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"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (This he said, signifying what death he should die.)"-John xii. 32, 33.
IN order to make this subject plain, I will read the passage referred to-Num. xxi. 6-9. "And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that He take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived."
This is the transaction to which Christ alluded in the text. The object in both cases was to save men from the bite of the serpent, its influence being unchecked, is the death of the body: the effects of sin, unpardoned and uncleansed from the heart, are the ruin of the soul. Christ is lifted up, to the end that sinners, believing in Him, may not perish, but may have eternal life. In such a connection, to perish cannot mean annihilation, for it must be the antithesis of eternal life, and this is plainly much more than eternal existence. It must be eternal happiness -- real life in the sense of exquisite enjoyment. The counterpart of this, eternal misery, is presented under the term "perish." It is common in the Scriptures to find a state of endless misery contrasted with one of endless happiness.
We may observe two points of analogy between the brazen serpent and Christ.
1. Christ must be lifted UP as the serpent was in the wilderness. From the passage quoted above out of John xii. it is plain that this refers to His being raised up from the earth upon His cross at His crucifixion.
2. Christ must be held up as a remedy for sin, even as the brazen serpent was as a remedy for a poison. It is not uncommon in the Bible to see sin represented as a malady. For this malady, Christ had healing power. He professed to be able to forgive sin and to cleanse the soul from its moral pollution. Continually did He claim to have this power and encourage men to rely upon Him and to resort to Him for its application. In all His personal instructions He was careful to hold up Himself as having this power, and as capable of affording a remedy for sin.
In this respect the serpent of brass was a type of Christ. Whoever looked upon this serpent was healed. So Christ heals not from punishment only, for to this the analogy of healing is less pertinent -- but especially from sinning -- from the heart to sin. He heals the soul and restores it to health. So it was said by the announcing angel, "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. His power avails to cleanse and purify the soul.
Both Christ and the serpent were held up each as a remedy. and let it be specially noted -- as a full and adequate remedy, The ancient Hebrews, bitten by fiery serpents, were not to mix up nostrums of their own devising to help out the cure: it was all- sufficient for them to look up to the remedy of God's own providing. God would have them understand that the healing was altogether His own work. The serpent on a pole was the only external object connected with their cure; to this they were to look, and in this most simple way -- only by an expecting look, indicative of simple faith, they received their cure.
Christ is to be lifted up as a present remedy. So was the serpent. The cure wrought then was present, immediate. It involved no delay.
This serpent was God's appointed remedy. So is Christ, a remedy appointed of God, sent down from heaven for this express purpose. It was indeed very wonderful that God should appoint a brazen serpent for such a purpose such a remedy for such a malady; and not less wonderful is it that Christ should be lifted up in agony and blood, as a remedy for both the punishment and the heart-power of sin.
The brazen serpent was a divinely-certified remedy; not a nostrum gotten up as thousands are, under high-sounding names and flaming testimonials; but a remedy prepared and brought forth by God Himself, under His own certificate of its ample healing virtues.
So was Christ. The Father testifies to the perfect adequacy of Jesus Christ as a remedy for sin.
He must not only be held up from the pulpit, but this exhibition of His person and work must be endorsed, and not contradicted by the experience of those who behold Him.
Suppose that in Moses' time many who looked were seen to be still dying; who could have believed the unqualified declaration of Moses, that "every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live?" So here in the Gospel and its subjects. Doubtless the Hebrews had before their eyes many living witnesses who had been bitten and yet bore the scars of those wounds; but who, by looking, had been healed. Every such case would go to confirm the faith of the people in God's word and in His own power to save. So Christ must be represented in His fullness, and this representation should be powerfully endorsed by the experience of His friends. Christ represents Himself as one ready and willing to save This, therefore, is the thing to be shown. This must be sustained by the testimony of His living witnesses, as the first point of analogy is the lifting up of the object to be looked upon, the second is this very looking itself.
Men looked upon the serpent, expecting divine power to heal them. Even those ancient men, in that comparatively dark age, understood that the serpent was only a type, not the very cause in itself of salvation.
So is there something very remarkable in the relation of faith to healing. Take, for illustration, the case of the woman who had an issue of blood. She had heard something about Jesus, and somehow had caught the idea that if she could but touch the hem of His garment, she should be made whole. See her pressing her way along through the crowd, faint with weakness, pale, and trembling; if you had seen her you would perhaps have cried out, What would this poor dying invalid do?
She knew what she was trying to do. At last unnoticed of all, she reached the spot where the Holy One stood and put forth her feeble hand and touched His garment. Suddenly He turns Himself and asks, Who was it that touched me? Somebody touched me: who was it? The disciples, astonished at such a question, put under such circumstances, reply -- The multitude throng Thee on every side, and scores are touching Thee every hour; why then ask -- Who touched me?
The fact was, somebody had touched Him with faith to be healed thereby, and He knew that the healing virtue had gone forth from Himself to some believing heart. How beautiful an illustration this of simple faith! And how wonderful the connection between the faith and the healing!
Just so the Hebrews received that wonderful healing power by simply looking toward the brazen serpent. No doubt this was a great mystery to them, yet it was none the less a fact. Let them look; the looking brings the cure, although not one of them can tell how the healing virtue comes. So we are really to look to Christ, and in looking, to receive the healing power. It matters not how little we understand the mode in which the looking operates to give us the remedy for sin.
This looking to Jesus implies that we look away from ourselves. There is to be no mixing up of quack medicines along with the great remedy. Such a course is always sure to fail. Thousands fail in just this way, forever trying to be healed partly by their own stupid, self-willed works, as well as partly by Jesus Christ. There must be no looking to man or to any of man's doings or man's help. All dependence must be on Christ alone. As this is true in reference to pardon, so is it also in reference to sanctification. This is done by faith in Christ. It is only through and by faith that you get that divine influence which sanctifies the soul -- the Spirit of God; and this in some of its forms of action was the power that healed the Hebrews in the wilderness.
Looking to Christ implies looking away from ourselves in the sense of not relying at all on our own works for the cure desired, not even on works of faith. The looking is toward Christ alone as our all-prevalent, all-sufficient and present remedy.
There is a constant tendency in Christians to depend on their own doings, and not on simple faith in Christ. The woman of the blood-issue seems to have toiled many years to find relief before she came to Christ; had no doubt tried everybody's prescriptions, and taxed her own ingenuity bee sides to its utmost capacity, but all was of no avail. At last she heard of Jesus. He was said to do many wonderful works. She said within herself -- This must be the promised Messiah -- who was to "bear our sicknesses" and heal all the maladies of men. O let me rush to Him, for if I may but touch the hem of His garment, I shall be whole. She did not stop to philosophize upon the mode of the cure; she leaned on no man's philosophy, and had none of her own; she simply said -- I have heard of One who is mighty to save, and I flee to Him.
So of being healed of our sins. Despairing of all help in ourselves or in any other name than Christ's, and assured there is virtue in Him to work out the cure, we expect it of Him and come to Him to obtain it.
Several times within the last few years, when persons have come to me with the question, Can I anyhow be saved from my sins -- actually saved, so as not to fall again into the same sins, and under the same temptations? I have said -- Have you ever tried looking to Jesus? O yes.
But have you expected that you should be actually saved from sin by looking to Jesus, and be filled with faith, love, and holiness? No; I did not expect that.
Now, suppose a man had looked at the brazen serpent for the purpose of speculation. He has no faith in what God says about being cured by looking, but he is inclined to try it. He will look a little and watch his feelings to see how it affects him. He does not believe God's word, yet since he does not absolutely know but it may be true, he will condescend to try it. This is no looking at all in the sense of our text. It would not have cured the bitten Israelite; it can. not heal the poor sinner. There is no faith in it.
Sinners must look to Christ with both desire and design to be saved. Salvation is the object for which they look.
Suppose one had looked towards the brazen serpent, but with no willingness or purpose to be cured. This could do him no good. Nor can it do sinners any good to think of Christ otherwise than as a Savior, and a Savior for their own sins.
Sinners must look to Christ as a remedy for all sin. To wish to make some exception, sparing some sins, but consenting to abandon others, indicates rank rebellion of heart, and can never impose on the All-seeing One. There cannot be honesty in the heart which proposes to itself to seek deliverance from sin only in part.
Sinners may look to Christ at once -- without the least delay. They need not wait till they are almost dead under their malady. For the bitten Israelite, it was of no use to wait and defer his looking to the serpent till he found himself in the jaws of death. He might have said -- I am wounded plainly enough, but I do not see as it swells much yet; I do not feel the poison spreading through my system; I cannot look yet, for my case is not yet desperate enough; I could not hope to excite the pity of the Lord in my present condition, and therefore I must wait. I say, there was no need of such delay then and no use of it. Nor is there any more need or use for it in the sinner's case now.