Attention!
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible

Numbers 21

Verse 8

Man's Ruin and God's Remedy

November 20th, 1859 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)

"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." Numbers 21:8 .

I do not propose this morning to explain again the mystery of the brazen serpent. As many of you well remember, not long ago I preached upon that subject, and endeavored to expound it in all its lengths and breadths. I have a somewhat similar object at the present time, the details may indeed be different, but after all the moral will be the same. Man has very many wants, and he should be grateful whenever the least of them is supplied. But he has one want which overtops every other: it is the want of bread. Give him raiment, house him well, decorate and adorn him, yet if you give him not bread, his body faints, he dies of hunger. Hence it is that while the earth when it is tilled is made to bring forth many things that minister unto the comfort and luxury of men, yet man is wise enough to understand that since bread is his chief want, he must be most careful concerning corn. He therefore sows broad acres with it, and he cultivates more of this, which is the grandest necessary, than he doth of anything else in his husbandry. I feel that this is the only excuse I can offer you for coming back again constantly and continually to the simple doctrine of the salvation of the sinner through Christ Jesus. There are many things which the soul wants: it needs instruction, it needs comfort, it needs knowledge of doctrine and enlightenment in its experience; but there is one grand need of the soul, which far surmounts every other, it is the want of salvation, the want of Christ; and I do feel that I am right in repeating again, and again, and again, the simple announcement of the gospel of Christ for poor perishing sinners. At any rate, I know I seldom feel more happy than when I am preaching a full Christ to empty sinners. My tongue becomes something like Anacreon's harp. It is said of it, it resounded love alone. And so my tongue fangs to resound Christ alone, and give forth no other strain, but Christ and his cross; Christ uplifted, the salvation of a dying world; Christ crucified, the life of poor dead sinners. I pray that this morning many here present, who have no clear views of the plan of salvation, may now see for the first time how men are saved through the lifting up of Christ, just, as the poor Israelites in the wilderness were saved from the fiery serpents by lifting up the brazen serpent on the pole. Solemnly addressing you this morning, I shall need your attention to two things. First and here, remember, I am about to speak to sinners dead in trespasses and sins I want your attention to your ruin, and next I shall want your faithful consideration of your remedy. I. First of all, oh unregenerate man! thou who hast heard the Word, but hast never felt its power, let me entreat thee, lend me thine ears while I talk to thee of a solemn subject that much concerns thee. MAN, THOU ART RUINED! The children of Israel in the wilderness were bitten with fiery serpents, whose venom soon tainted their blood, and after intolerable pain, at last brought on death. Thou art much in the same condition. Thou standest there, healthy in body and comfortable in mind, and I come not here to play the part of a mere alarmist; but I do beseech thee, listen to me while I tell thee, neither more nor less than the simple but dreadful truth concerning thy present estate, if thou art not a believer in Christ. Oh sinner! there are four things that stare thee in the face, and should alarm thee. The first thing is thy sin. I hear thee say, "Yes I know I am a sinner as well as the rest of mankind;" but I am not content with that confession, nor is God content with it either. There are multitudes of men who make the bare confession of sinnership, the general confession that all men are fallen, but there are few men who know how to take that confession home and acknowledge it as being applicable to them. Ah! my hearers, ye that are without God and without Christ remember, not only is the world lost, but you are lost yourself not only has sin defiled the race, but you yourself are stained by sin. Come, now take the universal charge home to yourself. How many have your sins been! Count them, if you can. Stand here and wonder at them. Like the stars of midnight, or as the sands by the sea shore, innumerable are thine iniquities. Twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty, perhaps more than fifty years have rolled over thy head, and in any one of these years thy sins might out-count the drops of the sea. How innumerable, then, have they become in ALL thy life! And what if thou shouldst say they are but little ones, yet since they are so many, how great has the mountain become. Though they were but as grains of sand, yet are they so many that they might make a mountain that would soar above the stars. Pause, I beseech thee, and let thy conscience have play for a moment. Count over thine iniquities, turn over the pages of thy history, and tell the blots, if thou canst, and count the mistakes. But no, thou art committing fresh sins whilst thou art recounting these, and the denial of thy innumerable sins were but the multiplication of them. Thou art increasing them, mayhap, even whilst thou art telling them. And then think how aggravated they have been. I will not venture to mention the grosser sins into which some of you have fallen. It may be that I have here those who have cursed God to his face who have asked him to blast their limbs and to destroy their souls. I may have those here who have ventured even to deny God's existence, though they have been walking all their lives in the midst of his works, and have even received the breath in their nostrils from him. I may have some who have despised his Word laughed at everything sacred made a jest of the Bible, made a mockery of God's ministers and of his servants. Call I beseech you, these things to your remembrance, for though you have forgotten them, God has not. You have written them in the sand but he has engraven them as in eternal brass, and there they stand against you. Every crime that you have done is as fresh in the memory of the Most High as though it were committed yesterday, and though you think that the repentance of your grey old age might almost suffice to blot out the enormities of your youth, yet be not deceived. Sin is not so easily put away; it needs a greater ransom than a few expressions of regret or a few empty tears. Oh call, ye great sinners, call to your recollection, the enormities you have committed against God. Let your chambers speak, let your beds bear witness against you, and let the days of your feasting, and your hours of midnight rioting let these things rise up to your remembrance. Let your oaths roll back from the sky against which they have smitten, and let them return into your bosom, to awake your conscience and bestir you to repentance. But what am I saying? I have been talking of some men who have committed great iniquity. Ah! sinner, be thou whosoever thou mayest, I charge thee with great sin. Brought up in the midst of holy influences, nurtured in God's house, it may be that some of my unregenerate hearers this morning, may not be able to remember a single instance of blasphemy against God. It may be that you have never outwardly done despite to any sacred thing. Ah, my hearer, bethink thee, thy sin may be even greater than that of the profligate, or the debauches, for thou hast sinned against light and against knowledge; thou hast sinned against a mother's prayers and against a father's tears; thou rebelled against God's law, knowing the law. When thou wast sinning, conscience pricked thee, and yet thou didst sin. Thou knewest that hell was the portion of the ungodly, and yet thou art ungodly still. Thou knowest the gospel of Christ; thou art no ignoramus. Thy mother took thee in her arms to the house of God, and here thou art even now. Every sin thou hast committed receives a greater aggravation on account of the light thou hast received, and the privileges thou hast enjoyed. Oh, my hearer, think not that thou canst escape in this thing; thy sin hath bitten thee with a terrible bite. 'Tis no flesh wound as thou dreamest, but the venom has entered into thy veins. 'Tis no mere scurf upon the surface, but the leprosy lies deep within. Thou hast sinned. Thou hast sinned continually. Thou hast sinned with many aggravations. Oh, may God convict thee of this charge, and help thee to plead guilty to it. Can you not some of you, if you are honest to yourselves, call to remembrance peculiar sins that you have committed. You recollect your sick bed, and your vow you made to God where is it now? You have returned like the dog to its vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. You remember that prayer that you offered in the time of your distress: you remember too that God graciously delivered you, but where is the thanksgiving that you promised to him? You said you would give him your heart; but where is it? In the black hand of the devil still! You have been a liar to God, you have deceived him, or you have pretended at least that you would give him your soul, and you have not done so. And think too of certain special sins you have committed after receiving special warning. Do you not remember going out from the house of God with a tender conscience, and then running into sin to harden it again? Do you not remember, some of you, how after being alarmed and startled, you have gone your way, and gone to your evil companions, and laughed away the impressions that you have received? This is no mean sin to strive against the striving Spirit, and to resist the influence that was drawing you to the right path. I beseech you, call to recollection your sins. Come, don't be cowards. Don't shut up the book; open it. Look and see what you have been and if you have been that which you are ashamed of, I beseech you look it in the face, and make acknowledgment and confess it. There is nothing to be gotten by hiding your sins. They'll spring up, man; if you dig deep as hell to hide them, they'll spring up. Why not now be honest, and look at them today, for they'll look at you by-and-bye, when Christ shall come in the clouds of judgment? If you look not at them, they'll stare you in the face with a look that will wither your soul and blast it into infinite torment and unutterable woe. Your sin, your sin, should make you tremble and feel alarmed. But I go further. Sinner, thou hast not only thy sin to trouble thee, but there is a second thing, there is the sentence of condemnation gone out against thee. I have heard some ministers talk of men being in a state of probation. No such thing; no man has a state of probation at all. Ye are condemned already. You are not to-day, my unregenerate hearers, prisoners at the bar about to be tried for your lives. No, your trial is over, your sentence is past already, and you are now this day condemned. What though no officer has arrested you, though death has not laid his cold hand upon you, yet Scripture saith, "He that believeth not is condemned already because he believeth not on the Son of God." Man, the black cap is on the judge's head. He even now declares thee lost, nay more than this, if thou wouldst rightly know thine own estate, thou art standing mark that, my careless hearer thou art standing under the gallows, with the rope on thy neck, and thou hast but to be cast off from the ladder by the hand of death, and thou art swinging in eternity lost and ruined. If ye only knew your position, ye would discover that ye are criminals with your necks on the block this morning, and the bright axe of justice is gleaming in this morning's sunlight, and God alone knows how long it is ere it shall fall, or rather how soon thou shalt feel its keen edge, and its edge shall be stained with thy blood. Thou art condemned already. Take that home, man. Thy sentence is signed in heaven and sealed and stamped, and the only reason why it is not carried out is because God in mercy respites thee. But thou art condemned, and this world is thy condemned cell from which thou shalt soon be taken to a terrible execution. Now you do not believe this. You think that God is putting you on your trial, and that if you behave as well as you can, you will get off. You think that in some future day you may yet blot out your sin. But when the criminal is condemned, there is no room left for good behavior to alter the sentence. When a capital sentence is passed upon him that sentence is not to be moved by anything that he can do. And your sentence is passed, passed be the judge of all the earth, and nothing you can do can alter that sentence. The law leaves no room for repentance. Condemned you are and condemned you must be, unless that one way of escape, that I am forthwith abut to explain, shall be opened to you by God's rich grace you are condemned already. Now let me ask you one question ere I leave this point. Sinner, you are condemned to-day. I ask you this, whether you do not deserve it? If you are what you should be, and what I hope the Lord will make you, you will say, "Deserve it, ay, that I do!" If I never committed another sin, my past sins would fully justify the Lord in permitting me to go down afire into the pit. The first sin you ever committed condemned you beyond all hope of self-salvation, but all the sins you have committed since then have aggravated your guilt, and surely now the sentence is not only just, but more than just. You will have one day, if you repent not to put your finger on your lips and stand in solemn silence, when God shall ask you whether you have anything to plead why the sentence should not be carried into execution. You will be compelled to feel that God condemns you to nothing more than you deserve, that his sentence is just a proper one on such a sinner as thou hast been. Now, these two things are enough to make any man tremble, if he did but feel them his sin and his condemnation. But I have a third to mention. Sinner, there is this to aggravate thy ease and increase thine alarm thy helplessness, thy utter inability to do anything to save thyself, even if God should offer thee the chance. Thou art to-day, sinner, not only condemned, but thou art dead in trespasses and sins. Talk of performing good works why, man, thou canst not. It is as impossible for thee to do a good work whilst thou art what thou art, as it would be for a horse to fly up to the stars. But thou sayest, "I will repent." Nay, thou canst not. Repentance is not possible to thee as thou art, unless God gives it to thee. Thou mightest force a few tears, but what are those? Judas might do that and yet go out and hang himself and go to his own place. You cannot repent of yourself. Nay, if I had to preach this morning salvation by faith apart from the person of Christ, you would be in as bad a condition as if there were no gospel whatever. Recollect, sinner, thou art so lost, so ruined, so undone, that thou canst do nothing to save thyself. The would is so bad that it cannot be cured by any mortal hand. Thine inability is so great, that unless God pull thee up out of the pit into which thou hast fallen, thou must lie there and rot to all eternity. Thou art so undone that thou canst neither stir hand, nor foot, nor lip, nor hearts, unless grace help thee. Oh, what a fearful thing it is to be charged, tried, condemned, and then moreover, to be bereft of all power. You are to-day as much in the hand of God's justice as a little moth beneath your own finger. He can save you if he will, he can destroy you if he pleases, but you yourself are unable to escape from him. There is no door of mercy left for you by the law, and even by the gospel there is no door of mercy which you have power to enter, apart from the help which Christ affords you. If you think you can do anything, you have yet to unlearn that foolish conceit. If you fancy that you have some strength left, you have not yet come where the Spirit will bring you, for he will empty you of all creature pretension, and lay you low and dash you in pieces, and bring you in a mortar and pound you till you feel that you are weak and without strength, and can do nothing. Now have I not indeed described a horrible position for a sinner to be in but there is something more remaining, a fourth thing. Sinner, thou art not only guilty of past sin, and condemned for it, thou art not only unable, but if thou wert able, thou art so bad that thou wouldst never be willing to do anything that could save thyself. And even if thou hadst no sins in the past, yet art thou lost, man, for thou wouldst go on to commit sin for the future. For this know thy nature is totally depraved. Thou forest that which is evil, and not that which is good. "Nay," saith one, "I love that which is good." Then thou lovest it for a bad motive. "I love honesty," says one. Yes, because it is the best policy. But dost thou love God? Dost thou love thy neighbor as thyself? No, and thou canst not do this, for thy nature is too vile. Why, man, thou wouldst be as bad as the devil, if God were to withdraw all restraint and let thee alone. Were he but to take the bit out of thy mouth, and the bridle from thy jaws, there is no sin that thou wouldst not commit. Dost thou deny this? Dost thou say, "I am willing; I am willing to be holy and to be saved." Then God has thee so; for if not thou wouldst never be so by nature. If thou shouldst go out of this hall and say, "I hate such preaching as that;" I should but reply, "I knew you did." Though one should say, "I will never believe that I am so lost as that," I should say, "I did not think you ever would you are too bad to believe the truth;" and if you should say, "I will never be saved by Christ; I will never bow so low as to sue for mercy and accept grace through him;" I should not be surprised, for I know thy nature. Thou art so desperately bad that thou hatest thy own mercy. Thou dost despise the grace that is offered to thee thou dost hate the Saviour that died for thee, for if not, why dost not thou turn now, man. If thou art not so bad as I say thou art, why not now down on thy knees and cry for pardon? Why not now believe in Christ? Why not now surrender thyself to him? But if thou shouldst do this, then I would say, "This is God's work, he has made thee do it for if he had not done it thou wouldst not have been humble enough to bow thyself to Christ." Let Arminianism go to the winds; let it be scattered for ever from off the face of the earth; man is totally unable to feel his misery or seek relief, if he were able, he is totally unwilling. The sinner could not help the Holy Ghost, even if the Holy Ghost wanted the help of man to perfect his own operations. What! can it be possible that any man will say the creature is to help the Creator that an insect of an hour is to be yoked with the Ancient of Days the Eternal that the clay is to help the potter in its own formation? Why, even if we grant the power, where would be the sympathy or the willing hand? Man hates to be saved. He loves darkness, and if he hath the light, it is because the light thrusts itself upon him. He loves death with a fatal infatuation, and if he be made alive, it is because the Spirit of God quickens him, converts his wicked heart, makes him willing in the day of his power, and turns him unto God. Have I not now this morning rend a most awful indictment against you? Mark, I mean it for every living man, woman, and child in this Hall, who has not faith in Christ. You may be fine gentlemen or grand ladies; you may be respectable tradesmen and very upright in your business, but I charge you before Almighty God with being sinners, condemned sinners, sinners that cannot save yourselves, and sinners, moreover, that would not save yourselves if you could, unless grace made you willing, you are sinners unwilling to be saved. What a fearful indictment is this read in the face of high heaven! May some sinner as he hears it be compelled to say, "It is true, it is true, it is true of me; O Lord, have mercy upon me!" II. Having thus set before you the hard part of the subject THE SINNERS RUIN I now come to preach of HIS REMEDY. A certain school of physicians tell us that "like cures like." Whether it be true or not in medicine, I know it is true enough in theology like cures like. When the Israelites were bitten with the fiery serpents, it was a serpent that made them whole. And so you lost and ruined creatures are bidden now to look to Christ suffering and dying, and you will see in him the counterpart of what you see in yourselves. While you are looking to him, may God fulfill his promise and give you life. A remedy to be worth anything must reach the entire disease. Now Christ on the cross comes to man as man is; not as he may be made, but as he is. And it doth this in the four several respects which I have already described. I charge you with sin. Now in Christ Jesus behold the sinner's substitute the sin-offering. Do you see yonder man hanging on the cross; he dies an awful death. In him prophecy receives a terrible accomplishment: of him Almighty vengeance makes a tremendous example. Jehovah hath cast off and abhorred; he hath been wroth with his anointed. The terrors of the Lord are heavy on his soul. And why does that man Christ Jesus die? not as himself a sinner, but as numbered with transgressors. O soul if thou wouldst know the terrors of the law, behold him who was made the curse of the law. If thou wouldst see the venom of the fiery serpent's bite, look to yonder brazen serpent; and if thou wouldst see sin in all its deadliness look to a dying Saviour. What makes Christ die? Sin! though not his own. What makes his body sweat drops of blood? Sin! What nails his hands? What rends his side? Sin! Sin does it all. And if you are saved it must be through yonder sin-offering, you dying, bleeding Iamb. "But," saith one, "my sins are too many to be forgiven." Stop awhile; turn thine eye to Christ. Sometimes when I think of my sin I think it is too great to be washed away, but when I think of Christ's blood, oh I think there can be no sin great enough for that to fail in cleansing it every whit. I seem to think, when I see the costly price, Christ paid a very heavy ransom. When I look at myself I think it would need much to redeem me, but when I see Christ dying I think he could redeem me if I were a million times as bad as I am. Now remember Christ not only paid barely enough for us, he paid more than enough. The Apostle Paul says, "His grace abounded "superabounded," says the Greek. It ran over; there was enough to fill the empty vessel, and there was enough to flood the world besides. Christ's redemption was so plenteous, that had God willed it, if all the stars of heaven had been peopled with sinners, Christ need not have suffered another pang to redeem them all there was a boundless value in his precious blood. And, sinner, if there were so much as this, surely there is enough for thee. And then again, if thou art not satisfied with Christ's sin-offering, just think a moment; God is satisfied, God the Father is content, and must not thou be? The Judge says, "I am satisfied; let the sinner go free, for I have punished the Surety in his stead "and if the Judge is satisfied, surely the criminal may be. Oh! come, poor sinner, come and see, if there is enough to appease the wrath of God there must be enough to answer all the requirements of man. "Nay, nay," saith one, "but my sin is such a terrible one that I cannot see in the substitution of Christ that which is like to meet it." What is thy sin? "Blasphemy." Why, Christ died for blasphemy: this was the very charge which man imputed to him, and therefore you may be quite sure that God laid it on him if men did. "Nay, nay," saith one, "but I have been worse than that; I have been a liar." It is just what men said of him. They declared that he lied when he said, "If this temple be destroyed I will build it in three days." See in Christ a liar's Saviour as well as a blasphemer's Saviour. "But," says one, "I have been in league with Beelzebub." Just what they said of Christ. They said that he cast out devils through Beelzebub. So man laid that sin on him, and man did unwittingly what God would have him do. I tell thee, even that sin was laid on Christ. Come, sinner, there is not a sin in the world with one exception which Jesus did not bear in his own body on the tree. "Ah, but," says one, "when I sinned, I sinned very greedily.! did it with all my might I took a delight in it." Ah! soul, and so did Christ take a delight in being thy substitute. He said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished! "Let Christ's willingness respond to the suggestion that thy greediness in sin can make it too heinous to be forgiven. "Ah!" crieth another, "but, sir, I acted ever with such a bad heart: my heart was worse than my actions. If I could have been worse I would. Among all my companions in vice there was not one who was so greedy of it and black in it as I." Yes, but, my dear hearer, if thou hast sinned in thy heart, remember, Christ suffered in his heart. His heart-sufferings were the heart and soul of his sufferings. Look and see that heart all pierced, and the blood and water flowing therefrom, and believe that he is able to take away even thine heart of sin, however black it may be. "Yes," I hear another self-condemned one exclaim, "but I sinned without any temptation. I did it deliberately in cold blood. I had become such a wicked, beastly sinner, that I used to sit down and gloat over my sin before I committed it." Ah, but sinner, remember before Christ died he thought of it; ay, from all eternity he meditated on becoming thy substitute. It was a matter of premeditation with him, and, therefore let his forethought put aside thy forethought. Let the greatness of his previous thought upon his sacrifice, put away the grievousness of thy sin, on account of its having been committed in cold blood. Does there yet come up some sobbing voice "I have been worse than all the rest, for I did my sin by reason of a covenant which I made with Satan. I said, 'If I could have a short life and a merry one, I would be content;' I made a covenant with death, and I made a league with hell." And what if I am commissioned to tell you that even this bite is not incurable? Remember, Jesus the Son of God made a covenant on thine account. It was a greater covenant than yours, not made with death and hell, but made with his Father on the behalf of sinners. I want, if I can, to bring out the fact, that whatever there is in thy sins there is its counterpart in Christ. Just as when the serpent bit the people, it was a serpent that healed them, so if you are bitten by sin, it is, as it were, thy sin's substitute; it is thy sin laid on Christ that heals you. Oh, turn your eyes then to Calvary, and see the guilt of sin laid upon Christ's shoulders, and say, "Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows," and looking to him thou shalt live. Secondly, here is a remedy for the condemnation. I said, you were not only sinners, but condemned sinners. Yes, and Christ is not only thy substitute for sin, but he is thy condemned substitute too. See him. He stands at Pilate's bar, is condemned before Herod and Caiaphas, and is found guilty. Nay, he stands before the awful bar of God, and though there is no sin of his own put upon him, yet inasmuch as his people's sins were laid on him, justice views him as a sinner, and it cries, "Let the sword be bathed in his blood." Christ was condemned for sinners that they might not be condemned. Look up, look away from the sentence that has gone out against you, to the sentence that went out against him. Are you cursed? so was he. "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." Are you condemned? so was he, and there was one point in which he excelled you; he was executed, and that you never shall be, if you look to him now and believe that he is able to save you, and put your trust in him. In regard to the third particular. Our utter helplessness is such, that as I told you, we are unable to do any thing. Yes, and I want you to look at Christ; was not he unable too? You, in your father Adam, were once strong, but you lost your strength. Christ too was strong, but he laid aside all his omnipotence. See him. The hand that poises the world hangs on a nail. See him. The shoulders that supported the skies are drooping over the cross. Look at him, The eyes whose glances light up the sun are sealed in darkness. Look at him. The feet that trod the billows and that shaped the spheres are nailed with rude iron to the accursed tree. Look away from your own weakness to his weakness, and remember that in his weakness he is strong, and in his weakness you are strong too. Go see his hands; they are weak, but in their weakness they are stretched out to save you. Come view his heart; it is rent, but in its cleft you may hide yourself. Look at his eyes; they are closing in death, but from them comes the ray of light that shall kindle your dark spirit. Unable though thou art, go to him who himself was crucified through weakness, and remember that now "he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him." I told you, you could not repent, but if you go to Christ he can melt your heart into contrition, though it be as hard as iron. I said you could not believe, but if you sit down and look at Christ, a sight of Christ will make you believe, for he is exalted on high to give repentance and remission of sins. And then the fourth thing. "Oh," cries one, "you said we were too estranged to be even willing to come to Christ." I know you were; and therefore it is he came down to you. You would not come to him, but he comes to you this morning, and though you are very evil, he comes with sacred magic in his arm, to change your heart. Sinner, thou unwilling, but guilty sinner, Christ stands before thee this morning, he that was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, a man and a brother born for adversity. And he puts his hand to day in thy hand, and he says, "Sinner, wilt thou be saved?" Then trust in me. Ah! if I preach the gospel, you will reject it, but if he preaches it you cannot. Methinks I see the crucified one finding his way in that thick crowd under the gallery, and going between the ranks seated here, and above, and everywhere, and as he goes along, he stops at each broken-hearted sinner, and says, "Sinner, will you trust me? See here I am, the Son of God, yet I am man. Look at my wounds, see still the nail-marks, and the prints of the thorn-crown. Sinner, will you trust me?" And while he says it, he graciously works in you the grace of faith. But are there any who looking him in the face, can reply, "Thou crucified one we cannot trust thee, our sins are too great to be forgiven?" Oh, nothing can grieve him so much as to tell him that. You think that you are humble; you are proud; despising Christ while you think you are despising yourself. And is there one in all this great assembly who says, "This is all twaddle, I care not to hear such preaching as this?" Nay I do not ask thee to care for what I speak; but Jesus the crucified one is standing by thy side, and he asks thee, "Sinner, have I ever done anything to offend thee; have I ever done thee a displeasure? What hurt hast thou ever suffered at my hands? Then why dost thou persecute thy wife for loving me then why hate thy child for loving one that did thee no hurt? Besides," saith he, and he takes the veil from his face, "did you ever see a face like this? It was marred by suffering for men for men that hate me too, but whom I love. I need not have suffered. I was in my Father's house, happy and glorious; love made me come down and die. Love nailed me to the tree, and now will you spit in my face after that?" "No," said a young man to me this last week, "I found it hard to love Christ, but," said he, "once upon a time I thought 'Well, if Christ never died for me, and never loved me, yet I must love him for his goodness in dying for other people.'" And methinks if you did but know Christ, you must love him. Thou wouldst say to him, "Thou dear, thou suffering man, didst thou endure all this for those that did hate thee? didst thou die for those that murdered thee? didst thou shed thy blood for those that drew it from thy veins with cursed iron? didst thou dive into the depths of the grave that thou mightest lift out rebellious ones who scorned thee and would have none of thee? Then dissolved by thy goodness I fall before thy feet and I weep. My soul repents of sin I weep Lord accept me, Lord have mercy upon me." Did you think I have run away from my point? So I had, but I have brought you back to it. You know I was to shew that Christ could overcome our depravity. And he has done it in some of you while I have been speaking. You hated him, but you do not hate him now. It may be, you said you would never trust him, but you do trust him now. And if God has done this in your heart, this is the true end of preaching; the best way of keeping to the subject, is for the subject to be brought home to the heart. Ah! dear hearers, I wish I had a better voice this morning. I wish I had more earnest tones and a more loving heart, for I do feel when I am preaching about Christ, that I am a poor dauber. When I grant to paint him so beautiful, I am afraid you will say of him, he is not lovely! No, no; it is my bad picture of him; but he is lovely. Oh! he is a loving Lord. He has bowels of compassion; he has a heart brimful of tenderest affection; and he bids me tell you and I do tell you that he bids me say, "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief." And he bids me add his kind invitation, "Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest; take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls." Do not believe what the devil tells you. He says that Christ is not ready to forgive; oh! he is more willing to forgive then you are to be forgiven. Do not believe your heart, when it says, that Christ will shut you out, and will not pardon you: Come and try him, come and try him; and the first one that is shut out, I will agree to be shut out with him. The first soul that Christ rejects after it has put its trust in him I risk my soul's salvation with that man. It cannot be. He never was hard-hearted yet, and he never will be. Only believe, and may he himself help thee to believe. Only look to him, and may he himself open thine eyes and enable thee to look, and this shall be a happy morning. For though I may have spoken feebly, as I am too conscious I have, God will have worked powerfully; and unto him shall be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Verse 9

Lifting Up the Brazen Serpent

October 19 th , 1879 by C. H. Spurgeon

(1834-1892)

And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it come to pass, that if the serpent had bitten any man, when be beheld the serpent of brass, he shall live.”--Numbers 21:9 .

This discourse when it shall be printed will make 1,500 of my sermons which have been published regularly week by week. This is certainly a remarkable fact. I do not know of any instance in modern times in which 1,500 sermons have thus followed each other from the press from one person, and have continued to command a large circle of readers. I desire to utter most hearty thanksgivings to God for divine help in thinking out and uttering these sermons--sermons which have not merely been printed, but have been read with eagerness, and have also been translated into foreign tongues; sermons which are publicly read on this very Sabbath day in hundred of places where a minister cannot be found; sermons which God has blessed to the conversion 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 forth in 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 1,500 discourses the Lord will give me a word which will be blessed more than any which have preceded it, to the conversion of those who hear it or read it. May those who sit in darkness because they do not understand the freeness of salvation and the easy method by which it may be obtained, be brought into the light by discovering the way of peace through believing in Christ Jesus. 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 contains a sort or orderly list of types taken from Holy Scripture. It beings with the Creation. God said, “Let there be light,” and John begins be declaring that Jesus, the eternal Word, is “the true light,” and lighteth every man the cometh into the world.” Before he closes his first chapter John has introduced a type supplied by Abel, for when the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him he said, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” Nor is first chapter finished before we are reminded of Jacob’s ladder, for we find our Lord declaring to Nathanael, “Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of men.” By the time we have reach 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, and even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” We are going to speak of this act of Moses this morning, that we may all of us behold the brazen serpent and find the promise true, “every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon the brazen 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 their eyes in that direction may gaze upon the uplifted 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 word effectual to that gracious end.

I. I shall invite you to consider the subject first by noticing THE PERSON IN MORTAL PERIL for whom the brazen serpent was made and lifted up. Our test saith, “It came to pass that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the fiery 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 way and 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 them, and He had chosen it in wisdom and mercy, but they murmured at it. An old divine says, “It was lonesome and longsome,” but still it was God’s way, and therefore it ought not to have been loathsome: His pillar of fire and cloud went before them and His servants Moses and Aaron led them like a flock, and they ought to have followed cheerfully. Every step of their previous journey had been rightly ordered, and they ought to have been quite sure that this compassing of the land of Edom was rightly ordered, too. But, no; they quarreled with God’s way, and wanted to have their own way. This is one of the great standing follies of men; they cannot be content to wait on the Lord and keep His way, but 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 called the manna by an opprobrious title, which in the Hebrew has a sound of ridicule about it, and even in our translation conveys the idea of contempt. They said, “Our soul loatheth this light bread,” as if they thought it unsubstantial, and only fitted to [puff them out, because it was easy of digestion, and did not breed in them that heat of blood and tendency to disease which a heavier diet would have brought with it. Being discontented with their God they quarreled with the bread which He set upon their 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-meat of carnal reason, the leeks and the garlic of superstitious tradition, and the cucumbers of speculation; he cannot bring his mind down to believe the Word of God, or to accept truth so simple, so fitted to the capacity of a child. Many demand something deeper than the divine, more profound than the infinite, more liberal than free grace. They quarrel with God’s way, and with God’s bread, and hence there comes among them the fiery serpents of evil lusting, 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 would affectionately warn them that their disobedience and presumption will lead to sin and misery. Rebels against God are apt to wax worse and worse. The world’s fashions and modes of thought lead on to the world’s vices and crimes. If we long for the fruits of Egypt we shall soon feel the serpent of Egypt. The natural consequence of turning against God like serpents is to find serpents waylaying our path. If we forsake the Lord in spirit, or in doctrine, temptation will lurk in our path and sin will sting our feet.

I beg you carefully to observe concerning those persons for whom the brazen serpent was especially lifted up that they had been actually bitten by the serpents . The Lord sent fiery serpents among them, but it was not the serpents being among them that involved the lifting up of a brazen serpent, it was the serpents having actually poisoned them which led to the provision of a remedy. “It shall come to pass that everyone that is bitten , when he looketh upon it, shall live.” The only people who did look and derive benefit from the wonderful cure uplifted in the midst of the camp, were those who had been stung by the vipers. The common notion is that salvation is for good people, salvation is for those who fight against temptation, salvation it for the spiritually healthy; but how different is God’s Word. God’s medicine is for the sick, and His healing is for the diseased. 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 nothing for the sham sinners: you who never did anything wrong, you are so good in yourselves that you are all right--I leave you, for I 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 dare say some of you recollect that case of Gurling, one of the keepers of the reptiles in the Zoological Gardens. It happened in October 1852, and therefore some of you will remember it. This unhappy man was about to part with a friend who was going to Australia, and according to the wont of many he must needs drink with him. He drank considerable quantities of gin, and though he would probably have been in a great passion if anyone had called him drunk, yet reason and common sense had evidently become over-powered. He went back to his post at the gardens in an excited 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 cage a Morocco venom-snake, put it round his neck, twisted it about, and whirled it round about him. Happily for him it did not arouse itself so as to bite. The assistant-keeper cried out, “For God’s sake put back the snake,” 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 his bosom 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 by the other hand, intending to hold it by the tail and swing it around his head. He held it for an instant opposite to his face, and like a flash of lightning the serpent struck him between the eyes. The blood streamed down his face, and he called for help, but his companion bled 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 was sitting 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 him to the hospital. First his speech went, he could only point to his poor throat and moan; then his vision failed him, and lastly his hearing. His pulse gradually sank, and in one hour from the time at which he had been struck he was a corpse. There was only a little mark upon the bridge of his nose, but the poison spread over the 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 vividly before you what it is to be bitten by a serpent. Suppose that Gurling could have been cured by looking at a piece of brass, would it not have been good news for him? There was no remedy for that poor infatuated creature, but there is remedy for you. For men who have been bitten by the fiery serpents of sin Jesus Christ is lifted up: not for you only who are as yet playing with the serpent, not for you only who have warmed it in your bosom, and felt it creeping over your flesh, but for you who are actually bitten, and are mortally wounded. If any man be bitten so that he has become diseased with sin, and feels the deadly venom in his blood, it is for him that Jesus is set forth today. Though he may think himself to an extreme case, it is for such that sovereign grace provides a remedy.

The bite of the serpent was very painful. We are told in the text that these serpents were “fiery” serpents, which may perhaps refer to their color, but more probably has the reference to the burning effects of their venom. It heated and inflamed the blood so that every vein became a boiling river, swollen with anguish. They write their own damnation, they are sure that they 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 brazen serpent was lifted up, and it is for men actually envenomed by sin that Jesus is preached. Jesus died for such as are at their wits’ end: for such as cannot think straight, for those who are tumbled up and down in their minds, for those who are condemned already--for such was the Son of man lifted up upon the cross. What a comfortable 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 their own friends die of the snakebite, and they helped to bury them. They knew why they died, and were sure that is was because the venom of the fiery serpents was in their veins. They were left without an excuse for imagining that they could be bitten and yet 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 by the infallible Word, that “the wages of sin is death,” and, yet again, “Sin, when it is finished bringeth forth death.” We know, also, that this death is endless misery, for the Scripture describes the lost as being cast into outer darkness, “where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched.” Our Lord Jesus speaks of the condemned going away into everlasting punishment, were there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. We ought to have no double about this, and the most of those who profess to doubt it are those who fear that it will be their own portion, who know that they are going down to eternal woe themselves, and therefore 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 not of their order. We believe in what the Lord has said in all its solemnity of dread, and, knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men to escape therefrom. But it was for men who had endured the mortal bite, for men upon whose pallid faces death began 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 three 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.”

There is no limit set to the stage of poisoning , however far gone, the remedy still had power. If a person had been bitten a 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 could but look he would live at once. No bound was ever set to the virtue of this divinely ordained remedy, or to1 the freedom of its application to those who needed it. The promise had no qualifying clause-- “It shall come to pass that everyone that is bitten, when he looketh 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, that if a serpent had bitten any man , when he behold the serpent of brass, he lived.” Thus, then, I have described the person who was in mortal peril.

II. Secondly, let us consider THE REMEDY PROVIDED FOR HIM.

This was as singular as it was effectual. It was purely of divine origin , and it is clear that the invention of it, and the putting of power into it, was entirely of God.

Men have proscribed several fomentations, concoctions, and operations for serpent bites: I do not know how far any of them may be depended upon, but this 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 of the 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 avail! How and by what means could a cure be wrought through merely looking at twisted brass? It seemed, indeed, to be almost a mockery to bid men look at the very thing which had caused their misery. Shall the bite of a serpent be cured by looking at a serpent? Shall that which brings death also bring life? But herein lay the excellency of the remedy, that it was of divine origin; for when God ordains a cure He is by that very fact bound to put potency into it. He will devise a failure, nor prescribe a mockery. It should always be enough for 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 forth good to our souls.

This particular remedy of a serpent lifted on a pole was exceedingly instructive , though I do not suppose that Israel understood it.

We have been taught by our Lord and know the meaning. It was a serpent impaled upon a pole. As you would take a sharp pole and drive it through a serpent's head to kill it, so this brazen serpent was exhibited as killed, and hung up as dead before all eyes. It was the image of a dead snake. Wonder of wonders that our Lord Jesus should condescend to be symbolized by a dead serpent. The instruction to its after reading John's gospel is this: our Lord Jesus Christ, in infinite humiliation, deigned to come into the world, and to be made a curse for us. 'Me brazen 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 brazen serpent was in the form of a serpent; and so was Jesus sent forth by God “in the likeness of sin-ful flesh.” He came under the law, and sin was imputed to Him, and therefore He came under the 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 is slain and hung up as a dead serpent: there too is death put to death, for “He hath abolished death and brought life and im-mortality to light”: and there also is the curse forever ended because He has endured it, being “made a curse for us, as it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” Thus are these serpents hung up upon the cross a spectacle to all beholders, all slain by our dying Lord. Sin, death, and the curse are as dead serpents now. Oh, what a sight! If you can see it what joy it will give you. Had the Hebrews understood it, that dead serpent, dangling from a pole, would have prophesied to them the glorious sight which this day our faith gazes upon--Jesus slain, and sin, death, and hell slain in Him. The remedy, then, to be looked to was exceedingly instructive, and we know the instruction it was intended to convey to us.

Please to recollect that in all the camp of Israel there was but one remedy for ser-pent-bite, and that was the brazen serpent; and there was but one brawn serpent, not two. Israel might not make another.

If they had made a second it would have had no effect: 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 serpent he might look to it and live. There is one Sav-ior, and only one. There is none 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 Father that 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 His heel 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, took to Jesus on the cross, for He is the one rem-edy for all forms of sin's poisoned wounds.

There was but one healing serpent, and that one was bright and lustrous .

It was a serpent of brass, and brass is a shining metal. This was newly-made brass, and there-fore not dimmed, and whenever the sun shone, there flashed forth a brightness, from this brazen serpent. It might have been a serpent of wood or of any other metal, if God had so ordained it; but He commanded that it must be of brass, that it might have a brightness about it. What a brightness there is about our Lord Jesus Christ! If we do but exhibit Him in His own true metal He is lustrous in the yes of men. If we will but preach the gospel simply, and never think to adorn it with our philosophical thought, there is enough brightness in Christ to catch a sinner's eye, aye, and it does catch the eyes of thousands. From afar the everlasting gospel gleams in the person of Christ. As the brazen standard reflected the beams of the sun, so Jesus re-flects the love of God 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 sup-pose it remained in the midst of the camp from that day forward. There was no use for it after Israel entered Canaan, but, as long as they were in the wilderness, it was probably exhibited in the center of the camp, hard by the tabernacle door, upon a lofty standard. Aloft and open to the gaze of all hung this image of a dead snake---the perpetual cure for serpent venom. Had it been made of other materials it might have been broken, or have decayed, but a serpent of brass would last as long as fiery serpents pestered the desert camp. As long 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 ever liveth to make inter-cession for them. The dying thief beheld the brightness of that serpent of brass as he saw Jesus hanging at his side, and it saved him; and so may you and I took 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 mine eye,

Jesus lifted up I see,

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 are really guilty, all you who are bitten by the serpent, the sure remedy for you is to look to Jesus Christ, who took our sin upon 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 ye saved.

III. This brings us, in the third place, to consider THE APPLICATION OF THE, REM-EDY, or the link between the serpent-bitten man and the brass serpent which was to heal him.

What was the link?--It was of the most simple kind imaginable. The brazen serpent might have been, if God had so ordered it, carried into the house where the sick man was, but it was not so. It might have been applied to him by rubbing: he might have been expected to repeat a certain form of prayer, or to have a priest present to 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 fre-quent. Bites of the serpent came in many ways; a man might be gathering sticks, or merely walking along, and be bitten. Even now in the desert serpents are a danger. Mr. Sibree says that an 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 dis-covered that it was a coiled-up living serpent. All the daylong when fiery ser-pents were sent among them the Israelites must have been in danger. In their beds and at their meals, in their houses and when they went abroad, they were in dan-ger. These serpents are called by Isaiah “flying serpents,” not because they do fly, but because they contract themselves and then suddenly spring up, so as to reach to a considerable height, and a man might be well buskined 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 tent door, and look to the place where gleamed afar the brightness of the serpent of brass, and the moment be looked he was healed. He had nothing to do but to look--no priest was wanted, no holy water, no hocus pocus, no mass-book, nothing but a look. a Roman Catholic bishop said to one of the early Reformers, when he preached salvation by simple faith, “O Mr. Doctor, open that gap to the people and we are undone.” And so indeed they are, for the business and trade of priestcraft are ended forever if men may simply trust Jesus and live. Yet it is even so. Believe in Him, ye sinners, for this is the spiritual meaning of looking, and at once your sin is forgiven, and what perhaps is more, its deadly power ceases to operate within your spirit. There is life in a look at Jesus; is not this simple enough?

But please to notice how very personal it was.

A man could not be cured by any-thing anybody else could do for him. If he had been bitten by the serpent and had re-fused to look to the serpent of brass, and had gone to his bed, no physician could help him. A pious mother might kneel down and pray for him, but it would be of no use. Sisters might come in and plead, ministers might be called in to pray that the man might live; but he must die despite their prayers if he did not look. There was only 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 tire to pray for you: so I have, but it avails noth-ing unless you yourselves believe in Jesus Christ. There is not beneath the copes of heaven, nor in heaven, for any one of you unless you will believe in Jesus Christ. Whoever you may be, however much bitten of the serpent, and however near to die, if you will look 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 great day I must bear witness against you that I have told you this straight out and plainly. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: he that believeth 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 through severe penances, or give all your goods to feed the poor, but you are a lost man unless you look to Jesus, for this is the one remedy; and even Jesus Christ Himself cannot, will not, save you unless you took to Him. There is nothing in His death to save you, there is nothing in His life to save you, unless you will trust Him. It has come to this, you must look , and look for yourself.

And then, again, it is very instructive . This looking, what did it mean? It meant this--self-help must be abandoned, and God must be trusted. The wounded man would say, “I must not sit here and look at my wound, for that will not save me. See there where 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 uplifted serpent of brass.” It is idle to look anywhere except to God's one ordained remedy. The Israelites must have understood as much as this, that God requires us to trust Him, and to use His means of salvation. We must do as He bids us, and trust in Him to work our cure; and if we will not do this we shall die eternally.

This way of caring was intended that they might magnify the love of God, and attribute their healing entirely to divine grace. The brazen serpent was not merely a picture, as I have shown you, of God's putting away sin by spending His wrath upon His Son, but it was a display of divine love. And this I know because Jesus Himself said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man he lifted up. For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son”: plainly saying that the death of Christ upon the cross was an exhibition of God's love to men; and whosoever looks to that grandest display 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 him-self, for he only looked, and there is no virtue in a look, a believer never claims merit or honor on account of his faith. Faith is a self-denying grace, and never dares to boast. Where is the great credit of simple believing the truth, 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 bitten man he might have ascribed some honor to the priest; but when there was no priest in the case, when there was nothing except looking to that brazen 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; we must 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 before the fourth head, which is THE CURE EFFECTED.

We are told in the text that “if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived”; that is to say, he was healed at once . He had not to wait five minutes, nor five seconds. Dear hearer, did you ever hear this before? If you have not, it may startle you, but it is true. If you have lived in the blackest sin that is possible up to this very moment, yet if you will now believe in Jesus Christ you shall be saved before the clock ticks another time. It is done like a flash of lightning; pardon is not a work of time. Sanctification needs a lifetime, but justification needs no more than a moment. Thou believest, thou livest. Thou dost trust to Christ, thy sins are gone, thou art a saved man the instant thou believest. “Oh,” saith one, “that is a wonder.” It is a wonder, and will remain a wonder to all eternity. Our Lord's miracles when He was on earth were mostly instantaneous. He touched them and the fevered ones were able to sit up and minister to Him. No doctor can cure a fever in that fashion, for there is a resultant weakness left after the heat of the fever is abated. Jesus works perfect cures, and whosoever believeth in Him, though he hath only believed one 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 attacked by 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 thousand times he must look a thousand times. You, dear child of God, if you have sin on your conscience, look to Jesus, The healthiest way of living where serpents swarm is never to take your eye off the brazen serpent at all. Ah, ye vipers, ye may bite if ye will; as long as my eye is upon the brazen serpent I defy your fangs and poison-bags, for I have a continual remedy at work within me. Temptation is overcome by the blood of Jesus. “This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.”

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 the serpent 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 nigh. Nor did it matter if their eyes were feeble. All eyes were net alike keen; and some may have had a squint, or a dimness of vision, or only one eye, 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 the coils of the brazen snake, but I can see the shining of the brass”; and he lived. Oh, poor soul, if thou canst not see the whole of Christ nor all His beauties, nor all the riches of His grace, yet if thou canst but see Him who was made sin for us thou shalt live. If thou sayest, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief,' thy faith will save thee; a little faith will give thee a great Christ, and thou shalt 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 pray he may. It is a pleasant thought that if they looked to that brazen serpent by any kind of life they lived. Many beheld it in the glare of noon, and saw its shining coils, and lived; but I should not wonder that some were bitten at night, and by the moonlight they drew near and looked up and lived. Perhaps it was a dark and stormy night, and not a star was visible. The tempest crashed overhead, and from the murky cloud out flashed the lightning, cleaving the rocks asunder. By the glare of that sudden flame the dying man made out the brazen serpent, and though he saw but for moment yet he lived. So, sinner, if your soul is wrapped in tempest, and if from out the cloud there comes but one single flash of light, look to 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?

We should imitate Moses, whose business it was to set the brazen serpent upon a pole. It is your business and mine to lift up the gospel of Christ Jesus, so that all may see it. All Moses had to do was to hang up the brazen 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 lawgiver, 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 open to the gaze of all. He did not say, “Aaron, bring hither 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, and not in its surroundings. The Lord did not tell him to paint the pole, or to deck it with the colors of the rainbow. Oh, no. Any pole would do, The dying ones did not want 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 ser-pent was the sole thing to look at. This is what we have to do with our Lord. We must preach Him , teach Him , and make Him visible to all. We must not conceal Him by our attempts at eloquence and learning. We must have done with the polished lancewood pole of fine speech, and those bits of scarlet and blue, in the form of grand sentences the poetic periods. Everything must be done that Christ may be seen, and nothing must be allowed which hides Him. Moses may go home and go to bed when the serpent is once uplifted. All that is wanted is that the brazen serpent should be within view both by day and night. The preacher may hide himself, so that no-body may know who he is, for if he has set forth Christ is he is best out of the way.

Now, you teachers, teach your children Jesus. Show them Christ crucified. Keep Christ before them. The young men that try to preach, do not attempt to do it grandly. The true grandeur of preaching is for Christ to be grandly displayed in it. No other grandeur is wanted. Keep self in the background, but set forth Jesus Christ among the people, evidently crucified among them. None but Jesus, none but Jesus. Let Him be sum and substance of all your teaching.

Some of you have looked to the brazen serpent, I know, and you have been healed, but what have you done with the brazen serpent since? You have not come forward to confess your faith and join the church. You have not spoken to anyone about his soul. You put the brazen serpent into a chest and hide it away. Is this right? Bring it out, and set it an a pole. Publish Christ and His salvation. He was never meant to be treated as a curiosity in a museum; He is intended to be exhibited in the highways that those who are sin-bitten may look at Him. “But, I have no proper pole,” 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 speak in your Lord's praise, the higher you can lift Him up the better, but for all other styles of speech there is nothing to be said. Do lift Christ up. “Oh,” says one, “but I have not a long stan-dard.” Then lift Him up on such as you have, for there are short people about who will be able to see by your means. I think I told you once of a picture which I saw of the brazen serpent. I want the Sunday-school teachers to listen to this. The artist repre-sented 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 not get near it. She carried a little babe, which a serpent had bit-ten. You could see the blue marks of the venom. As she could get no nearer, the mother held her child aloft, and turned its little head that it might gaze with its infant eye upon the brazen serpent and live. Do this with your little children, you Sunday school teach-ers. Even while they are yet little, pray that they may took to Jesus Christ and live; for there is no bound set to their age. Old men snake-bitten came hobbling on their crutches. “Eighty years old am I,” saith one, “but I have looked to the brazen serpent, and I am healed.” Little boys were brought out by their mothers, though as yet they could hardly speak plainly, and they cried in child language, “I look at the great snake and it bless me.” All ranks, and sexes, and characters, and dispositions looked and lived, Who will look to Jesus at this good hour? O dear souls, will you have life or no? Will you despise Christ and perish? If so, your blood be on your own skirts. I have told you God's way of salvation, lay hold on it. Look to Jesus at once. May His Spirit gently lead you so to do. Amen.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Numbers 21". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/spe/numbers-21.html. 2011.