The Lamb Of God
( Originally Published 1895 )
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. "—John i. 29.
THIS text is one of those sublime and splendid pictures so full of condensed truth, so rich in the very gold of the Word of God, that one is discouraged in the outset at trying to preach about it. For it is impossible for the most eloquent man who ever lived to add anything to the beauty or strength of this magnificent utterance of John.-I can only hope to cause the picture which it brings before your mind to revolve in your thought; to cause you to look at it from different standpoints, and try like John to hide myself and any thought of my own while you " behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."
Perhaps we may serve this purpose the better if we begin at the last part of the sentence and pursue it steadily to the opening. " The sin of the world." What a significant statement that is, and yet none could be more true. That the world "lieth in wickedness" is the universal testimony of history, which is constantly emphasized by our personal observation. The awful fact of sin, the disaster which it works in human life, the moral disease and degradation which it brings about in the very nature of the soul itself, is at once one of the saddest and most important themes for our consideration. Many try to escape the consideration of it, and shrink from the subject when it is pressed home upon their attention. And yet nothing is so unwise, no folly is so great or so dangerous, as to permit ourselves to be blinded for a moment to the doom that must come upon the sinful heart.
Dr. Charles S. Robinson tells the story of a traveler who, crossing the frontier of a certain country, had to pass the custom-house. The officer said to him, "Have you any contraband goods?" He replied, "I do not think I have." " That may all be true," said the officer, " but we cannot permit you to pass without examination. Permit us to search." " If you please," said the traveler, when the examination was over, " will you permit me to tell you what thoughts this examination has awakened in my mind? We are all travelers town eternal kingdom into which we cannot take any contraband goods. By these for-bidden things I mean deceitfulness, anger, lying, covetousness, and similar offenses which are hateful in the sight of God. For all these every man who passes the bounds of the grave is searched far more strictly than you have searched me. God is the great Searcher of hearts. From him nothing is hid, and in that kingdom, as in this, every for-bidden article subjects a man to punishment." God help us to search our hearts to-night, in the light of the Holy Spirit, for wicked thoughts, and unholy desires, and sinful appetites, and unrepented sins, that cannot pass the gate of the kingdom of heaven.
Another serious mistake that we sometimes make is excusing ourselves, and thinking some how we will be excused finally, because our peculiar sins are not so out breaking and shameful as some of our neighbors'. The very essence of sin is the disobedience to God, the rebellion against God's law, the refusing to give him our love and our devotion as children. We must not think that because our sins are popularly described as little sins, that there is therefore no danger that they may poison our nature to the very death. When the great traveler, Henry M. Stanley, was pressing his way through the forests of Darkest Africa, the most formidable foes that he encountered, those that caused more loss of life to his caravan and came the nearest to entirely defeating his expedition, were the little Wambutti dwarfs. So annoying were they that very slow progress could be made through their dwelling-places. These little men had only little bows and little arrows that looked like children's playthings, but upon these tiny arrows there was a small drop of poison which would kill an elephant or a man as quickly or as surely as a Winchester rifle. Their defense was by means of poison and traps. They would steal through the darkness of the forest and, waiting in ambush, let fly their deadly arrows before they could be discovered. They dug ditches and carefully covered them over with leaves. They fixed spikes in the ground and tipped them with the most deadly poison and then covered them. Into these ditches and on these spikes man and beast would fall or step to their death.
One of the strangest things about it was, that their poison was made of honey. Let us learn the lesson of these little dwarfs. The devil is said to come sometimes as "an angel of light," and how many sins there are that he administers to his victims in honey ! There are many people in Brooklyn tonight who are not being slain by out-breaking and shameful public sins, but are being pierced to death by poisoned arrows. Beware of the honeyed fascination of sin. Remember that all sin is under the ban of God, and if a thing is wrong in the sight of God, no amount of pleasure in the doing of it can make it right, or save it from the awful punishment which belongs to sin.
Now it is to the sinner that this wonderful declaration of John comes: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." Have you been conscious as I have been speaking to-night that you are a sinner? Then I bring for your consideration this great remedy for sin —" the Lamb of God."
The figure is one of exceeding interest. John may have had one of two or three things in his mind. He may have been thinking of the old Jew, under the Old Testament dispensation, who brought his lamb to the altar, placed his hands upon its head, and after he had offered a prayer presented it to be slain as a sacrifice in his behalf. By presenting his lamb he confessed his sins and acknowledged the justice of the penalty. Possibly John was thinking about 'that, and that Jesus Christ was coming as the Lamb of God to be a sacrifice once for all, for all men. Or it is possible he may have had in his thought that awful night in Egypt, when the warning had gone out among the Israelites everywhere, that in the midnight the death-angel would pass throughout the land, and slay the first-born of every household, save where the blood of the sacrificial lamb had been sprinkled on the lintels of the door. There the angel would pass by and the loved one would be spared. So John said to his disciples and the company which stood about him : "Here is the Lamb of God, provided by his love and his mercy to take away the sin of the whole world, wherever it shall be sprinkled upon the sinful heart." Thank God, this atonement is not limited or exclusive. t is for every one that will accept it. Christ takes away the sin of the whole world in the same sense in which he takes away the sin of a single one. He gave himself as a "ransom for all." He did not do as governors do sometimes, on Thanksgiving or Christmas day, grant a par-don to one or two prisoners specially selected in honor of the occasion, but he opened the prison doors to all that are bound, and made it possible for us to preach deliverance to the whole world of captive sinners. Only one condition is made, and that is the acceptance. Free as the water at the hillside spring or at the river's brink, to whosoever will stoop down and drink.
How triumphantly the inspired writer exclaims, " He is the propitiation for our sins : and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." How that sweeps away every thought of limitation ! As one has well said, to propitiate is to satisfy. Sin had so offended against the just and holy law of God that he could not extend grace or forgiveness to any. But Christ, by the gift of himself, made it possible for God to be just and yet the justifier of him who accepts the free gift of the Lord Jesus Christ. As Dr. Lowrey says, he did not pass over the earth, selecting one here and there as a favorite, but, stepping forward, he threw his bleeding arms around the whole world, and pressed it near his loving heart. He looked up to heaven with the world folded in his embrace, and claimed that his satisfaction was commensurate with the offense. The Father assented and smiled. Men are universally blessed with the possibility of forgiveness for their sins. May we, in the bosom of Christendom, point to the " Lamb of God" and say, " He is the propitiation for our sins !" The millions of our brothers and sisters in India to whom Bishop Thoburn and Dr. Parker and missionaries from all the world are carrying the gospel; the millions in Africa where grand old Bishop Taylor is telling the story of the cross; and the still more numerous millions of China, just beginning to see the light in the midst of their great darkness, have equal authority to rise up and respond, "And not for yours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
But lest some should fear that, though God re-members the great mass and multitude of men,he has overlooked or forgotten them in their loneliness and despair, it is clearly stated that he is the "Lamb of God" for every single individual. "But we see Jesus," says the apostle, " who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man." What a wonderful declaration that is! There is no chance to mistake its meaning. It is the divine assurance that Christ died for me, that he died for you and for every single individual in all the race. " As he hung upon the cross, the dead, the living, the multitudes yet to come were considered and loved and blessed. His omniscient eye swept over the graves of past generations, compassed the walks of living millions, and traveled down the stream of time to our day and to the end of the world. Then, with individuality of purpose, he raised the cup to his lips and `tasted death' for all past, present, and future being of human kind." And when he cried on the cross, "It is finished," it meant that nothing stood in the way of any poor sinner in all the world finding forgiveness and hope and heaven, save his own will.
Brother, sister, do not lose sight of the tremendous statement, Jesus became the " Lamb of God" for you. Think it over; meditate upon it; how can you sit hard-hearted and indifferent and fail to give him your love and gratitude, when you remember that it is for you that he was poor, that he was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief "; that it was for you he was spit upon and insulted and crowned with thorns, and finally crucified upon the cross. It was for you ! oh, how can you ever be indifferent again? A gentleman who was traveling in Norway tells how he went to see the church of a certain town. Looking up at its tower he was surprised to see the carved figure of a lamb near the top. He inquired why it was placed in that position, and he was told that when the church was being built a workman fell from the high scaffold. His fellows saw him fall, and, horror-stricken, rushed down expecting to find him dashed to pieces, but to their surprise and joy he was almost unhurt. This was how he escaped : A flock of sheep was passing by the church at the moment of his fall, and he fell amongst them as they were crowded together, and right on the top of a lamb. The lamb, was crushed to death, but the man was saved. And so they carved the Lamb on the tower at the exact height from which he fell to commemorate his escape. O brother, Christ was crushed to death under your load of sin. Shall you not give him highest honor? Can you resist the impulsive love and gratitude of your heart that impels you this night to crown him Lord over all?
Anything less than your love is an insult to him. It is not like a debt for so much money which you can pay and be done with it. As Dr. Lyman Abbott says, there are some debts that never can be paid. We can only give back love for love. For instance, how shall a boy ever repay his mother?—the mother who, when she brought him into life, went down to the very gates of death herself, not knowing whether she would return or not; the mother who, through his babyhood, gave up herself to him that she might pour her life out into his; the mother who bore with his errors and imperfections; the mother who loved him back from his wanderings and his sins. How can he ever repay her for such love and sacrifice as that? He knows he cannot pay it : he can only go on loving her. Or how can the husband repay his wife?—who left her home, her friends, her very name, and took his name for her own, became his companion, bearing his cares more than he bears them, loving him not only for richer or poorer—that is easy—but for better or worse—that is often hard. How shall the husband pay the wife that has been his counselor and adviser, and filled him with her love and her wisdom? Ah, every true husband knows he cannot pay her, he can only go on loving her. How can you pay the doctor that came into your house when your little child lay in the cradle, and your poor throbbing heart feared the cradle would become a coffin? But he watched it, and not only brought to you his wisdom, but his sleepless vigilance and care and love and skill and courage, until your child laughed again in your arms. You may pay him his fee, but your heart knows there is a debt that only love can make return for. And that does not even make return. You can only go on loving. How much more you must feel this when you look upon the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and remember that he took upon himself your sins; that by his stripes you may be healed; that he bought your redemption with his own blood. Oh, how you insult him when you offer him anything less than your love, than your arms twined about his neck, than your affectionate and grateful testimony every day and every hour of your life! True, you can never pay him. But, thank God, we can go on loving him now and forever, until after a while, when we shall see him, we shall be like him.
We have only one word more left in the text, and only a single moment can we give it, and yet it is very important. "Behold," says John. Christ may be even at the very door of your heart, but if you will not behold him you cannot be saved. These great truths which I have tried to preach to you to-night you have known all your life, and yet for some of you it would have been just as well if you had not known them, because there has never come a time when you have really beheld the Lord, and recognized in him your Savior. To you personally I would come, as a John the Baptist to your soul, and cry out the message of God's truth, " Behold the Lamb of God, who is willing here and now to take away your sins, and leave you clean and spotless."
Do not waft longer. Do not hesitate because you feel that your conviction of sin and the drawing of the Holy Spirit is not strong enough. When you come to Jesus and get close to him, you will see your heart in a clear light, and you will know as you have never known before what a terrible thing sin is. Do not wait for more feeling. If you were to fall overboard from the South Ferry, you wouldn't wait to feel colder before you seized hold of the rope that was thrown out to you. When Jesus told poor old blind Bartimaeus to come to him, he didn't stop to ask questions or to delay. When the leper besought Christ to heal him and Jesus said, " Go, shew thyself to the priest," the poor fellow did not stop to consider whether he felt any better or not, but started at once, and the record says, "as he went he was healed." The path of obedience is the path of salvation. On another occasion Christ was walking along the lake shore, and finding James and John looking after their fishing tackle he said, " Follow me," and without saying, " Master, we must consider awhile, we must not do anything hastily," they immediately arose and followed him—followed him out of their ignorance and their sin and uselessness and oblivion into goodness and usefulness and honor and immortal glory. Their destiny hung on a moment of time. They seized hold upon the opportunity and were saved. So I plead with you that here and now, without hesitation or delay, you shall with all your heart " behold," unto salvation, "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world."