The Example of Christ
1 Peter 2:18-25
Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the fraudulent.…

Christ came to give us a religion — but this is not all. By a wise and beautiful ordination of providence, He was sent to show forth His religion in Himself. Christianity is not a mere code of laws, not an abstract system, such as theologians frame. It is a living, embodied religion. It comes to us in a human form; it offers itself to our eyes as well as ears; it breathes, it moves in our sight. The importance of example who does not understand? The temptation is strong to take, as our standard, the average character of the society in which we live, and to satisfy ourselves with decencies and attainments which secure to us among the multitude the name of respectable men. On the other hand, there is a power in the presence, conversation, and example of a man of strong principle and magnanimity, to lift us, at least for the moment, from our vulgar and tame habits of thought, and to kindle some generous aspirations after the excellence which we were made to attain. I hardly need say to you, that it is impossible to place ourselves under any influence of this nature so quickening as the example of Jesus. This introduces us to the highest order of virtues. This is fitted to awaken the whole mind. There is one cause, which has done much to defeat this good influence of Christ's character and example, and which ought to be exposed. It is this. Multitudes think of Jesus as a being to be admired, rather than approached. I wish to prevent the discouraging influence of the greatness of Jesus Christ, to show that, however exalted, He is not placed beyond the reach of our sympathy and imitation.

1. I begin with the general observation, that real greatness of character, greatness of the highest order, far from being repulsive and discouraging, is singularly accessible and imitable, and, instead of severing a being from others, fits him to be their friend and model. Greatness is not a secret, solitary principle, working by itself and refusing participation, but frank and open hearted, so large in its views, so liberal in its feelings, so expansive in its purposes, so beneficent in its labours, as naturally and necessarily to attract sympathy and cooperation. It is selfishness that repels men; and true greatness has not a stronger characteristic than its freedom from every selfish taint. A superior mind, enlightened and kindled by just views of God and of the creation, regards its gifts and powers as so many bonds of union with other beings, as given it, not to nourish self-elation, but to be employed for others, and still more to be communicated to others. I know not in history an individual so easily comprehended as Jesus Christ, for nothing is so intelligible as sincere, disinterested love. I know not any being who is so fitted to take hold on all orders of minds; and accordingly He drew after Him the unenlightened, the publican, and the sinner. It is a sad mistake, then, that Jesus Christ is too great to allow us to think of intimacy with Him, and to think of making Him our standard.

2. Let me confirm this truth by another order of reflections. You tell me that Jesus Christ is so high that He cannot be your model; I grant the exaltation of His character. I believe Him to be a more than human being. But on this account He is not less a standard, nor is He to discourage us, but on the contrary to breathe into us a more exhilarating hope; for though so far above us, He is still one of us, and is only an illustration of the capacities which we all possess. This is a great truth. Let me strive to unfold it. Perhaps I cannot better express my views, than by saying that I regard all minds as of one family. When we speak of higher orders of beings, of angels and archangels, we are apt to conceive of distinct kinds or races of beings, separated from us and from each other by impassable barriers. But it is not so. There is no such partition in the spiritual world as you see in the material. All minds are essentially of one origin, one nature, kindled from one Divine flame, and are all tending to one centre, one happiness. I am not only one of the human race; I am one of the great intellectual family of God. There is no spirit so exalted, with which I have not common thoughts and feelings. That conception, which I have gained, of one universal Father, whose love is the fountain and centre of all things, is the dawn of the highest and most magnificent views in the universe; and if I look up to this being with filial love, I have the spring and beginning of the noblest sentiments and joys which are known in the universe. No greatness therefore of a being separates me from Him, or makes Him unapproachable by me. The mind of Jesus Christ and your mind are of one family; nor was there anything in His, of which you have not the principle, the capacity, the promise in yourself. This is the very impression which He intends to give. The relation which He came to establish between Himself and mankind, was not that of master and slave, but that of friends. We read too these remarkable words in His prayer for His disciples, "I have given to them the glory Thou gavest Me"; and I am persuaded that there is not a glory, a virtue, a power, a joy, possessed by Jesus Christ, to which His disciples will not successively rise. In the spirit of these remarks, the apostle says, "Let the same mind be in you which was also in Christ." I have said that, all minds being of one family, the greatness of the mind of Christ is no discouragement to our adoption of Him as our model. I now observe, that there is one attribute of mind, to which I have alluded, that should particularly animate us to propose to ourselves a sublime standard, as sublime as Jesus Christ. I refer to the principle of growth in human nature. Our faculties are germs, and given for an expansion, to which nothing authorises us to set bounds. The soul bears the impress of illimitableness, in the unquenchable thirst, which it brings with it into being, for a power, knowledge, happiness, which it never gains, and which always carry it forward into futurity. When I consider this principle or capacity of the human soul, I cannot restrain the hope which it awakens. The partition walls which imagination has reared between men and higher orders of beings vanish. I no longer see aught to prevent our becoming whatever was good and great in Jesus on earth. In truth I feel my utter inability to conceive what a mind is to attain which is to advance forever. To encourage these thoughts and hopes, our Creator has set before us delightful exemplifications, even now, of this principle of growth both in outward nature and in the human mind. We meet them in nature. Suppose you were to carry a man, wholly unacquainted with vegetation, to the most majestic tree in our forests, and, whilst he was admiring its extent and proportions, suppose you should take from the earth at its root a little downy substance, which breath might blow away, and say to him, that tree was once such a seed as this; it was wrapt up here; it once lived only within these delicate fibres, this narrow compass. With what incredulous wonder would he regard you. Such growth we witness in nature. A nobler hope we Christians are to cherish; and still more striking examples of the growth of mind are set before us in human history. We wonder, indeed, when we are told that one day we shall be as the angels of God. I apprehend that as great a wonder has been realised already on the earth. I apprehend that the distance between the mind of Newton and of a Hottentot may have been as great as between Newton and an angel. There is another view still more striking. This Newton, who lifted his calm, sublime eye to the heavens, and read, among the planets and the stars, the great law of the material universe, was, forty or fifty years before, an infant, without one clear perception, and unable to distinguish his nurse's arm from the pillow on which he slept. Has not man already traversed as wide a space as separates him from angels? And why must he stop? There is no extravagance in the boldest anticipation. We may truly become one with Christ, a partaker of that celestial mind. Let us make Him our constant model. I know not that the doctrine, now laid down, is liable but to one abuse. It may unduly excite susceptible minds, and impel to a vehemence of hope and exertion, unfavourable in the end to the very progress which is proposed. To such I would say, hasten to conform yourselves to Christ, but hasten according to the laws of your nature. As the body cannot, by the concentration of its whole strength into one bound, scale the height of a mountain, neither can the mind free every obstacle and achieve perfection by an agony of the will. Continuous, patient effort, guided by wise deliberation, is the true means of spiritual progress. In religion, as in common life, mere force or vehemence will prove a fallacious substitute for the sobriety of wisdom.

3. The doctrine which I have chiefly laboured to maintain in this discourse, that minds are all of one family, are all brethren, and may be more and more nearly united to God, seems to me to have been felt peculiarly by Jesus Christ; and if I were to point out the distinction of His greatness, I should say it lay in this. He felt His superiority, but He never felt as if it separated Him from mankind, He saw in every human being a mind which might wear His own brightest glory. I insist on this view of His character, not only to encourage us to aspire after a likeness to Jesus; I consider it as peculiarly fitted to call forth love towards Him. With these views I feel that, though ascended to heaven, He is not gone beyond the reach of our hearts; that He has now the same interest in mankind as when He entered their dwellings; and that there is no being so approachable, none with whom such unreserved intercourse is to be enjoyed in the future world. I exhort you with calmness, but earnestness, to adopt Jesus Christ as your example, with the whole energy of your wills. Let not the false views of Christianity which prevail in the world, seduce you into the belief that Christ can bless you in any other way than by assimilating you to His own virtue, than by breathing into you His own mind. Do not imagine that any faith or love towards Jesus can avail you, but that which quickens you to conform yourselves to His spotless purity and unconquerable rectitude. Settle it as an immovable truth, that neither in this world nor in the next can you be happy, but in proportion to the sanctity and elevation of your characters.

(W. E. Channing.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

WEB: Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the wicked.

The Duty of Servants
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