The Saviour left His followers an example that they should tread in His steps; and His example in everything that appertains to His human nature, is not only practicable but essential. We cannot imitate His power, or His wisdom, or His miracles, or His sufferings, or anything in which His Divine nature was manifested or employed; but we can imitate His meekness, His patience, His zeal, His self-denial, His superiority to temptation, His abandonment of the world, His devotion to His Father's will, in short, all those habits of mind and life which distinguished His earthly career. And with this perfect example before us, we need never be in doubt or perplexity as to what is our duty; we may test our motives and our conduct by the teaching and example of Christ, and if we possess His mind we shall endeavour to copy His life -- to "walk as Christ also walked" -- to be in this world as Christ also was.
This Epistle was addressed by the Apostle Paul to a Church which he tenderly loved, and for whose prosperity he constantly prayed. He had suffered much in the establishment of Christianity at Philippi, and the Philippians had suffered much in the maintenance of their profession of faith, chiefly from their fellow-citizens who continued heathen. The Apostle was a prisoner at Rome, with the prospect of martyrdom as the termination of his glorious career. Undaunted by the prospect, he declares his readiness -- nay, more -- his "desire to depart and be with Christ." He exhorts the Philippians to steadfastness, fidelity, and patience amid the sufferings to which they were exposed from without; and to simplicity and "lowliness of mind" amongst themselves. He sets before them the conduct of Christ in His condescension, and the glory of Christ in His exaltation; and exhorts them to imitate the Saviour's humility, that they might share His triumph. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."
This text is of universal application. It applies to us. The highest dignity attainable in this world is conformity to Jesus Christ. In what then does conformity to Jesus Christ consist? In other words, what are those elements of character and conduct which distinguished Him, and which are to be copied by us in our daily life?
I. The first which we mention, and which is prominent throughout the whole of His history is meekness or humility. Dignified as was His character, high as were His claims, glorious as was His mission, He was never arrogant or boastful, proud or ostentatious. He neither sought the homage of the multitude, nor the society of the rich and the great. He accepted these if offered, but He never sought them. It is a fact that Christ never demanded, yet never declined the worship of men during His earthly sojourn. The Apostles shrunk from it, Angels rebuked it when offered to them, Christ never did. It was sometimes given, it was never declined. He did not obtrude Himself upon the attention of the multitude as the Saviour of the world; but ate, and drank, and slept, and walked, and lived amongst them, and was in every respect a man with men. He sometimes escaped from the society of the rich, that He might mitigate the sorrows, and promote the interests of the poor. He never sought human applause, and frequently retired from the scene of the most astounding miracle, charging the subject of His healing and His blessing to "tell no man" of Him. He might have taken the throne, and reigned "King of the Jews," in a political and worldly sense, had He been covetous of regal honours, or ambitious for worldly power. But He had a higher mission. His kingdom was "not of this world," and He came "not to be ministered unto, but to minister."
It cannot, however, be asserted that Jesus was insensible, or altogether indifferent, to the temptations to popularity and power to which He was exposed; if so, His example is of no practical utility to us. He did not feel as we feel, and we can gather no instruction, and no motives from His history or experience. But we believe that He "was in all points tempted like as we are;" that as a man He was the subject of all the emotions, affections, and impulses which we feel. He could weep, and love, and hate, and fear, and pure as His nature was, He had to battle with the various temptations of the world and the wicked one, all the more perhaps because of the sinlessness of His holy humanity.
Great and frequent were the provocations of His enemies, but He never lost His temper -- He never forfeited the claim to be called "the meek and lowly Jesus." If you follow Him to the house of Caiaphas the high priest, to the judgment hall of Herod or of Pilate, or to the Cross itself -- though He was buffetted, accused falsely, condemned, spit upon, crucified -- He passed through all the same calm, humble, holy Being. There was no retaliation, no resentment. There was majesty in His very meekness. And this is an important element in the Saviour's character and conduct, which as Christians we must acquire and exhibit.
Undue elevation in circumstances of prosperity and fame, is as injurious to our spiritual progress, as irritation and depression are in circumstances of adversity and trial; and both are to be avoided. The Saviour left us an example -- a bright and a beautiful example -- O how few of us copy it in this respect. When the voice of flattery and praise is heard -- when we are raised to posts of influence and honour -- when the sun shines brightly upon our daily pathway -- how few of us keep our meekness and humility; how few of us carry all our honours back to Him who gave them; how few of us so improve and sanctify our talents as that He shall have the glory. And on the other hand when fortune frowns upon us -- when the world despises us -- when our "own familiar friend, in whom we trusted, lifteth up his heel against us," alas! how few of us "calmly sit on tumult's wheel," and leave events to God. It is easier to sing and preach about such a disposition than it is to acquire and exhibit it; but it is attainable and it is essential -- "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus."
II. Simplicity and unity distinguish the character and conduct of Christ. In all His intercourse with friends and foes, His adherence to truth and righteousness is marked and constant. He was criticised and catechised and calumniated, but His transparency of character was never destroyed. His enemies opposed and threatened, but He never hesitated in the path of duty, or in His devotion to His Father's will. However captious their questions, and whether they related to political or spiritual matters, He invariably turned them against His opponents, and made them minister to the cause of truth and righteousness. Sometimes He stood single-handed against a multitude of foes, they were often vacillating, cowardly, and inconsistent with themselves; but not so the Saviour. With what authority did He rebuke their selfishness, their duplicity, their sin; and yet how confidently could He appeal to His bitterest opponents as to the simplicity and purity of His own character and life -- "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" The proud and supercilious Pharisees sought "to entangle Him in His talk;" they charged Him with blasphemy, with disregard for the Sabbath, with breaking the law, and they disputed His authority to act as He did; but their cunning could not ensnare, their threatening could not intimidate. Satan sought by a threefold temptation to turn Him aside; he desired Him to question, in the first place, the providence of God, then to tempt an interposition of Providence by exposing Himself to unnecessary danger, and finally to fall down and worship him; but our Lord indignantly repelled the tempter, and maintained His purity; and "angels came and ministered unto Him." "I must work the works of Him that sent me," was the motto of His life -- the simple purpose of His mind; nor did He shrink from any portion of that work however hazardous and difficult. "My meat," said He, "is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work."
In this simple purpose of the Saviour's mind and conduct we have a beautiful example. Nothing is so difficult, in days like these, as the maintenance of a pure and simple mind. Duplicity, deception, and selfishness pervade all ranks and conditions of men. You find them in the shop, in the market-place, in the family, and alas! in the church itself; and nothing but a resolute resistance, directed and sustained by the grace of God, can make the Christian proof against these evils. O imitate the Saviour. Mark out for yourselves a definite line of conduct, consistent with your Christian profession, and adhere to it firmly, in spite of custom or contempt, and in the prospect of death itself.
Simplicity produces unity. There is nothing complex in the character and life of Christ. Every part is in perfect keeping with the whole. His teaching, His miracles, His conduct, illustrate each other, and combine to prove His true Messiahship, and exhibit the perfection of His life. If there were glaring inconsistencies in the history of Jesus -- if the four Evangelists had written documents which could not be harmonized -- if the moral teaching, and the moral conduct of Christ were at variance -- if His pretensions were not justified by His works -- then we might deny His Messiahship, and disregard Him as our Great Example. But it is not so. What He taught He practised; what He promised he performed; the work He came from heaven to accomplish He actually "finished," even to the shedding of His blood. "The cup which my Father hath given me to drink," said He, "shall I not drink it?" Thus the example of Christ forbids all fickleness and falsehood. It condemns all false appearances; and says to all His followers, with an authority and force which even the words themselves do not contain, "Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." What a wonderful and glorious change would the observance of such a rule effect in the church, and in the world! "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus."
III. The mind of Christ is distinguished by its sympathy and ceaseless activity. He could weep at the grave of Lazarus, before calling back His friend to life. He could stop at the gate of Nain, to cheer the heart of a bereaved widow, by restoring to life her only son. He could condescend to touch the loathsome leper, and thus make him clean. He could stoop to hold a conversation with a penitent adulteress. He could work a miracle to feed a hungry multitude. He could look conviction into Peter's heart, and thus send the faithless Apostle out of His presence weeping bitterly. O there was nothing cold, ungenerous, or selfish in the nature of Christ. He was never too much occupied to listen to the tale of sorrow, nor too dignified to afford relief. He was never unapproachable. The finest sensibilities, the purest affections, the deepest sympathies were exhibited in actions, which, had there been no ultimate purpose in His mission, would have marked Him as a benefactor of our race, and carried down His name and His fame to the latest posterity. And this, in a humbler degree, we are called upon to imitate. How little like the Saviour is the man whose heart is hard, whose temper is irritable, and who has no bowels of compassion for the destitute and afflicted. How little like the Saviour is the man who prides himself upon superior extraction or superior position, and looks down with contempt upon the poor and the penniless. The Son of Man came to seek, and to save the lost: and when John's disciples asked Him for evidence that He was Christ, His reply was simply this: Go tell your master the things which ye have seen and heard; "the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them." What an outline is this of the Redeemer's daily toil! How He "went about doing good!" How He wandered among the cities and villages of Judaea and Samaria; sharing the rough hospitality of fishermen -- the barley-bread of the poorest peasant; working miracles of healing; teaching doctrines of profoundest import; contending with His enemies, the Pharisees and Scribes; and conducting the minds and the hearts of His disciples and the multitudes away from their superstitions and their prejudices, to the heart of His Father's love, and the results of His own suffering and sacrifice in their behalf: nor did this sublime and ceaseless activity terminate until He hung upon the cross -- and then only to be renewed in ceaseless intercession at His Father's throne. And again He left us an example. This active sympathy is the very genius of our holy religion -- the spirit which it breathes -- the life which it lives -- the pure and blessed element in which it grows and becomes perfect. Happy is the man who thus imitates the Saviour -- whose "weariness of life is gone," by the employment of his talents and his time in "doing and receiving good."
IV. All these elements of character in Christ were directed and sustained by the holiness of His nature. This is undeniable His enemies being judges. Even devils testified to this -- "We know Thee, who Thou art, the holy one of God;" they could not resist His Divine authority; they could not impeach His human purity; and in order to secure His condemnation at the last, the chief-priests were compelled to resort to bribery and falsehood. And ever since the bitterest opponents of His religion have been constrained to reiterate Pilate's verdict with regard to Himself -- "We find no fault in this man."
It is difficult to estimate aright the holiness of Christ as an example to us. It is difficult to discover how far, or whether at all, the Divinity of Christ acted on the humanity in relation to His holiness. We believe, however, that the holiness of His humanity was altogether distinct from His Godhead; and though He "did no sin; neither was guile found in His mouth," He was none the less exposed to temptation; but amid the vanity and vice which everywhere abounded and surrounded Him, He walked, and worked, and lived in the maintenance of that holiness which we may imitate; not a holiness resulting from the union of the Divine with the human, but a holiness belonging only to the latter. Had He yielded to temptation, the whole of His mission would have failed, His teaching would have had no force, His example would have perished with His fame, and His death would have had no saving merit whatsoever. But His holiness remained inviolate; and now it is the ground and the pattern of ours. It is not enough that you be meek and lowly; it is not enough that you be simple and ingenuous; it is not enough that you be sympathetic and affectionate; you must be holy. "Jesu's is a spotless mind."
Brethren, suffer me to urge the exhortation of the text. O the dignity, the blessedness of this conformity to Christ! Will you seek it for yourselves. You and I are only Christians so far as we resemble Christ, not a bit farther. Jesus is Himself the perfect embodiment of His own teaching, the living, acting example of all those elements of character and conduct which fit intelligent and immortal spirits for the Paradise of God. Therefore, "let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." Seek it! exhibit it!!
WARREN HALL AND CO., PRINTERS, CAMDEN ROAD, LONDON, N.W.