“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were anlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”—Acts 4:13.
When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they marvelled, and they came to a right conclusion as to the source of their power—they had been dwelling with Jesus. If we could live like Peter and John; if our lives were “living epistles of God, known and read of all men;” if, whenever we were seen, men would take knowledge of us, that we had been with Jesus, it would be a happy thing for this world, and a blessed thing for us.
As God may help us then, first of all, we will speak of what a believer should be. A Christian should be a striking likeness of Jesus Christ. We do not wish to speak to them in any legal way. We are not under the law, but under grace. That I will ever maintain—that by grace we are saved, and not by ourselves; but equally must I testify, that where the grace of God is, it will produce fitting deeds. [T]he fact that perfection is beyond our reach, should not diminish the ardour of our desire after it.
First then, a Christian should be like Christ in his boldness. Jesus Christ and his disciples were noted for their courage. Jesus Christ never fawned upon the rich; he stooped not to the great and noble; he stood erect, a man before men,—the prophet of the people; speaking out boldly and freely what he thought. He dealt out honest truth; he never knew the fear of man; he trembled at none; he stood out God’s chosen, whom he had anointed above his fellows, careless of man’s esteem. My friends, be like Christ in this. Be like Jesus, very valiant for your God; so that when they shall see your boldness, they may say, “He has been with Jesus.”
We must amalgamate with our boldness the loveliness of Jesus’ disposition. Let courage be the brass; let love be the gold. Behold in Christ, love consolidated! he was one mighty pillar of benevolence. As God is love, so Christ is love. Oh, ye Christians, be ye loving also. But how many have we in our churches of crab tree Christians, who have mixed such a vast amount of vinegar, and such a tremendous quantity of gall in their constitutions, that they can scarcely speak one good word to you. [W]e shall be happy enough to meet them in heaven, we are heartily glad to get rid of them from the earth. Be ye not thus, my brethren. Imitate Christ in your loving spirits; speak kindly, act kindly, and do kindly, that men may say of you, “He has been with Jesus.”
Another great feature in the life of Christ, was his deep and sincere humility. I bid thee look at thy Master talking to the children, bending from the majesty of his divinity to speak to mankind on earth, tabernacling with the peasants of Galilee, and then—ay, depth of condescension unparalleled—washing his disciples’ feet, and wiping them with the towel after supper. And ye, some of you who count yourselves Christians, cannot speak to a person who is not dressed in the same kind of clothing as yourselves, who has not exactly as much money per year as you have. We ought to forget caste, degree, and rank, when we come into Christ’s church. [W]ill ye walk with lofty heads and stiff necks, looking with insufferable contempt upon your meaner fellow-worms?
[I]mitate him in his holiness. Was he zealous for his Master? So be you. Was he self-denying, never looking to his own interest? So be you. Was he devout? So be you fervent in your prayers. Had he deference to his Father’s will? So submit yourselves to him. Was he patient? So learn to endure. And best of all, as the highest portraiture of Jesus, try to forgive your enemies, as he did.
Now, when should Christians be this? for there is an idea in the world that persons ought to be very religious on a Sunday, but that it does not matter what they are on a Monday. When should a Christian, then, be like Jesus Christ? Is there a time when he may strip off his regimentals—when the warrior may unbuckle his armour, and become like other men? Oh! no; at all times, and in every place let the Christian be what he professes to be.
Imitate him in public. Let us take care that we exhibit our Master, and not ourselves—so that we can say,” It is no longer I that live, but Christ that liveth in me.”
Be like Christ in the church…there all men are equal—alike brethren, alike to be received as such.
But most of all take care to have religion in your houses. A religious house is the best proof of true piety. If your household is not the better for your Christianity—if men cannot say, “This is a better house than others,” then be not deceived—ye have nothing of the grace of God. Take care of your character there; for what we are there, we really are.
[I]mitate Jesus in secret. When no eye seeth you except the eye of God, when darkness covers you, when you are shut up from the observation of mortals, even then be ye like Jesus Christ.
But now, thirdly, why should Christians imitate Christ? Christians should be like Christ, first, for their own sakes. Oh! my brethren, there is nothing that can so advantage you, nothing can so prosper you, so assist you, so make you walk towards heaven rapidly, so keep your head upwards towards the sky, and your eyes radiant with glory, like the imitation of Jesus Christ.
Next, for religion’s sake, strive to imitate Jesus. None have hurt thee, O Christianity, so much as those who profess to be thy followers. Such men, sirs, injure the gospel more than others: more than the laughing infidel; more than the sneering critic, doth the man hurt our cause, who professes to love it, but in his actions doth belie his love.
Then, to put it into the strongest form I can, let me say, for Christ’s sake, endeavour to be like him. How would Jesus standing here, show you his hands this morning! “My friends,” he would say, “behold me! these hands were pierced for you; and look ye here at this my side. It was opened as the fountain of your salvation. See my feet; there entered the cruel nails. Each of these bones were dislocated for your sake. These eyes gushed with torrents of tears. This head was crowned with thorns. These cheeks were smitten; this hair was plucked; my body become the centre and focus of agony. I hung quivering in the burning sun; and all for you, my people. And will ye not love me now? I bid you be like me. Is there any fault in me? Oh! no. Ye believe that I am fairer than ten thousand fairs, and lovelier than ten thousand loves. Have I injured you? Have I not rather done all for your salvation? And do I not sit at my father’s throne, and e’en now intercede on your behalf? If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Be like Christ, since gratitude demands obedience; so shall the world know that ye have been with Jesus.
“How can I imitate him?” In the first place, then, my beloved friends, in answer to your inquiry, let me say, you must know Christ as your Redeemer before you can follow him as your Exemplar. [E]xcellent as his example [is], it would be impossible to imitate it, had he not also been our sacrifice. [D]o not seek to copy him until you are bathed in the fountain filled with blood, draw from his veins. It is not possible for you to do so; your passion will be too strong and corrupt, and you will be building without a foundation, a structure which will be about as stable as a dream. You cannot mould your life to his pattern, until you have had his Spirit, till you have been clothed in his righteousness.
Next then, let me entreat you to study Christ’s character. Christian, wouldst thou know thy Master? Look at him. There is a wondrous power about the character of Christ, for the more you regard it the more you will be conformed to it. Then, in the next place, correct your poor copy every day. Do this, day after day continually, noting you faults one by one, so that you may better avoid them.
Lastly, as the best advice I can give, seek more of the Spirit of God, for this is the way to become Christ-like. Vain are all your attempts to be like him till you have sought his Spirit. So take your heart, not cold as it is, not stony, as it is by nature, but put it into the furnace; there let it be molten, and after that it can be turned like wax to the seal, and fashioned into the image of Jesus Christ.
For at heaven’s gate there sits an angel, who admits no one who has not the same features as our adorable Lord. There comes a man poor he may have been; illiterate he may have been; but the angel, as he looks at him, smiles and says, “It is Christ again; a second edition of Jesus Christ is there. Come in, come in.
Go away with this one thought, then, my brethren, that you can test, yourselves by Christ. If you are like Christ you are of Christ and shall be with Christ. To him be all honor given! Amen.