On Preaching Christ Our Example.
"Let as make man IN OUR IMAGE; AFTER OUR LIKENESS:" in these words of the Council of Creation, with which the Bible history of man opens, we have the revelation of the Eternal purpose to which man owes his existence, of the glorious eternal future to which he is destined. God proposes to make a GODLIKE CREATURE, a being who shall be His very image and likeness, the visible manifestation of the glory of the Invisible One.
To have a being, at once created and yet Godlike, was indeed a task worthy of Infinite Wisdom. It is the nature and glory of God that He is absolutely independent of all else, having life in Himself, owing His existence to none but Himself alone. If man is to be Godlike, he must bear His image and likeness in this too, that he must become what he is to be, of his own free choice; he must make himself. It is the nature and glory of the creature to be dependent, to owe everything to the Blessed Creator. How can the contradiction be reconciled?óa being at once dependent and yet self-determined, created and yet Godlike. In man the mystery is solved. As a creature God gives him life, but endows him with the wonderful power of a free will; it is only in the process of a personal and voluntary appropriation that anything so high and holy as likeness to God can really become his very own.
When sin entered, and man fell from his high destiny, God did not give up His purpose. Of His revelation in Israel the central thought was: "Be ye holy, as I am holy." Likeness to God in that which constitutes His highest perfection is to be Israelís hope. Redemption had no higher ideal than Creation had revealed; it could only take up and work out the Eternal purpose.
It was with this in view that the Father sent to the earth the Son who was the express Image of His person. In Him the God-likeness to which we had been created, and which we had personally to appropriate and make our own, was revealed in human form: He came to show to us at once the Image of God and our own image. In looking upon Him, the desire after our long-lost likeness to God was to be awakened, and that hope and faith begotten which gave us courage to yield ourselves to be renewed after that Image. To accomplish this, there was a twofold work He had to do. The one was to reveal in His life the likeness of God, so that we might know what a life in that likeness was, and understand what it was we had to expect and accept from Him as our Redeemer. When He had done this, and shown us the likeness of the life of God in human form, He died that He might win for us, and impart to us, His own life as the life of the likeness of God, that in its power we might live in the likeness of what we had seen in Him. And when He ascended to heaven, it was to give us in the Holy Spirit the power of that life He had first set before us and then won to impart to us.
It is easy to we how dose the connection is between these two parts of the work of our Lord, and how the one depends upon the other. For what as our Example He had in His life revealed, He as our Redeemer by His death purchased the power. His earthly life showed the path, His heavenly life gives the power, in which we are to walk. What God hath joined together no man may separate. Whoever does not stand in the full faith of the Redemption, has not the strength to follow the Example. And whoever does not seek conformity to the Image as the great object of the Redemption, cannot fully enter into its power. Christ lived on earth that He might show forth the image of God in His life: He lives in heaven that we may show forth the image of God in our lives.
The Church of Christ has not always maintained the due relation of these two truths. In the Catholic Church the former of the two was placed in the foreground, and the following of Christís example pressed with great earnestness. As the fruit of this, she can point to no small number of saints who, notwithstanding many errors, with admirable devotion sought literally and entirely to bear the Masterís image. But to the great loss of earnest souls, the other half of the truth was neglected, that only they who in the power of Christís death receive His life within them, are able to imitate His life as set before them.
The Protestant Churches owe their origin to the revival of the second truth. The truth of Godís pardoning and quickening grace took its true place to the great comfort and joy of thousands of anxious souls. And yet here the danger of one-sidedness was not entirely avoided. The doctrine that Christ lived on earth, not only to die for our redemption, but to show us how we were to live, did not receive sufficient prominence. While no orthodox Church will deny that Christ is our Example, the absolute necessity of following the example of His life is not preached with the same distinctness as that of trusting the atonement of His death. Great pains are taken, and that most justly, to lead men to accept the merits of His death. As great pains are not taken, and this is what is not right to lead men to accept the imitation of His life as the one mark and test of true discipleship.
It is hardly necessary to point out what influence the mode of presenting this truth will exercise in the life of the Church. If atonement and pardon be everything, and the life in His likeness something secondary, that is to follow as a matter of course, the chief attention will be directed to the former. Pardon an peace will be the great objects of desire; with these attained, there will be a tendency to rest content. If, on the other hand, conformity to the image of Godís Son be the chief object, and the atonement the means to secure this end, as the fulfilment of Godís purpose in creation, then in all the preaching of repentance and pardon, the true aim will ever be kept in the foreground; faith in Jesus and conformity to character will be regarded as inseparable. Such a Church will produce real followers of the Lord.
In this respect the Protestant Churches need still to go on unto perfection. Then only will the Church put on her beautiful garments, and truly shine in the light of Godís glory, when these two truths are held in that wondrous unity in which they appear in the life of Christ Himself. In all He suffered for us, He left us an example that we should follow in His footsteps. As the banner of the cross is lifted high, the atonement of the cross and the fellowship of the cross must equally be preached as the condition of true discipleship.
It is remarkable how distinctly this comes out in the teaching of the blessed Master himself. In fact, in speaking of the cross, He gives its fellowship more prominence than its atonement. How often He told the disciples that they must bear it with Him and like Him; only thus could they be disciples, and share in the blessings His crossbearing was to win. When Peter rebuked Him as He spoke of His being crucified, He did not argue as to the need of the cross in the salvation of men, but simply insisted on its being borne, because to Him as to us the death of self is the only path to the life of God. The disciple must be as the Master. He spoke of it as the instrument of self-sacrifice, the mark and the means of giving up our own life to the death, the only path for the entrance upon the new Divine life He came to bring. It is not only I who must die, He said, but you too; the cross, the spirit of daily self-sacrifice, is to be the badge of your allegiance to me. How well Peter learnt the lesson we see in his Epistle, Both the remarkable passages in which he speaks of the Saviour suffering for usó("Christ suffered for us; who bare our sins upon the tree;" "He suffered, the just for the unjust")óare brought in almost incidentally in connection with our suffering like Him. He tells us that as we gaze upon the Crucified One, we are not only to think of the cross as the path in which Christ found His way to glory, but as that in which each of us is to follow Him.
The same thought comes out with great prominence in the writing of the Apostle Paul. To take one Epistle, that to the Galatians; we find four passages in which the power of the cross is set forth. In one we have one of the most striking expressions of the blessed truth of substitution and atonement: "Being made a curse for us, as it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." This is indeed one of the foundation-stones on which the faith of the Church and the Christian rests. But a house needs more than foundation-stones. And so we find that no less than three times in the Epistle the fellowship of the cross, as a personal experience, is spoken of as the secret of the Christian life. "I have been crucified with Christ." "They that are Christís have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts." "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." That Christ bore the cross for us is not all; it is but the beginning of His work. It does but open the way to the full exhibition of what the cross can do as we are taken up into a lifelong, fellowship with Him the Crucified One, and in our daily life we experience and prove what it is to be crucified to the world. And yet how many earnest and eloquent sermons have been preached on glorying in the cross of Christ, in which Christís dying on the cross for us has been expounded, but our dying with Him, in which Paul so gloried, has been forgotten!
The Church does indeed need to have this second truth sounded out as clearly as the first. Christians need to understand that bearing the cross does not in the first place refer to the trials which we call crosses, but to that daily giving up of life, of dying to self, which must mark us as much as it did Jesus, which we need in times of prosperity almost more than in adversity, and without which the fulness of the blessing of the cross cannot be disclosed to us. It is the cross, not only as exhibited on Calvary, but as gloried in on account of its crucifying us, its spirit breathing through all our life and actions, that will be to the Christian and the Church as it was to Christ, the path to victory and to glory, the power of God for the salvation of men.
The Redemption of the cross consists of two partsóChrist bearing the cross, Christís crucifixion for us, as our atonement, the opening up of the way of life; our crucifixion, our bearing the cross with Christ, as our sanctification, our walking in the path of conformity to His blessed likeness. Christ the Surety and Christ the Example must equally be preached.
But it will not be sufficient that these two truths be set forth as separate doctrines; they can exercise their full power only as their inner unity is found in the deeper truth of Christ our Head. As we see how union with the Lord Jesus is the root in which the power of both the Surety and the Example has its life, and how the one Saviour makes us partakers both of the atonement and the fellowship of His cross, we shall understand how wonderful their harmony is, and how indispensable both are to the welfare of the Church. We shall see that as it is Jesus who opened up the way to heaven as much by the footsteps He left us to tread in as by the atonement He gave us to trust in, so it is the same Jesus who gives us pardon through His blood, and conformity to Himself through His Spirit. And we shall understand how for both faith is the only possible path. The life-power of this atonement comes through faith alone; the life-power of the example no less so. Our Evangelical Protestantism cannot fulfil its mission until the grand central truth of salvation by faith alone has been fully applied, not only to justification, but to sanctification too, that is, to the conformity to the likeness of Jesus.
The preacher who desires in this matter to lead his people in the path of entire conformity to the Saviourís likeness, will find a very wide field indeed opened up to him. The Christ-like life is like a tree, in which we distinguish the fruit, the root, and the stem that connects the two. As in individual effort, so in the public ministry, THE FRUIT will probably first attract attention. The words of Christ, "Do ye even as I have done," and the frequent exhortations in the Epistles to love, and forgive, and forbear, even as Christ did, lead first to a comparison of the actual life of Christians with His, and to the unfolding and setting up of that only rule and standard of conduct which the Saviourís example is meant to supply. The need will be awakened of taking time and looking distinctly at each of the traits of that wonderful Portrait, so that some clear and exact impressions be obtained from it of what God actually would have us be. Believers must be brought to feel that the life of Christ is in very deed the law of their life, and that complete conformity to His example is what God expects of them. There may be a difference in measure between the sun shining in the heavens and a lamp lighting our home here on earth; still the light is the same in its nature, and in its little sphere the lamp may be doing its work as beautifully as "the sun itself". The conscience of the Church must be educated to understand that the humility and self-denial of Jesus, His entire devotion to His Fatherís work and will, His ready obedience, His self-sacrificing love and kindly beneficence, are nothing more than what each believer is to consider it his simple duty as well as his privilege to exhibit too. There is not, as so many think, one standard for Christ and another for His people. No; as branches of the vine, as members of the body, as partakers of the same spirit, we may and therefore must bear the image of the Elder Brother.
The great reason why this conformity to Jesus is so little seen, and in fact so little sought after among a large majority of Christians, is undoubtedly to be found in erroneous views as to our impotence and what we may expect Divine grace to work in us. Men have such strong faith in the power of sin, and so little faith in the power of grace, that they at once dismiss the thought of our being expected to be just as loving, and just as forgiving, and just as devoted to the Fatherís glory as Jesus was, as an ideal far beyond our reach; beautiful indeed, but never to be realized. God cannot expect us to be or do what is so entirely beyond our power. They confidently point to their own failure in earnest attempts to curb temper and to live wholly for God, as the proof that the thing cannot be.
It is only by the persistent preaching of Christ our Example, in all the fulness and glory of this blessed truth, that such unbelief can be overcome. Believers must be taught that God does not reap where He has not sown, that the fruit and THE ROOT are in perfect harmony. God expects us to strive to speak and think and act exactly like Christ, because the life that is in us is exactly, the same as that which was in Him. We have a life like His within us; what more natural than that the outward life should be like His too? Christ living in us is the root and strength of Christís acting and speaking through us, shining out from us so as to be seen by the world.
It is specially the preaching of Christ our Example, to be received by faith alone, that will be needed to lead Godís people on to what their Lord would have them be. The prevailing idea is that we have to believe in Jesus as our Atonement and our Saviour, and then, under the influence of the strong motives of gratitude and consistency, to strive to imitate His example. But motives cannot supply the strength; the sense of impotence remains; we are brought again under the law: we ought to, but cannot. These souls must be taught what it means to believe in Christ their Example. That is, to claim by faith His Example, His Holy Life, as part of the salvation He has prepared for them. They must be taught to believe that this Example is not a something, not even a some one outside of them, but the living Lord Himself, their very Life, who will work in them what He first gave them to see in His earthly life. They must learn to believe that if they will submit themselves to Him, He will manifest Himself in them and their life-walk in a way passing all their thoughts; to believe that the Example of Jesus and the conformity to Him is a part of that Eternal Life which came down from heaven, and is freely given to every one that believeth. It is because we are one with Christ, and abide in Him, because we have in us the same Divine life He had, that we are expected to walk like Him.
The full insight into this truth, and the final acceptance of it, is no easy matter. Christians have become so accustomed to a life of continual stumbling and unfaithfulness, that the very thought of their being able with at least such a measure of resemblance as the world must recognise, to show forth the likeness of Christ, has become stranre to them. The preaching that will conquer their unbelief, and lead Godís people to victory, must be ted by a joyous and triumphant faith. For it is only to faith, a faith larger and deeper than Christians ordinarily think needful for salvation, that the power of Christís example taking possession of the whole life will be given. But when Christ in His fulness, Christ as the Law and the Life of the believer, is preached, this deeper faith, penetrating, to the very root of our oneness of life with Him, will come, and with it the power to manifest that life.
The growth of this faith may in different cases vary much. To some it may come in the course of quiet persevering waiting upon God. To others it may come as a sudden revelation, after seasons of effort, of struggling and failure; just one full sight of what Jesus as the Example really is, Himself being and giving all He claims. To some it may come in solitude where there is none to help but the living God Himself alone. To others it will be given, as it has been so often, in the communion of the saints, where amid the enthusiasm and love which the fellowship of the Spirit creates, hearts are melted, decision is strengthened, and faith is stirred to grasp what Jesus offers when He reveals and gives Himself to make us like Himself. But, in whatever way it come, it will come when Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is preached as Godís revelation of what His children are to be. And believers will be led, in the deep consciousness of utter sinfulness and impotence, to yield themselves and their life as never before into the hands of an Almighty Saviour, and to realize in their experience the beautiful harmony between the apparently contradictory words: "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing;" and, "I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me."
But root and fruit are ever connected by a STEM, with its branches and leaves. In the life of Christ this was so too. The connection between His hidden life rooted in God, and that life manifesting itself in the fruit of holy words and works, was maintained by His life of conscious and continual personal fellowship with the Father. In His waiting on the Father, to see and hear what He had to make known, in His yielding Himself to the leadings of the Spirit, in His submission to the teachings of the Word which He came to fulfil, in His watching unto prayer, and in His whole life of dependence and faith, Christ became our Example. He had so truly been made like unto us in all things, become one with us in the weakness of the flesh, that it was only thus that the life of the Father could be kept flowing freely into Him and manifesting itself in the works He did. And just so it will be with us. Our union to Jesus, and His life in us, will most certainly secure a life like His. This not, however, in the way of an absolute necessity, as a blind force in nature works out its end; but in the way of an intelligent, willing, loving cooperations continual coming and receiving from Him in the surrender of faith and prayer, a continual appropriating and exercising of what we receive in watchful obedience and earnest effort, a continual working because we know He works in us. The faith in the vitality and the energy of the life in which we are eternally rooted win not lead to sloth or carelessness, but, as with Christ, rouse our energies to their highest power. It is the faith in the glorious possibilities that open up to us in Christ our life, that will lead to the cultivation of all that constitutes true personal fellowship and waiting upon God.
It is in these three points of similarity that the Christ-like life must be known; our life like Christís hidden in God, maintained like His in fellowship with God, will in its external manifestation be like His too, a life for God. As believers rise to apprehend the truth, we are indeed like Christ in the life we have in God through Him; we can be like Christ in the keeping up and strengthening of that life in fellowship with God; we shall be like Christ in the fruits which such a life must bear; the name of followers of Christ, the imitation of Christ, will not be a profession but a reality, and the world will know that the Father has indeed loved us as He loved the Son.
I venture to suggest to all ministers and Christians who may read this, the inquiry whether, in the teaching and the thought of the Church, we have sufficiently lifted up Christ as the Divine Model and Pattern, in likeness to whom alone we can be restored to the Image of God in which we were created. The more clearly the teachers of the Church realize the eternal ground on which a truth rests, its essential importance to other truths for securing their complete and healthy development, and the share it has in leading into the full enjoyment of that wonderful salvation God has prepared for us, the better will they be able to guide Godís people into the blessed possession of that glorious life of high privilege and holy practice which will prepare them for becoming such a blessing to the world as God meant them to be. It is the one thing that the world needs in these latter daysmen and women of Christ-like lives, who prove that they are in the world as He was in the world, that the one object of their existence is nothing other than what was Christís objectóthe glorifying of the Father and the saving of men.
One word more. Let us above all beware lest in the preaching and seeking of Christ-likeness that secret but deadly selfishness creeps in, which leads men to seek it for the sake of getting for themselves as much as is to be bad, and because they would fain be as eminent in grace and as high in the favour of God as may be. God is love: the image of God is God-like love. When Jesus said to His disciples: "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect," He told them that perfection was loving and blessing the unworthy. His very names tell us that all the other traits of Christ-likeness must be subordinate to this one: seeking the will and glory of God in loving and saving men. He is Christ the Anointed: the Lord hath anointed Himófor whom I for the brokenóhearted and the captive; for them that are bound and them that mourn. He is Jesus; living and dying to save the lost. There may be a great deal of Christian work with little of true holiness or of the spirit of Christ. But there can be no large measure of real Christ-like holiness without a distinct giving up oneself to make the salvation of ers for the glory of God the object of our life. He gave HIMSELF FOR US, that He might claim US FOR HIMSELF, a peculiar people, zealous of good works. HIMSELF FOR US, and US FOR HIMSELF: an entire exchange, a perfect union, a complete identity in interest and purpose. HIMSELF FOR US as Saviour, US FOR HIMSELF still as Saviour; like Him and for Him to continue on earth the work He began. Whether we preach the Christ-like life in its deep inner springs, where it has its origin in our oneness with Him in God, or in its growth and maintenance by a life of faith and prayer, of dependence and fellowship with the Father, or in its fruits of humility and holiness and love, let us ever keep this in the foreground. The one chief mark and glory of the Christ is that He lived and died and lives again for this one thing alone: THE WILL AND THE GLORY OF THE GOD OF LOVE IN THE SALVATION OF SINNERS. And to be Christ-like means simply this: to seek the life and favour and Spirit of God only, that we may be entirely given up to to same object: THE WILL AND THE GLORY OF THE GOD OF LOVE IN THE SALVATION OF SINNERS.