"His Steps"

Hebrews 12:2; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6.

Nothing is plainer from the teaching of Scripture, and, whatever the diversity of opinion and doctrine, nothing is more generally received, than that the Lord Jesus Christ, in His walk through this world, is the example which all His people should follow. Even professors and Unitarians will admit the obligation to walk in His steps, although, alas! they make the fatal mistake of supposing that therein lies their salvation. Hence it is that if man's ruin and lost condition be ignored, if sin and the finished work of Christ, the Atonement, His death and resurrection, be omitted, men are ever ready to listen to descriptions of the grace and the beauty of His earthly life, and to exhortations to speak and to act as He acted. Make Christ the perfection of unselfishness, as He indeed was, the Healer of those who were oppressed of the devil, as He also was, the Redresser of men's wrongs, which He was not (see Luke 12:13-15; 13:1-5), in other words, a moral Teacher, Philanthropist, and Martyr, even the crowd will be enchanted, and read the presentation with delight. This fact has been recently strikingly illustrated to the injury of souls and the corruption of Christianity.

First of all, then, we will endeavour to point out the serious errors which underlie this teaching. The fundamental one is that it overlooks the fact, so clearly set forth in Scripture, that man's probation is over, and that he has been declared to be lost - lost hopelessly, and undone, so that there is no possibility of helping or rescuing him except through the intervention of the sovereign grace of God as proclaimed in the gospel. Not for one moment do we deny that the drunkard may be reclaimed, the immoral man be led to live an upright life, and that thus they may become happier in this world, both in their domestic and public relationships and circumstances; but our contention is that, however complete their reformation may be morally, they are not through this one whit nearer God than before. Except they be born of water and the Spirit, as the Lord taught Nicodemus, they cannot enter into the kingdom of God. This teaching, we are well aware, will not be palatable to the natural man, but, beyond all controversy, it is that of the Word of God.

Together with this another error is connected. All of Adam's race lie under the judgment of death; in Adam all die (1 Cor. 15:22). Man as man, therefore, can have nothing to say to God, for, apart from his being under the judgment of God, there is nothing in man that will suit God's holy presence. In the cross of Christ, God has passed judgment upon all that man is, and Adam and his race have passed away for ever from His eye under judgment. The first man, who is of the earth earthy, no longer exists before Him; the Second Man, who is out of heaven and heavenly, is the Man of His counsel, and the Man of His pleasure, as well as the revelation in His glorified condition of God's purpose for all who are His, all who are after the order of the Second Man. Everyone who is in Christ will be, according to God's purpose, "conformed to the image of God's Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren." God's Son as glorified is consequently the Pattern and Exemplar of His people. He is not, therefore, at the present time, redressing the wrongs of men, oppressive as these may be, attacking crying and iniquitous evils, diabolical as they may be in their character, or "purifying the sources of civil life" - all this He will do in His future kingdom (see Psalm 72) - but He is now the Captain of His people's salvation, their Leader through this world in view of the time when He will come to receive them unto Himself, that where He is they may be also. As He said to His disciples, they were not of the world, but He had chosen them out of the world, and, therefore, the world would hate them.

Once more, the teaching alluded to proceeds upon the false assumption that it is possible for the natural, the unconverted man, to imitate, walk like, Christ. All men are said to be His brothers, and they are therefore exhorted to copy His example, and to bind themselves by a promise to ask themselves in every position and circumstance, "What would Jesus do or say?" and forthwith to do the same according to the conclusion at which they might arrive. But if, as already pointed out, man is lost, hopelessly undone, this is only to blind men to their real state and condition. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Even Paul had to say that in his flesh there dwelt no good thing; and the flesh was self, and nothing but self. Before the flood also we read that God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the final test of man in the incarnation of His beloved Son did but clearly prove that the heart of man was unchanged; for Him who was perfect goodness they rejected, cast out, and crucified. It is consequently only to deceive souls when they are urged to imitate Christ.

We may now pass to the other side, and ask, What are the conditions of walking as Christ walked? The scripture from the Hebrews presents Christ as the perfect example of the life of faith; that from Peter shows how He comported Himself in the presence of evil and under persecution; and that from John's Epistle gives, we judge, the absolute and essential condition of following in His steps. He says, "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked." By this we understand the apostle to mean that if anyone abide in Christ, he will, in his measure, walk as Christ walked; and further, that walking as Christ walked will be the demonstration of abiding in Him. Or, to put the latter point in another way, the only proof of abiding in Christ is walking in His steps. We have, then, to ascertain what is necessary to abide in Christ, how it may be known if we are abiding in Him, and what abiding in Him is. These are three very distinct and simple points, which, taken together, go to the root of the subject, and which will effectually deal with many prevailing misconceptions concerning following Christ.

At the outset, then, as touching upon the first point, let it be clearly understood that unless born of God it is impossible to walk in the steps of Christ. One statement by this same apostle shows this: "If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of Him." (3:29.) "Born of God" means in this epistle much more than the new birth; it is to be a full Christian, for in John's writings there are only the two classes, those who are Christians and those who are not. Everyone, therefore, who is born of God possesses, according to the teaching of chapter 2, the forgiveness of sins (v. 12) and the Holy Ghost, and thus a divine nature and life. Apart from this - and there must be no mistake upon this vital point - not a single step can be taken in the pathway of Christ. To call upon men, therefore, in their unregenerate state to follow Him is to deceive their souls, to delude them with the thought that Christ was only a Philanthropist and a Reformer, and to conceal from them the glory of His person as the Son of God. As the apostle Paul writes: "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity" ("love," and love is the divine nature, for God is love), "it profiteth me nothing."

Secondly, we can only know that we are in Christ by the Holy Ghost. This is very clearly taught by our blessed Lord Himself; for, after speaking of the coming of the Comforter, He added, "At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, ye in Me, and I in you." This settled, He could charge them in the next chapter to abide in Him, etc. Evidently, therefore, even as they could not know that they were in Christ except by the Holy Spirit, so also they could only abide in Him through the Spirit's power. This at once necessitates a spiritual condition. It involves indeed deliverance from the power of sin and from the flesh, and the maintenance of this, so that the Holy Spirit, ungrieved, may be free to put forth in us His mighty power to enable us to enjoy our blessed privileges and our true portion as being in Christ, after the order of the heavenly Man, and not as after the order of Adam. It is vain otherwise, unless we know, and consciously know, that we are in Christ, to speak of abiding in Him; and it is in this way that the apostle applies the test to everyone who says he abides in Christ. If you do - for this is the force of his language - you ought to show it in your life, for in that case your walk will correspond with His.

Coming now to the third point - for it is essential to remove all misconceptions - we have to enquire what abiding in Christ is; and on this head we can gather the clearest instruction from the Lord's parable of the vine. (John 15.) Having said, "I am the vine, and ye are the branches," He proceeded, "He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing." Taking this illustration, it is plain that the branch is completely dependent upon the vine, that it lives of the life of the vine, and, lastly, that "without," or severed from, the vine it could do nothing, it could bring forth no fruit. The application is easy. The believer who abides in Christ is wholly and entirely dependent upon Christ he lives of His life, and apart from Christ no fruit in walk and conduct could be produced. In another aspect it is what Paul says: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." With Christ thus formed in him by the power of the Holy Ghost, he would follow Christ in his walk, and we consequently find him saying to the Philippians, as led of the Spirit, "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example." The Lord also, in His instruction concerning the vine, said, "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples."

Our space forbids further enlargement at present; but we are assured that, if the principles laid down are apprehended, many popular misconceptions will be dispelled. The danger which is menacing Christians today is not only ritualism, evil as that is, but also that degrading rationalism which is seeking so to humanise the life of our blessed Lord on earth as to reduce it to the compass of the human understanding. In result it makes Him to be only a perfect Man, a good Citizen, and a Martyr for the public good. Of the person and work of the Son it has no conception, and this is LAODICEA. Rationalism indeed, however garnished, is infidelity; and the end of its teaching is to resuscitate the man who is for ever judicially removed from the eye of God in the cross of Christ. It is only therefore a delusion and a snare to attempt the recovery of sinners and the purification of society by appealing to the example of Christ in this world.