OUR TEXT, perhaps more than any other one in the Bible, teaches us how to develop Christlikeness. This will become more apparent when the method taught in this passage is properly understood.
I. GENERAL EXPLANATIONS
We will first make some general explanations of the text before giving specific applications of this method of developing good as taught in the text.
A. The Text
Let us first give an interpretation of the text with bracketed comments:
“We all [consecrated Christians], with open [unveiled] face [the eyes of our understanding opened when the veil of unbelief and fleshly-mindedness is taken away from our hearts] beholding [intently contemplating with our mental eyes] as in a glass [the plan of God is here considered as a mirror] the glory of the Lord [the perfect blending of Wisdom, Justice, Love and Power in God’s character, in their domination and crystallization with respect to every other feature of character, constitutes the glory of God], are changed [by such continued contemplation] into the same image [into the same character likeness as we see pictured forth in the mirror] from glory to glory [from the glory of a less near likeness to the glory of a more near likeness, until the likeness is complete], even as by the Spirit of the Lord [the power of God which is in the Word, and through which the change in our characters is wrought, as we imitate God and Christ].”
B. The Method
The principle underlying the text is the following: He who holds devoutly in his heart the thoughts underlying the Divine character as these are displayed in the plan of God is by imitation gradually changed through these thoughts in character until he becomes like God and Christ in Wisdom, Justice, Love and Power, in each singly and in all combinedly, until they are blended, and in this blending dominate his other characteristics of heart and mind in this crystallization of character. He who in the varying scenes and incidents of life succeeds in viewing them as God does, which he is enabled to do by contemplating the Divine attributes as they would act therein, will be changed in heart and mind by imitation until his character is a copy of that of God and Christ. This method will be explained and applied in this article as far as it concerns the production of Wisdom, Justice, Love and Power, that is, faith, hope, piety, brotherly love, self-control, patience and disinterested, unselfish love.
While the imitative method will help us develop every element of Christlikeness, this article will limit its application to the development of Wisdom, Justice, Love and Power only. But from the applications here made, the reader will be enabled to apply the method to the development of every other feature of Christlikeness. The method is simple; we illustrated it when as children at school we copied repeatedly a fine specimen of penmanship printed in our handwriting books for imitation. The characters of God and Christ are fine specimens of character that, attentively kept before our eyes, can be copied by us until we are exact images of Them. As with all other special methods for developing Christlikeness, we will obtain the best results in applying this one by using it constantly in connection with the seven general methods for developing good.
C. The Divine Attributes
The four leading Divine attributes are Wisdom, Justice, Love and Power. By Wisdom the Scriptures mean two things: (1) the Divine Truth (1 Corinthians 1: 23, 24; 2: 7, 8); and (2) the tactful application of the Divine Truth which we know, understand, and trust to good ends for the glory of God. The second definition is derived from a comparison of (Isaiah 11: 2) and (James 3: 17), keeping also in mind the three ingredients of Wisdom that St. Peter gives us in his addition problem (2 Peter 1: 5-7), in which he says: “Add to your faith virtue [fortitude or hope, for the heart of fortitude is hope]; and to virtue knowledge.” These three things, faith, hope and knowledge, mingled and harmonized, make up Wisdom.
The elements that make up Power St. Peter gives in the following words: “ Add to knowledge temperance [self-control]; and to temperance [self-control] patience.” We therefore understand Power to mean strength of character, through which, in self-control, one regulates his qualities of heart and mind apart from obstacles and through which, in patience, he regulates his qualities of heart and mind amid obstacles.
This same passage gives us the ingredients of Justice. “And to patience godliness [duty love to God and Christ]; and to godliness brotherly kindness [duty love to the neighbor].” St. Peter also mentions love in the last word – “and to brotherly kindness charity [disinterested, unselfish love].” Justice, that is, the good will that we by right owe to others, and Love, disinterested good will, that is, the good will that arises from a delight in good principles. Justice therefore is duty love and charity (the highest form of love) is disinterested, unselfish love. Paul speaks of Power in (Ephesians 3: 13; 6: 10), showing that it is strength of character. Of Justice Jesus speaks in (Matthew 22: 37-39); and of Love, as distinct from Justice, Jesus speaks in (John 15: 9-13; 3: 16).
II. SPECIFIC APPLICATIONS
We are expected to develop Christlikeness in Wisdom, Justice, Love and Power toward God, Jesus, the brethren, the world of mankind and our enemies – to each in harmony with his place according to God’s Word.
A. Christlikeness in Wisdom, Justice, Love and Power Toward God
How may we develop Christlikeness in these respects toward God? Our text answers: By beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord we learn to imitate Him and thus develop it toward Him. By contemplating with the eyes of our understanding the Divine character in its relationship to us, we learn by imitation to exercise the same qualities toward Him. As we look at God’s plan in its manifestation of the Father’s view of us, a number of things are brought to our attention. We notice that God looks upon us always from the standpoint of Wisdom, and deals with us accordingly. His Wisdom forbids His dealing with all mankind at the present time. It teaches that, for His glory and the good of all concerned, it is wisest to deal with those only of the human race who under present conditions are able to exercise faith in Him. Therefore God deals now with these only. He finds them in sin and in His Wisdom He devised a plan adapted to the needs of the whole class; and in His application of this plan to the individuals He varies His dealings in harmony with the needs and capabilities of each. He therefore in His Wisdom plans a separate method of operation for each individual, in harmony with His general plan of salvation. He combines in this plan, from His knowledge of each individual’s disposition, environment, education and needs, the elements of Wisdom, that is, its purity, peaceableness, gentleness, ease of entreatment, fulness of mercy and good fruits, the lack of partiality and hypocrisy (James 3: 17). He brings them thereby to justification by varying steps through sorrow and hatred for sin, love of righteousness, distrust of their own ability to save themselves and trust in Christ’s willingness and ability to save them by faith.
His Justice also acts in bringing them to justification, not that He owes them salvation, but that He obligated Himself to His Son to bring to justification all who would respond under the terms of Christ’s ransom merit; therefore His Justice manifests itself in keeping His promise to His Son in drawing sinners to Christ. His Love likewise acts, because appreciating good principles and desiring to see these principles prevail in the characters of others, the Father seeks those who are capable of exercising faith in Him under present conditions in order to work in them characters that will exemplify these principles. Thus He gives them disinterested, unselfish love for what they are and may become for the principles that He seeks to develop in them. The Power of God likewise acts; for He exercises such self-control over His qualities of heart and mind as exhibits His Wisdom, Justice and Love toward the responsive sinners and toward Christ as the Reconciler of sinners in order to bring them to justification; and if obstacles are met, His patience cheerfully perseveres in spite of the obstacles in controlling His qualities of heart and mind to exercise Wisdom, Justice and Love as this is in harmony with His plan.
(to be continued)