Conform to Christ

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
` Matthew 13:44-46

For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
~ Hebrews 3:14

That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
~ 1 John 1:3

He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
~ Isaiah 53:11

Conformity unto Christ, and Following his Example, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from Chapter Fifteen of his work, “ΧΡΙΣΤΟΛΟΓΙΑ (Christologia)”.

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.
— Phil. iii. 8.

Chapter XV.

(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 i. 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. xi. 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 heavenly 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 savour 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 doth 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 hath 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 doth not loathe every thing that is of the remainder of sin in him and himself for it — who doth not labour after its absolute and universal extirpation — hath 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-fulness 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. ii. 5; and that we “walk in love, as he also loved us,” Eph. v. 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 power.

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. ii. 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. ii. 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. xii. 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 hath 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. viii. 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 trials.

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 fulness 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 doth deserve, unto full satisfaction, without an entire discourse concerning the life of faith; which my present design will not admit of.