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Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn1999—Volume 12:23

A Voice from the Past:



“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:14-18).

Truly these are great and precious words, surpassing far in value all the words of all the philosophers and poets and statesmen who have ever lived. They assure the troubled sinner, if like Nicodemus he is perplexed by the doctrine of the new birth, that his difficulties may come to a speedy end. He that hath everlasting life enters of course into the kingdom of God; but he that believeth hath everlasting life; therefore he that believeth enters into the kingdom of God, and hence he that believeth is born again, or born from above. The inquirer, then, need not harass his mind with questions about regeneration, but turn his thoughts singly and entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ. When Moses at God’s command lifted up the serpent of brass in the wilderness, God’s promise was, “that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live” (Num 21:8). The bitten Israelites were not told to look upon the wounds made by the fiery serpents, nor to look upon Moses, the representative of the law, nor to reason about the connection between looking and living, but to look upon the uplifted serpent, made in the likeness of that which had inflicted the deadly stroke, even as God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. If they looked, they showed that they believed God’s word and trusted God’s promise.

“Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Jesus had just exclaimed, “You must be born again,” and now He adds, “Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” The one must makes the other must a necessity, and both are necessary to regeneration, or the reception of eternal life. But, blessed be His name forever and ever, although He purchased salvation at such an immense cost to Himself, to us it is absolutely free, “without money and without price” (Isa 55:1). The way by which it is received is so simple, so easy, so nigh at hand, the believer wonders his heart does not break with penitence and love, every time it is presented to his mind. There may have been many an idiot in the widely extended encampment of the Israelites, struck by the fangs of the fiery serpents, but if he had sense enough to look, he lived. There may have been many a little child, moaning in its mother’s lap from the poisonous bite, but if it was old enough to follow the mother’s glance, to notice the mother’s pointed finger, to heed the mother’s voice bidding it look, it lived. To this day it is only, Look and live; Believe and live; for it is a sweet truth we are accustomed to sing in the sweet hymn—

“There is life for a look at the crucified One;

There is life at this moment for thee;

Then, look, sinner, look unto Him, and be saved,

Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.”

Matt, the idiot boy, on the coast of England had learned enough to know that he owed a debt to God which he could not pay, and he was weeping for fear God would shut him up in prison. A Christian lady took his trembling hand in hers and gently said, “No, Matt, you need not be shut up in prison, for Jesus has paid your debt.” Down into his darkened mind glanced the soft light of the gospel, and when he saw the wondrous truth that Jesus died on the cross in his stead, he lifted his streaming eyes to heaven with the joyful cry, “Man that paid, Matt says, Thank you, thank you.” Then and there he was born again; then and there he received eternal life, for he had looked upon the Son of Man lifted up; and if he had possessed sufficient intelligence he might have walked down the beach, singing in the gladness of exulting faith—

“Jesus paid it all;

All to Him I owe;

Sin had left a crimson stain;

He washed it white as snow.”

But these mighty words of Jesus tell us why the Son of Man was lifted up: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” It is a mistake to suppose that Christ came down from heaven in order that God might love us; He came down because God did love us, and so love us, with a love so deep, so amazing, so unchangeable, so unutterable, He “did not spare His own Son” (Rom 8:32) the shame and humiliation and rejection and agony, that attended upon every step of His lonely and sorrowful path from the manger of Bethlehem to the cross of Calvary. It is needless to add that “Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma” (Eph 5:2). His too was a love most ardent, self-sacrificing, boundless, eternal, and “which passes knowledge” (Eph 3:19). The redemption of poor sinners was more to Him than the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, for He emptied Himself of it; more to Him than the joys of heaven, for He left them all; more to Him than life, for He says, “I lay it down of Myself” (John 10:18); more to Him than the shining of God’s countenance, for when God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21), He willingly leaped into the awful abyss of wrath and gloom, out of which arose such a wail of distress as never shook the earth before, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46).

The offering and the sacrifice thus presented on the cross, God has accepted as a sweet smelling saviour, and the proof of its acceptance is furnished to angels, men and devils, in the fact that God has raised Him from the dead. Nothing can be added to the efficacy of that atoning sacrifice; nothing can be added to the completeness of that finished work; nothing can be added to the value of that precious blood. Any attempt to add something of our own, in the way of feelings, repentance, good resolutions, charitable deeds, or ecclesiastical ordinances, that salvation may be rendered more certain and secure, is an insult to God, a dishonour to the Lord Jesus Christ, and a grief to the Holy Spirit. “Can you tell me,” said an unhappy skeptic to a happy old saint, “just what is the gospel you believe, and how you believe it?” She quietly replied, “God is satisfied with the work of His Son—this is the gospel I believe; and I am satisfied with it—this is how I believe it.” Said another lady to another unhappy man, “There is a great difference between your religion and mine; yours consists of two letters, D-O, and mine consists of four, D-O-N-E.”

In the nature of the case, since the work which Christ accomplished to bring life to dead souls, is finished, life can be received only by accepting it, by believing in Christ, by trusting in Christ, by coming to Christ, which all mean one and the same thing. Hence when the religious Jews asked Him the question, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said unto them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:28-29, 47). Hence too His tender and comforting invitation to those who are toiling to be saved, and are burdened with cares and fears and troubles, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). If any imagine that He will not receive them in all their labour, and with all their load of sin, let them think of the woman, “which was a sinner,” who fell at His feet without a prayer, without a word, to whom He said, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Luke 7:50).

So it was always when the Lord Jesus was here on the earth. He never refused healing nor salvation to any who believed in His power and willingness to restore health or to forgive sin. He never turned any away disappointed, no matter who they were. There were many who thought themselves too good for Him, and with these He had nothing to do except to rebuke their pride, and self-righteousness, and fatal delusion; but oh, how gracious He was to all who came to Him as needy and sinful. “The Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’” (Luke 15:2); and He proceeded to vindicate His reception of them, simply and only on the ground of the joy it gave Him to seek the lost, and to bestow life upon the dead. “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), was His word of defense; and trust in His love found a way at once to His bosom, and to the infinite resources of His power. It might be a wasted finger reaching no further than the hem of His garment, as when the poor sick woman came timidly through the crowd, after she had suffered many things of many physicians for twelve wearisome years, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse; yet the feeblest touch of faith thrilled His heart, and immediately brought forth the assurance, “Daughter, your faith has made you well” (Mark 5:34).

So it is still, for look where we will throughout the New Testament, the salvation of men is made to turn upon their faith in Jesus Christ. Peter was preaching to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household, and having told the story of the death and resurrection of the Son of God, he said, “‘To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins.’ While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word” (Acts 10:43-44), showing that it was testimony which the Spirit of life approves. Paul was preaching to the Jews, and, having told the story of the death and resurrection of the Son of God, he said, “by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). Paul and Silas were preaching to the Philippian jailor at midnight, who cried out in his distress, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30, 31).

Precisely the same testimony is found all through the inspired Epistles. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). “Whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood…that He might be just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.…Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Rom 3:25-28). “To him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom 4:5). “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, ‘The man who does those things shall live by them.’ But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?”’ (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, even in your mouth, and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:4-9).

These texts are taken from a single Epistle, and it may show the prominence attached to the truth that life is received through faith alone, when it is stated that the words translated believe, believing, and faith, occur about five hundred and sixty times in the New Testament. It is not faith and something beside, it is faith by itself which receives life, as it is written, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26); “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1); “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:8-9); “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Gal 2:16).

The sinner who wants to be saved is not asked to lift his hand, to move a foot, to wait a moment, to be saved, but just as he is, with all his sins upon him, and his hard and unhappy heart within him, he is permitted, and implored, and commanded to believe that Christ is able and willing to save him, and that God for Christ’s sake will pardon him straightway; for “this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 3:23). Nothing can be gained by delay, for sooner or later, the troubled inquirer must take God at His word, and, without the least shred of righteousness of his own, trust in Christ to give him everlasting life. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Since the death of Christ on the cross, since He suffered the penalty of sin, since He met the demands of God’s law, since He paid our debt to the last farthing, it is no longer the sin question but the Son question with a lost world. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” There is no sin so dark and deep the precious blood of Jesus cannot wash it away; and the chief of sinners who believes ought to be as sure that all of his sins are blotted out, as if he had been guilty of none, and that he too may say with other blood washed sinners in the confidence of a simple and unquestioning faith, “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

Listen to His loving assurance, which sounds out in His word, as if the very tones of His voice could be heard, as if He stood personally and visibly revealed in the presence of the troubled soul, as if the kindly glance of His eye were piercing the gloom and the sorrow, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).


[1] This article is excerpted from Chapter V of From Death Unto Life (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, n.d.), 55-66. Scripture text has been changed from the KJV to NKJV for ease in reading.

[1] James H. Brookes, D. D. (1830–1897) was pastor of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri. The Brookes Bible Institute of St. Louis was named in his honor. Dr. Brookes was a prolific writer, having authored more than 200 booklets and tracts. He was the editor of The Truth, and was a well-known Bible teacher. One of his very influential students was C. I. Scofield, editor of the popular Scofield Reference Bible (1909, 1917, revised as the New Scofield Reference Bible 1967). Brookes was also a key leader in the famous prophetic conferences of 1878 and 1886.

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