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It is evident that this most eminent servant of God laboured to communicate to his disciples exalted apprehensions of the Lord Jesus, and to excite in them large expectations from him. In honouring the Son of God he was willing to abase himself, “
as unworthy to loose his shoe-latchet.' He was astonished to think that the Saviour should come to be baptized of him, when he was conscious that as a sinner he stood in need of his spiritual baptism : and, when we consider the excellency of John's character, with the extraordinary things spoken of him in scripture, we shall know what conclusions to draw from his testimony. Certainly he would not have concurred with those, who employ all their abilities in trying to persuade mankind not to think too highly of Christ, not to honour him too much, and not to depend on him too entirely in the great concerns of eternal salvation. But the words of the text must be exclusively our present subject; and from them we may inquire,
I. On what account Christ is called “The Lamb “ of God :"
II. The import of the words, “Who taketh away the sin of the world :" III. The call to “behold the Lamb of God :"
IV. The peculiar instructions to be derived from meditating on the subject.
1. On what account is the Lord Jesus called « the Lamb of God?"
We should not forget, my brethren, that the language of scripture was dictated by the Holy Spirit, and demands our most reverent attention on that account. If then we interpret it in a
general way, and treat those metaphors under which divine mysteries are revealed, as we would do the language of mere men, who often use pompous words and extravagant figures of speech without much meaning ; we shall be found guilty of despising the sacred oracles. No doubt every metaphor or illustration was selected, in preference to all others, for some wise and holy reasons : and suggests important instruction to the teachable student. This must especially be the case with that expression of the text which engages our present attention ; because it frequently occurs with reference to the character, sufferings, and salvation of Christ.
A lamb is the well known emblem of innocence, gentleness, patience, and purity: and no doubt an allusion was made to these things in speaking of the Redeemer as the Lamb of God. Yet we cannot suppose that this was the principal meaning of that appellation, when we duly consider the various passages in which it is used : for in what sense could a lamb “take away sin,” except by becoming an atoning sacrifice ?
The slaughter of innocent animals, and consuming the whole or some part of their bodies upon an altar, was an essential part of religious worship, from the entrance of sin to the death of Christ. Those animals alone were used for this purpose, which were the valued and useful property of man, and the most perfect of their kind: but lambs were by far the most common oblation. Thus Abel “by faith” brought the firstlings of his flock as an offering unto the Lord, and was accepted ; but faith must have reference to a divine testimony, command, or appointment: this Cain disregarded, “ leaning to his own understanding,” and virtually denying his need of an atonement ; and therefore he was rejected. No sooner was Noah liberated from the ark than he offered burntofferings to the Lord :' and doubtless the general opinion, that such sacrifices were proper to appease the anger of the gods, was derived from original tradition ; for it seems to have no ground at all in human reasonings.
When Abraham, at God's command, went with full purpose
of heart to offer his beloved son for a burnt-offering, Isaac, as acquainted with the customary oblations, said, “ My father, where is the “ lamb for a burnt-offering? And Abraham said,
My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a “ burnt-offering." Under the law, a lamb was the daily sacrifice, morning and evening: and on the sabbath days this was doubled, Thus harmless lambs, free from all spot and blemish, were presented at the altar day by day; while the priest, as representative of the congregation, laid his hands on the head of the sacrifice, and doubtless confessed over it the sins of Israel, which typically were by imputation laid upon it. Then the blood of the lamb was shed; and its body prepared and burnt upon the altar, by the fire which came down from heaven, as an emblem of the divine justice inflicting vengeance on the guilty. And, when the blood had been sprinkled and poured out, according to the appointment ; the priest went into the sanctuary, and burned incense on the golden altar,
' Gen. vui. 20, 21.
? Gen. xxii, 7, 8.
white all the people prayed without in the courts of the temple.
But the paschal lambs, which immensely exceeded in number all other sacrifices that were offered, (when the law was regularly observed,) were most emphatically prefigurative of Christ and his atonement. The unblemished lamb for every family was selected four days before the passover, when it was sacrificed in the presence of the elders and congregation of Israel : its blood was then sprinkled on the lintels and door-posts of their houses : and its body roasted whole was eaten within by all the professed people of God. The feast was celebrated with unleavened bread, and they were directed to eat it with bitter herbs, and with staves in their hands; in remembrance of their affliction in Egypt, their preservation when the first-born were slain, and their marvellous deliverance from bondage. The apostle teaches us how to interpret these things when he says, “Christ,
our passover, is sacrificed for us; therefore let “ us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither “ with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but “ with the unleavened bread of sincerity and “ truth.” He is the true paschal lamb, the spotless sacrifice for sin : he was predicted four thousand years before his coming in the flesh : and at length he was crucified for us, at the demand, and in the presence of the rulers and people of Israel. His intense sufferings, from the fiery wrath of God against our sins, answered to the prescribed roast
Lev. i. 4 ; xvi. 21. Num. xxviii. 3–10. Luke i. 9, 10. 2 1 Cor. v. 7, 8.
ing of the paschal lamb. The profession of faith in his blood externally places the soul under the divine protection, while vengeance is denounced against unbelievers : but the inward experience of true Christians, who secretly feed on Christ in
their hearts by faith with thanksgiving,' corresponds with their avowed dependence on him. In genuine sincerity and simplicity of heart, they exercise repentance, and mourn for their sins ; they deny themselves, take up their cross, and bear sanctified afflictions; and, being set at liberty from Satan's yoke, they set out on their pilgrimage to the heavenly Canaan.
With allusion to these types the apostle says, “ Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, “as silver and gold, but with the precious blood “ of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and “ without spot; who verily was fore-ordained be“ fore the foundation of the world, but was máni“ fest in these last times for you.”! And John saw in his vision, “ a door opened in heaven;" “and “ there stood a Lamb, as it had been slain : and “ the four living creatures and four and twenty “ elders fell down before the Lamb, and they sang
a new song, saying, Thou wast slain and hast “ redeemed us to God with thy blood.” The angels also joined these representatives of the universal church,“ saying with a loud voice, “ Wor“thy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, “and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and ho
nour, and glory, and blessing."? On another occasion the apostle“ beheld, and lo, a great
1 Pet. i. 18-20.
? Rev. iv. 1; v. 6-13.