheat, nor steal, nor rob, and therefore console themselves with the thought, that they are harmless members of society, and injure nobody but themselves. This, however, is a great mistake. No man lives unobserved, and no man's example is without some effect. Every man's general conduct fixes his general character; and his general character has either a good or bad influence upon all around him. Indeed, every man means to set an example, and he never fails of doing it. Some mean to set good examples. Some mean to set bad examples. And some mean to set the example of mere negative virtue, by barely shunning infamous vice. But there are, in reality, no negative examples. They are all either good or evil, and have either a good or evil effect on somebody or other. Every man, therefore, whilst he lives in the world, has some influence in making it either better or worse, by his own example. And hence every man does either good or evil to others, as well as to himself.
6. From the wide influence of example, we learn the account which great men will have to give for the use of it. The example of the great has the greatest influence; and this influence they ought to improve for the glory of God, and the benefit of the world. The high, the rich, the learned, and the aged, are eminently men of influence. These men, in every society, nation, and kingdom, govern the mass of the people more by the power of example, than by any other power. Joshua and the elders were the men of influence among the Israelites. And accordingly we are told, that “ Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua." The king very often forms the court, and the court the rest of the nation. King Charles II. spread corruption through all orders, ranks and classes of the kingdom. The force of example is the same in all nations and in all places. A few men of influence in a nation govern the nation. A few men of influence in every state govern the state. A few men of influence in every town govern the town. And a few men of influence in every society govern the society. The men of influence possess a great and dangerous talent. And if they duly considered the great account which they must hereafter give for their use of it, they would be more solicitous to improve, than to increase their influence. Men of influence are under the highest obligations to set good examples. And they ought to esteem it a privilege, when a fair opportunity opens, to throw the weight of their example into
the scale of virtue. This frequently happens in all places. It now happens in this. Let me ask then, why some in this place have neglected to unite their influence with that of others, for the reformation of morals? Can you answer it to God, if you continue practically to oppose the virtuous, and to countenance the vicious ? You may choose to be neuters, but neuters you cannot be, either in the view of God or man. Your neglect is an example, and an example which has great influence, not to promote, but to prevent a reformation of morals.
7. From the great influence of example, we learn how easy it is to effect a reformation of morals among any people. Example alone will do it. This is a very easy and unexception
If men of influence among any people would only set good examples themselves, they would insensibly and gradually promote a reformation of morals. There are a few in every town and parish, who carry the power of reformation in their own conduct. Let them but uniformly conduct worthy of imitation, and others will voluntarily and cheerfully tread in their steps. This may be illustrated by the article of dress. Let the wealthiest persons in this place only agree to wear their own manufactures, and strictly conform to their agreement, and they would soon establish the fashion of wearing our own manufactures here. Not the example of neighboring towns, not the example of Boston, nay, not the example of all the world besides, would be sufficient to destroy the influence of the leading men in this place. Every society are independent in regard to their own customs and fashions, and always submit to the example of a few leading characters among themselves, in those particular points. This is exemplified by the sect called the Friends. Not that I would recommend them as perfect patterns of dress. They doubtless go to an extreme in singularity. But certainly any people might avoid the extravagance of fashion, as well as they can avoid all the varieties of it. The youth in this place are not so much governed, in their fashions, by the example of other places, as by the example of a few in this. If this few, therefore, would set a good example, in this respect, they would easily bring into discredit and disuse many supertluities and fopperies of dress, which begin to increase and prevail.
And what has been said respecting the extravagance of fashions, will equally apply to any other vice or immorality. Example alone would suppress it. The example of a few, in this place, would reform the vices which begin to prevail among us We have the power of reformation in our own hands. And this power might be exerted without the least ottience or expense, and with all desirable success. How inex