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John i. '29.
Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
HPHERE is a vast curiosity in the mind of man, and the world abounds with objects to gratify it. The heavens, the earth, the sea, are full of wonders; and had not man sinned, he might always have read the book of nature with new delight, and have seen the glory of God in every line. But now, unhappy, fallen man turns his back upon God, while he surveys his works; and thinks every trifle better worth his notice than his Maker. In hi fancy, in youth, in middle life, in old age, a constant succession of vanities courts his attention, and he never thinks of beholding Christ till he dies, and appears before his awful tribunal.
like John the Baptist, whose words these are, 1 would cry aloud, and say to my fellow-men, Behold the Lamb of'God.'—* Turn away your eyes from beholding vanities ; and fix your attention on an object the most wonderful, the most pleasing, and the most useful, that the eyes of men or angels ever beheld.'
John was the harbinger of Christ, the voice of one crying in the wildermss, ' Prepare ye the way of the Lord.' With strict austerity of manners, and with great plainness of speech, he preached repentance—' Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' His honest labours were crowned with great success : and thousands of all descriptions flocked from the cities and towns of Judea into the solitary wilderness, and, touched with compunction for their sins, applied to him, saying,— 'What must we do?' O that, in this our day, we could see *iich a general awakening!
Thus the prophet proceeded, till Jesus Christ entered Vol in. c
on the public stage of action, and came forth from the wilderness, where he had suffered all kinds of temptation. John, far from pretending to be the Messiah, directed his disciples to Jesus, saying, in the words of our text, Behold the Lamb of God. In these words let us consider,
I. The great object presented to our view—The Lamb of God; and,
II. The attention we ought to pay him—Behold the Lamb!
I. The object set before us is Jesus Christ, here called the Lamb of God.
No doubt the expression alludes to the sacrifices of the Jews, in which consisted a principal part of their worship, as appointed of God himself. In this way God was worshipped from the beginning of the world. We find Abel, the son of Adam, offering up lambs. 'the firstlings of the flock, and of the fat thereof,' and this was a sacrifice well-pleasing'to God, because it was offered up in faith. He believed the promise of a Saviour, which God had made to his father; he trusted in him, and was justified. It was for this purpose, in the first place, and not for amusement or profit, that Abel was 'a keeper of sheep :' and it was probably with the skins of lambs, killed for sacrifices by Adam and his wife, that the Lord God clothed them, instead of the covering of fig-leaves which they had made for themselves. Thus all believers in Jesus are clothed with his righteousness, while blind Pharisees vainly strive to hide the nakedness of their souls with their own * filthy rags.' Thus God continued to be worshipped by his own people for four thousand years : even till, 'in the fulness of time, God sent forth his own Son,' the very person that John here points out as the Lamb of God. And it is remarkable, that almost all nations, however they differed in other notions of religion, have retained something of sacrifices. The sons of Noah, wherever dispersed, carried with them this true notion, that 'without shedding of blond there was no remission :' and many of them mistaking the ancient promises of the great sacrifice of the Son of God, offered up a man as an atonement for their souls. This was practised in England
before the Romans conquered it; and.was practised until lately in the newly-discovered islands of the South Seas. May God hasten the time, when his glorious gospel shall be preached in all the world, and every Pagan sinner be directed to the Lamb of God, whose blood alone cleanseth from all sin!'
Various creatures were used in sacrifice by the law of Moses, but the principal and most constant victim was the Lamb. One was offered up at the temple every morning, and another every evening; and on the Sabbath-day, two in the morning and two in the evening. Once a year there was a remarkable ordinance— the Passover. It was first instituted when the children of Israel came out of Egypt. On that dreadful night, when God plagued the Egyptians by slaying their firstborn, he ordered his own people to kill a lamb, and to sprinkle its blood upon the door-posts of their houses; and when the destroying angel went forth in the night to slay the Egyptians, he was commanded to pass over the houses so distinguished, and not hurt them. Once a year, ever after, they were to observe the same ceremony; and something like it they still observe. Now we are sure, from the New Testament, that all this was done to preach Christ unto them, and especially to us. St. Paul says, 1 Cor. v. 7, Christ, our passover, is sacrificed for us. The paschal lamb was without blemish ; Christ was free from all sin, original or actual. The lamb must be of the first year; so Christ laid down his life in the prime of his days. The lamb must be so slain that his blood might copiously flow: so the Redeemer shed his blood abundantly, by his agony, by the thorns, the scourge, the nails, and the spear; and yet, according to the type, not a bone of him was broken. In the temple service, the lamb was killed before the whole assembly; in like manner, our Saviour suffered at the great festival, in view of the whole assembled nation. The blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the door-posts: the blood of Christ must be applied to the conscience, and is therefore called ' the blood of sprinkling.' That blood secured every family where it was sprinkled; the destroying angel was forbidden to hurt them; so the merits of Jesus screen every believer from
the stroke of offended justice, and the bitter pains of eternal death. 'What,' saith the pious Hervey on this passage, 'What must have become of the Israelite, who, trusting to the uprightness of his heart, should neglect to make use of this divinely-appointed safeguard? He must inevitably have perished, with the death of his first-born. Equally certain, but infinitely more dreadful, will be his condemnation, who, before the omniscient Judge, shall presume to plead his own integrity, or confide in his repentance, and reject the atonement of the dying Jesus.'
The offering of sacrifices was the chief part of the religion of the Old Testament church. Sacrifices were to believers, then, nearly what sacraments are to believers now. Christ the Purifier, Christ the Peacemaker, was the substance of them. The animal offered must be clean, without spot or blemish; that it might signify the perfect purity of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. The priest laid his hands upon the creature presented for an offering, while the sinner confessed his iniquity over the head of the sacrifice; and thus sin was typically transferred to the victim; which was therefore called sin or guilt. Thus God ' laid upon his Son the iniquities of us all;' and he was made 'sin for us, that we might be made righteousness in him.' The slain sacrifices were burnt on the altar; so Christ was consumed by the flames of his love for his Father and his people, and at the same time by the flames of the divine wrath against sin, which he had undertaken to bear. There was a sweet-smelling savour of incense that ascended with the flames and smoke; and this was to signify how acceptable to God was the death of his Son,' who gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savour,' Ephes. v. 2. The peace-offerings were not entirely consumed, but the person who offered them might, and did eat of them. A feast was frequently made of them, which was a kind of sacrament of communion; a type of that communion which believers in Christ now have, with him and with one another, in the sacred ordinance of the Lord's supper.
But Jesus Christ is called in our text, The Lamb of God. This name is given him by way of eminence, and to shew his superiority over every other sacrifice. He is the Lamb of God, as he was chosen, appointed, and prepared by God the Father, from all eternity. In common sacrifices every man chose his own Iamb; here God only chose and appointed. • God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son,' that he might be the great sacrifice. His infinite superiority also appears in that he was but once offered. Other sacrifices were repeated annually, monthly, yea, daily; this shewed their imperfection, and that they couldnot, by any virtue of their own, take away sin.—' But this man, after h« had offered One sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God: for by One offering he hath for
ever perfected them that are sanctified;' that is he
hath done all that was necessary for the pardon and complete acceptance with God of all those who believe in him, and who were set apart in the purpose of God for glory. Hebx. 12—14.
This is that peculiar excellence in the Lamb of God, on account of which we are invited to behold him. Behold him, sinner! for he taketh away sin. The word tuketh away signifies he beareth away. This denotes that sin is a heavy burden ; and would to God this were seriously considered! Fools make a mock at sin;' they make light of it; they make a jest of it; but thereby they shew their folly." Let them think a moment, (if minds so light can think,) let them think—what it was that filled the world with ' mourning, lamentation, and woe!' what produced all the sorrows and sufferings that we see, or feel, or fear? Was it not sin, accursed sin? Let them consider what a burden it is to a guilty conscience, when once its evil is discovered and its effects dreaded; for though 'the spirit of a man may sustain his infirmity, a wounded spirit who can bear?' The Psalmist, a type of this sin-bearing Lamb, cries out, 'There is no soundness in my flesh, because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin; for mine iniquities are gone over mine head as a heavy burden; they are too heavy for me.' Ps. xxxviii.3, 4. Life itself is a burden to a mind oppressed with the guilt of some particular sin, or of sin in