The Method of Grace
by John Flavel
The Imitation of Christ
Of the Imitation of Christ in holiness of life, and the necessity of
it in Believers.
"He who says he abided in him, ought himself also to walk, even as
he walked." I John 2:6
The express and principal design of the apostle, in this
chapter, is to propound marks and signs, both negative and positive,
for the trial and examination of men's claims to Christ; among
which (not to spend time about the coherence) my text is a principal
one; a trial of men's interest in Christ, by their imitation of
Christ. It is supposed by some expositors, that the apostle, in
laying down this mark, had a special design to overthrow the wicked
doctrine of the Carpocratians, who taught (as Epiphanius relates it)
that men might have as much communion with God in sin as in duty.
In full opposition to which the apostle lays down this proposition,
wherein he asserts the necessity of a Christ-like conversation in
all that claim union with him, or interest with him. The words
resolve themselves into two parts, namely,
1. A claim to Christ supposed.
2. The only way to have our claim warranted.
First, We have here a claim to Christ supposed; "if any man say
he abides in him." Abiding in Christ is an expression denoting
proper and real interest in Christ, and communion with him; for it
is put in opposition to those temporary, light, and transient
effects of the gospel, which are called a morning dew, or an early
cloud; such a receiving of Christ as that, Mat. 13: 21. which is but
a present flash, sudden and vanishing; abiding in Christ notes a
solid, durable, and effectual work of the Spirit, thoroughly and
everlastingly joining the soul to Christ. Now, if any man, whoever
he be (for this indefinite is equivalent to an universal term) let
him never think his claim to be good and valid, except he take this
course to adjust it.
(2.) Secondly, The only way to have this claim warranted, and
that must be by so walking even as he walked; which words carry in
them the necessity of our imitation of Christ. But it is not to be
understood indefinitely and universally of all the works or actions
of Christ, some of which were extraordinary and miraculous, some
purely mediatory, and not imitable by us: In these paths no
Christian can follow Christ; nor may so much as attempt to walk as
he walked. But the words point at the ordinary and imitable ways and
works of Christ; therein it must be the care of all to follow him,
that profess and claim interest in him; they must so walk as he
walked, this [so] is a very bearing word in this place; the emphasis
of the text seems to lie in it; however, certain it is that this so
walking, does not imply an equality with Christ in holiness and
obedience; for as he was filled with the Spirit without measure, and
anointed with that oil of gladness above his fellows; so the purity,
holiness, and obedience of his life are never to be matched, or
equalized by any of the saints. But this so walking only notes a
sincere intention, design, and endeavor to imitate and follow him
in all the paths of holiness and obedience, according to the
different measures of grace received. The life of Christ is the
believer's copy, and though the believer cannot draw one line or
letter exact as his copy is, yet his eye is still upon it, he is
looking unto Jesus, Heb. 12: 2. and laboring to draw all the lines
of his life, as agreeably as he is able, into Christ his pattern.
Hence the observation is,
Doctrine. That every man is bound to the imitation of Christ, under
penalty of forfeiting his claim to Christ.
The saints imitation of Christ is solemnly enjoined by many
great and express commands of the gospel; so you find it, 1 Pet. 1:
15. "But as he who has called you is holy, so be you holy in all
manner of conversation:" So Eph. 5: 1, 2. "Be you therefore followers
of God as dear children, and walk in love, as Christ also has loved
us." "Christians (says Bernard) receive this name from Christ; and
it is very meet that as they inherit his name, so they should also
imitate his holiness." Now to state the method of this discourse, it
will be needful to discuss and open three things in the doctrinal
1. What the saints imitation of Christ supposes and comprises.
2 In what particulars they are especially bound to imitate
3. Why no claim to Christ is valid without this imitation of
And then apply the whole in divers uses.
(1.) First, What the saints imitation of Christ supposes and
comprises. Now there are divers great and weighty truths supposed
and implied in this imitation of Christ, or walking as he walked,
First, It supposes, that no Christian is, or may pretend to be
a rule to himself, to act according to the dictates of his own will
and pleasure; for as no man has wisdom enough to direct and govern
himself, so if his own will were made the rule of his own actions,
it would be the highest invasion of the divine prerogative that
could be imagined: "I know, O Lord, (says Jeremiah) that the way of
man is not in himself; it is not in him that walks to direct his
own steps, Jer. 10: 28. We may as well pretend to be our own makers
as our own guides. It is a pretty observation of Aquinas, that if
the workman's hand were the rule of his work, it were impossible he
should ever err in working: And if the will of man were the only law
and guide of his way, we might then say no man would sin in his
walking. The apostle, indeed, says of the Heathens, Romans 2: 14.
"That they are a law to themselves;" but it is not his meaning, that
their will is their law, but the law of God engraved upon their
hearts; the light and dictates of their own consciences did oblige
and bind them as a law.
Secondly, This imitation of Christ implies, that as no man is,
or may pretend to be his own guide, so no mere man, how wise or holy
soever he be, may pretend to be a rule to other men; but Christ is
the rule of every man's way and walking. It is true indeed, the
apostle says, "We should be followers of them, who through faith
and patience, inherit the promises," Heb. 6: 12. And again, James 5:
10. "Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of
the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.
But you must always remember, that there is a two-fold rule;
1. Regula regulans, the rule ruling.
2. Regula regulata, the rule ruled.
The wisest and holiest among men, may pretend no higher than a
ruled rule. The great apostle, though filled with as great a measure
of the Spirit of wisdom and holiness, as ever was possessed by any
mere man, yet goes no higher than this, 1 Cor. 11: 1. "Be you
followers of me, as I also am of Christ." The best of men are but
men at best; they have their errors and defects, which they freely
acknowledge; and where they differ from Christ, it is our duty to
differ from them. We may not pin our faith to any man's sleeve, for
we know not where he will carry it. It was the commendation which
Paul gave of the Thessalonians, 1 Thes. 1: 6. "And you became
followers of us and of the Lord." The noble Bereans were also
commended for searching the scriptures, and examining the apostles'
doctrine by it; and it was a good reply of the father to a clamorous
disputant, crying, Hear me, hear me; "I will neither hear you, nor
do you hear me; but let us both hear Christ."
Thirdly, The imitation of Christ implies the necessity of
sanctification in all his followers; forasmuch as it is impossible
there should be a practical conformity in point of obedience, where
there is not a conformity in spirit and in principle; all external
conformity to Christ's practice, depends upon an internal conformity
to Christ in the principle and Spirit of holiness. It is very plain,
from Ezek. 11: 19, 20. that a new heart must be given us, and a new
spirit put into us, before we can walk in God's statutes; we must
first live in the Spirit, before we can walk in the Spirit, Gal. 5:
Fourthly, The imitation of Christ plainly holds forth this,
that the Christian religion is a very precise and strict religion;
no way countenancing licentiousness, or indulging men in their
lusts: it allows no man to walk loosely and inordinately, but
rejects every man's claim to Christ, who studies and labors not to
tread exactly in the footsteps of his holy and heavenly example.
Profaneness and licentiousness, therefore, can find no shelter or
protection under the wing of the gospel; this is the universal rule
laid upon all the professors of the Christian religion, "Let every
one that names the name of Christ, depart from iniquity," 2 Tim. 2:
19. that is let him either put on the life of Christ, or put off the
name of Christ; let him show the hand of a Christian, in works of
holiness and obedience, or else the tongue and language of a
Christian must gain no belief or credit.
Fifthly, The imitation of Christ necessarily implies the
defectiveness and imperfection of the best of men in this life; for
if the life of Christ be our pattern, the best and holiest of men
must confess they come short in everything of the rule of their
duty. Our pattern is still above us, the best of men are ashamed
when they compare their lives with the life of Christ: It is true, a
vain heart may swell with pride, when a man compares himself with
other men: thus measuring ourselves by ourselves, and comparing
ourselves among ourselves, we show our folly and nourish our pride;
but if any man will compare his own lily with Christ's, he will find
abundant cause at every time and in everything to be humbled. Paul
was a great proficient in holiness and obedience, be had been long
striving to come up to the top of holiness, yet when he looks up and
sees the life of Christ, and rule of duty, so far above him, hee
reckons himself still but at the foot of the hill. Phil. 3: 1. "Not
as though I kind already attained, either were already perfect, but
I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am
apprehended of Christ Jesus." q. d. Alas! I am not come up to my
duty, I am a great way behind; but I am following after, if at last
I may attain it: Perfection is in my expectation and hope, at last,
not in my attainment here.
Sixthly, The imitation of Christ, as our general rule or
pattern, necessarily implies the transcending holiness of the Lord
Jesus; his holiness is greater than the holiness of all creatures
"For only that which is first and best in every kind, is the rule
and measure of all the rest." It is the height of saints' ambition
to be made conformable to Christ, Phil. 3: 10. Christ has a double
perfection, a perfection of being, and a perfection of working. His
life was a perfect rule, no blot or error could be found therein;
for he was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners:" And
such an high-priest becomes us, as the apostle speaks, Heb. 7: 26.
The conformity of professors to Christ's example, is the test and
measure of all their graces; the nearer any man comes to this
pattern, the nearer he approaches towards perfection.
Seventhly, The Christian's imitation of Christ, under penalty
of losing his claim to Christ, necessarily implies sanctification
and obedience to be the evidences of our justification and interest
in Christ: Assurance is unattainable without obedience; we can never
be comfortable Christians except we be strict and regular
Christians. Gal. 6: 16. "As many as walk according to this rule,
peace be unto them, and mercy; and upon the Israel of God." A loose
and careless conversation can never be productive of true peace and
consolation, 2 Cor. 1: 12. "This is our rejoicing, the testimony of
our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with
fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our
conversation in the world." Let men talk what they will of the
immediate sealings and comforts of the Spirit, without any regard to
holiness, or respect to obedience; sure I am, whatever delusion they
meet with in that way, true peace, and consolation is only to be
expected and found here: "The fruit of righteousness shall be peace,
and the effect of righteousness quietness, and assurance forever."
We have it not for our holiness, but we always have it in the way of
holiness. And so much of the first particular, namely, what the
imitation of Christ implies and comprises in it.
Secondly, In the next place we are to enquire, in what things
all who profess Christ are obliged to the imitation of him; or what
those excellent graces in the life of Christ were, which are
propounded as patterns to the saints.
The life of Christ was a living law; all the graces and virtues
of the Spirit were represented in their glory, and brightest luster
in his conversation upon earth: Never man spoke as he spoke; never
any lived as he lived. "We beheld his glory (says the evangelist)
as the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and
truth" John 1: 14. But to descend to the particular, imitable
excellencies in the life of Christ, which are high patterns and
excellent rules for the conversation of his people, we shall, from
among many others, single out the ten following particulars, which
we are obliged to imitate.
Pattern 1. And first of all, the purity and holiness of the
life of Christ is proposed as a glorious pattern for the saint's
imitation. 1 Pet. 1: 15. "As he which has called you is holy, so be
you holy in all manner of conversation;" "en pasei anastrofei", in
every point and turning of yourselves. There is a two-fold holiness
in Christ, the holiness of his nature, and the holiness of his
practice; his holy being and his holy working: This obliges all
that profess interest in him to a two-fold holiness, namely, holiness
in actu primo, in the principles of it in their hearts, and holiness
in actu secondo, in the practice and exercise of it in their
conversations. It is very true we cannot in all respects imitate the
holiness of Christ, for he is essentially holy; proceeding, by
nature, as a pure beam of holiness from the Father; and when he was
incarnate, he came into the world immaculate, and pure from the
least stain of pollution: There it was said, Luke 1: 25. "That holy
thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God."
In this we can never be like Christ, in the way of our production;
for who can bring a clean thing out of that which is unclean? Not
one." The Lord Jesus was also efficiently holy, that is he makes
others holy; therefore his sufferings and blood are called a fountain
opened "for sin and for uncleanness," that is to cleanse other men's
souls, Zech. 13: 1. In this Christ also is inimitable; no man can
make himself or others holy. That is a great truth, though it will
hardly go down with proud nature--we may sooner make ourselves
to be men, than to be saints. Beside Christ is infinitely holy, as he
is God; and there are no measures set to his holiness, as Mediator.
John 3: 34. "For God gives not the Spirit by measure unto him."
But notwithstanding these excepted respects, the holiness of Christ
is propounded as a pattern for our imitation six ways.
First, He was truly and sincerely holy, without fiction or
simulation; and this appeared in the greatest trial of the truth of
holiness that ever was made in this world. John 14: 80. "The prince
of this world comes, and has nothing in me:" When he was agitated
and shaken with the greatest temptations, no dregs appeared; he was
like pure fountain-water in a crystal glass. The hypocrite makes
show of more holiness than he has, but there was more holiness in
Christ than ever appeared to the view of men. We may say of the way
of Christ what the philosopher says of the milky way in the
heavens; and those faint streams of light which we see there, are
nothing else but the reflection of innumerable stars which shine
there, though they are invisible to us. There was much inward beauty
in him, and so there ought to be in all his followers; our holiness,
like Christ's, must be sincere and real, Eph. 4: 24. shining with
inward beauty towards God rather than towards men.
Secondly, Christ was uniformly holy at one time as well as an
other; in one place and company as well as another: He was still
like himself, an holy Christ; one and the same tenor of holiness ran
throughout his whole life from first to last: So must it be with all
his people, holy in all manner of conversation. Christians, look to
your copy, and be sure to imitate Christ in this; write fair after
your copy; let there not be here a word and there a blot: one part
of your life heavenly and pure, and another earthly and dreggy; or
(as one expresses it) now an heavenly rapture, and by and by a
Thirdly, Christ was exemplarily holy; a pattern of holiness to
all that came near him and conversed with him: O imitate Christ in
this. It was the commendation of the Thessalonians, that they "were
examples to all that believed in Macedonia and Achaia; and that in
every place their faith to God-ward was spread abroad," 1 Thes. 1:
7, 8. Let no man go out of your company without conviction or
edification. So exemplary were the primitive Christians, Phil. 3:
Fourthly, Christ was strictly and precisely holy: "Which of you
convinces me of sin?" The most envious and observing eyes of his
greatest enemies could not pick a hole, or find a flaw in any of his
words or actions: It is our duty to imitate Christ in this. Phil. 2:
15. "That you may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without
rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you
shine (or, as the word may be rendered imperatively, 'faineste hos
foseres', among whom shine you) as lights in the world." Thus it
becomes the followers of Christ to walk circumspectly, or precisely;
"for so is the will of God that with well doing you may put to
silence the ignorance of foolish men," 1 Pet. 2: 15.
Fifthly, Christ was perseveringly holy, holy to the last
breath; as he began, so he finished his whole life in a constant
course of holiness: in this also he is our great pattern. It becomes
not any of his people to begin in the Spirit and end in the flesh;
but on the contrary, their last works should be more than their
first: "Let him that is holy, be holy still," Rev. 22: 11.
Sixthly, In a word, the delight of Christ was only in holy things
and holy persons: they were his chosen companions; even so it
becomes his people to have all their delights in the saints, and in
the excellent of the earth, Psalm. 16: 3. Thus, Christians, be you
followers of Christ in his holiness; God has decreed this conformity
to Christ in all that shall be saved, Romans 8: 29. he banished all
unholy ones from his gracious presence forever, 1 Cor. 6: 9. Heb.
12: 14. The design of Christ in dying for you was to make you pure
and holy, Eph. 5: 25, 26. 0 then, study holiness, eye your pattern,
and as dear children, be you followers of your most holy Lord Jesus
Pattern 2. The obedience of Christ to his Father's will, is a
pattern for the imitation of all Christians: it is said of Christ,
Heb. 5: 8. that he "learned obedience by the things which he
suffered;" a text which labors under some difficulties; Christ
learned obedience, and yet was not ignorant before of what he
learned afterward; he was perfect in knowledge, and yet the apostle
speaks of him as a proficient in the school of wisdom. But we must
consider there are two ways of learning, namely, by
1. The comprehension of the mind.
2. By the experience of the sense.
Christ, as God, was perfect in knowledge; nothing could be added
to him: but when he became man, then he came to understand, or
learn by sufferings, as the apostle here speaks; which, though it
added nothing to his knowledge, yet it was a new method and way of
knowing. Now the obedience of Christ is our pattern whereunto we are
obliged (as ever we will warrant our claim of interest in him) to
conform ourselves in the following properties of it.
First, Christ's obedience was free and voluntary, not forced or
compulsory; it was so from the very first undertaking of the work of
our redemption, Proverbs 8: 30, 31. "Then was I by him as one brought
up with him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before
him: Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights
were with the sons of men." And when the fullness of time was come
for executing that blessed design, which had been in prospect from
all eternity, how cheerfully did the will of Christ echo to his
Father's call, Psalm. 40: 7. "Then said I, lo I come, in the volume
of your book it is written of me, I delight to do your will, O my God,
yes, your law is within my heart." Nor was this a flourish before he
came into the field and saw the enemy, for he laid down his life
with the greatest cheerfulness and spontaneity that could be, John
10: 17, 18. "Therefore does my Father love me, because I lay down
my life that I may take it again; no man takes it from me, but I lay
it down of myself:" and indeed the voluntariness of Christ, in his
obedience unto death, gave his death the nature and formality of a
sacrifice; for so all sacrifices ought to be offered, Lev. 1: 3. and
so Christ's sacrifice was offered unto God, Eph. 5: 2. It was as
grateful a work to Christ to die for us, as it was to Moses' mother
to take him to nurse from the hand of Pharaoh's daughter. O
Christians, tread in the steps of Christ's example, do nothing
grudgingly for God, let not his commands be grievous, 1 John 5: 3.
If you do anything for God willingly, you have a reward; if
otherwise, a dispensation only is committed to you, 1 Cor. 9: 7.
Obedience in Christ was an abasement to him, but in you a very great
honor and advancement: you have reason therefore to obey with
Secondly, The obedience of Christ was universal and complete,
he was obedient to all the will of God, making no demur to the
hardest service imposed by the will of God upon him, Phil. 2: 8. "He
became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross;" and though
it is true, the humanity of Christ recoiled and staggered when that
bitter cup of the wrath of God was given him to drink; yet how soon
was that innocent aversion overcome in him by a perfect submission?
Nevertheless, "not my will, but your be done," Matt. 26: 39.
Christians, here is your pattern: happy are you, reader, if you
can say, when God calls you to suffering and self denying work, I
am filled with the will of God. Such was Paul's obedience, Acts 21:
18. "I am ready not only to be bound, but to die at Jerusalem for
the name of the Lord Jesus".
Thirdly, The obedience of Christ was sincere and pure, without
any base or by-end, purely aiming at the glory of God, John 17: 4.
"I have glorified you on earth, I have finished the work you
gave me to do. He sought not honor of men. This was the great
desire of his soul, John 12: 28. "Father glorify your name:" And
truly the choicest part of your obedience consists in the purity of
your ends, and in this Christ is propounded as your pattern, Phil.
2: 3, 4, 5.
Fourthly, The streams of Christ's obedience flowed from the
spring and fountain of ardent love to God, John 14: 81. "But that
the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me
commandment, even so I do;" Thus let all your obedience to God turn
upon the hinge of love; for "love is the fulfilling of the law."
Not as if no other duty but love were required in the
law, but because no act of obedience is acceptable to God, but that
which is performed in love.
Fifthly, In a word, The obedience of Christ was constant; he
was obedient unto death, he was not weary of his work to the last.
Such a patient continuance in well doing is one part of your
conformity to Christ, Romans 2: 7. it is laid upon you by his own
express command, and a command backed with the most encouraging
promise, Rev. 2: 10. "Be you faithful unto the death, and I will
give you the crown of life."
Pattern 3. The self-denial of Christ is the pattern of
believers, and their conformity unto it is their indispensable duty,
Phil. 2: 4, 5, 6. 2 Cor. 8: 9. "For you know the grace of our Lord
Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became
poor, that you through his poverty might be rich." Jesus Christ, for
the glory of God, and the love he bare to the elect, denied himself
all the delights and pleasures of this world, Matt. 20: 28. "The Son
of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give
his life a ransom for many;" he was all his life time in the world,
"a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," Isaiah 53: 5. more
unprovided of comfortable accommodations than the birds of the air,
or beasts of the earth, Luke 9: 58. "The foxes have holes, and the
birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has not where to lay
his head." Yet this was the least part of Christ's self denial: What
did he not deny when he left the bosom of his Father, with the
ineffable delights and pleasures he there enjoyed from eternity,
and instead thereof to drink the cup, the bitter cup of his Father's
wrath, for our sakes? O Christians, look to your pattern, and
imitate your self-denying Savior. There is a threefold self you are
to deny for Christ.
First, Deny your natural self, for him, Luke 14: 26. Hate your
own life, in competition with his glory, as well as your natural
lusts, Tit. 2: 12.
Secondly, Deny your civil self for Christ; whether they be
gifts of the mind, Phil. 3: 8. or your dearest relations in the
world, Luke 14: 26.
Thirdly, Deny your moral and religions self for Christ; your
own righteousness, Phil. 3: 10. Deny sinful self absolutely, Col. 3:
4, 5. Deny natural self conditionally, that is be ready to forsake its
interests at the call of God. Deny your religious self, even your
own graces, comparatively, not in the notion of duties, but in the
notion of righteousness: and to encourage you in this difficult
First, What great things Christ denied for you, and what small
matters you have to deny for him.
Secondly, How readily he denied all for your sakes, making no
objections against the difficultest commands.
Thirdly, How incapable you are to put any obligation upon
Christ, to deny himself in the least for you, and what strong
obligations Christ has put you under, to deny yourselves in your
greatest interests upon earth for him.
Fourthly, Remember that your self-denial is a condition
consented to, and subscribed by yourselves, if ever you received
Fifthly, In a word, consider how much your self denial for
Christ, makes for your advantage in both worlds, Luke 18: 29. O
therefore, look not every man upon his own things, but upon the
things that are of Christ; let not that be justly charged upon you,
which was charged upon them, Phil. 2: 21. "All seek their own, not
the things which are Christ's."
Pattern 4. The activity and diligence of Christ in finishing
the work of God which was committed to him, was a pattern for all
believers to imitate. It is said of him, Acts 10: 38. "He went about
doing good." O what a great and glorious work did Christ finish in a
little time! A work to be celebrated to all eternity by the praises
of the redeemed. Six things were very remarkable in the diligence of
Christ about his Father's work.
First, That his heart was intently set upon it, Psalm. 4: 8.
"Your law is in the midst of my heart," or affections.
Secondly, That he never fainted under the many great
discouragements he frequently met withal in that work, Isaiah 43: 4.
"He shall not fail, nor be discouraged.
Thirdly, That the shortness of his time provoked him to the
greatest diligence, John 9: 4. "I must work the work of him that
sent me, while it is day, for the night comes, when no man can
Fourthly, That he improved all opportunities, companies, and
occurrences to further the great work which was under his hand, John
Fifthly, Nothing more displeased him than when he met with
dissuasions and discouragements in his work; upon that account it
was that he gave Peter so sharp a check, Mat. 8: 83. "Get you
behind me, Satan."
Sixthly, Nothing rejoiced his soul more, than the prosperity
and success of his work, Luke 10: 20, 21. When the disciples made
the report of the success of their ministry, it is said, "In that
hour Jesus rejoiced in Spirit. And O what a triumphant shout was
that upon the cross at the accomplishment of his work, John 19: 30.
It is finished!
Now, Christians, eye your parent, look unto Jesus; trifle not
away your lives in vanity. Christ was diligent, be not you slothful.
And to encourage you in your imitation of Christ in labor and
First, How great an honor God puts upon you in employing, you
for his service: every vessel of service is a vessel of honor, 2
Tim. 2: 21. The apostle was very ambitious of that honor, Romans 15:
20. It was the glory of Eliakim to be fastened as a nail in a sure
place, and to have many people hang upon him, Isaiah 22: 23.
Secondly, Your diligence in the work of God will be your great
security in the hour of temptation; for "the Lord is with you while
you are with him," 2 Chron. 15: 2. The schoolmen put the question,
How the saints in heaven became impeccable? and resolve it thus,
that they are therefore freed from sin, because they are continually
employed and swallowed up in the blessed visions of God.
Thirdly, Diligence in the work of God is an excellent help to
the improvement of grace. For, though gracious habits are not
acquired, yet they are greatly improved by frequent acts; "To him
that has shall be given, Mat. 25: 29. It is a good note of Luther,
Faith improves by obedience.
Fourthly, Diligence in the work of God is the direct way to the
assurance of the love of God, 2 Pet. 15: 10. This path leads you
into a heaven upon earth.
Fifthly, Diligence in obedience is a great security against
backsliding: small remissions in duty, and little neglects, increase
by degrees unto great apostasies, you may see how that disease is
bred by the method prescribed for its cure, Rev. 2: 5. Do your first
Sixthly, In a word, laborious diligence, in the day of life,
will be your singular comfort when the night of death overtakes you,
2 Pet. 1: 11. 2 Kings 20: 3.
Pattern 5. Delight in God, and in his service, was eminently
conspicuous in the life of Christ, and is a rare pattern for
believers imitation, John 4: 32, 34. "But he said unto them, I have
meat to eat that you know not of, my meat is to do the will of him
that sent me, and to finish his work". The delights of Christ were
all in heaven. The Son of man was in heaven, in respect of de light
in God, while he conversed here among men. And if you be Christ's,
heavenly things will be the delight of your souls also. Now
spiritual delight is nothing else but the delight and well
pleasedness of a renewed heart, in conversing with God, and the
things of God, resulting from the agreeableness of them to the
spiritual temper of his mind. Four things are considerable about
First, The nature of it, which consists in the delight,
rest, and satisfaction of the mind in God and spiritual things. The
heart of a Christian is cantered, it is where it would be; it is
gratified in the highest, in the actings forth of faith and love
upon God; as the taste is gratified with a suitable delicious
relish, Psalm. 63:5, 6. Psalm. 119: 14, 24. Psalm. 17: 18.
Secondly, The object of spiritual delight, which is God
himself, and the things which relate to him. He is the blessed ocean
into which all the streams of spiritual delight do pour themselves,
Psalm. 73: 25. "Whom have I in heaven but you, and on earth there
is none that I desire in comparison of you."
Thirdly, The subject of spiritual delight, which is a renewed
heart, and that only so far as it is renewed, Romans 7: 22, "I
delight in the law of God after the inward man."
Fourthly, The principle and spring of this delight, which is
the agreeableness of spiritual things to the temper and frame of a
renewed mind. A sensitive pleasure arises from the suitableness of
the faculty and object. So it is here, no delicious sweetness can be
so pleasant to the taste, or beautiful colors to the eye, or
melodious sounds to the ear, as spiritual things to renewed souls,
because spiritual senses are delicate, and the objects more
But my business here is not so much to open its nature, as to
press you to the practice thereof in conformity to your great
pattern, whose life was a life of delight in God, and whose work was
performed with the greatest delight in God. "I delight to do your
will, O my God." O Christians, strive to imitate your pattern in
this. And to encourage you, I will briefly hint a few things.
First, Scarce anything can be more evidential of sincerity
than a heart delighting in God, and the will of God. Hypocrites go
as far as others in the material parts of duties, but here they are
defective; they have no delight in God and things spiritual; but do
whatever they do in religion, from the compulsions of conscience,
or accommodations of self-ends.
Secondly, delighting in God will be a choice help and means to
perseverance. The reason why many so easily part with religion is,
because their souls never tasted the sweetness of it; they never
delighted in it; but the Christian who delights in the law of God
will be meditating on it day and night, and shall be like a tree
planted by a river of water, whose leaf fades not, Psalm. 1: 2, 3.
Thirdly, This will represent religion very beautifully to such
as are yet strangers to it; you will then be able to invite them to
Christ by your example, the language whereof will be like that,
Psalm. 34: 8. "O taste and see that God is good."
Fourthly, This will make all your services to God very pleasing
and acceptable through Christ; you will now begin to do the will
of God on earth, as it is done in heaven; your duties are so far
angelical as they are performed in the strength of delight in God.
Object. But may not a sincere Christian act in duty without
delight? Yes, may he not feel some kind of weariness in duties?
Solut. Yes, doubtless he may; but then we must distinguish
between the temper and distemper of a renewed heart; the best
hearts are not always in the right frame.
Pattern 6 The inoffensivenss of the life of Christ upon earth
is an excellent pattern to all his people; he injured none, offended
none, but was holy end harmless, as the apostle speaks, Heb. 7: 26.
He denied his own liberty to avoid occasion of offence; as in the
case of the tribute-money, Mat. 19: 27. "The children are free,
notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go," &c. So circumspect
was Christ, and inoffensive among all men, that though his enemies
sought occasion against him, yet could they find none, Luke 6: 7.
Look unto Jesus, O you professors of religion, imitate him in this
gracious excellency of his life, according to his command, Phil. 2:
15. "That you may be harmless and blameless, the sons of God, without
rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation." You are
indeed allowed the exercise of your prudence, but not a jot farther
than will consist with your innocence. "Be you wise as serpents, and
harmless as doves." It is the rule of Christ that you offend none, 1
Cor. 10: 32. 2 Cor. 6: 3. And to engage you to the imitation of
Christ in this, I must briefly press it with a few encouragements,
which methinks should prevail with any heart that is truly gracious.
First, For the honor of Jesus Christ, be you inoffensive, his
name is called upon you, his honor is concerned in your deportment;
if your carriage in the world give just matter of offence, Christ's
worthy name will be blasphemed thereby, Jam. 2: 7. Your inoffensive
carriage is the only means to stop the mouths of detractors, 1 Pet.
Secondly, For the sake of souls, the precious and immortal
souls of others, be wary that you give no offence: "Woe to the world,
(says Christ,) because of offence," Matthew. 13: 7. Nothing was more
commonly objected against Christ and religion by the Heathens in
Cyprian's time, than the loose and scandalous lives of professors:
"Behold, say they, these are the men who boast themselves to be
redeemed from the tyranny of Satan, to be dead to the world;
nevertheless, see how they are overcome by their own lusts." And
much after the same rate Salvian brings in the wicked of his time,
stumbling at the looseness of professors, and saying, Where is that
catholic law which they believe? Where are the examples of piety and
chastity which they have learned? &c. O Christians, draw not the
guilt of other men's eternal ruin upon your souls.
Thirdly, In a word, answer the ends of God in your
sanctification and providential dispose in the world this way; by
the holiness and harmlessness of your lives, many may be won to
Christ, 1 Pet. 3: 1. What the Heathens said of moral virtue, (which
they called verticordia, turn-heart) that if it were but visible to
mortal eyes, all men would be enamored with it, will be much more
true of religion when you shall represent the beauty of it ill your
Pattern 7. The humility and lowliness of Christ is propounded
by himself as a pattern for his people's imitation. Mat. 11: 29.
"Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly." He could abase and empty
himself of all his glory, Phil. 2: 5, 6, 7. He could stoop to the
meanest office, even to wash the disciples feet. We read but of one
triumph in all the life of Christ upon earth, when he rode to
Jerusalem, the people strewing branches in the way, and the very
children in the streets of Jerusalem, crying, "Hosanna to the son of
David, Hosanna in the highest;" and yet with what lowliness and
humility was it performed by Christ, Matthew. 21: 5. "Behold your King
comes unto you meek and lowly." The humility of Christ appeared in
everything he spoke or did. Humility discovered itself in his
language, Psalm. 22: 6. "I am a worm, and no man." In his actions,
not refusing the meanest office, John 3: 14. In his condescensions
to the worst of men, upon which ground they called him "a friend to
publicans and sinners," Matthew. 11: 19. But especially, and above
all, in stooping down from all his glory to a state of the deepest
contempt, for the glory of God and our salvation. Christians! here
is your pattern; look to your meek and humble Savior, and tread in
his steps; be you "clothed with humility," 1 Pet. 5: 5. Whoever are
ambitious to be the world's great ones, let it be enough for you to
be Christ's little ones. Convince the world, that since you knew God
and yourselves, your pride has been dying from that day. Show your
humility in your habits, 1 Pet. 3: 3. 1 Tim. 2: 9, 10. In your
company, not despising the meanest and poorest that fear the Lord,
Psalm. 15: 4. Romans 12: 16. In your language; that dialect befits your
lips, Eph. 3: 8. Less than the least of all saints; but especially
in the low value and humble thoughts you have of yourselves, 1 Tim
1: 15. And to press this, I beseech you to consider,
First, From how vile a root pride springs. Ignorance of God,
and of yourselves, gives rise and being to this sin: They that know
God will be humble, Isaiah 6: 5. And they that know themselves cannot
be proud, Romans 7: 9.
Secondly, Consider the mischievous effects it produces; it
estranges the soul from God, Psalm. 138: 6. It provokes God to lay
you low, Job 40: 11, 12. It goes before destruction and a dreadful
fall, Proverbs 10: 18.
Thirdly, As it is a great sin, so it is a bad sign, Hab. 2: 4.
"Behold his heart which is lifted up, is not upright in him."
Fourthly, How unsuitable it is to the sense you have, and the
complaints you make of your own corruptions and spiritual wants; and
above all, how contrary it is to your pattern and example: Did
Christ speak, act, or think as you do! O. learn humility from Jesus
Christ, it will make you precious in the eyes of God, Isaiah 57: 15.
Pattern 8. The contentment of Christ in a low and mean
condition in the world, is an excellent pattern for his people's
imitation. His lot in this world fell upon a condition of deepest
poverty and contempt: Yet how well was he satisfied and contented
with it! hear him expressing himself about it, Psalm. 16: 6. "The
lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places: yes, I have a goodly
heritage." The contentment of his heart with a suffering condition,
evidenced itself in his silence under the greatest sufferings, Isaiah
53: 7. "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted; yet he opened not
his mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep
before the shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth." O that in
this also the poorest Christians would imitate their Savior, and
learn to manage an afflicted condition with a contented spirit: Let
there be no murmurs, complaints, or foolish charges of God heard
from you, whatever straits or troubles he brings you into: For,
First, The meanest and most afflicted Christian is owner of
many rich, invaluable mercies, Eph. 1: 3. 1 Cor. 3: 33. Is sin
pardoned and God reconciled? then never open your mouths any more,
Ezek. 16: 63.
Secondly, You have many precious promises that God will not
forsake you in your straits, Heb. 13: 5. Isaiah 41: 17. And your whole
life has been a life of experiences of the faithfulness of God in
his promises. Which of you cannot say with the church, Lam. 3: 28.
"His mercies are new every morning, and great is his faithfulness."
Thirdly, How useful and beneficial are all your afflictions to
you! they purge your sins, prevent your temptations, wean you from
the world, and turn to your salvation: and how unreasonable then
must your discontentedness at them be?
Fourthly, The time of your relief and full deliverance from all
your troubles is at hand; the time is but short that you shall have
any concernment about these things, 1 Cor. 7: 26. If the candle of
your earthly comfort be blown out, yet remember it is but a little
while to the break of day, and then there will be no need of
Your earthly lot falls by divine direction upon you, and as
bad as it is, it is much easier and sweeter than the condition of
Christ in this world was: Yet he was contented, and why not you? O
that we could learn contentment from Christ in every condition. And
thus I have laid before you some excellent patterns in the life of
Christ for your imitation.