The Spirit of God: Part 3

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“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saving, I saw the Spirit descending like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost” (John 1:29-33).
Two works of our Lord are referred to here—what may be called His great earthly work, and His great heavenly work. On earth His work is—and what can be so great?—to take away the sin of the world; not only the sins of us who believe, but the sin of the world.
Did you ever, by the way, know one that quoted the phrase correctly? Have you ever seen it employed aright in any liturgy that ever was framed? I do not recollect it so much as even once, although familiar with rather many of such compilations. Evidently, the truth intended is not before hearts, nor even understood, but confounded with something different; and hence men cite the words falsely. This shows the all-importance for the truth of cleaving to the only unerring standard, the written word of God. Christ is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world; but the Holy Ghost in this connection carefully abstains from saying “sins.” It is constantly assumed, when persons read the passage, that Christ has taken away the “sins” of the world. Now this would be another thing altogether, and confounds the text with 1 Peter 2:24.
When John the Baptist gave his testimony, in pointing Him out to his disciples, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” he did not mean that He was then effecting it, nor yet that, when He died on the cross, the sin of the world would as yet come to an end. Then and there no doubt He laid the basis for taking it away. The only work which could ever take away the sin of the world was the blood-shedding of the Lamb of God. Yet the sin of the world is not yet gone. If sin were taken away out of the world, no wickedness could be known or exist any where longer. There would not be an atom of evil left.
When, then, will the sin, that the Lamb died to take away from the world, be clean and forever banished from it? In the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. It will not vanish away till then. As believers, your sins are undoubtedly forgiven, but this is another thing. Your sins are now blotted out by the precious blood of Jesus if you believe on Him, “whereof the Holy Ghost is also a witness to us” (Heb. 10:15-17). Hence we read: “You now hath he reconciled” (Col. 1:21); but He has not yet reconciled “all things” (ver. 20). He has shed His blood for the purpose, and that blood is beyond doubt a perfectly efficacious sacrifice, whereby all things are surely to be reconciled to God; but they are not reconciled till He comes again. There is still suffering, sorrow, and death; there is corruption and violence, unblushing idolatry, and heartless infidelity; there is still every kind of human iniquity and rebellion against God going on in the world as much as ever. Yet the work which, as a righteous ground before God, will remove all this evil out of the world, is done; and God has accepted it but not yet applied it to the world, though He is so doing to believers. When the Lord takes the world-kingdom, it will be richly applied and for a long while, but not in absolute and everlasting fullness, till “the new heavens, and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Then there will be left remaining no more sin nor effect of sin in the world. It will be completely gone. Then will it be proved how true it is that Jesus is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.
I am aware that people lay stress upon the fact that John said, “which taketh away,” as if it were then going on; but this is a very ignorant way of using Scripture. For instance, one goes into a druggist's shop and gets there a bottle of laudanum labeled “Poison.” This does not mean that the poison is working now. If the druggist says it is laudanum which kills a man, he does not mean that it is then doing its work, but simply that, when it is applied to a man, it will kill him. People confound what is called the absolute or ethical present with the actual present. One is sorry to be obliged to use high-sounding words about this matter; but it is difficult to convey what is wanted in simpler language, and it is important that it should be conveyed accurately. Even learned and devoted men —and you know very well that I do not wish at all to question their ability—have sadly mistaken in this matter.
But a man may be a great scholar, and not wise in Scripture. Not a few of the greatest scholars have been rather heterodox. Great learning does not necessarily give even good sense. Further, a man may have both learning and good sense, and yet not be spiritual. If you had ever such ability and attainments, you would still require the teaching of the Spirit. Assuredly this is what one constantly finds, if much used to commentaries and writings upon the Scripture, as some Christians have been in their time. You would find it dull work to pore over their discussions, if you had reason to examine the folios and quartos that have passed through the press; you would prove how very little Biblical learning has to do with the real intelligence of the word of God. Learned as many of the writers of these commentaries were—and some of them were also able men indeed—yet somehow or other, when they took up the Scriptures, they failed to apply Christ as the one key to unlock all. They rarely seem to speak out of the possession of the truth; and this is the only way to understand the Bible. You can never understand it unless you have Christ and Christ's work, and its present result in power for the soul, clearly before you, in order out of this to interpret the word of God, which then to a large extent becomes an explanation in God's own language of what you have already got. You have already life in the Son of God if you are a believer; you have by His blood the forgiveness of your sins; you have by faith entered the family of God as His children, and have been sealed by the Spirit till the day of redemption.
Let me bring the matter home to you. I had great difficulty in finding a few verses of a Paraphrase which we might sing to-night in a certain connection with my subject. Be assured that I do not wish to find fault—the very reverse. But then I could not agree to sing what was not true. I should have liked to have found something scriptural to celebrate about the Spirit; but I could not. I found a prayer to seal us by His Spirit. But how could one sing that, any more than, when I put my coat upon my back, I could ask a man to put it there? If you are sealed, it is a fact, and it is a fact that abides. It is not an uncertainty. It is not something that requires to be repeated. There is no such thing as being again sealed by the Spirit.
It is not a partial blessing, or constantly in need of renewal, just as you have to take food every few hours. This is not the case with the sealing of the Holy Spirit. It is a privilege once given which continues, however important it is that we should not grieve Him but be dependent on His action and be filled with Him. Clearly then he who wrote the. Paraphrase referred to was not aware of this; and the consequence is that he was in no little uncertainty when he came to the Spirit's operations. I see in the 60th Paraphrase, and no doubt it is the same all through, “Oh, may Thy Spirit seal our souls.”
I could not sing this, nor could I ask you to sing it; because, if I believe the Scriptures, He has sealed my soul, and He has sealed yours if you are now children of God in the liberty of Christ. If you are not in liberty, you need to be sealed. It is the sealing of the Spirit that brings not life but liberty into the soul. You recollect the apostle's words— “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Now, in a previous verse of the same chapter he says “The letter killeth” (referring to the law), “but the spirit giveth life.” Thus, if one take up the Old Testament and abide in the mere letter, no spiritual blessing is gained. If one take, for instance, the various offerings and merely think of a Jew bringing his bullock or sheep, or perhaps a pair of birds, to the altar, what is there in this to quicken the soul? Nothing. The consequence then was that the Jews who simply brought their birds or beasts to the altar lived and died Jews, and never went to heaven at all. But any of us drawing from these symbols that there is Another who must settle his case with God, that there was to be an unblemished One to take up the cause of the sinner atoningly, and that this sacrifice is none other than Christ's, passes at once from dead offerings to the Lord made sin on the cross. There is the spirit that quickens.
When a man is quickened, he does not always receive liberty. I have known a soul (who, I cannot doubt, being quickened, has gone for thirty or forty years without being sealed at all) to remain still in great bondage of spirit, a lady who passes too much of her time in capricious judgments, too harsh here, too light there; the end of all which is that she finds the word a two-edged sword, which, while it has an edge against other people. has also one against herself. Constantly doubting whether such or such a person is saved, she goes from one thing or person to another, but always comes back to herself, and never yet has seen for her own soul that God rolled everything upon Christ, never yet for her own need been able to rest on Him as the Lamb. The consequence is that she is not what Scripture calls “saved.” It is not that she doubts He is the Son of God, but she constantly hesitates about her own interest in Him when it comes to the point. She is like a person who would say, “I am not content with the High Priest confessing the sins of the people. If I could only hear Him mentioning my name and my sins, it would give me true comfort; but I only hear about sins in general, which I cannot believe to be a confession for me.” This is not the faith of the gospel really. The word of God's good news says, “Whosoever,” for He knew a great deal better than to indulge souls in such delusions.
Supposing for a moment, that there was such a thing as naming anybody, do you not know that there may be hundreds of the same name? Thus a person would on this principle be always in doubt whether his own sins were really confessed: so that, if one were to be indulged in a desire so selfish, neither he nor others could ever get solid peace at all. Graciously therefore does God say “Whosoever.” Surely any of you that have had questions about your soul are covered by the words “whosoever believeth.” Again, “If any man thirst.” Just see the blessed ways God has taken to open the door and to bring sinners in. He loves to save. It is the delight of God to reconcile to Himself. It is glory to the name of Jesus when a poor sinner comes and casts himself upon His precious blood. He is the Lamb of God, and the very fact that He is so is the best possible ground for a soul to come now, no matter who he may be or what he may have done.
It is not true that Christ has taken away—still less that he was then taking away—the sins of the world; for if this were done, not a single soul would be sent to hell. Everybody would be saved if all the sins were taken away. If faith were still necessary in order to apply it, the believer would be comparatively uncertain, or in danger of self-righteousness; for all his difference from a lost soul must then lie in what is personal: God's grace would be the same absolutely for all. But this contradicts Scripture.
The consequence of this mistake is the more serious, because it leads to other and if possible worse mistakes. In the Roman Mass Book they say “The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.” Christ, according to their doctrine, has taken away everybody's sins; but nobody gets to heaven unless, besides that, he is faithful to the church, and does what the priest tells him unless he obeys not only the commands of God, but also those of the church, availing himself duly of the seven Sacraments. And so there is a hope that, being thus faithful to the church, he may get to heaven at last. Is it not a very poor kind of salvation? Is it God's?
It is God alone that can save; none but a divine person. The church needs to be saved, and therefore cannot save. The whole notion is radically false, and while opening the door to the delusion that everybody's sins are gone, it brings everybody's sins upon them after all, because if after being baptized they sin again, Christ does no good to them, and the whole work has to be done over again. Such is the doctrine of the Council of Trent, yea of East as well as West. Indeed it has so affected other bodies that there is scarcely any Protestant body in Christendom that has not been more or less injured by this dangerous departure from the word of God. This shows the importance of even one letter. The “sin” of the world is right— “sins” would not be true. It is never said that our sins are gone except to the believer. Where it is written that Christ bore our sins in His own body on the tree, it is the believer's sins that are referred to. There is no such thing as His bearing the sins of every person in the world; but if you come out of the world, if you confess the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, you find your sins are gone. Christ has done the work. God gives you to know by His word and Spirit that you are forgiven. This is the doctrine of Scripture, so that there is the fullest comfort—without reserve, and without hesitation—in virtue of the mighty work of the Lord Jesus. But the full effect of His earthly work will only be when every trace of sin is gone in the eternal scene of righteousness and glory.
We come now to His heavenly work. What can it be? Many are not aware that Christ has done a great heavenly work. I do not speak of His priesthood, nor even of His advocacy before the Father. He is a Priest to give us sympathy in our suffering, and He is an Advocate to give us restoration when we have sinned. For alas! you know believers may sin, and do sin; and the Lord Jesus is Advocate with the Father; as John says— “If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” [W. K.1