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1. When it is said in John xii., “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto Me,” the language is indeed universal in form, but cannot be construed as strictly universal without being brought into conflict with Bible truth and known facts. It is indeed only a common mode of speaking to denote a great multitude. I will draw great numbers—a vast “multitude that no man can number.” There is nothing here in the context or in the subject to require the strictly universal interpretation.
2. This expedient of the brazen serpent was no doubt designed to try the faith of the Israelites. God often put their faith to the test, and often adapted His providences to educate their faith—to draw it out and develop it. Many things did He do to prove them. So now. They had sinned. Fiery serpents came among them and many were poisoned and dying on every hand. God said, Make a brazen serpent and set it upon a pole, and raise it high before the eyes of all the people. Now let the sufferers look on this serpent and they shall live. This put their faith to the test.
3. It is conceivable that many perished through mere unbelief, although the provisions for their salvation were most abundant. We, look at a serpent of brass—they might say scornfully—as if there were not humbugs enough among the rabble, but Moses must give us yet another! Perhaps some set themselves to philosophizing on the matter. We, they say, will much sooner trust our tried physicians than these “old wives’ fables.” What philosophical connection can any man see between looking upon a piece of brass and being healed of a serpent’s bite?
So, many now blow at the gospel. They wonder how any healing power can come of Gospel faith. True, they hear some say they are healed, and that they know the healing power has gone to their very soul, and they cry, “I looked to Jesus and I was healed and made whole from that very hour.” But they count all this as mere fanatical delusion. They can see none of their philosophy in it.
But is this fanaticism? Is it any more strange than that a man bitten of poisonous serpents should be healed by looking at God’s command on a brazen serpent?
4. Many are stumbled by the simplicity of the Gospel. They want something more intelligible! They want to see through it. They will not trust what they cannot explain. It is on this ground that many stumble at the doctrine of sanctification by faith in Christ. It is so simple their philosophy cannot see through it.
Yet the analogy afforded in our text is complete. Men are to look to Jesus that they may not perish, but may have eternal life. And who does not know that eternal life involves entire sanctification?
5. The natural man always seeks for some way of salvation that shall be altogether creditable to himself He wants to work out some form of self-righteousness and does not know about trusting in Christ alone. It does not seem to him natural or philosophical.
6. There is a wonderful and most alarming state of things in many churches abroad: almost no Christ in their experience. It is most manifest that He holds an exceedingly small space in their hearts. So far from knowing what salvation is as a thing to be attained by simply believing in Christ, they can only give you an experience of this sort. How did you become a Christian? I just made up my mind to serve the Lord. Is that all? That’s all. Do you know what it is to receive eternal life by simply looking to Jesus? Don’t know as I understand that. Then you are not a Christian. Christianity, from beginning to end, is received from Christ by simple faith. Thus, and only thus, does the pardon of sin come to the soul, and thus only can come that peace of God, passing all understanding, which lives in the soul with faith and love. Thus sanctification comes through faith in Christ.
What, then, shall we think of that religion which leaves Christ out of view?
Many are looking for some wonderful sign or token, not understanding that it is by faith they are to be brought completely into sympathy with Christ and into participation with His own life. By faith Christ unites them to Himself. Faith working by love, draws them into living union with His own moral being. All this is done by the mind’s simply looking to Christ in faith.
When the serpent was up, no doubt many perished because they would not accept and act upon so simple a plan of remedy. Many perished because they did not and would not realize their danger. If they saw men cured, they would say—We don’t believe it was done by the brazen serpent on the pole. Those men were not much poisoned—would not have died anyhow. They assume that those who ascribe their cure to the power of God are mistaken.
Many perished also from delay. They waited to see whether they were in danger of dying. And still they waited—till they were so bedizened and crazed, they could only lie down and die.
So now in regard to the Gospel. Some are occupied with other matters more important just now, and of course they must delay. Many are influenced by others’ opinions. They hear many stories. Such a man looked and yet lost his life. Another man did not look and yet was saved. So men have different opinions about their professedly Christian neighbors, and this stumbles many. They hear that some set out strong for religion, but seem to fail. They looked as they thought, but all in vain. Perhaps it was so; for they might have looked without real faith. Some will philosophize till they make themselves believe it is all a delusion to look. They think they see many pretend to look and appear to look, who yet find no healing. Who can believe where there are so many stumbling-blocks?
These discouraging appearances drove some into despair in the wilderness, we may suppose; and certainly we see that the same causes produce these effects here in the case of sinners. Some think they have committed the unpardonable sin. They class themselves among those who “having been once enlightened,” “there remains for them no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain looking for of vengeance and fiery indignation.” Some are sure it is too late for them now. Their heart is hard as the nether mill-stone. All is dark and desolate as the grave. See him; his very look is that of a lost soul! Ah, some of you are perhaps reasoning and disbelieving in this very way!
Many neglected because they thought they were getting better. They saw some change of symptoms, as they supposed. So with sinners; they feel better for going to meeting, and indeed there is so much improvement, they take it they are undoubtedly doing well.
Many of the ancient Hebrews may have refused to look because they had no good hope; because, indeed, they were full of doubts. If you had been there you would have found a great variety of conflicting views, often even between brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, parents and children. Some ridicule; some are mad; some wont believe anyhow. And must I say it—some sinners who ought to be seeking Christ are deterred by reasons fully as frivolous and foolish as these.
It is easy for us all to see the analogy between the manner of looking and the reasons for not looking at the brazen serpent and to Christ the Saviour. I need not push the analogy into its minute particulars any further. But the question for you all now is: Do you really believe that as “Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so is the Son of man lifted up, that whosever believeth in him shall not perish, but shall have eternal life.” Do you understand the simple remedy of faith? Perhaps you ask—What were they to believe? This, that if they really looked at the brazen serpent on the pole, they should certainly experience the needed healing. It was God’s certified remedy, and they were so to regard it. And what are you now to believe? That Christ is the great antitype of that serpent lifted up in the wilderness, and that you are to receive from Him by simple faith all the blessings of a full and free salvation. By simple faith, I say, and do you understand this? Do I hear you say to these things—What, may I, a sinner, just fix my eye in simple faith on Jesus? Who—who may do this? Is it I? How can it be that I should have this privilege?
I see here today the faces of some whom I saw last fall in the meetings for inquiry. What have you been doing? Have you been trying to work yourselves into some certain state of mind? Are you wishing intensely that you could only feel so and so—according to some ideal you have in your mind? Do you understand that you are really to look by faith, and let this look of faith be to you as the touch of the poor woman with an issue of blood was to her dying body, believing that if you look in simple trust He surely will receive you, and give you His divine love and peace and life and light, and really make them pulsate through your whole moral being? Do you believe it? Nay, don’t you see that you do not believe it? Oh, but you say, “It is a great mystery!” I am not going to explain it, nor shall I presume that I can do so, any more than I can explain how that woman was healed by touching the hem of the Saviour’s garment. The touch in this case and the looking in that, are only the means, the media, by which the power is to be received. The manner in which God operates is a thing of small consequence to us; let us be satisfied that we know what we must do to secure the operations of His divine Spirit in all things that pertain to life and godliness.
You have doubtless had confused notions of the way of salvation, perhaps contriving and speculating, and working upon your own feelings. Now you pray, and having prayed, you say, Now let me watch and see if this prayer has given me salvation! This course is much as if the Hebrew people when bitten by serpents and commanded to look to the serpent of brass, had gone about to apply here a plaster, there a blister, and then a probe, all the time losing sight of just that one thing which God told them would infallibly cure. Oh! why should men forget, and why not understand that all good needed by us comes from God to simple faith? When we see any want, there is Christ, to be received by faith alone; and His promises leave no want unprovided for.
Now, if this is the way of salvation, how wonderful that sinners should look every other way but toward Christ, and should put forth all other sorts of effort except the effort to look at once in simple faith to their Saviour! How often do we see them discouraged and confounded, toiling so hard and so utterly in vain. No wonder they should be so greatly misled. Go round among the churches and ask. Did you ever expect to be saved from sin in this world? No; but you expect to be saved at death. Inasmuch as He has been quite unsuccessful in His efforts to sanctify your soul during your life, you think He will send death on in season to help the work through!
Can you believe this?
While Christians disown the glorious doctrine of sanctification by faith in Christ, present, and according to each man’s faith so done to him. it cannot be expected that they will teach sinners with intelligible clearness how to look to Christ in simple faith for pardon. Knowing so little of the power of faith in their own experience, how can they teach others effectively, or even truthfully? Thus blind leading blind, it is no wonder that both are found together where the Bible proverb represents both the leaders and the led as terminating their mutual relations,
There seems to be no remedy for such a finality except for professing Christians to become the light of the world; and for this end, to learn the meaning and know the experience of simple faith. Faith once learned, they will experience its transforming power, and be able to teach others the way of life.6
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