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"We shall consider the death of Christ in four views namely, in respect of the principles on which it proceeded -- the motives by which it was induced -- the spirit with which it was endured -- and the ends which it accomplished. Under each of these views we shall find things to which we must be conformed." -- AF

Conformity to the Death of Christ
"Being made conformable unto his death." -- Phil. iii. 10
By Andrew Fuller

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THE death of Christ is a subject of so much importance in Christianity as to be essential to it. Without this, the sacrifices and prophecies of the Old Testament would be nearly void of meaning, and the other great facts recorded in the New Testament divested of importance. It is not so much a member of the body of Christian doctrine as the life-blood that runs through the whole of it. The doctrine of the cross is the Christian doctrine. In determining "not to know any thing -- save Jesus Christ, and him crucified," the apostle did not mean to contract his researches, or to confine his ministry to a monotonous repetition of a favourite point, to the neglect of other things; on the contrary, he shunned not to declare "the whole counsel of God." The doctrine of "Christ, and him crucified," comprehended this: it contained a scope which, inspired as he was, surpassed his powers; and well it might, for angels could not comprehend it, but are described as merely desiring to look into it. There is not an important truth, but what is presupposed by it, included in it, or arises out of it; nor any part of practical religion but what hangs upon it.

It was from this doctrine that the New Testament writers fetched their most powerful motives. Do they recommend humility? It is thus: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Do they enforce an unreserved devotedness to God? It is thus: "Ye are not your own; for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your
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body, and in your spirit, which are God's." If they would provoke Christians to brotherly love, it is from the same consideration: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." Do they urge a forgiving spirit? It is thus: "Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Do they recommend benevolence to the poor? It is from this: "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. -- Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!" Finally, The common duties of domestic life are enforced from this principle: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it."

It is an immediate relation to this great principle that both the ordinances of baptism and the supper appear to have been instituted. As many as were baptized, were baptized into Christ's death; and, in eating the bread and drinking the wine, they were directed to do it in remembrance of him. It was a wonderful instance of condescending love in the Lord Jesus to desire to be remembered by us. Had we requested in the language of the converted thief to be remembered by him, there had been nothing surprising in it; but it is of the nature of dying love to desire to live in the remembrance of those who are dear to us. It was not, however, on his own account, but on ours, that he left this dying request. He knew that to remember him would answer every case that could occur.

If afflicted, this would be our solace; if persecuted, the consideration of him that had endured such contradiction of sinners would prevent our being weary and faint in our minds; if guilty, this would point out the way of forgiveness; or if tempted to turn aside, this would bind us to his name and cause.

It was by a believing view of this great subject that the apostle, at the first, counted all his former privileges and attainments loss; and though, in consequence of renouncing Judaism, he had exchanged all his earthly prospects for hunger, and thirst, and nakedness, and perils, and bitter persecutions, yet, after thirty years' experience, he does not repent, but, in a tone of heavenly triumph, adds, "Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith!"

A mind thus imbued with the sacred theme, we should think, must have known much of Christ already, and, compared with us, he must; yet, after all that he had thought, and preached, and written, he makes nothing of his attainments, but adopts the language of one that had, in a manner, every thing to learn: "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death."

The last of these vehement desires seems to be explanatory of some, if not all, that precede it. That is, he would know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, as "being made conformable unto his death."

The sentiment here conveyed appears to be, That the death of Christ is a model to which Christians must aspire to be conformed. This sentiment we shall endeavour to illustrate and confirm.

There are other models beside the death of Christ; but they are included in this. The law of God is that to which we must be conformed. If
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we be born from above, it is "written in our hearts." But as one great end of Christ's death was to honour the Divine law, not only in its precept, but its penalty, a conformity to the one must include a conformity to the other. The character of God also is represented as a model to which believers are conformed. The new man is created "after God, in righteousness and true holiness;" but as in the death of Christ God was glorified in the highest, a conformity to this must be a conformity to the Divine character. The lives of holy men are also held up for our imitation; but as this is only in proportion as they are followers of Christ, a conformity to him includes all that is required of us respecting them.

We shall consider the death of Christ in four views namely, in respect of the principles on which it proceeded -- the motives by which it was induced -- the spirit with which it was endured -- and the ends which it accomplished. Under each of these views we shall find things to which we must be conformed. Observe --

1. THE PRINCIPLES ON WHICH THE DEATH OF CHRIST PROCEEDED. In them we shall find a standard by which to form our principles, and shall be able to judge whether they be of God.

1. The death of Christ presupposes that we deserved to die. A sense of this truth is at the foundation of all true religion; it requires, therefore, that we be made conformable to it. God, in the gift of his Son to die, judged us to have been worthy of death; Christ, in giving himself to die, evinced himself to be of the same mind; and such must be our mind, or we can have no interest in the glorious results. Until we see and feel that God is in the right, that we are in the wrong, and that if he had cast us off for ever it had been no more than we deserved, we shall be strangers to repentance, and as incapable of believing in Christ for salvation as he that is whole is of appreciating the value of a physician.

2. The death of Christ presupposes that sin is exceedingly sinful. If it were a matter of small account, it may be presumed that the Father would not have made so much of it as to give his Son to be made a sacrifice to atone for it; and that the Son of God would not have laid down his life for that purpose. The curses of the law, and the judgments inflicted at different times on sinners, furnished strong proof of the malignant nature of sin; especially when the native goodness of God is taken into consideration; but the blood of the cross furnishes much stronger. It was a great thing for the Creator to destroy the work of his hands, and it is so represented "The Lord said, I will destroy man, whom I have created, from the face of the earth." But to smite his beloved Son was greater. To be made conformable to this principle, we must not conceive of sin as the weakness, or frailty, of human nature, a mere imperfection which a good God must needs overlook. Neither must we give heed to those systems of religion which are founded upon these depreciating notions, which, however they may flatter us for the present, will, in the end, assuredly deceive us.

3. The death of Christ presupposes that there was nothing, in all our doings or sufferings, that could furnish a ground of salvation, or a single consideration for which we might be forgiven. Had it been otherwise, Christ would not have died. Men have ever been busily employed in endeavours to propitiate the Deity; some by ceremonial observances, and some by moral; but instead of accomplishing the object, they have only made the case worse. Even those services which were of Divine appointment became, in their hands, offensive; God was weary of their offerings. Christ is represented as taking the work out of their hands: "Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt-offering and sin-offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come!" They
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were, indeed, required as duties for the time, but not for the purpose of making atonement. Not tears, nor prayers, nor alms, nor any other of our doings, will avail as terms of acceptance with God. If we are conformed to the death of Christ, we shall know and feel this to be the case, and shall seek salvation by grace only, through the Mediator. If we are not conformed to the death of Christ in this respect, we have no reason to expect any interest in it.

4. The death of Christ presupposes that, for mercy to be exercised in a way consistent with the honour of God, it required to be through a sacrifice of infinite value. When the apostle declares that "it was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins," he plainly intimates that the inherent value of the sacrifice was of essential importance as to its effect. If it were impossible for animal sacrifices to atone for sin, it must be on account of their insufficiency to demonstrate either the hatred of God to sin or his love to sinners; but the same reason would apply to the sacrifice of Christ, if he were merely a creature. Hence those who deny his Divinity, with perfect consistency deny also his atonement. But, on the principles of his Divinity, his sufferings were of infinite value; and to this the Scriptures ascribe their efficacy. A careful reader of the New Testament will perceive that, in exhibiting the value and efficacy of his death, it connects it with the inherent dignity of his person: "Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." -- "We have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God." -- "The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin."

The result is, that, to be made conformable to the death of Christ, we must think highly of it, and not reduce it to the death of a mere martyr. It is a serious thing to make light of the Saviour, and of the work of salvation: "He that despised Moses's law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy (or common) thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"

Let us observe,
II. THE MOTIVES BY WHICH THE DEATH OR CHRIST WAS INDUCED. In these we shall find a blessed example to imitate. They may all be summed up in love; love to God and men; love, great, disinterested, and unparalleled.

There never was such an example of the "love of God" as that which is furnished by the obedience and death of Christ. It was his meat and drink to do the will of his Father. He did not know his nearest relations, but as doing his Father's will. When the bitter cup was presented to him, he said, "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name." What was this but exposing his breast, as we should say, to the sword of justice; consenting to be made a sacrifice, that God might be glorified in the salvation of sinners? It was love, working in a way of grief, that caused that affecting exclamation, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" He could endure the cross, and even despise the shame; he could bear to be betrayed, denied, and forsaken by his own disciples: but to be forsaken of God wounded him beyond any thing. Oh to be made conformable to his death in these things; to love God, so as to account it
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our meat and drink to do his will; so as to reckon his friends our friends, and his cause our cause; to be willing to do any thing, or suffer any thing, for his name’s sake; and to feel the withholding of his favour our severest loss!

As there never was such love to God as that which was manifested by Christ, so neither was there ever such love to men. "He loved us, and gave himself for us -- loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood." The love of creatures is ordinarily founded on something lovely in the object; but Christ died for us while we were yet enemies. To be made conformable to his death in this is to bear good-will to men, to seek their present and everlasting welfare in every way that is within our power; and this notwithstanding the unloveliness of their character and conduct: "Love them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you." Unbelievers, who know no principle superior to self-love, have represented this precept of our Lord as unnatural and extravagant. Yet they themselves are daily partaking of his bounty, who causeth his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and his rain to descend on the just and on the unjust. If they were the children of that Being -- whom they acknowledge, they would, in some degree, resemble him. Such was the example of Jesus, and such must be ours, if we be made conformable to him.

Let us observe,
III. THE SPIRIT WITH WHICH THE SUFFERINGS AND DEATH OF CHRIST WERE ENDURED. In this we shall find a model for our spirit. The Lord Jesus was possessed of all the original passions of human nature; as love, joy, sorrow, grief, anger, indignation, &c. When reproached and injured, he felt it; his "enduring the cross, and despising the shame," was not owing to his being insensible to either, but to "the joy set before him." The purity of his nature did not extinguish its passions, but rendered them subordinate to the will of his Father. With the greatest sensibility to reproach and injury, he was meek and lowly of heart. Under all the reproaches and false accusations that were preferred against him on his trial, he preserved a dignified silence; not a word was uttered tending to save his life: but, when questioned on the truth of his Messiahship, he, with equal dignify and firmness, avowed it, though he knew the avowal would cost him his life. Nor did the contradiction and abuse which he received from his executioners extinguish his compassion toward them: while they were nailing him to the cross he prayed, saying, "Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do."

If we observe the spirit of the apostles, we shall find them to have made him their pattern: "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and the off scouring of all things, unto this day." There appears to have been a holy emulation in the apostle Paul to he a follower of his Lord, even unto death. In all that befell him, he kept his eye on Christ: "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." -- "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed, always bearing about in the body the dying of the lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." Such was that conformity to the death of Christ, after which he panted with the most vehement desire. Nothing was further from his thoughts than partaking with him in the work of redemption; but so far as fellowship in his sufferings was admissible, it was the object of his most ardent desire. Oh to be thus made like him and like his faithful followers!
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We proceed to observe,
IV. THE ENDS WHICH THE DEATH OF CHRIST ACCOMPLISHED. In them, though there is much which is peculiar to himself, yet there is also much in which we are made conformable to him.

Did he satisfy Divine justice, and thereby open the way of salvation? Certainly, it is not for us to attempt any thing like this; but, by believing in him, we acquiesce in what he has done and suffered, and so are made conformable to it. Nor is this confined to our first believing: the more we know of Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, the more we are, in this way, made conformable to his death. The death of Christ will give the impression to the very enjoyment of heaven. “The Lamb that was slain” will be the theme of the song for ever.

Was he "manifested to destroy the works of the devil?" If we be made conformable to his death, we also shall wage war with them. If we live in sin, we are of the devil, and must needs be at variance with the death of Christ; sparing that which he was manifested in human nature to destroy. The finished work of Christ upon the cross did not supersede the necessity of our being active in overcoming evil. We must set our feet upon the necks of these spiritual enemies, taking a part in their destruction. Neither did it supersede the necessity of our active perseverance in the use of all means by which we may disengage our souls from the entanglements of sin, praying and struggling from under its dominion, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. It is thus that we have to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling," which, instead of superseding the death of Christ, is being made conformable to it. From his having died for sin, we are exhorted to die to it, and to live unto God. We cannot enter into the end of Christ's death, which was to make an end of sin, unless we become dead to sin; nor into his resurrection, without rising with him into newness of life.

In waging war with sin, it is necessary to begin with ourselves, but not to end there. If we be made conformable to the death of Christ, we shall be adverse to sin wherever we find it; avoiding all participation in it through complaisance or worldly interest, and uniting to promote sobriety, righteousness, and godliness in its place.

Finally, Christ died "to save sinners;" and if we be made conformable to his death, we also shall seek their salvation. Some of the first thoughts which occur to a believer's mind, on having found rest for his own soul, respect the salvation of his kindred and acquaintance; and the direction given to one who had obtained mercy gives countenance to such thoughts and desires: "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee."

It is not for ministers only to take an interest in the salvation of men; the army of the Lamb is composed of the whole body of Christians. Every disciple of Jesus should consider himself as a missionary. All, indeed, are not apostles, nor evangelists, nor preachers; but all must be engaged in serving the Lord: some by preaching, some by contributing of their substance, and all by prayer and recommending the Saviour by a holy conversation.

The death of Christ stands connected, in the Divine promise, with the salvation of sinners. This is "the travail of his soul," which he was to see, and be satisfied; the "joy set before him," in view of which he endured the cross, and despised the shame. To be made conformable unto his death, therefore, we must combine that which God has combined with it. It is a high honour conferred on us to be instruments in thus saving our fellow sinners, and in thus crowning our Redeemer; nor will it be less
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advantageous to us, since he has said, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne."

[From Joseph Belcher, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume I, 1845; rpt. 1988, pp. 310-316. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. -- jrd]

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