CHRIST OUR EXEMPLAR
1 John 2:6
“He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself
also so to walk, even as He walked.”
That is supplementary to verses 3-5, completing what is set forth therein. The “he that saith” intimates that it is the testing of profession which is still in view—here a yet severer and more searching trial is made. First, a saving knowledge of God must be demonstrated by a keeping of His commandments. Then the scope of our subjection unto God is enlarged upon, by showing it includes the keeping of His “Word”—a being regulated by the entire written revelation He has given us, regarding every jot and tittle in it as of Divine authority. Now the nature of that obedience is defined. A mere outward compliance with the Divine precepts, no matter how punctilious and comprehensive it be, is not sufficient: we are required to walk even as Christ walked—to be regulated by the same principles, actuated by the same motives, directed unto the same ends as His were. Thus this verse describes the kind of obedience which is necessary in order to our having fellowship with the Father and with His Son. Walking in the light is not enough: it must be such a walking as marked that of the Lord Jesus.
It has been remarked that to have fellowship with God, to know Him, to love Him, to be in Him, and to abide in Him are expressions which, in John’s epistle, all mean substantially the same thing. No doubt this is so, nevertheless there are shades of distinction between them, and it is to our loss if we fail to perceive the same. In our judgment there is a designed gradation and intensification in the several expressions used in the passage we are now studying: just as there is in the different tests of profession there named. First, John shows how we may know that we know Him, then how we may be assured that we are in Him, and now of our abiding in Him. The first signifies a saving acquaintance with God in Christ: the second, that we are one with or united to Him: the third, that we are rooted and grounded in Him. It should be pointed out that the Old Testament saints knew God as truly and intimately as did the New Testament saints (for the latter were certainly not more favored in this respect than were Enoch, Abram, Moses, David, etc.), and that they blessedly realized they were covered by the wings of El Shaddai, and underneath them were the everlasting arms.
To come to Christ, to be in Christ, to abide in Christ, and to walk according to Christ express four of the principal aspects and distinguishing features of the Christian life. In 1 John 1:7, the walking is with God in holy communion; here it is walking before God, and outwardly before men. In 1 John 2:4, profession is made of knowing God in Christ, which is simply an avowal of His name and salvation; but in 1 John 2:6, the claim is made of abiding in Him, which signifies a continuation of the same, for perseverance is necessary to confirm it. As our Lord declared, “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved,” (Matt. 24:13). As a number of things are included by the term “coming” to Christ, and still more by being “in Him,” so several distinct concepts are imported by abiding in Him. It signifies to rest on Christ alone for the whole of our salvation, to continue in the belief, confession, and acknowledgment of the same, to remain steadfast in His doctrine or teaching, to persevere in obedience to Him. Hebrews 10:23, is an exhortation unto the same: “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering;” on the other hand, “no man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God,” (Luke 9:62).
Abiding in Christ connotes a lasting experience, in contrast with those evanescent effects which a hearing of the Gospel produces in so many, which are likened to the early dew which soon evaporates (Hosea 6:4). Further light is cast upon the term by our Lord in John 15:4-5, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing”—and note the two verses that follow. Thus to “abide” in Christ means to live wholly on Him, to be completely dependent upon Him, to cleave thoroughly unto Him, to seek refuge constantly in Him, as in a strong tower, and to be established in Him. Now the onus resting on anyone who professes to abide in Christ is a very real and pressing one, a present and lasting one, namely to walk himself even as He walked, and thereby own Him as Lord and Master, making it manifest that he is a partaker of His holiness, indwelt by the same Spirit. In no other way can he substantiate his profession and so honor and glorify Him. Such a walk is not optional but obligatory: there is a real necessity of so doing if we are to furnish clear proof that we belong to and are followers of the Lord Jesus.
In addition to our remarks on the figurative force of “walk” in 1:6 and 7, we would here point out that it has respect principally to the practical side of things—believing in Christ and a hearty enjoyment of Him are to be translated into deeds. “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him,” (Col. 2:6)—make the reality thereof apparent unto beholders by a Gospel practice souring the sweetest sin, making Christ’s yoke easy. Thereby is the trial of faith to be made: not by your degree of confidence, but by the extent of your conquest of sin, subduing your lusts, overcoming of the world. Thereby the beauty of faith is manifested—by letting its light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Faith cannot be seen by our fellows, but its fruits can in a godly walk. Hereby the comfort of faith accrues to ourselves. It is by Gospel conformity that a good conscience is maintained and the smile of the Lord enjoyed. “Great peace have they which love Thy law,” (Ps. 119:165), and the effect of righteousness is “quietness and assurance for ever,” (Isa. 32:17). Thus a godly walk is an intensely practical thing.
The term “walk” also imports progress, for to stand still is not to walk. Walking denotes growth from faith to faith, from strength to strength, from glory to glory. There is no such thing as remaining stationary in the Christian life: if we do not go forward by the strength of grace, we shall go backward by the power of corruption. There are indeed those who maintain the routine of outward religious duties, yet who make no advance—as a spinning wheel goes round, but is in the same place still. Spiritual walking is in contrast both with lazy listlessness and useless running around in circles. It signifies an increase in the experiential knowledge of Christ, a closer conformity to His death and a better acquaintance with the power of His resurrection, a deeper insight into the mysteries of the Gospel. It is true a believer may fall, relapse, backslide, so that his feet are so benumbed he ceases to “walk,” but if he really be a child of God he will profit from his falls; for when he gets to his feet again his falls make him more humble, more dependent, more watchful, more circumspect, and thereby he will run faster in the ways of God.
The term “walk” also connotes permanency, both in the ways and the doctrine of Christ, as is clear from “rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith,” (Col. 2:7). A single step is not a walk: the figure expresses steady motion. True, different figures are used to set forth other aspects of the Christian life, as in the verse just quoted. The believer is to be active yet rooted, to walk and yet be stable. On the one hand “be ye steadfast, unmoveable;” on the other side “always abounding in the work of the Lord,” (1 Cor.15:58). “Like the two feet of a pair of compasses: the one foot of the compass stands steady in the centre, and the other draws the line and goes round. So it is with the believer: his faith is like the foot of the compass that stands fast in the centre, Christ and His doctrine; but his Gospel practice is the part that is like the other foot of the compass—it never stands, but ever moves in the way of the Lord,” (R. Erskine). Thus, “walking” is also opposed to leaping, for in the former one foot is stationary while the other moves, whereas in the latter both are employed together—to leap out of one doctrine into another is neither walking nor being steadfast in the faith (Eph. 4:14).
“Ought himself also to walk, even as He walked.”This is one of several verses in this epistle which takes it for granted that its readers were already acquainted with John’s Gospel, for to walk as Christ walked assumes that they knew how He walked. Now everything recorded in Scripture of our blessed Lord should engage the devoutest attention of His people, yet it is to be feared that many of them give an entirely disproportionate consideration to His walk. While we should indeed be deeply impressed by what one termed “the crises of the Christ”—such as His incarnation, temptation, transfiguration, death, resurrection and ascension—yet between His virgin birth and His victorious resurrection lay His virtuous life, and that is described at much fuller length than any of those crises! It was by His holy walk that the Divine Law was magnified and made honorable in the very place where it had been so despised and dishonored. It was by His immaculate life that Christ evinced Himself to be a fit sacrifice for sin, the Lamb “without blemish and without spot.”
In the preceding verses the apostle had spoken of keeping God’s commandments and Word; here he makes reference to the only One who ever perfectly did so, on this earth. Preeminently was the life of Christ a walk of obedience. His obedience was the absolute conformity of His entire spirit and soul unto the will of His Father, His ready and cheerful performance of every duty which God had appointed Him. This obedience He flawlessly carried out amid the sorest trials, with infinite respect unto Him whose “Servant,” (Isa. 42:1) He had voluntarily become. The laws which He kept were, first, those to which He was subject considered simply as man, namely the Ten Commandments; second, those to which He was subject considered as Son of David (Matt. 1:1), namely the ceremonial laws of Israel (see Luke 2:21-24; Matt. 8:4, and His keeping of “the feasts” for illustrations of His compliance therewith); third, those which devolved upon Him as Mediator, namely carrying out the stipulations of the everlasting covenant—such as becoming incarnate, preaching the Gospel, calling His disciples, putting away the sins of His people and bringing in an everlasting righteousness. The closer the four Gospels be read in the light of this fact, the more clearly will it be seen that obedience to His Father was Christ’s supreme mission when He came down to this earth.
Psalm 40:7-10 reveals that it was to comply with what had been written of Him in the volume of God’s Book that He became incarnate and delighted to perform God’s pleasure. “I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me,” (John 6:38). Every act of Christ during the
thirty-three years that He tabernacled among men was distinctly and designedly an act of submission to God. He was baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 3:15). Satan’s design in the temptation was to turn aside the Saviour from the path of complete surrender to God’s will. But in vain: each assault of the enemy was repulsed by an “It is written”—I refuse to disobey My Father. The perfect Servant chose His ministerial headquarters in accordance with God’s revealed will: it was neither force of circumstances nor personal inclination which moved Christ to dwell in Capernaum, but that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah (Matt. 4:13-16). Though Christ was tender, sympathetic, and full of compassion, yet the motive prompting Him to heal the sick was the doing of God’s will: His miracles of mercy were wrought that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah (Matt. 8:16-17). The laying down of His life was in obedience to the Father (John 10:18).
As the earthly life of the Lord Jesus was a walk of obedience, so also was it one of faith. In becoming incarnate God’s Son took upon Him a dependent nature, and therefore did He live a life of trust in His heavenly Father. The varied actings of His faith, in all its diversified phases, may be seen portrayed not only in the Gospels, but also in the Messianic Psalms and the announcements of Him by the prophets. As the kinsman Redeemer of His people Christ became truly “of one” with the many sons He was to bring to glory, and in all things was “made like unto His brethren,” (Heb, 2:11,17). Yet as the Firstborn, here too He has the preeminence and therefore is He seen not among those of Hebrews 11, but distinguished from them and placed apart in Hebrews 12:2, as the grand Model for all racers, the supreme Example of their faith. It is in the earthly life of Jesus, and nowhere else, that we have the ideal Pattern. Each of those mentioned in Hebrews 11 displayed some single aspect of the life of faith; but in the Saviour they were all combined in their consummate excellence. In Hebrews 12:2, the word for “Author” does not mean so much one who originates as one who “takes the lead,” while the term “Finisher” is rendered “Captain” in Hebrews 2:10, and “Prince” in Acts 3:15. Thus it is as the One going in advance that our Lord is to be “looked to,” as the perfect Pattern of faith for us to follow.
The earthly life of Jesus was one of entire dependence upon the Father. Hear Him saying, “Thou art He that took Me out of the womb: Thou didst make Me hope when I was upon My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon Thee from the womb: Thou art My God from My mother’s belly,” (Ps. 22:9-10). How that brings out His uniqueness! In faith, as in everything else, He has “the preeminence!” It was not only in manhood, or even in childhood but from very earliest infancy that He drew His support from the Triune God. The whole of His prayer-life exemplified the same fact, expressing as it did His felt need of Divine strength and succor: “I live by the Father,” (John 6:57) was His express avowal. A life of faith is one lived in communion with God, and never did another enjoy such a deep and constant realization of the Divine presence as did the man Christ Jesus: “I have set the Lord always before Me,” (Ps. 16:8) was His confession. “He that sent Me is with Me,” (John 8:29) was ever a present reality to His consciousness. From Bethlehem to Calvary He had, by faith, unbroken and unclouded fellowship with the Father.
So too the life and walk of Jesus was one of hope, which is a sure expectation of desired good—sure because promised by Him who cannot lie. Hope is that spiritual grace which enables its possessor to look away from the perishing things of time and sense, above the shows and shams of this world, unto the enduring realities of eternity, and which gives him a present enjoyment (by confident anticipation) of the same. That which enthralls and enchains the ungodly had no power over the perfect man: “I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33), He declared, and when the Devil offered Him all its kingdoms He bade him “get thee hence.” So vivid was His realization of the unseen that in the midst of earth’s engagements He spoke of Himself as “the Son of man which is in heaven,” (John 3:13). It was “for the joy set before Him” that He endured the cross (Heb. 12:2): that which sustained Him was having respect unto the recompense of the reward. That reward was the bliss of knowing He had finished the work which the Father had given Him to do, of being reinstated in the glory which He had with Him before the world was (John 17:5), and having effected the salvation of His Church; and so as He faced the immediate prospect of death He averred, “My flesh also shall rest in hope,” (Ps. 16:9).
The life and walk of Jesus was one of unbounded love. This supplies another link with the context, for in 1 John 2:5, we are told, “Whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected”—has attained its proper end. Real obedience is nothing more and nothing less than the exercise of love and the directing of it unto what God has commanded—any external compliance with His precepts which proceeds not from holy affections is worthless. Now as none other kept the Word of God as Christ did, so none other manifested unto Him such pure and transcendent love. When He entered this world He did so declaring, “Lo, I come ... I delight to do Thy will, 0 My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart,” (Ps. 40:7-8)—enshrined in My affections. Because He delighted in God’s will, His obedience was not only voluntary, but cheerful and universal, extending to every requirement of the Divine Law without any omission or violation. “But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do,” (John 14:31), “I do always those things that please Him,” (John 8:29).
“I have manifested Thy name,” (John 17:6)—all that God is in a manifestative and communicative way. The Son came down from heaven with this express purpose, that in His incarnation, person, walk, ministry, and atoning sacrifice He should declare the Father (John 1:18). In and through and by the incarnate Son the invisible God has opened to us the holy of holies and made known what has been kept secret from the foundation of the world. That, which was beyond the reach of the human mind was beheld in the reality of a human life when the Word became flesh (John 1:14). Christ has presented to our view all the Divine attributes: He unfolded God’s wisdom, showed forth His power, revealed His grace, exhibited His faithfulness as the fulfiller of His prophecies and the performer of His promises. Now we cannot do so to the same extent, but we are required to be Godlike in our measure. He is light and we are to “walk as children of light,” (Eph 5:8). God is holy, and so must we be in our lives (1 Pet. 1:15). He is love, and we are to be “imitators of God, and walk in love as Christ also did,” (Eph 5:1-2).
Not only did the Lord Jesus honor God in His daily walk by perfectly performing the requirements of the first table of the Law, but equally so in regard to the second table, the demands of which are all comprehended in “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Blessedly is that expressed in those words, “who went about doing good,” (Acts 10:38), which like the “He hath done all things well” is one of the terse but pregnant summaries of His peerless life. It presents to us a general but vivid view of His varied and active ministry, the whole of which consisted in promoting the interests of His fellows. Benevolence characterized His entire course among men. His prayers, His teaching, His miracles, His every movement, were directed unto the well-being of others, ever and always He “Went about doing good;” unto friends and enemies, intimates and strangers alike, unto their bodies as well as their souls. Of none other could this be said absolutely; of others in their measure, and only as possessed of His spirit and as they learned of Him.
“He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” The “even as” is not a note of equality, but of likeness: to make Christ’s life the rule of ours is a pressing Christian duty. But like that word “duty,” “ought” has an unpleasant sound to supercilious ears. Nevertheless, the fact remains that many passages set Christ before us as the Model at which it is incumbent that His people should ever aim: how else shall they distinguish themselves from carnal professors, and the unregenerate who walk “according to the course of this world,” (Eph. 2:2)? Repeatedly did Christ speak of His disciples following Him (Matt. 16:24, John 10:27, etc.). Paul bids us “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ,” (1 Cor.11:1). “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps,” (1 Pet. 2:21): He displayed in His walk that which He requires from His redeemed, that they “may grow up into Him in all things,” (Eph. 4:15). Conformity unto Him is ever to be our endeavor: not only in our conduct, but also in the spirit actuating it: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 2:5).
To walk as Christ walked is a moral obligation resting upon the Christian, for he is not his own, but bought with a price. The sacrifice of Christ demands nothing less: the honor of His name requires it: His love should constrain us thereto. A life of self-pleasing is utterly inconsistent with our union with Him: the Head was holy and humble, shall His members be carnal and proud? In the routine of our daily lives, in each relation we are called to fill—social, commercial, domestic—we should make it a point of honor and esteem it a holy privilege to ask, How would Christ act in such circumstances? and seek by all that is within us to do likewise. We ought to in order that God may find in us every hour that which is a sweet savor of His Son. Only so shall we “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing,” (Col. 1:10). Only so shall we “shine as lights in the world,” (Phil. 2:15). Only so shall we “show forth His virtues,” (1 Pet. 2:9, margin). Only so shall we be His witnesses and representatives in this scene. Only so shall we truly glorify Him.