By Gilbert Beebe
"Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world." - John the Baptist.
WHILE in the faithful discharge of that duty to which he had been divinely called, John Baptist preached in the wilderness of Judea, and buried in the bosom of Jordan all such as gave him satisfactory evidence that they were prepared for that sacred ordinance. Jerusalem and Judea and all the regions around about Jordan came out to his baptism; and while in the act of immersing the repenting Jews, John saw Jesus approaching, and gave testimony that he was the Christ. Identifying his very person, he pointed him out amongst the multitude, on which occasion he made use of the words at the head of this article.
These words are full of meaning: not only because John saw and bore record that this was the Son of God, and thus fulfilled another grand design of his heavenly vocation; but the words employed in this case, as indited by the Holy Ghost, uttered volumes in this short sentence, Behold the Lamb of God that taketh. away the sins of the world. Throughout the entire ceremonial dispensation, and from the morning of time, from the early sacrifice of Abel, lambs were made use of for sacrificial purposes, as the most significant emblem nature could supply of him that was to come. Should we contrast the offering of a lamb by Abel with the product of Cain's system by works, that he obtained from the bowels of the earth, which was at that time groaning under the curse of God for man's sake, we might in the understanding of this subject contemplate the riches of God's grace, richly displayed in striking contrast with every system of religion, the existence of which was of earthly origin. The paschal lamb that was slain in Egypt preparatory to the emancipation of God's chosen tribes, whose blood was sprinkled on the door-posts of the dwellings of the Israelites, as a peaceful sign that God's avenging wrath, that night to be poured forth upon the pride of Egypt, should pass them by, and the flesh of which was to be eaten with bitter herbs, was all designed to set forth Christ and him crucified. The thousands of unblemished lambs that by the special appointment of God himself constantly teemed upon the Hebrew altars, uttered the same sentence that we have written as the foundation of these remarks.
Another striking example we have in the case of Abraham and Isaac. "God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering." said the patriarch to the lad; and on the mountain which God showed Abraham, this prediction was more plainly illustrated in the offering of the ram that was caught in the thicket by his horns, and the release of the entire posterity of the free woman. What ample room we find for enlargement in the contemplation of the types and predictions going before and pointing, like John, to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. But alas! -
"No blood of bird, nor blood of beast,
Nor hyssop branch, nor sprinkling priest,
Nor running brook, nor flood, nor sea,
Could take our dismal stain away.
Jesus the Lamb, his blood alone
Has power sufficient to atone;
His blood can make us white as snow;
No Jewish rite could cleanse us so."
All the vast multitude of slaughtered lambs that were ever offered, were sacrificed at the expense of those by whom they were offered; but these could not put away sin, except in a figurative or ceremonial way; but in the person of him to whom the Baptist pointed we see the Lamb of God. "God gave his only begotten Son," "God spared not his own Son," and hence, from this consideration, he was emphatically the Lamb of God, and that in distinction from all that had ever been offered as typical of him. In this brief sentence, "Behold the Lamb of God," those quickened Jews who heard John preach were called to turn away from all the previous expectations they had ever entertained of salvation by the deeds of the law; and by the same are all the redeemed of the Lord among the Gentiles now commanded away from every human device, from every earthly scheme and system ever invented by men, and look to God alone for salvation.
But why behold or look to Jesus as the Lamb of God?
Because he taketh away the sins of the world. The sacrifices under the law were never designed to extend to any of the Gentile nations - they were only offered for Israel; but in the Lamb we have not only a propitiation for the sins of such Jews as were ordained unto eternal life, but also for the sins of the whole world.
But it may be inquired, In what sense did Christ take away the sins of the world?
It is contended by Arminians and Universalists that Christ made an atonement for, or took away all the sins of all mankind.
If this position be correct, then there is not at this time a sinner on earth; for if the sins of all men were taken away by the atonement of the Lamb of God, those sins which he took away could not remain as they were before he took them away, or where would be the triumph of his cross?
The truth is, salvation must be as general and as universal as was the atonement; for the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin. The Lamb that John bore record of taketh away the sins of the world. He did not open up a way whereby we might, by certain exertions, means, &c., be released from the guilt and consequences of sin, or bring the human family into a salvable state; or merely to so satisfy the law and justice as to purchase to himself the right to offer salvation conditionally to all mankind, and leave them to accept and be saved, or reject and be damned. The Lamb of God has finished the work that the Father gave him to do. This was a definite work, and well understood by our Lord, when he said, "Lo! I come to do thy will, O God." What the Father gave him to do was fully comprehended in the execution of the Father's will. And it either was or was not the will of the Father that he should save all mankind from their sins; if it was, then they are safe, for as we before quoted his words, "I have finished the work thou gayest me to do;" but if it was not the will of God to save all mankind from sin, then Christ did not come to save all men; for he came to do the will of him that sent him, and to finish the work.
But we have dwelt thus far on the negative.
The question returns, How, or in what sense, does he take away the sins of the world?
We understand by the expression no more nor less than this: He had a people among the Jews, and other sheep he had also that were not of that fold; them, he said he also must bring; and where Jews and Gentiles were included they were generally called the world. We might give many examples from the scriptures where the terms world and whole world, &c., are used in a very limited sense; as "If we let these men (the apostles) go, the whole world will go after them, and the Romans will come and take away our place and nation."
"And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness." Such passages are so common in the New Testament as to leave no room for caviling upon the subject. We are unavoidably brought to the conclusion that Christ either died for all the sins of all mankind, for part of the sins of all mankind, or for all the sins of all his people, they being but a part of the whole family of man. Now if he died for all the sins of all mankind, then all mankind will be saved, or else the death of Christ has failed to secure salvation to those for whom he died, and in that case none can be saved. To believe that all are included in the atonement of Jesus, and consequently are saved, will directly contradict what the scriptures assert, viz: that "the wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God;" and to believe that none will be saved is to disbelieve the oath and promise of our God, as recorded in the same sacred volume; and if to sustain any position, we are driven to the necessity of making the bible a book of contradictions, then we can no longer consider its testimony valid on any subject. Hence the position that Christ died for all the sins of all mankind is untenable.
If we take the ground that Christ died for the original sin of man, or in other words, for a part of the sins of all mankind, we are still in a wretched condition; for he that transgresseth the law in one point is guilty in all, and there would be on this ground no rational hope for the salvation of a single soul.
But on the scriptural ground that he laid down his life for his sheep, that "He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works;" on this ground we find a solid basis for the consolation of God's children, that he has saved them, and called them, not according to their works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given them in Christ Jesus before the world began. With this scriptural view all the types are in harmony. Abel's firstling of the flock was not offered for Cain. The passover lamb was not slain for, nor eaten by the Egyptians, nor did its blood prevent the destroying angel from executing the vengeance of God upon the first-born of the Egyptians. The ram that Abraham offered did not restore Ishmael to the family of Abraham. Not one of all the offerings that were made under the law were applicable to any other than the children of Israel. Now in all these types, an atonement exclusively for the elect of God is taught and demonstrated. Abel was a figure of God's acceptable people, and he with his offering was respected of God, while Cain and his offering were disrespected. When Isaac was bound and laid upon the wood, and the command was given to slay him, and the dreadful knife was raised, Isaac described the state of the elect when under the sentence of God's holy law; and when he was released, and the lamb that God had provided was offered in his place, and actually bore that suffering and death to which Isaac had been doomed, Isaac was an emblem of the spiritual children of the free woman. Now we, says Paul, as Isaac was, are "the children of the promise." Nothing is more clearly established than that ancient Israel was typical of the election of grace. "If ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." All the offerings therefore that were made for Israel under the ceremonial law, prefigured the offering of the Lamb of God, bearing the sins of his people in his own body, to expiate their guilt, and to bring in everlasting righteousness for them, and for them exclusively. The intercession of Christ is also founded on his atonement, and must agree in measurement therewith as exactly as did the mercy seat with the dimensions of the ark. And the intercession of Christ is on this wise. "I pray not for the world; I pray for those thou hast given me out of the world."
Another argument equally irresistible in defence of the scriptural doctrine of the definite and exclusive design, nature and application of the atonement, is founded on the pre-existing relationship of Christ and his people. The right of redemption was founded on relationship, as the husband is alone the legal representative of his wife, the father of his child, &c. The life of all the church of God was given them in Christ, (not in themselves) before the world began. That church, in all its fullness, he has ever represented, and that church he ever will represent. This union and relationship existed before all time, extends throughout all time, and extends eternally. On this part of our subject we might enlarge, but we should swell this article to too great a length.
Finally, to every poor, desponding, quickened soul we reiterate the text, Behold the Lamb of God!
As all that were bitten in the wilderness, when they looked on the brazen serpent, were healed, even so shall Christ be lifted up, or rather now has been lifted up, that whosoever believeth on him may not perish, but have everlasting life. Behold the Lamb, and that in connection with his work. He taketh away the sins of the world. Poor Gentile sinner, Jesus died for his people among the Gentiles as well as among the Jews.
Again, christians, behold your Lord, your King, your Leader, the Captain of your salvation; behold him as a lamb that has been slain, has accomplished all that heaven decreed, all that the Father gave him to do; and therefore fear not the powers of hell and death; they are vanquished foes. Behold his lamb-like innocence, humility, submission and harmless deportment, and strive to imitate his divine example.
By Gilbert Beebe
NEW VERNON, N. Y.,
January 15, 1841.