I was glad when they said to me, ‚ÄúLet us go to the house of the Lord.‚Äù
The Golden Calf Ex. xxxii. 4, 31.
by John Newton (1725‚Äì1807)
WHEN Israel heard the fiery law,
From Sinai‚Äôs top proclaim‚Äôd;
Their hearts seemed full of holy awe,
Their stubborn spirits tam‚Äôd.
Yet, as forgetting all they knew,
Ere forty days were past;
With blazing Sinai still in view,
A molten calf they cast.
Yea, Aaron, God‚Äôs anointed priest,
Who on the mount had been
He durst prepare the idol‚Äìbeast,
And lead them on to sin.
Lord, what is man! and what are we,
To recompense thee thus!
In their offence our own we see,
Their story points at us.
From Sinai we have heard thee speak,
And from mount Calv‚Äôry too;
And yet to idols oft we seek,
While thou art in our view.
Some golden calf, or golden dream,
Some fancy‚Äôd creature‚Äìgood,
Presumes to share the heart with him,
Who bought the whole with blood.
Lord, save us from our golden calves,
Our sin with grief we own;
We would no more be thine by halves,
But live to thee alone.
—from Olney Hymns. Book I: On select Passages of Scripture.
John‚Äôs Witness at Christ‚Äôs Baptism
Mt. 3:13‚Äì17; Mk. 1:9‚Äì11; Lk. 3:21, 22
This passage contains a verse which ought to be printed in great letters in the memory of every reader of the Bible. All the stars in heaven are bright and beautiful, and yet one star exceeds another star in glory. So also all texts of Scripture are inspired and profitable, and yet some texts are richer than others. Of such texts the first verse before us is preeminently one. Never was there a fuller testimony borne to Christ upon earth, than that which is here borne by John the Baptist.
Let us notice, firstly, in this passage, the peculiar name which John the Baptist gives to Christ. He calls Him ‚ÄúThe Lamb of God.‚Äù
This name did not merely mean, as some have supposed, that Christ was meek and gentle as a lamb. This would be truth no doubt, but only a very small portion of the truth. There are greater things here than this! It meant that Christ was the great sacrifice for sin, who was come to make atonement for transgression by His own death upon the cross. He was the true Lamb which Abraham told Isaac at Moriah God would provide. (Gen. xxii. 8.) He was the true Lamb to which every morning and evening sacrifice in the temple had daily pointed. He was the Lamb of which Isaiah had prophesied, that He would be ‚Äúbrought to the slaughter.‚Äù (Isaiah liii. 7.) He was the true Lamb of which the passover lamb in Egypt had been a vivid type. In short, He was the great propitiation for sin which God had covenanted from all eternity to send into the world. He was God‚Äôs Lamb.
Let us take heed that in all our thoughts of Christ, we first think of Him as John the Baptist here represents Him. Let us serve him faithfully as our Master. Let us obey Him loyally as our King. Let us study His teaching as our Prophet. Let us walk diligently after Him as our Example. Let us look anxiously for Him as our coming Redeemer of body as well as soul. But above all, let us prize Him as our Sacrifice, and rest our whole weight on His death as an atonement for sin. Let His blood be more precious in our eyes every year we live. Whatever else we glory in about Christ, let us glory above all things in His cross. This is the corner-stone, this is the citadel, this is the rule of true Christian theology. We know nothing rightly about Christ, until we see him with John the Baptist‚Äôs eyes, and can rejoice in Him as ‚Äúthe Lamb that was slain.‚Äù
Let us notice, secondly, in this passage, the peculiar work which John the Baptist describes Christ as doing. He says that ‚Äúhe taketh away the sin of the world.‚Äù
Christ is a Saviour. He did not come on earth to be a conqueror, or a philosopher, or a mere teacher of morality. He came to save sinners. He came to do that which man could never do for himself,‚Äîto do that which money and learning can never obtain,‚Äîto do that which is essential to man‚Äôs real happiness,‚ÄîHe came to ‚Äútake away sin.‚Äù
Christ is a complete Saviour. He ‚Äútakes away sin.‚Äù He did not merely make vague proclamations of pardon, mercy, and forgiveness. He ‚Äútook‚Äù our sins upon Himself, and carried them away. He allowed them to be laid upon Himself, and ‚Äúbore them in His own body on the tree.‚Äù (1 Pet. ii. 24.) The sins of every one that believes on Jesus are made as though they had never been sinned at all. The Lamb of God has taken them clean away.
Christ is an almighty Saviour, and a Saviour for all mankind. He ‚Äútakes away the sin of the world.‚Äù He did not die for the Jews only, but for the Gentile as well as the Jew. He did not suffer for a few people only, but for all mankind. The payment that He made on the cross was more than enough to make satisfaction for the debts of all. The blood that He shed was precious enough to wash away the sins of all. His atonement on the cross was sufficient for all mankind, though efficient only to those who believe. The sin that He took up and bore on the cross was the sin of the whole world.
Last, but not least, Christ is a perpetual and unwearied Saviour. He ‚Äútakes away‚Äù sin. He is daily taking it away from every one that believes on Him,‚Äîdaily purging, daily cleansing, daily washing the souls of His people, daily granting and applying fresh supplies of mercy. He did not cease to work for His saints, when He died for them on the cross. He lives in heaven as a Priest, to present His sacrifice continually before God. In grace as well as is providence, Christ works still. He is ever taking away sin.
These are golden truths indeed. Well would it be for the Church of Christ, if they were used by all who know them! Our very familiarity with texts like these is one of our greatest dangers. Blessed are they who not only keep this text in their memories, but feed upon it in their hearts!
Let us notice, lastly, in this passage, the peculiar office which John the Baptist attributes to Christ. He speaks of Him as Him ‚Äúwho baptizes with the Holy Spirit.‚Äù
The baptism here spoken of is not the baptism of water. It does not consist either of dipping or sprinkling. It does not belong exclusively either to infants or to grown up people. It is not a baptism which any man can give, Episcopalian or Presbyterian, Independent or Methodist, layman or minister. It is a baptism which the great Head of the Church keeps exclusively in His own hands. It consists of the implanting of grace into the inward man. It is the same thing with the new birth. It is a baptism, not of the body, but of the heart. It is a baptism which the penitent thief received, though neither dipped nor sprinkled by the hand of man. It is a baptism which Ananias and Sapphira did not receive, though admitted into church-communion by apostolic men.
Let it be a settled principle in our religion that the baptism of which John the Baptist speaks here, is the baptism which is absolutely necessary to salvation. It is well to be baptized into the visible Church; but it is far better to be baptized into that Church which is made up of true believers. The baptism of water is a most blessed and profitable ordinance, and cannot be neglected without great sin. But the baptism of the Holy Spirit is of far greater importance. The man who dies with his heart not baptized by Christ can never be saved.
Let us ask ourselves, as we leave this passage, Whether we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, and whether we have any real interest in the Lamb of God? Thousands, unhappily, are wasting their time in controversy about water baptism, and neglecting the baptism of the heart. Thousands more are content with a head-knowledge of the Lamb of God, or have never sought Him by faith, that their own sins may be actually taken away. Let us take heed that we ourselves have new hearts, and believe to the saving of our souls.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.