Behold the Lamb of God
Preached on October 25, 1840, at Milton Church, Glasgow, Scotland.
“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world!” John 1:29. This is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The Hope of Israel had come at last. “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” And the voice which had sounded by the mouths of all the holy prophets which had been since the world began, now sounded with more distinctness and more emphasis, whilst with the finger John the precursor pointed and said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
Look in the first place at that which He takes away — “the sin of the world.” It’s not here said “sins”, but “sin”; sin with which not some individual of the human race, but the whole world is charged. No doubt there are multitudes of sins in the world. None but God can number the sins that have been committed since the world was — that shall be committed while the world lasts. But though the sins be many and the sinners who commit them many, there is a principle of unity binding all the sin of the world, as it were, together. “The sin of the world,” of which the various sins are so many branches and manifestations, is the world’s apostasy and alienation from the living God; the two great evils connected going into one — that we have forsaken Jehovah, the fountain of living waters, and have hewn out to ourselves broken cisterns that can hold no water. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law, for sin is the transgression of the law.” And the law of God is one — multitudes of commandments, but one in its principle; its principle being love to God, and love to all created beings for God’s sake. It is one, as flowing all from the same essential purity, justice, and universal moral good — the Divine nature. Sin contrary to this, has a unity. But further, the disclosures which Holy Scripture makes to us will enable us to take some view of “the sin of the world.” Friends, if we would view this aright, we must begin at the beginning — the beginning if the world’s sin.
There is indeed a different phasis [tidings] of the world’s sin presented among us, and amongst the nations that know not God by external revelation. But what then? Are we better than they? They are guilty of abominable idolatries, unnatural vices, and horrid cruelties. But in that portion of the world which was favored with the light of Divine truth, the Lord complained, “Even among my people are found wicked men: they overpass the deeds of the wicked.” It would be impossible to reckon up even the particular classes of sin — the selfishness, pride, impurity, injustice, impatience, rancor, malice, heedlessness of one another’s good; and were we to go and descend into the very sinks of sin, in the places where it gets unbridled sway, to look over if we could the crimes, the iniquities that have been perpetrated since the world began, had we but a sight of Glasgow’s sin for one day — O what a terrible sight would it be! All Glasgow would be struck with horror! What’s a world’s sin? — the sin of a race that for six thousand years has been sinning? What the amount of actual sin? What then the depravity of nature, which is the well-spring of it all?
It’s “the sin of the world.” The whole world is in the sin. It involves me, it involves thee, it involves each individual. We as individuals have our sins, and as an integral part and portion of Adam’s posterity are connected thus with the whole amount of the sin of the world. This looks like exaggeration. “Surely,” you will say, “things cannot be so bad as that; for if they be, we are hopeless; there can be nothing for it but to lie down in despair.” Nay, some may be tempted to say, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” “If our iniquities be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?” Let us relinquish hope, and “sell ourselves to work wickedness.”
Now if we look through the world we shall not find anything to take away its sin, or even to mitigate and keep in its sin; — nothing there to expiate it in whole or in part, nothing to subdue it: it is only capable of waxing worse and worse, working itself into grosser developments through an endless eternity. Nothing in the world to take away the world’s sin. Is not this a pitiable world!
But “Behold the Lamb of God!” “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” He was in the world, but He was not of the world. He comes into this world from the God against whom this world transgressed. And what may the world expect He comes to do? When God sent His Son into this world, on what other errand could it be but to condemn the world? Ah no! “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” O what a Visitor! How rightly might John point to Him, how rightly may we all listen to John’s short but pithy declaration, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!”
There is a reference here, no doubt, to the immaculate purity of the Lord Jesus Christ — holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners. But there is special reference unto sacrifice — God’s sacrificial Lamb. There may be a double reference here, or rather, perhaps, a common reference running through the whole, but exhibited in two cases. First, in the case of Abraham, when God commanded him to offer up his son Isaac. The ram caught in the thicket was sacrificed; Isaac was spared, a type of our salvation by the substitution of the Lord Jesus: so he received Isaac from the dead in a figure. The other reference is to the lamb of the passover. What did God teach there? That Israel deserved the same punishment with the Egyptians, that the destroying angel will not find Goshen better than Egypt, but God would spare His people whom He had set apart for Himself. “Ye see the blood of a spotless lamb testifying that ye are sinners, deserving to die, and that you are spared of my mercy.” And so the destroying angel did not destroy the first-born of Israel.
Now here is, by the way of eminence, “God’s Lamb” — the Lamb He hath provided for a burnt-offering — not typically but actually, not the shadow but the substance. Jesus is God’s Lamb as He is the provided of God. God looked out the Lamb to take away the sin of the world; God looked out a Lamb for Himself. The world had not a lamb to expiate its sin. Not to speak of the necessity of a Divine Person to atone for sin — for infinite evil of it — the world had not an innocent person. But God provided a Lamb. “He laid help upon one that was mighty; he found out David His servant” — the antitypical David. ‘Twas Jehovah’s own finding. He provided a Lamb for a burnt-offering, and what, what was His provision? We read in this chapter that He who is called the Lamb of God is the Word of God, which in the beginning was with God and was God — the Life and the Light of men — the Creator of all things, by whom all things were made — God’s own Son, the only begotten of the Father, the Fellow of the Lord of Hosts, the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His Person. He laid help upon One mighty to save.
But when we consider the Lamb of God, we consider Him as God-man, Immanuel, which He was from all eternity by covenant designation and covenant engagement, but in the fullness of times by actual manifestation. We are sent then to Bethlehem to see this great thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us, to see the Child born, the Son given, whose name is the Mighty God! Forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, it was necessary that He should Himself also take part of the same, that He might be a “Goël,” a kinsman Redeemer; that satisfaction might be given to Divine justice in the same nature the had offended, whilst He was the Son of God, whose Deity gave infinite value and efficacy to His obedience and atonement. He is the Lamb of God, pure and spotless — for such alone could bear away sin; meek and gentle, led to the slaughter, willing, resigned, acquiescing, adoring that pure and holy justice which burst upon His head.
He is the Lamb of God now accepted. The Lord has accepted His burnt-offering. It has been offered up, and the fire from heaven did descend, the Lord’s fire coming down to consume, as it were, showed that the Lord was pleased with the Victim, that it was holy and acceptable to Him — such as could stand.
He’s the Lamb of God, the Lamb whom God, having provided and accepted, now exhibits, exhibits to us sinners. He says of Him, for we have greater testimony than that of John, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Wherever this Gospel is preached, the Father exhibits Him as His Lamb.
He taketh away the sin of the world. He taketh the sin away! O wondrous transaction this, that God’s Lamb takes away the world’s sin! He takes away the world’s sin, first, by substitution. The first and original transference of our sin, if we could see it, is not either in the day of our pardon, or in the day of atonement, but in the day of the everlasting covenant, when Christ engaged to substitute Himself for sinners of mankind, given unto Him by the Father; when He put His soul in their souls’ stead, and had their guilt transferred to Him and laid upon Him. The Son of God, having become answerable for sin, and having it thus upon Him in the way of obligation to bear it, it came upon Him in the way of actual demand; God came and laid the iniquities upon Him. What then is sin’s desert? The whole amount of all sin that hath been or shall ever be forgiven, the whole sin of all that have been and shall be saved — which would have borne them with the rest of the world down to everlasting destruction — that was inflicted on the Lamb of God. He was able to bear it. He was willing to bear it. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him, to put Him to grief. Then, Christ by bearing sin thus bears sin away, like the one of the goats which was lead out to bear the sin of Israel away, the Lamb of God bears away the sin of the world. There is “redemption now through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” “He hath power on earth to forgive sin.” He bears it away, actually takes it off from the shoulders of individuals in the day of regeneration, conversion, and justification. And we must just remark, that He bears not only, or takes only away, the guilt but actually the sin. The direct end of His atonement, indeed, is expiation of the guilt of sin; but the result of expiation is consecration and obedience, by the sprinkling of the blood; the blood which, shed, makes atonement to God, the same applied to sinners purges them and consecrates them to be royal priesthood and peculiar people. Christ washes us from our sin in His own blood.
How are we to understand these words, “taketh away the sin of the world”? Is there not sin in the world still? Is it not a world that lieth in the wicked one? Are there not those that perish? Is the whole world then actually saved? No, my brethren. It is necessary that we consider this matter as Scripture teaches us, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left, but looking to the rule of God’s holy Word. It teaches us a particularity in the matter; and were it not for this, where could be our confidence in beholding the atonement, in looking at the cross of Christ, if it did not actually save — insure the salvation of those given to Christ of the Father? Or if we set our salvation loose from the death of Christ, or suspend it by any chains which can be broken, then, then of course, we can have no confidence, no assuring hope.
“How vain that universal grace
That can no certain bliss bestow,
Which leaves the universal race
Exposed to universal woe.”
It is not that we want to confine, but that we are called by the Scripture to exalt, the certainty and efficacy of the death of Christ. The death of Christ was not only sufficient to this purpose, that sinners believing are pardoned and have life everlasting, but it was meritorious of its own application, and therefore insures the salvation in God’s good time of all that believe.
But then there is a universal aspect in this and other texts. “Behold the Lamb of God.” We need not dwell on the comparative narrowness of the Old Testament economy, and the still narrower prejudices of the Jews with reference to the calling of the Gentiles. When he says, “Behold the Lamb of God,” he meant it not for the Jews only, but for the sins of the whole world. But particularly we may remark that the atonement, and the salvation by atonement, of the Lord Jesus, bears a reference and aspect upon the particular condition and state of every child of mankind. Every man is in the world’s sin fundamentally. In regard to anything of vital importance there is no difference, for all have sinned. Every man in the world needs this Lamb of God for the taking away of his sin.
Then, considered as exhibited to sinners of mankind in the Gospel, it is equally fitted for each sinner of the human race. The Gospel is just as much fitted for me as for you, and for you as for me. Christ and His sacrifice just meet your case, as they meet mine. The sinner’s need corresponds to what is in the sacrifice of Christ, and what is in the sacrifice of Christ corresponds to the sinner’s need.
Again, there is a universal extent of command with regard to its proclamation. We don’t yet say, and it is the Church’s fault in a great measure, that this command in its full extent has been obeyed. In the providential management of its proclamation, alas! how many yet sit in darkness and in the shadow of death externally. But there is a universality of extent in the command, “Go and preach the Gospel to every creature.” There is a command of God the wherever there is a sinner there shall be a setting forth of the Lamb of God, with a command to that soul to “behold the Lamb of God.”
Then, as there is a universality of command to proclaim this Gospel to the whole world, and every creature in it, so wherever it is proclaimed it contains a free and unfettered, and universal and special invitation — universal to all, special to each — to look and be saved. It warrants my conscience to cast the weight of my guilt upon the atonement of Christ, to cast the shameful depravity of my nature on the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, to cast my whole state as a sinner on Christ the Savior set forth before me in the Gospel. There is this universality which every creature needs: it is to be preached to every creature; wherever it is preached it contains a full and free warrant to every individual to betake himself to the Lamb of God as the only Savior, with assurance that he shall not be cast out.
Now, the Lamb of God is not only set before us this day in the preached Gospel, He is about to be set before us also in sacramental symbol. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” God is saying at His table, and in reference to it, as He is saying in the Gospel, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” Oh, of what use is the Gospel when we only hear the words –men’s words — and of what use are sacraments when we see only the bread and wine? God clothes eternal verities in human words, formed by human breath, and written or stamped by men’s hands on material paper; and He connects them also with outward and visible signs in the sacraments. The Word is nothing without the Spirit; the symbols nothing unless we see Jesus. Oh, what need then have we of the Spirit of God, that we many behold Christ in the glass of the Word, in the glass of sacraments!
We are by nature all of us of the world; we are all in the world’s sin. We have been speaking about the world’s sin, but oh! friends, it’s my sin. I am one of this world, and I am in its sin. The world is all sinful together, but sinners must be saved out of it one by one. As regards the application of the salvation, sin is taken away from sinners of that world individually. You and I then, being sinners, and in the world’s sin, we would need to be beholding the Lamb of God. And oh that we had these objects together in our minds this day, the one would not distract the other — the world’s sin, and our individual sin, and the Lamb of God! Oh to see both! And to see the latter highest and brightest! To behold our sin , so that its dark face may commend to us the glorious One! To feel our own sin, that we, in reference to the world’s sin in us individually, may find what has to be taken away, and look to Him who does take sin away, that so sin may not be slight in our esteem, but the Lamb of God more precious — seeing His merit transcending our demerit infinitely and absorbing it! And accordingly, seeing, and knowing, and believing that in our case sin hath abounded, but that in the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world grace hath superabounded, seeing that sin hath reigned unto death over us, but that grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord, oh, in prospect of the Table of the Lord, be trying to get an appropriating hold of this text! And if you ask me, “how?” Oh, friends! if I understand it, it is not by thinking that I am an elect man, a regenerated man, an effectually called man , it is not by adding anything about myself to the Gospel held forth to me individually as a sinner, but by taking hold of the whole Gospel in that word which touches me, that word about sin. I cannot get near the Lamb of God, it may be — but sin, I am near it — and I will just go and confess my sin before God, with my finger upon that word sin, and keep it there before the eyes of God and of the Lamb. So in similar exhibitions of the Gospel. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” “Sinners” — that’s it; that’s the point in the text that God is holding out to me, that I may get hold of the whole text. “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.” “Lost” — that is the word. Take it individually, and if you cannot put your finger upon Christ, put it upon sin in a text where God has put sin and Christ together. Let me exhort you the exercise of an appropriating faith.