The Christian is enjoined to follow the steps of Christ. He is not commanded to speak as He did of whom it was said: “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46); nor to do the works of Him who said: “If I had not done among them the works that none other man did” (15:24), for, both in words and works, He held a place absolutely pre-eminent. He was the truth, and all He said was infallibly true. He “went about doing good, for God was with Him,” and miracles of mercy followed where He went.
The Christian is not commanded to do miracles, like his Lord, but he is exhorted to “follow his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). This he is bound to do. It is his duty and pleasure to trace out his Master’s footsteps and to place his own feet in them. This is the truest form of discipleship.
Let it be very clearly understood, however, that no one can imitate the Lord Jesus Christ until he is consciously reconciled to God on the ground of redemption. The imitation of Christ on the part of one who has never been “born again,” nor, therefore, a child of God, is impossible. The attempt must be a total failure; and the more honest that attempt the greater will be the disappointment. It were a thousand times easier to paint the rainbow on canvas than for man, as such, to exhibit in his life the moral features of Christ.
No, a man must have not only new desires, but a new nature and a new power, that of the Spirit of God, who alone can so minister Christ to the renewed heart that it seeks His image and also conformity to it.
It is by the Spirit of the Lord that such an one is “changed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). And may I say that no change is so complete and exquisite as this. Think, for instance, of a Saul of Tarsus—the chief sinner, changed into the image of the Lord Jesus!
Think of the same change being effected in any of us who have learned our natural loathsomeness—that we should bear that image—fully in the glory itself, but gradually and increasingly now while on our journey to it! What a wondrous power this supposes; but, just as surely as the Spirit of God dwells in the believer, so does this process of sanctification proceed, though assuredly not to the eye of the believer himself. Others can notice the progress of the Christian as he moves on “from glory to glory.” He becomes more like his Pattern. Wonderful fact! Nor will the process cease until he shall be “conformed to the image of the Son, that He may be the firstborn among many brethren.” They shall remember Him who shall be the Chief of all.
“Christ also suffered for us”—there He stood alone, for none but He could take our place under the judgment due, nor exhaust its awful sentence, when He was “made sin for us”; but beside making atonement in death, “He left us an example that we should follow His steps.” Here He is not alone. Not one of His loved and blood-bought people but should follow His steps.
Some may follow them more faithfully and closely than others, but He tells us that His “sheep hear His voice, that He knows them, and that they follow Him.” This is the one distinguishing mark of all His sheep. They follow Him.
It is remarkable that the word “example” here, is found nowhere else. It means a “copy or underwriting.” It is not the same as that of the Apostle when he charged the saints at Philippi to be followers together of him and “to mark them which walk, so as ye have us for an ensample”; nor again when he urged his son Timothy to be “an example of believers.” In these cases it is a “type,” but here it is a “copy.” That is, our Lord Jesus Christ is the standard, and no lower one will do.
Can we, then, reach this standard here below? Certainly not; but still, “Every man that has this hope in Him [the hope of being like Him when He shall appear] purifies himself even as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). Again, we have the universality of the process. “Every man” addresses himself to reach that perfect Standard.
Needless to say that He holds a place far beyond the reach of man. He is “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20); but here we are dealing with the standard of purification and the Pattern—the copy for our imitation. Men speak of high ideals; could any ideal exceed this?
And what are the steps we are to follow? They are to be traced from the time when, in the midst of the doctors, He said: “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” to that when, that business perfectly completed, He cried: “It is finished,” bowing His blessed head and giving up His Spirit to the hands of His Father.
What a study! What an example! Our passage in 1 Peter gives us a summary of the steps in four bold negative statements:
1. “Who did no sin.”
2. “Neither was guile found in His mouth.”
3. “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again.”
4. “When He suffered He threatened not.”
Mark, in these He left us an example; and how we are rebuked as we view Him absolutely clear of the failures to which, alas, we are all so prone.
And then, in deepest confidence, “He committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” If the other statements presented His life negatively this gives us the constant repose of His soul in a positive way. His vindication was of God. Are we in the habit of making this committal? We gain a victory when we do so; for there the battle ends. His whole life was submission, hearty and unquestioning, to the will of the Father. This was His yoke. It was easy. And when we, through grace, bow unmurmuringly to that will, we, too, prove the yoke to be easy and the burden light.
But there must be reality. The headline must be copied, and the example imitated. The most beautiful (only beautiful) steps have been imprinted on this more than desert waste, by the holy and sacred feet of the Son of God, leaving behind them the plainly visible signs of the one path that is pleasing to God, and that which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, each and every child of His should pursue.
“The Lord is Himself gone before,
He has marked out the path that we tread;
It’s as sure as the love we adore,
We have nothing to fear nor to dread.
“There is but that one in the waste
Which His footsteps have marked as His own,
And we follow in diligent haste
To the place where He’s put on His crown.”
Yes, He has gone on high. We behold with unveiled face His glory there. Every ray of it is lovely; it wins the heart; it separates from earth; it changes him who beholds into “the same image from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord.” The transformation is marvellous but divinely simple. The Potter fashions the vessel as it seems good to Him, and the skill of the Potter is seen in His work.
Beloved, may we set our hearts on acquiring a much greater likeness to the Lord Jesus Christ who is our Pattern as well as our most precious Saviour.