The Force of Example
1 Corinthians 4:14-21
I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.…

1. It is our duty and concernment to regard the practices of good men, and to follow their example. It is the manner of the apostles on all occasions to inculcate the duty of imitating the examples of the good.

2. That we might have worthy patterns to imitate, God hath raised up in all ages excellent persons to lead us by good example in the paths of righteousness.

3. It was a special design of God's providence in recording and recommending to our regard the sacred histories. They were not framed as monuments of a fruitless memory; they were not proposed to us as entertainments of our curiosity; but they are set before us as copies to transcribe, as lights to guide us in our way to happiness.

4. Good example is of exceeding advantage to practice on many accounts.

I. IT MORE COMPENDIOUSLY, EASILY, AND PLEASANTLY INFORMS OUR MINDS AND DIRECTS OUR PRACTICE THAN PRECEPTS OR ANY OTHER INSTRUMENT OF DISCIPLINE. Who would not more readily learn to build by viewing carefully a well-contrived structure, than by a studious inquiry into the rules of architecture? or to draw by setting a good picture before him, than by merely speculating on the laws of perspective? Neither is the case much different in moral concernments; one good example may represent more fully and clearly the nature of a virtue than any verbose description. E.g. —

1. If we desire to know what faith is, and how we should rely on the Divine Providence, let us propose to our consideration the practice of Abraham.

2. He that would learn how to demean himself in resisting the assaults of temptation, let him consider that one carriage of Joseph.

3. Would we learn wisdom, constancy, and resolution in the conduct of honest and worthy designs, let us set before our eyes the pattern of Moses.

4. Would you be instructed how faithfully to discharge the ministerial or any other office? With a steadfast attention then behold the excellent pattern of St. Paul.

5. I might in like manner instance how Elias's practice might teach us to be zealous champions for truth and righteousness; how they who would be good judges, or honest patriots, may receive direction from the carriage of Samuel, Daniel, and Nehemiah.

II. IT PERSUADES AND INCLINES OUR REASON TO GOOD PRACTICE, COMMENDING IT TO US BY PLAUSIBLE AUTHORITY. For that wise and virtuous persons do anything is a very probable argument that we are concerned to do the like. It is obvious in temporal concernments how boldly men adventure their dearest interests in following such whom they deem honest and able to guide them.


1. It raises hope, by discovering to us the possibility of success in undertaking good designs, and that by the best and most convincing of arguments, experience. "The example," saith St. Bernard, "of a work done is a lively and efficacious oration, easily persuading what we intend by proving that feasible which we strive to persuade unto."

2. It inflames courage. So the apostle to the Hebrews signified when he set before them the examples of the patriarchs. How many persons, timorous and averse from dangerous undertakings, have notwithstanding become very bold and adventurous in war by the discipline and influence of an exemplary valour!

3. It provokes emulation, moving us earnestly to desire, and thence eagerly to pursue, whatever good, privilege, or advantage we see another to enjoy. Shall he, a man like myself, by noble dispositions and worthy performances, render himself highly considerable, while I, by sordid qualities and unworthy practices, render myself despicable? Shall a stripling David gloriously triumph over giants, while I basely am vanquished by dwarfs?

4. It works on modesty, that preserver and guardian of virtue, as Cicero calls it. For every good action of another doth upbraid and shame him who acteth not conformably thereto.

5. It awakens that curiosity which is of no mean efficacy on our actions. For whatever we see done, we are apt to inquire why and to what purpose it is done, what the grounds are, and what the fruits of the performance.

6. It pleases the mind and fancy in contemplation, thence drawing a considerable influence on practice. No kind of studious entertainment doth so generally delight as history, or the tradition of remarkable examples. Conclusion: Consider that God hath provided and recommended to us one example, as a perfect standard of good practice: the example of our Lord, the which declareth the use and efficacy of good example as one principal instrument of piety.

(I. Barrow, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.

WEB: I don't write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.

The Father and His Children
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