Christ our Example
THE SAVIOUR’S RULE.
Caroline Fry (1787.1846)
Extracted from Christ our Example
There is no doctrine of the Gospel so much resisted by the natural mind unenlightened by the Spirit, as that of the utter corruption of human nature and its total alienation from all goodness. Man’s pride refuses the imputation, and he thinks his experience refutes it. In vain the testimony of Scripture is made plain before him. wherein He who knows the heart of man declares it. “God looked upon the earth, and. behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.” “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6, 12. Gen. 6, 5.) This was what God saw when He determined in His anger to destroy man. And when He looked again and determined not to destroy him any more. what He saw was still the same: “For the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Gen. 8, 21.) He found that neither judgments nor mercies could amend him: for “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one;” (Job 14. 4). not God Himself till He has cleansed it. The brier by longer growing would not bring forth grapes: no, though He had digged about it and fenced it. “And what could have been done more for it that he had not done,” when again “God looked down from heaven upon the children of men. to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Ps. 53, 2-3). Had there indeed been any germ of good in man. it must have shown itself under such a culture; in immediate communication with the Deity; under His miraculous guidance;
taught by Him and chastened by Him every day; with all His goodness and all His vengeance made to pass before him. But they wore out His vengeance till He exclaims, “Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick. and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it.” (Is. 1, 5-6). Was the Almighty mistaken in his choice, unfortunate in the selection of a specimen to try the value of the mass? Not so. “I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb;” “yea thou knewest not.” (Is. 48. 8). Man did not know the extent of his corruption, and nothing could be more calculated to manifest it than the trial of our nature under circumstances so favourable: it would seem perversity itself could scarcely have resisted them. But man did resist them; and the prophet of Israel, for himself and his people, and the church that should come after him for ever, thus confesses: “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy
rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind. have taken us away.” (Is. 48, 6.) And a later prophet thus confirms his word: “The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” (Jer. 17, 9.) Lest it should be thought that there is any change, the Holy Spirit repeats again by St. Paul his word immutable: “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Rom 3). And lest they whom grace had changed into another state of being, should forget their assimilation to the corrupted mass of nature, he thus addresses them:
“You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins; Â— -Â— and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” (Eph. 2. 1 and 3).
To this continuous testimony of the unerring Word of God, the word of every true Church has been added Â— of none more decisively than the Church of England. In every service we are made to say that there is no health in us. We appeal to God’s omniscience, that we can of ourselves do no good thing; that we are unable to think a good thought. But it is all in vain; no natural man believes it:
he appeals against it to his own reason and his own experience, and thinks they are on his side. It has been so from the beginning. Cain thought he could offer something acceptable to God, without having recourse to the appointed sacrifice; and Cain thought he had reason on his side; for the fruits of his fields, the produce of his own labour, seemed quite as reasonable an offering as the slain beast. The king of Israel had reason on his side when he spared what seemed to him the good things of the Amalekite, the unoffending kine, to be offered in sacrifice to the Lord; and I suppose the Pharisee, with his tithing and his morality, had reason too when he preferred himself to the degraded publican. But the judgment of God was against them; they reasoned Â— but He had spoken. And this men have been doing ever since, and are doing now. God says there is no good in them; they say there is a little Â— a very little Â— but still a little. He says, “Without money and without price”, they say, “We cannot purchase, truly, but still we will bring something.” He says, “When they had nothing to pay”, they say, “We have not indeed enough to pay our debt, but we will bring a present in our hands.” Heathens, more excusable because they had not heard, anxious to find something acceptable to their gods, gave their children to the fire, and their bodies to the crushing of their chariot-wheels. Papists, in mingled light and darkness, sought merit in supererogatory works, fantastic self-inflictions, and unnatural fervours. And now, with light increased, but not enough to see by, Protestants look for their goodness in the secrecy of their hearts, in their virtues and well-meanings; or they present God with their baptism, their churchmanship, or their almsdeeds. And it is still reason and experience that are made to oppose themselves to the acceptance of the truth.
It is deeply interesting, though very painful, to meet an amiable and upright man of the world upon this ground. He knows that he feels something he is accustomed to call virtue, and that he loves something he is accustomed to call goodness. He feels incapable of the vices he sees committed round him. He compares his own upright, honourable, and it may be generous purposes, with the sordid viciousness of other men. There is a warmth of indignation in his bosom against injustice and oppression, which he takes for a hatred of iniquity; whilst his admiration of every generous and noble action seems as if it could be nothing else than an innate love of holiness. Comparing themselves by themselves, and measuring themselves among themselves, it is evident that all are not alike; the world has its good men and its bad ones, its honourable and dishonourable, its base and its noble; subjects of the prince of this world notwithstanding. It is in vain that God has included all men under sin, and said there is no difference; the upright man of the world sees and feels there is a difference, and he thanks God in his heart he is not like other men.
One principal cause of difficulty in the reception of this truth is, that men think of sin as a succession of separate acts. rather than as a principle of action: of holiness, as the adopting of certain maxims rather than a state of being. A man may deal fairly to-day, and fraudulently to-morrow; nay, he may, at the same moment, give the boon of charity with one hand, and grasp the wages of iniquity with the other: but he cannot be at the same time righteous and unrighteous; he cannot be at once an honest and a dishonest man. We do not say that a natural man never does right, never acts properly, nor feels justly; but we say of his actions, the best and the worst, that they flow from a principle of earthiness, self-interest, and expediency, not from love of God, or love of holiness: they flow from the same principle that would have induced him, had it seemed desirable and expedient, or to his interest, to do the exact contrary. In the words of our Church we say of such good actions, “For that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.” And if the fairest of the fruit be sin, shall we venture to say there is goodness in the root?
Men love certain demonstrations of goodness which are well accepted in society, and they love some sins for the same reason: this is not to love goodness. They love some features of a holy character that commend themselves to their natural taste, but they hate others that are equally beautiful in the sight of God; this is not to love holiness. The natural man does not love either. When he beheld the only perfect personification of them in One “made in the likeness of
men.” there was “no beauty in him that they should desire him.” and when they see the nearest assimilation to it that is to be found among men. they do not like it still. “If ye were of the world,” our Saviour says, “the world would love its own:” not for their goodness Â— “but because I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you:” not for their unworthiness Â— “Whom God chooseth, he also sanctifieth,” and these are they whom the world does not love.
At least, then. God and man are not agreed upon the characters of that goodness and holiness they approve; which discloses another and very powerful cause of the difficulty presented to the natural mind by the doctrine of man’s utter corruption; a cause more particularly connected with our present subject. Man’s notions of goodness are not derived from the Scripture; they do not in many respects agree with it: so that while they cherish in themselves, and admire in others, something they take for virtue, it is not the righteousness of God. The world, as distinguished from the people of God, is called in Scripture, a kingdom, “the kingdom of this world,” as distinguished from “the kingdom of God,” Now. a kingdom has not only a separate king; it has laws, administrations, and sanctions, distinctively its own. Its judicature takes no cognisance of the transgression of the laws of other nations. A man lives justified and free if only his conduct be conformed to the legislative code under which he lives. How true is this of the kingdom of this world as alienated from the government of God! It has its right and wrong, its good and evil, and does not inquire, and does not care, whether they are in conformity with the divine law. They may agree, or they may not; for the most part they do not; it does not signify, for it is not by this that any man’s goodness is tried before the world’s tribunal: and till grace has changed his heart, and transferred his allegiance, it is not by this that any man tries his own. What wonder if he stand justified and approved before himself and the world, while before God he stands utterly condemned? The word of God is not his rule of life.
But the word of God was the only rule of life to our Lord Jesus Christ. We might have expected it to be otherwise. One with the Father, sharer in his counsels from the beginning, knowing in all things his mind and will, the Son could have no occasion for the written law. His own wisdom and holiness were His sufficient rule. But it became Him in taking upon Him the nature of man, to fulfil all righteousness, not after the secret counsels of His omniscience, but according to the rule laid down for us. It was not the least part of his humiliation, that he who was the Lawgiver of the universe, the eternal Arbitrator of right and wrong. Himself learned obedience to a strict and narrow rule, and condescended to refer to its decisions every action of his life. And not the least proof of man’s unlikencss to Him, is that spirit of insubmission which revolts against all
authority: as if every restraint upon the action or opinion were degrading to a thinking being, an encroachment on his independence.
It is extremely important that we study our Lord’s character in this respect; for it is a point on which we make great mistakes. The only man capable of judging for himself, beyond the possibility of error, was the man Christ Jesus: and yet it is apparent that He never did judge for Himself, in any instance, irrespectively of God’s revealed Word. I say His revealed Word, the letter of His law; for I recollect no instance in which Christ appeals to the secret purposes of God in explanation of His conduct, perfectly as they must have been known to Him. He did, indeed, in His character of prophet and teacher, become Himself the revealer of God’s will to man, the propounder of the things that were to come: but to explain and justify His words and actions, “It has been written.” is the only argument I find Him to have used. Painfully foreseeing the defection of His companions. Jesus does not appeal to His divine prescience for the fact, but to the forewritten Word of God, “For it is written. I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” (Mark. 14, 27.) When about to go up to Jerusalem for the consummation of His work. He does not say. “To accomplish what was decreed in the counsels of the eternal Three before the world began,” but simply, “That all things written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.” (Luke 18, 31.) When with judicial violence he drove the money-changers from the temple, he adduces the written word alone for His authority, not His own right as Lord and master of the temple: “It is written. My house shall be called the house of prayer.” (Mark 11. 17.) Again, when His disciples are impeached for the transgression of the Sabbath-day, He, the only good, the only perfect, the one Example, stooped to defend them on the example of another recorded in Holy Writ, “Hast thou not heard what David did?” &c. When practical questions were proposed for His decision. His answer was still, “How readest thou? What say the Scriptures?” Then came the hour of temptation! With what weapons did the Son of God defend Himself against the assaults of Satan? Not with appeals to what the adversary might well have understood. His own eternal Godhead, the immutable purpose of His Deity, and His omniscient penetration into the base design. He answers with nothing but the plain word of God, “It is written,” as if that were His only guide.
I have said. that as prophet and teacher He was Himself the revealer of God’s will to man: but examining His words more closely. I perceive that even in these characters Jesus rather expounded the word than added to it, rather elucidated former prophecies than ‘uttered new ones. For in presenting Himself as teacher of the people. (Luke 4, 17). the whole of His discourse is an
exposition of the Scripture; and in assuming the character of prophet, (Luke 21), to make known the things that were to come, it is by no new prediction but simply this: “For these be the days of venegancc, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” And what appears to me still more remarkable, in His last interview with His disciples when about to return to His Father; He might have disclosed to them the state of the departed, the secrets of the grave, and the Hades He had visited. In the plenitude of recent experience. how likely that He should drop, at parting, some intimation of the things unseen, beyond what is given to other men to know! And yet He did not: all He did was this. “He opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.”
Two wonders fill the mind in the contemplation of these things. That He, the source of all wisdom and knowledge, the originator of all law. and the root of all authority, should submit Himself to the decision of a written rule: that man so ignorant, so fallible, so perverted, should think it significant of intellectual greatness, to subject that very rule to his own judgment and experience. This is done continually, so habitually, that, as in all things to which we are habituated, we are often unconscious of the process. But every man may perceive, if he will but examine his own mind, to what extent he daily abrogates the written Word, to substitute his own ideas in its stead, and justifies himself in doing so. Let the upright, candid man, formed on the best model of this world’s excellence, place himself for a moment by the side of this picture, and by the light of his own consciousness compare himself with this divine Example. His spirit, when he rises, is full of the ‘why’ and the “what and the ‘wherewithal’ Â— business, possessions, pleasures, this world’s past, and this world’s future. For a few minutes, if he can. he forces these things from his thoughts, that he may turn them to God in prayer. perhaps in the reading of His Word. But these are invited guests, the others are the inmates of his bosom. And if in that sacred word he reads, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; labour not for the meat that perisheth, ” &c., conviction does not seize his mind, that he is in a forbidden state, a state of reprehension. He does not fall down before God, and say, “My soul cleaveth to the dust:
quicken thou me in thy way.” He sees nothing more reasonable than that his mind should be thus occupied with the things that immediately concern him Â— nothing more important than to answer the demands of this life. The Word of God says otherwise, and condemns those who have not God in all their thoughts. But this is mere enthusiasm to him; it is even better to fulfil his practical and social duties. And notwithstanding what he has been reading, he goes forth with a peaceful conscience, and erected brow, as if he had nothing to be ashamed of before God or man. The Word of God is not the rule by which he judges of his state.
Is it the rule of his religion? It is written, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh to the Father but by Me.” “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3. “There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Acts, 4, 12. “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed; for he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” 2 John, 9-11. This and much more is written Â— a whole volume is written with the pen of inspiration, to show that there is but one religion, but one Saviour, but one way of salvation, one truth, one Gospel, for all to whom it is sent. Is this the religion of the world’s good man? Is it that on which he frames his prayers, and builds his eternal hopes, and walks so confidently towards his end? He knows and God knows. We cannot read his heart, but such is not the language of his lips. He calls it prejudice and narrow-mindedness; if he denies not this one way of salvation, he at least knows many other ways; so confidently speaks he of the state of those who never walked in this. The religion of his teachers, his friends, and most probably his own, is not the religion of the gospel: but they are very religious notwithstanding; and those who doubt it, manifest, as he thinks, a most harsh, ungenerous judgment; as if one set of people, and one set of opinions only, could be acceptable to God. Yet Christ has said it, and the Holy Spirit has said it, and all who have written under this inspiration have said it too. Of him who denies it, what can we say, but that the word of God is not the rule by which he regulates his own principles, and measures the principles of others? And what is the standard that is taken instead? The same as it has been from the beginning Â— reason, tradition, the authority of his fathers, and the maxims of society. To the natural man it seems so improbable the path of life should be a narrow one; so very unlikely, a few persons only, and they not seemingly the best, should be walking in light, while the multitude sit in darkness. It is in vain the Scripture says it is so. The best men that live, and the best men that have died, think and act differently; and it appears so much more consonant with human reason, and divine legislation, that each man, walking uprightly according to his conscience, should be justified in the religion he professes, that the natural man entirely disregards what the Scripture says of those, who, going about to establish their own righteousness, refuse to submit themselves to the righteousness of God.
What a contrast does such a character present to the image of our Lord! Can a man thus acting, thus thinking, be so deluded as to suppose he is walking in Jesus’ footsteps; in His who never acted, never spoke, but with the Word of God in His mouth, and its rule in
His heart; who. Deity as He was, never reasoned when His Father had spoken? In His own beautiful discourse on the mount. He Himself drew the contrast between the laws of the world and the laws of His Father, the authority of men and the authority of God. Throwing spiritual light on the written law, speaking in the name of his Father. “The Word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me,” how does his immutable ‘I say ” stand for ever opposed to the “It has been said,” and “Ye have heard,” of this world’s reasonings and conclusions’
“The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” They have a king, a code, a legislation of their own, and are generally content to abide by their decisions. In the kingdom of Christ, insubmission to the plain letter of scripture, a wish to look into the secret purposes of God, and “to be wise above what is written.” has at all times in some measure, and at this time in particular, distracted the Church, and tainted the simplicity of Divine truth. So much of corrupted nature is there in us, men will even here be thinking for themselves, and call their views deep, enlarged. These Biblical freethinkers take the Word of God for their rule, but then it is in a different sense Â— in any sense, they do not much care what, so it be but different from that in which any simple mind would understand it. I believe this disposition to be the chief source of the divisions and extravagances that now disgrace the Church.
When I observe how much the simplicity of divine truth has been departed from, and man has made difficult what God has made plain, I cannot but think there has been in our days too much reading and too much talking: and though I do not say too much teaching, it is not impossible our teachers may have too much departed from the example of Christ in the manner of their teaching. I should seem a fool to many, if I were to say how simple a thing, how plain a thing to an honest mind, I think the religion of Christ to be Â— so much of it as concerns our personal salvation, and the effects to be produced upon us. It might seem even bold to say, I think the Bible, for the purposes for which it was intended, the plainest and the easiest book that ever has been written; and while experience proves, what the Word itself declares, that no man understands it without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, I believe he requires that assistance. not to enlarge his intellect and improve his wit, but to reduce him to the ignorance and simplicity of childhood, without which he will not be instructed. Of this I am sure; if they who have made some progress in a religious course, find themselves harassed by uncertainties in doctrine, or confounded by the clangour of disputation, they had better leave controversy and the opinions of men, and betake themselves in simplicity and prayer to the plain letter of the written Word. They had better become deaf till they can
hear its language, and dumb till they can speak it without additions and without reserves. “What shall I do to be saved?” is a question that in some form or other has agitated the world from the beginning of time. Volumes have been written upon it, and nations convulsed by it, and the united intellects of man expended in vain to solve it. The Scripture has answered it in one plain sentence Â— so plain, that nothing but wilful blindness can ever more mistake the way. And those practical difficulties, which the amalgamation of the church with the world has so greatly multiplied, and the wish to unite what God has separated has now made almost endless, how easily might those too be terminated, by simply referring them to Scripture! “What saith the Scripture?” “How readest thou?” “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”
Who then follows Paul, and who follows Christ, in their submission to the Word of God? The man of God, who takes it, first, as the rule by which he judges of his own character; believing he is what the Bible says he is, one of two things Â— a sinner by nature, or by grace a saint; lost by nature, or by grace redeemed; condemned in Adam, or justified in Christ. Thus Jesus: ‘If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.’ (John, 5, 31.) “These are they which testify of me.” And Paul: “I judge not mine ownself; there is one that judgeth.” Who takes it. secondly, as the rule by which he forms his principles, asking not what others think, venturing not to think for himself, believing there is one truth, one religion, one way of salvation, even as the Scripture saith. This did Christ: “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me:” and Paul: “Woe is me, if I preach any other gospel.” Thirdly: he who takes it as the rule by which he judges others. No names of men. no dazzling qualities, no bonds of intimacy, can induce him to put darkness for light, or bitter for sweet; every man is to him that which God seeth and God saith, and nothing more. It was so with Christ: “I can of mine ownself do nothing; as I hear, I judge;” and with Paul: “To his own master he standeth or falleth.” Lastly, it is he who takes the scripture for his rule of life. We have shown that Jesus did so; and surely Paul did so, for it was to him “a small thing to be judged of man’s judgment.” A Christian who follows in their footsteps knows no right, no wrong, but according to God’s revealed Word. If he is questioned, there is his reason Â— if he is reproached, there is his defence Â— if he is in doubt, this. and this only, can resolve him.