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.…
The first reason for the gift of the Incarnate Son to a perishing world, is that He might be a sacrifice for its sin. The second reason is, that He might be an ensample of godly life to those who believe in Him. We sinners cannot invert the order, and say that He was given, first as our example, and secondly as our sin offering before God. For we cannot imitate Him until He has redeemed us from the power and guilt of sin; the first need of a sinner is pardon and moral freedom, the second, the ideal of a new life.
I. WHY WE NEED SUCH AN EXAMPLE AT ALL. Let us ask ourselves what it is which makes human nature radically different from that of any of the creatures that surround us. The great characteristic of man is the possession of free will. The growth of the human body indeed is as little within man's control as is that of an animal. But human character, and so much of the bodily life as bears on character, is as much under our control as are the canvas and the colours under that of a painter. Our passions, our inclinations, our thoughts, our sympathies, our antipathies, our habits, are at the disposal of our wills; we are what we have gradually made ourselves. Man, then, is an artist. And as an artist he needs not merely the material out of which to mould some expression of thought, but an example, an ideal, to copy. It may indeed be asked whether it will not do as well to obey a precept as to copy an example. Example, it is said, is vague; precept is explicit. Precept is active; it seeks you out and addresses you. Example is passive; it lets you imitate if you will. Example merely says, "This may be done because it has been done." Precept says, "Do it." No, you especially who, as parents or masters, are responsible for influence on others; assuredly, no. Example goes further than precept. Precept leads us to the foot of a precipitous mountain, and it cries, "Scale that height." But example whispers: "Mark what I do, and then do it; it cannot be hard for you since it is easy for me, Look how I step over that crevice, and rest on this projecting foothold, and tread lightly and quickly along that insecure bit of the path. Watch me; keep close to me. Then all will be well in the end."
II. We do then need an example, and OUR LORD HAS SATISFIED THIS NEED OF OUR NATURE AND COMPLETELY. In Him we have before us an example which is unique. He passed through life in the humblest circumstances: yet He belongs to the human race. He alone in the world is the universal man; He is the one man who corresponds to that ideal of humanity of which there are traces in the minds of all of us; He is the great example.
1. That which strikes us, first of all, in the example which He has left us, is its faultlessness. We are startled by His own sense of this. He never utters one word to the Father or to man which implies the consciousness of a defect. "I do always those things that please the Father." "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me." Was this an illusion, or did it correspond with the fact? He was surrounded by jealous observers. He could reckon on no forbearance, no generosity, no equity, in His opponents. Yet He passed their criticism unscathed. "Which of you," He could say, "convinceth Me of sin?" And there was silence. In this sinlessness He is, although our model, yet beyond our full reach of imitation. The best of men knows that in his best moments he is beset by motives, or thoughts, or inclinations, from which Christ was utterly free. But this does not destroy, it rather enhances, the value of our Lord's example. In all departments of thought and work, the ideal is, strictly speaking, unattainable by man; yet man should never lose sight of it.
2. We are struck by the balance and proportion of excellences in our Lord's human character. As a rule, if a man possesses some one excellence in an unusual degree, he will be found to exhibit some fault or shortcoming in an opposite direction. Our finite and fallen nature exhausts itself by an effort in a single direction; it would almost seem bound to atone for a temporary success by some compensating failure. Of this want of balance in excellence, of this exaggeration in particular forms of excellence which entails an accompanying defect, there is no trace in our Lord. Read His life over and over again, with this point in view; and nothing will strike you more than its faultless proportions. In so vast a field, take one illustration out of many: the balance which He keeps between severity and tenderness.
3. Consider again a feature which runs through His whole character: its simplicity. In nothing that He says or does can we detect any trace of contrivance or of aiming at effect. He takes the illustrations which come ready to His hand, or which meet His eye: the birds of the air, the rain, the red and lowering sky, the lily, the grain of mustard seed, the corn, the ruined tower of Siloam. On these He grafts this or that fragment of eternal truth. We cannot enrich His teaching by any additions. Our crude efforts could not but disfigure its incomparable beauty. As with His words, so is it with His actions. He acts with a view to the glory of God the Father, and with a view to nothing else. Hence a directness and transparency in His conduct, which we feel in every detail of it.
4. One further point to be remarked in our Lord's example is the stress which it lays upon those forms of excellence which make no great show, such as patience, humility, meekness, and the like. As we read the gospels, we are led to see that the highest type of human excellence consists less in acting well than in suffering well. It is this side of His example of which St. Peter is thinking as being so useful to the Christian slaves to whom for the moment he is writing (ver 23). Christ had before Him a purpose of infinite beneficence; that of recovering man to God and to endless happiness. Yet in carrying it out He met with scorn, resistance, hatred, persecution. Yet no unkind or impatient word falls from Him. He bears in silence the contradiction of sinners against Himself. He prays, "Father, forgive them." He is obedient unto death. "Leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps." "Yes," it is said, "it is a beautiful, a transcendental picture; and if Christ were merely man, we might perhaps imitate Him! But then He is God as well as man; and this seems to remove Him from the category of beings whom man can imitate. His theological glory in the fourth gospel is fatal to His moral value as a human model in the first three." The difference between Jesus Christ and ourselves is indeed infinite; it is the difference between the Creator and the creature. And yet He is also truly man; and for the purposes of imitation the truth of His manhood secures all that we require. For the purposes of imitation, He is practically not more out of our reach than is a father of great genius and goodness out of the reach of his child. Certainly we cannot imitate Jesus Christ when He heals the sick, or raises the dead. But we can enter into and cherish the spirit of those high works of mercy. We can do the natural kindnesses which are akin to them. And there are deeds and words of His which we can copy in the letter as well as the spirit. Indeed, the objection has been already solved by the experience of eighteen centuries. The imitation of Christ is the perpetual source of saintly effort in the Church of Christ. Generation follows generation, looking unto Jesus. One man says, I will imitate His patience; and another, I will copy His humility; and a third, I would practise, though afar off, His obedience; and a fourth, His love for men; and another, His simplicity; and another, His benevolence; and another, His perpetual communion with the Father; and another, His renunciation of His Own will. When one point is gained, others follow. Thus, little by little, "Christ is formed," in the characters of His servants. This imitation of our Lord is not a duty which we are free to accept or decline. "The elect," says St. Paul, "are predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son of God." If there is no effort at conformity, there is no true note of predestination. A devoted layman of the Church of England said on his deathbed, that, on reviewing his life, the omission which he chiefly deplored was that he had not made a daily effort to study and imitate Jesus Christ as He is described in the gospels. Is not this a common omission even with serious Christians? Should we not do what we may, while yet we may, thus to follow in the footsteps of the Perfect Man?
Parallel VersesKJV: Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.