Chapter XV

Conformity unto Christ, and Following his Example

III. The third thing proposed to declare the use of the person of
Christ in religion, is that conformity which is required of us unto
him. This is the great design and projection of all believers. Every
one of them has the idea or image of Christ in his mind, in the eye of
faith, as it is represented unto him in the glass of the gospel: "Ten
doxan Kuriou kataptrizomenoi k. t. l., 2 Cor. 3: 18. We behold his
glory "in a glass," which implants the image of it on our minds. And
hereby the mind is transformed into the same image, made like unto
Christ so represented unto us--which is the conformity we speak of.
Hence every true believer has his heart under the conduct of an
habitual inclination and desire to be like unto Christ. And it were
easy to demonstrate, that where this is not, there is neither faith
nor love. Faith will cast the soul into the form or frame of the thing
believed, Rom. 6: 17. And all sincere love worketh an assimilation.
Wherefore the best evidence of a real principle of the life of God in
any soul--of the sincerity of faith, love, and obedience--is an
internal cordial endeavour, operative on all occasions, after
conformity unto Jesus Christ.

There are two parts of the duty proposed. The first respects the
internal grace and holiness of the human nature of Christ; the other,
his example in duties of obedience. And both of them--both materially
as to the things wherein they consist, and formally as they were his
or in him--belong unto the constitution of a true disciple.

In the first place, Internal conformity unto his habitual grace and
holiness is the fundamental design of a Christian life. That which is
the best without it is a pretended imitation of his example in outward
duties of obedience. I call it pretended, because where the first
design is wanting, it is no more but so; nor is it acceptable to
Christ nor approved by him. And therefore an attempt unto that end has
often issued in formality, hypocrisy, and superstition. I shall
therefore lay down the grounds of this design, the nature of it, and
the means of its pursuit.

1. God, in the human nature of Christ, did perfectly renew that
blessed image of his on our nature which we lost in Adam, with an
addition of many glorious endowments which Adam was not made partaker
of. God did not renew it in his nature as though that portion of it
whereof he was partaker had ever been destitute or deprived of it, as
it is with the same nature in all other persons. For he derived not
his nature from Adam in the same way that we do; nor was he ever in
Adam as the public representative of our nature, as we were. But our
nature in him had the image of God implanted in it, which was lost and
separated from the same nature in all other instances of its
subsistence. "It pleased the Father that in him should all fullness
dwell,"--that he should be "full of grace and truth," and "in all
things have the pre-eminence." But of these gracious endowments of the
human nature of Christ I have discoursed elsewhere.

2. One end of God in filling the human nature of Christ with all
grace, in implanting his glorious image upon it, was, that he might in
him propose an example of what he would by the same grace renew us
unto, and what we ought in a way of duty to labour after. The fullness
of grace was necessary unto the human nature of Christ, from its
hypostatical union with the Son of God. For whereas therein the
"fullness of the godhead dwelt in him bodily," it became "to hagion", a
" holy thing," Luke 1: 35. It was also necessary unto him, as unto his
own obedience in the flesh, wherein he fulfilled all righteousness,
"did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth," 1 Peter 2: 22. And
it was so unto the discharge of the office he undertook; for "such an
high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate
from sinners," Heb. 7: 26. Howbeit, the infinite wisdom of God had
this farther design in it also,--namely, that he might be the pattern
and example of the renovation of the image of God in us, and of the
glory that does ensue thereon. He is in the eye of God as the idea of
what he intends in use in the communication of grace and glory; and he
ought to be so in ours, as unto all that we aim at in a way of duty.

He has "predestinated us to be conformed unto the image of his Son,
that he might be the first-born among many brethren," Rom. 8: 29. In
the collation of all grace on Christ, God designed to make him "the
first born of many brethren;" that is, not only to give him the power
and authority of the firstborn, with the trust of the whole
inheritance to be communicated unto them, but also as the example of
what he would bring them unto. "For both he that sanctifieth and they
that are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed
to call them brethren," Heb. 2: 11. It is Christ who sanctifieth
believers; yet is it from God, who first sanctified him, that he and
they might be of one, and so become brethren, as bearing the image of
the same Father. God designed and gave unto Christ grace and glory;
and he did it that he might be the prototype of what he designed unto
us, and would bestow upon us. Hence the apostle shows that the effect
of this predestination to conformity unto the image of the Son is the
communication of all effectual, saving grace, with the glory that
ensues thereon, Rom. 8: 30, "Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them
he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom
he justified, them he also glorified."

The great design of God in his grace is, that as we have borne the
"image of the first Adam" in the depravation of our natures, so we
should bear the "image of the second" in their renovation. "As we have
borne the image of the earthy," so "we shall bear the image of the
heavenly," 1 Cor. 15: 49. And as he is the pattern of all our graces,
so he is of glory also. All our glory will consist in our being "made
like unto him;" which, what it is, does not as yet appear, 1 John 3:
2. For "he shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like
unto his glorious body," Phil. 3: 21. Wherefore the fullness of grace
was bestowed on the human nature of Christ, and the image of God
gloriously implanted thereon, that it might be the prototype and
example of what the church was through him to be made partaker of.
That which God intends for us in the internal communication of his
grace, and in the use of all the ordinances of the church, is, that we
may come unto the "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,"
Eph 4: 13. There is a fullness of all grace in Christ. Hereunto are we
to be brought, according to the measure that is designed unto every
one of us. "For unto every one of us is given grace, according to the
measure of the gift of Christ," verse 7. He has, in his sovereign
grace, assigned different measures unto those on whom he does bestow
it. And therefore it is called "the stature", because as we grow
gradually unto it, as men do unto their just stature; so there is a
variety in what we attain unto, as there is in the statures of men,
who are yet all perfect in their proportion.

3. This image of God in Christ is represented unto us in the Gospel.
Being lost from our nature, it was utterly impossible we should have
any just comprehension of it. There could be no steady notion of the
image of God, until it was renewed and exemplified in the human nature
of Christ. And thereon, without the knowledge of him, the wisest of
men have taken those things to render men most like unto God which
were adverse unto him. Such were the most of those things which the
heathens adored as heroic virtues. But being perfectly exemplified in
Christ, it is now plainly represented unto us in the gospel. Therein
with open face we behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, and
are changed into the same image, 2 Cor. 3: 18. The veil being taken
away from divine revelations by the doctrine of the gospel and from
our hearts "by the Lord the Spirit," we behold the image of God in
Christ with open face, which is the principal means of our being
transformed into it. The gospel is the declaration of Christ unto us,
and the glory of God in him; as unto many other ends, so in especial,
that we might in him behold and contemplate that image of God we are
gradually to be renewed into. Hence, we are so therein to learn the
truth as it is in Jesus, as to be "renewed in the spirit of our mind,"
and to "put on the new man, which after God is created in
righteousness and true holiness," Eph 4: 20, 23, 24,--that is,
"renewed after the image of him who created him," Col. 3: 10.

4. It is, therefore, evident that the life of God in us consists in
conformity unto Christ; nor is the Holy Spirit, as the principal and
efficient cause of it, given unto us for any other end but to unite us
unto him, and make us like him. Wherefore, the original gospel duty,
which animates and rectifies all others, is a design for conformity
unto Christ in all the gracious principles and qualifications of his
holy soul, wherein the image of God in him does consist. As he is the
prototype and exemplar in the eye of God for the communication of act
grace unto us, so he ought to be the great example in the eye of our
faith in all our obedience unto God, in our compliance with all that
he requireth of us.

God himself, or the divine nature in its holy perfections, is the
ultimate object and idea of our transformation in the renewing of our
minds. And, therefore, under the Old Testament, before the incarnation
of the Son, he proposed his own holiness immediately as the pattern of
the church: "Be ye holy, for the Lord your God is holy," Lev. 11: 44;
19:2; 20:26. But the law made nothing perfect. For to complete this
great injunction, there was yet wanting an express example of the
holiness required; which is not given us but in him who is "the
first-born, the image of the invisible God."

There was a notion, even among the philosophers, that the principal
endeavour of a wise man was to be like unto God. But in the
improvement of it, the best of them fell into foolish and proud
imaginations. Howbeit, the notion itself was the principal beam of our
primigenial light, the best relic of our natural perfections; and
those who are not some way under the power of a design to be like unto
God are every way like unto the devil. But those persons who had
nothing but the absolute essential properties of the divine nature to
contemplate on in the light of reason, failed all of them, both in the
notion itself of conformity unto God, and especially in the practical
improvement of it. Whatever men may fancy to the contrary, it is the
design of the apostle, in sundry places of his writings, to prove that
they did so, especially Rom. 1; 1 Cor. 1. Wherefore, it was an
infinite condescension of divine wisdom and grace, gloriously to
implant that image of him which we are to endeavour conformity unto in
the human nature of Christ, and then so fully to represent and propose
it unto us in the revelation of the Gospel.

The infinite perfections of God, considered absolutely in themselves,
are accompanied with such an incomprehensible glory as it is hard to
conceive how they are the object of our imitation. But the
representation that is made of them in Christ, as the image of the
invisible God, is so suited to the renewed faculties of our souls, so
congenial unto the new creature or the gracious principle of spiritual
life in us, that the mind can dwell on the contemplation of them, and
be thereby transformed into the same image.

Herein lies much of the life and power of Christian religion, as it
resides in the souls of men. This is the prevailing design of the
minds of them that truly believe the Gospel; they would in all things
be like unto Jesus Christ. And I shall briefly show (1.) What is
required hereunto; and, (2.) What is to be done in a way of duty for
the attaining that end.

(1.) A spiritual light, to discern the beauty, glory, and amiableness
of grace in Christ, is required hereunto. We can have no real design
of conformity unto him, unless we have their eyes who "beheld his
glory, the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and
truth," John 1: 14. Nor is it enough that we seem to discern the glory
of his person, unless we see a beauty and excellency in every grace
that is in him. "Learn of me," saith he; "for I am meek and lowly in
heart," Matt. 11: 29. If we are not able to discern an excellency in
meekness and lowliness of heart, (as they are things generally
despised,) how shall we sincerely endeavour after conformity unto
Christ in them? The like may be said of all his other gracious
qualifications. His zeal, his patience, his self-denial, his readiness
for the cross, his love unto his enemies, his benignity to all
mankind, his faith and fervency in prayer, his love to God, his
compassion towards the souls of men, his unweariedness in doing good,
his purity, his universal holiness;--unless we have a spiritual light
to discern the glory and amiableness of them all, as they were in him,
we speak in vain of any design for conformity unto him. And this we
have not, unless God shine into our hearts to give us the light of the
knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ. It is, I say, a
foolish thing to talk of the imitation of Christ, whilst really,
through the darkness of our minds, we discern not that there is an
excellency in the things wherein we ought to be like unto him.

(2.) Love unto them so discovered in a beam of heavy light, is
required unto the same end. No soul can have a design of conformity
unto Christ but his who so likes and loves the graces that were in
him, as to esteem a participation of them in their power to be the
greatest advantage, to be the most invaluable privilege, that can in
this world be attained. It is the favour of his good ointments for
which the virgins love him, cleave unto him, and endeavour to be like
him. In that whereof we now discourse--namely, of conformity unto him-

  • he is the representative of the image of God unto us. And, if we do not love and prize above all things those gracious qualifications and
    dispositions of mind wherein it does consist, whatever we may pretend
    of the imitation of Christ in any outward acts or duties of obedience,
    we have no design of conformity unto him. He who sees and admires the
    glory of Christ as filled with these graces as he "was fairer than the
    children of men," because "grace was poured into his lips" unto whom
    nothing is so desirable as to have the same mind, the same heart, the
    same spirit that was in Christ Jesus--is prepared to press after
    conformity unto him. And unto such a soul the representation of all
    these excellencies in the person of Christ is the great incentive,
    motive, and guide, in and unto all internal obedience unto God.

    Lastly, That wherein we are to labour for this conformity may be
    reduced unto two heads.

    [1.] An opposition unto all sin, in the root, principle, and most
    secret springs of it, or original cleavings unto our nature. He "did
    no sin, neither was there any guile found in his mouth." He "was holy,
    harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners". He was the "Lamb of God,
    without spot or blemish;" like unto us, yet without sin. Not the least
    tincture of sin did ever make an approach unto his holy nature. He was
    absolutely free from every drop of that fomes which has invaded us in
    our depraved condition. Wherefore, to be freed from all sin, is the
    first general part of an endeavour for conformity unto Christ. And
    although we cannot perfectly attain hereunto in this life, as we have
    "not already attained, nor are already perfect," yet he who groaneth
    not in himself after it--who does not loathe every thing that is of
    the remainder of sin in him and himself for it--who does not labour
    after its absolute and universal extirpation--has no sincere design of
    conformity unto Christ, nor can so have. He who endeavours to be like
    him, must "purify himself, even as he is pure." Thoughts of the purity
    of Christ, in his absolute freedom from the least tincture of sin,
    will not suffer a believer to be negligent, at any time, for the
    endeavouring the utter ruin of that which makes him unlike unto him.
    And it is a blessed advantage unto faith, in the work of mortification
    of sin, that we have such a pattern continually before us.

    [2] The due improvement of, and continual growth, in every grace, is
    the other general part of this duty. In the exercise of his own
    all-fullness of grace, both in moral duties of obedience and the
    especial duties of his office, did the glory of Christ on the earth
    consist. Wherefore, to abound in the exercise of every grace to grow
    in the root and thrive in the fruit of them--is to be conformed unto
    the image of the Son of God.

    Secondly, The following the example of Christ in all duties towards
    God and men, in his whole conversation on the earth, is the second
    part of the instance now given concerning the use of the person of
    Christ in religion. The field is large which here lies before us, and
    filled with numberless blessed instances. I cannot here enter into it;
    and the mistakes that have been in a pretence unto it, require that it
    should be handled distinctly and at large by itself; which, if God
    will, may be done in due time. One or two general instances wherein he
    was most eminently our example, shall close this discourse.

    1. His meekness, lowliness of mind, condescension unto all sorts of
    persons--his love and kindness unto mankind--his readiness to do good
    unto all, with patience and forbearance--are continually set before us
    in his example. I place them all under one head, as proceeding all
    from the same spring of divine goodness, and having effects of the
    same nature. With respect unto them, it is required that "the same
    mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus," Phil. 2: 6; and that we "walk
    in love, as he also loved us," Eph 5: 2.

    In these things was he the great representative of the divine
    goodness unto us. In the acting of these graces on all occasions did
    he declare and manifest the nature of God, from whom he came. And this
    was one end of his exhibition in the flesh. Sin had filled the world
    with a representation of the devil and his nature, in mutual hatred,
    strife, variance, envy, wrath, pride, fierceness, and rage, against
    one another; all which are of the old murderer. The instances of a
    cured, of a contrary frame, were obscure and weak in the best of the
    saints of old. But in our Lord Jesus the light of the glory of God
    herein first shone upon the world. In the exercise of these graces,
    which he most abounded in, because the sins, weaknesses and
    infirmities of men gave continual occasion thereunto, did he represent
    the divine nature as love--as infinitely good, benign, merciful, and
    patient--delighting in the exercise of these its holy properties. In
    them was the Lord Christ our example in an especial manner. And they
    do in vain pretend to be his disciples, to be followers of him, who
    endeavour not to order the whole course of their lives in conformity
    unto him in these things.

    One Christian who is meek, humble, kind, patient, and useful unto
    all; that condescends to the ignorance, weaknesses and infirmities of
    others; that passeth by provocations, injuries, contempt, with
    patience and with silence, unless where the glory and truth of God
    call for a just vindication; that pitieth all sorts of men in their
    failings and miscarriages, who is free from jealousies and evil
    surmises; that loveth what is good in all men, and all men even
    wherein they are not good, nor do good,--doth more express the virtues
    and excellencies of Christ than thousands can do with the most
    magnificent works of piety or charity, where this frame is wanting in
    them. For men to pretend to follow the example of Christ, and in the
    meantime to be proud, wrathful envious, bitterly zealous, calling for
    fire from heaven to destroy men, or fetching it themselves from hell,
    is to cry, "Hail unto him," and to crucify him afresh unto their

    2. Self-denial, readiness for the cross, with patience in sufferings,
    are the second sort of things which he calls all his disciples to
    follow his example in. It is the fundamental law of his gospel, that
    if any one will be his disciple, "he must deny himself, take up his
    cross, and follow him." These things in him, as they are all of them
    summarily represented, Phil. 2: 5-8, by reason of the glory of his
    person and the nature of his sufferings, are quite of another kind
    than that we are called unto. But his grace in them all is our only
    pattern in what is required of us. "Christ also suffered for us,
    leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps: who, when he
    was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not,"
    1 Pet. 2: 21-23. Hence are we called to look unto "Jesus, the author
    and finisher of our faith; who, for the joy that was set before him,
    endured the cross, and despised the shame." For we are to "consider
    him, who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself," that
    we faint not, Heb. 12: 3. Blessed be God for this example--for the
    glory of the condescension, patience, faith, and endurance, of Jesus
    Christ, in the extremity of all sorts of sufferings. This has been the
    pole-star of the church in all its storms; the guide, the comfort,
    supportment and encouragement of all those holy souls, who, in their
    several generations, have in various degrees undergone persecution for
    righteousness' sake, and yet continueth so to be unto them who are in
    the same condition.

    And I must say, as I have done on some other occasions in the
    handling of this subject, that a discourse on this one instance of the
    use of Christ in religion--from the consideration of the person who
    suffered, and set us this example; of the principle from whence, and
    the end for which, he did it; of the variety of evils of all sorts he
    had to conflict withal; of his invincible patience under them all, and
    immovableness of love and compassion unto mankind, even his
    persecutors; the dolorous afflictive circumstances of his sufferings
    from God and men; the blessed efficacious workings of his faith and
    trust in God unto the uttermost; with the glorious issue of the whole,
    and the influence of all these considerations unto the consolation and
    supportment of the church--would take up more room and time than what
    is allotted unto the whole of that whereof it is here the least part.
    I shall leave the whole under the shade of that blessed promise, "If
    so be that we suffer with him, we may be also glorified together; for
    I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be
    compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us," Rom. 8: 17,18.

    IV. The last thing proposed concerning the person of Christ, was the
    use of it unto believers, in the whole of their relation unto God and
    duty towards him. And the things belonging thereunto may be reduced
    unto these general heads:--

    1. Their sanctification, which consisteth in these four things: (1.)
    The mortification of sin, (2.) The gradual renovation of our natures,
    (3.) Assistances in actual obedience, (4.) The same in temptations and

    2. Their justification, with its concomitants and consequent; as--
    (1.) Adoption, (2.) Peace, (3.) Consolation and joy in life and death,
    (4.) Spiritual gifts, unto the edification of themselves and others,
    (5.) A blessed resurrection, (6.) Eternal glory.

    There are other things which also belong hereunto: as their guidance
    in the course of their conversation in this world, direction unto
    usefulness in all states and conditions, patient waiting for the
    accomplishment of God's promises to the church, the communication of
    federal blessings unto their families, and the exercise of
    loving-kindness towards mankind in general, with sundry other
    concernments of the life of faith of the like importance; but they may
    be all reduced unto the general heads proposed.

    What should have been spoken with reference unto these things belongs
    unto these three heads:--

    1st, A declaration that all these things are wrought in and
    communicated unto believers, according to their various natures, by an
    emanation of grace and power from the person of Jesus Christ, as the
    head of the church--as he who is exalted and made a Prince and a
    Saviour, to give repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

    2dly, A declaration of the way and manner how believers do live upon
    Christ in the exercise of faith, whereby, according to the promise and
    appointment of God, they derive from him the whole grace and mercy
    whereof in this world they are made partakers, and are established in
    the expectation of what they shall receive hereafter by his power. And
    that two things do hence ensue: (1st,) The necessity of universal
    evangelical obedience, seeing it is only in and by the duties of it
    that faith is, or can be, kept in a due exercise unto the ends
    mentioned. (2dly,) That believers do hereby increase continually with
    the increase of God, and grow up into him who is the head, until they
    become the fullness of him who fills all in all.

    3dly, A conviction that a real interest in, and participation of,
    these things cannot be obtained any other way but by the actual
    exercise of faith on the person of Jesus Christ.

    These things were necessary to be handled at large with reference
    unto the end proposed. But, for sundry reasons, the whole of this
    labour is here declined. For some of the particulars mentioned I have
    already insisted on in other discourses heretofore published, and that
    with respect unto the end here designed. And this argument cannot be
    handled as it does deserve, unto full satisfaction, without an entire
    discourse concerning the life of faith; which my present design will
    not admit of.

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