The Lamb Slain!
William Bacon Stevens
"The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world!" Revelation 13:8
We do not sufficiently regard Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God. We have indeed some general ideas of him in this character — but they are too often vague and unsatisfactory, and leave but faint impressions on our minds. As, however, few aspects of the Savior are more precious unto us than that which represents him as a Lamb, and as few terms are more frequently applied to him than this — there being over thirty places where he is especially designated as a Lamb — so it befits us to study this phase of our Redeemer's manifestation, and, by long dwelling upon the precious truths which it involves — fill our hearts, as "followers of the Lamb," with such an appreciation of his love and glory, that we shall be permitted to sing "the song of Moses and the Lamb," in that New Jerusalem of which this Lamb is both "the light" and "the temple."
The Bible speaks of the Lamb slain — the Lamb redeeming — the Lamb conquering — the Lamb on Mount Zion — the song of the Lamb — the Lamb's wife — the marriage supper of the Lamb — the Lamb's book of life — the followers of the Lamb — and the duty of all to "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."
We invite attention, at this time, to the first of these divisions, "the Lamb slain;" as that sacrifice lies at the foundation of the Christian religion.
A sacrifice implies the idea of an atonement — a reparation — a reconciliation. These again presuppose, a law broken — a right denied — an injury done. The opening pages of Revelation, therefore, which tell us of the fall of man, tell us also of the subsequent sacrifices offered unto God. In the fall, man had broken God's law, denied God's right to rule, and inflicted an injury upon his own soul, and the souls of all his posterity. By sacrifice, an atonement was made for sin; reparation was given for a broken law, and a reconciliation effected with a once offended God. Hence they stand ever against each other: the bane — and the antidote; the death incurred — and the life secured. The divine image lost by the sin of the first Adam — the divine image restored by the sacrifice of "the second Adam, the Lord from Heaven."
For several thousand years, however, these divinely appointed sacrifices had no value in themselves; for "the blood of bulls and of goats," as Paul distinctly asserts, "could not take away sin." They were, it is true, offered from the days of Adam to the days of Christ. They were appointed by a ritual given by God himself — they were offered up by priests of his own choosing — their blood flowed in the courts of the Temple built to his honor, and 'filled with the emblems of his glory; and through these, an atonement was made for sin, and a reconciliation was effected with God. But how? — by the material blood that followed the sacrificial knife? or that which tipped the horns of the altar? or that which was sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies? Did the forfeited life of innocent animals propitiate the anger of an offended God? and did his eye delight itself in the expiring throes of the victims which bled at his altars? Did the value of these offerings reside in the material part of the service? No!
All the sacrifices ever offered by God's command derived their value only as they typified and illustrated the one great sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary! To this cross of Christ, on which was slain "the Lamb of God," all sacrifices looked. In this, all found their antitype. By it, all had efficacy; and only as the offerer had faith to look beyond the animal slain and the blood shed, to the promised Messiah, who should appear "once in the end of the world to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself," did he derive any spiritual or lasting benefit or pardon by his sacrifice. Hence, of the very first recorded sacrifice it is said, that "by faith Abel offered unto God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain." Hence also of those patriarchs who, like Abraham, "longed to see Christ's day," and, by the forecast vision of faith, "did see it and rejoiced," the apostle says, "these all died in faith, not having received the promises — but having seen them afar off, and and were persuaded of them, and embraced them."
Nothing can be plainer than the fact, that the whole Levitical service, in all its parts and developments, found its end and fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In Him, it can all be explained and made to appear as the wise provision of a God of mercy. Without Him, it is a meaningless and bloody ritual — at once profitless to the soul, and disgraceful to the Bible.
But it may be asked, could not God have devised some other way of reconciliation? And does it not manifest unpleasant features of character, when we see the Most High commanding the death of innocent animals, and staining his temple with the blood of spotless lambs? It is enough for us to know that God has not devised any other way; and as he is a God of infinite wisdom — so the very fact that he has provided this plan is plain evidence that it is the best and only way of reconciliation. And, as to its exhibiting anything repulsive in the nature of God that he should thus command these sacrifices — we shall find, on the contrary, that a true understanding of this peculiarity of the Divine economy, will invest him with new majesty, and elevate and refine our views of his holiness, and purity, and truth.
To illustrate this point, let us take our stand in the Garden of Eden, beside the guilty pair, before they hear "the voice of the Lord walking in the garden at the cool of day." What was to be done for these guilty ones? God's law had been disobeyed — God's love had been slighted — and the threatened curse had been incurred. As soon as this had taken place . . .
the image of God, in which man was made;
peace with God, which man had enjoyed;
love to God, which man had cherished; and
the eternal life, which God had promised on the condition of obedience
— were all destroyed.
It is also evident that God might justly have left man where he had voluntarily placed himself; that he was under no obligations to help or save him; and that he would still have been a just and holy God — had he made no overtures of grace and mercy! Had God left our first parents to themselves, and to the developments of the sin which they had committed — they never could have devised a way of return to him; never could have reinstated themselves in the divine favor; never could have atoned for a violated law; never could have secured eternal life; but must have gone on growing in sin, deepening in iniquity — until they took up their abode with everlasting burnings!
Just at this point, then, comes in, with its life-giving power — the plan of our redemption. Without lowering the demands of justice, without abrogating one jot or tittle of the holy law — mercy placed in the hands of the guilty pair, the promise and the prophecy, "that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head." In other words, that one would be born of woman who should destroy "the old serpent, the devil," and restore us to the favor and the blessedness which, through this subtle tempter, we lost in Eden. This was the starting point of hope, of promise, of prophecy — faint in its outlines, and general in its terms. But, as the time wore on, it became, through new prophecies and developments, brighter and stronger, waxing in influence and power, until the coming of this Messiah became the dominant hope in the mind of the Israelite, and at the same time had grown to be also "the desire of all nations."
But Christ was not to come until "the fullness of time" had arrived — that is, until that fit and proper time which God saw to be best for the advent of so great a blessing. As this, according to our computation of years, was put off nearly four thousand years from man's fall (though not put off to the mind of him with whom "a thousand years are as one day," and with whom time past, time present, time future, is an eternal now), how was this hope and blessing to be made effectual to those who had lived before the coming of Christ? Was the prophecy given in Eden, that mere filament of truth — sufficient to sustain the hope and anticipations of a dying world? No; men are material beings, and need to have their faith stayed up by material signs and symbols; and therefore God devised a way by which the blessings of the Christian covenant might be made of immediate use, and through which the death of Jesus could avail to the salvation of the antediluvian and the Israelite, as well as to those who saw the Lord with the eyes of sense, or who now behold him with the retrospective eye of faith. That plan was the institution of animal sacrifices. By this institution, innocent animals of a particular kind and character were slain, and their blood offered to God as a propitiation for the sins of the offerer, or of the family, or of the tribe, or of the great congregation. By this offering, what is called an atonement was made, and the sins of the offerers were covered and pardoned.
But how could the blood of animals do this? And how is it that, "without the shedding of blood, there could be no remission of sins?" Plainly in this way. By sin, man's life was forfeited; every soul had brought upon itself eternal death; it had "been forfeited to God, and as a debt due to his justice, it should, in right, be rendered back again to him who gave it." The enforcement of this claim, of course involves the eternal death of transgressors; but, in the institution of sacrifice, God provides a way of escape from this doom, by appointing a substitute, namely, the soul or life of a beast for the soul or life of a transgressor; and as the seat of life is in the blood (the Hebrew word for life and blood being one and the same), so the blood of the beast, its life-blood, was to be shed in death, and offered upon the altar of God, in the place of the higher — but guilty life of man, which had become due, and which by right should be offered up to divine justice.
When this was done — when the blood of the slain victim was poured out, or sprinkled upon the altar, and thereby given up to God — the sinner's guilt was, as the Hebrew word expresses it, covered; a screen, as it were, was thrown between the eye of God and his guilt, or between his own soul and the penalty due to his transgression. In other words, a life that had not been forfeited, was accepted by God in the place of a life which was forfeited; and the soul, ceremoniously cleansed by this vicarious offering, was yielded back to the offerer, as now again a life in peace, and fellowship with God, receiving life for himself out of the death of the animal, and remission of sins through the substituted blood of the victim slain upon the altar. The necessity of offering an innocent animal arose from the fact that if the animal had been guilty, its own life would have been forfeited for itself, and could not be used then as a substitute for man; but not being guilty, and not being forfeited for itself, it could be vicariously used, and offered in lieu of a life that was guilty, and thereby forfeited to God.
This, in very brief language, is what may be termed the philosophy of sacrifices. This vindicates their origin from any cruelty, establishes their worth as a plan of mercy, and met the needs of the human race until the great sacrifice, "the Lamb of God," was offered on the hill of Calvary.
A careful survey of the Levitical law in connection with the Epistle to the Hebrews, shows us, that all the sacrifices there enjoined, the rites there directed, and the arrangements of the tabernacle and temple service there set forth — derived their value and efficacy from Jesus Christ alone. The effect of his death was reflected backward, to the Patriarchal and Levitical dispensations, by which salvation was granted to those who came to him, not indeed as now, by a direct approach — but through the victim on the altar, which then typified him, and showed forth his death and its blessed results until he came.
Among the animals sacrificed by the Jews, the Lamb held a pre-eminent place; and therefore, as well on account of his gentleness and spotlessness of character, as from the offering up of himself as the substitute for guilty man, Jesus Christ is well termed "the Lamb of God;" and because the efficacy of Christ's death flows backward to our first parents, in the infancy of the world; and because with him who inhabits eternity there are no distinctions of time, he is said to be "a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world;" the retroactive virtue of his death dating four thousand years before his blood actually flowed upon the accursed tree. It needs but a very few words to show how Christ, in his life and death, met all that was typified by the sacrificial lamb, and thus became the full and glorious anti-type of every offering under the old covenant of works.
As there were so many different kinds of sacrifices among the Jews, we have not time to trace out the minute analogies and relations of Christ to the various sin-offerings, and trespass-offerings, and burnt-offerings, and peace-offerings, and meat-offerings there recorded. We must, therefore, seek certain points which, in a great degree, are common to all, and show how Christ, as the Lamb of God, covered these points so as to embody, in his own sacrifice, everything that was peculiar to the offerings of olden times.
1.The first point to be noticed is, that the victim offered in sacrifice was not guilty. The animal had no sins of its own to answer for; it stood, indeed, in the sinner's place; but this vicarious substitution gave it only a ceremonial guilt — and not actual and internal guilt.
So Christ was guiltless. The apostate who betrayed him, the king who condemned him, the centurion who crucified him, testified to his innocence. He stood indeed in the sinner's place, and, thus standing, was legally guilty — but only thus, for sin never stained his soul, being, in the words of the apostle, "Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners."
2.Another point, common to all sacrifices, was, that they should be the best of their kind. The lame, the diseased, the old, the imperfect, were rejected; and the best of the flock and the herd, and of the fruits of the ground, were to be offered. A failure in this particular, vitiated the whole sacrifice. Jesus Christ is "the first born, the highest of all the sons of the earth;" "He is the chief among ten thousand;" "He is altogether lovely;" "He is the brightness of the Father's glory," for "in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."
3.Another point incident to these sacrifices, especially to to all burnt-offerings and sin-offerings, was the laying of the hand of the offerer upon the head of the victim, before its blood was shed in death. By this symbolic act, the offerer, who was guilty, conveyed to an animal, not guilty — the sins for which the offerer had incurred the penalty of death; but transferring them from himself, by this laying on of hands, to the innocent animal — that animal, thus bearing the sins of the offerer, was treated as if guilty, and its blood, its life, paid the penalty required by an offended law. This implied a sense of guilt on the part of the offerer; this implied that he acknowledged that for this guilt he deserved to die. But it implied also, that God had provided a substitute, faintly represented by the victim at the altar, which substitute would, in the fullness of time, offer himself, not for the sins of one person, or one nation — but "of the whole world."
Thus Jesus Christ had "laid on him the iniquities of us all." We do not indeed approach him with our bodily hands, and lay them on his head, confessing our sins the while; but it is distinctly declared that "he bore our sins in his own body on the tree;" and faith goes to him with its hands laden with transgressions, and lays all its guilt upon his head, for he is an infinite sacrifice, and is able to bear away the sins of the whole world.
4.Another common point was, that the blood of the victim was shed. In Leviticus, God says, "For the life or soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls, for it is the blood which makes atonement for the soul." Hence Paul also declares, "Without shedding of blood, there is no remission." That the blood of Christ was shed, all earth and Heaven testified. It flowed from his head, his hands, his feet, his sides, his back; a sad and painful sight to the eye of sense — so sad that the sun could not look upon the scene, and the earth trembled as she beheld it; and yet a joyful vision to the eye of faith — for it sees in those drops a fountain of cleansing, a lave of salvation; the trickling rillhead of that river of life, on earth indeed red and bloody — but in Heaven as "clear as crystal," flowing out from the throne of God and of the Lamb!
5.The last point to be noticed was, that this blood was to be sprinkled, on ordinary occasions, upon the altar, round about; but on the day of atonement also upon the mercy seat in the holy of holies, carried in there by the high priest, who, on this day, himself shed the blood of the victim. The sprinkling of the blood upon the altar and the mercy seat, told, in symbolic language, that God had accepted the gift and substitute — and on account thereof, the offerer received pardon and peace. Hence, it was not enough that Christ's blood was shed; there must be something to indicate that the blood of him who bore our sins, and who "was made sin for us," had been accepted by God; therefore Christ is said, as our great High Priest, to have "passed into the heavens," bearing in his hand, not the blood of bulls and goats, "but his own blood." And sprinkling it there, "before the mercy seat on high," we are assured that his sacrifice is accepted, his atonement complete.
Jesus Christ, then, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, meets every type and shadow of the olden dispensations, and gives to them that perfection and efficacy which they had not in themselves.
It was morally and physically necessary, then, that Christ, as the Lamb of God, should be slain, in order to to secure our salvation. There was, so far as we know, no other way, whereby a dishonored law could be magnified, its penalty removed, and the loss of eternal life by disobedience, be repaired. He alone could fill up the mighty breach which sin had made. Sinless, he alone could offer his life-blood, that was not forfeited, for the life, the blood of man, that was forfeited. As the "seed of the woman" — he alone could fulfill the prophecy and "bruise the serpent's head." As the Divine "Messiah — he alone could bear the iniquities of the world on his own shoulders. As the Lord of life — he alone could crush the power of death, and give man the resurrection of life! Heaven would never have been inhabited by any of the human race — had not Christ entered in there with his own blood, and, as our great high priest, made intercession for us, and secured those mansions which shall be ours in glory!
All this results from his being slain — slain from the foundation of the world — slain as the Lamb of God, the great vicarious sacrifice for the human race.
How he was slain, I need not stop to tell. The story of his death is familiar to us all — alas! so familiar that it fails to arrest our mind and engross our heart.
Would that we could be made to feel the deep solemnity of that crucifixion scene, and to comprehend the magnitude of the issues which hung upon that dropping blood! I know that the physical circumstances of that event were solemn in the extreme. The mere crucifixion of any slave has in it that which would excite compassion; but this event has no parallel in the history of the world — never was a death like the death of Jesus. Great men, and kings, and heroes have died, and nature uttered no moan of sympathy; but she shut her burning eye and trembled like a thing of life and love — when Jesus hung upon the cross, and even now wears the scars of the wounds which then rent her throbbing breast.
But these things, as stupendous and unnatural as they were — are as nothing compared to the moral interests which cluster round the slaying of the Lamb. By that event, the government of God was magnified and sustained to its utmost bounds. A way was made by which the alien, man, could be reconciled to God — and the self-outcast rebel, become a child of glory. The power and dominion of sin was broken! Death was overcome! Heaven was opened, and the once lost soul — found, washed, robed in Christ's righteousness, and admitted to glory — is made a king and a priest unto God forever! Such is the wonder-working power of "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world!"
1.As we look at this slain Lamb — let us mark the direful malignity of sin! It was sin which . . .
drew Christ from His throne in glory;
humbled Him to the state and condition of humanity;
made Him "a man of sorrows" all His days;
hunted His life from infancy, and
finally nailed Him to "the accursed tree!"
Had not man sinned — Jesus would never have become incarnate! Hence, every pang and woe which He endured in body and soul, from His miraculous birth to his ignominious death — was inflicted by sin!
Christians! wearers of Christ's name! professors of Christ's religion! Will you love sin? Will you be in league with and cherish that in your heart — which slew the Lamb of God? O, if you love sin; if you are resolved not to forsake it; if you do not hate it as the enemy of Christ, and your own soul — you are hugging that to your heart, which drove the nails into the hands, and which thrust the spear into the side of the Lamb of God!
2.But we see in the lamb slain, not only the work of sin — but the work of love! As we gaze for the last time upon the face of some dear friend, as he lies cold and silent in the coffin — how memory calls up the many scenes and evidences of love which that dead friend has manifested towards us! Anger — if we had any — envy, malice, are banished; and as we look upon the face of the dead — we think only of the love, the deep affection that once filled that now silent heart. Just so, when we look upon this Lamb slain, gazing, by faith, upon the features of the Crucified — let us call up his love, think over all he has done for our soul, recall his words of affection, remember . . .
how often we have grieved him — but he has never grieved us;
how often we have turned away from him — but he never from us;
how often we have forgotten him — but he has never forgotten us!
Review the whole history of this Lamb of God, and as we feel that he crowned all this love by dying in our stead, that we might have life, let us ask ourselves what return of love ought we to make to him who loved us before the foundation of the world; loved us even unto death, and now loves us with a love as large as his infinite heart, as boundless as his eternal being!
"Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne!" Revelation 5:6
"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" Revelation 5:12