By Professor M. Olesnitsky, Doctor of Theology (Professor of the Kiev Divinity Academy), St. Petersburg 1907.
For our success in the pursuit of a moral life, abstract law by itself is insufficient; a concrete example is necessary for the attainment of such life.
We have this model in God: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Mt 5:48); but still, we need an example that is closer to our nature, which would in turn satisfy the requirements and carry out the moral ideal, under the same conditions in which we live. This model moves into us the faith in the possibility of the true-moral life on the earth; it attracts us to virtues and paves the way to such life. Having lived on earth, we have such a model in the Incarnated, our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Holy Scripture there are numerous places which call us to the resemblance to Christ. For example, in the Epistle of the Holy Apostle Peter we read: Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps (1Pet 2:21). He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked (1Jn 2:6). St. Paul calls the Christians to have the same sensations, which were in Christ: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5), not to please ourselves… for even Christ pleased not himself (Rom 15:1-3), walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us (Eph 5:2), looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2). The Lord said to his disciples after washing their feet: I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you (Jn 13:15); and pointed at his love as to the example of their mutual love: Love one another, as I have loved you (Jn 15:12).
Looking closer at the model presented to us through the life of Jesus Christ, we find that He carried out His earthly life exemplifying the highest level of moral freedom, combined with perfect love. This freedom was manifested in the absence of any sin as well as any other sensation of the sinful burden, in the harmony of His nature, which excludes passions and any fascinations, and in the powerful and independent attitude to the world. Understanding the complete freedom from sin he says: which of you convinceth me of sin? (Jn 8:46) or the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me (Jn 14:30). As the One, Who is sinless (although tempted), the conscience did not burden Him and it did not arise in Him the feeling of separation with the divine will.
The harmonious nature of the Lord Jesus excluded the one-sided predominance in Him of any side of the human personality. For example, we distinguish male and female natures, with the predominance of distinctive qualities. However, in Christ the Savior we see the harmonious combination of male perfections, precisely—incomparable struggle, conquering the world heroism, and female—kindness, limitless devotion, extreme patience, infinite obedience. We distinguish reserved and contemplative, open and active, or practical characters.
However, in Christ the Savior we see the harmonious combination of the contemplation and practical activity. But the absence of fascinations and passions in our Lord the Savior, we see that in Him any emotional state never overcomes the others and the others do not predominate. For example, deep grief is soon changed in Him for sincere happiness, happiness is immediately dissolved by grief (Mk 14:8-9); anger is mitigated by compassion, and compassion passes into anger (Mt 23:39); in humiliation the Lord never forgets His royal sublimity; and possessing it He always remembers that He accepted the image of a slave and came not so that they would serve Him, but in order for Him to serve others. Denying the presence of passions in the Lord, we assert that there was only animation and the strong desire to carry out His destination on the earth in Him. Therefore he says: I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? (Lk 12:49).
Possessing moral freedom, the Lord Jesus Christ is so free in all his relations with the surrounding world. For example, he was fasting, but he “is eating and drinking” when He finds this necessary. He is out of the family relations, but He accepts the invitation to the marriage. The Son of man hath not where to lay his head, but never asked anybody for alms. He considers Himself free from the payment of tax to the temple; however, He pays tax, finding this necessary for His goal. The Pharisees tempt Him, they want to catch him in the violation of Moses’ law, in the disturbance against the royal authority, but He with a single word exposes all their intrigues and comes out of the temptation as the victory-bearer. People are enraptured with Him and want to proclaim Him the King, but He is higher than any terrestrial honor.
But love the Lord Jesus Christ expressed by leaving the quiet dwelling in Nazareth and stepping onto the thorny way of life, by the fact that He with incredible selflessness and patience worked for the good and salvation of people, He carried their weaknesses and their contradictions and abuse, accepted those despised by everybody publicans and sinners, blessed children, selected the disciples, loved by Him, He was close to His native Israeli people, embraced at the same time the entire world with love and finally voluntarily gave His life for the people. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us (1Jn 3:16). Love of Jesus does not arrange touching scenes, it does not invent refined expressions; however, how much inimitable tenderness is manifested in the farewell conversation of the Savior with His Disciples, or in the restoration after the Resurrection of fallen Peter!
The Lord Jesus Christ expressed love for the Heavenly Father by unconditional obedience, complete devotion, accurate performance of the will of the Father, by the internal unity with the Father and sincere prayer, which frequently lasted for the entire night. Even in those hours, in which the Father apparently leaves him (on the cross), His love remains invariably faithful, appealing to the Father.
Imitating Christ: The Grace of the Holy Spirit
Following Christ must not be copying of Christ, not the literal reproduction of all His actions; otherwise we must accomplish all the miracles performed by Him. Jesus is our Savior; our task is in using the fruits of salvation under those conditions, in which we are placed to live on the earth. On the word of the apostle, we must possess the same sensations, the same direction of the will that was in Jesus Christ, the same image or modus operandi that was in Him. Although Jesus Christ was the begotten Son of God among people, He expressed in His life and left to us the specific example of the man, which we must imitate and reproduce in ourselves.
The second inaccuracy in the study about the imitation to Christ, characteristic of the rationalists, consists of the statement, that we (as if) can be the true imitators of Jesus Christ and carry out a truly God-pleasing life without being in the internal, spiritual unity with Him and having Him only as an external model. No, the relation between the personality of Christ the Savior and the personalities of the Christians is not as external as it is between the teacher and his students. It cannot be said that the students must only be taught by the teacher, but they should also derive the example for themselves from his life. Meanwhile the Christians, being taught from the words of the Lord and imitating His example, must at the same time derive the completeness of life from His personality, live His life. This requirement is clearly expressed by the Lord Jesus Christ in the words: 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 much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing (John 15:4-5). It is evident from these words that the Lord is not only the teacher and model for us, but also the source of moral life.
The force, which opens to us this exemplary source and helping us to derive from it and to live on the doctrine and model of Jesus Christ, is the Holy Spirit, His Divine Grace. By the grace of God I am what I am, says the apostle (1Cor 15:10). Has there ever existed a true Christian, who would thank himself for his moral Christian state, but not the Lord Jesus Christ, abundantly sending to him grace through the Holy Spirit? Grace is necessary both for the beginning of the Christian life and for its continuation. The apostle says that without grace not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves (2Cor 3:5), and even we know not what we should pray for as we ought (Rom. 8:26). However, in the Holy Scripture all the Christian virtues are called the fruits of grace (love, joy, peace, long-suffering… Gal 5:22-23), whole blameless spirit and soul (1Thess 5:23).
Have not any Christians experienced that the grace of the Holy Spirit was necessary not only for the first floating of the soul to God, but also later, when emptiness and weakness will begin to overwhelm the soul again?