following the lamb of god
Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example,
that ye should follow his steps (1 Pet. 2:21).
Precept and example both play their part in the development of character: both are essential to the thorough furnishing of the man of God. Precepts crystallize for us the essential principles of divine doctrine: in combination they give us the code of conduct by which our lives are to be moulded, whether it be the Ten Commandments given by God through Moses under the old dispensation, or the deeper analysis of motive and duty found in the Sermon on the Mount spoken by Jesus.
But how shall we translate these divine principles into actual life? These precepts have not been given to us merely to admire, or even to memorize: they are meant to guide our conduct and form our habits, and finally produce characters which will be approved in the day of Christ.
To assist us in making the difficult transference from the abstract to the concrete, examples are given to us in the pages of the Bible showing those principles actually in operation in the lives of men and women who have been approved by God: we are thus encouraged to apply those principles in the circumstances we meet and seek to find similar approval when we are judged.
The historical records of the Scriptures are not simply the recital of the story of an ancient people, whose vicissitudes may have some slight antiquarian interest for us. They have a much more important purpose to play, as the apostle Paul emphasises:
- Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
- all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Thus with principles crystallized into precepts, and examples furnished to show their application in life, we are well equipped by the Word of God for the important work of character-building.
An interesting instance of the combination of precept and example is to be found in the well known eleventh chapter of Hebrews. The opening words define the principle; and there is added to that definition a number of examples of “faith in action,” brief synopses of the lives of approved men and women who “showed their faith by their works”. By analysing their conduct and studying their reactions we are enabled to discover the secret of their success and apply the lessons to the varied circumstances of our lives, and trust that we with them may secure that “better thing” which God has provided for those who love Him.
But the greatest example set before us in the Scriptures to study and to follow is the Lord Jesus Christ. The word Peter uses in the quotation given in the heading, and translated in the Authorized Version as “example,” is hupogrammos in the original Greek, and is not found again in the New Testament. It means literally “a writing copy,” such as is given to a child when he begins to learn to write, which he is required to follow carefully letter by letter so as to reproduce as exactly as possible the characters the teacher has written at the top of the page for his guidance.
Not very long ago I found one of those old copy books with the “head line” at the top of the page written in beautiful copper-plate writing, and underneath the successive attempts of the small boy to achieve like results. How far short they fell from the perfect example set before him! Bad spacing, uneven letters, blots and smears spoiled the page; and yet as the page developed there was evidence of a determined effort to do better and to secure results nearer to the copy at the top of the page.
The comments of the teacher were also of interest. The blots and smears were circled in blue-pencil, as they deserved to be; but there were helpful suggestions given in the margin, and a final encouraging assessment at the foot of the page as “a good effort,” which must have given the youngster some satisfaction. Judged absolutely, the child’s efforts to attain the perfection of the copy could only be regarded as failures; but, relatively, to the sympathetic eye of the teacher, mindful of the difficulties to be encountered and the limitations of child-nature, there was distinct evidence of progress, and the final assessment recognized the sincerity of the attempt to follow the “writing copy.”
May we not be encouraged by these reflections associated with the word used by the inspired Peter in bringing the example of Christ before us for our imitation? Christ is our perfect “writing copy” which we are required to follow: we endeavour in our feeble, finite way to copy it in the pages of our lives; but how frequently are the pages dirty and smeared, and often-times perhaps tear-stained. Many are the blue-pencilled rings we ourselves would make round the blemishes and blots found in our copy-book. Yet we know we have a sympathetic Master, one who is touched by the feeling of our infirmities, who was tempted in all points like as we are: and in thus remembering him, we are encouraged to try again, and yet again, to follow more closely the head line of the page.
It may be that because we have tried, and kept on trying, even in spite of the many blots and blemishes which we know only too well spoil the pages of our lives, the Great Examiner may find when He studies our attempt to follow the Example set before us, some resemblance thereto, and may permit us to be amongst those who, having followed his steps in the day of weakness, follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth, and are associated with him in service throughout the glorious age to come.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)
(1943, F. Turner)