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ple, and they perished with the stings of crooked serpents, thy wrath endured not for ever. But they were troubled for a small season, that they might be admonished, having a sign of salvation, to put them in remembrance of the commandment of thy law. For he that turned himself toward it was not saved by the thing that he saw, but by thee, that art the Saviour of all. For thou hast the power of life and death: thou leadest to the gates of hell and bringest up again '.
We are not, however, left to vague supposition and conjecture on this point. Christ, by his own declaration, has appropriated the emblem to himself; and with his own lips pronounced that he was signified in this memorable transaction; and he leaves us to infer, that so remarkable and extraordinary a mode of cure was prescribed with immediate reference to him.
lifted up the
For, says he, "as Moses serpent in the wilderness,
Wisdom xvi. 5-13.
even so shall the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life!" With the express words of Christ before us, we cannot hesitate to apply the miracle and its attendant circumstances to the Saviour and to ourselves; and in this light it will appear, as I before observed, that we are similarly circumstanced with the Israelites. We are punished, as they were, for our offences; we feel, as they did, the sting of the serpent and the power of death within us. We know, if we reflect at all, that we are far gone from original righteousness, and liable to the curse, the ever-abiding curse of eternal death. But we know that the Saviour has been lifted up; that "in the likeness of sinful flesh, he condemned sin in the flesh;" and in the midst of fear, and much trembling, in the midst of doubt, and agony, and conscious guiltiness, we hear a still small voice proclaim, "Look up to him and live."
1 St. John iii. 14, 15.
2 Rom. viii. 3.
It is most singular that the mode in which the Messiah, from the beginning has declared himself to his people, should correspond exactly with the view just presented to our minds; as if the lifting up of Christ was never absent from the mind of the prophets, even when recounting his glories; as if the sufferings of the Saviour, and their effects upon mankind, were never lost sight of by the Eternal Word, even whilst in the bosom of the Father; as if the afflicting scene of Israel's calamity and punishment in the wilderness ever dwelt in the memories of their descendants. Thus in Isaiah : "There is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour.
be ye saved, all the
Look unto me, and
ends of the earth:
for I am God, and there is none else 1." Thus too in Zechariah: "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced 2." The
1 Isa. xlv. 21, 22.
2 Zech. xii. 10.
same peculiarity of expression occurs continually in the writings of the apostles, particularly in that remarkable passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews. "Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith'.
This, then, is the doctrine to be derived from the wonderful occurrence which we are now considering. That man is in a state of danger, nay of death-bodily death, and spiritual death. That, as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, so Christ has been lifted up and crucified, to take away the power of death, to terminate the warfare between man and his great enemy, the old serpent, the spirit of evil, by the total destruction of the latter. Such, I say, is the great doctrine which
1 Heb. xii. 1, 2.
this miracle shadowed forth; but let us also see the practical example which it affords us.
And, first, the Israelites were aware of their danger, and of its cause; they came unto Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us." Nor could the remedy provided be serviceable to any except to those who were conscious of their malady. "Whosoever looketh upon it shall live." And thus it is with the salvation which has been wrought by Christ. To seek a remedy, it is necessary to be acquainted with the existence of the disease. To look to Christ, it is requisite that we should perceive our need of a Saviour; that we should know our sins, and knowing, feel their enormity, their guilt, their danger; and thus knowing and feeling, repent;-that we should come before the throne of Divine mercy, and say with Israel, we have sinned; or, in the energetic language of the apostle,