By H. Forbes Witherby.
21. Walking as Christ Walked.
Christ our example — obedience the characteristic of the Lord's steps — obedience and happiness — obedience and holiness — hidden springs of peace and joy.
Christ is our life; He also is our pattern. The life, which is ours in the Son, and the character of that life expressed in us, are not to be sundered from each other in our thoughts: "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked." (1 John 2:6.)
We see the Father in the Son. The Son, who was ever with the Father, having come to earth and become a man, not only is that eternal life, but by His every step He is the manifestation of it. By the walk of the Son on earth we know what the nature of the eternal life is, possessing which we shall uninterruptedly delight in God. What is the eternal life in its essential character? Christ. And what its characteristics expressed so that we can see it? Christ's walk as a man on this earth.
Our Lord was what His words declared. His life in its activity is the expression of His own sayings. "Who art Thou?" inquired the Jews, and Jesus answered, "Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning." (John 8:25.) In us there is self, fallen human nature, evil; nevertheless, what was true of Christ, "the word which ye have heard from the beginning" is now true of each child of God, "true in Him and in you" (1 John 2:8), for Christ is our life.
The Holy Spirit is in us, who have the life of Christ, and we are called to walk by the Spirit's power, according to the principle and after the pattern of the Lord's path; to be the exponents of this saying, "Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ, written . . . with the Spirit of the living God." (2 Cor. 3:3.) Christians read God in Christ, the world reads Christ in christians. If the epistle is blotted and indistinct, if the life led is unchristlike, no wonder the world understands not christianity.
Obedience characterised each step of the Son. He came from heaven to do God's will in the body God prepared Him: "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." (Heb. 10:7.) He lived a life of perfect obedience. As disobedience to God characterizes the energy of man's fallen life, so obedience to God characterizes the new life, which is in Christ. The first man, Adam, started off on his career in wilfulness; the Lord, who came from heaven, began His path on earth in obedience, and continued that obedience unto death, even the death of the cross. He came "from heaven, not to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him." (John 6:38.) Having received life from Him, we are in the Spirit's sanctification, which is to the obedience of Christ (1 Peter 1:2), to walk as He walked.
The practical effect of the Holy Ghost sanctifying- the child of God is the production in him of Christ-like character. The child of God follows the pattern, but, of course, he never actually attains to the perfection of Christ's steps, though he is called to do so; and we must not argue from the stand-point of our failures. A little child learns to do as his father does, follows, alas! his mistakes as well as his better example; but the little child cannot fulfil the completeness of the grown man's strength. Our Lord and Master has taught us how to walk even as children of obedience. We are poor, weak followers of Him at the best, and every step is more or less faulty; we follow with tottering feet; but when the life of Christ in the child of God is rising to its source, there is obedience and walking as Christ walked.
Having the new nature, obedience is rendered in the power of the Spirit. It is as natural to the new nature to do as God loves, as it is for the old nature in us to do as the flesh likes. The principle of a perfect walk is obedience to God, and that principle should guide us. Spiritual progress is impossible, if attempted on a wrong road; obedience to God is the only road to practical holiness, and as we pursue this way, we, in our feeble manner, are walking as did Christ.
The obedience of the child is his happy liberty. Disobedient children are miserable, while the child who learns to love its parents' will derives its highest pleasure in fulfilling its parents' wishes. In our own homes the child who most sincerely loves his parents' will, and the least loves his own, is the happiest and brightest of the circle. And in the family of God the principle holds good — obedience and happiness are the cause and effect of true Christ-like character.
Our Lord was the truly obedient Man, and His human heart was full of God the Father's love. It is a great thing, to be practically filled with the effect of true christianity, namely, divinely given happiness. A child of God so filled is wealthy with heavenly joy, and does not want the world; he has the love of the Father in him, not the love of the Father for him only, but in him. Every child has the love of the Father for him; those who are obedient have His love in them. He does not reckon what he has given up or suffered for the Lord, the excellency of what he has is his delight. Even a child does not tell us how many handfuls of sand he has thrown down, as, with sparkling eyes, his hand grasps the treasure.
He is not ever fault-finding with his fellows, but rather is helping the weak, and seeking the good of the tried and suffering. The fountain of divine love filling his soul wells up and overflows to the refreshment of others. In his small measure, he is a slight expression of what Christ was on earth. Exquisite, divinely-beautiful indeed, are the rays of this light; great the privilege amid sin and darkness to hold forth the word of life shining as lights in the world.
Too often the idea of obedience to God, even in the minds of christians, carries with it the notion that the unbroken colt is at last subdued into a quiet religious drudge, and is so broken, by sheer strength of superior force. God would not have His children like the horse or mule, which have no understanding, and whose mouths have to be held in with bit and bridle, but guided by His eye, as the dear child who watches the movements of his parent's countenance. The submission of obedience is not all that the child of God should seek for, the joy of obedience should also be his desire. "I delight to do Thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within my heart" (Ps. 40:8), teaches us not only of the principle of the Lord's steps, but also of His joy in walking.
Jesus was the perfect man — all His thoughts and ways were of God. His obedience was therefore absolute according to the divine standard. If, when we speak of our obedience, our old Adam-life, our flesh, our sinful nature be in consideration, a hopeless end is before us. "The flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63), "it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7), no bit or bridle can curb or hold it. The child of God obeys his Father, haying a nature which delights in his Father's will and does so by the power of the Spirit of God who is in him.
The flesh cannot be made to obey the law. This we have sought to show in previous chapters, certainly it is never asked to obey the Father. The law was given by Jehovah to men in the flesh, as a restraint upon evil and a demand for good; the Father's will is communicated in His love to His children. The law is part of the revelation of God's moral requirements from His creature man, and these requirements being according to God's nature are unalterable in their character. Having the life which is of God, and the Spirit dwelling in him, the child of God fulfils these requirements. It is according to the new nature, the divine nature given him, to do so.
Jehovah said to Israel, Do this and thou shalt live (see Deut. 5:33, Gal. 3:12), but the children of God are exhorted to obey because they are children. Obey and live" implies the maintenance of life on the condition of rendered obedience; but "obey because you are a child" implies godly living by reason of an existing relationship. To man innocent, the word in effect was, Disobey, and you shall die; to man under the law, Obey, you shall live; now to the children it is, Living, your privilege is to obey.
The commandments of the Father are addressed solely to His children, even as we do not bid the neighbours' children do what we require of our own. Our requirements are according to what we are, and are enforced by reason of the relationship between us and our own. A may must be a child of God before he can obey the Father's commands; no one becomes a child by obedience, for we are born of God, and until born of God we have not life capable of obedience. There must be the nature, before the obedience of the nature can be rendered.
When an unconverted man sets himself to walk as Christ walked, he merely seeks to imitate Christ's actions, he does not so much as attempt to walk on the principle of the joy of obedience that governed the Lord's heart and affections. The most precise outward resemblance to Christ in fasting, weeping or suffering, would be after all only the cold, lifeless statue, the form but not the breath of life; its imitation, not its reality. To seek to imitate Christ in the power of the flesh, is a far more hopeless task than attempting to fulfil the law in that power. Every step of the pathway of Jesus was willing obedience to His Father — what sinner in his sins ever dreamed of such a principle of pleasing God as this? No spirit of the unconverted man ever gets beyond the idea of rigid exteriorism, beyond the lifeless marble, the cold, dead thing which can never live.
Holiness results from obedience. We have a holy nature given to us, and grow in practical holiness by obeying. The soul becomes clean by the word, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth." (1 Peter 1:22.)
Obedience needs to be definite and specific. A general kind of obedience does not prove practical godliness. Great discoveries are to be made by the child of God about himself; by truly acting out the precise instructions of the written word. If we had a precious jewel to keep bright, we should carefully remove each spot and speck from it, thus do God's jewels require the removal of each stain from them.
The more we use the laver of the word, the more shall we find the need of it. Spots must be removed from the soul one by one. God has to be dealt with about the special thing which dims the lustre of the affections towards Himself. "I have sinned," means a great deal: a general confession means, usually, very little. The former brightness of many a child of God is now lost, because of his not dealing with himself about his own ways by means of the truth; many are now scarcely distinguished from the world because they failed in obedience to the word of God respecting specific details in their lives.
True holiness abounds in love and good works. Purification of soul in obeying the truth has not merely negative results. It is not only that special evil is avoided, abstained from, or purged out of the ways of the child of God, but positive good follows — "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren." The Spirit not only restrains from evil, but effects good; renders in the child of God some resemblance to the Father, and this expresses itself in love. Love of the brethren comes, if we may use the words, naturally, to those who are born again: "Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love." (1 John 4:7, 8.)
On the one hand, we see in Christ's walk absolute separation from evil, and on the other, continuous doing good. The sick, the suffering, the poor, the heart-broken, were ever in His thoughts; He "went about doing good." (Acts 10:38.) Men's consciences, minds, hearts, as well as their bodily needs, were His gracious care; while the condition of the souls of His disciples was continually before Him. What is the one great word that can alone express our blessed Master's path, His whole life below, from the manger to the cross? — Love. "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him." (1 John 2:9, 10.) Holiness without love is not Christ-like, and love without activity and object, is a well without water. It is important to have before us, the well-doing of true holiness.
Who, save the child of God, is there now on earth to witness, by works of love to men, what divine love is? And in the inner circle, even the family of God, the witness to being the Lord's disciples is His love in us working out from us to His beloved people. "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John. 13:35.)
There is a forming work going on in every believer daily. Just as little children's characters are formed by the effect upon them of the ten thousand incidents of their homes and associations, so are the spiritual characters of the children of God being formed hour by hour, by nearness to God or contact with the world.
The likeness to the old Adam lessens, or is held back, in proportion as that to God increases. Spiritual growth is becoming more like to the Son of God and to God the Father. "As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:14-16.)
Love and light, grace and truth, marked the steps of the blessed Lord, and though it must of necessity be but feebly expressed, still a similar beauty of holiness should characterize the path of the child of God.
Peace and joy are the hidden springs in those children of God, whose spirits are near their Father. If a child of God sink down into the world, he is a daily contradiction to the desires of the nature which God has given him. He can never be happy save when delighting in God, who would have His children full of the peace and the joy which filled His blessed Son as a Man when he was here upon earth.
The Lord gave His own peace to His disciples, not peace only, but His peace. (John. 14:27.) What was this? That unbroken re pose, which, as a man ever doing the Father's will, He experienced in His life below. No adverse wind ever ruffled the absolute calm of the soul of the perfect Man, for we are not now referring to His sin-bearing on the cross.
Did sinners reject His testimony, He communed with His Father, and thanked Him that He had revealed to babes what the wise and prudent could not see — did religious hatred seek to stone Him; He gave sight to the blind as He passed through the midst of His persecutors — did His accusers clamor; He answered not a word — did brutal hands smite, and human lips spit and curse; still He was silent — and when at length He was nailed to the cross, He prayed to His Father to forgive His tormentors. Such was His peace. The still waters of His spirit were never ruffled, His soul was ever at rest in His Father's love. This is His peace, "My peace"; and this He gives to His own.
Peace, perfect peace, ever dwelt within His breast, and walking as Christ walked, His people have the character of peace He had. No turmoil reaches up to the dwelling-place of God in light. The God of peace dwells in peace, and even on this tumultuous earth the peace of God garrisons, and holds against all troubles, the hearts of truly obedient children. Peace is a hidden spring, which wells up within the soul: "Great peace have they which love Thy law; and nothing shall offend them." (Ps. 119:165.)
A heart not only at peace with God by reason of what Christ did on the cross, but in peace on this earth, because walking with God, is a lovely testimony to God and to heaven. A heart sensitive to every sorrow and sympathetic with every grief, and yet so filled with the love of God the Father that it has not a ruffle on it, is indeed a happy epistle of Christ. The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keeps the hearts of those who do as Christ did.
Happy are they who take their cares to God and leave them there. It is not necessary that the christian should be fretful and worrying, as if the concerns of time and eternity were not in God's hands. True, some have easier dispositions than others, but the peace of which we speak is not common to nature, it comes from God in heaven: faith in God, and rest in the Father, will produce it in the soul.
Joy as well as peace dwelt in the Lord. Jesus was the man of sorrows; the presence of sin, the disobedience of the world, rendered Him such while here below. Satan's temptations could only occasion Him grief. Alas! Satan's temptations please our natures, and frequently humble us by showing us what we are; Jesus "suffered being tempted."
Satan brought the temptation to Him when hungry, to make stones bread, but the hunger natural to man was not the deeper pain to Jesus; that was occasioned by the temptation to satisfy Himself by means of His own power, and not by the direction of God. Satan brought out all the glory of the world before the King. The kingdom was His by right, but God's time had not yet come for Him to take it; hence, deep was the suffering caused by the temptation to take the world from the enemy's hands. Satan dared tempt Him to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, thereby to test God in His care of Him! Even at that moment, being so sorely tried, He doubted not Jehovah's care over Him as a man. But, as He refused the temptation and resisted the tempter, He suffered by means of the thought presented to Him. Such in His blest perfection of dependence was Jesus, the obedient man; yet, while the man of sorrows, Jesus was the man in whom was divinely-given joy.
The world did not bring Him joy, the joy that filled His heart was from heaven. The Man of sorrows had not only the spring of peace ever fresh within His soul, but the joy of the Father's presence, of His Father's love and companionship. He speaks of His joy which as a man He so fully knew; and it may be ours. (John 15:11.)
We think of Him wearied at the well of Sychar, giving there living waters to a lost sinner, and we consider His joy. He had then meat to eat His disciples knew not of. (John 4:32.) Our Lord had heavenly joy while on His path of suffering; earth did not offer Him any gladness, but giving of heaven's treasures to men, and receiving as a man the complete satisfaction arising from abiding in His Father's love, He had His joy. In our small measure, and according as we walk as He walked, the Father is with us, and thus the joy in which the Lord rejoiced is ours.
The Father is always our Father; the relationship is not disturbed by the child's behaviour; but the joy of the Father's presence is broken in upon, when the child does not walk in obedience. The sovereignty of the grace of God, which has made us His children, is not affected by any shortcomings on the child's part, but the possession of that heavenly joy with which the Father fills our hearts depends upon our walking as Christ walked.