Of the Imitation of Christ in holiness of Life, and the necessity of it in Believers.
I John 11: 6.
"He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked."
These words have been resolved into their parts, and their sense opened in the former sermon: The observation was this:
That every man is bound to the imitation of Christ, under penalty of forfeiting his claim to Christ.
In prosecution of this point, we have already shown what the imitation of Christ imports, and what the imitable excellencies in the life of Christ are: It now remains that I shew you in the next place, why all that profess Christ are bound to imitate his example and then apply the whole. Now the necessity of this imitation of Christ will convincingly appear divers ways.
First, From the established order of salvation, which is fixed and unalterable: God that has appointed the end, has also established the means and order by which men shall attain the ultimate end. Now conformity to Christ is the established method in which God will bring souls to glory, Rom. 8: 29. "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate, to be conformed to the image of his Son; that he might be the first born among many brethren." The same God who has predestinated men to salvation, has in order thereunto, predestinated them unto conformity to Christ, and this order of heaven is never to be reversed; we may as well hope to be saved without Christ, as to be saved without conformity to Christ.
Secondly, The nature of Christ-mystical requires this conformity, and renders it indispensably necessary. Otherwise, the body of Christ must be heterogeneous; of a nature different from the head, and how monstrous and uncomely would this be? This would represent Christ to the world in an image, or idea, much like that, Dan. 2: 32, 33. "The head of fine gold, the breasts and arms of silver, the thighs of brass, the legs of iron, the feet part of iron and part of clay." Christ, the head, is pure and holy, and therefore very unsuitable to sensual and earthly members. And therefore the apostle in his description of Christ-mystical, describes the members of Christ (as they ought to be) of the same nature and quality with the head, 2 Cor. 15: 48, 49. "As is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly; and as we have borne the image of the earthy, so we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." That image or resemblance of Christ, which shall be complete and perfect after the resurrection, must be begun in its first draught here by the work of regeneration.
Thirdly, This resemblance and conformity to Christ appears necessary from the communion which all believers have with Christ in the same spirit of grace and holiness. Believers are called Christ's fellows, or co-partners, Psal. 14: 7. from their participation with him of the same spirit; as it is 1 Thes. 4: 8. God giveth the same Spirit unto us, which he more plentifully poured out upon Christ. Now where the same Spirit and principle is, there the same fruits and operations must be produced, according to the proportions and measures of the Spirit of grace communicated; and this reason is farther enforced by the very design and end of God, in the infusion of the Spirit of grace: For it is plain, from Ezek. 36: 27. that practical holiness and obedience is the scope and design of that infusion of the Spirit. The very innate property of the Spirit of God in men, is to elevate their minds, and set their affections upon heavenly things, to purge their hearts from earthly dross, and fit them for a life of holiness and obedience. Its nature also is assimilating, and changeth them in whom it is, into the same image with Jesus Christ their heavenly head, 2 Cor. 3: 18.
Fourthly, The necessity of this imitation of Christ may be argued, from the design and end of Christ's exhibition to the world in a body of flesh. For though we detest that doctrine of the Socinians, which makes the exemplary life of Christ to be the whole end of his incarnation; yet we must not run so far from an error, as to lose a precious truth. We say, the satisfaction of his blood was a main and principal end of his incarnation, according to Mat. 20: 28. We affirm also, that it was a great design and end of the incarnation of Christ to set before us a pattern of holiness for our imitation; for so speaks the apostle, 1 Pet. 2: 21. "He has left us an example that we should follow his steps." And this example of Christ greatly obliges believers to his imitation, Phil. 2: 5. "Let this mind be in you, which also was in Christ Jesus.
Fifthly, Our imitation of Christ, is one of those great articles which every man is to subscribe, whom Christ will admit into the number of his disciples, Luke 14: 27. "Whosoever does not come after me, cannot be my disciple." And again, John 12: 26. "If any man serve me, let him follow me." To this condition we have submitted, if we be sincere believers; and therefore are strictly bound to the imitation of Christ, not only by God's command, but by our own consent. But if we profess interest in Christ, when our hearts never consented to follow, and imitate his example, then are we self-deceiving hypocrites, wholly disagreeing from the scripture character of believers, Rom. 8: 1. They that are Christ's being here described to be such as walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. And Gal. 5: 25. "If we live in the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit."
Sixthly, The honour of Christ necessitates the conformity of Christians to his example, else what way is there left to stop detracting mouths, and vindicate the name of Christ from the reproaches of the world? How can wisdom be justified of her children, except it be this way? By what means shall we cut off occasion from such as desire occasion, but by regulating our lives by Christ's example? The world has eyes to see what we practise, as well as ears to hear what we profess. Therefore either shew the consistency between your profession and practice, or you can never hope to vindicate the name and honour of the Lord Jesus. The uses follow; for
First use, for information.
Inference 1. If all that profess interest in Christ, be strictly bound to imitate his holy example; then it follows, that religion is very unjustly charged by the world, with the scandals and evils of them that profess it. Nothing can be more unjust and irrational, if we consider,
First, That the Christian religion severely censures loose and scandalous actions in all professors, and therefore is not to be censured for them. It is absurd to condemn religion for what itself condemns: looseness no way flows from the principles of Christianity, but is most opposite and contrary to it, Tit. 2: 11, 12. "For the grace of God that brings salvation, has appeared unto all men; teaching us, that denying all ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world."
Secondly, It is an argument of the excellency of the Christian religion, and that even wicked men themselves covet the name and profession of it, though they only cloak and cover their evils under it. I confess it is a great abuse of such an excellent thing as religion is; but yet, if it had not an awful reverence paid it by the consciences of all men, it would never be abused to this purpose, by hypocrites, as it is.
Thirdly, According to this reasoning, there can be no religion in the world; for name me that religion which is not scandalised by the practices of some that profess it. So that this practice has a natural tendency to Atheism; and is, no doubt, encouraged by the devil for that end.
Inf. 2. If all men forfeit their claim to Christ, who endeavour not to imitate him in the holiness of his life, then how small a number of real Christians are there in the world? Indeed, if liberal talking, without accurate walking: if common profession without holy practices, were enough to constitute a Christian; then this quarter of the world would abound with Christians: But if Christ owns none for such but those that tread in the steps of his example; then the number of real Christians is very small. The generality of men that live under the Christian name, are such as walk after the flesh, Rom. 8: 2. according to the course of this world, they yield their members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, Rom. 6: 13. Strict godliness is a mere bondage to them; narrow is the way, and few there be that walk therein.
Inf. 3. What blessed times should we all see, if true religion did once generally obtain, and prevail in the world! How would it humble the proud, meeken the passionate, and spiritualise those that are carnal! The perverse world charges religion with all the tumults and disturbances that are in it; whereas nothing in the world but religion, advanced in the power of it, can heal and cure these epidemical evils. O if men were once brought under the power of religion indeed, to walk after Christ in holiness, obedience, meekness, and self denial; no such miseries as these would be heard of among us, Isa. 11: 8, 9. "The sucking child shall play upon the hole of the asp, and a weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den; they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea".
Inf. 4. Hence it also follows, that real Christians are the sweetest companions. It is a comfortable thing to walk with them that walk after the example of Christ; the holiness, heavenliness, humility, self-denial, and diligence in obedience, which was in Christ, are, in some measure, to be found in all sincere Christians: They shed forth the virtues of him that calleth them; the graces of the Spirit do more or less thine forth in them: And O how endearing, sweet, and engaging are these things! Upon this very account the apostle invited others into the fellowship of the saints, 1 John 1: 3. "That ye might have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Christ Jesus." And is it not sweet to have fellowship with them who have fellowship with Christ? O let all your delights be in the saints, and in the excellent of the earth, who excel in virtue, Psal. 16: 3. Yet, mistake not, there is a great deal of difference betwixt one Christian and another, and even the best of Christians are sanctified but in part. If there be something sweet and engaging, there is also something bitter and distasteful in the best of men. If there be something to draw forth your delight and love, there is also something to exercise your pity and patience. Yet this is most certain, that notwithstanding all their infirmities and corruptions, they are the best and sweetest company this world affords.
Inf. 5. In a word, if no men's claim to Christ be warranted but theirs that walk as he walked; how vain and groundless then are the hopes and expectations of all unsanctified men, who walk after their own lusts? None are snore forward to claim the privileges of religion than those that reject the duties of it; multitudes hope to be saved by Christ, who yet refuse to be governed by him: But such hopes have no scripture warrant to support them; yea, they have many scripture testimonies against them, 1 Cor. 6: 9. "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" Be not deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind; nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God." O how many thousand vain hopes are laid in the dust, and how many thousand souls are sentenced to hell by this one scripture!
Second use, for exhortation.
If this be so, it naturally presses all the professors of Christianity to strict godliness in their conversations, as ever they expect benefit by Christ. O professors, be ye not conformed unto this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds: Set the example of Christ before you, and labour to tread in his steps. This is the great business of religion, the main scope of the gospel. Give me leave, therefore, closely to press it upon your hearts, by the following motives.
Motive 1. Christ has conformed himself to you by his abasing incarnation; how reasonable therefore is it that you conform yourselves to him in the way of obedience and sanctification? He came as near to you as it was possible for him to do, strive you therefore to come as near to Christ as it is possible for you to do: he has taken your nature upon him, Heb. 2: 14. yea, and with your nature he has taken your weaknesses and infirmities, Rom. 8: 3. and not only your natures and your infirmities, but your condition also, for he came under the law for your sakes, Gal. 4: 4. He conformed himself to you, though he was infinitely above you; that was his abasement: do you conform yourselves to him who are infinitely beneath him: that will be your advancement: his conformity to you emptied him of his glory, your conformity to him will fill you with glory: he conformed himself to you, though you had no obligation upon him; will you not conform yourselves to him, who lie under infinite obligations so to do?
Motive 2. You shall be conformed to Christ in glory; how reasonable therefore is it you should now conform yourselves to him in holiness? The apostle saith, 1 John 3: 2. "We shall be like unto him, for we shall see him as he is:" Yea, not only your souls shall be like him, but your very bodies, even those vile bodies of yours shall be changed, that they may be fashioned like unto his glorious body." How forcible a motive is this to bring men into conformity with Christ here! especially, seeing our conformity to him in holiness, is the evidence of our conformity to him in gory, Rom. 6: 5. 2 Pet. 3: 11. 0 professors, as ever you look to be with Christ in glory hereafter, see that ye walk after Christ's example in holiness and obedience here.
Motive 3. The conformity of your lives to Christ, your pattern, is your highest excellency in this world: The measure of your grace is to be estimated by this rule. The excellency of every creature rises higher and higher, according as it approaches still nearer and nearer to its original; the more you resemble Christ in grace, the more illustrious and resplendent will your conversations be in true spiritual glory.
Motive 4. So far as you imitate Christ in your lives, and no farther, you will be beneficial in the world in which you live: so far as God helps you to follow Christ, you will be helpful to bring others to Christ, or build them up in Christ; for all men are forbidden by the gospel to follow you one step farther than you follow Christ, 1 Cor. 11: 1. and when you have finished your course in this world, the remembrance of your ways will be no further sweet to others, than they are ways of holiness and obedience to Christ, 1 Cor. 4: 17. If you walk according to the course of this world, the world will not be the better for your walking.
Motive 5. To walk as Christ walked, is a walk only worthy of a Christian; this is to "walk worthy of the Lord," 1 Thess. 2: 12. Col. 1: 10. By worthiness the apostle does not mean meritoriousness, but comeliness, or that decorum which befits a Christian: as, when a man walks suitably to his place and calling in the world, we say he acts like himself; so, when you walk after Christ's pattern, you then act like yourselves, like men of your character and profession; this is consonant to your vocation, Eph. 4: 1. "I beseech you, that you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called. This walking suits with your obligation, 2 Cor. 5: 15. for it is to live unto him who died for us. This walking only suits with your designation, Eph. 2: 1O. "For you are created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained we should walk in them." In a word, such walking as this, and such only becomes your expectation, 2 Pet. 3: 11. "Wherefore [beloved! seeing that you look for such things, be diligent, that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless."
Motive 6. How comfortable will the close of your life be at death, if you have walked after Christ's pattern and example in this world: A comfortable death is ordinarily the close of a holy life, Psal. 37: 37. "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace." A loose, careless life puts many terrible stings into death. As worms in the body are bred of the putrefaction there, so the worm of conscience is bred of the moral putrefaction or corruption that is in our natures and conversations. O then be prevailed with by all these considerations to imitate Christ in the whole course and compass of your conversations.
Third use, for consolation.
Lastly, I would leave a few words of support and comfort to such as sincerely study and endeavour, according to the tendency of their new nature to follow Christ's example, But being weak in grace, and meeting with strong temptations, are frequently carried aside from the holy purposes and designs of their honest, well- meaning hearts, to the great grief and discouragement of their souls. They heartily wish and aim at holiness, and say with David, Psal. 119: 5. "O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes." They follow after exactness in holiness as Paul did, Phil. 3: 12. "If by any means they might attain it." But finding how short they come in all things of the rule and pattern, they mourn as he did, Rom. 7: 24. "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Well, if this be thy case, be not discouraged, but hearken to a few words of support and comfort, with which I shall close this point.
Support ISuch defects in obedience make no flaw in your justification: for your justification is not built upon your obedience, but upon Christ's, Rom. 3: 24. and how complete and defective soever you be in yourselves, yet at the same instant, "you are complete in him which is the head of all principality and power", Col. 2: 10. Wo to Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, and the most eminent saints that ever lived, if their justification and acceptation with God had depended upon the perfection and completeness of their obedience. Support II.Your deep troubles for the defectiveness of your obedience, do not argue you to be less, but more sanctified than those who make no such complaints; for these prove you to be better acquainted with your own hearts than others are; to have a deeper hatred of sin than others have; and to love God with a more fervent love than others do; the most eminent saints have made the bitterest complaints upon this account, Psal. 65: 3. Rom. 7: 23, 24. Support III.The Lord makes excellent uses even of your infirmities and failings to do you good, and makes them turn to your unexpected advantage: for, by these defects he hides pride from your eyes; he beats you off from self dependence; he makes you to admire the riches of free grace: he makes you to long more ardently for heaven, and entertain the sweeter thoughts of death; and does not the Lord then make blessed fruits to spring up to you from such a bitter root? O the blessed chemistry of heaven, to extract such mercies out of such miseries! Support IV.Your bewailed infirmities do not break the bond of the everlasting covenant. The bond of the covenant holds firm, notwithstanding your defects and weaknesses, Jer. 32: 40. "Iniquities prevail against me," saith David, yet in the same breath he adds, "as for our transgressions thou shalt purge them away," Psal. 65: 3. He is still thy God, thy Father for all this. Support V.Though the defects of your obedience are grievous to God, yet your deep sorrows for them are well-pleasing in his eyes, Psal. 51: 17. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." Ephraim was never a more pleasant child to his father, than when he bemoaned himself, and smote upon his thigh, as thou dost, Jer. 31: 20. Your sins grieve him, but your sorrows please him. Support VI.Though God have left many defects to humble you, yet he has given many things to comfort you. This is a comfort that the desire of thy soul is to God, and to the remembrance of his name. This is a comfort, that thy sins are not thy delight as once they were; but thy shame and sorrow. This is a comfort, that thy case is not singular; but more or less, the same complaints and sorrows are found in all gracious souls through the world; and to say all in one word, this is the comfort above all comforts, that the time is at hand, in which all these defects, infirmities, and failings shall be done away, 1 Cor. 13: 10. "When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away."
For ever blessed be God for Jews Christ.
And thus I have finished the third general use of examination, whereby every man is to try his interest in Christ, and discern whether ever Christ has been effectually applied to his soul. That which remains is
An use of Lamentation.
Wherein the miserable and most wretched state of all those to whom Jesus Christ is not effectually applied, will be yet more particularly discovered and bewailed.
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