A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, October 19, 1879, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. *12/14/2012
And Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole, and it
came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld
the serpent of bronze, he lived. [Nu 21:9]
For other sermons on this text:
[See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 1500, “Number 1500, Or Lifting Up the Brazen Serpent” 1500]
[See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 1722, “First Setting Up of the Brazen Serpent, The” 1723]
Exposition on Nu 21:1-9 Joh 3:1-15 [See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3214, “Two Wilderness Incidents” 3215 @@ "Exposition"]
1. This discourse when it shall be printed will make fifteen hundred of my sermons which have been published regularly week by week. This is certainly a remarkable fact. I do not know of any example in modern times in which fifteen hundred 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 languages; sermons which are publicly read on this very Sunday in hundreds 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 be glad and rejoice in this great blessing which I most heartily ascribe to the undeserved favour of the Lord.
2. I thought the best way in which I could express my thankfulness would be to preach Jesus Christ again, and present him 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 fifteen hundred 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.
3. Concerning our text and the serpent of bronze. If you turn to John’s gospel you will notice that its beginning contains a kind of orderly list of types taken from Holy Scripture. It begins with the creation. God said, “Let there be light,” and John begins by declaring that Jesus, the eternal Word, is “the true light, who illuminates every man who comes into the world.” Before he closes his first chapter John has introduced a type supplied by Abel, for when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him he said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Nor is the first chapter finished before we are reminded of Jacob’s ladder, for we find our Lord declaring to Nathanael, “Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels 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, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” We are going to speak of this act of Moses this morning, so that all of us may behold the bronze serpent and find the promise to be true, “everyone who is bitten, when he looks at 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 their eyes in that direction may gaze upon the uplifted Saviour, 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 for their souls. May the Holy Spirit make the word effective to that gracious purpose.
4. I. I shall invite you to consider the subject first by noticing THE PERSON IN MORTAL PERIL for whom the bronze serpent was made and lifted up. Our text says, “It came to pass that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of bronze, he lived.”
5. Let us notice that the fiery serpents first of all came among the people because they had despised God’s way and God’s food. “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 about it. As 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 wisely ordered, and they ought to have been quite sure that this bypassing of the land of Edom was wisely ordered, too. But, no; they quarrelled 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.
6. The people, also, quarrelled with God’s food. He gave them the best of the best, for “men ate 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 loathes this light bread,” as if they thought it was unsubstantial, and only suited to fill them up, because it was easily digested, 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 quarrelled with the food 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 food 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 suited 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 food, 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 quarrelled 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 grow 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 serpents 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.
7. I ask you to carefully observe concerning those people for whom the bronze serpent was specifically 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 which involved the lifting up of a bronze serpent, it was the serpents having actually poisoned them which led to the provision of a remedy. “It shall come to pass that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” The only people who looked and derived benefit from the wonderful cure lifted up 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, and salvation is 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 really and truly guilty. We do not preach a sentimental salvation from imagined guilt, but real and true pardon for actual offences. I care nothing for sham sinners: you who never did anything wrong, you who 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 bronze was a remedy for those who had been bitten.
8. What an awful thing it is to be bitten by a serpent! I dare say some of you remember the 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 custom of many he must have a 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 overpowered. He went back to his post at the gardens in an aroused state. A few months before he had seen an exhibition of snake-charming, and this was on his poor muddled brain. He must emulate the Egyptians, and play with snakes. First he took out of its cage a Morocco venom snake, put it around his neck, twisted it about, and whirled it all around him. Luckily for him it did not arouse itself 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 his bosom until it revived, and glided downward until 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 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 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 when 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 so 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 bronze, would it 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 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 were bitten so that he has become diseased with sin, and feels the deadly venom in his blood, it is for him that Jesus is presented today. Though he may think himself to be an extreme case, it is for such that sovereign grace provides a remedy.
9. The bite of the serpent was painful. We are told in the text that these serpents were “fiery” serpents, which may perhaps refer to their colour, but more probably has 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. In some men that poison of asps which we call sin has inflamed their minds. They are restless, discontented and full of fear and anguish. They write their own damnation, they are sure that they are lost, they refuse all news 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 who 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 by sin that Jesus is preached. Jesus died for such as are at their wits’ end: for such as cannot think straight, for those whose minds are in a turmoil, for those who are condemned already — for such was the Son of man lifted up upon the cross. What a comforting thing that we are able to tell you this.
10. 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 “many people of Israel died.” They saw their own friends die of the snake-bite, and they helped to bury them. They knew why they died, and were sure that it 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 still live. Now, we know that many have perished as the result of sin. We are not in doubt concerning 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, results in 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 does not die, and their fire is not quenched.” Our Lord Jesus speaks of the condemned going away into everlasting punishment, where there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. We ought to have no doubt about this, and 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 from it. 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 a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.”
11. 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 out, 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 only look he would live at once. No bound was set to the virtue of this divinely ordained remedy, or to the freedom of its application to those who needed it. The promise had no qualifying clause, — “It shall come to pass that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at 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 looked at the serpent of bronze, he lived.” Thus, then, I have described the person who was in mortal peril.
12. II. Secondly, let us consider THE REMEDY PROVIDED FOR HIM. This was as exceptional as it was effective.
13. 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 prescribed several fomentations, concoctions, and operations for snake 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 what God had provided, and at first sight that remedy must have seemed to be a very unlikely one. A simple look at the figure of a serpent on a pole — how unlikely to avail! How and by what means could a cure be accomplished through merely looking at twisted bronze? It seemed, indeed, to be almost a mockery to tell men to look at the very thing which had caused their misery. Shall the bite of a serpent be cured by looking at a serpent? Shall what 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 not 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 do not need to know how it will work, it is quite sufficient for us that God’s mighty grace is pledged to make it produce good for our souls.
14. This particular remedy of a serpent lifted on a pole was extremely 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 bronze 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 symbolised by a dead serpent. The instruction for us after reading John’s gospel is this: our Lord Jesus Christ, in infinite humiliation, condescended to come into the world, and to be made a curse for us. The bronze serpent had no venom in 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 presented by God “in the likeness of sinful 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 has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light”: and there also is the curse ended for ever because he has endured it, being “made a curse for us, as it is written, cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” So these serpents are hung up upon the cross as 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 our faith gazes upon today — Jesus slain, and sin, death, and hell slain in him. The remedy, then, to be looked at was extremely instructive, and we know the instruction it was intended to convey to us.
15. Please remember that in all the camp of Israel there was only one remedy for the snake-bite, and that was the bronze serpent; and there was only one bronze serpent, not two. Israel might not make another one. If they had made a second one it would have had no effect: there was one, and only one, and that was lifted high in the centre of the camp, so that if any man was bitten by a serpent he might look at it and live. There is one Saviour, and only one. There is no other name given under heaven among men by which we must be saved. All grace is concentrated in Jesus, of whom we read, “It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell.” Christ’s bearing the curse and ending the curse, Christ’s being slain by sin and destroying sin, Christ bruised on his heel by the old serpent, but breaking the serpent’s head, — it is Christ alone whom we must look to if we would live. Oh sinner, look at Jesus on the cross, for he is the only remedy for all forms of sin’s poisoned wounds.
16. There was only one healing serpent, and that one was bright and lustrous. It was a serpent of bronze, and bronze is a shiny metal. This was newly made bronze, and therefore not dimmed, and whenever the sun shone, there flashed out a brightness from this bronze serpent. It might have been a serpent of wood or of any other metal, if God had so ordained; but he commanded that it must be of bronze, that it might have brightness about it. What brightness there is about our Lord Jesus Christ! If we only exhibit him in his own true metal he is lustrous in the eyes of men. If we will only 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, indeed, and it does catch the eyes of thousands. From afar the everlasting gospel gleams in the person of Christ. Just as the bronze standard reflected the beams of the sun, so Jesus reflects the love of God for sinners, and seeing it they look by faith and live.
Once more, this remedy was an enduring one. It was a serpent of
bronze, and I suppose it remained in the midst of the camp from that
day on. 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
centre of the camp, close 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 bronze would last as long as fiery serpents pestered the desert
camp. As long as there was a man bitten there was the serpent of
bronze to heal him. What a comfort this is, that Jesus is still able
to save to the uttermost all who come to God by him, since he lives
for ever to make intercession for them. The dying thief beheld the
brightness of that serpent of bronze as he saw Jesus hanging at his
side, and it saved him; and so may you and I look and live, for he is
“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and for ever.”
Faint my head, and sick my heart,
Wounded, bruis’d, in every part,
Satan’s fiery sting I feel
Poison’d 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.
18. I hope I do not obscure my subject by these metaphors. I do not wish to do so, but to make it very plain to you. All you who are truly guilty, all you who are bitten by the serpent, the sure remedy for you is to look at Jesus Christ, who took our sin upon himself, and died in the sinner’s place, “being made sin for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Your only remedy lies in Christ, and nowhere else. Look at him and be saved.
19. III. This brings us, in the third place, to consider THE APPLICATION OF THE REMEDY, or the link between the snake-bitten man and the bronze serpent which was to heal him.
20. What was the link? It was of the most simple kind imaginable. The bronze 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 only had to look. It was good that the cure was so simple for the danger was so frequent. 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 on one occasion he saw what he thought to be a round stone, beautifully marked. He stretched out his hand to pick it up, when to his horror he discovered that it was a coiled-up living snake. All the during day when fiery serpents 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 outside, they were in danger. These serpents are called by Isaiah “flying serpents,” not because they 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 [a] and yet not be beyond the reach of one of these malignant reptiles. What was a man to do? He had nothing to do except to stand outside his tent-door, and look at the place where gleamed afar the brightness of the serpent of bronze, 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 Roman Catholic bishop said to one of the early Reformers, when he preached salvation by simple faith, “Oh 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 for ever if men may simply trust Jesus and live. Yet it is even so. Believe in him, you 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 this not simple enough?
21. But please notice how very personal it was. A man could not be cured by anything anyone else could do for him. If he had been bitten by the serpent and had refused to look at the serpent of bronze, 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 so 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 at that serpent of bronze. It is just so with you. Some of you have written to me begging me to pray for you: so I have, but it avails nothing unless you yourselves believe in Jesus Christ. There is not beneath the canopy of heaven, nor in heaven, any hope for any one of you unless you will believe in Jesus Christ. Whoever you may be, however much bitten by the serpent, and however near to death, if you will look at the Saviour 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 who believes and is baptized shall be saved: he who does not believe shall be damned.” There is no help for it; you may do what you wish, join whatever 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 at Jesus, for this is the one remedy; and even Jesus Christ himself cannot, will not, save you unless you look at 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.
22. 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 where the serpent struck me, the blood is oozing out, black with the venom! How it burns and swells! My very heart is failing. But all these reflections will not cure me. I must look away from this to the uplifted serpent of bronze.” It is pointless to look anywhere except to God’s one ordained remedy. The Israelites must have understood as much as this, that God required us to trust him, and to use his means of salvation. We must do as he tells us, and trust in him to work our cure; and if we will not do this we shall die eternally.
23. This way of curing was intended so 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 his Son, but it was a display of divine love. And I know this because Jesus himself said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be 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 for men; and whoever looks at that grandest display of God’s love for 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 there is no virtue in a look. A believer never claims merit or honour on account of his faith. Faith is a self-denying grace, and never dares to boast. Where is the great credit of simply 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 honour to the priest; but when there was no priest in the case, when there was nothing except looking at 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. God will have us all come to that conclusion; we must all confess that if we are saved it is by his free, rich, sovereign, undeserved grace displayed in the person of his dear Son.
24. IV. Allow me one moment upon the fourth point, which is THE CURE ACCOMPLISHED.
25. We are told in the text that “if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of bronze, he lived”; that is to say, he was healed at once. He did not have to wait five minutes, or 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 again. 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. You believe, you live. You trust in Christ, your sins are gone, you are a saved man the instant you believe. “Oh,” one says, “that is a wonder.” It is a wonder, and will remain a wonder for 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 whoever believes in him, though he has only believed for one minute, is justified from all his sins. Oh the matchless grace of God!
26. 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 all around. What did he have 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 at Jesus. The healthiest way of living where serpents swarm is never to take your eye off the bronze serpent at all. Ah, you vipers, you may bite if you wish; as long as my eye is upon the bronze serpent I defy your fangs and your poison, for I have a continual remedy at work within me. Temptation is overcome by the blood of Jesus. “This is the victory which overcomes the world, even our faith.”
27. This cure was of universal efficacy for all who used it. There was not one case in all the camp of a man who looked at the serpent of bronze and yet died, and there never will be a case of a man who looks at 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 everyone, but as long as they could see the serpent it healed those who were afar off as well as those who were near. Nor did it matter if their eyes were feeble. All eyes were not equally keen; and some may have had a squint, or a dimness of vision, or only one eye, but if they only looked 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 bronze snake, but I can see the shining of the bronze”; and he lived. Oh, poor soul, if you cannot see all of Christ nor all his beauties, nor all the riches of his grace, yet if you can only see him who was made sin for us you shall live. If you say, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief,” your faith will save you; a little faith will give you a great Christ, and you shall find eternal life in him.
28. So 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.
29. It is a pleasant thought that if they looked at that bronze serpent in any kind of light they lived. Many saw 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 discerned the bronze serpent, and though he saw it only for a moment yet he lived. So, sinner, if your soul is wrapped in tempest, and if from out of the cloud there only comes one single flash of light, look to Jesus Christ by it and you shall live.
30. V. I close with this last matter of consideration: here is A LESSON FOR THOSE WHO LOVE THEIR LORD.
31. What ought we to do? We should imitate Moses, whose business it was to set the bronze 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 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 out in my robes as lawgiver, and stand there.” No, he had nothing to do that was pompous or ceremonial, he only had to exhibit the bronze serpent and leave it naked and open to 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 completely 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 colours of the rainbow. Oh, no. Any pole would do. The dying ones did not need to see the pole, they only needed to see 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 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 not use the polished lancewood pole of fine speech, and those bits of scarlet and blue, in the form of grand sentences and poetic passages. Everything must be done so 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 lifted up. All that is needed is that the bronze serpent should be within view both by day and night. The preacher may hide himself, so that no one may know who he is, for if he has presented Christ he is best out of the way.
32. Now, you Sunday School teachers, teach your children Jesus. Show them Christ crucified. Keep Christ before them. You young men who 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 needed. Keep self in the background, but present Jesus Christ among the people, clearly crucified among them. None but Jesus, none but Jesus. Let him be the sum and substance of all your teaching.
Some of you have looked at the bronze serpent, I know, and you have
been healed, but what have you done with the bronze 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 bronze
serpent into a chest and hide it away. Is this right? Bring it out,
and set it on a pole. Proclaim 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 so that those who are sin bitten may look
at him. “But, I have no proper pole,” one says. The best kind of pole
to exhibit Christ upon is a high one, so that he may be seen from
greater distances. Exalt Jesus. Speak well of his name. I do not know
any other virtue that there can be in the pole except 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. Lift Christ up. “Oh,” one says, “but I do not have a long
standard.” Then lift him up on such as you have, for there are short
people around who will be able to see by your means. I think I told
you once about a picture which I saw of the bronze serpent. I want
the Sunday School teachers to listen to this. The artist represented
all kinds of people clustering around 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, whom a serpent had bitten. You could see the
blue marks of the venom. Since she could get no nearer, the mother
held her child aloft, and turned his little head so that he might
gaze with his infant eye upon the bronze serpent and live. Do this
with your little children, you Sunday School teachers. Even while
they are still little, pray that they may look at Jesus Christ and
live; for there is no bound set to their age. Old men snake-bitten
came hobbling on their crutches. “I am eighty years old,” one says,
“but I have looked at the bronze 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 genders, and
characters, and dispositions looked and lived. Who will look at Jesus
at this good hour? Oh dear souls will you have life or not? 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 at Jesus
at once. May his Spirit gently lead you to do so. Amen.
[Portions Of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Nu 21:4-9 Joh 3:1-18]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “The Work of Grace as a Whole — The Unspeakable Gift” 240]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Gospel, Stated — The Brazen Serpent” 539]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Jesus Christ, In Heaven — The Power Of The Risen Lord” 331]
[a] Buskin: A covering for the foot and leg reaching to the calf, or to the knee; a half-boot. OED.
I should greatly rejoice if this sermon could be widely
distributed. I have requested Messrs. Passmore and Alabaster to
republish it in book form. It can be had at one penny a copy, or 6s.
per hundred. — C. H. S.
The Work of Grace as a Whole
240 — The Unspeakable Gift
1 Come, happy souls, approach your God
With new melodious songs;
Come, render to almighty grace
The tribute of your tongues.
2 So strange, so boundless was the love
That pitied dying men,
The Father sent his equal Son
To give them life again.
3 Thy hands, dear Jesus, were not arm’d
With an avenging rod,
No hard commission to perform,
The vengeance of a God.
4 But all was mercy, all was mild,
And wrath forsook the throne,
When Christ on the kind errand came,
And brought salvation down.
5 Here, sinners, you may heal your wounds,
And wipe your sorrows dry;
Trust in the mighty Saviour’s name,
And you shall never die.
6 See, dearest Lord, our willing souls
Accept thine offer’d grace;
We bless the great redeemer’s love,
And give the Father praise.
Isaac Watts, 1709.
539 — The Brazen Serpent
1 So did the Hebrew prophet raise
The brazen serpent high;
The wounded felt immediate ease,
The camp forbore to die.
2 “Look upward in the dying hour,
And live,” the prophet cries:
But Christ performs a nobler cure
When faith lifts up her eyes.
3 High on the cross the Saviour hung,
High in the heavens he reigns;
Here sinners, by th’ old serpent stung,
Look, and forget their pains.
4 When God’s own Son is lifted up,
A dying world revives:
The Jew beholds the glorious hope,
The expiring Gentile lives.
Isaac Watts, 1709.
Jesus Christ, In Heaven
331 — The Power Of The Risen Lord
1 Jesus, the name high over all,
In hell, or earth, or sky,
Angels and men before it fall,
And devils fear and fly.
2 Jesus, the name to sinners dear,
The name to sinners given,
It scatters all their guilty fear,
And turns their hell to heaven.
3 Jesus the prisoner’s fetters breaks,
And bruises Satan’s head;
Power into strengthless souls it speaks,
And life into the dead.
4 His only righteousness I show,
His saving truth proclaim;
‘Tis all my business here below
To cry, “Behold the Lamb!”
5 Happy, if with my latest breath
I may but gasp his name;
Preach him to all, and cry in death,
“Behold, behold the Lamb!”
Charles Wesley, 1749.