The Method of Grace

by John Flavel

The Imitation of Christ, Continued

"He who says he abides in him, ought himself also so to walk, even
as he walked." 1 John 11:6  
These words have been resolved into their parts, and their sense
opened in the former sermon: The observation was this:
    That every man is bound to the imitation of Christ, under
penalty of forfeiting his claim to Christ.
    In prosecution of this point, we have already shown what the
imitation of Christ imports, and what the imitable excellencies in
the life of Christ are: It now remains that I show you in the next
place, why all that profess Christ are bound to imitate his example
and then apply the whole. Now the necessity of this imitation of
Christ will convincingly appear divers ways.
    First, From the established order of salvation, which is fixed
and unalterable: God that has appointed the end, has also
established the means and order by which men shall attain the
ultimate end. Now conformity to Christ is the established method in
which God will bring souls to glory, Romans 8: 29. "For whom he did
foreknow, he also did predestinate, to be conformed to the image of
his Son; that he might be the first born among many brethren." The
same God who has predestinated men to salvation, has in order
thereunto, predestinated them unto conformity to Christ, and this
order of heaven is never to be reversed; we may as well hope to be
saved without Christ, as to be saved without conformity to Christ.
    Secondly, The nature of Christ-mystical requires this
conformity, and renders it indispensably necessary. Otherwise, the
body of Christ must be heterogeneous; of a nature different from the
head, and how monstrous and uncomely would this be? This would
represent Christ to the world in an image, or idea, much like that,
Dan. 2: 32, 33. "The head of fine gold, the breasts and arms of
silver, the thighs of brass, the legs of iron, the feet part of iron
and part of clay." Christ, the head, is pure and holy, and therefore
very unsuitable to sensual and earthly members. And therefore the
apostle in his description of Christ-mystical, describes the members
of Christ (as they ought to be) of the same nature and quality with
the head, 2 Cor. 15: 48, 49. "As is the heavenly, such are they also
that are heavenly; and as we have borne the image of the earthy, so
we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." That image or
resemblance of Christ, which shall be complete and perfect after the
resurrection, must be begun in its first draught here by the work of
    Thirdly, This resemblance and conformity to Christ appears
necessary from the communion which all believers have with Christ in
the same spirit of grace and holiness. Believers are called Christ's
fellows, or co-partners, Psalm. 14: 7. from their participation with
him of the same spirit; as it is 1 Thes. 4: 8. God gives the same
Spirit unto us, which he more plentifully poured out upon Christ.
Now where the same Spirit and principle is, there the same fruits
and operations must be produced, according to the proportions and
measures of the Spirit of grace communicated; and this reason is
farther enforced by the very design and end of God, in the infusion
of the Spirit of grace: For it is plain, from Ezek. 36: 27. that
practical holiness and obedience is the scope and design of that
infusion of the Spirit. The very innate property of the Spirit of
God in men, is to elevate their minds, and set their affections upon
heavenly things, to purge their hearts from earthly dross, and fit
them for a life of holiness and obedience. Its nature also is
assimilating, and changes them in whom it is, into the same image
with Jesus Christ their heavenly head, 2 Cor. 3: 18.
    Fourthly, The necessity of this imitation of Christ may be
argued, from the design and end of Christ's exhibition to the world
in a body of flesh. For though we detest that doctrine of the
Socinians, which makes the exemplary life of Christ to be the whole
end of his incarnation; yet we must not run so far from an error, as
to lose a precious truth. We say, the satisfaction of his blood was
a main and principal end of his incarnation, according to Mat. 20:
28. We affirm also, that it was a great design and end of the
incarnation of Christ to set before us a pattern of holiness for our
imitation; for so speaks the apostle, 1 Pet. 2: 21. "He has left us
an example that we should follow his steps." And this example of
Christ greatly obliges believers to his imitation, Phil. 2: 5. "Let
this mind be in you, which also was in Christ Jesus.
    Fifthly, Our imitation of Christ, is one of those great
articles which every man is to subscribe, whom Christ will admit
into the number of his disciples, Luke 14: 27. "Whoever does not
come after me, cannot be my disciple." And again, John 12: 26. "If
any man serve me, let him follow me." To this condition we have
submitted, if we be sincere believers; and therefore are strictly
bound to the imitation of Christ, not only by God's command, but by
our own consent. But if we profess interest in Christ, when our
hearts never consented to follow, and imitate his example, then are
we self-deceiving hypocrites, wholly disagreeing from the scripture
character of believers, Romans 8: 1. They that are Christ's being here
described to be such as walk not after the flesh, but after the
Spirit. And Gal. 5: 25. "If we live in the Spirit, let us walk in
the Spirit."
    Sixthly, The honor of Christ necessitates the conformity of
Christians to his example, else what way is there left to stop
detracting mouths, and vindicate the name of Christ from the
reproaches of the world? How can wisdom be justified of her
children, except it be this way? By what means shall we cut off
occasion from such as desire occasion, but by regulating our lives
by Christ's example? The world has eyes to see what we practice, as
well as ears to hear what we profess. Therefore either show the
consistency between your profession and practice, or you can never
hope to vindicate the name and honor of the Lord Jesus. The uses
follow; for
    1. Information.
    2. Exhortation.
    3. Consolation.
                     First use, for information.
    Inference 1. If all that profess interest in Christ, be
strictly bound to imitate his holy example; then it follows, that
religion is very unjustly charged by the world, with the scandals
and evils of them that profess it. Nothing can be more unjust and
irrational, if we consider,
    First, That the Christian religion severely censures loose and
scandalous actions in all professors, and therefore is not to be
censured for them. It is absurd to condemn religion for what itself
condemns: looseness no way flows from the principles of
Christianity, but is most opposite and contrary to it, Tit. 2: 11,
12. "For the grace of God that brings salvation, has appeared unto
all men; teaching us, that denying all ungodliness and worldly
lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this
present world."
    Secondly, It is an argument of the excellency of the Christian
religion, and that even wicked men themselves covet the name and
profession of it, though they only cloak and cover their evils under
it. I confess it is a great abuse of such an excellent thing as
religion is; but yet, if it had not an awful reverence paid it by
the consciences of all men, it would never be abused to this
purpose, by hypocrites, as it is.
    Thirdly, According to this reasoning, there can be no religion
in the world; for name me that religion which is not scandalized by
the practices of some that profess it. So that this practice has a
natural tendency to Atheism; and is, no doubt, encouraged by the
devil for that end.
    Inference. 2. If all men forfeit their claim to Christ, who endeavor
not to imitate him in the holiness of his life, then how small a
number of real Christians are there in the world? Indeed, if liberal
talking, without accurate walking: if common profession without holy
practices, were enough to constitute a Christian; then this quarter
of the world would abound with Christians: But if Christ owns none
for such but those that tread in the steps of his example; then the
number of real Christians is very small. The generality of men that
live under the Christian name, are such as walk after the flesh,
Romans 8: 2. according to the course of this world, they yield their
members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, Romans 6: 13.
Strict godliness is a mere bondage to them; narrow is the way, and
few there be that walk therein.
    Inference. 3. What blessed times should we all see, if true religion
did once generally obtain, and prevail in the world! How would it
humble the proud, meeken the passionate, and spiritualize those that
are carnal! The perverse world charges religion with all the tumults
and disturbances that are in it; whereas nothing in the world but
religion, advanced in the power of it, can heal and cure these
epidemic evils. O if men were once brought under the power of
religion indeed, to walk after Christ in holiness, obedience,
meekness, and self denial; no such miseries as these would be heard
of among us, Isaiah 11: 8, 9. "The sucking child shall play upon the
hole of the asp, and a weaned child shall put his hand on the
cockatrice den; they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy
mountain: For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea".
    Inference. 4. Hence it also follows, that real Christians are the
sweetest companions. It is a comfortable thing to walk with them
that walk after the example of Christ; the holiness, heavenliness,
humility, self-denial, and diligence in obedience, which was in
Christ, are, in some measure, to be found in all sincere Christians:
They shed forth the virtues of him that calls them; the graces of
the Spirit do more or less your forth in them: And O how endearing,
sweet, and engaging are these things! Upon this very account the
apostle invited others into the fellowship of the saints, 1 John 1:
3. "That you might have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship
is with the Father, and with his Son Christ Jesus." And is it not
sweet to have fellowship with them who have fellowship with Christ?
O let all your delights be in the saints, and in the excellent of
the earth, who excel in virtue, Psalm. 16: 3. Yet, mistake not, there
is a great deal of difference between one Christian and another, and
even the best of Christians are sanctified but in part. If there be
something sweet and engaging, there is also something bitter and
distasteful in the best of men. If there be something to draw forth
your delight and love, there is also something to exercise your pity
and patience. Yet this is most certain, that notwithstanding all
their infirmities and corruptions, they are the best and sweetest
company this world affords.
    Inference. 5. In a word, if no men's claim to Christ be warranted but
theirs that walk as he walked; how vain and groundless then are the
hopes and expectations of all unsanctified men, who walk after their
own lusts? None are snore forward to claim the privileges of
religion than those that reject the duties of it; multitudes hope to
be saved by Christ, who yet refuse to be governed by him: But such
hopes have no scripture warrant to support them; yes, they have many
scripture testimonies against them, 1 Cor. 6: 9. "Know you not that
the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" Be not
deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor
effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind; nor thieves, nor
covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall
inherit the kingdom of God." O how many thousand vain hopes are laid
in the dust, and how many thousand souls are sentenced to hell by
this one scripture!
                    Second use, for exhortation.
    If this be so, it naturally presses all the professors of
Christianity to strict godliness in their conversations, as ever
they expect benefit by Christ. O professors, be you not conformed
unto this world, but be you transformed by the renewing of your
minds: Set the example of Christ before you, and labor to tread in
his steps. This is the great business of religion, the main scope of
the gospel. Give me leave, therefore, closely to press it upon your
hearts, by the following motives.
    Motive 1. Christ has conformed himself to you by his abasing
incarnation; how reasonable therefore is it that you conform
yourselves to him in the way of obedience and sanctification? He
came as near to you as it was possible for him to do, strive you
therefore to come as near to Christ as it is possible for you to do:
he has taken your nature upon him, Heb. 2: 14. yes, and with your
nature he has taken your weaknesses and infirmities, Romans 8: 3. and
not only your natures and your infirmities, but your condition also,
for he came under the law for your sakes, Gal. 4: 4. He conformed
himself to you, though he was infinitely above you; that was his
abasement: do you conform yourselves to him who are infinitely
beneath him: that will be your advancement: his conformity to you
emptied him of his glory, your conformity to him will fill you with
glory: he conformed himself to you, though you had no obligation
upon him; will you not conform yourselves to him, who lie under
infinite obligations so to do?
    Motive 2. You shall be conformed to Christ in glory; how
reasonable therefore is it you should now conform yourselves to him
in holiness? The apostle says, 1 John 3: 2. "We shall be like unto
him, for we shall see him as he is:" Yes, not only your souls shall
be like him, but your very bodies, even those vile bodies of yours
shall be changed, that they may be fashioned like unto his glorious
body." How forcible a motive is this to bring men into conformity
with Christ here! especially, seeing our conformity to him in
holiness, is the evidence of our conformity to him in gory, Romans 6:
5. 2 Pet. 3: 11. 0 professors, as ever you look to be with Christ in
glory hereafter, see that you walk after Christ's example in holiness
and obedience here.
    Motive 3. The conformity of your lives to Christ, your pattern,
is your highest excellency in this world: The measure of your grace
is to be estimated by this rule. The excellency of every creature
rises higher and higher, according as it approaches still nearer and
nearer to its original; the more you resemble Christ in grace, the
more illustrious and resplendent will your conversations be in true
spiritual glory.
    Motive 4. So far as you imitate Christ in your lives, and no
farther, you will be beneficial in the world in which you live: so
far as God helps you to follow Christ, you will be helpful to bring
others to Christ, or build them up in Christ; for all men are
forbidden by the gospel to follow you one step farther than you
follow Christ, 1 Cor. 11: 1. and when you have finished your course
in this world, the remembrance of your ways will be no further sweet
to others, than they are ways of holiness and obedience to Christ, 1
Cor. 4: 17. If you walk according to the course of this world, the
world will not be the better for your walking.
    Motive 5. To walk as Christ walked, is a walk only worthy of a
Christian; this is to "walk worthy of the Lord," 1 Thess. 2: 12.
Col. 1: 10. By worthiness the apostle does not mean meritoriousness,
but loveliness, or that decorum which befits a Christian: as, when a
man walks suitably to his place and calling in the world, we say he
acts like himself; so, when you walk after Christ's pattern, you
then act like yourselves, like men of your character and profession;
this is consonant to your vocation, Eph. 4: 1. "I beseech you, that
you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called. This
walking suits with your obligation, 2 Cor. 5: 15. for it is to live
unto him who died for us. This walking only suits with your
designation, Eph. 2: 1O. "For you are created in Christ Jesus unto
good works, which God has before ordained we should walk in them."
In a word, such walking as this, and such only becomes your
expectation, 2 Pet. 3: 11. "Wherefore [beloved! seeing that you look
for such things, be diligent, that you may be found of him in peace,
without spot, and blameless."
    Motive 6. How comfortable will the close of your life be at
death, if you have walked after Christ's pattern and example in this
world: A comfortable death is ordinarily the close of a holy life,
Psalm. 37: 37. "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the
end of that man is peace." A loose, careless life puts many terrible
stings into death. As worms in the body are bred of the putrefaction
there, so the worm of conscience is bred of the moral putrefaction
or corruption that is in our natures and conversations. O then be
prevailed with by all these considerations to imitate Christ in the
whole course and compass of your conversations.
                     Third use, for consolation.
    Lastly, I would leave a few words of support and comfort to
such as sincerely study and endeavor, according to the tendency of
their new nature to follow Christ's example, But being weak in
grace, and meeting with strong temptations, are frequently carried
aside from the holy purposes and designs of their honest, well-
meaning hearts, to the great grief and discouragement of their
souls. They heartily wish and aim at holiness, and say with David,
Psalm. 119: 5. "O that my ways were directed to keep your statutes."
They follow after exactness in holiness as Paul did, Phil. 3: 12.
"If by any means they might attain it." But finding how short they
come in all things of the rule and pattern, they mourn as he did,
Romans 7: 24. "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the
body of this death?" Well, if this be your case, be not discouraged,
but hearken to a few words of support and comfort, with which I
shall close this point.
                              Support I
    Such defects in obedience make no flaw in your justification:
for your justification is not built upon your obedience, but upon
Christ's, Romans 3: 24. and how complete and defective soever you be
in yourselves, yet at the same instant, "you are complete in him
which is the head of all principality and power", Col. 2: 10. Woe to
Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, and the most eminent saints that ever
lived, if their justification and acceptance with God had depended
upon the perfection and completeness of their obedience.
                             Support II.
    Your deep troubles for the defectiveness of your obedience, do
not argue you to be less, but more sanctified than those who make no
such complaints; for these prove you to be better acquainted with
your own hearts than others are; to have a deeper hatred of sin than
others have; and to love God with a more fervent love than others
do; the most eminent saints have made the bitterest complaints upon
this account, Psalm. 65: 3. Romans 7: 23, 24.
                            Support III.
    The Lord makes excellent uses even of your infirmities and
failings to do you good, and makes them turn to your unexpected
advantage: for, by these defects he hides pride from your eyes; he
beats you off from self dependence; he makes you to admire the
riches of free grace: he makes you to long more ardently for heaven,
and entertain the sweeter thoughts of death; and does not the Lord
then make blessed fruits to spring up to you from such a bitter
root? O the blessed chemistry of heaven, to extract such mercies out
of such miseries!
                             Support IV.
    Your bewailed infirmities do not break the bond of the
everlasting covenant. The bond of the covenant holds firm,
notwithstanding your defects and weaknesses, Jer. 32: 40.
"Iniquities prevail against me," says David, yet in the same breath
he adds, "as for our transgressions you shall purge them away,"
Psalm. 65: 3. He is still your God, your Father for all this.
                             Support V.
    Though the defects of your obedience are grievous to God, yet
your deep sorrows for them are well-pleasing in his eyes, Psalm. 51:
17. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a
contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Ephraim was never a
more pleasant child to his father, than when he bemoaned himself,
and smote upon his thigh, as you do, Jer. 31: 20. Your sins
grieve him, but your sorrows please him.
                             Support VI.
    Though God have left many defects to humble you, yet he has
given many things to comfort you. This is a comfort that the desire
of your soul is to God, and to the remembrance of his name. This is a
comfort, that your sins are not your delight as once they were; but
your shame and sorrow. This is a comfort, that your case is not
singular; but more or less, the same complaints and sorrows are
found in all gracious souls through the world; and to say all in one
word, this is the comfort above all comforts, that the time is at
hand, in which all these defects, infirmities, and failings shall be
done away, 1 Cor. 13: 10. "When that which is perfect is come, then
that which is in part shall be done away."
    Forever blessed be God for Jews Christ.
    And thus I have finished the third general use of examination,
whereby every man is to try his interest in Christ, and discern
whether ever Christ has been effectually applied to his soul. That
which remains is
    An use of Lamentation.
    Wherein the miserable and most wretched state of all those to
whom Jesus Christ is not effectually applied, will be yet more
particularly discovered and bewailed.