Christ, Our Example
William Nicholson, 1862
"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." 1 Peter 2:21
When Peter wrote his epistle, the Church was exposed to much persecution; he therefore reminds them that Christ, who was possessed of all moral excellence, had suffered before them, and indeed was an example of fortitude, resignation, and patience to them. His atonement also would be a source of consolation amid the perils to which they were exposed.
Christ was not merely an example of fortitude, etc., under suffering, but he was an example of all virtue. Were the world to be generally influenced by that example, what a different moral aspect would it bear! All human expedients and systems to render man virtuous and happy are ineffective, when put in competition with the Gospel, and the example of its Author. These form a lever destined by Infinite Wisdom ultimately to raise man from the pit of moral defilement and wretchedness.
I. Consider Christ as the Great Example or Pattern of His Church.
This is taught throughout the Scriptures. "Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." 1 John 2:6. He who becomes a Christian is required to follow Christ; and if truly converted, this will certainly be the case. "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." John 13:15. "Whoever serves me must follow me." John 12:26. "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." 1 Corinthians 11:1. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." Philippians 2:5. "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." Hebrews 12:2
1. The nature of man is such as to require an example for his imitation.The moral precepts are already expressed — the nature of holiness defined, and the Scriptures direct us, in the simplest manner, how to follow after it. But as men are universally influenced by example more than by precept — a perfect model of morality is absolutely necessary. The example of another may indicate that the duty which we are enjoined to perform is practical, and from thence we may also learn how holiness is to be attained, and how perfected in the fear of God. An acquaintance with the writings and lives of men eminent for piety, is for the same reason highly advantageous. Fellowship and association with men in whom the graces of the Spirit flourish, must also have a transforming influence.
2. The best of men, having numerous imperfections, are not fit to become our example in everything.Much advantage may doubtless be derived from an acquaintance with their spirit and conduct, especially if distinguished for close walking with God. Much will be found worthy of imitation in their self-denial, ardent zeal, humility, patience, and devotedness to God; but the best of men are liable to err both in judgment and practice. They cordially unite with Paul, "O what a wretched man I am!" Or with Job, "Therefore, I abhor myself!" "Ah! how different is my life from that of the great Exemplar!"
It would therefore be unsafe to call any man master, or to set him up as our example in everything. We are to follow good men as far as they follow Christ, but no further, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." 1 Corinthians 11:1.
3. The Supreme Being, the fountain of all excellence, is not a model suited for our imitation, on account of the transcendence of his perfections.He is himself the standard of all moral goodness, and we are commanded to be perfect, even as our Father who is in Heaven is perfect; and to be holy because he is holy! Yet on account of the infinite disparity between God and us, his perfections are the object of adoration, rather than of our imitation, except in a very humble and subordinate degree.
4. The Son of God incarnate exhibited an example perfectly adapted to our circumstances, and that pattern we are commanded to copy.His example was perfect. He always performed and entered that which was perfectly right. He "did no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth." He was the true representative of all real excellence, both human and Divine. He was so the brightness of his Father's glory, and so expressly the image of his person, that he could say to his disciples, "He who has seen me, has seen the Father. I and my Father are one." At the same time, however, he displayed all the attributes of our nature; was in all things made like unto his brethren, and is touched with a feeling of our infirmities.
Observe some of those traits in the Redeemer's character to which his people must be conformed:
(1.) His perfect humility.This he exhibited throughout his sojourn on earth. None could say with equal propriety, "Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart." Matthew 11:28. When he came into the world, he did not assume any external dignity, neither did he display his native glory, but veiled himself in flesh, and took on him the form of a servant, Philippians 1:6.
He sought not the praise of men, but always endeavored to avoid it. When, on the banks of Jordan, testimony was borne from Heaven that he was the well-beloved Son of God, instead of waiting for the plaudits of the multitude, he immediately retired into the wilderness. When he wrought miracles, he charged the people not to make him known. No ostentation was visible in any part of his conduct, Matthew 12:19; Isaiah 42:2.
How different his conduct from that exhibited by man, whose heart is full of pride! and from that of Christians, who are sometimes tempted to love the praise of men more than the praise of God!
(2.) Observe next his self-denial.His whole life was one continued exemplification of this virtue; he sought not his own glory, ease, or comfort, and he pleased not himself. "And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Matthew 20:27-28. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich!" 2 Corinthians 8:9 . No avaricious, ambitious, proud, or sensual desire, found a place in his bosom. Every selfish aim was excluded from his heart, every unworthy act from his life!
Omniscience itself, looking into his soul with a perfect survey, saw nothing but pure excellence, supreme beauty, and divine loveliness — a sun, without a spot — a splendor, formed of mere diversities of light and glory. Such self-denial is made essential to our being his disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it!" Matthew 16:24-25
(3.) Christ exhibited perfect obedience to his Father's will, and he supremely regarded his honor. He appeared on earth to accomplish the work which his Father had appointed him. He did it, and at the close of his life said, "I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do!" John 17:4.
His obedience was prompt and cheerful, constant and universal; he always did those things that pleased his heavenly Father; it was his food and drink, etc. The whole language of his heart, on which the whole conduct of his life was a glorious comment, was, "Not my will — but may your will be done." The honor of his Father's law was to him the dearest of all concerns, and to atone for its violation, he, at last, offered himself a sacrifice, Hebrews 10:8, 9.
This is the pattern which we should always set before us. This the piety, at which we should unceasingly aim.
(4.) The life of the Redeemer was distinguished by vast beneficence.His love was literally universal, and his acts of goodness were correspondent. It was dictated by no idle dreams of philosophy, by no cobweb system of philosophical abstraction, but by plain, practical truth. Therefore his beneficence was real, useful, uniformly honorable to himself, and invariably profitable to mankind. He went about doing good. His whole conduct was governed by that glorious principle, "It is more blessed to give than to receive!" He did not sit down in despair, with sighs, and groans, and tears, because the requirements for his beneficence were universal. He did not satisfy himself with lamenting the distresses of men, and teaching others to relieve them. He gave the example, and relieved them Himself.
Towards his disciples, he was all tenderness and love. Towards his enemies, he was full of mercy and forgiveness. He sought the salvation of sinners. When his course on earth was finished, he went to the altar of his cross, and there, proclaimed to the universe, his infinite love, by expiating the transgressions of his people.
(5.) He was an example of patience and submission under sufferings.
"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." 1 Peter 2:21-23
Job exhibited a pattern of patience, but not a perfect one; but when Jesus was afflicted and oppressed, he opened not his mouth, but even prayed for his murderers, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Luke 23:34. "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." Isaiah 53:7
The heathen could say, "The Gods themselves never behold a nobler spectacle than a good man firmly enduring adversity." Christ was supremely good, and encountered extreme adversity. The patience with which he submitted, and the heroic firmness with which he endured his trials, invest his character with a greatness and a glory to which there can be no parallel.
II. Consider that the Example of Christ Is to Be Imitated."Leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."
1. This example ought to be constantly studied. By reading his word, and marking his conduct. The disciple must understand the character of his Master; the child must understand the character of his Father.
2. The super-excellence of his character should produce humility, self-abasement, repentance, and an application for Divine forgiveness. How little have we imitated him!
3. It should induce prayer for Divine grace to enable us to follow him. He gives grace to imitate himself, "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:18
4. Imitation of Christ is not optional, but authoritative. See 1 John 2:6; John 13:15; John 12:26 above. And if this authority is regarded, it will be a convincing proof of true Christian Discipleship. John 13:24, 25. The example of Christ is not merely a bright and beautiful pattern which we are invited to copy, because this conduct will be pleasing, honorable, and useful to us; but it is a law also, requiring of us, with Divine authority, to "go, and do likewise." The obligation to obey is indispensable. Nor can any man be excused for a moment, who does not labor to resemble Christ in all the personal and moral parts of his character.
1. Are you carefully observing the "steps" of Christ, and following them?
2. How hateful must sin and sinners be, when compared with the great Exemplar!
3. Be thankful that the perfection of virtue was exemplified by Christ; for this perfection of character was essential to his office as the Great High Priest of Salvation. "Such a high priest meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens!" Hebrews 7:26