Christ’s Pattern, a Masterful Work
“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:” Romans 8:3
Among the years of fruitfulness in the ministry of Thomas Manton, an unknown Dutch artist was completing a painting in 1650 that would be titled, “An elderly man with a gilt helmet.” That painting hung in Amsterdam until 1898, then purchased for a German collection in Berlin. For the whole of the nineteenth century and a good part of the twentieth, the painting was attributed to the Dutch master, Rembrandt van Rijn. An art expert recently discovered that the work was not Rembrandt’s, but by the hand of a skilled, yet unknown student of his.
As word of the “elderly man” spread, the news that the painting was a fake became well known. “It is not a fake…it remains a great masterful work,” responded Jan Kelch, the German art historian that discovered this truth. The student had reflected that which the teacher put forth—to the point where the world saw the pattern of the teacher, rather than the student.
Thomas Manton, looking at the life of Christ in the greatest chapter, saw “Jesus condemning sin in the flesh” as a means of giving the Christian a pattern to follow in the Christian life. The pattern would not be redemptive, of course, but one of godliness and encouragement in living out the Christian life. Manton said, “Christ, by taking our flesh is become a pattern to us of what shall be done both in us and by us (Works of Manton, 11.425).”
Manton put forth five ways that Christ, our master, was a pattern for us and in us, His students.
1. Pattern of Grace
The first of the patterns is that of grace. Manton said of Jesus, “His own holy nature is a pledge of the work of grace, and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit… (Ibid).” When the Christian looks to the life of Christ and sees the work of the Holy Spirit and the outpouring of grace upon his life, the Christian can be certain that God will provide grace and the work of the Holy Spirit to all who call on him by faith.
Grace is a gift of the Spirit, and that same Spirit working in us was first working in Christ. Manton makes that connection by saying, “For the same holy Spirit that could sanctify the substance that was taken from the virgin, so that that holy thing that was born of her might be called the Son of God, can also sanctify and cleanse our corrupt hearts (Ibid).”
The Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 6:11, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” The Spirit gives grace for sanctification, even over our “such were some of you” sins. Christ has promised grace and patterns grace as well.
2. Pattern of Obedience
Secondly, Christ’s life is a pattern of obedience for the Christian, an example of how to live with the will of the Father in mind. Manton articulated this truth by saying that Christ’s “life was a pattern for our obedience; for ‘he gave us an example, that we should follow his steps, and walk as he walked …’ (Ibid, 11.426).”
In the context of Jesus being lost in the city of Jerusalem as a child, Luke 2:49 records Jesus’s obedience to God. When found among the doctors of the church, he said, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?” Christ’s obedience as a child—and dependence upon God the Father throughout his whole life and death, ought to stand as an encouragement to those who believe. Christ was obedient until death; his students ought to do likewise. Obedience to and dependence upon God marked Christ’s life in a special way. Manton considered this the “business of his life (Ibid).”
3. Pattern of Conquering
The Christian is also given a pattern of conquering in Christ. “In the same nature that was foiled,” Manton argued, “he would teach us also to conquer Satan (Ibid).” The human nature was foiled by Satan through the fall of Adam, our first parent. Christ, taking on that very same nature—in the likeness of sinful flesh—was victorious over Satan. Satan came as a tempter to Jesus Christ, and “He conquered him as a tempter (Ibid).”
The temptations of Satan towards Christ were conquered in a specific way—and the pattern of Jesus demonstrates that this must be accomplished with the sword of the Spirit in hand. Manton said, “He conquered him, hand to hand, in personal conflict, repelling his temptations by Scripture, as we should do (Ibid).” This pattern finds its way into a promise through the author of Hebrews as well, who says, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 2.14).” We are more than conquerors in him.
4. Pattern of Acquiring Heaven
Fourthly, Christ gave us a pattern in that the Christian may anticipate the hope of heaven. The nature of humanity—equipped for hell, due to the fall, was equipped for heaven through the Lord Jesus Christ. Manton said that Jesus’s pattern for us was demonstrated in “that he might take possession of heaven for us in our nature (Ibid).”
John 14:2-3b records Jesus saying, “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you … I go and prepare a place for you…” Jesus went to prepare—and because of that preparation, we can be assured that we—believers—will have a place with him in glory. He lifted up, not only our souls unto heaven, but our natures as well. Manton said, “Christ came to exalt [our nature]…Christ came to give us heaven; and to assure us of the reality of the gift, he did himself in our nature rise from the dead, and entered into that glory he spake of, to give us, who are strangely haunted with doubts about the other world, a viable demonstration that the glory of the world to come is no fancy (Ibid).” Truly, he has gone to prepare a place for us.
5. Pattern of Perseverance
The last pattern that Manton identifies in the life of Christ is that of perseverance. The Christian is able to persevere in the Christian life because Jesus himself persevered. Manton claimed that Jesus came, in part, “to teach us, that if we in the same nature continue the conflict, and be faithful until the death, we shall triumph also, and the God of peace shall tread Satan under our feet shortly… ‘that God might condemn sin in the flesh,’ show[ing] the great example of his wrath against it… (Works, 11.427).”
The Christian life is a life of perseverance. We are able to run the race set before us, looking to Jesus because He has already run the race. Christ is our pattern, our forerunner.
The Christian life has many ebbs and flows. Among the flowing, we find patterns of our own life and that of our brethren which are reflective of our Savior. We see patterns of grace, obedience, conquering, acquiring heaven, and perseverance.
When the world, flesh, and devil tell the Christian that his life is a fake, that Christian may promptly respond, “It is not a fake—it remains a masterful work.” It is the work of Christ in us and to us, and for his glory. He is doing a masterful work.
Nathan Eshelman is the pastor of the Orlando Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA). He studied for ministry at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Nathan co-hosts “The Jerusalem Chamber” podcast, a paragraph by paragraph exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith; writes for Gentle Reformation; and has a forthcoming book on the Westminster Confession of Faith through Crown and Covenant Publications. Nathan is married to Lydia and has five children and is an avid book collector and antique aficionado.
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