Sermon 1500. Number 1500, Or Lifting Up the Bronze Serpent
DELIVERED ON LORD'S-DAY MORNING, OCTOBER 19, 1879,
BY C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"And Moses made a serpent of brass, and putit upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, whenhe beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." Numbers 21:9.
THIS discourse, when it shall be printed, will make 1,500 of my sermons which have been published regularly, week after week.This is certainly a remarkable fact. I do not know of any instance in modern times in which 1,500 sermons have thus followedeach other from the press from one person and have continued to command a large circle of readers. I desire to utter mosthearty thanksgivings to God for Divine help in thinking out and uttering these sermons, sermons which have not merely beenprinted, but have been read with eagerness and have also been translated into foreign tongues. These sermons are publiclybeing read on this very Sabbath in hundreds of places where a minister cannot be found. These sermons God has blessed to theconversion of multitudes of souls.
I may and I must joy and rejoice in this great blessing which I most heartily ascribe to the undeserved favor of the Lord!I thought the best way in which I could express my thankfulness would be to preach Jesus Christ, again, and set Him forthin a sermon in which the simple Gospel should be made as clear as a child's alphabet. I hope that in closing the list of 1,500discourses, the Lord will give me words which will be blessed more than any which have preceded them, to the conversion ofthose who hear it or read it. May those who sit in darkness because they do not understand the freeness of salvation and theeasy method by which it may be obtained be brought into the light by discovering the way of peace through believing in ChristJesus! Forgive this prelude. My thankfulness would not permit me to withhold it.
Concerning our text and the serpent of brass. If you turn to John's Gospel you will notice that its commencement containsa sort of orderly list of types taken from Holy Scripture. It begins with the creation. God said, "Let there be light" andJohn begins by declaring that Jesus, the eternal Word, is "the true light, which lights every man that comes into the world."Before he closes his first chapter, John has introduced a type supplied by Abel, for when the Baptist saw Jesus coming tohim, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world." Nor is the first chapter finished before weare reminded of Jacob's ladder, for we find our Lord declaring to Nathanael, "Hereafter you shall see Heaven open and theangels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."
By the time we have reached the third chapter we have come as far as Israel in the wilderness and we read the joyful words,"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Himshould not perish, but have everlasting life." We are going to speak of this act of Moses this morning, that we may, all ofus, behold the bronze serpent and find the promise true, "everyone that is bitten, when he looks upon the bronze serpent,shall live."
It may be that you who have looked before will derive fresh benefit from looking again, while some who have never turned theireyes in that direction may gaze upon the lifted up Savior and, this morning, be saved from the burning venom of the serpent,that deadly poison of sin which now lurks in their nature and breeds death to their souls. May the Holy Spirit make the wordeffectual to that gracious end!
I. I shall invite you to consider the subject, first, by noticing THE PERSON IN MORTAL PERIL for whom the bronze serpent wasmade and lifted up. Our text says, "It came to pass that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass,he lived." Let us notice that the fiery serpents, first of all, came among the people because they had despised God's wayand God's bread. "The soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way." It was God's way-He had chosen it for themand He had chosen it in wisdom and mercy-but they murmured at it.
As an old Divine says, "It was lonesome and loathsome," but, still, it was God's way and, therefore, it ought not to havebeen loathsome-His pillar of fire and cloud went before them and His servants, Moses and Aaron, led them like a flock-andthey ought to have followed cheerfully. Every step of their previous journey had been rightly ordered and they ought to havebeen quite sure that this compassing of the land of Edom was rightly ordered, too. But no, they quarreled with God's way andwanted to have their own way. This is one of the great standing follies of men-they cannot be content to wait on the Lordand keep His way-they prefer a will and way of their own.
The people, also, quarreled with God's food. He gave them the best of the best, for "men did eat angels' food," but they calledthe manna by an opprobrious title, which in the Hebrew has a sound of ridicule about it and, even in our translation, conveysthe idea of contempt. They said, "Our soul loathes this light bread," as if they thought it unsubstantial and only fit topuff them up because it was easy of digestion and did not breed in them that heat of blood and tendency to disease which aheavier diet would have brought with it. Being discontented with their God, they quarreled with the bread which He set upontheir table, though it surpassed any that mortal man has ever eaten before or since.
This is another of man's follies-his heart refuses to feed upon God's Word or believe God's Truth. He craves for the flesh-meatof carnal reason, the leeks and the garlic of superstitious tradition and the cucumbers of speculation! He cannot bring hismind down to believe the Word of God, or to accept a Truth of God so simple, so fitted to the capacity of a child. Many demandsomething deeper than the Divine, more profound than the infinite, more liberal than Free Grace. They quarrel with God's wayand with God's bread and, therefore, there comes among them the fiery serpents of evil lusts, pride and sin.
I may be speaking to some who have, up to this moment, quarreled with the precepts and the doctrines of the Lord and I wouldaffectionately warn them that their disobedience and presumption will lead to sin and misery. Rebels against God are apt towax worse and worse. The world's fashions and modes of thought lead on to the world's vices and crimes. If we long for thefruits of Egypt, we shall soon feel the serpents of Egypt! The natural consequence of turning against God like serpents isto find serpents waylaying our path. If we forsake the Lord in spirit, or in doctrine, temptation will lurk in our path andsin will sting our feet.
I beg you carefully to observe, concerning those persons for whom the bronze serpent was specially lifted up, that they hadbeen actually bitten by the serpents. The Lord sent fiery serpents among them, but it was not the serpents being among themthat involved the lifting up of a bronze serpent-it was the serpents having actually poisoned them which led to the provisionof a remedy. "It shall come to pass that everyone that is bitten, when he looks upon it, shall live." The only people wholooked and derived benefit from the wonderful cure lifted up in the midst of the camp were those who had been stung by thevipers.
The common notion is that salvation is for good people; salvation is for those who fight against temptation and salvationis for the spiritually healthy. But how different is God's Word! God's medicine is for the sick and His healing is for thediseased! The Grace of God, through the Atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, is for men who are actually and really guilty.We do not preach a sentimental salvation from fancied guilt, but real and true pardon for actual offenses! I care nothingfor sham sinners-you who never did anything wrong, you who are so good in yourselves that you are all right, I leave you-forI am sent to preach Christ to those who are full of sin and worthy of eternal wrath!
The serpent of brass was a remedy for those who had been bitten. What an awful thing it is to be bitten by a serpent! I daresay some of you remember the case of Gurling, one of the keepers of the reptiles in the Zoological Gardens. It happened inOctober, 1852, and therefore some of you will remember it. This unhappy man was about to part with a friend who was goingto Australia and, according to the account of many, he had a few drinks with him. He drank considerable quantities of ginand though he would probably have been in a great passion if anyone had called him drunk, yet reason and common sense hadevidently become overpowered.
He went back to his post at the gardens in an inebriated state. He had, some months before, seen an exhibition of snake-charming,and this was on his poor muddled brain. He must emulate the Egyptians and play with serpents! First he took out of its cagea Morocco venom-snake, put it round his neck, twisted it about and whirled it round about him. Happily for him it did notarouse it so as to bite. The assistant keeper cried out, "For God's sake put the snake back," but the foolish man replied,"I am inspired." Putting back the venom-snake, he exclaimed, "Now for the cobra."
This deadly serpent was somewhat torpid with the cold of the previous night and, therefore, the rash man placed it in hisbosom till it revived and glided downward till its head appeared below the back of his waistcoat. He took it by the body,about a foot from the head, and then seized it lower down with his other hand, intending to hold it by the tail and swingit round his head. He held it for an instant opposite to his face and like a flash of lightning the serpent struck him betweenthe eyes. The blood streamed down his face and he called for help, but his companion fled in horror!
And, as he told the jury, he did not know how long he was gone, for he was "in a maze." When assistance arrived, Gurling wassitting on a chair, having restored the cobra to its place. He said, "I am a dead man." They put him in a cab and took himto the hospital. First his speech went-he could only point to his poor throat and moan. Then his vision failed him and lastlyhis hearing. His pulse gradually sank and in one hour from the time at which he had been struck, he was a corpse. There wasonly a little mark upon the bridge of his nose, but the poison spread over his body and he was a dead man.
I tell you that story that you may use it as a parable and learn never to play with sin and also, in order to bring vividlybefore you what it is to be bitten by a serpent. Suppose that Gurling could have been cured by looking at a piece of brass-wouldit not have been good news for him? There was no remedy for that poor infatuated creature, but there is a remedy for you!For men who have been bitten by the fiery serpents of sin, Jesus Christ is lifted up-not only for you who are, as yet, playingwith the serpent; not only for you who have warmed it in your bosom and felt it creeping over your flesh-but for you who areactually bitten and are mortally wounded! If any man were bitten so that he has become diseased with sin and feels the deadlyvenom in his blood, it is for him that Jesus is set forth today. Though he may think himself to be an extreme case, it isfor such that Sovereign Grace provides a remedy!
The bite of the serpent was painful. We are told in the text that these serpents were "fiery," a word which may, perhaps,refer to their color, but more probably has reference to the burning effects of their venom. It heated and inflamed the bloodso that every vein became a boiling river, swollen with anguish. In some men that poison of asps which we call sin has inflamedtheir minds. They are restless, discontented and full of fear and anguish. They write their own damnation-they are sure thatthey are lost-they refuse all tidings of hope. You cannot get them to give a cool and sober hearing to the message of Grace.Sin works in them such terror that they give themselves over as dead men. They are in their own apprehension, as David says,"free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom God remembers no more."
It was for men bitten by the fiery serpents that the bronze serpent was lifted up and it is for men actually envenomed bysin that Jesus is preached. Jesus died for such as are at their wits' end-for such as cannot think straight, for those whoare tumbled up and down in their minds, for those who are condemned already-for such was the Son of Man lifted up upon theCross! What a joyful thing that we are able to tell you this. The bite of these serpents was, as I have told you, mortal.The Israelites could have no question about that, because in their own presence, "much people of Israel died." They saw theirown friends die of the snakebite and they helped to bury them. They knew why they died and were sure that it was because thevenom of the fiery serpents was in their veins. They were left without an excuse for imagining that they could be bitten andyet live.
Now, we know that many have perished as the result of sin. We are not in doubt as to what sin will do, for we are told bythe Infallible Word that, "the wages of sin is death," and, yet again, "Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death." Weknow, also, that this death is endless misery, for the Scripture describes the lost as being cast into outer darkness, "wheretheir worm dies not and their fire is not quenched." Our Lord Jesus speaks of the condemned going away into everlasting punishmentwhere there shall be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. We ought to have no doubt about this! But most of those who professto doubt it are those who fear that it will be their own portion-they know that they are going down to eternal woe themselvesand, therefore, they try to shut their eyes to their inevitable doom.
Alas, that they should find flatterers in the pulpit who pander to their love of sin by piping to the same tune. We are notof their order! We believe in what the Lord has said in all its solemnity of dread and, knowing the terrors of the Lord, wepersuade men to escape from them. But it was for men who had endured the mortal bite, for men upon whose pallid faces deathbegan to set his seal, for men whose veins were burning with the awful poison of the serpent within
them-for them it was that God said to Moses, "Make you a fiery serpent and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass,that everyone that is bitten, when he looks upon it shall live."
There is no limit set to the stage of poisoning. However far gone, the remedy still had power! If a person had been bittena moment before, though he only saw a few drops of blood oozing forth and only felt a little smart, he might look and live!And if he had waited, unhappily waited, even for half an hour and speech failed him and the pulse grew feeble, yet if he couldbut look he would live at once! No boundary was set to the virtue of this Divinely ordained remedy, or to the freedom of itsapplication to those who needed it. The promise had no qualifying clause, "It shall come to pass that everyone that is bitten,when he looks upon it, shall live."
And our text tells us that God's promise came to pass in every case, without exception, for we read-"It came to pass, thatif a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." Thus I have described the person who wasin mortal peril.
II. Secondly, let us consider THE REMEDY PROVIDED FOR HIM. This was as singular as it was effectual. It was purely of Divineorigin and it is clear that the invention of it and the putting of power into it was entirely of God. Men have prescribedseveral medicines, decoctions and operations for serpent bites-I do not know how far any of them may be depended upon, butthis I know-I would rather not be bitten in order to try any of them, even those that are most in vogue! For the bites ofthe fiery serpents in the wilderness there was no remedy whatever, except this which God had provided and, at first sight,that remedy must have seemed to be a very unlikely one.
A simple look to the figure of a serpent on a pole? How unlikely to be a cure! How and by what means could a cure be workedthrough merely looking at twisted brass? It seemed, indeed, to be almost a mockery to bid men look at the very thing whichhad caused their misery. Shall the bite of a serpent be cured by looking at a serpent? Shall that which brings death alsobring life? But herein lay the excellency of the remedy, that it was of Divine origin-for when God ordains a cure He is, bythat very fact, bound to put potency into it. He will not devise a failure, nor prescribe a mockery! It should always be enoughfor us to know that God ordains a way of blessing us, for if He ordains, it must accomplish the promised result.
We need not know how it will work, it is quite sufficient for us that God's mighty Grace is pledged to make it bring forthgood to our souls. This particular remedy of a serpent lifted on a pole was exceedingly instructive, though I do not supposethat Israel understood it. We have been taught by our Lord and know the meaning. It was a serpent impaled upon a pole. Asyou would take a sharp pole and drive it through a serpent's head to kill it, so this bronze serpent was exhibited as killedand hung up as dead before all eyes. It was the image of a dead snake. Wonder of wonders that our Lord Jesus should condescendto be symbolized by a dead serpent!
The instruction to us, after reading John's Gospel, is this-our Lord Jesus Christ, in infinite humiliation, deigned to comeinto the world and to be made a curse for us. The bronze serpent had no venom of itself, but it took the form of a fiery serpent.Christ is no sinner and in Him is no sin. But the bronze serpent was in the form of a serpent and so was Jesus sent forthby God, "in the likeness of sinful flesh." He came under the Law and sin was imputed to Him and, therefore, He came underthe wrath and curse of God for our sakes. In Christ Jesus, if you will look at Him upon the Cross, you will see that sin isslain and hung up as a dead serpent-there, too, is death put to death, for, "He has abolished death and brought life and immortalityto light"-and there is also the curse forever ended because He has endured it, being "made a curse for us, as it is written,cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree."
Thus are these serpents hung up upon the cross as a spectacle to all beholders, all slain by our dying Lord. Sin, death, andthe curse are as dead serpents now. Oh, what a sight! If you can see it, what joy it will give you! Had the Hebrews understoodit, that dead serpent dangling from a pole would have prophesied to them the glorious sight which this day our faith gazesupon Jesus slain and sin, death and Hell slain in Him! The remedy, then, to be looked to, was exceedingly instructive andwe know the instruction it was intended to convey to us.
Please remember that in all the camp of Israel there was but one remedy for a serpent bite and that was the bronze serpent-andthere was but one bronze serpent, not two. Israel might not make another. If they had made a second, it would have had noeffect. There was one and only one-and that was lifted high in the center of the camp, that if any man was bitten by a serpenthe might look to it and live. There is one Savior and only one! There is no other name given
under Heaven among men whereby we must be saved. All Grace is concentrated in Jesus, of whom we read, "It pleased the Fatherthat in Him should all fullness dwell."
Christ's bearing the curse and ending the curse; Christ's being slain by sin and destroying sin; Christ bruised as to Hisheel by the old serpent, but breaking the serpent's head-it is Christ alone that we must look to if we would live. O Sinner,look to Jesus on the Cross, for He is the one remedy for all forms of sin's poisoned wounds! There was but one healing serpentand that one was bright and lustrous. It was a serpent of brass and brass is a shining metal. This was newly-made brass and,therefore, not dull, and whenever the sun shone on it, there flashed forth a brightness from this bronze serpent. It mighthave been a serpent of wood or of any other metal if God had so ordained, but He commanded that it must be of brass, thatit might have brightness about it.
What brightness there is about our Lord Jesus Christ! If we do but exhibit Him in His own true metal He is lustrous in theeyes of men. If we will but preach the Gospel simply and never think to adorn it with our philosophical thoughts, there isenough brightness in Christ to catch a sinner's eye-yes, and it does catch the eyes of thousands! From afar the everlastingGospel gleams in the Person of Christ. As the bronze standard reflected the beams of the sun, so Jesus reflects the love ofGod to sinners and, seeing it, they look by faith and live!
Once more, this remedy was an enduring one. It was a serpent of brass and I suppose it remained in the midst of the camp fromthat day forward. There was no use for it after Israel entered Canaan, but, as long as they were in the wilderness, it wasprobably exhibited in the center of the camp, hard by the tabernacle door, upon a lofty standard. Aloft and open to the gazeof all hung this image of a dead snake-the perpetual cure for serpent venom! Had it been made of other materials it mighthave been broken, or have decayed-but a serpent of brass would last as long as fiery serpents pestered the desert camp. Aslong as there was a man bitten, there was the serpent of brass to heal him.
What a comfort is this, that Jesus is still able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by Him, seeing He always livesto make intercession for them. The dying thief beheld the brightness of that serpent of brass as he saw Jesus hanging at hisside and it saved him! And so may you and I look and live, for He is "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever."-
"Faint my head, and sick my heart,
Wounded, bruised, in every part. Satan's fiery sting I feel Poisoned with the pride of Hell But if at the point to die,
Upward I direct my eye,
Jesus lifted up I see,
I live by Him who died for me."
I hope I do not overlay my subject by these figures. I wish not to do so, but to make it very plain to you. All you that arereally guilty, all you who are bitten by the serpent, the sure remedy for you is to look to Jesus Christ who took our sinupon Himself and died in the sinner's stead, "being made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."Your only remedy lies in Christ and nowhere else. Look unto Him and be you saved!
III. This brings us, in the third place, to consider THE APPLICATION OF THE REMEDY, or the link between the serpent-bittenman and the brass serpent which was to heal him. What was the link? It was of the most simple kind imaginable. The bronzeserpent might have been, if God had so ordered it, carried into the house where the sick man was, but it was not so. It mighthave been applied to him by rubbing-he might have been expected to repeat a certain form of prayer, or to have a priest presentto perform a ceremony. But there was nothing of the kind. He had only to look!
It was well that the cure was so simple for the danger was so frequent. Bites of the serpent came in many ways. A man mightbe gathering sticks, or merely walking along and be bitten. Even now in the desert serpents are a danger. Mr. Sibree saysthat on one occasion he saw what he thought to be a round stone, beautifully marked. He put forth his hand to take it up,when, to his horror, he discovered that it was a coiled living serpent! All day long, when fiery serpents were sent amongthem, the Israelites must have been in danger. In their beds and at their meals; in their houses and when they went abroadthey were in danger.
These serpents are called by Isaiah, "flying serpents," not because they fly, but because they contract themselves and thensuddenly spring up so as to reach to a considerable height. A man might be well off his tent floor and yet not be
beyond the reach of one of these malignant reptiles. What was a man to do? He had nothing to do but to stand outside his tentdoor and look to the place where gleamed afar the brightness of the serpent of brass! And the moment he looked, he was healed!He had nothing to do but to look! No priest was needed, no holy water, no hocus-pocus, no mass-book- nothing but a look!
A Romish bishop said to one of the early Reformers, when he preached salvation by simple faith, "O Mr. Doctor, open that gapto the people and we are undone!" And so, indeed, they are, for the business and trade of priestcraft are ended forever ifmen may simply trust Jesus and live. Yet it is even so! Believe in Him, you sinners-for this is the spiritual meaning of looking-andat once your sin is forgiven! And what, perhaps, is more, its deadly power ceases to operate within your spirit. There islife in a look at Jesus! Is not this simple enough?
But please notice how very personal it was. A man could not be cured by anything anybody else could do for him. If he hadbeen bitten by the serpent and had refused to look to the serpent of brass and had gone to his bed, no physician could helphim. A pious mother might kneel down and pray for him, but it would be of no use. Sisters might come in and plead; ministersmight be called in to pray that the man might live; but he must die in spite of their prayers if he did not look. There wasonly one hope for his life-he must look to that serpent of brass!
It is just so with you. Some of you have written to me begging me to pray for you. And so I have, but it means nothing unlessyou, yourselves, believe in Jesus Christ. There is not beneath Heaven, nor in Heaven, any hope for any one of you unless youwill believe in Jesus Christ! Whoever you may be, however much bitten of the serpent and however near to die, if you willlook to the Savior you shall live! But if you will not do this, you must be damned, as surely as you live. At the Last GreatDay I must bear witness against you that I have told you this straight out and plainly-"He that believes and is baptized shallbe saved: he that believes not shall be damned."
There is no help for it. You may do what you will, join what Church you please, take the Lord's Supper, be baptized, go throughsevere penance, or give all your goods to feed the poor-but you are a lost man unless you look to Jesus, for this is the onlyremedy! And even Jesus Christ Himself cannot, will not, save you unless you look to Him. There is nothing in His death tosave you. There is nothing in His life to save you unless you will trust Him. It has come to this- you must look-and lookfor yourself.
And then, again, it is very instructive. This looking, what did it mean? It meant this-self-help must be abandoned and Godmust be trusted. The wounded man would say, "I must not sit here and look at my wound, for that will not save me. See therewhere the serpent struck me? The blood is oozing forth, black with the venom! How it burns and swells! My very heart is failing.But all these reflections will not ease me. I must look away from this to the lifted up serpent of brass." It is idle to lookanywhere except to God's one ordained remedy. The Israelites must have understood as much as this, that God required us totrust Him and to use His means of salvation. We must do as He bids us and trust in Him to work our cure-if we will not dothis, we shall die eternally.
This way of curing was intended that they might magnify the love of God and attribute their healing entirely to Divine Grace.The bronze serpent was not merely a picture, as I have shown you, of God's putting away sin by spending His wrath upon HisSon, but it was a display of Divine Love. And this I know because Jesus Himself said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in thewilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son." He wasplainly saying that the death of Christ upon the Cross was an exhibition of God's love to men and whoever looks to that granddisplay of God's love to man, namely, His giving His only-begotten Son to become a curse for us, shall surely live.
Now, when a man was healed by looking at the serpent, he could not say that he healed himself, for he only looked and thereis no virtue in a look. A Believer never claims merit or honor on account of his faith. Faith is a self-denying Grace andnever dares to boast. Where is the great credit of simply believing the Truth of God and humbly trusting Christ to save you?Faith glorifies God and so our Lord has chosen it as the means of our salvation. If a priest had come and touched the bittenman, he might have ascribed some honor to the priest. But when there was no priest in the case; when there was nothing exceptlooking to that bronze serpent, the man was driven to the conclusion that God's love and power had healed him.
I am not saved by anything that I have done, but by what the Lord has done. To that conclusion God will have us all come-wemust all confess that if saved, it is by His free, rich, sovereign, undeserved Grace displayed in the Person of His dear Son.
IV. Allow me one moment upon the fourth head, which is THE CURE EFFECTED. We are told in the text that, "if a serpent hadbitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." That is to say, he was healed at once. He had not to waitfive minutes, or five seconds. Dear Hearer, did you ever hear this before? If you have not, it may startle you, but it istrue. If you have lived in the blackest sin that is possible up to this very moment, yet if you will now believe in JesusChrist, you shall be saved before the clock ticks another time! It is done like a flash of lightning! Pardon is not a workof time.
Sanctification needs a lifetime, but justification needs no more than a moment. You believe, you live! You trust Christ, yoursins are gone! You are a saved man the instant you believe! "Oh," says one, "that is a wonder." It is a wonder and will remaina wonder to all eternity. Our Lord's miracles, when He was on earth, were mostly instantaneous. He touched them and the feveredones were able to sit up and minister to Him. No doctor can cure a fever in that fashion, for there is a resultant weaknessleft after the heat of the fever is abated. Jesus works perfect cures and whoever believes in Him, though he has only believedone minute, is justified from all his sins. Oh the matchless Grace of God!
This remedy healed again and again. Very possibly, after a man had been healed, he might go back to his work and be attackedby a second serpent, for there were broods of them about. What had he to do? Why, to look again! And if he was wounded a thousandtimes, he must look a thousand times! You, dear child of God, if you have sin on your conscience, look to Jesus! The healthiestway of living where serpents swarm is never to take your eyes off the bronze serpent at all. Ah, you vipers, you may biteif you will, but as long as my eyes are upon the bronze serpent, I defy your fangs and poison, for I have a continual remedyat work within me! Temptation is overcome by the blood of Jesus! "This is the victory which overcomes the world, even ourfaith."
This cure was of universal efficacy to all who used it. There was not one case, in all the camp, of a man that looked to theserpent of brass and yet died. And there never will be a case of a man that looks to Jesus who remains under condemnation!The Believer must be saved. Some of the people had to look from a long distance. The pole could not be equally near to everybody,but so long as they could see the serpent it healed those that were afar off as well as those who were near. Nor did it matterif their eyes were feeble. All eyes were not alike keen. Some may have had to squint, or had dimness of vision, or only oneeye-but if they did but look, they lived!
Perhaps the man could hardly make out the shape of the serpent as he looked. "Ah," he said to himself, "I cannot discern thecoils of the bronze snake, but I can see the shining of the brass." And he lived! Oh, poor Soul, if you cannot see the wholeof Christ nor all His beauties, nor all the riches of His Grace, yet if you can but see Him who was made sin for us, you shalllive! If you say, "Lord, I believe; help You my unbelief," your faith will save you! A little faith will give you a greatChrist and you shall find eternal life in Him.
Thus I have tried to describe the cure. Oh that the Lord would work that cure in every sinner here at this moment. I do prayHe may! It is a pleasant thought that if they looked to that bronze serpent by any kind of light they lived. Many beheld itin the glare of noon and saw its shining coils and lived. But I should not wonder that some were bitten at night and by themoonlight they drew near and looked up and lived. Perhaps it was a dark and stormy night and not a star was visible. The tempestcrashed overhead and from the murky cloud out flashed the lightning, cleaving the rocks asunder. By the glare of that suddenflame the dying man made out the bronze serpent and though he saw but for a moment yet he lived.
So, Sinner, if your soul is wrapped in tempest and if from out the clouds there comes but one single flash of light, lookto Jesus Christ by it and you shall live!
V. I close with this last matter of consideration-here is A LESSON FOR THOSE WHO LOVE THEIR LORD. What ought we to do? Weshould imitate Moses, whose business it was to set the bronze serpent upon a pole. It is your business and mine to lift upthe Gospel of Christ Jesus so that all may see it! All Moses had to do was to hang up the bronze serpent in the sight of all.He did not say, "Aaron, bring your censer and bring with you a score of priests and make a perfumed cloud." Nor did he say,"I myself will go forth in my robes as Law-Giver and stand there."
No, he had nothing to do that was pompous or ceremonial! He had but to exhibit the brass serpent and leave it naked and opento the gaze of all. He did not say, "Aaron, bring here a cloth of gold, wrap up the serpent in blue and scarlet and fine linen."Such an act would have been clean contrary to his orders. He was to keep the serpent unveiled. Its power lay in itself-notin its surroundings. The Lord did not tell him to paint the pole, or to deck it with the colors of the rainbow. Oh, no! Anypole would do!
The dying ones did not need to see the pole-they only needed to behold the serpent. I dare say he would make a neat pole,for God's work should be done decently, but still the serpent was the only thing to look at. This is what we have to do withour Lord. We must preach Him, teach Him and make Him visible to all! We must not conceal Him by our attempts at eloquenceand learning. We must have done with the polished lancewood pole of fine speech and those bits of scarlet and blue in theform of grand sentences and poetic periods. Everything must be done that Christ may be seen and nothing must be allowed whichhides Him. Moses may go home and go to bed when the serpent is once lifted up. All that is needed is that the bronze serpentshould be within view both day and night. The preacher may hide himself so that nobody may know who he is, for if he has setforth Christ, he is best out of the way.
Now, you teachers, teach your children Jesus. Show them Christ Crucified! Keep Christ before them. You young men that tryto preach, do not attempt to do it grandly. The true grandeur of preaching is for Christ to be grandly displayed in it. Noother grandeur is needed! Keep self in the background and set forth Jesus Christ among the people, evidently crucified amongthem. None but Jesus, none but Jesus! Let Him be the sum and substance of all your teaching. Some of you have looked to thebronze serpent, I know, and you have been healed. But what have you done with the bronze serpent since? You have not comeforward to confess your faith and join the Church. You have not spoken to any one about his soul. You put the bronze serpentinto a chest and hide it away. Is this right?
Bring it out and set it on a pole! Publish Christ and His salvation! He was never meant to be treated as a curiosity in amuseum. He is intended to be exhibited in the highways that those who are sin-bitten may look at Him. "But I have no properpole," says one. The best sort of pole to exhibit Christ upon is a high one so that He may be seen the further. Exalt Jesus!Speak well of His name. I do not know any other virtue that there can be in the pole but its height. The more you can speakin your Lord's praise, the higher you can lift Him up, the better! But for all other styles of speech there is nothing tobe said. Lift Christ UP!
"Oh," says one, "but I have not a long standard." Then lift Him up on such as you have, for there are short people about whowill be able to see by your means. I think I told you once of a picture which I saw of the bronze serpent. I want the Sundayschool teachers to listen to this. The artist represented all sorts of people clustering round the pole and as they looked,the horrible snakes dropped off their arms and they lived! There was such a crowd around the pole that a mother could notget near it. She carried a little babe, which a serpent had bitten. You could see the blue marks of the venom. As she couldget no nearer, the mother held her child aloft and turned its little head that it might gaze with its infant eyes upon thebronze serpent and live.
Do this with your little children, you Sunday school teachers! Even while they are yet little, pray that they may look toJesus Christ and live, for there is no boundary set to their age. Old men, snake-bitten, came hobbling on their crutches."Eighty years old am I," says one, "but I have looked to the bronze serpent and I am healed." Little boys were brought outby their mothers, though as yet they could hardly speak plainly, and they cried in child language, "I look at the great snakeand it blesses me." All ranks, sexes, characters and dispositions looked and lived! Who will look to Jesus at this good hour?O dear Souls, will you have life or not? Will you despise Christ and perish? If so, your blood be on your own head! I havetold you God's way of salvation! Lay hold on it. Look to Jesus at once! May His Spirit gently lead you to do so. Amen.