The Imitation of Christ
John 13:1-19
Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world to the Father…

Man is observed to be a creature naturally given to imitation; examples have a great deal more influence on him than laws and precepts. This being the case, he is concerned to set before him the best examples. And because this is a thing wherein men generally fail, here the loving Jesus directs them to the worthiest object of their imitation!

I. WHEREIN ARE WE TO IMITATE CHRIST. As there are some duties that the gospel commands us, which yet Christ was not capable of, as repentance, etc., so, likewise, there are some actions of Christ which it would be folly in us to endeavour to imitate.

1. Negatively. We are not to imitate Christ in —

(1) Those actions which He did by His extraordinary and Divine power. The poets relate that Salmoneus strove to imitate Jove's thunder, and was slain with a real thunderbolt. Such may be expected to be the recompense of our presumptuous emulating the miraculous undertakings of Christ. And to these I may add those actions of His, which were arbitrary and absolute, as He was Lord of the world.

(2) In His actions as Redeemer He both did and suffered many things thus, which were peculiar to Him, and above our imitation; and yet in some sense we are to make Him our pattern, even as to those. His nativity must be copied out in our spiritual birth; His cross bearing, crucifixion (Galatians 2:20; Galatians 6:14), death (Romans 6:8; Colossians 2:20; 2 Timothy 2:11), sacrifice (Romans 12:1) by ours. He was buried, and we must (Romans 6:4) find a grave for our sins. He was raised and we must rise (Colossians 3:1; Romans 6:4). And, as Christ was exalted, so God exalts us in Him (Ephesians 2:6).

(3) In some actions which He did in His peculiar state and condition, e.g., we are not authorized by His example to choose a life of poverty; for we are not in the same circumstances with Him.

(4) In those acts He did only to signify and teach some greater thing, as the feet washing — e.g., the apostles, it is true, washed one another's feet, in imitation of their Lord's example, yet this only the custom of that country. In this country it would only be apish imitation, and like those who wore sandals, preached on the house tops, and saluted no man by the way, etc.

2. Positively. Imitate Christ in —

(1) His humility and condescension. How this appears in His birth, subjection to His parents, trade, choice of companions, and object of ministry! And, as He was humble Himself, so he reproved pride and haughtiness of spirit in others (Matthew 18:2-4; Luke 22:24, etc.; Matthew 20:27). And under Christ's humility I may reckon His obedience to the government He lived under (Matthew 17:27). "Render unto Caesar," etc. And as Christ's whole life so His death was an amazing act of condescension (Philippians 2:6-8).

(2) In His self-denial and mortification. These He eminently showed in divers emergencies of His life; in despising the world's —

(a)  Honour and applause. He obscured even His Divinity itself for many years, and sometimes when He wrought miracles He would not lot them take air (John 8:50).

(b)  Riches (Matthew 8:20).

(c)  Pleasures.

(d)  In His entire resigning Himself to God's will (John 5:30; John 6:38).

(e)  In that He was pleased to bear with the infirmities and frailties of men (Romans 15:1-3).

(3) In His extensive love and exact justice towards men. I join these because be that acts charitably gives men their due, and he that acts justly proves kind. None was a greater observer of honest dealing than our Lord (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:21). And that He was also charitable, everything that He did was a proof (Acts 10:38). As He lived so He died a most compassionate lover of souls. Still He propounds Himself as a pattern to us. Being a loving Saviour, He calls on us to love one another (John 13:35).

(4) In His religious and devout converse with God. In His love for and attendance at God's house. In His private converse with God (Luke 6:12; Luke 22:44; Hebrews 5:7). His meditation, etc. In these things let our Lord be our pattern, leaving behind us the noise and business of the world.

(5) In His patient and undaunted deportment under His extraordinary sufferings (Hebrews 12:1-3).

(6) In His constant beating down of sin and vice, and His encouraging and promoting of holiness, by all that He said or did. Was there ever a more eminent reprover of sin than our Lord?


1. Because His example is the exactest that we can follow.

(1) Some examples of virtue are counterfeit. The Papists impiously take St. Francois to be the exact image of Christ. And you may read in their legends of other persons who were canonized for the prodigious holiness of their lives. But Christ's example is no fiction.

(2) The examples of those saints that are true and real are very imperfect, and often mixed with sinful miscarriages, and therefore not the fittest to be followed by us. Christ alone is an unblemished pattern (2 Peter 2:22).

(3) The examples of the best of men are only so far imitable by us, as they are conformable to the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

2. It was the design of God in sending His Son into the world, that He should be an example to us.

3. This is the great character of Christianity, and the main thing whereby we are able to demonstrate ourselves to be true Christians (1 John 2:6).

4. Christ's own command.

5. This is it which brings repute to Christianity, and renders it honourable and praiseworthy.

6. This is that which yields us solid comfort, and gives us certain hopes of eternal happiness.


1. Ask yourselves seriously whether you have set Christ's example before you, and have endeavoured to imitate it.

2. Lament both in ourselves and others our neglect of taking Christ for our example.

3. Let this grief and shame lead us to our duty.

(1) Make use of Christ's example to repel the temptation that you are under. As when you are tempted to pride, think how humble a Saviour you had. When you are tempted to deal unjustly, consider how upright He was. When you find yourselves allured by pleasure allay your extravagant desires by calling to mind what a severe observer of temperance the Holy Jesus was.

(2) Set this before you when you are to enterprise any virtuous action.

4. Often peruse the holy life and dough of Jesus.

5. Be convinced of the matchless excellency and beauty of Christ.

(John Edwards, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.

WEB: Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his time had come that he would depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The Helpfulness of Christ as Master
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